Quorum Report News Clips

View By Date
Printable Version of This Page

Newsclips - July 16, 2020

Lead Stories

Vox - July 14, 2020

How the pandemic scrambled Democrats’ campaign to retake statehouses

When she decided to run for state representative in the 98th District of Michigan, Democrat Sarah Schulz began putting together a traditional campaign infrastructure. She had unsuccessfully run for the same seat — which represents a portion of northeastern Michigan centered on the city of Midland — in 2018, and had a strategy for winning the traditionally conservative district this fall. So she built a list of volunteers and made plans for door-knocking campaigns and in-person events, the cornerstones of “retail politicking.” But everything changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit. So she and her volunteers started making homemade masks.

This is just one example of how candidates are looking for creative ways to campaign in a high-stakes election cycle that offers Democrats a chance not just to retake the White House and Senate, but to take control over statehouses as well. Since 2020 is a census year, whichever party controls the statehouse following the elections will control how districting will work for the next decade. Republicans swept into power in 2010, and subsequently used gerrymandering to stay in power in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina — even in elections in which they won a minority of statewide voters. Democrats hope to use new census data to their advantage, and are counting on candidates like Schulz to do so. The pandemic has complicated the party’s plans, however. State-level candidates who depend on retail campaigning — knocking on doors, meeting voters face to face in their community — have been forced to abandon some of the cornerstones of local campaigning and have thrown themselves into more digital campaigning. “Normally the gold standard is face-to-face interaction to build relationships,” said Kelly Dietrich, CEO and founder of the Democratic Training Committee. “Now you can’t do that gold-standard face to face, but the goal is still the same. You still have to build a relationship with people to convince them to vote for you.” According to Dietrich, state and local campaigns have had to adapt by launching texting initiatives and ramping up phone-calling measures in order to reach voters. Some others, like Schulz and her mask-making operation, have found creative ways to campaign and catch the attention of voters without having to go door to door.

Top of Page

NPR - July 15, 2020

White House strips CDC Of data collection role for COVID-19 hospitalizations

The Trump Administration has mandated that hospitals sidestep the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send critical information about COVID-19 hospitalizations and equipment to a different federal database. From the start of the pandemic, the CDC has collected data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, availability of intensive care beds and personal protective equipment. But hospitals must now report that information to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.

The change sparked concerns among infectious disease and health care experts that the administration was hobbling the ability of the nation's public health agency to gather and analyze crucial data in the midst of a pandemic. Michael Caputo, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, defended the administration's decision and said that CDC's system was too slow. "The CDC's old data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it's an inadequate system today," Caputo said in a statement shared with reporters. "The President's Coronavirus Task Force has urged improvements for months, but they just cannot keep up with this pandemic." Public health experts expressed dismay and confusion over the reporting change because of how it could disrupt public access to the data. It also comes at a time when the Trump White House has openly sparred with CDC Director Robert Redfield and other federal scientists about the pandemic response. "It's really hard not to see this as some kind of interference or snub [to] the CDC," says University of Arizona epidemiologist Saskia Popescu. "With so many concerns over the politicization of data right now, this is concerning."

Top of Page

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - July 15, 2020

Lloyd Doggett: Food box failure a reflection of Trump administration

With our community confronting so many ongoing challenges, we must pull together to get to the other side of this crisis. An important part of getting through this as expeditiously and responsibly as possible is seeking accountability along the way. Preventing the waste of tax dollars and ensuring public services are delivered in a timely and efficient manner are what good government demands. Express-News reporting by Tom Orsborn exposed the fiasco of CRE8AD8, an event planner, failing hungry families after receiving a $39 million Trump administration contract for emergency food relief. The company appears to have fulfilled only about 40 percent of its San Antonio deliveries and even less elsewhere, providing only about 1 in 4 or 5 promised food boxes overall.

Not only were the tireless folks at the San Antonio Food Bank shorted on food for the needy, but they were also burdened with additional costs for transporting the insufficient amount supplied. While the Express-News Editorial Board rightly recognized that this contract was awarded to an “event planner we wouldn’t entrust with putting tchotchkes in a bag, let alone delivering food for struggling families,” I believe this involves much more than an ill-equipped vendor. It mostly reflects an indifferent and incompetent Trump administration, which appears to have done no background check on its awardee, while rejecting other well-qualified local minority contractors. Instead of admitting its failures and canceling the contract in May, the administration refused to provide straight answers and waited until July to quietly decline renewal. How many other ill-advised contracts were approved in communities whose newspapers may not have doggedly ensured that the public got the facts? How many important services throughout this crisis have been entrusted to pandemic profiteers who are shielded from oversight?

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 15, 2020

Trump pick declares victory in tight race to replace San Antonio’s Hurd, but opponent isn’t calling it quits yet

President Donald Trump’s favored Republican candidate to succeed outgoing U.S. Rep. Will Hurd declared victory by a narrow margin in Tuesday’s nail-biting runoff race — but his opponent, backed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, isn’t giving up yet. Navy veteran Tony Gonzales, Trump’s pick, holds a lead of just seven votes over retired Air Force officer Raul Reyes, the Cruz-supported candidate, in unofficial returns listed on the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

“With 100% reporting, the Secretary of State’s office is showing that we won the primary runoff by seven votes,” Gonzales said Wednesday. “We will be working to protect the integrity of every legal vote until the canvass is complete over the next week.” State law allows absentee ballots to be counted if they’re received by 5 p.m. the day after the election is held. And ballots coming from overseas can be counted if they are received no later than five days after the election. Members of the Armed Forces get six days to have their mail-in ballots received and still be counted. “This race isn’t over until every legal vote is counted,” Reyes wrote.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 14, 2020

Elaine Ayala: A Goya boycott may not work, but the blow really has been to Goya’s reputation

Research has shown boycotts don’t hurt a company’s bottom line. Not really. That’s because boycotts are hard to sustain over time, and consumers have short attention spans. Most consumers are creatures of habit, anyway. They remain loyal to brands despite what anyone says about them. Sometimes, what consumers reach for in a grocery-store aisle comes down to a generational decision. If your parents and grandparents bought Campbell’s soup, you’re likely to continue buying the product no matter how much sodium the company has taken out of its recipes.

Grocery lists contain a good bit of nostalgia. Such consumer behavior must be comforting to the board of directors of Goya Foods right about now, after its president and CEO Robert Unanue did the brand no favors. Over the weekend, Unanue doubled down on his lavish praise of President Donald Trump during a White House event Friday. He knew exactly what he was doing kissing up to the president’s insatiable ego. No doubt corporate tax rates were on his mind, too. The Rose Garden occasion, where obsequious behavior is prearranged, was focused on something called the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative. It was celebrated during a pandemic and will be operated out of the U.S. Department of Education, two questionable decisions. It’s main goal, it seems, is to supplant a similar initiative by the Obama White House. One by one, corporate executives were called to the podium to perform on key. Unanue delivered.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 14, 2020

State lawmaker presses for answers after hundreds of inmates test positive at S.A. jail

A state lawmaker is pressing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for answers after hundreds of inmates tested positive for COVID-19 at the Dominguez State Jail on the Southwest Side of San Antonio. State Rep. Philip Cortez wants to know how the agency is working to minimize the spread of the virus throughout the jail, where more than a quarter of the inmates and 29 employees were confirmed to be infected. On Monday, 474 of the inmates had active cases of the virus. Most of them — 397 — are asymptomatic, while 77 showed symptoms, TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel said.

Eight of those inmates remained hospitalized Monday, Desel said. Another inmate, Paul Alexander Casiano, 51, who was serving a six-year sentence for a felony assault conviction in Kendall County, died June 27 at a Galveston hospital. An autopsy wasn’t performed, but Casiano had tested positive for the virus. Medical evidence suggested it was a “contributing factor” in his death, TDCJ’s website noted. Thirteen Dominguez inmates have recovered from the virus so far, according to TDCJ’s COVID-19 dashboard, a public website providing daily updates on COVID-19 cases at each of its lockup facilities. The percentage of inmates testing positive at the Dominguez unit is unacceptable, Cortez said. He asked that TDCJ provide him weekly reports on the situation. “That would be unbelievable, unbearable and unacceptable if the percentage was to continue to grow ... So we need to stop it now,” he said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

As Dallas County reports 8 more coronavirus deaths, Jenkins says this week will be one of the deadliest

Dallas County reported eight additional COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, a day after officials announced a record-tying 20 deaths. The county also reported 1,055 new coronavirus cases, making Wednesday the 13th consecutive day with at least 1,000. “The eight deaths we experienced today make it clear that … that this will be one of our deadliest weeks so far,” County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement.

Of the eight deaths Wednesday, five were Dallas residents: two men in their 60s, a woman in her 70s and two men, in their 80s and 90s, who lived in long-term care facilities. The other victims were a Duncanville woman in her 70s, a Grand Prairie man in his 50s and a Mesquite woman in her 60s. Dallas County has reported 36 deaths in four days this week. Last week was the county’s deadliest so far during the pandemic, with 54 deaths. The county’s confirmed case count now sits at 36,969, or about 14 for every 1,000 residents. There have been 485 total deaths, and the county does not report recoveries. Health officials said hospitalizations for COVID-19 remain high, with 648 reported on Tuesday. There were 646 emergency-room visits — about 35% of all visits — for symptoms of the illness. According to the county, those numbers may be artificially low because of a reporting issue.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

Ex-White House physician turned GOP congressional candidate downplays need for masks during pandemic

A day after his Tuesday congressional runoff victory, Ronny Jackson, former White House physician and the GOP nominee in Texas’ 13th District, downplayed the need to wear masks in public amid the coronavirus pandemic. “I think you’ve got to look at your personal circumstances,” Jackson, a retired Navy rear admiral, told Fox News on Wednesday morning. “You’ve got to look at your surroundings, you’ve got to decide if that’s right for you. I’m a firm believer that is, at this point, a personal choice. I encourage people, if they want to wear a mask, but I don’t wear a mask all that often, to be honest with you.”

Jackson, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump in the race over cattle industry lobbyist Josh Winegarner, made the comments after a clip played of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, urging Texans to wear a mask in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state. “I think wearing a mask is a personal choice, and I don’t particularly want my government telling me that I have to wear a mask,” Jackson said in response to the clip, while also downplaying the severity of the virus that has killed more than 135,000 Americans since the beginning of March. On Tuesday, Dr. Robert Redfield, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, said the United States could get the coronavirus pandemic under control in one to two months if every American wore a mask.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 15, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: With crime tax secure, Fort Worth leaders must follow through on policing changes

Fort Worth voters have declared that yes, hundreds of millions of dollars of sales-tax revenue should continue to flow to police and crime prevention programs in the next decade. But it’s noteworthy that this election was closer than past renewals of the Crime Control and Prevention District. The victory was still quite comfortable, with 64 percent of the total vote. It’s clear that with the current national turmoil over police brutality, though, a large number of voters want a different kind of law enforcement, even if they don’t yet constitute a majority.

Leading up the election, officials such as Mayor Betsy Price and Police Chief Ed Kraus indicated they were listening and were on board for such change, as long as core police programs are funded. With the half-cent of sales tax revenue secure for 10 more years, they must now demonstrate that wasn’t just campaign rhetoric. Price said in a written statement Tuesday night that she would push the City Council to “engage in a conversation about the governance structure” and spending choices. A conversation is a good start, but action must quickly follow. Before the vote, Price and Kraus pointed to programs such as crisis intervention for the mentally ill and perhaps a new program to ensure that those who need treatment are diverted to it rather than taken to jail when they commit low-level crimes.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 15, 2020

Family of baby on life support at Cook Children’s wants new doctor to treat her

Attorneys representing the family of 1-year-old Tinslee Lewis have filed a motion to allow a new doctor to treat her. Lewis, who was born with a rare heart defect called an Ebstein anomaly, has been at the center of a legal dispute for more than nine months while she has remained on life support inside Cook Children’s Medical Center. The hospital has maintained that continuing to treat Lewis is causing her unnecessary pain and suffering, and putting an emotional strain on the staff who have to attend to her. Her family has argued Lewis’ case isn’t hopeless.

Her family’s lawyers filed the motion on Tuesday in a Tarrant County district court, according to a news release from Texas Right to Life. They’re asking the court to require Cooks to grant emergency privileges to Dr. Glenn E. Green, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Michigan who has been evaluating Lewis. Green, going against the doctors at Cooks, believes the infant’s episodes of oxygen desaturation that have been diagnosed as “dying spells” could be the result of treatable underlying airway issues, according to the release. He would reportedly evaluate the infant for airway malacia and perform a tracheostomy. The procedure is common for those who have been on ventilators for long periods of time. Dr. Patrick Roughneen, a Galveston physician, visited Lewis at the hospital and said in a separate declaration filed with the court that he agrees with Green’s conclusion.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

Women say life is ‘like a scary movie’ as coronavirus spreads in Fort Worth prison

Sandra Shoulders feels like she’s living in a horror movie. Every day, prison staff at FMC Carswell, a federal medical prison in Fort Worth, take about a dozen people out of her unit to get tested for COVID-19. Some of them come back; others do not. When a woman tests positive for the virus, her mattress is dragged from the room she shares with three other people and stacked in what used to be the TV room. Every day, the mountain of mattresses grows. Shoulders tries to avoid walking past it.

The number of cases at the prison has swelled from three to 130 in the past two weeks. Inmates said they have not been allowed to leave their rooms since last week, cells are not immediately sanitized after someone tests positive, and there’s a shortage of cleaning supplies and personal protection equipment. Out of the 1,373 women at the prison, 645 have been tested and 465 are awaiting test results, according to Bureau of Prisons data. The women who test positive for COVID-19 are quarantined in solitary confinement, said Steven, whose wife is at Carswell. He asked that he not be identified by his full name out of fear the staff would retaliate against his wife.

Top of Page

KHOU - July 15, 2020

HISD will offer only online learning when school begins on Sept. 8

All HISD students will begin the school year virtually on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the district announced Wednesday. Virtual instruction will continue for at least six weeks through Friday, October 16. "Attendance and participation during virtual learning are a must and all grades will count," HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said during a news conference.

Under the plan, face-to-face instruction for all students will begin on Monday, October 19. This date is subject to change based on COVID-19 conditions across the City of Houston and recommendations from local, state, and federal health officials. Parents not comfortable with sending their children back to school will have the option to opt out of face-to-face instruction entirely for the fall semester and school year. "I need our children to be safe," Latham said. "We will not put the health of our students and staff at risk." The press conference is being streamed on KHOU.com and our Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter account.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

After 3 decades of public service, outgoing Galveston Mayor Yarbrough looks forward to helping ‘from the sidelines’

Jim Yarbrough, who has served as Galveston’s mayor since 2014 and led the county government for a quarter-century before that, is stepping down Wednesday and turning over the reins to Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown. Yarbrough, a Democrat, has been working remotely because of health concerns. Prior to the latest spike in COVID-19 infections, he said last month he thought stepping down was appropriate as more government business began to take place in person.

“You know (I) hate to leave, but it’s the right thing for me, it’s the right thing for the city,” Yarbrough said during a phone interview Monday. “They need somebody who’s going to be there to call the shots and be able to assist where needed.” Brown, a Democrat who has served on the council since 2014, will serve as mayor on an interim basis. The retired pediatric dentist is vying with four other candidates — Roger “Bo” Quiroga, Raymond Guzman, Jr., James Casey and Bill Keese — in the Nov. 3 election for mayor. “In the years I have been privileged to serve on City Council with Mayor Yarbrough, I have witnessed firsthand what a positive influence he has had on our community,” Brown, 73, said in a written statement. “I am prepared to continue this movement forward and to accept the Public Health and Economic challenges that are so important to our residents and the visitors that we host.”

Top of Page

NBC News - July 15, 2020

Coronavirus is rapidly spreading in Texas nursing homes, state figures show

Younger Americans have been driving the recent coronavirus surge in Texas — but the virus is now also rapidly spreading in the state’s nursing homes, threatening elderly, frail residents who are most at risk of serious illness and death. Across Texas, nearly 1,000 new infections of nursing home residents were reported in the week ending last Friday, July 10, NBC News found in an analysis of data from the Texas health department. That’s the highest weekly increase since mid-May, when the state began publishing the data, and it reflects record increases last week in the Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and El Paso regions.

And that is most likely an undercount. Since last Friday, the state has reported more than 1,800 new cases among nursing home residents, in part because a data lag had prevented cases from being counted in the San Antonio area and the southernmost part of the state over the past two weeks, health officials said. Deaths from the virus are also mounting: 1,173 nursing home residents have died in Texas so far, according to state data — including 224 deaths since July 1. The rising numbers have alarmed nursing home advocates and family members of residents who worry that facilities may not be able to contain the virus as it spreads in the surrounding community. The greatest fear is that Texas — now one of the biggest coronavirus hot spots in the country — could see mass outbreaks in nursing homes like those that hit the Northeast earlier in the pandemic. More than 6,400 nursing home residents in New York have died from the virus, and more than 6,600 have died in New Jersey.

Top of Page

New York Times - July 14, 2020

In Texas beach city, out-of-towners drove in an outbreak

As recently as early June, days went by with hardly anyone testing positive for the coronavirus. A single case one day. Three the next. Then zero. Zero. Zero. Word spread that Corpus Christi, always a popular beachfront vacation spot for Texans from around the state, was a safe place to go. They didn’t even require masks indoors. It was an oasis from the virus. “People in San Antonio, in Houston, Austin, even Dallas, knew that we had low caseload,” said Peter Zanoni, the city manager. “It was a nice getaway from the rules, the regulations, the doom and gloom.” It turned out that no place was safe.

Now the city of 325,000 has one of the fastest-growing outbreaks in Texas, a state where records for positive cases were set for four straight days last week, with nearly 11,000 recorded Thursday. Corpus Christi has seen more cases per capita than Houston and a rapidly mounting death toll: Of the 38 deaths recorded from the pandemic, 30 have come in July, including a baby less than 6 months old. Local officials have been left scrambling to get ahead of an outbreak that went into overdrive without warning. As recently as June 15, the city had tallied 360 cases during the entirety of the outbreak; on Wednesday alone, there were 445. The city’s two dozen contact tracers are so overwhelmed that they are no longer able to seek detailed information about each new infection. Hospital beds have filled at an alarming rate, prompting pleas for additional staffing. The surge in cases forced local leaders, businesses and residents to grapple with the uncomfortable reality that the same out-of-towners who help the city thrive economically may have caused the outbreak. The feeling is less one of resentment than of frustration at a seemingly impossible dilemma. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be telling tourists, ‘Don’t come to our beaches,’” said Mayor Joe McComb, 72.

Top of Page

National Stories

Wall Street Journal - July 15, 2020

Why Arizona wasn’t ready for its coronavirus surge

In the state with the highest per-capita rate of Covid-19 cases in America over the past week, Arizonans are waiting up to eight hours in the broiling hot sun to get tested. A metropolitan area of a million people was down to 17 free ICU beds Tuesday. A top health official in the largest county said the coronavirus is now so widespread that contact tracing is almost ineffective. Local officials and public health experts coping with the coronavirus pandemic in Arizona say the state was lucky to avoid a large outbreak in the spring, but that instead of using the time to prepare for a future wave, political leaders assumed the situation was already well in hand.

A full-throttle reopening in May that drew crowds to bars and restaurants, a failure to increase testing and a lack of contact tracing have fueled an avoidable crisis, they said. Now, 26.46% of tests in the past seven days have come back positive, the highest rate in the nation, according to Johns Hopkins University data. And some 3,000 people are hospitalized with Covid-19 daily, compared to 789 two months ago, when the state first reopened. In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and the third highest number of cases in the country, officials said the virus is so widespread that contact tracing is no longer effective. “It’s like we were driving down a single lane road and there was a car accident up ahead and we could see an off ramp to avoid it. But it felt like everyone was saying we could just avoid the accident by not taking the off ramp,” said Ross Goldberg, president of the Arizona Medical Association.

Top of Page

The Atlantic - July 15, 2020

Fauci: ‘Bizarre’ White House behavior only hurts the President

Anthony Fauci isn’t about to quit, despite the White House’s clumsy attempts to stain his public image. More so now than at any other point in their uneasy partnership, it seems that if President Donald Trump wants to be rid of Fauci, he’ll need to fire him. In recent days especially, the White House has stepped up efforts to discredit Fauci, a move he describes as “bizarre.” “Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that,” Fauci told The Atlantic in a series of interviews this week. “When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president.” He described the White House attacks against him as “nonsense” and “completely wrong.”

He also seemed dismayed that they are coming at a time when COVID-19 is surging across the country, deaths are once again rising, and Americans remain deeply confused about how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Targeting Fauci seems like a tragic misuse of White House time and energy if officials’ aim is to defeat the coronavirus. But Trump appears more concerned with discrediting Fauci. Over the weekend, the White House sent multiple news outlets a document that smacked of opposition research. It carried a list of statements Fauci had made about COVID-19, purporting to show that he had contradicted himself about the outbreak and that he “has been wrong on things.” In one example from an NBC interview in February, the White House omitted Fauci’s full quote, giving the impression that he’d misjudged the outbreak’s danger. Peter Navarro, Trump’s top trade adviser, wrote an op-ed for USA Today yesterday claiming that Fauci has been “wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.” (A Trump communications aide tried to distance the White House from the op-ed this morning.)

Top of Page

Washington Post - July 15, 2020

Trump scales back landmark environmental law, saying it will help restart the economy

President Trump finalized a major overhaul Wednesday of one of the country’s most consequential environmental laws on the grounds that it has slowed the construction of highways, pipelines and other major projects across the country. The sweeping changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, which opponents have vowed to fight in court and reverse if Democrats regain control of the executive and legislative branches this fall, underscore the stakes in this year’s election. “This is a truly historic breakthrough,” Trump said Wednesday afternoon at an event at a United Parcel Service hub in Atlanta where he announced the move. He added: “Together, we’re reclaiming America’s proud heritage as a nation of builders and a nation that can get things done.”

The law requires the federal government to analyze the impact of a major project or federal action on the environment — and to seek public input — before approving it. Trump and his allies in business and industry argue that the law has proved costly and cumbersome to developers. But supporters say it provides Americans — particularly those in poor and minority neighborhoods that bear the brunt of many polluting industries — with a say on proposals that will affect them for decades to come. Trump chose Georgia, which has emerged as a battleground state in this year’s presidential and Senate elections, as the site for unveiling his move. At Wednesday’s event in Atlanta, he noted that his action is expected to cut down the length of time for a highway expansion plan there to two years from the original seven. “We’re going to give every project a clear answer: Yes or no,” Trump said to applause. A White House official said the move will benefit the UPS hub by reducing congestion and promoting economic development in the region. Kym Hunter, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a phone interview that it was hard to say the law had delayed Atlanta’s Interstate 75 expansion because it was still in the early stages.

Top of Page

Newsclips - July 15, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

Hidalgo wants a Harris County shutdown. Abbott has resisted. Hospital executives? They’re silent.

With Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Gov. Greg Abbott publicly disagreeing over the need for a new stay-at-home order to control the COVID-19 outbreak, a key constituency has declined to offer public guidance: Texas Medical Center executives. TMC leaders in March unanimously called on elected officials to issue a stay-at-home order and praised Hidalgo when she did so. Two months later, they commended Abbott’s reopening plan.

They continue to urge the public to wear masks and practice social distancing. They conspicuously, however, have avoided offering opinions on the debate between Hidalgo and Abbott over a new stay-home order — even as a top medical adviser to the governor said Tuesday the tactic was worth considering. The Houston Chronicle on Monday asked all 10 TMC executives whether they supported such an order. Nine did not respond. Memorial Hermann Health System CEO Dr. David Callender said the query was “above my pay grade,” though he did address the situation the local hospitals face. “What we are seeing, though, in terms of the demand for hospitalization, the continued growth in demand for hospitalization, puts us in a situation where we will be out of capacity across the greater Houston region in a matter of days,” Callender said. “That’s a very scary situation for us to ponder.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

Two long-term GOP House incumbents ousted in runoffs while Birabil trailing opponent

Two long-term GOP incumbents were booted from office by challengers in Tuesday night’s primary runoffs in continuing skirmishes between establishment Republicans and those who deem them insufficiently conservative. Meanwhile, in Dallas County, attorney Jasmine Crockett overcame a deficit in early voting to edge out incumbent Rep. Lorraine Birabil by 92 votes in the Democratic race for House District 100. That margin could lead to a potential recount, but it is unclear whether Birabil’s campaign will call for one.

With Tuesday night’s unofficial results, Crockett would face no Republican challenger in November and have a clear path to representing the district, which stretches from West Dallas to Mesquite, in next year’s legislative session. In Collin County, another candidate, real estate agent Lorenzo Sanchez, overcame an early deficit to defeat attorney Tom Adair in the Democratic runoff election for House District 67. Sanchez, who slowly chipped away at Adair’s early lead with Election Day results, will go on to face incumbent GOP Rep. Jeff Leach in a historically conservative stronghold that is becoming a battleground in 2020. But it was Republicans who saw major shake-ups Tuesday. In the race for House District 2, which covers Van Zandt, Hunt and Hopkins counties, nine-term state Rep. Dan Flynn of Van was defeated by businessman Bryan Slaton, who had opposed him twice before.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

Texas reports highest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases

Texas on Tuesday saw its highest single-day increase yet in COVID-19 cases with 10,859, more than 400 cases greater than the second-highest jump, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of state data. There now have been 281,085 overall cases statewide. The previous record increase was reported July 7 with 10,414 new cases. Additionally, Texas saw another uptick in hospitalizations, one day after reporting its first dip in that number over the previous two weeks. Statewide, a record 10,569 people are now hospitalized for COVID-19 with lab-confirmed infections — an increase of 164 from Monday.

Despite the new peak in cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Greg Abbott continued to back away from considering another statewide lockdown. In an interview with KTVT Dallas, he said his current order closing bars and mandating masks has yet to be reflected in the data, he said. “It’s going to take several weeks before you can see the level of effectiveness from that,” he said. “But I can tell you this, every doctor everywhere says that wearing a face mask is one of the best practices that we have for preventing the spread of COVID-19.” He cautioned that if people don’t wear masks, “that could eventually lead to having to shut the state back down.” “That is the last thing any of us want,” he said. The state also reported 104 new fatalities from the virus for a total of 3,378. The state's seven-day rolling average for new cases continued to climb for the 11th straight day to 9,274. The Houston region’s case count is 69,275, up 2,653 from Monday. Harris County added 1,658 new cases for a total of 49,027. There have been 676 deaths in the Houston region, up 18 from yesterday.

Top of Page

Roll Call - July 14, 2020

Stuart Rothenberg: No, Texas is not a swing state — yet

When I saw the headline on CNN analyst Harry Enten’s July 12 column — “Texas is a swing state in 2020, new polls reveal” — I did a double take. Really? “It’s pretty clear looking at the data that Texas is a swing state in the 2020 election,” wrote Enten, a thoughtful observer of American politics. But just a few paragraphs later, he used a different term, observing that “Texas really is competitive at this point.” Swing, or competitive? I can be a stickler for language, but I think we should all be on the same page when it comes to what these words mean.

Texas is not a “swing state,” and it hasn’t been one for years, at least since it realigned in 1980. It hasn’t voted to send a Democrat to the White House since 1976. It leans Republican. Swing states are divided roughly evenly along partisan lines, with both parties having close to an equal chance of winning as long as a strong partisan electoral wave is not favoring one party. Florida and Wisconsin are good examples of swing states, and I’m certain we could spend countless hours debating which other states fall into that category. (I won’t.) On the other hand, to find out whether a state or a race is “competitive” in a given election year, all you need to do is ask whether the race is close. If the answer is “yes,” as is the case with Texas this year, the state is “competitive” at that moment. Florida has been a “swing state” for years because voters in the state are split evenly between the two parties. That makes the state “competitive” in most elections, putting Florida in a different category than, say, Indiana and West Virginia. Indiana voted Democratic for president in 2008, but that didn’t make it a swing state or even a competitive state in presidential elections. It clearly has favored the GOP. Similarly, West Virginia is certainly not a swing state, and statewide contests are rarely competitive. But the 2018 Senate election in the state was very competitive, even given the state’s strongly Republican fundamentals.

Top of Page

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

Scrappy outsider MJ Hegar defeats underfunded Royce West in Texas Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate

MJ Hegar defeated state Sen. Royce West on Tuesday for the Democratic nomination for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate. Shortly after 11:20 p.m., Hegar declared victory. West gave her a scare, though. The veteran state senator ran strongly in his home base of Dallas County, and did well enough in Harris County to offset some of Hegar’s strong performances in South and Central Texas, as well as many rural counties.

“I am humbled by the support we have received from all across the state, and am confident we have a decisive victory,” Hegar said in a statement late Tuesday night. “While we may be celebrating tonight, we have to get right back down to work tomorrow,” she said shortly after 10 p.m. “That’s when the real work is going to start. We’re going to kick this career politician to the curb.” Hegar said the Democratic turnout was so large it’s “going to cause John Cornyn to have a hard time sleeping tonight.” She then issued a message to Cornyn. “Pack it up, buttercup, because your time has ended and we’re coming back to take our seat back for Texas,” she said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

Former Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions revives political career in Central Texas; Trump wades into two GOP runoffs

Former Rep. Pete Sessions is one step closer to reviving his political career in his boyhood home of Central Texas, just two years after voters ousted the Republican from office in the Dallas-based district that he represented for some two decades. Sessions won a GOP runoff against Waco businesswoman Renee Swann. He now advances to the general election battle to replace retiring Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan.

The contest was one of the most intriguing matchups Tuesday at the congressional level, pitting a once-powerful committee chairman who moved districts to run for the seat against a political neophyte backed by Flores, Sessions’ former congressional colleague. But the skirmish between Sessions and Swann in Texas’ 17th Congressional District offered several unusual story lines. The former congressman was defeated in 2018 by now-Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas Democrat who helped his party take back the House for the first time in years. He teased the prospect of a rematch, but instead moved to an open seat, ruffling some GOP feathers in the process.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Dallas County reports 20 more coronavirus deaths, tying its single-day high

Dallas County reported 20 new coronavirus deaths Tuesday, as well as 1,000 additional cases. It was the 12th straight day the county has reported 1,000 or more cases, and the single-day toll tied the county’s high reported on June 30.

The latest victims included 16 Dallas residents: a man in his 40s, a man in his 50s, two men in their 60s, three men and three women in their 70s, four men and a woman in their 80s and a woman in her 90s. Three of them — a man and the woman in their 80s and the woman in her 90s — lived in long-term care facilities. A Cedar Hill woman in her 70s, two Duncanville men in their 50s and 70s and a Grand Prairie man in his 40s also died. The new cases bring the county’s count to 35,914 cases —about 13.6 for every 1,000 residents. There have been 477 deaths from COVID-19. Tarrant County reported 531 new coronavirus cases Tuesday. For the second straight day, the county did not report any additional COVID-19 deaths. The county has recorded 19,014 cases, about nine for every thousand residents, and 272 deaths.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Local officials to take over coronavirus testing from federal government in Dallas County, Jenkins says

Dallas County will end its agreement with the federal government this week and assume near-total control of publicly funded coronavirus testing in an effort to provide quicker results, County Judge Clay Jenkins announced Monday on Twitter. The shift comes after Commissioner John Wiley Price raised concerns Friday that results from the federally provided tests were taking too long — up to two weeks. Price also suggested the city and county had created an unequal system this month as a private company, Honu, was hired to perform testing at the University of Dallas.

The private lab is providing results in the northern half of the county in about two days, while the lab contracted by the federal government to run operations at the testing center at Ellis Davis Field House in the Red Bird area is taking nearly two weeks. Jenkins agreed with Price. “We have to do what’s right for the people of Dallas,” he said Monday. “I appreciate the career politicians in the federal government. But eight to 10 days is too long.” Jenkins said that federal testing at the Ellis Davis Field House would end Wednesday and that the city and county, working with Parkland Health & Hospital Systems, will work quickly to find another vendor to fulfill the testing. In the meantime, Parkland will administer up to 500 tests each day at Ellis Davis Field House. The new contract would be paid by local tax dollars, Jenkins said, though he hoped the federal government would reimburse some of the cost, as is typical during public disasters.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Trump side calls Biden’s first Texas TV ad a ‘pipe dream’ as Dem hits him over COVID: `People are frightened… Wear a mask’

The president’s Democratic challenger debuted his first TV ad in Texas on Tuesday and it was remarkable for what it did not mention: Donald Trump, or the fact that Republicans haven’t lost the state since 1976. Instead, former vice president Joe Biden’s one-minute spot focuses on broad anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic, offering both encouragement that the crisis will pass and a sharp challenge to Trump’s leadership. “I’m thinking of all of you today across Texas. I know the rise in case numbers is causing fear and apprehension. People are frightened. They’re especially worried about their parents, their grandparents, loved ones who are most at risk,” Biden says in the spot. “This virus is tough, but Texas is tougher.”

