Feelin’ jolly

Corporate comeuppance: Yup, there are few things that Bites likes more in the world than watching our corporate masters get soundly smacked for some dastardly deeds. So it was with glee and a big bucket of popcorn that Bites hunkered down in the front row to watch last week’s Capitol press conference on a new bill to limit secrecy agreements in lawsuits.

These are the nasty little tools that corporations use to prevent the public from learning about dangerous product defects, reckless profiteering or other important information that often gets pried loose in consumer lawsuits. Sen. Martha Escutia and our very own Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg each announced their very similar bills, both of which call for an end to the age-old corporate tradition of paying off victims of mishaps that affect public safety in exchange for their vow not to speak of the incidents. In days of yore, the practice was known as “extortion” or “bribery,” but in these heady days of buccaneering free-market capitalism, such tactics go by cheery, legitimate-sounding labels like “limiting your liability” or the more folksy “covering your ass.”

Two recent abusers of this kick-dirt-over-a-landmine approach to corporate problem-solving took center stage at last week’s stomp-fest: those amazing, exploding Firestone tires and the insurance companies that tried to duck their obligations after the Northridge earthquake.

At one point, Bites got a little misty as Marta Shugart, a Chowchilla woman whose Firestone tires blew out twice in one month, detailed the accidents that nearly killed her family. She said that if it weren’t for secret agreements in past settlements, she might have known that she was driving on trick tires.

“These money-loving corporations, whose sole concern is their bottom line, should in no way, shape or form be allowed to keep secrets that put lives in jeopardy,” Shugart said. Amen, sister!

In fact, Bites is left wondering why something like this hasn’t been passed before. But that thought lasted only about a micro-second before Bites remembered who controls this here state. Bills like this have been getting shot down in California for the past few years, most recently Sen. Adam Schiff’s SB 1254.

Whether Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature will recognize the need to take this safety net away from the big dogs now is anybody’s guess, but these days Bites sure ain’t bettin’ on our money-hungry leaders to do the right thing.

Biker joy: It’s not easy being scrappy and indignant all the time. Why, sometimes, particularly around the holiday season, Bites feels downright warm and fuzzy. Get ready, folks, because this is one of those rare times.

In this season of over-the-top consumerism, it did Bites’ cynical heart good to see more than 100 Harley-Davidson owners from the Napa-Solano chapter ride into Sacramento on Saturday to deliver toys to the children staying in the local Ronald McDonald House.

No, you can’t get Big Macs there, but these places are homes-away-from-home for families whose children are ill and in the hospital, most of whom stay for free through the organization’s “adopt-a-family” program. The $8,000 in biker-delivered toys and food donations will serve at least 1200 children for the coming year.

Bites packed a year’s worth of sappy glee into one afternoon of watching the faces of the children, both past and present residents of the home, light up with excitement while riding the ponies, tossing footballs with Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies, and gorging on holiday treats.

Yet all that ended when the Santa on hand unilaterally denied without comment Bites’ one Christmas wish: public financing of political campaigns. That fat bastard is probably in league with the big toy companies. Bah, humbug!