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Speaking truth to GWB's moment of lies to the world

by A.V. Krebs
Editor, The Agribusiness Examiner

(Monday, March 17, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- "I will be harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation . . I am in earnest . . I will not equivocate . . I will not excuse . . .I will not retreat a single inch . . .AND I WILL BE HEARD."

--- William Lloyd Garrison, (1805-1879) Abolitionist Editor, The Liberator ("Our Country Is the World --- Our Countrymen Are Mankind")

As the United States stands this day virtually upon the precipice of determining the fate of not only our nation, but the entire world for generations to come silence in the face of George W. Bush's dogs of war is morally and politically unacceptable. At the risk, therefore, of alienating many of the readers of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER this issue is one journalist's effort to speak truth to absolute power, a power we can see each and every day is corrupting absolutely!!!

Blindly, in a false sense of patriotism, and led by a war mongering president, and cheered on by such publications as The Washington Post and television networks like FOX, in addition to the dozens and dozens of right-wing radio "commentators" who spend most of their waking hours complaining about the "liberal" bias in the media (???), the American people are being hoodwinked into a war designed to solely benefit those "gamblers in the necessities of life."

As our friend political columnist Molly Ivins recently pointed out:

"According to a poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS, 42% of Americans believe Saddam Hussein of Iraq was personally responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center, something that has never even been claimed by the Bush administration. According to a poll conducted by ABC, 55% believe Saddam Hussein gives direct support to Al Qaeda, a claim that has been made by the administration but for which no evidence has ever been presented. President Bush has lately modified the claim to "Al Qaeda-type" organizations. This is how well journalism has done its job in the months leading up to this war. A disgraceful performance.

"Ambrose Bierce, the 19th century cynic, once observed that war is God's way of teaching Americans geography. Going to war with the people in such a state --- not of ignorance, but of misinformation --- is truly terrifying."

While literally millions of people around the world have been taking to the streets in peaceful protest to this Bush & Co., instigated war our own U.S. Senate, as Minnesota's Mark Dayton recently noted in a speech to his colleagues, has remained silent (see below). Likewise, while the clergy, labor, students, senior citizens and thousands of others in the U.S. have repeatedly voiced their opposition to this war, the voices of U.S. farm organizations have been discouragingly and remarkably muted.

For example, those peddlers of "free trade" within the farm community that see such trade as U.S. agriculture's panacea will ignore the New York Times' John Tagliabue's story (see below) at their own risk.

As we face today the prospect of seeing our country overtly initiate the first war in its history and the resulting horror and tragedy of seeing so many of this earth's men, women and especially "our" children dying needlessly, silence and neutrality cannot and should not be tolerated. Indeed even Sacred Scripture, curiously enough in Apocalypse 3:15-17, tell us:

"I know thy works;
thou art neither cold nor hot.
I would that thou were cold or hot
But because thou are lukewarm,
And neither cold not hot,
I am about to vomit thee out of my mouth."


JOHN TAGLIABUE, NEW YORK TIMES : If the United States does invade Iraq, some of the first casualties may be the cachet that American brands and products have enjoyed around the world and the globalized marketplace they helped to build.

In Muslim nations, franchised stores like McDonald's and KFC have already been attacked, threatening to brake a recent surge of investment in franchised businesses, many of them originating in the United States.

At the same time, a growing number of knockoff products have appeared in Europe, imitating popular American brands but appealing to anti-American sentiment in Europe's large Muslim population and among other Europeans opposed to American policy in Iraq.

"From a business perspective," said Bilal Hallaq of Franchise Development Services, a British consulting firm, "it has catalyzed a move to more insular markets."

There is no easy way to know whether the effects of anti-American sentiment on American businesses in Europe will be substantial. They may be masked somewhat by the general economic slowdown, which has already reduced investment.

But Mr. Hallaq said that a wave of Middle Eastern investment in franchised businesses, as an alternative to putting money in sour stock markets, appears to have halted. An important meeting scheduled for April in Riyadh, where one Canadian and two American companies had planned to recruit Middle Eastern franchisees, has been called off, he said, and a similar meeting meant to bring together investors and franchise holders in Cairo next month has been put off until September.

Arab-owned companies are postponing expansions into Western Europe. In recent months, Mr. Hallaq said, several Arab-owned chains, including one modeled on the Body Shop and another of Arabian-style coffee shops, shelved plans to open in markets like France, Britain and Germany.

Similarly, Muslim countries seeking to attract American investment have suffered setbacks. A recent effort by Morocco to attract American franchisers was canceled after no Americans came.

But business links among Muslim regions, like those between Malaysia and the Persian Gulf, remain strong.

"Anything with a foreign flavor, especially from the United States and the United Kingdom, is not on the agenda," Mr. Hallaq said.

