Category Archives: economic news

It was inevitable, one should suppose, that crisis would produce scandal

I suppose it was expected, that we shouldn’t be surprised at the news flying out of Washington, D.C.

The world is reeling from a deadly pandemic. Now we hear that some members of the U.S. Senate sought to take advantage of their power, their influence, their access to classified information to — allegedly! — score huge profits.

What is it about crises that they seem to attract this kind of potentially scandalous behavior?

We are saluting the heroes and Good Samaritans among us who are performing acts of kindness, empathy and care for those who need help coping with the coronavirus.

It’s also good to condemn those who potentially could use their influence to (a) mislead the public regarding the severity of the crisis and (b) profit from their misdirection.

Several senators allegedly have sought to do profit from the confusion and chaos brought by the pandemic.

One of them allegedly is Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. He attended a classified meeting in January where he and other senators were told of the dangers that the coming pandemic posed to the economy, as well as to people’s health. Burr then soft-pedaled the threat, telling the public that all would be just fine.

Meanwhile, he allegedly sold millions of dollars of stock just prior to the stock market’s shocking collapse. Do you get it? Sen. Burr got his while the gettin’ was still good, leaving millions of other Americans in the lurch while their retirement accounts were flushed away as investors started to panic.

Is this how it’s supposed to go? Of course not! It’s just a sickening symptom — again, allegedly — of behavior that those in power too often exhibit.

There needs to be a full, frontal investigation into what Burr and some other senators knew and when they knew it. If they are determined to have committed illegal acts, they need to be prosecuted aggressively … for violating their sacred public trust.

None of us should be surprised that this scandal has been revealed.

Taking a measure of comfort from PSAs

Time for an admission: This coronavirus crisis/pandemic has me seriously out of sorts.

I don’t like facing the prospect of such dramatic life changes. The idea that the United States of America might shut down completely, to be honest, is damn frightening. So are the warnings from health and science experts that the “worst is yet to come” and that we could face many millions of stricken Americans, and a vast number of fatalities.

The rush on basic groceries has emptied our neighborhood supermarket here in Princeton, Texas. We went to the store this morning looking to buy a few items. We aren’t hoarders. Row after row of empty shelves greeted us.

I don’t like what I am seeing and what I am feeling.

Now for the good news.

I am drawing a measure of comfort from some of the public service announcements I am seeing on TV. CBS-TV, for one, is broadcasting a PSA showing stars from several of its prime-time programming that reminds us that “we’re in this together.”

No one is alone. No one should feel abandoned. No one should give up hope, that we’ll get through this mess.

By all means I want the end to arrive sooner rather than later. I don’t know if the PSAs are going to snap me out of my funk in the immediate term. Maybe eventually I will snap out of it once I get used to the many changes in our lives that this pandemic is forcing on all of us.

I guess the trick is to look at the longer term rather than worry about what is happening to us in the moment.

I’ll admit it’s hard to do. However, I will cling to the good word and to the encouragement that we’re all in this together.

Thousand bucks to Americans? Thank you, Andrew Yang!

I truly cannot believe what I have been hearing today, that Donald Trump appears to be channeling a failed Democratic presidential candidate.

Businessman Andrew Yang campaigned for president promising to send all Americans a monthly stipend of $1,000; Republicans and even some Democrats blasted the idea as foolish. Yang ended his presidential campaign a few weeks ago.

Now comes the president of the United States pledging to send Americans a $1,000 payment to help deal with the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic that has thrown many citizens out of work.

My head is spinning!

The handout will cost about $1 trillion. Where does the president get the money? Well, I guess the Treasury Department just prints it.

I do not understand where this is coming from.

The first order of the federal government’s business is to protect us from disease and other threats. Donald Trump was a bit slow to come around, but he is starting to sound like someone who finally gets it. I hope he stays the course on that matter.

Hospitals are understaffed and underequipped, though, in advance of what most experts say will be a serious surge in coronavirus illness. What are the feds doing in that regard? How are they going to assist state and local governments shore up the health care provisions that will be required to deal with that surge?

A thousand bucks in our pockets won’t do the job.

Don’t get me wrong. Americans should welcome the dough … but the long game still needs definition.

SXSW falls victim to coronavirus

The coronavirus scare has just hit a lot of Texans where it hurts.

Austin city officials have canceled the annual South by Southwest music and art festival. Why? They don’t want to expose the thousands of spectators who had planned to flock to the Hill Country to the threat of the virus.

Well now. This is how you measure the economic impact of the coronavirus.

SXSW means a lot to many folks who flock to Austin each year. They get a chance to experience the Texas brand of music. And oh brother, the event draws plenty of top-drawer acts to the Texas capital city. SXSW brought in an estimated $350 million to the Austin-area economy in 2019.

