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Wal-Mart hits bottom 

Lowdown

Wal-Mart has long boasted of its "Always Low Prices," but now it has confirmed that it also has "Always low morals."

The bottom line has always been the line for Wal-Mart executives, and sinking to the ethical bottom to enhance that line has not only been tolerated, but legitimized as a proven path to executive promotion and riches.

Squeezing suppliers, crushing competitors, exploiting employees, using enslaved workers in foreign factories, and resorting to other brutish tactics to pound out more profit are central components of Wal-Mart's management ethos and business plan.

Now, we can add bribery to the list of accepted practices — as long as you don't get caught.

Wal-Mart de Mexico is now the largest retailer and employer in that country, an exalted status that it gained the old-fashioned way: by doling out millions of dollars in corporate bribes.

With sluggish sales and a tarnished brand in the U.S., the retailing giant has been pushing hard to expand internationally, and in amazingly short time, its Mexican branch became huge, with one out of five Wal-Mart stores presently located there.

All it took, we now learn from an excellent investigative report by the New York Times, was the systematic spreading of muchos, muchos pesos to government officials to clear the company's path for market domination.

Not only is this wrong, it is seriously criminal — a blatant violation of our Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And, lest you think the corruption was the work of some lower-level manager gone rogue, the knowledge of this wholesale bribery scheme goes all the way to the top, including the current and one former CEO.

A Wal-Mart PR agent has rushed forward to assert, disingenuously, "We are committed to getting to the bottom of this matter."

Too late, sir. You've already reached bottom.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.

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