When McDonald’s shuttered operations in Russia as part of the western corporate war on Vladimir Putin’s country, my family began a boycott of the fast-food chain. It’s been a little painful, but not for the reasons you might think. None of us miss the McBurps (greasy belches) McDonald’s food always causes. We do, however, miss our little family traditions, Mickey-D’s once or twice a month. Tradition. Value. The old-fashioned ways of success. You understand.
Hey, wait a minute. Those sneaky Ruskies may really be up to something now. Pay attention.
Those Were the Days!
I remember the first time my parents took me to eat beneath the famous golden arches. It was the early 1960s, and those McDonald’s burgers and fries were inexpensive, and memorable for many reasons, tastefully, symbolically, and otherwise. Those big arches were a sight, on Colonial Drive in Orlando, headed into the endless citrus groves Florida was so famous for. Wow. Nearly 60 years of customer loyalty are down the tubes because of dying corporate America waging its final war for the earth. Somehow, western businesses leaving Russia over a Ukraine mess our leaders created is poetic justice. But, it makes us sad too.
Now that the Russians have reopened the closed McDonald’s franchises in Moscow under the catchy new name Vkusno & Tochka (Or Tasty, Period) maybe the cheap hamburger can become a lesson (a symbol perhaps) of why America’s super-capitalism (and her hegemony) had to end. You see, branding is all well and good, but ultimately diners only want a tasty meal, at a price they can afford. Or, am I wrong?
Not too many of my countrymen know how these franchises were established in America in the first place. Location was a big part of every shop’s success in the old days. Ask the creator of the famous 7-Eleven convenience store chain, Joe C. Thompson (Tote’m Stores initially). The name of this legendary chain says a lot about how America once was, stores being a novelty if they were open early to late. These stories, especially the history of McDonald’s, ironically, can teach us a lot about what went wrong in a world led by so-called “American values.” Bear with me, this is really interesting and really important.
Way back in 1954, a middle-aged guy, salesman Ray Kroc, visited a client restaurant in San Bernardino, California run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald. The hardworking Kroc was amazed at how efficient and effective this small diner was. The McDonald’s brothers, you see, produced a limited menu, concentrating on just a few items – burgers, fries, and beverages. This focus allowed them to crank out very high-quality food and quick service. As it turned out, the brothers were hunting for a new franchising agent. So, Kroc seized the opportunity. In 1955, he founded McDonald’s System, Inc., a predecessor of the McDonald’s Corporation. A few years later the entrepreneur bought the exclusive rights to the McDonald’s name and operating platform. By 1958, McDonald’s had sold its 100 millionth hamburger, and the rest, as they say, “is history.”
Only, something went horribly wrong some decades back, though few noticed.
They Drove Us Mad
The original McDonald’s menu had 9 items including a 15-cent hamburger, a 19-cent “tempting cheeseburger,” 20-cent triple thick shakes, and more delectable items. But, by the time of the infamous OPEC oil embargo of 1973, a lot about Mcdonald’s and America had changed dramatically. The Vietnam War era was not only the opening curtain for our military-industrial complex, the business elites made extinct ideas like the “stay-at-home mom,” Sundays off for religious and restfulness reasons, and a zillion more things that should have morphed differently.
Did you know, for instance, that in 1860, only 7.5% of women worked away from home. By 1980 that percentage had risen to 52%. As of 2010, almost 70% of women are in the workforce outside their homes. And their job, besides helping to bring home enough money to satisfy inflation, taxes, and the costs of living? To produce, and then consume everything that the billionaires standing behind the World Economic Forum profit from. Slaves, for the lack of a better description. Their children left in the care of state-run educational sweatshops called public schools, get indoctrinated into the latest fanatical trend. “Groomed,” as it were, for the next phase (or redux) of the great lie.
Returning to my McDonald’s motif, the fast-food giant added two Quarter Pounder burgers, the Filet-O-Fish, bigger fries, the hot apple pie, triple ripple ice cream, and my favorite, the Big Mac by 73. But, by then KFC, Burger King, Hardees, Krystal, Burger Chef, Dairy Queen, Lums, Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips, Big Boy, and a score of others were competing. And like every other corporation back then, the only way up was growth through expanded choices. Or, so they surmised. Menus in America for everything went mad in the 1970s. From Automobiles to televisions and everything in between, we were advertised into a state of constant dissatisfaction. Too many choices! Way too many choices!
