Slant 8-8-2013

•  About the UO’s new football temple: To quote a young woman who worked with the serving crew for the celebratory dinners opening, “It’s disgusting.” We have neither space nor time to properly expand on her observation, but here are a couple of important questions for our public university:

 Why is UO campus planning completely shut out of planning athletic facilities? We’re told that Stanford graciously accepts Phil Knight’s gifts, but does not let him put moats around their buildings unless they approve. Why are important details so secret? Isn’t this still a public institution? All observers snicker at the “about $68 million” figure put out for the cost of the new palace. Some say it cost at least double that, or even $100 million more. And who knows the long-term costs of staffing and maintaining this facility?

 Is this excess really good for student athletes? Do we care as long as the buildings are bait for recruitment? Is this excess good for non-athlete students who do not experience this opulence in their classrooms? Do we care as long as they keep coming for ever-increasing numbers, no matter what the reason? Does local reaction really matter to the UO? Obviously not. Even The Register-Guard writers, always loyal to Duck sports, were shut out of the first press conference and tour. The New York Times and Sports Illustrated had exclusive opening shots. That may prove to be a mistake. The UO football program locally runs on hype, not cynicism.

• “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” — that’s what we hear employees are singing behind the scenes at Lane County. Lane County Commissioners voted unanimously to fire now-former county administrator Liane Richardson Aug. 6 after an investigation into her latest scandal — this time over increasing her take-home pay without authorization. But Richardson and her host of issues, from messing with the homeless and activists to costing taxpayers for unfounded investigations, were a symptom of issues at the county, not necessarily the cause. The problems go way back —  remember when they hired her without a public search? And the problems are still there. No one knows which commissioner supposedly told Richardson she could possibly make the pay changes; no one knows who else (beyond the whistleblower) knew she was making them. There needs to be a deeper investigation to root out the bad seeds and help us to trust county government again. And what about those threats Richardson was making about taking a private job as an attorney back when she was angling for a $20,000 raise? If those job offers were indeed real back in January, we doubt she’s getting them now or that she will get any if an ethics complaint is made to the Oregon State Bar.

• The ever-expanding and evolving Whiteaker Block Party stirred up a lot of fun over the weekend, but one little snapshot taken during the event and posted on EW’s Facebook page incited quite the uproar. The picture in question of a sign on Monroe Street that reads “Boycott Ninka$i. Take Back the Whit! Gentrify This,” elicited a heated debate about Ninkasi’s role in the Whit, the Whit’s storied history with drugs and whether, in fact, the neighborhood is undergoing gentrification. Comments ranged from “The Whit is gonna turn into the Pearl District!” to “I don’t even drink beer and this makes me want to support Ninkasi. Neighborhoods evolve. The Whit is prime real estate as far as the layout of the city goes,” and of course the token hippie zinger: “Screw you Whiteaker, take a bath.” EW supports local job creators and thoughtful expansion, but how that can occur while preserving the Whit’s spirit remains a question mark. 

• Gov. John Kitzhaber is wrangling for a special session of the Legislature to deal with generating new tax revenues and putting the breaks on state pensions. Our economy is improving on many fronts, but not quickly enough to dig our way out of a high jobless rate, continued foreclosure threats and underfunded schools and social services. We’re hearing new talk of a sales tax, maybe one dedicated exclusively to education, but no sales tax proposal has ever come anywhere close to passing in Oregon. Our state certainly has tax inequities that need to be addressed, such as our absurdly low taxes on private timberlands, but each tax break, each tax exemption, has its own powerful lobby in Salem. Oregon’s financial problems mirror the national debate over priorities, but we have an advantage over Congress in that our Legislature is actually capable of meaningful action. Kitzhaber’s banking on that. 

How much for that Big Mac? In Slant last week we talked about the need to raise the $7.25 national minimum wage and mentioned a Huffington Post story that claimed McDonald’s could double the wages it pays its food service workers and a Big Mac would only cost an additional 68 cents. But the Columbia Journalism Review says the information in the so-called study at University of Kansas is flawed. CJR did its own analysis and calculates McDonald prices would need to go up 25 percent across the menu, making that Big Mac jump a full buck to $5.56 to maintain current profit margins. See for the CJR analysis. But regardless of the analysis, a higher minimum wage would have an overall benefit to our economy and ease some of the social ills related to poverty in America.