Newsclips - November 30, 2021

Lead Stories

Associated Press - November 29, 2021

Inside the 'big wave' of misinformation targeted at Latinos

Before last year’s presidential election, Facebook ads targeting Latino voters described Joe Biden as a communist. During his inauguration, another conspiracy theory spread online and on Spanish-language radio warning that a brooch worn by Lady Gaga signaled Biden was working with shadowy, leftist figures abroad. And in the final stretch of Virginia’s election for governor, stories written in Spanish accused Biden of ordering the arrest of a man during a school board meeting. None of that was true. But such misinformation represents a growing threat to Democrats, who are anxious about their standing with Latino voters after surprise losses last year in places like South Florida and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Heading into a midterm election in which control of Congress is at stake, lawmakers, researchers and activists are preparing for another onslaught of falsehoods targeted at Spanish-speaking voters. And they say social media platforms that often host those mistruths aren’t prepared.

“For a lot of people, there’s a lot of concern that 2022 will be another big wave,” said Guy Mentel, executive director of Global Americans, a think tank that provides analysis of key issues throughout the Americas. This month’s elections may be a preview of what’s to come. After Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy won New Jersey’s close governor’s race, Spanish-language videos falsely claimed the vote was rigged, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud — a fact the Republican candidate acknowledged, calling the results “legal and fair.” In Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin campaigned successfully on promises to defend “parental rights” in classrooms, false headlines around a controversial school board meeting emerged. “Biden ordenó arrestar a padre de una joven violada por un trans,” read one of several misleading articles, translating to “Biden ordered the arrest of a father whose daughter was raped by a trans.” The mistruth was spun from an altercation during a chaotic school board meeting months earlier in Loudoun County that resulted in the arrest of a father whose daughter was sexually assaulted in a bathroom by another student. The father claimed the suspect was “gender fluid,” which sparked outcry over the school’s policy allowing transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

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The Guardian - November 29, 2021

Beto and the Spanish name-game in the Texas governor’s race

Within hours of former congressman Beto O’Rourke announcing his intent to run for governor of Texas against incumbent Greg Abbott, the Republican party apparatus began tweeting about “Robert Francis O’Rourke.” It harkened back to the days the GOP referred to “Barack Hussein Obama”. But instead of suggesting to the American people that Obama might be some kind of foreigner, the recent GOP maneuver has the opposite goal: reminding voters of O’Rourke’s all-American, all Anglo pedigree. “Robert Francis O’Rourke thinks it is ‘dangerous’ for you to have a gun to defend yourself,” Abbott tweeted of the Democrat on his campaign account after the acquittal of murder suspect Kyle Rittenhouse in Wisconsin. “Texans know that self-defense is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. We won’t let dangerous progressive policies hijack your God-given rights.” It should be an interesting maneuver by Abbott who, pre-O’Rourke, was waging an aggressive anti-immigrant campaign that many view as anti-Hispanic.

Now, with O’Rourke in the race, Abbott appears to be following the Ted Cruz campaign model of trying to appeal to Hispanic sentiment by accusing the Democratic challenger of cultural appropriation. To be sure, there is an element of anger that can arise among Hispanic voters who view politicians as cynically trying to appropriate elements of their culture for votes, particularly the tired attempts by candidates of appealing to Hispanics by saying a few broken lines in Spanish during stump speeches. I can recall many debates about cultural appropriation that I had with fellow Hispanics when O’Rourke was challenging Cruz for the US Senate in 2018. I always fell back on what I call “Guero’s phenomenon”, named after a popular Austin Mexican restaurant, favored by Bill Clinton. After his first meal there, the wait to get into that restaurant was upwards of three hours, something I experienced when out-of-town visitors asked to eat there when I lived in that city. What I noticed when we were finally seated was that the vast majority of the clientele at this Mexican restaurant was Anglo. The only Hispanics that I could see in the dining room were serving food and bussing tables.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Jones, Flowers join growing Dem field for Coleman’s House seat

At least four candidates have announced they are running for state Rep. Garnet Coleman’s seat, less than two weeks after the longtime Houston Democrat announced he would not seek re-election next year. The field, made up entirely of Democrats so far, includes Jolanda Jones, a former Houston ISD trustee and at-large city council member, and Reagan Flowers, a Houston Community College trustee. Jones announced her candidacy Monday morning, days after Flowers’ announcement last week. Whoever wins the Democratic primary likely will succeed Coleman in the solidly blue district, which covers Midtown, Third Ward, a majority of Montrose and other parts of Houston’s urban core. It also takes in the University of Houston and a large chunk of southeast Houston along Interstate 45.

It is among the more diverse House districts in the state, with a population that is about 37 percent Hispanic, 35 percent Black, 22 percent white and 7 percent Asian, according to Census Bureau estimates. In a statement announcing her candidacy, Jones said she would be “a champion for affordable health care, better jobs, safer streets and stronger schools” if elected to the seat. She rolled out an initial list of endorsements from elected officials and community leaders, including state Sen. Royce West of Dallas. “Representative Garnet Coleman raised the bar for public servants in Texas,” Jones said. “He cannot be replaced, but I will do my best to carry the torch for the residents of District 147.” Following a stint on Houston City Council from 2008 to 2012, Jones served on the Houston ISD board from 2016 to 2020, where she was known to openly criticize state education officials and her fellow trustees. She opted not to seek re-election, and mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett in last year’s Democratic primary.

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Texas Tribune and NBC News - November 29, 2021

“People should probably be worried”: Texas hasn’t done enough to prevent another winter blackout, experts say

After last winter’s freeze hamstrung power giant Vistra Corp.’s ability to keep electricity flowing for its millions of customers, CEO Curt Morgan said he’d never seen anything like it in his 40 years in the energy industry. During the peak days of the storm, Vistra, Texas’ largest power generator, sent as much energy as it could to power the state’s failing grid, “often at the expense of making money,” he told lawmakers shortly after the storm. But it wasn’t enough. The state’s grid neared complete collapse, millions lost power for days in subfreezing temperatures and more than 200 people died. Since the storm, Texas lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at making the grid more resilient during freezing weather. Signing the bill, Gov. Greg Abbott said “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid.” But Morgan isn’t so sure. His company has spent $50 million this year preparing more than a dozen of its plants for winter. At the company’s plant in Midlothian, workers have wrapped electric cables with three inches of rubber insulation and built enclosures to help shield valves, pumps and metal pipes.

No matter what Morgan does, though, it won’t be enough to prevent another disaster if there is another severe freeze, he said. That’s because the state still hasn’t fixed the critical problem that paralyzed his plants: maintaining a sufficient supply of natural gas, Morgan said. Natural gas slowed to a trickle during the storm, leaving the Midlothian facility and 13 other Vistra power plants that run on gas without enough fuel. The shortage forced Vistra to pay more than $1.5 billion on the spot market for whatever gas was available, costing the company in a matter of days more than twice the amount it usually spends in an entire year. Even then, plants were able to operate at only a fraction of their capacity; the Midlothian facility ran at 30% of full strength during the height of the storm. “Why couldn’t we get it?” Morgan said recently. “Because the gas system was not weatherized. And so we had natural gas producers that weren’t producing.” If another major freeze hits Texas this winter, “the same thing could happen,” Morgan said in an interview. The predicament in Midlothian reflects a glaring shortcoming in Texas’ efforts to prevent a repeat of February, when a combination of freezing temperatures across the state and skyrocketing demand shut down natural gas facilities and power plants, which rely on each other to keep electricity flowing. The cycle of failures sent economic ripples across the country that cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Outlier: Among this year’s affordable housing proposals, the deal at the center of City Hall scandal stuck out

When Houston officials began soliciting proposals from developers for this year’s highly competitive affordable housing tax credits, they had a very different message than in recent cycles: Do not count on money from the city. For the prior two years, the city had used a pot of $450 million in Hurricane Harvey disaster recovery funds to pair with the tax credits to help developers build affordable housing. The 38 projects currently in the pipeline will help fund more than 4,700 affordable apartments throughout the city. By the start of this year, however, the city had just $12.6 million of those Harvey moneys left. Officials told developers to look elsewhere to bridge any financing gaps. All but one of the applicants responded by arranging financing that did not rely on new city money. Dozens of the proposals were withdrawn altogether, and about half of the 17 developers who submitted a full application trimmed the number of housing units from their initial plans.

The one developer who did not follow the city’s advice was MGroup, which pursued a senior housing deal called Huntington at Bay Area. That proposal would later spark an unprecedented public broadside against Mayor Sylvester Turner by the city housing director, who accused him of arranging a sham funding process and steering city money to the developer. Instead, MGroup forged ahead with a request for $15 million the city said it had no plans to offer, incurring significant costs and risk along the way. Mark and Laura Musemeche run MGroup. Barry Barnes, the mayor’s longtime former law partner, and his colleague Jermaine Thomas were co-developers on the plan. Among the 17 complete tax credit proposals, Huntington was the largest project, with plans for 148 units. It also had the highest number (60) and share of market-rate apartments (41 percent), and the highest overall development costs at $37 million. MGroup also topped the others with a developer fee of $4.2 million, and it had the highest expected cash flow — $3.1 million over 15 years, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of the applications. The averages for competing proposals: 94 overall units including 13 market-rate apartments, $21 million in development costs, $2.1 million in developers fees and $1.3 million in cash flow.

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Texas Lawbook - November 29, 2021

Judge, known for expertise in complex litigation, has her work cut out in winter storm cases

Sylvia A. Matthews presided over more than 175 jury trials and 160 bench trials during her decade as a Harris County District Court judge. Lawyers for plaintiffs and defendants say she is smart, fair, well-prepared, hard-working, efficient and decisive. Matthews will need all those qualities over the next several months as she oversees more than 150 highly complex civil lawsuits filed by victims seeking billions of dollars in damages as the result of last February’s winter storm, which was one of the deadliest and costliest disasters in Texas history. The lawsuits filed across Texas include individuals suing for wrongful death, personal injury and property damages and companies complaining about breach of contracts, interruption of business and price-gouging. Some of the largest power companies, such as the Houston utility CenterPoint Energy, the Chicago company Exelon and Vistra Energy of Irving, one of the state’s biggest generators and retail electricity providers.

While the lawsuits have been filed in more than a dozen Texas courts, the Texas Supreme Court has consolidated them into one docket, called multidistrict litigation. The cases are consolidated for efficiency, allowing pretrial issues, such as production of evidence and admissibility of testimony, to be decided in a uniform matter. Once the pretrial issues are decided, the cases are usually sent back to the courts where the lawsuits were filed for trial. For example, lawyers predict that the 200 lawsuits already filed in the Astroworld tragedy will also be consolidated into a single proceeding for pre-trial purposes. The litigation involves some of the most experienced and high-profile lawyers in Texas and they overwhelmingly say that Judge Matthews is the perfect jurist to tackle such a massive undertaking. “She’s absolutely one of the most predictable judges I’ve been in front of - and that’s a compliment,” said John Zavitsanos, a Houston trial lawyer who tried numerous cases before Matthews. “I didn’t always like her rulings, but I could always understand why she made them.” Judge Matthews declined a request for an interview. “The judicial canons of ethics prevent me from communicating with you about this pending matter,” she said in an email.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Nuclear must bring down prices to help with climate change

Wyoming, the capital of coal country, will soon host a cutting-edge, zero-emission source of electricity that promises to replace mining jobs with better-paying jobs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If this pilot project works, it could speed the electrification of everything, a necessary energy transition to slow the planet’s warming. But that’s a big if, and one not without controversy. Bill Gates-backed TerraPower plans to construct a new nuclear reactor unlike any in use today. A reader writes almost every month asking about nuclear power’s potential to meet our carbon-free energy needs. The quick answer is light-water reactors are too expensive to compete with wind, solar and battery storage. A better question is why wealthy investors are betting new technologies will bring those costs down.

Like the South Texas Plant in Brazos County, today’s nuclear power plants were designed in the 1960s and built in the 1970s using slide rules and analog adding machines. They require a colossal construction budget, and decommissioning costs a fortune. A conventional nuclear plant takes six years to construct and costs $6,034 per kilowatt of generation capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. A combined-cycle natural gas plant with equipment to capture 90 percent of carbon emissions would take three years to construct and cost $2,471 per kilowatt of capacity. By comparison, onshore wind power takes three years and costs $1,846. Solar photovoltaic arrays with battery storage built-in cost $1,612. Even a coal-fired powerplant with 90 percent carbon capture is cheaper at $5,861 per kilowatt of capacity. Electric companies are adding wind and solar at a far faster pace than other generation sources; not out of some do-gooder sentimentality, they are looking for the lowest price so they can be competitive. Low construction prices are critical in competitive electricity markets such as Texas’s ERCOT. Nuclear engineers have learned a lot in 60 years. They have designed small, modular reactors that are simpler. The reactors can be built in a factory and then delivered wherever needed. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still reviewing the designs for safety.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

SMU announces Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will replace Sonny Dykes as head coach

For the past five weeks, there’s been a question overshadowing the SMU football program: would this be the final year for head coach Sonny Dykes? Before that question was answered officially, SMU already answered the next question: who will replace Dykes? Miami (FL) offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, formerly an offensive coordinator at SMU, was announced as the next head coach of the Mustangs on Monday morning.

“As with previous transitions, our process was thorough and competitive. Ultimately, though, our conversations kept leading us back to one man — Rhett Lashlee,” Athletic Director Rick Hart said in a written statement. “Rhett’s ability to connect with recruits, his passion and love for his players and his alignment with our vision and values are among the many reasons he has been selected to lead SMU Football. We will provide Rhett with the support and resources he needs to bring a championship to the Hilltop, and are thrilled to welcome Rhett back to SMU. Lashlee met with SMU players Monday morning, sources told The Dallas Morning News. Senior offensive lineman Hayden Howerton, the school record holder for games played and games started, tweeted after, “The future of SMU Football is in GREAT hands.” “I am humbled and excited to be returning to SMU to lead Dallas’ College Football Team,” said Lashlee in a statement. “I want to thank President Turner, Rick Hart and the members of the search committee for this opportunity. My family and I look forward to engaging the community and continuing to strengthen the program’s ties to the city. On the field, we want to build on the foundation of success we’ve established and compete for — and win — championships.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Galveston Republicans gut precinct represented by county’s lone Black, Democratic county commissioner

During the last moments his political precinct was still intact, the lone Black member of the Galveston County Commissioners Court delivered a closing message to his all-Republican colleagues, as they prepared to approve a map that would effectively doom his re-election chances. “We are not going to go quietly in the night,” Commissioner Stephen Holmes said, half turning to address the other members at a Nov. 12 meeting. “We are going to rage, rage, rage until justice is done.” The new map, approved seconds later, dramatically reshapes Holmes’ Precinct 3, uprooting it from areas that he had represented since being appointed to the court in 1999. While the precinct had previously cut through the middle of Galveston County, covering an area where the majority of eligible voters were Black and Hispanic, it is now consolidated in the largely white and Republican northwest corner of the county, taking in Friendswood and League City.

Under the freshly drawn boundaries, Galveston County Republicans have laid the groundwork for winning a 5-0 majority on Commissioners Court in a county where 38 percent of voters cast their ballots for President Joe Biden last year. Holmes, the court’s only Democrat, is up for re-election in 2024. The dismantling of Holmes’ precinct mirrors the aggressive redistricting efforts seen across the country in recent months, with members of both parties using data from the 2020 Census to draw new political boundaries that expand or preserve their majorities — often at the expense of their fellow elected officials. No longer bound by strict federal supervision, Texas and other Republican-led southern states have crafted new maps in which minority voters are drawn into predominantly white districts. They’ve also enacted voting restrictions that critics say are aimed at suppressing turnout of minority communities. Holmes said he expects to be replaced by a white candidate, given that only about a quarter of the eligible voters in his new precinct are minorities.

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Houston Chronicle - November 26, 2021

'This is going to be a marathon': Texas congressional delegation preps push for Ike Dike

Members of Texas’ congressional delegation are gearing up for a "marathon" effort to secure funding for a long-sought barrier to protect the Texas Gulf Coast from catastrophic storm surge. That’s because it’s unlikely much, if any, of the resiliency funding in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law this month will go toward the $29 billion project. The effort will begin in earnest next year, when Texans in both chambers will push to include federal authorization for the so-called “Ike Dike” in a massive water resources bill that Congress passes every two years. But members of the delegation are bracing for what will likely be a long, difficult push for as much as $18 billion in federal funding.

“This is going to develop over a number of years,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, told Hearst Newspapers. “This is going to be a marathon.” Cornyn said he doesn’t anticipate trouble getting the federal OK for the project in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act, a biennial, typically bipartisan bill that helps pay for flood mitigation infrastructure across the country. But the water bill typically doesn’t pass Congress until fall or winter, and it isn’t expected to include funding for the coastal spine. “That’s going to be a heavy lift because, unfortunately, it’s easier to get money after a natural disaster than it is to prevent one,” Cornyn said. The project draws its name from Hurricane Ike, a catastrophic storm that hammered Galveston and the Texas Gulf Coast in September 2008. Ike rampaged through 26 Texas counties, leaving dozens dead and causing nearly $30?billion in damage before turning north.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

This North Texas city is the best place to live in the nation, New York Times says

An opinion column in The New York Times lists Euless as the best place to live in the nation. Other North Texas cities placed in the top 10 in the piece by Farhad Manjoo titled “Everyone’s Moving to Texas. Here’s Why.” Manjoo’s rankings examined criteria such as the cost of living, jobs, racial diversity and climate. The study examined 16,847 towns and cities across more than 30 metrics. “If you’re looking for an affordable, economically vibrant city that is less likely to be damaged by climate change than many other American cities, our data shows why Texas is a new land of plenty,” Manjoo wrote. Manjoo’s top 10 list also includes Edgecliff Village, a small suburb south of Fort Worth; Garland; Grand Prairie; DeSoto; Mesquite; and Cedar Hill. Other area cities, including Plano, McKinney and Allen, “came up a lot,” Manjoo wrote.

Manjoo identified jobs, housing, highly rated schools, good restaurants, clean air and racial and political diversity as some of the reasons. The area offers it all “at a steep discount compared to the cost of living in America’s coastal metropolises.” Manjoo also noted that tens of thousands of Californians have moved to Texas every year of the last decade, linking to a Dallas Morning News story about how Elon Musk’s relocation to the state follows 687,000 other Californians who’ve moved here in last decade. Texas is also out-competing every state in the race for California company relocations, The News reported in August. Euless has about 58,000 people with large numbers of Tongan and Nepalese residents. A sizable portion of the city is home to DFW Airport.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

North Texas man charged with assaulting cops during Capitol insurrection is running for Texas House

A North Texas man facing federal charges for allegedly assaulting police officers during the Jan. 6 insurrection and siege at the U.S. Capitol is now running for a Texas House seat. Mark Middleton, who was indicted in May by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. David Spiller of Jacksboro in House District 68. Following this year’s redistricting, the district stretches from the Oklahoma border south to Lampasas and San Saba counties at the edge of the Texas Hill Country. According to the Texas secretary of state website, the state Republican Party has accepted Middleton’s application to be a candidate in the March 1 primary. Middleton and his wife Jalise, of Forestburg, were captured on video and in photographs participating in the riot, the FBI says in a federal criminal complaint. They were arrested and released in April from the Collin County jail, according to jail records.

The couple have pleaded not guilty and are free on a personal recognizance bond while they await trial on nine counts involving assault of a law enforcement officer, interference with a law enforcement officer during civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, unlawful entry on restricted grounds, and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Mark Middleton could not immediately be reached for comment. Middleton, 52, lists on his LinkedIn profile that he is a volunteer firefighter and Cub Scout leader who worked in sales for Nortex Communications, an internet services company. He holds two business degrees and a Masters of Theology from Liberty University, according to his campaign website. On his candidate filing papers, Middleton listed a P.O. box in Era, which is 15 miles east of Forestburg, in Cooke County. He and Jalise live in southwest Cooke County on a small family farm, according to his campaign website. In the complaint, the FBI says it obtained body camera video that shows a man, later identified as Mark Middleton, pushing against the Capitol barricades and police line during the riot. The man yells an expletive at officers and struggles against them “for more than 30 seconds” as police tell the rioters to get back.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Former Burleson educators arrested on charges of abuse of disabled individual

Two former Burleson educators accused of improperly restraining students were arrested last week. Teacher Jeanna Mangus and teacher’s aide Holly Monroe were arrested on three misdemeanor charges of assault against an elderly or disabled individual. They worked with students with disabilities at Burleson’s Norwood Environmental Science Academy, an elementary school south of Fort Worth. The two are now former employees, Principal Candice Cook wrote in a message to families. She detailed allegations that Monroe and Mangus used “improper restraints behind the closed doors of their classroom.” Cook said that when she became aware of the allegations in late September, the school removed the educators from the classroom and investigated.

Burleson school officials declined to share details of the investigation publicly, citing federal privacy laws. “Student safety and welfare remains a top priority, and Burleson ISD will always act swiftly to intervene and partner with parents to provide students with the best learning environment possible,” district spokeswoman Mikala Hill said. Monroe and Mangus weren’t using approved techniques to restrain children “even though they were trained to do so,” Cook wrote to families. Mangus declined to comment Monday, and Monroe did not respond to a request for comment. Monroe received her educational aide certification from the state in 2002, and Mangus has been certified as a teacher since 2009, according to the State Board for Educator Certification. Burleson police referred questions to a city spokeswoman, who declined to provide further details about the case.

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Houston Public Media - November 29, 2021

Masks, state takeovers and ‘critical race theory’ are on the ballot as 4 HISD board members face runoff challenges

Heather Golden is a parent in the Heights, part of HISD Trustee District 1. She’s the mother of two HISD high schoolers, both of whom have attended Title I schools for the majority of their education — schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40% of enrollment. Top of mind for Golden is a worry about children in Houston’s underserved communities. “My kids have gone to school in Title I schools the majority of their education time in HISD, and they see their friends who are struggling and need more help,” Golden said. “They want their friends to receive the help they need." She’ll be casting her ballot in the District 1 runoff election, in which incumbent Elizabeth Santos will face a challenge from Janette Garza Lindner. In describing how she made up her mind before voting in the general election, Golden said she looked at the incumbent’s performance and voting record. She’s also looking at the pandemic, and how the candidates propose to make up for learning losses.

Monday marks the start of early voting for Texas runoff elections, and four of the five Houston ISD board members who ran for reelection earlier this month must face the voters again. The contests hinge on issues ranging from local concerns about the quality of education, to statewide issues about the survival of the board as an elective body, to national debates over mask mandates and the teaching of critical race theory. Santos led the first round of voting in the District 1 general election, but fell short of 50%, prompting the runoff. Golden said she’ll be voting for Santos' challenger. But other Heights voters have concerns about Garza Lindner. Karina Quesada pointed to an interview Garza Lindner gave to The Leader newspaper that raised the issue of Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath's threat to take over HISD and replace its elected board with an appointed one. That threat is the subject of a lawsuit now before the Texas Supreme Court. "She stated that if there wasn’t new members on the board that she is open to a state takeover, and for me that is that is really important," Quesada said. "That bothers me very much because as a constituent, as a citizen, as a taxpayer, as a homeowner, I don’t want anybody, that’s OK with taking my ability to elect a representative to represent us, my children, and our teachers in this community."

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D Magazine - November 29, 2021

The New York Times tries to figure out why people are moving to North Texas

Farhad Manjoo, self-described “lefty New York Times columnist” and Californian, paid a recent visit to Dallas in an effort to find out why “everyone’s moving to Texas.” The resulting column is worth reading, if a little scattershot. (It’s packaged with a fun little “Where Should You Live?” project that invites you to input your city-living priorities and spits out a recommended place to live; I got Chapel Hill, N.C.) It contains a handful of pertinent observations, like Manjoo’s suspicion that the blue state vs. red state stuff is overblown. For the people moving here (or anywhere), politics matter much less than (relative) affordability, jobs, and housing. Manjoo is right that Texas’ badly underfunded public services look even more pitiful when compared to California’s welfare benefits. But while our state’s natural beauty can’t quite match the mountains and beaches and forests of California no matter how many lagoon communities developers here throw up, most of the scenery is really quite similar:

“Texas has barbecue and California has burritos, but the American urban landscape has grown stultifyingly homogeneous over the past few decades, and perhaps one reason so many Californians are comfortable moving to Texas is that, on the ground, in the drive-through line at Starbucks or the colossal parking lot at Target, daily life is more similar than it is different.” I think Manjoo overrates the extent to which fear of climate change is now pushing people along the California-to-Texas pipeline, although that’s obviously something we should all take more seriously before it’s too late. (And if things continue the way they’re heading, climate change should prove more of a factor in cross-country moves). And Manjoo’s coastal eliteness gets the better of him at times. He avoids gratuitous references to livestock and things being bigger in Texas, which I very much appreciated, but is nevertheless shocked that people with liberal politics live in the ninth biggest city in the country.

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Quartz - November 29, 2021

Texans are bearing the cost of keeping the working class out of the statehouse

In March, members of the Texas House of Representatives presented a proposal to expand Medicaid benefits. The bill, signed by 67 Democrats and nine Republicans, had enough votes to pass. It would have set Texas on the path to join the majority of US states (38 so far) that have expanded their populations’ eligibility for Medicaid—which provides healthcare insurance to low-income groups—since it became a possibility under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet the bill was never brought to the House floor, as the Republican leadership opposed it based on two main arguments. The first was that the expansion isn’t financially sustainable in the long run. The second was ideological: Opponents of the expansion think it promotes dependency on government support while taking resources away from children and others in need, to the benefits of individuals who don’t deserve the help.

The uninsured Texans, known as the “working poor,” include about 1.4 million hourly or low-wage workers. These people, disproportionately Hispanic (61% of the uninsured) tend to have low levels of education (48% of the uninsured don’t have a high school degree), and earn less than $35,000 a year despite typically working full-time, often in jobs such as construction or the service industry. They are, in other words, part of the working class—a group to which precisely zero Texas legislators belong. Would the path of the Medicaid expansion—or at least the motivations to deny it—be different if more of the elected officials had direct experience in low-wage, working-class jobs? It’s likely, according to research by Nicholas Carnes, a political scientist at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, who has been studying whether being part of the working class has an impact on legislator voting behavior. The Texas legislature isn’t very representative of the state. Out of its 181 members—150 representatives and 31 senators—just three (1.7%) are Asian, 18 (10%) are Black, and 43 (23%) are Hispanic, even though nearly 60% of Texans are non-white. Women are underrepresented too, making up just over a quarter of the legislature. The lack of diversity is especially striking among Republican legislators: Out of 101, 98 are white, and 88 male.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Report - November 22, 2021

Local, state policies may contribute to higher cervical cancer death rate for Hispanic women in Tarrant County

Alma Zuniga kept her cancer a secret for as long as she could. She hid the evidence under wigs and makeup, and with eyebrow pencils she’d use to draw on facial hair every morning before work. “When people start talking about cancer, they’re going to say, ‘Well, what kind of cancer do you have?’” she said. Her answer — that she’d been diagnosed with human papillomavirus, and the HPV had turned to cervical cancer — felt too intimate to share. When she received her late-stage diagnosis in 2013, Zuniga was in her late 40s. She remembers her oncologist in Fort Worth saying her uterus was “very, very angry.” When she looks back, Zuniga blames her ignorance. Back then, she didn’t know much about cervical cancer, a disease that disproportionately affects Hispanic women in Tarrant County, Texas and the country.

The disparities deepen across county lines. Although their incidence rates are similar, Hispanic women in Tarrant County are more likely to die from cervical cancer than Hispanic women in Dallas County, according to a recent study funded by the American Cancer Society. The differences stem, in part, from a lack of education about cervical cancer and a lack of access to care, according to Marcela Nava, a health equity researcher and assistant professor at The University of Texas at Arlington. For some women, local and state policies make that access even harder. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by HPV, a virus that can pass from person to person through sex, and is typically preventable. “We can eliminate it in our lifetime,” said Erika Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine in 2006. Texas almost mandated the vaccine when Rick Perry was governor. “A lot of our other cancers, it’s hard to pinpoint: What do you need to do to prevent this cancer? For cervical cancer, we know. It’s pretty straightforward,” Thompson said. Much of her research centers HPV prevention. But not everyone knows about or accesses vaccines or preventive screening like Pap smears and HPV tests. Disparities along the “spectrum of prevention” contribute to disparities in cervical cancer incidence or death rates, Thompson said.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 29, 2021

Pickup accessory factory considers Fort Worth location

RSI SmartCap, a South Africa-based truck bed canopy company, is considering plans to build a plant in south Fort Worth. The City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to sweeten the pot. The plant is expected to bring a minimum of 250 jobs paying at least $65,800. That is one of the conditions RSI is expected to meet if it wants to get a proposed tax break from the city. Construction will also bring opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses. The city will require that 15% of all construction costs go to businesses with at least 51% minority or women ownership.

RSI SmartCap makes modular truck bed canopies, meaning they can be more easily assembled than the standard single-body models. The caps are made with stainless steel instead of fiberglass. Each cap has five stainless steel pieces and ranges in price from $3,195 to $3,895. The plant would be at 1501 Joel East Road. RSI plans to invest at least $2.5 million to improve an existing manufacturing plant, which the city expects will generate $55 million in taxable value once the project is completed. To encourage the development, the city could extend RSI a five-year tax abatement that would knock 40% off its property tax bill if the company meets certain conditions. Half of that tax break would come from increasing the total appraised value of the property to $55 million, up from $23.5 million. The other half would come from the staffing and minority- and women-owned business requirements. If it meets those conditions, RSI would see a tax break starting in 2027. The benefit is capped at $737,508. The council will vote at its 10 a.m. meeting on Tuesday.

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National Stories

Associated Press - November 29, 2021

Chris Cuomo's off-air role: Brother Andrew's strategist

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo had a bigger role than previously known in helping defend his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, from sexual harassment allegations that forced him out of office, newly released transcripts and text messages show. The TV journalist offered to reach out to "sources," including other reporters, to find out whether more women were going to come forward and relayed what he was hearing to his brother's advisers, according to the materials made public Monday. He also sparred with the former governor's aides over strategy, urging an apologetic tone and critiquing an early statement that he saw as downplaying the allegations. He accused a top aide of hiding information from his brother. At the same time, Chris Cuomo told investigators he spoke regularly with his brother, coaching him on his response and admonishing him for "bad judgment."

Chris Cuomo previously acknowledged it was a “mistake” to act as his brother’s unofficial adviser, but the full extent of his involvement — including using journalistic contacts to scope out accusers — only became clear with Monday's release of his July interview with investigators and 169 pages of text messages, emails and other communications. “I was worried that this wasn’t being handled the right way, and it’s not my job to handle it, okay?” Chris Cuomo told investigators, according to the transcript. “I don’t work for the governor." Andrew Cuomo resigned in August to avoid a likely impeachment trial, after an investigation led by state Attorney General Letitia James found he sexually harassed at least 11 women. Chris Cuomo, the host of CNN's “Cuomo Prime Time,” said he never reported on his brother's situation for the network and never tried to influence coverage. On-air in August, he said: “I tried to do the right thing,” adding he “wasn’t in control of anything.” CNN issued a statement saying the transcripts and exhibits “deserve a thorough review and consideration. ”

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Health expert warns of next pandemic unless U.S. takes these important steps

Nearly two years since the first confirmed case in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic is still in full swing. National case numbers are rising. Only 59% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Doctors, scientists and public health experts are working to soften the coronavirus’ impact through new medications. Booster shots are available to all vaccinated adults. Two pharmaceutical companies are awaiting approval of their experimental pills to treat COVID-19. But until the U.S. addresses social, economic and racial inequities, the country won’t be ready to fight the next pandemic-inducing virus, warn experts like Dr. Sandro Galea, a physician, epidemiologist and dean of the Boston University School of Public Health.

“As the [next] pandemic hits, we are going to understandably be talking a lot about vaccines, about the need for therapeutics and about the need for stockpiling. But all of that is not going to be enough,” Galea said. “We also need to pay attention to the underlying social structures that determine our health.” Galea will speak at the Park City Club in Dallas on Thursday, Dec. 2, in an event hosted by the World Affairs Council of Dallas-Fort Worth. He will address the systemic public health issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways they leave the U.S. vulnerable to future health crises. Galea has spent years studying the components that create healthy populations. His work in rural communities across the world helped inform his new book, The Contagion Next Time, which outlines ways to “increase pandemic resiliency.” The country has done well in treating illnesses and moving quickly to develop new medical technologies like the COVID-19 vaccines, Galea said. Where we’ve fallen short is in addressing the factors that determine health, he said. What builds and supports “health is whether you have a livable wage, whether you’re living in a safe house, whether you’re breathing clean air, have drinkable water, nutritious food, whether you have the opportunity to exercise,” he said. “All of that is created by the world around you, by the conditions of where you live, work and play.”

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Newsclips - November 29, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Matthew McConaughey says he will not run for Texas governor

Actor Matthew McConaughey said Sunday evening that he has decided not to run for Texas governor after considering the idea for several months. In a three-minute video posted to his Twitter and Instagram accounts, the Oscar winner said that he was humbled to be regarded as a possible candidate but that it is a path he is “choosing not to take at this moment.” “As a simple kid born in the little town of Uvalde, Texas, it never occurred to me that I would one day be considered for political leadership,” he said. “It’s a humbling and inspiring path to ponder.” McConaughey, 52, said that as he was considering running for governor, he was learning about Texas and American politics and found that “we have some problems that we need to fix.” “We’ve gotta start shining a light on our shared values — the ones that cross party lines, the ones that build bridges instead of burning them,” he said. “I’ve learned that with freedom comes responsibility and that great leaders serve.”

McConaughey said he would continue to be of service in other ways, by supporting “entrepreneurs, businesses and foundations that I believe are leaders.” He signed off in the video with “Until next time, just keep livin’.” McConaughey, who first came to prominence for his role in the movie Dazed and Confused in 1993, won an Academy Award for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, a 2013 film about the early days of the AIDS epidemic. He was named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2005. His announcement came almost two weeks after Democrat Beto O’Rourke launched his campaign for governor. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott filed for a third term Tuesday. A campaign representative for O’Rourke declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Abbott’s campaign. Alice Stewart, the former communications director for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, said on CNN Sunday evening that the actor had raised some important issues in his announcement. “He did talk about the political discourse in this country and lowering the temperature and the need for making sure that we have elected officials that serve people for all the right reasons,” she said.

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Axios - November 29, 2021

GOP courts anti-vaxxers with jobless aid

Republican officials around the country are testing a creative mechanism to build loyalty with unvaccinated Americans while undermining Biden administration mandates: unemployment benefits. Driving the news: Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have changed their unemployment insurance rules to allow workers who are fired or quit over vaccine mandates to receive benefits. The big picture: Extending unemployment benefits to the unvaccinated is just the latest in a series of proposals aligning the GOP with people who won't get a COVID shot. Republicans see a prime opportunity to rally their base ahead of the midterms. No matter how successful their individual efforts, the campaign is a powerful messaging weapon.

Details: Nine GOP-controlled states have passed laws requiring exemptions for the Biden administration's vaccine mandate, or banning private companies from requiring vaccination altogether, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Several states have made it as easy as possible for workers to claim exemptions, allowing them to opt-out on philosophical grounds or requiring businesses to accept all requests for religious or medical exemptions without proof. Legal uncertainty created by a wide variety of new vaccine exemptions in Florida – including for past COVID-19 infections and "anticipated future pregnancy" – prompted Disney World to suspend its vaccine mandate on Tuesday. In Congress, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) is leading a formal challenge against the federal vaccine mandate using the Congressional Review Act, the official process for Congress to eliminate an executive branch rule. The resolution is "guaranteed a vote on the Senate floor," according to Braun's office, which could come as early as December. At least 20 bills have been introduced to chip away at Biden's mandates. The backdrop: On Sept. 8, President Biden announced a new rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to implement vaccine mandates, affecting roughly 80 million private sector workers, as well as millions of federal workers and contractors.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Why cryptocurrency miners pose the next big threat to the Texas’ electric grid

Texas, already home to the most vulnerable power grid in the U.S., is about to be hit by a surge in demand for electricity that’s twice the size of Austin’s. An army of cryptocurrency miners heading to the state for its cheap power and laissez-faire regulation is forecast to send demand soaring by as much as 5,000 megawatts over the next two years. The crypto migration to Texas has been building for months, but the sheer volume of power those miners will need — two times more than the capital city of almost 1 million people consumed in all of 2020 — is only now becoming clear. The boom comes as the electrical system is already under strain from an expanding population and robust economy. Even before the new demand comes online, the state’s grid has proven to be lethally unreliable. Catastrophic blackouts in February plunged millions into darkness for days, and, ultimately, led to at least 210 deaths.

Proponents like Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, say crypto miners are ultimately good for the grid, since they say the miners can soak up excess clean power and, when needed, can voluntarily throttle back in seconds to help avert blackouts. But it raises the question of what these miners will do when the state’s electricity demand inevitably outstrips supply: Will they adhere to an honor system of curtailing their power use, especially when the Bitcoin price is itself so high, or will it mean even more pressure on an overwhelmed grid? “There’s nobody looking at the scale of potential investment in crypto and its energy demand over the next couple of years and trying to account for that in some sort of strategic plan,” said Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of the consumer advocacy and lobbying group Public Citizen, which has sharply criticized the vulnerabilities of the state’s unregulated power market. Texas is rolling out the red carpet for crypto miners as onetime leader China has banned the industry. Mining for crypto requires massive amounts of power, complicating Beijing’s efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and shore up energy supplies ahead of the winter.

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Associated Press - November 29, 2021

Supreme Court set to take up all-or-nothing abortion fight

Both sides are telling the Supreme Court there's no middle ground in Wednesday's showdown over abortion. The justices can either reaffirm the constitutional right to an abortion or wipe it away altogether. Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that declared a nationwide right to abortion, is facing its most serious challenge in 30 years in front of a court with a 6-3 conservative majority that has been remade by three appointees of President Donald Trump. “There are no half measures here,” said Sherif Girgis, a Notre Dame law professor who once served as a law clerk for Justice Samuel Alito. A ruling that overturned Roe and the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey would lead to outright bans or severe restrictions on abortion in 26 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

The case being argued Wednesday comes from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. The Supreme Court has never allowed states to ban abortion before the point at roughly 24 weeks when a fetus can survive outside the womb. The justices are separately weighing disputes over Texas' much earlier abortion ban, at roughly six weeks, though those cases turn on the unique structure of the law and how it can be challenged in court, not the abortion right. Still, abortion rights advocates were troubled by the court's 5-4 vote in September to allow the Texas law, which relies on citizen lawsuits to enforce it, to take effect in the first place. “This is the most worried I’ve ever been,” said Shannon Brewer, who runs the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The clinic offers abortions up to 16 weeks of pregnancy and about 10% of abortions it performs take place after the 15th week, Brewer said. She also noted that since the Texas law took effect, the clinic has seen a substantial increase in patients, operating five days or six days a week instead of two or three.

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State Stories

Texas Observer - November 28, 2021

As Texas’ $10 billion corporate tax break program comes to close, state comptroller wants to cover up its costs

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar is pursuing new rules that opponents warn would weaken transparency and accountability for the state’s biggest corporate tax break program, Chapter 313, just as it is set to expire at the end of 2022. The comptroller’s proposals, which were published last Friday, would effectively cover the program in a cloak of opacity, obscuring the billions of dollars that the state will still be on the hook for even after the program shuts its doors. Hundreds of these lucrative school property tax deals are still in their early years—or still awaiting approval—and will remain active for decades to come, as far out as 2049. The hulking property tax abatement program met its unexpected demise this year when state lawmakers chose not to renew it. For years, Chapter 313 has allowed local school districts to grant corporations steep discounts on property tax bills for 10 years in exchange for building large-scale projects. The program was a coup for major manufacturing firms, oil and gas giants, and other large corporations that have saved billions of dollars on school property taxes since the Chapter 313’s inception 20 years ago.

But support for the once-popular program flagged amid concerns about its rapidly ballooning size, at last count, of 600 active projects and an estimated total lifetime cost of roughly $11 billion in foregone tax revenue. Chapter 313 also drew scrutiny over its biggest selling points: that these projects—which technically would only happen because of these deals—create lots of high-paying quality jobs and that the value these facilities bring to school tax rolls over the long-term easily outweigh the cost of a decades worth of tax breaks. The data and reports that the comptroller is proposing to get rid of or make less accessible have allowed for several exposés uncovering the program’s many flaws. A recent Texas Observer investigation into the Chapter 313 deals that have now come to an end found that companies often drastically overestimated how much value the projects will bring back to the tax rolls. A Houston Chronicle investigation also found that corporations routinely failed to create the required job and wage requirements once they secured the tax incentives. The Comptroller’s Office, which administers Chapter 313, has decided the best response to these findings is to simply do away with the pesky data collection and value projections and weaken job reporting requirements. First, the comptroller wants to do away with the biennial reports that require companies to provide actual and estimated figures for a project’s market value, taxable value, and annual gross tax benefits for the entire lifespan of their Chapter 313 agreements—including for a number of years after the tax breaks end. This data provides critical information on the projected long-term costs and benefits of the program. For instance, the comptroller uses that data to forecast the total amount of tax revenue that is foregone because of the program each year. (The annual cost of the tax breaks is currently projected to surpass $1 billion a year in 2023.) That dataset is a powerful tool for analysis and accountability. That data revealed that companies applying for 313 deals routinely make wildly optimistic projections about how much their projects will generate once they return to tax rolls.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

The $400 million federal push to steer Texas drivers toward an electric future

The U.S. has never been more serious about transitioning to clean energy on roadways. But is Texas serious about it? A Biden administration plan aims to shift 50% of passenger vehicle sales in the U.S. to electric vehicles by 2030, rather than cars and trucks running on fossil fuels. To accomplish this, the administration has pushed legislation providing a slew of tax credits for EV purchases as well as funding for infrastructure. It’s an ambitious plan — the success of which will depend partly upon the buildout of a $7.5 billion nationwide network of charging stations with funding from the recent infrastructure bill passed by Congress. Texas will receive $408 million of that funding for charging stations, and could apply for additional grants from a $2.5 billion pool. Experts see additional, faster-charging stations placed strategically around the state as a way to persuade more consumers to buy electric. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 80% of electric vehicle charging happens when the car is parked at home and plugged in at night.

Still, one of the biggest perceived roadblocks for consumers considering the shift is something called “range anxiety.” It’s a term used to describe the fear of setting off on a trip only to be stranded with a dead vehicle and nowhere to charge it. In Texas, reaching U.S. goals will mean overcoming anxieties and getting millions more electric vehicles on the road. California leads the nation in EV adoption, followed by Florida and Texas. The states with the most EVs on the road also happen to be the country’s most populous. Texas had 52,190 electric vehicles registered by the end of June 2021, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s fewer than 1% of the 22 million total vehicles registered in the state, according to data from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The state needs more than 14,000 charging stations to support the number of electric vehicles projected to be on roads by 2030, according to a 2018 report from environmental research nonprofit Environment Texas. Whether that estimate holds true for Texas in coming years is dependent on how fast adoption grows — especially considering the switchover to electric is happening faster than previously anticipated, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, executive director of the Texas Electric Transportation Resource Alliance.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 29, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: In Texas politics, moral victories can be meaningful

When people talk about elections having consequences, they usually mean that winners get to exert their will over the lawmaking process. But election consequences are often more subtle than that. Consider the case of state Rep. Ina Minjarez, the San Antonio Democrat who has devoted much of her time in the Legislature to finding common ground on issues that cut across the partisan divide, such as foster care reform and cyberbullying. This year, however, Minjarez grew frustrated with a relentless GOP culture-war agenda that ignored urgent problems (the state’s fragile power grid; the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic) in favor of targeting transgender kids and critical race theory, allowing permitless carry of handguns, restricting voting access and weaponizing private citizens to enforce a near-total abortion ban. So she decided to walk away.

Last week, Minjarez, one of the most dedicated and effective members of the Texas House, announced that she will run for Bexar County judge rather than seek another term in the Legislature. The way Minjarez sees it, the Texas Legislature will continue to be a dysfunctional body until/unless voters send a message to this state’s leaders. “It’s all determined on what the election results are going to be,” she said on the Express-News’ Puro Politics podcast. “The session before (in 2019), the Republicans got the scare of their life when it looked like the AG (Ken Paxton) barely held on to his seat, (Lt. Gov.) Dan Patrick as well. Because of that, we had such a great session. “That was the whole focus on public education funding. We lovingly referred to it as the ‘Kumbaya Legislative Session,’ because we were are all in sync together.” In the 2014 midterms, every single statewide Republican candidate won by a margin of at least 19 percentage points. In 2018, four statewide Republican incumbents (including Paxton and Patrick) won re-election by less than five points. Democrats gained 12 seats in the Texas House and two seats in the U.S. House.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 29, 2021

Trey Martinez Fischer: Once again, San Antonio cut out of redistricting

In 1968, San Antonio celebrated its 250th birthday on the global stage with the World’s Fair. Among the many local leaders who contributed to the success of HemisFair ’68 was the late U.S. Rep. Henry B. González, who represented downtown San Antonio. Today, that park is no longer represented by a San Antonian. Like many other downtown assets, it has been drawn into a congressional district anchored in Austin. For many, the specifics of redistricting are foreign concepts. Some don’t know what it is, and some believe it is primarily political gamesmanship played by elected officials seeking to preserve their power. That’s part of the story for some lawmakers, but it fails to capture how this process can drastically change communities. This process, done carelessly or with ill intent, can lead to bad outcomes for all of us. District lines change, incumbents gain new constituents, and communities are divided.

This year, with a new round of redistricting, San Antonio lost, and we will feel that loss for a decade without intervention. Perhaps the courts will step in and find a Section 2 violation of the Voting Rights Act, meaning lawmakers denied Latinos the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. Or perhaps Congress will provide relief by passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would require federal oversight of state redistricting and voting rights laws in states such as Texas with a history of targeted voter suppression. Until then, Texas is stuck with the discriminatory maps signed into law last month. Politics aside, this loss for San Antonio will be felt personally by many of our neighbors. Being represented in Congress by someone who lives in our community, who knows its concerns and who shares in its burdens is important. For many San Antonians, this will not be the case over the next 10 years. Our region’s priorities may not be addressed as swiftly, and we will lack an advocate that places our needs first. Under the new maps, our central business district, downtown university and the River Walk have been drawn into a district anchored by a majority of its population in Austin. Our beloved Alamo, a famed historical landmark and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state, has been drawn into a district anchored in Laredo.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Houston has two of the top 3 best value colleges in Texas; one beats UT Austin

Houston is the best city in Texas for students seeking a cost-effective higher education, according to a 2021 list of best value colleges compiled by financial technology company SmartAsset. Rice University and the University of Houston ranked first and third in the company's list, which considered the base tuition, the average scholarship size, and the average starting salary, along with student retention rate and local living costs. Prairie View A&M University, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, ranked seventh, the top value historically Black university in Texas. No other city in Texas had more than one college in the top ten. The University of Texas at Austin took a distant second place, with the Rice Owls trouncing the Longhorns for the best overall value despite the far higher tuition at the private university.

While the state's top public university charges only $10,600 per year for in-state students compared to Rice's $47,300 price tag, the latter brings down its sticker price with $38,000 in scholarships on average. Rice graduates also obtain an average starting salary of $72,000, about $10,000 more than the average UT graduate. The University of Houston, at third, is the best value local university in Texas, offering tuition and an average scholarship comparable to UT Austin and an average starting salary of $57,000. The school shot up from 7th place in the 2020 rankings and Houston's Cougars edged out the Aggies of Texas A&M University, which sank to fourth with a slightly higher tuition and lower average scholarship than their rival in Austin. The Aggies were followed by UT Dallas, Texas Tech, Prairie View A&M, LeTourneau University, Midwestern State, and Texas State in the Lone Star top ten. UT Arlington and Trinity University in San Antonio no longer made the list this year. But in a U.S. list dominated by technical universities and institutions, Texas schools fell short of cracking the top ten best value colleges nationally. Rice University ranked 16th, behind the Virginia Military Institute but ahead of Duke University, while the University of Houston ranked 35th, behind the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Texas overall ranked in the bottom half of states at 28th nationally.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Thousands of children in Texas lost a parent to COVID, and families are left to pick up the pieces

More than 140,000 children — including 14,000 in Texas — lost at least one parent or caregiver to COVID-19 through the first 14 months of the pandemic, according to study by American Academy of Pediatrics, and the impact will be felt beyond the families who suddenly lost heads of households, wage earners, caregivers and the love of parents and spouses. Study after study has shown that single-parent households are likely to do worse than those with two parents and more likely to slip into poverty and all that entails, including increased risks of unstable housing, low educational attainment and mental health problems. The academy’s study, published in October, also underscored how the pandemic has disproportionately affected minorities. In Texas, for example, about 58 percent of the children who lost parents were Hispanic and another 16 percent were Black. These heart-rending statistics can be explained in part by some minority groups having larger families, which means the loss of a parent affects more children. But other factors were at work, too.

More than 70 percent of Black and Hispanic men worked work in frontline jobs in industries such as retail, warehousing, meat packing and health care, increasing the risk of exposure to COVID-19, according to the National Institutes of Health. Hispanics were nearly twice as likely to contract COVID-19 as non-Hispanic whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In addition, deeply rooted inequities in the health care system have put some racial and ethnic groups at higher risk of conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease, which would make them more vulnerable to COVID and likely experience worse outcomes if they caught it. “The entire pandemic has thrown into sharp contrast these health disparities among racial and ethnic groups,” said Susan Hillis, the author of the report. Other epidemics, such as the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ‘90s, have increased the number of children losing one or both parents, Hillis said. What sets COVID-19 apart is how quickly the disease can progress, leaving families with little time to ready themselves for the loss. “With COVID, often someone is dead within like several days or two weeks,” Hillis said. “And so suddenly, there's this anticipated shock without adequate time to prepare families.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

Coral in the Gulf of Mexico are facing an extreme threat. Here's how Moody Gardens is trying to help.

Brooke Carlson checks in at least once each shift on the nearly 100 refugee coral at Moody Gardens. Scientists rescued them in recent years from Florida, where a disease is swiftly killing colonies. Zoos and aquariums nationwide took them in. The coral are the hope for one day building back the reef. The Florida coral in Galveston now live in three large, blue tanks. Carlson and the team make saltwater for them to live in, stir together refrigerated and frozen food to eat, and monitor how they respond to LED lights that mimic the sun. The process involves both caring for and learning about them; at least one species has never been in captivity before. “These animals didn’t choose to be here,” said Carlson, squeezing their liquid lunch into the tank with a turkey baster. “As a keeper, my job is to give them what the ocean would, which is a very big task.”

That so many coral were saved and so many facilities offered to look after them shows how important scientists felt the effort was. Coral worldwide already suffer from climate change. The disease in Florida, called stony coral tissue loss disease, affected almost half the stony coral species there, according to the state. More than 80 percent that got it died. But the success story in saving some also gave way to further concern. Galveston researchers realized the disease might come closer to home. The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary near Texas has some of the healthier coral that remain. The coral are deep in the Gulf of Mexico and roughly 100 miles off the coast, which might protect them, though it also makes them harder to help. Stony coral tissue loss disease spread quickly. People first identified it in 2014 in Florida. It went on to infect coral along the entire 360-mile Florida Coral Reef, which curls along the bottom tip of that state. Scientists hoped the disease wouldn’t reach Dry Tortugas National Park at the westernmost end. It did. That sounded alarm bells at Flower Garden.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Resign, Craddick and Christian. Regulators misled about winter storm and failed to prevent another

Nine months ago, Wayne Christian was standing in his dark house, wearing three layers of coats to keep warm, one of millions of Texans who lost power from a ferocious winter storm. On the morning of Feb. 17, Christian, the chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s natural gas industry, phoned into the agency’s emergency Zoom meeting to test drive a statement that could spin the crisis in favor of oil and gas. “The takeaway from this storm should not be the future of fossil fuels, but the dangers of subsidizing and mandating intermittent, unreliable forms of energy at the expense of using our resources to make the grid more resilient to extreme weather events,” Christian said. It took less than 24 hours for the statement to become gospel — and for wind and solar, which played bit parts in the winter storm tragedy, to be cast as arch villains.

Long before public officials could take inventory of the storm’s damage — as many as 700 people dead, more than 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses, including 1.4 million in the Houston area, were without power for days — Christian’s chief goal seemed to have nothing to do with protecting Texans and everything to do with protecting industry, and his political career. In email responses, he doubled down on absolving the natural gas industry, according to the Texas Tribune, even including his statement in a newsletter to his political supporters. Meanwhile, Christian’s fellow commissioner and the agency’s former chairwoman, Christi Craddick, declared that the industry did not need to uniformly weatherize — “one-size-fits-all is always a challenge for us,” she told the Legislature. She told a U.S. House committee in March that the oil and gas industry were not the problem, but rather “the solution.” “Any issues of frozen (natural gas) equipment could have been avoided had the production facilities not been shut down by power outages,” Craddick said. (The RRC’s third commissioner, Jim Wright, was elected last November, and had only been in office a short time when the storm struck.)

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

GOP-drawn congressional map splits up Hispanic communities in D-FW, diluting their voting power

Texas’ new, Republican-drawn congressional map carves up Hispanic communities in the Dallas and Fort Worth suburbs, placing some of them in an enlarged district that’s controlled by white voters. Those shifts boost the GOP’s grip on Congressional District 6 while weakening Hispanic clout in Congressional District 33, a majority-minority seat in which Hispanics previously made up nearly half of eligible voters. Mapmakers this year stretched District 6 from a fairly compact seat in southern Tarrant County and Ellis and Navarro counties into a sprawling district that includes Cherokee County in East Texas and the more rural Hill, Freestone and Anderson counties. Snaking through southeast Tarrant County, the redesign pulled in some heavily Hispanic areas of the old Congressional District 33, including a large part of Irving in Dallas County. Democrats and voting rights advocates say the contorted lines whitewash the booming Hispanic community, which made up nearly half of Texas’ population gain since 2020.

People of color accounted for 95% of the state’s population growth over the last decade, with much of the increase concentrated in cities and suburban areas, census data show. “It’s a power grab at the expense of the Hispanic vote,” said Sal Carrillo, director of a North Texas district of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “It’s not just [Republicans] maintaining power. It’s taking away power from the Hispanic population,” said Carrillo, of LULAC District 21, who lives in Fort Worth. Similar efforts to engineer solidly red seats were evident throughout North Texas, as GOP lawmakers melded fast-changing suburban communities with larger, whiter and more rural districts. The maneuvering comes as Tarrant County has emerged as one of the state’s biggest political wildest cards. Demographic changes have made Democratic Party candidates more competitive in the historically Republican area. In 2020, former President Donald Trump won District 6 by about three percentage points. Under the new plan, Trump would have carried the district by about 24 points. The redraw protects first-term GOP Rep. Jake Ellzey.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Reports detail Texas Railroad Commissioners’ ties to oil and gas industry

A series of reports from an advocacy group has made broad allegations that all three elected members of the Texas Railroad Commission are too closely tied to the oil and gas industry that they regulate. The nonprofit group Commission Shift in a series of reports undertaken with Texans for Public Justice alleges that the Railroad Commission is a “captured” agency — one that has become so entwined with the industry it regulates that it can no longer effectively oversee it. Among its many findings, Commission Shift found that all three commissioners received more than 60% of their campaign donations from companies or individuals with direct or indirect ties to the oil and gas industry. It also found that some members did not recuse themselves from votes involving companies they had personal or indirect connections with through their business or investment holdings.

Commission Shift is calling for stricter rules on commissioners recusing themselves from votes, more specific financial disclosures and campaign contribution rules barring companies with pending matters before the board from donating to candidates or commissioners. It also proposed Texas adopt similar rules to Oklahoma, which requires members of its oil and gas regulatory board to divest from the industry. “Bottom line, I think it is time to reform conflict of interest policies at the Railroad Commission,” said Virginia Palacios, Commission Shift’s executive director. The series of three reports highlights that all three commissioners have ties to the oil and gas industry. The oddly named Railroad Commission has little to do with trains and is Texas’ chief regulator of the state’s massive oil and natural gas industry. Unlike many of Texas’ other regulatory boards, its members are elected in statewide elections. Many view the Railroad Commission as a stepping stone to higher office. In a series of three reports released in recent months, Commission Shift detailed the personal finances of each railroad commissioner, examining their personal finance reports that elected officials are required to file with the Texas Ethics Commission. All three commissioners responded to questions from The Dallas Morning News about Commission Shift’s findings and their ties to the oil and gas industry. All three either did not respond to Commission Shift’s criticism of their ability to regulate an industry they have stake in or said it did not make a difference in their judgment.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Finally, here comes infrastructure: ‘A big prize for every person in Texas,’ says expert

“Infrastructure week” became a punchline in American politics because elected leaders spent years talking about repairing roads, bridges, dams, rail lines, airports, water supplies and more — yet never could manage to pony up the money. All that changed this month after Congress approved $548 billion in new spending on infrastructure. President Joe Biden said this would be the biggest such investment since the U.S. built the interstate highway system and launched the space program decades ago. Texas stands to be among the major beneficiaries because it’s the second-most-populous state and the fastest-growing one. Since 2010, Texas has added 4.1 million people — over 1 million more than Florida and nearly 2 million more than California, its closest rivals in population growth. Dallas-Fort Worth added 1.27 million people in the past decade, surpassing the growth of larger metros like New York and Los Angeles.

“There’s a lot of people and a lot of need,” said Mark Boyd, principal engineer for LCA Environmental Inc. in the Dallas area. “So many are moving here every day, and they’re not bringing their water supply with them — or their roads.” Texas is in line to get over $35 billion in infrastructure improvements over the next five years, according to White House estimates. That includes $26.9 billion for highways and roads in Texas, along with $3.3 billion for public transportation and $2.9 billion for improving water infrastructure. Texas’ highways and roads were graded a “D+” by the American Society of Civil Engineers in its 2021 report card on Texas infrastructure. That means highways and roads are poor and at risk. “Many Texas motorists are seeing increased delays, limited roadway capacities and deteriorating conditions,” the report card said. “Auto commuters in Austin, D-FW and Houston face significantly more congestion than the national average. The average Texan spends 54 hours in traffic at a cost of $1,080 annually.” Implementing the buildup will be a challenge, in part because engineering firms and construction companies already have labor shortages. The infrastructure bill is projected to support over 175,000 new construction jobs annually, along with almost 46,000 jobs in professional, scientific and technical services, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

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Beaumont Enterprise - November 28, 2021

Beaumont’s Battleship Texas dreams are still afloat

Bringing the only remaining American vessel to serve in both World War I and World War II, The Battleship Texas, to dock in Beaumont’s waters is not off the table. And Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of The Battleship Texas Foundation Bruce Bramlett came to a Beaumont City Council workshop last week to share financial information and again pitch the ship as an asset to the city. The ship currently is moving to a shipyard in Galveston where repairs will be completed. “There's only one piece of this puzzle left and it is the one (that) has been most present on my mind since this all started,” Bramlett said. “Where will the new home of the Battleship Texas be? It is the most critical question I believe we face as an organization because if we get this wrong, there will be no turning back.”

