Bush’s attack on veterans

Years of training in the military could be the basis of a big pay cut for many of America’s 26 million veterans come March 1. That’s when the Bush administration plans to implement its new overtime regulations, which give employers the right to exclude vast new categories of the workforce from rules that require time-and-a-half pay after 40 hours.

Buried in one paragraph in the middle of the Labor Department’s new overtime rules is a change that explicitly says that “training in the armed forces” could give a worker professional level skills and thus be the basis for an employer to decide they shouldn’t get overtime pay.

This is another low blow from the Bush administration. Already veterans now have to wait an average of six months to be seen at Veterans Administration hospitals, and VA spending per patient is $624 less than eight years ago. The president has shut dozens of Defense Department schools for military dependents, and closed 56 commissaries used by military families to buy food and supplies on their limited income. Veterans groups also point to the Bush administration’s cuts in “imminent danger” pay and family separation allowances as signs of callous disregard.

Bush’s new budget proposes to increase the money for Veterans Affairs, but many commentators suggest this is an election-year ploy. Bush still refuses to show up at a funeral for any of the Iraq War dead.

As for the overtime law, opponents are looking to block the new rules by attaching an amendment to any coming fast track legislation. “We won’t stop there. If the rule becomes effective, we’ll have other opportunities to reverse it, and we’re confident we will,” said Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO in Washington.

Congress should feel the heat on this issue. For the sake of the veterans and for all other potential victims of this reactionary legislation, we should intensify the battle to overturn it.

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Sharon’s ‘pullback’

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced Feb. 2 that he has “given the order to plan for the evacuation of 17 settlements in the Gaza Strip,” i.e., from occupied Palestinian territory.

Vague as this initial statement was, Sharon instantly qualified his remarks and said he meant “relocation,” not evacuation, and that such a pullback would depend on reaching an agreement with the Jewish settlers currently living there. His aides further qualified his statement by saying such a possible pullback was “one of several options” that Sharon was considering, and said that some settlements would certainly remain.

While several members of Sharon’s Likud Party and other rightist parties protested his remarks, they did not bolt his coalition, a sign that they didn’t consider action against the settlements to be imminent or inevitable.

Palestinian leaders reacted to Sharon’s remarks with skepticism, if not scorn. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian leader.

It’s easy to see why. Aside from the largely symbolic dismantlement of a few house trailer “outposts” – the Israeli government has allowed and encouraged the continual expansion of the illegal settlements that encroach on Palestinian land. Such settlements, not to mention the apartheid “separation wall” that Israel is building on Palestinian territory, violate numerous UN decisions and international law.

Sharon is a skillful practitioner of the politics of gesture. He is embroiled in a deepening bribery scandal, and would like to shift attention away from it. He’s about to visit Washington, and such promises – empty as they are – make good press in the face of worldwide opposition to the Israeli occupation. And he has to reckon with public opinion, which shows 6 of 10 Israelis favoring an end to the settlements.

But no one should be fooled. Sharon’s words are cheap, and he enjoys the full support of George W. Bush.

Deeds, not words, are what count. The world awaits the complete and unqualified Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Now.