Earthday Resources for Living Green announced the recipients of the 2003 Don't Be Fooled Awards to call attention to the year's worst greenwashers -- corporations that have made misleading or false claims abut the environmental benefits of their products and industries. At the top of the list compiled by Earthday and the US Public Interest Research Groups was Altria, "A new face for an old public health foe," as the new parent company of Philip Morris and Kraft. "Altria Group, Inc.'s ads and web site imply that the company is environmentally responsible while in actuality its products pose significant risks to public health and the environment. Altria ... contributes to environmental degradation through the known impacts of tobacco and through the less known use, by Kraft, of genetically engineered ingredients. Although Altria and Kraft do not produce genetically engineered seeds, Kraft is the largest food company in the US and its use of genetically engineered ingredients contributes significantly to the problems resulting from these crops."
At No. 2 is Exxon Mobil, whose contribution of $100 million to the Global Climate and Energy Project is raising eyebrows in the scientific and environmental communities because of the company's record for attacking climate change studies and the company's unchanged stance regarding global warming as "uncertain." The 10-year Global Climate and Energy Project will involve researchers from Stanford University and institutions around the world in developing a portfolio of clean energy technologies as well as techniques for controlling greenhouse gases produced by traditional fuels. In the same 10 years Exxon Mobil will spend $100 billion on oil exploration. Exxon Mobil has requested that Stanford scientists focus on finding cleaner ways to use fossil fuels, as well as creating "breakthrough, inexpensive technologies."
At No. 3, J.D. Irving, Ltd., part of the Irving Group of Companies in Maine and Canada that include gas stations, Canada's largest oil refinery, and forest industry operations, received green certification under the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 2000 despite a record of destroying Maine's forests. According to a report by Mitch Lansky, author of Beyond the Beauty Strip and Low Impact Forestry: Forestry as if the Future Mattered, Irving has replaced Maine's natural forests with unnatural concentrations of boreal softwood species; mismanaged sensitive stream-side zones; has a clear-cutting rate that is amongst the highest for large landowners in Maine; has one of the highest herbicide use rates in Maine; and over-relies on high-impact logging equipment. Irving benefits from having the FSC label, because consumers across the country have demanded that hardware stores like The Home Depot demand FSC-certified wood products.
Other businesses cited for "greenwashing" include No. 4. Cargill Dow; No. 5. Simply Orange; No. 6. Southern Company; No. 7. Sustainable Forestry Initiative; No. 8. New England Organics; No. 9. Shell; and No. 10. Jeep. For more information see www.earthdayresources.org or call 877-EARTH46.
SHAREHOLDERS PROTEST DIVIDEND TAX CUTS. Over 600 shareholders are objecting to an unprecedented step by corporations and the Bush administration to push them to advocate for budget-busting bills that reduce or eliminate the dividend tax. Corporations such as Citigroup, Verizon and General Motors enclosed inserts with their dividend checks asking shareholders to lobby Congress for the president's dividend tax cut proposal. The Bush administration earlier this year proposed entirely eliminating the dividend tax. The Senate Finance Committee is considering a bill to eliminate it for three years and then restore it, an accounting trick to avoid exceeding the $550 billion limit the Senate set. The House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill to lower dividend taxes to 15%, less than the rate at which most paychecks are taxed. Opposition to these proposals has come from some surprising corners. At the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting recently, vice chairman Charlie Munger said, "I don't think you can make it so unfair that a man living entirely on dividends will pay zero tax while a cab driver has to work 16 hours a day to barely feed a family. I just don't think it works in a democracy." At the Responsible Wealth national conference in March, outrage at the corporate inserts supporting the dividend tax cuts was the talk of the conference. Jody Wiser of Portland, Ore., stood up and asked other investors to join her in objecting to this tactic. She asked Responsible Wealth co-director Mike Lapham to organize the Shareholder Rebellion web petition. According to the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, Bush's tax cut package would save taxpayers earning over $1 million dollars $89,509, while it would only save $482 a year for taxpayers earning between $40,000 and $50,000, who are more likely to stimulate the economy by spending their tax cut than are high-income people. See the petition at www.faireconomy.org/dividend. Responsible Wealth has also organized the Call to Preserve the Estate Tax, now signed by over 1,400 millionaires and heirs.
