News Briefs: Minimum Wage Gets a Boost | Operation Backfire Sentencings | Kicker Costs are Hidden | Crime Falls, Fear Rises with TV | Rebooting Democracy | SUNA Meets About UO Buildings | Oregon Cuts Australian Web Access | War Dead | Last Chance to Vote for Kerwood | Corrections/Clarifications |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Happening Person: Paul McNamara
MINIMUM WAGE GETS A BOOST
Oregon's minimum wage increased from $7.80 to $7.95 per hour on Jan. 1, reflecting the rise of the cost of living as defined by the Consumer Price Index. The change is required under Ballot Measure 25, approved by voters in 2002.
The boost of 15 cents an hour will help low-wage earners keep pace with inflation, but many at the bottom rung of the pay scale will remain mired in poverty, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP).
A full-time minimum wage worker will get a raise of $312 a year and a total annual income of $16,536, still below the $17,170 that constitutes the 2007 federal poverty line for a family of three.
"Adjustments to the minimum wage are essential for keeping the lowest-paid workers from falling further behind, but they are not a ticket out of poverty for most families depending only on a minimum wage job," said Michael Leachman, policy analyst for the OCPP, this week.
Oregon now has the nation's third-highest minimum wage, behind Washington ($8.07), California ($8) and Massachusetts ($8). The national minimum wage of $5.85 per hour is scheduled to increase to $6.55 per hour on July 24, 2008.
Critics of Measure 25 predicted Oregon's relatively high minimum wage would hurt job growth, but OCPP says Oregon's non-farm payroll employment growth was 12th fastest in the nation from 2002 to 2007.
Critics representing the Oregon Restaurant Association predicted that "nearly 30,000 more Oregonians could lose their jobs" as a result of Measure 25, but OCPP reports employment in the restaurant industry has grown 19 percent, more than twice as fast as the overall non-farm payroll statewide. And the Oregon Employment Department recently forecast that from 2006 to 2016 the restaurant industry will add more jobs than any other industry in the state.
OPERATION BACKFIRE SENTENCINGS
The sentencing date has been pushed back to Feb. 12 for Jacob Ferguson who pled guilty in October to one count of arson and one count of attempted arson in the Operation Backfire environmental arson cases.
|Jacob Ferguson. COURTESY OF PORTLAND INDYMEDIA|
Ferguson was actually involved in 14 arsons or attempted arsons, according to court documents. However, he took a plea deal in exchange for cooperation with the FBI that involved wearing a body wire during conversations with others accused of involvement with the arsons.
Ferguson's original sentencing date was set for Jan. 10 in U.S. District Court but after Jeff "Free" Luers was given a court date of Jan. 8 in Lane County Circuit Court for his resentencing, the Ferguson date was changed.
The cases have been linked in the past. The night before Luers' 2001 trial for the arson of several SUVs at the Romania Chevrolet Truck Center, eco-arsonists (later convicted in the Operation Backfire case) set fire to 35 SUVs at the same location. They issued a communiqué referencing the Luers case.
The Operation Backfire cases being handled in Washington state have not yet gone to sentencing. One defendant, Briana Waters, maintains she is innocent of the charges.
Waters' trial is scheduled for Feb. 4. She faces 35 years in prison if convicted of acting as a lookout during an environmentally motivated arson at the University of Washington Horticulture Center.
On Dec. 26 Waters' attorneys filed a motion accusing the government of "egregious prosecutorial misconduct." They have asked the judge for a status conference "as soon as possible."
The motion, among other issues, accuses the FBI of "suppression of very significant exculpatory evidence" in Waters' case, as well as the "execution and filing of perjurious declarations by two FBI agents, and the filing of at least one false pleading by the prosecution."
Specifically, the motion accuses the FBI agents of doctoring documents to hide the fact that Waters was not named by cooperating witness Jen Kolar, who has pled guilty to the arson, as a fellow participant in the arson in a December 2005 interview with the FBI. — Camilla Mortensen
KICKER COSTS ARE HIDDEN
Last month the mainstream media celebrated the income tax kicker "Christmas present" from the state.