The foundation is looking at multiple locations, including Beaumont, to be a home for the ship, but so far no city officially has submitted a proposal. The ship’s repairs will happen in Galveston and are estimated to take about a year. At that point, it will be ready to move to its new home. The foundation is unable to say how much Beaumont could have to spend to take on the ship. The city would have to consider not just docking the ship but also shoreline facilities. But Bramlett was very clear about one thing: “Every spot that we have visited with somebody inevitably says, ‘Oh, we don't want to get involved with The Battleship Texas because if it's in our city then we are responsible to maintain it.’” he said. “I have no idea where that came from. It is totally false.” The State of Texas owns the ship and is expected to pay maintenance fees, according to a letter from Texas Parks and Wildlife. According to Beaumont City Manager Kyle Hayes, the rough estimate for docking the ship is $7 million dollars. In order to find a hard number, the council would need to have a full investigation done.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 29, 2021

Move to ban 'pornographic' books in TX schools targets LGBTQ+ memoirs, novels on race

In their award-winning memoirs, Maia Kobabe and Carmen Maria Machado write about sexual experiences. In "Gender Queer: a Memoir," Kobabe, who identifies as nonbinary and goes by the pronoun eir, shares the experience coming to terms with eir gender identity and sexuality. Machado focuses on an abusive same-sex relationship in her book, "In the Dream House." The autobiographies — considered by many librarians to be beneficial for teens grappling with similar questions about their gender, sexuality or experiences in relationships — have become the target of a new movement to ban books in schools. Gov. Greg Abbott called this month for authorities to investigate "any criminal activity in our public schools involving the availability of pornography,” having previously pointed out school districts that had removed books from libraries or reading lists.

But can nonfictional memoirs be considered pornography and legally censored? Several legal and library experts interviewed by the American-Statesman said probably not. But calls to have some pulled from library and school district shelves are growing, even as the First Amendment is supposed to protect the "right to receive ideas" and places a high bar for public entities to remove access to books. Although Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency to investigate criminal activity related to obscenity in schools, law enforcement officers usually carry out criminal investigations and share them with prosecutors who decide whether to file charges. A jury would then determine whether the material is obscene and in violation of state law. Because of First Amendment protections, such prosecutions don't occur very often, said Shannon Edmonds, staff attorney for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. Pornography is not usually mentioned in the legal system, unless it is in reference to the crime of child pornography. “The terms can get thrown around, but legally speaking, (books, pictures, films or videos) have to meet these different standards under the First Amendment or under these criminal statutes,” said Rebecca Pirius, legal editor of the online resource Nolo. More often, such cases hinge on whether sexual content is obscene or is protected by the First Amendment.

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FOX 7 Austin - November 29, 2021

Texas Gov. Abbott promises power will stay on this winter

The cooler air that blew into Texas Friday was a reminder winter is not far away, and a reminder of how the electrical power grid almost collapsed back in February. FOX 7 Austin asked Gov. Greg Abbott about his expectations for the grid and if he was confident it’s going to stay up. "Listen very confident about the grid and I can tell you why, for one I signed almost a dozen laws that make the power grid more effective," said Abbott.

A big part of protecting the grid is set to happen Dec. 1 when power generators across Texas must notify the Public Utility Commission winter weatherization plans are in place. Inspections will begin in January - and with power companies reporting 15% more power generating capacity than last winter- Abbott doubled down on his confidence in the grid. "I can guarantee the lights will stay on," said Abbott. That promise may have strings attached to it. Dr. Ed Hirs, an energy expert with the University of Houston, offered his assessment on what may best be described as a "conditional" promise. "Well the governor is betting the weather stays mild, and if it gets cold that the electric utilities are ready to go. There is no evidence that they are," said Hirs. Hirs warned the power generation stated by the governor falls short of what would be needed to address another February crisis. He is also worried some natural gas pipe lines, that froze up as temperatures fell, will not be winterized. That concern is fueled by a loophole created by the agency regulating that industry. "The Railroad Commission has given critical gas infrastructure an out, all they have to do is send in an application for exemption from the rules, $159 fee, there's still investigations going on as to whether or not the market had been purposely manipulated. FERC in its report of two weeks ago said that investigation is ongoing with other FERC offices and probably with other law enforcement agencies," said Hirs.

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Associated Press - November 28, 2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci fires back at Sen. Ted Cruz over COVID claims about Chinese lab

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, blasted Sen. Ted Cruz for suggesting that Fauci be investigated for statements he made about COVID-19 and said the criticism by the Texas Republican was an attack on science. “I should be prosecuted? What happened on Jan. 6, senator?” Fauci, who is President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation." It was a reference to the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump that was stoked as Cruz helped lead GOP objections to Congress' certifying the 2020 election results. “I’m just going to do my job and I’m going to be saving lives, and they’re going to be lying,” Fauci said.

Some Republicans, including Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have accused Fauci of lying to Congress when he denied in May that the National Institutes of Health funded “gain of function” research — the practice of enhancing a virus in a lab to study its potential impact in the real world — at a virology lab in Wuhan, China. Cruz has urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Fauci’s statements. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the GOP criticism nonsense. “Anybody who’s looking at this carefully realizes that there’s a distinct anti-science flavor to this,” he said. Cruz and Paul say an October letter from NIH to Congress contradicts Fauci. But no clear evidence or scientific consensus exists that “gain of function” research was funded by NIH, and there is no link of U.S.-funded research to the emergence of COVID-19. NIH has repeatedly maintained that its funding did not go to such research involving boosting the infectivity and lethality of a pathogen. When asked in the CBS interview whether Republicans might be raising the claims to make him a scapegoat and deflect criticism of Trump, Fauci said, “of course, you have to be asleep not to figure that one out.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 28, 2021

North Texans facing eviction even after pandemic rent relief

The Texas Rent Relief program, a federally funded rental assistance program, has multiple aims: It intends to help keep tenants in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to prevent “financial hardships” for both tenants and property owners, according to the program’s website. But gaps in the rules and inconsistent enforcement have meant that some tenants face eviction hearings or displacement even after paying their landlords with rent relief funds — or while waiting for their applications to be approved. Luck of the draw plays a significant role, too, housing advocates and attorneys say. A more sympathetic landlord or judge, or access to legal representation, could be the difference between a tenant losing or keeping their home. A spokesperson for Texas Rent Relief sent some program information over email, but declined repeated requests for interviews for this story.

Although the program stopped accepting new applicants in early November, thousands of tenants are still in the system, which will continue to operate until it runs through all of its $1.9 billion in funding. In general, landlords and those who back them say that evictions are a last resort. “Evictions are bad for business,” said Perry Pillow, the CEO of the Apartment Association of Tarrant County, the local chapter of a property owners’ lobby. “It costs time, it’s money. You want to keep a good resident there, somebody that’s going to pay. Evictions are typically a last resort because they are bad for business.” But tenant protection measures such as the federal eviction moratorium helped to drop eviction rates, according to The Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Meanwhile, Texas’ protections, as the Star-Telegram has reported extensively, have been particularly weak — leading in some cases to landlords losing their income and tenants losing their homes. Christina Rosales, the former deputy director of Texas Housers who now works on housing issues nationally, said the rent relief program and its “pitfalls” point to a central confusion about the role housing plays in society. “What is housing? Is it a right, is it something that we need to keep people safe and the foundation for everything in our communities?” Rosales said. “Or is it a business?” Twenty months into the pandemic, and nine months into Texas’ statewide effort to keep tenants housed, some North Texas residents are still facing down evictions that advocates say could have been avoided.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 28, 2021

TCU to introduce Sonny Dykes as next football coach Tuesday

TCU plans to formally introduce SMU coach Sonny Dykes as its next football coach on Tuesday, sources told the Star-Telegram. Dykes emerged as the top target for the Frogs following a national search as the Star-Telegram reported last week. The sides didn’t want to make it “official” until after the regular season but news leaked Friday that Dykes would be leaving SMU for rival TCU. Dykes and TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati have yet to publicly confirm the move. Dykes declined to answer a question on the subject from The Dallas Morning News following SMU’s regular-season finale on Saturday. Donati declined comment when asked by the Star-Telegram during TCU’s season finale at Iowa State on Friday.

Dykes coached SMU’s regular-season finale against Tulsa on Saturday in Dallas, and was heckled by Mustangs faithful as he entered the stadium. The Dallas Morning News reported one fan yelled, “Put your purple on, Dykes.” A couple of fans wore “TCU Sucks” shirts as he walked by. The Mustangs fell 34-31 to the Golden Hurricane on Saturday. SMU lost four of its last five games under Dykes. Dykes did not answer a question when asked if he’d be heading to TCU in his postgame news conference. “I hate the way this thing ended,” Dykes said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “I hate the way this whole season ended.” Regardless of SMU’s late season struggles, Dykes has long been considered a front-runner for TCU after the school parted ways with longtime coach Gary Patterson on Oct. 31. Dykes emerged as the top choice out of a group of finalists that included Louisiana’s Billy Napier, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Jackson State’s Deion Sanders and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. TCU also had interest in NFL-level coaches, including Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and Denver Broncos running backs coach Curtis Modkins.

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Fort Worth Business Press - November 28, 2021

Fruitcake & crime spice up a small Texas town in documentary with local ties

It is holiday time, and what is better than a tale that includes fruitcake? The story is of a crime – spanning years in the making and perhaps long forgotten by many – telling the saga of an unremarkable little man who once held a humdrum job in a small Texas town. Beginning Wednesday, December 1, Fruitcake Fraud, a 90-minute documentary will be available on discovery+ streaming. The film chronicles the life of Sandy Jenkins, the accountant for Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, about an hour’s drive south of Dallas. Collin Street Bakery, esteemed far and wide as the artisan in fruitcake production, crafts each cake to perfection. “When I first heard about what happened here, it seemed too nutty to believe,” says Celia Aniskovich, Director and Executive Producer. “But it’s all true, and our film is filled with those jaw-dropping moments. The people of Corsicana and the employees of the bakery opened their doors and welcomed us into their lives to share this remarkable story.”

Bob McNutt, President and CEO, is the third generation to carry on the family enterprise, having inherited it from his father. His grandfather and great uncle were two of a group of investors who bought the company in 1946, the business already a half-century old, the original owners having begun baking in 1896. Early on the bakery produced mainly bread, but later the owners decided to gamble on a specialty product – fruitcake. The bakery flourished and has maintained that success under Bob McNutt. “During the holidays, it is not uncommon for daily cake sales to be in the tens of thousands,” says Hayden Crawford, VP Customer Service. “We ship to all 50 states, and 196 foreign countries. During what we call ‘fruitcake season’, we employ up to 500 employees and expect to ship nearly two million pounds this season.” It was 1998 when Sandy Jenkins began working for the bakery. Hired as an accountant, Sandy was good at his job – he was reliable, he maintained the books, and he was never late meeting payroll or paying corporate taxes. By the year 2000, he had worked his way up to corporate controller and a $50,000 annual salary.

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KUT - November 23, 2021

Small towns around Austin struggle with big-city housing costs

To get to Taylor from downtown Austin, you’ll likely take U.S. Highway 79 east through the booming suburbs of Round Rock and Hutto. Continue on and that development begins to thin out and the surroundings return to a semblance of what most of this area looked like 20 years ago, rolling farmland in Texas' Blackland Prairie. Driving into Taylor, the vibe is rural but not the usual trope of a dying, small town. The city has seen a gradual increase in its population in the past 10 years, and with that has come a renaissance of sorts. Taylor will soon be home to a $17 billion Samsung microchip-making plant, which is also expected to bring a lot of newcomers. Downtown Taylor features the classic Louie Mueller barbecue joint, as it has for decades. But it’s now accompanied by new businesses that have made downtown their home. A brewery, coffee shop, some bars, restaurants and small boutiques are scattered among other various abandoned, historic buildings.

“All we had was basically fast-food restaurants,” said Gerald Anderson, a native of Taylor who serves on the city council. “And now you see a lot more mom and pop restaurants popping up, a lot of bars and just things for people to do. So, over the last 10 years, it's changed dramatically for the better.” But Anderson is concerned that as Austin's population continues to grow outwards, Taylor’s growth will accelerate at a rapid pace. And with the surge in housing prices during the pandemic, he says his rural community is grappling with urban issues like affordability and gentrification. The real estate mortgage company Redfin estimates the median home price in Taylor was $188,000 in October 2019. Two years later, that median home price jumped to $300,000. According to U.S. census data, the median household income in Taylor is $52,672, and only one-third of households earn more than $75,000. “The new subdivisions that start at $270,000, most people can't afford,” Anderson said, “especially people directly out of college or just getting started on their own or young families. They're being priced out, and they're priced out of Austin and priced out of Round Rock. So, what we don't want to do is price them out of Taylor.”

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National Stories

Associated Press - November 27, 2021

Some states dropping ‘dehumanizing’ terms for immigrants

Luz Rivas remembers seeing the word on her mother’s residency card as a child: “alien.” In the stark terms of the government, it signaled her mother was not yet a citizen of the U.S. But to her young daughter, the word had a more personal meaning. Even though they were going through the naturalization process, it meant the family did not belong. “I want other children of immigrants, like me, to not feel the same way I did, that my family did, when we saw the word ‘alien’,” said Rivas, now an assemblywoman in the California Legislature. The Democratic lawmaker sought to retire the term and this year authored a bill — since signed into law — that replaces the use of “alien” in state statutes with other terms such as “noncitizen” or “immigrant.” Her effort was inspired by a similar shift earlier this year by the Biden administration. Immigrants and immigrant-rights groups say the term, especially when combined with “illegal,” is dehumanizing and can have a harmful effect on immigration policy.

The word became a focal point of debate in several states earlier this year as the number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border swelled and led to fierce backlash against Biden administration policies by Republican governors and lawmakers. Lawmakers in at least seven states considered eliminating use of “alien” and “illegal” in state statutes this year and replacing them with descriptions such as “undocumented” and “noncitizen,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only two states, California and Colorado, actually made the change. “I want all Californians that are contributing to our society, that are small business owners, that work hard, to feel that they are part of California communities,” Rivas said of the reason behind her legislation. State Sen. Julie Gonzales, who co-sponsored the new Colorado law, said during a legislative committee hearing that words such as “illegal” were “dehumanizing and derogatory” when applied to immigrants. Gonzales said the legislation aimed to remove the only place in Colorado statute where “illegal alien” was used to describe people living in the U.S. illegally. “That language has been offensive for many people,” she said. “And some of the rationale behind that is really rooted in this idea that a person can certainly commit an illegal act, but no human being themselves is illegal.”

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Washington Post - November 29, 2021

Youngkin tests activists' patience as he pushes abortion and guns aside

Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin says he would "entertain" certain antiabortion legislation next year, but it is not part of his "day one" agenda. Gun rights appear to be on the back burner, too. The Republican who launched his bid for Virginia's highest office promising to "protect life before birth and after birth" and to roll back a slew of gun-control laws is focused on other matters as he prepares to assume the governorship on Jan. 15. Youngkin was vocal about abortion and guns early in his campaign, when he was seeking the Republican nomination, then downplayed those polarizing issues after he'd won the nod and begun courting moderate suburbanites. But some conservative activists hoped - if not expected - that he would put those causes front and center again once elected.

Youngkin himself indicated that was the plan over the summer, when he was caught on video saying he couldn't speak publicly about abortion ahead of the election for fear of alienating independents. But if he won, and Republicans took control of the House of Delegates, he said, he'd go "on offense." "I'm not going to go squishy on you," he promised then. Asked how he plans to go "on offense" on abortion now that the Executive Mansion and House have flipped red, Youngkin said last week he would consider a "pain threshold bill." That would ban most abortions after 20 weeks, something he voiced support for in September, in two gubernatorial debates. "I'm pro-life," Youngkin said at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Phoenix. "I believe in exceptions in the case of rape, incest and when the mother's life is in jeopardy. I've also been very clear that a pain threshold bill was something that I would entertain." But he also said he would tackle other issues before abortion, such as lowering taxes, creating a "great curriculum" for public schools, expanding charter schools, "funding law enforcement" and cutting back business regulations.

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CNN - November 29, 2021

DOJ prosecutors push back against Bannon for wanting to publicize evidence against him

Prosecutors in the case against former President Donald Trump's ex-adviser Steve Bannon have accused him of attempting to try his criminal case through the media instead of in court, saying his tactics could affect witnesses against him, according to a new filing in DC District Court. Bannon is trying to convince a judge not to bar him and his lawyers from sharing documents he receives from the Justice Department with the public before his trial. The DOJ prosecutors said in the filing Sunday some of those records must stay private while the case is pending, because they include internal communications between congressional staffers and notes of FBI interviews with witnesses who could testify against Bannon at trial.

"Allowing the defendant to publicly disseminate reports of witness statements will have the collateral effect of witness tampering because it will expose witnesses to public commentary on their potential testimony before trial and allow a witness to review summaries of other witnesses' statements recounting the same event or events," the prosecutors wrote on Sunday. Bannon is charged with two counts of contempt of Congress, for failing to testify and turn over documents in response to a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack at the US Capitol. He has pleaded not guilty. The defense team and prosecutors are set to be back in court on December 7, when they'll talk about a trial date and potentially discuss confidentiality issues in the case again. It's not publicly known what witnesses the FBI interviewed about Bannon.

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NBC News - November 29, 2021

Congress faces jampacked end to 2021

Congress will confront a packed agenda when it returns from Thanksgiving recess, from facing hard deadlines to keep the federal government running to passing President Joe Biden's $1.7 trillion safety net and climate legislation. "When I look at this drama in the next month, I break it down into a miniseries. And the first part is the defense bill and a bridge to the budget. Vast majority of senators support that. We’ll get that done," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "Second thing, the debt ceiling. If the Republicans want to scrooge out on us and increase people’s interest rates and make it hard to make car payments — go ahead, make that case. We're going to stop them from doing that," she said before mentioning voting rights and Biden's social spending bill. "And, finally, what we just talked about, the Build Back Better bill. We can get this done." The newly discovered omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has caused alarm and led to some new travel restrictions to the U.S., is also likely to be a hot topic.

Government funding runs out Friday, and it remains uncertain whether the parties can agree to a yearlong appropriations bill in time. But neither side wants a shutdown, so Congress could fall back on another stopgap measure to preserve funding at current levels. The federal government is already functioning at levels agreed to during the Trump administration after Congress passed a stopgap bill in September. Democrats are eager for a new budget, but they need Republican support, because the legislation is subject to the 60-vote filibuster rule in the Senate. "I am guessing what we may end up doing is a short-term extension. I’m not sure what that end date will be," Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Thursday on MSNBC. "I’ve heard some in the Senate say February, which would be a gift but, I suspect, unlikely to be able to happen." Congress plans to expand the military budget. The House voted 316-113 in September on a bipartisan basis to pass a massive $778 billion Pentagon policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate plans to pass the legislation by the end of the year. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said on "Fox News Sunday" that the measure "should have been passed months ago, but it's been on the back burner," for which he blamed Democrats.

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Politico - November 28, 2021

No one seems to like the Lincoln Project anymore

It was the darling of the resistance for savagely attacking Donald Trump. But now, everyone keeps rolling their eyes at the Lincoln Project and fears they may be clearing a path for the former president’s reemergence. The outside political organization headed by disaffected Republicans and other top Democratic operatives has experienced caustic blowups, internal disputes over beach house-level paydays, and disturbing allegations involving a disgraced co-founder. A recent campaign stunt evoking the march on Charlottesville to close the Virginia governor’s race earned them near universal scorn. And one of the organization's most recognized members is facing blowback for rooting for another Trump nomination on grounds that he’d be the easiest Republican to beat in the general election. “Read the room,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist and former senior aide to Hillary Clinton. “They sound like me in 2016.”

“It is incredibly important that we all head into the upcoming elections with a level of humility and fresh eyes about what the political landscape is going to look like,” Petkanas added. “It would be a mistake to know for certain who is easier to beat than somebody else. We’ve all seen this movie before and they occasionally have a twist ending.” Officials working for the Lincoln Project contend they’re simply being practical — even shrewd — about the new political climate, in which Trump is likely to be the GOP nominee anyway and brass-knuckle tactics are now the norm. President Joe Biden even called one of the Lincoln Project co-founders Steve Schmidt after the 2020 election to say thank you for the group’s work helping him get elected, according to a person familiar. The White House did not comment. But a year after delighting liberals with their insistence on bringing guns to a gunfight, operatives across the spectrum now say the group is, at best, ineffective and prodigal, at worst, counterproductive. In particular, fellow never-Trumpers and moderate Republicans have recoiled at Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson’s recent encouragement of a Trump presidential run in 2024.

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Politifact - November 27, 2021

PolitiFact fact-check: Would Build Back Better 'parole' immigrants who committed crimes?

Viral Image on Facebook: "Build Back Illegal: 'Parole' amnesty for millions of criminal illegal aliens." PolitiFact's Ruling: Mostly False Here's Why: An image showing a bare-chested, heavily tattooed man attacks the Build Back Better bill by claiming: "Build Back Illegal: 'Parole' amnesty for millions of criminal illegal aliens." The image, shared on Facebook, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. The claim gives the misleading impression that people who entered the U.S. illegally and were convicted of crimes would be paroled and allowed to stay. But parole has a different meaning in immigration law, and the parole provisions of the bill as they’re currently written would not be available to people convicted of crimes in the U.S.

The viral image alludes to members of criminal gangs. The photo of the man in the image appears to be cropped from a photo of three men that appears with articles about the MS-13 gang, which grew out of poor Los Angeles neighborhoods that housed many refugees from civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua in the 1980s. In the United States, law enforcement officials have indicted MS-13 members for a wide range of crimes, including racketeering, murders, attempted murders, assaults, obstruction of justice, arson and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The image was shared by the Great American Movement in a post that urges people to tell their congressional representatives to oppose the Democratic-supported Build Back Better bill. The slogan of the group, which has 135,000 Facebook followers, is: "'America First' should not just be a political slogan. It should be a way of life for all Americans." Great American Movement’s Facebook page lists GreatAmericanMovement.com as its contact information, but that link did not lead to a working website when we checked it on Nov. 23. We’re fact-checking the claim, made Nov. 15, based on the version of the Build Back Better Act that passed the House on Nov. 19. The bill could be changed in the Senate.

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Associated Press - November 27, 2021

Chris Christie aims to shape future for GOP and for himself

Chris Christie is everywhere. The former New Jersey governor and onetime Republican presidential candidate denounced “conspiracy theorists” during a September appearance at the Ronald Reagan Library in California. He followed up with a speech this month to influential Republicans in Las Vegas, warning that the party will only succeed if it offers a “plan for tomorrow, not a grievance about yesterday.” In between, he’s been interviewed by everyone from Laura Ingraham on Fox News to David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, on CNN. On its face, Christie’s publicity campaign is in service of “Republican Rescue,” his new book that offers a simple prescription for his party: stop talking nonsense about 2020 and focus on the future — or keep losing elections. But the frenzied pace of his appearances and the increasingly obvious jabs at Donald Trump suggest Christie is plotting a political comeback with the 2024 campaign in mind. In a recent interview, Christie said he hadn’t made a decision yet about his political future and wouldn’t until after next year’s elections. But he was blunt in saying he would run if he believes he can be elected.

“If I see a pathway to winning, I’ll run,” he said. “And I feel like I have the skills and the talent and the ability to be able to make a difference in our party and in the country. And I’m certainly, at 59 years old, not ready to retire. But I’m not going to do it if I don’t see a pathway to winning. So that’s why I’m not making any decision now.” One of the biggest questions that hangs over the 2024 campaign is whether Trump will run again. If the former president does, polls suggest he would easily clinch the nomination. But until that’s decided, Christie is testing the openness of GOP voters to someone who largely supports Trump’s record but dismisses Trump’s lies that the last election was stolen. It’s an approach that pits him against other Republicans who may run in 2024, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who have taken high-profile stands against Trump. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state, have pitched themselves as fierce Trump loyalists. Former Vice President Mike Pence has tried to find something of a middle ground, highlighting his work alongside Trump but noting the two hold different views about the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

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Newsclips - November 24, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2021

Matthew McConaughey says he’ll make a decision on Texas governor run ‘shortly’

Actor Matthew McConaughey promised a decision on whether he’ll run for Texas governor “shortly” in an interview with Hollywood Reporter published Tuesday. The actor, who’s been talking about making a run for the office for months, talked about his decision-making process in a wide-ranging interview with the show business publication. The deadline to file for the Republican or Democratic primary — or to declare as an independent candidate — is Dec. 13. “I’m a storyteller. I’m a CEO. But being CEO of a state?” he said. “Am I best equipped for the people in the state, and for my family and myself? There’s great sacrifice that comes with a decision. That’s what I’ve been doing, and there’s no tease to it. There’s me doing my diligence, and I will let you know shortly.” McConaughey said he wasn’t being coy about the race.

“It’s a new embassy of leadership that I have really been doing my diligence to study, to look into, to question what it is, what would it be for me,” he said. “Not the question of, ‘Hey, do you think I could win?’ No. Let’s talk about what Texas politics is. Talk about a policy statement.” The interview with the Hollywood Reporter came days after Democrat Beto O’Rourke entered the race for governor. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott officially filed for a third term on Tuesday. Abbott will face several primary challengers. McConaughey, also a best-selling author, was asked his reaction about O’Rourke entering the race. “I missed the news. I figured he would,” he said. A Dallas Morning News/University of Texas-Tyler poll released Sunday showed that in a three-way race with Abbott, O’Rourke and McConaughey, Abbott had 37% of registered voters polled with McConaughey at 27% and O’Rourke at 26%. Those polled said they’d support McConaughey over Abbott, 43% to 35%, with 22% wanting someone else to run. But by nearly 2-to-1, all voters would be more likely to support McConaughey than O’Rourke. Pluralities of Democrats and independents want the Oscar-winning movie star and products endorser to run.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2021

Amid funding cuts at UT, Legislature directs $6 million for conservative Liberty Institute

The Legislature this year approved $6 million to establish a conservative think tank at the University of Texas known as the Liberty Institute, even as lawmakers trimmed the budgets of multiple departments, museums and other existing entities at the university. University leaders didn't ask for the funding in their budget request, which was followed by another $6 million from the UT System Board of Regents for the institute. The center, which will be dedicated to free markets, economic development and personal liberty, was championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrickand private donors as a way to bring "intellectual diversity" to the campus. State leaders asked UT and other agencies to reduce budget requests to the state 5% last year as Texas faced economic uncertainty amid the pandemic.

In May, the Legislature passed a budget during the regular session that removed or reduced $5.2 million in funding at UT based on the university's budget request. Without the funding, university employees said one museum on campus probably will be forced to close and other institutions will have to reduce the services they provide to the community. During the third special session this year, lawmakers directed millions of dollars for building renovations at UT — and restored some of the funding cuts as part of a bill that allocated nearly $16 billion in total federal coronavirus relief dollars to multiple agencies. However, the funds didn’t cover everything that had been slashed earlier in the year. In October 2020, UT sent its budget request to the Legislature for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years. Lawmakers directed UT to make $5.2 million in cuts to “non-formula” funding from the state, or “direct appropriations to institutions for programs or projects,” according to the document. UT called for the state funding to be eliminated for the Texas Memorial Museum, the Briscoe Garner Museum, the Bureau of Business Research and the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution. The elimination of funding was “unfortunate,” but ultimately, the four institutions were “not central to the core missions of education and research at the state’s flagship,” the document says. The conservative think tank, which is still in development, does not have an official name, mission or governance structure, but it will be modeled after the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the philosophy, politics and economics department at Oxford University, according to UT’s website.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 24, 2021

Samsung confirms site near Taylor for $17 billion chip plant

Samsung is making another multi-billion-dollar bet on Central Texas, as the technology giant confirmed Tuesday that it has picked a site in Williamson County, near Taylor, to build a $17 billion chip-making fabrication facility. Samsung made the announcement Tuesday — at a news conference alongside Gov. Greg Abbott — nearly a year after the South Korea-based company was first reported to be searching for a location to build a new fabrication facility. Austin — where Samsung has its lone U.S. manufacturing plant — was in the running, as were locations in New York and Arizona. But Samsung's search for a site for the new plant ultimately landed on Taylor in Williamson County, which has plentiful land for the project and where city, county and school district officials aggressively pursued it with incentives packages worth hundreds of millions of dollars combined.

Abbott's office said Samsung would also receive $27 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund, a deal-closing tool used by the governor’s office. Dr. Kinam Kim, Vice Chairman and CEO of Samsung Electronics Device Solutions Division, said the new facility in Taylor lays the groundwork for an important chapter in Samsung's future. "With greater manufacturing capacity, we will be able to better serve the needs of our customers and contribute to the stability of the global semiconductor supply chain," Kim said. "We are also proud to be bringing more jobs and supporting the training and talent development for local communities, as Samsung celebrates 25 years of semiconductor manufacturing in the United States." Samsung intends to build a 6 million-square-foot next-generation plant at the site that will be its most advanced factory to date, boosting the company's ability to compete in global chip market. The company is expected to build the manufacturing facility on more than 1,000 acres southwest of downtown Taylor, near U.S. 79 and County Road 401.

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Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2021

Major U.S. utilities spending more on electricity delivery, less on power production

Major utility companies in the United States have been spending more on delivering electricity to customers and less on producing that electricity over the past decade. Major utilities spent 4.3 cents per kilowatt hour in 2020, an increase of 65 percent over the 2.6 cents per kilowatt hour spent on electricity delivery in 2010, according to the Energy Department. Spending on electricity delivery increased every year from 1998 to 2020 as utilities worked to replace aging equipment, build transmission operations to accommodate new wind and solar generation, and install new technologies such as smart meters to increase the efficiency, reliability, resilience, and security of the U.S. power grid.

Spending on electricity delivery also includes the money spent to build, operate, and maintain the electric wires, poles, towers, and meters that make up the transmission and distribution system. Meanwhile, utilities are spending less on power production. Investments decreased to 4.6 cents per kilowatt hour in 2020 from 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour in 2010, according to the Energy Department. Power production includes the money spent to build, operate, fuel, and maintain power plants, as well as the cost to purchase power in cases where the utility either does not own generators or does not generate enough to fulfill customer demand. As well, spending on production includes the cost of fuels, capital, labor, and building materials, as well as the type of generators being built. The retail price of electricity reflects the cost to produce and deliver power, the rate of return on investment that regulated utilities are allowed, and profits for unregulated power suppliers. In 2021, demand for consumer goods and the energy needed to produce them has been outpacing supply, contributing to higher prices for fuels used by electric generators, especially natural gas, according to the Energy Department.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2021

Retired general files case in Denton County court over business dispute with U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon

A retired two-star general is seeking to depose North Texas Congressman Pat Fallon over a business dispute involving one of the freshman Republican’s apparel companies. Two star General Timothy Haake filed the petition last month in an effort to investigate potential claims of fraud, breach of fiduciary duties and interference with contractual relationships, the document said. Haake is also seeking to depose Fallon’s wife, according to the petition filed in Denton County. Fallon, R-Frisco, denied any wrongdoing. His attorney, Jason Freeman, called the petition a “political shakedown” that arose only after Fallon was elected to Congress in November 2020. According to Haake’s petition, the dispute stems from an apparel company Fallon and Haake formed together in 2008, Recon Sportswear and Jackets LLC, and a business agreement the two entered into later that year with Recon and an additional company, American Airborne Store.

Haake claims he was granted a “10% ‘profits interest’ in Recon and American Airborne” in the 2008 agreement, as well as 10% “capital interest” in any other entity Fallon might later form that does business at the Fort Benning U.S. Army Base in Georgia. Haake claims he’s also entitled to receive certain consulting fees tied to the gross revenues of all the Fort Benning companies. The case is not a lawsuit; the allegations were brought forth in a petition for oral deposition that said the Fallons’ testimony is necessary to understand the financials. Fallon said he filed for arbitration, in which a third party would hear the dispute and render a binding decision, and is confident the outcome will be in his favor. “Mr. Haake’s allegations are not supported by actual facts—only politically-motivated allegations,” Freeman said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News. “Mr. Haake didn’t make this claim for 13 years, then began asserting that he was owed consulting fees going back a decade-plus. He was not. And Congressman Fallon refused to pay him because the claims were untrue.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

Texans don’t trust elected leaders to decide which books to ban in schools, News/UT-Tyler poll finds

Texans don’t trust the state’s elected officials to decide which controversial books should be removed from public schools, according to a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. While some of the state’s Republican leaders recently have thrown themselves into the school library culture war, the poll indicates much of the electorate is skeptical about this kind of interference in education. The News and UT-Tyler polled 1,106 registered voters between Nov. 9-16. Asked whether they had faith in elected officials’ judgment in identifying which books should be removed, 35% of poll respondents said they have no confidence while another 31% said “not too much.” Less than 10% of people who took the poll said they trusted state leaders’ judgment on books “a great deal.” The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Heather Zana, the parent of two high school students, said such decisions shouldn’t fall to elected officials who may or may not have children in school. “I’m of the opinion that a library should have some things that are controversial,” said Zana, a 49-year-old living in Williamson County. “People need to learn how to think, and think through things they may not have considered before, and look at new and different viewpoints.” Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott directed Texas education officials to investigate whether pornography is available in public schools and to notify law enforcement if it is accessible to children, though he did not define what he considers pornography to be. Abbott’s move escalated an already simmering political backlash against books that delve into issues of race, gender and sexuality. The Texas Education Agency, State Board of Education and Texas’ library and archives commission are working to develop standards to prevent the presence of “pornography and other obscene content” in schools, at the governor’s request. Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Forth, recently launched a House investigation into what’s in school libraries, sending district officials a list of more than 800 books ranging from the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner to puberty guides like Everything You Need to Know about Going to the Gynecologist.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 24, 2021

Louie Gohmert enters race for Texas attorney general as Matt Krause exits

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, is running for Texas attorney general, entering the crowded Republican primary race for the seat after teasing a run earlier this month. "Texas I am officially running to be your next Attorney General and will enforce the rule of law," Gohmert said in a tweet Monday after announcing his campaign during an appearance on the conservative news outlet Newsmax. As Gohmert entered the race, another Republican challenger dropped out: state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth. Krause said he was withdrawing to run instead for Tarrant County district attorney, as first reported by WFAA late Monday.

Two other Republicans are challenging incumbent Ken Paxton, who is seeking reelection to a third term: Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Gohmert, Bush and Guzman all have zeroed in on Paxton's legal woes in their campaigns, arguing that he has been under a cloud of impropriety for too long. Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges tied to private business dealings and is the subject of a federal investigation stemming from allegations made by former officials within his agency that he used his office improperly to help a friend and political contributor. Paxton has denied wrongdoing in both cases. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Paxton, who filed numerous lawsuits to defend administration policies while Trump was in office and frequently challenges President Joe Biden.

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KXAN - November 23, 2021

‘We did not have time’: Inside TABC’s ‘rocky’ $8.5M web launch and how it impacted Texas business

Workers inside the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission were coming up on a deadline back in August. For two years, the agency worked to build a new web portal for bar and restaurant owners to apply for alcohol permits. It was set to be a big step-up from a system that required owners to apply and renew their licenses in person. “For years, I would make a trip up to headquarters for a renewal and I would take two copies, stamped,” said Bob Woody, who owns more than 20 establishments in Austin. “I would post it here, give it to all the managers, everybody and we’d be safe.” In 2019, the Texas legislature allocated nearly $10 million to TABC to update – what it called – an ‘outdated’ system. (The agency had to return $1.3 million halfway through development because of budget cuts, according to the TABC Chief Financial Officer.) But the money came with a deadline.

TABC had to update its rules, application forms – and go live with the new website by Sept. 1, 2021. Two years after taking on the project, the rollout of the new system, called AIMS, has been anything but smooth. Nearly two months after its release – licensing consultants, business attorneys, and commissioners who’d been fielding calls about the problematic rollout of AIMS sounded off during an October commission meeting about the myriad of errors with the system. One Dallas-based attorney, who helps businesses apply for alcohol-related permits, said virtually every encounter with the new AIM System has been a “technological issue or a communication issue.” “Since that launch, some [clients] have been forced to open without permits and unable to get their AIMS applications processed,” said David Denney, who was invited by the commission to share his experience back in October. Denney added TABC’s licensing department has worked diligently to create workarounds for his clients.

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

Houston's largest hospitals aren't posting price lists for medical services, could face federal fines

The Texas Medical Center’s largest hospitals are not fully complying with a federal mandate to post a list of prices they negotiate with private insurers — information that could be used to drive down the cost of health care, according to a review by the Houston Chronicle. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services required hospitals to post the information — which includes the negotiated prices of basic services such as x-rays and lab tests - by Jan. 1, 2021, or face fines up to $300 per day. Houston Methodist Hospital, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center all had not posted their negotiated prices as of Friday.

Hospitals can charge vastly difference prices for the same service: An August report in the New York Times found that at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a colonoscopy costs $1,463 with a Cigna plan, $2,144 with an Aetna plan and $782 with no insurance. Knowing these prices could help employers like Stephen Carter, CEO of the Sugar Land-based Sterling Staffing Solutions, find cheaper options for health care coverage. He and his brother co-founded the business, which provides nurses and therapists to the home health care market 10 years ago, and each year he must pay more for his health care plan for his employees. The rising cost “will definitely impact our ability to hire as many people … so we'll have to do more with less,” Carter said. “Of course we’ll try to be creative so that our employees don't have to suffer, but certainly there's going to be an offset somewhere.” The Houston hospitals now are among a minority of health care providers that have yet to comply. Nationwide, 27 percent of acute care, children’s or rural primary-care hospitals have not posted the required pricing data, according to data from the price-transparency startup Turquoise Health Co.

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

GLO review finds city Harvey housing program ‘undermines’ competitive process

The city used too much personal discretion from the mayor and housing staff in granting money to developers, incorrectly scored applicants and undermined the competitive process for distributing federal relief funds in Houston’s $450 million Hurricane Harvey multifamily housing program, a review by the Texas General Land Office found. The land office’s 11-page report, delivered to city officials Tuesday, spells out five findings and requires the city to take corrective actions before submitting any more projects for approval. The agency said it could seek to claw money back if the city does not prove it has corrected the alleged issues. The report has broad implications for the city’s multifamily housing program, and it halts — at least for now — seven developments in the city’s. The GLO named five deals in particular it no longer would approve, and it said the most recent funding round would have to be presented anew, meaning the two projects chosen so far would need to reapply.

The findings include: inconsistencies in the criteria and methodology of the city’s three funding rounds used to award the money, incorrect scoring of applicants, lack of documentation to support the qualitative and discretionary processes used to choose winners, deficient internal controls to enforce the conflict of interest policy, and the use of subjective factors that undermine a competitive process. The city must strengthen its funding structure and new rounds, strengthen its scoring method, ensure project awards are adequately documented and strengthen its conflict of interest function, the GLO said. The review was spurred by former Housing Director Tom McCasland’s allegations that Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration ordered the third funding round to benefit the developers of a proposal called Huntington at Bay Area, a charge the mayor has denied. However, the GLO’s report did not include that controversy because the development in question never was submitted to the state for approval. Turner later withdrew the recommendation to fund the Huntington project, saying the scrutiny of it had become a “distraction” for his administration and the city. His former longtime law partner, Barry Barnes, was a co-developer on the deal, a fact Turner and McCasland both said they did not know until the Chronicle reported it.

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

Jury awards $44 million to woman alleging a Houston hotel failed to protect her from sexual assault

A Harris County jury has awarded $44 million to a woman who alleged that she was sexually assaulted at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston, and the hotel failed to protect her. The verdict against the Hilton hotel chain and the man who allegedly assaulted the woman includes $37 million to compensate the woman for past and future anguish from the events of March 11, 2017. The woman, then 29, was in Houston for a conference at George R. Brown Convention Center and was staying with her then-fiancé at the Hilton, according to court records. She went out drinking with a group of colleagues, court records said, and was found incapacitated near the hotel in the early-morning hours. A male colleague was observed on top of her with his pants undone, according to a witness who testified in the case.

Police were called, but left after the man told them the woman was staying with him, according to court records. Rather than check to see if she was a guest at the hotel, the woman alleged in court documents, hotel staff allowed the man to take her upstairs, where he sexually assaulted her. The man was criminally charged, though the charges were later dropped without prejudice — meaning the case can be reopened. In court records, attorneys for the man and Hilton Hotels argued the woman consented to sex. The woman has since left her six-figure-salary job and is now teaching yoga because she no longer feels comfortable traveling for business or being in large groups, her attorneys said. Houston attorney Andy Drumheller, who represented the man, said he plans to appeal the verdict, which still must be reviewed by District Court Judge Scot Dollinger before a final judgment is entered. Judges can approve, reject or modify a jury award. Drumheller called the outcome a “sensational verdict based on conduct the jury found to be almost exclusively caused by the hotel’s alleged negligence.” In a statement, a Hilton spokesperson said, “The safety and security of our guests is a top priority and we do not condone violence of any kind.” The hotel staff, the spokesperson said, had “acted at the direction” of police who were briefly called there.

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

Hard questions at Deer Park go unanswered

Guy Hackwell, the manager of the Shell-operated refinery here, has worked for Royal Dutch Shell for 30 years. His employment at Shell may come to end in fewer than two weeks. "As of December 1st, I will no longer be a Shell employee,” he recently told residents and officials of this city of 35,000 southeast of Houston. “I will be a Pemex employee.” Shell expects regulatory approval by November 29 from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Hackwell, an Australian with 30 years with the oil major Royal Dutch Shell, provides a good example of sudden change coming to the Deer Park when Shell completes the sale of its half-interest in the refinery to its partner, Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, and ends more than 27 years as the operator. Hackwell, who was named general manager in February, has become the public-relations front man for both the seller and prospective buyer. The message: The refinery will operate as it always has under the new owner.

In three recent public meetings (one online), Hackwell said the handover of operations from Shell to Pemex has already begun. He assured residents that the jobs of Shell’s 900 refinery workers are safe and the emergency response team would be transferred to Pemex along with the refinery. “There will be job gains, as new positions will be created to meet the needs of two companies,” he added. But Hackwell left unanswered many critical questions, skirting them when pressed by residents, reporters, and me: How realistic is it to imagine that all of the refinery’s output could be sent to Mexico, as Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, says he wants? What evidence is there that Pemex is qualified to operate the refinery? Pemex was merely an observer of refinery operations in Deer Park. In Mexico, Pemex’s refineries operate on average at less than half their capacity.

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Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2021

Katy ISD blocks LGBTQ+ resources, suicide prevention websites from students

Katy ISD blocks several websites of organizations that serve LGBTQ+ children, including a suicide prevention hotline, through the district’s student internet, a Houston Chronicle analysis found. A group of students and advocates say limiting access to these sites makes it more difficult for kids in need to reach life-saving resources, such as the Trevor Project, a suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth and an advocacy nonprofit. They also argue censoring material aimed at helping kids sends a harmful message that their identities are not validated and their lives are not valued. “The Trevor Project is a website that is meant to support youth who are in crises regarding their sexuality or their gender identity,” said Cameron Samuels, a senior at Seven Lakes High School. “It needs to be accessible by all students. There should be no reason that a suicide prevention hotline should be prohibited.”

The other sites apparently blocked by the district include the Montrose Center, a Houston nonprofit with youth services and support groups, the Human Rights Campaign and Advocate, a news source focused on the LGBTQ+ community. Though it may be possible for some students to access the websites by other means on personal devices off of school internet, others do not have that ability. “That’s assuming that all kids have internet access at home and personal cell phones and that they’re safe enough to do so,” said Laura Kanter, manager of youth services at the Montrose Center. “Parents finding out that their child is looking at this information could result in the child being subjected to conversion therapy, violence or being kicked out of home.” Katy ISD would not confirm that the websites are restricted from student access after multiple inquiries. The Houston Chronicle observed a student attempting to access the sites at Seven Lakes High School. When trying to load the Trevor Project’s website, a message popped up saying that there was no internet access.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2021

Colonial adjusts timeline for renovation to golf course

Colonial Country Club officials call it a generational project. The iconic golf course in Fort Worth will undergo a $21 million renovation that will take it back to its roots. However, the initial timeline for the project to begin immediately after the 2022 Charles Schwab Challenge has been pushed back a year to start following the 2023 tournament. With labor shortages and supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, Colonial executives and its members felt it made more sense to adjust the timeline and turn the project into a two-year plan rather than try to get it done in one year. “When we scheduled and planned this, we had a commitment to the PGA Tour and a commitment to the membership,” said Frank Cordeiro, Colonial’s general manager and chief operating officer. “Part of the sacrifice that our members are making in addition to the financial investment is giving up their golf course for 12 months for the work to be done.

“When it became clear that supply chain, labor issues, things of that nature out of our control were going to jeopardize our ability to keep that commitment, we had to revisit the schedule. We all agreed it was the right thing to do.” Along with the pandemic-related issues, adjusting the timeline also allows the club ample time to acquire the proper construction permits from various government entities to go forward with the project. This is a massive renovation project that will take the course back to its roots. Gil Hanse, one of the top architects in today’s game, is overseeing it. Hanse’s vision is inspired by the layout that attracted the 1941 U.S. Open to the course. Colonial opened in 1936 and was designed by architects John Bredemus and Perry Maxwell. “Colonial has always been a great golf course,” said Jim Whitten, Colonial tournament committee chairman. “But we’ve had a summer where we didn’t have the greens or the fairways are rough. You just want the course to be as good as it can be. Everybody is super excited about it.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2021

Sara Stevenson: Gov. Abbott, Texas leaders shouldn’t target school librarians

(Sara Stevenson is a former middle school librarian in Austin and a member of the Texas Library Association and the American Library Association.) Gov. Greg Abbott never misses an opportunity to jump into the culture wars. He recently sent out an incendiary letter, essentially accusing schools and their librarians of promoting pornographic materials and threatening them with the force of law. What are these pornographic materials, and how widespread is this practice? Perhaps he should consider these factors before impugning the reputations of our school librarians. Later, Abbott pointed to two memoirs that have recently experienced local book challenges: “In the Dream House” by National Book Award-nominated Carmen Machado and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. Are these books widespread and being pushed into the hands of innocents? And are they pornography? Librarians, as public servants, have no secrets. Anyone can access our online library catalogs. It is also important to note that the existence of a book in a library in no way signifies endorsement.

Our job is to provide access to our communities and not only to materials which match our personal tastes or values. For example, children have access to “Mein Kampf” by Adolph Hitler in school libraries in Texas. A quick search of the Austin ISD catalog reveals that in the entire district, serving 77,000 students, four copies of “The Dream House” and three copies of “Gender Queer” are on our high school library shelves. And Austin is a liberal city. I suspect only a handful of these two titles exist in Texas school libraries. Even the legal definition of pornography in Texas states that the term applies to “any visual or written material that depicts lewd or sexual acts and is intended to cause sexual arousal.” Neither book fits this definition. Just because a book includes some mature content does not make it pornography. School districts have policies for dealing with book challenges, and these should be followed before any books are removed from the shelves.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2021

Arlington receives high HRC rating for LGBT protections

After years of collaboration with a prominent North Texas LGBT resource group, Arlington has achieved a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, joining the ranks of neighboring Fort Worth and Dallas. The city’s score jumped to 100 from 63 last year, after the City Council unanimously passed an anti-discrimination ordinance shielding members of protected classes, plus sexual orientation and gender identity, from discrimination in housing, employment and access to public services. The City Council also unanimously approved updates to the fair housing ordinance to include gender identity and sexual orientation. Businesses including Amazon have used the score when considering whether to move into cities, according to the company and a previous interview with Arlington communication staff.

“Their questions were more about, ‘What is the environment our employees are going to be living in?’” said Jay Warren, Arlington’s communication and legislative affairs director, in June. DeeJay Johannessen, CEO of HELP Center for LGBT Health and Wellness, congratulated officials and the city government for the improvement Tuesday morning. “Arlington’s perfect score is a reflection now of who we are now as a city — open, supportive, and dedicated to Arlington’s diverse community,” Johannessen said in a statement. The new ordinance and updated housing policy marked the “last major accomplishment” on the road to a perfect score, according to the HELP Center statement. Barbara Odom-Wesley, District 8 council member, spearheaded the ordinance’s passage through the Unity Council, a city task force that proposed nearly 60 recommendations to create more equitable city policies.

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Candy's Dirt - November 23, 2021

Dallas, Houston renters create a pipeline between the metro areas, data finds

Could it be that the Texas Rangers baseball team just doesn’t win enough? Is the cultural scene better? Certainly, the traffic isn’t an attraction. It’s not you, it’s us, right? Whatever the reason, Apartment List came up with an interesting finding in its third-quarter Migration Report: Houston ranks as the most popular destination for Dallas renters looking to move outside the metro area. According to the report, 6.6 percent of Dallas renters hunting for an apartment outside the metro area are checking out Houston, followed by Tulsa (5 percent), and Oklahoma City 4.7 percent).

On the flip side, maybe the Rangers, the cultural scene, and the traffic are better than we expected. Dallas is the top destination site for Houston renters looking to move with 13.6 percent checking out our area. Dallas is the top search for Austin (4.7 percent) and San Antonio (3.2 percent). In all, 34.7 percent of Dallas-area apartment hunters are looking to move away from the metro area, and 24.5 percent of those seeking somewhere to live in the Dallas area are searching from outside the metro area. The report is based on Apartment List’s searches between July 1 and Sept. 30. Apartment List analyzes data on millions of searches to see where its users are preparing to move, shedding light on the migration patterns of America’s renters. According to Apartment List, “2021 poised to be a historic year for the rental market, as rapid price appreciation threatens affordability across the country. Housing is already taking center stage in local politics, as cities debate rent control, upzoning, eviction moratoria, and other legislation to improve short- and long-term housing security for renters. All of these shifts have the potential to accelerate migration as renters reconsider how their current living arrangements align with their housing preferences, their work arrangements, and their financial standing.” So, maybe it isn’t just the baseball team, cultural scene, or traffic.

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Inside Higher Ed - November 24, 2021

UT professors protest halting of antiracism study

Recruiting for a research study on the effectiveness of antiracism training for white children is on hold at the University of Texas at Austin. This follows a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that the project is racially discriminatory, among other criticism. The university is now reviewing the study. Numerous professors are asking the university to allow the research to proceed during the internal and external reviews, arguing that UT Austin’s institutional review board previously approved the project, as did peer reviewers during a competitive internal funding process. These professors warn that halting research due to outside complaints threatens the integrity of the study at hand and, more generally, chills free inquiry into timely subjects such as antiracism.

UT Austin “leadership’s decision to pause elements of the study based on the mere filing of a complaint, and before any assessment of whether the complaint poses a credible claim, compromises the integrity of the research and the academic freedom to conduct research and draw conclusions rooted in evidence,” 18 UT Austin education professors said this week in a letter to President Jay Hartzell and Provost Sharon Wood. The study “is time-sensitive, as it requires rolling out of materials and assessments according to a very strict schedule that has already been compromised,” the letter continues. “The leadership’s decision to pause any aspects of the study has the effect of legitimizing actions that, however unfounded, seek to suppress scholarly pursuit of truth and the advancement of scientific knowledge.” GoKAR!, or Kids Against Racism, recently began recruiting up to 200 pairs of children and their caregivers, advertising opportunities to “engage in dialogue about anti-Black racism with their preschool-aged children at home.”

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KUT - November 23, 2021

New collaborative hopes to address equity gaps in Austin's response to homelessness

Austin has consistently struggled to get people living outdoors into homes. Part of that failure lies in the city’s unprecedented real estate boom and affordability crisis over the last 10 years. Another reason is that people of color — who are overrepresented among Austin's homeless population — haven’t been able to connect with housing and case management as easily as white Austinites. A new project hopes to change that. The St. David’s Foundation is giving the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) a $2 million grant to focus on getting marginalized Austinites — Black, Latino and LGBTQ folks — services.

The project, called the Austin Street Outreach Collaborative, aims to hire 12 people over the two-year grant to connect these individuals with grassroots organizations already doing the work in marginalized communities. Alesandra Dominguez, the associate director of ECHO's Crisis Response System, said this program could be crucial, as those smaller, more flexible nonprofits have on-the-ground experience, but don’t get as much federal or local grant money as larger groups. "This type of funding will really allow us to make a shift toward a more equitable system," she said. "A lot of those more grassroots outreach providers don’t have the services to be able to … [support] more people." The effort was spurred in part by ECHO's retooling of a program that determines who needs services the most. Dominguez found the system connected white Austinites with housing more often than Black Austinites. She said the collaborative also hopes to address geographic equity by expanding service beyond the downtown area. She said the outreach team will go directly to folks experiencing homelessness, rather than rely on folks to come to a certain provider. "It allows us to really reach ... more marginalized clients that maybe don't feel as comfortable accessing our [services] at our more traditional access points, which are typically, unfortunately, in downtown areas," she said. Dominguez said the program aims to begin hiring and get off the ground early next year.

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Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

Chase is leaving its longtime downtown Dallas skyscraper

One of downtown Dallas’ biggest skyscrapers is losing its namesake tenant. JPMorgan Chase is moving its longtime banking operations and offices out of the landmark Chase Tower on Ross Avenue. The move — which has been rumored for months — will put the big bank’s downtown operations on five floors of Hunt Consolidated’s building at 1900 N. Akard St. at Woodall Rodgers Freeway. Built in 2006, the 14-story office building overlooks Klyde Warren Park. “Downtown is incredibly important to the future and vibrancy of this city and our region,” said JPMorgan Chase’s Dallas chair Elaine Agather in a statement. “Our bank has been an important part of Dallas for more than 100 years now, and we’re committed to being an important part of the city’s future for many years to come.”

The move will mean a lower profile — its bright blue logo atop the skyscraper it now occupies is visible for miles on the downtown skyline — and a smaller office footprint downtown. Chase will occupy 132,000 square feet in its new location on Woodall Rodgers. It’s leaving 194,000 square feet on 11 floors on Ross Avenue. JPMorgan Chase has been the lead tenant in the 55-story Chase Tower since the late 1990s, when the New York-based financial giant took over the operations of Houston-based Texas Commerce Bank. Texas Commerce was the original anchor tenant in the Ross Avenue skyscraper, built in 1987. Chase Tower is now owned by New York-based Fortis Property Group. Chase plans to relocate about 600 workers to the 1900 N. Akard building and will have a ground floor retail banking operation. The bank will have new signage on the building.

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El Paso Times - November 23, 2021

Cross-border traffic increases at El Paso-Juarez crossing

Everyone thought that when the U.S. border reopened to tourists, people in Juarez were going to line up at ports of entry like it was Black Friday already. But fewer than a dozen Mexican nationals with border crossing cards showed up before the 10 p.m. reopening on Sunday, Nov. 7, at the Downtown bridge. The next day, vehicle and pedestrian lines at El Paso-area international bridges were shorter and faster than usual. Cross-border traffic has been creeping up from that weak start, keeping hopes alive for a stronger holiday shopping season at El Paso stores. But there are obstacles, economists say, that are holding Mexican shoppers back from rushing north of the border.

A weak Mexican peso is making dollar-based goods more expensive. Middle-class household income declined in Juarez during the pandemic, meaning family budgets are tighter than usual. And price inflation has hit hard on both sides of the border. The pool of people in Juarez able to cross the border under current rules has also shrunk. Tens of thousands of people watched their border crossing card visas expire during the pandemic and either didn’t renew the cards or were unable to because the U.S. Consulate in Juarez had reduced services. Mexican public school teachers were also left out: They were among the first to get vaccinated in Juarez, but the Mexican government gave them doses of Cansino, a vaccine not on the U.S. list of accepted brands. In the days since the U.S. lifted restrictions on non-essential travel for fully vaccinated foreign nationals, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seen a steady increase in traffic at the El Paso area crossings, according to Ray Provencio, CBP acting El Paso Ports Director.

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Click2Houston - November 23, 2021

Former Houston Astros manager Bill Virdon has died at 90 years old

Former Houston Astros manager Bill Virdon, who is the franchise leader in career wins, has died at 90 years old. Virdon was Astros manager from 1975 until 1982. He compiled a 544-522 record over that time. In 1980, Virdon helped lead the Astros to the franchise’s first-ever postseason appearance. That season he was also named the National League Manager of the Year. Virdon and the Astros would make the postseason again in 1981.

“Bill Virdon was an extremely vital part of the Astros success, leading the franchise to its first two postseason appearances,” the Houston Astros said in a statement. “He was respected throughout baseball for his intensity and knowledge of the game and enjoyed a long, successful career both as a player and manager. His impact on the Astros organization will never be forgotten. We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Shirley, and to his family and friends.” In the team’s media release about Virdon, former Astros great Enos Cabell said, “I loved Bill. He gave me my first chance to play every day in the Major Leagues and was always honest and truthful with me. I played for four Hall of Fame managers, and Bill was my favorite. He was one of the best baseball minds of anyone that I played for. It is very sad to hear that he has passed.” Virdon also managed the Pirates, the Yankees, and the Montreal Expos. Overall, he had a managerial record of 995-921.

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City Stories

KSAT - November 19, 2021

San Antonio police officer with long history of road rage incidents resigns

A San Antonio police officer with a documented history of road rage has resigned months after being charged in a drunk driving hit-and-run case, department officials confirmed Friday. Officer Dezi Rios, 39, resigned Nov. 1. He had been on suspension without pay following the crash. Rios was arrested for DWI in July, after crashing into another driver’s vehicle that was stopped at a red light at the intersection of O’Connor and Stahl Roads and then fleeing the scene. The other driver involved in the crash, 61-year-old Ara Halibian, followed and confronted Rios, police said. Rios then allegedly assaulted Halibian during a subsequent confrontation under an overpass at Bulverde Road and Loop 1604.

Halibian suffered a broken nose, significant trauma to his face and injuries to his shoulder, elbow and knee after being punched by Rios — according to Halibian’s count — between 20-25 times. The crash was at least the third known road rage incident involving Rios since August 2017. Days after the wreck, a Bexar County grand jury indicted Rios for failure to stop and give information. Rios remains free on bond on both misdemeanor charges, Bexar County court records show. Rios, to date, has not been charged with assault. A spokeswoman for the Bexar County District Attorney’s office said as recently as last week that the office could not comment on matters that may be under investigation or review. Rios was shot six times during a shootout outside All-Stars Gentlemen’s Club in May 2018, following a rolling altercation with another driver that started on Interstate 10 East and concluded after both men pulled into the Northwest Side parking lot.

