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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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Washington State Launches Investigation Into Abuse at Private Special Ed. Schools

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Allegations include staff kicking a fourth-grader and dragging a child with autism around by his leg.


Abuse Allegations

Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has launched an investigation into a system of private schools for kids with disabilities after ProPublica and the Seattle Times reported on allegations of abuse.

The series of articles focused on Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NWSOIL). NWSOIL is a set of private schools that serve 500 Washington public school students with serious disabilities. ProPublica and the Seattle Times found years of complaints from parents and school districts against NWSOIL alleging abuse, overuse of isolation rooms, and unqualified aides teaching instead of certified professionals.

One district claimed NWSOIL staff kicked a fourth-grader. Another alleged that a child with autism was dragged around by his thigh.

Many former NWSOIL employees also claim that they were pressured by their parent company to to enroll more students and skimp on basic resources, like staffing.

Investigation Launched

In a seven-page letter, OSPI reminded NWSOIL of its authority to revoke or suspend a school’s approval, meaning that it could shut NWSOIL down. 

“Given the serious nature of the allegations made in the articles, OSPI is examining what, if any, actions need to be taken with respect to Northwest SOIL’s approval to contract with Washington school districts,” Tania May, assistant superintendent for special education at OSPI, wrote in the letter.

OSPI has demanded any records of mistreatment, maltreatment, abuse, or neglect as well as documents pertaining to restraint or isolation of students and calls to the police. They are also seeking information about the student-to-teacher ratio and staff qualifications. 

In the letter, OSPI claims that all of this was previously unknown to them as well as to police, Child Protective Services, and local school districts. They are asking NWSOIL for an explanation as to why the allegations were not reported. 

NWSOIL defended itself in a public statement.

“Use of restraints and seclusion are always used as a last response when a student is at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others, it said. “We strongly deny any allegation that we understaff and/or pressure staff to increase admissions in order to maximize profits.” 

Washington state representatives are considering a reform bill that will give them more oversight on the publicly funded system of private special education schools. 

In this legislation, OSPI and at least one district that sends students to this program would be required to visit before approving the contract. It would also standardize district agreements with programs like NWSOIL, including financial safeguards to make sure funds are being used appropriately.

See the full series: (ProPublica) (The Seattle Times)

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31 Children Found Working Graveyard Shift in U.S. Meatpacking Plants

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Evidence suggests the company may have minors employed at 400 other locations.


The Complaint

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently found that a leading contractor for sanitation allegedly employed 31 minors from ages 13 to 17 for overnight cleaning of slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities. 

Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. is under investigation for employing over 30 minors in three locations in the Midwest. The DOL claims the children were cleaning dangerous equipment with hazardous chemicals up to 6 or 7 days a week. Several of these children reported injuries, including chemical burns. 

The DOL filed a complaint with the Federal District Court of Nebraska for a nationwide injunction on Packers. According to their complaint, evidence suggests that Packers may have kids working at 400 other locations across the country. 

The court partially fulfilled the DOL’s request and ordered Packers to “immediately cease and refrain from employing oppressive child labor.”

The order also demanded Packers comply with the DOL’s investigation because the complaint included claims that Packers’ managers had been tampering with evidence – including obstructing interviews and attempting to hide or delete important documents, text messages, and incident reports. 

The Response

According to the complaint, the purpose for the nationwide injunction request is the safety of the kids while the DOL investigates.

While Wage and Hour is continuing to pour over records to identify such children, it is slow, painstaking work. Yet, the children working overnight on the kill floor of these slaughterhouses cannot wait,” it reads.

Packers denied the accusations. In a statement to NBC News, it said that it has “an absolute company-wide prohibition against the employment of anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any violation of that policy — period.”

Packers also said it was surprised by the complaint because it claims to be cooperating with the investigation by providing important documents and responses. 

A hearing has been set for Nov. 26 to decide whether the order will be dissolved, extended, or modified. 

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NBC News) (CBS News)

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Officers Charged After Detaining Woman in Car Hit by Train, Woman Faces Charges Too

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The woman suffered nine broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken leg, a broken sternum, broken teeth, and several other injuries, her lawyer said.


Prosecutors Bring Charges

Less than two months after police in Colorado left a woman handcuffed in a patrol car parked on a railroad crossing as a freight train plowed through it, the severely injured woman has still been charged, according to a statement Monday.

In September, multiple law enforcement agencies responded to a road rage incident in Fort Lupton, where they arrested 20-year-old Yareni Rios-Gonzalez for allegedly brandishing a firearm at another driver. While they searched her vehicle, they placed her in a squad car that was parked on train tracks.

Despite being hospitalized for nearly two weeks after the incident, Rios-Gonzalez has been charged with felony menacing, the Weld County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Her lawyer, Paul Wilkinson, told Reuters the news that she was being charged was disappointing and added that he will file a lawsuit against police for his client’s injuries and for violating her civil rights.

Two officers were also charged for their involvement in the incident. Officer Jordan Steinke, from the Fort Lupton Police Department, faces one count each of attempted manslaughter and second-degree assault, both felonies, as well as reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. Sgt. Pablo Vazquez, from the Platteville Police Department, faces five counts of reckless endangerment, one count of obstructing a highway or other passageway, one count of careless driving, and one count of parking where prohibited, all misdemeanors.

Abandoned on the Tracks

A Platteville police officer reportedly stopped Rios-Gonzalez just past the railroad tracks and parked the patrol car on the crossing.

In body camera footage obtained by 9News, she can be heard screaming from inside the vehicle, trying to get their attention as the freight train barreled toward them.

At one point, the locomotive’s horn blares audibly in the distance, but the officers either fail to hear it or ignore it.

By the time the cops notice the incoming train, there are mere seconds until impact, and they scramble away leaving the woman trapped inside.

Vazquez can be heard saying he did not know he parked on the tracks and that he was unaware another officer had placed Rios-Gonzalez in his patrol car.

Rios-Gonzalez suffered nine broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken leg, a broken sternum, broken teeth, and several other injuries, according to Wilkinson.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (CBS News) (The Colorado Sun)

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