Now comes the hangover and the big credit card bill. A recent report from the Oregon Center for Public Policy laid out the many high costs of those big checks:
• Because of cash flow issues, the state had to borrow money to pay for the kicker checks at an interest cost of about $45 million.
• Mailing the kicker checks cost about $1 million.
• About 20 percent of the kicker, $214 million of $1.1 billion, will go to Washington, D.C., in the form of higher federal income taxes.
• The kicker will go mostly to the wealthy. The top fifth of taxpayers will get nearly two-thirds of the kicker, averaging $2,002, or six times what the typical taxpayer will receive.
• The state may have to slash school, health care and other vital services in the future because it didn't save its surplus kicker money for a rainy day. —Alan Pittman
CRIME FALLS, FEAR RISES WITH TV
A recent study by German criminologists found a curious trend. Statistics showed that crime was falling for the last decade but surveys indicated that the public believed that crime was actually increasing. Why? The University of Hanover researchers linked the unfounded increase in crime fear to television viewing.
Numerous U.S. studies have shown similar results. Crime shows and TV crime hype have made people more scared of crime despite actual falls in crime rates.
A similar phenomenon may be happening here in Eugene. In the last decade, Eugene's violent crime rate has fallen 59 percent and the property crime rate has fallen 41 percent, according to FBI data.
With such a big drop, you'd think the police would be celebrating. But the EPD is focusing more on getting a big boost in their budget, up to 50 percent or about $20 million a year. A plummeting crime rate doesn't fit in with the argument that more cops are desperately needed.
The Eugene City Council also appears more tuned in to TV crime hype than falling crime rates. The council has made increased police staffing to produce "a community where people feel safe" a major official goal and budget priority. But the studies show a cheaper route to making people "feel safe" may be more funding for TV Turnoff Week at the Eugene library, rather than more cops. —Alan Pittman
A contingency of Lane County residents will be catching the bus to Portland Jan. 11-13 for what's being called "the Northwest's premier nonpartisan political conference." The three-day event to be held at the Montgomery Park Atrium and Ballroom is being sponsored by the Oregon Bus Project. Costs for the conference run from $95 to $179 and scholarships are available.
Speakers lined up for the conference include Congressman Earl Blumenauer, former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, Air America host and author Thom Hartman. Candidates expected include Steve Novick, Jeff Merkley, John Kroger, Greg Macpherson, Brad Avakian, Vicki Walker, Rick Metsger and Kate Brown.
Space at the event is limited and a system for nominating people to attend is available at RebootingDemocracy.com, along with information about costs, reservations, and arranging bus transportation from Lane County.
SUNA MEETS ABOUT UO BUILDINGS
Residents in the South University Neighborhood Association (SUNA) are gathering at 7 pm Tuesday, Jan. 8 to talk about two big new building projects planned by the UO on the edge of the campus. The projects include a huge basketball arena with parking lots off Franklin Boulevard, and a seven-story student apartment complex at 19th and Alder. Both projects are expected to have an impact on the neighborhood.
The apartment complex is designed for 212 students and will provide parking for 40 cars. "Many neighbors have concluded that no seven-story structure, no matter how well designed, can be compatible with our neighborhood, where there are no buildings more than three stories," says SUNA President Bob Peters in the latest neighborhood newsletter. Peters says "cars belonging to 212 students will flood the streets" of the neighborhood.
Representatives from the apartment developers are expected at the meeting, along with Patricia Thomas of the city's Infill Compatibility Standards project.
Also on the SUNA agenda Tuesday is the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field in late June. "Our neighborhood will have a ringside seat," says Peters. "The Trials are expected to attract 15,000 daily. That means parking could be a worse problem for our neighborhood than during UO athletic events."
OREGON CUTS AUSTRALIAN WEB ACCESS
Who knew Australia depended upon Oregon for its online gaming? Thanks to landslides in Oregon, Australian access to U.S. Internet sites was temporarily cut in half in early December, according to The Australian news service.
Southern Cross Cable, which owns the severed cable, diverted Internet traffic to a secondary cable that comes to the U.S. in Southern California, but Internet traffic was significantly slowed for several days.
Two of Australia's three top Internet service providers were affected by the break in the cable from Australia that comes to shore at Nedonna Beach near Tillamook Bay. The break was caused by landslides during the early December storms and repairs were further delayed due to "felled trees and flooding" according to an update to customers from the Australian ISP Optus.
