Monday, February 22, 2010

Violent Protesting

There is something that I have been thinking about since Joseph Stack flew his plane into the IRS building last week. It is not a question of terror, at least I do not think so. But that is not the point.

Reading Stack's manifesto online, he expresses the frustrations that many of us feel. The same outrages that many feel about how Government is ineffective, how Wall Street was bailed out, frustrations about taxes and just how the government does not serve the people, but rather the rich executives and businesses.

We all joke about it, about the elections, about government on one level or another. And while I do not agree with Stack in deciding to try and end human life, I see his point. When I first heard about Stack and his flight into a building, I thought of Shays' Rebellion, the rebellion in 1787 where a lot of farmers rose up against the government under the Articles of Confederation. In fact, because of the rebellion, it helped show some of the flaws of the Articles of Confederation and led to the Constitution being written.

Although I do not agree with using violence, Shays and his fellow farmers used force to close the court houses so judges could not order the collection of debts. Although I am not sure if the tax situation was resolved promptly, Shays did prove a point. In fact he and his rag tag team of farmers were all pardoned in 1788.

Thomas Jefferson said in regards to the rebellion that "a little rebellion now and then is a good thing. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

And so while looking at that aspect, I think that Joseph Stack has a point. Yes, it is criminal what he did, and I do not think it was correct to fly a plane into a building, it does not surprise me either. Sooner or later people are going to transition from peaceful protests to violence. If the Government does not restore its image, restore the faith that people place in government, sooner or later armed protests will take place.

So what of Joseph Stack? Yes, his action was wrong, but what about what he wrote? as I wrote above, many agree with many of the concepts he stated. Many have the frustrations that Stack had. The difference between Stack and the majority of the American people is that Stack lost hope in the political process, while most of America still believe things will improve.

I guess my point in writing this is that there is a fine line between patriotic and criminal. Cause certainly Stack's intentions were as noble as those who have proceeded us in the cause for freedom. The wrong execution, obviously, but the message is still true. Something has to change.

So I guess the only question is, when will thing change?

(And feel free to comment and tell me I am wrong. I enjoy all opinions)


Nat said...

Um hello...

This interested me as I was watching the news while working out this morning and this topic was the main headliner. I must confess that I agree with everything you have put forth. I agree that he was wrong in his execution, but as you said...the message is still true.

The only way I believe things can change is by getting the right leaders into office. recently I don't believe we have done this. While it may seem that we have not control over D.C. and what goes on there, we still have a bit of control over who gets elected. Sometimes standing up for what we believe in and putting aside all the political correctness crap that goes on in politics now is the only way to get things accomplished.

excellent points brought up here! I am going to start reading more of your political posts.

Alexandria said...

I am so not going to comment and tell you that you are wrong. Because you are spot on my friend.

Was Stack's execution wrong? Of course. Was his reasoning? Not so much.

People are frustrated right now...and in my opinion it will only get worse. Things need to change and sometimes the only way to make them change is for everyone to get a little radical.

I dunno. That is all I have. I wish I had all the answers but alas I do not...

Fi said...

I apologize in advance for the lengthy diatribe you are about to read, but you did invite me to come view it!

I respectfully disagree with the above post, but make no mistake ... I do it with such a fiery vehemence that no words can possibly, adequately capture it. Let me see if I may, through passionate argument, persuade you to rethink your position. What Stack did was unspeakably heinous. He took the life of an innocent man, and he did it for reasons that seem, at least for now, dubious. I would never wish to align myself with such an individual, and I caution you against building this man up to be more than what he was. I entreat you to refrain from using him as a means to illustrate your (very honorable and rational) position. I will explain in a minute.

But first, we need to address this invocation of Jefferson. I admit I feel a bit perturbed when people pull out the exhausted Jeffersonian quote, and for a medley of reasons. Firstly, it is all-too frequently taken completely out of context. At the time, Jefferson was writing to James Madison in the wake of Shay's Rebellion, as you mentioned, and was trying to persuade Madison that the rebels should only face a merciful, nominal punishment. Immediately before Jefferson mentions the "tree of liberty" quote, he says this:

"The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive."

