November 15, 2004

Secession Diaries, Part V - Snack At Midnight

The biggest nightmares have the smallest triggers.

It was early June of 2012. Life in both of the new nations had settled into a rough, jittery stasis.

The economic growth in "Red" America had slowed from its double-digit pace of the late '00s into a steady 5-6%, dampened slightly by the massive influx of blue-staters. Even that was good news, though - most of the immigrants from the USoC were, if not the nation's elite (they had, indeed, no reason to leave for the most part), at least a fair percentage of the nation's entrepreneurial class; middle-class people who were used to a lot of mobility, and who had options. The immigration scare - where the USoC Parliament nearly banned emigration - created a temporary spike in the numbers, and these numbers were of direct benefit to the economy. With unemployment in the 4.5% range, "Red America" as many still called it was prosperous and generally happy.

Many more BlueStaters (as they were frequently called) emigrated to cash in on the demographic changes; Red-staters old and new, their consumer confidence surging, had a flood of discretionary dollars that financed changes in the demographics of other industries; as Broadway languished, regional theatre scenes in Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Boise, New Orleans, Tampa, Atlanta, Denver and Fargo began drawing well-to-do crowds - which drew a steady efflux of writers, producers and actors from New York, LA, Chicago and Minneapolis to the Red States. They in turn spearheaded a renaissance in the cultural lives of these cities; while many had had thriving cultural lives before the Split, several became positively superheated. Miami and Austin, Texas spawned musical scenes which easily rivalled Memphis in the fifties and sixties, or Minneapolis in the early eighties; the New Orleans' jazz and blues circuit became newly revitalized; a film production market erupted in Denver; there was even a thriving, throbbing, intellectually daring literary circuit in Fargo, where a clacque of writers, a mix of home-grown and expat-Bluestate authors, spawned a genre named, in the plainspoken argot of the Plains, "Fargo Books" that jiggered brains and sold books. Following the artists came the people who throve around artists; literary magazine editors, coffee shop entrepreneurs, clove cigarette merchants, purveyors of black clothing and blonde furniture. The new artists brought their art, their followers - but, for the most part, left their politics in New York and LA.

The USoC government - under Minister for Arts Courtney Love - reacted swiftly but ineffectually to the "arts drain" with an ad campaign aimed at artists and related crafts: "Don't Be a Slave Stater". After the program was widely ridiculed, the USoC Ministry of Arts tripled its budget in hopes of reaching more people.

Less troubling to the USoC's policy-making class - at least initially - was the flight of many farmers from the Blue states; booming property and commodity taxes drove the "Cheese Rebellion", which started in the USoC's agricultural breadbasket. The USoC painted itself into a bizarre corner; massive subsidies made it very easy to be a mediocre farmer, but they weren't enough to counter the taxes and penalties involved in being a successful farmer. A food glut in the late '00s was answered with a huge setaside program that took millions of acres out of production, essentially paying farmers not to farm. Dairy farming was still bound by pricing compacts set up in the seventies, which paid Massachusetts dairy farmers much more than Wisconsin dairies; combined with the new taxes, it made farming in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota a dicey proposition.

Emigration provided one answer for farmers; there was plenty of land available in the West, as the market and lack of subsidies had driven many older farmers from the land; the same lack of subsidies led to a drastic rollback in corporate farming in the West. Eastern and West Coast farmers with their knowledge of specialty crops moved to, and throve in, various Red regions.

The other answer was the New Grangers. Modelled after the Grangers of the 1800s, they were self-styled prairie populists. And in the spring of 2012, outraged at the disparity in farm subsidies and demanding cuts in property, commodity and transportation costs, the New Grangers called a farm strike.

But the Farm Strike had no immediate effect on food stockpiles, which were in fact quite ample, even given the massive set-aside programs.

But as is so often the case in history, what happened next had nothing to do with physical reality.

Whitebread Riot

Ana Marie Cox - under her nom de plume, Wonkette, had for nearly a decade been one of the leading bloggers in the USoC.

On the evening of June 13, 2012, after coming home from a DC-area nightclub with a case of the munchies, wrote:

Damn. I'm starving.
At that moment, National Public Radio producer Aaron Micah Lubeck-Enkelberger, a producer for NPR's long running program "Fresh Air", was working on a radio documentary on the phenomenon of bloggers and blogging, and their effect on the media. Lubeck-Enkelberger took a printout of the Wonkette piece to host Terry Gross, who read it on the documentary.

Irony-proof and humorless as both Lubeck-Enkelberger and Gross had been conditioned to be after a combined total of 70 years in Public Radio, the story was stripped entirely of its tongue-in-cheek context on the evening broadcast. "Fresh Air" listeners responded with an instant run on grocery stores throughout the USoC.

The next morning, NPR News reported on both the original Wonkette piece and the run on food. USoC Blogger Laureate Duncan "Atrios" Black wrote a post, here reproduced in its entirety:

Food shortage? Oh, that'd be horrible.
Atrios' millions of fans responded by flooding to the food markets, wielding baseball bats, cans of mace and tasers hoarded after the '04 election.

As the grocery stores in the college neighborhoods and tidy upscale ultraliberal enclaves came under siege, the always-dicey inner city neighborhoods began to unravel. "The Legacy of Slavery is Alive and Well, and Whitey's created a Starvation Hell", bellowed New York professional demigogue Al Sharpton on a television interview, sending thousands of rioters into the street, stripping the shelves of all groceries. Looting then spread to all other stores.

