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Newsclips - October 19, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

'The limitation of Donald Trump': Election audit bill fails to pass in Texas Legislature

Despite unusually heavy lobbying from former President Donald Trump, two elections bills that he pushed Gov. Greg Abbott to enact this fall are all but dead. One would have eased up the process for requesting an election audit, and another would have raised the penalty for the crime of illegal voting, a reversal of a provision that top Republican leaders said was accidentally included in a sweeping elections bill Republicans passed in the summer. Trump had zeroed in on the bills in messaging to his supporters, chiding both Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan for not doing enough to advance them. Despite Trump’s pleas and being called out in public, Abbott never put the audit bill on the call, stressing that his own efforts through the Secretary of State’s office would be sufficient. Even so, both bills passed quickly in the Senate in early October, but neither received a committee hearing in the House. The legislative session ends Tuesday.

“It’s clear the president was driving the narrative on much of this,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston, adding that the failure of these bills “does show you the limitation of Donald Trump on these voting issues.” Phelan, who did not respond to a request for comment, has not voiced his opinion on the audit bill, but he has made his position clear on the illegal voting bill, saying he did not wish to “relitigate” a bill that had passed out of the chamber with majority support. The voting bill had been the focus of the Legislature since early this year, driving Democrats to flee the Capitol building, then the state, to deny Republicans the attendance needed to call a vote on it. The bill ultimately passed in late August after some Democrats broke rank and put an end to the walkout that had grabbed national headlines. That eight-month fixation on the one issue could also contribute to why the latest election-related bills flamed out, Rottinghaus said. “The Legislature, collectively, has voting fatigue,” he said. “We’ve seen this in the past before, like in the late 80s and early 2000s, there were these marathon special sessions typically over very divisive policy issues that created a sense that there was a diminishing return on being in session.”

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Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2021

First lawsuit filed to challenge Republican redistricting plans for Texas

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, a Latino-rights organization argued that all four Texas redistricting plans must be thrown out because the Republican-drawn maps illegally and unconstitutionally dilute the voting strength of Latinos. Coming out of the third special session of the Legislature, the maps setting new district boundaries for members of Congress, the Texas House, the Texas Senate and the State Board of Education have not yet been signed into law. But the lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund argued that court intervention is needed because Republican lawmakers drew maps that ignored robust gains in the state's Latino population. The result, the lawsuit said, was political districts drawn in an intentionally discriminatory way to reduce Latino voting strength in areas across Texas.

"The new redistricting plans are an unlawful attempt to thwart the changing Texas electorate and should be struck down," said Nina Perales, MALDEF's vice president of litigation. The 2020 census revealed a dramatic demographic shift in Texas, which grew by 4 million people in the previous decade. While white Texans accounted for only 5% of that growth, Latinos accounted for 50%, the Census Bureau reported. "Based on recent demographic trends, the Texas State Data Center estimates that the Latino population of Texas will match the Anglo population in 2021," the lawsuit said. But the new maps, instead of creating additional districts to give Latino voters a chance to elect their candidates of choice, illegally diluted their power by packing Hispanic Texans into heavily Democratic districts or splitting communities into majority white districts, the lawsuit said.

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Washington Post - October 19, 2021

Democrats to scale back Treasury’s IRS bank reporting plan amid GOP uproar

Senate Democrats on Tuesday will unveil a scaled-back version of a Biden administration proposal to crack down on wealthy tax cheats after conservative groups and the bank industry raised major privacy concerns, three people with knowledge of the coming announcement said. Initially, the Department of Treasury and Senate Democrats had proposed requiring financial institutions to provide the Internal Revenue Service with additional information on bank accounts with more than $600 in annual deposits or withdrawals. After a backlash, the new proposal will instead require the provision of additional information for accounts with more than $10,000 in annual deposits or withdrawals, a measure Democrats have been considering for weeks but have not formally endorsed, the people said. The revised version of the bank reporting proposal will also weaken its scope by exempting all wage income from counting toward the $10,000 threshold withdrawal, intending to ensure it applies to only larger account holders, the people said. The Biden administration has signed off on the changes and is expected to support the new plan, a potentially key source of new revenue to pay for Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar economic package. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a matter not yet made public.

The weakening of the reporting requirements reflects Democrats’ sensitivity to the increasingly explosive politics of the issue as Republicans, conservative groups and industry lobbyists attempted to label the initial proposal as representing a major expansion of snooping by the IRS into taxpayers’ private information. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has adamantly rejected this criticism, arguing the new reporting rules amount to an essentially technical set of changes that will only impact wealthy tax evaders. But even many Democrats privately concede that the proposal gave Republicans an opening to attack them on the issue, provoking a fury of opposition among conservative groups. Banks already report to the IRS information for the interest earned in their customers’ accounts. (Stockbrokers also already report dividends and capital gains of their customers to the IRS.) Treasury’s proposal is aimed at requiring banks to also report total deposits and withdrawals to the IRS as well. The totals would be reported once a year — not every time a transaction above a certain number has occurred. The provision is aimed at giving the IRS more visibility into the cash flow of the bank’s customers, especially businesses. Wage earners, who represent the vast majority of the American public, already have their wages reported to the IRS on their W-2 forms. Treasury wants additional data for Americans earning business income as well, although exactly which accounts should be subject to the new rules has been the subject of a fierce debate. White House officials believe that the IRS could better target tax evasion if they have access to the way money flows in and out of accounts.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2021

Carroll trustees take no action on teacher reprimand; unrest swirls over Holocaust remark

Parents, teachers and students pleaded with Carroll school trustees on Monday to reverse a previous vote to reprimand a fourth grade teacher after a parent filed a grievance alleging that her daughter was bullied after she brought home an anti-racist book from the classroom. On Oct. 4, trustees voted 3-2 to request that administrators place a reprimand letter in Rickie Farah’s personnel file although officials found no wrongdoing. After an executive session lasting almost two hours, trustees took no action on the reprimand. Barbara Johnson, whose grandson was a student in Farah’s class, told trustees that he got an inspiring letter encouraging him about his writing.

“Like many others in this town, I read the book ‘This Book is Anti-Racist’ (the book that was in Farah’s classroom); I wasn’t offended,” she said. “Teachers don’t feel supported, that’s not what we want.” Before the meeting started, board president Michelle Moore said, “I understand that there is confusion and anger and perhaps fear. We can’t rewind the past couple of weeks ...” Teachers have been learning about new legal regulations, Moore said. “We as a district must work together to learn how we apply the law,” she said. Lindsey Garcia, a teacher in the school district, told trustees that the Oct. 4 vote to reprimand Farah left teachers feeling scared and insecure. “The Oct. 4 actions of the board caused me confusion and caused me to lose faith,” she said. Melody Anderson, another teacher, said her job is all about treating every child with love and respect. “I feel betrayed and unsupported by our school board after Oct. 4. Please help me feel supported again,” she said.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2021

3rd special session ends with new political maps but no ban on vaccine mandates

The third special session of the Texas Legislature came to a close early Tuesday morning with lawmakers delivering on six of the 10 tasks assigned to them by Gov. Greg Abbott, including newly drawn political maps that could cement Republican power for the next decade. Republicans also passed a law to limit the participation of transgender athletes in public school sports, an effort led by religious conservatives that galvanized opposition from transgender Texans and their loved ones. But several of Abbott's big-ticket priorities floundered. Lawmakers did not prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates by Texas businesses or governments.

Nor did they grant the governor's request to return several voting offenses to felonies after the crimes were reduced to misdemeanors in the second special session — a change made with a House amendment to a sweeping elections bill. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxon said they didn't notice the change until after senators voted to accept the revision and Abbott signed the elections bill into law during a celebration with supporters. But House Speaker Dade Phelan, a fellow Republican, declared the request dead on arrival in the House, saying it was among several thoughtful changes made to the elections bill. Another Abbott priority that passed the Senate but died in the House was a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that would have let judges deny bail to defendants facing charges for violent or sexual offenses. Senate Joint Resolution 1 fell short of the 100 votes needed in the House with a 75-38 vote.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2021

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett to run in new proposed congressional district based in Austin

Lloyd Doggett, the longtime Democratic congressman from Austin, is running to represent a newly formed U.S. House district that encompasses much of the city. Doggett, 75, currently represents the 35th District, which stretches from East Austin to San Antonio. But now his sights are set on the 37th District, one of two new congressional seats drawn with new census data. Texas was awarded two additional U.S. House seats because of the state's rapid population growth over the past decade. “The opportunity to once again represent the neighborhoods that I grew up in, that I’ve lived in and worked in for most of my life in the city that is the only city that I’ve ever called home — that really is very appealing,” Doggett told the American-Statesman. “Living on I-35 is very unappealing.”

Lawmakers still must sign off on the newly drawn congressional map, but the final draft of the proposed changes retains the new district Doggett hopes to represent. The district encompasses 55% of Travis County and 10% of Williamson County, and it was drawn to favor Democratic candidates. It stretches from the southern boundary of Travis County to just past its northern edge, stopping short of Cedar Park. Most of the district stretches west of Interstate 35 — extending to Lake Travis and including West Lake Hills — save for a portion of East Austin and some neighborhoods north of U.S. 290. “It's really a natural fit,” Doggett said of the new district. “It's reuniting neighborhoods that I was elected to represent when I was elected to represent 98% of Travis County.” Doggett has served in Congress since 1995, representing different portions of Central and South Texas. He has represented the 35th Congressional District since it was created in 2010 and previously represented the 25th and 10th districts. Before running for federal office, Doggett served in the Texas Senate for 12 years. He later was elected to be a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

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Axios - October 15, 2021

Texas abortion ban stumps businesses

Companies and CEOs are reluctant to speak out against Texas’ abortion ban because they fear there’s more to lose than gain. Why it matters: As the de facto fourth branch of government, CEOs face more pressure to drive social and political change. Abortion continues to be one of the hardest topics for companies to speak up about because it’s still emotionally and politically charged and closely related to religious views. Upsetting lawmakers in Texas, the second-biggest economy behind California, is another risk.

Driving the news: Four months after Gov. Greg Abbott signed his state’s law that bans abortion after about six weeks, more than 50 companies signed a statement opposing "policies that hinder people's health, independence and ability to fully succeed in the workplace." Comparatively, almost 200 signed a similar statement worded around “equality” in 2019 when Alabama and other Southern states signed restrictive abortion bans. State of play: Companies like Bumble, Uber and Lyft have set up or will provide relief and legal funds for people who might be impacted by the abortion ban — in part because the law affects their core business. Match Group CEO Shar Dubey set up a personal fund, saying this week at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit that the company has a principle of avoiding politics that aren't relevant to the business but that she wanted to make a statement because it didn't sit right with her as a woman living in Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

Supreme Court speeds review of Texas abortion law after fed seek freeze on enforcement

The U.S. Supreme Court signaled interest Monday in providing a quick review of Texas’ six-week abortion ban, giving abortion providers and the state until Thursday to argue whether they should or not. The order came shortly after the Justice Department filed an emergency application asking the court to halt enforcement of Senate Bill 8, which outsources enforcement to anyone willing to sue doctors or others who help a woman obtain an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The court already plans oral arguments Dec. 1 on a Mississippi ban that kicks in at 15 weeks — also long before the threshold set in Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark that stemmed from a Dallas County prosecution. Although the Supreme Court rebuffed efforts to prevent SB8 from taking effect, it has not ruled on its constitutionality. Roe held that women have the right to terminate a pregnancy until a fetus is viable outside the womb, roughly 22 to 24 weeks, making the Texas law an aggressive challenge to five decades of precedent.

On Monday, the Biden administration asked the high court to so something it refused to do just before SB8 took effect on Sept. 1: halt enforcement until federal courts sort out its legality. Abortions plummeted in Texas until Oct. 6, when a U.S. district judge in Austin halted enforcement on grounds it was a blatant violation of Roe. A panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling two days later and on Thursday, the 5th Circuit extended that order. The Justice Department announced Friday that it would ask the Supreme Court to vacate the appellate ruling, restoring the lower court injunction and allowing pre-viability abortions to resume in Texas. “For half a century, this Court has held that ‘a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,’ ” the federal government argue in its filing on Monday. “S.B. 8 defies those precedents by banning abortion long before viability — indeed, before many women even realize they are pregnant,” the application reads. “But rather than forthrightly defending its law and asking this Court to revisit its decisions, Texas took matters into its own hands by crafting an ‘unprecedented’ structure to thwart judicial review.” Justice Samuel Alito, who handles legal emergencies out of the 5th Circuit, gave Texas until noon ET Thursday to respond to the Justice Department request. Soon afterward, the court issued an order setting the same deadline for Texas and abortion providers challenging its law to provide input on whether the court should take up the case.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

As Collin County trends purple, Republicans draw U.S. House boundaries that bolster GOP power

The Legislature’s GOP mapmakers are playing defense in Collin County, redrawing its fast-changing congressional seat to thwart recent Democratic momentum and make it safely Republican for years to come. Former President Donald Trump won Congressional District 3 by just one percentage point in 2020. But Republican lawmakers this year redrew Plano U.S. Rep. Van Taylor’s seat such that Trump would have carried it by 14 points. That district, which includes parts of Plano, Frisco and McKinney, would take in most of more conservative Hunt County to the east if the Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott approve the map. The GOP lawmakers’ redraw tracks with their strategy to keep control of some suburban seats that are trending toward Democrats — like Taylor’s, with its quickly diversifying population. Shoring up those districts could nudge politics further to the right, as Republican incumbents focus on fending off challengers during the 2022 primary elections, political watchers say.

In 2017, as a state senator, Taylor was ranked the most conservative member of the upper chamber. But the sophomore congressman’s more moderate record in Washington has provoked some criticism among the furthest right wing of the state party. Since the redder district was proposed late last month, at least two primary challengers have announced runs for Taylor’s seat, including one who blasted the incumbent for supporting a bill that would have created an outside commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Republicans’ bolstering of the North Texas district is a blow to Democrats who thought they had Taylor on the ropes. In 2020, Taylor held on to his seat, which was targeted by national Democrats, with 55% of the vote. People of color have fueled the state’s population boom over the last decade, with much of the growth concentrated in cities and suburban areas, census data show. Collin mirrored that trend, posting the ninth largest population growth rate since 2010 among Texas counties, according to 2020 data.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 19, 2021

Texas Legislature strikes deal to shift Alamo and Lackland AFB to new congressional districts

Lackland Air Force base and the Alamo will both be moved to different congressional districts under a compromise redistricting plan that won final approval from the Texas Legislature late Monday night. Despite pleas from San Antonio Democrats, the Texas House and Senate agreed to a deal reached Sunday night that will take Lackland Air Force Base and Port San Antonio out of the 20th Congressional District held now by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. Those facilities will both move into the 23rd Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio. Meanwhile, the Alamo, The Alamodome and residents in Historic Gardens and Denver Heights will all be moving from the 35th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, to the 28th Congressional District based in Laredo and represented by Rep. Henry Cuellar.

In total, more than 60,000 people in Bexar County on the East Side are moving into Cuellar’s district. It’s all part of a redistricting plan that is expected to pass the Legislature by Tuesday — the final day of a special session that started Sept. 20. If the maps become law, they will go into effect in time for the 2022 elections. The Legislature is redrawing all of the state’s congressional maps with data from the 2020 U.S. Census, as required by law. The proposed map creates new congressional districts in 2022 for Houston and Austin — Texas is gaining two members of Congress because of its explosive growth since 2010 — while increasing the number of Texas Republicans likely to go to Congress. And it improves the re-election chances of virtually every Republican in the state’s delegation. Late Monday, the Texas House and Senate formally adopted the compromise plan. It now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott for his final approval in order to become law.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

Todd H. Votteler: If you think the Texas electrical grid is fragile, take a look at our water infrastructure

(Todd H. Votteler is editor in chief of the Texas Water Journal and Texas+Water.) In August, during the second special session of the 87th Texas Legislature, the Texas Capitol flooded. After the water stopped cascading down the pink granite walls inside the Capitol extension, the Legislature resumed its deliberations. The August flood was preceded by February’s severe winter storm. Hundreds of Texans died in the cold and dark after days without power and, in some places, without water. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the electric grid was four minutes and 37 seconds from a catastrophic collapse potentially requiring months to fix and possibly a partial evacuation of the state. More than 15 million Texans were told to boil water to make it safe to drink. Others had no water service at all, as the combined power outages and frigid temperatures knocked out normally safe, reliable water suppliers.

Six months later, a survey of Texas water utilities showed that 79% of them are still concerned that the reliability of the Texas energy grid could affect their operations. Whether it is a week without running water in the dead of winter, or an August flash flood at the Capitol, Texas’ water infrastructure is struggling. Yet the aging water infrastructure also struggles to attract the attention of Texas’ leaders. Almost as if timed for the aftermath of February’s storm, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2021 state and national infrastructure report cards, which are sober nonpartisan assessments of infrastructure conditions. Overall, America got a C- and Texas got a C. Put lightly, this is not good. While those who provide Texans with water generally do their best with what they have, our water infrastructure is the backbone of Texas’ economy, the ninth-largest in the world. Even so, partial solutions to Texas’ failing grades could be on the horizon. After decades of neglect and lip service, Texas water infrastructure could finally get a much-needed infusion of funding from the federal government. The first opportunity is the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, which is designed to address water infrastructure needs, among many others. The Infrastructure Act also encourages using nonstructural or green infrastructure solutions, such as restoring floodplains and wetlands.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 15, 2021

Luke Metzger: Biden must end methane's horror show

(Luke Metzger is the executive director of Environment Texas, a nonprofit advocate for clean air, clean water, parks and wildlife and a livable climate.) For more than a century, an invisible, floating menace has haunted the Texas oil fields, silently terrorizing our people and property. This demon goes by the name methane, a gas incarnated from ancient dinosaur bones. It resides deep beneath the Earth’s surface where, like in many horror films before it, it frustratingly escapes thanks to an unwitting, short-sighted human accomplice. Horror film aficionados know well the dangers of digging up old bones and breathing new life into them. Unfortunately, the oil industry refuses to heed the horrific lessons we’ve learned about methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, that have left us all paying a big price. We’ve known for a long time that when you drill for oil, methane comes up with it. If it’s not managed correctly by industry, this sneaky gas finds any way it can to escape, seeping through holes in pipelines or compressor stations and making its way to our atmosphere.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that, in the first 20 years after release, is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and causing the greenhouse effect. Sometimes, oil companies will just push the monster out the door, directly venting it to our skies. Other times, they will try to destroy it, sending it in pipes to a tall pole with a flame on it, a process known as flaring. But incinerating it just turns it into a different greenhouse gas — carbon dioxide. And often the companies forget to light the flares, so pure methane is released. For a long time, many of methane’s victims have been calling for help. Unfortunately, the oil industry has largely failed to contain the beast, despite saying it will. And Texas regulators and former President Donald Trump, all of whom have received massive campaign contributions from these oil companies, have been complicit in failing to stomp out this menacing gaseous phantom, even as it grows bigger and bigger. Mercifully, since taking office, President Joe Biden has been working to slay these toxic demons. On his first day in office, he directed the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to review methane rules rolled back by the Trump administration. And earlier this summer, he worked with Congress to reverse the Trump rollbacks and reaffirm the federal government’s obligation to reduce methane from the oil and gas sector.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 15, 2021

Mexican farmworkers sue South Texas labor contractor for unpaid wages, 'dangerous' housing conditions

Seven migrant farmworkers from Mexico allege in a federal lawsuit filed in San Antonio that they were shorted wages, stiffed on travel expenses and placed in a “squalid” and “dilapidated” labor camp by a South Texas contractor. The group seeks at least $250,000 in damages from Pablo Francisco Cantu, both individually and doing business as Cantu Harvesting. The business is based in Edinburg. “Cantu should not be allowed to continue to grossly underpay his workers or to subject them to unsafe, unsanitary and undignified housing conditions,” said Maxwell Dismukes, a staff attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents the workers. They seek to certify the lawsuit as a collective action so similarly situated workers can join the litigation as plaintiffs.

