Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Pig(ford)s at the trough

(Important blogger's note: the title of this post is in no means to be interpreted as disparaging or demeaning to Mr. Timothy Pigford, the original named lead plaintiff in the class action suit that led to this travesty.)

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

"With respect to the two words 'general welfare', I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."

Those two quotes are by James Madison, and on those topics, he'd be an authority as one of the principle authors of both the Constitution of the United States and the Federalist Papers written in support of the Constitution's ratification.

Last week, The New York Times came across a story of incredible fraud, waste, and graft coming out of the United States Department of Agriculture, generically known as "Pigford". Naturally, the Times was somewhat late to the game as the late Andrew Breitbart was on the story over two years before, and it has also been reported on by writer Lee Stranahan, as well as numerous other new media sources.

Today is "Blog about Pigford Day", and rather than rehash all the details of the scandal in total, I'm choosing instead to comment on the root cause of how we got there. Naturally, it all comes back to the Constitution, and willful departure from the limited enumerated powers of our government.

To summarize, Pigford v. Glickman was a 1997 lawsuit started by Mr. Timothy Pigford, an African-American farmer, who was joined by about 400 co-plaintiffs in a class action, alleging that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), between 1981 and 1996, willfully discriminated against African-Americans who "farmed or attempted to farm" (my emphasis) and who were denied funding under various USDA loan programs because of racial prejudice. The lawsuit was settled in 1999, and it was thought that up to 2,000 affected farmers would be eligible for $50,000 compensatory awards, totaling some $100 million in outlays.

Over 22,000 claims were filed under the judgement. Well over 13,000 were approved. The amount disbursed to Pigford "victims" was nearly $1 billion. Legislative language in the 2008 Farm Bill opened up the spigots again to the tune of another $1.2 billion.

Why do I say "victims"? Well to quote The New York Times article by Sharon LaFraniere:

In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina, the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race in 1997, the year the lawsuit was filed. Those applicants received nearly $100 million. 
In Maple Hill, a struggling town in southeastern North Carolina, the number of people paid was nearly four times the total number of farms. More than one in nine African-American adults there received checks. In Little Rock, Ark., a confidential list of payments shows, 10 members of one extended family collected a total of $500,000, and dozens of other successful claimants shared addresses, phone numbers or close family connections.
The allegations of fraud go up and down the line, including hundreds of claims from urban areas that defenders of the payments say reflect the migration of farmers to cities...really?!?! Yes, my dear readers, you are thought to be that stupid and gullible.

Claims were paid with little or no verification. Forget proving "farming", "attempts to farm" didn't require documentation. (Aside: I tried to grow tomatoes a few years ago and failed. Does that count as a "farming attempt"?)

Whatever you want to call the Pigford payments, this was a wholesale swindle of the American taxpayer.

The bottom line is, none of this should ever have happened in the first place. Pigford should never have happened because there is no enumerated power of the Federal Government to do any of this.

The USDA has a current budget (FY2013) of $156 billion, of which $129 billion is "mandatory" spending on subsidies and programs (including food stamps) required by law.

Here is the web site for the USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) page about agricultural loans. Want a "microloan" of up to $35,000 (again, really? $35K is "micro"?!?) to jump start your farming? USDA will get you the money! Want to buy a farm? They'll see you're approved regardless of your own credit. Just need money to get your failing, near bankrupt farm out of the gutter? They'll back that too. And so on. Oh, and if you can't pay the loans back, yep, the rest of us eat it.

Are you an "organic farmer" who's been certified as such so you can charge inflated prices for your produce at a supermarket? USDA will reimburse you for part of the costs of certification, courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. John Q. Taxpayer.

And hey, let's look at some of the highlights of the FY2014 USDA budget submission (PDF):

Provides $4 billion in guaranteed loans to support clean and renewable energy generation, transmission and distribution activities across rural America. This level of funding will provide 3.7 million rural residents with new or improved electric service. 
Wait...$4 billion in energy loans from the USDA? Shouldn't that be done by the Department of Energy?!?

Provides $24 billion for guaranteed single family housing loans and $360 million for single family housing direct loan program to provide almost 175,000 new home ownership opportunities including to purchase a home or refinance a loan in 2014. 
Uh...Department of Housing and Urban Development, anyone?!?!

How much do you want to bet that there are duplicate programs within DOE and HUD respectively?

How much do you want to bet that there will be recipients of duplicate financial benefits from multiple departments or agencies' overlapping programs?

None of this is provided for by the Constitution. Zip. Zero. Nada.

I remember well growing up in New Jersey that there was a large plot of land next to one of my friends' houses that was "farmed" every year. By "farmed", I mean that corn was planted in the spring, grown, and then plowed under in the fall without a single ear ever being harvested. Why? Because the land owner got a gigantic farm loss tax write-off. It wouldn't shock me at all either if the USDA subsidized growing the never-intended to be used crops, and then paid to destroy them too as part of an artificial price control to benefit others.

Protected classes, as I like to call them, are evil and anti-liberty - even when they carve out benefits and exceptions for people we all rely on like farmers.

Want to know why we're driven $100+ billion further into national debt every month? These cases must stop. "Unsustainable" doesn't even begin to describe nearly every program our government executes.

We are so completely disconnected from the Constitution and how the United States Government is supposed to be limited by it that it's probably impossible to ever get back to where we should be. If we expect to have a free republic for our children and grandchildren to grow up in, we've got to fight for it regardless.

Pigford is just a symptom of the general disgrace that has become our federal government. There should never have been a discrimination lawsuit because the USDA shouldn't have been handing out loans and grants in the first place, as Congress has no enumerated power to spend monies in that way.

These problems of rampant expenditure with no regard or concern for the value received are found throughout the government, even in areas that are completely within Constitutionally-enumerated authority.

Want to stop the Pigfords of the future? Demand that we follow the Constitution. Demand that the Congress only acts within the powers that we, the people have ceded to it. Our Constitution, as amended, if followed exactly, will never lead us wrong. It never has.

Go back to Madison's words I opened with, take them to heart, get your noses out of the public dollar feeding trough, get to work, and let's save America from its own government.

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