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Newsclips - May 24, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2022

Migrants grapple with Title 42?s inequities as Gov. Abbott visits Eagle Pass

Sandra Nohemi Reyes and her sons jumped with joy and pride, as they scrambled out of the muddy waters of the Rio Grande and into this small Texas border city. The Honduran family had finally made it to the U.S. and lined up in their wet clothes for processing with federal Border Patrol agents and Texas National Guard servicemen near hole number 3 of a manicured golf course. Four hours later, in the night, they were walked across the bridge south into Piedras Negras, Mexico. Title 42, a pandemic-linked public health order, meant the Hondurans were expelled back to Mexico. The public health order, established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was to expire Monday, May 23, but a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction that keeps it intact. It has been used nearly two million times since it went into effect in March 2020. “The only thing we want is to work and get a secure life for our sons,” said the 33-year-old Reyes Monday by phone Monday from a Piedras Negras hotel. “And we don’t want our children to run risks here in Piedras Negras, where they kidnap and kill people.”

Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott was scheduled to show up on the same river banks and hold a news conference at Eagle Pass City Hall. Abbott, who is running for re-election, has made border security a centerpiece of his campaign, and is expected to condemn the near-record levels of migration. Abbott’s own immigration dragnet, branded as Operation Lone Star, has expanded in scope and multi-million-dollar cost since he launched it in March 2021. Operation Lone Star includes leveling criminal misdemeanor trespass charges against immigrants caught on private property, a measure denounced by civil rights lawyers who say the arrests are unconstitutional. The governor has also sent more than 10,000 members of the Texas National Guard to the border and sent buses to nearby Del Rio dozens of times to offer migrants free rides to D.C. in an attempt to “bring the border” to President Joe Biden. Eagle Pass, a city of about 29,000 in the middle of the Texas border, sits in the second-busiest region for migration along with the neighboring city of Del Rio, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The largest corridor for immigration is the Rio Grande Valley, which is also the most direct route into the U.S. from the rest of the Americas.

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Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2022

SBC report highlights Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist as example of protecting sex abusers

North Texas figures prominently in a highly-anticipated report released on Sunday about allegations of sex abuse among Southern Baptist churches. In particular, Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. The report says that when leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention learned of allegations of sexual abuse, rather than reporting the accusation to authorities or firing those responsible, they protected the abusers or stonewalled and denigrated the survivors. The report includes Prestonwood and its pastor, Jack Graham, as an example, as well as Paige Patterson, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Prestonwood Baptist is one of the largest churches in the country, and Graham is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, serving from 2002 to 2004. His congregation includes prominent elected leaders, such as Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. Leach tweeted on Sunday that the report is “absolutely horrifying.”

“As the husband of a sexual assault survivor, I have lived the horrors associated with this awful crime. To know so many Pastors covered these heinous sins instead of exposing them is almost too much to bear. God, be near, convict and revive us,” he said. In 1989, according to the report, Prestonwood Baptist Pastor Graham allowed a music director who had been accused of abusing a young boy to be dismissed from his church quietly, and without police being notified. The former employee, John Langworthy, moved to Mississippi, where he confessed the abuse at Prestonwood to another church congregation. Langworthy was arrested and charged with sex crimes, the report says. He pleaded guilty but avoided jail time. In a statement on Sunday, Prestonwood’s executive pastor, Mike Buster, said the church “categorically denies the way the report characterizes the incident 33 years ago.” “Prestonwood has never protected or supported abusers, in 1989 or since,” Buster said in the statement.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2022

Cruz, Cornyn and other Texans banned by Russia see Putin’s snub as badge of honor

Russia issued a “permanent ban” on 963 Americans over the weekend that applies to Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and all but one of their fellow Texans in the U.S. House. Those who bothered to respond to Vladimir Putin’s snub reacted with a shrug, or embraced it with pride over their opposition to his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. “Putin is a KGB thug, he launched a stalled war against Ukraine, and he’s running out of options,” Cruz said. “It’s a badge of honor to be sanctioned by him, and to now be sanctioned by both Russia and communist China, but this list also shows he’s failing and flailing.” Also no longer allowed to travel to the land of borscht, propaganda and aggression: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Former President Donald Trump is conspicuously omitted, as are Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky’s other senator, Rand Paul, who tried to block a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that Biden signed on Saturday, the same day Russia issued its largely symbolic travel ban.

But the list does include John McCain, Harry Reid, and Orrin Hatch – long-serving and prominent senators whose need for a Russian visa expired, since all three are deceased. “Making Putin’s Russia banishment list might be the only thing I’ll ever have in common with Ted Cruz,” quipped Rep. Marc Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat. Cornyn, who traveled to Kyiv last week with McConnell and other Republicans to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and show solidarity, offered a sarcastic response via Twitter: “Putin has banned me from going to Russia, again. #HeartBreaking NOT.” “I did not have plans to visit Russia anytime soon,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas, a Democrat who chairs the House science committee and is retiring this year after 30 years in Congress. “I continue to stand with the people of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent nation with a democratically-elected president and parliament. If doing so prohibits me from traveling to Russia, then so be it.” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said its latest banned-from-Russia list was intended deter U.S. elites “who incite Russophoia” from further “hostile actions.” “Russian counter-sanctions are aimed at forcing the ruling American regime, which is trying to impose a neo-colonial `rules-based world order’ on the rest of the world, to change its behavior, recognizing new geopolitical realities,” the ministry said.

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Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2022

High oil prices creating headwinds for major economies

Oil market analysts this week will look for signs that the extended period of high energy is forcing consumers and businesses to cut back consumption and undermining demand. Inflation is the hottest since the early 1980s and oil prices are at their highest in more than a decade. Crude settled Friday at $113.23 a barrel, up 2.5 percent for the week. Retail gasoline prices, meanwhile, continue to set new highs almost on a daily basis. Reid I’Anson, senior commodity economist at Kpler, a data and analytics firm, said high prices may be starting to affect economies. Refinery runs in China, the second-largest economy behind the United States, are lower now than in April and storage levels of crude oil are up, a sign that demand is falling. At least some of the decline is due to China’s tight restrictions on social activity to curb the spread of COVID-19.

For the United States, the situation might not be much better. Goldman Sachs and others have pointed to the risk of recession. Bellwether stocks such as big-box retailer Walmart are faltering, suggesting inflation is taking a bite out of consumer spending, and the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to rein in demand and slow the economy. “The question is how far this will go before we really start to see heavy amounts of demand destruction and thus, some downward pressure on oil prices,” I’Anson added. Few analysts, however, see any immediate relief for high fuel prices. Demand for refined petroleum products up about 1.7 percent from this time last year, according to the Energy Department. That comes even as several states post an average price at the pump at or near $5 per gallon. Edward Gardner, a commodities economist at London-based Capital Economics, suggested the market is “quite comfortable” with commodity prices where they are, particularly as efforts advance to block Russian oil and gas from global markets. “Next week, the implications of the war in Ukraine on Russia’s energy exports will remain key to oil price movements,” he said. Economic data and earnings reports could also move oil markets. Readings on manufacturing activity and consumer sentiment are released this week. Analysts will also watch for earnings from retailers Best Buy and Costco, which could indicate whether consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, is beginning to flag.

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KUT - May 23, 2022

ABIA attempts 'unusual' use of eminent domain to force out South Terminal operator

Ask anyone stuck on an airplane waiting for a gate at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) if the Barbara Jordan Terminal is big enough, and you'll hear something like this: "It's mind-boggling to me that Bergstrom has not grown as it's needed to. It's embarrassing," said Jon Lamb, a Florida resident who last month was stuck on an American Airlines plane after landing because no gates were available. "I was angry that now I'm going to miss an important customer call." Officials who run the city-owned airport want to fix this problem by building more gates. A big plan in the works would add a new concourse by 2028 with at least 10 gates and the ability to expand to 40. The concourse would be connected to the Barbara Jordan Terminal by an underground pedestrian tunnel.

But there's one big obstacle: The South Terminal where ultra-low-cost airlines Allegiant and Frontier operate would have to be demolished. The South Terminal is run by a private company, Lonestar Airport Holdings. In 2015, the Austin City Council approved a 30-year lease with Lonestar's parent company plus two optional five-year extensions. Lonestar says it has invested close to $20 million in the South Terminal, including about $1 million to accommodate a $75 million Allegiant base of operations that opened in November. So now the City of Austin is attempting a novel use of the state's eminent domain law to terminate Lonestar's lease. ABIA wants the company gone by July 2023. As part of the condemnation process — legal steps under eminent domain law to seize a property — the city sent an initial offer in late March to buy out Lonestar's lease for nearly $2 million.

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KTEP - May 23, 2022

El Paso and Buffalo experience nearly identical hate crimes

El Paso held a candlelight vigil for the 10 Black shoppers killed during a mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo. Dozens of people gathered to show solidarity with the Buffalo victims, their families and survivors. The vigil Sunday began at twilight in a healing garden created to honor the El Paso victims of the Walmart mass shooting. Though nearly two thousand miles and three years apart, the circumstances of the racist attacks in each city are nearly identical. “I just think it’s strange that it was almost exactly the same. Of course, it brought back some feelings,” Tito Anchondo said. His brother and sister-in-law were killed in the Walmart mass shooting in 2019. Adria Gonzalez had a flashback after hearing about the Buffalo shooting “…anxiety kicked in. Memories came back from that morning inside the Walmart shooting August the 3rd,” said Gonzalez. She helped some older shoppers escape to the back of the store as a then 21-year-old man opened fire.

The El Paso and Buffalo hate crimes are strikingly similar. The gunmen accused in each of the attacks, both traveled hours to reach their target: supermarkets filled with shoppers on a Saturday. And both young, white men posted hate-filled screeds online before their deadly rampages. “It was, just a very eerie kind of feeling that someone would duplicate something so similar, said El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego. Rather than lone wolves, the alleged killers could be considered copycats – learning from each other. In his screed, the 18-year-old New Yorker arrested for the Buffalo shooting referenced the Texan charged with the El Paso killings. Both alleged gunmen wrote that they were also inspired by yet another racist mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. “When it happens over and over again, now, it becomes a greater impact because each one is building on the other, how people feel” Samaniego said. Though the El Paso and Buffalo hate crimes share similarities, El Paso families know each life lost is grieved individually. Healing is personal. Gonzalez has focused on new life. She accomplished a goal she set right after the mass shooting. “I did say that I was going to get pregnant, and I was not going to lose hope.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2022

Houston is in the middle of a stray animal crisis, and local rescues are feeling the brunt of it

On an exceedingly hot Sunday morning in a northeast Houston neighborhood, two pairs of jaded eyes appear from a hidden storm culvert. “Babieeeeeees!” Anna Barbosa and Jane Wesson of the animal rescue group Houston K-911 shout simultaneously. “Babieeeeeeeees!” The strays slowly move out from the culvert at the corner of Peach Street and Haywood. Both are covered in mange, and one has a swollen belly. They are starving and itchy. The brown-colored stray is more trusting and slowly makes her way to Wesson’s beat-up SUV. The other keeps her distance. “She’s pregnant, see it, that bulge?” Wesson says of the brown-colored dog while loading up an aluminum tray of wet food and kibble. Barbosa and Wesson have been saving animals in Houston for more than a decade, earning K-911 a reputation as a rescue that takes extreme medical cases. These two strays desperately need help, but K-911’s resources are maxed out.

So until space opens up, or a foster agrees to take them, Barbosa and Wesson are feeding and treating strays right on the street, checking in every so often before they can bring them into the program. “I can’t believe they are still itching after the provecta (flea medication),” Barbosa says. After feeding, assessing and documenting the dogs’ condition, the women prepare to to leave as the strays head back to the culvert for relief from the blazing sun. “When you’re out in the field and you have to leave an injured dog out on the street because you literally have no place for it to go, that weighs on you,” Tena Lundquist Faust, co-president of the nonprofit animal welfare organization Houston PetSet said. “You take that with you. You go to bed with that, you wake up with that, and you don’t forget those faces.” Houston is in the midst of a stray animal crisis — part of a nationwide drop in adoptions coupled with an uptick in pandemic pet surrenders and abandoned animals — that is leaving volunteer-run rescues, fosters and shelter staff burned out. “It’s just nonstop, there is no break,” Barbosa said.

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Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2022

Texas fund helps homeowners catch up with mortgage payments, but obstacles limit access

Thanks to funds provided by a federal program, many families in Texas are catching up on late mortgage and home tax payments. Still, the eligibility requirements could prevent some homeowners affected by the pandemic from getting help. At least 205 Dallas County families have been awarded this grant, available through the 2021 American Rescue Plan. Texas received $840 million for this purpose. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) began distributing the money at the end of March under the Texas Homeowner Assistance Fund (TXHAF). An application must be submitted through the TDHCA website to receive financial assistance. According to the program’s guidelines, individuals can be awarded $40,000 for delinquent mortgage payments or home insurance. As of May 17, the state has helped 3,879 families with an average of $6,992 per household, according to TDHCA data.

However, the application process can be long and complex for some families, leading them to abandon the application or have their application disqualified for not filling it out correctly. For Ruth Rosales and her family, the pandemic caused their primary source of income to be significantly lower. Her husband’s salary was reduced, causing them to fall behind on mortgage payments. They are $20,000 in debt with Wells Fargo for late payments on their Garland home, a three-bedroom and two-bathroom house, as of mid-May. “When I heard about this program, I thought it was a relief, that we only needed to apply and that we would soon be done worrying about the mortgage,” said Rosales, mother of a 12-year-old daughter and a 27-year-old son. But it was not that simple for the Rosales family. One of the eligibility requirements is that the house owner shows proof of income from the last three months before requesting help. It was impossible since Rosales, the house owner, had been unemployed for six months. Kate Bulger, director of business development at Money Management, a financial management consulting firm with locations in Dallas, said the average Texas family is currently between $6,000 and $7,000 in debt.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 23, 2022

Missing Texan lost in famous WWII air raid on Romanian oil refinery is now identified

The outbreak of war swept Louis V. Girard far from his hometown of West in Central Texas, taking him into the U.S. Army Air Forces flying dangerous missions against the Nazis in a B-24 Liberator bomber. He was like millions of other Americans who either joined or were drafted into the armed forces after Pearl Harbor. But his story had a quick and tragic end. A first lieutenant, Girard was a co-pilot on a famous air raid of 177 aircraft that attempted to bomb oil refineries around Ploie?ti, Romania in a mission called Operation Tidal Wave. Before Aug. 1, 1943 and the first day of Tidal Wave was in the books, Girard, only 20, was shot down, missing and presumed dead.

The stress was on presumed — no one actually knew for sure if Girard, 20, had been killed because his body could not be identified. His aircraft was consumed by an explosion and his remains ended up in the Unknowns in the Hero Section of the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan, Ploiesti, Prahova, Romania. But the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA, said Monday that Girard is now accounted for, with the organization positively identifying his remains March 28. He’ll be buried June 4 in West. The DPAA said Girard had joined the pilot, 2nd Lt. William Scott, Staff Sgt. Charles G. McMackin, and six other crewmen in boarding their B-24, called “Satan’s Hell Cats,” on an airstrip in Libya. The bombers encountered intense anti-aircraft fire over the target, with many losses. “Satan’s Hell Cats” was one of them. Witnesses saw it skim the tops of nearby trees before crashing and exploding about two miles outside Ploie?ti, spelled Ploesti in most postwar histories.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 23, 2022

Jon Taylor: Property taxes are a concern, but caution is urged

(Jon Taylor is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at The University of Texas at San Antonio.) Texas homeowners recently received a notice from their appraisal district that likely informed them that the appraised value of their property has risen. While those looking to sell their homes might be pleased to see it go up in value, those who aren’t selling their homes or are looking to buy a home in a white-hot housing market might be worried that increased property assessments will lead to a big jump in property taxes and mortgage payments. It’s a legitimate concern, given that property tax collections in Texas have risen by more than 20 percent since 2017. For those nervous rising property taxes may eventually price them out of their homes, Texas provides property owners with a mechanism to protest the appraised value. May 16 was the deadline to appeal property appraisals. Just because you received a higher appraisal this year doesn’t mean that it’s certain your property taxes will increase.

Why? Because your assessed value is currently an estimation based on the appraisal district’s educated guess of the value of your home. It’s not set in stone, which is why you have the right to challenge your estimated appraised valuation. Further, because Texas law limits how much of the newly assessed value of your property can be taxed, any property tax increase will depend in large part on what various local governments do later this summer when they finalize their budgets and set the tax rates for the revenue they need to operate. As a result, your property taxes may not go up. Some local governments may have to cut their property tax rates to comply with laws passed in 2019 that grant property owners some measure of relief from rising property taxes by capping the amount that they can annually increase their property tax revenue. Unfortunately, these laws have only managed to slow the pace of increases.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2022

Did you know fully driverless cars are now tooling about on Austin roads?

Truly driverless cars — this time with no human drivers ready to take over in case of emergency— are now cruising around Austin. Pittsburgh-based technology company Argo AI says it has begun operating its autonomous test vehicles without human safety drivers in Austin. The company is also testing the driverless vehicles in Miami. Argo AI has been operating in Austin since 2019 in partnership with Ford Motor Company. Ford has been deploying prototypes in Austin to establish the city as a proving ground for autonomous vehicle technology. To further test its autonomous technology in Austin, Argo AI and Ford have since established a partnerships with ridehailing service Lyft and and with retail giant Walmart, with the vehicles being part of Walmrt's delivery service.

However, all those vehicles had humans ready to take over in case something went wrong. Now, Argo AI is testing a fleet of vehicles with no human behind the wheel. The company called it an important milestone in its plan to bring together the technology, operational resources and partners needed to grow its autonomous vehicle business. Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo AI, said the company "is first to go driverless in two major American cities, safely operating amongst heavy traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists in the busiest of neighborhoods. From day one, we set out to tackle the hardest miles to drive — in multiple cities — because that’s where the density of customer demand is, and where our autonomy platform is developing the intelligence required to scale it into a sustainable business.” For now, only Argo AI employees will be passengers in the driverless vehicles, and the passengers will be able to stop or trigger the vehicle to pull over in case of emergency, the company said. Argo said the vehicles are primarily operating downtown, as well as in east and south Austin.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2022

'The great unknown': Texas high school coaches address name, image and likeness concerns

Texas high school coaches may not like the idea of name, image and likeness deals filtering down into the high school ranks, but that won’t stop them from being prepared. That was the message sent out by the Texas High School Coaches Association on Monday, when the largest coaches association in the country announced a partnership with Eccker Sports to help navigate high school students and their families through the confusing world of NIL that has wreaked havoc on the collegiate athletic landscape. “Understanding NIL can be a real challenge for high school coaches and educators,” THSCA executive director Joe Martin said. “It is essential to have up-to-date information on this quickly evolving issue." Eccker Sports officials joined Martin, a handful of prominent high school football coaches, journalists and other THSCA officials on a video conference call on Monday to discuss how high school coaches can stay informed on the ever-changing NIL rules.

Texas state law currently prohibits high school athletes from benefitting financially from NIL deals, but coaches know that could change as soon as 2023, when the Texas Legislature reconvenes for its biennial session. Martin made it clear that Texas high school coaches do not support the legalization of NIL deals in the state, but he also stressed that his organization needs to be prepared for the possibility of NIL deals becoming approved by lawmakers. “We are not promoting NIL at this point,” Martin said. “This is not what we want to do, but we want to have as much information as we can to help our coaches. We will follow the Legislature in January.” That’s welcomed news to the coaches, who worry about the influence of what Converse Judson football coach Mark Soto called “street agents that are trying to take advantage of (student-athletes') talents.” “We have a lot on our plate already”, said Soto, a former head coach at San Marcos. “And we have to be thinking about a high school kid that may not be ready to handle the kind of money that may be coming. “Parents trust coaches. And we need to have the most accurate information that we can to help them out.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2022

Record heat is giving Texas' power grid a challenge like never before. Can it survive the summer?

This summer is going to be hot — but how will Texas’ power generators fare? Well, the usual time to prepare for peak demand is in the spring, when temperatures are typically mild, and Texans use less power to cool or heat their homes. That cushion evaporated this month when record temperatures sent the demand for electricity sky-high. On May 4, ERCOT urged power generators to delay scheduled maintenance and come back online to meet demand from the abnormally hot weather — a warning extended through Friday. Putting off maintenance can create its own problem. As the Texas Tribune reported, at least one power generator that deferred maintenance to come back online was forced to shut down because of unexpected problems. Although we are still months away from the worst of the Texas summer, peak demand topped 70,000 megawatts during the recent heat wave.

The highest use of electricity (ever!) on our grid? It was about 74,800 megawatts in August 2019. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes on a hot summer day. ERCOT, our state’s nonprofit grid manager, gets a lot of grief when things go wrong, or when grid conditions get tight. ERCOT has made some planning mistakes, but criticizing ERCOT for tight power supplies is like faulting a gas station attendant for the price of gas. ERCOT doesn’t build power plants or transmission lines, nor does it have the power to order companies to do so. It must rely on market incentives to get power generators and transmission builders to make investments that would improve the grid’s reliability. After the catastrophic failure of state’s electrical system in February 2021, the Legislature concluded that the Texas market was not providing those incentives, and authorized the Public Utility Commission to revamp it. The PUC is still in the process of rewriting the rules for wholesale power markets. A lot is at stake for generators, electric customers and the grid. Generators need to know what type of money they can make before making significant investments in power plants, transmission and other infrastructure. And when they do make investments, the question then becomes who will pay for the improvements, shareholders or customers?

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2022

Travis County Judge accused of drunken driving plans to remain in office, but his return to work is unclear

A Travis County judge accused of drunken driving and whose court docket is mostly DWI cases plans to remain in office through the end of the year to complete his term, possibly as officials pay hundreds of dollars daily for a substitute. Austin police arrested John Lipscombe on May 7 at a hotel on Stonelake Boulevard after getting a 911 call about a possibly intoxicated driver. Lipscombe, a former prosecutor, has presided over Travis County Court-at-Law No. 3 since 2011. He did not seek reelection this spring. His attorney, Randy Leavitt, told the American-Statesman in a statement that “Judge Lipscombe has more than 31 years of public service for Travis County. As any citizen, he is innocent until proven guilty. He has no intention of resigning.” It is unclear, however, when or if Lipscombe will return to the bench.

The state Office of Judicial Conduct confirmed that Lipscombe can remain on the bench — and potentially preside over cases involving those charged with driving while intoxicated — unless he is convicted. However, Lipscombe has not come back to work, and the county already has paid $5,180 to a visiting judge at a weekly rate of $2,590 since his arrest. If Lipscombe does not resume his duties before the end of his term, the county would pay about $51,800 to a judge to handle his job. Judges do not have vacation time, and their absences can only be covered by a substitute judge. Lipscombe earns $185,000 a year. Should Lipscomb return to the bench, Travis County attorney Delia Garza, whose office prosecutes misdemeanor DWI cases, said prosecutors have not made a determination as to whether they would request Lipscombe recuse himself from presiding over such cases, which account for about 65% of the docket in his court, according to the county’s court administration office. Meanwhile, Garza said prosecutors are still evaluating how they will proceed with Lipscombe's criminal charge.

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KSAT - May 23, 2022

Bexar County Clerk’s Office offering 4-day workweeks to employees

Certain Bexar County employees will have the option to work four days a week as fuel prices surge and workplaces across the U.S. push for a better work-life balance. The county clerk’s office on Monday said that it’s implemented another option for the shorter week, where employees work 10-hour days. The change will not affect the office’s hours of 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, according to a news release signed by Bexar County Clerk Lucy Adame-Clark. Her office covers marriage licenses, birth or death certificates, and other public records.

“Recent feedback from our staff has been very positive as they embrace the new hours by having one extra day to focus on their personal lives,” the release states. “One of the many goals of this new initiative is to reduce employee personal expenses, improve employee retention, increase productivity, and to overall address the financial needs of our employees.” The release states that the flexible work schedule will help families address any personal needs and help them save money on gas, which is well over $4 a gallon. The four-day workweek initiative is gaining momentum across the U.S. as people grapple with inflation and other effects of the pandemic. According to the New York Times, the shorter workweeks are taking hold in other countries like Spain and New Zealand. One nonprofit group, 4 Day Week Global, even works with employers and employees on how to implement the strategy.

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Brownsville Herald - May 23, 2022

Cameron County election official expects high turnout for Tuesday’s primary runoffs

Runoff elections will be held Tuesday in the Democratic and Republican primaries, and election officials anticipate there will be a good turnout given the number of early votes that were cast during the one week of early voting. “We think we are going to see an increase in runoff participation for this election. Our early voting numbers already clearly indicate that we are looking at getting almost 60 to 70% of the voters return,” said Remi Garza, administrator for Cameron County’s Elections and Voter Registration Office. “We are hopeful that we will see close to 5,000 or 6,000 people casting their ballots” Tuesday. Unofficial early votes show 10,702 votes were cast with 8,762 for Democrats and 1,940 for Republicans. Garza said the high voter turnout in the runoff election can be attributed to candidates getting their message out. In addition, with every election, election officials are seeing more voters head to the polls. For weeks advertisements for political candidates have aired on television and in print media. Candidates have also been campaigning holding their own local events.

Garza stressed that during Tuesday’s runoff races voters can only vote in the party they voted in during the March primary election. For example, if you voted Democrat in the primary election, you must vote Democrat in Tuesday’s runoff election. You cannot cross party lines and the same goes for the Republican runoff election. You must have voted Republican in the primary to vote Republican in the runoff election. “Texas has an open primary system meaning that every two years you can affiliate with whichever party you chose, but once you affiliate with a party you have to stay with that party for that election cycle,” Garza said. The Texas Election Code considers it a crime and it is considered a felony offense. If you did not vote in the primary election, you can vote for either political party in Tuesday’s primary runoff elections. In the November general election, voters can vote for whichever candidate they like. Democratic runoff races with local interest include state senator, state district representative, state board of education, justice of the peace and county commissioner seat. State Board of Education, District 2 race will be between Victor Perez and Pete Garcia. The State Senate District 27 race has Sara Stapleton Barrera going up against Morgan LaMantia. The State Rep. District 37 race will be between Ruben Cortez and Luis Villarreal Jr.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 23, 2022

533 acres of pristine riverfront land in Hays County conserved for new preserve, park

Just north of Canyon Lake, through sprawling hills, limestone bluffs and pristine springs, El Rancho Cima was a couple thousand-acre spot just for Boy Scouts. Troops of junior wilderness rangers would climb through obstacle courses, build fires by themselves, learn to track paw prints in the dirt and camp by the meandering Blanco River. Since the 1950s, the area has been untouched by development. But in 2018, the Houston chapter for the Boy Scouts put the entire 2,500 acres on the market — leaving the historic area up for grabs and potential housing. In an effort to preserve El Rancho Cima’s past and conserve its ecosystem in perpetuity, officials in Hays County and The Nature Conservancy of Texas partnered to buy roughly 533 acres of the property near the Blanco River waterfront.

A conservation easement granted to the conservancy by the county in early May for $13 million will protect a large portion of the river from potential pollution; preserve the habitat for endangered species, such as the golden cheeked warbler; and eventually facilitate opening the property as a public park. “Hays County and The Nature Conservancy have long recognized that the Blanco River is a key conservation priority, protecting as much as possible of the Blanco River to keep it pristine like it is now,” said Jeff Francell, associate director of land protection for The Nature Conservancy. “This one piece of property will protect more than a mile on both sides of the river and save it for the future.” The Sam Houston Area Council chapter for the Boy Scouts of America, which had been looking to sell the El Rancho Cima property for years, sought to sell the entire property together, which made it difficult for some conservationists to acquire the pricey land. But it did not stop officials in Hays County from looking for a way to at least save some of the land, and they partnered with The Nature Conservancy.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2022

KPFT-FM moves into new headquarters

Not quite a year after its longtime Lovett Blvd. space was put on the market — and subsequently razed — the public radio station KPFT has a new home. The Pacifica station found at 90.1 FM will settle into 4504 Caroline, nestled amid the Museum District, Third Ward and Midtown. The move will end a two-year period of upheaval for KPFT, which halted most operations at its location during the early days of the pandemic. The exit from the Lovett location was initiated nearly a year ago due to what was described in an email to Pacifica Foundation members as a “favorable real estate market in Houston.” KPFT programming continued to exist remotely.

“We are very excited and look forward to moving into our new building and welcoming all of our programmers and community supporters back to their favorite new community station home,” said general manager Robert Franklin. In its announcement, Pacifica expressed excitement that KPFT would soon find itself immersed at a crossroads of Houston culture and institutions just steps away from the Houston Museum of African-American Culture, with Hermann Park, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Buffalo Soldiers Museum, Asia Society Texas, Holocaust Museum Houston and numerous other institutions within blocks of the new sdpace. KPFT began broadcasting more than 50 years ago. Launching in March 1970 at 90.1 on the FM dial, the station quickly found pushback in Houston when its transmitter was bombed that May. Over the years, KPFT has been a haven for local, regional and national music that rarely finds champions on the airwaves, while also touching on social, political and quality of life platforms that don’t often find time at other stations around the city.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2022

Former Southern Baptist president accused of sexual assault in explosive, third-party investigation

Johnny Hunt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and well-known Georgia preacher, has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman weeks after his presidential tenure ended in 2010. The allegations are among the most explosive contained in a historic, nearly 400-page investigation into allegations that top SBC leaders mishandled, committed, ignored or concealed sexual abuses dating back to 2000. Requested by SBC church delegates last summer and made public on Sunday, the independent investigation found denominational leaders downplayed years of warnings about sex abuses from survivors and ignored expert advice on policies to protect children, among other shortcomings by SBC executive committee members.

Hunt is accused of entering the condo of the woman, who he knew and was staying next door to Hunt while on vacation in Panama City Beach in July 2010. The woman, who is more than two decades younger than Hunt, was home alone. She told Guidepost that, after prodding her with inappropriate questions such as if she was “wild growing up,” before eventually pinning her down, groping her and pulling at her clothes. Shocked and scared, the woman then told Hunt she didn’t want Hunt’s ministry to be ruined, after which Hunt “forced himself on her again by groping her, trying to pull her shirt down, and violently kissing her,” according to the Guidepost report. “(The woman) did not reciprocate, but rather stood eyes open and very stiff, hoping he would just stop and leave. He finally stopped and left.” Hunt later texted her to come outside of her condo, then stated that he “would like to have sex with her three times a day,” Guidepost said. Days later, the woman and her husband, a pastor of 25 years who had worked with Hunt, were called to a meeting during which Hunt said he had kissed her, touched her breasts over clothing, and tried to pull her shorts down, but that it was consensual, Guidepost wrote. Hunt then told her husband “thank God I didn’t consummate the relationship,” according to the husband.

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Associated Press - May 23, 2022

Here’s how abortion clinics are preparing for the fall of Roe v. Wade

Leaders of a Tennessee abortion clinic calculated driving distances and studied passenger rail routes as they scanned the map for another place to offer services if the U.S. Supreme Court lets states restrict or eliminate abortion rights. They chose Carbondale in Illinois — a state that has easy abortion access but is surrounded by more restrictive states in the Midwest and South. It will be the southernmost clinic in Illinois when it opens in August. “I think at this point, we all know the stark reality that we’re facing in Tennessee. We are going to lose abortion access this year,” said Jennifer Pepper, chief executive officer of CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health. With the Supreme Court poised to let states tightly limit or ban abortion, reproductive rights advocates are planning to open new clinics or expand existing ones in states where lawmakers are not clamping down on access. Some Democrat-led states in the West and Northeast also are proposing public money for an expected influx of people traveling from other places to terminate pregnancies.

When it opened in 1974, a year after the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, CHOICES became the first abortion provider in Memphis, a commercial hub for rural Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and southern Missouri. Carbondale is a three-hour drive north of Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee’s two largest cities. It’s also on a New Orleans-to-Chicago Amtrak route through areas where abortion access could disappear, including Mississippi, western Tennessee and western Kentucky. “Its location and geography were the original reason that drew us to Carbondale, but the incredible heart of the Carbondale community is what led us to know we had found a second home for CHOICES,” Pepper said in announcing the plan last week. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming months in a case directly challenging Roe. Justices heard arguments in December over a 2018 Mississippi law to ban most abortions after 15 weeks. The court has allowed states to regulate but not ban abortion before the point of viability, around 24 weeks. A draft opinion leaked May 2 showed a majority of justices were ready to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a case that originated in Dallas County. If the final ruling is similar, states would have wide latitude to restrict abortion. The Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, says 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion if the Roe is weakened or overturned.

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Newsclips - May 23, 2022

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2022

Bombshell 400-page report finds Southern Baptist leaders routinely silenced sexual abuse survivors

For 20 years, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention — including a former president now accused of sexual assault — routinely silenced and disparaged sexual abuse survivors, ignored calls for policies to stop predators, and dismissed reforms that they privately said could protect children but might cost the SBC money if abuse victims later sued. Those are just a few findings of a bombshell, third-party investigation into decades of alleged misconduct by Southern Baptist leaders that was released Sunday, nearly a year after 15,000 SBC church delegates demanded their executive committee turn over confidential documents and communications as part of an independent review of abuse reports that were purportedly mishandled or concealed since 2000. The historic, nearly 400-page report details how a small, insular and influential group of leaders “singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations” to prevent abuse.

The report was published by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm that conducted 330 interviews and reviewed two decades of internal SBC files in the seven-month investigation. “Survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its (structure) — even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” Guidepost’s report concluded. Guidepost investigated the SBC’s 86-member executive committee, the convention’s highest governing entity. The firm’s investigators had unprecedented access to the SBC’s leadership and reviewed thousands of internal documents — including previously confidential communications between SBC lawyers. The investigation sheds new and unprecedented light on the backroom politicking and deceit that has stymied attempts at reforms and allowed for widespread mistreatment of child sexual abuse victims. And it exhaustively corroborates what many survivors have said for decades: that Southern Baptist leaders downplayed their own abuse crisis and instead prioritized shielding the SBC - and its hundreds of millions of dollars in annual donations — from lawsuits by abuse victims.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2022

Here’s why crypto companies are flocking to Texas

Mance Harmon graduated from college in 1993 when the World Wide Web was just getting ripples, so he remembers the frustrations of trying to explain it to his parents. It didn’t make sense to them until they got an email account, but now, everyone intuitively understands the Internet, he said. “Crypto is in the same space,” said Harmon, now the co-founder of Dallas-Fort Worth’s largest blockchain company, Hedera. “As the number of applications grows and people start taking control of their identity and privacy, they’ll begin to appreciate it in a different light.” D-FW has made its name as a business-friendly area with a large talent pool. But is the traditional environment enough to draw in the younger crypto companies that favor a more casual work environment, open minds and creative solutions? “Crypto culture is one of the weirdest cultures I’ve ever been a part of,” said Rasikh Morani, CEO of The Arcadia Group, a Dallas-based blockchain software development company.

“It’s awesome. But it’s also very weird,” he said. “There’s no other industry where I’d be sending anime pictures to my clients or my clients’ investors.” Crypto’s complexity means some tune it out, not wanting to get involved in something they don’t understand. That has allowed some of D-FW’s biggest crypto-related claims to fame to go largely unnoticed: Hudson Jameson, one of the best-known faces of Ethereum, hails from Dallas. For five years until 2021, he worked at the Ethereum Foundation. Coinsource, the world’s largest Bitcoin ATM operator, operates out of Fort Worth. In 2021, Dallas crypto startup Zabo secured a deal to be bought by leading U.S. mainstream cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase. If you ask industry experts whether Dallas-Fort Worth is becoming the “it” place for crypto, you rarely get a simple yes or no answer. But you hear the same themes.

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Washington Post - May 22, 2022

Inside the Republican push to stop Trump’s ‘vendetta tour’ in Georgia

Republican governors hatched the plan months ago. Meeting at the desert Biltmore resort in Phoenix in mid-November, they agreed to confront a new threat to their incumbents: Former president Donald Trump was ramping up support for primary challengers as part of what one former governor called “a personal vendetta tour.” To protect incumbents up for reelection this year, the Republican Governors Association decided to spend millions of dollars in primaries, an unusual step for an organization that typically reserves its cash for general election matchups against Democrats. “The focus is on 2022. I don’t believe we should spend one more moment talking about 2020,” Republican Governors Association Co-Chairman Doug Ducey said in an interview with The Washington Post. Asked if Trump’s help for his preferred candidates was worth much, the Arizona governor, who pointed to states where GOP governors avoided or defeated Trump challengers, replied: “It hasn’t been to date.”

The gambit is set to culminate Tuesday in Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is heavily favored to defeat former senator David Perdue in a closely-watched primary. Trump recruited Perdue and made him his marquee candidate in a larger crusade against GOP officeholders who opposed his fight to overturn the 2020 election, which was rooted in false claims about fraud. The RGA invested some $5 million in Georgia, according to a person familiar with the group’s outlays, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive details. A parade of Republican governors and luminaries have lined up to protect Kemp. And former vice president Mike Pence, who once served as governor of Indiana, will appear with Kemp on Monday — setting the stage for Pence’s most direct confrontation yet against Trump in the midterms. The influx of RGA money in Georgia, according to strategists on both sides of the governor’s race, has dealt a devastating blow to Perdue, who has struggled to raise funds to compete. “This is just not the best use of our money. We would much rather use it just in races against Democrats,” said former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who is the co-chair of a 2022 fundraising arm for the RGA and described the November meeting in Phoenix to The Post. “But it was made necessary because Donald Trump decided on the vendetta tour this year and so we need to make sure we protect these folks who are the objects of his vengeance.”

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New York Times - May 20, 2022

Tesla’s aura dims as its plunging stock highlights the risks it faces

Investors are reassessing the premise that justified Tesla’s astronomical stock price and made its founder, Elon Musk, the richest person in the world. Tesla’s $1 trillion valuation made sense only if investors believed the electric car company was on a path to dominate the auto industry the way Apple rules smartphones or Amazon commands online retailing. But Tesla’s shares have declined more than 40 percent since April 4 — a much steeper fall than the broad market, vaporizing more than $400 billion in stock market value. And the tumble has called attention to the risks that the company faces. These include increasing competition, a dearth of new products, lawsuits accusing the company of racial discrimination and significant production problems at Tesla’s factory in Shanghai, which it uses to supply Asia and Europe.

Mr. Musk has not helped the stock price by turning his bid to buy Twitter into a financial soap opera. His antics have reinforced the perception that Tesla lacks an independent board of directors that could stop him from doing things that might damage the company’s business and brand. “From a corporate good governance perspective Tesla has a lot of red flags,” said Andrew Poreda, a senior analyst who specializes in socially responsible investing at Sage Advisory Services, an investment firm in Austin, Texas. “There are almost no checks and balances.” Even longtime Tesla optimists are having doubts. Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, has been one of the most steadfast believers in Tesla on Wall Street. But on Thursday, Wedbush lowered its target price for Tesla — the firm’s estimate of the shares’ fair market value based on future earnings — to $1,000 from $1,400. Mr. Ives cited Tesla’s problems in China, where lockdowns have throttled the supply of crucial parts and materials and demand for cars. “There’s a new reality for Tesla in China, and the market is reassessing the risks,” Mr. Ives said.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2022

Nick Shay: A monster hurricane season is coming

(Nick Shay is a professor of oceanography at the University of Miami.) The Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1, and the Gulf of Mexico is already warmer than average. Even more worrying is a current of warm tropical water that is looping unusually far into the Gulf for this time of year, with the power to turn tropical storms into monster hurricanes. It’s called the Loop Current, and it’s the 800-pound gorilla of Gulf hurricane risks. When the Loop Current reaches this far north this early in the hurricane season — especially during what’s forecast to be a busy season — it can spell disaster for folks along the Northern Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida. If you look at temperature maps of the Gulf of Mexico, you can easily spot the Loop Current. It curls up through the Yucatan Channel between Mexico and Cuba, into the Gulf of Mexico, and then swings back out through the Florida Strait south of Florida as the Florida Current, where it becomes the main contributor to the Gulf Stream.

