Maddie Oatman

Maddie Oatman

Research Editor

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. A proud Boulder native, she makes time for mountain climbing, stargazing, and telemark skiing.

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Basia Bulat's Northern Exposure

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 5:45 AM EDT

If you remember June Carter Cash then you'll certainly recall her autoharp, the fretless cousin of the zither, with buttons that allow the musician to play automatic chords. Canadian folk singer Basia Bulat deserves some credit for reviving the instrument in the contemporary music scene, although, as she will tell you, she's far from the only person strumming one. "Sufjan Stevens uses it in almost every song," she insists, then ticks off a list of others: "Grizzly Bear, PJ Harvey; the first time I saw it was at a Bonnie Prince Billy concert." At performances, fans can catch Bulat clad in brightly colored skirts, blond hair streaming, cradling her autoharp and belting out lush folk tunes—her Tracy Chapman-like voice has almost the opposite timbre as Cash's.

Her instrumental talent is extensive. The daughter of a music teacher, she grew up playing piano, upright bass, flute, guitar, you name it. She  experiments with all sorts of obscure instruments, like the hammered harp and the ukelin (a cross between a mandolin and a ukulele). "A lot of them that I found, you would get out of an old Sears catalog as a novelty," she explains. "I think they were trying to sell them as the next big thing, but they never quite made it."

These instruments don't tour well and get out of tune very easily, so why bother? "I think I just like hybrids, I think I like weirdos," Bulat replies.

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Foggy With a Chance of Increased Unemployment

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 5:03 AM EDT

In "Will Obama Put Up a Fight?" MoJo DC bureau chief David Corn traces how Obama has struggled to connect with voters on their fears and uncertainties about the economy. By spending too much time on health care, underestimating his opponents, and banking too much on banks, Obama failed to engage his base and lost control of the narrative. "It wasn't just what Obama did, but how he did it," writes Corn. "He did not effectively present voters with the key question: How would—how could—a post-industrial, post-dot-com, post-Big Finance economy work?" The results from a recent New York Times/CBS poll reveal some of this voter confusion; 57 percent of those polled did not think Obama had a clear plan for solving the nation's problems, and 53 percent didn't think he had a clear plan for creating jobs.

Unfortunately for Democrats struggling to engage their constituents on November 2, voter confusion about the economy at election time can actually hurt the economy even more. Dennis Jacobe, chief economist for Gallup, suggests that the mere presence of the midterm elections could have a negative impact on consumer spending and employment. Jacobe points to a graph of the increasing unemployment rate (see below), and writes:

Often, political opponents disagree not only about what has caused the poor economy, but also on how best to get it going again. This political rhetoric may generate even more confusion and uncertainty as the midterm elections draw near and more Americans listen carefully to the political debates. If true, this could mean the economy will get worse in the weeks ahead as political debate exacerbates economic confusion. Of course, whether it means things will get better following the elections is a whole different discussion.

Graph courtesy of


Pro-Life Dem Driehaus’s Worst Enemy: Other Pro-Lifers

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 5:03 AM EDT

Pro-life Democrats, a disappearing breed these days (more on that here), continue to face political attack by a most unlikely force: fellow pro-lifers. In "Mommy, What's a Pro-Life Democrat?" a new Mother Jones article out today, Nick Baumann examines how anti-abortion politicians who decided to vote for Obama's health care bill, like Steven Driehaus (D-Ohio), Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Penn.), and, most famously, Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), have become punching bags for pro-life groups that are still arguing that the bill provides federal dollars for abortions.

One group, the Susan B. Anthony List, pledged $1 million dollars to try to take down Dem "traitors" to the pro-life cause. Its strategy included a plan to paint billboards across Ohio with the message: "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion." When Driehaus caught wind of this attack a few weeks ago, he filed a complaint with the state election's commission, arguing that the billboard's message was false and violated one of the state's campaign laws. The elections commission sided with Driehaus, and the billboards never went up.

Ken Buck's Woman Problem Just Got Worse

| Tue Oct. 12, 2010 1:39 PM EDT

Former District Attorney Ken Buck (R-Colo.) hasn't exactly wooed female voters during his bid for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Michael Bennet. During the primary, Buck told voters they should pick him over Jane Norton in the Republican primary because he "doesn't wear high heels." Colorado pro-choicers, regardless of gender, probably know that Buck's staunchly against abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, and supports personhood, a movement set on protecting pre-born humans. (The Personhood Amendment in Colorado wants to add language into the state's Bill of Rights that protects a person's rights at "the beginning of the biological development of a human being" and makes several kinds of birth control illegal).

Buck's anti-woman rhetoric isn't new: In 2006, he told the Greeley Tribune that a suspected rape was merely a "case of buyer's remorse." Yesterday, the release of a taped conversation between Buck and a rape victim by The Colorado Independent underscored the former District Attorney's callous way of dealing with female constituents. Five years ago, the victim invited a former lover over to her house where she alleges he had sex with her while she was passed out drunk (they hadn't spoken for a year before the incident). She pressed charges, but ultimately, Buck, the District Attorney at the time, refused to prosecute even though the perpetrator admitted that she had said no to having sex with him while he was on top of her.

Chris Thile's Punch Brothers at Play

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Framed by the woods of Golden Gate Park during San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile takes the stage alongside his band, Punch Brothers, and booming-voiced roots-rocker T-Bone Burnett. The group commences its string-laden crawl, a tense predecessor of the explosive plucking that will soon ensue. The rest of his mates stay still during the intro, but Thile can't take it any longer. He begins to prowl around like Puck on a midnight ramble, his body gyrating with his mandolin notes and a mischievous smile making its way across his face.

Though he's approaching 30, Thile's constant motion reminds me of an inexhaustible puppy. He named his band after the Mark Twain story "Punch, Brothers, Punch," sings about seafaring and barroom carousal, and spends late nights with bandmates throwing back drinks in Brooklyn. His latest album, Antifogmatic, takes its title from a 19th century drink meant to stave off the effects of stormy weather. As his tune "Rye Whiskey" might suggest, single-barrel whiskey is Thile's first choice. "I love it. I really do. That song is completely true, in all ways," he tells me earnestly. On top of all their revelry, what the Punch Brothers are doing musically blows the pants off most of their contemporaries. Thile and his Brothers have bridged classical and bluegrass traditions, melded them with pop-infused songwriting, and come up with a sound both experimental and tightly woven.

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