John Mackey and Whole Foods: Biting The Hands That Feed Them

My local Whole Foods Mkt.

My local Whole Foods Mkt.

When I first moved to Boston in 1967, there was an amazing natural food store on Newbury Street called Erewhon. It was started by Michio Kushi and his wife Aveline and focused on Kushi’s macrobiotic diet. You could get all kinds of interesting foods there like tamari sauce, miso, natural peanut butter made out of just peanuts, and all kinds of strange grains, beans, and vegetables. The store had sawdust on the floor and big barrels with foodstuffs in them. I used to take the T downtown to shop there and then drag my purchases home in great big cloth bags. Eventually Erewhon expanded and opened a store in Cambridge and it got easier to shop there. Erewhon was a pioneer in making organic foods available to the public.

In the late 1970′s another natural foods store opened in Brookline. It was called Bread and Circus, and the company soon expanded into Cambridge, Wellsley, and a few other Boston suburbs. It was a great place to shop and didn’t have the “health food” aura of Erewhon, where you would see lots of sickly-looking macrobiotic mavens. Unfortunately, in the early 1990′s Bread and Circus was bought out by the Texas company, Whole Foods Market. And it’s been pretty much downhill from there. The prices are sky high and the standards for what constitutes “whole foods” have slipped.

Under co-founder and CEO John Mackey, Whole Foods is much more focused on marketing than on health. Mackey is an obsessive libertarian, who in 2009 wrote an obnoxious op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he suggested that Obama’s health care initiative was socialistic. Here’s just a taste.

With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people’s money. These deficits are simply not sustainable. They are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation, or they will bankrupt us.

While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction—toward less government control and more individual empowerment.

john-mackey

In 2010, Mackey tried to save the company some money by punishing employees with exercise and garcinia cambogia supplementation for those whom he deemed to be too fat, giving them smaller discounts for their purchases from the stores than thinner employees got. The reaction was swift and negative, and from what I can tell, the initiative was quietly dropped. The company would have been sued over it anyway. Oh, and Mackey hates unions too.

I don’t know who shops at Whole Foods in Texas, but around here it’s mostly the ex-hippies like me along with what we used to call “yuppies” and other politically liberal types. As Mackey found out in 2009 and 2010, his libertarian lecturing doesn’t go over too well with his clientele. After each of these episodes, I became less interested and wasting my “whole paycheck” at Whole Foods. I still go there sometimes, but usually only to buy things I can’t find anywhere else. After today, I’m going to feel even less enthused about shopping in Mackey’s Markets.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that today Mackey told NPR that Obamacare is worse than socialist–it’s fascism! It’s seems Mackey has a new book out called Conscious Capitalism. He told NPR that his goal is to convince people that corporations aren’t really “primarily selfish and greedy.”

Mackey sat down with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep to discuss his philosophy and the new book he co-authored, Conscious Capitalism. Part 1 airs Wednesday, Part 2 on Thursday….

When Inskeep asks him if he still thinks the health law is a form of socialism, as he’s said before, Mackey responds:

“Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”

Apparently NPR has been dissing Whole Foods for awhile now. There was funny piece about it at The Atlantic in 2011: NPR Is Slowly Breaking Up with Whole Foods. Mackey would probably be more comfortable appearing on right wing talk shows; but he wouldn’t reach his target demographic that way, so he has to go on NPR. There’s a real mismatch between this CEO and his customers.

Well, around here, lots of the supermarkets carry organic fruits, vegetables, eggs, butter, dairy products and meats now, so there isn’t as much need to go to a specialty store with sky-high prices. My biggest problem is that Whole Foods recently bought out a local food chain that ran the most inexpensive and convenient store in my neighborhood. By next fall, the closest grocery store to me will be a Whole Foods. Can I resist stopping there and drive 15-20 minutes to get to another store when I’m in a rush or tired? It won’t be easy but I’m going do my best.

