Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Big Broadway Decision
Council to pick developer, subsidies for downtown core
Polar explorer on thin ice
PASSION FOR THE PLANET
Hordes of people thronged the UO’s Erb Memorial Union on the evening of March 1 to hear Vandana Shiva and Robert F. Kenndy, Jr., the two keynote speakers at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC). The ballroom was packed with more than 750 people, and two overflow rooms provided space for at least 500 more to watch on live feed as the speakers blasted U.S. corporations and exhorted the audience to take action on behalf of the planet.
Introducing physicist and ecologist Shiva, conference co-coordinator Zach Welcker brought the audience to its feet when he issued a stirring call for international cooperation in environmental activism (see p. 7).
Shiva, whose ecofeminist activism and scholarship in India garnered worldwide attention in the 1990s, spoke extensively about the horrors perpetrated by multinational corporations. Looking out at the crowd, she said, “You have big work because your corporations have taken our planet as their property.” Those rapacious plunderers, she said, included pharmaceutical company Novartis, agribusiness giants Cargill and Monsanto and soft drink companies Coke and Pepsi.
Much of her speech focused on “water wars” and what she called the “seed wars,” seed monopolies and the dangers of monoculture and genetic engineering. Her 1999 book Stolen Harvest brought to international attention the genetic engineering of seeds and the impact of corporations on poor farmers, and she reiterated those concerns in her speech. “A decade of seed monopolies has pushed farmers into debt they have not known,” she said. She claimed that a map of Indian farmer suicides corresponds almost one-to-one with a map of the spread of genetically engineered cotton, whose yield has not been as solid as promised. But she said her seed saving organization, Navdanya (www.navdanya.org),already has drought-tolerant, flood-tolerant, hurricane-tolerant seeds, and “we don’t need to wait for Monsanto to give us genetically engineered seed.”
She urged the audience to link solutions, not to work on problems in isolation, or “we’ll get solutions making it worse in other sectors.” She concluded by repeating her call: “You’ll have to hold your government back and restrict it for the sake of Gaia, for the sake of the Earth.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., speaking just after being diagnosed with pneumonia, delivered his more nationally focused speech with passion and to frequent applause. One of the points he hit over and over was the tie between democracy and saving the environment, and between free, investigation-oriented media and democracy. Kennedy repeatedly mentioned the Bush administration’s eagerness to “put polluters in charge of every agency that’s supposed to be protecting against pollution” and the effect of that on the health of his and other children. He talked about the prevalence of mercury in our waterways and air pollution, both from coal plants suddenly exempted from the Clean Air Act by Bush as soon as he got into office in 2000.
Kennedy tied the tens of millions of dollars given to the Bush campaign by the coal industry to continued exemptions, and he talked about ways that industries subvert democracy through monetary donations. In addition, he said, they can do this because “we have a negligent and indolent press in this country.” But it’s not just that media outlets are controlled by six giant corporations, he says (as depicted by The Nation‘s National Entertainment Chart at www.thenation.com/doc/20060703/mediachart),it’s that Ronald Reagan’s ending of the Fairness Doctrine in 1988 encouraged talk radio and industry consolidation and discouraged investigative reporting for the sake of entertainment reporting. He concluded with an appeal to nature as the basis for American democracy and American values. “Those of us who know that [America is] worth fighting for,” he said, “have to take it back now from those who don’t.” — Suzi Steffen
Everywhere else in the state, local elected city officials vote on sometimes controversial annexations after holding public hearings. But in Eugene a boundary commission appointed by the governor makes the decision at meetings rarely attended by the public.
Responding to complaints about annexations in the River Road/Santa Clara area, a bill in the state Legislature would do away with the local Boundary Commission. The bill has the backing of most local representatives, but is opposed by city of Eugene staff.
Backers of the bill are “trying to make it more difficult for annexations to occur,” said City Manager Dennis Taylor at a City Council meeting last month in which staff recommended making defeat of the bill a top lobbying priority.
But the council rejected that and voted 7-1 to make the city’s position on the bill neutral. A vote to support the bill failed 3-5.
Opposing the legislation isn’t worth the political capital, argued Councilor Bonny Bettman. “Look at the political reality,” she said. “It’s going to pass; it’s going to get signed.”
Councilor Andrea Ortiz said many of her constituents in River Road/Santa Clara are angry at annexations performed by an unaccountable, unelected board without a public face in the community. The Bethel area was annexed years ago, but many people there still angrily vote down tax measures, she pointed out. “They’re still pissed.”
City staff warned that noncontiguous annexations would be more difficult without the Boundary Commission, requiring “cherry stem” annexations that would be subject to reasonableness legal standards. A lack of annexation could effectively block some development. Also, the city may have to figure out a new mechanism of restricting extensions of sewer and water services beyond city limits to control costs and sprawl.
