20.7.15

Where I come from - Entitlement

Recently listening to Politinerds interview of Greg Gutfeld, I thought of the importance of the first question asked by moderators Doug Mataconis and Jazz Shaw. "Tell us about where you come from." The point being made by the hosts of the podcast was, where you come from creates a lot of your views, as was the case with Greg Gutfeld and his upbringing in San Mateo, California and university years at California-Berkeley. While Greg grew up in "liberal" San Mateo and went to ultra-liberal UC-Berkeley, he ended up being a libertarian-leaning voice in politics. Gutfeld was also raised Catholic and is now an "agnostic atheist".

"I became a conservative by being around liberals (at UC Berkeley) and I became a libertarian by being around conservatives. You realize that there's something distinctly in common between the two groups, the left and the right; the worst part of each of them is the moralizing."

Where I came from influenced me in a similar way, although much in the opposite direction of the political spectrum. The town where I grew up, Madison, Connecticut, is arguably one of the wealthiest towns in a very wealthy state (outside of Fairfield County, at least). Family ties to town, wealth (or the appearance of wealth) were important for getting ahead social AND, at least when I was growing up, getting ahead in general. The other part of the story was growing up poor (relatively, of course). I grew up with a single mom who only worked full time once my sister and I were in school full time and had a job that paid very near minimum wage, serving lunch to many of the town's elite. I grew up working in "high class" restaurants like the prestigious Madison Beach Club and the former Cafe Lafayette (now Cafe Allegra), restaurants my family could not eat at because they were not club members or couldn't afford the price of dinner. Not everyone in Madison was wealthy, but most everyone had more than we did. We had a car (which was necessary in Madison due to its complete lack of public transportation) but for much of my childhood we had a car that could drive only 20 miles or so before it overheated or broke down. Many of our meals were discarded food from the restaurant where my mother worked. We didn't own a home - we rented - so our house was always open to inspection by the homeowners. In middle school, I remember avoiding the beach during the summer because I didn't own a bathing suit and only had a couple pairs of shorts - when they were dirty, I stopped going to the beach until we could afford to the grocery store to buy laundry detergent.

Other children who were my peers lived a fairly "normal" childhood - they had food on their plate. They only went skiing two or three times a winter on top of a summer vacation.  And being in a wealthy town, even those who were not wealthy, made sure that you knew about their excursions and purchases. As un-normal as this sounds to most readers, this was the normal I grew up with. It took awhile into my adulthood to realize that not everyone was so "entitled".

Yes, this influenced my view of entitlement. The word entitlement (in a political sense) brings about images of welfare, EBT and food stamps, medicare and government programs. My view of entitlement also includes "anything that you were given as a child", "anything you have that you did not buy" and "anything you inherited". Yes, inheritance is an entitlement - because it's not earned. I lived in a very wealthy town, despite being a Republican-outpost in a state awash in blue, I was "entitled" to a very good public education. But here's where I differ with many others. I was just as entitled to that education as any other student who attended those schools, regardless of the wealth of their families or parents. I did as much to "earn" it as anyone - which was nothing. The luck of who your parents are is the only reason you grew up where you did. Luck. Luck created entitlement. Americans do nothing to earn citizenship, unlike Swiss or Israeli citizens, they were just born here. Luck. This is how my view has shaped on this and other issues of entitlement.

Kids I grew up with did not do much to earn so much. I think many realized as they got older that they did live in a bit of a fantasy-world growing up. Some didn't. On social media I find it funny that so many of the wealthy kids I grew up with are now adults who are so right-wing economically - when they grew up with 18 years or so of complete entitlement in wealth and in name and status. But I guess where you grow up helps determine your views.

Status and name, whatever the label is, became as important as wealth. I got passed over for scholarships, places on athletic teams and learning opportunities because my name was nothing in town. Had I grown up five towns over where many of the athletic banners have my last name from my uncles, father and grandfather, I probably would have gotten the same unfair advantages that many in my town did. When I was in college as a "super senior", I took the baseball class with UConn baseball coach Andy Baylock. Working in the indoor cages, Baylock was watching me pitch to a kid who wanted to walk on as a catcher on the baseball team and Baylock, watching me throw, asked where I was recruited to play in college. I said I didn't even play in high school, never had the chance (even if I'd gotten on the baseball team, my mother was working full time at that point so I had no way to get home from school but to walk 4 miles back or 7 miles when in middle school). I wanted to show Baylock something he'd remember, so the next pitch I threw a splitter to the catcher that broke as much as I could make the pitch break. Baylock told me to check my availability. But it was too late for me.

