Thursday, February 5

I am talking to a man about disposable diapers, the ones babies wear. This man knows a lot about diapers, because he once worked in a diaper factory. He worked there for over a decade, until last year when the plant shut down and moved its operations to Mexico. He says it was something about how, all of a sudden, it became too expensive to make diapers in western Pennsylvania. I figure it was more like something about how, all of a sudden, somebody figured out how to make a hell of a lot more money making diapers in Mexico.

Color me cynical, but I’ve seen it before. The small town where I live, and that I’ve represented in the Pennsylvania State House for the past eighteen years, was once a center for manufacturing. In its heyday Ellwood City, which is located about thirty-five miles north of Pittsburgh, employed more than twice as many steelworkers (over 17,000 during World War II) as its present total population of 8,200.

Steel moved to Brazil, and Panama, and Korea, and…

We found a lamp manufacturer to move into the empty building. The new lamp-makers didn’t pay as well as the old steel-makers, but 600 jobs was, well, 600 jobs. I say was because those lamps are now made in China.

Like I said, color me cynical, but diapers made in Mexico does not surprise me. Right now, however, the man whose life depended on those diapers is desperate. He does not want a history lesson. He wants a job, and he wants me to help him find one. I wish I could. All I can do is listen to him, as I’ve listened to so many others like him who come to me believing (hoping?) I can get them a job. I know that when he’s finished, I will tell him I can’t get him a job, even though that’s not what he wants to hear. He’s already been betrayed enough by his government, even though he may not know it, so the last thing I want to do is give him false hope, which means I must tell him the truth–that despite whatever he may have been told by a neighbor, or cousin, or buddy at the pool hall, there are no state highway department jobs available. In fact, there are no state jobs available in any department. I skip the part about Pennsylvania having the lowest ratio of state employees per capita in the nation and about how the recession has forced our governor, Edward Rendell, to try to reduce the payroll even more and yadda, yadda, yadda. Somehow, I doubt if knowing that would make him feel much better.

Tuesday, February 10

George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers released its annual report to Congress yesterday, and I am reading about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. When I come to the part where council chairman N. Gregory Mankiw says that “outsourcing” American jobs actually is good for the economy, I am reminded, once again, how creative the Washington wordsmiths can be (lest we forget: “Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities”). I must admit that “outsourcing” is a much tidier way of describing how rich guys are shipping millions of American jobs to places where they are free to destroy the environment and disregard human rights–little-known places where they can pay human beings, some of whom hardly are old enough to go to school (assuming there is a school for them to go to), pennies a day to make things that will be shipped back to America and sold to the same people who once made the same things before the same rich guys “outsourced” their jobs.

I think about all the steel, and lamps, and diapers that were once made in western Pennsylvania. I think about the man I spoke with five days earlier. I wonder if I should call and tell him the President believes that “outsourcing” his job was “good for the economy.” Maybe that would make him feel better. I decide it probably would not. I read on.

Mankiw admits there may be some short-term pain in this, but he quickly adds that Americans shouldn’t worry because “outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade. More things are tradable than were tradable in the past. And that’s a good thing.”

This is confusing to me. What are we trading here? As I see it, America is sending jobs to other countries. America’s rich people are getting richer. America’s working people are getting poorer because they are no longer working. Is it me? Am I missing something here?

I wonder if Mankiw thinks all Americans should not worry, or just those Americans whose jobs have not been “outsourced.” Most likely the latter, I decide. I reread the statement, “more things are tradable than were tradable in the past.” What “things” is he talking about? Jobs? Lives? Futures? Have these things now become “tradable” commodities, like baseball cards?

I’ll trade you four lamp-factory jobs for a spot in a diaper factory and a specialty steel-mill gig”?

I wonder if George Bush believes this. I doubt it, I tell myself. George Bush is a “compassionate conservative.”

Compassion: A feeling of empathy, concern, care…

Outsourcing: Treats working Americans like waste products of a Robin-Hood-in-reverse strategy to rob from the poor and give to the rich.

No, I convince myself. It can’t be. A compassionate conservative–a compassionate doorknob–would not knowingly consider other people with such disdain. It is bad enough that some of these people already have no jobs; many have lost their healthcare. Some have no money to heat their home, and some have no home to heat. They’ve learned to stretch a dollar the way they believe politicians stretch the truth, because they don’t know when–or if–they’ll get another paycheck. All they know is their kids get hungry at suppertime, and the drugstore still wants paid if the baby needs more medicine to make her ear stop hurting.

President Bush certainly cares about them… Right?