Being Poor Isn’t Probable Cause

The Indiana ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a disabled, indigent Posey County woman who was denied financial assistance because her disabilities prevented her from taking a drug test required by the Black Township Trustee.

A number of courts around the country have held that conditioning benefits on passage of a drug test violates the United States Constitution. (Before these programs were struck down, the states that imposed such tests also found far fewer abusers than would be expected in the general population. That makes sense, since people having trouble affording food are unlikely to have money for drugs. But hey–we all know that poverty is evidence of moral turpitude…)

The lawsuit against Black Township and Lindsay Suits, the Black Township Trustee, was filed on behalf of Mary Neale, a resident of the township. Neale previously received aid from the trustee only after submitting a urine sample and passing a drug test. Last year, however, Neale’s physical disabilities made submitting the sample impossible, so she was unable to apply for benefits.

The ACLU’s lawsuit points out that the Township Trustee’s “policy of requiring applicants for assistance to take a urine drug screen violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Further, the trustee’s failure to accommodate Neale’s disability when she sought to apply for assistance violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“The Constitution prohibits this type of suspicionless search and seizure,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “It is wrong to condition the receipt of government benefits on the waiver of fundamental rights that protect all of us.”

The Fourth Amendment requires government actors to have probable cause to conduct a search. Probable cause has been defined as “articulable reasons to believe that a given individual has violated the law.”

Someone needs to explain to the growing ranks of eager-beaver “public servants” that neither poverty nor skin color are probable cause.


Would You Like a Side of Humiliation with That?

Do you suppose the Wicked Witch was green because she envied Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s heartlessness? I mean, she was from Kansas.

Since his election, Brownback has doggedly followed the True Conservative Playbook, not allowing his state’s resulting fiscal crisis to deter him from his ideological certitude. He’s cut taxes for the rich and services for everyone else; he’s signed increasingly draconian anti-abortion bills and bills eliminating even modest restrictions on gun ownership; and he’s been especially enthusiastic about shaming and punishing the people his policies have hurt the most: the poor.

Brownback has steadfastly refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would have paid for that expansion, but evidently just denying poor folks access to health insurance wasn’t mean-spirited enough for Brownback and Kansas lawmakers.

As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank recently wrote

Last week, the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 2258, punishing the poor by limiting their cash withdrawals of welfare benefits to $25 per day and forbidding them to use their benefits “in any retail liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body piercing parlor, spa, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, pari-mutuel facility, or sexually oriented business . . . or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.”

Because, you know, freedom.

Of course, poor people in Kansas can still use their benefits to buy guns and ammunition…And really, aren’t you tired of running into all those welfare moms on cruise ships?

Jon Stewart summed it up best in a biting Daily Show opening bit (I will SO miss him!)

Remind me–where in that bible they keep thumping does Jesus tell “good Christians” like Brownback to “shame and demean the poor, for they are wretched in the sight of God”??


Talk is Cheap

When I was growing up, one of my father’s favorite axioms was “If you are going to talk the talk, you’d better walk the walk.”

Which brings me to some recent reports about the extent to which the Koch brothers–who define liberty as the absence of “dependency” on government–benefit from government’s largesse.

It isn’t only the infamous Kochs, of course, and it is a feature of our current political discourse that drives me up the wall.

Wealthy businesspeople and corporate pooh-bahs are entitled to their political ideologies, but they are not entitled to the embarrassing lack of self-awareness that allows them to lecture poor people about the evils of dependency while they themselves are feeding greedily at the public trough.

Charles Koch is an excellent example, although certainly not the only one. He was recently quoted as saying that “prosperity grows where economic freedom is greatest, where government intervention in business affairs is kept to a minimum.” Yet the Kochs “dependency” on government is extensive:about $85 million in federal government contracts mostly from the Department of Defense, not to mention that Koch Industries benefits directly from billions in taxpayer subsidies for oil companies and ethanol production. Koch industries lobbied extensively against the Affordable Care Act, and is even now running an inaccurate ad campaign against it, that hasn’t kept them from applying for business subsidies that the Act provides.

The list goes on. And on. 

The truth is that most –not all, but most–of the privileged and self-satisfied “job creators” who preach self-reliance are perfectly willing to benefit at the public’s expense. I guess its only “welfare” when it goes to the other guy.


Pretty Please with Sugar on It….

The other day on Facebook, a friend posted one of those perennial whines about hard-working Americans who resent watching their tax money being wasted on support for slutty welfare moms and assorted lazy bums. This one was attributed to Bill Cosby, despite the fact he has repeatedly denied authorship, but it doesn’t really matter how many times “debunks” this and similar aggrieved diatribes–the myth that we are working to support legions of welfare queens persists.

