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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010 06:34 am

Corporate flimflammers in our communities and Congress

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The signature phrase of America’s booming good food movement has been expanded from “organic” to “local and sustainable.”

Good! The phrase suggests great quality, strong environmental stewardship and a commitment to keeping our food dollars in the local economy. If you support the local-economies movement, as I do, no doubt you’ll be thrilled to hear that a new, local food store is coming soon to your neighborhood. In fact, it’s even named Neighborhood Market.

Only, it’s not. It’s a Wal-Mart. Yes, the $400-billion-a-year retail behemoth, with 2 million employees laboring in 8,500 stores spread around the globe, now is putting on a “local” mask. The giant is promising to buy 9 percent of the produce it’ll sell from local farmers. Big whoopie. This means that 91 percent of the foodstuffs offered in its “Neighborhood” chain will come from Wayawayland. Wal-Mart is to local what near beer is to beer. Near beer is not beer ... and Wal-Mart is not local.

But even the 9 percent number is a deceit, for Wal-Mart says that it defines “local” as grown in the same state. Excuse me, but in California, Florida, Texas and other such sizable states, that can be a mighty long truck-haul away. Not exactly what us locals would call “local.”

As for being sustainable, Wal-Mart is bragging about a billion-dollar investment it’ll make to shrink its environmental footprint a bit. That’s a nice gesture, but come on, this outfit has humongous feet that bestride the whole world, and even a billion bucks won’t shrink that footprint. Also, it’s made no commitment to organic production, nor did it rule out peddling genetically engineered Frankenfoods as part of its “sustainability” gimmick.

Who does Wal-Mart think it’s fooling? It’s not coming to our neighborhoods to be local and sustainable, but to drive out our homegrown enterprises and extract profits from our own communities.

Flimflamming seems to be the favorite corporate sport these days, even by outfits that pose as ethical paragons. For instance, if you Google Google, you might learn that this Internet powerhouse once proudly promised to do no evil.

In CorporateWorld, however, ethics are often discarded like an old suit that no longer fits. Thus, this $24-billion-a-year, do-no-evil corporation is now a voracious tax-dodger.

A Bloomberg News reporter reveals that Google transfers a big chunk of its annual profits to a subsidiary in Ireland. Then, prior to tax time, Google funnels these profits into a shell corporation in the Netherlands, from which they are bounced into yet another shell corporation in Bermuda. It’s not natural beauty that draws Google to the islands, but the fact that Bermuda assesses no taxes on corporate profits. Bottom line: Google escapes paying a billion dollars a year that it ethically owes in U.S. taxes.

Meanwhile, such computer powers as Cisco and Oracle are lobbying furiously to reprise a tax flimflam that multinational corporations pulled on us during the George W. Bush regime. They were allowed to pay a mere 5 percent tax rate on profits they had stashed abroad – in exchange for pledging to invest this money in American factories and jobs. They got their tax break, then reneged on their job-creation promise, with many corporations actually grabbing the giveaway while firing employees.

Now, they’re demanding another tax holiday in return for bringing home a trillion dollars in profits they’ve squirreled away in foreign tax havens. Amazingly, like rubes at a medicine show, Republicans in Congress are swallowing this same old snake oil, pushing legislation to let super-rich corporations do it to us again.

Before GOP leaders give in, they should recall the words of George W., the guy who enabled the first scam. “Fool me once, shame on – shame on you,” he said. “Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”

Of course, it’s us taxpayers who’ll get shafted by this corporate tomfoolery.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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