Begging on the streets and stealing in the capitol

I read with interest a few weeks ago about the Ashland, Ore., couple who made as much as $300 a day begging for change on the streets of the more and more upscale little resort town that hosts the Northwest's premier Shakespeare festival.

But were most folks happy at the initiative this couple showed to stay off the public teat?

Not on your life.

Their fellow citizens called them tax evaders and worse. Since the story appeared in the local newspaper down there, folks have been screaming threats and imprecations at Jason Pancost and Elizabeth Johnson, who naïvely told a reporter they kept their family (three children) warmly dressed and well fed by politely seeking donations on Ashland street corners.

As someone who made $40,000 four years ago but less than $20,000 last year (welcome to the vagaries of freelance writer world) and still always tosses a quarter to at least one homeless person a day (I only avoid or talk smack to the aggressive panhandlers), I am astounded that allegedly normal, hardworking folks are exercised by this industrious couple.

I panhandled under the Monorail for a story for an earlier incarnation of Seattle Magazine in 1985. For eight wet and dismal days.

I will never forget it.

I was cold and wet and humiliated. There were a couple of super nice folks, but I also got kicked and spit on and was told I was ruining Christmas. I have never again said anything but a friendly howdy to any homeless person who approaches me politely.

I am saving my righteous anger for crooks like Dick Cheney - now there's a guy who gets paid too much for barely working. If you don't count invective-spewing, and lying about the war in Iraq, what exactly does that man do for his multi-millions each year?

I applaud the couple who couldn't make it in the working world but didn't resort to robbing banks, squeezing onto the welfare rolls or raping the American public in the name of government.

If they move their begging-for-the-family operation to Seattle, I'll hit 'em a quarter for at least the first two or three days after every payday. More power to 'em!

Oh yeah, speaking of Cheney, who bristles whenever the subject of Halliburton's sweetheart deals with his own White House come up, it turns out his former company paid him above the table (who knows what he's raking in under the board) $194,852 in deferred pay in 2004 and more last year.

Now this may all be legal in the lawyer fine print, but it still reeks of cronyism and corruption. I cannot worry about a couple panhandling a few bucks a day while people like Cheney steal from all of us in the name of patriotism and manage to make us more hated around the world than we've ever been in our history.

A report last week issued by the trustees who monitor the health of Social Security said that program is in the black until at least 2040 - that's 35 years from today. The Bush government is still talking whenever they can about a system at risk. At risk of actually helping poorer working Americans live at least a semi-comfortable retirement, something double- and triple-dippers like Cheney and Bush snigger at. Privatizing Social Security is just another way for the rich thugs running our government into the ground to steal from the rest of us. As you might guess, I am against it.

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