Some years ago, more than I care to admit, I used to watch “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” I always enjoyed seeing the efforts of naturalists and conservationists to protect endangered species. It truly blew me away that the show even went behind the Iron Curtain to show Soviet scientists making great strides at protecting the environment. In the news, and talk from politicians and pundits, the Soviets portrayed as evil. Do you remember Reagan and the Evil Empire? I had to wonder, why they were so good at protecting the environment.
Then the Soviet Empire collapsed and facts, once hidden, revealed. Among them, this one area of the country had been strictly off-limits to visitors. It was a place where atomic ore was processed to make it weapon’s grade. I don’t recall all of the details, but I remember a few key ones. The place was off in a secluded region of the country, there was a native town or village nearby and no effort made to contain, properly, the waste materials generated by the facility. As a result, over the years, large amounts of radioactive “gunk” had leeched into the water table, soil, air and local foods.
The net result was what.
There were horrific cases, for example, of genetic mutations in plants, animals and people. A factory kept, in bottles, some of the more monstrous creations: two-headed babies and so on. Someone decided to hide these horrors from the public. Hidden from view, hoping none would ever find out. Never spoken about or dealt with. The factory operated for the good of the nation, the Party, and that’s all that mattered; all other considerations were secondary. If a few people had to suffer because of it, what did it matter?
Recently I was struck by how similar that attitude was to one espoused right here in the United States, but not by the government. No, this was what many politicians and pundits were saying we should do regarding business. We needed to cut government regulations. We need to get rid of all those useless inspectors. We need to let business go on, as it wants. After all, when it comes down to it, greed is good. Unfettered by needless rules, corporations will grow, create more jobs and everyone will prosper.
What I’ve learned from both instances, both of which represent the opposite ends of the political spectrum, has taught me is that there is always a need for oversight. We should never blindly trust government and we should never blindly trust business. In both cases, the people in power will do whatever they can get away with in order to make money, advance an agenda and/or give them more power.
Before we go hacking and slashing rules and regulations. Before inspectors and regulators are fired. Before we allow companies to do as they please, let’s ensure we have at least some minimum oversight of their actions. If not, we invite the possibility of more oil spills, more Love Canals, more tainted food and more Three Mile Islands. For all this talk of how evil government is, it does perform a few vital functions.
Let’s be sure we keep that needed oversight.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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