What did I miss in the VP debate?

The World’s Best Infrastructure (TM) here in Maskachusetts was unequal to a cold front passing through and therefore we, along with 200,000 other residents, lost power prior to the Vice Presidential debate. What did I miss?

Checking the transcript

The very first question seems to rest on false premises.

Senator Harris, the coronavirus is not under control. Over the past week, Johns Hopkins reports that 39 states have had more COVID cases over the past seven days than in the week before. Nine states have set new records. Even if a vaccine is released soon, the next administration will face hard choices. What would a Biden administration do in January and February that a Trump administration wouldn’t do? Would you impose new lockdowns for businesses and schools in hotspots? A federal mandate to wear masks?

Yet we were informed months ago by the NYT that the federal government did not have the power to shut down or reopen a state, that only a state governor could do these things (and therefore nobody should listen to the Orange Man in the White House).

Harris’s very first response seems to be untrue: “The president said [coronavirus] was a hoax.” (AP: “In fact, Trump pronounced Democratic criticism of his pandemic response a hoax.”)

Harris says that the virus is airborne:

And here’s the thing, on January 28, the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic. They were informed that it’s lethal in consequence, that it is airborne, that it will affect young people and that it would be contracted because it is airborne. And they knew what was happening, and they didn’t tell you.

If so, how could any politician or policy beat this virus? Unless each American retired to an individual bunker until a European or Asian pharma company developers a cure or vaccine, how would Americans have avoided an infection that is truly airborne? From a set of graphs of infections versus mask mandates:

This does not look like a chart of humans being in charge!


But I want the American people to know that from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of Americans first. Before there were more than five cases in the United States, all people who had returned from China, President Donald Trump did what no other American president had ever done. And that was he suspended all travel from China, the second largest economy in the world. Now, Senator Joe Biden, Biden opposed that decision. He said it was xenophobic and hysterical, but I can tell you, having led the White House Coronavirus Task Force, that that decision alone by President Trump bought us invaluable time to stand up the greatest national mobilization since World War II. And I believe it’s saved hundreds of thousands of American lives. Because with that time we were able to reinvent testing. More than 115 million tests have been done to date

A buttload of tests were done at the White House, right? And everyone there got coronavirus. How have tests helped? Also, how does the Federal government get credit for “the greatest national mobilization since World War II”? Shouldn’t Zoom, AWS, Verizon, and Comcast get this credit? Who would have imagined that the Internet and these services could scale up to Americans sitting at home on video chat 50 hours/week?

More from Pence:

But when you say what the American people have done over these last eight months hasn’t worked, that’s a great disservice to the sacrifices the American people have made.

Is it obvious that the sacrifices that Americans have made have done anything more than prolong the epidemic? The death rate here is higher than in “give the finger to the virus” Sweden (COVID-19 deaths by country). Plus we have the millions of life-years lost to the shutdown (delayed health care, poverty, lack of education, long-term unemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression/suicide, etc.). Trump was an early Church of Sweden adherent, until Americans desperate to cower in place rejected his advice to sweep up and move on. Now Pence and Trump will say that they crushed the virus?


Because the reality is that we’re going to have a vaccine, Senator, in record time, in unheard of time, in less than a year. We have five companies in phase three clinical trials. And we’re right now producing 10s of millions of doses.

My Russian IFR students say that their parents back in Russia have already had a COVID-19 vaccine (CNN). If the American vaccine is months or years later than the Russian one, how is that “record time”?

(Separately, when will the Russians give us a common cold vaccine? I have gone through enough Sudafed this month to start my own meth lab and enough other people are sick here in sanitized-and-masked Boston that the meth labs are converting their product back into Sudafed…)

Later in the debate, Pence noted that “China is to blame for the coronavirus.” I.e., maybe the U.S. can’t direct whom the virus infects, but the Chinese can. When does the virus get to be in control? (see also, the Chinese response to this idea)


We now know Donald Trump owes and is in debt for $400 million.

Can this be correct? Here in our electricity-free town, we provide sanctuary undocumented migrants who can afford a two-acre lot and a $1 million house to be constructed on said lot. If the final property is worth $2 million and there is a mortgage for $1 million, do we say “The virtuous migrant is in debt for $1 million” or “The virtuous migrant has accumulated assets of $1 million”? By Harris’s standards, nearly every commercial real estate developer and owner in the U.S. is insolvent.

