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.

Will Congress and Darrell Issa Kill DC's Living Wage Bill?

| Tue Jul. 16, 2013 3:00 AM PDT

Last week, the DC Council passed a bill that would force large retailers in the city to pay their workers a living wage—specifically $12.50 an hour, a bill widely seen as targeted specifically at Walmart, which has been planning to open no fewer than five stores in the city. Walmart has been playing hardball, and shortly before the vote on the bill, it threatened to pull out of deals to put three of its stores in poor neighborhoods in DC. But the council didn't cave, and now the bill is sitting on the desk of DC Mayor Vincent Gray, who hasn't said what he's going to do with it.

Walmart is furiously lobbying the mayor to veto the bill, and Walmart haters and unions are furiously lobbying him to let the bill pass. Gray lives in one of the neighborhoods with a decrepit shopping center destined for a new Walmart and hopefully a new lease on life, so he is somewhat sympathetic to the retailer. On the other hand, Walmart isn't very popular in DC, and Gray is up for reelection next year and facing a slew of challengers. DC residents are watching the fight closely to see if DC might become the first major metro area to win such a confrontation with Walmart. Sadly for those of us who live here, we will probably lose no matter what the mayor decides to do.

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Why the Latest Zimmerman Race Riot Conspiracy Theory Is the Dumbest Yet

| Fri Jul. 12, 2013 10:23 AM PDT
New Black Panther Party leader Malik Zulu Shabazz

The conservative blogosphere is brewing with ominous warnings about the inevitable riots they think will come if George Zimmerman is acquitted of charges related to his killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. (My colleague Lauren Williams has rightly questioned this mania here.) An email this week from Everett Wilkinson, a former tea party leader in Florida who now runs something called the Nation Liberty Federation, outlines many of the leading (and recurring) conspiracy theories about the verdict's aftermath, which he naturally thinks will include riots: martial law. FEMA camps. But he offers up some of the new ones, too. 

Among those is the suggestion that the New Black Panther Party is busing people to Florida for the specific purpose of inciting riots after Zimmerman presumably walks out of court a free man. Wilkinson writes:

Reports have come in from eye witnesses in Sanford, Florida that the New Black Panther Party, an extremist group that has called for the killing of George Zimmerman if he is found not guilty, is busing in thousands to that town. Sanford is the location of the trial and near the place where the shooting of Trayvon Martin by Zimmerman occurred. There have been threats of riots if Zimmerman is not found guilty and it is believed that the New Black Panther Party and other extremist groups will attempt to take advantage of racial tensions after a non guilty verdict by organizing riots.

Wilkinson points out that the New Black Panthers supposedly put out a "dead or alive" poster with Zimmerman's face on it last year—proof that the "eye witnesses" in Sanford must be right. He writes ominously, "When Zimmerman was first arrested the Black Panthers threatened to burn the whole state of Florida down." Wilkinson suggests that the Obama administration might be bringing in Russian soldiers to fight off the angry mobs (through FEMA, naturally), a claim that follows on the heels of his suggestion earlier this year that Russian intelligence was warning that President Obama was creating teams of "death squads," a story that originated on a hoax website.

Clearly Wilkinson doesn't know much about the New Black Panthers aside from the overhyped reports about them on Fox News during the past few presidential campaigns. For one thing, they probably don't need a bus. Most of their members could fit in a taxi. And they're not especially good at organizing anything, even voter intimidation. Their erstwhile leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, got his start in DC in the 1990s while at Howard University's law school, running as a candidate for the DC city council and trying to organize boycotts of Korean merchants in DC's poor, black neighborhoods. His first moment in the limelight came after he organized anti-Semitic chants at a Howard rally in 1994. Shabazz was good at getting himself in the news and not much else. Little has changed in that regard since 1995, when now-Slate editor David Plotz wrote this seminal profile of the guy. (A sampling: "Seated in the tiny chair in the tiny room, Shabazz looks somewhat like an overgrown schoolboy—an impression magnified by the large zit erupting beneath his right nostril.")

The reports and emails from Nation Liberty Federation vastly overestimate the potential of the Panthers to mobilize people. The Panthers themselves tweeted recently that even they don't think they could organize the kind of chaos conservatives warn about, saying, "If Zimmerman is acquitted there is likely to be unrest all over America. It will be way beyond the capacity of the NBPP." (The NBPP tweet that they will not be engaging in any unlawful activity, either.)

The Nation Liberty Federation's rhetoric suggests that if there are going to be riots after a verdict, the people we might want to be worried about are the white ones. Wilkinson, who is white, has some advice for readers on protecting themselves against "flash mobs": 

The obvious things you need are firearms, ammunition, maps, food, water, full tank of gas and/or “Bug Out Bag Survival Bag” and/or “Urban Survival Kit.”  I would also highly recommend a CB radio or ham radio because the cell phone towers may be overloaded or shut off.

