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.

Where's Sarah Palin?

Thousands of conservative activists are back in DC again this weekend for the Family Research Council's annual Values Voters Summit, an event that in the past has served as an early test ground for aspiring GOP presidential candidates. True to form this year, many of the GOP luminaries are on the lineup: Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Conspicuously absent from the list, though, is former VP candiate Sarah Palin.

Palin was invited, and her absense is no doubt a huge disappointment to many of the attendees. According to the Washington Times this morning, she skipped the event because her son Track is coming back from Iraq this weekend. Of course, his return won't prevent Palin from jetting off to Hong Kong in a few days for a big paid speaking gig to a group of Chinese investors (which will be closed to the media, incidentally.)

Palin's dissing of the conservative activists seems odd. These are her people, after all. Does this mean she's not going to run for president? I doubt it. More likely Palin realizes that, unlike people like Pence and Pawlenty, the Values Voters already know her. She can afford to take them for granted. Right now, apparently, she's more desperate for Chinese money than the straw-poll votes of a couple hundred die-hards.

John Fund Fears Universal Voter Registration Conspiracy

The right-wingers over at the American Conservative Union conference in DC today must really be frothing after a full day of fiery political speechifying. We wish we could give you better color commentary, but ACU has banned the media (unless we're willing to fork over $400.) But fortunately, ACU is Twittering, so we do know that the Wall Street Journal's John Fund just warned the crowd that if Democrats lose health care, they will "ram universal voter registration through Congress." The horror! God forbid everyone in this country actually registered to vote. Other choice quotes from Fund:

On health care: "I think we have a chance of taking it down from an 800 pound gorilla to a 99 pound weakling."

On the ACORN scandal: "ACORN is the soft under belly of the Liberal Left Machine."

And this doozy: Fund estimates that more than 400,000 people attended Saturday's 9/12 anti-government march in DC. (Most reliable estimates put the number at more like 75,000.)

Fund was preceded by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who said sagely:  "The constant in climate change is that it is changing." He apparently called for more science, less hype on global warming.

And it wouldn't be a conservative conference without South Carolina Rep. Jim DeMint (R), who told attendees: "Our goal is to save freedom in America." Thanks, Jim.

You can follow the bromides here.

Rep. Tom Price: Public Option Will Cheat

The American Conservative Union, one of the co-sponsors of Saturday's big anti-government rally in DC, is holding its Legacy Council conference in DC today. All the congressional Republican conservatives will be there pow-wowing with the activists. One group that won't be: the media. ACU tells me that the only way for a reporter to get in is to pay the nearly $400 cover charge. Fortunately for us, ACU is Twittering its own event so we can see what we're missing.

Among the gems: Rep. Tom Price, the Republican doctor from Georgia, just told conferees that he believed that the public option—the supposed market competitor—would cheat to get ahead of the honest private companies competing to cover all those uninsured Americans who can't afford their products now.

I love how a few weeks ago, the GOP message was that the government would be so good at running an insurance plan that private insurers wouldn't have a chance. But then they realized that made government look effective, defeating their other messages about government as the problem. So the new message is that the government plan would simply cheat. Nice! Wish Price had said just how the government would actually do that.

Court Okays Halliburton Rape Trial

Remember Jamie Leigh Jones, the Halliburton/KBR contractor who alleged she was gang raped by her co-workers in Iraq and then imprisoned in a shipping container after she reported the attack to the company? Well, it looks like she's finally get to sue the company, in a real courthouse, over her ordeal.

Her legal saga started after Halliburton failed to take any action against her alleged attackers, and the Justice Department and military also failed to prosecute. Jones then tried to sue the company for failing to protect her. But thanks to an employment contract created during the tenure of former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, Jones was forced into mandatory binding arbitration, a private forum where Halliburton would hire the arbitrator, all the proceedings would be secret, and she'd have no right to appeal if she lost.

Data from the American Arbitration Association showed that Halliburton won more than 80 percent of its cases in arbitration, and when I looked at the data two years ago, it showed that out of 119 cases Halliburton arbitrated over a four-year period, only three resulted in the employee actually winning any money. The deck was clearly stacked against Jones from day one.

 

Jews: Not "Values Voters"?

This weekend, thousands of "values voters" will convene in Washington for their annual summit sponsored by the Family Research Council (motto: "Defending faith, family and freedom"). All of the conservative luminaries will be there: Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and maybe even Sarah Palin. (South Carolina Mark Sanford was, sadly, disinvited over the summer.) One group of voters won't be too well represented, however. Event organizers have conveniently scheduled their big DC summit for Rosh Hashanah, meaning that most Jews will be elsewhere, celebrating their biggest holiday of the year just as Bill O'Reilly kicks off the summit's Friday evening plenary session. Not that many Jews were likely to come anyway; the Family Research Council isn't known for its interfaith outreach. But still, for a religious group, the scheduling seems a little insensitive. Perhaps it was intentional, you know, to keep out the mainstream media.

That seems unlikely, however, given that in past years, the FRC summit has been a hotbed of news. In 2007, it was the place to be for aspiring GOP presidential candidates. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee emerged as a major contender, tying in a straw poll at the event with the better-funded presidential contender former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Huckabee's overwhelming win of the on-site voting also showed early on that Romney had not captured the hearts of critical evangelical Republicans, a sign of things to come. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback also used the event to announce that he was dropping out of the race.

The 2008 summit was less eventful as political activists focused on the elections, but it did make some headlines after reporters discovered exhibitors at the event selling racist anti-Obama junk, including "Obama Waffles," boxes of which featured caricatures of Obama with big lips and wearing a Muslim headdress. But 2009 promises to be a big year for the conservatives, who are once again energized in opposition to the new administration and Democratic Congress. It will also be a testing ground for potential GOP contenders—people like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and, of course, Palin if she decides to attend. (At this writing, she had been invited but not confirmed as a speaker.) They'll get an early chance to try to woo the influential evangelical foot soldiers of the GOP. But if the candidates want to court the Jewish vote, perhaps they'll have to do it on Christmas day.

 

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