Sunday, January 30, 2005

From the Sunday Papers

It's Election Day in Iraq and by all accounts turnout was high, and the violence was lower than I thought it would be. Dubya will no doubt claim a great victory. Don't buy it- this is only the first step in a long, slow transition from dictatorship to occupation to self-government. Also, the system chosen for the first Iraqi parliament, proprtional representation, will likely continue to inflame the insurgency. Let me explain- in proportional representation, voters cast ballots for the party of their choice. Party A gets 40%, Party B gets 30%, Party C gets 20%, and Party D gets 10%- therefore, Party A gets 40% of the seats in the parliament, B gets 30%, etc etc.

In Iraq, the majority of the electorate is Shiite. Under Saddam, Shiites were repressed, sometimes brutally. Sunnis are numerically in the minority, but they were the rank and file of Saddam's Baath Party. Times have changed. The Shiites will likely retain a number of seats proportional to their numbers, although not necessarily in one party. The flipside, of course, is that the Sunni will also have power proprtional to their numbers. The people formerly in power soon to be on the outs. Is it any wonder why the Sunnis have been the most vicious of the insurgents?

Now, here's where it gets really tricky. On the whole, Sunnis are most likely to be friendly to the West. Shiite Muslims, on the other hand, adhere to Islamic law more stricly and are more likely to pursue anti-Western policies. What happens if the new Iraqi government is dominated by explicitly anti-Western Shiites? If this country is to regain a scintilla of the credibility we have lost over Iraq, we can't just shout "do over!" This ain't kickball, folks.

If I could think this through while watching Meet The Press over a couple cups of coffee in bed, surely the Departments of State and Defense, the CIA, the NSC, and the White House could have figured this out over the last three years.

The op-ed
page of the Times sharply criticizes the corporate welfare hidden in the American Jobs Creation Act. It was a known accounting trick for years- attribute the profits to an overseas subsidiary. The Feds can't tax it here, and the host country taxes it at their prevailing tax-haven rates. The problem is that eventually the money has to come back to the States, where it would be taxed at the corporate rate of 35%. The Act reduces that rate for repatriated money to five and a quarter percent!

But it wasn't enough for many companies that have piled up excess cash abroad. The Homeland Investment Coalition, a roster of dozens of America's largest corporations, lobbied vigorously - and successfully - for a tax holiday before deigning to repatriate their overseas profits.

Congress's ostensible purpose for allowing the holiday is to unleash a flood of money for job creation, hence the name of the law that includes the holiday - the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004. But few of the approved uses for the repatriated funds - such as debt redemption, advertising and a catchall category of "financial stabilization" - will lead directly, if at all, to more jobs. One approved use - the ability to spend the money to buy other companies - would be more likely to create layoffs, as corporate acquisitions usually do.

Companies can also use the money to help pay legal liabilities, which could prove to be a big boon for companies like the drug maker Merck, which is sitting on some $15 billion in untaxed foreign profits and faces an estimated $18 billion in potential claims arising from the Vioxx debacle. Multinationals cannot use the repatriated profits to pay dividends to shareholders, buy back their own stock or pay executives. But because companies have a lot of flexibility in financing their activities, they will generally be able to use the money as they see fit while still meeting the letter of the law.

The Times correctly concludes that giveaways like this encourage tax avoidance. I can't blame the companies- they are taking advantage of the system in a lawful way to the benefit of their shareholders. Rather, I blame the Congress, who exempted overseas profits in the first place.

That Highbrow Hussy Maureen Dowd has found yet another way to get me angry. She writes this morning about a book recently written by a former Gitmo interpreter. It seems that our proud nation has sunk to appalling lows, making me once again contemplate a move to Canada. It's too bad that this book wasn't out last years for all those people who voted for Bush because of his "moral convictions." Like Pat Benatar once sang, "stop using sex as a weapon."
A female military interrogator who wanted to turn up the heat on a 21-year-old Saudi detainee who allegedly had taken flying lessons in Arizona before 9/11 removed her uniform top to expose a snug T-shirt. She began belittling the prisoner - who was praying with his eyes closed - as she touched her breasts, rubbed them against the Saudi's back and commented on his apparent erection.

After the prisoner spat in her face, she left the room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner's reliance on God. The linguist suggested she tell the prisoner that she was menstruating, touch him, and then shut off the water in his cell so he couldn't wash.

"The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength," Mr. Saar recounted, adding: "She then started to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee. As she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on her hand. She said, 'Who sent you to Arizona?' He then glared at her with a piercing look of hatred. She then wiped the red ink on his face. He shouted at the top of his lungs, spat at her and lunged forward," breaking out of an ankle shackle.

"He began to cry like a baby," the author wrote, adding that the interrogator's parting shot was: "Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself."
No doubt these incidents will be minimized. It was just a few bad apples, someone will say. These are different times, someone else will say. This is a different war, another person will say. Let's turn the tables for a second. What would the Bushies say if an insurgent did this to an American soldier? You can bet your bottom dollar that there would be hell to pay, as well as an angry Bill O'Reilly and a furious piece on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. What if one of our soldiers were captured and sexually denigrated? What would the reaction be in Peoria? Conflict is no excuse for stripping a person of his essential human dignity. The ends do not ever justify the means. I am so angry.

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