Team Bush Treads Skinny Middle on Microsoft

See George Wiggle

With the appeals court ruling on Microsoft last week, the Bush administration finds itself caught between two conservative factions and one mighty big billionaire. On one flank, Bush and company are contending with free-marketeers who argue the monopolistic company should be broken up, as dictated by the original decision. On the other, the administration faces heat from the libertarian crowd, who want to see Microsoft carry on unfettered by antitrust law. Then there’s the sheer financial power of Bill Gates, who’s ready to unleash a herd of lobbyists on Capitol Hill and who controls an enormous amount of campaign cash.

In Thursday’s 7-0 decision, the appellate judges ruled that Microsoft was indeed squelching competition, but reversed the lower court’s order to dismember the software giant.

That left Attorney General John Ashcroft little room for wiggling, but he used it all. Speaking to reporters, Ashcroft first praised what is essentially a win for the Clinton Justice Department, which prosecuted Microsoft, then declined to declare the next step. “We believe this is a significant victory in terms of the determination made by a unanimous court that Microsoft had engaged in unlawful conduct,” he said. “But I’m not prepared at this time to indicate what the final outcome to be pursued on the part of the Justice Department is. We’ll shape our response to the decision after we have more time to digest it.”

Ashcroft may not get much say, since the real power lies with the conservative bigwigs who pull Bush’s strings. They’re engaged in a roiling behind-the-scenes battle that pits the likes of Ken Starr and Robert Bork against fellow hardball right-wingers.

Bork, now of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, argued during the trial that Microsoft had not only broken the antitrust laws, but was continuing predatory practices to crush competitors. The onetime heavyweight judge said the government prosecution is “the strongest antitrust case in the last 20 years.”

Former federal appeals court judge Starr, the very symbol of the right-wing wrecking ball, also advocated splitting up Microsoft. “It does no good simply to issue a ‘Thou Shall Not Do This,'” said Starr, working for a high-tech trade group called the Project to Promote Competition. “We’ve been there; we’ve done that. It’s time, especially given the evidence that came out at trial, for a structural remedy.”

Starr and Bork stand in opposition to the Heritage Foundation, Washington’s preeminent conservative think tank. Last year the group released a paper by Daniel Mitchell, its free-market tub thumper, in support of leaving Gates’s corporation alone. “The federal government’s persecution of Microsoft is a travesty,” Mitchell wrote, “the worst combination of third-rate economics and special-interest politics.”

Mitchell’s views are shared by Robert Levy of the libertarian Cato Institute, who said Microsoft has been snared in an “Orwellian world.” “Antitrust law aside, the principle of the matter is simple,” Levy wrote. “Microsoft created its operating system and has a right to sell the system as it sees fit.” Ever the pragmatist, Levy acknowledged last week that Gates was in no danger of having his empire carved up. “That is out the window,” he told the Voice. “There is a possibility that Microsoft will be slapped on the wrist with conduct rulings. Both parties would love to settle the case.”

Bill Gates will wish things were so simple. Nineteen states joined the government’s suit, and they are not about to back down. Rather than closing the door to further action, the appellate ruling all but ushers in a rash of private lawsuits, including possible class actions based on the finding that Microsoft harmed smaller companies.

“Remember that there are two different agendas here for Microsoft — the case itself and the private suits that followed it,” the antitrust lawyer Marc Williamson, of Latham & Watkins, told reporters. “A final judgment of liability will be admissible in the private suits without regard to what the remedy is. And the damages can be huge.”

Judge Jackson’s Loose Lips Make Trouble Again

Foot-in-Mouth Disease

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson must have thought he had every right to discuss the Microsoft case, while it was still going on, with reporters who agreed to file their stories only after his decision had been handed down. But in doing so, he blasted the legs out from under his own ruling. While agreeing with Jackson’s findings of fact, the appellate court nixed his plan to break up Microsoft and removed him from the suit because he had created the appearance of bias. “The violations [by Jackson] were deliberate, repeated, egregious, and flagrant,” wrote the justices. “The only serious question is what consequences should follow.”

This wasn’t the first time Jackson had made less-than-discreet remarks. He served as judge for the 1991 drug trial of D.C.’s mayor-for-life Marion Barry. Jackson made headlines when he told a Harvard gathering he couldn’t believe some jurors thought Barry was innocent.

