By Tony Casson

“The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive.”   Proverbs 20:27 NLT

“The greatest danger facing the United States is not a military lag but a slump in personal and public integrity.”  Robert J. McKracken

Summertime is state fair time across America. Hosted in Des Moines, the Iowa State Fair is known the world over as a model of what a state fair should be. The musical “State Fair” was based on the Iowa State Fair which is visited by over one million people each year. Resplendent with the usual sights, sounds and smells of corn dogs, Ferris wheels, livestock shows, live music and the laughter and delighted squeals of children of all ages, the fair evokes memories in the older crowd of simpler, slower times when life seemed a little gentler and the focus was more on the family.

In addition to its highly rated state fair, Iowa is known for being the nation’s number one producer of hogs. No fair in Iowa would be complete without the tantalizing aroma of grilling pork chops filling the air. Additionally, the state of Iowa is closely watched politically throughout the nation so the fair is always a gathering spot for those politicians wanting to demonstrate that they are just regular old folks like everybody else. The Des Moines Register almost always carries a photograph of a political heavyweight or two taking a turn behind the grill pretending to cook fat, juicy pieces of pork. Pork and politicians always manage to come together, don’t they?

No gathering of pork and politicians at the Iowa State Fair would be complete without an appearance by Terry Branstad, Iowa’s governor. Branstad has long been a familiar face in Iowa political circles, having served as a state legislator before becoming governor in 1982. He served an impressive four terms before bowing out in 1998, but was talked into running again in the 2010 election by Bruce Rastetter, who has close ties to Branstad and is viewed as a “political kingmaker” in Iowa.

Terry Branstad was very involved in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during its formative years, so Branstad has exhibited his willingness to have a very close relationship with business leaders, corporations and wealthy individuals. But how close is too close? And what honors, rights and riches are bestowed upon one who makes kings?

After convincing Branstad to run for a fifth term following a twelve-year absence, Bruce Rastetter went on to donate $160,000 to Branstad’s campaign, making him the largest single donor. An associate of Rastetter’s, Nick Ryan, chipped in another $67,000 and Rastetter’s brother, Brent, added another $31,000. After the election was won, Branstad rewarded Brent Rastetter with an appointment to the Iowa Environmental Protection Association which monitors and regulates issues regarding pollution and contaminants. One of the major polluters in the state are its many hog producers. Bruce Rastetter, in 2004, merged his Heartland Pork Enterprises – ranked 13th in the state – with Christensen Farms, making the new company the 4th largest hog producer in Iowa. In a state with 20 million hogs, that means one of the state’s prominent producers of pig poop is monitored, in part, by his brother.

The direct reward bestowed upon by Bruce Rastetter for his generous assistance in getting Governor Branstad elected was an appointment to the Iowa Board of Regents. In that capacity, Rastetter has generated a flurry of newspaper reports for working with Iowa State University on a land development deal in Africa that could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for him and his investors. Welcome to “The Iowa State Affair”. And you thought this was about corn dogs and pork chops, didn’t you?

Actually, this is all about the anatomy of America’s nightmare: Political Cronyism, corporate greed and a shameful disregard for humanity.

On August, 1, 2012, The Des Moines Register contained a column written by Ms. Rekha Basu about Bruce Rastetter, a company called AgriSol Energy and the African nation of Tanzania. Mr. Rastetter owns 30% of AgriSol and has recently spent considerable time trying to develop land in Tanzania. Iowa Citizens for Civic Involvement filed an ethics complaint calling for Rastetter’s removal from the Board of Regents for misusing his relationship with Iowa State in furtherance of that plan.

It is a complex issue, but the following are some of the high (or low) points of the story as illustrated in Ms. Basu’s column:

  • Mr. Rastetter and his investors stand to make $300 million dollars on the deal.
  • Tanzanian government officials would give AgriSol 99 year land rights for 320,000 hectares (145,800 acres) at 25 cents an acre.
  • AgriSol claims that it is the government that is setting the price for the land and that they have no control over that.
  • Approximately 160,000 Burundi refugees would be forced off the land in question.
  • AgriSol is paying Tanzanian officials, including one who was in charge of the refugee camps, to be “advisors” on the project.
  • Mr. Kimenyi of the Brookings Institute’s African Growth Initiative has said that such payments “can amount to outright corruption”.
  • Agreements are being made whereby what will eventually be produced will not ever have to be used domestically.
  • Jobs may not be created because AgriSol brings in its own labor and advanced technologies.
  • AgriSol has demanded “strategic investor status” from Tanzania, which would provide it with tax exemptions and a waiver of duties.

Recent reports indicate that public pressure is causing this exploitation of humanity for nothing more than personal profit, to be abandoned for something on a much smaller scale.

Regardless of the outcome of all this, the willingness of America’s politicians and their greedy businessmen cronies to consciously pursue plans to use a disregard for humanity for its economic potential has already been demonstrated quite clearly.

Although AgriSol, Bruce Rastetter and Tanzania have no direct effect on America’s Culture of Incarceration, I use the story to illustrate the mindset necessary to pursue a plan that trades people for profit, such as the one in Tanzania, which created the culture in the first place and continues to feed it voraciously.

While it was Bruce Rastetter who pursued the plan, it was Governor Branstad who – as a reward for Rastetter’s generous campaign support – appointed Rastetter to the position he is accused of abusing in order to pursue it. And if you recall, it was a young Terry Branstad, as a state legislator, who played an important role in the formation of ALEC, which has been more responsible for the American Nightmare that has resulted from America’s Culture of Incarceration than any entity in this country.

Countless business alliances have been forged and billions of dollars in what amounts to blood money has been divided among thousands of American companies and individuals willing to feed at the trough of human misery. Meanwhile, our nation has risen to occupy that inauspicious top spot as the world’s number one keeper of human beings behind bars.

Hundreds of pages could be written on the myriad companies that make money employing the same mindset as that demonstrated in “The Iowa State Affair”. Our public coffers are needlessly drained to commit more and more individuals to absolutely draconian periods of time in prisons and jails throughout this country. No amount of “spin” by our many ethically-compromised politicians should convince decent, hard-working citizens of this country that it is otherwise.

America has too many laws on the books and the penalties for violating them keep getting harsher and harsher with no justification. The senseless, unproductive, lengthy amounts of time spent behind bars does little more than take much needed money from education and other positive programs and put it in the pockets of individuals who are investing in criminal activity in a legal way and profiting from it at the expense of the American public.

For now, we shall say goodbye to Africa, Bruce Rastetter and Governor Branstad, but the governor will appear in a later part in this series that will discuss re-entry and re-integration back into society after being released from prison. But for now, I think Governor Branstad has done quite enough.

I invite you to return when I try to explain how we are “Preparing America’s Children for Prison” in order to keep our prisons filled in the future and keep the American Nightmare alive as we continue to explore “America’s Culture of Incarceration.”

            More tomorrow…


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