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Government has its role to play

Memorial Day, originally Decoration Day, was set aside to honor those who gave their lives fighting this nation’s battles.  Writers whose eloquence and understanding exceed mine will speak to that service on this holiday.  I wonder how a democratic republic preserved at such dear cost should in return serve its citizens.

Many things big in the news right now are putting pressure on this government to define its relationship to business. The oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the Wall Street collapse and subsequent federal intervention, and the health care drama, have combined to provoke debate about the role of government.

The technology for deep water drilling has outpaced the technology for safety measures.  In spite of sophisticated new methods in shallow water drilling, blowouts still happen.  So it was not only predictable, but inevitable that it would happen at a deep water well, where no one seems to know how to cap the blowout.  BP claimed that the technology was foolproof, a vast underestimation of the power of foolishness. They have even lobbied against proposed regulations for drilling, claiming that their safety record shows that they aren’t needed.

The ideal solution would be to stop the gusher instead of trying to assign blame.  But that solution should have been devised before it was suddenly needed.

What is the best role for government in all this?  Should government spend its energy fixing the very bad things that happen or, rather, preventing them?  BP makes money selling oil and it is naïve to hope that they might have held off drilling until methods were developed to cap a well under a mile of water.

Government is the only realistic way of controlling the excesses of business.  The U.S. portion of the Gulf coastline is about 1,680 miles.  All of it is endangered.  No “free market solution” will fix this disaster.  Most of the individuals affected by oil on the beach don’t have resources to go to court against a corporate giant.  Nor do the pelicans or fish. The damage will not be undone.  Boycotting BP won’t save six inches of gulf coast.

There is a NOAA map showing the location of more than 3,800 drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  Perhaps they don’t all have the destructive potential of the Deepwater Horizon, but some of them must.  Should government be more aggressive in oversight of business in order to prevent these crises, or should they wait for them to happen and then assume responsibility for their correction?  Which team does Congress support when the interests of business are different from the interests of the public at large?

The recent Wall Street meltdown was prevented for many years by federal regulations brought on by the Great Depression.  Those regulations were removed and Wall Street gorged until it blew up.  Yesterday’s paper reported that America has fallen to 42nd among nations in its infant mortality rate.  If health care is a business, then that is a business failure.  The federal deficit has grown so that it is becoming a national security threat because of the loan origins.

Veterans who have sacrificed so much to serve their country and protect it from hostile foreign nations might fairly ask who is served by the leadership of that country.  Who protects us from danger within?

Don Vowell lives in Keizer.  He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.