Sailing away tax-free 

Poets and songwriters tell us that one little word can mean a lot -- passionate words like "love."

But in Congress, passionate words are nothing compared to such dispassionate terms as "state." This is the single word that lobbyists for multibillion-dollar cruise lines like Carnival Corp., Disney and Royal Caribbean Cruises inserted into America's basic immigration law last year. By getting this one-word amendment into the law, those huge corporations are able to avoid paying $20 million in annual fees to cover the cost of INS inspectors of people arriving into our ports on cruise ships.

This kind of legal dodge is not unusual for the cruise lines. Even though they are based in the U.S. of A., and even though 90 percent of their customers come from our country, the luxury cruise industry is a major tax deadbeat, thanks to a special loophole its lobbyists have carved into our U.S. tax code.

Royal Caribbean, for example, made $657 million in profits over the last three years -- yet paid not a dime in taxes. These profitable firms are able to register their cruise ships in Panama, Liberia and other ports of call -- and pay corporate taxes there instead of in the U.S. Of course -- Catch 22! -- those ports don't actually assess any corporate taxes.

Also, by claiming to be Liberian or Panamanian ships, these U.S.-based giants can avoid U.S. labor and environmental laws, forcing crews to work 12-hour days, seven days a week, for $400 a month.

To protect their sweetheart deals, the cruise companies spent about $1 million lobbying in the last Congress. And when Congressman Gene Taylor tried to rein in these outlaws, he says the industry's top lobbyist offered him a not-too-subtle (and not-too-imaginative) deal: a free cruise if he'd drop his bill.

We're being taken for a ride by these cruise corporations. To stop them, call Rep. Taylor at (202) 225-5772.

Jim Hightower is an author, radio commentator, public speaker and political sparkplug from Austin, Texas. For more populist commentary, visit his website.

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