It might be rescheduled. Or, it might have to be put aside for a year. Maybe longer, yes?

According to the Austin Business Journal: Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said cancellation was a data-driven decision and not made out of “panic.”

“This is a decision based on expert medical opinion that we should cancel or discourage festivals and mass gatherings countywide that are drawing participants from other areas of the country and the world that have documented cases of person-to-person transmission,” she said.

This is a prudent call. It was the only decision that made sense, given the exposure that many folks might have had by mingling with thousands of others.

They call it “community transmission.” It involves people touching other people. There’s a lot of that kind of activity at SXSW.

Good call, folks.

There’s always next year. We hope.

That ‘organic’ smell might be harmful to your health

When my wife and I moved to the Texas Panhandle in early 1995, we thought we were relocating to a place where the “smell of money” had a more, um, organic origin … that it wouldn’t be harmful to the health of those closest to it.

We had lived for nearly 11 years in the Golden Triangle, the heart of the Texas petrochemical and oil refining industry, where the smell of money was full of cancer-causing agents.

It now turns out, according to the Texas Observer, that the Panhandle’s money smell is, shall we say, not so healthy after all.

It’s called “fecal dust,” with the incessant wind blowing clouds of dirt filled with cattle dung particles. The result has been increases in respiratory illness, extreme discomfort and a smell that forces feedlot employees to shed their clothing the minute they go home after working among thousands of head of cattle.

The Panhandle produces roughly one-fifth of the beef consumed in the United States. The beef, as we know, comes from cattle that are sent to feedlots to fatten up prior to the beasts being “processed” into the meat we enjoy at our dinner tables.

It’s what they do in those feedlots that is the center of the Observer’s investigation. There’s no nice way to say it: They crap on the ground inside the pens; the wind blows the dirt across the sprawling, open landscape. Those who are near the source suffer from assorted respiratory ailments.

As the Observer reported: “You go outside and it’ll just burn your nose and your eyes,” (Lawrence) Brorman says. The dust brings foul odors so pervasive that they can penetrate the Brormans’ farmhouse even when the doors and windows are closed. Lawrence and his wife, Jaime, use a more explicit term for the fecal dust: “shust,” a portmanteau of “shit” and “dust.” (Other folks who live here are partial to “shog,” a mashup of the same first word and “fog.”)

Read the Observer story here.

This story alarms me. It concerns me because I have friends who live near those feedlots. My wife and I have dear friends who live in Hereford, which is the undisputed, if unofficial, “capital” of the cattle-feeding industry in the Texas Panhandle.

There needs to be a careful monitoring of that fecal dust matter, for sure. Let us hope Texas environmental regulators are keeping an eye — and a nose — open to what’s transpiring up yonder on the Caprock.

Indeed, “organic” doesn’t always mean “healthy.”

Tariffs harm U.S. economy, experts say

It turns out that Donald Trump’s alleged expertise on international trade policy is, shall we say, a bit overstated.

Put another way, the president’s decision to impose tariffs on imported goods has harmed U.S. taxpayers and cost American jobs he vowed would return in droves.

Whose analysis is this? The Federal Reserve has released a study laying out what it says has been the impact of the tariffs across the land. It hasn’t been good, according to the Fed analysis.

This likely will bring some recrimination from Trump, who will say the numbers are wrong, they’re cooked up in some star chamber kitchen and that they’re intended to throw the upcoming election into his opponents’ corner.

As The Hill reports: “We find that tariff increases enacted in 2018 are associated with relative reductions in manufacturing employment and relative increases in producer prices,” the report by Fed economists Aaron Flaaen and Justin Pierce reads.

This is pretty in line with what many economists have said all along about tariffs, which is that they don’t harm the producers of the goods being imported into this country, but that they inflate the prices we pay here.

Trump is having none of it. He keeps insisting that tariffs are part of a successful strategy to “put America first.” He wants to punish countries that don’t play fair in the game of international trade. I certainly understand the president’s stated reason for wanting a fairer playing field.

Why, though, must he invoke tariffs that do two things immediately? They boost prices on imported goods, which is a de facto tax and they rattle the daylights out of financial markets, affecting the retirement portfolios of millions of Americans … such as, well — my wife and me!

This so-called trade policy damn sure isn’t making America great again.

Calling all business to the downtown parking garage!

With all the success enjoyed this past spring and summer by Amarillo’s newly installed AA minor-league baseball team, I had hoped to be able to cheer for the stampede of new business filling up ground-floor storefronts at the parking garage across the street from the ballpark where the Sod Poodles play the Grand Old Game.

Alas, no cheering … at least not just yet.

The parking garage does have a tenant, or so I understand. Joe Taco, the (somewhat) upscale Mexican restaurant is moving into the garage; for all I know, perhaps Joe Taco has made the move.

