Global Matters: Good news is no news

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Good economic news is in short supply these days, so it’s worth noting a few encouraging signs that can be discerned amid the gloom and doom.

This past week, automaker Ford Motor Co. posted a second-quarter profit of $2.6 billion, its fifth consecutive profitable quarter. Ford anticipates a profitable 2010 overall and an even more successful 2011.

McDonald’s Corp. reported a 12 percent rise in net income for the second quarter, as U.S. diners appeared to take to various designer beverages, and as sales grew in China and in Australia.

GE, noting “continued strong cash generation … and solid underlying performance in (its) industrial businesses,” raised its quarterly dividend two cents per share, to 12 cents.

Closer to home, midcoast Maine scored a great victory when cutting-edge aircraft manufacturer Kestral Aircraft announced it would be locating its base of operations at Brunswick Landing, the soon-to-be-decommissioned Naval Air Station Brunswick. Kudos to Steve Levesque and his team at the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.

These four indicators, one hopes, reflect strengthening consumer confidence (more Americans buying cars and spending a bit extra on dining), the loosening of credit (such that investment and industrial activity can increase) and gathering confidence in a sustained recovery (so that research and development can lead to the manufacture and purchase of state-of-the-art, big-ticket items like aircraft).

Of course, few will be convinced that recovery is upon us until the housing market rebounds (and things don’t look too promising there) and until unemployment claims decline and employment creeps back up.

Nonetheless, such is the level of enmity that characterizes the current political environment that in reading or listening to the news one encounters an almost willful refusal to see the donut rather than the hole.

As most Americans know, President Obama and his family visited Maine for a brief vacation in Bar Harbor. The Obamas stopped at Mt. Desert Ice Cream for a cone and the right wing blogosphere promptly seized on the shop’s logo of a clenched fist grasping a spoon as an indication that the president harbored sympathies for his “radical base.”

If anyone belies the image of a radical, it’s Barack Obama. Indeed, perhaps because so many Americans fear the archetypal “angry black man,” Sen. and later candidate Obama studiously conveyed a measured, stoic and calm demeanor so as to undercut the charges of his adversaries.

Yet here, too, the president can do no right.

In this past week’s Maine Sunday Telegram, Publisher Richard Connor cited the same photo (with the fist) and criticized the president for his “cool and cocky demeanor” and, apparently, for loafing when he should have been doing other productive work.

Plainly we live in an environment characterized by a toxic alchemy of virtually unprecedented economic and foreign policy challenges, all presided over by a quiet, young African-American whom millions are bound and determined to distrust or even despise.

To many, the president is an enigma, particularly when contrasted with his predecessor. This president, however, is inclined neither to bullhorn moments nor to celebrating missions not yet accomplished.

He has instead focused on substance.

He has shepherded to fruition the most comprehensive health care reform measure in generations. He has succeeded in passing landmark financial oversight legislation to reduce the likelihood of future economic implosions like that from which we are now recovering. He has implemented ambitious economic stimulus packages that many believe have prevented even worse hemorrhaging of jobs.

He has managed to secure Russia’s participation in a tough sanctions regime that is beginning to impart serious strains on the Iranian economy and, it is hoped, its leadership.

He has recognized the effectiveness of Maine’s George Mitchell and dispatched him to the Middle East where Mitchell is, typically, quietly earning the confidence and trust of the conflict’s principals.

He has nominated and will soon see confirmed the second of two highly qualified women to the Supreme Court of the United States.

And he has accomplished these things in the face of the most fractious, vicious, vitriolic, and, yes, racist partisan political opposition in memory, and he has done it all in 20 months.

Critics can rightly express their misgivings about the size of the budget deficit (though there are many mainstream economists who believe that stimulus spending is inadequate), or about the effectiveness of a particular regulatory framework.

But what this president has accomplished under these circumstances, in such a short time, against the most intractable opposition and challenging conditions imaginable is stunning and will withstand the scrutiny of both history and punditry.

For some, the bad news is that good economic news is beginning to trickle in, and more, I believe, is forthcoming.

But don’t expect to read or hear too much about it. Not when there is ice cream to consider.

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Perry B. Newman is a South Portland resident and president of Atlantica Group, an international business consulting firm based in Portland, with clients in North America, Israel and Europe.