For Americans, the only way to be satiated was with MORE! We’d be happy, they told us, with the all-new, brand spanking, whatever. We forgot, in a big way, what life is really all about. Buster Brown, or Kinney Shoes, perhaps Converse All-Stars if you played basketball, were emblematic of the idea a quality show was important, but not THE most important aspect of existence. In the early 1960s, I remember about a dozen candy bars, four or five different cola products, basically four car makers, and RCA Victor, the TV and phonograph brand logo of a dog (Nipper) listening to his master’s voice on the gramophone. And guess what? Those three TV channels had more entertainment than the 300 we get now. Nobody under 50 will get this point, but it’s still an important point to consider as our country fades into the sunset.
Hey, Wait a Minute!
Speaking of ironies, 1973 has other parallels. After all, the 1973 Arab-Israeli War was the cause for Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to impose an embargo on the United States. The move was a retaliation for the U.S. decision to resupply the Israeli military and to gain leverage in the post-war peace negotiations. Interestingly, then-President Richard Nixon announced a new energy strategy to boost domestic production to reduce U.S. vulnerability to oil imports and ease the strain of nationwide fuel shortages. In the end, Nixon and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (still more ironic, he’s still in the game today) helped orchestrate the First Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement Agreement on January 18, 1974, which was good enough to convince OPEC to lift the embargo.
I must include here another “coincidental” piece of irony, Henry Kissinger’s role in creating something most people have never heard of, the International Energy Agency (IEA). This Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organization used the framework of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis to act as a policy adviser to its member states. As it turns out, the IEA informed the world’s leadership that “peak oil” had already been reached by 2006. These experts also informed U.S. leadership that the United States would have to invest some $40 trillion dollars by 2035 to keep up with demand. That’s forty thousand, billion dollars, for those who hate counting zeros. Or, twice the entire yearly European Union Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Throughout its history, the IEA has released oil stocks in order to bolster oil markets. Now get this. The first time was in 1991 during the Gulf War. Then in 2005, the release of 2 million barrels per day for a month after Hurricane Katrina helped US production. In 2011 the war on Ghaddafi to change the regime in Libya was the cause for intervention. And now, the Russian military intervention in Ukraine is the latest stimulus for the Kissinger-created IEA to act in unison with the EU. I’ve no time or space to deep dive into IEA, but Faith Birol, the Executive Director of the agency, is also the Chairman of the World Economic Forum (Davos) Energy Advisory Board. Or, a leading orchestrator of the ongoing problems we face. Only their plan now is yet another menu choice that will be disastrous for us all.
When McDonald’s began to see geometric growth back in the early 1960s, competitors swooped in from all corners to snatch a piece of a humongous profit pie. Vietnam, the Rock & Roll cultural shift back home in England and America, and the demand for ever-innovative and numerous choices created wealth in the west like never before. The early 70s saw the United State rocket into an exalted position both financially and culturally. The world wanted to be like us. And half the world had been cordoned off effectively, by the breakup of allies after World War 2. China and the Soviet Union were effectively partitioned and then used as scapegoats whenever needed. The so-called “liberal world order” had its big chance, and the elites running it ran amok in their greed. We were all privy to it, but drugged into submission like any nation or group of nations would be.
So, are we witness to some kind of sick redux of 70s corporate maneuvering?
“Life, as usual,” for those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s, was a kind of strange fairytale. Again, I suffer for time to delve into this. But, suffice it to say we willingly worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, to get the cash to buy their cars, big TVs, boats, RVs, 4x4s, and duplicate microwaves, grills, and toaster ovens to cook ourselves into obesity.
Finally, if you go to Tripadvisor and look for the reviews for the Orlando McDonald’s I loved as a kid, you’ll be shocked to find the place called things like the “Ghetto McDonalds on Colonial Drive,” from a complaint about exactly what I’ve discussed here – too many choices. Apparently, the world’s most famous burger joint now serves Mozzarella sticks irate customers expect for free if they are not mentioned. I won’t get into how waiting 8 minutes for breakfast drives Americans crazy these days.
The point, roundabout as it seems, is our empire is crumbling because we let it. We forgot everything that made America great. Simple ideas, the pursuit of authentic happiness, and not taking any wooden nickels just sped on past us like Michael Jordan flying past in $200 basketball shoes. They made us perpetually miserable, and we loved it. Now the Russians, or anybody else with a non-nonsense and some cash, can rebuild the ruins of our crumbling mercantilism. I figure the Russians are on the right path with Vkusno & Tochka (Or Tasty, Period). That is if they only try to do tasty hamburgers and thick, cool shakes right. And besides, Putin’s administration will now think twice about letting Burger King, KFC, or any of the sellouts or potential competitors back in.
As for Europe? I’d bet on companies like the old McDonald’s, or a new franchise of Vkusno & Tochka, taking over the coming bankruptcies.
Phil Butler, is a policy investigator and analyst, a political scientist and expert on Eastern Europe, he’s an author of the recent bestseller “Putin’s Praetorians” and other books. He writes exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.