Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson


Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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Snooki Reads Mother Jones

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 6:29 PM EDT

What does the cast of Jersey Shore do when they're not going to the gym, tanning, and doing laundry? Read Mother Jones, of course:

MTV filmed the skit to promote Power Of 12, its effort to get out the youth vote this November. Jason Rzepka, MTV's vice-president of public affairs, told me that its producers wanted Snooki to be reading a political magazine, and their choice of Mother Jones "reflects the impact of your brand and reporting." (It could also reflect the fact that Snooki is soon to be a mother).

Whether Mother Jones actually appeals to Snooki is less clear. Last month she told Newt Gingrich: "I'm trying to be like you," but then, she might have just been making fun of his efforts to cash in on his celebrity. Whatever Snooki's political affiliations, we're happy for the endorsement. Snooki fans can sign up for a subscription here

Study: Romney Plan Increases Taxes On 95% Of Americans

| Wed Aug. 1, 2012 3:46 PM EDT

Mitt Romney has been on the defensive today over a new study that found his tax plan would most likely increase taxes on the middle class in order to pay for a hefty tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. The study (pdf) by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center scrutinizes Romney's plan to pay for a variety of tax cuts by closing tax loopholes. It concludes that under the most progressive approach possible, Romney's plan would give an $87,000 tax cut to people making more than $1 million a year but require 95 percent of Americans to pay more taxes—on average, $500 more per year.

"He's asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut," Obama said from the campaign trail in Ohio today.

Romney has pushed back against the study, claiming that the Tax Policy Center (a wing of the Brookings Institution) is a "liberal" group. But as ThinkProgress points out, Romney praised the Tax Policy Center's analysis of Gov. Rick Perry's tax plan during the GOP primaries, calling it an "objective, third-party analysis."

Here's TPC's chart illustrating who will win and lose from Romney's tax plan:

Tax Policy Center and Brookings InstitutionTax Policy Center and Brookings Institution

Happy 175th Birthday, Mother Jones!

| Wed Aug. 1, 2012 8:08 AM EDT
Mother Jones died at the age of 93, but often exaggerated her age

It's safe to say that most people have never heard of this magazine's namesake, whom Teddy Roosevelt once called "the most dangerous woman in America." If you've worked at Mother Jones long enough, however, you've likely had a Mother Jones moment. Mine came two years ago inside a trailer home in the Appalachians of West Virginia, where I was interviewing an injured coal miner. "I remember that name from that video," the miner's son told me, referring to a class he'd taken to become a mining apprentice. "Mother Jones speaking before all the men." He went on to regale me with the tale of her involvement, at the age of 84, in the Battle of Blair Mountain, a pitched fight between unionists and strike breakers in 1921 that remains the nation's largest armed conflict since the Civil War.

A labor organizer about whom relatively little was known even at the height of her considerable fame, Mary Harris Jones is thought to have been born on roughly this day 175 years ago in Cork, Ireland. The town of Cork is honoring her this week with the first-ever Cork Mother Jones Festival, a three-day event featuring concerts, a mass at the cathedral where she was baptized, a commemorative plaque, and a day-long bus tour of her childhood stomping grounds. At the age of 10, Jones and her family of tenant farmers fled Ireland to escape the potato famine, relocating to Toronto, Canada and, in Jones' case, later the United States.

As Jones' biographer Elliott J. Gorn wrote in this magazine, her image as a badass grandma has roots in personal tragedy. An 1867 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee killed Jones' husband and her four children. A widow at 30, she moved to Chicago and built a successful dressmaking business—only to lose everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. She went on to toil in obscurity for two decades until suddenly inventing the persona of Mother Jones. "Or, to put it more precisely," Gorn writes, "she began to play a role that she and her followers made up as they went along. By 1900, no one called her Mary, but always Mother; she wore antique black dresses in public, and she began exaggerating her age.

The new role freed Mary Jones. Most American women of that era led quiet, homebound lives devoted to their families. Women, especially elderly ones, were not supposed to have opinions; if they had them, they were not to voice them publicly—and certainly not in the fiery tones of a street orator.

Yet by casting herself as the mother of downtrodden people everywhere, Mary Jones went where she pleased, spoke out on the great issues of her day, and did so with sharp irreverence (she referred to John D. Rockefeller as "Oily John" and Governor William Glasscock of West Virginia as "Crystal Peter"). Paradoxically, by embracing the very role of family matriarch that restricted most women, Mother Jones shattered the limits that confined her.

For a quarter of a century, she roamed America, the Johnny Appleseed of activists. She literally had no permanent residence. "My address is like my shoes," she told a congressional committee. "It travels with me wherever I go."

By today's standards, some of Jones' rhetoric would be considered over-the-top, such as her threat to West Virginia's governor that there could soon be "one hell of a lot of bloodletting." And neither was she uniformly progressive—even by the benchmarks of her time. She considered women's suffrage a distraction from labor organizing and thought most women should stay out of the workplace.

Yet Mother Jones' greatest weakness was also her strength: She saw the world's problems primarily through the lens of class. And in a weird way, maybe her myopia can bring some clarity to our own times. After quietly widening for decades, the economic chasm between the rich and everyone else has finally become an electoral issue, the grounds for a generation-defining political fight. Mother Jones would be busy right now—if she wasn't in jail. "I asked a man in prison once how he he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes," she once said. "I said if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator."

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