News Briefs: Heavy Haul to Roll On? | Gov Calls Huddle on School Tax | Eugene on Screen at Sundance | Civil Rights and Enviro Justice | Income Gap Plagues Oregon | Single-Payer Conference in Portland | Eugene Has Top Commute | Activist Alert | Lighten Up |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
HEAVY HAUL TO ROLL ON?
More than 30 pieces of massive tar sands equipment from Imperial Oil made their way up the Columbia River to the Port of Lewiston and have been sitting at the port since December. The river is currently shut down for repairs to the dams, but at least 170 more loads are planned for when the locks reopen.
Four similar megaloads belonging to ConocoPhillips seem to have cleared a legal hurdle in Idaho that could set a precedent for the Kearl Module Transport Project loads, but opponents are still working to get the plan stopped before Imperial Oils mega-sized oil machinery makes its way through Montana.
Groups such as Oregon and Montana-based All Against the Haul (AATH) have objected not only to using the Columbia/Snake river system and scenic byways in Montana to facilitate turning Canadas boreal forests into strip mines; they are also concerned about the effects the massive loads ã some are 210 feet long, 30 feet high, 24 feet wide and weigh more than 500,000 pounds ã will have on the roadways themselves and on nearby forests and rivers. Local residents in Montana and Idaho fear vital services such as ambulance transport could be affected by the slow moving loads that take up both sides of the roadways.
The Idaho Transportation Department decided last week to let the ConocoPhillips loads go through. Those loads are being moved by Oregon-based Emmert International and are destined for an oil refinery in Billings.
The Montana Department of Transportation has said once Idaho gives approval it would issue ConocoPhillips permits for the four loads. MDT has not yet released a final environmental assessment on Imperial Oils 207 megaloads, though EW found a draft of that assessment on the internet dated August 2010 issuing a "finding of no significant impact.”
Trish Weber of AATH says the group "considers the Imperial Oil rigs to be a different situation than the ConocoPhillips rigs, largely due to the fact that the construction necessary to allow passage of the Imperial Oil rigs would constitute permanent improvements that would allow future passage of other megaloads.”
The Port of Lewiston has indicated hopes it will become a gateway to a permanent high and wide load corridor.
Weber says that it remains unclear exactly how the ConocoPhillips rigs are actually going to navigate the Montana portion of the route. She says that that there does not appear to be sufficient turnouts in place for the loads to pull into to allow the rigs to stop and allow other traffic to pass, as required by state law.
"AATH has groups in both Montana and Idaho who are organizing to perform monitoring of the ConocoPhillips loads, if and when they roll,” she says, and she adds, "If the rigs do no meet the delay times that are stated in the respective state transportation plans, it will provide further ammunition in the legal cases.”
The group has recently published a book on the issue, Heart of the Monster, written by environmental writers Rick Bass and David James Duncan, which is available at http://allagainstthehaul.org ã Camilla Mortensen
GOV CALLS HUDDLE ON SCHOOL TAX
The Eugene City Council voted 8-0 Jan. 24 to pursue a May ballot measure on an income tax for schools struggling with drastic budget cuts.
But now the governor appears to be getting involved. This week Nancy Golden, Gov. Kitzhabers new advisor on education, called a Feb. 2 meeting between Kitzhaber and local school officials around the state considering local tax options.
Eugene District 4J Superintendent George Russell will attend the meeting with Kitzhaber, 4J spokesperson Kerry Delf said.
Mayor Piercy has also been invited, along with Joy Marshall of Stand for Children. Its unclear whether Kitzhaber will support or oppose local efforts to fund schools.
The Eugene tax measure could raise $14 million or more a year to reduce the impact of huge budget cuts that could lay off 100 teachers, boost some class sizes to 50 or more, and cut schools to four days a week.
The council plans to discuss details of the measure on Feb. 14 and take a final vote. The 4J School Board may vote Feb. 9 on whether to support the additional city funding and how much.
