Warning: Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me post ahead. Surf away if you desire happiness and light.
To my friends and family I've been squawking a long time about our government's steady erosion of our civil rights, and our protections from entities more powerful than us. If you don't have civil rights, you have nothing, because nothing really belongs to you (such as your house, your privacy, your life). For example, if the government can take your house and money for suspicion of a crime, as they can with civil asset forfeiture - brought to us by the drug war but steadily expanded since - then at any given time you are vulnerable to anyone and everyone who has power over you or even merely dislikes you. Simply put, if the government can take all you own simply due to a rumor, then do you really have any civil rights or do you really own anything? Answer for those of you in the cheap seats: No.
The government, exploiting the terrorist attacks on our country by non-Americans, foisted the PATRIOT Act upon us, giving them further right to spy upon citizens, tap our phones if they simply feel like it, come into our houses without our knowledge or even a judge's consent, and they can even arrest and hold us secretly without due cause, bail, or a trial. Well over half of the Constitution is now completely irrelevant. (The only useful section of the PATRIOT Act was the new ability to tap all of a suspect's phones - mobile, landline, etc. That ONE part made sense, as long as the previous protections regarding the tapping of a citizen's phone were in place, which they're not anymore.)
Also, there have been other, smaller recent "privacy" acts. When I went to pick up a prescription recently, I had to sign a piece of paper showing that I had read and "consented to" the new privacy legislation which essentially allows any corporation, insurance agency (including about any private person who would claim to have some need for it), or the government to get all the information on which prescriptions I get. And, I had to specifically ask for a copy of the thing I was supposed to read and consent to; they expected me to sign without reading it. Not that it mattered. The simple math is that if I had not signed away my rights, I would have been unable to get my prescriptions. So, not only do I have to pee in a cup in front of a nurse (I had to do this once with a female nurse in the room to insure I wasn't cheating) to prove to my employer that I'm not doing anything illegal on my own time (and, of course, alerting their insurance carrier to any potential life-threatening - read "expensive" - diseases), I now have to let everyone who wants to know what I take to heal or deal with any diseases for infirmities. Is anyone else getting freaked about this shit besides me? (Was I the only one who saw "Gattica" as a realistic prediction of our future?)
Though it's not directly related to civil rights, part of the equation is the infamous "deregulation" of industry, especially media outlets. This, so far, has brought you soaring cable bills and the ruin of popular radio since media giants, like Clear Channel, now own most of the radio stations, and thus can control the content of radio across the nation. This is small potatoes against the gutting of environmental laws, and other regulations that keep companies from poisoning, firing, or otherwise killing you. Still, once we had laws which regulated media outlets because they were recognized as immensely powerful forces in influencing public opinion. In response to the realities of WWII and concerns about propaganda being fed to Americans, laws were passed that forbade Germany or Japan (and perhaps it was any foreign media company) to own radio stations or TV stations for fear they could be used for anti-American propaganda. This was a good idea. I think those laws are gone now. And, yet, who could have imagined the surrealistic situation in which we find ourselves where the Dixie Chicks say something bad about the President and are immediately banned from the airwaves because most of them are controlled by cronies of the President? Didn't any of these bozos have to take the history classes where we learned about McCarthyism and other abuses of/by the state that I did? (Even the freakin' spellchecker in Word knows the term "McCarthyism".) I've read blogs recently that say things like a media owner's suppression of opinions they don't like isn't "un-Democratic," it is simply their exercising their right to free speech by not allowing others to have it. Dear God!
The "Right to Work" act in Colorado, and a few other states - brought to you by "Big Business that Cares!" (Motto: "Fuck You! Have Some Cake!") - essentially strips away any and all claims one might have against an employer for unfair practices. The only law left in place on the side of the employee in Colorado is that you can sue to be paid for documented hours worked, and that's it. If you are fired or laid off in Colorado in a way that is illegal most other places, you are primarily introduced to the concept of "tough shit". Lawyers say they'll take your money if that's what you want, but don't expect a win. Example: My wife got laid-off this last December (the favorite month for layoffs as it allows accounting to adjust the year's books to make profits look better, and the side benefit of suicides cuts down on those requests for aid from the government), and as she was getting the "heave ho" notification, her replacements were being trained in not 5 feet from her. In most states, a lay-off means there's not enough work, so the company can get "relief" by letting folks go for no other reason than financial ones. Thus, training new workers to replace the old ones is illegal. But not in Colorado and other states with the "Right to Work" act on their books.
Now lest you think I'm some sort of commie pinko socialist, let me divest you of that notion. I think Capitalism works just fine, thank you. However, I do agree with most of the legislation that FDR and other intelligent leaders introduced after the country nearly went belly up for good after the Great Depression, a lot of which was caused by the very situation our Republican leaders are trying to restore. The average working guy/gal needs some protection against huge conglomerates that would prefer to be able to use us like Kleenex. There has to be balance. Allow layoffs, but then enforce the laws when a company is just trying to finagle the bottom line by sacrificing people's livelihoods. Keep the government out of our lives and keep their damned hands off our property, like the Constitution says.
Anyway, let's recap; so far we have:
- Civil Asset Forfeiture -- Allows the government to take any and all of your possessions and money via simple suspicion of illegal acts.
- PATRIOT Act (with sequel in the works) -- Destroys most of the Constitution, allowing you to be spied upon without proper controls, and then arrested and held secretly without legal recourse.
