Wednesday, November 02, 2011

My Uncle Albert’s Link To OWS And The World Series

My uncle Albert Schaat owned a parts and hardware store in the small town of Saint Anthony only a dozen miles south of the ranch where I was born and both are situated along the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho.

On one side he had set up a sporting goods section that was my favorite place to visit during my frequent trips down to see my paternal grandparents who had relocated there after my Dad returned from Europe at the end of WWII and my parents had assumed operation of the ranch his parents had homesteaded half a century earlier.

In my memory it was as filled with balls and bats and gloves and guns and fishing and hunting gear as any of the mega-stores such as Gander Mountain, Bass Pro Shop or Cabelas, which are typically nearly twice the size of the average convention center.  In reality it was the type of small, Main-Street operation these huge stores have driven out of business across the country.

Going into a Harley dealership or a sporting goods store is like visiting a museum for my two grandsons, ages 6 and 8.  In fact, the now publicly-traded Cabelas may still gain a public subsidy at each of its stores by claiming a significant portion as a museum.

On my way back home a year ago during a 6,000-mile cross-country road trip that included a visit with my grandsons, as Mugsy, my English Bulldog and I were dropping down out of Wyoming across a corner of the panhandle of Nebraska created by the nook Kansas makes out of nowhere there appeared the tiny town of Chappell, home of the Cabela brothers and the catalogue operation they launched in the 1960s before starting retail operations in 1987.Free Lunch

If you ever wonder why Cabelas stores are located where they are, read the best selling, prescient 2008 book Free Lunch – How The Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You With The Bill) by Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnson.

Written well before Occupy Wall Street (OWS) existed, Johnson describes why such a movement is about much more than making a point and it is protesting much more than the financial industry.  Just ask Scott Olsen, a veteran of two combat tours in Iraq as an American Marine.

Johnson's book includes a chapter on Cabelas, in which he uses words taken directly from the company's annual report to explain how they exploit IRS rules for non-profits as well as a system that rigs the economy and legally extorts land, huge monetary grants and the recapture of sales, property and other taxes from local and state governments.

Johnson’s investigation found that Cabelas demanded for a store in Pennsylvania “tribute that amounted to $8,000 for each man, woman and child in that town” at the time while promising in return that Cabelas would draw 6 million visitors a year, “as big a draw as Universal Studios in Orlando,” Florida.

To its credit, according to Johnson, the company that owns Gander Mtn stores opposes and fights this type of tribute.

An independent analysis confirmed a year after the Pennsylvania store opened that the number of actual visitors was closer to 2.5 million and the average visitation at 17 others stores opened at about the same time was around 1.5 million.

So what does all of this have to do with the World Series?  According to Johnson’s book that spectacular stadium in Arlington, Texas that we viewed over the last few weeks as the Rangers battled the Cardinals was built for some very wealthy owners using local tax dollars and then sold back to the team as a rent-to-own with every dollar of rent counted toward the purchase price which was just a third what it cost to build.

Along with 200 acres around it, obtained by government for surrounding development, it was then leveraged as pure profit in a sale by the owners decades before, if ever, taxpayers will see a return on investment.  The team at the time was part-owned by a soon-to-be and now former President and the transaction is what Johnson calls a type of “government-sponsored transfer of wealth,” in a system now being protested by OWS.

Johnson is an equal opportunity researcher in the book singling out offending supporters of Democrats as well as Republications.  Each of the 26 chapters provides a compelling example of why some parts of the economy, such as utilities and healthcare, perform miserably when privatized and how a doubling of lobbyists in Washington over the first half of the last decade helped rig the economy with government rules that benefit the wealthy and put the middle class at risk.

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