Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Edward Snowden Said Contractors Can "Watch Your Ideas Form as You Type." How Does That Work?

| Tue Jun. 11, 2013 9:44 AM EDT

Among the revelations made last week by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, few were more jarring than the suggestion that private security contractors have the capability to monitor your every online communication seemingly on a whim, in real-time. As he told the Washington Post, "They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type."

Like most everything else Snowden disclosed, it seemed like something out of a spy movie. But with the caveat that no one outside the NSA truly knows the extent of the agency's reach, cybersecurity experts say that Snowden's charge rings true, at least in part. According to PowerPoint slides Snowden provided to the Post and the Guardian, PRISM collected stored communications information from sites such as Facebook, Skype, Google, and Yahoo, boasting of access to online social networking details, email, file transfers, photos and video and voice chats.

Barring direct access (physically installing some sort of keystroke capture, for example) analysts probably don’t have the capability to jump into a random Skype conversation and see what’s being typed—nor would they want to. "Are they probably actually doing that for like arbitrary people?," asked Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in tech privacy. "Probably not because that would take a lot of time and not be very useful."

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Geraldo Rivera, You Shall Not Pass!

| Mon Jun. 10, 2013 3:18 PM EDT
This was the best photo we could find.

Geraldo Rivera is not going to be the next United States senator from New Jersey. Geraldo Rivera was never going to be the next United States senator from New Jersey, really, but after a brief burst of speculation following the death of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Rivera made it official with one of the more bizarre statements I've seen in a long time. (And I covered Newt Gingrich.)

Here's how it starts:

There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings where my favorite character, the aging, battle-weary Théoden, King of Rohan is confronted with a profound dilemma. Determined to honor his ancient oath and ride to the rescue of his ally the besieged nation of Gondor, he is told that his forces are insufficient to defeat the enemy, evil Mordor.

"No. We can not. But we will meet them in battle nonetheless," Théoden answers grimly, doomed by honor and destiny to perish in what seems a lost cause. And he dies, but because of his sacrifice the good guys ultimately win

Improbably that scene came to mind just now as I wrestled with whether to seek the Republican nomination for the Senate seat from New Jersey left vacant by the death of 89-year old, five-term incumbent Frank Lautenberg.

And here's how it ends:

Over the last 24 hours I reached out to former GOP candidates, consultants, colleagues and friends frantically testing everything from my ideological viability to prospective budgets.      

Ultimately, I concluded that whatever else it is, New Jersey politics is not a fantasy novel. For one thing, the energetic and engaging Mayor Booker is not the Dark Lord. And while I may be willing to die for the right cause, I'm not willing to bankrupt myself in a vain quest that is more Don Quixote than Lord of the Rings.

Previously in Republican politicos talking about Lord of the Rings: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted tea partiers as "hobbits" and Sen. Rand Paul blasted McCain as a "troll." Whither Tom Bombadil?

Virginia GOP Lt. Gov. Candidate: "Satanic Rock," Witches Destroying Society

| Mon Jun. 10, 2013 1:34 PM EDT

Rev. E.W. Jackson, the Republican nominee to be the next lieutenant governor of Virginia, has a well-documented history of saying pretty crazy things. He thinks gays are "ikky." He compared a non-discrimination bill to "a pedophiles' rights bill." He accused President Obama of using NASA to "expand Islam." He believes yoga is a gateway to Satan. And in his 2008 book, Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life, Jackson warned that "satanic rock," rap music, and modern-day "witchcraft" were leading to a societal breakdown. Here are some of the highlights from that book.

Rap and "satanic rock" are "eggs of destruction":

This is why we need not waste time arguing with the media about whether a steady diet of gangster rap, satanic rock music, profane, violent and pornographic films have an impact on people's behavior. This is not a statistical question; it is a spiritual one. There may never be a satisfactory statistical answer because the period of incubation before manifestation makes it difficult to establish the causal connection with scientific certainty. It is not that some teen will listen to violent rap music tonight and go out to commit mass murder tomorrow. Nonetheless, if that youngster continues to "meditate" those violent, hate filled images and ideas, he or she will manifest those ideas into their lives in one way or another.... This is not an argument for governmental censorship, but for individual censorship over what you and your family listen to and watch. Allow yourself to incubate the eggs of destruction and sooner or later they will hatch, exploding in your face.