Anyway, this is an open thread. What’s on your mind tonight?


TGIFriday Reads

I live in Northwest Greater Boston in a town that is far from rural. However we do encounter wildlife in my neighborhood–skunks, opossums and racoons, for example. But yesterday afternoon, as I drove down the small road where I live, I had to brake suddenly for a large, imposing bird like the one in the photo. It was casually standing right in the middle of the road. I looked to my left and saw good sized flock of these birds, and suddenly realized they were wild turkeys. They were walking around in front of someone’s house. I was amazed.

It turns out that wild turkeys have been making a comeback in Massachusetts and have been invading a number of cities and towns around here. From The Boston Globe:

On a recent afternoon, Kettly Jean-Felix parked her car on Beacon Street in Brookline, fed the parking meter, wheeled around to go to the optician and came face to face with a wild turkey.

The turkey eyed Jean-Felix. Jean-Felix eyed the turkey. It gobbled. She gasped. Then the turkey proceeded to follow the Dorchester woman over the Green Line train tracks, across the street, through traffic, and all the way down the block, pecking at her backside as she went.

“This is so scary,” Jean-Felix said, finally taking refuge inside Cambridge Eye Doctors in Brookline’s bustling Washington Square. “I cannot explain it.”

Notify the neighbors: The turkeys are spreading through suburbia. Wild turkeys, once eliminated in Massachusetts, are flourishing from Plymouth to Concord and – to the surprise of some wildlife officials – making forays into densely populated suburban and urban areas, including parts of Boston, Cambridge and, most recently, Brookline.

In Winchester, a woman was “held captive” by a wild turkey.

On Tuesday evening, around 6 p.m., a Swan Road resident was pulling into her car [sic] when a wild turkey jumped at her and started to attack her vehicle as she was trying to drive it into the garage.

The woman said that this turkey did the same thing last week, and she didn’t call the police because she thought the animal had left.

“It kept attacking the woman at her house,” said Winchester Animal Control Officer, Jerry Smith of the 17-pound turkey. “It’s been doing it for a couple of days. We can’t have animals attacking people around town.”

According to the police report, she was able to close the garage door, but ended up being trapped, unable to get to her house, because the turkey refused to leave her property.

After 15 minutes “of being held captive” the woman called the Winchester Police Department to help her get into the house.

The responding officer saw that the turkey was still on the property. He got out of his cruiser and took a shotgun with him. As soon as the turkey noticed him, it charged and the officer shot and killed it.

Yikes! I hope those turkeys don’t start hanging around in my yard. In even more bizarre news, there is snow outside my house. Apparently, I got home just in time for winter.

Remember Omar Sharif? He starred in Dr. Zhivago back in 1965. The aging movie star recently slapped a female fan while he was on the red carpet at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The actor, who was nominated for his role in 1962′s “Lawrence of Arabia,” appeared to have lost his cool when a female fan interrupted him while he was posing for photographers.

The incident, captured by a TMZ camera, shows Sharif slapping and mildly pushing the woman, then spewing venomous disapproval at having been disturbed.

“My dear!” Sharif exclaimed in Arabic, as translated by the Washington Post. “I told you I’d get to you afterwards! I just said that and you’re standing here. Put something in your brain!”

In slightly more serious news, the Republican presidential candidates are still demonstrating their stupidity on a daily basis. Some examples follow.


Mitt Romney

It isn’t enough that Mitt Romney has crazy Robert Bork advising him on the Constitution. Now he has appointed another adviser who belonged to a violent Lebanese militia in the 1980s.

Walid Phares, the recently announced co-chair of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Middle East advisory group, has a long résumé. College professor. Author. Political pundit. Counterterrorism expert. But there’s one chapter of his life that you won’t find on his CV: He was a high ranking political official in a sectarian religious militia responsible for massacres during Lebanon’s brutal, 15-year civil war.