At least Jackson is in good company. On election night, when Florida was initially handed to Al Gore, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was reported by Newsweek to have remarked at a party, “This is terrible.” D.C. wags speculated that O’Connor — who later sided with the majority in stopping the recount, effectively handing the White House to Bush — was pissed either because a Gore victory would have forced her to push back her retirement plans, or because it would’ve ruined her chance of being named the next chief justice.

Milosevic Points Finger at NATO Powers

When Slobodan Squeals

In his upcoming war-crimes trial, Slobodan Milosevic, a/k/a the Butcher of Belgrade, will try to portray himself as a secret partner with NATO powers, who he says gave him a “green light” for the use of force that ended in genocide, reports the London Telegraph.

Among other things, lawyers for the former Yugoslavian strongman are likely to raise the embarrassing business deal between Slobo and Lord Douglas Hurd, a British foreign secretary from 1989 to 1995. Hurd opposed a U.S. plan to provide arms to Bosnian Muslims so they could defend themselves against the Serbs, and later joined the National Westminster Bank, which made a profitable arrangement with Milosevic to jumpstart the Yugoslavian economy. As deputy chairman of NatWest Markets, Hurd brokered a second agreement to privatize Serbia’s telecom service. The Telegraph reports he had at least one secret business breakfast with Milosevic, accompanied by fellow bank exec and former British diplomat Dame Pauline Neville-Jones.

“Our hands are clean,” whined a Foreign Office official to the paper. “We have nothing to hide.”

Hurd likewise told the Telegraph he was free from blame. “[The deal] occurred during a lull in which sanctions were relaxed and we were trying to make Milosevic see sense,” he said. “I don’t quite see how it could be connected with any accusations about atrocities.”

Slobo will also aim to portray the French as a bunch of sick collaborators in the genocide. They are thought to have deliberately screwed up NATO’s air strikes against Serb positions in Bosnia by leaking target info to the enemy. Worse, Hague prosecutors say the French are scandalously thwarting plans by elite British forces to swoop in and nab indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Meanwhile, Yugoslavian chief of staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic has boasted he could have bumped off Hillary Clinton with a missile strike when she visited refugees in Albania in 1999, adding that Slobo ordered him to take out English prime minister Tony Blair.

Derbyshire Housewife Captures UFO on Tape

Screened at NASA?

A British housewife recently sold a homemade video of what she thinks was a flying saucer to a Hollywood film producer. The BBC reports officials at NASA want to look at her tape because they think it might be the same kind of craft the agency’s cameras picked up on a space shuttle mission.

Sharon Rowlands of Derbyshire told reporters she first heard an noise in the sky last October, then saw an object about two miles away. “It resembled a giant disc with a bite taken out of the bottom,” she said. “As it hovered over the woods, it seemed to expand and then get smaller again. We could see it pulsing as if it started up and then it just went. It came really close at one stage and I thought it was going to land in the field.”

The video reportedly shows a large craft with red, yellow, orange, and blue lights, and with a dark circle in its center. In the video, it turns over, then shoots off in a red glare. The sighting seemed doubly mysterious since there were no weather disturbances.

Other people in this area claim to have seen strange flying objects. One woman spoke of a “ball of fire,” and a man walking his dog said he observed a “pink glow, vertically shaped like a shoe box.” What’s more, a Scottish photographer reportedly snapped a picture of a UFO flying over Glasgow.

Foot-and-Mouth Facts, U.K.

  • Animals infected, as of 7/2/01: 1807
  • Sheep killed: 2.78 million
  • Pigs: 128,000
  • Cattle: 545,000
  • Animals awaiting slaughter: 14,000
  • Animals still to be disposed of: 16,000
  • Soldiers sick with flu-like Q fever from burying dead animals: 3
  • Other countries with foot-and-mouth: France, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia
  • Occurrences in U.S., so far: 0

Surplus Value

Contrary to all of the tongue-wagging about what to do with the enormous surplus, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last week reported that any overage is tenuous and is in danger of being swallowed up. “If the nation’s leaders do not change current policies… deficits are likely to reappear and eventually drive federal debt to unsustainable levels,” said the CBO.

Additional reporting: Ariston-Lizabeth Anderson and Sandra Bisin

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 3, 2001

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