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Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

Dallas’ first Black city manager, Richard Knight Jr., dies at 76

Richard Knight Jr., Dallas’ first Black city manager, died Monday. He was 76 years old. Knight’s son, Marcus, confirmed that his father died but declined to provide details, saying he and other relatives were in the process of notifying family members and friends. Knight had been assistant city manager for four years before he was hired as the top administrator in 1986. He served in that role until 1990. “We’re very sad that he’s no longer here with us, but we’re grateful and proud of who he was and what he’s done for our family and for this community,” said his son. “It’s been a tough day.” Born in Georgia, Knight was an Army veteran who served in Vietnam. He earned a bachelor’s from Fort Valley State College in Georgia and a master’s from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Knight also had served in top roles in Durham and Carrboro, both in North Carolina, and in Gainesville, Fla. before working in Dallas. Knight was about to leave his post as acting city manager in Dallas and follow the top leader, Charles Anderson, to DART when the City Council in 1986 tapped him to succeed Anderson. In his assistant role, Knight had been in charge of every department in the city, making him a natural fit for the top job. Knight had not been a candidate for the post. Known as “Mr. Fix-it” in City Hall under Anderson, Knight was known for his quiet, effective way of dealing with issues wherever problems arose. He resigned in 1990 to take an executive job at Caltex Petroleum Corp. Knight was credited then with guiding the city through its toughest economic period and helping repair relationships with the Police Department and the city’s communities of color. He also gained a reputation for hiring and promoting people of color in City Hall.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2021

Arlington volunteers, groups rally for Thanksgiving

Coronavirus cases and travel restrictions may be down for the holiday season, but north Texas families’ needs are greater than ever amid rising living costs and supply chain issues, local volunteers said. Robin Wheeler, Arlington Charities’ pantry manager, did not expect an influx of families in need for the holiday season. The nonprofit at 811 Secretary Drive held its annual Thanksgiving distribution Nov. 17 and 18, however, and served as many as 1,300 families, she said. Hundreds more have signed up for Christmas distribution Dec. 15 and 16. Wheeler attributed the influx of need to rising prices. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced in October the consumer price index rose 6.2% over the last year, the steepest increase since November 1990.

Around 11% of Tarrant County residents live below the poverty line, and around a quarter live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to the 2018 United Way ALICE report “I think that the need is just as much there as it was before if not more,” Wheeler said. “I think a lot more families are facing food insecurity, a lot of people still haven’t returned to the full-time workforce.” Volunteers at Mission Arlington had assembled more than 4,000 of the 6,000 turkey boxes for the group to hand out Thanksgiving Day, according to Tillie Burgin, the mission’s executive director. The prominent, faith-based group fed more than 24,000 families last year, and Burgin said she hopes for long lines Thursday. “It’s a wonderful time for the community to get to know each other,” Burgin said. The distributions are among a few of the ones planned across Tarrant County this holiday season. Tarrant Area Food Bank will host several holiday drives throughout December. The group’s next event, Holiday Mega Mobile Market, is set for Dec. 2 in Fort Worth at 1911 Montgomery St.

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National Stories

Washington Post - November 23, 2021

Competitive House districts are getting wiped off the map

From Texas to Oregon, competitive congressional districts are disappearing. As states finalize new borders ahead of the 2022 midterms, state legislatures are approving maps they hope will advantage one party in the coming struggle to control the narrowly held U.S. House. In the 15 states that approved new congressional district maps as of Monday morning, the number of districts where the 2020 presidential margin was within five percentage points has fallen from 23 to just 10, according to a Post analysis. The new maps in those states have already netted a double-digit increase in solidly Republican seats compared with previous maps there. The completion of maps in more states will provide a fuller picture in the coming months.

Other states are considering maps that have attracted accusations of extreme partisan gerrymandering. A Democrat-drawn plan awaiting the Illinois governor’s signature eliminates two competitive districts in favor of two Democratic-leaning seats. Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature has proposed adding another GOP-leaning seat in what appears to be an attempt to stifle Democratic gains in the Atlanta suburbs. The maps could face years of legal challenges once they are approved by state legislatures or other commissions charged with drawing the lines. The net effect of the changes in motion is that the next session of Congress will have an even more partisan makeup, and likely more rancor, than the already polarized House today. The new map in Texas would reduce the state’s 12 existing competitive districts to one. The elimination of competitive seats will likely limit Democrats’ chances to flip seats as the state’s population changes over the next decade. Currently, Republicans hold a 23-to-13 advantage over Democrats in the House delegation. The new lines, which include two additional seats because of population growth, nearly double the safest Republican seats from 11 to 21 and increase the safest Democratic seats from eight to 12. One seat leans Democratic and three lean Republican, according to the analysis.

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Washington Post - November 24, 2021

House Jan. 6 committee intensifies focus on law enforcement failures that preceded Capitol attack

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is increasingly focused on law enforcement failures that preceded the insurrection, scrutinizing in particular multiple warnings of possible violence that went unheeded by the FBI, according to people familiar with its work and individuals who have been contacted by the committee. Donell Harvin, the former head of intelligence for D.C.’s homeland security department, said he has met twice in the past two weeks with committee investigators, who he said appeared intent on understanding how information was shared between agencies in the weeks before the attack. Harvin — whose team was in charge of assessing threats to D.C. — said he told committee investigators that he did not learn of the warnings received by the FBI in advance of Jan. 6 until months after the Capitol siege. “I told them that I think there needs to be a big discussion about how we look at domestic intelligence, because right now, it’s fragmented,” he said.

Harvin is among a half-dozen people familiar with law enforcement actions before the attack who have been contacted in recent weeks by the committee. The interviews indicate that along with efforts to assess the role of President Donald Trump and his allies in spurring on the mob, the panel is pursuing a significant review of the intelligence and national security failures that is similar to the one undertaken by the 9/11 Commission in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The committee is examining the failures of various government agencies to recognize, share and elevate critical early warnings of extremists discussing violence in the run-up to Jan. 6, according to two people familiar with the panel’s work, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the investigation. A spokesman for the select committee declined to comment. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) serves as chairman of the panel, and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) serves as vice chair. The FBI did not comment. The committee’s examination of some specific red flags that preceded the Capitol attack follows a Washington Post investigative series published late last month on the causes, costs and aftermath of Jan. 6. The series revealed that the FBI and other federal agencies did not respond with urgency to a cascade of warnings that Trump supporters were planning mayhem in Washington that day.

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NPR - November 24, 2021

The biggest problem facing the U.S. electric grid isn't demand. It's climate change

The power grid in the U.S. is aging and already struggling to meet current demand. It faces a future with more people, who drive more electric cars and heat homes with more electric furnaces. Alice Hill says that's not even the biggest problem the country's electricity infrastructure faces. "Everything that we've built, including the electric grid, assumed a stable climate," she says. "It looked to the extremes of the past — how high the seas got, how high the winds got, the heat." Hill is an energy and environment expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. She served on the National Security Council staff during the Obama administration, where she led the effort to develop climate resilience. She says past weather extremes can no longer safely guide future electricity planning.

"It's a little like we're building the plane as we're flying because the climate is changing right now, and it's picking up speed as it changes," Hill says. The newly passed infrastructure package dedicates billions of dollars to updating the energy grid. Hill says utility companies and public planners around the country are already having to adapt. She points to the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. "They thought the maximum would be 12 feet," she says. "That storm surge came in close to 14 feet. It overcame the barriers at the tip of Manhattan, and then the electric grid — a substation blew out. The city that never sleeps [was] plunged into darkness." Hill noted that Con Edison, the utility company providing New York City with energy, responded with upgrades to its grid: It buried power lines, introduced artificial intelligence, upgraded software to detect failures. But she says upgrading the way humans assess risk is harder. "What happens is that some people tend to think, well, that last storm that we just had, that'll be the worst, right?" Hill says. "No, there is a worse storm ahead. And then, probably, that will be exceeded." In 2021, the U.S. saw electricity outages for millions of people as a result of historic winter storms in Texas, a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest and Hurricane Ida along the Gulf Coast. Climate change will only make extreme weather more likely and more intense.

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Hollywood Reporter - November 24, 2021

TV news' dangerous bet: Hedging on a streaming future

Does TV news have a future outside of the existing television ecosystem? The question is top of mind for news executives as the entertainment world dramatically shifts, with linear TV channels facing steady decline and streaming on the rise. In his 1991 book Three Blind Mice, Ken Auletta detailed how the rise of cable TV, and specifically CNN and its coverage of the Gulf War, threw the network news divisions at ABC, NBC and CBS into chaos. “Instantly, the public glimpsed the cataclysmic changes in the television industry,” Auletta wrote. “Viewers realized that CNN, not the three networks, was the channel of convenience for live, up-to-the-minute news … All at once, everyone seemed to be talking about whether network news had a future – indeed, whether the networks had a future.” The networks found their future by becoming tied to the pay TV bundle.

But executives now have to balance the management of that lucrative but declining legacy business with a streaming future that’s just as disruptive to TV news as CNN was 30 years ago. “I think this is as big a change for the video news business as the introduction of the cable news channels was — only it is happening much faster,” says Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University and a former NBC News executive. “That was a slow tectonic shift from broadcast to cable, and while broadcast news obviously still exists, and while programs controlled by the news divisions — the morning shows in particular — still make a ton of money, the overwhelming emphasis for years now has been on cable news.” While entertainment giants are now diving into streaming — and shifting their structures accordingly — TV news divisions have exercised more caution, taking steps into the streaming pool but not jumping in. A subscription to HBO Max negates the requirement to watch Succession on HBO’s linear channel, and a subscription to Hulu will cover your fix of ABC’s The Rookie. But if you want to watch NBC’s Today, or CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight live on a streaming platform, you’re out of luck. The business rationale is simple: The cable bundle and broadcast retransmission fees pay programmers billions of dollars in revenue annually. TV news ad sales for the broadcast news divisions and cable channels are hundreds of millions annually.

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CNN - November 23, 2021

Jury finds Unite the Right defendants liable for more than $26 million in damages

A jury has awarded more than $26 million in damages after finding the White nationalists who organized and participated in a violent 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, liable on a state conspiracy claim and other claims. The jury in the federal civil trial said Tuesday it could not reach a verdict on two federal conspiracy claims. The violence during the Unite the Right rally turned the Virginia city into another battleground in America's culture wars and highlighted growing polarization. It was also an event that empowered White supremacists and nationalists to demonstrate their beliefs in public rather than just online.

The first federal conspiracy claim was the most prominent against the defendants because it alleged the defendants conspired to commit racially motivated violence while the second alleged the defendants had knowledge of a conspiracy and failed to prevent it. "We are thrilled that the jury has delivered a verdict in favor of our plaintiffs, finally giving them the justice they deserve after the horrific weekend of violence and intimidation in August 2017," plaintiffs' attorneys Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn said. "Today's verdict sends a loud and clear message that facts matter, the law matters, and that the laws of this this country will not tolerate the use of violence to deprive racial and religious minorities of the basic right we all share to live as free and equal citizens." One defense attorney called the verdict a win. "It's a politically charged situation. It's going to be hard to get 11 people to agree," said attorney Joshua Smith, who represented three defendants. "I consider a hung jury to be a win, considering a disparity of resources."

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Reuters - November 23, 2021

U.S. not heading toward COVID lockdown, White House says

The United States does not need to impose a lockdown or shut down its economy to curb the spread of COVID-19 and will rely on other tools, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Monday. "We are not headed in that direction. We have the tools to accelerate the path out of this pandemic; widely available vaccinations, booster shots, kid shots, therapeutics," Zients told reporters at a White House briefing. "We can curb the spread of the virus without having to in any way shut down our economy." U.S. regulators expanded eligibility for booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines to all adults on Friday, and 3 million people received them since, Zients said.

"In fact, just across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we got 3 million booster shots into arms. A million booster shots per day," he said. "Don't delay, get your booster shot so you can have enhanced protection for COVID as we head into the winter." Separately, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said U.S. health officials are not currently recommending lockdowns or economic restrictions to curb rising COVID-19 cases. Europe is once again the epicenter of the global pandemic with Austria reimposing full lockdown, riots breaking out in cities across the Netherlands over a partial lockdown, and many other countries imposing restrictions. The current seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in the United States rose 18% from last week's average to 92,800 per day, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at the briefing. U.S. hospitalizations rose 6% to an average of 5,600 per day and average daily deaths are about 1,000 per day, she said. Around 47 million eligible American adults and over 12 million teenagers are still not fully vaccinated, Walensky added. As of Sunday, COVID-19 had killed 776,188 people in the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

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Newsclips - November 23, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

East Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert jumps in to Attorney General race, seeking to unseat Ken Paxton

East Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert joined the crowded GOP race for attorney general late Monday, announcing he reached the goal of raising $1 million to fund the effort. In a short campaign video posted online, the tea party conservative named “election integrity” as his top priority. Gohmert also accused the embattled officeholder, Republican Ken Paxton, of “working harder” only after being accused of crimes last year by his top staffers. The FBI is investigating the allegations. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing. “I will not wait to be busiest until after there’s some bad press about legal improprieties,” Gohmert said. “I’ll start boldly protecting your rights on day one.” Gohmert’s entry raises the stakes on what is already one of the most competitive races of the 2022 election cycle. Paxton is running for a third term and already faces several high-profile GOP challengers in Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and state Rep. Matt Krause.

However, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reported Monday night that Krause would forego the attorney general’s race and instead run for Tarrant County District Attorney. Democrats are also lining up for the job. They include civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski and Rochelle Garza, a former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. Paxton’s opponents say he’s unfit for the job and are highlighting his legal woes, which also include a 6-year-old fraud indictment. He’s pleaded not guilty. The primary is March 1. Known for inflammatory comments, Gohmert, 68, has courted controversy during his nine terms in Congress. He’s been one of the most outspoken members echoing former President Donald Trump’s baseless assertions that the 2020 election was stolen. His unconventional antics, such as trying to drown out a critic in a House hearing by tapping his desk, made headlines last year. Before joining Congress, Gohmert was a state district judge in Smith County. In the 90-second announcement video posted to YouTube, Gohmert said “unconstitutional mandates will not be tolerated” and “parental consent is still an important concept.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

Tough border policies appear to boost poll results for Gov. Abbott

Support is deepening for Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of immigration at the border, compared with that of President Joe Biden’s performance, according to a new Texas poll. Why does it matter? The Republican governor’s get-tough border policies may give him an edge in his bid for re-election in 2022, and prove a testing ground for a politico who’s also eyeing a White House run. A new poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler shows that 49% of polled registered voters approve of Abbott’s border policies — up from 47% in September. The poll surveyed 1,106 registered voters on a range of issues from Nov. 9-16. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. Many of the findings on immigration and the border showed an increasingly conservative stance when compared with the last poll in early September. In mid-September, national attention became focused on the chaotic arrival of asylum-seekers in Del Rio.

There, more than 15,000 Haitians swam across the Rio Grande, where they were placed in an outdoor camp under the international bridge. Abbott sent state troopers and members of the Texas National Guard to park their vehicles along the riverbanks in an effort to discourage the mass crossings while federal authorities struggled to cope with the arriving migrants. Adding to the tension were policies recently implemented by Abbott that allowed for the arrest of migrants on state charges of property trespassing. The poll found: 50% of voters agree or strongly agree that a wall along the Texas-Mexico border is “necessary for a safe border. That’s 2% higher than early September polling; 48% of voters support granting permanent legal status to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. In September, 51% supported granting permanent legal status. Democrats supported such a measure by 71%, and Republicans by 40%.

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Associated Press - November 23, 2021

US to release 50 million barrels of oil to ease energy costs

The White House on Tuesday said it had ordered 50 million barrels of oil released from the strategic reserve to bring down energy costs, in coordination with other countries including China. The move is an effort to bring down rising gas prices. Gasoline prices nationwide are averaging about $3.40 a gallon, more than double their price a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association.

The release will be taken in parallel other nations including, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom, major energy consumers. The U.S. Department of Energy will make the oil available from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in two ways; 32 million barrels will be released in the next few months and will return to the reserve in the years ahead, the White House said. Another 18 barrels will be part of a sale of oil that Congress had previously authorized.

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Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

Appeals court affirms Abbott’s mask mandate ban violated Jenkins’ ability to manage pandemic

A state appeals court in Dallas on Monday affirmed a judge’s August ruling that Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates violates Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ ability to lead the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After state District Judge Tonya Parker issued a temporary injunction in Jenkins’ favor Aug. 25, Abbott’s office appealed to the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas. The ruling is a significant victory for Jenkins, who has emphasized the importance of masking as a weapon against the spread of the coronavirus. But masks have been a political flash point at the same time he has tried to improve Dallas County’s vaccination rates, particularly as the highly contagious delta variant led to a major resurgence of COVID-19.

“I am thankful for this ruling,” Jenkins said in a written statement late Monday. “To the lawyers who represent not just me but the interest of public health, I am forever grateful. I will continue to stand for your safety against any threat. The enemy should not be another elected official. This is Team Human vs the Virus, and to protect life and our economy we should all follow the science wherever it leads.” Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have consistently opposed masking requirements. Although the Republican leaders have publicly agreed that masks are important in fighting COVID-19, they say Texans deserve the power of choice about whether to wear them. On July 29, Abbott issued an executive order stating that in places where COVID-19 transmission rates are high, such as Dallas County, residents should follow safety protocols but could not be required by local government leaders to wear masks. Not long after, Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch sued Jenkins, alleging that the county judge had illegally made a “unilateral decision to require face coverings” during a Commissioners Court meeting in violation of the executive order. Koch wanted Jenkins’ enforcement of a mask mandate to be struck down as illegal. Jenkins responded by filing a counterclaim against Abbott.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

With no Supreme Court ruling Monday, Texas SB 8 abortion restrictions remain in effect

It’s now been three weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two challenges to Texas’ novel new law that bans abortion after six weeks and allows private citizens to enforce it through lawsuits, but the court still hadn’t issued a ruling as of Monday. Justices seemed to indicate they wanted to review and rule on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 8 quickly when they put the case on the fast track in October, setting oral arguments for Nov. 1. On Friday, speculation began to circulate that the court will finally issue a ruling on Monday, Nov. 22. “#SCOTUS set to issue one or more opinions on Monday,” Steve Vladeck, UT law school professor and CNN’s lead Supreme Court analyst, tweeted Friday. “There is no *guarantee* that we’ll get the rulings in the #SB8 cases, but it sure is *likely* that we will.” However, come Monday morning, the court did not release a ruling on either challenge to SB 8. It’s unclear when a decision from the justices may come.

In the meantime, the Texas law remains in effect, preventing women in Texas from accessing an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy. This cutoff comes before some women know they’re pregnant, and long before the roughly 22 to 24 week mark that five decades of Supreme Court rulings recognize and protect. “Every single day that SB 8 is in effect in Texas is a travesty and an injustice for Texans who need abortion care,” said Caroline Duble, political director for Avow, a Texas-based abortion rights advocacy organization. “We are frustrated that the court is taking so long, and we have been frustrated with the way that they’ve handled this law since the first time it appeared before them.” Anti-abortion groups, on the other hand, are celebrating every day the Texas law remains in effect as a success. “We’re encouraged by the Supreme Court’s judicial restraint,” Kimberlyn Schwartz, director of media and communication for Texas Right to Life, said in a statement. “Every day the Texas Heartbeat Act is in effect is a victory because the law saves an estimated 75-100 babies from abortion per day.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson won’t run for Congress to replace Eddie Bernice Johnson

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said Monday that he will not campaign to succeed U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson. “I love being mayor, and it’s the only job in American politics that I want right now, period, full stop, end of story,” Johnson told The Dallas Morning News. “This is the right job for me and for my skill set and my passion, which is the people of this city…If I’m going to be in American politics in any job, this is the one.” On Saturday, Eddie Bernice Johnson announced that she will retire when her term ends in 2022, capping a 30-year career as the representative for the Dallas-anchored Congressional District 30. Her decision has sparked what’s expected to be a crowded race to replace the trailblazing Democrat. Eric Johnson, a former state representative, would have been a frontrunner for the seat. He was mentioned as a potential successor for Johnson, when she considered retirement in 2019. But Johnson ran for mayor of Dallas.

During a mayoral debate that year at the Belo Mansion, Johnson insisted he would remain mayor, even if the District 30 seat opened. When Eddie Bernice Johnson made her announcement, Eric Johnson said his phone began ringing. “I have no doubt in my mind that if I threw my hat into the ring, I would be going to Congress,” Johnson said. “I have the job I want right now. I want to continue to be mayor.” Johnson said that Eddie Bernice Johnson knew he wanted to remain mayor. He was out of town with his family when she made her announcement. The mayor said he’d hope the longtime congresswoman would stay for another term. “I was one of the folks who was hoping she’d actually stay on, because we need her down there, especially right now when we’re trying to get these infrastructure dollars in Dallas,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a competitive process to get some infrastructure money. It’s not going to just be given out on sort of a block grant type basis. So we need a real champion. Now is not the ideal time to go to Washington with a junior congressperson.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2021

Fort Worth Rep. Matt Krause to run for Tarrant County DA

Fort Worth Rep. Matt Krause is running for Tarrant County District Attorney after previously announcing his candidacy for Texas Attorney General. Krause, who has served in the Texas House of Representatives since 2013, announced in September his plans to challenge Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in what’s expected to be a crowded Republican primary. However, earlier this month Tarrant County DA Sharen Wilson, a Republican, announced she wouldn’t seek reelection. As of Nov. 12, Krause told the Star-Telegram his focus remained on the attorney general election. At the time he said it’s the “very, very strong likelihood” he’d remain in the AG race. The remarks came after a tweet by the editor of the Quorum Report, a political newsletter, noting rumors of him switching bids.

Krause’s campaign confirmed he plans to announce for district attorney on Tuesday morning. On Monday, CBS DFW and WFAA reported he would run for district attorney. Also on Monday, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert announced he’d run for attorney general as a Republican. Republicans running for attorney general include Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Democrats who’ve said they are running include civil rights lawyer Lee Merrit, Galveston lawyer Joe Jaworski and former ACLU lawyer Rochelle Garza. Krause did not immediately return a request for comment. Candidates who’ve filed for District Attorney in Tarrant County include Tiffany Burks, a Democrat, and Phil Sorrells, a Republican. Tarrant County District Court Judge Mollee Westfall, a Republican, has also announced she’ll run for DA.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 23, 2021

San Antonio to have more say in closely watched race between Rep. Cuellar, progressive challengers

When U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros face off in a hotly anticipated Democratic primary rematch next year, they’ll be competing for votes from a much larger chunk of San Antonio, after the district long anchored in Laredo was redrawn to include tens of thousands more potential voters from Bexar County. The new boundaries could shake up what will likely be one of the most closely watched primaries in the state, if not the nation. Cisneros’ progressive challenge in 2020 drew national attention as the Laredo native came within 3 percentage points of unseating Cuellar, a longtime congressman and one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. The district, which previously covered parts of Bexar County almost entirely east of Loop 410, now stretches across much of southeast San Antonio and into downtown. Its northwestern-most tip now extends beyond the Alamo.

The new district is likely bluer: Under these new boundaries, the margin between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump would widen by 2.6 percentage points. The result: Cuellar, who struggled in Bexar County in 2020, and his Democratic challengers will likely be spending a lot more time and money in San Antonio in the coming months. And they will likely not be alone. At least four Republicans have jumped into the GOP primary, as the national party targeted Cuellar’s district to flip after Trump’s surprisingly strong showing in South Texas in 2020. Both Cuellar and Cisneros argue that the addition of some 41,000 San Antonio and Bexar County residents old enough to cast ballots in the race will benefit them. Cisneros won the portions of the district in Bexar County by a 2-1 margin in 2020. The primary was decided by just 2,700 votes. Her campaign is optimistic that she can make up the difference by turning out voters there this time. “San Antonio did play such a crucial role last time, and obviously with the numbers now, I expect nothing less,” Cisneros said.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2021

Dangling air fresheners and 'faulty' plates: These Texas police make the most minor traffic stops

Police describe traffic enforcement as a matter of public safety. Running red lights, distracted driving and speeding imperil all motorists. “That’s why I designated a traffic safety officer — to try to slow people down,” Corrigan Police Chief Darrell Gibson told the Chronicle for a recent article about speed traps. “Every time there was a traffic death, it was because they were going very fast.” Yet many stops have little to do with a driver’s dangerous behavior. Records from Texas’s 2,500 law enforcement agencies show that about one in five last year was for a so-called vehicle violation — a broken tail light, an expired registration, an insufficiently visible license plate. Policing experts say such stops often are used not to make roads safer, but as a “pretext” for police to temporarily detain drivers so they can interview them and look inside their cars for contraband or other possible illegal activity.

“When you’re stopping someone for absolutely trivial violations, it’s probably safe to say you’re looking for something greater,” said Patrick O’Burke, a former commander for the Texas Department of Public Safety who now trains police. A Houston Chronicle analysis has identified the law enforcement agencies that conducted the highest rate of minor violation traffic stops last year, pulling over vehicles for equipment and paperwork infractions at a rate three and four times the state’s overall average. In La Vernia, a small city east of San Antonio where more than half of the police department’s traffic stops last year were for minor vehicle violations, Chief Bruce Ritchey said his officers often stop vehicles “as a courtesy” to alert drivers to broken equipment. But he acknowledged they also take the opportunity to scope out vehicles and drivers for potential crimes. Drivers “may not have a driver’s license, they may not have insurance. They may have dope in the car,” he said. Using the traffic stops to investigate drivers, “is like a gun and handcuffs; it’s another tool to keep the community safe.” Several of the departments that made a high number of minor-violation stops also ranked at the top of Texas police departments conducting the most vehicle searches, the Chronicle’s examination showed.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2021

Texas A&M grad donates $20 million for scholarships, finance department

A pledged donation that started at $10 million to support scholarships at Texas A&M University turned into a $20 million gift to also bolster academic programs and hiring, the university announced Monday. The Mays Business School’s Department of Finance will soon be named after Adam Sinn, an Aggie who graduated in 2000 who owns the oil and energy trading company Aspire Commodities. He solidified the $20 million commitment last week through the Texas A&M Foundation. “The main focus of it is releasing the financial burden off of some of these students so that in the future they can take a bet on themselves when they see that opportunity,” Sinn, 43, said in a video interview Friday, proudly sporting an A&M sweatshirt. “And hopefully they’ll pay it forward and help out somebody else.”

About $7.5 million from Sinn’s gift will support scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. The rest will help recruit top faculty and and create and expand high-impact programs for finance students, the university said. More than 1,000 students are enrolled in finance department programs for the 2021-22 academic year, a 30 percent increase in five years, according to a press release from the university. “I applaud Mr. Sinn’s willingness to invest in our university,” M. Katherine Banks, the university’s president, said in the release. “Contributions such as these not only help elevate the department but provide a brighter future to our students for generations to come.” Thinking back on his own financial constraints growing up, Sinn requested priority be given to applicants from his hometown of Hoopeston, Ill., and nearby Cissna Park, Ill., and Dorado, Puerto Rico, where he now lives. If there aren’t enough applicants from those areas, the scholarships will be made available to students enrolled in the business school’s Trading, Risk and Investments Program (TRIP), which prepares participants in the fields of energy trading, investments and risk management.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2021

Report: Future of groundwater pumping in Texas unsustainable

The future of water looks murky in the Lone Star State. Groundwater levels are declining in Texas, according to two reports published last week by Texas State University and the Environmental Defense Fund. Seven of 20 aquifer systems analyzed in the state are being overpumped, and that number could double by 2070, which would leave only six aquifers sustainable for future groundwater use in the state. Unsustainable pumping of aquifers can lead to wells drying up, less groundwater storage and the degradation of rivers and springs that depend on aquifers for their ecosystems.

For the Edwards Aquifer, groundwater is protected by the Endangered Species Act — limiting the amount of water pumped in order to protect creatures such as the blind salamander and the San Marcos Gambusia. Currently, the Edwards Aquifer is being pumped sustainably and will continue to be in 2070, according to the Texas State University report. But the Edwards is connected with the Trinity Aquifer, which stretches north from San Antonio through Texas Hill Country. “Most of the Edwards Aquifer’s recharge comes from rivers across the recharge zone that leak into the aquifer, and then most of that water flowing through those rivers is a source for the Hill Country,” said Robert Mace, a professor at Texas State University and executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. “But there’s water that also flows underground from the Trinity aquifer into the Edwards, so if there’s less water in the Trinity, there’s going to be less water flowing into the Edwards.” While the Trinity Aquifer as a whole is projected to be managed sustainably in the future, the Trinity within the Hill Country is not, Mace said. The Trinity’s groundwater levels are projected to decline by 30 feet by 2070.

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Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2021

Dallas master sommelier stripped of title amid sexual misconduct investigation

A Dallas wine expert is among six master sommeliers being stripped of their prestigious titles amid allegations of sexual misconduct, according to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle. The Court of Master Sommeliers announced Wednesday that Drew Hendricks, co-founder of the Dallas-based wine conference and awards competition TEXSOM, and five other master sommeliers will no longer be members of the elite wine group after an external investigation of allegations brought forward last October in an article in The New York Times. Details of the allegations against each of the sommeliers were not given, but the court said in its announcement that accusations ranged from “inappropriate comments and flirting to nonconsensual touching and exploiting a mentoring relationship for a perceived quid pro quo.”

Hendricks has previously worked at Pioneer Wine Co. in Dallas and Republic National Distributing Co. Representatives from Pioneer told the Houston Chronicle that Hendricks hasn’t worked there since November 2020. Hendricks has previously worked at Dallas restaurants Pappas Bros. Steakhouse and now-closed Charlie Palmer at the Joule. Hendricks could not immediately be reached for comment. James Tidwell, a Dallas-based master sommelier who co-founded TEXSOM with Hendricks in 2005, said Hendricks hasn’t had any ownership in or involvement with the organization since the publication of The Times’ article last year. “Once the article came out and things were brought to light, he was no longer involved,” Tidwell said. “Since then, we’ve moved in directions that are more inclusive and equitable and diverse, and I think that is something you can see if you attend the conference.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

‘Undeniably a cult’: Fringe QAnon group remains in Dallas, awaiting JFK Jr.’s arrival

Weeks after they first gathered near Dealey Plaza, dozens of believers in the furthest fringe of the QAnon conspiracy theory remain in Dallas, expecting long-dead John F. Kennedy Jr. to reveal himself in the city where his father was assassinated and usher in the reinstatement of Donald Trump as president. While their beliefs are patently absurd, the fervency and devotion of this particular group, along with their loyalty to a leader known as Negative48 and unwillingness to leave Dallas, is unique — and cause for alarm and concern, according to an expert who has followed QAnon for years. “I think what you’re seeing here is really, undeniably a cult,” said Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us, which chronicles the rise of, and fallout from, QAnon. The leader of the group is Michael Brian Protzman, a Washington man who amassed a following on social media with his version of gematria, a Hebrew numerology language.

Interpreting codes that include numbers and letters, and using elements of Christianity and QAnon, his followers have come to believe that Kennedy, who died in a plane crash in 1999, will reappear in Dallas and commence a new Trump administration. Some of Protzman’s followers believe President John F. Kennedy wasn’t assassinated in 1963; others believe he was, but then resurrected as a messiah shortly thereafter. Despite the failure of either Kennedy — or other dead celebrities who were expected, including Michael Jackson and Princess Diana — to appear during the initial Nov. 2 rally that drew hundreds to downtown Dallas, a hardcore group of Protzman’s followers remain in Dallas, expecting their arrival. Even some of the more mainstream believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory — which is based on the premise that a cabal of liberal celebrities and politicians partake in a child sex-abuse ring and will be executed upon Trump’s reinstatement — think Negative48 is too fringy, Rothschild said. The group is also distinct from the larger umbrella of QAnon because it has a leader able to persuade hundreds of people from across the country to come to Dallas.

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

UT Austin to keep Stan Richards’ name on advertising school, despite ‘too Black’ comments

The University of Texas will keep Dallas marketing icon Stan Richards’ name on its school of advertising and public relations, despite racially insensitive comments that led to his resignation last year. A university email cited Richards’ remorse and condemnation of racism after the 87-year-old founder of a namesake agency referred to a proposed ad campaign as being “too Black” for the Carrollton-based Motel 6 chain’s “white supremacist constituents.” “While we strongly denounce Richards’ remarks, we also acknowledge his remorse and his condemnation of racism and bigotry in all its forms,” Moody College of Communication Dean Jay Bernhardt said in an email to the college, according to The Texas Tribune. “When considering Richards’ offensive comments and subsequent apology on balance with his many significant contributions to the field and the college, we have decided that his name will remain on the school.”

Richards resigned after his 2020 comments went public, telling employees he was firing himself. Motel 6 dropped The Richards Group as a client, followed by other big name companies including Home Depot and H-E-B. The defections caused the firm to lose as much as 40% of its revenue. UT’s decision to keep the Richards name for its college comes after two independent reports both recommended removing it. The first report, compiled by Overcoming Racism, is based on listening sessions with various stakeholders at the school as well as alumni who worked at Richards’ Dallas firm, one of the largest independent ad agencies in the country. The report found that some students felt ashamed that the name of their school was attached to Richards. Others who supported Richards felt he made a mistake, and that he still represents “the best in the profession.” Former Richards Group employees who attended UT told the report’s authors that the ad firm had a “long-standing lack of representation with regards to women and Black employees” and that his words were “reflective of his company’s casual racist and sexist culture and practices,” according to the report.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2021

Your sales tax may be going to another Texas town and back to the company thanks to these two obscure laws

When Aasheel Kadiwal clicked the "place your order" button on Best Buy’s website last year and paid more than $2,000 for a video camera, iPad Pro and Apple watch, he didn't think to ask where his tax dollars were going. If he had known the answer, Kadiwal wouldn’t have liked it. The roughly $40 he paid in local sales taxes for his online purchase wasn’t collected by the community of Richmond outside Houston, where the college student lived at the time. Instead, Kadiwal and other Best Buy customers in Texas paid sales taxes to San Marcos in Hays County every time they bought products from the electronics company online — even if they didn’t live in those communities. And most of the tax dollars collected by the city and county weren’t spent on fixing streets, paying firefighters or funding other essential government services.

Under economic incentive agreements signed with Best Buy, San Marcos and Hays County gave 75 percent of the net tax revenue to the company after it opened an “e-commerce sales operation” and hired up to 112 new full-time employees. Total payments to Best Buy since 2017: more than $40 million. "It does bother me," Kadiwal said in a recent interview after he learned how his tax dollars were spent. "I feel like it should have gone to the town where I was living in, you know?" Best Buy’s tax incentives were made possible by obscure Texas laws that allow cities and counties to sign such deals with few restrictions — even if it means taking tax money from Texans who have no say in the agreements. Known as “Chapter 380” for cities and “Chapter 381” for counties, the laws were passed during the recession of the 1980s without the typical safeguards that lawmakers placed on other economic incentive programs. There’s no limit on the duration of each deal; no minimal job-creation requirements; and no reporting on how much the agreements ultimately cost taxpayers. A wide variety of incentives can be offered under such agreements, and rebates on sales taxes are nothing new. What’s changed is how online shopping has transformed tax rebates into money-making machines for a growing number of businesses and Texas communities.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Conservative culture war keeping kids from college, hurting economic future

College enrollment dramatically dropped in 2021 for the second year in a row, particularly among young men, a result triggered not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but a more worrisome trend. The shrinking proportion of young Americans participating in higher education threatens the nation’s economic competitiveness and reflects the nation’s political divide. Partisans are making everything we say, do, think, and believe political talismans by which to judge others. This culture war, though, is hurting our children. Today, less than a third of working Americans have a college degree. In the 1960s, a high school diploma was all that most people needed to find a decent job. A full-time job making minimum wage could support a family. Recently, I wrote about why a four-year degree is not the only path to economic success, and I stand by that. However, the jobs of the future are increasingly technical and require some post-secondary study, as demonstrated by the millions of job openings for people with advanced skills.

Recently, I wrote about why a four-year degree is not the only path to economic success, and I stand by that. However, the jobs of the future are increasingly technical and require some post-secondary study, as demonstrated by the millions of job openings for people with advanced skills. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s goal is to have 60 percent of Texans holding some kind of advanced certificate by 2030. We’re not going to get there at this pace; young people are not pursuing the skills employers need. Enrollment in undergraduate college classes dropped 3.2 percent this year after declining 3.4 percent last year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Community colleges that offer vocational training for good middle-class jobs have seen enrollment drop 14.1 percent since 2019. Young men are skipping post-secondary school education more than women. Their enrollment is down 9.3 percent since 2019 compared to women at 5 percent. Women now make up 60 percent of students at four-year universities. The trend is sparking a debate and some pearl-clutching.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 22, 2021

Bridget Grumet: Antisemitic agitators came to Austin for a reason

It’s tempting to put the ugliness and hate we’ve seen in recent weeks in a box labeled “not from here.” After all, the college student accused of setting fire Oct. 31 to the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, a brazen hate crime charring the entryway of a beloved Central Austin temple, lives in San Marcos. And the ringleader of the neo-Nazis who hoisted vile, antisemitic banners over MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) a few weekends ago isn't even from Texas. We can dismiss such people as outsiders and express outrage that they would dare show up in our diverse, welcoming city. Or we can ask ourselves what makes such people think the door is propped open, even a tiny bit, for them to step inside.

To be sure, many in Austin swiftly condemned antisemitism and stood in solidarity with our Jewish neighbors. Hundreds waved signs of hope at last weekend’s Rally for Kindness outside the Capitol. More than 1,100 faith leaders, elected officials, business leaders and residents signed on to a letter by Interfaith Action of Central Texas condemning acts of intimidation and violence. More than $150,000 in donations have poured into Congregation Beth Israel to help with the extensive repairs needed, and a group of donors has pledged another $100,000 in matching funds. This is the Austin many of us know and hold dear. But we cannot tune out the low buzz of hate and intolerance that’s always humming in the background. Ignore it long enough, and someone will feel emboldened to turn up the volume. Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, a statewide interfaith advocacy group, draws comparisons to the broken window theory. When people see that a certain level of blight is tolerated, bad actors believe they can get away with worse forms of misbehavior, and good people feel powerless to stop the demise. You don’t have to look hard to find the seedy corners of our public square.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 21, 2021

Jena Heath: The chilling effect on campuses isn't because of left-wing ideology

(Heath is an associate dean at the School of Arts and Humanities at St. Edward's University, an associate professor of journalism and digital media, and coordinator of the Journalism and Digital Media program.) When news broke that a group of academic heavyweights and conservative firebrands plans to launch a new university in Austin dedicated to “the fearless pursuit of truth,” by which the founders mean combatting what they see as left-wing ideology flooding college campuses, the Twitter bomb-throwing made for amusing reading. Critics pointed out that the University of Austin isn’t conferring degrees, isn’t accredited, doesn’t have a location for its campus, and wasn’t shy about fundraising. The word “grifter” appeared frequently, along with comparisons to scandal-ridden Trump University. Just this week, two prominent advisory board members announced they were stepping down. The founders, among them a former Harvard University president and one-time New York Times Opinion editor turned right-wing darling, say they are defending free speech by creating a place where no idea is off limits.

Their announcement paints a picture of left-wing terrorism silencing students and ousting academics, “for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as gender differences or immigration,” and other cancel culture concerns. “The reality is that many universities no longer have an incentive to create an environment where intellectual dissent is protected and fashionable opinions are scrutinized,” the announcement proclaimed. As a professor at a private liberal arts university, I am well aware of the challenges facing higher education. I don’t disagree with the group’s critique of low graduation rates, opaque financing formulas, and top-heavy administrative structures, and I’m glad to see students and families asking questions. It also seems to me that real dissent and disagreement has been less evident on campus. But here’s a thought: The reason for the silence isn’t left-wing bullying, it’s money. Nothing puts a pall over the workplace like financial fear. For too many colleges and universities, the COVID pandemic is exacerbating what birthrate demographics had already made clear: Fewer babies are in the pipeline and that means fewer college students to recruit.

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Rolling Stone - November 22, 2021

George P. Bush scrubs endorsement from indicted sheriff linked to the Oath Keepers

In his bid for state Attorney General, George P. Bush puts “Defend Our Law Enforcement” at the heart of his “pro-Texas agenda.” It’s a law-and-order message that has earned him prominent endorsements, including from the National Border Patrol Council. Bush’s endorsement page also recently included a plug from a top north Texas lawman who insisted Texas “needs a clear leader who backs the blue.” But that official, Sheriff Jeffrey C. Lyde of Clay County, has become notorious in recent days — and his plug has been scrubbed from Bush’s website. Early last week, Rolling Stone highlighted Lyde’s appearance in hacked membership rolls of the far-right Oath Keeper militia. Then, on Thursday, Lyde was arrested and detained at his own jail, on charges of “official oppression,” for allegedly illegally detaining two inmates. Lyde’s endorsement has since disappeared from Bush’s website. Rolling Stone took the screenshot below Thursday afternoon.

Bush’s campaign did not reply to queries about what happened to the endorsement from Lyde, its views on his indictments, or whether the campaign is standing by Lyde as he defends himself against the charges he abused his powers. The scrubbed endorsement underscores the tricky spot Bush is in, politically, as he campaigns to be Texas’ top cop. The GOP scion — the grandson and nephew of presidents, and son of a governor — belongs to one of the most storied political dynasties in America. His middle initial, P., stands for Prescott, the first name of his great grandfather, who represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. But in this Trumpy age, being the next-gen Bush is at best a mixed blessing. P. has attempted to straddle the gap between his establishment inheritance and the party’s anti-establishment leader. Despite his father, Jeb Bush, having been raked over the coals by Trump during the 2016 GOP presidential primary, P. has cozied up to the 45th president. In his current post as Texas Land Commissioner, P. appeared with Trump at a 2019 signing ceremony to expand oil pipelines. “This is the only Bush that likes me!” Trump crowed as he called P. to the stage for a handshake. “This is the Bush that got it right.” P. publicly backed Trump in the 2020 election.

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MyHighPlains.com - November 22, 2021

The case of Thomas Brown: Attorney General’s Office and private investigator give conflicting updates

Both a newly released investigation summary from the Attorney General’s Office and the hours-long Wednesday presentation from Private Investigator Phillip Klein left a glut of allegations and evidence to sort through in the case of Thomas Brown. Thomas Brown, a teenager in Canadian, went missing the night before Thanksgiving in 2016. In early 2019, according to Klein’s company, his remains were found near Lake Marvin about 19 miles east of Canadian. The official investigation into his death was a joint effort between the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Attorney General’s Criminal Investigations Division, Texas Rangers, and the FBI. However, this case spurred the AG’s Office to establish a Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit, announced in the last week, that is now the base for the AG’s side of the investigation.

Klein Investigations & Consulting, a group of private investigators hired by Brown’s family and led by Phillip Klein, has released multiple updates regarding its own investigation. From timeline details to whether or not to view Brown’s death as a suicide or the result of foul play, Klein’s proposed narrative of the case has conflicted with the AG’s Office. Klein said that he would go through his alleged narrative of the case including a timeline during the Oct. 20 meeting, as well as that he would address some of the new AG investigation summary report. During the presentation, Klein did propose his version of the case’s timeline – though notably there were inconsistencies with the Attorney General’s report, and the meeting was dotted with heated exchanges between himself and others from the community. MyHighPlains.com checked in with attending reporter Judd Baker live during the event, as well as took a full recording.

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County Stories

McAllen Monitor - November 22, 2021

Rodriguez not seeking reelection as Hidalgo County DA

Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. announced Monday he is not seeking reelection for a third term.

The announcement follows Rodriguez’s exploration of a congressional run in District 15, which he decided not to pursue. He has served as the elected district attorney since 2014. Prior to that, he was the 92nd state District Court judge and before that he was a member of the Edinburg City Council.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 22, 2021

Little Elm schools to hold listening session after protest

Little Elm school district’s superintendent will hold a listening session Nov. 30 to address the district’s policies for reporting and investigating sexual harassment after a student demonstration ended with students being pepper-sprayed and tased, according to a statement on the district’s website. The listening session will be held at Little Elm High School’s auditorium at 6 p.m. Nov. 30. Four Little Elm High School students were arrested Friday morning after they were accused of assaulting Little Elm police officers during a student-led protest.

According to Little Elm ISD officials, students at the high school had planned a demonstration inside the campus that caused a “major disruption.” Police said they used a taser and pepper spray on students. The district still has not released any specific details on what prompted the student demonstration but said it was related to a claim of sexual harassment. The district said Friday that the protest was sparked by a social media post “that contained inaccurate information regarding an incident that happened a month ago.” Little Elm school district Superintendent Daniel Gallagher said in a statement on the district’s website he also has plans to implement three steps while looking into changes to policy: Create an independent committee to review the district’s policies on reporting and investigating sexual harassment claims in the district; Instruct the Little Elm ISD Safety and Security Committee to create and present an after-action report on the student demonstration and subsequent unrest on the campus of Little Elm High School; Perform an independent investigation into the sexual harassment claim that led to the demonstrations Friday.

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National Stories

Politico - November 23, 2021

Why Biden picked Powell

In choosing to renominate Jerome Powell to head the Federal Reserve, President Joe Biden is placing the economic future of his administration largely in the hands of a Republican selected by Donald Trump who made his fortune in private equity and enjoys overwhelming support among GOP lawmakers. Biden passed on an opportunity to put the central bank under the helm of a woman and a Democrat — Fed Governor Lael Brainard — for years to come. Why? In part, people close to Biden say he did it because of Wall Street’s confidence in Powell’s stewardship during the pandemic — the Dow jumped a couple of hundred points on Monday right after the news. And Biden by nature tends to favor incumbents, continuity and bipartisanship.

There also wasn’t an overwhelming case to fire Powell, though the scary surge in inflation offered one potential way out. Democrats arguing for change wanted someone tougher on bank regulation, the environment and economic inequality, but there's little distance between Powell and Brainard on monetary policy, the main focus of a Fed chair. Perhaps the biggest reason of all: The path to confirming Biden’s other finalist, Brainard, a loyal Democrat, looked thorny at best in the face of potentially strong GOP opposition and even some trepidation from moderate Senate Democrats, who favor Powell. In the end, Biden did what many close to him expected: He took a longer-than-anticipated amount of time to arrive at a reasonable, moderate decision that thrilled few but carried limited risk. “The president made a strong statement about the importance of continuity and not injecting additional uncertainty when there is already a lot of it around,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard professor and former top economic adviser to President Barack Obama who has close ties to the Biden White House. “He believes in institutions and likes the idea of there being at least one corner left in Washington that is not incredibly politicized.”

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Politico - November 23, 2021

Tapped out: Judge spikes DeSantis' gambling plan

A federal court has handed Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida a sizable defeat. In a ruling that landed late Monday, a federal judge struck down the state’s $2.5 billion deal with the tribe and brought an end to sports betting in the nation’s third largest state. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich with the District of Columbia said the compact was illegal because it allowed people to place sports bets anywhere in the state in violation of federal laws governing gambling on Indian lands. The ruling came in reaction to twin lawsuits filed by rival casino owners, longtime South Florida gambling opponents, and a statewide anti-gambling group.

Friedrich’s ruling also sided with gambling opponents by saying the only way sports betting could be allowed outside of tribal lands in Florida is through a citizen initiative. Voters in 2018 approved an amendment — backed by the Seminole Tribe and Disney — that said voters must approve any future expansions of casino gambling. The GOP-controlled Legislature and DeSantis sidestepped that amendment by insisting the new compact was legal because the actual processing of bets occurred on tribal lands even though someone could use a mobile app anywhere in the state. Friedrich said she could not accept this “fiction” and added that “when a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by 'deeming' their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not.” DeSantis personally lobbied lawmakers to muscle this latest deal through, which also authorized the tribe to add craps and roulette to its current casinos and build additional casinos on the tribe’s Hollywood reservation that is already home to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

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Washington Post - November 22, 2021

RNC agrees to pay some of Trump’s legal bills in N.Y. criminal investigation

The Republican National Committee is paying some personal legal bills for former president Donald Trump, spending party funds to pay a lawyer representing Trump in investigations into his financial practices in New York, a party spokeswoman said Monday. In October, the RNC made two payments totaling $121,670 to the law firm of Ronald Fischetti, a veteran defense attorney whom Trump hired in April. According to a person with direct knowledge of the payments, the requests came earlier this summer but were voted on by the party’s executive committee only in recent weeks. Fischetti has been representing Trump as he faces investigations by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D). There has been no indication that either investigation involves Trump’s time as president or any of his political campaigns. A person familiar with the RNC’s decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations said the organization was willing to foot the bills because James has made comments indicating she wanted to go after Trump.

James in 2018 told supporters that she intended to investigate Trump, noting that “I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings.” James has said her investigation is following the law and not guided by politics. The RNC is not paying some of the president’s other bills, such as those for his court battles over the House Jan. 6 committee’s requests, said the person familiar with the RNC’s decision. “As a leader of our party, defending President Trump and his record of achievement is critical to the GOP,” the party said in a written statement. “It is entirely appropriate for the RNC to continue assisting in fighting back against the Democrats’ never ending witch hunt and attacks on him.” Trump is a wealthy businessman with dozens of properties, and he has built an independent political operation, which at last count had more than $100 million on hand. “The RNC is our important partner in advancing America First policies and fighting back against the endless witch hunts,” Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesman, said in a statement. “The Democrats have become obsessed with weaponizing their offices against President Trump, which is a complete abandonment of their Constitutional obligations.”

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Associated Press - November 22, 2021

Target will keep stores closed on Thanksgiving for good

Target will no longer open its stores on Thanksgiving Day, making permanent a shift to the unofficial start of the holiday season that was suspended during the pandemic. To limit crowds in stores, retailers last year were forced to turn what had become a weekend shopping blitz into an extended event, with holiday sales beginning as early as October. That forced shift appears to have been fortuitous. U.S. holiday sales last November and December rose 8.2% in 2020 from the previous year, according to The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group. The trade group predicts 2021 could shatter that record, growing between 8.5% and 10.5%.

Americans, able to get the same offers over a broader timespan relieving some of the stresses that go hand in hand with the holidays, appeared to embrace the change. “What started as a temporary measure driven by the pandemic is now our new standard — one that recognizes our ability to deliver on our guests’ holiday wishes both within and well beyond store hours,” Target CEO Brian Cornell wrote in a note to employees. The new standard at Target, on top very healthy sales last year, could push other retailers to follow in its path. Distribution and call centers will have some staff on Thanksgiving, Target said Monday, but stores will remain closed. Target began opening its stores on Thanksgiving a decade ago, joining other retailers in kicking off Black Friday sales a day early and creating a holiday rush after the turkey feast. Many did so to compete with Amazon.com and other rising online threats.

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Chicago Tribune - November 23, 2021

The next Kyle Rittenhouse legal battle? The $2 million bail posted after his arrest.

With the ink barely dry on his acquittals, Kyle Rittenhouse is expected to face another legal battle soon over the $2 million bail posted after his arrest. Rittenhouse’s attorneys filed a motion shortly after the verdict, arguing that the money should be given to the teenager because it was raised on his behalf. Another party, however, thinks the money belongs to them and staked their claim to it even before Rittenhouse’s attorneys did. The Fightback Foundation — an organization run by right-wing lawyer Lin Wood — filed a motion shortly after the verdict Friday asking that the money be refunded to that group. The seven-figure amount, however, was posted by Rittenhouse’s former attorney John Pierce and included contributions that Rittenhouse’s mother, Wendy, helped collect.

“John Pierce is the person who posted the bond,” Rittenhouse defense attorney Mark Richards said following the teen’s acquittal. “All of that money was raised on behalf of Kyle. Lin Wood and Fightback say that they’re entitled to it. ... There was half a million dollars, I think, that came directly from Wendy Rittenhouse from money she had raised. So there’s gonna be a fight over that.” According to the defense team’s motion, the Fightback Foundation wired the money to Pierce on Nov. 20, 2020 with the purpose listed as “For Benefit of Wendy Rittenhouse as legal guardian for “Kyle Rittenhouse (bail)” listed. Shortly afterward, Rittenhouse fired Pierce and the attorney’s affiliation with Fightback ended. “Bond funds consist of donations from individual donors who intended their funds be used to support Kyle Rittenhouse and his defense of this matter,” Richards wrote. “It would seem, therefore, it would be in this court’s well-considered discretion to determine that all remaining bond funds ... be transferred to or for the benefit of Mr. Rittenhouse, for whose benefit they were donated, and posted, in the first instance.”

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NPR - November 22, 2021

Hey, I want to buy your house: Homeowners besieged by unsolicited offers

Jennifer Folden-Nissen's three-bedroom, Victorian-style house in Duluth, Ga., isn't for sale. But that hasn't stopped a guy calling himself Henry from phoning her at least once a week. She says the pitch is always the same: "I want to buy your house. I'm willing to pay cash. Today." She says it's sort of like having to deal with an insistent car salesman. "I just let him leave voicemails," she says. But even those are pushy. "Call me back, call me back, call me back, call me right now — I'm out front of your house." Folden-Nissen works at the local fire department, and she'd call home and ask her husband to see if the guy was outside. But nobody ever was. Then Folden-Nissen started to get postcards from the same guy — with no stamp, so apparently hand-delivered — with photos of her own home on them.

Why is this happening? In short, the blistering housing market. The supply of available homes is nowhere close to the demand from people who want to buy them. The supply is nearly 4 million homes short, according to the government-sponsored mortgage firm Freddie Mac. Many homebuilders went out of business after the housing crash, and that has led to a historic housing shortage. And now investors large and small are jockeying to snap up homes as the tight supply keeps pushing prices higher. So big companies such as Redfin and Opendoor, countless individual speculators, real estate agents and some more predatory outfits have been contacting homeowners, just on the slim chance that they might be willing to sell to some random person calling on the phone. "They have just gotten increasingly worse in the past six months, six or seven calls every day," says Lauren Barber, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. "If you know anything about Columbus, it's growing and it's hot," she says. "People want to live here." Barber bought her house about 10 years ago for $155,000. She says now it's worth more than twice that. Investors can go on the internet and buy lists of phone numbers for people whose homes have risen in value, maybe more than the owners' realize.

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The Atlantic - November 22, 2021

The complicated truth about Trump 2024

If Donald Trump tries to run for president again, one of his former campaign advisers has a plan to dissuade him. Anticipating that Trump may not know who Adlai Stevenson was or that he lost two straight presidential elections in the 1950s, this ex-adviser figures he or someone else might need to explain the man’s unhappy fate. They’ll remind Trump that if he were beaten in 2024, he would join Stevenson as one of history’s serial losers. “I think that would resonate,” said this person, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to talk more freely. “Trump hates losers.” Trump might not listen to his former campaign confidant. But the mere fact that someone who worked to elect Trump the first time is rehearsing arguments to stop a comeback suggests that the former president’s tight grip on the Republican Party may be slipping. A few other developments in recent weeks point to the early stirrings of a Republican Party in which Trump is sidelined. Glenn Youngkin’s recent victory in the Virginia governor’s race demonstrated that a Republican candidate could win in a battleground state without yoking himself to Trump.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, now making the rounds to promote a new book that counters Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election, signaled that he might run for the 2024 GOP nomination whether or not Trump enters the race. A poll last month offered encouraging news for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in New Hampshire, the state that traditionally holds the first primary contest of the presidential-election season. Though Trump was the first choice among likely Republican voters, DeSantis’s favorability rating had climbed to 62 percent, eight points higher than Trump’s. Unlike past presidents who willingly ceded the stage after defeat, Trump has made himself impossible to ignore since leaving office earlier this year. He’s behaving like a candidate-in-waiting. “I’d be shocked if he doesn’t run,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump ally, told me. “I think Trump is our best pick, to be honest with you, because everybody knows his flaws, but his successes are in stark contrast to what we’re experiencing now.” (A pandemic, two impeachments, and an economic collapse don’t sound like triumphs, but that’s a topic for another time.)

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Politifact - November 22, 2021

Fact-check: Was unleaded gas as high as $7 per gallon in a California city?

Viral Internet Image: Unleaded gas costing $7 per gallon in Lancaster, California PolitiFact's ruling: False Here's why: A viral image of a Circle K convenience store gas station sign with eyebrow-raising prices is raising eyebrows on the internet. "Location: East Lancaster, Antelope Valley, California," a description of the image says. "11/9/2021." It shows $6.99 a gallon for unleaded gas, $8.90 for premium and $9.90 for diesel. Some people sharing the photo are blaming President Joe Biden. "Way to go, Joe," one person wrote. The image appears to be authentic, but the prices aren’t.

Gasoline prices have been rising steadily since mid-2020, and Californians pay some of the highest prices in the nation. For the week that ended Nov. 15, the price for all grades of gasoline in California averaged $4.619 a gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. We searched Circle K’s website for locations in Lancaster, which is north of Los Angeles. It shows that there are two that are open and one, at 108 E. Ave. K, that is listed as "coming soon." We looked up the other stations on GasBuddy and found that regular gas was reported at one as costing $4.79 a gallon, $5.09 for premium and $4.89 for diesel. Prices were similar at the other station. Searching the address for the third, not-yet-open location, we found a Google street image from March that shows an empty, dusty lot with green construction fencing on the perimeter. A tag that shows the company providing the fencing — United Site Services — is visible in the picture.

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Newsclips - November 22, 2021

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - November 22, 2021

U.S. COVID-19 deaths in 2021 surpass 2020’s

The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in some communities were important factors, infectious-disease experts said. The milestone comes as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations move higher again in places such as New England and the upper Midwest, with the seven-day average for new cases recently closer to 90,000 a day after it neared 70,000 last month. Covid-19 has proven to be an enduring threat even in some of the most vaccinated places, many of which are confronting outbreaks again now, as the world prepares to live with and manage the disease for the long term. In Europe, parts of Austria, Germany and the Netherlands have imposed new restrictions in recent days after Covid-19 cases rose and hospitals came under strain. The 2021 U.S. death toll caught some doctors by surprise. They had expected vaccinations and precautionary measures like social distancing and scaled-down public events to curb the spread of infections and minimize severe cases. But lower-than-expected immunization rates as well as fatigue with precautionary measures like masks allowed the highly contagious Delta variant to spread, largely among the unvaccinated, epidemiologists say.

