News Briefs: Pro-Business Bias | Get the Meat Out | Nearby Nature Fun | Fighting CAFTA
News: The Defense Rests -- UO conference indicts the death penalty. Part II.
Analysis: Burden of Proof -- Gravel vs. Family Farms, Part III. A guide to commission discussions.
Happening People: George Karn.
The Register-Guard has a pro-business and anti-Eugene Weekly bias, according to a reporter at the paper.
R-G reporter Susan Palmer spoke on a panel discussion on the media at the Public Interest Environmental Law conference last week at the UO.
Palmer says unlike many papers in the U.S., the R-G has the "benefit" of not being owned by a corporation but by a local family, the Bakers.
--The Public Interest Environmental Law Conference that just ended Sunday gets lots of attention in EW this week, and next week we will continue to run stories that didn't fit, as we did last year. The PIELC is like the Olympics of environmental politics. We're always puzzled by why the mainstream media chooses to ignore nearly all the powerful and passionate ideas raised at PIELC, ideas at the heart of democracy, the struggle for justice, and even the survival of life on our planet. It's easier and safer to report on puppy dogs, basketball, car wrecks and how to pick a Realtor, but it's damned dull and insignificant compared to what we heard on the UO campus this past weekend.
--Apparently the Bush administration is feeling cocky after a "successful" bombing campaign against barefoot Muslim radicals in Afghanistan. Now Bush and Cheney are rattling a bigger saber, talking about strategic nuclear bombings and even listing possible nations to target. What madness is this? If Shakespeare were writing today, he'd have fodder for folly and tragedy as great as Old England ever provided.
--Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's campaign against incumbent Gordon Smith for the U.S. Senate is being billed as one of the most important races in the country. Unseating an entrenched and moneyed politician is no easy task, but Bradbury's support from progressives is growing quickly as Smith tries to defend his awful record on the environment and labor -- issues that are important to working Oregonian families. Bradbury also has the unqualified support of Kitzhaber. Expect more leading progressives to join the fight.
SLANT includes short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, firstname.lastname@example.org
Palmer describes the paper as "mainstream" and advises those interested in coverage of alternative topics to turn to the alternative media.
Palmer says the R-G will sometimes follow up on stories reported by KLCC but rarely by EW. "It happens less often with a story in the Eugene Weekly, just because there's a bias in our particular newsroom against the Weekly."
"There's not a real cut and dry rule for" what the paper does decide to cover, Palmer says. For example, she says she once covered a march of four Muslim protesters opposed to the Clinton bombing of Iraq. A 12-inch story ran on the cover of the R-G's city section.
But Palmer says she had trouble getting into the paper a later protest of a dozen people opposed to the U.S. Army School of the America's links to human rights abuses. When she pitched the story to her editor, "he goes, 'oh these peace protesters, they aren't really news,'" Palmer says.
"Because I'm in the Newspaper Guild [union] and I know how difficult it is to get 12 people to a protest, I wrote it anyway," Palmer says. The story ran, but was cut to three inches.
Palmer says it's "absolutely true" that a paper will refuse certain types of stories if they exceed a quota. For example, Palmer says she once proposed a story about pet overpopulation but an R-G editor declined, saying there were already "too many pets on the cover of the paper."
One sure way to get a story into the R-G is to get an Associated Press reporter to cover it, says Palmer. If an AP story concerning the local area comes across the wire, "you know my editor is sending me out to cover it."
To get coverage, Palmer recommends going to reporters rather than editors, using e-mail and including phone numbers in press releases.
Sources difficult to work with can get less press, she says. One knowledgeable local health activist gets called less often because he has repeatedly complained of being misquoted, Palmer says. "He makes that process of contact a living hell."
At the same time, Palmer says she can't use sources who are personal friends. "If I get too friendly with someone who's a source," she says. "They can't really be a source anymore."
As a general assignment reporter, Palmer says she is frequently sent to cover topics on tight deadlines that she knows little about. "I am an activist's worst nightmare." -- AP
GET THE MEAT OUT
Animal lovers and environmentalists are finding common ground in vegetarianism as more information becomes available about the disastrous effects of meat production on our environment and our health.
Vegetarians nationwide and locally are organizing the 18th annual Great American Meatout March 20. The event has been called the "world's largest grassroots diet education program" and focuses on informing the public of the advantages of a vegetarian diet.
Locally, two groups are leading the charge: SETA, Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Go Veg of Eugene. "Our goal is to raise consciousness about the cruelty towards animals used in the food industry and the degradation of the environment the meat and dairy industry has caused,", says Amethyst of Go Veg. The group will be handing out information and coupons from local business in front of Sundance Natural Foods on Monday and Tuesday before Meatout as well as on the day of the event. "Last year over a 150 people redeemed coupons at Sundance for a free vegetarian lunch", says Amethyst. More information can be found on their web site, www.efn.org/~goveg/
SueAnn James of SETA wants to take a more heath conscious and environmental approach to the event. With recipe giveaways, coupons, meatless treats, literature and a video showing James hopes to show people that a vegetarian diet is a healthier, more compassionate and an environmentally better way to live.