Here’s a tough question!

Senator Harris, the Biden Harris campaign has proposed new programs to boost the economy and you would pay for that new spending by raising $4 trillion in taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations. Some economists warn that could curb entrepreneurial ventures that fuel growth and create jobs. Would raising taxes for the recovery at risk?


On day one, Joe Biden will repeal that tax bill. He’ll get rid of it. And what he’ll do with the money is invested in the American people. And through a plan that is about investing in infrastructure, something that Donald Trump said he would do. I remember hearing about some infrastructure week. I don’t think it ever happened. But Joe Biden will do that. He’ll invest in infrastructure. It’s about upgrading our roads and bridges, but also investing in clean energy and renewable energy.

Won’t all U.S. corporations then be acquired by Irish, English, Canadian, and Swedish companies so that the profits can be brought back to lower-tax jurisdictions? Any given basket of assets has to be worth more to an Irish conglomerate that pays 12.5 percent in tax than to a U.S. entity that will pay 45 percent federal and state corporate tax, right?

Also, if the U.S. is the world’s least efficient country in terms of building infrastructure (example: NYT), why does it make sense to take $trillions away from private investment and pour it into government-run projects?

Why do we need upgraded roads if Americans are going to be cowering in place for the next few decades (even if we beat coronavirus, there will be additional viruses right behind it, no? And Americans have generally developed an aversion to contagion that only hiding in a bunker can address)?


If you come from a family that makes less than $125,000, you’ll go to a public university for free.

So anyone who earns more than $125,000 and has college-age children will cut back on hours and/or try to push compensation into a four-year deferral program so as to earn exactly $124,999 per year? (See Fast-food economics in Massachusetts: Higher minimum wage leads to a shorter work week, not fewer people on welfare for how this has worked at the lower end of the American wage scale.) See also “Biden Affirms: “I Will Eliminate Your Student Debt”” (Forbes): “I’m going to eliminate your student debt if you come from a family [making less] than $125,000 and went to a public university.” and “Under his plan, Biden would forgive all undergraduate federal student loan debt for borrowers with annual incomes under $125,000 who attended public colleges and universities, as well as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and private minority-serving institutions (MSIs).” (should everyone who owes on student loans and falls into these categories stop making payments now in hopes of relief in 2021? President Harris will forgive debt, not provide a refund for absurd amounts already paid, right?)


And Joe Biden wants to repeal all of the tariffs that President Trump put into effect to fight for American jobs and American workers

If we’re going to all sit on our butts at home while Europeans and Asians are back to work, why do we want tariffs? If U.S. manufacturing is effectively shut down by governors’ orders, what industry are we protecting from hard working foreigners?


Joe Biden will not raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $400,000 a year. He has been very clear about that. Joe Biden will not end fracking. He has been very clear about that.

But if corporate tax rates are cranked by up (except for Apple, Google, Facebook, and the other big Democrat donors who can stuff their money into Irish and Dutch sandwich structures that would once again start working), isn’t that essentially a tax increase on any U.S. resident who owns shares in U.S. corporations? (see Harvard professor Mankiw’s analysis of how an individual’s total tax rate depends also on corporate tax)

And why not end fracking? Aren’t we trying to be green?


You yourself said on multiple occasions when you were running for president that you would ban fracking. Joe Biden looked his supporter in the eye and pointed and said “I guarantee, I guarantee that we will abolish fossil fuels”.

(See also “World’s largest solar plant goes online in China”, selling power at about 5 cents/kWh for a capital investment of roughly what it costs to build a mile of subway track in New York City).

A bizarre question, about Pence’s religious beliefs:

This year we’ve seen record-setting hurricanes in the south. Another one, Hurricane Delta is now threatening the gulf. And we have seen record-setting wildfires in the West. Do you believe, as the scientific community has concluded, that man-made climate change has made wildfires bigger, hotter and more deadly? And it made hurricanes wetter, slower and more damaging?

What difference does it make what Pence believes? A person who believes that humans have changed the climate could still be unmotivated to do anything about it, e.g., saying “We’ll let the Chinese and German engineers deal with that in 50 years when technology is better” or “It’s a shame, but the U.S. is a shrinking percentage of the world economy, so India and China will be in control of this going forward.”

