Private Parks, Corporate Perks


To find “the common good” in action, look to our nation’s extraordinary network of public parks-spaces open to all and available for everything from recreation to the exercise of free speech.

But boneheaded politicians have starved them of funds and let them deteriorate. Now these same boneheads say they have a solution: Privatize them! Yes, to save public parks, make them private.

For instance, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a plan for the enormously popular, historic people’s space known as Union Square. Innumerable rallies and protests have been held there. The nationally renowned farmer’s market called Greenmarket operates there. The square serves the neighborhood as a peaceful respite, a site for chess matches, and a children’s playground. It’s a community treasure.

But it’s a dilapidated treasure since city officials have failed to maintain it. Finally, Bloomberg announced a renovation-with a privatization kicker. Without any community input, a wealthy restaurateur (and big Bloomberg backer) suddenly surfaced with a plan. He quietly enlisted Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble, among other chains, to get behind his scheme, and this private group intends to remake Union Square into a shiny new corporate space.

The size of the park will be decreased, squeezing the space available for free speech; the farmer’s market area will be cut by half; the venerable pavilion-a landmark for public gatherings-will be turned into a swanky, high-dollar restaurant; and 14 trees will be felled to make way for the restaurant.

Privatization doesn’t “save” public parks-it turns them into corporate profit centers at public expense.


The right-wing wardrobe police are getting goofier by the day.

First came the flag-pin flap. The wardrobe cops insist that no politician should go out in public without sporting this bit of bejeweled patriotism. When Sen. Barack Obama had the integrity to say that his patriotism goes deeper than his lapel, he was pounced on by rabid talk-show blatherers, bloggers, and other mad dogs of the right. It’s un-American not to wear flag jewelry, they yapped. Recently, though, their yapping turned to yips when Karl Rove appeared on Fox News-gasp!-with a naked lapel.

So now the yappers have found another target: Rachael Ray. Yes, the perky Food Network celebrity is being assailed by the right wing for promoting Muslim extremism and terrorism. It seems that Ms. Ray appeared in a Dunkin’ Donuts ad, ostensibly to hype the fast food chain’s iced coffee. But the ever-vigilant rightists saw right through the coffee, frantically pointing to the scarf that Ray was wearing. It has a black-and-white pattern with long white fringe. Aha, shrieked the yappers, that’s a kaffiyeh, the kind of Arab headdress worn by the likes of Yasser Arafat and Muslim suicide bombers.

Clearly, Rachael Ray and Dunkin’ Donuts are signaling symbolic support for the Islamic fiends who hate America!

Never mind that Ms. Ray’s scarf is a paisley design having nothing to do with terrorism, and never mind that kaffiyehs are worn every day in the Middle East by teachers, workers, and others having no connection whatsoever to terrorism-there’s no level of silliness too extreme for the right-wing monitors of wardrobe correctness.


Five honchos of Big Oil appeared before Congress last month, singing in perfect harmony their old song that skyrocketing gasoline prices are simply the product of free-market forces. “The fundamental laws of supply and demand are at work,” crooned the president of Shell Oil.

Bovine excrement! There is no free market in the oil industry. Sure, global demand for petroleum is up, but under free-market laws, supply is supposed to rise to meet that demand and hold prices stable. However, there’s only a handful of global suppliers, and these oligopolists openly conspire to restrict the flow of crude, thus doubling oil prices in the past year.

Who are the oligopolists? The OPEC cartel, for sure, which has flatly rejected pleas to open up their pipelines. But they’re not the only ones. Yes, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two largest producers on the globe, but who is the third? Exxon Mobil! Exxon, Shell, BP and other brand-name gasoline giants who so piously invoke supply and demand orthodoxy in congressional testimony are themselves major producers, and they have a direct interest in keeping supply short to hold their crude prices high.

Wait, you say, doesn’t that raise their cost of making gasoline? Yes, but so what? There is no free market at the pump, either. Thanks to the rash of mergers that Washington has allowed, gasoline refining is oligopolized, too., And guess what? The big refiners are now slashing their output to keep supply low and prices rising. Also, notice that pump prices are the same at Exxon, Shell, and other major stations. If a free market really existed, at least one of them would try to attract customers by cutting prices.

By locking up supply, these oil barons are able to rob us-and that’s another reason America must push alternatives to oil.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit His newest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.