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Smart talk, April 9



No billionaire left behind


With the country in a deep recession, unemployment rising and foreclosure rates skyrocketing. U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln drew attention last week for legislation she introduced to extend a quarter-TRILLION in tax breaks to families of the wealthiest people in the U.S. Lincoln joined hands with a Republican senator to propose raising the couples' exemption on the estate tax from $7 to $10 million and cut the top tax rate from 45 percent to 35 percent. This would help about .2 percent of the people in the country.

The New York Times wasn't impressed with Lincoln's effort. A critical editorial said proponents overstated the impact of the tax and falsely labeled it double taxation, when the bulk of retained wealth comes in the form of assets that have not been taxed previously. The newspaper also said an even higher exemption would likely discourage philanthropy. There's no tax bite on money given to charity. But the legislation might well encourage contributions of another sort. Walton family money has underwritten the campaign to end the estate tax. That's not a bad family to befriend right before a 2010 re-election campaign.


Travel and serve


Nicholas Hall, a 27-year-old student at the Clinton School of Public Service, is getting national attention for a new nonprofit he's creating as an outgrowth of his school work. Called Volunteer to See, it's an organization devoted to promote tourism geared to service. Travelers might, for example, be helped to plan vacations in New Orleans to work in Katrina rebuilding projects. Hall himself served a year in New Orleans with AmeriCorps. Clinton School Dean Skip Rutherford thinks Hall's project could do for tourism what Teach for America has done for helping put idealistic young people in classrooms. Hall has more work to do, but he's already living the dream. He'll be in Bolivia this summer installing solar panels.


Top 10 polluters


The federal Environmental Protection Agency reports each year on toxic chemical release by industry in each state. In its latest report, covering 2007, the EPA said Arkansas released 43.8 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the environmental that year, not counting chemicals transferred to other sites for disposal. Well more than half of the releases were generated by the top 10 producers of toxic releases.

The leaders, ranked by on- and off-site release of all chemicals, in pounds: Great Lakes Chemical of El Dorado, 4.6 million; Nucor-Yamato Steel of Blytheville, 4.1 million; Stratcor of Hot Springs, 3.6 million; Nucor Steel of Blytheville, 3 million; Domtar Industries of Ashdown, 2.5 million; Evergreen Packaging of Pine Bluff, 2.2 million; Entergy's Independence Steam Electric Station at Newark, 2.1 million; Clean Harbors of El Dorado, 1.8 million; Georgia-Pacific at Crossett, 1.6 million, and River Valley Animal Foods of Scranton, 1.6 million.


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