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Newsclips - September 23, 2018

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - September 21, 2018

Paxton’s office warns AISD in flap over church’s gay-marriage beliefs

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office on Friday warned Austin school district officials against blocking a Christian church that opposes gay marriage from using district facilities, saying such action would violate state law and the First Amendment.

Celebration Church of Georgetown has been holding services most Sundays since Aug. 26 at the Austin district’s Performing Arts Center under a short-term rental agreement, prompting protests from gay rights and civil rights advocates.
District officials recently announced that they were considering limiting the ability of outside organizations to use district facilities, including the Performing Arts Center in the Mueller neighborhood, to reduce wear and tear and to ensure that district resources are available to students without interruption.
Changes to facility-use policies were not directed at Celebration Church and will be revealed once they are finalized, district Chief of Staff Jacob Reach said.
But a letter sent Friday from Jeff Mateer, Paxton’s first assistant attorney general, cautioned against adopting policies that are hostile to religion.
“The district should welcome churches who want to rent its facilities after school and on weekends, not discriminate against some of them based on their beliefs,” Mateer said in the letter to Austin Superintendent Paul Cruz. “The Constitution and state law require the district to provide churches with equal access to facilities it opens to community organizations.”

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Austin American-Statesman - September 22, 2018

For some sex offenders, their deal with the state wasn’t really a deal

Many old sex offenders made plea deals with prosecutors whose terms they fulfilled decades ago. But Texas legislators later passed laws that retroactively applied new conditions to them. New lawsuits now say the state broke its word. If successful, move could apply to thousands of sex offenders.

When the Beaumont police detective called him in 2014, Curtis wondered what the officer might want. His only run-in with the law had been half a lifetime ago.
In 1985, he had been charged with indecency with a child, his stepdaughter. Curtis, then 34, struck a deal with prosecutors. He would plead guilty, but if after 10 years he kept out of trouble, the conviction would go away. He paid his fees, performed his community service and attended sex offender counseling. The charge was dismissed in 1996.
Curtis said his crime stayed with him: “It never leaves me; it’s always in front of me.”
(The paper is not using his last name, because he is fighting to keep it private and it does not appear in court documents.) He kept a low, steady profile. Over the next three decades, he raised his three boys in the house in which he’s always lived. He worked at a nearby chemical plant until his retirement in 2009.
So the news from the detective was alarming. Despite the deal he’d cut with the state of Texas 30 years ago, Curtis was dismayed to learn that he now would have to register as a sex offender. His name, photo and details of his crime would appear on the state’s public website. He would need to check in with police regularly. The new rules, the detective informed Curtis, applied for the rest of his life.
Donnie Miller had struck a similar deal with Travis County prosecutors. In 1993, when he was 23, the Wimberley native was charged with sexual assault against a woman outside the Exposé gentleman’s club on South Congress Avenue. “I was young, and I was stupid, and I was drunk,” he said.
At his trial, the jury couldn’t agree on a verdict. Facing a second trial and owing more than $20,000 in legal fees from the first one, Miller, like Curtis, signed a deal with prosecutors.
In exchange for a guilty plea, his record would be cleansed if he stayed out of trouble for 10 years. Although he’d have to register as a sex offender for that decade, he said the lawyers assured him that his name would be removed after he successfully completed his probation.
With his plan to become a licensed paramedic derailed by his sex offender status, Miller built a career in sales. Court records show he did well enough that he was granted permission to exit probation early.
So he, too, was surprised to receive a phone call a year later informing him that, contrary to the terms of the deal he’d made a decade earlier, Texas had changed the rules. Whatever he had agreed to then was irrelevant. He would now be on the sex offender registry for life.
Over the past 20 years, state and federal lawmakers have passed ever-stricter sex offense laws, requiring more people to be listed on public sex offender registries, typically for life. In some cases, the new laws have reached back to include those whose crimes occurred years before the statutes were enacted and contrary to the deals they struck with prosecutors.

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National Stories

Washington Post - September 22, 2018

Lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford say she has accepted Senate Judiciary Committee’s request to testify against Kavanaugh

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, is ready to testify next week in a Senate hearing, her attorneys said Saturday, but a final agreement about the terms of her appearance remained elusive.

Ford’s lawyers informed aides to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that she was prepared to testify next week, but they stopped short of accepting Grassley’s offer for the California professor to speak before his panel Wednesday.
“Dr. Ford accepts the Committee’s request to provide her firsthand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week,” said attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks in an email to Grassley’s staff. They called much of Grassley’s offer “inconsistent with the Committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations” and requested a follow-up conversation later in the day to continue negotiating.
The email marked the latest turn in the tense showdown between Republican senators and Ford that has hovered over Kavanaugh’s nomination for days. Ford first told her story publicly in an interview with The Washington Post published last Sunday. Kavanaugh has firmly denied her allegations.
Ford’s legal team planned to continue to press for a Thursday hearing, according to a person familiar with the lawyers’ thinking. During a Saturday call, the parties discussed the option of holding the hearing on Thursday and agreed to continue their negotiations on Sunday, according to people familiar with the conversation.
Several Republicans were skeptical of Ford’s offer. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) tweeted the hashtag “#Rope-a-dope,” referencing to a boxing strategy of trying to tire out an opponent by making them consistently go on offense.

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Washington Post - September 22, 2018

Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford moved 3,000 miles to reinvent her life. It wasn’t far enough.

To many, Brett M. Kavanaugh was a respected jurist. To Christine Blasey Ford, he was the teenager who had attacked her when they were in high school.

When Donald Trump won his upset presidential victory in 2016, Christine Blasey Ford’s thoughts quickly turned to a name most Americans had never heard of but one that had unsettled her for years: Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh — a judge on the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — was among those mentioned as a possible replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. When Trump nominated Neil M. Gorsuch, Ford was relieved but still uneasy.
Then, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced his retirement, and Ford, 51, began fretting again.
“Her mind-set was, ‘I’ve got this terrible secret. .?.?. What am I going to do with this secret?’ ” her husband, Russell Ford, 56, recalled.
Ford had already moved 3,000 miles away from the affluent Maryland suburbs where she says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party — a charge he would emphatically deny. Suddenly, living in California didn’t seem far enough. Maybe another hemisphere would be. She went online to research other democracies where her family might settle, including New Zealand.
“She was like, ‘I can’t deal with this. If he becomes the nominee, then I’m moving to another country. I cannot live in this country if he’s in the Supreme Court,’ ” her husband said. “She wanted out.”
These were the lengths that Ford, a professor and mother of two, once considered to avoid revisiting one of her most troubling memories — one she’d discussed only in therapy and with her husband. Instead, her deeply held secret would come to dominate the headlines, putting her and her family at the center of an explosive debate about the future of the Supreme Court.

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Washington Post - September 22, 2018

Six siblings of a GOP congressman endorsed his opponent in a video ad. Here’s how he responded.

Families are complicated, their private tensions and political disagreements often kept under wraps. That’s not the case with Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), whose opponent in the midterm election just got a boost from Gosar’s siblings. Six of them.

