Monday, May 16, 2022

Let Justice Ring: Dear Lord, Please Quiet My Troubled Soul

Let Justice Ring: Dear Lord, Please Quiet My Troubled Soul: Dear Lord, please quiet my troubled soul And may I ever be so bold As to make a plea Worded only to thee To give my weary soul ...

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Conflicts of Interest: USDA and Equity Commission?

For about ten years I was an appointed member of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists. During some of that time, I was either the appointee to attend or a voted upon Member at Large of the Association of Marriage and Family Regulatory Boards

In both of those arenas, MFT was important. In both of those, public protection was crucially important.

At the same time, I was a member (still am) of the Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Expansion of the discipline is important here. 

Are they related? Certainly. Are they in different domains? Absolutely. 

Ethical standards and conflicts of interest were terribly important to us. Such matters were linked to a successful practice in marriage and family therapy, or losing the license to practice marriage and family therapy. 

That brings me to the USDA and its Equity Commission. The Equity Commission was established by the authority of the President of the US in his Executive Order relative to equity. 

The Justice for Black Farmers Group has argued in many places and on various occasions that this commission is unnecessary and costly. The $10M to underwrite it comes from section 1006 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Section 1005 was explicitly designed to provide debt cancellation for socially disadantaged farmers and ranchers until the white farmer lawsuits starting rolling out, now about 12 or 13 of them. Section 1006 was designed to provide administrative support for these farmers and to provide debt cancellation as well. 

We have argued that we have enough commissions and reports. To name a few, the 1982 US Commission on Civil Rights, the Civil Rights Action Team Report of 1997, the Jackson Lewis Report of 2011, the D. J. Miller Report of 1999, and one of my favorites the OIG Report on the Office of Civil Rights, released in September, 2021. They all say the same thing: the USDA has a history of malfeasance in dealing with Black farmers and advantaging white farmer. 

The latest investigative report by Francis etal, "How the Government Helped White Farmers Steal Black Farmland," was just released last week in the New Republic. 

But these are only tangentially the point. 

The point is conflicts of interest. 

This USDA document defines conflict and interest and an apparent conflict of interest. Here is the definition of the appearance of a conflict of interest: "A situation in which it could reasonably be concluded that an employee's private interest is in conflict with the employee's Government duties and responsibilities, even though there may not actually be such a conflict." 

Here is the definition of a conflict of interest: "A situation in which a Federal employee's private interest conflicts with the full, fair, and impartial performance of Government duties and responsibilities. In other words, a situation in which a Federal employee's private interest, usually of an economic nature, conflicts with his or her Government duties and responsibilities. Conflict-of-interest statutes are contained in Chapter 11, Sections 202-209 and 216 of Title 18 U.S. Code."

The Equity Commission and the subcommittee on Agriculture have 28 members total. Of those 28 members, 8 of them and their organizations have received substantial funding from the USDA. Last year, the USDA released a list of 20 groups,  "Cooperative Agreement Organizations," and none of these groups had to apply for any funding. There is no indication of accountability and transparency in these groups and the $75M that they received. What we know is that none of the groups that signed on to our letter of criticism of the USDA and Tom Vilsack received any of those dollars. 

It is true that within the Equity Commission's FAQ, that having received funding is not within and of itself a conflict of interest, according to the USDA. It goes on to add this sentence, however: "All Equity Commission members who are ultimately appointed must comply with ethics requirements and mitigate any conflicts of interest."

Sounds like a conflict of interest to me.  I give you a nice chunk of change, upwards of $2/5M, then I appoint you, or rather I pursue you, to serve on an Equity Commission that is designed to create equity within services and programs of an entity that is well known for discriminating against minority farmers, and I want you to help me. I've helped you, so now I want you to help me. 

BTW, the helper here is Secretary Thomas Vilsack who has a horrendous record of civil rights at the USDA. How do I know, you ask? Just look at this brutal piece of investigative reporting by Rosenberg and Stucki from 2019. The title speaks for itself, but within the article are five myths of the Vilsack administration. I know several of the folks interviewed. I would trust them with my life. 

