I left my apartment this afternoon for the first time in weeks and was immediately confronted by the systemic failings of an increasingly dysfunctional society.
The habitual and trivial craziness I encountered was an eerie echo of the final days of Communist rule in the Soviet Union. In both cases, corrupt ruling elites were so insulated from the painful truths of their faltering societies that they had no idea how intolerable routine life had become for the masses.
Communist leaders inhabited a world of relative plenty, because they lived and worked in privilege bubbles where Soviet society still functioned. The members of the U.S. business and political aristocracy are similarly situated inside privilege bubbles where everything works and works well.
However, that’s not the case outside of them. While the self proclaimed political aristocracy, beautiful people and Masters of the Universe in Washington, D.C., Silicon Valley and Manhattan are balling those of us in Flyover Country are dealing with boarded up homes, shuttered factories, abandoned Main Streets, homeless veterans, and methead zombies.
Basic things are beginning to fall apart here in the U.S. in a multitude of small ways which are barely perceptible individually, from ridiculously low wages to ridiculously high health insurance costs to the increasing invisibility of working people in our own national news media.
Each new bit of decline – while insignificant by itself – is a small step closer to total collapse. Each new inability to make the system function properly represents another small step toward resignation for a struggling populace which is increasingly alienated from its wealthy rulers.
The first example of the three tiny disconnectw I experienced today occurred when OfficeMax showed me how its quest for short-term profit growth was undermining basic business fundamentals; the second when absurd tobacco regulations forced three adults to work together so one old man could have a smoke; and the third when I repeatedly tried and failed to get on the Internet to post this column.
All that agida in just under 40 short minutes – half of them spent behind the wheel. Clearly, modern Americans now encounter more stress in an hour than our grandparents did all year.
By the time I returned I felt like the character “Chef” from the classic antiwar film “Apocalypse Now.” He’s the patrol boat crewman who runs wild after encountering a tiger in the Vietnamese rainforest while gathering mangos. The unexpected threat is the last straw for a good man already under duress.
An unhinged Chef runs for the boat afterward, tears off his shirt, and tearfully screams “never get out of the boat.” Which pretty much summarizes life today in these United States for a faltering middle class which is simultaneously being frightened by its political leaders and fleeced by it business leaders
I should have followed Chef’s advice this morning. Like him, I was seemingly engaged in the most mundane of daily actions as I cruised to OfficeMax to purchase Post-it Notes.
However, the war-crazy, corporate police state I encountered seems to be less resemblance to the America I know with each passing day.
Case No. 1 occurred at my neighborhood OfficeMax, where the office supply chain is engaged in a furious battle for corporate profit growth by any means necessary. The result was an insane price of $8.99 for just 50 of the tiny scraps of paper with the dabs of adhesive on their backs. Might as well have been $10 for a pack of chewing gum.
Most people think nothing of grabbing a handful of Post-it Notes at work. A brick of the reminders probably costs less than a penny to manufacture and transport to market, but now costs more per pound than Filet Mignon at OfficeMax.
Because our publicly traded companies are becoming unhinged in a world where those who fail to grow fast are all but abandoned by investors. So much so that they’re now cannibalizing their own customers, suppliers and employees.
We’re talking about the kind of outrageous retail pricing our government used to call “gouging” before the Fortune 500 took them over and they all went insane.
I immediately walked next door to Dollar General, which sold me exactly the same package of Post-it Notes for $1.50 each.
So, why would OfficeMax adopt such a ridiculously high price, which can only alienate its retail customers?
Same question again times two for doing so right next to a discount store?
Your guess is as good as mine. It’s mindless idiocy. No more, no less.
The Harvard Business School grads inits corporate boardroom clearly have no idea what they’re doing any more and zero attention to detail.
The painful truth is that the Greed is Good crowd has jumped the shark. They’ve completely lost sight of basic business fundamentals in their obsession with share price and Big Data. Fundamentals like customer service, brand reputation, and not alienating your own customers.