By nightfall, the inner cities of Los Angeles, Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, DC and Chicago were in flames. Dan Rather reported on the Evening News that a full-scale famine was in effect, and that Americans were "...hungrier than a coyote at a Hindu wedding". The confusion caused by the remark led to a lull in the rioting, but only a brief one. Prime Minister 1092 called out troops from the Ministries of Safety, Peace, , Housing, Welfare, Agriculture, Labor, Sensitivity and Justice; overnight, the armies moved into the USoC's inner cities. Deploying water cannon, tear gas and truncheons, they gradually restored order - except in Baltimore, which had been in the throes of a Water Department strike for two weeks. Deprived of water cannon, the Ministry of Education troops used what they believed were fire extinguishers, which unfortunately turned out to be Army-surplus flamethrowers, causing immense casualties and property damage.

The next day, the Ministry of Welfare ordered the distribution of government-held food stocks to needy people in the inner cities, while the Ministry of Safety embargoed all food shipments due to fear of food convoys being looted in the countryside; this led to a firefight in Harrisburg, PA between MOW and MOS troops, killing four soldiers and 23 innocent bystanders. News spread rapidly; blogger Oliver Willis wrote:

Troops shooting each other. That's brilliant.
Ministry of Housing troops moved to confiscate warehouses and hoarded food supplies, and Ministry of Peace troops were put to work harvesting crops in the countryside (which were, unfortunately, months from being ripe enough to harvest), while the Ministry of Education declared that the Teacher's Union was a national security asset with priority for food distributions, and the Ministry of Agriculture hurriedly printed and distributed Ration Books to millions of Americans, without actually instituting a system of rationing. At one point, a Ministry of Arts bureaucrat in rural Illinois ordered the torching of six warehouses full of corn, barley and arugula, as "a symbolic statement about the malleability, indeed the flammability, of material objects in a time of fear and hate, and the temporality of our phallocentric lifestyle." (he was acquitted at trial, after declaring the action "performance art", and went on to become a co-producer of "This American Life").

Panicked over the rioting and the appearance of ration books mere days after the first bout of news of famine - which followed reports of a grain glut in the Midwest - confused USoC citizens hoarded their food supplies, and enthusiastically participated in a huge, rapacious black market rumored to be run by the Mafia and the Ministry of Labor.

By the end of that fateful week, headlines shrieked FAMINE, and mobs of panicky citizens roamed the streets, giving indignant, frightened interviews with the world media that were punctuated by flurries of gunfire as gangs went after suspected food hoards, or as troops fought the looters.

On June 19, Prime Minister 1092 addressed the nation. She announced:

  • A new rationing system (causing the Agriculture Ministry to print another batch of ration coupons, which sparked more riots as holders of old books desperately struck out)
  • Martial Law and a suspension of the Constitution
  • A comprehensive set of retail price controls (which exacerbated the shortages and gave the Black Market a gross product larger than France and Russia combined)
  • that the Farm Strike was to blame for the Famine, and that farmers would be required to return to work forthwith
  • That troops led by the Ministry of Agriculture's Tactical Extension Service (and supported by troops from Labor, Peace, Safety and Housing) would be moving into the rural areas to enforce the Agricultural Emergency Act
  • That all looters would be shot on sight, nationwide.
  • Finally, that the conservative media - talk radio, bloggers, and the Fox and NARN news networks - in the "Red" USA were partly responsible for the famine, by creating a "climate of hunger".
The next morning, MoAg troops in armored vehicles deployed into the countryside, as mobs in New York and DC stormed and looted US embassies and consulates.

The troops had a simple mandate; crank up food production "by any means necessary".

The US offered aid (which was rebuffed by the Ministry of Safety - it would "send the wrong message" for the USoC to accept food and disaster aid from the US), but watched events warily. For the first time since The Split, Congress considered re-arming.

Events overtook everyone far too fast for civil debate.

Posted by Mitch at November 15, 2004 11:47 AM | TrackBack

This is a fun story (kind of), although it probably paints too rosy a picture for the Red States. If The Nation crowd were running th USoC, you probably have painted the Blue States story pretty accurately (or at least what more normal people would expect). What happened to Garrison Keillor?

Posted by: Jim Bender at November 15, 2004 12:57 PM

This has now gone over the line from clever satire to...not clever satire. Come on, Mitch, the Nationites wouldn't win 20% of the votes of liberal Democrats, much less sieze control of the blue states.

It's as likely as Bob Jones becoming president of the Red States--'tain't gonna happen. One would hope.

Posted by: Jeff Fecke at November 15, 2004 03:29 PM


The scenario is certainly rosy for the Reds; it's intended to be as over the top about Red state economic and moral values as the various Blue state "pro-secession" pundits are about their alleged intellectual and moral superiority - the conceit that led to the whole "secession" meme in the first place.

Jeff - noplace have I ever called this piece a prediction or a detailed political analysis. It's intended as a broad, hamfisted (what fun!) lampoon of the collective ego involved in suggesting secession. That it'd never pass electoral muster (the whole plebiscite scene in Episode I was perfunctory for a reason - it required more suspension of disbelief than the entire Kucinich candidacy) should be obvious.

Should be. That's the bit that always gets me.

Posted by: Mitch at November 15, 2004 03:59 PM

Mitch, you should've held on to this stuff and published it as a novel!!

Posted by: James Ph. at November 15, 2004 10:51 PM

Getting VERY "Atlas Strugged" thing that will happen will be that the USofC through it militias will attack the more prosperous U.S.

Last chapter is a lot like Mugabe in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and his assult on the last productive sectors of the human population.

Posted by: Greg at November 17, 2004 04:56 AM