Friday, October 12, 2007

These agreements will help our friends in neighborhoods and help them lift them out of poverty

Bush gave a speech at the University of Miami Center for Hemispheric Policy today, in which he called on Congress to pass free trade treaties with Peru, Colombia and Panama because “I made my mind about the importance of trade and investment”.

What would those treaties do? “These agreements will help our friends in neighborhoods and help them lift them out of poverty.”

“These agreements will counter the false populism promoted by some nations in the hemisphere.” I’m not sure what false populism might be, but I’m pretty sure Bush doesn’t much care for the real thing either. (In previous posts I’ve written about the use of populism as a scare word against Venez... pardon me, “some nations.”)

Surprisingly, he addressed the use of violence and murder against trade union members in Colombia, although without giving a sense of its scale, which is massive. “President Uribe takes these concerns seriously, and he has responded decisively. He’s established an independent prosecutors unit to investigate and punish homicides against labor unionists.” The conviction rate to date has been about 2%, which isn’t my definition of “decisively.”

“Both houses of the Colombian legislature have expressed overwhelming support for the trade agreement with the United States. And now they’re waiting to see if we will uphold our end of the deal.” No, George, there is no deal until Congress ratifies it.

“And yet, many of our citizens feel uneasy about competition, and they worry that trade will cost jobs. You know, I understand why. I understand that if you’re forced to change a job halfway through a career it can be painful for your family. I know that.” Indeed, George himself left a promising job as town drunk at the age of 40. He thinks everyone who loses a job should go to community college.

And of course because he was in Miami, talk turned to Cuba. When the “long rule of a cruel dictator” ends, “nations throughout the hemisphere and the world must insist on free speech, free assembly; they must insist that the prisoner in Cuba be free.” Just the one, mind you.

In preparation for this speech, he gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal, in which he repeatedly said that the speech would “remind” people of things: “I will remind people the benefits of trade for our economy”; “I just want to keep reminding people of the benefits of trade”; “I will remind people that the country was very isolationist and very protectionist in the 1920s”.

However, that might not be enough: “You know, pointing to the 1920s is a good example of what can happen, but that’s not going to help the fellow who is sitting behind the coffee shop, worrying about whether or not his job is going to go overseas or her job is going to go somewhere else. I understand that.” Er, why is he sitting behind the coffee shop? (And why is the worker always seen as male?)

He is very worried about the return of isolationism and protectionism. “We have lost sight of what it means to be a nation willing to be aggressive in the world and spread freedom or deal with disease.” I don’t know how to even begin to respond to that.

Asked about economic inequality (with new data from 2005 out showing that the top 1% of taxpayers in the US now earn a record 21.2% of all US income, with the bottom 50% getting under 13%), Bush explained that the super-rich deserve every penny: “skills gaps yield income gaps.” Evidently No Child Left Behind will take care of that; “what needs to be done about the inequality of income is to make sure people have got good education.” Also... well, I’ll let him express this in his own words and also IN his OTHER WORDS: “I’ve been told that of the bottom 20 percent of the people, half will move up; and that over the last 10 years, the top 20 percent, one half of them are newcomers -- the top 20 percent -- in other words, there’s mobility.”

He again praised community colleges, which he says helped North Carolina, “where the textiles -- many textiles left the country.”

I hadn’t noticed that he’d stopped using his favorite all-purpose adjective, but here it is again: “one of the interesting benefits of free trade is that our consumers have more choices”. “One of the interesting things about our relationship [between him and Putin] is that we both want Russia to join the WTO.” Why does he want that? “And I think it’s going to be very interesting for there to be -- very important for there to be a dispute -- a resolution mechanism available.”

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