Slant 12-4-2014

• The Graduate Teaching Fellows’ strike on the UO campus is still on as we go to press this week. Our sympathies have been with the GTF Federation since negotiations began, and we are baffled by the UO administration’s response, considering interim President Scott Coltrane’s background. Coltrane is described in a recent New York Times article as a sociologist who has done extensive research on issues central to these negotiations. He should have led the way in giving the GTFs two weeks of paid sick  and parental leave and a pay raise. Certainly, fears of future negotiations with the full faculty union must have colored these deliberations. Academicians and labor lawyers, management side, are an awkward combination. Witness the strike on the UO campus.

• Education funding issues got pushed aside in Gov. John Kitzhaber’s reelection campaign, but now we see Kitzhaber pushing a budget that includes $9.4 billion for education, with $625 million for higher ed in Oregon. The increased funding, representing a 6.4 percent boost from the 2013-2015 legislatively approved budget, won’t solve high tuition and make college much more accessible, but it is a step in the right direction. And on the elementary education front, it looks like Kitzhaber’s budget includes $220 million for full-day kindergarten. Whether that’s enough to cover the added cost to each school district, which includes added FTE and facilities space, is another question. Eugene, Bethel and Springfield school districts plan to go forward with full-day kindergarten implementation, so let’s hope the money comes through from the state.

• The “chattering class,” including us, has not recovered from the last election before starting to speculate on the next one. Who will run for mayor of Eugene in 2016 if Kitty Piercy doesn’t seek reelection for the job she clearly enjoys? Councilor Chris Pryor tops the list. Some mention Councilors Alan Zelenka and Mike Clark? What about another able woman? Laura Illig has done a good job as chair of the Eugene Budget Committee. Before that, she helped pass a 4J bond measure and led the fight to save a neighborhood school. Longtime local pundit Bob Cassidy says he is running if Kitty doesn’t, but we suspect his effort would be more toward putting his policy wonkisms out there than winning the race. No shortage of interest so far, even if Eugene is a tough place to govern.

• GMO labeling opponents threw $20.5 million at defeating Oregon’s Measure 92, more than double what supporters of the measure spent, and the day after the election media pundits pronounced the defeat of the effort to have foods marked if they contain genetically modified organisms. Then the news began to trickle in: The race isn’t over until the organic food lovers sing. To be precise, Lane and Multnomah counties, two of Oregon’s largest and most liberal counties, had challenged ballots and weren’t done counting. GMO labeling proponents used Oregon’s new law that makes public the names of those voters with issues such as non-matching ballot signatures and contacted people to rectify their ballots. On Nov. 25 the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office announced “No” votes outnumbered “Yes” by only 812 ballots out of 1,506,144. An automatic recount is underway with results due after Dec. 12. Recounts don’t usually change the final results, but we think this means a GMO measure can and will win in the next election because millions of dollars from corporations like Monsanto didn’t change that many minds.  

• “Black lives matter!” Some holiday shoppers had trouble understanding why they mattered on Black Friday and why the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown by a white police officer would lead to shopping boycotts and “die-ins” at malls across the country. The math is simple: A 2013 Nielsen report shows that African-American consumers watch more TV, read more financial magazines and make more shopping trips than the rest of the population. African-Americans make 156 shopping trips a year compared to the 146 trips for the overall market. If the average American can’t figure out that black lives matter because they are human lives, humans that have faced years of violence in the face of white privilege, then perhaps white-owned corporations can figure out that black lives matter because they profit off the backs of African-American spending (the shopping boycotts boycotted white-owned, not black-owned corporations). 

The nurse shortage at RiverBend Medical Center has been a problem for a while, and it’s getting worse, to the point where 800 nurses and doctors have written a letter of complaint to the Sacred Heart Board of Directors. We’ve heard about patients waiting far too long for pain medications and other services. Nurses are wearing out their running shoes trying to keep up with the demands of a very full hospital and an increased number of long-term patients. Part of the problem is the design of RiverBend with its big, well-equipped private rooms down long halls, quite a contrast to the old Sacred Heart Medical Center near campus where rooms are smaller and much closer to nurse stations. Nurses say their concerns are not being heard by the hospital administration, so they’re asking the community they serve for help and support.

McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center has its own labor issues, but we’ve heard rumors that at least one group of surgeons is fed up with RiverBend patient services and will be moving its in-patient procedures to McKenzie-Willamette. If you end up in either hospital, it’s good to have a family member or friend there to advocate for your needs. And be kind to the overworked nurses and their assistants, even if they bring you soup when you ask for a milkshake. 

A common thread of human rights runs through our cover story package and Viewpoints this week, and it’s clear that what’s happening in Eugene is also happening in Ferguson, Missouri, and around the world. The fight for human rights is taking center stage, as it should. Here and elsewhere, the police prefer to police themselves, and that needs to change. A recent report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture is critical of the U.S. and recommends that instances of police brutality should be investigated by entities that have “no institutional or hierarchical connection between the investigators and the alleged perpetrators.” Eugene has a police auditor and a Police Commission and yet homelessness is still criminalized and people of color still cringe when they see a police car. Community policing can help build trust, and President Obama has a good idea with his request for $263 million for body cameras and better police training.

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