Dismukes said it’s difficult to estimate the potential number of plaintiffs. But the lawsuit covers the five years from 2017 to 2021, when, he said, Cantu asked the federal government to bring in as many as 80 workers at a time for each harvest season through the H-2A visa program for temporary agricultural workers. The workers primarily harvested pumpkins and watermelons in Edinburg, Dilley, Comanche, Midland and Plains. Cantu’s business supplies seasonal and temporary laborers to owners and operators of produce farms and packing sheds. Pablo Cantu was not aware of the lawsuit and therefore had no immediate comment, a representative said Thursday. It was filed Saturday. Cantu told workers he paid them at a “piece rate” based on the weight of the fruit they harvested, Dismukes said. “But workers weren’t able to verify that because they were never told how much the fruit they harvested weighed,” he said. “When Cantu paid the workers, he just gave them envelopes of cash, with no pay stubs, and no explanation of how he arrived at the amounts he paid them.”

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San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2021

Alamo historians now question story about 'John,' a slave said to have died in the famous battle

The Alamo’s official website lists “John,” a slave, as among the 189 known defenders who died in the 1836 battle at the fort. The Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online says John belonged to Francis L. Desauque and was a clerk in Desauque’s Matagorda County store near the coast. Both were at the Alamo before Desauque was sent out for supplies right before the start of a 13-day siege. John is said to have died at the Alamo on March 6, 1836. Desauque was killed in the executions at Goliad three weeks later. But a historical researcher who has meticulously tried to name everyone inside the walls of the Alamo that year believes John is the product of an 1836 printing error and people’s imaginations. “I don’t think the guy really existed,” said unofficial Alamo historian Bill Groneman, a retired New York City arson investigator who lives in Kerrville. He said the Alamo website and online handbook should remove any references to “John.”

But Carey Latimore, a Trinity University history professor specializing in African American studies, said the entries on John should be rewritten, not removed. He believes John could have been Anglo or an enslaved Black person, but he almost certainly was not a freed Black and was not necessarily at the Alamo when the battle occurred. “There are certain desires to make him Black, to make him a defender of the Alamo, to make him a free negro, which would mean he’s perhaps choosing to be there. We have to let the evidence drive us, not our own desires,” said Latimore, who serves as a history adviser on the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, Most people familiar with the Alamo have heard of Joe, William Barret Travis’ enslaved servant who survived the battle, gave eyewitness accounts and escaped bondage a year later. Joe said other Black individuals were present during the 13-day siege and battle, which concluded with the death of up to 257 soldiers and volunteers in the fort. About 20 women, children and slaves survived, although one enslaved Black woman is said to have been killed in the crossfire. Alamo devotees who have heard of John have long thought he also was among the dead. But Groneman has publicly questioned that narrative for nearly a decade. In a 2012 article in The Alamo Journal, a publication of The Alamo Society, an international group of aficionados of the siege and battle, he wrote that “collectively we have built an actual person out of nothing.”

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San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2021

Human smugglers using TikTok, other social media to recruit drivers for Texas runs

The TikTok video shows three men, presumably undocumented immigrants, lying side by side in what appears to be the backseat of a vehicle. “Donde estan los choferes ke se la rifan?” the ad says in Spanish and slang: Where are the drivers willing to take risks? It promises instant payment for “the job” as it flashes dollar signs. Another video ad shows hands spreading out a stack of cash and images of immigrants getting into a pickup truck under a bed cover and into a car’s trunk. “Drivers needed!!! DM to make some rocks!!!” the post says. Both have several replies from TikTok users seeking more information, and they are told to send direct messages, or to go to other social media or communication applications, like Snapchat or WhatsApp, for details.

Increasingly, smugglers are turning to social media to recruit drivers because of its immense reach, and their pitches have been drawing people from the interior of Texas — even from out of state — to the southern border. And that has law enforcement officials concerned. “It used to be you meet somebody at a bar,” Craig Larabee said. He’s deputy special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, which is responsible for 500 miles of Texas’ border from Del Rio to Brownsville. “You don’t have to do that anymore,” Larabee said. On social media, “they can reach out to different communities and reach out to all walks of life.” Larabee and other law officers say smugglers play up the rewards — like the promise of easy money. But they downplay the risks — like that human smuggling is a federal crime that can land you in prison, or worse. “They’re ignoring the fact that there’s a potential for accidents, and people die,” Larabee said. He noted many youths are unfamiliar with the terrain of the border region, and when they are loaded down with more bodies than their vehicles can handle, and then run from law enforcement, it’s “a recipe for disaster.”

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San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2021

Australia responds to Sen. Ted Cruz's criticism of vaccine mandate: 'Glad we are nothing like you'

A top Australian official called out U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Twitter over the weekend after the Texas Republican accused the country of “COVID tyranny” as it imposes new vaccine requirements. “I love the Aussies. Their history of rugged independence is legendary; I’ve always said Australia is the Texas of the Pacific,” Cruz tweeted. “The COVID tyranny of their current government is disgraceful & sad.” Australia’s Northern Territory rolled out new vaccine mandates last week, which require workers who interact with the public to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 24 or face a $5,000 fine.

Michael Gunner, the chief minister for the region, responded to Cruz in a statement posted last Sunday, saying the Texas Republican knows “nothing about us.” “Nearly 70,000 Texans have tragically died from COVID. There have been zero deaths in the territory,” Gunner’s statement said. “We don’t need your lectures, thanks mate.” Fewer than 1,500 Australians have died from COVID since the pandemic began, none of them in the Northern Territory, a more remote portion of the nation home to Outback deserts. “We’ve done whatever it takes to protect the Territory. That’s kept us safe AND free,” Gunner said. “We have been in lockdown for just eight days in 18 months. Our businesses and schools are all open. Did you know that?” The exchange comes as Texas has moved to ban vaccine mandates, with Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month issuing an order prohibiting even private businesses from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has issued requirements that federal contractors and businesses with 100 or more employees require vaccines, a move Cruz has blasted as “illegal.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

Dallas D.A. Creuzot: New law, named for Dallas exoneree Richard Miles, would have minimized evidence loss

The loss of 22.5 terabytes of Dallas police evidence this year wouldn’t have caused such a panic if a new state law had already been on the books, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said. The law, named for a Dallas man wrongfully convicted of murder, requires police agencies to verify they turned over all evidence when filing cases with prosecutors. If police later discover more evidence, they must immediately turn it over, the new law mandates. After Dallas prosecutors discovered in July that a city IT employee deleted police evidence, Creuzot sent a notice to defense lawyers which set in motion public awareness. Prosecutors are combing through evidence, case-by-case, to make sure evidence wasn’t lost in cases preparing for trial, Creuzot said. Prosecutors and defense lawyers would have been saved the extra work and concern if the Richard Miles Act had been in place already, Creuzot said. The loss is equivalent to about 7,500 hours of HD video; about 6 million photos; or 150 million pages of Microsoft Word documents.

“If this isn’t a perfect example right in our faces of why this office went for two sessions in a row to get this passed,” Creuzot said. The Richard Miles Act is named for Miles, who wrongly spent 15 years in prison, after Dallas police did not turn over evidence to prosecutors that identified other suspects. He was exonerated in 2012. As of Thursday, Creuzot said his office has not identified any cases in which prosecutors were missing evidence that couldn’t be recovered. But it required a coordinated effort with police to peel through each case and verify they weren’t impacted, Creuzot said. The review is ongoing. “Even though the evidence may be there, it’s difficult to ascertain where it is,” Creuzot said. A man who was scheduled to stand trial on a murder charge, Jonathan Pitts, was released from jail with an ankle monitor in early August because prosecutors couldn’t immediately be sure his case wasn’t impacted. He is still out of jail awaiting trial. The Richard Miles Act , written by Sen. Royce West and Rep. Rafael Anchia, targets a longstanding habit of law enforcement agencies across the state presenting just enough evidence to get an indictment, but delivering more evidence later — sometimes on the eve of trial, said Creuzot, who advocated for the law’s passage.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

What’s next for H-E-B in North Texas?

Now that H-E-B has started construction on its first two Dallas-Fort Worth stores, what comes next? The company announced in March that it’s making that big leap into Dallas-Fort Worth. In fall 2022, it will open its first two stores — one each in Plano and Frisco. It has also announced a store in McKinney that will open in spring 2023. H-E-B hasn’t said much more beyond that, but we know that it will take years for it to open stores throughout D-FW and into your neighborhood. We’ve put together an updated map of properties H-E-B owns and what we know about the company’s real estate plans.

Plano: H-E-B is selling a ground lease for a 1.27-acre pad in its parking lot facing Spring Creek Parkway next to the first H-E-B in Plano. That’s big enough for a building with a drive through. The rent starts out the first five years at $135,000 a year. The supermarket is under construction on the southwest corner of Preston Road and Spring Creek Parkway. Plano and Frisco: Both stores will have gasoline pumps in the parking lots. The Frisco store is being built on the northeast corner of Legacy Drive and Main Street. Many of H-E-B’s largest stores have leased spaces inside for facial spas, banks, jewelry retailers and other services. It may start offering Plano and Frisco front-of-store leases soon. Last month, James Avery opened inside an H-E-B in League City. (For the grocer’s 100th anniversary in 2004, the Kerrville-based jeweler made a H-E-B shopping cart charm.) As more malls close and are redeveloped, there may be more demand for those spaces inside the front of supercenters and supermarkets. McKinney: There’s no word yet on whether the third announced store will have gasoline pumps or EV charging stations. That McKinney store will be on the northeast corner of Custer Road and Eldorado Parkway.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

George W. Bush headlined Liz Cheney event in Dallas as anti-Trump Republicans rally to her aid

George W. Bush headlines a Dallas reception Monday to help embattled Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the daughter of his vice president whose outspoken support for Donald Trump’s impeachment cost her a House leadership post and, if Trump gets his way, her political future. The high-profile boost amounts to a clear rebuke of Trump, and a sign of the irreparable chasm between the GOP’s last two presidents. Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for instigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by a mob he had encouraged to somehow block Congress from certifying the victory of now-President Joe Biden. Trump has vowed retribution against each of those 10. His animosity toward Cheney is particularly intense, given that she was a member of the House GOP leadership team at the time and a scion of an establishment Republican family.

He has vowed to oust her from Wyoming’s sole congressional seat and is throwing his considerable weight within the party behind one of her rivals in next year’s primary. The invitation and host committee for Monday’s reception send an unmistakable signal of Bushworld circling wagons around Cheney. Her father, Dick Cheney, served two terms as Bush’s vice president and before that, as defense secretary under his late father, George H.W. Bush, the 41st president. Co-hosts include Karl Rove, Bush’s longtime strategist; former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Trump’s ambassador to NATO; Joe Straus, a former speaker of the Texas House; the executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, Holly Kuzmich, and the first director of Bush’s presidential library, Mark Langdale, Bush’s ambassador to Costa Rica. Campaign’s filings show $174,000 in donations to Cheney from Texans, starting a week after the deadly riot at the Capitol. Trump has expressed his deep displeasure.

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Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Colin Powell was a hero, a soldier, and author of a tragic mistake

In December 2000, just three days after accepting his victory after that year’s contentious election, President-elect George W. Bush announced that America’s next — and its first Black — secretary of state would be Colin Powell, the retired four-star U.S. Army general and former national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “His entire life has prepared him to fulfill the responsibilities that he will soon hold,” Bush said during a ceremony at an elementary school in Crawford. Powell had served in the Army for 35 years, had been Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. His status as an ultimate professional had allowed him to stand almost outside of partisan politics and his status as America’s first Black secretary of state offered at last hope of an America capable of judging its citizens’ merits without regard to their race.

“Gen. Powell is an American hero, an American example, and a great American story,” Bush said. “It’s a great day when a son of the South Bronx succeeds to the office first held by Thomas Jefferson.” For his part, Powell, the son of immigrants from Jamaica, merely noted that given his big-city roots, he was glad the ceremony was being held at the school rather than at Bush’s nearby ranch. “I don’t care what you say, those cows look dangerous,” he joked. Powell’s remarkable story ended Monday when he died at age 84 of COVID-19. He had been fully vaccinated, but according to a family spokeswoman, a long fight with multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in plasma cells, had compromised his immune system. His death is a great loss for a country that can use all the heroes it can get, and one that still finds itself riven by race and class, despite both Powell’s own service and that of the man Powell would later cross party lines in 2008 to support as the nation’s first Black president. And yet Powell’s story also is a cautionary tale about the ease with which men and women who serve presidents can lose their way when loyalty outshines judgment. It’s an old tale in Washington, where Robert McNamara helped Lyndon Johnson, another president from Texas, prosecute the Vietnam War long after he and Johnson had given up on winning it.

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Houston Chronicle - October 18, 2021

Advocates cheer Gulf wind proposal but say we shouldn't forget the birds and whales

Federal regulators are weighing a plan to lease parts of the Gulf of Mexico for offshore wind turbines as soon as late 2022, part of President Joe Biden’s goal to increase clean energy production as an alternative to burning fossil fuels. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland this week outlined the proposal, which also included potential development off the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. The news here encouraged environmental advocates, who stress that climate change fueled by increasing greenhouse gases is a significant threat to people and animals. “We know we have to cut emissions as rapidly as possible,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas. “That’s both for humanity, but also for the sake of wildlife.”

Still, in deciding where the turbines could go, these advocates have called on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to keep in mind the creatures that live in, pass through and migrate over the Gulf. Among the species they highlighted was Rice’s Whale, of which there are thought to be fewer than 100 alive. Climate change has underscored the urgent need for alternative energy sources and to respect already-stressed wildlife, said Catherine Bowes, the National Wildlife Federation’s program director for offshore wind energy. Advocates believe that can be done with careful site selection and permitting requirements. “It’s really critical that their development occurs in a way that doesn’t further perpetuate these conservation crises,” Bowes said. “We want to see this industry be successful.” The bureau in June began asking for feedback on the idea of leasing parts of the Gulf for wind power. The concept previously seemed tenuous because of the inconsistent winds. The agency plans to prepare an environmental assessment before proposing where the turbines could go.

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Houston Chronicle - October 18, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Facebook puts profits over people because federal law protects it

London’s “The Sun” tabloid needed to sell more copies in 1970, so editors started publishing large photos of topless women inside the cover. Conservatives decried softcore pornography appearing in a newspaper, even if it was a tabloid. Feminists called the images of young, buxom women misogynistic. But as the publisher anticipated, sales jumped dramatically. Soon competing tabloids were also running photos of so-called Page 3 Girls. The “Sunday Sport” weekly still runs topless women on page three, but no daily has run them since 2019. Tabloids still run glamor shots of young women, but they are all clothed these days. The tabloids profiteering from the objectification of women came to mind when I read about Facebook’s publishing conundrum. According to a whistleblower and the thousands of documents she leaked to The Wall Street Journal, executives know they damage society, but they are addicted to the profits.

The most disturbing collection of internal Facebook documents reveal that executives know the image-driven subsidiary Instagram is incredibly toxic to teen girls, a vulnerable population prone to developing lifelong eating disorders and self-esteem issues. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” an internal Instagram report from 2019 said, according to The Wall Street Journal. Another study a year later reached the same conclusion. “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” researchers hired by Facebook reported to top executives in a March 2020 slide presentation. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.” Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users traced them to Instagram, another internal presentation viewed by the Journal showed. Instagram is not a glossy magazine for adult women, like Vogue. It is an online publication leveraged by advertisers to influence young people, especially teen girls. Facebook has an equally destructive influence on middle-aged people. Whether it is sowing distrust in our democracy, spreading lies about COVID or creating communities for bigots, Facebook’s laissez-faire attitude about disinformation and hate is demonstrably promoting alienation.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2021

Fort Worth misses out on Texas’ new congressional seats in map headed to Gov. Abbott

A congressional map that puts two new U.S. House of Representative seats in the Austin and Houston areas is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for approval. The two seats were allocated to Texas following the 2020 census, increasing the state’s number of representatives in the U.S. House to 38 from 36. Tarrant County was among the fastest growing in the country in the past decade and experts had speculated North Texas could be in the mix for one of the new seats. However, when draft maps were released the districts were drawn in the Harris and Travis County areas. “Republicans didn’t ask themselves, ‘Where was most of the new population growth? Let’s put the districts there,’“ said SMU political science professor Cal Jillson. “They asked themselves, where can we put the new districts that will allow us to create the greatest number of Republican-leaning U.S. House districts statewide.”

Census figures released in August showed Tarrant County gaining about 301,600 new residents over the past decade, the fifth most of all U.S. counties. Harris County gained the most new residents, Bexar County the sixth most and Travis County the ninth most. The new map creates 25 districts that would have elected the Republican candidate in the 2020 presidential and U.S. Senate races, election data from the Texas Legislative Council shows. Under the current boundaries, 22 districts elected President Donald Trump, a Republican, and 23 elected Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Congressional District 37 in central Texas would have elected MJ Hegar, a Democrat, in the November general election. Congressional District 38 in Harris County would have elected Cornyn. In Tarrant County, five of seven congressional districts would have elected Cornyn over Hegar. The compromise version of the congressional map was filed Sunday night after the Senate didn’t agree to an amended proposal that passed out of the House. A conference committee composed of members from both chambers was formed to draft the latest version that’s headed to Abbott. The House and Senate approved the conference committee version of the map late Monday.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 18, 2021

Fort Worth-area barbecue restaurant named No. 1 on Texas Monthly ’50 Best’ list

A barbecue restaurant on a winding south Tarrant County back road is ranked No. 1 in the state in the new Texas Monthly magazine, making Fort Worth and Arlington the new capitals of Texas brisket.

Goldee’s Barbecue, which opened three weeks before the 2020 pandemic in a half-century-old rural location that had been dark for five years, now serves the state’s best pork ribs, spectacular brisket and “food that’s close to perfection,” the magazine reported Monday in listing its “50 Best Barbecue Joints.” Five other local restaurants made the “50 Best” list. Panther City BBQ, 201 E. Pennsylvania Ave. near downtown Fort Worth, was ranked No. 10, praised for its “brisket elote,” a cup of creamed corn layered with brisket and sauces. Also listed among the top 50: Hurtado Barbecue, 205 E. Front St., Arlington; Dayne’s Craft Barbecue, 2735 W. Fifth St., Fort Worth; Smoke-A-Holics BBQ, 1417 Evans Ave., Fort Worth; and Zavala’s Barbecue, 421 W. Main St., Grand Prairie.

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Axios - October 17, 2021

RNC woos Texas Latinos

The Republican National Committee is working to court more conservative Hispanic voters in south Texas, even as the state's GOP majority uses redistricting to blunt demographic changes that should be empowering Hispanic representation and helping Democrats. Driving the news: The RNC is opening a Hispanic community center in San Antonio on Monday. It's the third such outreach center the party has opened in south Texas this year. The effort comes as Republicans try to win back a handful of seats to regain control of the House of Representatives in 2022. It also follows a weekend in which the Texas House approved a plan — on a party-line vote — that would reduce the number of Hispanic-majority districts statewide to seven from eight. That change will help preserve GOP dominance in the state for the next decade.

The other side: The Democratic National Committee has launched a nationwide, $25 million initiative aimed at boosting voter protection and education among communities of color. It includes litigation efforts against voting restrictions, and online tools helping identify who’s impacted by the laws, according to spokesperson Lucas Acosta. In the Rio Grande Valley, the organization is investing in combating right-wing disinformation among Hispanics, he added. Why it matters: While people of color overwhelmingly voted for Joe Biden during the 2020 election, Republicans made gains with some Latinos. These RNC centers are intended to serve as hubs for candidate recruitment, casual gatherings and GOTV efforts. The efforts will be in tandem with broader messaging tailored to U.S.-born Latinos, immigrants and college-age voters. Republicans are seeking to appeal to Latino voters on conservative values, border security, the economy and opposition to socialism. RNC communications director Danielle Alvarez says the focus is on having "meaningful conversations that will help us win elections but also grow our party and better represent these communities."

