Category Archives: business news

Labor market loses jobs; no big deal … maybe

Donald J. Trump was all too quick while running for president to denigrate the nation’s stellar job growth during the final months of Barack H. Obama’s administration.

A couple hundred thousand jobs added to non-farm private payrolls during a given month? The number are phony, Trump would proclaim. The Labor Department is cooking the books, he would allege with no proof. The “real jobless rate” is something like 40 percent, he’d bellow.

OK. Today, the Labor Department came out with some dismal jobs numbers: employers shed 33,000 jobs in September. Yes, the jobless rate fell to 4.2 percent, which is pretty darn low!

But, but …

Still, the job losses aren’t the president’s fault. Really. They aren’t. Economists blame the job loss on business shuttering in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The hospitality industry was particularly hard hit along the Texas coast and throughout Florida, they said.

The good news is that the jobs are likely to rebound in the weeks ahead as Texas and Florida continue to recover, albeit slowly, from the savage beatings delivered by Harvey and Irma.

There’s no particular moral to this item, other than the jobs report issued today is no more “cooked” or “made up” than they were when they were reporting much happier economic news.

Let’s also remember that not even this president — the self-proclaimed “very smart person” who surrounds himself with “the best people” — can prevent nature’s wrath from damaging the nation’s business structure.

Tax return questions are back

I cannot believe this is actually happening … well, actually I can.

Donald J. Trump’s tax returns — those documents he has refused to release for public review — are about to return once again to the center ring of the circus that describes the president’s administration.

The president is now pitching a tax reform/tax cut proposal he says won’t affect him and his family. He’s filthy rich, or so he’s told us repeatedly since he stormed onto the nation’s political stage in June 2015. The tax reform proposal, according to Trump, is meant to benefit middle-class Americans. The rich folks like the president won’t get a break … allegedly.

That assertion is getting careful scrutiny from the media and tax analysts who suggest that Trump would benefit significantly from what he and his economics team are proposing.

So-o-o-o …

How might we learn whether the president benefits from this tax plan? Oh, I’ve got it! Let’s look at his tax returns! 

Trump has declined to release the returns, flouting a presidential candidate custom dating back to 1976; every major-party nominee for four decades has released those returns in the interest of full disclosure. Trump said “no.” He said he’s under an Internal Revenue Service audit. The IRS says an audit doesn’t prevent release of those returns. Indeed, Trump never has actually produced any material evidence that he’s under audit.

But the point is this: Those hidden tax returns might become central to the public debate over the president’s tax reform/tax cut.

That is, if special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into “The Russia Thing” doesn’t produce those returns first.

Inquiring minds want to know the scope of Trump’s wealth, where it comes from and whether he would benefit materially from the tax plan he and his team are trying to sell to those of us who remain so skeptical of the president’s motives.

Amarillo’s downtown no longer recognizable

I made what I consider to be a startling discovery in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

After parking my car on a lot behind the brand new Embassy Suites hotel, I walked along Fillmore Street and turned the corner onto Sixth Avenue. I glanced across the street at a row of mostly empty storefronts along a shiny new wall — which I realized after a second or two was the north face of a new parking garage.

I glanced eastward toward the Civic Center just to be sure I hadn’t become disoriented. There it was. The Civic Center restored my bearings.

The discovery? It is that downtown Amarillo bears next to zero resemblance to the district I’ve come to know during my 22 years living in this Texas Panhandle community.

The Embassy Suites is now open for business. The parking garage is finished; indeed, I saw vehicles parked inside the structure.

My reason for venturing downtown this evening — in the rain — was to attend a retirement reception for a longtime friend and source I relied on when I worked for the Amarillo Globe-News. Gary Pitner is retiring as head of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission; I’ll have more to say about Gary in a later blog post.

My point with this post is to take note of the immense change that has occurred in downtown Amarillo — and the change that is still occurring.

Downtown Amarillo’s evolution is a highly positive event. I sort of think of it as a butterfly that emerges from some sort of cocoon. I don’t want to sound mawkish here, but that moment as I made the turn toward the Embassy Suites door also was a realization that the evolution is real.

There’s much more to come, of course. That ballpark is going to be built across the street from City Hall. They’ll take about a year to build a 4,500-seat multipurpose event venue. By April 2019, the MPEV will be done and they’ll toss out the first pitch for a AA minor-league baseball season.

I’m beginning to think when that time arrives that downtown Amarillo will be even less recognizable then that it is today.

That will be a very good thing.

That’s not very ‘populist’ of you, Mr. President

Stock Market up 5 months in a row!

So said Donald J. Trump via Twitter today.

I share the president’s enthusiasm about the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It speaks to burgeoning investor confidence in the nation’s economy and, presumably, about the president’s vision for the future.

