Briefs: After the chaos there are questions ... and the promise of new debate rules

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gestures as President Donald Trump walks onto stage for the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland. (Olivier Douliery/Pool vi AP)

Associated Press

News stories for October 1st

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden kept up their debate-stage sniping from the road and the rails, fighting for working-class voters in the Midwest while both parties — and the debate commission, too — sought to deal with the most chaotic presidential faceoff in memory.

The debate raised fresh questions about Trump's continued reluctance to condemn white supremacy, his questioning the legitimacy of the election and his unwillingness to respect debate ground rules his campaign had agreed to. Some Democrats called on Biden on Wednesday to skip the next two debates.

Biden's campaign confirmed he would participate in the subsequent meetings, as did Trump's. But the Commission on Presidential Debates promised "additional structure ... to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues."

Less than 12 hours after the wild debate concluded, Biden called Trump's behavior in the prime-time confrontation a "a national embarrassment." The Democratic challenger launched his most aggressive day on the campaign trail all year, with eight stops on train tour that began mid-morning in Cleveland and ended 10 hours later in western Pennsylvania. Trump proclaimed his debate performance a smashing success during a Wednesday evening rally in Duluth, Minnesota. 

"Last night I did what the corrupt media has refused to do," Trump said. "I held Joe Biden accountable for his 47 years of failure."

'I was sad. It was sad': Voters bemoan nasty debate

LAS VEGAS — Donald Trump and Joe Biden debated. Americans cringed. 

After the presidential candidates put on one of the noisiest, most chaotic debates in recent memory, voters across the country struggled for words – printable words – to describe the display. Many went first to profanities. Others landed on more polite, but still biting, terms for the live, prime-time event, long considered evidence of the rigors of U.S. democracy: "A joke," "a disgrace" and "so disrespectful."

"I was sad. It was sad, and it was very pathetic," said Rickey Hampton, as the 54-year-old stood inside the doorway of his Las Vegas apartment.

It was another day of reckoning with the nation's rapidly transforming political culture and its seemingly irreparable divisions. In interviews with voters across key states in the contest, those who watched the spectacle nearly unanimously recoiled from it. Many said Trump was the instigator, whose frequent interruptions blew up the rules and any pretense that the men were there to discuss policy. 

None said it would change their minds on how they planned to vote. Instead, voters on both sides said it only reaffirmed their positions.

Trump Proud Boys remark echoes Charlottesville

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday tried to walk back his refusal to outright condemn a far right fascist group during his debate with Democrat Joe Biden, but the inflammatory moment was far from the first time the president has failed to denounce white supremacists or has advanced racist ideas.

Trump's initial refusal to criticize the Proud Boys — instead saying the group should "stand back and stand by" — drew fierce blowback before he altered his message in a day-later effort to quell the firestorm. 

"I don't know who Proud Boys are. But whoever they are they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work," Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a campaign stop in Minnesota. 

The new flareup over Trump's messaging on race was playing out just weeks before the election, leaving the president to play defense on yet another issue when he's already facing criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and under new scrutiny over his taxes.

And even after saying the Proud Boys should "stand down," Trump went on call out forces on the other end of the political spectrum and tried to attack Biden. It was an echo of the way he had blamed "both sides" for the 2017 violence between white supremacists and anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Debate commission says it will make changes to format

NEW YORK — The presidential debate commission says it will soon adopt changes to its format to avoid a repeat of the disjointed first meeting between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The commission said Wednesday that the debate "made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues."

One possibility being discussed is to give the moderator the ability to cut off the microphone of one of the debate participants while his opponent is talking, according to a person familiar with the deliberations who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The next presidential debate is a town hall format scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami.

Meanwhile, the Nielsen company said that 73.1 million people watched the debate on television, where it was shown on 16 networks. That's more than any other television event since the Super Bowl, even if it fell short of the 84 million who watched the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016. That was the most-watched presidential debate ever.

Moderator Chris Wallace struggled to gain control of Tuesday's debate in Cleveland because of frequent interruptions, primarily by Trump. The candidates interrupted Wallace or their opponent 90 times in the 90-minute debate, 71 of them by Trump, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

Wallace, of Fox News, pleaded for a more orderly debate, at one point looking at Trump and saying, "the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I'm appealing to you, sir, to do that."

"Ask him, too," Trump said.

"Well, frankly, you've been doing more interrupting than he has," Wallace said.

In Appalachia, people watch COVID-19, race issues from afar

BUCHTEL, Ohio — The water, so cold that it nearly hurts, spills relentlessly into a concrete trough from three pipes driven into a hillside near the edge of town.

People have been coming to the trough for at least a century, since horses were watered here and coal miners stopped by to wash off the grime. People still come - because they think the water is healthier, or makes better coffee, or because their utilities were turned off when they couldn't pay the bills. Or maybe just because it's what they've always done.

For years, Tarah Nogrady has filled plastic jugs here and lugged them back to a town so small it rarely appears on maps. As she collects water for her four Pekinese dogs waiting in the car, she doesn't wear a mask, like so many around here. Nogrady doubts that the coronavirus is a real threat - it's "maybe a flu-type deal," she says.

It's a common view in the little towns that speckle the Appalachian foothills of southeast Ohio, where the pandemic has barely been felt. Coronavirus deaths and protests for racial justice — events that have defined 2020 nationwide — are mostly just images on TV from a distant America. 

For many here, it's an increasingly foreign America that they explain with suspicion, anger and occasionally conspiracy theories. The result: At a time when the country is bitterly torn and crises are piling up faster than ever, the feeling of isolation in this corner of Ohio is more profound than ever. 