Don't hang out with witches:

There are those who engage in witchcraft, fortune telling, Tarot Card, tea leaf and palm reading and other "spiritual" practices. These practices are wrong and dangerous. They are spoken of as an "abomination"—a particularly detestable sin—in the sight of God. They bring a terrible curse on the person who engages in such things, and you do so at your own peril.

Or Buddhists:

The nature of spiritual death is distaste for true spiritual life. Have you noticed the respect and awe people have for eastern philosophies and religions which reject the God of the Bible? When a Buddhist sets himself on fire in some misguided protest, the media does not see it as fanaticism. But the same media readily caricature the entire Christian community based on the excesses of a few. Non-Christian religions have their own values which are often highly questionable. Yet there is a remarkable deference paid to any religious system that does not include Christ as the Son of God. Affinity for anything but what is truly of God is the nature of spiritual death?

Or Whitney Houston:

A decade or so ago Whitney Houston had a hit song called "The Greatest Love." The relevant line in the song was, "Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." It may be a nice song with a nice tune, but it is dead wrong. The greatest love of all is not learning to love yourself. The greatest love of all is God's love for you.

Jackson, though, was at least upfront about his fears that most readers wouldn't take his words seriously. "I hazard to guess what percentage of those who read this book will actually follow through to put its principles to work," he wrote. "How many will obey these 'Ten Commandments'? Ten percent may have the discipline, commitment and interest to follow through."

After Bachmann, Who's America's Next Top Wacky Right-Winger?

| Wed May 29, 2013 5:46 PM EDT

Facing a mounting investigation into her presidential campaign's alleged campaign finance improprieties, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced Wednesday morning that she won't seek reelection in 2014. Here's a quick guide to the people jockeying for Bachmann's place as the far right's biggest star in Congress.

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas)

Is he crazy? Once caught with 30 mg of Valium in his underwear. Lived in a Fort Worth park for a year with a homeless man he compared to Lenny from Of Mice and Men. Warned that sex ed classes were teaching kids the virtues of bestiality. Started an AR-15 sweepstakes for his constituents. Actual campaign bumper sticker: "If babies had guns they wouldn't be aborted."
Put it in granite: "The best thing about the Earth is if you poke holes in it oil and gas come out."
Do people care? Stockman has had no discernible impact on public policy and Democrats have written off his seat—he won his last race by 44 points.

Joe Miller, Alaska Senate candidate

Is he crazy? Hired private security guards who handcuffed a reporter during failed 2010 Senate run. Argued that unemployment benefits, Social Security, and Medicare are unconstitutional. Wrote a column for birther site WorldNetDaily alleging that President Obama should be impeached for secretly giving away American islands to Russia.
Put it in granite: "Obama's State Department is giving away seven strategic, resource-laden Alaskan islands to the Russians. Yes, to the Putin regime in the Kremlin."
Do people care? Only if he wins.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.)

Is he crazy? Compared the Affordable Care Act to the "war of Yankee aggression." Pointed out alarming similarities between Obama and Hitler. Worries that the federal government will force people to eat fruits and vegetables. Believes Southerners will die of hyperthermia if clean energy laws are passed.
Put it in granite: "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell."
Do people care? An outspoken critic of science, Broun's position on the House Science Committee has alarmed such high-profile scientists as Bill Nye.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah)

Is he crazy? World-record holder for fastest flight around the world. Described as a "certified nutcase" by a former Utah Republican politician and "Glenn Beck on steroids" by a former Utah Democratic politician. Wrote end-times novels that have been endorsed by Glenn Beck. Expressed concern that protecting species from extinction, while noble, "harm[s] people" too much.
Put it in granite: "My true worldview is just the opposite of [the] apocalyptic. Look, I know we're going to have challenges and, who knows, maybe there will be a zombie apocalypse or something like that."
Do people care? Stewart hails from a safely Republican district, but Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed concerns about his fringe views. He's also skeptical about climate change and chairs a House subcommittee on the issue.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)

Is he crazy? Opposed gun control by comparing gay marriage to bestiality. Supported Alaska oil drilling so that caribou would have more sex. Cosponsored a birther bill. Wanted Congress to investigate the threat of Shariah law in America. Sounded alarm about terrorists who "are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic[s]." Sounded alarm about terrorists who are babies.
Put it in granite: "The attorney general will not cast aspersions on my asparagus."
Do people care? Gohmert represents an overwhelmingly conservative district and is better known for his outrageous statements than his impact on public policy.

