For a few years there I thought we had killed all of the lawyers. Big government lawsuits and big multiparty class-action suits, as well as garden-variety legal battles, seemed to have diminished, at least to a manageable pace.
Now, however, they are back with a vengeance. And it is making me sick to my stomach.
Look at the front page of Friday's
Wall Street Journal
. Government's pursuing
to the hilt.
is suing to block
Give me a break!
One day a consensus will develop that our constant resorting to the courts is a malignant addiction that must be cut out. Until then we are probably doomed to have our executives out of their factories, away from their customers and removed as far as possible from making money for us the shareholders.
I can understand the
obsession with investigation. Heck, that's the job of investigators. I can also understand the desire to be tough in the face of corporate intransigence. Microsoft initially was showing contempt for the Justice Department, while simultaneously beating the %$&^$% out of
. But Mister Softee has changed since the initial battles and is now dealing with the government in a responsible, decent manner. That's why the whole notion of the Windows 98 injunction talk, something I always thought should be saved for extreme emergencies, leaves me cold.
But GTE suing MCI-WorldCom? What the heck is that all about? Maybe GTE should sue
for cutting rates below where GTE can make a ton of money? Maybe GTE should sue
for enabling customers to get more out of their phone lines. Hey, how about suing
for meddling in the phone business, trying to make it so their customers can use voice lines for things like data! That's not what those lines were meant for.
The most shameful, however, is this Pepsi suit against Coke. This one stinks out loud. Here is a company that is getting whupped everywhere, in snacks, formerly in restaurants and certainly in beverages and it thinks it's Coke's fault.
I am seriously beginning to wonder what is going on in
head. First he leads the Street to believe that numbers are going to be disappointing. Then he ratchets the expectations -- and the stock -- up, saying that things had improved. Then he sandbags us with terrible numbers. Now he turns to the courts to bail him out? Hello? The fault, dear Roger, is not with the stars or Coke -- the fault is with yourself. Get a grip.
Some of this legal stuff goes with the territory. As
said on Friday in his interview with
, if you are going to merge giant entities that compete into one large company, you should expect that the government's lawyers are going to take a long, hard look at whether it is right.
But for the most part it is a wasteful diversion for most great American companies. As an attorney, I would love to take Coke's case on for nothing, go before the judge right now, and quote what the late
, the archetypal competitor, once told
said he was about to buy
. Pepsi, "You don't have a clue."
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-chairman of TheStreet.com. At time of publication his fund is long Broadcom, Cisco and Microsoft, although positions can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Mr. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes your feedback, emailed to