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Warmth, Basketball and All the Bad News

Most of the news on Thursday was hard to take, what with all the tear-jerking up-close-and-personal accounts of the heroic dead from the latest mass schooling shooting, the ongoing scandal about the high-ranking wives-beater in the White House, not to mention the latest revelations about that whole “Russia thing.” On the other hand, here in Wichita the weather was unseasonably warm, the stock market was slightly up, and our Wichita State University Wheatshockers men’s basketball team toughed out a crucial win.
At the risk of sounding shallow, there’s something to be gratefully said for an unseasonably warm mid-February afternoon around here, even if we did wind up sleeping through much of it. Even if you aren’t invested in the stock markets it’s always a good thing when those green arrows point up, as it reassures that at least the broader economy isn’t in imminent danger of tanking. Unless you grew up in the local hoops-crazed basketball culture around here you won’t fully appreciate the significance of that toughed-out ‘Shocker victory, but we hope you’ll understand why it’s such a welcome distraction.
According to the subjective rankings of America’s sportswriters and college coaches the ‘Shocks are the 19th best best team in the country, but on Thursday by objective measurement they were three games behind the University of Cincinnati Bearcats in the more important American Conference race. To keep hope of a conference championship alive they had to beat a tough and championship tournament-contending Temple team at home, after suffering an embarrassing loss to them on the road. Temple jumped out to a 15 point lead in the first half, the ‘Shocks played some tough defense and crisp offense to cut it down to a three-point lead, but the Owls of Temple had it back up to double-digits by half-time, but the ‘Shocks came back with their patented bear=down defense and a case of characteristic loose-ball hustling that resulted in player-of-the game big man Shaquille Morris’ deft assist to the relatively stubby white boy Conner Frankamp,who is somehow the Wichita City League’s current all-time scorer, and the ‘Shocks won by a deceptive seven points with their usual good free throw shooting down the stretch.
Meanwhile Cincy lost to a tough and tournament-contending University of Houston team that split its home-and-home series with the Shocks, and with a home-and-home left again Cincy in the ‘Shocks last four games championship hopes remain alive, and according to all the experts there’s the relative warmth of March Madness waiting for us in any case.
Which is not to diminish our mourning for those folks in sunny south Florida, or our disdain for the White House and the wives-beaters it has embraced, or our suspicions about that whole “Russia thing,” or even a nagging anxiety about the stock market and the broader economy. It’s just to say you should find solace in whatever your local weather and sporting culture might offer.

— Bud Norman

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Trump’s Tough Stretch of News

