New York state editorial roundup: Elon Musk, Trump's taxes, reopen carefully

New York state editorial roundup: Elon Musk, Trump's taxes, reopen carefully


Tesla CEO Elon Musk is no Paul Revere. But his defiance of Alameda County’s shutdown order captures the frustration among businesses like Howard Beale’s primal scream in the movie “Network.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week allowed some non-essential businesses to begin to reopen, but six Bay Area counties including Alameda, where Tesla assembles most of its electric cars in the U.S., doubled down on their lockdowns.

“This disparate (government) treatment is arbitrary and without a rational basis,” Tesla states in a lawsuit against Alameda County, pointing out that the infection and fatality rates in Alameda and San Joaquin counties are similar. Mr. Musk also argues that Tesla is an essential business because it makes electric motors and battery systems that are “critical infrastructure.”

“The County’s order violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it fails to give reasonable notice to persons of ordinary intelligence of what is forbidden under the law,” the lawsuit argues. He has a point, and arbitrary government distinctions about which businesses can stay open often seem to be based on politics rather than public health or science.

You can understand Mr. Musk’s frustration when Alameda County officials have allowed pot shops to stay open while shuttering his Tesla plant though the company has developed protocols to protect workers. Other governors including Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer have given the green light to auto plants run by Tesla’s competitors.

Mr. Musk dared Alameda officials to arrest him when he reopened Tesla’s plant Monday, and he may get his wish. We don’t encourage lawbreaking, but a legal test of disparate lockdown treatment might rein in the inner dictators who are appearing in many places in America in these pandemic days.

— Wall Street Journal

On Tuesday, lawyers for President Trump appeared before the Supreme Court (hearing arguments again by telephone conference) to assert the claim that the nation’s chief executive is unaccountable to Congress or law enforcement authorities — that he is, in short, above the law.

The lawyers were trying to block three congressional committees and the Manhattan district attorney from getting access to years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns and other financial records, as well as those of his family members and companies. The House committees said they subpoenaed those records to help them address concerns over Mr. Trump’s possible conflicts of interest and to consider legislation relating to government ethics, banking and foreign interference in elections. The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., issued his own subpoena as part of what appears to be an investigation into possible campaign-finance violations by Mr. Trump and his aides both before and after he became president.

It’s useful to remember that these cases might not have been necessary if Mr. Trump hadn’t broken one of his first promises to the American people four years ago.

Back in 2016, candidate Trump said he would be happy to share his tax returns with the public, as every major candidate for president had done without hesitation for four decades. The only problem, Mr. Trump claimed, was that he was under audit — remember the audit? — and so he couldn’t share his returns at the moment. But soon, he promised.

Mr. Trump has been president for more than three years. He is campaigning for another term, and yet Americans are still in the dark when it comes to his vast web of corporate entities and how their finances and operations may influence his decisions as a candidate and president.

This isn’t an idle concern. Mr. Trump’s tax maneuvers have for decades skirted the edge of legality. In the end, the records may not show evidence of criminal misconduct. But a ruling by the Supreme Court that in essence gives presidents immunity from investigation and prosecution would be a grievous wound to the rule of law.

Mr. Trump has argued that responding to these subpoenas would distract him from doing his job. That’s a real concern, but Mr. Trump’s lawyers failed to make the case. Anyway, it hasn’t worked in the past: President Bill Clinton tried it in 1998, hoping to toss out a sexual-harassment lawsuit brought against him by Paula Jones. The justices ruled against him, 9 to 0.

— The New York Times

If you are among those who have not lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 epidemic, congratulations. Perhaps you share the widespread opinion that the current “lockdown” of the economy should continue, to keep everyone safe.

How would you like the government to collect your share? That is, your share of what it will take to support those laid off or perhaps, fired altogether in order to keep many American businesses closed.

We’ll do the math for you: About 30 million people in our country have lost their jobs because of COVID-19. That leaves about 133 million working. For them to pay their laid-off neighbors even at a minimum-wage rate, each working person will have to chip in about $3,400 a year.

So, again, how do you want the government to collect your share of supporting people without jobs because of the coronavirus shutdown?

Of course, we are not being serious. The government would never, ever attach the wages of those with jobs in order to support the unemployed. But support such as that through state unemployment compensation programs and the federal CARES Act has to be paid for, somehow.

The bottom line is that the COVID-19 lockdown is unsustainable, and not just in the long run. We simply cannot afford to maintain an economy on the current basis.

Clearly, we have to reopen the United States. That must be done very, very carefully.

But it does have to be done.

— The Post Journal

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