There's apparently no end to the international cartels that rip off the American consumer. Already gouged by the oil-producing nations and a uranium syndicate that have multiplied the cost of energy, Americans are also paying twice as much as they should for their coffee. The cause: price rigging by coffee-growing countries.
That is the conclusion of a confidential congressional report prepared for Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). His judiciary subcommittee is conducting an extensive probe of commodity prices.
"The actual current price (of coffee)," the study reports, "is approximately double the price that would be consistent with the historical supply-and-demand relationship."
The reason, the report says, is that "coffee-producing nations are taking action to keep prices artifically high."
The astronomical rise in coffee prices a few years ago was blamed on the so-called "black frost" in Brazil. We reported earlier that the Great Coffee Shortage really wasn't as bad as the coffee producers claimed -- that, in fact, it was partially contrived as a means of justifying the huge price increase.
Once the "black frost" crisis was over, coffee supplies increased and prices began dropping somewhat. They began dropping, that is, until a few months ago, when the major U.S. coffee companies adopted significant increases in the wholesale price of ground coffee. They took the action in response to a 20 percent hike in prices by Brazil, which grows about one-third of the world's coffee beans.
The Brazilians once again blamed a frost -- though admitting it was not nearly as serious as the one in 1975.
But sources told our associate Gary Cohn that the price rise was primarily caused by the market manipulations of the international coffee cartel. This gang of board room bandidos is known as the "Bogota Group," after the capital of Colombia, home of the fictitious bean-picker Juan Valdez of the coffee commercials.
But the extra dollar or more per pound paid by American coffee lovers doesn't go to the Juan Valdezes of the world. Crop failures simply mean hard times for the coffee plantation workers.
The Bogota Group's main reason for existence is to see that the price of coffee stays high even when market conditions should dictate a drop. The coffee cartel was described to us by one source as "a mini-OPEC."
With a multimillion-dollar slush fund, the cartel buys and sells coffee on the international commodities market to ensure that the price stays up. So whether you take one lump or two, one thing is certain: You'll keep getting your lumps from the coffee cartel.
Condo Crunch -- "Condominium fever," which has struck down many low-income tenants of urban apartment buildings, is now threatening the elderly and other inflation-whipped Americans in the nation's suburban mobile home parks.
Owners of many of these parks, which rent small plots of land and provide utilities to owners of mobile homes, have begun to convert their holdings to condominiums. If the residents can't come up with the $20,000 or more to buy their little lot, they must -- like their apartment-renting counterparts in the cities -- pack up and get out.
But city folks evicted by condo conversion have an advantage over their country cousins: They haven't invested their life savings in improvements on their apartments. The owner of a mobile home may have sunk $30,000 or more in his property.
Moving isn't easy as it sounds. Despite its name, a mobile home is not readily or cheaply moved. This is especially true of older homes, which have virtually taken root after many years at the same location.
The cost of moving a mobile home to a new location can in many cases be $5,000 or more. And even then, there is often no place to go, for most trailer parks will not accept new tenants whose mobile homes are more than two or three years old.
Usually the residents of mobile home parks are disorganized and helpless in the face of an owner's conversion move. But at least one park -- Rancho Murieta Mobile Village near Sacramento, Calif. -- has seen its tenants unite to fight the condo threat.
Most of the village's mobile home owners are elderly, eking out a living on Social Security or other pensions. Many are handicapped. They have hired a lawyer and are trying to block the proposed conversion through the zoning laws.
The final bitter irony, of course, is that even if they win, they'll lose. Thomas R. Henderson, president of the development company that plans the conversion to condominiums, told us that if the change is not allowed, he'll just have to raise the tenants' rent on the lots.