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Biden always understood what this election is about

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In his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Abraham Maslow proposed his hierarchy of human needs. At the bottom of the pyramid were the basics: food, water, warm, rest. As you traveled up the pyramid, the needs got more specific, more abstract: belonging, prestige, self-actualization.

Over the past four years, we’ve slipped far, far down the hierarchy of political needs. The question isn’t whether the president is a policy genius, a generational orator, a historic legislative tactician, or a masterful manager. It’s whether he’s a white supremacist. Whether he’s a conspiracy theorist. Whether he’s a liar. Whether he’s extorting foreign governments to investigate domestic rivals. Whether he is a Covid-19 superspreader.

In 2016, I spent a few weeks reporting on why there was so little enthusiasm for a Biden presidential campaign among then-Obama staffers. Everyone I spoke to liked Biden, usually a lot. They extolled his kindness, his decency, his loyalty. It wasn’t those higher-order questions that worried them. He ran messy, inefficient meetings. He wasn’t a policy savant like Hillary Clinton. He didn’t have Obama’s technocratic cool or rhetorical ease. He felt like Obama’s partner, not his successor.

In 2020, Biden looks likely to be Trump’s successor, and his performance at the ABC town hall showed why. I’ve watched, for my sins, a countless number of political town halls. By the traditional standards of these things, Biden’s performance wasn’t especially masterful. He was clear and specific, and on the right side of most of the issues. But on the substance, it wasn’t brilliant rhetoric or stunning policy vision. It was serviceable work.

But 2020 isn’t 2016. More fundamental questions are being asked. And on those levels, Biden excelled. Throughout the night, the meta-message of Biden’s performance was that decency is on the ballot in 2020. After he responded to an audience member, he’d often say, earnestly, “I hope that answered your question.” After a long reply to a young voter whom he could see he wasn’t convincing, Biden said, “There’s a lot more, if you can hang around afterward, I’ll tell you more. I really mean it.” He really seemed to. (If you watched the livestream, you could see that a half-hour after the event ended and the mics were turned off, Biden was still there, taking audience questions.)

At about the same moment that Trump was flirting with QAnon support at his town hall aired on NBC, Biden was saying, “The words of a president matter. No matter whether they’re good, bad or indifferent, they matter. And when a president doesn’t wear a mask or makes fun of folks like me, when I was wearing a mask for a long time, then people say, well, it mustn’t be that important. But when a president says, I think this is very important — for example, I walked in here with this mask, but I have one of the N95 masks underneath it, I left it in my dressing room — I think it matters.”

This was, again and again, Biden’s point: The words of the president matter. The behavior of the president matters. The comportment of the president matters. The example of the president matters. Biden talks policy often and reasonably well, but he hasn’t been putting on a clinic in wonkery; he’s been putting on a clinic in decency. And it matters. It shouldn’t — decency should be table stakes, too unremarkable to mention — but right now, it does.

Toward the end of the evening, a mother with a transgender daughter asked Biden how he’d protect the lives and rights of LGBTQ Americans. Biden answered with his policies, but he also told a story of being a kid and seeing two men kiss as his father let him out of the car. “My dad looked at me, he said, ‘Joey, it’s simple. They love each other.’” The idea, Biden continued, “that an 8-year-old, a 10-year-old, decides, ‘I want to be transgender. That’s what I think I’d like to be. It’d make my life a lot easier.’” And then he made a disbelieving face. “There should be zero discrimination,” he concluded.

To my eye, the answer that expressed Biden’s politics most clearly and spoke to this moment most directly, came when he was asked, “As president, how will you avoid the temptation to exact revenge and instead take the high road?” Biden replied, “In politics, grudges don’t work. They make no sense. I really mean it.” And he does. What would it feel like, after four years of a presidency built on grudges, powered by grudges, to have a president who believed that?

Biden wasn’t my favored candidate in 2020. I’m moved by the wonks, the visionaries, the candidates with grand plans and sweeping theories of political change. Biden’s approach to politics is often a rejection of that; an appeal to a quiet, middle-path approach to governing that I fear will crash on the shoals of Republican obstructionism. But however Biden ultimately governs, the secret of his campaign is that he understood that political style comes as a relief to many Americans right now, that it answers their fundamental need for a politics that doesn’t fill them with fear and shame.

Biden was right about the level of our politics right now. He was right about what Americans were looking to hear. The message of Biden’s town hall was simple: Politics can feel like this — gentle, decent, concerned, I hope I’ve answered your question — or it could continue to feel like the circus you found if you flipped over to Trump’s town hall on NBC.

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Seychelles opposition candidate wins presidential election

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Ramkalawan, running for the presidency for the sixth time, won 54.9 percent of valid votes cast, poll body says.

Seychelles opposition candidate Wavel Ramkalawan has won the archipelago’s presidential election with 54.9 percent of valid votes cast, upsetting incumbent President Danny Faure.

“I declare… Ramkalawan as the elected candidate,” the electoral commission chairman Danny Lucas said on Sunday.

Voters on the main islands of Seychelles cast their ballot on Saturday in presidential and parliamentary elections spanning three days.

More than 74,000 registered to take part in the polls.

The opposition, narrowly defeated in a presidential election in 2015 and buoyed by a landmark victory in a parliamentary poll a year later, won its first presidential poll in the 40 years since Seychelles gained independence from Britain.