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Texas Newsroom - October 18, 2021

Texas Attorney General sets up unit for voter fraud claims in November election

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is launching a new unit to investigate potential claims of voter fraud during the Nov. 2 election. The Republican attorney general’s announcement Monday coincided with the first day of early voting for the Texas constitutional amendment election. Paxton’s office says additional staff and resources will focus on ensuring security and transparency even though there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state. Paxton said in a statement that he’s establishing the unit, “to monitor this season’s local elections -- which, even though they’re local, must be run in accordance with state law.” The Attorney General’s office already operates a year-round “Election Integrity Division.” The latest effort includes a new email address where the public can share allegations: electionintegrity2021@oag.texas.gov. The initiative is drawing criticism from voting rights groups in Texas.

“What is missing from this announcement is the typical language that you normally hear from elected leaders, which is celebrating the fact that people can vote, and encouraging people to vote and even providing basic information about how to vote,” says James Slattery, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. Slattery says the new unit furthers Paxton’s efforts to undermine trust in elections and discourage voting. “It is particularly troubling with this attorney general, who has a long record now of abusing the power of his office to spread conspiracy theories about voter fraud and intimidate voters, especially people of color.” Paxton is a close political ally of former President Donald Trump and unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the results of the 2020 election that Trump lost. A U.S. House committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, is examining communications between Paxton and Trump administration officials in the months leading up to the insurrection. Paxton spoke at Trump's rally in Washington, D.C., that day, before a violent mob, prompted by false voter fraud claims, attempted to stop Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden as the next president. Trump has endorsed Paxton in his bid for reelection next year. He’s facing several Republican primary opponents, including Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 18, 2021

They differ on masks. Learn more about the Carroll ISD school board election candidates

Two candidates with children in the Carroll district are vying for a vacant school board seat in this fall’s special election. Early voting starts Oct. 18 and continues through Oct. 29. Election day is Nov. 2. Andrew Yeager and Stephanie Williams are running to fill the Place 7 seat after trustee David Alman resigned this summer. The district and a school board election last spring have been marked by division over a proposed diversity plan. Both candidates in this fall’s election have teaching backgrounds and said their experience is valuable for the school board. Yeager, a media sales director and adjunct professor at the University of North Texas, moved to Southlake eight years ago from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He volunteered for the Carroll High School band boosters and is a member of Southlake Sister Cities.

Yeager said he decided to run because it was time to use his leadership skills and to give back to the school district that helped his children thrive in programs such as engineering and computer animation. Yeager has two children who are graduates of the Carroll school system and one who is a senior in high school. “I always played a leadership role in my personal life and in my kids’ lives,” he said. Williams, a former teacher, said she is running because she has a passion for education. Williams is a fitness instructor and an independent facilitator for the Love and Logic Institute. She has two children who graduated from Carroll and two who are still in school. Williams said none of the current trustees have classroom experience. “I feel I could offer that perspective,” she said. He added that when he heard about the district’s Cultural Competence Action Plan, or CCAP, that ratcheted up his involvement. Williams said it is time for trustees to talk about students and their education. “We’ve talked about hyper-political issues,” she said. “We should find some common ground, find consensus, and move our community forward. Most of us moved to Southlake because of the schools, and we need to find a way to make them better.” Williams said it is important to create an environment where all students feel safe and welcome at school.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

Noted Texas personal injury lawyer Thomas J. Henry expands law practice with Irving office

Thomas J. Henry, one of Texas’ most well-known personal injury lawyers, is expanding his presence in Dallas-Fort Worth with a new law office in Irving. His San Antonio-based firm will occupy 27,000 square feet in Irving, Henry said in an announcement Monday. The office at 6031 Connection Drive is expected to employ up to 200 people within two years. “The opening of our newest office ... marks a new chapter for the firm as we expand into North Texas,” Henry said. “We are excited to continue our aggressive growth pattern and help even more clients in Texas and beyond.” Thomas J. Henry Law bills itself as the largest personal injury law firm in Texas, with 200 lawyers and a support staff of 350 dedicated to winning jury verdicts and settlements for those injured in car and truck accidents, workplace accidents and recalled products. It has offices in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Austin and Dallas.

The firm has won huge awards for clients in recent years, including a $1.25 billion judgment in a sexual assault case, $50 million and $35 million verdicts in wrongful death cases involving trucking companies, and multiple $10 million-plus settlements in medical malpractice lawsuits. Henry also is known for being flamboyant, including throwing a $6 million Quinceañera for his model-actress daughter Maya that became a viral internet hit when rapper Pitbull and singer Nick Jonas performed. His family’s lifestyle was the subject of a 2017 reality TV series on YouTube called “Hangin’ with Los Henrys.” The family also sponsored a 2016 Apollo in the Hamptons event at billionaire Ron Perelman’s home, a 2017 Republic Records Grammy afterparty and a 2017 Maxim Super Bowl party. Earlier this year, lawyers representing Henry won a legal case for the high-profile litigator when a Texas judge sealed records in his divorce case, according to nonprofit news site San Antonio Report. His lawyers cited Henry’s business interests as a reason to keep details of the dismissed divorce proceedings from going public. Henry’s legal team argued he and Azteca Henry weren’t married when she filed for divorce in November 2019, making the case moot. The Henrys were married in Nueces County in 1993 and divorced in 2005. Azteca Henry maintained the couple had a common-law marriage, continuing to live together after that time and describing themselves as husband and wife, according to the San Antonio Report.

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National Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

SEC releases report on GameStop stock mania, raises questions about gamification of trading

A highly anticipated U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission report on January’s frenzied GameStop Corp. trading debunked some conspiracy theories that have swirled around social media for months, while adding momentum to Chair Gary Gensler’s push to toughen rules. The 44-page document — released Monday — details the SEC’s assessment of one of the most remarkable periods of the pandemic economy, when retail traders took on Wall Street and sent shares of GameStop and other meme stocks into the stratosphere. Agency officials didn’t offer specific policy recommendations, but they did say the episode warrants a close look at factors that prompt brokers to restrict customer trading, video-game-like features popularized by online trading platforms, short-selling and payment for order flow.

All are areas where Gensler has said the SEC might have to strengthen regulations as part of an aggressive agenda that’s likely to ensnare hedge funds, Robinhood Markets Inc., Citadel Securities and other firms. A key narrative of the GameStop incident is that an army of retail traders set off a massive short squeeze by driving up stocks that hedge funds were betting against. They did so by flooding the market with purchase orders, forcing the hedge funds to also have to buy shares to cover their shorts, pushing GameStop even higher. Yet the SEC said that story isn’t entirely backed up by the evidence. GameStop purchases by those covering shorts were “a small fraction of overall buy volume” and the company’s share price remained high even after the direct effects of such trades should have waned, according to the regulator. “The underlying motivation of such buy volume cannot be determined,” the SEC said. “Whether driven by a desire to squeeze short sellers and thus to profit from the resultant rise in price, or by belief in the fundamentals of GameStop, it was positive sentiment, not the buying-to-cover, that sustained the weeks-long price appreciation of GameStop stock.”

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Associated Press - October 18, 2021

George W., Laura Bush offer tributes to Colin Powell after his death from COVD-19 complications

After news broke Monday that Colin Powell, the first Black chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, had died of complications from COVD-19 at age 84, tributes began flowing in for his long career of public service. Among those honoring the Vietnam War veteran and four-star general were former President George W. Bush, for whom Powell served as his first secretary of state.

Bush said Monday that he and former first lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened” by Powell’s death. “He was a great public servant” and “widely respected at home and abroad,” Bush said. “And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send [his widow] Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.” At the White House, President Joe Biden said Powell “embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat.” Noting Powell’s rise from a childhood in a fraying New York City neighborhood, Biden said, “He believed in the promise of America because he lived it. And he devoted much of his life to making that promise a reality for so many others.” Flags were lowered at the White House and State Department. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general, said the news of Powell’s death left “a hole in my heart.” “The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed,” Austin said while traveling in Europe. “Alma lost a great husband and the family lost a tremendous father and I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me and I can always go to him with tough issues, he always had great counsel.” Condoleezza Rice, Powell’s successor at State and the department’s first black female secretary, praised him as “a trusted colleague and a dear friend through some very challenging times.”

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Associated Press - October 18, 2021

Toyota to build $1.29B US battery plant employing 1,750

Toyota plans to build a new $1.29 billion factory in the U.S. to manufacture batteries for gas-electric hybrid and fully electric vehicles. The move comes amid a flurry of global announcements about shoring up production of batteries for electric vehicles. Most automakers are working to transition away from internal combustion engines to zero emission battery vehicles. The Toyota plant location wasn’t announced, but the company said it eventually will employ 1,750 people and start making batteries in 2025, gradually expanding through 2031. The plant is part of $3.4 billion that Toyota plans to spend in the U.S. on automotive batteries during the next decade. It didn’t detail where the remaining $2.1 billion would be spent, but part of that likely will go for another battery factory.

Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, and LG Energy Solution said Monday that they plan to build a battery manufacturing facility to help the automaker get 40% of its U.S. sales from vehicles that run at least partly on electricity by 2030. They didn’t say where the plant would be. Also Monday, the Taiwanese company that makes smartphones for Apple and others, Foxconn Technology Group, said it would produce electric cars and buses for auto brands in China, North America, Europe and other markets. Volvo Cars on Monday unveiled more details of its initial public offering that will fund its ambitious plan to transform into an all-electric vehicle company by 2030. The Swedish auto brand, owned by Chinese carmaker Geely, said the IPO would value the company at 163-200 billion kronor ($18.8-$23 billion) when shares start trading Oct. 28. And Ford Motor Co. announced that it will turn a transmission factory in northwest England into a plant that will make electric power units for cars and trucks sold throughout Europe. Toyota joins Ford and General Motors in announcing recent large investments in U.S. battery factories. GM plans to build battery plants in Ohio and Tennessee, while Ford has plans for plants in Tennessee and Kentucky.

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NBC News - October 19, 2021

With public defenders as judges, Biden quietly makes history on the courts

While President Joe Biden's economic agenda is mired in Democratic infighting, the Senate is quietly making history with his judicial nominees. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 52-41 Monday to confirm Gustavo Gelpi to be a judge on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Boston, making him the fifth new circuit judge with a background as a public defender on Biden's watch. Set against recent history, that is a remarkable statistic. President Barack Obama confirmed five former public defenders to the appeals courts over his entire eight years, according to the progressive judicial group Demand Justice. Biden has matched that in his first nine months. Overall, Gelpi is Biden's eighth new judge with experience as a public defender. That is as many as presidents Donald Trump, Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton landed in their first years combined, said Chris Kang, the chief counsel of Demand Justice.

"It really is amazing how far Biden has shifted the paradigm," Kang said. "This is going to be an important part of his legacy." With the latest confirmation, Biden is outpacing every other president since Richard Nixon in confirming circuit judges, who have the last word in most federal cases — although the pace will be difficult to maintain. One of his new appellate judges is Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a former public defender who is widely seen by people close to Biden as a future Supreme Court contender. Progressives have lamented the long-standing tendency of presidents in both parties to prioritize corporate lawyers and prosecutors for federal judgeships, arguing that the lack of diversity in experience on the courts has created blind spots in the justice system. Kang, who worked on judicial selection in the Obama White House, recalled having to grapple with criticism Obama got for a lack of professional diversity among his nominees.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 17, 2021

Tim Revell: My sons’ lives depend on access to treatment. Congress, don't interfere.

(Tim Revell lives in Leander. He and his wife have spent many years raising money for CureDuchenne, which invests in research to find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.) As any parent well knows, time with your children is precious, yet there never seems to be enough of it. This is especially the case in my family. As a father of two children with special needs, I value every moment together, every experience we share, and every memory we form. That’s because, for my sons, time is more than just something that passes — for us, time is life. Both of my sons have Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a condition that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Exceedingly rare, the genetic disorder affects only about 1 in every 3,500 male births nationwide. My 18-year-old son, Timothy, was diagnosed with the condition on his second birthday, and his 15-year-old brother, Andrew, was confirmed to have DMD when he was five.

“Go home and love your child because there’s nothing we can do.” That’s the typical response from doctors following a diagnosis of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. There is no cure for DMD, at least not yet. And when you consider that the life expectancy for a child with Duchenne is 20 to 25 years, you can begin to understand that days are like years for my family. There is no time to waste. My wife, Laura Revell, and I have decided to spend that time not resigned to our sons’ condition, but working tirelessly to overcome it. Still, it has been anything but easy. The boys receive a litany of medicines through a combination of private insurance and Medicaid. These medications include corticosteroids, ace inhibitors and other heart medications, as well as common drugs for osteoporosis and high blood pressure. In case that isn't complicated enough, the process for obtaining these medications is just as complex. After extensive research, we were fortunate to find the right specialist for our sons in Ohio. The fact that our endocrinologist is based outside Texas comes with some challenges in securing our sons’ medications. For Medicaid to grant access to some of the medicines our boys need — and which our Ohio-based endocrinologist prescribes — prior authorization must come through a Texas Medicaid-approved pediatrician.

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Washington Post - October 19, 2021

‘Don’t feel sorry for me,’ Powell said as the end approached

As death approached, Colin L. Powell was still in fighting form. “I’ve got multiple myeloma cancer, and I’ve got Parkinson’s disease. But otherwise I’m fine,” he said in a July interview. And he rejected expressions of sorrow at his condition. “Don’t feel sorry for me, for God’s sakes! I’m [84] years old,” said Powell, who died Monday. “I haven’t lost a day of life fighting these two diseases. I’m in good shape.” Over 32 years beginning in 1989, after the U.S. invasion of Panama, I conducted about 50 interviews with Powell, who was the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black secretary of state. The last interview was a phone call, three months ago on July 12, for 42 minutes and recorded with Powell’s agreement.

Of his visits to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he said, “I have to get all kinds of exams and I’m a former chairman, so they don’t want to lose me, so they make me come there all the time. I’ve taken lots of exams and I get there on my own. I drive up in my Corvette, get out of the Corvette and go into the hospital. I also go to a clinic to get the blood tests taken. I don’t advertise it but most of my friends know it.” We quickly switched to defense issues and foreign policy. I asked him about President Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops completely from Afghanistan. “I thought we had to get out of there eventually,” Powell said. “[We] can’t beat these guys. Well, let’s get it over with. Afghanistan, you’re never going to win. Afghans are going to win. “They have hundreds willing to fight and die for this country of theirs. That’s why I don’t have any problem with us getting out of there. We can’t go from 100,000 [U.S. troops] down to a few hundred and think that’ll prevail.” At one point during our phone call, Alma Powell, his wife, called to him. “Hang on a minute,” he told me. “I’m on the phone, Alma!” he said, shouting back to her, and then in a whisper he added, “She never liked me talking to you, but here we are.” In Powell’s memoir, “My American Journey,” he recounted how he and I had talked in 1989. He wrote in his book that my story in The Washington Post the next day “was not inaccurate, but neither was it helpful.” He added, “I continued dealing with Woodward, though Alma warned me to handle with care.” His thoughts on Afghanistan were among several ruminations on current foreign policy issues. “How does anybody think that North Korea would find a way to attack us without us destroying them the next morning,” he said, “How can anyone think equally of Iran. Iran and North Korea cannot be our enemies because they cannot stand the results of such a conflict. We’re going to be terrified of these people? No. Would they dare?”

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Newsclips - October 18, 2021

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 18, 2021

Seemingly an odd couple, Tesla and Texas becoming tightly entwined

It seems like an unlikely marriage: Tesla, the world's biggest electric automaker, moving its headquarters to Texas — where the oil and gas industry is etched in the state’s DNA and where, unless something changes, Tesla isn’t even allowed to sell its vehicles directly to customers. On the other hand, Elon Musk — the high-profile leader of Tesla, SpaceX and a number of other companies — has steered many of his operations to the Lone Star State over the past few years, making Tesla’s headquarters merely the latest such move. Musk has overseen development of a launch facility for SpaceX rockets on the Gulf Coast near Brownsville, picked Travis County as the site for Tesla's next billion-dollar assembly plant and even became a Texan himself in late 2020 by relocating his personal residence to the state.

His actions, capped by the Oct. 7 announcement that Tesla is moving its headquarters to Austin, have prompted plenty of crowing among Texas politicians and economic development officials eager for examples of the state’s vaunted business climate prevailing over that of California — which had been Musk’s longtime base of operations — and other regions of the country. “Texas is the land of opportunity and innovation,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a written statement heralding Tesla’s headquarters announcement. There's little doubt that Musk, who is considered one of the two richest people in the world with an estimated net worth over $200 billion, stands to benefit substantially from his move to Texas. The state doesn't have an income tax — compared with California's personal income tax rate of 13.3% for the highest earners. Musk also engaged in a public spat with California officials in May 2020 — and first raised the prospect of pulling up stakes — over local coronavirus-related restrictions that shut down Tesla's factory there for a short time. He's likely to find officials who are more sympathetic to his coronavirus views in Texas, where Abbott has opposed various pandemic-related mandates and recently issued an order aimed at preventing private businesses from requiring that employees be vaccinated.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 17, 2021

Tony Bennett: Texas employers need flexibility to maintain workplace safety

(Tony Bennett is the president and CEO of the Texas Association of Manufacturers.) The Texas economy is strong because policymakers trust employers to run their businesses in ways that grow jobs and maintain a productive workforce. A healthy workforce results in a more productive workforce, and the ongoing pandemic reminds us how quickly illness can impact the global economy — resulting in slowed manufacturing, the inability to get goods to consumers, job losses and lost tax revenue. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, Texas policymakers must allow Texas employers to decide their own best practices to maintain workplace health and safety. To do otherwise would establish a concerning precedent of state interference into determining what workforce health and safety policies are best, without regard for a particular industry’s needs or the differences in manufacturing work environments. Specifically, Texas employers should have the ability to decide whether vaccines or other safety measures make sense for their workforce — and they don’t need federal or state mandates to make that decision.

There are employers for whom vaccines make sense for their workforce and barriers to vaccine access for those employees should be eliminated. For employers who decide that other safety measures are appropriate for their workplace, these options should be available. Any one-size-fits-all approach to workplace safety has the potential to harm the economy. This week, our Association registered in opposition to House Bill 155 and Senate Bill 51, which address vaccine exemptions. In part, these bills would allow employees to claim an exemption from an employer’s vaccine requirement based on undefined “reasons of conscience.” The bills can create uncertainty for employers and an inability to effectively participate in any complaint process. Policies that compromise employers’ ability to effectively run their businesses come at a steep cost. Just as there would be a tremendous cost of complying with government mandates to vaccinate an entire workforce, there is a hefty economic cost associated with prohibiting adequate workplace health and safety measures for employers for whom COVID-19 safety protocols make sense.

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New York Times - October 18, 2021

Threats, resignations and 100 new laws: Why public health is in crisis

State and local public health departments across the country have endured not only the public’s fury, but widespread staff defections, burnout, firings, unpredictable funding and a significant erosion in their authority to impose the health orders that were critical to America’s early response to the pandemic. While the coronavirus has killed more than 700,000 in the United States in nearly two years, a more invisible casualty has been the nation’s public health system. Already underfunded and neglected even before the pandemic, public health has been further undermined in ways that could resound for decades to come. A New York Times review of hundreds of health departments in all 50 states indicates that local public health across the country is less equipped to confront a pandemic now than it was at the beginning of 2020.

“We have learned all the wrong lessons from the pandemic,” said Adriane Casalotti, chief of public and government affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials, an organization representing the nearly 3,000 local health departments across the nation. “We are attacking and removing authority from the people who are trying to protect us.” The Times interviewed more than 140 local health officials, public health experts and lawmakers, reviewed new state laws, analyzed local government documents and sent a survey to every county health department in the country. Almost 300 departments responded, discussing their concerns over long-term funding, staffing, authority and community support. The examination showed that: Public health agencies have seen a staggering exodus of personnel, many exhausted and demoralized, in part because of abuse and threats. Dozens of departments reported that they had not staffed up at all, but actually lost employees. About 130 said they did not have enough people to do contact tracing, one of the most important tools for limiting the spread of a virus. The Times identified more than 500 top health officials who left their jobs in the past 19 months. Legislators have approved more than 100 new laws — with hundreds more under consideration — that limit state and local health powers. That overhaul of public health gives governors, lawmakers and county commissioners more power to undo health decisions and undermines everything from flu vaccination campaigns to quarantine protocols for measles.