The brothers and sisters — Tim, Jennifer, Gaston, Joan, Grace and David — appeared in campaign advertisements for David Brill, the Democrat hoping to unseat Gosar in Arizona’s 4th Congressional District in the midterm election.
The Gosar siblings framed their endorsement of Brill as a matter of values, saying their brother, who has long drawn headlines for his far-right views, and his politics were simply too much for them to stomach.
“We gotta stand up for our good name,” David Gosar said in the advertisement. “This is not who we are.”
“I couldn’t be quiet any longer, nor should any of us be,” Grace Gosar said.
“I think my brother has traded a lot of the values we had at our kitchen table,” said another sister, Joan.
In an interview with The Washington Post, David Gosar, 57, a lawyer in Jackson, Wyo., said he felt obligated to speak out against his brother because of his views, though he wished it weren’t the case.
“There isn’t a kooky, crazy, nutty thing that he isn’t a part of,” he said. “What are we supposed to do?”
David Gosar said he doesn’t talk to his brother much anymore. The split came around the time of his congressional run, when he said his brother told him he believed the “birther” theory that President Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fake. (A 2010 clip from Politico quotes Paul Gosar as declining to say whether he believed Obama was born in the United States, saying it was “for the courts and for other people to decide.”)
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, you have to be kidding me,’ and then he went and got elected,” David Gosar said. “I’m not going to break bread with a racist.”
Paul Gosar did not respond to a request for comment sent to his spokeswoman, but on Saturday, he tweeted that the six family members are “liberal Democrats who hate President Trump.” He added that they do not live in Arizona and claimed Brill’s policies are “out of sync with what Arizona wants and the country needs.”
“These disgruntled Hillary supporters are related by blood to me but like leftists everywhere, they put political ideology before family,” he tweeted, adding the hashtag #MAGA2018 for the Trump campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

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NBC News - September 22, 2018

Spokesman for GOP on Kavanaugh nomination resigns; has been accused of harassment in the past

A press adviser helping lead the Senate Judiciary Committee’s response to a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has stepped down amid evidence he was fired from a previous political job in part because of a sexual harassment allegation against him.

Garrett Ventry, 29, who served as a communications aide to the committee chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had been helping coordinate the majority party's messaging in the wake of Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago at a high school party. In a response to NBC News, Ventry denied any past "allegations of misconduct."
After NBC News raised questions about Ventry's employment history and the sexual harassment allegation against him, Judiciary Committee Spokesman Taylor Foy replied in a statement: "While (Ventry) strongly denies allegations of wrongdoing, he decided to resign to avoid causing any distraction from the work of the committee."
Ventry also resigned Saturday from the public relations company where he had been on a temporary leave of absence to work for the Judiciary Committee, a company spokesman told NBC News.
Republicans familiar with the situation had been concerned that Ventry, because of his history, could not lead an effective communications response.
Ventry worked as a social media adviser in 2017 in the office of North Carolina House Majority Leader John Bell, who fired Ventry after several months.
“Mr. Ventry did work in my office and he’s no longer there, he moved on,” Bell told NBC News. He refused to discuss the precise nature of the firing.

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Politico - September 22, 2018

FEMA chief to reimburse government for personal use of federal vehicles

FEMA Administrator Brock Long has been forced to reimburse the government for improper personal use of federal government vehicles and acknowledged “mistakes” that he and FEMA made in using those vehicles.

A DHS Inspector General investigation found there was “inappropriate use” of the vehicles, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement released Friday night.
Nielsen said she reviewed the IG report that found Long, tasked with helping the government manage the response to hurricanes and other emergencies, used government vehicles for “non-official reasons.”
“[U]se of Government vehicles to provide home to work transportation for the FEMA Administrator was never authorized in accordance with applicable law,” she said.
Long said that he took “full responsibility for any mistakes that were made by me or the agency.”
“The Secretary and I are taking corrective action to prevent such mistakes from happening in the future,” he added.
Long did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from POLITICO.
POLITICO first reported last week that an IG investigation had been opened into Long’s use of government Chevrolet Suburbans for routine weekend travel to his home in North Carolina under a government continuity program, which is designed to ensure senior officials can be reached in case of a national emergency.
Nielsen, who had a “productive conversation” with Long about the issue after she reviewed the report, ordered him to reimburse taxpayers for the unauthorized use of government vehicles.
“I take seriously the unauthorized or inappropriate use of Government resources by any DHS employee and I appreciate the work of the OIG in thoroughly completing their investigation,” she said.

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Newsclips - September 21, 2018

Lead Stories

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - September 21, 2018

What to watch in tonight's first debate between Cruz and O'Rourke

Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke meet Friday in Dallas for the first of three scheduled debates in one of the most hotly contested and closely watched match-ups for the U.S. Senate in the nation.

Polling suggests the race, which in a normal year would be considered a cakewalk for the Republicans, to be a nail-biter. So with control of the U.S. Senate as a backdrop in the 2018 midterms, here's are a few things to watch as the two candidates square off on the campus of Southern Methodist University for one hour beginning at 6 p.m. central. On the stump in recent weeks, first-termer Cruz seldom passes up an opportunity to mock O’Rourke’s support for the “take a knee” movement in the NFL where some players kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Look for Cruz to try to put the Democrat on the defensive, accusing him of being less than patriotic and hostile to law enforcement. Look for O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman from El Paso, to counter with examples of what he calls “peaceful protests” that brought about positive social change. See whether he offers support for law enforcement officers without alienating minorities and progressives who see reining in police abuse as a top issue in the campaign. But Cruz will likely counterpunch. This week, his camp put out a hard-hitting 30-second spot it calls “Deported” that shows examples of undocumented immigrants who illegally returned the United States and committed violent crimes.

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Washington Post - September 20, 2018

Kavanaugh accuser won’t testify Monday but open to doing so later next week

An attorney for Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who is accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, said Thursday that her appearing at a hearing on Monday to detail her claims is “not possible” but she could testify later in the week. Debra Katz, Ford’s lawyer, relayed the response to top staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, requesting to set up a call with them to “discuss the conditions under which [Ford] would be prepared to testify next week.” “As you are aware, she's been receiving death threats which have been reported to the FBI and she and her family have been forced out of their home,” Katz wrote to the committee. “She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety. A hearing on Monday is not possible and the committee's insistence that it occur then is arbitrary in any event.” Katz reiterated that Ford would like the FBI to investigate before her testimony. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who had asked Ford’s lawyers to respond by Friday morning whether she planned to appear Monday, had no immediate response. Democratic senators, pointing to the highly-charged Anita Hill hearings in October 1991, have defended Ford’s request to have the FBI do its own probe before she testifies. Back then, the FBI report into Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against now-Justice Clarence Thomas was finished on Sept. 26, 1991 — three days after its inquiry began, according to a Washington Post report at the time. “Someone who is lying does not ask the FBI to investigate their claims,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Thursday at an event on Capitol Hill. “Who is not asking the FBI to investigate these claims? The White House. Judge Kavanaugh has not asked to have the FBI investigate these claims. Is that the reaction of an innocent person? It is not.” Gillibrand said Senate Republicans’ ultimatum of a Monday hearing was “bullying.” Republicans have rejected the comparisons to the Hill proceedings. Grassley wrote in a Wednesday letter to Democrats on the Judiciary Committee that the FBI investigated Hill’s accusations against Thomas when they were still not public. Because Ford’s accusation is already public, Grassley argued that it was appropriate for the Senate to step in with their own investigation as lawmakers did when the Hill allegation first became public.