“Heading into this year, we knew what we needed to do, but it was a failure of getting it done,” said Abraar Karan, an infectious-diseases doctor at Stanford University. Among missteps, Dr. Karan said, public-health officials failed to effectively communicate that the purpose of vaccines is to protect against severe cases of Covid-19 rather than to prevent the spread of infection entirely, which may have led some to doubt the effectiveness of the shots. Authorities also failed to use testing to effectively prevent super-spreader events, Dr. Karan said. The Journal calculated when the number of known Covid-19 deaths in 2021 surpassed 2020’s figure by using Johns Hopkins and CDC data. The Johns Hopkins numbers reflect a near-real-time count from states, but can lag behind when deaths actually occurred. CDC death-certificate data don’t track the changing pandemic as quickly, but do reflect the actual day of death. The CDC’s count for 2020 may grow with further revisions. These records are also close to showing more deaths in 2021. Comparing the two pandemic years is imperfect because the first coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. weren’t recorded until February 2020, while 2021 began in the grips of a wintertime surge. During just one week in January, the U.S. recorded a peak of nearly 26,000 Covid-19 deaths, CDC data show.

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McAllen Monitor - November 21, 2021

Politics in flux: South Texas in play as congressional shakeups create ripple effects in Valley

There was a shift in the winds in 2020 when Republicans caught Democrats off guard, nearly flipping Starr County toward former President Donald J. Trump while drawing record-high votes elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley as well. That turnout foreshadowed future Democratic difficulties in the region while emboldening the Republican approach to redistricting here. The strong conservative showing set in motion a much anticipated battleground election in the newly Republican-leaning District 15 after its incumbent was redrawn into neighboring District 34, which remains securely Democratic.

The move has caused ripple effects in the Valley’s political landscape, leading to an amendment that moved through the Texas House of Representatives in barely the blink of an eye — with 134 votes for it and only four votes against it — which ushered in how the border’s representation in Congress will look for the next decade. At the beginning of October, before the new district maps were adopted, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen for District 15, made it known he was mulling a switch to District 34. The maps, as they were proposed at the time, already showed they would be redrawn in a way favorable to Republicans throughout Texas, including District 15. Even before the changes, Gonzalez had faced a tough race in 2020 against Monica De La Cruz, the Republican candidate who is running once again for District 15 in 2022. During that first encounter at the ballot box between the two, Gonzalez won the seat by 6,588 votes, or just 50.5% of the votes. With the approved redistricting, Gonzalez said he didn’t necessarily believe he would lose his seat to De La Cruz but said it would be hard to keep. “I think it would be an expensive race and something that will have to be reoccurring every two years,” he said in early October, “but I solidly believe that this is still a winnable district and that we will (have) the right candidate, if this were to happen.” The Texas Tribune reported Gonzalez would have moved in order to run in District 34, but that turned out to not be necessary as just two weeks later state Rep. Ryan Guillen introduced an amendment to the maps that moved Gonzalez’s residence there. Upon introducing the amendment on the House floor, Guillen said it was “based on local preferences.” But Edinburg-based political consultant Desiree Mendez-Caltzontzint questioned whether the reason for the amendment was just that simple.

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

Greg Abbott, Beto O’Rourke honing tactics for likely general election fight for Texas governor

The contest for Texas governor is still more than 11 months away, but Republican incumbent Greg Abbott and Democratic Party challenger Beto O’Rourke have previewed how they will combat each other in what will be the marquee race of the 2022 midterm election season. O’Rourke has been running for governor for one week. During that time he’s hammered Abbott for his handling of last February’s winter storm that left millions of Texans without power and in cold and dark. His message: Texas can do better. For his part, Abbott is casting O’Rourke as a career candidate who, if elected governor, would spoil Texas as the nation’s economic paradise by embracing ultra-liberal policies related to border security, taxes and gun control. He’s portrayed O’Rourke as a clone of President Joe Biden. Both men have been on message. And we’ll see if other issues ultimately emerge.

At the end of the first week of O’Rourke’s campaign, the latest Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler poll of Texas registered voters found that the El Paso Democrat trailed Abbott by six percentage points in a head-to-head matchup. While Abbott’s approval rating rebounded from a September poll, they were split on how he handled crises (45% to 44%), which could leave an opening for O’Rourke. “It’s sort of like a football game. The coach comes out and they preplan the first 10 plays,” said Republican political consultant Vinny Minchillo. “The best hit on Abbott is the winter storm. He really did take a lot of damage from that, and Beto wants to make him a Donald Trump clone. Going the other way, Abbott is going to try to attach Beto to Biden, and you can see Beto’s people really working hard to try to keep Biden at arm’s length.” Abbott, who faces a March GOP primary challenge that includes former state Sen. Donald Huffines of Dallas and former Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West of Garland, was ready to pounce on O’Rourke.

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NBC News - November 22, 2021

Paid leave, immigration: What's likely to change as Senate weighs Build Back Better Act

President Joe Biden's safety net and climate change package passed the House on Friday and goes to the Senate next, where it is likely to be changed before it can become law. Some provisions of the $1.68 trillion bill may be removed or revised to win the support of all 50 Democratic-caucusing senators, from blue state progressives like Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to red state moderates like Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Other policies could be thwarted by Senate rules. "There's going to be some changes," Tester said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We're dealing with reasonable people here. I think we can come up with a bill that's a very, very good bill that works for states like Montana and other states in the union."

The Senate is expected to turn to the legislation after it returns next week from Thanksgiving recess. Before it can come to a vote, the bill will require a "Byrd bath" — a process named for the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., under which provisions are scrutinized for compliance with arcane budget rules. It will also require a "vote-a-rama" allowing virtually unlimited amendments, during which Republicans will seek to remove or edit provisions and force politically difficult votes. A single successful change could disrupt or scuttle the delicate deal among Democrats, which puts extra pressure on party leaders to keep senators unified. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Saturday that he hopes to pass the bill by Christmas. "We're in very good shape to get 50 votes," he said. "But there are different ways — parliamentarian and other ways — the Republicans could try to knock it out." The House-passed legislation includes four weeks of guaranteed paid family and medical leave, a high priority of many Democrats, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cost $205 billion. Manchin has said repeatedly that he doesn't want the policy included in the bill. In an appearance on MSNBC this month, he said the Build Back Better Act is "not the right place for this piece of legislation." "I believe in family leave," he said, but he cautioned that it would "add an awful lot to the debt" and suggested that Congress "find a better position for this and do this in a bipartisan" manner. Unless Manchin backs down, it's likely to be stripped out.

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State Stories

Tyler Morning Telegraph - November 21, 2021

Former staff member for Gohmert seeking 1st Congressional District seat

A former staff member for U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert is seeking to represent the 1st Congressional District, which includes Tyler and Longview. Republican Aditya Atholi said that rather than being a lawyer or politician running for Congress, his time in the oilfield makes him a “roughneck for Congress.” Gohmert, R-Tyler, recently announced he is considering challenging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in March's Republican primary. Regardless of if Gohmert runs for reelection in Congress or not, Atholi said, “We’re 100% in the race either way.” Having worked under Gohmert as a staff assistant after college, Atholi said he has a good relationship with Gohmert and respects him. He added that there are, “some things I disagree with in how he does things, but in general I like the way he votes — very conservative just like me.” Some of Atholi’s other political experiences include working in the Texas Economic Development office under former Gov. Rick Perry.

Atholi grew up and graduated from high school in Center. He continued his education at Rice University, where he studied government and managerial studies, earning his degree in 2009. Toward the end of his college career, he said he knew he wanted to go into the Marines. Before becoming a Marine, Atholi worked not only for Gohmert but also briefly in several blue collar jobs and in the oilfield as a roughneck for seven years. Having worked in numerous different fields, Atholi said he “understands people.” These experiences, especially in the oilfield, showed him there is a disconnect in the country, especially around those who attended big universities versus those who did not go to college. “You ask any historian, the demise of any empire of any kind, in any culture, in history is inequality,” Atholi said. “When the rich have way too much and everyone else doesn't, that tears society apart.” While he was able to attend college, his work experience allowed him to recognize this disconnect, and if he were elected for Congress, he would work to change this, Atholi said. The government is made up of too many lawyers and politicians, he added. “Our Congress was meant to reflect the citizenry of America,” he said. “It was not meant to be all lawyers.” He added that he does not feel that a systemic tear down of the country is necessary, but the United States is on a decline.

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Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2021

In Texas, tax incentives were often against the law

For most of Texas’ history, tax incentives for corporations weren’t only rare, they were often against the law. The Texas Constitution blocked public funds from being loaned or granted to private businesses. The document was enacted in the Gilded Age, when railroads and other corporate barons held undo sway over lawmakers. The prohibition was not ironclad – Texas attorneys general had interpreted the law to allow grants to private entities if the funds went to “a public purpose.” As recently as 1974, however, the attorney general said the public benefit a community gained from a new factory coming to town, for instance, was insufficient to satisfy that Constitutional test. So in 1981, lawmakers asked voters to amend the constitution to let cities cut taxes to spur “development or redevelopment,” and voters agreed. Texas’ new abatement program had basic safeguards – the law required taxpayers to be protected if property owners failed to make the agreed improvements; properties receiving tax breaks had to meet specified criteria; and the tax breaks were capped at 15 years (soon tightened to 10 years).

Then came the 1980s oil bust. Economic slowdowns in the U.S. and Europe and a glut of global oil production produced a years-long price plunge that bottomed out in 1986. The crash erased one out of every eight jobs in Houston alone and shuttered hundreds of banks across Texas. In the 1987 legislative session, House Speaker Gib Lewis argued the Legislature should adopt “un-Texas” tactics from other states — namely, tax incentives — to diversify the economy and lessen dependency on oil. Part of the economic development package Lewis guided through the Legislature sought to rescind the constitutional ban on giving tax dollars to private businesses. The resolution sailed through the Legislature and was slotted as Proposition 4 on the November 1987 ballot. Despite an absence of organized opposition, it only narrowly passed. Now Texas officials could give tax dollars to private companies, but there were no programs to guide that spending, no limits on the scope of the subsidies and no safeguards governing their use. In 1989, lawmakers passed bills extending these new powers to cities and counties in Chapters 380 and 381 of the Local Government Code.

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Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2021

Texas adds 2,300 oil exploration, production jobs in October

Oil exploration and production companies in Texas added 2,300 jobs in October, the sixth straight month of gains. The state has 183,400 drilling and extraction workers, about 17 percent fewer than the 220,300 before the pandemic began in January 2020. Texas has recovered 25,900 — 43 percent — of the 60,000 upstream jobs lost during the pandemic, according to data from the Texas Workforce Commission and analyzed by the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, an industry trade group. “Following a tumultuous year for the energy markets in 2020 and the lingering effects of a global pandemic, the law of supply and demand has driven commodity prices higher this year, with a growing consensus around a new, multiyear super cycle for oil and natural gas,” TIPRO President Ed Longanecker said.

Oil companies laid off tens of thousands of workers statewide last year after oil demand and prices plunged amid economic lockdowns and travel restrictions. Oil demand and prices are recovering as vaccines have helped businesses reopen and boost travel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, settled Friday in New York at $76.10 a barrel, down $2.91 from Thursday but up from $48 in January. Texas oil and gas companies posted 9,503 new job listings in October, an increase of more than 1,200 from September, according to TIPRO. Houston had the most job listings: 3,101; followed by Odessa with 707 and Midland with 697. Some of the companies with the most job postings include Halliburton with 727, National Oilwell Varco with 604 and Baker Hughes with 593, according to the trade association. Job postings include tractor-trailer drivers, maintenance and repair workers, and industrial engineers. Oil executives and trade groups expect that their industry will enjoy a multiyear boom as petroleum demand recovers from the pandemic and exceeds supplies after years of under-investment in new wells.

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Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2021

Texas ranks among worst in the nation for racial health disparities

Racial and ethnic disparities in medical treatment are among the worst in the nation in Texas, where Black and Latino populations are less likely to receive preventative care and more likely to have treatment delayed, according to a new study. Texas ranked in the bottom quarter of the states when it comes to both access to and quality of care for Blacks and Latinos, hinting at deep-seated racial and ethnic health inequities, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a health policy foundation in New York. Blacks and Latinos are also more likely to have worse outcomes from treatment than whites, according to the study. The study examined access, quality and hospital services used as well as health outcomes for racial and ethnic groups, producing a scorecard that ranked each state.

Texas ranked in the 22nd percentile for the health system’s treatment of Blacks and Latinos, putting it in the bottom fourth. It ranked in the 63rd percentile for treatment of whites, putting it in the top 40 percent. “The scorecard explores the vital question: are people of color having different experiences than white people in the same health system?” said Dr. David Blumenthal, president of The Commonwealth Fund. “The answer is almost always yes.” People of color were less likely to receive preventative health care because of long-standing historic and systemic barriers, Commonwealth researchers said They are more likely to have lower incomes and inadequate health insurance, reducing their access to health care. They also are more likely to live in neighborhoods that are far from doctors, hospitals and clinics without transportation to get to medical providers, the study found. Many of the disparities come from factors that don’t even involve the health care system, said Andrea Caracostis, CEO of Hope Clinic, which serves the working poor in southwest Houston. Although access to preventative care is important, she said, so is having safe places to live, enough to eat, and access to healthy food. “If you have a child with asthma, we can treat them,” Caracostis said, “But if they go back to an apartment with mold, they are going sick again.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2021

Ines Sigel and Joe Cutrufo: Carnage on Texas roads is an emergency. Hold TxDOT accountable.

(Ines Sigel is the interim executive director of LINK Houston. Joe Cutrufo is executive director of BikeHouston.) According to the United Nations, traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death for people aged 5 to 19 around the globe. Vulnerable road users — people who walk, roll or bike — face disproportionate impacts, and these impacts are particularly significant in low-income communities where infrastructure investments continue to lag. As we honor those prematurely taken from us, we ask Texans to join us in confronting the enormity and injustice of our state’s crisis of traffic deaths by calling for leaders at the Texas Department of Transportation to take meaningful and results-driven steps to save lives. Earlier this month, we marked 21 years of daily deaths on Texas roadways, a period during which more than 75,000 lives were lost to preventable crashes, according to TxDOT.

Let that sink in: there hasn’t been a single day since Nov. 7, 2000 — the day we went to the polls to cast our votes for George W. Bush and Al Gore — without at least one Texan killed in a traffic crash. Since the last day of remembrance, traffic crashes have claimed the lives of more than 4,200 Texans, an average of about 12 people every day. This amount of continual carnage is an emergency and should be treated like one. For a moment, it appeared that TxDOT was going to do exactly that. In 2019, the department signaled its commitment to “end the streak” of daily deaths by signing on to a National Safety Council-sponsored effort known as Road to Zero, setting targets to cut traffic deaths in half by 2035, and altogether eliminate traffic deaths in Texas by 2050. However, it is troubling that TxDOT slashed the funding for Road to Zero this year. The program had a budget of $600 million for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, but in the 2022 Unified Transportation Program, it no longer has a dime. If it seems like TxDOT’s leaders aren’t serious about ending the streak, it’s because they aren’t. Make no mistake: TxDOT wants the streak to end. But when we take a look at what they’re funding — massive highway expansions resulting in more people driving longer distances — it has become clear that TxDOT won’t back their words with the dollars to actually end the streak.

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Politifact Texas - November 22, 2021

Fact check: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claims up to 3 million migrants entered U.S. illegally in 2021

The claim: On unauthorized crossings at the southern border, “we are looking at over a million people apprehended this year, meaning probably another 2 or 3 million have come in illegally.” — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In an Oct. 18 interview on Fox News, Patrick described the number of migrants crossing the border as “out of control” and blamed President Joe Biden. PolitiFact rating: Half true. The first part of Patrick’s claim is accurate when you look at figures released by the Border Patrol. But because the Border Patrol has been apprehending a higher share of people over time, the number of people who were not apprehended in fiscal 2021 was likely far fewer than his estimate. The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

When contacted by PolitiFact, Patrick’s spokesperson wrote in an email, “we are clearly on pace for well over 2 million encounters” and that the number of people who crossed the border between ports of entry but were not apprehended are from ratio estimates by “various law enforcements.” His office did not answer follow-up questions on which law enforcement entities made those estimates. The number of people who entered the U.S. illegally but were not apprehended is not available from Customs and Border Protection, but the Homeland Security Department does calculate border security metrics. The methodology behind the Border Patrol’s migrant apprehension rate is presented in annual reports. The latest available report is the 2020 report with fiscal 2018 data. Some of these metrics rely on estimates of the number of people who crossed the border undetected. The apprehension rate was 70 percent in 2018. Ruth Wasem, who teaches policy courses on immigration at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, noted this rate suggests the number of people who were not apprehended this year would be lower than Patrick’s estimate. Patrick’s estimate of 2 million or 3 million people would mean two-thirds or more of migrants weren’t apprehended.

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The Hill - November 22, 2021

O'Rourke stands by his 'we're gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47' comment

Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke on Sunday said he stands by his controversial 2019 comment that “we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” Asked by co-host Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” if he would stand by his vow if elected governor of Texas, O’Rourke said, “I still hold this view.” “Look, we are a state that has a long, proud tradition of responsible gun ownership. And most of us here in Texas do not want to see our friends, our family members, our neighbors shot up with these weapons of war. So, yes, I still hold this view,” O’Rourke said. While running for president in 2019, O'Rourke defended his proposed mandatory buyback of assault-style weapons during a Democratic primary debate.

"Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47," he told a crowd at the time. "We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore." The gubernatorial candidate on Sunday went on to say that Texans have told him that they are concerned about the bill Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed over the summer that allows for concealed carry without a permit in the state. “We don’t want extremism in our gun laws. We want to protect the Second Amendment. We want to protect the lives of our fellow Texans. And I know that when we come together and stop this divisive extremism that we see from Greg Abbott right now, we're going to be able to do that,” he said. O’Rourke, who previously represented Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, launched his campaign for governor of the Lone Star State last week. He also waged an unsuccessful bid for Senate in 2018.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2021

240,000 Texas children ages 5-11 got first dose of COVID vaccine ahead of Thanksgiving break

Parents hoping to get their kids fully vaccinated by the New Year should sign up for their first COVID shots this week. Federal officials authorized the pediatric Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 earlier this month, and health experts say the shots are especially crucial heading into the holiday season. It takes five weeks to become fully vaccinated against the virus, with three weeks in between the two required shots and another two weeks for immunity to develop. “There's no need to wait — time is of the essence,” said Dr. Jim Versalovic, the pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital. “The way to protect children is to deliver the vaccine now so that it's timely and gives them the protection they need.”

Though it’s too late for kids to be fully vaccinated by Hanukkah or Christmas, doctors say that any protection — even one shot — is better than none. Parents hoping for full inoculation by New Year’s should schedule a first shot by Friday, Nov. 26. “It’s a virus that can be really serious for some people,” said Dr. Tess Barton, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at UT Health San Antonio. “If you can get protected against this virus before you start gathering with your family, you have a less chance of getting the virus yourself — and even if you’re a low-risk person, like a kid, you have a lower chance of transmitting it to someone else.” Roughly 8.2 percent of Texans between the ages of 5 and 11 — about 240,000 children — have received at least one dose so far. Nearly 10 percent of children in that age group have gotten the shot nationwide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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McAllen Monitor - November 20, 2021

Rep. Guerra files for reelection for House District 41

State Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra filed for reelection for House District 41 citing front-line workers and small businesses who endured the pandemic as inspiration for continuing his work. He filed on Nov. 12.

“I want to continue fighting by the side of nurses and frontline healthcare workers who helped carry us through the pandemic,” Guerra said in a news release. “I want to continue to fight by the side of teachers and educators who adapted so quickly and went above and beyond to make sure no child was left behind. “And I want to continue to fight side by side with small businesses, from trucking, to trade, to health care and more; as they persist through such challenging times while continuing to innovate, grow jobs and improve our quality of life.” Guerra was born in Edinburg in 1953 and graduated from UT-Pan American in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science and a double major in biology and chemistry. In 1985, he graduated with cum laude honors from Texas Southern University of Law School in Houston. He has practiced law for nearly 35 years and is licensed to practice in Texas and the federal courts for the northern and southern districts of Texas. Prior to attending law school, Guerra worked as a television reporter and news anchor at KRGV for several years. Guerra is currently the vice-chair of the Public Health Committee and serves as a member of the Ways & Means and Local & Consent Calendars Committees. Examples of recent House bills authored by Guerra include HB 745 and 724 of which 745 would establish telehealth programs by public schools and 724 would provide voter registration application forms to high schools.

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KSAT - November 21, 2021

Prominent San Antonio lawyer dies following lengthy battle with illness, LULAC confirms

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is mourning the loss of its longtime legal counsel, and San Antonio attorney Luis Roberto Vera, Jr. Vera, 65, died overnight in San Antonio following a lengthy battle with an illness, according to LULAC. He was surrounded by family at the time of his passing. “Vera waged a courageous battle against an illness that finally claimed his life. Still, he had remained steadfastly active and working until very recently, the trademark of the fiery civil rights warrior for nearly 30 years,” LULAC said in a release.

LULAC’s National President Domingo Garcia said Vera was one of the greatest defenders of the Latino community, and he will be remembered as such for years to come. “We have lost a friend, and our nation’s Latino community has lost one of its greatest defenders. Luis was a man whose fight for justice often took him from the streets of our poorest barrios in San Antonio to the marbled hallways of our federal courts. Judges knew when Luis Vera walked into their courtroom, he was there to win on behalf of millions of Latinos, and he did just that. He was widely respected, even by those who presented opposing legal arguments in landmark cases across a broad spectrum from voting rights to educational, employment, and housing discrimination lawsuits filed by LULAC. Luis followed in the footsteps of those before him who have helped build LULAC into one of America’s most respected civil rights organizations. Vaya con Dios Luis Vera,” Garcia said.

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Associated Press - November 22, 2021

Band director among 3 people killed in Texas school bus crash

The three men killed in a fiery West Texas crash involving a school bus carrying members of a high school band included the band director, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Saturday. Andrews High School band director Darin Johns, 53, died Friday of injuries from the collision of the bus with a pickup truck traveling the wrong way on Interstate 20 in Big Spring, said Sgt. Justin Baker of DPS. He said the crash occurred in an area about 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of Fort Worth. The driver of the bus, Marc Elbert Boswell, 69, and the pickup's driver, Nathan Paul Haile, 59, also died following the collision. Boswell was from Andrews and Haile from Midland.

Two of the 25 students on the bus were taken to a Lubbock hospital in critical condition and 11 students were treated at a Big Springs hospital for minor injuries, Baker said. Baker said he did not have an update on the students' injuries Saturday and phone calls to the school near the near the New Mexico border were not immediately returned. Baker said the pickup was headed westbound in the eastbound lanes of the Interstate when it collided with the eastbound bus and a second Andrews bus, then burst into flames. No injuries were reported aboard the second bus. Baker said three buses were carrying students from Andrews High School to a high school football playoff game between Andrews and Springtown in Sweetwater. The game was postponed.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 21, 2021

North Texas police first responders to mental health calls

At least one in three people killed by Dallas-Fort Worth area police since 2014 were in the midst of a mental health crisis, a four-month Star-Telegram investigation found. The newspaper reviewed 150 police killings in 11 North Texas counties and found 54 cases in which mental health was a factor, based on news accounts, family statements, police reports and determinations by the Attorney General’s Office. The newspaper examined 1,661 pages of police reports received through 105 records requests and viewed more than three hours of police body camera video. The mental health status of another 25 people killed by police was reported to the attorney general as “unknown” by police departments, possibly raising the total number of mental-health related deaths to as much as 53% of all killings. Police across the country are used as front line emergency mental health providers, but many departments, including those in North Texas, lack the specialized training to properly handle the situations, the Star-Telegram found.

Experts told the newspaper that teams with medics and mental health professionals — not armed, uniformed officers — should be the first to respond when no crime has been reported. But in Dallas-Fort Worth, police officers are the first to respond, which experts said can aggravate already stressful situations. Police responding to mental health calls have at times failed to de-escalate a situation and reacted quickly with deadly force, the Star-Telegram’s investigation found. In Fort Worth, a 24-year-old man died after an officer fired her stun gun at him and held the trigger for almost a minute. His mom had called the police, looking for help getting him to a hospital because he had not taken his medication for several days. In Grand Prairie, a 37-year-old man with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder was fatally shot within minutes after someone called police to report a person slumped over his steering wheel in a parking lot. The man had quit taking his medication and had a rifle in his lap. While one officer calmly tried to talk to the man, another escalated the situation by rushing the man, who then picked up the rifle. In Denton, police fatally shot a 23-year-old man after his roommate called 911 because of his paranoid behavior. Police found the man holding a frying pan and meat cleaver in an apartment breezeway. They shot him a little more than five minutes after they arrived.

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Texas Public Radio - November 18, 2021

Beto O’Rourke lends support to SpaceX expansion in South Texas with ‘necessary oversight’

In a campaign stop in the Rio Grande Valley Wednesday, Texas Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Beto O’Rourke lent his support to the expansion of SpaceX on Boca Chica Beach — a county park 20 miles outside of Brownsville. O’Rourke told TPR he has met with local officials, including Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, and he believes a balance can be struck between economic growth and environmental protection. “Whether it's oil and gas, or even renewable energy, or SpaceX at Boca Chica and in Brownsville, we have extraordinary economic opportunity and job growth opportunities here,” he said. “But we've got to make sure that we also have the necessary oversight to protect public health, to protect our natural resources, and to make sure that we can pass on to the next generation something just as good or better than what we received in this generation.”

SpaceX is preparing to launch the largest rocket in the history of spaceflight. If permitted by federal regulators, it will lift off from the beach-side facility at the southern tip of Texas. But residents and researchers have criticized the permitting process, saying the company has flouted rules — at the expense of the environment, and the community. Local concerns about SpaceX range from blocked access to public parks and beaches to long term ecological damage. "He should meet with the residents of the Rio Grande Valley who have expressed deep concern about the impacts of SpaceX on people, gentrification, indigenous sacred sites, and endangered wildlife habitat," said Dave Cortez, director of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, after the campaign event. "He should take the time to consider the vast negative impacts posed by the industrialization of some of our last pristine coastline in Texas." "Beto stood with fronterizas who were concerned about pollution from the Asarco Copper smelter in El Paso, and we call on him to do the same for the people of the Rio Grande Valley," added Cortez.

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San Antonio Report - November 21, 2021

Preservationists fight Archdiocese to save Tobin Hill home from demolition

Weeds push through the cracks in the sidewalk leading up to an arched entry and deep porch of an imposing brick two-story house in Tobin Hill. From the wide front porch, daylight streams through the glass front door revealing bare rooms, dusty wood floors, and little of its 109 years of history. Soon, the house itself also could be gone. In September, the owner of 312 W. Courtland Place requested a demolition permit from the city to pave the way for a sale of the property that sits adjacent to San Antonio College (SAC).

In most cases, such a request would go through a rigorous review process meant to prevent historically significant buildings from being torn down. But because a religious entity — in this case, the Archdiocese of San Antonio — owns the Hughes House, named for the family that built the home in 1912, that process is being circumvented, allowing the demolition to proceed despite the objection of conservationists. A state law that went into effect two years ago prohibits any municipality from designating a structure as a historic landmark over the objection of a religious entity. “It is owned by the Archdiocese, and we know from them that they have an offer from somebody who would like to purchase it, but they [the buyer] would like for it to be demolished first,” said Shanon Miller, director of the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP).

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Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2021

It’s Destination Dallas for medical care, validating the booming industry’s broad appeal

People travel here for all kinds of reasons: to cheer on the Dallas Cowboys, to shop at Neiman Marcus — and to get some of the best health care anywhere. Antonio Dobos, a 4-year-old with a rare deadly brain disease, made the trek with his parents from a small village in Romania. He received a gene therapy treatment in a clinical trial at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Health, and his gait has already improved since he arrived in Dallas in late July. “He’s walking [normally] and he’s very much a normal child, except he’s not talking yet,” his parents said through an interpreter. Antonio’s case is an example of the amazing medical advances being made in Dallas. In the past year, such efforts have attracted over 8,000 people from outside the state to UT Southwestern alone. Other North Texas providers have become medical destinations, too, especially in cancer care and heart surgery.

These medical visitors speak to the quality and capacity of a booming local industry — one that’s invested billions in new facilities, services, research and personnel. “A lot of people think you have to go to New York or Houston or San Francisco to get the best care, but we have some of the very best treatment right here,” said Stephen Love, CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, an advocate for the industry. “We save a lot of lives.” The best are getting better. Five years ago, UT Southwestern had two specialties ranked in the top 50 nationwide, according to U.S. News & World Report. In the most recent ranking, UTSW had eight specialties in the top 25, including those attracting the most medical tourists: neurology, cancer, cardiology and urology. Its Clements University Hospital also has ranked as D-FW’s top hospital for five consecutive years. Clements was completed in late 2014 — 12 stories, 1.3 million square feet with a price tag of $800 million. It’s among several signature projects transforming the UT Southwestern campus and larger medical district, about 4 miles northwest of downtown Dallas.

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KXAN - November 21, 2021

Report: Texas foster children spend average of 18 nights sleeping in CPS offices, hotels

Texas foster children are spending more nights sleeping in state office buildings and hotel rooms, a state report shows. A number of children had to spend the night in these temporary situations for years as a “last resort,” while the state grappled with a growing capacity crisis. However, the Department of Family and Protective Services reported a distinct increase in Children Without Placement, or CWOP, last fall. The increase began to accelerate further in spring 2021, and by June, at least 415 children were without placement, according to the latest report released by DFPS. The report shows a slight decline as of the September publication — down to 168 children without placement. DFPS acknowledges several factors contributing to these increases: COVID-19 pandemic; DFPS and the Health and Human Services Commission increasing stricter regulation; Increased oversight under the ongoing federal lawsuit and the Court’s Heightened Monitoring causing providers to go offline Children refusing placement in order to remain in CWOP.

This same report reveals another concerning trend over the last two years: the average amount of nights a child spent sleeping in CPS offices or hotels leapt up from two or three nights to 18 nights by August 2021. Compared to a low in December 2019, this marks a more than 1,000% increase in the average number of nights children spent without placement. The agency said they were focused on “eliminating the use of DFPS offices,” but the effort has been met with setbacks, from trouble with residential leases on suitable housing and hotels refusing to accommodate children in DFPS custody. While “not a favored option,” the report notes DFPS has also considered leasing space from some of the same operations that closed because of the stricter regulations and heightened monitoring outlined above. “As we explore the reasons children are not being accepted for placement, we are constantly learning,” DFPS Commissioner Masters wrote in the report. “It is imperative that the Court know that DFPS is not “blaming” the CWOP crisis on the Court’s Heightened Monitoring Orders. DFPS is every bit as concerned as the Court about this small but extremely important population of youth in our custody.” She said they’d be focused on finding better placements for these children, as well as limiting the number of children coming into state custody and care.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 21, 2021

Cheaper houses and room to grow: We spoke to Californians about why they're moving to Austin

The first time Marc and Layla McGinnis laid eyes on their South Austin home, it was over a spotty FaceTime call they took while driving their car on a West Texas road. It was April 2019, and the husband and wife were mid-road trip — moving things from their former rental near Berkeley, Calif., to Austin, where they were hoping to buy their first house — when Layla spotted a listing that caught her eye. They called their real estate agent, who scrambled to visit the property and gave them a tour via video call. The McGinnises made it to Austin the next day, visited the property themselves, and put in their offer right away: approximately $350,000. They got the house, a victory after a housing hunt Marc described as “maddening and crazy.” Today, he estimates the property could easily go for $200,000 more, but the McGinnises have no plans to sell anytime soon. They left California because they wanted to start a family, and they had their first child in October.

“San Francisco and the Bay Area, by the time we were thinking about marriage and kids, was just completely unaffordable,” Marc said. “So, we started to think about different locations across the country that made sense to us in terms of the things that we wanted. And what kept coming up was Austin.” Austin seems to be coming up for a lot of Californians these days. More than 500,000 people moved to Texas in 2019, and most of them were Californians, according to a Texas Realtors report that analyzed Census Bureau data. Austin is the fastest growing metropolitan area in Texas, and that growth is aided by a rising number of Californians relocating to the city, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Why? A huge factor is housing affordability, Texas Realtors Chair Marvin Jolly said. That may sound preposterous to anyone who’s been paying attention to the city’s hot housing market and rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. In September 2021, the median sales price for a home in the five county Austin-Round Rock metro area was $450,000, according to the most recent report from the Austin Board of Realtors. That's a 28.5% jump from the median sales price in September 2020 and a new record for the month of September.

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County Stories

KXAN - November 21, 2021

Williamson County homeowners fight ‘outrageous’ water bills

Matthew Martinez has checked his water meter countless times since early November. He’s made the walk across the front yard to not only check on his water usage but also documented it with pictures after a recent high bill. “I received a bill from Crossroads Utility Services stating I had used 24,000 gallons of water,” explained Martinez who has lived at the home for about a year. “I was like, what the heck.” He said he lives alone and usually averages anywhere from four to five thousand gallons a month — which means his bill is between $120 to $125. But in October, he says his bill from Crossroads Utility Services was twice as high: nearly $240.

“I kept having to come outside, you know, take more pictures of, you know, different angles of the water meter. And still they did not want to change the bill,” Martinez said. “I don’t have an irrigation system. So, and then they told me, you know… ‘Turn off the water, and then check the meter.’ You know, all these different steps, when I’ve already showed them that this is wrong.” Martinez lives in the growing Sonterra MUD district. He shared his frustrations on his community’s Facebook page and said neighbors immediately started posting about their higher bills. KXAN investigators heard from seven homeowner dealing with similar concerns including Kayode Ojetola. “I was sent a water bill of $254.10 in September for the month of August stating we had used 40,000 gallons of water,” said Ojetola to KXAN investigators. “We were diligent to investigate any water leak in which there was none and my sprinkler system is now on manual watering (once per week).” He explained that he wants to understand how two adults and a 3-year-old child can use so much water with no pets or a swimming pool. He shared his bills with KXAN investigators — which show one month their water usage is reported at 40,000 gallons and the next only 5,000. He explained that the difference is more than $200.

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Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2021

Report: Harris County jail population nears capacity, many inmates decline vaccine

The Harris County jail is expected to reach capacity during the holiday season, according to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and many inmates have declined the COVID-19 vaccine. Information about the jail population and COVID-19 status was included in a report filed Friday in federal court in connection with a 2019 civil rights lawsuit challenging Harris County’s bail practices. Gonzales is among the defendants. The jail population has been trending up since April and now stands at more than 9,000 people, Gonzalez wrote in the report. The number of inmates booked into jail is outpacing those released. The population is expected to grow through the end of the year because the court system slows down during the holidays, according to the report.

Less than half of the population — more than 4,000 people — have received at least one dose of the vaccine from the jail. Staff members offer the vaccine to all detainees, but a large percentage decline, Gonzalez said. The spread of COVID-19 has been declining in the jail and the testing positivity rate has dropped to 6.2 percent, according to the sheriff. This remains slightly higher than the county’s overall positivity rate of 4.6 percent, according to Harris County Public Health. One inmate is hospitalized with the disease. Nine inmates have died since the beginning of the pandemic. The report was filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Texas after the court informally requested an update from the sheriff about the jail’s status. In the case, five plaintiffs are suing Gonzalez, Harris County and a number of local judges, among others.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 21, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Fort Worth police right to try civilian mental health teams

When five officers were gunned down in a merciless assault in 2016, Dallas Police Chief David Brown told the nation something it needed to hear. “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said. “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.” More than five years later, we still have much to do to heed Brown’s words. One of the biggest tasks we put upon police, mostly by default, is addressing mental health crises. Our rickety system of diagnosis and treatment means that when someone needs urgent help, police often are the first option for response.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Local cities should shift resources to civilian mental-health intervention teams, at least on a trial basis. My Health My Resources of Tarrant County, the mental health agency, will use a $5 million federal grant, starting next year, to expand its capacity to handle some nonviolent calls referred by 911 dispatchers. It’s an excellent start that will provide a two-year lesson in how to better respond. It will reduce the danger to those who are struggling. It will free police of the burden of trying to do a task they aren’t meant to tackle. And it allows police and jail resources to be targeted toward fighting crime — an important point amid signs that crime may be rising. A Star-Telegram investigation found that at least one-third of people killed by police in Dallas-Fort Worth since 2014 were having mental-health issues. Reporter Nichole Manna also details different models in use in other parts of the country, which have reduced violent interactions and targeted needed care to the suffering. Fort Worth police deserve credit for the steps they’ve taken. Officers trained in mental-health interventions help numerous people, and city and department leaders have worked to improve options for officers responding to someone in crisis, including getting them to treatment rather than jail.

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San Antonio Report - November 21, 2021

Why San Antonio's bike-share company is going all-electric

San Antonio’s bike-share company is fully electrifying its fleet, a sign of a growing global trend toward e-bike riding. By the end of November, BCycle, which has operated the city’s only bike-share fleet for a decade, will have converted its entire fleet of roughly 300 bikes to pedal-assist bikes that give riders a boost from a battery-powered motor. “We’re seeing it, really, across the entire cycling industry,” J.D. Simpson, BCycle general manager, said of the growth of e-bikes worldwide. San Antonio is one of many large U.S. cities that have seen e-bikes displacing non-motorized bikes in its bike-share program. A June NBC News analysis of bike-share data from 13 major cities found e-bike use spiked in nearly all of them during the first half of 2021. Jeff Moore, a local cycling advocate and organizer with SATX Social Ride, said he’s a “huge fan of the electric-assist bike-share” concept, especially for downtown visitors.

“It’s going to put tourists on bikes that wouldn’t normally be on bikes, and they’re going to go farther and see more, so it’s good for the city,” Moore said. This year is one of transition for San Antonio BCycle, which changed hands in May. A local nonprofit had run the system since its inception in 2011. It’s now owned by BCycle, a subsidiary of Wisconsin-based bicycle manufacturing giant Trek. Houston, Fort Worth, Austin and the lower Rio Grande Valley all now have bike-share programs run by BCycle. “Pretty much, nobody’s job changed,” said Simpson, who served as the nonprofit’s director for most of the last decade and stayed on after the transition, along with most of the staff. The switch to ownership by the Trek subsidiary was crucial for the long-term sustainability of having a bike-share service in San Antonio, she added. “We needed to convert to e-bikes, we needed to do some certain things, and the local funding just wasn’t there to do it,” Simpson said.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2021

Biden's conundrum: High energy prices are unpopular but could aid climate agenda

It’s a simple doctrine of the oil business. When gasoline prices go up, motorists drive less, eventually buying more efficient vehicles that can stretch that gallon of gasoline or in the case of electric cars, eliminate it. Either way, the result is lower consumption of petroleum-based fuels. So if you were a president trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, high gasoline prices, like the nation is experiencing at the moment, should be desirable. You get reduced oil consumption without messy fights in Congress over carbon taxes or regulations on emissions. So, why is President Joe Biden spending so much political capital trying to lower energy prices? Not only has he reached out to the OPEC+ cartel to ask they increase production, he also sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission this week asking they investigate “anti-consumer behavior” by oil companies.

The move drew condemnation industry officials and experts that Biden was ignoring basic economics. An energy analyst at one financial services firm questioned why Biden was so upset when high gasoline prices would likely lead to higher adoption rates of electric vehicles. “It’s an amusing case study of how day to day politics competes or contradicts the stated premise of decarbonization,” said Pavel Molchanov of Raymond James. “There’s an adherent tension between these two things. Drivers want cheap fuel, but the urgency of energy transition requires the cost of fossil fuels to go up.” That is true. But it’s also the case that whenever fuel prices go up, more oil and gas wells are drilled, creating additional fossil fuel infrastructure that will likely be around for decades to come. And with scientists warning that greenhouse gas emissions need to drop sharply in the next decade and go to virtually zero by 2050, Biden might well worry that high prices could perpetuate the same fossil fuel cycle that has driven up emissions.

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Associated Press - November 21, 2021

In Kenosha and beyond, guns become more common on US streets

As Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted in two killings that he said were self-defense, armed civilians patrolled the streets near the Wisconsin courthouse with guns in plain view. In Georgia, testimony in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers showed that armed patrols were commonplace in the neighborhood where Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased down by three white men and shot. The two proceedings sent startling new signals about the boundaries of self-defense as more guns emerge from homes amid political and racial tensions and the advance of laws that ease permitting requirements and expand the allowable use of force. Across much of the nation, it has become increasingly acceptable for Americans to walk the streets with firearms, either carried openly or legally concealed. In places that still forbid such behavior, prohibitions on possessing guns in public could soon change if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a New York law.

The new status quo for firearms outside the home was on prominent display last week in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Local resident Erick Jordan carried a rifle and holstered handgun near the courthouse where Rittenhouse was tried for killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle during a protest last year. “I got a job to do — protect these people. That’s it,” said Jordan, referring to speakers at a news conference that was held in the hours after the verdict. Speakers included an uncle of Jacob Blake, the Black man who was paralyzed in a shooting by a white police officer that touched off tumultuous protests across the city in the summer of 2020. “This is my town, my people,” Jordan said. “We don’t agree on a lot of things, but we fight, we argue, we agree to disagree and go home safe, alive.” “That’s real self-defense.” The comments were a counter punch to political figures on the right who welcomed the Rittenhouse verdict and condemned his prosecution.

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New York Times - November 21, 2021

Two Fox News contributors quit in protest of Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 special

The trailer for Tucker Carlson’s special about the Jan. 6 mob at the Capitol landed online on Oct. 27, and that night Jonah Goldberg sent a text to his business partner, Stephen Hayes: “I’m tempted just to quit Fox over this.” “I’m game,” Mr. Hayes replied. “Totally outrageous. It will lead to violence. Not sure how we can stay.” The full special, “Patriot Purge,” appeared on Fox’s online subscription streaming service days later. And last week, the two men, both paid Fox News contributors, finalized their resignations from the network. In some ways, their departures should not be surprising: It’s simply part of the new right’s mopping up operation in the corners of conservative institutions that still house pockets of resistance to Donald J. Trump’s control of the Republican Party. Mr. Goldberg, a former National Review writer, and Mr. Hayes, a former Weekly Standard writer, were stars of the pre-Trump conservative movement.

They clearly staked out their positions in 2019 when they founded The Dispatch, an online publication that they described as “a place that thoughtful readers can come for conservative, fact-based news and commentary.” It now has nearly 30,000 paying subscribers. Their departures also mark the end of a lingering hope among some at Fox News — strange as this is for outsiders to understand — that the channel would at some point return to a pre-Trump reality that was also often hyperpartisan, but that kept some distance from Republican officials. Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, recently deplored Trumpism while acting as though — as Bloomberg’s Tim O’Brien noted — he didn’t run the company. The reality of Fox and similar institutions is that many of their leaders feel that the tight bond between Mr. Trump and their audiences or constituents leaves them little choice but to go along, whatever they believe. Fox employees often speak of this in terms of “respecting the audience.” And in a polarized age, the greatest opportunities for ratings, money and attention, as politicians and media outlets left and right have demonstrated, are on the extreme edges of American politics. Mr. Carlson became the network’s most-watched prime-time host by playing explicitly to that fringe, and “Patriot Purge” — through insinuations and imagery — explored an alternate history of Jan. 6 in which the violence was a “false flag” and the consequence has been the persecution of conservatives.

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Associated Press - November 21, 2021

Hundreds protest Rittenhouse acquittal in cities across US

Law enforcement in Portland Friday night declared a riot as about 200 demonstrators protested the acquittal of a teen who killed two people and injured another in Wisconsin. The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office said the protesters were breaking windows, throwing objects at police and talking about burning down a local government building in downtown Portland, KOIN TV reported, but the crowd had dispersed by about 11 p.m. Several people were given citations, the Portland Police Bureau said, but only one person who had an outstanding warrant from another matter was arrested. The protesters gathered following the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse killed two people and injured another during a protest against police brutality in Wisconsin last year.

Protests have been held in several other U.S. cities nationwide over the verdict, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. About 1,000 people marched through downtown Chicago Saturday afternoon, organized by Black Lives Matter Chicago and other local activist groups. According to the Chicago Tribune, protesters held signs that stated, “STOP WHITE SUPREMACY” and “WE’RE HITTING THE STREETS TO PROTEST THIS RACIST INJUSTICE SYSTEM” with a picture of Rittenhouse carrying a weapon. Tanya Watkins, executive director of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, spoke at a rally in Federal Plaza before the march, according to the Tribune. “While I am not surprised by yesterday’s verdict, I am tired. I am disappointed. I am enraged. … I have lost every ounce of faith in this justice system,” said Watkins, who is Black. In North Carolina, dozens of people gathered Saturday near the state Capitol building to protest the verdict, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. Speakers led the crowd of roughly 75 people in chants of “No justice, no peace!” and “Abolish the police!” Police officers on motorcycle accompanied the protesters and blocked traffic for them as they marched down a street past bars and restaurants.

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The Hill - November 22, 2021

Multiple fatalities, one in custody after SUV plows into holiday parade

A driver plowed an SUV into a parade in Waukesha, Wis., on Sunday, killing five people and injuring at least 40, according to officials. Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson confirmed in a press conference that the incident occurred at 4:39 p.m. local time during the Waukesha Christmas Parade. A red SUV drove through the barricades set up for the parade and struck dozens of individuals, some of whom were children. ADVERTISEMENT He added that an officer discharged his weapon to try to stop the vehicle but said that he did not believe shots were fired from the SUV. A person of interest was in custody but Thompson noted that it was "still a very fluid investigation."

As of Sunday evening, it was unknown if the incident had any connection to terrorism, but the scene was safe and secure, the police chief added. Waukesha Fire Department Chief Steve Howard said at the press conference that victims were taken to six area hospitals. "Today our community faced horror and tragedy in what should have been a community celebration," Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly also said. Thompson added during another press conference later on Sunday that the city's public schools would be closed on Monday, and he requested that everyone continue to stay away from the scene. Following the incident, the Waukesha Police Department asked residents to avoid the downtown area and announced a "family reunification location" via Facebook. One witness, Kaylee Staral, told The New York Times that some people at the scene fled into nearby stores, while others attempted to help those who were injured.

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Newsclips - November 21, 2021

Lead Stories

Associated Press - November 19, 2021

Justices could rule on Texas abortion ban as soon as Monday

The Supreme Court could rule as soon as Monday on Texas' ban on abortion after roughly six weeks. The justices are planning to issue at least one opinion Monday, the first of its new term, the court said on its website Friday. There's no guarantee the two cases over the Texas law, with its unique enforcement design that has so far evaded judicial review, will be resolved Monday. Those cases were argued Nov. 1, and the court also is working on decisions in the nine cases the justices heard in October. But the court put the Texas cases on a rarely used fast track, raising expectations that decisions would come sooner than the months the justices usually spend writing and revising their opinions. The law has been in effect since Sept. 1.

With Thanksgiving approaching, Monday also is probably the last day the court could decide the Texas cases before the justices hear arguments Dec. 1 over whether to reverse nearly 50 years of precedents and hold that the Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion. The case is about Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks. The Texas law bans abortion once cardiac activity is detected in the fetus, often around six weeks, before some women know they’re pregnant, and it makes no exceptions for rape or incest. Six weeks is long before the court's previous major abortion rulings allow states to prohibit abortion. The focus at the Supreme Court, though, is over the design of the Texas law, which deputizes private citizens to enforce it by filing lawsuits against clinics, doctors and others who facilitate abortions. The court is trying to sort out who can sue to challenge the law and whether a federal court can effectively block the law from being enforced.

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Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2021

ERCOT report says Texans face steep shortfalls in power capacity if extreme event hits this winter

Texas’ grid operator on Friday released its predictions for peak electricity use in Texas for this winter that showed steep shortfalls in power capacity in an extreme event, despite not accounting for February’s deadly freeze. ERCOT’s power demand projection known as the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy was already facing criticism for using data that did not account for climate change and did not take into account weather and outage data from February’s deadly winter storm. The main failure of the report, according to Texas A&M University professor Andrew Dessler, is that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas based projections of extreme demand on the 2011 winter event that left wide swaths of North Texas without power. Dessler, an atmospheric sciences professor, said the report shows that Texans have around a one-in-10 chance of seeing weather-related power outages this winter.

“One in 10 years seems to me to be not a great worst-case scenario,” Dessler said. “That means that there’s a 10% chance we’re going to do worse than that.” The peak amount of electricity in the 2011 event was far below projections made for February’s winter storm. But even with a lower benchmark than what Texans saw just nine months ago, ERCOT predicted that any scenario with electric usage on par with the 2011 event coupled with widespread plant outages would cause blackouts. “It’s a political document not reflective of reality,” said Doug Lewin, an Austin-based energy consultant, adding that ERCOT’s quiet release of the report late Friday “speaks volumes.” When reached late Friday, ERCOT officials provided a statement noting that the assessment did not take into account enhancements electric companies made to their power plants in the aftermath of the winter storm. Those lessons learned might make things less dire than the report appeared to indicate. “As part of our comprehensive planning, we also reviewed a number of low-probability, high-impact scenarios,” the statement said. “Making these scenarios available will allow better preparation for extreme possibilities. Generators across the state have made improvements in power plant weatherization.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2021

John B. Scott: Full forensic audit will restore faith in Texas elections

(John B. Scott is the 114th Texas secretary of state.) For the past several election cycles, voters have faced a crisis of confidence in the very system that underpins our representative form of government. Whether it was the specter of foreign interference in our elections or allegations of widespread mail ballot fraud during the pandemic, voters have been hit with a barrage of reasons to doubt the system. And, unsurprisingly, it’s starting to take its toll on their faith in the integrity of our elections. According to a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this year, large shares of Americans of both parties believe there is cheating in elections, with 79 percent indicating candidates or campaigns engage in illegal activity at least sometimes during elections. This is why, in order to restore voters’ confidence in the strength and resilience of our election systems, Texas is conducting the largest and most comprehensive forensic audit of the 2020 General Election. Over the next several months, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office will complete a top-to-bottom examination of election records in the two largest counties with Democratic Commissioners Courts — Harris and Dallas — as well as the two largest counties with Republican Commissioners Courts — Tarrant and Collin — accounting for 34 percent of all votes cast in the historically high-turnout election last year.

Commissioners Courts oversee each county’s elections administrators, with whom our office will be working closely to obtain the materials and information we need to complete the full forensic audit. While county election officials have already conducted partial manual recounts, election security assessments and voter eligibility verification, the Texas Forensic Audit goes well beyond any other legislative election audit proposals or models in other states. Our audit examines, among other items: chain of custody records of voted ballots and voting equipment, audit logs from electronic voting systems, and materials from Early Voting Ballot Boards and Signature Verification Committees to ensure that mail ballots were not subjected to tampering and match the list of voters who requested them. Importantly, this will be the country’s most comprehensive “forensic” audit of the 2020 election, using analytical tools to examine the literal nuts and bolts of election administration to determine if any illegal activity may have occurred. Using the authority given to our agency by the Legislature, we will conduct additional full manual recounts of any and all precincts affected by election irregularities.

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Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2021

Greg Abbott holds 6-point lead over Beto O’Rourke, bigger edge in 3-way Texas governor’s race

Freshly announced gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke is running six percentage points behind Gov. Greg Abbott in a direct matchup, and Abbott leads both the Democrat O’Rourke and Hollywood actor Matthew McConaughey in a three-way race for Texas governor, according to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released Sunday. In a race between Abbott and O’Rourke, the two-term GOP incumbent leads among all registered voters, 45%-39%. A substantial 22% want someone else to be governor, the poll found. By nearly 2-to-1, all voters would be more likely to support McConaughey than O’Rourke. Pluralities of Democrats and independents want the Oscar-winning movie star and products endorser to run. Still, McConaughey continues to lack a clear lane into next November’s general election. By 65%-11%, Democratic voters believe O’Rourke is the best opportunity for Democrats to break a statewide losing streak that dates to 1998. In the hypothetical three-way general election contest, Abbott is the choice of 37%; McConaughey 27%; and O’Rourke 26%. 10% of voters want someone else. The poll, conducted Nov. 9-16, surveyed 1,106 adults who are registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

With the race taking shape, McConaughey has just more than three weeks left in the candidate-filing period to jump in, noted UT-Tyler political scientist Mark Owens, the poll’s director. “It appears that if Matthew McConaughey chooses to enter the race before Dec. 13, he will be more on par with Beto O’Rourke than Governor Abbott,” Owens said. “Even if McConaughey delays a start in public service, both Abbott and O’Rourke have become the face of the two political parties in Texas.” In contrast to recent national polls, in which President Joe Biden’s job approval has slid precipitously, the Democratic president, while underwater, remains about where he was in Texas in early September: 40% approved and 52% disapproved then of Biden’s performance. This month, 42% approve and 53% disapprove. At the same time Biden stopped sinking, Abbott’s job rating by Texans rebounded: 49% approved and 41% disapproved. That was statistically significant, if not considerable, improvement. In September, the review of Abbott’s performance was net approval, but narrowly (45%-44%).

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Associated Press - November 20, 2021

Rittenhouse acquittal tightens the political vise for Biden

A difficult political atmosphere for President Joe Biden may have become even more treacherous with the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse. Biden was already facing sliding poll numbers with an electorate worn down by the coronavirus pandemic and increasing inflation. Now, the president finds himself caught between outraged Democrats — some of whom were already stewing over Biden’s inability to land police reform and voting rights legislation — and Republicans looking to use the Rittenhouse case to exploit the national divide over matters of grievance and race. “This is one of the last things Biden wants to be engaging in at this moment as he tries to finish up the big Build Back Better bill and get that across the finish line through the Senate,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “Race and Kyle Rittenhouse is not the space where he wants or needs to be going deep right now.”

The acquittal of Rittenhouse has touched off new conversations about racial justice, vigilantism and policing in America. The Illinois teen armed himself with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle during an August 2020 protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, days after the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer. He said he came to small city to help protect a car lot from vandals and provide medical aid. Rittenhouse would end up fatally shooting two men and maiming a third. Rittenhouse and his lawyers successfully argued that he had acted in self-defense during a confrontation in which he feared for his life. The verdict in the case comes at a moment when Biden is trying to keep fellow Democrats focused on passing his massive social services and climate bill and hoping to turn the tide with Americans who have soured on his performance as president. The president responded carefully following Friday's verdict, expressing respect for the jury’s decision. He later added in a written statement that, like many Americans, he was “angry and concerned” with the jury acquittal of Rittenhouse. Meanwhile, Republicans, who had success in this month’s Virginia election in part by accusing Democrats of promoting critical race theory in public schools, are embracing 18-year-old Rittenhouse as their newest hero in America’s culture wars.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2021

Gov. Abbott uses emergency power to fund $4 million audit of 2020 Texas election results

Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican leaders of the Texas Legislature are shifting $4 million from the state’s prison system to fund audits of election results as former President Donald Trump has pressured them to do. On Thursday, Abbott requested emergency funding from the Legislature, saying the Texas Secretary of State doesn’t have the funding it needs to conduct election audits that the state needs to assure the public they can trust results. Abbott said the funding will create a new Election Audits Division within the Secretary of State’s office. Republican leaders of the Texas House and Senate agreed to the request Friday, calling the lack of funding for the audits division an emergency. They moved the $4 million on Friday morning, and Abbott signed off on it. Though Trump won Texas by almost 6 percentage points, he has hinted that he believes he really won by more despite assurances from the Texas Secretary of State’s office of a “smooth and secure” election in 2020.

To that end, Trump has publicly pressured Abbott and the Texas Legislature to audit the 2020 elections for fraud, even though multiple academic studies, the U.S. Justice Department and Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s “Election Fraud Unit” uncovered no evidence of fraud beyond isolated incidents affecting a handful of votes in an election in which 11 million Texans cast ballots. The Texas audits will have no impact on the electoral college vote that put Joe Biden in the White House. In a letter to Abbott earlier this fall, Trump demanded more be done to review election results in Texas. “Your citizens don’t trust the election system, and they want your leadership on this issue, which is the number one thing they care about,” Trump said in a letter to Abbott in September. Democrats were quick to blast the move on Friday. “The only elections ‘emergency’ is that @GregAbbott_TX & other Texas Republicans continue to trample on the freedom to vote and spread Trump's Big Lie,” Texas House Democratic Leader Chris Turner said on Twitter.

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Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2021

Who will replace Eddie Bernice Johnson in Congress? Here’s a look at potential candidates

The race to replace Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in the safe Democratic seat is considered wide open. The new congressional map still anchors Johnson’s seat in southern Dallas County but also includes southwest Tarrant County. Johnson said Saturday as she announced her retirement that she would look for a qualified woman candidate to endorse as her replacement. Here’s a look at what the Democratic primary race for District 30 might look like. Filing ends on Dec. 13.

Candidates already running in District 30 include: Small-business owner Shenita Cleveland, who ran in 2020 and picked up 13% of the vote, Zachariah Manning of Dallas, Progressive Democrat Jessica Mason and Dallas lawyer Abel Mulugheta. Who’s likely in: Jane Hamilton, who directed President Joe Biden’s Texas presidential primary campaign, launched an exploratory committee and is expected to campaign for the District 30 seat with Johnson’s retirement. Who might be in: Other potential candidates include state Reps. Jasmine Crockett and Toni Rose, both of Dallas, and Carl Sherman of DeSoto. Former state District Judge Elizabeth Frizell of Dallas has also expressed interest in the seat, as has former Dallas City Council member Vonciel Jones Hill. Former state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway, along with Hasani Burton and Cleveland, challenged Johnson in the 2020 Democratic primary. Johnson racked over 70% of the vote. Cleveland was second with 13%. Caraway, a former Dallas City Council member, has made five attempts to unseat Johnson. Johnson on Saturday took a dig at her former opponents in talking about who she would endorse. “Anybody that’s already been rejected by this district, they will not be receiving my endorsement,” she said. Who’s likely out: State Sen. Royce West, state Rep. Yvonne Davis and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price have long been considered potential successors. But Johnson’s 30-year tenure could give pause to those longtime Dallas County elected officials. They are much older than likely candidates that have recently emerged.

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Austin Chronicle - November 19, 2021

Texas' rickety health care system heads for a fiscal cliff

Everything's bigger in Texas – except for the system that's supposed to provide lifesaving health care to millions of its most vulnerable residents. About 5 million Tex­ans live without health insurance, the most of any state. That has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic shocks it's created; an estimated 1.6 million Texans lost employer-sponsored insurance in the first three months of the pandemic, between March and May of 2020. All these people rely on a threadbare safety net system of subsidized clinics and hospital emergency rooms for which the state has been loath to provide resources. The simplest and most obvious way to address this problem, and to reduce Texas' uninsured population by about one-third, would be to expand Medicaid to all low­-income adults, as the Affordable Care Act was designed to do before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the expansion. Texas did so, in a petty political power play that it has refused to reconsider as the state's ruling Republican party gets more ornery, even as the growing health care burden threatens to bankrupt hospitals across the state.

