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Ordinary Citizens are Being Driven to the Ground

The Last Flight of Joe Stack

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

Joseph Stack, frustrated American, flew his airplane into an Austin, Texas, office building. He was one of the 79 per cent of Americans who have given up on “their” government.

The latest Rasmussen Poll indicates that the vast majority of Americans are convinced that “their” government is totally unresponsive to them, their concerns, and their needs. Rasmussen found that only 21 per cent of the American population agree that the U.S. government has the consent of the governed, and that 21 per cent is comprised of the political class itself and liberals. Rasmussen concludes that the gap between the American population and the politicians who rule them “may be as big today as the gap between the colonies and England during the 18th century.”

Indications are that Joseph Stack was sane. Like Palestinians faced with Israeli jet fighters, helicopter gunships, tanks, missiles and poison gas, Stack realized that he was powerless. A suicide attack was the only weapon left to him.

Stack targeted the IRS, the federal agency that had gratuitously ruined him. He flew his airplane into an office building occupied by 200 members of the IRS. This deliberate plan and the written explanation he left behind segregate him from deranged people who randomly shoot up a Post Office or university campus.

The government and its propaganda ministry do not want to call Stack a terrorist.  “Terrorist” is a term the government reserves for Muslims who do not like what Israel does to Palestinians and the U.S. government does to Muslim countries.

But Stack experienced the same frustrations and emotions as Muslims who can’t take it any longer and strap on a suicide vest.  

“Violence,” Stack wrote, “not only is the answer, it is the only answer.” Stack concluded that nothing short of violence will get the attention of a government that has turned its back on the American people.

Anger is building up. People are beginning to do unusual things. Terry Hoskins bulldozed his house rather than allow a bank to foreclose on it. The local TV station conducted an online survey and found that 79 per cent of respondents agreed with Hoskins’ action.

Perhaps the turning point was the federal government’s bailout of the investment banks whose reckless misbehavior diminished Americans’ retirement savings for the second time in eight years. Now a former head of the most culpable bank is campaigning to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits in order to pay for the bailout. President Obama has obliged him by creating a “deficit commission.”

The “deficit commission” will be used to gut Social Security, just as the private insurance health plan is paid for by cutting $500 billion out of Medicare.

It could not be more clear that government represents the interest groups that finance the election campaigns.

Conservatives used to say that Washington’s power should be curtailed in behalf of state and local governments that are “closer to the people.” But of course state and local governments are also controlled by interest groups.

Consider Florida, for example. In 2004 the storm surge from Hurricane Ivan did considerable damage to the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle. At Inlet Beach in Walton County, the surge claimed two beachfront homes and washed away enough of the high ground as to leave other homes vulnerable to the next storm.

People wanted to armor their homes with some form of sea wall. When the county gave the go ahead, two houses on the West end hired engineers who constructed a barrier made of rows of tubes 60 feet long filled with sand, each weighing about 70 tons. The sand-colored tubes were buried under many tons of white sand trucked in, and sea oats were planted. It was a perfect solution, and an expensive one–$250,000.

Just east of the two homes, Ivan washed away a section of beach front road and left three houses built on pilings sitting on the beach. Last year government with FEMA money rebuilt the section of washed away beachfront road and armored it and two adjacent houses. The government used interlocking iron or steel panels that it drove down into the sand, leaving six to seven feet of the rusty metal above ground. Hundreds of truck loads of sand were brought in to cover the unsightly sea wall.

It didn’t require a storm to wash away the loose sand and leave the ugly rusty metal exposed on the beach. The first high tide did the trick. Residents and vacationers are left with an eyesore on a beach ranked as the third most beautiful in the world.

The ugly rusty barrier built by government is still there.  But the intelligent approach taken by the private homeowners has been condemned to death. As I write heavy equipment is on the beach slashing open the tubes and piling up the sand to be carried away. The homes will be left standing on the edge and will be undermined by the next hurricane.

Why did this happen? The official reason given by Florida’s Department of Environmental Policy is that the county could only issue a temporary permit. Only DEP can issue a permanent permit, and as the homeowners don’t have DEP’s permanent permit, out goes the expensive, carefully engineered and unobtrusive sea wall.

This is the way government “works” for ordinary citizens. For the vast majority of people, government exists as a persecution mechanism that takes great pleasure in ruining their lives and pocketbooks. The DEP has inflicted heavy stress on the homeowners, now elderly, and could bring on a heart attack or stroke.

The real explanation for DEP’s merciless treatment of citizens is that the agency is powerless against developers. It cannot stop them from destroying the Everglades, from destroying wetlands, from polluting rivers, or from building in front of the coastal setback line. As the state politicians protect developers from the DEP, the only people against whom the DEP can use its authority are unrepresented citizens. Frustrated itself, the DEP lashes out at powerless citizens.

In the small settlement of Inlet Beach, there are numerous examples of developers getting what they want. Over the years hurricanes have eaten away the beach and the dunes. As this occurs the setback line for construction moves inland. Back when the real estate bubble was being created by Alan Greenspan’s irresponsibly low interest rate policy, small beach front lots were going for one million dollars. In the midst of this frenzy, a well connected developer bought a beach front lot for $30,000.

The lot was not recognizable as such. It sits on flat land on the beach. Decades ago it was a lot, but as the Gulf ate away the coast, the lot is now positioned in front of the setback line. The developer got the lot for the low price, because no one had been able to get a building permit for years.

But the developer got a permit. According to the head of the neighborhood association at the time, the developer went to a DEP official, whose jurisdiction was another part of the state and who was a former employee of the developer, and was issued a permit. Because of its exposure, during the real estate boom the house sat unsold for years. The community, which had opposed the project, concluded that the developer just wanted to show that he was more powerful than the law.

Currently, on six acres next to a state park on the East end of Inlet Beach another well connected developer has obtained DEP permission to compromise Walton County’s highest and last remaining sand dunes held in place with native vegetation in order to build 20 houses. To protect the houses, DEP has issued a permit for the construction of a fifteen foot high man-made sand wall, a marketing device that will offer little protection.

According to information sent to me, nine of the houses will be seaward of the Coastal Construction Control line. Apparently this was a result of the developer being represented by a former county attorney, who convinced the commissioners to allow the developer to plan on the basis of the 1996 FEMA flood plain maps instead of using the current 2007 maps. Since 1996 there have been a number of hurricanes, such as Dennis and Ivan, and the set back line has moved inward.

When state and local governments allow developers to set aside the rules governing flood-plain development, they create insurance losses that drive up the insurance premiums for everyone in the community. The disturbance of the natural dunes could result in a breach through which storm surge can damage nearby properties. Instead of protecting people, government is allowing a developer to impose costs of his project on others.

Joseph Stack, Terry Hoskins, and 79 per cent of the American population came to the realization that government does not represent them. Government represents monied interests for whom it bends the rules designed to protect the public, thus creating a legally privileged class.

In contrast, as at the West end of Inlet Beach, ordinary citizens are being driven into the ground.

This is what we call “freedom and democracy.”

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com