STATES LOSE BILLIONS FROM FED CUTS. The federal government budget resolution for fiscal year 2004, which passed Congress on April 11 by a single vote on a near party-line margin, would cut billions of dollars in federal funds over the next 10 years to pay for massive new tax breaks, which will primarily benefit our nation's wealthiest citizens. The budget cuts will hamper states' abilities to address priorities such as education, security, healthcare, and infrastructure, according to reports by the Institute for America's Future and the Economic Policy Institute. Some of the estimated losses include California $1.98 billion, Florida $810 million, Iowa $195 million, Louisiana $309 million, Maine $119 million, New York $1.56 billion, Ohio $656 million, Texas $1.2 billion, Washington $355 million and Wisconsin $312 million. See www.fairtaxes4all.org for more information.
A NEW HOMESTEAD ACT, introduced in the US Senate by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and eight others seeks to attract new residents and businesses to "high out-migration" rural areas that suffer from population declines of 10% or more over 20 years. The bill allows a 30% tax credit for investing in small owner-operated businesses and tax incentives and matching funds for saving money to start a business, buy a home, get an education or pay for health care in declining rural areas. It also offers repayment of up to 50% of college loans (up to $10,000) for grads who live and work there for 5 years; provides up to $5,000 tax credit for home purchases; allows losses in home value to be deducted from federal income taxes; establishes Individual Homestead Accounts to help build savings and increase access to credit; creates Rural Investment Tax Credits to target investments in high out-migration counties; offers Micro-enterprise Tax Credits to aid small businesses in high out-migration counties; creates a $3 billion New Homestead Venture Capital Fund to promote business development in high out-migration areas;
As the Center for Rural Affairs (cfra.org) noted, "Development of locally owned small business works. It accounts for over half the job growth in farm and ranch communities in our region. By keeping ownership in the community, it keeps community members in control of their own future. And by dispersing ownership in the hands of many, it enables rural people to build assets, control their lives and gain a stake. That gives them a reason and the capacity to give back to their community."
TRADE DEAL NEAR? Trade ministers from the US and five Central American countries nearing a deal on the Central American Free Trade Agreement were scheduled to meet in Antigua, Guatemala, as TPP went to press. The US is expected to seek weak language on labor, similar to deals with Chile and Singapore. The provision only asks for countries to enforce existing laws, even if the laws and enforcement fall below international standards. Human Rights Watch recently reported serious concerns about enforcement of labor rights in El Salvador and labor battles in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala also have shown Central American governments' weakness in enforcing labor codes. US Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., expressed concerns about the right to associate and bargain collectively in maquilas in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala after a recent trip to the region. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., criticized the US Trade Representative's office for not fulfilling its requirement to submit a "meaningful labor rights report" on any country with which the US negotiates a free trade agreement, under the Trade Act of 2002. Call US Trade Rep. Robert Zoellick's office (202-395-6890) to tell him: 1) a labor proposal with the same language as the Chile Free Trade Agreement is not acceptable; any trade agreement must include real and enforceable workers' rights protections; and the timeline for the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement negotiations is not fair or realistic given the lack of citizen participation in the process in Central America. Also call your Congress members (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) to alert them to the CAFTA negotiations. Ask them to communicate concern to the USTR about real and enforceable workers' rights protections. See also www.organicconsumers.org/corp/cafta.cfm.
