Dear Mr. President,
The city of Seattle is contemplating a new law, proposed by one of our more conservative city councilmen, to create a $50 fine for aggressive panhandling. This idea is a poor one for several reasons, the most obvious of which being that those who beg for change on the streets don't exactly have the $50 to avoid jail. It punishes the poor for being poor and then helps to keep them poor. That a better way to mitigate the problem of homelessness might be an increase in assistance programs, shelters, police presence and other public services seems to escape the people who support this measure- many of whom also oppose existing social services and the taxes that fund them.
I'm not as compassionate as I ought to be. I don't give money to people on the street (be they homeless or the clip-board wielding WASHPIRG pests) and I generally don't enjoy being asked. (I, as the Lyndon LaRouche-supporting morons can attest, can often be impolite about this if caught in the wrong mood, especially by libertarians.) My vague annoyance, however, is not grounds for a fine. This law is designed to win the council favor with local business and encourage tourism (though, for the life of me, I can't imagine that there are a number of people who long to visit Seattle but don't because of the homeless.) When I worked at the downtown bookstore, homeless patrons were often problematic, however, if business owners don't want to deal with the inconvenience, than they ought to be willing to contribute to solving the larger problem, not just punishing its symptoms.
This whole debate contrasts sharply with the national debate about financial regulation. The role of the government, in my opinion, should be to protect the interests of the people, especially those who can't protect themselves. In regulating the financial industry, the government is doing just this; looking out for the people in the face of powerful organizations, companies and industries guided by self-interest. The city of Seattle, meanwhile, is trying to do the opposite; attempting through redundant and overly-broad legislation to protect the wealthy and powerful from the desperate and poor. Both homelessness and wall-street reform are important issues, and ones that will require us to determine where we want the government to intervene and who we really want it to protect us from.