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Farm loan ripoff? (03/06/01)

Washington Times, by Reed Irvine

           "How would you like to get $50,000 tax-free from Uncle Sam by just writing a letter and getting a friend to attest to your claim that you had applied to the Department of Agriculture for a farm loan and had been turned down because of your race? Impossible, you say? Not if you were black and had joined in a class-action lawsuit known as Pigford vs. Glickman (Dan Glickman, the last Clinton secretary of Agriculture).

          "On Jan. 17, as the Clinton era was coming to an end, the Department of Agriculture Web site showed that 12,000 blacks who had joined the lawsuit had qualified to receive $50,000 tax-free. They claimed that they had applied for a government farm loan between Jan. 1, 1981, and Dec. 31, 1996, and had been turned down because of race. They didn't have to submit any proof. All they needed was one person, not a family member, who would attest to the validity of their claim. Since the Agriculture Department did not keep records of rejected loans for more than three years, it had no documentation to verify or disprove claims of loan applications made before 1996.

          "A costly Agriculture Department advertising campaign resulted in 20,000 blacks joining the suit.  That exceeded the total number of black farmers in the country.

          "...the cost for each successful [black] claimant was higher.  In addition to being paid $50,000 tax-free, any balance due on their loans was forgiven.

          "The department had records on less than 10 percent of the successful claimants. There is no way of knowing how many of the others ever had any contact with the department, but they all get their $50,000 checks.  Much of the blame for this fiasco lies with Judge Friedman, a Clinton appointee, and with Mr. Glickman, who did not defend his employees from unfair charges of racism.

          "The General Accounting Office is looking into the matter, asking why so many people who collected $50,000 appear to have no connection with agriculture.

          "If unchecked, this rip-off could expand and spread to other groups, costing the taxpayers billions of dollars. In October, three Hispanics claiming to represent 20,000 Hispanic farmers filed a suit very similar to Pigford vs. Glickman. A group of American Indians has filed a similar suit, seeking a million dollars each. Just before the statute-of-limitations waiver expired, a group of Asian-Americans and a group of women filed similar suits.

          "Even a mainly white group has filed a suit on behalf of non-black farmers. The Justice Department is very serious about fighting that one."

(Excerpted from the Washington Times commentary by Reed Irvine 03/06/01.  Mr. Irvine is chairman of Accuracy in Media.)

[Link http://www.washtimes.com/commentary/commentary-200136174922.htm ]

(USDA)  Too Few Women, Minorities on Florida Tomato Panel!!! (09/10/99)
          "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has refused to accept the current nominations to the Florida Tomato Committee, citing concerns about the lack of diversity among nominees.

          USDA's quota-enforcer Kathleen Merrigan bluntly told the growers:  "I am concerned about the committee's lack of significant effort and commitment to increase participation of women, minorities and persons with disabilities in the nomination process.  There is no apparent increase in committee diversity among this year's nominees."

          Merrigan's heavy-handed letter pointedly did NOT mention any concern whatsoever that white, male nominees' civil rights be protected in the USDA's push for more of the "right colors" on the tomato committee.

          The Naples Daily News reports that "Since the United States opened its markets to other countries through a host of international trade agreements during this decade, more than half of Florida's tomato growers have gone out of business as a result of new competition, said Martha Roberts, deputy commissioner of agriculture for food and safety issues."

          "Many of those failed growers have been minorities and women, she said, naming off the top of her head at least one black grower and two women who went bankrupt in the past eight years. There were more than 800 tomato growers in the state at the beginning of the decade."  There are fewer than 100 "minority and/or women" tomato growers remaining in Florida, a very small pool of applicants.  (Based on Naples Daily News 09/10/99 by Jennifer Maddox and Laura Layden)
[link http://www.naplesnews.com/today/local/d339380a.htm ]

Related / Similar:

Attack of the Tomato Killers (09/12/99 - no link)
          "The weather was good, the setting was beautiful, but all was not well in the land of the tomato growers.  The government was not happy.  On September 8, the 24th annual Joint Tomato Conference opened at the Naples, FL, Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Peter Harllee, Jr., Chairman of the Florida Tomato Committee, had just received a letter from an administrator with the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service scolding the committee for its lack of diversity.  The Committee advises the USDA on tomato policy and federal regulations in Florida, and makes recommendations on tomato marketing and packing.

          "'I am concerned about the committee's lack of significant effort and commitment to increase participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in the nomination process,' wrote Kathleen Merrigan, a USDA diversity enforcer.  'I will ask the committee to conduct new nominations for my consideration.  Current committee members will continue to serve until I appoint the new committee,' her letter decreed.

          "According to industry representatives, the problem -- if there is one -- is like getting blood from a turnip (or a tomato). The committee isn't 'diverse', because the tomato-growing industry isn't diverse.

