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Newsclips - January 24, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2020

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to change Texas Senate rules to benefit GOP if Dems win more seats in 2020

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says that even if Democrats gain more seats in the Texas Senate, he’ll urge ruling Republicans to change rules to maintain control of the flow of legislation in the chamber next session. As long as Republicans retain a majority of the 31-member Senate, they should keep revising rules so Texas continues “leading on federalism,” or a reduced role for the federal government and greater clout for the states, Patrick said Thursday.

Patrick quickly emphasized that he believes the GOP will perform well in the November general election. But his comments, delivered before a conservative audience at an event sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, underscored how he remains hostile to Texas Senate traditions that empowered minorities, whether of party or geography. Speaking with foundation executive director Kevin Roberts and former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint at a luncheon attended by hundreds of conservative activists, Patrick noted that he already helped persuade GOP senators to toss a longstanding “two-thirds rule.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2020

Texas A&M student being tested for coronavirus

A Texas A&M University student was being tested Thursday for a deadly new coronavirus that has sparked health fears around the world, university officials said Thursday.

The man — who recently traveled from Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have originated — is isolated at home, said Brazos County Health District officials, who declined to identify him. If the case is confirmed, the officials said they would promptly announce it. ?(Health district) officials have described the immediate health risk to the campus community as low,” Texas A&M said in a statement. Classes will continue as scheduled. The student’s symptoms appear to be improving, said Dr. Eric Wilke of the Brazos County Health Authority. The man does not need any treatment, Wilke said. “It’s fortunate that he had mild symptoms,” Wilke said.

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CNBC - January 23, 2020

It’s going to get a lot easier to export some firearms from the US due to a new Trump administration rule

In a move aimed at boosting the sale of U.S. firearms and ammunition abroad, the Trump administration has eased regulations on some commercial firearms exports. American manufacturers will have fewer registration requirements in order to obtain an export license, as the State Department moved jurisdiction of certain firearms sales to the Commerce Department. The change, announced last week, was entered into the Federal Register on Thursday. It will be effective March 9.

The long-delayed rule change, which began under the Obama administration, is intended to lower costs for U.S. gun-makers such as American Outdoor Brands Corp. and Sturm, Ruger and Co., while refocusing regulatory attention on weapons sales that could pose national security risks. For example, under the Arms Export Control Act, the State Department must disclose any commercial arms sale worth $1 million or more to Congress for review. The Commerce Department has no such requirement. What’s more, the State Department requires an annual fee from companies in the industry, whereas Commerce does not require such a fee.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

McNamee, longtime Texas GOP attorney, will step down from FERC

Bernard McNamee, a former advisor to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and fellow at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, said Thursday he would not seek a second term on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. With only six months left in his term, the announcement puts a near end date on the service of a powerful conservative voice at FERC, who has argued against policy encouraging energy companies to shift away from fossil fuels as unlawful and detrimental to the U.S. economy.

In a statement Thursday, McNamee said he made the decision based on his family. "This is one of the most interesting and rewarding jobs I have ever had. I have enjoyed the work, the issues, and the people. In short, I have loved this job; but I love my family more," he wrote. From the moment President Donald Trump nominated him in 2018, McNamee has proved controversial. As the Senate debated his confirmation, video emerged of him calling climate change efforts, "an organized propaganda war” against fossil fuels. Last month, he and Chairman Neil Chatterjee ruled that state power regulators had the right to assess a surcharge on power sources that receive government subsidy, a blow to wind and solar farms, along with nuclear power plants, facilities many states are trying to grow in an effort to reduce their carbon footprints.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Texas lobbyists and politicians dodged $800k in fines, thanks to weak campaign finance laws

Texas state Rep. Ron Reynolds was running for his fourth term when in early 2016 he abruptly stopped reporting his finances to the state. He didn’t file another report for about two years, keeping secret the amount of money he raised during that time and the identities of those who gave it to him. Reynolds, D-Missouri City, is one of about a hundred candidates, lobbyists and political action committee treasurers each year who fail to file mandatory disclosures of their donors and expenses, racking up thousands of dollars in fines as a result, according to an analysis by Hearst Newspapers.

Yet candidates with unpaid fines can continue to run for office and the committees can go on operating, thanks to a weak enforcement system that allows them to dodge their responsibility to the state and voters. Reynolds still owes over $74,000 as he runs for re-election this year. The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which handles collections for the Texas Ethics Commission, since 2005 has won the right in court to collect $1.1 million from late filers, including Reynolds, but the office has then written off $800,000 as uncollectible, effectively ending attempts to financially penalize candidates and political committees.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Republican Pierce Bush warns of ‘dangerously naive’ AOC and Beto O’Rourke in TV ad

Republican Pierce Bush is out with his first television ads in the hotly contested GOP primary battle for one of the Houston area’s most competitive congressional seats.

Up until now, Republican Kathaleen Wall, who is largely self-funding her campaign, has been the only contender in the battle for the 22nd Congressional District on area television. In Bush’s new ad, he flashes images of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke talking about immigration reform proposals. Then Bush comes on the screen and warns: “Democrats want open borders and it’s dangerously naive.” His tough take on the border comes as many of the 15 Republicans running in the March 3 primary are also brandishing their tough immigration stances. Wall’s TV ads have promised to help build a border wall with President Donald Trump.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Octavio N. Martinez, Jr. and Will Francis: Texas must support an inclusive child welfare system for LGBTQ parents, kids

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston recently joined the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in filing a federal lawsuit challenging a rule that prohibits taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies from discriminating based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We should be troubled by anything that would remove protections for an already vulnerable class of young people. And, perhaps more importantly, we should fear the possibility of further reducing the state’s already scarce pool of foster families.

LGBTQ youths are overrepresented both within the foster care system and within child welfare in general. Child welfare data indicates that approximately 30.4 percent of youths with child welfare involvement identify as lesbian, bisexual or gay and that approximately 11.78 percent of youths in foster care identify as nonbinary, transgender, gender diverse or unsure. Our state is in the middle of a costly and complicated overhaul of its child welfare system, one set in motion by a federal judge’s ruling four years ago that the system exposed children to such harm that it was unconstitutional. Despite being just a few years removed from images of children sleeping in state agency offices (having no place else to go), we are once again acting as if we have the luxury of raising barriers to equal participation in the foster care system by otherwise qualified foster parents. What do we mean by “qualified”? We mean a diverse array of foster and adoptive families who are prepared to accept a child’s gender identity and provide that child with the kind of gender-affirming care that is associated with improved well-being and mental health.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Pediatrician group wrong to blame reporting on child abuse

The injuries that brought the children to doctors’ attention were harrowing — a 5-month-old with skull fractures and internal bleeding, a 2-year-old with her feet burned and covered in blisters — situations made only more fraught by the concern that these injuries were not accidental, but the product of abuse. In both cases, specially-trained child abuse pediatricians determined that mistreatment was likely, and the children were taken away by Child Protective Services. In both cases, families’ lives were upended, thrown into a bureaucracy designed to safeguard children from harm and scarcely pay attention to cries of innocence from alleged abusers.

In both cases, detailed alongside others in the Houston Chronicle and NBC News investigation “Do No Harm,” the doctors were wrong. Instances of child abuse pediatricians implicating credibly blameless parents are not common, the investigation detailed, but they aren’t the bizarre outliers that some in the medical field want us to believe. In response to the reporting, more than 300 families across 38 states came forward to share their own stories of misdiagnoses. Of lost jobs, ruined reputations and financial distress. Of children being taken away and emerging scarred from their time in foster care. Texas lawmakers rightly paid attention and have called a series of legislative hearings to explore potential improvements, including requiring a second medical opinion before the state removes a child from a home. But there was also a less heartening response from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Their take? Blame the messenger.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Gus Reyes: Faith-based adoption benefits families and should be allowed to follow deeply held beliefs

Bringing a child into your home who comes from a different background and, too often, a trauma-filled past, is not easy. It requires great strength of heart, patience and unconditional love — but most importantly, it requires a community that grants such strength. When my wife and I first decided to adopt 25 years ago, we had planned to bring one infant into our family. We then learned our son had a brother also in the foster system. Despite having planned to adopt only one child, we couldn’t imagine separating them. This decision stretched us financially and challenged us emotionally and spiritually. But our church community rallied around us — showering our boys with love and support.

We had not used a faith-based agency for our adoptions, but the process made clear to us why so many people adopt and foster through faith-based groups. They provide the spiritual and emotional support we were lucky to find in our church community. Though we are grateful for those who united us with our two beautiful sons, if we were to do it all again, my wife and I would seek a faith-based agency that shared our most fundamental values and beliefs to provide that support. Our nation is in a foster care crisis, and our experience with adoption showed us the value of faith-based agencies in both foster care and adoption. Religious agencies are great at what they do. Religious agencies recruit and retain foster parents at a higher rate than their secular counterparts. And it’s no wonder why. These agencies aren’t simply a vehicle for uniting a family with a child; they provide holistic support and guidance grounded in shared values and trust. Faith-based groups want to help meet the foster care crisis, but a federal regulation bars many such groups from doing so because it would require them to endorse and certify same-sex relationships (in the foster parent evaluation process) even if doing so goes against their beliefs.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Texas Gov. Abbott to Californians: ‘Don’t blow it when you come here.’

As President Donald Trump was leaving the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Wednesday his eye caught a familiar face in the crowd. When the president spied Gov. Greg Abbott, who's been in Davos, Switzerland, since Saturday, Trump immediately rushed over with a handshake, a big hug and asked the Texas governor if he wanted a seat on Air Force One. “I’ll give you a ride,” Trump said in a warm exchange caught on Twitter.

Abbott said he was grateful for the offer but had two more days of work in Switzerland before heading back home. Abbott is on an 11-day economic development mission that started in Israel on Jan. 14. In Davos, he participated in the World Economic Forum, where he talked up the state’s booming economy and was trying to strike deals to get more businesses to move to Texas. Abbott had no shortage of praise for Trump during an interview on FOX Business from Davos, where he said Trump delivered one of his best speeches ever. He said Trump was able to explain American exceptionalism and did not apologize for the nation’s strong economy.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Brazos County investigating suspected case of mysterious virus

Brazos County’s health department is investigating a suspected case of the mystery pneumonia-like virus that has claimed 18 lives in China and was confirmed in the U.S. for the first time earlier this week.

The department, located in the Bryan-College Station region, said in a tweet that the patient had traveled from Wuhan, China, where the so-called 2019 novel coronavirus originated. Another departmental tweet said health-care providers in the area were aware of the public health guidance about the virus and quickly recognize the patient met the criteria for testing. The patient is being kept isolated at home.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Native American group files new claims in Alamo lawsuit

A Native American group has filed an amended petition in its federal lawsuit claiming the Alamo is a cemetery that merits legal protection. The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation filed the new document this week that focuses claims against the nonprofit Alamo Trust Inc., as well as its CEO, Douglass W. McDonald, and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. In December, a federal judge had dismissed San Antonio and two state agencies as defendants in the lawsuit seeking to slow down the $450 million, four-year overhaul of Alamo Plaza in efforts to protect the area as a historic cemetery.

The group’s amended petition accuses the Alamo Trust and General Land Office of selectively applying and interpreting the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in an attempt to exclude Tap Pilam from participating in the Alamo project. Members of Tap Pilam claim lineal ties to ancestors at the Mission San Antonio de Valero. Tap Pilam executive member Ramón Vásquez said Alamo officials have “weaponized” NAGPRA by inviting “tribal representatives not native to Central or South Texas,” with different cultural practices than those of Tap Pilam, to guide the project on an archaeology advisory committee. “This approach indicates Commissioner Bush regards all Indians as the same, regardless of their direct connections to those buried at the Alamo, and that having Indians at the table is enough,” Vásquez said at a news conference Thursday.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 23, 2020

TCU student’s lawsuit says faculty ‘dehumanized’ her, school ignored reports of racism

A Texas Christian University student says she was harassed, discriminated against, and physically assaulted while attending TCU from 2018 to 2019. The 20-year-old black woman filed a federal lawsuit Jan. 15 in district court in Dallas against the university, the TCU board of trustees and five TCU employees. She is referred to as Jane Doe No. 1 throughout the suit.

The employees listed as defendants are Diane Snow, dean of the honors college; Frederick Gooding, an assistant professor of African-American studies; Rob Garnett, an associate dean of the honors college; Darron Turner, chief inclusion officer and Title IX director; and Russell Mack, an instructor. Aaron Chimbel, the dean of the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University and a former TCU faculty member, is also named as a defendant. Doe, who is still enrolled at TCU, said the university revoked her merit-based scholarship without explanation, segregated her from white classmates, falsely accused her of plagiarism and ignored her reports of racism.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 23, 2020

In brief, Cook Children’s says baby on life support is in ‘vicious cycle of suffering’

Cook Children’s Medical Center argued against a family’s appeal to continue a baby’s life-sustaining care at the Fort Worth hospital in a motion filed Thursday. Cook Children’s legal brief was filed in response to the family’s argument submitted on Jan. 16 to the Texas Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. The family of 11-month-old Tinslee Lewis is appealing a judge’s decision that would allow Cook Children’s to take Tinslee off life support.

Tinslee’s family contends she still has a chance to get better and that the hospital does not have a right to decide whether she lives or dies. The hospital says Tinslee has severe health problems that will not improve and continuing her care is causing her unnecessary pain and suffering. Tinslee was born prematurely in February with a rare heart defect called an Ebstein anomaly. She also suffers from a chronic lung disease and severe chronic pulmonary hypertension, and has undergone several complex surgeries. A legal battle between the family and the hospital broke out in October, when a hospital ethics committee unanimously ruled to remove life-sustaining care for Tinslee.

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Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2020

Jim Lehrer, Dallas journalist and longtime host of ‘PBS NewsHour’, dies at 85

Jim Lehrer, co-host and later host of the nightly PBS NewsHour that for decades offered a thoughtful take on current events, has died, PBS said Thursday. He was 85. Lehrer died “peacefully in his sleep,” according to PBS. He had suffered a heart attack in 1983 and more recently, had undergone heart valve surgery in April 2008. For Lehrer, and for his friend and longtime partner Robert MacNeil, broadcast journalism was a service, with public understanding of events and issues its primary goal. Lehrer was also a frequent moderator of presidential debates.

“We both believed the American people were not as stupid as some of the folks publishing and programming for them believed,” Lehrer wrote in his 1992 memoir, A Bus of My Own. “We were convinced they cared about the significant matters of human events. … And we were certain they could and would hang in there more than 35 seconds for information about those subjects if given a chance.” Tributes poured in from colleagues and watchers alike, including from Fox News’ Bret Baier, who called Lehrer “an inspiration to a whole generation of political journalists— including this one." Dan Rather said “few approached their work with more equanimity and integrity than Jim Lehrer.” And Jake Tapper of CNN called Lehrer “a wonderful man and a superb journalist.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him a “champion for truth and transparency.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2020

Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger’s GOP primary heats up as conservative groups offer dueling endorsements

Hours after an influential conservative group backed Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger’s GOP primary challenger, the longtime incumbent on Thursday rolled out a high-profile endorsement of her own. The dueling announcements from the Club for Growth – which is supporting Chris Putnam, Granger’s opponent – and National Right to Life, which is backing Granger, reflect a growing escalation in a GOP-held district that’s typically lacking in buzz.

Granger, the top Republican on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is the only GOP incumbent in North Texas who’s facing a serious challenge in the March primary. The 12-term lawmaker has been bracing for the competition, stockpiling support from key conservative groups and leaders – none more significant than President Donald Trump, the Republican who last month gave Granger his “complete and total” endorsement. So Granger was ready when the anti-tax Club for Growth threw its support behind Putnam, a well-funded former Colleyville city councilman, and criticized her record along the way.

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Dallas Morning News - January 24, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We recommend Nancy Cline in the GOP primary for Texas House District 65

GOP primary voters in Texas House District 65 have two strong pro-education and property tax reform-oriented candidates in Nancy Cline and Kronda Thimesch, either of whom would be a strong advocate for these issues in Austin. But since elections are binary choices, our nod narrowly goes to Cline.

Cline, 57, and Thimesch, 52, have long histories of public service in the community and share similar opinions and experiences. Thimesch served on the Lewisville ISD board, Cline on the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD board. Both are business owners. Both consider themselves fiscal conservatives, cite the need to secure the Texas-Mexico border, want to reduce regulatory burdens and favor criminal justice reform that reserves jails and prisons for the most violent criminals. And yes, both say lawmakers need to do more to relieve property tax burdens on homeowners and make the investments in schools that the state — and students — need to be competitive.

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KUT - January 23, 2020

For hemp to work, farmers want rules that fit reality

Although there’s no shortage of people in Texas planning to get into the hemp industry, many of them have serious concerns about how it will be regulated. There is no regulation right now because it’s been illegal to grow hemp in Texas for almost 100 years.

But last year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp – the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana – for fiber and CBD. Ever since, the Texas Department of Agriculture has been formulating regulations for the revived crop. Farmers had a chance to weigh in on those rules at a public hearing in Waco on Wednesday, and one of the main points of contention was how the plant’s THC levels will be tested. If a plant contains more than 0.3% THC, it’s considered marijuana and must be destroyed. But some people, like Hondo tomato farmer Kevin Calloway, said the figure is too low. He argued the rule will cause lots of growers to lose crops and money.

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KXAN - January 23, 2020

New standards for charter schools likely to be adopted by Texas Education Agency

The Texas Education Agency is expected to approve new standards for charter schools in the direction of the legislature. When approved, charter school organizations that meet certain standards will be encouraged to add more campuses. Both supporters and critics say it will encourage large networks like Kipp, IDEA, and Harmony to open up more campuses.

KIPP has several charter schools in Austin. If the non-profit meets new state standards there could soon be more locations according to Autumn Arnett from the Texas Charter Schools Association. “Eliminates the red tape for schools that have proved they have a good academic and financial history,” said Arnett, who wants to cut into a waitlist thousands of students deep. The new scoring system will be separated into three tiers: 70% based on academics; 20% based on financials; and 10% based on how the school complies with state rules and regulations.

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ABC 13 - January 24, 2020

Massive explosion in NW Houston felt across region

A massive explosion rocked a northwest Houston neighborhood and the blast was felt all across the region Friday morning. It happened around 4:25 a.m. and originated in the 4500 block of Gessner Rd.

It's not clear what exactly happened but fire and a large debris pile can be seen in the area between Gessner and Steffani Lane in the Westbranch neighborhood. Entire structures were destroyed in the blast. Broken windows, doors, and garage doors were reported across a wide area near the blast. Witnesses reported seeing two people walking out of the debris field that were injured. Houston firefighters told Eyewitness News the two are expected to recover. It wasn't clear how many other people may be injured.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2020

Hays County puts $2M toward Texas 21 study to improve safety, accommodate growth

After more than three dozen traffic fatalities in two years along a stretch of Texas 21 in Hays County, commissioners this week committed to spend $2 million on a transportation study that will examine how to improve safety on the highway and accommodate the influx of new growth in the region south of Austin.

The study, approved unanimously by commissioners Tuesday, will look specifically at a 17-mile stretch of the highway between Texas 80 in San Marcos and U.S. 183 in the eastern part of Hays County. Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe said the county has quickly outgrown that portion of the highway, which is currently two lanes in both directions in most places. “We just see much more traffic and unfortunately there’s been numerous fatalities,” she said. “We need to ensure we are planning for the growth that we continue to see in our county.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Former Precinct 2 Constable Vela indicted on charges of aggravated perjury, official oppression

Michelle Barrientes Vela, now a candidate for sheriff, was indicted Thursday on six criminal charges stemming from her three years as Precinct 2 constable — a tenure marred by staff problems, confrontations with other elected officials and allegations of improper collection of fines and security fees. Vela, 46, is facing one count of aggravated perjury and two counts of tampering or fabricating evidence, both third-degree felonies. She is also charged with three counts of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor.

Former Precinct 2 Captain Marc Duane Garcia, 40, who worked under Vela, was also indicted Thursday on one count of aggravated perjury and three counts of official oppression. Vela and Garcia turned themselves in Thursday afternoon at the Bexar County Courthouse. With their hands and ankles in shackles, they appeared before a judge, who set Vela’s bail at $25,000. She posted bond shortly thereafter and was released. Vela told reporters that county officials orchestrated the charges against her because they want to keep Sheriff Javier Salazar in office — an official Vela has clashed with in the past. “I’m his biggest threat of all the candidates,” Vela said.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2020

Low-level marijuana possession no longer enforced in Austin

The Austin City Council voted Thursday to end the enforcement of low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession. The move effectively ends criminal action against individuals with small amounts of marijuana while also prohibiting Austin police from pursuing new testing methods to distinguish narcotic marijuana from legal hemp.

“It’s time to do the right thing,” said Council Member Greg Casar, who led the effort to end low-level marijuana enforcement. “It’s the right thing for criminal justice reform. It’s the right thing from a common sense perspective, and it’s the right thing for racial equity.” Police still may issue citations and detain individuals for marijuana possession, as provided under state law. However, police no longer would issue any fines or require court dates for people suspected of low-level marijuana possession, which is fewer than 4 ounces of pot or amounts considered to be for personal use. The vote was unanimous with Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Jimmy Flannigan absent. Flannigan, who was not at the meeting because of an illness, was a co-sponsor of the action.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2020

Austin to study impact of litter, scooter dumping in waterways

Hundreds of scooters are being dumped in Austin’s waterways. City staff is hoping to embark on a comprehensive study to gauge the effects of the rented, dockless vehicles, and other litter, on creeks, lakes and rivers throughout Austin.

Austin Watershed officials told City Council members Thursday the study could cost approximately $500,000 and take up to a year to complete — a price tag and timeline that surprised some council members before their unanimous vote of approval. Council Member Paige Ellis, who sponsored a resolution calling for the study along with Council Members Natasha Harper-Madison and Greg Casar and Mayor Steve Adler, initially hoped the study could be completed by June. But with no funding identified in the 2020 budget, that goal was quickly dashed. Instead, the council approved an amended resolution calling for the city manager to outline the cost and parameters of the study by late February, and whether partial funding could be allocated from the 2020 budget.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Houston man gets probation in $1 million Dr Pepper rebate scam

A Shell station owner in Bakersfield, Calif. complained to no avail when he didn’t get a promised $75 rebate after replacing Tropicana Fruit Punch in his dispensers with Diet Dr Pepper. The Shell owner took his complaint up the chain to Dr Pepper. The Houston rebate company contracted by Dr Pepper ultimately came through with the money, but the 2014 episode shed light on a scam its owner had been running for five years, documenting rebates in fake spreadsheets and invoices but ultimately pocketing the money owed to vendors and customers.

Joseph A. Isaac, the 54-year-old entrepreneur behind the soda pop scheme, called himself a “cautionary tale” Wednesday at his federal sentencing, saying he was humbled, embarrassed and ashamed by the harm he’d inflicted when he kept more than $1 million in rebate money. He apologized to the judge as well as to customers and employees and Dr Pepper Snapple Group for perpetrating the scheme from 2011 to 2015. His lawyer, Jonathan Landers, said with the exception of this “serious fraud,” Isaac had led an exemplary life, rising up from a “horrendous” and “troubling” childhood to run successful businesses and tend to his wife, daughters and grandson. This case had been an aberration, and eventually set his client on the path to redemption in the eyes of his colleagues and customers, Landers said.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Elaine Ayala: Alameda promises to create new memories for new generations of San Antonians

For many of us, the Alameda wasn’t just a theater. The magnificent physical space on West Houston Street was a palace and the source of grand stories and memories for many San Antonians who enjoyed the movies, star appearances and live performances rooted in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. Those stories have been passed down like treasured heirlooms.

Work begins later this month on the theater’s $23 million historic restoration. When completed, San Antonians will end up not only with another cultural landmark and entertainment venue but with the promise of new generations of memories. My Alameda memories revolve around my maternal grandmother, Catarina. She was born in northern Mexico in the late 1880s. When I was about 6, she was in her 70s. Her long gray hair was held up in a bun by an horquilla, a long hair pin that alone did all the work. Her eyes were blue, and I’m told her hair was blond as a child. She never had much of a childhood, though. She came to the United States as an orphan, walking across a border where there was none, and soon became a child bride. My mother was the youngest of her 10 children, but there were other pregnancies that left my grandmother bereft.

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National Stories

Washington Post - January 23, 2020

Doomsday Clock is 100 seconds to midnight, the symbolic hour of the apocalypse

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the Doomsday Clock up to 100 seconds to midnight - a metaphor for the end of the world - in a recognition of growing threats from nuclear war, climate change and disinformation. It is the first time the clock has passed the two-minute mark in more than 70 years of existence, a testament to the need for urgent action, the Bulletin said Thursday, as the nonprofit's leader warned of influential leaders who "denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing complex threats."

"The challenge is what do we do about it?" President Rachel Bronson told The Washington Post. In the clock's grimmest moment ever, she believes years of dire warnings have begun to break through. "People are starting to get it," Bronson said, pointing to the movement ignited by teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. "But we need our leaders to be responding." Jerry Brown, the former California governor who serves as executive chair for the Bulletin, had a darker message after the clock was unveiled. The longtime Democratic politician said he sees "a world of vast, deep and pervasive complacency" toward the Doomsday Clock's message across the political spectrum.

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Wall Street Journal - January 24, 2020

Wall Street Journal Editorial: California runs off the road

Nancy Pelosi famously proclaimed that Democrats had to pass ObamaCare to find out what was in it. On the other hand, Democrats in California last year passed legislation outlawing many freelance and independent contracting jobs knowing the disruption it would cause—and voters are now discovering the damage. Ride-hailing app Uber this week rolled out changes for drivers and riders in California in an effort to duck the state’s new labor law AB5. That law reclassified a large swath of independent contractors from freelance journalists to Uber drivers as employees who are owed rest breaks, workers compensation, health benefits and paid leave.

Under the law, independent contractors must be “free from control and direction”; perform work “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business”; and be “customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.” Few contractors pass this test, so Democrats exempted dozens of professions. Now workers and businesses that didn’t win carve-outs are trying to navigate around the law. Uber is dropping up-front pricing in California, so riders won’t know their fare until after their trip ends. Drivers will also be able to reject trips based on their destination, which means passengers may find it difficult to hail rides to rough neighborhoods. Uber is also letting drivers in some areas set their own fares, though some economists predict this will result in lower worker pay. Companies are also going to court. Uber and Postmates contend the law violates equal protection by unfairly discriminating against app-based companies, but their lawsuit is a long-shot since the law sweeps broadly.

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New York Times - January 23, 2020

Marianne Williamson says she’ll support Andrew Yang in Iowa

Marianne Williamson, the self-help author and spiritual adviser who exited the Democratic presidential race this month, said Thursday that she would support a fellow political outsider, Andrew Yang, in the upcoming Iowa caucuses to try to help him stay in the race beyond February. In a three-part Instagram announcement in which she shared her opinions about the candidates still in the race, Ms. Williamson — who delivered a campaign message centered around healing — praised Mr. Yang for the “breadth of his intellect and the expansiveness of his heart.”