IMPEACH BUSH? The fraud underlying the war seems to get more obvious every day, Max Sawicky notes at (www.maxspeak.org/gm). The weapons of mass destruction search team is being rotated home, after finding nothing, and now we're told that US troops were ordered to march on to Baghdad rather than guard nuclear sites that subsequently were looted. The evidence on Saddamist links to terrorism is equally thin. "If Iraq was no threat to the US, why the invasion? To liberate their people? OK. Who are we going to invade this week? ... Then there's the de-Ba'athification campaign. We learn it was completed the other day. Ba'ath Party members were compelled to sign a statement affirming their renunciation of the party. ... Once the game of 52-pickup is over, the old gang can get back to work under the American viceroy-du-jour. It's as if George Steinbrenner is in charge. So all things considered, the case for impeachment against G. Bush seems to have a pile of evidence considerably higher than Clinton's erection. The difference I suppose is that nobody is putting up ten million dollars to pay a bunch of monkeys to push daily demands for Bush's head."
GREENS LEAD NEW YORK TOWN TAKEOVER. Six months after the Green Party of New York State lost ballot status, the Green Party led a progressive takeover of the Village of New Paltz, N.Y. In an upset victory on May 6, Green Party of New York State committee member Jason West was elected mayor of New Paltz, while Green Party member Rebecca Rotzler was elected village trustee. Also elected trustee was Julia Walsh, a student at the State University of New York in New Paltz and a member of the "Innovation Campaign" with the Green candidates, was also elected trustee. New York Greens lost ballot status in 2002 after failing to win 50,000 votes for their governor candidate. At least 178 Greens now hold elected office in 24 states in the US. (See www.gp.org.)
OMB DIRECTOR'S STOCK DEAL PROBED. The official reason given for Mitch Daniels' resignation as White House budget director was that he planned to run for governor of Indiana, but it came only a day before the Indianapolis Star broke the story that Daniels and approximately 30 other members of Indiana's financial elite were being investigated for insider trading. The Indiana Securities Division issued subpoenas to about 30 former IPALCO officers and directors, a "who's who" of the Indianapolis business community, over the sale of shares in IPALCO Enterprises about the time the Indianapolis electric utility was sold to AES Corp. in 2001, the Star reported May 7. Daniels, a former Eli Lilly and Co. executive, was an IPALCO director who sold about $1.45 million in IPALCO stock in January 2001. Other shareholders filing a lawsuit alleging that Daniels and others dumped $71 million worth of stock just before the value of the shares nose dived. The lawsuit filed in US District Court in Indianapolis claimed the insiders dumped the stock in part because they saw trouble ahead with AES' stock price, which later tumbled. IPALCO employees lost thousands of dollars in company thrift plans after AES' shares nosedived. A financial analyst was quoted in the article as saying, "Corporate governance is in the spotlight these days. It's pretty clear that this was an example of bad corporate governance."
US SHUTS DOWN IRAQI TV. A US Army major was relieved of duty when she refused to stop the only TV station in Mosul, Iraq, from broadcasting the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera. The Wall Street Journal May 8 reported that Maj.Charmaine Means, head of the Army public-affairs office in Mosul, told other US officials she could not agree to seizing the station and posting troops there. She argued that the presence of armed soldiers would intimidate the station's Arab employees into airing only programming produced by, or acceptable to, the American military. When Col. Thomas Schoenback, chief of staff of the 101st Airborne Division, ordered her to go along with the plan to take the station, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter, she again refused and was relieved of her duties. A short time later, she was told that she would be flown out of Mosul on an Army helicopter the following day. Other officers told the Journal they were incensed that the military had allowed the pro-US Iraqi militia leader Meshaam Jabori to broadcast political messages for weeks without interference, only to seize the station after it occasionally showed al-Jazeera programming. The station also aired programming from other Arabic news channels, as well as from NBC.
TEXAS FINALLY PRO-BUSINESS. Some people are hard to please. Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond, in an outburst of hyperbole, wrote in a recent op-ed column for the Austin American-Statesman that the Lone Star state last November elected "the first pro-business Legislature since the Civil War," which prompted a longtime state officeholder in the workers' paradise to tell the Austin Chronicle, "And here I thought I was whoring for business all my life."