You Deserve a Break Today

We Love to See You SmileTM here at the Houston Press, so this column will be devoted to a subject that's Always Quality. Always Fun.TM : the McDonald'sTM Corporation. Let us again contemplate this business giant, whose Golden ArchesTM and Ronald McDonaldTM spokesclown are no longer merely American phenomena. They are, in fact, Changing The Face of The WorldTM.

According to the recently published Eric Schlosser book, Fast Food Nation (see "Junk-Food Journalism," by George Alexander, February 8), McDonald'sTM now operates some 15,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries. The company opens about five new restaurants a day, with four of those being located abroad. And this Super SizeTM purveyor of World Famous FriesTM and the Big MacTM does not merely symbolically sprinkle the globe with the odd McFranchiseTM in the center of this or that capital city. In Brazil, McDonald'sTM has become the nation's biggest private employer. In the reunified Germany, McDonald's Deutschland, Inc. is the biggest restaurant company in the country, more than twice as large as its nearest competitor. In at least one town in the former East Germany, a garish, three-story-tall statue of Ronald McDonaldTM looms over a landscape where formerly a few slightly larger-than-life-size figures of Lenin or Marx were seen in public squares. You have to visit stubbornly contrary countries like Cuba, Iran, Iraq or North Korea to be in an environment free of McKidsTM working minimum-wage McJobsTM.

Persons who don't accept the notion that McDonald's Means OpportunityTM can find themselves in more than a spot of trouble. Five impecunious eccentrics in England, members of the London Greenpeace organization, began to distribute a six-page leaflet in 1986 that made a case against McDonald'sTM based more on their gut feelings that the company "epitomizes … the deadly banality of capitalism" rather than on hard scientific evidence. In September 1990 the company sued Greenpeace. Unlike U.S. law, British libel law, in a number of ways, heavily favors the plaintiff in such an action. Three of the pamphleteers apologized in court to the McLawyers. Two others, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, decided to defend themselves. Steel and Morris were fined $60,000, later reduced on appeal to $40,000, and the case is still pending a further appeal.

What was really scary about their tale were facts that surfaced during the trial about McDonald'sTM modus operandi. Beginning in 1989, a year before the suit was filed, the corporation hired at least two different detective agencies to infiltrate the London Greenpeace organization. At least seven operatives attended meetings. One broke into the Greenpeace offices, and in one case, a female operative had a six-month affair with a Greenpeace member while informing on his activities. (Was this an illustration of The House That Love BuiltTM, or was it a case of Good Jobs For Good PeopleTM?) A McDonald'sTM vice president of the UK branch, a former South African police officer who supervised the undercover investigations, admitted in court that he had used his connections to get information on Steel and Morris from Scotland Yard's Special Branch. The Special Branch normally tracks people along the lines of gangsters and IRA bombers.

Do you believe that by not passing out incomprehensible leaflets blaming McDonald'sTM for "the deadly banality of capitalism" that you're safe from costly legal actions initiated by the clown's humorless mouthpieces? Then consider the people whose only sin is to be surnamed McDonald.

The McDonald'sTM Web site ( lists several hundred words and phrases as being "owned by the McDonald's Corporation and its affiliates." Every word or phrase in this article with the trademark symbol appended to it is on that list -- we're not taking any needless chances! If you think that your name is yours to use as you see fit just because McDonald has been your family name since the kings of Ireland dwelt in Tara Hall, you best think again, Danny boy. At least one McDonald who opened a restaurant sporting the family name has been sued to cease and desist by the McFamilyTM lawyers.

In Houston, McDonald'sTM has not been content with merely placing a feeding station by every freeway off-ramp. Inroads have been made in planting outlets in new and heretofore off-limits places. For some time now, there has been the McDonald'sTM in the entrance hall of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. But perhaps a science museum is a suitable place for a food business that owes its success more to science than nature. Then there is a McDonald'sTM rather disingenuously listed in the telephone book as being located at Mail Code 4190, 6621 Fannin, Houston, TX 77030-2303. This fast-food emporium is, in fact, located on the first floor of the West Tower of Texas Children's Hospital. What the McDonald'sTM Corporation was thinking when it installed its operation there is quite clear. What the administration of Texas Children's Hospital was thinking is a mystery.

Saving the best for last: On Saturday, February 3, the Houston Chronicle carried a story that marks a real breakthrough for the company that likes to say it is Lifting Kids To A Better TomorrowTM. Chronicle religion reporter Tara Dooley got the scoop that Brentwood Baptist Church, located in a semirural corner of Houston south of Holmes Road, was planning to be the first church in the United States to have a McDonald'sTM franchise, drive-thru and all, located on the premises, this inside the 75,000-square-foot Joe Samuel Ratliff Lifelong Learning Center, so named after Brentwood's senior pastor. The church will split the revenues from the operation with a parishioner, Ernest Redmond, who is described as already owning six McDonald'sTM franchises in Houston.

The plan, according to the article, is part of an overall community development project. Exactly what sort of development will occur is hard to predict. The relentlessly union-phobic corporation, whose founder, Ray Kroc, once funneled $250,000 to Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign because he was eager to get presidential support for a bill that would allow businesses like McDonald'sTM to pay 16- and 17-year-old workers a salary 20 percent below minimum wage, is hardly on the cutting edge of social justice issues. But then, as we all know, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

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George Alexander