“Andrew’s personality is like a tuning fork realigning us with something we need to retrieve, taking us back to a more innocent time, making us remember to chuckle,” she said. And while she noted that she was not “endorsing anyone,” she wrote: “I’m lending my support to Andrew in Iowa, hopefully to help him get past the early primaries & remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. We need that this year.” In a tweet later Thursday, Mr. Yang, who peppers his stump speech with jokes and has played basketball and crowd-surfed on the campaign trail, thanked Ms. Williamson and praised her approach. She is expected to appear with him and speak at a town hall event in Fairfield, Iowa, on Friday, his campaign said.

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New York Times - January 24, 2020

What to watch for in Trump’s impeachment trial on Friday

Entering their final day of formal arguments, House impeachment managers are poised to bring to a close the case against President Trump that they have been methodically assembling since Wednesday. There have been conspicuous signs that fatigue is growing among the senators, who have already heard nearly 16 hours of presentations. Some have looked restless, leaving their desks, whispering during session and even nodding off — all testing the limits of trial rules.

Republicans seemed largely unmoved on Thursday by calls from Democrats to introduce new witnesses, a move that could significantly lengthen the trial. Despite chatter about a potential “witness trade” deal in which each side could call a number of witnesses of interest, such a deal seemed unlikely. On the trial’s sidelines, senators have sporadically been making their stances known. Earlier Thursday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said he was cautiously optimistic that enough Republicans would join him in voting to call witnesses like John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff. During a break Wednesday night, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters he would resist pressure from his colleagues to call the whistle-blower or members of the Biden family to testify.

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CNN - January 24, 2020

Trump to become first president to speak at annual anti-abortion March for Life event

President Donald Trump on Friday will become the first president to attend the March for Life when he speaks at the annual march and rally that gathers anti-abortion supporters from across the country in the nation's capital. The march aligns with the week of the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this year, as per tradition, in an anti-abortion response to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide.

The event was founded in 1974 by anti-abortion activist Nellie Gray, and typically attracts about 100,000 participants hailing from across the country. The plan is to continue the event until Roe is overturned, according to the march's organizers. Trump will be the first president to attend the march, according to March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, and a news release for the event said that Trump will speak at the event. Trump was also the first president to speak at the march via satellite feed when he addressed participants in the 2018 march. The administration has consistently worked to regulate or restrict abortion access since Trump assumed office. Trump has reinstated a ban on US government funding for international non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortions, appointed anti-abortion judges and opposed abortions later in pregnancy.

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Newsclips - January 23, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

‘What about the third amigo?’ Democrats urge Senate to subpoena Rick Perry

House Democrats want the Senate to haul Rick Perry back from Texas for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, or at least force him to turn over documents he’s so far refused to share. The former Texas governor, who served as Trump’s secretary of energy until last month, has emerged as a key figure in the Ukraine scandal at the center of the impeachment effort. Perry was one of the so-called “three amigos” who Trump put in charge of dealing with Ukraine, witnesses — including U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, another of the “amigos” — told the House.

Now Perry’s a target in Democrats’ efforts to get the Senate to subpoena fresh documents and call in witnesses for Trump’s impeachment trial, which is underway. “What about the third amigo?” U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that oversaw the impeachment inquiry, said on the Senate floor during the first full day of the trial. “We know from amigo Sondland’s testimony that he was certainly in the loop, knew all about this scheme.” As much as Perry has tried to stay out of the scandal, denying all wrongdoing and saying the American people won’t “buy into” impeachment, he has remained a central figure. It can’t be the ending Perry envisioned for his long, strange trip with Trump, a former political opponent he trashed as unfit for office in 2015.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

Texas women’s program lost funding for kicking out Planned Parenthood. The Trump administration just restored it.

The Trump administration Wednesday restored federal funding to the state’s health care program for low-income women. A previous version of the program had lost the money seven years ago after Texas officials excluded Planned Parenthood from the program. The $350 million boost to Healthy Texas Women will be distributed over the next five years. State officials had defended the move, saying public money shouldn’t go to abortion providers or affiliates. Planned Parenthood at the time was the largest provider of women’s health services in the program and did not provide abortions in the program.

The state has been using its own money to fund the program in the meantime. Gov. Greg Abbott celebrated the restoration of funding. “The Lone Star State is once again in partnership with the federal government to provide meaningful family planning and health services while fostering a culture of life,” Abbott said in a statement. “This collaboration is a symbol of our commitment to championing the lives of Texas women. I am grateful to President Trump and his administration for approving this waiver, and for his commitment to protecting the unborn while providing much-needed health resources to Texas women.”

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Wall Street Journal - January 23, 2020

FICO changes could lower your credit score

Changes in how the most widely used credit score in the U.S. is calculated will likely make it harder for many Americans to get loans. Fair Isaac Corp., creator of FICO scores, will soon start scoring consumers with rising debt levels and those who fall behind on loan payments more harshly. It will also flag certain consumers who sign up for personal loans, a category of unsecured debt that has surged in recent years.

The changes will create a bigger gap between consumers deemed to be good and bad credit risks, the company says. Consumers with already-high FICO scores of about 680 or higher who continue to manage loans well will likely get a higher score than under previous FICO versions. Those with already-low scores below 600 who continue to miss payments or accumulate other black marks will experience bigger score declines than under previous models. The changes are an about-face from recent years, when FICO and credit-reporting companies made changes that helped increase scores for some consumers, such as removing some negative information, including civil judgments, from credit reports.

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Reuters - January 22, 2020

Let them speak: Most Americans want witnesses in Trump impeachment trial

A bipartisan majority of Americans want to see new witnesses testify in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, and the public appears to be largely following the proceedings even after a bruising congressional inquiry that lasted several months, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling released Wednesday.

The poll, which ran from Jan. 17-22, also showed that U.S. public opinion has moved little since the U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump in mid-December. About 44% of adults in the United States say Trump should be removed from office, another 15% say he should be reprimanded formally with a congressional censure, and 31% said the charges should be dismissed. Trump so far has blocked the Democrats' requests for documents related to the administration's activities in Ukraine last year. He has also urged officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to participate.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 22, 2020

UT Health and UTSA agreement offers shorter path for in-demand medical career

The University of Texas at San Antonio and UT Health San Antonio are starting a fast-track degree program for future respiratory therapists — a job that’s increasingly in demand. The academic institutions announced a joint agreement to establish the Respiratory Care Early Acceptance Program, which will allow students to graduate with both a bachelor’s degree from UTSA and a master’s degree from the UT Health in five years, instead of six.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment for respiratory therapists is projected to grow 21 percent in the next decade, much faster than the average for most other occupations. Local employers’ demand for respiratory therapists in the near future could be greater than the supply, said David Henzi, associate dean in the School of Health Professions at UT Health San Antonio. Nationwide, about 27,900 new jobs will open up for respiratory therapists within the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Average salary for respiratory therapists in the U.S. is expected to reach $62,000 a year, Henzi said. Respiratory therapists need at least an associates degree, but some of the students trying to break into the field are earning bachelor’s or master’s degrees to improve their job prospects.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 22, 2020

Steven Leach: Abbott’s shortsighted decision to end refugee resettlement in Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott recently became the first governor to shut his state’s doors to refugees. Falsely conflating border migration with the refugee program, he echoed the Trump Administration’s lies about Texas being burdened by refugees. While President Donald Trump’s executive order giving states the right to block refugees has been halted, it’s an important development on how we welcome and value refugees. I am one of many people who believe there is a moral imperative to accept refugees into our country. But there are other reasons we should be demanding more refugees for the U.S. and for Texas. First, refugees have been instrumental to economic growth, and second, there are national security considerations. Abbott’s decision is economically shortsighted, ignorant of national security concerns and out of step with Texan values.

The current refugee program was signed into law in 1980. It has nothing to do with undocumented border crossings, and is a formal program that vets and admits refugees. The refugee admissions ceiling has varied with each sitting president, but hasn’t gone below 70,000 until recently. Only under the Trump administration has the U.S. abandoned its commitment to global leadership in accepting and caring for refugees, steadily lowering the ceiling each year until it has reached the current max of 18,000, less than 13 percent of the highest cap under President H. W. Bush and a mere 8 percent of the high under President Ronald Reagan. Utah, the only state to rival Texas in population growth last year, wants more refugees resettled there. Utah currently has more employers looking for refugee workers than it has refugees to fill jobs — its Republican governor and Republican legislature are eager to welcome refugees to job training programs. Abbott’s decision puts the Texas economy at a disadvantage at a time of sustained growth. In fact, the Trump Administration knows refugees are a net positive for the economy, because it suppressed a report that said so in 2017.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Texas transportation leader in San Antonio to talk highway construction

Gov. Greg Abbott was a “great visionary” for approving $77 billion for a decade of new highway construction in Texas and $24 billion for road projects already underway, the official who oversees the Texas Department of Transportation told an audience here Wednesday.

Bruce Bugg, an Abbott appointee and San Antonio resident who heads the Texas Transportation Commission, got robust applause addressng the Rotary Club of San Antonio by praising the ongoing widening of U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 to Comal County, along with other multibillion-dollar local projects: expanding Interstate 10 West and Loop 410 at Interstate 35, and taking Loop 1604 from two lanes to five in each direction.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 22, 2020

San Antonio firm with $106 million local contract at center of West Texas federal corruption case

A San Antonio-based communications company that holds a hard-won, multimillion-dollar contract with the city and Bexar County now is at the center of a federal corruption case in West Texas. Federal prosecutors have charged former San Angelo Police Chief Timothy Ray Vasquez, 49, with taking $134,000 in bribes to help Dailey & Wells Communications win contracts for first responder radio systems in San Angelo worth more than $11 million.

Dailey & Wells of San Antonio and two of its affiliates made several payments to Vasquez and his wedding band, Funky Munky, after winning the contracts in 2007 and 2015, a Jan. 8 indictment alleges. Two years ago, San Antonio City Council members awarded the same company a 15-year, $106 million contract to overhaul the city’s radio system for first responders, which also is in use by the Fire Department and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. The city hired Dailey & Wells to build the current radio system in 2004. The new system is expected to come online in December 2021.

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan: District to explore addition of metal detectors in wake of Bellaire shooting

Houston ISD officials are exploring the addition of metal detectors at the district’s middle and high schools in response to last week’s fatal on-campus shooting of a student, Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said Tuesday. In a blog post, Lathan wrote that she will be meeting with students and community leaders to determine whether the district should increase security measures following the shooting of 19-year-old Cesar Cortes at Bellaire High School. Authorities have said they believe a 16-year-old classmate accidentally shot Cortes while showing off a semiautomatic pistol.

“These meetings, along with reconvening safety and security council committees on every campus, will be a catalyst for increased vigilance and preventative measures in our schools,” Lathan said. “Another measure the district is exploring includes assessing middle schools and high schools for metal detectors as a screening measure for entry onto campuses.” HISD does not regularly employ metal detectors or require clear backpacks at its campuses. Aldine and Spring ISDs are the only two large Houston-area districts that use metal detectors each school day. Cy-Fair ISD, the region’s second-largest district, issued a clear backpack mandate for students following the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 people dead.

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Houston Republican Dan Crenshaw says conservatives can’t afford to ignore climate change

Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw said Wednesday that conservatives can’t afford to ignore the topic of climate change. “We can make fun of the left's sort of alarmist views on climate change — and we should, to an extent — but we can't ignore it completely,” Crenshaw said during a keynote Q-and-A at the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 2020 policy conference. “From a political standpoint, we cannot ignore it completely.”

The 35-year-old congressman, who has proven to be a leader within the party for rallying young conservatives, said most of the left's alarmism on climate change is unwarranted, but not all of it. “It’s not totally untrue. Their alarmism is often, almost always, completely untrue and not founded in facts or data. When they’re blaming storms and things on climate change, it’s usually nonsense,” Crenshaw said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t some effect on the climate from man-made emissions, and we can admit that.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

For Dems in affluent District 134, all that matters is who can beat Sarah Davis

The March primaries are weeks away, but the first question at a recent forum for the three Democrats running to unseat state Rep. Sarah Davis centered on November: “How do you plan to win this race if you are the nominee?” The answer has evaded Democrats since the 2010 tea party wave, when Davis flipped the highly affluent and educated House District 134. Widely viewed as the most moderate Republican in the Texas House, she comfortably has retained the seat in four subsequent elections, despite strong headwinds atop the ballot the last two cycles.

Those electoral results are on the minds of voters, and the candidates themselves, in the sleepy Democratic primary between educator Lanny Bose and attorneys Ann Johnson and Ruby Powers. With little evidence of public rancor between them, they instead are directing their attacks toward Davis’ record, each trying to convince voters of their ability to beat her in November. “My attitude is, we've got three folks who are applying to be team captain. I'm going to be a part of this race in the general whether or not my name is on the ballot,” Bose said. “This primary is about talking about our shared vision for what this seat and what Houston should look like.” For years, Democrats have argued Davis’ record is far less moderate than she portrays and, at times, framed her as being in lockstep with the Republican establishment. That case lost some of its potency in 2018, when Gov. Greg Abbott backed Davis’ primary opponent and spent lavishly on ads calling Davis a “liberal Democrat.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

At TPPF policy orientation, two Texas Republicans explain why they aren’t afraid to call Trump out on Twitter

It’s no secret that U.S. Reps. Chip Roy, a Republican from Hays County, and Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, are staunch allies of President Donald Trump, but they also have cultivated reputations for speaking their minds, even in opposition to Trump. The pair spoke at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual Policy Orientation on Wednesday and answered questions afterward about their occasional criticisms of the president, which often come publicly on Twitter.

“I haven’t gotten any significant blowback by that because ultimately we’re all trying to march forward in the same direction and support the same policy,” Roy said. “I just think we need more of that open, honest dialogue instead of shirts and skins just getting in the corner and shooting at each other instead of engaging.” Roy and Crenshaw are likely to face tough reelections in November — both in districts targeted by the campaign arm of Democrats in the U.S. House. But they also have become two of the better-known freshman Republicans nationally. Roy has taken to cable news shows to criticize both Republicans and Democrats over what he has called inaction on border security, and Crenshaw first gained popularity when he responded to “Saturday Night Live’s” mocking of his eyepatch for his war wound.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

Appeals court declines to revive lawsuit supporting 3D-printed guns

In the continuing fight over the legality of publishing schematics for making mostly plastic guns on 3D printers, a federal appeals court has rejected efforts to revive a lawsuit that sought to allow distribution of the do-it-yourself plans.

That lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 after the U.S. State Department, which enforces federal law on exporting military weaponry, ordered Austin-based Defense Distributed to remove from its website plans for building the Liberator, a 3D-printed, single-shot pistol. Defense Distributed dismissed its lawsuit in 2018 after the State Department, under President Donald Trump, agreed to let the plans be published. However, the company moved to revive that lawsuit after publication was again blocked — this time by a federal judge in Seattle. Responding to a lawsuit by Washington and 18 other states, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik issued a restraining order blocking the State Department agreement in 2018, then followed with a November 2019 ruling that voided the agreement.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

Travis County GOP opposes ‘vulgar,’ ‘misogynist’ Robert Morrow for education board

The Travis County Republican Party has taken the unusual step of opposing the candidacy of a Republican candidate for State Board of Education. The party group voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a resolution that opposes Robert Morrow’s bid for a seat on the 15-member board, which sets public education policy statewide.

“Robert Morrow has a history of misogynist and vulgar language,” according the resolution. “Robert Morrow has made outrageous and slanderous allegations about President Trump, members of the Bush family, and Governor Rick Perry, among others.” Morrow faces two Republicans in the March 3 primary for District 5, based in Central and South Texas. Party leaders typically do not oppose or endorse candidates. Morrow often posts on social media pictures of women baring their chests as well as theories about notable Republicans claiming that they have killed others or engaged in sexual misconduct, including with minor girls. He said he is running for the education board to spread his views, which he calls truths, as well as to oppose the Trump presidency, he said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 22, 2020

Money is flowing in to this Fort Worth area House race some hope to flip. Here’s why.

The race for a key Tarrant County House seat is ramping up, as candidates shore up their war chests. Early reports show the battle to replace retiring GOP Rep. Jonathan Stickland in Texas House District 92 — which has been represented by Republicans for decades — has drawn nearly $200,000 from donors. “This is a critical election year, and District 92 really shows what the stakes are statewide,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU.

Democrat Jeff Whitfield, an attorney, has the most money on hand — nearly $121,000, which includes a $15,000 personal loan — according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission that show fundraising tallies through the end of 2019. Fellow Democrat Steve Riddell, who narrowly lost to Stickland in 2018, lags behind with $19,000 in the bank. On the Republican side, former Bedford Mayor Jim Griffin has more than $54,000 in cash on hand, which includes a $50,000 personal loan. Fellow Republican Jeff Cason, a former Bedford city councilman, has around $1,300 in the bank after he loaned himself $5,000. And small business owner Taylor Gillig has $815 on hand.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 23, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: For once, Austin has a good idea. Fort Worth should follow its lead on marijuana cases.

Look up. Notice that the sky hasn’t fallen. Texas hasn’t suddenly become a more dangerous place to live, even though prosecutions for possessing small amounts of marijuana have been slashed more than in half since the state’s new law legalizing hemp has caused confusion for police departments and district attorneys. City Council members in Austin have noticed, and on Thursday, they’re considering a measure to formalize the halt to low-level marijuana cases.

“If there’s no intent to sell or distribute, we’re not going to mess with it,” Greg Casar, the proposal’s lead sponsor, told the Texas Tribune. Fort Worth should do the same. When the extent of the problem distinguishing marijuana from hemp became clear, we urged the city to experiment with de facto decriminalization. Now, it’s time to go a step further. Fort Worth police say they’ve been handling cases individually, as circumstances merit. But it’s clear that arrests for small amounts of pot are way down.

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

Texas A&M chancellor roasts Harvard faculty for their criticism of a beef study

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp has a beef with Harvard — over a study about eating beef. Sharp sent Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow a searing letter Wednesday morning condemning Harvard faculty for aggressively questioning a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last fall in which an A&M researcher declared that there’s “no need to cut down on red and processed meat for health reasons.”

Texas A&M received flack after the journal issued a correction in December disclosing that one of the researchers behind the study, Bradley Johnston, had failed to disclose his ties to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agency, which gets part of its funding from the beef industry. Harvard faculty members, Dr. Walter Willett and Dr. Frank Hu, helped fuel the controversy by flooding the journal’s editor with emails, including some from bots, right before the publishing of the study, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week. This was “harmful” to Texas A&M and its faculty, Sharp said. He included a link to the journal article, which suggested the two Harvard professors are directors of a group with strong financial ties to food companies promoting plant-based alternatives to red meat.

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Fox 24 - January 22, 2020

State Senator Royce West: "I am interviewing for a job, the job of the United State Senate."

State Senator Royce West made a stop in Big Spring, Tuesday night, for a chance to speak with constituents at the Howard County Democratic Headquarters. As a Texas State Senator, this democratic politician has represented the 23rd Senatorial District on behalf of the citizens of Dallas County. He announced his bid for United States Senate in July 2019.

“I am interviewing for a job, the job of the United States Senate. I am bringing to you my resume of experience and also my references.” West is headed to D.C. with 26 years of expertise in the Texas Senate. Over the years, he has also grown as a businessman and a lawyer. He says the people currently in charge, President Trump as well as U.S. Senator John Cornyn, have turned their backs on issues that need immediate attention.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

He didn't want to give up his religion to serve. Now he's Houston's first Sikh deputy constable.

Amrit Singh always knew he wanted to work as a peace officer. He spent years in law enforcement explorer programs, five months in a police training academy, and many dozens of hours working out and studying. After all that work, the 21-year-old Sugar Land resident’s swearing in as one of the newest members of the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office took less than a minute.

The move made him the first Sikh deputy constable in Harris County and represented an important step forward in religious inclusion, local Sikhs said. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated in what is now India. Practicing Sikhs wear a turban and five articles of faith: uncut hair, a wooden comb, an iron bracelet, an iron dagger and a Kachera, or type of undergarment — requirements that would be prohibited by many law enforcement departments that operate as paramilitary organizations with strict uniform policies. Harris County made national headlines in 2015 after sheriff’s deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal fought for and won the rights to wear his turban and beard on duty.

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KUT - January 23, 2020

Rural counties In fast-growing Central Texas hustle to prevent being undercounted in Census

Bastrop County is among a slew of fast-growing rural counties in Central Texas struggling to make sure their residents are counted accurately during this year’s census, set to begin this spring. Every 10 years, per the U.S. Constitution, every person living in the U.S. has to be counted. The count helps the federal government decide how much money to give each state for various federal programs. It also determines how many seats individual states get in Congress.

Making sure the count is accurate is a big undertaking for any city or county. But it’s especially difficult for local governments that don’t have that many resources to begin with. “We will work with what we’ve got,” Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said. Unlike large swaths of rural America that have seen their populations plummet in the past few decades, Bastrop County has been steadily growing. And this rural county directly east of Austin is likely to keep growing.

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Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2020

As DART plans more work for Cotton Belt line, Far North Dallas residents continue pushback

The Dallas City Council meeting on Wednesday marked a small win for Far North Dallas neighborhood residents concerned about the new Cotton Belt rail line. An agreement between the city and Dallas Area Rapid Transit promises to ban freight service on a 3-mile segment of the east-west commuter rail line. But homeowners who have followed the rail project still fear what’s coming next.

Bolstered by a new council member, they plan to continue to fight the Cotton Belt plans as long as it takes, Maura Schreier-Fleming, president of the Highlands of McKamy IV & V Homeowners Association, said Wednesday. Homeowners have opposed the Cotton Belt line proposal for years. DART initially proposed the project in 2006 and acquired 5.3 miles of the Cotton Belt freight line in 2010. “DART gets to say what’s safe. DART gets to make decisions. Not fair, not right,” Schreier-Fleming said. “Somebody’s going to get killed.” In the next few months, DART will push forward with construction of the 26-mile, $1.2 billion east-west commuter Cotton Belt or “Silver” line — starting with embankments, bridge structures and retaining walls. Construction began in November.

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Fort Worth Business Press - January 22, 2020

2020 Tarrant County Commercial Real Estate Forecast: More growth, changes in retail

Booming population growth propelled 2019 into another year of economic prosperity marked by a strong showing in all segments of the commercial real estate market in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and particularly in Tarrant County.

The outlook for 2020 anticipates continuing those positive trends, particularly for in the industrial and multi-family sectors, according to local commercial real experts who recapped successes in market during 2019 and offered predicts for the year ahead at the 2020 Tarrant County Commercial Real Estate Forecast, the 31st annual program hosted by the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth. Efforts by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce in concert with the city of Fort Worth’s department of Economic Development, Tarrant County and partners across six North Texas counties put 90 projects in play during 2019, up from 71 in 2018 and 51 in 2017.

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City Stories

KUT - January 22, 2020

The last man On Rainey Street vowed to stay. Now he's glad he left.

The house at 71 Rainey St. leans. It bows to the left, toward Javelina, the bar next door where you can order a Psycho Chicken, a mezcal drink with honey and habanero. The house crouches beneath an awning of trees and a 30-story condo building across the street where luxury is “uncompromising.” The owner of 71 Rainey was also “uncompromising” – until last year when being the last man on Rainey became too much.

“It was my time to get out of there,” said John Contreras, who moved in September. "I'm glad I got out of there." Through dozens of voicemails in 2018 and 2019, Contreras had described to KUT what it was like to live on a rapidly gentrifying street – and to be the lone holdout. Drunk people wandered into his yard, ignoring the “private property” sign he’d put on the white wooden house. Through it all, Contreras had been determined to stay. “Living here, it’s not easy," he told KUT back in September 2018. "Never has been. But I guess it’s a self-determination thing.” But last summer he put his home up for sale and by the fall, Contreras, 66, was the last of the original homeowners on Rainey Street to sell. He never describes leaving as a choice; he calls it inevitable, he calls it “progress.” But he also says he’s happy he did.

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Austin Chronicle - January 23, 2020

With $4 million in debt Trudy’s files for bankruptcy

A bankruptcy attorney for Trudy’s Texas Star, Inc. made several Chapter 11 filings this afternoon. Stephen Sather of Barron & Newburger, PC tells the Chronicle that the total sum of the debt surrounding the filing is around $4 million. “The goal is to get the business stabilized, pay the employees and win back the goodwill of the customers,” Sather wrote in an email.

As the Chronicle reported last week (“Trudy’s Employees Revolting Over Late Pay”), the Tex-Mex institution had been the subject of social media rumblings about missed paychecks and limited inventory at restaurants. The emergency motion notes that company founder Gary Truesdell has stepped aside, due to health concerns, and his son Stephen is now seeing the reorganization. It also lays out that the company’s financial problems began in 2011 with the opening of the enormous Trudy’s Four Star restaurant in Hays County. According to the filing, that restaurant lost nearly a million dollars a year until it closed last January.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

Why did only 9 Pease Elementary families choose an East Austin school?

When the Austin school board voted to close Pease Elementary School, district administrators designated Zavala Elementary, a school 2½ miles east of Pease, as the preferred new campus for Pease’s students. But two months after that vote, which also shuttered three other elementaries, only nine Pease families so far have chosen to enroll their children next year at Zavala, an underenrolled school that most recently received an overall rating of 80% on state standardized tests taken last year. The vast majority of Zavala’s students are Latino and come from poor families.

District administrators are allowing Pease students to transfer to any campus, even schools that are closed to new students because they are over their capacity. Most families chose schools where the majority of students come from white and more affluent families, and where the campuses’ test scores are higher. Critics says that if the district was attempting, even in a small way, to bridge the income and racial divide between areas east and west of Interstate 35, the effort failed. At Pease, 18% of students are considered economically disadvantaged, qualifying for free or reduced price breakfasts and lunches. At Zavala, the figure is 93%.

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Houston SPCA: Spring home at center of major animal rescue one of most toxic sites ever encountered

Animals ranging from dogs and cats to chickens, pigs and exotic birds were seized Tuesday night from a home in Spring, according to officials with the Montgomery County Pct. 3 Constable's Office and the Houston SPCA.

Approximately 191 animals were removed from inside and outside the home located at 2700 block of Leichester Drive in the Fox Run subdivision, including geese, turkeys and one iguana, authorities said. Many of the animals were found running loose in rooms filled with dirt, feces and urine and required immediate medical attention, according to the Houston SPCA.

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

McKinney councilman files federal voting rights suit to halt recall effort

Two weeks after threatening legal action to keep his seat on the McKinney City Council, La’Shadion Shemwell has filed a federal voting rights suit seeking to halt an effort to recall him from office. The suit, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. district court for the Eastern District of Texas, claims that McKinney’s city charter includes an unconstitutional policy for the recall of a sitting council member.

In the city, all residents are able to sign a recall petition and all residents are able to vote in a recall election. Shemwell, who was elected in 2017 to represent the city’s District 1, says that only residents of his district should be allowed to vote to remove him from office. The recall is set to be on the May 2 ballot for McKinney residents. Shemwell said Wednesday that he feels that the will of his district is being silenced by people who live elsewhere in McKinney. “The voice of the people is being stripped from them,” Shemwell said. “I believe wholeheartedly that the people should have a voice.”

