Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Democracy’s Double Edges
When anti-Syrian crowds filled the streets in Lebanon last week the Bush administration saw it as more proof that they had unleashed Democracy throughout the Middle East. And they were right. The trouble is, (as we know only too well over here,) Democracy is a messy and uncertain business. Sometimes good prevails. But, sometimes evil is able to finagle its way into power.

Fast-forward a week: The streets in Beirut are full of demonstrators again --hundreds of thousands of them, far more than last week. Only this time they are Lebanese supporters of radical Islamic Hezbollah, that owes its very existence to Syrian and Iranian support. They want Syria to stay in Lebanon.

By the look of the size and discipline of those crowds today, if a democratic vote were held today, Hezbollah/Syria would win hands down.

Lebanon will hold elections in May. The Bush administration is demanding that Syria have all its troops and intelligence agents back on the Syrian side of the boarder before that because – and Bush said this with a completely straight face -- Lebanon could not have free and open elections while occupied by a foreign power. (If you take those words at straight-face value one can only assume that Iraq and Afghanistan did not have “free and open elections” since both nations were, and remain, occupied up to their headscarves by foreign nations. But then that would be a nuance, and Bush doesn’t do nuances.)

Today’s demonstration by the Islamo-fascist Helzbollah indicates that, over the last quarter century, Syria has built a grassroots political base in Lebanon Karl Rove could only dream of commanding here. Bad guys, you see, can play democracy too.
So, for the Bush Neo-cons all this is a good news, bad news story. The good news is that democracy is indeed on the march in the Middle East.

The bad news is that democracy is indeed on the march in the Middle East.

Minimum Compassion
Remember the Bush “ownership society?” Well yesterday the Republican dominated House and Senate trimmed back on its membership. They did so by refusing to raise the minimum wage from its current niggardly $5.15 an hour by $2.10. Republicans decided that raising the minimum wage by that much might limit the amount of ownership employers could enjoy. Instead they suggested the minimum wage be increased by the minimum, just a buck in slow increments over the next year and half.

As usual Republicans cloaked their position with compassionate Orwellian logic. By refusing to a fair increase, they were just looking after the best interest of low-wage workers.

``Large increases in the minimum wage will hurt low-income, low-skilled individuals -- the very workers proponents claim they want to help,'' said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming.

(Hell, if that’s right then the best way to help low-skilled, low-wage workers would be to eliminate the minimum wage entirely, maybe even reinstate compassionate indentured servitude. )

The minimum wage measure was attached to the pro-credit card company bankruptcy bill Republicans want passed. After losing their minimum wage measure, Democrats are now trying to tie the bankruptcy bill up by insisting that it include a clause that prohibits those who are sued for attacking abortion clinics from shielding their assets in bankruptcy. Republicans oppose that measure.

``Senators need to decide who they will stand with. There is not a single state where there is widespread support for turning this bill into the Firebomber Legal Protection Act,'' said Nancy Keenan, president of pro-choice Naral.

Speaking of Credit
And no wonder credit card companies are pushing to tighten bankruptcy laws. Americans are consuming credit card crack in record amounts.

“Buyers increased their borrowing on credit cards, auto loans and other types of consumer debt at an annual rate of 6.6 percent in January, the fastest pace in three months, the Federal Reserve reported Monday. That represented an increase of $11.5 billion in borrowing from December, double what many economists had expected. It came after an increase of $8.7 billion in borrowing in December, which was revised significantly from an estimate of a $3.1 billion increase in December. The 6.6 percent rate of increase in January compared with a 5 percent rise in December and was the fastest advance since consumer debt rose 8.2 percent in October. Demand for credit cards and other types of revolving credit rose at an annual rate of 8.1 percent in January, to $801 billion, after an 8.5 percent rise in December, Demand for nonrevolving credit, a category that includes auto loans, loans for mobile homes, boats and other miscellaneous categories like loans for vacations or schooling, rose 5.6 percent, to $1.32 trillion, after an increase of 2.8 percent in December. (AP)

Oh and BTW, none of those hefty numbers include mortgage or home equity loans. Those keep going up too.

What this means, to anyone paying attention, is that the growth we are seeing in the economy is not being driven by wages, but by credit. During the roaring 90s the 30-somethings came to consider the salad-days lifestyle they were living an entitlement. And, when it ended and their earnings dropped, they were loath to adjust their spending accordingly and instead maintained that standard of living with credit.

Okay, I’m a broken record on this issue. I know. I keep saying it will all end badly, and I know it has not happened, but it will, because it must. The “physics” of the marketplace demands that it end. The piper always must be paid, and with interest. And when the minimum monthly payment outstrips available income, credit card crack dealers will demand repayment.

If the Republicans get their bankruptcy rules passed, debtors will have no place to run, no place to hide from credit pushers. For the rest of their working lives Bubba the repo-man will be there on payday with his hand out.

America’s credit addicts will be forced to go cold turkey. And the wailing and gnashing of teeth will be something awful to behold.

And then I will say, “I told you so,” even as I wish it were not so.

I have go. I just picked up my mail and their four more pre-approved credit card offers I have to shred. The shedded offers makes a great mulch for my garden.

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