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Welfare is still with us ? corporate welfare

Now for some of the news you never hear. Infant children in families that were evicted from the welfare rolls following the reform law of 1996 ? these most vulnerable members of society are almost twice as likely as others their age to be hospitalized after a visit to the emergency room. Chronic malnutrition has that tendency.

But these children were marginalized even before they were born. Theirs are the parents and families who were scolded and belittled on a national stage for years leading up to welfare reform. Pouring discredit on the poor became a national pastime.

Once welfare reform had been enacted on the backs of the poor, corporate welfare became ensconced as a permanent condition of this country. That occurred when Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, encouraged the formation of CitiGroup Financial in open disdain for established law, in this case the now-defunct Glass-Steagall Act. Once our leading financial regulator forsook regulation in so high-profile a manner, welfare moved from the streets where it was critical ? those infants in emergency rooms are the tip of an iceberg ? to the board room where it could function as a spoils system for those who already possessed plenty.

With regulations watered down and lightly enforced, the spoils system worked just fine for the select few until Enron caved in. Since then it has become clear that while corporate America was making the political donations and seconding the pontifications that would pull the safety net from under the poorest of the poor, its "poster boy" executives and their board colleagues were the picture of executive greed feasting on corporate welfare paid for by their own shareholders. The list of thieves whose magazine covers now look like wanted posters is long indeed, and their stories are so complicated it takes investigative agencies to unravel them.

But one leading example of executive greed raiding shareholder wealth for personal welfare is L. Dennis Kozlowski, former chief executive officer at Tyco International Ltd. Needless to say, like every accused chief executive officer before him, Kozlowski contests every charge against him, from tax evasion to transferring wealth from Tyco to himself. But here is what the record of a Tyco internal investigation suggests, according to a detailed Wall Street Journal report:

"Though Kozlowski was already one of the best-compensated CEOs in America, Tyco gave him a $19-million no-interest loan on a storybook home on the Florida coast. Later, as part of a Kozlowski-approved special bonus' program for Kozlowski and other relocated executives, Tyco forgave the loan ? $19 million worth. But that is not all: Tyco then coughed up what might be called an 'extra special bonus' for Kozlowski and his fellow executives ? cash to cover their taxes on the 'special bonus,' which had been accounted as income. The bill for Kozlowski alone came to $13 million, on top of the original $19 million. Is it welfare yet?"

If not, there is more, much more, perhaps up to $100 million more.

Tyco shareholders knew nothing of all this, by the way. It is easy enough to sympathize with them, as they must pay the immediate price for Kozlowski's greedy ways with their money. But the real loser, over the long haul, is the sociopolitical system that vilifies the poor while standing down from the watch on a thousand and one Kozlowskis.

Could it be any clearer that we will not be permitted to export such a system to the planet at large? Not that we've stopped trying. The Bush administration continues to remind us of this in its taxpayer-funded support of military regimes around the world that abuse their own nationals in defense of Western corporations. Almost always, at issue is a corporate attempt to seize the natural resources of indigenous peoples. Typically, as in Colombia and Indonesia today, the indigenous group will be targeted by the corporation for classification as a non-governing, unsovereign consortium of individuals. For a proper sum in support of often informal militias the national government will go along with the larceny, trampling its indigenous populations much as America did whenever land and resources were at stake. The Bush administration is committing U.S. taxpayer dollars to the legal defense and military protection of these corpo-military intrusions.

If it won't stop at military action, just how far will the U.S. passion for corporate welfare go? The sky is no limit. Within recent weeks only, the Bush administration gave its seal of approval to International Monetary Fund loans to Brazil. The IMF operates on taxes from its member nations, including the United States, but it remains the familiar poodle of U.S. policy. The crash of the Brazilian financial system has complex roots, and the United States is by no means an innocent bystander. However, this much at least is baby-simple: the U.S. government has once again dipped into tax monies provided by Main Street ? that's you and me ? to protect well-off investment banks from the consequences of their foolish, high-risk, internationally destabilizing, wildly profitable-on-paper lending decisions.

Protecting businesses from recklessly bad decisions ? we know what to call it. But at least, out on the frontiers of global finance, the true casualties of corporate welfare will show up in Brazilian emergency rooms.

Rebecca Adamson is president of First Nations Development Institute and a columnist for Indian Country Today.