Italian Lawmakers Are Not Stupid

Say what you want about the Italian Government and their proposal for a “Google tax”, but I find it very unlikely that they are stupid.Google Italia

I recently read an article on the Forbes website entitled “Italy Proposes an Entirely Illegal Google Tax”. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought twice about legislative malfeasance in Italy, but this was from Forbes, the corporate cheerleading, Europe bashing publication that manages to survive only because of its silly annual list of rich people. As suspected, the story of the Google tax is a bit more complicated.

Italy, like many other European countries, are trying to figure out a way to collect taxes from large companies that operate in one European country but do business in the others. As the article points out, there is a problem with this in that the direct collection of taxes violates the single market principle. This is why some articles refer to this revenue collection as a “tax” with quotations.

Companies like Google have found a way to avoid paying national taxes by setting up subsidiaries and shell corporations wherever the taxes are the lowest while at the same having access to the large European market. Many consider this a tax loophole, so Italy’s Partito Democratico is proposing a loophole of its own. In order to advertise in Italy, a company must go through a registered Italian ad agency. The Italian companies would therefore see an increase in revenue which would increase the amount taxed by the government.

Can this work? Probably not. Is it legal? Probably not. So then the Forbes article is right? Absolutely not.

Italy does not exist in a vacuum. It is not the only country upset about the tax loopholes exploited by tech companies. France, which is where the idea of the Google tax was born, is calling for a Europe-wide Google tax. Surely this would satisfy critics who claim that national Google taxes are illegal. The point is, even if the law gets passed, and eventually struck down, it can have an effect on public sentiment throughout the continent.

The proposed Italian law is said to be able to raise €1 billion in tax revenue. This is nothing – about one tenth of one percent of the government’s budget. In other words, Italian lawmakers are testing out the waters and seeing how much leeway they have within the existing European structure.

Criticizing continental European economic policies is a favorite pastime for American and British conservatives who wish to parody that which they disagree with. But to say that Italian lawmakers don’t understand their basic laws is ludicrous. Which explanation seems more plausible?

  1. Italians are stupid and don’t understand their own laws.
  2. Italian lawmakers understand that they are in a difficult situation in terms of national interests and regional law and are pushing the envelope so as to establish new precedents and/or provide exposure for a new regional tax policy.

To call Italian lawmakers stupid is lazy and teaches us nothing about the situation.

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Russian Interests in Syria

The Cold War is over but Russia has found a new way to stay relevant, and it largely depends on the US not getting involved.

Assad and Putin

A decade after the invasion of Iraq, we look at conflict in the Middle East with a weariness that suggests that America is no longer willing to lead. This is a welcome change for a part of the world that is equally weary of American leadership.

Surely there are many in Syria, rejoicing that the US has decided not to liberate them just yet. But we would be remiss to assume that intervention is opposed by all. There is always intervention. Sometimes it manifests itself with troops on the ground. Leading up to that though, there is the scripted international dance of multilateral talks, negotiations, sanctions, no fly zones and air strikes (now with more robots!).

When Mubarak was deposed, a green light from the US Government, his greatest benefactor, certainly helped. Western European countries took the lead in arming and supporting the rebels who overthrew Gaddafi. Encouragement and sympathy for the revolutions from the external powers may irritate the entrenched regimes in the region, but it is the foreign money and bombs that often topple these governments. While North America and Europe dither (or butt out, depending on your preference), the survival and ruthlessness of Assad’s government can be credited, in no small part, to Russia.

The decade following the dissolution of the USSR was embarrassing for Russia. Having lost territory, population and prestige, it scrambled to consolidate what power it could still maintain. Increases in petroleum exports injected a new sense of wealth and power, albeit one tempered by new expectations. Whereas Moscow contended to be the capital of the greatest power on earth just decades ago, it finds itself taken seriously mainly because it has lots of fuel and big bombs.

For a country that once had proxies all over the world, any chance to flex its muscle in a smaller country’s war is a welcome opportunity, especially one in which the US has been vocal but otherwise uninvolved. That America’s hands are tied (both in terms of domestic appetite for intervention and international credibility) is music to Russian ears. The longer the war persists, the longer Moscow remains relevant, by supporting a regime that would otherwise have already fallen.

Russia has found a war that no other Western power is willing to touch (yet). It’s a sort of super-power-vacuum. Granted, they are not publicly happy about their weapons being used to kill civilians, but by posturing as the facilitator of diplomatic negotiations and the protector of national sovereignty, Russia is hoping to recover whatever it can in terms of international influence. The Cold War is over, but old habits are hard to quit.

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More to come on the involvement of Hezbollah and Iran in Syria.

Lost in Indian English

You may speak English, but probably not Indian English.

My name is Cyriac and I am balding. For the past few months, I have been getting every haircut with my upcoming wedding in mind. I usually shave my head, but the lady and I agreed that I still have just enough hair to justify growing it back for the big day. We were hoping that years from now, we could sit down with the kids and look at pictures of daddy when he had hair.

Earlier today I went down to my local barber. He sits on the side of the road and shows up every day, even when it’s 46 degrees C (115 F) outside. He’s a nice fellow that speaks broken English comparable to my broken Hindi and we get along well.

Months ago, when asked what it is that I do, I had no clue how to say communications consultant in Hindi so I told him I do writing on the computer. Upon my next visit, he called over his friends from the chai stall a few meters away to meet his engineer friend. I protested that I wasn’t an engineer to which he replied “but you said you work with computers”. OK I said, submitting. My mother would have been proud – at least someone thinks her son is an engineer.

