Wednesday, October 16, 2013

22 - Crankin’ down the lid . . .


In years gone by, when the US still had things called “National Parks” there was a popular sign that conveyed both a serious message and acted as the butt of multiple jokes:

“Please don’t feed the bears”

The plea was founded in the safety of campers who all too often mistook a bear in the wild for a stuffed bear of their childhood. Poorly kept campsites invited bruins out for an easy meal. And, on a bad day, the camper could easily become that meal.

The concern of the wild life biologists is that bears would become dependent on the handouts of passing campers, reducing their ability to forage for their natural food. In larger parks that were well visited this occurred within a few generations of bears. And, by the time the United States Government abandoned the national park system turning them over to the states or to nature – the bruins of the western parks died of starvation by the hundreds until they relearned the lessons that nature had taught their ancestors generations before.

There were other “bears” that were being fed – in many cases by crass political design. The “safety net” of the 30s known as social security gave way to the “war on poverty” which yielded the food stamps programs of the 60s through the early teens. This gave birth to the “Living Wage Act” of 2020 that insured that each individual – 16 years or older, received a “living wage” monthly. The minor facts like 33% unemployment among adults and 45% for ages 16-21 were simply brushed aside. Their “Employee Benefits Card” received their payments the first of every month, regardless of whether actual job was held. For those with real paying jobs in the private sector – or public sector for that matter – if there was a difference between the wages paid and the “Living Wage”, the government simply deposited the difference on the individual’s EBC card.

This new benefit had real world consequences. The fact that there were no conditions placed on receiving the card – it was your “right” as an American – meant that government social expenditures exploded. For the private sector – there was little reason to pay the “living wage” since the government would make up the difference anyway. And for the worker, there was even less reason to actually become educated and work because you began receiving your “living wage” when you turned 16 – and the young quickly learned that there were other “off the books” ways to make cash without holding a job.

A high school student of the 50s and 60s could have easily predicted the eventual outcome . . . . educated officials of the ‘20s, not so much. Tax revenue plummeted. The national workforce shrunk. Small companies closed their doors both for lack of workers and for all the increased regulations that accompany a surging government bureaucracy.

By the early spring of 2023 the “bears” were hungry and the “food packs” were empty. Nearly 4 generations had been fed, housed and clothed at the government troth. They had voted for any party that promised more housing, more food, more government provided “goodies” from food to housing to wireless tablets to free connectivity . . . . it was their right as Americans and they expected those they voted for to “feed the bear”.

House and Senate members home for Easter break were hammered at every town hall, their homes were picketed, their families accosted and demands were made with threats not far behind. And, as in Congresses of the past once the freight train of government welfare had left the loading gate, they reacted. After all “something had to be done” for their voters back home . . . . and to insure they were elected again during the next cycle.

There had been a pot of money that had been growing steadily over time. While the grasshopper ate the entire harvest . . . . the ant saved for the winter. And, in 2023 there were hundreds of millions of “grasshoppers” and not nearly as many “ants”. The “ants” sat on trillions of dollars of wealth stored in pension plans, IRAs and 401Ks. They had taken the responsible road, become educated and saved for their future. The temptation proved to be too much for House and Senate members freshly back from a bruising visit “home”. In early May 2023 California representative Darlene Hopper introduced House Bill H.R. 287 – The Retirement Security Act.

“Our nation has been blessed with creative people who have grown our industries. With generations of workers who have labored so that our county could move forward.” Congresswoman Hopper extolled from the floor of the House while introducing her bill. “We have seen our nation’s wealth grow – yet grow is such a way that has favored the few while the many continue to struggle. Nowhere is that struggle more apparent than in the final years of a person life when their only source of income is from their meager pension or their social security check. That’s not good enough! There are, however – those among us who have used their money to influence the outcome of their later years. Fat pension plans that favor the few, large “Individual Retirement Accounts” filled with the money of political favor and 401K plans stuffed with the rewards of political contributions. While millions wonder where their next meal or their next rent check will come from now that they have been pushed out of the workforce – a select few, the “moneyed few” live in luxury. This flies in the face of decency. This flies in the face of compassion. This flies in the face of fairness. And I will not stand idly by a single day more!”

Congresswoman Hopper paused . . . gazed across the other members seated before her and gloried in her moment . . .

“Today I am introducing House Bill 287 – The Retirement Security Act, to insure every American, regardless of their station in life, receives a retirement worth living, without fear of hunger, without fear of being homeless. A retirement free to engage in the rewards of a life lived. To do this we are going to expect those with so much to do with a bit less. When passed, HR287 will convert all “retirement plans” – be they pension plans, IRAs or 401Ks to a new “Government Insured Pension” backed and protected by the full faith of the United States Government. Retirees will be given a “living retirement” determined by regional directors. Rather than the rich few living on the backs of the poor, the poor will be provided what they need and the rich will simply need to find a way to do with a bit less.”

She paused, drew yet another breath and relished the moment . . . .

