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Corporate disasters are only bad news until the next one comes along

August 23, 2010

Here's my prediction for how the whole barf-egg scandal will play out.

Oh sure, it looks bad for the factory egg producers now, the ones that, according to the New York Times, house eight chickens in a cage the size of a spread-out newspaper and then shear their beaks in half so they don't peck each other to death.

But you wait. After the offending corporation employs 400 new lobbyists and spends $10 billion in campaign contributions, the Democrats will pass a law outlawing Mennonites from selling brown eggs by the side of the road, while the Republicans will reward the factory egg farms with huge tax breaks to get them through this tough time.

Hey, it's pretty much the same template that worked for spinach, or any other number of toxic foodstuffs. It didn't work for peanuts, but only because a bunch of private businesses sued the Peanut Corporation of America out of existence before the government had a chance to hand it any tax breaks. Pity.

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According to the Washington Post, the Iowa company accused of selling millions of tainted eggs "has withstood a string of reprimands, penalties and complaints about its performance" over the past 20 years.

They ranged from "a sexually hostile work environment" to "abusing the hens." Oh boy, I hope those are two separate charges and not, well you know -- so, moving right along.

I don't think that this long record of problems will surprise anyone. We live in an era of "Wait till your father gets home" government, where years of violations are met with empty threats.

Did you allow those methane levels in the mine to get too high again? You wait till your father gets home. Have you been overriding your fail-safe oil-well technology again? You wait till your father gets home.

Letting pilots fly on three hours sleep? Selling insurance on bogus housing loans? Poisoning the groundwater? Selling contaminated spinach, peanuts and eggs? You wait till your father gets home.

Of course, the old man never comes home, until a string of minor catastrophes turns into one big catastrophe, usually resulting in either the loss of life, or loss of the financial security of retired widows, or both.

Then papa comes home, and it's "Oh boy, you've done it now, this is it, it's the end of the road for you, this is the last straw, I'm gonna fix your wagon, I'm gonna ... I'm gonna ... I'm gonna go to the corner bar and get drunk, just don't do it again, OK?"

In fact, I've decided that there must be some Very Big Corporations Club, where they sit around and discuss strategies for avoiding responsibility. And they've hit upon a winning strategy: The catastrophic relay race.

Remember when the miners were killed in West Virginia and, never mind all those other fatal accidents, THIS time all those pompous news shows were going to stay on the mines' tails until we got some real reform. Then, the oil well blew up and the news shows forgot about the coal mine, but they were sure going to stay on the tails of the oil industry until we got some real reform. And then our breakfast food became toxic and the news shows forgot about the oil well ...

See where I'm going with this?

If you're the CEO of some rogue corporation, you don't have to change your ways. Even if, heaven forbid, the wheels come off your operation, you can stall for time until the next corporate disaster hits -- and pray that it has more compelling video footage than yours.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131 or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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