POSTSCRIPT / November 11, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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How could Americans stomach Falluja attack?

UNCONSCIONABLE: The massive attack on the Iraqi city of Falluja by US land and air forces is disturbing. What has happened to Americans that they can now stomach doing something as inhuman as this?

While old folk, women and toddlers were allowed to leave the city before the assault, all males who could carry a gun (meaning those between 6 and 60 years of age) were locked in. They had to stay and probably die in the merciless onslaught.

(Reminds us of the scorch-earth American campaign in Samar in 1901-02 that saw a vengeful rampage of US troops with orders to kill natives older than 10 years and reduce the island into a “howling wilderness.”)

There is no way the US can justify Falluja — not even on the strength of the Hollywood script of their puppet Iraqi prime minister or their dragging along unwilling Iraqi soldiers to lend legitimacy to the attack.

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WHERE IS ALLAH?: If you were an Iraqi, how would you feel seeing foreigners blockade then pulverize your own community — cutting off utilities, seizing hospitals, indiscriminately bombing homes and buildings, shooting everyone on sight?

How would you feel posing as sitting ducks for weapons that the US war industry must use up and replace soonest? How would you feel being used as guinea pigs for the newfangled armaments that must be field-tested before mass production?

All you can do is raise your fists to heaven and scream to Allah for help. Or if you could lay your hands on a grenade or rifle or a stone, you fight back with all your might.

This is the kind of mad slaughter that calls to heaven for vengeance.

But then, is the Muslim world now to believe that the White Man’s god is superior to theirs?

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UNINVITED GUESTS: The excuse used by the US in Falluja was that some Iraqi suicide bombers and terror missions of militants against American forces have been emanating from that redoubt.

But of course! Iraqis have the right, in fact the obligation, to fight invaders in Falluja or elsewhere.

If Americans do not want to be killed or maimed in car bombings, ambushes, sniper fire and the like, all they have to do is leave Iraq. As they themselves would say, if you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, get out!

Nobody told Americans or begged them to go halfway around the globe and occupy Iraq in defiance of world opinion, in disregard of the United Nations, and in wanton violation of law and morality.

They have absolutely no business telling Iraqis how to run their country.

* * *

U.S. VULNERABLE: It was just George W. Bush, whose friends and family have business interests in the oil-rich region, who sent the invasion force.

His personality and his business entanglements make him impervious to warnings that he could go down in history as the only US president who had used war as an instrument of business and personal politics.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the popularity rating of Bush — who actually lost the popular vote in the presidential election of 2000 — was way way down. Only a miracle could prop him up until 2004.

Then 9/11 changed all that. Soft and complacent Americans learned with a jolt that they were, after all, vulnerable. Not only that, the question kept buzzing them: When will it happen again?

What or who would protect them?

* * *

WAR DRUMS: The Texan in the White House seized the moment.

Bush fed the hysteria, beat the drums for fighting global terrorism. He succeeded in selling his scared nation the idea of pre-emptive strikes — get the enemy before he gets you.

Forthwith, he chased the terrorists to the mountains of Afghanistan. But that may be all right, because Osama bin Laden who masterminded 9/11 sought refuge in that country ruled by the Taliban.

Much much later — a full year-and-a-half after 9/11 — he turned his eyes on Iraq (never mind that Baghdad did not have a hand in the WTC-Pentagon attacks nor publicly threatened the US). That was something else.

It is interesting that Iraq is/was the No. 2 biggest oil producer in the world after its neighbor Saudi Arabia where the Bushes and their associates have extensive business interests.

* * *

FIGHTER FAVORED: Average Americans, especially those in the middle states huddled between the West Coast and the eastern seaboard, are in the grip of the war politics of Bush.

(A look at the US post-election map that shows which states went to Bush and which went to John F. Kerry will be instructive.)

To stay in the White House for another term, Bush needed the greater number of scared conservative Americans. But through adroit propaganda, he was able to convince enough of them that they needed him.

Those who found in Bush a stubborn leader who would fight back for them regardless of what the world thinks outnumbered the more politically mature voters gravitating around official Washington and spread down the West Coast.

If Bush won in 2000 courtesy of the US Supreme Court stopping a recount, this time it was courtesy of the war hysteria that he had cunningly whipped up.

* * *

DISENGAGEMENT: Having won reelection by hectoring voters from the turret of a war machine, can Bush now sit easy and work out a phased but speedy disengagement from Iraq?

That is a tough one. He will have to go against his character and his business interests.

Bush will also have to tell his friends cashing in on the war to hurry up gathering their chips on the table. What if they balked, because their pockets are not yet full?

If Iraqis are smart, and they seem to be, they might just suck in America deeper into a protracted unconventional war. If mismanaged, the Bush adventure in Iraq may just drive the US into near-bankruptcy, or idiocy. Or both.

* * *

HIT ALCOHOL: Back in Manila, I’m not done yet with “sin taxes.” Readers prodding me with email won’t allow me to drop the subject.

But on “sin” and “taxes,” I yield the floor to the husband of Star for All Seasons Vilma Santos who is an authority on the subject(s).

Sen. Ralph Recto, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee, said his group would look into the other half of “sin” products -­ alcohol -­ after tax and sales data on liquor showed that it could still yield more “tax juice.”

The House has proposed a 20 percent across-the-board tax on all types of alcoholic beverages, but Recto said he would bat for a higher tax rate.

He noted that in the House version, “most of the tab will be picked by smokers, who will chip in P4.5 billion in new taxes, while drinkers will pay only P2.5 billion more.”

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UNFAIR TO SMOKERS: Recto said that almost 40 centavos for every P1 cigarette sale goes to tax. Out of a gross tobacco sale of P49.6 billion last year, P19.4 billion was remitted to the treasury as excise tax.

But in distilled spirits, he explained, only 14 centavos for every peso a customer pays for gin, rum, brandy, whisky ends up as tax. Distilled spirits makers, mostly gin, paid P4.78 billion in excise tax out of sales of P34.77 billion last year.

On other hand, beer (which belongs to the fermented category) posted sales of P38.4 billion in 2003 and paid P11.37 billion in excise tax, or 30 centavos for every peso of beer sold.

“Now, if we apply the ‘sin test’ to alcohol, for computing how much it should pay in tax as punishment, we can say that the degree of badness that separates cigarette from liquor is not that wide,” he noted.

* * *

ALCOHOL EFFECTS: Illustrating his point, Recto said, “Nobody has run over a pedestrian due to excessive cigarette smoking, but drunk driving kills.”

“Wife-beating is not triggered by nicotine. There is a study that ‘sabado nights’ battery of women by husbands home for the weekend from work is preceded by community tagayan of menfolk.” he said.

“Not one instance of date rape was preceded by too much inhalation of tobacco smoke. And we have yet to hear of an akyat-bahay gang whose modus operandi includes puffing cigars before a hit,” Recto said.

Excessive drinking also addles the brain,” he added. “There is behavioral change, bordering on temporary insanity. Just look at how alcohol has made singing ‘My Way’ dangerous to one’s health.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 11, 2004)

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