Office Depot shares are down $2.20 apiece since they were first issued in 1988, according to Google Finance. It merged with OfficeMax in 2013 to create the largest office supply chain the U.S.
Clearly, this money losing enterprise is run by friggin geniuses. That’s why they live in mansions inside our society’s privilege bubbles while their exploited employees scratch and claw for basic survival.
The other possibility is that Office Depot may just be “Too Big To Manage” after growing rapidly via acquisition. There simply may not be anyone with a handle on all the moving parts of all the different business units anymore.
It’s not a singular story. The same story of institutional dysfunction is now the hallmark of a plethora of other iconic American corporations, from Taco Bell to Chrysler.
Office Depot’s executives act as if they bought the right to behave like a monopoly when they merged with Office Depot.
Because our government sucks and the political hookers running let the cat into the hen house by permitting so many corporate mergers. They’re made competitive retail pricing a thing of the past for many industries.
Case in point, motor oil. It costs about $8 a quart now. It was $1 before oil prices jumped from $45 a barrel to $155 in 2008. When those crazy prices receded, gasoline priced fell but the cost of lubrication oil never came back down.
Because the current generation of garbage elites doesn’t give a shit about their fellow Americans any more.
God forbid the paper capitalists in the Greed is Good crowd should ever fail to gouge their own customers; ever fail to insulate themselves from true competition by buying elected “leaders;” ever support competitive pricing in a free market; or ever do anything to advance the greater good.
Don’t even think about buying a piece of steak. You need a line of credit backed by your own mortgage to even look at a decent cut of meat any more.
Know who doesn’t have a clue about that state of affairs?
Try President Obama, House Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, and Mitch McConnell. Try JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimond, the pampered royals of the House of Saud, and the professional healers who routinely mug decent working people when they fall ill before the age of 65. Try the owners of every professional sports team who routinely raid the treasury to build a new stadium for their teams, whiel pricing admission beyond the reach of most taxpayers.
They don’t know because most of the time they don’t pay for their own meals. We do.
Somehow, Chef managed to read my mind about this sorry state of affairs in Apocalypse Now in 1979.
“You can kiss my ass in the county square because I’ve fuggin had it,” actor Frederic Forrest declared in his big scene. “I didn’t get out of the goddamn eighth grade for this. I don’t need it. I don’t want it.”
My sentiments exactly.
Fuck. This. Place.
Case No. 2 occurred a minute later as I stood in the Dollar Store checkout line, trying desperately to mind my own business. There was an elderly, homeless veteran ahead of me trying to buy a pack of cigarettes. And failing.
Not because he was penniless, but because he didn’t have a driver’s license.
You can’t buy cigarettes in the U.S. any more without a driver’s license, even if you’re already dying of cancer while living in a tent in a forest.
I assume it’s because he could be a member of Al Quaeda’s vaunted air force (below right). Presumably the same national security protections now apply to instant coffee. too.
Or, perhaps it’s because our incredibly compassionate society cares so much about those it now views him as surplus humanity?
This kind of idiot rule is the handiwork of sheltered 1 Percenters who spend all their time forcing their imbecile views on the rest of us.
Go ahead and try to buy a Big Gulp at a 7/11 in New York City. The same motherfugger who has waged war on them also raised city bridge and tunnel tolls, and bus and subway fares to cover the drop in tax revenue resulting from The Great Recession created by hi buddies on Wall Street.
By raising fees instead of taxes, then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ensured he would pay just about as much as the vendors selling hot-dogs in Central Park. Even though he’s worth more than $20 billion.
Because Bloomberg is what we call “a piece of work.” He and his ilk exist in a privilege bubble that insulates them from the suffering they habitually create for the rest of us.
In a desperate act of sheer treason, I finally broke down and purchased the smokes for the gravelly voiced veteran ahead of me at The Dollar Store
Apparently, service members can die for us and kill for us, but they can’t be trusted to buy a friggin cigarette
The middle-aged female cashier apologized afterward. She explained that there’s a camera over the register which records all purchases as the embarrassed vet repaid me.
“I could lose my job if they saw me selling cigarettes to anyone without a driver’s license,” she said.
