October 12, 2010

Black farmers bear the brunt of GOP obstructionism

From theGrio:
The Republicans-- whether in Congress, Fox News, the Tea Party or elsewhere-- seem to operate at their best, or should I say worst, when they create an enemy. And most of the time, except for the days when they are picking on Muslims, mosques, Mexicans and gay marriage, their designated enemy is black America.
And now, they've decided to go after the black farmer. So, exactly what have black farmers done, you ask? They were victims of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so they sued and won a $1.25 billion settlement. Another $3.4 billion settled claims that the Interior Department mismanaged Native American trust funds. Now, some GOP lawmakers charge that many of these aggrieved black farmers aren't really farmers at all.
Reps. Michele Bachman (R-Minn.), Steve King (R-Iowa) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) have alleged that the settlement with the black farmers was a big scam. Bachmann said the deal was rife with "massive and widespread fraud and abuse," while King said "I think they have turned a blind eye to the fraud and corruption here." These legislators are calling for Congressional investigations into the matter.
But the "concern" of these lawmakers is a reflection of racial politics more than anything else. To justify the probe, they claim that 94,000 claims were filed, although there are only 33,000 black farmers in the U.S., according to Census data. Out of thousands of claims, only three were found to be false. Furthermore, each claim has to be verified by a court-appointed arbitrator. In addition, as the National Black Farmers Association notes, the claims include those who were farmers as well as those who attempted to become farmers.
"Everyone that steps to the microphone says they support the black farmers," said John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association. "But they can't put aside their political bickering so the black farmers can get on with their lives."
The original class-action lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman (Pigford I), claimed that the USDA discriminated against black farmers by not providing them with loans and grants provided to whites. The case settled in 1999, but was resettled in 2010 under Pigford II, in order to incorporate tens of thousands of late filers.
Congress is supposed to appropriate the funds for the settlement, and a bill passed in the House, but the funding has been stalled in the Senate amid supposed concerns by Republicans about adding to the federal deficit.
And not surprisingly, groups such as the National and Legal Policy Center a conservative front group that is funded by right wing philanthropy to go after liberal politicians and spread conspiracy theories the settlement a shakedown.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has criticized Republicans for their obstructionist tactics, and politicizing what should be a noncontroversial, bipartisan issue. "If Republicans are fundamentally opposed to ending this injustice for black farmers and Native American trust account holders, they should at least have the courage to say so and stop playing games with this critical issue," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Sen. Reid.
But this is an election year, and for the Tea Party-dominated Republicans, beating up on black folks is their bread and butter. The fact is that they object to any programs that would be of benefit to African-Americans. The GOP's decades-old Southern Strategy -- which solidified white Southern support for the Republicans -- was based on opposition to social programs on the grounds that they would benefit people of color. And earlier this year, Rush Limbaugh characterized President Obama's health care reform bill as "reparations" and a "civil rights bill."  Limbaugh's not so subtle point here was to feed into the racial anxieties of whites by suggesting that the nation's first black president is handing out slavery reparations or preferential treatment to black people.
Over the past several years, conservatives have attempted to promote a twisted and dishonest narrative that paints African-Americans as the new racists, and whites as the victims of reverse discrimination. The Bush administration fired prosecutors who refused to pursue nonexistent voter fraud cases in black and Latino areas. Conservative media outlets waged a war against the community group ACORN and former green jobs czar Van Jones, and they engaged in a smear campaign against black USDA official Shirley Sherrod. And to this day Republicans are fixated on sketchy claims that the New Black Panther Party intimidated white voters in Philadelphia on Election Day in 2008.
It is difficult to believe that these Republicans would raise such a fuss if these farmers seeking justice were white. Meanwhile, no one characterizes the $76 billion in federal farm subsidies for corn doled out since 1995 -- to produce the sodas and sugary foods that wreck America's health -- as a shakedown. No concerns about the deficit there. Republicans need to leave the black farmers alone and give them the money they deserve.

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