The Hightower Report

Corporate Monsters; and Change at the Chamber

Corporate Monsters

Where are those lawsuit reform groups when you really need them? You know, such outfits as Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse that are always squawking about frivolous lawsuits and demanding new laws to prevent people from suing big corporations? Where are they when corporations sue us? For example, if those reform outfits were really honest about lawsuit abuse, they'd be hammering Hansen Beverage Co., the billion-dollar California corporation that markets Monster energy drinks.

In September, Hansen's legal hounds reached clear across the continent to sue a tiny firm in Morrisville, Vt., named Rock Art Brewery. Matt and Renee Nadeau own it and employ seven people to produce artisanal beers, including a popular one called the Vermonster. That label prompted Hansen Beverage to sue Rock Art, claiming that the name infringes on the corporation's Monster trademark.

Never mind that the Vermonster is a beer and not an energy drink, and that we consumers are not so clueless, as Hansen's lawyers alleged, that we might confuse the two brands – the beverage giant insisted that the family-owned beer maker surrender the name.

Corporate lawyers know that cases like these can go on for years – a cost that small businesses and groups can't bear – so corporations use lawsuits as a simple way to bully anyone who stands in their way. But guess what? Rock Art Brewery wasn't willing to be bullied. The Nadeaus took the fight online – describing it as "Rock Art Brewery vs. Corporate America" – and won. Hansen Beverage agreed to let Vermonster live on.

I wonder why Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse didn't come to the Nadeaus' aid. Did I mention it was created and is funded by Philip Morris and other big corporations?

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Change at the Chamber

"The carbon-based free lunch is over," crowed the speaker. "Breakthroughs on climate change and improving our society's energy efficiency are within reach," he declared, to the enthusiastic cheers of environmentalists.

Only this was not some environmental firebrand at a green energy rally. The speaker was John Rowe, the CEO of Exelon, one of the largest utilities in our country. Rowe's comments sent a thunderclap through Washington, where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was mounting a united corporate stand against Barack Obama's legislation to reduce global warming emissions.

Not only did Exelon withdraw its support from the chamber's position, but it also withdrew from the chamber itself, citing the "stridency" of that organization's approach. How strident? Chamber officials have claimed that Obama's plan would "completely shut the country down" and "virtually destroy the United States."

Then came a histrionic call by one chamber official to put "the science of climate change on trial." It would be a "Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st century," he exulted, thus aligning the chamber with history's notorious anti-science forces of ignorance. This outburst prompted two other big utilities to withdraw from the Chamber – California's Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and PNM in New Mexico.

The utilities are not alone. Nike and Johnson & Johnson are among other major corporations expressing fundamental disagreement with the chamber's head-in-the-sand opposition to Obama's climate change legislation. It's too much to call this a corporate green rebellion – actually, it's more like a green dissent from orthodoxy. But it is nonetheless politically significant when even a few big corporations dare to declare publicly that their self-interests have diverged from those of Big Oil and Big Coal, putting them that much closer to the right side of climate change issues.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, Vermonster, Hansen Beverage, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, John Rowe, Exelon, Nike, Johnson & Johnson

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