When a tropical storm passes over the Loop Current or one of its giant eddies — large rotating pools of warm water that spin off from the current — the storm can explode in strength as it draws energy from the warm water. This year, the Loop Current looks remarkably similar to the way it did in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina crossed the Loop Current before devastating New Orleans. Of the 27 named storms that year, seven became major hurricanes. Wilma and Rita also crossed the Loop Current that year and became two of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record. I have been monitoring ocean heat content for more than 30 years as a marine scientist. The conditions I’m seeing in the Gulf in May 2022 are cause for concern. One prominent forecast anticipates 19 tropical storms — 32 percent more than average — and nine hurricanes. The Loop Current has the potential to supercharge some of those storms. Warm ocean water doesn’t necessarily mean more tropical storms. But once tropical storms reach waters that are around 78 F (26 C) or warmer, they can strengthen into hurricanes. Hurricanes draw most of their strength from the top 100 feet (30 meters) of the ocean. Normally, these upper ocean waters mix, allowing warm spots to cool quickly. But the Loop Current’s subtropical water is deeper and warmer, and also saltier, than Gulf common water. These effects inhibit ocean mixing and sea surface cooling, allowing the warm current and its eddies to retain heat to great depths.

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Texas Tribune - May 20, 2022

A GOP power grab shatters 30 years of political progress for Black voters in Galveston County

Miles inland from Galveston’s beaches and colorful vacation homes, a group of Black men dribble and jump on a covered basketball court, aiming for a chain-link net. Carver Park in Texas City, created during segregation, is considered the first African American county park in the state. It sits on land donated by descendants of freedmen who survived slavery and pioneered one of Texas’ oldest Black settlements, the footprint of which sits just a few blocks away. Until last year, the park sat at the heart of Galveston County’s Precinct 3 — the most diverse of the four precincts that choose the commissioners court, which governs the county along with the county judge. Precinct 3 was the lone seat in which Black and Hispanic voters, who make up about 38% of the county’s population, made up the majority of the electorate.

The precinct sliced the middle of coastal Galveston County, stretching from the small city of Dickinson on the county’s northern end through residential areas of Texas City and down to the eastern end of Galveston Island. Its residents included medical professionals and staff drawn in by The University of Texas Medical Branch, petrochemical workers that operate a large cluster of refineries and commuter employees of the nearby NASA Johnson Space Center. The area stood as an exemplar of Black political power and progress. For 30 years, Black voters — with support from Hispanics — had amassed enough political clout to decide the county commissioner for Precinct 3, propelling Black leaders onto a majority white county commissioners court. They worked to gain stronger footholds in local governments, elevating Black people into city halls across the precinct. Two years ago, they reached a milestone, electing Texas City’s first Black mayor and a city commission on which people of color are the majority. But the white Republican majority on the Galveston County’s commissioners court decided last November to dismantle Precinct 3. Capitalizing on its first opportunity to redraw commissioner precincts without federal oversight, the court splintered Black and Hispanic communities into majority-white districts.

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Rio Grande Guardian - May 22, 2022

Antonio Garza: A clear path forward for North America amid rising geopolitical tensions

(Antonio Garza. Garza is currently counsel to the law firm of White & Case in Mexico City. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 2002 through 2009.) The Covid-19 pandemic led to massive disruptions in our economy, revealing fundamental weaknesses in many of our trade relationships. In January of this year, it appeared like the global economy just might be back on track, but weeks later, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent new shockwaves through the economy, impacting supply chains and energy markets worldwide. The U.S. and European allies quickly banded together to impose economic sanctions on Russia. That action made it clear that trade can often be just as much about geopolitics as it is about economics. It also put into focus how urgent it is that we broaden and deepen our relationships with our allies and trading partners closer to home. Amid continued geopolitical tensions, one way to position the region is “ally-shoring”, rebuilding supply chains to source products and services at home and from trusted allies. The approach aims to ensure that the flow of essential goods can readily adapt to future challenges caused by political conflicts, climate-related events, and global health crises.

To facilitate ally-shoring, President Biden will need to reassert U.S. leadership with skeptical allies. The president will also have to make the case for globalization, which lifted over a billion people out of extreme poverty during the period from 1990 to 2015 but left many people, including millions in this country, feeling left out. In addition to securing support at home and abroad, the Biden administration must position the U.S. to counter China’s economic aggressions. This summer, Biden must decide whether to keep in place Trump-era tariffs on China that are popular with his base of labor unions and domestic industries, but contribute to the high inflation hitting the pocketbooks of consumers across the U.S. Last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asserted that the best strategy to confront China’s unfair trade practices is for the U.S. and European allies to create a united front. The administration will also have to contend with China’s increasing presence in key regions throughout the world. A few short days ago, the Biden administration hosted the annual U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit, aiming to increase cooperation with Southeast Asia, a focal point of U.S.-China competition. At the summit, Biden committed $150 million in infrastructure, pledging to strengthen engagement on trade.

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Tyler Morning Telegraph - May 22, 2022

East Texas families express desperation, issues amid baby formula shortage

A nationwide baby formula shortage has East Texas mothers reaching desperate levels as they search for food for their babies. Along with facing empty shelves, out-of-stock notices online and overpriced formulas, some mothers need specific types which makes the the quest to feed their babies even harder. Brownsboro grandmother Christie Sparks, who takes care of 5-month-old Arijah while her daughter works, is down to her last can of store brand sensitive with iron baby formula. Sparks said the formula she has on hand was given to her from her family in Florida, who helped her obtain the formula Arijah needs that won’t trigger her digestive issues. “I don't know what we will do when we run out and can’t find the kind that she drinks, because we’ve tried other formulas and none of them work,” Sparks said.

Sparks said she had about six days worth of the formula, but she doesn't know what she'll do once it runs out. Meanwhile, family members are looking online and Sparks has been posting on social media in search of the specific formula. “I got desperate so I posted it on Facebook, 'If anybody sees this can store brand sensitive with iron, please let me know and I’ll send you the money.' And people started pouring in ready to help but they've been unsuccessful too,” she said. Gladewater mother Kana Stuart is also on her last container. Her baby Gunner also has digestive issues and can tolerate only Similac pro-sensitive. Along with stressing about finding the next can of formula, Stuart is suffering from "mom guilt," she said. “I didn't start having major issues until probably about the end of March,” she said. “Just not being able to find his baby formula anywhere and I had been breastfeeding but then my mom passed away in March, and I completely lost my supply. It's been stressful.

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CNN - May 23, 2022

Texan Trevor Reed details surviving horrendous conditions in Russian psychiatric treatment facility

Trevor Reed, an American citizen and former Marine recently freed after two years imprisoned in Russia, detailed his harrowing experience surviving a psychiatric treatment facility in the country in an exclusive interview with CNN. "The psychiatric treatment facility, I was in there with seven other prisoners in a cell. They all had severe, psychological health issues -- most of 'em. So over 50% of them in that cell were in there for murder. Or, like, multiple murders, sexual assault and murder -- just really disturbed individuals," Reed told CNN's Jake Tapper in a newly released clip from the upcoming CNN Special Report, "Finally Home: The Trevor Reed Interview," which airs Sunday night. "And inside of that cell, you know, that was not a good place," he added.

"There was blood all over the walls there -- where prisoners had killed themselves, or killed other prisoners, or attempted to do that," Reed continued. "The toilet's just a hole in the floor. And there's, you know, crap everywhere, all over the floor, on the walls. There's people in there also that walk around that look like zombies." In the clip, which aired on CNN's "New Day" Friday morning, Reed said he did not sleep for a couple of days out of fear of what the people in his cell might do to him. "You felt they might kill you?" Tapper asked, to which Reed replied: "Yes. I thought that was a possibility." Reed said he believed he was sent to the facility as a punishment for his continued push to appeal his conviction. His return to the United States late last month ended a nearly three-year ordeal. The former US Marine was sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020 after being accused of endangering the "life and health" of Russian police officers in an altercation the previous year. Reed and his family have denied the charges against him. Ultimately, Reed was returned to the US as part of a prisoner swap in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiring to import cocaine. The US commuted his sentence.

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2022

Texas lawyer allegedly stole millions from clients, multiple lawsuits claim

A Texas lawyer is facing mounting accusations that he has stolen millions of dollars from clients. At least 10 lawsuits have been filed against attorney Christopher “Chris” Pettit in state district court in San Antonio and elsewhere over the past nine months. The most recent was Wednesday. John Muller, a San Antonio attorney representing a woman who says in a court filing that Pettit “absconded” with about $2.8 million that belongs to her, estimated the amount of client money involved tops $40 million. He based that on conversations he’s had with other lawyers.

“Chris has embarrassed himself, and really our entire legal profession,” Muller said. “There are a number of very capable attorneys, including myself, who are dedicated to ensuring that all of the victims receive restitution.” Neither Pettit nor his lawyers immediately responded to requests for comment Thursday. Pettit has given general denials to the allegations in responses to some of the lawsuits. Fort Worth lawyer Craig Crockett has sued Pettit and his firm on behalf of a client who alleged they stole more than $950,000 — the client’s entire inheritance. “There’s a surefire way to get your ticket punched as a lawyer, and that’s stealing client money,” Crockett said. “You’re done” practicing law. “This guy did not just borrow a little money from a client and failed to pay it back,” Crockett added. “This is a Ponzi scheme.” Pettit has used one client’s money to pay another client back on at least two occasions, Crockett said. San Antonio lawyer Sean B. McNelis, who represents a New Braunfels homebuilder suing Pettit and his firm, said he’s been contacted by the FBI as part of an investigation into Pettit. No criminal cases are pending against Pettit. Pettit graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 1988. He has been in private practice specializing in estate-planning and personal-injury law, according to his firm’s website.

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Associated Press - May 22, 2022

Rural Texas official arrested, charged with stealing cattle

The top elected official in a rural and sparsely populated West Texas county has been arrested after being accused of stealing cattle. Loving County Judge Skeet Jones, 71, and three other men were arrested on Friday on charges of livestock theft and engaging in organized criminal activity. All four men were taken to the jail in neighboring Winkler County, where they have since been released on bond. Jones has not returned a call seeking comment on Sunday. The arrests came after a yearlong investigation, according to a statement from the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

The association has commissioned peace officers known as special rangers who investigate agricultural crimes, including the theft of cattle and horses. The rangers also determine the ownership of stray livestock. The association's special rangers allege that Jones and the others gathered stray cattle and sold them without following procedures set forth in the Texas Agriculture Code. Those procedures include calling the sheriff to report stray livestock and allowing the sheriff to search for the animal’s owner. The association declined to provide additional details about the case, citing the ongoing investigation. The theft of livestock charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison while the organized criminal activity charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Loving County, which is located along the Texas-New Mexico border, is the state’s least populated county. It has a population of 57 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2022

Joy Sewing: Change often comes out of tragedy. Reflecting on George Floyd’s legacy

Months before George Floyd’s murder — before he cried for his mother while taking his last breath — a feeling of mediocrity had settled into my gut, an ache that spread throughout my body. I had watched the nation’s truth unfold in videos of Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. I had bottled up words of frustration and anger that would only seep into a journal late at night. As journalists, we’re trained to be impartial and keep our opinions to ourselves. The two-year-old crime — nine minutes, 29 seconds — changed many of us. May 25 marks the second anniversary of his death. I had been in the newspaper industry long enough to see some of my cohorts move into more lucrative careers. But I loved this business, the chance to tell stories of people who may never have had that chance. The chance to use words to impact lives. Maybe change the world.

Then came George Floyd and his unthinkable murder at the hands of a policeman. He is the reason I became a columnist covering culture and race. My voice — as a journalist, a mother and a Black woman — was born, or maybe reborn in many ways, out of his death. To reckon with the present, I had to come to grips with life before Floyd’s death and after. Change often comes out of tragedy. “There was already so much uncertainty, with the pandemic,” said Melanie Price, director of Prairie View A&M University’s Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice and an endowed political science professor. “Everybody was trying to figure out how they’re going to respond to this new thing that is happening to us. Yet we are hit by the fact that — even in this new life of what it means to live independently, what it means to work from home — Black people are still targeted by the same issues. Watching that happen changed a lot of people.” Price, a native of Houston, had been working as a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey prior to Floyd’s death. In 2021, she became the director of Prairie View’s brand-new center. It’s named for the former university president, Simmons, who was inspired by Floyd’s death to write a letter calling for the nation to rebuild race relations. H-E-B Chairman Charles Butt responded by donating $1 million for the center’s development.

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Spectrum News - May 22, 2022

Texas race tests abortion’s resonance with Democratic voters

By the time Dr. Hector Gonzalez arrived in Laredo, Texas, in 2001, the last abortion clinic had already closed. He spent the next 20 years experiencing firsthand where the largely Hispanic and heavily Catholic community along the border with Mexico usually sided. “Definitely it was, ‘No abortion,’” said Gonzalez, the city’s former public health director. That culture has helped protect the region’s nine-term congressman, Henry Cuellar, who is one of the last anti-abortion Democrats in Congress. But he’s facing the stiffest challenge of his career on Tuesday in a runoff election against progressive rival Jessica Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration attorney who supports abortion access. With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to potentially overturn abortion rights in a ruling this summer, the runoff is being closely watched for clues about whether the issue will animate Democratic voters. An infusion of money that outside groups have poured on the ground and across TV in South Texas is an indicator of an important race, with abortion rights advocates trying to lower expectations about broader implications.

“National trends are not set by one election and not determined by one election,” said Laphonza Butler, president of Emily’s List, which backs women who support abortion rights and has endorsed Cisneros. Regardless, the race will provide insight about the direction of the Democratic Party. Progressives have scored some notable wins so far this primary season, defeating a moderate candidate in last week’s Senate primary in Pennsylvania and potentially unseating an incumbent congressman in Oregon, where vote counting is still underway. Eager to protect an incumbent, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stood by Cuellar even as she reaffirms her staunch support of abortion rights. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, campaigned with Cuellar in Texas this month, saying the most important priority should be keeping the seat in the party’s hands. Cisneros, he argued, was at risk of losing to a Republican. Still, a leaked draft of the court’s ruling in April has shaken up what was already a close — and increasingly costly — race. In the March primary, Cisneros finished roughly 1,000 votes behind Cuellar, forcing the runoff after neither candidate met the majority threshold to win outright. It was as close as Cuellar has come to losing his 17-year grip on the seat. But the runoff has also illustrated the uphill climb America’s abortion rights movement faces this fall in mounting an all-out attack on opposing incumbents — a challenge that is on display even here in a solidly Democratic region, to say nothing of the fight ahead in Republican-leaning districts.

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Texas Newsroom - May 22, 2022

Most of the weekend's wildfires across Texas are beaten back, contained and extinguished

Tens of thousands of acres of Texas land burned this weekend as windy and dry conditions blanketed parts of the state. But efforts to control if not extinguish them saw some progress on Sunday evening. By the late afternoon, only one wildfire was classified as "Active," according to the Texas Wildfire Incident Response System at Texas A&M University. The Mesquite Heat fire in Taylor County, near Abilene, sprawled across 9,600 acres and was 25% contained. The fire consumed dozens of buildings and homes over the past few days, and multiple communities ordered their residents to evacuate.

The Forest Service tweeted on Sunday morning that despite the size of the fire, "minimal fire behavior is expected today." It added that the Taylor County sheriff "has lifted the remaining access restrictions in the evacuated areas" but residents should expect to see a heavy police presence. The statement also explained that "145 personnel, a Type 3 helicopter, 16 engines, a tractor plow and nine dozers" were assigned to fight and try to contain the fire. The Coconut Fire in Wilbarger County — the weekend's other major incident — engulfed more than 28,000 acres before it was finally contained on Sunday afternoon. Wilbarger County is about 200 miles northwest of Dallas and near the Texas-Oklahoma border. The Coconut and Mesquite Heat fires were just two of several incidents this weekend. "Texas A&M Forest Service fire resources responded to 3 new wildfires that burned 262 acres across the state yesterday," a statement explained on Sunday.

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Texas Monthly - May 18, 2022

Jeb to the rescue? George P. Bush gets a cash infusion from his family’s donor network

George P. Bush may have distanced himself from his family’s brand of establishment, anti-Trump politics, but he’s relying on cash from their extensive network to propel his middling campaign for Texas attorney general. Cultivated across two presidencies and two governorships, the Bush money tree branches from coast to coast and includes an array of business leaders, political appointees, and donors with deep ties to P. Bush’s grandfather, George H.?W., uncle George, and dad, Jeb. According to a Texas Monthly analysis, at least half of Bush’s $2.3 million haul came from individuals and entities who either previously served in a Bush administration, donated to a Bush campaign in the past, or have direct business or personal ties to the family. Most of the donations are relatively small, suggesting that the giving has more to do with favor-returning than enthusiasm for the Trump-embracing P. Bush.

But money is money—and Bush desperately needs it in a race that pits him against Ken Paxton, an incumbent who has the fealty of the GOP grassroots despite (or perhaps because of) criminal indictments and an ever-growing list of scandals. If Bush ends up winning the May 24 runoff against Paxton, he will owe a particular debt of gratitude to his dad. (Go ahead, you can clap.) Repeatedly humiliated by Trump in 2016, Jeb can’t afford to be seen on the campaign trail in Texas, where his son is awkwardly trying to present himself as a Trump stan, even after Trump once again humiliated the family by snubbing P. and giving his endorsement to Paxton. But the latest campaign finance report, which reflects funds raised from February 20 to May 14, has the former Florida governor’s fingerprints all over it. After Texas, Florida represents the number one state for contributions to P.’s campaign. The contributors include Jeb’s longtime political allies and donors as well as current business partners—in some cases, both. Take, for example, Richard Jackson, the CEO of Atlanta-based Jackson Healthcare. Jeb served on the board of the company before stepping down when he ran for president in 2015. A few months later, Jackson and his business partners pumped $550,000 into Bush’s super PAC.

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2022

Dozens injured, including Galveston sheriff’s deputy, during ‘Jeep Weekend’ on Bolivar Peninsula

Nearly 70 people, including a Galveston County sheriff’s deputy were injured over the weekend at the “Go Topless Jeep Weekend” on Bolivar Peninsula. The “largely unsponsored event,” which reportedly drew tens of thousands of people to Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula over the weekend, strained Galveston County emergency services, according to District Manager Doug Saunders. Sixty-nine people were injured, eight of whom had to be airlifted to local hospitals, Saunders said. Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said that some of those eight were airlifted not because of the severity of the injuries, but because of congestion on Bolivar Peninsula roadways. A Galveston County sheriff’s deputy was flown to a hospital after he was hit by a vehicle about 1:30 a.m. while responding to an accident at Holiday Beach and Highway 87, Trochesset said.

The deputy was in surgery Sunday for two broken legs, and also suffered a broken arm and head injuries, Trochesset said. The driver, 22-year-old Darius Gilbert, was charged with aggravated assault of a peace officer and held on $100,000 bond. The sheriff’s office received over 500 calls for service over the weekend, and Trochesset said that the majority of the problems came from partiers who were not affiliated with a Jeep club. About 170 people had been arrested as of Sunday afternoon, Trochesset said. “The sad part is they come down and leave their brains at whatever home they have, and act in such a way that if someone did this where they'd live, they'd be the first ones to gripe about it. They have no respect for themselves or anyone else,” Trochesset said. The Bolivar Peninsula website describes Jeep Weekend as “A GIANT Jeep Lovers Weekend (where) thousands of Jeep Lovers head to Bolivar Peninsula and Crystal Beach Texas to meet-up with fellow jeepers for a relaxed weekend on the beachfront.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2022

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Abbott’s most expensive campaign ad ever — billions in taxpayer money for Operation Lone Star

On a river levee in downtown Brownsville a formidable-looking Humvee faces an abandoned municipal golf course and a thick stand of trees shading the Rio Grande. A young Texas Army National Guardsman in crisp desert camouflage fatigues sits cross-legged atop the Army vehicle. A bright blue water jug within reach, he trains a pair of binoculars toward the river. Despite the battle array, he told us in a recent conversation that the only danger he might encounter during his daylong posting is either running out of water on a hot afternoon or dozing off from boredom and tumbling from his 6-foot-high perch. More than 450 miles to the northwest, a black-and-white Texas Department of Public Safety SUV idles beside one of the loneliest roads in the state. Looping northward from a dusty, little ghost town called Dryden, about a dozen miles north of the Mexican border, Texas 349 cuts through rugged range land and spectacular canyons toward a dried-up little oil-patch town called Sheffield. On a typical day, the DPS trooper monitoring the two-lane road might see a couple of pickups pass, maybe an oilfield truck. Normally, he would be patrolling busy Interstate 10 out of Ozona.

Both the DPS trooper and the guardsman are pawns in Gov. Greg Abbott’s multibillion-dollar border boondoggle — Operation Lone Star. Called to active duty in service to their campaign-obsessed governor, some 10,000 guardsmen have had to leave behind jobs and families to while away their time as part of the Abbott phalanx preventing Texas from being overrun by an imaginary invasion of the not-yet documented — many of them trying to legally request asylum. Reports of suicides and frustration bordering on despair have been the result. State troopers called from vital duties elsewhere are just as bored. From Brownsville upriver to Del Rio and alongside highways leading northward out of the Rio Grande Valley, the black-and-white SUVs are ubiquitous. With little else to do, some 1,600 troopers at any one time are either stopping motorists and truckers for broken-taillight-style traffic violations or they’re parked, often in pairs, every quarter mile or so. (Perhaps they’re conferring about how to beat the lunch-hour rush at the local Mexican restaurant.) It’s true, as the Dallas Morning News reported recently, that their boredom is salved to a degree by the huge amounts of overtime they’re amassing. We salute their good fortune, even though that’s our money they’re raking in, for no good reason.

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Big Bend Sentinel - May 18, 2022

Judd Foundation welcomes visitors back to Casa Perez for first Ranch Day in two years

Pinto Canyon Road was well-traveled Sunday morning, as tri-county residents and visitors ventured past roaming horses and scenic mountain views 40 miles south of Marfa to Judd Foundation’s Casa Perez property for an annual “Ranch Day,” which was back after a two-year interruption due to the pandemic. Around 140 people turned out for the event, which included an educational talk on efforts to reintroduce populations of native bighorn sheep in West Texas bookended by self-guided tours of the Casa Perez ranch home, catering by Convenience West and live music by Primo y Beebe. Casa Perez is the most accessible of the three properties on Judd’s Ayala de Chinati ranch, which also includes two other homesteads, Casa Morales and Las Casas. During his lifetime, Judd continually acquired land in southern Presidio County in order to preserve it and prevent future development. At the time of his death, he maintained a total of 40,000 undeveloped acres.

So named for the Perez family, which operated a goat farm on the land as early as the 1940s, Casa Perez is a four-room adobe structure originally built in 1910. Purchased by Judd in 1983, today the home features a kitchen with Mexican dishware and furniture, two works by Judd in aluminum and acrylic, a Francisco Goya etching, Judd-designed pine bed frames and more. Backing the main home are additional, small storage and bathhouse structures Judd constructed as well as a water tank with sunning platforms at the base of a windmill. Judd-designed benches and tables sit beneath two long pergolas, also of the artist’s making, which Ranch Day attendees gathered beneath for shade as event organizers introduced the morning’s speakers on the home’s front porch. Rainer Judd, president of the Judd Foundation and daughter of Donald Judd, sat cross legged holding a microphone and welcomed attendees to the seventh annual event. Lizards scurried in the dirt and red dragon flies and wasps hummed. “We are so happy to be back at Ranch Day,” said Judd. Acknowledging the gathering point, Judd emphasized the biological diversity of the Chinati Mountains and the need for greater ecological studies in the Chihuahuan Desert.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2022

College degrees still pay off big-time for high school grads

The pandemic disrupted higher education, and that interrupted Texas’ march toward a more skilled workforce of the future. At Dallas College, a major educational gateway for local high school graduates, fall enrollment of 18- to 21-year-olds declined by 7,000 students from 2019 to 2021 — a drop of over 25%. Over the same period, total enrollment statewide fell by 86,500 at community and state colleges, even while four-year universities surpassed their pre-pandemic enrollment levels. Blame the drop in community college turnout on COVID-19, at least initially. But recently, it’s more about the booming job market with higher starting pay that’s drawing more high school graduates. “The major issue right now is the availability of entry-level jobs that pay $15, $16, $17 an hour or more,” said Harrison Keller, commissioner of higher education for Texas. “We have a significant number of students who’ve opted to work and put their educational plans on hold. But that creates a vulnerability for them and their families.”

About 4 million Texans filed for unemployment benefits during the pandemic, he said, and only about 3% had a bachelor’s degree compared with about 70% with a high school diploma. Last month, the unemployment rate for high school graduates was over twice as high as for college grads. “The first people to lose their jobs are those without the skills and credentials,” Keller said. “There’s a striking correlation between unemployment and educational attainment, and that got amplified by the pandemic.” The upshot is that postsecondary education, whether through a six-month certificate course or a multiyear degree program, remains as valuable as ever. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the state could add 1.4 million jobs by closing the gap between the skills and credentials most residents have today and the skills required for new positions. “The economy is moving faster than anyone expected in the direction of higher skills and more credentials,” Keller said. Dallas County Promise, a program to help students from economically disadvantaged schools complete college, has also seen a decline in college enrollment. The program includes a coalition of school districts, colleges, employers and more, and over 21,000 seniors are eligible. In fall 2019, 60% of those students pursued a two- or four-year degree, as they pledged, the program said. In 2021, the share was 52%. Many young people went to work to support their families during the pandemic, said Katrina James, managing director of Dallas County Promise. At the same time, colleges were converting to virtual learning, which failed to engage many students.

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Religion News Service - May 20, 2022

San Antonio rabbi sanctifies Shabbat with Texas-style BBQ brisket

When Rabbi Natanel Greenwald learned that a Jew visiting from Los Angeles needed someplace to dine for Shabbat, he extended an invitation to his home, where he was smoking a beef brisket Texas-style — and Talmud-style. Greenwald, originally from Monsey, New York, is experimenting with a kosher version of the cut that some say defines Texas BBQ. Greenwald and his family practice Orthodox Judaism and strictly follow the dietary restrictions of their faith that demands certain foods be consumed separately and that every animal bound for the table be slaughtered according to rules set forth in Jewish law.

One of the guests remembered the tale of kosher Texas-style barbecue pioneer Sruli “Izzy” Eidelman. “The story is probably hyped up,” the guest cautioned and then recounted how, before Eidelman opened his popular Crown Heights, Brooklyn, smokehouse (“First kosher smokehouse in the heart of Brooklyn!” according to its website), he toured barbecue pits across Central Texas, ordering Texas barbecue, smelling Texas barbecue and prodding Texas barbecue but, keeping kosher, never tasting Texas barbecue. Greenwald moved to San Antonio to run a young professionals’ organization for the Jewish community at Congregation Rodfei Sholom. He sees barbecue as part of his outreach as a rabbi: Slow-cooked brisket proves to be a valuable means for bringing Jews to his table for Shabbas. “There’s a lot of Jews in San Antonio,” he reflected, “but not a lot of Judaism.” Greenwald said he’s not the only Texas rabbi in the city who indulges in the time-consuming process of smoking brisket long and low, with a minimal rub of salt, pepper and paprika. The senior rabbi at his Rodfei Sholom also smokes meat, and he’s heard of other rabbis who have caught the bug. Prior to the pandemic, San Antonio even featured an annual Texas kosher barbecue championship.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2022

Hedwig Village residents mobilize to keep 200-year-old oak tree from being cut down

Dwayne Mollard is astounded every time he looks at the massive oak tree across the street from his home in Hedwig Village. Its branches tower high above his neighbor’s home, and from a certain perspective, seem to envelop the house on the corner lot on Constance in this west Harris County enclave. But Mollard, as others in the community, is now worried about the future of tree. The property owner, they recently learned, has designs to tear it down to make room for a new house. Early Friday, Hedwig Village police officers were parked across the street from the property after reports circulated that the oak was coming down. No bulldozers arrived. Mollard hopes they never do.

The tree has historical significance for the architect. An arborist examined it for him and estimated it to be about 200 years old — from around the same time American settlers were first arriving in Texas in 1823. “To me that tree represents the birth of Texas,” he said. “So it’s very emotional.” When Mollard first became aware of the potential demise of the community’s beloved oak, he started to work on a project he hoped would provide a solution for everyone. He has a similar tree on his property. The architect designed a plan that incorporates and preserves the tree while maintaining the same square footage the property owner was aiming to develop. He sent it to Saad Masrur, who represents the property owner with HAS Construction and Consulting. “I let him have those drawings to what the layout was,” Mollard said, adding he rearranged the design to work around the trees. After what he thought was initial interest, Mollard never heard back.

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San Antonio Report - May 21, 2022

Kevin LeMelle and David Wheaton: In the fight for housing justice in San Antonio, protecting renters is key

(Kevin LeMelle is a lifelong San Antonio resident and a board member for the Texas Organizing Project. David Wheaton is the advocacy director for Texas Housers.) On May 7, San Antonio voters approved Proposition F of the bond package, dedicating $150 million to affordable housing in this city. The measure included funding to build, maintain and rehabilitate affordable housing stock in San Antonio. To put it simply, this is one of the largest investments in affordable housing in Texas history. When it comes to the fundamental funding in the housing bond that community organizers have been advocating for for months, we are very proud of this victory. Hard-working families and individuals looking for affordable homes in our growing city should be excited. But our fight for equality is far from over. Housing should be affordable, but affordability does not mean much if renters do not have equal rights with landlords. Speaking to tenants in San Antonio, I often hear the same questions:

Is there a way to make sure my landlord actually fixes the repairs they say they will? Do I have an opportunity to cure or pay back the non-payment of rent before an eviction filing is made? Can landlords and management companies come into my space when I am at my most vulnerable? Where do I go if there are multiple things wrong with my rental space and my landlord won’t do anything about it? Why aren’t mandatory fees included in my rent? A clear set of local rules established between landlords and tenants does not currently exist in San Antonio. And in the absence of clear rules, the scales of justice are often tipped toward those with wealth and power. The next stage of the fight for housing justice in our city must ensure protections for all renters via a San Antonio Tenant Bill of Rights. A San Antonio Tenant Bill of Rights will address the questions that so many tenants have about their rights. It will also make our city the most protected home for renters in Texas. An estimated 625,000 renters live in San Antonio, according to the 2020 Census. That’s more than 40% of the city’s population, and one in three of those renter households in San Antonio have children. With this many people renting in San Antonio, city leaders must focus on making tenant rights a priority. I have been a renter in San Antonio since 1976 and during my almost half a century in this city, I have witnessed it transform into an environment where thousands pack up and move every year to try to find safe and affordable housing. I personally got involved in the housing justice movement because I felt an urgency for people who needed help putting a roof over their heads.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 22, 2022

Lifeguard shortage could leave nearly 20 of Austin's public pools closed this summer

When Joshua Adame arrived at Deep Eddy Municipal Pool on a recent Wednesday with his daughter Ramona, 3, he was disappointed to find the pool's shallow end closed and drained of water. “The shallow side is where she likes to play. She likes to ease into it,” he said. “I had to hold her in the deep end. Which, you know, you only feel safe for so long doing that.” The pool's shallow end is closed because of a significant lifeguard shortage that has hit the Austin Parks and Recreation Department — a shortage that is threatening to leave nearly 20 city pools closed this summer.

Swimmers face crowding when closures at one site concentrate people in fewer available pools, and some say they worry about what the summer will look like if the city can't solve the problem. In the summer of 2019, the city had about 850 lifeguards working at 34 public aquatic facilities, according to Aquatic Supervisor Aaron Levine. This year, as the weather starts to heat up, the city only has 207 lifeguards ready to work — less than a third of the 750 Levine said it would take to be fully staffed. “We work in a city where we're fortunate enough that the citizens really love the pools,” Levine said. “There's a lot of support, but it is challenging to find lifeguards for them all.” Levine is actively recruiting lifeguards in the hope of expanding hours that have been cut back at Deep Eddy and Barton Springs Pool. An additional 130 guards are in training right now, and the city is accepting applications from anyone 15 years or older who is interested in the job. Levine said the department often gets a rise in applicants in May and June as high school students look for summer jobs. However, he said this year the rise has been smaller and started later than in the past.

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The Advocate - May 19, 2022

Danny Balis says goodbye to The Ticket after almost 23 years

East Dallas resident (who has joked on air about his job delivering pizzas in Lake Highlands) Danny Balis has been producer of the afternoon drive-time show The Hardline since August 1999. Friday was his Balis’ last day. The Black Cloud (so nicknamed because of his dark humor, hatred of anything other people like and tendency to occasionally lose his temper with callers) announced his departure just before Dallas Mavs’ game one against the Golden State Warriors Wednesday. (Balis signed off with a plea that the Dallas Mavs win game one. The team did not comply.)

Hardline host Corby Davidson, a Lake Highlands resident who started at the station about the same time, spent the following segment fighting back tears (“I’ll try not to get choked up here,” he says) and reminiscing about the past two decades. “People will never know, truthfully, what … bizarro things you and I went through together here,” Corby said on Wednesday’s show. “Wondering if we were even funny … bringing our marriages and divorces and losses to the air … and you talk about drama … these have been our formative years.” Because they started as the youngest members at the station, Davidson and Balis have been perpetually viewed as the station’s wild and crazy punks, they joked. The job has allowed them to keep up that party-guy reputation into their 50s. “Will I miss it? Hell yes I will,” Balis says. “I regret nothing.”

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National Stories

Politico - May 23, 2022

Restaurants ‘frustrated as hell’ after GOP filibusters COVID aid

The Senate failed to overcome a key procedural hurdle to advance a $48 billion bill to provide Covid aid to a number of industries, effectively ending the final bid from restaurants, gyms, bus companies, venues and other small businesses for government pandemic assistance. The 52-43 vote was a massive blow to a fierce and yearlong lobbying campaign by the restaurant industry in particular, which would have received $40 billion more for an industry grant program. — “We are frustrated as hell that a majority of the Senate voted today to begin debate on a critical piece of legislation for the rest of the nation's restaurant industry,” Sean Kennedy, the top lobbyist at the National Restaurant Association, said in an interview following the vote.

“But because of the filibuster, a lot of restaurant operators are literally in tears,” he said. “I was on a group chat with restaurant operators during the vote. And there are operators who told me point blank, ‘It's over. I’m $600,000 in debt. I'm out.’” — In a last-ditch effort to win support for moving to debate the bill on the floor, Senate Small Business Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said the bill’s sponsors were willing to accept amendments to refine the bill further and bring the cost down, in response to concerns that had previously been raised by Republicans about offering another round of deficit-financed Covid relief. — But there appeared to be questions of support from Democrats, as well. Cardin mentioned Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in particular, saying one of the caucus’ key swing votes wanted the bill to prioritize repayment of debt. In a statement afterward, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called the current version of the bill “too expensive” and complained that it “does not have enough guardrails on how the money will be spent.” Both senators ultimately voted to begin debate on the bill. But looking at the final tally, “today's vote was a group of senators [saying] they didn't even want to consider amending a bill to help the restaurant industry,” Kennedy said.

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Associated Press - May 23, 2022

78,000 pounds of infant formula arrives in U.S.

Enough specialty infant formula for more than half a million baby bottles arrived Sunday in Indianapolis. The formula, weighing 78,000 pounds, was being transported by military plane, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Joe Biden flew from South Korea to Japan. It is the first of several flights carrying infant formula from Europe expected this weekend to relieve the deepening shortage in the U.S. The flights were authorized by Biden. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Indianapolis to greet the arrival of the first shipment in Indianapolis. The Biden administration — which has struggled to address a nationwide shortage of formula, particularly hypoallergenic varieties — has dubbed the effort “Operation Fly Formula.” The crisis follows the closure of the nation’s largest domestic manufacturing plant in Michigan in February due to safety issues.

The White House has said 132 pallets of Nestle Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula were to leave Ramstein Air Base in Germany for the U.S. Another 114 pallets of Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula were expected to arrive in the coming days. Altogether, about 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of the three formulas, which are hypoallergenic for children with cow’s milk protein allergy, are expected to arrive this week. Indianapolis was chosen because it is a Nestle distribution hub. The formula will be offloaded into FedEx semitractor-trailers and taken to a Nestle distribution center about a mile away where the company will do a standard quality control check before distributing the supplies to hospitals, pharmacies and doctor’s offices, according to an administration official on site. Air Force planes are transporting the initial batch of formula because no commercial flights were available this weekend. The flight was the first of several to provide “some incremental relief in the coming days” as the government works on a more lasting response to the shortage, Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Sunday.

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NPR - May 22, 2022

Should 18-year-olds be allowed to buy semi-automatic rifles? State and courts debate

The mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. last Saturday has renewed the debate over the minimum age for legally purchasing what some people — such as President Biden, call "weapons of war." An 18-year-old is accused of driving to a supermarket and targeting African Americans as he opened fire, killing 10 people. He's charged with first-degree murder in a shooting authorities describe as racially-motivated domestic terrorism. Police say he used a semi-automatic rifle called the Bushmaster XM-15, which he bought legally at a licensed gun store, after passing a background check. In a statement investigators believe the 18-year-old wrote and posted online, he says he modified the rifle in ways that would make it illegal under New York's definition of "assault weapons." New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed Wednesday to address domestic terrorism and gun violence by establishing a new state law enforcement unit focused on domestic terrorism, among other steps.

But one question remains: Should an 18-year-old be allowed to buy a semi-automatic rifle? In the last couple of years, California, Florida and Washington state have responded to the string of mass shootings by young men by raising the minimum age to buy certain kinds of rifles, such as the Bushmaster. Gun rights groups, meanwhile, have sued, calling this a violation of young adults' Second Amendment rights. Last week, a panel of three federal judges in California agreed, overturning the higher minimum age approved by the state last year. "There's a big fight brewing over these restrictions on guns for 18, 19, and 20-year-olds because the courts are in the midst of a great expansion of Second Amendment gun rights," says Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who writes about gun policy. The author of the California law, state Sen. Anthony Portantino, says he hopes the state attorney general appeals the federal ruling. "It makes sense to appeal. This is a fight worth fighting, and again, look at what happened in Buffalo," he says. "You have to be 25 to rent a car. You have to be 21 to drink. Why would we put a semi-automatic rifle in the hands of a teenager?

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NPR - May 23, 2022

A surge in Navy deserters could be a sign of a bigger problem for the military

In 2021, 157 sailors illegally fled the U.S. Navy, more than double the number who deserted in 2019. Although all but eight of them eventually returned to their units, a military legal expert says the dramatic increase in desertions may be a sign of a bigger issue. The Navy has seen an increase in desertions over the previous three years. In 2019, 63 sailors fled from their duty stations, and another 98 did so in 2020, a Navy spokesperson, Lt. Cmdr. Devin Arneson, told NPR. The number of deserters still at large had been on the decline between 2017 and 2019. But other branches of the military didn't see a similar increase in the past three years. Desertions in the Army dropped by 47%, from 328 in 2019 to 174 in 2021, and the Marine Corps reported 59 in 2019 and 31 in 2021. The Coast Guard said it didn't record a single deserter between 2019 and 2021.

The increase in Navy desertions was first reported by NBC News. Arneson said she cannot speculate about the increase in Navy desertions or why a sailor would choose desertion — an unauthorized absence in which a military member has no intention of returning. It's a grave offense that can result in a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay, a loss of benefits and jail time. But one former JAG officer — with over 11 years of military justice experience — said the issue underscores a harsh reality for some service members who find themselves seemingly stuck in a line of work they dislike that's tied to a multiyear contract. Stephanie Kral spent over seven years in the Air Force serving as a legal officer. She served as a senior trial council litigator and defense attorney before leaving the service to work as a civilian military defense lawyer. She said many of the service members who resort to desertion are junior enlisted members with limited options should their military experience unfold differently from what they had hoped. "[For] somebody who just doesn't like the environment, it's almost impossible to leave," Kral told NPR. And though there are ways out — such as a medical discharge for individuals with health conditions preventing them from fulfilling their duties — the waters surrounding mental health are a bit murkier.

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Washington Post - May 22, 2022

A generation of LGBTQ advocates hopes the clock isn’t ticking backward

Vic Basile remembers the time a reporter asked him if, as the first executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, he would push for same-sex marriage to be legalized. “Oh, no, we’re not interested,” he remembers telling the journalist, back in the mid-1980s. The idea that Americans would broadly accept same-sex marriage seemed inconceivable to him at the time, and demanding equality on that front seemed strategically unwise. “I wanted to deflect the whole issue, because I thought that would really set us back,” Basile says now. But then Ellen DeGeneres came out on national television, pride parades went mainstream, and the Supreme Court affirmed the right of same-sex couples to marry. Basile was stunned by the progress. Lately, Basile — who is 76 and, per his LinkedIn page, “Retired!!!” — has been stunned by something else: the constant news headlines about conservative political attacks on the LGBTQ community. Books featuring LGBTQ characters have been banned from libraries.

