Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
A Right to a Fair Trial
Did Oregon's courts fail an innocent man?
Choice vs. Equity
From K-12, one thorny 4J issue after another
PIELC Is Back
Enviros convene in Eugene this week
Happening Person: Suman Barkhas
JEFF 'FREE' LUERS CLOSER TO FREE
On Feb. 28, Jeffrey "Free " Luers was re-sentenced to 10 years in prison, including time served, for charges against him related to the high profile eco-sabotage case involving the arson of three salvageable SUVs on the Romania lot. His estimated release date could be as early as December of 2009.
It has been more than a year since Luers won his appeal, which was filed four years earlier. On Feb. 14, 2007, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned as illegal the original sentence of 22 years and 8 months imposed by Judge Lyle Velure.
Many national and international civil rights groups took an interest in Luers' extreme sentencing and considered him a political prisoner. Eugene's Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) and several criminal defense attorneys around the state took up his defense.
Luers had received a longer sentence than those convicted of doing more damage in the Operation Backfire cases and others. That was taken into consideration in the Appellate Court. The court also heard arguments that his sentencing appeared to be politically motivated, that the handling of evidence and testimonies were questionable and that there was a desire to make a public example of Luers.
"It is essential for the state to prosecute like crimes equally," said CLDC attorney Lauren Regan this week. "In this and other recent cases of politically motivated economic sabotage, the principle of equal protection of the laws has been disregarded in lieu of fear-mongering and media frenzy."
Erik Hasselman, the assistant district attorney representing the sate, stated that it was in the best interest of the community to bring closure to this case. Hasselman cited a change in Luers' attitude apparent from a comparison of Luers' online writings, his successful completion of several prison programs (resulting in educational certifications beyond what is required) and his personal statements.
"I can now say with all honesty that I was wrong to think that arson would inspire social change. But my failure in understanding does not mean I have changed my opinion of radical activism, " said Luers. "What has changed is how I seek to make the world a better place."
Judge Jack A. Billings said he was "impressed" by what Luers had to say in his prepared statement to the court and responded, "In my 35 years, on the bench and as an attorney, I have never heard a statement of that quality. I wish you only the best."
Although no restitution was sought in the original sentencing due to the lengthy term which was imposed, the Romania family filed a separate civil suit for damages incurred. No representative of the Romania family was present at the re-sentencing, but Luers apologized to them as a part of his written statement in court.
After the hearing, Luers issued a statement saying, "I continue to stand by my actions and have no regrets about my choices. These last several years in prison have not deterred me from speaking my mind, following my heart or standing up against oppression and injustice." — Victoria Stephens
ARSON IN THE NEWS
A spate of eco-sabotage oriented stories is making news this week, all centering on Oregon and the Northwest. Media sources and the FBI are filling the headlines with the "eco-terrorist" label again as they discuss an arson in Seattle and three eco-saboteurs in the courts.
Just last week, eco-arsonist Jeff Luers was given a more than 10 year reduction on his almost 23 year sentence for burning three SUVs. And as the EW goes to press, a jury in Tacoma debates the innocence of Briana Waters, the 32-year-old violin teacher who has pled not guilty to serving as a lookout during the ecologically motivated arson of the University of Washington horticulture building in 2001.
Waters is the only one of the accused arsonists to go to trial. Four members of the loose-knit group are featured on the Portland FBI's "Most Wanted" page, and a dozen have taken plea agreements with the federal prosecutors. Almost all of the group expressed regret for their use of arson as a tool at their sentencings.
On March 2, in the midst of the jury's deliberations for the Waters' trial, three multi-million dollar homes went up in flames in a Seattle suburb. The arsonists left a sign reading, "Built Green? Nope black!" and signed themselves the ELF (Earth Liberation Front), according to media reports. The homes were unoccupied, and no one was injured. The FBI has said the fires are being investigated as an act of "domestic terrorism."
Though the homes were billed as using environmentally friendly materials, the development was built near headwaters of Bear Creek, home to endangered Chinook salmon. Opponents to the development said not enough was done to protect nearby wetlands and that the development endangered nearby water sources and destroyed beaver dams and hiking trails.
The ELF is not an organized group. Rather, it is a designation some radical environmentalists use when calling attention to an ecologically motivated act of destruction. The UW arsonists also used ELF to credit the fire there.
Waters' attorney called for a mistrial, citing that the Seattle fires could influence the jury, but the judge denied the request.