The rest of the structure, though, appears to remain dark.

The idea was for the ballpark to act as fairly quick lure for businesses looking to profit from all the ballpark activity associated with the Amarillo Sod Poodles. The Sod Poodles played to packed houses at Hodgetown throughout their initial Texas League season.

None of this concern over the lack of parking-garage activity is intended to suggest gloom and doom for the structure. I remain optimistic that the garage investment will pay off. It just might be that the planners and economic gurus perhaps oversold the immediate result that the Sod Poodles would produce once they began their season in Amarillo.

The city’s changing downtown landscape remains a work in progress. So far, the work I have seen suggests that progress is going to follow in due course.

What do you know? Dems and Repubs can work together!

The atmosphere in Washington, D.C. has gotten beyond toxic, with the impeachment of the president on the horizon. Democrats and Republicans can’t say anything nice to or about each other these days.

But wait! Amid all that impeachment rancor, exacerbated I should say by Donald Trump’s incessant and relentless Twitter barrage, we see the parties working together to craft a new North American trade agreement.

It’s called the USMCA, which is shorthand for a trade agreement among the United States, Mexico and Canada. It replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement that was hammered out by the Clinton administration.

Donald Trump vowed to scrap NAFTA and replace it with something else. He vowed to craft the best deal in human history. The president hasn’t quite delivered the goods all by himself. It turns out he needed some legislative help not just from his Republican allies, but also from his Democratic foes, er, enemies.

I haven’t yet studied the USMCA, but I understand it’s supposed to benefit Texas business interests, given our lengthy border with Mexico. It also contains some environmental protections that progressives wanted in a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

However, the good news amid all the toxicity that infects everything in D.C. these days is that both political parties can lay claim to a victory … that isn’t at the other party’s expense.

That’s not a bad outcome.

What must Herring Hotel owner be thinking?

I haven’t talked to the owner of the long-vacant Herring Hotel in downtown Amarillo, Texas, for a good while. I know Bob Goodrich quite well. He’s a nice man, a conscientious property owner — and a fellow with big dreams for the building that once served as the go-to spot for Amarillo’s social elite.

That all stipulated, Goodrich must be steamed as he reads about other abandoned downtown buildings finding new life. The latest such structure is the Rule Building, which developer Todd Harmon wants to turn into a boutique hotel. Then there’s the Barfield Building, which is going to open soon as boutique lodging.

Other structures are finding life, or are being repurposed into something other than their original use.

Then there’s the Herring Hotel building. It sits there. Vacant and rotting. Goodrich pays the taxes on it every year. He seeks developers and investors. He once called me to say he had a potential investor lined up; then the deal fell through.

Someone who at the time had intimate knowledge of downtown Amarillo’s redevelopment efforts told me years ago he was certain there would be a happy ending to the Herring Hotel saga. This individual is no longer part of the downtown in-crowd and, of course, I have retired from daily journalism and have relocated to another community. It’s quite possible this person didn’t know what he was talking about, but … well, that’s grist for another story — maybe. 

I do have a parting thought. Perhaps there ought to be a statement from the downtown redevelopment gurus addressing the reasons why the Herring Hotel continues to sit quietly with no apparent action on the horizon. Center City? The Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone board? City Hall? The Amarillo Matters PAC? The Convention and Visitors Council? Amarillo EDC?

Might there be some way to reveal to the nosey segments of the public what they think they need to know about the Herring Hotel? Is there a future for the building … or not?

266,000, 3.5 percent: Numbers are great, Mr. POTUS, however …

You bet that those numbers released this morning from the U.S. Labor Department are pretty darn stellar.

We added 266,000 jobs to our private payrolls in November; unemployment ticked down to 3.5 percent, retaining a full-employment ratio in the work force.

Those are impressive figures, as Donald Trump will tell us. “It’s the economy, stupid,” he tweeted this morning, using a phrase made famous by Bill Clinton campaign guru James Carville in 1992.

Let’s wait, though, for yet another suggestion from the president that will declare, “You cannot impeach me. Look at the job I’m doing to boost the economy! The economy is going too well for you to impeach me!” 

Mr. President, the pending impeachment by the House of Representatives has nothing — zero, zilch — to do with the economy. Indeed, presidents don’t get impeached based on how they are handling the nation’s economic health, unless they commit some sort of “high crime and misdemeanor.” Near as I can tell, Donald Trump’s trouble has nothing to do with the economy.

It has everything to do with other matters relating to how he has abused the power of his office to solicit a foreign government to help him win re-election. The articles of impeachment that will come from the House will speak to that abuse of power, perhaps to obstruction of justice or to obstruction of Congress.

The economy? It won’t be mentioned anywhere in those articles.

So, Mr. President, you may stop referencing the economy in the context of impeachment. It’s a non-starter.