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Welfare Used to Fund Terrorism! Beyond Rhetoric: 10 Ways to Fix Welfare

By: meekie Wednesday April 24, 2013 1:11 pm

Today headlines blared that the Boston bombers had been funding their terrorist lifestyles with welfare. How could we, the cash-strapped people, have been allowed to provide for these shady characters? The American-born wife and baby were obviously part of a long con on the generosity of the American people. That the wife chose to work 80 hours a week (possibly for less than minimum wage) as a quasi-servant rather than continue with those benefits does not mitigate the fact that someone who later became a terrorist got to mooch! Who would have the insolence to even wonder whether the indignities of the broken welfare system factored into how much these “losers” came to hate the United States…?

Well, I’m going to dare to bring it up. This is a repost of the diary I posted at FDL a few days ago, but the facts haven’t changed and the educating the public on this issue has become all the more important now that there is an increasingly strident refrain of “welfare pays for immigrants/jihadists/economically-disenfranchised-angry-young-men to make war on YOU“.

The welfare approach in the United States are ridiculously fragmented, inadequate, poorly implemented, and outright broken. Political rhetoric from all sides raises the taxpayer’s awareness that their money pays for an enormous welfare system. Yet when the taxpayer turns to this system during their own time of desperation, they discover unanswered phone calls, months (if not years) of applications and appeals, bureaucratistans that don’t bother to deliver the measly few “services” they meticulously document on your “plan” (the California Department of Rehabilitation, which is supposed to be putting people back to work, is a major offender here), and have abundant means to retaliate (for example, by consigning your case to limbo) if anyone complains.

There is a deliberate rightwing campaign to make stymied taxpayers believe that “someone else” (of a different race, religion, or political affiliation) is getting paid “regular checks from the government”, while anyone who has ever tried to deal with this system knows for sure it’s not them. “Disability checks” are the latest spearhead in the rightwing’s egregiously misinformed attack on welfare.

But while Republicans regular twist and ignore facts to shore up their 47 percent Entitlement Society propaganda, Democrats are failing in the other direction by blindly defending the system without acknowledging the problems or making any attempts to fix them. President Obama’s idea of a bipartisan bridge is cutting Social Security benefits, when many seniors are already struggling to get by on a few hundred dollars a month. There is no way around the fact that the only way to get everyone off welfare is to guarantee full employment.

Last year I wrote a series of posts about my own experience of the welfare fiasco for Daily Kos, but I found this was the wrong venue since too many comments trivialized or even flamed a subject that is a matter of life-and-death to a significant segment of the U.S. population. I looked for another place to repost my series, but I could not find another place where I could convey what I knew about welfare to a broad audience of voters. Finally I just boiled down what I had to say in 10 Ways to Fix Welfare on a free WordPress blog and left my message to float on the ether. As far as I know, no one is reading it or referencing it. It’s vitally important to dispel the fog of ignorance that surrounds welfare. So it’s time to make another attempt to shed light on the real problems with welfare and how to fix them.

I am copying my “10 ways to Fix Welfare” here in the hope that this post will be passed around and spark a larger conversation, with testimony from the people who have actually interacted with the welfare system. My complete article is pasted below, and there is a little more information about me on the WordPress site.

The people who cry out for “welfare reform” usually want to dismantle the social safety net and let the bodies fall where they may. Politicians take advantage of the public’s general ignorance of the welfare system when they demonize welfare recipients. By representing welfare recipients as scammers and thieves – morally degenerate and racially “other” – politicians score cheap points at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable people in society.

This blog is an open letter to President Obama, Congress, and every State Governor in the U.S. I urge anyone who reads this blog to forward the information to local as well as national political representatives. Share this information with your friends and neighbors so they start to use their votes to shape welfare policy in an effective, positive way.

I am not what people imagine when they hear the word “welfare”, and I’m the first to agree I shouldn’t be in this situation . So how can the welfare system be fixed so I can escape it (or so people like me won’t end up there in the first place). What follows is the essence of my observations and experience.