Also on March 2, Oregon activist Tre Arrow pled innocent to charges of conspiracy, arson, attempted arson and use of destructive devices in U.S. District Court in Portland. Arrow had fled to Canada in 2004 and fought extradition to the U.S. A trial date of May 6 was set by U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis J. Hubel. — Camilla Mortensen
FORUM RESPONDS TO CRITICS – SORT OF
The Pacifica Forum discussion group responded to recent media criticism of its activities by talking about controversies from its history during its Feb. 29 meeting.
As reported by CJ Ciaramella on the blog of the Oregon Commentator, a conservative UO student publication, Pacifica Forum's topic on Jan. 18 was "Martin Luther King [Jr.]: Communist?" The speaker, regular Pacifica Forum participant Jimmy Marr, called King a "moral leper and communist dupe" and argued that Jewish communists funded the U.S. civil rights movement with money funneled from the USSR in an effort to incite violence and division that would pave the way for revolution. Ciaramella also reported that Pacifica Forum leader Orval Etter, a retired UO professor, criticized the speech as an ad hominem attack on King.
On Feb. 18, EW Editor Ted Taylor emailed Etter asking for comment on the Commentator story, especially Ciaramella's remark: "I don't understand why the Pacifica Forum allowed themselves to be overrun by complete assholes in the first place."
Etter responded by making the topic of the group's Feb. 29 meeting "Pacifica Forum: Attacks On and In."
Etter spent most of the meeting discussing Pacifica Forum's history through the end of 2003. The group began in 1994 as a peace group with the sponsorship of Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Wesley Center. Eugene Friends Meeting was also involved during Pacifica Forum's early years, though Feb. 29 forum attendees disputed the extent of its involvement. Michael Williams, a member of Friends Meeting, said the Friends only sponsored a single event, but Etter said Friends Meeting was at least a de facto long-term sponsor. None of these three organizations is currently affiliated with Pacifica Forum.
The group went on for a while in what Etter described as "a so-so fashion" with little attention from the Friends or Fellowship of Reconciliation. He said by the summer of 2003, attendance was falling. At that time, he and other group members became interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Etter discussed at length the controversy attracted by two videos presenting a pro-Palestinian perspective that the group showed in summer and fall of 2003: Jenin, Jenin and People and the Land. He also discussed the dissolution of the group's relationship with the Wesley Center, which had provided meeting space, in late 2003. Since then, the group has met at various locations on the UO campus.
"All of this was happening in an atmosphere where we felt we were under considerable attack because we were talking about Zionism and its links," Etter said.
Williams, who has been monitoring Pacifica Forum meetings since 2003 on behalf of the Community Alliance of Lane County's (CALC) Anti-Hate Task Force, distributed a leaflet including a comment Pacifica Forum regular Valdas Anelauskas made on the Oregon Daily Emerald website and his critique thereof. Anelauskas' comment, in response to columnist Deborah Bloom expressing support for the Iraq War, argued that the war was only being fought for the security of Israel and included statements such as, "Even if the author's name wasn't Deborah Bloom, after reading your opinion piece in the Emerald (Feb. 7) there is no doubt that it was written by someone who is Jewish. Because only from people of that peculiar tribe can we expect such Talmudic hatred for humanity. There is even a famous saying that wars are the Jews' harvest. And today it is truer than ever."
The leaflet was briefly discussed. Anelauskas said the Emerald had removed his comment from the website, and Williams said he had asked the Emerald to repost the comment as an example of anti-Semitism.
Marr read Taylor's e-mail to the group. Etter introduced a proposal to, on or near the 40th anniversary of King's assassination in April, present at least one forum on whether King has been assassinated a second time or more by previous Pacifica Forum presentations. He also said the group would address Taylor's questions at a future forum.
"If there's one thing I'm devoted to in Pacifica Forum, it's that we make the forum a place devoted to the truth, and I think we have done that," Etter said. — Eva Sylwester
NO CHILD LEFT UNTESTED
The Bush administration's No Child Left Behind program relies heavily on assessment tests developed by UO researchers in the late 1990s. The tests, called Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), have come under fire recently, and local education graduate student Leslie Rubenstein is questioning the tests and their use here in Eugene.
The DIBELS tests are given to about two million schoolchildren across the U.S. each year. The one-minute tests are used as early as kindergarten and include a test on "nonsense word fluency," to see how many nonsense words a kindergartener can pronounce in a minute.
Rubenstein cites the words of Kenneth S. Goodman, a professor at the University of Arizona who is a past president of the International Reading Association, in his book The Truth About DIBELS: "It is an absurd set of silly little one-minute tests that never get close to measuring what reading is really about — making sense of print."
Goodman and others say the mini-quizzes focus on only a few specific skills that do not encompass everything needed for comprehensive reading instruction. The emphasis on speed, they say, is misplaced in reading development.