She didn’t say “be taken to the woodshed.” No.
She said “fired.”
Why any corporate executive would think it’s good business to place obstacles in front of time-pressed consumers defies logic. Same goes for gouging customers and degrading your own employees.
Customers have one job and only one job in a retail store and that’s to pay for their purchases.
We shouldn’t have to give anyone our emails, cell phones numbers, home addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, or driver’s licenses. All of which are routinely demanded from us now.
Once again with feeling: Fuck. This. Shit.
An elderly veteran shouldn’t have to produce a driver’s license to have a smoke in this country when he wants one. The hell with that noise. And I shouldn’t have to price shop for fuggin Post-it notes.
Just ask actor Martin Sheen, the star of Apocalypse Now. He knew what time it was in the failing American empire.
“Never get out of the boat,” Sheen said as he reflected upon Chef’s outburst. “Absolutely goddamn never. Unless you’re going all the way.”
Sadly, I wasn’t prepared to go all the way this afternoon. I didn’t know I was heading into the dysfunctional dark side of deepest Corporate America when I left my apartment. I thought I was just driving down the street to spend a couple bucks on some friggin Post-it notes.
I didn’t fully realize the incredible accuracy of the phrase “Outside it’s America.”
I didn’t understand the degree to which it means “bad things will habitually happen to you once you step outside you home because our society has been hijacked by ruthless, arrogant 1 Percenters who know they’re wrong and don’t give a shit.”
Case No. 3 occurred back home when I tried to log into the Internet to entertain you with my surreal escapades. I pay plenty for unlimited access to the Internet, but my connection rarely seems to work properly. Miraculously, the ads still seem to run just fine even when I can’t connect to the rest of the Internet.
Because its cheaper for Verizon and T-Mobile to buy political protection in DC than it is for them to fix their systems and deal fairly with the masses.
Don’t even think about calling customer service to sort it out. That’s not help. That’s punishment.
See what I mean about dysfunction?
Less and less seems to work as it should these days and it’s not just your imagination.
Don’t even try to fly the friendly skies. Used to be you bought your ticket, walked on the plane and leaned back for a snooze. Now, you have to pay $30 a day for parking, $25 for each bag, $12 for the landing fee, arrive two hours early to navigate security, and then squeeze into a plane with zero legroom so somebody’s service cat can cough hairballs all over you for four hours while you wait on the jetway.
All in the a name of forever profit growth via forever cost cutting.
At a certain point this climate of perpetual scarcity translates into an attitude of sheer pissiness by the ruled toward their rulers. It radicalizes us all against our leaders by convincing us they posses neither the ability nor the inclination to govern.
In the dysfunctional society you have to make like a beleaguered Russian in the final days of the USSR by making your own rules and finding your own workarounds. With that in mind, I’ve taken a page from their playbook and found a way to fix my Internet problems without leaving the proverbial boat.
I now login to the xHamster free porn site instead of calling customer support whenever my Internet fails.
It’s widely acknowledged that the porn industry has the best online technology. This must be true, because all my sluggish browser tabs seem to come to life as soon as I load one porn clip on xHamster.
Sure, I know, this tactic would never work for you because you don’t watch porn. Me neither. I use it strictly to clean up my Internet connection.
Anyway, logging into xHamster sure beats calling your local cellphone provider’s customer support team. Most of the time you wind up talking to someone there named Mahendra in Mumbai who thinks English and American are the same thing.
It can be a little frustrating. Especially when he starts telling you his name is “Bob,” and he’s in Cleaver-land.
Me: “What state is that in?”
Bob: “Uhh, Florida?”
Me: “Oh yeah. Hey, how ’bout them Cowboys huh Bob?”
Bob: “Oh yes, I enjoy them very much.”
Me: “That Ice Bowl game with Green Bay was really something, huh?”
Bob: “A spirited match to be certain.”
