I know I said I was going to wait a month before I would publish another blog post, but something has come up, and I'll feel better if there is a public record of it.
In early 2010, I made a $100 accounting error in my checking account. In the course of a week, not yet accustomed to using cash, working a plumbing job for a friend, I made ten small purchases using my debit card, for a total of $80, all of it for plumbing materials. US Bank charged me $375 in fees. I called the branch, and told them I would be willing to pay the equivalent of two overdraft fees, $75. Looked at another way, I said, that is effectively 100% interest on the $80 dollars they "loaned" me for a week. They said no. I called corporate, and they said I would be charged $8 a day every day until I paid the total. I told them, under those terms, I would pay them nothing.
US Bank let the total in fees and penalties rise to $800, or 1000% interest in two months, sold the debt to a credit agency (for probably about the same amount as I was willing to pay them), and then had the temerity to leave the account open with a negative balance.
This past winter, I received a call from a man claiming to be a lawyer, with Bradstreet and Associates LLC, who said a judgment for $1200 had been rendered against me in a Hennepin County court. He wanted to know how I wanted to arrange payment. I told him I had no idea there was such a hearing, and I asked him if he even knew what the original debt was for. He did not. I said as much to him as I said to US Bank, I will never pay a dollar.
I called the county then, and after 45 minutes navigating the phone tree, a woman told me she could tell me nothing about the judgment over the phone, that I would have to go to the county offices. I asked her, how was it, that I had no idea I was even supposed to be in court for the original hearing. She said the county sent a letter - to an address I haven't lived at in six years, though I own a house in Hennepin County, and I've paid Hennepin County property taxes for that current address all those six years! She seemed unfazed. I told her I didn't want to go to the county offices, because I was afraid of being arrested.
Yesterday, it became know to me that there was another letter from the county, at that old address. I retrieved it, an Order for [financial] Disclosure. I had ten days to fill out the form and return it to the county. At the time, it was 14 days since the filing of the order. "The Judgment Creditor may ask the Court to hold you in 'civil contempt of court.' If the Court decides that you intentionally disobeyed this Order, the Court may fine you, put you in jail, or both."
I though about taking the train downtown today, to the county offices, to try and straighten this out, but I did a little research first. Our local newspaper, The Star Tribune, published a nice series on debt collection in Minnesota recently, which convinced me that if I present myself to the county, I will face potential indefinite detention in county lock up, until I sign the form, or someone pays the debt.
The story of the debt will not matter. The only thing that matters to the county, at this point, is that I fill out that financial disclosure form. Which would open up a mainline from my checking account to Bradstreet and Associates, LLC. There's nothing in the account, but it stands to reason at some point there will be. In other words, I would be acknowledging the debt is legitimate. I would tell them instead, no, I will not fill out that disclosure form, that debt is not legitimate, they made that debt nearly out of thin air. In which case, I would likely be arrested and put in jail until I did fill out the form - with bail set at the amount of, to twice the $1200 judgment (with the Hennepin County taxpayers spending $200 a day to house me.)
I thought, hey, I'll call Bradstreet and Associates LLC, and tell them if I go to jail, I'm going to sue them, with the county as co-conspirators, for a very large amount of money, and do you really think any jury is going to side with you? They can't just sell the debt to some other agency now that there's a judgment on it, right? Just take it as a loss and let it go, I'd say. But I can't call them, or find them, because they don't apparently have a phone or an address, not listed anywhere. I tried to call the county too, but gave up after 45 minutes on the automated phone tree.
The county at this point, and the Sherrif's department, are acting as henchmen, or mercenary's for a business that buys up debt other creditors can't collect on, a business likely as not full of established criminals. Pull back the thin veneer of civilized governance, and what this is isn't anything but extortion. Confront any one in Hennepin County governance, and every one will claim ignorance. Hannah Arendt said:
"[Of] the forms of government as the rule of man over man...we aught to add the latest and perhaps the most formidable form of such domination: bureaucracy or the rule of an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few or the many, can be held responsible, and which could properly be called the rule of Nobody. If, in accord with traditional political thought, we identify tyranny as government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done." [my italics; the link is about extending the logic here in Minnesota, globally]
No one at the county has any idea what the debt they are prosecuting me for, is from. Nor do they care to know. The are only fulfilling the law. Doing their jobs.
Which puts me in a profoundly vulnerable place, as there is no institution, public or private, that I am a direct part of, protecting me. And the vast majority of Americans, like the people at the county or at Bradstreet $ Assoc. LLC, think if there is a debt and the government is after me, then I must be guilty and whatever happens is just - unless they themselves have been prey. As to the argument that I signed a contract when I opened that bank account, I say, try and get by in this culture without one. What is a contract, if the terms of that contract are purely defined by the one providing it, there is hardly any choice, and the provider is a corrupt bureaucracy of it's own kind? As to my financial foolishness, I plead no contest, as my Federal government has set the example, spending 300 billion a month while taking in 200 billion. But just pay the bill, I hear someone saying. First, I don't have the money. Second, third and fourth, you may be fine with the institutional fleecing of Americans, I prefer not to be fleeced.
It has been said, the wheels of fate grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. I have never been arrested, and I have no desire to be ground up by the wheels of Hennepin County bureaucracy. In fact, I would like to flee. But nor, do I want to leave my garden, or walk away from this house and my family. Mostly, when I think of what could happen to me in that county lock up, how incarceration has come to seem an almost inevitability, knowing that I have become more and more like the American that Thomas Jefferson wished for us to be, capable of self-governing, independent, free thinking, I get to feeling like Samuel Adams in 1776:
"If ye love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom...crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains rest lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."
But I look around me, here in the corrupt, calloused, complacent Heartland of America, and I know not one other who shares that sentiment.