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Pence and Harris Leave Questions Unanswered in Vice Presidential Debate, Fly Becomes Star of the Show

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  • While much more traditional in scope, Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate was riddled with unanswered questions.
  • Both Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) dodged or redirected questions about the U.S. Supreme Court, President Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, and potential situations of presidential succession given the ages of both presidential candidates. 
  • Following last night’s event, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday that the second presidential debate will be virtual. On Fox Business, Trump then said he would refuse to participate in a virtual debate. 

A Far More Traditional Debate

Talking about Wednesday’s vice presidential debate would be impossible to do without addressing the elephant in the room — or in this case, the fly on Mike Pence’s head. 

The fly, which perched itself upon Pence’s stark white hair for more than two minutes about halfway through the debate, easily stole the show.

But that wasn’t exactly hard. The debate between current VP Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) was aboundingly more traditional than the debate last week between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. 

“We want a debate that is lively, but Americans also deserve a discussion that is civil,” moderator Susan Page, USA TODAY’s Washington Bureau Chief, said Wednesday in a tongue-in-cheek reference to that debate. 

Mostly, both Harris and Pence did exactly what analysts expected. Harris pitched the case for Joe Biden, while Pence used Harris to paint Biden as much more liberal than he actually is. 

Main Theme: Unanswered Questions

Like any traditional debate, unanswered questions took center stage.

In one of her first questions, Page asked Pence — the head of the Coronavirus Task Force — why the U.S. death rate for COVID-19 was higher than almost every other country. 

Instead of answering why 210,000 Americans have died under the Trump Administration’s watch, Pence did what almost every political analyst expected he would do: He redirected the question and emphasized Trump’s move to restrict what he described as “all travel” from China in February.

But that’s not exactly true. While Trump did restrict travel, he didn’t outright ban it. There were still a lot of people this rule didn’t apply to

Pence then went on to insult Joe Biden, accusing him of calling the restrictions “xenophobic,” a point Pence came back to a few times throughout the night. That’s largely false. Yes, Biden has called Trump xenophobic, but those comments were never a direct reference to the travel restrictions. 

At one point, Page noted that both Biden and Trump are the oldest presidential candidates ever. Because of that, she asked Pence and Harris if they’ve had conversations with Trump and Biden, respectively, about presidential disability and succession. Again, neither gave a direct answer to Page’s question, and she did not continue to press it.

The same situation occurred later when Page asked both candidates what they would do if Trump refuses to a peaceful transition of power should he lose the election. Neither candidate actually answered the question. In fact, they mostly continued with the talking points they wanted to hit on.

At one point, Page also asked Pence if he thinks climate change is an existential threat. Rather than answering, he said, “The climate is changing. We’ll follow the science.” 

To note, the Trump administration has frequently ignored scientific evidence and even rolled back environmental regulations.

Unanswered Questions About SCOTUS 

In one of the most pivotal segments of the night, Page asked about the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. 

During the segment, both Pence and Harris dodged her questions about Roe v. Wade and what should happen in their home states if it’s overturned. Of course, that’s not to say their positions on abortion are a secret. Pence is undeniably pro-life. Harris is staunchly pro-choice. 

“Are you and Joe Biden going to pack the court if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed?” Pence asked Harris directly during the segment. 

In recent weeks, several Democrats have called for adding more justices to the SCOTUS bench if the Senate pushes through Barrett’s confirmation ahead of the election. For his part, Biden has not addressed the issue.

Like Biden, Wednesday night, Harris did the same, quickly redirecting the question back to Pence in what arguably became the most contentious moment of the debate. 

“Let’s talk about packing—” Harris said. 

“You, once again, gave a non-answer,” Pence interrupted. “Joe Biden gave a non-answer.”

“I’m trying to answer you now.” Harris said.

“You know the people deserve a straight answer,” Pence said, “and if you haven’t figured it out yet, the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election.” 

“I’ve witnessed the appointments for lifetime appointments to the federal courts, district courts, courts of appeal, people who are purely ideological, people who have been reviewed by legal professional organizations and found who have been not competent or substandard,” Harris said several exchanges later.

“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? This is what they’ve been doing. You want to talk about packing a court? Let’s have that discussion.” 

Second Presidential Debate to be Virtual

Thursday morning, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the second presidential debate, scheduled for next week, will now be virtual “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved.”

While Biden pretty much immediately hopped on board, on Fox Business, Trump announced that he was pulling out of the debate. 

“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” he said. “That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.” 

Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien added that Trump will now hold a rally instead.

According to the co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, federal election laws forbid the hosting of a solo debate.

Despite Trump seemingly pulling the plug on this debate, there is precedent for virtual presidential debates. In 1960, both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon debated remotely on opposite ends of the country.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The New York Times) (ABC News)

International

U.K. Report Faces Backlash for Saying the Country Is Not “Structurally Racist”

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  • A government report looking at racism in the U.K. claims the country isn’t “structurally racist.”
  • The report, published Wednesday, said other factors play a much larger role in the outcome of someone’s life, especially their economic status.
  • It also highlighted some successes the U.K. has experienced regarding race, particularly with narrowing pay gaps and increasing employment rates.
  • Many criticized the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government for releasing the document, saying that it failed to account for underlying racial factors in many of its findings.

Report Findings

The U.K. government and Prime Minister Boris Johnson are facing backlash after releasing a report on Wednesday that claims the country isn’t “structurally racist.”

The report, by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, didn’t say racism didn’t exist in the country or that it was a post-racial society yet, but it did say that system wasn’t rigged against minorities.

