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Bill Owens: Confounding And Confusing Events 3/8/21

It looks like the honeymoon is over for President Biden, as he is drawing heat for not punishing Saudi Arabia for the actions of the crown Prince, relative to the Khashoggi murder, and his appointment for OMB Director has been withdrawn

Senator Rick Scott from Florida recently commented that Joe Biden won “absolutely fair and square”, although he was one of the Senators who voted to overturn the election by refusing to count the votes in the Electoral College.  I wonder what changed his mind, must have seen some interesting polling in Florida. 

The CPAC Conference was its typical self.  First, of course, for Mr. President Trump spoke and reiterated all of his false claims, and enumerated an enemies list.  Congresswoman Greene was there, although not a speaker, and seemed to receive adulation from much of the crowd, it appears that the looney tunes were out in force.  Then, of course, we had the golden idol of President Trump on display with people taking selfies, and otherwise, expressing love for Mr. Trump.  It is interesting, if you will, to see that people who profess to be Christian are bowing down to a graven idol of a man who virtually has no Christian values other than he purportedly supports Conservative judges and is anti-abortion.  It is very difficult to tell how people rationalize this given his other behavior and how he treats the rest of the world, generally.  The golden image includes a magic wand and a level of reverence for Trump which is very confounding because of his less than stellar character, and yet, these “religious conservatives” find him an acceptable Christian.

A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled, “If Nice Guys Finish Last, How Could Trump Have Lost?”  It has many comical features to it as it, in essence, says the only nice guy in the White House in the last forty years was Bush II.  That is certainly his reputation on Capitol Hill, and he largely lived up to that in terms of how he interacted with Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump. It is worth the read; it is kind of fun. The analysis that is included concludes that from Reagan to Mr. Biden the Presidents were in varying degrees nice guys, but by comparison to Mr. Trump, they all appeared to be very nice guys with Mr. Bush, nonetheless, taking the title. 

Apparently, the Republic of Ireland is creating a bit of a snag for the ratification of the EU/Canada trade deal. The Irish, at least some in the Dail, are convinced with investment protections. It seems clear that benefits override any objections, so we anticipate approval by the Republic.

FBI Director, Chris Ray on Tuesday of this week stated to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the actions of January 6th were domestic terrorism.  He also specifically stated that the FBI has not seen evidence that left wing extremists posing as Trump supporters were members of Antifa and were involved in the attack as has been suggested by Mr. Trump and other Republicans, which, again, points out the fact that those who are Trump supporters tend to feel free to spread false information that they believe substantiates their position. A sorry lot!

In a recent OP-ED, Donald Lambro, long time reporter and editor in Washington, DC, noted that the Congressional Budget Office predicted a deficit of $2.3 trillion in 2021, which is the fiscal year that began on October 1, 2020 and runs through September 30, 2021, which is $900 billion less than that recorded in fiscal year 2020, but it equals 10.3% of gross domestic product (GDP), and will be the second largest since 1945, only exceeded by the 2020 deficit.  He goes on to prod members of Congress to take a look at all the wasteful spending that occurs in the federal government, and to take steps to reduce it.  Unfortunately, the problem is both one of income and expense, and given the low levels of tax rates, the likelihood of being able to close the budget deficit while continuing to spend at these levels is virtually impossible.  The Defense Department takes up an enormous portion of these budgets, and needs to be seriously looked at, as again, I have pointed out in the past that we need to look at our national defense strategy and determine whether or not we are going to continue to engage in significant military conflicts, but also, as Mr. Trump correctly pointed out, we need help from NATO and from our other allies to support our troop activities throughout the world.  Unfortunately, this is a fruitless academic discussion. 

The Wall Street Journal offered an opinion piece that trumpeted Mr. Trump’s reliance on private industry to produce the vaccine quickly and in significant volume.  This clearly was the right call in terms of creating the greatest likelihood that a vaccine would be quickly available.  Private industry has, in fact, proved their ability to get this done, and it was impressive that this week Merck who has not developed a vaccine has agreed to produce the vaccine developed by J&J.  The WSJ’s praise is slightly disingenuous given Mr. Trump’s early actions and refusal to follow scientific advice.

China’s economic officials are concerned about a real estate bubble developing out of the pandemic, and recent articles have indicated that there is concern in the United States, not so much about a real estate bubble, but rather a breakdown in the real estate market because of the number of vacancies in cities for offices, restaurants and retail stores, while we all know that the housing market in most of the country has been experiencing an incredible boom.  The fact that the Chinese and American economists have the same concerns is an interesting phenomenon.  What it does demonstrate is the sophistication of the Chinese market, and how close they are to how our markets now operate.  Something to ponder.

The Texas Governor, Mr. Abbott, is lifting many restrictions arising out of the COVID virus in contravention of what health officials are recommending.  It appears that Texas is blessed with two clowns, Mr. Abbott and Mr. Cruz.  One succumbs to non-scientific analysis and the other runs away from disaster facing his constituents. 

Wal-Mart has made the decision to invest $350 billion to support 750,000 US manufacturing jobs over the next decade.  This pledge is in addition to the $250 billion commitment in 2013 for purchasing American made goods, and it is worth noting that the most recent pledge can go to products made or assembled in the US.  It has been noted that Wal-Mart does not provide much in the way of transparency to determine what the actual benefit is with regard to their 2013 commitment, and thus, it is difficult to determine how many jobs have been created, and whether any of those jobs are jobs returned to the United States.  Nonetheless, it can’t hurt manufacturing in any event. 

This past week unemployment claims jumped back up to 745,000, which means that there continues to be lay-offs and the number of lay-offs is staying consistent at around 750,000, which is a significant portion of the population when viewed on a cumulative basis.  The argument that the economy is getting better may well be true in some areas, but if you are one of the 750,000 being laid-off each week that certainly may put you in a position where you would very much like to see the COVID relief bill passed.  The Republican position on it remains a mystery to me given the fact that they have had no trouble running up huge deficits as a result of the 2017 tax bill, but now that there is a Democratic President, they are concerned. 

Colonel Anthony Henderson of the Marine Corp finally made the Brigadier General list, and has embarked on the process of being confirmed by the Senate.  This is a significant event because the Marine Corp has only had 25 black soldiers reach General officer status.  Given the makeup of the Marines for the last 30 or 40 years, there is clear evidence that Colonel Henderson deserves, after being passed over several times, to be promoted, and hopefully, will proceed through the ranks and achieve 4-star status which no black officer has ever achieved.

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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