Ramkalawan, an Anglican priest and leader of the Seychelles Democratic Alliance, was running for the presidency for the sixth time. He lost the 2015 poll by 193 votes to James Michel in an unprecedented second round of voting.

The campaign took place mainly over social media, with rallies banned due to the coronavirus.

Seychelles has recorded only 149 cases, mostly imported, but the pandemic has been a burning campaign issue as restrictions on global travel bottom out the tourism industry – a major earner for Seychelles and employer for many of its 98,000 people.

Visitor numbers have collapsed since March in the archipelago nation of 115 islands, normally a popular destination for honeymooners and paradise-seekers drawn by its fine sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

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Thousands of seals found dead at breeding colony in Namibia

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Cause of mass die-off unknown but scientists suspect pollutants, bacterial infection, or malnutrition.

An estimated 7,000 Cape fur seals have been discovered dead at a breeding colony in central Namibia.

Conservationist Naude Dreyer of the charity Ocean Conservation Namibia (OCN) began noticing dead seals on the sandy beaches of Pelican Point colony – a tourist destination known for its colony of seals and schools of dolphins – near Walvis Bay city in September.

In the first two weeks of October, he found large numbers of seal foetuses at the colony.

Tess Gridley from the Namibian Dolphin Project estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 female seals had miscarried young with more still being found.

Last week, there was a spike in the number of dead adult females, Dreyer said.

“What we have been observing is less freshly dead seal pups and a lot of dead female adults,” he said.

Fur seals normally give birth between mid-November and mid-December.

The cause of the mass die-off is yet to be established but scientists suspect anything from pollutants or bacterial infection to malnutrition.

Some of the dead females found were “thin-looking, emaciated, with very little fat reserves”, said Gridley.

In 1994, some 10,000 seals died and 15,000 foetuses were aborted in a mass die-off that was linked to starvation suspected to have resulted from a shortage of fish as well as from a bacterial infection at another breeding colony, the Cape Cross, some 116km (72 miles) north of the central tourist town Swakopmund.

Annely Haiphene, executive director in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources,  told AFP news agency she suspected the seals died from “lack of food” but will wait for the outcome of the tests.

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Treaty banning nuclear weapons to enter into force

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Fifty countries have ratified an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons, the United Nations has announced, allowing the “historic” text to enter into force in 90 days.

Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the UN said on Saturday, in a move hailed by anti-nuclear activists but strongly opposed by the United States and the other major nuclear powers.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commended the 50 states and saluted “the instrumental work” of civil society in facilitating negotiations and pushing for ratification, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Saturday.

The UN chief said the treaty’s entry into force on January 22, 2021, crowns a worldwide movement “to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and “is a tribute to the survivors of nuclear explosions and tests, many of whom advocated for this treaty”.

According to Dujarric, Guterres also said the treaty “represents a meaningful commitment towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations”.

‘UN at its best’

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning coalition whose work helped spearhead the nuclear ban treaty, called the development a “historic milestone”.

“This moment has been 75 years coming since the horrific attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the founding of the UN which made nuclear disarmament a cornerstone,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN.

“The 50 countries that ratify this Treaty are showing true leadership in setting a new international norm that nuclear weapons are not just immoral but illegal,” she said.

The 50th ratification came on the 75th anniversary of UN Day, commemorating the ratification of the Charter of the United Nations, which officially established the UN.

“The United Nations was formed to promote peace with a goal of the abolition of nuclear weapons,” Fihn said. “This treaty is the UN at its best – working closely with civil society to bring democracy to disarmament.”

The treaty requires that all ratifying countries “never under any circumstances … develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” It also bans any transfer or use of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices – as well as threatening to use such weapons – and requires parties to promote the treaty to other countries.

Once it enters into force, all countries that have ratified it will be bound by those requirements.

The group of nuclear-armed states, including Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, have not signed the treaty.

However, campaigners hope that it coming into force will have the same impact as previous international treaties on landmines and cluster munitions, bringing a stigma to their stockpiling and use, and thereby a change in behaviour even in countries that did not sign up.

‘Strategic error’

The US had written to treaty signatories saying the administration of US President Donald Trump believes they made “a strategic error” and urging them to rescind their ratification.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press news agency, claimed the new treaty was “dangerous” to the half-century-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which sought to prevent the spread of nuclear arms beyond the five original weapons powers.

Fihn dismissed the claim, saying: “There’s no way you can undermine the Nonproliferation Treaty by banning nuclear weapons. It’s the end goal of the Nonproliferation Treaty.”

Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said: “The simple reality is that the international community could never hope to deal with the consequences of a nuclear confrontation. No nation is prepared to deal with a nuclear confrontation. What we cannot prepare for, we must prevent.”

There are more than 14,000 nuclear bombs in the world, thousands of which are ready to be launched in an instant, Rocca said. The power of many of those warheads is tens of times greater than the weapons dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, who has been an ardent campaigner for the treaty, said: “When I learned that we reached our 50th ratification, I was not able to stand.”

“I remained in my chair and put my head in my hands and I cried tears of joy,” she said in a statement. “I have committed my life to the abolition of nuclear weapons. I have nothing but gratitude for all who have worked for the success of our treaty.”

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