A remarkable argument about hurricane frequency ensues between the moderator, confident regarding “science” despite having no scientific education, and a politician with no scientific education. Eventually a second politician with no scientific education weighs in on climate modeling.

Harris on foreign policy:

So, you know Joe is – I love talking with Joe about a lot of these issues, and you know, Joe, I think, he said, quite well. He says, you know, ‘Foreign policy: it might sound complicated, but really it’s relationships there – just think about it as relationships. And so we know this, in our personal, professional relationships – you guys keep your word to your friends. Got to be loyal to your friends. People who have stood with you, got to stand with them. You got to know who your adversaries are, and keep them in check. But what we have seen with Donald Trump is that he has betrayed our friends and embraced dictators around the world.

In other words, she disagrees with the standard wisdom: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” (attributed to Lord Palmerston)

Harris loves some Republicans:

Let’s take what he said about John McCain. A great American hero. And Donald Trump says he doesn’t deserve to be called a hero because he was a prisoner of war.

Could this be partly due to “It’s been almost 40 years since Sen. John McCain left his first wife and three young children to marry Cindy Lou Hensley, a woman 18 years his junior — yet a lingering pain remains evident on the face of his oldest daughter, Sidney McCain”? (Journal of Popular Studies) Compare to “How 29-year-old Kamala Harris began an affair with powerful San Francisco politician Willie Brown, then 60 and married, who appointed her to two lucrative positions…” (Daily Mail) (McCain does serve as a good reminder to anyone who is going to eject from an aircraft that proper arm positioning is critical to avoiding injury; see this post about Martin-Baker)

Good news from Pence for file clerks and anyone who flies a desk in the Air Force:

I can assure all of you with sons and daughters serving in our military, President Donald Trump not only respects but reveres all of those who served in our armed forces

A completely irrelevant question for a person who is going to be a federal, not a state, politician:

… overturning the landmark Roe v Wade ruling. Access to abortion would then be up to the states. Vice President Pence, you’re the former governor of Indiana. If Roe v Wade is overturned, what would you want Indiana to do? Would you want your home state to ban all abortions?

Does the moderator imagine that the Indiana Legislature is going to call up Pence and ask “What should we do?” Pence completely ducks the question by running on about Quasem Soleimani, a person whom Americans surely have forgotten all about.

Harris gets the same pointless question:

If Roe v Wade is overturned, what would you want California to do? Would you want your home state to enact no restrictions on access to abortion?

She also provides no answer. Instead she says “let’s lower Medicare eligibility to 60”. If Medicare is good for someone who is 60, why isn’t it good for someone age 59? Why doesn’t Harris support Medicare for All?

In response to “Will you pack the Supreme Court?” Harris answers: “And do you know that of the 50 people who President Trump appointed to the Court of Appeals for lifetime appointments, not one is Black?”

Maybe Trump and RBG were separated at birth! From the Washington Post:

Ginsburg, on the other hand, has hired only one African American law clerk in her 25 years on the Supreme Court. This is an improvement from her 13-year tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, when Ginsburg never had any black clerks. When this issue was raised during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1993, Ginsburg said: “If you confirm me for this job, my attractiveness to black candidates is going to improve.” This remains a promise unfulfilled.

Note that while Harris’s statement might be literally true, Trump has set up some Americans who identify as “Black” for eventual Appeals Court seats. See “Senate approves Trump’s first black female judge nominee” (Detroit News) for example. If one is willing to expand the victimhood category to Asians, it looks as though Trump appoints Asian-Americans to judgeships at a higher rate than Barack Obama did.

The moderator again asks a question about what is primarily a state issue:

In March, Breonna Taylor a 26-year-old emergency room technician in Louisville, was shot and killed after police officers executing a search warrant on a narcotics investigation broke into her apartment. The police said they identified themselves. Taylor’s boyfriend said he didn’t hear them do that. He used a gun registered to him to fire a shot, which wounded an officer. The officers then fired more than 20 rounds into the apartment. They say they were acting in self defense. None of them have been indicted in connection with her death.

Harris runs with this. She is confident that justice was not done. How did she have time to review all of the evidence if she is campaigning for the Presidency?


