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Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 12:58 am

Truth and irony in agriculture fiascos

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Shirley Sherrod
PHOTO BY ERIC BURSE/MCT

The Shirley Sherrod Story started innocently. It was a beautiful anecdote of redemption and personal growth, which she related last year at a meeting of the Georgia NAACP.

 The story told by this black Agriculture Department official would have ended there, unnoticed by the rest of us. But it was caught up by a malicious political wind that swept it all the way to Washington. There, it sucked up an enormous volume of political hot air, then burst into the national news like a furious tornado, ripping the roofs from several big houses of power to reveal a mess of ugliness within.

Ugly Number One is Andrew Breitbart, a notorious far-right-wing blogger who is striving for his 15-minutes of infamy by intentionally distorting, manipulating and lying about the actions of unsuspecting people to create explosive political tales. He used a two-minute, crudely edited clip from a video of Sherrod’s 45-minute Georgia speech, perverting her message to make her sound as if she had intentionally discriminated against a white farmer 24 years ago. Breitbart distributed the distorted video as “proof” that she and the NAACP are racists. The guy is a disgusting creep.

 Ugly Number Two are the Becks, Hannitys, O’Reillys and other foam-at-the-mouth Fox TV blatherers. These shameless media muggers gleefully and unquestioningly grabbed Breitbart’s crap and hurled it across America as “truth.”

Ugly Number Three is the Barack Obama White House, which swallowed the Breitbart-Fox false story whole and immediately dismissed Sherrod from her federal job. They literally tracked her down in her car and forced her to phone in her resignation, without letting her tell the true story!

To me, the Obama ugliness is the worst, for it reveals a shameful lack of loyalty, fairness and feistiness. Like ACORN and Van Jones before, Sherrod was under vicious and false attack from Obama’s enemies – but the Obamites are so afraid of right-wing smear artists that they instantly run from them, cravenly abandoning their friends. Hello – if you don’t stand for your friends, who’ll stand for you?

In the same week that Sherrod was falsely accused of anti-white racism, the U.S. Senate actually compounded the insult with its own act of anti-black racism. At issue was payment of a billion-dollar legal settlement owed to thousands of African-American farmers who for decades were illegally denied essential crop loans from the ag department.

The settlement of the farmers’ lawsuit was agreed to way back in 1999 – yet, for more than a decade, Washington has refused to pay. African-American farmers – including Sherrod’s father – were routinely and grossly discriminated against. How gross?  USDA loan officials spit at them, threw their loan applications in the trash and caused thousands to lose their farms.

To make matters worse, in 1983, the Ronald Reagan administration actually eliminated funding for the division of the USDA that was supposed to investigate these farmers’ claims of discrimination. No investigators, no investigations, no loans, no justice – neat.      

This year, however, justice was finally to be delivered to the farmers, for President Obama set aside $1.2 billion in his budget to make good on the government promise. But, no go, for congressional Republicans have furiously fought the payments.

Of course, the GOP solons insisted that they certainly support racial justice, but alas, they wailed, the bloated federal deficit now compels them to cut spending. Never mind that they are the chief bloaters! In the past decade, they eagerly and recklessly added trillions of dollars to the national debt with unwarranted wars, tax cuts for the rich, bailouts for Wall Street and subsidies for enormously profitable corporations.

Indeed, these very lawmakers continue to support $4 billion a year in needless giveaways to Big Oil – but they abruptly turn into tightwads on a single billion-dollar allocation owed to America’s black farmers.

So while pundits and politicos were vilifying Sherrod for an act of discrimination that did not occur, Senate Republicans cut the payments for thousands of official acts of actual discrimination. How’s that for bitter irony? Yet Republican leaders wonder why they get practically no black support in elections.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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