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.

Homeland Security Deems Illegal Immigrants Threat To Environment

| Mon Apr. 21, 2008 11:31 AM EDT

Ah, isn't it great when the Bush administration starts to channel Ronald Reagan? The linguistic twists alone are so priceless, like this one, from yesterday's Washington Post. In a story about how the new anti-immigrant fence along the Mexican border is threatening endangered wildlife by disrupting migration patterns and cutting off animals from water sources, a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security suggested that the new fence might actually improve the environment by "reducing the trash left by immigrants crossing the border." And ketchup is a vegetable...

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Even The Pope Can't Shame Court on Death Penalty

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 11:41 AM EDT

pope.jpgThe pope came to town yesterday to speak to the nation's Catholic faithful, including some 9,000 people on the White House lawn in a crowd that included the president and 146 Catholic members of Congress. Conspicuously missing were the very prominent Catholic Supreme Court justices, who were too busy at the courthouse paving the way for states to kill a few more prison inmates, in a decision that won't be washed away by a lifetime of Hail Marys.

Today's Supreme Court not only has a conservative majority, but a Catholic one. Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy and Roberts are all relatively devout Catholics, yet while the pope was exhorting Americans to be nicer to people, every last one of them voted to continue lethal injection, regardless of how painful it might be or how much their church opposes it. These are the very same guys who we are chomping at the bit to overturn Roe v. Wade.

No word on whether the justices will meet later with the Pontiff, but we can only hope that His Excellence might remind the brethren of how little tolerance he has for "cafeteria Catholics." After all, if they're going to let faith guide their decisions, they should at least be consistent about it. The rest of American Catholics seem to be figuring that out. According to the latest polls, nearly half of all American Catholics now oppose the death penalty, up from only 20 percent in 1994. In fact, this year, U.S. bishops used Holy Week to kick off the American bishops' latest campaign to end the death penalty. Perhaps when the justices do see the Pope, it ought to be for confession.

How Many Calories In a Big Mac? NYC Residents Soon To Know

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 6:51 PM EDT

It looks like residents of New York City will no longer be able to delude themselves about the potential damage a Big Mac will do to their waistlines. A federal judge today upheld New York City's requirement that fast-food joints disclose calorie information on their menus. The city's restaurants had sued over the measure, arguing that somehow providing the information violated their free speech rights, and if not that, the city's regulation was preempted by federal law, which doesn't require any such thing. Judge Richard Hollwell was having none of that, and found that while the calorie listings (Double Whopper w/cheese: 990 calories) might not end the obesity epidemic, it might help a few people lose a few pounds, which was, he thought, a worthy public goal. The decision paves the way for other cities to follow suit.

Tax Day Means Big Bucks for Predatory Lenders

| Tue Apr. 15, 2008 12:05 PM EDT

Poor people just can't get a break. Even when the government actually offers them a benefit, the private sector manages to find a way to take a big cut. That's what's happened since Bill Clinton pushed through a major expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a measure that boosts the income of working poor families with a refundable tax credit. It's now one of the biggest anti-poverty programs in the nation. At the same time, however, the EITC has spawned a lucrative cottage industry of scummy tax preparers who prey on unsophisticated workers with promises of "immediate" refunds that are, in fact, very expensive predatory loans that in 2006 drained nearly a billion dollars out of the refunds owed to people who really needed the money.

Tax preparers like H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt offer what are known as Refund Anticipation Loans, in which they give clients their "refunds" on the spot. The "refunds" are actually loans based on the future refund, which is then directed to the tax preparer or lender. The interest rates on many RALs are exorbitant—anywhere from 36 to 1,200 percent once all the fees are factored in. What's really evil about these loans is that many people eligible for the EITC don't realize that they can get all of their tax refunds, for free, from the IRS within a week or two of filing their returns, a fact that the tax preparers are certainly not sharing.

Earlier this year, consumer groups sent out mystery shoppers to many of the commercial tax preparation firms offering RALs and found that most of them didn't tell consumers that the money they were receiving was a loan, or that they'd get more money if they waited a week for the IRS. The groups also reviewed IRS records and discovered that RALs were such easy money that tax preparers can now be found in such dicey locales as payday lending shops, liquor stores, beauty salons, pawn shops and used car dealerships—one reason why RALs have been connected in many states to major criminal tax fraud scandals. Nearly two-thirds of RAL borrowers are EITC recipients, even though such folks only make of 17 percent of all tax payers. That's one reason why the IRS is currently considering whether to limit RALs. Unfortunately, any move will come too late for people filing this year.

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