During the 1980s, Phares, a Maronite Christian, trained Lebanese militants in ideological beliefs justifying the war against Lebanon’s Muslim and Druze factions, according to former colleagues. Phares, they say, advocated the hard-line view that Lebanon’s Christians should work toward creating a separate, independent Christian enclave. A photo obtained by Mother Jones shows him conducting a press conference in 1986 for the Lebanese Forces, an umbrella group of Christian militias that has been accused of committing atrocities. He was also a close adviser to Samir Geagea, a Lebanese warlord who rose from leading hit squads to running the Lebanese Forces.

Romney has also clearly stated his willingness to sacrifice the lives of women to save fertilized eggs. In the Guardian, Tresa Edmunds, a Mormon, writes: If Mitt Romney’s anti-abortion crowd get their way, it could kill me

Mississippi is the latest state to support a “personhood” amendment – a law that defines life as beginning at conception and giving full legal rights to a fertilised egg. On a recent political talk show, Mitt Romney affirmed that he would “absolutely” support such an amendment to the federal constitution. Such a conservative law would have far-reaching consequences, rendering many forms of birth control, the morning-after pill and aspects of in-vitro fertilisation illegal, as well as eliminating abortion as an option even when deemed medically necessary.

This trend is also seen in the ironically named Protect Life Act, recently passed by the House of Representatives, which gives hospitals the right to refuse to perform abortions, even at the cost of a woman’s life. It is a terrifying time to have a uterus, but especially a mysteriously malfunctioning one such as mine.

My son was born weighing 2lb 4oz, at 28 weeks gestation. My pregnancy – which had been much longed for – was proceeding normally until all of a sudden a pain that turned out to be organ failure brought me to the emergency room. There, I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome. My blood pressure was rocketing, my red blood cells were disintegrating and my platelet count was dropping. If I had managed to make it through organ failure, stroke or heart attack, I would have bled to death in delivery. Thanks to the tremendous care and expertise of talented doctors and nurses, my son and I are here to tell the harrowing story but, if things had gone differently, the only way I would be alive is if they had removed my son’s body from my womb in pieces.

Comments such as Romney’s casually tossed off “absolutely” make me shake with rage. When politicians are so concerned about the people they see as allegedly using abortion as birth control that they would let me die, I can’t help but wonder how they can dare say they care about the sanctity of life.

Edmunds is confused. Romney and the other Republican candidates care deeply only about “human life.” They obviously do not consider women to be humans.


Rick Perry

As everyone knows, Governor Goodhair hasn’t done very well in the Republican debates so far. Now it appears he is going to wimp out of future debates.

After a series of poor debate performances in the early months of his presidential campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is backing off the upcoming GOP debate schedule, committing to just one of the next three events between now and Nov. 15.

Perry has struggled in the five debates he has attended since he joined the race in mid-August. At one, he fumbled an attempt to cast rival Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper. At another, bickering between Romney and Perry drew criticism that the candidates were acting juvenile.

Perry hinted at his frustration with the debates earlier this week when he told Fox News that participating in them was a “mistake.”

“These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates,” Perry said. “…All they’re interested in is stirring it up between the candidates.”

Um… yeah. So? If Perry can’t take the heat, maybe he should get out of the kitchen. BTW, has he produced his birth certificate yet? I heard he was born in Mexico. /s


Herman Cain

At Huffpo, Dave Jamieson details Herman Cain’s long, enthusiastic battle against the minimum wage.

In his plan for economic “Opportunity Zones,” Cain offers a slate of proposals aimed at revitalizing depressed pockets of the country, including zero capital gains and payroll taxes within qualifying areas. Although it doesn’t say so explicitly, the Cain campaign’s primer on opportunity zones also suggests the possibility of rolling back minimum-wage laws in impoverished areas.

“Minimum wage laws prevent many unskilled and inexperienced workers (i.e. teens) from getting their first job and prices them out of the market,” the plan says, listing a number of potential “solutions” to urban poverty. Cain’s campaign did not immediately comment on his stance on minimum wage laws.

