Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"We're from the Government, and We're Here to Help You"

That wasn't quite what they said. What they said was, "Hands off your computers." There were about twenty of them in flak vests, most with sidearms. They just walked in the front door of my workplace this morning, and just like that, all productive labor ceased.

Oh, they were friendly enough. No "sorry for the inconvenience," but one can be grateful for no drawn weapons, no shouted orders, and no patdowns or strip searches. The atmosphere was essentially, do what we ask and there won't be any trouble—exactly what a robber or rapist would want to communicate. We were pretty free to walk around and chat, and even go home. (I took the option to leave and am writing this on the train home. But before I could leave, they inspected my laptop.) They asked us for identification, addresses, and what we do at work, and they videoed and photographed the whole office and were going through all books and anything else that might contain the information they were looking for. We were properly obsequious (except for RMP-M, a petite lady who had the balls to say out loud what we were all thinking and didn't suffer for it), so there were no "incidents."

But let's run some numbers.

There are about twenty of us in the office. Given my salary and bennies, plus other costs the company has that they amortize into employee costs, I'm guessing I have to produce about $35 per hour for the company to break even. I'm far from the sharpest knife in the drawer, but we've got a lot of new hires, so my rate is probably near the middle for the office. So, for every hour we can't work, the company loses $700, $5600 for the day. That's my company's costs.

I would guess that the agents' salaries and bennies are well over twice mine, but let's call it twice mine, $70 per hour. That's $1400 per hour for the crew that came in. They estimated a six-hour on-site investigation, but government projects are always estimated low and delivered high, so I'll call it eight hours there; and the analysis stage of any operation is always more time consuming than the data-gathering stage, but let's assume they realize quickly that we're innocent and they only match the data-gathering time. So, $1400 x 8 x 2 = $22,400. The money Uncle Sam has spent on the investigation of this office alone is worth the price of a nice new family-sized car. One can safely assume that the investigation will target other people, so a total cost of $100,000 is probably not unreasonable.

Now what wickedness, you ask, was my workplace involved in?

According to the piece of paper the head of the Criminal Investigation Department (I guess; the caps only said "CID") of the FBI, the Treasury Department, and the IRS (they were all represented, at least on the clothing) waved at our office manager, they were investigating "a whole laundry list of violations" having to do with a nonprofit organization with which someone in our company has had some connection. I had heard about the connection when I first began working there in 2006, but I heard no specifics then or and have heard nothing since. It is the sort of organization of which only Ayn Rand would disapprove (though she would not think of forcibly disbanding it). There are some people you can tell are crooked almost when you meet them, but the person involved has had ample opportunity to reveal streaks of unscrupulousness or dishonesty and so far has not. In fact, another worker said that the same matters were under investigation before I started working there and the investigation came to nothing. So, to put it kindly, it would appear that someone has too much time on his hands.

In my rants about jury duty, I pointed out that in my case the system pulled a dozen not-rich people away from their jobs to settle a dispute between two wealthy people (which, after one day of trial, they settled out of court; I almost forgot the dozens of people who lost a day of work but were not selected to be on the jury). Today an innocent man lost $5600 and at least two of his clients didn't take delivery of goods they needed to serve their customers, other business owners will likely each lose more, and US taxpayers will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars. For what?

I don't know the dollar amount at stake in the nonprofit organization. Maybe it was thousands of dollars, maybe it was millions. I don't know who the plaintiff is or what he thinks he lost. But the men and women who barged into our workplace today were all federal agents, so I'm guessing that the problem was i's not dotted and t's not crossed. Maybe the nonprofit forgot to pay some fees; more likely they forgot to follow some procedure that would have been grossly inconvenient for them, of little benefit to the government, and of no benefit to anyone not a net receiver of tax revenue. I can't believe that the monetary loss to the federal government amounted to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it is spending to investigate the matter.

I have a coworker from Kenya, one of those awful, nasty, third-world countries US citizens pride themselves on not being part of. She has been at government-run boarding schools that dictate when you get up, what you wear, what and when you can eat, when you can pee, when you can go to bed, what you can learn, and I forget what else. Her family has at times literally had to drop everything and run into the woods to escape gangs of marauding bandits. She half-whispered to me before I left, "I've never seen anything like this."

The numbers I ran are pretty good evidence that the issue is not the money. That this matter has lain dormant for more than four years tells me no one is suffering any great injustice. I think the issue is power.

Adam ate the fruit because he wanted to be "like God." That is the essence of rebellion against the God who is there: the desire for power, autonomy, and the pleasures that we think will follow them. Uncle Sam is nothing if not a personification of rebellion against God, and he's out to eliminate his rivals. The obsequiousness in our office was proof that we got the message of who's really whose servant in Uncle Sam's dominion.

Whatever "our brave men and women" are fighting for in Southwesta Asia, it isn't freedom—not ours, anyway. And the sooner we divorce the Cross from Old Glory, the more chance we have that our grandchildren will not be trapped in the police state we see growing before our eyes.

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