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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

India Cuts Off Internet for 81 Million To Stop Exam Cheating

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Teachers leaving bags at an exam center in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Sunday. Via: Rohit Jain Paras

While internet shutdowns are relatively common during exams in the region, non-test takers who were burned by the outage questioned why alternative anti-cheating measures were not taken instead.


No Cheating

Nearly 81 million people in the Indian state of Rajasthan had their internet completely cut off for 12 hours on Sunday in a government effort to stop cheating during the Rajasthan Eligibility Exam for Teachers.

Shutdowns of this nature aren’t unheard of during such exams. Other states implemented similar policies during important exam periods, and the move isn’t isolated to India either. Asian municipalities have also implemented similar anti-cheating measures.

It’s unclear why the decision to block the internet for everyone in Rajasthan was considered the best solution, rather than other measures such as confiscating electronic devices when entering exam rooms. However, for the other 79 million residents in the state, the outage proved to be a major annoyance.

Business Deadlock

Residents were without internet from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, and local outlets reported workers, many of whom are still doing their jobs from home amid the coronavirus pandemic, found themselves without any means to contact their employers and colleagues. Employers couldn’t get messages and communications to clients, and overall, people reported that financial transactions came to a standstill.

In a country where digital transactions — either through mobile devices or even cards — reign supreme, having large amounts of cash on hand was burdensome. The inconvenience is expected to have an economic impact, something that the Udaipur Trade body warned would happen when the measures were first announced earlier in the month.

The Software Freedom Law Centre was similarly concerned about the shutdown.

“Internet shutdowns have a harrowing impact on citizens and are often disproportionate in nature. Internet shutdowns are bound to cause economic loss, an impact on education, healthcare, and other welfare schemes,” it wrote in a message to authorities.

“An internet shutdown during a pandemic can be especially grave considering citizens depend on the internet to get information, work, and study.”

The Centre also warned that this internet shutoff was likely against the law, as cheating doesn’t constitute a “public emergency” or “public safety” measure.

See what others are saying: (Quartz) (Yahoo! Finance) (The Indian Express)

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International

Germany Election: SPD Takes Lead for First Time in Nearly Two Decades

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Despite the lead, the Social Democratic Party of Germany will need to form a coalition government in a process that could be usurped by the center-right Union parties.


End of an Era

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) won a plurality of the votes in Sunday’s federal election and gained 25.7% of the seats in the Bundestag, according to preliminary results.

Many considered these elections to be the most important in over a decade as Germany’s parties were vying to be the successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in office since 2005. Merkel decided to retire from public office this year, leaving behind a long legacy that is generally viewed positively inside and outside of Germany, according to Pew Research and Infrastat Dimap.

SPD’s win marks the first time in nearly 16-years that the center-right Union party, a coalition made up of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU), hasn’t been the dominant party in the legislature. Additionally, it’s a major uptick from the last election in 2017 when the party only won 20% of the vote.

Despite the win, the SPD will still need a coalition, and depending on negotiations with smaller parties go, it’s possible that the Union parties could hold onto the Chancellorship. The most likely scenario, according to German media, is the so-called Traffic Light Coalition; named after the colors traditionally associated with the constituent parties. Such a coalition would be made of SDP, FDP, and Green parties and represent a broad coalition of center-left and center-right parties.

Olaf Scholz, the SPD’s leader and possibly the next Chancellor, agreed with German media, saying in a victory speech that the likely allies will be “the Green party and the FDP. And hence we are going to try to forge away along those lines.” 

Moderate Politics Win

Both the FDP and Green parties are likely to play kingmaker in the fight to form a government. Both have worked with the SDP and Union parties in the past to form governments, and any combination of these four parties could form a majority government.

Sunday’s election has not only been called a victory for the SPD but a victory for moderate politics. Like much of Europe, Germany has struggled with a rise in extremist parties such as the AfD, a controversial far-right party. In 2017, the party shockingly won 11.5% of the vote, 7% more than in 2013. However, on Sunday, it only won around 10% of the vote, indicating that it is losing ground and popularity to Germany’s more moderate parties.

Until the various parties of Germany can form a majority government in a process that can take weeks or months, Merkel will continue to be Chancellor.

See what others are saying: (DW) (CNBC) (CNN)

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U.S.

Alabama Man Dies After Being Turned Away From 43 Hospitals Overwhelmed by COVID Patients, Family Says

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Alabama currently has the second-highest COVID hospitalization average and fourth-lowest vaccination rate in the country.


Full ICUs Allegedly Delay Care for Emergent Cardiac Patient 

The family of an Alabama man who died of heart issues is calling on people to get vaccinated after he was turned away by 43 hospitals in three states while having a cardiac emergency because all of their Intensive Care Units were at maximum capacity with COVID patients.

The man, 73-year-old Ray DeMonia, was taken to Cullman Regional hospital in Alabama on Aug. 23. The next morning — around 12 hours after he was admitted — his daughter said her mother got a call saying that hospital workers were unable to find him a specialized cardiac ICU bed in the area. 

He was eventually transferred to a hospital in Mississippi about 200 miles away and died on Sept. 1, just three days before his birthday.

In DeMonia’s obituary, his family pleaded with people to get the vaccine.

“In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non COVID related emergencies,” they wrote. “He would not want any other family to go through what his did.”

Rising Hospitalizations

Officials and healthcare providers in Alabama have said DeMonia’s case is not a one-off incident. 

Jennifer Malone, a spokesperson for Cullman Regional, told The Washington Post that situations like this have been an “ongoing problem” reported by doctors at the hospital and others throughout the state.

“When patients are transported to other facilities to receive care that they need, that’s becoming increasingly more difficult because all hospitals are experiencing an increased lack of bed space,” she said.

On Friday, Scott Harris, the head of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said that the state’s spike in ICU patients has stabilized some. Still, he added there are not enough ICU beds for the number of patients that need intensive care, many of whom are unvaccinated.

Even with the spikes “stabilizing,” Alabama still has the second-highest COVID hospitalizations in the U.S., according to The Post tracker

The calls from DeMonia’s family for people to get vaccinated also come as Alabama struggles with the country’s fourth-lowest vaccination rate. Despite those figures, top officials in the state are doing little to address the issue.

Last week, after President Joe Biden rolled out a sweeping vaccine mandate for 100 million people and promised he would use his power to circumvent Republican leaders “undermining” relief efforts, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) told the president to “bring it on.”

Ivey then doubled down on her refusal to mandate vaccines in her state, where people are being refused emergency hospital care because so many unvaccinated people are in ICU beds.

“You bet I’m standing in the way. And if he thinks he’s going to move me out of the way, he’s got another thing coming,” she said, referring to the mandates as “outrageous” and “overreaching” policies that will “no doubt be challenged in the courts.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (NPR)

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