Saturday, April 26, 2008


According to Webster’s, the definition of “entitlement” is:

1. The act or process of entitling.
2. The state of being entitled.
3. A government program that guarantees and provides benefits to a particular group: "fights . . . to preserve victories won a generation ago, like the Medicaid entitlement for the poor" (Jason DeParle).

Many people in the Republican party are all up in arms about “entitlements”. In their world, this means things like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, veteran’s benefits, subsidies for farmers, etc. Oh, wait a second. Farm subsidies in heavily rural areas which tend to be Republican strongholds like Iowa and Oklahoma aren't entitlements. Those are "good things". I forgot myself for a bit. Entitlements are things that the government has promised people, and people now depend on these payments. Things could get really tough for some of these folks if these pacts between the government and the citizens of this country, i.e., entitlements, were to be suddenly voided. In the world of conservatives, entitlements are tantamount to socialism. And, as “everyone knows”, socialism is evil and doesn’t work, and besides people in Canada waiting for hip replacement surgery have to wait over a year!

However, as interesting a subject as that is, that isn’t really what I want to talk about. I only introduced that meaning as a way of explaining what I am not talking about. How’s that for being vague?

Bob Herbert wrote an eye-popping column in the New York Times. Here is a little snippet.

An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless youngsters in an era in which a college education is crucial to maintaining a middle-class quality of life — and for the country as a whole in a world that is becoming more hotly competitive every day.

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.

We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world,” said Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a discussion over lunch recently he described the situation as “actually pretty scary, alarming.”

Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education.

When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong.

This got me thinking a bit. Here is what I was thinking about when the word “entitlement” popped into my mind. Entitlement, to me, means something that people just expect to have or receive, without really any basis for that expectation. It, whatever "it" is, is a God given right and no one should even question as to why I deserve it.

For example, the citizens of the U.S. have a mindset that says that this country is the greatest country that has ever been and can do no wrong. That way of thinking is obviously behind some of anger that pops out of the extreme right any time the left accuses George Bush of… just about anything. “How dare you, you Blame-America-Firster, you!” As if George Bush and the United States of America are the same thing…. Anyway, back to the point I am trying to make. Americans, back in the 40's, 50's and even early 60's, had good reasons for this attitude. After all, we were on the winning side in both World Wars. We were at the core of the free world during the Cold War. (Yes, Korea and Vietnam happened, those just don’t fit too well into the established narrative.) Our industrial might was second to none, we were the source of innovation and technology. We put men on the moon. We beat the Russians in hockey at Lake Placid. The Berlin Wall came down. All other nations either followed our lead or else were very wary of us. We were a supertanker in a lake full of sailboats.

However, things have changed without many Americans not having noticed that the world is a much different place than it was in the 1950’s. We still have this feeling of entitlement (See? I knew I would get around to making the connection sooner or later) that the position of America is still predominate in the world. Everyone else should concede to the superiorousness of the United States and kowtow whenever we feel we should be kowtowed to. We, as citizens of the United States of America, are entitled to all the adulation that the world can toss at us! If they don’t, then there is something seriously wrong with that country!

In the beginning of the 21st Century, the United States is still a large player in the world. However, this feeling of entitlement by the good citizens of this country make it really difficult to see, at times, that the U.S. has no real reason for this feeling of superiority. We are constantly being outclassed by other countries in the world on many fronts. Two of the few reasons remaining that other countries pay any attention to us at all is 1) we still have a bigger military than the rest of the world, combined, and 2) we have one of the largest consumer markets in the world. We are really good at buying stuff from other countries and throwing our weight around, militarily. Other than that, we don’t seem to be doing great shakes about much of anything. Our economy is teetering on the edge of meltdown, companies are abandoning the U.S. in the hopes they can make more money elsewhere, we have very little in the way of manufacturing left in this country, one third of our students don’t even graduate high school, and the few good jobs that do remain require a college degree. Things are not looking too swell for the future. In fact, “bleak” doesn’t even begin to cover it, in my mind. “Damn frightening” is more like it.

I agree with the central premise of Herbert's column. On the whole, the population of this country is really ignorant, and they are damn proud of it, too! Don’t tell US about problems like global climate change or oil at $150 a barrel! We know better! Facts be damned! We have our opinion, and that is MUCH better than facts. More people now believe in UFO's than they do in evolution.

So, even though everything is going to the crapper here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., most of the people in this country STILL expect us to be the Top Dog, the King of the Hill. God Bless America! (Which sort of implies, in my mind, that God couldn’t give a damn about all those other countries that aren’t America.) No one should ever tell us what to do, and we can demand, at any time for any reason, that others do our bidding at the drop of a hat or else we will start calling them insulting names like “Old Europe” or “cheese eating surrender monkeys”. China and Japan are expected to buy up our debt so we can continue on throwing money at the rich people of this country and in the black hole that is Iraq.

I can’t help but feel that many people in this country are in for a very, very rude awakening in about 15 or 20 years. I am just hoping, for very selfish reasons, it isn’t sooner than that. But I do feel very badly for the children and young people in this country, because they are going to inherent a world in which the “entitlements” they have been taught are rightfully ours are a thing of the past.

Money roll picture from here.

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