President Gerald Ford was the last GOP nominee to lose Texas, 44 years ago. The last time any Democrat won a statewide contest was in 1994. Demographic and political shifts have changed the landscape, and Texas is no longer the GOP stronghold it was for decades. Former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke held Sen. Ted Cruz below 51% in 2018. Democrats’ takeaway has been that, once their potential supporters see the possibility of victory, apathy will fall away. More will cast ballots, and they’ll overcome Republicans’ edge in voter registration. The Biden spot is part of that experiment, though the Trump campaign scoffed at the investment, calling it too little to make a dent. “Democrats have been peddling their pipe dream of flipping Texas for over a decade with no success,” said Trump Victory spokesperson Samantha Cotten, “With next to no staff in the Lone Star State, Joe Biden’s last ditch effort to parachute into the state will not be enough to overcome our presence and the enthusiasm for President Trump in Texas.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

Thieves take COVID-19 testing supplies, delaying opening of new site in Pleasant Grove

The opening of a new walk-up COVID-19 testing site in Pleasant Grove was delayed after testing supplies and equipment were stolen overnight. The testing site at the Salvation Army’s Pleasant Grove Corps Community Center, located at 8341 Elam Rd., was set to open Monday morning, but officials announced the opening would be pushed back after the break-in. The site will open at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“Overnight, individuals broke into the storage location for the site and stole all of the equipment and supplies used to conduct testing,” officials said Monday in a news release from Parkland Health and Hospital System. A Parkland spokeswoman said several thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen, including personal protective equipment, test supplies, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, bottled water, food, a thermometer, an encrypted laptop, two radios, two air conditioning units and a refrigerator. Dallas police didn’t have details about the burglary Monday morning, saying a report about it was not yet complete. A spokeswoman confirmed that officers were called just before 7 a.m. to the 8300 block of Elam Road. When the site opens, it will operate Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until testing capacity for the day is met.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

UT Arlington invests $25 million in scholarships to keep students in Texas

UT Arlington will invest an additional $25 million in student scholarships over the next five years, beginning in the fall 2021 semester The financial commitment is aimed at encouraging a diverse student body and supporting “first-generation college students, low-income families, high-achieving students, and those facing challenges in the wake of COVID-19,” the university announced in a news release. It’s also intended to keep students from leaving the state.

More than 32,000 starting undergraduates left Texas to attend college out of state in the fall 2018 semester, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. “It is important that our state retain more high-performing ethnically and racially diverse students whom many other states specifically seek to lure away,” UT Arlington Interim President Teik Lim said in the news release. “We have the opportunity to align this financial commitment with efforts of keeping diverse talent in Texas.” Because many of the most talented students are lured out of state by scholarship offers, UT Arlington will direct its scholarship funds toward students with the strongest records of academic achievement, according to the news release. UT Arlington spends more than $40 million annually on scholarships and financial support, according to the news release.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 14, 2020

Expert warns of coronavirus ‘consequences’ when NASCAR fans come to Fort Worth

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, Texas Motor Speedway will welcome thousands of NASCAR fans this weekend for a race that may be one of the largest gatherings in Texas, if not the country, since the deadly outbreak began. The crowd will certainly lead to new COVID-19 cases, one virus expert said, but speedway president Eddie Gossage said he was more concerned about the potential for triple-digit heat Sunday than the pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott’s most recent order restricts outdoor crowds to 10 or fewer, unless organizers get special permission, but motorsports have a specific exemption. “I don’t have any concerns. I’m going to be there, my family’s going to be there,” Gossage said. “I’m not concerned about it, if everyone will follow the directions.”

Sunday’s race will be the first time Texas has allowed fans at a professional sporting event since the outbreak began. Gossage said he is confident the experiment will prove sports can go on and may become the model for how other venues operate. He downplayed the spike in coronavirus cases, saying he didn’t believe the statistics took into account the size of the state’s population. On Monday Tarrant County reported 322 new cases for a total of 18,483. Denton County, where the race track is located, reported 112 new cases. Texas had record numbers of new cases for four consecutive days last week, including Wednesday, when a record 119 deaths were reported. Gossage wouldn’t say how many fans he expects at the speedway. At 50% capacity, as many as 62,500 fans could show up, but he said the speedway “wouldn’t come close to that.” At one point he used 20,000 as a hypothetical number.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 15, 2020

Candace Valenzuela claims victory in Democratic primary for 24th Congressional District

Candace Valenzuela claimed victory over Kim Olson late Tuesday night in the Democratic primary runoff election for the 24th Congressional District. Valenzuela, a former Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member, earned 59.8% of the vote over Olson, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who drew 40%, according to results at 10:30 p.m.

She sent out a victory statement congratulating Olson on running a strong campaign. “Today, we are one step closer to creating a Congress that works for the communities it serves, not corporations and major donors,” Valenzuela said in the statement. “Together, we’ve built a diverse, strong grassroots coalition that demands better of our elected officials and we’re ready to flip TX-24 blue in November.” She will face Republican former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne — who has been endorsed by President Trump and handily won the GOP nomination after besting four opponents in March. Olson could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 14, 2020

Fort Worth voters agree police should have special sales tax funding until 2030

The Fort Worth Police Department will have access to an ever growing fund outside its normal budget for the next decade after a ballot proposal renewing the department’s special sales tax appeared on its way to an overwhelming victory Tuesday night. Called the Crime Control and Prevention District, the half-cent sales tax has been devoted to police since 1995, and has ballooned from $26.6 million to more than $85 million budgeted for 2020. Altogether, the tax will provide Fort Worth police with an additional $1 billion through 2030. This revenue is in addition to what the police department receives through the city’s general fund, which this year amounted to more than $267 million.

As of 11:30 p.m. Tarrant County voters were on track to approve the tax with 64.3% of the vote from 132 of 174 precincts, according to unofficial results. Denton County voters approved the tax with slightly more than 72%, according to the unofficial results. More than 52,300 Tarrant County and 577 Denton County voters cast ballots in the city election. Just before 10:30, Parker County reported 34 Fort Worth residents vote favor of the tax and one voted against. George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody in May put a renewed focus on policing, and a coalition of grassroots groups rallied around the sales tax as a means to defund the police. Critics labeled it a “police slush fund” and said the money would be better spent on community-based nonprofits or by improving transportation. Proponents, including Mayor Price, who donated to a campaign fund in support of the tax, said it has kept crime low since the mid-1990s. Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, celebrated the victory, saying Fort Worth voters “defeated a radical campaign to defund the police.”

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

American Airlines reaches out to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for not wearing a COVID face mask

American Airlines says it has reached out to Sen. Ted Cruz about a social media photo that went viral Monday of Texas’ junior senator flying on an aircraft while not wearing a face mask. The Fort Worth-based airline has said in recent weeks that it could suspend the flying privileges of customers who refuse to comply with a requirement that passengers wear masks in airports and aboard aircraft to reduce the spread of the COVID virus. However, there was no indication Monday afternoon that the company intended to take further action against Cruz, beyond reaching out to him.

“For the well-being of our customers and team members, we require face coverings to be worn onboard, and we expect our customers to comply with our policies when they choose to travel with us,” American officials said in a statement delivered by email from company spokesman Ross Feinstein. “As we do in all instances like these, we reviewed the details of the matter, and while our policy does not apply while eating or drinking, we have reached out to Sen. Cruz to affirm the importance of this policy as part of our commitment to protecting the health and safety of the traveling public.” On Sunday, a Twitter user named Hosseh (@hossehenad) posted a photo of Cruz sitting in an aircraft seat with a mobile phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in another, but no face covering. “Captured today at 10:45 a.m. — @TedCruz on a commercial flight, refusing to wear a mask,” the tweet read.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

Cody Vasut defeats Ro’Vin Garrett in House District 25 race

Attorney and former Angleton City Council member Cody Vasut defeated Brazoria County's tax assessor-collector Ro’Vin Garrett in the race to fill House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s seat, according to unofficial runoff results. House District 25 covers Matagorda County and part of Brazoria County. Vasut reaped 7,380 votes, giving him 70 percent of the vote, while Garrett pulled in 3,243, or 31 percent of the vote. It was a 180-degree turn from the March primary when Garrett finished with 34 percent of the vote while Vasut took 24 percent.

Bonnen announced in October that he would not seek re-election after finding himself at the center of one of Texas’ biggest political scandals in years. A leaked audio recording put Bonnen on display disparaging fellow lawmakers and suggesting he would give media credentials to a conservative advocacy group in exchange for their help launching primary challenges against 10 GOP incumbents. Some Republican and Democratic House members, as well as some members of the state Republican Party, had at the time called for Bonnen’s resignation. Vasut and Garrett received just about the same number of votes from mail-in ballot voters, but Vasut managed to far surpass his opponent during early voting, taking in 3,913 to Garrett’s 1,633 votes during the two-week period. The normally one-week period was extended by Gov. Greg Abbott to create a safer voting experience and less crowded polling places amid the pandemic.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

Morales Shaw ekes out win over Eastman in House District 148 race

Democratic Houston state Rep. Anna Eastman lost to attorney Penny Morales Shaw by about 2 percentage points in the primary runoff, according to unofficial results. Morales Shaw amassed 4,335 votes, or 51 percent of the vote, just barely ahead of Eastman who racked up 4,135, or 49 percent. Morales Shaw will face Republican Luis LaRotta, who ran unopposed in the March primary, in November.

“Tonight did not go as we had hoped,” Eastman said on a Facebook, conceding the race. “I want to thank everyone who volunteered, voted and supported my run for 148. I look forward to continuing the fight for children and parents everywhere!” The north and northwest Houston state House District 148 seat formerly belonged to Democratic Rep. Jessica Farrar, who resigned in late September of last year. Farrar had endorsed Shaw in February, calling her “the candidate that will best represent the people of the district.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Texas geriatric inmates being deprived of protection from COVID, lawyers argue in hearing

Guards sort sack lunches without masks or gloves on. Inmates arrive at showers to find Band-Aids, razors and socks discarded on the floor. They wash their hands with soap, but are not allowed hand sanitizer after they’ve rolled themselves back to their bunks in wheelchairs. These were examples of the callous disregard the Texas prison system has shown to geriatric inmates, according to testimony Monday by Laddy Valentine, a 69-year-old inmate involved in a federal class action seeking more protective measures to combat COVID-19 at a lockup of elderly, medically compromised and mobility impaired inmates outside Houston.

Attorneys told the judge at a video hearing that prison officials have failed to follow their own guidelines or make special provisions to protect more than 1,100 vulnerable inmates at the Pack Unit from the virus. They have not provided inmates hand sanitizer, sufficient testing, contact tracing or social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease, lawyers said. “The Pack Unit was like a tinderbox where COVID-19 virus would spread rapidly if immediate action was not taken,” said attorney John Keville. The first death at the prison April 11 was “like a spark” and officials’ failure to take public health measures, like contact tracing, social distancing and rigorous cleaning, resulted in “a raging fire,” he said. Nineteen inmates have died at Pack of Covid and more than hundred have been hospitalized over the past few months. Shawn Cowles, of state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, argued that the prison system could not and should not be expected to defend itself against the scourge of “a lethal viral killer where no person and no place is immune.” Instead the judge should keep in mind the legal standard of “deliberate indifference,” whether officials “intentionally ignored” or “purposely disregarded” the onslaught of the disease.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2020

Pandemic forces 3 frac sand companies into Chapter 11 bankruptcy

An oil and natural gas industry downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic has forced three frac sand companies to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy over the past five weeks. Houston frac sand company Hi-Crush Inc. filed or Chapter 11 reorganization in Houston's bankruptcy court on Sunday. The company owns more than $953 million of assets but has more than $699 million of debt, bankruptcy filings show.

The bankruptcy filing was required as part of a financial restructuring agreement with 94 percent of Hi-Crush's senior note holders, the company reported. "The agreement will allow Hi-Crush to maintain normal operations and continue delivering high quality services to our customers," Hi-Crush CEO Robert Rasmus said in a statement. "We will also significantly improve our balance sheet and enhance our Company's financial flexibility over the near and long-term."

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 14, 2020

Sarah Eckhardt finishes first in special election to replace former state Sen. Kirk Watson

In a six-candidate special election to replace former state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, Democrat Sarah Eckhardt finished first with a strong performance in Travis County but did not amass enough votes to avoid a runoff. Eckhardt, the former Travis County judge, received 49.7% of vote, triggering a runoff with the second-place finisher, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, the other Democrat in the race, who had 33.8% of the vote.

Republican Don Zimmerman was a distant third at 13%. The special election for Watson’s seat was postponed from May 2 by Gov. Greg Abbott in response to the coronavirus outbreak and rescheduled to coincide Tuesday with the primary runoffs, which also were delayed by the pandemic. In a district where Watson defeated Republican opponents by 47 points in 2018 and 36 points in 2010, much of the special election attention focused on Eckhardt and Rodriguez, two progressive Democrats without a lot of differences in their political positions. Rodriguez, an 18-year member of the Texas House, was able to turn his Capitol ties into a hefty financial advantage, having raised almost $746,000 since February, compared with almost $245,000 for Eckhardt, the former leader of Travis County who was required to resign as county judge to enter the legislative race. But Eckhardt took 51% of the almost 110,600 votes cast in Travis County, 16 points better than Rodriguez, but was denied outright victory by taking only 31% of the 8,764 ballots in Bastrop County.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2020

Berry, Isaac win GOP races for Texas House

In the GOP primary runoff for the Texas House, Austin police officer Justin Berry defeated attorney and activist Jennifer Fleck in a district serving western and far south Travis County. Berry, who won by about 10 points, hopes to reclaim House District 47 from state Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, who defeated a four-term GOP incumbent in 2018.

And in the GOP runoff for House District 45 in Hays and Blanco counties, Carrie Isaac — a Wimberley resident who got to know the district while campaigning for her husband, former state Rep. Jason Isaac — defeated Kent “Bud” Wymore, general counsel of the Hays County Republican Party. Isaac, who received 65% of the early vote, will face state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, who defeated Republican Ken Strange in 2018 to become the first Democrat to win in the district in eight years. In the March primary for District 47, Fleck finished first with 32.1% of the vote, while Berry advanced to the runoff with 22.9% and a one-vote advantage over the third-place finisher, former Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman. Gov. Greg Abbott threw his support behind Berry, who has lobbied for pro-police legislation at the Capitol as vice president of the Austin police union, over Fleck, general counsel for an oil and gas firm who has worked to oppose efforts to move away from abstinence-only sex education in schools.

Top of Page

Brownsville Herald - July 15, 2020

Lucio defeats Barrera in District 27 race; Faces Republican challenger in November

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. managed to fend off challenger Sara Stapleton Barrera during Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff election for the Senate District 27, according to unofficial results. He will face Republican challenger Vanessa Tijerina in the November General Election. It was a tight race between Lucio and Barrera in Cameron County, though, with Barrera winning 10,079 votes to Lucio’s 10,300 with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

As of press time, Barrera, a Brownsville personal injury lawyer and political newcomer, had 14,625 votes to Lucio’s 16,883 from the five counties of the district, which encompasses all of Cameron, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties and 42 percent of Hidalgo County. Barrera and Lucio were bound for a runoff after the senator fell short of the 50 percent plus one votes he needed for a clear win over Barrera and Ruben Cortez in the March 3 Democratic primary. Lucio was first elected to the Senate in 1991 after serving two terms in the Texas House of Representatives. The third most senior member of the Senate, Lucio ran a campaign based on his many years of experience, highlighting his work to get legislation passed in areas such as higher education, property tax relief and housing reform. He argued during the campaign that now is no time for someone with no political experience to represent the district, with the all-important redistricting effort soon to take place after the U.S. Census count is complete.

Top of Page

Midland Reporter-Telegraph - July 13, 2020

'Teachers are writing wills': Should Texas schools open up? Teachers vent frustrations, concerns

Just the idea of Texas schools reopening their doors for fall 2020 has infuriated some Houston-area teachers and parents. They're not afraid to air their opinions and frustrations. As COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations escalate to an unprecedented rate across Texas, the thought of putting students' and teachers' health at risk in order to provide in-class instruction is unacceptable to teachers across the state.

"It's pretty atrocious that in preparation for returning to school this fall, teachers are writing wills, getting medical power of attorney established and taking out extra life insurance," tweeted teacher Jessica Schwinn. According to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas public school districts must reopen campuses for an in-person instruction in August in order to receive state funding, unless the governor issues a school closure or confirmed case of COVID-19. "On-campus instruction in Texas public schools is where it’s at,” Morath said during a conference call with superintendents. “We know that a lot of families are going to be nervous, and if they are nervous, we’re going to support them 100 percent.” This is not sitting well with many Texas teachers. "Like everyone, I am desperate to send my kids back to school. Remote learning is hard on my wife and me, and terrible for our kids. If we thought it were safe to do so, we wouldn't hesitate. But there's no way we're going to risk their health or ours, IF IT'S NOT SAFE," tweeted Jeremy Konydyck.

Top of Page

Texas Observer - July 14, 2020

Texas nursing home residents were already at risk. Then COVID-19 hit.

When Gary Blake launched Creative Solutions in Healthcare in 2000, he started small, opening a single modest nursing home in Granbury. Now Blake runs a nursing home empire. He owns or operates 64 nursing facilities across Texas, from big cities to rural cow towns; Creative Solutions pulls in a reported $282 million annually. But the Fort Worth-based company and other for-profit facilities throughout the state have been dogged by deaths of residents and serious rule violations for years, the Texas Observer and Type Investigations found. And, advocates say, federal and state regulators have done little to hold them accountable. Then COVID-19 hit.

Just weeks after the coronavirus was first detected in Texas, nursing homes statewide quickly became the main breeding grounds for the virus as officials struggled to control the spread. As of July 13, 8,900 residents at 830 nursing homes have been infected; 1,150 have died. As the pandemic spreads across Texas, it’s exacerbating unsafe and unsanitary conditions inside a handful of nursing homes owned or operated by Creative Solutions. In March, the virus crept into Whisperwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lubbock, a 114-bed nursing home acquired by Creative Solutions in 2012. By the next month, the facility accounted for five of the county’s six COVID-related deaths and almost half of its 191 total cases at the time. Blake told the local NBC affiliate that “we have been closely monitoring development of the coronavirus pandemic and working to mitigate its impact on our residents, staff, their families, and our community.” But two Whisperwood employees told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal otherwise, saying that Creative Solutions did not provide protective gear in a timely manner and encouraged them to work while sick. Creative Solutions did not respond to an Observer request for comment for this story.

Top of Page

CNN - July 15, 2020

Trump's former physician Ronny Jackson wins GOP primary runoff for Texas congressional seat

Dr. Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump's former chief physician and one-time nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, won a GOP primary runoff for a Texas congressional seat on Tuesday, CNN projects, defeating cattle industry lobbyist Josh Winegarner. Trump had backed Jackson, who is a Texas native, while Winegarner had the support of outgoing 13th District Rep. Mac Thornberry, who announced last year that he would not run for reelection. The district is heavily conservative and was carried by Trump by more than 60 points. As a result, the Republican nominee is well positioned to keep the seat in GOP hands in the November general election.

The President championed Jackson's candidacy, tweeting in February, "Ronny is strong on Crime and Borders, GREAT for our Military and Vets, and will protect your #2A." Trump praised Jackson for his win on Tuesday, tweeting, "Congratulations to @RonnyJackson4TX on a big win against a tough and really good opponent. Ronny will be a fantastic Congressman - Will represent the wonderful people of the Great State of Texas, and the USA, very well. Proud of you Ronny!!!" Jackson tweeted separately that he had a chance to speak with the President over the phone on Tuesday evening, adding, "I am honored to be the Republican nominee for #TX13! I promise I will make you proud!"

Top of Page

County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2020

Ann Howard defeats former Rep. Valinda Bolton for Travis County Commissioners Court seat

With 65% of the vote recorded late Tuesday night, initial voting results showed that Ann Howard, the founding executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, defeated former state Rep. Valinda Bolton in the race to be the Democratic candidate for the Precinct 3 seat on the Travis County Commissioners Court. The seat is currently held by a Republican, Gerald Daugherty, who did not seek reelection. The winner will face Republican Becky Bray, an engineer, in November.

Howard, who previously worked as legal counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, is focused on criminal justice reform and said her biggest priorities are conserving land, protecting water resources and making the county a regional player in transportation. Bolton, who now works as a community liaison for Texas Child Protective Services, said she wants to improve emergency preparedness and protect natural resources, including sites like Hamilton Pool, Milton Reimers Ranch Park and the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Bolton said she wants to improve choke points on county roads to eliminate congestion, while also working with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Capital Metro on regional transportation issues. She said her nonprofit and legislative experience has allowed her to build unlikely coalitions, manage large budgets and take public positions on controversial issues.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 14, 2020

Bastrop County jail reports first coronavirus cases

The Bastrop County jail reported its first coronavirus cases last week among both inmates and jail staff. The first case was detected July 6, and reports later submitted to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards show that by the end of last week, case numbers rose to three inmates and four correctional officers with active COVID-19 cases.

By Monday, TCJS reports show that known coronavirus cases had risen over the weekend to 17 inmates and eight staff members. Just over 100 other inmates have been quarantined or isolated from the general population, and seven correctional officers have been quarantined pending test results, according to the TCJS report. The Bastrop County jail was the 36th county jail in the state to report active coronavirus cases among jail staff or inmates, TCJS data shows. County jails are only required to report testing data to the state agency if they have at least one confirmed case. As of Monday, a total of 39 county jails are grappling with COVID-19 cases.

Top of Page

KXAN - July 14, 2020

Health Authority: In-person teaching could lead to between 40 and 1,370 student deaths in Travis County

Tuesday, Austin Public Health Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County Commissioners that Austin area schools should not start until Sept. 8 unless they can offer online-only classes. Escott said we worked with the superintendents of Travis County districts to decide to recommend delaying or going completely online for the start of school.

Escott said doing so before a vaccine becomes available and before schools are able to put in place more protective measures would put Travis County’s 192,000 students in jeopardy — especially those between the ages of 10 to 19 years old. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70% of students could be infected over the course of this disease,” Escott said, “which in that .03% to 1.02%, for Travis County, would equate to between 40 and 1,370 deaths in that age group.” Escott based that on the current fatality rate estimates for that age group. He said the situation could be worse for teachers and staff. “Obviously when we move on to faculty and staff, that risk is much higher. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 to 10 times higher in terms of rates of death,” Escott said. “Again these are sobering numbers and we have to be very very careful when we hear people talking about the percentage of people who do OK with this. Because there’s a number behind the other side of that, behind the people who die, behind the people who are hospitalized.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

With COVID cases still growing, Harris County launches new $30M small business aid program

Harris County businesses with fewer than 30 employees are eligible for grants up to $25,000, County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Monday. The $30 million program, which Commissioners Court approved unanimously June 30, aims to assist the smallest county businesses harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The idea is to give an injection into our economy, to strengthen it — to help them keep their doors open, to keep their employees on the payroll,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said. “As much as we want to flatten the pandemic curve, we want to flatten the unemployment curve.” Grants from the Small Business Relief Fund can be used to cover payroll, rent, supplies and other operating expenses. To be eligible, firms must conduct business in Harris County, employ fewer than 30 people, have been in businesses for all of 2019, owe no outstanding local, state or federal taxes, and be able to verify a negative impact caused by the pandemic. Businesses inside the city of Houston are ineligible, unless they are located in Precinct 1.

Top of Page

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Grand Prairie ISD ‘rights a wrong,’ renaming Robert E. Lee Elementary School after Black educator

Grand Prairie ISD is changing the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School. The school, located east of Highway 161 and midway between Interstates 20 and 30, will now be known as Delmas Morton Elementary. The new name honors longtime Grand Prairie educator Delmas Morton, who taught at Dalworth (now Daniels) Elementary and Adams Middle School and was principal at Austin Elementary. The decision was made after the board discussed a list of options at its Monday meeting.

“That is where integration started in Grand Prairie. It was at Lee Elementary, Lee Junior High at the time,” said board member Burke Hall, explaining that the school was named after Lee a year after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision. “Delmas Morton is a perfect namesake for a school where integration started in our district. And I think that it rights a wrong, but it also honors a GPISD educator ... it tells a story of what we should honor in this community.” The four votes in favor of the change were from Aaron King, Emily Liles, Terry Brooks and Burke Hall. David Espinosa and and Bryan Parra abstained while Gloria Carrillo voted against it. She and Espinosa put forward the name of current Grand Prairie Assistant Superintendent of Early Education and Family Engagement Susanna Ramirez, and Parra suggested Cesar Chavez.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 10, 2020

Say goodbye to the ugliest building in Dallas — and hello to new playgrounds along the Trinity

Over the past few months, as the city’s focus has been diverted by the convulsions of pandemic and protest, plans have progressed behind closed doors on the proposed Trinity Park in ways that promise to both symbolically and literally reshape Dallas. In that time, the Trinity Park Conservancy, the nonprofit overseeing the park design and construction, and its lead project designer, Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects, have settled on a preliminary design for a large overlook park on top of the west levee, straddling Commerce Street. The conservancy has begun a national search for a “visionary architect” to “reimagine” the Jesse R. Dawson State Jail, the 10-story, 238,000-square-foot, beige-block eyesore on the opposite side of Commerce that is one of the most visible gateways to the city.

The conservancy purchased Dawson and the land linking it to the Trinity last year, as a part of the plan to extend the park into the city. It will take quite a bit of imagination to remake Dawson, which is not so much a work of architecture as an obscenity in three dimensions. It opened in 1997, built at a cost of $39 million by the Houston developer North Village Corp. From the outset, it was run by the Corrections Corporation of America (now rebranded as CoreCivic) and was notorious for its poor conditions. One federal lawsuit alleged that a female prisoner’s premature baby died after she was delivered into a toilet. It was closed in 2013. A remaking is an opportunity to address that history, and the broader issue of systemic racism in the justice system that the Black Lives Matter protests have thrown into such striking relief. The conservancy envisions it as a “visual anchor and hub” for the future park and also “a place of healing” for those coming and going to the adjacent Dallas County justice complex across Commerce Street. Determining how such a project might occupy a 10-story concrete block with grim and less than flexible interiors will be a considerable challenge. Giving the building a less odious exterior appearance is the least of the obstacles; determining a program for the building, and then accommodating it, will take far greater feats of vision.

Top of Page

National Stories

CNN - July 15, 2020

St. Louis prosecutor investigating couple who brandished guns at protesters says governor and Trump are targeting her

The office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said on Twitter that Missouri's governor and President Donald Trump "came after her" for investigating a case. At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson said Trump had expressed interest in the Mark and Patricia McCloskey case. The McCloskeys were seen on a viral video brandishing guns at protesters outside their mansion last month. Parson said he spoke to Trump on the phone about the case. At the same news conference, the governor expressed his belief the couple should not face charges.

Joel Schwartz, the couple's attorney told CNN he expected charges to be forthcoming earlier on Tuesday. By Tuesday night, Gardner's office posted a statement on Twitter on her behalf. Gardner does not specifically mention what case she's referring to in her statement or expand on how the governor or President allegedly went after her. "Today, both the Governor and Donald Trump came after me for doing my job and investigating a case. While they continue to play politics with the handling of this matter, spreading misinformation and distorting the truth, I refuse to do so. As I always do, I am reviewing all available facts and the law and will apply them equally, regardless of the people involved." Gardner previously told CNN in a statement that she was alarmed by the events involving the McCloskeys and her office is investigating.

Top of Page

NPR - July 14, 2020

ICE agrees to rescind policy barring foreign students from online study in the U.S.

In a swift reversal, the Trump administration has agreed to rescind a directive that would have barred international college students from the U.S. if their colleges offered classes entirely online in the fall semester. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule change, released last week, would have prohibited foreign students from entering or remaining in the country to take fully online course loads. A number of colleges and universities had already announced plans to offer online-only classes because the coronavirus pandemic. The agency's July 6 announcement was met with immediate backlash.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the U.S. government in federal court two days later, calling the directive "arbitrary and capricious" and seeking to have it reversed and declared unlawful. Many colleges, universities, municipalities and tech companies expressed their support for the legal challenge in their own court filings. In Tuesday's session at the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the universities were expected to make arguments saying that this rule was onerous for schools and even dangerous for students. Instead, Judge Allison Burroughs announced that the schools had reached an agreement with ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security. She said the government will rescind this policy.

Top of Page

Associated Press - July 14, 2020

Maxwell pleads not guilty in Epstein-related sex abuse case

Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges she recruited girls and women for the financier to sexually abuse more than two decades ago. British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell appeared in a video court hearing in Manhattan. Maxwell, 58, has been held without bail since her July 2 arrest at her million-dollar New Hampshire estate, where prosecutors say she refused to open the door for FBI agents, who busted through to find that she had retreated to an interior room.

She was charged with recruiting at least three girls, one as young as 14, for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 1997. An indictment alleged that she helped groom the victims to endure sexual abuse and was sometimes there when Epstein abused them. It also alleged that she lied during a 2016 deposition in a civil case stemming from Epstein’s abuse of girls and women. Epstein killed himself in August 2019, several weeks after he was confronted by two accusers at a bail hearing who insisted that he should remain in jail while awaiting sex trafficking charges that alleged he abused girls at his Manhattan and Florida mansions in the early 2000s.

Top of Page

CBS News - July 14, 2020

White House campaign advice to jobless: "Find something new"

A new White House-backed ad campaign aims to encourage people who are unemployed or unhappy in their careers to go out and "find something new." The campaign is rolling out as the nation's jobless rate remains elevated, with almost 18 million Americans out of work following the economic hit of the coronavirus pandemic. The opening ad in the "Find Something New" campaign beginning Tuesday features ordinary people sharing their stories. A companion website provides links to training and other resources.

The Trump administration has long emphasized skills-based job and vocational training as an alternative to two- or four-year college degree programs, arguing that college isn't for everyone and that many jobs don't require a degree. But the long-in-the-works effort has taken on a new sense of urgency after the coronavirus outbreak cost millions of people their jobs, many of which may be lost forever. The campaign is also facing criticisms of tone deafness given that number of unemployed workers has surged by 12 million since February. Even though the jobless rate has declined to 11.1% in June from a peak of 14.7% in April, it still remains higher than the Great Recession.

Top of Page

CNBC - July 14, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalized for possible infection

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized Tuesday for a possible infection, according to a spokeswoman for the court. The justice, 87, received treatment at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after experiencing fever and chills. She underwent a procedure to clean a bile duct stent and will stay in the hospital for a “few days,” court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg said in a statement.

“The Justice is resting comfortably and will stay in the hospital for a few days to receive intravenous antibiotic treatment,” she said. Ginsburg, the oldest Supreme Court justice, has endured a range of health issues in recent years. In January, she said she was “cancer-free” after undergoing treatment for what was likely pancreatic cancer last year. The year before, she underwent treatment for cancerous growths on her lungs. Ginsburg and the rest of the court just concluded a flurry of work, issuing rulings on President Donald Trump’s financial records, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights and the president’s efforts to shut down the Obama-era program to shield Dreamers from deportation, among other topics, in a two-week period. President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg, a liberal stalwart, to the top U.S. court in 1993. The court currently has a 5-4 conservative majority — though it stymied some of the Republican Trump’s priorities in its recent decisions, drawing the president’s ire.

Top of Page

The Hill - July 14, 2020

Jeff Sessions loses comeback bid in Alabama runoff

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed in his bid to reclaim his old Senate seat after losing to former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville in the Alabama GOP runoff on Tuesday. Tuberville was leading Sessions 63 percent to 37 percent with 35 percent of precincts reporting, according to The Associated Press. The former football coach will go on to face Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) in November. Jones is considered the most vulnerable Democrat facing reelection in 2020 in a race The Cook Political Report rates as "Lean Republican."

The runoff comes months after the state's Republican primary in March, when neither Sessions nor Tuberville cleared a majority. Sessions congratulated Tuberville in a speech. "He ran a really firm, solid race. He was focused on his goal and winning. He had a plan to do so," Sessions said. "He is our Republican nominee and we must stand by him in November." The loss marks the first for Sessions in a political career that spans more than 30 years in Alabama, including as attorney general and as senator for two decades. Sessions has faced a barrage of public attacks from President Trump since 2017, when, as the administration's first attorney general, he recused himself from an investigation into Russia's election meddling. Sessions resigned in 2018 after an acrimonious relationship with Trump. Trump continued his attacks on Sessions during the Senate primary and runoff, and he endorsed Tuberville, a move that likely helped boost the coach-turned-politician to victory.

Top of Page

Newsclips - July 14, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

Trump insists he’s ahead in Texas, despite 5-point deficit in new Dallas Morning News poll

President Donald Trump insisted Monday that he’s ahead in Texas – a state he can’t win reelection without – despite a new Dallas Morning News poll that shows he lags by 5 points and other recent polls showing him tied with Democrat Joe Biden. “We’re many points up in Texas,” he told reporters at the White House. “Fake news. Phony polls.” But GOP strategists took the latest survey seriously.

Economic woes and unease over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic have taken a toll. With less than four months to go before Election Day, signs point to a struggle or even, to some Democrats, a potential rout that would end GOP control in the White House, U.S. Senate and state legislature. “The president’s in a serious battle in the state of Texas. It’s not your poll. It’s not the CBS poll. It’s the last nine polls that show that it’s not a slam dunk,” said Dave Carney, Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief strategist. “Is he going to lose it? Probably not, but it’s certainly a state that’s going to take significant effort to ensure we win.” “It’s a competitive political environment in the country, and Texas is not safe for anybody,” he said. The News/University of Texas at Tyler poll published on Sunday showed Trump slipping significantly among registered voters, from a tie three months earlier.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2020

Texas COVID-19 hospitalizations drop for first time in two weeks

Texas reported a small drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday, the first decline in two weeks as health officials work to slow the spread of the disease. The state said 10,405 people were hospitalized with lab-confirmed infections, down from a high of 10,410 on Sunday. While the decline itself was minimal, the overall growth of hospitalizations has been slowing for several days now, a possible early sign that the state’s surge is beginning to weaken. It will take several more days to see whether the trend holds, and a single day’s worth of the data can be skewed by delays in reporting, especially right after a weekend.

