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.

Inadequate Diaper Supply Linked To Child Abuse, Depression

| Tue Jul. 30, 2013 10:12 AM EDT
Babies without lots of clean diapers are at risk of child abuse

Being poor and trying to raise children is stressful on a host of levels, but it's especially tough for people who can't afford diapers. New research from Yale University's school of medicine finds that depressed, low-income mothers might need Pampers far more than they need Prozac. The study found that women who lack an adequate supply of diapers for their babies are more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety than other low-income mothers. Maternal depression and mental health problems, the researchers say, can have longterm and debilitating effects on children's well-being and their performance in school.

The researchers, who have been studying mothers in a Connecticut low-income housing project, found that the lack of an adequate supply of diapers was a better predictor of a mother's mental health need than even food insecurity. The average baby needs between eight and 10 diapers a day, at a cost of around $120 a month, according to the DC Diaper Bank, a nonprofit that provides free diapers to poor families in DC. But Yale researchers found women who were trying to stretch a single diaper for an entire day, thanks in part to their lack of cash and the high price of the products in their neighborhoods. Not only does a diaper shortage lead to mental health problems in the mother, it's also been directly linked to child abuse. After all, a wet, smelly baby is a very unhappy baby, and one likely to have a raging case of diaper rash to boot.

In a way, the study seems like a no-brainer: Of course not being able to buy diapers is stressful! But the study has special relevance for American poverty policy. Since 1994, when the nation ended welfare as we know it, the safety net has become increasingly organized around food stamps, not cash grants, for poor mothers. You can't buy diapers with food stamps.

Very few low-income families are able to get cold hard cash from government safety net programs, as they did before welfare was "reformed." Today, only about 4 million Americans receive benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), compared with 14 million in 1996, even though the poverty rate is higher today than it was back then. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, of every 100 families with children in poverty today, only 27 receive any form of TANF benefits, compared with 68 in 1996. Those who do get some cash are getting far less of it, as the monthly benefits—never large to begin with—have fallen as much as 30 percent since welfare reform began. In 14 states, a family of three receives less than $300 a month.

Not surprisingly, the program no longer lifts many kids out of deep poverty (defined as living at below 50 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $9700 per year for a family of three). In 1995, the program kept 2.2 million kids out of deep poverty, about 62 percent of the kids at risk of those dire circumstances. By 2005, that number had fallen to about 650,000—just 21 percent of the children at risk for deep poverty.

All those figures mean that far fewer poor moms can afford diapers, and that one factor is now linked to a significant and also avoidable problem with long-term implications for the nation's poor children. The irony, too, is that by changing federal policy to make it impossible for poor women to buy the critical things they need to care for their babies, policymakers have also inadvertently made it difficult for poor women to go to work or receive work training, one of the key goals of the '94 welfare overhaul. That's because child care providers won't take poor women's children if they can't provide an adequate supply of diapers.

In the wake of welfare reform, nonprofits like the DC Diaper Bank have sprung up to try to distribute free diapers through neighborhood service organizations and other programs that serve low-income moms. It's not nearly as effective as having a better national poverty policy, but a good idea nonetheless. You can find a local one and ways to donate here.

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Does Having Sisters Turn Boys Into Republicans?

| Tue Jul. 23, 2013 12:36 PM EDT
Boys with sisters grow up to be husbands who don't do housework.

Lots of people have been looking to science to explain the differences between Democrats and Republicans. Mother Jones' Chris Mooney has published a rundown of all the brain differences suspected in the gulf between liberals and conservatives. But a new study by researchers from Loyola Marymount University and Stanford University's business school suggests another factor may play a role in forming the political brain: the gender of one's siblings. According to the study, boys with only a sister were 15 percent more likely to identify as a Republican in high school, and they were 13.5 percent more conservative in their views of women's roles than boys who only had brothers. 

The reason for this difference? Not genes or neural pathways, but something more mundane: housework. The researchers speculate that boys take their cues about women's roles from an early age, and that girls tend to be assigned more traditional chores when they have a brother. Watching their sisters do this housework "teaches" boys that washing dishes and other such drudgery is simply women's work. Boys with only brothers don't seem to have this problem because the chore load at home tends to be spread around more equally. The impact on men's gender perceptions is long term, but the stark partisanship fades somewhat as men get older, the researchers say.