Although he got in another lucrative weekend of golfing and socializing at his warm and sunny Mar-a-Lago resort, the last few days have not been kind to President Donald Trump. The team owned by his best friend in the National Football League was upset in the Super Bowl, the release of a much ballyhooed congressional memo did not completely vindicate him in the “Russia thing,” and suddenly the stock markets are in a swoon.
Trump will probably get over the Super Bowl soon enough, and maybe even score some political points against the winning players who have already announced they’ll skip a White House visit, but the ongoing “Russia thing” and the recent woes on Wall Street are more troublesome.
The president had hoped that a four page memo penned by the staff of die-hard Trump apologist and California Rep. Devin Nunes would persuade the American people to to demand an end to all the ongoing investigations into the “Russia thing,” and he got his wish with a certain portion of the public. All the right wing talk radio talkers and the rest of the die-hard Trump apologists relished the unsurprising revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had used the “salacious and unverified” dossier of evidence compiled by a foreigner with money from the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to obtain an early warrant in the investigation from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Sean Hannity even found that sufficient reason to demand that special counsel Robert Mueller’s snooping around cease and the indictments he’s already obtained again Trump’s campaign manager another high-ranking campaign official be dropped and the guilty pleas he’s already forced from Trump’s former national security adviser and a campaign foreign policy advisor be rescinded.
Alas, the rest of the public was more skeptical and Hannity’s demands are unlikely to be met. The more Trump-skeptical media noted the memo acknowledged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation started snooping around when an Australian official tipped them off that a drunken Trump campaign foreign policy advisor had been boasting in a London Pub about all the dirt his candidate was getting from the Russians, that still-classified material other than the information compiled by a respected former British intelligence agent was also submitted to the court, and that in any case the warrants were reauthorized by other FISA courts based on the finding they were yielding important evidence. The notion of a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump to stage a “coup” with “fake news” was always a hard sell, given that it involves Republican-appointed FBI agents seeking warrants from the Republican-appointed judges on FISA courts that the Republicans established and just last week voted to renew, and the four pages that Nunes’ staffers penned didn’t make the case.
Nunes also admits that neither he nor his staffers actually read the classified case that the FBI made for its FISA warrants, and everyone who has is saying that the memo is misleading. That includes the FBI chief that Trump appointed, and the impeccably Republican South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who was a right wing talk radio hero just a couple of years ago for his dogged investigation of Clinton’s embarrassing role in the deadly Benghazi debacle. Gowdy was the only House Republican who got too look at the classified warrant application because Nunes had been forced to more or less recluse himself from the whole “Russia thing” after some embarrassing antics, and he told the media that “There is a Russia investigation without a dossier.” Listing off a number of reasons to snoop into the “Russia thing,” he accurately noted “To the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos’ meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice.”
Gowdy is one of several Republicans who aren’t seeking reelection, so be’s free to be so frank, but even some of his partisan colleagues who are hoping for another term are also distancing themselves from the Nunes memo. Several Republicans have signaled the support of a rebuttal memo penned by California Rep. Adam Schiff, who has seen the classified warrant application and seems a far smarter fellow than Nunes, and the “Russia thing” will surely linger.
Meanwhile the stock market has been plummeting, and for now that’s an even bigger problem for Trump.
By the sometimes perverse logic of the stock markets, the bad news is being driven by good news and might turn out in the long run to be good news. After an historically long run to record levels the markets are apparently worried the currently low unemployment rates and slight upticks in economy activity and long-forestalled wage increases will cause the Federal Reserve Board to slightly raise the rates on the historically inexpensively obtained money that has been fueling it, lest inflation rear its ugly head, and there’s a strong case to be made that a long-forestalled and much-needed market corrections is needed to forestall the inevitable next crash until after you’re dead. Trump will be hard-pressed, though, to make such a complicated argument.
Trump will quite plausibly claim that the recent stock market downturn is not his fault, but his critics will provably point out that he was always willing to take credit for the recent record highs. He “tweeted” about it 56 times, boasted about it in public pronouncements far more often, including that long-forgotten State of the Union speech he gave just a week or so ago, and for now he’s deprived of a favorite bragging point. He could turn on a dime and make the populist claim that he’ll gladly trade a workingman’s pay hike for some fat-cat investor’s coupon-clipping, and brag about how he prescient he was back in the campaign when he claimed the record stock market highs of President Barack Obama’s administration were just a great big bubble about to burst, but after all the boasts about those Wall Street records and given Trump’s limited vocabulary it’s a very complicated argument to make.
The sorts of people who do grasp such complicated economic arguments immediately recognize the Fed’s complicated role in all of this, and are probably aware that Trump has recently appointed its new chairman. The previous chairman was chairwoman Janet Yellen, who was generally well regarded by by all the smart people with the smart money for her open spigot policies in the early stages of recovery from the 2008 recession and gradual reductions during the slower-than-usual but longer-than-ever recovery that lasted through Trump’s first year.
It’s a longstanding presidential tradition to appoint a generally well-regarded Fed chairman to a second term regardless of the party that had made the first appointment, but Trump isn’t much for longstanding presidential traditions and to replace Yellen with his own guy. Of course Trump chose a guy, Jerome Powell, but he’s a former under secretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department and is widely expected to be the same sort of apolitical number-crunching policy wonk as Yellen, and along with all the stock holders we’ll be eager to see how he responds. Trump is probably wondering, too, as it will be hard to blame Yellen for a downturn that began shortly after she was replaced by Trump.
Our hope is that the stock markets and the broader economy both continue to fitfully prosper, and our expectation is that if it does Trump will take credit for it, and that if it doesn’t he’ll accept no blame. We wish Trump well with that whole “Russia thing,” too, but we hope that truth will prevail and expect that the special counsel will find plenty of it.