The 258-page report comes after a series of protests in the U.K. involving race, including demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd in the U.S. It covered a wind range of topics, ultimately stating, “Most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism.”

For example, it claimed that the increased rate of COVID-19 deaths among Black and South Asian groups wasn’t due to racism, but “mainly due to an increased risk of exposure to infection,” by living in high-density urban areas and working higher risk jobs such as healthcare or transport. It also found that family structure and social class had a much bigger impact than race on how someone’s life turned out. It also highlighted that children from minority groups performed as well as, or better than, white pupils in schools. Additionally, it said pay disparities overall between minorities and the white majority shrunk down to 2.3%.

It did note that many communities are still “haunted” by “historic cases” of racism that create “deep mistrust” in British society, which could be a barrier to success. It added that “overt and outright racism persists” throughout the nation and particularly online. The Commission’s report additionally pushed for changes within the government itself, such as abandoning the term BAME (meaning Black and Minority Ethnic), saying it’s unhelpful in understanding disparities for specific ethnic groups by lumping them all together.

On top of this, it called for several measures, including a drive to keep users of Class B drugs (amphetamines, marijuana, codeine, and ketamine) away from the criminal justice system. It also proposed a plan to make online anonymous abuse harder to post, to stop the amplification of racists and their views.

Fierce Criticism

Despite these findings and recommendations, the report faced backlash from the opposition Labour Party, which felt that the government was “slamming the door” on people calling for action to tackle the issue. Other critics went on to point out that it also failed to answer some glaring racial disparities, like why Black and Bangladeshi people are disproportionately targeted by police in England and Wales. According to 2019-2020 data from the Home Office, for every 1,000 people, 54 Black people would be stopped and searched by police compared to six white.

The Runnymede Trust, a major race equality think tank, said it was “let down” by the report. Its Chief Executive, Dr. Halim Bergum, went on to heavily criticize it and claimed the idea of the U.K. not being institutionally racist is absurd. “Tell that to the black young mother who is four times more likely to die in childbirth than her young white neighbor.”

“You can’t tell them that, because they are dead,” he continued.

Even some of the commission’s statistical findings were criticized for lacking context. For instance, the report indicated that minorities were more likely to be front-line workers and said that increased exposure led them to contract COVID-19 more often.

Critics point out that they are in those roles because they’re usually insecure and low-paying jobs, and are often the only jobs available to poor minority groups which in turn keeps them trapped in poverty.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (Financial Times)

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What The Zack Snyder Justice League Controversy Really Exposes & Review, ACE Family, Utah Ban, &

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Japanese Court Rules Same-Sex Marriage Restrictions Unconstitutional

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  • On Wednesday, a Japanese district court in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, ruled for the first time that restrictions against same-sex couples are unconstitutional.
  • The court found that while some provisions of the Japanese constitution enshrine marriage as a union between a male and female, they don’t preclude the possibility of same-sex marriages. It also argued that other provisions ensure equal rights under the law for all citizens.
  • Other current cases in Japan deal with the same issue regarding same-sex marriage as well as the need to pass legislation on the matter.
  • LGBTQ+ people don’t face widespread repression in Japan, but also don’t have the same rights hetero couples enjoy, such as medical visitation rights, the ability to adopt, and spousal income tax deductions.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Legal Victory for Same-Sex Japanese Couples

For the first time in Japanese history, a major court ruled on Tuesday that the government’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

This case is the first to be decided on out of multiple similar ones brought by 13 couples who coordinated to sue the government on Valentine’s Day 2019 in Sapporo, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. During proceedings, the government relied on language from Article 24 of the constitution, which states that “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”

The court agreed with the argument; however, it also agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that while Article 24 might apply to hetero couples, it doesn’t preclude the right for same-sex couples to marry. Ultimately, the court found the couples’ argument that the government violated Article 14, which guarantees equality under the law, the most compelling.

Following the decision, supporters and the plaintiffs held celebrations outside the courthouse. “My tears didn’t stop flowing. The court took us seriously,” said a plaintiff in his 40s, who uses Kunimi Ryosuke as his pseudonym.

According to a government official, the Justice Ministry will now study the details of the decision and pending lawsuits around the country, although it should be noted that the ruling doesn’t make same-sex marriage legal across all of Japan. Despite lacking widespread authority to change the law, the ruling does hold weight among the other district courts that could lead to changes in the law itself.

Unfortunately for same-sex couples, that process may take some time, as the political will to officially write this into law is “lukewarm at best,” according to the Japan Times. Currently, Japan is the only G7 member state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

Growing Recognition in Japan

Currently, LGTBQ+ rights in Japan are varied. While LGTBQ+ people aren’t specifically targeted and repressed under the law, such as in Saudi Arabia, they aren’t given the same privileges and rights as hetero couples. Prominent examples include the struggle same-sex couples face to be granted medical visitation rights, the ability to make medical decisions for unconscious partners, co-parenting rights, and spousal income tax deductions.

All of this was brought up by Judge Takebe Tomoko Wednesday morning, who admonished the government for not offering “even a degree” of marital benefits to same-sex couples. Local municipalities have tried to rectify the situation by issuing “partnership certificates” to same-sex couples, which grant some of these rights. However, without a national policy, the rights are limited and can often be ignored by institutions.

Despite the drawbacks and ultimately limited nature of the win, activists have still hailed it as a massive victory for LGBTQ+ people in the nation not only because it backs up their right to marry and maintain the same rights as heterosexual individuals, but also because it draws more awareness and gives momentum to a movement that has slowly been gaining ground in the traditionally conservative country.

See What Others Are Saying: (Japan Times) (Kyodo News) (NPR)

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