We actually have some skin in that game. Our retirement portfolio contains holdings in the stock market. So I happen to be as glad as the president about the Dow’s performance for much of 2017.

However …

Didn’t the president campaign as a “populist”? Didn’t he tell us while winning the 2016 presidential campaign that he was for “the little guy”? He tried at times to sound more populist than, say, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the independent U.S. senator from Vermont and self-proclaimed “democratic socialist.”

A true-blue populist, by my definition of the term, should be skeptical, wary, even alarmed that the big ol’ rich guys are profiting so handsomely as their stock portfolios rocket skyward.

So, is the president a populist or is he a Populist in Name Only — a PINO?

My gut tells me I should go with the latter.

Trump taxes might be revealed … soon? Perhaps? Maybe?

Those special counsel investigations do have a way of producing results where one might least expect it.

Take the probe being conducted by Robert Mueller into the “Russia thing,” whether the Donald Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russians who were hacking into our electoral process in 2016.

It turns out that Mueller has enlisted the aid of Internal Revenue Services criminal investigative team to help him in his investigation of the Russia matter.

Why is this so, um, titillating?

The president told us when he launched his campaign two years ago that the IRS was conducting a “routine audit,” which prevented him from releasing his tax returns for public view; presidential candidates of both parties have been releasing their returns every election year dating back to 1976.

Trump has vowed to release them; then he backed away from that; then he sort of said he would release them; now he’s apparently back to the “no way” mode regarding the returns.

The IRS involvement is important to Mueller reportedly because it could reveal whether Trump had any business interests in Russia, something he denies. Evidence is piling up that Trump, uh, more than likely lied about that.

What needs saying once again is that a routine audit does not prevent release of the returns, according to the IRS. Moreover, Trump never has produced a shred evidence that the IRS is actually auditing his tax returns; he’s presumed that we should take his word for it.

The tax returns are important for a number of reasons. They shed light on the nation’s top public official’s business connections; they will tell us if the president really is as rich as he kept bragging he is; in this instance, they’ll reveal whether Trump is truthful about having “no business dealings in Russia.”

The tax return issue won’t go away. Nor should it. Not until the president keeps faith with a four-decade political tradition and releases them for full public scrutiny.

Stay true to plans to put Tubman on the $20 bill

Hold on a second, Steve Mnuchin. Many of us thought the switch from Andrew Jackson to Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill was a done deal.

The U.S. secretary of the Treasury now says he’s thinking about it.

Whoa!

Former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew got it done before he left office. He moved to take former President Jackson off the bill and replace it with Harriet Tubman, the heroic abolitionist who fought to end slavery in this country. It was hailed at the time of the announcement as historic for a couple of key reasons.

First, Tubman would be the first woman whose face would adorn U.S. currency. Second, and this arguably is the big one, she is the first African-American.

President Barack Obama signed off on the change. Many Americans cheered the change. Now it appears to be open for discussion.

“The No. 1 issue why we change the currency is to stop counterfeiting. So the issues of what we change will be primarily related to what we need to do for security purposes. I’ve received classified briefings on that. And that’s what I’m focused on for the most part,” Mnuchin said.

Is it just me or does that sound like he’s possibly tip-toeing around some secret issue?

I do hope Mnuchin isn’t backing away merely because this was an Obama administration initiative, or that the current president is seeking to curry favor with his “base,” which seems to detest anything associated with the name “Barack Obama.”

Tubman’s heroic efforts to end slavery should be honored. Meanwhile, Old Hickory owned slaves. Hmmm. One sought to end enslavement; the other was, well … you know.

Donald Trump offered his usual platitude during the 2016 campaign about Tubman. According to CNBC:

 I think Harrriet Tubman is fantastic.” He added: “I would love to leave Andrew Jackson and see if we can maybe come up with another denomination. Maybe we do the $2 bill or we do another bill.”

While Trump complimented Tubman, he said at the time that he didn’t agree with replacing Jackson on the denomination. “I don’t like seeing it. Yes, I think it’s pure political correctness. Been on the bill [Jackson] for many, many years. And, you know, really represented somebody that really was very important to this country.

If you can figure out what candidate Trump was saying, then you’re far smarter than I am — which likely isn’t saying much.

Back to my original point: Don’t derail this change in the currency, Mr. Secretary. You can figure out the counterfeiting/security angle while staying true to your predecessor’s pledge to  honor a true American hero.

Barfield Building gets another look … maybe

I would love to cheer this bit of news regarding a long-standing downtown Amarillo eyesore.

I’m afraid I have to hold back the hoo-rah. You see, we’ve been down this path before — many times before, in fact.

