What is patriotism?

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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans considers patriotism, dissent and paying your taxes.

(Seamans) Who is a patriot? The dictionary tells us a patriot is “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.” Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that those who question the degree to which he is eroding our civil liberties to fight terrorism – they “only aid terrorists.” In other words, from Ashcroft’s perspective, the freedom to dissent is unpatriotic no matter how much one loves his or her country. Who, then, is a patriot?

The administration has since broadened the question. Are those CEO’s who have reincorporated their companies overseas in places like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes – are they patriotic? They acquire a mailing address offshore while their offices and plants remain here in the U.S. and it’s all legal. They are legally fraudulent and legally immoral.

Meanwhile, it’s estimated they are avoiding billions a year in taxes. This is money that you and I must make up at a time when our economy is hurting and we face the possibility of a very expensive war. But our personal tax burden is trivial compared to the damage done to the morale of our service persons now facing the extreme dangers of a war with Iraq. What must they think when they hear that businessmen back home are avoiding paying taxes while they are sweating it out in the Middle East in harm’s way. “In harm’s way” – that’s the politician’s softer way of saying, in danger of being killed or maimed. What do those tax evading CEOs have to say to our young servicepersons overseas?

In the burst of patriotism after the 9/11 terrorism disaster, this sorry tax evasion story began to smell. A partner of a top accounting firm was reported by the Washington Post as saying about offshore tax-evaders, and I quote, “A lot of companies feel that the improvement on earnings is powerful enough to say that maybe the patriotism issue should take a back seat.” What, I ask, is a back seat patriot?

By last July the odor got so strong that the House passed an amendment barring these offshore corporations from receiving contracts from the new Department of Homeland Security. In September, the Senate followed suit.

But guess what, fellow taxpayers? The Republican leadership quietly slipped into the Homeland Security Bill, which President Bush signed, a provision canceling the ban that prevented those offshore corporations from getting those very lucrative homeland security contracts. After the expected angry Democratic reaction and after two moderate Republicans threatened to defect and kill the Homeland Security Bill, Republican leader Trent Lott promised to restore the restrictions when the new Congress convenes in January.

Mr. Ashcroft, again I ask, who is a patriot?

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

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