The interrupted service caused complaints on number of Internet forums that rely on U.S. websites. Australian players of the popular online game "Warcraft" were apparently particularly affected, judging by complaints posted in its forums. — Camilla Mortensen
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began onMarch 20, 2003(last week's numbers in parentheses):
• 3,902 U.S. troops killed*(3,897)
• 28,661 U.S. troops injured* (28,661)
• 132 U.S. military suicides*(132)
• 307 coalition troops killed** (307)
• 933 contractors killed(accurate updates NA)
• 87,350 to one million Iraqi civilians killed*** (86,462)
• $481.7 billion cost of war ($479.8 billion)
• $129.7 million cost toEugene taxpayers(adjusted)
* through Dec. 31, 2007; 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
LAST CHANCE TO VOTE FOR KERWOOD
Lorraine Kerwood, founder and director of NextStep Recycling is a finalist in the Volvo for Life Awards, and could win up to $100,000 for her nonprofit — if enough people vote for her online before Jan. 7. She could also win a new Volvo every three years for as long as she lives.
Kerwood is one of 10 "heroes" nominated and selected in the environment category. The top vote-getting in each category gets $100,000 for his or her nonprofit and runners-up get $25,000. Information about Kerwood and NextStep can be found at volvoforlifeawards.com. Click on the "Environment" category to vote for one of 10 finalists.
Since 2002, Volvo Cars of North America has identified more than 18,000 everyday heroes in its annual Volvo for life Awards, and has contributed millions of dollars to their causes.
"Once again, Volvo is inviting America itself to serve as one of the Volvo for life Awards judges," said Anne Belec, president and chief executive officer of Volvo Cars of North America. "Last year we had an overwhelming response with more than 700,000 votes tallied. This year's heroes are top notch. It will be tough to narrow the field down and pick winners, but Volvo is confident that America is up to the challenge. "
In the end, every vote counts. Ten heroes have been selected in the categories of Safety, Quality of Life, Environment and the Butterfly Award, Volvo's youth category. The voting period will determine three finalists in each category. Visit http://www.volvoforlifeawards.comand learn more about what the top 40 hometown heroes are doing to make the world a better place now and in the future. Most importantly, support Kerwood with your vote and help bring more funding to your community. Volvo Cars of North America leads the national initiative, honoring and rewarding local heroes with financial contributions each year. This year, Volvo doubled the charitable donation amount given to the top three winners. One top hero in each of the categories of Safety, Quality of Life and Environment will receive $100,000 for their charities; two runners-up in each category will receive $25,000. One extraordinary winner will go on to receive the title "America's Greatest Hometown Hero," and with it, a new Volvo car every three years for life.
A fourth Volvo for life Awards category is up for grabs this year -- but only America's kids can reach it. Volvo is elevating its annual Butterfly Award to its own youth hero category -- with a $25,000 prize for the winner and $10,000 to two runners up. When the voting period ends January 7, 2008, a panel of distinguished judges will select one winner in each of the four categories. A grand award winner, selected from the Safety, Quality of Life and Environment categories, will be named "America's Greatest Hometown Hero" and presented with a new Volvo car every three years for the rest of his or her life at the annual Volvo for life Awards Ceremony in New York City, March 19, 2008. To learn more, or to vote for your favorite hero, visit http://www.volvoforlifeawards.com.A Spanish version of the site can also be accessed at this address.
Our Dec. 27 cover story reported that Eugene could use a real estate transfer tax to raise money for housing the homeless. Enacting such a tax would require a change in a state law that preempted local real estate transfer taxes.
• The Bush-appointed Federal Communications Commission voted this month to loosen media ownership rules and allow broadcast media owners in major markets to also own a newspaper. The FCC is claiming Americans now have a broad diversity of news sources available via the Internet and cable TV, so media monopolies are not really a problem. This vote came despite a massive public outcry against consolidation. What was the point of the long public hearings? The decision defied the concerns of 99 percent of those testifying.
