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.

Marco Rubio: Compassionate Conservative?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

On Thursday, while the country was digesting the lowlights of the latest GOP presidential debate, some of the Republican faithful were in DC hearing from a lawmaker many Republicans would like to see on the ticket in 2012: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Rubio, who's on the short list of potential vice presidential candidates, didn't disappoint. The man occasionally called the "Cuban Barack Obama" wowed a crowd of conservative Federalist Society lawyers with a speech on the "Constitution of Small Government." It could have been really dry, but was, in fact, almost inspirational.

Rubio was propelled to victory last fall thanks to his wooing of Florida tea partiers with fiery speeches about fiscal responsibility and smaller government. Despite his Cuban ancestry, he campaigned as an immigration hawk. And he even showed little sympathy for extending unemployment benefits to struggling Americans unless they were paid for by budget cuts elsewhere.

On Thursday, though, he didn't sound much like a tea partier. Nor did he echo much of the increasing anti-government rhetoric of the GOP presidential candiates. Instead, he actually acknowledged a place for government, took shots at big business, and—gasp!—argued in favor of a social safety net. He sounded like a younger, smarter George W. Bush, articulating something that sounded a lot like compassionate conservatism. It was clear why the unfunny and often dull front-runner Mitt Romney has said he'd like him as a possible running mate.

The Tea Party Goes On Trial

Fewer than 1 percent of all civil lawsuits in this country ever make it to a jury trial. But somehow, a bunch of angry tea party activists have managed to land one. Their target? A fellow tea partier.

Tea Party Patriots (TPP), one of the country's largest tea party groups, has spent the last two years and thousands of dollars of its members' donated funds suing Amy Kremer, now the chairwoman of Tea Party Express, another tea party group founded by a GOP political consulting firm in California. Kremer was one of the original TPP board members. She was there in the beginning and even registered the group's domain names and set up its website. But in the fall of 2009, Kremer defied the rest of the board by participating in a Tea Party Express bus tour. So TPP kicked her off the board and then sued her, trying to wrest control over the group's email list, its trademark and other intellectual property. The fight has been nasty and, well, sort of pointless.

In 2009, TPP won a restraining order (PDF) barring Kremer from using the Tea Party Patriots' name, trademark, domain name, and especially its most valuable asset—its email list. She countersued (PDF) for slander and also opposed TPP's trademark application, on the grounds that she put the term into circulation months before TPP was incorporated. In May, TPP won a restraining order against Kremer ordering her to hand over control of an inconsequential TPP Google group that gets about four posts a day, mostly from the same person.

Then things really got personal. In October, Kremer's daughter, Kylie, sued Jenny Beth Martin, TPP's co-founder, and her husband, Lee, who was TPP's treasurer for a while. Kylie Kremer argues that the Martins defamed her by posting false and scurrilous allegations about her on Facebook. Kremer is asking for unspecified damages and legal fees.

In the meantime, though, the original TPP lawsuit is finally going to trial in Georgia. Opening arguments were scheduled for Tuesday and the trial is expected to run for at least a week. It will feature a parade of tea party luminaries, including the Martins, Kremer, and Mark Meckler, the frequent Fox News guest and TPP co-founder. But a verdict in the case won't be the end of the tea party's legal infighting.

The Atlanta Tea Party, which is associated with Jenny Beth Martin, recently filed a new lawsuit against Kremer and her boyfriend, who they allege collected money for a tea party event in 2009 but failed to turn it over to the group's leaders. Now, they're suing to get it back. Given all the litigation between these tea party factions, it's entirely possible the lawsuits could outlive the movement itself. 

Health Care Reform: The Calm Before the Storm

As Congress fights over how best to shrink the federal budget deficit, and GOP presidential candidates dominate the headlines, President Obama's health care reform law, and the opposition to it, has dropped out of sight for a while. But that lull in the health care battle could end soon. That's because, as soon as Thursday, the Supreme Court could consider whether it will take up cases challenging the constitutionality of the health care bill this term. If five justices vote yes, the full court could hand down a decision by June 2012, in the heat of the presidential election.

