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U. S. corporations aren’t even subtle about it. Waving a flag and carrying a big shovel, corporate interests are scooping up government benefits and taxpayer money in an unprecedented fashion while the public is preoccupied with the September 11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan. Shamelessly, the Bush Administration and Congress have taken advantage of the patriotic outpouring to fulfill the wish lists of their most generous corporate campaign donors. Not only is the Treasury being raided, but regulations protecting everything from personal privacy to environmental safeguards are under attack by well-heeled lobbyists who want to stampede Congress to act while the media and citizens are distracted.

Only a handful in the Congress — members like Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Representatives Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Barbara Lee of California — have shown the courage to question the giveaways and the quick wipeout of civil liberties and other citizen protections. In most cases, such as the $15 billion airline bailout and corporate tax breaks, legislation has been pushed to the forefront with little or no hearings and only fleeting consideration on the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

One of the boldest grabs for cash has been by corporations seeking to eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which was enacted during the Reagan Administration to prevent profitable corporations from escaping all tax liability through various loopholes. Not only do the corporations want relief from the current year’s AMT taxes, but they are seeking a retroactive refund of all AMT taxes paid since 1986.

This giveaway, as passed by the House of Representatives, would make corporations eligible for $25 billion in tax refunds. Just 14 corporations would receive $6.3 billion of the refund. IBM gets $1.4 billion; General Motors, $833 million; General Electric $671 million; Daimler-Chrysler $600 million; Chevron-Texaco $572 million. The 14 biggest beneficiaries of the minimum tax repeal gave $14,769,785 in “soft money” to the national committees of the Democratic and Republican parties in recent years.

Soon to join the bailout parade is the nation’s insurance industry, which is lobbying the Congress to have the federal government pick up the tab for future losses like those stemming from the attack on the World Trade Center. Proposals are on the table for taxpayers to either pick up losses above certain levels or to provide loans or loan guarantees for reinsurance.

The insurance companies want federal bailouts, but they continue to insist on regulation only by underfunded, poorly staffed state insurance departments, most of which are dominated by the industry. Any bailout or loan program involving the insurance companies must include provisions which ensure that insurance companies cannot refuse to write policies and make investments in low, moderate and minority neighborhoods. Allegations about insurance company “redlining” or discrimination against citizens in these areas have been prevalent for many years. It would be a terrible injustice for citizens to be forced to pay taxes to help bail out insurance companies that discriminate against them. Congress needs to address this issue before it even considers public assistance for the industry.

People-concerns have been missing in all the bailouts. When the airline companies walked off with $15 billion plus in bailout money, the thousands of laid-off employees — airline attendants, maintenance crews, baggage handlers, and ticket counter employees — received not a dime. Attempts to include health benefits and other help for these employees were shouted down on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Last month, more than 400,000 employees lost their jobs nationwide and the national unemployment rate rose to 5.4 percent, the highest level since 1996. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said roughly a fourth of the lost jobs were the direct result of the terrorist attacks of September 11. Bailouts, benefits, or other aid for these victims of the attacks? No, that’s reserved just for the corporations under the policies of the Bush Administration and the present Congress.

Yet it is the workers in the low-wage jobs — like those in restaurants, hotels, retailing, and transportation — who are bearing the brunt of the layoffs in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, according to a report from the New York State Department of Labor. Almost 25,000 people told the department that they lost their jobs because of the trade center disaster. An analysis by the department of the first 22,000 of the claims found that 16 percent worked at bars, 14 percent worked at hotels, 5 percent worked in air transportation, and 21 percent in a category termed “business services.” Only 4 percent worked at Wall Street brokerage firms.

While more workers lose jobs, the Administration is pushing for authority to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) under new “fast-track” authority. The Department of Commerce concedes that at least 360,000 jobs have been lost under NAFTA, and private research groups estimate the total may be twice that number. Now, with unemployment rising to alarming levels, the Administration decides to cave to pro-NAFTA corporate demands which will only make the labor picture worse. No bailout for laid off workers, just a hard crack across the knees.

As Bill Moyers, the author and national journalist, commented: “They (the corporations) are counting on your patriotism to distract you from their plunder. They’re counting on you to stand at attention with your hand over your heart, pledging allegiance to the flag, while they pick your pocket.”

The present crisis cries out for shared sacrifice — not the opportunism so blatantly displayed by the nation’s corporate interests. President Bush and the Congress must summon the courage to resist the self-serving demands — the kind of courage and shared sacrifice that guided the brave rescue workers on September 11.

Ralph Nader (www.citizenworks.org; November 10, 2001)