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USA Today - September 21, 2018

Poll: Brett Kavanaugh faces unprecedented opposition to Supreme Court confirmation

More Americans oppose than support the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, a new USA TODAY/Ipsos Public Affairs Poll finds, an unprecedented level of disapproval for a nominee to the nation's high court. Amid allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, those surveyed say by 40 percent-31 percent that the Senate shouldn't vote to approve his nomination, the first time a plurality of Americans have opposed a Supreme Court nominee since polling on the issue began. Nonetheless, they also are inclined to believe he will, in the end, be confirmed: Just 11 percent predict he won't; 45 percent said he will. The findings underscore the serious political stakes — and the potential for blow-back in the midterm elections now little more than six weeks away. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Kavanaugh of attempted rape when they were high school students in suburban Maryland, said Thursday she would be willing to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee, although not on Monday, when the panel has proposed a hearing. Kavanaugh has accepted the committee's invitation for Monday, saying he "categorically and unequivocally" denies the assault. Beyond a fierce partisan divide, the survey found a definite gender gap: Women by double digits believe Ford's accusations, 35 percent-21 percent. Men by nine percentage points believe Kavanaugh's denials, 37 percent-28 percent. Those views are reflected in the question over whether he should be confirmed. Women oppose him by 20 points, 43 percent-23 percent; men support him by four points, 40 percent-36 percent. The online poll of about 1,008 adults, which has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 points, was taken Wednesday and Thursday. "With the battle over the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court being charged by sexual assault accusations and at the almost one-year anniversary of the start of #MeToo, you’d think that America would be split by gender on this,” said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos. “And we are, but our new poll shows that more than gender, party is the main driver of people’s point of view about this fight, another sign of our highly tribal times." Just 9 percent of Democrats support Kavanaugh's confirmation, compared with 70 percent of Republicans. Feelings are intense on both sides: 50 percent of Democrats "strongly" oppose him; 49 percent of Republicans "strongly" support him. But he has lost the support of independents, who now oppose him by close to 2-1, 43 percent-24 percent. The findings are consistent with an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken earlier in the week, Sunday through Wednesday, which showed 38 percent opposing Kavanaugh's confirmation, 34 percent supporting it. That was a reversal of the modest level of net support he held in that survey in July and August.

Amid allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, those surveyed say by 40 percent-31 percent that the Senate shouldn't vote to approve his nomination, the first time a plurality of Americans have opposed a Supreme Court nominee since polling on the issue began. Nonetheless, they also are inclined to believe he will, in the end, be confirmed: Just 11 percent predict he won't; 45 percent said he will.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 20, 2018

Mexico's President-elect Obrador moves ahead on refinery overhaul, threatening U.S. gasoline exports

Mexican President-elect Manuel Lopez Obrador’s campaign promises to overhaul the country’s declining refining sector and reduce reliance on U.S. energy exports were widely dismissed within U.S. energy and political circles as mere political rhetoric. But two months after his election victory, his advisers are signaling they fully intend to go ahead with that plan, threatening a refining industry along the Texas Gulf Coast that has become increasingly reliant on Mexican gasoline demand. During a recent visit to Mexico City to discuss the North American Free Trade Agreement, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said he was struck by how forcefully Obrador’s advisers discussed building the first new refinery in Mexico in decades and rehabbing the country’s existing facilities. “They’re serious about it,” Cuellar said. “They do want to gradually stop the importation of gasoline.” That, of course, would have big implications for Texas Gulf Coast refiners, which account for nearly one-third of the nation’s refining capacity, but increasingly look to foreign markets for growth as U.S. gasoline demand in the United States has flattened with the spread of fuel-efficient vehicles. Over the past decade, the flow of American gasoline to Mexico has almost quadrupled to more than 420,000 barrels a day and accounts for more than half of all U.S. gasoline exports, according to the U.S. Energy Department. So far, the U.S. refining sector is not expressing any public concern, skeptical not only that Obrador can pull off his promise, but also that he could do it in a timely manner. “On a global basis, refineries are almost never finished on time,” Lenny Rodriguez, director of global oil analytics at S&P Global Platts, wrote in a recent note to investors. “Overhauling six refineries that have been neglected for a long time in addition to building 2 new refineries is a tremendous financial (not to mention logistical and administrative) burden that seems too heavy for the Mexican government/PEMEX to bear.” But not everyone is so sure. Earlier this month, Obrador announced during a meeting with business leaders in Monterrey that work would begin shortly after he takes office in December on a $8 billion refinery in southeastern Mexico, capable of producing 400,000 barrels of fuel a day, more than any existing Mexican refinery.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2018

Dallas sheriff’s association endorses Gov. Greg Abbott over their former boss, Lupe Valdez

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Association, spurning their former boss, has endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election this November over his opponent, Lupe Valdez, who resigned as sheriff in December after more than 12 years on the job. “We are extremely thankful for the support he’s shown over the years for law enforcement both as attorney general and as governor,” Sgt. Chris Dyer, president of the DCSA, said at an afternoon news conference in Dallas. Abbott, who grew up in Duncanville, said he has been a strong supporter of law enforcement since receiving a college scholarship from the Duncanville Police Department. “Little did they know they were investing in a person who would go on to become a judge, attorney general and now governor,” Abbott said. “My connection to law enforcement has been strong ever since then.” Dyer, a 31-year veteran of the department, said the association believed Abbott had “the track record of outstanding leadership and was the person most qualified for the job.” Valdez, who turns 71 in October, won four terms as sheriff, beginning in 2004. She resigned at the end of 2017 to run for governor. "I could not be more proud of my law enforcement background and service to the public," Valdez said in an emailed statement to The News. "We helped build a smarter, fairer and more accessible justice system, and Texans should have no doubt that I plan to achieve the same as governor of Texas." Abbott cited his efforts to protect law enforcement officers during the legislative session. “One of the driving forces,” Abbott said, “was the horrific shooting that took place in downtown Dallas” on July 7, 2016. “That was a catalyst to make sure we showed respect and support to officers who put their lives on the line.” Among those measures, Abbott said, was to provide rifle-resistant vests to officers, including 300 that went to the sheriff’s office. “We will continue to do everything we can to protect those who protect us,” Abbott said. Abbott was asked if he felt law-enforcement authorities were being transparent regarding the Botham Jean shooting, the case in which the 26-year-old Jean was shot and killed in his apartment Sept. 6 by off-duty, uniformed Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, who said she confused his apartment with hers. The case is being investigated by the Texas Rangers, a division within the state Department of Public Safety. “First, it is a tragedy, the loss of an innocent life is horrific,” Abbott said. He called for justice “as swiftly as possible and as transparent as possible.” He said he also would like to see local authorities strive to “de-escalate tension — and one way to de-escalate tension is by being more transparent.”

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Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2018

National Rifle Association endorses Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions

The National Rifle Association announced its endorsement of Dallas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions on Thursday. NRA chairman Chris Cox called Sessions a "proven champion of our Second Amendment freedoms" in a statement. Sessions is a lifetime member of the NRA and has an "A+" career voting score from the group. He is also one of the NRA's top campaign donation recipients this cycle with $9,900 in contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. "Unlike my opponent, I fully support all of our constitutional rights," Sessions said in a statement. "Earning this endorsement shows that I remain a staunch defender of the right for people to protect themselves and their families." Democratic civil rights attorney Colin Allred, Sessions' challenger, has an "F" rating on gun issues from the NRA. Allred supports universal background checks, a ban on "weapons of war," preventing violent criminals and domestic abusers from buying guns, and allowing law enforcement to limit access to guns for people deemed a danger to themselves or others. Sessions' campaign on Wednesday published a short audio clip from an April 7 campaign event in which Allred says that it is important to "accurately apply" the Second Amendment, but that it would "be better had [the Second Amendment] not been written." In the full context of his answer to a question about whether he would support repealing the Second Amendment, Allred said, "There's no chance that we are going to repeal any of the Bill of Rights amendments." "I also don't think that we need to. I think that, within the confines of the accurately applied Second Amendment, that we can do everything we want to do in terms of regulating weapons and all that," Allred said. In a debate with Sessions on Wednesday at the Dallas Rotary Club, Allred said, "I respect the Second Amendment and think we need to be defending it." "Colin believes in the right to keep and bear arms and will stand up for the rights of responsible gun owners. He also believes that we have to do more keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill," Allred campaign manager Paige Hutchinson said in a statement. "That's a stark contrast to Congressman Sessions who opposes all common sense measures to stop gun violence -- even criminal background checks on all gun sales and preventing domestic abusers from getting guns." Sessions' NRA credentials have served him well in the past. The NRA endorsed him when he ran a competitive race to keep his House seat in 2004. He beat out longtime Democratic incumbent Martin Frost, who got consistent "F" grades from the NRA.