— Bud Norman

Another Round of Trumpian Distractions

American-backed forces have recently won a significant and potentially decisive victory against the Islamic State terror gang, the stock market is up and the rest of the numbers suggest the American economy has largely weathered all those hurricanes, and generally things could be worse. The smart move for an American president would be to act humble, let others to give him credit, then use the good will that’s been engendered to enlist allies in making things better yet, and not create any distractions, but that’s not President Donald Trump’s style.
Instead Trump has characteristically chosen to claim undue credit for the recent successes, further engendered ill will with his opponents by blaming them for recent failures, and provided his antagonists in the press with with plenty of distractions. He got off to a promising start Monday by appearing in a joint news conference with the Republican Senate majority, whom Trump has very publicly blamed for his the Republican party’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, among other legislative failures, and assuring the country their relationship has never been stronger. One of the questions inevitable questions from the reporters was about why Trump had gone 12 days without any public mention of four American servicemen who had died in combat in Niger, a little-known African country where few Americans were even aware that any American soldiers were in harm’s way there, and rather than frankly answering the question Trump chose to criticize all the previous presidents for failing to even write a letter or make a phone call to the families of fallen soldiers.
The Trump administration had to admit it hadn’t yet sent any of the letters they’ve written to the families of those fallen soldiers, nor made any consoling phone calls, while the past two administrations had officials testifying to the respect their presidents had paid, and so it proved another distraction. Trump specifically criticized President Barack Obama for failing to make a phone call to assuage the grief of Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s current chief of staff whose son had died in Afghanistan, but that didn’t help. Obama did give the Kelly family a seat of honor at a banquet honoring Gold Star families, Kelly has assiduously and admirably resisted anyone from letting his son’s death be used for anyone political purposes, and Trump still hasn’t answered why he let 12 days lapse before making any mention of the deaths of four American servicemen in a country most Americans didn’t even know we were at war.
Then you had Arizona’s Republican Sen. John McCain using the occasion of being awarded a National Constitutional Liberty Medal award to warn that “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, and to abandon the ideas we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the ‘last, best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is an unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to to the ash heap of history.” McCain carefully never mentioned Trump by name, but it was quite clear who he was talking about, and even Trump clearly understood.
Trump told some talk radio host that “People have to be careful, because at some point I fight back. I’m being very, very nice, but at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.” Even Trump cannot deny that McCain heroically endured extra years of torture in a hellish North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp rather than abandon his men and hand the enemy a public relations victory, even if the draft-dodging president got away with saying “I like a guy who wasn’t caught, OK?,” so we doubt that McCain is much worried about what Trump might “tweet” about him as he struggles with terminal cancer. This looks to be another losing fight for Trump, except with his those staunch loyalists who still hate McCain for losing to Obama.
That big win against the Islamic State and the fairly healthy economy can plausibly be attributed to Trump, and there’s no denying he hasn’t yet hindered either effort, so we suggest he settle for that for now. Both represent mere incremental gains on on what has been happening for a while now, even during the hated Obama administration, and it seems best to engender that good will to make a lot of other things better.

