Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Kapitalists:' Best Remedy For U.S. Storm

For the past three weeks, the government of the United States has been partly closed. Over 280,000 federal workers were sent home and another 480,000 were asked to continue working without pay, until the Democratic president and the Republican-controlled Congress come to an agreement over the budget.

The country did not grind to a halt. Essential services, from the U.S. military to the FBI to the air traffic controllers, continued as usual. The first deprivation to be noticed was the closure of national parks and museums, which annoyed a lot of tourists but hardly amounted to a national crisis.

Then people buying new homes with federally-backed mortgages were frustrated. Then some veterans stopped getting their benefit payments. The newly unemployed could not register for unemployment pay. Meals on Wheels for the home-bound elderly ran out of money. No new passports or visa applications were being processed. The checks stopped for medical and other researchers.

Slowly but surely, the government began running down, and over the weekend, the politicians finally reached enough of a compromise to get the federal employees back to work. No sooner had President Bill Clinton signed the new bill than the biggest blizzard in decades hit the East Coast of the United States, doing a far more efficient job of closing down Washington than its politicians ever achieved.

Airports from New England down to the Carolinas were closed. The Bos-Wash corridor, the 800-kilometer-long costal strip that runs from Boston through New York and Philadelphia to Washington and contains the bulk of the financial, governmental, scientific and academic resources in the United States, was frozen solid.

The Walker family was coming back from a skiing holiday in Colorado when we ran into this "storm of the century," as the media called it. Our aircraft was diverted to Pittsburgh. We were told there was no chance of flying on to Washington for another 36 hours. There were no trains. Road travel was "strongly discouraged."

It all looked like a routine Moscow winter to us, a heavy snowstorm, maybe half a meter thick over 24 hours. So we rented a car and drove the 500 kilometers back. It took about six hours, over spasmodically snow-ploughed highways, fringed by abandoned cars. No Moscow driver could have understood why the governor of Pennsylvania kept interrupting the car radio to declare an emergency.

Apart from some of the northern cities where they are used to the stuff, Americans are hopeless about snow. They do not plan for it, which means their cities have too few snowplow blades and no system of hiring private trucks to plow and cart the snow away.

All this makes for a business opportunity for the city of Moscow. This is the perfect week to pitch Moscow's world-renowned snow-clearing skills. Offer a consultancy package to New York and Washington on the best ways to cope. They might even be in the market for some of those Kapitalisti trucks with the grasping arms that haul in the snow.

But make sure any consultancy fee is paid cash in advance. Before the snow came along to do the job properly, the closure of the U.S. government had left a lot of bills unpaid. In these days of political warfare between White House and Congress, the United States is taking the business of government about as seriously as they take snow-clearing.