“We need to see if this first day will be the first of many,” Gov. Greg Abbott cautioned in an interview on KXAS in Dallas. Also Monday, the state reported a drop in the number of deaths, with 61, and 7,473 new cases, according to a data analysis and reporting by Hearst Newspapers. The seven-day averages for all three indicators remain high. The state is now reporting more than 80 deaths per day, on average, and more than 9,000 average new daily cases. It’s averaging more than 9,000 hospitalizations. Abbott declined again Monday to allow local officials to enact temporary stay-home orders in hard hit parts of the state. That comes after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo pushed over the weekend for a temporary shutdown to slow their region’s spread. The governor said he was skeptical people would comply with another lockdown, or that counties would try to enforce it.

Top of Page

The Week - July 14, 2020

Democrats are getting really confident, and that's making Biden and Pelosi nervous

At this point in the 2020 presidential campaign, you would rather be presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden than President Trump. Biden has a lead of 9 percentage points in the polling averages by RealClearPolitics and The Washington Post, and 9.4 points as measured by FiveThirtyEight. He leads Trump, "in some cases outside the margin of error, in recent polls in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin," the Post reports. Democratic congressional candidates are also crushing their GOP rivals in online donations, Politico reports, setting off alarm bells among Washington Republicans.

In fact, "Trump's management of this summer's crises has triggered what Democrats detect as a tectonic shift in the political landscape, with party leaders suddenly bullish about not only taking back the White House but also wresting control of the Senate, as well as expanding their House majority," the Post reports. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) predicted "there's a tsunami coming." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said "we're feeling very good" about taking back the Senate. Not everyone thinks this level of confidence is helpful. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the Post that Democrats have "one advantage" over 2016: "People are vigilant, they are attuned, they are concerned." Trump and his allies will try to suppress Democratic votes, she warned. "I say: 'Own the ground. Don't give one grain of sand. Get everybody out.'" Longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who opposes Trump, similarly said he would warn Democrats: "Caution! Elections are very dynamic!"

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Ted Cruz, Dan Patrick criticize liberal boycott of Goya Foods despite past support of Nike boycott

Is your boycott an exercise of your First Amendment rights or an attempt to silence free speech? For Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Ted Cruz, it depends. The two Republicans are out in force against a liberal boycott of Goya Foods, both labeling the movement an attack on free speech. But during last year’s conservative boycott of Nike products, both men pledged to stop purchasing from the American sporting goods company. “Let’s be honest: Canceling Goya because the CEO said something positive about the president is not the same as boycotting Nike for kowtowing to the woke mob and disrespecting a historic Revolutionary War flag under which thousands of Americans fought and died,” a Cruz spokesman said in a statement Friday.

The controversy over Goya, which bills itself as America’s largest Hispanic-owned food company, began last Thursday when CEO Robert Unanue praised President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House. “We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder, and that’s what my grandfather did,” Unanue said. “He came to this country to build, to grow, to prosper. And so we have an incredible builder, and we pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country that we will continue to prosper and to grow.” Social media quickly reacted, and Goya Foods, along with various hashtags calling for a boycott of its products, trended for the rest of the day on Twitter. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and former Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro offered his support for the boycott, noting that “free speech works both ways.” “(Goya Foods') CEO is free to support a bigoted president who said an American judge can’t do his job because he’s ‘Mexican’, who treats Puerto Rico like trash, and who tries to deport Dreamers,” he tweeted Thursday. “We’re free to leave his products on the shelves.”

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Gov. Abbott must act on shutdown requests as coronavirus surges in Texas

The delays and denials must end. It is time for Gov. Greg Abbott to give elected officials in the Houston region and other parts of Texas being overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic the power to issue stay-at-home orders. COVID-19 deaths in the state are rising, hospitals are running out of ICU beds, respirators and other crucial supplies are running low again and the U.S. military announced last week that it is deploying medical and support personnel to the state to try to deal with a growing health-care crisis. Even Gov. Abbott conceded last week that “the worst is yet to come.” If this isn’t evidence of the need for a stronger response, what will it take?

Urging people to stay at home and to avoid large gatherings, and even the governor’s welcome but belated decision to issue a mandatory mask order, haven’t been enough. No one wants to close the economy again, but the alternatives are worse. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s call for a two-week shutdown is a good first step. “Let’s look at the numbers, look at the data, see where things are,” Turner said Saturday. “And then gradually, move forward again.” Harris County’s stay-at-home order in March closed most businesses and directed residents to stay home unless they were going to grocery stores, running essential errands or exercising outside. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, whose earlier calls for caution and a more deliberate reopening process showed true leadership, endorsed Turner’s call and made the case for urgency in a Tweet on Saturday. “Not only do we need a stay-home order now, but we need to stick with it this time until the hospitalization curve comes down, not just flattens,” she said. “Many communities that persevered in that way are reopening for the long haul. Let’s learn from that & not make the same mistake twice.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Republican committees in 8 Texas counties vote to censure Gov. Abbott over COVID response

Republicans in eight different Texas counties have now voted to censure Gov. Greg Abbott for his order requiring Texans to wear face coverings and take other protective measures as COVID-19 spreads throughout the state. Over the weekend, the Henderson County Republican Party Executive Committee, just west of Tyler, held an emergency meeting to censure Abbott, a Republican, for not calling the Texas Legislature into a special session to help manage the COVID-19 emergency.

Since July 4, seven other county Republican Party Executive Committees around the state have approved censures of Abbott, including in Montgomery County, where they voted 40-0 on the censure. The Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee’s censure resolution says Abbott has acted with “disregard to the Texas Constitution,” pointing to the mandated mask requirement for people in counties with at least 20 positive cases, limiting gatherings and the closing of bars across the state. It’s similar to a censure resolution passed by Ector County Republicans in the Odessa-Midland area. “The Ector County Republican Executive Board decided it would be a fitting day for us to send a clear message to Governor Abbott,” the party wrote on its Facebook page. “A message that we will no longer sit quietly while he over reaches his authority again, again, and again.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Trump derides ‘phony polls’ in Texas, claims he ‘created’ the oil industry

President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed “phony polls” showing a tight presidential race in Texas, saying he’s way ahead because he “saved the oil industry,” and later adding, “I created it.” “We’re doing well in Texas,” Trump said during a roundtable discussion at the White House with Americans who say they were helped, and in some cases saved, by police officers.

“I read where I was one point up in Texas,” Trump said. “I’m not one point up in Texas, we’re many points up — I saved the oil industry, two months ago I saved the oil industry.” The president continued: “I created it. We became No. 1. We have millions of jobs and we saved it so Texas is not going to have to let go of millions and millions of people.” Trump did not specify what he did to save the industry, which has seen multibillion dollar losses and nearly 100,000 layoffs during a massive downturn sparked by the coronavirus. “We’re at $40 dollars a barrel and yet you can buy gasoline for under $2 — nobody’s ever seen it like that,” the president said. While the price of oil has rebounded to $40, it remains too low for most producers in Texas shale oil fields to turn a profit. “We’re No. 1 in oil as you know, oil and gas — by far. We’re now No. 1 in the world,” Trump said. “And we would’ve had millions of people out of work. I saved it. And then they said I’m leading by one point in Texas.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

John Bland, Houston civil rights and labor leader, dies

John Bland, a civil and labor rights activist famous for protesting Houston’s Jim Crow-era laws and an integral player in the city’s integration, died Thursday. The cause is unknown. A lifelong Texan, Bland attended Phillis Wheatley High School in Houston and continued his studies at Texas Southern University. Bland’s commitment to civil and labor rights began at an early age and continued until his death.

While still a young college student, Bland participated in Houston’s first sit-in at Weingarten’s supermarket lunch counter to protest the store’s refusal to serve Black people. On March 4, 1960, Bland and 12 other classmates walked 15 blocks from TSU’s campus to the lunch counter, where they sat for hours on end. During the mile-long walk, others joined the march. Bland continued participating in sit-ins as a founding member of the Progressive Youth Association. Nearly 60 years later, Bland and his fellow protestors were honored with a memorial plaque commemorating their efforts and the history of the first sit-in. “We just wanted to be treated like ordinary citizens,” Bland said at the time, according to a news release from the Transport Workers Union of America. “We felt that our time had come and we no longer had to go to the back door.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Houston economic recovery began in June, executives worry it won’t last in July

The Houston economy expanded in June for the first time in four months, according to supply chain executives surveyed by the Institute for Supply Management. The Houston Purchasing Managers Index, a gauge of economic activity in the region, rose 9.3 points from May to 49.5, above the level that indicates a general expansion for the economy — a reading of 45. The expansion was led by sectors including accommodations and food services, transportation, utilities and health care.

Not all industries, however, are expanding, according to the Purchasing Managers Index. Goods-producing sectors, such as manufacturing, are still shrinking, but at a slower pace than during the widespread business shutdowns in the spring. Whether the local economy can stay on a path to recovery remains uncertain with the recent jump in COVID-19 cases. A survey by the Greater Houston Partnership showed that the short-term outlook among local companies has worsened in recent weeks, with nearly 30 percent of companies saying they had grown more pessimistic from the previous week. An increasing share of local companies said revenues have declined since the last billing cycle as well. Last week, about 35 percent of respondents said revenues declined compared with 26 percent who reported declines last month.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Texas primary runoffs: Fiery Democratic race for U.S. Senate fuels record turnout

In spite of 90-plus degree heat and a pandemic that shows no signs of stopping, the 2020 primary runoff elections have already drawn record-high turnout across Texas during the longer-than-normal early voting period. In response to the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Greg Abbott months ago delayed the May election to July and later added an extra week of early voting. But as the number of cases and hospitalizations has risen more than ever before, turnout has still soared — especially among Democrats whose ballots include a heated battle for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination.

More than 1 million Texans cast a ballot between June 29 and July 10, including more than 652,000 Democrats and more than 411,000 Republicans, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. With only early votes in, the election is set to surpass overall turnout in 2012, the last time more than 1 million voters cast ballots in a runoff, when former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were on the ballot. On the Democratic side, more votes have already been cast than in the 2018 runoffs, including Election Day, and the 2006, 2008 and 2012 runoffs, according to Texas Election Source's analysis of Texas State Historical Association data. It also puts the party on track to having its highest runoff turnout since 1990 — about 747,000 in 1994.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

Thieves take COVID-19 testing supplies, delaying opening of new site in Pleasant Grove

The opening of a new walk-up COVID-19 testing site in Pleasant Grove was delayed after testing supplies and equipment were stolen overnight. The testing site at the Salvation Army’s Pleasant Grove Corps Community Center, located at 8341 Elam Rd., was set to open Monday morning, but officials announced the opening would be pushed back after the break-in. The site will open at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“Overnight, individuals broke into the storage location for the site and stole all of the equipment and supplies used to conduct testing,” officials said Monday in a news release from Parkland Health and Hospital System. A Parkland spokeswoman said several thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen, including personal protective equipment, test supplies, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, bottled water, food, a thermometer, an encrypted laptop, two radios, two air conditioning units and a refrigerator. Dallas police didn’t have details about the burglary Monday morning, saying a report about it was not yet complete. A spokeswoman confirmed that officers were called just before 7 a.m. to the 8300 block of Elam Road. When the site opens, it will operate Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until testing capacity for the day is met.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

American Airlines prepares to send out layoff notices to workers

American Airlines is warning unions that layoff and furlough notices will be sent to workers soon as the carrier lays the groundwork for potential job cuts and furloughs in the fall. Fort Worth-based American Airlines has been telling its employees that the company is overstaffed by as many as 20,000 workers and that it will need to trim its workforce by fall. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a massive drop in passenger traffic and airline executives say passengers traffic is expected to be about 30% lighter this fall.

American Airlines began notifying unions that employees may start receiving WARN notices soon, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are slated to be laid off or furloughed. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 requires companies with 100 or more employees to provide 60 days notice of plant closings or mass layoffs. It’s intended to give employees time to potentially find new work or train for new positions. “This does not mean you will be furloughed. This is a legal requirement that American is taking to preserve their options in the future,” said a message to its members from the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents passenger service workers at American.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Can your employer be held responsible if you get coronavirus when you return to work?

As more Texans are venturing back into the workplace, they’re concerned about their risk of COV-19 infection as coronavirus cases continue to rise. Unless a person has a disability or medical condition that employers are legally required to accommodate, most Texans will have to return to work when their employers decide it’s OK. But what if you contract the virus after you return? Can your employer be held liable for your illness? Here’s what you need to know about employees’ rights during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Can you sue your employer if you get COVID-19 after you go back to work? Legal experts say there are only certain situations in which someone would be able to sue an employer if COVID-19 was contracted after returning to the workplace. In Texas, employers can opt into a workers’ compensation program, which allows employees to receive benefits if they get injured or sick on the job. Under the program, an employer agrees to cover medical expenses and, in some cases, provide income replacement for lost work time when an employee files a claim. In exchange, the employee waives the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer. There’s one exception to that trade-off: If the employer showed reckless disregard or negligence for the health and safety of its employees. “If they call you back without taking any precautions, without educating you and your fellow employees, without appropriate social distancing — if they just call you back willy-nilly, then that can show reckless disregard,” said Mike Maslanka, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law who specializes in employment law. “That can show what’s called gross negligence. And if that’s the situation, then you arguably can go ahead and file a lawsuit for your personal injury.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

Not a robocall: Trump gives ex-White House physician final push for West Texas congressional seat

President Donald Trump lobbied West Texas Republicans hard Monday night to send his former White House physician to Congress, pitching Ronny Jackson as a loyalist who’ll enjoy rare access for a freshman. “He’s a friend and he’s somebody that can help me a lot in Washington,” the president said, gushing about Jackson for most of 12 minutes, calling him “an outstanding person … a very talented doctor” and “a great admiral.” “This is the kind of people we need coming to Washington to help us. He’s loyal. He’s brave. He’s a leader, and he’ll never let the people of Texas down,” Trump said. Jackson gushed back, clearly thrilled at the extra effort from a president who had already endorsed him, and even conferred a meeting when Air Force One touched down in Dallas last month.

“He’s a fantastic president, the best we’ve ever had. He is. He and I have worked closely for the last three years,” Jackson said. “I took care of him and his family for a few years and was one of his senior advisers. ... He’s got a fantastic family. He’s an incredible leader, and he’s a fantastic commander in chief that’s beloved by all of us in the military.” The retired rear admiral faces cattle industry lobbyist Josh Winegarner in Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff in the 13th Congressional District. Winegarner led in the first round with 39 percent of the vote to Jackson’s 20. Trump drew 80% in the district, so the winner is almost certain to succeed Rep. Mac Thornberry, who supports Winegarner. The Clarendon Republican is retiring after 13 terms, including a stint as chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee and now, its senior Republican. That’s a lot of seniority, and Jackson has made the case that his relationship with Trump puts him in a unique position to blunt that loss of influence — assuming, of course, that Trump wins reelection.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2020

Ken Herman: The Texas GOP mulls ideas on English, COVID and a couple thousand other things

Let’s take a look at some of the grand ideas forwarded by the Grand Old Party’s grass roots to its state convention this week. Herein, I shall present some of the resolutions approved at local conventions. I shall try to present these with minimal editorial interruption. I shall fail. And remember, many (if not most) of these proposals will go nowhere. But I thought you’d like to see some of them. The list of “2020 Submitted Resolutions for Temporary Platform Committee” has about 3,000 ideas, lots of it the usual Texas GOP stuff: Get the U.S. out of the U.N. and the U.N. out of the U.S., ban same-sex marriage and, in general, get government out of telling us what to do, even — and especially — during a pandemic.

Please also remember all of these proposals were considered good ideas by a majority of Republicans somewhere in the Great State of Texas. Here we go: “Voter Ballots in Different Languages. Be it resolved that all Texas ballots will be in the English Language of Texas.” (This, of course, is not to be confused with the English language of, say, Vermont.) What would a ballot in the English language of Texas look like? It would look liked this: “Hey, who y’all wanna vote for?” One Twitter wag says her answer would be, “Well, I’m fixin’ to be votin’ for that good lookin’ feller over there. He’s a goodin’ and his wife makes a pretty mean pie.” Hey, I’ve seen worse ways to make voting decisions. That same resolution says, “Be it further resolved: If the voter is a Republican there will be no translator. If the voter is a Democrat a translator can be paid for by the Democrat party funds.” One must assume that said translator could provide services for a voter who speaks the English language of any of the other 49 states, including one of the hell holes mentioned in a resolution below.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2020

Reopening efforts slowed economic skid in Austin, Dallas Fed says

The effort over the past two months to reopen the state’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic might be proving questionable from the perspective of public health, but it has shown promise as an antidote for local businesses. New figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas indicate the pandemic-induced plummet in the Austin-area economy slowed in May, corresponding to a decision by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to start lifting orders that had shutdown many categories of businesses across the state to curtail the virus’s spread.

The Dallas Fed’s main barometer of Austin’s economy, called the Austin business-cycle index, dropped 20.3% on an annualized basis in May, a big drop but not as precipitous as a revised 75.3% annualized plunge in April — the steepest on record since 1978, which is as far back as the data on the area’s economic output goes. Other evidence also has emerged that the effort to jumpstart the state’s economy paid some early dividends. In Travis County, consumer spending picked up from the middle of April to the middle of June, according to the Dallas Fed’s latest report on the Austin area, although it still was down about 3% from January. “People going back to work certainly helped,” said Judy Teng, a research analyst at the Dallas Fed. Major metro areas across the state experienced similar trends. The agency’s barometers of economic activity in San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and El Paso all fell at record paces in April but showed varying degrees of improvement in May.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2020

State Supreme Court rejects Texas GOP bid for in-person convention

The Texas Supreme Court on Monday rejected two appeals that sought to resurrect the state Republican Party’s in-person political convention after it was canceled by Houston officials amid a growing coronavirus outbreak. GOP officials had hoped the all-Republican Supreme Court would allow the meeting to take place at the end of this week. Instead, the court’s 7-1 ruling said the party could not rely on state law or the Texas Constitution to enforce its contract with Houston or Houston First, which operates the city’s convention center.

“The Party argues it has constitutional rights to hold a convention and engage in electoral activities, and that is unquestionably true. But those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use of the Center,” the court said in an unsigned opinion. “Houston First’s only duty to allow the Party use of the Center for its Convention is under the terms of the parties’ Agreement, not a constitution” or state law, the court determined. The ruling followed legal arguments provided by lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose input was sought by the court over the weekend. After party officials rejected pleas to cancel its convention amid a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in the state’s largest city, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner stepped in Wednesday to cancel the convention center contract, citing a “force majeure” clause that permits cancellation for situations beyond control, including “epidemics in the City of Houston.” The GOP quickly filed suit, and on Thursday, a state district judge held a brief preliminary hearing on the lawsuit and declined to order Houston to honor its contract with the party, which appealed to the Supreme Court. The district judge set a full hearing on the matter for today.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 13, 2020

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teams up with Julián Castro’s PAC, People First Future

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro are teaming up. The New York Congresswoman has scheduled to do a fundraising call on Tuesday night with Castro to help boost his political action committee, People First Future. In promoting the event, Ocasio-Cortez heaped praise on the former Democratic presidential candidate.

“If you want to support a Texan Latino leader who actually gives a damn about our community and advances progressive causes, join @JulianCastro and I next week in support of People First,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. In an email to supporters last week, she also said she and Castro “share a vision for a people first future that includes reimagining police departments, ending qualified immunity, overhauling our immigration system, creating more affordable housing, and so much more.” Ocasio-Cortez brings major political fundraising muscle to Castro’s PAC, which had less than $50,000 in it at the end of May, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports. Though Ocasio-Cortez is still in just her first term in Congress, she has been a prolific fundraiser. She has raised more than $10 million in her own campaign account — the 5th most of all candidates for the U.S. House in 2020.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 13, 2020

Trump campaign blasts ‘deceptive’ mailer from Texas GOP candidate for Congress Raul Reyes

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has had enough of a San Antonio-area Republican’s “deceptive” campaign mailers, which the Trump team says make it seem like the president has backed him and not his opponent. The Trump campaign sent a cease and desist letter to Raul Reyes Jr., a retired Air Force officer based in Castroville, saying a mailer — with an altered photo purporting to show Reyes and Trump standing together, giving the thumbs-up sign — is “misusing the president’s name, image or likeness.”

It’s the latest volley from the Trump campaign, which previously referred to Reyes’ mailers as “misleading, and possibly unethical.” The president has since endorsed former Navy cryptologist Tony Gonzales in the race for the Republican nomination to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (who has also endorsed Gonzales). “Your campaign mailer is misleading,” the cease and desist letter, sent on Monday, says. “In it, you repeatedly reference President Trump by name, refer to yourself as ‘the pro-Trump conservative’ in the race, and even include a photograph designed to appear as if the president is approvingly pointing in your direction.” Trump earlier this month tweeted his “Complete and Total Endorsement!” of Gonzales, saying, “we need him to defeat the Radical Left in November.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 13, 2020

Texas GOP votes to move convention online after legal defeat at Supreme Court

The Texas Republican Party is moving its convention online after the state Supreme Court rejected its appeal of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s move to cancel the in-person event that was initially planned this week for downtown Houston. The GOP’s executive committee approved the change on a 53-4 vote Monday evening, hours after the high court rejected the party’s appeal of a lower court decision. A Harris County judge also denied the party’s request for an injunction that would have allowed it to proceed with the convention.

Turner, who last week ordered Houston First Corp. to cancel the convention last week, applauded the court’s decisions “on behalf of the city of Houston” and the employees who would have worked at the convention. The mayor, who is a Democrat, repeatedly has said he called off the event to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Houston, while Republican Party officials have alleged the move was politically motivated. The fate of the convention remained in limbo over the weekend, before the Supreme Court issued an unsigned “per curiam” opinion Monday morning denying the party’s request for a writ of mandamus, which would have blocked Turner from canceling the convention. The court found that while the Texas GOP has the constitutional right to hold a convention, “those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use” of the convention center, where the event was set to take place Thursday through Saturday. “Houston First’s only duty to allow the party use of the center for its convention is under the terms of the parties’ agreement, not a constitution,” the opinion stated.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

University of Texas making changes after Black athlete demands; football field renamed

The school song “Eyes of Texas” is staying but the University of Texas is making a host of changes with a multi-million dollar price tag in an attempt to meet the demands of Black athletes looking to rid the school of past ties to racism and make the campus comfortable and inclusive. The list of changes, announced by Interim President of the University of Texas at Austin Jay Hartzell Monday, include renaming the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium from Joe Jamail Field to Earl Campbell-Ricky Williams Field.

The team named the field after Jamail, a UT law school alumnus and major benefactor, in 1997. The school got permission from Jamail’s family to rename the field in honor of the school’s only two Heisman Trophy winners, Campbell (1977) and Williams (1998), who are both Black. “We never would have envisioned this historic site would one day bear our names” Campbell said in a statement. Added Williams: “Earl and myself are honored to be part of the momentum of change sweeping our alma mater.” The school will not rename Painter Hall, but it will add a statue of Heman Marion Sweatt in front of the building and an exhibit on the third floor examining the historic Sweatt v. Painter Supreme court decision in 1950 that opened the doors of the university to Black students. Sweatt, a Black man, had been refused admission to the Texas School of Law by Painter, a former school president, on the grounds that the Texas State Constitution prohibited integrated education.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

Ryan Rusak: What Texas GOP’s summer squabbling may mean for Democrats’ efforts to turn state blue

Watching the Texas Republican Party these days is a lot like watching a fading sports dynasty. There’s infighting aplenty, as the victories that used to paper over internal differences fade from memory. There’s name-calling from the benches and open challenges to the team’s leadership. Across the field, the long-suffering opponent piles on and hopes to take advantage and finally end its long losing streak.

The question is: How much, if at all, will any of it matter in November? Gov. Greg Abbott is at the heart of this debate, besieged from left, right, center, above and beyond. To listen to his critics, his decisions on coronavirus restrictions managed to both spread the pandemic and turn Texas into a totalitarian state. Some county Republican parties, including in Denton, are even passing symbolic measures to “censure” the governor who’s won five straight statewide elections without breaking a sweat. At the furthest fringe of the right, a couple of activists at Empower Texans left their podcast mics running and accidentally broadcast vulgar comments about Abbott. Their statements about his wheelchair use got the most attention, but what was notable from a political standpoint was the absolute vitriol they expressed toward an elected official with whom they probably agree 95% of the time.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

TCU undecided on tuition costs for online courses amid coronavirus

TCU is still deciding how much students should pay for online courses in the fall, according to officials. Due to COVID-19, many courses at the university will shift to virtual learning as the university allows faculty to decide which option they want to offer for the fall semester. It is unclear how many classes will be taught online instead of in person. At one point, Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. indicated tuition costs would be less for online courses, TCU 360 reported.

In a town hall meeting on June 11, Boschini said if the university went online again, the administration would “have to give a steep discount to our entire student body,” TCU 360, the university’s newspaper reported. But in an interview with the Star-Telegram on Wednesday, Boschini said the administration never reached that decision, and there would be no discount for online courses. On Thursday, the university’s answer shifted again. The administration said in an email that a decision had not been made about tuition.

Top of Page

Texas Monthly - July 13, 2020

Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. is likely to hold his office, but he’s campaigning as if he’s on the ropes

Generating attention for the months-delayed primary runoffs has not been easy in state Senate District 27, where the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging border communities from Kingsville to Brownsville. That changed, however, at the height of early voting, when a direct-mail piece opposing 29-year incumbent Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., who faces a challenge from attorney Sara Stapleton-Barrera, hit mailboxes. The mailer, sent in late June and financed by civil-liberties nonprofit the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) and Planned Parenthood Texas Votes (PPTV), leveled all the criticisms Lucio has faced for years.

In his three-decade legislative career, the literature noted, the state senator has joined Republicans to support measures including school vouchers, bathroom restrictions for transgender Texans, and abortion rollbacks. It was the mailer’s banner, however, that incited a wave of impassioned responses from Lucio’s allies, and then a counterreaction from his foes: in bold red letters, the incumbent was identified as “Sucio Lucio,” a nickname derived from the Spanish term for dirty. Within days of the handbill’s arrival in mailboxes, state Representative Eddie Lucio III, the senator’s son, attacked the political action committees behind it for “disparaging our family name with derogatory and racial slurs” over their “traditional Catholic values.” Lucio III, who disagrees with his father on the issues the mailer highlighted, accused outside agitators of initiating a smear campaign against Lucio Jr., noting the “deeper connotations” of portraying Texans of Mexican descent as grimy. Immediately, several of Lucio III’s Democratic colleagues and allies took to social media to support his comments. Within an hour, Stapleton-Barrera’s allies heard that the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), the often powerful, bipartisan forty-member body in the Texas House, was planning to weigh in, potentially targeting her campaign, TFN, and PPTV.

Top of Page

McClatchy - July 13, 2020

Ted Cruz spotted without mask on flight before attending rally with around 200 people

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was seen on a flight Sunday without wearing a mask, a photo shows, on the same day he attended a rally with around 200 people. Hosseh Enad, who works for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, posted a photo of Cruz not wearing a mask while on an American Airlines flight, writing that the photo was taken at 10:45 a.m. Sunday.

“For those trying to argue that he was drinking, it’s not hard to have a mask on and undo one side to take a sip then put it back on. Most people take their time drinking coffee,” Enad wrote in another tweet of a photo of Cruz not wearing a mask. “Also, here’s a photo of him sitting outside the gate.” Cruz, a Republican, attended a rally for Jon Francis, state representative candidate, on Sunday, according to Bud Kennedy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The event had around 200 to 250 people, with reportedly only about five people there wearing a face covering. American Airlines responded after the photo of Cruz not wearing a mask on the flight spread online. “We are committed to protecting the health and safety of all those who fly with us, and we are reviewing the details of this matter,” American Airlines told McClatchy News in a statement.

Top of Page

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Hispanic and Black residents suffering worse in pandemic, Harris County finds

African-American and especially Hispanic residents are suffering the worst outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Houston area, Harris County leaders announced Monday. Both groups make up a larger portion of coronavirus-related hospitalizations than their share of the county population.

“The concern that we have is that the increases in the Hispanic community are not just a cumulative increase, but it has actually gotten worse over time,” said Dr. Umair Shah, the county’s public health director. “We know that some of those factors may be related to un-insurance rates, may be related to many in our Hispanic community are working front-line jobs, the economics of what’s occurring with this pandemic, as well as multi-family households and, certainly, we are concerned about fear and stigma in our community.”

Top of Page

City Stories

Community Impact Newspapers - July 13, 2020

Austin's $4.2 billion proposed budget includes 2.6% reduction to police department funding

After calls from community advocates to reallocate at least $100 million from the police department to other city services, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk proposed a budget July 13 that includes an $11.3 million reduction in police spending.

The $4.2 billion overall budget and $1.1 billion taxpayer-supported general fund for fiscal year 2020-21 are both largely unchanged from last year. Property tax revenue would increase by 3.5%, resulting in a $19.73 increase in annual city property tax payments for the homeowner of a median-valued $362,000 property. Community groups such as the Austin Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leadership have called on the city to reduce the police department budget significantly and reassign duties such as responding to mental health crises to other departments or public agencies. On June 11, City Council voted on a set of four policies aimed at responding to the growing local and national momentum around policing—including a commitment to spending fewer public dollars on the police budget.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Denton mans’ years of activism in city square leads to change

Local activist Willie Hudspeth has become a constant figure of Denton County Square. Nearly every Sunday, he sits in his folding chair along the walkway between the courthouse and the Confederate monument on the edge of the sidewalk, patiently waiting for others to walk past him. In front of him are multiple signs he’s placed across the lawn, featuring different bolded phrases - “Say no to racism.” “Move the statue.” “Vote for change.”

Hudspeth says he’s always open to peaceful discussions regarding his signs, as he believes there isn’t much dialogue about important issues shared between people today. “People need to talk,” Hudspeth said. “We all need to talk, ask questions and gather information to really learn from each other.” For over 20 years, Hudspeth attempted to make changes toward the monument, such as turning on its fountains and adding plaques denouncing slavery. However, his proposals were continuously disregarded by the Denton County Commissioners Court. In 2018, Hudspeth began sitting behind the monument nearly every Sunday to make his cause more known. Occasionally, others would stop and listen to Hudspeth and express their appreciation for his work, but never stayed with him for long. Hudspeth continued to fight alone.

Top of Page

National Stories

Politico - July 13, 2020

California rolls back reopening plans as new outbreaks force major reversal

Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down indoor activities across California on Monday in the starkest sign yet that the nation’s most populous state is scrambling to prevent months of progress against the coronavirus from evaporating. Newsom ordered houses of worship, gyms and barbershops to close across dozens of counties that collectively contain the vast majority of California’s population and most of its urban centers. Statewide, bars will need to again shutter and restaurants must halt indoor dining.

The sweeping order punctuated California’s rapidly deteriorating situation. In March, Newsom was the first governor in the nation to fully shut down his state, elevating California into a poster child for aggressive efforts to limit the pandemic’s spread. Public health officials credited the effort with staving off a surge that might have crippled the state’s health care system. "We were able to suppress the spread of this virus, we were able to knock down the growth of this in the beginning," Newsom said Monday as he issued new restrictions. "We're going to do that again, there's no doubt in my mind." Caseloads and hospitalization numbers have risen sharply in recent weeks as California authorized counties to restart various sectors of the economy. Hospitals in some parts of the state are staring down the prospect of running out of beds as the state's seven-day average of new infections is approaches 9,000 daily, while its positive test rate has climbed above 7 percent after hovering near 4 percent during the initial reopening process.

Top of Page

KCAL - July 13, 2020

Los Angeles Unified School District students won’t return to classrooms in the fall

The superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District announced Monday that students will not return to the classroom when the fall semester begins next month because of the surge in coronavirus cases across the Southland. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said that the fall semester will begin Aug. 18. However, student learning will begin online only, with no students returning to in-person classes.

Along with LAUSD, the San Diego Unified School District will also begin its fall semester in a virtual format. The two districts released a joint statement confirming the move. “Both districts will continue planning for a return to in-person learning during the 2020-21 academic year, as soon as public health conditions allow,” the statement read. Beutner did not provide an estimate regarding when in-person classes might resume. “The right way to reopen schools is to make sure there’s a robust system of testing and contact tracing to mitigate the risk for all in the school community,” Beutner said in a video address Monday. All this comes after United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union which represents LAUSD teachers, announced Saturday that of 18,000 members who took part in a poll, 83% voted against physically reopening schools to students. The union applauded LAUSD’s announcement the correct move in light of the circumstances.

Top of Page

Reuters - July 13, 2020

Coronavirus crisis may get "worse and worse and worse", warns WHO

The new coronavirus pandemic raging around the globe will worsen if countries fail to adhere to strict healthcare precautions, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday. "Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction, the virus remains public enemy number one," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing from the U.N. agency's headquarters in Geneva. "If basics are not followed, the only way this pandemic is going to go - it is going to get worse and worse and worse."

