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.

Is Mitt Like Mike?

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 11:46 AM EST

350px-SLC_Temple_east_side_night.jpgMitt Romney has gone to great lengths to convince the public that his Mormon church would not drive public policy if he should become president. Lots of people, however, have not been persuaded, and perhaps for good reason. The Salt Lake Tribune late last month ran a story that once again illustrates just how involved the church can be in politics. The story isn't about Romney but another Mormon in public life, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Before joining the Bush administration, Leavitt served three terms as governor of Utah. Recently, the state posted thousands of pages of documents from his tenure online. Buried in the archives were several hundred pages of transcripts of "Early Morning Seminary" meetings Leavitt held in 1996 at the Governor's Mansion with his top advisers, including the U.S. Attorney at the time, a high-ranking Mormon church official, and a former professor from Brigham Young University. Leavitt convened the meetings to study the Book of Mormon to figure out how to best incorporate "holy and just" principles of Mormonism into state policy. Leavitt singled out several themes from the religious studies, including a focus on marriage, which later translated into a campaign to ban unmarried couples from adopting children.

Like the good Mormon he is, Leavitt recorded all the meetings (Mormons seem to write everything down), and the transcripts ended up in state archives after he left office. After the Tribune started asking questions about the meetings, Leavitt asked the state to take the transcripts off-line, arguing that they were not official meetings and might even be "sacred." Naturally the state complied, so you can't read them in full, but the Tribune posted some with its story, and they provide an interesting insight in to how deeply involved the LDS church is in Utah politics. Of course, just because a cabinet secretary based his public policy on the Book of Mormon doesn't mean Romney would as president, but it's stories like these that leave people deeply suspicious that he could simply check his faith at the door if he were elected.

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See Mary Crash

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 11:57 AM EST

bike-topper.jpgIt's not exactly big news that baby boomers have decided not to ride off into their golden years playing Scrabble in the booth of some tacky Winnebago. Instead, they're flocking to their local Harley dealers and saddling up some big-ass Hogs. The decision to trade the RV for a Harley, though, hasn't come without a price. Boomers, with slower reflexes and quite a few more pounds than their younger counterparts, are slaughtering themselves on the nation's highways in record numbers. The number of people killed on motorcycles who were 50 and older has quadrupled over the past decade.

Among those boomers with some experience crashing a motorcycle is our very own U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters. While she ranks high on the list of "cabinet secretaries you've never heard of," Peters put herself in a public service announcement last month to talk about how her safety gear saved her life when she wiped out on her huge bike in 2005. The PSA is part of her new motorcycle safety initiative aimed at goading boomers into better driving and encouraging Harley Davidson into giving its novice customers driving lessons before letting them zoom off the lot. What it doesn't do, of course, is something really useful, like force boomer-heavy states like Texas and Florida to reinstate their mandatory helmet laws.

DOT's own data show that after Florida repealed its mandatory helmet law in 2000, motorcycle fatalities went off the charts. Texas, which repealed its law back in 1997 under Gov. George W. Bush, had similar results. Apparently Peters, who has championed privatizing the nation's highway system, doesn't want to offend her fellow bikers with heavy-handed regulation, even if it might save some of their lives. But hey, she looks cool in those shades..

New Face of Lawsuit Abuse Looks A Lot Like the Old One

| Wed Dec. 26, 2007 2:25 PM EST

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is apparently gearing up for a new round of legislative fights over the nation's civil justice system. The Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform has unveiled a slick new PR campaign to convince Americans that the little guy, and not, say, the enormous corporations that fund the campaign, is at risk of personal disaster at the hands of a greedy trial lawyer. Not surprisingly, the campaign is headlined by the now-famous Chungs, the owners of a D.C. dry cleaners sued for $54 million for losing a man's pants.

The Chamber raised more than $70,000 for the Chungs' legal bills, and has turned them into the poster children that corporate America has been waiting years to find. They are featured prominently in YouTube videos and Internet ads that link to the Chamber-sponsored site I Am Lawsuit Abuse. What happened to the Chungs is tragic and indefensible. It's also extremely rare, and very little of the Chamber's legal "reform" agenda would have prevented it, either.

While the medium is new for the Chamber, the new lawsuit abuse videos consist of the same old corporate propaganda bashing the civil justice system, and most of it is highly misleading. One of the segments features a "victim" that was actually a plaintiff in a lawsuit. Particularly egregious is a video of a Georgia professor who specializes in studying "play." She sweetly contends lawsuits are making children obese because they've taken dangerous playground equipment out of the school yard. The junk food companies that fund the Chamber should be especially pleased with that one.

Not Even Toastmasters Will Help Gonzales

| Fri Dec. 21, 2007 4:14 PM EST

gonzales-100.jpgAfter watching his lethargic public speaking engagements before the U.S. Congress, it is, perhaps, no surprise to learn that Alberto Gonzales is a wash-out on the college lecture circuit. The former attorney general has signed up with a talent agency that's been trying to gin up lucrative speaking engagements for him on college campuses, for $35,000 a pop. Gonzales needs the money to pay his legal bills stemming from the multiple investigations into his tenure at the Department of Justice, but the students aren't biting, reports the Washington Post. Not only are the schools refusing to pay his hefty fee, but when he has spoken recently on campuses, he's been greeted by hecklers. Gonzales is slated to speak in February at Washington University in St. Louis, where students are already looking forward to major protests of his appearance.

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