In February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a directive ordering child protective services agencies to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming medical treatments to their transgender children. Two months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, known to opponents as the “don’t say gay” bill, which attempts to limit discussion of LGBTQ topics in schools. Lawmakers in a dozen other states proposed copycat laws. Those who oppose such bills have found themselves being characterized as being in favor of “grooming” children, a term associated with child sexual predators. It wasn’t long ago that overtly homophobic politics seemed to be fading, at least in the mainstream. In 2021, a Gallup poll found that 70 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage — including 55 percent of Republicans. However, as conservatives have regrouped after losing control of Washington, there has been a resurgence in rhetoric suggesting that talking about gay- and transgender-related topics is a threat to children. “It’s frightening,” Basile said on a recent afternoon from the couch of his Chevy Chase apartment, and he’s not the only longtime LGBTQ activist watching with alarm.

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Associated Press - May 22, 2022

Arkansas governor is odd man out in his own state's primary

Based on the barrage of television ads and mailers leading up to Tuesday's primary election in Arkansas, it's obvious who the most influential Republicans in the state are. Tom Cotton's making the case for fellow Sen. John Boozman, talking up his conservative bona fides while the two-term senator fends off challenges from the right. Donald Trump's image appears in ads for Boozman and for Sarah Sanders, who served as the former president's White House press secretary and is now running for governor. Sanders, whose endorsement is almost as sought after as Trump's, is helping make the closing argument for Boozman in a TV ad. But conspicuously missing from the ads and the campaign trail is the state's top elected Republican, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is entering the final stretch of his term with strong approval ratings and a raised national profile. Hutchinson's advisers say that's because he's concentrating on helping more Republicans nationally as he looks to the future — which might include a White House bid.

But it's also a sign of just how much the party that Hutchinson spent decades building here has shifted farther to the right and how much the state's politics have become nationalized. In competitive primaries where Republicans are trying to out-Trump each other, even a longtime GOP figure in the state like Hutchinson doesn't provide as much of a bump, especially if he's not known for being very hard-edged. “There are other, flashier wagons for them to hitch their horses to,” Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, said. And Hutchinson — who tweets Bible verses every Sunday morning and is often flanked by charts and graphs at news conferences — is anything but flashy. Sanders, who's widely favored to win the Republican nomination, has been endorsed by Hutchinson but rarely mentions the governor. When asked how she'd govern differently from Hutchinson, Sanders says she'd rather focus on her own approach. “I'm very much my own person. I don't like to compare myself to anybody," Sanders, whose dad served as governor for 10 years, said. “I constantly get asked, ‘will you be more like your dad?' or ‘will you be like Trump?' I'm going to be Sarah Sanders." Sanders has avoided publicly criticizing Hutchinson, even when her former boss labeled the outgoing governor a “RINO" — Republican in Name Only — for his decision to veto an anti-transgender law.

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Newsclips - May 22, 2022

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2022

How Texas Republicans ushered in the new era of immigration policy making

President Joe Biden vowed to dismantle virtually every immigration policy Donald Trump put in place as he campaigned for office on a platform calling for rebuilding a “humane” system. Yet more than a year into office, many of Trump’s marquee policies remain as Republican states have repeatedly blocked Biden’s attempts to change them, using the courts in a way to stymie presidential power that was unheard of just a decade ago. Legal experts say it’s an unprecedented state of affairs that has been building over the past three presidential administrations — and Texas Republicans led the way. In 2014, former President Barrack Obama rolled out an immigration program that would grant temporary work permits to 4 million immigrants who were parents of Americans and legal residents, and who had been in the country since 2010 without committing major crimes.

Republicans were outraged. Greg Abbott — in the final weeks of his time as attorney general after winning his first run for governor — said Obama “circumvented Congress and deliberately bypassed the will of the American people." Abbott sued almost immediately, arguing Texas would lose millions of dollars if it had to provide a license to almost 600,000 eligible immigrants in the state. Twenty-five other states joined the lawsuit, which eventually convinced the Supreme Court to block the program. “It became a template,” said Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the University of Houston Law Center’s immigration clinic. The courts, which had long given broad leeway to presidents to set policy on immigration, are now more willing than ever to step in and stop them. Experts say it’s a product of the increased politicization of the issue, as well as years of inaction by Congress to fix what many see as a broken system. “Immigration used to be a backwater issue at best among attorneys general of the United States until a few years ago, until they realized the potency of the politics of immigration,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

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New York Times - May 22, 2022

How Trump’s 2020 election lies have gripped state legislatures

At least 357 sitting Republican legislators in closely contested battleground states have used the power of their office to discredit or try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, according to a review of legislative votes, records and official statements by The New York Times. The tally accounts for 44 percent of the Republican legislators in the nine states where the presidential race was most narrowly decided. In each of those states, the election was conducted without any evidence of widespread fraud, leaving election officials from both parties in agreement on the victory of Joseph R. Biden Jr. The Times’s analysis exposes how deeply rooted lies and misinformation about former President Donald J. Trump’s defeat have become in state legislatures, which play an integral role in U.S. democracy. In some, the false view that the election was stolen — either by fraud or as a result of pandemic-related changes to the process — is now widely accepted as fact among Republican lawmakers, turning statehouses into hotbeds of conspiratorial thinking and specious legal theories.

Note: The actions examined do not include statements made on social media or elsewhere in support of overturning the 2020 election. Figures do not include vacancies and independent legislators, and may not add up to 100 percent. These fictions about rigged elections and widespread fraud have provided the foundation for new laws that make it harder to vote and easier to insert partisanship in the vote count. In three states, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, state lawmakers successfully pushed for investigations that sowed doubt about the results and tested the boundaries of their oversight. And yet The Times’s analysis also shows that these efforts have encountered significant resistance from key Republican figures, as well as Democrats. In most states, the lawmakers who challenged the 2020 results do not yet have the numbers, or the support of governors, secretaries of state or legislative leaders, to achieve their most audacious aims. They have advanced, but not enacted, legislation that would make it easier for politicians to overturn elections. And it is only a minority of Republican lawmakers who promote the legally dubious view that they — and not the votes of the people — can select the electors who formally cast a ballot for the president in the Electoral College.

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Associated Press - May 22, 2022

Biden's approval dips to lowest of presidency: AP poll

President Joe Biden’s approval rating dipped to the lowest point of his presidency in May, a new poll shows, with deepening pessimism emerging among members of his own Democratic Party. Only 39% of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s performance as president, according to the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Research, dipping from already negative ratings a month earlier. Overall, only about 2 in 10 adults say the U.S. is heading in the right direction or the economy is good, both down from about 3 in 10 a month earlier. Those drops were concentrated among Democrats, with just 33% within the president’s party saying the country is headed in the right direction, down from 49% in April.

Of particular concern for Biden ahead of the midterm elections, his approval among Democrats stands at 73%, a substantial drop since earlier in his presidency. In AP-NORC polls conducted in 2021, Biden’s approval rating among Democrats never dropped below 82%. The findings reflect a widespread sense of exasperation in a country facing a cascade of challenges ranging from inflation, gun violence, and a sudden shortage of baby formula to a persistent pandemic. “I don’t know how much worse it can get,” said Milan Ramsey, a 29-year-old high school counselor and Democrat in Santa Monica, California, who with her husband had to move into her parents’ house to raise their infant son. Ramsey thinks the economic dysfunction that's led to her being unable to afford the place where she grew up isn't Biden's fault. But she's alarmed he hasn't implemented ambitious plans for fighting climate change or fixing health care.

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Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2022

Texas agency revokes massage therapist licenses over decades-old crimes, even as its leaders wince

By 1992, when an undercover McAllen police officer busted her during a prostitution sting, Linda Ferriulo had been living on the street for nearly four years. But hitting bottom meant she could start climbing back up. She pleaded guilty and a few months later moved to a halfway house. “They took me in and started teaching me to live life again,” she said. A career counselor suggested she study massage. With financial help from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, she said, she took 300 hours of classes. In 1996, she was granted her state registration as a massage therapist. For the next quarter-century, Ferriulo kneaded people’s backs, legs and feet in several Texas cities. She renewed her license every two years, a dozen times in all. So she thought it was a strange joke when, in 2020, the letter from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation arrived. “Basically, it said, ‘You never should have gotten your license,’” she recalled.

It wasn’t. Twenty-five years after the state paid for and granted her permission to work as a massage therapist, Texas informed Ferriulo that it was now taking away her license because of the 1992 crime. “I’m 62 years old,” she said. “If I was somebody who worked in a sleazy place and was a sleazy person, then, yeah, take away my license. But I’m not.” Call it a triumph of bureaucracy over empathy. Over the past couple of years, the regulatory agency, which recently assumed responsibility for overseeing the profession, said it has had no choice but to revoke the licenses of dozens of active massage therapists because of their old sex-related crimes. Many, if not most, are women. In some cases, they have been practicing for decades. After earning her license more than 20 years ago, Jennifer Hollenbeck said, she had worked hard to make a name for herself in the profession. “I’m not the strip mall center massage therapist,” she said.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2022

Gov. Greg Abbott tweets, deletes support for Elon Musk after harassment allegation

Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted — and then quickly deleted — a message supportive of Elon Musk on Thursday following an allegation the Tesla CEO sexually harassed a flight attendant in 2016. Business Insider reported Thursday that SpaceX, the aerospace firm founded by Musk, paid $250,000 in 2018 to settle a sexual-harassment claim from a private-jet flight attendant who accused Musk of exposing himself to her, rubbing her leg without consent and offering to buy her a horse in exchange for an erotic massage. According to Business Insider, when Musk was first contacted to comment on the allegation, he asked for more time to respond, stating there was “a lot more to this story.” “If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light,” he wrote, calling the story a “politically motivated hit piece.”

Musk did not follow up with the outlet, and instead took to Twitter — the social-media platform he’s currently attempting to purchase. He wrote that although he previously voted Democrat, he could no longer support a “party of division & hate.” After the article was published about 9:35 p.m., Musk then wrote that the attacks against him “should be viewed through a political lens — this is their standard (despicable) playbook — but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech.” Abbott quoted the tweet on his personal account, writing that Musk “picked the right state to move to.” Musk moved to Austin in 2020 and opened the Tesla Giga Texas manufacturing facility in the city this year. The tweet was deleted seven minutes later, which Abbott did not acknowledge on Twitter. In April, shortly after the news broke that Musk had reached an agreement to acquire Twitter after weeks of negotiations, Abbott encouraged Musk to move the company’s headquarters from San Francisco to the Lone Star State. “Bring Twitter to Texas to join Tesla, SpaceX & the Boring company,” the governor wrote.

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New York Times - May 21, 2022

Bush dynasty, its influence fading, pins hopes on one last stand in Texas

His famous name shadows George P. Bush, the only member of the dynastic political clan now in public office, as he enters the final days of an uphill campaign to unseat Texas’ attorney general. To some Texans, the Bush family name is a badge of integrity, harking back to a bygone era of rectitude and respectful political debate. To others, it is the disqualifying mark of a Republican old guard that failed the party and betrayed its last president, Donald J. Trump. Mr. Bush would like to make the campaign about the two-term Republican incumbent, Ken Paxton, whose serious legal troubles — including an indictment on securities fraud charges and a continuing federal corruption investigation — prompted high-profile Republicans to take him on in the primary. Mr. Bush made it to a runoff with Mr. Paxton that takes place on Tuesday. A few years ago, Mr. Bush, whose mother is from Mexico and whose father was the governor of Florida, might have won the race handily, his aides believe, and then been held up as a prominent example of a new, more diverse generation of Republicans.

But that was before the ground shifted and his family spoke out publicly against Mr. Trump, in an unsuccessful effort to derail his bid for the presidency. Mr. Bush broke with his father (Jeb), his uncle (George W.) and his grandfather (George H.W.) and aligned himself with Mr. Trump and his followers. The effort to distance himself from his relatives was captured in a campaign beer koozie that his campaign handed out last year, quoting Mr. Trump: “This is the Bush that got it right. I like him,” it says, beneath a line drawing of Mr. Trump shaking Mr. Bush’s hand. The effort did not pay off. Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Paxton, who had filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 election and had appeared with Mr. Trump at his rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, before members of the crowd stormed the Capitol. Some Texans say the political obituary has already been written for the Bush family, and see Mr. Bush, who is currently the state land commissioner, as its last flickering ember, with little of his forebears’ appeal. “Daddy Bush was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,” Carolyn Lightfoot, a member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, said of Mr. Bush’s grandfather. But the organization has criticized George P. Bush’s moves as land commissioner over his handling of the Alamo in San Antonio. Ms. Lightfoot said the Bush family and the party establishment were “trying to stuff him down our throats because of his Latino heritage.”

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KXAN - May 19, 2022

Texas voter was sent 2017 mail-in ballot instructions ahead election

We had a viewer reach out to us, saying her mail-in ballot instructions were incorrect. This comes after thousands of mail-in ballots were rejected in the primary election a couple months ago, because voters simply were not aware of new voting rules.

We took her concerns to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, and found out she had received an old mail-in ballot from 2017. Before CK Carman mails in her ballot this election, she’s triple-checking the instructions to make sure she does everything right. That’s how she noticed her ballot was missing some key information. “They missed a step, which is the important step which were you have to fill in a driver’s license or last for your social security number,” Carman said. “And that’s not on this instruction.” The Texas Secretary of State’s Office confirmed the ballot instructions Carman received were from five years ago. “That even makes it all worse, if that’s the case,” Carman said.

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Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2022

John Cornyn supports allowing exceptions to Texas abortion law for rape, incest

Sen. John Cornyn on Friday said he would permit exceptions for cases of rape and incest in laws restricting abortion that will be triggered in Texas if Roe vs. Wade is abolished. “I would permit those exceptions, but I understand others have strongly held feelings to the contrary,” Cornyn said during a recording of Lone Star Politics, a political show produced by KXAS (NBC 5) and The Dallas Morning News. Cornyn, who is against abortion, stressed that he respects the right of the Legislature to pass abortion-related laws. And he supports the view that Roe vs. Wade should be scrapped. Earlier this month a leaked draft opinion foreshadowed that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to strike down the law, which in 1973 legalized abortions. “This is a very sensitive issue and one that has to be decided by the Texas Legislature,” Cornyn said. “That’s not going to be a determination that the federal government will make, if this decision holds up.”

Texas has already passed a law that would trigger into effect once Roe vs. Wade is nullified. The law passed in 2021 would kick in 30 days after the court’s ruling and make those who preform or help provide an abortion subject to a felony. The only exception in that law is if there is risk for the patient’s life or “substantial impairment of major bodily function.” Doctors who perform abortions not allowed under the law could face life in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. The law does not include exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities. Some analysts predict the fight over abortion rights will spill over into the 2022 midterm elections, perhaps providing energy to both sides of the debate. Cornyn said Texas voters would have a chance to weigh in on Texas’ abortion laws. “If the voters don’t like it, they can remove them from office,” Cornyn said of candidates in the 2022 elections. “That sort of discussion will occur in more earnest instead of previously, when that was taken off the table because of the Roe decision.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2022

Jay Leeson: The political math of school choice in rural Texas

(Jay Leeson is a freelance writer and artist in Lubbock.) With Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that he’ll pursue “school choice” in the upcoming Legislature, there’s political math to be done. The governor’s proposal is pencil whipping his previously reliable rural voting base, presuming that rural communities will stick with him as he looks past the November match-up against Beto O’Rourke, and moves to the next problem of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a probable 2024 presidential foe. But in rushing to check off another box on the national GOP purity exam, questionable work has been submitted. Out where rural public schools constellate expansive Lone Star landscape, out where the real Texas economic miracle of food, fuel, and fiber is produced, there’s pencil scratching being done. Rural folks know school choice will come at their expense. Almost like the same-old bait (moral convictions) and switch (economic interests) over and over. It’s been that way for more than 30 years, since the GOP came to power promising term limits and local control — and how has that gone?

We’ve voted for plenty of slippery-as-slop-jar scenarios, like numerous federal officials who vote against subsidies for the state’s $25 billion annual agriculture industry. In 2018, cotton had fallen out of a federal funding program to help producers break even, and it was Abbott who single-handedly stalled restoration from Austin. We’ve closed 26 hospitals since 2010. Now just 163 hospitals provide care for 85% of the state’s geography, many with limited services. We’ve incrementally upped local property taxes to fill state budget holes over three decades. And Abbott’s routing of state infrastructure, including pivotal rural telecommunications by his commissioned appointees, could make Santa Anna blush. But the missing variable in the slippery school choice proposal is the importance of public schools to respective rural communities — and the pillars of community within those schools. I know because I attended them. Gid Adkisson, a gargantuan man, long in kindness as he was physique, was a retired school superintendent in Abernathy (population 2,904, about 25 miles north of Lubbock) with a bad lifelong cotton farming habit. He’d head out from his homestead to the high school for Gid Night Lights to voluntarily tutor us in algebra on Mondays and Thursdays, so we could play under the Friday Night Lights. Children, even deviant teenagers like I was, know goodness when they see it. When I first think of Gid, I don’t picture him physically; I think of his heart. The physical trait I most remember is the big dent on his forehead that shone in the lights of Ms. Hardin’s classroom.

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2022

A&M Regents approve $1.5B worth of proposed projects

Texas A&M’s Board of Regents gave initial approval to add $1.5 billion worth of proposed projects to the university system’s Fiscal Year 2023-27 Capital Plan at a regularly scheduled meeting in Fort Worth on Thursday. A&M Regents also laid out a timeline for the already approved Bright Area development and new indoor track stadium in their meeting agenda. A visualization, fine and performing arts building worth $175 million, an addition to the clinical veterinary teaching and research complex with a planned cost for $118.8 million, and a museum of natural history totaling $100 million were three proposed projects approved by the A&M Regents on Thursday to be added to the existing capital plan. Other proposed projects approved to be added by the A&M Regents include a law school building ($85 million), an Aggie Band residence hall ($75 million), and phase II of The Gardens at A&M ($40 million).

Projected start dates for these projects are 2023 for the addition to the clinical veterinary teaching and research complex and interior; 2024 for the visualization, fine and performing arts building, Law School building and phase II of The Gardens at A&M; and 2025 for the museum of natural history and the Aggie Band residence hall. A&M’s Fiscal Year 2023-27 Capital Plan now has a planning amount of over $4.2 billion for the entire A&M system, according to the Regents’ agenda. Building a performing arts center was one item A&M President M. Katherine Banks said she supported back in December 2021 in recommendations in response to a consultant’s report released by the university in October 2021. Banks said she also supported building a new small animal hospital and expanding the campus gardens. Construction on A&M’s combined $235 million-dollar development of a new indoor football practice facility and new indoor track stadium will begin on June 1, according to the Regents’ agenda.

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Associated Press - May 20, 2022

Search for Texas inmate expands as land, air operations end

The search by ground and air in the Texas county where a convicted murderer escaped from a prison transport bus and stabbed the driver last week has concluded as the hunt for him expands, authorities said Friday. Gonzalo Lopez, 46, was being transported to a medical appointment on May 12 in a caged area of the bus when he escaped in Leon County, a rural area between Dallas and Houston, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has said. The department said Friday that the search was entering “a new, expanded phase," saying some personnel will remain in the county and will conduct strategic searches of areas outside the original secured perimeter. Inspector General Cris Love said anyone found to be helping or harboring Lopez will face not only arrest and prosecution, but he believes is also “putting themselves in danger.”

“Lopez has a complete disregard for human life and will do what it takes to avoid capture,” Love said. "We will take this investigation wherever it leads us until Lopez is back in custody.” The department has said Lopez somehow freed himself from his hand and leg restraints, cut through the expanded metal of the cage, and crawled out the bottom. He then attacked the driver, who stopped the bus and got into an altercation with Lopez and they both eventually got off the bus. A second officer at the rear of the bus then exited and approached Lopez, who got back on the bus and started driving down the road, the department said. The officers fired at Lopez and disabled the bus by shooting the rear tire, the department said. The bus then traveled a short distance before leaving the roadway, where Lopez got out and ran into the woods. Lopez was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 2006 of killing a man along the Texas-Mexico border, At some point during the escape, the Lopez stabbed the driver, whose wounds weren’t life-threatening, the department said. A $50,000 reward for information leading to Lopez’s capture is being offered.

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Waco Tribune-Herald - May 22, 2022

Baylor to move Burleson statue, rename quadrangle as part of racial history effort

Baylor University’s board of regents this past week approved changes to Burleson Quadrangle and Founders Mall designed to address the university’s historic ties to racism and the institution of slavery. Burleson Quadrangle, known for now as simply “The Quadrangle,” will be redeveloped into a place where students are meant to congregate, not just pass through, as part of an effort to reshape that part of campus along with the narrative it tells about Baylor’s past. The Commission on Historic Campus Representations, which began in 2019 and wrapped up its work in December 2020, included recommendations for including that history alongside depictions of Baylor’s founders, many of whom owned slaves or had ties to the Confederacy. The report addressed statues, exhibits, relics and suggested ways to recognize the contributions of Black historical figures and unrecognized enslaved people in the university’s past.

Baylor President Linda Livingstone said the plan is to make the quadrangle a place for students to connect. “The idea is to put seating under those beautiful live oak trees that are in the Quadrangle, and to have flexible seating so students can move the chairs around and can gather with friends,” Livingstone said. The project does not yet have a budget, but the regents voted to issue a request for quotes during their meeting. The quadrangle was originally named for Rufus Burleson, a 19th-century Baylor president who was the key figure in moving the university to Waco. He was also the owner of at least one slave, and he served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army, encouraging students to enlist in it. After the war, from 1886 to 1897, Burleson served as Baylor’s president at its new Waco home and supported educational opportunities for Black Texans. But he also espoused a white supremacist “Lost Cause” ideology and supported the eventual relocation of Blacks to Africa, according to the commission’s findings.

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Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2022

Here’s what Texas politicians, immigrant groups had to say about Title 42 ruling

After a federal judge in Louisiana issued a ruling Friday blocking the lifting of Title 42 restrictions on those seeking asylum at the border, Texas politicians and immigrant aid groups issued statements about the decision’s impact. The policy allows for the expulsion of migrants for public health reasons because of the COVID pandemic. The Biden administration had said it would allow Title 42 to expire on Monday. But states sued, and the ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays will delay those plans. The Justice Department says it plans to appeal. Politicians and groups that work with immigrants around Texas differed on what the decision means for those along the border. Here are some of their responses:

Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement which said the ruling is “a positive development.” “Another federal court announced today what we have known all along: President Biden is ignoring federal law with his open border policies. While today’s court ruling rejecting President Biden’s ending of Title 42 expulsions is a positive development, hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants remain at our southern border ready to flood into Texas. Texas will continue utilizing all available resources and strategies to prevent this mass illegal migration, including the deployment of Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas National Guard resources, the coordination with Mexican border governors, and the activation of the Joint Border Security Operations Center.” U.S. Rep Joaquin Castro, a Democrat who represents San Antonio, focused on the effect the ruling will have on immigrant communities. “Today’s district court decision is disappointing and wrong. For more than two years, Title 42 has stripped legitimate asylum-seekers of their legal right to seek safety in the United States. Judge Summerhays’ decision to block the end of Title 42 will break our immigration system even further and cause unconscionable suffering for asylum-seekers and immigrant communities. As states roll back their pandemic health measures, there is no excuse to keep Title 42 in place.”

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Austin American-Statesman - May 20, 2022

Bankruptcy judge returns Sandy Hook claims against Alex Jones to Austin court

A federal bankruptcy judge on Friday returned the Sandy Hook defamation cases to a state court in Austin, setting the stage for trials to determine how much money Austin-based conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay for labeling the 2012 school shooting a hoax. Jones has been found liable for defamation and causing emotional distress to parents of several Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims when he and others in his InfoWars media system called the mass shooting a hoax intended to justify a government campaign to restrict gun rights. The first of two Texas trials to determine how much money Jones owes to the parents was to begin last month in Austin.

However, shortly before jury selection was to begin, Jones sought bankruptcy protection for InfoWars, now known as InfoW LLC, and two related companies. That Chapter 11 petition was filed in Victoria and assigned to a judge in Houston. Jones also removed the Sandy Hook cases to federal bankruptcy court in Austin, forcing the postponement of a two-week trial that was to begin April 25 before state District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble. On Friday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Mott returned to the cases to Guerra Gamble, noting that the Sandy Hook families had dropped all claims against InfoW LLC and the two other Jones companies in bankruptcy, Prison Planet TV and IWHealth. "The Sandy Hook families look forward to being back in state court and bringing Alex Jones to justice," lawyer Avi Moshenberg said. The families had opposed the bankruptcy move, calling it an improper attempt to limit Jones' financial exposure to court-imposed damage awards. During a pretrial hearing last month, lawyers for Jones argued that Guerra Gamble could take no action on the Sandy Hook cases until a bankruptcy judge ruled on their motion to remove the cases to federal court. Guerra Gamble reluctantly canceled the trial, saying that while she believed Jones' lawyers had "improperly filed" the bankruptcy action, federal court rules left her no choice.

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Mediaite - May 21, 2022

Ted Cruz fumes over ‘Pete Davidson getting all these hot girls’, reveals crush on ‘super hot vampire’ Kate Beckinsale

Ted Cruz discussed his mystification at actor Pete Davidson‘s ability to pull all the “hot girls” during a recent interview. On Friday’s episode of Verdict with Ted Cruz, him and co-host Michael Knowles answered a question from a listener about “toxic femininity.” Knowles asked the question, saying, “‘We are seeing women like Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, Megan Markle, Kim Kardashian. Is it time we start talking about toxic femininity?'”

Cruz responded that it was unfair to blame Jada Pinkett Smith for the actions of her husband and admitted to not watching any of the Amber Heard trial. But when the conversation turned to Kim Kardashian, Cruz lite up with excitement. “Kim Kardashian, she hasn’t done anything lately. I mean, she seems — Kim seems fine,” Cruz began. Knowles chimed in to say, “But the SNL guy, I don’t, I can’t, I don’t know. I’m team Kanye.” “Pete Davidson! All right. How come that dude gets all of these like hot women?” Cruz asked. “Pete Davidson was dating Kate Beckinsale. I mean, you’re talking Underworld, you’re talking like, super hot vampire in black leather trench coat.” “But Really? The SNL dude?” Cruz questioned in mock disappointment.

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Big Bend Sentinel - May 18, 2022

Goodbye to a river: as Rio Grande dries up, tourism industry braces for impact

On April 25, Redford-based river guide and outfitter Charlie Angell posted a video to his company’s Instagram page. The video shows a canoe parked in a sandy Terlingua Creek, panning over the dry Rio Grande riverbed in Santa Elena Canyon. “Flow has ceased — sin agua,” he says in the background. “Worst drought ever, in my lifetime, at least.” Normally, the flow is low enough this time of year that guests hoping for a tour through Santa Elena paddle upstream a few miles and then turn around, a trip known in the industry as a “boomerang.” Angell and his crew had been watching the river gradually dry up all spring — he ran the trip a week before he took the video, determined even then it’d be the last until the water came back. “We were dragging more than paddling — [the clients] were exhausted by the end.” Angell has been in front of the camera numerous times, schlepping gear for PBS nature documentarians and hosting a riverside dinner party on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.”

His video of the dry river, though, was his first in-house production to go viral. The video first made the rounds on local Instagram, then got picked up by regional media Twitter. It eventually wound up on the Weather Channel. Calls started coming in from friends around the country who recognized his voice. “It’s the one channel everybody watches,” he said. Other photographs started circulating — one, by former National Park Service biologist Raymond Skiles, showed a dry-up in Mariscal Canyon, which forms the titular “big bend” of Big Bend National Park. The instagram grid for Santa Elena — much more accessible to the majority of park visitors — started picking up more snaps from visitors to the bone-dry riverbed. The Rio Grande has always been known as a river of extremes. For every story of the river drying up, there’s another story of it spilling over its banks. The Texas Department of Transportation yards in Presidio and Terlingua are full of machines built to scoop mud out of flooded arroyos and repair roadside gauges blasted apart by the water’s swell.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2022

Gilbert Garcia: ‘We need champions of working people’: Sanders makes the case for Cisneros

The last time I saw Bernie Sanders in person, he was basking in one of the biggest triumphs of his political career. It was Feb. 22, 2020. The Vermont senator, the spiritual godfather of this country’s democratic socialist movement, had just won the Nevada presidential caucuses and established himself as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. A huge, exultant crowd greeted Sanders at Cowboys Dancehall that night, filled with confidence that sweeping, historic change was just around the corner. That was as good as it got for Sanders. Four days later, powerful South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn endorsed Joe Biden, setting up Biden for a campaign-saving primary win in that state. Sanders’ last, best hope for the presidency passed as fast as it arrived. Friday night, Sanders was again in San Antonio for a big rally, but not for himself. He was in town to champion the cause of one of his disciples, Laredo immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros, the insurgent challenger who has nine-term Congressman Henry Cuellar on the ropes.

A few hours before Cisneros and Sanders made their get-out-the-vote push on the East Side at Second Baptist Church, they made a brief, low-key visit to a Schertz coffee shop to greet a small group of supporters and campaign workers. Sanders was decked out in brown shoes and navy khakis, with a pen sticking out of the pocket of his rumpled, light-blue button-up shirt. As always, his hair was a white, tousled crown. I talked with Sanders about why he considers the U.S. District 28 battle between Cuellar and Cisneros to be so pivotal. “No. 1, the Congress desperately needs strong progressives who are prepared to stand up and take on powerful special interests and fight for the working class of this country,” Sanders said. “The very rich are getting richer, the working people all over this country are struggling. We need champions of working people and Jessica certainly would be that.” Sanders also cited the recent leak of a draft opinion indicating that the U.S. Supreme Court plans to strip away federal abortion protections. Cuellar is the lone House Democrat who opposes legalized abortion. “In Mr. Cuellar, we have one of the few Democrats who does not understand that it is a woman’s right to control her own body, not the government,” Sanders said. The case for Cuellar, which the congressman delivered at a recent East Side rally of his own, is that his penchant for bipartisan compromise, while dissatisfying to progressive purists, enables Democrats to get tangible results. Sanders rejected that argument with a reference to Build Back Better, an ambitious human-infrastructure bill that included major investments in health care, housing, child care, green energy and education.

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Spectrum News - May 21, 2022

AG Paxton amends Google lawsuit to include incognito mode

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has taken on big tech and is fighting to keep his job in next week’s primary runoff election, has amended a lawsuit he filed against Google to include claims about incognito mode. What is incognito mode? According to a news release from Paxton’s office, incognito mode “is a web browser function that implies to consumers that Google will not track your search history or location activity.” Also referred to as “private browsing” mode, Google has described it as follows: “Incognito mode in Chrome gives you the choice to browse the internet without your activity being saved to your browser or device. As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session.”

That explanation is not good enough for Paxton, who argues Texans are being duped into believing they are browsing anonymously but that is not the case. “[The lawsuit] argues that the company misled consumers by tracking their personal location without consent, and in many cases continued to track them after the feature was disabled by users, all of which constitute a violation of the Texas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act,” the news release reads. “While Texas consumers were under the impression they were not being tracked, Google continued to use their private location information to boost company profits. The State now alleges that Google’s representations that users can avoid having their internet search and activity history recorded by using Incognito Mode are similarly misleading.” Paxton has sued Google five times. This is not the first time Google has been sued over incognito mode. “Google claims to give users control and to respect their choice but in reality, regardless of the settings users select, the Big Tech giant is still hard at work collecting and monetizing the location and other personal information that users seek to keep private,” Paxton wrote. “I am not going to let Google succeed in deceiving Texans.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2022

Peter and Julianna Hawn Holt, longtime couple behind the Spurs, finalize divorce

Peter M. Holt and Julianna Hawn Holt, who led the Spurs for a combined 23 years, are officially divorced. A judge Tuesday signed an agreed final decree of divorce in the case that began almost 4½ years ago. A state district court in San Antonio verbally granted the divorce in January after the Holts reached a mediated settlement agreement last year. They married in 1982. The divorce decree says the Holts entered into an “agreement incident to divorce,” commonly used in cases involving high-value marital estates to avoid public disclosure of how community assets are split up. The agreement was not filed with the court.

The News-UT Tyler poll, which surveyed 1,232 registered voters between May 2-10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, found that 60 percent of respondents support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s rival in this November’s race for governor, supports the complete legalization of marijuana. Abbott won’t go that far, but he said he understands changes in marijuana laws are needed. “We don’t need to be stockpiling in our jails and prisons with people who are arrested for minor possession allegations,” Abbott said this week after a roundtable discussion with business leaders in North Richland Hills. “We would be keeping those jails for dangerous criminals who deserve to be behind bars.” The governor might be on solid ground with his GOP base. According to the poll, just 42 percent of Republicans support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, compared with a majority of Democrats and independents, 76 percent and 64 percent, respectively.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2022

Man fatally shot in road rage clash in northwest Harris County, sheriff says

Authorities in northwest Harris County are investigating the death of a man who was fatally shot Saturday afternoon during a road rage clash. The man was struck around 3 p.m. in the 18500 block of Tomball Parkway, along Texas 249 in the Spring Cypress area, after a driver in a Nissan Armada cut off another vehicle, authorities said.

Investigators believe the exchange started near Hufsmith-Kohrville Road and that the diver of the second vehicle, a Chevy Malibu, followed the SUV. The two drivers, while moving, exchanged words and at one point a woman in the Malibu threw objects at the car. The driver of the Malibu fired at the Nissan once, paused and then fired more shots, authorities said. He came around again and shot at the car, fatally striking a male passenger in the Nissan. The driver of the Nissan pulled into a gas station for help. The man died at the scene. Police have not apprehended the shooter and were looking for him and his passenger. The vehicle is described as a silver Malibu with tinted windows.

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City Stories

KXAN - May 22, 2022

Memo: Austin Water anticipates drought water restrictions soon

In a memo to Austin council members, Austin Water’s interim director said staff anticipates drought response stage one regulations will be triggered “in the near future.” This would be the first water restriction stage since November 2018 when Austin entered its base water conservation stage.

The combined storage of Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis will soon fall below 1.4 million acre-feet, which will trigger the regulations, interim director Robert Goode wrote in the May 20 memo. Lake Travis is at its lowest level since 2015 at about 16 feet below average. The main change under state one restrictions is the reduction of automatic irrigation hours, the memo said. Hours will be limited to between 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. Austin Water said it would inform Austin residents of “the impending declaration” through press releases, social media, radio and television announcements and website updates.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2022

Elon Musk company plans pedestrian tunnel in Kyle, part of 80-mile Vybe trail

A company owned by the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, is planning a pedestrian-friendly tunnel project in Kyle that eventually will be part of the city’s multimillion-dollar interconnectivity project called the Vybe Kyle. The Musk-backed Boring Co. beat out one other company this year with its bid to construct a pedestrian underpass underneath an existing Union Pacific railroad section. The underpass will be pedestrian-, bike- and golf cart-friendly, and it will eventually be part of the 80-mile Vybe path that will connect neighborhoods in Kyle to various business, retail, commercial and parks developments. Eventually, the Vybe Kyle is planned to become part of the Great Springs Project — a sort of scenic highway for cyclists and pedestrians connecting San Antonio and Austin.

The Kyle City Council approved an agreement with the Boring Co. at the beginning of May, although the project still hasn’t received a final stamp of approval. City Councilman Dex Ellison said the council didn’t consider or factor in the famous name behind the company when awarding it the bid. The Boring Co. simply had the better proposal, he said. “The Boring Company had (a proposal) that certainly paid a lot of attention to our city,” while the other company did not, Ellison said. “Staff made the recommendation to go with the Boring Company.” The Boring Co. was founded in 2017 by Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and aims to create “safe, fast-to-dig, and low-cost transportation, utility, pedestrian and freight tunnels,” according to Boring Co. project outlines submitted to the city. The company is headquartered in Pflugerville, about 45 minutes northeast of Kyle, on the other side of Austin.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2022

San Antonio’s USAA Bank under fire from former employee

A former USAA Federal Savings Bank employee has gone public with allegations that the bank “ripped off” customers and committed other financial crimes, charges the San Antonio institution calls “baseless.” Lenn A. Ferrer, a former federal prosecutor and Navy lawyer who worked in USAA Bank’s compliance department from 2014 until he was fired in March 2020, says the bank violated laws meant to protect military members against certain lending practices. Ferrer said he recently sent the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a whisteblower complaint outlining his allegations, adding that he believed it should be forwarded to the Department of Justice for potential criminal prosecution. “I am not going to stop until I get all of these matters referred to DOJ,” Ferrer told the Express-News.

USAA officials forcefully disputed Ferrer’s allegations, which were first reported by Compliance Week, a publication for regulatory compliance officers. “Frankly, it’s offensive to USAA employees because we really take our obligations seriously to live by our values,” said Kate Gallivan, head of regulatory relations and senior vice president. “Those values are service, loyalty, honesty and integrity. When you work here, serving members is really — it’s at the center of everything we do.” USAA said it placed Ferrer on administrative leave in February 2020 “for inappropriate and threatening comments made to co-workers, including reference to firearms,” and dismissed him about two weeks later. Ferrer asserted that the company “manufactured cause to fire me” because he is a whistleblower. The retail bank offers credit cards, consumer loans, residential mortgages, home equity loans and trust services. It is an arm of USAA, the giant insurance and financial services comany, which has about 13 million customers — members of the military, veterans and their families. USAA has no affiliation with the U.S. military.

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Houston Public Media - May 19, 2022

Houston’s contract janitors are planning to strike if upcoming wage negotiations fail

Houston’s contract janitors gathered near City Hall Wednesday evening in preparation for a potential strike if upcoming contract negotiations fail to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour. During a demonstration at Tranquility Park, which was organized by a labor union for janitorial workers called SEIU Texas, more than a hundred janitors expressed their frustration with both their wages and the lack of respect they received in their roles. SEIU Texas President Elsa Caballero led the demonstration. She said the union had two goals in mind. "One is to make a demand, a very public demand, that Texas is big enough for $15, that they deserve to win and make $15 an hour to take care of their families," Caballero said. "And, to take a strike vote and give us directions on what to do if we’re not able to get that at the table.”

That strike vote, which the crowd voted to approve during the demonstration, allows the union’s bargaining committee to call a strike if the pay increase isn’t granted. Caballero said the union plans to hold more demonstrations this week ahead of the current contract’s expiration on May 31. As of right now, a majority of contract janitors in Houston work part-time, making as little as $10.75 an hour, according to SEIU Texas. However, the contract is set to expire for at least 2,800 Houston-area janitors at the end of the month, leaving many hopeful for a new contract that would not only increase the hourly minimum wage to $15, but also increase the number of provided sick days and paid leave. Among the crowd during Wednesday’s demonstration was Meyworkl Perez, who’s been a janitor for the past 15 years. "(They) used to work us every day, every day and you’ve got no life," Perez said. "We need to be respected and make a good salary and lead a better life, you know, to be with our families."

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National Stories

Politico - May 22, 2022

What the school wars are really about

At first glance, today’s school wars seem like a cut and dried case of modernity versus tradition, secularism versus religion, liberality versus conservatism. There’s the book banning, taking place in 86 school districts in 26 states, removing works by Judy Blume, the much-loved author of fiction for children and young adults, the late Toni Morrison, who won both the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize for literature, and biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, Nelson Mandela, Sonia Sotomayor, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Malala Yousafzai. There are the bills that ban the teaching of critical race theory, Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, and a raft of other proposals that would sharply restrict what teachers can say, and what students can read and learn, both in primary and secondary schools, as well as state-supported universities.

This phenomenon isn’t new. Public schools have been the focus of political energy for as long as they’ve existed in the United States — often acting as the staging ground for broader conflicts over race, sex and sexuality, religion and a host of other debates. The most prominent example of school wars as proxy for political wars is the Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925, when John Scopes, an elementary school teacher in Tennessee, stood trial for violating the state’s legal ban on teaching evolution. The dramatic show trial embodied the contest between traditional religion, on the one hand, and empiricism and modernity, on the other. In many ways, it’s a fitting analogy for our own time. But, dig deeper, and you’ll see the Scopes trial was also about more than religion and science, or tradition and modernity. It was about two very different conceptions of democratic freedom. Should local communities enjoy the right to govern themselves and their institutions, including schools? That’s one definition of freedom. Or do individuals enjoy certain inalienable rights, including the right to free speech and expression, that majorities can never restrict? That’s another.