SETA will have an information table from 10 am to 5 pm March 14 inside the EMU Fishbowl at the UO. SETA will be set up at the UO Bookstore and the EMU Amphitheater from 10 am to 6 pm March 20 with tons of goodies to tempt even the most devout meat eaters.
"If Americans reduced their meat intake by 10 percent, 60 million people could adequately be fed with the grain that would have been used to feed the livestock," says James.
For more information or to volunteer, contact SETA at 346-4073
-- Mark Frisbee
NEARBY NATURE FUN
The local nonprofit education group Nearby Nature will celebrate its 10 anniversary from 1 to 4 pm Saturday, March 16 at EWEB, 500 E. 4th Ave. The fun will include live tunes by local musicians Rich Glauber and Emily Fox, a special Kinder Critters theater production, food and nature crafts for children. The organization will also be honoring volunteers who have been involved in the group during the past 10 years. The event is free and open to the public.
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From its first "office" in a founder's home in 1992, it has moved to its current quarters in Alton Baker Park where it serves as the city of Eugene's park host. Today Nearby Nature has a paid staff, but the bulk of its work, 3,000-4,000 hours a year, is still done by volunteers, some in costume. "Dressed up like owls, bats, and butterflies, they are educators, activists, and artists," says Beth Stein of the organization.
For more information, call 687-9699 or visit www.nearbynature.org
President Bush is off to El Salvador March 22 touting the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) as a key step to implementing the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), but labor and human rights activists are saying the FTAA would create a U.S. controlled economic bloc throughout the hemisphere benefiting big business at the expense of poor people.
Local activists with Citizens in Solidarity with Central American People (CISCAP) are supporting the fight against CAFTA with an Irene Farrera concert Saturday (see calendar). Proceeds will also support the Mélida Anaya Montes (MAM) women's movement in El Salvador. MAM empowers women who work in maquilas (sweatshops) by educating and organizing them about their rights as workers and as women.
In 2000, when three CISCAP members met with MAM in El Salvador, the women were preparing for a Saturday workshop for maquila workers on the Caribbean Basin Initiative and proposed free trade agreements that would affect them.
"I was impressed that these women from the sweatshops would likely have more information than practically everyone in the Fair Trade movement here in the U.S.," says Eugene activist Majeska Seese-Green.
MAM is now organizing around CAFTA, says Seese-Green. "Bush has stated that this agreement is a top priority for his administration -- another key piece in the neoliberal economic policies that put profits before people."
Farrera's concert will also provide a mini-grant for Latino outreach by the Whiteaker Neighborhood Association. For more information, call 485-8633.
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UO conference indicts the death penalty. Part II.
By Alan Pittman
|Sister Helen Prejean.
But Prejean says she soon found, "If you get involved with poor people in this country, it doesn't take long to realize that for poor people, there's a track greased straight into prison and the death penalty."
Prejean wrote about her spiritual work with death row inmates in the book, Dead Man Walking, made into an award-wining movie. She spoke March 2 at a national conference on the death penalty at the UO (see Part I last week).
It's no surprise 100 death row inmates have been found innocent and released from prison since 1973, says Prejean. "It's not an accident," she says, describing the capital punishment system as "held together with baling wire, scotch tape and glue."
Prejean says support for the death penalty is weak. People don't believe government can "get the taxes right and fill the pot holes much less make decisions on who will live or die."
But Robert Blecker, a New York University Law School professor who supports the death penalty, says today, "public opinion for the death penalty is probably at an all time high."
Blecker accuses a combination of abolitionist artists, media, judges, activists and politicians of "scheming and deceit" for perpetuating "myths" that many death row inmates are innocent, have bad lawyers or hellish living conditions.
Opposition to the death penalty comes mostly from "elites" here and abroad, not from the people, Blecker says. "We the silenced majority," he says, "know the killers deserve it."
But Blecker says he would reserve the death penalty for the "worst of the worst" criminals who commit the most "brutal and sadistic" crimes.
"Prosecutions for the death penalty must be radically shrunk,"
Blecker says. He would eliminate robbery, drugs, prior felonies and other crimes
as aggravators in murder cases. Such aggravating factors account for the
majority of death penalty cases. The factors tend to apply more to minorities and eliminating them would "radically reduce" the racial disparity in the imposition of the death penalty, he says.
"Whites tend to commit other kinds of theft" than robbery, Blecker says. He says the death penalty should also apply to corporate executives and "white collar killers," who, for example, have caused deaths by diluting chemotherapy drugs and not installing safety equipment in factories to increase profits. "We have a class bias."
Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, agrees that poverty can get you killed in the American criminal justice system. "Everybody knows the kind of justice you get in the U.S. varies tremendously with the amount of money you have."
The death penalty is imposed in only 2 percent of the murders in the U.S., Bright says. "It's imposed on the basis of race, poor quality representation and the class of the person being accused." The death penalty, Bright says, "is literally class warfare fought top down against the poorest and least powerful people in our society."
Bright says in the South, the jail bus taking the accused to court is "like a slave ship that docked outside the courthouse."
In one Georgia county, one lawyer handles 94 indigent defense cases a day. "This is not legal representation. This is processing," he says.
In a Kentucky case, a court appointed defense attorney worked with alcohol on his breath and gave his client the phone number of a bar across the street from the courthouse, Bright says. In another case, a lawyer who fell over drunk in court was jailed by the judge for contempt, Bright says. The next day, the judge hauled the lawyer and his client out of jail to resume the death penalty trial.
In several other death penalty cases, court appointed lawyers referred to their clients using racial or homophobic slurs.
In a Houston case, the lawyer for a man facing the death penalty slept through the trial, according to Bright. The judge later defended the death sentence, telling a reporter, "The constitution guarantees a right to a lawyer, but the constitution doesn't guarantee the lawyer has to be awake."
On appeal, the state of Texas argued that a sleeping lawyer was no worse than previous convictions in cases involving drunk or senile lawyers, according to Bright. The Texas Supreme Court voted 9 to 5 for a new trial.
"This is what it means for a poor person to be represented by the dream team," Bright says. "The defense rests, literally."
In other cases, Southern states have executed people who were obviously mentally ill or impaired. During his first run for president, then Gov. Bill Clinton signed the death warrant for a mentally retarded death row inmate in Arkansas, Bright says. "He was so mentally impaired that he actually put his pie aside so he could come back and finish it after the execution."
Alabama executed a mentally ill man who, acting as his own attorney, dressed in a sheet and called dead people to testify, Bright says. Georgia sentenced a man to death who thinks Sigourney Weaver is God and gets directions from a frog under his bed.
The U.S. is one of the few modern nation's in the world that still has a death penalty. "Our [death penalty] allies are China, Iraq, Iran and Syria and we have no business being in that company," University of Oklahoma law Prof. Randall Coyne says.
Coyne says conditions on most death rows are so bad that up to 12 percent of inmates are suicidal, studies have shown. If you support the death penalty, he asks, "Why give them what they want?"
William Moore spent 17 years as a death row inmate in Georgia before pleas from his murder victim's family and his religious work in prison won him a parole. He describes the "terror" of living through 13 execution dates and legal stays while Klan guards, other inmates and the state try to kill you.
Bright says capital punishment is "degrading on the society that administers it." He predicts that "the rest of the world will eventually shame us into abandoning the death penalty."
Coyne says the post 9/11 shift to the death penalty won't endure. "I viewed the Oklahoma City bombing as setting back that cause decades and decades. But it just hasn't been the case," he says. Such dramatic crimes "replace hope with fear. But over time the fear fades."
Steve Doell of Oregon Crime Victims United says his family's memory of how a teenager ran over and killed his daughter and then got only two years in prison hasn't faded. He questions how death penalty opponents would bring his family justice.
"There's nothing that will either restore your daughters life or heal your wound," responded Mark Hatfield, a former U.S. senator and leader in the Oregon anti-death penalty campaign.
Hatfield says as a soldier in World War II, he saw his fellow soldiers killed and maimed. He learned to hate the enemy and wanted to kill them. But after the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Hatfield was one of the first Americans who went ashore to assess the damage. The first thing he and the other soldiers did was give away their packed lunches to hungry Japanese children, Hatfield says. "There was an epiphany. We had turned away from our emotion to kill, kill, kill."
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Gravel vs. Family Farms, Part III.
A guide to commission discussions.
By Mary O'Brien
Eugene Sand & Gravel's proposed gravel mine, asphalt plant and concrete factory is on the agenda of the Lane County Commission at 9 am Tuesday, March 19 at Harris Hall; 125 E. 8th Avenue. Below are some points from Mary O'Brien for following the discussions. O'Brien is a member of Citizens for Public Accountability and has testified against the project.
1. Burden of proof. According to Oregon land use law and procedures, Eugene Sand must show they will meet all rules, for instance that they will not cause harm to farming practices and costs. Local farmers do not have the burden of proving harm will be caused.
Map of the proposed gravel mines and surrounding impact area.