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Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2018

Beto O’Rourke, Joaquin Castro ask for investigation of Border Patrol agent accused of serial murders

Reps. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio are among several Texas Democrats calling for a deeper Customs and Border Protection investigation into Juan David Ortiz, a longtime Border Patrol agent accused of killing four women this month in and around Laredo. Ortiz, 35, had worked for CBP for 10 years, most recently as an intelligence supervisor. In a letter to CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, the congressmen asked CBP to determine if Ortiz was acting in his official capacity during the slayings, if he used government equipment or databases to carry out the crimes, and if the department missed potential warning signs. “Like you, our priority is to provide for the well-being and safety of the populations we serve. To do so, we must learn from any mistakes made in this case,” the letter says. Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Al Green and Gene Green, both of Houston, were also among the 18 lawmakers who signed the letter. A spokesman for O’Rourke declined to comment further on the letter. A spokeswoman with CBP said the agency would respond to the lawmakers directly. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents the Laredo area where the murders occurred, did not sign the letter. Cuellar did, however, express concern to a CNN affiliate station that Ortiz might have used his supervisory role to keep track of developments in murder investigations. He talked to McAleenan about improving vetting for Border Patrol agents. Ortiz confessed to killing four women and kidnapping a fifth after he was arrested Sept. 15. He has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated kidnapping. Authorities said Ortiz was on suicide watch as of Wednesday. He has been placed on unpaid, indefinite suspension from CBP, a Border Patrol official told reporters.

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Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2018

Federal court orders Dallas County to change its bail system to account for suspects' ability to pay

In a major victory for civil rights groups, a federal judge has banned Dallas County from using a predetermined schedule to set bail without considering other amounts or alternatives that would allow the suspects' release from jail. Though U.S. District Judge David Godbey's order is temporary, his ruling Thursday indicated that the groups that sued the county earlier this year "are substantially likely to prevail on the merits" of their arguments. Godbey wrote that the policy of setting bail without regard for a defendant's ability to pay violated the constitutional rights of arrestees to equal protection under the law. "Wealthy arrestees — regardless of the crime they are accused of — who are offered secured bail can pay the requested amount and leave. Indigent arrestees in the same position cannot," the judge wrote in his opinion. Godbey ordered Dallas County to provide suspects booked at its jail with an individual hearing within 48 hours if a magistrate judge doesn't release them after they've indicated they cannot afford bail. "Because the court recognizes that the County might need additional time to comply with this requirement, the County may propose a reasonable timeline for doing so," he wrote. Per the judge's order, an impartial decision-maker — most likely a magistrate judge — must make an individual assessment of whether an amount of bail or an alternative condition provides sufficient guarantee that the suspect will appear in court. The suspect must have a chance at the hearing to provide evidence in his or her favor, and to dispute evidence provided by law enforcement. If the decision-maker declines to lower the bail from the prescheduled amount, then he or she must provide "factual findings" explaining the reasoning on the record. Godbey ordered the county to allow suspects to fight the decision in a formal adversarial hearing before a misdemeanor or felony judge. In January, four nonprofits filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging the Dallas County jail's cash bail system unfairly harmed poor people and violated the Texas and U.S. constitutions.

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Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2018

Political boot camp for women? One Texas university is working on it

With women looking to claim a greater share of Texas’ political influence in this year’s election, one Texas university is trying to build a pipeline of women who will follow their lead. Texas Woman’s University in Denton this fall launched a Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy aimed at increasing the number of women who will seek out leadership positions in public policy through advocacy or government leadership. Studies have established that men are substantially more likely to consider running for public office than women. The so-called ambition gap has remained at a stubborn 15 percentage points for years. In 2017, for example, 23 percent of women said they have considered running for office, compared to 38 percent of men. “You might not care about politics, but politics sure cares about you,” said Nancy Bocskor, the center’s new director and former political fundraiser and adjunct professor at George Washington University. “People control every part of your life. Why not have a seat at the table?” This is the first program at the university to zero in on politics. The goal is to inspire, persuade and teach women how to enter public service, said Bocskor. Women are not only underrepresented in elected positions and with agencies that work with government. They are also underrepresented on policy boards and other committees that shape public policy. While the program has yet to build a curriculum for students, the focus is now on research and developing activities that groom women for future office, such as launching a teenage political boot camp and programs teaching girls how to run for student body president. Texas was once a leader for women in political power, with female mayors running half the state’s largest cities and the governor’s office in 1990. The number of women in Congress and the state Legislature continued to climb until a sudden downturn in 2010, slipping steadily since.

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Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2018

Toothless Texas inmates denied dentures in state prison

For the better part of four years, David Ford has not had much in the way of teeth. When he first came to state prison, the Houston man had just enough molars to hold in place his partial dentures. But then he lost one tooth to a prison fight and the rest to a dentist. Now, five years into his stay, Ford has no teeth at all — and no dentures. And, despite his best efforts and insistent requests, he’s been repeatedly denied them and told that teeth are not a medical necessity. In the Texas prison system, toothless and nearly toothless inmates are routinely denied dentures and instead offered blended food — often regular cafeteria meals simply pureed. Sometimes they’re told they can’t get teeth unless they become underweight, at which point dentures might be considered a “medical necessity.” In 2016, prison medical providers approved giving out 71 dentures to a population of more than 149,000 inmates, many of whom are elderly, have a history of drug use or came from impoverished backgrounds with sub-par dental care to begin with. It’s a sharp decrease from 15 years ago, when there was still a denture-making program in-house and Texas prison medical practitioners approved more than 1,000 costly dental prosthetics. California, the next-largest prison system, gives out a few thousand dentures in a typical year. “Generally speaking, someone with no teeth should be offered dentures,” said Dr. Jay Shulman, a Texas A&M adjunct dentistry professor who’s been an expert witness in multiple lawsuits over prison dental issues. “The community standard for dental care has not been applied to prisons.” More than two dozen toothless and nearly toothless prisoners unable to get dentures in contact with the Chronicle over the last year provided similar accounts: Sometimes, they had their teeth removed in prison with the false promise of dentures ahead. Other times they came in with dentures that broke. Since a policy change around 2003, once inmates find themselves toothless, there is often little the prison medical staff will do. In other corrections systems, dental care complaints have spilled over into lawsuits — but Texas prison officials in June said they had no immediate plans for change. “Ultimately, it is a medical decision,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel. In Texas prisons, denture policies are set by the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee, a nine-member board including officials and physicians from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the two entities that provide health services to the agency’s inmates — the University of Texas Medical Branch and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. The guidelines get revised about every two years, but for at least the past decade, prison policy has only mandated giving out dentures only when “medically necessary” — and chewing is not considered a medical necessity. The policy recommends inmates with fewer than seven teeth be reviewed, but there have to be additional health needs at play to merit serious consideration for one of the few dozen sets of dentures doled out per year. “The patients that we’re really focused on are ones that truly have other challenges,” said Dr. Owen Murray, UTMB’s vice president of offender services, “like patients with head and neck cancer that have had treatment that have changed their construction in that area and then dentures become more about preserving the structure.”