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National Stories

The Hill - January 23, 2020

Union membership falls to record low of 10.3 percent

The percentage of salaried workers in labor unions fell 0.2 points in 2019 to a record low of 10.3 percent, almost half the 20.3 percent rate in 1983 and a 2-point drop from a decade earlier, according to data the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released Wednesday.

Membership in unions, a key base of support for Democrats, remained significantly higher in the public sector, where local unions for police, teachers and firefighters helped push rates up to 33.6 percent, compared with just 6.2 percent in the private sector. With $1,095 in median weekly earnings, union workers out-earned nonunion workers' median $892 salaries by 22.7 percent. Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, said the decline followed naturally from anti-labor policies in the Trump administration.

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The Hill - January 23, 2020

Gabbard suing Clinton for defamation over 'Russian asset' comments

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is suing Hillary Clinton for defamation over the former secretary of State's remarks on a podcast characterizing the Democratic presidential candidate as a Russian asset. Gabbard filed the defamation lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“Tulsi Gabbard is a loyal American civil servant who has also dedicated her life to protecting the safety of all Americans,” Gabbard’s lawyer Brian Dunne said in a statement. “Rep. Gabbard’s presidential campaign continues to gain momentum, but she has seen her political and personal reputation smeared and her candidacy intentionally damaged by Clinton’s malicious and demonstrably false remarks.” Gabbard’s campaign referred all questions on the lawsuit to Dunne.

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Reuters - January 23, 2020

Democrats launch first salvo at Trump impeachment trial, say U.S global standing at stake

Democrats accused President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial on Wednesday of a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him get re-elected and warned that America's global prestige would suffer if the U.S. Senate acquits him. The Republican Trump sounded a defiant note, telling reporters in Switzerland the Democrats did not have enough evidence to find him guilty and remove him from office.

In a two-hour opening argument for the prosecution after days of procedural wrangling, U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden's son on unsubstantiated corruption charges last year. "To implement this corrupt scheme, President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump's 2020 presidential campaign," Schiff said.

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Roll Call - January 23, 2020

Schiff, Nadler impeachment tension spills out during trial

The first question at Wednesday’s news conference with House impeachment managers was directed at Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat whose Senate presentation helped prompt a rebuke from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and a flood of criticism from Republican senators.

Nadler appeared to take a half step toward the podium as Rep. Adam B. Schiff cut off the CNN reporter. “I’m going to respond to the questions,” the California Democrat and lead impeachment manager said, then turned to call on another reporter for a question on a different topic. Nadler was silent. The exchange was one of a few moments that hint at some internal discord among House managers about the best way to present their case for impeaching President Donald Trump to the Senate as well as the American people — and how to stay on that message.

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Newsclips - January 22, 2020

Lead Stories

Washington Post - January 22, 2020

Collins and Romney hold the keys in the impeachment trial. Here’s what they signaled on Day One.

Eyes will be glued to the Senate floor over the next two weeks as the Senate formally conducts its impeachment trial of President Trump. The process got off the ground Tuesday as the two sides debated the rules. But in actuality, much of it is window-dressing. The most significant stuff is what’s happening off the Senate floor — particularly when it comes to potential GOP swing votes such as Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah). They hold the keys to new evidence that could actually change hardened views of Trump’s actions with regard to Ukraine, and their words and actions are what matter most.

And a couple of significant things happened Tuesday. One was a change to the rules that were initially proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The change brought the rules more in line with how they were during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, and they were reportedly changed at the urging of Collins and others. One rule change made it so evidence compiled by the House would automatically be included in the record, subject to objections by Trump’s legal team, whereas before, the Senate had to approve that. The other is that the 24 hours of opening arguments that have been allotted to each side will take place over three days each, rather than two each. Both of these are changes that Democrats wanted, and they apparently got some Republicans to side with them — enough to force McConnell to preemptively change the rules, just as the proceedings were beginning.

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El Paso Times - January 22, 2020

Elizabeth Warren gets endorsement of El Paso lawmakers in presidential bid

With Texans Julián Castro and Beto O'Rourke out of the race, Elizabeth Warren now has the backing of several El Paso lawmakers in her presidential bid. The Democratic presidential candidate's campaign on Tuesday announced the endorsements of four members of the El Paso delegation of the Texas Legislature: Reps. Mary González, Joe Moody and Art Fierro, as well as Sen. José Rodríguez.

The four state lawmakers previously endorsed Castro, who exited the race 2020 race on Jan. 2. Rodríguez, Moody and Fierro previously backed O'Rourke for president before endorsing Castro in November. "I'm grateful to have earned the support of Representatives González, Moody and Fierro, and Senator Rodríguez in this campaign for big, structural change for everyone,” Warren said in a statement. “They have fought for working families in El Paso and across Texas — together, we’ll build a movement to make our country and our economy work for everyone.” Warren's team has been building out her campaign in Texas, including opening a office in Houston on Jan. 17. The campaign has also opened offices in San Antonio and Austin and hired Texas State Director Jenn Longoria. Warren has also garnered the endorsement of Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, and his twin brother Congressman Joaquin Castro, among other Texas endorsements.

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Halliburton CEO: U.S. shale industry facing biggest test since 2015 downtown

The capital-intensive U.S. shale industry is facing its biggest challenge since a 2015 downturn that resulted in dozens of companies filing for bankruptcies, billions of dollars in losses and tens of thousands of layoffs as oil prices sputter, producers cut back and Wall Street investors become unwilling to float the bill, the CEO of the Houston oil field services company Halliburton said.

A decade of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing made the United States an energy powerhouse again, but crude oil prices stuck in the $50-to-$60 per barrel range over the past year have made shale unprofitable for most companies, resulting in substantial cuts to drilling and fracking activity in shale plays from Texas to Pennsylvania and North Dakota. That situation has placed tremendous pressure on oilfield service companies to slash prices for their products and services.

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Associated Press - January 21, 2020

CBS' early exit shows decisions networks face on impeachment

CBS was the first major network to break away from President Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate on Tuesday, allowing its viewers to watch their regular afternoon fare instead of a debate over a proposed amendment to subpoena White House documents. The decision illustrated the on-the-fly judgments television executives will face every day of the trial, juggling concerns over millions of dollars in advertising revenue, news purists cognizant of the weight of history and angry soap opera fans.

Uncertainty over the Senate's schedule from hour to hour, much less day to day, complicates things even further. The decisions were easier when ABC, CBS and NBC dominated the landscape and were very cognizant of their public service responsibility. Now viewers have options — cable networks from CNN to C-SPAN and streaming services — if they want to follow the trial. While Tuesday's session was historic, opening the third impeachment trial ever in the United States, it will still a while before the meat of the case was examined. Yet it was noticed when CBS cut off the trial around 3:15 p.m. ET, while rivals ABC and NBC stuck with it.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

Hundreds of residents call for relief following cancer cluster identified near rail yard at town hall featuring Erin Brockovich

Residents living near a rail yard in Houston have had enough. Some still have cancer. Some have beat cancer. Many know someone who has died of cancer. “We are tired,” Sandra Edwards, a resident of the area and member of IMPACT, a community action group. “I want to know if it is safe for me to live in the neighborhood. We are not waiting no longer. We want it done now. We want results now.”

At a town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), with consumer advocate Erin Brockovich as a guest speaker, hundreds of residents packed Wheatley High School’s auditorium in Houston’s Fifth Ward Tuesday night to call for relief for the community. But first, Brockovich acknowledged the problem. In one powerful moment during her remarks, Brockovich called on the crowd to stand if they, or someone they know, had cancer. Hundreds were brought to their feet. “This is not normal,” said Brockovich, who is best known for her work obtaining a multi-million dollar medical and environmental contamination settlement against Pacific Gas & Electric. “You are human. You know what you see, and that gives you a right to stand up and speak up.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Erica Grieder: Trump’s trade deals aren’t perfect, but they’re better than the alternative

On his recent trip to Texas this past weekend, President Donald Trump had something to crow about. It was Trump’s 14th visit to the state since being elected president, which some Democrats view as a measure of his vulnerability in a potential battleground state this fall. And certainly, Trump was more embattled than usual when he arrived in Texas to address the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention on Sunday. It was the eve of his impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, following his impeachment in December, on a mostly party-line vote, by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

It’s highly unlikely that the trial, which began on Tuesday, will result in Trump’s removal from office. And perhaps with that in mind, the proceedings looming in Washington didn’t seem to put too much of a damper on the president’s outlook as he addressed the farmers and ranchers gathered in Austin. Trump touted what he described as “stunning,” “groundbreaking,” and “tremendous” trade-related victories. Those successes have gotten relatively little attention, given their potentially sweeping impact. This is particularly true for states such as Texas, which leads the nation in exports, and cities such as Houston, with a globalized economy that has been exposed to some risk as a result of Trump’s generally protectionist instincts, among other things. “Houstonians shouldn’t assume that trade, foreign investment and immigration will grow at the same pace over the next 10 years,” the Greater Houston Partnership warned in a June 2019 report. “All three face headwinds.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Why can’t UT-Austin hire, keep Latino faculty?

In a message posted on the University of Texas at Austin website, President Gregory Fenves touts the institution’s commitment to diversity. “Our history of exclusion and segregation gives us a responsibility to stand as champions of the educational benefits of diversity,” the statement says. It is a worthy goal — one backed by research showing that all students benefit from a diverse learning environment. Unfortunately, UT’s pledge doesn’t always translate into reality. A recent 188-page “Hispanic Equity Report” found “gross disparities” and “discrimination” for Latino faculty at the state’s flagship university.

History professor Alberto Martinez, chair of the committee that produced the report, described the inequities to the editorial board in three words: Flabbergasting. Demoralizing. Heartbreaking. We’ll add another: Unacceptable. Consider these findings: Latino professors are paid less than their white peers, ranging from a difference of $10,000 for associate professors to $25,000 for full professors. The pay gap is even wider for Latinas. Latinos are virtually shut out of leadership positions. Among the 130 dean positions, only 7.7 percent are Latino and none are held by a Hispanic female. In Texas, Latinas are 20 percent of the population. Some departments, such as the 130-year-old history department, have never been chaired by a person of color.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

'It is not OK for 699 people to die': Texas bristles at federal highway death 'goal'

As state and local agencies take steps to reduce roadway deaths in the Houston area, officials are bristling at a federally-required assessment that sets a goal of 728 deaths around the region this year — up from a goal of 699 in 2019. “It is not OK for 699 people to die,” Jeff Weatherford, deputy director of Houston Public Works, told other members of a Houston-Galveston Area Council committee on Jan. 17. “I am going to keep on hammering that… Fundamentally, our process is flawed.”

Though more an issue of semantics, the concerns arise because local officials — notably Houston and the Texas Department of Transportation, where officials have signed pledges to end roadway fatalities — do not want to set a target that implies a number of deaths they consider acceptable. “No one is happy about this,” said Trent Epperson, assistant city manager in Pearland and chairman of H-GAC’s Technical Advisory Committee. The regional Transportation Policy Council is scheduled to discuss the safety target at its monthly meeting Friday. The Federal Highway Administration requires local planning agencies in Texas such as H-GAC to set safety and performance measures and turn them in to TxDOT, based on federally-set guidelines.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

Houston-based McDermott confirms oilfield service company will file for bankruptcy

McDermott International will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Tuesday, the struggling Houston oilfield service company confirmed. In a statement released early Tuesday morning, McDermott said it would will file a prepackaged restructuring plan at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston. The plan, which has the support of two-thirds of its creditors, would allow McDermott will receive more than $2.8 billion in financing and shed $4.6 billion of debt.

As part of the restructuring plan, McDermott has agreed to sell Lummus Technology to The Chatterjee Group and Rhône Group for $2.725 billion. However, the deal must be approved by a bankruptcy judge in an auction process that could go to a higher bidder. McDermott's announcement ends four months of speculation that the company would file for bankruptcy. Market rumors about the company using the services of a restructuring advisory firm sent McDermott's stock price plummeting in September. Shares of McDermott were trading $6 per share range in September but have plunged below $1 a share. The company received a delisting warning from the New York Stock Exchange to bring shares back above $1 per share threshold.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 21, 2020

San Antonio suburb once again rejects attempt to house migrant children

A private government contractor that repeatedly has been thwarted in its efforts to open two shelters for migrant boys in the area lost another round Tuesday night in Universal City. The Universal City council followed the advice of its planning and zoning commission and unanimously rejected a rezoning request from the New Covenant Family Church to turn an old school building into a shelter for up to 60 migrant boys.

“I feel that the current zoning is correct, it protects the health … of that neighborhood,” council member Beverly Volle said. “We’ve worked long and hard to get where we are.” It was the sixth time officials in the San Antonio area have rejected shelters planned by government contractor VisionQuest, an Arizona company that operates migrant facilities around the country. “I have a mandate from God that is 40 years in the making to stand here at this time … to tell you it’s not about me, it’s not about VisionQuest, it’s not about this city,” Bishop Grady Morris Sr. of the Schertz-based church told a room of about 200 people. “It’s about the children that are languishing in these camps (near the border) and need to be placed in an environment where they can be cared for.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 21, 2020

Cibolo City Council sounds death knell for toll road that might have eased I-35 congestion

A controversial Northeast Side toll road designed to provide relief for congested Interstate 35 is all but dead after the Cibolo City Council unanimously approved ending an agreement with the road’s developer. “The letter of termination … came about because the Cibolo Turnpike Corp. was not able to clearly demonstrate that they had achieved financial closing per the terms of the development agreement,” City Manager Robert Herrera said. The Schertz City Council and Guadalupe County already had rejected the Cibolo Parkway Project in no uncertain terms, saying it didn’t seem that the road could deliver what it promised.

At a meeting last week, the Cibolo City Council met in a lengthy executive session to discuss the letter of termination and the project, emerging from the session to cast a vote in support of ending the agreement with the corporation, which is headed by John Crew, majority owner and chairman of the board of directors. “We’ve been talking (with Crew) all the way through this, giving him every opportunity to fulfill their duties, and they fell short in every aspect,” Mayor Stosh Boyle said. “They didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.” In response to the city’s termination of the agreement, the corporation filed suit against the city. Crew and his attorneys have claimed that it’s the city that hasn’t met its obligations under the agreement.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 21, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: School lunch changes don’t serve the kids

Any parent can attest, it can be tough to sell kids on the merits of veggies and even some fruits. And on those days when the kale starts flying across the dinner table and the tears stream down cheeks, sometimes it’s just easier to serve a slice of pizza and go for the juice box. But this should be an exception to the rule, not the rule itself. And this brings us to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to lower federal nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch.

The proposal — announced with a visit to Castle Hills Elementary School by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, as well as U.S. Rep. Chip Roy and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, he of the “Jesus Shot” and liberator of cupcakes and deep fryers — is as unpalatable as a soggy French fry. The concern is there will be a lot more fries in our school cafeterias. Loosening nutrition standards is an invitation to childhood obesity and other associated health concerns. We are going backward here. The rationale for this proposal is it will cut back on food waste. The argument being as school meals have become healthier, kids have pushed back against whole grains, veggies and fresh fruit. It follows other administrative actions to chip away at Obama-era regulations. In the past, the USDA has reduced required servings of whole grains, slowed a reduction in sodium and allowed potatoes to replace fruit at breakfast. Under this proposal, pizza, hamburgers and fries potentially could be served daily as á la carte options.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 22, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: How on earth did young Tarrant Republican think trolling with ‘OK’ hand symbol was smart?

Our political culture’s obsession with trolling has hit a new low. On Monday, at a Fort Worth parade to honor the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a member of the Tarrant County Young Republicans apparently decided a group photo was the right moment to flash a hand symbol that’s been appropriated by white supremacists. The GOP group apologized and acknowledged it was an inappropriate gesture for the setting.

In a tweet, it explained that Robert Coe thought “it’s funny how crazy leftists get over a fake symbol” and was not trying to send a white power message. We have no reason so far to doubt that, but it’s worth pausing to consider how our politics got to this point. Celebrations of King should be about unity. The holiday is a moment to honor America’s steps toward making our founding creed true for all, particularly those prompted by King’s civil-rights work. And it’s a time to redouble effort on all that remains to be done for his vision of true equality to be realized. What it’s not is a venue for political triumphalism or partisan gain.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 22, 2020

Group apologizes after Fort Worth Republican makes white power sign during MLK parade

The Tarrant County Young Republicans apologized after a member made a hand gesture associated with white supremacy in a photo at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Fort Worth. The Tarrant County Republican Party, which originally posted the photo, removed it from their Facebook page.

The photo showed a group of about 20 people posing with a Tarrant County Republican Party banner at Monday’s parade. In the background, a man is making the OK symbol, which the Anti-Defamation League recognizes as a hate symbol under certain circumstances. Robert Coe was identified as the man in the photo. He is the precinct chairman for precinct 1111 in Fort Worth, and Tarrant County Young Republicans named him “Young Republican of the Year” in December. Precinct chairs oversee voter registration and are elected every two years. When asked about the photo, Coe told the Star-Telegram “that situation has already been taken care of.” “There is no need to report on it,” he said. “The situation has been resolved.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

Early voting begins in runoff election to replace Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson in Texas House

Early voting began Tuesday in the special election to replace Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson in the Texas House. Residents in District 100, which covers parts of east, west and southern Dallas, can cast early ballots through Friday for community advocate Lorraine Birabil or businessman James Armstrong III. The special election is Jan. 28. Like most special elections, there’s been little public drama and turnout is expected to be dismal.

But on Tuesday the candidates sparred over what type of experience is needed to lead the heavily Democratic district. Armstrong is the president and CEO of Builders of Hope Community Development Corporation, which develops single-family homes. “It’s a choice between a servant leader who has worked his entire life on issues of economic equality or a political staffer," Armstrong said. "The district needs a champion in Austin that’s willing to put in the work.”

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Madisonville Meteor - January 22, 2020

Rep. Ashby visits Madison County

State Representative Trent Ashby traveled across Texas House District 57 Friday to meet with constituents and made a number of stops along the way, including Madisonville CISD, Latexo ISD, the regional Texas A&M AgriLife meeting as well as a gathering for landowners in Crockett. “This is the part of the job I really enjoy, getting out and visiting with my constituents and hearing what is on the minds of those I am blessed to represent,” said Ashby after meeting with a number of students at Madisonville Elementary, the final stop of Friday’s tour.

Ashby, who has served the District since 2013, will be up for reelection again in November. He is currently the only Republican listed to run in the party’s primary, which will take place March 3. Jason Rogers is again running unopposed in the Democratic primary and will likely meet Ashby in the District’s general election in November. In 2018, Ashby defeated Rogers with 79 percent of the overall vote. The Representative elaborated on some of the main issues facing Madison County and District 57 with the election right around the corner. The first point that came to mind has been a hot button issues in the area for over two years. “The first issue, of course, is the proposed high speed rail bullet train,” said Ashby. “This is something I have been opposed to since day one. At the state level, I was very pleased that nothing happened during our last session that would help move that project along in any way. We will continue to monitor what is going on at the federal level, and (Congressman Kevin Brady) has been very active in fighting against it.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

Texas’ new ballot requirements have Libertarians and Greens confused ahead of elections

As Republicans and Democrats prepare for their March primaries, some third-party candidates are struggling to navigate new requirements to get on the November ballot. A law passed in 2019 lowered the threshold of votes a party must win in any statewide election to reappear on the next ballot. Previously, parties had to receive at least 5% of votes in the previous statewide election to get automatic ballot access, but a law that went into effect Sept. 1 lowered that to 2% in any of the previous five general elections.

But it also added requirements for parties whose candidates are nominated in conventions instead of primaries, making them pay fees or obtain a certain number of signatures to secure their spot in the general election. Previously, only the major party candidates paid filing fees. Now, two pending lawsuits over the law have left Libertarian and Green party candidates confused about whether they will be on the ballot. On Tuesday, a House panel heard some of their grievances. “We appreciated the lowered threshold, but then we discovered that we had these fees to pay,” Bill Kelsey, a Libertarian candidate for Congressional District 25 told the Texas House Elections Committee. Kelsey said he did not pay fees because a Harris County district judge issued an injunction in a suit over the fees days before the candidate filing deadline in December. But another judge reinstated the fees in response to an appeal from the state.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 21, 2020

Travis appraisal district restores in-person protest hearings

The Travis Central Appraisal District said Tuesday that it will resume face-to-face, informal settlement hearings with property owners who challenge their appraised values for 2020. Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler had faced criticism after doing away with the in-person hearings for the first time last year, part of an what the district says is an ongoing effort to move the informal process online.

The appraisal district’s board of directors voted to approve Crigler’s recommendation to provide property owners with the option to have an in-person informal conference meeting with a staff appraiser as part of this year’s process. The meetings will allow property owners to learn how a property’s market value was determined and present new information that could affect that value. “Travis County property owners who protest their property’s market value will have the option to sit down with a TCAD appraiser in 2020,” Crigler said in a written statement. “It’s clear that property owners value these meetings and want them to be part of the protest process.”

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2020

S.A. oilman Brian Alfaro’s $3M house heading for foreclosure

Indicted San Antonio oilman Brian Alfaro’s $3 million Shavano Park house is again heading for foreclosure, apparently contradicting statements he made to a federal judge Friday. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery held a bond revocation hearing at which he considered locking up Alfaro over concerns that he may have lied to federal officers about a credit application to lease a Mercedes-Benz.

The judge ultimately allowed Alfaro to remain free on a $50,000 unsecured bond pending his criminal trial next month but not before questioning him about his finances and the status of his mortgage loan with Karnes County National Bank of Karnes City. Alfaro, who was indicted on eight counts of mail fraud in connection with allegedly misusing investor money, told Biery that he was current on the mortgage loan with the bank. “So from this point you will make payments direct to Karnes County (National Bank)?” the judge asked. “I believe so,” Alfaro answered.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2020

Shooting left grieving families and shocked a downtown San Antonio neighborhood

Alejandro Robles went to Ventura, a downtown bar known for hosting live local music, Sunday night with his wife to support a childhood friend who was performing. It was busy for a Sunday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The bar was putting on a hip-hop event called Living the Dream, pegged to Dream Week, memorializing the civil rights leader who preached nonviolence. By the end of the night, Robles, 25, and another bar patron, Robert Jay Martinez, 20, had been shot to death. A woman, 46, and four males ranging in age from 16 to 19 were also shot but were expected to survive.

Police said the gunman got into an altercation at the bar, fired multiple times and fled into the night. They arrested Kiernan Christopher Williams, 19, on two counts of capital murder Monday afternoon. He faces other charges, Police Chief William McManus said. A sense of shock reverberated through the trendy Museum Reach section of downtown where Ventura is situated. Nestled in a neighborhood of condominiums and apartment buildings filled with young professionals, the bar doesn’t have heavy security or uniformed guards, let alone a metal detector. It never seemed like a place that needed that, patrons said. Officers found bullet casings inside and outside the bar, McManus said. Investigators said at least one of the victims knew Williams. Robles grew up on the Northeast Side, where he still lived, and had a 5-year-old son, said his father, James Huff. He sometimes went to Starbucks and secretly paid for customers in line behind him, Huff said. “He would give his shirt off his back for anybody,” said Robles’ sister, Ivy Huff, 18. “He was all about family.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 21, 2020

Austin Council members say letting go of pot charges right thing to do

Four Austin City Council members on Tuesday said ending arrests and citations for low-level marijuana offenses is the right thing to do from a cultural, criminal and fiscal perspective. The council on Thursday will consider a resolution that would effectively end criminal action against individuals with small amounts of marijuana, while preventing the city from expending additional resources to developing new testing capabilities required to distinguish narcotic marijuana from legal hemp.

The resolution would not apply to felony-level trafficking offenses. State lawmakers during the last legislative session legalized the production of hemp, which can contain up to 0.3% THC, the intoxicating agent in marijuana. But since only a small number of labs are capable of testing marijuana for THC content, a slew of city and county attorneys offices, including Travis and Williamson counties, washed their hands of prosecuting such cases, saying such testing was too hefty of a financial burden. But many attorneys left open the possibility that cases mounting since the law went into effect last summer could return if new testing capabilities developed, a prospect the resolution’s main sponsor Council Member Greg Casar hopes to avoid.

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Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2020

For the first time in two decades, Allen will have a new mayor

For the first time in 23 years, Allen will be getting a new mayor. Longtime Mayor Steve Terrell, first elected to the seat in 1997, has said he’ll leave the position to run for the Collin County Commissioners Court.

At their next meeting on Jan. 28, the City Council is expected to formally announce the vacancy and potentially set a timeline to appoint an interim mayor. The departure wasn’t unexpected. In May, voters approved a term-limits measure that made Terrell ineligible to run again, and last month he officially filed for the Republican primary for the Precinct 3 seat on the Collin County Commissioners Court. “I’ll always have a big heart for Allen,” he said. “I want to take all my experience and knowledge in building [a city] to carry it on up to the next level of the county.”

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National Stories

Washington Post - January 21, 2020

Mike Bloomberg shifts presidential ad campaign to focus on impeachment

Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg plans to shift his television ad message this week to directly call for President Trump’s removal from office, with a new spot that will run in states with Republican senators who face competitive reelection fights this year. The decision to spend money on impeachment ads in the states of vulnerable senators like Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) fits into a larger strategy by Bloomberg since he started running for the Democratic nomination for president.

He has tried to direct spending for his own long-shot presidential bid to also benefit other goals, like defeating Trump in November, even if he is not the nominee, and helping other Democrats down ballot. The 30-second spot will begin running Monday afternoon in 27 states and on the national cable networks MSNBC, ESPN and CNN, replacing other ads that are already in rotation. “It’s time for the Senate to act and remove Trump from office. And if they won’t do their jobs, this November, you and I will,” Bloomberg says in the ad. With a net worth over $50 billion, Bloomberg has spent more than $225 million on advertising since announcing his presidential campaign on Nov. 24, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

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Washington Post - January 21, 2020

Senate adopts ground rules for impeachment trial, delaying a decision on witnesses until after much of the proceedings

The first substantive day of President Trump’s impeachment trial opened Tuesday with unexpected internal GOP dissension over its structure, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was forced to revise his proposed rules at the last minute to accommodate a brewing rebellion in his ranks.

That abrupt reversal from Senate leadership began a deeply acrimonious day in the chamber, which dramatically escalated in its final hours when the House managers and the president’s attorneys engaged in language considered so toxic for the staid Senate that Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, admonished both sides. In the end, the final parameters of the third impeachment trial of a U.S. president was approved on strictly partisan lines, but the measure passed only after revisions that allowed both sides more time to present their cases, and for findings from the House impeachment probe to be automatically entered into evidence as part of the trial.