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.)

Is she crazy? Compared Obama to "Louis XIV, the Sun King." Said Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act "simply to control our lives." Supported defunding the Justice Department to stop Attorney General Eric Holder's lawsuit against an Arizona immigration bill that allows racial profiling. Insinuated that terrorists were behind the proposal to build an Islamic community center in Manhattan a few blocks from ground zero.
Put it in granite: "The terrorists haven't won, and we should tell them in plain English, 'No, there will never be a mosque at ground zero.'"
Do people care? After Republicans won control of North Carolina's state Legislature in 2010 and redrew congressional district lines in the state, Ellmers moved from a competitive district to a safe seat. She's only serving her second term in the House but is already considering a Senate bid against Democrat Kay Hagan.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

Is he crazy? Believes George Soros masterminded a plot to ban golf and force Americans into "hobbit homes." Said that "Shariah law is an enormous problem" in the United States. Thinks states have the constitutional right to disregard federal law. Bragged that he helped nullify a gay divorce. Thinks Harvard Law School has been overrun by communists.
Put it in granite: "I think President Obama is the most radical president we've ever seen."
Do people care? Called the "next great conservative hope" by the National Review, Cruz may have presidential aspirations. But his Senate obstructionism has annoyed more compromise-minded Republican colleagues, including John McCain, whom Cruz said he doesn't trust.

Flashback: Virginia Gov. Candidate Cuccinelli Investigated "Sextravaganza"

| Tue May 28, 2013 1:19 PM EDT

Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli (R) believes the Constitution gives states the right to ban gay people from having sex.

Controversial Virginia Republican lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson, as I reported last week, began his career as a social conservative crusader as an anti-anti-AIDS activist in Boston, where he fought against public health initiatives that promoted condom use and sterilized needles. And Jackson's extreme views on such issues as LGBT rights ("If we need a gay rights bill, then we need an adulterers' rights bill, we need a cohabitators' rights bill, a pedophiles' rights bill, and a sadomasochists' rights bill") and Islam (he's against it) have launched a flurry of stories on the potential impact of Jackson's extremism on Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican running for governor. Cuccinelli has tried to distance himself from Jackson, but he has a problem: his own past as a social conservative activist is not that different from Jackson's.

In 2005, for example, Cuccinelli, then a state senator, sent a volunteer to investigate a mostly-female planning meeting for an event to be held at George Mason University by "Pro-Choice Patriots," a student group, and dubbed the "Sextravaganza." This gathering was designed to promote healthy sexual activity—dispensing information on date rape, AIDS, and contraception. But Cuccinelli condemned the plan to hold such an event at a public school, warning that "Sextravaganza" would promote "every type of sexual promiscuity you can imagine."

"This whole thing is really just designed to push sex and sexual libertine behavior as far, fast and furiously as possible," he told the Washington Post at the time, adding, "Do we need to establish some statewide standards here? It's pathetic we even need to have this discussion, but apparently we do."

Cuccinelli, like Jackson, was a fierce fighter for what they called traditional family values. In 2004, the Washington Times reported that Cuccinelli was leading the fight against, in his words, "homosexuals and AIDS [education]." He was doing so by pushing a resolution asking Congress to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman:

"[The resolution would] enshrine in the Constitution effectively what is Virginia law today, and that is that marriage is between one man and one woman and that there are no analogous relationships under law," said Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican and the bill’s sponsor.

Mr. Cuccinelli and others worry recent protests on the topic are part of an overall strategy by homosexuals, who he thinks plan to "dismantle sodomy laws" and "get education about homosexuals and AIDS in public schools." On Friday in a 79-18 vote, the House passed a bill that affirms the state’s ban on homosexual "marriage." It is expected to pass the Senate.

Cuccinelli may find it tough to separate himself from Jackson, given that the two were both fierce leaders in the culture war fights of the 1990s and 2000s.

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