Global infections stand at 13 million, according to a Reuters tally, with more than half a million deaths. Tedros, whose leadership has been heavily criticised by U.S. President Donald Trump, said that of 230,000 new cases on Sunday, 80% were from 10 nations, and 50% from just two countries. The United States and Brazil are the countries worst hit. "There will be no return to the old normal for the foreseeable future ... There is a lot to be concerned about," Tedros added, in some of his strongest comments of recent weeks.

Top of Page

SPIN - July 13, 2020

Kanye West at 2% in first poll since announcing his national run

Kanye West may want to be president, but he has a long way to go if it’s actually going to happen (for a number of reasons).

In the first piece of polling data to take into account the rapper/mogul’s candidacy, West is polling at a not-so-good 2%. Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled 2,000 registered voters in the U.S. and let’s just say that they’re not as impressed with West’s platform as he seems to be. Joe Biden leads the pack with 48%, with Donald Trump in second with 40%. When West is included in the poll, Trump’s number dips to 39% while Biden’s remains the same. On July 4, West issued his own declaration when he announced a presidential run. He was initially supported by Elon Musk, who has since walked back his endorsement following West’s interview with Forbes. West also shared in that interview that he’s no longer voting for President Trump, he had COVID-19 and is an anti-vaxxer. Trump’s hope to run against Kanye, something that the pres himself said he wanted in 2015, may actually harm the president if the numbers are accurate. West shared a new song that was a tribute to his late-mother on Sunday. Titled “Donda,” the tune features Donda West reciting the lyrics to KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police.”

Top of Page

Washington Post - July 14, 2020

White House effort to undermine Fauci is criticized by public health experts, scientists and Democrats

A White House effort to undermine Anthony S. Fauci has drawn rebukes from public health experts, scientists and mostly Democratic politicians, who argue it is dangerous for the Trump administration to disparage a highly respected government infectious-disease expert as the novel coronavirus continues to exact a heavy toll on the nation. The angry reaction occurred after The Washington Post published a story Saturday saying the relationship between President Trump and Fauci had sharply deteriorated and that the two had not spoken since early June.

The White House provided The Post with examples of what it characterized as mistakes that Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had made about the pandemic, mostly in the early days when information about the virus was extremely limited. The White House also made the information available to other reporters, some of whom described it as “opposition research.” Academics and researchers rallied to defend Fauci. “It’s shocking,” said Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “When you begin to discredit scientists like Fauci, who are national treasures, you are in serious trouble.” Critics of the White House noted that some of the Fauci statements cited by the White House were taken out of context, or incomplete. Fauci has said repeatedly, especially in the early days of the outbreak, that scientists lacked sufficient information about the virus to be definitive in their statements. He said recommendations might change as new information emerged.

Top of Page

Newsclips - July 13, 2020

Lead Stories

NPR - July 12, 2020

Nation's pediatricians walk back support for in-person school

The American Academy of Pediatrics once again plunged into the growing debate over school reopening with a strong new statement Friday, making clear that while in-person school provides crucial benefits to children, "Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics." The statement also said that "science and community circumstances must guide decision-making."

The AAP is changing tone from the guidance it issued just over two weeks ago. Then, the organization made a national splash by recommending that education leaders and policymakers "should start with a goal of having students physically present in school." The Trump administration this week repeatedly cited the AAP in pressuring school leaders to reopen. Dr. Sally Goza, the association's president, appeared at a White House roundtable with President Trump. She later told Morning Edition's David Greene that local coronavirus infection rates and hot spots have to be taken into consideration to safely reopen schools.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - July 11, 2020

OPEC, allies set to ease oil cuts, anticipating demand recovery

An alliance of crude producers led by Saudi Arabia is pushing OPEC and its allies to increase oil production starting in August, officials in the group said, amid signs that demand is returning to normal levels following coronavirus-related lockdowns.

Key members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its Russia-led allies are set to meet via web conference Wednesday to debate the group’s current and future production. In April, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, led a push that saw the 23-producer group cut its collective output by 9.7 million barrels a day, as the pandemic led to a collapse of oil demand. Now Saudi Arabia and most participants in the coalition support a loosening of the curbs, the delegates said. Under a Saudi proposal, the so-called OPEC Plus coalition would relax its current curbs by 2 million barrels a day to 7.7 million barrels a day, the delegates said. “If OPEC clings to restraining production to keep up prices, I think it’s suicidal,” said a person familiar with the Saudis’s thinking. “There’s going to be a scramble for market share, and the trick is how the low cost producers assert themselves without crashing the oil price.”

Top of Page

Bloomberg Law - July 13, 2020

COVID-19 reinvades US states that already beat it back once

The first states to endure the coronavirus this spring hoped the worst would be behind them. Instead, the virus is coming back. Many places that suffered most in the first wave of infections, including California, Louisiana, Michigan and Washington state, are seeing case counts climb again after months of declines. It’s not just a matter of more testing. Hospitalizations and, in some places, deaths are rising, too.

The disease is raging -- Florida reported 15,300 cases Sunday, the biggest single-day increase of the U.S. pandemic -- and experts say the resurgence in the original battlegrounds has common causes. They include a population no longer willing to stay inside, Republicans who refuse face masks as a political statement, street protests over police violence and young people convinced the virus won’t seriously hurt them. And even though some of the states led by Democratic governors delayed restarting their economies until weeks after more eager peers like Georgia, they still jumped too soon, critics say. “I don’t think there’s any question about that anymore. Even in California, we opened up too fast,” said John Swartzberg, a doctor who is a clinical professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 12, 2020

More than 8,000 new coronavirus cases, 80 new deaths in Texas Sunday

Texas health officials on Sunday reported more than 8,000 new lab-confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a record for the most daily cases reported on a Sunday since the pandemic began. The state reports issued on Sundays and Mondays have usually had the lowest lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease linked to the coronavirus, because some counties do not process or report positive tests over the weekend, health officials have said.

However, health officials reported 8,196 lab-confirmed tests on Sunday, which was a record-breaking day for positive cases compared with other Sundays since the start of the pandemic in Texas. The second-highest Sunday was on June 28 with 5,357 cases. Total lab-confirmed cases have now reached 258,658, according to health officials. An estimated 122,828 of those cases are active. In addition to the new cases, health officials also reported 80 more deaths, which was also the highest for a Sunday. Total fatalities have now reached 3,192. Harris County has the highest number of deaths with 455 fatalities reported, followed by Dallas County with 449 and Tarrant County with 268.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Gov. Abbott didn’t listen to coronavirus warnings and Texans died

One moment in Texas’ battle against this ravenous pandemic signaled whether Gov. Greg Abbott would lead as the state’s top executive or a top political boss. Back in May, Abbott made the fateful decision to side with Dallas hair salon owner Shelley Luther instead of local leaders in major cities across the state such as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. That choice, to embrace partisan politics and a fringe populist backlash over common sense and sound medical advice from his own advisers, condemned the Lone Star State to the circumstances we face today: Hospitals near the breaking point. Nearly 3,000 Texans dead — and counting.

When Luther reopened her Salon a la Mode in Dallas in violation of Abbott’s own order and publicly tore up a court order before TV cameras and an adoring crowd, the governor not only rushed to her defense but also accelerated his efforts to allow all hair salons to reopen ahead of gathering data about health impacts. Hidalgo and other county and city leaders across the state were meanwhile getting steamrolled by Abbott’s superseding orders even as they begged for the authority to mandate masks and reopen more cautiously, moves that Abbott is now being forced to implement. Abbott’s backpedaling and his acquiescence to the social distancing rebels hollering tyranny propelled him down a path to a reckless reopening of the state while downplaying the COVID-19 threat and suggesting crucial guidance on things such as wearing a mask, social-distancing and avoiding large crowds could be ignored on grounds of “personal liberty” or political fealty. This is more than a case of a politician just doing what politicians do. This isn’t the same as impeding local leaders who want to ban plastic bags or clownishly calling the Texas State Guard to monitor a federal military exercise because some right-wing conspiracy theorists on the internet were convinced Jade Helm 15 sounded like a government plot to take their guns. Abbott’s actions this time led to widespread sickness and hundreds of deaths.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 10, 2020

Energy secretary: Oil and gas will ‘come back very, very strong’

Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette has a message for thousands of U.S. oil and gas workers laid off during the recent oil bust: “Remain strong.” “This is an industry that will come back, and it will come back very, very strong,” Brouillette said Friday in Houston. “These are difficult times for all Americans, but this industry will return.” Brouillette was in town Friday to meet with energy executives and hear from them how the industry was weathering the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and a glut of cheap crude, which sent oil prices to historic lows.

The energy secretary, who took the helm of the federal agency in December after serving as the deputy secretary of energy for two years, met with several CEOs of independent energy companies, including Occidental Petroleum, Talos Energy and Houston Energy. He said he came away from the conversations, which were closed to the media, feeling optimistic about the industry’s future. Brouillette pointed to the declining unemployment rate and growing consumer and travel activity as signs of a burgeoning economic recovery. While he said he was concerned about a second wave of coronavirus cases, Brouillette said it was in “Americans’ nature” to get back to work. His department’s Energy Information Administration forecasts oil and gas demand to recover toward the end of this year and in the first half of 2021. “Energy underpins everything we do in the U.S. economy,” Brouillette said. “It’s one of the backbones of the strength of the economy and the nation itself, so it’s very important that we see this industry survive this pandemic and hopefully come out the other side even stronger.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2020

Houston Food Bank, the nation's largest, seeks to fill volunteer gaps with National Guard leaving

ince mid-April, the National Guard has been essential to the success of the Houston Food Bank, helping distribute over 89 million pounds of food and product after volunteer numbers dropped and demand skyrocketed during the pandemic. Next week, that all comes to an end. After a farewell ceremony on Friday, the more than 200 members of the National Guard will begin phasing out of their roles at the nation’s largest food bank. By next Wednesday, the last are expected to depart, and the hands that have helped the organization keep up with growing food insecurity will disappear, according to Brian Greene, Houston Food Bank president and CEO.

“We’ve just got a lot to make up for,” said Greene of the guard’s departure. Greene is not expecting any additional deployments from the National Guard in the coming months. Yet, demand for food is still tremendous— as much as 150 percent higher than usual. Based on this number, the food bank estimates that about 2.75 million people are food insecure in their service area. In June, the organization saw a 171 percent increase in households served per week — reaching close to 160,000 — from a year ago, with distribution often exceeding 1 million pounds per day, according to internal food bank data. Sorting and distributing all that food requires significant manpower. “Labor was already a problem,” said Greene. “Labor’s an even bigger problem now.” With social distancing mandates and COVID-19 spikes in Houston, the food bank and other partner organizations have struggled to meet the labor demand, relying on smaller shifts and the National Guard.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2020

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in favor of a ‘step back,’ two-week shut down to reduce COVID-19 spread

Local officials are calling for a two-week shut down as COVID-19 cases surge in Texas and hospital beds in the Texas Medical Center fill up with patients. Mayor Sylvester Turner said it’s time for the city of Houston to “step back.” “Let’s look at the numbers, look at the data, see where things are,” Turner said in remarks to the media Saturday. “And then gradually, move forward again.” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo agreed with Turner in a statement posted on Twitter Sunday.

“Not only do we need a stay-home order now, but we need to stick with it this time until the hospitalization curve comes down, not just flattens. Many communities that persevered in that way are reopening for the long haul. Let’s learn from that & not make the same mistake twice,” she said. However, the decision to shut down Houston and Harris County is currently out of their hands. While Hidalgo issued a stay-at-home order in March, Gov. Greg Abbott has since taken over decisions on whether to open or close businesses and has refused to allow local officials to make decisions on the matter. Hidalgo’s office has unsuccessfully petitioned the governor for power to issue more restrictions as COVID-19 hospitalizations spiked. But on Friday afternoon, Abbott too said that he could considering shutting down nonessential businesses if the pandemic continues to worsen. “If we do not slow the spread of COVID-19… the next step would have to be a lockdown,” he told KLBK TV in Lubbock.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

Whether it’s MJ Hegar or Royce West, nominee against John Cornyn could struggle to unify party

On Tuesday Democrats will decide whether MJ Hegar or Royce West will be their champion in November against Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn. With President Donald Trump down in the polls and the GOP brand taking a hit, Democrats hope they can unseat Cornyn—the longtime senator—with a horde of anti-Trump voters.

But the winner of Tuesday’s Senate runoff could have a dickens of a time uniting a party fractured after a sudden and surprising bruising climax to the contest. If November is the kind of hard grind where votes are needed from every corner of the Democratic Party, either Hegar or West will have to overcome the hard feelings that emerged in the closing stage of their runoff. Yes, both candidates will say the right things after the election, but it’s how their political bases respond to the outcome that will be critical to determining how the nominee performs against Cornyn. If you are a political observer and a reader of this column, you know what Democrats will say about their unity. And they will scoff at me for questioning if there’s a divide. So let me reveal the potential minefields.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

In Senate, congressional runoffs, Texas Democrats looking for candidates who can flip GOP turf

Texas Democrats hope 2020 is the year they win their first statewide race in 26 years, and score victories in several key congressional districts controlled by Republicans. Tuesday is a key marker, as Democratic voters will select MJ Hegar or Royce West as their Senate nominee against Republican incumbent John Cornyn In North Texas, there are congressional runoffs for seats now held by retiring Republican Ken Marchant of Coppell and GOP incumbent Rep. Van Taylor of Plano. The success of Democrats in November hinges on how they perform in what’s been Republican strongholds. That means voters have to decide what kind of candidate they want to send into battle on GOP turf.

Should the nominees be moderate, progressive or able to appeal to voters who may learn to the right of center? “It’s a little bit of all the above,” said veteran Democratic consultant Harold Cook. Cook said that in the past, when Democrats struggled to win outside of their urban strongholds, a strong progressive ideology was needed to win primaries. But recent wins in swing districts and the successful courtship of many suburban and small town voters have made liberal litmus test secondary to crafting a message that appeals to a cross-section of Texans. “It’s not a rejection of liberalism, but an embrace of the pragmatism that could lead to winning,” Cook said. Democrats saw that kind of approach in the March presidential primary, when several candidates dropped out of the race and united behind former Vice President Joe Biden. Stephanie Martin, a political scientist at SMU, said Democrats are looking for candidates with the charisma of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who in 2018 narrowly lost to Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, but also the moderate policy positions of Biden.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 12, 2020

Dallas County reports 1,174 coronavirus cases, 2 more deaths

Dallas County health officials reported 1,174 new coronavirus cases on Sunday and two additional deaths. The latest victims were two Dallas men: one in his 60s, and one in his 80s who lived in a long-term care facility. Both men had underlying high risk health conditions and had been hospitalized. Sunday is the 10th straight day the county has reported more than 1,000 new cases in a day.

The county has now reported 33,800 cases of the virus, or about 12.8 cases for every 1,000 residents. Dallas County has reported a total of 451 deaths, about a third of which are associated with long-term care facilities. The county does not report recoveries. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urged people to “take responsibility” and stop the surge of coronavirus cases from climbing higher. “You focus on the micro-level, and by that I mean focus on your family and your circle, and let our team focus on the macro-level,” he said in a prepared statement. “We can do this North Texas, but it takes all of us.” An increasing share of COVID-19 cases in Dallas County are being diagnosed in people 18 to 39 years old. Half of all cases reported after June 1 fall in that age group, health officials said. The county is also seeing more reports of cases associated with large social gatherings, including house parties.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 12, 2020

Henry Cisneros and Cullum Clark: Texas’ metro regions represent a massive economic growth engine

North Texas has experienced stunning growth, and its economy is weathering the COVID-19 storm better than most cities. One of the key reasons for the region’s resilience is that it’s an integral part of an increasingly cohesive, powerful economic system: the Texas Triangle, stretching from North Texas to Austin and San Antonio in the southwest, with Houston anchoring the southeast corner. The fate of Dallas as well as Texas will hinge on the region’s success in seizing the opportunities and answering the challenges posed by an urbanized future, one that will look very different from what Texas has known throughout history.

Urban scholar Richard Florida has furthered the idea that the pivotal geographic units driving the economy today are neither states nor cities, but “mega-regions” comprising interlinked metro areas. Around the world, mega-regions are where the action is. In a recent report on America’s economic future, consulting firm McKinsey argues that 30 U.S. metro areas are pulling ever further ahead of the rest of the country in terms of innovation and growth. Virtually all, including each of the metros of the Texas Triangle, are in America’s top eight mega-regions. And leading mega-regions now compete with each other for talent, business and even political and cultural influence in the nation. The Texas Triangle stands out among America’s mega-regions in numerous respects. In demographic and economic terms, it’s younger, less white, more Hispanic, more economically expansive, more lightly taxed, and more permissive in business and land-use regulations than other mega-regions.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 12, 2020

Family shares story of boy’s drowning in hopes of helping others

Christian Bishop was always a little skittish about the pool. At 5 years old, he held on to his mother whenever they swam, said his grandmother, April Bishop. After he and his siblings concluded an afternoon swim at his father’s North Side home July 4, Christian sneaked back to the pool by himself. “We realize that he’s a little bit of a daredevil, but it surprised us when he took it upon himself to put his suit back on and go into the water,” April Bishop said. Minutes later, the boy’s 7-year-old sister Melody would find him face down in the pool, family members said.

“The magnetic attraction of the pool was just too much for him,” said April Bishop, who shared the details of Christian’s death in the hope of saving other children. Once Melody found Christian, she told their 10-year-old brother, who then got help from grown-ups. Their uncle pulled Christian out of the water, began CPR and called 911. At North Central Baptist Hospital, doctors managed to get Christian’s heart started and placed him on life support. The doctors warned that Christian had been underwater for too long, between eight and 20 minutes. On Monday morning, he was taken off life support. He died in his mother’s arms. Christian’s death put the spotlight on a deadly trend that Texas leads. In 2019, the state had the most pool and spa deaths of any state, with 34 children younger than 15 who died, according to the USA Swimming Foundation. From 2015 through 2017, there was an average of 379 reported pool- or spa-related fatal drownings of children per year in the U.S., according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 12, 2020

‘We’re all fearful of what could happen’: COVID deaths rise in San Antonio as hospitals are pushed to capacity

As they woke up on the Fourth of July, Kelly Alvarado’s family members hoped it would be a good day. They needed one. The night before, they had prayed for the 42-year-old Alvarado, who had COVID-19 and was on a ventilator at Northeast Baptist Hospital. A few days earlier, her 76-year-old great-uncle, who also tested positive for the novel coronavirus, had succumbed to a heart attack in the same hospital. Alvarado’s family was optimistic that she would pull through, despite her asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was so young, so vibrant and full of life. The alternative was unthinkable.

At the hospital that day, Dr. Tamara Simpson, a critical care pulmonologist, checked on Alvarado. Simpson had been treating COVID patients for months and had developed a gut instinct about who had a chance of getting better and who didn’t. Patients would “declare” themselves, she had found, and Alvarado seemingly had. The longtime teacher’s aide at Sunshine Cottage School for the Deaf had received all possible treatments, except for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which would have added oxygen directly to her blood. Simpson couldn’t refer her to another hospital for that treatment because there wasn’t a bed available. That hospital already was full of COVID patients. Alvarado died that afternoon. “It’s a nightmare that ended in a nightmare,” said her younger sister, Vanessa Castillo, 39.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

UT Arlington has eyes on fall reopening, expects more coronavirus cases on campus

The University of Texas at Arlington is likely to see an increase in its coronavirus cases when fall classes commence, interim provost Pranesh Aswath said. But the university is going to do everything it can to keep the numbers low. The university has reported a relatively low number of cases — nine as of Friday, with only two being students — at its campus, which has been vacated since March when students left for spring break. But as the university prepares to welcome thousands of students back to campus, it has released comprehensive plans running over a hundred pages that detail everything from eating in dining halls to safety in classrooms.

In a survey, 47% of UT Arlington faculty said they would feel unsafe teaching in-person in the fall even with personal protective equipment and social distancing. Aswath said the university is working with its faculty to ensure they are teaching in a safe environment, whether that be making accommodations on campus or allowing staff to work from home. “We are going to do everything we physically can to keep our campus safe,” Aswath said. “But in order for it truly to be safe, it is the responsibility of everybody in the community to take care of this.” In a perfect world, everyone would follow the guidelines and the cases spread would be minimal, said Diana Cervantes, director of the epidemiology program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. But whenever people from different places come together, it increases the risk of spreading COVID-19. Although it could vary due to students choosing to enroll in online classes or deciding to forego the semester altogether, UTA typically enrolls up to 60,000 students, 10,000 of whom live on or near campus, according to its website.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 12, 2020

Chatham wins auction to buy McClatchy, will seek final approval from bankruptcy court

Chatham Asset Management, the New Jersey hedge fund that is McClatchy Co.’s largest creditor, has won an auction to buy the bankrupt local news company. Under the proposed deal that will be submitted to the bankruptcy court for approval, Chatham would buy the entire company, McClatchy said Sunday. “As long-standing supportive investors in McClatchy, we are pleased with the outcome of the auction,” Chatham said in a statement. “Chatham is committed to preserving newsroom jobs and independent journalism that serve and inform local communities during this important time.”

The auction was Friday, after a federal judge rejected a last-minute challenge by a second hedge fund, Alden Capital Group, to Chatham’s starting bid. Chatham was the only bidder publicly identified until Alden filed its challenge in court late Wednesday. McClatchy has said that more than 20 parties expressed initial interest in the company and that “multiple bidders” submitted binding bids by the July 1 deadline. The company has declined to identify bidders or to provide details about the bids, citing non-disclosure agreements. In an earlier court filing that effectively served as a floor to open the bidding, Chatham had offered to acquire McClatchy for about $300 million, a combination of debt credits and at least $30 million in cash.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 12, 2020

A tie in a primary runoff? Coin flip could decide it

The candidates for a misdemeanor bench in Travis County were nearly dead even the last time they squared off: Judge Dimple Malhotra picked up 64,712 votes in the Democratic primary — just four more than challenger Margaret Chen Kercher. So what happens if the vote is even closer this time around and their runoff ends in a tie? They might have to roll dice. Although it’s extremely unlikely that a county with more than 1 million residents fails to pick a winning candidate, there are tiebreakers in place if it happens.

The primary runoff, delayed nearly two months by the coronavirus, is Tuesday. The Malhotra-Chen Kercher matchup is joined by three other Travis County Democratic Party runoffs in three races: district attorney, county attorney and county commissioner for the western precinct. For most elected positions in the state, an automatic recount is triggered when a runoff ends in a tie. If the tie is not resolved after the recount, the candidates will “cast lots” to determine the winner. What does that mean? Casting lots is a term referenced throughout the Bible. Followers of Jesus cast lots to be a replacement apostle following Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. “The lot fell on Matthias,” according to Acts. Pecos County flipped a coin in 2016 after two county commissioner candidates deadlocked at 232 votes in the Democratic primary runoff. It came up heads. A second type of tiebreaker involves executive positions as defined by the Texas Constitution: governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, land commissioner and attorney general. In that scenario, a joint vote of Texas House and Senate breaks the tie. But the best anyone can remember, there has never been a tie in Travis County.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 12, 2020

In Texas beach city, out-of-towners drove in an outbreak

As recently as early June, days went by with hardly anyone testing positive for the coronavirus. A single case one day. Three the next. Then zero. Zero. Zero. Word spread that Corpus Christi, always a popular beachfront vacation spot for Texans from around the state, was a safe place to go. They didn’t even require masks indoors. It was an oasis from the virus. “People in San Antonio, in Houston, Austin, even Dallas, knew that we had low caseload,” said Peter Zanoni, the city manager. “It was a nice getaway from the rules, the regulations, the doom and gloom.” It turned out that no place was safe.

Now the city of 325,000 has one of the fastest-growing outbreaks in Texas, a state where new records for positive cases were set for four straight days last week, with nearly 11,000 recorded on Thursday. Corpus Christi has seen more cases per capita than Houston and a rapidly mounting death toll: of the 38 deaths recorded from the pandemic, 30 have come in July, including a baby less than 6 months old. Local officials have been left scrambling to get ahead of an outbreak that went into overdrive without warning. As recently as June 15, the city had tallied 360 cases during the entirety of the outbreak; on Wednesday alone, there were 445. The city’s two dozen contact tracers are so overwhelmed that they are no longer able to seek detailed information about each new infection. Hospital beds have filled at an alarming rate, prompting pleas for additional staffing. The surge in cases forced local leaders, businesses and residents to grapple with the uncomfortable reality that the same out-of-towners who help the city thrive economically may have caused the outbreak. The feeling is less one of resentment than of frustration at a seemingly impossible dilemma.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2020

As Texas grapples with coronavirus, voter registration numbers are down

With the coronavirus shutdown compelling Texans to stay at home, new voter registrations were down nearly 30% for the first six months of 2020 compared with a similar period in the last presidential election year, according to an American-Statesman analysis of state figures. The data suggest that a return to shutdown conditions to stymie the spread of COVID-19 could have profound, if murky, implications for races in a tight election year. The Statesman previously reported that registration was markedly down in big urban counties, which tend to vote Democratic.

The latest numbers show that in Travis County, 4,326 new registrations were collected between March 1 and the end of June — with the bulk of those coming in June. Over the same period in 2016, more than twice as many people registered in Travis County. In some ways, the drop in new registrations reflected how the virus has hindered access to key civic institutions, from the library to the marriage altar. In April 2016, 1,849 Texans registered at libraries or while getting a marriage certificate across the state. Last April, that number was just 418. In April alone, during the heart of the shutdown, new registrations were down 76% statewide, largely because the bulk of voter registration takes place at driver’s license offices, which were shuttered until late May. In April 2016, for example, 75,885 Texans registered to vote through the Department of Public Safety; this past April, that number was down to 2,206. (State officials said the reason there were any registrations was that DPS still was processing essential commercial driver’s licenses and handling some license-related forms by mail.)

Top of Page

KUT - July 13, 2020

Central Texas teachers feel the state and districts aren’t prioritizing safety when opening schools

The first day of classes for Central Texas school districts is about a month away, but many parents and teachers still don’t know what it will look like. Districts say virtual learning will be an option, but there are few details about how it will work. Last week, President Donald Trump said school buildings should be open this fall, and the Texas Education Agency released guidance saying districts have to offer in-person classes as well as give families an online option. The requirement to open school buildings is alarming to local teachers, many of whom question why schools are allowed to reopen while COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Texas continue to rise and other kinds of group gatherings have been banned.

Michelle White teaches fourth grade at Zilker Elementary in Austin Independent School District. She said AISD has not been able to give details on what school will look like, just that there will be online and in-person components. She said this makes her nervous, because before COVID-19, elementary schools were already full of germs. “It feels like I'm walking to my death to sacrifice myself for capitalism and I won’t do it,” she said. “It feels like no one cares about our well-being. Frankly, if people want to experiment with children and use them as political pawns, this also feels like child abuse. It feels like the state is abusing children.” Jessica Mondragon, a teacher at Vista Ridge High School in Leander Independent School District, said she also doesn’t have detailed guidance. One of her sons has asthma, so she is nervous about going back to school and potentially bringing home the virus to him.

Top of Page

Texas Tribune - July 12, 2020

Three Texas House runoffs give warring GOP factions chance to settle up before November

After a string of Texas House primary seasons featuring broad intraparty combat, the 2020 one is coming down to three runoffs Tuesday where hardline conservatives are out for a much-needed breakthrough. A pair of incumbents, Reps. Dan Flynn of Canton and J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville, face challenges from their right, while Jon Francis and Glenn Rogers are battling to replace retiring Rep. Mike Lang, R-Granbury. Each runoff is playing out in safely red territory and pits against one another familiar intraparty factions that have been brawling for several primary cycles now.

Except this cycle, the internecine combat has been more muted than usual, and the three runoffs Tuesday give each wing a chance to have the final say before the party fully turns its attention to a challenging November election. “Voters in these communities have a choice between grassroots Republicans or the political elite,” Kimberlyn Schwartz, a spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, said in a written statement. The anti-abortion group has endorsed Flynn challenger Bryan Slaton, Sheffield rival Shelby Slawson and Francis. Those candidates, Schwartz added, "will not betray Pro-Life voters." The delayed runoff — which was postponed from late May due to the coronavirus — has been a relief to at least Sheffield, who finished second in his three-way March primary. He said in an interview that he has “come a long way since” then, citing a “new team, new energy, new focus, new drive.”

Top of Page

Associated Press - July 12, 2020

Trump rips private Texas border wall built by his supporters

President Donald Trump on Sunday criticized a privately built border wall in South Texas that’s showing signs of erosion months after going up, saying it was “only done to make me look bad,” even though the wall was built after a months-long campaign by his supporters. The group that raised money online for the wall promoted itself as supporting Trump during a government shutdown that started in December 2018 because Congress wouldn’t fund Trump's demands for a border wall. Called “We Build the Wall,” the group has raised more than $25 million promoting itself as supporting the president.

Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon joined the group’s board and Trump ally Kris Kobach became its general counsel. Kobach is now seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Kansas. The company that built the private section in January, North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, has since won a $1.3 billion border wall contract from the federal government, the largest award to date. The section in question is a roughly 3-mile (5-kilometer) fence of steel posts just 35 feet (10 meters) from the Rio Grande, the river that forms the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. That’s much closer to the river than the government ordinarily builds border barriers in South Texas because of concerns about erosion and flooding that could violate U.S. treaty obligations with Mexico. Trump tweeted Sunday in response to a ProPublica-Texas Tribune report that the riverbank has started to erode. A federal judge on Wednesday ordered attorneys for Fisher Industries and opponents of the private wall to set a schedule for experts to visit the site and inspect any erosion.

Top of Page

The Appeal - July 12, 2020

A Texas referendum provides an early window into battles over police budgets

Amid the national reckoning over police budgets, opposition is building in Fort Worth, Texas, against a sales tax that has funded law enforcement programs for more than two decades. Voters will decide on Tuesday whether to renew it, and the Black Lives Matter movement’s concerns about policing are front and center in the campaign. The tax, which is called the Crime Control and Prevention District (CCPD), raised nearly $80 million in 2019 and funds police equipment, salaries, and various initiatives. If renewal fails, it would significantly reduce the resources of the Fort Worth police.

Voters have renewed the CCPD four times since it was established in 1995; it received 85 percent of the vote in the most recent referendum, in 2014. But this year’s election (Proposition A) is playing out in a different context marked by more visible activist calls to shrink the presence of the police department. “Policing is necessary when people’s needs are not met,” Jen Sarduy, an organizer with Fort Worth Futures, an advocacy group formed this year that is urging voters to reject the tax, told the Appeal: Political Report. The group has in recent weeks released graphics on social media about the sort of public services that the city should boost to “reimagine public safety,” including public housing investments, programs for the city’s elderly residents, and expanded public transit access, as local transportation advocates are demanding. Strengthening these services instead of funding police, these advocates argue, would improve safety outcomes. “When our money is so tied up in crime reaction and control, we are not addressing the root causes of violence or investing in building safer communities,” Sarduy and Lizzie Maldonado, another local activist, wrote in a commentary piece this week.

Top of Page

Rivard Report - July 11, 2020

Anna Farrell-Sherman: Expanding Texas’ underwater Eden

Standing in the surf on a Texas beach, it is easy to imagine that the sandy seafloor stretches out indefinitely under the swelling waves. But about 100 miles out, at the edge of the continental shelf, giant salt domes soar from the sand to form a dazzling underwater mountain range. These mountains, or banks, are home to some of the healthiest coral ecosystems in the world. Imagine the surprise of the fishers who first found it: colorful patches glowing in the middle of the ocean’s unending blue. Those fishers were the first to fight to protect these one-of-a-kind coral ecosystems, and with the help of President George H. W. Bush, recreational divers helped establish the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in 1992.

The designation gave the area protection against oil and gas extraction, anchoring from shipping vessels, and overfishing. This paved the way for the sanctuary to become a popular recreational dive site, where car-sized boulders of star and brain coral house sea urchins, eels, lobsters, and young fish. Sanctuary status also qualifies the site for research funding which has contributed to studies on the effect of climate change on coral ecosystems, and the discovery of colorful new fish species like the Mardi Gras Wrasse, found almost exclusively inside the sanctuary. Now, building on over 30 years of research in the sanctuary, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have proposed expanding the protected area from 56 square miles to 160, tripling the critical habitat protected. Great news, except that the expansion is far smaller than the one the public supported in the last round of comments, smaller than the one the staff preferred, and smaller than the minimum alternative. The pushback? Oil and gas. The very industry responsible for catastrophes like the 2010 BP spill that killed as many as 166,000 sea turtles and 1 million seabirds and devastated frontline communities that depend on the ecosystem.

Top of Page

City Stories

KUT - July 12, 2020

Hundreds demand 'Justice For Vanessa' at East Austin rally

Hundreds of people marched in East Austin on Sunday to honor Vanessa Guillén, the 20-year-old Fort Hood soldier who is believed to have been killed by another soldier in April. Her death, and the fact that she reportedly suffered harassment during her service, has sparked protest over the treatment of women in the military. “I'm out here to support Vanessa, but also every other soldier that's out there, because I have cousins and I have friends and family in the Army, too,” said Celes Inostroza, one of the marchers. “This could be them, and I would want the same support and love and justice.”

