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.

Head Start: Dying On The Vine

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 5:16 PM EST

head%20start.jpgWhen George W. Bush took office in 2001, he came in with grand plans for Head Start, the popular early childhood enrichment and education program for low-income kids. Bush talked about beefing up standards, improving teacher training and quality, and working hard to make sure low-income preschoolers were ready to hit the kindergarten playground running. Oh, and he also wanted to turn the program into a block grant, slash its budget, and force 3-year-olds to undergo standardized testing twice a year.

Consequently, it took Congress five years to reauthorize the program, a last vestige of the Great Society poverty programs. Members of Congress from both parties saved Head Start from the block grant, better known as a stealthy way to defund the program by turning it over to the states. And in December, Bush grudgingly signed the bill that officially killed off the misguided testing regime. But one part of Bush's original ambitious plan for Head Start has actually succeeded: the budget cuts. It hasn't come all at once, but through erosion.

The new omnibus budget bill, signed just two weeks after Head Start was reauthorized in December, would put the program's budget at 12 percent below the funding level for 2002, according to the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, mostly because Bush has failed to let Head Start funding keep up with inflation. The budget cuts translate into about 20,000 kids who may not have access to the program anymore. This is all happening at a time when child poverty is on the rise, and the number of poor kids under the age of 5 is increasing. Insert your own favorite "child left behind' kicker here...

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Eli Manning: Budding Environmentalist?

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 3:56 PM EST

escalade.jpgIn his 2002 book High and Mighty, New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher wrote that automakers' own market research revealed that SUV buyers tended to be "insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others."

The research, in short, describes your average professional sports star. So no surprise, then, that on Sunday, New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning picked the enormous, six-ton Cadillac Escalade as his prize for winning the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award. But in a new twist, Manning picked a 2009 Escalade hybrid, which will get 18 miles to the gallon, compared to the measly 12 mpg of the non-hybrid version. Still, the Escalade remains an utterly gargantuan car, capable of flattening a Ford Focus and parking lot pilings with ease. But perhaps in the pro-sports world, this has to be considered progress.

Eat Burger, Waive Right to Sue

| Thu Jan. 31, 2008 1:07 PM EST

whataburger-photo-shop.jpgMandatory arbitration agreements forcing people to give up their rights to sue are now standard fare in everything from cell phone contracts to Hooters' employment agreements. But the owner of an East Texas Whataburger has apparently taken arbitration mania to a new level. Every public entrance to the burger franchise displays a sign informing people that simply setting foot on the premises means that they are giving up their right to sue the company for any reason, even if, for instance, they get a little e coli along with their fries. Instead, customers will be forced to arbitrate their claims before the American Mediation Association, an organization that seems to consist of three lawyers in Dallas hired by the Whataburger (part of a 58-year-old fast food chain deemed a "Texas treasure" by the state legislature).

Attorney Dan Sorey spotted the sign in early January while in Kilgore investigating the scene of a motorcycle crash for a case. The Whataburger offered an ideal vantage point to study the intersection where the crash happened. Sorey says when he went in, he told a befuddled cashier that he didn't think that the arbitration notice was enforceable, that anyway he wasn't agreeing to it, and, "I need a taquito and a coffee." He says he sat down, watched some traffic, and ate his taquito. "I didn't choke, I didn't burn myself, and I didn't sue 'em," he reports. Sadly, while we suspect there is a good story behind the signs, the Whataburger franchise owner did not respond to requests for an interview. We'll just have to assume that the signs are the product of one too many late-night talk-show jokes about McDonalds' coffee lawsuits.

They Can Sell Cigarettes, So Why Not Pot?

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 12:52 PM EST

In one of those "only in California" stories, the AP reports that a creative owner of a nutrition center in Los Angeles has installed a 24-hour vending machine to distribute medical marijuana to the chronically ill.

"Convenient access, lower prices, safety, anonymity," inventor and owner Vincent Mehdizadeh said, extolling the benefits of the machine.

 

Naturally, the feds are going to bust him...

Edwards v. Dellinger: Gossip Over The Next AG

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 11:00 AM EST

dellingerw.jpg
Since Jonathan has waded into the gossip mill over the future attorney general, I thought I'd chime in with some other, equally unsourced gossip along those lines. With rumors flying that Obama would pick John Edwards as his AG, conventional wisdom among liberal lawyers in the know is that Hillary Clinton would tap former acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger III for the post.

Personally, I see this as far more plausible than Obama selecting Edwards, despite what Bob Novak says. After all, Edwards has never been a prosecutor, which is a basic pre-req for anyone hoping to get confirmed by the Senate. Also, the AGs job is an administrative position. Edwards is, despite his recent transformation, a plaintiffs lawyer, and good plaintiffs lawyers tend to suck big time at desk jobs. The things that make them good in a courtroom—willingness to take big risks and an unwillingness to compromise—often make them terrible at running things. (See A Civil Action.)

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