          "'I just don't know of any women or minorities in the [tomato] business,' says Wayne Hawkins, manager of the Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.  'If there is a minority tomato grower in Florida, I don't know of any. They don't exist and she [Kathleen Merrigan, USDA diversity enforcer] won't accept that.'

          "Nevertheless, the Committee launched a comprehensive campaign to publicize the nominations.  Hawkins was shocked by Merrigan's charge that the committee didn't put forth a 'significant effort' to attract minorities, women and persons with disabilities.  He says that the Florida Committee conducted extensive outreach in order to diversify the nominees.

          "'We did everything we possibly could to meet their (USDA's) requirements', argues Hawkins.  'We contacted every known tomato grower, every packing house, every county extension director, and many newspapers.  Several newspapers even wrote articles about our search.  This is government harassment'.  

          "If it is harassment, Hawkins can take some solace in the fact that the Florida Tomato Committee hasn't been singled out by the USDA or the Clinton Administration.

          "'Let's just say it's an across-the-board effort,' says [USDA diversity enforcer] Merrigan.  'This is the last opportunity in this [Clinton] administration to make appointments.  [The USDA is] just following through on this administration's pledge [to impose racial quotas and] diversity'.

          "Several USDA committees have already received rejection letters from [USDA quota-enforcer] Merrigan and, she declares, many more letters are going out.  'From soybeans to beef, to onions in south Texas.   The winter pear control commission in Yakima, WA, is going to get one [of our diversity letters].  We're ratcheting it up everywhere'.

          "Even California, the state with the most racially and ethnically diverse population in the U.S., has a small minority tomato-growing contingent.  'About 12 percent of fresh tomato growers in California are Hispanic, and about 4 percent are Asian', according to Don Dressler, of the Western Growers Association, a trade association representing the fresh produce industry in California and Arizona.  'We have a very small black grower population in California agriculture, and the tomato industry'.

          "Meanwhile, [USDA quota-enforcer] Merrigan has demanded a detailed outreach plan [to increase the number of the right races and genders] from the Committee before she will approve the new nominees.   'If this is our last opportunity to make appointments, when do you stop saying 'please' and start saying, 'you must'?'  Merrigan says she is not necessarily opposed to taking another look at the Florida data.  'If Florida can document that there is absolutely no way to achieve diversity [racial quotas], well [then] we'll scrutinize it very carefully to see if it matches our data.'

          "Wonderful. Your government at work."  (The Weekly Standard - October 18, 1999 by Stephen Hayes.  Mr. Hayes is a writer in Washington, DC.)
[link:  NO LINK]

(USDA)  Lawyers For Black Workers To Meet With USDA (05/07/99 - dead link)
          WASHINGTON — "Top officials at the U.S. Agriculture Department have called a meeting for Friday with lawyers representing 12,000 black employees, a move attorneys hope is a sign the USDA wants to settle a discrimination case.

          "The employees allege that they have faced constant discrimination in hiring, promotions and in day-to-day life at the department and have threatened to file a formal class-action lawsuit.   "We're hoping that this will initiate some kind of resolution,'' Kamala Vasagam, one of the attorneys for the employees, told Reuters Thursday.

          "Vasagam said if an agreement is not reached, lawyers are prepared to file a formal class-action complaint against the department next week to broaden an existing complaint to cover black employees department-wide.

          "As of September 1998, 11,513 blacks worked at the USDA, more than 10 percent of the agency's work force. The department is one of the largest federal employers.  The employees "are primed and ready to go and ready to take on the department at large,'' Vasagam said."  (Reuters via FoxNews 05/07/99)
[former link **http://www.foxnews.com/js_index.sml?content=/news/national/0507/d_rt_0507_14.sml]


Black Workers Say USDA Discriminated (05/15/99)
          "Lawyers have filed a class-action complaint against the U.S. Agriculture Department on behalf of nearly 12,000 black workers, saying that the USDA has wrongly tolerated racism and destroyed careers. Employees say they were passed over for jobs, promotions and raises, and were the target of racial slurs by co-workers and managers. The complaint seeks an unspecified amount of back pay as well as promotions and financial damages. It also demands that the USDA adopt stricter policies against discrimination. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has acknowledged that discrimination has been a problem at the department in the past and vowed to correct the problem."  (LA Times, from wire services 05/15/99)
[link http://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/ASECTION/t000043677.html ]


(USDA)  US Settlement For Black Farmers Jumps Final Hurdle (04/14/99 - dead link)
          WASHINGTON — "A federal judge Wednesday approved a $2 billion settlement between the U.S. Agriculture Department and black farmers, calling it a fair way to end decades of discrimination in farm loans and aid.  Under the settlement, each farmer will receive a tax-free cash payment of about $50,000 and erase debts to the USDA. On average, farmers involved in the case owe $75,000 to $100,000.

