President Bush was right to get himself all worked up this week about happenings in the Caribbean. Only he picked the wrong target on the wrong island.
He should have been fuming about what's going on in Bermuda or Barbados, not Cuba. That's where American values really are under siege.
Lately we've been hearing about the rush of U.S. companies trying to weasel out of their taxes by moving the books offshore to the Caribbean. Now we're learning more: The result of this exodus will be to enrich a few corporate executives with huge bonuses and stock-option payouts. We probably shouldn't be surprised. As we see with the accounting scandals that have engulfed corporate America, there's no gimmick too far-fetched or too offensive so long as a tycoon can pocket a bigger fortune.
They want to sell American-ness to the world while selling out at home.
By comparison, Cuba is hardly a nuisance at all. Friends, if we can open an embassy in Hanoi and offer the handshake of open trade to the communists there, must we maintain this goofy estrangement from our Latin neighbor?
"We care about the people!" Bush said in his speech about Cuba.
Really? Cubans who were children when the Iron Curtain descended off Key West are now grandparents. I'm sure they're relieved to know that the American president cares about them--if only they would become brutish capitalists like the executives at Stanley tools.
In the spring of 2002, you don't have to stand back very far from the purple-blue waters of the Gulf Stream to wonder, what does the U.S. stand for anyway?
It's not principle, that's for sure. Unless the principle is nothing more than: Do what you have to do to take care of yourself.
So Bush travels to Florida and does what pandering politicians have been doing for years: play to those one-issue Cuban American voters who are still sore because their dictator, Fulgencio Batista, was overthrown in January 1959 by a new one who proved more durable.
At the same time, the White House is deafeningly silent when the rapacious corner-cutters in the corporate suites say they are doing only what they have to do, and can: Setting up phony corporate shells in tax havens. Stuffing their wallets with millions, with tens of millions, hundreds of millions in personal gain.
Funny, you didn't hear George-of-Privilege speaking out for "the people" on this one.
With a straight face, hired flacks for these companies say it only makes sense to pull out of the United States. It's for the sake of shareholders, you see. But, sure enough, look close and you discover that executives are going to make out even better--both in their stock options and with those bonuses tied to how much they slash expenses.
What could be more perfect? Beg off from the basic tenet of citizenship and reward the moral delinquents upstairs with millions more for their good thinking.
According to the New York Times, Chief Executive John M. Trani of Stanley Works, the once-honorable tool company, stands to gain $385 million or so in stock option gains for depriving the U.S. Treasury of $240 million in corporate taxes. The report listed four other CEOs who stand to gain millions more for doing the same, and who can guess how many more will follow suit.
Earlier this month, Stanley shareholders narrowly approved the offshore incorporation, but the outcome was disputed. The company says another vote will be held. Just three years ago, by the way, Stanley settled charges quietly with the Federal Trade Commission after being accused of selling products that were labeled "Made in USA" but weren't.
This year, the Treasury Department said it was cracking down on individuals who banked their fortunes offshore to escape the IRS. As for businesses doing the same, however, the agency's assistant secretary for tax policy, Mark Weinberger, was more sympathetic. The government understands, he told Congress, that there are "aspects of our tax system that are driving companies" to reincorporate elsewhere. To wit, paying taxes.
Well, that's a lot of thanks from the executives at Stanley and these other all-American companies, huh? They don't want to give up their good lives as U.S. residents. They're peddling the USA brand at home and abroad. They expect to prosper globally thanks to the stability of the U.S. and the might of its military and diplomacy. They benefit from the strength of domestic institutions, like the stock market, the Federal Reserve, the judiciary and the greenback. They draw talent from U.S. universities.
Yes, Mr. President, there are renegades in the Caribbean. Self-aggrandizers, they stubbornly refuse to live up to our nation's great values.
These are the ones who need a tongue-lashing from the bully pulpit. After all, unlike Fidel Castro, they claim to believe in the United States.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times