Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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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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Ashley Judd Is Not the Next Todd Akin

| Tue Feb. 26, 2013 11:26 AM EST
Possible Kentucky Senate candidate Ashley Judd with Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu

Actress and public health activist Ashley Judd is seriously considering running for Senate as a Democrat next year against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader. On Tuesday, the Daily Caller's Alex Pappas waded through Judd's essays and speeches to make the case that she just might be the Democratic Todd Akin—someone whose "comments are so outrageous and extreme that people can't bring themselves to vote for her."

This is a sentiment that is shared by, among others, Ashley Judd. "I am asked a lot if I will someday run for office, often enough, in fact, that if I had a nickel for each time I've been asked, I could fund a campaign," she said in a 2006 speech at the University of Kentucky. "But a speech like this, such an unguarded chunk of my truth is very likely to completely disqualify me."

The subject of that particular speech, and one she's returned to quite often since, was feminism—what she considered to be the animating ideal behind her political life. "I'd like to propose that the society in which we live is, in fact, extremist and radical," she said. "It is so skewed, massively out of balance; the result of one sex ruling and objectifying another for at least the last millennia." The world's religions were filled with "stunning misogyny," Christianity included.

Among other incriminating quotes Pappas flags, Judd compared mountaintop-removal coal mining to the Rwandan genocide. (She added, "Naturally, I accept that I set myself up for ridicule for using such strong terms, or perhaps outrage from human victims of slaughter, but I do believe in the profound interconnectedness of all life, and, I agree with Einstein's assertion that 'you cannot pick a flower that you do not disturb a star.'")

I've spent only a few days in Kentucky, so I'll accept the premise that most of the state's eligible voters don't spend much time quoting Gloria Steinem and railing against the patriarchy. I'll also accept Pappas'—and Judd's—premise that she is substantially more liberal than the median Kentucky voter, given that the median Kentucky voter recently voted for Rand Paul. It's not clear whether she's running; it's certainly not clear that she'd be a favorite to win.

But the Akin comparison seems to miss the whole point of Todd Akin—and Ashley Judd, too. The Missouri Senate candidate's demise hinged almost entirely on his flip suggestion that some kinds of rape (i.e. non-"legitimate" rape) really weren't so bad, as well as a basic ignorance of science; Judd's most incriminating statements stem in no small part from the fact that, yes, actually, women have been held down for a while and still face serious obstacles today. (Case in point: Todd Akin.) In Kentucky, that might be a losing proposition, but there's nothing "bizarre" about feminism.

"It is my pleasure to make you slightly uncomfortable," Judd told her audience at UK, halfway through her feminist manifesto. For Judd, that's a feature, not a bug.

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10 People You Didn't Realize Were Friends of Hamas

| Wed Feb. 20, 2013 6:17 PM EST

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice is an honorary director of the Atlantic Council.

Breitbart News editor-at-large Ben Shapiro created a bit of a stir last week when he alleged that Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee to be the next secretary of defense, may have ties to an organization called "Friends of Hamas."

On Wednesday, after reporters at mainstream publications could find no evidence of any such organization even existing, Shapiro* Breitbart News doubled down: "The mainstream media have ignored the fact that at least one prominent supporter of Hamas has donated money to an organization associated with former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)—namely, the Atlantic Council, which receives support from the Hariri family of Lebanon, whose most prominent member, former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, publicly backs Hamas."

Okay.

The Atlantic Council is, like many such vaguely named D.C. institutions, a repository for pretty much anyone who has ever held a high-ranking foreign policy position in the federal government. If Shapiro is correct, Hagel should be the least of our worries; every administration since the 1960s has been corrupted by Hamas:

Condoleezza Rice: Bush's second secretary of state—and Atlantic Council honorary director—hid her connections to Hamas by refusing to negotiate with it.

William Webster: The only man to ever helm the CIA and the FBI, Webster served under Presidents Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush and is an honorary director at the Atlantic Council.

Robert Gates: Gates, an honorary director, was George W. Bush's last Secretary of Defense (and President Obama's first).

James A. Baker, III: An honorary director of the Atlantic Council, Baker served as a chief of staff for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Michael Hayden: Another honorary director, Hayden was a CIA director under George W. Bush.

James Woolsey: President Bill Clinton's CIA director is a member of the Atlantic Council's board of directors. You may have seen him at Big Journalism's sister Breitbart publication, Big Peace.

William H. Taft, IV: "Get on the raft with Taft" was the campaign slogan of this Council director's great-grandfather. You know who else used rafts?

George P. Shultz: Reagan's secretary of state for seven years is an Atlantic Council honorary director.

Henry A. Kissinger: President Richard Nixon's Secretary of State sits on the Atlantic Council board of directors, when he's not busy mentoring Sarah Palin on foreign policy and blaming Hamas for obstructing the peace process.

Rupert Murdoch: Murdoch was the winner of the Atlantic Council's 2008 "Atlantic Council Leadership Award," and is CEO of some small, locally-sourced media co-op you probably haven't heard of. He previously expressed his support for Hamas by accusing the "Jewish-owned press" of being "consistently anti-Israel."