3. Credibility. All of Eugene Sand's predictions re: dust, noise, traffic, groundwater loss, flooding, and economics are far rosier than the evidence and predictions of independent scientists and farmers' experts. How are the commissioners deciding about the credibility of opposing predictions, when farms will be damaged if Eugene Sand's predictions aren't accurate? Just because Eugene Sand "responds" to opposing scientists with documents doesn't mean their response is making sense.
Five Topics of Discussion
1. Dust-covered crops. OSU/Lane County Extension Service agricultural expert Ross Penhallegon has provided more than two dozen scientific studies showing even small amounts of dust (including road dust) harm the types of crops grown along River Road (e.g., strawberries, raspberries, and peaches). The studies demonstrate that dust: reduces photosynthesis for fruit and vegetable growth, reduces pollination of fruit, provides a medium for growth of diseases and increases spider mites, increases the need for pesticide spraying, requires washing dust off produce, and reduces greenhouse effectiveness.
Eugene Sand's consultants have provided no scientific studies showing dust does not harm such crops. Eugene Sand says it will control its dust to levels no one else has ever witnessed, but hasn't produced any scientific studies showing even their improbably low dust levels wouldn't cause harm. It describes the drive-by, cursory inspection of farms near gravel pits, and farms that are connected to the gravel pits financially, don't grow the same crops as River Road farmers, grow cannery crops (processed at a cannery), or don't have customers coming onto the farm.
Are the commissioners discussing the possibility that retired Lane County Extension Agent Duane Hatch, Penhallegon and the scientific studies are correct? How would farmers prove they are being harmed from Eugene Sand dust?
2. Well water loss. How are the commissioners discussing the credibility of Eugene Sand's predictions of water flow (3-4 million gallons per day, based on tests miles away) compared to hydrology/engineering professors Massmann and Selker (150 million gallons per day, based on the only on-site pump test)? Frank Schnitzer of the Oregon Dept. of Geology & Mineral Industries says on-site tests are "absolutely the only relevant pump tests." Are the commissioners trusting Eugene Sand's never-demonstrated water capture-and-return system more than experts' predictions it will fail?
3. Cropland flooding. Flooding rots tree roots, displaces herbicides, encourages diseases, breaks and covers plants in mud, and can change the river course. Even two inches of increased flooding spreads out broadly over these flat lands, resulting in crop damage and increased costs. In the 1996 flood, 17 gravel extraction dikes failed in the Willamette Valley.
Are the commissioners discussing what would happen to these farms if dikes failed? On what basis are the commissioners deciding between Dr. Catherine Petroff''s predictions of 6-ll inch increases and Eugene Sand's 4-5 inch increases? Are the commissioners discussing the large areas of farmland on both sides of the river that will be affected by increased flooding?
4. Road stand traffic. Marketing of farm crops is protected by state law in gravel pit siting decisions. How do the commissioners discuss the economic health of a roadside farm stand with 90 gravel trucks passing in front each hour? How do they discuss the predicted gridlock (rating "F") at Thistledown's farm stand?
5. Accumulation of farm stresses. Do the commissioners discuss the effects on these integrated, family farms and farm stands of increased dust, traffic, asphalt plant toxics, noise and lowered well water? After all, the question is not just whether dust, traffic, lowered well water or noise will harm the farms as individual impacts. The question is also whether the "whole enchilada" of construction, operation, and associated practices of the gravel mine and asphalt and concrete factory could be reasonably expected to harm nearby farms' practices or profits. Any money loss one year has to be multiplied by 40 times (the life expectancy of a gravel mine).
Who will monitor and enforce cumulative effects? How would farmers prove their crops were failing from cumulative effects?
Is there credible reason to believe these farms and farm stands will remain as healthy financially when they are surrounded by gravel mines, asphalt and concrete factories and traffic?
vs. Family Farms, Part I:
Gravel vs. Family Farms, Part II: Noise, traffic, dust, and flooding.
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When the city's Stream Team held a workday along the Willamette River last month, youth leader George Karn brought a group of teenagers from Eugene's Living Hope Church. "George is a great role model for Christians. The Bible says, 'Take care of the Earth,'" notes environmentalist Jan Spencer. "His calling is to provide healthy community service for kids." A Minneapolis native, Karn began drinking at age 8. At 15 he left his troubled home, quit school, and got a job. He joined the Navy for structure, but instead found alcohol and drugs -- "If you work hard they overlook it." After an honorable discharge "at their request," Karn settled in San Antonio, where he met Tara, a young woman from Eugene. They married in 1996 and she adopted his lifestyle of hard work and hard partying. When he was busted selling coke, Tara returned to Eugene to begin a letter-writing campaign that won his release to parole in Oregon. "It was a miracle -- God was working in my life," he says. Now 39, Karn still works hard as a backhoe operator, but devotes his off-hours to Living Hope's youth ministry. "I see these kids as me at 15," he says. "It's like looking in a mirror."
-- Photo by Paul Neevel
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