— Bud Norman

Hope and Change and Motor Homes

Oh, how well we still remember that heady late spring of ’08, when all of our liberal friends were somehow entranced by the media-amplified celebrity of a youthful and fashionably swarthy young Senator who was standing in front of faux-Greek columns promising hope and change and a fundamental transformation and a lowering of the sea levels. A mere eight years or so later the grayer and more pallid President Barack Obama was in Elkhart, Indiana, “The Recreational Vehicle Capital of the World,” bragging to the locals about the modest comeback of the motor home industry during his administration, and clearly annoyed that he’s already been eclipsed from the spotlight and is now in danger of being replaced by the media-amplified celebrity of an aging and orange-skinned reality show star who’s promising to make America great again and somehow has most of our conservative friends warily going along with it.
The speech was little noted and will soon be long forgotten, to borrow a line from a better day of political oratory, but we think it worth some brief ridicule. Obama attempted to defend his economic record, refute the arguments of his would-be Republican successor, and imply some further annoyance that his would-be Democratic successors aren’t exactly running on his record, and we found it embarrassingly unconvincing in every attempt.
We concede the unemployment rate and the stock market indices and other usually reliable economic indicators are better than when Obama took office at the tail end of a steep recession, and that there’s always an argument to be made that we could have done worse, yet we remain quite unimpressed. We’re a bit older than the president, and started paying attention to these things long before he did, and by now we’ve been through enough recessions to have noticed that whatever’s left of the free market system always pulls out of those slumps no matter what cockamamie solutions the government of the moment might provide. We judge just how harmful those policies are by how quick and broad and persistent the ensuing recovery is, and how much debt was racked up to keep it going, and by those standards the Obama record has been abysmal. The decline in the unemployment rate is largely explained by the unusually high number of potential workers who have dropped out of the labor force, the stock markets are high mainly because capital has nowhere else to go in a time of zero and even negative interest rates, and whatever good news you find in the rest of those leading economic indicators is probably a result of all that fracking and the resulting lower energy costs that the heady campaign of ’08 promised to prevent, and of course we also have all those trillions of debt that will eventually have to be dealt with.
This is also the first time in American history that a two-term president didn’t preside over a full year of at least 3 percent of national economic growth, but he can claim that it has averaged around 2 percent, which inarguably could be worse, and is a full percentage point within 3 percent, and his still-loyal and his mostly economically illiterate and innumerate supporters won’t notice that it’s actually a full 50 percent off the previous historic low benchmark. All in in all Obama needs a better case than that rebound in the motor home market, which was probably already doomed to low-growth no matter how much fracking occurs with the demise of road-loving bohunk seniors who used to show up at the annual local Polkatennial across town at the Cotillion Ballroom on their tours of the polka festivals, and he didn’t seem to have it.
His refutation of the would-be Republican successor’s policies was even more unconvincing, as he seems to have been paying no attention to what his orange-skinned fellow reality star has been saying. Without mentioning the presumptive Republican nominee by name, which we appreciated, the President ascribed to him all sorts of stereotypical Republican positions. He noted that “economic anxiety” had caused an “unusual election year,” which is truthful enough, and argued that “provocative ‘Tweets'” are not enough to support a candidate, which would be truthful enough coming from anyone but Obama, but he went on to add that the Republican would “lower wages, eliminate worker protections, cut investments in things like education, weaken the safety net, kick people off health insurance, and let China write the rules for the global economy.” He further ridiculed the notion that the many billions of dollars of regulatory compliance costs have somehow hampered the economy, and fondly recalled all those Nixon-era regulations that have kept us from doom. The president must have had such old-fashioned and cruel-hearted Republicans as ourselves in mind, because the party’s current presumptive presidential nominee is open to giving a yuuge raise even to the most inept minimum wage workers, promises no changes whatsoever to those debt-driving entitlement programs, likes the single payer system of Canada and the outright nationalized British style of health care and promises “we’ll take care of everybody,” seems intent on a disastrous trade war with China, and promises that he’ll regulate the entire economy right for a change.
No wonder the president seemed to annoyed that neither of his would-be Democratic successors aren’t enthusiastically running on his record. One is a self-described socialist who talks down the Obama economy more derisively than the Republican, and we don’t doubt that Obama would be annoyed to be succeeded by the first president who was at least blunt enough to be a self-described socialist, and the other is a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State who was so awful in every capacity that she makes the presumptive Republican nominee look respectable. It’s not the hope and change and fundamental transformation that was promised back in those heady days of ’08, and the sea levels continue their centuries-old rise, but here we all are in the “Recreational Vehicle Capital of the World.”