Well our heart breaks for the loss of any innocent American lives, and the family of Breonna Taylor has our sympathies. But I trust our justice system, a grand jury that reviews the evidence. And it really is remarkable, that as a former prosecutor, you would assume that in a panel grand jury, looking at all the evidence, got it all wrong. But you’re entitled to your opinion, Senator.

Eventually Pence comes out with a prepped point:

When you were DA in San Francisco, when you held that office, African Americans were 19 times more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than whites and Hispanics. When you were Attorney General of California, you increased the disproportionate incarceration of Blacks in California. You did nothing on criminal justice reform in California. You didn’t lift a finger to pass the first step back on Capitol Hill.

The toughest question:

I want to close tonight’s debate with the question posed by Brecklyn Brown. She’s an eighth grader at Springville Junior High in Springville, Utah, and here’s what she wrote. Quote – “When I watch the news, all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans. When I watch the news, all I see is citizen fighting against citizen. When I watch the news, all I see are two candidate parties, trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?”

American politicians have set up Americans to fight about who can leave the house, who can work, who can gather, who can go to school (maybe only the dark-skinned?), who must wear a a mask and when, etc. I don’t think it is surprising that Americans now mostly hate each other.

Pence blames the media:

I looked at the relationship between Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late justice who we just lost from the Supreme Court, and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. They were on polar opposites, on the Supreme Court of the United States – one very liberal, one very conservative. But what’s been learned since her passing was the two of them and their families were the very closest of friends.

(And RBG’s husband was a tax-avoidance specialist!)

Then he gives a completely fraudulent answer:

I want to tell you that we’re going to work every day to have a government as good as our people, the American people, each and every day. We love a good debate. We love a good argument. We always come together and are always there for one another. And we’ve especially learned that during the difficulties of this year.

Government workers are paid at 100 percent for sitting at home doing almost nothing while private sector workers are unemployed by order of their state governors. Schools for Black children in urban areas are closed at the direction of people who say that their #1 priority is Black Lives (example from Boston) while white suburban kids often are able to enjoy the benefits of in-person education. How is that “coming together”?

Harris says “Joe has a long standing reputation of working across the aisle and working in a bipartisan way.” But why work across the aisle if you’re the most liberal Senator migrating into the Presidency? If Democrats can get control of the Senate and House, what value does working with Republicans have? Aside from John McCain, now dead and buried, is there any Republican of whom Kamala Harris has ever spoken with admiration?

Readers who actually watched it: What struck you? My Facebook feed is all about a fly that landed on Pence’s head.

18 thoughts on “What did I miss in the VP debate?

    • LP: When you want to know whether a mask stops a virus, the best people to ask are economists!

      I prefer to follow the economists at NBER on economic subjects. Here’s one: “For white men, an immigration boost of 10 percent caused their employment rate to fall just 0.7 percentage points; for black men, it fell 2.4 percentage points.

      That same immigration rise was also correlated with a rise in incarceration rates. For white men, a 10 percent rise in immigration appeared to cause a 0.1 percentage point increase in the incarceration rate for white men. But for black men, it meant a nearly 1 percentage-point rise.”

      From “Effects of Immigration on African-American Employment and Incarceration” https://www.nber.org/digest/may07/w12518.html

    • Since I constantly hear about mask use from Computer Scientists I needed some variety!

      And yes – The Fly!!!

    • Thanks for the Dutch link. Science tells us that children aged 2 and over spread the virus in Maskachusetts, but Dutch children need to wait until age 13 before considering wearing a mask: “everyone aged 13 or over is advised to wear a non-medical face mask in indoor public spaces”

      They need to come to watch the 7-year-olds playing soccer in masks here: “Wearing a mask is not mandatory, but it is strongly advised. In some cases wearing a mask is not possible. Some people cannot wear a mask for a medical reason or due to a disability. And it is also not usually possible to wear a mask while doing sport.”

      (And if masks save lives, why isn’t wearing masks mandatory?)

      Bad news for those of us who live in a country without a lot of public restrooms: “Repeatedly touching the face mask to put it on and take it off increases the risk of infection.”

    • LP: You motivated me to catch up with a friend who lives and works in a university town in the Netherlands. He says that the Dutch are wearing masks on public transport and if they’re employees, e.g., at big supermarket chains where the management has established a policy of masking workers. In small shops, restaurants, etc., nobody is masked. Nobody is masked in the workplace, either.

