Pigford: The Unexamined Obama Administration Scandal
The Obama administration has again been protected from a troubling scandal by the mainstream media (MSM) using the tactic of omission to simply ignore the scandal, its reality, and the negative blowback attendant to a disturbing story. As sunlight began to illuminate the scandal's inconvenient and troubling facts, charges of racism were used to temporarily silence those sounding the alarm. Seemingly, the alarm-ringers' only crime was having the temerity to respond with a politically incorrect point of view to abuses.
The underreported scandal referenced is generally identified as "Pigford." Pigford's germination occurred in 1997 as a lawsuit (Pigford vs. Glickman) alleging that 91 African-American farmers were unfairly denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to racial discrimination which prevented the complainants from farming. In 1999, the black farmers won their case.
Pigford has the distinction of being an out-of-control waste of taxpayer funds and/or a cynical attempt by the Obama administration to curry favor with certain minority groups to which neither President Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder can plead ignorance of involvement. Both have had knowledge since the court ruled on the Pigford lawsuit; in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama supported and voted for the funding of the initial settlement. Since then, Eric Holder (and Obama) have been involved in overseeing and managing the Pigford "judgment fund."
Yet can Pigford be fairly described as a scandal?
Pigford began innocently enough: as a lawsuit to redress a perceived wrong against a group of 91. But then the number climbed to 400....then 1,600...then...
The number of black farmers has metastasized -- nay, exploded -- and the aggrieved group now includes not only blacks, but Hispanics, Native Americans, and females. In fact over 90,000 people have filed claims seeking a payment under the terms of the original Pigford court ruling. That decision, now referred to as Pigford #1, was anticipated to cost approximately $120 million, including legal fees.
Pigford #2 is the appellation used to identify an expanded payment regime that funds more payments to African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and females. This regimen grew out of the fact that thousands of claimants missed the original Pigford #1 filing deadline of October 12, 1999. Interestingly, Native American potential claimants were estimated at 5,300, while plaintiff lawyers pegged the exposure at an estimated 19,000 Native Americans. The judgment fund announced by Agricultural Secretary Thomas Vilsack and Eric Holder in 2010 was expanded from just over $120 million to $1.25 billion, given the expectation of many more filers.
However, the explosion of claimants has caused payouts to reach $4.4 billion and has swelled legal fees to over $130 million. More importantly, the claim's process created a rush to get a share of the monies allocated to the judgment fund, even if no real claim existed. Essentially, the process encouraged people to lie and spawned a cottage industry. Claimants had only to file applications for a $50,000 payment by stating that they had "thought about" applying for loans to become a farmer. Proof of a claimant's intent to farm also included a statement from that petitioner saying he or she had attempted to farm by planting a batch of tomatoes in his or her backyard and having that statement verified by a family member. In essence, the need to be a farmer at the time of the alleged discriminatory actions by the USDA was not a requirement to share in the financial redress.
Fraud was endemic to the claims process -- for example, every apartment in a New York City building received a settlement of at least $50,000. Further, some families received checks of $50,000 for each family member (see the NYT's fraud identification narrative of 4-26-13). These payments were dispensed by the judgment fund's monitor, whose management and control fell to the Executive Branch and Justice Department. Due to the application vetting process, the payouts were criticized by both Representative Steve King (D-IA) and journalist Andrew Breitbart as payoffs to Obama's/Democrats' preferred groups to gain a favored political position with those entities.
King and Breitbart had the courage to indelicately point out that some of payouts were ridiculous, fraudulent, and highly politicized. Both Congressman King and Breitbart were predictably charged with racism by many in the MSM; only because The New York Times printed their recent investigatory story have some MSM members begrudgingly ceded the veracity of King's and Breitbart's concerns.
The combination of the racial criticism, the MSM's silence regarding Pigford, and the quarantine on additional Pigford narratives subsequent to the NY Times' article have emphasized the media's concern for the damage an ongoing discussion of Pigford could cause the president. Potential stories may have included added evidence of rampant fraud and controversy:
- A review of the Shirley Sherrod incident/resignation that became an embarrassing chapter in the Obama administration and might have brought into question the fairness of the payout her family received from Pigford which was rumored to total in the millions. TIME magazine also reported that the Sherrods' received compensation of approximately $330,000 for mental suffering after it was determined that Ms. Sherrod did not use racist tactics in dealing with white farmers, a charge that led to her resignation from the USDA.
- The NY Times' article disclosing that in 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina, the number of successful Pigford claims exceeded the total number of farms that existed in 1997.
- The possible resurrection of a contentious conversation on the redistribution of wealth by whatever means to correct previous wrongs for certain minorities à la the Van Jones reparations argument.
- The blatantly racially charged comments similar to those of Mr. Al Pires, a lead attorney for African-American Pigford farmers, who asserted that the USDA was "the biggest racist the world has ever seen."
Thus, Pigford is another scandal that has received little attention and even less discussion than many of the scandals currently in the news cycle. Nevertheless, this scandal is another example of an administration out of control. This is perhaps because Americans elected a leader without a modicum of real world management experience -- a person who believes that ideology trumps organizational discipline, who believes that political cronies are automatically qualified as leaders/managers, and who uses lies/dissembling as a tool to obscure factual information from the American people.
In sum, the damage generated by the Pigford scandal, and all the others, continues to be muted by the MSM's lack of interest in reporting the facts integral to each issue and their lack of desire to dig for more information. But given the daunting mass of scandals existent, President Obama's administration will be described in the future by objective historians as the most scandalous in history.