— Bud Norman

The Chinese Model and Its Flaws

Not so long ago, before the shakiness of the Chinese economy started shaking the rest of the world’s stock markets, some reputedly smart people were insisting that China was a model to be emulated. The New York Times’ star columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman, for instance, once wrote “Forgive me, Heavenly Father, for I have cast an envious eye on the authoritarian Chinese political system, where leaders can, and do, just order that problems be solved.”

div style=”text-indent:20px;”>It was a damned fool thing to say even at the time, even by the standards of The New York Times’ editorial page, and has since been revealed as such by the full percentage points or more that the Chinese catastrophe seems to be yanking away from the the the DJIA and S&P and the STOXX and Footsie and the NIKKEI and the rest of the acronyms and nicknames of all those panic markets in every nook and cranny of the world. Still, it’s easy to understand the appeal that a system where the reputedly smart people “can, and do, just order than problems be solved” would have to those who think they possess such wisdom and information and elite status that they could and would do exactly that if only the great unwashed masses of the body politic would allow them the power. China was reporting extraordinary growth in its gross national product, which according to some accountings had already overtaken America’s as the world’s largest, and the country was blissfully unbothered by anything resembling the fiscally sober and free-market-loving elements of America’s Republican Party, so a cause-and-effect relationship of course seemed obvious to a certain sort of so-called liberal, and the example of authoritarian rule that momentarily seemed to be working was simply too much for the more authoritarian-inclined yet so-called liberals to resist.

Now that it has become so quantifiably apparent on the stock market boards that the people running the Chinese economy can’t and haven’t solved all its very serious problems, the argument for letting a few reputedly smart people run a country is harder to sustain. The Chinese invested borrowed billions in a variety of bridges and infrastructure projects and entire new gigantic cities, just as the reputedly smart people on the American left would do, but the bridges mostly led to nowhere and the infrastructure projects were largely pointless and the cities remain uninhabited, and there’s nothing resembling the fiscally sober and free market-loving portion of the Republican Party around to be blamed for the obvious mess.
The worst possible outcome for America’s economy might yet be blamed on that same portion of the Republican Party, and some self-described or barely-disguised socialist might persuasively make the argument for letting a few reputedly smart people run the whole economy and the rest of your life, but at least the fiscally sober and free market-loving portion of the Republican Party will be able to make a plausible argument. We’re as alarmed as anyone else about this stock market dive, and well understand where it might lead, but we’re clinging to a faint hope that at least it won’t lead to a Chinese-style authoritarianism.

