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“High Plains Moochers”: They’re Actually Welfare Queens Of The Purple Sage

It is, in a way, too bad that Cliven Bundy — the rancher who became a right-wing hero after refusing to pay fees for grazing his animals on federal land, and bringing in armed men to support his defiance — has turned out to be a crude racist. Why? Because his ranting has given conservatives an easy out, a way to dissociate themselves from his actions without facing up to the terrible wrong turn their movement has taken.

For at the heart of the standoff was a perversion of the concept of freedom, which for too much of the right has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want, without regard to the consequences for others.

Start with the narrow issue of land use. For historical reasons, the federal government owns a lot of land in the West; some of that land is open to ranching, mining and so on. Like any landowner, the Bureau of Land Management charges fees for the use of its property. The only difference from private ownership is that by all accounts the government charges too little — that is, it doesn’t collect as much money as it could, and in many cases doesn’t even charge enough to cover the costs that these private activities impose. In effect, the government is using its ownership of land to subsidize ranchers and mining companies at taxpayers’ expense.

It’s true that some of the people profiting from implicit taxpayer subsidies manage, all the same, to convince themselves and others that they are rugged individualists. But they’re actually welfare queens of the purple sage.

And this in turn means that treating Mr. Bundy as some kind of libertarian hero is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. Suppose he had been grazing his cattle on land belonging to one of his neighbors, and had refused to pay for the privilege. That would clearly have been theft — and brandishing guns when someone tried to stop the theft would have turned it into armed robbery. The fact that in this case the public owns the land shouldn’t make any difference.

So what were people like Sean Hannity of Fox News, who went all in on Mr. Bundy’s behalf, thinking? Partly, no doubt, it was the general demonization of government — if someone looks as if he is defying Washington, he’s a hero, never mind the details. Partly, one suspects, it was also about race — not Mr. Bundy’s blatant racism, but the general notion that government takes money from hard-working Americans and gives it to Those People. White people who wear cowboy hats while profiting from government subsidies just don’t fit the stereotype.

Most of all, however — or at least that’s how it seems to me — the Bundy fiasco was a byproduct of the dumbing down that seems ever more central to the way America’s right operates.

American conservatism used to have room for fairly sophisticated views about the role of government. Its economic patron saint used to be Milton Friedman, who advocated aggressive money-printing, if necessary, to avoid depressions. It used to include environmentalists who took pollution seriously but advocated market-based solutions like cap-and-trade or emissions taxes rather than rigid rules.

But today’s conservative leaders were raised on Ayn Rand’s novels and Ronald Reagan’s speeches (as opposed to his actual governance, which was a lot more flexible than the legend). They insist that the rights of private property are absolute, and that government is always the problem, never the solution.

The trouble is that such beliefs are fundamentally indefensible in the modern world, which is rife with what economists call externalities — costs that private actions impose on others, but which people have no financial incentive to avoid. You might want, for example, to declare that what a farmer does on his own land is entirely his own business; but what if he uses pesticides that contaminate the water supply, or antibiotics that speed the evolution of drug-resistant microbes? You might want to declare that government intervention never helps; but who else can deal with such problems?

Well, one answer is denial — insistence that such problems aren’t real, that they’re invented by elitists who want to take away our freedom. And along with this anti-intellectualism goes a general dumbing-down, an exaltation of supposedly ordinary folks who don’t hold with this kind of stuff. Think of it as the right’s duck-dynastic moment.

You can see how Mr. Bundy, who came across as a straight-talking Marlboro Man, fit right into that mind-set. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a bit more straight-talking than expected.

I’d like to think that the whole Bundy affair will cause at least some of the people who backed him to engage in self-reflection, and ask how they ended up lending support, even briefly, to someone like that. But I don’t expect it to happen.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, April 27, 2014

April 28, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Are Conservatives Condemning Cliven Bundy?”: Yikes! He’s Openly Espousing Long Held Conservative Principles

Republicans who praised Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy for standing up to the tyranny of the federal government are sprinting away from him following Bundy’s remarks suggesting blacks were better off under slavery “picking cotton.”

“I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?” Bundy said in remarks first reported by the New York Times. “They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Bundy recently became a hero to some on the right after officials from the Bureau of Land Management confiscated some of his cattle, because for 20 years he’s refused to pay fees for grazing his herd on land owned by the federal government. Hundreds of gun-toting supporters rallied to Bundy’s side, and a stand-off with federal officials ended with the feds releasing his cattle. Fox News has devoted nearly five hours of effusive prime time coverage to Bundy, pundits at conservative publications like National Review likened him to George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi. Praise was not unanimous, some conservative outlets like the Weekly Standard called him lawless.