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Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2018

Former Southwest worker at Hobby alleges 'whites only' break room, discovery of noose

Former Southwest Airlines employee and Harris County resident Jamel Parker has alleged that Southwest Airlines had a whites-only break room at Hobby Airport, according to a discrimination lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court. The whites-only area existed for years until a recent renovation removed it a couple years ago, according to the lawsuit filed after Parker received his right to sue notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The lawsuit lays out a host of discriminatory activities, including Parker being fired for an offense similar to those of white employees who received lesser punishments. "Southwest is quick to fire blacks while whites are given lesser discipline and chances to improve conduct," the lawsuit reads. The lawsuit also described an incident in 2017 where black employees found a noose made of bungee cords at gate 45. Southwest Airlines doesn't comment on matters related to litigation. However, the airline said it works "relentlessly to foster an environment that is diverse and inclusive," and its goal is to support employees and customers from all walks of life. "We do not tolerate or condone discrimination of any kind, and we cultivate a workplace that mirrors the Customers we serve," the airline said in a statement. "Southwest Airlines is an Equal Opportunity Employer and prides itself on an open and inclusive work environment that consistently ranks among the world's best places to work." Parker began working for AirTran Airlines as a ramp agent in September 2008 and became a Southwest Airlines employee in 2013 due to the two airlines merging. He learned about the whites-only break room in 2013. The lawsuit alleges that white employees made their own break room, called "WB" for "White Break Room," and that Southwest Airlines knew about the white break room. Parker's supervisor was aware of the break room's existence. And the only reason the room no longer exists is because a renovation turned that room into a supervisor office in 2016 or 2017.

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Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2018

BP targets Texas for American comeback

At the beginning of this century, the British energy company BP achieved its own American dream, becoming the largest oil and gas producer in the United States after spending a combined $75 billion to buy the oil companies Amoco and ARCO in audacious back-to-back deals.
Now, nearly a decade after Deepwater Horizon, BP is ready to grow again, betting much of its comeback on Texas after completing the biggest energy deal in the world this year.

The future looked bright — but it didn’t last. A series of disasters that began with the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 and culminated in 2010 with the Deepwater Horizon disaster forced BP to sell assets and dramatically shrink its holdings as it paid tens of billions of dollars in cleanup costs, damages and penalties to settle civil and criminal cases. Its pending acquisition of the U.S. shale assets of the Australian mining company BHP Billiton for $10.5 billions puts BP in the Permian Basin in West Texas and the Eagle Ford shale in South Texas, and expands its presence in the Haynesville shale in East Texas, positioning itself to compete for the spot as the biggest producer in the United States. If the acquisition pays off, it would likely mean additional growth in Houston, where BP’s U.S. subsidiary is headquartered and the company employs about 4,500 people. Bill Arnold, a professor of energy management at Rice University and former executive at the Anglo-Dutch oil major Royal Dutch Shell, said BP appears headed on an upward trajectory again after riding a roller coaster over the past 20 years. “There was a real question of whether the company could even survive,” Arnold said. “But now BP is back and it’s ready for business.” The American comeback is led by Susan Dio, who in May became the first woman to head BP’s U.S. operations. Dio, who began at BP as a chemical engineer and rose over a 35-year career to become president of BP America, will oversee and coordinate BP’s dealings from Alaska to the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. She and her colleagues view Texas as the the clearest path for BP to resume its growth in the United States and catch up with rivals such as Exxon Mobil, which invested billions to expand in the Permian Basin, the nation’s most prolific shale play. With the BHP acquisitions, Texas is now at the center of BP’s global ambitions and Dio a key player in BP’s shift from defense to offense. The British supermajor has more oil and gas producing assets in the United States than any other country. Its Houston campus is its largest outside of London. “We just doubled down in the U.S.,” Dio said in an interview. “We’re now forward looking.”

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Houston Public Media - September 19, 2018

How Asian-American Voters could decide the Olson-Kulkarni contest

Election Day is less than seven weeks away, and control of Congress is up for grabs. Texas has long offered something of a firewall for Republicans, with a majority of congressional districts drawn to favor GOP candidates. The state’s 22nd district seems a prime example. “We have a lot of professional-class areas. I think it’s ethnically diverse, but conservative. I mean, it sort of represents the state of Texas very well,” says Scott Bowen, a Republican precinct chair in Clear Lake, near the eastern tip of the 22nd. The district includes suburban neighborhoods in Harris and Brazoria counties, along with most of Fort Bend County. Bowen has lived in the district since incumbent Congressman Pete Olson first ran for office a decade ago. “I don’t think Pete Olson has really had meaningful opposition from the Democrats’ side,” Bowen says. Since beating his Democratic predecessor, Nick Lampson, Olson has won reelection by double digits every time. Before Lampson won the district in 2006, Republicans held it without interruption for 30 years. But Jay Aiyer, who teaches political science at Texas Southern University, thinks 2018 could be different. “The swing in the district has been and would largely be considered the Asian-American community,” Aiyer says. The 22nd has the highest concentration of Asian-Americans of any congressional district in Texas. They comprise a diverse group: Indian-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans, and many others. On the whole, they tend to be better educated and more affluent than the average voter. “Asian-Americans in the district, particularly because of income reasons, had voted in the past for Republicans,” Aiyer says. But the GOP’s hard-right stance on immigration and its protectionist shift on trade has alienated many of those traditionally Republican voters. That’s provided an opening for the Democratic candidate: Sri Preston Kulkarni. “The idea that you would have a candidate that can explicitly appeal to them has, I think, some value there,” Aiyer says. “He’s a unique candidate because of his background as a Foreign Service officer. He also happens to speak six languages.”

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Houston Public Media - September 20, 2018

Texas school district regrets superintendent's racist comment

An East Texas school district says it regrets a critical comment about the Houston Texans quarterback made by its superintendent. After the Texans Sunday game and reflecting on how quarterback Deshaun Watson held the ball as time expired at the end of the game, Lynn Redden, superintendent of the Onalaska Independent School District, wrote on the Houston Chronicle’s Facebook page “You can’t count on a black quarterback.” In a statement that was posted on social media, the school district categorized Redden’s comment as “inappropriate” and the superintendent argues he thought his comment was private. Onalaska is located about 90 miles north of Houston.

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Bloomberg - September 20, 2018

Wells Fargo, one of Texas' largest banks, plans to cut up to 10 percent of its staff

Wells Fargo & Co. plans to trim its workforce by about 5 percent to 10 percent within the next three years as Chief Executive Officer Tim Sloan works to pull the bank clear of a series of customer-abuse scandals and prop up a lagging stock price.


The San Francisco-based bank had 265,000 employees as of June 30, according to a regulatory filing. Headcount has been declining as Sloan works to clean up the bank and streamline its operations. In Texas, Wells Fargo is the state's fifth largest bank in assets and fourth biggest in deposits, according to the Texas Department of Banking.
Sloan made the announcement to employees at a town-hall meeting Thursday.
"It says something about the revenue environment for them," Charles Peabody, an analyst at Portales Partners, said in an interview. "If they're not in the midst of recognizing that revenues are in trouble, they're anticipating it."
Wells Fargo has been struggling to cut spending amid regulatory fines and higher legal costs stemming from a string of customer abuses that erupted in 2016. The bank has pledged $4 billion in expense reductions by the end of next year.
"We are continuing to transform Wells Fargo to deliver what customers want — including innovative, customer-friendly products and services — and evolving our business model to meet those needs in a more streamlined and efficient manner," Sloan said in a statement.
Sloan, who took the helm almost two years ago during a scandal over falsified accounts, has worked to stabilize the bank. He's shuffled executives and reworked internal controls while traveling the country to espouse a commitment to customer service.