— Bud Norman

A Good Time For a Sex Scandal

Now would be the perfect time to make a full confession of our lurid sex scandal, if only we could muster the energy to have one. There are so many stories of earth-shaking significance afoot at the moment that even the most Clintonian sorts of escapades would attract little notice, and by the time anyone got around to paying heed we could dismiss the whole mess as old news and utterly irrelevant to our candidacy for philosopher king or whatever office we might be seeking. Summertime is when the living is easy, according to the usually reliable lyrics of Gershwin music, but this summer we’re finding it hard to keep up with the headlines.
There is still fierce fighting in Ukraine and Syria and Iraq and probably a few other places that have escaped our attention, but of course all the news is about the relatively limited conflict between the humane and democratic state of Israel and the genocidal and totalitarian terror gang Hamas. For some reason or another Muslims can kill one another by the hundreds of thousands and the toll will be mentioned in the fifth and final paragraph of a story buried as deep as you can bury a story in today’s thin newspapers, but when a few million Jews from a humane and democratic state excruciating limit Muslim casualties in response to the thousands of rockets fired at its civilian population by a genocidal and totalitarian terror gang it warrants more prominent scrutiny. Despite the tsk-tsking of polite opinion we’re firmly on the side of the humane and democratic state, and hope they persist in the fighting long enough put a permanent stop to those rockets and the rest of the deadly threats to its people, but our country’s State Department seems to be siding with the genocidal and totalitarian terror gang. Israel being forced to defend itself against genocidal and totalitarian enemies is nothing new, but the United States’ new policies regarding the conflict are a worrisome twist on an otherwise familiar plot.
Polling indicates that a reassuring majority of Americans share our preference for the humane and democratic state over the genocidal and totalitarian terror gang, and the administration seems just as indifferent to the public opinion regarding the recent invasion of the United States by the unaccompanied minors of gang-ridden Central America. A percentage of Americans that a red-state Democrat would regard as overwhelming are wanting to send the urchins back home to the embracing of their dubiously loving families as soon as possible, but the administration is sending signals that it intends to welcome them into the arms of a deficit-spending welfare state and offer millions the very amnesty deal that provoked the invasion. The Congressional response is far too convoluted to recap here, involving as it does such arcane parliamentary maneuvers as “waiving the tree” and the bizarre mix of fecklessness and incompetence that too often characterizes the House Speakership of Rep. John Boehner, but suffice to say that it’s all been scuttled for now by a torrent of public outrage and the sensible stand of Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions. Sessions is our very favorite Senator, and we think he’d be a front-running presidential candidate if he didn’t sound so very much like an Alabaman.
The immigration story is going loom large through the mid-term elections, and the administration’s preference for genocidal and totalitarian terror gangs over humane and democratic states might prove an issue in some districts, so it’s easy to lose sight of such an intriguing story as the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruling that Obamacare should be enforced according to the language in the bill rather than the language that it’s dwindling number of supporters would prefer. The bill’s dwindling number of apologists insist that that subsidies shouldn’t be paid only to people who singed up in the 14 states that were willing to set up their own exchanges, but their efforts have only added to a growing number of reasons to believe that was the explicitly stated intention of the people who passed the law without reading it so they could find out what was in it. This doesn’t mean that a Supreme Court Justice would want to uphold the plain language of the law, but it makes it slightly more likely that Obamacare and all its embarrassments will remain in the news through the fall.
There’s that Argentinian default and the country’s rather comely but entirely incompetent president blaming it all on America, and the big drop in the stock market that might have been caused by the relatively good news about Gross Domestic Product that might just result in a 2.3 percent growth rate after that the dip in the last quarter, and something about some homosexual football player and some ex-coach who said something about him. Just the links that Matt Drudge daily provides about the border invasion are all too exhausting, and trying to figure out the administration’s apparent belief that the Muslim Brotherhood is crucial to world peace is downright vexing, so we’re wishing we’d spent the time on a good lurid sex scandal.

— Bud Norman

Who’s Afraid of a Government Shutdown?

There’s been talk lately that the federal government might shut down, due to Obamacare or the debt ceiling or a convoluted combination of the two, and some people seem worried about it. Some people will always worry about such things, we suppose, but it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.
The government has shut down too many times to keep track of, including a sizeable number of federal holidays and almost every weekend of the year, and if not for all the furor in the press it would almost always have gone unnoticed. All the stories invariably involve families that are disappointed to find a national park closed while on their vacations, which seems a minor inconvenience at a time when all the kids should be in school, or horror stories about old folks starving in the streets for want of a Social Security check, which never seems to actually occur, and most readers remain unconvinced that there’s a real problem. The stock markets typically take a slight temporary dive, although that might be for fear the federal government will eventually return to work, but otherwise the economy stumbles along in its usual way. All the cops and firemen and other useful public servants are still on the job, drawing paychecks from state and local governments that some how manage to stay in business throughout the year, and all of the “nonessential” personnel who are furloughed for the duration prove as nonessential as advertised.
President Barack Obama is warning that a government shutdown will mean the nation’s bills go unpaid and America will be a “deadbeat” and a “banana republic,” with economic catastrophe following from the international doubt about the full faith and credit of the country, but we suspect this is only because the old saws about national park closings and unsent Social Security checks have lost their scariness. He also talks about those crazy spendthrift Republicans have been running up a huge tab against his frugal counsel and now want to “run out on the bill,” as if he hasn’t fought against their effort to restrain spending, and has offered the preposterous claim that raising the debt ceiling doesn’t mean the country will go further into debt, making the president sound rather desperate for something to say. Thus far even the supposedly anarchist wing of the Republican party has been willing to pay for all the government anyone might want except for Obamacare, and they’ll surely cave on that one sensible demand before they allow the government to default on its obligations to bondholders, so the economic catastrophe will have to await the all-too-soon date when the government debt has grown so large that the bondholders stop buying and the Fed is forced to concede that it can’t keep printing up money to pay them.
The people who are most worried about a government shutdown seem to be politicians worried mostly about who get the blame if anything noticeably bad actually does happen. Many Republicans, especially the ones with a professional stake in the party’s political fortunes, are understandably concerned that the traditional media outrage will once again bring the electorate’s wrath down upon in the upcoming mid-term elections and hand complete political control to Democratic party hell-bent on the same sort of mischief they inflicted on the country in the first two years of Obama’s reign. The Democrats, on the other hand, fear a government shutdown because it once again might have no noticeable effect and thus remind the country that it really doesn’t need to pay them so much money to run the meddlesome behemoth.
With neither party gaining any advantage from a prolonged government shutdown, it’s not likely to happen. Preventing it will mean Obamacare and another trillion or so of federal debt, both of which are far more disastrous than a government shutdown, but at least the full faith and credit of the country will be restored and banana republic status delayed for another year or so. That should get us past the mid-terms, and that’s all that anybody is really worried about.