He then goes on to explain how the rebellions which spring from these "misconceptions" show they "were founded in ignorance, not wickedness." He explains how, although ignorance leads to rebellion, it is a chance for the government to grow stronger, more robust, for "what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?"

His solution? Was it for the government to shape up, and hearken to its citizens? No. No, not at all. It was this:

"The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them."

... Set them right to facts. Clear up misconceptions. Forgive them. Placate them. Not "right wrongs" and "submit to the people," allowing itself to be overturned or replaced. He is not rallying the people to rebel. Quite the opposite, really - he is mollifying the government against whom there has been a rebellion. If I may be so bold, it is more “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” than it is a call to battle. Furthermore, with regard to Shay's rebellion, Jefferson drew a stark line between collective, shared patriotism and mob violence, where blameless bystanders could be harmed.

Secondly, we do not live in colonial America, and we do not live in Jefferson's time. We are a more evolved people. We have far more tools at our disposal to have our voices heard than colonial Americans ever did. In Jefferson's time, fewer than a quarter of the population even had any form of electoral voice. In our country as it stands today, we have a robust citizen journalist movement. This is not to say we should be content with things as they are. But it is to say we have too many options at our disposal, to excuse anyone from such draconian resorts.

And finally (at least in regard to the Jefferson quote), is this really what you call a "little rebellion?" Killing a federal worker, who did nothing to Stack? Contrary to some justifications I have seen, he was not an auditor. Let me tell you a little bit about the man Joseph Stack killed in his suicide attack ... the "pound of flesh" that Stack took down with his own pound ...

Fi said...

His name was Vernon Hunter. He was 67 - my Dad's age. He had a wife, Valerie, 3 children, and 7 grandchildren. After enlisting in the Army at 18, Vernon served two terms in Vietnam and was described as "an ideal neighbor and father" - the breed of man who offered Gatorade to garbage collectors on balmy afternoons. The irony of it all? Vernon's job at the I.R.S. was to "help arrange payment plans for people who couldn't afford to pay their taxes." That sounds a great deal like Stack's case. Vernon’s son, Ken, said, "My dad, in that building, he didn't write the tax laws. If [Stack] would have talked to my dad, my dad would have helped him." Was this man the "tyrant" whose blood needed to be shed? If that's a "little rebellion," I hate to see a big one. Please explain to Valerie and the Hunter children how he was a "tyrant." Even Stack's daughter retracted her statement of heralding her father a hero after being informed that he had killed a man - and she labeled Hunter the hero, instead.

When a person invokes Jefferson's words, I'm also reminded of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, who was shamefully deceived by his inadequate grasp of Jefferson's words. I'm further reminded of the t-shirt he relished wearing on the day he chose to murder 168 of his fellow Americans, a shirt that bore those words.

Moreover, I can't help but think if you knew more about Joseph Stack, you might at least hesitate to champion his cause. The kind of man who would set fire to the house that his wife and stepdaughter lived in – a house that was reportedly worth $300,000. The kind of man who appears to have bought a plane but then complained he had no retirement savings left.

"Yes, his action was wrong, but what about what he wrote?"