During the 87th Texas Legislature, Dem­o­crats filed dozens of bills aimed at closing the state's immense coverage gap, including with customized "Texas solutions" for expanding Medicaid that gained bipartisan support but still failed to pass (and likely would have been vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott if they had). Because of the recalcitrance of a dozen GOP-led states, several million Americans live in health care limbo, not poor enough to qualify for traditional Medicaid in their states but not wealthy enough to be eligible for the subsidies available through the ACA's Health Insurance Marketplace, which is having its open enrollment period for 2022 right now. Texas is the largest of those states, and the Kaiser Family Foundation – the nation's leading source of health care data – estimates that 1.4 million uninsured adults between 18 and 65 would be covered if the state dropped its resistance to Medicaid expansion. That would mean $9 would come from the feds for every $1 Texas invested in Medicaid; combined with incentives and sweeteners available under the American Rescue Plan Act, KFF estimates the state could bring in $5 billion over the next two years. So as it's evaded the dread clutches of "Obamacare," has Texas been going it alone, paying out of its own pockets for the care its doctors and hospitals provide to the uninsured? Not exactly. Having turned down the ACA Medicaid dollars, Texas has leaned heavily on a different federal funding agreement to support safety net providers and their low-income patients.

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Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott celebrates Kyle Rittenhouse acquittal: ‘NOT GUILTY!’

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday issued a celebratory tweet minutes after a jury in Wisconsin cleared Kyle Rittenhouse of wrongdoing after he killed two men and wounded another during protests last year over police conduct. “Rittenhouse — NOT GUILTY!” Abbott tweeted. The Republican governor and former Texas Supreme Court justice joined several prominent conservative figures who have hailed Rittenhouse as a righteous figure who defended himself against unruly demonstrators. Rittenhouse was 17 years old when he traveled to Kenosha last year from his home in Illinois. He was carrying an assault-style rifle that he was not legally allowed to purchase at the protests.

Rittenhouse faced several charges, including reckless and intentional homicide, and faced what could have amounted to decades in prison if found guilty. The case drew national debate over vigilantism, self-defense and gun rights. Prosecutors said Rittenhouse instigated the incident by recklessly inserting himself into the demonstrations and using his gun with little provocation. The two men he shot were unarmed, while the third said he pulled out his handgun because he thought Rittenhouse was an active shooter. Rittenhouse quickly became a cause célèbre among conservatives, especially supporters of former President Donald Trump, who view him as a well-intentioned young man who went to Kenosha to keep the peace and offer medical assistance. “This verdict reiterates that every American has the God-given right to self-defense and the protections of the Second Amendment,” Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said in a statement. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton were among those who also welcomed the ruling.

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KXAN - November 19, 2021

State committee tasked with improving Texas’ criminal justice system sits unfunded, unused for over a decade

Lawmakers don’t have enough information to manage Texas’ criminal justice system, and they should create a legislative committee to study the system’s most pressing problems and create reports with guidance and improvements — that was the assessment of a state review in 2006. Texas legislators heeded that recommendation. The next year, in 2007, they created the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee. The committee is composed of House and Senate members and is tasked with digging into Texas’ most pressing criminal justice issues and creating biennial reports with strategies to address problems and find solutions. Too bad none of that is happening. Though it remains enshrined in Texas law, a KXAN review has found the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee has existed only on paper for years.

Though it appears active in state records, with new members appointed by Capitol leadership, no work has been done since 2009. The committee has no funds, no staff, does no analysis of the criminal justice system and submits no reports required by statute to the state Legislature. The bill that created the committee, 2007’s Senate Bill 909 by State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, arose from recommendations made in a 2006 Sunset Advisory Commission review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The Sunset Advisory Commission examines state agencies and government bodies and recommends improvements or that the entity be eliminated. Alycia Castillo, director of policy and advocacy at Texas Center for Justice & Equity, said SB 909 was a “massive bill” with lots of different provisions that mostly related to parole and probation. Maybe, she said, the creation of the committee was “an afterthought.” Regardless, the committee exists in statute and could be doing important work and should be utilized. “Now more than ever, it’s really crucial and urgent that we get some meaningful, significant oversight in our criminal legal system,” Castillo said.

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Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Greg Abbott or Beto O’Rourke? We heartily endorse a competitive race, at last

So, Beto Rourke made it official last week with his announcement that he will run to be Texas Democrats’ candidate for governor. The announcement pleased every member of that party not pining for actor Matthew McConaughey as Gov. Greg Abbott’s successor. For the former El Paso congressman, success is a long shot in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to high office since the Spice Girls were riding high, twitter was a bird trill and the modern internet was still a hazy concept for most of us. The Democrats’ exile is now approaching biblical proportions, specifically the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the wilderness. O’Rourke’s candidacy is likely to be as quixotic as his ill-starred campaign for the presidency in 2020, maybe as unlikely as the 1-8 Kansas Jayhawks coming into Austin expecting to vanquish the Texas Longhorns (which is to say, possible but highly improbable).

A third loss in a high-profile, high-expectation race would probably be the political death knell for the slightly tarnished Democratic darling — anybody seen Wendy Davis lately? — and yet for Texas itself we say “Hurray!” And again, “Hurray!” No, this is not — repeat NOT — an endorsement of O’Rourke in his quest to deny Abbott a third term. It’s way too early to be making any kind of endorsement (even if we could be assured that the energetic, charismatic Democrat won’t be gazelling onto a barroom table top this time around). We are endorsing O’Rourke’s candidacy — just as we endorse the efforts, however far-fetched, of Abbott’s two challengers from the GOP’s far-right fringe. Just as we endorse the candidacies of challengers to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and other statewide officeholders. In a healthy democracy, every officeholder is held to account. Even with the aid of partisan gerrymandering and party-serving barriers to voting, no one is anointed. We endorse these candidacies because we endorse competition — the lifeblood of a healthy democracy.

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Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2021

Erica Grieder: Grid failure, and Abbott’s failure to fix it, could be key issue in next year’s gubernatorial race

Texans who lived through Winter Storm Uri--most Texans, in other words--haven’t forgotten the experience. Nor are we likely to over the coming months, since we’re effectively at the mercy of the weather: if another winter storm comes, we could well find ourselves huddling in blankets and chipping ice out of our bathtubs again. “We shouldn’t have to worry about any of this going forward,” said former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who on Monday announced his bid for governor, on Friday afternoon. “But we’ve got to make sure we’ve got a basic level of competence and care for the people we serve in this state.” O’Rourke was in north Houston to meet with several homeowners affected by Winter Storm Uri--not to mention 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, as well as various other disasters. The organizing group he leads, Powered by People, made an estimated more than a million calls during the freeze to vulnerable Texans such as Nadine Hutchinson, who lives in Houston Gardens, in the white-trimmed blue house once owned by her father, and where she raised her two children.

“That was horrible,” said Hutchinson, when O’Rourke asked her about the experience. “I’m on oxygen, so I had to use my portable tank.” She had lost power for nearly two weeks, she said; also, four of her pipes burst, necessitating costly repairs. Sylvia Scarbrough, a 77-year-old homeowner in Kashmere Gardens, had a similar experience: although her power flickered on and off through the freeze, the 13 pipes under her house burst, just as they did during Harvey. “Everything under my house had flooded again,“ Scarbrough said. Leaving the neighborhood, she added, isn’t a decision she would take lightly. “This is where I always wanted to live, as a child,” Scarbrough said, explaining that while she was born and raised in Fifth Ward, she had an aunt who lived in Kashmere Gardens, which was at that point part of the county. “Coming to the country on the weekends is what I looked forward to. She had chickens and ducks and all kinds of stuff.” Her daughter Samalh Scarbrough, who lives next door, also had her pipes burst as a result of the freeze, and has yet to repair them. “It made me wonder what kind of infrastructure we have that would allow us to go through this,” said Samalh. “It’s not the resident’s fault. However, we pay our taxes and we expect things to be taken care of. It’s very disheartening, is what it is.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 20, 2021

Stephanie Rubin: Congress poised to go big for kids — and build on steps taken by Texans

(Stephanie Rubin is CEO of Texans Care for Children.) Congress is on the verge of making life a whole lot better for Texas kids and parents. The “Build Back Better” budget reconciliation package — which the White House and Congress are trying to finalize and get across the finish line — vastly improves access to affordable health care, delivers for families who need quality, affordable child care and pre-k, and slashes child poverty. Texans should also know that many of these strategies build on initial good steps state leaders have taken. The bill includes a big victory in the fight for health care for moms — an example of one of the ways that Congress and Texas leaders are pushing in the same direction. The plan in Congress allows moms enrolled in Medicaid to keep seeing their doctor for a full 12 months after childbirth, implementing the top recommendation of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee appointed by Governor Abbott. The Texas House passed the same measure this year on a strong bipartisan vote, but the Senate reduced the coverage to six months before the governor signed it into law.

Kids’ health care will get a boost from the Build Back Better bill, too. Children who receive their insurance through Medicaid would no longer face the risk of cycling off and on their health plan because a parent picked up a couple extra shifts at work one month and momentarily moved into a new income bracket. Instead, children could keep using their insurance for 12 continuous months so they don’t miss out on their doctor’s appointments, mental health support, or prescriptions. The Texas Legislature has recognized this same challenge, passing a bill this year to cut back on inaccurate mid-year eligibility reviews that knock kids off their insurance. Congress is aiming to finish the job the Legislature started. The package in Congress is also about to deliver a historic health care victory in an area where state leaders dropped the ball. The bill in Congress offers an insurance option to home health aides, cashiers, janitors and other low-wage workers in the 12 states — including Texas — that have recklessly blocked Medicaid expansion. The package closes this “coverage gap” for the next four years by allowing adults below the poverty line to get insurance on HealthCare.Gov for $0 per month. That means more Texans will catch cancer before it spreads, get health care they need before they are pregnant, avoid crushing medical debt and more.

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Houston Chronicle - November 20, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Feds find true cause of the February blackouts, Texas officials deflect blame

Federal investigators have revealed how recklessly unprepared natural gas suppliers triggered 58 percent of the power outages during the February Freeze, proving once again that Texas officials are misleading the public. The 300-page report released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission verifies what University of Texas at Austin experts reported in July. Texans did not spend four days in the cold without electricity due to a paperwork snafu, as then-chair of the Texas Railroad Commission Christi Craddick claimed at a legislative hearing. The real culprits were natural gas facilities that froze and failed to deliver fuel to power plants, triggering a deadly, four-day crisis. In July, I demanded that Craddick withdraw her slander against electricity companies and crackdown on the natural gas industry she regulates.

Instead, the commission gave gas companies a mile-wide loophole so they wouldn’t have to spend extra cash preparing for another cold snap. Based on this latest report, Texans are as vulnerable now as they were in February. Today, I call on the new Railroad Commission chair, Wayne Christian, to explain how the state agency will implement FERC’s life-saving recommendations. Christian, Craddick and Commissioner Jim Wright must also close the loophole they created to preserve the gas industry’s profits. The commission said last week it would review FERC’s recommendations. We’re waiting. The commissioners must decide: Will they allow a repeat of the February Freeze, when more than 200 Texans died, and the gas industry netted an $11 billion windfall at our expense, or will they prevent a repeat of one of the most extensive blackouts in U.S. history? After my column pointing out UT’s findings and the Big Lie about the cause of the blackouts, Christian wrote an op-ed railing against me by name while defending gas suppliers. One need only check his campaign finance records to understand why.

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Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2021

After mistrial in Billy Chemirmir’s case, what happens next?

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot vowed Friday to retry Billy Chemirmir for capital murder after jurors deadlocked on whether to convict him in the death of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris and a judge declared a mistrial. “We are committed to pursuing justice in this case, which we think is a guilty verdict and life without parole,” Creuzot told The Dallas Morning News. Jurors deliberated nearly 11 hours over two days in what prosecutors admit is a circumstantial case. The jury foreman told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked 11-1. While jurors did not clarify which way the majority was leaning, many in the courthouse assumed they were inclined to convict Chemirmir. But Creuzot said he still believes the case is strong enough to get a conviction. He said prosecutors learned lessons and might change their strategy when they pick jurors for the next trial.

Lead prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin said in opening and closing arguments that the jurors who were picked were quiet and that he didn’t get to know them well. Jury selection, known by its legal name as voir dire, is open to the public by law, but was closed in this trial to comply with COVID-19 precautions. Prosecutors and defense lawyers get to preview the case to potential jurors and ask them questions about their abilities to consider certain evidence. Prospective jurors need to be told upfront that the case is circumstantial and asked whether they can accept such a case, Creuzot said. “You need to understand what their opinions are about that ... and then you need to educate them on the fact that circumstantial evidence can be stronger than what we call eyewitness testimony,” Creuzot said. A circumstantial case may be stronger than a case with an eyewitness because people can be mistaken about what they see, Creuzot said. He said its too soon to set a timeline for the next trial. Both sides will need to get copies of the trial transcript, which could take the court reporter weeks to produce. Chemirmir has been indicted on 18 counts of capital murder in Dallas and Collin counties. In all, he has been linked in police records, medical examiner reports and civil lawsuits to at least two dozen deaths between 2016 and his arrest the day Harris died.

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Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2021

Mexican shoppers have returned along the border, but not in the massive numbers expected

After almost 20 months of restrictions on the border caused by the covid-19 pandemic, this city and Texas have a welcoming message for visitors and Mexican tourists: “¡Bienvenidos!” The reopening of the border on Nov. 8 for fully vaccinated tourists came just in time for the beginning of the winter holidays, one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year. “Welcome back to Laredo,” a billboard reads along the international port of entry. “We’ve missed you!” Local businesses prepared sales, music festivals, and discounts hoping to attract their clientele from south of the Rio Grande. “We have been eagerly preparing for our Mexican customers to buy in our stores again because we have missed them so much,” said Erica Contreras, Marketing Director of The Outlet Shoppes at Laredo, a shopping center next to one of the three international bridges that link this city with Nuevo Laredo, on the Mexican side.

Just in this shopping center, located a few meters from the international border, Mexican shoppers who cross the border with a tourist visa represent 95% of its sales. People can cross on foot and bring their shopping bags back to Mexico walking too. “It was hard to stay in business (during travel restrictions) but we hope to emerge stronger in the coming weeks as traffic normalizes,” said Contreras. “We’re waiting for you with open arms.” María Guadalupe López traveled from Monterrey, México, to visit her family and shop in Laredo. “Before the pandemic, I used to come every month and now this is the first time that I cross since 2020,” said López. “I think it’s great that they’ve opened the border again because coming here (to Laredo) is something natural for us, we do it all the time.” México is Texas’ main economic partner not only because of its large exports but because of the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans that cross the border on foot, with a car or by bus to shop in one of the cities along Interstate 35, like Laredo, San Antonio, San Marcos, Austin or Dallas.

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Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2021

Most Texans oppose gerrymandering but tuned out this year’s GOP-led redraw, News/UT-Tyler poll finds

Following this year’s GOP-led redistricting effort, most Texans still oppose gerrymandering, with 50% disagreeing that a party in power should be able to intentionally draw political maps to its favor, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. On the other hand, 22% of Texans of all political stripes agreed the majority party should call the shots. But 73% of those who responded to the poll said they rarely or paid little attention to updates on mapmakers’ work during the past year, so it’s not top of mind among issues voters care about. The poll, conducted Nov. 9-16, surveyed 1,106 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. It surveyed Texas voters on a wide range of state and political issues. GOP majorities in the Legislature passed new political maps in October that cement Republicans’ grip on power for the next decade but blunt the voting strength of nonwhite voters who fueled Texas’ population surge. The poll showed 49% of voters thought the redraw very much favored the Republican Party; only 22% thought Democrats got some fair representation.

“The new map affected how people view politics not only from the trust some people have in state government, but also how they see the future of redistricting, now that the state has more control without federal preclearance,” said pollster Mark Owens, who teaches political science at UT-Tyler. This year, Republicans have a clearer path toward drawing and using the lines they want, as Texas is no longer required to get federal approval on new political maps. For decades, every Texas redistricting plan has been either changed or tossed out by a federal court after being found in violation of the Voting Rights Act. “People who think Texas is on the wrong track were two times more likely to see the new maps of districts as unnaturally favoring one party compared to fairly benefiting both parties,” Owens said. “Those who thought Texas is headed in the right direction did not have a clear preference.” While the public was tuned out to the process, Democrats were more attentive than Republicans. The poll found 35% of Democrats fairly often or frequently paid attention, compared to 24% of Republicans. Most voters were ambivalent about how the recent round of redistricting impacted their trust in the state government, the poll found. Half said it had no effect, but 19% more of the electorate was concerned about the outcome than those who were pleased with it.

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Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2021

Rachel Bhalla: Texas, why are we sending kids to prison?

(Rachel Bhalla is a master’s in public administration student at New York University and the former deputy chief of staff and campaign manager for Texas Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock.) In a time of prison overpopulation, why are we sending kids to jail? In the state of Texas, children as young as 10 years old are held criminally responsible for their actions. At age 10, most children are still in elementary school, spending their days on the playground and reading Dav Pilkey. So why do we think they’re so dangerous they should be locked up? The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child to States sets the “absolute minimum age” appropriate for criminal responsibility at 12 but recommends an international standard of 14 years old. Fourteen is the most common age of criminal responsibility around the world, according to a 2020 report by the National Juvenile Justice Network. Texas meets neither standard. Legislatures across the country are considering bills to shift children away from the juvenile justice system. Texas should join this movement by increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 14 and offering such offenders community supervision in place of confinement.

Per a 2015 Texas Criminal Justice Coalition report, 628 youth 13 and under had been confined in secure facilities in Texas during the prior three years. This is a relatively small population compared to the approximately 2,300 older juveniles (14 to 17 years old) in the system at the same time, but the young age and developmental immaturity of children under 14 make them particularly vulnerable to experiencing trauma in the justice system. Most juvenile offenders are not threats to society, and introducing them to the criminal justice system at a young age can lead to further recidivism and negative life outcomes. Between 2012 and 2014, according to an analysis by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, 69% of Texas youth offenders under 14 were referred to the juvenile justice system because of misdemeanor and nonviolent behavior. Entering a secure facility isn’t the developmentally appropriate response for these offenses. But even for kids who committed serious crimes, prison time is not a cheap solution. Instead of placing kids in secure correctional facilities, Texas should be matching children under 14 with services locally. Community supervision is 66 times cheaper than secure confinement in a state facility, according to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and five times cheaper than local level confinement. That’s not even counting the potential cost of recidivism among those who spent part of their childhoods in prison.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - November 19, 2021

Greg Abbott, Beto O'Rourke will be on 2022 Texas ballot. So might guns, grid, Trump, Biden

Assuming they win their primaries, the 2022 race for governor will be Abbott vs. O'Rourke. But it might also be Guns vs. the Grid. Or even Trump vs. Biden. Forecasting the outcome of any contest 11-plus months into the future is dicey. But the contours of the race between Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke have been morphing into shape for the better part of a year. Perhaps even longer. For starters, this Texas governor's race is the first one since at least 1986 in which both major-party candidates enter the race as household names. The 1986 reference applies to former Republican Gov. Bill Clements seeking to avenge his loss four years earlier against sitting Democratic Gov. Mark White. Clements won the rematch.

Abbott, seeking his third term, has been relishing the O'Rourke matchup pretty much ever since the Democrat's effort to win the 2020 presidential nomination fizzled out. The reason is pretty simple: At least 80% of the opposition research had already been done, starting with the 2018 U.S. Senate race, which turned out to be one of the nation's most watched — and definitely one of the most expensive — campaigns of that midterm cycle. And O'Rourke himself provided the ammunition (pun absolutely intended) for a major chunk of that research during his presidential bid. Which brings us to the "guns" part. O'Rourke said forcefully on the debate stage in Houston, before a televised audience, that he wanted to "take away" AR-15 and AK-47 assault-style rifles from civilians who have them. Abbott hasn't passed up many opportunities to remind Texans of that. Perhaps one of the reasons O'Rourke waited so long to declare his candidacy is he knew he'd need a sharp countermessage on the gun issue that might put Abbott on the defensive. Polling shows Texans are open to an assault weapons buy-back plan and that they have deep misgivings about the Abbott-backed new law allowing the unlicensed carrying of handguns. In a pre-announcement interview with the USA Today Network, O'Rourke invoked the August 2019 deadly mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso and several others in Texas. And he cast the gun issue in personal terms.

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KFOX14 - November 20, 2021

Man found murdered at airport identified as Southwest Airlines employee

Southwest Airlines stated a 49-year-old man who was found dead by police at the El Paso International Airport Friday night was an employee. The airline stated in its statement, that a ground operations employee has died after being shot in a parking lot at the El Paso International Airport. This is a heartbreaking, tragic loss for the Southwest Team, and we extend deepest sympathies to our colleagues family, loved ones and their Southwest Family. El Paso police said officers from the Pebble Hills Command Center responded to an aggravated robbery before 10 p.m. at 6701 Convair Road.

Police said they are investigating a murder that they believe was not a random incident. Help was requested from the El Paso Police Department's Crimes Against Persons unit. According to a police official, they are still searching for the person involved in the aggravated robbery. There could be others involved, but the investigation is in the early stages, according to police. EPIA stated that flights have not been impacted and that the airport remains open, according to their Instagram page. "We are shocked and saddened to her about the tragic event. Our hearts and deepest condolences go out to the victim's family, Southwest Airlines, and all those impacted by the incident," El Paso Aviation Director Sam Rodriguez stated in a statement. Rodriguez added they are fully cooperating with investigators and that they are grateful for law enforcement and first responders in their quick response during the emergency.

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Governing - November 20, 2021

Meet the Ted Lasso of Texas politics: The nice guy who banned abortion

If you follow politics at all, you’ve heard of the Texas law that tests the outer limits of abortion restrictions. You may have also heard of the state’s new election law, part of a wave of voting limits enacted in red states this year. But you probably haven’t heard of the legislator who sponsored both of those bills.In just his second term in the state Senate, Bryan Hughes has emerged as a powerhouse in Texas politics and one of the most-effective conservative legislators in the country. Hughes is a key ally of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the Texas Senate. He heads a committee that has long been the funnel for the top priorities of presiding officers.But just because Hughes chairs the powerful State Affairs Committee doesn’t mean he had to handle so many high-profile bills himself. Hughes is a classic example of the dictum that the reward for good work is more work. Hughes combines intelligence and ideological certainty with an amiable demeanor that has made him one of the Texas GOP’s most valuable players.

“You’d have to be completely not paying attention to know that Sen. Hughes is a pretty big player in the Senate right now,” says James Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. “He has shown he can perform well in this system and not get flustered by things that sometimes fluster other senators.” In addition to the abortion and election bills, Hughes helped write the law that allows permitless carry of handguns in the state. He took the lead on the Texas version of a ban on critical race theory, or limits on how race is taught in schools, after its Senate sponsor suffered injuries in a car accident. He sponsored the state’s new law blocking social media companies from banning users based on their political views, which Gov. Greg Abbott argued was an attack on conservatives. “You wouldn’t pick him out of a lineup as being a powerhouse senator,” says David Carney, a Republican consultant who works in Texas politics. “He doesn’t come across with any hubris or ego, but he is a very wily operative and he is wicked smart.” At an oral argument earlier this month, justices at the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to signal that they would strike down the Texas abortion ban. Rather than the state enforcing its own ban on the procedure after six weeks, the law allows private individuals to sue anyone who provides or helps facilitate abortions.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 21, 2021

Rey Saldaña: Putting students on track to a better future.

(Rey Saldaña is president and CEO of Communities in Schools. As a student, he was supported by Communities in School of San Antonio. Later, he served four terms as a San Antonio City Council member.) At least 3 million students have gone missing from classrooms across the nation during the pandemic — likely including thousands in Texas. Black, brown and Indigenous kids living in poverty make up a disproportionate number of those students. Kids can’t get an education — or graduate and reap the benefits of a high school degree — if they’re not in school. Inequitable learning conditions and disparities in chronic absenteeism, dropout rates, and graduation rates far predate the pandemic. This issue is personal to me because I grew up in a San Antonio family that struggled with economic insecurity and systemic barriers. If the pandemic had happened during my childhood, I could have been one of those missing students. These are kids whose families have suffered dire economic and health consequences during the past 18 months. This is our opportunity to get things right so every child can thrive. We need a plan to help every school find its missing students, keep kids in school and put them on a path toward graduation.

As the leader of a national nonprofit that works with schools to provide wraparound services so every child can benefit from an education — and an alumnus of its local affiliate, Communities in Schools of San Antonio — I know we can do things to support students and their families so they don’t fall through the cracks. The plan to re-engage students who’ve gone missing should consist of two steps: 1. First, proactively find students and provide the support they need to come back. Many schools and their nonprofit partners have enlisted trained professionals to reach out to the most disengaged students and families, beginning with phone calls and home visits, tracking contacts with those students and families, and monitoring how frequently and for what purpose students are re-engaging with school. These professionals work closely with schools, check in with teachers and administrators about how students are doing, and partner with educators to help to ensure that students at risk of chronic absence or dropping out advance along their academic pathways. Across the Communities in Schools network, the nationwide education nonprofit I lead, more than 70 coordinators — trained in social services and counseling — have been specifically hired this year to identify and support high school students who are disengaged in communities across the country, working with them and their families to overcome their unique barriers to learning.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 20, 2021

Court rules Fort Worth hospital can’t be forced to allow Ivermectin treatment for COVID

A ruling by the Second Court of Appeals on Thursday nullified a trial court’s order which would have granted an outside doctor temporary privileges at a North Texas hospital to administer Ivermectin to Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jason Jones. Since Sept. 28, Jones, 48, has been hospitalized at Texas Health Huguley Hospital Fort Worth South with complications from COVID-19, and he was put on a ventilator in early October. After his health declined, his wife, Erin, asked for Ivermectin to be prescribed and administered to Jones, but the hospital denied the request, according to court documents. Following the denial, Erin Jones sued the hospital in order to allow Houston-based Dr. Mary Talley Bowden to prescribe and administer Ivermectin as a treatment for her husband, court documents say. The Second Court of Appeals said in its ruling that the court is bound by the law, which does not allow judicial intervention in the case. “Judges are not doctors,” the ruling states. “We are not empowered to decide whether a particular medication should be administered, or whether a particular doctor should be granted ICU privileges. Our role is to interpret and apply the law as written.”

Texas Health Huguley Hospital said in its appeal that the prescription and administration of Ivermectin to Jones would be medically inappropriate and that Bowden did not examine him before prescribing it, according to court documents. Ivermectin tablets, which are approved by the Food and Drug Administration at specific doses to treat some parasitic worms in people, have not been authorized or approved by the FDA for preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals, according to the FDA’s website. The FDA said clinical trials are ongoing but currently available data does not show Ivermectin is safe or effective against the virus. If a health care provider writes an Ivermectin prescription, the FDA advises consumers to get the prescription filled through a legitimate source, such as a pharmacy, and take it exactly as prescribed, according to the administration’s website. Misconceptions about Ivermectin’s effectiveness spread when a non-peer-reviewed paper said it could lower COVID-19 death rates by more than 90%, McClatchy News previously reported. That study was later withdrawn due to reports of plagiarism and alleged data manipulation. In court testimony, Bowden, an ear, nose and throat specialist, said she has treated over 2,000 COVID patients and has successfully prescribed Ivermectin many times.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 21, 2021

Faced with similar foster care woes, Oklahoma made fixes while Texas keeps ‘failing children’

The foster care systems of Oklahoma and Texas have a lot in common: Both states faced court monitoring over unsafe conditions in the homes in which foster children were placed, and each had high percentages of facilities with records of maltreatment and abuse. In both states, cleanups spurred by the lawsuits led to the closure of a number of those facilities — about 25 percent were shut down in Texas and nearly 40 percent in Oklahoma were closed. But while Texas now has a lack of beds that has left hundreds of kids sleeping in office buildings and motels, supervised by unlicensed caretakers, Oklahoma has avoided those problems. Oklahoma more than doubled its funding for the foster care system from 2008 to 2018, and it is now thriving, making progress in all 30 metrics identified by court-appointed monitors for the first time since the state settled the lawsuit against it in 2012.

Meanwhile, Texas launched a decade-long legal battle to defend itself, and to oppose court-ordered reforms. As a result, the state’s foster care system — charged with caring for about 30,000 children — has faced the capacity crisis for nearly a year with no end in sight. “One of the big differences that I’ve observed being involved in both cases is that as the facilities started to close, the (Oklahoma) administration realized what was happening and tried to figure out solutions,” said Marcia Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, which is involved in both the Oklahoma and Texas lawsuits. “I don’t know that Texas has really tried to figure out the solutions.” A report from court-appointed monitors this fall found that more than 100 children were placed in unlicensed facilities each day throughout much of the summer, often in state offices or motels, with 65 percent staying longer than seven days. About half stayed longer than two weeks. Children in these facilities aren’t required to go to school, but can instead stay all day, watched by workers who don’t have the authority to discipline them in most cases, or to stop them from leaving when they want.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 21, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Even in a federal spending spree, no money for Panther Island

Washington is spending $1.2 trillion in a new infrastructure package. A reasonable person might wonder if a tiny fraction of that will finally fund one of Fort Worth’s longest-lived projects, the rerouting of the Trinity River to create Panther Island. After all, the entire effort to dig bypass channels could be funded with less than 0.05 percent of the massive bill that President Joe Biden signed into law Monday. The answer is no. The Tarrant Regional Water District project, in partnership with the county, city and other entities, remains unfunded. And while we wait, we’re in danger of falling back into the old patterns that got the project crosswise with the feds in the first place: Focusing on economic development, housing and other baubles when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cares about flood control. The water district continues to chip away at preparations for the dirt to fly, including land acquisition and utility work.

Developers are champing at the bit to start building businesses, housing and other amenities that would create a vibrant district out of basically nothing. If we were engineers charged with flood control, we’d want to know how that kind of construction could possibly go forward when the need to tame the Trinity remains. More than two years ago, an outside review identified confusion and poor communication about the project’s mission. Some leaders, including Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke, have said the economic development vision took too much prominence over a better flood-control option than the current Trinity levees. The Trinity River Vision Authority, which oversees the project on behalf of the water district and its partners, hired a long-time Army Corps expert to guide dealings with the agency and stress the seriousness of the flood-control mission. Here we go again. Whatever the hold-up in Washington is, no one can get past it — even in an era of prodigious spending. Rep. Kay Granger, the Fort Worth Republican who has led the charge for the program, told the Star-Telegram in July that enough money would soon be granted to begin channel construction. “I think it will be funded for everything they can spend in the next cycle,” she said. We asked her office for an update Thursday, but our questions went unanswered.

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Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2021

In Houston, a unique path to connect adoptive parents with children

Most of the children at the Halter Inc. ranch Saturday morning were particularly interested in feeding the horses and donkeys leftover squashes still scattered around the field from a recent pumpkin patch celebration. Angelique, on the other hand, stayed busy petting the numerous dogs that kept coming back to demand her attention. “I think I am a dog whisperer,” said the 18-year-old girl, one of several youngsters participating in an event that The Way Home Adoption nonprofit runs each month as part of a nontraditional model to encourage adoptions of older children in foster care who tend to be more difficult to place with forever families. The organization hosts monthly enriching events where the kids are taken outside of their usual routines, such as to golf or cooking classes, said Ashley Fields, founder and director of The Way Home Adoption Agency.

Adults are invited to participate as volunteers and interact with the children, creating bonds that often lead to adoptions. Unlike typical adoption processes centered on parents who decide to adopt and then complete several bureaucratic steps before meeting potential adoptive children, The Way Home focuses on the kids. “The Enrich and Engage events help them identify new hobbies, build self-esteem,” said Fields. She said Saturday was the first time the agency took children to the Halter ranch “because a lot of kids say they love animals, so we organize it to include a little bit of community service as well in a fun way,” by feeding pumpkins to the animals. The Way Home Adoption model connects foster children with prospective parents “in an organic, authentic way,” said Fields, much in the same way that most relationships are created. “People don’t come up with the idea of adopting a teenager blindly; they just don’t wake up one day thinking, ‘I will adopt a teenager,’” Fields said. However, she explained that, in the agency’s experience and based on some studies, adults may consider adopting an older child if they

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Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2021

‘A step toward honest reckoning’: Crowd memorializes Allen Brooks where he was lynched in Dallas

Against the brick background of the Old Red Courthouse in downtown Dallas, four white doves were released by a score of people on a grassy lawn Saturday. As the birds flew to freedom, a group of people called out “Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and Allen Brooks.” The group stood where Brooks, a Black man, was thrown headfirst from a second-story courthouse window, beaten and dragged half a mile to his lynching more than a century ago. A few hundred people gathered about 11 a.m. Saturday at the corner of Akard and Main streets to commemorate Brooks as a blue-and-gold historical marker was unveiled at the site of his lynching. The marker stands as the city’s first permanent acknowledgement of Brooks’ murder, which thousands of white people gathered to witness. Brooks was accused of the attempted sexual assault of a white child, and while he was awaiting a hearing a mob stormed the courthouse and attacked him. A photo from March 3, 1910, of a Black body hanging from a telephone pole, surrounded by spectators, is the only image of the 59-year-old man. Burial records say Brooks’ body was interred in an unmarked grave in South Dallas.

Saturday’s ceremony was somber, as people stood on the corner in reflection, watching as Brook’s name, which had long been forgotten to history, was inscribed into the city’s landscape. “These lynchings shaped entire communities and communicated a message of racial terror to the entire Black community, and we are confronting that history today, and we are also confronting the silence,” said Michaela Clarke of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., as a monument to the country’s lynching victims. A local group, the Dallas County Justice Initiative, worked with the EJI for more than two years to secure the downtown marker. There are only two other such markers in Texas dedicated by EJI, one in Austin and the other in the East Texas town of Center. “This marker represents a step toward honest reckoning with the history in Dallas,” Clarke said. One face of the marker bears an inscription about Brooks’ lynching, while the other side, titled “Lynching in America,” memorializes three enslaved Black men who were falsely accused of arson and killed by a mob in the summer of 1860.

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Click2Houston - November 21, 2021

‘NOT GUILTY SALE:’ Conroe gun store, shooting range announces holiday discounts following Rittenhouse verdict

A Conroe gun store and shooting range is facing criticism following a text message they sent to customers announcing a “not guilty sale” after Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges Friday. “We celebrated the acquittal from a second amendment standpoint and a right to defend yourself point,” said Saddle River Range owner Thomas Bolsch. “We did not celebrate, and we do not celebrate the loss of life.” The Saddle River Range sent a text to customers saying the large sale was taking place Saturday and would last until Thanksgiving. The sale included deals on firearms, optics, bags, and gun parts among many other items.

The decision to promote the sale using an image of Rittenhouse was met with mixed emotions. “I don’t see why people were offended by it,” said longtime customer Austin Mack. On the Saddle River Range Instagram page, another customer said, “I really respect this store. I purchased my first gun from you all. But, as a young Black male, also a young business owner, this does not give me confidence in the justice system, and I don’t like the fact you all are capitalizing on a situation that is still so fresh.” Bolsch said despite some of the negative feedback, most customers were supportive and positive. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” Bolsch said. KPRC also spoke with the President of the NAACP Houston Chapter who said he understood the need for business owners to promote sales and try to make money but cautioned that it could also divide the community further. “It cannot be lost that they were protesting the unjust shooting of a young African American man named Jacob Blake, and so the tone of the nation has turned in a bad direction,” said Dr. James Dixon. “I think it would behoove all of us to be sensitive to the messages we sent forth.”

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National Stories

The Hill - November 21, 2021

Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are dialing down the drama as they try to find an escape hatch from another high-stakes fight over the debt ceiling. Congress has until roughly Dec. 15 to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who has warned that the mid-December date is when the government will no longer be able to fully pay its bills. On the surface, the deadline sets the stage for round two of a bruising fight between the Senate leaders, who spent weeks in open warfare in the lead up to the October debt ceiling vote, each walking far out onto limbs as they traded one-upmanships.

ADVERTISEMENT But instead, McConnell and Schumer, who their colleagues say rarely talk, are publicly pulling their punches for now, in what senators view as more a marriage of necessity — with the global economy hanging in the balance — than a love match between the two adversaries. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily a thaw, I just think there’s a realization that this has to get done,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said. Asked if he was picking up bipartisan vibes between the two, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) quipped back: “No.” “I feel just pragmatic people finally getting together,” Cramer added. McConnell and Schumer have served in the Senate together for more than 20 years but their relationship is notoriously icy, though not as openly hostile as the relationship between the GOP leader and former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). The two have deal-making, pragmatic streaks in their political genes, a commonality that sparked hope before Schumer took over the Senate Democrats’ top spot in 2017 that they could figure out a way to function well together.

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The Hill - November 21, 2021

2021 deadliest year for transgender people recorded

This year has been the deadliest on record for transgender people, according to a statement released by the LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Forty-seven transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals have been fatally shot or have died by violent means in 2021, according to the group. The HRC has been recording violence against the transgender community since 2013. In 2020, the group recorded 44 deaths of transgender or gender-nonconforming people. Many of the deaths have occurred among the Black transgender community — specifically among Black transgender women, according to the report from the HRC.

According to NBC News, a disproportionate percentage of fatal violence against transgender people has been recorded in the Southeast region of the U.S. as many Southern states have increasingly rolled out legislation targeting transgender youth. Several states have introduced or passed legislation that would prevent transgender girls from participating in sports teams that match their gender identity. In addition, some states have passed legislation that would ban the use of gender confirmation treatments for transgender youth such as puberty blockers. Brendan Lantz, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University, told NBC News that fatal violence against the transgender community also has a lower clearance rate for arrests or court prosecution connected to the cases. The clearance rate for fatal anti-trans violence is reportedly around 44 percent, while the national average falls between 60 percent and 70 percent. according to data compiled by Lantz. “Witnesses are less likely to come forward, and a lot of issues enter the equation,” he said, according to NBC News. Nearly 80 percent of deaths involving transgender people included initial misgendering by media or law enforcement, according to a report released by the HRC on Wednesday.

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New York Times - November 21, 2021

How the U.S. lost ground to China in the contest for clean energy

Presidents starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower had sent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, including transport planes and other military equipment, to the mineral-rich nation. Richard Nixon intervened, as did the State Department under Hillary Clinton, to sustain the relationship. And Freeport-McMoRan had invested billions of its own — before it sold the mine to a Chinese company. Not only did the Chinese purchase of the mine, known as Tenke Fungurume, go through uninterrupted during the final months of the Obama administration, but four years later, during the twilight of the Trump presidency, so did the purchase of an even more impressive cobalt reserve that Freeport-McMoRan put on the market. The buyer was the same company, China Molybdenum.

China’s pursuit of Congo’s cobalt wealth is part of a disciplined playbook that has given it an enormous head start over the United States in the race to dominate the electrification of the auto industry, long a key driver of the global economy. But an investigation by The New York Times revealed a hidden history of the cobalt acquisitions in which the United States essentially surrendered the resources to China, failing to safeguard decades of diplomatic and financial investments in Congo. The sale of the two mines, also flush with copper, highlights the shifting geography and politics of the clean energy revolution, with countries rich in cobalt, lithium and other raw materials needed for batteries suddenly playing the role of oil giants. The loss of the mines happened under the watch of President Barack Obama, consumed with Afghanistan and the Islamic State, and President Donald J. Trump, a climate-change skeptic committed to fossil fuels and the electoral forces behind them. More broadly, it had roots in the end of the Cold War, according to previously classified documents and interviews with senior officials in the Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden administrations.

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New York Times - November 20, 2021

In the House and the Senate, Nancy Pelosi gets Democrats to play ball

On a Wednesday night in September, while President Biden backslapped in the Republican dugout during the annual congressional baseball game, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat nearby, sober-faced and wagging her finger while speaking into her cellphone, toiling to salvage her party’s top legislative priority as it teetered on the brink of collapse. On the other end of the line was Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, a crucial swing vote on Mr. Biden’s sweeping social policy bill, and Ms. Pelosi, seated in the V.I.P. section behind the dugout at Nationals Park, was trying to persuade him to embrace $2.1 trillion in spending and climate change provisions she considered essential for the legislation. In a moment captured by C-SPAN cameras that went viral, Ms. Pelosi appeared to grow agitated as Mr. Manchin, according to sources apprised of the call, told her that he could not accept more than $1.5 trillion — and was prepared to provide a document clearly laying out his parameters for the package, benchmarks that House Democrats had been clamoring to see.

The call reflected how Ms. Pelosi’s pivotal role in shepherding Mr. Biden’s agenda on Capitol Hill has reached far beyond the House that is her primary responsibility and into the Senate, where she has engaged in quiet and little-noticed talks with key lawmakers who have the power to kill the package or propel it into law. Her efforts — fraught with challenges and littered with near-death experiences for the bill — finally paid off on Friday with House passage of the $2.2 trillion social policy and climate change package. Along the way, Ms. Pelosi, who is known for delivering legislative victories in tough circumstances, was forced repeatedly to pull back from a floor showdown on the bill as she labored to unite the feuding liberal and moderate factions in her caucus. A crucial but less-seen part of her task was sounding out and cajoling a pair of Democratic holdouts in the Senate, Mr. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who were opposed to major elements of Mr. Biden’s plan and had the power to upend whatever delicate deal Ms. Pelosi was able to strike. It was only after her call with Mr. Manchin at the baseball game that Ms. Pelosi discovered that the West Virginian’s demands were contained in a sort of makeshift contract he had delivered to Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, in late July. The document, which was signed by both men, had been kept secret — including from her — for months. “I would have liked to have known that,” Ms. Pelosi, said in an interview on Friday, recounting how she felt blindsided. “However, it was what it was.”

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Politico - November 21, 2021

Republicans from statehouses to Congress are pushing legalization bills.

Republicans are warming to weed. Nearly half of Republican voters support federally decriminalizing cannabis, and GOP lawmakers are now beginning to reflect their constituents’ view by increasingly supporting broad legalization at the state and federal level. “We need the federal government just to get out of the way,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who introduced the first Republican bill in Congress to decriminalize marijuana this past week and pointed to more than 70 percent of Americans supporting the idea. Stronger Republican involvement could hasten a snowball effect on Capitol Hill, where Democrats lead the charge on decriminalization but lack results. It could also chip away at Democrats’ ability to use cannabis legalization to excite progressives and younger voters as the midterms approach.

“When the culture becomes more accepting of something, even the most resistant groups get tugged along,” said Dan Judy, vice president of North Star Opinion Research, which focuses on Republican politics. “I don't want to directly conflate marijuana legalization with something like gay marriage, but I think there's a similar dynamic at play.” Earlier this year, North Dakota’s GOP-dominated House passed a marijuana legalization bill introduced by two Republican lawmakers — the first adult-use legalization bill to pass in a Republican-dominated chamber. And Mace's bill marks the first time a Republican has proposed federal legislation to decriminalize cannabis, expunge certain cannabis convictions and tax and regulate the industry. As Republicans wade into the weed group chat, they are bringing their principles, constituents and special interest groups. When Mace introduced her bill on a freezing day on the House triangle, she was surrounded at the podium not by Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, but by veterans groups, medical marijuana parents, cannabis industry lobbyists and Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity. Many GOP proposals include lower taxes and a less regulatory approach than Democratic-led bills, while often maintaining elements popular among most voters, like the expungement of nonviolent cannabis convictions.

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Wall Street Journal - November 21, 2021

More conservatives turn away from death penalty

Amanda Davis, whose 17-year-old niece was found at the bottom of an abandoned mine shaft after her throat was slit, said that when Mr. Leavitt told her his decision, she sat in stunned silence. “When I was able to talk to him, I told him I felt like he was a coward,” she said. Mr. Leavitt isn’t alone as more Republican lawmakers and prosecutors are abandoning one of the party’s long-held policies and champion an end to capital punishment. He also joins the many Democratic officeholders who have opposed the death penalty for decades. Conservative legislators in both Utah and Ohio are sponsoring bills to end the death penalty, and there have been signs of early momentum. Virginia in March became the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty, with three House Republicans joining the Democrats voting in favor. In 2019, New Hampshire repealed the death penalty, with a large share of the GOP caucus voting for repeal, overriding a veto by a Republican governor.

Across the country, the death penalty has been in continued decline. In 2020, there were the fewest state executions in 37 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a research organization that is critical of the death penalty. More than two-thirds of states have now either abolished capital punishment or not carried out an execution in at least 10 years. This past week Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, halted the execution of the death-row inmate Julius Jones after his attorneys worked to raise doubts about the evidence presented at trial and on whether racial bias had played a role in the outcome of the case. Politicians and prosecutors say the shift is driven in part by concern about the cost of capital cases, which has ballooned as the appeals process has grown more extensive. The exoneration of dozens of death row inmates has led to concern about whether the state can be trusted to decide matters of life and death. Mr. Leavitt said that, as a conservative who believes in limited government, he had grown increasingly convinced that the state shouldn’t have the right to kill people. This one death penalty case was also draining resources away from the more than 4,000 cases his office is juggling. He has devoted four lawyers to one death penalty case, while some other attorneys handle some 125 serious cases each.

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Washington Post - November 20, 2021

Biden and aides tell allies he is running in 2024 amid growing Democratic fears

President Biden and members of his inner circle have reassured allies in recent days that he plans to run for reelection in 2024, as they take steps to deflect concern about the 79-year-old president’s commitment to another campaign and growing Democratic fears of a coming Republican return to power. The efforts come as the broader Democratic community has become increasingly anxious after a bruising six-month stretch that has seen Biden’s national approval rating plummet more than a dozen points, into the low 40s, amid growing concerns about inflation, Democratic infighting in Washington and faltering public health efforts to move beyond the covid-19 pandemic. The message is aimed in part at tamping down the assumption among many Democrats that Biden may not seek reelection given his age and waning popularity, while also effectively freezing the field for Vice President Harris and other potential presidential hopefuls.

“The only thing I’ve heard him say is he’s planning on running again,” said former senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a Biden friend. “And I’m glad he is.” At a virtual fundraiser this month, Biden told a small group of donors that he plans to seek a second term, underscoring the message he gave the nation in March at his first White House news conference before cautioning that he had “never been able to plan 3½, four years ahead, for certain.” “What he is saying publicly is what he firmly believes. There’s no difference,” said former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who attended the fundraising event. “He will not run if he feels he can’t do the job physically or emotionally.” But interviews with 28 Democratic strategists and officials, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak more frankly, show that the assurances have not stopped the internal debate over whether Biden will appear on the ticket. Some Democrats take a skeptical view of any public and private signals Biden and his team send about reelection, reasoning that there is an incentive for them to project interest in a second term, regardless of his true intent, to avoid weakening his standing. Another presidential bid, others worry, would involve a much more rigorous schedule than the relatively calm 2020 campaign, which was largely conducted remotely because of the covid-19 pandemic.

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Newsclips - November 19, 2021

Lead Stories

Washington Post - November 19, 2021

House readies Friday vote on spending package after GOP’s McCarthy delays process late into the night

House Democrats plan to vote Friday on a sprawling, more than $2 trillion package to overhaul the country’s health care, education, climate, immigration and tax laws, pushing back their initial plans after Republicans mobilized to briefly obstruct a central piece of President Biden’s economic agenda. Democrats began Thursday hoping to hold a swift vote on the signature spending initiative, putting an end to months of intense, internal wrangling among their own liberal and moderate ranks. The bill’s passage would have notched another major milestone for Biden just days after he signed into law a separate effort to invest $1.2 trillion in the nation’s infrastructure. But their timetable hit an unexpected snag after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took to the chamber floor beginning in the evening. He soon embarked on a form of filibuster, using the unlimited time available to House leaders ahead of votes to rail on the roughly $2 trillion bill. McCarthy’s winding speech attacked Democrats over a broad range of issues, including border security and Afghanistan policy, and repeatedly mischaracterized their exact spending ambitions.

The GOP leader’s ongoing remarks often drew jeers and laughs from Democrats, some of whom left as he spoke. But it ultimately had some effect, even if temporarily: Once the speech lapsed past midnight and into its fourth hour, Democratic leaders made the decision to hold off on a vote on the spending bill until later Friday. “We’re going to recess, and we’ll come in at 8 a.m.” Friday, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters. “He wants to do it in the middle of the night,” Hoyer said of McCarthy’s motivations for speaking for so late. “We’re going to do it in the light of day.” Back on the House floor, meanwhile, McCarthy sounded an even more emboldened note. “I don’t know if they think because they left I’m going to stop,” he said. “I’m not.” McCarthy’s fiery, lengthy rebuttal marked a temporary setback on a day when Democrats mostly found reason to rejoice. Earlier in the evening, the Congressional Budget Office concluded its fiscal analysis of the package, satisfying moderate Democrats, who had demanded the data to assess whether their party’s more than $2 trillion in new initiatives are financed in full. The CBO analysis found that the bill would result in a net increase in the deficit totaling $367 billion over the next decade. But the estimate did not include the full savings that could be achieved from some of the Democrats’ revenue-raising provisions, including a plan to empower the Internal Revenue Service to recapture unpaid federal taxes. The White House has said that IRS enforcement alone could capture roughly $400 billion in additional revenue.

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Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2021

A 30-year fixture in the Texas Legislature, Rep. Garnet Coleman is retiring for health reasons

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat who's made strides in health care, voting and social justice and has been an advocate for the Black community in the Texas Legislature for 30 years, is retiring from the Legislature, primarily for health reasons. “I’ve been trying to leave for six years,” Coleman, 60, told Hearst Newspapers. “People, my constituents and others, said, ‘No, you can’t leave.’ And it’s not a matter of necessarily wanting to — I need to — for my health.” “I might have 10 to 15 good years left in me, just because I’ve had illness,” he added. “And there are other ways to serve. This is probably my last decade of ability to take my retirement, still do good works and make a living to make sure my family is taken care of.”

The lawmaker was diagnosed with diabetes over a decade ago, but in the past year, it’s caused him particular hardship. A trip to the emergency room after he felt severely ill for a week led doctors to discover that a flesh-eating bacterial infection was threatening his life, forcing them to have to amputate the bottom part of his leg. “Do I feel better? Yeah, I feel a whole lot better,” Coleman said. “This was the physical side of the challenges with diabetes and medical side. I’ve been going to six doctors ever since then. But it didn’t stop me from doing what I needed to do.” Coleman has served since 1991 under six different House speakers. “If I were healthier I would stay,” he said. “But really, it’s about the fact that I don’t know how much more I can necessarily contribute, and I’ve done all the things I’ve wanted and needed to for my constituents.” After taking some time to focus on his health and decompress from the back-to-back legislative sessions this year, he said he plans to work with his nonprofit, Center for Civic and Public Policy Improvement, a “think-and-do tank” that aims to “promote human, civic, social and economic justice” in the South. “I’ve been working on that since 1999,” he said. “I realized that institutions can be forever. Servicing the Legislature isn’t.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2021

Dallas political scene braces for Eddie Bernice Johnson’s announcement on her future

Will she, or won’t she? The prospect that U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson will soon announce her retirement has Dallas politicos maneuvering to get in position to replace her in Congress, and others just anxious to watch the unique spectacle unfold. Johnson, 85, has scheduled a news conference for Saturday at the Kirkwood Temple CME Church in Oak Cliff to discuss her future. Though the speculation is that she will retire as representative for Congressional District 30, no one can rule out that she’ll announce that she’s running for another term. Her office isn’t talking. Neither is Johnson. That makes Saturday’s event potentially one of the most memorable moments in Dallas political history. “You haven’t had a retirement or an announcement to run for reelection that garnered this much interest,” said Democratic Party strategist Matt Angle. “Eddie Bernice Johnson is the only person to have served in that district. She’s the person that drew the district. She has the right to handle her announcement the way she wants, but it’s important that she clarifies her intention.”

The event was originally scheduled to be a picnic for Democratic Party activists and judicial candidates. Earlier this week Johnson’s campaign issued a news release and sent flyers to supporters asking them to “please join me for an important announcement.” So at noon on Saturday, Johnson will presumably say whether she’s running for reelection, or retiring. Johnson alone would be enough of a draw to make the even significant. But she’s expected to share the stage with Democrats looking to succeed her in Congress, if she decides to retire. State Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, is the emcee for the program. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas and also a potential contender, is expected to be on stage. Sherman, who shied away from giving details about the event, confirmed he would lead the program. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. Other contenders will either be in the crowd, or preparing strategies and announcements of their own, depending on what Johnson does. This week state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, has been widely mentioned as a candidate to replace Johnson, if she retires. Crockett told The News that she would consider running for the District 30 seat, if Johnson does not seek reelection. Jane Hamilton, who directed President Joe Biden’s Texas primary campaign, started an exploratory committee in anticipation of a District 30 campaign. She’s poised to run for the seat, if Johnson retires.

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NBC 5 - November 19, 2021

ERCOT CEO worries $150 “easy out” for gas companies could threaten grid

The man in charge of managing the Texas power grid is adding his voice to a chorus of state officials concerned about a one-page form that would allow natural gas companies to opt-out of new rules requiring them to winterize gas equipment. That form, proposed by the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency which regulates natural gas companies, would allow gas suppliers to pay a $150 fee, check a box on the form, and exempt a gas well, pipeline or natural gas processing plant from winterization rules, by declaring that they are, “not prepared to operate during a weather emergency.” The $150 fee is less than the $180 the average North Texas family is expected to pay for natural gas this winter.

In an interview with NBC 5 Investigates, ERCOT interim CEO Brad Jones said he is concerned that the plan could cause fuel supply issues for power plants that run on natural gas. But Jones said he is still but hopeful the Railroad Commission, will, “make the right choice” and not give gas companies an “easy out.” After the February Texas power disaster, a federal report found gas supply problems were the second leading cause of the power outages. Electric plants were unable to get enough gas at high enough pressures to keep producing energy. “There's one area that I continue to have concerns about, and that is fuel security,” Jones said. Under the rules proposed by the Texas Railroad Commission, the one-page form does not even ask gas companies why they're unable to run in bad weather or what level of bad weather would render them unable to operate. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recently slammed the proposal and took the railroad commission's executive director to task in a Senate hearing.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 19, 2021

State Sen. John Whitmire announces he will run for mayor of Houston in 2023

State Sen. John Whitmire, the longest-serving member of the Texas Senate, told supporters at a campaign rally Wednesday that he intends to run for mayor of Houston in 2023. “I’m no longer considering it, we’re not asking people, we’re running for mayor and we intend to win,” Whitmire told supporters in a video later posted to Twitter by journalist Jose de Jesus Ortiz. “We’re planning to win with your help.” Whitmire long has been rumored to be interested in the seat, but the remarks make him the first candidate to publicly declare he is running to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner. He said he intends to run for re-election to the Senate in 2022, serve in the 2023 legislative session, then run for mayor in the November 2023 municipal election.

Whitmire told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday that he is focused on the Senate for now. “I shared with supporters my plans for the future,” Whitmire said. “There will be an official public announcement at a future date. … But it’s no secret I plan to run for mayor.” Turner is term-limited as he serves his second and final term, which ends in January 2024. Whitmire, a Democrat, has represented Houston in the Legislature since 1973, first as a state representative and then in the Senate beginning in 1983. He has an $11 million campaign war chest, which alone would make him a formidable candidate in a city election. No city official currently has more than Turner’s $522,058 in the bank. During his tenure in Austin, Whitmire has developed close ties with Houston’s public employee unions, including the police and fire unions. In June, he publicly backed the Houston fire union’s effort to collect signatures to put a charter amendment on the ballot that would force stalled contract talks to be resolved through binding arbitration. The move put Whitmire at odds with Turner, who opposed the effort. Whitmire , however, is close with Turner, having backed him in each of his two winning mayoral bids.

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KXAN - November 18, 2021

La Niña returns — could historic Texas freeze happen again?

Nine months after the winter storm, many Central Texans are still dealing with the emotional aftermath. “I don’t even think I can turn on the fireplace,” says Georgetown resident Elizabeth Stratton. “I’m like, pretty traumatized by how long we sat there for and how cold we were.” Elizabeth endured the February 2021 winter storm with her 8-month-old son. Her husband Owen was deployed abroad. As the temperature inside her home dropped to 38°, Elizabeth had to figure out how to keep her baby warm and fed.

New winter outlooks issued Nov. 18 by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center predict a warmer and drier-than-normal winter in Central Texas. The main reason for these predictions is the La Niña pattern present in the Pacific Ocean, with cooler-than-normal water close to the Equator. But, this same La Niña pattern was in place last winter when we had the historic February winter storm. So, what are the odds of an extreme freeze happening again this winter? Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon is the State Climatologist for Texas and an expert on how the El Niño/La Niña cycle affects Texas weather. “La Niña is basically the opposite of El Niño,” Dr. Nielsen-Gammon said. “El Niño is when the temperatures in the tropical Pacific become unusually warm. La Niña, they become unusually cold.” The colder ocean water in the Eastern Pacific drives the winter storm track north. “With the jet stream farther north, we tend to have fewer storms,” Dr. Nielsen-Gammon said. “So we get less precipitation, fewer cold fronts, temperatures tend to be warmer on average.”

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Texas Public Radio - November 18, 2021

Texas primary care doctor shortage spikes during the pandemic; rural Texans hit hardest

Texas’ primary care doctor shortage has taken a sharp turn for the worse during the pandemic, and one rural family doctor is imploring state lawmakers to do something about it. Dr. Adrian Billings is chief medical officer for Preventative Care Health Services, a health center with clinics in Alpine, Marfa and Presidio. He's a primary care doctor and there aren’t anywhere near enough of them in Big Bend. “There's one family physician for 5,000 patients in the Big Bend area right now. That's a delay of care,” Billings told the House Public Health Committee of the Texas Legislature this fall. “That means sicker patients, that means more costly or care. That means less productivity. That means more death.” The federal government’s Health Resources and Services Administration classifies areas with fewer than one primary care provider for every 3,500 residents as Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSA’s. Big Bend is definitely an HPSA, but according to research done by American Public Media Research Lab, Big Bend is hardly unique in Texas — and the pandemic isn’t helping.

“In 2019, 129 of Texas's 254 counties identified as a shortage area for primary care providers. As of this July 2021, that number jumped up to 228. So it increased by 99 counties,” said Katherine Sypher, a data journalism fellow with the APM research lab. “There are only five counties in Texas that didn't have any significant number of primary care physician shortages, four of those were Metropolitan," Sypher said. "So, it's also important to note that a lot of the counties in Texas that are experiencing these shortages are rural and already were experiencing a lack of health care providers to begin with.” Back in Alpine, Billings said the primary care doctor shortage was hard enough to manage back before COVID, but the pandemic has been a body blow. “Since February of this year, this area has lost five physicians; four family physicians in the area's only pediatrician. We lost a nurse practitioner, and we lost a physician's assistant,” he said. “So that's seven primary care providers in this area, which represents over 50% of our physician workforce that covers this vast 12,000 square mile area that we serve in a population of about 25,000.” Billings said providing medical care to a region the size of Big Bend is a team effort, but they don’t have a deep bench. They don’t have anyone to sub in when the team is overwhelmed.

