Bad behavior

Corporate America's $200 million war chest, Apple's worm, Goldman's fine, BP's latest
By EDITORIAL  |  July 21, 2010

The ghost of George W. Bush will haunt the this year's election season. Thanks to the ultra-conservative leadership of Bush appointee Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court's decision allowing corporate America to make unlimited political-campaign contributions threatens to steamroll the vital interests of the nation's Jane and John Does. Corporate front groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove's American Crossroads already are planning to spend more than $200 million to promote candidates and causes certified by the right wing and Tea Baggers.

Thank heaven for MoveOn's Internet-based, grassroots campaign to fight back. The progressive organization is pushing for a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court's corporate sellout, and fighting to more closely police the revolving door that shuttles lobbyists in and out of government. It's an uphill battle, but MoveOn's effort deserves your support.

Rotten apple
Why is it that so many Americans — especially Republicans and Tea Baggers — are more fearful of being screwed by big government than big business? It is easy to find examples of loathsome corporate behavior from the likes of oil giant BP and the Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs. But even companies generally admired — if not beloved — by progressives, such as Apple, can't seem to act like anything other than, well, big corporations. Apple's attitude and actions in the wake of the news that its iPhone4 had, under certain routine conditions, serious reception problems was nothing short of disgraceful. It was, however, eye-opening. Apple may make technology that is the coolest thing since sliced bread. Its advertizing may be so hip and cutting-edge as to qualify as New Age proselytizing (as opposed to mere marketing). But the whining contempt honcho Steve Jobs exhibited toward his customers in green-lighting the new generation of iPhones when the flaws were recognized was shameful. And the you-should-be-grateful-you-have-my-marvelous-device tone he adopted when fielding criticism represents a magnitude of arrogance rarely equaled, even in Washington.

Not so staggering
More than at any time since 19th-century robber barons reigned over the era of obscene concentration of wealth known as the Gilded Age, corporations have become almost sovereign, laws unto themselves. Even when government regulators are able to bring a wayward company to heel in the interests of the public good, the results are often not that punishing.

Goldman Sachs is an interesting case in point. When confronted with evidence that it screwed heavy-hitting customers in order to make profits for itself, Goldman agreed to pay $550 million, termed "the largest-ever penalty paid by a Wall Street firm." Justice served? Not quite. That amount is less than one-10th the value Goldman stock gained on news of the settlement; about two weeks of profit for the mega-bank; less than what Goldman gave away to small businesses in a PR move last November; and a sum that Goldman could pay without any strain whatsoever, since it has $162 billion in excess liquidity — that's money more or less lying around.

BP soft on terror
Of course, compared with BP, Apple is absolutely civilized and Goldman the embodiment of chastened rectitude. It now appears that BP is not only responsible for one of the greatest man-made ecological disasters in history, but also played an opaque and sinister role in the events that led up to the release of the Libyan terrorist who exploded an airliner flying over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270, 189 of them Americans.

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