Whoever controls the media controls the message, and when it comes to chain ownership of media, corporate accountants control the message through the budget. Investigative reporting is expensive. Foreign correspondents are expensive. Rehashing press releases is cheap. Big advertisers are not to be offended. There are exceptions, of course. A struggling locally owned newspaper or broadcast station might be bought out by a chain and actually improve its content through more professional management (eliminating nepotism) and an infusion of capital. But overall, consolidation has led to mainstream media providing less substantive content, and driving small, independent media out of the market. Twenty years ago, 29 major media owners shared at $100 billion media enterprise. Today, six media conglomerates control a $400 billion enterprise and thousands of investigative reporter positions have been cut. Democracy requires not only a healthy mix of voices, but also an army of journalists keeping a close eye on government, business and the arts.
What can be done about the FCC's arrogant decision? The commission may have snoozed through the public testimony, but the FCC cannot so easily ignore Congress. A bipartisan group of 26 U.S. senators has announced an effort to overrule the decision. The public can support this effort through contacting senators or participating in an online petition through MoveOn (www.moveon.org).Lawsuits are also in the works, though they could drag on for years.
• Speaking of media consolidation, what's happening with Oregon Public Broadcasting's plans to buy KOPT-AM 1600, the local Air America affiliate? Will it affect local programming? We've asked both KOPT and OPB for updates but haven't heard much during the holidays. A few rumors are circulating. One rumor is that OPB does not have any plans for local programming — everything will be canned. But the FCC requires local broadcast stations to provide some public interest local programming. Whether OPB will do more than the minimum is the real issue. Another rumor is that KLCC is not really happy about the OPB expansion into its market despite public statements to the contrary. We checked with Steve Barton, the big cheese at KLCC, and he tells us there "probably are" some folks associated with the station "who aren't happy about this, but I'm definitely not one of those." He also thinks the "community can benefit by having OPB here."
Lane County listeners, depending on their location and equipment, can actually pick up six public radio stations. KLCC, KRVM, OPB, KWAX, JPR and KWVA can be found on the dial, according to Amy Pincus Merwin, who has the "Inform Radio" show on KWVA.
Air America in Lane County is about to go away as commercial KOPT becomes public radio KOPT. How about a group of local folks getting together to buy some struggling local radio station, pick up Air America and other national progressive programming and add local progressive talk every day? The nice thing about Air America programming is that it doesn't cost the station much since it comes packaged with national advertising. The KOPT commercial model of mixing local and national content might work with some tweaking.
Local public affairs programming, including progressive or centrist talk radio, is an important part of the media mix in any community. Will KLCC and/or OPB fill that gap? KLCC is promising changes as it moves to its new facilities Jan. 4, and the station is expanding its geographic reach with new transmitters. "We have discussed with OPB the possibility of expanding local talk programming," Barton tells us, "but it's still in the discussion stage."
• Looking for bargains after Christmas? Support our advertisers, please, but also check out local thrift stores. So many people make year-end donations for tax purposes that the stores have more good merchandise than they can display. Buying used stuff is another great way to recycle.
• We heard in an email from Bijou manager Louise Thomas that Bijou owner Michael Lamont, who opened our favorite art movie house in October of 1980, passed away on Dec. 22 at the age of 62. As we get more news, we'll post it to the blog (blogs.eugeneweekly.com). Our condolences to all at the Bijou and to Lamont's family.
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, email@example.com
After high school in Los Angeles and hippie days in Santa Barbara, Paul McNamara migrated to Eugene in 1974 and found a job at Sawyer's Machine Works. Inspired by seeing members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, who fought with rattan bats for swords, he took a fencing class in '76 from UO coach Paul Dart. "I found I was a natural," says McNamara, who became Dart's assistant after six months and founded the Eugene Fencers Club later the same year. Since 1979, he has worked at various jobs for the city of Eugene, then taught fencing in the evening in the same small gym at Roosevelt Middle School. "I've taught three to five thousand sudents," he estimates. "Some have won full scholarships to Notre Dame and Duke." At age 57, McNamara competes in the veterans division in six to 10 tournaments a year. He teaches twice a week at Roosevelt, once at North Eugene, plus two afternoon classes for home-schoolers. Students range in age from six to 50. "I teach kids how to fight," he says, "to react and not be deer in the headlights." Learn more at eugenefencersclub.org.