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Texas Tribune - November 19, 2021

Texas Democrats rely on voters of color to be competitive. So why are their top statewide candidates mostly white?

For decades, Texas Democrats have banked on the growth of voters of color, particularly Black and Latino voters, as the key to their eventual success in a state long dominated by Republicans. But with less than a month left for candidates to file for statewide office in the 2022 elections, some in the party worry Democrats could see their appeal with those constituencies threatened by a Republican Party that is rapidly diversifying its own candidate pool. The GOP slate for statewide office includes two high-profile Latinos: Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, who are both running for attorney general. It also includes two Black candidates who have previously held state or federal office: former Florida congressman Allen West and state Rep. James White, who are running for governor and agriculture commissioner, respectively.

By contrast, the Democrats’ most formidable candidates are white — Beto O’Rourke, who is running for governor, and Mike Collier, Matthew Dowd and Michelle Beckley, who are running for lieutenant governor. Lee Merritt, a Black civil rights attorney from McKinney, and Rochelle Garza, a Latina former ACLU attorney from Brownsville, have jumped into the Democratic primary for attorney general; and Jinny Suh, an Asian American Austin lawyer, is running for land commissioner. But none of those Democrats have the political experience or fundraising prowess of their Republican counterparts. The issue has caused consternation among some Democrats, particularly as they see South Texas and border communities, with large majorities of Latino voters, become a battleground for Republicans. Democrats lost a special election in San Antonio to Republican John Lujan earlier this month. Two weeks later, Rio Grande City Rep. Ryan Guillen, who’d served in the Texas House as a Democrat since 2003, switched his party affiliation to Republican. Both Lujan and Guillen are Latino. “We need to look at that and need to do an introspection as to why there’s a lack of diversity at the top of the ticket,” said Odus Evbagharu, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party. “We need to do better. We’ve gotta cultivate our bench.”

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Houston Public Media - November 19, 2021

Montgomery County leaders returned $7 million in unspent rent relief. Residents are still getting evicted

Montgomery County commissioners voted to return $7 million in unspent rent relief to the federal government on Tuesday — nearly one-third of the county’s allocation under a rental assistance program set up to stave off evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The county’s rationale has been that residents have instead been applying to the state rent relief program: In a statement, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough said that he believes there hasn't been much need for the federally allocated county funds. But that wasn’t Ebanisha Wiley’s experience. On Wednesday, Wiley was evicted in a Montgomery County courtroom, the morning after commissioners voted to send back the money. "I need it," Wiley said. "I am desperately in need for help. I don't have any parents, grandparents, any immediate family I can turn to. It's just me and my kids. It's a struggle that wouldn't nobody understand unless they were in my shoes."

Wiley, a single mom with five kids, applied for the state rent relief program two months ago and she's still waiting for the check, which is now too late to help. She said she couldn't find a rent relief program in Montgomery County. “It's Thanksgiving next week," Wiley said. "I guess we're going to spend Thanksgiving moving out.” Jay Malone, political director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, isn't surprised Wiley couldn’t find a Montgomery County program. For more than a year, Malone has partnered with nonprofits and local government officials to host rent relief sign-up events across Greater Houston where people facing eviction can get help in person. "We didn't reach out to Montgomery County because there was no evidence that there was an active program," Malone said. "There was no platform to apply, and so our understanding was that there wasn't a program that was active." The federal government is working on a national effort to reallocate unspent rent relief, taking it from communities like Montgomery County that haven't spent the money and redistributing it to others that have. The goal of the national reallocation plan is to send more resources to high-performing programs that need it and to make sure money doesn't go "unused by programs unwilling or unable to assist struggling renters and landlords," according to guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which runs the $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program created in January to assist households struggling to pay rent due to the pandemic.

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Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2021

Prairie View A&M receives $5M from HEB chairman to establish scholarship fund

Prairie View A&M University has received $5 million from H-E-B chairman Charles H. Butt to help establish an endowment that will fund scholarships for Texas students, according to a university release.

The fund, which will generate $200,000 each year as a part of the permanent endowment, will assist incoming first-year Texas students who are in the top quartile of their public high school class. Scholarship recipients, who will be a part of the “Founders Scholars” cohort program, must be full-time and making progress toward completing their undergraduate degree. Prairie View A&M President Ruth Simmons thanked Butt for the generous donation, which follows $1 million he gave to Prairie View in 2020 to help establish the Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice. The center opened in March. “He has shown time and time again that he genuinely cares about the opportunities afforded to students at PV. We are indebted to him for his grace and his humanity,” Simmons said of Butt, who has focused much of his philanthropy on education and scholarships.

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Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2021

Big 12 suspends Texas Tech announcers who alleged 'remarkably horrible' officials favored Iowa State

The Big 12 Conference on Wednesday issued a public reprimand of Texas Tech's football announcers and suspended the crew from calling the Red Raiders' game vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State on Saturday in Lubbock. Brian Jensen is the play-by-play announcer on Red Raiders radio broadcasts, with John Harris — not the Texans' radio sideline reporter of the same name — providing color commentary. Chris Level serves as the sideline reporter. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the ban applies to just Jensen and Harris. Level will work color commentary Saturday alongside Geoff Haxton, who usually calls Tech basketball and baseball games, the newspaper reported.

Among the comments critical of the officiating during the broadcast: "I'll say it right now — the Big 12 does not want Iowa State to lose this game"; "Bob Bowlsby, you need to answer to this. This is ridiculous"; "The inconsistency of this referee crew in favor of Iowa State today ... unbelievable"; "This has been a remarkable day and a remarkably horrible day of officiating by this crew."; “I understand the roles of the play-by-play and color analyst,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement. “However as University representatives they also have an obligation to adhere to Conference policy regarding comments about game officials. The comments by the Red Raider Radio Network booth announcers were contrary to expected levels of respect and professionalism. "Questioning the integrity of Conference officials and specifically calling out members of the officiating crew is well beyond appropriate and permissible behavior.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2021

These two Texas laws funnel millions in taxpayer funds to companies, with no limits and little transparency

Peering up at the dramatic glass-bottom pool jutting 40 stories over Preston Street in downtown Houston, onlookers would have no reason to know that the luxury apartment tower was built with the help of millions in city tax dollars. The same could be said of the fancy food hall beneath another high-dollar apartment building a block away on Travis Street. The towers were subsidized with $11 million in public funds that came with almost no strings attached: Simply build the apartments with retail or restaurants or another inviting design at street level and get a property tax rebate for 15 years, up to $15,000 per unit. Those two buildings were among 15 across downtown to receive subsidies — and not one of the 4,249 apartments offers tenants any affordable housing. Nor were the developers required to create a single job or pay a living wage. The $64 million in subsidies Houston has offered to make downtown more residential is just a glimpse of the untold millions local officials across Texas are spending to spur development or lure companies to their communities under a pair of obscure state laws that put no limits on such deals, require no job creation and mandate no penalties for noncompliance.

Neither state officials nor anyone else can say how much the incentives are costing taxpayers and which companies benefit the most. Some city and county officials couldn’t even readily produce copies of their tax incentive deals or records showing what those agreements are costing local taxpayers. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said the “wide-open” nature of the programs concerns him, and should be reined in during the Legislature’s next session in 2023. “The public is rightfully outraged when they see public money being granted or just given away, effectively, on long-term deals where there’s no positive job growth tied into it. I don’t think that’s good long-term public policy,” said Bettencourt, who is particularly influential on tax policy. “If you're going to have an economic development program, it’s got to be tied to jobs, and it’s got to have some top-down guidelines that keep it from being misused.” The unchecked tax breaks are made possible by Chapters 380 and 381 of the Texas Local Government Code, by far the most flexible of the state’s major tax incentive programs. The former is for cities, the latter for counties. Other types of economic incentives in Texas, such as school property tax breaks and local property tax abatements, mandate a cap of 10 years on each deal.

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Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2021

Obscure law allows incentive deals for projects as small as a single-family home repair

The absence of rules or guidelines in Chapters 380 and 381 has produced enormous long-term tax breaks for corporations, manufacturers, resorts and tech giants in exchange for huge investments and, sometimes, hundreds of jobs. But some cities and counties have used that same flexibility to put far smaller dollar amounts toward projects as small as a single-family home repair. Irving once reimbursed 29 single-family homeowners a quarter of their minor home repair projects — new siding, windows, a new roof or driveway — in the hopes of sustaining “the appearance and marketability” of select neighborhoods around the city’s hospital district and in Irving Heights. The payments averaged $5,850 per family.

In Garland, several companies got the same modest offer: In exchange for being refunded up to, say, $100,000 in building fees, the companies agreed to try to buy construction materials in Garland and to market their developments as being “located in Garland, Texas rather than identifying the project only as being 'in the Dallas area' or similar non-Garland-specific descriptors." “For some companies it’s very important to have a Dallas address, or whenever they’re putting their location on the website they put Dallas instead of Garland,” said Schuster, the Garland economic development chief. “I mean, come on, we’re giving them money. You have to promote us. That’s how I feel.” The owners of Fort Worth station KXAS-TV got a 25-year deal to consolidate their NBC and Telemundo operations in one space in exchange for an up to 85 percent reduction of their property taxes — as long as the station retained 200 jobs and relocated 78 others and identified itself at least half the time as being based in “Fort Worth-Dallas.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2021

Even Texas sports teams can score big with flexible tax incentive program

Tax breaks made possible by Chapters 380 and 381 are the most flexible of the state’s major tax incentive programs. The laws have been used to benefit everyone from big corporations to small businesses to individual homeowners - and even sports teams. Houston is giving the Houston Dynamo all city sales and beverage taxes generated at the stadium under a 30-year deal that helped finance the building’s construction. Grand Prairie is reimbursing the developers of a Major League Cricket stadium all city building fees, and tossing in a $1.3 million grant. “It was very attractive for us to look at converting our minor league baseball park into a cricket stadium,” said Marty Wieder, Grand Prairie’s economic development director. “In this case, $500,000 of that grant amount needed to go toward retail concession and suite improvements or expansion because that would foster additional gross revenues.”

And San Antonio City Council last month approved a 20-year deal worth up to $17 million to subsidize new office and retail space and a training facility for the San Antonio Spurs. The facility is planned in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, an environmentally sensitive area of porous limestone where runoff from rainfall replenishes one of the region’s primary sources of potable water. San Antonio’s policies on the use of business incentives prohibit subsidizing new construction on the recharge zone, but Deputy City Attorney Ray Rodriguez said the policy didn’t apply to the Spurs Sports & Entertainment deal because the $17 million in grants won’t come directly from the city’s incentive fund. Instead, the Spurs’ ownership company will pay its property taxes, then be repaid 60 percent of the taxes generated by new improvements on the site. The lone councilman to vote against the deal, Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, questioned the wisdom of using tax dollars to encourage development over the recharge zone. “After San Antonio’s long history of fighting to protect the aquifer,” he said in a statement, “it would be shortsighted to make temporary gains and risk our primary source of drinking water in San Antonio.”

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Austin American-Statesman - November 18, 2021

Bill McCann: Is a vulgar insult all you’ve got, GOP?

“Is that all you’ve got?” That question is one of the most used movie lines ever. Actors have spoken it in more than 50 movies, from Rocky II (1979) to Kung Fu Panda II (2011). I would like to borrow that well-worn line to ask far-right Republicans: Is your latest tasteless insult aimed at President Joe Biden all you’ve got? Apparently so. The insult I’m referring to is “Let’s go, Brandon.” It’s right-wing code for “F— Joe Biden.” It started in October in Alabama, according to the Associated Press, when a TV reporter was interviewing a NASCAR driver, Brandon Brown, who had just won a race. The reporter thought the crowd behind them was yelling “Let’s go, Brandon.” It turned out to be the anti-Biden F-bomb.

The Brandon chant then became a crude code for the far-right. Since then, everyone from attention-grabbing Republican politicians to die-hard Donald Trump followers have tried to taunt Democrats with it. For example, Texas Sen. Ted ‘Cancun’ Cruz posed with the Brandon sign at the World Series before shifting his attack to Sesame Street’s Big Bird for promoting COVID-19 vaccinations. The money-grubbing Trump campaign, calling “Let’s go Brandon” America’s “favorite new phrase,” is making money off the crudity by offering Brandon T-shirts for a $45 donation. While many folks find the vulgarity offensive, we must keep it in perspective. For one thing, it’s what we should expect from members of a political party that has little to offer our citizens except fear, hate and negativity. That’s all they’ve got. Also, Brandon is another GOP attempt to provoke and distract. In this case, it’s one way far-right Republicans are trying to divert attention from what the Biden administration has accomplished. Maybe you’ve heard right-wingers yelping recently on social media about Biden causing inflation, including high gasoline prices. Anyone closely following current events knows today’s inflation and supply problems are worldwide, thanks primarily to the COVID-19 pandemic, which the Trump administration made worse in the U.S. by managing it so poorly.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 18, 2021

Federal report points finger at natural gas sector in February power outages

Failures by the natural gas sector — from producers at wellheads all the way up the supply chain to gas-fired generation plants — are to blame for the bulk of the power outages that left much of Texas without electricity for extended periods during February’s deadly winter freeze, according to federal energy officials. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its final report this week on the disaster that triggered a near collapse of the state's electricity grid, making clear that inadequate weatherization plagued power generators and infrastructure of all types during the event but singling out the interconnected natural gas industry in particular. According to the report, about 60% of the generators that went offline at various points amid the winter storms that swept Texas and the south-central United States from Feb. 8 through Feb. 20 were fueled by natural gas.

In addition, the freezing temperatures and bad weather were responsible for about 43% of a steep decline in natural gas production, a downturn that resulted in fuel shortages for gas-fired generators during the emergency, according to the report. Natural gas producers in Texas have deflected blame in the wake of the disaster, seeking to stave off winterization mandates. They have contended that power generators largely failed first and then triggered a wave of outages across the state's power grid — including at natural gas production facilities that need electricity to operate. But according to the report by the federal energy commission — known as FERC — only about 22% of the declines in natural gas production could be attributed to rolling blackouts or issues such as downed power lines, and the production downturn started before the widespread outages. Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, said his organization is still reviewing the report and comparing it to data collected earlier by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas indicating fuel shortages of all types were responsible for a significantly smaller percentage of generator outages than FERC found. The electric reliability council, or ERCOT, oversees the state's power grid.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 19, 2021

2022 Election: Could Beto O’Rourke help Tarrant candidates?

“As Tarrant County goes, so goes the state.” The comment was made by Beto O’Rourke in 2018 during his Democratic bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican and one of the biggest names in Texas politics. O’Rourke started that election as a lesser-known congressman from El Paso, but drew national attention as he traveled to each of Texas’ counties, often live-streaming his travels. His promises of a grassroots campaign caught fire, but his remarks about Tarrant County didn’t hold true. O’Rourke won historically red Tarrant County by 4,300 votes — less than a percentage point — but he didn’t win Texas. On the heels of a run that that contributed to down-ballot Democrat wins, O’Rourke launched a presidential run that ultimately fizzled. O’Rourke’s recent announcement that he’s running for governor raises the questions: Could he win Tarrant County again and what’s in store for down-ballot candidates with his name potentially on the November ballot?

“The key is the atmosphere next November, and it’s hard to project what that would be,” said TCU political science professor Jim Riddlesperger. “But certainly the political climate right now doesn’t appear to be favorable for Democrats nationally or within the state of Texas. And, of course, the history of midterm elections is that the president’s party does not do well.” Those ideas lend credibility to the notion that it’ll be a difficult election for O’Rourke, Riddlesperger said. “Not impossible, but certainly very difficult,” he said. With O’Rourke on the ballot in 2018, Tarrant County Democrats saw some wins. Democrat Beverly Powell beat Republican Incumbent Konni Burton in the race for Senate District 10, and Democrat Devan Allen unseated incumbent Andy Nguyen in a commissioner court race. At the time, the victories were attributed partially to a “Beto effect” and partially to Tarrant County’s changing demographics. That year, Democrats also gained 12 seats in the Texas Legislature, including several in North Texas. But in 2020, Democrats failed to flip five House seats they targeted in Tarrant County. Tarrant County is trending Democratic, as are other urban areas, Riddlesperger said. The population is also diversifying. “I mean, Tarrant County is the least Democratic urban area in the state of Texas,” he said. “Houston and San Antonio and Austin and Dallas and El Paso were all very Democratic leaning obviously. And the fact that Tarrant County has kind of lagged in that regard does not mean that it’s immune those overall urbanization trends. O’Rourke told the Star-Telegram his strategy for historicall Republicans areas, like Tarrant County, is to “go everywhere.” He mentioned Cook, Denton, Collin, Tarrant, Dallas and Ellis counties. In the first 24 hours of O’Rourke’s bid he raised more than $2 million, according to his campaign.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 18, 2021

North TX morning radio host indicted on sexual assault charge

A Tarrant County grand jury has indicted a former Dallas-Fort Worth radio host in connection with the reported sexual assault of a girl at a New Year’s Eve party at his home after he had given her an alcoholic drink. Jurors returned the indictment on Tuesday against 48-year-old Justin Barrett Frazell on a charge of aggravated sexual assault. A trial is pending in the case. Mike Howard of Dallas, Frazell’s atttorney, could not be reached Thursday for comment. Frazell, a longtime radio personality at Fort Worth’s KFWR 95.9 The Ranch, was arrested in March on the charge and he’s been free on $25,000 bond.

Following his arrest, Frazell, a morning radio host, was fired, according to a statement released by the radio station. In April, he was arrested again in Denton County on a charge of indecent assault, a misdemeanor. He was released on $2,500 bail, jail records show. A warrant written by Mansfield Detective S. Peacock gave this brief account of the allegations: Several people were at Frazell’s Mansfield home on New Year’s Eve for the celebration. Adults were there along with teens who were allowed to drink, according to the warrant. Children also were at the home. The teens were hanging out in a bedroom when one of them was left alone in one of the rooms. That girl began to FaceTime with a friend, which lasted for hours. Her parents left the party, but she was allowed to stay overnight. At some point, Frazell entered the room, gave her a drink and said, “This is between us. Don’t say I never do anything for you,” according to the warrant. She drank a little of the Whiteclaw (an alcoholic seltzer).

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San Antonio Express-News - November 19, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: San Antonio councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda eyes Texas House seat

San Antonio Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda is strongly considering leaving the council to run for a seat in the Texas House. Havrda, 47, is taking a close look at House District 124, a seat that will be open in 2022 because its current occupant, Ina Minjarez, has decided to run for Bexar County judge. The county judge’s slot is up for grabs next year because 20-year incumbent Nelson Wolff decided not to run for re-election.

House District 124, like Havrda’s Council District 6, is rooted in the far West Side of San Antonio. It’s solidly Democratic territory, and Havrda said that if she runs, she will enter the Democratic primary. I contacted Havrda Wednesday afternoon, based on a tip I had received about her possible interest in the Texas House race. “I am absolutely interested in it,” Havrda said. “It’s a very tough decision.” Havrda was born and raised in San Antonio. She received her law degree from St. Mary’s University and an MBA from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She joined the council in 2019 with an uncommonly impressive résumé. As a lawyer, she specialized in federal disability cases. She had served as a special assistant to then-Mayor Ed Garza and project coordinator for the San Antonio Parks Foundation. In addition, she had been a board member for the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Magik Theatre.

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KXAN - November 18, 2021

Texas gas bills may increase, companies allowed to make up $3.4B winter storm losses

Following a unanimous vote from the Railroad Commission of Texas Nov. 10, state gas providers now have the ability to raise the costs of customers’ monthly bills to help regain funds lost during the February winter storm. On June 16, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1520 into law, which allows gas utility providers who sustained significant costs during the February winter storm to “issue bonds and impose fees and assessments,” per documents. After that was signed into law, several gas providers filed applications to regain funds lost during the storm. These applications were combined into one docket and reached a settlement with the RRC. Now, following RRC’s approval last week, eight gas companies will be able to regain $3.4 billion in lost funds incurred during the February winter storm.

In a statement, an RRC spokesperson said these increases will assist in paying off expenses gas providers took on last February to produce “the necessary supply of natural gas to maintain service.” Following RRC approval Nov. 10, the commission has 90 days to submit a financing order to the Texas Public Finance Authority, directing them to issue bonds. An RRC spokesperson said the commission’s financing order will likely be delivered to the TPFA in less than 90 days. Once the TPFA receives the financing order, the authority then has 180 days to begin issuing bonds. If both entities take the full 90 and 180-day time span to complete their tasks, bonds will likely be issued around mid-year 2022. “The bonds provide gas utilities a low-cost source of financing to fulfill outstanding obligations to natural gas suppliers, and allow utilities to recover the extraordinary cost of gas through customer bills over a longer time period, rather than potentially through a single billing statement,” the spokesperson said.

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KXAN - November 18, 2021

‘Don’t condone the behavior’: Rep. McCaul criticizes Gosar video, votes against House censure

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, voted against censuring his colleague for posting a violent animated video but still criticized him for doing so. McCaul, who represents Texas’ 10th District in the U.S. House, explained Thursday why he declined the move to censure Rep. Paul Gosar. The Arizona Republican posted an anime-style video depicting him killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden. Two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, joined the House Democrats Wednesday in a vote of 223-207 to censure Gosar and also remove him from his House committee assignments. When asked Thursday during an interview with KXAN if what Gosar did was appropriate, McCaul said, “I wouldn’t have done it.”

“It was sort of a bizarre, Japanese cartoon,” he added. “It was very hard to see what they were talking about. It was a very fast-moving cartoon.” Gosar initially deleted the tweet with the video days ago amid the backlash that unfolded, but he retweeted it late Wednesday shortly after the House vote. Censuring a lawmaker rarely happens in Congress — in fact, it’s only happened to 24 House members. It’s considered the strongest punishment the House can issue short of expulsion, which requires a two-thirds vote. The last lawmaker to receive the rebuke came in 2010, when Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, the former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, faced accusations of financial misconduct. McCaul explained the role he played in those proceedings when he served on the House Committee on Ethics and decried how the latest vote on Gosar did not follow that same process.

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WFAA - November 18, 2021

$2 billion lawsuit filed by San Antonio-based attorney on behalf of Astroworld victims

Attorney Thomas J. Henry has filed a $2 billion lawsuit on behalf of those affected by the tragedy at Astroworld, according to a news release from the law firm. The lawsuit seeks the monetary damages against Apple Music, Travis Scott, Aubrey Drake Graham, Live Nation and NRG Stadium. In total, 282 people have hired Thomas J. Henry to represent them. Another 120 victims have reportedly contacted the firm regarding injuries and damages.

"The defendants stood to make an exorbitant amount of money off of this event, and they still chose to cut corners, cut costs and put attendees at risk," Henry said in the news release. "My clients want to ensure the defendants are held responsible for their actions, and they want to send the message to all performers, event organizers and promoters that what happened at Astroworld cannot happen again." On Tuesday, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee filed suit on behalf of more than 120 clients, including Axel Acosta Avila, one of the victims killed during the concert. That suit is seeking $750 million in damages against a long list of defendants, including headliner Travis Scott. The suit also names Apple Music and Epic Records among others that allegedly stood to profit from the event. Buzbee said their own investigation showed this event was a failure from the start. "This concert was doomed from the beginning," Buzbee said. "It was doomed before they filed their operations plan."

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Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2021

Collin County Republican Pam Little announces reelection campaign for State Board of Education

Pam Little, R-Fairview, announced her campaign for reelection to the State Board of Education late last week. Little registered for her spot on the ballot in Austin earlier this week, she said in a post online. The State Board is an an elected, partisan body of 15 members that sets curriculum standards, creates graduation requirements and reviews textbooks and instructional materials. It is made up of nine Republicans and six Democrats from across the state who serve staggered four-year terms. Little, 68, was elected in 2018 after narrowly winning her district with 49.5 percent of the vote. She owns a fencing business and has taught community college courses, according to the Texas Education Agency. She also sat on the Fairview Town Council from 2016 to 2018, and ran for the board of education in 2012, according to previous reporting from The Dallas Morning News.

Little represents district 12, which encompasses all of Collin County, as well as much of Dallas County. Her district now looks different than it did when she was first elected. Currently, many of her constituents live in suburban or urban areas. The newly redrawn district boundaries now also include swaths of rural North and East Texas counties and shrank her constituency in Dallas County. If reelected, Little will also represent constituents in Cooke, Grayson, Fannin, Lamar, Hunt, Delta, Hopkins, Red River and Bowie counties, as well as part of Denton County. Little said she “hopes to earn their votes to continue to be the conservative fighter Texas families can depend on in Austin.” She will continue to represent only Collin and Dallas counties until her current term ends. The new boundaries don’t take effect until there’s an elected person in the new district 12 seat in early 2023. The State Board of Education’s newly redrawn districts cement the power of Republican incumbents.

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Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2021

Comedian and political commentator John Oliver spotlights Frisco in recent homelessness episode

Comedian and political commentator John Oliver placed a national spotlight on Frisco in his recent episode on homelessness on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In the episode, which aired on HBO on Oct. 31 and is available on YouTube, Oliver discusses public policy and solutions for homelessness. “In North Texas, local residents mobilized against a proposed affordable housing project which had units set aside for residents using housing choice or Section 8 vouchers. Basically, (they’re) rental subsidies for low-income or homeless individuals,” Oliver said as a map of Texas appeared with a large dot and the word “Frisco” marking the city’s location. “And here is how one opponent of the project explained herself.” The video proceeds with an embedded clip from the NPR and PBS show Frontline (season 35, episode 14).

The 2017 clip displays a Frisco resident discussing her opposition to bringing in residents with Section 8 vouchers. She had told host Laura Sullivan in the full episode that she was concerned over traffic and overcrowded schools but also the possibility that those with vouchers might not fit in. “This neighborhood, most of us, I feel like, are stay-at-home moms with young kids,” the resident says in the embedded clip. “The lifestyle I feel like that goes with Section 8 is usually working single moms or people who are struggling to keep their heads above water. And it’s not — I feel so bad saying that — it’s just not people who are the same class as us.” The Dallas Morning News reported in 2017 that about 17,000 families were actively using Section 8 vouchers from the Dallas Housing Authority, and 11,500 were on the waiting list. The program uses federal dollars to help low-income families rent apartments or homes from private landlords. Those who use them pay 30% of their income toward rent and utilities, while the federal government pays the remainder, The News reported.

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City Stories

KXAN - November 19, 2021

East Austin neighbors push back against rezoning near Tesla factory

An acre of land located on the east side of Rogers Lane near Farm to Market Road 969 in east Austin is up for rezoning. “I’m fighting rezoning in our neighborhood in particular because we are a very small street with substandard infrastructure,” said Maria Bowen, a concerned neighbor. It’s a narrow road with no sidewalks, walking trails or public transit stops, and it’s in need of resurfacing. That’s how city staff describe the road, and so does Bowen. It’s for that reason, and the fear of displacement, she and other neighbors are calling on the Austin City Council to reconsider the zoning change. Bowen filed a petition against the rezoning.

If the rezoning is approved, the plot of land would change from a single-family residence-standard lot, or SF-2 district zoning, to townhouse-condominium residential — or an SF-6 district zoning. This would allow developers the option to build anywhere from 10 to 12 townhouses or condos in the area, and Bowen worries the road would not be able to handle the influx of cars. “There’s just a lot of concerns,” Bowen said. “Traffic-wise and safety.” She believes the proposed changes have to do with her new neighbor just six miles south of her — Tesla. “We know they’re coming and they’re eventually going to be here and they need housing, too, so it’s like a let’s hurry up and get it down and develop so people can move here,” she said. “I just feel like slowly we’re getting pushed out.”

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National Stories

Politico - November 19, 2021

‘This is about power’: DeSantis gets big wins ahead of 2022

Florida’s special legislative session can be summed up in one phrase: What Gov. Ron DeSantis wants, he gets. DeSantis called the special session in October to fight the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine mandates and after just three days the Florida House and Senate approved four bills that undermine President Joe Biden’s vaccine push. DeSantis never made an appearance during the special legislative session in Tallahassee but used his huge political sway over the Republican-dominated Legislature to get his bills passed. One measure gives workers exemptions if they don’t want to get the shot and includes a provision fining small businesses $10,000 and larger companies $50,000 for firing workers who don’t want the vaccine. “The governor can do anything he wants to do,” state Rep. Ardian Zika (R-Land O’ Lakes) said this week. He spoke on the House floor while Democrats grilled him over a measure giving the governor $1 million to study the state withdrawing from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which wrote the Biden administration’s plan to mandate vaccines for large businesses.

Lawmakers also approved a bill barring the state surgeon general from mandating vaccines during a health emergency and another that keeps hidden from the public complaints filed by employees who weren’t given vaccine exemptions. DeSantis, though, never commented on the process or publicly stepped foot in the Capitol. The governor is widely popular with Republicans across the country and has an increasingly large platform as he prepares for reelection and a potential 2024 White House bid. As a result, Republicans in the state Legislature both do not want to cross DeSantis for fear it could hurt their own political futures, but also don’t want to do anything to sap momentum from his political ascent. “Ultimately this is about power, right?” said state Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa). “This entire special session was a power play on the governor, so it does not behoove the legislative leadership, who seems to be in lockstep with this governor, to speak out in a way that would be contrary to him.” It was a common line of attack from Democrats who were outnumbered and could do very little to slow passage of the bills. Democrats also noted that the Republican-led Legislature previously would fight GOP governors’ legislative priorities, including during the tenure of former Gov. Rick Scott. “I’ve seen this room where the governor calls for something and we bat it down vociferously. ... We are now not seeing that,” said state Rep. Nicholas Duran (D-Miami) during a lengthy floor session speech. “We are cheapening the reason for a special session.”

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Politico - November 19, 2021

Oklahoma governor commutes Julius Jones’ death sentence

A crowd that had gathered inside of the Oklahoma Capitol in support of Jones broke out into loud applause and cheers after the decision was announced shortly after noon Thursday. Earlier Thursday, Jones’ attorneys had filed a last-minute emergency request seeking a temporary stop to his execution, saying Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures post a “serious and substantial risk of severe suffering and pain to prisoners” and citing last month’s execution in which John Marion Grant convulsed and vomited as he was being put to death. The state’s Pardon and Parole Board recommended in a 3-1 vote on Nov. 1 that Stitt commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison, with several members of the panel agreeing they had doubts about the evidence that led to Jones’ conviction. Jones was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die for the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell during a carjacking. Jones’ case drew widespread attention after it was profiled in “The Last Defense,” a three-episode documentary produced by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018.

Since then, reality television star Kim Kardashian West and athletes with Oklahoma ties, including NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young, have urged Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence and spare his life. Jones alleges he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and former co-defendant who was a key witness against him. But Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and the state’s former attorney general, Mike Hunter, have said the evidence against Jones is overwhelming. Information from trial transcripts shows that witnesses identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators also found the murder weapon wrapped in a bandanna with Jones’ DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. Jones claimed in his commutation filing that the gun and bandanna were planted there by the actual killer, who had been inside Jones’ house after the killing.

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Houston Chronicle - November 19, 2021

Biden's first offshore oil auction sees surge in bids, despite climate push

An oil and gas lease sale for the Gulf of Mexico drew a surge of bidding activity Wednesday, even as the Biden administration tried to hold up the auction to conduct a study of the impact on climate change. More than 300 drilling blocks spanning 1.7 million acres of federal waters were leased, the most activity in a federal lease sale since 2014, according to federal data. All in all, more than 30 oil and gas companies agreed to pay out a total $191.6 million. A regular event in past administrations, Biden had tried to hold off leasing federal lands and waters for oil and gas development for 12 months while the climate review was underway. But in June a federal judge in Louisiana ordered the Interior Department to continue holding lease sales while it conducted its review, following a lawsuit by state attorneys general in Texas, Louisiana and 11 other states.

In September Interior announced it would stage today's lease sale, "in compliance with an order from a U.S. District Court." In a press release Wednesday, the Interior Department said it was continuing its review of climate impacts of the leasing program and in future lease sales would use updated emissions models to create, "the most robust projections ever of the climate impacts of offshore lease sales." The lease sale came as good news for an oil and gas industry that faces an uncertain future under a Biden administration, which has targeted a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels over the next decade. The question hanging over the lease sale was whether companies would show the same interest they had in past auctions, as consumers and investors alike press oil companies to shift towards cleaner forms of energy. But with oil prices rising amid renewed demand following the Covid-19 pandemic, there was plenty of incentive for oil and gas companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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WJHL - November 19, 2021

Youngkin won’t try to block local mask, vaccine mandates like other Republican governors

Virginians can expect a shift in vaccine and mask mandates once Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin is sworn in. After his inaugural ceremony on Jan. 15, Youngkin said he will not mandate masks and vaccines but–unlike some Republican governors–he will not attempt to block localities from implementing their own requirements. “Localities are going to have to make decisions the way the law works and that is going to be up to individual decisions but, again, from the governor’s office, you won’t see mandates from me,” Youngkin clarified in a one-on-one interview over the weekend.

Those comments come a few days after a federal judge ruled that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting localities from requiring masks in schools violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by putting students with underlying conditions at risk and hindering their access to in-person instruction. The judge is now barring that order from being enforced. Despite being described as an “anti-vaxxer” by critics on the campaign trail, Youngkin called himself a “staunch supporter” of the vaccine. “My family has gotten it. I’ve gotten it. I think it’s the best way for people to protect themselves,” Youngkin said. To date, Gov. Ralph Northam has mandated vaccinations or weekly testing for state employees. Although he supports requirements from the private sector and local governments, Northam has stopped short of ordering vaccine mandates for teachers and healthcare workers at the state level as some other Democratic governors have.

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Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2021

GOP chair Ronna McDaniel concedes that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump, sort of

Donald Trump’s hand-picked leader of the GOP conceded Thursday something the former president has not: “Joe Biden won the election.” But Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chair, was quick to muddy that declaration by echoing Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that serious questions remain about fraud that might have tipped the outcome. “Painfully, Joe Biden won the election. I mean, he’s the president, of course. It’s very painful to watch. I think there were lots of problems with the election. And I think it needs to be looked at. But yeah, he’s the president. It sucks,” she responded to a question from The Dallas Morning News during a breakfast with journalists. It is of course incontestable that Biden is the president. Whether he legitimately won is a question that McDaniel has avoided, pivoting during Thursday’s session hosted by The Christian Science Monitor to complaints about Biden’s leadership.

She insisted that Republicans have moved on, though many still refuse to acknowledge that Biden won and Trump himself continues to insist that Biden somehow stole the election – a claim that dozens of courts have deemed baseless. A much ballyhooed partisan “audit” of Arizona ballots found that Biden’s victory margin was actually bigger than initially reported. For months ahead of the election, Trump planted doubts, insisting the only way he could lose was through fraud and cheating. He left the White House without a traditional welcoming ceremony for his successor, and skipped Biden’s inauguration – rejecting his role in a civic rite observed by nearly every president, to signal the peaceful transition of power and to acknowledge the will of the electorate. Pressed Thursday on whether she recognizes not just that Biden is the president, but that he actually won – both the popular and Electoral College votes, as certified by the states and ratified by Congress on Jan. 6 after a riot by a pro-Trump mob – McDaniel was slippery. “I’ve answered your question,” she said. “I just told you he’s the president and it’s very painful. I think the media gave him a free pass. I think there’s a lot to look at and uncover with that election. But I just answered your question.”

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Associated Press - November 18, 2021

Jan. 6 rioter known as 'QAnon Shaman' sentenced to 41 months in prison

Though he isn’t accused of violence, prosecutors say Chansley, of Arizona, was the “public face of the Capitol riot” who went into the attack with a weapon, ignored repeated police orders to leave the building and gloated about his actions in the days immediately after the attack. Before he was sentenced, Chansley told U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth it was wrong for him to enter the Capitol and that he accepts responsibility for his actions. He emphasized he wasn’t an insurrectionist and is troubled with the way he was portrayed in news stories in the aftermath of the riot. “I have no excuse,” Chansley said. “No excuses whatsoever. My behavior is indefensible.” The judge said Chansley’s remorse appeared to be genuine but noted the seriousness of his actions in the Capitol. “What you did was terrible,” Lamberth said. “You made yourself the center of the riot."

The image of Chansley holding a flagpole topped with a spear tip and looking as if he were howling was one of the most striking to emerge from the riot. He previously called himself the “QAnon Shaman” but has since repudiated the QAnon movement, which is centered on the baseless belief that former President Donald Trump was fighting a cabal of Satan-worshipping, child sex trafficking cannibals. He is among 650 people charged in the riot that forced lawmakers into hiding as they were meeting to certify President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. More than 120 defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor charges of demonstrating in the Capitol that carry a maximum of six months in prison. Chansley and Scott Fairlamb, a New Jersey gym owner sentenced last week for punching a police officer during the attack, have received the longest prison sentences out of the 38 Capitol riot defendants who been punished so far. Chansley, who has been in jail for 10 months, sought to be sentenced to time served. His lawyer, Albert Watkins, said his client has longstanding mental health problems that were worsened by being held in solitary confinement due to COVID-19 protocols and is in dire need of mental health treatment.

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Washington Post - November 19, 2021

Court bars New York Times from publishing Project Veritas memos in move called ‘unconstitutional’

A New York state judge ruled on Thursday that the New York Times must temporarily cease publication of articles based on internal documents from Project Veritas, which sued the newspaper for defamation last year — a decision that was sharply criticized as unconstitutional by both the leadership of the Times and press freedom advocates. The ruling, by Westchester County Supreme Court Judge Charles D. Wood, follows a Times story last week based on memos written by the group’s media lawyer that the Times said revealed “the extent to which the group has worked with its lawyers to gauge how far its deceptive reporting practices can go before running afoul of federal laws.”

On Monday, a lawyer representing Project Veritas suggested that the federal authorities leaked legal memos to the Times after obtaining them during a raid this month on the home of the group’s founder, James O’Keefe, as part of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding diary pages purportedly belonging to President Biden’s daughter that were published shortly before the 2020 election. Project Veritas — an organization that has used deceptive tactics in some of its attempts to capture proof of what it says is liberal bias and corruption in mainstream media and government — acknowledged that it once had possession of the diary, but it said it gave the diary to law enforcement and denied having anything to do with its publication by another right-wing site. Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for the Times, said the legal memos were received “prior to the FBI executing its search warrants.” Joel Kurtzberg, a lawyer representing the newspaper, in addition denied that the memos were “obtained improperly.” On Wednesday, Project Veritas filed a motion asking the court to block the Times from publishing more material from its internal documents, with a complicated argument linking the reporting of last week’s story to the newspaper’s legal maneuvers in the ongoing defamation lawsuit.

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Newsclips - November 18, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2021

Beto O’Rourke raises $2M in first 24 hours as Texas governor candidate

Democratic Texas gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke raised more than $2 million in his first 24 hours as a candidate this week, breaking records, his campaign said Wednesday. O’Rourke said he’s cobbling together “the largest people-powered campaign that Texas has ever seen” in his bid to oust GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. The former El Paso congressman raised over $80 million for his U.S. Senate race three years ago — and, through his failed presidential bid and recent leadership of voter-registration drives, amassed an enviable donor list. “Texans across the state are demanding change,” O’Rourke said in a written statement. “We entered this race because we believe in a bigger vision for Texas. I’m honored to have the support of tens of thousands of Texans.” In the 24 hours after he announced Monday, O’Rourke raised $2,015,885 from about 31,000 donors, the campaign said.

That breaks the fundraising record “for any Democratic gubernatorial candidate for the first 24 hours” of a campaign, according to O’Rourke’s release. It’s more than any Democrat running for governor has raised in the first day nationwide, O’Rourke spokesman Abhi Rahman clarified. The campaign also said O’Rourke had raised “the most in the first 24 hours of any campaign in 2021.” Of the donors, 57% are Texas residents, Rahman said. Abbott spokesman Mark Miner called O’Rourke’s rollout unimpressive, despite the fundraising. “It was an extremely lackluster campaign announcement,” Miner said. “He’s already trying to reinvent himself and run from his open-border and defund-the-police policies.” Abbott’s also a relentless, highly successful fundraiser. As of June 30, the GOP incumbent governor had $55.1 million in his campaign account. Abbott has not filed a required campaign-finance report for the year’s third special legislative session.

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Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2021

Tony Buzbee files $750 million lawsuit over Astroworld Festival tragedy

As the lawsuits continue to pile up following the aftermath of the Astroworld Festival tragedy, attorney Tony Buzbee has filed one of the largest yet. The prominent Houston lawyer filed a suit Monday on behalf of 125 clients, including Axel Acosta, who was one of the 10 victims who passed away from a catastrophic crowd surge. Buzbee said at a Nov. 8 press conference that Acosta was suffocated and trampled and left on the muddy ground “like a piece of trash.” "His death was needless, and was the result of gross negligence," Buzbee said in a statement.

The suit seeks more than $750 million in damages and names a slew of defendants, including Travis Scott, whose real name is Jacques Bermon Webster II, Drake, whose real name is Aubrey Graham, Apple Music, Live Nation the event organizer, Cactus Jack Records, Travis Scott's record label company, as well as other labels like Epic Records and Grand Hustle Records associated with producing the event, and Paradocs, the private medical company hired for the festival among others. "The Buzbee Law Firm believes, based on its ongoing investigation, that Apple Music, Epic Records and many other corporations that stood to profit from Astroworld will share legal blame in a court of law, in front of a Texas jury," Buzbee said. The 55-page suit attacks Scott's history of inciting behavior Scott refers to as raging both on social media and at his concerts, including the rapper's previous misdemeanor charges for reckless conduct in 2015, plus disorderly conduct, inciting a riot and endangering the welfare of a minor in 2017 after he encouraged a fan to jump from a balcony. At least one person fell and became paralyzed in that incident.

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NBC News - November 17, 2021

Democrats rebrand Build Back Better bill to counter inflation concerns

Democrats are refocusing their message on President Joe Biden's Build Back Better bill in response to inflation concerns from voters and key centrist lawmakers as Congress moves closer to final votes on the massive spending package. The White House and Democratic leaders have rebranded the legislation as an antidote to widespread price hikes, arguing that it would lower the cost of prescription drugs, child care and overall expenses related to raising families. "Want to fight inflation? Support Build Back Better," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday.

The measure calls for spending $1.75 trillion over a decade on a variety of Democratic priorities, from health care subsidies to clean energy. It would give the government the power to negotiate prices for certain medicines, subsidize child care and extend cash payments for most parents with children under 18. Democrats aim to cover the cost of the social safety net package through taxes on corporations and more money for IRS enforcement. They also insist that the legislation would be fully paid for ahead of a Congressional Budget Office analysis expected this week. But some Democratic moderates say they're more worried that the increased costs would hit numerous sectors of the economy. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has been sounding the alarm about inflation for months, declined to say Monday whether the legislation addresses his concerns.

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NBC News - November 17, 2021

McCarthy tries to tamp down Republican infighting over infrastructure bill

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sought to navigate the delicate GOP divisions over the new infrastructure law, making the case Tuesday that Republicans should focus on criticizing Democrats instead of one another. At a closed-door House Republican caucus meeting, McCarthy called on lawmakers to stay unified and not to attack their Republican colleagues, two sources familiar with the meeting said. McCarthy suggested that they should focus their fire on Democrats' Build Back Better bill, one of the sources said. Some far-right members who are closely aligned with former President Donald Trump have begun attacking fellow Republicans who voted for the $550 billion infrastructure package. Publicly, McCarthy, who has been one of Trump's loudest defenders, has struggled to hold together a caucus that has publicly feuded over the former president.

Trump has threatened to work to unseat the Republicans who supported the bipartisan infrastructure law, which was a key piece of President Joe Biden's legislative agenda. Trump issued a flurry of statements blasting the law as a "Non-Infrastructure" bill and complaining that it "gives Biden and the Democrats a victory just as they were falling off the cliff." Some of the lawmakers who voted for the bill have gotten death threats, including Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. In the House, 13 Republicans voted for the proposal this month, helping push it across the finish line despite defections from a small group of progressive Democrats. In the Senate, 19 Republicans voted for it in August after a group of 10 senators, evenly split between the parties, crafted the bill. Trump's opposition has largely been about the politics, not the policy — he argued that it gave Biden a win that he can now tout to voters. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a moderate whom Trump is trying to defeat next year, responded to his attacks by saying there had been an "unfortunate backlash" by some who put politics above good governance.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2021

Beto O’Rourke’s border problem and how he aims to fix it as he runs for governor of Texas

Beto O’Rourke was barely into the second day of his campaign for governor when he pointed his pickup truck toward Laredo and the Texas border. “It is no accident that not even 48 hours after we announced this campaign we are right here in your community,” the El Paso Democrat told a packed crowd at Jett Bowl in Laredo on Tuesday night. While he followed that by talking about the region’s general importance and his connection with the area, an unspoken truth hung over the event. O’Rourke struggled in Webb County and in the Rio Grande Valley during his breakout 2018 U.S. Senate campaign and Republicans made major inroads in the region in 2020 during Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

O’Rourke won the five counties between Laredo and Brownsville that have long been Democratic strongholds. But the turnout in 2018 was just 39 percent along that stretch compared to the statewide average of 53 percent. O’Rourke may have done better in Texas statewide than Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden did in 2016 and 2020, but he did worse than both of them in those border counties. It’s a weakness he knows he must address to have any shot of upsetting Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022. To that end, O’Rourke on Tuesday vowed his campaign will not take Laredo for granted. He told supporters he’ll be back often and will focus resources on getting out the vote and reaching out to more people than Democrats have in the past. “If the great sin committed by Republicans in the past was trying to disenfranchise voters based on the color of their skin, then the great sin committed by Democrats has been to take those same voters for granted,” he said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 17, 2021

Civil rights investigation launched against Carroll ISD

The Civil Rights office of the Department of Education is conducting three investigations into discrimination complaints of racism and sexual orientation involving the Carroll school district. According to an NBC News report, the school district was notified last week of the investigation, which could take months or years. The investigations were announced after three years of controversy involving a viral video of white students chanting a racial slur. A draft of a 34-page cultural competence plan drew an angry outcry from parents and the Southlake Families political action committee, alleging that the plan focused on reporting microagressions and on teaching values which contradicted the Christian, conservative beliefs their children were taught at home.

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Bloomberg - November 17, 2021

Permian Basin roars back to life, with oil output on track to set a record in December

Oil output in the Permian Basin is projected to hit a record as the largest U.S. shale patch leads the recovery in domestic production from its COVID-19 induced slump. Supplies from the prolific oil field of West Texas and New Mexico are set to increase to 4.95 million barrels a day in December, according to a U.S. government report Monday. That surpasses the record set in March 2020, right before the pandemic wreaked widespread demand destruction globally, triggering production shutdowns and bankruptcies across the U.S. Crude supplies from the basin now exceed that of each OPEC member except Saudi Arabia, underscoring the Permian’s ascendancy to its role as a globally important swing producer. Its bounce-back has been driven by low break-even costs, and the largest U.S. drillers are almost exclusively focusing their limited domestic plans for expansion on the sprawling oil patch, at the expense of other shale basins. Total U.S. output is still a long way off from a full recovery.

One reason drillers aren’t incentivized to boost output in other basins is because most market observers estimate that the global oil market will become oversupplied next year. Last week, the Energy Information Administration projected that global oil supply is set to average 101.42 million barrels a day in 2022, while worldwide demand is seen at 100.88 million barrels a day. Still, record Permian output won’t be enough to significantly reduce oil prices in the near future as long as overall demand continues to outpace supply. Production in the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford in South Texas are both still down from pre-pandemic levels. Output in other shale regions is set to rise modestly with gains ranging 2,000-5,000 barrels a day, the agency said. The backlog of oil wells that have already been drilled and are waiting to be fracked, known as DUCs, have sunk to the lowest volume since 2014, the agency said in its Drilling Productivity Report.

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Click2Houston - November 17, 2021

KPRC 2 Investigates: What role do prosecutors have in Harris County’s felony bond debate?

Harris County judges are often criticized for setting any kind of bond or setting a bond the public considers too low in cases involving violent felonies. However, KPRC 2 Investigates wanted to know what is the prosecutor’s role in this process, more specifically, what impact can the prosecutor have on the setting of bonds in felony cases? KPRC 2 Investigates reviewed court records of all murder and capital murder cases where the bond was set this year, from Jan. 1 - Sept. 30. In at least 10% of the 257 cases we examined, prosecutors did not appear to fight the bond set by the judge. Although judges are precluded from speaking publicly about specific cases, KPRC 2 Investigates’ analysis of records revealed judges left notes about the bond process on docket sheets. Some of those notes read, “prosecution didn’t ask for a higher bond,” “state never asked to raise bond,” or “state didn’t move forward with sufficient bail motion.” In other cases we found prosecutors withdrawing motions seeking a denial of bond.

One of the cases involved is the murder of David Castro, 17, after an Astros game in July. “The things I’ve come to learn about how the system works and doesn’t work are both disgusting and shocking,” said Paul Castro, David’s father. “What did you think would happen in terms of the bond?” asked KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold. “The hope was the system would keep him locked up,” said Castro. “When I heard his accused murderer was granted bond it was, first it was enraging.” Gerald Wayne Williams, 34, is charged with David Castro’s murder. A magistrate initially set his bond at $350,000, but prosecutors immediately asked he be held without bond. While the Texas constitution guarantees most defendants a right to bond, the law also allows for it to be denied in Williams’ case because of his prior felony convictions and that he’s charged with a crime involving a deadly weapon. Yet court records show prosecutors “abandoned” their motion to deny the bond and instead asked for a $500,000 bond. KPRC 2 Investigates’ review found that Judge Marc Brown wrote that without a hearing or evidence to support their request to increase bond, he had “no discretion” to “deny bail” and “no legal justification” to change the original amount.

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Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2021

Dallas mayor says city needs to drive economy in State of the City speech

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says he’s more optimistic about the city’s future than he’s ever been. During his third State of the City address, Johnson touted Dallas’ latest budget, which increased investment in the police department and public safety. He also talked about focusing on economic and workforce development that prioritizes southern Dallas and tackling ethics reform to weed out City Hall corruption. The first-term mayor also praised residents’ resilience amid the COVID-19 pandemic and February’s winter storm. The mayor said the city would release a report Thursday on how the city can foster more workforce development opportunities and programs for residents. He said he planned to appoint an adviser early next year to ensure recommendations are implemented.

But the city has also been slow to recognize serious problems in its own backyard, the mayor said. He said backlogs and delays in the permitting office, deteriorating roads, and other issues have lured people and businesses to neighboring cities instead of Dallas. He also mentioned how the city’s poor management of data and technology has led to concerns about the integrity of police criminal investigations and the fire department’s ability to respond to emergency calls. Despite that, Johnson said he believes he and fellow elected leaders are on the right track to improve the city. “If we continue to get back to basics here at City Hall, and we continue to build for our future, we can trust that the people of Dallas will take it from there,” Johnson said inside City Halls’ council chambers. “They’ll roll up their sleeves and do what they’ve always done since this city was founded — they’ll make their own luck.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2021

Southlake Carroll ISD board ousts president as conservative contingent gains power

The Southlake Carroll ISD board voted in a new president Monday night, following this month’s special election in which a third Southlake Families PAC-endorsed candidate won a seat, tilting the balance of the board to the right. Trustees voted unanimously to name Eric Lannen president, ending Michelle Moore’s tenure. Lannen was elected to a three-year term in May 2020 in an uncontested election. He is the chief human resources officer for Archaea Energy, according to his LinkedIn account. He also serves on the Crime Control & Prevention Board for the city and has been a volunteer and supporter of Young Life Ministries for over 30 years, according to his biography on the district website. Lannen made a motion to name Moore as vice president, but the board did not support the vote.

Moore, who has been a board member since 2015, told The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday that she “fully supports” Lannen as the board’s new president. “Regarding the failed motion for me to serve as vice president, I believe my tenure and experience would have been of value going forward, but it’s clear that politics rather than unity or teamwork is of greater value,” she said. The Southlake Families PAC, a group that says it is “unapologetically rooted in Judeo-Christian values,” endorsed Lannen as well as Hannah Smith and Cameron Bryan, celebrating their victories in the May elections. Andrew Yeager, who won the Nov. 2 special election and was sworn in at the meeting Monday, also had the support of the PAC. The vote for a new president came shortly before it was made public that the U.S. Department of Education has opened a civil rights investigation into allegations of discrimination in the district.

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The Hill - November 18, 2021

Cornyn says he 'would be surprised' if GOP tries to unseat Sinema in 2024

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he "would be surprised if Republicans tried to unseat" Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) when she comes up for reelection in 2024, according to Politico. Politico added that Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) has repeatedly asked Sinema to join the GOP. But later on Wednesday, the Texas senator seemed to soften his stance. “I probably got out over my skis a little bit…what I was thinking about was the fact that she enjoys pretty favorable ratings among Republicans in her state,” Cornyn said, according to a tweet from NBC's Frank Thorp.

“Who knows what's going to happen in 2024. And what happens here in the Senate…one day you're working with somebody the next day you're trying to defeat them in the election," he added. An OH Predictive Insights poll conducted in September showed that 40 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Sinema, in a marked contrast with her fellow Arizona senator, Mark Kelly (D), whom 20 percent of Republican respondents in the same poll viewed favorably. That poll included a sample of 882 registered voters in Arizona and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. Sinema, along with fellow moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), has garnered attention for expressing concerns about the party's proposed $1.75 trillion social spending package. As progressive and centrist Democrats have negotiated the content of the package, Manchin's and Sinema's arguments have played a significant role in bringing the price tag of the once $3.5 trillion package down. The moderate senators have yet to formally back the latest version of the package.

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Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2021

Erica Grieder: Harris County's 'independent review' after Astroworld tragedy may not be sufficient

Ten people are dead as a result of the Nov. 5 tragedy at Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival. Over the weekend, 9-year-old Ezra Blount died of injuries he sustained after falling from his father’s shoulders into the surging crowd. Ezra’s family, as well as the other nine grieving families, deserve answers about how this deadly situation developed and unfolded, and about what steps can be taken to ensure that such a disaster doesn’t happen again. Developing a plan to get those answers would be a good first step. It’s one that hasn’t been taken yet. The Harris County Commissioners Court on Monday passed a motion calling for an “independent review” of safety plans, to be conducted by the new county administrator, David Berry.

In other words, the county is not launching the kind of “objective and independent” investigation that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo herself called for within hours of the tragedy, and formally proposed to her colleagues at a meeting Monday. Emerging from a closed session of commissioners court, Hidalgo explained that she had failed to muster the three votes necessary for an investigation. Commissioners instead backed a proposal by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, a fellow Democrat and former county sheriff, for the in-house review. “I still think that we should do more,” Hidalgo said. The fact that the county isn’t doing more may leave some puzzled. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner announced on Nov. 6, the day after the disaster, that HPD would conduct a criminal investigation, which is already underway. And last week, he disagreed with the suggestion that an additional, independent investigation was needed. “Just to be clear, HPD homicide investigation will investigate this case,” Finner said last week. “We’ll take a lead on it.” “I'm not against an independent investigation when it's warranted,” he continued. “It’s not warranted right now.”

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Austin American-Statesman - November 18, 2021

Appeals court enters fight over Austin's land development code

A state appeals court in Houston has entered the fight over Austin's land development rules that determine where certain homes can be built and how large they can be. A hearing Wednesday before the 14th Court of Appeals marked the first significant development in the case since March 2020. That was when state District Judge Jan Soifer ruled the city's plans for a comprehensive rewrite of the rules were in violation of state law because residents were denied the opportunity to protest.

In making the ruling, Soifer sided with several property owners who brought a legal challenge after the Austin City Council approved new rules to loosen building restrictions on two separate readings. Both votes were 7-4, clearing the way for a third and final vote needed to implement the changes. Soifer's ruling canceled that vote, delivering a dagger to years of work by housing advocates who said the city needs to increase the housing supply in Central Austin. The city is appealing the ruling. Wednesday's hearing was held remotely and heard by three justices, Democrat Jerry Zimmerer, Republican Tracy Christopher and Republican Randy Wilson, who is in his first year after being appointed to the court by Gov. Greg Abbott. The court is not expected to make a decision for several months. The continuation of the fight comes at a time when Austin's population is increasing more quickly than new housing is being built. The current development rules have been in place since 1984 and have had small changes since then. Critics say they are outdated and harm working-class families by making it much easier to build mansions than townhomes, condos and multiplex homes.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 17, 2021

Hector De Leon: Welcome to the Republican party, Rep. Guillen, from someone who also switched parties

(Hector De Leon is the founder and managing partner of De Leon & Washburn PC and serves as co-chairman of the Associated Republicans of Texas.) All politics is local. That’s what state Rep. Ryan Guillen recognized when he announced his switch from Democrat to Republican this week. For nearly two decades, Guillen, a conservative, has been a strong, effective representative for his constituents in South Texas. During the 87th Legislature, he voted with Republicans more than 80 percent of the time. By acknowledging that the values of his district and the people who continue to send him to Austin no longer align with the Democrat Party, he will continue to serve them well. But Guillen’s story isn’t an outlier. It’s the story of enduring support for conservative values within the Hispanic community and the results of Republican outreach consistently focused on connecting with voters and the issues that impact their lives.

I know Guillen’s story well because I have lived it. In 1984, I made the difficult decision to switch from Democrat to Republican, and I have never looked back. I grew up in Travis County in the 1960s when LBJ was president and everyone was a Democrat, especially in my community. If you were Hispanic, you were Catholic and a Democrat. No questions asked. But when I decided to step into the arena and run for public office, I was stunned to find that the Democratic Party I had believed in, supported and worked for over the years wouldn’t have me. Yes, they wanted my vote — but they were not interested in my voice. I had lived the American dream. I did not have a privileged background, but I pursued education as a building block to a successful future, being part of the first generation in my family to finish high school, and then I went on to college and eventually law school. I was working hard, raising my family, and wanted to serve my community.

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KXAN - November 17, 2021

Austinites pay more in bills than anyone else in Texas, study says

According to a recent study, Austinites pay the most for household bills than anyone else in Texas. The study, done by online payment company Doxo, said Austin residents pay an average of $2,300 per month on “the 10 most common household bills.” The study found the average Texan pays $1,888 per month on those bills. In the Austin area, which also includes Round Rock and Georgetown for the study, it’s a different story. It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that mortgage and rent payment are higher in Austin than anywhere else in Texas on average, but there are a few average bills that are lower in Austin.

