Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A new year, a new opportunity

It's the start of a new year and new decade (what happened to the last one) so we should all look forward to a fresh 52 weeks that can only be better than the last as all the actions that were announced and put in place should begin to bear fruit. My guess is that they are budding nicely as I am hearing more positive stimulus or shovel ready jokes, although some are quite mean, that indicates to me that something is happening.

As King Mongkut of Siam said in the King and I musical, "it's a puzzlement." Our elected representatives in the U.S Congress swear to defend the country and to attend to the health and welfare of our people. And yet politics trumps all and they prefer to bicker, call each other names, and point fingers of guilt rather than remember what they were elected to do. Let me repeat what I said in an earlier blog, it's the economy – stupid!

It seems that the latest terrorist threat on Christmas day has everyone in Washington focused on placing blame. Just a simple question, what would be their attitude if the explosives had gone off? Another binge of 9/11 patriotism? Or more pin the blame on someone exercises.

Now I am as patriotic as the next guy. You may be surprised to learn that I was out of the country on 9/11 and fairly remote from the up-to-the minute news, getting it mostly in German (which I don't understand) or in phone conversations with my wife. So I did not experience the 24 hour news saturation of the events and thus I look back at that attack with a detached viewpoint. What did strike me then, was the unified sharing of grief and the outspoken "one voice" of our leaders. The political finger pointing did not start right away, as it did when the hurricane hit New Orleans.

My view of political vagaries is not provincial, having seen the same types of reactions in Japan, Germany, and the UK. So I think this political response must be worldwide. In fact I can imagine a Neanderthal rival chucking rocks at his chief who blew the mammoth hunt with a missed spear thrust. Not a bad analogy, right?

Those who get dirt under their fingernails as they labor in the vineyards know what the situation is; they want to work and ask that those who can see to providing a workplace do so. Instead of only saying no it would be refreshing to hear a unified voice in Washington saying go.

We are blessed here in America with a willing, ambitious, hard-working and ingenious work force, just waiting for some encouragement from Washington to get things going, like we know an American team can do.

Having vented on my distaste for politicians of all stripes let me point out that in spite of them we have triumphed before and will again. I am so encouraged by the good things I read and hear about. Successes that I used to call "slivers of light" are so abundant that one can't be negative about rapid recovery in the U.S. manufacturing sector. All we have to do is to make and sell one more widget than we did yesterday to brag about growth. And if 10,000 industrial companies make and sell one more each day we have the beginning of a wave, not a tsunami, but a pretty healthy swell that will lift all the boats that begins to look like a surge.

As the New Year begins I am optimistic about prospects for this to happen, with or without political support from the country's leaders. I don't want to hear about nagging unemployment and I am tired of hearing things like, "at least the negative numbers are not as bad as they were last month." When did the American "can do" spirit turn so negative. A phrase, coined by speechwriter William Safire, and delivered by then Vice-President Spiro Agnew, in a speech given in San Diego on September 11, 1970, comes to mind. He criticized the press as "nattering nabobs of negativism." Substitute politicians for press and the term is quite apt today. It's going to take more than the negativism rampant in Washington to dull my optimism that the beginning of a new decade will be less than auspicious.

In case you missed it, The Institute for Supply Management announced that U.S. manufacturing expanded in each of the last five months of 2009. In December the index went to 55.9% with new orders rising five points to 95.5% and production increasing two points to 61.8% while employment increased 1.8% to 52% indicating that the manufacturing sector is adding workers at a faster pace. In all fairness, backlogs grew at a slower rate to 50%, on the border between growth and contraction. I think five months of expansion is great news and I choose not to ride with the herd that is now projecting quiet recovery.

Maybe we should use the term the Wall Street Journal (1/4/10) used to describe the financial market performance in 2009 – rebound, if not recovery; I kind of like that. Rebound, a verb, implies an elastic response, a sort of springing back, whereas recovery, a noun, reminds me of a return to health over time, a convalescence tied to timing. So for the time being I'm going with rebound, until proven wrong.

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