Hillary Johnson, a parent helping lead the grassroots effort to fund schools, said school advocates will continue to push the council and School Board for final approval. "Were very happy we had an 8-0 vote to put it on the May ballot,” she said. "It was a victory.”
Several conservative councilors appeared to indicate they may ultimately oppose referring a school funding measure to a May ballot vote, but a majority of four councilors and the mayor spoke in favor of a May measure to save local schools.
That majority could shift, however, if the Eugene School Board somehow opposes getting money from the city. School advocates and the city have been discussing the revenue measure for the last two months, but the 4J and Bethel school boards have yet to take an official position.
Asked if he supported the May revenue measure as opposed to calls by some councilors to delay a vote until November, 4J Superintendent George Russell responded, "Obviously, the sooner the better.” Russell said a November vote would force the district to implement another year of deep cuts because by state law the district must plan a budget by June 30.
Russells proposed budget includes $10 million in revenue from a city tax measure. State law prohibits the school system from passing its own tax increase to fund school operations.
The 4J District, however, has been considering a May measure to fund not operations, but school construction. Russell said he is unsure whether the two measures should be on the same ballot. A May bond measure could allow the district to get $15 million in federal matching funds.
But voter confusion could hurt the chance of passage for both measures. People may not understand that 4J cannot use its construction bond measure to pay teachers, according to Russell. "Im not sure folks will get the difference,” he said.
Another unresolved issue is how soon 4J could start using the money to avert budget cuts if the measure passed in May. The district may be able to use its limited reserves, borrow from city reserves or borrow commercially in anticipation of the revenue, a common government practice.
Details remain undecided, but school supporters have discussed a graduated income tax starting at 0.5 percent and increasing to 1.5 percent for the wealthy that would raise at least about $10 million for 4J and $4 million for Bethel schools per year in proportion to the number of Eugene children they serve. The income tax discussed would exempt those below $50,000 in annual income and sunset in six years.
School supporters say their polling shows such a tax could pass if voters are given a chance to vote. A state income tax on the wealthy passed in Eugene last year by a 3-1 margin. ã Alan Pittman
EUGENE ON SCREENAT SUNDANCE
Eugene videographer Tim Lewis, known for his YouTube channel PictureEugene as well as his long history of documenting environmental and other protests around town, has footage appearing in a documentary film premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this week.
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front has been screening this week at the festival to positive reviews. The film centers on Daniel McGowan to tell the story of the ecosaboteurs, many of whom lived in Eugene, and who burned timber companies, car dealerships, an Eastern Oregon slaughterhouse that was butchering wild horses, a $12 million ski lodge at Vail, Colo., and other facilities around the Northwest.
According to the filmmakers, Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman, the film asks questions about environmentalism, activism and the way terrorism is defined, rather than attempting to answer them. In addition to its focus on McGowan, the documentary features Lewis footage of the Warner Creek protest in 1995-1996 and other iconic moments in the environmental and Eugene scene, as well as interviews with federal agents and business owners and others affected by the arsons and other actions.
Lewis who is in Park City, Utah, for the film festival says he is videoing his experiences for PictureEugene. ã Camilla Mortensen
CIVIL RIGHTS ANDENVIRO JUSTICE
Environmental justice scholar and activist Beverly Wright, Ph.D. will lecture on, "The Perilous Consequences of Public Policy Decisions: Weathering the Storm of Natural and Man-made Disasters in the Gulf,” at 7 pm Wednesday, Feb. 2, at UOs EMU Ballroom.
Wright, founder of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, has worked for more than 30 years connecting social justice, environmental hazards, community activism and education.
"In the U.S., ethnic minorities and poor communities bear the brunt of environmental disasters,” explains Lamia Karim, associate director of the Center for the Study of Women in Society (CSWS) at the UO. CSWS invited Wright to the UO as part of its inaugural Lorwin Lectureship, "Womens Rights in a Global World.” The lecture series will focus on civil rights and civil liberties,
"Dr. Wrights research offers us the kind of insights we require to think about effective policies to protect our environment and natural habitats,” said Karim.