One of the reason's why Americans beat the British is because they organized as militia units.  Remember also Korean shop owners that protected their shops during the LA riots.  We must learn to work as teams.  Talk to your friends and family and come up with a plan to protect as a unit.

We are expecting martial law declared, similar to Boston or Katrina Hurricane, in any area affected by riots or that Obama feels wants to control.  Unless you like the idea of spending anytime in a FEMA Camp, I would recommend bugging out of the area at the first sign of unrest if you live in an infected area.  Plan on having to be on the the move within 15 minutes of an riot

Don’t be surprised if Russian or other foreign troops come to help the DHS!  Rumor has it that Obama has positioned at least 15,000 Russian troops.  

If you find yourself in the immediate area of a “flash mob,” riot or protest, leave immediately.  This is not the time to be hero or argue.  You will only become a victim.  Hopefully you have a firearm to defend yourself, but you need to use it to help you extract from the area.  In other words, "shoot, scoot and run.”

It wouldn't take many paranoid, angry gun owners to create a bloodbath in Florida after a Zimmerman verdict, a prospect that seems far more frightening than Malik Shabazz and a cab full of New Black Panthers.

This post has been revised.

GOP Super-Lawyer Jim Bopp Crashes Press Conference Call About Jim Bopp

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 12:21 PM PDT
James Bopp, GOP super lawyer behind Citizens United.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington today filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS against campaign finance super lawyer James Bopp, the legal genius behind the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for corporate money in campaigns. CREW alleges that he's using a nonprofit organization he controls to divert money into his law firm without paying taxes on it.

Bopp's Terre Haute, Indiana-based law practice works with clients including the Republican National Committee, the National Organization for Marriage, and a variety of anti-abortion groups. He is also the general counsel to the James Madison Center for Free Speech, a nonprofit legal organization that shares an office with Bopp's law firm.The Madison Center has only one employee: Bopp himself, and all of the money it raises is used to pay Bopp's firm. (Much of the complaint seems spurred by this Slate story that detailed the unusual arrangement and which is included as an exhibit to CREW's complaint.)

CREW sees this arrangement as a clear violation of federal tax law, which bans nonprofits from providing a substantial benefit for private parties. The group finds it especially egregious and possibly criminal that Bopp has signed forms saying that the Madison Center doesn't employ any independent contractors who make more than $50,000, when it's paid his firm hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years. The fees paid to his firm are listed on the center's tax returns simply as legal fees, rather than fees to a contractor. CREW also alleges that the board of the Madison Center, which includes Amway heiress and deep-pocketed GOP donor Betsy DeVos, has violated its fiduciary duty by allowing this arrangement. It estimates in its complaint that Bopp is liable for more than $6 million in unpaid excise taxes and other penalties. (CREW has also made complaints against Bopp with the US Attorney in Indiana and the state attorney general.)

Bopp finds most of this preposterous. "I'm the only one that does any work, so I'm the only one that gets paid," he told me. "I'm not on the board. My firm is hired. The vast majority of things we do pro bono." He says he's not worried about the complaint, noting that despite CREW's long list of complaints filed against various people and organizations, "I can't find that they’ve ever won one. I've represented some of the people they’ve complained about and the IRS didn't do a damn thing."

When CREW convened a conference call with reporters today to discuss its complaint, Bopp phoned in to defend himself. "You didn’t ask me questions before you filed this ridiculous complaint," he exclaimed when CREW's executive director Melanie Sloan told him to convene a conference call of his own. "So I'm going to answer the questions." Reporters seemed happy to have him there to respond, but CREW cut him off after he started to dominate the discussion.

While liberals might like to see Bopp slapped down by the IRS, the CREW complaint seems like rather small potatoes, despite the high-profile target. The Madison Center's budget is relatively small, especially compared to what Bopp makes representing various political groups and the legal fees he recoups in court when he wins First Amendment cases. The center averages a little more than $200,000 in annual income, much of it coming from the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. If Bopp really were trying to use the nonprofit to avoid taxes, he's not funneling much of his money through it. 

Sloan admits the potential infraction is fairly small, but argues that the size is insignificant. "I grant you it's not a ton of money, but anybody working in this sphere needs to follow the law," she says. "People don't just get to ignore the laws that are inconvenient for them. We have a lot of legal support for our claims. Sometimes I think when you're as significant a figure as Bopp is, you think the law doesn’t apply to you."

