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.

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Banks Give New Meaning to Protection Racket

| Thu Apr. 24, 2008 10:12 AM EDT

Payday loans have gotten a lot of bad press lately as state governments attempt to crack down on the "legal loansharking" outfits that make very short term loans with interest rates going as high as 500 percent. But a new study by Marc Anthony Fusaro, a professor of economics at East Carolina University, found that the overdraft loans given by banks these days make payday lenders look like a bargain. In their "bounce protection" programs, banks will cover checks and ATM withdrawals that exceed customers' balances so they don't incur fees from merchants for bounced checks. This "courtesy" service, which most customers never ask for, comes at a huge cost.

Insufficient fund fees have become a major cash cow for banks, particularly during the latest credit crisis. The Center for Responsible Lending has found that with an average fee of $34, overdraft protection loans generate more than $17 billion a year for banks. About half the fees are triggered when people use debt cards for a small purchase, which the bank allows even though they have no money in their account.

Fusaro looked at overdraft protection as a form of a short-term loan and found that people who occasionally bounce checks (between 1 and 10 times a year) pay interest rates exceeding 6,000 percent. Chronic bouncers in the study, who make up a small percentage of bank customers, paid more than $3,000 in fees annually for the privilege. The average size of the overdraft was pretty small, between $90 and $300. The most extreme case in the study was one poor soul who had a $3 overdraft outstanding for one day, which resulted in an intereste rate of 260,245 percent, a hefty surcharge for using a debt card for a latte.

Sex-Ed Hearing: Not So Sexy

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 3:50 PM EDT

It's hard to believe a hearing on sex could be so dull. This morning, the vaunted Henry Waxman convened a marathon hearing before his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to "assess" the evidence on abstinence-only sex education, on which the federal government has spent more than $1.3 billion in recent years. The program requires states that take the money to refrain from teaching about contraception in school unless it's to talk about scary STDs and condom failure rates, while encouraging young people to avoid sex until marriage, an expectation that 95 percent of Americans fail to meet.

As oversight hearings go, this one turned out to be a snoozer, in large part because there's not much news here. About a bazillion studies have all found that not only does abstinence-only education not work to reduce unwed pregnancy or STDs, but that it perpetuates false information about the reliability of the things that do work, disparages gays and lesbians, promotes religion in public schools, and demeans women.

The federal program has produced one major success: giving life to a bunch of loony fringe religious groups that wouldn't exist but for those federal funds. Many of these groups got their start as "crisis pregnancy centers" that used dubious tactics to dissuade young women from having abortions. But their views were largely left off the panel, a fact that irked Republicans who accused Waxman of stacking the hearing solely with critics. Indiana Rep. Mark Souder complained that Waxman had failed to invite such witnesses as the doctors who treat girls infected with STDs "while using condoms." He fumed about liberals who are promoting a "radical sexual economy" as part of their attack on abstinence programs, and suggested that teaching kids about birth control and condoms was part of that depraved agenda.

New Study Says Women To Start Dropping Like Flies

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 10:38 AM EDT

For most of recent human history, one of the few places where women have dominated is on the actuarial charts. But the big news today: Life expectancy for women has plummeted in 1,000 counties across the country, in one area by nearly five years. The drop is unprecedented, and marks the first time since the 1800s that women have seen a major dip in longevity. The reasons for the drop aren't too surprising, largely because they track pretty closely to the Virginia Slims revolution, or the time when women embraced smoking in rates closer to men's. While men have reaped huge health benefits from kicking the habit, women are still dying in high numbers from smoking-related lung cancer. Obesity is also playing a huge role, with its complications from type-2 diabetes and other heart-related illnesses. The feminist movement, it seems, has not just brought women opportunities to live more like men, but also to die like them.

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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