          "But the pact disappointed some farmers, who said it did not go far enough to compensate them for shoddy treatment over several generations.  "The court has before it a proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit that will not undo all that has been done,'' U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman said in his ruling.

          "Despite that fact, however, the court finds that the settlement is a fair resolution of the claims brought in this case and a good first step toward assuring that the kind of discrimination that has been visited on African American farmers since Reconstruction will not continue,'' he wrote.  (Based on FoxNews 04/14/99)
[former link **http://www.foxnews.com/js_index.sml?content=/news/national/0414/d_rt_0414_77.sml]

(USDA)  Black Ag Dept. Managers Pursue Discrimination Complaint (03/09/99 - dead link)
          WASHINGTON (AP) — "A new discrimination complaint against the Agriculture Department is going before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The class action complaint alleges that more than 300 black managers at the department's Farm Service Agency were unfairly denied promotions.

          "The Farm Service Agency, which administers loans and credit, also had been cited by black farmers in a lawsuit that resulted in a multimillion-dollar settlement — currently under review by a federal judge.  'It's not surprising that the Farm Service Agency was discriminating against the black farmers when they have for years systematically excluded African-Americans from policymaking positions in the upper levels of agency management,' said lead attorney Joseph D. Gebhardt."  (FoxNews, AP by Janelle Carter, 03/09/99)
[former link **http://www.foxnews.com/js_index.sml?content=/news/national/0309/d_ap_0309_129.sml]

(USDA)  USDA Secretary Mike Espy CAN Accept Bribes Because He's Black! (dead link)
          Clinton officials defend Mike Espy's bribes and gifts "because he's black".  Independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz complained to a federal judge that defense lawyers were playing the race card, when in fact it was a simple criminal prosecution with substantial evidence that Espy had accepted illegal gratuities. 

          Prosecutor Smaltz implored the judge to specifically instruct the jury to not consider Espy's race.  The judge refused, tacitly approving the defense's playing of the race card to an almost all-black jury.  The judge thus opened the door for the jury to ignore the points of law and the evidence.

          Espy's jury was composed of 11 blacks and 1 white.  As feared, the jury ignored the established facts and evidence of Espy's acceptance of illegal gratuities, essentially practicing "jury nullification" (which is illegal).  The jury chose instead to focus on defense statements that Espy had generated hostility in the agency due to his discriminatory practice of promoting blacks ahead of more qualified whites.  Which was not part of the criminal case against Espy at all.  The Clinton White House welcomed Espy back to his post with a press conference and much fanfare.  (based on the story in the Washington Post, 11/03/98, by Bill Miller, on page A-4)
[former link: *http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1998-11/03/037l-110398-idx.html]

USDA:  U.S. Black Farmers to Receive Millions in Bias Case (01/05/99 - dead link)
"I'm elated,'' said Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California and the former head of the congressional black caucus which held a hearing on black farmers in 1997.  According to sources close to the case, the settlement could ultimately entail as much as $200 million in tax-free cash payments and $400 million in debt relief for the farmers.  National Black Farmers Association President John Boyd said Tuesday the farmers would welcome the settlement money, although he felt they deserved more.  The farmers claim they were systematically denied USDA farm loans, disaster aid and other assistance over decades because of their race, and did not get a fair hearing at the USDA when they appealed."  Blacks comprise less than 1% of U.S. farmers.  (Fox News 01-05-99)
[former link **http://www.foxnews.com/js_index.sml?content=/news/wires2/0105/n_rt_0105_107.sml]


USDA Settlement Related Stories:

Some black farmers unhappy with proposed settlement (03/01/99 - dead link)
"WASHINGTON (AP) - Just hours before a federal judge was to give final review to a multimillion-dollar settlement between black farmers and the Agriculture Department, leaders of two farmer groups said Monday they have problems with the deal. Farmers scheduled a rally Tuesday morning prior to a fairness hearing with U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman. Several farmers also planned to speak at the hearing. "The farmers are having some real issues with what has been proposed,'' said Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association." (AP via Fox News 03/01/99, by Janelle Carter)
[former link **http://www.foxnews.com/js_index.sml?content=/news/wires2/0301/n_ap_0301_254.sml]

Millions Not Enough; Black Farm Leader Sues for Alleged Slur (02/24/99 - dead link)
WASHINGTON (AP) - "A leader of the black farmers who recently settled with the Agriculture Department over past discrimination has filed a $10 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court accusing a top agency aide of using a racial slur.

          "John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, filed the lawsuit Wednesday. It names Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman; August Schumacher, undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services; and Teresa Gruber, Schumacher's lawyer.

          "Boyd contends that at the end of a May 27 conference call with Schumacher, Gruber used the word 'nigger'' in referring to him.

