Thursday, July 27, 2006
Even six years after he left office, people still enjoy bashing Bill Clinton. He doesn’t hold a public office anymore, so it’s difficult to understand why he’s still so hotly debated. The most common complaint about Mr. Clinton is one I know Dave will bring up; that he lied to the American public about the Monica Lewinsky affair, so how do we know he wasn’t lying about anything else? Unfortunately, because of this feeling, this episode will haunt Bill’s legacy forever. I have to point out that just because he lied about an issue which was personally embarrassing and of a private nature, this does not mean that he was untruthful in his capacity as the commander in chief. Unfortunately, the media was successful in making a personal issue a public one. Because of this political fiasco, Americans have forgotten Clinton’s political record, which is very unfortunate, as it was quite impressive. # The longest economic expansion in American history -- a record 115 months of growth. # More than 22 million new jobs were created in less than eight years -- the most ever under a single administration, and more than were created in the previous twelve years.# The Lowest unemployment rate in 30 years -- from 7 percent in 1993 to just 4.0 percent in November 2000. # The lowest crime rate in 26 years -- because of President Clinton’s comprehensive anti-crime strategy of tough penalties, more police, and smart prevention, as well as common sense gun safety laws, the overall crime rate declined for 8 consecutive years, the longest continuous drop on record.# The Family and Medical Leave Act was created for 20 million Americans -- over 20 million Americans have taken unpaid leave to care for a newborn child or sick family member.# The smallest welfare rolls in 32 years -- the President signed landmark bipartisan welfare reform legislation in 1996. Since then, caseloads have been cut in half, and millions of parents have joined the workforce. # Paid off $360 billion of the national debt -- between 1998-2000, the national debt was reduced by $363 billion — the largest three-year debt pay-down in American history.# Converted the largest budget deficit in American history to the largest surplus -- thanks in large part to the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act, the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, and President Clinton’s call to save the surplus for debt reduction, Social Security, and Medicare solvency. If the Lewinsky affair was completely erased from the record books, we would be left only with this record. This list is far from complete, and is still remarkable. I challenge Republicans to debate this political legacy, rather than focus on the former president’s private life. And for the record, Dave, despite my defense of the man, I too am angry with and disappointed in President Clinton for besmirching his record so foolishly -- just not enough to forget all of the good political works he accomplished while he was in office.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Who first came up with “have a nice day?” And did anyone ever actually mean it? It’s an expression that has been passed down for generations now, and I’m not sure anyone knows where exactly it started.When I worked in the service industry, I never used this phrase, because I don’t think it is very sincere. We usually hear these four words as we leave a cashier at the grocery store, gas station or other similar business. We often hear it from complete strangers when we’re on the phone, as well.Generally, the amount of enthusiasm and care given to uttering it are considerably dispassionate. On the other end of the spectrum, the fake enthusiasm given to saying it are enough to cause nausea.It has become the mandatory period to any conversation where one participant of the exchange is a member of the general public, and the other, a customer.Does the guy working behind the counter at the gas station really care if I have a nice day or not? He doesn’t even look up at me when he says it, and the amount of excitement in his voice is on par with saying something like “enjoy your root canal as much as I did mine.”I haven’t ever found myself pulling into the service station in a bad mood, paid for my gas, and miraculously turned my attitude around after being asked to “have a nice day” by a complete stranger.“Why, thank you very much, young man! I think I will just go out and have a nice day! That was all I needed!”Okay, that was a little too sarcastic, I know.But why do we say it? What is it adding to the human experience? I advocate that we discontinue this worn tradition and instead replace it with a genuine, sincere conversation between customers and the businesses that they patronize. Or, as a service employee, if you choose not to engage the customer in any type of joyless banter, feel free not to do so. The lack of a conversation is better than a canned corporate sentiment doled out with the most minimal of intensity. Now, I’m not being pessimistic, or disparaging to anyone in particular. Once in a while, someone bids me a good day and I think they actually do wish me some good will. There are some actually genuine folks out there asking me to have that nicest of days -- but that is the choice of the person doing the talking -- they shouldn’t feel obligated to do so because of tradition or some ridiculous company policy.I think we need to free service industry workers from feeling that they have to wish me good will. If you are waiting on me, folks, you’re off the hook. Don’t go too far the other way, though, you still have to be pleasant.If someone leaves a bad tip, or is difficult, these hard working, often low paid service workers aren’t allowed to say “have a bad day,” so why force anyone to say the opposite if they don’t want to? When I was a waiter, (for what seemed like an eternity), there were many times that I held my tongue when people snapped their fingers at me, or treated me with a level of condescension previously reserved for bottom-feeding members of the lowest echelon of society. I found that in those situations, it was better to just not say anything at all, lest I say something I might regret. I surely didn’t want any of these bad eggs to have anything resembling a nice day after they left my company. I actually wished for quite the opposite.Why not just cast