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Texas Observer - September 20, 2018

Dan Patrick’s cloistered culture war

In late July, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick made a trip to Washington, D.C., to beg White House officials to send President Trump to Texas to shore up support for Ted Cruz’s embattled re-election campaign, which has quickly become one of the most-watched races in the country. Meanwhile, Patrick has gone to great lengths to ensure that his own campaign flies under the radar. While Cruz has tried to go toe-to-toe on the trail with Beto O’Rourke, the normally bombastic lieutenant governor has largely steered clear of running a traditional campaign of his own. He’s been more than happy to go to the mat for his conservative allies in the Texas Senate — a brief flex of his political muscle in the special election to replace state Senator Carlos Uresti resulted in a massive GOP upset, and burnished Patrick’s conservative majority in the upper chamber. But his own re-election effort is just a rote red-meat operation that hinges more on stoking fear about immigrants on Fox News and boycotting Nike than, say, talking to Texas voters in public. With nearly a month until early voting begins and a 9-point lead in one recent poll, Patrick remains cloistered in the safe confines of his reactionary conservative base — unwilling to have a real conversation about the dismal state of public school finance, ballooning property taxes and gun violence, among a long list of other pressing policy matters. He’s outright refused to debate his Democratic opponent, Mike Collier, because the Houston accountant “shows no sign of grasping even the most basic rudiments of state government,” according to Patrick’s top political aide, Allen Blakemore. For the last several weeks, Collier has sent snarky press releases titled “Lt. Gov. Patrick’s Public Campaign Appearance Schedule This Week.” (There are none.) A few weeks ago, Collier’s campaign deployed a person in a chicken suit to the Capitol in an effort to smoke Patrick out of his hole. “While my opponent continues to dodge voters and hide in his bunker, I am out talking to Texans about all the issues facing our state,” Collier said in a statement. The closest Patrick has come to actual campaigning was when he spent two days earlier this month flying a private jet around the state, stopping at airports in several cities to make speeches to TV cameras in front of a stock background. Apart from local media, it doesn’t appear as though any other people were in attendance at some of the stops. An editorial in the Abilene Reporter-News lambasted him for not even leaving the airport during his stop in town. All the while, Patrick is doubling down on culture war issues. While completely ignoring his opponent’s debate challenges, Patrick successfully goaded Geraldo Rivera into a debate on Fox News after the cable news commentator said conservatives were using the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts as a political prop.

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The Eagle - September 20, 2018

Texas woman named first NASA flight director

NASA announced this week that a 1996 Texas A&M University graduate will be the first woman in the agency's 60-year history to serve as chief flight director. Holly Ridings, who graduated from the A&M College of Engineering with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1996, will lead the group that directs human spaceflight missions from the Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Ridings grew up in Amarillo and joined NASA in 1998 as a flight controller in the thermal operations group before becoming a flight director in 2005. "Holly has proven herself a leader among a group of highly talented flight directors," Director of Flight Operations Brian Kelly said in a NASA press release. "I know she will excel in this unique and critical leadership position providing direction for the safety and success of human spaceflight missions. She will lead the team during exciting times as they adapt to support future missions with commercial partners and beyond low-Earth orbit." Ridings will manage a group of 32 active flight directors and flight directors-in-training who oversee a variety of human spaceflight missions involving the International Space Station, American-made commercial crew spacecraft and Orion missions, according to the release. Ridings served as the lead flight director for notable NASA missions including the International Space Station mission Expedition 16 in 2007-2008, the Space Shuttle Program mission STS-127 in 2009, and the first SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft mission to the space station in 2012. Kelly selected Ridings to replace Norm Knight, who has held the position since 2012.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - September 20, 2018

Here’s what Dell’s venture capital arm means for Austin

Austin cybersecurity startup Jask is reaping the benefits of Dell Technologies’ corporate capital venture arm, and other companies like it might soon have the same chance. Dell Technologies Capital, the venture arm of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies, has invested in nearly 90 early-stage startups and completed more than 37 successful exits, including “unicorn” IPOs DocuSign, MongoDB and Zscaler, each valued at more than $1 billion. “There’s so much innovation in so many places that you really have to be embedded in that innovation,” Scott Darling, president of Dell Technologies Capital, said about the decision to create the combined venture capital arm. Darling previously led EMC Corporate Development and Ventures. The combined venture arm, Dell Technologies Capital, was created when Dell acquired EMC in a $67 billion deal in 2016. Dell Technologies Capital frequently invests in areas such as storage, security, machine learning and artificial intelligence. The firm considers 500 to 700 companies each year, with that list then narrowed down to roughly 30 to 40 companies, Darling said. Dell Technologies Capital has already found success in Austin. The firm invested in Jask, an artificial intelligence-powered cybersecurity firm that announced it would open a second headquarters in Austin last year. According to Jask CEO Greg Martin, Dell led Jask’s $12 million Series A funding round with an investment of roughly $9 million. “They’re just incredibly helpful,” Martin said of Dell Technologies Capital. “There’s a lot of avenues if you’re in the enterprise software space to be able to work with Dell to either sell to them or through them as a partner with Dell.” Jask already had plans to move its second headquarters to Austin, but Dell made growth in the city possible. The company plans to hire 80 people in Austin in the next six to eight months, according to Martin. Currently, there are about 100 employees in the company and roughly 60 percent of them are in Austin. “Dell made a huge impact,” Martin said. “They essentially allowed us to get up to 100 employees.” Amber Gunst, interim CEO of the Austin Technology Council, said Jask is the only Austin company that has announced an investment made by Dell’s venture arm so far, but said she expects Dell’s firm and others like it to make an impact in Austin down the road. “Seeing more of that investment in early stage companies gives an opportunity for Austin to grow and for companies to get past that early stage and become established,” Gunst said, adding that it can give startups a longer life cycle.

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National Stories

New York Times - September 20, 2018

Women are increasingly doubtful that voters are ready to elect them

Support for women in leadership is high. A majority of Americans say that there should be more female leaders in politics and business; that it would improve the quality of life for everyone; and that men and women are equally qualified to be leaders. Yet despite these beliefs, Americans are skeptical that women will get those chances. These are the findings of a new poll by Pew Research Center on gender and leadership released Thursday. It found that despite the record number of female candidates running in the midterm elections, American women are increasingly doubtful that voters are ready to elect them. They’re even less likely than they were four years ago to think voters are ready for female elected officials. Fifty-seven percent of women now say this skepticism is a major reason that women are underrepresented in high political offices, up from 41 percent in 2014. Just under a third of men say so, a share that is unchanged. Respondents were split, over all, on whether there would ever be equal numbers of men and women at the top levels of politics and business, and women were more pessimistic than men. Why the growing skepticism, even with female candidates’ success in the primaries, and the momentum from #MeToo and the women’s marches? Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid overshadows all that, said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. “I think women are probably still stinging from what happened in 2016,” she said. “Whichever candidate was your candidate, the woman with all of the qualifications lost. I think it also confirms what a lot of women have experienced, when they’ve been the most qualified for something and seen it go to a man who is less qualified.” “We’re just feeling beaten down,” she said. Women were more likely than men to say there were too few women in office or leading companies, and to say it was harder for women to get these positions. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say so. The nationally representative survey was of 4,587 adults. Republican men stood out: Only about a quarter of them said there were too few women in leadership. That’s compared with almost half of Republican women, roughly three-quarters of Democratic men and more than 80 percent of Democratic women.

