Saturday, October 12, 2013

U.S. Opens Spigot After Farmers Claim Discrimination
... Ever since the Clinton administration agreed in 1999 to make $50,000 payments to thousands of black farmers, the Hispanics and women had been clamoring in courtrooms and in Congress for the same deal. They argued, as the African-Americans had, that biased federal loan officers had systematically thwarted their attempts to borrow money to farm.

But a succession of courts — and finally the Supreme Court — had rebuffed their pleas. Instead of an army of potential claimants, the government faced just 91 plaintiffs. Those cases, the government lawyers figured, could be dispatched at limited cost.

They were wrong.

On the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling, interviews and records show, the Obama administration’s political appointees at the Justice and Agriculture Departments engineered a stunning turnabout: they committed $1.33 billion to compensate not just the 91 plaintiffs but thousands of Hispanic and female farmers who had never claimed bias in court.

The deal, several current and former government officials said, was fashioned in White House meetings despite the vehement objections — until now undisclosed — of career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination. What is more, some protested, the template for the deal — the $50,000 payouts to black farmers — had proved a magnet for fraud....

How a Discrimination Settlement Turned into a Bonanza for Fraudsters
...Long story short: black farmers complained that they had been discriminated against when seeking loans from a USDA program. Those loans are supposed to help farmers buy seed and fertilizer, and float the long period between sowing and harvest. They sued the Clinton administration, which settled even before they'd opened the discovery process. This is known as the Pigford settlement, a name which will be familiar to readers of conservative news sites, which have been on this case for some time.

The New York Times reports that the judge initially restricted the settlement to people who had actually been farming during the period covered by the settlement, but some people complained. What about people who had attempted to farm, but been stymied by their inability to procure government loans? Should they be shut out of the settlement? So the judge expanded the criteria to include people who'd attempted to farm. Unfortunately, the government doesn't keep track of people who have maybe thought about farming. And apparently, it didn't have decades worth of records of the loans they'd denied. So the government was forced to rely on the word of the applicants....

How Did Progressive Journalists Get Pigford So Wrong?
...Yet even the progressive writers whose work I find most careful, accurate and valuable got this story wrong in important ways. Adam Serwer took time to dig into Pigford and provided some useful correctives (and some critiques with which I disagree) to conservative coverage, but also wrote, in one particularly uncharitable post, "the pervasiveness of conservative anger over the Pigford settlement augurs a new low for conservative anti-anti-racism, in which remedying an exhaustively documented instance of racial discrimination is objectionable not because the claim itself is illegitimate but because it represents a transfer of income from whites to nonwhites."

In fact, the vast majority of conservatives were upset by the widespread fraud, the perception that cynical racial politics helped enable it, and the related fact that hucksters were exploiting a widespread desire to redress discrimination by stealing from all taxpayers, nonwhite ones very much included....

...Said a UC Berkeley professor who studied the matter in great depth, "I was so disgusted. It was simply buying the support of the Native Americans." How can Drum not understand, after all that, why the Agriculture Department didn't adopt stricter standards? It's as if progressives writing about Pigford are blind to the fact that plaintiffs' lawyers and identity-based interest groups exert influence in politics just like corporate interest groups, industry interest groups, defense contractors, and every other constituency that participates in lobbying the U.S. government. Not all claims of cynical racial politics are bogeymen dreamed up by bigoted conservatives....