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.

Cayman Island Office Building Home to 9,000 U.S. Tax Cheats

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 10:43 AM EDT

Corporate America and its wealthy executive class has had it good under the Bush administration. Not only has it benefited from massive tax cuts, but the Bush administration has stood idle as huge numbers of American companies have set up phony headquarters in the Cayman Islands so better to avoid what little taxes they might have to pay in the U.S. According to a GAO report scheduled for release today, since 2002, the number of American entities reporting a Cayman Island bank account has jumped from 2,677 to nearly 8,000. Suspiciously, investigators traced more than 9,000 American entities that had registered in the Caymans to a single office building.

Past estimates have put the loss of revenue from such schemes at $100 billion. The move to off-shore accounts hasn't exactly been a secret. But the administration has simply turned a blind eye to it as the IRS has struggled to enforce the law with limited resources. That may change, however. The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on the issue today to consider whether the IRS ought to get some more money and power to make sure that every U.S. corporation pays its fair share. That should come as welcome news to cash-strapped states, which are now facing a whopping $40 billion collective budget deficit, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, leading to widespread cuts in everything from health care services to Maine's popular fish hatchery program.

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High Gas Prices Save Lives

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 1:31 PM EDT

One happy upside to the $4 gallon of gas: traffic deaths have plummeted. The National Safety Council finds that in some states, deaths from traffic accidents have declined by as much as 20 percent this year compared with the same period last year. Indiana, which has seen a 26 percent decline, may hit the lowest number of traffic deaths in 18 years. The country hasn't seen such a precipitous fall in traffic deaths since the Arab oil embargo in 1973. The AP reports on speculation that people are simply driving less, thus fewer accidents, but also that high gas prices and a sour economy might be keeping drunks at home rather out on the roads.

One possible contributor they don't mention is Americans' mass abandonment of the SUV, which has been responsible for a disproportionate number of highway deaths both from rollovers and also from squashing other smaller cars that might survive an accident with a sedan. Now, if Congress would follow Sen. John Warner's advice and lower the speed limit, the nation might see a massive reduction in highway carnage that would even make Ralph Nader proud!

Recession Be Damned: Rich Still Getting Richer

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 10:34 AM EDT

The Wall Street Journal reports today on new IRS data showing that in 2006, the richest 1 percent of Americans claimed the largest share of the nation's adjusted gross income in 20 years. The level is so high that the IRS suspects it might be the highest it's been since the onset of the Depression. Naturally, as their income goes up, rich people's taxes are also going down. The tax rate for the richest 1 percent in 2006 fell to its lowest level in 18 years, in large part because of the Bush tax cuts that John McCain wants to extend.

Liberal Lawyer Helping Louisiana Kill That Guy

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 10:28 AM EDT

In one of the more dramatic decisions of the last Supreme Court term, justices voted 5 to 4 to ban the death penalty in a Louisiana child rape case, Kennedy v. Louisiana. The court based its decision in part on the notion that there was a national consensus against executing people for rape, as suggested by the complete absence of any federal statute making child rape a capital crime. As it turns out, though, the court was wrong. There is such a statute under military law, an error pointed out by Linda Greenhouse on her way out the door from the New York Times.

Based on that omission, Louisiana yesterday petitioned the high court to rehear the case. It's still a longshot, but given the nature of the error, not impossible that the court might reconsider. Besides, the state has a good lawyer. Fighting to execute Patrick Kennedy is Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal. Katyal became a darling of the liberal establishment in 2005 after successfully arguing the Hamdan case, in which the Supreme Court found the Bush administration's military tribunals for trying Guantanamo detainees unconstitutional. (Katyal is currently defending Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, in his military trial, which started this week.) The case rocketed the young, telegenic Katyal into the public eye—he was profiled in Vanity Fair, no less--and his name is one of those constantly floating in the ether as a potential democratic Supreme Court nominee.

His role in the Kennedy case suggests that Katyal is not quite the liberal he's been made out to be by the media. Or, he's got tremendous political savvy. His choice to defend the death penalty in a case that even some court conservatives can't stomach brings back faint memories of a young presidential candidate flying home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a retarded man. If you aspire to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, what better way for a liberal to prove political independence (and confirmability) than to get someone executed?

Minimum Wage Goes Up Thursday

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 11:39 AM EDT

Burger flippers rejoice! The federal minimum wage will go up on Thursday to $6.55 from $5.85. Too bad the minimum wage isn't rising as fast as gas prices. Still, this is an improvement. Congress went nine years without raising the floor for low-wage workers, finally boosting the minimum last year when its value hit a 51-year low. One more bump next year will bring the federal minimum wage up to $7.25, a far cry from the $10.50 an hour paid in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but a step in the right direction. Another decade, the minimum wage might actually lift someone above the poverty line.

Right now, 25 states have minimum wages higher than what the feds set, so the hike won't have as much impact as it otherwise might, but it's a boon to low-wage workers in stingy states like Louisiana and Alabama that have no state minimum. Now that Congress has come this far, the next step ought to be indexing the damn thing to inflation like many of the states do. I've never understood why poor working people should be made to suffer so much from political gridlock. Making sure that work pays ought to be one thing people in both parties can agree on.

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