Well. This just gets more and more Orwellian by the day, doesn’t it? Via Reuters:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the military “occupation” of a chain of electronic goods stores in a crackdown on what the socialist government views as price-gouging hobbling the country’s economy.

Various managers of the five-store, 500-employee Daka chain have been arrested, and the company will now be forced to sell products at “fair prices,” Maduro said late on Friday. …

On Saturday morning, hundreds of bargain-hunters flocked to Daka shops to take advantage of the new, cheaper prices.

“We’re doing this for the good of the nation,” said Maduro, who accuses rich businessmen and right-wing political foes backed by Washington of waging an economic “war” against him.

“I’ve ordered the immediate occupation of this chain to offer its products to the people at fair prices, everything. Let nothing remain in stock … We’re going to comb the whole nation in the next few days. This robbery of the people has to stop.”

Ah, yes — because as we all know, the determination of what kinds of prices are “fair” based on the arbitrary standards and political calculations of Venezuela’s venerable and equality-minded overlords is precisely what the country needs to help put it back on the path of economic stability and curb its annual 50+ percent inflation rate. Or, something along those lines, anyway.

Maduro and his government are still blaming the disastrous economic scenario into which they have rapidly been hurtling on the nefarious machinations of private-sector hoarding and speculation, on top of a probable plot cooked up by the United States government and opposition agitators attempting to wage “economic war” against him. Outright military occupations and takeovers are nothing that his predecessor Hugo Chavez hasn’t done before in times of political trouble, but Venezuela has municipal elections next month and Maduro really needs to do something to bolster his credibility/popularity before then. Scrapping the price controls and government interventions actually crippling the Venezuelan economy are evidently out of the question, but super-awesome ideas like deciding Venezuelans are in for an early Christmas? Totally legit. Via Mac Margolis at the Daily Beast:

Last week he created a Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness, perhaps hoping that true contentment in the crumbling Bolivarian republic could be conjured with a pen stroke. And now Maduro’s latest move has been to declare an early Christmas.

As exotic as it sounds, getting the jump on Father Christmas has its logic. In a land where prices are rising at a blistering 50 percent per  year, street crime is raging, and blackouts are commonplace, Venezuelans could use some holiday cheer. The fact that the season’s greetings come with an advance bonus on government paychecks only sweetens the pot.

And Maduro’s hoping it will help the government, as well. On December 8, Venezuelans will go to the polls yet again to vote in municipal elections. With the gathering economic mess, which has depleted supermarkets of household goods and sent the price of the dollar skyrocketing to six times the official rate, government approval ratings have sagged. By fattening paychecks before the polls, Maduro clearly is hoping to heal the country’s wounds and buoy the fortunes of Chavista candidates, many of whom are trailing rising challengers.