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Commentary & Opinion

Bill Owens: Confounding And Confusing Events 11/2/20

The Province of  Alberta, Canada has announced that it  will be starting a pilot program at one of their land borders and at the Calgary airport, permitting incoming citizens and visitors to take a COVID test which if it results in a negative outcome will eliminate or reduce the need to quarantine.  This certainly makes sense, and hopefully it will spread to other Provinces so that we can begin the process of actually reopening the border. 

A recent article by Roland Paris entitled “Open Canada” raises some interesting questions that Canadians will need to ponder as they go forward, including how they deal with a changed America, as at least some speculate, that  if Joe Biden wins it would not materially change the substance of the relationship,  but rather the tone of the relationship – a welcome change. The second question is how will Canada handle its relationship with China, which is at least somewhat frayed at this juncture, as well as the rest of Asia, as those economies grow and become more important on the world stage.  Third, how will Canadians prevent another pandemic, however it is not clear to me exactly how much control Canadians will have over such an event given the size of the country, its ability to invest in research, etc.  “Open Canada” is a digital magazine published by the Canadian International Council.    

The total votes cast in the 2016 Presidential election was approximately 128 million , while to date, 90,000,000 have voted early  (including in person,  mail-in and absentee ballots, assuming you can make a distinction between the latter two ) which is  over 70% of all the votes cast in 2016.  Obviously, who is voting is also important, but so far it appears that it is mostly Democrats, but then again, Republicans may come out on Election Day. 

The Wall Street Journal analyzed President Trump’s trade war against China, and concluded that it did not achieve the central objective of reversing a US decline in manufacturing based upon economic data, despite tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods to discourage imports.  This is yet another example of Mr. Trump touting an achievement that is actually false.  The Wall Street Journal, much to my surprise, has taken a position contrary to Mr. Trump, analyzed the information and concluded that Mr. Trump has not done what he said.  If anything should convince the people in the mid-west including Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin that Mr. Trump has failed in his China policy, this article alone should do it.  You may have noticed you don’t have your jobs back.

Further evidence, of the failure of this policy is the soaring trade imbalance which grew to $84 billion in August of this year, as importers shifted to cheaper goods from Viet Nam and Mexico.  The trade imbalance with China alone has also risen amid the pandemic, and essentially is back to where it started at the beginning of the Trump administration.  The reshoring which Mr. Trump claimed was happening – hasn’t.  While Mr. Trump’s trade advisors, of course, say that the tariffs succeeded and caused him to enter into a phase 1 transaction with China in January of 2020.  Again, however, that is not the real story. 

The Wall Street Journal reports, China agreed to buy $140 billion worth of agricultural energy and manufactured goods under the agreement signed in January of 2020.  As of September 30th, China has purchased $58.8 billion in goods and just $12 billion in agricultural products.  Mr. Trump achieved half his goal but he thinks he’s tamed China; I think it’s the reverse. 

Stocks are sinking this week, and a headline in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the 29th, puts it into perspective “Stocks fall as fears over economy grow.”  The only surprise here is that the fear is only happening now, the Coronavirus has been surging for several weeks, experts have been predicting this likely outcome for months.  The President and his supporters refuse to take basic steps, like wearing a mask and social distancing that would clearly help even if it didn’t eliminate the virus.  There are no takers it appears for rational behavior.  The fact that the stock market is just waking up is really not a surprise as the Wall Street crowd was, in fact, able for a sustained period of time to internally generate strength in the market, as it is obviously in their best interest to keep stock values high from the point of view of their customers, and in many cases, their own portfolios.

In another foreign policy flop, President Trump tariffs on foreign made steel haven’t produced a domestic industry resurgence as he promised.  This goes along with virtually every other foreign policy gambit that he has engaged in.  Big promises, tough words and no positive result for Americans.

Unfortunately, we are off again with the killing of a black man in Philadelphia, with demonstrations, riots, looting, etc.  I don’t have the capacity to understand the frustration because I have not lived through the circumstances of being a black person in our society.  It does appear to me, however, that there is a place clearly for demonstrations, there is a place for the calling for the reallocation of resources (not including defunding police, because that is a self-defeating strategy at every level).  Now it has to move into concrete proposals to take those allocated resources and drive it towards a positive result.  This is not happening, leadership in those communities where these events are occurring seem to me to be devoid of the ability to come forward with proposals that, in fact, would have an impact.  This needs input from people who have expertise rather than from politicians and activists. 

The Department of Homeland Security at the request of the White House is preparing a new plan for the collection of biometrics before foreign citizens can enter the US.  The documents that have been made available to date indicate that Canadian citizens eventually will be required to comply along with the 39 other countries currently enrolled on the Visa Waiver Program.  The question of how that will happen, and how far in advance could dramatically impact border traffic along the US/Canadian border.  It will either require people to submit the information in advance, or have the information collected at the border, processed and then a decision made as to whether or not the individual can enter the country.  Talk about long lines, inefficiency and interruptions to the US/Canada relationship, these steps will bring it to a new level.  If local officials along the border are concerned about the current closure of the border because of COVID, this will add a longer lasting set of problems to that process.  Another good idea from the Trump administration. 

Mr. Trump this weekend said to rally that doctors make an extra $2000.00 for each COVID death.  The sheer nonsense this represents is troubling, but the fact that Republicans, like Ms. Stefanik, ignore it shocks the conscience.

Bill Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher and Trombley in Plattsburgh, NY and a Strategic Advisor at 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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