Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. 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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Watch: Romney Proposes Gutting or Privatizing FEMA, Leaving Disaster Relief to States

| Thu Aug. 23, 2012 9:42 AM PDT

Update, October 29, 12:29 a.m. EST: With Hurricane Sandy set to make landfall in the Mid-Atlantic, Mitt Romney's policies for federal emergency management seem as relevant as ever. And the candidate's budget, as described below, isn't the only indication Romney would slash funding: As the Huffington Post's Ryan Grim noted, the presidential candidate suggested during a GOP primary debate that he would diminish the agency's role and leave responsibility for helping imperiled Americans to the states:

When Republicans gather in Tampa next week for their national convention, they may have some unwelcome company. No, not Ron Paul's army of supporters—Tropical Storm Isaac, which is currently winding its way through the Caribbean, is expected to pick up hurricane status and slam into South and Central Florida—directly into Tampa, according to at least one model. What that means for the convention is unclear, but since a direct hit would likely flood most of the city, organizers, city and state officials, and relevant federal agencies are planning accordingly. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has downplayed the threat to the city, but is reportedly preparing to mobilize to assist in the disaster response in South Florida, should that become necessary.

But under a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan administration, FEMA's ability to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters could be severely inhibited. In a 2012 report on Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" roadmap (which Romney has said is similar to his own), the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that, due to the severe cuts to nonentitlement, nondefense spending, the costs for things like emergency management would have to be passed on to the states—which, with just a few exceptions, are currently in an even tighter financial bind than Washington.

"FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured," the CBPP report explained. "This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times."

The Ryan budget makes no mention of FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security of which it's a part. In fact it makes no mention of any specific cuts to non-entitlement programs. We can't say for sure, in other words, the extent to which disaster funding would be scaled back. But the overall math suggests that it would be drastic. The Ryan budget proposes reducing total non-entitlement spending from 12 percent of GDP to 3.5 percent of GDP by 2050. As my colleague Kevin Drum put it:

Defense spending alone amounts to 4% of GDP, and it's vanishingly unlikely that this will ever fall much below 2-3% of GDP. This means that all domestic spending will decline from about 8% of GDP to 1-2% of GDP by 2050. That's prisons, border control, education, the FBI, courts, embassies, the IRS, FEMA, housing, student loans, roads, unemployment insurance, etc. etc. It's everything. Whacked by about 80% or so.

Romney's own proposed budget (which like Ryan's fails to identify specific cuts) would create much the same bind. Between 2013 and 2022, Romney would cut between $2 to $5 trillion more than Ryan from programs other than Social Security or defense. As the CBPP noted, "Romney's cuts would shrink non-defense discretionary spending…to between 1.1 percent and 1.6 percent of GDP." That's on top of the scheduled cuts agreed to in last year's budget deal.

Just as Ryan's proposed Medicare expenditure would fail to keep up with rising medical costs, the GOP ticket's likely cuts to disaster management and weather forecasting budgets would come at a time in which, fueled by climate change, natural disasters are becoming increasingly more potent and expensive. There were 14 billion-dollar disasters in the United States in 2011—the most on record. For the GOP in Tampa, Hurricane Isaac isn't just a nuisance; it's the elephant in the room.

Rep. Steve King: Minority Students "Feel Sorry for Themselves"

| Wed Aug. 22, 2012 5:00 AM PDT
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) came this close to following in his Missouri colleague Todd Akin's footsteps on Tuesday, when he told a local news reporter that he didn't know any women who had become pregnant from statutory rape or incest. (King's spokesman clarified that the congressman meant that he didn't personally know women who had gotten pregnant from rape, but understood, contra Akin, that it is biologically possible.)

But that doesn't mean he's off the hook. Facing his toughest-ever re-election fight against Democrat Christie Vilsack, King has only doubled down on the nativist rhetoric that's been his bread-and-butter in Washington. On Tuesday, trackers from the super-PAC run by the progressive phone service provider CREDO grabbed footage of King at a town hall meeting in Le Mars lamenting that minority students are falling for a communist victimization narrative promoted by student organizations. 

