Saturday, June 18, 2005

# Posted 4:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STARBUCKS IS EVIL! (A FISKING): This front pager from the WaPo is the most enterainingly absured bit of muckraking I have read in a very long time. It reports that Starbucks' overpriced lattes are impoverishing needy students across the nation. I sent my brief response to the Post in the form of a letter to the editor:
Dear Washington Post,

God bless Starbucks. If overpriced coffee ["Javanomics 101", National, June 18] helps more students like myself get through college and grad school, then more power to it. Data from the 2000 Census shows that Americans with a bachelor's degree earned about $15,000 more per year than those with a high school degree. Those with an advanced degree earned an additional $13,000 per year, approximately. This divide has grown steadily over the years and will continue to grow as information and services become more and more important to our national economy. The next time you see a stressed-out student ordering a Double Caramel Part-Skim Macchiato, what you should feel is hope, not pity.

David Adesnik
Charlottesville, VA
My longer response shall take the form of a full frontal fisking, in which I haven't engaged for quite some time:

Javanomics 101: Today's Coffee is Tomorrow's Debt;
The Latte Generation Hears a Wake Up Call

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 18, 2005; Page A01

SEATTLE -- At a Starbucks across the street from Seattle University School of Law, Kirsten Daniels crams for the bar exam. She's armed with color-coded pens, a don't-mess-with-me crease in her brow and what she calls "my comfort latte."

She just graduated summa cum laude, after three years of legal training that left her $115,000 in debt. Part of that debt, which she will take a decade to repay with interest, was run up at Starbucks, where she buys her lattes.

Part of the $115,000 debt Kirsten Daniels of Seattle incurred to finance law school went toward her regular caffeine fix. The habit costs her nearly $3 a day, and it's one that her law school says she and legions like her cannot afford.

My heart is already bleeding for poor Ms. Daniels. To think that she might be only $112,000 in debt if not for the pernicious influence of Starbucks!

And might I ask how much will Ms. Daniels be earning next year? Seattle University may only be #95 in the US News & World Report rankings, but my cousin went to law school at #96, Syracuse, and he is pulling down top dollar at a New York firm these days.

It borders on apostasy in this caffeine-driven town (home to more coffee shops per capita than any major U.S. city, as well as Starbucks corporate headquarters), but the law school is aggressively challenging the drinking habits of students such as Daniels.

"A latte a day on borrowed money? It's crazy," said Erika Lim, director of career services at the law school.

I'm glad Ms. Lim is worried about the really important things that affect her students' prospects for a successful future.

To quantify the craziness, Lim distributes coffee-consumption charts. One shows that a five-day-a-week $3 latte habit on borrowed money can cost $4,154, when repaid over 10 years. She also directs students to a Web site she helped create. The "Stop Buying Expensive Coffee and Save Calculator" ( http://www.hughchou.org/calc/coffee.cgi ) shows that if you made your own coffee and for 30 years refrained from buying a $3 latte, you could save $55,341 (with interest).

Remember how in high school they used to brink in a throat cancer survivor with an electronic voice box to tell you about the perils of smoking? Perhaps Ms. Lim can invite some impoverished middle-aged lawyers to tell the students at Seattle U. about how Starbucks forces their children to go to bed hungry at night.

Inside the Starbucks across from the law school, Daniels seemed surprised -- but unmoved -- to hear all this. "I guess I never had done the math," she said. "On the other hand, I would be a very crabby person without my comfort latte."
Therein lies the rub for those who would curb latte consumption with pocketbook reasoning. As Lim concedes, "no one pays any attention."

How did an ignoramus like Kirsten Daniels ever graduate summa cum laude? Doesn't she know that counting her coffee dollars is at least as important as acing her coursework? And even if Daniels is no Einstein, I bet she can estimate how much more she will earn as a reuslt of having a law degree.

Financial planners, best-selling investment gurus and a number of advice columnists have been warning consumers for years that seemingly insignificant daily spending on such luxuries as gourmet coffee can, over time, sabotage savings and hobble a person's financial future.

It's not the cigarettes. It's not the booze. It's not even McDonalds. It is the gourmet coffee that is forces senior citizens to eat cat food!

But these warnings, too, have been ignored, at least as measured by the runaway growth and profitability of Starbucks, the world's leading purveyor of specialty coffee. Its stock is up more than 1,200 percent in the past 10 years. When it went public in 1992, the company had 125 stores. It now has more than 9,000 locations around the world and long-term plans for 20,000 more.

Call the United Nations! Call Bono! If Starbucks opens another 20,000 locations worldwide, the poverty epidemic may never be stopped. By the way, has anyone suggested to the French and Germans that the real cause of their double-digit unemployment is Starbucks?

Starbucks declined to comment for this article, referring questions to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a trade group. Its spokesman, Mike Ferguson, said that coffee shops provide an excellent opportunity for students to do their homework...

Godd***ed corporate stooges! It's people like Mike Ferguson who put a smiling face on the rape of American youth. And what about Starbucks? It's no better than a child molester walking the courthouse steps muttering to the press, "No comment. No comment."

In decades past, lenders chided college students for excessive spending of borrowed money on pizza and cigarettes, but the staggering ubiquity of Starbucks appears to have narrowed the nagging to foamy espresso drinks...

Don't forget the famous Pizza Crisis of the 1970s! It didn't get as much attention as the oil crisis, but that's just because the Italians control the media. Which reminds me, who do you think invented espresso and cappucino?

"The question that needs to be posed is 'Do they really need to have a Starbucks every day?' " said Jeffrey Hanson, director of borrower education service at Access Group, a Delaware-based organization that is the nation's third-largest provider of graduate school loans. "Since they are living, in part, on borrowed money, they need to be aware of the opportunity cost of that $3 latte. Once they spend it, it is not available for a loaf of bread."...

Hanson is right. Who do you think is really responsible for the legions of ragged students begging for crusts of bread in Cambridge and Berkeley? Starbucks, that's who.

But these warnings have a way of getting lost amid the sweet aromas emanating from university-owned espresso shops inside nearly every major building on campus. The university began a major espresso expansion in 1997, after a survey found that coffee was far and away the favorite on-campus "food."...

It's a sad tale, but true. The thrifty young student comes to campus in pursuit of knowledge, only be to led astray by casual sex, recreational drugs and the sweet aromas of the roasted coffee bean.

At Seattle University School of Law, Lim concedes the futility of persuading students to stop spending borrowed money on high-priced coffee. Still, she refuses to give up. The consequences of latte-larded law school debts are worrisome for the legal profession, she said, insidiously tilting career paths toward jobs that pay more but satisfy less.

Thank God for the lonely crusaders like Erika Lim. Sure, everyone thought that the abolitionists were crazy in the 1830s and 1840s. But just as their persistence ended our enslavement to King Cotton, crusaders like Lim will liberate us from King Coffee.

"The amount of money you owe directly affects the professional choices you have," she said.

Debt-panicked law school graduates, she said, tend to run away from low-paying jobs such as public defender (about $45,000 a year) and into the more remunerative arms of corporate law.

Lim, by the way, is not a latte drinker, unless someone else pays.

Just like me. I don't frequent prostitutes unless someone else pays them. As for the lack of public defenders, I assure you with total confidence that it has absolutely nothing to do with the rising cost of tuition at America's law schools.

In closing, all I can say is: Students of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chain-stores!

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