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Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis Headshot

Last Week, Miami Prayed -- This Week, Carnival Cruiselines Has Got to Pay

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This past week, 44 years ago, a great man set foot out on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee. Standing there, assessing the next steps towards justice, he was shot. He died an hour later, just one day after peacefully fighting for fair wages with sanitation workers in Memphis. The world changed forever that day. The death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought worldwide focus to the cause of not just civil rights but also social justice and his mission to fight all forms of inequality -- racial and economic.

Besides the anniversary of Dr. King's assassination, Passover and Easter were both celebrated this past week. Hebrews look to a risen people, redeemed from oppression and exile brought upon them simply because of their faith. Easter commemorates the faith in a resurrected Christ, who died for the sins of mankind.

Understanding the connection between these celebrations is imperative to make change. Strongly held beliefs of justice, whether religious or not, are worth fighting, and in some cases, dying for. As we remember those who have given their lives for whatever their cause, it is our duty to continue to fight what we see as injustices in our communities regardless of the hurdles we may face along the way.

One glaring problem we need to change is the ever-growing gap between the haves and the have nots. Miami is literally two cities under one name. There are the thousands of families who continue to struggle with foreclosures, unemployment or underemployment and lack of basic services. Then there's the other Miami, where people are "struggling" to choose where they'll be spending their summer vacation. I can't help but see this as an injustice worthy of a fight.

A study prepared by the advocacy group, Citizens for Tax Justice, showed that 280 of the largest publically traded American companies paid an average annual corporate income tax rate of 18.5% over the last three years -- slightly more than half of what they should have paid. This has cost the federal government billions in uncollected tax dollars that could have gone towards job creation, badly needed investment in job training programs as well as cutting the deficit.

Let's look at a "local" company, Carnival Cruise Lines. Headquartered in Doral, Carnival is actually registered in Panama, allowing them to avoid most US labor, tax, and consumer protection laws. As a result, Carnival Cruise Lines, who made over $11 billion in profits in the last five years, paid just 1% of their profits in taxes -- or $3.8 billion less than what they would have paid as a U.S. corporation. This while one of the largest public hospitals in the South East, Jackson, is laying off thousand of employees and cutting services that are needed now more than ever.

The reason these companies get away with this -- they have many of our politicians in their pockets. In just the last three years, Carnival and its affiliates have spent $7 million lobbying politicians -- with a major focus on trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. This strategy has paid off big for Carnival CEO, Mickey Arison, the wealthiest man in Florida, with an estimated net worth of $4.7 billion the same cannot be said for many of his cruise ship employees, who in some cases, reportedly earn less then $2 a day.

However, Carnival isn't the only one to blame; too many politicians who allow this to happen. It's time that we demand more from the lawmakers that have created a culture where giant corporations and the rich come before the majority of the people. We want to let companies like Carnival know that they have an obligation to pay their fair share, and that the community is no longer going to sit back and watch as many of our politicians bend over backwards for big business and the wealthy at the expense of the ever shrinking working class.