Why I’m against drug testing for unemployment benefits and food stamps

Originally posted at Legal Insurrection September 22, this post has gotten all kinds of love and a heckuva lot of hate, so I thought I’d post it here too.  

It’s long been a rallying cry of the right: if you want to be on the public dole, you should be able to pass a drug test. You’ve seen the memes and the bumper stickers. Sounds good, right?

Governor Walker of Wisconsin has proposed his plan that would require drug testing for those seeking food stamps and unemployment benefits. According to The Daily Signal:

But the most controversial points are the governor’s proposals to require drug testing for individuals filing for unemployment and for “able-bodied, working-age adults requesting food stamps” through the state’s FoodShare public assistance program.

The bottom line, Walker says, is the bottom line: Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for public assistance programs for individuals who can’t pass a drug test.

Taxpayers should have a great say in where their tax dollars are spent, that’s not a point I disagree with and is a principle I will always advocate. When it comes to mandatory drug testing as a contingency for public assistance though, I’m not convinced it’s a good idea for two simple reasons: 1) requiring drug testing is an expansion of government 2) it doesn’t address the problem of why people are seeking public assistance to begin with.

If we are to consistently advocate reduced government intrusion in the life of the individual citizen and smaller government overall, then we can’t rightly argue that requiring drug testing should be conditional for unemployment benefits. An entire new bureaucracy would be required to implement such an act.

If the era of bloated government has taught us anything, it’s that the bigger the government, the greater the waste, fraud, and abuse. Those who are determined will always find a work around. More tax payer money is spent, more government jobs are created, and for what? To ensure the guy who got laid off thanks to Obama’s economy hasn’t been toking up?

I’m not pretending there aren’t those who live off taxpayer good graces. They exist, but they’re not representative of the entirety of the public assistance population. Which leads me to my next point.

Our attitude on limiting public assistance is all wrong, and so is the way we talk about it. There’s any underlying assumption and I’d argue in many cases, arrogance on the right, that everyone on public assistance is lazy or entitled, and so we treat them as though they’re undeserving or unworthy of public charity. We complain there’s an entire generation living off entitlements, yet show no interest in helping them to a place where they can succeed. We are not taking measures to address the reasons why people are on public assistance, we just don’t want them there.

According to a Guardian article, one in seven Americans is on public assistance. A ridiculously high number by any measure. Those that work to enroll people in programs like SNAP are charged with this goal, “alleviate hunger, lessen poverty.” A nobel cause, but enrolling citizenry in a public assistance plan without providing a means of escape helps no one.

We all too easily take the road of judgment rather than reaching out to help those less fortunate saying people should just “Get a job!” And while the statement is correct, the attitude is not only personally destructive, but politically devastating. For all the criticism on the right to “Get a job!” what are we doing collectively to provide a solution?

Of course the answer should be simple: the private sector and local communities and charities should be there to offer this type of aid because it’s not the government’s job, but where are we to fill in the holes where both government and the private sector fails?

There are people who have never been told they’re valuable and that they have purpose in life. They’ve never been told it’s possible to excel or to change their circumstances. All they know is the life that surrounds them, in many cases, that’s a life smothered by poverty, violence, and drugs. It’s in these situations we should be showing compassion, assistance, and imparting the values of self respect, hard work, and the belief they too, can achieve whatever they believe to be possible.

I would love to see reform that starts with working to help those on the government dole get off and make something of themselves rather than more ‘reform’ that barely addresses the symptom.

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Remembering what’s important

Kemberlee Kaye Brandon Morse Cole Streeper

Brothers from another mother

I know I say this pretty regularly, but I am incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living.

It’s a wonderful gift to be able to spend my days doing my part to keep America the land of the free and the home of the brave, and it’s certainly not a charge I take lightly.

Like any profession, working in the politisphere comes with its own set of challenges. The news cycle is never-ending, there’s always another article to write or another issue to research, more ways I should be volunteering in my community, and the ever-present feeling that I can always do more.

Kemberlee Kaye Tabitha Hale

Besties

Just after my three year politiversary, I’ve come to a very simple conclusion, a conclusion that I’m working hard to implement. I probably should’ve waited until after election season, but I never do things the easy way, at least not the first time. That conclusion is simply that none of this really matters. 

I don’t mean that nihilistically or even negatively, of course. Nor am I implying we should stop fighting the good fight. But if my life is reduced to nothing but politics, then it’s a life wasted.

During the time I’ve worked in the political arena, I’ve met many people who, like myself, love the work they do and are passionate about saving what’s left of America. All too familiar is the story of those so committed to their work, their personal and family lives suffer. The justification is also homogeneous: if I don’t do this, my kids won’t have a future.

I don’t have kids, so there’s an element to this argument I’m not going to pretend I understand. But here’s what I do know: When I’m on my death bed, I’m not going to be concerned about my electoral victories, Drudge hits, the scalps I’ve collected, or kickass digital campaigns. I imagine I’ll be more concerned about the kind of life I chose to live, the opportunities I seized, and the people in my life who made it a wonderful place.

What virtue is there in saving America if in the process, I lose my family and everyone I care about? 

The hermanita and her nephew dog

The hermanita and her niece puppy

About a month ago, my Granny went to be with Jesus. For most of my life, she was my only grandparent. For everything she was, she was my Granny and she loved me. And I loved her very, very much.

She was a woman ahead of her time. A professional who started as a teller and retired the Vice President of the bank in the small town she called home. She made many personal sacrifices to get what she wanted from her career, most of her choices negatively impacted her family. She was one heckuva broad.

When family and friends gathered for her funeral, no one talked about her time at the bank. No one mentioned her professional accomplishments. Because none of that mattered. Rather, stories revolved around how feisty she was, her quick wit, and her annoying dog.

The politisphere has given me not only a humbling and rewarding career, but some of the best friends I’ve ever had and in many ways, an entire family.

Earlier this week, one of my best pals visited from out of state. Although the visit was brief, I was once again reminded of what’s important in life. And it’s certainly not work.

My fluffy sidekick

My fluffy sidekick

Balance, everything in moderation, and plenty of other cliches apply. But a life filled with love seems to be the only way to do this whole life thing. So that’s what I’m choosing: love, friendship, and family. I imagine my work will be all the better for it.

 

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Yes, I’m alive (and so is this blog)

Proof of life

Proof of life

So, I realize it’s been over a year since I updated this little blog and thought now was as good a time as any to remind those of you that read (or used to read, I imagine), that I am in fact still alive.

Much has changed in the last year.

I am no longer living in New York, although I miss it horribly sometimes. I’m back in the Lone Star State “living the dream” as they say.

After a brief hiatus in writing, I’m now a regular over at Legal Insurrection. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. Great site. And while you’re there, be sure to sign up for the newsletter. Just trust me on this one.

This past year has been one of the most heartbreaking to date. Granny went to be with Jesus this summer, my parents parted ways after 42 years together, and life made sure to bring plenty of other reminders of emotional mortality. But I survived to tell the story and am all the better in spite of everything, or perhaps because of everything.

It’s been a year of self-reflection, deep introspection, and one that for all its difficulties, I’m incredibly thankful for. It’s never an easy lesson, but it’s nice to be reminded that we are much stronger than we think we are.

Maybe I’ll share further. We’ll see. I’m not exactly good with “feelings” and all that crap.

But I am alive. I ordered new glasses. I’m still blissfully addicted to coffee, a less than stellar driver, perpetually 5-10 minutes late, my cell phone is always almost dead, and my little dog is still as adorable and unaware she’s a dog as ever.

I remain tremendously blessed and humbled to be able to do what I do for a living, and to have a life filled with some seriously amazing people (you know who you are).

I promise to post here more regularly, schedule and sanity permitting. Plus, the blog got a makeover; got to take it out on the town.

 

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96 Year Old Man Writes Love Song for His Wife of 75 Years

Grab the Kleenex because you’ll need them for this one.  Shortly after his wife of 75 years passed, Fred wrote a love song for her. Then, this amazing record studio took his song and made it a reality.

DISCLAIMER: The following will make you feel things, lots and lots of things. Will probably restore your faith in humanity too.

Major props to Green Shoe Studio for telling Fred’s story.

UPDATE: PJ Media Responds to RNC Denial

Following this post I wrote Friday, J. Christian Adams wrote a lengthy post providing a much needed explanation of the PJ Media/RNC spat regarding alleged RNC collusion with the DOJ. Full disclosure: I’m personal friends with Mr. Adams and have tremendous respect for him, his work and his sacrifice on both a personal and professional level. I know him to be honest, forthright, tenacious and able to evidentially back up his claims. I do not believe he would report anything based on baseless presumption or as a knee-jerk reaction; his track record speaks otherwise. I’ve contacted the RNC and will report any response they provide as well. The RNC is on the record denying these accusations, and can be judged accordingly. But until then, please read what Mr. Adams wrote concerning the matter. It provides context not included in the original PJ Media post and subsequent RNC statement:

On a July day in 2006, the entire Republican caucus was invited to hear a private debate in a meeting room in the Capitol.  Scores of GOP members attended, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert.  At issue was whether the federal government should continue to have control over every election-law change in sixteen states, including Texas, California, Florida, and South Carolina.  Federal power over the states was set to expire.  On one side of the debate was lawyer Mike Carvin, who argued that federal oversight should end.

Carvin’s opponent arguing for continued federal power to review election changes like voter ID wasn’t a Democrat, or even a zealot from the NAACP.

Instead, opposing Carvin’s constitutionalist viewpoint and advocating for federal oversight of state elections was the former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee (RNC).  Also on that side was a group of RNC consultants and lawyers who remained active in RNC policy advancing this viewpoint in the following years.

Top Republicans in Congress listened to the two sides – Carvin arguing for an end to federal oversight of state elections, and the RNC side arguing for continued oversight with even tougher new burdenson states.  House Republicans eventually sided with the RNC point of view, and passed the 2006 reauthorization of federal preclearance power a few days after the debate.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court at last settled the issue in theShelby County decision by striking down the triggers which placed fifteen states under federal receivership for election-law changes as an unconstitutionally outdated infringement of state sovereignty.

That the RNC continued to support federal oversight one way or another over the past few years was no surprise to me or anyone else who has closely followed the issue — or spoken with the parties involved in the 2006 debate.  As recently as last year, one of the RNC-affiliated lawyers remained bitter toward PJ Media contributor Hans von Spakovsky for helping to organize the 2006 debate on Capitol Hill.

This might explain the peculiar reaction of the RNC to the PJ Tatler posting of last Friday (see, “RNC Operatives Join Holder’s Campaign Against Texas, Several Other States“).

A frantic (and ungrammatical) response was posted in the comments to the PJ Tatler posting by an RNC official, and the same response was picked up by a handful of lesser read blogs. Oddly, the RNC response included my name, saying I was on the wrong side of the debate in 2006.  Factually, this was inaccurate as I was at the Justice Department at the time and had no role, pro or con.

Late Friday night, an RNC communications operative carpet-bombed conservative bloggers with this response and included an attack on PJ Media for good measure. Obviously I have extraordinary relations with many of the bloggers, so they alerted me and wondered whether the RNC had lost it.

Saturday, the RNC sent me an apology, noting they were in error to name me.  Given their stand-up retraction, the matter is now closed to me.

Whether the federal government continues to possess power to approve or reject state election-law changes is an issue that has exposed divisions within the Republican Party between partisan election lawyers and those who believe the Constitution is more important than racial gerrymandering.

Last week, PJ Tatler reported that RNC consultants and staff were searching for ways to reactivate and preserve this federal power over states like Texas despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, just as Attorney General Eric Holder has vowed to do.

To anyone following these issues for the last decade, the PJ Tatler post was neither surprising nor unexpected.  A small group of lawyers and consultants either working for the RNC or consulting with them has long advocated for federal preclearance power over state elections.

Whether this RNC activity ended after the PJ Tatler story was released on Friday, or when the Supreme Court ruled in June, or sometime before is unclear.

Yes, the RNC really did support federal preclearance oversight of state elections, just as Eric Holder does now.  When this support ended is an unanswered question after the RNC on Friday unequivocally stated it opposes any fix to Section 4 that would place states such as Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia back under a federal boot.  That’s good news.

But before the announcement last week, the self-serving RNC collusion with the racialist left was well-known and obvious. After all, the GOP used Section 5 federal oversight to racially gerrymander safe Republican districts and herd blacks into electoral enclaves for the last 23 years.

That this well-known collusion and support of federal oversight surprised anyone last Friday was the only surprise.

UPDATE****

I received the following comment from Spicer this afternoon regarding the above listed post:

My comments from Friday remain intact – we are not nor have we been supporting the DoJ in any way, shape or form.   Instead of hiding behind an anonymous byline using anonymous sources, the person spreading these lies should back up their false rumors with real evidence.

UPDATE: No, RNC Operatives are NOT Working With Holder to Circumvent SCOTUS and Return Texas to Federal Oversight

This article from the PJ Tatler caught my attention because it alleged RNC collusion with Holder to bring Texas and other states back under federal oversight.  This rumor follows Holder’s announcement yesterday that despite the recent Supreme Court ruling, he would be seeking application the Voting Rights Act section 5 provisions.

I’m not the RNC’s biggest fan, but this accusation sounded way too outlandish. So, I asked the RNC.

“It’s 100% false. There is literally not one piece of it that is in any way even close to being factual or true,” said RNC Communications Director, Sean Spicer.

The RNC is demanding full retraction and apology.

UPDATE****

I’ve been asked for more concise information from many who weren’t satisfied with the “100% false” denial. Sean Spicer, RNC Communications Director, provided the following moments ago:

Here are the facts:

1.       There is no RNC effort what so ever to influence litigation or legislation dealing with the effects of the Shelby County decision.

2.       There is no RNC efforts to create any new criteria to replace section 4 which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

3.       No RNC staff or funding have used to for this purpose.

4.       There is  no RNC effort nor has there been any involvement  in devising criteria that amends “the Voting Rights Act to grab states and force them to obtain Washington, D.C. approval.”

5.       There is no RNC effort nor has there been any attempts to use Hofeller’s “RNC-generated ideas to accomplish this goal.”

6.       On this matter there are NO “RNC generated ideas” – period!

7.       Of the so -called Republicans in Congress that are “cool to this idea” PJ Media cannot name one (see number 6 – there is no plan to be cool to).

The RNC demands a full retraction and apology.   Legal action against the source will be pursued.

So for those who are in the, “ZOMG, OF COURSE THEY’D DENY IT CAMP!!!!11!!!,” this should allay your concerns of any vast RNC-Holder conspiracy. If not, I may have some extra tin foil I can spare.

Please Stop Misquoting Ben Franklin

Context matters, kids. Facts, context, history – they all matter. Yes, Ben Franklin wrote, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  But, I do not think it means what you think it means. Benjamin Wittes explains:

Very few people who quote these words, however, have any idea where they come from or what Franklin was really saying when he wrote them. That’s not altogether surprising, since they are far more often quoted than explained, and the context in which they arose was a political battle of limited resonance to modern readers. Many of Franklin’s biographers don’t quote them at all, and no text I have found attempts seriously to explain them in context. The result is to get to the bottom of what they meant to Franklin, one has to dig into sources from the 1750s, with the secondary biographical literature giving only a framework guide to the dispute. I’m still nailing down the details, but I can say with certainty at this stage that Franklin was not saying anything like what we quote his words to suggest.

The words appear originally in a 1755 letter that Franklin is presumed to have written on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor during the French and Indian War. The letter was a salvo in a power struggle between the governor and the Assembly over funding for security on the frontier, one in which the Assembly wished to tax the lands of the Penn family, which ruled Pennsylvania from afar, to raise money for defense against French and Indian attacks. The governor kept vetoing the Assembly’s efforts at the behest of the family, which had appointed him. So to start matters, Franklin was writing not as a subject being asked to cede his liberty to government, but in his capacity as a legislator being asked to renounce his power to tax lands notionally under his jurisdiction. In other words, the “essential liberty” to which Franklin referred was thus not what we would think of today as civil liberties but, rather, the right of self-governance of a legislature in the interests of collective security.

What’s more the “purchase [of] a little temporary safety” of which Franklin complains was not the ceding of power to a government Leviathan in exchange for some promise of protection from external threat; for in Franklin’s letter, the word “purchase” does not appear to have been a metaphor. The governor was accusing the Assembly of stalling on appropriating money for frontier defense by insisting on including the Penn lands in its taxes–and thus triggering his intervention. And the Penn family later offered cash to fund defense of the frontier–as long as the Assembly would acknowledge that it lacked the power to tax the family’s lands. Franklin was thus complaining of the choice facing the legislature between being able to make funds available for frontier defense and maintaining its right of self-governance–and he was criticizing the governor for suggesting it should be willing to give up the latter to ensure the former.

In short, Franklin was not describing some tension between government power and individual liberty. He was describing, rather, effective self-government in the service of security as the very liberty it would be contemptible to trade. Notwithstanding the way the quotation has come down to us, Franklin saw the liberty and security interests of Pennsylvanians as aligned.

Knowledge is power, so now you know. Also, read this. It’s a great exposition on the relationship of liberty and security; enlightening and not exactly what you’d think. And please, please stop misquoting Ben Franklin.