Columns » John Brummett

Whither patriotism?

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Here's U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., arguing for an amendment he offered successfully last week with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct., in the House Appropriations Committee to deny homeland security contracts to companies that relocate or domicile outside the country for tax advantages: "My U. S. citizenship is not for sale." Was that rhetoric entirely too easy or entirely fair? Seventeen Republican members of the committee must have thought it too easy, and voted no. Thirty-five members voted yes. No one offers any predictions whether such a provision would survive in the full House, the Senate, the inevitable and covert conference committee and amid the heavy interjecting hand of this corporate-wedded White House. Actually, the amendment pertained only to one award. Berry acknowledges that his and DeLauro's challenge is to keep attaching the wording every time it's relevant. This particular vote concerned the appropriation for a contract that went last week to Accenture, a Bermuda-based global holding company set up in 2001 for the worldwide activities of Andersen Consulting of Chicago. That was after the management consulting arm spun off from the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, which went on to die from the Enron scandal. The contract is for a potential $10 billion, making it conceivably one of the biggest contracts in federal government history. It was awarded by the border security division of the Homeland Security Department, which happens to be headed by Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas congressman. The contract is to apply the firm's biometrics technology, which even Berry applauds, to screen visitors at 400 air, land and sea ports to verify their country or origin and their compliance with immigration and visa policies. In the event it should hold up, the Berry-DeLauro amendment would strip Accenture from the contract or, presumably, force it to reorganize. This issue raises many questions: Is patriotism about more than the cliche of supporting the troops, but also about a corporation's responsibility to stay home even at the expense of its bottom line? Is tax responsibility different for corporations than individuals, since at the corporate level these tax-limiting manipulations can increase productivity and in turn allow the corporations to employ more people, including Americans, than they would otherwise? What if Accenture was able to develop this vital security technology that even Berry applauds in part because of the fiscal efficiencies it achieved by organizing off shore? Might we, then, be cutting off our nose to spite our face? We're getting into standard left-right, Democrat-Republican differences here, and the honest fact is that these questions are not as easy as the partisans and radio talkers and cable commentators would have you believe. But having asked tough questions, I am obliged to offer one man's answers. Here they are: This country's great social, cultural, political and economic failing of the moment - it's great patriotic failing - is that no one other than mostly lower middle-class military enlistees and their families are being called upon to sacrifice in this great war against terrorism. We cut taxes while we spend more. Our president asks us only to be brave enough to keep up our retail shopping even if the terror color changes. Our corporations need not stay home to reap their own terrorism profits. America is a country of great corporations; those corporations are consummately American. As such, they should make sacrifices as well. The least sacrifice they could make would be to incorporate at home and pay all their domestic taxes in exchange for raiding those very taxes. They might find enough ingenuity to manage even with the higher tax bill to develop the new gadgetry that will make their country safer, freer and richer. Here's hoping Marion Berry keep spouting that rhetoric.

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