The Hightower Report

Joeseph Lieberman's corporate contributors, guacamole factories in Mexico, Starbucks bans local newspapers, pesticides in schools.

Starbucks' Censorship

"Synergy" is corporate-speak that means one corporation scratching another's back. Sometimes this is done within conglomerates where, say, Disney Inc's ABC subsidiary runs a congratulatory "news story" about Disney World on Good Morning America. Separate corporations, though, also are finding profit in the Wonderful World of Synergy. Consider, for example, the synergistic symbiosis Starbucks has just found with The New York Times.

Starbucks is trying to corporatize, standardize, and monopolize the espresso experience, using its deep pockets and marketing clout to squeeze out local, independent competitors with names like Expresso Lube, The Daily Grind, and Jolt and Go. In its latest act of corporate arrogance, however, Starbucks has sought to standardize the reading material of its customers by limiting them to the Times. No more USA Today, no more local newspapers, and especially no more free alternative publications like The Austin Chronicle. All of these have been Starbucked. Kicked out of the 2,000 or so local outlets of this espresso empire, leaving its latte sippers with a choice of the Times, at a dollar a copy, or ... the Times.

Naturally, there's a corporate rationalization for this eviction of competitors: clutter. A PR flack for the company said, "It's really about simplifying our stores and providing a great experience for our customers." Yeah, uh-huh, sure. What it's really about is synergy -- The New York Times, you see, is providing free national ads for Starbucks, something that no local papers can do. The Times helps Starbucks get publicity its competitors couldn't even buy, and Starbucks sweeps the way clear from coast to coast for the Times.

Sweatshop Guacamole

Guacamole is a simple dish made by mashing the pulp of a fresh avocado, then spicing it with salt, pepper, and lemon juice -- plus, if you want, adding chopped onion, tomato, hot sauce, or whatever. In the new world order, however, nothing so pure, tasty, and uncomplicated can be allowed to stand in the way of global profiteering.

So along comes the food-processing conglomerate, J.R. Simplot Co., taking advantage of NAFTA to move U.S. guacamole-making to Mexico, paying poverty-level wages there to mass-produce what amounts to a sort of industrialized green glop, then shipping the guacamole paste back here to Taco Bell, TGIF, Bennigan's, Chili's, and other restaurant chains.

In a report on the Simplot guacamole factory in Morelia, Mexico, The Wall Street Journal notes that wages start at $48 a week -- well below the Mexican minimum wage. Poverty pay is not the only advantage Taco Bell and the rest get by having Mexican women mash up avocados rather than paying U.S. restaurant workers to do it: "By outsourcing, vendors also cut down on the workers compensation they pay for injuries," the Journal reports. Not that there are fewer workers injured in Mexico, mind you, but that the companies don't have to pay for the injuries there. It's a corporate savings paid by the workers in blood.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the restaurants lower the price of your guacamole one dime. Indeed, some try to fool you. The Journal notes that TGIF and Chili's add chunks of avocado to the paste they get from Mexico, giving their guacamole a made-on-site look. But even the avocado chunks come frozen from the Mexican factory that made the paste. It's all a part of the culinary joy brought to you by corporatized globalization.

Lieberman's Drug Habit

When he named Sen. Joseph Lieberman to be his running mate, Al Gore portrayed the choice as a "bold" move, and it certainly is symbolically significant that he put the first Jewish American on a national ticket. Symbolism aside, though, Sen. Lieberman's idea of boldness is occasionally to wear a plaid shirt. This guy is strictly cut from corporate cloth, and he's not about to do anything to upset business as usual in Washington.

Indeed, when Gore recently had an outbreak of mild populist rhetoric, pointing out that the pharmaceutical and insurance giants are greedy for opposing Medicare coverage of prescription drugs, Bold Joe jumped forth to assure Wall Street that it need not fear Al's bark. "There is no rational reason why the markets should be in any way adversely affected by the positions and policies and programs of the Gore-Lieberman ticket," he cooed to The Wall Street Journal. "Political rallies tend not to be places for extremely thoughtful argument," he said with a wink, adding, "you have some rhetorical flourishes."

Lieberman praised drug makers for having "enabled all of us to lead better lives," and pledging to put more federal money into pharmaceutical research. Nothing like taxpayer cash to make a political boo boo all better. Speaking of cash, Lieberman has taken plenty of it from corporate favor-seekers. In addition to running for vice-president, he's also up for re-election to the Senate, and so far has taken $265,000 from pharmaceutical and insurance companies. "There's a natural connection between the industries and me," he says shamelessly. If corporate power had any further qualms about Gore-Lieberman getting out of line, Joe ended any doubt by declaring flatly that "this is a pro-growth, pro-business ticket."

The WTO Rules

Why do we find so much on the front pages of newspapers that ought to be in the back, and so much in the back that ought to be on the front page? Take this little item buried way back in The New York Times on August 29: "WTO Rules Against U.S." The item contained only four sentences, yet it cloaked a huge story that if fully reported, properly placed, and followed up would have informed and aroused the U.S. citizenry and forced a major national issue into the drone-a-thon of this year's presidential campaign. The story is that the secretive, anti-democratic, corporate protectorate called the World Trade Organization had reached into our country once again and, by executive fiat, overturned a U.S. law. Americans have fought wars to establish and defend our rights as a free and sovereign people to write our own laws, yet here is an alien body rendering a judgment in Geneva that declares one of our laws null and void. Excuse me, who the hell elected these twerps? The particular law is our Anti-Dumping Act, which says that foreign companies cannot unfairly compete by dumping their surplus goods here, selling them for less what it costs to produce them. To give it teeth, the law provides fines and possible prison terms for violators. Uh-uh, says the corporate-protecting WTO: no fines and no prison allowed for such commercial criminals. Holy Thomas Jefferson! We can't set our own standards for criminal behavior? Far more important than the law itself is the principle of self-government that has so cavalierly been usurped by the WTO. Imagine if the United Nations had declared a U.S. law invalid, or if a foreign government had threatened to take away our sovereignty! Wall Street, Washington, and the media would blow a gasket. So the media sleeps, Gore and Bush stay mum -- and Wall Street silently cheers its victory over the people.
For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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Starbucks, synergy, free publications, alternative publications, New York Times, Simplot, NAFTA, Mexico, guacamole, Joseph Lieberman, Al Gore, Democrats, Wall Street Journal, pharmaceuticals

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