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.

Rep. Chris Cannon To Car-Scam Victim: Move On!

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 3:25 PM EST

chris%20cannon.jpgWhen regular citizens come up to Capitol Hill to tell their stories about whatever evil has befallen them—foreclosure, food poisoning, etc.—members of Congress, as a rule, treat them gently, even if they don't agree with the bill those citizens have come to support. Yesterday, though, Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) seemed to have forgotten that rule during a hearing on a bill that would ban the use of forced arbitration in automobile sale and leasing contracts.

More after the jump...

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Comcast Must Die

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 3:52 PM EST

Comcast, the cable TV giant, has given its customers lots of reasons to hate the company. They've refused to embrace a la carte programming, charged people $2 to stop sending them junk mail, wrecked people's credit reports, falsely advertised its Internet speed and generally abused the people who pay for its services. Comcast's customer service problems are so acute that Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield started a blog called Comcast Must Die to compile all the gripes about the company from consumers (see the promo video above). But Comcast doesn't really need any help generating bad press.

Last week, the company admitted that it paid people to take up all the seats at an FCC hearing examining complaints that Comcast was blocking file-sharing on its cable modem service. The reason? Comcast wanted to keep its critics out in the cold. The company apparently didn't tell the seat-warmers to stay awake through the proceedings so as not to attract attention of reporters, who immediately suspected Comcast was up to no good.

It's amazing that a company this bad could stay in business as long as it has. It's either a testament to the power of monopolies or sad proof that Americans will endure any amount of corporate abuse to get their Law and Order fix every week. Garfield is hoping his new blog will help change corporate behavior, but I think there's a better way to go than bitching online: just cancel. Pull the plug. Comcast will only die if people stop using it. Really, you can do it. The writers' strike notwithstanding, network TV has never been better, and in these bad economic times, it has the added advantage of being free.

Christians Heart Payday Lenders

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 12:12 PM EST

payday-lender.jpgThe Christian Right has used the Bible to bolster many a political issue, from abortion to stem cell research. Strangely enough, however, they seem to have missed one of the biggies: the Bible's many injunctions against usury, or predatory lending to poor people. The Bible is far more explicit in its disapproval of usury than, say, gay marriage. (The book of Ezekiel compares usurious lending to extortion and murder for hire, in fact, and threatens major hellfire for those who practice it.) Yet in parts of the country where the Christian Right wields the most political power, usurious payday lending has flourished more than anywhere else in the U.S., according to a new study by Christopher Peterson and Steven Graves.

Today's payday lenders charge around 450 percent interest on short-term loans, rates ten times higher than the federal definition of criminal loan sharking and nearly double what the Mob charged in its heyday. Peterson's home state of heavily Mormon Utah ranked high on the list of havens for payday lenders. The state claims more payday lending outlets than McDonalds, Burger Kings, Subway sandwich chains, and 7-11s combined, and has failed to pass even modest restrictions on allowable interest rates that exceed 500 percent a year, among the highest in the nation. (One reason may be that the chairman of the Salt Lake City Republican Party, former State Senator James Evans, himself owns several payday-lending outfits.)

Peterson and Graves decline to speculate as to why devout Christians and Mormons who wield considerable political clout continue to tolerate practices that are so clearly at odds with Biblical teachings. They simply attempted to point out the correlation, writing that sadly, "Those states that have most ardently held to their pious Christian traditions have tended to become more infested with the progeny of money changers once expelled by Christ from the Hebrew temple."

Photo by Flickr user ninjapoodles used under a Creative Commons license.

Hospital Shakes Down Post-Op Patients, In Their Beds

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 11:27 AM EST

Once upon a time, people in hospital beds fresh out of surgery were off limits for bill collectors. That, apparently, is no longer the case. I spent all last week sitting at St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City with my dad, who had knee replacement surgery last Tuesday morning. St. Mark's used to be a nonprofit hospital, run by the Episcopal Church. Today, though, the hospital is owned by HCA, the Nashville-based hospital chain founded by the family of former Senate majority leader Bill Frist. Frist's brother and nephew are still on the HCA board of directors. Given my dad's experience with HCA, I am greatly relieved that Frist is no longer making health care policy in this country.

Among the many hospital personnel who stopped in to see my father after surgery was a "financial counselor" from the billing office, who basically started stalking him from the minute he left the intensive care unit. After making several unsuccessful visits to his room on Tuesday and Wednesday, she slipped her card under the door asking my dad to call her. A little busy recovering from major surgery, my dad didn't get around to it. So on Thursday, the woman called him on the phone in his room, waking him from a much needed painkiller-induced nap to demand a $1500 down payment on his surgery.

Still connected to IVs, a morphine pump and creepy-looking blood drains, my dad had enough to worry about without getting hassled by the billing office, like dying from a blood clot, or acquiring a drug-resistant infection from the guy in the next room. (Family and hospital staff alike were visiting the guy barehanded despite a big sign on his door warning people not to come within three feet of him without gowns, gloves and masks.) So I went down to the billing office to complain. A supervisor informed me that the counselor was making a "courtesy call" to inform my dad of the limits of his insurance policiy, but she acknowledged that it was hospital policy to wrest as much cash as humanly possible out of patients before they leave the building.

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