The Hightower Lowdown

Microsoft and Sara Lee buy justice; Americans work too much.

Microsoft Tips the Scales of Justice

Make way for the Gucci Gulch Gang! These gunslingers include Haley Barbour, the former Republican Party chairman; Tom Downey, a former Democratic congressman; Vin Weber, a former Republican lawmaker; Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator; Jack Quinn, former White House counsel to Bill Clinton; C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel to George Bush the first; and Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to both Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

These Washington warriors are all hired guns for Microsoft. They're part of the army of hotshot lobbyists who were paid $6 million by the software giant to twist arms, use their insider influence, dole out political contributions to key players, and spread an ample layer of BS around the city -- all to get the government to drop its antitrust lawsuit against the monopolist.

Having been a big financial backer of George W. Bush's campaign, and having paid $100,000 to help finance George's inauguration festivities, it was known that Microsoft had a buddy in the White House, but even the political supporters of the corporation were amazed by how quickly and how completely the Bush legal team capitulated. In office barely eight months, the Bushites "settled" the lawsuit by dropping the core charge and giving in on the key remedy of breaking up the abusive corporation. It was such a blatant payback that a White House spokesman had to be trotted out to insist that Microsoft's campaign contributions had no influence in the decision, even asserting that while George was briefed on the case, "he played no role in the decision."

Come on, he's the president! Bush played his role for Microsoft by playing no role, thus showing that corporations can tip the scales of justice if they just put enough money on their side of the scales.

Making Crime Pay

Crime doesn't pay, right? Do the crime, you do the time. And if you kill someone, get ready for the death penalty.

So, what are we to do with a serial killer who poisoned dozens of people across the country, 15 of whom died and six of whom suffered miscarriages? How about we just give the killer a little fine and let him go? That's exactly what federal prosecutors have done for the Sara Lee Corporation, the multibillion dollar food giant that sold millions of pounds of contaminated meat in 1998, causing a mass poisoning of American consumers.

Moreover, corporate executives knew the meat was contaminated. Six months prior to admitting there was a problem, they detected deadly listeria bacteria in the plant where the meat was processed. But company officials kept sending the meat to market, even though tests kept showing high levels of the bacteria. Finally, the executives did something about it. They stopped testing. As a consumer watchdog later put it, "They knew they had a problem ... but instead of solving it, they chose to ignore it."

People were killed, but instead of the death penalty, jail time, or anything serious, Sara Lee's executives were assessed no punishment whatsoever, and the corporation was allowed to plead guilty to a simple misdemeanor charge. Under the law, the maximum fine for the "misdemeanor" of selling poisonous meat that results in mass killings is a mere $200,000. The company made way more than that by selling the bad meat. The company also agreed to donate $3 million for food-safety research -- a donation the executives can deduct from Sara Lee's corporate income taxes. The company's fine and donation amount to less than .002% of its revenues for a single year.

Prosecutors asserted that this "punishment" would "make sure it doesn't happen again." Yet, one month after this plea bargain, Sara Lee had to issue another recall of tainted meats. Crime does pay if you're a corporation.

Get to Work, America

On average, U.S. workers were at their tasks for a total of 1,979 hours last year -- or about 491/2 weeks. That's up 36 hours since 1990, meaning we're now averaging almost a full week more at work each year than we did just a decade ago. That literally beats the work pants off the Japanese, who were the world's No. 1 workaholics until we toppled them in the mid-Nineties. Now, we're working three and a half weeks per year longer than the Japanese, six and a half weeks longer than the British, and 12 and a half weeks longer the Germans.

Those softies have fallen behind in the work race because they've built their economy around the concept of citizens getting more time to recharge their batteries, be with their families, broaden themselves with vacations and sabbaticals, and -- get this -- enjoy life. Ha! What a bunch of slackers.

America has jumped to the top of the work heap because those in charge in Washington and on Wall Street have built our economy around stagnant wages and constant downsizings, prompting our people to keep their noses to the grindstone, work extra hours, avoid unionizing, and take two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Still, we Americans can't rest on our laurels -- in fact, don't rest at all. Let's break that 2,000-hour-a-year barrier! Come on people, we can do it -- maybe you could get a part-time job on Sundays, instead of goofing off like you've been doing.

Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.

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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Haley Barbour, Tom Downey, Vin Weber, Slade Gorton, Jack Quinn, Bill Clinton, C. Boyden Gray, George Bush, Lloyd Cutler, Jimmy Carter, Microsoft, George W. Bush, Sara Lee Corporation, listeria, meat contamination, work

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