Election issues: Summing up

E minus 8 - With time running out (between mail-in ballots and in-person voting, nearly 60 million Americans have voted already). This entry will conclude our series on election issues with a combination of updates on previous coverage and some quick takes on additional issues.

I. Coronavirus relief battle, 8/20/20 - We previously lauded the president for outsmarting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by ending negotiations on a second multi-trillion dollar spending bill. It appeared that Pelosi had tanked the negotiations by making unreasonable demands. Given the speed of the developing economic recovery, massive additional spending didn’t seem essential. And by addressing several specific points with executive orders, he had demonstrated a desire to help people. Bottom line: “Let’s hope Americans were paying attention last week, and that they will remember what happened in November.”

But the president was still itching to sign another big spending bill before the election, and he kept reopening the door to further negotiations – while Pelosi didn’t seem interested in making a deal unless it was one-sided enough to be seen as a major Trump defeat. Pelosi’s devilish demands, Betsy McCaughey, townhall.com, 10/7/20.

With growing opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell counseled caution. The upshot was belated recognition that there wasn’t going to be a coronavirus relief package before the elections. GOP power shift emerges with Trump, McConnell, Alexander Bolton, thehill.com, 10/22/20.

About time! According to Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota, the bill under discussion with Pelosi would probably have gotten about 13 Republican votes in the Senate – allowing Democrats to claim whatever credit there was to be had for a spending bill the country couldn’t afford and didn’t really need.

2. Proposed solutions for global warming, 9/7/20 - This entry began with a conundrum, namely how could Joe Biden deny so heatedly that he favored a ban on fracking for oil and gas when his previous statements and policy proposals made clear that he was committed to ending the use of fossil fuels.

An explanation for this seeming inconsistency has now surfaced: instead of banning fracking, a Biden administration would achieve the desired result by taking a regulatory nibble here and a legislative bite there (much as the government went after the coal industry during the Obama administration). How Biden will end fracking without a ban, Steve Milloy, WSJ,

Ban drilling on federal lands – roll back Obama era regulations requiring oil and gas industry to limit methane leaks from fracking wells – tighten environmental reviews for pipelines - issue stricter air-quality rules for refineries – etc.

Alternatively, Biden has suggested that fossil fuels could continue to be used because the resulting carbon emissions would be sequestered (buried) – never mind whether such an approach is technically feasible let alone cost-effective. Biden bucks environmental left with plan to retain fossil fuel jobs by capturing carbon emissions, Abby Smith, Washington Examiner,

3. Law and order, 9/14/20 - Reports of civil unrest around the country seem to have died down, diminishing the likely impact of this issue on the elections. But the left wing rioting hasn’t entirely stopped, as was shown by a recent report. The violence continues in Portland, Oregon, ptnewsnetwork.com, Elizabeth Dean, 10/17/20.

There have also been several right-wing threats, which federal authorities have countered in a “no nonsense” fashion.

•The FBI arrested half a dozen men who were allegedly plotting to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan. Gretchen Whitmer kidnap plotter shamed mask wearers, hated government, Elizabeth Rosner & Aaron Feis, New York Post,

•The May arrest of a would-be assassin was recently in the news. Man arrested in North Carolina with van full of guns, explosives, planned to assassinate Joe Biden: Report, Vandana Rambaran, foxnews.com,

The prime threat now seems to be renewed violence after the elections, especially if the results are close and the presidential winner isn’t immediately apparent. Are we ready for a wave of violence after the election? Alan Dershowitz, thehill.com,

What is at stake is nothing less than the rule of law which benefits us all, regardless of party affiliation. We must preserve it against mob violence, whatever its source or reason. If we are to preserve the rule of law after the election, we must take action before the voting begins.

And leftist pre-planning for such a reaction is reportedly under way – which isn’t good news for anyone who truly cares about this country. Trump resistance plans “mass mobilization” after the election to shut down the country if Biden doesn’t win, Joy Pullmann, thefederalist.com,

4. Taxes, 9/28/20 - Joe Biden continues to insist that only big corporations and taxpayers with over $400,000 in annual taxable income would pay higher taxes under his tax plan. And a recent study by the American Economic Institute concluded that most taxpayers would pay less taxes in 2021 after factoring in proposed increases in tax credits (including a temporary increase in the child tax credit). AEI: Biden proposals would cut taxes for most in 2021, thehill.com, Naomi Jagoda, 10/13/20.

Bear in mind, however, that (a) the cap on FICA tax (12.4% payroll tax, including the employer portion) earmarked to support Social Security would be raised from $137,000/year to $400,000/year, (b) increases in the capital gains tax are planned, (c) much of the burden of higher corporate taxes and minimum wage would be shifted to consumers through higher selling prices, and (d) proposed regulations would inflate the cost of energy and healthcare. One way or another, few if any Americans would escape from these burdens. Biden economic plan conceals middle class tax hike in form of higher prices for basic goods, Michael Lee, Washington Examiner,

Little has been said recently about proposing a second Republican tax cut after the elections. That’s just as well, in our view, as Republicans couldn’t reasonably expect to do more than sustain the tax cuts they pushed through in 2017.