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NBC News - May 22, 2022

Crises beyond Russia’s war: Drought and famine lose attention as Ukraine drains focus and funds

With government and public attention locked on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there are growing fears that other humanitarian crises — such as those gripping Afghanistan, Yemen and the Horn of Africa — will worsen without drastic intervention. An estimated 19 million Afghans — nearly half of the population — are experiencing extreme food insecurity in a crisis that has escalated dramatically since the U.S. withdrew in August, ending two decades of military presence. In Yemen, around two-thirds of the population, or 19 million people, also face food insecurity in a country heavily reliant on aid handouts. Some 14 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are on the brink of starvation.

Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the organization was “starting to see some decline” in global humanitarian funding since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis. “With the limelight on Ukraine — with all the support that Ukraine deserves and will continue to get — will that be to the detriment of other crises? Time will tell,” he said. Mardini said his organization’s humanitarian activities for 2022 were only 42 percent funded, compared with 52 percent at the same point in 2021. Athena Rayburn, director of advocacy, communications and campaigns at Save the Children Afghanistan, said the situation in the country had deteriorated markedly since the U.S. withdrawal. Denied the headlines that accompanied the momentous events of just nine months ago, she fears there is worse to come. “Every single social safety net that existed prior to August has been gutted. Schools are shut, hospitals are shut, and food, fuel and rent prices have all gone up. It’s driving people into a state of desperation,” she said.

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Washington Post - May 22, 2022

Sussmann prosecutors also take aim at Clinton, FBI and the news media

The trial of well-connected lawyer Michael Sussmann centers on whether he lied to the FBI while sharing potentially damaging allegations about Donald Trump at a key moment in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the first week of testimony showed the prosecution’s hopes for a conviction rest largely on a much broader set of assertions: that the FBI, the Hillary Clinton campaign and the press collided in ultimately harmful ways, leading to the public airing of unsubstantiated allegations shortly before Election Day. Sussmann’s trial is the first courtroom test of the investigative work done by special counsel John Durham, appointed by Trump administration Attorney General William P. Barr to probe whether the federal agents who investigated the 2016 Trump campaign committed wrongdoing.

Somewhat surprisingly, in this prosecution and another scheduled for trial this fall, Durham’s team contends not that FBI officials committed crimes but were the victims of others’ lies. Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer who has represented Democrats and technology firms, has denied breaking the law. His defense team argues that what prosecutors suggest was a duplicitous conspiracy to smear Trump was in truth people acting independently, and with good intentions, to raise alarms about what they saw as suspect behavior. Suspicions were already running high in political and government circles in September 2016 when Sussmann arranged a meeting with the FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, to share important computer data and analysis suggesting a secret communications back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia-based Alfa-Bank. When the two men sat down in a conference room on the 7th floor of the J. Edgar Hoover building, the FBI was wary of being played by political operatives. Two months earlier, then-FBI Director James B. Comey had ended the investigation into Clinton’s use of private email for sensitive government issues, holding a highly unusual news conference to publicly criticize her conduct.

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Wall Street Journal - May 22, 2022

Rising risk of recession creates new headache for Biden

The Federal Reserve’s efforts to slow inflation are raising the possibility of higher unemployment, a slower-growing economy and a recession, prospects that could create new headaches for the Biden administration. As the country heads into midterm-election season, much of the political discussion has centered around solid economic growth and robust employment versus the damaging impact of inflation. More recently, warnings about the prospect of an economic downturn—which could come in 2023 according to some estimates—have complicated the economic picture in a new way. Mr. Biden and his advisers are already grappling with inflation trending near a four-decade high, wavering consumer confidence and headwinds posed by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Republicans lay blame for surging prices on the administration, saying it stoked inflation with pandemic-related stimulus then failed to counter it as prices rose.

They have lambasted Mr. Biden and Democratic lawmakers ahead of this fall’s midterm elections that will decide which party controls Congress. “It is this president and his all-Democratic government who have drained American families’ pocketbooks, and every poll shows our citizens understand that sad reality all too well,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) recently said on the Senate floor. Mr. Biden and his economic team have maintained the economy is well-positioned to withstand challenges, pointing to factors such as a strong labor market and unemployment trending near a 50-year low. They are deploying a strategy seeking to improve Americans’ view of the economy, which could bolster confidence and help underpin consumer spending. The strategy includes Mr. Biden increasing travel domestically to tout economic bright spots and the administration’s efforts to lower consumer prices. He is also drawing a starker contrast between his economic-policy agenda and that of Republicans, who the administration says would do little to combat inflation and seek to raise taxes on American families.

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Wall Street Journal - May 22, 2022

Small businesses lose confidence in U.S. economy

Small businesses are flashing warning signs on the U.S. economy as inflation, supply-chain snarls, a shortage of workers and rising interest rates darken the outlook for entrepreneurs. Fifty-seven percent of small-business owners expect economic conditions in the U.S. to worsen in the next year, up from 42% in April and equal to the all-time low recorded in April 2020, according to a survey of more than 600 small businesses conducted in May for The Wall Street Journal by Vistage Worldwide Inc., a business-coaching and peer-advisory firm. The measure is one part of a broader confidence index that in May posted its largest year-over-year drop since the Covid-related shutdowns of April and May 2020. Despite rising prices, the portion of small businesses that expects revenue to increase in the coming year fell to 61%, down from 79% in May 2020.

“It just feels like there are all of these factors that are out of our control, and it doesn’t seem like there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Minnie Luong, owner of Chi Kitchen, a manufacturer of kimchi and other fermented Asian-flavored vegetables. The Pawtucket, R.I., company, which has eight employees, has faced a roughly 50% increase in raw-materials costs and shortages of glass jars used in packaging. Ms. Luong raised prices for wholesale retail accounts by 5% in May. It was the company’s first increase for those customers in its seven-year history, but not enough to cover rising ingredient costs. Sales have slowed in recent weeks, said Ms. Luong, who isn’t sure if the May price increase, seasonality or a pullback in spending is to blame. “I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it,” she said.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2022

AT&T shareholders vote against political activity accountability report

AT&T says shareholders voted down a proposal that would have forced it to explain why it gives money to politicians whose actions conflict with the company’s values. About 55% of shareholders voted against the activist proposal at the company’s annual meeting Thursday. Since the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, a growing contingent of progressive and pro-democracy groups have emphasized that AT&T’s public stances on female empowerment, equity and democracy directly conflict with some of the Republican leaders and policies it supports. Those groups have criticized AT&T’s gifts to far-right officials who support restrictions on voting and women’s reproductive rights, calling the company’s political activity a risk to its reputation with consumers. Dallas-based AT&T has argued that its gifts to far-right politicians are justified because it also gives to Democrats.

In a previous statement in which the company advised shareholders to vote against the proposal, AT&T said it participates in the political process “in a bipartisan manner to support policies that sustain and grow our business and create stockholder value.” The proposal was made by activist shareholder group As You Sow. Though the proposal failed, the group issued a statement Thursday describing the 44% vote in favor of the resolution as a “firm rebuke” of AT&T’s political involvement. “AT&T believes it needs to be involved in politics; we’re not arguing with that point. It is hard to see why, however, it is not managing the risks involved with supporting politicians that sit so clearly outside of its own company values,” As You Sow consultant Meredith Benton said in a statement. A report from watchdog group Accountable.US published Thursday ahead of the AT&T annual meeting found that the company donated $244,000 since 2021 to Texas politicians who supported the state’s restrictive voting bills. The new voting laws have resulted in hundreds of mail-in ballot applications being rejected already this year, alarming election officials. The report also found that as of March, AT&T had donated $96,000 to members of the so-called Republican “Sedition Caucus” that voted against certifying the 2020 election results.

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Newsclips - May 20, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2022

Ex-Texas legislators put lobbying on hold to avoid possible ethics law violation

A pair of former Texas lawmakers will suspend their lobbying efforts after questions about whether the work runs afoul of a little-known law meant to slow the revolving door between the Legislature and the lobby. Recently retired Reps. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, and Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, said they had yet to begin lobbying but will suspend their registrations, which took effect last week. At issue is a 2019 law that seeks to stop Texas legislators from using their campaign cash to curry favor before launching a lobbying career, according to its author. The change, one of the few ethics laws to pass in recent years, faced no opposition. “If you give someone a whole bunch of money and they go register [to lobby] the next day, it doesn’t pass the smell test,” said the law’s author, Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth. “People don’t give to people’s political campaigns thinking they’re going to register to become a lobbyist.” The law says legislators cannot begin lobbying within two years of making a political contribution from their campaign account.

Paddie gave $25,000 to House Speaker Dade Phelan last December, along with a few smaller checks to other Republican lawmakers, according to campaign finance reports. “I recently registered with the Ethics Commission with the intent of engaging in lobby activity,” Paddie said in a statement. “However, I have not yet engaged in that activity and have suspended my registration with the Ethics Commission.” Paddie, who chaired the powerful House State Affairs Committee, announced he wouldn’t seek re-election last fall, then resigned the seat in March. In May, he registered as a lobbyist for San Francisco-based Incode Technologies, Inc. Lucio’s campaign last contributed $1,000 to another state representative’s re-election bid in October 2020. In an interview, Lucio said he was not aware of the donation until asked about it by The Dallas Morning News, but once he learned of it, he decided to suspend his lobbying registration until October. “I want to follow a conservative interpretation of the law,” he said. While Lucio applauded the law’s intention, he said it’s written very broadly. “No one should raise a bunch of money, mislead people that they’re seeking reelection and then use that money to lobby,” he said. “That is what I thought the law was intended to prohibit.” Lucio said he did not do that. Before announcing last October that he would not seek re-election, Lucio raised virtually no money, according to campaign finance reports. After resigning the seat in January, Lucio said he donated most of his remaining campaign cash to nonprofits before closing out the account. In May, he registered as a lobbyist for five clients, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and Oncor Electric Delivery Company. It’s not clear whether the Texas Ethics Commission, which oversees lobbyists, has enforced the law before. In a recent advisory opinion, the commission said the two-year moratorium applies not only to donations made from a lawmaker’s campaign account, but also any political committees he or she controls. Texas is one of a few states without a required “cooling-off” period for lawmakers who leave office and become lobbyists, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2022

Harris County GOP tells election judges to break with election night plan, saying it violates law

The Harris County GOP is urging Republican election judges to break with Harris County's election night plan for next week's primary runoff, arguing the county's ballot delivery protocol violates the law. Earlier this week, Harris County officials sent an email to county staffers asking for volunteer drivers to help expedite the ballot counting process for the upcoming primary runoff. With hundreds of polling locations spread out over 1,700 square miles, the state’s most populous county has a history of delayed election returns. In hopes of speeding up election results, the Harris County Elections Administrator's office also used this plan earlier this month in the May 7 election — deputizing law enforcement officials and full-time county staffers to deliver ballots from the polling location to the county's sole central counting station. However, the Harris County GOP is pushing back on that plan and instructing Republican election judges to drive ballots to central count themselves.

An election judge is the person in charge of running a voting location. In a primary election, each polling location has one judge from each party overseeing their own party's voting process. In the past, the responsibility of transporting the ballots to the counting station has fallen to these election judges, the final task at the end of their 15-hour day. Starting with the May 7 election, law enforcement officers with the county constables and sheriff’s offices picked up the ballots and made the delivery instead, along with county staffers. The change didn’t do much to cut down on reporting time. While Dallas and Tarrant counties sent complete results to the state shortly after midnight, Harris County’s results came in around 9:37 a.m. Sunday, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. At a May 11 hearing with the state House Elections Committee to address delayed election results, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria argued the county's ballot delivery plan utilizing law enforcement officers and deputized staffers is in compliance with Texas law. “The election code does not speak to the delivery other than the presiding judge must turn over those election records to our election office. So it doesn’t speak to who has to drive to meet the other person to do so," Longoria said.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2022

Texas one of six states that saw significant undercount during 2020 U.S. Census, data shows

The U.S. Census undercounted about 1.92% of the Texas population in its 2020 decennial census. The census does not know the number of people undercounted in specific ethnic and racial groups for the state. But the total underestimation affects the federal aid designated for Texas and the number of seats in the House of Representatives. Texas has the sixth most severe undercount of the U.S. states, and one of six states to have a statistically significant undercount.

In 2010, the Texas population had an estimated undercount of 0.97% in 2010, which was not statistically significant. In the nation, the U.S. Census estimated that it undercounted 782,000 people — meaning it missed about 0.24% of the population. The bureau estimated that the 2010 decennial census overcounted 0.01% or 36,000 people. The pandemic likely affected the results of the 2020 census because people were filling out the survey while adapting to the onset of the pandemic. Since the pandemic, Texas drivers license data shows that thousands of people from across all 50 states moved to Texas. Black people were undercounted by 3.3%, and 4.99% of Hispanic people were undercounted. Additionally the population of those who live on reservations or identify as American Indian or Alaska Native were undercounted by 5.64%. These same groups were undercounted in the 2010 census. White, non-Hispanic populations were overcounted by 1.64%, Asian people were overcounted by about 2.62% and the Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander population was overcounted by 1.28%. Additionally, the 2010 decennial census undercounted renters by about 1.1% and overcounted homeowners by 0.6%.

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2022

Sen. John Cornyn calls AG Ken Paxton’s legal woes an ‘embarrassment’ for Texas

Sen. John Cornyn called Texas attorney general Ken Paxton’s legal woes an “embarrassment” on Thursday, noting that the state’s top lawyer has been under indictment his entire time in office. “This is the chief law enforcement officer of the state of Texas and it’s a source of embarrassment to me that that has been unresolved,” he said. “As a former Attorney General myself, I’m embarrassed by what we’re having to deal with.” Paxton, vying for a third term, faces a felony fraud charges and an FBI investigation into accusations of bribery Cornyn served as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court and was the attorney general when he won his Senate seat in 2002. His comments came during a call with Texas reporters, when asked for his thoughts on Tuesday’s primary runoff between Paxton and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whose latest ad calls the incumbent a “crook.”

“I’ve tried very hard not to get involved in primary politics. I will tell you that I remain very disturbed by the fact that the incumbent has had an indictment hanging over his head for now, I don’t know what it’s been, six years,” Cornyn said. “And then of course, the whistleblower claims are not resolved and presumably under investigation. But obviously the voters will have access to that information. They’ll make their own decision.” Former President Donald Trump supports Paxton, as does Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Gov. Greg Abbott, who succeeded Cornyn as attorney general, has stayed out of the primary fight. Just 16% of Republican voters think Paxton lacks the integrity needed, according to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released Sunday, though polling shows a much larger share of the November electorate share the qualms expressed by Cornyn. The FBI has been investigating Paxton since 2020, when several of his top deputies accused him of abusing the office to help a campaign donor. In a whistleblower lawsuit, four former aides allege that he traded political favors for the donor’s help with a home remodel and a job for his mistress. Paxton faces two state felony charges for securities fraud and a third charge for failing to register with the state as an investment adviser. He has long maintained his innocence and insisted that the charges are politically motivated.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2022

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz, donors with big money take sides in GOP runoffs

In the runoffs’ home stretch, GOP infighting has produced the predictable – and the bizarre. The run-up to Tuesday’s second round of Republican primary voting in Texas House races has been rife with cryptic, last-minute money moves that hint of the party establishment’s desire to purge renegades who question state leaders’ conservative credentials. Pushing back on that power move has been an undertow of assertive counter-moves by rebel leaders such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Bedford state Rep. Jonathan Stickland. Thickening the plot has been the school vouchers issue, with Gov. Greg Abbott and Cruz backing different candidates in five GOP House runoffs Tuesday. Generally, Abbott is defending those aligned with champions of traditional public schools, while his former protégé Cruz is waving the banner of public-school critics who want “school choice.”

But there’s a larger theme to the behind-the-scenes maneuvering: In the past few months, Abbott and Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, endorsed many of the same House hopefuls. In doing so, the two high-ranking GOP leaders signaled they want to actively sway the party nominating process, to ensure people picked to go to Austin are the types who help get things done, not far-right provocateurs. Soon after the March 1 primary, Abbott and Phelan circled the party establishment’s wagons around nearly a dozen GOP House hopefuls heading into the primary’s second round, including three incumbents. But Cruz and PACs that support giving tax dollars to parents who are dissatisfied with their children’s public schools soon lined up behind rival candidates, spicing up those contests. The staunchly conservative Defend Texas Liberty PAC, bankrolled by Midland oilman Tim Dunn with assists from Cisco fracking billionaire Farris Wilks, dumped $2.5 million into state races in the latest reporting period. Beneficiaries of more than 70% of that dough, though, couldn’t immediately be determined because of vagaries of the state reporting system that cause delays. Still, the Dunn-Wilks PAC is working against many House hopefuls favored by Abbott and Phelan. Previously, the two West Texas oilmen poured money into efforts directed by gadfly Michael Quinn Sullivan’s former group, Empower Texans, which set out to purge the Legislature of “Republicans in name only,” or RINOs.

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Associated Press - May 19, 2022

Oklahoma approves the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban

Oklahoma’s Legislature gave final approval Thursday to another Texas-style anti-abortion bill that providers say will be the most restrictive in the nation once the governor signs it. The bill is part of an aggressive push in Republican-led states across the country to scale back abortion rights. It comes on the heels of a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that suggests justices are considering weakening or overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago. The bill by Collinsville Republican Rep. Wendi Stearman would prohibit all abortions, except to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest that has been reported to law enforcement. “Is our goal to defend the right to life or isn’t it?” Stearman asked her colleagues before the bill passed on a 73-16 vote mostly along party lines.

The bill is one of at least three anti-abortion bills sent this year to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has indicated he’ll sign it. Another Texas-style abortion bill that prohibits the procedure after cardiac activity can be detected in the embryo, which experts say is about six weeks, already has taken effect and has already dramatically curtailed the practice in Oklahoma. Another bill set to take effect this summer would make it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. That bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest. “At this point, we are preparing for the most restrictive environment politicians can create: a complete ban on abortion with likely no exceptions,” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which stopped providing abortions at two of its Oklahoma clinics after the six-week ban took effect earlier this month. “It’s the worst-case scenario for abortion care in the state of Oklahoma.” Like the Texas law, the Oklahoma bill would allow private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman obtain abortion. After the U.S. Supreme Court allowed that mechanism to remain in place, other Republican-led states sought to copy Texas’ ban. Idaho’s governor signed the first copycat measure in March, although it has been temporarily blocked by the state’s Supreme Court.

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Dallas Observer - May 19, 2022

'All-out war': InfoWars owner Alex Jones demands viewers buy products in unhinged rant

InfoWars owner Alex Jones wants you to get out your wallet and spend. Stock up on B12 supplements and survival food and activated charcoal toothpaste. During a recent livestream, with the bravado of a belligerent snake oil salesman, Jones warned his viewers that bad things will happen if they don’t buy his merch. “When you keep us in the fight you keep yourself in the fight, and this is life and death!” he screamed, jabbing his index finger toward the camera. “So go to infowarsstore.com and get amazing products!” Amazing products like tactical pens and coffee mugs and “Joe Biden Is a Loser” gear. “If you don’t support us, you’re helping the enemy!” Jones continued. “And I’m not bitching at listeners; I’m telling you, this is all-out war!” A war won by ordering beer koozies and shortwave radios and water filtration systems.

Last month, Jones filed for bankruptcy for three of his companies, including InfoWars. Prior to that, the far-right personality had been found legally accountable for damages caused by his false statements about the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting, which claimed 26 victims, including 20 children. Jones had long promoted the conspiracy theory that Sandy Hook was a false flag operation orchestrated by the feds to push for stronger gun control. He’s been a fierce critic of the federal government, particularly toward Democratic Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden. At the same time that InfoWars faces liabilities of up to $10 million, court documents show the site claims to have between $0 and $50,000 in assets, according to Reuters. Jones’ salesman rhetoric is “completely ridiculous,” said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. He’s doing everything he can to avoid taking responsibility for the terrible pain he’s caused the families of Sandy Hook victims.

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Rio Grande Guardian - May 19, 2022

Terry Canales: We can’t afford inexperience in our next state senator

(Terry Canales is chairman of Texas House Committee on Transportation.) As the May 24 runoff election approaches, who we choose as the next State Senator from South Texas matters, especially in today’s fragile economy. In a recent campaign forum, LaMantia’s opponent stated that she opposed the building of a second causeway to South Padre Island. The causeway is a job creator, promotes tourism, and builds our local tax base, which is exactly what is needed to fund neighborhood roads, libraries, and public safety. · Her opponent has also expressed confusion over limits the legislature has put into place over how much local governments can raise your local property taxes, and frankly, working families are struggling enough with rising gas prices and the cost of living. Without a tax base and a shared burden, there is not enough money for basic services in many of our communities.

That’s why I support Morgan LaMantia, because she understands job creation —she’s done it. Her family business supports 1,200 jobs directly, and thousands more through the small businesses they support. Morgan knows what it takes to work the supply chain. She led the effort to cut costs while improving health care access and benefits for their employees. Moreover, Morgan helps lead the data and analytics department, working to ensure decisions are based on data and facts, not dreams and wishes. Morgan has sat down with hundreds of working families and really listened. She knows the pain families feel at the pump with the rising price of gas, as well as the cost of filling up the grocery cart and paying for prescription drugs. What families are looking for are higher-paying jobs, lower costs, and shared responsibilities on paying for infrastructure. That’s why she supports Medicaid expansion, bringing billions of federal dollars to Texas, and using savings to invest in education. And that’s why Morgan supports the second causeway, because she is a job creator, she knows what it takes to fund quality of life improvements for working families with no new taxes. South Texas cannot afford to elect a Senator with a lack of basic understanding of funding principals and who rejects economic growth and job creation. That is why I am urging every eligible voter to support Morgan LaMantia as the next voice of South Texas in the Texas Senate.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2022

New Katy ISD trustee Perez draws heated criticism, vocal support over stance against LGBTQ resources

Impassioned students and parents spoke out at Katy ISD's board of trustees meeting Monday following the swearing-in of new board member Victor Perez. Perez, who defeated incumbent Duke Keller by about 3,000 votes, ran a campaign largely based on the removal of LGBTQ materials and books he believes promote critical race theory from district libraries and internet servers. Prior to sitting on the board, Perez referred to websites like The Trevor Project as "child pornography" and certain books written from the perspective of Black or Indigenous people as critical race theory. The Trevor Project is the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth. Its site is currently blocked by district servers for containing "human sexuality." Earlier in the school year, a speaking engagement from critically acclaimed children's book author Jerry Craft was postponed and his books were pulled from libraries amid outrage from a small group of Katy ISD parents.

Craft's award-winning graphic novels largely focus on the culture and experiences of modern day African-American preteens. Five speakers railed against Perez and his proposed policies at the meeting, with one supporter speaking in his favor. Perez did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Kathy Carpenter, a staunch advocate for Perez, called his inauguration "a glorious day" and requested the other six board members join Perez's efforts to remove LGBTQ materials from schools. "My words are for the rest of you," Carpenter said, addressing the remaining members of the board. "The gay agenda continues to attack you and the parents … therefore I encourage the straight community to reach out to me and we will fix this problem." Katy ISD senior Cameran Samuels has spoken at numerous board meetings advocating for the reinstatement of blocked LGBTQ websites. In reference to Perez's comments at prior board meetings, Samuels said, "During recent months, you heard certain people at this lectern call us pedophiles and child predators for being queer."

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2022

Tilman Fertitta donating $50 million to UH medical school, which will be renamed after him

Billionaire businessman Tilman Fertitta said he has always been a strong believer in the University of Houston medical school’s mission to improve health care equity in Texas. Now he’s donating $50 million to help make that vision a reality. Fertitta and his family on Thursday announced what UH leaders say is a “transformational” donation for the fledgling medical school, which welcomed its first group of students just two years ago. In recognition, the school has been named the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine, as it prepares to open a state-of-the-art, $80 million building this summer. Fertitta, the owner of the Landry’s Inc. hospitality empire and the Houston Rockets, played a critical role in establishing the medical school as the longtime chairman of the UH system’s board of regents. But it’s the school’s mission to improve health and health care in the community that inspired him to make such a large donation, he said.

“Everybody should have the same medical treatment that anybody else has,” he said. “That’s one of the things that I like about this school, and where we’re trying to fit into the community. We want people to have good primary care, to take care of whatever you need to take care of.” The school was founded in 2019 with a curriculum that emphasizes community health, behavioral and mental health, preventative medicine and social determinants of health — the social and economic conditions that influence individual and community health. The goal is for 50% of graduates to choose careers in primary care specialties, such as pediatrics and general internal medicine, to help address a shortage in Texas. The state’s Department of State and Human Services has estimated there will a shortage of 3,375 primary care physicians by 2030. Improving health and health care equity have always been important issues in the medical community, which is why the school has focused on those areas from the outset. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice movement have made them “front-burner” issues to a larger group of Americans, said Dr. Steven Spann, the medical school’s founding dean.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2022

Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher responds to ‘narcissist’ Nick Saban: 'We're done'

Jimbo Fisher’s rant on Thursday in the bowels of Kyle Field and aimed at former boss Nick Saban will go down as 10 of the most memorable minutes in Texas A&M sports history. “Some people think they’re God. Go dig into how ‘God’ did his deal and find out about a guy … a lot of things you don’t want to know,” said an emotional Fisher, his voice shaking at times. “We build him up to be this czar of football. Go dig into his past, or (talk to) anybody who’s ever coached with him.” Saban told a large group of businessmen in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday night via AL.com: “We were second in recruiting last year — A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player.”

Saban essentially is accusing A&M of breaking state laws. Fisher has long said no A&M recruit in the class of 2022 had name, image and likeness (NIL) deals in place prior to arriving to College Station, because that would be illegal in the state of Texas. Fisher has championed of late for “uniformity” across all 50 states, to make the still-new NIL fairer for all college programs. And Saban’s accusation this week had Fisher as upset and angry as he’s been over more than 30 years as a college coach. “It’s really despicable, despicable … you’re taking shots at 17 year old kids and their families, that they broke state laws,” Fisher said. “We never bought anybody, no rules were broken. It’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way or things don’t go his way … the narcissist in him does not allow those things to happen, and it’s ridiculous. “Go talk to coaches who coached for him … go dig wherever he’s been, you can find out anything. … We do things right and we’re always going to do things right.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2022

Doctor at heart of fight over trans youth care says she is racing against time

In the first 24 hours after a court order allowed Dr. Ximena Lopez to temporarily resume gender-affirming medical care at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, her office received 50 phone calls from new patients scrambling to get an appointment. Lopez said the resumption, although it may be brief, has helped her feel optimistic for the first time in months. In her first interview since the dismantling of Genecis, the program for transgender youth jointly operated by Children’s and UT Southwestern until November, Lopez said she’s noticed a positive shift in her team and the families she sees. “We have hope. Maybe the tide is turning. Maybe we can preserve this care,” Lopez, who once headed up Genecis as its lead endocrinologist, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. The biggest challenge is time.

In the exam room, her team of medical professionals is trying to fit in as many new patients as possible before the court’s two-week temporary restraining order against Children’s ends May 26. In the courtroom, Lopez’s legal team is seeking a temporary injunction so she can continue seeing new patients. In total, they’ve received 60 appointment requests and have scheduled around 20. Even if they were able to fit every new patient into a slot, there’s no promise that those patients would be able to start or continue the treatments that were halted, including puberty blockers or hormone therapy, in the future. Lopez hates not being able to give them answers. “They are much more in a crisis mode than what I’m used to,” she said. “Most of the patients I’ve seen so far are suicidal.” Loped added: “The parents were really desperate.” The future of transgender health care access in Texas will be determined by the courts. In addition to Lopez’s case against Children’s, she is seeking to depose UT Southwestern’s top officials to learn who directed the changes to the Genecis program.

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New York Times - May 20, 2022

Wesley Hunt's advice for his party: Update your look

A Black conservative and a rising star in the Republican Party, Wesley Hunt is almost certain to be elected to Congress this fall in a majority-white district in and around Houston. The district is new, one of two added in Texas after the 2020 census, and was drawn in large part for Mr. Hunt, an example of Republican lawmakers crafting safe seats out of Texas’ diversifying suburbs rather than going after incumbent Democrats. That safety has enabled Mr. Hunt, a regular on Fox News supported by top Republicans like Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, to focus his attention on something bigger than his own election: his conviction that the Republican Party needs more conservatives who look like him if it is going to survive. “Diversity in the Republican Party is not the best,” Mr. Hunt, 40, said in an interview. “If you don’t have people like me, and women, step up and say, actually, it’s OK to be a person of color and to be a Republican, then we’re going to lose the next generation.”

Mr. Hunt has been traveling far beyond his Texas district, raising money and giving support to conservative Black and Hispanic candidates, and talking frankly about the need for Republican officeholders to better reflect the nation’s changing demographics. He is part of a growing Republican effort to diversify its roster of candidates and undercut Democrats among voters they have long counted on. On a recent evening, Mr. Hunt showed up more than two hours west of Houston at a political event for a young Hispanic woman, Cassy Garcia, in the town of Cibolo, a Republican area in the fast-changing farmlands outside San Antonio. Ms. Garcia is running in a longstanding Democratic district held by Representative Henry Cuellar that runs from around San Antonio down to the border with Mexico. “He was very interested in our race,” said Ms. Garcia, a former aide to Senator Ted Cruz. “It means everything that Wesley is invested.” Mr. Hunt introduced himself to the mostly white audience and went over his background — West Point graduate, Apache helicopter pilot, staunch conservative — speaking loudly to the small crowd under a corrugated metal roof as if projecting into a room far larger than the cinder block bar he found himself in.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 20, 2022

Texas A&M to build $250 million ‘Aggieland North’ in Fort Worth

It’s official. ‘Aggieland North’ is coming to downtown Fort Worth. The Texas A&M Board of Regents voted unanimously Thursday to expand the footprint of its downtown Fort Worth campus by adding a research and innovation center and education extension building to its existing law school at 1515 Commerce St. The new campus will expand across Calhoun Street and stretch from East 13th Street to the north and East 16th Street to the south. The construction is expected to cost roughly $255 million, according to Texas A&M’s capital plan. The university hopes to break ground on the research and education buildings in the summer 2023 and finish construction by winter 2024, according to a presentation by deputy chancellor Billy Hamilton. Construction on the rebuilt law school building should start summer 2024 and should be finished roughly a year and a half later.

“I think this will be the single most impactful thing to happen to Fort Worth this entire century,” said billionaire developer John Goff. Goff, who was selected by former Mayor Betsy Price to lead the “Fort Worth Now” economic recovery task force, said having a Tier One research university in the city will have a much bigger impact than trying to net a big corporate relocation. “Companies like XTO come and go. Universities never leave,” Goff said. This is Texas A&M’s biggest expansion in Fort Worth since it bought the downtown law school building from Texas Wesleyan University in 2013. It comes less than a week after the university system announced a partnership with Tarrant County College to establish an engineering academy giving local students the chance to earn a Texas A&M engineering degree closer to home for a fraction of the cost. “We figured out pretty soon after we put the law school in that Fort Worth is our kind of town,” said Chancellor John Sharp, speaking to the Board of Regents. The research and innovation center is expected to become a hub for research on topics like nutrition, emergency response, medical technology and advanced manufacturing, although Sharp said this is the tip of the iceberg for the kind of work this center will do.

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Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2022

Frisco schools leader rebukes GOP lawmaker on ‘sexually inappropriate’ library book claims

Frisco schools Superintendent Mike Waldrip fought back against a Republican state lawmaker’s aggressive – and public – claims that the that the district is not doing enough to keep sexually explicit books out of students’ hands. The district is “unequivocally committed to ensuring our libraries do not contain sexually inappropriate materials,” Waldrip wrote in a message to parents and staff Thursday afternoon. Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, has frequently posted on social media, suggesting the district is minimizing the issue, Waldrip wrote. But school officials took immediate action when books were identified as problematic and worked to revamp local policies to ensure inappropriate materials don’t become available, he stressed. District staff and board members met with Patterson in February to discuss the lawmaker’s concerns and the role of vendors in book selections. Patterson has since urged districts to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t knowingly partner with, purchase from or associate with a vendor that has supplied pornographic materials to schools.

Frisco leaders responded that it was not district practice to sign “non-binding pledges drafted by third parties,” Waldrip wrote, noting that it isn’t feasible for a school district to evaluate the entire sales history of a vendor before making a purchase from them. “Instead of working collaboratively with the district to find real solutions to this problem, Representative Patterson posted on social media,” Waldrip wrote. But Patterson said Thursday evening that the Frisco superintendent is the only district chief in the area he represents who has refused to meet with the lawmaker on the issue. “In [Waldrip’s] limited public comments, he has shown more aggression toward me than he has toward rooting out sexually explicit books from his schools,” Patterson said. “I will not stop pursuing accountability for book vendors nor will I stop fighting for policy changes at the district level.” Patterson has routinely tweeted at the district with complaints about how it handles inappropriate material, even naming specific titles he disagreed with.

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Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2022

Reps. Colin Allred, Sheila Jackson Lee demand Brittney Griner’s freedom from Russia

U.S. Reps. Colin Allred and Sheila Jackson Lee introduced a House resolution Thursday calling for the immediate release of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star and Houston native wrongfully detained in Russia since February. “When any American is held abroad, every day is a lifetime. That is especially true in Russia, and it’s why Congress must stand united in demanding the Russian Federation release Brittney Griner,” Allred, a Dallas Democrat, said Thursday. “I am proud to help lead this resolution so the House will speak in one voice against the unfair treatment of Brittney by Russia.” Allred and Houston Democrat Jackson Lee, who introduced the resolution with Arizona Democrat Greg Stanton, have advocated for Griner’s release before — and for the release of other Texans wrongfully detained abroad, including recently released Fort Worth native and former Marine Trevor Reed. Allred, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in March his office was working with the State Department to find “the best way forward” to secure Griner’s eventual release.

Griner has been detained in Russia since she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February. Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges allegedly containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury player who was a star for Baylor University, was playing in a Russian league during the WNBA offseason, which she has done for the last seven seasons. “We must keep Brittney’s case on the forefront and make clear to the White House that her release should be one of the highest priorities for our government,” said her wife, Cherelle Griner. “I’m grateful to know that these leaders in Congress have Brittney’s back and will continue to do everything in their power to get her home.” The State Department determined earlier this month that Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia, making a commitment to more aggressively work to secure her release even as the legal case against her plays out. Last week, Griner’s lawyer said her pretrial detention in Russia has been extended by one month.

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Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2022

Houston federal judge asked to recuse himself after alleged racist and sexist comments

Two Latino plaintiffs involved in separate civil rights cases have asked a longtime Houston federal judge — with a record of making comments in court that are perceived as racist and sexist — to recuse himself from their cases. U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, a Houston native, has come under fire in the past for making controversial comments on the record. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and has served in the Southern District of Texas in Houston since 1985. Since then, he has drawn praise from some for standing firm on defendant's rights and civil liberties, and criticism from others for outlandish statements he's made in court, to plaintiffs, prosecutors, defense lawyers and federal agents that belittle women and center on people's appearance and improper courtroom attire.

Civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen and two of his clients, Morgan Grice and Maximo Espinal, on Tuesday assembled with civil rights activists outside the downtown Houston federal courthouse at a news conference to demand that Hughes recuse himself from their cases due to statements he made about women and Latinos. "If you read the facts and the evidence, I believe that most people will come to the conclusion that he is a racist and sexist, not only by his statements, but by his rulings," Kallinen said. "Based on the facts, he needs to recuse himself." Hughes was assigned as judge in Grice and Espinal's lawsuits. They are suing different police departments for using excessive force during their arrests in separate cases. Grice, 39, a Harvard graduate and Hispanic woman, filed a suit against Bellaire Police for officers' conduct during a traffic stop; Espinal, a 42-year-old Army veteran who previously worked for the Harris County Sheriff's Office, is suing the City of Houston over a run-in he had with an officer in an unmarked vehicle while he was working a security job. Both have asked that Hughes rescue himself and that the court assign them new judges due to comments he made about Grice's appearance and ethnicity during a hearing in October 2020.

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Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2022

Hidalgo fires back at Ogg on staffers' indictments, calling DA investigation a 'political vendetta'

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg exchanged heated words this week after Hidalgo publicly described Ogg's ongoing investigation of Hidalgo's staffers as a "political vendetta, a political exercise, under the guise of a criminal investigation." The judge’s remarks were made during a Tuesday press conference urging childcare providers to apply for unspent COVID-19 relief funds. The next morning, Hidalgo continued assailing Ogg's investigation in a tweet: "I expect this political exercise to continue through Election Day. She’ll have me indicted. Or name a 'special prosecutor' —an illusion of independence since those are still beholden to the DA. She did that before in a political prosecution that went nowhere. I’m not deterred."

Ogg responded on Thursday to Hidalgo’s comments in a statement: "We will try this case, like every other criminal case, in a court of law before a jury of peers, and we will look to them for a fair outcome. When all the evidence is seen by a trial court, justice will prevail; our work continues." Hidalgo, who is up for reelection this November, argued Tuesday that Ogg's investigation is meant to derail her campaign. "You have to think about the timing," Hidalgo said. "It's no coincidence this is happening in the middle of my reelection campaign. That in and of itself should make very clear that it's politically motivated, that it's meant to destruct, to destroy, to harm my campaign. To harm, to distract me." Notably, Hidalgo and Ogg are both members of the Democratic Party. Ogg repeats the same talking points as her opponents in the Republican party, Hidalgo said. "She comes to commissioners court time and time again, saying basically the talking points that my political opponents from the opposite party are using against me right now. She comes over and over again and says we're defunding the police, against all evidence. Because the evidence all shows that we're doing nothing but increase the budget for the police."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 19, 2022

Parents say diabetic student being neglected at Texas school

When 7-year-old Neyo Green started having trouble sleeping and going to the bathroom multiple times throughout the night, his parents didn’t think much of it. Just days later, they were rushing his limp, weak body from a children’s urgent care to the emergency room as he went into DKA, or diabetic ketoacidosis, one of the most serious complications of diabetes that can quickly lead to death if left untreated. This story is a subscriber exclusive His blood sugar levels were 694 milligrams, more than five times the level of a healthy 7-year-old. “The school nurse called and said that he was sleepy,” said Marlon Green, Neyo’s father. “He didn’t get much sleep. No big deal. But then she called back later that day.”

Nidrah Green, Neyo’s mom, remembers speeding down Interstate 35 after a worried nurse hurried her out of an urgent care, telling her that she was expected at Cook Children’s emergency room. After a chaotic 48 hours, the 7-year-old was stabilized and his shell-shocked parents were trained on how to care for a child with an unpredictable, chronic disease. Neyo’s parents questioned everything in the following days, emerging from the hospital with a binder half an inch thick, and guidance for how to alter every facet of their lives to accommodate the illness. But the real struggle was just beginning for the Green family. Neyo’s mom spent days building up the strength and courage to send her son back to school, where teachers had assured her that they would be able to care for Neyo, who was still fragile just four days after being discharged from the hospital on Dec. 12, 2021. “At first you come out thinking there’s no one that can take care of him. There’s way too much information, you’re exhausted,” she said.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2022

12 Texans in Congress join Sen. Ted Cruz in border ‘invasion’ claims after Buffalo shooting

Texas Republicans are going all in on the “invasion” rhetoric similar to that espoused by gunmen in multiple mass shootings, including the man accused of killing 10 people in a Buffalo grocery store on Saturday. Citing a handful of instances in which alleged cartel members have fired weapons or been seen with them on the border, a dozen Texans in Congress, led by U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls of Richmond, signed a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday saying the president is “failing to uphold this Constitutional duty to secure our border from invasion.” It points to the Guarantee Clause of the Constitution, which says the United States “shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion.” Immigration experts say what is happening on the border is far from an invasion and Republicans are scapegoating aslyum-seeking migrants — mostly from Central American nations — for political gain.

