Page 18


COMMENTARY I BY JIM HIGHTOWER Free Enterprise Socialism Attention, class. We’re now going to study the new and improved concept of “free enterprise,” which has been redefined by modern corporate executives as the availability of free government money to make their enterprise profitable. Let’s turn to the sterling example set by Cabela’s Inc. This giant retailer of hunting, fishing, and other outdoor products recently graced the state of Texas with one of its megastores, but only after demanding and receiving a rucksack filled with government subsidies, including $600,000 cash, $36 million in road and construction costs, and $20 million in highway improvements. What we have here is the giveaway of roughly $57 million of Texas taxpayers’ money to an out-of-state corporation to bribe it to come here and compete against local businesses that, ironically, are taxed to pay for Cabela’s subsidy. Our governor, who’s dimmer than a burned-out flashlight, hails this as a triumph of free-enterprise. For its part, Cabela’s is unabashed about its dependence on corporate socialism, even declaring in its annual report that grabbing public money is key to its business plan. But while it thrives on government giveaways, the retail chain has added a new twist to the game by demurely declaring that, as a private, for-profit company, its privacy rights would be violated if details about its public subsidy were revealed to the public. Thus, Cabela’s has sued our state attorney general, claiming that it would suffer substantial competitive harm if the terms of its deal with the governor were publicly disclosed. A private corporation is funded by the state to give it a leg up on its local competitors, then declares that it must be exempt from the state’s public disclosure law to protect its competitive advantage. Are we clear now on the new definition of “free enterprise”? GLOBAL REBELLION Remember just a few years ago when the Powers That Be pointed to Latin America as their glowing example of globalization’s glories? Washington, Wall Street, and the media were all beaming at a “new generation” of business-minded presidents in Central and South America, hailing them for privatizing their nations’ public resources, waving in foreign corporations, cutting public services, and generally implementing the “free trade” ideology. Have you noticed that the Powers That Be no longer beam at Latin America’s grand globalization experiment? This is because it didn’t take long for the ordinary people in these countries to realize that “free trade” is just another euphemism for the same old corporate exploitation, expropriation, and domination. Indeed, “free trader” is now a curse word in Latin countries, and an anti-globalization movement is sweeping the region. This is particularly inconvenient for W. and the corporate powers who are presently pushing for passage of a new glob of globaloney called CAFTAthe Central American Free Trade Agreement. The media in our country have largely ignored CAFTA, but it has become big news and a political flash point in the six Latin nations it would affect. Thousands of Guatemalans have poured into the streets in opposition, and the army there opened fire on them, killing two. In Honduras, angry protesters surrounded the capitol building after their congress rushed through CAFTA’s approval, forcing the terrified lawmakers to flee. The protesters took over the chambers, proclaimed themselves the “true representatives of the Honduran people,” and scrapped the congressional approval of CAFTA. Opposition is so intense in Costa Rica that the president won’t even submit CAFTA for legislative approval. To join the global rebellion against corporate globalization, call Global Trade Watch at 202-588-7777. JUST PEACHY Than.kfullf Republicans are in charge of several state governments, as well as our national government. We can always count on them to take care of the big problems-L-sucli as making sure that the wages of Miierica’s work-a-day majority stay low: Of course, W. and the congressional ’60y. have done their.part, rejecting an effort earlier this year to hike ,the.; ;;*tiefifal minimum wage, which has bgen stuck since 1997 at a paltry $5.15 an Us.#. That’s $10,500 a year gross JO fulltime worka poverty wage that mocks moral decency. But I was particularly impressed by the extraordinary move recently by GOP leaders in Georgia to enforce this low-wage ethic in their state. Governor Sonny Perdue has now signed House Bill 59, barring any city in the Peach State from requiring cor 7 porations that get city contracts. to pay higher wages than the povefty pay setl:oy . the federal government. This means tat the state’s so-called conservative leaders have come out flat-footed against local control, forcing duly-elected local :officials to comply with a federal, low-wage standard. Of course, the governor and his gang are corporatists, not’conservafives, acting at the behest of contractors who were apoplectic that Atlanta has been considering a living-wage ordinance that would set a $10.15-an-hour wage floor to be paid by corporations that profit from government contracts. That’s hardly lavish payabout $21,000 a yearbut it would allow working families a middle-class possibility and would restore some integrity to the promise of America’s work ethic. Lucky for them they’ve got stalwarts like Sonny Perdue ready to usurp local authority and s his state’s working families. Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit . To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900. JULY 8, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15