I was reading a conversation recently regarding the fact that the Oregon Zoo’s newest baby elephant is really an “asset” of some corporation.
I live in Oregon and I am actually a Portland Oregon native. I grew up with the Washington Park Zoo. Given my age and the fact that the Portland Zoo has been in my life all of my life, and given I understand some of the short-comings of zoos, I have more than just a little ambivalence regarding zoos. I think the contoversy regarding whether zoos should exist or not is very complex. Nevertheless, if you get stuck on whether there should be zoos or not when you are reading this diary then you have missed my main point.
This diary is really not about whether we should have zoos or not but how we as citizens of a rich first world super power choose to maintain/care for our public assets.
The topic of what corporations are doing to every aspect of our lives is a big one. This diary just speaks to one small part of that very large dilemma.
The title comes from terminology utilized by Thom Hartmann
The people in the conversation I bumped into were outraged that the Oregon Zoo would sell its baby elephants. I certainly shared their outrage …..but the news story provoked some additional thoughts for me….
Here was my response with some additional thoughts for this diary:
The zoo probably needed the money the private entity will provide. Our public institutions like PBS, The Oregon Zoo, Parks, Forests, Universities, and many other civic spaces are suffering financially. They have been suffering since the Regan era.
Reagan promoted Public/Private partnerships. Reagan’s philosophy put into practice during the 1980’s: only the people that use something should pay…nobody else needs to pay. Reagan also promoted the idea that private entities are more efficient. Reagan highlighted the slam on government function with these kinds of quotes: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.” “The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.”
Unfortunately, Reagan’s ideological influence has continued with Clinton, both Bush presidencies, and even Obama. When private entities partner with public resources and spaces the private entities’ agendas win.
So after nearly 30 years of “Reaganomics” we now have crumbling infrastructure, public spaces in various forms of crisis and drowning in red ink. Once recognized around the world, most public institutions are now only a shadow of their former selves. For example, PBS now has commercials and watered down shows. Unfortunately, Bill Moyers--one of the few remaining bright lights in the public airwaves--is an exception and not the rule for program quality on today's PBS. Moreover, the Republicans have been trying to kill PBS for years. Great Britain’s BBC is also suffering: the BBC has been under attack by corporate power in the last several years as well. Universities’ scientific research now depends on funding from private corporations…so real research must make sense to some bottom line or its underfunded or not funded at all. Our ill-maintained Public Parks now have limited access with shorter hours and high fees. The Post Office—one of the few institutions listed in our Constitution—has been partially privatized, abused by the Republican dominated congress, and held hostage with minimum profit/retirement requirements. Do you know that there are even groups out there that think the Fire Depts should be privatized?
The entities I speak of are more effectively provided by government. Far from perfect, the entities I speak of are part of the public/civic spaces that made our country feel at bit more civilized and—at least when I was a kid—they made it seem like an amazing place to live.
Of course as an educated adult I realize the “good old days” had many flaws. But when I was a kid, schools were maintained even if they were 50 years old, the school lawn was perfect (even though now I know that meant chemicals); California Universities were free or very cheap, all of the parks were open, mostly free, and well-maintained; the post office was strong, the highways were new, and railroads seemed to be a viable part of our transportation infrastructure. Now I must remind this audience I am a white person that grew up in Portland Oregon. So I realize that not everyone has these same memories/experiences of the 60’s. I too witnessed—in my very living room—the fire hoses poised on the black people during the Civil Rights protests.
Certainly there were many social justice issues in the 50’s and 60’s but the public spaces were robust. In the late sixties, I thought we simply needed to take the next step to include our society’s oppressed and clean up the environment.
Now it seems like our public spaces are crumbling and slipping away or being privatized all in the name of reducing government spending. For sure our taxes have gone up over the years. We baby boomers have even had to spend more on Social Security. Yet, the mainstream messages suggest that these public entities have enough money and they are just wasting the funds.
Well the dirty little secret that the mainstream press never tells you is: the reason our services are in such a crisis is not because the average person is not paying enough in taxes. It’s not that people like you and I should pay more for our public spaces/services. The 1% and corporations need to pay their fair share…like they did in the forties and fifties and early sixties. It’s the millionaires and the corporations that have starved our public institutions/services for funds –not the 99%. When the 1% and corporations begin again to pay their fair share we can then again afford to have world class parks, universities, interstate highways, postal services, railroads, airports, environmental standards……fill in the blank……..
And therefore….A well-funded zoo—in a first world country—might be able to reinvent itself and concentrate on animal research, welfare, and environmental issues/preservation rather than concentrating on where their next dollar comes from.
We are still considered a first world country but our public funding policies and practices of the last 30 years are not those of the other first world countries we recognize as civilized. We need to reinvigorate our public resources with money and public participation if we are going to eliminate situations like baby elephants going to spurious corporations.
Corporations and the 1% need to pay their fair share.
The rest of us need to bump up our grass roots efforts to reinvigorate/reinvent the policies and institutions that can move us towards social justice.
....and by the way....I constantly struggle to figure out what my piece in all of this is....