Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
In "Secrets of the Tax Prep Business," Gary Rivlin investigates one of the tax industry's most exploitative services: the refund anticipation loan. Rivlin explains how RALs—short-term, high-interest loans backed by a customer's pending tax refund—are largely responsible for the rapid proliferation of tax-prep chains throughout working-class America. By disguising the high-priced loans as instant refunds, the tax mills bring in hordes of low-income clients who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Thus the preparers' huge profits come at the expense of what Rivlin calls "arguably the nation's most effective anti-poverty program." IRS data (PDF) reveals that nearly two-thirds of RAL recipients received the EITC in 2009, compared with just 17 percent of taxpayers overall.
A week ago, the Florida GOP scolded Rep. Scott Randolph (D-Orlando) when he used the word "uterus" on the statehouse floor. We at Mother Jones couldn't figure out what was wrong with the word, and why it wasn't deemed worthy for public. So Jen Phillips penned a limerick in response, calling on readers to post their own reactions to the Florida GOP's buffoonery. Here are some of our favorites:
Energized by the health care debate and fueled by Congress's recent pro-life fervor, state legislators have been dreaming up numerous ways to restrict women's access to abortion and other reproductive health services. One tactic they've resorted to is ramping up on conscience protection laws. The laws shield employees from punishment for refusing to perform certain job duties based on their religion or morals. This would allow government-funded health workers, pharmacists, and insurance companies to refuse to inform someone about care options, give out Plan B contraceptives, or refer a patient to a pro-choice physician, all without retribution.
These "religious refusal" laws, as they are also called, are by no means new, explains Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. Many states have conscience laws, she says, and they exist at the federal level too. But recently, observes Brigitte Amiri, a senior attorney for the ACLU, "we've seen an onslaught of bills restricting access to abortion at a level we have not seen in the past." The inclusion of insurance companies and pharmacies in the list of those protected by new conscience laws make Amiri particularly concerned.
Certain lawmakers have tried to use religious refusal laws to preserve discrimination in other industries and organizations. Take Iowa, for example, where a recent measure would have allowed small business owners to refuse to sell anything to a gay couple if that businessman felt homosexuality was against his religion. (Luckily, that law "appears dead," but similar bills previously popped up in Louisiana, Kentucky, and Colorado, and more could be on the way.)
Besides further restricting access to women's health care services, broader conscience protection laws could also mean greater opportunities for protected discrimination: not just against women, but against gays and lesbians and anyone else a particular employee feels "violates" his or her personal beliefs. We've rounded up five of the worst offenders, below.
If you think green energy is a 21st century breakthrough, think again: In 1900, roughly one-third of automobiles were electric; the first megawatt wind turbine was built in 1941; and today's wave-power startups can trace their roots to the Wave-Power Air-Compressing Company, which claimed "one of the greatest inventions of the age"—in 1895 (PDF). In Powering the Dream, Madrigal, The Atlantic's tech editor, delves into alternative energy's past to glean its future. A master at autopsies of promising yet deceased technologies, he argues that some of them flopped due to lack of funding, while others, like the early '40s wind turbine, were too far ahead of their time (another turbine of its size wouldn't be built for 40 years). As Madrigal smartly shows, tackling the climate crisis takes more than inventing the next killer app: You also have to convince people to use it. —Josh Harkinson
In a dramatic narrative that reads like historical fiction, Mother Jones cofounder Hochschild connects Britain's unraveling during World War I to its divisive struggles over imperialism and women's suffrage. His scenes and characters—labor activists, feminists, writers, even a lion tamer—are mesmerizing, and his depiction of a Western superpower shattered by an ill-conceived overseas war has special resonance. Hochschild sees the conflict's often-forgotten critics as vanguards of the modern antiwar movement, dreamers loyal to a new notion of citizenship. The war resisters' battle "could not be won in 1914-1918," he writes, "but it remained, and still remains, to be fought again—and again." —Adam Weinstein
Everything you thought you knew about Johnny Appleseed is a lie. As this biography tells it, the real Appleseed, née John Chapman, was a land speculator, evangelist, and drifter. He might not have worn a tin pail for a hat, and he probably never planted anything worth eating—although whether that's because he was busy planting apples for hard cider (as Michael Pollan has argued), or just a little careless in his seed-sowing, goes unresolved. Appleseed's vague life story is what makes him so intriguing to everyone from Pollan to the tea partiers, who launched Project Appleseed to teach "heritage and history"—and marksmanship. With such a dearth of hard facts, almost everything about the man is up for interpretation; Appleseed, concludes Means, is "where we go to rediscover American innocence." —Tim Murphy
John Miller is one of the few beekeepers who still makes a living trucking millions of bees back and forth across the country to pollinate fruit trees. Pesticides, parasites, and Colony Collapse Disorder threaten his hives; low honey prices and bee theft mean that he sometimes barely scrapes by. The Beekeeper's Lament examines the wonders of the apian world that keep Miller (a stubborn romantic who douses his food with honey) tied to his trade, from hives' social hierarchies to the alchemy that turns noxious weeds into sought-after honey varietals. Yet by disrupting bees' natural lifecycles, the large-scale fruit farming that sustains modern beekeeping may become its downfall. Nordhaus shows that much more than the sweet stuff is at stake—your almonds and summer fruit depend on these tiny migrant workers. —Maddie Oatman
"What a cartographer does mapping out a place is what a musician does mapping out an emotion," says Mike Deni, singer of San Francisco-based indie band Geographer. "When someone finds a new territory, they distill it into something transferable, something that people can understand, like a map. But that inevitably changes it, and there are good and bad things to that. That's what the name Geographer is about; that process."
The band—comprised of Deni, who also plays synths and guitar, cellist Nathan Blaz, and drummer Brian Ostreicher—has charted a steady course in the Bay Area music scene by bridging the gap between the often-impersonal space of electronica and the lush realm of emotionally charged melodies. By layering Deni's mesmerizing falsetto over springy synths, pulsing drums, and the pull of an electric cello, Geographer produces hypnotic dance numbers that prove quite addictive. Since being named one of three "Undiscovered Bands You Need to Hear Now!" by Spin in 2008, Geographer has been gaining traction; its last show—during the Noise Pop Music Festival—sold out quickly.