When I started school my mother was divorced and unemployed, although she received some financial support from my grandfather. Her unemployed status entitled me to various school subsidies, such as a hot lunch, and other types of subsidies as well, including health care.
Although I was not a sickly or accident-prone child, I had a dust allergy and the state paid for a vaporizer for my bedroom and weekly shots in my backside. Today I am allergy free.
I also had a slightly crossed left eye, which was corrected surgically. Today I can cross my left eye as a party trick, but can also stop crossing it.
I was flatfooted and the state put me in corrective shoes. Today my feet are still pretty flat but my knees and back are in better shape than Ralf's.
As I recall, vaccinations were also given in grade school, free of charge.
And finally, I lisped until I was about 10 and the state of California paid for a speech therapist to work with me until I stopped. You can still hear it today if you listen for it but it's tolerable.
Then I went to a fabulously expensive boarding school for seven years, care of my grandfather, but that's not really germane to the point I'm trying to make here.
When it was time for college, Grandpa said I was on my own but the killer combination of poor and valedictorian qualified me for several tuition and board scholarships.
Same deal in graduate school, although by that time need-based scholarships were pretty thin on the ground.
Today I'm a healthy law-abiding middle-class tax payer. Real salt of the earth.
My grandfather's support probably launched me into a higher income bracket. But it was the state that made sure I didn't catch polio or tetanus and corrected potentially disfiguring problems that my mother might not have found out about in time if not for active state subsidized pediatric care. Although she was pretty vigilant so who knows.
Would my grandfather have footed any hospital bills for me? Certainly. I was one of the lucky ones in that respect. But what if my grandfather hadn't been able to help out? I shudder to imagine myself today with a crossed eye, a limp, a chronic cough and a lisp.
My point: The US government treated me as a worthwhile investment, which is now paying off. I'm thinking that California would have gotten fewer tax dollars from me over the years if these problems hadn't been corrected early on.
And they not only get my tax dollars, they also get Ralf's, so they doubled their investment. I'm like a twofer.
Ralf, by the way, is as thrilled as I am to help pay for AIG bonuses.
Obama's pretty busy right now trying to get his budget passed and has more or less glossed over the AIG bonuses in order to focus on the big picture. He's right, too, that AIG bonuses are low on the list of American problems right now.
But he's also partly wrong because in many ways the AIG bonuses ARE the big picture.
I'm a conservative Democrat. What this means to me:
I don't think my tax dollars should buy flat screen TVs for crack moms BUT I do think their kids should get hot lunches and a chance to be something when they grow up.
I don't think I should have to pay for a fat smoker's third triple bypass but I do think every child should get the vaccinations and basic medical care they need.
I don't want Congress telling me who I can marry but I do believe the government has a vital role to play in creating opportunities and shaping desired behavior.
And finally, I think it's fine that an executive earns more than a garbage collector but I don't think it's OK if the difference in pay is 1:1000.
(Unless, of course, the exective in question did something like build a company that employs several hundred or several thousand people. Just sitting in management meetings looking important and shifting the odd worthless asset doesn't cut the mustard for me. )
For me the AIG bonuses are a microcosm that highlights everything that's gone wrong in the US since Regan sold people his fake 'Father Knows Best' persona. It's about greedy people sticking their hands in the till not because they earned it - say, with a healthy company - but because they can.
And damn it, $200 million is a heck of a lot of scholarships and vaccinations.
I remember one of my HS teachers explaining that a robust middle-class is what makes a country strong. That was the eighties and we were pretty strong back then.
How strong are we now? How strong will we be in ten years? Twenty?
This is the big picture that President Obama is working toward and I support that.
But to me what's happening at AIG is part of that big picture.