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If Maryland Is Rich, Why Do We Act So Stingy?

The Washington metropolitan area is among the most affluent in the U.S., based on Census data. The suburban counties of Maryland and Virginia have always ranked high, according to median household income, for as long as I can remember.

Map of Maryland highlighting Montgomery County

Map of Maryland highlighting Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many Maryland politicians and business leaders are aggrieved because Northern Virginia beats out the Maryland suburbs in the high-income game. That explains why many in Maryland obsess about competing with Virginia. The theory goes that Montgomery County must outbid Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia with tax giveaways and other subsidies for business. Otherwise, businesses will choose to locate in Virginia, rather than Maryland. It’s a crazy regional fascination with keeping up with the Joneses.

Worse yet, millionaires might move across the Potomac River to avoid Maryland taxes! Spread the alarm: The sky is falling, the millionaires are fleeing for their lives (and their money)! And similar baloney, spread by people such as Blair Lee IV.

This sort of petty thinking ignores the reality that businesses choose where to locate based on myriad factors, such as transportation systems, quality schools and universities, availability of an educated workforce, quality of life. Most of all, businesses go wherever they can find paying customers. Taxes are one factor among many, and not the most important.

Likewise, millionaires choose where they want to live based more on status and amenities than on taxes. The rich want to live next door to other rich folks. Their favorite place of residence is Manhattan. Astronomical costs of luxury apartments overlooking Central Park don’t dissuade them, and neither do New York City taxes.

Many of the wealthy live in Maryland because it is, as the beer commercial used to say, “The land of pleasant living.” Yes, the entire Chesapeake region is the land of pleasant living. And if the landed gentry want to move someplace else . . . well, they have to sell their fancy homes to other millionaires. Get it? You can’t find a waterfront estate just any place. You have to go to the waterfront. Far as I know, B-4 still lives in Maryland.

Count your blessings, anyone?

Let’s focus on the larger reality, shall we? The Washington area, including the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, is one of the very richest in America! By extension, that means we’re among the most wealthy, privileged people in the world, and in all of history. Get it? Wealth and privilege.

Why do we whine so much?

How could this wealthy, privileged megalopolis have allowed its Metro subway system to fall into disrepair? Why is every decision to build a school or give teachers or police a raise controversial? Why is raising the paltry $7.25 minimum wage a big deal?

150px-democratslogoWith so much affluence and wealth** in Maryland, why do politicians constantly bicker like spoiled children over who gets a bigger slice of cake? I’m looking at you, fellow Democrats, since we’re in the majority.

Nothing focuses the attention of Maryland pols quite as much as allocating money to build schools, or highways, anyplace in the state. Please don’t mention highways and mass transit in mixed company. Highway people fight with mass transit people like cattlemen and sheep herders in the old West.

With so much wealth, Maryland can afford to fund all its needs. We ought to be counting our blessings and giving thanks for our privileged location, not sulking and fighting.

Problem is, people who have big money or control big money don’t want to part with it. The affluent and the wealthy, and their representatives, want to keep what they have, and earn or steal more. Most of all, they want to avoid paying taxes at all costs.

Highest incomes in the nation

Four counties in Virginia are among the top ten in the nation every year, based on median household income. They are Loudoun, Falls Church, Fairfax and Arlington. Prince William County and Stafford County are either in the top ten or close. Three other top-ten counties are in New Jersey.

Poor Maryland. Only Howard County and Montgomery County are consistently in or near the top ten.

However, four more Maryland counties — Charles, Calvert, Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s — are among the 30 highest earning counties, out of 3,000 across the country, according to The Washington Post. Click here for the Post story.

Montgomery in truth, has slipped in recent years. I can remember when MoCo was among the three richest counties in America, year after year. Montgomery was No. 12  in 2012, with median household of only $94,365, the Post reported. Got that? Montgomery was No. 12, ahead of about 2,988 counties. Howard was No. 4, with $108,234 median household income.