Fortunately, opponents of Hagel have settled on an alternative who could presumably be confirmed without much of a fight: former undersecretary of defense Michèle Flournoy. Even former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), who sees the threat of terrorism around every corner, supports Flournoy.

The catch: Flournoy sits on the Atlantic Council's board of directors, too.

*This post originally attributed the article to Shapiro.

Montana Still Trying to Legalize Gay Sex

| Wed Feb. 20, 2013 5:26 PM EST

On Wednesday, by a 38 to 11 vote*, the Montana state Senate passed SB 107, a bill to "generally revise deviate sexual conduct laws." Put another way: They voted to decriminalize homosexuality.

Although the 2002 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas ruled that state laws prohibiting sodomy are unconstitutional, the effect has been slow to sink in. Montana is one of four states, along with Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, that still have laws on the books specifically outlawing gay sex. Ten more states—Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and (obviously) Florida—maintain a blanket prohibition on sodomy for persons of all sexual orientations.

The laws have stayed on the books partly because of institutional inertia; culling unenforceable laws isn't exactly the most urgent issue facing cash-strapped states. But when advocates have generated legislative momentum to repeal the sodomy statutes, they've invariably been thwarted. As I reported in 2011, lawmakers in Texas have repeatedly sought to purge the state's anti-sodomy law from the books without success. (It likely doesn't help matters that GOP Gov. Rick Perry believes Lawrence was wrongly decided.) In 2012, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, also a Republican, formed an Office of the Repealer to delete unnecessary laws from the state books, but pointedly left out his state's invalidated ban on sodomy.

This isn't the only notable LGBT legislation up for consideration. Another bill before the legislature would extend the state's anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians for the first time—a more substantive reform that advocates hope would serve as a bulwark against bullying.

But neither proposal stands much chance of becoming law in 2013. As the Billings Gazette notes, a bill to eliminate the sodomy statute passed the Senate in 2011 only to fail in the house. "We are expecting this bill to go to House judiciary, which is a very ideologically driven committee, and we expect it to die in that committee," says Jamee Greer, a lobbyist for the Montana Human Rights Network, an LGBT equality group. "They're not showing a lot of respect to the LGBT community and I don't expect them to pass 107."

*Among the 10 Republicans voting against it: This guy.

Georgia Man With IQ of 70 Granted Stay of Execution (UPDATED)

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 7:47 AM EST

Update, 4:18 p.m.: The Georgia supreme court has denied Warren Hill's motion for a stay of execution.

Update, 6:44 p.m.: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Warren Hill a stay of execution, according to his lawyers.

Update, 2/20/2012: Here's the order from the 11th Circuit. The Georgia court of appeals also issued a stay, due to complications surrounding the state's recent switch from a lethal-injection "cocktail" to a single drug.

Warren Hill has an IQ of 70 and placed in the third percentile on his middle-school standardized test. Doctors have found him to be "mildly mentally retarded." But even though the US Supreme Court in 2002 ruled that executing the mentally handicapped is unconstitutional, Hill will be put to death today, barring a late intervention by the courts.

In 1989, while serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend, Hill was given the death penalty for murdering his cellmate with a wooden board.  Georgia had outlawed the death penalty for the mentally handicapped by then, but the state mandated that defendants prove their handicap "beyond a reasonable doubt"—putting the burden of proof, in other words, on the disabled defendant.

Hill's appeal rests mostly on a single compelling point: The team of state doctors who originally concluded he qualified for capital punishment has completely reversed itself, citing their own inexperience (one of them had never evaluated a patient for mental retardation before) and advances in the field. As one member of the team, Dr. Thomas Sachy, put it in Hill's application for a sentence commutation:

The totality of evidence shows that far from "malingering a cognitive disorder," Mr. Hill has had a cognitive disorder with adaptive skill deficits since early childhood. He consistently tested in the 2-3 percentile in childhood achievement and intelligence testing, consistent with mild mental retardation. There was no dispute in 2000 among the clinicians who had evaluated Mr. Hill that he has an IQ of approximately 70. There is also evidence of significant deficits in such areas of his functioning as self-care, functional academics, interpersonal skills, and home living since prior to age 18.

Among the arguments in favor of qualifying Hill for the death penalty were a set of letters he had written from prison to his lawyer and family members, which seemed to demonstrate a higher level of mental competence than he'd shown in his examination. But doctors now believe those letters were written by someone else.

Georgia isn't the only state that has found its way around Atkins v. Virginia, the 2002 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally handicapped violates the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In August, Texas executed Marvin Wilson, who sucked his thumb into adulthood and couldn't tell the difference between left and right, on the basis of mental competence guidelines that were inspired by the John Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men.

Hill's execution had originally been scheduled for last August but was stayed by the state Supreme Court—not because of his mental capacity, but because of questions about the lethal injection drug the state was using. It is now set for 7 p.m. tonight.

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