Doxo’s study said Austin’s average bills are 21.7% higher than the national average, and along with being the most expensive in Texas, the area ranks 43rd out of 914 areas nationally included in the study. Texans typically pay less for utilities than the national average, as well as out-of-pocket health and life insurance payments. The bills paid by area residents make up 35.9% of the area’s average household income, the study said. In comparison, San Antonio area folks pay an average of $1,875 and the Killeen/Temple area pays $1,759. Other large metropolitan areas like Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston are high in the study’s Texas list, but neither of them comes in at No. 2 behind Austin like one might expect. That honor belongs to Brenham, where residents pay more for car loans, $651 to $462, out-of-pocket health insurance, $435 to $93, cable and internet, $176 to $115, and cell phone bills, $282 to $116.

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KXAN - November 17, 2021

Meet Deirdre Gilbert, the other Democrat running for Texas governor

Beto O’Rourke produced the biggest splash in Texas Democratic politics when he officially jumped into the race for governor after months of speculation, but he’s not the party’s only candidate running for the state’s top elected position. Deirdre Gilbert, who lives in Fort Bend County, launched her own campaign this summer for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, an announcement met with far less fanfare than O’Rourke’s. The Houston native has never held elected office nor possesses the statewide name recognition or fundraising firepower that the former El Paso congressman has upon entering the race. However, she’d like to defy what some might see as a long-shot bid to become the first Black woman to serve as governor of Texas — or any other state in the U.S.

“I’m not running because I’m a Black woman,” Gilbert said. “I’m running because I believe it’s time for a change, and I believe I can give Texas something they need, and I’m talking about the human side of politics.” During an interview Monday with KXAN, Gilbert discussed how she has a more independent streak when it comes to politics and some of her views. She said her daughter’s death in 2011 made her start more closely considering a candidate’s character, qualifications and ability to follow through on promises before she’d vote for them. She suggested that may not necessarily mean always voting for the Democrat on the ballot. “Everybody was a Democrat in the family. That’s all we talked, and I’m going to say that was like a bandwagon effect,” Gilbert said. “Now, I make my choices not based on whether or not you’re a Republican or a Democrat, but based on your qualifications, whether or not you’re going to be ethical and whether or not you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do.”

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KXAN - November 17, 2021

Gov. Abbott sued over redistricting; lawsuit says new maps dilute voting power of minorities

A group of voting rights advocates is suing Gov. Greg Abbott and Secretary of State John Scott over redistricting maps for the Texas House, Senate and Congressional districts. Abbott signed off on the new maps late last month. The new districts go into effect in January. The lawsuit says Texas has “once again cracked and packed minority populations, refused to create minority opportunity districts required by the Voting Rights Act, and racially gerrymandered electoral districts.”

It goes on to say the maps dilute the voting power of minorities and deprive them of equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The group, represented by ACLU of Texas, is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the redistricting plans from being implemented. KXAN has reached out to the governor’s office and the secretary of state’s office for comment on the lawsuit. Because of population growth, Texas gained two more seats in the U.S. House, and 2020 Census data shows people of color accounted for 95% of Texas’ population increase.

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Texas Observer - November 17, 2021

The Texas Senate’s most conservative Democrat is retiring

Eddie Lucio’s last year in the Texas Senate was emblematic. During 2021’s legislative sessions, the long-serving Democratic senator from the border town of Brownsville successfully passed bills to crack down on negligent dog owners and to encourage athletic opportunities for kids with disabilities. Lucio, a deeply Catholic septuagenarian, has long championed such laws that paint him as a defender of the vulnerable. In the same period, his decades-long war on reproductive health care reached its zenith. Alone among Senate Dems, Lucio coauthored Senate Bill 8, the state’s near-total abortion ban that empowers private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helps someone obtain an abortion, creating a de facto bounty-hunting system as reckless as it is cruel.

This was typical Lucio. Over his 35 years in the Texas Legislature, he passed bills promoting autism treatment for children, limiting the death penalty, and funding roads in South Texas’ poorest neighborhoods. In 2017, he was also the only Democrat to support Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s transphobic “bathroom bill,” a misleading measure that would have restricted restroom access for transgender Texans. Some political observers long expected Lucio would be succeeded by his son, state Representative Eddie Lucio III, but the latter announced his own retirement from the House in October without public plans to run for another office. Shortly after the senator announced his retirement, Sara Stapleton Barrera, a trial lawyer who challenged Lucio in the 2020 Democratic primary, announced she would run for the now-open seat. Stapleton Barrera was backed by pro-choice, LGBTQ rights, and environmental groups in 2020 and managed to force Lucio into a runoff, which she lost by seven points. Her current campaign website focuses on a more milquetoast set of issues, including term limits and campaign finance reform.

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Inside Higher Ed - November 17, 2021

Robert Zimmer, Steven Pinker will not advise U of Austin

The advisory board of the University of Austin has lost two of members: Robert Zimmer, chancellor and former president of the University of Chicago, and Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard University.

The university said, “The University of Austin is just one week old and has thus far succeeded in generating huge public interest. Yet, as is often the case with fast-moving start-ups, there were some missteps. In particular, our website initially failed to make clear the distinction between the Founding Trustees and the Advisory Board. Although we moved swiftly to correct this mistake, it conflated advisors, who were aligned in general with the project but not necessarily in agreement with all its actions and statements, and those who had originated the project and bear responsibility for those things. This led to unnecessary complications for several members of the advisory board, including Robert Zimmer and Steven Pinker, for which we are deeply sorry. We fully understand their decisions to step down as advisors.”

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County Stories

KUT - November 17, 2021

Hays County could lose almost $800K in funding for its emergency rental assistance program

Hays County is positioned to lose almost $800,000 in funding for a program that offers rent and utility relief to residents struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent audit on rental assistance programs across the country found that, as of Sept. 30, Hays County had spent about $166,000 — or 2.4% — of the nearly $7 million it was awarded for the program. That percentage makes the county one of 16 local governments in Texas that failed to meet federal spending targets. The federal government plans to take back some of that unspent money and give it to other programs with better track records of spending. Texas Housers, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income housing solutions, said the timing of the federal recapture is precarious given that there are fewer options now to seek rental help. Texas closed the application portal for a statewide rent relief program, citing “overwhelming demand” from people who need help.

“That was kind of like a safety net,” said Erin Hahn, a research analyst with Texas Housers. "But now that the safety net has disappeared, it's even more pressure on local programs to support the need and meet the need.” As of last week, 686 qualified applicants started the rental assistance process; half had been assigned case managers. The county has helped 73 households, paying around $300,000 in bills to landlords, utilities and hotels, Hays County spokesperson Kim Hilsenbeck said. Officials previously have pointed to small staff sizes and lengthy lists of required documents as possible reasons for the delay in processing applications. Hilsenbeck said the county is doing its "level best to reach as many people as possible." “Some of the ... bottleneck is just getting everybody through [the] system and making sure that we cross all the T's and dot the I's and that all of our reporting requirements are met,” she said. The federal government released guidance in August suggesting local programs drop many of these requirements for documents, like pay stubs or W2 forms, to prove circumstances of financial hardship or poverty. Instead, the government encouraged programs to take people's answers in good faith as a way to process applications faster and ultimately get more money out.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 18, 2021

Tarrant County schools avoid tracking student vaccinations

As the struggle over COVID-19 vaccine and mask rules continues in Texas, the governor’s executive orders have also affected another pandemic measure. Across Tarrant County, officials at schools and universities say they aren’t tracking how many students and staff are vaccinated against the virus, under the impression that even asking about vaccination status could break the rules. Accurate data could help indicate the vulnerability of each particular community, and be used to inform safety measures. “Are we interested in knowing how many people are vaccinated? Of course,” said Elizabeth With, the University of North Texas’ vice president for student affairs. “Any exact data that we can rely upon would be helpful.”

The Arlington, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw and Fort Worth school districts, along with the University of North Texas and the UT Arlington, all said they are not tracking student or staff vaccination data except through voluntary programs. “For right now, that’s private health information that we’re not collecting because it’s not required to be shared with the school district,” said Hollie Smith, the director of health services at Eagle Mountain-Saginaw. Officials say they believe they are unable to track or otherwise collect coronavirus vaccination information because of the governor’s executive orders that ban certain types of pandemic measures, including vaccine mandates and passports. In particular, the governor issued a late August order that prohibits publicly funded organizations from requiring COVID vaccination “documentation” from any “consumer.” The phrasing is vague enough that it’s unclear how or whether it applies to schools and universities, according to SMU law professor Tom Mayo.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2021

3 months into year, House sets student social, emotional needs as a top priority for Houston ISD

In August, Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II deemed the COVID-19 pandemic as the biggest challenge of his first month as the leader of the largest school district in Texas as it prepared for a full return to in-person instruction. Three months into the school year, House sees a different tall task: Addressing the social and emotional needs of students in the state’s largest public school district. And after receiving input from students, parents and district employees, House has announced the five priorities that will guide a five-year strategic plan for the district, which he expects to complete by March, one of them which is providing equitable resources and opportunities to all students.

“If we back up 20 months, we know that many of our kids were living a completely different life than they thought they were going to live,” House said in a wide-ranging interview this week. “Many of our kids and families and community members have dealt with loss, they have dealt with anger, they have dealt with stress and emotion, and those are things that really have to be focused on.” The other four priorities encompass attracting and retaining educators at all levels, promoting high-quality teaching and learning, ensuring equal distribution of programs in all corners of the sprawled-out city, and delivering effective services and supports to the students who need them the most, including those with specialized needs and English-language learners. “These five priorities that have come out of months, three months, of listening and learning are going to be a major part of what we do moving forward,” House said. “This is something that we are going to have to focus on for several years to come.” Other obstacles remain.

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KXAN - November 17, 2021

Next phase of Austin’s homelessness initiative underway

The City of Austin helped move 15 people living on city parkland in south Austin to a temporary bridge shelter Tuesday. The city says this move kicked off Phase Two of Austin’s HEAL initiative, which aims to get people off the streets and into housing. HEAL stands for Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link. Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey, who’s still in her first year in the role, gave an update on how the program is progressing. She talked about homelessness efforts in the aftermath of the camping ban. Austin voters chose to reinstate the city’s camping ban in the May election. “It’s been a tough few months for people who thought the implementation of the camping ordinance meant people weren’t going to be homeless anymore. But that wasn’t what the camping ordinance did,” Grey explained.

With people banned from sitting or lying down on public sidewalks and sleeping outdoors in and around downtown and the University of Texas at Austin campus, they’ve had to find other places to go. “We are hearing anecdotally from our parks department that they are seeing more people move into our wooded areas and that includes our parklands,” Grey said. But Austin is making progress. As part of Phase One of HEAL, which lasted from April to September, about 150 people were relocated from encampments to Austin’s two new bridge shelters. “They offer more privacy and safety,” Grey said. The city bought former hotels and motels and turned them into these bridge shelters where people can have a temporary home. “People in these shelters are already connected with a housing resource, so they can start fairly quickly working with a case manager on permanent housing,” Grey continued.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 17, 2021

Denton Public Library cancels Rainbow StoryTime

Following backlash from in and outside the community, the Denton Public Library announced the cancellation of “Rainbow StoryTime” on Monday. The event, which was scheduled for Saturday, was to feature three picture books read to children ages 2-8. The books were “Red: A Crayon’s Story” by Michael Hall, “I’m a Girl” by Yasmeen Ismail and “What Riley Wore” by Elana K. Arnold. The storytime event, one of over 300 programs held by the library per season, was met with “disrespectful and hostile complaints” based on inaccurate information, according to a library statement.

Information spread about the event alleged the storytime was focused on teaching children about gender identity, sex, sexual orientation and “indoctrinating” children into a transgender way of life. Due to the nature of the complaints, the statement said there was concern over participant and city staff safety. “Because we, above all else, must provide a safe environment for our programs, we made the difficult decision to cancel the event,” library staff said in the statement. Gubernatorial candidate Don Huffines was one opponent to the Rainbow StoryTime. Following the cancellation announcement, Huffines’ campaign released a statement calling the event “Transgender StoryTime” and accused the event of attempting to expose children to inappropriate sexual material and ideology. “Children should not be used as pawns by adults with a sexual agenda,” Huffines said.

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National Stories

Washington Post - November 18, 2021

House censures Rep. Gosar, ejects him from committees over video depicting slaying of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez

The House voted Wednesday to censure Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) for tweeting an anime video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and swinging swords at President Biden — a move that comes amid growing worries about violent political rhetoric 10 months after a mob of former president Donald Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol. The 223-to-207 vote, with one member voting present, marks the first time in more than a decade that the House has censured one of its members. The resolution also removes Gosar from his assignments on the House Oversight and Natural Resources committees. “Disguising death threats against a member of Congress and a president of the United States in an animated video does not make those death threats any less real or less serious,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during Wednesday’s debate, describing GOP leaders’ refusal to reprimand Gosar as “outrageous.”

The day brought the post-Jan. 6 tensions in Congress to the fore and highlighted Republicans’ increasing tendency to defend their GOP colleagues against any criticism from Democrats, regardless of the behavior at issue. Most Republicans who spoke on the floor Wednesday focused their remarks on attacking Democrats as power-hungry hypocrites bent on destroying the country and unwilling to discipline their own members for what Republicans claimed were similar acts. But beyond brief mentions of not condoning violence, few Republicans directed any criticism at Gosar for posting a video depicting himself plunging a sword into the back of a colleague’s neck. Some GOP lawmakers dismissed the video as a joke, or noted that cartoons are often violent; others said Gosar took down the video and that should be enough. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pledged to strip several Democrats of their committee assignments if Republicans succeed in taking control of the House next year. A censure is less severe than expulsion from the House but more severe than a reprimand. Shortly after Wednesday’s vote, Gosar stood in the well of the House chamber as Pelosi read aloud the censure resolution and a verbal rebuke.

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Washington Post - November 18, 2021

100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 12 months during the pandemic

The U.S. drug epidemic reached another terrible milestone Wednesday when the government announced that more than 100,000 people had died of overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021. It is the first time that drug-related deaths have reached six figures in any 12-month period. The people who died — 275 every day — would fill the stadium where the University of Alabama plays football. Together, they equal the population of Roanoke, Va. The new data shows there are now more overdose deaths from the illegal synthetic opioid fentanyl than there were overdose deaths from all drugs in 2016.

Despite the efforts of governments, health-care providers, activists and others, the problem is growing much worse. The new figures, which are provisional but rarely change much in final tallies, represent a 28.5 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. The financial, social, mental health, housing and other difficulties of the covid-19 pandemic are widely blamed for much of the increase. President Biden said in a statement on the overdose death data that “as we continue to make strides to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot overlook this epidemic of loss, which has touched families and communities across the country.” At a news conference Wednesday, other senior government officials acknowledged the increasing severity of the drug crisis, which has prompted the Biden administration to focus more effort on harm-reduction strategies. This approach includes trying to increase distribution of the overdose antidote naloxone and fentanyl test strips to users, to keep them alive while the government expands prevention and treatment programs. But administration drug czar Rahul Gupta conceded that naloxone distribution is uneven across the country, depending on rules in different states. He offered a model law, suggesting some states could improve access to the drug by adopting it.

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Wall Street Journal - November 17, 2021

Nurse salaries rise as demand for their services soars during COVID-19 pandemic

Other hospitals say they have raises in the works to keep up with competitors’ offers. A small Missouri hospital desperate for nurses this month raised nurse salaries by up to 5% after hospitals nearly 40 miles away boosted wages. “We were forced to,” said Sarah Hanak, chief nursing officer at Citizens Memorial Hospital in Bolivar, Mo. “We absolutely have to stay competitive.” The average annual salary for registered nurses, not including bonus pay such as overtime, grew about 4% in the first nine months of the year to $81,376, according to healthcare consultants Premier Inc., which analyzed salaries of about 60,000 nurses for The Wall Street Journal. That is up from the 3.3% increase in average annual nurse wages in all of 2020 and 2.6% growth the year before the pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The nation’s $1 trillion hospital sector is among the U.S. economy’s largest to be squeezed by upheaval across its workforce and strong demand for services following rollout of vaccines and an economic rebound. Similar disruption across sectors in retail, transportation and hospitality is also raising their workers’ wages and job prospects.

Nurses have played a critical role during the pandemic, tending to Covid-19 patients flooding emergency rooms and filling hospital beds, in addition to their work with more typical patients. The need for nurses has risen so high that many have been able to make even better livings by leaving hospital payrolls and instead hopping between temporary jobs seeking emergency staffing, hospital recruiters and executives say. The changes have pushed up turnover and job openings at hospitals, leading to chronic staffing shortages as Covid-19 cases keep coming and many patients who had postponed care for other conditions seek treatment. “We are employing more nurses now than we ever have, and we also have more vacancies than we ever had,” said Greg Till, chief people officer at Renton, Wash.-based Providence health system, which operates 52 hospitals across seven states largely in the Western U.S.

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Wall Street Journal - November 17, 2021

Electric-car startup Lucid overtakes Ford in market value

Lucid also edged closer to General Motors Co. , which at Tuesday’s close was worth about $91 billion. Company executives provided an upbeat outlook for the upstart car manufacturer on an analysts call Monday, highlighting an increase in reservations for its first model, the Lucid Air, and plans to expand its manufacturing output at its factory in Arizona. The Newark, Calif., startup reported a net loss of $524 million for the third-quarter, in part due to higher costs associated with starting vehicle production in late September and increasing its employee head count for sales and service operations. It said it had raised $4.4 billion from a reverse merger deal that took it public in the summer and had enough cash to ramp up operations through 2022.

Also on Monday, car enthusiast magazine MotorTrend gave the Lucid Air its prestigious Car of the Year award, saying it was the first time a debut model from a new car company has ever received the accolade. Lucid’s rising market valuation comes as other automotive startups are emerging to challenge the traditional car companies in the race to dominate the future of the automobile. Rivian Automotive Inc., another new electric-vehicle maker focused on trucks and SUVs, went public last week with a market value that quickly overtook Ford’s and has since exceeded that of GM. Valued at about $149 billion at Tuesday’s close, Rivian’s worth has also topped that of German auto-making giant Volkswagen AG . A spokesman said Ford’s strategic plan, outlined in May, has positioned the company to emerge as a leader on electric vehicles. The company recently committed $7 billion for three new battery factories, in Tennessee and Kentucky, along with a plant to build electric pickup trucks, part of $30 billion in electric-vehicle investment planned through 2025.

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VICE - November 17, 2021

FBI raids home of GOP election official linked to QAnon’s Ron Watkins

The FBI has raided the home of a Republican election official in Colorado accused of facilitating the leak of sensitive election data to QAnon influencer Ron Watkins. The raid on Tina Peters’ house took place in the early hours of Tuesday morning and coincided with raids on three other properties, including the home of Sherronna Bishop, who was formerly the campaign manager for Rep. Lauren Boebert. “We executed four federally court-authorized operations today to gather evidence in connection with the investigation into the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder's Office,” District Attorney Dan Rubinstein told Colorado Politics. “We did so with assistance from the DA's office from the 21st Judicial District, the Attorney General’s Office, and the FBI.”

Peters became a superstar in the world of election fraud conspiracy theories when she appeared on stage at the Cyber Symposium organized by MyPillow CEO and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell in August. Peters is accused of allowing an unauthorized person access to a secure room where voting machines are stored, and permitting them to copy sensitive information from those machines. Days later, while employees from Dominion Voting Systems were performing a routine software upgrade on the machine, the same person was allowed into the room, where he recorded video footage of the upgrade taking place. The video and the copied data were then leaked to Watkins, and the former 8kun administrator, who is now running for Congress in Arizona, presented the data during Lindell’s Cyber Symposium.

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Newsclips - November 17, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2021

Beto O'Rourke criticizes Biden's immigration policies on first day of campaign for governor

In one of his first interviews as a candidate for governor, Democrat Beto O’Rourke sought to distance himself from President Joe Biden on the politically fraught issue of immigration, criticizing some of the new administration’s policies and calling for “order” and “the rule of law” at the border. “It’s clear that President Biden could be doing a better job at the border,” O’Rourke told CBS station KTVT in Dallas-Fort Worth. “It is not enough of a priority for his administration.” O’Rourke continued: “We’ve got to have predictability, order, and the rule of law and that means honoring our asylum laws when someone has a credible asylum claim. That also means, and this is not popular amongst all Democrats, but it means that when someone comes here and doesn’t have a credible asylum claim and has entered in between ports of entry, they should be deported back to the country from which they came.”

O’Rourke, a former congressman who represented the El Paso area, announced Monday he is running for governor, becoming the first major Democratic candidate to challenge Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in 2022. O’Rourke’s comments signaled a shift in tone from his campaigns for U.S. Senate and president, when he focused on calling for an end to then-President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, including separating migrant children from parents at the border. During his unsuccessful bid for president in 2019, O’Rourke released a broad immigration plan that included a proposal to scrap the Trump-era policy that required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases were adjudicated. Biden ended the policy, but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him to reinstate it. However, O’Rourke has also broken with members of his party on immigration, notably sparring with fellow Texan Julián Castro during a presidential debate, when the former San Antonio mayor pushed for ending the federal law that makes it a crime to enter the country without documentation. O’Rourke has said ending the law would complicate prosecutions of human traffickers and other criminals, pushing instead for legislation to decriminalize illegal entry for refugees and asylum seekers.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 17, 2021

Districts ask Texas lawmaker to pay over $1,000 for inquiry into school books on racism, sexuality

The Lewisville Independent School District in the Dallas area says it will cost a Texas House committee chairman nearly $3,000 to conduct a review of library books about racism and sexuality that he requested last month. State Rep. Matt Krause received another assessment for more than $1,300 from the neighboring district in Frisco. Conroe ISD in the Houston area, citing its catalog of over 1.2 million books, wrote to Krause last week saying the request to comb through all of them to check for books that might cause students “discomfort” was subjective and therefore “nearly impossible” and “not feasible.” The review requested by state, the Republican chair of the Texas House General Investigating Committee, has largely come up empty so far among the state’s largest school districts.

Many districts reached by Hearst Newspapers last week said they were still reviewing the request, though Krause had set a deadline of last Friday for their responses. Austin and Dallas ISDs declined to respond. Houston ISD, as of Tuesday, also had not responded to the letter. Krause had asked districts whether they carried in classrooms or school libraries any books on a list of more than 800 that included Pulitzer Prize winners and other acclaimed literature. He also asked the districts to identify any books that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex” or covers any of a number of topic areas, including sexually transmitted diseases or “graphic presentations of sexual behavior.” Democrats have denounced the effort as politically motivated and encouraged districts not to respond. While the committee has subpoena power, Krause has not exercised it. And Democratic members of the committee have stressed that no vote was taken that would have initiated a formal investigation.

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Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2021

Cagle, Ramsey sue Hidalgo, Harris County over redistricting plan they say violates voting rights

Republican Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey have mounted a voting rights lawsuit in state court in hopes of halting a Harris County redistricting plan they say strips more than 1.1 million people of their right to vote in the 2022 election. Cagle and Ramsey, who are in the political minority in county government, lost ground in the plan their three political opponents supported, as Cagle’s Precinct 4 was redrawn last month to become majority Democrat.

Cagle and Ramsey announced Tuesday they were suing Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the county itself, but indicated through their attorney they see Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia as equally culpable in depriving voters of their rights. Three fellow plaintiffs who stood shoulder to shoulder with the commissioners at a news conference were identified in court documents as registered voters who are ethnic minorities. One plantiff, Ranya Khanoyan, 18, a senior in ROTC at Klein Cane High School, voted for the first time in November, but she would not be able to vote for Precinct 4 commissioner in the March primary or the following November because the plan moves her into Precinct 3, which does not have an election until 2024. Precincts 2 and 4 have elections in 2022. Precincts 1 and 3 will have elections in 2024.

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Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2021

Gas failures during blackout primarily due to cold, not power outages, FERC reports

A shortage of natural gas during the winter storm that swept Texas and other states in the south central United States in February was primarily caused by the oil and gas industry's failure to weatherize its systems, resulting in more than 58 percent of generation outages occurring at natural gas-fired power plants, the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency reported Tuesday. Over a more than 300-page report, federal officials catalogued how one of the largest blackouts in the nation's history came to pass, leaving millions of people in Texas without power for days on end. And while all parts of the region's energy industry shouldered some of the blame, federal officials reported natural gas operators' equipment freezing up was responsible for more than twice as much of the gas supply shortages as were rolling blackouts and downed power lines.

“The (report) highlights the need for substantially better coordination between the natural gas system and the electric system to ensure a reliable supply that nearly 400 million people across North America depend upon to support their way of life," Jim Robb, president of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, said in a statement. The Texas Oil and Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The report comes nine months after a historically cold winter storm caused the largest forced power outages in the nation’s history, and was the third largest blackout after the Northeast blackout in 2003 and the West Coast blackout in 1996. All in all the storm knocked out 61,800 megawatts of power across the Midwest and South, including 34,000 megawatts on Texas's power grid. At one point there was so little power the Texas grid almost collapsed all together, requiring a "black start" that could take weeks or even months to complete.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2021

Texas firms got through delta better than earlier COVID spikes despite worker shortages

The U.S. was progressing steadily on its COVID-19 recovery route when the delta variant surge caused many to predict another large economic setback. Since then, new COVID cases in Texas have gone from 42,057 on Sept. 8 to 3,403 on Nov. 15. But Texas firms weren’t as negatively affected by surges in the summer and fall compared to earlier virus peaks because they were better prepared, according to responses to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas survey of Texas businesses. Production and revenue stayed particularly steady this time around, data shows. In May 2020, more than 80% of firms surveyed said they’d seen revenue collapse 38% on average. But the August 2021 survey showed that the recent surge had no impact or a lesser impact for the majority of those responding. “It appears in the midst of this surge, life continues, versus in previous surges, life scaled back,” said an auto dealer in response to the survey. The Dallas Fed doesn’t identify the businesses it surveys.

“There is less uncertainty with this surge because there is more certainty that the surge will subside eventually,” said an investment firm respondent. In July 2020, 57% of respondents said weak demand was one of their top three revenue restraints, compared to only 25% in August 2021. Firms that struggled more during the recent surge were dealing with increased workforce issues, particularly employee absenteeism because they or a family member had caught the highly contagious delta variant, the Fed found. More than 30% of firms said August staffing shortages affected revenues negatively — 10 percentage points more than the summer 2020 survey indicated. “Employee absenteeism increased due to family members testing positive for COVID. Employees quarantined for 10 to 14 days, impacting the efficiency of operations,” said an auto dealer. Looking into 2022, economists expect ongoing supply-chain shortages and labor market tightness to impact firms. In August, 41% of respondents said supply-chain disruptions were a top-three factor that was weighing on revenues, compared to just 17% in July 2020.

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Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2021

Texas-born cookie delivery service Tiff’s Treats is now worth $500 million

Cookie delivery service Tiff’s Treats is worth $500 million after completing a recent $30 million funding round, the Austin-based company announced Tuesday. The company began in Leon Chen’s Austin apartment in 1999 when he and Tiffany Taylor began dating while attending the University of Texas. The founders moved the company into its first real kitchen space in 2000, and they’ve been opening locations across the state ever since. The second Tiff’s Treats location that opened was in downtown Dallas in 2006, and the company expanded outside its home state for the first time in 2016. It now has 70 retail distribution centers across the southern U.S. and employs 1,700 workers. It’s sold more than 200 million warm cookies to date. The company plans to invest the $30 million it raised in continuing its national expansion and development of its e-commerce platform.

“We continue to invest in our direct-to-consumer, on-demand gifting and delivery platform from the ground up, resulting in a best-in-class giving and receiving experience for customers,” co-founder Leon Chen said in a statement Tuesday. “With our technology, we manage the entire delivery experience, utilizing our own delivery drivers and highly committed in-house customer service team. We are focused on our mission to connect people through warm moments. Warm cookies are the vehicle, but our purpose is much bigger than that.” The company opened a Kessler Park location in August, its 17th in the Dallas area. And the Chens are releasing their first book early next year that will delve into the couple’s last two decades of entrepreneurship. Tiff’s has had a number of high-profile Texas figures and celebrities invest in the company over the years, including former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dirk Nowitzki and Kendra Scott. “Every day we are lucky to be an integral part of some of the most significant moments in people’s lives, fulfilling our mission of connecting people through warm moments,” co-founder and president Tiffany Chen said.

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Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2021

Texas board rejects proposed sex ed materials for middle and high schoolers

The ongoing battle over “inappropriate content” in Texas public schools raged on Tuesday as the State Board of Education declined to preliminarily adopt middle and high school health instructional materials that addressed such topics as contraception, gender identity and self-harm. The decision could leave school districts to fend for themselves on how best to address new health curriculum standards approved just a year ago — in a less fevered environment. Last November, the State Board of Education approved new curriculum standards — called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS — that included lessons on birth control, not just abstinence, starting in middle school. In that same process, the board declined to include standards that would have defined and taught gender identity and sexual orientation.

“It feels like we’re about to leave a lot of districts in the dark with this,” said board member Aicha Davis, D-Dallas. School systems, leaders and elected bodies have been under heightened scrutiny over the past year as conservative advocates and constituents stoked fights on library materials, mask mandates and the perceived infusion of critical race theory into lessons. The 15-member state board voted along party lines to reject health materials crafted for middle school students from publishers Lessonbee Inc. and Human Kinetics. Several board members — and a large portion of those who spoke Tuesday — objected to how those texts presented to sixth- to eighth-graders topics such as gender identity, abortion, masturbation and sexual arousal. During public testimony, Mary Elizabeth Castle, a senior policy advisor for family-values nonprofit organization Texas Values, said materials from Lessonbee Inc. and Human Kinetics went beyond the scope of the TEKS changes. “They encourage sexual activity at a young age; they mentioned consent, when we agreed on refusal skills in the TEKS. And then they had a topic of gender identity and sexual orientation that was not agreed on by the board,” Castle said.

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Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2021

UT Southwestern and UT Dallas break ground on $120 million joint bioengineering research facility

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the University of Texas at Dallas broke ground Monday on a new $120 million, 150,000-square-foot biomedical engineering research facility. Leaders from both universities announced the building will be named after Dallas-based semiconductor giant Texas Instruments, which gave $15 million to the new facility. Construction is expected to be completed in May 2023, according to a University of Texas System Board of Regents document from February. The biomedical engineering and sciences building, which will be located on UT Southwestern’s East Campus, was conceptualized to expand collaboration between researchers at UT Southwestern and UT Dallas, said UT Dallas president Richard Benson.

“With the addition of the biomedical engineering sciences building, we create an additional opportunity for higher education and the development of new technologies for detecting and treating illnesses,” Benson said. The biomedical engineering project has been in the works for years. In 2019, the Board of Regents approved $90 million in bond proceeds for the building and the project went into its “definition phase” in September 2020. The five-story building will include wet and dry laboratory space, a biodesign center, a metal fabrication shop and rooms for 3-D printing. With the addition of Texas Instruments’ gift, project leaders still have to come up with $15 million to reach their $120 million total. Benson said he’s certain the universities will be able to raise the remainder of the funding. “Our gift reflects our confidence in the brilliant minds at UT Southwestern and UT Dallas — to combine medical and engineering talent and resources to solve problems that will advance patient care,” said Texas Instruments chairman, president and CEO Richard Templeton. “What gets me personally excited is that semiconductor technology will be at the center of the medical discoveries that are made inside this new building.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2021

Texas white power prison gang leaders 'Big Head,' 'JP' convicted of organized crime after numerous brutal assaults

Two top leaders of an entrenched white power prison gang were convicted of organized crime charges in federal court in East Texas. William Chunn, 39, and Jesse Blankenship, 38, were two leaders of the Aryan Circle prison gang, a violent group born in Texas in the 1980s and which has since spread across the country. The two were swept up in a sprawling federal investigation which led to indictments against more than 40 defendants in six states. The both had been indicted on racketeering charges and and using violent crime in the aid of racketeering. Both men could be sentenced to up to life in prison. Authorities cheered the convictions, saying it showed the power of teamwork across state lines.

“This case represents that power by sending a clear message to all members of the Aryan Circle that acts of violence and other criminal activity will not be tolerated,” said Fred Milanowski, special agent-in-charge of the Houston Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency which spearheaded the probe into the hate group. The Aryan Circle is well organized and lethal, ordering hits in and out of prison and running illegal drug and arms trafficking operations. It demands total allegiance and punishes those who stray. It also is a hate group propagating a racist message at a time when white supremacist views have been morphing from fringe ideology to a force in mainstream thought and politics. Law enforcement officials warn that the group’s violence extends beyond prison walls and can harm innocent victims. Like the Ku Klux Klan and other violent hate groups, it has been able to weather law enforcement battles to take it down. Experts estimate the gang has about 1,000 members in and outside prison, with a presence in at least 10 states across the country. Gang members have been accused of murders, violent assaults, drug dealing, car thefts and numerous other crimes.

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Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2021

River Oaks doctor resigns from Houston Methodist after suspension for spreading COVID misinformation

A River Oaks doctor on Monday resigned her privileges at Houston Methodist Hospital after the hospital temporarily suspended her for spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Dr. Mary Talley Bowden, an ear, nose and throat specialist in private practice, was granted provisional privileges at the Texas Medical Center hospital within the last year. She had never admitted a patient before Friday, when the hospital temporarily pulled those privileges for unprofessional behavior, including spreading “dangerous misinformation” about COVID-19 and using vulgar language on social media, the hospital said. On Monday, Bowden told KTRH, an AM talk radio station, that she sent Houston Methodist a resignation letter on Monday morning. The hospital confirmed receiving the letter; Bowden did not respond to a request for further comment.

“I’ve been very disappointed with how Methodist has handled this,” she said in the five--minute interview. “I don’t think I’m dangerous. I think if you look at my website and you listen to my interviews with (conservative radio host) Michael Berry, I’ve never said anything that’s considered dangerous.” Bowden recently sent her patients two emails, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, suggesting that “the vaccine is not working” and urging against vaccinations for children and those with natural immunity. On her Twitter account, she repeatedly decries vaccine mandates and touts the unproven benefits of ivermectin, the anti-parasitic drug that federal health officials advise against using to treat the virus. She also says she is only accepting new patients who are unvaccinated. There is no well-designed study that shows ivermectin benefits people with COVID, and the vaccines have been highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from the virus. Studies show the vast majority of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths are among people who are unvaccinated.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 17, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: Win or lose, Beto O'Rourke will give Texas Democrats a much-needed spark

If you look in the right places, you can usually find drama, passion and cultural resonance in politics. But not a lot of joy. In fact, the word seems so alien to the contemporary political experience that noting its absence is akin to observing that we don’t see a lot of llamas working in the tech industry. When we look back at Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 underdog challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, it’s easy to get hung up on the metrics. Such as the fact that O’Rourke, by garnering more than 4 million ballots, received more votes than any Democrat in Texas election history up to that point; the fact that his coattails enabled long-suffering Texas Democrats to gain 12 state House and two U.S. House seats; the fact that O’Rourke raised an astonishing $80 million — more than doubling Cruz’s haul — and did it largely on the strength of small individual donations.

What made those breakthroughs possible, however, was something that doesn’t show up in the data. It’s the simple fact that, much as we might be uncomfortable using the word, O’Rourke’s campaign radiated joy. It projected a contagious sense of exuberance, a feeling that no matter how serious the stakes, the process of campaigning could be unabashed fun. It meant O’Rourke — a proud veteran of the 1990s El Paso punk-rock scene — air-drumming to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” in a Whataburger takeout lane after a Dallas debate with Cruz. It meant O’Rourke skateboarding through a Brownsville parking lot after a long day of campaigning or jamming onstage with Willie Nelson in Austin. Even before O’Rourke’s campaign officially launched, it meant joining Helotes-based Republican Congressman Will Hurd on a 30-hour, live-streamed, bipartisan road trip from San Antonio to Washington, D.C. in a rented Chevy Impala. This excitement didn’t carry over to O’Rourke’s doomed 2020 presidential campaign, a race in which he never seemed to find his footing. Even some of O’Rourke’s most ardent 2018 supporters seemed ambivalent about his presidential bid, openly wishing that he would have held out for another crack at a statewide run in Texas.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 16, 2021

'Stop your violent actions now': With in-your-face tactics, Fort Worth-area police try to stymie abusers

Police Sgt. Tyler Stillman climbs out of his black SUV and walks up to a two-story, red brick house in an upscale section of Bedford, northeast of Fort Worth. As he knocks on the door, Stillman holds a simple but surprisingly effective weapon in the fight against domestic violence: A letter. Not just any letter. This one is hand-delivered to men who’ve been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, and it bears a pointed message: Don’t do it again. Police are watching. The letter tells the recipient he’ll now receive heightened scrutiny from law enforcement. Expect unannounced visits, it says. Keep committing violent acts and you will go to prison. “What the letter conveys is that the victim is no longer involved,” said Stillman, a 21-year veteran of the Bedford Police Department. “It tells the suspect his actions are now between him and (police). And we’re not nearly as forgiving.” As San Antonio confronts a surge in domestic violence fatalities, it might consider taking a page from Tarrant County, some 300 miles north.

There, police in Bedford, a handful of neighboring suburban communities and one section of Fort Worth are using an “offender-focused” approach to reduce repeat family violence offenses. It’s called the High Point model, after the North Carolina city where it originated in 2012. High Point, a city of 113,000, had the highest rate of family violence in the state. More than one-third of all homicides involved intimate partners. In fighting gang and drug-related crime, police long had employed in-your-face techniques. They held face-to-face meetings with suspects, backed up by letters that promised surveillance and escalating consequences if they continued to break the law. City officials decided to see what would happen if they applied the same approach to domestic violence. A year into the program, re-arrest rates for domestic violence offenders declined from 20 percent to 9 percent. The number of intimate partner killings dropped as well, officials say. Smaller cities like Bedford and larger ones like Detroit and Fort Worth have sought to duplicate the High Point model. Traditional efforts to combat domestic violence focused on providing services to victims. The High Point model homes in on suspects and lets them know they’re not anonymous anymore. The letters (hand-delivered or mailed) and unannounced, in-person visits are intended to add a layer of deterrence, beyond the legal framework of arrests and indictments. “For the longest time, domestic violence was quiet, unless you murdered someone,” said Stillman. “Not now, not in Bedford.”

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San Antonio Express-News - November 16, 2021

Texas' pandemic housing madness is cooling - a little bit - as would-be buyers sit it out

After going on a tear during the coronavirus pandemic, the Texas housing market is showing signs of cooling. The number of sales and prices are moderating as the supply of homes available for sale is increasing, said Luis Torres, a research economist at Texas A&M University’s Texas Real Estate Research Center.

One reason for the slowdown: Prospective buyers are sitting it out, waiting for prices to come back to earth. “Prices have increased at such a high rate,” Torres said. “A lot of people have found themselves priced out of the market, so that’s weakening demand somewhat.” It’s a shift from the narrative that’s been playing out since last year. Activity accelerated as families kept at home by the pandemic sought more space to spread out, took advantage of low mortgage rates and used federal stimulus checks to help with down payments. Some moved to another area because the pandemic allowed them to work remotely and skip commuting. The sales surge came on top of an already-crimped supply of homes, driving prices higher. Current homeowners concerned about finding another home to move into — or about allowing strangers in to look around their home during a pandemic — opted to stay put. And February’s winter storm left properties damaged and delayed closings. While the state’s housing market is still strong — and homes are still selling fast — it’s returning to “more healthy” and “sustainable” levels, Torres said. That does not mean prices are falling, but that price growth is moderating, he said.

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Washington Post - November 16, 2021

In Argyle, a maternity ranch is born

The vision had come as she was driving home from the Kroger, and it was so sudden and fully formed that Aubrey Schlackman began to tell people that “it was like God placed it in my head.” This was last year, a time when abortion was still widely available in Texas and Aubrey was one more young mother joining the midmorning traffic along Farm to Market 407 in the growing suburbs north of Dallas. She passed the Starbucks. She passed the AT&T store. She was thinking about getting her two young boys down for a nap when she reached a pleasant stretch of land bordered by a long split-rail fence, and this is when the idea came. “A maternity ranch,” she thought, and she could practically see it through her windshield. It would be a place for struggling pregnant women who decide to have their babies instead of having abortions, a Christian haven where women could live stress-free during their newborn’s first year of life. It would have individual cottages for mothers. “Host homes” for couples who would model healthy marriages. A communal barn for meals. Bible study. The whole plan was clear, and when she told her husband later that night, he said, “Yes, this is what we’re supposed to do.”

Four months before, Texas legislators passed a bill outlawing most abortions in the state. Three weeks before, the law had taken effect, and though it was being challenged in court, a similarly restrictive Mississippi law was headed to the most conservative U.S. Supreme Court in decades. The growing sense among evangelical Christians was that the end of Roe v. Wade was no longer a dim possibility but a near certainty. The time had come for the next phase — a new era in America when the church would establish a kind of Christian social safety net where motherhood was not only supported but exalted as part of God’s plan for the universe. Increasingly, this was the cause mobilizing the megachurches rising across the Texas suburbs, most especially an emerging network of women who flocked to them, and Aubrey Schlackman was part of this vanguard. Her project was gathering momentum, and in front of the coffee shop, she was greeting her first prospective donor of the day. “Morning, we’re a local nonprofit supporting single pregnant moms,” she said to a young woman who read the sign, studied the postcard and responded without hesitation. “Such a blessing,” she said. “Do you take checks?” To be a woman such as Aubrey Schlackman, in a state such as Texas, at a moment such as this, was to be a cultural force behind what part of America was becoming.

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MySA - November 17, 2021

Netflix releases premiere date for new Austin series that looks a lot like 'The Real World'

Coming soon to your Netflix (or the one you're stealing from your mom) is a new show filmed in Austin that follows eight 20-something strangers forced to live together and navigate the "new normal" life. The popular streaming service started its casting call for a show called Roaring Twenties back in August. On Monday, November 15, Netflix announced on Twitter it filmed the show this fall and will premiere the series on December 10.

The new project seems to remind a lot of people of one of the OG reality television series from MTV that put strangers in a house together. What was it called? Oh right, The Real World. "So what you're telling me is you're trying to be The Real World," Caleb commented on Twitter. "Real World: Roaring Twenties," Dimitrius Jones tweeted. While it does seem similar, it doesn't come with a surprise as Netflix has been rolling out several reality television shows on its platform, such as Love Is Blind, Bling Empire, and Too Hot To Handle.

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VICE - November 17, 2021

Hundreds of QAnon believers are still in Dallas waiting for JFK to show up

Two weeks after hundreds of people gathered in Dallas to witness what they believed was going to be the return of John F. Kennedy and JFK Jr., another large crowd gathered in downtown Dallas once again in the vain hope of seeing the former president resurrected. The group has been in Dallas since the beginning of the month when they initially gathered based on the prediction that JFK was going to be resurrected on Nov. 2. That prediction was made by Michael Brian Protzman, a former demolition expert who has amassed a huge following in recent months by using a bastardized version of the Hebrew numerology system known as Gematria to make wild predictions about former President Donald Trump, QAnon, and the Kennedys.

Having spent two weeks holed up in the city, the group once again gathered at Dealey Plaza on Monday because according to the Julian calendar—which Protzman claims they should now be following—Monday was Nov. 1, and so JFK was actually going to reappear at midnight. Throughout the day Monday, crowds of over 100 people gathered in Dealey Plaza, holding up signs bearing QAnon slogans and pro-Trump rhetoric as well as signs welcoming back JFK, who was assassinated at that location almost 58 years ago. In videos shared by those in attendance, young children can be seen standing in the crowd holding QAnon signs late into the evening. One former follower of Protzman told VICE News last week that she witnessed children outside asleep on the ground in the early hours of the morning when the group initially met two weeks ago. As night fell and JFK once again failed to reappear, the group gathered and recited the Lord’s Prayer before breaking into a rendition of We Are the World, a song co-written by Michael Jackson. Two weeks ago, when JFK failed to materialize, Protzman led his followers to a $300-a-ticket Rolling Stones concert that was taking place in the city and now claims without any evidence that the band had actually been replaced by Jackson (playing Mick Jagger), JFK Jr. (Keith Richards), and Prince (drummer Steve Jordan), while one of the backing singers was replaced by Aaliyah, the U.S. singer who died in a plane crash in 2001.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 16, 2021

House passes veterans affairs bill from Rep. Jake Ellzey

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill from Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Texas, that seeks to make it easier for people to get information about a government program that helps student veterans. The bill calls on the Department of Veterans Affairs to report to Congress about the operations and effectiveness of its Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership program, which for 10 years has provided mental health support to student veterans. This is the first bill Ellzey has introduced as a congressman. His office did not have information about the legislation’s next steps. Ellzey represents most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties. He was elected in July in a special runoff election to fill the seat of Ron Wright, who died in February.

The program is operating at 183 colleges nationwide, including five in Texas, providing on-campus clinical care to student veterans. While the program is generally seen as an effective way to help student veterans with their mental health, some — including Ellzey — say the VA has not been open about how effective the program has been. The public does not have access to information about the number of veterans served annually, as well as the cost and staffing of the program. “The VITAL Program works. It’s time that we have the data on how well it works and where it can be improved,” Ellzey said in a statement Tuesday. The bill would require the VA to report to Congress how effective the program is in addressing student veterans’ mental health needs, lowering student veterans’ suicide risk, helping student veterans reach academic goals and connecting student veterans to needed services. The VA must also provide the number of veterans supported by the program.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 16, 2021

Welcome to Musklandia: Austin adjusts to life with Tesla and its eccentric billionaire boss Elon Musk

Welcome to life in Musklandia. As Elon Musk's sphere of influence in Austin and across Texas seems to expand by the day, the eccentric Texas-based billionaire is taking the region and the state along on the wild and often weird roller-coaster ride that is his life. It's been a little more than a month since Musk announced Oct. 7 that Tesla is moving its headquarters to Austin, but even before that, Musk was already spending an increasing amount of time in Austin. He has been moving more of his companies into the region since at least 2020, most notably with Tesla's $1.1 million manufacturing facility currently being built in southeastern Travis County. As Austin becomes ground zero for all things Musk, that leaves the rest of us figuring out how to navigate the new landscape — good, bad and odd. "Musk is a modern-day Albert Einstein in the eyes of many, and the richest person in the world by a wide margin. He's going to bring a lot more limelight and focus on Austin," said Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities.

Musk and Austin are likely to become inextricably linked in the coming years, Ives said. "When the average person in the world thinks Austin, Texas, they're not going to the music festival or Dell or for the great city it is. Tesla and Elon Musk are going to become synonymous with Austin," Ives said. Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies, said Musk's status and personality are sure to have an impact on Central Texas. "He's the richest guy in the world, which is interesting. So what he'll do immediately is upstage (Dell Technologies founder and CEO) Michael Dell, at least on that," Kay said. "Michael has been the kind of king of Austin, I would say, all up until this point." While the $1.1 billion Tesla manufacturing facility and Tesla's planned headquarters move to Austin have drawn the most attention, Musk's ventures have been quietly expanding in Central Texas for some time now. They include Musk's tunneling and infrastructure company, the Boring Co., which has facilities in Pflugerville and Bastrop; a potential SpaceX expansion somewhere in Austin; a potential Neuralink office; and the headquarters of his private foundation, the Musk Foundation.

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Texas Monthly - November 15, 2021

Curl Austin’s bet: If you freeze it, they will come

A prediction: four months from now, when it is really, really not summer anymore in Texas and you have probably forgotten you ever read this, you’ll find yourself watching the Winter Olympics on TV with a faint glimmer of recognition. There’ll be folks in what look like golf pants or pricey athleisure outfits sliding around and pushing a stone across a sheet of ice, and other folks chasing the stone with brooms. Curling, you’ll remember. And then maybe you’ll think, That doesn’t look so hard. Or better yet, you’ll think, What must that be like? That is precisely what they’re counting on at Curl Austin, which opened in September and is now the first dedicated curling ice in the state of Texas. Backed by private investors in partnership with a local nonprofit curling club, this new facility is a bet that the country is about to get serious about curling, and that Austin, of all places, is where it’s going to start. For the first time ever, Texans in the Austin area will be able to idly Google “curling” one day, and discover a pristine sheet of ice and a set of stones just waiting nearby. And, crucially, a brewery next door where converts to the sport can retire to strategize for the next game. The “why now?” is easy.

Over the last decade, U.S. interest in curling has been on an incline, with curling clubs opening in new cities all over the country. And in February, Team USA will head to Beijing to defend its improbable gold medal win, when the men’s team shocked the world by beating Canada and Sweden. As broadcasters at the next Olympics are sure to remind you, the win was a thrilling and inspirational moment, a Cinderella story starring a crew of semi-retired curlers who called themselves the “team of rejects”—some had been cut from the national program a couple years earlier—who upset the best teams in the world. It was a real American underdog tale, a moment of national triumph, the “miracurl on ice.” (The Olympic trials to determine which teams of curlers will represent the United States in Beijing began Friday in Omaha, Nebraska, with the finals slated for this weekend.) If all that isn’t quite top of mind anymore, you’ve hit on the biggest challenge for folks who want to grow the sport. Like interest in skeleton and Nordic combined, curling fandom operates on a four-year cycle: a spike each Winter Olympics followed by 47 months of slow forgetting. Unlike those other sports, though, curling won’t make you fear for your life if you give it a whirl the next time you remember it exists. So, in theory, curling should be easily accessible to new fans. You just need ice. “The dream was to have dedicated curling ice,” says Lone Star Curling Club president Joe Glaeser, who has been with the club since 2010. “But it’s hard when you can’t get enough ice time to support it. And you can’t build the membership without the ice. It’s kind of a catch-22.”

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KCBD - November 12, 2021

Indigent clients held in jail without charges during Lubbock County software transition

Lubbock County officials admit a countywide software transition caused several low level offenders to be held in the detention center longer than legally necessary because the software delayed communications between attorneys and the jail. The delay in justice occurred as the county went live with a new software system called Odyssey, from Tyler Technologies, which manages all legal documents for the county’s justice system, including jails, the District Attorney’s Office, and the public defender’s office. Attorneys depend on this system to manage cases and connect with their clients. Since the county software transition, KCBD has reported the system made expungement records available to the public and attorneys have addressed their frustrations with the software to county Judge Curtis Parish during a commissioners’ court meeting a few weeks ago. Our investigation found a homeless man named Michael who was arrested and taken to the Lubbock County Detention Center in July. He was not released from custody until September, well after his charges had been dropped.

Without an attorney assigned, there was no way he could be properly discharged. State law requires indigent clients to be assigned an attorney quickly. Law student Alicia Mpande was assigned to his case four days after his charges were dropped, but the Odyssey program would not display his case status. After making several calls to the jail, Mpande filed a habeas corpus writ for his release. “There were no charges pending against him, and he ultimately had been sitting in the Lubbock County Detention Center for 12 days for no reason. And it was all because of the fact that it did not reflect on the computer system,” Michael’s representative said. Mpande said she typically files a PR bond for low level offender clients, which guarantees her client’s release after 15 days of jail time. Michael’s case was unusual because he was held in jail beyond 15 days. “It is so difficult having to talk to clients every week and tell them, ‘Look, I don’t know what’s going on with your case, the computer system is down, things are going slow.’ And it’s just creating a lot of frustration, Ithink on all ends,” Mpande said. Within the Texas Tech law student clinic, Alyssa Douglas also resorted to filing a habeas corpus writ to release her client arrested for criminal trespassing. Her client was held 15 days without charges.

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Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2021

Trial for former Fort Worth police officer accused of murdering Atatiana Jefferson set for January

The trial of the former Fort Worth police officer accused of murdering Atatiana Jefferson has been scheduled for January, marking a key development in a case that has been delayed repeatedly since the October 2019 shooting. Aaron York Dean, 37, who was at Tuesday’s hearing, is set to stand trial Jan. 10. Jury selection is scheduled for Jan. 4. Court records had shown that Dean’s trial was to start Tuesday, but Tarrant County officials later clarified that date was only for a scheduling hearing. Court officials also have said Dean could go on trial Nov. 29, but two of Dean’s attorneys said Tuesday that they wouldn’t be ready then.

Jefferson’s family and loved ones also attended the hearing but declined to comment to the media. They sat quietly behind Dean in the courtroom. Dean’s trial has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has halted or slowed many legal proceedings across the state during the past 20 months. The trial is now set to happen 27 months after Jefferson was fatally shot. Judge David Hagerman said all motions for the case must be filed by Nov. 30 and will be heard the week of Dec. 6. The motions are expected to include a request to move the trial outside of Tarrant County. Jefferson, 28, was killed early Oct. 12, 2019, at the home where she was staying with her convalescent mother. Dean and another officer responded to the home in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue after a neighbor called a nonemergency line to report that the doors were open and lights were on. According to an arrest-warrant affidavit, the officers did not announce their presence when they arrived about 2:30 a.m. Jefferson, who was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew, grabbed her handgun after hearing a noise outside. Dean shot her as she pointed the gun toward a window.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Report - November 16, 2021

What does it take to run Tarrant County’s public hospital?

On any given day, you might find Robert Earley, the president and CEO of JPS Health Network, roaming the halls of the hospital he’s governed for the past 13 years. These weekly rounds originated with Earley, said Steve Montgomery, who chairs the financial committee for the network’s board of managers. They offer connection points between the president, the patients and hospital staff — whom he knows and addresses by name. “If you’re watching close enough, you’re like, ‘Those are really personal interactions,’” Montgomery said. “That sort of esprit de corps he’s engendered is phenomenal to watch.” In early November, Earley, 61, announced his retirement from the system effective in March 2022. The network’s board of managers, an 11-person cohort appointed by the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, will begin a nationwide search for his replacement — someone with the chutzpah to lead the system into “what’s next in health care,” Montgomery said.

“(Earley) got us to a really great place,” he said. Earley’s commitment to relationships big and small brought JPS Health Network out of a “bad spot” in the late 2000s. “But times are changed, and we need new things now.” Earley was unavailable to comment for this story because of his schedule. Before Earley took the helm of JPS Health Network, the system’s relationships within the community — with the commissioners court, local health partners and the public — “had soured,” Montgomery said. A monthslong Fort Worth Star-Telegram investigation into the system, which ran as a series in 2008, told of derelict conditions and patients who said they were “treated like cattle,” while the system’s cash surpluses grew. In those days, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley remembers receiving calls from hospital administrators throughout the county who criticized what they perceived as JPS Health Network’s focus on advertising, rather than patient care. “I was getting a lot of complaints,” Whitley said. “And that was one of the reasons why, in talking with the board of managers, I felt like it was time to make a change.” Within weeks of the Star-Telegram investigation, Earley took over from former CEO David Cecero as interim chief executive officer. In 2009, Earley formally took the helm. Earley didn’t bring a traditional hospital administrator background. He was a former state representative and professor. He raises Clydesdale horses and bees.

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Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2021

Harris County won't launch independent investigation into Astroworld disaster, despite Hidalgo's plea

Harris County will not launch an independent investigation into the Astroworld festival disaster after commissioners declined to support a plan by County Judge Lina Hidalgo to do so. Instead, the group on Tuesday voted unanimously to conduct an internal review, at the request of Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “I proposed a more thorough and detailed scope to increase the likelihood of objectivity and an impactful outcome,” Hidalgo said. “While this scales back my proposal, I am happy to see the court move as a unit on some next steps.” Garcia, a former Houston Police Department officer, made a motion to support that agency’s investigation. The motion also directed the county administrator, Harris County Sports Authority and Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation to examine safety regulations for outdoor concerts.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces in this particular event, so my motion is intended to help us move forward in the spirit of making sure that we are coordinating and collaborating, but at the same time looking forward,” Garcia said. He expressed concern that authorizing a new investigation would expose the county to lawsuits. Ten concertgoers died after collapsing during Travis Scott’s headlining performance at the festival Nov. 5. The Harris County medical examiner has yet to release their causes of death, though fans reported being crushed by the surging crowd near the stage, which had no seating. At the suggestion of Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, court members spent nearly two hours in executive session discussing how to proceed on Astroworld and one other issue, the county’s I-45 lawsuit. “This is a great tragedy and immense sorrow, and overwhelming sadness at what has occurred here at this concert,’ Cagle said. “I have a number of questions I want to address to the county attorney, in executive session, because I don’t want my words, my grief and my sorrow to move us into an inappropriate place with regard to our responsibilities.”

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2021

Strip clubs, other sex-based businesses could face new operating rules in Dallas

Dallas strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses may soon see restrictions on when they can be open. The police department is working on recommendations to submit to the City Council about when such businesses can operate. Police said the new hours are meant to help curb crime in and around strip clubs and other sex-based businesses in the city. Dallas currently has no rules for when sexually oriented businesses can operate. Closing time for strip clubs, for example, can range from 2 to 6 a.m. The police department has to approve licenses for all sexually oriented businesses in Dallas to operate. Council member Adam Bazaldua described the proposed city code change as a public safety and health issue. He noted that Dallas is already planning to change its city code to be in line with a new state law raising the minimum age of sexually oriented business workers from 18 to 21.

“This is to address being able to better regulate hours of operation for businesses that we have seen have criminal activity and where it’s been most prominent,” Bazaldua said Monday during a council committee meeting. Police have evidence linking some of the businesses to human trafficking, he said, and the department will present city officials with data supporting their recommendations. No data was presented Monday. Bazaldua said that sometime next month, council members will hear the police recommendations, any relevant statistics and possible legal challenges. Several Texas cities already have such restrictions. Plano, Grand Prairie and El Paso require that such businesses close by 2 a.m. and open between 6 and 10 a.m. San Antonio businesses must shut down by 2:15 a.m. and can’t open before 7 a.m. In Fort Worth, they can’t open earlier than 10 a.m. and must close by 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. They can close by 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays or by 4 a.m. if they have a valid food permit.

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Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2021

Irving Police Chief Jeff Spivey, who worked to strengthen community relations, announces retirement

Irving Police Chief Jeff Spivey will retire early next year. Spivey, who was appointed chief in 2017, joined the department in 1988 as a police officer and served in numerous roles, including patrol and criminal investigation. As chief, Spivey worked to strengthen police relations with Irving’s diverse communities. Last year, Spivey announced that the department had fulfilled a pledge — the One Mind Campaign, launched by the International Association of Chiefs of Police — to improve how it responds to people with mental illness. Spivey was a candidate for Dallas Police Chief in 2020.