Protesters and Guillén’s family are calling for changes to how the military handles cases of harassment and violence. Before the march got underway, Guillén’s cousin, Uriel Guillén, urged protesters to support the federal “I Am Vanessa Guillén” bill. If made law, it would let service members file claims of harassment and assault with an independent third party instead of their line of command. "We want to protect our future soldiers," he said. Jennifer Massucci, who wore military fatigues to the event, said she was raped during her time in the Marines and that the demands for military accountability were long overdue. “For so long we’ve been invisible,” she said. “Now that it’s in the national eye, it’s relieving, it’s awesome. It's painful, but it’s also cathartic.” Massucci said allowing independent unbiased investigations of harassment and assault allegations was a necessary first step. “Because, when you put it in the chain of command, everybody’s friends with everybody, because it’s a boy's club," she said. "So, it’s very hard to be protected that way."

Top of Page

National Stories

The Hill - July 11, 2020

Louisiana governor announces mask mandate amid COVID-19 surge

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Saturday announced a statewide mask mandate and new restrictions for bars amid the surging coronavirus pandemic. The mandate, which will begin on Monday, requires all people over the age of 8 years old wear a mask in public throughout the state unless they have a medical condition prohibiting them from wearing a face covering.

The mandate applies to indoor and outdoor public spaces. Individual parishes in the state will be able to opt out of the mandate if they document fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people during a 2-week period. Only three parishes in the state met the requirement as of Saturday. Edwards addressed the politicization of masks in parts of the country, telling reporters on Saturday, "There has been a political dynamic that has emerged around the whole issue of masks.” "That doesn't make any sense to me,” Edwards said.

Top of Page

The Hill - July 12, 2020

Former AG Sessions hits back at Trump days ahead of Alabama Senate runoff

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions hit back at President Trump on Saturday after the president endorsed his rival in the Alabama Senate runoff just days before the contest. Sessions’s rebuke came after Trump called for Alabamians to vote for Tommy Tuberville, calling the former coach a “winner” and Sessions a “disaster who has let us all down.”

“I’ve taken the road less travelled. Not sought fame or fortune. My honor and integrity are far more important than these juvenile insults. Your scandal ridden candidate is too cowardly to debate. As you know, Alabama does not take orders from Washington,” Sessions fired back. Sessions, who represented Alabama in the Senate for 20 years before becoming attorney general, appeared to be referring to the 2017 special Senate election to replace him when Trump backed Luther Strange, who later lost in the GOP primary to Roy Moore. Moore, who later garnered Trump’s endorsement in the general election, ultimately was defeated by Democrat Doug Jones after facing a string of sexual misconduct allegations. Sessions has repeatedly faced Trump’s ire during the campaign for his decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia's election meddling, a move that the president and his allies claim led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.

Top of Page

Associated Press - July 12, 2020

Dr. Geoffrey Joyce: 5 COVID-19 myths politicians have repeated that just aren’t true

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has jumped to around 50,000 a day, and the virus has killed more than 130,000 Americans. Yet, I still hear myths about the infection that has created the worst public health crisis in America in a century. The purveyors of these myths, including politicians who have been soft peddling the impact of the coronavirus, aren’t doing the country any favors. Here are five myths I hear as director of health policy at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center that I would like to put to rest.

1) Myth: COVID-19 is not much worse than the flu. President Donald Trump and plenty of pundits predicted early on that COVID-19 would prove no more lethal than a bad flu. Some used that claim to argue that stay-at-home orders and government-imposed lockdowns were un-American and a gross overreaction that would cost more lives than they saved. By the end of June, however, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that national antibody testing indicated 5% to 8% of Americans had already been infected with the virus. With over 130,000 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths – and that’s likely an undercount – the case fatality rate is around 0.49% to 0.78% or about four to eight times that of the flu. 2) Myth: Cases are increasing because testing is increasing At one point, the idea that COVID-19 case numbers were high because of an increase in testing made intuitive sense, especially in the early stages of the pandemic when people showing up for tests were overwhelmingly showing symptoms of possible infection. More testing meant health officials were aware of more illnesses that would have otherwise gone under the radar. And testing predominately sick and symptomatic people can result in an overestimate of its virulence. Now, with millions of tests conducted and fewer than 10% coming back positive, the U.S. knows what it is facing. Testing today is essential to finding the people who are infected and getting them isolated.

Top of Page

Associated Press - July 13, 2020

Reports: Washington to shed ‘Redskins’ name Monday

Washington’s NFL team will get rid of the name ‘Redskins’ on Monday, according to multiple reports. It’s unclear when a new name will be revealed for one of the league’s oldest franchises. USA Today, ESPN, The Washington Post, Washington Times and Sports Business Journal reported Sunday night that owner Dan Snyder is set to “retire” the name. Yahoo, on Saturday, reported a name change was imminent. The team launched a ‘thorough review’ of the name July 3 that the NFL supported. That came in the aftermath of prominent sponsors FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo and Bank of America asking the team to change the name.

FedEx is the title sponsor of the team’s stadium in Landover, Maryland, and CEO Frederick Smith is a minority owner. Nike and other companies pulled team gear from their online stores. Over a dozen Native American leaders and organizations wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week demanding an immediate end to Washington’s use of the name. In the letter that was obtained by The Associated Press, they said they “expect the NFL to engage in a robust, meaningful reconciliation process with Native American movement leaders, tribes, and organizations to repair the decades of emotional violence and other serious harms this racist team name has caused to Native Peoples.”

Top of Page

Vox - July 8, 2020

A coronavirus consultant shares how she advises businesses on reopening

Dr. Dana Lerman was on the verge of launching a mobile Botox service with her business partner Andrea Stone. They were hoping to improve the reputation of traveling Botox with their company Social Remedy, based in Denver, Colorado. They had a website, lawyers, insurance, and a planned launch date of the first weekend of June. Then the coronavirus hit. “My business partner and myself are very ambitious entrepreneurs, and we’re just not the type of people to sit and watch and just wait,” Lerman, an infectious disease specialist and entrepreneur, said. They knew they needed to pivot for the times.

While their initial idea was to mobilize coronavirus testing (people “were sitting in their homes, terrified,” Lerman said), the concept evolved when they couldn’t get insurance. The Covid Consultants, a firm dedicated to advising entities from restaurants to nursing homes about how to reopen with minimal risk, was born. Now, as states have begun to reopen, businesses are desperate to serve customers in person and gain back revenue that was lost during the shutdown. Covid Consultants advises them on how to do so with minimal risk. Even beyond Lerman’s company, there is a huge market for coronavirus consulting. Many projects and deals from before the virus hit have been delayed, forcing consultants to adapt and businesses to seek help navigating the demands of the coronavirus. Vox spoke with Lerman about the tips she has for businesses and Americans to deal with the coronavirus safely as the country reopens amid rising infection numbers and fears of a coming second wave. “This is not a wave issue. This is a roller coaster, and this ride is not over anytime soon,” she said. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Top of Page

Axios - July 13, 2020

How the White House is trying to trap leakers

President Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has told several White House staffers he's fed specific nuggets of information to suspected leakers to see if they pass them on to reporters — a trap that would confirm his suspicions. "Meadows told me he was doing that," said one former White House official. "I don't know if it ever worked." This hunt for leakers has put some White House staffers on edge, with multiple officials telling Axios that Meadows has been unusually vocal about his tactics. So far, he's caught only one person, for a minor leak.

The big picture: Trump has made clear to Meadows that an important part of his job is to "find the leakers" — a wickedly difficult task that has plagued all three of Meadows' predecessors. Trump is especially furious about two recent leaks of classified and sensitive information. As Politico first reported, the administration has interviewed people with access to the intelligence that the Russians were paying the Taliban bounties to kill American soldiers. A senior White House official confirmed Politico's reporting that they have narrowed down the list of suspects to fewer than 10 people. Trump was also enraged when the New York Times reported that the Secret Service rushed him down to the bunker during the protests outside the White House. So far, Meadows has yet to deliver on either of these high-priority leak hunts. A source familiar with Meadows' thinking said he is "focused on national security leaks and could care less about the palace intrigue stories." On a recent podcast with Ted Cruz, however, Meadows said they tracked down and fired a federal employee who leaked information about a White House social media executive order.

Top of Page

NPR - July 11, 2020

Masks and mouse ears: Disney World reopens as coronavirus cases climb in Florida

Nearly four months after it closed over coronavirus concerns, Disney World is once again inviting guests to experience its Florida theme parks. The reopening comes as Florida is experiencing a surge of new coronavirus cases, with more than 10,000 being reported on Saturday. Both Magic Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom opened Saturday to the general public, following limited openings for annual-pass holders and employees. The other two area parks — Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios — are expected to open on Wednesday.

But before parkgoers can get into the "happiest place on Earth," they'll have to get used to a few changes. "From increased cleaning and disinfecting across our parks and resorts, to updated health and safety policies, we have reimagined the Disney experience so we can all enjoy the magic responsibly," Disney Parks Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel wrote in a company blog post. Some of these changes start before people get into the parks. Guests can no longer drive up to the parks for same-day entrance. They have to make reservations, as part of an effort to limit the number of people in the park each day. Disney is also requiring face masks for anyone above the age of 2 and is taking temperatures before people are allowed in. Inside the parks, social distancing is being encouraged and enforced with markers on the ground. Lines for rides are being spaced out. Physical barriers, like plexiglass, have been put in place where distancing is not possible. Wait times also appear down, with rides that used to have queues of one to two hours down to five minutes.

Top of Page

Newsclips - July 12, 2020

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 10, 2020

With record 10,000 in hospital, Abbott warns: ‘Things will get worse’

With a record 10,002 coronavirus patients in Texas hospitals Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott again warned that he expects hospitalizations and deaths to continue to rise. In a series of TV interviews Friday, Abbott urged Texans to follow his statewide mask order and said more restrictions will be needed if it’s ignored. “We will not have to lock down if people follow the simple requirement of wearing a face mask,” Abbott said in an interview with KSAT.

Abbott also said he expected the death toll to worsen as new COVID-19 cases rise. Deaths are a lagging indicator because they frequently occur weeks after a person initially tests positive for the virus. “Things will get worse,” he warned in an interview with KLBK. “The deaths that we’re seeing announced today and yesterday — which are now over 100 — those are people who likely contracted COVID-19 in late May.” Abbott extended his coronavirus-related disaster declaration for all Texas counties Friday, hours before state health officials reported 95 new COVID-19 deaths and a record number of hospitalizations for the 12th consecutive day. The Texas Department of State Health Services also reported 9,765 new cases of the coronavirus, the fourth day in a row that number has hovered near 10,000. Texas is in the midst of its deadliest week of the pandemic, with three straight days of roughly 100 new fatalities pushing the statewide death toll from the virus to 3,013 on Friday. One day earlier, state health officials reported a record 105 new fatalities, the first time the daily death toll for the coronavirus reached triple digits in Texas.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2020

Gov. Abbott urges Texas police to enforce mask order, as some balk

Gov. Greg Abbott called on police across Texas to step up enforcement of his mask order amid the mounting pandemic, explaining Friday that they can either “be part of the problem or part of the solution.” Facing a revolt within his own party, the Republican governor tried again to sell the measure, acknowledging that face coverings can be inconvenient but saying the alternative of locking the state down again is far worse. The state on Friday reported 10,002 COVID-19 hospitalizations, almost twice as many as two weeks ago and seven times the total on Memorial Day. Also Friday, Texas officials asked the federal government to set up an emergency field hospital in the Rio Grande Valley, where coronavirus patients are beginning to overrun the capacities of hospitals and ICUs.

“We have a short period of time in the next couple of weeks to bend the curve of this explosion in cases and hospitalizations,” Abbott said in an interview on KSAT in San Antonio. “If we can enforce this, we will be able to keep the state open and reduce hospitalizations.” Public safety officials in several counties, including Montgomery, have refused to enforce the new order, citing personal liberties or logistical concerns. On Wednesday, the Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee voted unanimously to censure Abbott, joining at least three other county executive committees that have taken similar steps. Democrats have separately attacked the governor for reopening the state too quickly and blocking cities and counties from taking precautions early in the pandemic. In April, Abbott stripped local officials of the ability to enforce their own mask orders. Houston and Harris County leaders, who have been pushing for mask order since for months, are frustrated by the governor’s leadership. Mayor Sylvester Turner said he doesn’t want to add mask enforcement to the Houston Police Department’s already heavy load, spokesperson Mary Benton said.

Top of Page

Washington Post - July 11, 2020

Fauci is sidelined by the White House as he steps up blunt talk on pandemic

For months, Anthony S. Fauci has played a lead role in America’s coronavirus pandemic, as a diminutive, Brooklyn-accented narrator who has assessed the risk and issued increasingly blunt warnings as the nation’s response has gone badly awry. But as the Trump administration has strayed from the advice of many of its scientists and public health experts, the White House has moved to sideline Fauci, scuttled some of his planned TV appearances and largely kept him out of the Oval Office for more than a month even as coronavirus infections surge in large swaths of the country.

In recent days, the 79-year-old scientist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has found himself directly in the president’s crosshairs. During a Fox News interview Thursday with Sean Hannity, Trump said Fauci “is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” And when Greta Van Susteren asked him last week about Fauci’s assessment that the country was not in a good place, Trump said flatly: “I disagree with him.” Fauci no longer briefs Trump and is “never in the Oval [Office] anymore,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Fauci last spoke to the president during the first week of June, according to a person with knowledge of Trump’s calendar. For some administration officials, such developments have been an early sign their job was on the line. But Trump cannot directly fire Fauci, a career civil servant with more than 50 years in government service who enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress. In any case, the president has no plans to get rid of him, said the official. As for Fauci himself, although he is frustrated by the turmoil and the state of the outbreak, friends say he has no plans to abandon his post, which includes a critical role in the development of a coronavirus vaccine and treatments. Fauci has found other ways to get his message out, from online Facebook chats to podcasts and print media interviews. And in recent days, with coronavirus cases slamming hospitals in the South and West, he has been frankly critical of the U.S. response — and implicitly, of the president.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 11, 2020

Texas voter registration surges to 16.4 million, despite the pandemic

Not even the worst pandemic to hit Texas in a century was enough to stem the surge in voter registrations that has remade the state’s electorate over the past four years. Just since March, Texas has added nearly 149,000 voters even as the political parties and voter registration groups face new obstacles in signing up people in a world of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. The state now has a record 16.4 million voters, 2.1 million more than it had just over four years ago — a 15-percent increase in registrations that is nearly equivalent to the voter rolls of the entire state of Connecticut. “It is a totally different electorate than it was in 2016,” said Luke Warford, voter expansion director for the Texas Democratic Party.

Harris County and Bexar County have led the way in the last three months with voter registration efforts. In Harris County, voter rolls have grown by 16,000, while in Bexar they are up almost 14,000. Combined, the two counties account for one-fifth of the increase in registrations statewide. Warford said for both parties and all candidates, those new voters have thrown a wild card into the 2020 elections as the parties try to get them to break their way. Texas just isn’t accustomed to this sort of surge. Texas voter registration rolls historically have grown very slowly. From 2002 to 2012, the rolls grew by 800,000. But now, registration is in hyperdrive. Just since November of 2018, Texas has added almost 600,000 voters. Some of the change is coming from transplants moving from other states, while many others are coming from minority communities that voter registration advocacy groups have targeted over the last four years. In short, Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor, said 2020 is setting up as a real shootout in regions of the state that have become more competitive because of the diversification and growth of the electorate. “It’s another step toward Texas being a true battleground,” Rottinghaus said.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2020

'Code blue': Texas COVID deaths higher than publicly reported - and spiking

The large refrigerated trailer suddenly appeared one day near the loading dock at HCA Healthcare Northwest, taking some on staff by surprise. But soon its purpose became clear. When a patient died last week in the hospital’s intensive care unit — nearly full these days of critically ill COVID-19 patients — the body was packed in ice and moved into the trailer. The hospital’s morgue was full. HCA officials confirmed the trailer was used as temporary storage until the body could be picked up by a funeral home. As other hospitals prepare to follow suit or have already done so, there is a stark new reality in Houston.

In the early months of the pandemic, it seemed as if Texas as a whole, and Houston specifically, was mostly spared the worst of the crisis, especially compared with the Northeast. In a city and state so big, the number of cases remained relatively small. So, too, did the number of dead, with about 3,100 reported in Texas so far. Overrun hospitals and makeshift morgues happened elsewhere — not in a city with the largest medical center complex in the world. But Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows Texas is one of 24 states that publicly reports only confirmed COVID-19 deaths, not “probable” ones. And with rampant testing shortages in Texas, many patients likely died without being screened for the disease, experts said. Texas ranks 40th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in deaths per 100,000 population on the CDC COVID-19 tracker. But that is potentially misleading since it compares Texas with 27 states that include “probable cases.” Nearly 1 in 5 deaths reported in New York City, the national epicenter for COVID-19, was reported as a “probable.” The surge of cases has left doctors, nurses and first responders in Houston overwhelmed, and scores of patients wait for 12 hours or more for emergency room care or ICU beds. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott warned that the death toll will rise.

Top of Page

Texas Politics Project - July 10, 2020

Jim Henson and Joshua Blank: Can Texas GOP leaders break up with Trump on COVID-19 before it's too late?

In the absence of a strong GOP counterweight to President Donald Trump’s denial of the COVID-19 pandemic, recent University of Texas/Texas Politics Project polling finds more and more Texans drifting into attitudes that minimize the threat of the coronavirus and, consequently, encourages behavior that continues to fuel a rapid rise in positive tests, active cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. These increases, in turn, add to the strain on an already reeling economy. The partisan characteristics of Texans who are downplaying or even denying the seriousness of the pandemic, and seemingly ignoring public health guidelines, suggest that it’s vital that the state’s political leaders provide different guidance in their rhetoric and their behavior.

While liberal partisans may be quick to internalize the inflamed meme of mask-wearing as a partisan shorthand, most Texas Republicans report complying with the main behavioral recommendations for slowing the spread of the coronavirus. But in the absence of alternative GOP voices willing and able to counter Trump’s message of minimization and redirection, the minority of Republicans who appear to deny both this guidance and the threat posed by the pandemic is growing. The very public efforts by President Donald Trump and like-minded allies to downplay the public health threat posed by the pandemic now straining Texas’ public health system has, by most measures, failed to persuade a majority of Trump’s otherwise devoted supporters in the Texas GOP that they should treat the pandemic as he has. Texas Republicans as a group unambiguously express lower levels of concern about contracting the coronavirus, or about people in their communities contracting it than do Democrats or even independents. But a majority, or at least a plurality, of Republicans remain conscious of the risk posed by COVID-19, and also report behaviours consistent with this recognition.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2020

Erica Grieder: Turnout in Texas runoffs should have Republicans on edge

Democrats often urge Americans to vote as if their lives depended on it. This year, circumstances are helping to reinforce that message. “I think we’re seeing the ramifications of having failed Republican leadership, and no one is seeing it more than those of us here in Texas,” said Billy Begala, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. Begala made his remarks Friday morning, the last day of early voting in advance of Tuesday’s primary runoff elections. “It didn’t have to be this bad,” he said of the resurgence of COVID-19 in Texas. “It really didn’t.” Texas at one point seemed to be having relatively good luck with the new coronavirus, and was one of the first states to begin re-opening. Health officials were talking in April about the Houston’s area’s curve starting to flatten in terms of new infections.

But conditions across the state have deteriorated markedly since then. As of Friday, the state was reporting some 250,000 cases, and more than 3,000 deaths. Republican leaders such as Gov. Greg Abbott, while pumping the breaks on phased re-opening, have been scrambling to put these figures in a more favorable context, as well as to contain growing public concerns about President Donald Trump’s management of the crisis. They’ve noted, for example, that Texas’s death rate per million is lower than that of New York or California, both of which are led by Democrats. The early-voting period, which began June 29, has provided some evidence that people aren’t taking comfort in this message. The coronavirus has complicated elections administration. Democratic officials have been urging Texans to vote by mail, if they’re eligible. And Texans who’ve gone to the polls in person have noticed unusual precautions, in most of the state’s major counties. In Harris County, for example, voters have been provided with rubber finger cots and disinfectant wipes as well as the traditional “I voted” stickers.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2020

Rethinking the limits on catfish in Texas

One of America’s favorite food fish, which also ranks high on the hit list with freshwater fishermen all across the South, is at the center stage of ongoing discussions between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologists and the state’s tightly woven catfish angling fraternity. Still in its infancy stages, the friendly debate is aimed at whittling down a long list of daily bag and length limits currently in effect on channel and blue catfish in Texas waters to a suite of regulations that is significantly shorter. The general idea is to simplify catfish regulations and help eliminate unnecessary confusion among anglers while managing Texas’ diverse catfish fisheries for optimum quality without infringing on anglers looking to fill the bill for a weekend fish fry.

Currently, there are nearly a dozen different sets of regulations governing channels and blues on Texas waters, including a statewide rule that allows anglers to retain 25 fish daily with a 12 inch minimum length limit. The statewide regulation applies to about 85 percent of Texas’ public waters. The remaining waters are governed by a series of “special limits” that in some cases can be confusing to understand. TPWD is looking to take a more standardized approach in its catfish management strategies by combining regulations for channels and blues where possible, and reducing the number of catfish regulations on the books from 11 to four. The suite of possible options includes a revised statewide limit that would do away with the 12 inch minimum length but still allow anglers to retain 25 daily with no more than 10 fish 20 inches or longer. The remaining “special” options are geared toward trophy fishery management, large reservoirs where harvest is abundant, or waters with a history of excessive harvest and/or limited recruitment.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2020

Hospital patients waiting in ERs because COVID-19 is filling up beds

Houston-area hospitals are increasingly having to keep patients in their emergency rooms for longer periods while they scurry to open additional beds, the new pressure point of the relentless surge of COVID-19 cases. Hospitals inside and outside the Texas Medical Center confirmed Friday that the lack of available staffed beds is stressing their already strapped ERs. Officials at the hospitals warned that though they have been able to find beds for patients with time, that won’t be sustainable if COVID-19 cases continue at this rate.

“If things don’t change, we’re facing a picture like New York City did,” said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president of the Harris Health System, the Harris County safety-net hospital network, which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. “That’s what scares the bejesus out of me.” Dr. David Callender, president of the Memorial Hermann Health System, said it’s not uncommon for hospitals to lodge patients but “not at this level.” Callender said 145 patients were in Memorial Hermann ERs waiting to be admitted to system hospitals Wednesday and Thursday. What’s more, wait times keeps increasing. Porsa said it’s more than doubled in the last few weeks — from eight to 12 hours in late June to more than 24 hours this week. Sometimes, it’s longer, Porsa said.It’s become much harder, Porsa added, for Harris Health to identify hospitals to accommodate transfers when it doesn’t have enough beds or health care workers. The system has sent patients to all manner of hospitals, from Galveston to Bryan, and continues to send adults to Texas Children’s, a highly unusual course of action.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2020

Vanessa Guillén’s community rallies for her family at fundraiser

The streets of the south Houston neighborhood Vanessa Guillén where grew up filled with people showing their support for the slain soldier’s family Saturday afternoon. A line of cars waiting to buy plates to-go from Perfect Choice BBQ stretched for over a mile down Galveston Road. All of the proceeds of the sales were for the slain 20-year-old Fort Hood soldier’s family. “This is how we unite,” said Rick Torres, owner of the barbecue joint. “If something happens to someone, in our culture and our heritage, Mexicans, we cook. We bring people together.”

Guillén’s friends, family, neighbors and community volunteers carried plates of brisket, sausage, rice, beans and funnel cakes to the line of cars in 100 degree heat for hours. Torres said they weren’t expecting such an overwhelming turnout. “We’re really moved by the whole situation,” said Jenny Mendoza, a 2009 graduate of Cesar Chavez High School, where Guillén graduated from. “We’re not going to take it sitting down.” The remains of Guillén were found months after she went missing in April. A suspect in her death, Aaron Robinson, died by suicide as police were preparing to arrest him. A second suspect, Robinson’s girlfriend Cecily Aguilar, faces federal conspiracy to tamper with evidence charges.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2020

AG’s office argues Supreme Court should side with Turner over Texas GOP, Hotze

The Texas Attorney General’s Office on Saturday sided with Mayor Sylvester Turner in a legal dispute over the state Republican Party’s in-person convention, arguing that the Texas Supreme Court should reject the party’s attempt to proceed with the event. In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins — the state’s top appellate lawyer — said that despite the party’s “troubling factual allegations,” the court should deny its petition for failing to “properly invoke [the court’s] mandamus authority.” The legal proceedings began earlier this week after Turner ordered Houston First Corp., the city nonprofit that manages the convention site, to cancel the event over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Republican Party sued Turner and Houston First, but a Harris County judge denied the party’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked Turner from canceling the event. The party then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Texas Supreme Court. In its petition, the party invoked a section of Texas’ election code that allows the court to issue orders that “compel the performance of any duty imposed by law in connection with the holding of an election or a political party convention.” In his brief, Hawkins argued that the party’s convention contract with Houston First does not apply, because the convention was to be held under a contract, not a law. Prior Supreme Court rulings have “distinguished ‘a duty created under [a] contract’ as legally distinct from ‘a duty imposed by law,’” Hawkins wrote. The attorney general’s office also argued that the court should deny a separate petition from Steve Hotze, a Houston Republican activist who also is seeking to allow the convention to proceed. Hawkins wrote that Hotze and the other activists in his lawsuit “are neither parties to nor third-party beneficiaries of” the convention contract.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 12, 2020

Joe Biden builds lead over Donald Trump in reliably red Texas, as voters sour on handling of virus

Former Vice President Joe Biden has built a 5-point lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, as unease over Trump’s handling of coronavirus mounts, a new Dallas Morning News-University of Texas Tyler poll has found. If the general election were held today, Biden would carry Texas, with 46% of the vote to Trump’s 41%. 14% were undecided or named someone else. Biden’s lead, which comes after he and Trump were tied 43%-43% in The News and UT-Tyler’s April survey, is significant, if barely: The poll, conducted June 29-July 7, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.24 percentage points.

The story behind Biden’s slight bulge is the softening of the Republican incumbent’s support among independents and “weak partisans,” said Kenneth Bryant Jr., a UT-Tyler political scientist who helped design the poll. “While President Trump has and still enjoys near universal approval from Republicans, and overwhelming disfavor from Democrats, he has lost considerable ground among the folks in the middle, who may ultimately decide who wins Texas in November,” Bryant said. Up to now, though, the Biden campaign has done little to demonstrate it’ll make a major effort before the Nov. 3 general election in Texas. The state hasn’t voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter carried the state in 1976.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2020

Texas Sen. John Cornyn criticized for questioning whether children can catch and spread COVID-19

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn questioned in a television interview whether children can catch and spread the coronavirus, a statement contradicted by experts and data. His remarks brought another round of criticism from his Democratic opponents, who said his statements showed Cornyn wasn’t taking the virus seriously enough. “We still don’t know whether children can get it and transmit it to others,” the Texas Republican said during an interview with KXAS-TV (NBC5) on Thursday.

More than 1,700 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have been confirmed in those 19 and younger in Texas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, or DSHS. Of the 230,000 cases confirmed in the state, age data was available for only 24,000 as the state conducts case investigations. During the interview, Cornyn also said, “No one under the age of 20 has died of the coronavirus.” He later clarified that he was referring only to Texas. While serious cases of COVID-19 are rare in children, 17-year-old Jameela Barber of Lancaster died of the virus in April in Dallas County. She had no underlying health conditions, health officials said. Additionally, the Nueces County Public Health District on Friday announced the COVID-19 death of a 6-month-old boy. Cornyn’s office said Friday morning that “while he could have been more precise with his language,” Cornyn was referring to a tweet Thursday from former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 10, 2020

North Texas restaurants received at least $473 million in federal loans, but is that enough to save them?

Of the thousands of North Texas businesses that secured federal aid through the Paycheck Protection Program, restaurants received at least $473.5 million in rescue loans. Newly released data from the Small Business Administration shows that restaurants accounted for 1,049 loans out of the more than 15,000 North Texas companies that were granted loans over $150,000.

Local restaurants that were approved for PPP loans include M Crowd Restaurants, the group behind Mi Cocina, Taco Diner and The Mercury, which received $5 million to $10 million; T.G.I. Fridays, which received $5 million to $10 million; Mesero Restaurant Group, which received $2 million to $5 million; Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, which received $5 million to $10 million; and Flavor Hook, the restaurant group over Neighborhood Services, Town Hearth, Montlake Cut and Desert Racer, which received $2 million to $5 million. The SBA released range amounts only for the loans, so it’s unknown just how much each company received. The SBA also released limited data on businesses that received loans under $150,000, but those companies were not named by the SBA. But previous Dallas Morning News reports named restaurants such as Lucia and Macellaio, as well as TJ’s Seafood, that received smaller federal loan amounts.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2020

Kelcy Warren’s Energy Transfer girds for next battle over Dakota Access pipeline

Kelcy Warren, the Dallas billionaire pipeline mogul, has said he’s proud of the Dakota Access oil project like it were his son. So when a judge delivered a surprise ruling this week ordering the pipeline to shut until further environmental reviews are conducted, Warren flashed the pugnacious, bare-knuckled approach that has made him — and the project — a source of seemingly never-ending controversy in America.

His company, Energy Transfer LP, announced Wednesday it will press on with operating the pipeline, despite the order to stop the oil from flowing by an Aug. 5 deadline. The company said it would continue to accept oil from producers in the Bakken shale field looking to ship oil on the pipeline next month while it appealed the ruling. It was, to Warren’s enemies in the indigenous community and conservation circles, an incendiary statement that would only add to the bitterness remaining four years after the project stoked weeks of protests at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. To his supporters, it was classic Warren: The 64-year-old CEO, a fund-raiser for President Donald Trump, has adopted a relentlessly aggressive approach to building pipelines that get the nation’s enormous oil and natural gas reserves to market.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 11, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: TEA creates an impossible school choice for parents

I’ve been lucky. Over the past six months, while we’ve seen 3.2 million confirmed cases and more than 136,000 deaths from COVID-19 in this country, my family and I have managed to stay healthy. In the face of an unprecedented global pandemic that has disrupted and restricted our lives, I’ve tried to maintain my psychological equilibrium by focusing on the few things I can control, rather than the many that I can’t: namely, my own daily practices (social distancing, wearing protective masks) to keep myself and the people around me as safe as possible.

It’s only over the past few days that I’ve come to feel truly powerless, as my usual mid-summer mix of excitement and nervousness about a coming school year has been replaced with anxiety and frustration. My daughter, my only child, is 15 years old and will soon start her sophomore year in high school. She’s beginning to learn to drive and thinking about what she wants to do with her life. Of course, she’s also having to think about COVID-19 and what it will mean for this coming school year. There are no good choices. I hate the thought of my daughter spending the next school year isolated at home, unable to hang out with her friends and benefit from in-class instruction. I want her to have a real high-school experience and I know that distance learning can simulate, but can’t replicate, the sense of being in a classroom with a teacher and other students. (The same way I know, from experience, that a Zoom interview can’t match the dynamic of a conversation between people who are in the same room.) But I also dread the thought of students, teachers and other school employees being used in a massive lab experiment to determine how widely a killer, highly infectious virus will spread on a highly populated public-school campus.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 10, 2020

Secretary of the Army announces independent review of Fort Hood in wake of Vanessa Guillén slaying

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy agreed Friday to launch an independent review of the command culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community in the wake of the slaying of a 20-year-old Houston soldier at the post, according to a statement. The announcement came shortly after McCarthy met Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, Rep. Gil Cisneros, a California Democrat, and leaders from the League of United Latin American Citizens to discuss concerns raised by the investigation into Vanessa Guillén’s reported sexual harassment, as well as her murder while on duty at the post.

“I want to express my condolences to the Guillén family. We are saddened and deeply troubled by the loss of one of our own, Specialist Vanessa Guillén,” he said in a news release. “I would like to thank the League of United Latin American Citizens for meeting with us today and their continued commitment to honor the memory of Specialist Guillén and in helping the Army identify and address challenges Hispanic service members face. Additionally, I’d like to thank Rep. Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Gil Cisneros for their support for our troops and their special interest in ensuring justice for Vanessa.” McCarthy said he would appoint four civilian experts to a panel that will spend five to 10 days at Fort Hood reviewing historical data, command climate surveys, inspector general reports, crime reports, and data related to the military’s response to sexual harassment and sexual assault. The panel will conduct interviews with military personnel and others in the Fort Hood community.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 12, 2020

‘Tsunami’ of COVID cases crushing Hidalgo County

Hidalgo County is awash in a tidal wave of COVID-19 cases that has filled its hospitals to capacity, officials said Thursday. County leaders said in an afternoon briefing they had 1,274 newly diagnosed cases. In a late update, they reported 20 deaths for the day. “Despite valiant efforts on multiple fronts, the community overall has not taken this virus seriously,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said. “The tsunami is here.” The soaring numbers came as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opened a temporary “surge testing” site, vowing to swab up to 5,000 people a day at the Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg. It had problems on its first day Wednesday due to staffing shortages and patients not following directions, officials said.