Rubenstein says DIBELS hasn't been talked about much in Eugene, where the tests were developed and where they are used regularly to test schoolchildren. She is inviting interested educators and citizens to talk about the tests at 6:30 pm Friday, March 7, at Eugene's Pacific University site at 40 E. Broadway. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Rubenstein with questions. — Camilla Mortensen
• Hold your horses! The Citizens for Public Accountability series on downtown mentioned here last week has been delayed until April. Dates and locations will be announced next week. CPA is planning a series of four "citizen-driven" design events throughout April to provide public input into redevelopment of the West Broadway area.
• LCC's Students for a Democratic Society and the Civil Liberties Defense Center are organizing a forum on the civil rights movement starting at 3 pm Thursday, March 6 at the LCC Building 17, rooms 308/309. Discussion will focus on the Black Panthers, and police torture and other government repression against civil rights activists. For info, email email@example.com
• Ron Palmquist, northwest regional organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops, will be speaking at 5 pm Thursday, March 6, in the UO's PLC 180 on Kincaid Street. USAS founded the Worker Rights Consortium, spotlighting abusive working conditions in U.S. garment and shoe factories in third-world countries.
• A rally against the Western Oregon Plan Revision is planned for 11:30 am Thursday, March 7, the UO EMU. The group plans to march at noon to the U.S. Courthouse to regroup and deliver petitions opposing the WOPR to Sen. Wyden and Congressman DeFazio. Participating will be OSPIRG, UO students, ELAW, Sierra Club, Native Forest Council, Pitchfork Rebellion and numerous other environmental groups and community members. For info, email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Corvallis CODE PINK Community Action Center is sponsoring a Regional Activist Training and Community Action Networking event beginning at 10 am Saturday, March 8, at the Oddfellows North Hall, 223 2nd Ave. Suggested donation is $20, but no one will be turned away. The event continues Sunday afternoon. Presenters include Rural Organizing Project, Veterans for Peace, Oregon Toxics Alliance, Corvallis HOURS Exchange, Oregon Community for War Tax Resistance, Food Not Bombs, Corvallis Earth Institute, Corvallis Counter-Recruitment Committee, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Bike4Peace, Students for a Democratic Society and the UO Student Insurgent.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week's numbers in parentheses):
• 3,973 U.S. troops killed* (3,968)
• 28,870 U.S. troops injured* (28,870)
• 135 U.S. military suicides*(135)
• 308 coalition troops killed** (307)
• 933 contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 89,103 to one million Iraqi civilians killed*** (88,991)
• $499.7 billion cost of war ($497.4 billion)
• $142.1 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($141.5 million)
* through Mar. 3, 2008; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** estimate; source: icasualties.org
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 to one million
Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule
• March 10 is the extended deadline for comments to Lane County Public Works (682-6900) regarding roadside spraying.
• Near Marcola High School: Weyerhaeuser (741-5211) will ground spray herbicides starting March 10 (#55176).
• Near Fox Hollow: Western Helicopter (503) 538-9469 aerial spray for Giustina Timber (345-2301) on 171 acres near Fox Hollow, Doak, Rebel and Coyote creeks starting March 10 (#50157).
• Near Lorane/Camas Swale: Guistina aerial spray 156 acres starting March 10 (#50161).
• Near Low Pass: Western Helicopter for Freres (503) 859-2111 aerial spray 51 acres starting March 15 (#50160).
Compiled by Jan Wroncy, Forestland Dwellers: 342-8332, forestlanddwellers.org
• Jason Blair tells us he has decided not to file for Eugene City Council Ward 1. Bonny Bettman is retiring, and so far George Brown and Shimeon Greenwood have filed for the open seat. Blair works at ORI and writes film reviews for EW. He got his feet wet in city politics organizing support for the doused urban renewal expansion on the ballot last November. "I plan to be an active citizen both within my ward (downtown redevelopment being one issue) and throughout the Eugene community," he says. "I plan to listen a lot, ask questions here and there and build my resume in the process."
As we go to press with the March 6 deadline upon us, no word on whether Jim Torrey will run for mayor again. He got some strategic press from the R-G last week. He's raising a flag to see if he gets salutes or some other gesture. The mayoral field now has newcomer Fredrick Griswold joining Ian Goldfarb, Jim Ray, Nick Urhausen and Kitty Piercy.
EWEB Board races are also more competitive. Maurie Denner will be challenging Bob Cassidy for the open Wards 2 & 3 race. Larry Newby will face Rich Cunningham for the open Wards 6 & 7 post. Is the Chamber of Commerce fielding some conservatives to block the progressives on the ballot? We don't know much about the politics of real estate and mortgage broker Larry Newby, but Maurie Denner had the Chamber and sprawl bucks behind him when he ran unsuccessfully against Councilor Betty Taylor in 2004.
