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.

The Tea Party vs. "Media Marxism"

| Thu Apr. 7, 2011 10:46 AM EDT

For the past year, tea party groups have been rallying their members to oppose "net neutrality," the rules outlined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that ensure a level playing field on the Internet. The rules prevent big corporate Internet providers like Comcast from discriminating against different types of content and applications, or from trying to force website operators to pay more for their content to be accessible online. That way, Internet providers can't limit users' access to preferred sites (i.e., the ones who pay more). The rules, in effect, ensure that even the smallest, poorest tea party group has the potential to reach a large audience through its website, unimpeded by Comcast and other big companies.

Yet tea partiers inexplicably equate net neutrality with Marxism. Last fall, when activists were organizing around the issue, Jamie Radtke from Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation and a current Senate candidate, said of net neutrality: "I think the clearest thing is it’s an affront to free speech and free markets." This week, ahead of today's House vote on a measure that would roll back the FCC's net neutrality rules, Tea Party Patriots blasted an urgent alert to activists urging them to call on lawmaker to vote in favor of the move:

Net neutrality is an innocuous sounding term for what is really media Marxism. This is an ideological attempt by those on the left to control the greatest means for the distribution of information ever devised. It provides a playing field which the government does not control, and this is immensely troubling to those on the left.

The tea party's position on net neutrality has seemed counterintuitive, given just how badly conservative activists could be screwed by the big cable and phone companies should net neutrality rules be repealed. The whole movement has been organized online, making the Internet's level playing field a crucial element to its success. Yet tea partiers claim that net neutrality is just another sign of government overreach. They don't seem to recognize that they are effectively advocating against their own interests—and Comcast is more than happy to have their help in doing so.

A New York Times story this weekend helps to explain the tea party's odd net neutrality fixation. The story focused on a conservative Astroturf group that has cozied up to the tea party movement to advance political causes for various corporate interests, everything from protecting Asian paper companies from US tariffs to—you guessed it—fighting net neutrality.

The Institute for Liberty, as the group is known, is headed by Andrew Langer, a former executive at the National Federation of Independent Business, a lobbying organization that claims to represent small businesses but often walks in lockstep with the US Chamber of Commerce. The Institute has been a regular presence at tea party events for the better part of two years. Langer himself spoke at the Tea Party Patriots "continuing revolution" protest in DC last week. He freely admitted to the Times that various interest groups have given him money to push activists on pet issues (though he declined to disclose the donors):

In a recent interview, he explained how the institute pitched its services to opponents of the Obama health care plan, resulting in a $1 million advertising blitz. "A donor gave us some money, and we went out on the ground in five states in the space of like six weeks," he said.

In a classic Astroturf move, the Times also discovered that the Institute had used the names of dead people on a "grassroots" petition it sent to the US Department of Agriculture supporting efforts by the chemical giant Monsanto to relax restrictions on its pesticide-resistant alfalfa. The paper credits Langer with getting tea partiers to oppose net neutrality. Given just how contrary the tea party position on net neutrality is to the movement's own best interests, Langer should be congratulated on his PR coup.

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GOP Presidential Frontrunner: Fred Karger?

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 2:09 PM EDT

Gay GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger has been heavily campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa this year, having been the first Republican to officially declare his candidacy. He's been working the youth vote, putting forward a proposal to lower the voting age and other ideas that might lure in young people to his campaign. The effort seems to be working: On Thursday night at St. Anselm College, Karger participated in a Republican presidential straw poll organized by the school's college Republicans. He is the only candidate to have actually addressed the students, and he ended up winning 79 out of the 322 votes cast, which made him the night's big winner, over Mitt Romney, who took second, and Donald Trump, who garnered but 26 votes. (The night's big loser: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who received a single vote.)

The win, however small, will no doubt help Karger's Federal Elections Commission complaint against Republicans in Iowa who refused to allow him to participate in an early presidential forum there last month. After a nice showing in the key primary state of New Hampshire, the GOP will have a hard time arguing to the FEC that Karger isn't a serious candidate.

On the Mall, Penis Trumps Tea-ness

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 1:38 PM EDT

On Thursday, the Tea Party Patriots held a "continuing revolution" rally on Capitol Hill. Originally, the rally was advertised to take place on the east side of the Capitol, which isn't the most desirable spot for a protest. Later, the activists ended up even farther down the Hill in a wooded spot near the Robert Taft memorial and away from most gawking tourists. At least one tea partier suspects that the location problem stemmed from the fact that the most desirable spot on the Hill—the west lawn, where tea partiers have held most of their big protests—has been occupied most of the week by a group of anti-circumcision activists. Those particular activists have been protesting on the Hill annually at this time for 16 years.

David Wilson, who runs Stop Infant Circumcision, says he applied for a permit before the tea partiers did, and as such, he was naturally entitled to the space. "I feel as though my purpose and cause is greater than their is," he told me. Wilson notes that at least 120 boys die every year from circumcision and "you don't hear a big outcry over this." That said, Wilson, who sports long dredlocks and a large Uncle Sam hat that would fit right in at a tea party rally, says that because he and his group will be protesting most of the week, he would have happily accommodated the tea partiers for a couple of hours Thursday if they'd just asked him.

Perhaps you can't blame the tea partiers for not wanting to have foreskin preservation propaganda cluttering up their C-SPAN broadcast. And while likely presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) may not have minded the presence of a few bloody fetus posters during her speech (there were some), it's hard to imagine she would have wanted to be filmed in front of posters of screaming babies emblazoned with the slogan "Don't Snip the Tip!". But Wilson thinks that he and the tea partiers would find some common ground. Perhaps the conservative activists might even help move his foreskin cause to the forefront. "I'd be interested to see what the tea party has to say about this. They believe in personal freedom."

Tea Party Rally Washout

| Thu Mar. 31, 2011 5:04 PM EDT

Previewing a protest on the Hill targeting the GOP leadership's failure to sufficiently cut the federal budget, the Washington Times ran a front-page, above the fold story headlined "Tea party to storm capital for 'gut check.'" The storm never came—unless you are referring solely to the weather.

Given the weak turnout for the "continuing revolution" event, as the Tea Party Patriots dubbed it, it would be hard to say that any storming occurred at the rally—unless you are solely referring to the weather. Maybe 40 or 50 tea partiers turned out for the "continuing revolution" rally. Granted, it was 40 degrees and raining out, but tea partiers are a hearty bunch who are not usually deterred by bad weather. The problem may lie with the issue at hand: it's awfully hard to mobilize people around yet another "continuing resolution" to keep the government open.

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