Sunday, January 27, 2008

Free Money

Help me out here, folks, 'cause maybe it's me, maybe I'm missing something: perusing this link in Froomkin's Friday column, I note the shameless attempts to tug at my compassion, yet I feel strangely, well, untugged. Here's the part Froomkin himself excerpted to bolster his argument:

The economic-stimulus package being negotiated at the federal level should be shaped so that it helps the poorest of the poor, low-income people in Rapid City and their advocates say.

Mari King, a 25-year-old pregnant mother of two, who relies on food stamps and income-based housing, didn't qualify for the tax rebate of up to $800 per qualifying individual that was initially proposed by President Bush. And it was unclear Thursday whether she would be covered by an expanded assistance plan being negotiated by congressional leaders to give smaller checks, possibly about $300, to virtually anyone who earns a paycheck.

As an asthmatic with other health issues who is currently out of work, King relies on government assistance to get by. She said she and her children have daily financial needs that could be helped by a few hundred dollars.

"It would do a lot," she said as she selected free food items at the food pantry on North Maple Ave. in Rapid City. "There are things I'd like to buy for my kids that I can't buy. I could do some thing for them that I can't do now."

She really doesn't get why she won't get any money? Seriously? You live on the dole, in government-subsidized housing and use food stamps and, one assumes, benefit from government-subsidized health care to treat the asthma and "other issues", as well as crank out kids you can't afford -- and you want to know where your fucking cut of the action is? Where do people even get balls this big?

There are a lot of things that bug me about this bullshit "economic stimulus" package, mainly that because the Democrats capitulated because that's what Democrats do, the primary beneficiaries of the package coincidentally happen to be many of the same people who got the economy into this fix in the first place. It's just not enough to bail out all the grifters who set up this subprime fiasco -- the people who pushed loans on people too stupid to figure out their debt/income ratio; the bond-insurers who underwrote these phantom assets; the hedge-fund bookies who bundled it all into collateralized debt obligations and put it all on 33 Black.

Nope, the bailout's not quite enough. Let's also give those poor sods a fat chunk of cash this May (which, if the economy is truly in such dire straits, would seem to be a bit late). They can trade in their Beemers and Lexuses, and it will trickle down to the peons who get to park and detail the nice new cock-mobiles. It's a trick, a boondoggle, a sop to the scammers who fucked us once again, who talk about risk-reward scenarios like they're the second coming of Adam Fucking Smith, yet never take any real risks and don't realize that Smith utterly loathed people exactly like themselves.

So. We are apparently beset, it seems, by be-suited grifters on one hand, expecting the taxpayers to pay off their casino losses in the middle of two wars, and on the other by people who are fully funded by the state as it is, having the taxpayer underwrite every bad decision they make without recourse or redress, wondering why they do not get to share in what they are already soaking in.

I hate these sorts of stories, because they invariably test the limits of my right-thinking librul notions of compassion and charity. I end up at least recognizing the shadow of common terrain with people I typically despise, sinecured haters who have never done an honest day's work in their own lives, but gleefully kick poor people, and regard them as a subspecies. I cringe at even the appearance of such an association.

I feel very sorry for this woman's kids, frankly, more than anyone else in this story. And if we can piss $2bn per week down a hole in Iraq, it's not unreasonable to think that we might kick a couple hundred bucks to the less fortunate once in a while.

But the tone of this article (perhaps selectively edited for effect) and this woman's plaint is galling to me, not that I expect an expression of gratitude, so much as a glimmer of recognition on her part that she has not been expected to take responsibility for any of her decisions, or maybe the hope that she might endeavor to use this helping hand to get her own shit blessedly together. Where is the father of these children, and where is his contribution to their well-being? Do we need to offer a condom or birth-control pill allowance; can one or the other of them get a vasectomy or a tubal ligation? Are we allowed to ask such questions, or are we merely permitted to open our wallets and pretend that we care?

So here's the deal, sweet cheeks -- you can have my cut of the action. I work for a living, and it feels like blood money anyway (even though, rather than a true "rebate", it's more likely an advance to be recouped next year). I'll send it to the nearest Target or Wal-Mart in the form of an electronic voucher, since gift cards can be traded for cash. But you can buy clothes and toys and games -- and yes, even food -- for your kids. Hell, buy something nice for yourself. You've earned it.

In exchange, you must take steps to assure that you do not have any more children you cannot afford. This means either prophylactic or permanent birth-control measures, paid for by the state, as well as the garnishment of the father's (or, perhaps, fathers') wages until child-support obligations have been retroactively fulfilled. You must also make an effort to take some sort of job training or re-training classes, in an occupation of your choice that can accommodate your disabilities, which will be completely paid for by the state, which will also help with job placement and day-care services.

I don't think it's too much to ask, but I have a feeling that you might.


thedevilzone said...

I hate these sorts of stories, because they invariably test the limits of my right-thinking librul notions of compassion and charity. I end up at least recognizing the shadow of common terrain with people I typically despise, sinecured haters who have never done an honest day's work in their own lives, but gleefully kick poor people, and regard them as a subspecies. I cringe at even the appearance of such an association.

Yeah, it's tough. I think of it like: I don't want anything I say to form a little tributary, if you will, feeding into the sea-level of typical discourse surrounding welfare!!11!, one of the dirtiest words in Amurka.

