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.

Occupy the Department Of Education Returns to DC

| Thu Apr. 4, 2013 3:20 AM PDT
Protesters from Occupy DOE

Most of the Occupy movement has petered out a year and a half after it exploded in New York’s Zuccotti Park. But one small segment of that movement is rallying in DC this week to focus attention on the evils of “corporate education reform.”

Liberal education luminaries including Diane Ravitch, a former assistant education secretary, and Central Park East schools guru Deborah Meier, will be in Washington as part of a four-day “Occupy the Department of Education” event organized by United Optout, a group that came together last year in the flurry of other Occupy Wall Street events. They’ll be part of non-stop speechmaking from teachers, educators, students, and parents, decrying such things as high-stakes testing and the move towards privatizing public education.

The focus on the Department of Education is intentional. Liberal school advocates are deeply unhappy with President Barack Obama’s education reform agenda, which Peggy Robertson, one organizer of this event, calls “No Child Left Behind on steroids.” Robertson, a veteran teacher from Colorado, says that Obama’s education agenda has “opened the door” to the privatization of public education. His Race to the Top initiative is one of the protest’s primary targets.

Robertson says that this initiative, which has created a competition among states for a large pot of new education funding, requires states to accept certain conditions to receive the new money. These conditions include implementing the Common Core standards, a set of new, national guidelines outlining what students should be expected to learn. (The Occupy activists oppose the standards, which they believe deprive teachers of flexibility and creativity in the classroom by dictating what material they need to cover.) Race to the Top grant recipients are also required to allow more charter schools, create a longitudinal database full of student information to track performance, and tie high-stakes testing to teacher evaluations.

All of these things, Robertson contends, create a windfall for big companies seeking a piece of the enormous public education budget and smother creativity in the classroom. (The Occupiers aren’t the only ones obsessed with the Common Core standards. Glenn Beck has been on a tear against them, too, calling them a form of “leftist ideology” that is “dumbing down schools across the country.”)

The Occupiers descending upon the Education Department this week are trying to draw attention to all of this, along with the rash of public school closings going on around the country, most notably in Chicago and Washington. Robertson recognizes that it’s a tough task. “Most of mainstream media ignores everything we say,” she admits. Last year they had only about 100 people at their rally. This year, she’s hoping for at least a thousand, which isn’t much for a DC protest. But Robertson thinks it’s important to try to present an alternative to the sweeping corporate reform effort. “What’s scary," she remarks, "is how fast it’s happening.”

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Free Wifi at CPAC Comes With a Cost: Your Email

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 2:41 PM PDT

People attending the storied Conservative Political Action Conference this year were treated to free wireless internet by one of the event's sponsors, the Tea Party News Network, which picked up the $75,000 tab at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland. "We're delighted that we could provide free internet for all CPAC 2013 attendees," Scottie Nell Hughes, the news director of the Tea Party News Network, said in a press release. "We wanted to ensure that at the largest annual gathering of conservatives the thousands of bloggers and grassroots conservative activists have the ability to share their thoughts and message with the world."

But as the saying goes, there is no free lunch, and CPAC attendees might be sorry they took advantage of TPNN's offer.

People at the conference have been required to submit their names and email addresses to access the free wireless. Thanks to its sponsorship deal, all of that contact information is going back to the Tea Party News Network, a group that other grassroots tea party organizations have criticized as nothing but a data-mining operation.

The Tea Party News Network is a project of TheTeaParty.net, which is itself a spin-off of a nonprofit group called Stop This Insanity!. I wrote about the group last month when it was raising money for and sponsoring the "Day of Resistance" gun rallies around the country. The outfit was founded by Todd Cefaratti, who runs a "lead generation" business in Mesa, Ariz. Lead generation, for the uninitiated, is the business of finding potential contacts ripe for a sales pitch of some sort. In Cefaratti's case, his business harvests leads for the reverse mortgage industry, which has been flagged by consumer advocates as rife with many of the same predatory lending issues as the subprime mortgage industry that helped crash the financial system in 2007. 

Tea party activists have complained that after logging in to or making donations on TheTeaParty.net or related sites, they found themselves besieged with spam from precious metal dealers who'd been renting the group's email list through Newsmax. The group has repeatedly come under fire for raising lots of money from tea party groups but failing to spend much of it on politics, and has run afoul of the FEC. During the presidential campaign, it raised $1.2 million but spent only $52,000 on candidates. Much of its money gets spent on advertising, including many TV ads that run with a variety of different tea party names on gun and hunting shows. The Tea Party News Network sent out fundraising emails asking for donations to cover the $75,000 CPAC wireless bill.

Neither the Tea Party News Network nor TheTeaParty.net have responded to requests for information about what they intend to do with the emails they collect from CPAC.

Research: Less Access to Guns Does Reduce Suicide

| Wed Mar. 13, 2013 7:37 AM PDT

Gun enthusiasts haven't taken kindly to our story and map this week showing that gun suicides outpace traffic fatalities in many states. They've responded in droves with a common NRA talking point, which is that people who want to kill themselves will do it with or without guns. In fact, however, research shows that that assumption doesn't hold water.

US military brass have been spending a lot of time and money looking at how best to reduce the suicide rate among US troops, which has skyrocketed in recent years. They have concluded that it's false to assume that people intent on killing themselves will find a way to do it even if they can't get a gun. In a report to Congress in July, the Military Suicide Research Consortium noted that "Studies demonstrate that method substitution is rare."  

That's why simple things that can delay access to a gun, like mandatory background checks for all handgun purchases—including private sales—like those that would be required by a new bill recently passed by a Senate committee, can make a big difference in preventing suicide. States with such a requirement have a gun suicide rate 50 percent lower than states that don't, even when their non-gun suicide rates are about the same. 

One reason this hold true is that, research shows, suicide is often an impulsive act, and one that people haven't given much thought. That's especially true in gun suicides, where the majority of victims don't have a documented serious mental illness. If some in a crisis simply can't access a gun quickly, they may not try suicide at all, or they may try a less-lethal means that offers more chance that they'll be saved. And most people who survive a suicide attempt don't go on to take their own lives at a later time.
 
It's no coincidence that as American armed forces are plagued with high rates of suicide, Ft. Drum, in upstate New York, stands out with a lower rate of suicide among military personnel than most military bases across the country. New York State has some of the nation's tightest gun laws, and Col. (Ret.) Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a psychiatrist and former adviser to the Army surgeon general, explained to Stars and Stripes last year that in New York, "it’s not so easy to get drunk, get a gun and shoot yourself." 
 
Ritchie's isn't just idle speculation, either. The Israeli Defense Forces, much like American troops, was seeing a disturbing number of suicides in the ranks in 2006. In an effort to bring down the numbers, the IDF banned soldiers from bringing their rifles home with them on the weekends. Suicides fell by 40 percent, according to a study by Israeli psychiatrists.
 

As injury-prevention researchers at Harvard have said, "means matter." 

Note: All suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and attempts should be taken seriously. Get help 24/7 by calling the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK. Help is also available online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Trained consultants will provide free and confidential crisis counseling to anyone in need.

 

 

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