5. Healthcare, 10/19/20 - SAFE’s analysis of the Trump vs. Biden healthcare plans, including our suggestion that Dr. Scott Atlas should be consulted, has been sent to the White House for information. Upgrade healthcare plan, letter to the president, 10/20/20.

6. Coronavirus pandemic – In previous discussion, we have viewed this subject as a part of the Trump first term record versus a campaign issue. Our thinking was that the illness would basically run its course in 2020, albeit leaving some downstream problems (calming civil unrest and promoting full economic recovery) to be dealt with by the next administration. More culture war than election campaign, 6/29/20.

The pandemic has lasted longer and had greater impact, however, than we (and a lot of other people) envisioned. New COVID cases are currently on the upswing (aka the “third wave”) in many US states and other countries, the pandemic will overlap with the normal flu season, and the advent of winter will tend to keep the population in confined, indoor spaces that favor the spread of respiratory infections.

Pessimists now view the pandemic as an ongoing threat, which could easily result in a doubling of US COVID deaths (some 225 thousand to date) and plague the world for several years. See, e.g., the timeline that one analyst (a Yale professor of social and natural science) envisions for the US. The long shadow of the pandemic: 2024 & beyond, Nicholas Christakis, WSJ,

•Immediate pandemic period - Until there is an effective and widely distributed vaccine or the US achieves herd immunity, “Americans will live in an acutely changed world until 2022—wearing masks, avoiding crowded places and limiting travel, at least if they wish to avoid getting or spreading the virus.”

•Intermediate period – “People will still be recovering from the overall clinical, psychological, social and economic shock of the pandemic and the adjustments it required, likely through 2024.” Then, gradually, things will return to “normal,” albeit in a world with some persistent changes.

The pandemic began on President Trump’s watch, and his political opponents and critics are naturally trying to place as much of the blame as possible on him. He knew what a serious problem this was, but chose to underplay it to the country. He didn’t press China for information about how the coronavirus got started. He didn’t come up with an effective plan for addressing the pandemic. Some of his remarks about the pandemic were insensitive, and he always seemed to need to be the center of attention at press conferences. He didn’t listen to or follow the advice of the experts. He blamed others for the problem, especially governors and mayors in “blue” states. He tried to open up the economy prematurely and failed to negotiate with Democrat leaders for the coronavirus relief funds that were needed. And due to the laxity of mask-wearing and social distancing, both at the White House and at events around the country, the president and a number of high level Republicans came down with COVID themselves. Serves them right!

There are plausible responses for many of these claims. For example, the president did follow the guidance of Dr. Anthony Fauci et al. in many instances, e.g., by backing their recommendation to call for a lockdown of "nonessential" sectors of the US economy. He communicated with the nation’s governors on a regular basis, along with Vice President Mike Pence, and responded expeditiously to aid requests from the states, e.g., by supporting ramped-up production of respirators, masks and testing kits. He aggressively pushed development plans for potential therapeutics and vaccines, pressuring government bureaucrats to move much faster than they normally do. He certainly did negotiate (through intermediaries) for more COVID relief funds, on top of over $2 trillion already enacted, but Nancy Pelosi’s demands (working away from the over $3 trillion Heroes Act passed by the Democratic-controlled House) were totally unreasonable. Not a perfect response by any means, but the president’s mistakes were more a matter of style than substance – and all of the key players in this drama made mistakes.

Now we get to the key question: which of the candidates (or parties) has the best plan for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic going forward? Based on the rhetoric, the Trump and Biden plans are totally dissimilar – the differences in practical terms are surely smaller as the same government bureaucrats would be in charge of the policy details.

Trump wants to reopen the economy and get children back in physical schools (some states are enthusiastically cooperating, while others are dragging their heels), focus on protecting the vulnerable (basically seniors and younger people with other health problems), encourage the use of masks, social distancing, etc. (public examples of these norms being ignored in practice are on the wane), and pushing hard on the development of therapeutics and vaccines. He has talked of having one or more vaccines ready for use soon, e.g., before the end of the year, and supports an “Operation Warp Speed” that is intended to make the vaccines available to the public very quickly once they have been approved.

In the past few months, says the president, we’ve learned that lockdowns aren’t a panacea against the coronavirus, and that it doesn’t make sense to support “a cure that’s worse than the disease.” His opponent, however, would be quite receptive to locking down the economy again – no matter the economic, social, and non-COVID health consequences – if that was the path of least resistance. Joe Biden is the shutdown candidate, Daniel Henninger, WSJ, 10/7/20.

At last week’s presidential nondebate [Sept. 29], perhaps the most consequential remark by Mr. Biden was about living with the virus. “You can’t fix the economy,” Mr. Biden said, “until you fix the Covid crisis.” Virus first, economy later. I take that to mean Mr. Biden’s coronavirus policy would be to support reviving shutdowns if the virus-case metric goes up, and support governors who push back against openings. As such, his policy would reflect minimal adjustment of the Democratic party’s lockdown bias, no matter the country’s experience with the virus since March.