  1. > My Russian IFR students say that their parents back in Russia have already had a COVID-19 vaccine (CNN).

    Russian vaccines right now are in trials (and they also trial Chinese vaccines in Russia at the same time), so bunch of people signed up for trials and got vaccine this way, but there is no wide-spread vaccination in Russia yet. Still will be way faster than US, of course.

  2. Disheartening that the politicians seem to have convinced a substantial segment of the population that that this or that party has the ability to stop the virus. Too bad the Trumpenfuher did not have the political power to pull off what he wanted in the beginning, that people go about their business and take the precautions that they think necessary, i.e. the Swedish approach.

  3. Bravo, I was going to go through the transcript paragraph by paragraph but I figured you’d do something like this and save me the trouble. I don’t understand what the point of these debates are when you can’t ask questions and expect informed answers. I don’t even know whether you can call what we have in the US a Democracy based on informed citizens and politicians who are at least as well informed as a sixth grader. This is why everyone wants to be in politics.

  4. In other campaign news, very loosely related:

    It looks like Brad Parscale is in hell. He claims the marriage is in deep trouble, has been for months, his wife won’t have sex with him and wanted to lock him up and take all his money:

    “”I’m gonna throw you in the hospital and act like you’re f****** killing yourself. I’m gonna take all your money and by the time you get out, you can’t do anything about it,” he said Candice told him.


    Of course, he was drunk at the time, in police custody and on his way to a mental institution, so who knows what the real story is?

    • Looks as though the wife had some good advice. Wikipedia says that the no-longer-happy couple was married in 2012. So her entitlement to permanent alimony under Florida law began in 2019, which is presumably when she began to work on her exit strategy. http://www.realworlddivorce.com/Florida

    • @Philg: I’ll never understand why people in his situation ever say anything to police other than “Yes, officer. No, officer. I need to speak with my lawyer.” when they’re being arrested. I can’t imagine his drunken bodycam statements could help him in the divorce litigation he’s looking at. And presumably her legal team will have access to all of the records pertaining to his psychiatric evaluation?

    • Alex: If she doesn’t work and a judge considers him capable of working, he’ll be paying her alimony for the rest of their respective lives. Certainly she’ll be banking child support as well, even if were to work. So I don’t think his meltdown will have a significant effect on the cashflow. He was guaranteed to lose any divorce lawsuit even before it was filed. That’s the beauty of no-fault divorce!

    • Jakko: I might get more enthusiastic about Presidents Biden and Harris if I had any idea what they plan to do, other than forgive some student loans for those Americans who’ve been wise enough not to pay them back. What are their concrete proposals? Add Supreme Court justices? Given the increased volume of litigation in the U.S. (not least due to population growth of nearly 10X compared to 1869), that might be a good idea, but they haven’t actually said that they will do it, right?

      One argument in favor of Trump and Pence is that Americans can be confident regarding what they’re likely to do going forward.

  5. > Senator Harris, the Biden Harris campaign has proposed new programs to boost the economy and you would pay for that new spending by raising $4 trillion in taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations. Some economists warn that could curb entrepreneurial ventures that fuel growth and create jobs. Would raising taxes for the recovery at risk?

    The combined net worth of the nation’s 59 richest billionaires is $2.09 trillion dollars, so if the government took every last nickel, they’d still be short $2 trillion.


  6. Speaking of abortion and President Harris, Erick Erickson has some choice words today for Pelosi’s idea about the “25th Amendment Commission”:

    “I realize the Democrats believe the Constitution is a living, breathing document, but I didn’t think they’d decide to perform abortions on it. The twenty-fifth amendment requires the active participation of the Vice President unless that phrase gets ripped up and vacuumed out then sold for spare parts at your local Planned Parenthood office…No one diagrams sentences anymore, but one cannot leave the Vice President out of the process. To invoke section 4 of the amendment requires both the Vice President and then one of two groups, i.e. the cabinet or some other group designated by Congress.

    But it requires the Vice President and Mike Pence is not going to play along.

    That all suggests this is really about making it easier for Kamala Harris to replace Joe Biden if he should win. These are not good optics.”


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