away the catch-phrase “have a nice day” forever? Blot it out of the public consciousness. Pretend it never existed. It may even feel liberating for us all, who knows?And while we’re at it, lets do away with asking each other “how are you doing today?”, when calling complete strangers on the phone. Nothing tips me off to a telemarketer more quickly than picking up the phone, hearing my first name pronounced “clean”, and then being asked how I am doing today by an unrecognized voice from some telemarketing warehouse in Idaho. He doesn’t care how I’m doing. Its just something that’s written on his little telemarketing script. Sometimes I just say “horrible, I just lost my job, my dog was hit by a car, and I found out I have cancer. How is your day going?”He lied when he pretended to care how I’m doing, so I’m just returning the favor. So, if you don’t mean it, lets do each other a favor and just skip all of the fake sentimentalities, especially “have a nice day.” Wish me a nice life, or a nice month, or something more original, instead.Cean Burgeson can contacted during one of his nice days at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, July 06, 2006
On my recent trip to Norway, I was introduced to what is referred to as “social democracy.” From what I can gather, this means paying higher taxes in exchange for a larger range of benefits from the government. Upon hearing this idea, many Americans get scared. No politician in our country attempts to win an election by touting the need for higher taxes. I admit, I don’t like going out of pocket any more than I have to as far as Uncle Sam is concerned, but I wonder if we might pause for a moment and examine the benefits of a political system designed solely for the welfare of its citizens.The first thing that people think of when socialism is mentioned is the concept of “socialized medicine.” U.S. politicians describe a system like this as one in which access to doctors is strictly controlled and there are long lines to receive treatment or medications. In my queries of several Norwegian citizens, this doesn’t seem to be the case. None of the folks I spoke to voiced these concerns, and one of the people I interviewed was a cancer survivor who says that she received excellent care -- with no delays -- and was very happy with the way in which her disease was treated. Persons who fall ill in Norway are guaranteed medical treatment. The health service is a cornerstone of the Norwegian welfare state. Universal access to quality public health care is the Norwegian authorities’ goal. As a basic principle, health services are distributed according to need – not according to ability to pay.All of the programs under control of the Norwegian government appear to a tourist such as myself to be well administered and orderly. The public transportation was excellent, the buildings and streets were clean and well maintained, and there were walking/running/biking paths everywhere. Norway’s citizens must use these paths too, as we didn’t see a single obese person while we were there. The inhabitants I met all seemed to be happy, healthy, and content. They should be; they are far less stressed than Americans. They generally end their work day between 3 and 4 o’clock, they don’t have to pay for a college education, and they are guaranteed health and welfare benefits.Residents of Norway have a right to economic assistance and other forms of community support during illness, old age or unemployment. About 35 percent of the state’s budget is spent on the Norwegian health and social welfare system. The retirement age in Norway is 67. For the rest of their lives, retired Norwegians receive an old age pension from the National Insurance Fund. All Norwegian residents are guaranteed a minimum pension, and they receive about half their previous salaries. When pregnant, women who have been employed for at least six of the last ten months are entitled to a maternity leave with full pay. The mother can choose between 42 weeks of leave with full pay or 52 weeks with 78 percent pay. Four weeks of the leave must be taken by the father (the paternity quota). Once the children arrive and the parents return to work, the government compensates them for a portion of the funds they use for daycare, and even rewards those who don’t choose to use daycare.I tried very hard to find a drawback to socialized democracy, and I could only find one area which was a bit trickier than in our own system. There apparently was a problem with alcoholism in Norway a while back, and as a result they have a zero tolerance policy in regards to drinking and driving. As a result, you cannot purchase beer after 8 p.m. on weekdays, 6 p.m. on Saturday, and no alcohol is sold on Sundays. We have states and counties like this in the U.S., so this isn’t an entirely alien idea, and quite honestly, is limiting drinking and/or driving ever a bad idea?So why does the idea of modern socialism really scare us so much? In Norway they have free elections, a political system with several parties, (to our two), and a free press. There are state television stations, but also several commercial stations. I heard American music on the radio, and they didn’t even edit out the bad words. There are newspapers which support the mainstream as well as radical views, and the state appears to let them go about their business without intervention.I’ll tell you why I think we get so scared of this “radically different” idea of government. First off, we don’t want to increase our taxes; but if we are receiving so much more in return, why not? That leads to our second fear -- bigger government. I don’t want to live in a world where big brother controls my every move, but didn’t we elect our politicians under the guise that they would create a government that would take care of the needs of its citizenry? While no system is perfect, and I’m sure Norway’s isn’t, it’s certainly possible to extract a few of their ideas for use under our own democratic system without substantially changing the level of freedom we as Americans demand. As we stand on the brink of a social security and health-care crisis in this country, I think it would behoove our governing bodies to think outside the box a little and examine systems in use around the world that seem to be working a little better than our own.Cean Burgeson can be reached at email@example.com