Tuesday, January 30, 2007

-- Minimum Wage

One of the first items that the new House controlled by Democrats tackled was minimum wage and the long over-due need for an increase. This has been a sticking point in the Senate, as certain Republicans want to mire the passage with amendments and additions that would either make it impossible for the Democrats to vote to pass it, or pass it along with other laws that the Democrats don't want.

Fight nicely children.

First, we need to have legislation in this country that disallows the addition of amendments or additions to any bill unless they are specifically related to that legislation. The only amendments that should be included on a bill for minimum wage would be such amendments that actually amend that particular legislation, and not anything else.

One of the arguments that the right wing puts forward in their belief that the minimum wage does not need to be raised is that most of those people who earn the minimum wage are school-age young adults working part-time in after school jobs. We know that this is not true, however, I think we could add a few amendments to the minimum wage bill based on this.

Let's split the minimum wage law into two parts; Part A for adults (18 and over) and Part B for minors (under the age of 18). Part A goes forth exactly as stated, and any adult earning the minimum wage would have their salary raised based on the new legislation.

Part B would pertain only to those people under the age of 18, and would have additional laws attached to it. For example, these earners are high-school students, and the money they earn is probably not used to support a family, but goes to buying such things as CDs, iPods and clothing. In most cases, these earners are still living at home, and they just need a little spending money, and these earners, the Republicans argue, do not need an increase in their wages. Not raising their wages, however, allows them to be abused by their employers because of the low wages they earn.

So, to protect them, let's expand the law. Part B of the Minimum Wage Act of 2007 should include the following:

- The maximum number of hours a day a minor may work is eight.
- The maximum number of hours a week a minor may work is ten.
- For every four hour shift worked, a minor must receive one half hour paid break (work three and a half hours, take a thirty minute break).
- For every shift under four hours, a minor must receive a fifteen minute paid break for every two hours worked.
- Every minor who is still in school must maintain at least a C average in every subject, and any grade below a C will result in their immediate dismissal from employment until the next grading period when they can demonstrate that their grades have improved to at least a C in every subject.
- Minors may not begin work before 9:00 a.m.
- Minors may not end work after 9:00 p.m.
- Minors minimum wage would be $7.00 per hour.

These amendments would ensure that no one takes unfair advantage of minors in hiring, and would keep employers from hiring minors over adults. These restrictions on minors would certainly make sense to add as amendments to the Minimum Wage Law, and would allow fair wages to be paid to those adults in America who are currently making minimum wage. Those people (represented in Part A) would make a higher wage, be allowed to work over-time, and have a better chance of supporting their families.

Part B employees (minors) would still be able to work, without working so many hours to cut into their school life, would not interfere with their time to do homework, and would give them a little spending money and the chance to earn that money themselves, without risk of being taken advantage of based on their age.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

-- George W. Bush's Lamest Speech Yet

The following are excerpts from tonight’s speech by the President-select of the United States, along with my comments:

Tonight in Iraq, the armed forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror - and our safety here at home.

The “global war on terror” that he's referring to is actually limited to Iraq, which is hardly global. Iraq, whether historically or currently was never a threat to us here at home. Typical for W; he has used the word “terror” in some form or other in every speech he has given since the attack on the World Trade Center. It’s his way of keeping America afraid, which he used to his advantage to attack an innocent nation.

When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation. The elections of 2005 were a stunning achievement. We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together - and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.

Who is “we” exactly? Most of the world felt that invading Iraq was a bad idea. Much of America did too, for that matter, but one person refused to listen. This was never “our” mission, this was George W. Bush’s mission, and it’s been a huge failure. Own up to the miserable mess you've made, George. Three messes, if you include your drunken daughters.

Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.

Finally, an ounce of truth.

It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq. ... Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.

No, failure in Iraq would be a disaster for George W. Bush. This is your mess, not America’s. Own up to your own disgrace and stop trying to put it on the rest of America. By the way, the majority of us didn't elect you. Keep that in mind.

On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.

Of course he had to bring in 9/11, even though Iraq had nothing to do with that. As always, he tries to obfuscate the truth and mislead the American public by throwing his 9/11 red herring across the path.

So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.

This in spite of the fact that twice in the past year we have sent additional troops into Baghdad, only to be shown that it won’t work. The time to send in a large army is at the start of a war, not when you’re trying to end one. According to some experts, even 20,000 troops won’t be enough. We would need over 100,000 troops, and to get that many additional soldiers would require a draft.

America's men and women in uniform took away al Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan - and we will not allow them to re- establish it in Iraq.

Right, and we got bin Laden too, didn’t we?

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity - and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. ... We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria.

And if that doesn’t work, we’ll just attack Iran and Syria, just like we attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. We have the troops, don't we? George seems to think we have an unlimited supply.

We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.

We don’t do “intelligence sharing” within our own government, but we’re going to do it with other nations?

On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life.

Just as we destroyed theirs.

The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will.

And look at how successful W’s track record is so far. And who is he referring to when he says “our” new strategy? This is his strategy, and there isn’t anything new about it.

Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved.

In other words, we won’t be the winners.

We also need to examine ways to mobilize talented American civilians to deploy overseas - where they can help build democratic institutions in communities and nations recovering from war and tyranny.

