Reasons I love America, Part II

March 7 – That glorious bumper demands no further discussion. As an expression of popular art, it stands on its own, mutually antagonistic merits.
Nonetheless, I’ll say more. (Too much more.) Here in the Corporate States of America, we all want to have our say. We believe in nothing so much as the thoughts in our own head, and I’m no different.
We also love to celebrate our belief in personal freedom by sticking mass-produced symbols of our respective individuality on our rear bumpers.
We were fortunate enough to encounter this mosaic of chest-thumping schizophrenia the other day in the parking lot outside the YMCA at the Great Valley Corporate Center. It was enough to make my head spin. For a second I thought somebody had slipped a dose of the old 4-way window pane into my morning coffee.
Inevitable Google-infused digression: Speaking of the unspeakably great Great Valley Corporate Center, I was floored to discover Saint Ronnie gave a speech hereabouts on a rainy May 31 in 1985.  It’s a delightful read, suffused as it is with the smirking anti-government rhetoric we’ve come to expect of the hellbent-for-privatization chorus. That chorus used to do its caterwauling primarily from the right wing of the political stage but now occupies an ever-increasing portion of center stage.
The Great Communicator’s folksy wielding of the insider-as-outsider trope seems quaint and playful in contrast with the increasingly shrill and petulant voices coming out of East Sequesterville these days.  We did build it!
It’s great to be here at the (Great) Valley Corporate Center, the workplace of the future. Here in the Route 202 corridor, America is truly on a high-tech highway, rolling full speed ahead, and there ain’t no stopping us now.
Let me tell you, it’s also great to leave Washington once in awhile and see what the real America is up to. I’ve heard that some of the advanced-technology companies up here are working on what they call very large integrated systems. Now, that’s nothing new to me. Most of the time in Washington I feel like I’m working with a very large disintegrating system. 
He was in Malvern to push tax reform and elicit a few yucks from the partisan crowd. The Ronald promised to “break apart the shackles and liberate America from tax bondage.” Well hell, only a personal-finance masochist wouldn’t want to be liberated from tax bondage.
With the help of powerful Democrats such as Bill Bradley and Dick Gephardt, the Reagan administration would bring Us the People the Tax Reform Act of 1986. That act accelerated the upward redistribution of wealth, which has skyrocketed since 1979. The top tax rate was sliced from 50 percent to 28 percent, the bottom rung raised from 11 to 15 percent (The top rate stood at 70 percent prior to the first Reagan tax cut, the Economic Recovery Act of 1981).
And he we are 28 years hence, living in a land of Job Creators who reel in staggering profits while failing to, you know, create jobs. Oh, there I go again.
End of Inevitable Google-Infused Digression, back to the bumper sticker:
Anyway, how wonderful is that bumper sticker?  It’s enough to make the late Mr. Reagan smile as he pauses to pick maggots from his festering sores in whichever circle of hell he’s occupying these days. Where else will you find feel-good, feckless liberalism flanked by Tea Party rage and patrician hauteur? I can hear the Youngbloods updated for the 21st century: Come on people now, smile on your brother/end welfare as we know it/gotta get to the hunt right now!

Who is this three-headed monster, this Cerberus of back-of-the-car political expression? I don’t know, but it makes me think there oughta be an annual awards show for bumper stickers. The creation of an “award-winning bumper sticker” would be a great addition to any resume.
If such an awards existed, “Keep Working: Millions on Welfare Depend on You” would win a special honor for lifetime achievement. The sentiment warms the cold heart of winter and sends us reeling back to the halcyon days when welfare queens drove Cadillacs and cashed fraudulent Social Security checks and Reagan only wanted to be president.
The lesson remains the same: It doesn’t matter if Wall Street rogues steal safes full of gold bullion if one unemployed black woman in Harlem drives an Escalade and gets her teeth capped in gold.
And it makes me appreciate anew Reagan’s peerless gift for spinning arrant bullshit and shameless exaggeration into electoral gold. Here’s his 1976 description of the archetypal welfare queen, as quoted in the New York Times:

She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.

Eighty names! Twelve Social Security cards! Four fictitious dead husbands! Enough to make a Goldman Sachs toxic-asset-selling huckster envious.
Why can’t we all just coexist?
Funny as it may seem, some folks see evil in the hopelessly inoffensive pablum of coexist. The mere sight of the bumper sticker launched Tea Party darling Allen West into a fit of patriotic apoplexy:

” … it has all the little religious symbols on it. And the reason why I get upset, and every time I see one of those bumper stickers, I look at the person inside that is driving. Because that person represents something that would give away our country. Would give away who we are, our rights and freedoms and liberties because they are afraid to stand up and confront that which is the antithesis, anathema of who we are. The liberties that we want to enjoy.”