The point isn’t that I have anything against the Mehendras of the world, much less the Bobs. It’s just that I want to see more Americans employed at a living wage at a time when the percentage of our population with jobs is near a 32 year low. Only 59.3 percent of those 16 and older had a job in October, which is one of the lowest levels since women entered the workplace in large numbers.
Fortunately, the official U.S. unemployment rate is much more upbeat. It says our unemployment rate was unchanged at 5 percent in April – one of the lowest rates since 2008.
How does that work?
Basically, the unemployment rate doesn’t measure unemployment.
It ignores anyone who has been unemployed so long that they’ve given up all hope of quickly finding another job. A description which covers a helluva lot of Americans these days.
The official bullshit unemployment rate is pretty amazing. It actually goes down the longer people remain out of work. This happens because the unemployed gain the super power of invisibility in our system after six months without work.
Amazingly, if everyone in the nation lost their job and gave up looking for work the jobless rate would reach zero in about six months once they all exhausted their unemployment benefit checks.
This is the kind of nonsense proves my working hypothesis about our society. Which is that it’s been taken over by the Donnie Trustfunds at the bottom of the friggin country club barrel. They’re as dumb as a bag of hammers, mean as rattlesnakes, and seem to enjoy making life as unbearable as possible for decent working people.
The problem with the way our society reacts to insane incidents like those outlined above is that our political hookers immediately turn them into a kindergarten level debate between government regulation and no regulation. Instead of addressing their failure to ensure we have effective government regulation, rather than absurd regulation.
Like the regulation that would have kept an elderly veteran from enjoying a smoke this afternoon.
Meanwhile, not a single banking CEO or major shareholder has been lined up against a wall and shot for destroying the global economy for the entire human race.
You can even see this bias in Reality TV. Take the absurd American Greed television show that got its start at the height of The Great Recession in 2007. Originally, it focused on misconduct by Wall Street executives. Today, it focuses on misconduct by little guys like you and me – who cannot afford to defend themselves in our $450 an hour legal system.
Much like our inflated medical system, it’s the best legal system on the planet for the 1 Percenters who can afford it. Not so much for the rest of us.
This kind of insanity is orchestrated by the same 1 Percenters who have given our species a global gross domestic product of $78 trillion and a global debt or $240 trillion.
Where did all that money go?
Right into the pockets of the very same Donnie Trustfunds who have been clamoring for widespread austerity measures to pay off those debts. They don’t pay taxes like we do and don’t need any help spending their borrowed riches, but would very much like the rest of us to pay off their debts for them.
Forty minutes, three hassles, and a little more circumstantial evidence that the folks who are “Too Big to Fail” represent the rebranding of the hereditary despots who once ran this planet like a slave plantation.
They were called “Kings” and “Queens” back then, instead of “investors” and “CEOs.”
What’s the difference?
Spelling and pronunciation.
Same goes for the concept of “prima nochta” (click pic at right for video). That’s the rationale royals used in Medieval times to bone the bride whenever a pair of 99 Percenters was about to get married. Today, they just lock our kids into a cycle of debt that begins with their college loans and then wave a fancy car in front of the pretty girls.
The effect is pretty much the same.
The faltering middle class gets screwed either way.
We now live in the kind of world where billionaires like Trump and Bloomberg often pay no taxes whatsoever, but run everything; overworked wage-earners go bankrupt the first time they get sick before age 65; police crack down on their own neighbors and kids; and voters have a choice between electing the male or the female of Wall Street agents.
It’s not just the 1 Percent either.
We’ve gone crazy in the 99 Percent too. This is the country where there where 800 volunteers at the Humane Society animal shelter outside New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That’s about one volunteer for every five animals.
Meanwhile, the hopelessly overcrowded shelters for humans had about one volunteer for every 100 people. I know because I was there, working as a reporter.
The self righteous behavior of the Humane Society volunteers was particularly galling after I performed the body count a St. Rita’s Nursing Home, where 35 seniors died in a mass drowning.
You literally cannot make this shit up.
That’s why you never get out of the boat if you can avoid it. Absolutely fuggin never.
God created Amazon for a reason.
Because outside, it’s America and it’s no prize any more.