10 WAYS TO FIX WELFARE

 

10 Ways to Fix Welfare: Ricin Terror Shows Why We Need to Get This Done

By: meekie Friday April 19, 2013 9:48 pm

The man who tried to assassinate President Obama by sending  him a letter laced with ricin launched a Twitter tirade against the oppression of the welfare state on the day Obama was elected two his second term – highlighting a widespread belief that welfare is both a tool of oppression and a matter of race.

Curtis was receiving a “monthly disability check” and had perhaps applied for “public housing” since he complains that this is the particular benefit being used to silence people. “Disability checks” are the latest spearhead in the rightwing’s egregiously misinformed attack on welfare.

The welfare approach in the United States are ridiculously fragmented, inadequate, poorly implemented, and outright broken. Political rhetoric from all sides raises the taxpayer’s awareness that their money pays for an enormous welfare system. Yet when the taxpayer turns to this system during their own time of desperation, they discover unanswered phone calls, months (if not years) of applications and appeals, bureaucratistans that don’t bother to deliver the measly few “services” they meticulously document on your “plan” (the California Department of Rehabilitation, which is supposed to be putting people back to work, is a major offender here), and have abundant means to retaliate (for example, by consigning your case to limbo or requiring you to fill out surveillance forms on your own activities instead of providing services) if anyone complains.

There is a deliberate  rightwing campaign to make stymied taxpayers believe that “someone else” (of a different race, religion, or political affiliation) is getting paid “regular checks from the government”, while anyone who has ever tried to deal with this system knows for sure it’s not them.  But while Republicans regular twist and ignore facts to shore up their 47 percent Entitlement Society propaganda, Democrats are failing in the other direction by blindly defending the system without acknowledging the problems or making any attempts to fix them. President Obama’s idea of a bipartisan bridge is cutting Social Security benefits, when many seniors are already struggling to get by on a few hundred dollars a month.

Last year I wrote a series of posts about my own experience of the welfare fiasco for Daily Kos, but I found this was the wrong venue since too many comments trivialized or even flamed a subject that is a matter of life-and-death to a significant segment of the U.S. population. I looked for another place to repost my series (including Firedoglake), but I could not find another place where I could convey what I knew about welfare to a broad audience of voters. Finally I just boiled down what I had to say in 10 Ways to Fix Welfare on a free WordPress blog and left my message to float on the ether. As far as I know, no one is reading it or referencing it. But as the Kevin Curtis incident shows, it’s vitally important to dispel the fog of ignorance that surrounds welfare. So it’s time to make another attempt to shed light on the real problems with welfare and how to fix them.

I am copying my “10 ways to Fix Welfare” here in the hope that this post will be passed around and spark a larger conversation, with testimony from the people who have actually interacted with the welfare system. My complete article – with a couple edits – is pasted below, and there is a little more information about me on the WordPress site.

10 WAYS TO FIX WELFARE

The people who cry out for “welfare reform” usually want to dismantle the social safety net and let the bodies fall where they may. Politicians take advantage of the public’s general ignorance of the welfare system when they demonize welfare recipients. By representing welfare recipients as scammers and thieves – morally degenerate and racially “other” – politicians score cheap points at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable people in society.

This is an open message to President Obama, Congress, and every State Governor in the U.S. I urge anyone who reads this blog to forward the information to local as well as national political representatives. Share this information with your friends and neighbors so they start to use their votes to shape welfare policy in an effective, positive way.

I am not what people imagine when they hear the word “welfare”, and I’m the first to agree I shouldn’t be in this situation . So how can the welfare system be fixed so I can escape it (or so people like me won’t end up there in the first place). What follows is the essence of my observations and experience.

10 Ways to Fix Welfare

1) Coordinate Local, County, State, and Federal social programs from the client’s perspective. Set up one-stop centers where caseworkers are empowered to assess the full range of the client’s needs, and give them the mandate to make client’s work-ready within the month. When people are poor, exhausted, in pain, and on the edge of homelessness – and probably traumatized by their situation – it is difficult for them to find all the resources and services they need.  A single point of access would also make it easier to address welfare fraud without demeaning and criminalizing everyone who applies for social services. If we have the political will to set up an utterly redundant organization like “Homeland Security”, why can’t we bring about a “Social Safety Net” Tsar to advocate for improvement in the life chances of U.S. citizens?

