Mob Rule

The door to the little drugstore opened, and the bell jingled. Hans Schmidt, recent immigrant and proud owner of the new store, looked up from the medicine bottle he was filling to see two tough-looking men darkening his doorway.

'How may I help you gentlemen?' asked Mr. Schmidt.

For a moment the two men, both wearing pinstriped suits and felt fedoras, just stood and glanced about the store. Finally the tall one, after taking a long puff of his cigar, spoke: 'Nice little drugstore you got here.'

'Danke,' replied Schmidt.

'Sure would be a shame if anything happened to it,' added the short one, ominously.

'Wha'what do you mean?' asked Schmidt.

'Oh, I just mean that this is, you know, sort of a rough neighborhood,' said the short one. 'And sometimes, well, things happen. Bad things. Especially to new kids on the block.'

'On the other hand,' the tall one continued while examining his cigar, 'if you would care to contribute to our little, uh, charitable organization, we could see to it that nothing untoward, so to speak, happens to your little establishment.'

'And to sweeten the deal,' said the short one, 'we will even help to keep competitors out of the neighborhood, and we will also supply you with a, uh, 'seal of approval' to let potential customers know that yours is a 'certified' business.'

'Nein!' shouted Schmidt. 'I will not give in to this'this blackmail! Get out of my store!'

'Okay, but don't say we didn't warn you,' the tall one remarked as he put out his cigar in Schmidt's knockwurst sandwich. The two then left the premises.

That night Schmidt's Pharmacy was sprayed with bullets, firebombed, and generally destroyed. Meanwhile, the drugstore in the next block, whose owner gave generously to the Mystic Knights of the Himalayas , remained unscathed. In fact, next day it was flooded with customers who saw the 'seal of approval' and believed they were therefore guaranteed high-quality drugs that could not be purchased except with the approval of a doctor down the street who also had a 'seal of approval.'

What, you ask, is the purpose of this little foray into gangland (other than to prove that I should stick to nonfiction writing)? Simply this: Everyone instantly recognizes that the events depicted in my vignette are representative of the workings of organized crime, better known to us all as the Mafia. What if, however, I told you that the two men who ran the protection racket were not Mob members at all but were, in fact, government agents? Would that make their actions any less criminal?

Right now, according to this article in the Washington Post, there are 'three congressional committees . . . looking into the issue' of 'illicit' online pharmacies and their sales of 'millions of doses of narcotics and prescription drugs without medical supervision.'

Enough pressure has been brought to bear on Internet search engine companies that Google has now joined the ranks of Yahoo, MSN, and AOL, all companies which are no longer accepting advertising from these pharmacies. Whereas one could previously type 'Vicodin' into Google's search engine and get back paid advertisements for companies that supply that drug, now one will have to spend extra time hunting through the myriad links that the search engine locates with that keyword.

What makes these online pharmacies and their sales 'illegal'? The same thing that made Schmidt's Pharmacy 'illegal': Their owners refused to pay protection money to the Mob, known euphemistically as the government, to obtain its seal of approval, known as a license. In addition, they refused to force their customers to obtain a piece of paper signed by someone else, known as a physician, who has also paid his protection money to the Mob'again, known euphemistically as the government'for his own license. The pharmacies are not accused of having violated anyone's rights to life, liberty, and property. As a matter of fact, they are accused instead of not wanting to have their rights to liberty and property violated by organized criminals who prefer to be known as public servants. Who are the real criminals here?

The government's protection racket, ostensibly for the benefit of us stupid average Americans who don't know Vicodin from Viagra, not only serves to bring in money to the thugs in power. It also serves to restrict the supply of those who can dispense drugs and those who can authorize the dispensing of drugs. Of course, as any first-semester economics student can tell you, restricting the supply of any commodity will tend to increase the cost of that commodity. Thus, it is in the interest of existing pharmacists and physicians to convince the government, via campaign contributions and kickbacks, to institute these protection rackets in order to keep out competitors and increase the existing pharmacists' and physicians' wages. In fact, throughout history it has generally been true that those who have already 'made it' are the ones who push for licensing laws and other regulations'for that very reason. Politicians, naturally, are only too happy to go along with their best customers' wishes because the racket gives them more power while simultaneously allowing them to champion the common man over the evil businessman who would gyp the customer at every turn (and yet somehow manage to obtain more customers and thereby increase his profits, a bit of logic invariably omitted from debates over such 'public safety' regulations).

The thugs in Washington aren't content merely to shoot up the establishments of those who won't pay the government's protection money, either. Besides Internet search engines, 'several congressional committees are stepping up their efforts to examine the roles played by Visa International, MasterCard Inc., FedEx Corp., and United Parcel Service Inc. in the Internet sales,' according to the Post article. Yes, folks, these companies are supposed to act as the government's spies and enforcers. The credit card companies, which must process billions of transactions daily, are somehow expected to examine each one in detail to ensure that everyone involved in the transaction has paid his protection money. In addition, the shipping companies are expected to examine every package that passes through their facilities'and as one who works for a shipping company, let me assure you that this is an impossible task, especially for the big guys who move millions of packages every day'to ensure that the shipper and the recipient (and, presumably, everyone who even breathed on any of the atoms in a package) have paid their protection money. In other words, like Willie Sutton, the Mob in Washington and various seats of power is going where the money is to see if they can extort more of it through guilt by association.

If the real Mafia comes looking for protection money from someone, supposedly the victim can turn to the government for protection from the Mob. If, however, the Mafia known as the government comes looking for protection money, where is a person to turn?

(A similar situation is occurring right now in Pittsburgh , where a truck driver was on the receiving end of a road rage shooting by an off-duty policeman. The criminal has been arrested, but the truck driver is considering going into another line of work out of fear of retribution from other cops on the city police force. There's no witness protection program when the Mob wraps itself in the mantle of 'democracy' and 'public service.')

Frankly, if I had my choice between dealing with the real Mafia and dealing with the organized criminals in government, I think I'd choose the Mafia. They can only control a small area, they don't pretend to be victimizing me for my own good, and I might actually be able to convince my fellow citizens to help me rise up against them. The government, on the other hand, controls vast amounts of territory, tells me it's victimizing me for my own good and the good of others, and has enough people brainwashed into believing its lies that it's nearly impossible to convince them to fight back. Give me Don Corleone over Don Rumsfeld any day. Better yet, arm the population and let us rid ourselves of both.

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Michael Tennant is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.