Minimum-wage protections are an issue Cain knows intimately. In his work as the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and later as president of the National Restaurant Association, Cain worked diligently in Washington and in the media to see that low-wage restaurant workers could legally be paid as little as possible, as In These Times has noted. In fact, Cain’s time in the restaurant business was marked by a long and largely successful battle against minimum-wage increases, and even today, some 15 years later, many of the nation’s waiters and waitresses have Cain and the restaurant lobby to thank for a federal minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped workers.

By 1995, when Cain was at the helm of Godfather’s, the federal minimum wage had already lost much of its purchasing power since the 1960s and 70s, and it hadn’t seen a bump in five years. When then-President Bill Clinton and Labor Secretary Robert Reich proposed raising it from $4.25 to $5.15, Cain emerged as one of the leading opponents of the pay boost.


Rick Santorum

Is he really still running for president? Apparently so. He has released a new ad targeting Herman Cain’s accidental pro-choice position on abortion. The content of the ad suggests that Santorum believes that aborted embryos and fetuses can “think.”


Ron Paul

Ron Paul isn’t really an objectivist or a libertarian, even though he claims to be a follower of Ayn Rand. He can’t be, because he wants the government to get involved in policing women’s bodies. But here’s an interesting post by Gary Weiss, the author of a new book about Ayn Rand’s influence on American culture that sounds like a fascinating, if disturbing, read.

Ayn Rand’s spirit hangs over the 2012 presidential race like the aftermath of a bad meal that, for some reason, we’ve all forgotten that we’ve eaten. In the run-up to the financial crisis the markets became a kind of Fifth Estate, the ultimate arbiters of American society. This was not a Republican disease; some of the most voracious deregulation took place during the Clinton Administration. It was as if a moral choice had been made, substituting the “wisdom of the markets” for admittedly flawed and sometimes grossly inept regulators. It made perfect sense, especially in an era in which the stock market averages rose by as much as 40% in one year, but today we know, or should know, that untrammeled capitalism doesn’t work.

But you’d never know any of this when listening to the Republican candidates for president, especially the one who most overtly embodies Rand’s philosophy: Ron Paul.

Paul is by no means a card-carrying Objectivist—his embrace of religion, and his views on foreign policy, makes him anathema to Randian true believers. But his embrace of the most primitive, extreme forms of free-market, almost-zero-government capitalism comes closest to Rand’s belief system of any in the Republican field.

What’s remarkable about Paul is how effective he is at putting forward his views, extreme as they are. Indeed, the unyielding, unwavering non-flip-flopping character of his opinions is perhaps his greatest asset. He is the best friend free-market capitalism has at present, as can be seen by his recent debate performances and especially his recent triumphant appearance at Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. The man exudes small-town charm while at the same advocating positions that would make life into hell for the great majority of his followers and listeners.

I’ll end with an article about the incumbant Republican President: ‘Bundlers’ for Obama Have Active Ties to Lobbying

Despite a pledge not to take money from lobbyists, President Obama has relied on prominent supporters who are active in the lobbying industry to raise millions of dollars for his re-election bid.

At least 15 of Mr. Obama’s “bundlers” — supporters who contribute their own money to his campaign and solicit it from others — are involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies. They have raised more than $5 million so far for the campaign.

Because the bundlers are not registered as lobbyists with the Senate, the Obama campaign has managed to avoid running afoul of its self-imposed ban on taking money from lobbyists.

But registered or not, the bundlers are in many ways indistinguishable from people who fit the technical definition of a lobbyist. They glide easily through the corridors of power in Washington, with a number of them hosting Mr. Obama at fund-raisers while also visiting the White House on policy matters and official business.

{Yawn…} Another Obama lie…so what else is new? That’s all the links I’ve got.

What are you reading and blogging about today?