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In Fact...

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POTENTATE'S PERKS

It's been known that Jack Welch is worth $900 million and that he
draws a $9 million annual pension from General Electric. But it turns
out that GE also pays for Welch's car and driver, his floor seats to
Knicks games, VIP seating at Wimbledon, his box at the Metropolitan
Opera, his boxes at Red Sox games and at Yankee games, fees to his four
country clubs, satellite television at his four homes and more. And to
think Welch's employment contract used to be praised as simple, clear
and good corporate governance. That myth was dispelled on September 5
when Welch's wife, Jane, filed divorce papers. "It is appalling to me
that Jack Welch's flowers are being paid for by retired firemen and
teachers who are the GE shareholders and don't know this is going on,"
Nell Minow, an expert on corporate governance, told the New York
Times
. Imagine how appalled we'll all be if it turns out that the
rest of GE is run this way.

AL QAEDA--BOON TO BUSINESS

Thank God for the war on terrorism, ExxonMobil's lawyers must be
thinking regarding a case in which the oil company is being sued by
villagers in Aceh province in Indonesia. In a lawsuit filed under the
Alien Tort Claims Act, the villagers charged that Indonesian military
troops, allegedly paid by the company and guarding an ExxonMobil
facility committed human rights abuses, including murder, torture,
sexual crimes and kidnapping [see David Corn, "Corporate Human Rights,"
July 15]. As part of its legal strategy, ExxonMobil requested that the
Bush State Department declare whether the lawsuit would impede the war
on terrorism--and the department complied. At the end of July, State
notified the federal judge in the case that "adjudication of this
lawsuit at this time would in fact risk a potentially serious adverse
impact on significant interests related directly to the ongoing struggle
against terrorism." How? State said the Indonesian government, which
maintains a partnership with ExxonMobil, might respond to the lawsuit by
curtailing cooperation with the United States. So here's an easy way for
corporations to get off the hook: Raise the prospect that holding a business
accountable will ruffle the feathers of a potential ally in the war on
terrorism. (Remember, Al Qaeda has a presence in an estimated sixty
nations.) Days after State weighed in, Unocal, facing a similar suit for
its actions in Burma, asked a California court to seek a similar letter
from State, and the judge agreed. The plaintiffs in the ExxonMobil case
have filed a motion challenging the State Department letter, asserting
it presents no legal grounds for dismissal, and the judge has not ruled
on the matter. Will a consequence of the war on terrorism be a
get-out-of-lawsuits-free card for US corporations accused of abuses
overseas?

HONORING NORMAN LEAR

The perennially youthful political activist turned 80 in July, and in
September the organization he was instrumental in founding, People for
the American Way, held a tribute dinner for him in Los Angeles. Lear is
also launching his Declaration of Independence road trip. He's sending
the original copy of the Declaration he purchased all over the country
so people will have a chance to take a close look at the primal charter
of our liberties. What better reminder in these times? Congratulations
to Lear and to PFAW for fighting the good fight in a good cause.

FLORIDA LEGAL FALLOUT

The results of the great Florida finagle of November 2000 are there in
the White House for all to see; they also continue to play out in the
courts and elsewhere, long after Bush v. Gore. One suit, NAACP
v. Harris
, was recently settled before trial. ChoicePoint, a
defendant whose list of convicted felons and the deceased on the voter
rolls was reported to be riddled with errors, agreed to do another
run-through using more accurate criteria, and to give the NAACP $75,000
for "past and future efforts to further the electoral opportunities of
Florida's minority voters." [See Gregory Palast's "Florida's Disappeared
Voters," February 5, 2001.] The Justice Department recently disapproved
Florida's proposal for a new method of cleansing the rolls of the
convicted; apparently the plan was held to be too voter-unfriendly
because it placed the burden of proving one's eligibility on the voter.
Another election-related suit, Johnson v. Bush, brought by the
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU (brennancenter.org) on behalf of some
600,000 disfranchised felons, was dismissed by a federal judge but will
be appealed. The Democratic and Republican parties were required by law
to report to the IRS the donors of postelection money they collected to
challenge the Florida results in the courts. The Democrats filed long
ago, but the Republicans waited until the last possible day, July 15.
Their total of $13.8 million was four times what the Dems pocketed. Two
of the biggest contributors: Enron and Halliburton. Is that why the
Republicans kept their report under wraps for so long?

MANDELA: THE USA IS A THREAT TO PEACE

Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, gave an interview to
Newsweek on September 9. Among his comments: "The United States
has made serious mistakes in the conduct of its foreign affairs, which
have had unfortunate repercussions long after the decisions were taken.
Unqualified support of the Shah of Iran led directly to the Islamic
revolution of 1979. Then the United States chose to arm and finance the
[Islamic] mujahedin in Afghanistan instead of supporting and encouraging
the moderate wing of the government in Afghanistan. That is what led to
the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the most catastrophic action of the
United States was to sabotage the decision that was painstakingly
stitched together by the United Nations regarding the withdrawal of the
Soviet Union from Afghanistan. If you look at those matters, you will
come to the conclusion that the attitude of the United States of America
is a threat to world peace. Because what [America] is saying is that if
you are afraid of a veto in the Security Council, you can go outside and
take action and violate the sovereignty of other countries.... Scott
Ritter, a former United Nations arms inspector who is in Baghdad, has
said that there is no evidence whatsoever of [development of weapons of]
mass destruction.... But what we know is that Israel has weapons of mass
destruction. Nobody talks about that. Why should there be one standard
for one country, especially because it is black, and another one for
another country, Israel, that is white.... If the United States and
Britain go to the United Nations and the United Nations says we have
concrete evidence of the existence of these weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq and we feel that we must do something about it, we would all
support it." (Full text at www.msnbc.com/news/806174.asp.)

NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. assured skeptics that the
timing of the effort to sell the invasion of Iraq was intentional, not a
response to rising doubts. "From a marketing point of view, you don't
introduce new products in August," said Card.

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