Historic Environmental Suit Against Texaco

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Last month we told you about the extent of the environmental damage wrought by 1989’s Exxon Valdez disaster; this month we have cheerier news about big oil-companies screwing up the environment.

Texaco, the world’s fifth-largest oil company, is facing a $1.5 billion lawsuit originally filed in 1993 on behalf of 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorian Indians. The suit alleges that Texaco spilled millions of gallons of toxic waste each day into the Amazon region of Oriente. Texaco does not deny dumping the toxic waste, but claims that it was all perfectly legal under Ecuadorian law. (Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the people now suffering from stomach and intestinal problems, birth defects, and cancer related to exposure to the waste.) A report released by New York-based Center for Economic and Social Rights documented toxicity in drinking water at 1,000 times EPA standards.

This case has enormous potential implications for corporate accountability worldwide. The presiding judge is now deciding whether the case should be heard in Ecuador or in the States. The plaintiffs claim that a just trial will be impossible in Ecuador, where the government is highly dependent on oil revenues. If the judge allows the trial to be heard in U.S. court, it would set an important precedent for prosecuting U.S. corporations that violate U.S. laws overseas.

A Lexis-Nexis search reveals that coverage of this case has been relatively meager. Agence France Presse mentioned it briefly; AP picked up the story; New York’s Daily News ran a short article; and “CBS Evening News” aired a brief, insulting synopsis of the case, saying that the Ecuadorians “came from the rainforest to the urban jungle” to pursue their case.

Check out the ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS SERVICE‘s story on the case. It’s not well-written (for one, it’s almost impossible to tell whether or not the judge in the case has made a ruling). However, the story provides the most comprehensive coverage we’ve found.


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DeLay Accused of Lying Under Oath

February 4

You knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Some pissed-off and resourceful journalist was going to dig up dirt on a Republican that wasn’t related to sex.

Congratulations to THE NEW REPUBLIC — they nailed it. Next week’s issue of the magazine busts House Majority Whip Tom DeLay for lying under oath. According to the story, DeLay, while testifying at a civil deposition, denied that he was the head of Albo Pest Control Co. Not a problem, except that DeLay had listed himself previously in financial disclosure forms as “Chairman of the Board.” Busted.

DeLay’s supporters, meanwhile, are blaming his political enemies for the story.

THE NEW REPUBLIC is smart enough to point out that the evidence at hand may not be enough to convict DeLay of perjury. The real point, they say, is DeLay’s hypocrisy: “If DeLay’s not willing to listen to lawyerly explanations about why an apparent untruth under oath isn’t a lie, why should anybody else?”


New Reports Shed Light on Immigration

February 3

Immigrants may not be flowing through Ellis Island anymore, but they are changing the face of America. According to a study released last month by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which advocates controls on immigration, the number of immigrants into the United States has tripled since 1970, from 9.6 million to 26.3 million. Immigrants now account for 10 percent of U.S. residents — the highest proportion in seven decades.

The INS released its own report on immigration. Among the findings: One in three immigrants were born in Asia. The top five countries legal immigrants came from were Mexico, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, and India. The most frequent occupations were machine operators, fabricators and laborers, service workers, and technical professionals. The last occupation is a relatively new one, and stems partially from the number of “high-tech visas” given out to workers from China and India. Compared to the laborers, who often get paid below minimum wage for their work, technical professionals rarely get less than $35,000 as a starting salary. This phenomenon of a newly arrived immigrant being well-paid is also very new, again thanks to the high-tech industry.

The Center for Immigration Studies report isn’t available online. But the INS report can be downloaded. (You’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader.)


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EU’s Proposed Data-Privacy Laws Raise Concerns

February 2

In a move sure to send paranoid one-world-government conspiracy theorists scurrying to their bunkers, the European Union is proposing a system that would enable member nations to eavesdrop on citizens’ mobile-phone, fax, and Internet transmissions. According to THE IRISH TIMES, the plan, bearing the Microsofty sounding name Enfopol98, would give governments back-door access to all private encrypted messages in order “to combat serious crime, such as drug trafficking, child abuse and terrorism.”

Critics, not surprisingly, say the system would be an invasion of privacy. They also point out that the proposal does not adequately address what constitutes a “serious crime.” Interestingly, the European Union recently passed a data-privacy law that is significantly stricter than its U.S. counterparts.

But take a guess where the latest plan originated. The United States, you say? Yes! You’ve just won free satellite photos of your house taken without your knowledge or consent. Enfopol98 is based on the United States’ own Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, an controversial measure yet to be passed.

But don’t count the U.S. out just yet, THE IRISH TIMES further reports that “The agreement also includes a memorandum of understanding between Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. So law enforcement officials from any of these states can eavesdrop on each other’s citizens.”

Surprisingly, Enfopol98 has received almost no media attention. Although the story emerged in November through a series of leaked documents, a Lexis-Nexis search of the last six months found only six items on the EU’s surveillance plan — all from European papers. Wired News, which doesn’t appear on Lexis-Nexis, is the only American media outlet to report the story.


Reminder: Towns Banned From Football-Team Ownership

February 1

Football season is now officially over. So we thought we’d remind you of one of the financial realities behind the quintessentially American sport that drives (some of) us to eat and drink to excess, bet the family jewels, and plant ourselves on the couch for five hours, only to be barraged by $50,000-per-second advertisements.

Yes, heart-warming stories and funky dances are part of the Super Bowl, but so, of course, is business — and decidedly not the friendly kind. According to OUR TOWNS, Will Durst’s new show on PBS, for the last seventy years the Green Bay Packers have been the only major sports franchise owned by the community in which it’s based. In the 1920s, the near-bankrupt franchise was reorganized into a non-profit and shares were sold to the good citizens of Green Bay. Good idea. So why didn’t other cash-strapped franchises follow suit? Because the NFL outlawed it. The 1960 NFL Constitution and By-Laws explicitly prohibited public or non-profit ownership of any additional football teams. Of course, team owners are happy to work with taxpayers when it comes to taking their money. In 1998, citizens financed about $1.7 billion in bonds for sports stadiums and complexes (that compares, by the way, to $473 million for libraries and museums).




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