The level of incomes in different parts of the country are all relative and must be taken in context. People who move here from other parts of the country are usually shocked by the prices when they buy a house or rent an apartment.

It’s not easy, making ends meet in Montgomery County, even with two paychecks, on $94,365 a year. If you’ve got a child in college, you’re pressed to the wall. Some of the folks in Chevy Chase and Potomac are among the truly wealthy. But the high cost of living is nearly everywhere.

People living in places like Wheaton, White Oak, Rockville, Gaithersburg, Germantown are ordinary, middle-class or working-class Americans, just trying to get by, paycheck to paycheck. Nevertheless, in a state as affluent as Maryland, every school should be a first-rate facility with excellent teachers, whether it be in Chevy Chase or Germantown. The schools in Prince George’s County should be as well-funded as the schools in Howard County.

Talking seriously about WEALTH . . .

** All this stuff about affluence and wealth has a number of angles. The median household income, keep in mind, is basically household paychecks.

A paycheck of $108,234 in Howard County doesn’t classify anyone as “wealthy” or “rich.” It doesn’t put anyone even near the “top one percent.” At best, people earning these median incomes in Howard and Montgomery, and across the river in Virginia, can be classified as “affluent,” in my opinion.

Of course “median” means half of all the households earn more than the median, half earn less. Some people make $1 million, or $5 million, a year, while the median in Montgomery is less than $100,000. The “average” household income, therefore, is much higher than the median.

Real wealth, in my opinion, is measured by much more than annual income. Many of the wealthy may arrange things so that they have no “taxable income.” None. But they’re still plenty wealthy.

Real wealth is measured in the value of property — real estate, bank accounts, jewelry, artwork, pleasure boats and airplanes — and in ownership of profitable businesses, or ownership of stocks and bonds. There’s a lot of this “real wealth” in Maryland, and it’s not necessarily in the suburban counties where the affluent earn their paychecks. Consider the waterfront estates on the Chesapeake Bay, in counties like Talbot County.

The takeaway

The bottom line, however you define wealth or affluence, is that Maryland, with six counties among the top 30 in the nation in median income, is a very affluent state. And that’s without taking into account the real wealth, the waterfront property and corporate wealth.

Maryland has more than enough wealth and resources to pay for all public needs. There’s no need to fight about money for schools or transportation. The question is: Does Maryland have the will to pay for schools and transportation?

— John Hayden

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American Politics According To Alice Waters

Alice Waters at JWU: Lecturn

ALICE WATERS  (Photo credit: Andy Ciordia)

Alice Waters, a leading light in the movement for nutritious, organic, and local food, was interviewed in the Washington Post this week. One quote would be a good meditation for all who are concerned about the human condition in America, as we approach the 2014 midterm elections.

“I’m in this very political place right now and feel like we have to collaborate in different ways to make a big impression, to change the way that we are living our lives, which is destroying our health and the planet. I certainly want to feel like I have tried to take care of this planet for the kids of this world. I really have to do something.”

Please focus your attention on the word “collaborate.”

Politicians have oversized egos. Continue reading

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A Brief History of the Boomer Generation

(Note: This essay was written in 2009 as a WordPress “page.” It’s become buried and hard to find, so I thought it time to republish it properly as a “post,” complete with categories and tags.)

MY PARENTS were born in 1920, which seems now to be in a different historical era. They were children in the Roaring ’20s, teenagers through the Great Depression, young adults at the beginning of World War II.

They are the Greatest Generation. They put off everything to fight the war. Then the boys came home — the ones who survived — and started making up for lost time. They attended college in greater numbers than ever before, under the GI Bill, married and bought brand new ticky-tacky houses with VA loans. And they had children. Did they ever.

The Greatest Generation shared hardship, service, accomplishment, victory. Then they settled down and didn’t look back much. As they had devoted themselves to country in the 1940s, they devoted themselves to work and family in the 1950s and 1960s. They created my generation.