Although the council voted to not oppose the bill, a majority of councilors still appear to favor the city’s longstanding goal of annexing unincorporated, urbanized islands in the city to provide more efficient services and to have residents pay their fair share of city taxes.
“There are close-in county residents who have a duty to participate in the city’s responsibilities,” said Councilor Mike Clark.
“I foresee a day when all of River Road/Santa Clara is in Eugene,” said Councilor Jennifer Solomon.
Councilor Alan Zelenka agreed. “I think we’re on the right path,” he said. “We’ll end up with all of River Road/Santa Clara in the city.” — Alan Pittman
ANTI-WAR RESOLUTION ON AGENDA
The Eugene City Council will be asked to approve a resolution Monday, March 12, seeking withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. A time for public input is expected to begin at 7:30 pm in the council chambers. A rally in support of the resolution will begin at 7 pm outside of council chambers.
The resolution was passed unanimously by the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee Feb. 22. Councilors Bonny Bettmann, Betty Taylor and Chris Pryor are the committee members.
If the council passes the resolution, Eugene will join the nearly 300 other U.S. cities that have passed similar resolutions.
The resolution’s central demand is that Congress use its “power of the purse” to cut off further funding of the Iraq occupation by U.S. forces — except for funds necessary to carry out a safe, rapid and orderly withdrawal that fully protects American troops from harm — and to support Iraqi reconstruction efforts.
Lane County commissioners Feb. 14 passed an anti-war resolution that came out of the county’s Mental Health Advisory Committee. The resolution calls on Oregon’s congressional delegation to “reduce the number of U.S. troops engaged in wars and to take action to provide federal financial support targeted for the welfare, safety and health of returning veterans affected by their participation in war, their families and communities.”
March 17 marks the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War, and a number of local peace, justice and environmental groups are gathering at 10:30 am at the Lane County Fairgrounds for a march to the old federal building for a noon rally. A benefit for Ehren Watada and Suzanne Swift will be held that evening, from 7 to 9:30 at Cozmic Pizza.
A Friday morning panel at the PIELC featured representatives of Defenders of Wildlife, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife debating not only Oregon’s controversial wolf reintroduction plan but also the recent federal proposal to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list in the Northern Rockies and parts of the Pacific Northwest.
Reintroducing wolves to Oregon will no longer be a possibility if states such as Idaho and Wyoming use lethal methods to control wolf populations. Wyoming proposes to allow all wolves to be shot on sight. Idaho governor C.L .”Butch” Otter recently announced a plan to kill 75 percent of the wolf population, stating “I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself.”
Oregon ranchers fear wolves will decimate their livestock; however, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, domestic dogs are responsible for nearly 20 times more sheep kills than wolves.
The public can comment on this plan to delist the gray wolf until April 9. For more information contact the Cascadia Wildland Project at www.cascwild.orgor to make comments email WesternGrayWolf@fws.gov. Include ”RIN number 1018–AU53” in the subject line of the message. To comment by mail, write to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, Mont. 59601. Include ”RIN number 1018–AU53” in the subject line of the letter. — Camilla Mortensen
Saturday afternoon’s PIELC keynote speaker, Dinah Bear, is the general counsel of the Council on Environmental Quality with an office across the street from the White House. Despite winning awards from the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Council of America, she has managed to remain in that position through four presidential administrations, three of them Republican and not known for their positive positions on the environment.
Bear addressed current challenges to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), expressing concern that most people don’t realize how useful a tool it is. She stated that under NEPA, the public can comment during all phases of proposed legislation and federal actions that “significantly affect the quality of the human environment.”
Bear warned her listeners to fight attempts to undermine NEPA. Legislation such as the Walden Logging Bill that weakens NEPA often claims to “streamline” policy making. In reality it takes power away from the public by removing the ability to comment, and sets dangerous precedents, she said.
One such instance is the Department of Homeland Security’s fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. When activists sued in 2004 to prevent the building of the fence, citing environmental concerns, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) promptly waived all legal requirements that would prevent the quick building of the fence, including NEPA. In other words, the secretary of the DHS can waive all environmental laws along the southern border with Mexico.
When asked to comment on which agencies had the worst records of NEPA compliance, Bear showed the poise which has allowed her to serve under presidents as diverse as Bill Clinton and both Bushes. She neatly avoided the question and responded, to the dismay of her audience, that the military services, particularly the Air Force and the Army, had the “best and quickest” analyses of the impact of their actions on the environment. — Camilla Mortensen
Lane County Herbicide Spray Schedule
Near Triangle Lake School: Daniel Klemp (927-6181) will ground spray 11 acres with Westar, Accord and Garlon herbicides near Lake Creek tributary (ODF No. 50266).
