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 several years 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.

Take That, Dick Cheney!

Last week, in his first successful piece of legislation, freshman Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) persuaded the Senate to approve a measure banning federal contracts with defense companies that use mandatory binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts that prevent sexual assault victims from suing. The measure not only proves once again that elections matter, but it also comes as a major rebuke to none other than former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The back story: Franken's bill was inspired by Halliburton/KBR contractor Jamie Leigh Jones, who was allegedly raped by her co-workers and held hostage in a shipping container by her employer in Iraq in 2005. Not only did the Justice Department and the military fail to investigate or prosecute her attackers, but as Mother Jones reported back in 2007, Jones was unable to sue the company, either, in no small part thanks to Cheney.

Cheney had been the Halliburton CEO who instituted a company-wide policy to include mandatory binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts. Jones was forced to sign such a contract before heading off to Iraq in 2005 and has spent four years fighting in federal court to void the contract. Jones wasn't the only defense contractor/sexual assault victim prevented from suing because of arbitration clauses.Franken was understandably outraged, and he gave a surprisingly compelling speech from the Senate floor, saying:

The constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law … And today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. The victims of rape and discrimination deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen.

Franken was so persuasive that even a few Republicans got on board; his amendment passed 68 to 30.

The Christmas Wars 2009: Round 1

The Christmas wars are officially off and running. The latest attack comes from the American Family Association, a Mississippi-based right-wing Christian group that has successfully boycotted various companies they deem too friendly to gays and too hostile to Christians. The newest target of its ire? The Gap, a company that has officially declined to use the word "Christmas" in any of its holiday promotions this year. The AFA apparently thinks this is real blasphemy and is urging its members and supporters to boycott The Gap and its affiliates, Banana Republic and Old Navy. They write: 

We want you to stand with us and other Christians in proclaiming that Christmas is special, not just any winter holiday. And the gift buying that Americans do for one another is because of Christmas. People don't exchange gifts on Thanksgiving or New Year's Day.

As part of its campaign, AFA is urging its supporters to don buttons that read "God's Gift: Merry Christmas" to show their support for Christmas. Naturally, the buttons can be procured from AFA. A "suggested donation" of $55 will get you 100 of them. However futile such campaigns may seem, the tiny AFA has actually been fairly successful in many of these boycotts. Three years ago, the group successfully convinced Sears to back off its commitment to nondenominational advertising. This year, Sears is going whole hog on the birth of Christ. AFA notes approvingly on its website that Sears is even offering a "Christmas Club." AFA doesn't seem to mind that Sears has launched the club even before Halloween. Those sorts of complaints will apparently be left to the atheists.

 

Patriots In Denial

Conservatives have always been a patriotic bunch, but their flag-waving seems a lot more aggressive these days. The two big conservative events in DC this month, the Values Voters Summit and the 9/12 march on Washington by the so-called tea party protesters, were patriotism on steroids. Values Voters kicked off with a full Boy Scout color guard, the pledge of allegiance and a rousing rendition of the national anthem. The 9/12 march featured numerous flags, anthem-singings and even a crowd rendition of America the Beautiful. As I was leaving, a guy on the sidewalk chirped, “So wonderful to see all you great patriots out here!”

After spending many hours at these gatherings, I was left with the impression that many Americans are responding to the recession with a newfound nationalism. Republican politicians are egging them on, insisting that despite the collapse of the banking system, the foreclosure crisis, and the utter destruction of American manufacturing, the U.S. has always been and still is the greatest country in the world, one made that way by God. And they really, really hate anyone realistic enough to suggest otherwise—especially if that person happens to be President Barack Obama.

Santorum Tanks, Huckabee Triumphs Again

Well, the results are in and it looks like former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has exactly zero hope of ever mounting a serious presidential campaign. Not that anyone really thought he did, except perhaps for him. Santorum's name was on the ballot for the straw poll at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in DC this weekend, along with other GOP luminaries such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. In past years, the straw poll has been an early testing ground for the GOP's presidential aspirants. But if Santorum was hoping to woo activists from a distance (he didn't actually show up to campaign) with his anti-gay history, it didn't work. Santorum managed to garner a scant 2.5 percent of the vote, saved from coming in dead last only by Ron Paul. 

As in past years, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee cleaned up big time. None of the other candidates even came close to his 28 percent of the votes. Behind him, there was a four-way tie among Romney, Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a guy who looks very much like someone running for vice president (the Indiana curse, perhaps). The fact that Palin fared so poorly also doesn't bode well for her future as a candidate, as she nearly lost to virtual unknowns Pence and Pawlenty along with Huckabee. 2012 is still a long way away, but it's not hard to imagine Huckabee as an early frontrunner for the race. His youthful fondness for frying squirrels in a popcorn popper nothwithstanding, Huckabee polled within seven points of Obama in April this year in an early look at potential matchups for 2012. Having seen him light up a room this weekend before the values voters, I have to think he's a pretty serious candidate.

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