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New York Times - September 20, 2018

Evangelical leaders Are frustrated at G.O.P. caution on Kavanaugh allegation

Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation and warning that conservative voters may stay home in November if his nomination falls apart. Several of these leaders, including ones with close ties to the White House and Senate Republicans, are urging Republicans to move forward with a confirmation vote imminently unless the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, agrees to share her story with the Senate Judiciary Committee within the next few days. Dr. Blasey’s lawyers told the committee Thursday that she was willing to testify next week, pending negotiations over “terms that are fair,” but not on Monday as Senate Republicans had wanted. The evangelical leaders’ pleas are, in part, an attempt to apply political pressure: Some of them are warning that religious conservatives may feel little motivation to vote in the midterm elections unless Senate Republicans move the nomination out of committee soon and do more to defend Judge Kavanaugh from what they say is a desperate Democratic ploy to prevent President Trump from filling future court vacancies. “One of the political costs of failing to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is likely the loss of the United States Senate,” said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition who is in frequent contact with the White House. “If Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee,” Mr. Reed added, “then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based and conservative voters in November.” The evangelist Franklin Graham, one of Mr. Trump’s most unwavering defenders, told the Christian Broadcasting Network this week, “I hope the Senate is smarter than this, and they’re not going to let this stop the process from moving forward and confirming this man.” Social conservatives are already envisioning a worst-case scenario related to Judge Kavanaugh, and they say it is not a remote one. Republican promises to shift the Supreme Court further to the right — which just a few days ago seemed like a fait accompli — have been one of the major reasons conservatives say they are willing to tolerate an otherwise dysfunctional Republican-controlled government. If Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, and recent political history is any guide, voters will most likely point the finger not at Mr. Trump but at Republican lawmakers.

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New York Times - September 20, 2018

With more than 200 LGBT candidates, advocates hope for a ‘rainbow wave’ in the midterms

The number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people nominated to run for Congress is four times higher than it was in 2010, a leading advocacy group said, spurred by greater social acceptance of sexual and gender minorities and a surge of liberal energy powered by opposition to the Trump administration. This year, there are 21 openly L.G.B.T. people nominated for Congress and four for governor, all Democrats, according to the L.G.B.T.Q. Victory Fund, a nonpartisan group that supports and tracks gay and transgender political candidates. Eight years ago, the first year the group started tracking candidates, there were only five openly L.G.B.T. people nominated for the U.S. House or Senate — again, all Democrats — and none for governor. Annise Parker, the group’s president and a former mayor of Houston, said the numbers represented a potential “rainbow wave” that she hoped could “transform the U.S. Congress and our governors’ mansions come November.” “It represents an evolution in American politics,” Ms. Parker said, “with voters choosing out L.G.B.T.Q. candidates as the solution to the divisiveness and dysfunction we see in Washington and in many of our state capitals.” Overall, there were more than 430 openly L.G.B.T. people running for office at all levels of government at the start of this year’s primary season. Now that the primaries are over, at least 244 of them have advanced to a ballot in November, including some independents and candidates for nonpartisan positions, the Victory Fund said. More L.G.B.T. women than men are running for Congress this year, the group said, including both of the L.G.B.T. people running for U.S. Senate — Representative Krysten Sinema of Arizona and Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. Four L.G.B.T. candidates, all Democrats, were nominated in governors’ races. For the first time, they collectively represent what the Victory Fund called “the full L.G.B.T. acronym”: Lupe Valdez, a lesbian, in Texas; Jared Polis, a gay man, in Colorado; Kate Brown, a bisexual woman, in Oregon; and Christine Hallquist, a transgender woman, in Vermont. Many of these candidates treat their sexuality and gender identity as assets that complement their criticisms of the Trump administration or policy ideas on subjects like climate change, education or health care. EDITORS’ PICKS They Were Seeking Mental Health Care. Instead They Drowned in a Sheriff’s Van. Agents Tried to Flip Russian Oligarchs. The Fallout Spread to Trump. The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far Ms. Brown, an incumbent, is the only openly L.G.B.T. person ever elected to be the governor of a state. Six members of the House of Representatives are out, and Ms. Baldwin is currently the only lesbian senator. There are currently 576 openly L.G.B.T. elected officials at all levels of government in the United States, amounting to just 0.1 percent of elected positions in the country, the group said. The percentage of American adults identifying as L.G.B.T. rose to 4.5 percent in 2017 from 4.1 percent the year before, according to a Gallup poll released in May.

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New York Times - September 20, 2018

Submerged by Florence, North Carolina’s rural towns fight for attention

As the rivers trapped them inside their blacked-out town, the dwindling families of Ivanhoe collected rain to drink in plastic pitchers and flushed the toilets with buckets of rust-colored hurricane floodwater. They salvaged thawing chicken from their broken freezers and cooked it over wood fires. They handed out headlamps at bedtime so their family members could find the bathroom in the bottomless dark. They sweated through the night and wondered how long they — and their little farming town — could bear all this. It has been a week since Hurricane Florence slugged ashore, and as much of the Carolinas picks its way back home to assess the damage, this town at the confluence of the Black and South Rivers was still filling up with water. It is a drain trap for Florence’s record rain and floods, with no power and no roads in or out. “It’s just families, farmland,” said Thomas Brown, whose home was wrecked. “Small town. Why does it matter if we get flooded?” North Carolina is freckled with Ivanhoes, little rural towns that have long struggled to hold on to families and chart their economic future far from the state’s banking and tech hubs, or even from reliable cellphone service. Many lost businesses and residents after being pummeled by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and were limping along before Florence. Now, with the country’s urgent attention slipping away, people in places like Ivanhoe worry about being washed away unnoticed. “It’s all been ripped out from under them again,” said Patrick Woodie, president of NC Rural Center in Raleigh. They worry about being too small and politically insignificant to fight for attention and limited aid. They worry that poor and disabled residents without flood insurance will flee instead of rebuilding. Simple distance is daunting: The closest Home Depot is an 80-mile round trip. “You’re at the bottom of the county and secondary roads everywhere,” said Damarius Hayes, 29, whose family is rooted in tobacco and blueberry farming. “It’s the last place to get checked out.” Ivanhoe isn’t quite a town. It is an unincorporated crossroads of a few hundred people with five churches, a post office, a volunteer fire department, and blueberry and organic vegetable farms. There are some well-off families, but more live near or below poverty. The median household income in 2010 was just $13,000.

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Washington Post - September 20, 2018

Ben Carson’s HUD: Political loyalty required, no experience necessary

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded promotions and pay increases to five political operatives with no housing policy experience within their first months on the job, demonstrating what government watchdogs and career staff describe as a premium put on loyalty over expertise. The raises, documented in a Washington Post analysis of HUD political hires, resulted in annual salaries between $98,000 and $155,000 for the five appointees, all of whom had worked on Donald Trump’s or Ben Carson’s presidential campaigns. Three of them did not list bachelor’s degrees on their résumés. The political hires were among at least 24 people without evident housing policy experience who were appointed to the best-paying political positions at HUD, an agency charged with serving the poorest Americans. They account for a third of the 70 HUD appointees at the upper ranks of the federal government, with salaries above $94,000, according to the Post review of agency records. The limited experience at the upper reaches of the agency — HUD Secretary Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has no prior housing, executive or government background — injected confusion into the rollout of policy initiatives and brought delays to even routine functions, according to interviews with 16 current and former career staff members. “This administration is different, because the people coming in really don’t know housing at all,” said Ron Ashford, who retired as director of HUD’s public-housing supportive-service programs in January after 22 years at the agency. “As a result, they’re pursuing initiatives that aren’t grounded in reality.” The Post conducted its analysis of HUD appointees using government information on their salaries and positions through mid-March, obtained through a public-records request from the Office of Personnel Management. The Post also examined HUD documents — including official résumés, internal emails, appointee salaries and job titles, and documentation of promotions and other position changes — obtained as of mid-July by American Oversight, a watchdog group formed last year to investigate the Trump administration, through separate, multiple records requests as well as other publicly available information such as LinkedIn profiles. Under the Obama administration, senior political appointees to HUD were widely recognized housing experts who were tapped to stabilize the agency after the housing market crash. Of the 66 most highly paid appointees, at least seven — 11 percent — appear to have lacked housing-related experience, according to a Post review of the professional backgrounds of those named in the 2012 Plum Book, a compilation of political appointees published every four years. Of the 24 Trump administration HUD appointees without housing policy experience on their résumés or LinkedIn profiles, 16 listed work on either Carson’s or Trump’s presidential campaigns — or had personal connections to their families. They include a former event manager turned senior HUD adviser making $131,767 after a 23 percent raise and a former real estate agent whose new job is to advise a HUD administrator, a longtime Trump family aide who also lacks housing credentials.