“Finally, with the passage of HR 287, its passage by the Senate and with the signature of the President . . . we will end the last vestiges of poverty in America and truly secure the finally years of all Americans! I yield the rest of my time to the chair”.

With that four minute speech, a simple bill covering a handful a pages and the votes of Congress and the signature of a President . . . . America completed its final transition to a fully socialist state in August of 2023. The bears were hungry and the government would continue to feed them . . . . at least until the money ran out and the falsehood of the promise of “free” became so glaring even the most ignorant of persons could see the truth. By then . . . it would be much too late to save what most had grown up knowing as the United States of America.

Globally the Caliphate of the Prophet controlled a band from Northern Africa to the Philippines. Europe had been cowed by the coordinated attacks of 9/11/29 and the Mideast would be bathed in radiation for countless generations to come in the aftermath of the exchange between Israel and their neighbors. While global resources of oil and gas were beginning to come back, it was one of the single bright lights in the US economy. Oil and gas production continued to grow and while gas prices had soared to fantasy levels of $20 per gallon – or more, it was at least an available resource, something that could not be said in much of the rest of the world. Still, high prices meant angry “bears”. Our government did little to help the situation.

Finally . . . . after untold threats over a couple generations . . . . the United States government defaulted on vast quantities of bonds owned by governments around the world. Given America’s decline – visible to all except those within the Washington beltway – governments around the world had taken to asking for gold in payment for their bonds that came do. US currency was literally not worth the paper it was printed on – and they wanted their “money”. In a final act of defiance – the federal government planted its feet, refused payment in gold and paid, instead, with vastly inflated US government securities. This did not go over well, to say the least. The result? In July 2033 the US Government found itself without a single government . . . on the face of the earth . . . willing to loan it a single dime. The results were predictable.

Interest rates soared to 35% essentially overnight. The Dow dropped 2,500 points in the next morning’s trading stopping the trading day by 11AM. Something repeated for the next few days and finally settling out at just over 5,000 – a drop of over 20,000 points. Small business saw notes called early out of fear that if banks didn’t get their money soon, it would simply be lost. Large corporations did little better.

By the spring of 2050 the wheels were truly beginning to come off. Tax revenues had dried to a trickle, companies – small and large – were simply gasping for a breath to keep the doors open one more day. Gas prices were so high no one traveled, which meant no one bought cars, which meant an entire industry – and those dependent on it – was headed for the graveyard.

Roads, bridges and basic infrastructure were failing at an alarming rate, followed closely by power generation and public works – basic water and sewage treatment. With increased transportation costs, crumbling infrastructure and the “bears” with only their “Employees Benefit Card” for cash – food distribution had begun to be a real problem. It had been a hard winter – much colder than “normal” with entire regions stranded because state and local governments lacked funds – and fuel – for basic road clearing. Tempers were short and the “bears” were hungry. They expected to be fed; they expected to be cared for. After all, they had their “card”!

It was beginning to dawn on many that “the card” was an empty dream. Through the summer of ’50 – many would learn that lesson and many would pay for it with their lives.

Richard’s thoughts about a federal response was right on the button. After the disaster that was the DC swarm in the fall of ’49 a determination had been made to quell all riots with a “firm” hand. Iron fist might be a better description. While E, Brad and Linda made their return to DT and finally back to Iowa, the full might of the Minnesota National Guard and the 2nd Marine Division moved into Minneapolis. The result was predictable. After weeks of hardship the thought that “they” were being punished for being abandoned by their government sent large segments of the city into a rage. While the on-air murder of a local news reporter was horrific – it was done by two individuals and not the vast majority of the residents of Minneapolis. Yet the “fist” – and there was no other word that truly fit – descended on innocent and criminal alike. Curfews were established, control zones set up, check points built throughout the city. IDs were issued and checked monitoring all movement. All the while troubles with power, water, sewer and food deliveries continued to grow worse.

In hindsight – the residents were remarkably well behaved . . . . until the 4th of July weekend, the celebration of our independence from an oppressive government. It was as if a light went on for hundreds of thousands of people at the same instant. Here they were, in the United States of America and yet living in a police state. It was too much. The morning of the 4th dawned bright and sunny. By noon thousands had gathered at the very spot of Sally Foster and her crew were murdered. They came to pay their respects, to share in the grief of her parents and to, in some way, apologize for their city’s part – however small. The National Guard and the Marine Company saw it as a threat and prepared to force the crowd to disperse. As the military applied force, a gathering of thousands turned into a gathering of tens of thousands. Outnumbered and under ‘threat” – the military responded as military units are trained to respond. Thousands died within the first hour. By the end of the week, when order was finally restored – 10,342 Americans died at the hands of other Americans.

It didn’t end with Minneapolis – there were riots, not full blown swarms that were to come, but riots in virtually every major city coast to coast. An additional 50,000 Americans saw their lives ended by local law enforcement, National Guard Units and elements of America’s Army and Marine Corps. And, it gave a glimpse of what was to come in the years ahead when the tables were turned and the military no longer had the strong hand.

