Tensions Rise as Indiana Puts Collective Bargaining to a Vote

Mother Jones

While public employee unions fight for their existence in Wisconsin, teachers and union members in Indiana are worried that their collective bargaining rights could soon be scrapped as well. Next week, the state legislature in Indianapolis plans legislative hearings similar to those in Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio, where Republican majorities have moved swiftly to kneecap union organizing and bargaining rights. In Indiana, both houses are controlled by the GOP, and Hoosiers are afraid that anti-union bills could pass quickly.

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Indiana Senate GOPers Pass Collective Bargaining Bill, Dem Reps Go M.I.A.

Robbie Veldwijk/Flickr

Mother Jones

Governor Mitch Daniels isn’t the only Hoosier taking a cue from his northern neighbors in Wisconsin: Protesters swarmed the statehouse in Indianapolis Tuesday, while House Democrats reportedly fled to Illinois. The GOP-led Senate has passed SB 575 [PDF], which would eliminate state teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

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826 Valencia’s Spelling Bee for Cheaters

Judge Jay Reiss helps Mythbusters' co-host Adam Savage pronounce a word. Photo by Emily Loftis

Mother Jones (byline with Maddie Oatman)

The atmosphere at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater on Thursday night felt more like a high school auditorium than its usual elegant performance space. Hundreds had come to observe the Spelling Bee for Cheaters, a fundraiser for literary nonprofit and tutoring center 826 Valencia, and the air bubbled with the sounds of peppy teams cheering on their spellers. A team of librarians near stage right quietly practiced snarky rhyming chants, and teens dressed in bee costumes flitted around the orchestra seats. As the lights dimmed, the “Black Swan” team near the front row turned on their twinkling electric crowns, stood up, and in unison did a ballerina spin in support of their tutu-clad teammate on stage.

As the costumes and spirit suggested, this wasn’t going to be a normal spelling bee. Contestants would be allowed to cheat, using tickets like “Try Again,” “Free Letter,” and “Ask a Teammate” they had purchased as a part of the fundraiser. And rather than rooting for the standard crop of awkward child prodigies, this audience could expect to cheer on the likes of writer Michael Chabon, Lemony Snicket series author Daniel Handler and his artist wife Lisa Brown, Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage, former bank robber and now-author Joe Loya, indie rocker Thao Nguyen, demure folk singer Tracy Chapman, and, the contestant with the most groupies present, beaming high school counselor Ms. Sortino. The trio of judges were improv actors Rebecca Feldman, Liz Feldman, and Jay Reiss, creators of the Tony-winning musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

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Haiti’s AWOL Aid

Mother Jones January/February 2011 issue

Who’s come through—and who hasn’t—on billions of dollars in Haiti recovery pledges.

Mother Jones’ full special report on Haiti includes Mac McClelland’s dispatch from its tent cities.

US GOVERNMENT: “Help is arriving. Much, much more help is on the way,” President Obama said two days after the quake. Three months later, Secretary of State Clinton announced that the US would give Haiti $1.15 billion for reconstruction. USAID has in fact delivered (PDF) more than $1 billion of emergency aid, but only $120 million of the promised reconstruction funds has arrived—thanks to the slow-moving bureaucracy of the appropriations process. Sen. John Kerry (PDF) (D-Mass.) has sponsored legislation authorizing up to $500 million in additional assistance in 2011, but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has put a hold (PDF) on the bill.

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Better Than Ikea: Junip

Courtesy Junip

Mother Jones

Junip, an astral-rock band from Gothenberg, Sweden, took a full decade to put together Fields, the debut album it released in September. The delay, suggests modest front man Jose Gonzalez—who initally became popular as a solo performer—was a matter of talent catching up with vision. “You could say we’re not good enough musicians to make what we want to do,” he told me.

Then there was the geographical factor. The band members have been preoccupied with projects that kept them scattered about—organist/moogist Tobias Winterkorn was teaching and building his personal studio, Gonzalez recording solo albums Veneer and In Our Nature; and drummer Elias Araya studying art in Finland and Norway. Practicing and recording were scheduled around periods of separation—and Fields was ultimately created out of samples spanning that decade—as Winterkorn puts it, “taking out the raisins from the cake to eat them.”

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Nobel-Winning Microlender Accused of Corruption

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunus, founder of microcredit lender Grameen Bank, is under investigation by the Norwegian Committee of Foreign Affairs after a Norwegian documentary, Caught in Microdebt, publicized accusations that Yunus funneled money to Grameen Kalyan, a subsidiary that finances his bank, as well as Yunus’ phone company GrameenPhone—which is co-owned by a Norwegian company, Telenor. Over the years, Norway has provided $100 million in aid to the Bangladeshi-based Grameen Bank—and explained to Grameen back in a 1997 letter that using the money to finance other projects wasn’t part of the deal.

In documents published by Tom Heinemann, the Danish journalist who produced the documentary, the Royal Norwegian Embassy’s questioning of Yunus’ money transfers are revealed. Yunus claimed the change in cash-flow structure was “to generate income for the borrowers of the bank and offer opportunities to diversity our efforts for poverty reduction” by avoiding burdensome taxes.

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Missing Figures in Indian Country

Wichita Mountains, Oklahoma. Photo by jonathanw100/Flickr

Mother Jones

Native American crime statistics are notoriously scattered or simply non-existent, so luckily for me, Mac McClelland, a former fact-checker, neatly annotated her investigative steps behind this issue’s “A Fistful of Dollars.” The stirring piece highlights Indian Country’s fragmented justice system and the services offered by a Pawnee man, who is routinely hired to avenge crimes that have gone unpunished. Melissa Tatum, research law professor and associate director of the University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples Law & Policy Program, explained to me that many available stats are based on national surveys, which fail to carve out the realities of the Indian demographics.

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