HIGHTOWER: First Asia, Then Latin America ... Then Us?

You don't need a crystal ball to see America's economic future -- just look at what's happening in the world around us.Specifically, check out Asia and Latin America, where domino after domino is falling as a result of speculators' greed and misguided bailouts of the greedy. Barely a year ago, such nations as South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico were being hailed by Washington and Wall Street as models of triumphant capitalism, with surging economies based on the free flow of cash pouring in from global speculators.But then the Asian Tiger and Latin Bull began staggering about 18 months ago, and the International Monetary Fund was rushed out to pour billions of our tax dollars into their failed banks and collapsing currencies -- money that ultimately flowed into the pockets of wealthy investors on Wall Street and elsewhere who had made the financial mess. These fair-weather capitalists got bailed out, but the local economies were devastated.In Asia, wages have plummeted, prices are skyrocketing, and middle-class aspirations are being crushed. Unemployment has tripled in many nations and, by next year, 50 million Asians will have been hurled into poverty. Like scenes from our own Great Depression, it's now common to see Asian professionals in the streets trying to peddle food to passersby.Yet, under pressure from the IMF and global speculators, governments in Asia and Latin America are imposing harsh austerity measures to cut spending and deficits. In Mexico, for example, President Zedillo is pushing policies to raise the price of tortillas, fuel, and phone calls, while cutting corporate income tax. Likewise, Brazil's President Cardoso is trying to lay off thousands of government employees, hike the payroll tax for social security, and increase the tax on people's ATM withdrawals.This is Jim Hightower saying ... If and when this global collapse reaches our shores, the middle class will also be the first to pay. Here's a prediction: When that happens, the American people will be hunting Wall Street speculators with dogs.

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