Ah, sweet, sensual LIBERTY! I am an American, and you are my opiate of choice.  Lusty LIBERTY!, we love thee more than we love ourselves. Give me LIBERTY! or give me a lobotomy.
To the left of coexist, we hear a word in support of good, old-fashioned Main Line superiority. The horsey set! Next to that sits the granola-crunchy “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” and finally, out on the far left, we get a small nod to the ASPCA. Every decent human being loves defenseless animals and hates Michael Vick, after all.
The more I think about it, the more that bumper seems like art. Look at it long enough, it begins to change shape and morph into something altogether different. Maybe I did swallow acid. Because what first struck me as laughably incongruous now hangs together beautifully. Yes, I’ve been thinking about this too much.
Maybe (And I’m afraid I’m about to go off the deep end here) “coexist” is the perfect metaphor for 21st century corporate rule.
The face is pleasant. It is soothing. It smiles, and it winks.
It doesn’t goose-step or fulminate. It doesn’t threaten, it pacifies.
Coexist is nothing less than the Barack Obama of bumper stickers.
How about Obama? He’s for all the right things (if you’re a liberal), right? He wants us all to coexist peacefully, doesn’t he? If you’re not predisposed to foaming at the mouth and seeing the president as a socialist, a Muslim or a foreign-born usurper, he comes across an even-handed, reasonable bloke.
Hell, being president’s a tough job. No president can’t deliver everything you want. He’s trying hard to make the best of a bad situation (I’ll give him this much: That zoo over in the House the definition of a bad situation). Give the man a break. Right?
Well, to paraphrase Philip Marlowe, the real Obama is a double-dealer, a privatization broker, a killer by remote control. He has assumed the right to kill anyone at anytime without checks, balances or inconveniences. In wielding an awesome brand of executive power that would make George W. Bush blush, he accomplished the considerable feat of making a wingnut like Rand Paul seem scrappy and practically adorable. I’m sorry, did someone say FREEDOM?
Despite winning a decisive victory in November, Obama’s poised to knuckle under and slash entitlements popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. Hey, we all have to sacrifice, right? Can’t make those honest, hard-working CEOs who rake in 380 times more than the average schlub shoulder the entire load, right?
Obama does not need to make a so-called Grand Bargain to placate his fire-breathing tormentors and sometime dinner companions on the right. He needs a deal to placate our corporate mullahs. His corporate mullahs. Problem is he just can’t get any one of the ideological zealots on his right to agree to his sweetheart deal. Yet.
Sorry. I shouldn’t go down this path. All I wanted to do was travel the country and write about people we meet along the way. I don’t fancy myself a polemicist. This was about a stupid bumper sticker.
But the more I think of that goddamn bumper sticker, the more I see in it an apt symbol – at least as apt as Obama – for 21st century America.

This just in: They’re closing 23 schools in Philadelphia. How about the eye-popping opening offer the Philadelphia School District extended its teachers?
Since then, I’ve squandered a lot of time trying to understand the disturbing fundamentals of a distressing story: the destruction of public education in America. I’ve got so many tabs up on the subject of the demise of public education that they form their own expression of accidental art. To wit:


