Thursday, January 29, 2015

Drug Tests, Welfare and Joni Ernst

I have no use for junkies. They are wasting their human potential. Perhaps if my reality were woefully lacking I would better understand their cravings. However, though I haven't gotten everything I wanted out of life I really like myself. I don't want to become like a now deceased grade school classmate who fell into a drug habit for which he paid by walking the streets. Drug dependency is foul. Nevertheless some drug usage is not that different from legal substances such as tobacco or alcohol. I also eschew those items but that is just me. People near and dear to me as well as (obviously) strangers make different decisions and that is fine. If you smoke God bless you, just don't do it around me or there will be some problems. If you drink, knock yourself out, just don't drink and drive or operate other dangerous machinery or vehicles while your judgment, perception and motor skills are somewhat impaired. So with some exceptions I'm pretty much a live and let live fellow. We're all going to end up six feet under so if your idea of personal fun is different than mine I won't have a temper tantrum about it, provided it doesn't interfere with my life or hurt other people. Unfortunately a swath of the Republican Party doesn't see things that way. The conservative brain trust's latest idea is that the impoverished people on government assistance should be tested for drug use, before and during the times that they are accepting assistance. This idea was tried and rejected in Florida but Michigan recently implemented a pilot program to do much the same thing. Keep in mind that Michigan already has a 48 month lifetime limit on welfare.

Although supporters claim that the state has an interest in ensuring that anyone who is accepting government funds is not a drug abuser I don't think that's the real concern. Most information that we have shows that poor and black people (and make no mistake there's a racial element whenever we talk about "welfare") use illegal drugs at similar or lower rates than rich or white people. It's expensive to be a junkie. The welfare rolls are not overrun with junkies. They are filled with people who can't find a good paying job. The biggest reasons that they can't find a job are not because they are substance abusers or lazy coconuts but because in a time of globalization, outsourcing, de-unionization and de-industrialization, increasing automation, dodgy child care, segregated job markets and housing tracts, racist hiring practices, bad schools and employers who can afford to be picky with a large labor reserve, living wage jobs are not easily found. There are so many myths about poor people
Many people who support testing welfare recipients anyway ignore those points and counter with "Well, if they don't want to prove that they're drug free, they must not need the help that badly." This is a moral statement that shows the true issue behind the urge to drug test welfare recipients. It's all about power and humiliation. It's an S&M power play posing as purposeful public policy. It's just to humiliate and shame people for the crime of being on welfare. 

Yes, there are some welfare recipients who are scamming the system, who do have drug or alcohol issues or who just need a swift kick in the butt. But in this case the state will likely waste more money determining who is "deserving" of assistance than it will save by identifying those welfare baseheads. And if people taking government assistance should be tested for illicit drugs why aren't we applying that standard to everyone across the board?

If you own a home, or to be more precise, are paying interest on a loan you took out to purchase a primary residence, you may deduct the interest paid on that loan against your federal tax liability. Effectively the government is subsidizing your purchase. You're getting government help. If you own a business you can depreciate machinery, business property and other items to once again reduce your federal tax liability. If you are building or already own a sports stadium or multi-use property it's quite likely that the local and/or state government gave you sweetheart deals on the land, agreed to not collect taxes or only do so at a extremely low rate, provided you loans at very favorable terms, used public money to build your stadium or even used eminent domain to move other private businesses, individuals or even competitors out of your way. If you're a farmer, you can mumble a few platitudes about "the heartland", "American values", "pickup trucks", and maybe chew on a corncob pipe while you rush yourself down to the nearest Department of Agriculture office to pick up your subsidy check. You can then kick back and sneer at all those lazy welfare city slackers who aren't real Americans like you. These examples are just a very small portion of middle-class or upper-class goodies available from the government. This doesn't include the salaries and perks of upper level government employees like Senators, Representatives and Judges.

In most political circles the above people are not regularly and constantly derided as lazy spongers, useless eaters, parasites or the like. Few of them are ever told "Well if you want this money from the government, go fill this cup so we can ensure you're not a crackhead". Why? Statistically we KNOW some of them are snorting, smoking, injecting or injesting something the law forbids. It's because conservatives in particular and Americans in general believe that if you're poor you're a loser who should be shamed, mocked and generally pushed around. If welfare drug testing was really about the principle that government aid should come with strings attached then we would see people calling for testing individuals in the classes listed above. But we usually don't. One irony is that conservatives have generally been skeptical or hostile to the idea that government involvement or assistance in a private business or marketplace, direct or diffused, can or should be the leverage used to compel a private behavior change. The other irony is that your stereotypical welfare queen with a substance abuse problem doesn't greatly impact my life. But a Senator or Representative who's on the pipe? A real estate mogul who has both a heroin addiction and friends with eminent domain power? A judge with an oxycontin dependency who is hearing a case with a Big Pharma defendant? Those people can affect my life more than a poor family trying to survive on food stamps and hundred dollars and change each week.

The public spotlight might not prove to be Ernst's best friend. The District Sentinel, a Washington, D.C., news co-op, reports that despite her campaign pitch that her parents "taught us to live within our means," her family members collected $463,000 in federal farm subsidies from 1995 through 2009.

The figures come from the Environmental Working Group's authoritative database of farm supports. Most of the money, more than $367,000 in mostly corn subsidies, went to Ernst's uncle, Dallas Culver, and his farm in her home town of Red Oak, Iowa. An additional $38,665 went to her father, Richard Culver, and $57,479 went to her grandfather, Harold Culver, who died in 2003.

We called Ernst's Senate office to ask how this record comports with her ostensible distaste for individual reliance on the federal government, but there was no answer and the line wasn't taking messages.


If "welfare" means taking government handouts then the families of people like Joni Ernst or Mike Illitch are bigger welfare queens than anyone in any inner city tough town, USA. But somehow all the various corporate welfare transfers don't excite the same level of contempt and slavering rage that a poor person does when he or she needs help. To repeat, there are indeed lazy greedy people who are always looking for a way to get over on everyone. But let's not pretend that they are all at the lowest end of the income/wealth spectrum. So all of you form a line to the left, drop trou and fill that cup!!!

Thoughts?
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