Whether a decision could bring the health care fight roaring back again is an open question. Four appellate courts, including the the DC Circuit, which ruled on Tuesday, have upheld the law; only one has found it unconstitutional, a trend that doesn't bode well for opponents hoping the Supreme Court will overturn it. But there's no doubt that "Obamacare" was a motivating force behind the rise of the tea party movement and the conservative takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010. And if the activists who assembled last week in DC for a conference sponsored by Americans for Prosperity are any indication, the issue still holds tremendous resonance with members of the GOP's conservative wing.

"This is the fight of our lifetime," Betsy McCaughey, former New York lieutenant governor, declared during a health care panel at the conference. McCaughey is most famous for having helped torpedo the Clinton health care plan in the mid-'90s, and she was on hand in DC to talk about Obama's health care reform law, along with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The panel discussion was part of a summit sponsored by the Koch brothers-funded conservative organization that played a huge role last year in organizing tea party protests to try to prevent the passage of the health care bill. And McCaughey, who started the false rumors that the health care bill included "death panels," riled up the crowd as if it were 2009 all over again, with accusations that the Obama administration was manipulating science to justify its un-American intrusion into personal liberty. "How can it be that a woman has a right to choose an abortion but not a hip replacement?" she asked, insisting that the Obama health care plan will lead to rationed care.

McCaughey claimed that the current system is superior to most others and that it doesn't need much more fixing than could be accomplished through her proposed 20-page draft bill, which would purportedly fix health care mostly by restricting medical malpractice lawsuits and allowing the sale of insurance policies across state lines. As proof of the system's current merits, she claimed that 1 out of 4 men in Europe diagnosed with prostate cancer die from it, unlike virtually 99 percent of American men who live after a similar diagnosis. (This claim has been debunked by Factcheck.org, which notes, "Prostate cancer often doesn’t require treatment, so the aggressive screening common in the U.S. turns up both early cases and cases that would never need intervention. This leads to an inflated survival rate in the U.S., where asymptomatic patients are more likely to be diagnosed.")

McCaughey has set up a new group to fight the health care bill, called Defend Your Health Care, to rally the anti-reform troops. And clearly the Koch brothers are still deeply concerned about health care reform. But Congress has already shown this year that it’s not going to be able to repeal the bill entirely. So at this point, advocates on both sides are simply waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in. Consider it the calm before the storm.

That Honey in Your Bear Might Not Be Honey

Honey Bear: National Honey BoardHoney Bear: National Honey Board

If you've been feeding your kids spoonfuls of honey for their coughs this fall, you might want to think again about where that honey comes from. Food Safety News, a site set up by food safety lawyer Bill Marler, reports today that lab tests show that most honey sold on supermarket and drug store shelves today isn't really honey, according to safety requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration.

That's because it's been so ultra-filtered that it's largely pollen-free. Pollen is a key ingredient in real honey, and thought by some people to have medicinal and allergy-fighting properties.

But according to Food Safety News, you won't find much pollen it in American store-bought honey. Their tests found that:

• 76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.

• 100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.

• 77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.

• 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald's and KFC had the pollen removed.

According to FSN, most US distributors are selling pollen-free honey because it's likely coming from China, a country that's gotten into trouble for dumping large quantites of antibiotic-laden, dirt-cheap honey onto the US market and putting American bee keepers out of business. In 2001, the US slapped tarriffs on Chinese honey to prevent it from flooding the market. To get around the tarrifs, China is reportedly laundering its honey through other countries. Ultra-filtering the pollen ensures the honey that ends up in the US can't be traced back to its country of origin.

If you're looking for real honey, FSN recommends buying organic from places like Trader Joe's or farmer's markets, where the honey has plenty of pollen.

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