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Associated Press - January 21, 2020

Washington man is 1st in US to catch new virus from China

The U.S. on Tuesday reported its first case of a new and potentially deadly virus circulating in China, saying a Washington state resident who returned last week from the outbreak's epicenter was hospitalized near Seattle. The man, identified as a Snohomish County resident is in his 30s, was in good condition and wasn't considered a threat to medical staff or the public, health officials said. U.S. officials stressed that they believe the virus' overall risk to the American public remained low. “This is not a moment of high anxiety,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

The newly discovered virus has infected about 440 people, all of whom had been in China, and killed nine. The virus can cause coughing, fever, breathing difficulty and pneumonia. The U.S. joins a growing list of places outside mainland China reporting cases, following Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Airports around the world have stepped up monitoring, checking passengers from China for signs of illness in hopes of containing the virus during the busy Lunar New Year travel season. Late last week, U.S. health officials began screening passengers from Wuhan in central China, where the outbreak began. The screening had been underway at three U.S. airports — New York City's Kennedy airport and the Los Angeles and San Francisco airports. On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would add Chicago's O'Hare airport and Atlanta's airport to the mix later this week.

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Associated Press - January 21, 2020

Backatcha: Thunberg returns Trump’s climate jibe

Greta Thunberg isn’t easily intimidated. The 17-year-old Swedish activist wasted little time on Tuesday to push back against U.S. President Donald Trump’s description of climate campaigners as “the perennial prophets of doom” who predict the “apocalypse.”

Though Trump didn’t mention her directly in his speech at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos, it was clear he had his sights on Thunberg, who shot to fame a year ago by staging a regular strike at her school and sparked a global environmental movement. She then beat the U.S. president to receive Time Magazine’s award as the 2019 Person of the Year. “The facts are clear, but they are still too uncomfortable for you to address,” she told business and political leaders in Davos just after Trump’s speech, also without directly mentioning the president. “You just leave it because you think it’s too depressing and people will give up, but people will not give up. You are the ones who are giving up.”

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Market Watch - January 21, 2020

Tesla stock rally ‘extremely unusual,’ analyst says

Tesla Inc. stock skyrocketed Tuesday as one analyst said the shares’ ongoing rally is “extremely unusual” in the automobile and industrial sectors. Tesla shares TSLA, +4.90% rose more than 6% and traded as high as $545.90, on track for a record close. The stock fell in the three prior sessions.

Tesla stock has doubled in six months and gained 190% since its trough in June “baffling many investors,” said Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi in a note Tuesday. Sacconaghi, who rates Tesla stock the equivalent of neutral, said he looked back 40 years at instances where similar large-cap stock moves have occurred. Read more: Elon Musk stands to get even richer if Tesla’s market cap tops $100 billion While it is not unheard of in other sectors, the sharp gain “is extremely unusual in the autos and industrial sectors,” he said, pinpointing three examples before Tesla’s run: Ford Motor Co. and Daimler in the wake of the global financial crisis, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in 2017.

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Stateline - January 20, 2020

Seniors’ tax breaks have become a target

As Americans begin the challenge of filling out their tax returns this year, one taxpayer demographic generally pays less than others: senior citizens. Tax breaks for seniors cost states approximately $27 billion a year and will more than double in the next decade, according to a recent study from the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. That money could pay for schools, roads and other needs, critics argue.

Giving a break to seniors based on their age rather than their income or financial status dates from a time when people had shorter lives and fewer investments. But the financial situation of seniors has improved overall, leaving some experts to question whether the tax breaks make sense. “I think part of it is because there is sort of an image of seniors living on fixed incomes struggling to get by,” said Elizabeth McNichol, who wrote the study. “I think that’s stuck in peoples’ heads. The reality is the senior poverty rate is less than for other people and certainly less than for younger people and children.” In 1970, about a quarter of the over-65 population had below-poverty income, the report pointed out, citing the U.S. Census Bureau’s official poverty measure. Since then, retirement income, including Social Security, has expanded. Today, only 10% of those over 65 are poor, according to the same measure.

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CNN - January 22, 2020

John Roberts scolds legal teams after tense exchange: 'Those addressing the Senate should remember where they are'

Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, scolded both the Democratic House managers and the President's defense team early Wednesday morning after a contentious exchange on the Senate floor. "I think it is appropriate for me to admonish both the House managers and the President's counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," Roberts said. "One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse."

Roberts had just listened to the impeachment managers and Trump's legal team rip into each other after House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler made the case for issuing a subpoena for former national security adviser John Bolton's testimony. During that argument, Nadler accused Republican senators of "voting for a coverup" by killing amendments for documents and testimony of additional witnesses. "So far, I'm sad to say, I see a lot of senators voting for a coverup. Voting to deny witnesses and obviously a treacherous vote," Nadler said. "A vote against an honest consideration of the evidence against the President. A vote against an honest trial. A vote against the United States." That led to White House counsel Pat Cipollone firing back during his own remarks: "The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr. Nadler, is you. For the way you addressed this body. This is the United States Senate. You're not in charge here."

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

Sworn to silence, senators make their views on impeachment known with nods and tweets

As the rules that will govern the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump were argued in front of them, senators who are acting as jurors in the trial face the “pain of imprisonment” if they speak, but both of Texas’ senators still found ways to express themselves Tuesday. Materials were piled high on the desks of Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and both took occasional notes as the debate proceeded.

As the House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers made their cases, Cornyn kept a stoic expression throughout much of the day. Cruz occasionally reacted to the arguments. When Trump’s deputy counsel, Patrick Philbin, responded to accusations that the Senate’s trial is “predetermined” by saying, “That’s exactly what happened in the House,” Cruz emphatically nodded his head. Cruz also expressed himself with an assist from his Twitter accounts. Senate staffers often have access to their boss’ social media accounts, something Cruz took full advantage of despite the ban on cell phones in the chamber during the trial.

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Newsclips - January 21, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

Texas tops 16 million voters as registration deadline looms

For the first time in history, Texas has topped 16 million registered voters and is adding voters faster than its population grows heading into the 2020 presidential election. With the voter registration deadline for the March 3 primaries just two weeks away, the state is already on the brink of having 2 million more registered voters than it did just four years ago when President Donald Trump was first elected.

“What you’re seeing is a true transformation of the Texas electorate,” said Antonio Arellano, interim executive director of Jolt, a voter advocacy group focused on registering young Latino voters and getting them involved in politics. He said despite all the barriers Texas has put in place to depress voter registration and voter turnout, groups like his are drawing younger and more diverse voters, which is making the politics of Texas more reflective of its demographics — about 40 percent of the state’s population is Latino, census data shows. Since 2017, the population in Texas has grown by about 5 percent. But the state’s voter registration has grown about 8 percent during that period. The increase is even more dramatic in urban areas such as Harris County, the state’s most populous county. While Harris County’s population has grown an estimated 4 percent since 2014, its voter registration has jumped 14 percent.

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CNN - January 20, 2020

Impeachment resolution shortens trial's opening arguments to two days per side

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to give House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump's legal team each 24 hours divided over two days for their opening arguments in the Senate's impeachment trial, a move that indicates Senate Republicans are pushing to finish the trial as quickly as possible -- ahead of the President's February 4 State of the Union address.

The timeline laid out in the Kentucky Republican's four-page organizing resolution, which was obtained by CNN, is a break from the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, when the 24 hours were split over a four-day period. Democrats are opposed to McConnell's schedule, which House Democratic aides say is an effort to "conceal the President's misconduct in the dark of night." "It's clear Sen. McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement. "On something as important as impeachment, Senator McConnell's resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace." The condensed timeline for opening arguments raises the prospect that the trial will have 12-hour days and go late into the night, as the trial begins at 1 p.m. ET each day.

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Washington Post - January 20, 2020

Religious-schools case heads to a Supreme Court skeptical of stark lines between church and state

It is a blessed time at Stillwater Christian School, where Scripture adorns the gymnasium wall, enrollment is climbing and Head of School Jeremy Marsh awaits the four new classrooms that will be built in the spring. It is a place that embraces the beliefs that sinners avoid eternal condemnation only through Jesus Christ, that a marriage consists of one man and one woman and that “human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions .?.?. from conception through natural death.” If a family craves Stillwater’s academic rigor but not its evangelism, Marsh said he will gently advise that “this might not be the place for them.”

Parents who believe religious schools such as Stillwater absolutely are the places for their children are at the center of what could be a landmark Supreme Court case testing the constitutionality of state laws that exclude religious organizations from government funding available to others. In this case, the issue rests on whether a scholarship fund supported by tax-deductible donations can help children attending the state’s private schools, most of which are religious. Arguments are scheduled for Wednesday.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 19, 2020

Homeless nonprofit leaders call Abbott’s tweets ‘destructive’ and ‘dangerous’

Nonprofit leaders across Austin are speaking out against what they call “destructive” tweets by Gov. Greg Abbott that appear to link violent crimes in Austin to homelessness. Greg McCormack, executive director for the nonprofit Front Steps, which manages the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, said if Texas leaders continue to falsely link violent crimes to those living on the streets, it may severely affect financial support of local homeless programs. That, in turn, could hinder an advocacy group’s ability to get such individuals and families into more permanent shelter.

“We know we need the community’s help to tackle and solve the homeless issue in Austin,” McCormack said. “If we’re implying the people we are trying to help are criminals and dangerous, it makes our fundraising efforts more challenging.” Abbott’s tweets began hours after one man was stabbed to death and two others were injured on Jan. 3 at two eateries in the 500 block of South Congress Avenue. Austin police later reported that the attacker, who died from his injuries after jumping head first from the roof of the Freebirds World Burrito restaurant where the stabbing occurred, was homeless. However, even before the attacker’s identity was released, Abbott tweeted that Austin’s “reckless homeless policy puts lives in danger to murderers like this.” The conflict between Abbott and city leaders over Austin’s homeless policies began after the Austin City Council voted in June to remove a public camping ban aimed at those living on the streets.

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State Stories

Texas Tribune - January 21, 2020

Big bucks — and a big donor — fuel Allen West's bid for Texas GOP chair

For months, the race for Texas GOP chair has been in full swing, with incumbent James Dickey and his high-profile challenger, Allen West, appearing at a slew of at times feisty forums. But it was not until last week that the two had to disclose their campaign finances for the first time — and West's report brought something of a bombshell: Not only did the former Florida congressman raise nearly half a million dollars — a large amount for such an election — but $250,000 of it came from a single person. That person: Richard Uihlein, the conservative megadonor and shipping supplies magnate from Illinois.

In recent election cycles, the reclusive Uihlein and his wife Liz have become known for bankrolling insurgent conservative candidates across the country, sometimes serving as their primary patrons. Richard Uihlein gave $37.7 million to outside spending groups during the 2018 cycle, making him the fourth biggest donor to such entities and putting him in the ranks of people like Sheldon Adelson and Michael Bloomberg, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. For now, it is not entirely clear why Uihlein has taken such an interest in the race to lead the Texas GOP — a job that entails keeping it well-funded and organized ahead of a crucial November election for state Republicans. West's campaign did not respond to questions for this story, and Uihlein himself has not responded to a message left with his Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin-based company, Uline.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

Pete Olson: Soleimani’s death and the return of American peace-through-strength diplomacy

On Jan. 2, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani learned a “once-in-a-lifetime” lesson: If you seek to harm Americans, you will pay the ultimate price. Soleimani succeeded Osama Bin Laden as the most lethal killer of Americans, responsible for the deaths of more than 600 U.S. citizens. Until the moment our military conducted a drone strike that took him out, he had overseen years of aggressions in the Middle East that started when the Ayatollah put him in charge of terror efforts in 1979.

Throughout much of 2019, Soleimani systematically dialed up Iranian hostility, beginning with the sabotage of commercial ships in the Gulf of Oman in May, continuing with a drone strike on Saudi oil fields in September, proxy rocket strikes against Iraqi and American forces in November, and culminating with an attack on our United States Embassy in Iraq on New Year’s Eve. Soleimani was at an airport in Baghdad preparing to fly back to the Ayatollah when our military ended his reign of terror once and for all. U.S. action to take out Soleimani wasn’t some wild move by a country acting like a trigger-happy cowboy; it was a surgical strike in the international interest. Quite a difference from the “poke Uncle Sam” game Iran played with the U.S. that was tolerated, and in fact rewarded, during the Obama administration.

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Houston Chronicle - January 15, 2020

Luis Carrassco: On refugees coming to Texas, Abbott failed a moral test

I was taken by surprise Friday, when Gov. Greg Abbott made Texas the first — and so far, only — state to refuse refugee settlement, opting out of a program that more than 40 other governors have already signed up for, including 17 Republicans. As far as moral tests go, this couldn’t have been easier. This was an open-book (as a Catholic, Abbott should know which one), single-question, answer-written-on-the-blackboard kind of exam: Should we allow people who are fleeing from persecution, who have been stringently vetted and, in many cases, waited for years to come to America, to settle in Texas?

I was taken by surprise Friday, when Gov. Greg Abbott made Texas the first — and so far, only — state to refuse refugee settlement, opting out of a program that more than 40 other governors have already signed up for, including 17 Republicans. As far as moral tests go, this couldn’t have been easier. This was an open-book (as a Catholic, Abbott should know which one), single-question, answer-written-on-the-blackboard kind of exam: Should we allow people who are fleeing from persecution, who have been stringently vetted and, in many cases, waited for years to come to America, to settle in Texas?

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Houston Chronicle - January 20, 2020

Houston musician sues city for ‘dumb law’ that restricts busking

A Houston accordionist is feeling squeezed by an obscure city law aimed at restricting where musicians can play for tips. Anthony Barilla, also a composer whose work can be heard on the radio program “This American Life,” lodged the lawsuit in federal court recently in hopes of striking down the decades-old Houston ordinance, contending that it violates the First Amendment. As the law stands, a performer — regardless of their talent or instrument, be it a guitar, violin or their voice — must have a permit to serenade the streets with any hope of making a buck. And that permit confines them to the Theater District.

Barilla does not consider himself solely a busker, a musician who performs in public places — often with a belly-up hat or an open instrument case to invite a toss of the coin. But he traversed Houston’s permit process in 2018 to see what would happen and to brush up on the accordion. While he enjoyed the dozen or so times he performed, he found the Theater District to be a less than ideal stage. “The Theater District is not a great place to busk,” Barilla said. Barilla blames the limited hours of when people travel the streets to go to shows, and even then, there’s not a lot of foot traffic. Fewer people means fewer tips. “You don’t really think about Houston and foot traffic in the same sentence,” he said. Additionally, Barilla added, “it’s just a dumb law.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 20, 2020

Olson backs Bush in GOP primary for his congressional seat

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson on Monday endorsed Pierce Bush in the race to fill his congressional seat, framing the Republican nonprofit executive as the candidate best equipped to keep the district from flipping to Democratic control. “After the filing ended and things were getting really to where the rubber meets the road, it was pretty clear that one person came across as the person who can win this district in November. That man is Pierce Bush,” said Olson, a Republican from Sugar Land who is not seeking re-election after six terms in Congress.

The endorsement comes less than a month before early voting begins in the 15-candidate Republican primary for Olson’s 22nd Congressional District. Four Democrats also are running for the seat in that party’s primary. Making his first run for office, Bush also has drawn endorsements from former state representative John Zerwas, a Republican who represented a district that overlaps with Olson’s, and former Republican congressman Ted Poe. Speaking to reporters at Bush’s campaign headquarters in Sugar Land, Olson and Bush both set high stakes for 2020, with Olson warning that if “Texas 22 goes blue, America goes blue.” Bush said the prospect of the seat flipping is a “critical issue.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 20, 2020

Carbohydrates and conflicts: U.S. nutrition panel to hold rare hearing in Houston

A panel of scientists crafting influential federal nutrition guidelines — which shape everything from what kids eat in school to what farmers produce and what people buy in the grocery store — is coming to Houston this week for its first public hearing outside of Washington, D.C., in decades. The federally appointed Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will hear from the public on how to adjust the guidelines, which have been in place since the 1980s. But critics say the panel has long been slow to adjust the standards, even as obesity and diabetes rates have skyrocketed across the country.

Some of the scientists on the panel helped craft the original guidelines and are reluctant to admit their shortcomings, critics say. Some have ties to the food industry or have accepted funding from pharmaceutical companies, raising concerns of conflicts of interest — something warned of in a recent report ordered up by Congress. “It’s like trying to shift the course of the Titanic,” said Nina Teicholz, a journalist and author who is executive director of The Nutrition Coalition, a nonprofit group that advocates for the federal government to be more responsive to nutrition science.

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Dallas Morning News - January 20, 2020

Armed man’s fatal shooting by Texas troopers after chase shows difference in police pursuit policies

On Aug. 17, 2019, two state troopers came in from rural counties outside of Dallas to work as part of a policing task force called “Operation D-Town” all over the city. The goal was to help cut down on escalating crime and the highest murder levels since 2007. They had just finished a traffic stop when they spotted a silver Toyota Camry down the street. The car turned left, but it never signaled. Instead of stopping for police, the driver, Schaston Hodge, who did not have outstanding warrants, led the troopers on a brief chase. At one point, speeds topped 50 mph around South Dallas’ residential streets where the posted limit tends to be around 30 mph.

At the end of the chase, Hodge, 27, tried to make a run for the backdoor of his grandmother’s house. As the two troopers ran behind him into the backyard, Hodge jumped out of his car and turned toward them holding a gun. Within seconds, they shot him 16 times. A Dallas County grand jury found the troopers’ use of lethal force to be justified. Hodge’s stop highlights the danger of police pursuits – a practice that has come under intense scrutiny. Many law enforcement agencies have started only doing them in cases of violent crimes or have banned them entirely. But experts say local and state police have radically different policies for officers to decide when to engage in a chase.

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Dallas Morning News - January 20, 2020

Price cut: T. Boone Pickens’ 65,000-acre Texas ranch

Brokers selling T. Boone Pickens’ huge Texas Panhandle ranch have cut the price on the property. But at $220 million, the 65,000-acre spread near Pampa is still one of the most elaborate ranches offered for sale in the U.S. Pickens, who died in September at 91, put his Mesa Vista Ranch on the market in 2017 with a $250 million price tag.

Located 90 miles northeast of Amarillo, the 101-square-mile property includes broad mesas, lakes and rivers and a grand home and lodge on the Canadian River. “There are many reasons why the time is right to sell the ranch now, not the least of them ensuring that what I truly believe is one of the most magnificent properties in the world winds up with an individual or entity that shares my conservation beliefs,” the Texas billionaire said when he decided to sell Mesa Vista.

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Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2020

Trump adds Texas congressman John Ratcliffe to impeachment defense team

The White House added Dallas-area congressman John Ratcliffe to President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team Monday night, tapping a former federal prosecutor who emerged as a aggressive defender during the House impeachment inquiry. “I took an oath to defend the Constitution. This impeachment is an assault on due process. It’s an assault on the separation of powers. It’s unconstitutional. I’m grateful for the opportunity to make that clear to every American during the Senate trial," Ratcliffe said in a statement.

Ratcliffe is one of eight House Republicans named as reinforcements for the defense team led by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow, joining retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the former Baylor University president whose independent counsel inquiry led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton. At his Oct. 17 rally in Dallas, Trump gave a generous shout-out to Ratcliffe, calling him “one of the best lawyers you’ll ever find. He’s slick, he’s smooth, but boy, he’s loyal, he’s, talented, and he’s got them all buffaloed because they’re not as good as him, John Ratliffe.”

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KXAN - January 21, 2020

Teacher Retirement System of Texas to spend at least $326K a month in rent

A public records request to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas has revealed that the agency will spend at least $326,000 a month in rent for office space in the Indeed Tower. TRS signed a 10-year lease for three floors of office space at the Indeed Tower, which is scheduled to be completed in 2021, on Sixth Street.

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie told KXAN in a prepared statement that because the agency committed early to the Indeed Tower, “we were able to stabilize the rent and negotiate favorable per-construction rates for the 100,000 square feet.” “Today, 18 months later, those lease rates are well below current rents for comparable space in Austin’s tight rental market,” Guthrie said.

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Austin Chronicle - January 18, 2020

Dr. Van Boven's attempt to clear his name loses at Third Court

Dr. Robert Van Boven’s latest attempt to clear his name did not end well. On Jan. 9, the Third Court of Appeals rejected his claim against Texas Medical Board staff for acting beyond their authority. Van Boven says he will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The specific issue, raised by the TMB on appeal after a mixed lower court ruling, is whether certain TMB board or staff members acted ultra vires – beyond their legal authority – when they reported to the federal government the outcome of Van Boven’s case before the State Office of Administrative Hearings. In 2016, the TMB had charged that Van Boven had behaved unprofessionally with two patients in his Lakeway neurology practice.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 21, 2020

Elaine Aylala: Mexican American civil rights institute finds a home at OLLU

The National Institute of Mexican American History of Civil Rights, a San Antonio enterprise with a commitment for $500,000 in startup funding from City Council, has a home. It will announce the details today. It probably won’t come as a big surprise that Our Lady of the Lake University will house the institute, which will collect and preserve historical data, showcase the stories of transformational Mexican American leaders and tell the story of Mexican American civil, voting, educational, labor and human rights.

If any city should host and nurture such an entity, it’s San Antonio, the U.S. capital of Mexican American development and leadership. The announcement is another chapter in OLLU’s own Mexican American civil rights history. The university, rooted in the city’s West Side, long has been linked to leading figures and organizations in San Antonio and South Texas civil rights. The school’s commitment to social justice can be traced to its founders, the Sisters of Divine Providence In 1968, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights chose OLLU as the venue for six days of historic hearings on discrimination against Mexican Americans in housing, employment, education, voting rights and the justice system across the Southwest. In 2018, the 50th anniversary of those hearings, the university hosted a conference that looked back on the event and assessed its momentous legacy.

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Associated Press - January 20, 2020

Navy names aircraft carrier for Pearl Harbor hero, Waco-born Doris Miller

The U.S. Navy is expected to honor a World War II hero when a new aircraft carrier is named for Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris Miller. The announcement was made at Pearl Harbor Monday, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday. Miller was the first African American to receive the Navy Cross for valor.

Miller was recognized for manning a machine gun on the USS West Virginia and returning fire against Japanese planes during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. USS Miller, a destroyer escort, was previously named in his honor. "I think that Doris Miller is an American hero simply because of what he represents as a young man going beyond the call of what's expected," said Doreen Ravenscroft, a team leader for the Doris Miller Memorial. An African American was not allowed to man a gun in the Navy in 1941, Ravenscroft said. "Without him really knowing, he actually was a part of the Civil Rights movement because he changed the thinking in the Navy," Ravenscroft said. Two of Miller's nieces are expected to be at Pearl Harbor for the announcement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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Politifact Texas - January 20, 2020

Has a third of Texas really seen a 25% population loss?

The claim: "About a third of Texas has seen a 20-25% population loss in the last 5 years." — Houston state Rep. Gene Wu Wu made the statement on Twitter as he shared a news story about census data showing that in 2019, the U.S. saw the slowest population growth rate in a century. PolitiFact ruling: False. It’s true that one third of Texas counties saw a decline in population from 2013 to 2018, but the decline was much less pronounced than Wu stated.

Discussion: The news story Wu shared was an NPR analysis that attributed the slow population growth rate to declining fertility rates and more deaths, as "post-World War II baby boomers reach old age." It also highlighted lower immigration rates, as the number of people moving to the United States from other countries has declined since 2016. Looking at the last five years of available Census Bureau data, from 2013 to 2018, the population in Texas grew roughly 9 percent — from 26.4 million to 28.7 million. Of the state’s 254 counties, 87 (about one third) saw a decline in population from 2013 to 2018.

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KUT - January 20, 2020

Communication is key to keeping first-generation college students enrolled. How are Texas schools doing?

Over the years, Texas has tried to boost enrollment in college. After all, people with college degrees tend to earn higher wages. But for some first-generation students, many of whom also come from families with low incomes, the transition from high school to college can be daunting. And it's this transition that one education nonprofit says is a blind spot in the Texas education system.

Dan Hooper is executive director of ScholarShot, a Dallas-based nonprofit. Rebecca Morgan is the organization's director of data intelligence. They say that some public universities aren't doing enough to help those students succeed once they get into college. "We've seen some significant shortfalls in our university practices and policies," Hooper says. "Those kids make up half the population of our universities and yet as many as nine out of 10 that enroll in college drop out." ScholarShot got 28 of Texas' 35 public universities to participate in its survey, which became its public universities Report Card. The top two schools are the University of North Texas at Dallas and the University of Texas at Arlington.

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Texas Observer - January 15, 2020

As fossil fuel industry invests billions in new Texas facilities, it could unleash a huge emissions bomb

A hulking new $10 billion ethane cracker near Corpus Christi set for completion by 2022. A trio of approved liquified natural gas export terminals near Brownsville that could be up and running by the end of 2023. A $5 billion ethylene processing plant in Orange County planned to start operating in 2024. A $6.6 billion petrochemical expansion in Port Arthur that could be online by mid-decade.

The explosive boom in the oil and gas industry has ushered in a rapid, nationwide buildup of new oil, gas, and petrochemical facilities across the supply chain. In Texas and Louisiana alone, this new infrastructure could lead to more than half-a-billion tons of added greenhouse gas emissions each year by 2030, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. That’s equivalent to 8 percent of the United States’ current annual emissions and is roughly equal to emissions from 131 coal-fired power plants. The report is unique in that it not only measures the projected emissions at the site of drilling, a well-studied area, but also considers the outputs from elements further downstream in the industry supply chain—pipelines, refineries, and petrochemical operations—that are overlooked more often. As the report found, new petrochemical and refinery plants popping up all along the Gulf Coast are expected to produce the largest share of new emissions, 46 percent of the total half-billion tons.

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Dallas Observer - January 20, 2020

Texas marijuana laws in 2020: Lots of de facto, not much de jure

The state of marijuana regulation in Texas, as it stands at the beginning of 2020, is a puzzle. For those of the right race and socioeconomic status, weed is effectively legal. In the state's big cities especially, pot isn't seen as a scourge — police departments are citing and releasing those caught for possession, and many district attorneys aren't prosecuting low-level marijuana cases at all — but as something the state is behind on. Officially, however, marijuana is still very, very illegal in the state. As states around the country have moved to legalize recreational pot use for adults, Texas legislators, especially in the Texas Senate, have dug in their heels.

During the 2019 legislative session, a bill that would have made possession of an ounce or less of weed punishable by a civil fine of up to $250 passed the Texas House. It went nowhere in the Texas Senate, thanks in large part to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a staunch opponent of anything that even hints at Texans being able to make their own decisions about recreational marijuana use. What the vast majority of Texans who support pot legalization got instead were two concessions, one small and intentional and one huge and inadvertent.

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County Stories

Odessa American - January 20, 2020

Starr Co. child advocacy center funding stirs controversy

With the Primary elections less than two months away, allegations against current 229th District Attorney Omar Escobar and his opponent, Gocha Ramirez, have intensified with the latest focusing on the creation of a children’s advocacy center in the county. Funding for the proposed nonprofit, called the Butterfly Haven, was pulled unexpectedly, according to the group trying to launch it, who also believes this happened because Escobar allegedly intervened.

Dr. Daria Babineaux, a local pediatrician and a school board trustee for the Rio Grande City school district, is a member of the Child Wellness Network, the group behind the Butterfly Haven. The Child Wellness Network applied for a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant for the center and in April were notified by the South Texas Development Council how their application had scored. Among four applicants, theirs had ranked the lowest but still were recommended to receive a grant of $611,105.50. However, a day after they expected to receive the funds, they learned the grant had been denied by the governor’s office.