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CNN - October 18, 2021

Rising prices and empty store shelves spell danger for Biden and Democrats

Joe Biden's struggle to make America normal again after the pandemic is proving to be far more protracted and complicated than first thought, which has enormous political implications for the President and his party. An admission by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on CNN Sunday that supply chain backups, which are having a corrosive impact on the wider economy, will linger into next year further underscored a tough midterm election environment for Democrats. There is only limited action Biden can take to get containers stacked up at ports out into the country, meaning the situation is causing a real headache for the White House. When Americans head into stores and see bacon has doubled in price, or when they cannot buy the gifts they want heading into the holiday season, Biden and Democrats are likely to get the blame in next month's elections and in 2022.

The cost of living -- along with gasoline that is now averaging $3.32 a gallon nationwide, according to the American Automobile Association -- provides an opening for Republicans to argue that the Biden presidency is a failure. Rising discontent also fits neatly into the narrative of decay and national humiliation that Donald Trump is painting as he prepares the ground for a likely presidential campaign for 2024. On Sunday, for instance, the ex-President sent out a fundraising email that noted "prices soaring." First-term presidents almost always suffer congressional election rebukes, as their actions often energize the opposing party's supporters against them and any struggles they have can cause their own voters to disengage. This time, with Democrats only possessing the narrowest of majorities in the House and the Senate, they badly need the economy to be racing ahead and the curse of the pandemic to be well behind the country in a year's time. But a catalog of problems, including a strapped labor market, rising energy prices, climbing inflation, political polarization over vaccines and an immigration crisis at the southern border, are creating a disgruntled national pre-election year mood. Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations are forecast to keep declining over the next several weeks, but the Delta variant and Biden's own premature declaration of partial victory over the pandemic on July Fourth have also meant that any assumptions about being back to normal by late this year have already been shattered.

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State Stories

KUT - October 18, 2021

Social workers warn Texas' abortion ban is causing psychological harm to sexual assault survivors

Shortly before Texas' new abortion law went into effect, the SAFE Alliance, a nonprofit that supports survivors of sexual abuse, was counseling a 12-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her father. "[He] would not let her leave the house,” Piper Stege Nelson, the group's chief public strategies officer, said. “She got pregnant. She had no idea about anything about her body. She certainly didn’t know that she was pregnant. There was no way that she was going to get the help that she needed by six weeks," the cutoff to get an abortion under Senate Bill 8. Nelson said that six-week limit presents a serious barrier for most people, who don't even know they're pregnant by that point. The law also makes no exceptions for people who are survivors of rape or incest, who are often children. She said a child is the victim of sexual assault in the U.S. about every nine minutes. Nelson said she’s also worried about survivors of sex trafficking. Oftentimes women in these situations dissociate from their bodies when they are being repeatedly raped, she said.

“That dissociation means that she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on with her body,” she said. “That dissociation can lead to a detachment from reality and the fact that she’s pregnant. And so, there again, she is not going to know that she is pregnant by six weeks, and she’s not going to be able to resolve that pregnancy.” Experts say Senate Bill 8 has also been affecting the healing process for survivors of sexual assault. As a social worker in Austin for the past two decades, Monica Faulker says she’s worked with a lot of sexual assault survivors. She said there are serious psychological consequences to limiting the choices of a person who has finally come forward after being sexually assaulted — many times after years of abuse. “The impact of finally coming forward and then being told there are no options for you is devastating,” she said. Faulkner said there are messages mental health professionals try to get across to people they're counseling. One is communicating to survivors that what happened to them is not their fault. “Then you try to talk to them over time and try to give choices in what happens to their case and what happens to their future,” she said. “And [SB 8] is clearly is taking away any choice that they have.” Nelson said giving people choices about where their life goes after an assault is about giving them their power back.

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Dallas Morning News - October 17, 2021

Dog tethering bill approved by Texas House as third special session of 2021 winds down

As the Legislature steams toward adjournment this week of their third special session of 2021, the Texas House early Sunday passed a bill that would clarify existing state law regarding the safety of dogs chained outside and make the statute easier to enforce. The bill’s advancement comes after Gov. Greg Abbott drew the ire of angry Texans in June, when he vetoed similar legislation which passed during the regular legislative session with broad bipartisan support. That measure, hailed by animal rights advocates, would have banned the use of heavy chains to tether dogs and made the unlawful restraint of a dog a criminal offense. The new proposal, which passed in a 106-22 vote, is similar to its regular session predecessor. The changes make the bill nonspecific about the materials used in the collar and add “reasonably” to the description of how long to leave a dog unattended in the back of a truck.

If the Senate agrees with the final version as passed by the House, it will head to Abbott’s desk, where he can sign it into law. Abbott, who proudly owns golden retrievers Pancake and Peaches, said the bill he vetoed in June would have required too much of dog owners. “Texans love their dogs, so it is no surprise that our statutes already protect them by outlawing true animal cruelty,” Abbott said in a statement at the time. “Texas is no place for this kind of micro-managing and over-criminalization.” The hashtag #AbbottHatesDogs trended on Twitter shortly after his veto. In September, Abbott added the issue to his call for the third special session, asking lawmakers for a version “that addresses the concerns expressed in the governor’s veto statement.” The bill was a priority during the regular session for the Texas Humane Legislation Network, an animal welfare advocacy organization, and it was backed by law enforcement officials and animal control officers around the state.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 15, 2021

What caused Southwest Airlines’ operational meltdown? Some want Congress to investigate.

To visit her family in Abilene over the holidays, Marilyn Baker typically relies on Southwest Airlines’ flight from Baltimore to Dallas Love Field. After getting stranded in Jacksonville last weekend cost her more than $1,000 in unexpected lodging, transport and pet care costs, she’s not sure if Southwest is still her best bet. Baker’s Sunday flight from Jacksonville to Baltimore was one of more than 2,000 trips that got canceled over the weekend. A week after the operations fiasco, customers and the public still have no idea what went wrong. On Saturday, the company blamed the meltdown on air traffic control issues and weather. Meanwhile, the company and pilots’ union denied pervasive rumors of employees striking to protest the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which had been announced days before.

“I’ve since watched the CEO on TV and felt he wasn’t genuine,” Baker told the Star-Telegram on Thursday. “He just wasn’t being forthright. Just be honest about what the issue is. It clearly wasn’t air traffic control and it clearly wasn’t weather, so don’t say it was. If everyone walked off the job, say, ‘Everyone walked off the job.’” Airline passenger advocate Bill McGee of Consumer Reports believes Southwest owes the public an explanation and — because the airline received billions in taxpayer bailout cash — a rebate. The airline’s meltdown last weekend was the symptom of a larger problem, he said, and one that requires federal intervention. After months of operational tumult and little transparency from Southwest, experts like McGee are calling for Congress to step in. When airlines received more than $50 billion in coronavirus bailout cash, consumer advocates begged the Trump administration and Congress to require consumer protections as a condition for the cash, McGee said. “The only thing [airlines] were asked for all this money, billions and billions of dollars, they were asked to make sure that they had enough staffing, that they didn’t lay people off and didn’t encourage early retirements,” he said.

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San Antonio Report - October 15, 2021

‘Defeated and hopeless’: Lingering pandemic worsens local, statewide nursing shortage

Health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic since early last year are running on empty, worn out by the long hours and serial outbreaks of the coronavirus despite the availability of a vaccine. The famously public outpouring of gratitude and admiration for the nation’s “health care heroes” during 2020 has waned. Facing a growing number of hostile and abusive patients and their family members, nurses are burnt out and exhausted and leaving a profession already experiencing widespread shortages before the pandemic.

At an event Wednesday to highlight the problem and recognize nurses during National Emergency Room Nurses Week, a cadre of the city’s top hospital executives including George Hernández, president and CEO of University Health, told U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) they need help. “When we think about the pandemic, it caused some of the strongest among us — nurses are notoriously strong — to really feel defeated and hopeless,” said Jane McCurley, chief nursing executive at Methodist Healthcare. “It’s disrespectful. It’s very discouraging to our health care providers when a year ago … we were hailed as heroes.” The situation is concerning in a state where the nursing shortage was already severe before the pandemic and the need to recruit new nurses is a constant challenge. In Texas, about 20,000 more nurses are needed, and within 10 years, that number will increase to 58,000, said Dr. Nelson Tuazon, vice president and associate chief nursing officer at University Health who represented the Texas Nurses Association during a roundtable discussion with Cornyn. In the San Antonio metropolitan area, the number of job postings for registered and licensed vocational nurses reached 3,040 in the last 90 days, according to data provided by Workforce Solutions Alamo.

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San Antonio Report - October 17, 2021

A San Antonio nonprofit known for serving vets has become a big player in the migrant detention industry

By late July, the 17-year-old Honduran teen and his 15-year-old sister had been held at the West Texas detention center for nearly two months. Traveling north from a country hit hard by famine and organized crime, the siblings had crossed the Rio Grande into Texas near Eagle Pass on May 28. Once on the U.S. side, they were picked up by Border Patrol agents who took them to one of the agency’s ice-cold holding cells migrants call hieleras. By June 1, the two teens had been moved to Pecos Emergency Intake Shelter, a detention center operated by San Antonio-based nonprofit Endeavors. The two were supposed to be released to family members within weeks, but as new faces came and went, their cases remained stuck in the process. “I need to leave this place so that I can be with my sister and talk to her more,” the youth, whose name has been redacted, told an immigration advocate in a July 27 interview. “We both want to leave here as soon as possible. She is very sad that we are still here. All of her friends have left here already and she is the only one of her friends still here. My mom is also worried about us.”

Testimony from the teenager and others included in recent legal filings discuss the conditions at Pecos, a converted former housing site for energy workers in the West Texas oil patch. According to a July 12 report from immigration advocates citing federal data, more than 1,805 children were housed there at the time, 10 of them for three times longer than legally allowed. As illegal border crossings skyrocketed in 2021, with federal statistics showing a four-year high of 1.5 million apprehensions so far this year, federal agencies such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) dealt with the influx by opening temporary detention sites. At most of these sites, federal contractors such as Endeavors perform the day-to-day operations of the facilities as part of multimillion dollar contracts. Over less than two years, Endeavors has morphed into a major player in the immigration detention industry, but questions have been raised about whether company officials’ close ties to the Biden administration helped the nonprofit secure contracts — two that bypassed the competitive bidding process — worth in excess of $500 million. Once focused primarily on helping veterans and the homeless, Endeavors’ migrant service arm now operates detention sites for migrant youths in Pecos on behalf of ORR, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to the nonprofit, HHS officials “asked Endeavors in March to stand up an emergency intake site in Pecos” under a no-bid contract worth up to $575 million at full payout.

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Spectrum News - October 16, 2021

Parents, lawmakers condemn controversial Carroll ISD Holocaust comment

A North Texas school official is under fire for telling teachers if they want their students to read a book on the Holocaust, they must also present one with the “opposing view.” The comment was made during a training session at Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, when an administrator was explaining how teachers should implement a new Texas law, the so-called "anti-critical race theory" legislation, that aims to restrict how teachers can discuss race and racism in the classroom. When Republicans were pushing the bill during the regular legislative session earlier this year, critics said it was an attempt to whitewash history. Now they say this incident shows that fear has come to fruition.

One parent whose 10th grade daughter goes to high school at Carroll ISD, said last week her daughter sent her photos of her classroom, where teachers had covered up their bookshelves. Then, a recording first obtained by NBC News began circulating. In it, Gina Peddy of the Carroll Independent School District can be heard saying, “Just try to remember the concepts of [Texas House Bill] 3979. And make sure that… if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has opposing, that has other perspectives.” Teachers in the room audibly react, saying, “How do you oppose the Holocaust? What?” The backlash was swift. “There are not opposing views to the Holocaust because we call that Holocaust denial, and Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism. We won't tolerate anti-Semitism being taught in our schools," said Cheryl Drazin, vice president of the central division of the Anti-Defamation League. ?

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Associated Press - October 17, 2021

Texas ban on vaccine mandates may help governor dodge far-right challengers

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s latest volley in the culture wars appears designed to stave off ultra-conservative challengers in the upcoming primary, even as it puts him at odds with some of the state’s business leaders. Abbott’s executive decree forbidding employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines adds to a push by the Texas Republican Party to devote much of its agenda to culture-war issues such as abortion, transgender school children in sports, gun rights, teaching tied to so-called critical race theory and voting restrictions. The policies are manna for the state’s most conservative voters but often conflict with the fast growing liberal-leaning cities that drive Texas’ $1.9 trillion economy. Abbott, speaking to reporters Tuesday evening, said he decided on the ban after President Joe Biden “bungled” his handling of the vaccine response.

The move is an abrupt turnaround from policies the governor laid out as recently as August, when a spokesperson said that employers were free to require worker vaccines since “private businesses don’t need government running their businesses.” In a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1990, analysts say Abbott’s change of heart may have been motivated by a party primary taking place in March, in which he’ll take on two challengers who consistently attack him from the right, former state Senator Don Huffines and Allen West, an ex-Florida congressman. Huffines, who’s been prodding Abbott for months to ban vaccine mandates, said the governor — running for his third term in office — waited too long to act. “If I were governor we would have already banned vaccine mandates,” he said in an email. “Any businesses who attempted to defy the law would be prosecuted accordingly.” Abbott’s been fighting a rearguard action against the arch-conservative wing of his own party since the early days of the pandemic. They criticized him for employing what they saw as big-government and anti-business restrictions to slow the spread. As early as July 2020, more than half a dozen Texas county GOP chapters had formally censured the governor for measures including a mask mandate. Last week, the Texas GOP published an open letter urging Abbott to ban vaccine mandates.

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The 19th - October 17, 2021

WNBA union denounces Texas abortion ban in New York Times ad

“Reproductive rights are human rights. Family planning is freedom.” This statement is at the heart of a full-page print ad that the WNBA players’ union is running in the New York Times on Sunday against Texas’ six-week abortion ban and in support of reproductive rights, in what the player’s association executive director Terri Jackson described to The 19th as a first for the league. “You’ve seen the players stand up in a myriad of ways,” she said. But taking a stance in the Times, with players adding their signatures to the declaration, is new ground: “We haven’t done this before.” The ad had its debut the same day as Game 4 of the 2021 WNBA Finals and comes after Texas’ abortion ban went back into place following a temporary emergency stay by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

It also follows a greater legacy of the league paving the way within professional sports to support social justice movements and speak out against racism, much of which has been spearheaded by Layshia Clarendon, the WNBA’s first openly nonbinary and transgender player (and first vice president of the WNBPA executive committee). “We’re putting a stake in the ground,” Clarendon said. “This directly affects a lot of people in our league as a women’s league and a league of people with uteruses.” He said the team wants to serve as an example for athlete advocacy, and to signal to women and people with uteruses “that they’re not alone, that people are fighting for them.” Players within the WNBA told The Times last year that they see that legacy of foreshadowing current activism “as the natural outgrowth of who they are, a drive born of necessity in a league dominated by Black women, many of them lesbians.” Amira Rose Davis, professor of history and African American studies at Pennsylvania State, described the league’s cohesion and early adoption of social justice protests as “the blueprint for some of the collective action that we’re seeing now” in an episode of NPR’s Code Switch last month. “We’ve gotten positioned as a social justice league full of Black women who are leading the way,” Clarendon told The 19th.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2021

For $110.5 million, you can own 5,000 acres and the largest private lake in Texas

Here’s your chance to own your own private lake, which so happens to be the largest privately owned body of water in Texas. The huge tract of rural land 90 miles south of Dallas is available for a cool $110.550 million. For a buyer in search of true isolation, there’s nothing like it. The property is more than 5,000 acres and is near the town of Fairfield in Freestone County. The purchase includes the 2,400-acre Fairfield Lake with 21 miles of undeveloped shoreline.

“They say everything is bigger in Texas and that is definitely the case with this exceptional Fairfield Lake property,” said Blake Hortenstine, a broker and partner with the Hortenstine Ranch Company. “A water asset of this magnitude is virtually impossible to find anywhere in the lower 48 states, and combined with land development possibilities and amenities, is the only offering of its kind.” Fairfield Lake is estimated to be 50-feet at its deepest point, with exceptional fishing, water skiing, boating activities and swimming, according to the listing. The property also has a hardwood forest with an array of wildlife, including whitetail deer, river otters, beavers, foxes and bald eagles. There’s also access to 8 miles of hardtop roads and bridges. According to the Dallas Morning News, a part of the land for sale had been leased to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The newspaper reported that the lake was built in the 1960s by utility companies that previously used the water to cool a power-generating plant that closed in 2018. Vistra Energy/Luminant is selling the property, according to the newspaper.

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Associated Press - October 17, 2021

Fauci dismayed by Texas’ move to ban vaccine mandates

Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying Sunday that it is “really unfortunate” that Gov. Greg Abbott has moved to ban vaccine mandates in the state of Texas. The nation’s leading infectious disease doctor, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said that the Republican governor’s decision to block businesses from requiring inoculations would damage public health since vaccines are the “most effective means” to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Fauci was largely encouraged by the downward trend of coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths across the nation and suggested that vaccinated individuals could have a normal holiday season with others who have received the shot. But he said that those who have not been vaccinated should continue to avoid gatherings and should wear a mask. He also suggested that those who received a shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine would likely have flexibility to get a booster from either Moderna or Pfizer. The FDA advisory panel ruled last week that anyone 18 and up who had the J&J shot was eligible to get a booster.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 15, 2021

Sue Wise Dyke: Pandemic has worsened domestic violence -- Learn how you can help in your community

(Sue Wise Dyke was the executive director of the Corpus Christi Women's Shelter (now The Purple Door) from its founding in 1978 to 1986. She lives in Kerrville.) Domestic violence has always existed and is very difficult to conquer, causing extreme suffering and even death. In Texas in 2019, 219,895 women were abused, and this statistic does not include all those women, men and children who do not seek help from shelters or law enforcement. Violence affects not only the abused, but it also impacts those who witness it or fear they will be victims as well. Fortunately, in the late 1970s the United States government started to address the problem of domestic abuse. Women's shelters were established which provided immediate refuge or a safe place where the abused could escape. I was among the first in Texas to head up the shelter in Corpus Christi. It was gratifying to see that women were at last receiving some help. Professionals in the field have developed programs for victims including counseling, legal assistance, help with future planning, immediate health, housing, and financial advice.

But let us be clear. A shelter is a refuge, and while a refuge can save many lives, the violence at home remains and is widespread. Abuse and how best to prevent it are complicated issues. Abusers come from all races and religious backgrounds. They have different social and economic backgrounds, can be highly educated or have no education. Many point out that battering is a learned behavior and children who have witnessed an abusive parent may themselves become abusers. Abuse often occurs behind closed doors, so neighbors, friends, and co-workers who might otherwise step in to stop abuse are unaware anything is wrong until they encounter the abused victim after the attack. Considering that battering has such a long history, is widespread and not easily treated, it is essential that our shelters and the services they provide remain a central part of how a caring society addresses this issue. Shelters save lives. It is as simple as that. I have seen it in my professional work and heard it from many victims. If a woman who has been abused has the courage to seek help in a shelter and use her voice to defend her rights to a safe place, then we as citizens must use our voices and power to see that programs to treat and prevent domestic violence are fully supported. Over the last year our local women’s shelter remained full all year. Research suggests that the pandemic has played a role in an increase in domestic violence because of the closed environments and stress so many families faced over a long period of time.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 15, 2021

Drs. John Nielsen-Gammon and Holly Heard: Extreme weather trends are on the rise and pose a risk for Texas Gulf Coast

(Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon is a Regents Professor at Texas A&M and has been Texas State Climatologist since 2000. Dr. Holly Heard, who previously worked at the Houston Education Research Consortium at Rice University, is Director of Data and Analytics for Texas 2036.) Extreme weather is nothing new to Texans, but data suggests it will become more frequent as we approach our bicentennial in 2036 – and the consequences could be severe. While actual weather from year to year is largely unpredictable, a review of long-term data over Texas’ past hundred years reveals significant trends that point to an increased risk of destructive natural disasters. This year will be best remembered for the extreme winter weather in February, and a relatively mild summer is still fresh in our minds. However, data clearly shows that Texas is getting hotter. This summer would have been regarded as a steamy one if it had happened in the 1970s or 1980s. And this year notwithstanding, trend data shows that the number of 100-degree days has more than doubled over the past 40 years and could nearly double again by 2036.

