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Unearthed: The News Without the Chaff

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This recurring blog series features a collection of recent news stories about threats to public health, our democracy and the planet which are ignored or underreported by the handful of corporate mainstream media conglomerates, TV pundits, and radio shock jocks who've turned the "news" into little more than an entertainment and product placement opportunity and let down the American public.

Investor Groups Single Out Corporate Climate Laggards

A coalition of green investor groups are calling out nine companies for their role as "Climate Laggards," responsible for delaying or obstructing efforts to fight global warming pollution, and keeping their shareholders in the dark.

ExxonMobil tops the list for its decade-long effort to deceive and confuse the public about the urgent threat of man-made climate change. Other companies from carbon-polluting industries that made the list include Southern Company (coal-fired electric utility) Massey Energy and Consol Energy (coal mining industry), and oil and gas companies including Ultra Petroleum, Chevron and Canadian Natural Resources. Auto giant General Motors and homebuilder Standard Pacific round out the list.

The list was compiled by environmental investor group Ceres, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and several other investment funds and groups focused on corporate responsibility and the environment.

The nine companies were singled out for their failure to respond to shareholder requests for information and action on the environmental impacts of company operations. All of the selected companies lag behind their competitors in rising to meet the climate crisis, have poor or nonexistent records of communicating with investors on climate issues, and weak or nonexistent disclosure of other environmental impacts.

"They haven't done anything, they're not responsive to investors, and they're lagging their peers," commented Ceres president Mindy Lubber during the unveiling of the list of laggards. "The writing is clearly on the wall: The low-carbon global economy is coming and companies need to be ready."


Green Companies Do Better During Economic Downturn

A new study by global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney indicates that companies with "true commitment to sustainability" outperform industry peers in the financial markets, and have greater resilience to recession, confirming what other studies have indicated for years.

Data on the market performance of companies that embrace sustainability as fundamental to their business strategy show that in 16 of 18 industries reviewed, businesses deemed "sustainability focused" outperformed industry peers and were "well protected from value erosion," the study said.

According to the study, investors are more likely to "reward 'true' sustainability focused companies" that prioritize "long-term health rather than short-term gains," and demonstrate "strong corporate governance, sound risk management practices (and) a history of investing in green innovations."

U.S. Announces Support for Global Treaty on Mercury Use

In a complete shift from Bush administration policy, the United States has expressed support for a legally-binding international treaty to ban the use of toxic mercury which threatens the environment and public health globally.

The Bush administration favored a voluntary approach to mercury, a heavy metal known to damage the human brain, liver and nervous system. Of the 6,000 tons of mercury pollution dumped into the global environment each year, one third - 2,000 tons - comes from coal burned for electricity and heat.

Daniel Reifsnyder, the new deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and sustainable development, said in announcing the policy shift that, "Neither the United States, nor any other country, can achieve sufficient reductions of mercury risks to protect the health of its citizens without serious cooperation internationally to reduce global mercury emissions."


Biotech Giants Are Interfering in GMO Crop Science Research

Biotechnology companies are undermining academic scientists' ability to research the effectiveness and environmental impacts of the industry's genetically modified crops, according to a complaint issued by a group of university scientists.

"No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions," the scientists wrote in a statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The lack of independent study of GMO crops continues to call into question the health and environmental consequences of blindly using these crops.

Anyone who purchases genetically engineered seeds has to sign an agreement that prohibits growing the crops for research purposes, so university scientists cannot study genetically engineered crops unless they get permission from the seed companies. But scientists say that permission is often denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, effectively eliminating the possibility of independent study of GMO crops.

"If a company can control the research that appears in the public domain, they can reduce the potential negatives that can come out of any research," said Ken Ostlie, one of the scientists who signed the statement.

The scientists claim that the companies' secrecy agreements have "unduly limited" the data being provided to government regulators who assess the safety of GMO crops. The companies "have the potential to launder the data, the information that is submitted to E.P.A.," said Cornell professor Elson J. Shields.

Blackwater Renames Itself Xe In Attempt to Shed Negative Image

In a tobacco-industry inspired move to try to shake its battered reputation, Blackwater Worldwide is renaming its family of two dozen businesses Xe, pronounced like the letter "z."

Blackwater's company brand was severely damaged by deadly incidents involving its mercenaries in Iraq, the worst of which left a dozen Iraqi civilians dead. The rebranding move is reminiscent of tobacco giant Philip Morris, which renamed its parent company Altria after being convicted of a 50-year conspiracy to cover up the link between smoking and cancer.


The Religious Right Wants a New Name Too

A recent article in Christianity Today reveals that leaders of the Religious Right don't want to be called the 'Religious Right' anymore because the term has become too pejorative. Unlike in the term's hey-day, when Jerry Falwell, cofounder of the Moral Majority, self-applied the 'Religious Right' label proudly, right-wing religious conservatives now feel the term is equated with extremism, according to John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

"Terminology is fraught with peril," Green said. "People associated it with a hard-edge politics and intolerance. Very few people to whom that term now would apply would use that term."

Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, says the phrase 'socially conservative evangelicals' is "certainly the way" to label right wing fundamentalists.

Critics across the blogosphere were quick to jump on the notion. "If the phrase 'Religious Right' has negative connotations, it probably stems primarily from the fact that the people who have traditionally represented the Religious Right have caused it to, you know, have negative connotations," noted Right Wing Watch.

Santorum Says the Qur'an was Written in 'Islamic'

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum delivered a lecture on Islam at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln during which he argued that the American public knows too little about the Islamic faith. Demonstrating his point, he asked the audience of students whether they knew the difference between Sunnis and Shias. Only three audience members raised their hands. According to local news coverage, "Santorum said this proved his point - America has been at war with Islam for seven years and doesn't know the two branches."

Santorum then argued that Middle Easterners reject democratic American ideals because Muslims' religious views cannot be changed or altered.

"A democracy could not exist because Mohammed already made the perfect law," Santorum said. "The Quran is perfect just the way it is, that's why it is only written in Islamic."

Islam is a religion, not a language. The Qur'an is originally written in Arabic.

"I talk to college students because I can have an intellectual conversation, and they usually don't agree with me," Santorum said. "I like to state my case (to students) and let them decide who to believe."

Santorum "said he believes that Muslims are America's enemy because they read their religion literally and apply it to real life, instead of in historical context."

Santorum received two standing ovations from the crowd during the speech.

Alan Keyes calls Obama "a radical communist" who will ruin America

Three-time Republican presidential contender Alan Keyes told a Nebraska reporter that President Barack Obama is "a radical communist" who "is going to destroy this country."

Although he claimed he was putting politics aside during his time at a fundraiser for a Christian women's support group, Keyes talked about more than just his pro-life beliefs, stating that he doubts President Obama is a U.S citizen and therefore refuses to acknowledge Obama's presidency. At one point Keyes interrupted the reporter to ridicule him, stating that "the person who you call President Obama" is "an alleged usurper... who is occupying that office without Constitutional warrant to do so."

"Obama is a radical communist and I think it is becoming clear. That is what I told people in Illinois and now everybody realizes it's coming true. He is going to destroy this country and we are either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist," said Keyes, who lost to Obama in the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Illinois.