Founded in 1992, Wrights Center for Environmental Justice focuses on research, policy and community assistance. In 1995, the center received federal funding to develop a training program in dealing with hazardous waste cleanup. In a recent interview, Wright said she estimates that 75 of her trainees are involved in the efforts to clean up the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
For a full listing of the Lorwin Lectureship series visit: www.csws.uoregon.edu ã Heather Cyrus
INCOME GAP PLAGUES OREGON
Oregon Center for Public Policy recently released several studies looking at income inequality in Oregon. OCPP is a nonpartisan research institute in Silverton that does in-depth analysis of budget, tax and economic issues. Their goal is to generate material that improves decision-making, thus generating more opportunities for all Oregonians. They can be found at www.occpp.org and contacted by phone at (503) 873-1201
A recent Oregonian story by Jeff Manning summarized the rising income gaps in Oregon. Inflation-adjusted annual wages for Oregons top 2 percent of earners hit $153,480 on average in 2008, a 29.5 percent increase from 1990. Median workers wages stood at $32,659, a 2.4 percent increase. The lowest income percentile saw an increase from $15, 512 in 1990 to $16,622 in the same time frame, an increase of 6.6 percent.
OCPPs most recent release was on the economic impact that Oregons recent increase in the minimum wage will have. Oregons minimum wage rose by 10 cents on Jan. 1 as a result of Measure 25, which passed in 2002.
"A strong minimum wage is good for low-wage workers and is good for Oregons economy,” says Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the OCPP. "The extra dollars help low-income families make ends meet. They also help maintain and create jobs, because low-income earners tend to spend that money quickly and locally.”
Last October, the state Employment Department reported that there were about 121,000 jobs which paid wages less then $8.50. The wage increase will mean these workers will earn $208 more in 2011.
Earlier in 2010, OCCP reported on the rising income inequality in Oregon, saying, "While CEOs in Oregon are still cashing huge paychecks, the fallout from the Great Recession has ratcheted up the pressure on Oregon workers.”
The OCCP report detailed the stagnant wages that Oregons workers face: "The average hourly wages for median-wage workers was $15.85 in 2009, down from $16.09 in 2001 and lower still the 1979 levels of $16.12,” when both figures are adjusted for inflation. They compared this with the pay levels of the top 1 percent of Oregons economy. The 40 highest-paid CEOs of Oregon-based public companies in 2009 earned an average salary of $1.9 million ã nearly 40 times the average annual earnings of Oregon workers, says OCCP.
OCCP sees union membership as an aid in battling income inequality: "Data for 2003-07 show that the typical worker in Oregon got a 16.5 percent wage boost by being in a union, while the lowest-paid workers saw a wage gain of 21.1 percent.” OCCP sees a rise in Oregons unionized workers force (last year was the third year in a row that Oregons unionization rate rose) as a "ray of hope” in Oregons gloomy economic times. OCPP does note that only 17 percent of Oregons workforce is unionized.
Unionization is clearly a tool of equality; and income equality, according to Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, is about more than just economics; it's about how income equality BRING's us closer to our democratic ideals. ã Philip Shackleton
SINGLE-PAYER CONFERENCE IN PORTLAND
Should Oregon be among the first in the nation to lead the charge to single-payer health insurance? A Eugene contingency is planning to attend a statewide conference on single-payer insurance from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Saturday, Jan. 29, at the First Unitarian Church, SW 12th and Main in downtown Portland.
Keynote speakers will be Congressman John Conyers of Michigan and Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). Conyers has presented HR 676, a plan for a national single-payer system, at every congressional session of the last decade. Flowers was one of many activists arrested at the 2009 hearings of the Senate Finance Committee for demanding the committee hear testimony on Conyers bill.
