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.