We’re the Baby Boomer generation. We are NOT the greatest, not even close, as Garrison Keeler wryly observed.

THINGS LOST-- AMERICA WENT FROM FAMILY DINNER TO FAST FOOD IN ONE GENERATION.  --John Hayden photo

THINGS LOST– AMERICA WENT FROM FAMILY DINNER TO FAST FOOD IN ONE GENERATION. –John Hayden photo

We have shared history from the 1950s — polio shots and “duck and cover.”  The children of the 50s and 60s grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, with an awareness of unseen nuclear danger in the world, as well as a gradual awakening to inequality in America.

Though others see us as a monolithic cohort, the Boomer generation was divided in the 1960s and early 1970s by different, even opposite experiences. Many of us went to college, and many did not. We went to Vietnam, or we opposed the war (some did both).

The country cracked apart, during the 1960s, along social and economic lines. First the Civil Rights Movement, then the Vietnam War and the Peace Movement. The divide deepened and hardened in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Make love not war. Don’t trust anyone over 30.   Continue reading

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Maryland’s Political Divide Part 2, Gun Control

MD flag 2

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, you can find it here.

The House of Delegates gun control vote yesterday, 78-61, looks strangely familiar. It’s nearly a carbon copy of the recent gas tax vote, 76-63. What’s up with that?

If you think Maryland is a deep-blue state with an invincible Democratic majority, those two votes seem hard to explain. Democrats hold a majority, 98-43, in the House of Delegates.

But looking closer, it’s clear that Maryland isn’t immune from the blue-red divide afflicting the rest of America. Far from it.  Continue reading

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Maryland’s Political Divide Part 1, Gas Tax

MD flag 2

PART ONE OF A SERIES

The vote on the gasoline tax in the Maryland House of Delegates gives us an interesting snapshot of the political balance in Maryland, a state considered to be among the bluest of the blue. The picture might not exactly match the popular perception.  Continue reading

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Uncommonly Good Books By Great American Writers

It’s not exactly writer’s block. But I have chronic difficulty writing about exceptional  books and great American authors.

How long has it been since I promised to finish my review of J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy?”  Is it a novel about small-town life, or hypocrisy, or intolerance, or poverty? Local politics gone crazy, or class warfare? Darned if I know. I’d have to read the whole thing again to sort it all out. (Rowling is British, but her story resounds in American culture.)

As I read the final page of “The Casual Vacancy,” I was struck speechless. Partly it’s a sense of grief that the book is over. Partly it’s awe at the author’s virtuoso performance. What can I say but, “Bravo!”?

ANN PATCHETT

ANN PATCHETT

Among contemporary authors, Ann Patchett amazes me the most. I never wrote a word about Patchett’s “State of Wonder.” What could I say? What kind of story is it, science fiction? Corporate treachery vs. scientific deception? Human hubris? The premise is a discovery so unlikely that you find yourself believing it, combined with an adventure so implausible that it has to be real. Yet it’s all nothing more than a figment — an elaborate figment — of Patchett’s hyperactive imagination! (Patchett and the following authors are all American originals.)

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Kindle Fire — Power Failure In A Fancy Box

UPDATE, NOV. 16, 2012:  Happy to report that I’ve received two emails from Amazon in response to my phone calls. Bottom line:

“In order to resolve this issue please de register and re register your Kindle Fire HD to the same Amazon.com account. In order to De register and Re register please follow the steps:

Swipe your finger down from the top of the Home screen and tap More . . .”

I followed the directions and re-registered my Kindle, which wasn’t hard. Presto, my material was again visible on the carousel. Using the information I’ve learned in the last two days, I made sure everything was downloaded from the “cloud” to the “device.”

I also browsed through the apps store and downloaded several interesting apps. Most of them were free, and I paid 99 cents for one. The Kindle can do a lot of stuff, and I’m slowly learning how.  — John

END UPDATE

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WHAT COMES IN THE BOX?

