Wednesday, July 18, 2007

File Under: Lost Rights

From the New York Times (the link is via, since the NYT requires login bullshit)

In San Diego, poor people who want public benefits must give up their privacy. Investigators from the district attorney's office there make unannounced visits to the homes of people applying for welfare, poking around in garbage cans, medicine chests and laundry baskets.

Applicants are not required to let the investigators in. But they get no money if they refuse.

Lawyers who have sued on behalf of the applicants say that being poor should not mean having to give up the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable government searches. So far, the courts have disagreed, saying that rooting out welfare fraud justifies the searches, but not without drawing some fierce dissents.


I'm only mentioning this, so in the future should you get cancer or something from the oh-so-healthy envirnoment, you'll be prepared for when the State inspector comes over unannounced to your home (if you have one then) to check up on your life and habits, you'll be prepared. Now that you may have already had your right to vote taken away, I thought you might like to know about this.

I really liked the Bill of Rights when it was around. Was? Papieren? Ich habe keine Papieren! Heil Dubya!

* For the Record, they were the first 10 Amendments to the Consititution, and they read like this:
Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.



Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say the state is required to take care of the people, either.

So what you have is a situation that falls outside of basic Constitutional protection, the way I see it.

I think it is a fair trade off, considering the amount of welfare people I've met along the way who ate and drank better than I did all on tax payer's backs...

4:45 PM  
Blogger Stucco said...

There are tons of things that are not in the Constitution that exist and are of benefit, but the premise that because we are paying them, they need to forego their rights is a bad president and a very slippery slope. To extend that seemingly Libertarian line of thought, maybe we should remove all the other laws that pertain to employment? Child labor, for example, or discrimination laws are comparable.

It's one thing to say that you are not in favor of welfare, or any given social program, but it's quite another to attach unlawful "strings" to these. The Jim Crow laws were another such example.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

I just finished teaching a lesson about the First Amendment in my public speaking / effective communication class. You would be shocked and saddened by how LITTLE the 19-25 year old set knows about this bit of our Constitution. Well, on second thought, maybe you WOULDN'T be....


6:09 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

I don't think people should be spending their public benefits on crack while their kids starve.

That's what typically happens. If they want their handout they should pay the piper.

I've seen the kids from these homes and I know why they are cracking down on these folks.

The constitution doesn't guarantee a free lunch either.

I guess I'm kind of bitter because my family was very poor and we didn't have one dime of public assistance.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

The trouble I see, Stucco, is that the "system" that isn't spawned from the Constitution is shielded by it.

You really can't have it both ways and be effective.

If you don't police the pay-outs, you are abusing the rights of those who pay IN in good faith to the system in order to insure that the less fortunate are indeed cared for.

MY RIGHTS are violated by those who abuse my welfare towards those less fortunate.

So now you have the debate about whether my rights are less important than the recipient of my gratuity...

Are they? Not according to me.

I am the first to support welfare and creating a societal net for those who are unable to care for themselves. Sure. Count me in.

But I am also well aware of the amount of abuse the system takes daily by selfish, lazy people.

Therein lies the rub.

If you want someone to blame, blame those who ruined it for those in need, not the evil "government" who are simply trying to dole out yours and my contributions to those who are truly in need.

It isn't the government that has caused this intrusion into people's lives, it is people who abuse the system.

I say, go yell at them.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Stucco said...

Hiya Ms. C- I don't think it's possible to underestimate what that demographic doesn't know. Sad but true.

Hammer & Scott- I think the core issue is being lost in the outrage. Yes fraud is a problem, and it is OUR money- I am with you so far. The issue is IF we are going to have a social program such as this (from any law source), it MUST be consistent with the core laws of the land. In the same way that state laws must exist within the context of federal laws. If there is fraud in welfare, it is a crime, and should be treated the same way as any other lawbreaking. If there is probable cause, then snoop all you want. Or get a warrant. Obey the rules that apply in every other aspect of the society. I'm citing an example where probable cause and court orders are being tossed in lieu of the arbitrary whim of some government functionary. That's insane.

And Scott, it's not your right to treat moneys paid into the tax system and abused as a personal larceny or loss. Yes, it's your money, and no- you have no right to it once it's paid to the IRS. No one has the prevailing right to steal over you, even if you did have influence over your tax dollars. Crime is crime, but remember it's supposed to be "innocent until proven guilty".

6:38 PM  
Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

OK. Good points, Mr. Stucco. I am sort of on your side here, in the bigger scheme of things. But being a practical sort, as well, what I see are the practical and basic reasons that these "indescretions of the Constitution" are being implemented.

One could argue that you give up your basic right to privacy when you put your hand out to the rest of us who are footing the bill.

Since welfare is not a "right", but a privalege granted those who live in our midst, I can see how the judges would argue in favor of the "trust, but verify" policy.

Me personally? I say, if you need assistance, then you should be willing to forego certain rights to get it understanding that it was not you, but others, who created the scenario where your rights need to be bartered for food stamps.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Jeremiah said...

There'll always be system abusers, from welfare fraud to those who raid the office supply room and first aid kit, to those grocery stockers who drink the beer in the stock room, to those who sell discounted company software for a profit. All you can do is the best you can do and realize that this country is a balance between the "I earn" and "I deserve" attitude. Are you really going to teach a welfare frauder not to fraud by checking his garbage can? Yeah. All you teach him is to throw his stuff out somewhere else.

12:29 AM  
Blogger General Catz said...

Stucco i agree with you. The point isn't the abuse of welfare, it's of the precedent being set. Look at the long-term, folks.

Abuse of laws (or rights) always starts at the bottom, against those who can't fight against it. Once they become accepted practice, they move on up the food chain.

I could very well see not only the 4th, but 3rd amendments going out the window. (The 3rd has a dodgy phrase: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law).

Once we lose rights, governments are loathe to restore them. I don't care if it's during times of terrorism or war. Do you really think that the current fire sale on tapping phones is going to disappear should the terrorist threat vanish?

1:08 PM  
Blogger Stucco said...

Scott- I understand what you are saying, but it's important to recognize that they are two hugely different things that are happening as a part of the same process. One of them is what you are addressing- the problem with fraud/theft. The other is abandon not just privacy, or the remaining shreds of dignity, but the 4th Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searching, which I think we're agreed that this is. This is also beyond the question of whether we should have a welfare program, where I take it you and Hammer are leaning. Suppose the reasoning were applied in a more absurd scenario- let's say the cops can pull you over and search your car at will because tax dollars subsidize the price you pay at the pump, and some folks have been known to use cars in committing crimes, and you are required to be "licensed" and are required to have the insurance that we mandate, and if you aren't doing anything wrong you shouldn't have anything to worry about, blah blah blah. Then suppose the cops abuse this absurd authority (because that never happens, right?). It's the same line of reasoning, made to look all the more ridiculous because in this scenario it's more identifyable. General Catz also makes a good point that when a right is stolen, it tends to be taken from the weakest and least able to fight back. That's exactly what's happening here, and it scares the hell out of me.

Heyya Jeremiah- I'm glad you stopped by- your blog is one of my regular reads, but I rarely see you comment. Good point that you make too- as is often the case, the bad guys figure out new ways of doing bad things and the honest folks are the ones that suffer. If no one has trademarked that bit of wisdom, I say we call it the Jeremiah Axiom.

Catzy- very well put. I should have included that point. Clearly I need editing as well as proofreading...

4:07 PM  

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