business news in context, analysis with attitude

I have friends who live in Florida who told me about a local Publix that apparently is offering a new service for local consumers.

Since it now costs so much to bring luggage on airplanes, people who are sending their kids back to college are now bringing the bags into the Jamestown Publix to weigh them before going to the airport. This way, there aren’t any surprises when they get to the terminal…and the Publix is getting a reputation for being very parent-friendly. So much so, in fact, that this week there has been a line at certain times of the day of people waiting with their luggage to use the scales.

Customer service can come in some pretty strange packages, but it still is customer service.

We may be in a recession, but that doesn’t mean that indulgence has become a dirty word.

The Boston Globe reports that a new movie theater is opening there this week where “moviegoers will have a choice to make at the ticket counter: coach or first class.

“Just like coach-class airfare, a standard ticket will reserve a seat inside the new Foxborough movie theater, which houses a restaurant, food court, several conference rooms, seating areas for children, and a reading room for adults.

“But for an extra $10, patrons can upgrade: securing a spot in leather loveseats, where hosts serve cocktails, and gaining access into the Lux Level, a posh upstairs lounge overlooking the lobby's baby grand piano.”

I may be alone in this, but I’d actually pay more if they’d actually guarantee me a good movie.

It is hard to make sense of the marketplace sometimes.

This week, for example, JetBlue announced that it will begin charging $7 for blankets and pillows. (They’ll be better than the crusty specimens that fliers are used to, and jetBlue says you’ll be able to take them with you when you leave. Because what everybody wants to do is carry more stuff when leaving the plane.)

That’s the budget approach to flying.

At almost the same time, Delta announced that it will begin making WiFi available to passengers while in flight. No prices have been announced yet, but this clearly is perceived as a luxury perk that’s going to cost already burdened passengers even more money than they’re already paying.

I have to admit, though, that I’m willing to pay for WiFi. And I’ve never used an airline pillow or blanket in my life.

So maybe this makes sense.

Go read Sally Jenkins’ column about the Olympics that appeared in the Washington Post this week. Jenkins, who when she is on her game can be a terrific writer, delivers a tough and unsparing look at the upcoming games and the corporate/political gamesmanship that is going on in Beijing.


• “You only have to breathe the air to understand that these Olympics aren't about sport. They're about corporate profit, a propaganda stage for the Chinese government, and the moral collapse of the Olympic movement, but the very last thing they're about is excellence or the well-being of the athletes. The real interests, the real priorities, are in the air … Beijing has its splendors: ambrosial pear juice and duck skin in coarse sugar, ancient gnarled cypresses, bending willow trees, palaces with concealed courts, and sprawling districts in which nationalities blend into a worldly sauntering crowd. But the air is not one of those splendors. In fact, depending on which way the wind blows, it can seem as if the countryside is burning, or as if you are standing behind the tailpipe of a bus.”

• “So what is this Olympics really about? It's about 12 major corporations and their panting ambitions to tap into China's 1.3 billion consumers, the world's third-largest economy. Understand this: The International Olympic Committee is nothing more than a puppet for its corporate ‘partners,’ without whom there would be no Games. These major sponsors pay the IOC's bills for staging the Olympics to the tune of $7 billion per cycle. Without them, and their designs on the China market, Beijing probably would not have won the right to host the Summer Games … Anyone who believed the Chinese government would use the Olympics as an opportunity to become a human rights beacon and environmental model was either softheaded, or lying. Capitalism is not the same thing as democracy. China's interest then and now was the consolidation of state power via economics. The government is merely behaving as it always has.”

• “But the bad air here has shown the IOC and its commercial sponsors in an especially ugly and damning light. They have been conspicuous cowards in dealing with Chinese officials, and maybe even outright collaborators, on every issue from human rights to the environment to censorship. The silence of IOC President Jacques Rogge in the face of the continuing dissident sweeps amounts to complicity. ‘In view of my responsibilities, I have lost some of my freedom of speech,’ he said last week. Rogge's idea of a solution to the thorny problems of these Games is to hope ‘the magic’ will take over once they begin.”

