The U. S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. Ninety-five percent of those prisoners eventually will return to our communities. Those were the starting statistics for the City Club of Eugene meeting Jan. 10 on “Learning in Prison.” Associate Professor Shaul Cohen talked about the University Oregon’s prison education project, Inside-Out, which brings UO students into Oregon’s prisons to teach and learn with the people incarcerated there. Bianca Pac, a third-year student in the UO Honors College, said her “most memorable class ever taken at the UO” was the one that took her into the state prison. And Trevor Walraven, who was incarcerated from age 14 to 32, spoke as a former member of the UO prison education steering committee and co-founder of the Oregon Youth Justice Project. On Friday, Jan. 17, the City Club topic is “The Costs of Incarceration.” You can also get perspective on the Oregon prison system from Eugene Weekly’s ongoing “Life Inside” columns written by members of local author Lauren Kessler’s Lifers Writers Group at the Oregon State Prison. 

What we’re reading: There There by Tommy Orange, published by Vintage Books. If you’re looking for a novel to transport you from the problems of modern America, this is not it. Orange, a Native American writer, follows 12 characters in Oakland, California, all Native Americans traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow.  His powerful characters, described in white-hot prose, make the reader feel like an outsider who must know more.

• For those of you who travel to Washington D.C., we are sad to let you know that the Newseum, which was dedicated to the First Amendment and a free press, is now closed. You can, however, now check out the International Spy Museum and get creeped out by the exhibit on torture and enhanced interrogation tactics. You would not be the first to be unimpressed. BuzzFeed News recently reported that Sens. Martin Heinrich, Dianne Feinstein and Oregon’s own Ron Wyden wrote a letter to the museum saying the three members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were “deeply dismayed to learn about how the museum’s exhibit misrepresents the CIA’s torture program, sanitizing depictions of how techniques were applied and suggesting that torture is effective in stopping terrorist attacks.” The museum is now planning changes to the exhibit, BuzzFeed reports. 

Kudos to the Oregon writers who will receive money and recognition under the 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowships, announced on Jan. 13. They include University of Oregon faculty member Marjorie Celona, author of the 2012 novel Y and this year’s upcoming How a Woman Becomes a Lake, who gets an Oregon Arts Commission Fellowship; and Eugene playwright Rachael Carnes — a regular contributor to Eugene Weekly — who gets a Leslie Bradshaw Fellowship.

Are you as tired as we are of corporate money in politics, thanks to the Citizens United high court decision giving corporations the same rights as people? So is the Seattle City Council, which on Monday, Jan. 13, unanimously passed an ordinance that foreign-owned corporations can’t donate to local political campaigns, just as foreign individuals can’t. The ordinance defines a foreign-owned corporation as one with more than 5 percent foreign ownership. Take that, Amazon, Starbucks and Expedia — not to mention Weyerhaeuser, all of whom have foreign ownership under the ordinance. Eugene City Council, are you listening? How about the Oregon Legislature?

• The Equal Rights Amendment was passed in Congress in 1972. Now almost 50 years later, on Jan. 15, Virginia was the 38th state to ratify the ERA — an amendment needs 38 states to be fully ratified and added to the U.S. Constitution. Basically, the ERA says, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The ERA was first proposed in 1923, so this a long time coming — maybe too long. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel posted an opinion saying, “The ERA Resolution has expired and is no longer pending before the States.” Give us a break. The ERA is overdue. 

SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW  editorial board.