Is Absolutely Everything For Sale In America?

WE need to have a discussion about our culture. It's about the Pizza Hut ad on the space rocket. Does the word "tacky" occur to you?

The commercialization of absolutely everything has gone too far. I realize the Pizza Hut people paid $2.5 million for the ad space and the Russian government is slightly desperate, but - Pizza Hut? Not that some technology firms would have been better, but - Pizza Hut?

Corporations put ads on fruit, ads all over the schools, ads on cars, ads on clothes. The only place you can't find ads is where they belong: on politicians.

I believe former Texas Ag Commish Jim Hightower first suggested pols should dress like NASCAR drivers, covered with the patches of their corporate sponsors. G.W. Bush should be wearing an Enron gimme cap and an Exxon breast patch, and have Microsoft embroidered on one side of his shirt and assorted insurance companies on the other. Ditto Gore, with a slight change of sponsors. Very slight.

In 1994, Congress passed the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, an initiative started by President George Bush and supported by Bill Clinton. The basis for the act was "Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America's Public Schools," a report co-authored by one Lou Gerstner.

Gerstner is not an educator with long years of experience in the public schools. He is the CEO of the IBM Corp., which is why the report on which we are basing our school standards defines students as "human capital" and urges schools to compare themselves to each other as "Xerox compares itself to L.L. Bean for inventory control."

All those little chunks of human capital (who used to be children) must be put into uniforms and subject to standards and discipline, like so many little cans of peas.

As the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy points out, there is a further irony in having the Goals 2000 follow-up meeting set up by a planning committee that included IBM, AT&T, Eastman Kodak, Procter & Gamble, etc. As you know, the schools are mostly supported by local property taxes. The Ohio Department of Taxation reports that in 1998, local governments exempted nearly $3 billion worth of corporate-owned property (and itself) from taxes in Ohio. The Program on Corporations reports, "Conservatively estimated, at least that much and probably more in personal property (buildings, equipment, machinery) has been exempted."

As you also know, whenever a corporation threatens to leave a community, it is promptly offered a huge tax break. The Program on Corporations reports: "When Owens-Corning Corp. officials threatened to move company headquarters just outside the city limits, Toledo taxpayers coughed up a $25 million tax break, worth $1.2 million annually, plus a $10 million cash grant. Company directors used the first two years' tax savings to pay CEO Glen Hiner's bonus. . . .

"Of course, when schools need more than mere handouts, they ask voters to raise taxes. With astounding audacity, the boldest corporate tax evaders then help bankroll the campaign to pass the levy - from everyone without an abatement."

And then there are the cut-to-the-chase corporations that just run schools for profit. There are 200 schools around the country simply run by for-profit corporations like Edison Schools Inc. to cash in on the $700 billion "education industry."

I grant you, there are other matters cultural for Andy Rooney grumps to worry about. I myself am concerned about the spread of the phrase "companion animal" for pets.

But the corporatization of the culture is more than just tacky. It is a threat to democracy, to small packages of "human capital" and other living things. Now, if we could persuade the arbiters of culture to spend as much time worrying about corporatization as they do about the absurd excesses of political correctness, we might have a chance of fighting back.

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