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.

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.

 

Health Care Reform As Socialism Meme Dates To Roosevelt

If this weekend's big Tea Party rally in DC was any indication, a lot of Americans  believe that Democrats trying to reform health care are secretly plotting a socialist revolution. According to Bloomberg, though, this is nothing new. Health care reform opponents have been stoking fears of socialism during health care debates since at least Franklin Roosevelt's day. The story even digs up a 1961 quote from Ronald Reagan invoking the term—long before he went into politics.

"From here, it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism,” Reagan, then an actor, warned in a 1961 record sponsored by the American Medical Association after President John F. Kennedy created a commission that laid the foundation for Medicare.

There's a reason reform opponents like to throw around charges of socialism: it works. Bloomberg says:

Once the public associates the word “socialism” with a plan, it’s hard to change the impression... In 1945, when Truman addressed Congress about a national insurance plan, 75 percent of Americans supported the proposal. By 1949, after it was targeted by opponents, only 21 percent did, according to a book by former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.”

Sadly, history seems to be repeating itself. According to a recent poll, since Republicans and others have been invoking socialism to defeat Democratic reform bills, 52 percent of Americans now disapprove of President Obama's handling of health care, up from 28 percent in April.  

Snapshots From The Tea Party

The problem with people who march in protest of big government and taxes is that they never seem to acknowledge just how much they depend on the very government those tax dollars support. Case in point: I spent several hours Saturday attending the big “9/12” march in DC, brought to you by the same people who organized the Tax Day “tea parties” and rowdy health care town hall meetings. Tens of thousands of conservatives and libertarians fanned out across Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capitol lawn, decrying the federal stimulus package, the bailout of Wall Street, and the “czaring” or America.

All that marching and ranting was apparently too much for some folks; several “patriots” suffered medical emergencies and had to be rescued by paramedics—that is, by big government. Or at least local government. Several children also got lost (perhaps because they all seemed to be wearing camo). But the event organizers failed to see the irony in bashing government as the root of all evil one minute and the next, urging little Johnny to find a policeman (and likely stimulus beneficiary) to help him find his mom. (Some in the crowd did suggest people pray for the little tyke, however.)

This kind of disconnect seemed to infuse one of the larger conservative protests in recent memory. What, exactly, did all these protesters want? Who knows? Their message was as muddled as any Starbucks-vandalizing-World Bank protester’s. Some wanted an end to illegal immigration. Others wanted to abolish the auto czar. A few protested “cap and tax” and carried signs suggesting that CO2 emissions came from the sun. One guy carried a poster with photos of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Ben Bernanke, Obama and others, all wearing Hitler mustaches—in protest of the socialism that was taking over the country. More just seemed to hate Obama generally, along with ACORN and Ted Kennedy. (A popular sign: “Obamacare should die with Ted Kennedy.”)

Gingrich Hearts Porn Company

The Washington City Paper reports that the PAC of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recently offered an "entrepreneur of the year" award to Allison Vivas, the owner of a California porn company, Pink Visual, whose credits include "Desperately Seeking Cock," "House Wife Bangers," and "Memoirs of a Gusher." CP's Dave McKenna gives the gory details of an apparent fundraising scheme gone awry:

Vivas’ PR representative, Brian S. Gross, is circulating a letter dated Wednesday ostensibly from Joe Gaylord, a consultant working for Gingrich, telling her “Newt’s Business Defense and Adviory [sic] Council” had agreed that she was deserving of the honor in “recognition of the risks you take to ceate [sic] jobs and stimulate the economy.”

“Newt would like to arrange a private dinner with you at the historic Capitol Hill Club on the evening of October 7, 2009 in Washington. You’ll dine privately with Newt at this exclusive venue and he’ll take the occasion to present you with your well deserved award and have your photo taken together.”

Alas, after McKenna's post, American Solutions for Winning the Future, Gingrich's PAC, rescinded the offer.

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