Tuesday, March 21, 2006

U.S. Ill-Prepared For What Forecasters Say Will Be Another Brutal Year For Hurricanes


The 2006 hurricane season officially begins only 10 weeks from now. Forecasters predict it will be harsh. And despite what George W. Bush says, the U.S. is ill-prepared.

Weather data company MDA EarthSat reports that this year, the U.S. could again face storms as strong as Hurricane Katrina, which killed over 1,400 people and destroyed most of New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast.

Granted, it's only a forecast---but recall that last year's hurricane season was more devastating than forecasters had predicted. Forecasters had anticipated eight to nine hurricanes in 2005. In reality, the U.S. was slammed by 13 hurricanes, the most ever.

In addition, 2005 saw an unprecedented three hurricanes reach Category 5 status. It was almost as if Mother Nature was saying "Screw You!" to those Republicans who doubt the existence of global warming.

If we're indeed facing a repeat of the devastating 2005 hurricane season, this is grim news for Americans. After all, victims of Katrina's devastation are still digging out of the rubble. Over 1,300 people are still missing.

And, with less than three months before the start of the 2006 hurricane season, New Orleans' levees still have not been rebuilt to withstand a hurricane of even less strength than Katrina. Indeed, two teams of independent experts recently reported that large rebuilt sections of the levees will be substantially weaker than before Katrina hit.

Anyone looking for answers about why the U.S. remains ill-prepared for the upcoming hurricane season needs to look no further than the Bush White House's recent report on Katrina. The 228-page report, released in February, was nothing more than a transparent cover-up that held no government officials accountable and proposed no sanctions of any kind.

Anyone who has followed the tragic incompetence of the Bush White House for the past five years can't be feeling confident as we head into another hurricane season. Bush's staggering incompetence as Katrina roared toward the U.S. was demonstrated in the recent release of video footage that showed desperate disaster officials warning Bush that the storm could breach levees and put lives at risk. As the tapes show, Bush didn't ask a single question and then lied as he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

I get the feeling that things won't be much different this summer, as Bush retreats to his Crawford ranch for his annual five-week vacation. If history has taught us anything, it's that Bush doesn't learn from his mistakes---and time and time again, it's the American people who suffer the consequences.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Speaking Of Civil War, Could It Happen Here?


Media pundits have been abuzz lately, pondering whether Iraq is headed toward civil war.

The New York Times Baghdad bureau chief John F. Burns says he believes civil war has already been under way for some time. On the other hand, George W. Bush continues to show that he is dangerously out of touch with what's going on in Iraq.

As Iraq descends into bloody chaos and anarchy, I increasingly wonder if the U.S. could be facing a civil war itself one of these days. For a start, in many ways, this country is as polarized as it was at the dawn of America's first civil war.

Don't believe me?

If you think the Bush-bashing and partisan outrage is robust on the Web's progressive sites, then spend a few hours listening to the hate-spewers over on right-wing radio and Fox News these days.

Day after day, right-wing nut cases like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly slime and smear the Left, accusing us of everything from hating America, to treason, to giving aid and comfort to our nation's enemies.

America's long-poisoned well of political debate is now the equivalent of a dry, gasoline-soaked powder keg. All it would take is a spark to set it off into conflagration.

It's easy to imagine how all of this could eventually lead to violence in the streets some day. Any one of a number of factors could be the igniting spark.

For example, let's say that Bush decides to invade Iran: a very real possibility. Are America's progressives going to continue to sit idly by while Bush continues to launch war after war? The disastrous Iraq war is already unpopular enough; it's hard to fathom the popular backlash that a war on Iran would provoke.

There are a number of other potential sparks that could set off a civil war in the U.S. Many progressives (as well as independents) already believe that the 2000 election was a fraud. A growing number of us believe that the exit polls showing a Kerry victory demonstrated that the 2004 election was a fraud, as well. What if we see another highly suspect election in November?

Are those of us who aren't Republican fanatics going to continue to sit on our thumbs while the right-wing in this country continues to blatantly steal elections? I don't think so. Sooner or later, the people will realize that the sort of change that America needs can only be achieved by taking to the streets.

Other factors could be the igniting spark: civil unrest caused by a sudden crash in the dollar's value, caused by the out-of-control Bush deficits. Or an economic depression, caused by a sudden hike in the price of oil.

Last but not least, let's speculate for a moment what will likely happen if another 9/11-style attack hits America. It's almost certain that Bush will use this opportunity to launch a massive crackdown on the civil liberties he hasn't already stolen from us.

No doubt, the fanatical BushBots out there will predictably support this move, (just as they supported Bush's illegal wiretaps). But how about the rest of us? Are we going to sit around idly while Bush completes the job of turning America into a full-fledged police state?

Civil war in America? I really don't think it's that far-fetched.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Congress Gives Itself Hefty Pay Hikes While Refusing To Increase Minimum Wage


For the past nine years, Congress has declined to raise the minimum wage, which is $5.15/hour. During that same period, Congress has voted to give itself one fat pay raise after another.

In 1997, members of Congress made $133,600/year. Today, their pay is $165,200/year, (which includes a generous $3,100 pay hike that members of Congress awarded themselves last year).

With the U.S. government facing a record budget deficit of over $8 trillion, it's disturbing that Congress is so generous with our tax dollars in giving itself raises. Surely, members of Congress aren't deluding themselves into believing that the American public approves of their job performance. In fact, polls show that the public has a dismal opinion of the way Congress is performing its job these days.

The most recent congressional pay hike comes on top of numerous other hefty pay hikes Congress has awarded itself in recent years. For example, in 2003, Congress voted to give itself a pay hike of $4,700. In 2002, the pay hike was $4,900. In 2001, it was $3,800. In 2000, it was $4,600. And on and on.

By refusing to increase the nation's Scrooge-like minimum wage, Congress is in effect annually cutting the wages of the millions of workers who struggle to get by on $5.15 an hour. Raising the minimum wage to $7.00 an hour would benefit 7.4 million workers directly, and another 8.2 million workers indirectly, according to a report on Almanac of Policy Issues.

Minimum wage isn't the only area in which Congress has been Scrooge-like. For example, the House has voted to cut health care and benefit programs for our nation's veterans by $85 billion. Clearly, members of Congress believe Americans need to tighten their belts---our lawmakers just don't want to share in the sacrifice themselves.

In real terms, America's current minimum wage is worth less than ever. Think Progress has pointed out that if the minimum wage today was worth what it was worth in 1968 (its peak value), it would be $8.88 an hour.

Nor are only minimum wage earners taking it on the chin in today's economy. In 2005, real wages for all the nation's civilian workers declined 2.3 percent, the largest such loss since 1981.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) recently introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would increase the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour over two years. To add your voice to a petition supporting this effort, go here.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Steel Workers Hit By Another Lockout As CEO Pockets Millions


AK Steel (which reported 2005 revenues of more than $5.7 billion) has once again locked out 2,700 union workers at its Middletown Works plant in Ohio, after their contract expired.

The company has been trying to reduce the workforce at the plant. It also aims to freeze the workers' existing pension plan and force workers to pick up a greater share of health-care costs, among other demands, according to ABC News.

However, there's one person who doesn't appear to have shared in the pain: AK Steel's CEO James L. Wainscott

According to Salary.com, Wainscott pocketed compensation of $2,292,172 for the fiscal year that ended in 2004. Other top executives don't seem to be doing too shabby either.

The news coverage I've seen of this episode make zero mention of AK Steel executives' hefty pay packages, an issue that's nothing new for this company.

In any case, I believe that all this demonstrates why unions (backed by fair labor laws) are necessary in the first place.