It’s perfectly consistent to believe the federal government owns too much land and also believe Bundy’s remarks are offensive. Nevertheless, Bundy’s central point – that black poverty is less a legacy of two hundred years of slavery and institutionalized racism than the welfare state – is a notion conservative speakers have espoused and conservative audiences have applauded for years.

Former Florida Republican Rep. Allen West wrote in his recent book that “the Great Society has left a legacy of economic dependence, a new form of slavery, and to me, a far more dangerous one, because it destroys the will and determination to excel.” Aging former rock star and Republican campaign surrogate Ted Nugent once wrote that “President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society” would do “more damage, cause more harm and become responsible for more destruction to black America than the evils of slavery and the KKK combined.” Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell wrote that ”The black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.”

Sometimes the Jim Crow South is substituted for slavery, like when Duck Dynasty star and last year’s conservative pop culture martyr Phil Robertson said that ”Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

This all trickles down from somewhere. Slavery analogies are common among conservative figures like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, and it’s one of the reasons many conservatives have fallen in love with Ben Carson. In Washington, the critique of the welfare state is finessed into a more sophisticated argument that lacks references to slavery, and where race is usually discussed through euphemism or not at all. That’s when we begin to hear things like Rep. Paul Ryan speaking of “generations of men” in “inner cities” who don’t know “the value and the culture of work.” Then again, sometimes you have multimillionaire former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney railing against the “gifts” Barack Obama promised to “the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”

At best, these kinds of statements combine a genuine desire to sympathize with the black poor with many conservatives’ pre-existing ideological views about government. At worst, they reflect ancient myths about black people that predate the welfare state and reassure white conservative audiences of their own innocence when it comes to racial disparities–not to mention a startling blindness about the brutal realities of chattel slavery.

Bundy has absorbed the conservative critique of the welfare state and combined it with his own perceptions about black people. But it’s no small irony that Bundy is freeloading on public land while railing against goodies the federal government doles out to shiftless blacks.Though Bundy himself may not realize it, he’s exemplifying one of the eternal paradoxes of the American welfare state – that government assistance is only a mark of shame and indolence when other people get it, especially if those “other people” are born into poverty rather than wealth. Naturally, it doesn’t occur to Bundy that two decades of grazing his herd for free on land he doesn’t own hasn’t turned him into someone who can’t work for a living.

Even as white people enjoyed an explicitly privileged status in the U.S. from the nation’s birth until the civil rights act in 1964 and the voting rights act in 1965, somehow they found a way to make do even with all the extra help.

In fact, before the modern welfare state even existed, there were white people who complained about black people being reliant on it.

As historian Eric Foner writes in Reconstruction,  when radical Republicans in Congress considered redistributing land owned by defeated Confederates to former slaves, their more moderate comrades offered arguments like “for the government to give blacks land would be an act of ‘mistaken kindness’ that would prevent them from learning ‘the habits of free workingmen.” Freedmen were begging for land so they could work it for themselves instead of being forced to work the land of their former masters for pitiable wages–former masters who had grown wealthy on generations of slaves’ uncompensated labor. Still, opponents of land redistribution believed this would make blacks lazy.

Officials at the Freedmen’s Bureau, charged with managing the aftermath of emancipation in the South, held an “assumption that blacks wished to be dependent on the government” that “persisted in the face of evidence that the black community itself, wherever possible, shouldered the task of caring for orphans, the aged, and the destitute, or the fact that in many localities more whites than blacks received Bureau aid.”

The conservative critique of the welfare state on the merits is severable from ancient racist assumptions about black people. But while Republicans are rushing to condemn Bundy for his remarks, they might take a moment to consider why, exactly, he put them together so comfortably.

 

By: Adam Serwer, MSNBC Blog, April 25, 2014

April 28, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Conservatives, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Crossing A Constitutional Line”: Will The Supreme Court Let Florida Drug-Test All Its Government Employees?

It might seem reasonable that Florida’s governor Rick Scott wants to ensure all state agencies are drug-free workplaces; after all, why would you want your taxpayer money going to support the habit of some stoned, slothful bureaucrat? But what is the state really asking for when it demands that each public servant pee in a cup?

When Governor Scott issued an executive order for mandatory drug testing across the state’s entire public workforce in March 2011, the political logic seemed straightforward: “the State, as an employer, has an obligation to maintain discipline, health, and safety in the workplace.” But underlying that seeming moral obligation are some questionable social assumptions. What does a positive test mean when your economic fate hinges on the result? What kind of “discipline” is maintained by subjugating bodily privacy in the name of “public safety”?