King, who recently sponsored a bill to make English the national language, launched into an extended rant on the perils of multiculturalism—which was only reinforced by a visit to Iowa State University, where he says he encountered 59 different student groups rooted in the idea. Merlin's pants! As he put it, "It started with Asians and it ended with Zeitgeist. So from A to Z. And most of them were victims groups, victimology, people that feel sorry for themselves. And they're out there recruiting our young people to be part of the group that feels sorry for themselves." 



Obscure Italian communist*: check. Karl Marx: check. Saul Alinsky: check check check. King has for years faced only token opposition in his rural western Iowa district, but in 2012 he faces a Democrat with serious upset hopes in Vilsack, the wife of the former governor-turned-Agriculture-secretary. King, who has previously flirted with birtherism and lamented America's emphasis on diversity, is banking that come November, his nativist ravings will be an asset, not an albatross.

*Update: By obscure I just mean that Antonio Gramsci is not as well known among conservatives as Marx and Alinsky, who need no introduction.

Americans Find Online Political Ads Really Creepy

| Fri Aug. 17, 2012 8:59 AM PDT

It's never been easier for political campaigns to stalk you online. Visit a campaign website and you'll invariably find yourself swamped in fundraising pitches and web videos after you leave; talk about politics in your Facebook profile and you might find a Barack Obama ad the next time you log in. Microsoft and Yahoo are selling users' personal data, and political campaigns are buying it so they can better track you on the web. As Pro Publica's Lois Beckett notes, the Obama campaign maintains the right to collect  "information about how you use the campaign website, such as what you click on and which pages you view; data about how you interact with campaign email messages; and personal information you submit as part of blog comments, interactive forums or contests and games on the campaign's websites." Equipped with an ever-expanding trove of personal information, political ad buyers are able to send voters increasingly targeted messages.

But how do voters feel about this? According to a new University of Pennsylvania study (pdf) that examined voter attitudes toward online micro-targeting, the answer is "pretty queasy." Here's the takeaway:

We conducted this survey to determine what Americans say. We found that the percentage who do not want "political advertising tailored to your interests" (86%) is far higher than the still- quite-high proportions of the population who reject "ads for products and services that are tailored to your interests" (61%), "news that is tailored to your interests" (56%), and "discounts that are tailored to your interests" (46%). Moreover, we found that the rejection of targeted political ads is unrelated to political-party affiliation or political orientation. It also cuts across gender and age, and it while does vary with race and ethnicity the numbers opposing tailored political advertising are high across the board.

Likewise, the study found that 64 percent of adults said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate they knew was tailoring ads based on personal information (as most serious campaigns do), and 77 percent of voters said that if they knew a website was giving data to political advertisers, they'd stop visting the site. As the authors explain, "It's hard to escape the conclusion that our survey is tapping into a deep discomfort over behavioral targeting and tailored advertising when it comes to politics."

Those numbers should give political campaigns pause. But I'd add a caveat: Just because voters say something will affect their decision doesn't mean it actually will. For instance, voters tell reporters and pollsters all the time that they're sick of political campaign ads, but campaigns still run them non-stop because they think they work.

"Part of it weighing the cross-benefit," says Joseph Turow, the study's lead author. "If I find out that the Obama campaign is tracking me—which they are—does that mean that I'm not gonna vote for Obama, I'm gonna vote Romney? It's a cost-benefit." The larger point, though, is that "people are annoyed and upset about this, and they feel that it shouldn't be part of the political system, and they feel that the people themselves should have control over the breadth and depth of what information they get from politicians."

As of now, there's no real push for new privacy standards for political campaigns. But Turow's study suggests one possible explanation: Voters don't realize the extent to which their identities are already being mined. Most of the policies the poll respondents identified as potential deal-breakers are already standard operating procedure.

Anyways, I've got a piece in the next issue of the magazine (for which I interviewed Turow) that touches on this issue of political privacy, in the context of the Obama campaign's data-mining and mico-targeting operations. You should subscribe.

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