2) Shift the burden of paperwork away from the client. People who may not have a mailing address in a week are being besieged with paperwork, a ridiculous amount of small print, and bureaucratic procedures that make no sense from their point of view. Social workers are too over-worked to answer questions, and no one has an overview. Yet the paperwork is filled with threatening language about the consequences of doing something wrong, or failing to turn something in that you received a week after the deadline, or demanding documentation of things that are impossible to document (like the dollar you had to beg on the street in order to get to the required Social Services appointment). I have been thoroughly baffled by the whole process: I don’t see how people with little education navigate this system. Need I say that the desperate struggle to surmount this mountain of paperwork and survive the months, and even years, of bureaucratic process creates an enormous disincentive to give up any form of subsistence you eventually obtain?

3) If there is a significant (months long) wait for bureaucratic processing, people who in a stable housing situation already need “bridge services” to prevent them from becoming homeless while they are waiting for: 1) disability determination or 2) a job. The number one thing keeping people from working is the lack of available jobs. If the taxpayer wants to require people who are able to work to get a job instead of dole money, then they need to be given a job directly. People on the verge of homelessness have already been rejected by the competitive employment system: it’s time to just let them have a job if they are willing to work. The disability situation is even more complicated: if it takes up to two years to qualify for SSDI, and the disabled person is unable to work, how do they support themselves during those two years? What do disabled people do if their first application is rejected and they exhaust their “five year lifetime limit” of general assistance welfare while trying to reapply? Are people required to become homeless before being declared disabled? In this case a “bridge program” can subsidize their housing and basic needs during the long wait can either be recovered from back-dated disability payments. If the disability claim is rejected, the bridge money can be regarded as a loan to be paid back once the person gets a job. (For the record, “general assistance” – i.e. the cash portion of welfare that is often directly paid to landlords – is also a loan to be paid back once the recipient has some source of income. It’s not “free money”. The problem is it’s far below the actual cost of rent, which passes the cost of housing the poor on to a landlord that might be barely getting by him or herself).

4) Penalize social service departments and programs if they do not handle cases in a timely manner. People who fall into welfare needed help *yesterday*. Dithering for months and years just makes things worse. At this time many programs follow this procedure: client waits a month or more for a “screening appointment”, a few more months go by before the client gets to meet with an individual caseworker, a few more months go by while the client obtains documentation of their medical condition (hopeless if “specialist referrals” are necessary), another month or so goes by when the client falls through the cracks because of staff turnover, there may also be a few months involved for the client to do busywork to prove their commitment, and finally the caseworker documents the “plan” for the client. In the months after that, the caseworker forgets to arrange for the services called for in the plan, and the client – who has been holding on by his or her fingernails during this months of process – starts to consider suicide. The caseworker may retaliate if the client complains (by further delaying the case, requiring additional paperwork, not returning calls, or implementing surveillance) and mark the case as a “success” (for the sake of obtaining Federal funding) if the client manages to help themselves through other venues.

5) Once a person becomes eligible for welfare – and especially if they apply for disability benefits – PRIORITIZE them in the health care system. Fast-track actually *fixing* the problems that are interfering with employment. When patients are referred to specialists, get them to that specialist with a month, and automatically schedule a follow-up appointment with the primary care physician within a month. Health care records should be clear about the outcome: either the patient has been effectively treated/cured or they are disabled. How are patients supposed to get documentation of their condition for social service programs when every doctor’s appointment leads to “wait and see”? When the county hospital takes over a year to arrange specialist appointments, all the other programs which require health documentation fall into limbo. There should be incentives for doctors who save the taxpayers money by enabling a welfare recipient to work. Also, it makes absolutely no sense to offer “discounts” on basic prescriptions to people with no income: they will just go without the prescription, and the health problem that is keeping them out of work will continue and probably get worse.

6) Provide services to welfare recipients in an order that makes sense. Front-load the services that will help welfare recipients get a job: transportation, clothing, hygiene facilities, phone/mailbox/internet access. In what universe does it make sense to provide an interview suit only after someone becomes homeless and can’t take care of high-maintenance clothing? If transportation is only provided after a year-long application process how was the client supposed to follow up on job interviews during that year? If transportation is only allowed for job interviews, how is the client supposed to get food or go to subsistence-related appointments? Also, how does it make sense for a person without an income to be required to go to another city to apply for a bus pass, and pay a fee for the bus pass, before they can qualify to get transportation money to pay for the bus pass? Sometimes an indigent person’s problems can be significantly reduced by some timely out-of-the-box thinking: for instance, a new bra or athletic shoes can reduce joint pain and a good haircut might lead to more successful job interviews.

