Get active, research the events shaping your life

Curtis Powers

All of us have written papers for class at some point in our lives. Some are long, some are short. Generally, they’re not too exciting and we mostly forget about them soon after the class is over.

That was the case for me until this summer. I had to write a paper for a class called “Business, Government and Society.” The class is about the relationships and interaction between business, government and society.

The class was during the last week in May, and was taught by Lynn Walding, former administrator for the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division.

The paper topic was whether we thought Jack DeCoster’s farm operations were good for America.

Most of you probably have no idea how ironic that is so let me explain.

The Professor

About a month after our class ended, Iowa Auditor of State David Vaudt released an audit report July 2 questioning spending and personnel issues for the Alcoholic Beverages Division.

For example, Walding authorized $23,513 that was spent on artwork done by his wife’s friend. Some other items of note included: $208 spent on four restroom signs, 37 state-of-the-art chairs purchased at around $645 per chair and 18 welcome chairs for around $431 per chair.

The total amount of the projects in question cost more than $2 million.

While all of that looks bad, it doesn’t appear to be illegal. Walding’s division at that time was a charter agency, which allowed more flexibility in spending and was outside of normal regulations. The goal of the program was to allow divisions to act more like a business.

This is a classic example of why running government like a business is a horrible idea. I’m not saying to ignore various models and methods practiced in the business community. They can have application to a governmental entity.

However, there is great opportunity for abuse. The lack of transparency can cause people to misspend taxpayers’ money, give unfair advantages to companies, etc.

The government already has a hard time handling those issues, it doesn’t need more of them. Examples like this should be reason enough for people to reject such foolhardy ventures like the one Republican gubernatorial Terry Branstad is proposing for the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

It looks like he is going to be elected in November. Hopefully, he doesn’t decide to go ahead with his plan if he gets the chance. We will see.

As things stand now, charter agencies were shut down, Walding and the the Alcoholic Beverages Division is still under investigation and I learned a valuable lesson about government.

The Paper

Most of you are now probably familiar with Jack DeCoster. His farms are where the salmonella outbreak in eggs happened. So far, 550 million eggs have been recalled from 22 states.

What you may not know is that this should not be surprising. His company has a long history of violations during the past 15 years and fines as a result. Here are a few of them I found while doing research for my paper:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined him $3.6 million for workplace violations and living conditions in 1996. Latin American workers were handling dead chickens and manure while living in rat and bug infested trailers.

The U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement fined his company a record $2.125 million for immigration violations in the late 1990s.

The State of Iowa declared him Iowa’s first habitual violator after three violations for polluting the environment from animal waste in 2000. He was fined $150,000.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gave his company a $1.5 million fine related to sexual harassment and rape complaints against supervisors in 2002.

Thirty-six illegal immigrants were found working in an egg plant in Clarion, Iowa, by federal agents in June 2006.

Only a little more than a year later, in September 2007, 51 illegal immigrants were found working in an egg plant in Wright County.

His egg company in Maine agreed to pay $125,000 in penalties to Maine’s Department of Agriculture concerning the inhumane treatment of chickens in June 2010.

And now, this salmonella outbreak.

It’s getting a little ridiculous, but it should not surprise us. It’s sad too because he gives all of the other farmers a bad reputation as well — family farmers anyway.

I watched the movie “Food Inc.” recently. It opened my eyes to a reality I didn’t know existed. I would encourage you to watch it as well as it delves into where our food comes from, and the picture is not bright.

In the end, my class and my paper taught me to get educated about things that affect my life. Don’t just passively sit back and be ignorant of what is going on around you. Get educated. Make more informed and hopefully, better decisions.

That way politicians, corporations, and whoever else won’t fool you with misleading information.