— Bud Norman

Running With the Bulls

As much as we hate to be the gloomy sort who find dark clouds within every silver lining, we just can’t shake an unsettling feeling that there’s something fishy about this bullish stock market.
By the time you read this the Dow Jones Industrial Average might well have surpassed its all-time high, in which case the usual media cheerleaders will be singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” and claiming vindication for Obamanomics. Such gloating is understandable, as the stock indices provide a pleasant diversion from more depressing numbers, but those more depressing numbers make it all seem rather unaccountable.
The reigning record of 14,164 was set back in Oct. 9, 2007, in the dark days of the Bush administration when the economy was suffering through 4.9 percent growth in gross domestic product and a 4.7 percent unemployment rate, with personal income rising four-tenths of a percentage that quarter. In the Golden Age of Obama the Dow is back within shouting distance of that closing figure, but unemployment is at 7.9 percent, the latest quarterly GDP growth has recently been revised from a contraction of 0.1 percent to a slightly more robust gain of 0.1 percent, and personal incomes are dropping by 3.6 percent. Throw in another $7 trillion of national debt, a few credit downgrades for the federal government, higher taxes, a weakened global economy, and assorted international crises, and the current bull run becomes very hard to explain.
Bullish types will always find reasons to buy, and even such bearish types as ourselves must concede they can usually find them, but it’s currently hard to see any compelling reasons for a new record. The CNBC news service quotes a giddy analyst who is heartened by signs of an improving housing market and “good reports” from Priceline and The Dollar Tree, but the housing prices aren’t rising at the overly rapid rate they were back in ’07 — a soon-to-burst bubble caused by the government-created subprime mortgage boondoggle — and Priceline and The Dollar Tree are hardly drivers of the American economy. We’re not even sure what either company does, although we believe that Priceline is the company that William Shatner pitches and has something to do with the internet, and judging by the “Dollar” in its name we presume the Dollar Tree caters to budget-conscious shoppers trying to get by on incomes recently diminished by 3.6 percent.
The same analyst assures CNBC’s readers that the current state of the stock market is due to “more than soothing words from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke,” but we suspect that the Bearded One is mostly responsible. Bernanke has quantitatively eased a few gazillion dollars into the money supply during his time at the Fed, and with bonds yielding laughably low rates and new ventures smothered by reams of new regulations those dollars have nowhere to go but the stock market. So long as Bernanke keeps the printing presses running, the stock market should do fine.
Until it stops, as all things do. When it does, we hope to be safely invested in something very tangible. The bigger the bubble, the bigger the burst.

– Bud Norman