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Mitt the Tax-Dodger

Is off-shoring assets to escape domestic taxes an act of disloyalty?

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Our Republican candidate for president keeps telling us how much he loves America. But actions speak louder than words, and Mitt Romney's patriotism appears to begin and end with wearing a flag lapel pin. Would that Romney were judged as stringently on his actions as was Axis Sally on her words. 

American-born Mildred Gillars found herself in Germany at the outbreak of World War II and, for love of a man, decided to stay. Faced with a choice of being sent to a concentration camp for her criticism of Germany's Japanese allies after the attack on Pearl Harbor or participating in the propaganda war against the Allies, she chose the latter. She was given the nickname "Axis Sally," and for her acts in service to the Third Reich, she was convicted of treason and did 12 years in an American prison after the war. 

Her propaganda broadcasts were boilerplate: suggesting to lonely U.S. soldiers that their wives and sweethearts were stepping out on them; that no one back in the states cared about their sacrifice; or that the Allies were losing. Our military in the Asian theater had to endure the same from Tokyo Rose. In love and war, it is said, all is fair. 

Sally didn't sell any military secrets or give up the identities of American spies. Although it is hard to know if lives were lost as a result of her words, it is quite plausible that an unhappy, emotionally distressed soldier who believed less in his cause might, in fact, fight less valiantly. That's why giving "aid and comfort" to the enemy is specifically defined in our Constitution as treason.

But when a potential president chooses to stash vast assets in the banks of other countries to escape tax consequences, the aid and comfort he renders to himself at our expense causes distress for the rest of us who must pick up the slack. As a result, we also suffer an actual material effect that a smaller amount of take-home pay has on our lives. Isn't it plausible that a diminished confidence in a fairer future affects our own morale, perhaps our likelihood of voting, even our belief in the value of American citizenship?

Everyday Americans ought to start thinking of Romney's deeds of off-shoring assets, like his outsourcing of jobs through Bain Capital, as the antithesis of patriotism. It's time we considered his avoidance of taxes as economic treason.

But if we attempt to change the tax code to eliminate off-shore tax shelters, the rich warn us not to "punish" them, or they will simply take their money to where it is rewarded. But would "losing" what little money that is not already secreted elsewhere have much of an effect on the rest of us? 

As it stands, there are too few or no taxes being collected on most of these funds. Tight credit restrictions for the workaday American means it can't be loaned to people who truly need it, and private equity long ago decided that human beings and their jobs were just collateral damage in pursuit of profit at any price. In short, little of it trickles down to the general economy and is, therefore, useless for anyone but the ultra-wealthy. 

Moreover, the money of the super rich is often employed to influence our members of Congress, so their lucre is actually worse than useless.

If Romney and his ilk want to send their money on no-expenses-paid trips to other nations, we should say good riddance and insist that they "self-deport" in order to live where their cash assets already live. They do not deserve the rule of law, civil rights protections, and the myriad other privileges of American citizenship, one of which is the payment of taxes as a way of meeting our obligations to the common good. 

Mildred Gillars was judged a traitor, not on deeds but on harmful words. Mitt Romney is being called a patriot on nothing but his words and with no consideration of the harm his deeds do.

Because the scope of treason does not include failing to promote the common good, there is not presently a mechanism by which we could make Romney put up or shut up when it comes to taxes. But I'd settle for going to that shoebox in a closet in one of Mitt's homes and fishing out that old bumper sticker I am confident he owns — the one that guys like him smugly displayed during the Vietnam era when they wanted to show whose side they were on. Then I'd ask him to reflect on its meaning. 

You know the one: "America — Love It or Leave It."

Ruth Ogles Johnson is a frequent Flyer contributor.

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