Those woes largely had been corrected Thursday, as the testing site ran more smoothly and wait times shortened, city spokeswoman Cary Zayas said. The federal testing site in Edinburg — one of eight set up in three cities nationwide — will continue offering free tests from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day through Tuesday. Hidalgo County residents must preregister online for an appointment, print a voucher and bring it to the arena at the scheduled date and time. Patients are asked to arrive early and expect an average wait time of about two hours. No one will be allowed in line after 4 p.m. Officials painted a grim picture of how the virus has roared through Hidalgo County, home to an estimated 868,707 people on the border with Mexico and spanning almost 1,600 square miles. The total number of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Hidalgo County since the pandemic began reached 7,334 on Thursday, while its cumulative death toll reached 123 by late Thursday.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 12, 2020

Elaine Ayala: UTSA will have to make more than amends for its devastating cuts to a San Antonio treasure

The devastating cuts to the Institute of Texan Cultures early this month won’t be forgotten for a long time. Local ITC devotees will see to that. The sweeping reductions in staff came as a result of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s projected $35.8 million budget shortfall prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. It hardly has been a secret, however, that UTSA has not had its heart in ITC for a long time. Over the decades, ITC has enjoyed far more support outside of the university than within it. Nor has the university integrated ITC into university life, or taken advantage of what students could learn there.

So, when UTSA laid off more than 300 employees, the cuts to ITC were extraordinarily deep and painful for the 20 employees laid off. It had 26 on its staff. The loss affected the San Antonio community at large, too. The decision, driven by Dean Hendrix, dean of UTSA Libraries, triggered an immediate backlash among ITC’s advisory group, whose members weren’t consulted nor informed. President Taylor Eighmy’s handling of the ITC crisis thus far has been upfront. He has apologized profusely for the lack of transparency and addressed a group of ITC supporters Sunday evening in an online meeting. In a written response he apologized for not engaging them “appropriately … I would like the opportunity for us to rectify this by doing a better job of listening and learning as we look forward.” In an interview, he described having open, robust conversations in the last few days that he hopes will continue over several months. He added that he’d already “heard some interesting and innovative ideas that will help us.” It’s too early to tell what will come of all this. San Antonio can hope that it will lead to a stronger cultural institution devoted to the celebration of cultural diversity.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 10, 2020

Two Election Day polling sites in Tarrant will be closed; workers worried about COVID

At least two polling sites in Tarrant County will be closed on Tuesday for the presidential primary runoff and Fort Worth election to renew a half-cent sales tax for police, because there are not enough people willing to work as coronavirus cases continue to spike. Officials with the local Republican and Democratic parties, which are in charge of the election, say they wish they didn’t have to close any polling sites. “We knew that this was always a possibility,” said Deborah Peoples, who heads the Tarrant Democratic Party. “Many of our election judges are older and in the high risk category. We were doing really well getting these staffed until we saw the huge surge in cases in Tarrant County.”

So far, 173 polling sites are scheduled to be open and Peoples and Rick Barnes, who heads the Tarrant Republican Party, said they believe Tarrant voters will have enough places to cast a ballot because of vote centers, which let people vote at any polling site in the county. “I’m not concerned about there not being enough polling sites,” Barnes said. Officials said they should find out Monday if any additional polling sites will need to close because of a shortage of election workers. “Ideally they would have all opened,” said Heider Garcia, the county’s election administrator. “But we will see what happens between now and Monday.” The two sites officials already know will be closed Tuesday are the Cross Point Church of Christ in Grand Prairie and the First Baptist Church of Watauga, Garcia said. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said he heard the parties were struggling to find enough people, primarily election judges, to staff nearly a dozen polling sites.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 12, 2020

Bud Kennedy: Pass this city mask law. It helps enforce Greg Abbott’s order and slows COVID-19.

Let me say this as clearly as I can. It is up to you to keep yourself and your family safe. Your city, county and state are not checking whether every business is run safely. Many cities and counties don’t check at all.

It is up to you to stay 6 feet away from absolutely anyone else, and to wear some sort of scarf, bandanna, mask or face covering. It is up to you to stay out of any crowd. If a store or restaurant is busy, leave immediately. There’s another store or restaurant nearby that isn’t crowded. Do not let your guard down. The government is not going to do the work of keeping your family or children safe. Depending where you live, your city or county may not be trying at all. Some cities worry more about businesses and sales-tax cash. Tell your city council to stop making excuses for doing nothing. Tell members to start enforcing industry safety standards and state health orders. It’s now also an economic issue. Mandatory masks and rigid distancing rules are now considered the only way to keep businesses, stores and restaurants open, keep workers safe and keep tax money coming in.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 11, 2020

Texas surpasses 250,000 coronavirus cases, sets records for new cases, hospitalizations

More than 250,000 Texans have now been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the latest numbers from the Department of State Health Services. On Saturday, the state reported a record 10,351 new cases of the coronavirus, and the number of people reported to be hospitalized with COVID-19 reached 10,083, breaking the previous record of 10,002 set Friday. The state also reported 99 new coronavirus deaths on Saturday — capping one of the deadliest weeks of the pandemic for the state. The highest number of COVID-19 deaths reported so far in one day in Texas was 105 on July 9.

In total, the state has reported 3,112 deaths as a result of the coronavirus. As of Saturday, Harris County had the highest number of coronavirus cases with 42,000, followed by Dallas County (31,525), Bexar (18,602), Tarrant (17,334) and Travis (14,304). On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott said he expects hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise. He urged Texans to abide by his mask mandate, which requires anyone 10 and older to wear a face covering when in a public space, with exceptions for counties with less than 20 coronavirus cases. On Friday afternoon, Abbott extended his coronavirus-related disaster declaration for all Texas counties.

Top of Page

McAllen Monitor - July 11, 2020

Two McAllen police officers die in ambush shooting

Standing down the street where two McAllen police officers were shot and killed, a visibly distraught Police Chief Victor Rodriguez was pained Saturday in disclosing the details of two of his officers who died responding to a domestic disturbance earlier that day. Speaking during a news conference held at the scene of the shooting, Rodriguez identified the fallen policemen as officers Edelmiro Garza, 45, and Ismael Chavez, 39. Garza had more than eight years of experience as an officer with the McAllen Police Department, while Chavez had more than two.

According to Rodriguez, the officers answered a disturbance call in the vicinity of the 3500 block of Queta Street at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, initially meeting two individuals who reported assaults occurring inside a nearby home. When officers tried to enter the home, the alleged shooter, whom police identified as 23-year-old Audon Ignacio Camarillo, opened fire. “They were doing their job,” Rodriguez said. “That is what they were supposed to do. The person was a suspect of the incident, met our officers at the door, and shot at both officers. Both officers suffered fatal wounds, they have both passed away as a result… “The officers never had a chance to suspect deadly assault on them, much less death.” Camarillo shot and killed himself a short time after opening fire on the officers, according to Rodriguez, who said the suspect hid behind a vehicle after other officers responded to the scene. Public records indicate Camarillo had a few run-ins with police beginning in 2016 to his most recent arrest last month on assault charges.

Top of Page

Roll Call - July 11, 2020

What’s Trump endorsement worth? Texas House, Alabama Senate runoffs will tell

Loyalty to President Donald Trump has defined Republican primaries since 2016. So when he chooses sides in intraparty contests, it can make a difference. It’s not a perfect record. In the last month, Trump-backed GOP Reps. Scott Tipton of Colorado and Denver Riggleman of Virginia failed to get their party’s nod for reelection. And North Carolina Republicans rejected Linda Bennett, Trump’s choice for the seat formerly held by his chief of staff.

But the people who won those nominations all argued they were bigger Trump supporters, and Republican strategists say the president’s endorsement still carries significant weight, especially in races with potentially lower turnout such as Tuesday’s primary runoffs for two House districts in Texas and for Senate in Alabama. Trump has a personal connection to two of those races, making next week a key test of whether the value of his support has diminished. His campaign does not think so. “As we’ve seen in countless races this cycle, including the upcoming GOP runoffs in Alabama and Texas, an endorsement from President Trump brings unmatched enthusiasm for the candidates and this President’s successful America First agenda,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager said in a statement.

Top of Page

Rivard Report - July 12, 2020

Election Day voting locations in Bexar reduced by 8 after workers bow out

After election officials saw rising numbers of novel coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations last week, some officials told Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen they couldn’t work on election day, forcing the closure of eight sites. The 225 voting locations the elections department planned to operate Tuesday for the primary runoff election will be reduced to 217 due to the number of election officials that opted out of working. “They were calling and saying they couldn’t,” Callanen said. “They talked with their families and they couldn’t take the chance. I absolutely respect them for that. I’m not going to force them into a deal like this.”

Polling places at St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Crockett Elementary, Barkley-Ruiz Elementary, Olmos Park City Hall, Grey Forest Community Center, Hill Country City Hall, Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, and Paschall Elementary will not be open to voters as previously planned. The list of all voting locations that will be open on Tuesday can be found here. In previous elections, there have been 280 poll sites on election day. But the elections department had to reduce the number of voting locations due to a variety of reasons, Callanen said. The University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M University-San Antonio, which usually host polling locations, will not for the primary runoff election because there are no students there. Bexar County also eliminated the option of using County buildings because they require visitors to wear face coverings, and Gov. Greg Abbott specifically exempted polling locations from his statewide face mask mandate. The elections department also is no longer setting up shop in retirement communities, fearing for the safety of the older and higher-risk residents in those buildings while the coronavirus continues to spread in Bexar County.

Top of Page

County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 11, 2020

Early voting ends with record high turnouts, high number of mail-in ballots

Austin-area voters didn’t let a little thing like a pandemic dampen their participation in democracy the past two weeks. Election officials say turnout for early voting in party primary runoffs, which ended Friday, was the highest in years and mail-in voting set records. “For a little runoff election, this looks more like a presidential election than anything else,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk. For early voting, Travis County saw 11.8% of total registered voters cast ballots. For comparison, the 2016 primary runoff had only 1.25% of voters show up during early voting.

DeBeauvoir attributed the high turnout, in part, to the special election being held to replace retiring state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. The special election had been scheduled for May 2 but was postponed to July 14 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tuesday’s election also features primary runoffs for U.S. Senate, Congress and county- and state-level offices. Also, DeBeauvoir said she thinks voters just want to vote. “I think they feel more empowered,” she said. “I think a lot of voters are worried and want to fix things and do things, and they intuitively know that’s something you do at the ballot box.” Other Central Texas counties also reported higher turnout than previous runoff elections. Williamson County ended early voting with 6.38% total turnout (compared with 3% in the 2016 primary runoff). In Hays County, 4.92% of registered voters showed up for the Democratic runoff, and 4.22% of registered voters for the Republican runoff.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2020

Dallas County absentee voters say mailed ballots are inexplicably being returned with days left before election

Multiple Dallas County absentee voters have reported submitting their ballots only to have them returned in the mail for no apparent reason — with just days to go before the election. “It has absolutely no markings on it,” said Dallas resident Dorit Suffness, describing her returned parcel. “It doesn’t say why. It just comes back.” Suffness, who organizes voter registration at Richland College for the League of Women Voters, said fellow organization members had reported such instances on a group call last week.

Then, the ballots she and her husband submitted both recently came back, too — “confirming that those stories were not aberrations,” she said. Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said that she was aware of the concerns and that her office is investigating. “We don’t know why it’s happening, whether it’s certain areas or what the issue is,” Pippins-Poole said, noting that officials have received 15,000 absentee ballots thus far. She said her staff is contacting postal officials to alert them to the situation. Roommates Norma Collins and Julia Diffily, both of Dallas, mailed their ballots on Tuesday, only for them to come back on Thursday. They took the returned ballots to the post office. There, a postal worker posited that perhaps the envelopes had been scanned upside-down and thus mailed back to their address. “That’s all they could think that it was,” said Diffily, a retired teacher who said she decided to give absentee voting a try because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Top of Page

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 10, 2020

Almost half of Fort Worth ISD parents have asked for online classes amid COVID-19

Fort Worth parents are divided on whether they want their children to go back to school in person or continue learning online. Parents were given the option to choose how they wanted their children to learn amid the novel coronavirus pandemic when they registered them for the 2020-21 school year. So far, 57% have said they’d like in-person instruction and 43% want virtual instruction, said Clint Bond, a spokesman for the Fort Worth school district. Nearly 12,000 students have registered for the school year, scheduled to start Aug. 17, Bond said.

But much is up in the air. Restrictions and guidance changes constantly as elected and health leaders work to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Texas Education Agency on July 7 issued guidelines for schools, saying students heading back to school this fall must screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and wear masks if Gov. Greg Abbott’s order requiring masks remains in place when school begins. But the agency also said parents may ask for their children to receive virtual instruction from any school district that offers it. The TEA said students learning remotely may be locked in to that decision for at least one full grading period. The TEA’s public health guidance also said that school districts have the option of temporarily limiting access to in-person instruction during the first three weeks of the school year.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2020

How Latino residents in Dallas’ hardest hit ZIP code are weathering COVID-19

Ofelia Faz-Garza lives in a neighborhood of small homes, their porches spilling over with potted plants. The houses, some with ornate fountains out front and children playing in back, hide one of Dallas’ worst outbreaks of COVID-19. As of this week, Faz-Garza’s 75211 ZIP code in South Oak Cliff had the largest number of active COVID-19 cases in Dallas County and one of the area’s highest per capita rates. She and her husband, Hector Garza, have only had two outings with their three young daughters in the past four months. She has sewn face masks using Star Wars fabric, commanded everyone to wash hands often in their one bathroom and upped her kitchen game with more nutritious meals.

Then, when family members in Texas came down with COVID-19, exposing her parents, she hauled her mother and father to a testing site in her white sports vehicle. To her relief, they tested negative. “It’s a scare having family members come down with COVID,” said Faz-Garza, an arts educator. But something worries her about other Latinos: Many continue to gather in large groups, and not enough of them are wearing masks. “The message,” she said, “isn’t clicking.” As COVID-19 cases soar, the 75211 ZIP code illustrates broader patterns playing out across North Texas. The area is 84% Latino. In Dallas County, more than 60% of those infected are Latinos, though the group comprises only 41% of the population. Texas leads the nation in the most uninsured residents. In Dallas County, those most likely to lack health insurance are Latinos — leading many of them to delay medical care.

Top of Page

National Stories

Associated Press - July 11, 2020

Coronavirus deaths take a long-expected turn for the worse

A long-expected upturn in U.S. coronavirus deaths has begun, driven by fatalities in states in the South and West, according to data on the pandemic. The number of deaths per day from the virus had been falling for months, and even remained down as states like Florida and Texas saw explosions in cases and hospitalizations — and reported daily U.S. infections broke records several times in recent days.

Scientists warned it wouldn’t last. A coronavirus death, when it occurs, typically comes several weeks after a person is first infected. And experts predicted states that saw increases in cases and hospitalizations would, at some point, see deaths rise too. Now that’s happening. “It’s consistently picking up. And it’s picking up at the time you’d expect it to,” said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher. According to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for daily reported deaths in the U.S. has increased from 578 two weeks ago to 664 on July 10 — still well below the heights hit in April. Daily reported deaths increased in 27 states over that time period, but the majority of those states are averaging under 15 new deaths per day. A smaller group of states has been driving the nationwide increase in deaths. California is averaging 91 reported deaths per day while Texas is close behind with 66, but Florida, Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey and South Carolina also saw sizable rises. New Jersey’s recent jump is thought to be partially attributable to its less frequent reporting of probable deaths.

Top of Page

Associated Press - July 11, 2020

U.S. targets $1.3 billion in French imports in tech tax clash

The Trump administration on Friday announced plans to impose taxes on $1.3 billion in French imports — hitting handbags and makeup but sparing cheese and wine — in retaliation for France’s digital services tax on U.S. technology giants.

But the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the levies would be delayed for 180 days to provide time for negotiations. The French tax is designed to prevent tech companies from dodging taxes by establishing their headquarters in low-tax European Union countries. It imposes a 3% annual levy on French revenue of digital companies with yearly global sales worth more than 750 million euros ($848 million) and French revenue exceeding 25 million euros. The U.S. said the tax unfairly targeted U.S. firms such as Amazon and Google. It also criticized the French tax for targeting companies’ revenue, not their profits, and for being retroactive.

Top of Page

New York Times - July 10, 2020

New York Times Editorial: Reopening schools will be a huge undertaking. It must be done.

American children need public schools to reopen in the fall. Reading, writing and arithmetic are not even the half of it. Kids need to learn to compete and to cooperate. They need food and friendships; books and basketball courts; time away from family and a safe place to spend it. Parents need public schools, too. They need help raising their children, and they need to work. In Britain, the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health has warned that leaving schools closed “risks scarring the life chances of a generation of young people.” The organization’s American counterpart, the American Academy of Pediatrics, has urged administrators to begin from “a goal of having students physically present in school.” Here is what it’s going to take: more money and more space.

The return to school, as with other aspects of pre-pandemic normalcy, rests on the nation’s ability to control the spread of the coronavirus. In communities where the virus is spreading rapidly, school is likely to remain virtual. The rise in case counts across much of the country is jeopardizing even the best-laid plans for classroom education. Other nations are checking the spread of the virus and preparing to reopen schools. America, by contrast, is squandering its chance and failing its children. But even in places where the virus is under control, schools lack the means to safely provide full-time instruction. In New York City, the nation’s largest school district says that it can only safely provide a few days each week of in-person instruction. Other large districts, like Fairfax County, Va., and Clark County, Nev., have announced similar plans for a partial return to the classroom in the fall. To maximize in-person instruction, the federal government must open its checkbook. Districts need hundreds of billions of dollars to cover the gap between the rapid decline in tax revenue caused by the virus and the rapid rise in costs also caused by the virus.

Top of Page

New York Times - July 11, 2020

Trump’s clemency came after displays of loyalty by Roger Stone

Months before F.B.I. agents arrived in darkness at his Florida home to take him into custody, Roger J. Stone Jr. promised that he would remain loyal to his longtime friend. “I will never roll on Donald Trump,” he said. He did not, and Mr. Stone is now a free man. The president’s decision on Friday to commute Mr. Stone’s prison sentence for impeding a congressional inquiry and other crimes was extraordinary because federal prosecutors had suspected that Mr. Stone could shed light on whether Mr. Trump had lied to them under oath or illegally obstructed justice.

Even Mr. Stone suggested a possible quid pro quo, telling a journalist hours before the announcement that he hoped for clemency because Mr. Trump knew he had resisted intense pressure from prosecutors to cooperate. It was the latest example of how Mr. Trump has managed to bend America’s legal machinery to his advantage and undermine a criminal investigation that has dominated so much of his presidency. A jury determined that Mr. Stone, 67, was guilty of seven felonies, including witness tampering and lying to federal authorities, and a judge sentenced him to 40 months in prison. But to some, his brazen taunting of F.B.I. agents, prosecutors and a federal judge for the past three years indicated that he knew how the story would end: His friend Mr. Trump would rescue him. Mr. Stone has always described the investigation led by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian interference in the 2016 election as bogus. And he has said he refused to help prosecutors because he would not “bear false witness” or “make up lies” about Mr. Trump — not because he was covering up any wrongdoing. But recently unsealed portions of the Mueller report underscore why investigators were so eager to gain his cooperation. The passages show that prosecutors suspected that the president had lied to them in written answers when he said he did not recall any conversations with Mr. Stone during his 2016 campaign about WikiLeaks. The organization released tens of thousands of emails that Russian government operatives had stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Democratic political organizations and had funneled to it to help Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Top of Page

Salon - July 12, 2020

The long, ignoble history of presidents snubbing medical advice

President Donald Trump did something very unexpected on Thursday: Speaking with Fox News’ Sean Hannity in a live phone interview, he said that he would most likely wear a mask while visiting Walter Reed medical center over the weekend, adding that “it’s fine to wear a mask if it makes you feel comfortable.” His claim was surprising inasmuch as the president has been reluctant to wear a mask publicly prior to now. Indeed, Trump’s anti-mask behavior bucks the advice of public health experts, who agree that people should wear masks whenever they are in environments where they or others could be exposed to the coronavirus, not simply when they feel comfortable. Indeed, not only has Trump avoided wearing a mask until now, but he actively mocked his Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, former Vice President Joe Biden, for being responsible and doing so.

On the one hand, Trump is following a sad tradition of American presidents either taking risks with their health or covering up serious medical issues in order to seem tough. The key difference between Trump and his predecessors, however, is that they never did so in ways that directly endangered the health of the people around them or deliberately encouraged reckless behavior. The most obvious instance of a president bucking medical wisdom resulted in that president’s untimely death. When 68-year-old William Henry Harrison refused to wear either a coat or a hat while delivering his nearly two hour-long inaugural address (the longest in history) during wet and freezing weather, he contracted what his doctor described as “pneumonia of the lower lobe of the right lung, complicated by congestion of the liver.” Harrison eventually died, after having served as president for only one month, making him both the shortest-served president and a cautionary tale about the dangers of not listening to your doctors. (For what it’s worth, some modern epidemiologists argue that Harrison actually died of unrelated ailments that sprung from the disease-infested marshes near the White House. Even if that is true, though, his decision to not wear a coat or hat during bad weather remains undeniably unwise.) Yet Harrison, for all of his hubris, did not put others at risk through his behavior. A similar observation can be made about presidents who infamously concealed major health maladies: Grover Cleveland covering up an oral tumor and instead undergoing a secret operation; Woodrow Wilson suffering a debilitating stroke and yet staying in power for the last year-and-a-half of his presidency; Franklin Roosevelt refusing to disclose that he was likely to suffer a stroke as he sought reelection in 1944 (he died a few months into the term he won that year); John F. Kennedy masking the chronic pain of Addison’s disease, colitis and severe back problems with methamphetamines. There are even rumors that Ronald Reagan began to succumb to Alzheimer’s while he was still in office and covered it up.

Top of Page

Forbes - July 1, 2020

Research determines protests did not cause spike in coronavirus cases

Protests against systemic racism held in 300-plus U.S. cities following the death of George Floyd did not cause a significant increase in coronavirus infections, according to a team of economists who have published their findings in a 60-page paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research; these somewhat surprising results are supported by Covid-19 testing data in many populous cities where demonstrations were held.

In the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, health officials expressed great concern that protesters, potentially yelling and shouting in very close proximity, would quickly spread the virus, which might lead to devastating outbreaks. However, researchers found “no evidence that urban protests reignited Covid-19 case growth during the more than three weeks following protest onset.” In fact, they determined that, based on cellphone data, “cities which had protests saw an increase in social distancing behavior for the overall population relative to cities that did not,” leading to “modest evidence of a small longer-run case growth decline.” The study’s lead author, Dhaval Dave of Bentley University, said, “In many cities, the protests actually seemed to lead to a net increase in social distancing, as more people who did not protest decided to stay off the streets.” The study used newly collected data from 315 of the largest U.S. cities and documents that protests took place in 281 of those cities. The authors prereleased the paper last week, and it has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - July 12, 2020

As offices reopen amid coronavirus, workers clash over masks, cubicle barriers and Lysol

When Matt Wells returned to the office in mid-April, he was surprised to see a note pinned to a colleague’s cubicle urging people to keep their distance. “I thought it was an overreaction” to the coronavirus pandemic, he said. Now he has a note just like it on his cubicle. He also has strung a chain of paper clips across the opening to discourage visitors from stepping inside. Mr. Wells, a 33-year-old civil servant in Phoenix, took the measures after another coworker barged in and leaned over his shoulder to peer at his computer screen. At the time, face masks weren’t required in their office and neither had one on. “She was so close I could smell her gum,” he said.

As lockdowns lift, employees returning to the workplace—as well as those who never left—are clashing over different views of the pandemic. Some say their colleagues aren’t taking it seriously; others say their co-workers are going too far to stay safe. The disconnect, often freighted with election-year politics, is creating tension as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases continues to climb. “Just as we might have friends or family with views that are the polar opposite of our own, the same can be expected of the workplace,” said Katie Brennan, an adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management, an advocacy group. Be prepared for potential conflict, she said, because feeling safe or comfortable at work “isn’t something that most people are willing to compromise.” Lori Webb, 61, has butted heads over coronavirus with a colleague at the Salt Lake City manufacturing plant where they work. This person told her that he doesn’t think it’s a big deal, Ms. Webb said, and she disagrees. She worries that her colleague’s stance means he doesn’t practice social distancing while off the clock and is jeopardizing her health and that of her 86-year-old mother, with whom she lives. “I don’t want to bring anything home,” Ms. Webb said.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 12, 2020

Social justice to be front and center of NBA reboot

Rudy Gay saw the footage, just like everyone else. He felt the same sick outrage. He watched as Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, knelt on a handcuffed black man’s neck for more than eight minutes. He watched George Floyd die, on camera, as two other white officers looked on. It was at that moment, on May 25, that Gay realized what was to come. There could be no proposed NBA restart unless social justice issues were addressed. “This is what we’re going to be about,” the Spurs forward said. “George Floyd’s death was the tipping point. You kill a man on tape — at that point what else is there to talk about?”

For NBA players, Floyd’s murder — in broad daylight and full camera view — and the nationwide protests that followed became the overriding issue of the league’s coronavirus-sparked hiatus. Some, such as Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Avery Bradley, suggested players should not participate in the NBA’s July 30 resumption to keep the spotlight on the protests. Irving and Bradley will not play for their teams in Orlando. Irving is out with an injury, and Bradley opted out for what the Lakers called family obligations. Speaking for the rest of the players on the 22 teams playing in Central Florida this month, National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul has a message for fans awaiting the restart. “It’s never a shut up and dribble situation,” the Oklahoma City point guard said. “You’re going to continue to hear us.” The NBA at-large is on board with the notion of keeping social justice at the forefront of whatever the league attempts in Orlando. “It’s a seminal moment in the sense that we have an opportunity to do something transformative if we have the courage,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said in a video conference with reporters from Orlando on Saturday. “The league, the players, the coaches, the staff — everybody is very committed to keeping it up front in everybody’s consciousness. Even though everybody is excited to go play, this is a great opportunity to make sure we maintain the momentum.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2020

Alex M. Azar II and Dr. Jerome M. Adams: How the Trump administration is fighting COVID-19 in communities of color

Daily counts of new cases of COVID-19 are rising in Texas, as they are in other areas around the country. With a rapid and comprehensive public health response, from the Trump administration to states, tribes, territories, local communities and families, we will reverse these trends and defeat the virus. To succeed, we must recognize that the burden of this pandemic has not fallen evenly on all Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black Americans and American Indians and Alaska Natives are being hospitalized for COVID-19 at five times the rate of non-Hispanic white Americans, and Hispanic Americans are being hospitalized at four times the rate. By one estimate, Black Americans and Hispanic Americans have actually lost more years of life than white Americans, despite representing smaller proportions of the population.

As two of America’s top public health officials, we have been battling health disparities long before this pandemic. This virus has laid bare deeper inequalities in our health system and health outcomes that have too often been overlooked. To defeat COVID-19, we have developed a comprehensive response that tackles the drivers of these disparities and empowers Americans to protect themselves. Why are people of color suffering such disproportionate impacts? First, they are often at higher risk of contracting the virus. Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately likely to hold jobs that are deemed “essential.” These occupations often cause individuals to be in close and frequent contact with others, whether at work or while commuting, increasing the risk of exposure. This type and range of jobs reported are a “social determinant of health,” a powerful non-health contributor to health outcomes. We are working to lower these risks and prevent the spread of the virus in vulnerable communities. The CDC helps investigate outbreaks in high-risk employment settings and works with states to help businesses reduce risks. We’ve now required that all COVID-19 case reporting include race, ethnicity, age, and ZIP code data so we can work with states to continue to focus interventions.

Top of Page

Newsclips - July 10, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 10, 2020

As Texas sets 3 more single-day records on coronavirus, Gov. Greg Abbott predicts next week will ‘look worse’

As Texas on Thursday set single-day records for deaths from coronavirus and how many people the disease has put in the hospital, Gov. Greg Abbott was bracing for even more bad news. “The numbers are going to look worse as we go into next week,” he told KRIV-TV in Houston late Thursday. In another record Thursday, over the past seven days, 15.6% of reported coronavirus tests have come back positive.

In four television appearances just hours after the gloomy numbers were released, Abbott acknowledged his mask order is unpopular but said people simply must become familiar with “the severity of COVID-19 right now” in Texas. Texans aren’t accustomed to wearing masks, but they’ve worked to contain spread in other countries and are the only recourse “to avoid having our economy shut down again,” he said on KRIV, the Houston Fox affiliate. “The last thing we want to do is shut things down again,” Abbott said. “The only strategy we have to prevent that from happening is by everybody wearing a mask.” More than 230,300 Texans have tested positive for coronavirus, and 2,918 have died from the disease since March. Nearly 9,700 people were in Texas hospitals on Thursday, the highest number since the epidemic began.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 9, 2020

Judge denies Texas GOP's attempt to proceed with in-person convention, siding with Turner

A Harris County judge on Thursday denied the Texas Republican Party’s request for a court order that would have barred Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston First Corp. from canceling the party’s in-person convention next week in downtown Houston. Republican Party Chairman James Dickey said the party would appeal to the Texas Supreme Court after state District Judge Larry Weiman turned down requests for temporary restraining orders from both the Texas GOP and Steve Hotze, a Houston Republican activist, after hearing their cases concurrently. Hotze attorney Jared Woodfill said he also plans to seek a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court on Friday to bar Turner from canceling the convention.

The Texas GOP lawsuit, filed hours after Hotze’s challenge, alleges that Turner erred when he invoked a “force majeure” clause of the contract between the Texas GOP and Houston First, the city’s public nonprofit that operates the George R. Brown Convention Center. The suit also names the city and Houston First President Brenda Bazan. Turner, who ordered Houston First to cancel the convention on Wednesday, said the clause allows one side to cancel over something out of its control, including “epidemics in the City of Houston.” In its petition filed Thursday, the GOP said Turner simply does not want to hold the convention and, therefore, fails to meet the force majeure standard. "Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s use of the force majeure clause is just a pretext to his intent to treat the Republican Party of Texas differently than other groups, such as those we have seen from recent protests in the city of Houston,” the party said in a statement Thursday. “It should go without saying that a political viewpoint cannot be the basis for unequal treatment.” Hotze’s lawsuit, meanwhile, is focused on arguing that Turner violated parts of the Texas Constitution that allow for freedom of expression and association.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 9, 2020

As COVID-19 rages, Texans are voting at historic pace in July 14 runoff elections

Even as they grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, Texans are voting at a historic pace in the July 14 runoff contests. Through July 8, nearly 800,000 Texans had voted early—either in person or by mail. According to the data submitted by county officials to the Texas Secretary of State, more than 482,000 people have voted in the Democratic Party runoffs, while more than 316,500 have participated in Republican runoff contests,

The early vote totals are remarkable because the runoffs are occurring as the nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic, and residents are being urged to stay at home as positive test cases in Texas increase. Many political analysts predicted a sluggish turnout by voters. While the percentage of registered voters participating in the elections is low, the turnout is more robust than the runoffs of yesteryear. “We’re talking about extremely high turnout for a runoff,” said David de la Fuente, a senior political analyst for the think tank called Third Way. The Democrats are voting in higher numbers because the party is staging a Senate runoff between former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar of Round Rock and state Rep. Royce West of Dallas. The winner faces Republican incumbent John Cornyn in November, who easily won his March primary. There’s also a statewide runoff between former state Rep. Roberto Alonzo of Dallas and Dallas lawyer Chrysta Castaneda for the Democratic Railroad Commission nomination.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 9, 2020

Dallas superintendent: A mid-August opening for his schools is ‘pretty much in jeopardy'

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa isn’t sure that schools should be opening their doors in a little over a month. On Thursday, during an interview on MSNBC, Hinojosa said that he was starting to have “second thoughts” about schools reopening on Aug. 17, the Dallas Independent School District’s scheduled start date. He also told MSNBC that he was doubtful that Texas high school football would happen in 2020; Hinojosa later clarified to The Dallas Morning News that was just his opinion regarding football, and that the ultimate decision would be up to the state’s extracurricular governing body, the University Interscholastic League.

Thursday marked the seventh straight day when Dallas County reported at least 1,000 new COVID-19 cases. Later in the day, when asked by The News if delaying the start of school was a backup plan, Hinojosa said it was for now, “but it’s certainly becoming more of a primary plan that every day goes by.” “August 17 is our start date — our projected start date, but I think that is pretty much in jeopardy,” Hinojosa said. Hinojosa added that his recommendation to the school board -- which would have to approve any changes -- would be that the district push the start date back until after Labor Day, Sept. 7. Hinojosa said he has notified the school board that he will call a special meeting to discuss the calendar in a few weeks. “That is going to be my recommendation, but of course we need to get a lot of feedback from a lot of people,” he said. “We are formulating our plan right now. It was our distinct far backup plan, but now it’s becoming more of a reality.”

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 10, 2020

Gov. Abbott targeted by Democrats — and increasingly by fellow Republicans — over COVID response

Gov. Greg Abbott is under increasing political fire from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats as he responds to a sharp rise in coronavirus deaths — a record 112 on Wednesday and 106 on Thursday — by implementing more restrictions on Texans and increasingly warning of another shutdown if people fail to wear masks.

Prominent Democrats are blasting Abbott for reopening too quickly and shrugging off early warning signs. On the other side, county Republican Party committees are passing censures of Abbott for some of his latest orders, including one requiring people to wear masks in counties reporting at least 20 people infected with COVID-19. Those who violate the order face $250 fines, but no possibility of jail time. On Wednesday, the Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee voted 40-0 to censure Abbott, joining at least three other county executive committees that have taken similar steps. Even Republican state lawmakers are beginning to press Abbott to call a special session to cede some of the decision-making to them. State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said in a Fox News Channel interview that it’s time for the Legislature to be more involved and not just leave it all up to the governor.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 8, 2020

'The wave of the future': How police and social workers partner up to help those in crisis

Michael Hawkins and his partner, a Houston police officer, pulled up to a Memorial City gas station last week, responding to a report of a possibly suicidal man. Hawkins, a social worker, calmly inquired about the man’s condition through a cloth mask while he rested his hands on his bulletproof vest. The man, who was sitting on a concrete box, told Hawkins he had been drinking straight vodka since 6 a.m. He hadn’t eaten in several days. He said he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and saw images of a naked woman.