7) Everyone who works in the social services sector needs to raise their awareness of the small costs they impose on clients with no resources. Stamps and print-outs  and thank you note stationary cost money. Toll calls to other cities to arrange appointments or pursue job interviews costs money. People who need help with heating and other utility costs should not have to call a long distance number to obtain an application. Transportation to appointments costs money. Broken appointments mean wasted money. The well-meaning tip to dye your hair for job interviews costs money. What does a person without an income do when they no longer have pens and paper to take down important information? These are just the examples that immediately come to mind. It’s amazing how people who have worked with the poor through out their careers don’t think about all the costs that their procedures impose on people who have no income. When some program provides for one or more of these needs, it’s a disaster for the client when the caseworker forgets to renew it. For instance, a month without transportation can mean missed job interviews or a skipped referral appointment that took months to arrange. Also, don’t refer a person to Catholic Charities for basic necessities like shoes if there is no funding for bus money, and Catholic Charities in the next town. Sometimes costs can be imposed through other well-meaning social measures: for instance, in California there is a surcharge for grocery bags that can be subtracted from the already meager food-stamp money.

8 ) Assume people who apply for welfare are in poor health, if not outright disabled, and need reasonable accommodations. Social Services and other programs that serve indigent clients should automatically accommodate disability by allowing people to sit while waiting for their turn. The current DMV-esque situation makes disabled people wait in a line that winds around the block before they can even ask about accommodation for their disability. Also, some Social Services offices require disabled people to be accompanied by a friend or relative before they can get accommodation. Even if a person on the edge of homelessness has friends and relatives, will they be able to take a day off from their own work for a depressing day at Social Services?

9) Employment programs should not force their clients to choose between training and “intensive job hunt”. Once a person is on welfare, they have to choose the intensive job hunt. But if the main “service” is encouragement, and the “intensive” search is going to take many months in a tough job market, then the client would probably benefit from training AS WELL as the lengthy job search. Under the current arrangements the training goes to people with the leisure to to not search for work very intensively: i.e. not the people who need training the most. It’s the desperate client who is being rejected by employers for years on end who most needs training. Learning new skills might actually lift them from their dire situation, as well as giving them a social outlet. It’s hard for people with no income, who can’t afford a cup of coffee, to get out and network. Large employers should offer programs like Cisco did in the 90s: specific technical training with a guaranteed job upon completion.

10) Don’t require homelessness as prerequisite for programs and services. Once a person becomes homeless, it will be a lot more difficult (and expensive) to help them recover from whatever situation they are in. And by that time, the client will be suffering from trauma, additional health problems, and the loss of all the material accoutrements of their identity. Their first letter from a boyfriend – gone. Grandma’s heirloom Christmas ornament  – gone. The manuscript of the novel that was supposed to be published one day – gone. The pet that loved you – gone. All that’s left is the video of youtube that some jerk secretly made of you while you were screaming and crying as all your stuff was thrown out on the street as garbage. The time to help someone is BEFORE the point of that youtube video. If a person has no income and no remaining savings or other resources, and they meet the criteria to be eligible for food stamps and general assistance, then ALL relevant services that could help them recover should kick in at that point. People need work to escape from poverty. Forcing them into homelessness and heaping more stress onto what is already an emotionally paralyzing situation just so they will qualify for help in obtaining employment is ludicrous.

These 10 Ways to Fix Welfare – the REAL welfare reform are  just the tip of the iceberg. If policymakers see fit to address these things, then maybe people will get off the welfare rolls faster or even get help before they end up having to resort to welfare. After welfare is remodeled to address the *needs of the client*, then pundits can start to negotiate matters of efficiency and preventing fraud. However, these changes should result in such vast cost savings (as well as the bounty from adding people back into the productive workforce) that all levels of government will have the means to pay for all the efficiency and enforcement professionals the system needs.