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Houston Chronicle - January 20, 2020

Saying Ogg not progressive enough, TOP endorses Dem challenger Audia Jones

Prominent progressive advocacy group Texas Organizing Project on Monday endorsed Harris County district attorney candidate Audia Jones over incumbent Kim Ogg, a potential political blow to the prosecutor’s re-election campaign even as she holds a significant fundraising lead over her Democratic primary opponents.

The TOP endorsement mirrors sentiment among some Democrats who claim the current district attorney is not progressive enough despite her election four years ago as a criminal justice reformer. The group supported Ogg in 2016, but now says her campaign promises have played out differently than they hoped. In particular, the group, which advocates for greater representation for black and Hispanic communities, takes issue with three moves by Ogg during her first term: her opposition to a bail reform settlement for Harris County aimed at allowing most misdemeanor defendants to be released without needing to post cash bail; her request for 100 new prosecutors, which was opposed by all three Democratic members of Commissioners Court; and her office’s continued use of the death penalty in capital cases.

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City Stories

KXAN - January 21, 2020

Austin ranks among cities with highest STD rates in U.S., statistics show

Austin currently ranks 56th among the top 100 U.S. cities with the highest STD rates, medical and wellness testing company Innerbody says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report, which included new data on the numbers of STDs across U.S. metro areas.

Based on the data, Innerbody says Austin has 1,006 STD cases per every 100,000 residents. The breakdown of these numbers by the STD is: HIV — 221 cases; Chlamydia — 8,946 cases; Gonorrhea — 3,306 cases; Syphilis — 310 cases.

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Houston Chronicle - January 20, 2020

Gun used at Bellaire HS recovered days after deadly shooting

Police have found the gun believed to have been used in the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old student inside Bellaire High School last week, Bellaire police said.

Lt. Greg Bartlett said Monday the weapon is in the possession of Bellaire Police Department, without elaborating. Last week, Bartlett said the 16-year-old suspect in the shooting, whose identity was not made available because he has been charged as a juvenile, was refusing to talk to investigators. The lieutenant would not say how or where the weapon was found or if the suspect’s cooperation has changed.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2020

Greg Jefferson: Growth, growing pains in San Antonio forecast

Every January, economic forecasters are stars of the show, intoning their predictions in hotel ballrooms and conference rooms packed with business people, public officials and a few reporters. The sheer amount of stale danish (morning sessions) and dry chicken and salmon dishes (luncheons) they consume attests to their dedication and seriousness.

It must be a great job, the food notwithstanding. For 11 months of the year, you chat with industry friends about what trends they’re seeing, watch CNBC, read books, reports, newspapers, magazines and blogs, and think. All of which you could presumably do in your bathrobe. Then, in January, you emerge like an oracle to make your pronouncements on the economy. Instead of wishing your colleagues “Happy New Year!” on Jan. 1, you group-text things like “Showtime!” Taken as a whole, the message they’re gracing San Antonio audiences with this year is this: You have a nice city here. Your economy’s healthy and stable, and you’re growing. But you’ve also got a few deep, nagging problems that are holding you back relative to other cities.

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National Stories

New York Times - January 19, 2020

Baylor’s handling of rape cases still follows Ken Starr

In August 2015, Ken Starr, then president of Baylor University, issued a bold pronouncement to students and faculty. “By God’s grace,” he wrote, “we are living in a golden era at Baylor.” Less than a year later, the university’s regents voted to remove Mr. Starr after six years on the job, saying he failed to act as charges of sexual assault upended the football team and swept the nation’s largest Baptist university, a place where biblical verse is carved into the sidewalks. Mr. Starr, 73, has held many high-profile national posts, including solicitor general and independent counsel.

Now he will work on the legal team defending President Trump in his impeachment trial. But his tenure as president of Baylor and its 14,000 students registers as a dark chapter in his career. Young women and several former officials said in interviews that Mr. Starr ignored the women’s cries for help and that he and other top officials at Baylor failed in their responsibility to shield the women from sexual harm. Three years ago, 15 current and former female students filed a lawsuit against Baylor, saying they had been raped or assaulted by fellow students, one of whom was a football player. Their case has unearthed piles of unsightly evidence of official inaction. “Starr presided over Baylor at a time when hundreds of young women were assaulted and Baylor’s policy was indifference at best,” said Jim Dunnam, who is a Baylor Law School graduate and former leader of the statehouse Democrats and who, as a lawyer for the plaintiffs, has taken testimony under oath from regents and former university officials.

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New York Times - January 21, 2020

Iran acknowledges it fired 2 missiles at Ukrainian jet

Iran acknowledged on Tuesday that its forces had fired two surface-to-air missiles at a Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed this month near Tehran, confirming for the first time that more than one missile was launched at the jet. The Iranian authorities also asked officials in the United States and France to send the equipment needed to decode the jet’s flight data recorders, or “black boxes,” a request certain to frustrate countries that have called for greater international involvement in investigating the disaster, which killed all 176 onboard.

The downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 8 came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States that included tit-for-tat military strikes, and after the killing of the top Iranian security commander, Maj. General Qassim Suleimani, in a United States drone strike at the Baghdad airport. The plane was shot down the same day Iran fired missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house United States troops, in retaliation for the killing of General Suleimani. After days of denials, Iranian officials acknowledged that the downing was the result of “human error,” prompting angry protests across Iran. A preliminary report from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, released on Tuesday, corroborated a video verified by The New York Times last week that showed two missiles, fired from a military site, exploding near the plane.

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Associated Press - January 20, 2020

Pro-gun rally by thousands in Virginia ends peacefully

Tens of thousands of gun-rights activists from around the country rallied peacefully at the Virginia Capitol on Monday to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation — a move that has become a key flash point in the national debate over gun violence

The size of the crowd and the expected participation of white supremacists and fringe militia groups raised fears that the state could see a repeat of the violence that exploded in 2017 in Charlottesville. But the rally concluded uneventfully around noon, and the mood was largely festive, with rally-goers chanting “USA!” and waving signs denouncing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. Many protesters chose not to enter the designated rally zone, where Northam had imposed a temporary weapons ban, and instead packed surrounding streets, many dressed in tactical gear and camouflage and carrying military-style rifles as they cheered on the speakers.

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Hollywood Reporter - January 21, 2020

Hillary Clinton in full: A fiery new documentary, Trump regrets and harsh words for Bernie: "Nobody likes him"

With four-part Hulu series 'Hillary' set to premiere at Sundance, one of America's most groundbreaking (and polarizing) figures opens up about Monica Lewinsky, her marriage, whether a woman can win the presidency and her not-so-fuzzy feelings about Bernie Sanders: "Nobody wants to work with him."

In the fall of 2017, producer Howard T. Owens got a call from famed Washington power broker Robert Barnett. Barnett's longtime client, Hillary Clinton, was sitting on nearly 2,000 hours of campaign footage and planned to turn it into a documentary. Hulu was already on board to distribute it domestically, but would Owens consider producing and selling it abroad? The son of a onetime Democratic state senator from Connecticut and himself the former head of National Geographic Channel, Owens was immediately interested. He'd have to meet and woo Secretary Clinton and her top aide, Huma Abedin, he was told, and then, with the streamer, begin compiling a list of potential filmmakers. The only requirement: that she be female.

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Washington Post - January 21, 2020

Chinese officials urge people not to travel in and out of city at center of virus outbreak

Chinese health authorities sought to impose a quasi-quarantine Tuesday around Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, as they stepped up efforts to stop the spread of a mystery virus that has now claimed six lives. With confirmation that the pneumonialike coronavirus can be transmitted from person to person, and with hundreds of millions of Chinese packing onto public transport to make their annual pilgrimages home for the Lunar New Year, a new sense of panic has erupted here.

Long lines formed at pharmacies and convenience stores around the country as people rushed to buy surgical masks, with unlucky customers posting photos on social media of bare shelves. People around the country canceled their trips home for the Spring Festival, as Chinese new year celebrations are known, the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar. “I don’t really dare to go to the airport right now, or even to the movie theater,” said Xie Jing, a 33-year-old who works in advertising in Shanghai, where there have been two confirmed cases of coronavirus. She canceled her planned trip home to Sichuan, where two cases are suspected. “Everyone is being very careful at the moment in Shanghai. Everyone is wearing masks on the streets,” Xie said.

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Newsclips - January 20, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2020

As Democrats build up campaigns in Texas, Trump campaign responds

With voting set to begin in Texas in less than 30 days, Democratic presidential candidates may be increasing their campaign activity in the state , but President Donald Trump and his campaign are determined to not give them unfettered access to the Lone Star state’s voters. Democratic hopefuls Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden have all made recent campaign stops and have been staffing up in Texas, Trump’s re-election camp is responding by upping their organizing efforts on the ground and making sure the President speaks directly to Texas voters.

“I am thrilled to be back in this incredible state of Texas,” Trump said during a speech in Austin on Sunday . “From what I understand those polls are all saying we are way higher than we were in 2016. We’re doing good.” Speaking to the American Farm Bureau Foundation’s annual convention, Trump touted new trade deals with Mexico and Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, plus progress in trade talks with China as evidence that the economy is booming and Democrats are a threat to it all if they win the White House. “We did it,” Trump said. “Remember they were all saying ‘you’ll never get NAFTA changed. We were stuck with one of the worst trade deals in history.’” Instead, Trump said the new USMCA will “massively boost” exports for farmers and ranchers.

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NPR - January 19, 2020

$11 billion and counting: Trump's border wall would be the world's most costly

The pricetag for President Trump's border wall has topped $11 billion — or nearly $20 million a mile — to become the most expensive wall of its kind anywhere in the world. In a status report last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is overseeing wall construction, reported that $11 billion has been identified since Trump took office to construct 576 miles of a new "border wall system."

And the Trump administration is on the hunt for funding to build even more. The Department of Homeland Security has asked the Defense Department to come up with money for 270 additional miles of border wall that DHS says is needed to block drug smuggling routes on federal land. The Pentagon is studying the request, which did not come with a dollar figure. If the Trump administration completes all of the wall projects it has set in motion, three-quarters of the U.S. southern border would be walled off from Mexico. The government inherited about 650 miles of border structures erected under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. "You're going to have a wall like no other. It's going to be a powerful, terrific wall," President Trump said at a rally in Milwaukee last week. "A very big and very powerful border wall is going up at a record speed, and we are fully financed now, isn't that nice?" To get an idea why the government is spending so much on Trump's border wall, look no further than the construction sites down in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

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Wall Street Journal - January 19, 2020

Trump Administration to soon issue guidance on Medicaid block grants

The Trump administration plans to release guidance as soon as this month for granting states waivers to convert Medicaid funding to block grants, according to two people familiar with the matter, paving the way for a transformation of the 55-year-old program that is likely to reignite a partisan feud. The impending release comes as a surprise after the Office of Management and Budget, which reviews regulatory actions, indicated in November that block-grant instructions had been withdrawn. Lawmakers and legal advisers speculated that the guidance may have been shelved or significantly delayed.

Approving state waivers to change Medicaid funding to block grants would be among the administration’s most controversial moves to reshape Medicaid, a federal-state program that provides health coverage to one in five low-income Americans. Medicaid is the main source of long-term care coverage for Americans and is a guaranteed benefit, or entitlement, for eligible individuals. Lawmakers in Tennessee, Alaska and Oklahoma have already expressed an interest in pursuing block grants. Supporters of block grants say the change would free states from federal requirements and give them more flexibility to try new ways to increase coverage and cut costs.

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New York Times - January 19, 2020

New York Times Editorial Board: We endorse Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren as the Democratic nominees for president

American voters must choose between three sharply divergent visions of the future. The incumbent president, Donald Trump, is clear about where he is guiding the Republican Party — white nativism at home and America First unilateralism abroad, brazen corruption, escalating culture wars, a judiciary stacked with ideologues and the veneration of a mythological past where the hierarchy in American society was defined and unchallenged. On the Democratic side, an essential debate is underway between two visions that may define the future of the party and perhaps the nation. Some in the party view President Trump as an aberration and believe that a return to a more sensible America is possible. Then there are those who believe that President Trump was the product of political and economic systems so rotten that they must be replaced.

The Democratic primary contest is often portrayed as a tussle between moderates and progressives. To some extent that’s true. But when we spent significant time with the leading candidates, the similarity of their platforms on fundamental issues became striking. Nearly any of them would be the most progressive president in decades on issues like health care, the economy and government’s allocations of resources. Where they differ most significantly is not the what but the how, in whether they believe the country’s institutions and norms are up to the challenge of the moment. Many Democratic voters are concerned first and foremost about who can beat Mr. Trump. But with a crowded field and with traditional polling in tatters, that calculation calls for a hefty dose of humility about anyone’s ability to foretell what voters want. Choosing who should face off against Mr. Trump also means acknowledging that Americans are being confronted with three models for how to govern this country, not two. Democrats must decide which of their two models would be most compelling for the American people and best suited for repairing the Republic.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2020

Democrats intensify push for Crenshaw’s CD-2 seat

Democrats, including Beto O’Rourke, are ramping up their efforts to unseat freshman U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, making an ambitious play for a historically bright red district they say is trending in their favor. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ campaign arm, on Thursday added Crenshaw’s 2nd Congressional District to its list of 2020 targets, making it the seventh GOP-controlled seat in Texas to garner the group’s attention. The move signals that the DCCC, which last week announced a $125 million fundraising haul in 2019, intends to put resources into flipping the district.

A day before the announcement, Democratic candidate Sima Ladjevardian — a former O’Rourke adviser — announced she had raised more than $407,000 in the first three weeks of her campaign. On Tuesday she held a formal campaign kickoff attended by O’Rourke and a handful of local officials. “The guy who is in there right now, Dan Crenshaw, this is Trump's guy in Texas,” O’Rourke told a crowd gathered in front of Ladjevardian’s new campaign office. “He has the Trump embassy right here in Houston. He has the Trump seat in the United States House of Representatives.” Ladjevardian introduced herself by saying, “For those of you who don't know, my name is Sima, and together we're going to unseat Dan Crenshaw.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2020

Trump administration gives five energy companies another three months in Venezuela

Trump administration officials have given five energy companies with strong ties to Houston another three months in the oil fields of Venezuela. In a decision just before midnight Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department granted waivers to Chevron, Schlumberger, Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Weatherford -- allowing them to continue to do business in the crisis-ridden South American nation until April 22.

Seeking to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power, the Trump administration has imposed a series of sanctions over the past two years, which, among other things, prohibit buying Venezuelan crude oil and conducting financial transactions with the Venezuela government or its state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA. The five companies have been able to stay in Venezuela through waivers and licenses issued every three to six months by the Treasury Department. Until Friday's renewal, the licenses were set to expire on Wednesday. “Chevron is a constructive presence in Venezuela, where we have been part of the local communities for nearly a century," the company said in a statement. "We remain focused on our base business operations and supporting the more than 8,800 people who work with us and their families. Our operations continue in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2020

Judge: More information needed to decide where Exxon Mobil lawsuit will be heard

A Harris County judge has asked for more information before deciding whether a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil will be heard here or in Travis County, part of a battle between the state and county to go after violators. On Aug. 1, the Harris County Attorney’s Office filed a suit against Exxon Mobil after a chemical fire that injured 37 people in Baytown. It was the first time the office used an order approved by Commissioners Court in April that allows the office to file environmental suits without having to first get the county board’s approval on a case-by-case basis.

But the Attorney General’s Office, which filed its own lawsuit against the company a few days later, says the county couldn’t have sued Exxon using the commissioner’s preauthorization. “To the extent that Harris County implies the April 30 Order is necessary to respond to emergencies occurring between regular sessions of the Commissioners Court, the County is wrong,” the state wrote in court documents. “The Legislature has provided the County with the tools needed to address emergencies.” The state is seeking for the county’s lawsuit to be dismissed in favor of the state suit filed in Travis County.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2020

With first real look at 2020 campaign funding, battle lines begin to form in fight for Texas House

The fight for control of the Texas House is on, and North Texas will be the major battleground. With Democrats nine seats away from a majority, the first campaign finance reports of 2020 filed last week clearly showed where the most competitive races are, the strongest fundraisers and who needs additional help. Nine of the top 20 fundraisers for House races over the last six months are from North Texas.

Some candidates raised more than $200,000 each in the last six months of 2019. Those big hauls are likely only the opening salvo in a battle that will play out over the next 11 months and will draw huge interest from beyond Texas’ borders from those who are watching to see if Democrats can loosen the Republicans’ two-decade grip on the Texas House. “We’ll see the sticker price [on some of these races] inflate — especially as we head into the general election,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “The money we’re seeing right now is just the tip of the iceberg.” The list of big-money fundraisers includes Dallas Republican incumbents Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button, as well as Luisa del Rosal, who is considered a strong GOP threat to win back a seat taken by the Democrats in 2018. Tarrant County GOP incumbents Craig Goldman and Charlie Geren, and Collin County Rep. Jeff Leach and Denton County Rep. Lynn Stucky also raked in large amounts of campaign cash.

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Dallas Morning News - January 20, 2020

Dallas Women’s March focuses on power to bring political, social change

Thousands of people marched Sunday through downtown Dallas, celebrating a century of women’s political power to bring change and calling for more — more political power and more change. The city’s Women’s March, one of many this weekend across the nation, honored the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment as it rallied people to prepare for Election Day.

With primaries and caucuses for the presidential race beginning next month, the constitutional guarantee of women’s right to vote was especially meaningful for the event’s participants. “No matter who you vote for, you need to have your say. You need to stand up," said Connie Grube, a 70-year-old Ellis County resident. She said she values the right to vote that her own grandmother couldn’t enjoy before the amendment was ratified. “She grew up not voting, and it just awes me that I am able to,” Grube said. “And I am embarrassed and ashamed that there are too many of us who don’t.” Marchers highlighted a variety of issues women can use their political might to influence, including reproductive rights and racial and gender equality.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2020

George A. Mason and Nancy Kasten: By turning away refugees, Gov. Abbott is giving up the fight for human freedom

At the opening ceremony of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum last September, Gov. Greg Abbott declared it to be “a reminder of the evil that can exist in the world, and it stands as memorial to those who lost their lives, so that their memory will never fade. All those who walk through these halls will be inspired to fight for human dignity and freedom throughout the world.” Is Texas included in the world? Last week Abbott sent a letter informing the federal government that Texas would not participate in the resettlement of refugees this fiscal year. He described Texas as a welcoming state that has done more than its fair share in resettling refugees.

As further justification for Texas’ opt-out (which also forgoes federal money allocated for the resettlement process), the governor cites a broken immigration system that the state has to deal with because of Congress’ failure to fix the problem. On Wednesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the executive order giving states the option to stop accepting refugees. Let’s be clear: The refugees the governor says Texas will not help have done everything according to the law. They have been highly vetted and been granted refugee status because of the legitimate threat to their lives if they were to return to their homelands. These are the very people whose “human dignity and freedom” the governor claimed last September we should all fight for. Our elected officials are now giving up that fight, using the language of “Texas First,” which echoes the “America First” spirit coming out of the administration in Washington.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 20, 2020

Bud Kennedy: It’s 6 weeks till Super Tuesday. In Texas, that’s 6 more weeks of Biden, Bloomberg TV

Democratic candidates are piling into Texas, and this time not only for money but for votes. Texas is usually a big cash machine for Democratic donations, but the wide-open race for Super Tuesday presidential delegates has candidates passing through town like 18-wheelers. Joe Biden was in Arlington on Wednesday, although Arlington didn’t seem to notice. I didn’t even see a protester outside Esports Stadium, although I did see one Saturday when Mike Bloomberg commandeered the rooftop deck at a Dallas bar named Happiest Hour.

The protest sign said, “Don’t Allow Bloomberg to Turn Texas Blue,” a possibility which did not even cross anyone’s mind in Texas until he ran $17 million in TV ads. Bloomberg alone is on track to run $40 million-$50 million in TV ads, and that still might not get him close enough to win the 15% of the vote required to take delegates, Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said. Texas’ Democrats are more moderate than California’s. So Texas is the best place for Bloomberg and Biden to find delegates. “The Texas primary will be a critical test for the Bloomberg strategy,” Jones said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 19, 2020

Minister, wife of man killed at West Freeway church reflect on shooting, faith and evil

Glenda White and her husband Richard almost went on a weekend camping trip that would have kept them away from church, but rain prompted them to stay home. Then Glenda overslept that Sunday morning and suggested they just stay in bed. They decided to go to church instead. If they had stayed home, Richard White, 67, would still be alive. But many others might be dead.

In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Thursday, Glenda White described the caring nature of her husband and his sacrifice for his church family at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement. On Dec. 29, a gunman in the church shot Richard White and Tony Wallace before Jack Wilson, a member of the security team, shot and killed him. Richard White was shot first as he reached for his gun. He drew fire away from everyone else and allowed Wilson to get into position to shoot, his wife said. “He was where God wanted him to be. And I firmly, firmly believe that,” Glenda White said.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 20, 2020

Jonathan Tilove: The hardening heart of Greg Abbott

On John Cornyn’s weekly conference call with Texas reporters Wednesday, the American-Statesman’s Nicole Cobler asked the Texas senator, “What are your thoughts on Gov. Abbott’s decision to have Texas opt out of the refugee resettlement program?” Cornyn replied, “Well, it’s certainly within the governor’s purview, and not my decision to make. I can understand why Texas, which has borne the brunt of the waves of humanity coming across seeking asylum from Central America and Mexico, that the governor feels like Texas and Texas taxpayers have borne the brunt of that and he’s not willing to add additional people from the refugee program to that.”

“So I may have a private conversation with the governor about that,” Cornyn said, noting, “I think legal immigration is a good thing.” “Do you support the governor’s decision?” Chris Fox, Austin bureau chief for CBS Radio News, interjected. “It’s not my choice to make,” Cornyn said. It was a revealing answer. With his decision to become the only governor to take advantage of a Trump order allowing states and localities the power to refuse new refugees, I wondered about Abbott exposing his hardening heart. For months Abbott has waged war on Austin officials for what he considers their reckless and feckless handling of the city’s residents who are experiencing homelessness. That has proved popular. Homeless people are not their own best ambassadors.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 19, 2020

For farmers, Trump and trade deals a winning ticket

Two days before he goes on trial in the U.S. Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors, President Donald Trump came to Austin on Sunday to celebrate the administration’s breakthrough trade deals at the annual convention of the politically consequential American Farm Bureau Federation. Its 6 million member families are the backbone in ruby red rural America on which his ability to win a second term, following his almost certain Senate acquittal, hinges.

“And what do I get out of it?” Trump said as he reeled off his recent successes on trade policy. “I get impeached by these radical left lunatics.” “But that’s OK, the farmers are sticking with Trump,” the president said to a roar of approval. Despite convulsive and sometimes difficult times during Trump’s tenure for many who make their livelihood in agriculture and have been caught in the throes of trade wars, the gathering of some 5,000 farmers and ranchers at the Austin Convention Center was undisputed Trump country, as are the places they hail from. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a farmer that doesn’t (support Trump),” said Bill Sparrow, 86, who has a nursery business in Durham, N.C., and was at the convention with his wife, Daphine. The Sparrows both think Trump sometimes talks too much for his own good, but that he has delivered on his promises. The event was not a campaign rally, but bore some resemblance to one. Albeit by Trump standards, it was relatively low-key, clocking in at under an hour and lacking the rhetorical flourishes and detours that often characterize his appearances.

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KTRH - January 17, 2020

Abbott and Patrick are sitting on a pile of campaign contributors

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are picking up massive political donations, even though neither one of them is up for reelection this year.

The Texas Ethics Commission reports Abbott raised nearly eight-million-dollars between July and December, spent more than three-million, and has almost 33-million on hand.

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Odessa American - January 19, 2020

Brooks Landgraf: Great expectations for 2020

A year from now the 87th Texas Legislature will be in session. Texas is one of only four states that hold session every other year. Unlike the other three states, Nevada, Montana and North Dakota, Texas maintains this limited government approach while also supporting a huge population of over 28 million and a massive economy that would be the 10th largest in the world if Texas were its own country. Part of the reason this is possible is because, in Texas, we measure twice and cut once. While the Texas Legislature is not in session, committees meet to take time to drill down on issues, learn from experts, vet possible solutions, and, most importantly, listen to the thoughts and concerns of the people of Texas.

Members also take the time to research and vet specific policy proposals of their own. I have the honor of serving as the Vice Chair of the House Transportation Committee. I'm also a member of the House Business & Industry Committee and the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention & Community Safety. These committees have jurisdiction over various issues such as matters pertaining to commercial motor vehicles, Texas highways, manufacturing, industrial safety, and policies to reduce mass violence--all relevant topics to the residents of Andrews, Ector, Ward and Winker counties. Ultimately, each committee will issue a report to the legislature with their recommendations and findings after hearings are concluded. Many of these recommendations will turn into widely supported bills in 2021.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - January 19, 2020

Brandi Addison: Final Farewell ... West Texas provides first ‘real’ job, wonderful friends

For nearly four years, West Texas has been my home, giving me more than I would have ever even imagined when I moved out this way at 18 years old. I remember driving westbound on Interstate 20, taking a right on US-84 and heading to an unfamiliar place that would later become my favorite place. Most of you wouldn’t say Lubbock is “West Texas,” but humor me, please, because it’s far more west than the Metroplex. My mother sat in the passenger seat, giving me advice and laughing at the memories we shared. I remember that she told me I’d make the very best friends and meet my soulmate in Lubbock.

She insisted she knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t ever want to leave. I refused to accept that and assured her I was only there to get my degree, and I’d be back home in Fort Worth when I was finished. Many of you can guess how this turned out. I got my degree, like I said I would, but I also made the very best friends and met my soulmate – now my husband and the father of my daughter, who is expected in May. What surprised me most, however, was that she was spot-on when telling me I wouldn’t want to leave. One of the biggest reasons I moved to Midland was so I could stay nearby; Lubbock had truly become my home. By the end of the week, I will be back in the Metroplex, so I can raise my little one around her family. I’m sad to be leaving Lubbock, my safe place, even further behind.

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Rivard Report - January 19, 2020

Toyota expansion accelerates in San Antonio

For San Antonio, Toyota is proving to be the economic development gift that keeps on giving. For Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, which is quietly undergoing a year-long, comprehensive strategic planning initiative, the new decade is off to a better start than anyone previously imagined.

That momentum was driven by Toyota’s announcement Friday that production of the company’s Sequoia SUV will be moved from Indiana to San Antonio in 2022, following a redesign of the Southside manufacturing facility to exclusively produce large-frame vehicles. The Sequoia is built on the same platform as the Tundra pickup truck, which the factory already produces. Production of the smaller Tacoma pickup truck, meanwhile, will come to an end in San Antonio as Toyota consolidates that work at two plants in Guanajuato and Baja California, Mexico. With 3,200 existing factory jobs and another 4,000 at its 23 on-location suppliers in San Antonio, Toyota is poised now for further job growth and thus a new level of economic impact in San Antonio.

