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.

Internet Sales Taxes: Just in Time for Christmas?

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 10:45 AM PST

A U.S. House committee today is hearing the pros and cons of a bill that would finally allow states to collect sales taxes on stuff bought online. The states desperately need the money. Sales taxes account for a third of all state revenue, and the bulk of it goes towards public education, but that tax base is eroding thanks to a proliferation of online sales outlets. One study estimates that by 2008, the states will be losing $33 billion in revenue on "remote" sales, $18 billion of which comes from virtual stores.

Internet retailers have successfully batted down such proposals in the past, arguing that they would infringe on interstate commerce. But the states have gotten smarter and in recent years many have banded together to create uniform tax codes and a voluntary agreement to tax these companies, hoping to get around the constitutional issues. The bill, introduced by Massachusetts congressman William Delahunt, would let those states bound by the agreement tax remote companies.

At the hearing today, the bill got support from retailer J.C. Penny, which has to collect sales taxes on its Internet business because it also has bricks-and-mortar stores in many states. It wants to level the playing field to make it easier to compete with companies that are solely online. Opposing the bill, though, is the Direct Marketing Association, once known as the junk-mail lobby but which now represents catalog sales companies and electronic merchants. Not surprisingly, the DMA is opposed to the legislation, and DMA rep George Isaacson insisted that state legislators have vastly overestimated how much money they're losing in sales tax revenue. He says the figure is more in the range of $145 million as opposed to the many billions claimed by the state legislators. Still, that's a nice chunk of change that could put a few new teachers in the classroom without causing too much pain to the general public. No word yet on the bill's prospects, but no doubt it will create a nice fundraising vehicle for legislators on both sides of the aisle.

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Congress to Force Middle Class to Finance Hedge Fund Managers' Tax Break

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:40 AM PST

amtchart.jpg If Congress adjourns this month without fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), 23 million Americans will see their tax bills increase next year by about $2,000. The AMT was originally designed to snare a few super rich tax cheats but it now threatens to affect millions of upper-middle class Americans. Congress is now scrambling to come up with $50 billion to make sure this doesn't happen.

Bush administration officials have claimed the AMT increase was "unanticipated" and as such, they've been urging Congress to fix it with deficit spending rather than by raising taxes on, say, hedge fund managers. But that's incredibly disingenuous. The AMT "crisis" stems almost entirely from Bush's 2001 tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, the administration and its congressional allies were explicitly counting on the extra AMT revenue to mask the impact of the tax cuts. Iowa senator Charles Grassley acknowledged back then that Bush's tax cuts would double the number of middle-class people stung by the AMT.

Were it not for those early tax cuts, fixing the AMT would cost a fraction of what it's going to cost today, according to the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (see the chart.) Given Wall Street's major lobbying campaign against taxing hedge fund managers, it likely that Congress is going to punt this bill on to our grandchildren.

Hummers: More Than Just a Menace to the Environment

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 12:12 PM PST

hummer.jpg People who drive Hummers apparently like them because they look like engines of destruction. New research out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that it's not just an image thing. Hummers really do leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

According to the Institute data, Hummer owners wiped out two and a half times as many parking lot pilings and smaller cars than the average car driver. The H2 pickup was especially bad, topping the list with the worst property-damage claim record of any car on the road. The reason is fairly obvious: Hummers are enormous. With bumpers far too high off the ground, these pricey toys turn the run-of-the-mill shopping mall fender-bender into a major catastrophe.

"The Hummer is a classic example of a big mismatch with just about anything out there on the road," says Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, a nonprofit research arm of the auto insurance industry. The new data suggest that those seeking relief from a midlife crisis should abandon giant SUVs and return to the classy sports car. The car generating the lowest number of property-damage claims? The Porsche 911 coupe.

Hillary Clinton Says Bye-Bye to Indicted Trial Lawyer

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 8:16 AM PST

scruggs.imageBad news for trial lawyers, and bad news for Bill and Hillary, too. Famed Mississippi plaintiff's lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who was slated to host a Clinton fundraiser next month, was indicted yesterday for allegedly trying to bribe a state court judge. The indictment comes a day after the FBI raided his office looking for a document, and two days after Scruggs' brother-in-law, Trent Lott, announced his resignation from the Senate.

When the FBI first raided Scruggs' office, Lott said the timing of his resignation was just a coincidence. But you do have to wonder. The indictment is pretty damning, and includes apparently taped conversations between the judge and some of the other lawyers involved in the alleged scheme.

The indictment will no doubt have other political fallout. Scruggs is a high-profile figure, having just used his private jet to ferry the new University of Mississippi football coach to Oxford hours before turning himself in to law enforcement authorities. He made millions off the state's lawsuit against the tobacco companies in the 1990s and has been leading the litigation against insurance companies over denied Katrina claims, including Lott's. Scruggs has been a generous Democratic political donor, particularly in Mississippi, where he used some of his tobacco winnings to found a now-defunct PAC to help elect liberal candidates to state office.

But his political loyalties have always been a little suspect, and not just because of his in-law status. This year, for instance, he has given nearly $30,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and several thousand dollars to Joe Biden. But he's also contributed to Republican John McCain. Next month, Bill Clinton was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for his wife at Scruggs' Oxford home. Not surprisingly, today a Clinton spokesman tells Mother Jones that the event is "not happening."

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