I titled my first product review (of a digital camera) “Power In A Box.” The first and most important information I want to know when purchasing a new high-tech device is: WHAT COMES IN THE BOX?

Regarding the camera,the answer was: “Everything you need, and it’s a powerful product.”

Regarding the Kindle Fire, the answer is: “Not so much.”

In the photo above, you can see the fancy box for the Kindle Fire HD 7″ and EVERYTHING THAT COMES IN THE BOX. It’s exactly as stated in the small print on the back of the box:

“USB charging cable included. Ask for the Kindle PowerFast accelerated charging accessory for even faster charging times.”

This latest consumer technology is pretty much ready to go, right out of the box. Or so I thought.

I followed the directions on the black card you see in the photo above, which constitutes the entire written documentation and instructions included in the box.

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Maryland Election Ballot Questions: In-State Tuition, Redistricting, Same-Sex Civil Marriage, Gambling Expansion

See that line? That’s the first-day of early voting at Berlin in Worcester County, Maryland.

You can expect long lines at Maryland polling places for the Presidential Election on Tuesday. The reason: Ballot questions that voters know are important, so they take the time to read all the questions in the voting booth and make their decisions. The solution: Get familiar with the ballot questions before you go to vote. Do this on Sunday or Monday. Make your decisions and mark them on your sample ballot or just jot them down on a scrap of paper. Or print out this post and take it with you. Walk into the polling booth, vote, and you’re out in three minutes. But you’ll still have to stand in line, because most people won’t take a few minutes to prepare themselves in advance.

The following comments on four of the ballot questions represent the opinions of the blogger.

QUICK GUIDE TO THE FOUR MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS ON THE MARYLAND BALLOT

QUESTION 4, REFERENDUM: HIGHER EDUCATION, TUITION RATES.

Quick recommendation: QUESTION 4: VOTE FOR THE QUESTION.

Question 4 is the in-state tuition referendum, AKA the Dream Act referendum. Authorizes in-state and in-county tuition rates for all true residents of Maryland, including undocumented immigrants. It’s been passed by both houses of the General Assembly after considerable debate, and signed into law by the governor.

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J.K. Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy,” Book Review, Take 1

“The Casual Vacancy”  is instantly notorious because it’s J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. It comes with a prominent black “X” on the cover, fair warning that between these covers you’ll find a subject that’s TABOO in America.

The subject is class warfare and classism. Ms. Rowling’s story takes place in England, and you have to remember that the British and Europeans are not as squeamish about class issues as we Americans. Until recently, we’ve been in full denial.

(If you’d like to read my preview of Casual Vacancy before you start the review, see J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy — Prices Slashed.)

Ms. Rowling takes the micro approach to class warfare, focusing on the lives, relationships, and foibles of the individual men, women and children of one small town in England. The macro alternative would be a “God’s-eye view,” examining society from a distance. Rowling understands that you need to get up close and personal to understand classism and class warfare.

In the first 100 pages of Casual Vacancy, Rowling introduces an average of one new character every two pages.

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Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake in “Trouble With The Curve”

You want romance and character development? See Bull Durham.  Justin Timberlake and Amy Adams in Trouble With The Curve aren’t in the same league with Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham.

Trouble With The Curve is all Clint Eastwood. The romance is fluff. Baseball is only the setting. Trouble With The Curve is about life and loss, failure and decline, maybe even aging gracefully. Not that I’m calling Clint Eastwood graceful.

Trouble With The Curve begins as a baseball movie that only a grumpy old man could love. But it fools you like a curveball in the dirt, and turns into, of all things, a chick flick. It might be the best baseball/romance combination since Bull Durham. Both movies are about life-changing events, about going with the curveballs life throws at you.

How do you get away with casting Clint Eastwood and Justin Timberlake in the same film? You add Amy Adams as daughter of the old man and love interest of the young one.

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