So, is there a conflict of interest if my organization received several million dollars via a Cooperative Agreement, one in which I did not have to apply for the funding, and serving on the Equity Commission? Maybe not legally, but I think it smells mighty fishy. Mighty fishy. Awfully fishy. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Let Justice Ring: Critical Race Theory: Who Cares?

Let Justice Ring: Critical Race Theory: Who Cares?: I am more than slightly amused and agitated by the current political climate and what is being made of Critical Race Theory. After all, who ...

Monday, April 18, 2022

Let Justice Ring: Living in the Post-Tomb Days

Let Justice Ring: Living in the Post-Tomb Days: These words were written on Monday morning following Resurrection morning.  Just a free flowing set of ideas that attempted to follow the Bi...

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

White Lash or White Resentment, and "Dear Mr. White Farmer"

Just the other day I was conversing with a longtime advocate for racial justice, especially justice for Black farmers, and I quipped something like, "You know what's going on, don't you?" Of course he knew what was going on. But, "What?" he replied. "We are experiencing a white lash, a reaction to all of the things going on in the world." 

I went on to tell him what I thought were evidences of the white lash. We've had a Black president, now a Black V-P, we have Blacks represented in congress, various agencies in the government, and some think that Black people are stepping out of line. "What more do you want?" I can hear some say. 

The white farmer lawsuits that stopped debt cancellation is one sign. Another set of signs is the proliferation of Critical Race Theory laws across the country. All of the voter suppression laws going into place across the country constitute a third set of signs. 

What do we want? Justice, fairness, equality under the law and the constitution, no more, no less. 

So, here are a few words to "Dear White Farmers:" 

"I knew you were watching and waiting. You knew all along about the race-based remedies for bias and discrimination in the USDA. I think you were waiting for a time and a leader to pounce. You found that leader in Stephen Miller, a lawyer, a Jewish lawyer, who helped Trump craft various policies around immigration and who knows what else. A staffer for a US senator confirmed today that they saw it coming as well. 

Your attorneys know about the host of documents and studies that confirm racism within the USDA all the way back to 1962, all the way up through CRAT and CRIT, the Jackson-Lewis Study, and others. That's just for the legal background. It's all found in other writings here on this page and over on the website. 

Then, you pounced once the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was signed into law. You saw that $1B was allocated for debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and so you pounced. 'Reverse discrimination,' you cried in feigned disbelief that you, white farmers and ranchers of our land who also work hard and find yourselves in debt (or do not find yourselves in debt), and so you played the 'reverse discrimination' card. It worked. Some 12 or 13 lawsuits have stopped the debt relief effort. Yes, we believe that Secretary Vilsack slow-walked that process for over 100 days, ample time for you and your leaders to move into attack and defend mode. Yes, we saw it and the senator saw it. 

However, some of us know your games. The first six litigants of the white farmers cases pulled in $540K in subsidies, coronavirus relief funds, and Trump's failed tax war with China. The counties in which those farms and ranches are located pulled in $1.2B. So, you want to talk about reverse discrimination? Looks to me like you've done quite well for yourselves, if those first six are anywhere close to a representative sample of all of you. You get the main course and Black farmers get the scraps. The data is out there for you and the world to see. 

I have a few more questions for you, as you claim reverse discrimination. 