Today the Supreme Court is weighing the constitutional question the policy has evoked: When your boss is the state, can the “drug-free workplace” be a Fourth Amendment free zone?

The Supreme Court is considering whether to take up Scott v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council (AFSCME) 79, to review whether the state can legitimately administer “drug testing in the absence of reasonable suspicion of drug use,” based on the state’s interest in ensuring a drug-free workplace for 85,000 state employees and applicants for state jobs.

Scott’s Supreme Court petition attempts to revive the issue following a series of lower-court defeats. AFSCME, representing tens of thousands of public servants, filed a legal challenge in May 2011 contending that the testing violated Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable searches, and that the state had offered no real safety-related reason for such a broad testing requirement. The union argues in its brief, “allowing the state to define its interests at such a high level of generality would create an exception that swallows the rule.”

The federal district court ruled in 2012 that the executive order was an unconstitutional violation of workers’ privacy and the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed that decision. However, while the state has since suspended the policy (and a similar statute passed by the legislature has also been halted), it has been remanded to the lower court for further litigation to rework the mandate. The administration is now trying to revamp the mandate to apply to a narrower set of jobs—mirroring existing policies targeted to safety-related positions, like corrections officers.

The Supreme Court will conference on whether to take up the case or just let the lower-court sausage-making proceed. For now, the main outcome is the Eleventh Circuit’s decision that the original order was unacceptably broad, amounting to, in the words of the court, “a drug testing policy of far greater scope than any ever sanctioned by the Supreme Court or by any of the courts of appeals.”

Labor advocates don’t necessarily object to drug test policies for certain jobs based on specific work-related safety concerns. Rather, AFSCME objects to the sweeping mandate of drug testing the whole workforce and prospective future employees, screening the bodies of school bus drivers and museum ticket vendors alike, for anything from a meth habit to an occasional joint.

In its defense of the policy, the state points out that drug testing is already common in private sector workplaces. But civil libertarians note that the state, unlike a private firm, is bound by Fourth Amendment restrictions on unreasonable government searches.

On top of its crusade for a drug-free state payroll, Florida has also sought to clean up its welfare rolls with a policy of mandatory drug testing for welfare applicants. The law, enacted by the legislature in 2011, was ultimately struck down in federal court. But it also sparked a national outrage (and some notable satire), because it invoked the classic Reaganite trope of public aid recipients as undeserving miscreants looking to “game the system.” The stereotype has historically been reflected in the image of black “welfare queen,” or more recently, in the underworked, overpaid state bureaucrat. Nationwide, lawmakers have glommed onto this convenient political logic of drug-screening people involved with public assistance programs, with recent proposals for mandatory testing in Texas, Pennsylvania, Washington and other states.

Whether the urinalysis dragnet targets people seeking government support or those delivering public services, the presumptions underlying mandatory testing feed into the oppressive stigma of being tied to the public system, which in turn stokes public mistrust and backlash against government itself.

Shalini Goel Agarwal, an ACLU of Florida attorney who is working on the case, says that for welfare recipients, blanket drug-testing reflects “an assumption that if they’re relying on public benefits, must be because those folks are at fault in some way, it’s because they’re using drugs…. The facts don’t seem to bear out the stereotype, but there is this kind of villainization that’s going on.”

But despite Scott’s arbitrary drug-test mandate, Agarwal says, “The Fourth Amendment applies just as surely to poor people and just as surely to state employees as it does to anybody else.”

Historically, drug testing in both public and private workplaces has been controversial, not only because of its physical intrusiveness, but because it is often just inaccurate. Civil liberties groups point out the risk of botched results and false positives. Moreover, arbitrary surveillance of workers’ behavior through invasive tests can have a toxic impact on the workplace social environment.

In some cases, the data debunks the political rhetoric it was supposed to bolster. Advocates cite research data on welfare applicants suggesting that impoverished people actually live pretty clean: only about 2.5 percent of the applicants tested had positive results, compared to a rate of about 9 percent for the general population. Similarly, testing of employees and applicants at the state Departments of Transportation, Juvenile Justice, and Corrections showed positive results ranging from less than one percent to about 2.5 percent.

But whatever the data say, labor advocates argue that the state has crossed a constitutional line in both privacy and labor rights in its workplaces.