Biden insists that he has a plan to fight the coronavirus while Trump does not. He would (a) lead by example (and has been scrupulously observant of mask-wearing), (b) push for a national mask mandate versus leaving this decision to state authorities, (c) develop vaccines, but they won’t be available until mid-2021 (and he wouldn’t trust any vaccines approved by Trump), and (d) ensure that states, schools, businesses, etc. get all the coronavirus aid they need for an ultimately successful reopening. “He’s quit on you”: Biden blasts Trump’s COVID response as he unveils new plan, Naomi Lin, Washington Examiner, 10/23/20.

Who is right? That’s a matter of opinion with no definitive answers. But note that the experts disagree just like the rest of us, which calls into question claims that the president has been ignoring science, etc. Trump, Covid and reason, WSJ, 10/6/20.

•Organized by Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff, Sunetra Gupta of Oxford and Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya, the Great Barrington Declaration recommends that people be allowed to live normally while protecting the vulnerable. The authors are infectious-disease experts, and the statement by our deadline had been signed by more than 2,300 medical and health scientists and 2,500 practitioners, and counting.

•The shame is that Covid has become so politicized that the calm reasoning of the Great Barrington scientists is drowned out by the fear and loathing of those who want to blame Donald Trump for every new infection. But it is the best advice for how we should cope with Covid.

7. Public corruption – Ever since the 2016 campaign, there have been nonstop attacks on alleged corruption of the president and his supporters. Steele dossier (originally commissioned by the Clinton campaign) – FISA warrants to investigate purported alleged collusion with Russian interference in the 2016 election – Michael Flynn charges – appointment of Robert Mueller to lead a special prosecutor probe after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, which ultimately failed to come up with solid evidence of misconduct – House impeachment of the president based on new charges re purported pressuring of the newly elected Ukraine president to dig up dirt on Joe Biden et al., followed by a quick acquittal in a Senate trial – and continuing attempts to renew concerns about Russian election collusion.

Now these attacks on the Trump campaign/transition team/ administration are being matched by attacks on the Biden/Obama administration (Durham probe, which apparently will not be completed before the elections) and a late-breaking attack against the Biden campaign based on alleged corruption in the Ukraine, China and elsewhere that are supposedly substantiated by files on a laptop belonging to Biden’s son. For all the efforts to deflect or deny the Hunter Biden laptop story, it seems more coherent and better substantiated than the charges against the president and supporters that were so relentlessly pursued over the past four years.

This isn’t a case of unidentified sources peddling unlikely claims based on second -hand information. A laptop allegedly owned by Hunter Biden was left at a Wilmington, Delaware repair shop and never picked up. The shop owner examined the documents on the laptop, and concluded they were suspicious. The laptop was turned over to the FBI in 2019. The New York Post has a copy of documents on the hard drive, as does legendary former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani et al. who has been investigating this matter as a personal attorney for the president. And documents on the laptop that have been revealed thus far seem to suggest that Biden family members were profiting from their association with the former vice president of the United States in dealing with people in the Ukraine, China, etc.

Two basic arguments have been presented for ignoring this evidence. The first is that it reflects claims that have already been debunked and was cooked up as part of an ongoing Russian misinformation campaign. The News Journal recently ran a lengthy USA Today story to this effect, which raises some valid questions about the provenance of the laptop and attempts to discredit everyone involved in publicizing this matter. For the reasons indicated in our writeup, however, we don’t find this defense persuasive. Could Russia be linked to information cited in story, Caren Bohan et al., News Journal,

A second line of defense, used by Joe Biden in the Oct. 22 presidential debate, is that the story is absolutely false and President Trump has far more scandalous matters to answer for including a secret bank account in China, nonpayment of Federal income taxes, refusal to turn over his tax returns, etc. None of this explains the information on the laptop, however, which is beginning to be verified - so far with flying colors. See, e.g., the following sources:

•In a televised interview only hours before the 10/22 presidential debate, a witness credibly linked Joe Biden to the Hunter Biden’s overseas business dealings – including identifying him as the “big guy” referred to in a 5/13/17 e-mail re contemplated profit sharing from a proposed venture in China. Who is Tony Bobulinski, Hunter Biden’s former business associate? Thomas Barrabi, foxnews.com,

• The US has an intelligence problem, Holman Jenkins, WSJ, 10/23/20. "Given much documentary and testimonial evidence as well as Occam’s razor [adage that the most obvious explanation is usually correct], the laptop is exactly what the New York Post says it is. The Biden campaign has conceded as much."

• Rudy Giuliani: How Joe Biden got millions in foreign bribes, video (29:41), 10/23/20.

Although Mr. Giuliani may be past his prime [like many senior citizens], he knows his stuff about investigating crime families [ask the Mafia] and argues cogently in this video that the Biden family fits the pattern. Joe Biden recently dismissed Giuliani as Trump’s “henchman.” Readers are invited to watch the video and decide for themselves.
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