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Why Jim Badasci 'Went Postal': How Bullying Bosses and Economic Devastation Are Behind America's Latest Workplace Shooting

Baldasci's shooting opens a window into Fresno, Calif.'s climate of soaring unemployment, scheming agribusiness oligarchs and Sean Hannity-inspired right-wing rage.

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That last part, about how he lived with his mother at age 46, might offer one clue as to what might have been bothering Badasci; that, and the fact that everyone I read or saw interviewed seemed so casual about that, as if living with his mother and treating her well didn't pain him, as if they were unaware that American culture marks such people as losers and laughingstocks, disqualified from the Darwinian Tournament.

If you ask me, that sounds about as miserable as a life can be: living at home with your mother outside of Fresno, in the unbearable heat and dust, at age 46, working every day in a John Deere dealership in a barren strip off Highway 99, where business is bad and tempers are hot because of a three-year drought and a recession, and to top it all off, management treats him like shit. Who wouldn't want to end that violently?

Few would actually do it -- only the mentally sick, of course -- but many, even healthy types, would dream of it…

So even though every person interviewed who knew Badasci had such nice things to say about him, and even though von Flue, and apparently others, seem eager to get the truth out about what went on at the company, officially no one knows why he shot anyone, and officially, no one seems to care.

It is as if we've come to accept these rampage slayings as inevitable, as if there were always worker-on-worker killings in the American workplace, as if the workplace was always a dangerous place, a stressful place, a humiliating, degrading, insecure place where no one could be trusted, from the executives stuffing their pockets to the co-worker you wrongly suspect of being "the type who'd go postal."

All that is brand new by any historical measure: The first of these modern workplace massacres, pitting abused employee against his own company, took place just 20 years ago this month, at the Standard Gravure plant in Louisville, Ky., when an aggrieved employee arrived at work with a gym bag full of weapons, and killed eight co-workers and wounded 12, before blowing his brains out.

Compared to that body count, Tuesday's shooting at the Fresno Equipment Co. was a mere skirmish: two dead, no injuries. And we aren't learning much, in part because Fresno Equipment's owners barred employees from talking to the media, according to a local ABC affiliate -- and they'll be inclined to listen, given Fresno's 15 percent unemployment rate.

Moreover, Fresno has a particularly nasty socioeconomic culture: at the top, a vicious ruling class of agribusiness plutocrats and their corrupt political tools, who together lord over hordes of pissed-off crackers and endlessly exploited Latino laborers.

In a lot of ways, the region has more in common with a kleptocratic post-Soviet country, or an old Upton Sinclair novel, than what we think of as "modern America."

Below the agribusiness oligarchs in Fresno County is a huge class of people struggling to keep its head above water, and losing. An estimated 41 percent of the people in Fresno County are either uninsured or underinsured, among the worst in the country. Housing prices collapsed out here, and coupled with the drought, unemployment in some Central Valley farming towns reaches as high as 40-50 percent.

The struggle with poverty can mean dozens of circles of hell, levels that you wouldn't imagine possible, like this one described in a recent Fresno Bee feature:

Ask [the Rev. Sharon] Stanley about the cost of being poor, and she whips out a plastic bag with dozens of dead cockroaches inside. They were gathered from one apartment along Lowe Avenue. "Every night, when you turn on the light, roaches scatter," Stanley said.

The roaches, attracted to mold and moisture behind the walls, wiggle into the ears of young children, prompting costly midnight visits to the emergency room, she said.