Near Mapleton School: Western Helicopter Services (503) 538-9469 will aerially spray 513 acres for Swanson Group (No. 935-3010) near Mapleton (Siuslaw River tributaries, Porter Creek); near Greenleaf (Greenleaf Creek tributary and Windy Peak); near Low Pass (Jones Creek, and the Long Tom River); and near Lorane (Letz Creek) with Atrazine; Hexazinone; Clopyralid; Sulfometuron Methyl; Glyphosate herbicides March 13-31 (No. 781-50267).
Oregon Dept. of Forestry 935-2283.
Compiled by Jan Wroncy, Forestland Dwellers: 342-8332, www.forestlanddwellers.org
Last week’s dance story about Ailey II contained an incorrect subheadline. It should have read as our dance writer, Rachael Carnes, wrote it: “Ailey II a revelation.”
Oregon Democrats have a chance to fly high with their election of new state officers this weekend in Salem. Our own Dan Carol, occasional EW columnist and nationally known political strategist, jumped late into the race for chair but is making up for time with his whirlwind energy. He wants to succeed another Eugenean, Jim Edmunson, retiring after eight years that leave the DPO totally in power. One of Oregon’s best Dem chairs in the history of the party also came from Lane County. That’s Jim Klonoski, now a retired UO political science professor. Carol’s competition is Carol Voisin from Ashland and two Portlanders, Meredith Wood-Smith and Mac Pritchard. Dan Carol has researched and tossed out a series of aggressive questions that challenge Gordon Smith, the big (but not impossible) target for the DPO, and he is qualified to take Smith on, having served as research director for the opposing Wyden campaign in 1995 in the only election loss Smith has ever suffered. Let’s do it — Dan Carol, chair of the Oregon Democratic Party! More on blueoregon.com (including extensive statements from the candidates) and oregondemocrats.org
Another stunning Public Interest Environmental Law Conference PIELC) has come and gone, leaving us with fresh perspectives on old problems, and tools for more effective activism. Great job by the coordinators this year, and they tell us they are hoping to have streaming video of the keynotes and audio of select panels online by April, barring technical problems. Audio recordings will also be available on CD for the cost of production and mailing, about $5. Keep an eye on www.pielc.orgover the next few weeks. It’s easy to become cynical about the state of the environment, but hanging out with this new generation of smart, dedicated law students inspires optimism.
In late January the private Pappas Consulting Group released a report critical of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at UO, saying the museum needs a more clear vision for its purpose and direction, and how it connects to the larger community. But this past weekend saw a remarkable collection of visual artists, dancers, musicians, culture scholars, filmmakers, scientists, philosophers, poets and ecologists coming together at the museum for an interactive experience called Metamedia3. The “happening,” for lack of a better word, came in conjunction with the PIELC, plugging art into legal activism as well. This is what a living art museum is all about: bringing a diversity of people together in creative ways through art, and planting seeds of connection and hope for the future. Jair of the Imaginify Community Network tells us the collaboration, which attracted about 400 people, was not without its difficulties and obstacles to overcome. “We proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are an agile bunch,” he says.
Since 1999 Eugene Weekly has increased steadily in number of papers printed from 30,500 to 40,300 (thank you, loyal readers), but how have other Oregon papers done during the past seven years? The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association just came out with circulation numbers showing that The Oregonian is still Oregon’s biggest paper, but its circulation has dropped in seven years from 347,000 to 323,000. The Register-Guard is second, but its paid circulation has dropped from 74,800 to 70,500. Salem’s Stateman Journal has slipped from 58,000 to 50,200. The Corvallis Gazette-Times has dropped from 12,600 to 11,600. All this has happened while Oregon’s population has been growing at about 45,000 a year.
Speaking of the decline of newspapers, Bobby Kennedy Jr. had a lot to say about media’s role in democracy when he spoke at the PIELC March 1. He puts a lot of the blame on corporate media monopolies and Reagan’s killing of the Fairness Doctrine in 1988. Next week, when we have more room, we’ll run part of the transcript of his talk. Here’s a preview: We need an informed public that is able to recognize all the milestones of tyranny. We need a aggressive and vigorous and independent press that is willing to stand up and speak truth to power, and we no longer have that in the United States of America. … Eighty percent of investigative reporters have lost their jobs over the past 15 years. … We are the best entertained and least informed people on the face of the Earth.
What’s it going to take to get the U.S. out of Iraq? Congress can simply give a thumbs-down to the $100 billion supplemental war funding bill that’s coming up for a vote. Just saying no avoids both a filibuster and a veto. Politicians on both sides fear such a vote will label them as “not supporting the troops.” Let’s give the American people some credit for seeing through the spin. Will voters really toss out politicians who actually DO something to bring the troops home? More likely, voters will remember those who did nothing to stop the bloodshed and waste. Kudos to local folks who are doing something, including Pam Garrison and Rich Klopfer who occupied DeFazio’s office March 5 and were arrested.
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