Right now we have the worst of all worlds: welfare recipients are not getting the help they need; providers of fake help and do-nothing bureaucrats are getting fat on the backs of the poor; and politicians are making their careers on bashing the most marginalized people in society (and too busy making straw men to even look at the real people – their constituents – who have ended up on welfare). To make matters worse, very few welfare recipients have the writing skills, speaking opportunities, or social positions to raise awareness of their situation. Instead, the public’s knowledge of the welfare system comes from biased politicians and a press that only reports what their middle class readers or corporate sponsors want to read.

This blog post is not copyrighted or constrained in any way. If you want to help, simply help spread the word about what welfare is and how to fix it. If you have friends, relatives, or neighbors who have been caught up in the welfare system, encourage them to speak up and write about their experience. Let everyone know about the delays, the contradictions, the bureaucracy-for-bureaucracy’s sake, and the sheer lack of real help. Most of all, raise awareness of how the last line of defense against human catastrophes often just makes the catastrophe worse. Enough of the Helpiness, Helpism, Helpesque Faux Help.  Want to actually help someone? Hook them up with a job that enables them to maintain a roof over their head, do their laundry, and put food on the table. And if there is no job for them, face the truth of what it means to deny a person a living income. What do you expect them to do?

Measure S, Panhandlers, and the Struggle for Autonomy

By: meekie Tuesday November 13, 2012 2:41 pm

Recently my discussions of welfare have shaded into opposition to Berkeley’s Measure S, and this diary explores the connection between the two issues. Much of the commentary on Measure S stereotypes people who sit on the sidewalk as “obnoxious panhandlers”, and the ethical and humanitarian questions about why they are sitting on the sidewalk have faded into the background.

I believe the single biggest source of misunderstanding about all those needy people sitting on the sidewalk and what to do to help them comes from the assumption that they are homeless (and somehow that automatically makes them mentally ill substance abusers as well).

There is little consideration of the “permanent panhandlers” as people who are not yet homeless – unless it’s in the context of representing them as lazy, undeserving scammers. There are also sporadic attempts to represent them as “dangerous” despite their vested interest in retaining their particular spot and “working” it like a job. These people are permanent sidewalk fixtures are there precisely because the “comprehensive services” that the proponents of Measure S claim to exist do not apply to them. There is nothing to help them retain the place they live, no matter how long they have lived there or how they have previously contributed to the workforce or the community.

Measure S stabs at the heart of a profound social problem and one of the major challenges for the progress of the human spirit: the struggle for autonomy.

What most people don’t understand about Welfare is there is no “cash” component or non-food “necessities” component for single people without children if they are trying to retain the stable place where they already live. All of “general assistance” ($330/month maximum) will go directly to maintaining your existing housing, and it usually goes directly to your landlord. You may actually have more cash if you are homeless, or if you are living in “transitional housing” that allows you to keep/save some of the “general assistance” money. Far from being ineligible for “needy” status because they aren’t homeless, their only option is to turn to everyone they know – and even strangers they don’t know – for help.

The “Ambassadors” proposed by Measure S would not be able to hook these people up with any “comprehensive services”. However, pushing panhandlers out of high traffic commercial areas may indeed push them into homelessness: where they will suddenly be eligible for, and at the mercy of, the “help” the Ambassadors want to provide.

Well-meaning people have told me that I will soon have to “face reality” and give up the place that I live. In their minds this is practicality, not cruelty: I will either “move in with family” or resort to a “homeless shelter” until I get into “transitional housing”. Along as I can get food and shelter, then relinquishing the place I have lived for almost 15 years is a mere inconvenience. Giving up my home will be “hard” but it won’t be the end of the world.

What these well-meaning, practical people don’t understand is that giving up your home is giving up your autonomy and your dignity as a human being. Your home incorporates family keepsakes, cherished memories in the form of letters and Christmas cards and knickknack gifts, books, personal writings and works of art, and beloved pets that might be their primary source of emotional nourishment. To give these things up is to give up one’s identity, one’s roots, one’s basis for self-expression and self-determination.