• “Most disgraceful of all is the fact that six of the 12 worldwide Olympic partners are American companies. This has to heart-sicken any patriot. These companies will reap the full exposure of the Summer Games, swathing themselves in the flag, and rationalizing that their business is helping uplift the Chinese people. Don't buy it – or them. You should know exactly who they are: General Electric (which owns NBC), Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald's, Kodak, and Johnson & Johnson … When these acquiesced to the Chinese government's crackdown, and effectively accepted the censorship of the press during these Games, they fell into a special category of profiteers that Franklin Delano Roosevelt described in his ‘Four Freedoms’ speech.

"’We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests,’ Roosevelt said.”

I am torn about the political implications of these games, and wonder if they will serve to nudge China to improve its environmental and human rights policies, or simply stand as proof positive that China is so big and powerful that it cannot and will not be moved. I fear the latter, and believe that the political and news coverage during the next two weeks may end being far more interesting than the games themselves.

If there is one thing that all the political analysts (at least the ones I’ve been listening to) seem to agree on this year, it is that more than ever you can't trust any of the polls.

That’s because pollsters only survey via landline phones.

And the federal government has just come out with a survey saying that upwards of 20 percent of the population no longer has a landline.

That seemed outrageous…until I realized that I was part of the 20 percent. I use a cell phone most of the time, and both the house and office have VoIP Internet broadband telephone services.

This has enormous implications for marketers…if only because it places so many people out of reach when it comes to traditional marketing efforts.

Very funny line from comedian Lewis Black on “The Daily Show” this week, commenting on the horrendously high prices being charged for food in Zimbabwe:

“A trillion dollars for baked beans? I didn’t know they had a Whole Foods in Zimbabwe!”

Mackey and Mugabe. Together again for the first time.

Don't know if you saw this or not, but Reuters had a story the other day about a new restaurant in Sydney, Australia, that serves 20 different kinds of water from around the world, charging premium prices and matching waters to foods in the same way that many establishments develop food and wine pairings.

The main reason behind launching the water menu is because we are finding more and more of our guests are increasingly health conscious," a spokesman for the restaurant, Kables, tells Reuters. "Often people feel pressured into ordering a glass of wine with their meal but now customers have a choice. Our customers are really enjoying the novelty and experiencing the water as they would wine."

Just when you thought the world couldn’t get any crazier…

Playing on my iPod this week – the new Randy Newman album, “Harps and Angels,” which won’t disappoint Newman fans. He hasn’t released an album of originals in almost a decade, but this one was worth the wait – especially a remix of a song he released on iTunes a couple of years ago: “A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country.” As always, the satire is scathing, the melodies remind one of a club in New Orleans, and the voice is one of a kind.

A movie that is doing almost no business at all, but deserve a better fate, is ‘Swing Vote,’ starring Kevin Costner as a down-on-his-luck New Mexico resident who finds himself, through circumstances both improbable but oddly logical (especially in view of recent history) as the person who will decide the results of a presidential election between Republican incumbent Kelsey Grammer and Democratic challenger Dennis Hopper. Costner is perfect as a character with a certain empty charm who finds himself able to exploit an historic moment for personal gain; the extraordinarily talented Madeline Carroll plays his daughter, who is both more mature and intelligent than her father, and who plays a key role in how the election is decided.

This isn’t a perfect movie; there are times the tone veers too erratically from political satire to madcap comedy. But “Swing Vote” is very good when it gets it right – especially when it shows the two candidates and their political consultants (played by Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as if they were born to the roles) completely changing their positions to get a single vote. And, the soundtrack is great.

“Swing Vote” isn’t a four-star movie, but I liked it a lot. No explosions, no special effects, and no super heroes – just an intelligently written comedy with strong performances and a good message. Can't ask for more than that.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


KC's View: