Monday, April 20, 2015

Ok, Maybe The 3rd Time's the "Charm" - Re: SNAP Benefits Spending


It appears a fellow blogger who believes I am a "pretty good chess player" (I am, I nearly always beat my 'Grandmaster Chess' program at the grandmaster level) has misconstrued my recent post on limiting SNAP benefits. He appears to mistake the external claim of gov't "largesse" and perceived welfare - as applied to all gov't benefits to being my own. But let me make this clear, they are emphatically not.

When I referred to VA benefits, Social Security (including SSI and regular S.S.) as well as Medicare being lumped in the same category as SNAP benefits I was not referring to how I perceive them but to how they are seen by the austerity hawks. Of course, S.S. is "earned" as those of us receiving it had to pay into it over years we didn't just have it handed to us. Vets, meanwhile, earned their benefits by putting themselves on the line to defend their country (never mind many of the 'wars' were bogus - they still complied!). Also Medicare was earned by the same qualifying rules as for S.S. 

My point was that none of this matters to those like Peter G. Peterson, David M. Walker, or Richard Haas- who uniformly see all of them more or less in the same "wheel house" as general welfare benefits because: a) they issue from the tax commons, and b) all add to the federal deficit.

This is why Michelle Caruso Cabrera argued on 'Real Time' for Social Security privatization - again not that I would defend such a thing-  my past posts show I do not, e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2011/07/why-social-security-privatization.html

 but rather that SHE and her ilk see things that way. That is, one would need a separate privatized account to justify spending however one wants. Of course this is nuts, but that is how THEY see it. I merely report it as the messenger.

Here is where the problem lies for my blogger friend: No benefits are 100 percent secure - even his SSI and VA benefits. Any can be repealed at any time, on any whim or for any congressional bogus reason or tantrum. Whether specific "spending rules" apply to one subset of gov't benefits or not is in the large sense immaterial to the fact ALL benefits are subject to cutbacks, or even cancellation.

As one website (http://www.ssa.gov/history/nestor.html ) notes:

The fact that workers contribute to the Social Security program's funding through a dedicated payroll tax establishes a unique connection between those tax payments and future benefits. More so than general federal income taxes can be said to establish "rights" to certain government services. 

This is often expressed in the idea that Social Security benefits are "an earned right." This is true enough in a moral and political sense. But like all federal entitlement programs, Congress can change the rules regarding eligibility--and it has done so many times over the years. The rules can be made more generous, or they can be made more restrictive. Benefits which are granted at one time can be withdrawn, as for example with student benefits, which were substantially scaled-back in the 1983 Amendments

I point this out, again, not to be a pain in the ass, but to make the salient point that no beneficiary is sitting pretty as far as security goes no matter how much he or she may believe they "earned their benefits".  In effect, even VA benefits can be rescinded or cancelled, as the recent repuke congress in fact tried to do. The harsh fact in these United States is that like the myth of "private property" (which can always be taken under some ruse, say like eminent domain claims) the myth of secure benefits doesn't wash. Any benefit can be removed at congressional whim at any time. We keep those benefits at the pleasure of whatever congress (and President) we get at the time and well, if they turn out to be craven rat assholes, we're all sunk - as much as all those on SNAP or welfare would be.

In effect, if a Supreme Court can rule (as in Flemming v. Nestor) that there is no contractual right to receive Social Security then this can be extended to any other government benefits, including VA disability and medical benefits, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. But the fact most of those now living haven't observed such drastic actions doesn't mean they can never occur.

Again, I am in firm defense of these government benefits but unlike those who adhere to the "submerged" idea of preferential benefits, I insist they need to be protected for ALL - not just  special subsets. The idea of "fairness" again, only entered the picture in the sense that ALL benefits of whatever form are viewed as "welfare" by the austerity hawks and this indeed, isn't fair. So my blogger friend was right to have his outrage evoked when his VA benefits were noted, but that is not MY doing but the perceptions of the austerity hawks. So, if he wishes to vociferously defend his right to those benefits he needs to write the likes of David Walker, Richard Haas et al and take it up with them.

Rather than play the game of beneficiaries fighting one another over who has "the most right" to their own benefits, why not join together in common cause and defend the right to benefits for all - with NO strings attached?  Thus, the state laws declaring SNAP recipients can only spend so much on such and such ought to be shelved, the same way other artificial laws (and all laws in the end are somewhat artificial in that they were generally created by power brokers for their own benefit, with money contributions) ought to be  - including those for eminent domain. Not to mention the recent spate of laws in many cities making homelessness a crime. No place to rest or sit, or one is arrested, as in Denver. This is bullshit and I am glad to see the ACLU and others taking the issue up.

The overriding law ought to be the Constitution and that ought to trump all penny ante state laws set up by temporary political whores who happened to get elected because they gerrymandered their states to enable it.  Thus, the preamble to the Constitution bears the only welfare declaration that matters and it plainly states:

We the PEOPLE of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity….”

This passage has been a source of never-ending squabbling over every issue from states’ rights, to the degree of control vis-à-vis the individual vs. the collective or common good.

Much of this, I believe, is unnecessary and merely discloses an inability of current citizens to think or even conceive of the community or the commons. So brainwashed have we become by the screeds of either ‘rugged individualism’ or Social Darwinism.

Let’s begin by quickly dispatching some of the more common canards, often circulated by the Right's darlings, like the Tea Baggers. One is that the clause refers only to military defense, or that "no positive social rights inhere in the Constitution". (All rights are ipso facto, "negative",  expressing what gov't may not do).This conveniently excludes any basis for social spending, but is erroneous on inspection

The reason is that the phrase – “provide for the common defense” is separate from that to “promote the general welfare.” Hence, the two have no commonality in terms of language, unless one supposes the writer was deliberately redundant.

Another common error is to invoke the ‘fallacy of division’ in this case, disputing that “promotion of the general welfare” refers to anything other than the United States as the entity whose ‘welfare’ is being considered. This again is falsified on inspection. Note that the Preamble begins:

We the PEOPLE…”


Not “The United States”. In fact, the United States is itself an artifact of the people’s will and their creation, as elucidated say in 'The Federalist Papers', by James Madison, i.e. comparing the federal system to the solar system.. The Constitution, composed by the “people”, engendered the United States as a new national entity. In the context, therefore, the United States as this manufactured entity and abstraction cannot of itself have a “general welfare”. Only PEOPLE (citizens) can possess or aspire to a general welfare.

And THAT, I argue, also inheres in the benefits they are entitled to whether VA disability, Social Security or SNAP. And none of those benefits ought to have artificial limits appended! Instead, the recipients are enabled to use their benefits for whatever they wish - but of course they must be cognizant of the limits or they will run out before the month expires. (Another reason, as Emily Badger of the WaPo noted, the idea of SNAP people running wild buying beer, gambling etc. is bogus as a three dollar bill, because of the limited money they have to start!)

But neither can separate individuals possess a “general welfare”! Since, to say so is to mix the particular with the general. Clearly then, general welfare and its promotion must refer to something essential to the general collective and its good, which also would contribute to the goals set out in The Constitution.

What are these goals, that we might give at least one example of the general welfare?

One is “the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness”.

What  manner of “general welfare” might be associated with this?

Without a doubt, one form is “health care”. Why? Because the accessibility to health care (of a form that doesn’t bankrupt) implies a prerequisite for the opportunity to pursue “life, liberty and happiness.” Without the potential to access such affordable care, a person – say with a severe back injury or chronic disease – cannot pursue the goal. And assuming s/he can, it will not be a pursuit with achievement at the end, in all probability.

But another aspect of this happiness pursuit is it must not be sequestered for some special subsets of citizens while excluding others. ALL citizens are entitled to pursue it whether they are poor or rich!  To limit their pursuit using artificial laws is against the Constitution!

Thus, even SNAP recipients must be enabled to pursue happiness even on a limited scale - and this must be defended as their RIGHT under the ninth amendment. That means they ought to be able -  bogus state law or no - to enjoy a bit of luxury when they need to and if they have enough left from taking care of immediate needs to afford it.

Prof. Garry Wills (‘A Necessary Evil: A History Of American Distrust of Government’, Simon & Schuster, 1999) further reinforces this point in his chapter ‘Constitutional Myths’(p. 108). He notes that citizens alone possess rights, which neither the states nor the federal government share. Both the latter retain powers and prerogatives, but not rights.

The Ninth Amendment states that “the people retain unenumerated rights.” "The people:"  here refers to flesh and blood citizens, not to a bunch of contractual abstractions (states), or to corporations, as Mitt Romney seems to believe.. As Wills emphasizes and underscores (ibid.):

“The states have no natural rights. Their powers are artificial, not natural – they are things made by contract.”

My argument then is that the unenumerated rights of citizens trump any specious rights claimed by states, OR their prerogatives. This is also why I reiterate again Charles Reich's words to do with welfare:

"The claim that government is free to reduce or cut off welfare and other forms of support for people in economic need is totally mistaken. Welfare is not a gift, nor is it, despite frequent assertions, a transfer from those who earn a living to those who are not.  Welfare is rather an obligation from society – and from those who are working- to those who have been deprived of work and the opportunity to earn a living."


I hope that my blogger friend now understands why it's in his interest to defend the rights of SNAP beneficiaries to their benefits, as much as he aggressively defends his own. We are all in this together and to the extent we allow the state to split us apart we all become vulnerable to having our rights - and benefits - taken away!
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Update: My fellow blogger asks me to address the question: "If everyone is jumping on the bandwagon - then who is left pulling the cart?"   First, not "everyone is jumping on the bandwagon" - i.e. for SNAP benefits, only the most needy citizens are. A position that ANY of us could be in if - god forbid - we're struck by a horrible disease, or injury or disability from an accident. Thereby making it impossible to earn enough to support ourselves.

Second, the rest of us need to pick up the support slack by enabling a greater pool for the tax commons, so that 16 million kids (also under the SNAP program) don't have to go to bed hungry each night. Thus, if enough were made available for these benefits programs - less for military and wars - there would be no problem, and we wouldn't face these constant cuts for budget reasons - as we saw in November, 2013.

In the end,  all the difficulties of not enough "pulling the cart" arise because our priorities are misplaced. We are giving much too much to  overseas military involvement in places we shouldn't be and not enough for domestic needs. We need to be building bridges and new water mains in Skokie and Buffalo not in Ramadi or Kandahar.  We need to be increasing SNAP benefits, not paying good tax dollars for even more F-35 cost overruns.


See also:

http://www.salon.com/2015/04/22/white_americas_gwyneth_paltrow_problem_how_its_playing_games_with_the_lives_of_poor_people/

Excerpt:

Conservative disdain for the poor has reached new heights with the recent passage of the HOPE Act in Kansas earlier this month. This bill, signed into law by Governor Sam Brownback, prohibits those who receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) from using funds to go to movies, to go swimming, to go theme parks, to gamble, to visit strip clubs or bars.
 
Many Americans fundamentally believe that one’s income bracket should determine one’s access to fun, pleasure, and entertainment. The resentment and the lack of empathy that undergirds most of the social policy that emerges from the right prove just how out-of-touch and mean-spirited such social policy is.

....Rather than attend to the systemic causes of poverty, they remain firmly committed to a stance that has no political integrity: that poverty is caused by laziness – not by poor schools, over-criminalization, the outsourcing of jobs, and a lack of living wage. And lazy people, the thinking goes, don’t deserve any forms of pleasure.

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