Austin's Temporary Insanity

So I turn on the news today (mostly interested in more Olympic coverage), to find the local news plastered with city officials blathering about what a great job they have done.

Until that moment I had not realized how much I had tuned out "the news" lately. I discovered, (mostly by questioning my husband), that a plane had crashed into a building approximately 15 miles from the area I live and work in, and I was blissfully unaware of the event for well over 24 hours.

When I did try to tune-in the reports I got were smiling officials talking about "how bad it could have been" if they hadn't been so very well prepared.

Okay so maybe they need that for their morale, but really?! It hasn't been two days since a horrific tragedy of the intentional variety and the big news story in Austin is officials explaining in detail how well they performed their jobs.... creepy!

Meanwhile the debate that seems to be raging in Austin and nationwide is whether or not to call the guy a "terrorist." The Austin Police Department thinks calling him a terrorist will lead to greater fear in the community.

But as expected there are those who feel that it is important to immediately condemn this man's actions by boldly going out on a limb and calling persons who intentionally crash airplanes into buildings "terrorists."

The story for the online news media seems to be all about which fringe groups online have been labeling the guy "hero" and/or "patriot," and also the fascinating detail that the FBI insisted the guy's suicide note be taken down after it had gotten over 20 million visits.

Interestingly enough it can still be read over at the Austin American Stateman's blog. Though most of it has been quoted in detail in the major news media anyhow.

We all know the guy committed homicide, suicide, arson, and some pretty serious assault via airplane, so I suggest it doesn't really matter what we call him now. What should matter is what we called him a few days ago.

A few days ago Joe Stack was a fellow Austinite, according to the news he was a good friend and a good neighbor to those who knew him. He wasn't the weird guy in the corner, or the quiet guy. He seems to be pretty average as far as Austinites go even in his distaste for government.

That guy slaughtered a fellow Austinite whom he had never met and severely injured many others in his attempt to strike at a government and more importantly a tax code that he hated.

We really should be reeling from this instead of trying to write him off as a fanatic, or patting ourselves on the back for a job well done. Austin should be thinking about this, and America should be thinking about this. When the average guy commits an act of terror-suicide against his own city, surely we have misstepped.

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I only wish he had killed a

I only wish he had killed a dozen more. Nevermind that they are human beings, for so are thousands of other people who have had their lives destroyed and been driven to suicide by the Revenue service. Furthermore, If large numbers of people around the U.S started rebelling and killing federal agents, you'd see them get a bit more wary of fucking with joe sixpack. Yeah, you might argue that these people are just cogs in a giant machine, and they don't make the rules.. The problem is that they sure participate, and if theyre willing to get involved, then they've taken it upon their backs that they may one day pay a price. German soldiers in ww2, biritsh soldiers during the American revolution, stasi agents in the GDR; they were all also just cogs in a machine, doing their jobs, should noone of them have been shot?

Proximate causes

Sure enough, some guy strikes out violently against the IRS putatively because of the oppression caused by our tax system. And as another tactic to Stick It To The Man, he burns his own house down, leaving his wife and children bereaved and homeless. Hmm…..

Curiously, tax rates are lower now than during many periods of our history. Are today’s tax rates really a cause for violence?

Perhaps it’s not the rates, but the level of enforcement. Maybe in bygone days tax rates were higher, but the EFFECTIVE tax rate was lower due to the ease of cheating. Electronic financial records may make cheating harder and detection easier. But I understand that IRS enforcement actions are pretty low these days – especially for people with low income. Moreover, I understand this guy owned his own business – a practice that greatly facilitates tax evasion. (Tax evasion is much harder for people who simply draw a salary.)

Alternatively, did the guy have any other sources of frustration in his life? Say, was the guy’s business failing? Were tax bills merely one of many problems this guy was struggling with?

Finally, was this guy particularly prone to violent outbursts? Say, did his wife and kids find it necessary to flee to a hotel to get away from him?

Admittedly, I have not been following this story closely. But if I had to guess at a proximate cause for this guy’s actions, I’d look at the extraordinarily bad economy and perhaps a volatile personality rather than taxes as the most likely suspect.

Killing is not the way to

Killing is not the way to bring about government change. Use of deadly force is reserved for the specific instance when government is so totalitarian that the ONLY way to acquire ANY freedom is to overthrow the government. We are not at that stage in America, not by a long shot. The problem with violence as a tool of the political arena is that it leads to fear as a primary motivating factor in political organization, which then leads to the condition where the people with the greatest political power are those with the greatest will to bully their way into power (by scaring the bejezus out of everyone else through violence or threats of violence). This pattern is well documented throughout history, there are many excellent examples throughout classic Roman history (especially in the era of decline), in the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy during WWII, the rise of Communism in Russia after WWI, the Ba'athist regime in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military Junta in Burma, etc, etc, etc.

In no case does the development of intrusion of violence into the political arena represent an improvement toward greater individual liberty or toward a more consensual government. In every case there is tragedy, typically a great deal of tragedy.

A big flash of violence

A big flash of violence particularly of the unusual kind serves to get attention. In the case of this guy, international attention. Too bad he had to take another person with him to accomplish that end.

As for the IRS stuff the guy at least felt like he had been battling the IRS for most of his adult life. He felt repeatedly frustrated and taken advantage of (at least according to his suicide letter), so to say it is not about taxes is silly. It is clearly about taxes, and yes if the guy had sought some legal representation in the past when he was being fined and audited he would likely have had a very different outcome.

The IRS of my youth (1980's) was one that was notorious for going after people and levying ridiculous fines. Nowadays there are a lot more law firms and groups that specialize in combating audits and keeping the IRS from overcharging and beating up on the little guy. That is the only reason they are not as bad with their tax actions today as they used to be.

I suspect this guy could have not only fought the IRS legally but also sued his accountant for the shady way his taxes were handled. Instead he decided the only solution was crashing his plane into a building.