Retaining your home is also about retaining your privacy and personal choices. The system of shelters and “transitional housing” is a system of surveillance, supervision, and supercilious judgment. What you choose to wear, what you choose to read, what you choose to eat, what you choose to do with your time is what makes you into you. In the great cosmic scheme of things, those choices constitute your development and potential as a human being. Once you are “in the system”, you will be shaped for other people’s purposes: you will no longer be able to fulfill your own destiny.

Society operates under the tacit assumption that people should “work” to retain their independence. If you do not get paying work, and you are unable to shell out for the basic necessities of life, then you deserve to be deprived of your autonomy.

Depriving a person of autonomy is what a prison sentence does: if you commit a crime, your punishment “rehabilitation” involves constant surveillance, loss of privacy, and eradication of choice. Panhandlers who are trying to retain existing homes are trying to resist this prison-like condition.

Some Sidewalk Purists may argue that panhandlers deserve loss of autonomy just by virtue of “letting themselves get into” a situation where panhandling is the last resort. This is an arbitrary assumption, and a highly unfair one in a society that is complacent about a 6% “natural unemployment rate”. Society-as-given is rife with knee-jerk discrimination and bad luck: this is the consequence of some of our ostensible “virtues” such as flexible, loose organization and competitive “meritocracy”. We permit and even cultivate the cracks people fall into.

One Andreas fault-sized crack is the current health care chaos system which is rationed in favor of people who have money and subjects the uninsured to so many gaps and changes in care, and so many months of waiting time (appointment calendar roulettes, we-will-call you referrals, waitlists, etc.), that people can go on for years with untreated conditions and become disabled out of sheer neglect. When a disabled person can no longer take care of themselves, do they “deserve” to lose their autonomy. This is part of what the Disability Rights Movement is about.

Yet, at least once you are classified as disabled, there will be some concern for your rights and dignity as a human being, as well as access to the “comprehensive” social services that the Sidewalk Purists are always referring to. To be classified as “disabled” for these purposes, you need to be determined to be at least “50% disabled”, as determined by a 15 minute chat with doctor contracted by Social Services if you have been previously uninsured and lack enough documentation. No one realizes just how absurd the situation is until they are caught in it.

Soooo…what if you are 25% disabled? What if you are just disabled enough to have difficulty getting around and be beset by the opinions of potential employers and other people who don’t know you…but not disabled enough to get subsidized housing and other services. This fine line also applies to mental illness: is a person who is “maladjusted” or just out of tune with the common run of society mentally ill? They may not click with employers even if they are not technically mentally ill. Do they deserve to lose their autonomy because they are different, and society has declined to offer them channels to work out their particular vision and purpose in life?

Take a close look at a panhandling “regular” the next time you go on a pub crawl: would you hire that person? If you wouldn’t hire them, who will? Do they deserve to lose their autonomy because you think they don’t fit in?

The threat of loss of autonomy is especially cruel in a highly literate, highly educated society where people are bred to and trained to think critically and independently, and form their own opinions. Each individual is a production site for universal reason. Independence is a central value in American culture, even if you haven’t been over-exposed to the Enlightenment Project. In the age of the Internet, many people develop stronger identities through discussion and writing than their physical presence in the world can sustain. Is there a greater tragedy than giving people a means to develop a strong individual, interior identity, but then ripping away their autonomy in the physical world?

It’s hard to imagine myself panhandling. Every ingrained value and habit makes me defer to others and avoid being a pest. Yet I might resort to panhandling if it was the only thing I could do to save my books (which are all heavily annotated, containing decades of thoughts and seeds for writing). Losing those books would destroy me as a person. The only alternative besides trying to save them would be suicide. I know there’s a line of thinking that people of character avoid begging under any circumstances: death before dishonor. As god awful as my life has been, I’m not the suicidal type. I think I would try to do something about my situation first. That is what panhandlers are: people who are trying to do something about their situation, when society is not offering them any more dignified alternatives.

Has anyone noticed that the GOP never concedes that their “you’re on your own” mentality is wrong? If closely reasoned arguments and majority votes oppose their views, that means their views were being suppressed, overridden by a “machine”, defeated by “class war”. Facts and data are simply weapons of the enemy. This is because the GOP views inequality as a natural, bio-determined necessity. They scramble after privilege because if they don’t get it, someone else will. Social justice is nothing more than a shift of power to other people. Proposals to “raise all boats” are pretty lies that the power mongers on “the other side” tell. Malthusian consequences aren’t discussed over tea because they are shocking and crass, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong.

