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.

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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Giant Mosquitoes Set to Plague Fla. Gov. Rick Scott

| Tue Mar. 12, 2013 8:39 AM PDT

Big news on the bug front this week from the state of Florida: Scientists are warning that conditions may be ripe for a swarm of monster mosquitoes to invade the state this summer. Dubbed the "Gallinippers," the mosquitoes are the size of a quarter and known to chow on everything from humans to pets to fish. Their larvae can eat tadpoles, and unlike regular mosquitoes, they feed day and night and can bite through clothing. If the rainy season is wet enough, there could be a mess of these pests in Florida, just in time to plague Gov. Rick Scott (R) at county fairs and community picnics on the campaign trail.

Which would be sort of poetic justice. After all, under Scott's leadership, Florida's famous mosquito abatement programs have taken a sizeable hit in the past two years, as I chronicled in this story in our print magazine this month. Here are the critical deets:

The state Legislature has also done its part to liberate mosquitoes from the shackles of big government. In 2011, the Republican-dominated Legislature slashed the state's contribution to mosquito control by 40 percent. Florida A&M University closed one of two major mosquito research labs in the state after the Legislature axed $500,000 in research funds. Public health officials succeeded in restoring money to keep the lab open, only to see Scott kill it with a stroke of his veto pen. Along with other budget cuts, the closure halved the number of Florida scientists working on mosquito control.

"There's maybe a perfect storm of sorts," says Joseph Conlon, a technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association in Florida. "You've got the government rightfully trying to cut budgets across the board, but down here in Florida, the place would be uninhabitable without mosquito control."

The state is increasingly less prepared to handle mosquitoes even as the bugs in question get bigger and bigger. Luckily for people in Florida, the monster mosquitos are likely to just be really, really annoying. Unlike regular mosquitoes, these particular ones, while huge, don't carry deadly diseases like malaria and West Nile. Still, there's nothing like giant mosquitoes at a tea party rally to enlighten citizens about the benefits of big government.

The Group Behind CPAC Has a White-Nationalist Problem

| Fri Mar. 8, 2013 4:00 AM PST
Books sold by the New Century Foundation, the pseudo-think tank with which Robert Weissberg is affiiliated.

On Tuesday, the Hill published a story noting that the organizers of the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the preeminent national confab for politicians and activists of the right, are responding to the last November's election by using the event to "showcase the movement's 'diversity.'" Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Sarah Palin will be headlining, but 20 percent of the panelists this year will be African American, according to CPAC bean counters. And the CPACers proudly point to the prominent role of Latinos and women on various panels. Yet the CPAC organizers have neglected one important task as they attempt to appeal to minorities: staying away from white nationalists.

For the past week, the American Conservative Union, which founded and is the primary organizer of CPAC, has showcased on its website an article from its newsletter, the Conservative Battleline, headlined "Debating Liberal Tactics" and written by Robert Weissberg. The ACU identifies Weissberg as a professor from Cornell and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign and the author of 11 books. What it doesn't mention is that Weissberg has long been affiliated with a pseudo-think tank called the New Century Foundation. This foundation publishes a magazine called American Renaissance and hosts conferences under the same name, promoting the theory of "scientific racism" and providing a forum in which Klan members, neo-Nazis, and David Duke followers can mix it up with the intellectuals of the white-nationalist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the foundation's founder and American Renaissance editor, Jared Taylor, as a "courtly" white supremacist, who once wrote in American Renaissance, "Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization—any kind of civilization—disappears."

Weissberg has been writing for Taylor's magazine for years and has spoken at American Renaissance conferences. The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR), a nonprofit social-justice organization that tracks far-right groups, has been sounding the alarm about Weissberg this week and first called attention to his work on the ACU website. It has assembled a history of his racist work here. Among the highlights—or lowlights—is a speech Weissberg delivered at a 2012 American Renaissance conference on a "Politically Viable Alternative to White Nationalism," in which he argued that white racism needed an image update. He suggested that white people retreat into "Whitopias" that carry zoning codes and other subtle requirements that would keep out the "undesirables," according to IREHR. 

IREHR dug up a video of Weissberg, who is Jewish, giving a speech in 2000 entitled "Jews and Blacks: Everything the Goyim Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask," in which he puzzled over Jewish support for civil rights—a problem he dubbed "an affliction"—and suggested that non-Jewish whites and Jews should team up to fight against the blacks and what he termed African Americans' hatred of education and learning. Here's that speech:

Following up on that theme, Weissberg recently published a book called Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, which blames black and Latino students for wrecking the American public school system with their genetically low IQs. (On Amazon, the book features a glowing review from fellow white nationalist John Derbyshire, and is "frequently bought" with a book on education by Bell Curve author Charles Murray.) 

Such work, and Weissberg's affiliation with American Renaissance, got him booted from the pages of National Review last year after IREHR raised the issue. Editor Rich Lowry explained at the time:

Unbeknownst to us, occasional Phi Beta Cons contributor Robert Weissberg (whose book was published a few years ago by Transaction) participated in an American Renaissance conference where he delivered a noxious talk about the future of white nationalism. He will no longer be posting here. Thanks to those who brought it to our attention. 

An ACU spokesman hasn't responded to a request for comment from Mother Jones. 

Maybe it's progress that Weissberg is only on the ACU website and not speaking at CPAC. Last year, the ACU gave a microphone to several white nationalists who headlined a panel titled, "The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity Is Weakening the American Identity." Among the panelists was Derbyshire, who also has been kicked out of the National Review editorial lineup for his racist writings; Peter Brimelow, the founder of the nativist site VDARE, which publishes the work of many other anti-Semitic and white-supremacist writers; and Robert Vandervoot, who's also affiliated with American Renaissance and the nativist group Pro-English. 

Two board members of Young America's Foundation, which cofounded and sponsors CPAC along with the ACU, run a political action committee that gave money to a white-nationalist group, as my colleague Nick Baumann documented earlier this year here. As Baumann noted, Ron Robinson, one of the YAF board members in question, is also on the ACU's board.

The conservative movement will continue to have a tough time appealing to minorities if it keeps cavorting with these folks, no matter how many African Americans appear on their panel discussions.

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