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1/9/2004

More excesses

Filed under:General — eric @ 5:32 am

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Two more news stories came across my desk that point out further excesses being taken by the federal government.

The first is a biggie. You may have heard about the draft of the “PATRIOT II” legislation that leaked early last year, and the public outcry that resulted. It contained provisions that expanded on the government’s erosion of due-process rights we all have that began under the first PATRIOT Act. (You do know that the government can get a record of your patronage at your local library, and that the library can’t even tell you the feds were there, right?) Most of the really controversial provisions were stripped out of the sequel legislation, but they’ve found their way back in, in other bills. For example, on the same day that the army announced it had captured Saddam, President Bush signed into law that allows the FBI to obtain records about you from your financial institution, without having to go to a judge first. In addition, the law expands the definition of “financial institution” to include travel agents, car dealerships, insurance companies, casinos, jewelry stores, real estate agents, hotels, and even the post office. And, just like with the libraries, those businesses cannot mention to anyone, especially not the subject of the investigation, that the records were taken. I’d like to think that much if not all of this would get overturned in courts, but it’s hard to file suit when you don’t even know that the law is being used against you. Remember also that this is not some executive order issued by the White House. This law, just like the original PATRIOT Act, was approved by a majority of our legislators. Likely, yours was among them.

The second one is just odd. There are new labor rules in place that expand the rights of workers to overtime pay. You probably know someone who was switched to salary instead of hourly and thus lost out on overtime pay. It happens a lot, and one of the new rules says that you can’t do this to workers who make under $22,100 a year. The labor department says with one breath the new rules will increase net American wages by $895 million, and nearly all of that will go to lower-income positions. But with the next breath, the department spells out to employers how to get around the rules. For example: “cut workers’ hourly wages and add the overtime to equal the original salary” or, more simply, make them work the same amount of money for more hours of work. Labor department spokesman Ed Frank says, “We’re not saying anybody should do any of this,” but there you go.

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