Assistant Chief Darren Steele will serve as Interim Police Chief upon Spivey’s retirement at the end of January, the city said on its website. Spivey plans to work for a national nonprofit in public safety training and development, according to the city. On the department’s website, Spivey said policing is one of the noblest professions. “A police officer has an opportunity to make a life-changing impact on a person or people they come into contact with on a daily basis,” he said. “This requires the police officer to always be prepared for any circumstance which may present itself, and to respond to the circumstance in such a way as to bring credibility, respect, trust and honor to every man and woman who wears the uniform and swears an oath to protect and serve.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2021

Houston ISD will consider lifting mask mandate after holidays

Houston ISD will consider changing its mask mandate policy after the winter break in the wake of expanded vaccine eligibility for youngsters and improving pandemic conditions in the city, Superintendent Millard House II said Monday. House noted there have been spikes of COVID-19 infections following holidays since the pandemic began and said he would like to get through the winter holidays before deciding whether to lift the face-covering rule. The district will seek feedback from the community about whether it should modify its mandate before making a decision, he said. “We would like to get through the holidays and then we will come back from the holidays and consider what the data is telling us at that particular point,” House said. “And if we are continuing to push forward in the right direction — like we are heading right now — there will be consideration around, you know, not making the mask mandate mandated.”

The mere possibility of lifting the precautionary measure will arrive months after other school districts in the Houston region removed their face-covering requirements. Texas City ISD’s board voted last week to lift a mandate there and Galveston ISD, which was one of two local districts sued by Attorney General Ken Paxton over their requirement, does not have a mandate in place, a spokesman said Monday. “Those who wish to continue wearing them can do so and are recommended to,” Texas City ISD officials wrote in a statement posted on the district’s website. “This includes buses.” Meanwhile, HISD announced last week it planned to partner with organizations, including the Houston Health Department, to offer COVID-19 vaccinations for kids 5 and older at several campuses starting Friday. Details about locations, times, dates, addresses and contact information were being published on a district webpage. Two Houston-area districts, Aldine and Spring ISDs, plan to keep their mandates in place for now. “Aldine ISD will continue to prioritize the safety of our students and staff without sacrificing learning. Current district safety protocols and guidelines for the 2021-2022 school year include universal masking for all students, staff, and visitors in all Aldine ISD schools, buildings, and buses,” the district said in a statement Monday. “However, we will continue to monitor local and district cases to further adjust our own health and safety protocols as appropriate.”

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San Antonio Express-News - November 16, 2021

'I see no light at the end of this tunnel': Leon Valley City Manager Gilbert Perales resigns

Leon Valley City Manager Gilbert Perales submitted his resignation to Mayor Chris Riley last week amid concerns about vitriolic behavior by elected officials and residents at public meetings. His last day on the job will be Jan. 15. Perales will be the second city manager to leave Leon Valley in less than two years. Former City Manager Kelly Kuenstler submitted her resignation in February 2020 amid a recall petition drive and political fallout from the forfeiture of a council member’s seat, the Express-News reported. In his Nov. 9 resignation letter, originally reported by KSAT, Perales said the City Council has failed to focus on the “future and place the turbulent past in the rear-view mirror.”

“At virtually every public setting, several elected officials along with some citizens, continuously remind us of the faults of previous administrators and, worse, make statements dishonoring the reputations and integrity of current staff,” Perales said. He added: “I cannot, and will not, continue to spend my days defending the present and paying for the sins of the past. The continuous barrage of disrespectful public comments toward staff and the constant cyberbullying is borderline harassment and is something I am not willing to spend the rest of my tenure defending or debating.” The last straw for Perales came when elected officials submitted a document titled “Summary of Proposed Changes to Leon Valley City Charter,” which was poised to eliminate the provisions that would transfer power from the mayor and city council to the city manager.

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National Stories

Washington Post - November 17, 2021

States circumvent federal guidelines to offer booster shots to all adults

While federal officials continue to limit who can receive a coronavirus booster shot, a growing number of governors from both political parties and other officials are circumventing that guidance to offer boosters to anyone over 18 in hopes of staving off a spike in cases over the holidays. California made the first move to expand access when public health officials quietly sent a letter to local health jurisdictions and vaccine providers on Nov. 9 instructing them to trust patients to decide whether a booster is appropriate. “Do not turn a patient away who is requesting a booster” if the person is 18 or older and has waited the required period after their first vaccine series, the letter said. Within days, officials in Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, West Virginia and New York City endorsed boosters for all adults — and more states and jurisdictions are expected to follow.

“If you’re in doubt and you meet the waiting period, just get a booster. Choose the side of greater protection,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who hinted at a news conference Monday that his state might also make boosters more widely available in the coming days. “With the holidays coming up, we need as many people boosted as possible. It’s that simple.” The state-level expansion of booster eligibility comes as top-level Biden administration officials are pushing federal health officials to open access to all adults in the United States. Doing so would belatedly fulfill President Biden’s summer promise to make the shots available to most Americans by September. Makers of the vaccines are also pressing officials to open access, as Pfizer and its partner BioNTech last week requested the Food and Drug Administration grant an emergency use authorization to allow all adults to receive its booster dose. The FDA is expected to grant that request this week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s outside vaccine advisory panel is meeting Friday to discuss expanding booster eligibility for the Pfizer product, CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said Tuesday. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky would need to sign off on a final booster recommendation.

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Associated Press - November 17, 2021

Rittenhouse jurors to return for Day 2 of deliberations

Jurors weighing charges against Kyle Rittenhouse were to return Wednesday for a second day of deliberations in his murder trial, after they failed to reach a swift verdict on whether he was the instigator in a night of bloodshed in Kenosha or a concerned citizen who came under attack while trying to protect property. The jury of 12 deliberated for a full day Tuesday without reaching a decision. Several appeared tired as they walked into the courtroom Tuesday evening and indicated with a show of hands that they were ready to go home. The case went to the anonymous jury after Judge Bruce Schroeder, in an unusual move, allowed Rittenhouse himself to play a minor role in selecting the final panel of 12 who would decide his fate. Rittenhouse reached into a raffle drum and drew numbered slips that determined which of the 18 jurors who sat through the case would deliberate and which ones would be dismissed as alternates.

That task is usually performed by a court clerk, not the defendant. Schroeder said he has been having defendants do it for “I’m going to say 20 years, at least.” Rittenhouse, 18, faces life in prison if convicted as charged for using an AR-style semi-automatic rifle to kill two men and wound a third during a night of protests against racial injustice in Kenosha in the summer of 2020. The former police youth cadet is white, as were those he shot. Rittenhouse testified he acted in self-defense, while prosecutors argued he provoked the violence. The case has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate over guns, racial-justice protests, vigilantism and law and order. The jury appeared to be overwhelmingly white. Prospective jurors were not asked to identify their race during the selection process, and the court did not provide a racial breakdown. As the jury deliberated, dozens of protesters — some for Rittenhouse, some against — stood outside the courthouse. Some talked quietly with those on the other side, while others shouted insults. One woman could be heard repeatedly calling some Rittenhouse supporters “white supremacists.”

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Washington Post - November 16, 2021

Americans broadly support Supreme Court upholding Roe v. Wade and oppose Texas abortion law, Post-ABC poll finds

Americans say by a roughly 2-to-1 margin that the Supreme Court should uphold its landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade, and by a similar margin the public opposes a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. The lopsided support for maintaining abortion rights protections comes as the court considers cases challenging its long-term precedents, including Dec. 1 arguments over a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Post-ABC poll finds 27 percent of Americans say the court should overturn Roe, while 60 percent say it should be upheld, attitudes that are consistent in polls dating to 2005. More broadly, three-quarters of Americans say abortion access should be left to women and their doctors, while 20 percent say they should be regulated by law. While Americans have long supported limiting access to abortion after the first trimester of pregnancy, the poll suggests Americans widely oppose recent efforts in conservative-leaning states to enforce more severe restrictions.

Asked about a Texas law that authorizes private citizens anywhere in the country to sue anyone who performs or aids someone in obtaining an abortion in Texas after about six weeks of pregnancy, the Post-ABC poll finds 65 percent say the court should reject the law, while 29 percent say it should be upheld. The Supreme Court is considering the role federal courts can play in evaluating the Texas law, which was intended to avoid federal court review. A separate question finds 36 percent support state laws that make it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate, while 58 percent oppose such restrictions, including 45 percent who oppose them “strongly.” The Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion in 1973’s Roe decision, and reaffirmed it in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That decision acknowledged states have an interest in protecting unborn life, but may not enact laws that create an undue burden on seeking an abortion before a fetus could survive outside the womb, generally around 22 to 24 weeks. But the court now has a 6 to 3 conservative majority and signaled a willingness to reexamine its precedents by reviewing Mississippi’s 15-week prohibition, which lower courts struck down for being in conflict with the decisions in Roe and Casey. Three of the conservative justices — Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were nominated by President Donald Trump, who said he would select nominees who would overturn Roe. All said at their confirmation hearings they had not prejudged the issue.

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New York Times - November 17, 2021

How a cure for gerrymandering left U.S. politics ailing in new ways

In Virginia, members of a bipartisan panel were entrusted with drawing a new map of the state’s congressional districts. But politics got in the way. Reduced to shouting matches, accusations and tears, they gave up. In Ohio, Republicans who control the legislature simply ignored the state’s redistricting commission, choosing to draw a highly gerrymandered map themselves. Democrats in New York are likely to take a similar path next year. And in Arizona and Michigan, independent mapmakers have been besieged by shadowy pressure campaigns disguised as spontaneous, grass-roots political organizing. Partisan gerrymandering is as old as the republic, but good-government experts thought they had hit on a solution with independent commissions, advisory groups and outside panels. Taking the map-drawing process out of the hands of lawmakers under pressure to win elections, the thinking went, would make American democracy more fair.

But as this year’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process descends into trench warfare, both Republicans and Democrats have been throwing grenades at the independent experts caught in the middle. In state after state, the parties have largely abdicated their commitments to representative maps. Each side recognizes the enormous stakes: Redistricting alone could determine which party controls Congress for the next decade. In some states, commissions with poorly designed structures have fallen victim to entrenched political divisions, leading the process to be punted to courts. In others, the panels’ authority has been subverted by state lawmakers, who have either forced the commissioners to draft new maps or chosen to make their own. New York Democratic state legislators, who can override the state’s independent redistricting commission with a supermajority vote, have disregarded the draft proposal that the commission made public in September. In Wisconsin, where a court battle over redistricting is already unfolding between Republicans who control the Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, the State Assembly speaker, Robin Vos, dismissed the governor’s People’s Maps Commission. “There is no such thing as a nonpartisan commission,” Mr. Vos, a Republican, said at a hearing last month. All commissioners are partisan, he said. “If they vote, they vote for someone in one of the two parties.”

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Washington Post - November 17, 2021

The second-biggest program in the Democrats’ spending plan gives billions to the rich

The House is expected to vote this week on President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. The social spending bill includes investments in clean energy and affordable child care — but it also includes a $285 billion tax cut that would almost exclusively benefit high-income households over the next five years. The measure would allow households to increase their deduction from state and local taxes from $10,000 to $80,000 through 2026, and then impose a new deduction cap through 2031. It’s the second-most expensive item in the legislation over the next five years, more costly than establishing a paid family and medical leave program, and nearly twice as expensive as funding home-medical services for the elderly and disabled, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The tax cut would partially reverse a tax hike from President Donald Trump’s signature 2017 tax bill that was particularly burdensome to high-income, high-tax states.

Before 2017, taxpayers could deduct virtually everything they paid in state and local taxes from their federal taxes, reducing the amount of income that the federal government could tax. The 2017 tax bill limited that deduction to $10,000 per year, creating what is known as the SALT cap. The SALT cap created in 2017 is due to expire in 2026, after which point there would be no limit on SALT deductions. The new SALT cap provision is revenue-neutral over 10 years because it imposes a new SALT cap after the original would have expired: $80,000 for four years, and then $10,000 in 2031. Over the next five years, raising the SALT cap would provide a tax cut only to those who itemize their taxes and pay more than $10,000 in state and local taxes — a group overwhelmingly made up of the wealthy. A recent analysis from the Tax Policy Center says the tax cut will benefit primarily the top 10 percent of income earners, with almost nothing flowing to middle- and lower-income families.

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Washington Post - November 17, 2021

House to vote to censure Gosar, remove him from committees over violent anime video depicting Ocasio-Cortez’s killing

The House will vote Wednesday on a resolution that both censures Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) and removes him from his committee assignments, more than one week after Gosar tweeted an altered anime video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and swinging two swords at President Biden. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that Democrats’ plans to discipline Gosar and remove him from a committee were appropriate because Gosar had made threats about harming a member of Congress. “That is an … endangerment of that member of Congress, but [also] an insult to the institution of the House of Representatives,” Pelosi said. “We cannot have members joking about murdering each other as well as threatening the president of the United States.” House Democrats had originally planned to only remove him from the Oversight and Reform Committee, where he serves with Ocasio-Cortez, and allow him to keep his seat on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

But later in the day language was added to the resolution to boot him off that committee as well at the request of panel Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the chamber’s plans. Twitter originally placed a “public interest notice” on Gosar’s tweet, saying that it had violated its policy against hateful conduct. Gosar has since deleted the tweet. The White House condemned Gosar’s video last week, and Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for investigations by the House Ethics Committee and law enforcement. On Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez told reporters that “in a perfect world” Gosar would be expelled. She also cast doubt on Gosar’s defense of the video, in which he said it was “a symbolic portrayal of a fight over immigration policy” and did not “espouse violence or harm towards any Member of Congress or Mr. Biden.” Late Tuesday afternoon, Gosar shared an article on Twitter from a right-wing outlet that mocked efforts to discipline him over the video, which it called “funny and completely harmless.”

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Newsclips - November 16, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott must define Beto O’Rourke early, avoid turning off new voters, experts say

With a single tweet Monday morning, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott laid out his strategy against Beto O’Rourke by saying the former U.S. House member from El Paso wants to “defund the police, kill good paying oil and gas jobs, allow chaotic open border policies, support the failing Biden agenda, impose socialism and take your guns.” Although voters won’t get to weigh in for nearly a year, Abbott opens as a favorite to win his seventh statewide general election since he secured a full term on the state Supreme Court in 1998. However, experts said Monday there are four vital tasks for the two-term Republican incumbent if he’s to win again in 2022:

Don’t underestimate O’Rourke’s appeal with new voters. In rounds of interviews before his announcement, O’Rourke noted there were 7 million eligible Texans who didn’t vote in 2020. Since his failed presidential campaign, he’s been trying to get them registered. Now, he’ll try to woo them over – and mobilize them to vote. Jeronimo Cortina, associate professor of political science at the University of Houston, said the state’s more than 17 million voters include an impressive number who are newly registered or new to the state. The net increase of 1.2 million voters to the rolls since 2018 could scramble Republican strategies that have worked in statewide races for 30 years, Cortina said. Define O’Rourke early. Austin public relations executive Matt Hirsch, a former Abbott deputy chief of staff, said the incumbent won’t underestimate O’Rourke. “He and his campaign have started this race on offense, reminding voters about O’Rourke’s previous statements and positions, and I would expect them to continue to implement this game plan over the next year,” said Hirsch, who called Abbott “one of the best campaigners in the modern era of Texas politics.”

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USA Today - November 16, 2021

'We're finally getting this done': Biden signs landmark infrastructure package in major win for domestic agenda

President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package, completing the most significant legislative victory of his presidency and the largest investment in the country’s infrastructure in decades. The bill, priced at $1.2 trillion, will tackle nearly every facet of American infrastructure, including public transportation, roads, bridges, ports, railways, power grids, broadband internet, as well as water and sewage systems. The package, which includes $550 billion in new spending, is meant to repair and enhance the country’s beleaguered infrastructure, which has languished as investment has slowed. About $650 billion of the funding will be reallocated from already existing projects and funds.

It marks a rare bipartisan win in Washington after years of inaction to address America's aging infrastructure. "Today, we're finally getting this done," a jubilant Biden said to a group of 800 people including lawmakers from both parties, governors and mayors who attended a signing-ceremony on the White House's South Lawn. "My message to the American people is this: America is moving again, and your life is going to change for the better.” While the White House and Democrats are quick to tout many of the bill’s aspects, the final package is about less than half of the proposed spending on infrastructure Biden originally requested from Congress. Biden now faces pressure to ensure the infrastructure investments are felt by communities. The White House tapped former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to serve as "infrastructure coordinator" to oversee the bill's implementation. Biden said his administration will seek to "make sure every penny is spent where it's supposed to go in a timely fashion" and that Landrieu will have the "full access to every tool in the federal government to get it done." "We have the high obligation and the responsibility to ensure this money is used wisely and used well," Biden said.

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Texas Monthly - November 15, 2021

The newest Texans are not who you think they are

The Texas population grew by about four million people in the past decade—far more than any other state in raw numbers, and enough as a percentage to make it the third-fastest-growing state in the nation over that period, behind Utah and Idaho. Roughly 3,800 more people move here every week than move out of state. Tick down any list of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and Texas shows up again and again. Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio all landed on the list of cities with a population gain of at least 100,000 over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which released its latest data in August. Frisco easily topped the list of large cities, followed by a lot of other suburbs and exurbs, such as New Braunfels, McKinney, and Conroe. You get the idea: the Texas population is booming. That growth, of course, has come with plenty of hand-wringing about everything from an overheated housing market to fears of a hostile takeover by liberal coastal elites. News headlines have stoked those worries in the past two years. And then there was Greg Abbott’s 2018 campaign slogan: “Don’t California My Texas.” But perhaps unsurprisingly, partisans may have it wrong.

For one thing, despite all the public focus on Californication, there are intriguing signs that many of the newest arrivals share key characteristics with lifelong Texans. Many are coming for abundant jobs, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and a more reasonable cost of living (which may be hard to believe for Texan buyers and renters fretting over the housing market but is a fact). It’s also worth noting that people moving from elsewhere make up only about half of Texas’s population growth; the other half comes from births outpacing deaths. Of the people moving here, about 40 percent come from other countries and 60 percent from other states—though that balance has tipped back and forth a few times in recent years. Californians are hardly the full story. Perhaps the most surprising Texas statistic that landed with the latest census: those of Hispanic or Latino origin, Asians, and members of other racial and ethnic minority groups made up about 95 percent of the population growth from 2010 to 2020. (95 percent!) That’s 3.8 million new non-Anglos in Texas, compared with about 200,000 non-Hispanic whites. Rogelio Saenz, a demographer at the University of Texas at San Antonio and a native of the Rio Grande Valley, has a memorable way of driving that statistic home. “Essentially, that means we added the equivalent of the cities of Houston and San Antonio in [non-Anglos],” he told me. “And we added the city of Brownsville in [non-Hispanic whites].”

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Washington Post - November 15, 2021

In wake of Bannon indictment, Republicans warn of payback

Republicans are rallying around former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon after his indictment on charges of contempt of Congress on Friday, warning that Democrats’ efforts to force Bannon to comply with what they say is an unfair subpoena paves the way for them to do the same if they take back the House in 2022. Bannon, like former president Donald Trump, has refused to comply with an order from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection to turn over records and testify about his actions leading up to the attack, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol trying to stop the certification of President Biden’s electoral college win. Bannon is expected to turn himself in to law enforcement Monday ahead of a court appearance that afternoon. Democrats and a handful of anti-Trump Republicans argue that the indictment was necessary to enforce subpoenas issued by the Jan. 6 committee to Trump associates who are resisting cooperation and to witnesses summoned by other congressional panels.

Many GOP leaders, however, are seizing on Bannon’s indictment to contend that Democrats are “weaponizing” the Justice Department, warning Democrats that they will go after Biden’s aides for unspecified reasons if they take back the House majority in next year’s midterm elections, as most political analysts expect. “For years, Democrats baselessly accused President Trump of ‘weaponizing’ the DOJ. In reality, it is the Left that has been weaponizing the DOJ the ENTIRE TIME — from the false Russia Hoax to the Soviet-style prosecution of political opponents,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the third-ranking House Republican, tweeted Saturday. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) suggested that Republicans would seek payback if the GOP regained control of the House, signaling that in challenging the doctrine of executive privilege, Democrats were making it easier for Republicans to force Biden’s top advisers to testify before a future GOP Congress. “Joe Biden has evicerated Executive Privilege,” Jordan wrote on Twitter. “There are a lot of Republicans eager to hear testimony from Ron Klain and Jake Sullivan when we take back the House.” Sullivan is Biden’s national security adviser, and Klain is the White House chief of staff.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - November 16, 2021

Democratic state Rep. Michelle Beckley launches campaign for Texas lieutenant governor

Democratic state Rep. Michelle Beckley will launch a bid for lieutenant governor on Tuesday. Beckley, who represents House District 65 in Denton County, said she is running because Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republican leaders do not have the interests of Texans at heart. “We have to stop chasing after these boogeymen that don’t exist,” she told the American-Statesman. “We have enough problems in Texas, and we have to settle down into fixing those problems. I bring experience in the Legislature, and I’ve won two elections. We also get to give voters a choice in the Democratic primary, another option, and that’s a big motivator for me.” Two other Democratic candidates have announced campaigns for the seat: Mike Collier, an accountant and former chief financial officer of an oil company who came within 4.9 points of beating Patrick in 2018, and Matthew Dowd, a one-time strategist for former President George W. Bush and political analyst for ABC News.

Beckley briefly launched a campaign for Congress earlier this year to challenge U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving. But she suspended her campaign after the decennial redistricting process at the statehouse when the political boundaries of the district shifted and she no longer lived in the area she sought to represent. Similarly, Beckley said she was drawn out of her current seat and can no longer run for reelection. Candidates for the statehouse must live in the district they hope to represent for one year before an election. “The reality is, they can’t draw me out of the state,” she said. Beckley defeated incumbent Rep. Ron Simmons, a Republican, in 2018. She said she'll use the same strategy and messaging when it comes to running statewide. "Most Democrats did not think I was going to win in 2018, and then in 2020 I improved my margins, so I do know how hard it is to flip a district," she said. "The message that I run on is definitely resounding with the voters in the district, and the district I represent encompasses a lot of what is going on in Texas with businesses moving in and demographics changing." Beckley is running to expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income people, boost funding for public education and improve the state's infrastructure to prevent another statewide failure of the power grid such as happened during the deadly winter storms in February. She also supports fully legalizing marijuana. Looking at the months ahead, Beckley said much of her campaign efforts will be focused on reaching voters online instead of trying to visit every part of the state. "You just have to take a leap of faith," she said. "I took a leap of faith in 2018, and I'm going to do it in 2022. We've been registering voters, getting our message out there. Democrats have a stronger infrastructure than they did in 2018. ... Four years later, we have progressed a lot farther and we're playing the long game. It may not be this cycle or the next one or the one after, but you keep moving forward."

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McAllen Monitor - November 15, 2021

Guillen announces switch to Republican Party

Inside a coffee shop that was newly annexed into his state house district following the newly redrawn district maps, state Rep. Ryan Guillen announced he was dropping his long-held label as a Democrat and was running for reelection for District 31 as a Republican. Alongside Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, Guillen said he had long identified with conservative values and looked forward to no longer having to break with his party to vote in line with his values. “As a six-generation South Texas rancher, I picked up my conservative values from my parents and from my grandparents, growing up on a ranch where I worked as a ranch hand and at our family feed store where I worked to help my family make ends meet,” Guillen said. But living in South Texas, he also grew up among Democrats, he said, running for office as a Democrat including last year when he won reelection by a 17-point margin.

“But friends, something is happening in South Texas and many of us are waking up to the fact that the values of those in Washington D.C. are not our values, are not the values of most Texans, certainly not the values of South Texas,” Guillen said. “The ideology of defunding the police, of destroying the oil and gas industry and the chaos in our border is disastrous for those of us who live here in South Texas,” he continued. “That’s why after much thought and much prayer with my family, today I’m announcing that I’ll proudly be running as a Republican to represent House District 31.” District 31, which encompasses all of Starr County including his hometown of Rio Grande City, was redistricted to no longer include Willacy County, a rural county in the Rio Grande Valley that has typically voted for Democrats, and Atascosa County, a typically Republican County. Redistricting also added two more Republican counties — Karnes and Wilson where Guillen held his announcement Monday. His former fellow Democrats did not take the news well. Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) said republicans “cynically gutted” Guillen’s district and showed “complete disrespect” for him and his constituents.

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Dallas Morning News - November 15, 2021

Beto O’Rourke launches Texas governor campaign, tells Dallas Morning News ‘We can win’ despite odds

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke on Monday launched his campaign for governor by casting himself as a leader who is focused on the critical needs of the state, instead of the “extremist” agenda he says is being advanced by Gov. Greg Abbott. “I want to make sure that we’re bringing everyone together to focus on the really big things that are important to this state. I don’t see that happening right now in Texas under Greg Abbott,” O’Rourke told The Dallas Morning News before launching his campaign in an 8 a.m. video to supporters. “I know that if we come together in this moment of division, if we can get past the divide that Abbott and others have created and focus on these big things, then we can ensure that Texas achieves this state’s true potential.” Abbott was prepared for O’Rourke’s announcement. On Sunday he released an ad that “highlights comments O’Rourke has said about “taking down” walls along the nation’s border with Mexico.

After O’Rourke’s announcement, Abbott’s campaign director Mark Miner said the contrast between the governor and O’Rourke “couldn’t be clearer.” “From Beto O’Rourke’s reckless calls to defund the police to his dangerous support of the Biden Administration’s pro-open border policies, which have resulted in thousands of fentanyl deaths, Beto O’Rourke has demonstrated he has more in common with President Biden than he does with Texans,” Miner said in a statement. “The last thing Texans need is President Biden’s radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O’Rourke.” But O’Rourke, 49, says Abbott is a divisive figure who isn’t working on behalf of Texas families. He said that if elected governor, he would develop policies that create “world class public schools,” while generating the “best jobs in Texas.” He said he would help provide residents access to quality and affordable health care by expanding Medicaid. And he would stress that Texans should face their challenges together, not divided by petty politics. The El Paso Democrat accused Abbott, who is seeking his third term as governor, of standing in the way of progress. O’Rourke insisted that conservative legislation approved by the Legislature and signed by Abbott was unacceptable, including a law being challenged in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that would ban abortions at six weeks of pregnancy.

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Houston Chronicle - November 15, 2021

3 out of 4 Houston applicants for Harvey repair program may be out of luck

Alice Torres and her family have been trying since early 2019 to receive aid from a program meant to help repair damage from Hurricane Harvey. Every time they’ve provided requested documents, she says, the program later asks for more. So when she received a notification in a group message with other Harvey survivors that the General Land Office was soon closing its doors to uncompleted Harvey Homeowner Assistance Programs in Houston and Harris County, her heart sank. “I’m between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “I just want this to go through…so we can be at peace.” It was the latest instance of confusion surrounding the programs. A GLO spokesperson said the alarm felt by those, like Torres, who believe they will be shut out of the program after months or years entangled in an involved intake process, is misplaced.

Applications are considered “completed” if they’ve been submitted, and those going back and forth about required documentation won’t be shut out at the deadline, which was originally Nov. 19 before it was extended Friday to December 31, 2021. But there’s an even bigger point of confusion: Even with the time to sort out their documents and prove they qualify for the program, the majority of Houston applicants will not receive aid. That’s because the Houston program already has enough applications in its pipeline to claim all of the funds allocated to homeowners in the city, according to the GLO. While the GLO did not break out the numbers for Houston and Harris County’s individual programs, between the two, more than 12,000 applications have already been submitted. There are only funds to help about 3,000, roughly half of which have already been approved. The program that is oversubscribed, said the GLO, is Houston’s.

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Houston Chronicle - November 15, 2021

Texas AG Ken Paxton gets grilled on Fox News over 'inconsistent' vaccine stances

Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton was put under pressure by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace to explain his seemingly conflicting viewpoints that federal vaccine mandates are an overreach but bans on them adopted at the state level are fine. In his appearance on one of the network’s flagship political shows, Paxton also shied away from giving his opinion on the state's virtual abortion ban and brushed off questions about his legal troubles as a natural political consequence of being the state's top lawyer. “Coronavirus, the virus is still killing more than 1,000 people every day,” Wallace said, before playing a clip of White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre asking why Paxton and other GOP state officials are “getting in the way of saving lives, getting in the way of us making sure that the economy is working as well and getting out of this pandemic.”

Paxton said state leaders want to leave the decision of whether to get vaccinated up to Texas employers and employees, and it “shouldn’t be made by the federal government from (President) Joe Biden’s desk.” Texas is one of at least 24 states that have sued over the Biden Administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses of more than 100 employees. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily stayed the mandate. At the same time, Paxton is also defending Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders prohibiting schools from issuing vaccine or mask mandates. Last week, a federal judge in Austin put a stop to Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in schools, saying it violated a federal law that protects access to public education for students with disabilities. Wallace then played a clip of Paxton on Newsmax earlier that week, saying businesses ought to be able to “take care of their own workers.” “So given that, how do you justify the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, issuing an executive order that bans any business in Texas from issuing a vaccine mandate, and how do you justify the governor issuing a ban on all school districts on mask mandates, a ban that was overturned just this week by a federal judge?” Wallace asked. Paxton replied that Abbott’s orders are lawful.

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Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2021

Erica Grieder: O'Rourke's bid for governor means Abbott will be forced to campaign to the general electorate

It’s official: Texas Democrats have a candidate for next year’s gubernatorial race. A credible candidate, too, in former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who came within 3 percentage points of unseating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. The El Paso Democrat made the long-awaited announcement on Monday morning. He also released a list of planned campaign events, which will take him through south Texas this week for meetings with organizers, health care workers and law enforcement officers, and to Houston on Friday evening, for a campaign kickoff rally. “I’m running for governor, and I want to tell you why,” O’Rourke said in his launch video, on YouTube. “This past February, when the electricity grid failed, and millions of our fellow Texans were without power — which meant that the lights wouldn’t turn on, the heat wouldn’t run, and pretty soon their pipes froze and the water stopped flowing — they were abandoned by those who were elected to serve and look out for them.”

It’s a strong opening salvo, and one that illustrates why Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, can’t be thrilled about O’Rourke’s announcement. “I welcome the challenge,” Abbott said in response to the announcement, which came as he was in south Texas for a press conference with state Rep. Ryan Guillen, a Democrat who is switching parties to join the GOP. Certainly, Republicans are full of bravado, citing President Joe Biden’s sinking approval ratings in Texas, as well as O’Rourke’s mixed track record at the polls. While O’Rourke won three congressional races and then stunned political observers with his strong showing in 2018, he came up short in his Senate bid, then dropped out of the 2020 presidential race before voting began. In the aftermath of two August 2019 mass shootings in Texas—one inside a Wal-Mart in his hometown of El Paso, the second in Midland and Odessa—he declared his support for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons. Those are comments that you can expect to hear on a loop and divorced from context for the next 12 months. But behind this GOP bravado is, surely, some recognition of the facts. Any race is in some sense a referendum on the incumbent, and Abbott is much more vulnerable than he was four years ago when he beat Democrat Lupe Valdez, a former Dallas County sheriff, by nearly 13 points.

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Houston Chronicle - November 15, 2021

Harris County considering pause of lawsuit over controversial I-45 widening project

Harris County will pause its lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation over the proposed Interstate 45 widening in hopes that it leads to a consensus that has eluded them for more than four years. The pause, approved unanimously by Commissioners Court at a special meeting Monday, instructs County Attorney Christian Menefee to seek a stay on the lawsuit in federal court as he negotiates with TxDOT to resolve differences between the changes the county seeks to the project and the current plan. The project, estimated to cost at least $9 billion, would rebuild and widen I-45 from downtown Houston north to Beltway 8, including the freeway’s interchanges with Interstate 69, Interstate 10 and Loop 610 in Independence Heights.

The stay and pause, set for 30 days, would give an opening to officials to work out details of the planned freeway widening without backing off their opposition to what TxDOT is proposing. “I am willing to consider a pause,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said. “Not a dismissal, but I hope that will demonstrate our commitment.” Commissioners Jack Cagle of Precinct 4 and Tom Ramsey of Precinct 3 — who opposed filing the lawsuit — both supported the attempt to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. Ramsey said he still believes the project will be a major benefit for the region, as it replaces an aging, often-clogged main transportation artery for people and goods. “If we all get in a room and figure it out, we can get there,” he said. TxDOT officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment, saying they were unaware of the proposed pause.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 15, 2021

University of Austin seeks accreditation and a physical campus. Here's how it would work.

The founders of the University of Austin said they plan to establish the school soon in the state’s capital city — complete with degrees, a physical campus and undergraduate programs. Now they just have to follow through. Pano Kanelos, the incoming president of the university, and the other founders announced a week ago plans to launch the school, which would be the seventh four-year institution in the Austin area. He told the American-Statesman that the university was established to promote the principles of open inquiry and civil discourse in response to people “turning away from robust intellectual exchange.” Kanelos said he plans to seek accreditation for the private liberal arts school within the next several years, and he hopes to create both a graduate program and an undergraduate college at the school by 2024. He said he is looking to build a university in the Austin area that eventually will serve about 3,000 to 4,000 undergraduates, as well as faculty, staff and graduate students.

The university plans to seek accreditation so its graduates can get postgraduate degrees at other universities, law schools and medical schools, according to its website. The vast majority of public and private universities in Texas, including schools such as the University of Texas and Rice University, are accredited by a regional accreditor called the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which primarily accredits schools in Southern states. However, the University of Austin is seeking accreditation through a similar regional accreditor called the Higher Learning Commission, which largely does accreditation for universities in states in the central U.S., such as Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico. Both accreditors are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. “HLC has just had more experience with schools that are more similar in their organization content compared to what we're proposing,” Kanelos said. “Our school is going to have a very substantial liberal arts core, especially in the first few years for students. And HLC has worked with a lot of schools that are similarly constituted, so it just seemed like a natural partner for us.”

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Austin American-Statesman - November 15, 2021

'Scout a target': Suspect in Congregation Beth Israel arson kept diary, feds say

On the day that federal agents say he set fire to Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, 18-year-old Franklin Barrett Sechriest logged an alarming entry in his handwritten journal: “Scout out a target,” he wrote, according to newly unsealed court documents. Security video later showed his Jeep SUV in the parking lot about 9 p.m. Oct. 31, a federal charge document states, just before footage revealed the orange glow of a fire that investigators say was arson. Within a couple of days, the court documents say, Sechriest scribbled again in his journal: “I set a synagogue on fire. … Get worried when it mentions they are ‘hopeful’ a suspect will be caught.” The entries fell in a to-do list that also included surfing the dating app Tinder, doing laundry and meditating.

Sechriest, a member of the 6th Brigade of the Texas State Guard and Texas State University student, now faces a federal arson charge related to the fire — he already was facing an arson charge in state court — and an affidavit made public Monday described the case against him in more detail. It included photographs of racist and antisemitic entries from his journal and other evidence officials say link him to the fire. The fire was among several alarming incidents in Austin in recent weeks that raised fears about an ongoing attack on the Jewish community. The affidavit in Sechriest’s case makes no mention of larger, coordinated effort in which he is suspected of being involved, but officials say investigations into the incidents are ongoing.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 15, 2021

Viral video shows crowd at Cornerstone Church chanting 'Let's go Brandon' during an event

A video posted Saturday on Twitter showing a crowd chanting "Let's go Brandon" during an event at Cornerstone Church has been viewed more than 2 million times. According to the Associated Press, the slogan is a stand in for “F--- Joe Biden” and became popular among Republicans after a post-NASCAR race interview in October. During an interview with NASCAR driver Brandon Brown, the crowd could be heard chanting the vulgar phrase. The reporter, however, believed the crowd was chanting "Let's go Brandon." The video that emerged from the popular San Antonio church was recorded some time during the three-day "ReAwaken America" conference that took place Nov. 11-13.

Among the speakers at the conference was Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump who resigned less than a month into the role because he lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. PatriotTakes, an organization that exposes far-right disinformation, shared the video on Twitter with the caption "The Q-Anon crowd is at televangelist John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. They are chanting, “Let’s Go Brandon” from the church pews." A second video posted by PatriotTakes shows that the chants may have been led from the stage and not spontaneously from the crowd. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro was one of many who criticized the video. "This is not a church service it’s a political rally," Castro said in a tweet. "It’s also a prime example of why more people are turned off by and leaving organized religion." Cornerstone Church could not be reached for comment.

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Dallas Morning News - November 15, 2021

In solidarity with Abbott, Cruz dusts off 2018 jingle that hit Beto O’Rourke as gun grabbing fake

Sen. Ted Cruz, who barely managed to fend off Beto O’Rourke in 2018, on Monday dusted off a caustic jingle from that campaign that accused him of hiding his Anglo roots with a Latino nickname. The ditty set to a 1984 country hit by Alabama -- If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band) – also depicts the El Paso Democrat as a gun-grabber. Cruz tweeted that O’Rourke’s announcement that he’s challenging Gov. Greg Abbott seemed like a good time “to reprise a classic”: "If you’re going to run in Texas you can’t be a liberal man…. I remember reading stories liberal Robert wanted to fit in, So he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin. Beto wants those open borders and he wants to take our guns. Not a chance on earth he’ll get a vote from millions of Tex-ans. Cruz unveiled the jingle the day O’Rourke won the Democratic primary in 2018." O’Rourke would go on to rake in $80 million, more than any Senate nominee in Texas history, and to hold Cruz below 51% -- which remains the worst showing for a statewide GOP nominee since 1994.

Both feats have made O’Rourke something of a folk hero to Texas Democrats, who would dearly love to snap a losing streak that now stretches past a quarter-century. Cruz and O’Rourke spent $125 million combined. That made it the costliest Senate contest in the country ever, though five 2020 races smashed that record. As for the central allegations in Cruz’s campaign jingle, apart from the generic accusation of being too liberal, O’Rourke was born Robert Francis O’Rourke. Family friends have attested that even before taking him home from the hospital, his parents were calling their newborn “Beto”—a common nickname along the border for Roberto. O’Rourke did briefly go by Robert during college at Columbia University, but for nearly all of his life, from infancy through now, he has gone by Beto, including stints on the El Paso City Council and during three years in Congress.

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Dallas Morning News - November 16, 2021

EV maker Canoo moves HQ from North Texas and doubles-down on northwest Arkansas

Electric vehicle maker Canoo is moving its headquarters from North Texas to northwest Arkansas, where it’s planning a major expansion. The company, now based in Justin in office space owned by its chairman and CEO Tony Aquila, said Monday it will establish its corporate offices and an “advanced industrialization facility” in Walmart’s hometown of Bentonville, Ark., and create a research and development center in Fayetteville. Canoo also said it’s on track to begin manufacturing its electric vehicles by late 2022. The R&D center in Fayetteville will support advances in vehicle electronics and powertrain. “Our discipline continues to be Big News or No News,” Aquila said in a statement issued along with the company’s third-quarter results. Aquila said he’ll work to complete agreements totaling around $400 million with Arkansas and Oklahoma, where Canoo announced plans in June for its first manufacturing site. That 400-acre assembly plant is planned in Pryor, about 45 minutes east of Tulsa and 90 minutes west of Bentonville.

The agreements include about $100 million in incentives, Aquila said, and another $100 million in vehicle orders with the states and universities where the company is locating facilities. The company also said it selected Panasonic as the battery maker for its vehicles. During an investor day in June, Canoo said it has developed a van, a pickup truck and a sedan that all offer front, rear and all-wheel drive. The base model sedan, referred to as a “Lifestyle Vehicle,” will start at $34,750 and will have a range of 250 miles per charge. Canoo grew its workforce to about 800 employees during the third quarter and completed engineering and design work, the company said. The company’s ambitious expansion comes as it continues to rack up pre-production losses that totaled $208 million through the first nine months of this year. It had just under $415 million in cash as of Sept. 30. Aquila’s private equity firm took a $35 million stake in Canoo last summer as the company was early in the process of merging with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. Canoo went public and listed on Nasdaq under the ticker GOEV in December.

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KVUE - November 15, 2021

Gov. Abbott challenges OSHA COVID-19 vaccine-or-test mandate in U.S. appeals court

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit challenging the COVID-19 vaccine-or-test mandate to be imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The mandate will require companies with at least 100 employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Violations of the rule, set to start Jan. 4, could be met with steep fines for each occurrence. Abbott is asking the court to vacate OSHA’s mandate and rule his executive order banning vaccine mandates in Texas is not superseded by the federal organization’s rules.

"This court should vacate OSHA's mandate, which 'runs afoul of the statute from which it draws its power and likely, violates the constitutional structure that safeguards our collective liberty,'" reads the petition. "OSHA is trying to deliver on President Biden's empty threat that 'if these governors won't help us beat the pandemic, I'll use my power as president to get them out of the way.' Governor Abbott's Executive Order GA-40 need not yield to President Biden's unconstitutional power grab." Abbott issued his executive order banning COVID-19 mandates by any Texas entity in October, saying the rule applied to any individual “who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.” The order sets up a maximum fine of $1,000 for failure to comply with the rule. "The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced," Abbott said at the time. A bill to block vaccine mandates for employers was one of Abbott’s priorities for the special session but it failed in the Texas Legislature.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 15, 2021

Alex Jones loses Sandy Hook lawsuits in Connecticut after similar loss in Texas

Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was found liable Monday for damages in Connecticut lawsuits brought by parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting over claims that the massacre was a hoax. Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis took the rare step of defaulting Jones in the defamation lawsuits for his and his companies' "failure to produce critical material information that the plaintiffs needed to prove their claims." The judgment means the judge found in favor of the parents and will hold a hearing on how much money Jones should pay. The Connecticut ruling came 6½ weeks after an Austin judge came to the same conclusion, ruling that Jones displayed a pattern of bad faith in dealing with four lawsuits by parents of two children killed in the 2012 mass shooting.

State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Austin said the rarely granted default judgment was appropriate because prior sanctions, including $150,000 in court-ordered penalties, failed to change Jones' pattern of withholding evidence the parents had a right to see as they pursued lawsuits seeking damages for defamation and emotional distress. Most recently, lawyers for the parents asked Guerra Gamble to impose additional fines and other sanctions against Jones, including an order blocking him from conducting pretrial discovery for the next phase of the lawsuits — a trial, probably next year, to determine how much money Jones and his companies owe the parents for broadcasts that called the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., a hoax. The judge has not yet ruled on the request. In the Connecticut lawsuits, lawyers for the parents claimed Jones and his companies, including Infowars and Free Speech Systems, violated court rules by failing to turn over documents, including internal company documents showing how, and whether, Jones and Infowars profited from talking about the school shooting and other mass shootings. "Their pattern of defying and ignoring court orders to produce responsive information is well established," lawyers for the family wrote in a court brief in July. Jones' lawyers have denied violating court rules on document disclosure and have asked that Bellis be removed from the case, alleging she has not been impartial. The shooting killed 20 first graders and six educators. Jones has since said that he does not believe the massacre was a hoax.

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Politifact - November 12, 2021

Fact check: Was Astroworld Festival over capacity by 30,000, as Facebook post claims?

Last week’s Astroworld music festival in Houston, where eight people died in a crush of fans, took place at a venue that was an appropriate size for the event, despite social media claims to the contrary. A viral Facebook post said event organizer Live Nation scheduled the 50,000-person Astroworld festival at a venue with a capacity of 20,000. The post also claimed that Live Nation was responsible for other supposed shortcomings at the event, including a lack of water stations and medical personnel. The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. The venue for the event, NRG Park, has a capacity of 200,000, based on fire codes. Despite the larger capacity, city officials limited attendance at the festival to 50,000, the city’s fire chief told the Associated Press.

Anecdotal reports have emerged about a lack of water stations and medical personnel, but they have not been substantiated by Houston officials. NRG Park is a 350-acre complex with four facilities, including NRG Stadium that’s home to the Houston Texans NFL team. The park hosts concerts, exhibitions, sporting events and conventions, and its outdoor spaces are used for festivals, runs and sporting events. The Astroworld festival was held outdoors. Medical care for the festival was provided by a third-party contractor that was in charge of bringing in doctors, emergency medical technicians and others, Houston’s fire chief told local TV station KXAN. The fire chief said he could not determine yet whether the third-party vendor had sufficient resources on site. The multi-day Astroworld festival was created by rapper and festival headliner Travis Scott in 2018, following the release of his third album, also named Astroworld. The crowd surge occurred Nov. 5 during Scott’s performance. Scott has been arrested twice and charged with inciting riots at his concerts. He pleaded guilty to minor charges including reckless conduct and disorderly conduct, the New York Times reported. A viral Facebook post said event organizer Live Nation scheduled the 50,000-person Astroworld festival at a venue that has a capacity of 20,000. The venue has a capacity of 200,000, based on fire codes, and attendance was capped at 50,000. The claim also said that the event lacked sufficient water stations and medical personnel, but those reports are anecdotal and have not been substantiated by city officials. We rate this claim False.

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Washington Post - November 12, 2021

Shift to renewables could slash school funding, study finds

As oil and gas companies slowly become sources of cleaner energy, Texas schools may pay part of the price, according to research from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. Researchers found that because of the emerging energy transition, K-12 education funding — which in Texas relies heavily on taxes from oil and gas production — could begin to fall short of spending needs sometime between 2022 and 2029 with average annual deficits of $2.5 billion to $5.8 billion. Annual shortfalls could add up to well over $100 billion over the next three decades, researchers say. “We predict that education funding will decrease by between $13 billion and $120 billion over the next 30 years because of the shift toward renewable energy,” the authors wrote.

While those numbers seem large, they represent an average annual shortfall of about 2.8 percent of Texas’ total baseline K-12 funding over the next 30 years. The author’s projections of the funding gap were made by taking the difference between the state Comptroller’s 2020 forecast for K-12 education funding from oil and four possible forecasts produced by the Center for Houston’s Future using the estimated price of a barrel over the next several decades. Lawmakers could turn to property taxes to fill the potential gap, but they remain skeptical about asking homeowners to provide more education funding after widespread opposition to proposed increases. The authors, however, said other taxes could fill in the projected budget hole. They suggested expanding the sales tax or opening the state up to gambling or recreational marijuana and heavily taxing those industries. For example, the study noted, the current statewide sales tax of 6.25 percent generated about $34 billion in revenue in 2020, which equates to about $5.4 billion for each percentage point of sales tax. The authors wrote that increasing the sales tax rate by one percentage point would nearly offset the annual worst-case scenario of lost oil revenue by 2050.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 15, 2021

5 reasons Beto O'Rourke is a better candidate for Texas governor than he was for president in 2019

Beto O’Rourke is in a much better position to run for governor than he was two years ago, when he abandoned his presidential campaign after failing to break out from a crowded Democratic field. While the El Paso native is still an underdog in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since Ann Richards in 1990, the last year has been one of revival for O’Rourke, thanks to some of his own actions and those of Republicans and other Democrats. After months of speculation, the former congressman announced on Monday morning he’s getting into the race and is ready to take on Gov. Greg Abbott. Here are five ways O’Rourke has either helped himself or been helped by others:

From the minute Republicans Don Huffines and Allen West started talking about challenging Abbott in the Republican primary for governor, Abbott has been shoring up his GOP base with a steady diet of red-meat issues, including banning mask mandates to fight the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 62,000 Texans; signing a ban on abortions after six weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest victims; pushing through new voter restrictions in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen; and winning passage of $2 billion for fencing and police at the Texas border. While all those play well in a GOP primary, public polling shows his support with independent voters — once Abbott’s strong suit — has eroded. The latest polls from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas show Abbott’s approval rating among independents has dropped from 54 percent after his re-election win in 2018 to just 30 percent now. That is where O’Rourke was most successful against Cruz in 2018. Exit polls showed O’Rourke won 50 percent of independent voters in 2018. By the time the November 2022 election rolls around, the walkouts staged by Texas House Democrats to try to block the Republicans’ big elections bill may be largely forgotten by many voters, but O’Rourke won a lot of friends in the party with his outspoken criticism of what Democrats viewed as voter suppression. O’Rourke used his platform to lead two rallies at the Texas Capitol, drawing national attention to many of the Democrats who led the walkout. Meanwhile, O’Rourke’s political action committee picked up the tab for the Democrats’ lodgings in D.C.

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National Stories

AFP - November 15, 2021

US braced for verdicts from two high-profile trials

The United States is bracing for the outcome of two high-profile trials featuring a volatile mix of guns, self-defense claims and racial tensions. One of the cases is being tried in the town of Brunswick in Georgia, a southern state with a segregationist past. Three white men are on trial for shooting and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, on February 23, 2020 after chasing him through their neighborhood in pickup trucks. Gregory McMichael, his son Travis and their neighbor William Bryan say they were attempting to make a "citizen's arrest" of a man they suspected of being a burglar.

Arbery's family and supporters have called it a modern day lynching. The other case is taking place 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away, in the Wisconsin town of Kenosha. The town near the Great Lakes was rocked in August 2020 by protests and rioting after police shot and severely wounded a Black man. During a third night of unrest, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, joined groups of other armed men to patrol the streets and protect, as they put it, businesses from arsonists and looters. Rittenhouse ended up shooting two men dead and wounding another. Charged with homicide, the young man is claiming self-defense. While the details of the cases differ, both involve what has become an "American norm" of "civilians toting around firearms to protect their neighborhoods," said Caroline Light, a professor at Harvard University who has written a book called "Stand Your Ground: A History of America's Love Affair With Lethal Self-Defense."

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The 19th - November 15, 2021

Democrats in statehouses look to ensure abortion rights as future of Roe v. Wade seems unsure

A 90-year-old dormant law that effectively criminalizes abortion in Michigan is poised to be a key policy debate in its statehouse next year, as Democrats there and across the United States try to secure abortion access in an increasingly complicated political and legal landscape. Michigan Democrats from both legislative chambers introduced the Reproductive Health Act this week as part of a package of bills. If enacted, the legislation would repeal a 1931 law that criminalizes abortion in the state. The statute hasn’t been in effect in decades, after landmark Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade affirmed a person’s right to an abortion. But a more conservative high court and upcoming rulings could make the future of abortion access increasingly contingent on individual states. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, in September expressed support for repealing the law through a separate stand-alone bill. The Republican-controlled legislature, however, has not.

“We will not be supporting any such repeal,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “The primary charge of any government or government official is to protect the life of the innocent. Michigan Senate Republicans will not waver from this fundamental duty to protect the sanctity of life.” The main bill would not only repeal the state’s abortion criminalization law, but also remove regulations that require facilities that provide abortions to be licensed as freestanding surgical outpatient facilities. The legislation would also lift Michigan’s mandated 24-hour waiting period for an abortion and lift a ban on private insurance coverage for abortions. That may look different depending on the state. In Illinois, where the Democratic-controlled legislature helped pass a 2019 state law that codified a “fundamental right” to an abortion, lawmakers last month approved legislation that would repeal a 1995 law requiring parents or guardians to be notified if a minor seeks an abortion. “You are seeing a wave of legislators who are ramping up their commitment to shoring up Roe in their states,” said Jennifer Driver, senior director of reproductive rights at the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), an organization that works with lawmakers to pass what they view as progressive policies. Driver told The 19th that she has been in communication with lawmakers in Colorado, Georgia and Washington state who plan to introduce bills soon that would expand abortion rights.

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Washington Post - November 15, 2021

Biden has underestimated problems facing the country — and Democrats fear that has become a political problem

In June, senior White House officials promised that rising inflation was just “transitory.” In July, President Biden declared that “the virus is on the run.” And in August, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declared “the president continues to believe that it is not inevitable that the Taliban take over” Afghanistan. But just in the past week, inflation hit a 31-year high as prices rose 6.2 percent over a year ago, coronavirus cases are ticking up again and the United States announced that Qatar will serve as its diplomatic proxy in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan — head winds that come as the Democratic Party reels from a set of unexpected losses in elections around the country. In these and other cases, a growing number of Democrats worry that the White House has repeatedly underestimated the scale of the challenges facing the country — exacerbating the party’s political problems and making its already perilous path to holding Congress in 2022 even more difficult.

They acknowledge the problems presented by the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and an uneven economic recovery, but fear that the administration’s tendency to downplay the issues has only made things worse. The White House response also runs counter to a promise Biden made as a candidate, when he quoted President Franklin D. Roosevelt saying, “The American people deserve to have it straight from the shoulder.” He vowed he would “tell the truth” and “be candid.” But mixed messaging from the White House, some Democrats argue, has undermined its credibility and set confusing expectations for Americans. “To the extent I’m challenging our party, I am saying we have to break these issues down into simpler, more immediate terms: What are you going to do about the price of the gifts I’m about to buy my kids for Christmas?” said Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who is running for the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania’s Senate race. “We get very focused on the general long-term benefits of legislation that we’re for, which are great, but let’s have a simple everyday message as well.”

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Washington Post - November 15, 2021

Stephen Bannon surrenders after he was indicted on charges of contempt of Congress

Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump White House adviser who was indicted last week for defying a congressional subpoena, surrendered to federal authorities Monday morning and was scheduled to make his first court appearance later Monday afternoon. Bannon, 67, walked through a group of photographers outside the FBI field office in downtown Washington. Bannon told the news media, “I don’t want anybody to take their eye off the ball for what we do every day. . .We’re taking down the Biden regime.” Bannon is expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather for his arraignment on two counts of contempt of Congress. Bannon will not appear in the courtroom however. Court officials said Bannon will make his first appearance by video from the courthouse, using a room and a procedure set up during the pandemic to keep detained defendants separated from other courthouse personnel.

A federal grand jury indicted Bannon on Friday after he ignored a Sept. 23 subpoena to testify and provide documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The committee wants to question Bannon about activities that occurred at the Willard Hotel the night before the riot, when pro-Trump activists sought to convince Republican lawmakers to block certification of the election. The committee’s subpoena also noted that Bannon was quoted predicting “hell is going to break loose” on Jan. 6. The panel has subpoenaed at least 20 Trump aides, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Meadows did not appear Friday for a scheduled deposition, officials said. Also subpoenaed by the House committee was Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior adviser Jason Miller, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and John McEntee, the former White House personnel director. The charges against Bannon are misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

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CNN - November 16, 2021

Bannon's circus undercuts January 6 probe's hardline legal strategy

The House January 6 investigation hoped to send a fear-inducing message deep into Donald Trump's inner circle by opening the way to the prosecution of Steve Bannon. But the risks of that strategy became clear on Monday as the ex-President's political arsonist turned himself in to the FBI after a grand jury had indicted him for contempt of Congress last week. Ever the outsider wrecking ball, Bannon set the example for turning efforts to hold Trump acolytes accountable into fuel for more extremism. The former Wall Street banker turned firebrand populist podcaster relished his moment in the spotlight, embracing victimhood in the name of Trumpism just like political dirty tricks master and Trump fan Roger Stone. He vowed to topple the Biden "regime" and to make the charges against him a "misdemeanor from Hell" for the President, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Merrick Garland, who signed off on his prosecution.

"I am never going to back down. They took on the wrong guy this time," Bannon said, launching what is effectively a political campaign that will unfold alongside what could be a long legal fight, which could even outlast the committee's lifespan if Republicans win control of the House next November and shut down the probe. The questions now are whether Bannon's coming date in court this week for an arraignment will wipe out some of his bravado, and persuade other Trump ex-officials not to risk the law's ire and to agree to testify. Or will his unleashing of a new Trumpian cause célèbre convince other subpoenaed allies of the former President -- like ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows -- to stand firm on questionable assertions of executive privilege? And will Bannon's line in the sand, which runs parallel to Trump's emerging political comeback and possible 2024 White House bid, set a standard that anyone who wants to remain in the ex-President's orbit must match despite personal legal jeopardy? Sources told CNN that the committee will consider the case of Meadows on Tuesday, though is yet to come to a consensus on whether he will face a criminal contempt of Congress citation like the one that precipitated the Justice Department move against Bannon.

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CNN - November 16, 2021

Pfizer signs license agreement to allow broader global access to its experimental Covid-19 antiviral pill

Pfizer said Tuesday it signed a licensing agreement to allow broader global access to its experimental Covid-19 pill. The agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed public health organization, would allow generic manufacturers to make the pill widely available in 95 low- and middle-income countries covering 53% of the world's population, the company said. The pill, known as PF-07321332 or Paxlovid, is to be given in combination with an older antiviral drug called ritonavir. Earlier this month Pfizer announced topline results from its trial saying that an interim analysis -- done before the trial was scheduled to end -- showed an 89% reduction in the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19 among people given the drug within the first three days of symptom onset. "Pfizer will not receive royalties on sales in low-income countries and will further waive royalties on sales in all countries covered by the agreement while COVID-19 remains classified as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization," Pfizer said in the statement.

The Medicines Patent Pool, founded by Unitaid 10 years ago, facilitates rapid access to medicines for people in low- and middle-income-countries. Pfizer has yet to submit the pill for authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration but said it would do so before the end of the month. Late last month, Merck, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and the Medicines Patent Pool announced a voluntary licensing agreement to help create broader access to the antiviral molnupiravir in 105 low- and middle-income-countries. Molnupiravir is an oral Covid-19 antiviral for treatment of mild to moderate Covid-19 by adults who are at risk of severe Covid-19 and hospitalization. It was authorized by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency earlier this month, and the companies have requested authorization from the US FDA. Merck, Ridgeback Therapeutics and Emory University -- the creators and license holders of the antiviral -- will not receive royalties for these sales for the length of time that Covid-19 remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern under World Health Organization classifications, they said.

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NBC News - November 16, 2021

Wyoming GOP votes to stop recognizing Liz Cheney as a Republican

The Wyoming Republican Party will no longer recognize Liz Cheney as a member of the GOP in its second formal rebuke for her criticism of former President Donald Trump. The 31-29 vote Saturday in Buffalo, Wyoming, by the state party central committee followed votes by local GOP officials in about one-third of Wyoming’s 23 counties to no longer recognize Cheney as a Republican. In February, the Wyoming GOP central committee voted overwhelmingly to censure Cheney, Wyoming’s lone U.S. representative, for voting to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Cheney has described her vote to impeach Trump as an act of conscience in defense of the Constitution. Trump “incited the mob” and “lit the flame” of that day’s events, Cheney said after the attack.

It’s “laughable” for anybody to suggest Cheney isn’t a “conservative Republican,” Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler said by text message Monday. “She is bound by her oath to the Constitution. Sadly a portion of the Wyoming GOP leadership has abandoned that fundamental principle and instead allowed themselves to be held hostage to the lies of a dangerous and irrational man,” Adler added. Cheney is now facing at least four Republican opponents in the 2022 primary including Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman, whom Trump has endorsed. Hageman in a statement called the latest state GOP central committee vote “fitting,” the Casper Star-Tribune reported. “Liz Cheney stopped recognizing what Wyomingites care about a long time ago. When she launched her war against President Trump, she completely broke with where we are as a state,” Hageman said. In May, Republicans in Washington, D.C., removed Cheney from a top congressional GOP leadership position after she continued to criticize Trump’s false claims that voter fraud cost him re-election. Cheney had survived an earlier attempt to remove her as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, a role that shapes GOP messaging in the chamber.

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