“That is very dangerous, because if you’re a nationalist and you’re a patriot and you’re told by officials your state is being invaded, it’s a rational thing, it’s a moral thing, to fight back and protect your country,” said Ernesto Castañeda, an assistant professor of sociology at American University. “It’s giving rationale to people who may be marginalized, who are looking for meaning in their life.” The letter comes just days after the suspected Buffalo shooter wrote in a screed posted online that the country is “experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history” with “millions of people pouring across our borders.” The writings included the word “invader” 10 times, according to Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. It’s a worldview similar to that of the gunman accused of killing 23 people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019. The shooter allegedly shared a hate-filled document claiming a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Experts say it is also part of a broader theory known as The Great Replacement, which holds that minority ethnic groups are engaged in a plot to take power from whites. Republican politicians and pundits have repeatedly pushed the notion that Democrats want to increase migration because they believe immigrants are more likely to vote for them.

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Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2022

Texas CPS to resume child abuse investigations of medical care for trans kids

After the Texas Supreme Court last week gave the state's child welfare services agency clearance to continue investigations into parents of transgender children who seek gender-affirming care, it appears the agency is moving forward with the probes. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees Child Protective Services, said in a statement Thursday that it “treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law.” The statement, albeit vague, implied that the investigations into families of transgender children would be among those continuing. The department declined to comment further or answer clarifying questions. Most prominent state and national medical organizations support evidence-based care for treatment of gender dysphoria, which is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as psychological distress and anxiety due to a mismatch between a person’s sense of their gender and their assigned sex at birth. Several of them have spoken out in public statements against bans on the treatment and have warned about the harms of denying the care.

The agency’s decision comes to light about a week after the Texas Supreme Court overturned an injunction by a lower court that had temporarily put a stop to the investigations. At least nine investigations were ongoing at the time the injunction was put in place. The state Supreme Court ruling allowing investigations to resume exempted the parents of a transgender teen girl who originally sued over the policy. The child’s mother, who was employed by the state welfare agency, testified that she was put on leave after asking a supervisor about the order’s possible effect on her family. The state’s highest civil court concluded that an opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive to the welfare agency to pursue the investigations were not legally binding and that only the agency has the power to decide when to investigate. Paxton, at the time, called the decision a “win,” saying the court had “green-lighted investigations that lower Dem courts froze,” referring to the Democratic Travis County district judge and majority-Democratic Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

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Texas Standard - May 19, 2022

Many Texas farmers to miss out on record wheat prices as drought intensifies

The good news for Texas farmers is that wheat prices are way up. The bad news is that a lot of farmers won’t even harvest the crop they planted this year. “Most of them will probably be totally abandoned, most meaning probably something like 70, even up to 80 percent,” said Jackie Rudd, professor of agronomy and the wheat breeding program coordinator at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Research Center at Amarillo. Drought is a problem statewide, but particularly in the Panhandle, where most of Texas’ wheat grows. Some varieties grow better in the dry soil than others, but the effects of the current drought are inescapable. “The drought is so bad it affects everything,” Rudd said. “There’s no miracle cure, so to speak.” The drought in the western United States isn’t the only factor driving up prices: In the days after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, wheat prices rose about 35 percent. The two countries account for about 30 percent of global exports, but it’s unclear how much wheat either one will be able to ship out at the moment.

“The bottom line of this is: how long is that war going to go on?” said Vince Peterson, president and CEO of U.S. Wheat Associates, which supports American wheat exports. “How long is this blockage going to take place? And we don’t know that.” To help meet demand, agricultural officials in India said in late March that they plan to export a record amount of wheat. But the pledge was short-lived: Last week, the country announced a ban on wheat exports as a record heat wave hurt its crop. The prices jumped again after that, although Indian authorities have since said that they will allow some exports. The timing of all this isn’t bad for Texas farmers, since they typically lock in their price for next year’s crop during the preceding summer. That means they have a big incentive to grow more acres of wheat in 2023. But that will be dependent on better soil conditions and finding enough seeds following this year’s meager harvest. Darby Campsey, communications director for the Texas Wheat Producers Board & Association, said that if farmers can’t find certified seed – seed whose quality has been independently verified – they could turn to sketchier sources. “But then you do start to see questionable quality,” Campsey said. “You’re not really sure if there is going to be any drought tolerance, if there’s going to be any insect tolerance and especially disease tolerance – that can be a big, big issue.”

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 19, 2022

Connie Prado — longtime mover and shaker amid South San Antonio ISD chaos — to leave post June 30

Connie Prado, the South San Antonio Independent School District board president, announced her resignation at a meeting Wednesday and later said she had been thinking about retiring for at least a year. She has served multiple terms as board president but exercised an outsized role on the board whether she was president or not — in conflicts with other trustees, a parade of superintendents and Texas Education Agency representatives that made infighting the norm at board meetings for more than a decade. Prado said Thursday that she told the board last year that she wouldn’t be completing her latest four-year term. She has been a trustee at South San since 1998.

“When you retire, it is never that easy. It is hard to pick a time,” Prado said. “But I thought with school ending and coming to a closure and this being the 25th commencement ceremony I’m going to be at, I felt this was the perfect time.” Prado’s last day as board president will be June 30. She will stay involved in all matters of the board, including budget decisions, until that point, she said. Prado repeatedly has been blamed for disputes over district leadership and policy that have occasionally veered toward chaos at board meetings. On Wednesday, she said anyone who thinks it’s her fault hasn’t done their research. Nobody really understands what goes on between board members unless they actually serve on the board, Prado said. “I’ll take the hit,” she said. “As a politician you are going to get criticized one way or the other for whatever action you take, good or bad, and you have to take it with a grain of salt. There is nothing you can do.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 19, 2022

Man dies by suicide in shooting at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth

A man is dead after shooting himself Thursday morning at the main entry gate of Lockheed Martin, located in northwest Fort Worth near White Settlement, and police locked down the area while they investigated the man’s briefcase and his car. Police said the briefcase and car have been X-rayed and no explosives were found. White Settlement police said they responded to the aerospace company building, on Lockheed Boulevard, around 5:35 a.m. after a report of shots fired. “We have closed the main gate and (are) rerouting all employees to other gates,” police posted on Twitter around 6:45 a.m. The police department said investigators quickly determined the incident was not an active shooter.

The man was dead from a self-inflicted wound when police arrived, White Settlement Police Chief Christopher Cook said during a news conference. The man, who was in his 60s, was “in distress” and trying to gain entry into the facility before security challenged him, police said. He was carrying a shotgun and shot himself in the head inside his vehicle, Cook said. Police said the man had identification but they’re waiting on confirmation of his identity. They are sure he wasn’t a current Lockheed Martin employee but will investigate if he has any connections to Lockheed, Cook said. The man will be identified by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. Cook said that police expanded their lock down “based upon comments the suspect made prior to the shooting,” and after locating a “suspicious device,” in the suspect’s vehicle. Investigators later determined there were no explosives. The man told security he was looking for a federal office and wanted to talk to the FBI, which guards thought might be a security threat, Cook said.

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Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2022

‘Comeback city’: Dallas tourism industry celebrates convention center expansion, recovery

The South Oak Cliff High School marching band’s bass drums reverberated through Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center on Thursday morning, literally knocking dust from the overhead lights. It was the first time VisitDallas, the city’s nonprofit tourism bureau, has held its annual meeting in person since 2019. Public health regulations and an abundance of caution have kept previous meetings virtual and optimism about the future tempered. But no longer. At the convention center, hundreds of business leaders listened to hopeful speakers preach about resilience. Summer 2022 could mark the beginning of a more prosperous period for hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists. VisitDallas CEO Craig Davis said the industry is “embarking on a rapid comeback from the pandemic.” U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow called Texas “the comeback state” and Dallas “the comeback city.”

Businesses in the tourism and hospitality industry have been the hardest hit of the pandemic era. In Dallas, group bookings at hotels plummeted and convention center clients canceled events en masse, resulting in a more than $1 billion loss, according to VisitDallas. The economic toll for the industry overall was more pronounced than 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis combined, the tourism bureau said. Restoring tourist spending in Dallas is essential to the city’s growth plans in the near future. It recently approved a $2 billion plan to expand the convention center that will be paid for through hotel taxes, and Dallas aspires to lure the FIFA World Cup to town in 2026. Speaking at the meeting, the convention center’s namesake, Kay Bailey Hutchison, praised city officials for passing the expansion plan. “The historic investment in this convention center is an investment in Dallas,” she said. In the last two years, Dallas area hotel, restaurant and event companies have weathered not just unfavorable public health regulations but also a statewide power grid failure, inflation and a labor market that’s been turned on its head for the foreseeable future.

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2022

Dallas urges judge to allow strip club hour restrictions by Memorial Day weekend

Dallas wants to begin enforcing new rules requiring all strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses to close by 2 a.m. starting next week. The City Council unanimously approved the first-ever restrictions on operating hours for sex-based businesses in January, saying they can’t be open between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. any night of the week. But a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of some of the businesses led to the city agreeing not to enforce the ban until a judge rules whether to grant the businesses’ request to block the restrictions from being administered. Dallas Assistant City Attorney Stacy Jordan Rodriguez wrote U.S. Chief District Judge Barbara Lynn on Monday saying the city wants a decision from her soon because officials want to begin enforcing the rules starting next Thursday. Rodriguez says four shootings within the last month between 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. have happened at or are linked to sexually oriented businesses. People were injured in all of those shootings, Rodriguez wrote to Lynn, and one person was killed.

Attorneys for the city and the Association of Club Executives of Dallas, a trade organization that represents five sexually oriented businesses suing Dallas over the change, have been waiting for Lynn to issue a ruling since April 6. “These incidents that have occurred since the conclusion of the preliminary injunction hearing are placing the city in an increasingly difficult position, as it has now been nearly four months since the ordinance was passed by the Dallas City Council,” Rodriguez wrote. “The city is concerned about the potential for violent criminal incidents during the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend.” The lawsuit against the city argues that since the hour restrictions target only sex-based businesses open late night it infringes on constitutionally protected freedom of expression. The suit also argues that the restrictions would heavily impact the businesses’ revenues, cause workers to lose their jobs and have other trickle-down impacts. Attorneys representing the businesses have also questioned the data used by the police department to justify the new rules. There are 27 licensed sexually oriented businesses operating in the city. Eighteen are strip clubs and the rest are a combination of book stores, video stores, theaters and others. About 80% of these businesses are located in northwestern Dallas.

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National Stories

NBC News - May 19, 2022

Trump leaves Pa. GOP fuming over 'cockamamie' primaries. Next up: Georgia.

Former President Donald Trump worked his Pennsylvania primary endorsements to make him look like a winner, but exasperated Republicans in the state say the end result could boomerang in ways that damage both the party and Trump's own chances should he run for president in 2024. “This is the most cockamamie election I’ve ever seen in my life,” Dave Ball, the GOP chairman in Washington County, said in an interview. In the Senate race, Trump endorsed celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, whose past liberal views made him anathema to many conservatives. Now he’s locked in a too-close-to-call race having received less than a third of the vote, according to NBC News. Three days before Election Day, Trump veered hard to the right in the governor's race by backing Doug Mastriano, the state senator who built a devoted grassroots following for his efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s win and promote Trump’s stolen election lie.

Mainstream Republicans fear that Mastriano, who had been on track to win the primary anyway before Trump's nod, is too extreme to win a general election in a state with a half million more registered Democrats than Republicans. A Democratic victory in the Pennsylvania contest for governor would reverberate through the 2024 presidential election cycle. The governor gets to appoint the secretary of state, who presides over elections in a swing state that was a focus of Trump’s bid to reverse his 2020 election loss. “I would think that he [Trump] would be very interested in Doug Mastriano moderating his message and trying to run as someone who can appeal to all Pennsylvanians,” said David Urban, a former Trump campaign adviser who helped him win Pennsylvania in 2016 (Trump lost the state in 2020). “It’s not lost on anybody that the governor of Pennsylvania plays an outsize role in the 2024 election. And Republicans should be concerned about that. They should be concerned about [Democratic nominee] Josh Shapiro as governor because he’s going to be the referee.” Republican unease is growing ahead of the next big contest on the calendar: Georgia. In no other state has Trump’s heavy hand so divided the party. Georgia Republicans are set to defy Trump in Tuesday’s primary by rallying behind one of his top targets, Gov. Brian Kemp, along with the state’s incumbent insurance commissioner and attorney general.

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NBC News - May 19, 2022

Virginia board considers restoring names of schools named for Confederate generals

A Virginia board is considering restoring the names of two schools which were originally named for Confederate generals but changed in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. The Shenandoah County School Board in 2020 voted to change Stonewall Jackson High School to Mountain View High School and Ashby-Lee Elementary School to Honey Run Elementary School. But in the two years since, community members — especially alumni — have expressed opposition to the name changes, school board member Cynthia Walsh told NBC News. More than 4,000 people have signed a petition to change the names back, Vice Chair Dennis Barlow said at a board meeting, where the issue was discussed at length last week. Walsh is one of three members who were on the board when the name changes were approved. The current, all-white board is made up of six members.

Some new board members feel the decision to change the names was rushed and did not consider the opinion of the community. Barlow, who characterized those who were in favor of changing the names as outsiders who are "creepy," "elitist" and from "the dark side," said the school board's decision was "undemocratic and unfair." He added that he regards Jackson as a "gallant commander." Walsh, who does not think the names should be changed back, argued: "Most people who vote for elected officials then count on them to do the right thing on their behalf." "We do have a representative democracy. We don’t have a direct democracy," she added. After Floyd’s death, statues, monuments, schools and buildings named for Confederate leaders became a focal point of the racial justice movement around the country. A number of the statues and monuments have come down. "Times have changed, the makeup of our schools has changed," Walsh said. "And I sincerely believe that revisiting the name change is not what’s best for kids."

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Fox News - May 20, 2022

Fox News Poll: Georgia’s GOP primary race for governor sees Kemp holding wide lead over Perdue

Incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp leads former Sen. David Perdue by a 32-point margin in the Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary race, tripling his advantage from March, according to a new Fox News Poll of Georgia Republican primary voters released Wednesday. Sixty percent of Republican voters prefer Kemp, while 28% go for Perdue (it was 50% vs. 39% in March). Another 8% support either Kandiss Taylor (6%), Catherine Davis (1%) or someone else (1%). Only 3% are undecided. Former Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his support for the current governor Friday and is set to attend a Kemp rally on May 23, ahead of the May 24 primary.

In December, former President Donald Trump endorsed Perdue, but just 37% say the backing makes them more supportive of the former senator – and this group prefers Perdue by 25 points. On the other hand, 24% say the endorsement makes them less supportive of Perdue, and they break for Kemp by 79 points. Overall, 36% say the endorsement had no effect and they go for Kemp by nearly 60 points. "The political science literature tells us that endorsements tend to be slightly less effective when the candidates are already well-known, as is the case in the Georgia Republican primary for governor," says Republican pollster Daron Shaw, who conducts the Fox News Poll with Democrat Chris Anderson. When it comes to what is important to voters at the ballot box, 65% say it’s extremely important their candidate "can win against the Democrat in November" and those voters break for Kemp by 36 points. Abortion is a lower priority for Republican voters with 35% saying supporting a ban on abortion is extremely important to their candidate choice (Kemp leads this group by 19 points). Perdue is pressuring Kemp to ban abortion outright if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, which it seems poised to do in a leaked draft opinion. There is already a law on the books, signed by Kemp in May 2019 and set to take effect if the high court strikes down Roe, that prohibits abortions once cardiac activity has been detected.

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NPR - May 19, 2022

Poll: Two-thirds say don't overturn Roe; the court leak is firing up Democratic voters

About two-thirds of Americans say they do not support overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Seven-in-10 U.S. adults, however, say they are in favor of some degree of restrictions on abortion rights. That includes 52% of Democrats. The issue of abortion rights was once again thrown into the hot spotlight of American politics after the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion from the Supreme Court earlier this month that showed the majority-conservative court ready to overturn Roe.

The draft decision — which could differ from how the court ultimately rules — is having an impact with voters, according to the survey. It has fired up Democrats, who had been less enthusiastic about the midterm elections than Republicans, who are favored to take back control of the House and possibly the Senate. The poll shows that two-thirds of Democrats say the contents of the leak make them more likely to vote in November, as compared to just 40% of Republicans who said so. "It definitely has them [Democrats] focused as no other issue in the recent months has," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. "And to have a gap of that magnitude over the Republicans is something that, at this point, should not go unnoticed." The survey of 1,304 adults, including 1,213 registered voters, has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points when adults are referenced and +/- 4.1 percentage points when referring to voters. That means results could be about 4 points higher or lower. The poll was conducted from May 9 to 13 by live interview callers, who reached respondents via cell phone and landline in English and in Spanish. Democrats also got a boost on which party Americans want to control Congress. By a 47%-to-42% margin, this survey showed voters would cast their ballot in favor of a Democrat in their local congressional district if the election were held today.

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Washington Post - May 20, 2022

Why Biden hasn’t killed Trump’s China tariffs and made imports cheaper

With the stroke of a White House pen, President Biden could lower the cost of thousands of consumer and industrial products and strike a blow in the anti-inflation fight that he calls “his top domestic priority.” All he has to do is lift the tariffs on imported Chinese products that President Donald Trump imposed starting in 2018. But with his advisers split, the potential economic gains limited and the danger of Republican attacks for being “soft on China” looming, Biden is unconvinced. The imperative to do something about inflation is clear. Consumer prices in April were 8.3 percent higher than one year ago, near a 40-year high, and voters routinely cite rising prices as among their top election-year irritations. With inflation threatening the Democrats’ prospects in November’s congressional elections, Biden said this month that he is eyeing changes to the 25 percent tariffs that apply to about two-thirds of U.S. imports from China, or roughly $335 billion annually.

While Trump’s first China tariffs minimized the consumer impact by targeting industrial products, the levies eventually expanded to household items including AirPods, refrigerators, televisions, clothing and toys. Now, U.S. corporations that have opposed the tariffs from the start hope to capitalize on the inflation scare to win their removal. “It’s a no-brainer to reduce tariff burdens on Americans at a time of high inflation,” said Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Hopefully they will do something, but will they go far enough? That’s the billion-dollar question.” Yet even eliminating all of the tariffs on Chinese goods — which no one anticipates — would have only a modest impact on prices before the midterm elections. A study by economists Gary Hufbauer, Megan Hogan and Yilin Wang of the Peterson Institute for International Economics concluded that lower import prices resulting from the end of tariffs would reduce the consumer price index (CPI) inflation measure by 0.3 percentage points. If such tariff cuts had been in effect in April, the 8.3 percent inflation rate would instead have been 8 percent. A separate Peterson study by economist Kadee Russ of the University of California at Davis, who served in the Obama White House, found a similar effect, which she described as “a small, short-lived dent in overall inflation.”

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Newsclips - May 19, 2022

Lead Stories

Axios - May 19, 2022

Court opens way for flood of Texas "censorship" lawsuits

Tech platforms are facing a new reality: Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, Texans could immediately start suing giants like Meta and YouTube over content moderation decisions they don't agree with. Driving the news: The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed an earlier ruling that had stopped Texas from enforcing its social media law, HB 20, last week. Industry groups asked the Supreme Court Friday for an emergency stay. The law's supporters see it as a way to get Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media companies to stop what many on the right have long viewed as "censorship" of conservative viewpoints. Opponents point out that the law is likely to let virtually anyone challenge any content-related decision by the platforms, even though most content moderation involves blocking spam and porn and barring harassment and bullying.

Details: HB 20, which applies to platforms with 50 million or more U.S. monthly users, bars "censorship" based on "viewpoint." It defines "censorship" as acts that "block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression." It empowers individuals to bring legal action against companies that violate the law. How we got here: Texas passed HB 20 last September, but a federal district court judge blocked it from going into effect in December. Last week's appeals court ruling reversed the lower court and will allow the law to take effect unless the Supreme Court steps in. What they're saying: "HB 20 strips private online businesses of their speech rights, forbids them from making constitutionally protected editorial decisions, and forces them to publish and promote objectionable content,” Chris Marchese, counsel for NetChoice, one of the groups appealing the ruling, said in a statement. “The First Amendment prohibits Texas from forcing online platforms to host and promote foreign propaganda, pornography, pro-Nazi speech, and spam.”

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KXAN - May 19, 2022

New poll shows Texans split on school vouchers, but majority concerned it would pull funding from public

This week, a new poll from Change Research asked more than 1,000 Texas voters to weigh in on school voucher programs. The poll shows voters are split on having a school voucher program in Texas, 46% said they supported the idea, 43% opposed it, and 11% said they were not sure. However, when it comes to funding, 82% responded they are concerned the voucher program would take away from public school funding, which 57% then stated concern this could lead to higher property taxes. Earlier this month, Governor Greg Abbott announced his pledge to support school choice, adding it to his list of ‘parental rights’ he’s been campaigning on.

“Empowering parents means giving them the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student,” Abbott said from a press event in San Antonio. Abbott has promised the voucher program, while still ‘fully funding’ public schools in the state. Some point out that doesn’t add up. “It comes down to the simple equation that you cannot do a school voucher program without taking money from public education,” political expert Scott Braddock with Quorum Report said Wednesday. Braddock pointed to previous attempts in Texas to get voucher programs across the finish line, with opposition coming from both Democrats and rural Republicans. “In rural communities, it might sound cliché, but it’s Friday Night Lights, it’s it’s the best thing in the community is the the local ISD. It’s real clear from the Governor’s comments that he understands that the opposition is going to come from those rural Republicans,” Braddock explained, pointing to comments Abbott has made on the radio over the last week. “He was on the radio last week in Lubbock, in Wichita Falls, in Amarillo, making the case that hey, for those of you in rural Texas, your schools won’t change at all. And I had some readers at Quorum Report say that sounded a little bit like what President Obama said when he was passing the ACA, the Affordable Care Act that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” Braddock continued.

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New York Times - May 19, 2022

Group seeks disbarment of Ted Cruz over efforts to overturn 2020 election

A group formed in the hopes of disbarring lawyers who worked on cases in which former President Donald J. Trump tried to subvert the results of the 2020 election filed a complaint with the Texas bar association on Wednesday against Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, for his efforts to keep Mr. Trump in power. The complaint against Mr. Cruz, filed by a group called the 65 Project, focuses on baseless assertions by Mr. Cruz about widespread voting fraud in the weeks between Election Day in 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021, as well as his participation in lawsuits protesting the results in Pennsylvania. “Mr. Cruz played a leading role in the effort to overturn the 2020 elections. And while the same can be said about several other elected officials, Mr. Cruz’s involvement was manifestly different,” the complaint said, asserting that Mr. Cruz moved beyond simply working within the confines of Congress.

“He chose to take on the role of lawyer and agreed to represent Mr. Trump and Pennsylvania Republicans in litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court,” the complaint said, citing his role in two cases, neither of which succeeded. “In doing so, Mr. Cruz moved beyond his position as a United States senator and sought to use more than his Twitter account and media appearances to support Mr. Trump’s anti-democratic mission.” Elsewhere, the complaint argued, Mr. Cruz continued to make statements that he knew to be false, about the election and about the state courts in Pennsylvania being partisan. “Mr. Cruz knew that the allegations he was echoing had already been reviewed and rejected by courts,” the complaint says. “And he knew that claims of voter fraud or the election being stolen were false.” A spokesman for Mr. Cruz dismissed the 65 Project as “a far-left dark money smear machine run by a who’s who of shameless Democrat hacks. They’re not a credible organization and their complaint won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

With Texas renewable power generation growing, energy secretary says storage is next challenge

Expanding America’s ability to store energy is the key to making renewable power available any time — even when there’s no wind or sun — U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm told the Clean Power 2022 conference Wednesday in downtown San Antonio. “Storage is a huge priority because that’s what is going to make renewable power dispatchable,” she said. “If we can get the cost right, and if we can get the (storage) duration up, there’s this potential to turn these variable renewables into 24/7 baseload.” Increasing storage capacity could, for example, allow operators to store solar energy produced midday in batteries and send that power to the grid when demand is highest, typically in the evening.

To make that a reality, the Department of Energy’s $1 billion “earthshot” initiative is aiming to cut the cost of long-duration storage of greater than 10 hours by 90 percent this decade. Duration refers to the amount of time it takes for a fully-charged storage system to discharge that power to the grid. Most lithium storage batteries today have a duration of up to four hours. Reducing the cost of long-duration storage technology such as hydrogen would make it “the most cost effective choice for electricity consumers,” Granholm said. The Biden administration is directing more $3 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to manufacture more energy storage batteries in the U.S., she said. With solar and wind generation growing rapidly in Texas, energy storage is being explore in San Antonio and elsewhere. The amount of power generated from solar panels jumped 82 percent in April from the same month last year, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Wind generation grew 32 percent last month from a year earlier. In a San Antonio pilot project, CPS Energy is preparing to sign a contract for a 50 megawatt battery storage system and another to purchase 900 megawatts of solar power. CPS’ interim CEO has called the project a “sizable pilot.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Dallas judges push back against commissioners’ claims they don’t work, citing bad data

Dallas County judges are pushing back against allegations from county commissioners that they haven’t been working since the pandemic began. A video featuring 11 of Dallas County’s misdemeanor and felony court judges, all Black women, and called Speaking Truth to Power, is making rounds on social media. “Our Dallas County judges have worked tirelessly to bring much needed reform to the criminal justice system,” said the narrator, Pastor Freddie Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. “Yet and still, they’ve recently come under attack. It’s time to set the record straight.” Misdemeanor court Judge Shequitta Kelly said on Facebook that judges will soon release details about a “Truth To Power Educational Series.” Commissioners have spent months blaming judges for a perceived backlog of pending cases. Courts nationwide face a build up of cases because many were shut down as the coronavirus spread through the country. In Texas, the state’s supreme court shut down all jury trials in March 2020. Its emergency order has allowed for courts to delay in-person proceedings until June 1.

Commissioner JJ Koch even went so far as to say in April that judges “absolutely broke our justice system because they’re not working.” Koch and Price could not immediately be reached about the judges’ post. Judges previously remained mostly silent while Koch and Price barked accusations. State rules for judge conduct limit what they may say off the bench. But the county’s 17 felony court judges broke their silence Tuesday, releasing a four-page statement. Commissioners are relying on an inaccurate data set, the judges said. They identified more than 1,100 cases on the county’s “Criminal Case Backlog Data” that are not still pending. Some cases Koch and Price list never even entered their courtrooms, according to the judge’s initial review. Judges identified cases listed more than once. One such case was listed 11 times. The data also includes cases that were never indicted. Some cases that remain on the list involve defendants who are dead, they said. The issue is nuanced. The Supreme Court of Texas extended a COVID-19 order that allows judges to conduct work remotely until June 1. The courthouse has limited the number of jury trials that can be on each floor at a time.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Texas Instruments breaks ground in Sherman, commits to $30 billion and four chip plants

An hour north of Dallas, where the D-FW area’s urban sprawl gives way to fields, Texas Instruments is building a massive facility with major implications for the U.S. economy. At a groundbreaking Wednesday for two of the four potential factories it has planned for the site, TI president and CEO Rich Templeton reiterated the company’s commitment to building all four plants. TI says the first factory will begin producing tens of thousands of 300mm wafer semiconductor chips daily in 2025. The second will remain a shell until demand justifies bringing it online. “We’ll continue to build those out based on demand,” Templeton said. “Building that second plant [now] will reduce the lead time construction-wise so that when the market gets hotter, we can ramp up that second facility.” The cost of the entire campus is estimated at $30 billion — the single largest capital investment the state of Texas will have ever seen from a company. Two dozen football fields could fit on the land that will eventually support the high tech manufacturing plants. The development is projected to ultimately create 3,000 jobs and could be a boon for the Texoma-area economy.

“You are going to play a role in making Texas the leading chip manufacturer in the United States of America,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at the ceremony on Wednesday. Sen. John Cornyn sent a recorded statement, and local Sherman officials made remarks as well. “TI has solidified Sherman’s status as the high tech hub of North Texas,” Sherman Mayor David Plyler said. In recent months, the federal government has said that limited supplies of semiconductor chips have bottlenecked manufacturing of highly sought after goods, chief among them new vehicles. The U.S. Department of Commerce dubbed the issue a significant factor contributing to the record inflation currently frustrating Americans. A Biden administration-backed $52 billion plan to subsidize chip manufacturing in the U.S. passed the Senate in late March. In public statements, President Biden has positioned strengthening domestic computer chip production as essential to America’s independence from China. Demand for semiconductor chips is increasing globally as products evolve their computing capabilities, requiring even more chips in each individual unit than in previous history. A new vehicle today requires 150 computer chip components or more, according to Kelly Blue Book. Chipmakers like Dallas-based TI have been cautious about bringing too much supply online while facing exceptional pressure to ramp up production, and to do so in the U.S. where industry can gain greater control of supply chains that have historically sourced parts from foreign countries. TI considered putting the four-factory campus in Singapore before ultimately cutting a huge tax incentive deal with Sherman and choosing to locate the plants in North Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Texas schools can’t withhold student health info from parents, AG Paxton says

Texas public schools can’t withhold students’ health information from parents, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an opinion released Tuesday. The opinion comes after a lawmaker expressed concerns that some school officials suggested to staff that student confidentiality should be respected, such as if a student identifies as transgender or nonbinary. Paxton wrote that if schools officials fail to work with parents and provide information about their child, it could subject the district to civil liability and financial ramifications. “Parents possess a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their child,” he wrote in the opinion, which is nonbinding. His determination comes as Republicans across the country are leaning into “parental rights” as a rallying cry, fueled by angst over the way issues of race, gender and sexuality are discussed in classrooms. The opinion stemmed from a request by Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park. He cited concerns raised by a concerned parent about districts potentially shielding student information.

As an example, Cain attached to what appeared to be a presentation slide addressing students’ right to confidentiality. It describes how students can be referred to as something other than their legal name, but that the teacher should always use the student’s legal name when communicating with a parent – unless the student requests otherwise. It also says that students may be called by their preferred pronouns. Some LGBT students use different pronouns or names at school, but may not feel comfortable disclosing that information to their families. His letter also links to a document from the Texas Association of School Boards that addresses legal issues related to transgender students, including guidance on how to proceed if a student requests that a district employee not tell his or her parent about their gender identity. It notes that “it is important to keep in mind that transgender students are at particular risk of harm, including self harm, when a parent disagrees with the student’s gender identity.” Cain wrote that he believes “the ideology that the government, not parents, knows what’s best for children, has infiltrated our schools in Texas.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

Gilbert Garcia: Under new Texas law, racist manifestos are protected on social media

The day before an unhinged, hate-fueled young man opened fire on African American customers at an East Buffalo supermarket, representatives of the social-media industry filed an emergency brief with the U.S. Supreme Court. Those two facts might not seem related, but they are. The alleged assailant in the Buffalo mass shooting — which killed 10 and injured three others — had issued a rambling 180-page screed in which he demonized Jews and Blacks and embraced the so-called “great replacement theory,” a right-wing fantasy that Democrats are deliberately allowing undocumented immigrants into the country so the party can create a new pool of voters who will eventually outnumber and overpower white Americans. By his own account, the alleged killer’s radicalization had been stoked by the mental refuse of anonymous posters on the online bulletin board 4chan. The Friday court filing from NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) was a bid to prevent this state’s new social-media law, the Freedom from Online Censorship Act (aka HB 20) from taking effect, while it’s being hashed out in the court system.

HB 20, pushed by Republican lawmakers and signed into law last September by Gov. Greg Abbott, had been temporarily blocked last December by a preliminary injunction from U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman. Last Wednesday, however, a split Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel lifted the injunction and reinstated the Texas law. This development connects to the massacre in Buffalo because one of the central arguments made by social-media companies over the past eight months is that HB 20 will deny them the chance to exert editorial control over inflammatory content. HB 20 prevents large social-media platforms from restricting the expression of a user based on that user’s “viewpoint” as well as the “viewpoint represented in the user’s expression.” The law does carve out a few exceptions, allowing platforms to prevent the sexual exploitation of children and the harassment of sexual-abuse survivors, and stop users from making direct threats of violence against individuals because of their race, religion, nationality or disabilities. That still leaves a lot of open terrain for hate speech to flourish. It all comes down to the key word in the Texas law: viewpoint. Believing that the Holocaust was a hoax is a viewpoint. It’s the ignorant delusion of an anti-Semite, but it’s still a viewpoint.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

Zeph Capo and Chandra Kring Villanueva: Invest in Texas educators, or lose another decade

(Zeph Capo is president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, a statewide school-employee union that represents some 65,000 members. Chandra Kring Villanueva oversees education, workforce development and job quality policy for Every Texan, an independent policy research and advocacy organization.) While we’re all paying higher prices at the pump and grocery store, many of us are disproportionately impacted. Many are hurting, but our teachers and public school employees are at a breaking point, creating a crisis for Texas teacher recruitment and retention. When the Texas American Federation of Teachers surveyed its members in November, an astounding 66 percent of teachers and school staff who responded said they were considering leaving their profession. Low pay and overwork were the two most significant pressures pushing them to leave. Using data starting in 2010, Texas AFT and Every Texan evaluated how school salaries kept up with the cost of living. The resulting report, “ “The Lost Decade: Texas schools are underfunded & facing devastating staffing shortages,” is grim. On average and adjusted for inflation, educators are making 4 percent less than in 2010. Averages don’t tell the whole story. For example, San Antonio ISD teachers are making 9 percent less and Houston ISD teachers 13 percent less.

The gap between what Texas teachers make and the nationwide average is growing. Texas teachers made $6,554 less in 2019-20 and $7,449 less for the 2020-21 school year. The latest stats from 2019 show that Texas college graduates in similar professions make about 22 percent more than teachers. Many school staff positions — custodians and food service workers, for example — are still making poverty-level wages, an average of only $28,727 a year. We’ve known, even before the chaos of the pandemic, that educators were suffering from overwork and low wages. But the pandemic exacerbated the problem and brought us to the teacher retention crisis we now face. Asked by a reporter whether he would commit to raising salaries for teachers, Gov. Greg Abbott responded that he and the Legislature already provided a large pay raise with House Bill 3 in 2019. Yes, a few teachers did get healthy raises, but others didn’t even get enough to cover rising premiums for their district-sponsored health insurance. The governor’s task force on teacher retention is merely going to rehash what “The Lost Decade” already confirms about the need to respect educators and pay them for their hard work. Meanwhile, Abbott wants to create private school vouchers that could rob our schools of funding.

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Dallas Voice - May 18, 2022

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas issues warning against Sandra Crenshaw in House District 100 runoff

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas is issuing a warning against former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw, who is in a runoff for the Democratic nomination in Texas House District 100 against gay candidate Venton Jones, based on things Crenshaw said in an address to the Dallas County Commissioners Court today (Tuesday, May 17). Officials with Stonewall Democrats criticized Crenshaw for what they felt were anti-LGBTQ remarks and for attacks on Jones, who is running as an openly gay, openly-HIV-positive candidate. Crenshaw finished first out of four candidates in the March 4 primary, with 34.2 percent of the vote. Jones came in second with 25.6 percent. The 8.6 percentage points between them equals 728 actual votes.

Stonewall Democrats have endorsed Jones in the race. The winner of this week’s runoff will face Libertarian candidate Joe Roberts in the November General Election. The winner in November will replace state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, who is in a runoff with Jane Hamilton for the Democratic nomination replace U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in Congress. Dallas Voice profiled Jones as an openly gay candidate after he made the District 100 runoff. Sandra Crenshaw requested and was offered the opportunity to write an opinion column for Dallas Voice, but she later declined after, she said, on the advice of her campaign manager. After representing District 7 on the Dallas City Council for one term from 1993 to 1995, Crenshaw lost to Al Lipscomb in 1995. She ran unsuccessfully for the District 7 council seat again in 1999, 2001 and 2007. She ran for the District 4 seat in 2015, losing to Carolyn King Arnold, before running in District 7 again in 2019. Adam Bazaldua won that race. Crenshaw ran unsuccessfully for the Texas House in District 110 in 2014 and 2016, and for the District 100 seat in 2018, in a special election in 2019 and again in 2020. This is Jones’ first run for elected office.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

These Texas teachers are addressing the state’s staffing shortages

Two dozen teachers — including one from a Dallas elementary school — will help Texas education officials combat educator shortages across the state. The Texas Education Agency on Wednesday announced the names of those being added to the state’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force, which now includes 52 members.

Among those are Eric Hale, a former Teacher of the Year. He joins DISD’s Josue Tamarez Torres, who serves as the chair of the task force. State officials announced plans in March to add more classroom educators to the group after attracting major criticism because only two classroom teachers were part of the original 28-person group. Educator advocates said they didn’t feel like their voices were going to be heard. “Teachers are the single most important school-based factor affecting student outcomes,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement. “Having these two-dozen additional perspectives from a diverse and talented pool of Texas classroom teachers is going to immensely benefit the important considerations before the Task Force.” TEA leaders received more than 1,500 nominations for the task force and ultimately chose several from North Texas. The revamped group will meet for the first time June 2.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Texas AG Paxton wants to intervene in battle over care for trans youth at Dallas hospital

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wants the state to intervene in a court battle over medical care for transgender youth at a Dallas hospital. Paxton filed a petition in a Dallas County court Tuesday night asking that the state be allowed to get involved in the case between Children’s Medical Center Dallas and the doctor who once led its Genecis medical program. A judge recently granted Dr. Ximena Lopez’s request to temporarily resume her regular practice after Children’s and UT Southwestern, which jointly ran the program, last year stopped providing certain medical treatments for adolescent patients newly seeking care for gender dysphoria. The attorney general is arguing that transgender adolescents should be blocked from accessing treatments like puberty blockers and hormone therapy, which he says may constitute abuse but which are broadly supported by the medical community.

“In order to protect its interest… in the welfare of children subject to this life-altering decision in the hands of a doctor, the state surely has a right to intervene in this matter,” Paxton and his top deputies wrote in their brief. The brief didn’t offer a detailed explanation of how the state wants to affect the case. Neither Paxton nor Abbott responded to requests for comment. Lopez’s legal team filed a response Wednesday evening, saying that the attorney general’s intervention is politically motivated. The team also filed an emergency motion to shorten the time before a temporary injunction hearing currently scheduled for May 26. The temporary injunction, if granted, could extend the pause on Children’s decision to stop providing certain care for new transgender adolescent patients. Paxton’s office is also in court over the state’s decision to investigate such treatments as child abuse. Last week, the Texas Supreme Court said neither Paxton nor Gov. Greg Abbott have the authority to require such investigations, and put one such probe into the family of a transgender teen on hold while Abbott’s directive to investigate such cases as abuse is litigated. Medical care for transgender youth became a major target for Texas Republicans in recent years, especially as they headed into their first competitive GOP primary season this year.

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Houston Chronicle - May 15, 2022

Jerome Solomon: Talk of WNBA expansion should always start with Houston

The WNBA’s inaugural slogan was “We Got Next.” How nice would it be if that were the city of Houston’s tagline in the next year or two, as we prep for the return for the WNBA? Keep hope alive. Galveston-born Mike Evans, a Texas A&M legend and the greatest wide receiver in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, enthusiastically replied to a social media message about the potential expansion of the WNBA. “Bring the Houston Comets back,” Evans said. “I love the WNBA.” He’s not alone. Certainly not in Houston, even though the Comets were disbanded in 2008. Twenty-five years ago, I joined a raucous crowd at Autry Court at Rice University to see the debut of big-time women’s basketball in H-Town. The “unbiased” journalist in me couldn’t help but become a fan. With three of the best players in the world on the same team, a dynamic point guard who would become as beloved as any sports figure in the city’s history, and a coach whose folksy charm rivaled that of Bum Phillips, it was obvious from the very beginning that the Comets were special.

Sheryl Swoopes was out on maternity leave the night of that first scrimmage, but Cynthia Cooper, No. 1 draft pick Tina Thompson and Kim Perrot put on quite the show. From the get-go, the Comets were more interesting, more fun and flat out better than any team in town. Astros, Rockets, Cougars … all of them. Four straight subsequent WNBA championships — the first four in league history — proved that. But love for the Comets came before the titles were won. Beauty wasn’t just for those who came after winning, but was in the eyes of those first beholding. And once the Comets started playing and winning, the game experience was the most enjoyable we have seen with the possible exception of the “Luv Ya Blue” Oilers and “Heart of a Champion” Rockets. I know, I know, Cooper, Swoopes, Thompson and company will not be walking through the door again, but it would be so sweet were the Comets, or the WNBA by any other name, returned. Talk of expansion of the WNBA should always start with Houston. “We wanted to make sure that as we think about expansion and adding teams to our 12-team league that we do it in cities that would be highly supportive of a WNBA team,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 18, 2022

Granger tells Navy she opposes plan to scrap USS Fort Worth

In an opening salvo on the U.S. Navy’s plans to decommission 24 ships, including the USS Fort Worth, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger made her opposition clear to Navy leaders Wednesday. “Let me be clear about my view on this proposal,” the Republican from Fort Worth said of the Navy’s budget for fiscal year 2023 during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee. “I do not support it.” Granger is the ranking member of the full committee. “Some of these ships, especially the littoral combat ships, are among the newest in the fleet,” she told the Navy secretary, the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps. Granger’s presence alone sent a message of how important the issue is to her, since as the ranking member she has the prerogative of participating in hearings of the panel’s 12 subcommittees.

