Monday, March 29, 2004

In 1991, a military coup in Mali overthrew the 22 year old dictatorship of Moussa Traore, one of the most bloodthirsty leaders in a time when Africa had far too many. Shortly after, the new junta handed over power to a democratically-elected government. The civilian government decided to prosecute Traore for his political crimes. He was convicted and sentenced to death, though this was commuted to life in prison by the civilian president who opposed capital punishment. In 1999, Traore and his wife were also convicted of embezzling the relatively small figure of $350,000 (though prosecutors claimed it was $4 million). Though this was also commuted to life in prison, it struck me as odd that mere theft can carry a penalty as severe as the death penalty.

But then I remembered that bad guys are often done in on the financial end of things. Al Capone and many other big Mob bosses were caught not for murder or extortion, but for tax evasion on their ill-gotten gains.

I was reminded of this upon reading of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s troubles. Israel’s chief prosecutor has recommended to the country’s attorney general that Sharon be indicted for corruption. A businessmen is accused of paying the Sharon family to promote a tourism project, among the accusations. Though many want Sharon indicted in the Hague for his alleged role (negligence, it seems) in war crimes committed during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and others condemn him for human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territories. It looks like Sharon might be done in simply because he might’ve gotten a little too greedy.

Of course, this isn’t a particularly foreign phenomenon. Though there were many grievances in the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was fundamentally a tax revolt. In contrast to, say, the Russian and French Revolutions which were fundamentally about equal civic rights for all men (not women), even if the promises of both were eventually betrayed. This is why the French, in their political discourse, refer to themselves as citizens. This is also why Americans, here in the Republic of the Consumer, are far more likely to refer to themselves as taxpayers (which is telling since nearly every citizen pays tax in some form anyway).

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