In Search of Good News

Everyday we spend an inordinate amount of time reading and watching news from a wide variety of sources, always hoping for some glimmer of good news, but for most of this year it’s been a desultory task. We can only imagine how depressing it must be for President Donald Trump.
Coronavirus cases continue to mount in many states, including Oklahoma and Arizona, where Trump recently had large crowds gathering together indoors and mostly without face marks, and in such crucial states as Texas and Florida. All the stock markets suffered significant losses on Wednesday because of the scary coronavirus numbers, and the estimated 50 million workers who are now out of work can’t to expect things to change soon. There are still peaceful protests and lawless vandalism going on around the country about racism and police brutality, and although Trump has promised racism can be “quickly and very solved,” we don’t expect he solve that problem by Election Day.
Trump got big applause at his appearances in Oklahoma by calling coronavirus “the Kung Flu,” even though many Asian-Americans have voiced their objections, and he still likes to call Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” despite the objections of many Native Americans, and his latest cause is a defense of the statues and other honorifics to the slave-holding traitors of the Confederate Sates of America. This is good news for Trump’s most die-hard defenders, but it’s bad news to the rest of the country, and doesn’t seem likely to end racism by Election Day. There are fears from the experts that the coronavirus will be worse by then, and that the economic numbers will be just as dire. Unless you’re Trump or one of his die-hard fans the only good news is that all polls show presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading by wide margins nationwide and in crucial swing states.
The only other news is about Trump politicizing the Justice Department and letting his cronies off easy and going after prosecutors nosing into Trump’s business, but he’ll surely have some explanation for that will satisfy the die-hard fans.
Election Day is still four months away, though, and almost anything could happen in that time. We’re not hopeful, though, and neither should Trump be.

— Bud Norman

On Texas, Christmas Eve, and What Else Matters

Our holiday travels have now taken us deep into the heart of Texas, where most of the paternal side of the family now resides, and as much as we hate to be away from God’s own Kansas it’s good to be here. The weather is warm even by heart-of-Texas standards, which will no doubt encourage all the global warming alarmists, while reassuring all those social justice warriors who worry that a “white Christmas” is somehow racist, but we’re nonetheless enjoying the warmth of family on a Christmas Eve.
The drive down unlovely and casino-clogged and incongruously up-to-date I-35 was surprisingly grueling — who knew that a jaunt through relatively tiny Temple, Texas, would be even slower than the legendarily clogged Dallas-Fort Worth area or even out-of-control Austin — but for the most part we enjoyed a respite from the even more grueling news of the day. Most of the drive was spent listening to ancient family lore and the music of Ernest “Texas Troubadour” Tubb and Jim Ed Brown and Hank Snow and other mellifluously nasal old-time honky-tonkers on the folk’s newfangled Sirius radio system, and except for a brief update from the Fox News station and a quick reading of the news after our beloved aunt somehow recalled the password for the internet wi-fi that a more tech-savvy daughter set up for her we mostly ignored all the latest political and economic developments. Given what we found on those brief looks at the news, it was probably best to stick with the old-country music.
Barring something unexpectedly catastrophic, we’ll stick with Christmas carols and old-time country music and family lore today, and we urge you to do the same. There’s still good news out there, even if you have to turn off the news to hear it.

— Bud Norman

The Cloud in the Silver Lining

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered an upbeat assessment of the economy on Wednesday, and of course the stock markets immediately took a dive. So convoluted is the American economic system that bad news such as the latest jobs report will prompt a stock market rally, while any talk of good news such as the Fed is now peddling will as surely cause a sell-off. Should the country somehow ever again achieve robust growth and anything close to full employment it will surely be the ruination of the economy.
Although counter-intuitive, the stock market’s recent tendencies are easily explained. After the crash of ’08 the Fed started churning out dollars at unprecedented rate, and with interest rates and bond yields being held artificially low those dollars had nowhere to but the stock markets, which have since expanded at a noticeably faster pace than the overall economy. Anything that would ordinarily be considered good economic news will tempt the Fed to take its foot off the metaphorical pedal, which makes it bad news for those invested in stocks.
Investors might find reason to keep buying if the economic news is good enough, but what Bernanke was touting on Wednesday was just good enough to be bad news. The Fed raised its forecast for economic growth to 3 to 3.5 percent in the next year, reduced its outlook for unemployment to 6.5 percent, and although Bernanke left himself ample wiggle room he made it quite clear that such statistics would justify at least a slow-down in the pace of money-printing. Those statistics aren’t good enough to justify a Dow Jones at 15,000, though, and private forecasters think they’re suspiciously rosy anyway, and with Europe in recession and China rapidly slowing and Obamacare offering massive incentives for employers to hire no one for more than 29 hours a week there is plenty of reason to suspect things are going to get worse rather than better. If a precipitous drop in the stock markets occurs, the worry that caused it could easily become self-fulfilling.
All that dollar-printing must eventually come to an end, lest people start using the things to paper their walls, and it is most unlikely that the stock markets can maintain their historic highs while the economy catches up to it, and it is altogether impossible that the government will cease its ever-increasing meddling, so considerable economic turbulence seems likely in the coming months. This should be good for stocks, though, and perhaps we should just have that this somehow makes sense.

— Bud Norman