To check on last-minute Eugene filings, visit the Eugene City Recorder's webpage, and look for "Elections."
•The 10th anniversary of the Thurston High School shootings is coming up in May. Shooter Kip Kinkle is now 25 and looking less like a scared, insane child. School bloodbaths keep making headlines, and Eugene author Joe Lieberman has been updating his original book on the subject, The Shooting Game. Lieberman tells us a New York publisher is planning to release his new and enlarged book with a new title: School Shootings: What Every Parent and Educator Needs to Know to Protect Our Children.
Most of the people in the photos collected by the author for the new book have been identified, but the photos of two Thurston students from the Springfield News archives remain a mystery. Anyone recognize them? Larger, color photos are on our website. Send a note to Joe at email@example.com
• EW! The Weekly has a new music podcast. In the debut episode of Signal:Noise, join Calendar Editor Chuck Adams as he charts a course through the loosely defined theme of NEW, makes unfunny quips using the F-word, plays a song that contains both "the news" and "nudity," forces himself to forget the date of a band's upcoming show in Portland, plugs EW's blog and new personals site, Wink + Kink, thereby unwittingly announcing that he's single, and features a whole lot of great music from Los Campesinos!, The Teenagers, Beach House, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Muke, Cat Power, Handsome Furs and more. Go to www.eugeneweekly.com/signalnoiseto tune in.
• U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith is in a bind, getting flak from both the left and right and facing a serious challenge in November. He tried to appease disgruntled Republicans last weekend at the Dorchester Conference in Seaside and said he has "found common ground for the common good." His scripted words have apparently become his campaign slogan, emblazoned onto T-shirts worn by supporters. We're not sure what Smith means by "common good," but he must not be referring to what's good for people. With few exceptions, his track record lines up with the Bush agenda of maximizing corporate profits at the expense of the environment, education, health care, peace and social justice.
• Something new and spectacular on the web is The Encyclopedia of Life, an attempt to catalog Earth's known life forms. The first 30,000 species have been posted and the new site is so popular with scientists and educators it's hard to get on. Check out www.eol.organd keep reading. EW columnist Mary O'Brien warns it can be addictive.
• Is the surge in Iraq really working? Watch national news on TV or read most mainstream newspapers and magazines and the surge's "success" is presented as fact. Reported violence is down measurably in Iraq from pre-surge days, but we are also seeing the results of a six-month cease-fire ordered by Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, the fleeing of targeted people across Iraq's borders into other countries, and the ethnic purging of urban neighborhoods that before the war were peopled with a mix of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians living mostly in peace. Concrete walls and barbed wire now keep ethnic groups separated and isolated. The increase of American troops appears to have little to do with the easing of sectarian violence.
What's significant about the surge claim is that it has become an election issue for John McCain and will continue to be a rallying cry for Republicans up until the November elections. Thanks to the national media, undiscerning voters will think everything's peachy now in Iraq and "staying the course" was a good idea after all. Meanwhile, Iraq remains one of the most dangerous and volatile countries on the planet.
From this point on, Democrats (and the media) need to strongly confront Bush-McCain on the basic war issues: the cost of the war in lives, limbs and environmental damage is underestimated and underreported; the true economic costs will likely run into the trillions of dollars with a huge impact on our national economy for decades to come (particularly in light of how that money could have been invested at home instead of squandered abroad); and our national security has been compromised by diverting our resources to a nation that was no threat to us. In short, the invasion of Iraq was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in U.S. history. To allow McCain to speak unchallenged on the "success" of the surge would be a travesty.
SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, firstname.lastname@example.org
Growing up in a yurt on the outskirts of Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, Suman Barkhas began training in yoga at age 13, when a visiting monk offered instruction. "He taught us about life, spirituality and healing," Suman relates. "I was inspired to take that path." After travels in China, where he learned Tai Chi and Qigong, Suman trained to be a yogi monk at an ashram in Varanasii, India, beside the holy River Ganga. After his training, he was posted to many locations, from Southeast Asia to Northern Europe. "I traveled throughout Scandinavia," he says, "wherever people had an interest in spirituality." Suman arrived in the U.S. in 2001, discovered Eugene the following year and decided to settle here. He currently teaches Tai Chi, Qigong, meditation and yoga therapy at community centers in Eugene and Springfield and at his home studio, Shantalaya — Abode of Peace. "I have 30 classes a week this winter," he says. For the fifth year, Suman is organizing a World Tai Chi and Qigong Day event at LCC on Saturday, April 26. For more information, visit shantalaya.com or call 688-2688.