The lives lost might have had value if the government had learned from the summer of ’50. They learned only that more troops were better. More guns were better. More ammunition was better. Citizens became the enemy and the enemy needed to be defeated. Once the dead of the summer of ’50 were buried, once the government, military and guardsmen had licked their wounds – the “fist” was applied without thought to the consequences. While the cold of winter did, indeed, cool things off – in the quiet of the night, in the warrens that were the large cities, in the suburban neighborhoods . . . . plans were made, weapons were gathered and alliances were formed. Spring would see a different result . . . . a different outcome . . . . and the beginning of nearly two decades of violence that would transform the United States is ways few would believe.

The summer of ’50 was also the final “sign” Earl had been waiting for, the confirmation that his fears of “the slide” were well founded and he was grateful he had acted and made preparations.

Thanksgiving was upon them. The acquisition of DT had gone smoothly, Ann had taken to her HR role within the “company” as though she were made for it. Hank Johnson and his wife Cheryl had moved into the old Warrner place with Hank taking over responsibility for one of the three rifle platoons that was being put together. Tony Samson had followed suit and with Brad taking command of the third, much of the control structure was in place. Each knew men they had served with and they were taking advantage of those relationships when they could. The news of the day made recruitment of local “talent” much easier to fill holes in the forming their rifle companies. Earl was determined that all would be hired, trained and ready for the next summer. He’d set a firm date of April first for all elements to be fully operational.

Allison had completed her degree in Mechanical Engineering this past June. She was given a position at DT and assigned the task of learning everything there was to learn from the best weapon’s manufacturers in the Midwest. As for DT – given the current state of affairs, business was booming with the government, state and regional police departments keeping their production lines running seven days a week. Earl found this disquieting because virtually all production was for consumption within CONUS – not a good sign. He made sure his own needs were met as well peeling off enough weaponry to outfit three rifle companies . . . always nice to have spares.

A second acquisition was made as well – a small ammunition manufacturing company – Dalton Ammunition - in Williston, North Dakota. The attraction for Earl was that they had the ability to manufacture the entire cartridge – case, primer, bullet and they had a sister company, Dalton Powders that handled various cartridge powders. It was an entire solution. And, given its location, Dalton industries was in one of the most secure areas of the country. They too were reaping the chaos that was rolling across the country with a 300% increase in ammunition sales, primarily .223, 9mm and .45ACP since the government and law enforcement were their primary customers. That said, Earl made sure a couple pallets of ammunition found their way into his armory every week.

Hank, once settled in their new home, built a weapons range, put together his training program and went about the task of turning their new defensive force into a force to be reckoned with. Little needed to be done with former military joined their force other than keeping their skills sharp. As for civilians – their introduction to a military training program was a bit of a shock. But, with the defense of their homes and family as incentive, there were few complaints.

Tony had been temporally assigned to build a defensive force to protect both DT’s manufacturing plant and Dalton industries. In the more densely populated area around DT, the appearance of a security force to protect DT raised a few eyebrows, but given the events in the “City” a few months early everyone “understood”. As for the team protecting Dalton Industries, it was simply an expansion of their security force and little attention was paid to new faces around town.

Earl was satisfied with their progress – not that that would stop him from pushing things. Richard became the “commander” with all three platoon leaders reporting to him. It was still tight, the demands placed on Ann, Tony, Hank and Brad were intense – but doable. The news of the riots of the summer of ’50 lent urgency and their focus showed it.

Thanksgiving found all gathered around Catherin’s table. Tony and Allison were back from Minnesota, Hank and Cheryl were there with Cheryl, she was just beginning to “show”, Brad and E sitting side by side quickly becoming the couple they were destined to be, Linda was taking time off from her midterms and would graduate in June with her degree in Petroleum Engineering. Richard and Catherine looked over this gathering of “family” and felt truly blessed. If trouble were to come, they were confident they would be able to face it and survive. As for Earl and Edna there was a sense of duties being fulfilled. Earl saw the defense of his family and friends as his duty. He was confident he was giving it 110% and he was confident in the men and women he’d selected. There was not much doubt in Earl as a man – the Marine’s had taught him that. You hesitate – you die. You doubt yourself – you die. You fail to defend a fellow Marine – you die. It was a tough code, a demanding code . . . . and it was the code he lived his life by.

All were seated, the table filled with a fresh turkey from the farm and all the trimmings. Earl stood, tapped his glass gently with his spoon . . .

“Folks, let us pray. Heavenly Father – thank you for the bounty before us. Thank you for those gather around this table and thank you for your guiding hand in this troubled time. We know you will not lay before us any trouble we cannot handle. We pray you make us strong, we pray you guide our hands and keep us safe. And, should trouble indeed visit us, we pray you grant us the strength to survive and prosper. In Jesus’s name we pray . . .” Amens echoed around the table.

Trouble was coming . . . . and their faith would truly be tested beyond anything any of them envisioned . . . .

1 comment:

  1. We're holding our collective breath, out here, awaiting the next chapter!