"The single-payer movement is alive, getting organized and growing in Oregon,” says Peter Shapiro of Portland Jobs with Justice. "The new federal law isnt a •government takeover, its an insurance industry takeover. Tax dollars that could be used to heal the sick are subsidizing an industry that contributes absolutely nothing to our health.”
New legislation, called the Affordable Health Care for All Oregon Act, is being introduced in the 2011 Legislature by Rep. Michael Dembrow and Sen. Chip Shields, The bill means Oregon is seeking to join Vermont, California and Pennsylvania in promoting single-payer financing as an alternative to the national legislation.
To register for the conference visit www.SinglePayerOregon.org or call (503) 262-4970. Registration is $20, but scholarships are available so no one will be turned away.
EUGENE HAS TOP COMMUTE
Eugene has the best work commute in the nation, according to a ranking of 90 cities by TheStreet and Bundle news websites.
The ranking, based on Census and other data, shows Eugene with a 17 minute commute, 11 hours of congestion delay per year and an estimated average of $348 per month in car and gas spending. That compares with bottom ranked Dallas, Texas, with a 25 minute commute, 53 hour delay and $593 per month transportation cost.
The websites study (http://bit.ly/eXxMFf) cites research from the Center for Neighborhood Technology that links urban sprawl and freeway dependence to higher costs of living and wasted productivity.
Eugene ranks number one in the nation for bike commuting for a city of its size or larger, has held in sprawl with an urban growth boundary and has a comparatively well supported public transportation system.
But the city is now moving forward with a possible urban growth boundary expansion and half a billion dollars in spending on the Beltline freeway while bus and bike advocates struggle to improve cycling facilities and complete a bus rapid transit system. ã Alan Pittman
« Oregon WAND (Womens Action for New Directions) monthly program will be at 6:45 pm Thursday, Jan. 27, at the First United Methodist Church, 1375 Olive St. (see www.wandoregon.org). On the agenda are immigration and the DREAM Act. Guadalupe Quinn, immigrant rights activist with Amigos, will speak, along with Penny Palmer who will share photos and stories of her experience with "No More Deaths” from last summer. This faith-based organization, headquartered in Tucson, leads volunteer on paths through the desert, depositing gallon jugs of water and picking up empty containers.
« Veteran foreign correspondent Reese Erlich returns to Oregon with a new book, Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence, and Empire, and the award-winning reporter will speak at 1 pm Thursday, Jan. 27, at LCC Building 17, Room 309, and later at 7 pm in Harris Hall, 8th & Oak. Free. He will also speak in Portland Jan. 28. For more information, call Progressive Voices at 484-9167.
« Author Amina Wadud, who gained national notoriety in 2005 for leading a Muslim prayer service and thus breaking a taboo, will speak on "Islam, Justice, and Gender Reform” at 7 pm Thursday, Jan. 27, at the Memorial Union Journey Room at OSU.
« LCC is inviting the public to three long-range planning workshops this week. The first was Jan. 26 and the second is from 1 to 6 pm Thursday, Jan. 27. The third is from 1 to 6 pm Friday, Jan. 28. All are held at the Center for Meeting and Learning (Building 19), Room 214, on the LCC main campus. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
« State Sen. Lee Beyer and Rep. Phil Barnhart
are hosting district gatherings at 7:30 am Thursday, Jan. 27, at Randys Main Street Coffee in Brownsville; and at 7:30 am Friday, Jan. 28, at Creswell Coffee Company in Creswell. Contact email@example.com or call 607-9207.
« Project Homeless Connect is preparing for its fifth annual event March 17 at the Fairgrounds. Organizers are collecting coats, hats, gloves, scarves, socks, sleeping bags and backpacks, along with personal hygiene products. Donations may be dropped off at any St. Vincent de Paul store. Checks can also be sent to United Way of Lane County, 3171 Gateway Loop, Springfield 97477.
Have you heard the latest idea from congressional Republicans for lowering medical costs? If an X-ray reveals a serious medical problem the insurance company will only have to pay to have the X-ray touched up.