Mr. White Farmer, have you been set up to purchase a farm at a high appraisal value so that you'll lose it and the next guy over will buy it for pennies on the dollar? Ever been denied operating loans? Ever been denied debt settlement options? Had your diaster and crop payments illegally seized? Lost out on a productive crop because the county office stalls the process so that while others have planted their crops, you are just now getting your seed in the ground? Ever been spit on or called racist names or been told to wait several days while other farmers come in and out of the director's office? Ever been told that there's money there, but not for you? Ever been told that you and your kind don't need that much land even though the land is from several generations of your family back years and years? Ever been denied technical assistance? Ever been provided half of what you need to farm too late in the planting season? Ever had the county officer demand that you submit your application in pencil so he can change it to what he wants? Ever had a farm operating plan cash flow when you submit it, only to find out when it had been reworked that it no longer cash flowed? Ever been caught in a colusion between banks and real estate agents? Ever had the local office renege on loans so that you couldn't pay for seeds or fertilizer? Ever run out of money so that while your cotton crop is ready for harvest, you don't have enough money for diesel to harvest it, and nobody will loan you that much money? Ever been denied farm ownership loans despite years of working the farm? Ever lost out on prime opportunities because the county office dallied in getting your loans to you? Ever been micromanaged when you actually got money? Ever worked under a supervisory arrangement so that you spend all day getting signatures for a $50 piece of equipment that you could have purchased and fixed by mid morning? Ever had the county office renege on lease arrangements? Ever had your leased land pulled out from under you by the county office and given to the officer's good friend? Ever been denied legitimate debt relief options that are available to all farmers and ranchers? Ever had your credit and your good name destroyed by the county office's malfeasance? Ever been denied disaster relief funds that go to all farmers around you? Ever been told, 'we're going to sell you out?' 

I didn't think so, Mr. White Farmer. I really didn't think so. You know it and I know it. 

Senator Warren had some great ideas, and put them into a constructive Black Farmer Policy. Senator Booker picked that up. When Senator Warnock was elected, he took over the lead on the initiave. Senator Warnock got Section 1005 and 1006 written into the ARPA of 2021, but he had the language changed from 'Black Farmer' to 'Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher.' The game changed. Lawyers took over and seized upon a 'race based remedy' and took it way far afield. 

There is no doubt that a lot of people have been mistreated by the powers that be. But as a group, White Farmers, you have had the advantages from the get go. The USDA system works the way it has always been designed to work. Check out Dr. Daniel's book, "Dispossession," if you doubt that assertion. 

So, until you, Mr. White Farmer, have experienced the kind of discrimination that Black farmers have experienced, until your case has been investigated, until you have a set of findings that prove your case, then you can sit down and shut up about reverse discrimination. It's all in your heads and in your hearts. It's a part of your entitled whiteness. That is a desease for which cures are hard to find.


Waymon R. Hinson, Ph.D. Researcher, Advocate, Film Co-Producer"

Yes, we are in the midst of a white lash. These law suits are a part of it. Black farmers are still losing their land or dying. In some families both are happening. 

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Let Justice Ring: I Am Guilty

Let Justice Ring: I Am Guilty: I have borrowed a phrase from Thomas Merton's book and shaped it into these words. The context of this poem is that of the days between ...

Friday, March 11, 2022

Lynchings During and After Reconstruction: Brutalities to be Remembered

In an attempt to situate a little further the materials that I posted about monuments, lynching, and land loss, here is a quote from an article I wrote in 2018 about what lynchings were all about. 

"In the decades following the Civil War, an era of violence erupted, not unlike that of the infamous “patrollers” in slavery days in which black mobility and freedom attempts were met with violence. In particular, lynching was used to instill terror in the black population. Two sites contain the most thorough information on the history of lynching in America. The initial work of Monroe Work (n.d.) for the decades following Reconstruction lists the names of 4,800 plus and the work of the Environment Justice Initiative (n.d.) between the years 1877 and 1950 provides chilling information about the 4,400 plus African Americans who were lynched. According to Hahn (2003: 425–427), these mob executions or lynchings were symptomatic of the tensions between whites and blacks, as the former used this form of violence in an attempt to maintain power, as blacks exerted their rights. Hale (1998: 203, 204) emphasized lynchings as public spectacle as “structure, a sequence and pace of events” that went from allegations to mob violence following scene preparation, mutilation and/or hanging, and souvenir collecting, among other variables. Tolnay, Deane, and Beck (1996: 811) explored lynching from a spatial perspective—how lynching in one community impacted the same in another community. Their “deterrence model” of lynching is supported by evidence that whites ceased lynching activities when they were satisfied that the results would cause blacks to be “even more circumspect in their interactions so as not to provoke violent responses.” Young (2005: 641) focused research not upon numbers, nor spectacle, but upon the black body as souvenir." --- page 908. 

The complete article can be found at Hinson, W. R. (2018). Land Gains, Land Losses: The Odyssey of African Americans Since Reconstruction. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 77, 893-939.