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Newsletter: Today: Toned down, but not transformative

President Trump gave a more subdued performance than in his first debate with Joe Biden. But can it meaningfully alter the race?

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Toned Down, But Not Transformative

Staring down the barrel of defeat, President Trump did something Thursday night that does not come easily: He made a course correction. After spending most of the first debate with Joe Biden hectoring, interrupting and making the exchange almost unwatchable, he began the second and final debate showing more restraint. He didn’t keep it up the whole time, and he still wielded plenty of bluster — but his calmer approach at least let voters listen.

What it probably did not do is significantly alter the direction of the race.

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Some Trump allies had hoped the president could shake up the contest with attacks on the foreign business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter. But the much-ballyhooed accusations fell flat, fizzling in a flurry of details incomprehensible to anyone not already steeped in the questionable accusations Trump’s allies have tried to push. Biden, meanwhile, sitting on a steady polling lead and huge cash advantage, had just one simple goal: Don’t mess it up. He largely achieved that.

More on the Debate

The mute button worked. Trump toned it down. Biden held his own. And immigration finally made an appearance. Those are among our key takeaways from the debate.

— Americans won’t be getting vaccinated within weeks. Not everyone was able to keep their healthcare plan under Obamacare. No clear evidence connects Biden to corruption in Ukraine or China. And no, he doesn’t want “tiny small windows” in all buildings. That’s some of what we covered in fact-checking the debate.

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— To break the debate down and keep score in real time, we had four veteran journalists assess the candidates’ performances, round by round.


Dreams of a Red Emperor

Since coming into power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has often drawn comparisons to Mao Zedong. But Xi is not Mao 2.0. A disciplinarian, not a revolutionary, he’s driven by a need for control. His ethnic nationalist vision of Chinese revival draws on allusions to past empires. And while he speaks in Marxist terms and uses Maoist tactics, his brand of communism also promotes Confucius and e-commerce.

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Xi sees himself as a savior, anointed to lead China into a “new era” of greatness propelled by rising prosperity and political devotion. Whether his vision matches reality is another question.

The stakes of achieving his grand plan are high. His rule has led to sweeping crackdowns on corruption and political dissent at home and an increasingly strident foreign policy, including provocative naval exercises in the South China Sea and Beijing’s tense relations with Washington over trade, technology and Hong Kong. But a political system prone to crackdowns can turn suspicious and brittle. And perhaps the trickiest elements of his reign are his attempts to combine market reforms with state leadership.

This is the third story in our “In China’s Shadow” series. Read more about China’s global dominance.

A West African Village’s Lessons

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West Africa’s journeys with its Ebola epidemic offer the United States a blueprint for its coronavirus battle: how a minor outbreak evolves into a devastating epidemic, and how each individual’s decision to become part of the solution is, ultimately, the only way out.

Just ask the people of Dirty Box Junction, Sierra Leone, where six years ago skepticism surrounding Ebola had led people to defy quarantine orders and had nearly pushed the village to the brink. This year, when COVID-19 struck, Dirty Box Junction considered it unwelcome but not unprecedented. Sierra Leone had a functional coronavirus test long before the U.S. did, and several other sub-Saharan African countries declared a state of emergency with only a single case.

“The outbreak playbook has always been that the United States looks on and says, ‘Those poor things, that would never happen here,’” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law. “But the script has been flipped entirely — with Africa being well hardened by novel outbreaks, and the United States flailing badly.”

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

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— Thousands of Los Angeles County children could head back to school sooner now that officials have made it easier for elementary schools to reopen for their youngest students under waivers, dropping a requirement that they provide a letter of support from employee unions, The Times has learned.

— A death certificate is a final marker in someone’s life — an official accounting of the end. But study after study has shown that as many as half of them are wrong, and that’s creating chaos as health officials try to count COVID-19 deaths.

— In a significant move to bring more students back to campus, Los Angeles County schools will be permitted to bring 25% of their students back to campus at a time, provided that they need special services best offered in person.

— An L.A. evangelical megachurch that has defied health orders and held indoor worship services has been struck with a coronavirus outbreak, officials say.

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For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

‘Can I Still Have Kids?’

At least 19 women at a Georgia immigration detention center say a doctor performed, or pressured them to undergo, “overly aggressive” or “medically unnecessary” surgery without their consent, including procedures that impact their ability to have children, according to a new report and other records obtained by The Times. It comes a month after a whistleblowing nurse set into motion congressional inquiries and federal investigations into women’s care at the facility.

The 19 women were all patients of Dr. Mahendra Amin, the primary gynecologist for the Irwin County Detention Center, and the records detail and support their allegations of abuse him, according to the report, which was written by a team of board-certified OBGYNs and nursing experts affiliated with academic medical centers who reviewed more than 3,200 pages of records obtained for the women.

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They found an “alarming pattern” in which Amin allegedly subjected the women to unwarranted gynecological surgeries, in most cases performed without consent, according to the 5-page report, submitted Thursday to members of Congress. One woman said she awoke from surgery chained to a hospital bed and immediately asked a nurse: “Do I still have ovaries? Can I still have kids?”

FROM THE ARCHIVES

A two-term limit for United States presidents wasn’t a part of the Constitution until 1951, but only one president ever served more than two.

In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision to break the informal rules and run a third time was controversial. On Oct. 23, 1940, Los Angeles observed a nationwide No Third Term Day. Protesters and parades, including more than 1,100 decorated automobiles moved from city to city, “distributing literature, buttons and stickers, speakers addressing mass meetings and a number of novel demonstrations,” according to The Times’ coverage.

