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The 5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week: March 23

5. D&B's China Syndrome

Remember The China Syndrome? The movie based on the premise that a nuclear plant meltdown could burn its way through the earth's core and spread all the way to China? Well, after the recent slew of corporate apologies in China, we here at the Five Dumbest Lab believe a new definition for the term is in order.

From now on we suggest The China Syndrome refers not to the threat of radiation rapidly spreading all the way from the U.S. to the Middle Kingdom, but to foreign companies apologizing from now till kingdom come because they screwed up and are deathly afraid of contaminating themselves in the eyes of Chinese authorities.

Business information provider Dun & Bradstreet (DNB), for example, joined the ranks of those afflicted with our newly redefined Syndrome Monday after it swiftly shuttered its Chinese division following allegations that it violated local consumer privacy laws and bribed local officials.

Of course, to us it's a cruel joke that the Chinese government -- an entity that unabashedly and unashamedly snoops on its own citizens -- is forcing D&B to completely capitulate over a privacy issue. Really, if that's not just the pot calling the kettle black -- and then stamping "Made in China" on it -- well, we don't know what is.

And as for the idea that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying off Chinese authorities, give us a break. That's the cost of doing business over there. By now they might as well add a line item to corporate income statements called "Chinese Bribe expenses."

But to D&B this episode is clearly no laughing matter, which is why they, like McDonald's (MCD) and French retailer Carrefour last week, refused to counter the claims head on, choosing instead to wholeheartedly submit to the will of Chinese authorities.

Both McDonald's and Carrefour were accused of selling expired chicken products in separate incidents and neither made a cluck about the less-than-explosive charges. In the McDonald's case, a restaurant in Beijing was charged with selling chicken wings 90 minutes after they were cooked, while the company's rules set a 30-minute limit.

Oh man! Those wings really must have been atomic, because McDonald's went nuclear over what was most probably a minor restaurant snafu. And in our eyes that's a clear indication that the company has come down with a screaming mad case of the China Syndrome.

You see, once you've got it, the last thing you want to do is start playing chicken with the folks in Beijing.

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