AUSTIN, Texas -- "I said you were a man of peace. I want you to know I took immense crap for that." George W. Bush, diplomat extraordinaire, to Ariel Sharon, The Washington Post, June 3, 2003.

            The effort to find peace in the Middle East is something on which all Americans can support the president, whether we think he knows what he's doing or not. He has recently been getting some criticism for letting his religious beliefs into the process. According to the New Yorker, he told Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: "I think God loves me. I think God loves the Palestinians. I think God loves the Israelis. We cannot allow this to continue." This is good news: It seems to me Bush's attention span is longer and more focused when his religious convictions are involved.

            But I was pleased to see that the Stagecraft Administration has already set up the "money shot" for this peace conference, whether any progress is made or not. The New York Times reports the Big Photo-Op is ready to go. The president and the two prime ministers are to appear together on a bridge over the swimming pool behind the King of Jordan's palace.

            "White House operatives had the Jordanians build a bridge over the pool, officials said, so that the leaders could walk over the water, side by side, toward the massed cameras. When the first bridge proved too narrow for more than one man to cross at once, the Americans had the Jordanians tear it down and start over, officials said."

            This is the kind of attention to detail that got that aircraft carrier turned around so when Bush landed on it, we couldn't see San Diego in the background. Some details are more important than others in this administration.

            The Post quotes a (naturally) unnamed official saying of Bush, "He does not have the knowledge or the patience to learn this issue enough to have an end destination in mind." Here's a photo-op idea. If Bush does arrange a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine -- and I am rooting for him -- the White House could take down the bridge yet again and have all three of them walk on the water.

            Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it is hard to keep up with how much damage is being done. Tom (the Exterminator) DeLay, House majority leader, says the 6.5 million working people who got cut out of the tax cut at the last minute are S.O.L. No reconsideration will be allowed -- unless he gets MORE tax cuts for the rich! I love it: These people have no shame.

            The House will take up getting rid of the 40-hour workweek on June 5. They have their priorities, and repealing the Fair Labor Standards Act -- in place since the 1930s -- is one of them. In one of those annoying little Republican exercises in cheap misdirection, this particular bill to screw workers is misleadingly titled the Family Time Flexibility Act.

            Cute, eh? As though they were doing you a big favor. The only enforcement mechanism in the 40-hour work week is that employers have to pay time-and-a-half if they make you work more than 40 hours. Under this charmer, if you work overtime, your employer can pay you with straight comp time, one hour for one hour, instead of time-and-a-half wages, thus saving the corporations millions.

            Let us count the number of ways this is a truly El Stinko idea. If your employer doesn't have to pay you any extra for working overtime, why shouldn't he/she work you 'til you drop? Lots of families depend on overtime pay just to make it through the month. There've been times I would've a lot rather had time than money for overtime, but I want that to be my choice, not my boss's.

            This son of a gun is a job-killer. If an employer can overwork the people he's got now without paying extra, why would he hire additional employees? It's bad for the economy. This doesn't "give" workers flexibility, it takes away their right to get time-and-a-half.

            People, I mentioned the other day that it takes more than singing "I'm Proud to Be an American" to keep this country free. This is not an abstract, constitutional right. This is about you getting screwed. If y'all can't stand up for yourselves on this one, and raise hell with your congresspeople, you deserve to work overtime without extra pay.

            All over this country, working people are losing out. We've lost 2.7 million jobs, health insurance is going up like a rocket, salaries are shrinking, and wait'll you see what they're fixing to do to your pension. If y'all don't speak up now instead of griping later, the fat-cat lobbyists for big business are going to push this right through. Don't say no one warned you.

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.