Protesters felt strongly that the two-term limit was an important democratic safeguard. Roosevelt’s supporters argued that navigating World War II required consistent leadership. Roosevelt won re-election to a third term, and would go on to be elected to a fourth before dying in office.

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Oct. 23, 1940: Frances Voltz and Les Sachs ride horses down Spring St. during No Third Term Day observances in LA
Oct. 23, 1940: Frances Voltz and Les Sachs ride down Spring St. during No Third Term Day observances in Los Angeles. The demonstration was in response to Pres. Franklin Roosevelt running for a third term.
(Los Angeles Times)

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YOUR WEEKEND

Patti LuPone live from New York and Patton Oswalt live from L.A. lead our 21 picks for online concerts, streaming theater, virtual art exhibitions and more.

— Forget sourdough. Your next cooking project is candy bars for Halloween — or arguing about the best store-bought ones.

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— Learn how to forage for edible seaweed on California’s coast.

— Stay up late to see the Orionid meteor shower. Halley’s Comet won’t return for another four decades, but right now the Earth is passing through bits of its debris — which show up as meteors, or shooting stars, in the sky.

CALIFORNIA

— Faced with a deluge of fraudulent unemployment claims, 350,000 debit cards containing benefits have been frozen because of suspicious activity, including a high number of claims at a single address.

— California’s election rules ban signs, clothing and swag urging support for a specific candidate at polling places — but “Make America Great Again” hats and clothes are OK, officials have decided.

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— A proposal to build a 2.5-mile Griffith Park gondola to ferry visitors and relieve traffic is generating heated opposition from area residents and environmentalists.

Santa Monica’s police chief has retired amid a furor over her handling of summer protests against police brutality. In Santa Clara County, months after four San Jose police officers were caught posting offensive comments on a private Facebook page, the district attorney will seek to dismiss more than a dozen cases in which their testimony was pivotal to convictions.

— A great-grandmother. A mechanic. A mother and daughter. These are the victims of the Zogg fire, which was contained last week. But there are still more burning. Track the progress of California’s wildfires with our map.

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NATION-WORLD

Russian hackers have targeted the networks of dozens of state and local governments in the U.S. in recent days, stealing data from at least two servers, officials said, amplifying fears of the potential for tampering with the vote and undermining confidence in the results.

— The “line of contact” separating Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers threads a meandering 120-mile-long path. It separates the two sides of a war that has solidified grievances as uncompromising and storied as the trenches themselves.

— Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday overcame a boycott by Democrats to approve Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, sending President Trump’s third pick for the high court to the full Senate for confirmation as early as next week.

— Question swirled Thursday about the origins of Pope Francis’ bombshell comments endorsing same-sex civil unions, with all evidence suggesting he made them in a 2019 interview that was never broadcast in its entirety.

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HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Quibi was supposed to be a haven for filmmakers — a big-spending new buyer hungry for fresh material that would let them retain ownership of their projects. What happens now that it’s folding?

— The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the uprisings for racial justice, led to a summer of turmoil for museums. But it also may have been a moment to reset and reopenings reveal what’s changed and what hasn’t, writes Times arts reporter turned columnist Carolina A. Miranda in her first column.

— There would be no Stonewall without Black queer activists. The new docuseries “Equal” shows why.

— It was going to happen sooner or later: Shows like “black-ish” and “The Connors” are taking on pandemic storylines. TV critic Lorraine Ali says the gamble of mixing comedy and tragedy is paying off.

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— After George Floyd’s death, TV promised to address its lack of diversity. A new study from UCLA calls out the lack of progress.

BUSINESS

— Like power and water, the internet has been shown by the pandemic to be a necessity for households, and the crisis makes even clearer that it’s time for it to be regulated as a utility, columnist David Lazarus writes.

— The pandemic-prompted shake-up of theater is has touched off an unusually bitter turf war between two actors’ unions that usually work side by side.

— Restaurant workers are finding smaller tips and mask resistance as Huntington Beach struggles to overcome a COVID-19 slump.

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SPORTS

— Columnists Dylan Hernández and Bill Plaschke have divergent takes on the World Series. Hernández says that although the Rays evened it up in Game 2, the Dodgers remain in control of the Series because of their rotation, resting Julio Urías and ensuring he can pitch most innings in Game 4 — but Plaschke says Game 2 bore an eerie resemblance to Series failures past.

Tyronn Lue free acknowledges Doc Rivers’ influence — but he’s made clear that his style is not a clone of the man he succeeds as Clippers coach.

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OPINION

Mayor Eric Garcetti has been an outspoken advocate for #MeToo accountability, yet he didn’t publicly treat his bodyguard’s allegations against top advisor Rick Jacobs with the necessary gravity and concern. That sends a troubling message, The Times’ editorial board writes.

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— There’s more at stake than healthcare with Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation. She could help set back environmental protections, too, write Gina McCarthy, the former EPA chief and current chief executive of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Mitch Bernard, the an environmental advocacy group’s executive director.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— It was supposed to be a luxury, privacy-focused phone company. Instead it became the subject of an international investigation. (Vice)

— For young Black protestors, the circumstances of their lives and futures have been defined by activism. It’s a legacy they take up but hope future generations won’t find necessary. (BuzzFeed News)

ONLY IN L.A.

In the San Fernando Valley, a loud but well-meaning “mask cop” is conducting a one-man crusade for proper mask use. His name is Charles Dirks, he’s 81, and he’s deeply passionate about his community. You’ll find him walking his Northridge neighborhood yelling, “Where is your mask?” He told columnist Sandy Banks he considers it his civic duty, though not everyone agrees on his methods.

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Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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