Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

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The House GOP's Obamacare Alternative Won't Curb Health Care Costs—But It Will Enrich the Insurance Industry

| Wed Mar. 19, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported in an "exclusive" front-page story that House Republicans are at long last promoting their alternative to Obamacare. According to the Post, the new plan, roundly panned, is really just a compilation of the same old health care proposals that Republicans have been floating for years, including allowing the sale of insurance plans across state lines, high-risk insurance pools, and, notably, restrictions on medical-malpractice lawsuits.

Like so many of the Republicans' health care reform proposals, capping damages in and otherwise restricting malpractice lawsuits isn't likely to have a big impact on health care costs, or on expanding coverage to the uninsured. Just ask the state of Florida, whose Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a law similar to the one House Republicans are pushing.

Florida passed its version of the House GOP plan in 2003, when doctors in the state were loudly proclaiming the existence of a "malpractice crisis" in which the state was plagued with an epidemic of frivolous lawsuits that were driving doctors' insurance premiums sky-high and forcing them to leave the state. But last week, Florida's Republican-dominated Supreme Court poked a giant hole in that hysteria. It declared that not only was that "crisis" a fiction, but that the alleged cure—caps on lawsuit damages, which are also favored by the House GOP—had done nothing but enrich insurance companies at the expense of doctors and patients, in violation of the state constitution.

Infamous George Zimmerman Prosecutor Puts Disproportionate Number of Black Men on Death Row

| Tue Mar. 11, 2014 11:35 AM PDT
Florida state attorney Angela Corey

Florida is working hard these days to make itself a case study argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty. In a state that has seen more innocent people exonerated from death row than any other in the country, lawmakers last year passed legislation to try to speed up the pace of executions. Last month, Gov. Rick Scott (R) set a dubious record for presiding over more executions in his first term than any governor since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Meanwhile, the state continues to ignore US Supreme Court rulings banning the execution of the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. Just last week, the state argued before the Supreme Court that it didn’t want to use accepted scientific principles to comply with the court's ban on executing mentally disabled people because that would spare too many death row residents, a move that would be "inconsistent with Florida’s purposes." And now comes the news the state's most notorious prosecutor has not only sent a disproportionate number of felons to death row, but a disproportionate number of African-Americans, once again raising the troubling issue of racial disparities in the state's capital punishment system.

CPAC Celebrates Free-Market Entrepreneurship With CEO Whose Company Was Built On Federally Backed Loans

| Fri Mar. 7, 2014 1:31 PM PST

The conservatives who organize the annual Conservative Political Action Convention are big on touting free-market solutions and sticking to their ideals of smaller government and lower taxes. They believe that if the government would just get out of the way, enterprising entrepreneurs and other businessmen would create wealth that would in turn trickle down to even the poorest of the poor. But when it comes to finding business leaders who embody that spirit, the conference organizers seem to have come up a little short this year.

Donald Trump, of course, is in the house. The Koch brothers have been there in spirit, with Koch Industries underwriting the conference's "Radio Row." But for a panel this afternoon called "And Entrepreneurship Shall Set You Free: How to Celebrate Free Market Capitalism in the Popular Culture," CPAC organizers managed to scare up a think-tank fellow, a couple of unknown state legislators, and Gary Heavin, the former CEO of Curves, the fitness clubs for women.

Heavin is not exactly a great example of the virtues of free-market capitalism. He first started running a chain of gyms in his early 20s that ultimately failed. He filed bankruptcy and ended up so broke that he ended up going to jail for failing to pay child support. While incarcerated, he reportedly became a born-again Christian, and went on to later found Curves. The company got off to a pretty good start by catering to overweight women in small towns with strip-mall gym outlets. The chain took off and expanded so rapidly that by 2005, it had about 8,000 outlets worldwide.

But within just a few years, the chain tanked. It was plagued with bad publicity when news broke that Heavin had been donating large sums of money to an anti-abortion group, a move that troubled members of gyms that had been touted as a sort of girrl-power outfit. Some of the franchises cut their ties to the company because of the donations. By 2011, half of its franchises had closed. (Heavin, meanwhile, did a stint on ABC's "Secret Millionaire" that year.)

In stark contradiction with the self-reliant, anti-government principles CPACers tout, much of the Curves' early success was built using federally-guaranteed loans from the US Small Business Administration, which were given to franchise buyers. By 2010, Curves franchisees were bailing on those federal loans in droves, with 16 percent of the loans going into default, the fourth-highest rate of any franchise in the country.

Franchisees complained that the company had abandoned them and was bilking them in ways that hurt their outlets, such as forging partnerships with General Mills to sell lucrative Curves snack bars that franchisees had to purchase at inflated rates. Heavin became a billionaire, but his company faced lawsuits from hundreds of franchisees who alleged that the company deceived them about the potential profits from a Curves franchise and who were ruined financially after buying into the concept. (When a Curves franchise failed, the parent company often sued the owner to recoup lost royalties.) Franchisees alleged that the company had engaged in deceptive business practices, fraud, and that it had violated a host of state consumer protection laws in marketing its outlets. The cases eventually settled quietly for undisclosed sums, and Heavin was personally dismissed as a defendant from one of the larger ones, but the complaints and bad will didn't help the company's prospects.

Heavin was sued for $20 million by former business associates who claimed that they had sacrificed deeply to help him launch Curves—mortgaging their houses, going into debt, even sleeping in their cars—only to have Heavin stiff them on profits they were owed once the company took off. Heavin called the suit frivolous and it eventually settled for an undisclosed amount, but it didn't paint a pretty picture of his business practices. In 2012, with the company floundering, Heavin sold it for an undisclosed sum and moved on to, well, doing panels at CPAC apparently.

For a movement so devoted to promoting the free market, you'd think CPAC organizers could do better.

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