8:12 AM, Nov 16, 2015 • By ELI LEHRER
Sometime in the next two years, if Obama administration bureaucrats get their way, public housing tenants who smoke in their own apartments will face sanctions, fines and perhaps even eviction. The proposed policy is deeply flawed. However, those who oppose it—as many conservatives will reflexively—ought to use their opposition to reconsider misguided if well intentioned efforts to micromanage the lives of the poor even when such efforts come from the political right.
First, one ought to give the Obama administration’s proposal its due. Cigarettes are addictive and smoking them shaves years off of life. Americans living near or below the poverty line smoke at a higher rate than the population as a whole. Since nearly all people in public housing of them qualify for government-supported healthcare, taxpayers end up picking up their medical bills. Bans on smoking in workplaces and indoor public areas appear to have caused reductions in the smoking rate while sparing millions from second hand smoke.
Nonetheless, the proposed bans are deeply problematic because they involve micromanagement of public housing tenant’s lives. Because cigarettes are addictive and because smoking them is a cultural and social ritual, the overwhelming majority of quit attempts fail. Telling regular smokers they can’t smoke in their own homes will seriously disrupt their lives. While private market landlords can and do restrict smoking, of course, people who rent from such property owners will almost always have a choice of housing. Public housing tenants don’t. Forcing people who happen to live in public housing to give up a perfectly legal habit-albeit one that is considered a vice-raises lots of questions. If smoking is to be restricted, then why not restrict alcohol use? If that, why not unhealthy foods? At some point it becomes ridiculous.
And enforcing one-size-fits-all anti-smoking rules may well prove impossible anyway. Studies of efforts to ban smoking in apartments show that the great majority of smokers ignore the rules. Indeed, even though a third of all public housing units already ban smoking, smoking rates in public housing remain higher than they are among the population. And the wrong rule could even harm public health. The current draft regulations hint at the possibility that the federal government might ban e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco has well. Since these things deliver nicotine in a much safer fashion than combustible cigarettes, banning them would encourage more smoking and thus more disease. If this happens, the rule will end up being more an effort to impose left-wing lifestyle preferences on the poor than a legitimate public health measure.
And we should be just as cautious of similar, conservative efforts at social engineering. Kansas, for example, has placed numerous restrictions on how cash welfare recipients can use their benefits. The states’ restrictions on buying movie tickets and underwear with welfare benefits and even withdrawing cash from ATMs reek of micromanagement. Even the fast-growing idea of drug-testing welfare recipients has caught very few scofflaws while imposing costs far in excess of its benefits. While it may be fair in principle to deny cash welfare to drug users, furthermore, it seems a lot more dubious to do what Wisconsin is proposing and deny SNAP benefits (previously known as food stamps) to people who test positive for drugs.
None of this means that the poor shouldn’t be held responsible for their own behavior: work requirements, experiments that require Medicaid beneficiaries to make token co-payments, and efforts to evict public housing tenants guilty of serious crimes are all good policies.
But those who criticize the ways that government run everything from transit authorities to farm programs ought to be just as skeptical as efforts to micromanage individuals’ lives simply because they happen to be poor.
9:45 AM, Nov 3, 2015 • By FRED BARNES
A tradition in the Senate required a newly elected member to wait a year or more before addressing his colleagues on the Senate floor. But that practice has been absent from the Senate for decades—until today.
When government bureaucrats attack.Oct 19, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 06 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
It has long been good sport to make fun of the government. Ronald Reagan did it with a fine, almost deft touch. “The nine most terrifying words in the English language,” he would tell an audience, “are I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
Just about everyone, at one time or another, has used the phrase “Good enough for government work,” and we all know what it means: that something conforms to the high customer service standards one enjoys when shopping for stamps in the post office.
2:40 PM, Oct 5, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
How happy in their jobs are government workers? Well, the sovereign answer to that question would be: “Who cares?” They have steady work and, for most of them, it is all indoors with no heavy lifting. And they practically have to commit a felony to get fired.
The fraying of the national political consensus.Oct 12, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 05 • By JAY COST
The latest political happenings—the rise of Donald Trump, John Boehner’s surprise resignation as speaker of the House of Representatives, Hillary Clinton’s slide against the septuagenarian socialist Bernie Sanders—remind me of a verse from the old Rolling Stones song “Jigsaw Puzzle”:
Oh, there’s twenty-thousand grandmas.
Wave their hankies in the air.
All burning up their pensions
Gleanings and observations.12:41 PM, Sep 30, 2015 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Worry not about the tens of thousands of Syrians that Barack Obama plans to invite to take up residence here. Secretary of State Kerry assures us that the vetting process to screen out the bad guys will be thorough. Alas, Michael Steinbach, assistant director of counterterrorism of the F.B.I. told a House committee that Syria lacked the systems that would provide us with the information we need to evaluate refugees. Kerry is unworried, for two reasons.
3:59 PM, Sep 24, 2015 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Something has gotten into Ted Cruz. The Republican senator is known as a conservative firebrand willing to take on his own party, but in a Thursday meeting with reporters in his Capitol Hill office, Cruz was sounding almost ecumenical. Maybe it was the presence of Pope Francis.
8:45 AM, Sep 17, 2015 • By EDWIN MEESE III
In 1878, William Gladstone described the U.S. Constitution as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” Gladstone was right.
The hidden cost of means-tested government benefits. Sep 21, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 02 • By DOUGLAS BESHAROV and NEIL GILBERT
Traditional marriage is in big trouble in the United States. Between 1960 and 2011, the share of white adults 18 and older who were married declined by 25 percent, while the declines for Hispanic and black adults were 35 percent and 50 percent respectively.
And an increase of 1,500 years of paperwork per year. 7:04 AM, Aug 25, 2015 • By SHOSHANA WEISSMANN
The American Action Forum (AAF) is out with a new report about the Obama administration's unsuccessful efforts to reduce regulations. The findings are jaw-dropping.
10:52 AM, Aug 10, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
“We have already cut defense … about 30 percent over the last 10 years, and we’re still at war. We’re actively involved on multiple continents in real combat operations. We should not be drastically reducing our troop levels.”
10:29 AM, Jul 15, 2015 • By JERYL BIER
In the midst of revelations about a massive data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the agency awarded a $4.3 million two-month contract extension to Northrop Grumman for the OPM's Data Warehouse Program (DWP).
10:19 AM, Jun 16, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The government doesn’t seem to have many good days, these days. If it isn’t a vast hacking of its employees’ personal information by, presumably, the Chinese, then it is the revelation that the people who are supposed to keep air travel safe, the crack agents of the TSA, missed some 95 percent of the dummy bombs that a task force attempted to slip by them in a recent test. Ninety-five percent.