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 several years 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.

Utah To Offer Cops "Sweat Your Meth" Treatments

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 1:17 PM EST

The Scientologists are an enterprising bunch, aren't they? The latest:

The state of Utah is paying $50,000 to the Bio Cleansing Centers of America to treat eight current and retired police officers allegedly sickened from busting up meth labs. The center's detoxification treatment, which seems to consist mostly of sending the overweight cops to the sauna for hours on end, is based on the teachings of Scientology. It's similar to a controversial clinic in New York, set up with a huge donation from the nation's most famous Scientologist Tom Cruise, to treat 9/11 rescue workers. Scientology's late founder L. Ron Hubbard claimed that toxins could be flushed from the body through sweating and taking megadoses of vitamins, among other things, hence the sauna treatments.

Normally state attorneys general get called in to scrutinize such programs for peddling unproven therapies to gullible customers, but in Utah, it's actually the state AG who got the whole thing going. Not only that, but Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff wants the state to throw another $140,000 at the program to expand the treatment to more officers, despite a dearth of evidence showing that it actually works.

Utah residents seem to have an affinity for dubious health care practitioners. The state is home to "celluloid valley," the dietary supplement industry, which has made billions selling bogus natural therapies to unsuspecting consumers. The Scientologists and their sauna should feel right at home there.

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OSHA: Where Good Laws Go To Die

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 10:16 AM EST

sherron_watkins_gal.jpg In 2002, when Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley act to tighten up corporate governance standards in the wake of Enron, it included a measure to protect and encourage corporate whistleblowers, people like Enron's Sherron Watkins. Business grudgingly accepted the law, while reformers like Taxpayers Against Fraud called the statute "the single most effective measure possible to prevent recurrences of the Enron debacle and similar threats to the nation's financial markets."

Apparently, though, the reformers didn't read the fine print: Big business groups managed to get enforcement of the new law vested with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a notoriously toothless agency in the Labor Department. Not surprisingly, OSHA hasn't given whistleblowers any more protection than it has to poor workers in meatpacking plants.

In a new law review article out this fall, University of Nebraska professor Richard Moberly calculates that in the first three years after Sarbanes-Oxley, only 13 out of 491 employees who filed complaints with OSHA found any sort of relief for their claims of retaliation and other repercussions resulting from blowing the whistle. Only six succeeded on appeal. Moberly concludes that, among other things, OSHA has no idea what it's doing and that—surprise—even if it did, the agency was underfunded and couldn't really handle the workload. The whistleblower provision is one of those great examples of big business touting its commitment to reform by supporting a tough new law while virtually ensuring that it will never actually have to reform anything.

Imagine What They'll Do to Avoid Retina Scans!

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 1:27 PM EST

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Since 2004, U.S. border guards have been fingerprinting everyone caught illegally crossing into the U.S. and checking the prints against terrorist watch lists and criminal records. The program has rooted out a few criminals, but it's also had an unexpected side-effect.

According to USA Today, border guards have caught a number of people who've burned off the tips of their fingers to hide their identities. One enterprising money launderer caught illegally crossing the border had recently had skin from his feet grafted onto his fingers. He was still limping when he was apprehended. Most of these folks have been criminals, but at least one woman caught by border guards had undergone plastic surgery on her fingertips so she could be reunited with her daughter.

The government might want to think twice about such unintended consequences before it moves ahead with plans to integrate retina scans into passport documents, or Tom Cruise's eye transplant in Minority Report might seem truly prescient!

Did the Mormon Mafia Work Its Magic for Kyle Sampson?

| Fri Nov. 2, 2007 9:38 AM EDT

sampson.jpgDespite his spectacular fall from grace, Alberto Gonzales's former chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson has nonetheless managed to land a lucrative revolving-door post at the powerhouse law firm Hunton & Williams. Sampson, you'll recall, was the guy who drew up the hit-list of U.S. Attorneys slated to get fired for not being loyal enough to the GOP.

Hunton & Williams has hired Sampson for its food and drug practice, where business is booming thanks to Rep. Henry Waxman's renewed focus on the FDA. Sampson got a plug from Hunton partner David Higbee, who was Sampson's roommate at Brigham Young University. But the folks at Hunton aren't just providing a soft landing for a disgraced Bush administration official out of the goodness of their hearts. A Utah native and former Mormon missionary, Sampson also has close ties to one Orrin Hatch, for whom he worked on the Senate Judiciary Committee and who is a notorious foe of the FDA. Hatch is almost single-handedly responsible for preventing any meaningful regulation of dietary supplements, and will be a key focus of all major anti-FDA lobbying efforts.

Just When We Thought We'd Heard the Last of Bernie Kerik

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 9:38 AM EDT

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Remember Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani's former business partner, driver, bodyguard and New York City police commissioner? Well, apparently Kerik incurred significant legal fees defending himself from charges that he he let a mob-connected company seeking city contracts renovate his New York City apartment for free. And now, reports the Wall Street Journal, the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski is suing Kerik for more than $200,000 in unpaid legal fees related to all the investigations.

Maybe Rudy's firm should quietly pick up the tab so Kerik can go back under a rock during the presidential election season. Much of the focus on Giuliani of late has been on his autocratic tendencies as mayor of New York, but his close relationship with Kerik remains one of his biggest vulnerabilities, right up there with the fact that he once married his cousin.

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Tue Sep. 9, 2014 6:30 AM EDT | Updated Tue Dec. 16, 2014 10:10 AM EDT