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The Hill - January 19, 2020

Cornyn disputes GAO report on withholding of Ukraine aid: It's 'certainly not a crime'

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Sunday disputed the findings of a watchdog report that found the Trump administration's decision to withhold aid to Ukraine broke the law. "[It's] certainly not a crime and something that no one had ever dreamed in the past would have risen to the level of impeachment," Cornyn said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"This is one of the basic problems with the House's case. Isn’t it central to that question of the president withholding aid for personal gain, which is the allegation?" host Margaret Brennan asked Cornyn. The senator responded by defending President Trump's actions related to Ukraine, stressing that the House-passed article of impeachment charging the president with abuse of power is not treason, bribery or a high crime and misdemeanor, which are laid out as reasons for impeachment in the Constitution.

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Waco Tribune-Herald - January 18, 2020

Industry weighing hemp's potential as meeting on Texas' regulations comes to Waco

Industrial hemp is a cousin to marijuana, but growing hemp is now legal in Texas. That in mind, the Texas Farm Bureau will host a forum Wednesday in Waco for anyone who may want to dirty their hands on a budding cash crop. Growers, ag officials and even activists wanting to legalize marijuana in Texas are welcome to fill seats at the hearing, which will start at 9 a.m. in Texas Farm Bureau’s Conference and Training Center on State Highway 6, near Ridgewood Country Club and the Twin Bridges over Lake Waco. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller will serve as master of ceremonies.

Industrial hemp is a cousin to marijuana, but growing hemp is now legal in Texas. That in mind, the Texas Farm Bureau will host a forum Wednesday in Waco for anyone who may want to dirty their hands on a budding cash crop. Growers, ag officials and even activists wanting to legalize marijuana in Texas are welcome to fill seats at the hearing, which will start at 9 a.m. in Texas Farm Bureau’s Conference and Training Center on State Highway 6, near Ridgewood Country Club and the Twin Bridges over Lake Waco. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller will serve as master of ceremonies. The availability and popularity of CBD-infused products is so pronounced they are hitting shelves everywhere, he said. Which is why Texas agriculture wants a piece of the action.

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City Stories

The Facts - January 19, 2020

Yvonne Mintz: Facts plans forum, but questions come from readers

With less than one month until early voting begins for the March primaries, there is no shortage of messages out there. Candidates have social media at their disposal, and they use it to push out their mission statements and prepared remarks. They also work their tails off going from event to event, trying to shake as many hands as possible. “Ragged is our life until the campaign is over,” one told me recently while trying to align our calendars. He was willing to cram two events, on opposite ends of the county, into one night. Instead, I offered to reschedule.

Still, most potential voters don’t have the opportunity to hear from candidates, unscripted, face to face. Consider this your invitation. We all benefit from an informed electorate, and to that end, The Facts is planning an election forum, our first to host in at least 25 years. I will moderate, and the questions will come from you, our readers. The event is open to the public and will run from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 4 at the Lake Jackson Civic Center terrace rooms. It will feature an hour-long meet-and-greet for candidates in contested primary races in Brazoria County. Those include judicial races, constable and justice of the peace spots. We then will move to a question-and-answer session, first with candidates for the Republican nomination for Brazoria County sheriff, which includes Richard Foreman, Randy Rhyne and Bo Stallman. The second hour of question-and-answer will be with candidates for the Republican nomination for Texas House District 25, a race that became extremely competitive when Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced he would not run again.

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2020

Houston Housing Authority opts not to extend contract of CEO Tory Gunsolley

The Houston Housing Authority on Thursday voted not to extend the contract of its longtime CEO Tory Gunsolley, a spokesperson said Friday. Gunsolley, who referred questions to the authority, has led the organization for nearly a decade and will remain in his position through the summer, according to a letter he emailed to colleagues.

The Housing Authority is a public agency that oversees low-income and affordable housing vouchers for tens of thousands of Houstonians, and has played a key role in the city’s efforts to recover from Hurricane Harvey and other storms. In the letter, Gunsolley said the decision shocked him. He also defended the Housing Authority’s work under his leadership, writing that the agency has “accomplished tremendous things” for the city’s “most vulnerable residents. “ Among the accomplishments he cited were declines in local homelessness and a 24 percent increase in housing vouchers issued by the agency during his tenure.

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Texas Public Radio - January 20, 2020

Two dead, at least four injured after shooting in downtown San Antonio

Two people are dead and at least four are wounded after a shooting Sunday night in downtown San Antonio. Two of the injured were taken to the hospital in critical condition. The shooting happened during a rap concert at the Ventura bar and music venue. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said "at least one person" opened fire after an argument and then fled the scene. He said SAPD is searching for a single suspect. The shooter is still at large.

One 21-year-old male was pronounced dead at the scene, and another person in critical condition died on the way to a nearby hospital. Two others were taken to the hospital with life-threatening wounds, according to San Antonio Fire Department Public Information Officer Joe Arrington. One other person was transported in stable condition. An additional person with gunshot wounds arrived at the hospital without transportation from first responders.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 19, 2020

Eby transitions from Georgetown City Council to donkey sanctuary

Former Georgetown City Council member Anna Eby stood one afternoon last week in a muddy pasture surrounded by an adoring crowd of donkeys. She knew all their names: Eleanor, Ember, Opal, Magnolia, Violet and Virginia, as well as the twins, Colton and Bailey. They are among the 60 donkeys, horses and mini-horses at her nonprofit animal refuge called Blue Moon Sanctuary that she has rescued from being slaughtered. She opened the refuge in October 2016 on 30 acres she owns in Georgetown.

Eby, who still works full time as a lawyer, gave up her seat on the City Council in 2019 during her second term because she decided to live at the refuge, which is not in her district. “I do miss certain aspects of being on the council,” she said. “I miss being involved in having a say in important decisions, but there are some things I also don’t miss.” Most of the animals on her refuge are donkeys. A friend who had two donkeys invited her out to see them a few years ago while Eby was still grieving the death of her first dog, she said.

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National Stories

Associated Press - January 20, 2020

Virginia’s capital braces for gun-rights rally

Virginia’s capital city is bracing for the expected arrival of thousands of gun-rights activists and other groups that have vowed to descend on Richmond to protest Democrats’ plans to pass gun-control legislation. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency days ahead of Monday’s rally, banning all weapons including guns from the event on Capitol Square. Militia groups and white supremacists were among those expected to mix with gun-rights activists, raising fears the state could again see the type of violence that exploded in Charlottesville in 2017.

Virginia’s solicitor general told a judge Thursday that law enforcement had identified “credible evidence” armed out-of-state groups planned to come to the state with the possible intention of participating in a “violent insurrection.” Toby Heytens also suggested during his arguments in a lawsuit by gun advocates that challenged the weapons ban that the crowd could number in the tens of thousands. The Supreme Court upheld the weapons ban. The Virginia State Police, the Virginia Capitol Police and the Richmond Police are all coordinating the event and have plans for a huge police presence at Monday’s rally with both uniformed and plainclothes officers. Police plan to limit access to Capitol Square to only one entrance and have warned rallygoers they may have to wait hours to get past security screening.

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Associated Press - January 19, 2020

Democrats navigate sensitive gender politics as voting nears

Democratic presidential candidates spent the weekend grappling with how to address questions surrounding sexism and gender bias as they sought to balance support for women against concerns of a political blowback. After his wife went public with her own experience of sexual assault at the hands of her doctor, businessman Andrew Yang said that “our country is deeply misogynist." Other White House hopefuls, however, didn't go so far. Billionaire Tom Steyer said that while systemic sexism exists, he “hopes" half of America is not misogynistic.

Meanwhile, the tensions between Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont continued to unfold. Days after he and Warren engaged in a debate stage dispute over whether he once privately told her that a woman couldn't be president, Sanders seemed to downplay the problem of sexism in politics on Sunday, suggesting the challenges women face are similar to those he faces running for president at the age of 78. Asked by reporters for a response, Warren said only that “I have no further comment on this.” Democrats have spent years blasting President Donald Trump as a sexist for the way he talks about and treats women. But as the first votes of the Democratic contest approach in nearly two weeks, the candidates' comments showed that questions about gender and sexism are also tricky for those seeking to defeat Trump. And for some, there's no easy way to talk about it.

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Wall Street Journal - January 20, 2020

How Trump has kept near-unanimous GOP support through impeachment

When revelations about President Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine first started dribbling to the public in late September and early October, Republicans were caught off guard. Some members of the GOP criticized Mr. Trump’s request for Ukraine to open investigations that benefited him politically, while others sought to avoid the topic altogether. As many as 20 House Republicans initially were open to supporting Mr. Trump’s impeachment, according to Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.), a retiring member from a competitive district who quickly made up his mind that Mr. Trump’s conduct wasn’t impeachable.

Now, as the GOP-led Senate begins the impeachment trial for Mr. Trump, the Republican Party is in lockstep behind the president of their party. Every House Republican voted against the two articles of impeachment the Senate will consider, with the party even luring a New Jersey Democrat, Rep. Jeff Van Drew, to join their ranks. While a handful of GOP senators have defied the White House’s wishes on whether to allow witnesses in the trial, no Senate Republican has publicly signaled a willingness to remove the president from office. The unity is the byproduct not only of a White House charm offensive this fall and widespread Republican concerns about the fairness of the impeachment process, but more broadly the president’s personal powers of persuasion and his raw political power over the party, fueled by an intensely loyal base of GOP voters. As has been the case since Mr. Trump ascended to the GOP throne, Republicans who dared step out of line faced his Twitter outrage, meeting the wrath of the president’s base.

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New York Times - January 19, 2020

How US firms helped Africa’s richest woman exploit her country’s wealth

It was the party to be seen at during the Cannes Film Festival, where being seen was the whole point. A Swiss jewelry company had rented out the opulent Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, drawing celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Campbell and Antonio Banderas. The theme: “Love on the Rocks.” Posing for photos at the May 2017 event was Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman and the daughter of José Eduardo dos Santos, then Angola’s president. Her husband controls the jeweler, De Grisogono, through a dizzying array of shell companies in Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands.

But the lavish party was possible only because of the Angolan government. The country is rich in oil and diamonds but hobbled by corruption, with grinding poverty, widespread illiteracy and a high infant mortality rate. A state agency had sunk more than $120 million into the jewelry company. Today, it faces a total loss. Ms. dos Santos, estimated to be worth over $2 billion, claims she is a self-made woman who never benefited from state funds. But a different picture has emerged under media scrutiny in recent years: She took a cut of Angola’s wealth, often through decrees signed by her father. She acquired stakes in the country’s diamond exports, its dominant mobile phone company, two of its banks and its biggest cement maker, and partnered with the state oil giant to buy into Portugal’s largest petroleum company.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2020

Mona Charen: Will Democrats choose safety or risk?

When the economy shows signs of weakness, Wall Street analysts expect to see what they call a “flight to safety.” Investors sell stocks and buy bonds or gold. The same phenomenon can sometimes be found in politics. Understanding that George W. Bush was riding high in 2004, after what was perceived as a successful response to the 9/11 attacks, Democrats wagered that Vietnam veteran Sen. John Kerry would stand a better chance of victory than the candidate who most excited them, Vermont’s Howard Dean. A popular lapel pin at the time captured the mood, “Dated Dean. Married Kerry.”

Arguably, one story of the Democratic primary race so far has been the competition between two impulses — the flight to safety versus the urge to splurge. The first impulse holds former Vice President Joe Biden aloft. Despite his age, some gobbledygook in debates and on the trail, and his past heresies (from the Democratic primary voters’ perspective) about criminal justice and the Iraq War, Biden has maintained a steady lead. His authorship of the 1994 crime bill, which some believe led to the overincarceration of African Americans, seems not to have dented the enthusiasm of the key constituency in Democratic primaries. He claims a steady 40% of African American support nationally, and a whopping 51% in South Carolina, according to the Monmouth University poll.

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CNBC - January 17, 2020

The 2020 Democratic field is outraising Trump by a huge margin — that didn’t happen to Obama or Bush

President Donald Trump has one more distinction he can add to an unprecedented White House tenure. The president has blown past individual Democratic presidential campaigns in fundraising for his 2020 reelection bid. But the crowded primary field together more than tripled his 2019 cash haul, according to a CNBC analysis of Federal Election Commission filings and campaign statements.

No incumbent president this century has been so thoroughly outraised by a field of challengers in the year before a reelection contest. The main Republican challengers to President Barack Obama in 2012 barely took in more than the incumbent in 2011. Meanwhile, President George W. Bush narrowly topped his challengers in fundraising in 2003, the year before he won reelection in 2004. “The field is trouncing Trump in fundraising and that is unprecedented,” said Sarah Bryner, director of research and strategy at the Center for Responsive Politics. The cash edge reflects a Democratic voter base energized and motivated since Trump’s 2016 election, Bryner said. She added that the pace of donations could reflect a dislike of Trump more than a fondness for any particular candidates — though Democratic contender and prolific fundraiser Sen. Bernie Sanders has a famously devoted following.

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Washington Post - January 17, 2020

‘You’re a bunch of dopes and babies’: Inside Trump’s stunning tirade against generals

This article is adapted from “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America,” which will be published on Jan. 21 by Penguin Press. There is no more sacred room for military officers than 2E924 of the Pentagon, a windowless and secure vault where the Joint Chiefs of Staff meet regularly to wrestle with classified matters. Its more common name is “the Tank.” The Tank resembles a small corporate boardroom, with a gleaming golden oak table, leather swivel armchairs and other mid-century stylings. Inside its walls, flag officers observe a reverence and decorum for the wrenching decisions that have been made there.

Hanging prominently on one of the walls is The Peacemakers, a painting that depicts an 1865 Civil War strategy session with President Abraham Lincoln and his three service chiefs — Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, and Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter. One hundred fifty-?­two years after Lincoln hatched plans to preserve the Union, President Trump’s advisers staged an intervention inside the Tank to try to preserve the world order. By that point, six months into his administration, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had grown alarmed by gaping holes in Trump’s knowledge of history, especially the key alliances forged following World War II. Trump had dismissed allies as worthless, cozied up to authoritarian regimes in Russia and elsewhere, and advocated withdrawing troops from strategic outposts and active theaters alike.

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Newsclips - January 19, 2020

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 18, 2020

Foster children are still sleeping in state offices amid shortage of homes

The number of Texas foster care children who slept in state offices, hotels and other temporary housing spiked last year, as the child welfare system continues to grapple with recruiting and retaining specialized foster homes. Last year, the monthly count of foster care children who did not have a home for at least two nights totaled 678, a 49% increase from 2018, according to data from Child Protective Services. Many of them were teens, and most slept in state offices.

The number of foster children without placements has increased every year but two since 2011. The problem became particularly acute last year amid the loss of 197 foster beds across the state, lengthier discharges from residential treatment centers and an uptick over the summer in foster youth who rejected the placements assigned to them. Fewer children have been placed in temporary housing in Central Texas compared with other areas since 2018, state officials said. “We’re talking about teenage kids with significant behavioral issues, significant trauma histories or significant mental health needs,” said Kristene Blackstone, associate commissioner for Texas Child Protective Services. “It’s not like we can just call a provider and say, ‘Hey, can you take her today?’ These are the kinds of kids that have to staff clinical teams at the placements in order to determine if it’s a good match.”

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NBC News - January 17, 2020

Flipping the Texas House: Inside Democrats' effort to turn a red state blue

A little more than two months after he dropped out of the race for president, Beto O'Rourke drove 700 miles from his home in El Paso to this city in the vast suburbs west of Houston. He parked his pickup truck on a residential street on a brisk Saturday morning and started knocking on doors. Nobody answered at the first home, so he scribbled a note on a campaign flyer and left it on the door. At the next house, a woman cracked open her door just wide enough to grab a brochure from O'Rourke's hand and then made it clear that she wasn't interested in discussing politics. A few houses down, a man answered in his bathrobe.

"Oh, my God, it's Beto O'Rourke," he shouted. "Yes, sir," O'Rourke said before explaining that he was out campaigning for Eliz Markowitz, a Democrat running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in a special election this month. "I was coming by to see if we could count on your vote in this election." Two years after catapulting to national fame and coming within 3 percentage points of unseating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz — and then failing to parlay the buzz from the campaign into a successful presidential bid — O'Rourke has shifted his attention to a more modest effort: going door to door on behalf of Democrats running for seats in the state House. "I can't think of a better use of my time," O'Rourke said in an interview this month. For the first time in two decades, Democrats in what has been the reliably Republican stronghold of Texas believe they have a shot at taking control of the state House in November and, in the process, potentially reshaping Texas politics for years.

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NPR - January 17, 2020

Supreme Court takes up birth-control conscience case

The U.S. Supreme Court says it will consider whether employers should be allowed to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to their workers because of moral or religious objections. At issue are Trump administration regulations allowing employers to claim such exemptions to the contraceptive insurance coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which requires most employer-provided plans to include birth control coverage without a copay. Churches and other religious organizations already can opt out of the requirement, but the Trump administration has sought to expand that exemption to include a wider array of businesses and organizations.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey challenged the Trump administration regulation and won a nationwide injunction temporarily blocking the rules. Brigitte Amiri, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, called the Trump administration rules "an attempt to rob people of their contraception coverage." The ACLU filed an amicus brief in the case opposing the Trump rule. It's not the first time the Supreme Court has considered the issue. In 2014, the court sided with the conservative Christian owners of the national craft chain Hobby Lobby in a case challenging the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds. Amiri said that this case goes further and that it's hard to predict how many employees could be affected if the court sides with the administration. "What we're talking about is very concrete and fundamental to people's daily lives," Amiri said. "Nobody should be at risk of losing their contraceptive coverage because of where they work or where they go to school."

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Bloomberg - January 18, 2020

Elizabeth Warren wants Rick Perry to give up Energy Transfer board seat

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is calling on former U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to step down from the board of the general partner that controls Dallas-based pipeline giant Energy Transfer LP.

In a letter dated Jan. 16, Warren said Perry’s decision to join the board is “unethical” because Energy Transfer lobbied the Department of Energy he oversaw. The company is led by billionaire Kelcy Warren, who isn’t related to Elizabeth Warren.

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Texas Monthly - January 17, 2020

Houston is now less affordable than New York City

For decades, Houston has been a city with one of the nation’s most pragmatic sales pitches: Move here for big-city opportunities at a small-city price. Not a fan of swarming mosquitoes, punishing hurricanes, and soul-melting moisture? What if I told you that you could barricade yourself away from all three inside a sprawling single-family home on one acre near good schools and golf courses for under $200k? Still not sold? Two words: “Backyard grotto.”

Though we don’t have up-to-date grotto figures, several million people found Houston’s sales pitch compelling enough to move to the Bayou City in recent decades, with the region gaining 1.1 million residents since 2010 alone, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. Outside a few ritzy pockets intimately tied to oil prices, the city evolved into a sprawling mass of suburban affordability—a Levittown on steroids for the new American South. Unfortunately for prospective Houstonians, a crucial downside to all that sprawl has arisen, one that has nothing to do with catastrophic flooding. While the seemingly endless suburban growth has traditionally offered the city the veneer of affordability, the sprawl has also spiked transportation costs, so much so that the city’s combined transportation and living costs now place it on par with New York City (cue the early nineties Pace Picante sauce commercial).

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 17, 2020

Toyota to shuffle San Antonio production — Sequoia in, Tacoma out; no new jobs expected

In a major change at one of the city’s most important manufacturers, Toyota says it will stop making its best-selling Tacoma pickup in San Antonio next year and instead will produce one of its lowest-selling vehicles here — the Sequoia SUV. In announcing the change Friday, the company said it would not eliminate any jobs at the South Side factory, although the switch could significantly reduce the number of vehicles produced here — at least temporarily.

The plant has been an economic spark for the region since it rumbled to life in 2006. It employs about 3,200 workers, who currently make Tacomas and Tundra pickups. They’re paid an average of $24 an hour. Toyota said it will move all production of the Tacoma to Mexico and will shift production of the Sequoia to San Antonio from Princeton, Ind. The South Side plant will suspend Tacoma production in late 2021 and start manufacturing Sequoias in 2022. The changeover will not happen immediately; it will take several months or more to prepare the assembly line to make Sequoias.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 17, 2020

Henry Cisneros throws support to Joe Biden

Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros is throwing his support behind Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination for president. In an interview on Friday, Cisneros said Biden has the best experience to help heal the nation after President Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House.

“The clearest path to a return to civil discourse, a return to due process and a return to rational decision-making, is to help Joe Biden win,” the 72-year-old Cisneros said. Cisneros, who was the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1997 under former President Bill Clinton, said he worked with Biden when he was in Washington and knows he brings a fundamental decency that the country badly needs right now.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 18, 2020

TSU regents say president placed on leave amid probe into admissions improprieties

Texas Southern University’s board of regents, facing criticism for placing President Austin Lane on administrative leave without any explanation, released a statement Friday noting that the action was taken amid an investigation into alleged improprieties in the admissions process.

The statement does not directly link Lane to the allegations, but said that the TSU chief internal auditor investigating the matter interviewed Lane and his executive management team and that regents invited Lane to meet with them at two specially called meetings. It said Lane was interviewed a second time by the auditor and TSU’s special board employment counsel. The statement gives no indication how the action against Lane and any admissions improprieties might be related.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 17, 2020

Ag secretaries dine at San Antonio area school as USDA proposes meal changes

On Friday, as his agency was proposing changes to nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was at Castle Hills Elementary, choosing from a menu of breaded chicken legs, garlic mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, celery sticks and carrots, sliced apples, blueberries and Texas grapefruit. Perdue announced there would be new proposed rules, but didn’t go into specifics during his visit to the North East Independent School District campus.

The proposed new rules for the Food and Nutrition Service would allow schools to cut the amount of vegetables and fruits required at lunch and breakfasts while allowing more pizza, burgers and fries, the Washington Post reported. But they might lead to few changes at San Antonio’s largest school districts, nutrition officials there said.They cautioned that they hadn’t seen the specifics but expected them to provide more flexibility. “It allows us to focus more on fruits and vegetables that the kids like, rather than checking off boxes,” said Sharon Glosson, NEISD’s executive director of school nutrition. “I think the concerns that people have is just like with any rule, that people might take advantage of it to offer less nutritious choices.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 16, 2020

Alamo Promise tuition program receives $1.5 million gift from Charles Butt Foundation

The Charles Butt Foundation announced a $1.5 million donation to the Alamo Promise program Thursday, the largest gift so far to the Alamo Colleges District initiative to cover tuition and fees at its five community colleges for Bexar County high school graduates who enroll. The announcement came at a San Antonio Chamber of Commerce event in which the district’s chancellor, Mike Flores, touted the economic impact expected from the stepped-up employment of instructors and staff who will handle the program’s expected enrollment increases.

The college-going rate in Bexar County is just under 50 percent, and Flores said the goal of Alamo Promise is to increase that to 70 percent by its fifth year. “If we are to compete with other communities within the state and globally, then we need to ensure we have a credentialed population,” Flores said. “We see many students who say, ‘I can’t afford to go to school,’ and this alleviates that hurdle.” A study conducted by Belinda Román, an economist at St. Mary’s University, estimated the program could produce as much as $1.7 billion in economic impact and the direct creation of more than 12,000 jobs in Bexar County between 2020 and 2025.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2020

Jacob Hale: This MLK weekend, Texas will again recognize Confederate Heroes Day

On Sunday, as Texans prepare to celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for racial justice, our state government will recognize the opposite cause: slavery. Although many are unaware, Texas officially recognizes Confederate Heroes Day at this time of year, creating a glaring contradiction on the state calendar. To denote someone a “hero” implies that individual acted in a heroic fashion on principles that future Texans should seek to emulate. Leading the most substantial threat our republic has ever faced for the purpose of perpetuating our nation’s greatest sin is far from heroic.

The Confederate cause is the antithesis of the American experiment. The United States was founded on the equality of all; the Confederacy fought for the exact opposite. Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens laid out the Rebels’ mission in his infamous Cornerstone Speech: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” Similarly, the Texas Ordinance of Secession states as an “undeniable truth” that those of African descent are “an inferior and dependent race.” Consequently, the Confederate government would recognize slavery as “abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator.” Why is it heroic to fight for the enslavement of an entire race? Surely heroism involves more than simply fighting on any side of any conflict, so heroism requires the individual to fight for liberty and justice.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2020

Dallas’ central place in Roe vs. Wade ruling highlighted in annual North Texas March for Life

Holding green, white and black signs with the words “Love life, choose life,” thousands of demonstrators gathered in downtown Dallas on Saturday for the North Texas March for Life as part of the annual nationwide rally against abortion. The march marks the 47th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court landmark decision that gave women the legal right to an abortion.

Men, women and children walked from the Cathedral Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe to a rally held outside the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse, the location of the original Roe vs. Wade court case filing 50 years ago. Because of that filing, the city of Dallas faces a “burden of history,” said Becky Visosky, executive director of the Catholic Pro-Life Community. “We strongly believe that what began in Dallas should end in Dallas with Roe v. Wade,” Visosky told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “We just feel a very specific responsibility in this city to carry the banner for human rights.” Though it was not the focus of the march or rally, 2020 marks a pivotal election year. Visosky said the pro-life community will continue to advocate for policies and politicians who support their ideas, stating that there’s “no question that the civic side of this effort is important.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2020

Joseph D. Brown: Legislators must not allow warrant-proof encryption to make America more dangerous

William Craig Whisman came to a parking lot in Plano with a stuffed toy, intending to have sex with a young girl whose father had offered her up in a website chatroom. Earlier, Whisman had sent two videos to the father in which Whisman simulated the acts he wanted to commit on the young girl. Now, he was there to make his fantasy a reality. Fortunately, the girl was not real. But after law enforcement discovered that Whisman had sent pictures of other children — this time real children he had secretly photographed while standing in line at a local Home Depot — officers ended their ruse and swept in to arrest him

When Whisman saw agents closing in, he turned off his phone. Security measures on the phone prevented officers from accessing its contents. Search warrants and subpoenas were powerless to provide access because advanced encryption techniques protected Whisman’s secrets. Had real children been abused? Could abused children be hidden somewhere? Were there other child exploiters communicating with him that law enforcement could pursue and prevent from offending? Time was ticking, and officers needed to know the answers quickly to potentially prevent a tragedy. The answers would not come for months. Technology companies continue to advance security measures and implement “warrant-proof” encryption of data on communication devices. Encryption protects important privacy interests of law-abiding citizens. But encryption also provides a safe space for criminals to operate, shielding evidence of illegal activities from authorities. Terrorists, child predators and other criminals should not be able to hide what they do from law enforcement, especially when investigators have been authorized by a court to search for evidence.

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Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2020

George P. Bush: Better education in Texas means flexibility and teaching critical thinking

As our state begins a new year, we face a familiar challenge: How do we better prepare the next generation of Texas leaders? As a former public school teacher, I think the answer to that question is found in our schools. The workers of tomorrow are being trained in the classrooms of today. So, are the leaders of tomorrow adequately prepared in our classrooms? The Texas General Land Office is one of the largest financiers of public education in the state. As land commissioner and a former educator, I felt it was important to get an inside look at what our students are doing in the classroom, lend a helping hand, and speak with administrators and teachers. Too often, we strive to enhance education without understanding exactly where the need resides.

