HIGHTOWER: Cruise-Industry Freeloaders

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 Corporation, 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 US 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 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 USA. Of course -- Catch 22! -- those ports don't assess any corporate taxes.Also, by claiming to be Liberian or Panamanian ships, these US-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 a million dollars 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 deal: a free cruise if he'd drop his bill.This is Jim Hightower saying . . . We're being taken for a ride by these cruise corporations. To stop them, call Rep. Taylor on 202-225-5772.

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