Jim Hightower

We're Selling Texas

Every state has its official song, official state bird, and maybe even its official state insect – but, now, Texas has something more: its official S.U.V.!

Yes, the Chevrolet Suburban has bought its way into officialdom, becoming “the official vehicle of Texas State Parks.” Apparently, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is oblivious to the irony of a massive, polluting S.U.V. being the mascot of our state’s natural wonders – but there it is. This is a part of the overall corporatizing of public parks, not only in Texas but all across the country, as park officials seek to jack up their revenues by commercializing the public domain.

Well, surely Texas got its money’s worth, right – several millions of dollars, or at least a fleet of Chevys for this vast state’s park system? Hardly. According to the Austin American-Statesman, all we got were two Suburbans, $230,000 for a couple of park projects, and some Chevy ads in the park agency’s magazine. In return, General Motors gets to promote its Suburban as the vehicle of choice of our parks, use the agency’s official logo in its ads, and display its big honking S.U.V. at various park events.

Among other corporatizers of the Parks and Wildlife Department are Budweiser, Dow Chemical, and Copenhagen snuff. But the department’s chief has rushed out to say that he’s drawn a line on any inappropriate or tasteless connection between parks and products: “We’ve said that we would not have the Budweiser Big Bend State Park,” he assures us. Now that’s a mighty loose loop around tasteless.

Park officials whine that they have to sell off these hucksterism rights because there’s no tax money to fund the system adequately. Hogwash. Cut some of the millions in corporate welfare our state doles out each year, and put it where it’ll serve the common good.

WE CALL THE TUNE

If you’re a person and you violate the law, you go to prison. But if you’re a corporation and you violate the law, you go to Washington.

Because of the merger craze that’s sweeping corporate America, the mega-powerful giants that emerge are finding themselves in violation of various anti-monopoly laws. So, do their C.E.O.s go to jail? No, no, Pollyanna, they go to Washington with their lobbyists and their campaign contributions, saying, “Change the law.” The latest examples of this phenomenon of tailoring the law to fit the criminal comes to us from the media industry. The entertainment giant, Viacom, for example, has gobbled up the CBS television network. However, Viacom also owns the UPN television network, and the law says no corporation can own two national TV networks. To complete its takeover of CBS, Viacom is faced with the legal necessity of selling off UPN. Likewise, the Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and various television stations around the country, has taken over the Times-Mirror Company, owner of the Los Angeles Times and other media properties. This merger, however, crashes into the legal wall that says a company cannot own both a television station and a newspaper in the same city. The merged corporation faces the legal necessity of selling either papers or TV stations in Los Angeles, New York, and Hartford.

But, wait! Suddenly, out of the blue, the F.C.C., supposedly the consumer’s media watchdog, has rushed to the rescue of Viacom and the Tribune Company. The agency says that, after heavy lobbying from the industry, it will simply change the law, letting these two giants have their monopolistic cake and eat it, too! We’re told this is necessary to help the corporate media “realize economic efficiencies.” So why not let common thieves rewrite burglary laws to help them realize economic efficiencies? If thieves had lobbyists, they probably could.

EYE ON FASHION

Affirming that clothes do indeed make the man, Mark Twain pointed out: “Naked people have very little influence in our society.” Still, what are we to make of the fashion industry, which seems to foist some mighty odd clothing concepts upon us. Take house slippers. The Wall Street Journal recently reported the astonishing news that it is now deemed fashionable to wear them outside of the house. I don’t mean when you schlep out in the morning in your slippers and robe to pick up your newspaper – I mean actually wearing your house slippers to work, or even to restaurants and social functions.

Not so very long ago, showing up at the office shod in slippers would’ve gotten you escorted down the hall for a long talk with the company shrink. But in today’s “new economy,” in which we’re to believe that everyone is becoming a high-technillionaire by the time they’re thirty, not only is it okay, it’s considered a sign of financial success. “Geek chic” is what one arbiter of shoe fashion calls it. She declares that wearing slippers outside the home “says you must be working for a dot-com and be worth a million dollars.”

So, if you wear your bathrobe, too, does that say two million dollars?

To make this high-fashion slipper thing even sloppier, it’s also considered très chic to wear your office slippers without socks.

Of course, there are slippers and there are slippers. Real gabillionaire geeks could get away with shuffling around the office in their old scruffy pair of terry-cloth slippers, but this is not what the doyennes of high fashion have in mind. No, no, darlings, they’re thinking of the silk and velvet Gucci slipper for men, now available for $285 a pair at your corner Neiman Marcus.

Click your heels, Dorothy, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts nationwide daily from Austin. His new book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com or write [email protected]

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