The people “in the know” will position themselves to be first served in times of scarcity and to make sure someone else does the menial labor our way of life requires. Slavery is a bad word now, so people have to be forced to do uncongenial labor in other ways. In this era where much labor could be superseded by machines, the pressure to force everyone to work mainly comes from everyone’s anxiety that someone else will get out of doing the work. This inertia amounts to the perpetuation of hazing, and despair over the possibility of fairness. Slavery is a natural necessity, and businesses that find a way to harness slavery or at least foist the costs of labor on to society (like Wal-mart encouraging their underpaid workers to apply for food stamps and Medicaid) are just being clever. If you “get caught”, you’re just inept at playing the game. Sociopathy is just the obvious response to a hypocritical world that does not dare to acknowledge how things really work.

Even Progressives are inclined toward this “natural necessity” view of the human condition, or else there would be a lot more blogging about blind hiring, re-allocation of labor and obligation, and more radical concepts like guaranteed work or “Social Security for all”. No one expects fundamental changes in our social order to take place any time soon. Thus, people fall through the cracks, yet annoyingly refuse to disappear all together. People make their needs known and do what they have to do to survive – and maintain their autonomy.

In the case of Berkeley and Measure S, I’ve personally seen more disruptive behavior inside businesses where homeless and/or mentally ill/substance abusing people try to beg from a captive audience, take over bathrooms, disrupt as a way of making a statement, or just try to get warm and dry for a few minutes. Business owners don’t hesitate to call the police in such situations, and they have the right to defend their private property. However, the sidewalks are public property. Clearing sidewalks for the benefit of particular private businesses goes against everything the Occupy movement stood for. In Berkeley, this effort to redefine the community as the prosperity of personal business endeavors has been slyly reinforced by the removal of benches and the placement of spikes around “sittable” raised greenery planter in places where the yuppies won’t be looking to sit.

Measure S included provisions for “ambassadors” to actively connect people to “comprehensive services” before they were actively kicked off the sidewalk. But if hooking people up to “comprehensive services” would actually help them and give them an alternative to sitting on the sidewalk, why is this even a rider on Measure S? Why not simply send these “ambassadors” out right now and connect  people to services with no strings attached? Dare I suggest this is because the representatives of business interests realize the “ambassadors” proposal is all show, and that their “comprehensive services” do not cover the situation of the “regular” panhandlers who are out on the sidewalk and trying to get by on compliments, guitar music, and free copies of Street Spirit rather than peeing in public or doing other disruptive things that might cause them to lose their spot.

There is no question that many people are homeless, suffer from mental health and substance abuse problems, and both they and the Sidewalk Purists would benefit from helping them with their specific problems. There are also people who sit on the sidewalks as a lifestyle/political statement, as a protestor “occupying” public space, as take-out food eaters, or as just the last resort to get off their aching feet. The point is that the people on the sidewalk who are not serving immediate business interests cannot be easily shoe-horned into the preferred Measure S narrative of “homeless or youth adventure fake-homeless”. The biggest thorn in the side of their argument are the panhandlers who are trying to hold on to their own places and preserve their autonomy.

It’s an “easy out” to say anyone who panhandles before they’re truly homeless must not be in dire need, and they are therefore running a scam on people of good conscience. However, I hope my past writings and this diary show that the situation is much more complicated than that, and the many months it takes to get things done as well as the outright lack of help for single people without children forces people to seek help wherever they can, including approaching random strangers on the sidewalk. Moreover, because services are so compartmentalized and uncoordinated, there is widespread paranoia about who gets what – which exacerbates racism and other social divisions.

While the ballots are still being counted, it looks like Measure S will be narrowly defeated. However, the fact Measure S has come so close to being passed shows how the spin of business interests nearly swamped the other voice in Berkeley – especially the most marginalized ones, and that of the people at extreme risk of losing their autonomy and their very dignity as human beings. If my diaries can do anything to shed light on the actual situation, then maybe I’ve done my bit to move humanity in a genuinely progressive direction.