Similarly, while we’ve had a relatively wet year, hotter temperatures point to increased threat and severity of drought. Hot days increase the rate of evaporation from the soil and from water bodies, which means droughts take a harder toll when they strike. So, if — or when — Texas experiences another dry period like those in the early or middle 20th century, the higher temperatures will lead to even more severe effects. While all of Texas is susceptible to the effects of extreme weather, Houston and the Gulf Coast are at particular risk. The Texas coastline is retreating along nearly the entire length of its barrier islands. In Galveston Bay and probably other bays and estuaries behind the barrier islands, new sediment is not being deposited quickly enough to keep up with relative sea level rise, leading to loss of coastal wetlands. As the Gulf of Mexico encroaches, the likelihood of catastrophic storm surge from hurricanes increases. Rising sea levels lead directly to increased risk of storm surge. The places along the coast with the largest rates of relative sea level rise may have a doubled storm surge risk by 2050, even before the effect of stronger hurricanes is factored in.

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Click2Houston - October 17, 2021

Capitol Attackers lowest common denominator, Cornyn says

U.S. Senator John Cornyn, (R), Texas says the FBI showed significant lapses when investigating claims of sexual abuse by women and girls taking part in USA gymnastics. “They’re set up to deal with all manner of crime in counter-intelligence matters but when it comes to things like sexual assault they simply are in the dark ages,” he said on this week’s Houston Newsmakers with Khambrel Marshall.

“What happened on January 6th, and I was there in the Senate chamber, was wrong,” he said. “It demonstrates what happens when you get a group of people together, a large mob, and really it’s the lowest common denominator characterizes the whole effort.” Senator Cornyn said former President Trump had the right to say what he said prior to that riot about the election being stolen. Senator Cornyn is not part of the growing group of Republicans falling in line with the former President’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “I believe Joe Biden won the election,” he said. “President Trump had about 60 different lawsuits that were unsuccessful in changing the outcome and the Constitution says the new President should be sworn in on January 20th and Joe Biden was.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 13, 2021

Mark Cuban stiffens COVID-19 stance: ‘If you work for me, I require my employees to be vaccinated’

With the Dallas Mavericks’ season opener approaching, owner Mark Cuban has made his stance known on COVID-19 vaccinations. And it doesn’t appear that he will be backing down any time soon. “It is your choice. It is absolutely, positively up to you. But there are consequences that come with that,” Cuban said during an appearance on 10 Questions with Kyle Brandt, a Spotify podcast. “If you work for me, I require my employees to be vaccinated unless there’s a doctor’s reason where they can’t be. I don’t want my kids to be at risk, so the consequences of you not being vaccinated is I’m not going to shut the [expletive] up. I’m going to be in your mother[expletive] ear driving you mother[expletive] crazy.” Cuban’s statement on vaccinations comes the same week that Gov. Greg Abbott declared that Texas businesses cannot order their workers or customers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In late September, the Mavericks announced their updated health and safety protocol, which requires fans to either show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours to attend games at American Airlines Center. It also states that fans, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks when not actively eating or drinking in assigned seats to comply with the Dallas County mask order. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said during training camp that his entire coaching staff is vaccinated and estimated players are in the “90th-percentile” of being vaccinated. Of the 20 Mavericks on the training camp roster, only guard Trey Burke has said publicly that he is unvaccinated. The NBA does not have a vaccination mandate for its players. “I feel like everybody has their own personal choice, and for me, I’m just getting the proper knowledge and continuing to do more and more research to make a reasonable decision,” Burke said. Burke doubled down on his comments when speaking with Fox 4?s Mike Doocy. “I respect the ‘freedom of choice’ in which everybody has that birthright,” Burke told Doocy. “Therefore this is a personal choice and preference that my family and I have always abided by. I believe more in holistic and naturalistic ‘medicine’ rather than the ‘drug’ industry or what we know today as ‘pharmaceuticals.’ “I don’t have any issue with the choices my teammates have made and they feel the same in return and have been in support with decision.

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Bloomberg - October 18, 2021

Southwest Airlines seeks to block pilots’ bid to halt mandated COVID-19 vaccinations

Southwest Airlines Co. asked a federal court to reject a request from its pilots to temporarily block the carrier from carrying out federally mandated coronavirus vaccinations, saying such an order would put the company’s business, employees and customers at risk. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association is seeking to stop the airline from moving ahead with the Nov. 24 deadline for the shots until an existing a lawsuit it filed over alleged U.S. labor law violations is resolved. The union claims Southwest illegally changed work rules during the pandemic instead of negotiating them with pilots. The Dallas-based carrier set the vaccination deadline to comply with an executive order from President Joe Biden that mandates all employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against Covld-19 by Dec. 8. Southwest, like most major U.S. carriers, holds contracts to carry federal employees and goods, and the U.S. government is its largest single customer, the airline said in a legal filing Saturday.

“The injunction that SWAPA seeks is extraordinary,” Southwest said. If granted, it would prevent the airline from meeting Biden’s order and force the roll back of policies adopted to implement U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to help stop the spread of coronavirus in the workplace. The possible cancellation of Southwest’s government contracts would cause “substantial harm” to the company and all of its employees, including the pilots represented by group, the airline said. The union’s original lawsuit, filed in federal court in Dallas on Aug. 30, claimed Southwest has continued to make unilateral changes that violate terms of the Railway Labor Act, or RLA, which governs airline-union relations. In addition to the vaccination requirement, the union wants to block Covid quarantine rules for pilots and an infectious disease control policy that, it says, significantly altered work conditions, rules and rates of pay, until the two sides agree on a resolution. The changes violate a “status quo” provision of the RLA by not maintaining terms of an existing contract during negotiations, the union lawsuit claimed. The federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction in the case because it involves a “minor dispute” under the RLA that can be resolved through binding arbitration instead of a negotiation process for larger disagreements that can take years to resolve, the carrier said. The union also can’t show irreparable harm because it is in talks with the airline to establish a process for pilots to request religious or medical exemptions from the mandate.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 17, 2021

Tim Doty: The EPA needs to save Texas from itself

(Doty worked at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for nearly three decades.) A mounting body of research is making it painfully clear that the state of Texas is both unwilling and unable to manage the massive quantity of emissions being released from flares, storage tanks, and other equipment at oil and gas wells and production sites across the state. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must step in and do what Texas’ regulators cannot or will not do. I worked for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for 28-and-a-half years, including 17 years managing its air mobile monitoring assets, and another 3 years as its Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) Program Manager/Instructor and as an Office of Compliance and Enforcement technical advisor. I did this because I believed in the agency's mission to protect Texans’ public health and natural resources. But I retired after it became increasingly clear that the agency’s leadership had little to no interest in proactively monitoring, documenting and minimizing air emissions in Texas.

Texas citizens deserve better than the reactive strategy that has been a proven failure for the last decade. Flaring is a catch-all term for burning excess hydrocarbon gas, composed primarily of methane, at oil and gas sites. Sometimes flaring is necessary for safety reasons -– like when there is an equipment failure, but most often, companies use it to dispose of gas they consider waste. Excess flaring wastes our natural resources, shorts landowners and taxpayers the royalties they would be paid if the gas were sold on either public or private lands, and creates toxic and climate-changing air pollution that threatens local communities and our planet. Flaring in Texas’ oil and gas fields is basically uncontrolled, and there are very few rules that limit how much gas companies can flare. The few existing rules are not enforced. The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, does a poor job of tracking who is flaring, and the volume of gas flared.

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City Stories

KSAT - October 17, 2021

Workforce Alamo Solutions CEO says San Antonio’s unemployment rate near pre-pandemic level

A total of 4.3 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs in August this year, according to the Labor Department. It’s being called, “the great resignation.” The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor’s statistics show the unemployment rate nationwide is 4.8%. Adrian Lopez, CEO of Workforce Solutions Alamo, joined Leading SA on Sunday to talk about employment trends being seen in and around San Antonio. “Posting a 4.8% unemployment rate, which is pretty close to 3.5% pre-pandemic levels. We’re actually seeing an increase in our labor force as opposed to people dropping off,” Lopez said. There are job openings in most local job industries, especially leisure and hospitality. “The full recovery of those is actually not anticipated to about 2024, 2025, but they still have tons of positions that are actually still vacant even today,” Lopez said. And if anyone is looking for a job, there are plenty of openings.

“Today we have about 47,000 openings based on the databases that we actually see, depending on what particular industries. I mean, you know, one from the perspective of hospitality, you know, that could affect our ability to serve the different types of conventions and stuff that we see coming to the city. That’s on a one and a manufacturing side. If we are not producing products that are actually going to be something that’s on the shelves of our goods and those that could affect obviously the supply line associated with products that we tend to see, you know, on a daily basis,” Lopez said. But with all the openings, it is getting competitive to bring in talent. USAA just increased their minimum wage to $21. “We’ve seen employers across many different industries increase their salaries, right? We don’t know the full effect of that, but we do know is a fact that you know, in employees or job seekers actually now have a lot of options. So the market to actually secure those, those employees are their job seekers actually just got much tighter,” Lopez said. Lopez said there is a job fair that is happening in just a couple of weeks. “We’re very excited about our 10th annual ‘Red, White and You Job Fair,’ which is a statewide hiring event along with Texas Workforce Commission that’s being hosted on November 4th from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Freeman Coliseum,” Lopez said.

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Port Arthur News - October 16, 2021

Local non-profit works behind the scenes to help SE Texas students thrive

Reecie L. Goodman, director of Communities in Schools of Southeast Texas, first described the organization as a drop-out prevention program. But those that utilize it say it’s far more than that. “Communities in Schools is the hidden jewel,” said Adrienne Lott, communications specialist for Port Arthur ISD. “If you have them on campus, you definitely want to keep them there. They are a catch-all. Anything the campus needs, they provide it.” Currently the non-profit serves 54 schools in Southeast Texas, 14 of which are in Port Arthur and three in Nederland. Other districts include 21 Beaumont schools, five Jasper schools, three West Orange-Cove schools, four Bob Hope schools, one West Hardin school and 3 Vidor schools.

“We don’t just focus on drop-out,” Goodman said. “There are so many at-risk criteria that our students face everyday. So when we’re talking about keeping kids in school so they stay in school, that means focusing on their attendance — making sure they’re there every day in classrooms ready to learn.” And sometimes that means digging a little deeper into the reason for truancy. In once instance, Goodman said, CIS discovered two brothers had been attending school on separate days — one going one day, the other going the next, and so forth. “They never came together,” Goodman said. “And there was a simple fix — they were sharing one parent’s shoes. That’s a kid that’s missing school because he or she can’t meet the uniform standard.” And that is one of the many other services they provide. “They help with school supplies, uniforms, backpacks coats, shoes,” said Lott. “When I was at Travis Elementary, they had a Backpack Buddies program where they’d send home backpacks with healthy meals that didn’t have to be refrigerated to help feed the students through the weekend.” Another focus of the organization is mental health, Goodman said, adding that it’s become increasingly more necessary since Hurricane Harvey. Elementary school kids, she said, are writing suicide notes.

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Brownsville Herald - October 17, 2021

Lawsuit targets Diocese of Brownsville on sexual assault allegations

A civil lawsuit filed against the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville that alleges church officials tried to protect a priest accused in the alleged sexual assault of two siblings continues to make its way through the legal system. The lawsuit was filed nearly two months after the Diocese released a list containing the names of 12 priests accused of sexually assaulting children. The accused priest, Father Benedicto Ortiz, was one of the 12 named in the list released by the diocese in 2019. According to the diocese, Ortiz died in 2011. The lawsuit filed March 26, 2019 in Cameron County alleges that in 1982 Ortiz was a priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Brownsville, where the individuals – referred to as L.C. and D.S. – attended church. They were between the ages of 10 and 13 at the time Ortiz began to assault them, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, the assaults started when L.C. and D.S. would spend the night with Ortiz and continued when he moved them into the rectory with him. Ortiz is accused of sexually abusing L.C. and D.S from about 1982 to 1985 by exposing himself to the children. The lawsuit states the priest required “them to be naked in his presence, fondling them, requiring them to touch him, and engaging in oral sex, providing Plaintiffs with drugs and alcohol, playing pornographic videos, and masturbating in front of them.” Ortiz also took the children on trips with him to South Padre Island where the alleged abuse continued, the lawsuit states. According to the lawsuit, the bishop at that time, Bishop John Fitzpatrick, knew the siblings were living in the rectory with Ortiz. The Diocese issued a statement on Oct. 5 responding to a request for comment on the lawsuit stating, “The lawsuit against the Diocese of Brownsville was filed by two plaintiffs who claim misconduct by the priest in the early 1980s. The accused priest has been deceased since 2011. The lawsuit was filed in 2019 and has been proceeding through the court system since then, with delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other procedural reasons. We have always taken and continue to take these allegations seriously.

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National Stories

Politico - October 16, 2021

‘We’re done’: Immigration advocates stage walkout on Biden administration

Dozens of immigration advocates walked out, virtually, on top Biden officials Saturday in protest of the administration’s decision to continue border policies enacted during the Trump administration, according to several people who were in the meeting. Advocates asked for time before the beginning of a video meeting Saturday morning with several Biden administration officials, including people from the Department of Homeland Security officials and the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Esther Olavarria. The activists read a statement accusing the administration of “playing politics with human lives” and said they could no longer “come into these conversations in good conscience.” The meeting and the subsequent walk out was prompted by the administration’s plans to reinstate Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. | Julio Cortez/AP Photo By ALEX THOMPSON 10/16/2021 06:19 PM EDT Dozens of immigration advocates walked out, virtually, on top Biden officials Saturday in protest of the administration’s decision to continue border policies enacted during the Trump administration, according to several people who were in the meeting. Advocates asked for time before the beginning of a video meeting Saturday morning with several Biden administration officials, including people from the Department of Homeland Security officials and the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Esther Olavarria. The activists read a statement accusing the administration of “playing politics with human lives” and said they could no longer “come into these conversations in good conscience.” “We have sadly reached a turning point,” they said, then most of the advocates exited the video call.

“I cannot stand one more meeting of them pretending,” said Ariana Saludares, a 40-year old advocate from the New Mexico-based Colores United, who was in the meeting. “They give us accolades on the outside, but on the inside, we're having to take out the metaphoric knives from our back.” The meeting and the subsequent walk out was prompted by the administration’s plans to reinstate Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. A court struck down Biden’s initial attempt to do away with the Trump-era policy and the administration announced Friday that, beginning next month, they would reinstate the practice of forcing migrants at the southern border to wait in Mexico pending their asylum hearings. A White House official told POLITICO that “the Biden Administration has been very clear that MPP is not an immigration policy we agree with or support. That’s why the Department of Homeland Security immediately appealed the court injunction once it was ordered.” In the meantime, the official said they had to comply with the law, and DHS has announced their intention to issue a new termination memo to get rid of MPP. The official added, “We are incredibly thankful and appreciative of the work immigration advocates and organizations do around the clock to improve our immigration system.”

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Politico - October 17, 2021

‘This is the future’: Black Senate candidates crush fundraising expectations

In his bid to hold his Georgia Senate seat, Democrat Raphael Warnock collected a stunning $9.5 million over the last 90 days. Democrat Val Demings, who’s challenging GOP Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida, amassed an eye-popping $8.5 million. In South Carolina, Republican Sen. Tim Scott brought in $8.4 million. All across the Senate map — but particularly in the South — Black candidates posted blowout performances in the most recent campaign fundraising period, leading to an unprecedented cash windfall that stands to reshape the Senate in 2022 and beyond. It’s a dramatic turn of events for a group of candidates who have traditionally struggled to raise the huge sums of money necessary to win marquee statewide elections. As a result, they’ve frequently faced skepticism about their electoral viability or failed to achieve buy-in for their campaigns from party brass.

“This may be an era where we can level the playing field,” said Donna Brazile, a former Democratic National Committee chair. “I think Black candidates have proven more and more than ever that we're talented, but we didn't have the resources to compete...this is the future. This is what I think Dr. [Martin Luther] King and his generation always envisioned.” While individual Black candidates have posted robust fundraising performances in the past, there may never have been a quarter where quite so many raised quite so much. Warnock’s leading Republican challenger, former football star Herschel Walker, collected $3.8 million in his first five weeks of campaigning. In North Carolina, former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, pulled in $1.5 million over the course of the fundraising quarter that lasted from July through the end of September. Glynda Carr, founder and CEO of Higher Heights, which supports Black female Democratic candidates, points to Demings and Beasley as “proof of concept.” “We continue to prove that we're the best return on investment,” Carr said. “We see more and more donors and institutions supporting Black women early. And so we're moving in the right direction.” The standout numbers weren’t just limited to the South. In Kentucky, Charles Booker, a former state legislator fresh off a 2020 Senate Democratic primary defeat in which he was financially outgunned, raised $1.7 million. And in Wisconsin, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes pulled in $1.1 million in his crowded Senate primary, raising more from donors — both big- and small-dollar — than two of his wealthy white primary opponents, who needed huge personal loans to break the $1 million mark.

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Politifact - October 18, 2021

Fact check: Republicans say FBI was told to 'go after' parents who dissent at school board meetings

The claim: “Joe Biden’s attorney general wants the FBI to go after parents for speaking out at school board meetings to protect kids from radical curriculum like critical race theory.” U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. The discussion of race in schools has drawn charges of indoctrination, often under the umbrella term of critical race theory, a school of thought that focuses on systemic, rather than overt, discrimination. PolitiFact rating: False. In his memo to the FBI, Attorney General Merrick Garland specifically said that “spirited debate” is protected. His memo targeted threats that go beyond passionate speech, and said nothing about critical race theory.

The line between sincere debate and words that intimidate isn’t always clear, and there is a concern that officials might apply an overly broad interpretation. In the past, courts have ruled against that sort of loose approach to defining what constitutes a threat. Nothing in Garland’s memo says that is part of the plan. Mainly due to mask mandates, once sleepy school board discussions of budgets and facility management have become noisy events that draw hundreds of angry parents. From Washington state to Georgia, strong feelings about COVID-19 policies have driven most of the debate, but in some places, disagreements over schools’ policies on race, history and equality have been just as vehement. In one instance, demonstrators surrounded a school board member’s car, preventing him from driving away. After one Illinois school board meeting, police arrested an Illinois man for disorderly conduct and aggravated battery. The National School Boards Association asked the Biden administration for help with threats, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland fired off a Justice Department memo to focus on the issue. On Oct. 4, Garland sent a memo to the FBI, every U.S. attorney and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

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NPR - October 17, 2021

The political fight over vaccine mandates deepens despite their effectiveness

The science is clear: Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from the coronavirus, and vaccine mandates are an effective tool in promoting widespread vaccinations. Still, the battle to inoculate the nation against the coronavirus has reached a fever pitch in recent months. President Biden has focused on getting as many Americans as possible vaccinated against the coronavirus, most notably rolling out wide-reaching vaccine mandates for government employees and for businesses with more than 100 workers. But Republicans have grown increasingly hostile to the notion of mandatory vaccines — despite vaccine mandates existing in the background in parts of the United States since the 19th century — and have parlayed the fight against COVID-19 into a political battle, with vaccine mandates as the latest frontier in the great American defense of freedom and liberty.

These lawmakers decry the Biden administration's actions as government overreach, but now themselves are telling employers they can't impose mandates even if they want to. Take for example Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, who earlier this week issued an executive order banning mandatory vaccines within private companies. "No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19," Abbott wrote in his order. The order notes that vaccines are "encouraged" for those who are eligible but should remain "voluntary." Abbott is himself fully vaccinated against the virus and survived a brush with COVID-19 this summer. Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — also vaccinated against the virus — has vowed to sue the Biden administration over its federal vaccine mandates. So far, he has made good on his promise to keep such orders out of Florida, having previously fined a county in the state $3.5 million for imposing vaccine mandates on its employees. "We're going to make sure people are able to make their own choices. We're not going to discriminate against people based on those choices, and you're going to have a right to operate in society," DeSantis said, painting the issue of vaccines as a matter of civil liberties.

