Friday, November 16 , 2018, 12:40 pm | Fair 67º

 
 
 
 
Advice

Jim Hightower: Proud Partners’ Corporatize Our National Parks

Our presidents are good at praising America's magnificent national park system, but they're lousy at maintaining it.

Bill Clinton-the-candidate, for example, spoke of how lucky he was to have Hot Springs National Park as a childhood playground. Yet Clinton-the-president sat idle as that park's natural wonders and facilities deteriorated — and as the National Park Service's maintenance backlog soared to $5 billion.

Likewise, in his 2000 campaign, a khaki-clad George W. posed in the majestic Cascade Range. He wailed that parks were "at the breaking point" and vowed to eliminate Clinton's backlog.

Instead, he slashed the Park Service budget (including a 40-percent cut in needed repair funds for the Cascade parklands he'd used as a political prop). The maintenance backlog ballooned to nearly $9 billion under his presidency.

Ranger George did make one fix, however — a PR fix. Bush operatives instructed park superintendents to make budget cuts in "areas that won't cause public or political controversy."

When discussing park deterioration, they were to avoid the phrase "budget cutbacks" and say instead that parks were undergoing "service level adjustments."

Under Obama, who speaks movingly of a childhood Greyhound bus trip with his family to see some of our parks, another 12 percent has been chopped from the Park Service budget — bumping the deferred maintenance bill to a staggering $11.5 billion!

To his credit, Obama has proposed a 2016 "Centennial Budget" for Park Service, mitigating years of destructive underfunding and calling for $1 billion to address the backlog. Good for him.

But that still leaves a $10 billion shortfall, and the sour duo of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner will oppose even that increase for the maintenance of these invaluable public assets.

Hidebound by their twisted corporate ideology, they dismiss public parks as government intrusion into the private realms of Disneyland and SeaWorld.

So, while we Americans celebrate the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service, Washington is literally stripping "service" out of the National Park Service.

And, by refusing to fund essential upkeep year after year, America's so-called "leaders" are guaranteeing that this invaluable national asset — deemed America's "best idea" by novelist and historian Wallace Stegner — will fall into acute disrepair.

The only solution, they say, is to commercialize, industrialize and privatize our parks, converting these jewels of the common good into just another corporate cash cow.

The corporatization process started with "co-branding" agreements, rationalized by Park Service officials as "aligning the economic and historical legacies" of parks with advertisers. In other words, they're selling the Park Service's proud public brand — as well as its soul.

First in line was Coca-Cola. In 2007, the multibillion-dollar colossus became a "Proud Partner" with Park Service by donating a mere $2.5 million (tax-deductible, meaning we taxpayers subsidized the deal) to the Park Service fundraising arm.

In return, not only did Coke get exclusive rights to use park logos in its ads, but it was allowed to veto a Park Service plan to ban sales of bottled water in the Grand Canyon park.

Disposable plastic bottles are that park's biggest source of trash, but Coke owns Dasani, the top-selling water, so bye-bye, ban. Public outrage forced officials to reverse this crass move, but the Park Service's integrity has yet to recover.

Then this April, the Park Service abandoned its longstanding policy of disallowing any links to alcohol or tobacco products when it entered a partnership with Anheuser-Busch after the company donated a $2.5 million tax-deductible "gift."

In turn, its Budweiser brand was given the Statue of Liberty. Not literally, but symbolically — Bud now has the right to plaster Lady Liberty, the iconic symbol of the USA itself, on its cans.

Never mind that Busch is now Belgian-owned; the real hypocrisy is the claim that such co-branding is a philanthropic service to the commons.

Creeping commercialization of our public parks no longer creeps: it's running rampant, with brands such as Disney, L.L. Bean and Subaru buying their pieces of Park Service integrity. 

And get a whiff of this: Air Wick has also paid to become a Park Service partner, so it's now marketing a new fragrance collection that's advertised as being "uniquely inspired by America's national parks."

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JimHightower, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.