Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
August 23, 2004 5:38PM (UTC)

The Bush administration's pre-Labor Day "gift" to American workers: New overtime rules that Democrats and labor unions say will strip overtime pay from up to 6 million workers. The administration defends the rules by saying only 107,000 workers will lose overtime under what Labor Department officials are calling the "Fair Pay" initiative. But according to the Los Angeles Times, "no one really knows" how many workers will lose O.T. eligibility under the new rules. "That makes the issue harder to demonize politically, a benefit -- or a problem -- depending on the side you take."

But one thing is certain: Businesses and their lobbyists are loving it. From the Times: "The overhaul is the culmination of decades of lobbying by business groups representing retailers, restaurants, insurance companies, banks and others that have been hammered by workers' overtime lawsuits, many of them successful. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is facing dozens of lawsuits by workers claiming they were cheated out of overtime and worked off the clock. An appeals court upheld a $90-million verdict against Farmers Insurance Exchange, sued for overtime by claims adjusters. Other companies that have made multimillion-dollar payouts include Starbucks Corp., Radio Shack Corp., Rite Aid Corp. and Bank of America Corp. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao told Congress the new rules would help stop 'needless litigation' because they were designed to clarify who's entitled to overtime."

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With less than a week before what is supposed to be the mother of all RNC protests, there's still no deal on where hundreds of thousands of demonstrators can march in New York City. The New York Times reports: "At a moment when city officials and the protest's organizers, United for Peace and Justice, should be polishing the final details over the event next Sunday, they are instead locked in a court battle over the route of the march, which organizers say could draw 250,000 people. The group itself is fractured over how to proceed, and many protesters are vowing to use Central Park despite the vehement opposition of the city, which wants the rally to take place on the West Side Highway."

"Adding to the uncertainty are the boiling tensions between Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and officials and members of the police and firefighter unions, many of whom have been trailing him at his public events for weeks demanding a new contract and threatening illegal strikes or other job actions just as the city struggles to deal with the protests and the convention."

GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, the Senate Intelligence committee chair, added a little excitement to the proceedings on "Face the Nation" on Sunday when he unexpectedly brought with him plans to overhaul the intelligence system, including getting rid of the CIA, that he had not even shared with the White House. The Los Angeles Times reports that "the restructuring ... is the most aggressive intelligence reform plan offered since the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks released its final report last month. The commission offered a blueprint for overhauling the nation's spy services, but Roberts' plan goes beyond it -- and further than the positions taken thus far by President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry."

"Roberts' plan would break the CIA into three pieces, with each reporting to a separate branch of a new, overarching National Intelligence Service. That agency would be led by a director with 'complete budget and personnel authority' over all components of the nation's spy community, including major programs that for decades have been run by the Department of Defense."

Four suspects held at Guantánamo Bay will face historic military trials this week, the Washington Post reports. "Despite criticism that the commissions do not follow internationally accepted rules of law or procedures commonly used in military courts, U.S. officials pledged yesterday that the Guantanamo Bay trials will be fair."

" ... Defense attorneys assigned to the cases say the composition of the commissions and their rules and procedures will make it difficult, if not impossible, for their clients to get fair trials. They also say the president, the secretary of defense and the attorney general have all proclaimed publicly that the defendants are terrorists and the 'worst of the worst,' statements possibly prejudicing the military officers who will serve as jurors."

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"'Most people are extremely hostile toward terrorists and I understand that, but people should worry about this,' said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Philip Sundel, a military attorney assigned to defend one of the suspects. 'These commissions are a lie behind the claim that all men are created equal, that we are innocent until proven guilty, that we as a society believe in the rule of law above all else.'"

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has been covering black voter suppression tactics in Florida, including intimidation of black elderly voters in their homes by state troopers. In his column today Herbert looks at the state police investigation into get-out-the-vote activities by blacks as well as what he called "the state's blatant attempt to purge blacks from voter rolls through the use of a flawed list of supposed felons that contained the names of thousands of African-Americans and, conveniently, very few Hispanics."

"'A Democrat can't win a statewide election in Florida without a high voter turnout -- both at the polls and with absentee ballots -- of African-Americans,' said a man who is close to the Republican establishment in Florida but asked not to be identified. 'It's no secret that the name of the game for Republicans is to restrain that turnout as much as possible. Black votes are Democratic votes, and there are a lot of them in Florida.'"

And in Palm Beach County, the AP checks in on Theresa LePore's progress in devising ballots that even the old folks can decipher. It's not going well. "Palm Beach County has introduced an absentee ballot that requires voters to indicate their choices by connecting broken arrows, sparking criticism that it is even more confusing than the infamous 'butterfly ballot' used in the 2000 election."

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"Critics say the new ballot is not an improvement. 'People do the crazier things when they're asked to connect the arrows,' said Stephen Ansolabehere, former director of the Voting Technology Project, a collaboration between the California and Massachusetts institutes of technology."

[Update: The Palm Beach Post had this story on Sunday, with this self-defense from an exasperated LePore: "If I had used circles, they'd complain about the circles."]

It's not that LePore hasn't been reminded of the gravity of her ballot choices by complete strangers. As she told the Washington Post not long ago: "I've got the blood of over 500 men and women on my hands, because the war's my fault," says Theresa LePore. She's paraphrasing what people have said to her. "Nine-eleven was my fault."

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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