Perhaps even more important than the impact sisters have on men's political views is the way sisters may influence how their brothers turn out as husbands. The study found that boys with sisters grow up to be men who don't help much around the house. The researchers' data show that middle-aged men who grew up with a sister are 17 percent more likely to say their spouses did more housework than they did compared with men who had only brothers. The study suggests this might mean men's views of gender roles are permanently affected by their childhood environment. Girls weren't affected by having brothers or sisters. 

The results seemed to surprise the researchers, who thought having a sister would have a liberalizing effect on boys. Loyola's Andrew Healy said in a press release about the study:

We might expect that boys would learn to support gender equity through interactions with their sisters. However, the data suggest that other forces are more important in driving men’s political attitudes, including whether the family assigned chores, such as dishwashing, according to traditional gender roles.

Message to parents: If you want your boys to grow up to be good husbands or partners, make them wash some dishes and iron clothes when they're young!

Oath Keepers Heart Edward Snowden!

| Fri Jul. 19, 2013 12:54 PM EDT
Billboard at the Pentagon subway station bought by the Oath Keepers

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has earned quite a following, sometimes in unlikely quarters. The latest evidence comes in the form of this billboard recently installed inside the subway station that serves the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The billboard was paid for by the Oath Keepers, a "patriot" group founded in 2009 not long after President Obama took office. The controversial organization, founded by a former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) staffer and associated with former militia leaders, encourages members of the military and law enforcement to swear an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, and not necessarily to the Commander in Chief. The Oath Keepers pledge to essentially turn on the US government if they think they're being ordered to do things that they think are unconstitutional, such as, for instance, taking people's guns away.

They arrived on the scene with much fanfare and were often staples at tea party and Second Amendment rallies organized around opposition to the tyrannical Obama administration. Their ranks are filled with Birthers, Truthers, and others who see black helicopters lurking at every turn. Their highest profile associates have been people like Mike Vanderboegh, the former Alabama militia leader who urged followers to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices to protest the passage of healthcare reform. (Some actually did.) But the Oath Keepers have since dropped out of the limelight, the dictatorship they were preparing for never quite materializing. 

But the group has reemerged with a new project, which involves billboards like the Snowden one at the Pentagon Metro station. The Oath Keepers initially set out to put up billboards around military bases to "Educate Troops About Their Oath Bound Duty to Refuse Unconstitutional Orders," and to "counter the propaganda of the domestic enemies of the Constitution," according to their website. So far this year, they've installed one near the Twenty Nine Palms Marine base in California, with plans to target Ft. Hood, in Texas, and Ft. Rucker in Alabama.

The first billboard went up last year across from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, in response to a retired Army colonel who enraged tea partiers and gun activists with a paper he wrote describing a hypothetical scenario in which the military might have to intervene on US soil. The hypothetical involves an "extremist militia motivated by the goals of the “tea party” movement" that takes over a town in South Carolina and starts an insurrection. The "tea party insurrectionists" in the paper sound a lot like the Oath Keepers, who took great offense to the paper and responded with a billboard screaming, "Colonel 'Red Coat' Benson, The Tea Party is Not the Enemy. Soldiers! Honor Your Oath. Refuse To Fire On Americans."

Apparently the Oath Keepers have found a hero in Snowden, and decided to jump to his defense before moving on to billboards at Ft. Hood and elsewhere. The Pentagon billboard says that Snowden "honored his oath," and it urges others (presumably all the spies and military officers on the Metro) to follow their oath to the Constitution, too. Last month, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes explained to Reason why the group might be so sympathetic to Snowden (who, like Rhodes, was a Paulite):

He is an example of what needs to be done by anyone who has knowledge of such gross violations of our rights. We need more to stand up, because this is surely the mere tip of the iceberg of the infrastructure for a police state that is being built over us.

This is about far more than supposed attempts to ferry out al Qaeda operatives. This is part of a growing Stasi and Checka style surveillance police state which tags, tracks, and prepares plans to detain dissidents with the "Main Core" database of millions of Americans who the regime considers a "threat."...

Unless we the people purge out these oath breakers from BOTH parties, we will find ourselves in a nightmare dictatorship and we will have to fight to throw it off. Sweat now or bleed later. Purge them all.

 

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