By Michael E. Miller
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A few years ago I wrote a series of articles titled "Micky Arison Is a Greedy Corporate Pig" that decried Arison's efforts to force the county to build a new waterfront arena for his basketball team, the Miami Heat. The headline was a takeoff on the best-selling book by comedian Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.
Since then, of course, Limbaugh has lost a great deal of weight, and though his politics are still repugnant, his waistline looks marvelous.
Unfortunately for Arison, nothing about him has improved. He is still a greedy corporate pig. In fact after reading the three articles that follow, which explore various aspects of Arison's Carnival Cruise Lines, I now realize my description of him may have been too forgiving. Referring to Micky Arison as a pig was actually a compliment.
Already I can hear the shouting: How can I say such a vile thing? Isn't Arison a generous contributor to many deserving charities? Isn't he a faithful patron of the arts?
Sure he is. The money he donates to those causes, however, is but a mere pittance in relation to his vast wealth. This past September Forbes magazine estimated his net worth to be $5.1 billion. The few million he tosses to local institutions is designed to feed his ego while simultaneously blinding people to the ugly truth about him and his family.
Micky Arison and his late father Ted created the family fortune by exploiting Third World laborers and by registering their vessels in foreign countries so they wouldn't be subject to U.S. taxes. According to some experts, this nifty bit of evasion, which Arison and his lobbyists spend a small fortune protecting in Congress, annually costs the American people roughly 360 million dollars that Carnival would otherwise be paying. One particularly cynical tax scheme the family attempted to pull off met with failure late last year. Ever the artful tax-dodger, Ted Arison renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1990 and moved to Israel. He knew that if he lived ten years outside the United States after abandoning the country that made him rich, his Miami relatives wouldn't have to pay hefty estate taxes after his death.
Well, don't let anyone tell you God doesn't have a sense of humor. Just a few months shy of reaching his tenth anniversary abroad, Ted Arison died of heart failure.
Greedy? Cynical? Shamefully exploitative? Don't take my word for it. Read the compelling stories that follow, written by staff writers Kirk Nielsen, Tristram Korten, and Ted B. Kissell. Nielsen's article, "The Perfect Scam," depicts life below deck for Carnival's lowliest laborers, who work 90 to 100 hours per week for as little as $150. Nielsen interviewed nearly two dozen of Arison's "fun ship" employees, who describe not only substandard working conditions but pervasive racism. Evading U.S. labor laws and treating employees like slaves are two benefits Arison enjoys as a result of registering his ships in Panama and Liberia.
Korten's article, "Carnival? Try Criminal," examines allegations that Carnival Cruise Lines protects employees suspected of sexually assaulting passengers by obstructing investigations into the crimes. A federal grand jury has been impaneled in Miami to scrutinize the company's actions. Korten interviewed the former chief of security for Carnival, who says he wasn't allowed by his superiors to contact the FBI when a sex crime occurred onboard one of his ships. The company denies this, but then brags that there has never been a successful prosecution of a sexual-assault case stemming from an incident aboard any Carnival cruise ship.
Could it be that Arison is more interested in protecting his company from lawsuits and damaging publicity than he is in protecting his passengers from harm? You can draw your own conclusions after reading Korten's article and learning more about the crack security team Arison now employs to protect his customers. The story raises a number of disturbing questions, including this: Who is worse, the rapist or the person who protects the rapist through overt acts or by intentional negligence?
In the final piece, Kissell profiles Micky and his father. "The Deep Blue Greed" concentrates on their wealth and their remarkable success in avoiding taxes.
Micky Arison, of course, isn't the first American to exploit poor workers from foreign countries, nor is he the only corporate citizen to cheat the government out of its fair share of taxes. But he is one of the most brazen. Particularly galling is the added insult that he is considered a hero in Miami because he owns a basketball team. If only Idi Amin could have obtained an NBA franchise. History might have regarded him differently, too.
So why does Congress allow someone like Micky Arison to get away with his special brand of corporate mischief? Money.
Over the years Arison has pumped a staggering amount of cash into the campaign coffers of politicians, Democratic and Republican alike. He does it personally through individual contributions, and he does it through the cruise industry's political action committee, the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL). In the 1998 congressional elections alone, Arison wrote checks totaling more than $27,000 to a dozen candidates ranging from Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York to Florida's Democratic stalwart, Bob Graham. During that same election cycle, Arison's wife Madeleine wrote another $40,000 in checks to influential senators and representatives.