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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)

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Bruce Willis Denies Rumors He Sold His Likeness For Deepfake Use

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Deepfakes face criticism from Hollywood to social media.


Willis Debunks Rumors

Actor Bruce Willis denied rumors over the weekend that he sold his likeness to the deepfake company DeepCake. 

Willis agreed last year for his face to be used in a commercial for a Russian telecoms company. For this commercial, DeepCake digitally edited Willis’ face onto a Russian actor. This sparked rumors that Willis had sold the rights to his likeness for the company to use in future projects. 

However, both management for Willis and DeepCake itself denied any partnership or agreement for these rights.

“Bruce couldn’t sell anyone any rights, they are his by default,” DeepCake said.

Agreements for the AI generation of actors have been heard of before, however. Recently, actor James Earl Jones agreed for his voice to be technologically generated for the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise. 

Deepfakes Online

This comes as deepfakes are facing mounting criticism online, including from prominent YouTube personality and author, Hank Green. He recently tweeted about a channel that uses similar deepfake technology and AI-voice generation to parody popular YouTube creators. He stressed his concern that while the channel in question may not be nefarious, this technology could end up being harmful. 

“There are ways to do this that would be much worse, more mean spirited, and more exploitative than this,” Green said. “And I’m very worried about what that will look like, because if this is working (and allowed), people will do it.”

Among other issues, Green mentioned these videos could abuse monetization and sponsorship opportunities while exploiting someone else’s face and brand. Green even implored YouTube to evaluate its terms of service as the popularity of deepfakes rise. 

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Mashable) (The Telegraph)

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Thousands of Students at Nearly 100 Virginia Schools Staged Walkout Over Anti-Trans Policies

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More than 20,000 comments have been submitted to the Virginia Department of Education over the rules.


The Walkout

Public high school students in Virginia are protesting new Department of Education guidelines issued by Gov. Glenn Youngkin that could impact transgender students.

Among other measures, the guidelines dictate that a student will only be referred to by the name, sex, and pronouns listed in the district’s official records. The only way to change the records is by written request from the student’s parent or guardian. 

Students would also require a court order or legal documentation if they want to be referred to by a different preferred name.

Versions of these guidelines are set to be adopted across the 133 school districts in the state after the 30-day comments period expires in late October.

This prompted more than 12,000 students in nearly 100 schools across Virginia to participate in a walk-out in protest on Tuesday.

“Our main goal is to ensure that we get enough pushback to these regulations so that they don’t get passed, and even if they do get passed, that school boards will be under enough pressure to reject them,” one lead organizer said.

Concerns About Guidelines

Supporters of the guidelines believe these policies will give rights back to parents by keeping them informed about and responsible for this aspect of their children’s lives.

“The guidelines make it clear that when parents are part of the process, schools will accommodate the requests of children and their families,” a spokesperson from Governor Youngkin’s office said. “Parents should be a part of their children’s lives, and it’s apparent through the public protests and on-camera interviews that those objecting to the guidance already have their parents as part of that conversation.”

Students and others who oppose the measures fear they could lead to bullying or harassment of trans students, who might not be able to go by their chosen gender and name while in class.

As of the evening of Tuesday, more than 20,000 comments have been submitted to the Virginia DOE. Upon closing the comment period on Oct. 26, staff at the DOE will review submissions and recommend any changes necessary to the draft. 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (USA Today) (Guardian)


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Actor James Earl Jones Gave Green-Light for His Voice to be AI-Generated in “Star Wars” Properties

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What does this mean for the future of actors and AI in movies?


James Earl Jones Hangs Up His Hat

At the age of 91, actor James Earl Jones has decided to step back from his role as Darth Vader in the famous “Star Wars” trilogy, allowing Skywalker Sound to use voice archives to create AI-generated dialogue for the character in appearances moving forward.

For the prequel series on Disney+, “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Skywalker Sound hired the Ukraine-based startup Respeecher to craft the dialogue using their AI technology and Jones’s recordings from previous performances. Essentially, they take the recordings and “teach” an AI how to replicate the patterns and tone of Darth Vader that scared so many for so many years. 

AI in Hollywood

AI voices have been a point of controversy for a while. For example, “Roadrunner,” the documentary about the late Anthony Bourdain, used AI technology to replicate Bourdain’s voice, reading letters he had written during his life. This sparked backlash online from those who found it unethical to use someone’s voice posthumously. 

“Star Wars” has gone beyond generating just voices — using AI to achieve a variety of feats. In 2016’s “Rogue One,” filmmakers digitally resurrected Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. In the same movie, they used CGI to put Carrie Fisher’s face on a double. They later used the same method after she passed away.

That same CGI was also recently used to digitally de-age Mark Hamill for his role as Luke Skywalker in the Disney+ show “The Book of Boba Fett.”

It has not been confirmed if Jones will be paid for the continued use of his voice in this manner, but his family did say they were pleased with the work done on “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

See what others are saying: (Vanity Fair) (ABC News) (AV Club)

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