I’m sure there are poor people who take advantage of “the system,” but they can’t hold a candle to the big boys–the sophisticated corporate welfare recipients who’ve been milking the taxpayers for years. For every single mom making minimum wage who depends upon our diminishing social safety net to feed her children, there’s a well-connected industry costing taxpayers and consumers billions.

Before you dismiss that assertion because it came from a “bleeding heart liberal,” it might be enlightening to hear what noted liberals Richard Lugar and Pat Toomey recently had to say about one of the most egregious offenders: big sugar.

In a blog post published by The Hill, Lugar, Pennsylvania’s Toomey, and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen  wrote of their support for reforming “an extravagant sugar price-support program that costs consumers and businesses an estimated $3.5 billion and 20,000 jobs each year.”

Sugar is the most tightly controlled–read “subsidized”–agricultural commodity in the country. The favorable policies that operate to keep sugar prices artificially high benefit approximately five thousand wealthy farmers at the expense of the rest of us. These aren’t family farmers, either–they are large corporate farmers like Archer Daniels Midland and United Sugars Corporation. In 2000, we taxpayers forked out more than a billion dollars to keep the price of sugar high enough to protect their profit margins.

Sugar subsidies artificially inflate the price of candy, breakfast cereals and other foods that use sugar, ensuring a price for sugar that is about three times as much as its price on the world market.  Americans’ bodies may be getting fat from sugary foods and beverages, but our wallets are getting much, much thinner; the General Accounting Office reports that thanks to sugar subsidies, U.S. consumers pay in excess of two billion dollars per year too much for our sugary foods.

We’re not only paying extra–we’re depressing job growth. A 2006 study by the Commerce Department found that for each job the program saved in the sugar industry, it cost three jobs in food manufacturing.

The Agriculture Department guarantees sugar growers a set price, and protects domestic sugar interests from competition through the imposition of import barriers and domestic production control. If that isn’t welfare, what is? (It’s sure as hell not market capitalism!)

If the financial costs of this welfare program aren’t outrageous enough, sugar subsidies are also causing environmental degradation–large areas of the Florida Everglades have been converted to cane sugar production as a direct result of the sugar protection racket, causing damage fro drainage, runoff of chemical fertilizers and destruction of the natural habitat.

The next time someone complains about the “culture of dependency” and the costs of welfare, ask them about sugar.


Return of the Welfare Queen

The Romney campaign has “gone there.”

A recent ad accuses the Obama Administration of “gutting the work requirement” that was part of welfare reform. The charge isn’t even remotely true–Politifact gave it a “Pants on Fire” rating, and reporters have noted the chutzpah of criticizing Obama for granting a request by Republican governors for more flexibility to try innovative job placement programs. Charles Blow of the New York Times noted that in 2005, Romney himself, and 8 other Republican governors, had signed a letter requesting even more flexibility than the administration has now granted.

So the ad is an outright lie, but that isn’t the point. The point is to play on white working-class resentment of the lazy, unproductive (black) moochers  who are living high at the expense of hardworking Americans. Those resentments, racial and economic, are closer to the surface in bad economic times, and let’s face it–the people who harbor them are much more likely to believe the charge that a black President  is enabling “those people.”

Resentments don’t respect facts, unfortunately. Most welfare recipients are white, and a majority are children. Another large subset are disabled. Of recipients who are working age, most work–and most of those work 40 hours a week. They simply work at jobs that don’t pay a living wage.

My biggest gripe with the folks who get bent out of shape about welfare, though, is different. It’s their definition and lack of consistency.

By far the largest recipients of welfare are corporations–the special interests whose lobbyists have successfully argued for favorable tax breaks and lucrative subsidies. Huge and highly profitable corporations like GE pay virtually no taxes. Obscenely profitable oil companies like Exxon continue to receive immense subsidies. (As E.J. Dionne wryly noted a few months back, evidently giving money to the rich gives them an incentive to produce, but giving money to the poor makes them dependent.)

We’ve only seen one year of tax returns from Mitt Romney, but in that one year, he took advantage of tax preferences–aka corporate welfare–that reduced his effective rate to 13%.

We have heard very little from Mitt Romney about his policy proposals. We are told we have no business seeing his tax returns. All we know is that he wants to be President so badly that he is willing to say or do anything–including flat-out lying and appeals to social and racial resentments.

References to Welfare Queens worked for Ronald Reagan, but Reagan had other things going for him. I do not think they will work for Mitt Romney.