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Column: A bitter taste of racial discrimination

AUSTIN, Texas -- I don't know how the corn is doing this year, but Washington is producing a bumper crop of irony for America's black farmers.

In the same week that Shirley Sherrod, a black Department of Agriculture official, was falsely accused of anti-white racism by a right-wing mob of political creeps and Fox TV yackers, the Senate actually added to the government's long history of anti-black discrimination. At issue was payment of a billion-dollar legal settlement with thousands of African-American farmers who for decades were illegally denied essential crop loans from the Agriculture Department.

The settlement was agreed to way back in 1999 -- yet, for more than a decade, Washington has refused to pay. This year, however, justice was finally to be delivered when President Obama set aside $1.2 billion in his budget to make good on the government promise. But it's been a no-go, as congressional Republicans have furiously fought the payments.

Of course, the GOP lawmakers 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 didn't occur, Senate Republicans cut the payments for thousands of official acts of actual discrimination against African-American farmers. How's that for bitter irony? And Republicans wonder why they get no black support in elections.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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