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WFAA - October 17, 2021

Commerce Secretary expects improvement in supply chain issues by Christmas

As we get closer and closer to Christmas, many Texans are becoming ever more worried about whether they’ll even be able to purchase this season’s must-have holiday item. Supply chain gridlock across the globe means many goods are simply stuck on shipping containers, boats, trains and trucks. Factory closures and a shortage of workers and parts mean many other items haven’t even been produced in the first place. It’s all adding up to create a giant mess from ships to shelves. “If this were a multiple-choice test, I would choose ‘D: all of the above,’” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said on Inside Texas Politics. “It’s a worker shortage. It’s a shortage of truck drivers. It’s the fact that demand is really high right now.” The Commerce Secretary says folks have been stuck inside their homes and they’re now ready and eager to spend. And unlike the Great Recession, for instance, economists say Americans have dollars saved to do just that. And Raimondo says people aren’t necessarily spending money on vacations, but instead buying goods.

“We have disruption in the supply at the same time demand is through the roof and it’s just coming together in this really complex mix. The bottom line is it’s frustrating for Americans who see prices higher or lead times longer,” she said. Raimondo says the problem will be fixed, it will just take time. But she sees improvement by Christmas after the Administration initiated a plan to address the bottlenecks. Some ports, including the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are moving to 24/7 operations. Those two ports alone account for 40% of the containers coming into the United States. The White House also says many big businesses have agreed to similar operating commitments, from Walmart to Target, UPS to FedEx. There is still no word if the Port of Houston will move to a 24/7 operation. But all terminals there are open and operating normally.

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Los Angeles Times - October 18, 2021

Bill Clinton heads home after spending six days in a California hospital fighting an infection

Former President Clinton was was seen leaving an Orange County hospital shortly after 8 am Sunday, six days after he was admitted and treated for a urological and blood infection. The 75-year-old is flying to New York with his wife, former secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and his daughter Chelsea, according to an aide. Upon landing, Clinton will head to their family home in Chappaqua, about 30 miles north of New York City. "His fever and white blood cell count are normalized and he will return home to New York to finish his course of antibiotics," said Dr. Alpesh N. Amin, who lead the team of doctors who treated Clinton. "On behalf of everyone at UC Irvine Medical Center, we were honored to have treated him and will continue to monitor his progress."

Clinton, 75, has been a globetrotting celebrity and philanthropist since leaving the White House in 2001, raising millions for his family’s nonprofit Clinton Foundation and getting paid handsomely to speak. Clinton was in Southern California last week — his first trip to the West Coast since the pandemic — to speak at a foundation reception and dinner on Thursday. Hillary Clinton flew to California on Thursday to take his place at the event and to be with him at the hospital. Chelsea Clinton showed up at the medical center on Saturday. The family spent time together catching up, and the former president also spoke with friends and watched college football. On Tuesday, while visiting longtime friends in Orange County, the former president felt fatigued and was admitted to the intensive care unit at UC Irvine Medical Center that evening. Clinton was diagnosed with a urological infection that turned into a blood infection, aides said. Though some media outlets said Clinton had sepsis — a life-threatening response by the body to an infection that can result in tissue damage and organ failure — aides said the former president was never in septic shock, the most severe and deadly stage of sepsis. He was cared for in the intensive care unit because of concerns about COVID-19, an aide added.

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CNN - October 18, 2021

Ex-intel official who created controversial Trump Russia dossier speaks out

Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, the man behind the "Steele Dossier" that claimed Russian officials held compromising information on former President Donald Trump, defended the claims made in the dossier in his first on-camera interview since it was revealed in 2017. In a clip from an upcoming ABC News documentary released Sunday, Steele said he decided to sit down for an interview now because he wanted to "set the record straight" about his role in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. ABC released a portion of the documentary featuring parts of Steele's interview on Sunday, with the full documentary slated to be released on Hulu early Monday morning. "Most of the world first heard your name about five years ago, but you stayed silent up until now. Why speak out now?" host George Stephanopoulos asked.

"I think the first and most important (reason) is that the problems we identified back in 2016 haven't gone away, and arguably have actually got worse, and I thought it was important to come and set the record straight," Steele said. Steele's unverified dossier became one of the most controversial aspects of the FBI's investigation into Trump and Russia that led to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Many of the claims, such as the so-called "pee tape," were never proven, despite the FBI's efforts to verify salacious allegations and years of congressional investigators looking into the claims involving the former president and Russia. Mueller's report also concluded that another allegation Steele made -- that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen traveled to Prague in 2016 to meet with Russian officials -- was untrue. Steele reinforced his belief that most of the claims made in the dossier are accurate. "I stand by the work we did, the sources that we had, and the professionalism which we applied to it," Steele said. The FBI's use of Steele's dossier to obtain a foreign surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page was the subject of a scathing Justice Department inspector general report released in 2019. The report found the FBI's Russia investigation was started properly, but it raised serious questions about Steele's sources for the dossier, including the fact that his primary source told the FBI they may have talked about Trump's alleged sexual activities "in jest" and that the tape was "rumor and speculation."

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VICE - October 17, 2021

A Capitol rioter represented himself in court and it went very, very wrong

A Jan. 6 Capitol rioter admitted to new crimes he hadn’t been accused of during a court hearing this week, serving as yet another reminder of why you should never try to act as your own lawyer. Brandon Fellows, a 27-year-old from Albany, New York, was charged with multiple crimes, including obstruction of an official proceeding, which could land him in prison for up to 20 years. Fellows is accused of entering the Capitol building during the Jan. 6 riot and was caught on video smoking cannabis in Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office. But on Tuesday, while testifying in his own bond hearing—he admitted to preparing for the wrong kind of hearing—Fellows accidentally described to the court actions that could constitute more crimes: He admitted to listing the phone number of a New York state judge’s wife as his own in an attempt to get the judge dismissed from the case, based on a supposed “loophole” he read about online, according to Courthouse News.

Fellows also admitted to asking his lawyer if he should do that in his federal case. Fellows testified that his lawyer told him: “You did not find a loophole, Brandon, I promise you. If you do this with Judge [Trevor] McFadden, you will be arrested.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fellows’ motion to have his bond status revoked was denied. McFadden told Fellows that he admitted to obstruction of justice and perjury on the stand. “You’ve admitted to incredible lapses of judgment here on the stand, not least of which was seeking to disqualify a New York state judge,” McFadden, a U.S. District Court judge nominated by former President Donald Trump, told Fellows. “You’ve engaged in a pattern of behaviors that shows contempt for the criminal justice system, and I just have no confidence that you will follow my orders if I release you.” Fellows is one of several accused Capitol rioters who’ve fired their lawyers and chosen to represent themselves in court. He did so despite being repeatedly warned by his former public defender and by McFadden that doing so was a bad idea. Fellows did it anyway. “Although, as Justice Blackmun says, I may be a fool to represent myself, I am nowhere near as big a fool as Joe Biden,” Fellows told the court last month.

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Newsclips - October 17, 2021

Lead Stories

CBS Austin - October 16, 2021

After sped-up process, TX House approves new Congressional boundaries

With the special session coming to a close in a matter of days, the Texas House capped off the accelerated process behind the newly drawn districts for Texas' U.S. Congress seats by approving the updated boundaries Saturday evening. The House gave initial approval to the new Congressional map late Saturday night. After passing a few more bills on the schedule, they adjourned and reconvened a minute later to give the new political boundaries final passage in the early morning hours Sunday. They did this when passing the maps for the Texas House and Senate, as well, in order to not break their chamber rule of passing bills on three separate readings across three separate days. The map will not be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk, yet, however.

Because the House added 14 amendments, the map got sent to the Senate - the chamber that authored the bill - to see if they would concur with the changes. The Senate did not approve the changes, and now both chambers will send members to a conference committee to hash out differences behind closed doors and out of the public view. State lawmakers have to redraw the political boundaries every ten years based on new population data from the Census. Democrats and civil rights group have been at odds with the new boundaries, claiming the racial make-up of the new districts do not reflect the diversity boom Texas has seen in the last ten years. According to the 2020 Census, more than 95 % of Texas' almost 4 million new residents were Hispanic, Black, and Asian. The influx of new Texans led to the state gaining two new seats in the U.S. Congress, going from 36 to 38 seats. This brought White and Hispanic Texans at a near-even split of the population, at 39.7 % and 39.3 %, respectively. Black Texans also increased to make up 11.8 % of the state's population.

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Texas Tribune - October 15, 2021

With surgical precision, Republicans draw two congressional districts that dilute power of Hispanic and Asian voters

The intensity with which Texas Republicans are struggling against demographic tides as they redraw the state's congressional districts can best be seen in their proposed maps for the Dallas-Fort Worth region, specifically its suburbs. For decades, suburban communities offered the GOP solid political ground. But census figures demonstrate the state is growing away from Republicans, with nearly all of its population gains coming within communities of color more likely to support Democrats. That shift has reached the suburbs. In a bid to hold the political turf, Republicans are zeroing in on communities with high shares of potential voters of color and grafting them onto massive districts dominated by white voters. That sort of surgical targeting is strikingly captured by the proposed changes to the 33rd and 6th congressional districts, which will diminish the influence Hispanic voters have in choosing their representatives in Congress. The proposed maps have already cleared the Senate and await a vote in the House.

A significant portion of the Hispanic voting age population in the suburban cities between Dallas and Fort Worth is currently in TX-33, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey. The district stretches from Fort Worth in Tarrant County, across suburban communities like Arlington and Grand Prairie and into Irving’s heavily Hispanic neighborhoods on the west side of Dallas County. Despite its odd shape, TX-33 was actually drawn by a three-judge federal panel a decade ago to protect the voting rights of people of color in the area. That panel devised the district so that Hispanics made up the largest demographic group, but it offered Hispanic or Black voters an equal chance to elect their preferred candidate. Veasey won that job. A decade later, Hispanics make up a large majority of the district’s voting age population and are just shy of the majority of eligible voters, which includes citizens only. But under the Republicans’ proposed map, many of those voters would be sunk into a starkly different political reality. Republicans reconfigured part of TX-33 to shore up another neighboring GOP district, but that left behind Hispanic areas around Irving. They looked south and saw a swath of rural, mostly white counties. To connect them, they extended a bizarre finger northward into Dallas County, picked off the Democratic-leaning areas and melded them into a different district — TX-6 .

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Politico - October 17, 2021

These Republicans torpedoed vaccine edicts — then slipped in the polls

Republican governors crusading against vaccine mandates are facing significantly lower approval ratings on their handling of the coronavirus pandemic than their counterparts. But they’re not worried. From Florida to Texas to South Dakota, GOP governors have been on the front lines of the war against vaccine mandates, barring immunization requirements in their states and threatening to fight President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate in court. Just last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott flat-out banned vaccine requirements, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis followed up by vowing to sue the Biden administration. But new research shows governors in states without vaccine mandates — or where they’ve outright prohibited such a requirement — have “significantly lower” approval ratings for their handling of Covid-19. While many of these governors remain popular, some have seen dips in their overall approval ratings in recent months as their states faced the latest wave of coronavirus.

In states with vaccine mandates, 52 percent of people approve or strongly approve of their governors’ handling of the pandemic, according to the latest survey from the Covid States Project, which has been tracking gubernatorial approval ratings for the past year and a half. That coronavirus approval rating drops to 42 percent for governors in states with no vaccine requirements. And it takes yet another hit — dropping to just 36 percent — in states where governors have barred vaccine mandates. The findings could be temporary, and influenced by summer outbreaks that are now subsiding, but the study’s authors believe the public’s support for vaccine requirements is real, as is its distaste for those opposing the measures. “Our findings really suggest that individuals in our survey were rewarding these governors who took proactive steps to combat the pandemic and they were punishing governors who prohibited public health policies that would combat the pandemic like vaccine mandates,” said Alauna C. Safarpour, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy and one of the project’s researchers. Those ratings should be low enough to make any politician nervous. Safarpour warned, based on the research, that governors eschewing vaccine mandates “should really assess what’s in their political best interests when it comes to the pandemic.” But aides to DeSantis and Abbott defended their actions as doing what’s right by their constituents and combating the confusion stemming from Biden’s yet-to-be-outlined vaccine requirements for federal workers and businesses with more than 100 employees.

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Dallas Morning News - October 17, 2021

Caught in the crosshairs: AT&T political donations, deal with OAN draw it into culture wars

During the Donald Trump era, AT&T endured repeated shots from the president for its acquisition and ownership of CNN — the highly-watched cable news network he and his supporters regularly labeled as “fake news.” Not even a year after a White House changing of the guard, the Dallas-based telecommunications giant is in the political culture war’s crosshairs again. This time, it’s Democratic and moderate Republican activists taking aim at its financial support for burgeoning right-wing extremism in the U.S. The ire stems from newly surfaced court testimony and records suggesting right-wing broadcast network One America News Network wouldn’t exist without AT&T’s backing. A week into the festering controversy, AT&T’s only public comment is a prepared statement to The Dallas Morning News. “AT&T has never had a financial interest in OAN’s success and does not ‘fund’ OAN,” the statement said in part. “CNN is the only news network we fund because it’s a part of AT&T.”

For a company that traces its history to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in 1876, it’s an uncomfortable spotlight that’s only widened since the OAN revelation. Progressive PAC American Bridge, co-chaired by former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, called on AT&T to take a stand against Texas’ restrictive new abortion law with a recent ad blitz calling out the company’s contributions to conservative lawmakers in its home state. Anti-Trump Republican PAC The Lincoln Project is labeling the company in attack ads as a supporter of white nationalism and calling for a boycott. The group’s reach is broad: It has more than 2.7 million Twitter followers and 785,000 YouTube channel subscribers. NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said the organization was “sickened” by the revelations about AT&T and OAN. The Congressional Black Caucus slammed AT&T’s reported support of OAN as being “in direct opposition to its claims of embracing and valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion.” John Oliver, who hosts Last Week Tonight on AT&T-owned HBO, criticized the company, saying “you do bad things and you make the world worse.” In the week following the Reuters report, the hashtag #BoycottATT — harnessed mostly by democratic political organizations — has reached 2.5 million users via hundreds of posts on Twitter, Instagram and other platforms, according to social media research firm Brandmentions.

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State Stories

Texas Monthly - October 17, 2021

Critical race fury: The school board wars are getting nasty in Texas

No child is guaranteed success in life, but students in Eanes Independent School District, located in the rolling hills of West Austin, will have an easier time attaining it than many of their peers. The neighborhoods that feed into Eanes are some of the state’s richest. All but one of the district’s nine schools won an A rating from the state in 2019, the last time grades were handed out. About 99 percent of the 2021 senior class at Westlake High School was accepted to college, superintendent Tom Leonard tells the audience at the June 22 meeting of Eanes’s board, recapping another year of high achievement. The robotics team won a state championship, he adds, which could improve the school’s third-place standing in the Lone Star Cup, awarded to the state’s winningest schools. Westlake also won a state football championship, and the boys’ golf team won state too, as it has four years running. By the standards of Texas public schools, Eanes is an idyll. Soon after Leonard stops speaking, however, loud yelling commences, and it continues for the better part of an hour. According to most of the 38 people who have come to give public testimony, the district’s schools have become beholden to “post-Marxist critical theory,” as one speaker puts it—“an updated version of Marxism focusing on differences between people.”

The school board, says another, has opened the doors of Eanes to “antifa and BLM,” forces that “salivate after war” and “burn down” communities. On the agenda today are two items that might seem unlikely reasons to go to battle. One is the contract of Mark Gooden, a professor at the Teachers College at Columbia University, in New York City, and, since 2020, the diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant for Eanes. The second is a rewrite of the district’s mission statement. After workshopping the document for more than a year, the board had settled on “Unite. Empower. Inspire . . . Every Person, Every Day.” In the burst of self-reflection that followed the summer of George Floyd, many districts hired DEI consultants. Gooden, according to Eanes board president John Havenstrite, looked at Eanes’s data, met with community stakeholders, and provided recommendations. Schools in Eanes did not appear to discipline children of color at a higher rate than white children, as many others do, or place disproportionate numbers of white students in advanced-placement courses. Gooden did recommend training for teachers and staff on how to approach racial issues, among other sensitive topics. That didn’t happen, for the most part, because of the disruption of the pandemic.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 17, 2021

'Sure hope it happens' - Republican Rep. Lyle Larson, estranged from his own party, says Texas needs a third one

After another long day in the Legislature, Republican state Rep. Lyle Larson of San Antonio, known for his open ridicule of his own party’s leadership, is getting feisty on the drive home on Interstate 35. Days earlier, Larson had announced he would not seek re-election next year to a seventh term, and his mood is full of bravado. Channeling the Norwegian and Scottish heritage of his late parents, he launches into a mock tirade based on one of Mike Myers’ comic characters from the “Austin Powers” spy farces. “My ancestors have been pulling weak-minded kings out of castles for hundreds of years,” Larson bellows in a passable Scottish roar. “We won’t be intimidated by these weaklings in Austin.” All kidding aside, Larson’s next move is a subject of intense interest in political circles. He has talked about forming a third major party in Texas — perhaps with former Republican House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio.

Like Straus, Larson, 62, represents for many a vanishing breed: politicians who worked the middle ground, a space where moderates of both parties thrived before the era of polarization. Citing national polls that show more voters identify as independents than as Republicans or Democrats, Larson says the time is right for a third party in Texas. “Joe Straus and I talked about it last week. I sure hope it happens,” he says. “Moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats just have nowhere to go. There are so many corporate people in Texas who are frustrated with our leadership in the GOP. I think it would be well-funded with mega-donors who’d create a viable campaign to frustrate this far right trajectory.” Larson, who represents House District 122 in North Bexar County, says he would support Straus if he ran against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on a third-party ticket — but he was not as quick to say he’d run for lieutenant governor against incumbent Dan Patrick. “I think a lot will happen in the next month or two,” Larson says, “but I just need to rest for a while.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 17, 2021

Erica Grieder: Former Bush adviser Matthew Dowd is running for lieutenant governor - and eager to hold Dan Patrick accountable

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick may not be the worst of our statewide leaders. There’s some stiff competition for that spot. Nor, perhaps, is the Baltimore native and former conservative talk radio host the most vulnerable incumbent seeking re-election next year. Attorney General Ken Paxton — who remains under indictment for securities fraud, is reportedly under investigation by the FBI and barely won re-election in 2018 — may be ranked on top, when it comes to that. But it looks like Patrick is going to have a real fight on his hands in next year’s general election, which is surely good news for the state’s beleaguered Democrats. That’s partly due to the fact that Matthew Dowd, a political consultant based in Wimberley and former ABC News commentator, announced last month that he is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Patrick.

His decision to enter the race has caused some heartburn among Texas Democrats. For starters, he’s a former Republican who joined George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000 and served as the chief strategist for Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004. Democrats already have a proven vote-getter vying to unseat Patrick — former accounting executive Mike Collier, who came within 5 percentage points of unseating Patrick in 2018. As the national media has focused on the candidacy of the better-known and very quotable Dowd, Collier’s campaign has practically been ignored. For Collier’s supporters, Dowd’s decision to jump in the race looks opportunistic. Dowd, 60, disputes that. He explains that he entered the arena as a Democrat, working for former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, before deciding to join Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. In 2007, he said in an interview that he had lost faith in Bush, then still the president — an admission that was covered on the front page of the New York Times. Dowd went on to spend some time in the political wilderness as an independent. As late as 2017, Dowd was a critic of both parties, telling the Austin American-Statesman that they were analogous to Yellow Cab and American Cab — “and the party solution is we’ll repaint the cab or we’ll put a stereo system in the cab, but people want Uber or Lyft.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 17, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Abbott's mandate against vaccine mandates is still a mandate.