Hawkins and his partner Officer Richard Pietruszynski are on the Crisis Intervention Response Team. Hawkins is one of 21 social workers, each paired with officers from the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. The program started in 2008 in collaboration with the Harris Center for Mental Health. At the time, the city hailed it as “the first co-responder concept in Texas” and one of only three similar programs in the nation. Following CIRT’s success in diverting people away from jail and into treatment — so many that CIRT units often run into a shortage of beds at local psychiatric facilities — the role of social workers has grown within Houston-area law enforcement. They now work with police on teams that focus on homeless outreach and domestic violence. At a time when calls to “defund the police” reverberate throughout the country — and cities explore ways to reduce violent encounters between law enforcement and Black Americans — criminal justice experts and local officials point to that collaboration as a step toward easing tensions between police and communities of color. “Social workers by nature focus on the root cause of the problem,” said Howard Henderson, director of the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University. “They are focused on de-escalation.” He said such collaborations should be “the wave of the future.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 9, 2020

‘Sorry but that ain’t Texan’: Whataburger changes its iconic ‘A’ shape

Did anyone have this on their 2020 bingo card? This week, iconic Texas fast-food chain Whataburger announced it is making updates to its restaurants' design, including getting rid of the roof's signature 'A' shape. The renovation rollout started with a location in Whataburger's headquarters of San Antonio. The orange and white color scheme remains, but the roof is as flat as a pancake. It is so generic in its flatness, in fact, that some commenters even went as far as to compare it to — a Wendy's. The horror!

Even by Whataburger's own admission, the reactions have been mixed. James Turcotte, the company's senior vice president of real estate, told CultureMap: "As in all things, some people seem to love it and some had some maybe less-favorable comments. But you know, that’s just the internet, I guess." Indeed, the internet had some thoughts. Let's start with who's to blame, a long-time favorite pastime on Twitter. The consensus among tweeters points to "Chicago" or the general "Midwest." In June 2019, a Chicago-based investment company bought a majority stake in the Texas-born Whataburger. Much ire ensued.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 9, 2020

With schools ordered to open next month, Texas teachers ask, ‘It is worth risking our lives?’

Natalia Charron wants to see all her students at YES Prep West, but she is terrified at the thought of it happening this fall. What will happen, she said, when — not if — COVID-19 starts spreading around the high school and to her history students, many of whom live with grandparents. What if her students bring it home from school? What if she brings it home? If it were up to Charron, teachers and students would start the school year online until campuses could demonstrate they have met certain safety standards. After the Texas Education Agency told school districts on Tuesday they must offer on-campus classes five days a week to every family, however, Charron said she likely will not have a choice.

“I love my job, I love educating kids, I would love to do it to best of my ability as safely as possible. But if they decide my safety doesn’t matter, that the safety of my students doesn’t matter — ” she said, pausing, “I don’t know.” The state’s mandate that schools provide in-person instruction to families that want it — with a few exceptions — has stoked anxiety among many Texas teachers, administrators and support staff who worry their return to campus will accelerate the spread of COVID-19, putting them and their loved ones in danger. At the same time, education leaders across the state are bracing for the possibility that some schools could be short-staffed if they allow employees fearful of returning to classrooms to remain at home. If that occurs, school district administrators could be forced to order many employees back to work — and discipline or fire those who refuse.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 9, 2020

Crenshaw calls cancellation of Texas GOP convention 'prudent,' Patrick blasts Turner for move

Two prominent Texas Republicans took opposing stances Wednesday in response to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s decision to cancel next week’s in-person Texas Republican Convention. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, called the episode “nothing but a political hack job by Mayor Turner.” His comments came hours after U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, tweeted that Turner made “a prudent move for public health.” “I’m glad Mayor Turner finally stepped in to make this call, which also means the TX GOP will not be on the hook for half a million dollars for cancelling the event — as they would have been if asked to cancel it themselves,” Crenshaw said in his tweet Wednesday.

The contrasting comments from Patrick and Crenshaw are among the first public responses Republican officials have given to Turner’s decision. The mayor repeatedly said he did not want to cancel the convention because he feared doing so would “politicize” the situation, but he reversed course Wednesday, citing concerns about Houston’s recent COVID-19 surge and input from various medical professionals. Patrick slammed Turner for not raising similar objections to last month’s Houston protest over the death of George Floyd, and for canceling the convention Wednesday instead of “a week ago, two weeks ago, three weeks ago.” The convention was scheduled to run from July 16 to 18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown, with committee meetings beginning Monday. “He waits until less than a week before it started to cancel it today,” Patrick said. “Nothing but a political move.” The lieutenant governor said the party would hold the convention “either in person somewhere else or online, but we’ll get the job done that the Constitution requires.” Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey, meanwhile, said the party “will evaluate all legal remedies available” to fight Turner’s decision.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 9, 2020

Federal medical teams heading to Dallas’ Parkland hospital as COVID-19 cases increase, officials say

Federal medical personnel are headed to Dallas’ Parkland Hospital to provide what local leaders say is much needed backup as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb. The staff is heading to Dallas after both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson requested support from the federal government.

Tristan Hallman, the mayor’s spokesman, said Johnson last Friday made the request to Dr. Deborah Birx, the federal government’s coronavirus response coordinator. Johnson said in a tweet Thursday that the teams heading to Dallas are part of the Disaster Medical Assistance Teams housed under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These teams are often deployed for natural disasters, terrorist attacks or disease outbreak to help when local systems become overwhelmed. These teams include both medical professionals and para-professionals. Michael Malaise, senior vice president of Communications and External Relations for Parkland, said the additional staff would be working in a “variety of roles at the health system” and that the hospital would know next week how much additional staff would be arriving. Parkland’s Tactical Care Unit has 66 beds available for treating COVID-19 patients in most critical condition and has about an additional 100 beds for those who are less sick.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 10, 2020

Tarrant County dog is first in Texas to test positive for virus that causes COVID-19

A dog in Tarrant County is the first animal in Texas to test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans. The positive test for SARS-CoV-2 was confirmed Tuesday, according to the Texas Animal Health Commission. A private veterinarian chose to test the dog after its owners were confirmed to have the coronavirus. All staff members at the veterinary clinic wore personal protective equipment when they were in contact with the dog and its owner.

The veterinarian said the 2-year-old dog was healthy. State Veterinarian Andy Schwartz said there’s no evidence that pets play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans. “It’s always important to restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would other people, if you are infected with COVID-19 in order to protect them from infection,” Schwartz said in a written statement. Officials recommend that anyone sick with COVID-19 avoid snuggling, petting and being licked by their pets, as well as sharing food or sleeping in the same bed. If you have to interact with your pet while you’re sick, wear a face covering and wash your hands before and after, officials said. The dog in Tarrant County isn’t the first animal to test positive in the country. In other parts of the U.S., dogs, cats, tigers and lions have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 in people.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 9, 2020

After ‘horrifying’ defund police efforts, investors will pay moving costs for California companies to relocate to Texas

Location advisory firm Spectrum Location Solutions’ motto, “helping businesses grow in great locations,” doesn’t include California. But it does include Texas. In fact, that’s its top choice. The Pittsburgh-based company, which moved out of California in 2018, is teaming up with three private investors to cover moving costs for businesses to flee states it considers business hostile, like California, to more business-friendly states, like Texas. The offer applies to any business with revenue ranging from $5 million to $200 million, said Joe Vranich, the firm’s president and a frequent critic of California’s business environment. He has been tracking corporate migration away from California for years.

“California is our No. 1 target because the irresponsibility of California’s politicians has reached new levels,” he said. This year, California is considering raising business taxes and enacting legislation that will increase labor and litigation costs. “People who do good work deserve a bouquet instead of a brick,” Vranich said about the difference between Texas and California. “The whole economic apparatus in the state of Texas is top-notch.” Vranich said he was hired by the investors to act as a front door for the program, and he’s had a “couple of calls.” The investors, who want to remain anonymous, can take on several companies each, he said. The program is geared toward companies with 20 to 200 employees, such as electronics or plastics manufacturers or a software company, he said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 9, 2020

Conservative Texas Freedom Caucus asks Abbott to ‘stop government overreach’ during COVID-19

A group of staunchly conservative state lawmakers called on Thursday for Gov. Greg Abbott to “stop government overreach” and reform a decades-old law granting his office broad authority during a state of disaster. The request by the Texas Freedom Caucus would mean a curtailing of the governor’s broad powers during a disaster, which Abbott has used to steer the state’s COVID-19 response. He has issued 20 executive orders since he declared a state of disaster on March 13.

“Actions pressed with the force of law need input from those elected to write laws,” state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, who leads the caucus, wrote in a letter. “The separation of lawmaking, law enforcement, and law interpretation are the foundational checks and balances that make Texas and America exceptional in the world. Many Texans fear that we have drifted away from those checks and balances.” The caucus is made up of 11 of the Texas House’s most right-wing Republicans, including North Texas Reps. Tony Tinderholt and Bill Zedler of Arlington, Matt Krause of Fort Worth, Mike Lang of Granbury and Matt Shaheen of Plano. Lang and Zedler are not seeking re-election. The legislators walked a fine line, not criticizing Abbott personally but making clear they think his executive orders have negatively affected Texans.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 9, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: A biotech facility at Texas A&M is ‘ready to save the world,' which is only partly hyperbole

Could Texas Aggies save the world from COVID-19? That’s the bold takeaway from a recent news release about the Texas A&M University System’s Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing. One of four such facilities in the U.S. constructed following the 2009 swine flu epidemic, the center will serve as a major manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines, once they’re developed. This is not a research station. No vaccines will be developed in College Station. It’s a manufacturing plant — like a Detroit for prescription drugs — that can crank out millions of doses quickly. Experts with even the most rosy outlook estimate that we’re still more than a year away from developing a vaccine. Some say it’s more like a decade. But once the research is done, manufacturing begins. And it’s a big job.

Vijay Samant, the former head of vaccine manufacturing at Merck, told The New York Times in April, “The manufacturing task is insurmountable. I get sleepless nights thinking about it.” Pharmaceutical manufacturing deals with lots of microscopic elements that must be kept under just the right conditions even as they’re moved through chemical and physical processes on a massive scale. Imagine an auto assembly line but with tiny, chemically unstable parts. If one part of the line breaks down — something as simple as the machine putting plastic stoppers on vials of medicine — whole batches could be compromised and a supply chain would screech to a halt. Texas A&M has trumpeted this lifesaving manufacturing facility before. In 2010, long before he became President Donald Trump’s coronavirus testing czar, Dr. Brett Giroir told the Houston Chronicle that the center’s predecessor was ready to change the world. “If this works, we’ll have a billion-dose-per-month vaccine facility in Texas, which would be by far the largest and most capable center in the world,” he said. Giroir had taken the helm at Texas A&M’s regional health care institution in 2008 with a $3 billion contract value and the charge of developing systems that could spit out flu vaccines at a faster-than-ever rate.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 9, 2020

North Texas colleges say they’ll accommodate foreign students amid new ICE rule

Iara Roberto has been pursuing her bachelor’s degree in the U.S. for the past four years. She’s an international student from Argentina at the University of Texas at Arlington, but the U.S. has been her second home ever since. Now, she’s afraid of being deported.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that if a university is only offering online courses, its international students will have to transfer to another university that offers in-person classes or face deportation. “We didn’t do anything wrong,” Roberto said. “So if we followed all your rules, why is this happening?” Before the pandemic, foreigners in the U.S. on a F-1 or M-1 visa were only allowed to take a maximum of one online course per semester, but when COVID-19 hit, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP) allowed those students to go all-online in the spring. Several universities in North Texas and throughout the state have devised a hybrid approach for the fall, all this while knowing that there’s still no end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic. Interim UT Arlington President Teik Lim said in a university-wide email on Wednesday that the institution is committed to supporting its international students by identifying solutions for them that comply with federal regulations.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 9, 2020

Fort Worth Mayor, council members campaign for special police tax as opposition mounts

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and three councilmen have financially backed a Chamber of Commerce campaign to impose the police’s special sales tax for a decade. City voters in the July 14 election are asked to commit a half cent sales tax, worth more than $80 million annually, to the Crime Control Prevention District, a special fund that pays for enhanced police patrols, equipment and a portion of school officers’ salaries, among other things. Typically the tax is renewed every five years, but the City Council this year decided to request its renewal for 10 years. The item is Proposition A, the only other item on Fort Worth ballots besides party runoffs.

Fort Worth is the largest city in Texas to devote extra sales tax money to policing, a move proponents say has kept crime low since the mid-1990s. Skeptics have called it a “police slush fund” and say the money would be better spent with community-based nonprofits or improving transportation. Early voting ends Friday. More than 5,500 had already voted as of Thursday afternoon. Price along with Councilmen Bryan Byrd, Jungus Jordan and Dennis Shingleton donated to a campaign committee dubbed Keep Fort Worth Neighborhoods Safe run by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Their contributions, as well as a $5,000 donation from the Fort Worth firefighter’s union, total $13,500. No campaign committee against the sales tax has filed with the city, but grassroots community groups and the Tarrant County Democratic party have come out against the renewal as a way to reform policing.

Top of Page

KXAN - July 9, 2020

Sen. Cornyn calls for audit after Texas congressional campaign received Paycheck Protection Program loan

KXAN first reported that a Texas congressional campaign directly received funds intended to help struggling businesses during the pandemic — now Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn says he’s requesting an audit of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. KXAN first reported on Monday that Dr. Christine Mann’s political committee received a PPP loan for $28,600. Mann is a candidate in the Democratic primary runoff for Texas’ 31st Congressional District.

“I don’t think we ever dreamed that we would be providing financial assistance to political campaigns,” Cornyn said in an interview with KXAN. “What we were trying to do was focus on small businesses and encourage them to try to keep their employees on payroll so that people could continue to earn an income while we work our way through this public health crisis.” “That was a surprise to me.” The Small Business Administration does not authorize PPP loans but has the ability to review applications. Instead, borrowers self-certify that they are eligible for the loan which is then distributed by an authorized lender. A spokesperson for the Mann campaign said that their application was self-certified as a “business.”

Top of Page

KSAT - July 8, 2020

More people have died of COVID-19 in Florida, Texas in 1 month than in 20 years of hurricanes, report says

Although states and many businesses are now open in a variety of capacities, don’t be fooled: the novel coronavirus pandemic is far from over.

These numbers seemed jarring: COVID-19 cases in Florida and Texas are up, and those include nearly 3,800 and 2,700 deaths, respectively, according to a Tuesday report from Newsweek -- one that goes on to say that the combined number of coronavirus-related deaths recorded in both states in the past month is greater than the total number of hurricane-related deaths reported in the U.S. over the past 20 years. Here’s how the report breaks it down, including its sources:

Top of Page

Texas Monthly - July 10, 2020

Kathaleen Wall is all over local TV, thanks to her ads. In the real world, she’s harder to find.

For Fort Bend County residents, it can feel as if Kathaleen Wall is everywhere. The Sugar Land Republican candidate, running to represent Texas’s Twenty-second Congressional District in the U.S. House, has spent $6.5 million, a Texas record, of her tech money on the race, according to the Houston Chronicle. Her campaign placards blanket street corners across Fort Bend County. Her ads—blaming China for spreading the coronavirus and calling her opponent in the runoff, Sheriff Troy Nehls, an enabler of sex trafficking—play day and night on local broadcast stations and cable news. But the candidate herself has almost entirely disappeared from view. Unlike Nehls, who has raised about $476,000, made frequent public appearances, and held several events in recent weeks, Wall has nothing listed under the “events” tab on her website.

Her social media is devoid of any reference to recent or upcoming appearances. And she has turned her Twitter profile private: beyond a bio describing herself as a “pro-life Texas conservative,” any other content requires approval to view. It’s a bizarre strategy for someone who is facing an uphill battle. In March’s GOP primary, despite spending nearly twelve times as much as her opponent, Wall finished with 19 percent of the vote to Nehls’s 41 percent. Even if she overcomes that gap, the general election against Sri Preston Kulkarni in November is expected to be highly competitive as Democrats try to flip the district for just the second time in four decades. Wall’s Facebook page includes a series of choreographed photos of her in recent months, mostly alongside local business owners and first responders. Most recently, she posted a photo of herself wearing a Texas flag mask at a Fourth of July parade, giving the camera a thumbs-up. Many of her other posts are devoted to castigating Joe Biden for “neglecting the country,” being controlled by a “left-wing mob,” and, according to a June 23 post, “remain[ing] in hiding” during the campaign.

Top of Page

Texas Observer - July 10, 2020

COVID-19 is surging in rural Texas, threatening to overwhelm local hospitals

Just a few weeks ago, officials in Starr County thought their community might make it through the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the few lucky ones. The rural county on the Texas-Mexico border is among the poorest in the United States. There’s only one hospital, a 48-bed facility with no intensive care unit, to serve about 65,000 people. But until June, Starr had just over 30 total confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. Then Governor Greg Abbott began rapidly reopening the state and a wave of new infections swept across Texas counties, including Starr and the rest of the Rio Grande Valley.

Now confirmed cases in the border county have jumped to more than 840, an increase of about 3,000 percent in the last five weeks. The seven-day average of daily new cases has increased from none or 1 before June to more than 40 in early July. Starr County Memorial Hospital had no COVID-19 patients until late June. Last week there were 10; as of this weekend, the hospital beds were full, according to county officials. Demand for testing is so high that the county is no longer covering the cost of tests for uninsured people, who make up about 30 percent of the population. Dr. Jose Vazquez, the local health authority who is also president of the hospital board, worked from home in recent weeks after testing positive in June. “We have seen other members of our community dying in the Valley hospitals of this disease,” Vazquez told county and city officials on a Zoom call last week. “We are going to be getting sicker patients here in Starr County and needing the ventilatoria systems and ICU services. … We are not ready for this.”

Top of Page

WFAA - July 9, 2020

8 Dallas-area bars sue Gov. Greg Abbott for more than $1 million over closure order

Eight Dallas-area bars are suing Gov. Greg Abbott for more than $1 million over his June 26 executive order that required bars and similar businesses that bring in 51% or more of their total sales from alcohol to close. The bar owners argue in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Dallas' 68th district court that Abbott's executive order violates the Texas Constitution and the Texas Disaster Relief Act.

They claim Abbott singled out stand-alone bars, and not bars located in facilities like sports arenas, hotels, restaurants and bowling alleys, because his coronavirus task force includes stakeholders from the hotel, gym, restaurant, amusement park and professional sports industries. Under Abbott's executive order, amusement parks, restaurants and sporting events can stay open at 50% capacity. The owners of the eight bars mentioned in the lawsuit — Dallas bars Stirr, Citizen, Tiny Victories, High Fives, The Whippersnapper, Play on West 6th, Island Bar and Terrell bar The Side Street Bar — all say their businesses have shut down as a result of Abbott's executive order.

Top of Page

San Antonio Current - July 9, 2020

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says Black Lives Matter indoctrinates children with Communism

For all his power, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick hasn't done much to assist his constituents during the pandemic. Unless, for some reason, you count doubling down on outrageous rhetoric as helpful. On a Fox News appearance Wednesday, the one-time right-wing radio host called Black Lives Matter a "communist organization" intent on taking over school boards and the education system. The purpose of this fiendish commie plot? Brainwashing America's youth, of course!

"Not will it just indoctrinate these students to embrace communism, it will turn them against their own parents, because this is not the way we grew up," Patrick told host Laura Ingraham. "People in America need to understand Black Lives Matter is a communist organization, but each Black life matters [and] is important to every one of us." In recent weeks, Patrick has used Fox as a conduit for a variety of other over-the-top pronouncements, including telling old folks they should be prepared to croak from COVID-19 to protect the economy and that mail-in ballots will end U.S. democracy. During a late June appearance, the GOP official told Ingraham that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor, "doesn't know what he's talking about" when it comes to the pandemic. Patrick's most recent Fox appearance isn't the first time he's unloaded on Black Lives Matter, however. In 2016, Patrick drew criticism for saying that five Dallas police officers shot in an ambush attack would still be alive if the BLM movement didn't exist.

Top of Page

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 9, 2020

After years of delays, could Panther Island’s bridges be ready sooner than expected?

Work on the downtown Fort Worth bridges, needed for the Panther Island project, has moved swiftly enough that officials now say two of the three spans may be done slightly early. Of course, early at this point is still behind the original completion date and a later delayed schedule, but Doug Rademaker, a senior project manager for the city, said work on bridges for Henderson and North Main streets is moving faster than expected.

The bridge on White Settlement Road, the only road without a detour and the cause of much anxiety for businesses in the area, is on track to be done by the end of December. The other two bridges are scheduled to be done by the end of 2021. Rademaker said it’s too early to tell exactly how far ahead those bridges are, but they could be completed several weeks sooner. Traffic may be allowed on the bridges before they’re completely finished. Once scheduled to open in 2017, the bridges were delayed by design issues, and officials have pushed the completion date back several times. Contractor Texas Sterling increased workers on site to as many as 120, Rademaker said, and had been running three shifts seven days a week. Sunday shifts were recently canceled.

Top of Page

National Stories

Associated Press - July 9, 2020

CDC: Guidelines for reopening schools aren't being rewritten

Despite President Donald Trump's sharp criticism, federal guidelines for reopening schools are not being revised, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Dr. Robert Redfield said the agency would be issuing “additional reference documents” for parents and schools to facilitate the reopening and deal with safety concerns in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But he said there would be no changing of the overall guidance.

Redfield commented a day after Trump complained the reopening guidelines were “very tough and expensive” and the CDC was “asking schools to do very impractical things.” Speaking of CDC officials, he tweeted, “I will be meeting with them.!!!" Redfield said, “It’s really important, it’s not a revision of the guidelines, it’s just to provide additional information to help schools be able to use the guidance that we put forward." He made his comments on ABC’s ”Good Morning America.” Trump is pressuring state and local officials to reopen schools this fall, threatening to withhold federal funds from those that keep their learning remote.

Top of Page

Associated Press - July 9, 2020

Double win at Supreme Court elates religious conservatives

Conservative-leaning faith leaders and their allies, outspoken in recent years about what they consider infringements on religious liberties, cheered Wednesday as the Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings that protected certain rights of religious employers. In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the high court sided with two Catholic schools in finding that certain employees of religious schools, hospitals and social service centers can’t sue for employment discrimination. Critics fear the 7-2 ruling will embolden some religious organizations to fire or otherwise discriminate against LGBTQ employees.

And in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, also decided 7-2, the court upheld the Trump administration’s allowance for a broad religious or moral exemption from the Obama-era Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide free contraception. Opponents say the decision could leave more than 70,000 women without it. Vice President Mike Pence reflected the victorious mood on the religious right with a politically tinged tweet underscoring the centrality of President Donald Trump’s courtship of conservative, faith-focused voters ahead of November’s election. “Two Big WINS for Religious Freedom at SCOTUS today. All Americans of faith can be assured that under President @realDonaldTrump, the Obama-Biden assault on religious liberty is over!” Others hailing the rulings included the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the conservative Family Research Council.

Top of Page

Washington Post - July 10, 2020

Growing chorus pushes for renewed shutdown orders

They raced to shut down their economies in March, and many opened them just as quickly in May. Now, governors across the country are facing growing pressure from public health experts and local leaders to reimpose stay-at-home orders as the only way to regain control of coronavirus outbreaks that threaten to overwhelm hospitals and send the death count spiraling. The push appeared to receive a boost from Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease official, who suggested in comments released late Wednesday that struggling states "should seriously look at shutting down."

He took a more measured approach on Thursday, emphasizing that stay-at-home orders should remain a last resort and suggesting a pause in reopening plans instead. So far, that has been the preferred method for governors seeking to arrest climbing caseloads while not alienating a virus-weary public. Yet, with scant evidence of progress in states across the Sun Belt - and beyond - experts are increasingly concluding that more drastic measures are necessary. "Stay-at-home is a blunt instrument," said Farshad Fani Marvasti, director of public health at Arizona State University. "But when you're leading the world in new cases and things don't seem to be getting better, you may have to use that blunt instrument." Studies have found that orders that closed nonessential businesses and forbid nonessential travel or gatherings prevented millions of coronavirus cases nationwide when they were imposed this spring. Researchers have also found such orders could have saved tens of thousands of lives had they been implemented earlier. But with the economy reeling from a prolonged shutdown, and President Donald Trump agitating for a quick reopening, governors across the country lifted restrictions in May. That was despite the fact that most had not met the White House's own criteria for determining when it was safe to ease up.

Top of Page

Washington Post - July 10, 2020

CDC feels pressure from Trump as rift grows over coronavirus response

The June 28 email to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was ominous: A senior adviser to a top Health and Human Services Department official accused the CDC of “undermining the President” by putting out a report about the potential risks of the coronavirus to pregnant women. The adviser, Paul Alexander, criticized the agency’s methods and said its warning to pregnant women “reads in a way to frighten women .?.?. as if the President and his administration can’t fix this and it is getting worse.”

As the country enters a frightening phase of the pandemic with new daily cases surpassing 57,000 on Thursday, the CDC, the nation’s top public health agency, is coming under intense pressure from President Trump and his allies, who are downplaying the dangers in a bid to revive the economy ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election. In a White House guided by the president’s instincts, rather than by evidence-based policy, the CDC finds itself forced constantly to backtrack or sidelined from pivotal decisions. The latest clash between the White House and its top public health advisers erupted Wednesday, when the president slammed the agency’s recommendation that schools planning to reopen should keep students’ desks six feet apart, among other steps to reduce infection risks. In a tweet, Trump — who has demanded schools at all levels hold in-person classes this fall — called the advice “very tough & expensive.”

Top of Page

NPR - July 9, 2020

Supreme Court rules that about half of Oklahoma is Native American land

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that about half of the land in Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation, a decision that will have major consequences for both past and future criminal and civil cases. The court's decision hinged on the question of whether the Creek reservation continued to exist after Oklahoma became a state.

"Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of fed­eral criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word," Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion. The decision was 5-4, with Justices Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer in the majority, while Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented. The ruling will have significant legal implications for eastern Oklahoma. Much of Tulsa, the state's second-largest city, is located on Muscogee (Creek) land. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation cheered the court's decision. "The Supreme Court today kept the United States' sacred promise to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of a protected reservation," the tribe said in a statement. "Today's decision will allow the Nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries."

Top of Page

Axios - July 9, 2020

Fauci: States with severe coronavirus outbreaks "should seriously look at shutting down"

Anthony Fauci on Wednesday told a Wall Street Journal podcast that states experiencing a significant uptick in new coronavirus cases "should seriously look at shutting down." The big picture: The comments come as states like Florida, Texas and Arizona have become new hotspots for the virus, with soaring rates of infections and rising deaths.

While those states have taken steps to pause their economic reopenings, like closing down bars, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has said he will not reinstate restrictions or move to again close businesses that have reopened. What he's saying: "Any state that is having a serious problem, that state should seriously look at shutting down. It's not for me to say because each state is different." Fauci said he and the White House's coronavirus task force has been "in contact frequently" with public health officials in those states. He blamed a "let it rip" mentality on the surge in cases, saying, "We are all in this together. ... I've been trying to stress that by getting infected or not really caring if you're getting infected, you will inadvertently infect someone. ... So to say that it's benign is not true."

Top of Page

Bloomberg - July 9, 2020

Timothy L. O'Brien: The Supreme Court puts Trump in his place

If you’re the president of the United States, you don’t stand above the law. But if you’re a member of Congress seeking the president’s personal records in order to exercise oversight of the executive branch, you better not overreach. That, essentially, is how the Supreme Court ruled in a pair of opinions released Thursday morning. Both cases, Trump v. Vance and Trump v. Mazars, involved efforts to gain access to President Donald Trump’s tax returns, bank documents and bookkeeping records. Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department contended that the president didn’t have to comply with the subpoenas — and could block his financial advisers from complying — because the requests were overly intrusive and undermined the sweeping immunity from criminal investigations any president should enjoy while in office.

The Court’s 7-2 ruling in Trump v. Vance is a seminal and landmark rebuke of this imperial view of executive authority. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is conducting a probe into the Trump Organization’s efforts to mask hush money paid to two women who said they had sexual encounters with Trump. The D.A. wants to explore whether, as part of those maneuvers, Trump’s team falsified business records. Trump’s lawyers argued that prosecutors like Vance should have to meet a heightened standard when seeking any president’s personal papers. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, disagreed, citing previous rulings involving former presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Trump’s argument “runs up against the 200 years of precedent establishing that Presidents, and their official communications, are subject to judicial process,” Roberts, an institutionalist devoted to the power of legal precedent, wrote. He dismissed the idea that Vance’s subpoenas stigmatized Trump, undermined his leadership, or amounted to unnecessary “harassment” (or “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” as Trump has described it in tweets).

Top of Page

CNN - July 9, 2020

Michael Cohen taken into custody for violating terms of his early release from prison

President Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen has been taken into custody for violating terms of his early release from prison, his attorney Jeffrey Levine told reporters Thursday afternoon. Levine said Cohen had been ordered to appear at the federal court in downtown Manhattan to convert his furlough to home confinement but was detained after failing to agree to the terms of the federal location monitoring for the Southern District of New York. He was put in custody in a lower Manhattan correctional facility.

Cohen, Levine said, had been presented with an agreement not to engage with the media through any medium including books -- a restriction that would block the release of his forthcoming tell-all about his time working with Trump which he said was "close to completion" earlier this month. "I've never seen any language like this in my life that would strip a person of their First Amendment rights to communicate with the media," Levine said. "We made our objections known to the probation officers and we asked what we can do to work it out," he continued. Levine said he then "received an order and the US Marshals office came with shackles to shackle Michael Cohen." Sue Allison, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, told CNN Thursday that Cohen "refused the conditions of his home confinement and as a result, has been returned to a BOP facility." Cohen was also reportedly spotted eating at a New York City restaurant recently. When asked if that incident was related to his detainment Thursday, Levine told reporters outside the courthouse, "I would leave that to your viewers."

Top of Page

Newsclips - July 9, 2020

Lead Stories

KVIA - July 8, 2020

El Paso’s Health Authority drafting order to delay return to school classrooms by a month

An order being prepared by El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza would prohibit any in-person classes by local school districts until after Labor Day in September. That's according to both County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and Mayor Dee Margo, who told ABC-7 on Tuesday that Ocaranza's order was in the process of being drafted with their support. Margo, in an interview with ABC-7, said the return to school needed to be delayed by a month because of the coronavirus surge.

He indicated that local leaders had heard from many parents and educators who didn't feel comfortable going back to the classroom in August. Margo said El Paso-area school superintendents met Tuesday with city-county public health officials to discuss the situation. Most El Paso County schools are currently slated to start the new school year on Aug. 3. The order being prepared by Dr. Ocaranza would delay the potential return of students to classrooms by at least a month, but online classes - or remote learning as some districts call it - could still occur in August. The Socorro Independent School District tweeted Tuesday that it was prepared to adjust plans accordingly based on the new health directive. Other school districts didn't immediately comment.

Top of Page

ProPublica and NBC News - July 8, 2020

A spike in people dying at home suggests coronavirus deaths in Houston may be higher than reported

When Karen Salazar stopped by to check on her mother on the evening of June 22, she found her in worse shape than she expected. Her mother, Felipa Medellín, 54, had been complaining about chest pains and fatigue, symptoms that she attributed to a new diabetes treatment she’d started days earlier. While Salazar was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, her mother suddenly passed out. Then she stopped breathing. With the dispatcher on speaker phone, Salazar attempted CPR, repeatedly pressing her hands down on her mother’s chest, silently praying for her to startle back to life. But by the time Houston paramedics arrived at her home in northwest Houston, Medellín was dead. Days later, an autopsy revealed the primary cause: COVID-19. Medellín’s death is part of a troubling trend in Houston.

As coronavirus cases surge, inundating hospitals and leading to testing shortages, a rapidly growing number of Houston area residents are dying at home, according to an NBC News and ProPublica review of Houston Fire Department data. An increasing number of these at-home deaths have been confirmed to be the result of COVID-19, Harris County medical examiner data shows. The previously unreported jump in people dying at home is the latest indicator of a mounting crisis in a region beset by one of the nation’s worst and fastest-growing coronavirus outbreaks. On Tuesday, a record 3,851 people were hospitalized for the coronavirus in the Houston region, exceeding normal intensive care capacity and sending some hospitals scrambling to find additional staff and space. The uptick in the number of people dying before they can even reach a hospital in Houston draws parallels to what happened in New York City in March and April, when there was a spike in the number of times firefighters responded to medical calls, only to discover that the person in need of help had already died. These increases also echo those reported during outbreaks in Detroit and Boston, when the number of people dying at home jumped as coronavirus cases surged.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 9, 2020

For first time, independent experts to analyze racial profiling data from 2,000 Texas police agencies

Beginning next year, racial profiling data collected by Texas police departments will be analyzed annually by a team of expert academics, the first time comprehensive traffic stop data submitted by the state’s nearly 2,000 law enforcement agencies will be studied in a systematic way. “When properly collected and analyzed, this data should provide a much-needed basis for developing sound public policy that addresses racial profiling in Texas,” said Garnet Coleman, the Houston legislator who sponsored the 2017 Sandra Bland Act. Coleman and the Texas A&M University System announced the effort on Wednesday.