Push to bring coronavirus vaccines to the poor faces trouble

LONDON — An ambitious humanitarian project to deliver coronavirus vaccines to the world's poorest people is facing potential shortages of money, cargo planes, refrigeration and vaccines themselves — and running into skepticism even from some of those it's intended to help most.

In one of the biggest obstacles, rich countries have locked up most of the world's potential vaccine supply through 2021, and the U.S. and others have refused to join the project, called Covax. 

"The supply of vaccines is not going to be there in the near term, and the money also isn't there," warned Rohit Malpani, a public health consultant who previously worked for Doctors Without Borders. 

Covax was conceived as a way of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccines regardless of their wealth. 

It is being led by the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency; Gavi, a public-private alliance, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which buys immunizations for 60 percent of the world's children; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, another Gates-supported public-private collaboration.

Unemployment marches higher in Europe amid pandemic

FRANKFURT, Germany — Unemployment rose for a fifth straight month in Europe in August amid concern that extensive government support programs won't be able keep many businesses hit by coronavirus restrictions afloat forever.

The jobless rate rose to 8.1 percent in the 19 countries that use the euro currency in August, up from 7.9% in July, official statistics showed Thursday. Some 13.2 million people were unemployed and the number of those out of work rose by 251,000. 

Economists expect a further rise as wage support programs expire, while an increase in infections in many countries has increased fears that some restrictions on business interaction may have to be re-imposed.

Some 3.7 million people are still on furlough support programs in Germany, the eurozone's largest economy. The government has extended its emergency support through the end of 2021. National governments have poured in fiscal stimulus in the form of support loans and guarantees for business, while the European Central Bank has launched a 1.35 trillion euro ($1.57 trillion) monetary stimulus in the form of regular bond purchases with newly printed money through at least the middle of next year. That has helped keep financial markets calm and credit flowing to businesses. 

But all those measures have not halted a wave of corporate announcements of job reductions. Companies in the hardest hit industries such as airlines, tourism and restaurants may face a long period of substantially diminished demand for their services and are laying off workers. The coronavirus in some cases has also accelerated restructuring programs that existed before the pandemic.

EU takes legal action against UK over planned Brexit bill

BRUSSELS — The European Union took legal action against Britain on Thursday over its plans to pass legislation that would breach parts of the legally binding divorce agreement the two sides reached late last year.

The EU action underscored the worsening relations with Britain, which was a member of the bloc until Jan. 31. Both sides are trying to forge a rudimentary free trade agreement before the end of the year, but the fight over the controversial U.K. Internal Market bill has soured relations this month.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the British plan "by its very nature is a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement."

"If adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol of Ireland-Northern Ireland" in the withdrawal agreement," she said.

EU leaders fear that if the U.K. bill becomes law, it could lead to the reimposition of a hard land border between Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain, and EU member Ireland, and erode the stability that has underpinned peace since the 1998 Good Friday accord.

Malaysia palm oil producer vows to clear name after U.S. ban

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian palm oil producer FGV Holdings Berhad vowed Thursday to "clear its name" after the U.S. banned imports of its palm oil over allegations of forced labor and other abuses.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Trade issued the ban order against FGV on Wednesday, saying it found indicators of forced labor, including concerns about children, along with other abuses such as physical and sexual violence.

The action, announced a week after The Associated Press exposed major labor abuses in Malaysia's palm oil industry, was triggered by a petition filed last year by nonprofit organizations.

FGV said all the issues raised "have been the subject of public discourse since 2015 and FGV has taken several steps to correct the situation".

"FGV is disappointed that such decision has been made when FGV has been taking concrete steps over the past several years in demonstrating its commitment to respect human rights and to uphold labor standards," it said in a statement.

Outage freezes Tokyo Stock Exchange, world's 3rd largest

TOKYO — Tokyo Stock Exchange officials said they were working to get trading back to normal by Friday after the bourse halted trading for the day due to what they said was a hardware and systems malfunction of its electronic trading system. 

There was no indication that the outage at the world's third-largest exchange resulted from hacking or other cybersecurity breaches. 

"We are extremely sorry for the troubles we have caused," exchange President and Chief Executive Koichiro Miyahara told reporters. 

Miyahara and other exchange officials said a computer hardware device they called "machine one" failed and the backup "machine two" didn't kick in, so stock price information was not being relayed properly.

The officials characterized the problem as a memory malfunction. 

In NYC and LA, returning pupils face battery of virus tests

The two largest school districts in the U.S. are rolling out ambitious and costly plans to test students and staff for the coronavirus, bidding to help keep school buildings open amid a rise in infections among the nation's school-age children.

New York City is set to begin testing 10% to 20% of students and staff in every building monthly beginning Thursday, the same day the final wave of the district's more than 1 million students returns to brick-and-mortar classrooms for the first time in six months.

"Every single school will have testing. It will be done every single month. It will be rigorous," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in announcing the plan as part of an agreement with the teachers union to avert a strike. At least 79 Department of Education employees have died from the virus. 

 With an estimated 100,000-120,000 tests expected each month, each costing between $78 and $90, New York City's school-based testing plan goes well beyond safety protocols seen in most other districts.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District, has launched a similarly comprehensive, $150 million, testing program to help determine when it will be safe to resume in-person instruction. The district began the school year remotely in August for all 600,000 students. The New York and Los Angeles systems are respectively the nation's largest and 2nd-largest school districts.

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