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Lost, But Making Good Time

Has there ever been a clearer, more irrefutable example of our political leaders’ lack of a moral compass than the clandestine, 11th-hour elimination of a promised child-tax credit for almost 12 million of America’s poorest children?

It’s a move that is so coldhearted and so profoundly dishonorable that it could only have been made by people who have lost all moral direction. A magnetic compass should always point north; a moral compass should always point out what is moral—and immoral. Heaping billions on the rich while ensuring that one out of six American kids doesn’t get a penny is dead wrong.

But that’s exactly what Congressional Republicans did—and what President Bush signed off on.

This is not a right/left issue. It’s a right/wrong issue. But the GOP’s self-appointed morality czars have been deafeningly silent on this bit of economic indecency. I guess Bill Bennett was too busy shaking the hands of every one-armed bandit in Vegas to notice.

Adding to the obscenity is the fact that while the Congressional hatchet men were hacking up the $3.5 billion child-tax credit in the name of keeping the total tax cut under $350 billion, they let stand billions in corporate tax dodges and accounting cons, including the use of offshore tax havens.

The White House labeled this particular piece of supply-side porn the Jobs and Growth Act. I guess the Leave No Corporate Loophole Behind Act didn’t focus group as well.

The last few years have shown us what happens when an entire subculture loses its moral compass: Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, WorldCom, et al. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the current administration has embraced the unethical ethos of the corporate oligarchy from which so many of its members came—and which all of them continue to serve. The same inability to distinguish right from wrong that characterized the corporate scandals is now dominating public policy.

It’s the Enronization of Washington.

Want more proof? How about the unprecedented aircraft-leasing deal currently being put together by the Pentagon and Boeing—a plan that uses the same kind of accounting sleight-of-hand popularized by the gang at Enron. Here’s how it works: Instead of the Pentagon buying the 100 new jets it wants to use as aerial refueling tankers directly from Boeing, at an upfront cost of $138 million per plane, a special-purpose entity created on Wall Street will purchase the planes and lease them to the Air Force.

That way the Pentagon gets to acquire the planes without having to dip into the Air Force’s limited procurement budget, and Boeing gets to reap billions in new military contracts without having to show the debt associated with the shady deal on its balance sheet. It’s an off-the-books win-win deal for them both—but a losing proposition for taxpayers, who’ll end up forking over an additional $8 billion to cover the interest payments on the leases.

The sleazy new deal is being put together by the good bankers at Citigroup—the same outfit that helped Enron defraud shareholders out of, what do you know, also $8 billion. Who says irony is dead?

Then there is the news that, in an effort to ensure the passage of its cherished tax-cut plan, the Bush administration buried a highly damaging study—commissioned by its own Treasury department—that found that it would take either the permanent elimination of all future federal discretionary spending or an immediate and permanent tax hike of 66 percent to cover the upcoming retirement and healthcare needs of aging baby boomers. You think that bombshell might have put a little damper on Bush’s tax-cut orgy?

This is exactly the kind of skullduggery corrupt corporations used to conceal potentially disastrous news from investors—like Adelphia hiding its $3.1 billion loans to the Rigas family in tiny footnotes in an earnings filing.

Like many disgraced companies, the White House has proven adept at playing fast and loose with the numbers in order to mislead its “shareholders,” the American people. Take the administration’s shifty use of “averages” to make it seem like the new tax cut benefits everyone: claiming that “91 million taxpayers will receive, on average, a tax cut of $1,226,” when, in fact, the majority of households will receive a tax cut of $100 or less. Or the way it used sure-to-be-repealed “sunset clauses” to make it seem as if the president was reasonably settling for a $350 billion tax cut, when the actual price tag on the new bill will be close to $1 trillion.

It’s the kind of economic book cooking that would do ol’ Kenny Boy Lay proud. It’s time to expand the Right’s definition of immorality beyond sex, drugs, and rock & roll to include lying, cheating, and callous indifference to those in need.

CEOs lying to investors to pad their own pockets is bad enough. Political leaders lying to the American people to pad the pockets of their big-buck contributors is immoral—and intolerable.

—Arianna Huffington


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