Thursday, July 22, 2010

White House and Ag Secretary apologize - Is Sherrod going to sue for a Retirement Fund?


It seems that the White House and Agriculture Department might have just handed Shirley Sherrod a retirement gift by apologizing for discriminatory actions by the Administration. Such an apology is an admission of guilt on the part of the White House of discrimination.

They just might have apologized to the wrong person as Shirley may have much more in mind than an apology. You see, Shirley was part of a group that sued the Ag Department years ago and in 1999 a group of 16,000 Black farmers received a nearly $1 billion settlement, meaning each received about $50,000. But Shirley and her husband received an extra award for pain and suffering of $150,000 each meaning an additional $300,000.

As part of a April 14, 1999 class action case settlement, commonly known as the Pigford case, U.S. taxpayers have already offered over $1 billion in cash, non-credit awards and debt relief to almost 16,000 black farmers who claimed that they were discriminated against by USDA officials as they “farmed or attempted to farm.” In addition, USDA’s Farm Service Agency spent over $166 million on salaries and expenses on this case from 1999-2009, according to agency records.

Settlement activities on thousands of discrimination suits against the Ag Department have been a priority of the Administration as about 80,000 cases for Black farmers, which were too late for the class action or thrown out for various grounds remain and Congress may soon be asked for an additional $1.5 billion to settle the remainder of the cases. As for Shirley, how much she really will receive would require an investigation of the "debt relief" and non-credit awards she received from the settlement.

Thus Shirley has previously sued Ag for discrimination and won a few hundred thousand dollars. Now she is handed on a silver platter a sure fire discrimination suit with the admission by the Administration of discrimination and a rush to judgment. How many more millions could she win by suing again, this time with provable grounds?

Perhaps this explains why she was reluctant to accept a new position with Obama when the apology was extended. Did her previous appointment by Obama to the Ag Department have anything to do with the earlier law suit settlement which remains to be paid? Did the Administration even know she had won a discrimination case against the government?

The Pigford case raises more questions than it answers. Settling the case has been a clear example of the waste and abuse by agencies if the cost of ligation to date, over $166 million, is the real cost. The fact less than half of the case is settled, so far 16,000 claims have been settled with 80,000 more to go, shows that such discrimination claims ran rampant in the government.

Are the settlements being negotiated to bury the claims so they cannot become political issues in the upcoming elections? There was a real rush to judgment but it may be repeated with the rush to apologize before the facts and background of the previous Ag Department discrimination suits are settled.

As for the conservative blog that exposed the tape in the first place, the liberal media and NAACP who first accused Shirley of racism and called for her resignation now say they were snookered by the conservative media. What idiots! Since when did the liberal media NOT have to fact check a story before throwing around condemnations? They claim the tape was edited. Nearly every day MSNBC commentators are throwing edited tapes on the air to prove the conservatives are the evil empire out to get the leftists. More often than not such tapes are taken way out of context, then repeated over and over on the various talking head shows of MSNBC by a series of daily Democrats from Congress smearing the conservatives or Tea Party for the out of context network claims.

Truth has never been a requirement of the left. Yet they suddenly found themselves caught in a quagmire of untruths and are still looking for a way to blame their irresponsible reporting on the Republicans and the Tea Party. People are fed up with the whimpering and whining of the liberal media and the wall of distortion that comes from the Washington news corps. Long ago Main Street learned this truth and media credibility ranks right down there with Nancy Pelosi and her agenda.

The following article today by Rosslyn Smith further explains the details still missing in the Shirley Sherrod episode which may be far from over.

Forty Acres & a Mule -- Sherrod Style?
Rosslyn Smith

Shirley Sherrod's quick dismissal from the Obama administration may have had less to do with her comments on race before the NAACP than her long involvement in the aptly named Pigford case, a class action against the US government on behalf of black farmers alleging that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had discriminated against black farmers during the period from 1983 through 1997. According to Wikipedia:

The plaintiffs settled with the government in 1999. Under the consent decree, all African American farmers would be paid a "virtually automatic" US$50,000 plus granted certain loan forgiveness and tax offsets. This process was called "Track A".[2]

Alternatively, affected farmers could follow the "Track B" process, seeking a larger payment by presenting a greater amount of evidence - the legal standard in this case was to have a preponderance of evidence along with evidence of greater damages....

At the time the case was settled, it was estimated there would be in the area of 2,000 to 3,000 claims. As with most estimates involving government handouts that number was woefully short of the mark. Again, according to Wikipedia:

22,505 "Track A" applications were heard and decided upon, of which 13,348 (59%) were approved. US$995 million had been disbursed or credited to the "Track A" applicants as of January 2009, including US$760 million disbursed as US$50,000 cash awards. Fewer than 200 farmers opted for the "Track B" process.

Beyond those applications that were heard and decided upon, about 70,000 petitions were filed late and were not allowed to proceed. Some have argued that the notice program was defective, and others blamed the farmers' attorneys for "the inadequate notice and overall mismanagement of the settlement agreement." A provision in the 2008 farm bill essentially allowed a re-hearing in civil court for any claimant whose claim had been denied without a decision that had been based on its merits

In other words, according to the number of total claims filed not only exceeded the original estimate by almost 40 to 50 times, it is close to four times the USDA's estimate of 26,785 total black owned farms in 1977! One reason for this is that the settlement applied to farmers and those who "attempted to farm" and did not receive assistance from the USDA. Getting the latest round of Pigford cases from the 2008 farm bill settled is said to be a high priority for the Obama administration.

So where does Sherrod come into this picture? In a special to the Washington Examiner, Tom Blumer explains that Sherrod and the group she formed along with family members and others, New Communities. Inc. received the largest single settlement under Pigford.

... New Communities is due to receive approximately $13 million ($8,247,560 for loss of land and $4,241,602 for loss of income; plus $150,000 each to Shirley and Charles for pain and suffering). There may also be an unspecified amount in forgiveness of debt. This is the largest award so far in the minority farmers law suit (Pigford vs Vilsack).

What makes this even more interesting to me is that Charles appears to be Charles Sherrod, who was a big player in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s. The SNCC was the political womb that nurtured the Black Power movement and the Black Panthers before it faded away.

Blumer has some questions about this settlement and about Sherrod's rapid departure from the USDA

Was Ms. Sherrod's USDA appointment an unspoken condition of her organization's settlement?

How much "debt forgiveness" is involved in USDA's settlement with New Communities?

Why were the Sherrods so deserving of a combined $300,000 in "pain and suffering" payments -- amounts that far exceed the average payout thus far to everyone else? ($1.15 billion divided by 16,000 is about $72,000)?

Given that New Communities wound down its operations so long ago (it appears that this occurred sometime during the late 1980s), what is really being done with that $13 million in settlement money?

Here are a few bigger-picture questions:

Did Shirley Sherrod resign so quickly because the circumstances of her hiring and the lawsuit settlement with her organization that preceded it might expose some unpleasant truths about her possible and possibly sanctioned conflicts of interest?

Is USDA worried about the exposure of possible waste, fraud, and abuse in its handling of Pigford?

Did USDA also dispatch Sherrod hastily because her continued presence, even for another day, might have gotten in the way of settling Pigford matters quickly?


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