America is a land of beggars. There are the street beggars who approach every few meters rattling a tin under your nose. There are proportionally more of these than in Indian cities like Mumbai. Most, but not all, are black and many are mentally ill. There are also the mentally ill who are too psychotic for begging, yelling indecipherable rants or lurching into traffic. Then there are alcoholics who seek to start an argument over trivia they have dreamt up. Mental illness is more common in prisons than in mental hospitals but most common on the streets.
Then there are the ordinary everyday Americans reduced to beggars. These are the waiting staff, shop assistants, bus drivers who supplement their pathetic pay by reminding you to show your appreciation with a tip. Every shop has a begging bowl placed strategically near the till, and every bus has a tip receiver, and woe betides any who fail to tip a waitress. Tipping became a factor during the 30s depression when people lived entirely from tips. Now it has become institutionalised as employers pay a pittance. President Obama is currently running a campaign, opposed by the Republicans, to increase the basic wage to $10 an hour. [In Australia the minimum wage is $18.70 per hour. Even adjusted for the difference in exchange rates, this makes Australia's basic wage at least 50 per cent more than Obama's ambit claim.] The argument is put that reducing wages will create employment, where already unemployment is chronic.
The point is that 50% of Americans live below the poverty line while the chosen 1–2 per cent live lives of extravagance.
The American dream is so often quoted but the reality is a nightmare. Americans are so indoctrinated with their dream that all can be rich that they do not see the reality of their society. All government spending is seen as seen as bad unless it is the military. It shows itself in poorly maintained infrastructure such as roads and footpaths, many with long wide cracks making cycling all the more dangerous.
All Here in San Francisco pollution is chronic. The smog hangs around until about 10am every day and locals tell me that their window sills are covered with black grime every morning. There is always a haze as bad as Chinese cities. California sees the urgency and has instigated a clean energy program using solar and wind aiming to eliminate all fossil fuel generation.
Public space is shabby and neglected. Public utilities are relics of former glories. But most Americans dare not question the vast military expenditure because, after all, they are the great society, and all others are jealous of their success.
9/11 could have been a wake up call for Americans, arousing them from their dream state. Instead they refused to awake, yielding to the nightmare of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. Killing is so much easier than facing the reality of yourself.
Americans are not happy or friendly. They are geared to a competitive existence where they loudly assert their own rights. They are impatient and speak quickly in short sharp slogans. "You have a good day, now," becomes annoyingly familiar because of its insincerity. Even when a waiter spends time for a chat one suspects he's after a bigger tip. They often have trouble understanding me, and I often have to ask them to repeat before I can translate their rote learned rushed patter. When I tell them I don't want the milk in my coffee to be hot, they invariably reply, "So you want your milk to be really hot?"
And this is the society Tony Abbott [Australia's PM] wants to turn us into!!!