These Numbers Show the Obama Administration Isn't Following Its Own Deportation Policy

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 9:50 AM PDT
Percentage of all deportation filings related to criminal activity

In August 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer devote the scarce resources of the federal government to deporting undocumented immigrants whose only real crime was entering the US to find a job. Instead, the administration promised smarter enforcement, focused primarily on criminal aliens. "It makes no sense to spend our enforcement resources on these low-priority cases when they could be used with more impact on others, including individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes," wrote Cecilia Munoz, the administration's director of intergovernmental affairs, in a White House blog post. "This means more immigration enforcement pressure where it counts the most, and less where it doesn't."

Fast forward two years. New data crunched by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, which uses the federal Freedom of Information Act to collect massive amounts of federal records, shows that little has changed since the administration announced the change in policy. In the current fiscal year, through June, only 14.7 percent of deportation filings have been related to criminal activity. Most of the rest have been for garden variety immigration offenses. TRAC points out that this is slightly worse than in the last year of the Bush administration, when 16 percent of deportation filings were criminal-related. And it's far different from what was going on in 1992, when nearly 30 percent of deportation filings involved allegations of criminal activity. Of course, back then, the US was deporting far fewer people, just shy of 90,000 compared with more than 212,000 in 2012. Even so, the alleged criminals make up a pretty small percentage of the deportation docket. 

The numbers vary radically by state, too. Out of the 700 deportation filings from Tennessee, only 11 were for alleged criminals. But in Hawaii, where 108 people were hit with deportation filings this year, 51 were alleged criminals, nearly 50 percent and the best record in the country for focusing primarily on criminal aliens.

TRAC's numbers, taken from official federal data, have consistently undermined the president's assertions that he's trying to ease up on Latino communities by focusing only on criminals and not all the other immigrants in this country. The administration has insisted that past TRAC reports on this issue are wrong because they don't have all the information on the criminal cases at the root of some of the deportations. TRAC, though, has asked the administration for more data, and the administration hasn't been forthcoming. 

The new immigration numbers offer one other interesting data point: Thirty-one people supposedly have been slated to be deported for terrorism or national security reasons this year. The vast majority of them were Cubans, Mexicans, or other Central Americans. Perhaps TRAC, or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, need some other way of categorizing these people, because it's really hard to believe that they're all alleged terrorists. After all, only Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) believes Al Qaeda has a big Mexican affiliate, and none of the people captured and identified as real potential terrorists are going anywhere, much less back home. 

Tea Partiers Explain How to Properly Celebrate the 4th of July

| Thu Jul. 4, 2013 3:00 AM PDT

A Member of the Tea Party during a nationwide protest at IRS offices.

The modern Independence Day celebration typically involves things like parades, fireworks, and backyard barbecuing. For the Tea Party Patriots, though, the 4th is a much more solemn occasion, a time for reflecting on all the history that the rest of us tend to gloss over while wilting in the summer heat over the grill. The group has helpfully provided an "Independence Day Tool Kit" with detailed instructions on how to celebrate the holiday, tea party-style. 

According to the Tea Party Patriots, a proper 4th of July celebration should naturally kick off with the reading of the Declaration of Independence (or, if time is an issue, just the important parts). A prayer might also be in order, and the program outline helpfully advises that "smaller families might want to invite another family to join them." The extra people are important because the tea partiers recommend that American families spend their day off acting out a play called Unite or Die, whose text on TPP's website is accompanied by a pattern for making tri-corner hats out of construction paper.  

unite or die
Unite or Die, an Independence Day play for the whole family recommended by Tea Party Patriots. Charlesbridge

For the kids, TPP recommends "colonial games" including leapfrog and hopscotch. Once they've worked up an appetite jumping over each other, the kids might be ready for a colonial refreshment, such as Swamp Yankee Applesauce Cake or 1776 molasses dumplings (recipes included). 

TPP's Independence Day toolkit also includes coloring books for the kids, which illustrate the great sacrifices made by the Founders and educate children on the birth of the nation—at least from the perspective of the National Center for Constitutional Studies. The group was founded by Glenn Beck's favorite anti-communist Mormon author, the late W. Cleon Skousen, whose work is quoted in an "Independence Day Message" that the toolkit recommends reading to holiday guests. The message conveys a rather different interpretation of the Declaration of Independence than most Americans might have come to understand. In it, for instance, Earl Taylor, the head of NCCS, declares that "Acceptance of the Declaration of Independence is Acceptance of God as Our King," and that the founding document is a "declaration of our individual belief that God is our one and only King." 

Viewed that way, of course, the 4th of July is no longer a day for fireworks, but a religious holiday, which sort of explains TPP's rather dour prescriptions for celebrating it. I'm guessing that not many Americans will trade their beer, burgers, and lounge chairs for colonial cakes and a few rounds of leapfrog. But hey, that's the great thing about living in a free country: The Declaration of Independence means that the tea partiers can tell the rest of us how to celebrate the 4th, and we are free to utterly ignore them. 

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