Chapter Five: The Whip

In the Spring of 1999, 'The Crawl' worsened. The Dow Jones, which had already lost nearly twenty percent of it's value in two years took a dramatic nose dive when Congress announced a new series of tax and spending increases. The Federal Reserve, agitated by this, turned against Washington which demanded that interest rates be lowered. Instead, they raised it a full point, in an effort to persuade the Congress to rethink it's policies.

Farmers across the country, deeply in debt from two bad seasons, now had trouble raising the funds to plant this year. Despite the fact that winter had been mild, things looked bleak. Food production would still be down and prices rose again. Other industries were in trouble as well thanks to the lack of credit and consumer confidence. In many states, unemployment hit the ten percent mark.

Tax collection had become a dangerous enterprise. The amount that was collected, for the second year in a row, declined. The government's General Accounting Office announced that it's projections for increases in the National Debt would be off by some fifteen percent. This was a huge number.

Congress, with no intentions of backing down to the Federal Reserve, a private banking consortium, declared it's intentions to issue U.S. Treasury Notes in order to pay the interest due on the Debt and still fund all it's new programs. This sent shockwaves around the world. Many countries began dumping dollars. The sell off however did not go very smoothly. As it turned out, there were few takers.

Other countries were having problems of their own. In Europe, unemployment had already been high as it was. With America buying fewer goods, especially now with the dollar in decline, the situation grew worse. France and Germany were especailly hard hit with strikes and unrest. Japan and most of Asia were also hurting from the lack of exports into the U.S., and they too faced recession.

The plans to 'paper' the Debt met with strong action by the Federal Reserve, which raised interest rates to ten percent. Larry and his family watched as one evening news broadcast did a special report on this situation. "It's utter madness!", one economist said in nearly shouting. "I'm starting to believe that the country is being run by a bunch of morons!" Larry smiled at that. He knew that long ago.

By June, the dollar was in freefall, inflation was becoming a daily event, and despite an increase in relief spending, the growing number of unemployed found themselves worse off than before. "How can I feed my family on what they give me!", exclaimed one woman standing outside a grocery store. "A half gallon of milk is three bucks, as is a loaf of bread! Somebody better do something or they'll have hell to pay!" Somebody was doing something, but they were doing the wrong things.

Just before July 4th, the President and Congress agreed to a new program of wage and price controls. Unfortunately, reality and private industry didn't agree to it. Producers began reducing their output and stockpiling. Another series of layoffs began pushing the unemployment level past twelve percent. Some of the academics who advised Washington began urging federalization of key industries. "At least send some marshalls to these businesses and force them to deliver the goods.", one such animal said during a TV interview. Many people were now especially blaming the farmers who refused to send produce till they got a fair price.

Mother Nature then anteed up and a wave of blistering heat gripped much of the nation. Within a week, frazzled nerves began to come unglued. In New York City, a grocery store announced that due to the lack of fresh produce, they would limit each customer in their purchases. This met with an angry response. People smashed down the windows and looted the store. Watching it live on TV, others feared that their local market would be next. A rush of panic buying broke out and when store owners tried to slow things down, more rioting was the result.

In Chicago, the heat and humidity helped fueled tempers when police made a routine traffic stop. In St. Louis, a gang of bank robbers got into a running gun battle with police. The criminals were heavily armed and dozes of bystanders were killed or wounded. Civic leaders were outraged as to how the police let the situation get so out of hand. "Better to just let them go than destroy a neighborhood.", complained one such 'leader'.

By the first week of August, nearly every city was now on the verge of outright chaos. A trickle of people began packing up their belongings and heading for cottages or other 'retreats'. Al, who had only planned on staying at his place in Ubly for the July 4th holiday, decided to extend his visit. Other members of the Stewart family were now staying with either Uncle Pete or Larry.

It was in August that a meeting was held, secretly, at the county building in Bad Axe. Though Larry was not an elected official, he was friends with the Sherrif and his cousin Jimmy was a commissioner. Both of them knew that Larry had been expecting something like this for a long time, so he was asked to make a presentation before the commissioners.

"What we're seeing is just the beginnings of a major breakdown.", he began. "True, things may blow over and quiet down. But I think it would be prudent to take some precautionary steps now in the event that the situation deteriorates." One of the commissioners then asked what sort of steps? Larry took a sip of water and then said, "To begin with, we should quietly start telling the farmers and local seed suppliers to keep their stocks up. The less food that leaves the better. I'd also start seriously looking at stockpiling what fuel we can. The powerplant will need coal and we're gonna need all the gasoline, diesel, and kerosene we can put our hands on. Also natural gas and propane. Only a few of the towns are set up for gaslines, the majority of people use propane."

