Shirley Sherrod’s Perfect Scam
© Jack Cashill
he story is told of a USDA employee recently seen moping aimlessly around the USDA corridors. When asked why he was so sad, he answered, “My farmer died.”
It has come to that at the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1839, Congress set aside $1,000 to fund a program within the Patent Office for “agricultural purposes.” At the time, more than 9,000,000 Americans lived on farms and made up nearly 70 percent of the labor force.
The infusion of government dollars has swelled as the number of Americans on farms has continued to shrink.
This year, the USDA will manage to spend $134 billion on the fewer than 3,000,000 people who live on farms—less than 3 percent of the work force.
In the last decade, no American has milked the USDA cash cow more successfully than Ms. Shirley Sherrod. As is well enough known, an edited version of Shirley Sherrod’s speech before the NAACP provoked national headlines and caused a panicky Obama administration to fire Sherrod from her position as the Georgia Director of Rural Development for the USDA.
When the full version of the speech surfaced, which showed Sherrod merely talking about her racist past, the Obama White House fell all over itself apologizing. In reality, it is Sherrod who should be apologizing.
As we are learning, the story goes well beyond her racist trifling with a poor white farmer and deep into her role as plaintiff in what may be the single greatest scam in U.S. government history.
The larger tale is told in a 2004 book written by Louis March and titled, Harvest of Lies: The Black Farmer Law Suit Against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As March tells the story, it began in the astonishingly corrupt political year of 1996 when the Clinton administration was prepared to do anything—including the sale of our defense hardware to Red China and the suppression of the TWA Flight 800 story—to win re-election.
To co-opt a budding black farmer protest, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman commissioned a task force to travel the country and listen to the complaints of black farmers, some of whom were charging a USDA “conspiracy” to foreclose on their lands.
When Glickman reported “a long history of both discrimination and perceptions of unfairness” in the USDA, he inspired those perennial Democratic allies, the trial lawyers, to start rounding up the offended.
That same year, a black farmer named Timothy Pigford, joined by 400 other black farmers, filed a lawsuit against Glickman claiming that the USDA treated black farmers unfairly in all manner of ways from price support loans to disaster payments to operating loans. Worse, they charged that the USDA had failed to process any complaints about racial discrimination.
The notion that the Clinton Ag Department had spent four years consciously denying black farmers their due defies everything we know about Clinton’s use of race and should have made the media suspicious about Pigford’s claims dating back to 1981.
Under terms of the suit, the claimants merely had to show up and say they had been discriminated against. No documentation needed. The USDA, which typically purges paperwork after three years, had to disprove the claim.
Flush with revenue in 1999 and eager to appease this bedrock constituency, the administration settled with the farmers—more realistically, their attorneys—for $50 grand apiece, plus various other perks like tax offsets and loan forgiveness.
After the consent decree was announced, the USDA opened the door to other claimants who had been similarly discriminated against. They expected 2,000 additional claims. They got 22,000 more, roughly 60 percent of whom were approved for this taxpayer-funded Lotto.
As March notes, of the 14,561 “black farmers” who were paid by 2004, only about 200 applied for a subsequent priority loan to which they were entitled. Since virtually every small farmer needs to take out a small loan each year, the other 14,361, he surmises, likely never applied for a loan in the first place.
Despite having a year and a half to apply, some 70,000 more alleged claimants—more than twice the number of black farmers--argued that they had not only been discriminated against but had also been denied notice of the likely windfall that awaited them.
In 2008, the ever-posturing Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa joined the race hustlers, the trial lawyers, and the Democratic vote snatchers to complete the perfect racist scam when he lobbied to give the alleged 70,000 “another bite at the apple.” Co-sponsoring the bill was none other than U.S. Senator Barack Obama.
In February of 2010, the Obama administration settled with the aggrieved 70,000 for $1.25 billion dollars that the government did not have to give. This money, by the way, was finessed out of a defense appropriation bill.
At the time, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agreement would close a "sordid chapter" in the department’s history, a chapter in which no one seems to have been so much as reprimanded.
Out of about $1 billion paid out so far in settlements, the largest amount has gone to the Shirley and Charles Sherrod’s New Communities Incorporated, which received some $13 million. As Time Magazine approvingly reported this week, an additional $330,000 was “awarded to Shirley and Charles Sherrod for mental suffering alone.”
Unwittingly, Charles Sherrod shed light on the how and why of the settlement in a speech he gave in January 2010. As he explained, New Communities farmed its 6,000 acres successfully for 17 years before running into five straight years of drought. Then, according to Sherrod, New Communities engaged in a three-year fight with the USDA to get the appropriate loans to deal with drought.
Said Sherrod, “They were saying that since we’re a corporation, we’re not an individual, we’re not a farmer.” Nevertheless, the Sherrods prevailed, but the late payments “caused us to lose this land.” In other words, the bureaucratic delay over taxpayer-funded corporate welfare payments cost them their business.
Sherrod gave this talk to announce that the FCC had awarded New Communities a radio station in Albany, Georgia, still another race-based corporate welfare boondoggle. Before the award of this station, he added, the Sherrods “had no means of communicating with our people.”
The “our people” in question, of course, are black people. This remains Ms. Sherrod’s constituency. Why trifle with a poor white farmer when so many rich white taxpayers have so much more to offer?
Yes, indeed, these are just the people we want spending the money we don’t have.
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