Brother, Can You Spare A Buck?

For no particular reason I opened up Wikipedia and clicked the “Random Article” link. What came up was “Aggressive panhandling”. Funny because just a few days prior a friend had posted on Facebook that he’d given a few bucks to panhandlers and wondered if he was a sucker for doing so.  What I think this means is that all social media is interlinked and the giant corporations are directing our web traffic to support their evil schemes. Oops, that’s another blog post.

Unless you live in Lebanon, Kansas you’ve seen ’em. Beggars, bums, panhandlers, urban campers, 17th century music majors, hobos.

Down on his luck

They stand on corners, intersection medians, and near shopping areas with their cardboard signs. “Down on my luck”. “Homeless and hungry”. “Need gas money”. “Homeless vet”. “Why lie, need $$ for beer”. They range in appearance from young-ish kids sporting multiple face piercings, to sad older folks, to filthy wackjob looking guys who’ve clearly need a serious delousing. You sit in your $30k car watching them shuffle from window to window looking for a dollar. The guilt sets in, especially women. You fish through your pocket or purse, find a buck just in case he gets to your window before the light changes. If you don’t have anything handy you do everything possible to avoid eye contact. Staring down intently at your phone seems to be a favorite tactic.

For most of us a dollar isn’t going to make or break the monthly budget. It’s not like your children will have to skip dinner tonight if you give up a buck. Should you feel guilty about not giving? Absolutely not! Don’t give them money!! Ultra liberal do-gooders are probably hyperventilating at this point. Don’t worry, they’ll be ok once they have a chi latte. First off, it’s the rare exception that these beggars actually need that dollar to eat. Per a PD contact, many of them can easily make up to $200-$300 a day. Yes, you read that right. It’s common to see them wander off the median and head to their car and drive off when the (sucker) traffic is slow. Many dress for the part and carry multiple cardboard signs with various sayings in case the current one isn’t working.

If nothing else, there’s the safety issue. Do you really want to roll down your window and invite a hepatitis infected drug addict to reach in and grab your purse or worse? Think it doesn’t happen? I know in your Hello Kitty, sunshine and rainbow-filled world all people are good, but that’s just not reality. Sorry.

I just want to work

I’m certainly not suggesting these folks are well-off.  They’re out there for many reasons. Probably the biggest one is a drug addiction. Sadly, they’ll take that dollar from you just as quick as they’ll break into your car or home looking for stuff to steal and sell. Gotta feed that addiction. Mental illness can be a factor as well as a host of other unfortunate events. Waaay down the list is the true, down on his luck, lost his job, home foreclosed on, can’t feed the kids, homeless guy. Why? I believe that most people will take steps before things got to that point and do everything possible to either prevent, or get themselves out of that scenario ASAP. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but my gut tells me it’s the rare case.

Warning, politically incorrect statement: At least in the SF Bay Area, 90% of the restaurant dishwashers, car washers, and fast food workers are our southern friends – here in a temporarily undocumented status. They do not speak English. (no complaints, their English is better than my Spanish)  The point is that they work, and work hard. If an illegal immigrant who does not speak english can find work and survive without begging… so can many (most) of the dudes working the street corner. Begging for money has become a choice for them, not a survival mechanism. Like it or not, giving money is only enabling the behavior. It’s not an accident that cities like San Francisco who pride themselves on being tolerant towards panhandlers are meccas for the homeless. It’s hard to walk down the street in SF without being accosted by some scary looking dude looking for money.

Giving is good. Giving makes you feel better about yourself. I like giving. The difference is that I want to give in a way that maximizes the benefit. Give (or better yet, volunteer) at your local soup kitchen/homeless shelter. Give to a drug, job, outreach center. Give to your church. Find a charity that matches your personal goals and opinions and give. You’ll feel good, and the overall benefit will be 100x what that dollar you give at the intersection does.

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?

Pericles wrote “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you”. Why then, when it comes to this political season, do I have such a strong desire to scoop my eyes out with a melon baller? This country is on track to reach a debt level of $16 trillion this year. If you don’t think that’s an issue then please stop reading now and go back to your re-runs of Jersey Shore. How could you not be outraged, fired up, and follow all the riveting daily political analysis? Perhaps it’s because the meat puppet occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave (don’t get  your knickers in a bunch – I think they’re all meat puppets, not just this one) is particularly adept at convincing the masses that if we just made things more fair, all our problems would be solved.

First, a Test

Before getting to fairness we need a little test to see just how deeply the brainwashing has impacted your orb of gray matter. Ready? One simple question – do you believe the Bush tax cuts cost the government (insert mega-huge $$ amount)?  If you answered yes, it may be too late for you already. Why? Because to accept that premise you must believe the lost money was the governments in the first place. It was their money and dammit, the meat puppets had starving people in the streets to take care of that will now go hungry because you took it away.

How delusional is that? It’s like having the schoolyard bully stealing your lunchtime sandwich for most of the school year. When a teacher catches him and gives your sandwich back, you should now feel guilty because he’ll now go hungry? It’s just not fair. You still had the rest of your lunch to enjoy and yet you’d still deprive the bully of his tasty sandwich. As a nation we seem to have completely lost the sense that most of the “revenue” taken in by government is your money. Money you worked hard for. You spent time away from your family to earn that money. You skipped little junior’s soccer game because you had to be at work on a Saturday earning that money. When we decide that we’d like to keep just a little bit more of our money the rational response should be that government simply just doesn’t spend money that year remaking Sesame Street for Pakistan ($10 million reportedly) – NOT that we’ve somehow “cost” the government money.

Which brings me to what causes the horrific melon ball scenario. In broad terms, this country does not have a revenue problem – we have a spending problem. (technically, at our overall level of debt I’m not sure it’s actually recoverable regardless of steps taken) Generally speaking I’m ok with taxes. I buy into the social pact we’ve made with each other. Everyone contributes a little bit of what they earn so we can pay for some  housekeeping here and there and have a safety net for those who truly need it. Oh, and protect us from the pending zombie apocalypse.

What I do have a problem with is seizing a non-trivial amount of my income, spending it like a drunken sailor, and then claiming more is needed when it runs out. Am I completely against raising taxes? No. However, before you do that I want to see that you’ve made every effort possible to use what you have wisely. Cut waste. Get rid of useless programs. Cut aid. Pull the 28,000 troops from South Korea. Cut 20% from every department’s budget. When that’s done go back and cut another 10%. When you’ve reached that point, and only at that point, you can come ask for more of my money.

The national wealth envy that’s being pushed is nauseating. The concept that it’s only fair that gazillionaires pay just a little bit more to help solve our debt problem is offensive (and no, I’m not part of that evil 1%). If we collect more in tax revenue from any particular group the only thing that happens is Washington will have more money to spend. Are you really naive enough to think that any additional money won’t be spent as fast as it comes in?

Speaking of taxes and fairness… the top 20 percent earned about 55 percent of all income, yet paid 70 percent of all federal income tax. Is that fair? Only if you buy into the politics of wealth envy. Want to spark outrage in this country? Stop collecting taxes via deductions from paychecks. Force everyone to write a check every quarter for taxes owed. I suspect very quickly people would actually realize how much of their income goes to the meat puppets in Washington for redistribution. Well… since nearly half of the country paid no federal income tax, maybe not.

Back to taking an interest in politics. Should I care about the grand promises that will never happen? Probably. But I don’t. A used car salesman will always be a salesman, no matter what the words on the teleprompter tell them to say. Besides, thinking about it takes time away American Idol.