I don't feel as bad as I did when I was younger about where I grew up, but with age I've become more aware of how mistreated I was as a child in my town - how I had random entitlement (parental wealth and social status) thrown in my face daily and somehow survived. Especially in my middle school years, very few teachers or staff gave me a fair shake. I was labelled a bad kid - although I wasn't a bully or violent or destructive - no one should be labelled like that. I struggled to finish school work because it was either too easy for me or because I saw other kids getting more by doing less (that's the view of a middle schooler). Once in high school, I finally had a chance to feel less awkward due to some of the great programs in town (this is probably why I find value in individualized programs) but I also saw many adults and educators in town turned away from running programs because they didn't seem to be part of the clique in town - I'm intentionally being vague here as I don't wish to name the people involved but an example would be a program that was run by a teacher in school but was cancelled because that teacher (certainly not a member of the town elite) upset one parent by being "fair"... again, being vague here - that teacher's decision was completely correct but it upset the wrong person and thus the program was ended.

So that probably explains "entitlement" from my life-span view. What is really earned doesn't start with parents or their wealth or who they are or where you were born. None of that stuff is under any individual's control - so that is entitlement. So the next time you complain about something someone else "gets as a handout", remember the first 18 years of your life, your citizenship, your race - you earned none of that. It was just handed to you. Pure luck and entitlement.

Further reading on your age vs. your political leanings (New York Times).  (allows user to make some interesting assertions about people voting in their best interest)

I see some rich guy's house with a sprinkler system
and I know that guy has just played the system
the myth that hard work is all it takes
while our soldiers in Afghanistan are in the sun and bake
they are working for a dollar harder than you'll ever know
keep telling us how hard you work and my head will blow
my mom working for something near minimum wage
you think this is something that explains my rage?
two kids at home, how's she supposed to go to school
it takes just much luck to get ahead you fool

so keep voting to support the rich
cause your status in this country probably won't switch
I'm sure they'll give you a note of thanks
as they laugh at you all the way to the banks


25.6.15

When "spin" covers up the real issues...

Oh, Governor Malloy blew it again. Right after "caving in" to business interests, a major employer decided to announce it was leaving the state of Connecticut - Bristol Meyer Squibb - the only problem is - that is probably not the real reason. It's about education.



Upon closer inspection, most of the jobs are moving to Massachusetts (a state which its own residents call "Tax-achusetts"). This "Universal Health Care State" (yes, unlike Obamacare which is a health plan that doesn't actually give away insurance, Massachusetts insures everyone) has an advantage on Connecticut in higher education. Companies flock to the Boston/Worcester/Route 9 Corridor because - there's a ton of universities that prepare people for science jobs... Harvard, MIT, Tufts, etc... and people are younger in that area than they are in Connecticut - less experience, lower salaries. Massachusetts is actually ranked the 25th best state for corporations to do business. Also the Route 9 Corridor is loaded with other science-tech companies. Connecticut's only other major pharma is Pfizer, a company that has made some pretty horrible purchasing decisions lately and once spent 249 million dollars to open a research center they closed two years later - note, when Pfizer lost all those Connecticut jobs, where were the people who are attacking Malloy now to attack felon ex-governor John Rowland? Somehow his sketchy plan to give corporations money to move into the states was less sketchy than that of Malloy?

Here is where I feel bad for people. All three areas where the jobs are moving from Wallingford are way more expensive areas to live (San Francisco, CA, Cambridge MA and Livingston, NJ - a very wealthy suburb of New York.) And as far as California and New Jersey, worse states to do business (tax-wise) than Connecticut.  I actually worked on that same road on the Meriden side for half a dozen years before my office was closed (we all kept our jobs, fortunately) so that offices could remain open in New York and California - and that company with those jobs in those places crumbled (one reason because running an arts and entertainment/technology company in Orange County, CA is about as good a fit as a pharmaceutical company in CT - and in my old company's case, the only local rival had a lot more money). I used walk behind the Wallingford Bristol Meyer Squibb building at lunch sometimes. Beautiful campus. Probably will remain empty for some time while all the former co-workers look at trying to afford a house in Cambridge or San Francisco - maybe they'll have to pay more for employees - but at least they can recycle industry workers like we do in Hartford with our insurance jobs.

Putting Dan Malloy in charge was like taking a rookie manager and putting him in charge of a last place NBA team that traded away all its draft picks. The problems in Connecticut started way before him and a lot of it comes from the fact that Connecticut and its wealthy are writing large checks to Washington and not to Hartford. Malloy, who is surprisingly popular outside the state among democrats, isn't even popular among his own party in the state, especially after making concessions to big business at the expense of services democrats covet. Malloy's interview on liberal beacon WNPR are cringe-worthy. Malloy has made a lot of mistakes, but this company leaving the state - it's not on him.