The owners of the Barfield Building — at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street — have hired a Dallas architectural firm and will be seeking tax credits to help finance a project to turn the building into a downtown hotel. They’re looking at using the Barfield’s historical significance as a lure for the credits; they cite the Fisk Building’s conversion into a downtown hotel using about $16 million in tax credits.

Does any of this sound familiar regarding the Barfield Building? It should.

The building was erected in the late 1920s. It’s been vacant since the early 1990s. Its prior owner, Todd Harmon, couldn’t get anything done. Another investor, Tom Pauken, took ownership. He then handed it off to a local investment consortium. Now the current owners have enlisted the help of a firm to develop plans.

As I read the news report about the Barfield, I see words like “plans” and “hopeful.” I translate that kind of language into “pipe dream.”

Barfield may get aid

Don’t misconstrue my sentiments. I would applaud the renovation of the Barfield Building were it to come to fruition. Any effort to restore an old structure and return it to something of actual value is going to benefit the city.

However …

Have you seen the Barfield Building — lately? A construction team years ago managed to tear out the ground floor. Then work stopped. They boarded up the place to keep transients from using it as shelter.

We’ve hit starts and stops. Building owners and investors have come and gone. I’ve witnessed much of this during the 22 years I’ve lived in Amarillo.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m not yet ready to climb aboard this bandwagon. At least not yet.

Business advisory councils’ demise no huge deal, except …

The dismantling of two advisory councils by the president of the United States won’t matter in the grand scheme of the Donald John Trump administration’s method of operation.

The president doesn’t listen to advice. He doesn’t value the expertise of his advisers. He keeps his own counsel. He then acts on some gut impulse.

So, with the departure of the American Manufacturing Advisory Council and the Strategy and Policy Forum we haven’t lost anything of great value — to this administration.

The context, though, is important.

CEOs from both panels — which serve on a volunteer basis — were bailing en masse as a result of Trump’s hideous and jaw-dropping rant on Tuesday about the Charlottesville riot, the one where he blamed “both sides” for the violence and the tragic death of Heather Heyer and those two Virginia state troopers.

Moreover, they had informed the president of their intention to quit, effectively ending their existence. Trump, though, decided to get ahead of them with a tweet that said he was taking the initiative and ending the councils himself.

Put another way: Donald Trump lied. Again. Plainly.

It’s the context of these councils’ demise that gives this story its legs.

If only the president would have valued whatever advice they could provide him, then the country would be the lesser for their departure.

Many of us are left to wonder: Are White House staffers and, oh, possibly Cabinet members next to head for the exits?

CEOs quit; Trump then dismisses the whole bunch

Donald J. Trump did what many folks have come to expect of him: He decided to lash out bigly against those who have grown critical of his administration.

The chief executives of several major companies quit his President’s Manufacturing Advisory Council. They resigned because of the president’s remarks regarding the Charlottesville mayhem. Similar resignations were expected from the Strategic and Policy Forum; again, for the same reasons. You know about the fallout that has blanketed the president and the White House as a result of Trump’s astonishing impromptu press event Tuesday at Trump Tower.

What does Trump do? He disbands both councils, announcing his decision via — where else? — Twitter. He tweeted this message:

Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!

Sigh.

Here is how The Hill reported it.

Is that how a grownup handles such unrest within handpicked blue-ribbon councils and boards? Of course not. It is, though, the way a junior high school student would handle a dispute with a classmate. But that’s the president’s modus operandi. No attempt to reach out, to seek some understanding, to explain in detail why he said what he said about Charlottesville.

The CEOs quit. Then Trump decides to get rid of the whole initiative. Will there be anything to replace these advisory boards? Given the president’s penchant for ignoring anyone’s advice, I guess it’s safe to presume there won’t be a need to replace them.

The sequence of events, though, does remind me of how a boss prepares to fire an employee, who then — in a fit of faux rage — yells back at the employer: You can’t fire me. I quit!

Great jobs report, but what has POTUS done … exactly?

The U.S. Labor Department chimed in this morning with a stellar jobs report for July.

The nation added 209,000 payroll jobs. The unemployment rate fell from 4.4 percent to 4.3 percent. It’s good news. The economy is on the move, as it has been for some time now.

Donald J. Trump, as expected, took credit for the great jobs report. Yes, the president should be thrilled and happy with them. I welcome the good news as much as he does.

He said he’s “only just begun” to bring back more American jobs.

My question, though, is this: What, precisely, has the president done to generate the stellar jobs numbers?

Legislative accomplishment? None. We haven’t overhauled the tax system. Congress hasn’t acted on the president’s infrastructure revitalization plan. It hasn’t tossed out and replaced the Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rolled back many of regulations enacted in prior administrations, but have those actions produced — by themselves — these big job numbers? Umm. No.

Take credit, Mr. President, if you wish. You are entitled to all the credit you deserve — which is some, but nearly as much as you seem to suggest.