- Various "Privacy" Acts -- Meaning you have none. And pee in this cup while you're at it; you look like a Democrat.
- "Deregulation" of media -- Providing the environment where you can learn the latest opinion you must espouse to avoid running across any of the above list, unless someone feels like fucking with your life anyway.
- Right to Work -- 75 hours a week with no overtime, unless your employer needs to balance the books because they've run things badly or illegally, and your paycheck will come after the lawsuit and after you've lost your house and you can only rent a flat in Pottserville, and of course since your company owns Pottersville, your rent will be subtracted from the check.
And now, to top it all off, the current wingnut Republicans are continuing their gutting of America by trying to remove laws concerning overtime and by changing when a company can decide to pay you for work you've done. Short version, they want all overtime gone, they want to replace it with "comp time", and if you still want overtime pay rather than comp time, the company can decide to pay you up to a year or so later, all that time earning interest on your money they've held back from you. (See the Molly Ivins' article below for details on "Consider the Family Time and Workplace Flexibility Act" (Senate version) and the "Family Time Flexibility Act" (House version).)
Is there an explanation for this other than it's just COMPLETELY FUCKING EVIL?
TLD: Notice how almost all legislation anymore is named the exact opposite of what the true intent of the laws are to be?
Note: I've included the whole article because www.creators.com doesn't provide permanent links to articles. Nonetheless: here's a link to Molly Ivins' current articles: http://www.creators.com/opinion_show.cfm?columnsName=miv
RELEASE: THURSDAY, APRIL 24, 2003, AND THEREAFTER
AUSTIN, Texas -- Boy, there is no shortage of creatively terrible ideas from the Republican Party these days. Those folks are just full of notions about how to make people's lives worse -- one horrible idea after another bursting out like popcorn -- and all of them with these sickeningly cute names attached to them.
Consider the Family Time and Workplace Flexibility Act (Senate version) and the Family Time Flexibility Act (House version). The Bush administration is leading the charge with proposed new rules that will erode the 40-hour workweek and affect more than 80 million workers now protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
To hear the Republicans tell it, you'd think these were family-friendly bills, something like Clinton's Family Leave Act, designed to help you balance the difficult combined demands of work and family. With such a smarm of butter over their visages do the Republicans go on about the joys of "flexibility" and "freedom of choice" that you would have to read the bills for maybe 30 seconds before figuring out they're about repealing the 40-hour workweek and ending overtime.
As The American Prospect magazine notes, when Republicans talk about "flexibility," it means letting business do whatever it wants without standards, mandates or worker and consumer rights. Ever since FDR's New Deal, working overtime gets you time-and-a-half in money, which has the happy effect of holding the work week down to 40 hours -- or at least preventing it from ballooning grossly.
The proposed Bush rules, which the two Republican bills codify and expand, would:
-- Exclude previously protected workers who were entitled to overtime by reclassifying them as managers. Companies are already using this ploy where they can get away with it. Say you're frying burgers on the night shift at McDonald's, making overtime, and suddenly -- congratulations -- you're the assistant night manager, with no raise and no overtime.
-- Eliminate certain middle-income workers from overtime protections by adding an income limit, above which workers no longer qualify for overtime. You like that? You make too much to earn overtime.
-- Remove overtime protection from large numbers of workers in aerospace, defense, health care, high tech and other industries.
Pay attention, this one is coming right out of your paycheck.
Big Bidness is lobbying hard on these bills. If you work overtime to pay your bills, look out. The trick is, employers get to substitute comp time for overtime, and the employers get the right to decide when -- or even if -- a worker gets to take his or her comp time. The legislation provides no meaningful protection against employers requiring workers to take time off instead of cash and no protection against employers assigning overtime only to workers who agree to take time instead of cash. Everybody gets screwed on this one, except the bosses. Isn't it lovely?
The proposed rules changes and the Republican bills provide a strong financial incentive for employers to lengthen the workweek, on top of an already staggering load. By 1999, in one decade, the average work year had expanded by 184 hours, according to Kevin Phillips' book "Wealth and Democracy."
He writes, "The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the typical American works 350 hours more per year than the typical European, the equivalent of nine work weeks."
The bills give employers a new right to delay paying any wages for overtime work for as long as 13 months. According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, under the new bills an employee who works overtime hours in a given week might not receive any pay or time off for that work until more than a year later, at the employer's discretion.
"Without receiving interest or security, the employees in essence lend their overtime pay to the employers in the hope of getting back some time later as paid time off," the report states. "Employees' overtime compensation is put at risk of loss in the event of business failure and closure, bankruptcy or fraud. Furthermore, employees get no guarantee of time off when they want or need it."
The EPI explains why Big Bidness loves these bills: "A company with 200,000 FLSA-covered employees might get 160 free hours at $7 an hour from each of them (160 hours is the maximum allowed under the bills). That's the equivalent of $224 million that the company wouldn't have to pay its workers for up to a year after the worker has earned it. Considering that, under normal circumstances, the employer might have to pay 6 percent interest for a commercial loan of this magnitude, it could save $13 million by relying on comp time to ‘borrow' from its employees instead."
The slick marketing and smoke on this one are a wonder to behold. We're being told that private sector workers will get the same "benefit" of comp time as public employees. Wow, keen, except the government has no profit motive for pushing comp time instead of overtime. Boy, does this stink.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Originally Published on Thursday April 24, 2003