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Eugene Weekly : Views : 06.09.05

Why 23 Years?

Sentence for SUV arson didn't match the crime.


Why 23 years? It's really the only question worth asking in the case of Jeff "Free" Luers. Some people might want to ask, "Why did he do it?" but for people who've been paying attention to the climatologists, I think it's pretty obvious.

Jeff "Free" Luers

Global warming is here. Peak oil is here. We're at war in Iraq to maintain control over an oil supply that is only getting smaller. And meanwhile, the economic elite in America still love their SUVs. Some people just won't get it until you do something that makes them pay attention, and that's what Jeff Luers was trying to do. That's why he did it.

But why did he get 23 years? He damaged three SUVs, causing $40,000 in damages. No one was injured or even put at risk. How did this crime result in a sentence exceeding that of most murderers? What logic could possibly motivate a judge to inflict such a sentence on a 23-year-old man with no prior felonies, no history of violence or drug abuse and no intent to achieve personal gain from his actions?

Jeff is not alone.

The answer to this question is not to be found in the details of his crime. Compared to sentences received for comparable crimes, Jeff's sentence blows them all completely out of the water. Nobody gets 23 years for arson. Even people who burned down houses with people still in them don't pull that kind of time. To make sense of it, it is necessary to understand that the authorities are afraid, not just of Jeff but of people like him. He got 23 years because they decided to "make an example" of him.

So what is it about Jeff that presents such a threat? If you ask the FBI, they'll tell you that the U.S. is facing a growing trend toward "political violence." This disturbing trend, with increasing incidences of politically motivated arson, acts of animal liberation, and in-your-face street protest, threatens our peace and security, they say.

The radicals have a point.

If you ask an environmentalist, you may come away with the distinct sensation that the current status quo represents a greater threat than all the eco-radicals put together. According to all reliable reports, the Earth's temperature is increasing rapidly, huge chunks of arctic ice are breaking off and floating away, the planet's supply of fresh water is dwindling and we're in the midst of a human-caused period of mass extinction rivaling that which destroyed the dinosaurs. Nothing in the current administration's policies gives us any hope of change for the better. In fact, every step the Bush administration takes is a step in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, the traditional tools for political change have been subverted and weakened. Voting is a meaningless charade in a political climate with no candidates willing to take a stand. Our representatives are either already doing their best (like Pete DeFazio) or they're bought and paid for by corporate interests. Either way, calling and writing to them isn't going to do much good. Political rallies and civil disobedience techniques have become so commonplace and boring that they fail to even make the news.

So with the traditional options exhausted and the crisis getting more serious daily, growing numbers of people are taking matters into their own hands. Whether it be climbing trees, stopping traffic, locking down bulldozers, even breaking windows or burning SUVs, more people, especially young people, are coming to the same conclusion: If we want the human race to survive on this planet, direct action is going to be necessary.

So there it is. He did what he did, he never claimed otherwise, but the sentence he got is ridiculous. Come down to Sam Bond's on June 12, let's have some fun and give Jeff some love! If you want to see changes in this country, if you believe the system is out of control and want to help reel it in, or if you just think Jeff Luers is a hero who deserves your support, come on down. We'll see you there!

Chris Calef of Eugene is a member of the Friends of Jeffrey Luers group. Luers was convicted of arson and attempted arson in 2001. For more information, visit www.freefreenow.org



Talk the Talk

How the right wing is usurping Eugene's progressive radio.


Like many other progressives in Eugene, I was extremely pleased when Air America hit our air waves. They have a strong line-up of heavy hitters: Randi Rhodes, Al Franken, Bobby Kennedy Jr. and several other proud intelligent liberals. They stand for compassion, fairness, security and freedom. They help fill a huge void on talk radio, which is overwhelmingly right-wing.

Shortly after Air America came to Eugene, Churchill Communications LLC (owned by the "development firm" Arlie & Co.) added two local shows: The Afternoon Edition, hosted by proud liberal Nancy Stapp (she rocks!), and the AM Edition with Liz Kelly and Dave Wooten, both registered Republicans.

"There have only been two — yes , count them — two liberal presidents in the U.S. in the past 30 years," said the voice on the radio. "Why do you suppose that is? Is it all conspiracy? It's because you guys won't own up to anything, and the American people see that." This was not Rush Limbaugh or Shawn Hannity, it was Eugene's own Dave Wooten, of KOPT 1600's AM Edition on Oregon's "progressive" talk radio.

This was not friendly advice to advance the progressive movement; this was a frustrated 30-year Republican catching some heat from progressive listeners. He does a fairly good job of hiding his contempt for liberals on air, but is a bit less disciplined online. News flash for Dave and fellow R's: After four years of disaster, Dubya refused to "own up" to one mistake during the debates.

Dave certainly has other "progressive" views and ideas. He's suggested dealing with Oregon's public education budget shortfall by cutting teachers and through corporate sponsorship of our schools. What does Dave think about all of us liberals complaining about the Bush administration? "The liberals are doing or have done everything they accuse the conservatives of doing," he said. He also thinks most liberals are "angry and yes, whiny."

During a recent on-air call, I brought up bio-diesel, a plant-based renewable fuel. Neither Liz nor Dave seemed to know a thing about it. After suggesting tax incentives that would motivate people not to consume material goods, Dave's response was, "Why is consumption so bad? What's wrong with buying things that bring me joy?" He obviously doesn't get it. Not thinking about the impact of your daily decisions on the world is what's "so bad." Not taking responsibility for your actions is what's "so bad."