The change is the latest fallout from a Hearst Newspapers analysis demonstrating that the racial profiling data collected by the state could not be used to identify disparities in a department’s traffic stops - the purpose of the program. A day after the article was published, Coleman asked the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which collects the information, to re-do its annual racial profiling survey to ensure the information would actually be usable in the future. He said he asked the agency to try to re-assemble the profiling information from 2019, as well. Wednesday’s announcement marks another step in repairing the state’s inadequate efforts to identify and improve problem law enforcement agencies. In addition to collecting stop and search information by the drivers’ race, state laws including the Sandra Bland Act require individual police departments to analyze their information to look for patterns suggesting officers were stopping or searching motorists based on race.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 8, 2020

City cancels state GOP convention in Houston as party vows legal fight

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Wednesday that the city has canceled the Texas Republican Party’s in-person state convention in downtown Houston next week. Houston First, the public nonprofit that serves as the city’s convention arm, sent a letter to the party’s executive committee notifying it that the convention has been canceled. The letter triggers a part of the contract called a “force majeure” clause, which allows one side to cancel for an occurrence out of its control. The definition included “epidemics in the City of Houston,” according to the Houston First letter.

“No one wanted to step in and be the heavy and say no, and then run the risk of being accused of being political,” Turner said. “But if after all of that, if you still refuse to recognize the public health danger to everyone involved, then I am still the mayor.” Texas Republican Party officials lambasted the decision and said they were preparing for a legal fight. The gathering, which was expected to draw several thousand visitors, was scheduled July 16-18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Meanwhile, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough said he would welcome a convention there. “We are prepared to take all necessary steps to proceed in the peaceable exercise of our constitutionally protected rights,” Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey in a statement. Dickey recounted several steps the party was planning to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including thermal scanning of attendees as they enter, revised floor plans to accommodate social distancing, one-way traffic in convention hall, contactless hand sanitizer stations and masks for attendees. Turner said he sought the cancellation after Dr. David Persse, the city’s health authority, called the planned convention “a clear and present danger.”

Top of Page

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

As San Antonio hospitals near capacity, Brooke Army Medical Center sits out COVID crisis

As the coronavirus pandemic squeezes San Antonio hospitals closer to capacity, Brooke Army Medical Center is sitting out the crisis. The hospital at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston isn’t taking patients sickened by the virus even as Navy and now Army medical personnel have streamed into the Alamo City to help at other facilities.

BAMC has cared for civilian trauma patients for years. It’s an exception to a Pentagon policy that local health officials are lobbying to extend to COVID-19 cases. They’ve been asking with increasing urgency. There’s been no answer yet. “We need the Defense Department to do its part,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who echoed others in saying BAMC leaders and personnel would like to help but have their hands tied by top Pentagon leaders. “The local brass and troops have always done a stellar job and continue to do so here during this pandemic, but I think we need the folks in DC to understand there’s no fence line in San Antonio,” Nirenberg said.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

ICE expected to provide plan for releasing migrant children

The federal government is supposed to indicate today whether it will release detained parents with their children from family detention centers. In late June, a federal judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release all of its migrant children by July 17. But it is up to ICE whether the parents, who are detained with them in family detention centers, will be released with them.

The federal government is required to file its release plan today. Advocates say releasing the children without their parents is “family separation 2.0.” In a Fox News interview earlier this week. Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf appeared to indicate the parents would not be released, saying “We're not going to do a jail break.” The families in detention are awaiting civil immigration proceedings and have not been convicted of crimes. In mid-May, after the same judge — Judge Dolly Gee of California, who oversees the 1997 Flores Settlement that limits detention of migrant children to 20 days — told ICE to begin quickly releasing children, ICE presented parents with a form that advocates called “binary choice.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

Beto O’Rourke calls Gov. Abbott’s response to COVID-19 'pathetic'

In a tweet Monday, former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke said Gov. Greg Abbott's response to the coronavirus pandemic in Texas is "pathetic" and called for him to "resign." O'Rourke's tweet was a reaction to Abbott's televised interview with Austin's KFDM News on Monday. In the interview, Abbott blasted local officials for pushing for another round of stay-at-home orders, saying it would "really force Texans into poverty."

"All of these local officials who are asking to shut Texas back down – they've absolutely refused to enforce the current executive orders that are already in place," Abbott said in the interview. "... They ask for more and more, but they do absolutely nothing." Last Thursday, Abbott issued an executive order that requires most Texans to wear face coverings while in public. The order asks local law enforcement departments to fine violators up to $250, which is a turnaround for Abbott as he previously prohibited local governments from punishing people who do not wear masks.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 8, 2020

San Antonio sees highest single-day novel coronavirus death count; 845 new cases but slightly fewer people in hospitals

Bexar County saw its highest single-day death toll Wednesday from COVID-19, with nine fatalities reported, including a man in his 20s. The county has had a steady increase in deaths — reaching new highs several times in the last week — since the number of cases began to skyrocket in early June. Wednesday also marked another grim day for the state, which a record number of deaths, at 112, including six deaths at two nursing homes in neighboring Comal County. The state also reported almost 10,000 new cases, a day after it topped that figure for the first time.

The only “moment of good news” that Mayor Ron Nirenberg had to offer at the daily city-county brief on the novel coronavirus was that hospitalizations here decreased for the first time in a few weeks, by 30 patients. But Nirenberg cautioned against believing San Antonio was reaching a statistical plateau. “It’s not time to let up, in any respect, for the next year. We’re going to have get used to mask-wearing and physical distancing until there’s a vaccine,” he said. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases spiked 845 cases, reaching 16,725 cases since the pandemic reached San Antonio in March. With the new fatalities, Bexar County’s overall death toll rose to 146. Most of the deaths on Wednesday involved people who were Hispanic, in a wide range of ages. “It’s just so tragic,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “Pretty much all unnecessary.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - July 9, 2020

Elaine Ayala: San Antonio voting rights leader among NOW’s Sisters in Suffrage

A few months ago, when the National Organization for Women called Lydia Camarillo for the names of modern-day suffragettes, the president of the Southwest Voters Registration Education Project ticked off several names. Ambassador Vilma Martinez, a fellow San Antonian who once led the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, she said, and the mighty Nina Perales, MALDEF’s vice president of litigation. Camarillo also cited Antonia Hernández, who’d served as MALDEF’s president, and Gloria Molina, the first Chicana in the California State Assembly and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Camarillo failed to mention she’s the first Latina to head SVREP, nor her two decades of fighting for Latino voting rights. As chair of the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, for example, she saw through a successful legal challenge that increased the number of Latino-majority districts from seven to nine in Congress and added four at the state level. When NOW contacted Camarillo’s nominees, they all pointed back to her. On July 3, as the nation readied to celebrate its independence, Camarillo was recognized as one of NOW’s 100 Sisters in Suffrage. Each day, NOW will celebrate another suffragette until Aug. 25, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which expanded voting rights to women 144 years after the Declaration of Independence established those rights for white men.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 8, 2020

As Gov. Greg Abbott leads state through COVID-19 pandemic, where is the Texas Legislature?

It’s a once in a century pandemic. Where is the Texas Legislature? In the four months since COVID-19 put Texas in a state of disaster -- bringing economic activity to a halt and leaving millions out of work, while cases have risen steadily -- lawmakers have not met publicly. Gov. Greg Abbott has been the face of the state’s response. The second-term governor has exerted the full force of his office, issuing executive orders to shutter nonessential businesses, suspend elective surgeries and order travelers from other states to self-quarantine.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have complained about executive overreach, restrictions on mail-in voting or policies that left jobless Texas out in the cold. But most of the venting is on Twitter or in letters, not in a committee room, where lawmakers could hear expert testimony and provide oversight of state agencies. Legislators say just because they aren’t in a committee room doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their jobs. The Capitol is closed to the public to stem the spread of coronavirus. And while Zoom meetings have become the new normal for companies, procedural rules may prohibit lawmakers from meeting over the internet. “These issues are front and center,” said Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican who chairs the powerful Senate State Affairs Committee. “No one should think because there hasn’t been a formal hearing that this isn’t being taken seriously.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 8, 2020

Rep. Morgan Meyer asks education commissioner to suspend STAAR for 2020-21

The chorus against recommencing standardized tests for Texas public school students added another voice. On Wednesday, incumbent State Rep. Morgan Meyer -- a Republican who represents the Park Cities, Preston Hollow and parts of Uptown, Downtown and Old East Dallas -- sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath asking that the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, tests not be given to students for the upcoming 2020-21 school year.

In late June, Morath told members of the State Board of Education that testing would happen with some alterations for the upcoming school year; the 2019-20 tests were cancelled by Gov. Greg Abbott in March, after schools shuttered their doors because of coronavirus concerns. “Continuing the pause in testing will allow our public schools, administrators and teachers to continue focusing on the health, safety, wellness and learning of our students,” Meyer’s letter read. Meyer, who has held his seat since 2015 and serves on the House Public Education Committee, told The Dallas Morning News that his office had been “inundated” with calls from constituents who were concerned about the added stresses the tests would place on their children during the COVID-19 crisis.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 9, 2020

Trump’s near-perfect endorsement record in GOP primaries gets put to test in Texas Panhandle runoff

President Donald Trump’s near-perfect endorsement record in GOP primaries is on the line in the Texas Panhandle, where a rare open seat in arguably the country’s most conservative House district has produced a GOP primary runoff. The commander in chief has thrown his support behind Ronny Jackson, the former White House doctor and a retired Navy rear admiral, in a race against cattle industry lobbyist Josh Winegarner, who has his own heavyweight endorsement from the district’s retiring Rep. Mac Thornberry.

Both candidates are effusive in their praise of the president, and the two don’t offer many policy differences as they pitch unabashedly conservative views in the massive and mostly rural district. So the runoff election in mid-July could serve as a timely test of just how far a presidential push can propel a political newcomer, particularly since the contest has flown relatively under the radar amid the coronavirus outbreak, civil rights protests and other headline-grabbing events. “It’s a state of confusion,” said Bill Knight, chairman of the Moore County Republican Party, which sits just north of Amarillo, the district’s largest city. “Nobody knows either gentleman. They’re slinging a lot of mud. That’s about all I can say about it.” The race has heated up in recent weeks. Jackson and Winegarner have sparred over their credentials in a series of debates, while negative advertisements – including some from outside groups – have started hitting the airwaves now that early voting is underway.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 8, 2020

Mexican president López Obrador thanks Trump for being ‘increasingly respectful’ toward Mexicans

Mexico’s president, sharing a victory lap with President Donald Trump over a new trade deal, lauded him Wednesday for showing increasing respect for his fellow Mexicans — a stark reversal from earlier criticism of Trump’s long record of immigrant-bashing. President Andres Manuel López Obrador blistered Trump during the 2016 election for his inflammatory comments towards Mexicans and other foreigners, and he risked significant backlash at home for appearing now with the U.S. president.

But with both economies flailing and struggling with world-leading COVID-19 rates, courting Trump was a calculated risk — stroking his ego and delivering a bonus by simultaneously snubbing his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, four months before the election. “History tells us that it is possible to understand each other without arrogance or extremism,” López Obrador said in the Rose Garden at Trump’s side. Noting the heat he’s taken over the wisdom of this visit, he added, “Thank you, President Trump for being increasingly respectful with our Mexican fellow men.” Then, under a blazing afternoon sun, the presidents signed a joint declaration that notes the restrictions imposed to address the pandemic and lauding the new trade deal as a recipe for each side to rebuild. Trump set a conciliatory tone, avoiding the sort of inflammatory rhetoric he employs on Twitter and at campaign rallies, which critics say is intended to stoke xenophobia and scapegoat non-citizens.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 8, 2020

How an air filter made by University of Houston researchers could trap and kill COVID-19 germs

Catch and kill — that’s the mission of a new air filter designed to eliminate COVID-19 virus particles. Heated foam air filters created by University of Houston physics researchers and Medistar, a Houston real estate developer specializing in medical buildings, could be key to disinfecting heating and cooling systems of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, according to a peer-reviewed study in Materials Today Physics, a science journal.

The virus can live up to three hours in the air, according to recent research. But superheating could kill the virus when passed through the filter, which would be installed in air conditioning and heating systems and heated to nearly 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Those filters could be in production as soon as August, said Zhifeng Ren, the director of UH’s Texas Center for Superconductivity, which researches materials that can conduct electricity without resistance at high temperatures. Ideally, high-traffic spaces and essential services in Texas, such as airports, office buildings and schools, would be the first to install them. Filtration systems could be critical to controlling COVID-19, because recent research suggests the virus is transmitted through the air. Researchers developing the filter conducted tests at the University of Houston and Galveston National Laboratory and proved that the filter killed 99.8 percent of SARS-CoV-2, according to the study.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 9, 2020

First he put a MAGA hat on Selena statue, now he's running for mayor of Corpus Christi

The man who placed a red Trump hat atop the Selena statue in Corpus Christi for a photo op says he plans to run for mayor of the city. Joe Michael Perez (Joe Mike), whose photo went viral, says he wants people to know that "there are Hispanic Republicans out there."

"I just figured that, well, I'm in politics now," Perez says. He owns a Trump memorabilia shop inside the Corpus Christi Trade Center and a season fireworks stand. "I've been criticized for it, and I stood my ground, and I stood for what I believed in. I'm not stopping. I'm not backing down." The viral photo shows Perez posing next to the "Mirador de la Flor," a sculpture of Selena erected in 1997 on Corpus Christi Bay. He is wearing a Trump shirt and placing a Trump hat atop the statue's head. Perez voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because "he just doesn't back down. And that right there is what I can relate to." Abraham Quintanilla, Selena's father, called Perez "a disrespectful idiot" and says his daughter "was never involved with politics." Quintanilla's lawyers have sent Perez a cease and desist because of his "unauthorized use and commercial exploitation of the name, image and likeness of the artist Selena Quintanilla."

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 9, 2020

Texas resumes executions after 5-month delay due to pandemic

A Texas inmate received lethal injection Wednesday evening for fatally shooting an 82-year-old man nearly three decades ago, ending a five-month delay of executions in the nation’s busiest death penalty state because of the coronavirus pandemic. Billy Joe Wardlow was put to death at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the June 1993 killing of Carl Cole at his home in Cason, about 130 miles (209 kilometers) east of Dallas in the East Texas piney woods, near the Louisiana and Arkansas borders.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop the 45-year-old man’s execution. Wardlow was the first inmate in Texas to receive a lethal injection since Feb. 6 and the second in the U.S. since the nation began reopening following pandemic-related shutdowns. Strapped to the death chamber gurney, Wardlow declined to make a final statement when asked by the warden. He did nod and smile broadly, mouthing words to several friends who watched through a window from an adjacent witness room. As the lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital was administered, he took three deep breaths, snored twice and then took a couple shallow breaths before all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead 24 minutes later, at 6:52 p.m. CDT.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 9, 2020

Hegar launches air war; West looks to digital targeting

In a demonstration of superior air power, MJ Hegar’s U.S. Senate campaign, along with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Emily’s List, will be bombarding cable and broadcast media with more than $1.5 million in advertising in the closing days before the July 14 runoff election. But Royce West’s campaign, which will be spending a mere $25,000 for a touch of TV in Houston in the waning days, said Hegar is wasting money and that the West campaign is more effectively spending on targeted digital and voter outreach by phone.

According to a Republican operative tracking media buys, the Hegar campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee plan to spend roughly $750,000 in the last week of the campaign to run a Hegar ad talking about health care, immigration and systemic racism. On top of that, Women Vote!, the super PAC associated with Emily’s List, an organization that works to elect Democrats who support abortion rights, is buying $777,000 in broadcast TV time exclusively in Houston for a new ad focused on health care. The new spending follows a half-million dollars in broadcast and cable time in combined spending by the Hegar campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee the previous week. The Senate runoff between Hegar, a 44-year-old decorated former Air Force helicopter pilot, and West, a 67-year-old African American lawmaker first elected to the Texas Senate from Dallas in 1992, has come alive with energy and acrimony since a rough-and-tumble televised debate on KVUE-TV on June 29.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - July 9, 2020

In letter to Adler, Abbott supports Austin measures seeking fines for not wearing a mask

Austin officials are considering implementing civil penalties for anyone who does not wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic — and Gov. Greg Abbott is supporting them. In a letter addressed Wednesday to Mayor Steve Adler, Abbott hinted at two items that Austin City Council members will take up Thursday that would enforce the governor’s recent executive order requiring residents 10 years or older to wear masks in public spaces. Abbott called those efforts “necessary to protect public health and safety.”

“As you know, these orders were created and adopted based on advice from medical experts, and if these orders are followed, we will be able to protect both public health and the livelihoods of our citizens,” Abbott wrote. The council will convene for a special meeting at 10 a.m. to vote on a resolution that would allow for a fine of up to $2,000 for anyone violating a “health authority rule” like not wearing a mask. A second resolution would allow the city to take civil action against any person who maintains a business or site that does not comply with minimum health standards, such as cleaning high-touch areas twice a day, limiting gatherings to 10 people or less, and conducting a health pre-screening before the start of a worker’s shift.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 8, 2020

Texas now limits outdoor gatherings of 10 or more. Fort Worth won’t grant exemptions

Planning a pool party, graduation celebration, softball game or wedding? As coronavirus cases continue to rise, outside events such as these that include more than 10 people now must be approved by local officials, under a proclamation issued by Gov. Greg Abbott that went into effect July 3. In Tarrant County, city residents must get permission from the mayor and those in the unincorporated part of the county must get permission from the county judge.

But don’t think that approval is a given. Fort Worth, for instance, is not accepting applications for exemptions, said Laken Rapier, a spokeswoman for Mayor Betsy Price. Rapier said very few requests for exemptions have been received. There is a potential for exemptions, “but those would be few and far between,” she said. Any exceptions would have to include masks and social distancing. In Arlington, the fire marshal oversees the approval process for these requests. Once someone submits a request, it is reviewed by the fire chief, public health authority and mayor, said Susan Schrock, a spokeswoman for the city. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said his office has created a form that must be submitted 48 hours in advance of the proposed event. The form asks about the event, its time, location and how many people are expected to attend. It also asks what safety precautions will be taken to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Top of Page

Texas Observer - July 8, 2020

Reform versus rebuild: Years of activism and a legacy of police violence are fueling demands to reimagine public safety.

For Sara Mokuria, Father’s Day is an annual reminder of police violence. Mokuria was two months shy of her 10th birthday on October 7, 1992, when officers arrived in her neighborhood in southeast Dallas. Mokuria’s mother had called 911 when her father, Tesfaye, came home acting irrationally. Mokuria’s mother managed to relieve him of the kitchen knife he was handling before police arrived, but when officers rang the doorbell, he snatched it back and said he was going to protect her. Police officials, at the time, claimed that Mokuria’s father, who was Black, “came out and charged toward an officer with the knife.” The officers who shot and killed Tesfaye were white. As she grew older, Mokuria channeled the tragedy into activism around race and policing in Dallas. In 2013, she co-founded the group Mothers Against Police Brutality with John Fullenwider, a longtime community organizer, and Collette Flanagan, whose son, Clinton Allen, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by police earlier that year. For the next several years, the group pushed the city to overhaul a toothless, decades-old system of community oversight for the Dallas Police Department (DPD). City leaders finally passed those reforms last year, which included creating a new city office independent of DPD to review police investigations and complaints, on the heels of another controversial police killing.

Last year, Mokuria, now with the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas, took a new approach to reforming law enforcement in Dallas: going after their money. She and other activists went to budget sessions in 2019 and asked city leaders to decrease spending on police and shift funding to social services to combat poverty in a city haunted by racial and economic segregation. They didn’t get very far. A spike in violent crime that year dominated discussions around police spending, leading city leaders to unanimously pass a budget that dedicated more funding to retain and hire more cops—despite a city-commissioned staffing study cautioning that DPD needed to better manage the officers it had before hiring any more. But that was before police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death has sparked a national uprising, challenging and changing the terms of debate around race and policing almost overnight and across all levels of government. While a growing number of activists and politicians across the country are now demanding a deeper, more fundamental reassessment of public safety, in Texas, it’s not entirely new. It’s an acknowledgement that incremental reforms like body cameras, stricter guidelines for using force, and increased training have failed to stop police brutality or correct racial disparities seen across the criminal legal system.

Top of Page

CBS 11 - July 8, 2020

Members of teacher’s union react to Texas Education Agency school reopening guidelines

One of the largest teachers union in North Texas says the state’s framework for reopening schools doesn’t do enough to protect students and staff. The Texas Education Agency released its much anticipated guidelines Tuesday afternoon.

This fall, all families will be able to choose whether to send their student back to class or continue with remote learning. On campuses, students, teachers and staff will be screened, and masks will be required. Personal protective equipment will be provided to schools as well. Even with those measures, teachers say it’s going to be nearly impossible to social distance in the classroom, on school buses, and in the cafeteria. “Every teacher I know wants to be back in school with their kids, but not at the cost and safety of students and teachers lives,” said Steven Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association, which represents more than 26,000 public school employees in 43 school districts. Poole doesn’t believe it’s safe to go back to school next month.

Top of Page

Austin Monitor - July 8, 2020

Survey predicts 90 percent of Austin live music venues to close by Halloween

A survey of Austin businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic finds that 90 percent of the city’s live music venues are likely to permanently close by this fall. That forecast was one of the conclusions of a June survey conducted by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, with more than 1,000 business owners from all industries sharing their actions following closures and scaled reopening of businesses across the state in recent months.

The survey, which was commissioned by the Austin Chamber of Commerce in coordination with the Central Texas for Business Task Force, found that bars and live music venues in Austin are the most at risk for closure due to the pandemic. Among other findings: 62 percent of music venues said they would survive four months or less of continued closure; 19 percent of music venues were able to pay their full June rent, with 67 percent paying less than half of their rent balance; 83 percent of music venues laid off their full-time employees 79 percent of music venues suspended payments to vendors, suppliers and landlords; The survey’s summary noted Halloween as the likely milestone by which a majority of Austin’s bars and live music venues will be closed for good. Members of the task force and other involved parties received the data at an online session last Wednesday, with live music advocates hoping the findings will strengthen their push for economic aid specifically designated for live music venues that have an average monthly overhead of $40,000.

Top of Page

McAllen Monitor - July 8, 2020

UTRGV, international students react to Trump administration’s visa restrictions

Paulina Longoria doesn’t want to leave the United States. The 19-year-old English major at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has been in America since 2015, and said she simply feels more comfortable here, having already engrossed herself in the university community as well as the larger Valley community. “There’s more opportunities for me, because I can work and study here with visas and permissions, and it’s safe here,” said Longoria, a native of Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas in Mexico.

Thanks to a federal policy change, however, Longoria recently feared the possibility of being forced out of the country before having finished her education, or having had the chance to embark on a writing career. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has already left educational institutions across the country scrambling, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that it will not issue visas for international students enrolled in schools and its programs that are fully online for the fall semester, according to a news release. The decision could affect hundreds of thousands of international students currently enrolled for the fall semester who hold F-1 and M-1 non-immigrant visas — Longoria is one such student — and comes as the Trump administration continues to restrict legal immigration. The new restrictions put a cap on how many credit hours a student on this particular visa could use for online-learning or remote classes.

Top of Page

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 8, 2020

‘He’s not listening’: Acevedo, council members spar over delayed helmet vote

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Wednesday that city council members have a “loss of common sense” in questioning a $166,000 contract for helmets, provoking a sharp rebuke from two members. The public spat came after Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration tabled a vote on the contract with GT Distributors for 454 ballistic helmets, face shields and other tactical equipment. The administration did not explain why it pulled the vote, but council members Jerry Davis and Tiffany Thomas said they were asking questions about the contract and seeking to get police to commit to demilitarizing itself during public protests.

“The thought that in 2020 elected members of city council don’t understand that a protective helmet is needed by police officers is a testament to the loss of common sense in our nation. We ask children and motorcycle riders to wear helmets; but we question the need for police … access to life saving equipment,” Acevedo tweeted as council met Wednesday. He also shared the photo a sergeant’s bloodied face. “It is a shame that @houstonpolice is one of the few big city departments in the nation without this protective gear issued department-wide. The sgt. pictured above was recently injured when he was assaulted with a rock,” he tweeted. At the end of the meeting, Davis lambasted the chief for declining to meet with him and for sending out a tweet instead of speaking with him directly. “What I really hate is when people go on Twitter and just start blabbing different things,” Davis told the mayor. He said it is council members’ job to ask questions about votes, and he said he easily could say the chief has lost common sense in refusing to release footage from body cameras in police shootings.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - July 8, 2020

Houston home sales post record rebound

Sales of single-family homes rebounded sharply in June, reversing two months of steep declines and logging a record number of closings, new data show, a result of pent-up demand and low mortgage rates. A flurry of contracts signed in May after stay-at-home orders expired and the state began to reopen businesses drove closings to a new monthly high in June. Buyers closed on 9,328 single-family homes, up 15.7 percent from the previous June, the Houston Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

“Coronavirus has driven the Houston housing market into uncharted territory, however, we do know for certain that consumers have shown unwavering interest in real estate since the pandemic began,” HAR Chairman John Nugent said in a press release. The boost, however, may be temporary as new COVID-19 cases surge in Texas and the economy continues to struggle. Some agents have stopped hosting open houses and local leaders are again urging Houstonians to stay home when possible.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 7, 2020

‘I will make sure we recall you.’ Arlington term limit advocate denied committee spot

The Arlington City Council filled all but one seat on two task forces Tuesday after council members raised issue with one nominee’s past behavior. Members filled a combined 33 open slots for the 10-person Unity Council and 24-member Term Limits Advisory Committee.. The council declined Zachary Maxwell’s appointment to the term limits committee 5-3 after members debated his ability to approach a committee with “decorum.”

Maxwell publishes the Arlington Voice and was a driving force behind the term limit referendum. In his statement to the council via phone, he shamed council members for having this discussion and assured he would lead an effort to recall all members but Marvin Sutton, District 3 councilman. Sutton nominated Maxwell for his seat. “What you are about to do is exactly why I will make sure we recall you,” Maxwell said. “You will lose on this issue, and you will be embarrassed by it.” Sheri Capehart, District 2 councilwoman, asked that Maxwell’s nomination be reconsidered and cited previous private and public interactions with him. “I don’t think that I could knowingly subject that committee to his oftentimes lack of decorum and anger,” she said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - July 8, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: A job, a home and a chance for healing: Dallas’ smart approach to homelessness holds real promise

No one wants to be a Pollyanna when it comes to the deep, abiding and worsening problem of American homelessness. It can be disheartening to consider the enormity of the matter. But giving up should never be an option. Accepting that people will just live on the streets or in unsanitary and dangerous tent villages beneath overpasses isn’t a social solution. That’s why we are so pleased to see the progress in Dallas on an effort to get people off the streets in a way that is smart and compassionate.

We are talking about the effort to build Bonton Village in Lake Highlands. The project led by Dallas council member Adam McGough, Bonton Farms founder Darron Babcock and City of Refuge chief executive Mike Reinsel holds the promise of redirecting lives for the better while it can also answer the fear people have of helping the homeless in their own neighborhoods. As columnist Sharon Grigsby reported last month, McGough has been on a difficult journey to bring this complex project to fruition. He has not only had to battle city staff intent on acting without political input, but has faced the NIMBYism that inevitably follows projects like this. Over time, however, he has won over City Hall and many Lake Highlands residents with a plan that is intended not only to aid the homeless but to bring economic development to the area. Indeed, Babcock and McGough both report support pouring in from Lake Highlands residents eager to see the village take shape on a large and unused patch of land at 12000 Greenville Ave. Those who know Babcock’s work in South Dallas should be pleased he is expanding his vision. Long before he was collecting headlines and plaudits for his work, Babcock was quietly creating a functioning farm to give people in his South Dallas neighborhood a real hand in improving their lives, through working on the farm or from being nourished by its fruits.

Top of Page

National Stories

Associated Press - July 9, 2020

Health official: Trump rally ‘likely’ source of virus surge

President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa in late June that drew thousands of participants and large protests “likely contributed” to a dramatic surge in new coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday.

Tulsa County reported 261 confirmed new cases on Monday, a one-day record high, and another 206 cases on Tuesday. By comparison, during the week before the June 20 Trump rally, there were 76 cases on Monday and 96 on Tuesday. Although the health department’s policy is to not publicly identify individual settings where people may have contracted the virus, Dart said those large gatherings “more than likely” contributed to the spike. “In the past few days, we’ve seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots,” Dart said. Trump’s Tulsa rally, his first since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., attracted thousands of people from around the country. About 6,200 people gathered inside the 19,000-seat BOK Center arena — far fewer than was expected. Dart had urged the campaign to consider pushing back the date of the rally, fearing a potential surge in the number of coronavirus cases. Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the campaign went to great lengths to ensure that those who attended the rally were protected.

Top of Page

Associated Press - July 8, 2020

Kanye West breaks with Trump, claims 2020 run is not a stunt

Kanye West says he is no longer a Trump supporter. The rapper, who once praised President Donald Trump and said the two share “dragon energy,” tells Forbes that he is “taking the red hat off” — a reference to Trump’s trademark red “Make America Great Again” cap. In a story published Wednesday, West also insisted that his weekend announcement that he’s running for President was not a stunt to drum up interest in an upcoming album.

Forbes spoke to West from his ranch near Cody, Wyoming, in what the magazine called “four rambling hours of interviews.” West, who says he’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, often referred to himself in the third person and claimed he was “one of the most powerful humans” although acknowledged there were “a lot of alien level superpowers.” He said if he won the presidency, he would model his White House on the fictional land in “Black Panther,” saying “Let’s get back to Wakanda.” West has already missed the deadline to qualify for the ballot in several states, and it’s unclear if he has the ability or willingness to collect the signatures required to qualify in others.

Top of Page

ABC News - July 8, 2020

Trump campaign considers displaying statues at future rallies: Sources

A potential new addition to President Trump’s future rallies: statues. The idea has been discussed by White House and Trump campaign aides, but no final decision has been made, sources familiar with the planning told ABC News. It’s also not clear who exactly the statues would resemble, but sources say one idea was for “America’s Founding Fathers."

The potential move comes as the president continues to condemn those who are calling for the removal of controversial monuments -- a push from activists that first focused on Confederate monuments and for some has since expanded to other historical figures. During a speech at Mount Rushmore Friday, Trump made little mention of the surge in cases in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and instead railed against the nation’s mostly peaceful protesters throughout his remarks, calling them "angry mobs," which he says pose a "growing danger." The president claimed that the goal of those who are removing "the heroes of 1776" is to "end America."

Top of Page

New York Times - July 8, 2020

Churches were eager to reopen. Now they are a major source of coronavirus cases.

Weeks after President Trump demanded that America’s shuttered houses of worship be allowed to reopen, new outbreaks of the coronavirus are surging through churches across the country where services have resumed. The virus has infiltrated Sunday sermons, meetings of ministers and Christian youth camps in Colorado and Missouri. It has struck churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.

Pastors and their families have tested positive, as have church ushers, front-door greeters and hundreds of churchgoers. In Texas, about 50 people contracted the virus after a pastor told congregants they could once again hug one another. In Florida, a teenage girl died last month after attending a youth party at her church. More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities, according to a New York Times database. “There’s a very fine line between protecting the health and safety of people, and protecting the right to worship,” said George Murdock, a county commissioner in northeastern Oregon, where the largest outbreak in the state has been traced to a Pentecostal church in a neighboring county. “It’s one we’ve been walking very nervously all along.”

Top of Page

USA Today - July 8, 2020

Pence says CDC changing school reopening guidelines after Trump called them 'tough and expensive'

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is revising its guidance on reopening schools after President Donald Trump tweeted his disagreement with them, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday. "The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough," Pence said at a news conference at the U.S. Department of Education. "That's the reason why, next week, CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward."

Trump tweeted Wednesday that he disagrees with the CDC's "very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools" as the coronavirus pandemic continues. "They are asking schools to do very impractical things," Trump tweeted. "I will be meeting with them!!!" He also threatened to withhold funding from schools that don't populate their classrooms this fall. Asked about that threat, Pence said the administration wants to include "incentives for states to go forward" in the next federal stimulus package. "And as we work with Congress on the next round of state support, we're going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school," said Pence, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Top of Page

The Hill - July 8, 2020

Supreme Court upholds Trump's expansion of ObamaCare birth control exemptions

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the Trump administration's expansion of ObamaCare birth control exemptions for employers. The 7-2 decision stemmed from a highly litigated question that first arose in the early days of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA): Do employers who oppose birth control have to pay for workers’ contraception?

In the Obama era, religious nonprofits could claim an exemption from contraceptive coverage. Under the Trump administration, eligibility was extended to companies that voiced religious or moral objections, sparking legal challenges. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority on Wednesday, said the move by federal agencies under President Trump to expand the exemptions was lawful. "We hold that the departments had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections," Thomas wrote. The majority comprised the court’s conservative wing, as well as two of its more liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. Writing in dissent were liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

Top of Page