Are you with us or are you against us?

Tuesday, March 18, 2003 at 12:00am

As President Bush's vaunted "coalition of the willing" continues to shrivel, the coalition of those Americans willing to challenge his obsession with invading Iraq continues to grow.

Galvanized by this growing army for peace, many of the leaders of the antiwar movement are now searching for ways to build on the renewed commitment to dissent and take on the president's equally misguided policies here at home.

And no issue is more emblematic of this administration's perverted domestic priorities than its scandalous refusal, in a time of soaring deficits, to stop corporations and wealthy individuals from cheating the public out of billions of dollars a year by either reincorporating offshore or simply hiding their profits in offshore subsidiaries.

"Nothing makes people angrier than the sense that some morality-impaired businesses are buying favors from Congress and the White House, while the rest of us are being asked to sacrifice," Wes Boyd, co-founder of MoveOn.org, told me.

Boyd's group has been at the heart of the antiwar movement. With over 1.2 million members, MoveOn.org has become the Internet hub for political activists all across the country.

"Off-shore tax havens," says Boyd, "are the financial equivalent of desertion under fire. And these corporate deserters are protected by politicians in Washington.�

This accounting sleight of hand is no small matter: It's depriving the U.S. Treasury of around $70 billion a year. And it's not like we can't use the money. In Oregon, dead-broke public schools are being forced to shut down a month early. Even the president's signature No Child Left Behind Act has been slashed by $6.2 billion.

Every populist movement needs a crystallizing response to symbolize the greater struggle at hand. Think of Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus. The revolt against antipatriotic tax havens may be the spark that ignites a far-ranging movement for economic fairness.

Indeed, politicians from both parties are preparing to introduce legislation that would crack down on offshore tax evaders. Even President Bush is on record saying: "We ought to look at people who are trying to avoid U.S. taxes as a problem. American companies ought to pay taxes and be good citizens."

Yet for all the public posturing, behind closed doors our leaders continue to protect their corporate sponsors, allowing profits to trump patriotism � even in this time of war.

"I now have 120 co-sponsors for my bill," Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), author of the Corporate Patriot Enforcement Act, told me, "and I know that I would have at least 300 members supporting it if only we could bring it to the House floor for a vote. But the Republican leadership won't even let it out of committee."

The main roadblock to Neal's bill is House Majority leader Tom DeLay, a politician who never hesitates to drape himself in the flag, but who is now actively protecting companies and tycoons that are selling their countries short in a time of war. Demanding that DeLay bring Neal's bill to a vote would be a good first step for the anti-tax haven movement. Concerned citizens should inundate his office with phone calls, faxes and e-mails.

With our national April 15 date with the taxman fast approaching, the time is ripe for a popular uprising that will hold our representatives accountable for their refusal to pull the plug on offshore tax cheats. We need to force them to come out from behind closed doors and go on record one way or another.

Let's have a straight up or down vote: Are you in favor of allowing corporations to continue bilking America? To paraphrase a certain wartime president: When it comes to everyone paying his fair share, you're either with us or you're against us.

Arianna Huffington is a syndicated columnist.

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