Fire hydrants deserve more respect. These utilitarian and ubiquitous icons of America’s urban landscape are rarely noticed by anyone but dogs—and they give hydrants no respect whatsoever. Worse, though, a brand-name corporation now intends to lift its leg on them!

KFC, the fast-food chicken chain, has already gotten permission from Indianapolis to whiz on its hydrants. As part of an advertising blitz, KFC has plastered the city’s water taps with a smiling photo of corporate founder Colonel Sanders, along with a slogan promoting the chain’s new “fiery” chicken wings.

Get it? “Fiery” and fire hydrant. It’s symbolism, see? Advert-types are nothing if not clever.

Of course, KFC honchos insist that the company’s graffiti isn’t an act of crass commercialism, but—get this—a philanthropic contribution to the community. They claim that they’re simply concerned about fire safety in the city during these days of budget stress, so they’ve magnanimously “contributed” some money to help pay for new hydrants. In exchange, grateful city officials are allowing the corporation to use the hydrants as its own little billboards around town.

Exactly how magnanimous is KFC’s philanthropic gesture? Get ready to be astounded: $5,000. That’s it. The chicken-plucking corporation got a PR bonanza for chicken feed. Indeed, guess how many fire hydrants $5,000 buys? Two.

Don’t you snicker at KFC’s snookering of Indianapolis officials, however, for your city might be next. In a nationwide email to mayors, KFC is seeking three more cities to do the same deal.

I realize that cities everywhere are financially squeezed, and it must be tempting for mayors to grab at any sort of quick fix. But, come on: If you’re going to sell your city’s soul to corporate hucksters, sell it for more than a nickel.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and winner of the 2009 winner of the Nation/Puffin Prize. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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