So what’s a good number? About 75,000? How about 85,000? Maybe 100,000? How many deaths from COVID-19 will it take, we’re wondering, before Gov. Greg Abbott shifts attention from his political ambitions to the health and well-being of his fellow Texans? We’re closing in on 70,000 deaths, about the equivalent of the population of Missouri City, the population of Spring. As we head into winter, that number is sure to keep climbing, particularly if Abbott The Craven continues to kowtow to the anti-vaxxers who rule Republican primary voting. Despite the dire death numbers, the governor issued an executive order last week banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates by any “entity in Texas,” including private businesses, hospitals, schools, nursing homes and any other place where people gather in sizable numbers. Abbott said violators will face a fine up to $1,000, which will remain in effect until the Legislature passes a law that formalizes it.

The governor’s order conflicts with a soon-to-be-enacted federal regulation that will require businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure they’re either vaccinated or tested weekly. Butting up against President Joe Biden is precisely the point. “In yet another instance of federal overreach, the Biden administration is now bullying many private entities into imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” Abbott wrote in the order. Abbott’s anti-mandate mandate also conflicts with the classic conservative tradition in this state and elsewhere of the primacy of local control. Since Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton have ruled the Capitol roost, such rank hypocrisy is par for the course. Still, it’s one thing when the governor ignores local control over the use of plastic bags, cutting down trees or restricting fracking within the city limits; it’s another when thousands of lives are at stake in a global pandemic. “This prohibition against vaccine mandates is like as if the governor were telling me that I can’t issue an order to evacuate the coastal areas when a hurricane is barreling toward us,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a news conference. (Abbott probably wouldn’t hesitate to do even that if he saw some sort of political advantage.) What’s infuriating during these difficult times is that the governor’s swerve to the hard right on a number of issues during a legislative session seemingly without end is pure (or, rather, impure) politics.

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Houston Chronicle - October 15, 2021

West Texas luxury resort says it's proud to display Robert E. Lee statue, calls critics 'uneducated'

Management at Lajitas Golf Resort in Terlingua, Texas sees nothing offensive about its Robert E. Lee statue that greets guests at its 18-hole golf course, "Black Jack's Crossing" along the Texas-Mexico border. The controversial monument of the Confederate general had been removed from a Dallas park in 2017 and then resided in storage at Dallas' Hensley Field, the former Naval Air Station, until the city sold it to an Addison-based lawyer at an auction for $1.4 million, according to a Dallas Morning News report. The 27,000 acre resort, which is privately owned by Dallas billionaire and pipeline mogul Kelcy Warren and managed by Scott Beasley, the president of Dallas-based WSB Resorts and Clubs, received the statue as a donation in 2019. The removal of Confederate statues has been a trend over the last several years, with more than 100 Confederate symbols dismantled in 2020, according to a NPR report, amid a national racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

While statue removals are a step in the right direction, said Black Lives Matter Houston activist Brandon Mack, they're merely a "cosmetic demonstration of support." "If we really want to see true change, it’s got to be in policy in the dismantling of systems," he said. Beasley said the statue serves no intent but to preserve "a fabulous piece of art," and is glorified more than it is scorned. "I would say that of the 60 plus thousand guests we host each year, we’ve had one or two negative comments" he said. "I’d bet that 80 to 90 percent of the people that come to the resort take a picture of it." But one unidentified guest who stayed at the resort in 2020 wasn't a fan. They left a review on Tripadvisor warning guests of the establishment they would be supporting, and said they enjoyed the "nice stay" until they noticed the statue. "I was immediately sick to my stomach to be staying here and indirectly supporting a management group and owner who would brazenly place this object of oppression on their property (yes, it's their private property I understand that)," the former guest wrote.

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Houston Chronicle - October 17, 2021

Brooke Rollins: Critical race theory is already in schools. It's up to parents to fight it.

(Rollins is president and CEO of the America First Policy Institute. She is former president and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and was acting director of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council in the Trump administration.) It’s the worst-kept secret in Texas. Even as educators and administrators continue to deny that critical race theory is being taught in Texas schools, CRT’s concepts and terminology are working their way into classrooms and libraries throughout the state. And it won’t stop until determined parents hold school boards accountable for what their children are being taught about themselves and the world in which we live. Here are just a few examples. In Aldine Independent School District, near Houston, Superintendent LaTonya M. Goffney appears to have gone all-in on CRT. In a “Message from the Superintendent” released in 2020, she pledged to remold the schools into a “culturally responsive environment,” a hallmark of the so-called “anti-racist” movement. “Facing the reality of the world we live in — one full of systemic racism, bigotry and ignorance — is the first step,” she wrote. “We must also acknowledge that we have failed, even right here in our district, to successfully honor Black lives and have hard conversations about where and how we are struggling to promote excellence and equity for every child in our schools.”

“Anti-racist” is the nom de guerre of critical race theory. And “systemic racism” is the foundation of the entire school of thought — it holds that racism is inherent to law and many American institutions, and it critiques that role in perpetuating ongoing racial inequalities. For some critical race theorists, that means these institutions are beyond redemption and must be torn down and remade. As for “bigotry and ignorance,” Goffney correctly points out that Aldine ISD isn’t doing a very good job of teaching the basics to students; she adds that fewer than a third of its third-grade students are reading at grade level. The next example comes from Katy ISD, where parents objected to an event featuring author Jerry Craft who wrote the book “New Kid.” Essentially, “New Kid” is a graphic novel about “microaggressions.” Its protagonist is a Black youth who enrolls in a mostly white private school. Throughout the story, Jordan is subjected to the usual insults, intentional and unintentional. Before critical race theory, we had a different term for kids being jerks to other kids — we called it “middle school.” But the study of microaggressions is often associated with the CRT framework. “Racial microaggressions are layered and cumulative assaults, often carried out in subtle and unconscious ways, which take a psychological and physiological toll on the body, mind, and spirit,” the authors of “Racial Microaggressions: Using Critical Race Theory to Respond to Everyday Racism” explain.

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Houston Chronicle - October 17, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Vote no on incorporating The Woodlands

Nearly 50 years after George Mitchell charted the master-planned community that is The Woodlands, an inevitable fight has broken out beneath the tall trees 28 miles north of Houston over how to best protect the founder’s vision of suburban utopia. In a 5-2 vote Aug.13, the board of Texas’ only “township” decided to put incorporation on this fall’s ballot. If passed, The Woodlands — beloved by residents for low taxes, low crime, green parks and good schools — would become an incorporated city. Supporters say it’s time for The Woodlands’ residents to fully govern themselves, electing a mayor and a city council who can draft a charter, pass noise ordinances and zoning rules, and establish a dedicated police force so the community doesn’t have to depend on Harris and Montgomery counties for law enforcement.

Township board chair Gordy Bunch told us The Woodlands, because it’s not a city, is missing out on as much as $30 million in COVID relief funds — and that Montgomery County hasn’t properly shared. Opponents ask “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” The unusual governance system is central to what makes The Woodlands appealing to families and businesses. According to Niche, an online site that ranks schools, communities and workplaces, it’s the best city to live in America in 2021, despite it not technically even being a city yet. Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack and several law enforcement leaders have come out against incorporation, warning of a disruption in policing and higher costs. The Howard Hughes Corp., The Woodlands’ largest developer, has blanketed the area with signs in a well-funded anti-incorporation campaign. The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce is also opposed and though we talked with a few fervent supporters, we couldn’t find evidence of a groundswell of public backing. It’s been hard for residents to get information they can trust, with each side accusing the other of doctoring numbers and leaving out data to suit their cause. It’s unclear to residents we talked to, and to us, how daily life in The Woodlands would really change with incorporation — and more importantly, if it would improve.

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Houston Chronicle - October 14, 2021

Katy ISD 'caved to pressure' in returning books to library, petition organizer says

Author Jerry Craft’s award-winning graphic novels are back on Katy ISD library shelves this week after a review committee ruled the books do not contain subversive or offensive material. A previously canceled online speaking event with the New York Times best-selling author also has been rescheduled, the district announced Thursday. Craft’s books were pulled from district libraries and an event was canceled last week after a parent complained the works promote “critical race theory” and “anti-white” rhetoric. The district’s initial move caused concern among many other parents, community members and advocates who said it appeared the district wanted to censor “the Black experience” from its libraries. “Earlier this week, the review committee met and determined the appropriateness of the book, ‘New Kid,’” a statement from the district read. “The reading material is already back on district library shelves, and the virtual author visit is scheduled to take place on October 25 as part of the instructional day.”

Parents who do not wish for their children to listen to the event may opt them out of participating, the district said. The acclaimed, award-winning books, “New Kid” and “Class Act” follow a Black preteen as he navigates the challenges of attending a predominantly white private school. Craft said the books are based on the experiences of his two sons. Attempts to reach Craft for comment Friday were unsuccessful. In a statement published online by the The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association on Oct. 6, Craft said his goal in writing the books was to help kids see themselves in literature and to depict children of color as “just regular kids.” “As an African American boy who grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, I almost never saw kids like me in any of the books assigned to me in school,” Craft said. “Books aimed at kids like me seemed to deal only with history or misery.” The author said he also felt it was important to depict the kinds of struggles he faced as a student. “I wanted to illustrate the things that kids like me had to face on a daily basis — like teachers confusing you with another kid of color, or classmates being afraid to come to your house because they assume you live in a bad neighborhood,” he said.

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Houston Chronicle - October 15, 2021

Baylor study on mix-and-match COVID vaccine boosters is up for FDA debate. Here's what it found.

Recipients of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may benefit from receiving a booster of any brand, according to a new Baylor-led study, the preliminary findings of which support a mix-and-match approach. The study, released this week ahead of Friday’s U.S. Food and Drug Administration hearing on booster shots, bolsters the case for the safety of mixing and matching vaccines to achieve protection from the virus’s most severe symptoms. “We didn’t see any safety concerns with mixing different vaccines or with giving boosters that were different from what people originally received,” said Dr. Robert Atmar, a professor of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine who helped lead the federally-funded study. The findings reverse previous thinking about the safety of mixing vaccines and could pave the way for an expanded booster shot rollout.

Pfizer is currently the only maker with FDA approval for third-shot boosters, available to the elderly, those with weakened immune systems and frontline workers. But that could soon change. An FDA advisory panel voted Thursday to recommend booster shots for at-risk Moderna recipients, and will consider Johnson & Johnson’s booster plan on Friday. The study’s findings could have special implications for the 15 million Americans who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, many of whom are experiencing waning immunity. Researchers found that the single-dose jab followed by a booster shot of any kind produced a strong immune response. The Moderna booster proved especially effective, boosting recipients’ antibody levels 76-fold within two weeks. By contrast, a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine produced a four-fold boost over the same time period. But Atmar stressed the limited nature of the study, which contained fewer than 500 participants, and cautioned against comparing the vaccines. “We weren’t trying to compare vaccines,” he said. “We were trying to make sure people responded well if they got a different booster than their original vaccine — and they did.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 17, 2021

Jerome VanZandt: Despite new law, Texas still has far to go on bail reform

(VanZandt served 20 years in the U.S. Navy, honorably retired and is a disabled, combat veteran. He lives in Harris County.) Over the summer, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law the Damon Allen Act on the promise that making it harder for some defendants accused of violent crimes to be released ahead of their trial would make Texas safer. But while it was called bail reform, it did little to nothing to reform Texas’ unfair use of cash bail to decide who must stay behind bars until their day in court. As someone who has firsthand experience in our criminal courts, I also can confidently tell you that this new law will do next to nothing to improve community safety. Despite all the heated debates, men and women in Texas are still held in jail before trial on the basis of how much money they have. Working-class moms and dads remain behind bars while millionaire murderers who can afford to post nearly any bail go free. Until we end this practice of wealth-based detention, no amount of fiddling around the edges will make Texans any safer.

In fact, by fortifying cash bail and limiting how people can be released before trial, the new law could actually hurt Texans who need help. I know the reality of this broken system because I spent nine months in Harris County Jail for substance use. Twenty years of service as a combat veteran in the U.S. Navy had left me suffering with post-traumatic stress and illegal substances were my go-to for self-medication. As a conservative Republican and Harris County homeowner, I have little sympathy for the hardened criminals who threaten our neighborhoods and businesses. But I’m just as frustrated with a state that spent the last legislative session reinforcing wealth-based detention instead of reforming it. Not only is this system fundamentally unfair, it also can’t distinguish between threats to public safety and problems of personal health. As a result, Texans who are disabled or struggling with addiction end up filling our jails. The Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health found that “adults with untreated mental health conditions are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than the general population,” according to a study published in 2016. And researchers have found that the shock of incarceration drives people suffering from mental illness and substance abuse to take their own lives while in custody. They found that nearly 77 percent of the men and women who die by suicide in jails are still legally innocent, waiting for their trials and, likely, in dire need of addiction or mental health treatment. Texas should be looking to treat and support recovery from mental health problems. Unfortunately the wait list for transfer to a state mental health hospital is currently over 1,450 deep — a wait of 18 months or more — leaving far too many disabled Texans stuck in jails, unable to receive needed medical help.

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Dallas Morning News - October 15, 2021

Poor People’s Campaign study says 34% of Texas voters in 2020 elections were low-income

The Poor People’s Campaign, a civil rights and voting engagement advocacy organization, released a study Friday mapping the role low-income voters played in the 2020 presidential election, including in Texas — where the campaign says the margin of victory for Republican candidate Donald Trump was just under 6%. Key takeaways from the campaign’s study, which charted voter turnout in the 2020 general election and focused on battleground states in particular, included a staggering figure: A full third of the electorate are poor and low-income voters with an estimated household income of less than $50,000, the organization said. “This report is clear proof that Republicans and Democrats, liberals, moderates, conservatives… none of them can afford to ignore poor and low-wealth people anymore,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign were actively involved in Texas politics this summer, when Texas House Democrats broke quorum and flew to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation. They held rallies with the state legislators in Washington, and even organized a march from Georgetown to the state capitol building in Austin with former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke to protest what they saw as efforts in the Texas Legislature to disenfranchise poor voters and voters of color. “One third of the electorate is now poor and low-wealth, and that is a powerful block of voters,” Barber said at a press conference to discuss the report Friday. “We are working in the Poor People’s Campaign to be a movement that registers people to vote… We are building power, as well as shifting the narrative.” Specifically, of the 168 million voters who cast a ballot in the 2020 general election, 58 million — or 35% of the voting electorate — were low-income voters, the report reads. The campaign found that 34.04% of Texas voters were low-income, a percentage that translates to roughly 8 million people. Of these eligible voters, the campaign wrote, 4.1 million were white, 2.7 million were Hispanic and 870,000 were Black. White low-income voters accounted for nearly 20% of the total votes in the state, while Hispanic low-income voters accounted for 9% of total votes and Black low-income voters another 3.7%. “It is both possible to organize multiracial coalitions of white, Black and Hispanic voters, but also … necessary to do so,” said Shailly Gupta Barnes, policy director for the Poor People’s Campaign.

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Dallas Morning News - October 15, 2021

What exactly is cryptocurrency, and what does it have to do with the Texas power grid?

Cryptocurrency is a cash-like electronic payment system people use to pay each other for services, products — really anything — that effectively cuts out the middleman. Our cash is regulated by the U.S. government and our credit cards are regulated by companies, for example, but with Bitcoin and other popular cryptocurrencies, transactions are regulated by a decentralized network of users. That’s where mining comes into play: to regulate Bitcoin transactions, they must be validated, and miners across the globe are competing with each other to validate transactions and enter them into the public ledger of all Bitcoin transactions.

If miners successfully validate a “block” of transactions, they’re rewarded 6.25 newly minted Bitcoins, each worth about $50,000, according to The New York Times (though that $50,000 value often fluctuates). The process of mining consumes an enormous amount of energy, as you need highly specialized machines, lots of space and enough cooling power to keep the machines from overheating. Miners often flock to where there’s an abundance of cheap power and wide-open spaces, hence their attraction to the Lone Star State.

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Dallas Morning News - October 17, 2021

Prominent North Texas family is being sued for allegedly defrauding real estate fund investors

Nine investors are accusing members of a prominent North Texas family of engaging in securities fraud in connection with a high-profile mixed-use project in Allen and other real estate investments, according to newly amended court documents. The complaint, initially filed in October 2020 by Palazzo Holdings LLC, claims Thakkar family members defrauded investors who bought $2.5 million of securities in real estate investment funds, which were then used to pay entities owned by the family, including Thakkar Development Group LLC. Saumil Thakkar, Poorvesh Thakkar, Mahesh Thakkar and Vaishali Thakkar were named in the suit alongside multiple Thakkar family-owned businesses. Some of the Thakkars’ best-known ventures, such as the FunAsia Radio Station and Fun Movie Grill theaters, were not listed in the lawsuit. Palazzo Holdings was formed by investors who collectively put money into a fund managed by the Thakkars after reportedly forming strong relationships with the family members.

“My clients really trusted and respected the Thakkar family, which is one of the reasons they invested so much of their money in the fund,” said Bajaria & Forgerson law firm managing partner Favad Bajaria. In a statement, Thakkar Developers refuted the lawsuit’s claims. “The plaintiff is a group that includes experienced physician investors who now allege fraud because the Thakkar family refused to buy them out of an investment in which they no longer wish to be a participant,” according to the statement from Thakkar Developers. “This is an investor group that has made investments with the Thakkars, including after this lawsuit was filed.” Investors claim in their lawsuit that they were told the fund would raise $20 million by October 2018 to invest in five North Texas real estate projects, including Park Plaza Tower in Dallas, land in Plano for a mixed-use development project and land in Allen for a mixed-use development project set to be anchored by a 15,000-seat cricket stadium.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 17, 2021

Mayor of Southlake responds to teachers being told to include “opposing” views of Holocaust

Southlake Mayor John Huffman spoke out, in a Facebook post on Saturday, on his community’s school district curriculum, and the media’s response to it. Carroll ISD recently made national news — and sparked outrage — over instructions to teachers to offer books with “opposing” views of the Holocaust.

In his post addressed to the Southlake community, Huffman said Southlake will always stand with its Jewish neighbors and friends, and there was no room for vagueness on the subject of the Holocaust. “I know I speak for the entire Southlake community when I say that the idea that there could be two sides to the historical fact of the Holocaust is unthinkable,” Huffman said. “There simply aren’t opposing viewpoints on the issue of condemning that monstrous evil, and I don’t know anyone who thinks there are.” Huffman also criticized national media outlets for using the incident as a way to “tear down” the city. He said the criticisms hurt its citizens and business owners who want to feel pride in Southlake. “It is our job to continue to elevate the positive stories around us, even if the national media only seeks to highlight our mistakes,” he said. “Let us celebrate the things that make us unique and diverse.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 17, 2021

Bud Kennedy: A Texas Republican tells all, blames Dan Patrick, money group for push to far right

The mild-mannered Tarrant County judge is speaking out again, this time about what has gone so very wrong for both Republicans and Texas. And he’s naming names: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Tim Dunn and Dan and Farris Wilks. “Since 2006, when Dan Patrick got elected [as state senator] and Empower Texans was founded, we have become more and more like Washington each year,” he told civic leaders the other day, unloading on two forces that have made life miserable for business Republicans and lately have even pressed Gov. Greg Abbott into falling obediently in line. “They demonize everything. They attack local officials. And from Empower Texans’ standpoint” — he used the old PAC name loosely for both Dunn and the Wilks brothers, all West Texas oil-money political donors who spend millions to elect candidates — “they feel like if they can get influence over half the people in the Capitol, then they can control what goes on in this state.”