The Navy is proposing to scrap nine of the Freedom-class littoral combat ships, which includes the USS Fort Worth, because they are costly to maintain and are not, officials say, capable of performing critical anti-submarine warfare. But Granger, who is the USS Fort Worth’s sponsor, blocked the Navy from decommissioning it and two other LCSs in March in the government’s annual spending bill. The Navy needs a waiver from Congress to decommission ships that are not at the end of their service life. The USS Fort Worth was built just 10 years ago by a team led by Lockheed Martin at a cost of $400 million. Its service life was expected to be 25 years. The ship is the oldest targeted for decommissioning — the USS St. Louis was commissioned in 2020. And the ships are still being produced with the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul, a Freedom-class LCS, scheduled to be commissioned Saturday in Duluth. The Navy, however, continues to target the older Freedom-class vessels. In the budget announced at the end of March for the next fiscal year, the Navy increased the number of LCSs it wants to decommission to nine from four. There is also a variant of the LCS known as the Independence class, but those ships are not being targeted. “If the Navy expects Congress to support its vision for its fleet, it must do a better job managing the inventory it has. We will not stand idly by as valuable taxpayer funds are wasted,” Granger said.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

Ted Cruz doubles down on ‘invasion’ rhetoric espoused by accused Buffalo shooter

US. Sen. Ted Cruz is doubling down on “invasion” rhetoric this week that is similar to that espoused by the man accused of killing 10 people in a Buffalo grocery store on Saturday. The suspected shooter had written that the country is “experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history.” On Tuesday — three days after the shooting that authorities have said was motivated by racist ideology — Cruz tweeted: “Over 2 million illegal aliens streamed across the border last year. This is an invasion we’re seeing because Joe Biden refuses to enforce the law!” Cruz’s statement refers to the 2 million times Customs and Border Protection reported stopping migrants trying to cross the border in 2021. In the majority of cases, border patrol immediately expelled them from the U.S. under a public health order meant to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The tweet included a clip from a May 16 radio interview where Cruz said, “it is an invasion we’re seeing, the state of Texas and across the country.” Cruz tweeted the same clip again on Wednesday. The invasion comments come after Cruz earlier this week condemned the “racism” that is believed to have prompted the shooting, tweeting on Monday: “The racism & antisemitism that purportedly motivated this killer have no place in America.” “Sen. Cruz has resoundingly condemned the Buffalo shooter and his racist, antisemitic motives,” a spokesman for Cruz said. “Last we checked, the Houston Chronicle is based in Texas and should care about the fact that the number of illegal migrants who tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border just last month was more than the number of Russian soldiers that Putin had mobilized on the Ukrainian border in February to invade the entire country of Ukraine.” Cruz is far from the first Texas Republican to refer to migration at the border as an invasion. U.S. Reps. Chip Roy of Austin, Troy Nehls of Houston and Ronny Jackson of Amarillo are among the Texas Republicans who have repeatedly referred to an “invasion” on the border, as recently as last week.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

Rep. Henry Cuellar’s allies smear Democratic contender Jessica Cisneros with ‘homewrecker’ billboard

With early voting underway in a fiercely contested South Texas primary runoff, supporters of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar have launched a campaign to smear the longtime Laredo Democrat’s female challenger, Jessica Cisneros, as a “homewrecker.” An advertising firm with ties to Cuellar is named as the buyer of a billboard ad in Laredo with an image of the 28-year-old immigration attorney with bold red and yellow text that says: “Jessica Cisneros is a home wrecker.” Text messages have also been sent to voters in the district saying Cisneros has “no integrity knowingly sleeping with a married man” and urging those who received it to share it. It’s unclear who sent the text messages and the number that sent them appears to be disconnected. Both the billboard and the texts appear to be in reference to a New York Post article from earlier this year that alleged Cisneros had an affair with her former high school teacher, who was 40 at the time, when she was an 18-year-old college student. Cisneros called it “bullying.”

“My opponent and his supporters are so desperate to hold on to power that they have resorted to bullying me in hopes that they’ll be able to win,” she said. “I’m here to say that I will not be intimidated.” Cuellar said in a statement that he does “not condone the billboard.” “I’m running an issues based campaign focused on delivering for the people of South Texas,” he said. It’s the latest turn in one of the most closely watched races in the nation as Cuellar, a 17-year incumbent, fights for his political life against Cisneros, a Laredo native who came just 1,005 votes shy of unseating Cuellar in the March primary. Both candidates have raised and spent millions in the Democratic brawl as their campaigns and outside groups have blanketed South Texas airwaves with ads in recent weeks. The billboard, on Del Mar Blvd in northeast Laredo, includes a line that it was “not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.” It says it was paid for by Big River Media. Federal elections records show Big River Media spent $5,263 on May 13 in support of Cuellar. It was the company’s only listed expenditure in federal records on Wednesday. Cuellar’s campaign has hired Big River Media in the past. His campaign paid the firm $1,500 for advertising in 2020, during Cuellar’s last primary bout with Cisneros, records show. It was the only campaign disbursement to Big River Media listed in federal records as of Wednesday.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

Houston mom of undocumented kids calls Abbott school idea racist: 'Not the before times'

Monica Reyes moved to Houston nearly 15 years ago from Guatemala, like millions of others who have migrated to the United States, with hopes for a better future. She has faced some hardships since 2008, she said, but she has always found work, has always had food and her children have been enrolled in Houston ISD schools. Two weeks ago, her confidence in those constants was upended when she heard Gov. Greg Abbott float the idea of targeting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that granted all students, including those not authorized to be in the United States — like her eldest who aspires to become an engineer — the right to an education. “We are not in the before times,” said Reyes, 40, calling Abbott’s idea racist. “We all have the right to to an education.” Individuals who would be affected and immigration advocates shared Reyes’ feelings after the governor’s suggestion, which he made in the wake of a leaked Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Further, some warned the mere suggestion could, and has, spread fear among immigrants. Others worry it could encourage acts of violence such as the mass shooting last weekend in Buffalo by a man authorities said referenced in a manifesto the “Great Replacement,” a white nationalist conspiracy theory that elites are conspiring to replace white people with nonwhite people. The Plyler v. Doe ruling overturned a 1975 Texas law enabling the state to withhold money from school systems for the education of students not authorized to be in the country. Following the law’s enactment, the Tyler Independent School District had begun charging such students to attend its schools. Through lawyers from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, four families whose children were deprived of an education filed a federal lawsuit in the fall of 1977, arguing the Texas law denied the kids their right to equal protection guaranteed by the 14th amendment. The Supreme Court agreed in an opinion issued 40 years ago this June, striking down the Texas law. The ruling, unlike the Roe v. Wade decision that granted the right to abortion, has since been incorporated into federal statutory law in the 1990s, said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. That makes a challenge more difficult. Still, though Saenz and others say it seems like political stunt from Abbott, it could present real risks.

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KXAN - May 19, 2022

Texas senators discuss more work-from-home flexibility for state employees

Holly Montoya is one of many who commutes from out of town to work in Austin daily. For her, the cost of rent in Austin and surrounding areas isn’t affordable, so she drives about an hour-and-a-half every day from Temple. Montoya’s job shifted to remote during the pandemic and she just returned to the office in April. Between surging gas prices and traffic from more people returning to the office, she misses that flexibility. “Even if it was like a hybrid thing — like if it was like three days in the office two days at home — that would save me a ton of money,” she said. Those are some of the reasons why members of the Texas Senate Business & Commerce Committee discussed both sides of teleworking for state employees in a meeting on Wednesday. While Montoya isn’t a state employee, researchers who testified say even having more state employees work remotely could help reduce traffic.

“With the growth that’s expected in Texas with a population of nearing 50 million in the coming decades, some of these problems will be amplified,” said David Schrank — a senior research scientist at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Schrank said a 2015 analysis found about 19% of employees in central Austin were state employees. He noted on holidays when state employees were off work, there was a “noticeable difference” in traffic on those days. The conclusion — state employees were a factor in Austin’s traffic congestion. Several heads of Texas agencies told lawmakers about what types of employees were able to work from home during the pandemic and whether they were fully back in the office or a mix of hybrid options. The Texas Workforce Commission was unable to provide data to KXAN about how many state employees are still working entirely or partially remotely. However, TWC executive director Ed Serna provided figures to lawmakers about its agency. Serna said about 68% of TWC employees are working remotely or teleworking at least two days a week, and it’s had more benefits than reducing commute times for staff. “We believed that it would be a great recruiting and retention tool for TWC, especially remote work,” he said. “Austin is becoming much more difficult for us to compete with the private sector with regard to salary and benefits.”

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CBS Austin - May 19, 2022

AISD Superintendent, Stephanie Elizalde, deemed lone finalist for position with Dallas ISD

The current Austin ISD superintendent, Stephanie Elizalde, has been chosen as the lone finalist for Dallas ISD’s superintendent position after a unanimous vote from the Board of Trustees. Dallas ISD says there is a “21-day state-mandated waiting period” that must pass before Elizalde can officially start her role as Dallas ISD’s new Superintendent.

Before becoming AISD’s superintendent, Elizalde was the chief of school leadership for Dallas ISD. The current Dallas ISD superintendent, Michael Hinojosa, reported the closure of his 13-year tenure holding the position of superintendent back in January. DISD says he will still be working as the emeritus superintendent and help Elizalde with the transition into the role. AISD published the following statement from the Board of Trustees President, Geronimo Rodriguez, on their Twitter account regarding the news about Elizalde: "Thank you to Dr. Elizalde for her steadfast leadership through what has been an unprecedented and challenging two years. Her commitment to our AISD mission allowed our community to safely move through the pandemic and stay laser-focused on academic achievement." "She has been unwavering in her support of our students, faculty and staff as well as a mindful steward of our AISD resources. The Austin ISD Board of Trustees will meet soon to discuss a transition plan for our administrative leadership."

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KUT - May 19, 2022

Austin's airport now wants people to arrive three or more hours before departure

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is busier than ever. With more than 250 flights a day, the airport is drawing an unprecedented number of passengers. But airline counters, TSA screening lines and concession businesses don't have enough employees. The result has been notoriously long lines. With a busy Memorial Day weekend around the corner, the people who run the city-owned airport are now recommending people arrive two and a half hours before boarding, not departure, for domestic flights, and three hours early for international flights. That's a half hour earlier than the previous recommendation issued in late March.

Southwest, the largest operator of flights out of Austin, says planes board 30 to 45 minutes before departing, depending on the type of aircraft. Delta says domestic flights begin boarding at least 35 minutes prior to departure. Starting June 2, that will increase to 40 minutes. International departures usually have a longer boarding period. That variation in how early people board before departing is what prompted the new guidance, ABIA says. "We can't necessarily predict when they're going to be boarding, how long that will take," airport spokesperson Bailey Grimmit said. "I need to make sure that there's plenty of time for me to get there before the boarding begins." With TSA lines back out the door this week, and the new guidance to arrive three hours or more before departure, Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) is urging the head of the TSA to send more agents to ABIA. Doggett said in a letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske that the TSA is "thoroughly unprepared" to process the large volumes of travelers that are expected over Memorial Day weekend.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

2 retired Bexar County district clerk deputies in runoff for the top job

One way or another, Bexar County will have a new district clerk on Jan. 1. Two retired deputy district clerks who led a pack of seven Democrats to defeat incumbent District Clerk Mary Angie Garcia in the March primary will face off in Tuesday’s runoff. Gloria A. Martinez led the primary balloting with 26 percent of the vote. Christine “Chris” Castillo placed second with 19 percent. The winner will run against Republican Misty Spears, a litigation paralegal, in the November general election. The office keeps track of all the records of the state district courts, criminal and civil. Garcia was denied a shot at a second term, trailing closely in third place among the Democrats.

Martinez, 55, retired in 2019 after three decades in the department, except during 2009 and 2010, when she was deployed to Kuwait as a U.S. Navy reservist. Martinez has no campaign website or social media presence and did not respond to calls, texts and emails this week. A mailer from her campaign highlighted her military service and listed upgrades to technology, listening to employees’ input, and improving customer service as among her priorities. The mailer said Martinez would “retain staff to maintain consistency in the operation of the office” and “simplify access to the District Clerk’s Office and public records.” Castillo, 55, who also retired from the department in 2019, was a supervisor for 20 years, and a division chief for eight years. Castillo’s website says her family has held public service jobs with Bexar County for a collective total of 136 years, 33 of them hers.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

As development booms around Boerne, the city’s water committee has eyes on Edwards Aquifer

In response to the potential for growing development in Boerne and the surrounding area to stress the existing water supply, officials in the booming city may consider seeking a change to state law as a means to secure more water. The Kendall County Water Committee is assessing several options for bolstering the city’s water supply in the next few decades. While that supply is adequate now, the committee’s search for other sources to keep up with the rate of development includes the consideration of buying Edwards Aquifer water wholesale from the San Antonio Water System.

It is illegal, however, for Kendall County to buy water that comes from the Edwards Aquifer, as Texas statutes prohibit exporting water from the aquifer to outside the eight Edwards Aquifer Authority counties — Bexar, Medina, Uvalde, Comal, Atascosa, Guadalupe, Hays and Caldwell. Boerne would have to get legislation passed to remove that restriction, an idea that has failed before. “For right now, we’re just trying to get information on all our options,” said Patrick Cohoon, chair of the Kendall County Water Committee. “All we know is that SAWS has water and that they sometimes sell their water. So should we ask SAWS about that? Right. We’re asking them what this process looks like.” The last time the Texas Legislature considered a bill that would change the law as to who can buy Edwards Aquifer water was in 2019. That legislation — House Bill 1806 — would have allowed SAWS to sell water to counties adjacent to Bexar County, such as Kendall County. The bill was passed by both chambers of the Legislature, but Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed it. The Legislature’s next session is in 2023, and no bill to alter the current rules has been filed. The conversations are still early, Cohoon said.

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WFAA - May 19, 2022

Fort Worth prison guard admits to sexually assaulting inmates

Federal officials announced Wednesday that a former federal correctional officer pleaded guilty to sexually abusing multiple inmates in Fort Worth. Luis Curiel, 47, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to two counts of sexual abuse of a ward, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). “Curiel abused his authority as a correctional officer and sexually abused several inmates under his supervision. Sexual abuse of inmates is never tolerated, and the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who engage in this kind of conduct,” said Cloey C. Pierce, special agent in charge of the Department of Justice office of the inspector general Dallas field office.

Curiel was a former Federal Bureau of Prisons correctional officer at the Carswell Federal Medical Center and admitted to sexually abusing at least three inmates, according to his plea papers. It said that, in October of 2021, Curiel met one inmate by a staff elevator and engaged in sexual acts with her in a nearby stairwell, and in that same month, engaged in sexual acts with two more inmates outside the same staff elevator. At the time, all three victims were in official detention and under his custodial, supervisory, or disciplinary authority, federal officials said. Curiel faces up to 30 years in prison, according to the DOJ.

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National Stories

Reuters - May 19, 2022

'I mean Ukraine': Former U.S. president George Bush calls Iraq invasion 'unjustified'

Former U.S. President George W. Bush mistakenly described the invasion of Iraq as "brutal" and "unjustified" before correcting himself to say he meant to refer to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Bush made the comments in a speech during an event in Dallas on Wednesday, while he was criticizing Russia's political system. "The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia, and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq,” Bush said, before correcting himself and shaking his head. "I mean, of Ukraine."

He jokingly blamed the mistake on his age as the audience burst into laughter. In 2003, when Bush was president, the United States led an invasion of Iraq over weapons of mass destruction that were never found. The prolonged conflict killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced many more. Bush's remarks quickly went viral on social media, gathering over three million views on Twitter alone after the clip was tweeted by a Dallas News reporter. The former U.S. President also compared Ukranian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy to Britain's wartime leader Winston Churchill, while condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin for launching the invasion of Ukraine in February.

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Forbes - May 19, 2022

Elon Musk bites the hand that fed him by bashing California and Democrats

In the weeks since Tesla CEO Elon Musk began his gambit to acquire Twitter, he’s grown comfortable voicing partisan political views—usually on the social media platform he covets—including insults aimed at California, President Joe Biden and “the libs.” Musk now plans to vote Republican, he says—joining a party that derided him in the past as a “crony capitalist” who benefited from Democratic policies but now sees him as an ally.

“California used to be the land of opportunity, and it’s a beautiful state,” Musk said during a video appearance at this week’s All In Summit in Miami. He then listed factors he says would make it impossible now to build a plant in the Golden State such as Tesla’s massive new Austin-based Giga Texas factory. “California's gone from a land of opportunity to the land of taxes, over-regulation and litigation,” the Tesla CEO added. “This is not a good situation, and really, there's got to be like a serious cleaning out of the pipes in California.” For years, as he built Tesla from a moonshot startup into the world’s dominant electric-vehicle company, Musk courted Democrats in California, where most of Tesla’s customers live, and nationally. He and his company benefited from the party’s policy and environmental priorities—especially electric-vehicle subsidies—which helped Tesla’s customer base grow. In recent months, both before and since he began his pursuit of Twitter, Musk appeared to veer to the right—for example, crossing swords with Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren over their proposals to raise taxes on billionaires and lobbing insults at Biden for failing to include him at White House EV events.

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Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2022

As threats on abortion clinics spike, House Dems seek funds to beef up security

With the Supreme Court poised to overturn abortion rights, and tempers flaring, roughly half the Democrats in the US House have signed on to a measure to beef up security for abortion clinics, doctors and patients. “Just as there is an urge to protect the Supreme Court there needs to be the same kind of commitment to protecting health care providers, patients and staff,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat who is leading the charge for security funding for abortion clinics. Since a May 2 leak showing the court’s conservative majority intends to scrap Roe vs. Wade, the number of threats against “reproductive healthcare personnel and facilities” has spiked, according to a May 13 intelligence bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security. The House bill that Escobar is spearheading would authorize about $30 million worth of grants for security upgrades at clinics. On May 9, a unanimous Senate approved legislation introduced by Sens. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, to beef up protection for Supreme Court justices.

Activists who support abortion rights have protested outside the homes of Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Samuel Alito. They’ve also held vigils outside the home of Chief Justice John Roberts, though the leaked draft opinion showed he had not joined the five conservatives in supporting the end to constitutional recognition of abortion rights after nearly a half-century. The Cornyn-Coons bill would provide round-the-clock security for justices and their families, make it a crime to impede the court’s ability to perform its duties, and expand the authority of the court’s police force. Cornyn has accused House Democrats of stalling by adding protections for court workers, including law clerks – one of whom may have leaked the draft opinion. The senator called it unnecessary to expand protection beyond the justices, noting on Fox News that “virtually all the law clerks are anonymous.” The Senate would have to sign off. And Congress would separately have to appropriate those funds. “Since 1977 there have been eight murders 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, and 186 arson targeted at abortion clinics and providers in the United States,” said Rep. Lauren Underwood, an Illinois Democrat and nurse who is working with Escobar on the bill. “In 2020 death threats against abortion providers more than doubled. Providers, their staff and their families face intimidation, cyber stalking and doxing.”

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Wall Street Journal - May 19, 2022

Stock futures drop after selloff, global stocks slide

Stock futures slid, pointing to deeper losses for U.S. markets on growing worries of an economic slowdown. Futures for the S&P 500 fell 0.9%, suggesting the index will open close to bear market territory—market shorthand for a 20% fall from a recent high. It tumbled 4% Wednesday, its biggest one-day retreat since June 2020. After that drop, the S&P 500 had retreated more than 18% from its January all-time high. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures fell 0.9% on Thursday and contracts for the technology-focused Nasdaq-100 skidded 0.9%. Nvidia and Tesla, two big winners of the pandemic rally, fell 1.7% apiece before the bell. Cisco Systems tumbled 12% after the communication-equipment firm missed analyst expectations for its quarterly results.

“The critical bit here is how earnings hold up,” said Desmond Lawrence, senior investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors. “We’re in a very uncertain time so we expect more volatility.” Investors bought government bonds, perceived as a haven asset in times of economic uncertainty. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes edged down to 2.827% from 2.884% Wednesday. The move put yields, which had shot up for much of the year as the Federal Reserve began to raise interest rates, on course to fall for seven in nine trading days. Bond yields and prices move in opposite directions. International stocks retreated, tracking the U.S. selloff. The Stoxx Europe 600 shed 1.8%, led lower by shares of financial-services and food-and-beverage companies. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index tumbled 2.5% as shares of Tencent dropped 6.5% after the videogame giant reported its worst quarterly profit drop since listing in the city.

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NBC News - May 19, 2022

Analysis of Hunter Biden's hard drive shows he, his firm took in about $11 million from 2013 to 2018, spent it fast

From 2013 through 2018 Hunter Biden and his company brought in about $11 million via his roles as an attorney and a board member with a Ukrainian firm accused of bribery and his work with a Chinese businessman now accused of fraud, according to an NBC News analysis of a copy of Biden’s hard drive and iCloud account and documents released by Republicans on two Senate committees. The documents and the analysis, which don’t show what he did to earn millions from his Chinese partners, raise questions about national security, business ethics and potential legal exposure. In December 2020, Biden acknowledged in a statement that he was the subject of a federal investigation into his taxes. NBC News was first to report that an ex-business partner had warned Biden he should amend his tax returns to disclose $400,000 in income from the Ukrainian firm, Burisma. GOP congressional sources also say that if Republicans take back the House this fall, they’ll demand more documents and probe whether any of Biden’s income went to his father, President Joe Biden.

“No government ethics rules apply to him,” said Walter Shaub, a former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics who is now an ethics expert with the Project on Government Oversight. Shaub added, however, that “it’s imperative that no one at DOJ and no one at the White House interfere with the criminal investigation in Delaware.” Shaub had previously raised questions about Hunter Biden’s new line of work, selling his own paintings, which created the potential to purchase a painting to buy perceived influence, and also because the White House became involved in the transactions, arranging that none of the buyers’ names be known to Biden, the White House or the public. Frank Figliuzzi, the FBI’s former assistant director for counterintelligence, said there is a national security risk when foreign powers like China see an opportunity to get close to someone like Biden. “It’s all about access and influence, and if you can compromise someone with both access and influence, that’s even better,” said Figliuzzi, now an NBC News contributor. “Better still if that target has already compromised himself.”

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Washington Post - May 17, 2022

Senior Trump official at State met with election denial activists Jan. 6

On Jan. 6, 2021, around the time that thousands of Donald Trump’s supporters swarmed the U.S. Capitol, a top Trump appointee at the U.S. State Department met with two activists who had been key to spreading the false narrative that the presidential election had been stolen. The meeting came as Trump’s allies were pressing theories that election machines had been hacked by foreign powers and were angling for Trump to employ the vast powers of the national security establishment to seize voting machines or even rerun the election. Robert A. Destro, a law professor at Catholic University of America then serving as an assistant secretary of state, confirmed to The Washington Post he met with the two men — Colorado podcaster Joe Oltmann and Michigan lawyer Matthew DePerno — in the midst of the tumultuous day.

The two men have previously claimed to have huddled on Jan. 6 with State Department leaders, who Oltmann has said were sympathetic to the claims that a “coup” was underway to steal the presidency from Trump. They have not identified with whom they met. Destro’s acknowledgment is the first independent confirmation that they successfully gained the high-level audience. It is unclear whether the meeting led to any action. Oltmann and DePerno played important behind-the-scenes roles in crafting the baseless allegations that the election was stolen from Trump, a review of emails and public statements from Trump allies shows. The State Department meeting provides new evidence of the success that activists spreading false claims about the election had in gaining access to top administration officials. Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows was in close contact with activists pushing false fraud narratives, as were high-level officials at the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Little is known about the origins of the session at the State Department. The department is responsible for international diplomacy, and former officials said meetings that revolve around domestic elections would be highly unusual.

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Newsclips - May 18, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Heads of ERCOT and PUC say confidence in Texas electricity grid is high

Just four days after ERCOT called on Texans to reduce electricity consumption amid tight power grid conditions, the heads of the power grid’s operator and the Public Utility Commission on Tuesday expressed “absolute confidence” in the stability of Texas’ power system. In wake of Friday’s public call for reducing consumption, interim Electric Reliability Council of Texas CEO Brad Jones pushed back somewhat Tuesday on the perceived severity of the alert. “This wasn’t a conservation alert,” Jones said. “It wasn’t a conservation appeal. It was just a request to Texans to help us out over this weekend. So it wasn’t that we’re in a dangerous situation at all. It was to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to keep the grid reliable.” Peter Lake, the chairman of the Public Utility Commission also expressed confidence, saying, “The lights will stay on this summer.”

On Monday, ERCOT published a seasonal report predicting record demand this summer and increased reserves over last year. But the report also showed that in two extreme scenarios, the state would not have enough energy to provide power to all Texans. The worst-case scenario predicted ERCOT would need to cut power to about 2 million households. The report used 2011?s blistering summer as a baseline for its worst-case scenario along with extreme amounts of thermal power plant outages and nearly nil output from wind and solar energy. Austin-based energy consultant Doug Lewin said using 2011 as a baseline “gives me some pause.” “There’s every reason to think we could get a much hotter summer than 2011,” he said. “As bad as that was — I was here that summer, it was awful — but there’s no reason to think we couldn’t have a worse one than that.” Lewin also questioned why the use of large-scale battery storage to store excess generated electricity, a practice that’s booming in Texas, was not included in the report. He also said the reports need to be more easily understandable to a public that has remained queasy about the power grid’s stability since it nearly collapsed during 2021?s deadly winter freeze. The seasonal reports typically in the past were pro forma affairs trotted out with little fanfare. But since the freeze, they have garnered more scrutiny. And the timing of their release comes as Friday’s conservation call gave a fresh reminder of how shaky the grid can still be.

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2022

Last-minute primary donations flow for Republican proxy battles and school choice

In the March 1 Texas primaries, House Speaker Dade Phelan deployed more than $1 million to help over a dozen GOP lawmakers fend off their intraparty foes. Each challenger was backed by a right-wing group with a singular mission: defeating establishment Republicans and installing hard-line conservatives in their place. Undeterred by defeat, the political action committee known as Defend Texas Liberty is again spending lavishly in the May 24 runoffs, hoping to unseat three incumbent Republican lawmakers who failed to win outright in March. The group is also backing several candidates running for open statehouse seats, each pitted against a runoff opponent supported by Phelan. The speaker, a Republican from Beaumont, has responded by pouring more than $650,000 into the runoff contests, funding a mix of advertising and polling for his preferred candidates, according to campaign finance reports made public Tuesday.

With the House all but certain to remain under Republican control in November, the runoffs will help determine the clout of GOP lawmakers and activists who believe the Legislature did not go far enough last year, when it passed a slew of conservative legislation including a six-week abortion ban and sweeping election changes. Phelan, meanwhile, is aiming to keep an ironclad grip on his role as the House’s presiding officer. He was elected to the post last year with just two opposing votes from the 150-member chamber, yet has faced criticism from a small but vocal number of conservative Republicans who want him to strip Democrats of their committee chairmanships and pursue more far-reaching election laws. Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, said voters who turn out for Republican primaries, especially runoffs, tend to favor more conservative candidates, creating a built-in advantage for the challengers backed by Defend Texas Liberty. By late January, the Texas Federation for Children — a political action committee that advocates for so-called private school choice — had just $12,000 in the bank, according to campaign finance records. The “school choice” movement has stalled in recent years at the Capitol, with all but 29 House lawmakers voting last spring to bar state funds from being used on a voucher program to send kids to private schools. But school choice advocacy groups have gained renewed momentum since Abbott rolled out a “Parental Bill of Rights” earlier this year, then touted his support for a private school voucher program last week. The push comes as conservatives already are focused intently on classroom-related politics, mostly centered around restricting how teachers can talk about race and gender. From late March to late April, the latest period covered by public campaign finance records, Texas Federation for Children PAC hauled in more than $270,000, mostly from conservative philanthropist Stacy Hock and Houston developer and megadonor Richard Weekley. It was the group’s most robust fundraising period this cycle, setting up a push for candidates who support private school vouchers in the homestretch of the runoffs.

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Reuters - May 18, 2022

Two Trump-backed candidates win U.S. election primaries, but two fall short

Republican candidates endorsed by Donald Trump won their party's nominations for governor in Pennsylvania and for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina on Tuesday in the biggest test yet of the former president's influence in his party ahead of November's midterm elections. But Madison Cawthorn, a Trump-backed Republican congressman in North Carolina, lost his bid for a second term after a dizzying string of self-inflicted scandals read more , while Trump's pick for Idaho governor, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, failed in her bid to oust the incumbent Republican, Brad Little. The biggest election night of the year so far delivered mixed results for Trump and his far-right movement, although votes were still being counted in the high-profile Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania in which Trump-backed TV personality Dr Mehmet Oz was locked in a tight race with former hedge fund executive David McCormick.

Although Trump lost the White House to President Joe Biden, a Democrat, in 2020, his lasting influence over his party has been a central theme of this election as Republicans battle to oust Democrats from control of the U.S. Congress. Report ad Pennsylvania state Senator Doug Mastriano, who has amplified Trump's false claims of 2020 voter fraud and marched on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, will face Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a governor's race that could have major implications for abortion rights and election integrity. Some Republican Party insiders feared that Mastriano's primary victory would prove Pyrrhic if he turned off moderate voters in the Nov. 8 general election. Report ad Trump has endorsed more than 150 candidates as he tries to solidify his status as his party's kingmaker, though his picks have not always prevailed. In Pennsylvania's marquee U.S. Senate race, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman - a goateed, tattooed liberal whose fondness for hoodies and shorts has given him everyman appeal - won the Democratic nomination despite having been hospitalized since Friday after suffering a stroke. Fetterman, a progressive, defeated moderate U.S. Representative Conor Lamb just hours after having had a pacemaker implanted to address the irregular heart rhythms that caused the stroke. He has said doctors expect a full recovery. In a statement, Biden praised Fetterman while warning that whoever prevails in the Republican contest "will be too dangerous, too craven, and too extreme" for the state.

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New York Times - May 18, 2022

U.S. accuses Steve Wynn of lobbying Trump on behalf of China

The Justice Department sued the former casino mogul Stephen Wynn on Tuesday, saying he had made repeated requests on behalf of the Chinese government to Donald J. Trump when he was president and seeking to force Mr. Wynn to register as a foreign agent. In 2017, Mr. Wynn pushed Mr. Trump to deport a Chinese businessman who had sought asylum in the United States, according to the lawsuit. At the time, Mr. Wynn was the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, a role he had been handpicked for by Mr. Trump. The suit accuses Mr. Wynn of broaching the topic several times, including at a dinner with Mr. Trump and other administration officials in late June 2017, when he passed along passport photos of the individual to Mr. Trump’s secretary; during unscheduled meetings with Mr. Trump in August of that year; and by phone while aboard a yacht off the coast of Italy. Mr. Trump told Mr. Wynn he would look into the matter, according to the suit.

The Chinese businessman is not named in the suit, but he matches the description of Guo Wengui, a billionaire real estate magnate and an outspoken critic of Chinese government self-dealing who formed an alliance with Stephen K. Bannon, a former White House strategist for Mr. Trump. Mr. Guo fled China in 2014 in anticipation of corruption charges that he said were retaliatory. The effort to have him returned to China was ultimately unsuccessful, according to the lawsuit. The suit also paints Mr. Wynn as furthering his own interests in Macau, a region of China known for its casinos that was critical for Mr. Wynn’s business. Mr. Wynn resigned as chairman and chief executive of his company, Wynn Resorts, in 2018 after being accused of sexual misconduct. He also stepped down as finance chairman of the R.N.C. The Justice Department said that it had asked Mr. Wynn to register himself as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 2018, 2021 and April of this year, but that he had refused. “Obviously, I disagreed with the Justice Department, which is why I have not registered,” Mr. Wynn said in a text message to The New York Times on Tuesday. He added that he would leave the matter to his lawyer and would not be making further comments. The Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, requires people who lobby or provide public relations services for foreign governments to disclose those activities to the Justice Department. The law had gone mostly unenforced for decades, but the department prioritized it during Mr. Trump’s administration.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

‘I am haunted by the look on his face’ — Leticia Van de Putte recalls moment SUV hit her

Former state senator Leticia Van de Putte is haunted by the look of terror she saw on a driver’s face just before his large sports utility vehicle struck her in a Florida crosswalk last month. She remembers flying through the air. She felt as if she was moving in slow motion, almost frame by frame. She recalls being curled in the fetal position, trying to protect herself, before landing on her head. She remembers people, including the driver, running up to help and pray over her. Along with that trauma, she recalls beautiful moments as well. She has vivid memories of being surrounded by white light and experiencing an inner feeling of complete peace, calm and serenity.

Despite lying in the street with numerous broken bones, she felt as though she was in a garden, smelling strong odors of mint, lavender and lemon — “just the most sweet, but gorgeous, soothing smell,” Van de Putte said. At that moment, she felt no pain. “I truly believe that I was protected and I had angels,” Van de Putte, 67, said in her first interview since her April 3 accident. “I felt like, at one point, this great feeling of comfort and love. I thought, ‘OK, this is it. This is it ... And I’m OK with it.’” Van de Putte, a well-known political figure in San Antonio, described her harrowing experience in a recent interview at Remington Transitional Care of San Antonio, a post-acute rehabilitation center. She was released Sunday and is being cared for at the home of her oldest child, Dr. Nichole Van de Putte, a physician. The former senator has made great progress since the accident almost seven weeks ago.

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Beaumont Enterprise - May 16, 2022

Speaker Phelan gives interim progress report

For the first time since 2018, state lawmakers across the state have the formal opportunity to take part in a a "robust discussion" with other members and members of the public that could come up in the 2023 session. While committees deal with a multitude of issues during this time -- from money going into the state's crime victims compensation fund, the border and the Sabine-to-Galveston project, among many others -- Speaker Dade Phelan in March tasked them with taking an even closer look at criminal justice and health care. The Enterprise recently sat down with Phelan, who also represents Southeast Texas, for an interim progress update from the Legislature:

Can you give us an update on how preliminary between-session work is going on your priorities, criminal justice and healthcare? "It's going very well. It's a good start to the interim. A lot of voters and constituents might not realize it's a year-round process. The Criminal Justice Committee has already met and had a really important hearing on the Melissa Lucio situation. The hearing really set in motion the stay of her execution. New evidence came to light ... I don't know if she's innocent or guilty, but I know she deserves a fair trial. We have to give people a second chance -- whether that's new information in a trial or someone who committed a non-violent offence many years ago and now they want to get a welding degree in Southeast Texas -- and get a career instead of a job," Phelan said. "The rest of the country needs to look at what Texas did in 2021 and allt he positive changes we made in the law, many of them bipartisan. If Republicans are going to say you can't have the Affordable Care Act in Texas, we have to think of another option. It's become a kitchen-table issue. It's gotten more expensive. I think it's our responsibility to have options. We had a package ... of bills and the Healthy Families, Healthy Texas package. We opened up other health plans. We capped the price of insulin in Texas. We have a prescription drug plan where Texas will be the buyer of record ... we will get the rebates and pass them along to the consumers. The bulk savings will be passed on to the consumer. That program is being written by the state agency. We expanded Medicaid for mothers. Previous to 2021, you lost your Medicaid after two months. The House wanted to go to 12 months. The Senate wanted to do six. That's better than six months. So, I'll take the deal."

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2022

AG Ken Paxton refuses to disclose his property addresses to the Texas Ethics Commission

The state police made him do it. That’s the excuse Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton gives on his Texas ethics disclosures in place of revealing, as required by law, the addresses of properties he owns in Austin and College Station. “Redacted for security purposes on request of TX DPS,” the second-term Republican has written on every disclosure form since he began work as attorney general. There are two problems with that statement: Nothing in the law allows him to refuse to provide the addresses, and none of the parties involved — the Department of Public Safety, Texas Ethics Commission or even Paxton’s own office — could produce any records proving such a request was ever made. “The department doesn’t have any record of making that request,” DPS spokesman Travis Considine said. An attorney general’s office spokesman and Paxton’s campaign spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

The ethics commission is barred from releasing Paxton’s home address in McKinney to the public. He provides that address to the agency annually. It’s unclear, however, why Paxton wouldn’t disclose the addresses of his other properties. The agency, which enforces campaign finance and political ethics laws, keeps the information on file to ensure transparency for voters and guard against conflicts of interest. Paxton did include the properties’ counties, zip codes and acreage on the paperwork. One of the unknown addresses is likely that of an Austin home that Paxton’s former aides claim was remodeled by Nate Paul, one of the various perks they said Paxton received in exchange for using his office to benefit Paul, a wealthy investor and campaign donor. The home, in the Tarrytown neighborhood of Austin, was purchased by Paxton in 2018, county records show. Its appraised value in 2022 was nearly $1.7 million.

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2022

School voucher opponents say Texans don't like Gov. Greg Abbott's plan either

Prepping for a war over private school vouchers in Texas, public school advocates are out with a new poll that shows the majority of likely voters oppose voucher programs that would hurt funding for public schools, and the opposition is deep in rural Texas. The poll released Tuesday showed that 53 percent of likely Texas voters are against taxpayer-funded private school vouchers when hearing vouchers mean less money for their local public schools. And 71 percent of voters in rural areas said vouchers wouldn’t do anything to help them. The poll was conducted between May 3 and May 6, before Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was prepared to make a new aggressive push for a school voucher program in Texas. “These poll results show that Texas parents support their public schools, have confidence in their teachers, and are demanding investment in all of our students’ education,” said Julie Cowan, co-chair of Texas Parent PAC, which opposes private school voucher programs. “They do not support a blank check for private school voucher giveaways and charter school CEOs.”

The results come just over a week after Abbott declared in San Antonio that he was ready to make another run at passing a private school voucher plan that he insists won’t take money from public schools — a claim critics have questioned. “Empowering parents means giving them the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student,” Abbott said at a rally on the Southside of San Antonio last week. It's the most vocal Abbott has been in supporting sending public funding to private schools. But even he seemed to telegraph how hard of a fight he’s heading into in rural Texas. The next day he went on conservative radio programs popular in rural West Texas and the Panhandle to stress that he won’t take money away from public schools in those regions, where private and charter school options are rare. Pressed for details on how public schools would be left whole if some students left during an interview on The Chad Hasty Show on KFYO in Lubbock, Abbott said the Texas Legislature needs to “hammer it out.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2022

Tucker Carlson slams Rep. Dan Crenshaw, calling him ‘eye patch McCain’

Fox News host Tucker Carlson took aim at Houston Congressman Dan Crenshaw on Monday night for his support of sending aid to Ukraine, calling him “eye patch McCain.” Crenshaw, 38, is a retired Navy SEAL who nearly died in Afghanistan after a roadside bomb detonated and left him without his right eye. Carlson was comparing him to the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, who was considered a hawkish member of the Republican Party. Carlson’s beef with Crenshaw was rooted in a $40 billion aid package Congress is considering to help Ukraine against Russia. Carlson has opposed the United States’ support of Ukraine and has said he is rooting for Russia, which invaded the neighboring country Feb. 24. Carlson aired a chopped-up clip of Crenshaw on a different Fox News program earlier in which the second-term congressman called it “depressing” to listen to some Republicans and conservatives opposing aid to Ukraine, referring to them as “almost pro-Russia.”