First, what of Mr. Stack’s predicament? I don’t pretend to be an expert on tax matters – and certainly, my husband and I have been frustrated by convoluted tax law before, so we are no proponents of it. But I sought out an explanation behind Stack’s misgivings, and here is how it was explained to me by one tax accountant:

If one is legally considered an independent contractor, the current provisions offer certain tax advantages that are not offered to those classified as an employee (which applies to most of our legal statuses). While independent contractors must remit their share of Social Security and Medicare taxes to the federal government, the contracting firm isn't required to withhold or pay an employer share of payroll taxes as it would in the case of employees. But in the 80s, there were reportedly growing complaints of technical professionals abusing the tax system by improperly classifying themselves as independent contractors rather than labeling themselves appropriately as employees, in order to secure these tax advantages. Previously, the IRS was limited by a 1978 law from pursuing these individuals and forcing businesses to label them appropriately. The change that Mr. Stack seems to have reviled – the 1986 moratorium on this restraint – meant that these workers were “potentially on the hook to pay back payroll taxes if the IRS found they were really more like employees than independent contractors.”

As it was explained to me, if in fact he had worked as an independent contractor, he could continue to enjoy the benefits of that status. If not, he was no longer entitled to any of the tax benefits, but, under the 1986 act, as an employee his tax rate would have gone from 50 percent to 28 percent. The trade-off, of course, was that he had to change his classification.

If my source is correct, this does not seem to be a man whose words we should use to bestir others to the cause of tax reform.

If my source is incorrect, however, I have the following to say ...

Fi said...

: I don't like our tax system, and I believe we should fix it (of course, that’s easier said than done, because we have a billion-dollar industry and thousands of employees [think H&R Block] that are all wholly dependent on the system remaining as labyrinthine and baffling as it is). But I already felt that way. Did kamikaze pilots bring about the Civil Rights Amendment? Did Martin Luther King, Jr. advocate violence to hit home his point? Should gays bomb the courts that refuse to grant them marriage licenses? Are we to praise Scott Roeder for killing abortion doctor George Tiller? If anything, Stack's act of lunacy actually discredits his message. Think of how we felt after Sept. 11: did we feel any more inclined to sympathize with al-Qaeda's complaints? The majority of people polled in the days following 9/11 commonly retorted that the sheer villainy of what the terrorists had done undermined and even disproved the valiance of their cause.

As for the rest of Stack’s letter, I read through all the back-patting he did and saw just how highly he seemed to regard his own intellect, although I also noticed he left out how leaving his wife and her daughter homeless was also legitimized by tax code shortcomings. And I read how he blamed his CPA for misfiling and failing to inform him he was being audited – I suppose his crash into the IRS building was also intended to send a message to that individual?

Moreover, he seemed to believe rather professedly in communism – while simultaneously complaining about his hard-earned money being taken and given to others. I find it difficult to reconcile these two arguments with each other, which is why I imagine (some) Marxists and (some) Tea Partiers alike are mistakenly claiming this man as one of their own flock. Did he think he would be able to keep his fine house, his grand piano, and his private plane in a Communist society? I’m not convinced, however erudite his words may have been, that Mr. Stack even knew what he believed. He seemed to flit from one contradictory argument to the next, conjuring whatever claim or scapegoat he could possibly call to mind to justify his intentions.

What it comes down to is this: Stack crashed his plane into a federal building at a busy time of the IRS work day over complaints that, at this point, are very murky and as yet unsubstantiated. It is shocking he only killed one other person and injured 12, to say nothing of what further tragedy could have been reaped from the fire he set to his home.

In sum, I will say only this: Stack was not a martyr. He was a murderer, and a misguided one, at that. Find another way, and another person, to unite others to the cause of tax reform, for this is most certainly not your man.

Sam, The Nanti-SARRMM said...

Fi: I apologize for the late repsonse. School and laziness got in the way.
Anyways, I did not mean for it to sound like I was building up Mr. Stack. I was merely saying his anger is inherent in the culture about government. Wrongly executed, yes. But same concerns about taxes and the like.

Your point about Jefferson is duly noted and I concede the point. I don't think Stack did this out of ignorance and it was clearly malicious. But nor do I see the government clarifying things, all I ever see is political rhetoric and legalese. So I don't see the government trying to pacify the people except for bigger and larger bills.

That said, I was never condoning Stack's violence. He expressed his grievances wrongly. I agree about that. We are of the same mind.