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The Hightower Report

A Wall Street Apology?; and The Art of Tax-Dodging

By Jim Hightower, Fri., May 13, 2011

A Wall Street Apology?

It's good to know that the FBI, Justice Department, and federal courts are all over the major crime cases that so dramatically affect millions of Americans – like the seven-year prosecution and $6 million trial of baseball player Barry Bonds.

What a waste of time, tax dollars, and prosecutorial credibility. Meanwhile, not a single major player in Wall Street's mugging of our economy has even been charged, much less imprisoned. People were robbed of hundreds of billions of dollars, and millions of jobs, homes, and businesses were lost – yet not only did the banksters skate free, but they're now collecting billions in bonus payments for their work.

A New York Times investigative report reveals that top Washington officials – Republicans and Democrats – rushed to the crime scene at the start of the financial crash. They rushed not to arrest anyone but to stave off any serious investigations of the top Wall Streeters who'd obviously cooked their books, fraudulently awarded bonuses to themselves, cashed in on inside information, and lied to regulators. Bonds might have been juiced up on steroids, but these guys were juiced up on hubris and greed, doing criminal damage to America.

Yet, the FBI has backed off, the Justice Department averted its eyes, and bank regulators failed to build criminal cases. Why? Because top politicos, from Bush to Obama, were convinced by their Wall Street confidants that prosecutions would make big investors jittery and endanger the markets.

A couple of weeks after Japan's nuclear meltdown began, a photograph ran worldwide showing a trio of the nuclear plant's top corporate executives. They were at the hospital bedside of a victim of radiation poisoning, bowing deeply in apology. That's the picture of Wall Street executives that I want to see.

The Art of Tax-Dodging

Here's the hot new phrase in Washington: "shared sacrifice." Sounds nice, but it's really just code for gouging the middle class and the poor.

Republican budget whackers use the phrase like a war cry as they slash Medicare, education, and every other public program they hate. President Obama, too, has taken to uttering the phrase as he surrenders to the contrived wisdom in Washington that every American must give up even essential government benefits in order to balance the budget. But guess who's not sharing? The corporate powers, which use their lobbyists, lawyers, campaign cash, tax havens, and other tools to avoid giving up anything in the call for national sacrifice.

For example, while hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers are being dumped and our schoolchildren shortchanged in sacrifice to the Deficit Gods – it was recently revealed that General Electric is a sacrifice-free corporation. With almost 1,000 tax lawyers and other specialists in its tax department, this infamous polluter and job-cutter has paid exactly zero in income taxes since 2006, despite raking in $26 billion in profits. Indeed, its army of sacrifice-avoiders produced a $4 billion tax refund for GE in those five years. Meanwhile, it continues to be rewarded with billions of dollars a year in government contracts.

In a concise report titled "The Artful Dodgers," a watchdog group named Public Campaign uncovers the flagrant tax avoidance scams of a dozen hugely profitable corporations, including oil giants and bailed-out banks, as well as such outfits as FedEx and Carnival Cruise Lines.

When your local, state, and national politicos mouth platitudes about sacrificing for the national good, tell 'em to start at the top, then get back to you. To download "The Artful Dodgers" report, go to www.publicampaign.org.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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