I had decided this morning that it was finally time to get rid of the six weeks of scruff I had on my face. I sat down, held my face with both hands and said the only words that mattered – “shave clean”. He ran his fingers through my hair and asked if wanted anything done up top. I said no and that I didn’t have enough time. “No tension. Twenty minutes only. Finishing only”. Once again I submitted, figuring that it wouldn’t take too long if all he was going to do was do the finishing touches on my hair – a basic cleanup I figured.

He tilted my head down and I felt two scrapes across the top of my head. I leaned forward and touched up top to feel the smooth baldness of my scalp. I looked at him with concern and asked “what is finishing?” “Everything gone. All clean” he said. And then I understood why he said it would only take twenty minutes. At that point I had no choice but to finish my finishing.

So a warning to all those visiting India – if a man with a blade asks you if you want finishing, say no, unless you wish to lose all your hair.bald mrcyriac

The question now remains, can I grow enough hair in the next 47 days…

Guilty As Charged

My apologies to the Arab women who were almost tempted by my handsomeness. I’ll think twice next time.

Many of you may be wondering where I have been these past two weeks. Mr Cyriac is not one to abandon his blog without a good reason. Since Miss Dodson was out of town, I thought it would be a good opportunity to head to Saudi Arabia to check out a cultural festival – don’t ask which one.

To my surprise, the authorities were quick to kick me out of the festival and the country. My crime? Being too handsome. The independent Arab newspaper Alaph reported:

“A festival official said the three Emiratis were taken out on the grounds they are too handsome and that the Commission members feared female visitors could fall for them,”

The Police stormed the booth that my associates and I were operating (selling pickled mangos if you must know). Now you may be wondering how this could possibly have been me since all the news reports say the men were from the UAE. Yet another detestable act of profiling – the minute the Saudi officials learned that I was born in Kerala, they sent the three of us on the first plane to Dubai figuring that any Malayalee in the Gulf region must be from there.

If this were the first time I were kicked out of an Arab country for being too handsome, I could almost understand – just a misunderstanding – let bygones be bygones. Let it be known that henceforth, Mr Cyriac will be once again blogging regularly and avoiding any and all cultural festivities in Saudi Arabia. To my readers and the women of Saudi Arabia, I’m sorry.

And one more thing. The pickle stand was operated by four people actually. Our female business partner was permitted to stay. Apparently, her beauty (seen below) was not a problem for the Saudi government.Niqab

Read more about it in the National Post, Deccan Chronicle, and of course, GQ.

The Polarization of Remembering Chavez

hugo-chavezI saw Hugo Chavez at the height of his popularity. To the various communist parties of Jawaharlal Nehru University, he was a rock star. It was warm and sunny and thousands of students packed into the stadium seats by the athletic field to hear the Venezuelan President and his translator boast and gesticulate. I wasn’t an admirer or a detractor – I went mainly to see the spectacle. Considering my neutrality, I must admit that it was difficult to not get swept up in the moment. Still, I sat silently just in case there were CIA spies taking notes for future conversations with me (8 years later and still no such chat).

A casual look through my Facebook news feed and you might think that a saint just died. To fully appreciate Chavez’s reception on campus, one would have to compare his visit to that of Manmohan Singh, who was booed off of stage when he spoke to the same students a few months later. I remember the Prime Minister of India trying to calm the students down with his soft voice, saying something along the lines of “I may disagree with you, but I wholeheartedly agree with your right to disagree”. My Uzbek friends were astonished – the leader of the country was not even allowed to make a speech at the university whereas, Chavez, just a few months ago, was treated like a hero.

Needless to say, sentiments are not quite the same in the US. While his opponents are not overtly celebrating his demise, they are certainly not mourning Chavez. Contrary to common belief, the US Government did offer official condolences, but only in a sort of backhanded manner. This from a State Department official:

“We express our sympathies to his family and to the Venezuelan people…Frankly, the way I was raised, when somebody dies you always express condolences… There’s a family involved here, we sympathize with that.”

In other words, we’re doing this because we have to, not because we want to. But what else could be expected when the man who passed referred to your former President as a donkey and the devil, your current President as Continue reading “The Polarization of Remembering Chavez”

Keeping it Classy at the United Nations

America’s deputy Ambassador to the UN asks that delegates stop showing up drunk.UN HQ

The US’ deputy Ambassador to the UN, Joseph Torsella, made the following request to the General Assembly Budget Committee on Monday:

“We make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone”.

Now that’s the bold kind of leadership the world needs in these uncertain times.

Clash of Civilizations in Norway

A country is torn apart and the rest of the world, confused, can do nothing but stand aside and wonder how it will all play out.

Can the menace be contained to just one country?
Can the menace be contained to just Norway?

If you are Norwegian, you may as well stop reading now. I have learned how sensitive this topic is to your people and how it can result in uncontrollable fits of rage directed at the opposition. I would hate to rehash a topic already covered by the NY Times about which you have undoubtedly formed a zealous opinion.

While Americans continue to debate the fundamental role of government, god and guns in our lives, Norwegians are divided by the nuances of stacking and burning wood. Yes, firewood. The most recent outbreak of discourse is rooted in the publication of Lars Mytting’s book Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning.

The book, which is currently atop the best seller list in Norway, inspired a television show watched by some 20 percent of the country. Considering that two-thirds of the program’s twelve hours consists of footage of a log being burned, the show stands as a testament to the dedication and emotional commitment on the part of Norwegians to their wood chopping, stacking and burning heritage. Continue reading “Clash of Civilizations in Norway”