ã Rafael Aldave, Eugene
•« One point is clear after reading Coos County Judge Gillespies opinion againstLane County Commissioners Rob Handy and Pete Sorenson on the Oregon Open Meetings Law:This opinion cries out for further clarification by at least the Oregon Court of Appeals. Whats an acceptable use of email in coming to decisions? What are the hazards of serial conversations, one on one, in finding a way to a vote? A quorum on this board is three, but Commissioner Fleenor was excused from the ruling, so how can just two commissioners violate quorum rules?
Maybe it was the judges intent to seek clarification in this technological age, and maybe rewrite the rules. But as the opinion stands, itdefies understanding and logic and will certainly discourage good candidates from running for any public office in Oregon.The financial and political risks from chatting with your colleague around the water cooler or on the drive to Salem aretoo serious. Lane Countyhas a duty to appeal and protect all its commissioners from financial ruin.
« The Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce is surveying its members to see if the chamber should support or fight an income tax for Eugenes two public school districts. The short survey asks if members think education is important to them and if the quality of local education has an affect on recruiting, training and retaining employees. Another question: Is education important to the quality of life in our valley? The survey is for chamber members only, so we wont give out the web address and skew the results; but if you know people who are members, its fair to lobby them. Keep in mind that our local chamber fought the passage of Measures 66 & 67 last November. The chamber has, over the years, alienated many small business owners by touting the standard Republican dogma that government is the enemy of business. The chamber board could build a bigger membership if they ever recognize that a strong infrastructure, including education, creates a fertile environment for enterprise. Some small business owners balk at chamber membership because they dont want to see their dues fund lobbying efforts against their best interests. This survey is a good idea and gives us hope for a more enlightened approach from this conservative business organization.
« The R-G lost another 2,008 subscribers in 2010, according to the weekday circulation numbers posted in the new directory of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. This is good news considering the daily lost 6,300 weekday subscribers in 2009 and 3,350 in 2008. We buy multiple subscriptions for our offices and many of us subscribe at home. Were trying to keep the daily afloat, despite our nearly constant criticism of the R-G for pretending to be objective while pursuing a malicious vendetta against some of our most conscientious public servants. The latest round of diatribes, including a silly "me-too” op-ed Jan. 23 from former R-G reporter Mike Thoele, could lose the paper even more subscribers. The anger against the R-G on progressive listservs is palpable and builds on many years of complaints.
Hey, EW is far from perfect as newspapers go, but we are now printing about 40,000 papers a week, up from 30,000 a decade ago. The new year is starting off well for us, and at this rate well catch up to the dailys 57,068 subscribers in a few years. Scary thought for them ã and for us. Every community needs at least two strong newspapers with divergent views.
« Activist and Author Van Jones brilliantly challengedUO students filling the EMU ballroom Jan. 24 to "change the way we deal with fuel and food,” creating green jobs with "our workers producing the products of tomorrow.” One of his fascinating numbers: The U.S. has 80,000 coalminers, and now 80,000 workers in the wind power industry.Best-selling author of The Green-Collar Economy, Jones remindedthe students that their voter bloc provided the winning margin forPresident Obama in 2008, but didnt turn out in 2010.He was part of the Oregon Humanities Centers"Sustenance” series, a yearlong campus wide exploration of the things that sustain us and the earth in every sense: body, mind and spirit.
« Check out Garrett Epps essay in The Nation (www.thenation.com) called "Stealing the Constitution.” Epps is a constitutional scholar from Eugene and his 3,500-word piece is all about "reclaiming our Constitution from the lunatic right.” He writes, "Americans today are frightened and disoriented. In the midst of uncertainty, they are turning to the Constitution for tools to deal with crisis. The far right ã the toxic coalition of Fox News talking heads, radio hosts, angry •patriot groups and power-hungry right-wing politicians ã is responding to this demand by feeding their fellow citizens mythology and lies.”
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, editor at eugeneweekly dot com