Thursday morning I was awakened by a knock at my door. Through the window I saw a white car, with the Minneapolis Inspections Department insignia in blue. Now what? I thought.
"Hello." I said, leaning out the door.
"Hi. Do you live here?"
"I'm here to inform you that the city is going to condemn your house."
"The city is going to condemn my house? Why?"
"We were informed by CenterPoint Energy that your gas service was shut off, about a week ago."
"Yeah, it was. I don't have the money to pay the bill, and I don't need gas in the summer anyway. I'll take care of the bill in the fall, when I need the gas to heat the house."
"You have to have all your utilities hooked up."
"But I don't need gas in the summer."
"It doesn't matter. It's city code." He started to walk down the steps, returning to his car. He had given me no documentation, not a business card, not a letter. I asked him his name.
"Harold, how much time do I have to turn the service back on, before my house is condemned?"
"Five days." He turned and walked away, but stopped and turned back. "No, three days."
"Yeah." He stood there, looking at me, without much expression. If he was uncomfortable, he was masking it well. Turning away again, he walked through my wildflowers.
"It's alright Harold," I said. "I know you don't make the rules."
"You're right, I don't," and he sat down in his government issued car and drove away.
Last week, I paid $14.75 in extraneous fees to Netspend Mastercard and NCO Financial Services, paying Xcel Energy $60 to keep my electricity on, expending three hours over two days in the effort. Tuesday, I received a letter from the city informing me that I had been charged $133, to remove brush obstructing the sidewalk last October. As I reported in a post at that time, I had been ordered to remove several black cap raspberry vines that had looped themselves over the edge of the sidewalk. I complied with that order, and I'm pretty sure I called Inspections and told them. If the charge isn't for that, the only thing I can think it would be, is the golden rod. A flower head had been tilting over the edge of the sidewalk. It was a big flowerhead, but it could have been removed by the inspector who issued the order, when he wrote it, if he had only grabbed hold, toward the base of the stem, and turned his wrist instead. Instead I presume, a crew was called to handle it.
At that time, the city was threatening to condemn my house, because they had shut off the water service I wasn't using, charging me $3100 for a new stop box.* I've been paying the consequent $360 monthly water and sewer bill, since, on threat of condemnation if I don't pay. The mortgage is up to date. This house sat empty without gas service for much of 2009 and 2010, and the city did nothing. I'm guessing this new pressure is a response from the city to the foreclosure problem, opportunity masked as civic duty. If the house is condemned, I'll be issued a $6500 vacant house fee. City Inspectors will have the run of the house, to make the list of upgrades required to lift the condemnation order; in this house, likely $10,000 - $30,000 in materials and city permits and inspection fees, and only that and not considerably more, because I'm capable of doing most of the work myself.
Not having natural gas in my house in the summer means I can't take long, luxuriously hot showers. I can still heat water on the electric stove. I can heat water in the sun, using my 2.5 gallon solar camp shower. I might even be able to construct a solar water heater with scrap I have in the garage. If I manage to do that, I could take the long, hot, luxurious showers I don't generally like to take in the summer, which are apparently necessary for my house not to be condemned. Except the water has to be heated by natural gas in my house, and not by the sun, or the natural gas that CenterPoint uses to generate electricity, apparently. I didn't have natural gas service all last summer, and my house was no threat to the public's health and welfare, nor mine. No damage of any kind was done because I did not have natural gas service, except perhaps to CenterPoint's bottom line.
Meanwhile, oil and gas companies have been pumping billions of gallons of water and sand, often laden with toxic chemicals and known carcinogens, into the earth and aquifers, in an effort to force more natural gas to the surface. Our government has not been regulating this, because the mix of water, sand, toxic chemicals and known carcinogens is considered a trade secret. Water flowing from some taps near these "fracking" wells, can be ignited - set on fire. If you set a fracking well on fire you would be jailed as a terrorist. The government of Minnesota is talking about allowing sand mining along the Mississippi river, in the southeast corner of the state, precisely for use in natural gas extraction and the poisoning of aquifers.
I read in Time magazine this week that inflation has been stabilized the last several years, due to the actions of the Federal Reserve. I saw a video of former Goldman Sachs Executive and current head of the New York Fed, William Dudley, laughing about food price inflation, because the iPad is for sale with lots of amazing features.** The Government does not consider the price of food or energy when calculating inflation, because if they did they would have to acknowledge that trickle down faith in the free-market is bullshit. I hear the way GDP is calculated is a lie too, meant to hide the fact that true economic growth has been stagnant, even declining the past three decades, because so much of GDP is the issuance and exchange of credit. Our national debt is roughly equivalent to GDP. We now seem to have a choice between a Democratic party that would spend us into oblivion with services they promise us but don't require us to pay for, and a Republican party that would end entitlements for every person, but corporations and the most fortunate plutocrats and oligarchs. Neither party questioning endless war, or the government's wars against Americans.
I haven't contacted the city yet. Monday morning, I intend to go to the Mayor's office. I will visit my council member's office. Perhaps I will leave with a feeling that my government has responded well to the absurdity of my situation. Perhaps I will be told "Sorry, there's nothing we can do." Either way, I'm inclined to call for Revolution. When life in America has achieved this level of absurdity, it's time to rebel, whatever that means. I've been contemplating a revision, an update of the founder's Declaration, their response to the tyranny of the British Crown. My response to the government that no longer functions as a surrogate of the people, but as an entity unto itself, in collusion with domestic and international conglomerates, to establish and maintain inequality among the people.
Mostly I think we Americans have abdicated our authority as sovereign men and women created equal. We have little sense of what the founders meant, when they said government derives its power from the consent of the governed. We act instead as if we derive our freedoms from government. A government that has come to exist for government's sake, acting to enshrine corporations as persons, without a charter to be revoked, both government and corporations essentially unaccountable, for actions that have contributed to the weakening of the Republic, and Americans generally.
I no longer consider my government legitimate. Curiously, my gentle but radical mother led me to information this Easter, that suggests our Federal and State governments have in effect been operating outside the Constitution, since the beginning of the Civil War. Whether or not this is true, I have begun to ask what it would mean to "alter or abolish" my nation's governments. I don't know if that is treason, but I can assure you, this American would rather die at the hand of my government, than be extorted by it.
I'm inclined to let the city condemn my house, if my request to rescind the order is denied. I will move right back in if they kick me out. If they board up my house, I will remove the boards as soon as they leave. If they take me to jail, I will go peaceably. When they let me out, I will return to my house. I will not pay a $6500 vacant house fee for a house I have no intention to vacate, that my government forces me to vacate for a reason that makes no logical sense. I will not abide by inspectors demands, to change anything in my house I see no reason to change.
I hope it doesn't come to that. It can't, can it? Probably not. But we will see.
** www.omidmalekan.com See the video, "Inflation Explained." It's fun.