(NOTE: Today's blog is entirely too long. You don't have time to read it. Please skip it. It's just a sketch of economic collapse we know can't happen in the U.S. anyway.)
Washington, D.C. Feb. 6 — For close to seven years, the U.S. economy and quality of life have been in slow, uninterrupted decline. They are still declining this year, but with one notable difference: the pace is no longer so slow.
Budget cuts in education and rising school fees due to taxpayer revolts against local taxes may force many U.S. children to learn at home.
Indeed, the U.S. economic descent has picked up so much speed that president George Bush, the nation’s leader for 6 years, is even starting to lose the blind support of his own party.
In recent weeks, the Department of Energy has warned of a collapse of electrical service. The recent breakdown in water treatment set off the cholera outbreak in Washington D.C. in early December.
All public services were cut off in Baltimore, a city of 650,000 in north-central Maryland, after the city ran out of money to fix broken equipment. Just a hundred miles up the interstate in Philadelphia, electricity is supplied only four days a week.
The government awarded all civil servants a 300 percent raise two weeks ago. But the increase is only a fraction of the inflation rate, so the nation’s teachers are staging a work slowdown for more money.
Despite these raises, measured by the black-market value of the U.S.'s ragtag currency, the dollar, even their new salaries now total less than 137 Euros a month.
Doctors and nurses have been on strike for five weeks, seeking a pay increase of nearly 9,000 percent, and health care is all but nonexistent. Washington D.C.'s police chief warned in a recently leaked memo that if rank-and-file officers did not get a substantial raise, they might riot.
In the past eight months, “there’s been a huge collapse in living standards,” the editor of the Washington Post newspaper said in a telephone interview, “and also a deterioration in the infrastructure — in standards of health care, in education. There’s a sort of sense that things are plunging.”
President Bush's fortunes appear to have dimmed as well. In January, his republican supporters that have traditionally bowed to his will, and with their backing from the Christian Coalition of America, balked at supporting a constitutional amendment that would have extended Bush's term of office indefinitely. The rebuff exposed a fissure in the party, between president Bush's hard-line backers led by Pat Robertson, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and others who fear he has brought their nation to the brink of collapse.
The trigger of this crisis — hyperinflation — reached an annual rate of 1,281 percent last month, and has been near or over 1,000 percent since last April. Hyperinflation has bankrupted the government, left 8 in 10 citizens destitute and decimated the country’s factories and farms.
Pay increases have so utterly failed to keep pace with price increases that some Washington civil servants and lobbyists now complain that bus fare to and from work consumes their entire salaries.
Citing a leaked Federal Reserve bank document, Reuters reported Tuesday that prices of basic items like meat, cooking oil and clothes had risen 223 percent in the past week alone.
Soaring costs have made it impossible for both national and local governments to meet budgets and for businesses to afford raw materials, while subsidies for basic commodities have drained the government treasury and promoted more corruption.
Seeking to revive farm production, for example, the government sells gasoline to farmers at a bargain rate of 330 dollars per gallon — and farmers promptly resell it on the black market for 10 times that, leaving their fields idle.
Bush, who blames an Iranian plot against him for America's problems, has rejected all calls for economic reform. The government refuses to devalue the dollar, which fetches only 5 to 10 percent of its official value on the thriving black market. As a result, foreign exchange to buy crucial imported goods like Toyotas and Chinese manufactured American flags has effectively dried up.
Despite acceptable rains, one Venezuelan international aid official said the U.S.'s corn crop is currently lagging behind last year’s — which was among the worst in history. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the assessment had not been made public in the United States.
The Federal Reserve's latest response to these problems announced this week with the backing of president Bush, was to declare inflation illegal. From March 1 to June 30, anyone who raises prices or wages will be arrested and punished. Only a “firm social contract” to end corruption and restructure the economy will bring an end to the crisis, said Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke.
The speech by Chairman Bernanke, who is a favorite of president Bush, was broadcast nationally. In downtown Washington, D.C., the last half was blacked out by a power failure.
Sixty years old, wily and defiant as ever, president Bush has survived both international condemnation and domestic indignation and rage before.
Efforts to suppress dissent are rising: in recent weeks, trade union officials were seriously injured in police beatings, arsonists burned the homes of leading pro-democracy activists, congressman Dennis Kucinich and Cindy Sheehan while church leaders were arrested as they met to discuss the rising economic crisis threatening to tear the already deeply divided nation into multiple warring factions .
Foreign journalists remain barred from the country under threat of imprisonment, and harassment of domestic journalists has sharply increased.
But hyperinflation is eroding the government’s control over every aspect of public life and, by extension, over its own future.
“It’s out of control now, and they have to bring it back in control,” said Keith Olberman, host of MSNBC's nighly show "Countdown" and frequent critic of government policies. “We’re reaching the steepest slopes of the process. Bush says he can fix prices, but the things that cause price increases come from so many different directions that the government can’t control them all.”
That growing loss of control is apparent. The black market, which already flourishes beyond the reach of tax collectors and regulators, is likely to grab an even larger share of the economy when the government freezes prices in March, because stores will be unable to make a profit selling products at government-fixed prices.
Problems with water and power supplies have become acute because of a lack of foreign exchange and salaries for workers; a wave of blackouts hit the nation early last month when 10,000 electrical workers walked out to protest low pay.
The U.S.'s democratic political opposition has failed for years to mount an effective work stoppage to protest living conditions. But public workers, the bedrock of government support, this year have begun to walk off the job because there is no longer enough money to pay them a living wage.
The average teacher, for example, earns barely one-fourth of the salary needed to keep a family of four out of poverty. The military, unhappy with January’s 300 percent pay hike, is seeking 1,000 percent. It's troops in Iraq and Afghanistan now refuse to go out on patrols. American G.I.'s in Germany can no longer afford to buy German beer, an economic spinoff that has Germanany's Finance Minister frothing.
The growing number of strikes also has emboldened Trade Unions, a center of opposition to president Bush, to make their own plans for a general work stoppage.
“People of America tend to be resilient,” said Jamal Jafari, an analyst for the Washington-based International Crisis Group, which monitors political risks worldwide. “But that having been said, what has to be the scariest statistic for our government is the fact that large sectors of the civil service and the military are far below the poverty line. They simply can’t raise salaries fast enough.”
Mr. Jafari and some political and economic analysts say they now believe that the U.S. faces a political showdown within months, as the governing bodies wrangle over whether to grant president Bush an indefinite term in office or to put less radical members of the government in power.
Few expect a democratic revolution; the one rival party, the Democrats, is riven by splits, systematically suppressed by the government and without an effective leader. Regardless, these experts say, by failing to arrest this accelerating decline, the U.S. is edging toward a day of political reckoning that years of diplomatic jawboning and political jockeying have failed to produce.
For the government, “the big problem about the U.S. is that the one thing you can’t rig is the economy,” said one Washington political analyst, who refused to be identified for fear of being executed. “When it fails, it fails. And that can have unpredictable effects.”
(Attribute: Michael Wines, The NY Times As Inflation Soars, Zimbabwe Economy Plunges NOTE: Much of this story of Zimbabwe remains intact as written by its author, with words Mugabe, Zimbabwe, Harare, being substituted with Bush, United States or U.S., Washington, D.C., etc. with the intention this is to be taken as parody, seriously. If you think it might not happen here you're probably right. Maybe.)