I suggest we send Barbara Bush for starters. She really is the one who created this mess in the White House. Oh, and George H. W. Bush too. Send him with her. He has new hips now, so he doesn't have an excuse not to go and work to improve his country. W. can join him in two years, when he'll be out of the White House and will need something to do.

These young Americans understand that our cause in Iraq is noble and necessary - and that the advance of freedom is the calling of our time.

Our cause in Iraq has neither been noble nor necessary. There were better ways to deal with Saddam than attacking his country, but George W. Bush refused to listen to any voice of reason who tried to tell him this. George was out for blood, and no one could stop him. In that, he has succeeded.

And what did the Republicans have to say about George’s speech?

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina: "President Bush made a very persuasive case for strategy change. I appreciate his willingness to acknowledge past mistakes and chart a new course to achieve victory in Iraq."

Wipe that brown off your nose, Lindsey.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas: "Simply abandoning Iraq now, as some would have us do, would ensure failure and put America's national security at risk. The strategy presented tonight represents a real opportunity for peace and stability in Iraq."

In the first place, how would America’s national security be at risk? Iraq never attacked us, and certainly does not have the weaponry to attack us now, so this doesn’t put us at risk, it puts the credibility of the Republican party at risk, and in case you haven’t been paying attention, the nation has already caught on to you guys. This strategy does nothing to ensure peace in Iraq.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon: "Iraqis need to be their own street cops, not U.S. forces. This is the president's Hail Mary pass. Now it is up to the Iraqi Army to catch the ball.”

Because if you want to make your point, use a sports analogy!

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: "We are paying a very heavy price for it, but I do believe we can win."

Write this down, everyone, so when McCain is running for President in ’08 you can remember why you should NOT vote for him.

Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich: "At this point I am skeptical that a surge in troops alone will bring an end to sectarian violence and the insurgency. What we need first is a political solution between Sunni Arabs and Shia militias that are adding to the violence."

Wow, a Republican with common sense. There is a God!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

-- Ethics in our Government

I spent the last eleven years working for a major accounting firm, and one of the things that I dealt with was independence. In accounting, independence means remaining distant from the client, as in not holding stock in the company. Independence isn't just a good idea, it's the law, and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). With the passage of the Sarbanes Oxley Act (possibly the most useless piece of legislation ever to disgrace our nation), accountants are now even more independent of their clients in that they are not allowed to work for those clients whose audits they worked on without a one year cooling off period.

Doesn't it seem that our elected officials and those people who they appoint to government jobs should be held to the same standard? If accountants in the private sector must maintain independence from their clients, why doesn't the government follow the same practice?

Why is John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General now heading up his own company that represents clients seeking to do business with the government? The following is from Wikipedia:

In May 2005, Ashcroft laid the groundwork for a strategic consulting firm which bears his name. The Ashcroft Group, LLC officially opened its doors in the Fall of 2005 and as of March 2006 had lined up 21 clients, turning down two for every one accepted.

In 2005 year-end filings, Ashcroft's firm reported collecting $269,000, including $220,000 from Oracle Corporation, which won Department of Justice approval of a multibillion-dollar acquisition less than a month after hiring Ashcroft. The income totals that Ashcroft has reported so far represent in some cases only initial payments.

According to government filings, Oracle is one of the Ashcroft Group’s five clients which seek his help in selling data or software with homeland security applications. Another client, Israel Aircraft Industries International, is competing with Chicago's Boeing Company to sell the government of South Korea a billion-dollar airborne radar system. The Ashcroft Group is also registered to represent Choicepoint, eBay, Exegy, Alanco Technologies, LTU Technologies and Trafficland, Inc.

In March 2006, the New York Times reported that Ashcroft was setting himself up as something of an "anti-Abramoff", and that in an hour long interview, Ashcroft used the word integrity scores of times. In May 2006, based on conversations with members of Congress, key aides and lobbyists, The Hill magazine listed Ashcroft as one of top 50 "hired guns" that K Street had to offer. In August 2006, the Washington Post reported that Ashcroft's firm had 30 clients, many of which made products or technology aimed at homeland security, and about a third of which the firm has not disclosed, to protect client confidentiality. The firm also had equity stakes in eight client companies. It reported receiving $1.4 million in lobbying fees in the past six months, a small fraction of its total earnings.

If an accountant must maintain independence, why not a government employee? While Ashcroft was not an elected official (he was appointed), shouldn't he be under the same standards as those in the private sector? Why don't we have legislation stating that former employees of the government are forbidden from becoming lobbyists, or otherwise representing clients to the government?

Gale Norton is another example. In 2001 she was sworn in as the first female Secretary of the Interior, a job she held for the next five years. Now she has taken a job with the largest oil company in Europe, Royal Dutch Shell. As Secretary of the Interior her responsibility was supposed to be to the land of this nation, and now she works for a company that can easily destroy that land. Doesn't that seem like a conflict of interest?

Why are people working in the private sector held to a higher standard than our elected officials and those appointed by them? It seems to me that we need fair legislation in this country that would ensure that all people follow a simple code of ethics, and one item in the code must certainly be an elimination of any conflicts of interest.