The Hightower Report

Costco breaks the corporate greed mold; and mad cow disease may already be here


Do big-time CEOs – no matter how compassionate and cuddly they might be personally – have to be SOBs on the job?

Yes, says the conventional wisdom of greater CorporateWorld. The bottom line dictates that wages and benefits be slashed and that offshoring be pursued with a vengeance. It's not personal, just business. "Look ye to Wal-Mart," boom the market gods, directing CEOs to follow the anti-labor, low-wage, no benefit, move-it-all-to-China ethic of this giant. The gods decree that no one can out-compete Wal-Mart, so best to imitate the beast.

Apparently, Jim Sinegal has been going to the wrong church. He's CEO of Costco, the profitable warehouse club retailer that's fast growing across the country. He takes a shockingly heretical view of his job, boasting of his company's fair treatment of employees: "We pay much better than Wal-Mart," Sinegal says. "That's not altruism. It's good business."

Indeed, Costco's pay is much, much, much better – a full-time Costco clerk or warehouse worker earns more than $41,000 a year, plus they get terrific health care coverage. Wal-Mart workers get barely a third of that pay, plus a lousy health care plan. Costco even has unions!

Yet, Costco's labor costs are only about half of Wal-Mart's. How's that possible? One reason is that Costco workers feel valued, which adds enormously to their productivity, and they don't leave – employee turnover is a tiny fraction of Wal-Mart's rapidly revolving door.

Another thing Sinegal rejects is offshoring: "We could move [some operations] to Bangladesh or somewhere. But what kind of message would that send to our employees? Not a good one, I think."

While Wal-Mart makes twice as much profit as Costco, Sinegal believes it's better business to make a nice profit, but not a killing, and to invest more in Costco's 92,000 workers. "I don't see what's wrong with an employee earning enough to be able to buy a house or having a health plan for the family," he says.


Alzheimer's disease, little known just a generation ago, is now so common in our land that the term has come to be used as a joke, as in: "Excuse me for forgetting your name – I'm having an Alzheimer's moment."

Of course, it's no joke, but a cruel and fatal disease that essentially dissolves the brain, causing victims literally to lose their minds. Alzheimer's has been surging in America over the past two decades, now being the eighth-leading cause of death, afflicting some four million of our people.

But there's one aspect of this that the economic and political powers in our country don't want scientists discussing in public: Autopsy studies done at Yale and elsewhere show that some percentage of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's were misdiagnosed. They actually had another brain-wasting disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and thousands of these cases might well be a variety of CJD caused by mad cow disease-infected meat that the victims ate years earlier.

Yes, this means that mad cow disease in humans, which the beef industry has adamantly insisted does not exist at all in America, could actually be widespread and already killing people under a pseudonym. Two minimal steps should be taken immediately to know the full truth and protect public health. First, the ag department, which now conducts mad cow tests on only about one-tenth of 1% of the 30 million cattle slaughtered in our country each year, should test all cattle – as Japan does. However, the Bushites have rejected this move at the behest of Tyson and other big beef purveyors.

Second, there should be a national monitoring system of all CJD cases to determine the extent of mad cow infection behind these cases. However, the Bushites have rejected formal petitions to enact such basic monitoring, which is done for all sorts of other diseases, again not wanting to upset the beef purveyors.

To fight for public health over corporate greed, call the Organic Consumers Association: 218/226-4164.

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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Wal-Mart, Costco, Jim Sinegal, offshoring, Alzheimer's, mad cow disease, CJD, beef, Tyson, George W. Bush, Organic Consumers Association

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