Monday, April 29, 2013

Pigford, Pigford, Pigford

The New York Times, that bastion of all things liberal, defender of the righteous, and friend of the common man (who, by and large, doesn't read the Times at all) still has the muscle and talent to actually do investigative journalism, even when such journalism leads to something of a black eye for the paper. And for that, it should be applauded, for it's something that cannot be said of magazines like Salon, Newsmax, New York Magazine, or The Nation (unlike NRO, The Atlantic, and Reason). The latest example: a new piece on the Pigford case.

Once upon a time, the Pigford case was news--at least for a moment or two--after Breitbart broke the story in 2010. FoxNews and a few conservative outlets picked up in the story, like NRO's Daniel Foster. The background of the case is simple: a class action lawsuit was brought by a group of 400+ African American farmers against the USDA for alleged racial discrimination in the application of various USDA programs, particularly farm loans, in 1997. The case was supposedly settled in 1999, allowing each claimant to recoup $50,000 or more for discrimination (some awards went into the millions for large jointly owned farms).

Through the magic of government malfeasance, this initial number of 400 or so ballooned upward into the thousands, as apparently any African American who had ever thought about farming in one way or the other was allowed to join the suit. The final numbers are still not known, but in excess of 20,000 applications for damages have been filed. To call Pigford a cash cow would be an understatement. Close to $1 billion in tax payer funds had been handed out by 2009 on the basis of this initial settlement. But this was just the beginning. In 2004, another class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association for discrimination which sought another $20 billion in compensation. Though this lawsuit was rightfully dismissed, the current administration needlessly negotiated a settlement for another $1.2 billion dollars, this after then-Senator Obama had successfully and solely sponsored an amendment to a 2007 farm bill to expand the initial payouts.

Things didn't end here. With such easy money being doled out, other groups sought similar deals. Women, Native American, and Hispanic farmers groups--or lawyers claiming to represent such groups--made the same sorts of claims. And the Administration dutifully went along with all of this, allocating billions more to these groups as well. As NRO notes, this was all about politics, not justice:
Pigford and its spawn instead resembles in organization and aim a criminal conspiracy of breathtaking proportions, and one in which the federal government was first complicit and then ultimately responsible. The Times report exposes — as Dan Foster did in his piece for us two years ago — Senator, Candidate, and President Obama’s advocacy for the settlements as barely alloyed quid pro quo, in which Pigford profiteers promised to help Obama run up the score against Hillary Clinton in the rural South in exchange for his work on their behalf. Similarly, the Hispanic case was negligently settled at the urging of the polluted Senator Robert Menendez, who threatened to make noise if the Department of Justice did not give Hispanics the same deal the president gave blacks.
At the time of the initial stories on Pigford--in 2010 and 2011--the rabid left-wing media frantically attempted to dismiss all of this as contrived right-wing propaganda from Andrew Breitbart or simple ignored the stories altogether. Media Matters accused Breitbart of lying and mocked FoxNews for picking up the story. Salon did nothing more than note the existence of the story. TNR said absolutely nothing about it, as did New York Magazine. And the New York Times? As Politico details, in 2010 the editorial board pushed for exactly what transpired:
It's worth noting that in Feb. 2010, the New York Times editorial board advocated for faster compensation and less bureaucratic roadblocks to "close the door" on the 1999 agreement, or the Pigford class-action lawsuit.

"After the settlement, some farmers got their money, but far too many ran into a new buzz saw," the Times editorial board wrote. "They were stalled and rejected through paperwork technicalities, tight deadlines and a lengthy appeals process that officials insisted was necessary."

"The Pigford settlement will remain a misnomer until the nation rights this historic injustice and pays what it owes," they wrote.

The board doubtless had the right intentions, but it now appears they were helping to fuel the "runaway train." In light of today's Times' report, it appears what was needed was more government oversight of the claims process, not less.
Thus, the Times has done something of a complete 180 with the publication of the latest piece on Pigford. And it does indeed deserve credit for doing so.

What happens now, though? Huge sums of monies have been handed out, much of it--perhaps even most of it--wrongly or even illegally. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the Pigford settlement was none other than Shirley Sherrod:
The largest single settlement — some $13,000,000 — went to a communal farm in Georgia called New Communities, Inc., headed by Charles Sherrod and his wife, Shirley, who would be hired by the USDA, where she would gain a measure of notoriety, just three days after she received her settlement.
And because of Breitbart's ill-informed attacks on Sherrod in July of 2010, much of his valuable research into Pigford was easily dismissed as fallout in this regard. But now that gambit is played out. What we have here is a large-scale program of redistribution, engineered by President Obama and various Democrats--like Menendez, who is looking worse and worse--in power, done over the objections of Obama's own Justice Department. The whole thing smacks of vote-buying, really, a systematic program of currying minority support by rewarding specific minority interests with government largess.

With the proverbial cat now out of the bag--again thanks to the New York Times--inquiries appear imminent. And given that the hand of the President is so deeply involved here, such inquiries will necessarily have to proceed from the halls of Congress. Which of course means they will all be portrayed by the left and the Administration as fishing expeditions. But this pond is stocked and no manner of spin is going to prevent a significant catch. It's just too bad the Times didn't come forward with this a year ago...

Cheers, all.

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