This past year, I decided to personally invest my time and energy in Texas students and schools. During the Texas General Land Office’s Year of Education, I visited with more than 80 administrators, 60 teachers and almost 4,000 students from across the state. I didn’t limit these visits to one region or one type of school. Rather, I visited educational environments of all types: public, private, charter, home-school, rural, urban and suburban. For most of these lessons, I taught a class on Texas history featuring primary source material from the GLO archives, like a historic map of Texas. But what I found to be most rewarding were the moments not when I was talking, but when I was listening. And after hearing from so many administrators, teachers and students, some of the next steps our state needs to take in improving Texas education became clear. Better education means a stronger emphasis on a flexible curriculum. We need to give schools and teachers the ability to find the sources and methods that work best for their kids. One size certainly does not fit all. Better education means teaching critical thinking. With the age of artificial intelligence upon us, we need to ensure that our students are learning to think and ask the right questions. This requires a stronger emphasis on writing, reading and projects that require students to think hard and get to the bottom of tough questions.

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Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2020

Choirs unite in song to bring North Texas and the borderlands closer together

Jonathan Palant was attending a play in Dallas the evening after a mass shooter drove from North Texas to this bruised border community to commit a massacre. He sat there, grappling with a sinking feeling. Then he felt a familiar calling: Do something. This Martin Luther King weekend, Palant, an associate professor of music at the University of Texas at Dallas and founding conductor of the Credo Community Choir, will get his chance with a binational festival that he spearheaded aimed at healing through music and dance.

Palant and his supporters want music to bring North Texans and people on both sides of the border closer together. He and an entourage of more 160 performers and family members from North Texas will join musical ensembles from the University of Texas at El Paso, Chorus Ciudad Juárez and the Esperanza Azteca Youth Orchestra, a group of youth rescued from the reach of organized crime. This festival also features opera legend Frederica von Stade and other guests. All come together with an urgent call.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 17, 2020

What’s next for Central Texas refugee nonprofits?

Texas refugee advocacy organizations cautiously celebrated this week after a federal judge blocked a Trump administration rule that gave state and local officials the power to deny refugee arrivals. The move temporarily voided Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to no longer allow new refugees into the state. But with a likely appeal process following the preliminary injunction, Central Texas advocacy groups say diversifying funding and clientele are key to their survival as refugee policies face an uncertain future.

Refugee Services of Texas, Austin’s only refugee resettlement agency, said it remains committed to operate “full speed ahead” regardless of the legal fate of refugee policies. In recent years, the nonprofit has worked on broadening its scope to serve other vulnerable populations, including human trafficking survivors. As the number of refugees allowed into the country has dropped to historic lows, the agency has shrunk its footprint in every city it operates across the state. This fiscal year, national refugee admittance goals dropped to 18,000 compared with 110,00 in 2017. Expecting some “potential disruption” to refugee policies this year, the agency’s CEO, Russell Smith, said the organization had staff reductions in October and have been transitioning some employees who worked exclusively with refugees to some of the agency’s other programs, including a newly created one helping asylum seekers.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 17, 2020

Gov. Abbott visits Israel, headed to Davos

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday completed an official visit to Israel during which he met with startup entrepreneurs in Tel Aviv and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem seeking to strengthen the economic and cultural ties between the Jewish state and the state of Texas.

“The unwavering bond between Texas and Israel is marked by our shared commitment to freedom and economic opportunity,” Abbott said. Israel is the first leg of an 11-day trip taking Abbott to Switzerland on Saturday for a visit that will include attending the 50th anniversary meeting of the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of world political, business and cultural leaders at the mountain resort of Davos. The Israel-Switzerland trip is the second one for Abbott, who followed the same itinerary in 2016, meeting Netanyahu then as well, and also attending the World Economic Forum. This year’s forum attendees are expected to include President Donald Trump, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and philanthropist George Soros, who Abbott has repeatedly warned is trying to turn Texas blue.

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Associated Press - January 19, 2020

2020's first big test? Not Iowa, but a tiny Texas House race

Beto O'Rourke is livestreaming again. Joe Biden and Julián Castro are making their presence felt. Mike Bloomberg has knocked on doors and outside groups are running TV attack ads. On the brink of 2020's first big contest, it all screams high stakes. Not in Iowa. This is just for a single Texas House seat.

"This is one of the most important elections taking place in the country right now," said O'Rourke, who since ending his own presidential run in November has campaigned for the Democrat in the race, Eliz Markowitz, including again Saturday with Castro. The outcome of the Jan. 28 special election runoff near Houston — a week before the Iowa caucuses — in an ethnically diverse district of 220,000 people won't change the balance of power in the GOP-controlled Texas Capitol. But like other special elections since President Donald Trump took office, this one is seen as brimming with broader significance: the year's first bellwether that could signal bigger trends to come in November. That's a stretch, say Republicans, but it's also easy to see why an obscure race for Texas House District 28 is a tempting testing ground.

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Houston Chronicle - January 18, 2020

Erica Grieder: Fatal shooting of student at Bellaire High raises questions about security

The fatal shooting of a student at Bellaire High School on Tuesday is believed to be unintentional, making it quite different from the 2018 shooting rampage at Santa Fe High School that left eight students and two teachers dead. But an unintentional or accidental shooting at a school is still a school shooting, and a particularly traumatizing event for students, educators, and parents, as the community of Bellaire — and their neighbors across Houston — learned this week.

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Evelyn’s Park on Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil in memory of the victim in this week’s case, 19-year-old Cesar Cortes. Elliott Newman, a sophomore at Bellaire, came over to pet my dog after the prayers and songs. He thought that might make him feel better, he said. The news of a shooting at his school hadn’t fully hit him until that evening, when he came to the gathering with some friends. “I mean, I’d imagined it...” Newman said, trailing off. His eyes were rimmed with tears as he reflected on what he had learned about Cortes’ life in the aftermath of his senseless and untimely death. Cortes was planning to join the Army, Newman told me, and had already taken his oath of enlistment.

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Houston Chronicle - January 18, 2020

In fierce Republican primary battle to succeed Olson, candidates show plenty of zeal for Trump

The race for U.S. Rep. Pete Olson’s seat did not take long to escalate into a political free-for-all. Less than two weeks after the Sugar Land Republican announced he would not seek a seventh term, the GOP primary had its first candidate. By the filing deadline four months later, the Republican field contained a bustling mix of 15 conservatives from an array of backgrounds and locations. The two major constants: Every candidate claims impeccable conservative bona fides and each touts steadfast support for President Trump.

With little room to waver on either point, the Republicans are trying to stand out from the pack by emphasizing their distinct backgrounds, convincing voters they are best suited to keep the seat in GOP hands and, in some cases, rebuking primary foes for living outside the district. “When it's that crowded of a field, you've got to have the resources to cut through the noise, and if you don't have the resources, you have to have something that makes you stand out,” said Ben McPhaul, a Houston Republican strategist who is not involved in the primary. “It's an incredibly uphill battle for the people that don't have the money or some sort of very unique strategy to grab the attention of voters.”

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Texas Public Radio - January 17, 2020

Are coding schools regulated in Texas? It depends.

In December a post on LinkedIn celebrated the forthcoming launch of a coding program called Codebound, a partnership between San Antonio’s University of the Incarnate Word and local software studio Appddiction. Then a competitor questioned the legitimacy of the training program. “It looks like Codebound hasn’t been licensed by the state of Texas,” said Dimitri Antoniou in the post’s comments section. “In which case any and all advertising for their programs would be illegal and entitle students to a full tuition refund.”

Antoniou referred to the database hosted by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), which regulates career schools and coding bootcamps — the unaccredited, fast-track training programs that claim students will get better jobs. They can cost in excess of $1,000 per week and last up to 24 weeks. The post drew a fierce response from Appddiction CEO Tim Porter, who said the company was authorized by the state. But he then went on to taunt his competition. “I hate scared punks that think they can call mommy and say, ‘I don’t see they are certified, you have to stop them.’ F******* idiots! Take that to the bank,” he said. Porter didn’t back down from his statement when TPR asked him about it. He said a fearful Codeup tried to get them shut down by TWC before they could compete. “We just think we should all be regulated and have the same oversight. We want to compete on an equal playing field,” said Codeup co-founder and CEO Jason Straughan.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 17, 2020

Travis County judicial candidate harassed neighborhood association, court found

An Austin lawyer who is eyeing an elected judicial post in Travis County was sanctioned by a local court last year for attacking board members of a neighborhood association with a flurry of repetitious lawsuits that two judges deemed too flawed to have succeeded. Madeleine Connor, who is running in the Democratic primary for a civil district bench after defeats in four previous judicial races, is on the state’s blacklist of people whom a judge has found to be a “vexatious litigant,” court records show. The designation is used to put brakes on plaintiffs who rehash meritless claims that a court has already settled.

Connor’s behavior in her lawsuits against board members of the Lost Creek Municipal Utility District has become a campaign issue in her bid to unseat civil state District Judge Tim Sulak. “It’s important for voters to make informed choices and it’s important for the candidates to be accountable to the voters for their qualifications and for their behaviors,” Sulak told the American-Statesman. Twenty-three people were declared vexatious litigants in Texas last year, and Connor was the only one in Travis County. Most of them were people who are not attorneys and had filed suits without assistance from legal representation. Connor is an attorney licensed by the state bar. She was employed as general counsel of the Texas Veterans Commission.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 18, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: Pre-K 4 SA campaign merely requires voters to preserve a good thing

Sheryl Sculley was in the house on Wednesday afternoon when the City Council got a briefing on Pre-K 4 SA. It was a rare Council Chamber appearance by the former city manager, but it made perfect sense, given the crucial role she played in implementing former Mayor Julián Castro’s legacy program. The briefing — from Dr. Sarah Baray, the early education program’s CEO, and Elaine Mendoza, its board chair — was partly an update on Pre-K 4 SA’s achievements and partly an introduction to this year’s referendum campaign to get it renewed. (An election that is expected to happen in May.)

Pre-K 4 SA gets its funding from a 1/8-cent per dollar sales tax approved by voters in November 2012. The eight-year funding cycle expires next year and the program will shut down if voters decide to cut off its revenue stream. Various council members acknowledged Sculley’s presence in the audience for Wednesday’s B-Session. But the most colorful anecdote came from Manny Pelaez, the council’s raconteur in chief, who recounted a blistering hot afternoon in 2012, when he came out of a downtown lunch spot and encountered Sculley and then-Councilwoman Ivy Taylor. Pelaez offered Sculley and Taylor a ride back to City Hall. On Wednesday, he recalled his embarrassment over the Cheerios all over the floor of his car. He also remembered Sculley’s enigmatic answer when Pelaez, in an effort to break the ice, asked the generic “What’s new?” question.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 18, 2020

Elaine Ayala: Almost a century after it chose the Texas Ranger as its mascot, San Antonio College has another chance to evolve

San Antonio College’s contentious mascot, Antonio the Ranger, has been “parked.” Apparently, that was the word SAC President Robert Vela used in December to suspend or sideline the mascot. He did so even after its latest name was edited to quell criticism, dropping the word “Masked” in front of “Ranger.” Both versions were new and unfortunate spinoffs of SAC’s original 1920s-era mascot: the Texas Ranger. Several times throughout its history, the mascot has sparked divisiveness.

A century later probably is the right time for the mascot to be put to rest and added to historical accounts about hard-won change. If SAC needs a mascot, let’s hope it will follow the advice of its Mexican American Studies student group, Somos La Gente, which has asked Vela and his administration to select one that’s “nonhuman, nonviolent and nonracist.” SAC officials might take a cue from local mascots such as the Spurs Coyote, the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Roadrunner, the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinal and Trinity University’s Tiger. They no doubt can come up with better options. Over the past year, SAC student activists have found that many of their peers don’t know the history of the Texas Rangers and the terror they waged throughout South Texas in the 1800s through the early 1900s.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 18, 2020

San Antonio ID Recovery program is first step to getting out of homelessness

It’s 7 a.m. on Wednesday. The sun hadn’t yet risen on the horizon, but 30 homeless people already were standing patiently outside Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, clutching paperwork as they waited their turn at the Police Department’s ID Recovery program. “Address?” volunteer Andy Felth asked a man as he rubbed at his sleepy eyes

“Under the first light pole at a nearby bridge,” answered the man, smiling at his joke on himself. The crowd grew as the sky lightened, ballooning to more than 70 people. Some were so determined to be there on time they had slept overnight at an overpass close to the church. That’s the norm for this program, one of the most popular services used by San Antonio’s homeless community. Since its inception a few years ago, the ID Recovery program has grown significantly as its existence has spread by word of mouth and its success rate in securing vital identification documents for the homeless has improved.

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Houston Chronicle - January 16, 2020

New HISD board puts step toward bond election on hold

Hours after Houston ISD’s four recently elected trustees took office, enshrining the district’s first all-female school board, the new-look governing team on Thursday made its first big decision. Trustees voted 8-1 to postpone approving a facilities assessment contract sought by the district’s administration, which would serve as a significant step toward asking residents to approve a multi-billion bond package in November. Board members will return in February to decide on the contract, giving them additional time to consider the ramifications of the deal.

Multiple board members said they wanted more discussion between the administration and trustees before spending up to $5 million on a facilities assessment. HISD likely will face headwinds in gaining support for a bond package, the result of dramatic state intervention looming over the district and a decline in public trust following months of board in-fighting. “If it were that important, these conversations should have happened months ago,” HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said. “To spring it on brand new board members and expect a vote is unfair.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2020

HISD replacement board applicants include mix of civic leaders, alumni, district advocates

At the age of 37, Frank North has parlayed his Houston ISD education and entrepreneurial spirit into an accomplished resume: clinical pharmacist, small business owner, adjunct professor, recipient of three college degrees. With his fast-changing career calming down, the Booker T. Washington High School graduate now wants to help create more academic opportunities for students in his hometown district. Late last year, North applied for a spot on the replacement Houston ISD school board the Texas Education Agency is expected to appoint, confident his personal background and work history could well serve children in Texas’ largest district.

North is one of nearly 250 people who applied for positions on the prospective replacement board, which Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath plans to install in the coming months. Morath announced in November 2019 his intention to temporarily oust the elected school board, citing Wheatley High School’s seventh consecutive failing grade and multiple findings of misconduct involving current trustees, though a preliminary injunction issued last week and ongoing litigation could threaten those plans. The applicants, according to a list provided by the TEA, represent a broad cross-section of the district, home to about 210,000 students from wide-ranging economic, ethnic, racial and social backgrounds. They include Houston ISD employees, former political candidates, business professionals, higher education staffers and advocates with children attending district schools.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 17, 2020

Delays racking up costs at new $56 million Austin ISD headquarters

The completion of the Austin school district’s new South Austin headquarters is months behind, piling up $1.6 million in unexpected costs, according to information obtained by the American-Statesman. Additionally, the district is spending double the amount on monthly utilities as administrators simultaneously use both the new headquarters and old headquarters off West Sixth Street, each of which racks up to $24,000 in utility costs each month. Between July 2018 and December 2019, the district has spent at least $700,000 on utility bills and maintenance costs on both buildings.

The district in 2017 agreed to pay $28 million for the new headquarters — a nine-story building located near the northwest corner of Interstate 35 and Ben White Boulevard — and has budgeted another $27 million for improvements to the building. District leaders say the delays include obtaining city permits, as well as design changes to the trustees’ board room and a more recent decision to locate the police department in the new building. Following ambitious plans to move in to the new headquarters by summer 2018, the district started moving several employees in last summer with plans to have everyone in the building by the fall. The latest date for the latter is now the upcoming spring.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2020

Botham Jean’s family plans lawsuit against apartment complex where Amber Guyger shot him

The family of Botham Jean plans to file a separate lawsuit against South Side Flats, the apartment complex where former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger fatally shot him, a family attorney said. Attorney Lee Merritt said Saturday that a confusing layout on the upper floors, coupled with a faulty door mechanism, created circumstances that led to Jean’s death in September 2018.

An employee at South Side Flats referred questions to the complex’s corporate owner, Chicago-based Waterton Residential, and its regional manager. Company representatives had not responded to email and phone requests for comment Saturday evening. During Guyger’s trial, an investigator testified that Jean’s door was defective. “It wouldn’t shut all the way,” Merritt said. “If it had shut all the way, Amber Guyger wouldn’t have been able to get in.” The base plates and lock plates didn’t line up on some of the doors, Jean’s included, Merritt said.

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National Stories

Washington Post - January 18, 2020

Blurring 'Trump' in Women's March photo was mistake, National Archives says

The large color photograph that greets visitors to a National Archives exhibit celebrating the centennial of women's suffrage shows a massive crowd filling Pennsylvania Avenue NW for the Women's March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration. The 49-by-69-inch photograph is a powerful display. Viewed from one perspective, it shows the 2017 march. Viewed from another angle, it shifts to show a 1913 black-and-white image of a women's suffrage march also on Pennsylvania Avenue. The display links momentous demonstrations for women's rights more than a century apart on the same stretch of pavement.

But a closer look reveals a different story. The Archives acknowledged in a statement this week that it made multiple alterations to the photo of the 2017 Women's March showcased at the museum, blurring signs held by marchers that were critical of Trump. Words on signs that referenced women's anatomy were also blurred. In the original version of the 2017 photograph, taken by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama, the street is packed with marchers carrying a variety of signs, the Capitol in the background. In the Archives version, at least four of those signs are altered. A placard that proclaims "God Hates Trump" has "Trump" blotted out so that it reads "God Hates." A sign that reads "Trump & GOP - Hands Off Women" has the word Trump blurred out. Signs with messages that referenced women's anatomy - which were prevalent at the march - are also digitally altered. One that reads "If my vagina could shoot bullets, it'd be less REGULATED" has "vagina" blurred out. And another that says "This Pussy Grabs Back" has the word "Pussy" erased.

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Washington Post - January 18, 2020

Trump administration further undercuts Obama school-lunch rules

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken another whack at former first lady Michelle Obama's signature achievement: Establishing stricter nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches. And on her birthday. On Friday, USDA Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps proposed new rules for the Food and Nutrition Service that would allow schools to cut the amount of vegetables and fruits required at lunch and breakfasts while giving them license to sell more pizza, burgers and fries to students.

The agency is responsible for administering nutritional programs that feed nearly 30 million students at 99,000 schools. Lipps said the changes will help address what he described as unintended consequences of the regulations put in place during the Obama administration. For example, when schools were trying to implement innovative solutions such as grab-and-go breakfast off a cart or meals in the classroom, they were forced to give kids two bananas to meet minimum federal requirements. But Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for Center for Science in the Public Interest, says that the proposed rules, if finalized, "would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, french fries and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day."

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Washington Post - January 19, 2020

‘Once this is over, we’ll be kings’: How Lev Parnas worked his way into Trump’s world — and now is rattling it

Last Sunday, a New York lawyer posted photographs of the shining dome of the U.S. Capitol on Twitter, announcing that he had just visited Washington to give Congress contents of an ­iPhone belonging to a onetime associate of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani. It would be a few days before the implications of his limited message became clear: The Lev Parnas hurricane was about to hit. It was the week when the pomp and circumstance of the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history was supposed to take center stage in Washington. The House of Representatives formally voted to send the Senate charges that Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to help his reelection bid.

John G. Roberts Jr., the chief justice of the United States, arrived in the Senate chambers to preside over the president’s trial and the swearing-in of 100 senators. But overshadowing that weighty moment was a cascade of revelations by a fast-talking, Ukraine-born businessman sporting an ankle bracelet who — speaking for the first time since his October arrest on campaign finance charges — directly implicated the president in the Ukraine scheme. “President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas said in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday that earned the cable news show the highest ratings of its 11-year history. “That’s the secret that they were trying to keep,” he added. “I was on the ground doing their work.” Fueling his account were hundreds of pages of text messages, documents and photos released by the House that documented his interactions with Giuliani and a coterie of Ukrainians who claimed to have information about former vice president Joe Biden and a debunked conspiracy that their country conspired with Democrats in the 2016 election.

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CNN - January 19, 2020

JFK's grandson slams Pence's interpretation of 'Profiles in Courage'

President John F. Kennedy's grandson Jack Schlossberg said Saturday that Vice President Mike Pence's recent op-ed is a "total perversion of JFK's legacy and the meaning of courage." In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Thursday, Pence urged Senate Democrats to break ranks and oppose the articles of impeachment brought against President Donald Trump.

Pence cited Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Profiles in Courage," which has a chapter dedicated to Republican Sen. Edmund Ross of Kansas. Pence praises Ross, who broke with his party and is generally considered to have cast the deciding vote to acquit President Andrew Johnson after Johnson became the first American president to be impeached in 1868. Pence wrote in the op-ed, "The question naturally arises: Who, among the Senate Democrats, will stand up to the passions of their party this time? Who will stand up against 'legislative mob rule' and for the rule of law? Who will be the 2020 Profile in Courage?"

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CNN - January 19, 2020

Harry and Meghan are giving up royal titles and state funding. Here's what that means

Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, will give up their royal titles and eschew some state funding in a deal brokered to end a crisis that broke out after the couple announced they would step back from the royal family. The news comes after a flurry of conversations and crunch talks with the Queen, who said Saturday that she was "pleased" to have found a "constructive and supportive way forward" for the Sussexes.

Earlier this month, in a carefully worded Instagram post and curated new website, Harry and Meghan announced their intention to exit the royal family. In it, they made clear what they wanted: to work to become financially independent, while continuing to support the Queen. The question is now: did they get what they had hoped for? Is this the exit the Sussexes had in mind? The Sussexes had pitched for a hybrid role, where they would be allowed to pursue personal income, but also continue representing the Queen. But it appears they were offered two choices by the Palace -- in or out. They chose out. So what's the deal with their royal titles? Meghan received the title Her Royal Highness (HRH) The Duchess of Sussex upon marriage in May 2018. Harry's full title was His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel.

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Associated Press - January 18, 2020

Trump assembles a made-for-TV impeachment defense team

President Donald Trump has assembled a made-for-TV legal team for his Senate trial that includes household names like Ken Starr, the prosecutor whose investigation two decades ago resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said he will deliver constitutional arguments meant to shield Trump from allegations that he abused his power.

The additions Friday bring experience in the politics of impeachment as well as constitutional law to the team, which faced a busy weekend of deadlines for legal briefs before opening arguments begin Tuesday even as more evidence rolled in. The two new Trump attorneys are already nationally known both for their involvement in some of the more consequential legal dramas of recent American history and for their regular appearances on Fox News, the president’s preferred television network. Dershowitz is a constitutional expert whose expansive views of presidential powers echo those of Trump. Starr is a veteran of partisan battles in Washington, having led the investigation into Clinton’s affair with a White House intern that brought about the president’s impeachment by the House. Clinton was acquitted at his Senate trial, the same outcome Trump is expecting from the Republican-led chamber.

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Bloomberg - January 19, 2020

Trump loses another Russia adviser, adding to NSC turnover

The top Russia expert on President Donald Trump’s National Security Council has left his post after about three months, according to three people familiar with the matter. Andrew Peek, the NSC’s senior director for European and Russian affairs, was escorted from the White House grounds on Friday, two of the people said, asking not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss personnel matters. A spokesman for the NSC declined to comment, citing the same reason. Peek also declined to comment.

Axios reported earlier Saturday that Peek was placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation. Peek is the third departure from the position in less than a year. The NSC has been marked by turbulence and turnover over Trump’s three years in office, as the president has repeatedly sought national security advisers more in-line with his own ideology. Peek assumed the top Russia job on the NSC in November, according to his LinkedIn page. The position and the people who have occupied it have featured prominently in the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives last year.

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NPR - January 18, 2020

US says 11 service members were injured when Iran attacked Iraqi base

The Pentagon says 11 U.S. service members were injured in Iran's ballistic missile attack on U.S. assets in Iraq last week. The Americans are being treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are expected to return to duty after a health screening, a Defense Department spokesperson says. No one died in the Jan. 8 strike on the large Ain al-Assad base, northwest of Baghdad, and the U.S. initially said no Americans were injured. The new report expands on comments by a military spokesman who said earlier this week that "several" people were being treated for concussions.

"In the days following the attack, out of an abundance of caution, some service members were transported from Al Asad Air Base, Iraq to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, others were sent to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, for follow-on screening," said Capt. Bill Urban, communications director for U.S. Central Command. He added that eight people were sent to the facility in Germany and three to Kuwait. Urban said it is standard procedure for anyone who was near a blast to be screened for traumatic brain injury. He did not provide details about what symptoms the U.S. personnel showed.

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Newsclips - January 17, 2020

Lead Stories

The Hill - January 17, 2020

Lev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe

Lev Parnas told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that former Energy Secretary Rick Perry was brought in by President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to lean on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

According to Parnas, Perry called Giuliani as he was on his way to attend Zelensky's inauguration in May and asked the former New York mayor what he should discuss with Zelensky. Then after the inauguration, Parnas asserted, Perry called Giuliani again and told him that he got Zelensky to agree to announce the investigation. While Zelensky did make an announcement about looking into corruption, the Ukrainian leader never mentioned Biden.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 16, 2020

Abbott faces GOP questions on refugees

In the days after Gov. Greg Abbott decided to bar refugee admissions to Texas this year, he was buffeted by criticism from religious leaders, refugee advocates and many Democrats.

Few Republicans, meanwhile, publicly came to his defense. And a few have criticized the move, even as a federal judge blocked a Trump administration rule that gave state and local officials the power to deny refugee admissions. Abbott is the only governor to halt refugee resettlement, citing the strain on state resources from illegal immigration. State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, told the Statesman, “I strongly disagree with his decision.” Davis has differed with Abbott on allowing the governor to appoint high-dollar donors to serve on state boards, among other things, and two years ago Abbott supported her primary opponent.

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Wall Street Journal - January 16, 2020

The Bloomberg Effect: Huge spending transforms 2020 campaign dynamics

The presidential election is 10 months away, but Michael Bloomberg’s long-shot campaign is running like it’s already late October. The candidate has spent $217 million so far on television and digital advertising, mostly ignoring the Democratic primaries and squarely challenging President Trump. The total is roughly three-quarters of the amount spent by all other campaigns, including Mr. Trump’s, combined.

It’s the game plan the billionaire used in his campaign for mayor of New York City in 2001, when he outspent his competitor nearly 5 to 1. Big spending has also made his philanthropy a dominant force on climate change, gun control and other issues. And it is how he has managed his lucrative business, paying up to bring in talent. The flow of cash—dubbed the Bloomberg effect by media-measurement firm Advertising Analytics LLC—has upended the financial dynamics of the election. Television ad rates jumped 45% in Houston after the Bloomberg campaign bought $1 million worth of ads in November, Advertising Analytics said. The campaign paid as much as double the going rate for staff and promised jobs to workers through November, whether or not Mr. Bloomberg stays in the race. The candidate, who is funding his run entirely by himself, now has 1,000 campaign staffers.