Crenshaw also pushed back at critics who have said the money should be used in the U.S. for baby formula during the supply shortage instead of going to Ukraine. In the clip, Crenshaw said those two things are completely different and that the problem with the baby formula situation isn’t about money, but a supply shortage tied to a massive recall. “It’s not a money issue, it’s a manufacturing issue,” Crenshaw told host Trey Gowdy. He said money isn’t going to fix that as much as pushing the Food and Drug Administration to allow European baby formula into the U.S. to help the market. Carlson cut away from the clip, mocking Crenshaw and saying he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Later, Carlson brought it all up again during an interview with former Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. “It takes a lot of gall for eye patch McCain to attack moms worried about baby formula as pro-Russia,” Carlson said, though Crenshaw had said nothing derogatory about moms. Crenshaw on Tuesday morning was out with a social media response of his own.

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2022

Houston kids are getting sick at an unusual rate this spring. Here's why, according to doctors.

Houston doctors are noticing an unusual uptick of common respiratory illnesses among kids, such as the flu and rhinovirus, the predominant cause of a cold. Overall, the illnesses are not severe enough to require hospitalization but may be keeping kids home from school with a fever, sore throat, cough, and variety of other symptoms. The trend is not surprising to Dr. Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UTHealth and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. Extended social isolation and masking during the pandemic prevented many kids from being exposed to ordinary seasonal viruses, so their immune defenses need time to rebuild, he said. Children are especially vulnerable right now as mitigation measures become a thing of the past.

“Our immune systems are just at that lower level of readiness, and we’re having to wake them up,” he said. In addition to COVID, Chang has noted an uptick in children testing positive for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a relatively common illness that infects the lungs and breathing passages. It usually occurs in the winter and can be especially severe for infants. Bryttany Chambers, a family nurse practitioner at a CVS Minute Clinic in Pearland, said the clinic has been booked with families bringing in their children with fatigue, fever and body aches. She said parents should be aware but not overly worried. “Prior to the pandemic, part of the human experience was to be sick,” he said. “That’s normal and a normal part of growing up.” Chambers also noted an uptick in unvaccinated children with COVID. Children under 5 still are not eligible for the vaccine, through the FDA on Tuesday authorized booster shots for children in the 5-11 age group. Only 35 percent of children in that age group have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Texas AG Ken Paxton’s legal issues don’t concern GOP primary voters

Greg Bruner finds it hard to get excited about politicians, who he sees as being easily corrupted once they get to Washington. But the Collin County retiree is confident in one thing: his vote for Attorney General Ken Paxton in this month’s GOP runoff election. The fact that Paxton is facing felony fraud charges and an FBI investigation into accusations of bribery gives Bruner little pause. He sees it as a “political thing.” “They look for anything they can to get someone else elected,” Bruner explained. Republican rivals hoped Paxton’s mounting legal troubles would be his downfall this election cycle, and they may have contributed to pushing him into his first runoff as an incumbent. Yet as early voting begins this week for the May 24 contest, the attack line isn’t resonating with conservative voters, an apparent boon for Paxton as he fights for a third term as the state’s top lawyer. Many primary voters haven’t heard much about his legal problems. Others don’t care. Some, like Bruner, write it off as politically motivated.

Paxton’s camp is encouraging that line of thought. “Political witch hunts are real,” a campaign representative told dozens of Republican women at a brunch event in Arlington last month. “When you have a strong attorney general fighting for the state, everybody wants to take him out.” Political watchers say it’s easy for GOP voters to look past Paxton’s legal troubles when he has an endorsement from former President Donald Trump and a history of suing over issues that animate the most conservative voters, such as immigration. Also helping Paxton is an opponent whose Bush family name is enough to repel at least a sizable number of GOP primary voters, according to recent public polling, as well as an electorate primed to see any criticism as “fake news.” “In the past, you had an electoral system that sought robust conversation about all the candidates,” said Stephanie Martin, a professor of political communication at Southern Methodist University. “But now you have a forcefield around candidates for particular kinds of charges that are in fact very serious.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Calvin Watkins: Sorry, mayor, Dallas isn’t adding another major pro sports team to its roster

The mayor of Dallas is bored. He has to be. We believe Dallas mayor Eric Johnson is a nice man and has the city’s best interest at heart. For some reason, Johnson is obsessed with adding a professional sports team to the city of Dallas. On Tuesday, the mayor announced a new five-member Ad Hoc Committee on Professional Sports Recruitment and Retention. Johnson is going to run it. In a memo to elected officials, he noted several sports teams bear the city’s name but are based elsewhere in North Texas. This all started when the mayor answered a CBS Sports question on Twitter about which city deserves a NFL team? Johnson said Dallas.

The NFL is not bringing another franchise to Dallas. Jerry Jones is one of more powerful owners in the sport, maybe all of sports, and it’s doubtful he’s going to share this marketplace with another NFL team. And besides, do you really think the quality of the NFL would get better with 34 NFL teams compared to 32? Of course, Johnson’s quest to get teams playing in Dallas is about more than just location. A quick history lesson on the pro sports teams in town tells you the Cowboys were once based in Dallas but moved to Irving and now ply their trade in Arlington. It would take a documentary to go over why then-Dallas mayor Laura Miller couldn’t work a deal with Jones to move the Cowboys back to Dallas more than 10 years ago. The Rangers were always in Arlington after relocating from Washington, D.C., in the 1970s. Dallas tried to lure the Rangers in 1989 and were faced with fierce opposition from Arlington lawmakers and eventually dropped the chase. In 2014, then Dallas-mayor Mike Rawlings opened discussions with Rangers officials for a possible move with the stadium lease expiring in 2023. The city of Arlington presented a financial package voters believed in that sealed Arlington’s fate with the Rangers. Rawlings described the talks with Rangers officials as not “specific or advanced.” Let’s be honest, the Rangers weren’t seriously thinking about Dallas.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 18, 2022

Carroll ISD officials warned about non-disparagement agreement

Carroll school officials received a letter warning them that the non-disparagement clauses in employee contracts may not hold up in court and could violate the First Amendment. The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, sent the letter Friday to Superintendent Lane Ledbetter and to school board members after news stories surfaced about the non-disparagement agreements. The Carroll school district did not respond to an email from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram seeking comment.

The letter stated, “The courts would likely find such a restriction on speech by a public school to be in violation of the First Amendment. Because the non-disparagement clause only prohibits criticism of the District, its officials, and employees—but does not prohibit employees from praising or commending the District and its officials—it would likely be considered impermissible viewpoint discrimination which is prohibited by the First Amendment. Therefore, we urge you to reconsider this ill-advised course of action in order to better respect the rights of your employees and ensure that your policies align with the spirit and the letter of the Constitution.” The letter went on to say that the First Amendment prohibits government officials from retaliating against individuals for engaging in “protected speech.” In October, teachers attending a training session were told to provide alternative sources if they have books in their classrooms about the Holocaust. The session focused on a new state law requiring teachers to present different perspectives when teaching about widely debated and controversial issues.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Most Texans support legalizing pot, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says no

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is unmoved by a new poll revealing that a majority of Texans support legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use. Abbott said Tuesday that his position has not changed beyond what he’s proposed in the past — reducing the criminal penalty for marijuana possession to a Class C misdemeanor, but not legalizing the drug. But according to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released Sunday, an overwhelming percentage of registered Texas voters — 91% of Democrats, 85% of independents and 74% of Republicans, combining for 83% total — back the idea of legalizing marijuana for medical use in the state, something the Legislature has continuously expanded, including as recently as last year. When it comes to recreational use, which is legal in 18 other states, including neighboring New Mexico, Texans are a bit more hesitant.

The News-UT Tyler poll, which surveyed 1,232 registered voters between May 2-10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, found that 60% of respondents support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s rival in this November’s race for governor, supports the complete legalization of marijuana. Abbott won’t go that far, but he said Tuesday he understands changes in marijuana laws are needed. “We don’t need to be stockpiling in our jails and prisons will people who are arrested for minor possession allegations,” Abbott said after a roundtable discussion with business leaders in North Richland Hills. “We would be keeping those jails for dangerous criminals who deserve to be behind bars.” The governor might be on solid ground with his GOP base. According to the poll, just 42% of Republicans support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, compared with a majority of Democrats and independents, 76% and 64%, respectively.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Dallas mayor to lead panel that looks to add pro teams to Cowboys, Mavs, Stars lineup

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says he’s creating a new council committee to come up with ways to bring more pro sports franchises and events to the city and he’s appointing himself the head of it. Johnson on Tuesday announced the new five-member Ad Hoc Committee on Professional Sports Recruitment and Retention in a city memo to fellow elected leaders. He noted that several teams bear the city’s name but are based in other areas around the metroplex and that the group is meant to help Dallas be more competitive in drawing more sports business. “Dallas is the best sports city in the country right now,” Johnson said in a statement. “But for too long, Dallas has been too passive when it comes to attracting and retaining professional sports franchises.” The creation of the council committee comes on the heels of the mayor’s tweeting on May 5 that he felt Dallas needed an NFL expansion team based in the city.

He cited the metro area’s growth being on par with the amount of people in and around Chicago and suggested North Texas could sustain two football teams better than Los Angeles and New York. Each have two football teams bearing their names. His comments went viral. The Dallas Cowboys play in Arlington and have their practice facility and headquarters based in Frisco. Johnson was tweeting in response to an NFL on CBS question asking what cities most deserve a pro football team. The metro area population that includes Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington is nearly 7.8 million, the fourth largest in the country just ahead of the Houston metro area, according to 2021 federal census estimates. Chicago’s metro area is estimated at 9.5 million people, followed by Los Angeles’ with almost 13 million, and almost 20 million people in the New York area. Johnson said in the memo that the committee would also prioritize keeping the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and NHL’s Dallas Stars playing in the city, assess the impacts of teams like MLS’ FC Dallas and the WNBA’s Dallas Wings being based outside of the city, and determine if the benefits of attracting new teams outweigh the possible costs. He said the group should consider ways the city can encourage historically underrepresented groups like women, African Americans and Latinos, into ownership positions of any new Dallas pro sports franchises.

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Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2022

Chris Tomlinson: Texas’s power grid is still broken, and officials would rather promote fossil fuels than fix it

The Texas electric grid remains broken, and state officials remain sadly focused on enriching fossil fuel companies with patchwork fixes that will run up costs for consumers and sacrifice future reliability. If Texans don’t speak up quickly, we’ll end up paying more for polluting power plants while missing out on the most profound revolution in electricity service in a half-century. Over the last two weeks, the heat wave has exposed the critical flaws in the grid operated by ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT officials and their bosses at the Public Utility Commission, meanwhile, have misled the public to protect fossil fuel burners.

ERCOT manages the grid that takes electric power from more than 1,000 generators and delivers up to 77 gigawatts across 52,700 miles of transmission lines to 26 million customers. The nonprofit operates a wholesale market where generators compete to offer the cheapest electricity to meet the next day’s needs. The greater the demand, the higher the price ERCOT will pay based on an algorithm. Offering higher prices is the only method ERCOT possesses to encourage more generation. ERCOT buys the electricity that consumers need the next day at the lowest possible price. Retail electric providers, municipal utilities and cooperatives buy the power their customers need from ERCOT, which settles the accounts. Different electricity suppliers offer different amounts of electricity at various prices depending on the time of day. Solar generators, for example, don’t offer electricity at night. Expensive, quick-start natural gas plants offer to generate only when prices are extra high. But more and more frequently, fossil fuel generators fail to deliver, and ERCOT struggles to keep the lights on.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

Texas teen who drove through a tornado is now the public face of TxDOT's ‘Click It or Ticket’ campaign

Riley Leon, the teen driver whose truck was swept up by a tornado, is now the public face of the Texas’ Department of Transportation’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign. Leon was one of several speakers at a news conference in Austin on Monday celebrating the campaign’s 20th anniversary. In his speech, the 16-year-old told of his harrowing escape from the tornado, which was caught on video and went viral. He was wearing a seatbelt and survived with minor injuries. “Sometimes I think to myself, without the seatbelt, would I be here?” Leon told CBS Austin shortly after the news conference. Leon added: “I’m thankful for the seatbelt.”

Leon was heading home from a job interview at Whataburger when his 2.5-ton Chevrolet Silverado was swept up in a tornado in March. A storm chaser on the other side of the rural highway in Elgin, a city about 40 miles east of Austin, caught the scene on video. Leon’s truck spun upside down in a circle before the wind flipped it upright. Leon could then be seen in the viral video speeding away from the storm. Leon is now coping with a lower back fracture but said he is recovering. Since the state's “Click it or Ticket” campaign launched in 2002, 6,972 lives are estimated to have been saved through the initiative, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. The department also estimates that the campaign has prevented 120,000 serious injuries.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

San Antonio man with 'anti-government views' accused of setting a 5G cellphone tower on fire, records say

Two individuals authorities believe intentionally set fire to a 5G cellphone tower last year on the far West Side are in custody, according to court documents. One of the individuals — 19-year-old Coley Lane Dupre — was charged with arson on Monday. Her alleged accomplice, 28-year-old Sean Smith, has not been charged in connection with the incident but was arrested on unrelated charges, including drug and weapons possession and tampering with evidence. In May of 2021, police were called to the 1800 block of Hunt Lane after the cellphone tower was set on fire. The tower is located in a residential area near Marbach Road and Loop 410.

Surveillance video shows a man in an orange shirt and white hard hat setting the fire inside the tower, an affidavit supporting Dupre's arrest said. The police identified the pair after one of Smith's friends told police Smith had "anti-government views" that fueled his mission to burn down 5G cellphone towers, the court documents said. Police, according to the affidavit, said Dupre acted as Smith's lookout as he set fire to the tower. Surveillance footage showed Dupre and Smith walking toward the cellphone tower minutes before it went up in flames, the court documents said. Smith is being held without bond, while Dupre's bail was set at $50,000.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Dallas County OKs deal to end feud with city over use of jail

Dallas County commissioners unanimously approved an updated agreement with the city of Dallas on Tuesday for the use of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center, ending a yearlong dispute during which the city refused to pay the county for jail services. The agreement includes a new way to calculate how much the city pays for jail services and adds a penalty for any missed payments. County commissioners signed off on the deal after a brief discussion of some of the contract’s language and about 24 months of work by the county. The city has contracted with the county since 1978 to process and hold people accused of crimes, but the most recent deal hadn’t been updated since 1997. City officials had been warned for years — including in a 2009 Dallas audit — that the outdated agreement caused overcharges and failed to clearly define several issues, including which agency is responsible for people brought to the jail who need to go to a hospital.

Under the new agreement, the city will pay a percentage of the jail’s projected costs, based in large part on how many people the city has detained there. If the actual costs end up being less than expected, the county will reimburse the city. City records show Dallas has paid more for jail services each year since 2016, despite the number of people being booked decreasing most years. The city went from paying $7.6 million in 2016 after more than 19,000 people were booked to owing $9.5 million in 2021 with about 17,000 people booked. The latest talks over the contract have been ongoing since 2018. The two entities reached a tentative agreement last month, when, at the time, the city owed around $10.2 million to the county because it had refused to pay its jail bill since April 2021. Dallas is supposed to pay the county every month to help cover the city’s share of jail operating costs. Dallas council members in April approved paying the county almost $14 million for jail service through September, which is the end of the current fiscal year.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Hate crimes underreported in Dallas, FBI says

Following a shooting that injured three women of Korean descent at a northwest Dallas hair salon, police Chief Eddie García said the incident is being investigated as a potential hate crime, and may be connected to at least two other recent shootings that targeted the city’s Asian American community. If defined as such, the shooting would be one of only nine hate crimes reported by the department this year, a figure the FBI Dallas Division said does not coincide with the “deep fear” felt by communities across the nation. “We know that it has to be more than nine,” Dallas FBI spokeswoman Melinda Urbina told The Dallas Morning News. “We see the fear, we see what they’re fearing, so why are we not seeing it reflected in the numbers we’re looking at?” It’s a complex question due to personal hesitations, language barriers and legal obstacles that make classifying a hate crime a lengthy and, at times, arduous process. Getting a handle on the scope of hate crime is difficult, and the reported data is slippery.

What is considered a hate crime? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in the context of hate crime law, the word “hate” does not mean rage, anger or general dislike, but rather bias against people or groups with specific characteristics, such as the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. The DOJ said hate crimes also have a broader effect than most other crimes because they include not only the immediate target, but others like that person, including families and entire communities. In Texas, a hate crime finding also enhances the possible punishment for a crime. For example, a second-degree felony is typically punishable by two to 20 years in prison, but if a jury believes the act is a hate crime, the punishment increases to the range for a first-degree felony, which is five to 99 years or life in prison. Dallas Police Department statistics updated Tuesday show a total of nine hate crimes have been reported in the city so far in 2022, compared to 13 this time last year. According to the data, none from either year was against an Asian American. Of the hate crimes reported, two were against Black people, and the remaining seven were against members of the LGBTQ community. As for the types of crime committed, three were by assault, another three by vandalism or destruction of property, two were theft and one was intimidation.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2022

Mayor called for transparency over Darrell Zemault Sr. — but San Antonio doesn’t want to release footage of the police killing

Nearly two years after Mayor Ron Nirenberg called for the public release of video from police body cameras in a controversial police shooting, the city is seeking to withhold the video. Shortly after police shot and killed Darrell Zemault Sr. on Sept. 15, 2020, Nirenberg said the footage should be released after an investigation into police officers’ actions had been completed. “State law prevents the public release of the body camera footage during the investigation, but I am requesting that the footage be released as soon as the investigation is complete,” Nirenberg said the day after Zemault was killed. “It is in the public interest for San Antonians to be able to view the video themselves.” A grand jury last fall decided not to indict the officers. In Bexar County, prosecutors present all fatal shootings by police officers to a grand jury as a matter of policy.

A San Antonio Express-News reporter filed an open records request for the footage under the Texas Public Information Act on May 2. In a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s Office last week, city attorneys argued that they shouldn’t have to disclose the footage because the law allows governments to withhold records in cases where “the investigation did not result in a conviction or deferred adjudication.” Deferred adjudication is a kind of probation that allows defendants to avoid a conviction if they meet requirements set by the court. An attorney for the Express-News said the newspaper is weighing how to respond. The Zemault family said Tuesday that they did not want the footage released to the public. “Last fall, a full year after the incident, our family had the opportunity to view the full footage and it was deeply traumatizing,” the family said in a statement. “We do not want other members of our family or our children to be subjected to ever having to view it. ... If it were made public, it would be inescapable and would require us to relive the trauma constantly.” The city’s letter to the attorney general comes nearly two years after police shot and killed Zemault, a 55-year-old Black man, while arresting him on two family violence warrants — one for violation of a bond and one for assault causing bodily injury.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 18, 2022

Fort Worth residents tell council to crack down on Airbnbs

The debate over short term rentals took center stage Tuesday as residents lobbied the Fort Worth city council to crack down on what they called a commercial encroachment on residential neighborhoods. Fort Worth is considering changing its 2018 ordinance, which legally defined what a short term rental is and prohibited them from operating in residentially zoned neighborhoods. The city is searching for a data mining firm to help it identify the number and location of short term rental properties operating in Fort Worth. This will help the city collect hotel occupancy taxes from these properties and inform any changes the city decides to make to its ordinance.

Residents speaking at city hall Tuesday voiced their concerns that any regulation allowing short term rentals in residential neighborhoods would lead to a breakdown of neighborhood cohesion and would stretch an already overburdened workforce in the city’s code compliance, police and fire departments. “When neighborhoods die, cities begin to die,” said Dan Haase, representing a coalition of neighborhood organizations in east Fort Worth. Fort Worth had 1,595 active rentals in April according to data from AirDNA, a short term rental market research firm that tracks Airbnb and Vrbo listings. Proponents of short term rentals in the city argue they provide a net economic benefit, and say hosts can act as ambassadors for the city. Jarrod Roecker, vice president of the Fort Worth Short Term Rental Alliance, said his group is ready to work with the city to craft regulations that codify a set of best practices for short term rental hosts. “Fort Worth needs to adapt. Short term rentals aren’t going anywhere,” Roecker said. He suggested the city could require that short term rentals have an emergency contact who can be on call to respond to abuses like parties or overcrowded parking.

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Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2022

Sale of WRR could mean no more classical music radio in Dallas, says KERA president

Options for the future of city-owned classical radio station WRR-FM (101.1) appeared to expand this week with a suggestion that public radio and TV operator KERA could consider buying the station. Last week, Dallas’ Office of Arts and Culture recommended that KERA take over management of the money-losing station, keeping its classical music content but switching from a commercial format to noncommercial. City officials are also considering the possibility of simply selling the station and taking the money. WRR is valued at about $13.5 million and the city could use $5.6 million from a possible sale to pay off station debt. If the station were sold, there is no guarantee that the station would remain classical. At a Monday meeting of the Dallas City Council’s Quality of Life, Arts and Culture Committee, chairman Adam Bazaldua asked Nico Leone, KERA’s president and CEO, if KERA would consider buying the station. Leone said he will discuss this possibility with KERA’s board.

In an interview after the meeting, Leone said the decision would be up to the board. He could not comment on the board’s interest until after they meet. “It’s a commercial station. Anyone can bid on it,” Leone said. “There are people out there with pretty deep pockets and no way to place a restriction on [the format of the station]. My expectation is that if the city sold the station, there would be no classical radio in Dallas.” If the City Council decides to sell, KERA would not have priority in bidding, city officials said. The city would accept bids from all interested parties, and the process would take 18 to 24 months. At the Monday meeting, at least one committee member appeared to support the contract negotiated by KERA and the Office of Arts and Culture. “This was great news to hear that KERA was the successful bidder for the station,” said council member Paul Ridley, who represents District 14. But chairman Bazaldua, who represents District 7, thinks a sale would make more sense. His district includes Fair Park in South Dallas, where WRR’s studios are located.

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National Stories

Washington Post - May 18, 2022

John Fetterman’s pitch as a different kind of Democrat pays off in Pennsylvania race for Senate nomination

Faced with a potentially campaign-ending crisis this weekend, Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman of Pennsylvania released a Sunday statement thanking the “kick ass staff and doctors” who treated his stroke. The vernacular was not the stuff of parliamentary propriety — “I need to take a minute,” he wrote about stepping back from the trail — but that was the point, as is often the case with Fetterman. At 6-foot-8, with a shiny pate, a salt-and-pepper goatee, tattooed arms and a sports-bar fashion sense, Fetterman was announcing from a hospital bed that even in illness he remained a different kind of Democrat. It’s a pitch that paid off Tuesday in a state primary that could set up the one-term lieutenant governor to lead his party into the marquee open-seat contest of the 2022 election — a chance for Democrats to find out whether they can arrest the building red wave and their declining White, working-class support with a candidate who does not fit easily into any partisan box. Fetterman, 52, easily beat his principal Democratic rival, Rep. Conor Lamb, a clean-cut Marine Corps veteran and prosecutor whom President Biden had compared to his late son Beau and whom other party leaders as recently as 2018 had held up as an exemplar of the party’s future.

“Democrats are united around John, who is a strong nominee, will run a tough race, and can win in November,” Biden said in a statement Tuesday night. He added that Republicans in the race were “too dangerous, too craven, and too extreme to represent Pennsylvania.” The win came as Democrats have been searching for an answer to the realignment that occurred during Donald Trump’s two presidential campaigns, when support for the party from voters without college degrees dropped. In Ohio, the party has selected a candidate, Rep. Tim Ryan, who has also cast himself as a champion of forgotten American industrial communities. Ryan’s first ad declared that the nation’s struggle was “us against China,” angering some Asian American civil rights groups. In Pennsylvania — where Fetterman is seeking the seat held by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R), who is retiring — President Barack Obama won non-college-educated voters by 15 points over Mitt Romney in 2012, winning 57 percent to Romney’s 42 percent, according to exit polls. Eight years later, Trump flipped the script, taking the same group of voters by nine points over Biden, 54 percent to 45 percent.

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Wall Street Journal - May 18, 2022

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says GOP needs to move past Donald Trump

The Republican Party has to move past former President Donald Trump, said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. To do so, voters need to see other leaders fighting for the same conservative issues Mr. Trump was passionate about. “There is a linkage right now between him personally and those things that we care about…de-linking those takes time,” Mr. Hutchinson said Tuesday at The Future of Everything Festival. “We have to show that we are the party of the future and not the last election. That is critical for us.” The Republican governor said that the party should focus on issues that affect people’s everyday lives, instead of harsh talk. “I hope that we can stay away from divisiveness that hurts America,” he said. “And I hope that we can stay away from the culture of personality, if you will, or chaos, that really destroys the confidence that Americans want to have in their leaders and their elected representatives.”

Mr. Hutchinson said he is considering a run for president in 2024, but said he is focusing on this year’s midterm elections in November. He won re-election in 2018 and is unable to run for governor again in this year because of term limits. “I am concerned about the direction of our country,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “We’re laying the foundation and testing the waters for 2024, but we first have to get through this and we will make the decision at the right time for the future.” Mr. Hutchinson said the leaked Supreme Court draft decision, which indicated the court could overturn Roe v. Wade, won’t give the Democrats more energy than Republicans because abortion has been a divisive issue for decades. “That’s going to continue to divide us,” he said. In the wake of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., where 10 people were killed, some lawmakers are calling on Republican leaders to forcefully condemn white supremacy and other racist and xenophobic rhetoric. Mr. Hutchinson wouldn’t say whether Republicans should take a stronger stance against hateful speech and ideologies, but stressed using the right tone when talking about race relations and immigration. The alleged gunman chose the grocery store because it was in a ZIP Code with a high number of Black residents and he planned to kill as many Black people as possible. He also posted a document online that cited racist conspiracy theories he discovered on internet message boards. “Rhetoric is important,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “The words you use are very, very important.”

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Washington Post - May 18, 2022

‘I lied to them for months’: Buffalo shooting suspect kept plans from family, he wrote

For months, as 18-year-old Payton Gendron formulated a plan to kill dozens of Black people in Buffalo, he worked to keep his racist plot a secret from his family, according to Gendron’s postings online. “I literally can’t wait any longer, my parents know something is wrong,” he wrote on April 15, musing about when to carry out a planned shooting that took place Saturday, leaving 10 people dead at a Buffalo supermarket. The writings were uploaded to Internet file-sharing sites in two batches in recent weeks after apparently being posted on the messaging platform Discord from November through early May. They reveal a teenager intent on keeping his parents in the dark not only about preparations for mass murder but also about the quotidian details of his life. They help fill out a portrait of a young man who described himself as isolated from family and as someone who had few friends and found refuge in hate.

Gendron wrote that his parents were unaware of the powerful weapons he was acquiring and hiding in his bedroom, and did not know he was buying and selling silver coins to finance his ammunition purchases. He wrote that he repeatedly lied to them about attending a local community college he had secretly quit this year. He fretted about the possibility that they would discover his subterfuge. “My parents know little about me,” he wrote on Feb. 22. “They don’t know about the hundreds of silver ounces I’ve had, or the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on ammo. They don’t know that I spent close to $1000 on random military s---. They don’t even know I own a shotgun or an AR-15, or illegal magazines.” Gendron, from Conklin, N.Y., has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. His lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. Gendron’s parents, both civil engineers for the state of New York, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Efforts to reach them through friends and relatives were also unsuccessful. Gendron’s father, Paul, has long been active in one of New York’s largest labor unions for state employees, the Public Employees Federation. He sits on the union’s executive board and chairs a statewide committee focused on labor-management issues at the state’s transportation agency, PEF President Wayne Spence said in a statement.

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NBC News - May 18, 2022

Far-right election denier Mastriano wins GOP race for governor in Pennsylvania

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a far-right Republican who built a large following seeking to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, is the GOP nominee for governor, NBC News projected Tuesday. After 10:30 p.m. ET, Mastriano led his rivals by more than 20 points. He'll face Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general, who ran unopposed, in November. Should Mastriano, who received former President Donald Trump's last-minute backing Saturday, prevail in the general election, he would be able to appoint a secretary of state to oversee elections. He has pledged that his choice would “reset” the state’s voter rolls so everyone would “have to re-register.” Mastriano's winning campaign message wove together Christian nationalism, election denialism and a rejection of Covid mitigation policies. A number of Republicans have expressed concern that he is too extreme to beat Shapiro in November, with some state GOP leaders working behind the scenes in the past week to consolidate a large field around another candidate in hope of uniting the non-Mastriano vote.

In a speech at his election night rally, Mastriano said his campaign "has no place for hate, bigotry and intolerance," adding that his movement is "under siege" from opponents and members of the media who don't "like groups of us who believe certain things, and they paint us in these awful descriptives." “Everyone in this room can believe whatever they want, and they should not be mocked for that," he said. "And that includes us on the Republican side. And I will not stand for you mocking, you know, me, my wife, my family or what we believe or anyone in this room here. This is America." State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and former Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa., bowed out of the race and endorsed former Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa. Other contenders, including businessman Dave White and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, remained in the race. “It’s just one of those things where it seems very clear that there’s two candidates, that the polls have been very consistent on who the candidates are,” David La Torre, a former Corman adviser who supported Barletta after Corman ended his candidacy, said before the polls closed. “But you know, for some reason, people make their own decisions to stay in races, despite the math.”

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Associated Press - May 18, 2022

Edwards ousts North Carolina Rep. Cawthorn in GOP primary

First-term U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn lost his Republican primary race Tuesday to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, after the pro-Donald Trump firebrand’s personal and political blunders translated into voter unhappiness. Cawthorn called Edwards to concede the 11th Congressional District primary to Edwards, Cawthorn campaign spokesperson Luke Ball told The Associated Press. The AP later called the race for Edwards over Cawthorn and six other Republican candidates. “Against all odds, we fought hard to win this election and provide clear conservative leadership for the mountains,” Edwards said in a news release. “Now, we will harness this energy, come together as a party, and keep this seat in Republican hands in November.”

Cawhorn, who had vaulted to national prominence after winning the mountain-area seat in 2020 at age 25, said he would support Edwards in the general election. “It’s time for the NC-11 GOP to rally behind the Republican ticket to defeat the Democrats’ nominee this November,” he tweeted Tuesday night. Edwards is fast-food franchise owner who advances to the November election against Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who won Tuesday’s six-candidate Democratic primary. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who endorsed Edwards, said Cawthorn was an embarrassment to his constituents. “Republicans chose Chuck Edwards tonight because he is the embodiment of mountain values who will fight for them every single day in Congress with honor and integrity,” Tillis said in a news release. Cawthorn faced negative publicity for speeding and gun violations, as well as for calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug.” He also infuriated fellow Republicans in Congress when he alleged on a podcast that he had been invited to an orgy in Washington. And his initial decision to run for reelection elsewhere — only to switch back to the 11th District — didn’t sit well with many locals. Within days of taking office in early 2021, Cawthorn spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally questioning Joe Biden’s presidential election victory that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Cawthorn soon became a leading spokesperson for Trump’s “America First” policies and conservatives in the culture wars. Trump has endorsed him.

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Associated Press - May 18, 2022

Idaho Gov. Little defeats Trump-backed foe

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has survived a Republican primary challenge from his lieutenant governor, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. In Idaho, the governor and lieutenant governor in Idaho run on separate tickets, so the two were not aligned when they won their races in 2018. Little had a long string of endorsements, including from the Idaho Fraternal Order of Police. Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin had feuded frequently over coronavirus precautions and the role of government. Last year, McGeachin twice attempted a power grab when Little was out of state on business. She has also promoted Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him through mass voter fraud. Republicans are almost guaranteed of winning in the general election as Democrats haven’t held the governor’s office since 1995 or statewide office since 2007.

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Roll Call - May 18, 2022

ICE chief defends proposed cut in immigration detention beds

The acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told a House committee Tuesday that the agency needs fewer detention beds for immigrants who face deportation and more funding for surveillance programs to allow them to stay at home instead. Tae Johnson defended the Biden administration’s request for so-called alternatives to detention programs as a “much more humane” and “an effective and significantly less costly option” for immigrants who don’t pose a threat to the public. Johnson, before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, was defending the Biden administration’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal to Congress for $8 billion for ICE, which would keep funds relatively consistent with this fiscal year. The administration asked Congress to provide funding for just 25,000 detention beds — down from the current level of 34,000 — and requested an $87 million increase in funding for programs allowing for alternatives to detention.

These proposed funding levels are “just reflective of the administration’s position that alternatives to detention is the more appropriate and humane way of dealing with segments of the population that don’t pose a public safety or national security threat,” Johnson told the committee. Committee Republicans criticized the proposed cut to detention bed capacity and questioned why the Biden administration would propose that ahead of an anticipated rise in migration to the southwest border. Homeland Security officials have projected that border agents could see as many as 18,000 migrants daily once the administration lifts pandemic-related asylum restrictions known as Title 42 as early as next week. “Once Title 42 goes away, we’re going to have an increased number of these people coming across, and instead of detaining them with those extra beds that you have, you’re cutting that and then going to be releasing those people into our country,” Iowa Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson said. “That’s what Americans are concerned about right now.” Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., also criticized the administration for failing to fill up the detention beds that Congress already funded this fiscal year. He blamed the empty beds on the administration’s decision to narrow its enforcement priorities to migrants who committed serious crimes or recently crossed the border.

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Newsclips - May 17, 2022

Lead Stories

Politico - May 17, 2022

It's Midterm Super Tuesday. Here are the people, places and big political questions at stake.

Of the 20 separate dates on the 2022 midterm primary calendar, none is more important — and potentially dramatic — than this Tuesday. Former President Donald Trump is staking his claim to the Republican base with late endorsements of streaking candidates for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat and governorship. The favorite in the state’s Democratic Senate primary, meanwhile, is spending Election Day in the hospital after suffering a stroke. Some senior Republican leaders are desperately trying to unseat controversial freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), while seven-term Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader is facing a liberal primary challenger in Oregon. Also on the ballot on Tuesday are at least a dozen more races that will illustrate the directions of both parties in the post-Trump era — or shape the general-election landscape with control of Congress and key state governments firmly up for grabs.

The final week before the Pennsylvania primary has featured numerous twists and turns — and increasing heartburn among GOP insiders, worried the party is poised to nominate less-electable candidates for two statewide, tossup races. Trump’s endorsement of Mehmet Oz had the celebrity surgeon surging in the polls over the final weeks. But the eleventh-hour rise of former congressional candidate Kathy Barnette has scrambled the calculus in what’s now a three-way race with Oz and wealthy hedge fund CEO David McCormick, whose fortunes have lagged since Trump spurned him. Trump’s backing of Oz and Mastriano aren’t the only tests of the former president’s sway with GOP primary voters on Tuesday. The most political former president in U.S. history is also seeking to influence competitive primaries in Idaho and North Carolina, in addition to some of Pennsylvania’s congressional races. Trump is facing another likely loss in a small-red-state governor’s race, after his candidate went down last week in Nebraska. In Idaho, Trump endorsed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin over incumbent Gov. Brad Little, who is favored to defeat the challenger. Another risky Trump endorsement: 26-year-old North Carolina congressional candidate Bo Hines, who is running for a newly drawn swing seat south of Raleigh. Hines is in a crowded, eight-way race — the winner must receive greater than 30 percent of the vote, or the top two finishers advance to a late-July runoff. Trump’s pick at the top of the ticket in North Carolina is looking much more secure. After lagging behind former Gov. Pat McCrory for months in the GOP Senate primary, Rep. Ted Budd has pulled well ahead in the polls and appears poised to clinch the nomination to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Richard Burr.

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Dallas Morning News - May 16, 2022

Cruz could see $545K windfall as justices lift cap on donors paying off winners’ debt

Siding with Sen. Ted Cruz, the Supreme Court on Monday struck down a $250,000 cap on how much candidates can recoup for personal loans with donations that come in after Election Day. “This provision burdens core political speech without proper justification,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 6-3 opinion, with the three liberal justices dissenting. Cruz placed a $10,000 personal bet on the case in order to challenge a restriction he views as an infringement on free speech. But he had far more at stake: $545,000 he loaned his campaign in 2012 that he may now be able to recoup. Before or after an election, supporters can’t donate more than $2,900 to a federal candidate per election cycle. Candidates, however, can pump unlimited sums of personal funds into their own campaigns. And when they do that in the form of a loan, they’re allowed to use donations to repay themselves fully – until 20 days after an election.

After that, they’ve been allowed to collect just $250,000, under a 2002 campaign finance law and Federal Election Commission rules intended to minimize the chance of corruption. The conservative justices were unpersuaded, finding “scant evidence” that post-election payments have actually led to graft. “The Government is defending a restriction on speech as necessary to prevent an anticipated harm,” Roberts wrote. “Yet the Government is unable to identify a single case of quid pro quo corruption in this context — even though most States do not impose a limit on the use of post-election contributions to repay candidate loans.” To create standing, Cruz loaned his campaign $260,000 the day before his victory in 2018 over Beto O’Rourke, who is now challenging Gov. Greg Abbott. The campaign didn’t need the money. It was the costliest Senate race in history at that point. Cruz had raised $46 million and still had ample cash. Over the next month, the Cruz campaign account repaid all but $10,000 of the loan. At oral arguments on Jan. 16, his lawyer argued that if Cruz can’t be corrupted for $250,000, another $10,000 wouldn’t make a difference.

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Dallas Morning News - May 16, 2022

ERCOT predicts record demand for electricity this summer

Texans will demand more electricity this summer than ever before. That’s according to projections released Monday by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state grid. Although ERCOT anticipates record demand, the agency predicts that barring extreme conditions, Texas will have adequate electricity. The report, called the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy, predicts electricity usage and demand on the state’s power grid. This year, ERCOT said it anticipates summer demand will peak at a record 77,317 megawatts. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes.

According to the report, the power grid should be able to keep the lights on if demand for electricity, power plant failures and wind and solar failures are at normal or even high levels. But if any of those problems turns extreme, outages could result. ERCOT is also projecting that the explosion in cryptocurrency could bring as many as 16 gigawatts of new electricity demand by 2026, which is equivalent to about a quarter of the grid’s current capacity and enough to power over 3 million homes on a summer day. On Monday, ERCOT asked power generators to defer planned outages through Friday, out of concern that sweltering heat this week could create emergency conditions. The Texas Legislature last year gave the agency the authority to halt planned maintenance in order to prevent power supply problems and outages, and the grid operator has done so multiple times since. Temperatures are expected to hover near 100 degrees in Dallas and even hit 103 degrees in some North Texas counties through Friday, according to the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office. ERCOT has said that unseasonably hot weather this month may strain the grid. Texans were asked to conserve power over the weekend after six plants went offline Friday, resulting in the loss of 2,900 megawatts of electricity — enough to power about 580,000 homes.

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Texas Tribune - May 17, 2022

West Texas rancher pours $2 million into Sarah Stogner’s underdog campaign for statewide oil and gas board seat

A West Texas rancher who has battled the Railroad Commission over abandoned oil wells on her property has poured $2 million into a dark-horse challenger for a seat on the commission, Sarah Stogner, as she looks to pull off a major upset in the May 24 Republican primary runoff. It is another striking twist in a race that Stogner, an oil and gas attorney, previously shook up in the primary when she released a campaign ad of herself riding a pumpjack nearly naked. Ashley Watt, who owns a 75,000-acre ranch in the Permian Basin, revealed to The Texas Tribune that she has provided the seven-figure funding to Stogner, saying it will be disclosed on a campaign finance report that is expected to be released Tuesday. The money is helping bankroll a substantial TV ad buy in the final two weeks before Stogner faces the commission’s chair, Wayne Christian, in the runoff.

“I am not a political person. I don't really care about politics,” Watt said in a statement. “But when an old Chevron oil well blew out radioactive brine water into my drinking water aquifer, ruining my ranch and forcing me to sell my entire cattle herd, the Railroad Commission teamed up with Chevron to work against me. “I’m tired of fake conservatives like Wayne Christian trampling on Texans’ private property rights, while lining their pockets with poorly disguised bribes,” Watt added. Stogner and Watt are friends. Stogner said they connected last year on Twitter and then Watt hired her as a lawyer. Stogner has been living on Watt’s ranch in Crane County after going through a marital separation. Stogner said Watt approached her in recent weeks and said she had done some polling — unbeknownst to Stogner — that showed she had a shot in the runoff. It was a dilemma for Stogner, who had been self-funding her campaign and proudly swearing off donations. But she said Watt eventually convinced her to “get your ego out of the way” and accept the money to have a good chance to win.

