The Hightower Report

The Privatizer President; and Steinbrenner's Foul Deal


THE PRIVATIZER PRESIDENT

George W. can't seem to find a hat that fits. He tried on that "compassionate conservative" hat for a short while, but it just wasn't him. Then he strutted around in his great big "war president" hat, but it got knocked off and stomped on in the bloody chaos of Iraq. More recently, he picked up a snappy "I'm the decider" hat, but it just looked silly on him.

One that does fit, however, is the very hat that George doesn't want you to notice. It's his "privatizer" hat. He got hooted down when he wore it in public last year to push the privatization of Social Security, so now he mostly wears it behind closed doors – where he and his corporate cronies have been vigorously and stealthily working to privatize even the most basic of public functions, including the military, our schools, the park service, postal workers, disaster relief, and (get this!) tax collection.

If you owe back taxes, the IRS is likely to come knocking at your door. But, under a quiet Bush initiative, the agency was compelled to step aside and let three private, for-profit collection companies do the door-knocking. Unbeknownst to more than 12,000 taxpayers who owe relatively small amounts to the government, their names, Social Security numbers, tax returns, and other personal data have been handed over to companies interested, not in taxpayer rights, but in profit maximization.

Well, the private sector can always do it cheaper, right? Wrong. By simply hiring more revenue agents, the IRS could collect these debts at a cost of only three cents for every dollar brought in. Under Bush's scheme, however, the private companies will take about 24 cents for every dollar they recover.

Privatization is not about efficiency or improved service (try dealing with the phone company, for example). It's about corporate profiteering, pushed by ideologues who simply hate the idea of a public role in anything.


STEINBRENNER'S FOUL DEAL

Time for another report [sports theme] from the "Wide, Wide, Wide, Wild World of Sports."

Today's feature, "The House That Ruth Built," is to be replaced by "The House That Greed Built." Yes, Yankee Stadium is to be bulldozed and dumped on to the altar of money, replaced by a shiny new $1.2 billion baseball palace. With shovel in hand, Yankee mogul George Steinbrenner took part in the August ground-breaking. "It's a pleasure to give this to you people," the billionaire boss said.

Give? George was shoveling BS at us. In fact, New York taxpayers are the ones doing the giving. In a deal rammed through the city council without even giving the public a chance to speak, New Yorkers are putting up about $400 million so Steinbrenner can erect this edifice for his own profit. Also, the Yankee owner will receive a pass from paying real estate taxes on his sprawling new business property.

Well, says George with a regal wave of his hand, the replacement stadium will be "much better for the fans." That's another shovelful of BS. George's place will have some 7,000 fewer seats than the House that Ruth Built. Real fans also might not think its "better" to have to pay higher prices for tickets, which are to rise from an average of $50 each, already the most expensive seats in the league.

Ah, but George has added some seats for the customers that really count with him. He is tripling the number of luxury suites, which will cost about half a million bucks each, allowing corporate executives and clients to sip cocktails and watch the game on TV while sitting in splendid isolation above us riffraff. Also, George will pocket millions from corporations paying to put their names and logos on every wall, gate, ramp, and other pieces of this publicly funded, private palace.

This deal shows how the rich get richer – they rip off the rest of us.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

George W. Bush, privatization, Yankee Stadium, George Steinbrenner

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