In 2018, the Hurst accountant set off fireworks at the usually snoreworthy “State of the County” speech by saying Dunn was “trying to buy the Legislature” by backing Texas House challengers. This time he singled out Patrick, a former radio talk host who holds the most powerful position in state government and wields huge clout as the state official closest to former President Donald Trump. “Patrick is driving Abbott farther to the right,” Whitley said in a later interview. As an example, Whitley gave the topsy-turvy political twist last week, when Abbott and Texas Republican officials sided with labor unions against corporations in a dispute over whether employers can require workplace vaccinations. The Fort Worth and Dallas chambers of commerce, Texas Realtors, manufacturers, contractors and even Texans for Lawsuit Reform responded sharply to defend employers. “When would you have ever thought the Republican Party would be telling a business what they can do?” Whitley said. “The lieutenant governor basically has a stranglehold over what goes to the governor’s desk. So it’s transgender bills, it’s bathroom bills, it’s the election [recount]. It’s a bunch of things Patrick keeps pushing.” Lately, the two officials seem locked in a measuring contest to see who’s the most conservative going into the 2022 election.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 17, 2021

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: No on Austin's Prop A: 'Random' police staffing goal would be a costly mistake

Police Chief Joseph Chacon has called it “a random number.” At a Headliners Club luncheon with community leaders this summer, APD’s chief data officer, Jonathan Kringen, agreed: “There’s no empirical basis for that number whatsoever. It’s just a number.” That number happens to be the heart of Proposition A. The measure would require the Austin Police Department to hire two officers per 1,000 city residents — a meaningless metric with no proven effect on public safety. Prop A would also require patrol officers to spend at least 35% of their time engaging with the community instead of responding to 911 calls, which would require a staffing level closer to 2.35 officers per 1,000 city residents, according to the city’s chief financial officer. Austin currently has about 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents.

Depending on how those mandates are implemented, the city estimates it would have to pour an additional $54 million to $120 million a year into hiring hundreds more police officers — regardless of whether the city actually needs that many officers to meet its safety goals. In the confines of a city budget that’s tightly capped under state law, that would trigger painful cuts to other services, whether that’s firefighters, libraries, after-school programs or vaccine outreach efforts. Worse, this ballooning spending on police would be baked into city budgets for decades to come, as a new state law heaps penalties on any large city that tries to scale back its police spending to invest in other priorities. No sensible person would run a business this way, following a costly and arbitrary staffing rule. And Austin should not run APD that way. We strongly urge voters to reject Prop A in the Nov. 2 election. To be sure, Austin is grappling with a police staffing shortage. Chacon, who has not taken a position on Prop A, has called the current staffing situation a crisis. In order to overhaul the militaristic culture and problematic curriculum of the police academy — tackling issues that whistleblowers, consultants and this board have highlighted for years — the City Council last year canceled a couple of police academy classes. That temporarily halted the pipeline of new cadets to replace the APD veterans who’ve been retiring at an unprecedented clip.

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KXAN - October 17, 2021

Overbilled? Texas watching for ‘suspicious activity’ with the rise of telemedicine

Throughout the pandemic, demand for telemedicine and virtual healthcare services has skyrocketed, putting state health officials on high alert for improper billing and even fraud. According to a report from the Office of the Inspector General — which oversees the Texas Health and Human Services Commission — the spread of COVID-19 prompted changes that eased technology restrictions and expanded the number of Medicaid services available through telehealth and online options. In 2019, provider reimbursement for telemedicine and telehealth services averaged less than $800,000 per month, but reimbursements jumped to $9 million in March 2020 and $43 million by April 2020, according to the OIG report. Reimbursements for telehealth averaged more than $37 million monthly throughout 2020.

While the shift to virtual services may have helped these patients stay safe in their homes and still receive medical care, the report notes that it may indicate “wasteful errors or possible suspicious activity” when it comes to billing for these services. The report focused on certain billing patterns involving telephone-only services or multiple services in a brief time frame, such as: Physicians calling patients as a “follow-up” within the same week as a telemedicine visit and billing an evaluation and management (E&M) code. Physicians performing telemedicine visits, then an in-person visit, with a modifier Physicians calling patients they had not recently seen and who had not requested an appointment to “check up” on them and billing an E&M code. The report also stated that telemedicine can become “vulnerable to overbilling” when providers bill for “impossible hours” for a 24-hour day. “There are situations in which telehealth services are billed more than 24 hours by a single provider, due to services being rendered by assistants. If this is the case, it is taken into consideration,” the report explained. The OIG report characterized these patterns as “new program integrity issues” they will continue to explore “especially in services where telehealth was not previously used.” “I’m not going to lie: to see that they were investigating people who were fraudulently using telehealth was extremely disheartening,” said Dr. Suneet Singh, Medical Director for CareHive. “We want to pick out the rotten eggs, the bad apples and we want them out.”

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 17, 2021

What makes Dallas County so unhealthy? Many things ‘we know how to prevent’

By many measures, Dallas County can be an unhealthy place, even before COVID-19 arrived. In one measure related to the length of life — potential years lost through premature death — Dallas County’s loss is higher than the state’s. It’s also 66% higher than in neighboring Collin County, according to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a University of Wisconsin program that publishes data on factors influencing health. The rate of preventable hospital stays, a measure of the quality of care, is nearly twice as high in Dallas County as in the country’s top-performing areas. And newly diagnosed chlamydia cases, adjusted for population, are higher here than statewide and over four times higher than the top-performing benchmark. It’s worth calling out sexually transmitted diseases “because we know how to prevent that outcome,” said Christine Muganda, who leads the data and analytics team at County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. “From my perspective, this is low-hanging fruit.”

In the same vein, preventable hospitalizations could be avoided, perhaps if patients had health insurance and a family doctor. Maybe they also need child care, transportation or paid sick days so they could afford to miss work and get care early. “A lot can feed into this equation,” Muganda said. “But these [bad outcomes] are things we know how to prevent. They should be an easy call to action.” Increasing health insurance is a natural place to start, given that Texas has more uninsured residents than any state, millions more. During the pandemic, there have been some positive developments, including a surge in enrollment in Obamacare and the state’s Medicaid program. Through August, just over 1.4 million Texans had enrolled and paid for insurance through HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace for individuals and families. That’s an increase of nearly half a million customers since 2019, and it is easily the state’s highest enrollment yet. Federal relief programs lowered the cost of premiums, deductibles and copays, and offered generous options for the unemployed. Enrollment swelled nationwide, although Texas grew at over twice the rate of the U.S. Texas’ Medicaid rolls also are projected to rise by over 1 million by the fourth quarter. In the Legislature, the Lone Star State again rejected the expansion of Medicaid, a key plank of the Affordable Care Act that extends coverage to the working poor. But all states are prohibited from culling patients from the program during the public health emergency, and that’s resulted in higher numbers. The growth in coverage shows that Texans value health insurance and will eagerly enroll if good options are affordable, experts said.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 15, 2021

Dallas needs to update failing fire stations’ alert system, company says

Dallas has known for at least a year that it needs to upgrade its aging system that alerts firefighters of emergency calls inside their stations but has not done it yet, the system’s manufacturer says. Representatives with Locution Systems Inc. say Dallas’ IT department has been reporting problems, such as audio issues, with the automated system since July 2020. But the company has repeatedly told the IT department since last October that the alert system’s hardware, software and computer operating systems at the nearly 60 fire stations around the city are too old to work reliably, said Jordan Darnall, the company’s customer operations manager. Darnall said he’s traveling to Dallas next week to present Locution’s list of recommended upgrades to city officials for at least the third time.

He and company president Glenn Neal told The Dallas Morning News that the system’s equipment in city fire stations hasn’t been updated since 2008 and doesn’t meet the company’s standards. Bill Zielinski, Dallas’ chief information officer and head of the city’s IT department, did not respond to messages seeking comment about the alert system. The fire department said in a statement that it has been unable to confirm if anyone has been seriously hurt or killed due to problems with the alert system. Jon Fortune, an assistant city manager who oversees public safety, told council members in a memo last Friday that the alert system was “overly complex, difficult to monitor in an automated fashion and tough to troubleshoot when a problem occurs.” The IT department’s efforts to “stabilize” the system haven’t worked, he said. In response to the city memo, Darnall said: “While we’re disappointed that many of our recommendations have not yet been implemented, we are pleased that we are finally being allowed to present and explain the technical recommendations directly to the City of Dallas fire chiefs.”

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National Stories

Washington Post - October 17, 2021

House Democrats have — so far — avoided a wave of retirements that could put their majority in peril

House Democrats have fended off a series of retirement announcements by veteran lawmakers the past few months, deflecting questions about whether these departures are a sign that members think the party is about to lose the majority in next year’s midterm elections. The latest example unfolded after Tuesday’s decision by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) to retire at the end of 2022 rather than seek reelection, ending a 16-year run representing the Louisville region and giving up the chairman’s gavel of the House Budget Committee. Yarmuth faced repeated questions about whether he saw the political writing on the wall and wanted to get out on his own terms rather than returning to life in the minority. “Believe me, it has nothing to do with it,” Yarmuth told reporters Tuesday in the Capitol. The 73-year-old can point to his own personal reasons — Yarmuth appears to be trying to set up his son to run for the seat — and a broader review shows that there is no major jail break among Democrats heading for the exits out of line with previous election cycles.

But everyone knows that more retirements are coming, and with Democrats holding a majority of just three seats for now, they can ill afford too many open seats in even remotely competitive races. One hope is that, with states drawing up new district lines for all 435 seats, Republicans will join them in declining to run for reelection amid a hyperpartisan climate that can infuriate everyone. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you get more announced retirements or doing something else,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who expects some to run for other office. “I’d be surprised if it was all on one side. Look around this environment. I have as many Republican friends as disgusted with what’s going on in Congress these days.” Kind’s decision to retire, announced Aug. 10, delivered a gut punch in Democratic circles because his western Wisconsin district has tilted rightward in recent years, favoring Donald Trump in each of the last two presidential elections. Many fear that without the familiar Kind on the ballot, Republicans could pick up a relatively easy victory there on a march toward the majority. But his retirement announcement did not turn into a flood of other similar decisions, as only Yarmuth has since also decided against reelection. His district is safe for Democrats unless Republicans in Kentucky carve it up through redistricting. Indeed, just 10 Democrats have so far decided not to run for reelection to their House seat, while nine Republicans have decided against reelection and another resigned. This is a slower pace than what the GOP faced recently. By late October 2019, 18 House Republicans had announced they would not run for reelection, and by late October 2017, 15 Republicans had announced they were not going to run for reelection or for other office.

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Wall Street Journal - October 17, 2021

Senate Democratic incumbents outraise their Republican challengers

Senate incumbents in competitive races hold multimillion-dollar campaign cash advantages more than a year out from the 2022 midterms, while fundraising totals were tighter in several closely watched Republican primaries where former President Donald Trump has made endorsements. Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Raphael Warnock of Georgia—the four most at-risk Senate Democrats—all had millions of dollars more in their campaign accounts than their Republican challengers at the end of the third quarter, according to reports filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

So did Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), though he was outraised by challenger Rep. Val Demings (D., Fla.) who is the best funded thus far of her party’s field in that race. Sen. Ron Johnson, (R., Wis.), who has yet to say whether he will seek reelection, held a narrower cash advantage over the Democratic candidates in the contest for his seat. The third quarter covers the period between July 1 and Sept. 30. In Georgia, former football star Herschel Walker, who received Mr. Trump’s endorsement, raised the most of the Republican primary field with roughly $3.8 million. But fundraising totals were closer among Republican candidates in other Senate contests such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where the former president has weighed in. While money doesn’t necessarily translate into electoral success, the latest campaign finance reports provide some insight into the state of play heading into a midterm election year where even one flipped Senate seat could decide control of the chamber. The Senate is split 50-50 but in Democratic hands due to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaker vote. “Democrats are still very good at raising money,” said Jessica Taylor, who follows Senate races for the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election tracker. “Those are the four most endangered Democrats, so they’re going to be needing to build up a war chest as best they can if the environment is bad for them.”

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The Hill - October 17, 2021

Biden giving stiff-arm to press interviews

President Biden has only given 10 one-on-one press interviews since taking office in January, a low number that is drawing more attention toward the White House’s efforts to control and manage the way Biden interacts with reporters. Biden, who has seen his approval ratings drop as he deals with a rash of negative headlines, has also largely shunned reporters’ questions in recent weeks, including after his comments on a poor September jobs report and again following the slowdown of the U.S. supply chain. The interviews that Biden has conducted have largely been traditional network television interviews, though the president has also sat down with People Magazine and ESPN for the start of baseball season.

Biden has taken questions from reporters at various events since taking office, but the number of one-on-one interviews lags far behind his predecessors. Former President Obama sat down for more than 113 interviews and former President Trump did more than 50 interviews through the summer of the first year of their respective administrations, according to Mark Knoller, the veteran White House correspondent who actively tracks presidential interviews. Biden’s last one-on-one interview was with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in August. Such interviews can be risky and rewarding for presidents. They can lead to unscripted moments, creating pitfalls if a president says the wrong thing or isn’t ready for a question, but also opportunities if a president hits an interview out of the park. When presidents do not do interviews, it raises questions about whether they are worried about handling the questions they might get, and whether they see little opportunity to gain from the one-on-ones.

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Washington Post - October 17, 2021

Publix heiress, funder of Jan. 6 rally, gave $150,000 to GOP attorneys general association

A wealthy Trump donor who helped finance the rally in Washington on Jan. 6 also gave $150,000 to the nonprofit arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, records show, funds that a person familiar with the contribution said were intended in part to promote the rally. The nonprofit organization paid for a robocall touting a march that afternoon to the U.S. Capitol to “call on Congress to stop the steal.” On Dec. 29, Julie Jenkins Fancelli, daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain, gave the previously undisclosed contribution to RAGA’s nonprofit Rule of Law Defense Fund, or RLDF, records reviewed by The Washington Post show. On the same day, the records show that Fancelli gave $300,000 to Women for America First, the “Stop the Steal” group that obtained a permit for the rally featuring former president Donald Trump. Funding for the events in Washington that day is a focus of the House select committee investigating the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol that followed the rally.

The panel is also interested in the role state officials, including attorneys general, played in encouraging people to go to Washington on Jan. 6 and in supporting Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, according to people familiar with the committee’s work. The leaders of Women for America First have been subpoenaed by the committee, as has Caroline Wren, a Republican fundraiser who was listed on that group’s permit as a “VIP ADVISOR.” Both of Fancelli’s donations were arranged by Wren, according to the records and the person with knowledge of the contributions, who like some others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. “We have many questions about coordination and funding, and we are actively seeking records and testimony that will answer those questions,” said committee spokesman Tim Mulvey. “Many witnesses are already engaging with the committee, and we expect cooperation to help us get the answers we’re seeking.” The documents sought by the subpoenas sent to rally organizers were due Wednesday. Fancelli, who is not involved in Publix business operations, did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment, and it is unclear if she knew about the robocall ahead of time. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, which reported in January that Fancelli had given approximately $300,000 to support the rally, she said: “I am a proud conservative and have real concerns associated with election integrity, yet I would never support any violence, particularly the tragic and horrific events that unfolded on January 6th.”

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CNN - October 17, 2021

The secret Supreme Court: Late nights, courtesy votes and the unwritten 6-vote rule

Much of the US Supreme Court's business occurs in private, as the nine justices meet alone around a rectangular table in a small oak-paneled room. The results of some of those internal deliberations become public when rulings in cases, fully briefed and openly argued, are handed down. But other decisions made in private are surrounded by more secrecy and are more mystifying, as when the justices decide which cases merit review or when the court issues orders without any publicly recorded votes or explanations late at night. In an expansive interview with CNN on Wednesday, Justice Stephen Breyer opened the door -- ever so slightly -- on some of the Supreme Court's internal customs, including on death penalty cases and midnight orders. But Breyer, the senior liberal among the nine, also emphasized the need for confidentiality in the justices' sessions, known as "the conference," so that they each can speak freely as cases are debated.

The justices' internal workings are likely to undergo more scrutiny in upcoming months. President Joe Biden's commission studying the Supreme Court on Thursday released documents that showed commission members focused on, among other topics, the high court's use of emergency orders, its screening process for deciding which cases to hear, judicial ethics and public access to court proceedings. At their weekly private sessions, the nine decide which pending petitions to take up and, separately, cast votes on cases that already have been argued. Chief Justice John Roberts sets the agenda and begins the discussion in the conference room off his private chambers. The room is distinguished by a black marble fireplace, above which hangs a portrait of the great Chief Justice John Marshall. The eight associate justices then speak in order of seniority, until the newest, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, has had her say. "What happens," Breyer told CNN, "is it's highly professional. People go around the table. They discuss the question in the case ... the chief justice and Justice (Clarence) Thomas and me and so forth around. ... People say what they think. And they say it politely, and they say it professionally." He stressed that no harsh words or sniping occurs in these sessions, despite some of the bitter recriminations that later emerge in the justices' written opinions. The justices receive some 7,000 petitions annually from people who have lost cases in lower courts. They end up taking and deciding about 60 disputes for the annual session that begins each October. Four votes among the nine are needed to accept a case for review and schedule oral arguments. But for a resolution in the dispute at hand, a majority of five votes is needed. Of the hundreds of new petitions handled each week, the justices discuss only about a dozen. That list is not made public.

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CNN - October 16, 2021

Robert Durst, convicted murderer, has COVID-19

Robert Durst, the notorious subject of the HBO docuseries "The Jinx," who was found guilty last month of first-degree murder and was sentenced earlier this week to life in prison without parole, has been diagnosed with Covid-19, his lawyer told CNN on Saturday. "We were notified he tested positive, so we're all very concerned," Dick DeGuerin, Durst's lead defense attorney, said in a phone call, but he could not confirm when the diagnosis was made. DeGuerin noted Durst looked unwell during the sentencing on Thursday. "He looked horrible at sentencing," the attorney said. "I was really concerned even back then because he was having difficulties breathing, he was having difficulties speaking, worse than he's ever looked." He declined to provide additional information on Durst's medical condition or whereabouts, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said HIPAA laws prevent them from disclosing information about Durst's health.

In an earlier statement to the Los Angeles Times, DeGuerin confirmed Durst had been hospitalized and placed on a ventilator. The attorney added he's concerned for everyone who has been in close contact with Durst, including every member of his legal team and "particularly the deputy who shepherded him in and out of the courtroom during the entire trial (and) was in close contact with him for a long time." DeGuerin said he has not tested positive for the virus and is in the process of getting re-tested, and canceled personal travel plans to avoid close contact with others. Durst, 78, who has bladder cancer and other physical ailments, was convicted by a jury September 17 of shooting his best friend Susan Berman in 2000 at her Beverly Hills home, hours before she was set to talk to investigators about the mysterious disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, who was last seen in 1982. McCormack Durst was declared legally dead in 2017. Her body has not been found and no one has been charged in the case. The eccentric heir to a New York real estate empire, Durst took the stand in his months-long trial and denied killing McCormack Durst and Berman. He said he found Berman on the floor of her bedroom with a fatal gunshot to the back of the head.

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The Guardian - October 17, 2021

Hollywood strike averted after union and producers reach last-minute deal

An 11th-hour deal between producers and the union representing 60,000 film and television workers has averted a strike that threatened to cause widespread disruption in Hollywood. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which includes camera operators, makeup artists, sound technicians and others, said negotiators agreed to a new three-year contract on Saturday, ahead of a Monday deadline that would have seen them walk off the job. “This is a Hollywood ending,” Matthew Loeb, president of the union, said in an emailed statement. “Our members stood firm. They’re tough and united.” The workers still must vote to approve the deal, but the strike has been called off with the tentative agreement, avoiding a serious setback for an industry that had just gotten back to work after long pandemic shutdowns. Jarryd Gonzales, spokesperson for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represented the studios and other entertainment companies in negotiations, confirmed the agreement to the Associated Press.

“Good for @IATSE for standing your ground. And don’t forget we got your back anytime you need us,” comedian, actor and writer Patton Oswalt said on Twitter. Another actor, comic and writer, Yvette Nicole Brown, tweeted “#UnionStrong!” along with a link to a story reporting the agreement. The effects of the strike would have been immediate, with crews not only on long-term productions but daily series including network talkshows walking off their jobs. The union represents cinematographers, camera operators, set designers, carpenters, hair and makeup artists and many others. Union members said previous contracts allowed their employers to force them to work excessive hours and deny them reasonable rest via meal breaks and sufficient time off between shifts. Leaders said the lowest paid crafts were receiving unliveable wages and streaming outlets including Netflix, Apple and Amazon were allowed to work them even harder for less money. Details of the new contracts were not immediately revealed. The union reported on 4 October that its members had voted overwhelmingly to authorise a strike, setting off industry-wide fears, but negotiations immediately resumed between the union and producers. A Monday strike deadline was set on Wednesday when talks stagnated, but the union said subsequent negotiations were productive.

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