          "An inspector general for the agency investigated and concluded that insufficient evidence supports Boyd's claim. Boyd likened the investigation to 'the fox watching the henhouse.' " (AP, via FoxNews, 02/24/99)
[former link **http://www.foxnews.com/js_index.sml?content=/news/wires2/0224/n_ap_0224_270.sml]

$1 Billion Payout in Settlement (01/23/99 - dead link)
          "The agreement gives a tax-free payment of $50,000 to black farmers who claim the Agriculture Department discriminated against them between 1981 and 1996.  In addition to the $50,000 payment, the settlement also would excuse black farmers' debts to the USDA, which average between $95,000 and $100,000.  [Lead attorney Alex Pires] said the average white farmer owes $130,000 to $140,000 to the department."  [The white farmers' larger debts will not be forgiven under the terms of this settlement.]    (FoxNews, 01/23/99)
[former link **http://www.foxnews.com/js_index.sml?content=/news/wires2/0123/n_rt_0123_106.sml]

Settlement with Black Farmers Falls Short (opinion, 01/14/99) (dead link)
          "Fewer than 1 per cent of the nation's farmers are black. Almost 80 years ago, 14 per cent of American farmers were black. On these pages last month there appeared a column on the subject of the need for more black farmers. Few young blacks seriously consider agriculture as livelihood any more, and the settlement won't encourage them."  (Toledo Blade, 01/14/99, by Rose Russell)
[former link *http://www.toledoblade.com/editorial/edit/9a14rose.htm]

USDA Settlement Too Little, Too Late for Many Black Farmers (dead link)           "Up in Washington, the lawyers, the activists and even President Clinton cheered what many call the biggest civil rights victory in decades, a deal that promises to pay black farmers hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate them for discrimination suffered at the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

          "But as Calvin C. Brown stared out at the windswept fields that he helped clear with his own hands here in southern Virginia, the 72-year-old tobacco farmer said that while he finds satisfaction in the court settlement negotiated last week, he sees little reason to celebrate. What has been taken from him and other black farmers can never be restored, he said, not even with an agreement that some say could pay as many as 5,000 black farmers as much as $1 billion.

          " 'I think it is a good settlement,' Brown said.  'But for many farmers, even $1 million would not be enough to make up for the stress and pain they went through. If you make it impossible for a farmer to farm, what else can he do?' "  (Washington Post, 01-10-99, by Michael A. Fletcher, page A10)
[former link *http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1999-01/10/150l-011099-idx.html]

Proposed compensation too little for farmers (dead link)
          "The cost of slavery and discrimination on its victims in America has always been incalculable. No remedy or reparation has been sufficient for the pain extracted. Just as the 40 acres and a mule promised to slaves after the Civil War was paltry compensation for two centuries of enforced servitude, $50,000 is insufficient for black farmers who, because of generations of discrimination, have been denied a livelihood.

          "Yet that is what 1,000 to 3,000 black farmers will get from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the result of a settlement reached last week in a 1997 class-action suit brought by black farmers who accused the USDA of discriminatory lending practices.

          "The farmers sought $3 billion in damages. The settlement could range between $200 million and $600 million. Black farmers who provide proof of discrimination will receive $50,000 tax-free and will be forgiven their federal debts. Those with better documentation could get more through arbitration."  (San Antonio Express News, 01-09-99, Editorial)
[former link  *http://www.expressnews.com:80/pantheon/editorial/editorials/10ed2.shtml]

MORE Accusations by Black Farmers:

U.S. to Investigate a Complaint of Bias (posted 08/12/99 - expired link)
          "The Agriculture Department is investigating complaints by black farmers that they were improperly denied disaster assistance in Arkansas and Georgia this year, even as the department was settling a multimillion-dollar civil rights lawsuit. The complaints involve three county offices of the department's Farm Service Agency, one in Arkansas and two in Georgia. Rosalind Gray, director of the Agriculture Department's civil rights office, said it would take appropriate action when the investigations were completed. The cases in Arkansas and Georgia were among a number of complaints of racial discrimination that the department received in distributing the disaster aid. But many of those bringing the complaints declined to cooperate with investigators, Ms. Gray said."  (Associated Press via New York Times)
[no link]

Black Farmers Protest At USDA (08/10/99 - dead link)
          "About 150 black farmers - some armed with signs declaring "Give us 1.5 million acres back'' and "No justice, no peace'' - marched outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture's headquarters Tuesday, calling for an end to years of alleged discriminatory practices. The protest came despite a $2 billion settlement between the USDA and a group of black farmers in April. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman approved the settlement as a way to end decades of discrimination in farm loans and aid. "Years and years of federal investigation have shown that discrimination exists in this department,'' said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, while shaking his fist at the USDA headquarters building located on the Mall"  (Reuters, via FoxNews, 08/10/99)
[former link **http://www.foxnews.com/js_index.sml?content=/news/wires2/0810/n_rt_0810_159.sml]

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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.