My family are some of the most rabid zealots about it I've ever heard from - every April will bring some printout of the usual gripes about having to pay for "people who don't want to work", bumper sticker slogans about "Work harder, millions of people on welfare depend on you!", etc. Tom Tomorrow had a brilliant cartoon way back during the Clenis years, showing a guy lying in bed, eyes wide open, muttering "They're out there - and they're getting benefits they don't deserve! I just know it!!", while the wife says "Harold, just go to sleep..." That's my family, all the way. Needless to say, they don't even bat an eye at the thought of an open cash-sewer in the Middle Eastern desert filling up with somewhere near a trillion dollars. As long as it's being used to kill some perceived threat, it's money well-spent.

So, I really don't know what to say or do about it. I mean, I'm all for severe restrictions on breeding, but it's probably just as well that I'm not in charge of deciding who gets to do it, because I have a feeling my standards would be pretty drastically high. I guess I just try to offset stories like Mari King's with examples of people I've known, who just got an honest shit sandwich served up to them by fate and have struggled for years while working harder than Dubya ever has in his life, while still just barely getting by. I'd rather envision my money going to people like them in the event of joblessness or illness.

Also, I dream of the Pentagon disappearing into a black hole and making it so I can afford to be blasé about giving a few extra tax dollars to people who more than likely won't use it wisely. Hey, some people play the scratch tickets for the fun of imagining what they'd do with the money; that's how I entertain myself!

Heywood J. said...

I've been thinking a lot about your comments. That's a good analogy, the tributary. It's a river of sewage, of rich do-nothings kicking the poorest of the poor, for no good reason at all. I don't want to flow into that particular estuary. So I'm not picking on her because she's poor, per se, I'm picking on her because she doesn't seem terribly inclined to do much of anything about it, except wonder where her check is.

And obviously, I reserve 99% of my wrath for the upper-level grifters, thieving defense contractors and animals who look at war and destruction and see only opportunities and benefits. I have infinitely more contempt for Blackwater and Halliburton than I could ever muster for someone like Mari King.

I do recall that Tom Tomorrow cartoon, and I have known people like that; they're pathological. And I also come from a family where even the concept of welfare was heavily frowned upon, so there is some work-ethic conditioning involved. But I've also been down-and-out, and I know first-hand the kind of despair that goes with being broke and seeing no opportunities come your way. And I've also known some lazy bastards who were more than happy to take and take to their hearts' content, and never even try to get their shit together. So of course it cuts both ways.

And really, the problem may be in the tone and writing of the article in the first place. One quote from King, one from her mother (who, as it happens, is also disabled, on the dole, and wondering where hers is, so it's not entirely coincidence) and the typical bleat from the advocate. Well hey, motherfucker, I don't have an advocate. Where's the article pleading mycase?

The writer's time might have been much better spent talking to the burgeoning "working poor" class, people who have jobs -- frequently multiple jobs -- and still barely eke their way through life. It didn't used to be that way; it used to be that a man could support his family, not luxuriously but comfortably, on a single income, and that the wife had the option of doing the happy homemaker thing or getting out in the workforce. (Or, to be PC about it, the other way around.)

It hasn't been like that for a long time, more because of the greedy parasites at the top than anything else, but still I think this particular form of clueless rabble-rousing is unhelpful and counterproductive. It confirms the worst assumptions of the people who hang on by the sweat of their brow. What does someone who works two or three jobs just to survive think about these people, you know?

All that said, I think that the most economically and socially just thing this country could do is a 1 or 2% redistributive tax off the top, aimed progressively at the lowest quintile on up. Something like that would grant a lot of genuine opportunities to a great many people. The economic and social offset would be large and practically instantaneous, I have no doubt. But that will never happen because a demographically tiny plutocracy needs a growing ignorant underclass for its own survival. It's a perverted symbiosis, but obviously you see it time and again.

As for breeding policy, I don't know about restricting it so much as bribing them to stop. Here's a thousand bucks; now go get your tubes tied or a vasectomy, and buy a flat-screen TV or a sack of magic beans or whatever. I have no problem with people making stupid choices, I just don't think we should all have to chip in to pay for them in perpetuity.

thedevilzone said...

A river of sewage! Reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Nietzsche: "Truly, man is a river of filth. One must be like an ocean to be able to receive a river of filth without being contaminated by it."

But yeah, this all also cuts to the heart of my own contradictory nature. I'm politically left-liberal but I don't generally like or have much faith in other people, nor do I generally believe in their good intentions. And I certainly do know people who do fit the lazy recipient stereotype, so I know there's at least a grain of truth in it, and in the conservative idea that it's better to give someone a chance to work their way out of a hole for dignity's sake than to just throw money at them.

It does seem to me that the people I've known who gripe the most about this tend to hate the fuck out of their jobs; so maybe they see it as a case of Mari King having a sweet vacation while they're slaving away. Me, I think about what a shitty life it must be to have to depend like that on other people's taxes without the aforementioned dignity, and to have such a bleak and pointless existence. I long ago made peace with the fact that the job is just to buy me the time and freedom to do the things I really want to do, and so I just take it for what it is and don't worry too much about whether someone else has a nominally easier time of it.

Heywood J. said...

Right. We're large; we contain multitudes. Everybody's heterodox on this or that issue. For me it's things like this, or the death penalty, which I don't think has been applied nearly enough in principle (how's that for lefty misanthropy?), but has gotten too corrupted in practice.

There's a lot of truth to what you say about the most vociferous anti-welfare contingent being people stuck in shit jobs. I know enough to know that Mari King is not driving her Cadillac to the airport for her Jamaican vacation, so it's not that.

It's more the "chronically broke as fuck, and too disabled to work, but still finding time to get knocked up and have everyone else pay for it" syndrome. Just completely out to lunch as far as having a clue about why she is where she is. And there is some truth to the old-school conservative notion of granting real opportunities rather than just throwing money at them.

Now, if they could just apply that principle to, say, Jonah Goldberg....