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Bill Owens: Confounding And Confusing Events 2/24/20

Roger Stone was sentenced Thursday after much consternation arising out of the Justice Department’s action in response to a tweet from Mr. Trump (maybe?) and Mr. Barr coming under intense pressure after making comments in the news about his desire that Mr. Trump cease criticizing the DOJ and that those actions were making his job impossible.  It’s very difficult to know what the game really is with Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr.  The results of Mr. Stone’s sentencing hearing indicated to me that the Court has ignored the noise from the President and from Mr. Barr.  The Judge issued an independent sentence.  Where the Justice Department goes from here is truly concerning.  Mr. Barr seems to have bent over backwards to help Mr. Trump on an ongoing basis, yet he seemed to take umbrage at recent comments by Mr. Trump.  We will see where all this takes us, but maybe it’s to a new Attorney General.

Representative Thompson said in an editorial that there would be tremendous benefits to his largely AG district arising out of the USMCA, that runs contrary to what economists are saying including as I have mentioned many times before the Trump’s Administration’s own International Trade Commission says about the deal. It has very limited economic benefit.  The real benefit for most American business is the consistency with the rules laid down under NAFTA and their continuation going forward with very few, if any, changes.  This limits disruption at the border and disruption in supply chains.  

Mr. Bloomberg also provided a bit of comic relief by buying Greenland from Denmark.  Apparently, Mr. Trump’s reaction was to direct Mr. Kushner to attempt to acquire the Faroe Islands from Denmark and the response that was received indicated that the Prime Minister of Denmark did not think that Mr. Trump could manage the Faroe Islands.  Mr. Bloomberg’s spokesman indicated that “Mike gets it done” which is clearly reference to the fact that Mr. Trump made noises about purchasing Greenland but was never able to follow-through.  My suspicion is he really doesn’t have the money.

The Federal Judges Association was meeting on Thursday of this past week to discuss the developments in the Roger Stone case.  This is all part of that ongoing saga which was likely driven by Mr. Trump’s negative comments about Judge Berman who is the Presiding Judge in that case.  Clearly, as Chief Justice Roberts indicated many months ago now, that there are no Obama judges, no Trump judges, no Reagan judges and that the vast majority of the people sitting on the Federal bench are people of good intention and good conscience even though we may not agree with a decision that they might make.  The only court that seems to be highly politicized is the Supreme Court which was deliberately packed with people who share Mr. Trump’s political philosophy and who execute on it. Chief Justice Roberts is caught in a real conundrum as he tries to maintain the Court’s neutrality.  

Canada has delayed the USMCA Ratification for somewhat unclear reasons.  This is something of a surprise since previously Canada was a strong supporter and the USMCA and it may in fact be more important for Canada than it is for the United States.  The flip side of that, of course, is that NAFTA stays in place until such time as either the USMCA is passed or NAFTA is terminated, so it would seem that Canada would get to it in the near term, but again I am a bit surprised at the delay.

We are seeing interesting developments on the health care front particularly as it relates to PHARMA  It appears that the pharmaceutical industry is somewhat on the run in terms of a  number of pieces of legislation, including those being pushed by POTUS to cap at least some drug costs, it is a little unclear exactly how that will work and certainly many people including myself when I was in Congress felt that one of the areas that needed to be addressed was allowing Medicare to negotiate drug costs given its economic clout which seemed contrary to all capitalisms tenets. If you have buying power you should have the ability to negotiate based upon quantity alone.

On the Coronavirus front, this is turning into a much larger political issue between the United States and China then it may appear on its face.  This past week the U.S. Government has taken a harsher position relative to Huawei in terms of its ability to conduct business in the U.S., there has been no significant movement on the deal struck a couple of weeks ago in terms of additional purchasing by China, there has been ample criticism of the Chinese handling of the virus and a lack of transparency.  Two Wall Street Journal reporters were thrown out of China for reporting on the disease and the large number of deaths and cases that continue to be reported remains troubling.  Many experts in the infectious disease community believe that the slow down this past week in new cases may not be the permanent break that all are hoping for, but rather a temporary lull which will be followed by a rapid increase. It’s very hard to follow this disease pattern when one lacks technical knowledge, but it seems clear that with cases being reported on cruise ships, people having exited cruise ships who were at least contagious, if not currently infected, raises an enormous number of questions as to where the disease will pop up again.  This has clearly been mishandled by the Chinese, but as usual their government is trying to contain it internally as well as externally.  It will be interesting to see if business gets back running within the next week or so because if it does not, it could have serious impacts to the globally economy not just the Chinese economy.

The EU announced within the last couple of days that the negotiations with England arising out of Brexit for a new trade deal are a different ballgame than that with Canada.  Boris Johnson had been asserting that he believed that England should get the same type of deal that Canada had gotten which is quite favorable to Canada.  Obviously, the EU is less than happy with Britain for withdrawing and is making it clear that these negotiations are going to be difficult and time-consuming.  How much time Boris Johnson has is a real question. 

Bill Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford Owens in Plattsburgh, NY and a Senior Advisor to Dentons to Washington, DC.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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