Many of the legal challenges to drug-test policies, Agarwal notes, have been led by unions, because “individual employees are scared to come forward, they’re scared for their own job security, they’re scared what’s going to happen to them and their families, and so they don’t come forward. And the only way effectively to get at this issue and to challenge the employers head on is to do it through the union.”

While labor has effectively resisted Florida’s effort to track drug use in its workforce, the draconian testing policy has exposed the government’s problem with data abuse. The behavioral policing of workers and the poor tells us little about their social values, but reveals much about how supposed “public safety” interests at the center of power can become a tool for invading bodily privacy at the social margins.

 

By: Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 18, 2014

April 21, 2014 Posted by | Constitution, Rick Scott | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Humiliating Desperate People”: The Myth Of Welfare And Drug Use

Now, if you’re the kind of person who forwards apocryphal stories about voter impersonation and drug-addled welfare queens, this makes sense to you—obviously, if you’re on public assistance, you’re probably using drugs. But, if you’re the kind of person who takes facts seriously, this is a ridiculous idea.

While drug use is more common among women receiving welfare, the overall incidence rate is small; in one study, only 3.6 percent of recipients satisfied screening criteria for drug abuse or dependence. Among food-stamp recipients—another group targeted for testing—the rate is similarly low.

The myth of welfare recipients spending their benefits on drugs is just that—a myth. And indeed, in Utah, only 12 people out of 466—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after a mandatory screening. The total cost to the state was $25,000, or far more than the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people. The only thing “gained” from mandatory drug testing is the humiliation of desperate people.

Which, judging from the GOP’s continued enthusiasm for the idea, is enough. In Ohio, for instance, state senator Tim Schaffer has introduced legislation that would establish a drug-testing program for the state’s welfare program. “It is time that we recognize that many families are trying to survive in drug-induced poverty, and we have an obligation to make sure taxpayer money is not being used to support drug dealers,” Schaffer said. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to this problem.”

If Ohio is anything like Florida, which also has a drug-testing program, Schaffer will find that the large majority of welfare recipients are neither drug users nor drug dealers. From 2011 to 2012, just 108 of the 4,086 people who took a drug test failed—a rate of 2.6 percent, compared to a national drug use rate of over 8 percent. The total cost to Florida taxpayers? $45,780.

The most colossal failure of this policy was in Arizona, which passed a drug-testing law in 2009. In 2012, an evaluation of the program had startling results: After three years and 87,000 screenings, only one person had failed the drug test, with huge costs for the state, which saved a few hundred dollars by denying benefits, compared to the hundreds of thousands spent to conduct the tests.

Of course, none of this has dampened enthusiasm for these laws, which is why Republicans in Michigan’s House of Representatives have passed a bill that requires tests if there’s “reasonable suspicion” a welfare applicant is using drugs or other illegal substances. Likewise, a Tennessee Republican in Congress wants to do the same. North Carolina lawmakers passed a similar law, but—in something of a surprise—it was vetoed by Governor Pat McCrory, who in a statement, said “This is not a smart way to combat drug abuse.”

It isn’t. It should be said, however, that the focus on cost and effectiveness obscures a broader point: Mandatory drug testing for welfare benefits is unfair and immoral. Drug use isn’t a problem of poverty; it’s found among all groups and classes. Indeed, if we’re going to test welfare applicants—who receive trifling sums of money from the government—it makes as much sense to test bailout-receiving bankers, loan-backed students, defense contractors, tax-supported homeowners, married couples with children (who receive tax credits), and politicians, who aren’t strangers to drug use.

In other words, if stopping waste is your goal, then drug screening should be mandatory for anyone receiving cash from the government, which—in one way or another—is most people. But Republicans haven’t proposed testing for church clergy or oil executives. Instead, they’re focused on the vulnerable, with schemes that would embarrass a Bond villain.

Trapped in its right-wing, anti-government mania, the GOP has become a party defined by its disdain for the poor, and esteem for the wealthy. It’s the reason Mitt Romney railed against the “47 percent,” built a convention around praise for “job creators,” and endorsed an agenda that reduces the debt by decimating social services. Indeed, when Republican politicians aren’t attacking the disadvantaged for their alleged lack of virtue, they’re calling for us to shred the “hammock of dependency,” as if low-income Americans spend their lives in comfort, resting on the government dole. To the Republican Party, a comprehensive health-care law—inspired by conservative ideas—is more offensive than a country where millions go without insurance and care.

In this GOP, at this time, it’s only natural that Republican lawmakers would go after welfare recipients. Since, to many in the party, they deserve it.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, August 30, 3013

August 31, 2013 Posted by | Welfare | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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