Progressive means knowing about and using alternative fuels and transportation. It means adding teachers to reduce class size, not cutting back on them. Progressives don't favor corporate sponsorship of public schools Progressives know that there are major problems with Americans' consumption habits. Progressives get angry and take a stand when their country is hijacked by religious right-wing war mongers and our credibility around the world has been flushed down the toilet.

To be fair, Liz takes a more progressive stance on many issues, and I think she's currently in the Republican Rehab program. Both Dave and Liz have talked about switching parties and are willing to discuss just about anything. They help provide this community with a great forum to share ideas. Yet the fact remains, AM Edition is very inconsistent with the rest of Air America's programming and out of step with progressives. Advertising this show as "progressive" or "blue state" radio is misleading. Moderate Republicans are not what progressives want, especially at a time when liberal voices are marginalized in the media. AM Edition falls way short of what it could and should be.

Why were two Republicans hired to fill positions on liberal Air America? If you know a little about who was involved in the hiring process, it makes a bit more sense. Arlie & Co. certainly doesn't have a reputation for being liberal and at least one of the show hosts has described their "boss" as being "conservative." The real question is; why are they getting away with it in blue Eugene?

Editor's Note: Josh Welch e-mailed EW Tuesday morning to tell us that the AM Edition hosts told him it wasn't good for him to bring up their affiliation with the Republican party. He also said that after he made comments criticizing Arlie & Co. and John Musumeci on air, hosts at the station will no longer accept his phone calls and have referred him to the station's general manager.

Joshua Welch of Eugene a part-time KOPT heckler and future President of the Nancy Stapp Fan Club.



Caught in the Spin Cycle

Can Kitty Piercy outsmart the liars?


Karl Rove has reached Eugene. Oh, not literally — the President's master media manipulator is still working his black magic in Washington, DC, helping Republicans persuade Americans that slavery is freedom, war is peace, etc. But the contrived uproar over Mayor Kitty Piercy's refusal to attend the Mayors' Prayer Breakfast this year reveals that local right-wingers have adopted Rove's morally despicable yet politically successful tactics.

Led by Rove, the Republicans have mastered such messages in national and statewide campaigns over the last two decades, amplified them with cascades of cash from corporate interests, broadcast them over conservative media, and persuaded enough poor and working-class people to vote against their own interests to help elect Rove's candidates. It's a strategy that works by inflaming hatred and sowing division, and mainstream candidates with the ability to bring people together, like Kitty Piercy, are its biggest challenge.

Attack opponents on their strongest points. Rove's been doing this since his days as a political consultant for Texas Republicans. Is Al Gore one of the most technologically savvy leaders in American politics? Then take a fact (Gore was the strongest Senate advocate for funding for what became the Internet), turn it into something he never said ("I invented the Internet"), and thereby prevent him from using technological innovation as a campaign asset — because every time the issue comes up, he gets bombarded with questions about who invented the Internet. Is John Kerry a war hero? Find and fund some long-time right wing smearmeisters who'll make up lies about his war record. Is Kitty Piercy finally able to unite Eugene's often fractious progressives and moderates around a pragmatic platform of sustainable growth? Then attack her as a divider.

Use hot-button social issues to divide working people by distracting them from money issues. What Piercy and most Eugeneans want is a city government that puts health, jobs, education, the environment and other community values ahead of private greed. But real estate speculators and others who make money off taxpayer-subsidized sprawl or environmental degradation don't want the next mayoral campaign to focus on those issues. They know that if Eugene's citizens really voted in their own and the community's interest, they'd support Piercy's mainstream, sustainable growth policies. So her opponents change the subject to something inflammatory like religion.

Mask your aggression by accusing your opponent of being aggressive. During Bill Clinton's presidency, minority Senate Republicans prevented his moderate, mainstream judicial nominees from being confirmed by the Senate's Democratic majority. Now, President Bush disdains thousands of qualified veteran lawyers and judges, and instead nominates some of the most radically far-right ideologues in the American legal system. Yet Rove's minions accuse Democrats of being the aggressors by filibustering these wackos, and claim that current judges (many appointed by Republican presidents) are attacking Christians by upholding laws governing abortion, end-of-life choices, and so on. In Eugene, Piercy's refusal to attend the Mayors' Prayer Breakfast — an event that divides the community because some of its participants have attacked others' religious beliefs — is transformed by Rovian spin into a "divisive" act.

Keep your fingerprints off the weapons. In Rove/Bush's races against Texas Governor Ann Richards, Kerry and John McCain, shadowy, hitherto unknown organizations sprang up to slime opponents. That allowed his candidate to claim clean hands while the compliant corporate media repeated the attacks. Suddenly anti-Piercy bumper stickers and web sites have appeared.

Surely anyone who's paying attention will see through these smear tactics, right? Many of us thought the same thing when Rove spread similar lies in his previous campaigns. But we're not the audience. These spurious charges are aimed at angry religious dogmatics and others who pay little attention to politics until the last weeks before an election.

They won't hear that we finally have a mayor who's found a smart way to bring the community together over economic, environmental and human resources policies that a strong majority can support. Hate radio, TV and flyers deposited in church parking lots will send the message that Kitty Piercy hates Christians. And that'll get them mad enough to vote on that "issue" alone.

Whoever's behind these attacks has three years of Rovian spinning to make enough Eugeneans dizzy enough to think that a uniter is a divider. Because the last thing they want is a mayor for all Eugene.

Brett Campbell writes for EW and other publications.