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2020

Senate approves USMCA, as Texas Sens. Cornyn and Cruz back Trump’s revamped North American trade deal

The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, ensuring that Texas’ trade-heavy economy can count on robust cross-border commerce in North America for years to come. The bipartisan 89-10 vote sets the stage for President Donald Trump to soon fulfill a major campaign promise by signing into law a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans, backed the tri-nation accord, albeit with some reservations. Their support secured a unified Texas front in favor of the pact after every Texan in the House likewise voted for the deal last month when that chamber approved it. “No state in the union has more invested in trade with Mexico and Canada than does the great state of Texas,” Cruz said ahead of the vote. “Many of the provisions of the USMCA seek to promote trade and investments, which would benefit Texas businesses, farmers and ranchers.”

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2020

Reporter’s Notebook: Texas is bad at math

Here’s an example of strong linear positive correlation: greenhouse gas emissions and unstable climate. An equation: Unstable climate - rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, more severe hurricanes - is equal to massive migration, economic catastrophe, environmental degradation and harm to human health. That’s the math lesson McKinsey & Co., the largest consulting firm in the world, is trying to teach CEOs right now.

Climate change will do substantial damage to the world’s economies, wreaking havoc on communities and economic activity across the globe, a new report, produced by McKinsey’s internal think tank on climate change, reminds its Fortune 500 clients. Assuming no decrease in emissions or efforts by communities to protect themselves from climate change, the next 10-30 years will be devastating for communities around the globe, putting hundreds of millions of lives and trillions of dollars in economic activity at risk. The Southeastern and Gulf Coast regions of the United States will be among the hardest hit by the physical effects of climate change, researchers write, as precipitation of severe hurricanes may double along the U.S.’s southern coasts and temperatures will almost certainly rise.

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2020

Record number of candidates running for Congress in Houston area

Houston area voters have never had so many choices for Congress. A record 63 candidates are on the crowded March 3 primary ballot in the area’s nine congressional districts, more than twice as many as in the 2016 presidential election cycle and just beating the previous record, set just two years ago. The back-to-back records are part of a national spike in political activism that has translated into record numbers of candidates running for office in the era of President Donald Trump, said Jennifer Lawless, a politics professor at the University of Virginia.

“Trump’s election provided the political catalyst for Democrats in 2018,” Lawless said. “Now there is a response from Republicans, which is an indirect effect of Trump.” But there are other factors also driving the activity. The number of retirements in Congress from Texas has opened an easier path for many candidates who see a chance to win a seat without vying with an incumbent. And then there’s the impact of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old bartender who shocked the political world by defeating longtime Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley in a 2018 primary. Lawless said a lot of young Democrats, particularly progressives, have taken inspiration from her success.

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Houston Chronicle - January 16, 2020

Beaumont ISD suspends kids at Texas’ highest rate — and it’s not even close

Students in Southeast Texas’ Beaumont ISD, one of the state’s longest-struggling school districts, were suspended at a rate more than six times the state average and far exceeding any other district with at least 1,000 kids last school year, a Houston Chronicle and Beaumont Enterprise analysis of state discipline data shows. As districts across Texas have scaled back on suspensions and “zero tolerance” approaches to discipline in recent years, Beaumont has gone in the other direction, administering 46 suspensions per 100 students last year, the state’s highest rate over the last decade.

By comparison, the district with the state’s second-highest rate, Port Arthur ISD, issued 31 suspensions per 100 students. In the Greater Houston area, every large district reported fewer than 16 per 100. The state average was 7 per 100. Beaumont’s suspension practices have coincided with dismal academic performance and behavior challenges afflicting the district, which barely eked out a C grade under the state’s accountability system in 2019. Frequent discipline particularly has impacted Beaumont’s black students, who comprise about 60 percent of the district’s population but received 87 percent of suspensions last school year. “There has to be a better way,” said LaToya Traylor, whose 15-year-old son, Jamerson Bibbins, has received multiple suspensions for fighting and insubordination during his seven years in Beaumont. “There are some students who don’t have anybody, and they are labeled as problem children. I don’t believe any child is bad.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 16, 2020

Biden says he’d consider either O’Rourke or Castro for VP

Former Vice President Joe Biden says either of his former 2020 competitors from Texas — Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro — could be his running mate in 2020. “I'd consider either or both of them,” Biden said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News and KXAS-TV. “I’ve spoken to each of them, and spent some time talking to them.”

Biden was apparently unfazed by the fact that Castro — a former Obama cabinet member who aggressively went after Biden during the earlier primary debates — is now campaigning for Elizabeth Warren, another of Biden’s competitors. “I guarantee you there’s going to be Latinos in my cabinet and I guarantee there will be Latinos in my White House,” said Biden, who also said he would consider both Castro and O’Rourke for cabinet posts.

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Houston Chronicle - January 16, 2020

Domingo Morel: State takeover of Houston public schools is about race and politics not students

If the state of Texas had its way, the state would be in the process of taking over the Houston Independent School District. But a judge temporarily blocked the takeover on Jan. 8, with the issue now set to be decided at a trial in June. The ruling temporarily spares Houston’s public school system from joining over 100 school districts in the nation that have experienced similar state takeovers in the past 30 years.

While the state of Texas claims the planned takeover is about school improvement, my research on state takeovers of school districts suggests that the Houston takeover, like others, is influenced by racism and political power. State governments have used takeovers since the late 1980s to intervene in school districts they have identified as in need of improvement. While state administrations promise that takeovers will improve school systems, 30 years of evidence shows that state takeovers do not meet the states’ promised expectations. For instance, a recent report called Michigan’s 15-year management of the Detroit schools a “costly mistake” because the takeover was not able to address the school system’s major challenges, which included adequately funding the school district.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 16, 2020

2019 a record year for Austin’s housing market

As expected, 2019 was another banner year for the Austin-area housing market. With December’s figures in, last year saw both the number of single-family home sales and the median home sales price in Central Texas reach all-time highs, the Austin Board of Realtors said Thursday. It marked the ninth year in a row in which the sales volume and the median price topped the previous year’s numbers.

Real estate agents sold 33,084 single-family homes in Central Texas last year, a 7.2% increase over 2018?s volume — more than any year on record, the board said. Half of those homes sold for more than $318,000 and half sold for less, for a 2.6% increase in the median price, the highest annual median on record, the board said. The dollar volume of 2019?s sales — almost $13.2 billion — also was a record amount, the board said, surpassing the previous record of $11.9 billion generated by 2018?s home sales.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 16, 2020

Austin City Council may pump $100K into Permian pipeline legal battle

Austin City Council members will vote on a resolution Thursday earmarking as much as $100,000 to the city manager to participate in civil litigation against the Permian Highway Pipeline.

The 42-inch, 430-mile buried natural gas pipeline would run from just north of Fort Stockton in West Texas through the Texas Hill Country en route to the Houston area. It has drawn the ire of landowners and local governments along its route who have raised concerns about both property rights and environmental consequences. Council members approved a resolution in June opposing the pipeline and directing city staffers to conduct a study of the potential impacts to Austin’s water quality related to the pipeline, including threats to the endangered Austin blind salamander and Barton Springs salamander. In August, Austin Watershed Protection completed a report that found applicable regulations were not strong enough to guarantee that the environment, including Barton Springs, would not be harmed by the pipeline’s operation or construction.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 16, 2020

Abbott, Patrick grow campaign war chests

They’re not running for reelection this year, but Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick still added millions to their campaign coffers in the last half of 2019. Between July and December, Abbott raised nearly $7.8 million, spent $3.6 million and has a whopping $32.9 million in cash on hand. The massive fundraising figures are sure to trickle down to Republican Texas House candidates.

Abbott’s chief political strategist, Dave Carney, said in November that some of the governor’s campaign cash would go toward protecting the party’s majority and winning back the 12 House seats that flipped from red to blue in 2018. Abbott would face reelection in 2022. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raised more than $2.3 million from July to December. Patrick spent nearly $870,000 and has $13.4 million in cash on hand. He is seeking a third term in 2022. Other Republican statewide elected officials, also not on the ballot this year, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the same reporting period.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 15, 2020

In Texas, Equal Rights Amendment ratified nearly 50 years ago

Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment on Wednesday, but Texas beat it to the punch nearly 50 years earlier. The Equal Rights Amendment, passed by Congress in 1972, received the approval of Texas that same year.

Thirty-eight states are required to ratify an amendment to the Constitution, but Congress required states to approve the amendment within seven years — meaning that despite Virginia’s approval, the amendment could face legal challenges. The Texas Legislature ratified the Equal Rights Amendment during a special session on March 30, 1972. The Texas House and Texas Senate were run by Democrats at the time.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 17, 2020

Cynthia M. Allen: Gov. Greg Abbott’s move on refugees wasn’t just wrong, it was also out of character

What was on Gov. Greg Abbott’s mind when he decided that Texas would opt out of resettling international refugees in 2020? My guess is that it wasn’t his faith. The state’s Catholic Conference of Bishops was quick to remind Abbott, a practicing Roman Catholic, that “an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien.”

Fort Worth’s own Bishop Michael Olson, a personal friend of the governor, implored Abbott to reverse his decision, “for the sake of peace, and for the sake of Texas.” He didn’t say, “for his own sake,” but some things are implied. Abbott frequently evokes his Catholicism in making policy decisions, like when it comes to his strong (and correct) stance on abortion. Why not this time? If Abbott was eschewing his otherwise conspicuous faith in shutting Texas’ doors to future refugees, it appears he wasn’t guided by prudence, either. The pragmatic executive should have known his decision could be costly to Texas and its nonprofits. “We expect secondary migration from [surrounding] states to bring some refugees to Fort Worth and all of Texas,” explained Olson in a written statement.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 16, 2020

With Super Tuesday just weeks away, how will Beto O’Rourke affect the 2020 election?

Beto O’Rourke isn’t on the ballot this year. But his name is being tossed around by Democrats and Republicans alike as the March 3 primary election looms. True, he dropped out of the Democratic presidential race last year.

Still, the results the El Paso Democrat saw two years ago — running a competitive race in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, losing statewide but claiming a narrow victory in conservative Tarrant County — are a key factor in this year’s election for some. Were those results a mere blip? Or the beginning of change? It’s called the Beto effect. O’Rourke is campaigning for some candidates this year and he launched an effort to help Democrats reclaim the majority in the Texas House of Representatives.

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KUT - January 17, 2020

Judges In Texas are inconsistent about allowing minors to get abortions without parental consent

The percentage of minors unable to get a judge's approval for an abortion in Texas has fluctuated in the past two decades, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health. Texas is one of 37 states that have laws requiring minors to notify or obtain consent from a parent or guardian before they get an abortion. Supporters of these laws argue they ensure parents stay involved in their children's medical care.

If a young woman would prefer not to, she can ask a judge for permission, a process called a judicial bypass. In most judicial bypass cases, the young women fear for their safety or don't have a parent or guardian. Amanda Jean Stevenson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado – Boulder, said this is the first study to even acknowledge judicial bypass denials happen. She said this is an important issue that should be looked at. “We know from really high-quality evidence that when people are denied wanted abortions there are long-term negative, socioeconomic, health and other consequences for them and their lives,” she said.

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KUT - January 16, 2020

For the first time since 1999, someone in Travis County has Rubella

Public health officials confirmed Thursday morning the first case of rubella in Travis County since 1999. The confirmation comes roughly a month after the first diagnosis of measles, which was last seen in the Austin area in 1999, too. Austin Public Health said in an announcement that the virus, which is less contagious than measles, particularly affects unvaccinated children and pregnant women who haven't received the full vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

Both diseases are covered by the MMR vaccine, an inoculation administered in two doses to children just over a year old and then again between the ages of 4 and 6. Health officials attribute the reappearance of both measles and rubella in Travis County to an increase in vaccination opt-outs in pockets of the Austin area. Symptoms for rubella include a rash that starts on the face, a low fever, mild pink eye and a cough or runny nose, APH says. The virus can live on surfaces and in the air, and is spread through saliva and mucus.

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Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2020

Teachers turn to Texas Supreme Court in latest attempt to battle Dallas’ merit-based pay system

A Dallas teachers group that says DISD’s merit-based evaluation system amounts to pay cuts for many has asked the Texas Supreme Court to force the state’s education commissioner to rehear the group’s grievance. The appeal, filed Thursday, is the latest move by the National Education Association-Dallas to fight portions of the Teacher Excellence Initiative, or TEI, which bases salary largely on how well students perform on state tests.

NEA-Dallas officials contend that teachers who did not receive salary bumps based on their evaluation “scorecard” essentially suffered pay cuts because the costs of health insurance went up. And teachers don’t know what their salary will be until after the start of a new school year because of the lag time in evaluating STAAR data released at the end of the spring semester. NEA-Dallas president Delna Bryan said that TEI doesn’t work for the vast majority of teachers and that the district keeps changing the rubric for what measures have to be achieved in order to receive pay increases. She said the system makes it difficult for educators at low-performing schools to reach higher pay levels because their students struggle the most. “We’re not afraid of being held accountable,” she said. “We’re not afraid of being evaluated. But when you evaluate us, do not tie our salary to scores that you know and you can manipulate each summer to suit you. And we wind up losing money.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2020

National groups getting involved to help Democrats win Texas House in November

As Texas Democrats look to win a majority in the Texas House for the first time since 2001, national groups are aiming at competitive statehouse races where they believe their funding and organizing can get the minority party over the hump.

On Thursday, Swing Left, a national group aimed at helping Democrats win in swing districts, and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a group formed to elect Democrats to statehouses across the country, will announce their top targets for the year. Several seats in Texas are on their list. “We think that Texas is flippable this year,” said Catherine Vaughan, chief strategy officer for Swing Left. The group will announce an initial slate of 12 Texas legislative districts it will target in 2020. That includes Texas Senate District 12 in North Texas, represented by incumbent Republican Jane Nelson, as well as 11 other seats in the Texas House. Two of those seats, House District 65 in Denton County represented by Michelle Beckley and House District 132 in Katy represented by Gina Calanni, are held by Democrats. The group plans to play defense there.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 16, 2020

Rep. Larson to Mayor Nirenberg: Don’t use aquifer protection funds for public transit

State Rep. Lyle Larson is urging Mayor Ron Nirenberg to reconsider a plan to fund increased public transit by rerouting money that funds protection of the Edwards Aquifer. Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff want to redirect $40 million a year from a portion of the city’s sales tax revenue that finances aquifer protection and linear parks to VIA Metropolitan Transit to instead boost bus service. San Antonio voters will decide in November whether to do so.

“We strongly disagree with redirecting funding away from securing land around San Antonio to protect our water supply in favor of funding mass transit,” Larson told Nirenberg in a letter sent Wednesday. Larson — a San Antonio Republican — pushed the mayor to instead use the part of the sales tax that pays for Pre-K 4 SA, the city’s early childhood education program. State lawmakers set aside $780 million last year to “require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten,” Larson wrote, so “it appears that all local school districts will be able to provide the services that Pre-K 4 SA currently provides.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 16, 2020

‘Killer nurse’ Genene Jones sentenced to life in prison

Genene Jones, dubbed the “killer nurse” after she was convicted of killing an infant in 1984, was sentenced Thursday morning to life in prison for the death of a San Antonio baby in 1981. Jones, 69, was a pediatric nurse at Bexar County Hospital, now University Hospital, at the time of the deaths.

She had served about a third of her original sentence and was eligible to be released from prison in 2018, but in 2017 she was newly indicted in the deaths of Richard “Ricky” Nelson on July 3, 1981; Rosemary Vega on Sept. 16, 1981; Paul Villarreal on Sept. 24, 1981; Joshua Sawyer on Dec. 12, 1981; and Patrick Zavala on Jan. 17, 1982. All were patients at the hospital and ranged in age from 3 months to 2 years. The children were injected with an overdose of a muscle relaxer or an unknown substance, according to court records. At a hearing Thursday morning, Jones agreed to plead guilty to killing Joshua Sawyer in exchange for a life sentence and the dismissal of the other four cases.

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Houston Public Media - January 17, 2020

DCCC targets Houston Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s district for takeover

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has named Houston Republican Dan Crenshaw’s 2nd Congressional District as a target for November. Flipping this district would be a long shot for Democrats, but not impossible.

Brandon Rottinghaus of the University of Houston said the move is as much as anything a way for Democrats to raise money for this and other races. “Dan Crenshaw’s been a very visible figure for Republicans,” Rottinghaus said. “He is really the kind of conservative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So he’s somebody who the Democrats would definitely like to see taken down. And this might be wishful thinking, but it’s also a symbolic way to show the Democrats are going to compete everywhere, even against the most strong-looking Republicans."

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Texas Newsroom - January 16, 2020

Bill to create an African American National Historic Trail in Texas awaits presidential approval

A bill to study if an Emancipation trail in Southeast Texas should receive a national designation is now headed to President Trump’s desk for his signature. The 51-mile trail would show the migration route used by newly freed slaves and other people of African descent in the 19th century. It’s based on the research of Naomi Mitchell Carrier, the founder of the Texas Center for African American Living History in Houston.

It’s based on the research of Naomi Mitchell Carrier, the founder of the Texas Center for African American Living History in Houston. “I was able to outline some 40 or more sites that have historical markers between Reedy Chapel in Galveston and Freedmen’s Town in Houston,” said Mitchell Carrier. “That is the trail.” The route would include Independence Heights, Freedmen’s Town and Emancipation Park in Houston. It would also include the site of Galveston’s Osterman building, where a Union Army General told the people of Galveston that all slaves were free.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 16, 2020

Judge Ray Olivarri succumbs to cancer at 64

Shortly before he died Wednesday night of cancer, District Judge Ray Olivarri fulfilled one last personal commitment: He joined his daughter, Lauren, at her high school graduation. “He was very much a family man, and he wanted to hang on until she graduated. He was declining so fast, the hospital and Incarnate Word High School arranged to have her graduate in his hospital room,” said Mick Aguilera, 62, a longtime friend and colleague.

“I was there with about 50 others. They had music, and all the pomp and circumstance. It was really nice. When it was over, he told Lauren, ‘Good. You’re doing good,’” Aguilera said. And then Olivarri, 64, was taken home, even as the graduation reception party was unfolding in a University Hospital conference room. He died several hours later, succumbing to a disease he had battled for several years. A judge who served at the county and district court levels, Olivarri was remembered Thursday for his fairness on the bench, his commitment to justice and his sympathy for some defendants who committed non-violent crimes.

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2020

John Creuzot: Bail reform in Dallas must differentiate dangerous defendants from poor defendants

In response to The Dallas Morning News editorial board’s Jan. 5 piece titled “Dallas needs bail reform, but not a policy that puts violent offenders back on the streets,” I would like to clarify the mechanics of the bail system and to provide the community with transparency regarding the progress and vision surrounding bail reform in Dallas County. As district attorney of Dallas County, I am committed to striking the critical balance between ensuring community safety and respecting the due process rights of those people who have been accused of a crime.

The bail system should ensure that dangerous defendants are prevented from hurting the community — but not that poor defendants are kept in jail because of their economic disadvantages — pending the resolution of their cases. This is the vision that I championed before being elected DA, and it is the one that continues to guide my efforts as my office works towards making Dallas a safer and more just community for all. For a fair and balanced bail system to operate, efforts to reform are required from all criminal justice system stakeholders. The editorial board’s critiques are not so much invalid as they are too narrowly focused. As the board points out, police officers alone should not bear the responsibility of criminal justice reform. In fact, no one part of the criminal justice system should. For the community to be safe, partners in the criminal justice system and community must collaborate to achieve such success, and when preventable crimes do occur, the spotlight needs to be focused on how we should work together and each do our part.

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National Stories

NPR - January 17, 2020

Reporters battle new restrictions in trying to cover Senate impeachment trial

News organizations and journalists' advocates are battling restrictive new ground rules for reporters assigned to cover the Senate impeachment trial. Correspondents who submit to an official credentialing process are granted broad access throughout the Capitol complex and usually encounter few restrictions in talking with members of Congress or others.

But now Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger has imposed new requirements for the impeachment trial, negotiated in part with Republican leadership: Reporters are being confined to small cordoned-off sections of areas where unrestricted access was typically standard. They are being prevented from walking with senators to continue conversations — even when the senator involved is willingly participating. Reporters also now may not approach senators for interviews in the halls surrounding the Senate chamber. Taken together, the new rules effectively prevent members of the press from reaching many senators.

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NPR - January 17, 2020

After controversial leaders step down, The Women's March tries again in 2020

On an unusually warm January afternoon, 28-year-old Icy Coomber attended a poster-making session for the fourth annual Women's March in Washington, D.C. Unlike the friend she accompanied to the event, Coomber did not participate in any of the previous anti-Trump demonstrations. Three years ago, the first march drew hundreds of thousands of people to the nation's capital and hosted sister marches in cities around the world. But the Women's March has struggled since then, facing controversy for some of its leadership and criticism for being a space for primarily white, cisgender women. Last year, three founding members stepped down following allegations of anti-Semitism, and a new, bigger board took their place.

Now, the Women's March is back on Jan. 18 with a restructured lineup and mission — and some people who did not feel enticed to join in the past are giving it a second chance. "When we're talking about women's rights, I feel like black women or women of color are usually left out of that conversation," Coomber said. "But I think not going, not representing people like me, doesn't help anything. I'm trying to have a change of heart." The community art build that Coomber attended is part of the organization's goal to foster deeper partnerships with existing movements. After polling its base of supporters, the Women's March decided to focus on three main topics for this year's events: climate, reproductive justice and immigrants' rights. Every night in the week leading up to the march itself, the organization has hosted panel discussions with activists from those fields. And on Saturday, there will no longer be a stage for the organizers and high-profile celebrities. Instead, the new leaders will march alongside everyone else, and Chilean collective LasTesis will lead the group in a rendition of its viral protest anthem, "Un Violador En Tu Camino" ("A Rapist In Your Path").

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Wall Street Journal - January 16, 2020

Trump impeachment trial begins as senators are sworn in

The impeachment trial of President Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress opened in the U.S. Senate on Thursday with a ceremonial reading of the House-passed articles, followed by the swearing-in of the senators, who pledged to be impartial in the case. The steps marked the official start of the trial, only the third such proceeding against a president in U.S. history. At least two-thirds of the senators would have to vote to convict Mr. Trump to remove him from office. Mr. Trump has denied wrongdoing.

By noon on Thursday, every senator was seated at his or her desk, a rare sight during the ordinary legislative business, when it is common to see senators delivering speeches to an empty chamber. Senators typically don’t sit in their assigned seats even during roll call votes, preferring to stroll around and chitchat. As they waited for the formal “exhibition” of articles, some senators scrolled on their cellphones or talked quietly to each other. At 12:05 p.m., House managers, who will act as prosecutors during the trial, arrived at the ornate doors of the Senate. They walked in two-by-two, led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.). Freshman Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D., Texas) trailed as the seventh. A Democratic aide said the order was chosen according to seniority.

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New York Times - January 16, 2020

Justice Dept. investigating years-old leaks and appears focused on Comey

Federal prosecutors in Washington are investigating a years-old leak of classified information about a Russian intelligence document, and they appear to be focusing on whether the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey illegally provided details to reporters, according to people familiar with the inquiry. The case is the second time the Justice Department has investigated leaks potentially involving Mr. Comey, a frequent target of President Trump, who has repeatedly called him a “leaker.” Mr. Trump recently suggested without evidence that Mr. Comey should be prosecuted for “unlawful conduct” and spend years in prison.

The timing of the investigation could raise questions about whether it was motivated at least in part by politics. Prosecutors and F.B.I. agents typically investigate leaks of classified information around the time they appear in the news media, not years later. And the inquiry is the latest politically sensitive matter undertaken by the United States attorney’s office in Washington, which is also conducting an investigation of Mr. Comey’s former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, that has been plagued by problems. Law enforcement officials are scrutinizing at least two news articles about the F.B.I. and Mr. Comey, published in The New York Times and The Washington Post in 2017, that mentioned the Russian government document, according to the people familiar with the investigation. Hackers working for Dutch intelligence officials obtained the document and provided it to the F.B.I., and both its existence and the collection of it were highly classified secrets, the people said.

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CNN - January 16, 2020

Pompeo stonewalls as evidence emerges of possible surveillance of ex-Ukraine ambassador

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has maintained a persistent silence as stunning new evidence has emerged suggesting the former ambassador to Ukraine may have been illegally surveilled before she was forced out of her job by President Donald Trump. The State Department has not publicly commented on any developments in the more than 36 hours since a new tranche of documents revealed that former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch may have been monitored at the behest of associates of the President's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

The lack of a response is even more striking following a Thursday morning announcement that Ukrainian authorities have launched a criminal probe into that potential surveillance -- before any such announcement from the US government. Pompeo came into the role of top US diplomat pledging to restore the department's "swagger," but his relative silence throughout the entire impeachment process -- particularly when it comes to defending career diplomats under attack -- has drawn anger and condemnation from the diplomatic community and caused morale within the department to plummet. And State's lack of transparency and cooperation throughout the matter has sparked suggestions of hypocrisy for the politician who built his career on the Benghazi hearings.

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Politico - January 16, 2020

White House violated the law by freezing Ukraine aid, GAO says

The White House budget office violated the law when it froze U.S. military aid to Ukraine, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a new report. President Donald Trump ordered the hold on the critical security assistance in July, a slew of senior White House officials testified to House impeachment investigators late last year. It was a move that coincided with an effort by the president and his allies to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump’s Democratic rivals.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the GAO wrote in an eight-page report released on Thursday. Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid, which he reversed in September after House investigators began probing the move, is at the heart of the articles of impeachment the House passed last month, and it will be a central focus in the Senate’s impeachment trial that begins later Thursday. The report undercuts an oft-stated defense of Trump’s decision to hold the aid back: that it was a lawful exercise of the president’s authority. “I have never seen such a damning report in my life,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I mean, this is a nonpartisan thing. I read it twice. ... To have something saying this is such a total disrespect of the law. It’s unprecedented.”

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NBC News - January 15, 2020

Corbin Smith: Sign stealing in baseball is nothing new. The punishment now being meted out is absurd.

Baseball is an idiotically difficult game. It's built on the collision of two round objects — a wooden bat and a leather ball. Which means a lot of the result depends on luck. The best hitters fail 70 percent of the time, as the saying goes, although this truism is less true when you factor in walks as a positive outcome. In which case, it's more like ... 60 percent of the time. In searching for a leg up given the unfairness intrinsic to the game, baseball players have indulged in cheating from time to time. Spitballing, for instance.

A bat with less weight in its tip is (supposedly) easier to swing quickly, so it's common to gut the tip, replace some of the wood with cork and cover it up by gluing the wood back on. Break the bat and get ejected, but otherwise who's gonna figure it out? Even some of the things that are totally normal in the course of play are technically against the rules. Sliding into a fielder's legs at second to break up a double play? NOT LEGAL, but fairly common. A catcher gutsily blocking home plate in a desperate ploy to save his team from the indignity of a run? NOT LEGAL, but also fairly common. This is all to say that baseball has a kind of ... loose relationship with its own rules. Here's another one: sign stealing. Pitchers and catchers need to plan what the pitcher is going to throw, so they give each other little hand signals to determine each pitch. Let's say you were an opposing team's manager and you were trying to help your players hit the baseball — a very hard task. Wouldn't it behoove you to maybe try and figure out what those signals were and then act on that knowledge? Of course it would, and managers have done so throughout the game's history.

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