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.

WorldNet Daily Can't Take A Joke

| Wed May 25, 2011 9:16 AM EDT

The folks at WorldNet Daily take their birther conspiracies very seriously. The right-wing publication has been the leading purveyor of rumors that President Obama is not a natural born American citizen, and thus, ineligible to serve as president. Its publisher, Joseph Farah, has paid for billboards blaring, "Where's the birth certificate?" and recently his outfit published Jerome Corsi's book of the same name. Corsi, though, had the misfortune of publishing the book at just about the exact moment Obama decided to release his "long form" birth certificate, settling once again and for all time the issue of where he was born.

Last week, Esquire magazine posted a little satire piece suggesting that in response to Obama's birth certificate production, Farah was recalling Where's the Birth Certificate?, pulping all 200,000 copies and offering refunds to anyone who'd bought the book. Esquire editor Mark Warren wrote:

A source at WND, who requested that his name be withheld, said that Farah was "rip-shit" when, on April 27, President Obama took the extraordinary step of personally releasing his "long-form" birth certificate, thus resolving the matter of Obama's legitimacy for "anybody with a brain."

"He called up Corsi and really tore him a new one," says the source. "I mean, we'll do anything to hurt Obama, and erase his memory, but we don't want to look like fucking idiots, you know? Look, at the end of the day, bullshit is bullshit."

Apparently lots of people believed that Farah could be so sensible and called up WND and asked for their money back. Farah was not amused. For the past few days, he has been blasting out emails suggesting that he might sue Esquire for libel. Of course, he hasn't just gone ahead and sued the publication. That would deprive him of a tremendous opportunity to fundraise off the whole episode. In an email Wednesday entitled, "To Sue or Not to Sue?" Farah writes:

I believe Warren, Esquire and the Hearst Corporation may have committed something other than satire. I think they committed libel.

And that's why I have decided to pursue every possible legal recourse for justice in this matter – not so much out of a personal sense of vengeance, but because my profession needs a good kick in the rear end.

I'm sick and tired of spoiled little twits like Warren, perched in their comfortable offices in New York, firing salvoes on tireless, hard-working, committed journalists like Jerome Corsi and the rest of my team at WND without any accountability to standards of professionalism.

Farah also manages to find another conspiracy in the Esquire satire: the possibility that the White House put Warren up to the spoof. Farah notes:

Who is Mark Warren? He's Harry Reid's collaborator. In other words, he's a liberal Democratic hack, not a newsman. Who else is he? His professional bio posted at Esquire says he has worked there since 1988. That's 23 years in the insular world of a New York girlie mag. And he is in charge of Esquire's political coverage. He's also an acolyte of Dennis Kucinich and Christopher Hitchens. Maybe you wonder where a guy like this cut his journalistic teeth? Actually, he has no journalistic teeth. He worked in local Democratic Party political campaigns and staff positions until plucked out of obscurity by Esquire in 1988.

And some actually scoffed when I suggested the distinct possibility that the White House may have been behind this dirty trick!

Naturally, he finishes his rant with an appeal for financial contributions to wage his legal war on Warren, Esquire and its parent corporation, Hearst. You can make a donation through the same WND "superstore" that still sells Corsi's book. 

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Biden's Dude Problem

| Tue May 24, 2011 9:07 AM EDT

Women's groups have a bone to pick with Vice President Joe Biden. Biden has convened a series of closed-door meetings with various advisers and members of Congress to tackle budget negotiations with Congress. Despite the fact that women will be disproportionately affected by many of the decisions thanks to their over-representation in big-ticket programs for the elderly such as Medicare and Social Security, Biden has not included a single woman in his meetings. The "gang of men," as the National Council of Women's Organizations have dubbed it, includes: Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), U.S. Senators John Kyl (R-Ariz.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). The gang is negotiating with Biden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, budget director Jack Lew, and economic adviser Gene Sperling.

The oversight is pretty striking. Biden typically had a good record on women's issues while he was in the Senate, having drafted the landmark Violence Against Women Act in 1994, among other things. But he seems to have forgotten that there are girls in Congress and the administration who know something about the federal budget and economics. (See: Karen Kornbluh, for instance.) The women's groups are calling on Biden to include more female voices in the negotiations so that they are fairly represented.

And for good reason: Social Security, one of the main potential drivers of the budget deficit over the long haul, is a critical safety net for elderly women, who are also heavy users of the other budget-buster, Medicare. For women over 65, Social Security accounts for more than three-fifths of their income, according to a new study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. For older men, by comparison, Social Security accounts for only half of their income. Social Security keeps half of all women over 75 above the poverty line. Given those figures, any cuts to the program are likely to have a significant impact on women. Unfortunately, the only people in the room talking about it right now are a bunch of dudes.  

As Need Grows, States Slash Welfare Benefits

| Fri May 20, 2011 9:58 AM EDT

The recession and record unemployment levels have sent thousands of families seeking public assistance to put food on the table. But as the need for help has grown, by as much as 20 percent in some states in recent years, many cash-strapped states are slashing benefits for the poor, who weren't getting too much help to begin with. A new study by the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities finds that states are making huge cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF)  program, or what used to known as welfare, leaving the vast majority of poor families with no place to turn.

According to CBPP, in at least seven states, TANF serves just 10 extremely poor families out of every 100. And those who receive benefits are about to get far less cash. The state of South Carolina, which saw its TANF caseloads grow by 30 percent between December 2007 and December 2009, recently cut benefit levels by 20 percent, so that a family of three now receives only $216 a month, down from $270 a month.

The reasons for the drastic cuts are fairly simple. Welfare used to be an entitlement program that responded quickly to dips in the economy. The budget went up automatically with the need, and decreased when the economy got better and people were able to go back to work. But in 1996, thanks to Republicans in Congress, including then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Democratic president Bill Clinton, welfare became a block grant. That meant the federal government gave the states a fixed amount of money every year, and removed many of the strings attached so that the states could spend the welfare money more freely. The idea was sold as one that would turn the states into laboratories of innovation, where they would move lazy, poor single mothers from welfare dependency to work. Critics, including Clinton administration officials who quit when Clinton signed the bill, warned that the block grant would lead to great suffering and hardship among poor families that would disproportionately affect children during a recession.

As it turned out, lots of women left the welfare rolls during the late 1990s, when unemployment fell to record low levels, and states diverted a lot of the extra TANF money to other programs that often had little to do with helping poor families. Republicans declared it a huge victory. But now that the economy has hit the skids, the real impact of the "reform" is starting to become clear. The federal TANF block grant hasn't been increased in 16 years despite the economic downturn. Thanks to inflation, its real value has fallen 30 percent, a budget cut that would have been politically impossible had Republicans proposed it outright.

The block grant is sneaky that way. Which is one reason that Republicans, urged on by conservative groups like the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, are promoting a block grant conversion for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. Turning Medicaid into a block grant would mean that Republicans wouldn't even have to propose budget cuts because they'd happen automatically thanks to inflation, as the value of the block grant decreased over time, regardless of demand. But given how welfare "reform" is turning out for the country's neediest, Democrats might want to think twice before embracing this sort of "innovation.

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