Some local companies that appeal specifically to Western Europe's 12 million Muslim consumers have continued to expand. In the Netherlands, for example, Chicken Cottage, a chain of fried chicken restaurants promising that all its poultry is prepared according to Muslim religious standards, is thriving in large cities like Amsterdam, though its success in the countryside is modest.

Soft drinks challenging Coca-Cola and claiming solidarity with Muslim causes are multiplying. After a Coke knockoff called Mecca Cola was introduced in November, two similar drinks, Muslim Up and Arab Cola, were rolled out in France this month. Though meant to appeal to young Arabs and to support Muslim causes, the products also seem to be cashing in on general anti-American sentiment.

Muslim Up's advertising promotes "an alternative for all who boycott Zionist products and big American brands." But Gérard Le Blanc, the Algerian-born French businessman who started Arab Cola, was quoted by the French daily Libération as saying that "we are above all a beverage manufacturer; we are apolitical, and not at all ideological."

These brands may stoke competition, but they usually remain narrow niche products, according to Jagdish N. Sheth, a marketing expert at the Goizueta Business School of Emory University in Atlanta. (The school is named for a former Coca-Cola chief executive.) In some situations, he said, they even present opportunities for the market leaders: two earlier Coke imitators, Thumbs Up in India and Inca Cola in Latin America, ultimately were bought by Coca-Cola and turned into successful regional brands.

The problems that anti-American sentiment in Europe may be causing for American companies already operating in Europe and the Middle East are harder to gauge. The Starbucks franchisee for Switzerland and Austria, the Bon Appétit Group, sold its 21 stores back to the Starbucks Coffee Company in March, less than two years after opening them, prompting speculation in the Swiss media that concern that anti-American sentiment would harm sales played a role as well.

In the Middle East, McDonald's introduced a product this month — the McArabia, a chicken sandwich on Arabian-style bread --- with a sales and promotion campaign that overshadowed the flagship Big Mac, an effort that one French newspaper said was meant to "relaunch McDonald's in the Muslim world."

Both Starbucks and McDonald's denied that their moves had anything to do with geopolitical tensions. Indeed, Starbucks said that buying out Bon Appétit's interest in the stores reflected its determination to expand ambitiously in Europe; Bon Appétit's main businesses, institutional catering and food distribution, had been struggling lately and the company had no spare cash to finance additional Starbucks stores in its territory.

"It's not at all connected to Iraq," said Karin Vogt, a Starbucks spokeswoman in Zurich. "We're online with our stores. It's not had an impact."

McDonald's said the McArabia had been in the works for two years and was not a response to recent anti-American sentiment over Iraq. Rather, the company said, the new sandwich is part of a worldwide effort to adapt its menu more closely to local preferences.

"There is no liaison between the McArabia and politics," said Rafiq Sakih, the owner of several McDonald's restaurants in Dubai, where the new sandwich has been a big hit. "It's a local taste finder, like the McFelafel in Egypt," he said in a telephone interview, referring to a dish McDonald's offered for a while but discontinued.

Ricarda Ruecker, director of marketing and communication for McDonald's in the Middle East, said that after April 2002, when tensions between Israel and the Palestinians worsened sharply, "We, like every global brand, suffered definitely." But she said the company's local franchisees reacted with an advertising campaign. "We educated people; we have a 100% local ownership model, 80% local suppliers; we do a lot of charity," Ms. Ruecker said by phone from Dubai. "Now people understand more."

Even so, in recent weeks two McDonald's restaurants in Saudi Arabia, at Kharj and Dammam, were the targets of unsuccessful firebomb attacks.

The growing drive to tailor products and advertising to varying national tastes and cultures is gradually eroding the progress of globalization, Mr. Sheth of Emory said, by breaking up world brands into a network of localized versions. "It is a question of saying, `When in Rome, be Roman,' " he said. In the process, experts said, the magnetism of American flair as a promotional tool is waning.

When Crestcom International, a provider of management teaching tools based in Greenwood Village, Colo., began seeking franchise partners abroad several years ago, one attraction was the glowing reputation of American management methods. Now, the American angle risks becoming a liability.

In its video recordings of management gurus giving lectures, "anything specifically American is taken out," said John Harris, Crestcom's marketing manager, who recently attended franchising fairs in Milan, Athens and Paris. When promoting its products abroad, he said, Crestcom positions itself not as an American but as an international company.

As far as Iraq goes, he said, "I'm speaking to businesspeople talking business — I am not running into that."

But Mr. Hallaq, the British franchising consultant, said that American companies, brands and ideas may get a much chillier reception if bullets fly in the gulf. "Everything was starting to open up," he said. "If we go to war, it will be a setback."

CropChoice editor's note: All or most editions of the Agribusiness Examiner are available at http://www.ea1.com/CARP. I will link to each edition after they are published every Monday and Thursday. You'll find them posted as the "Featured Link" on the "Links" section of CropChoice. -- RS.