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State Stories

McAllen Monitor - May 16, 2022

Under scrutiny: Edinburg politiquero’s indictment raises questions about campaign ties

Earlier this week, Edinburg politiquero Miguel A. Garza went before a federal judge, pleading not guilty to allegations that he participated in a kickback scheme that allegedly involved former Edinburg officials and a business owner. But while the exact nature of his role in the alleged scheme and the identities of his potential co-conspirators remain unknown, the indictment raises questions about his relationships with politicians. From September 2018 to as recently as February 2022, Garza was paid for his work on different political campaigns by four different elected officials — Ruben Ramirez, who is currently running to be the next representative for Texas’ 15th Congressional District, Hidalgo County Commissioner Ellie Torres, who is running for reelection, former Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and former Edinburg Councilman Jorge “Coach” Salinas.

While Garza made the most money from 2018 through early 2020, elected officials continued to hire him even after FBI agents raided his home the morning of Feb. 24, 2020, a clear signal that he was under investigation. Despite that scrutiny, he went on to receive about $9,600, mostly for “contract labor,” from political campaigns from June 22, 2021 to Feb. 16 of this year. In total, he received $24,100 from campaign work since September 2018. A review of campaign finance reports showed those payments were made either directly to him or through his company, Strong Blue RGV, which he established as a sole proprietorship in March 2019, according to Hidalgo County records. The most recent campaign work for Strong Blue RGV came from the Ruben Ramirez campaign, which made three payments of $500 to Garza’s company for “consultant-field” work. The first payment was made on Jan. 6, the second on Feb. 1 and the third was on Feb. 16, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. In a statement issued Thursday, Ramirez’s campaign said they had cut ties with Garza. “The newly reported details are alarming and the campaign has terminated its relationship with Mike Garza,” the campaign said. “Corruption has no place in government and Ruben is committed to cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse in Congress.” Garza was also hired by the Ellie Torres campaign, which reported a $1,000 payment to Strong Blue RGV for “contract labor” on Nov. 8, 2021.

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Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2022

Long-planned changes to Texas foster care system have ‘sputtered,’ senators say

Texas senators on Monday complained that an expanded privatization of foster care is going too slowly. Bureaucrats don’t share lawmakers’ urgency for a faster statewide rollout of “community-based care,” in which a single contractor takes charge of foster care placements and services in an entire region, they said. That’s even though over much of the time since 2010, as the new approach was debated, the Legislature itself was cautious about a quick adoption. Since 2017, Texas has failed to thrust community-based care into full operation, border to border, said GOP Sens. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham and Charles Perry of Lubbock. “It has really dragged on,” said Kolkhorst, who heads a special panel on Child Protective Services that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick created in March after disturbing revelations about a Bastrop County facility for girls who are victims of sex trafficking. “You read these reports and you say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re in the same place we were,’” she said.

Perry, the panel’s vice chairman, noted that the Department of Family and Protective Services has hired a “single source continuum contractor” in just four of 16 regions. Only three of them have entered “stage two,” a full handoff of the duties of CPS conservatorship caseworkers to private workers. And “stage three” — the envisioned series of financial incentives and penalties — hasn’t started in any of them, Perry observed. The department hopes to choose a single source continuum contractor and award a contract by Aug. 1 in Dallas, Collin and seven other counties in what’s called “Metroplex East.” The contractor is usually a private nonprofit but could be a public entity, such as a local government. The winning bidder is charged with lining up all of the homes and therapies in a particular region for the maltreated children whom CPS has removed from birth families. “It’s typical state agency stuff. We do a bill and then there’s this ‘rules propagation’ process,” Perry said. “I don’t know what we got to do to get the attention of the personnel involved in these agencies to implement what we say we need to do.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2022

Dr. Peter Hotez warns of nation’s hidden COVID wave that’s ‘almost like omicron’

As the toll of the coronavirus becomes harder to track with the rise of at-home testing, public health officials are sounding the alarm on a significant and mostly hidden rise in cases across the nation, including in the greater Houston region. The results of rapid antigen tests, which the federal government mailed to millions of American households in January and are readily available at local pharmacies, are generally not reflected in case statistics. So while data shows a nationwide seven-day average of 90,000 cases per day — a number that has been rising steadily since early April — the true toll is likely much greater. “This is a full-on wave almost like omicron,” Dr. Peter Hotez tweeted over the weekend, referring to the variant that sickened more than 800,000 people in a single day at its peak. The Houston vaccine expert issued a flurry of tweets that touched on the “unbelievably transmissible” omicron subvariants known as BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, which are hitting the northeastern states the hardest.

He also drew attention to the rising number of hospitalizations, which increased by about 15 percent last week compared to the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I know it is frustrating,” wrote Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. “We’re all tired of this, but that’s life in the big city. We’re experiencing another wave. Max out your vaccinations while we still have vaccine inventory, and if you get sick and test positive, call your (primary medical doctor) about (the oral antiviral pill) Paxlovid but do it early.” In an interview with the Chronicle, Hotez noted that Texas appears to be faring better than other parts of the country. The CDC’s community transmission map, which measures county-level spread, shows large areas of North Texas and the panhandle with “moderate” or “low” transmission. But overall, cases have risen by about 40 percent statewide over the last two weeks, from 2,449 on May 3 to 3,449 on May 15, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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Dallas Morning News - May 16, 2022

Doctors, advocates worry end of Roe v. Wade could endanger infertility treatment

Sen. Tammy Duckworth made history in 2018 when she became the first senator to give birth while in office. She underwent in vitro fertilization, a procedure used to assist women in getting pregnant by fertilizing an egg in a laboratory setting and implanting it in the uterus. Now the Illinois Democrat, doctors and advocates are worried about how the U.S. Supreme Court potentially overturning a 50-year-old precedent establishing abortion rights could impact IVF, which has helped millions of people struggling with fertility issues conceive. More than a dozen states have “trigger” laws on the books that would ban abortion if the court overturns Roe vs. Wade, and some are written to state that life begins at conception or fertilization. That raises questions about what would happen with IVF, which can result in excess embryos that people sometimes discard, freeze for future use or donate to science or other people.

A ruling on an abortion law challenge from Mississippi — the one experts expect could overturn Roe — could come down as early as Monday, when the Supreme Court is next scheduled to release decisions on pending cases. Related:Abortion in Texas would essentially be prohibited if Roe vs. Wade is overturned “Some of the procedures that my doctor performed to implant a fertilized egg into me that resulted in the destruction of some of those fertilized eggs would be considered manslaughter,” Duckworth said last week. “People who want to start families won’t be able to start families.” IVF has become increasingly common, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating about 2.1 percent of children are now conceived through this type of process. While trigger laws that would ban abortion don’t specifically mention IVF, some argue they could be applied to extend legal protections to embryos. More states are expected to pass laws extending legal protections to embryos if the court overturns Roe.

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Texas Monthly - May 16, 2022

Donald Trump had nothing new to say in Austin. His fellow speakers did.

On Saturday, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee came to Austin to speak at a day-long conference attended by some six or seven thousand of his most passionate fans and supporters. In Ye Olden Days, that first sentence would be followed by a description of the future candidate’s remarks on politics and policy. But this has never been the way to cover a Donald Trump speech, and yesterday there wasn’t any new material. The only mystery was why his fans would wait for so long to see him, lining up before dawn to secure good seats. Saturday’s riffs included an extended description of the contracting process for the replacement of Air Force One, and the story of how Trump crushed ISIS with the help of a general he identified only as “Raisin’ Cain.” I have been to a dozen or so Trump rallies, and these are stories I’ve heard several times. As had members of the audience, apparently: when Trump described how nervous he was flying into Iraq to visit troops, a man called out the punch line—“perhaps I should have been given a medal”—before Trump got there. When the former president caught up, the man laughed twice as hard as his neighbors. Far more interesting were Trump’s supporters and allies.

The conference, featuring speakers such as rock musician Ted Nugent and attended by allies such as Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, showed a movement falling deeper into a suffocating circle of televangelist-adjacent scammery—while its adherents grow ever more comfortable with the idea of the need for violence to triumph over their political opponents. Things are going great, in other words. In late January, Trump held a rally in Conroe at the high point of the Texas’s GOP primary season. That rally, like most of the former president’s, was held by the joint fund-raising committee of Save America, an extension of Trump’s former (and possible future) campaign. Huge billboards hawked Trump’s new book, but the event was relatively civic-minded. He read, from the teleprompter, a careful speech endorsing all the requisite Texas GOP candidates. By contrast, the event Saturday in Austin, at the city’s convention center, was a project of the American Freedom Tour, a for-profit traveling show that brings speakers to MAGA-heads around the country.

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Dallas Morning News - May 16, 2022

WNBA players endorse petition demanding White House prioritizes Texas native Brittney Griner’s release

The WNBA is continuing its efforts to help bring Phoenix Mercury center and Texas native Brittney Griner home, 88 days after her arrest in Russia. This weekend, the WNBPA and its members endorsed a petition created by Tamryn Spruill to demand that The White House prioritizes the former Baylor star’s return, according to a representative from Wasserman — the agency that represents Griner. According to the petition, Griner’s team reached out to Change.org last Wednesday with the goal of joining forces with the petition’s creators and adding voices to the movement once her case was reclassified as wrongful detention by the United States government. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had received over 134,600 signatures and is inching toward its goal of 150,000.

“Griner is a beloved global citizen who has used her platform since her entry into the WNBA to help others,” the petition description reads. “It is imperative that the U.S. government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home quickly and safely.” Griner was detained Feb. 17 at the Moscow airport after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. On Friday, her pre-trial detention was extended at least another month. The petition was started by Spruill, an artist, activist, journalist and author, who has spent her career covering issues of gender, race and sexuality that have undermined the success of women’s sports in the United States. The #WeAreBG movement picked up steam in the last week, as more players and coaches are speaking out about Griner’s detention.

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El Paso Matters - May 12, 2022

Mario Carrillo: Is my family American enough for Greg Abbott?

(Mario Carrillo is the campaigns manager for America’s Voice and America’s Voice Education Fund, which seeks policy changes that secure freedom and opportunity for immigrants in the United States.) On Jan. 28, 2021, the lives of my wife, Angélica Rodríguez Hernandez, and I changed forever after she gave birth to our daughter Izel. She’s perfect in every way. When Izel was just 6 months old, we applied for her U.S. passport because we’re hopeful that her mom will soon have her interview in the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez that will allow her, after 25 years of living in the United States, including the last 10 years with DACA, to become a legal permanent resident. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrives and is a federal immigration policy that protects people who came to the U.S. as children from deportation.

We are what is known as a mixed-status family. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen, born in Mexico and raised in El Paso, while my wife is DACA-recipient, also born in Mexico and raised in Utah. Our daughter is a U.S. citizen by birth thanks to the 14th Amendment, which guarantees her citizenship because she was born here, regardless of her parents’ immigration status. And, she’s not alone. Of the 29 million residents of Texas, there are almost 1,000,000 ??U.S. citizen children living with an undocumented parent. And now, with the leaked Supreme Court ruling that might be coming on Roe vs. Wade, many Republicans, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have set their sights on other Supreme Court rulings that they’d like to see overturned that would impact millions of families, including families like ours. One example is the 1982 decision on Plyler vs. Doe, which struck down state statutes that sought to prevent children of undocumented parents, or undocumented children themselves, from accessing public education. You see, to Greg Abbott, my daughter is not deserving of her citizenship. To him, my wife and her family don’t belong in his version of America. If Gov. Abbott had it his way, my wife would be deported back to a country she left more than 25 years ago, and my daughter’s citizenship status should be questioned.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 17, 2022

Lily Casura: We need to break the multi-generational cycle of domestic violence.

(Lily Casura is a social science researcher with a master’s degree in social work from UTSA and a bachelor’s degree with honors from Harvard University. A former journalist and published author, her research interests include domestic violence, women veterans and homelessness and community needs assessments.) When I co-authored the “Status of Women in San Antonio” report in 2019 with University of Texas at San Antonio demography professor Rogelio Sáenz, getting accurate data about the scope of domestic violence here proved difficult. The report made clear that we are a violent city for women — the most violent of Texas’ largest cities, both in incidence of domestic violence and in murders of women by their male intimate partners. Sadly, that trend continues today. And we watch as elected officials allocate more and more funding to this serious public health issue that affects so many. During COVID-19, the worldwide expectation was that cases of domestic violence would increase, perhaps dramatically. In 2020, a team of UTSA researchers and I had the opportunity to develop and distribute the first-ever communitywide survey about residents’ experiences with domestic violence, both generally and during COVID. That opportunity came through Metro Health and federal CARES Act funding.

The bilingual, online survey reached thousands of residents, and we ended up with more than 1,500 respondents representing every local ZIP code who contributed more than 30,000 words of commentary in addition to their answers to multiple-choice questions. Fortunately, very few of our respondents had experienced domestic violence either just before or during COVID. Distressingly, though, approximately two-thirds of the respondents had experienced domestic violence as adults. We also asked about childhood exposure to domestic violence — what they remembered from their childhoods about being a victim or a witness of it happening to others, and even whether they remembered hearing stories about domestic violence involving older generations of family members, such as grandparents and great-grandparents. (Childhood exposure to domestic violence is a known risk for psychological and even physiological damage into adulthood, and research indicates a much-increased risk for involvement in domestic violence as an adult.)

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San Antonio Express-News - May 17, 2022

Amid warnings from ERCOT, San Antonio’s CPS Energy says its power plants fully operational

Texas’ electricity grid operator on Monday extended its warning of potential emergency conditions through the end of the week, asking power plant owners to hold off on planned maintenance and keep power plants online amid scorching temperatures and rising demand. In San Antonio, city-owned CPS Energy said its six plants were fully operational Monday. “We continue to closely monitor the high-power demand due to our recent record-breaking weather across the state,” CPS spokeswoman Christine Patmon said.

The utility’s plants have held up through the recent heat wave, she added. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas — ERCOT — extended its warning after the grid was pushed to its limits Friday, when the grid operator asked Texans to conserve electricity through the weekend. On that day, plant failures knocked about 2,900 megawatts of generating capacity offline. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes on a hot day. Demand has soared as unseasonably hot temperatures blanketed much of the state in recent days. Demand has hovered around 70,000 megawatts for nearly a week, just shy of the summer record demand of 74,800 megawatts set in August 2019. In a report issued Monday, ERCOT said demand for power this summer is expected to shatter that record. The Summer Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy report said Texans could use as much as 77,317 megawatts a day at the season’s peak. But officials said they anticipate being able to meet the demand.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 17, 2022

Gasoline price tops $4 for first time; analysts expect more increases to come

Gasoline prices pushed above $4 per gallon for the first time ever in San Antonio as tight supplies, strong demand and the switch to more expensive summer blends combined to push up fuel costs across the state and nation. Pump prices climbed nearly 12 cents over the past week to a record high Monday of $4.05 per gallon in the San Antonio area, up nearly 50 cents over the month and $1.37 from a year ago, according to AAA Texas. The national average was $4.48 per gallon, up 41 cents from a month ago and $1.44 from a year ago. “The high cost of oil, the key ingredient in gasoline, is driving these high pump prices for consumers,” Andrew Gross, a AAA spokesman, said Monday. “Even the annual seasonal demand dip for gasoline during the lull between spring break and Memorial Day, which would normally help lower prices, is having no effect this year.”

Oil prices, pushed to stratospheric levels by Russia’s war in Ukraine, underpin record fuel prices across the nation, with only three states’ average prices still below $4 per gallon Monday. Motorists should expect prices to rise further as the U.S. peak summer driving season kicks off with the Memorial Day weekend in two weeks, said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at fuel-price tracking service GasBuddy. Though oil prices have pulled back from recent highs above $120 per barrel, fuel prices are lagging the decline amid strong demand and declining fuel inventories. “While the increases may start to slow in the days ahead as pump prices catch up to oil, there isn’t much reason to be optimistic that we’ll see a plunge any time soon,” DeHaan said. The world has lost 3 million barrels per day of refining capacity since the start of the pandemic, including 1 million barrels per day in the United States — a reckoning forced by mounting costs and declining prospects for gasoline as automakers accelerated the transition to electric vehicles. Now, prices are climbing as remaining refineries have to do more with less as the global market loses gasoline and diesel from Russia, a major exporter of refined products. Meanwhile, the switch to the more expensive summer blend of gasoline, which usually adds from seven to 10 cents per gallon, has begun. The switch is an annual event and should be complete by June. Benchmark U.S. crude rose $3.71 Monday to close at $114.20 per barrel. The increases are hitting the pocketbooks of anyone who has to drive, and are especially significant for those who make a living behind the wheel and are facing tough decisions about raising rates. Houston tow-truck driver Chaim Albi said Monday he is paying $67 a day to fill his tow truck with gasoline, up 50 percent in recent months. He said he had to raise his base fee by 20 percent to help cover rising fuel costs. “I try to stay competitive, but it is affecting my bottom line,” he said. “Just to stay in business, you to have to raise prices.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2022

Investors are swarming to crypto in Texas. Can the state’s fragile grid deliver?

As an elementary school teacher and single mom in the late 1990s, Donna Carol-Logeais missed out on lucrative investment opportunities such as the internet boom. It had been an ordeal just to pay her bills, let alone gamble on a speculative market. But she is now retired, her children grown, and the people on her favorite podcasts have been talking nonstop about cryptocurrency. The 63-year-old recently built up a small nest egg and is free of other commitments. If there is a time for a risk, she thought, maybe this is it. “I’m at a point in my life where I think, ‘OK, I’m not going to overdo it, but I’m going to invest some and see if there’s a return, see if this big boom that they’re talking about is going to happen,” Carol-Logeais said. With interest surging in digital currencies and the blockchain technology behind them, more and more investors and operators are turning to Texas, lured by its cheap energy and hands-off regulatory approach.

The rush, like those underway in Wyoming, South Dakota and other states, has been welcomed by energy executives and some elected officials who see it as a catalyst for job growth and tax revenue. But it is also adding massive new demand to the state’s fragile electricity grid and putting pressure on legislators to harness the growth in ways that are sustainable — and that don’t price out residential consumers. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s grid, is projecting that the explosion in cryptocurrency and other “large load” operators could bring as many as 16 gigawatts of new electricity demand by 2026. That’s about a quarter of the grid’s current capacity and enough to power over 3 million homes on a summer day. “I don’t think anybody thinks all of that will be built, but it’s still a tremendous amount,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. For a state that failed so spectacularly to secure the power supply during last year’s winter blackouts, piling on more demand will be a critical new test, especially in the face of climate change. Last week alone, unseasonably high temperatures drove electricity demand to midsummer levels. Late Friday, the state asked Texans to conserve power after six natural gas-fired power plants tripped offline. Leaders in the crypto industry say their entrance will improve reliability by bringing uniquely flexible loads — often sprawling, power-hungry data warehouses — that can shut down within minutes and put electricity back on the grid when demand peaks.

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Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2022

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee tests positive for COVID-19, office announces

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee has tested positive for COVID, her office announced Monday. The announcement did not say whether the Houston Democrat was experiencing symptoms or when she first tested positive. On Saturday, Jackson-Lee and volunteers from the National Association of Christian Churches Disaster Services handed out infant formula and sanitation supplies at Yates High School amid the national shortage. “She is fully vaccinated and has received her boosters,” the statement said. “She encourages everyone to get tested and fully vaccinated along with their booster shots. She looks forward to a full and complete recovery.”

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Austin American-Statesman - May 17, 2022

How Texas Republicans could further expand abortion restrictions post-Roe v. Wade

When Texas adopted the most restrictive abortion law in the nation last year, it was the result of more than a decade of work by Republican lawmakers to chip away at access to the procedure. During that time, they mandated sonograms 24 hours before a scheduled abortion, creating a logistical challenge for patients. They required abortion providers to adhere to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, causing clinics across the state to close before the measure was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. They’ve worked to make it harder for minors to have abortions, ordered fetal remains to be buried or cremated, and banned certain types of abortion procedures. Some laws remain tied up in court battles, but others are in effect. Across all of these efforts, the primary goal has remained the same: restrict access to abortion within the confines of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

The most successful attempt to evade the ruling came last year, when lawmakers passed Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The law allows any individual to sue providers who perform illegal abortions or people seen as aiding and abetting an illegal procedure, whether they’re connected to the patient or not. The law was crafted specifically to withstand judicial review, employing the unique enforcement mechanism that has so far allowed it to remain in effect. But soon, such creative maneuvers might not be necessary to reduce access to abortion. A leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court suggests that a complete reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade decision could be in the cards, opening the door for more drastic and direct efforts to curtail abortion in GOP-controlled states like Texas. “If the court’s final ruling is similar to this, it will be the answer to almost 50 years of prayer and hope,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of the anti-abortion organization Texas Alliance for Life. “It will have completely returned the question of protecting unborn babies back to the states.” Should the court strike down Roe v. Wade, Texas would be among 13 states to outlaw the procedure almost immediately, under a so-called trigger law set to go into effect 30 days after an opinion from the high court.

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Politifact - May 17, 2022

Fact-check: Is the Biden administration prioritizing sending baby formula to the border?

Greg Abbott: Says the Biden administration is choosing to send baby formula to the border as one of its “out-of-touch priorities.” PolitiFact's ruling: Mostly False Here's why: As frightened parents grapple with the country’s ongoing shortage of baby formula, some politicians are criticizing the Biden administration, claiming it’s prioritizing immigrant children detained at the border over American families. The narrative took off after U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., shared a side-by-side photo comparison of a scene from the southwest border and a U.S. grocery store. "The first photo is from this morning at the Ursula Processing Center at the U.S. border. Shelves and pallets packed with baby formula," Cammack tweeted on May 11. "The second is from a shelf right here at home. Formula is scarce. This is what America last looks like."

A border patrol agent in Texas sent her the photo, Cammack said. She said the agent told her that his facility had been receiving pallets of formula for immigrants who crossed into the U.S. illegally. Before long, other Republicans and news outlets like Fox News picked up the story. In a joint statement on May 12, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, and National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd took aim at President Joe Biden’s policies. "While mothers and fathers stare at empty grocery store shelves in a panic, the Biden administration is happy to provide baby formula to illegal immigrants coming across our southern border," read the statement. "This is yet another one in a long line of reckless, out-of-touch priorities from the Biden administration when it comes to securing our border and protecting Americans." PolitiFact was unable to independently verify the authenticity of Cammack’s photo, and a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not weigh in on that. It is also unclear when this formula was sent, how long it’s been there or how many people need it.

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KXAN - May 17, 2022

A Texas-Bama early kick? Looks likely as Fox Sports announces broadcast plans

The biggest nonconference game on the Texas Longhorns football schedule next season is probably going to be at the time few will like. Fox Sports announced that it will broadcast the game Sept. 10 against the Alabama Crimson Tide, which means it very well could be the network’s “Big Noon Kickoff” featured game and the dreaded early kickoff time at 11 a.m.

Matt Leinert, now an analyst for Fox Sports and part of the show’s crew, tweeted his excitement about the game with the hashtag #BigNoonKickoff and a smiley face emoji. Leinart is familiar with the Texas football program. A time for the game hasn’t officially been settled on, but fans should probably make early plans to get to DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. Chances are it’ll be hot too, another reason fans aren’t typically thrilled with early kickoff times in the first part of the season. Season tickets are on sale now through TexasSports.com. The Longhorns play all three non-conference games at home starting Sept. 3 against Louisiana-Monroe. After hosting the Crimson Tide, Texas will play UTSA on Sept. 17.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 17, 2022

Tarrant County’s newest district court waiting for a judge

It’s been more than four months since Tarrant County got a new court to help handle criminal cases, but it’s unclear when a full time judge will take over the bench. The Legislature created a number of new courts in Texas in 2021, including the 485th District Court, a felony court focused on criminal cases that was established on Jan. 1. Because it was established after the filing period for the November election, the Tarrant County Republican and Democratic parties can select a nominee for the November ballot, but that can’t happen until members of the parties’ new executive committee begin their terms this summer, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. In the meantime, Gov. Greg Abbott can appoint someone to fill the bench to serve until a new judge is elected, however Abbott hasn’t made his pick.

The Tarrant County Republican Party has recommended for appointment Andy Porter, an associate judge in Tarrant County who is running for the county’s Criminal District Court No. 4, said Rick Barnes, the party’s chairman. He anticipates a selection won’t be made until after July 1, when the party’s new leadership steps in. The governor’s office did not return requests for comment about the process and timeline for an appointment. Judge George Gallagher, who serves as the administrative judge as well as judge of the 396th District Court, said the court is up and running. Commissioners in February 2021 approved a resolution to support the creation of the court by the Legislature to help reduce backlogs. Commissioners were asked to support two new courts. “We had gotten to the point where we couldn’t keep up and then when COVID hit, it was really bad,” Gallagher said. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley isn’t ruling out asking for another court when legislators again convene in January.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2022

Arlington police will lift ban on visible tattoos, facial hair

Arlington police officers will be permitted to show tattoos and grow facial hair in a policy change, the department announced Monday. The new rules aim to enhance officers’ quality of work life while helping the department recruit, it said Monday on Facebook.

As part of the new rules, officers will be able to display approved tattoos. Previously, officers with tattoos were required to cover them with wear long sleeves or pants, even during the hottest months. Officers will also be allowed to grow and display facial hair within guidelines, the department added. Additional details were not immediately available. J.P. Mason, president of the Arlington Police Association, said the department took a poll of officers to gather opinions. “Facial hair and tattoos have no impact on how an officer does the job,” Mason said. Police departments have varying policies regarding tattoos and facial hair. The Dallas Police Department lifted its ban on facial hair in 2017. According to the department’s website, officers are required to cover tattoos, and tattoos are not permitted on an officer’s head, scalp, face, neck, hands or fingers.

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Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2022

The Houston Food Bank turns 40 as food insecurity, poverty continue to skyrocket

On most afternoons, long lines of cars wrap around Bible Way Fellowship Baptist Church as Texans wait their turns to pick up fresh meat and produce, canned goods and other items from the food pantry of the southeast Houston church. Many come from nearby areas where 1 in 5 families live in poverty and the median income is only two-thirds of the Houston metropolitan area, and so demand is always strong. But, with families still recovering from pandemic-related job losses and inflation eating away at already tight finances, demand has only increased. Bible Way Fellowship can barely keep the shelves stocked as it aids hundreds of families each day. “It’s been overwhelming,” said Tomeka Brewster, director of the church’s food pantry. “We have seen a massive increase in the need for food.”

Bible Way Fellowship is one of 1,600 local charities and organizations that rely on the Houston Food Bank, which has collected, stored and distributed food for the region’s poor and struggling families for four decades, fighting hunger and providing a safety net through booms, busts and disasters. As the food bank marks its 40th year in operation, the lines at Bible Way Fellowship show that the need for the charity has hardly diminished. Nor have the challenges. COVID-19 eroded the food bank’s army of 85,000 volunteers, many of whom have yet to return. Meanwhile, service demands remain about 25 percent higher than before COVID as Texans continue to rely on charity to combat skyrocketing inflation that has pushed national food prices up by more than 9 percent since two years ago. “I wouldn't call it precarious,” said Houston Food Bank President and CEO Brian Greene. “But it is tight right now.” Of course, it’s not the first time food bank has faced budget holes, skyrocketing demand and uncertainty. The past five years, which encompassed a devastating hurricane, pandemic, recession and oil bust, have proven particularly trying. But, if anything, the past 40 years have shown that the Houston Food Bank and the charities that rely on it — as well as the workers, volunteers and donors who support it — have staying power.

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KXAN - May 17, 2022

Homeless Strategy Officer apologizes for break-in at Candlewood Suites

— The woman in charge of Austin’s homeless strategy is apologizing after vandals broke into a city-owned hotel that will be converted into transitional housing for the homeless. Dianna Gray, the city’s Homeless Strategy Officer, spoke Monday night during a virtual meeting about the May 5 break-in at the former Candlewood Suites in northwest Austin. “The intent had been to have security on site previous to this event. It had been requested, and there was a delay in the requesting, so it had not been initiated. We acknowledge that as a failing and apologize,” Gray said. The response came after Austin City Council member Mackenzie Kelly shared photos May 12 of broken doors and broken door knobs.

In August 2021, Austin City Council moved to buy the Candlewood Suites on Pecan Park Boulevard to transform into permanent supportive housing for the homeless population. The goal was to convert the hotel into 80 rooms as part of the city’s HEAL initiative or Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link. The city said the “facility is designed for individuals living with disabilities who need housing assistance and ongoing support as they exit long-term homelessness.” A city spokesperson told KXAN the facility is “currently vacant” as it awaits renovations. It “introduced regular security patrols” after the trespassing incident on May 5. “The city intended to implement routine security monitoring earlier this year. However, due to a delay in processing the request, security had not been initiated at the site,” according to a memo that addressed the city’s security strategy following the break-in. The memo stated security will now patrol the facility “day and night.” According to the city’s Homeless Strategy Division, occupants should fill in late this year or early next year. On Thursday, city council is set to approve a contract with Family Eldercare to start work on the former Candlewood Suites building to make the necessary renovations to convert it to a transitional facility. The renovations are expected to take around six months, the spokesperson said. There is also a plan to track residents’ progress. The city said staff will keep tabs on residents’ stabilization. A spokesperson also said, “while many residents may move on to fully independent living, the intention of PSH is to provide a long-term home.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2022

Korean American hair salon shooting victim appears at meeting with Dallas officials

In a room of filled with dozens of people from the Korean American community in Dallas, one of the victims of last week’s shooting at a hair salon described how the moment felt. “It feels like I’ve been born again,” she said in Korean. The woman, who did not reveal her name and covered her face with a mask and sunglasses, said she hopes the Korean community can become safer following the shooting. The woman, who was wearing a cast and a sling, said she was shot three times. She said she worries about her future and her ability to make a living, given the injuries to her hand. “We’re very nervous. We’re very tired,” she said. She described the Korean American community as a family, and thanked those who came to the town hall.

“This happened to us for no reason,” she added. After the meeting, she handed police a plastic bag. She later told The Dallas Morning News that inside the bag were bullets that she found while cleaning up the hair salon. Three women of Korean descent, two employees and a customer, were injured in the shooting, on Wednesday afternoon in the 2200 block of Royal Lane, an area with a high concentration of Korean-owned businesses. According to police, the women’s injuries are not believed to be life-threatening. Dallas Police Chief Eddie García, Deputy Chief Rick Watson and Council member Omar Narvaez attended the town hall meeting and fielded questions from community members. García said representatives from the FBI also attended the meeting. The FBI is also investigating the shooting as a potential hate crime, according to WFAA-TV (Channel 8). Caroline Kim, whose mother operates Korea House, a restaurant near Royal Lane and Interstate 35E, asked what measures Dallas police and city leaders are taking to prevent attacks against the Asian Americans, pointing to a rise of hate incidents the community has reported during the coronavirus pandemic.

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National Stories

Politico - May 17, 2022

New Mexico Calf Canyon Fire becomes largest in state history

At 298,060 acres as of Monday morning, the Calf Canyon Fire in New Mexico is now the largest blaze in state history, surpassing the Whitewater-Baldy Fire of 2012. Why it matters: Mired in a megadrought fueled by climate change, New Mexico and the rest of the Southwest are already experiencing major fires this year. Other western states are likely to see severe wildfire seasons due to a shorter-term drought that extends across the entire West. Threat level: A red flag warning is in effect Monday for northeastern New Mexico, including the area in and around the wildfire, between noon and 8pm local time.

There is a threat of erratic winds gusting to 60 mph at times, near-record high temperatures, and dry lightning strikes that could cause further ignitions and spread the fire. Thousands have already been displaced from the blaze, including from tourism-dependent locations in Taos County. For Monday, the National Weather Service is predicting "near critical" wildfire weather conditions, which will challenge firefighters as they struggle to increase containment on the fire, which stood at just 27% as of Monday morning. The Calf Canyon Fire is, in fact, the largest wildfire anywhere in the U.S. so far this year. The heat and low humidity levels are expected to continue throughout the week. Forecasters are also concerned about heat and high winds spreading the fire on Tuesday, with even more widespread critical fire weather for Thursday and Friday, due to the combination of dry conditions and high winds. The big picture: The Calf Canyon Fire is the result of a combination of two fires, one of which, the Hermit's Peak Fire, was a prescribed burn set April 6 by the federal government. It escaped containment amid high winds and dry weather and eventually merged with the nearby Calf Canyon blaze. New Mexico typically sees its biggest fires in May and the first part of June before the Southwest monsoon kicks in and brings more moisture into the region. This year, the fires started earlier and were larger than average for that time of year.

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CNN - May 17, 2022

DeSantis eyes state takeover of Disney's special district

After stripping Disney of its special governing powers last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis now says that he wants the state to take over the government body that has overseen the entertainment company's Orlando-area theme parks for half a century. DeSantis, a Republican, told reporters Monday that it is fairer for other businesses if the state controls the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special district that, since 1967, has essentially allowed the Walt Disney Company to control the land around its properties. "The path forward is Disney will not control its own government in the state of Florida," DeSantis said. "Disney will have to follow the same laws that every other company has to follow the state of Florida. They will pay their fair share in taxes."

The remarks offered the first glimpse into DeSantis' plan for Reedy Creek after the governor and Republican lawmakers passed a new law last month to dissolve the district in a special session -- a move that critics have said was retaliation for Disney speaking out against a new Florida law that will limit what schools can teach about sexual orientation and gender identity. The fate of Disney, Florida's largest employer, and the district's existing debt remains unclear in the weeks after the contentious vote. Democrats and local officials have suggested that local governments and taxpayers in the surrounding counties of Osceola and Orange could be on the hook for that debt if Reedy Creek ceases to exist. That opinion is supported by Reedy Creek in a recent statement to its bondholders and an analysis by the state Senate, which concluded in April that local government "assume all indebtedness of the preexisting special district." But DeSantis promised local and state taxpayers would not have to pay for Reedy Creek's outstanding debt, which officials have said is about $1 billion. He said the government would likely collect more taxes once Disney's special status is eliminated once it's on more equal footing with other theme parks operating in Florida.

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Wall Street Journal - May 17, 2022

Elon Musk says Twitter deal can’t move forward without more clarity on fake accounts

Elon Musk said his $44 billion purchase of Twitter Inc. can’t move forward until the company is clearer about how many of its accounts are fake, casting fresh doubt on his planned takeover of the social-media company. Mr. Musk’s latest comments add to questions about whether he is committed to concluding a deal that was struck amid a steep selloff in technology stocks. Last week, he said the deal was “on hold” over concerns about fake accounts on the platform—a problem that has long dogged social media companies. In a tweet early Tuesday, Mr. Musk said that Twitter’s chief executive had refused to show proof that less than 5% of Twitter’s accounts were fake. “This deal cannot move forward until he does,” he said. Mr. Musk said his offer was based on Twitter’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission being accurate, and added: “20% fake/spam accounts, while 4 times what Twitter claims, could be *much* higher.”

Twitter declined to comment on Tuesday. On Monday, Twitter Chief Executive Parag Agrawal defended his company’s efforts to fight spam. “First, let me state the obvious: spam harms the experience for real people on Twitter, and therefore can harm our business,” Mr. Agrawal said as part of a series of posts on Monday. “As such, we are strongly incentivized to detect and remove as much spam as we possibly can, every single day. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just wrong.” He said Twitter suspends more than half a million spam accounts a day and locks millions of accounts suspected of being fake weekly if they can’t be verified by humans. Last week, Mr. Musk, the CEO of Tesla Inc., said he would try to verify Twitter’s numbers and said others should do the same. Mr. Agrawal suggested that external estimates of spam accounts wouldn’t be accurate. “Unfortunately, we don’t believe that this specific estimation can be performed externally, given the critical need to use both public and private information [which we can’t share],” Mr. Agrawal said Monday. “Externally, it’s not even possible to know which accounts are counted as mDAUs on any given day,” he added, referring to monetizable daily active users. Mr. Musk responded with a number of tweets, with one showing a poop emoji.

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Wire Services - May 16, 2022

Baby formula maker Abbott reaches agreement with U.S. regulators to reopen factory

Baby formula maker Abbott said Monday it has reached an agreement with U.S. health regulators to restart production at its largest domestic factory, though it will be well over a month before any new products ship from the site to help alleviate the national shortage facing parents. Abbott did not immediately detail the terms of the agreement with the Food and Drug Administration, which has been investigating safety concerns at the Sturgis, Michigan, plant since early this year. The consent decree amounts to a legally binding agreement between the FDA and the company on steps needed to reopen the factory. An FDA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the announcement Monday evening.

After production resumes, Abbott said it will take between six-to-eight weeks before new products begin arriving in stores. The company didn’t set a timeline to restart production. The FDA is expected to announce additional steps Monday to allow more foreign imports into the U.S. to address the supply problems. It comes as the administration of President Joe Biden faces intense pressure to do more to ease the shortage that has left many parents hunting for formula online or at food banks. Abbott’s plant came under scrutiny early this year after the FDA began investigating four bacterial infections among infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant. Two of the babies died. In February, the company halted production and recalled several brands of powdered formula, squeezing supplies that had already been tightened by supply chain disruptions and stockpiling during COVID-19. The shortage has led retailers like CVS and Walgreen’s to limit how many containers customers can purchase per visit.

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Washington Post - May 17, 2022

California church shooter motivated by anti-Taiwanese hate, police say

A 68-year-old Nevada man accused of killing one person and wounding five others in a Taiwanese congregation in Orange County, Calif. was allegedly motivated by anti-Taiwan sentiment in what law enforcement is calling a politically motivated hate crime. Investigators are pursuing federal hate-crime charges against the suspect, identified as David Chou of Las Vegas. Chou already faces one felony count of murder and five felony counts of attempted murder for the Sunday shooting. Chou is a Chinese-born United States citizen who has lived in the U.S. for “many years” and was “upset by political tensions between China and Taiwan,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said during a Monday news conference. Barnes said notes written in Mandarin were found in Chou’s vehicle that supported “his hatred [of the] Taiwanese people” and his beliefs that Taiwan should not be an independent country. Barnes said he believed that hate manifested when Chou was living in Taiwan as a youth where he was “not well-received.”

China claims Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, as its own and has asserted it could one day use force to take control of Taiwan. Barnes and other officials described a dramatic scene of terror met with bravery, particularly hailing the actions of John Cheng, who was identified Monday as the lone person killed in the shooting at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. The small congregation worships in the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods. “Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident,” Barnes said. “Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt there’d be numerous victims in this crime.” Cheng, a 52-year-old sports medicine doctor, spent the final moments of his life trying to protect fellow congregants after the shooter opened fire and struck several elderly churchgoers, Barnes said. Cheng was shot, but the shooter’s pistol jammed before he could fire additional rounds; the delay gave the pastor enough time to swing a chair at the gunman, knocking him down as other members of the congregation moved to hogtie his legs with an extension cord until police arrived. Cheng, of nearby Laguna Niguel, was pronounced dead at the scene. He is survived by his wife and two children, officials said.

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Reuters - May 17, 2022

More than 250 Ukrainian troops surrender as Kyiv orders Mariupol to yield

Ukraine's military said on Tuesday it aimed to evacuate its remaining soldiers from their last stronghold in Mariupol, as fighters that have held out for 82 days began to surrender, heralding the end of Europe's bloodiest battle in decades. Reuters saw buses leave the huge Azovstal steelworks overnight and five of them arrive in the Russian-held town of Novoazovsk. In one, marked with the Latin letter 'Z' that has become the symbol of Russia's assault, wounded men were lying on stretchers three bunks high. One man was wheeled out, his head tightly wrapped in thick bandages. Video released by the Russian ministry of defence showed fighters leaving the plant, some being carried on stretchers, others with their hands up to be searched by Russian troops.

Russia said 256 Ukrainian fighters had "laid down their arms and surrendered", including 51 severely wounded. Ukraine said 264 soldiers, including 53 wounded, had left the metal plant, and efforts were under way to evacuate others still inside. "The 'Mariupol' garrison has fulfilled its combat mission," the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in a statement. "The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel ... Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time." The surrender appears to mark the end of the battle of Mariupol, where Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people were killed under months of Russian bombardment and siege. The city now lies in ruins. Its complete capture is Russia's biggest victory of the war, giving Moscow total control of the coast of the Sea of Azov and an unbroken stretch of eastern and southern Ukraine about the size of Greece. But it comes as Russia's campaign has faltered elsewhere, with its troops around the city of Kharkiv in the northeast lately retreating at the fastest pace since they were driven out of the north and the area around Kyiv at the end of March. Authorities on both sides gave few clues about the ultimate fate of Mariupol's last defenders, with Ukrainian officials discussing the prospect of some form of exchange for Russian prisoners but giving no details.

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