"Next, there's the matter of security. I know some of you don't like the local militias or issuing CCWs. But I think you'll have to let the sherrif start to talk with them and work out a plan of cooperation. This will mean that we'll have to create some militia units. That means organizing, training, and equipping them. It's better to do this under the direction of the legal authority than to let them just form on their own. And if things get worse, they will form. We'll have to especially concentrate on the major roads leading into Huron County. Fortunately, we only really have three main ways of getting here. Two from the south, M-25 and M-53, and one from the west, M-25 leading to Bay City and Saginaw. As far as the south approaches go, we're 150 miles north of Detroit, with plenty of towns and gun owners between us and any trouble that might come our way."

"The natural tendency is for people to head south should trouble begin. Most will figure they'll have a better chance of survival in a warmer climate. Not many will want to take their chances dealing with winter. It's not all that far off. Within eight weeks, it's gonna start getting chilly around here. Another six or so and we'll start getting snow. But, I'm sure some people will come our way. Which brings me to the next topic - refugees."

"You folks are going to have to decide just what to do about them. Now with most of the smaller county roads ending at M-59, which is like a east-west border on our south, we could funnel people through that away. I'd suggest that we get a few laptop computers and develop lists of all residents and try to find out what family members they have. If we are forced to set up roadblocks, then we can use these to only let in people with family. I'd also consider a list of desirable skills and professions. Such as doctors, nurses, etc..., that would be granted permission to resettle here."

"This seems pretty extreme!", snorted one commissioner. "And just what do we do about people who won't just be shuffled off at these roadblocks of yours?" Larry looked about the room. He suspected that few people here truly understood what he was talking about. Or maybe they did know but just couldn't bring themselves to accept the possibilities of society collapsing around them.

"That will be up to you folks to decide.", offered Larry. "But I would suggest that if we intend on being humanitarians, then it is doubly important that we begin preparing now. I have no desire to shoot anyone who simply wants a meal. And if that person is willing to do some work and abide by some common rules of decency, I'd say let them stay as long as they want. The question is, how many can we support? Or at least how many are we willing to try to help? Every day we spend now preparing may mean saving us from making a difficult, moral decision."

The room breathed a collective sigh of relief. The unspeakable remained unspoken, though Larry and others wondered just how long that may last. He finished up his presentation, stressing communications, medical supplies, and some sundry matters. The Board of Commissioners then voted on Larry's basic proposals. It was decided to start making essential preperations should the worse happen. In the next few weeks, it became quite clear that time was running out.

By mid-August, rioting had broken out in several major cities, fortunately not in Detroit. Tension was strained there, but the mayor and community leaders were pretty successful in holding off serious trouble, at least at first. In New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta, things went from bad to worse. The National Guard was mobilized. Houston and Miami soon joined in as well. Rioting also broke out elsewhere. Eventually, as resources were strained, Detroit, too, succumbed to the inevitable. As rioting was squelched in one location, it broke out someplace else. The government tried to hold things together. But each day carried more bad news.

Despite the wage and price controls, inflation proceeded at a quick tempo. By September, the rate topped the 100% mark. Wall Street had long since crashed and the Dow was closing in on the 1,000 points. People somehow managed to do the best they could, with barter replacing a cash society. By mid-September, what little order was left in the major cities had given way to chaos. In Washington, the government declared bankruptcy. A state of emergency was now in effect.

Then, from out of the blue, somebody rose to the occassion. Former U.S. Army General Matthew Gordon made an appeal for calm. He said during one of the last major TV interviews of 1999 that he had the support of several divisions commanders and was now in control of the government. Many people had considered him to be a possible candidate for President in 2000. Plenty wished he had run last time.

What military units were involved in trying to maintain order in the cities were now pulled back and closing them off instead. Those trying to flee were forced back. Major highways were blocked and some secondary roads cut off as well. But still they came, and refugees were gunned down, or directed into camps. But within days, and in some places, hours, this plan fell apart. The military withdrew back to their bases. The last dramatic steps to save the day had failed. The whip had come down, and it cracked loud and hard.

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The material you have just read is a chapter in the on-line fictional story, "When Autumn Leaves Fall" by Andrew Zarowny, copyrighted 1997. All characters and circumstances are fictional and are not intended to bare any resemblence to actual people alive or dead. You have the author's permission to copy or reproduce this material so long as you charge no money for it's reproduction or distribution.