Look at ’em all!
Anyway, Obama’s neck-deep in this thing. He’s got his Race to the Top, which is more or less a doubling-down on Dubya’s No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind. Race to the Top. Our leaders, you’ve gotta hand it to them. They’ve mastered the fine art of doublespeak. Ladies and gentlemen, how about a hand for Mr. George Orwell!
In Philadelphia, where the state took control over the district in 2001, the schools are run by the School Reform Commission. Three of the commission’s five members are appointed by the governor. The incumbent is Tom Corbett, who is something of a kept man, even by the subterranean standards we’ve set for politicians.
For instance, Corbett received more than $334,000 in campaign contributions from a charter school mogul named Vahan Gureghian. Mr. Gureghian is a story in himself. He’s an ostentatious old-school capitalist and one of Pennsylvania’s most influential political donors. He built himself a 10-bedroom, 11-bathroom, 1-bowling alley, French-style mansion in the high-toned Philadelphia suburb of Gladwyne. He recently paid $29 million for an oceanfront home property in Palm Beach, Fla.  He plans to erect another Robber Baron-style mansion there, complete with outdoor kitchen and a series of ornate fountains.
His Charter Schools Management, Inc. runs the state’s largest charter school in the urban wasteland of Chester, where the public school system is on its knees. CSMI runs 150 charter schools in nine states, which helps explain how Gureghian can afford to live like Gatsby in Philadelphia and Floria. And he does it all on the taxpayers’ dime.
Following the nationwide privatization blueprint, Corbett & Co. systematically starved the state’s public school system, cutting an estimated $1 billion over the course of his administration. When schools in impoverished areas see their property-tax revenues crater and their state funding dry up, they become ripe for the reaper. And whenever you hear the word “reform” in education circles, you can be sure the vultures of privatization are circling nearby.
The Philadelphia reform commission called in the Boston Consulting Group and paid it a nominal fee (at least $1.4 million) to turn in a report with boilerplate recommendations: close public schools, open more publicly funded by privately run charter schools (in Pennsylvania at least, charter school companies don’t even have to disclose how they spend their money). Next thing you know, those lazy, no-good teachers are met with outrageous contract demands.
Unions bad! Businessmen good! Government bad! Businessmen good!
This push for privatization is not just cultivated in the usual right-wing precincts. The liberals, the Democrats, the so-called progressives are in on the deal in a big way. Obama’s education secretary and basketball buddy Arne Duncan is deep in the pockets of the privatization posse. He’s a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. Show me an urban school superintendent, and I’ll show you a Broad academy graduate.
So you see, coexist! A good liberal like Barack Obama, a man with a humane conscience and a cultivated mind, is really is not so different from Ronald Reagan. Like Clinton before him, he’s a conservative Democrat with a thinly veiled hostility for New Deal programs which remain popular with a broad base of the American electorate.
Obama is, as one critic labeled him, the President of Privatization. Race to the Top promotes charter schools and the privatization of public education and institutionalizes the anti-teacher agenda of linking teacher performance with student test results. He is friend to the Broads, the Gateses, the Waltons and all the hedge fund managers and putative liberals like Al Sharpton and Michelle Rhee and Oprah Winfrey who are selling out urban America and lining the pockets of new age Robber Barons like Vahan Gureghian.
And despite all the propaganda, charter schools perform no better than public schools, though they get to cherry pick students. They conveniently ignore the fundamental reason why urban schools are so terrible: the Dickensian blightscapes from which most urban students emerge.
But freed from government shackles, they do sometimes produce horrifying hilarity.
Why did I go down this road? It’s obvious by now I’m about a thousand fathoms out of my depth.
Here’s a man who was never out of his depth. In a little more than 3 minutes, he explains what I’ve squandered a thousand words (so far) on to little result:

Because they still enjoy the protection of unions, however weak, public school teachers are the new welfare queens. The privatization posse brilliantly pits them against workers in the corporate world who already have seen their wages slashed and their retirements gutted. If we have to suffer, why should teachers get decent wages, humane retirement packages and union protection? They shouldn’t. To hell with them!
From Seattle to Philadelphia, the privatization posse is bent on destroying public education and teachers unions so already-rich business interests can gobble up a windfall of public money and become even richer
But really, what does it matter? Why do I waste so many words so pointlessly? With the way temperatures are rising across the globe, I probably worry needlessly. A corporate takeover of public education is small beer when placed alongside worldwide catastrophe.

That said, let’s move over to the Devon Horse Show, that hoary equestrian to-do out on the western fringes of the Main Line. My mom loves the Devon Horse Show, bless her heart. And I love my mom. She loves Clydesdales. They are beautiful animals. Aren’t they?
Still, it’ll be nice to get off the whole teacher merry-go-round and say a few nasty things about Wells Fargo, the Devon Horse show’s main sponsor for 2013. Wells Fargo is a viper’s nest of medieval greed and 21st century business malpractice.
Wells Fargo, which received billions and billions in bailout money, is being sued by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York for more than a decade of fraudulent activity in the mortgage market.
Wells Fargo, the banking leviathan that had its ears slapped back by a federal judge for gouging customers with deceptive overdraft fees.
Wells Fargo, which markets itself as the bank for Latinos but was fined millions for lending practices which systematically discriminated against blacks and Hispanics.
Wells Fargo, which has invested heavily in the private prison industry which depends upon the detention of undocumented immigrants for much of their profits. Wells Fargo has deep ties with the Geo Group, the purveyor of private gulags which recently gave a generous gift of $6 million to Florida Atlantic University in order to get its name on the Owls’ football stadium. See Owlcatraz.
And just one more sweet anecdote from Wells Fargo, something to remember the next time someone laughs at you and reminds you that the efficiency of the private sector is always preferable to the dead hand of government.
OK, sorry for all that. After all spewing nearly 3,000 words for no purpose whatsoever, I am no longer in the mood to laugh at the driver of that Honda Accord.
I do, however, wonder why he or she doesn’t give a damn about Tibet.

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