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Washington Post - September 20, 2018

Dvorak: Millions of women understand Christine Blasey Ford’s decades of silence

The confessions keep coming. My friend shared her #MeToo ordeal this week, inspired by Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were in high school. “I was a preteen when I was first assaulted. Sometimes, it takes decades for victims to come forward,” she wrote on Facebook, in response to a friend who blasted Ford for waiting over 35 years to accuse Kavanaugh of attacking her. My friend waited 40 years to speak up. She broke her silence because she’d had enough of all the doubt being hurled at Ford, the psychology professor now enduring death threats for telling her story. My friend — a fierce reporter — understands Ford’s decades of silence. She was determined to keep quiet even when her assailant died — and even as she was tasked with writing his obituary for the local paper, taking deep breaths and tapping his accomplishments out on the keyboard while burying his secrets with him. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. He was a family friend. Everyone respected him. She didn’t want to destroy his life. And she knew she’d be blamed, as women often are when they are assaulted. Why would he do that? Why were you there in the first place? Did you lead him on? Why is that skirt so short? Button up that blouse. What in God’s name is on your face? Wipe that lipstick off right now. What did my friend’s mom say when she finally told her? “Me too.” Her mother said she was 17, trapped in a D.C. hotel room with a door-to-door salesman her family trusted. We’re good at secrets. And confessions. Sometimes it just takes a cup of coffee or a bottle of wine for them to begin. This week, they’ve been triggered by a Supreme Court nomination: “Graduation party.” “The gym supply closet.” “His parent’s house.” But it’s different now, you say? Not at all. Last month I met with a young woman who said she’d been assaulted when she was a little girl by a dad everyone in the community knows. Her family’s big Christmas parties were dreadful because he was always there, jolly-jingling in her home as one of the guests while she hid in her bedroom. “There were all these other lives I’d hurt if I ever told,” she said.

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Washington Post - September 20, 2018

Is this Washington’s golden age of grift? Or politics as usual?

Too many bills in Congress have boring, easily forgettable names. But when Rep. Ted Lieu introduced an anti-corruption bill last week, he chose a catchy title: The E. Scott Pruitt Accountability for Government Officials Act of 2018. The bill, “honoring” the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, makes it illegal for senior government officials to use public office for private gain. Not slap-on-the-wrist illegal. Up to five years in prison illegal. “The Executive Branch isn’t some get rich quick scheme, but many Trump cabinet officials sure act like it,” the California Democrat said in a statement when the bill was released. “The drip, drip, drip of grifting from Trump’s appointees is corroding our Democracy by undermining faith in our institutions.” Grifters is such a harsh term. Are we, as many claim, in the Golden Age of Grift, thanks to a shameless president and his cronies? Or is this all political posturing and outrage, like so many scandals that came before? Pruitt, who was forced to resign this summer, is the subject of more than a dozen investigations into sketchy spending: The $3.5 million tab for a 24/7 security detail, the $50-a-night sweetheart condo rental, the first-class travel, the staff runs for ­Ritz-Carlton moisturizer — all paid for by taxpayers. (Pruitt, in his just-released 2017 financial disclosure report, denied that he received improper contributions or personal gain.) Then there’s Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, accused — among other things — of using that relationship to squeeze millions for his lavish lifestyle. Tom Price, the former secretary of health and human services, resigned after using taxpayer-funded charter flights (no TSA lines for him!), also an issue for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson raised eyebrows by allegedly diverting business contracts to his son. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was reprimanded by the Office of Government Ethics for failing to sell off his stock holdings before taking office. And — breaking news — FEMA head William “Brock” Long is facing a possible criminal probe into misuse of government vehicles for personal trips. A Gallup poll released in May asked Americans what they thought about this administration’s ethical standards. A whopping 59 percent rated them “poor or not good”; only 37 percent deemed them “good or excellent,” the lowest ranking since the poll began more than 30 years ago. Voters, it appears, still think Washington is pretty swampy.

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CNN - September 20, 2018

Woman kills 3 before fatally shooting herself at Rite Aid distribution center in Maryland, officials say

A woman killed three people and wounded three others before fatally shooting herself at a drugstore distribution center Thursday in Harford County, Maryland, officials said. A source close to the investigation said the woman was a disgruntled employee. Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler told reporters the woman was a temporary employee and showed up for work at her normal time at the facility near Aberdeen. She shot people outside the building and on the warehouse floor, he said. The woman died at a nearby hospital after shooting herself in the head, he said. She was identified by the sheriff's office as Snochia Moseley, 26, from Baltimore County. Police are still searching for a motive, he added. A law enforcement official briefed on the incident said the suspect was at some point a security guard at the Rite Aid support facility where the shooting occurred. The suspect used a 9 mm Glock pistol and brought several magazines for the gun, Gahler said at a news conference. The gun was hers and was purchased legally, he said. The sheriff wouldn't release any details about the six victims or the shooter, saying that their next of kin were still being notified. No law enforcement officers fired shots during their response, he said. Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center received four patients with "priority one gunshot wounds," said spokeswoman Kristin Mears. At a news conference, Ray Fang, the hospital's trauma medical director, said two of the victims were stable and doing well, while two remain seriously injured. All the victims were out of surgery, he said. Fang declined to provide additional information until he was sure all the victims' families had been notified. Rite Aid spokeswoman Susan Henderson said roughly 1,000 employees work at the distribution center, where products are received and processed for delivery. "The shooting happened adjacent to the primary building," she said.

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CNN - September 19, 2018

Jeff Sessions moves to further tighten immigration courts as Trump attacks him

Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued his efforts to tighten control of the immigration courts with two quiet moves Tuesday night, even as President Donald Trump said he was "not happy" with Sessions on immigration. In one decision, Sessions further constrained the discretion of immigration judges to show leniency to undocumented immigrants. In the other, he signaled he may restrict the ability of immigrants awaiting asylum hearings to be let out of detention. The moves are the latest in a series of steps Sessions has taken to assert his authority over the immigration courts and thus the way immigration law is enforced in the US. The immigration judges' union and the national association for immigration lawyers have decried the moves as threatening the due process rights of immigrants and the independence of judges, while immigration hardliners have hailed Sessions as restoring immigration laws to their original intent. "I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad," Trump said, according to Hill.TV. "I'm not happy at the border. I'm not happy with numerous things." Sessions, however, has been at the forefront of the administration's aggressive immigration agenda, especially in using his unique authority to single-handedly overrule the immigration courts' appellate body and issue interpretations of immigration law. Those binding rulings must be followed by the nation's nearly 400 immigration judges, who are technically employees of Sessions and the Justice Department under US law. On Tuesday, Sessions used that authority to refer himself more cases so he could rule on them. In a pair of linked cases, Sessions ruled that immigration judges are not allowed to use their discretion to terminate or dismiss cases. Under the ruling, only if the Department of Homeland Security decides it no longer wants to pursue the case or the immigrant achieves or proves a legal right to stay in the US can a judge dismiss their deportation case. Judges may not simply decide the case is not worth pursuing further. The move follows a similar ruling Sessions made earlier this year that judges are not allowed to use their discretion to close cases either. Closure effectively ends proceedings but doesn't dismiss the case altogether. "The authority to dismiss or terminate proceedings is not a free-floating power an immigration judge may invoke whenever he or she believes that a case no longer merits space on the docket," Sessions wrote. The executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Benjamin Johnson, called the decision "part of a systematic effort to marginalize the role of immigration judges in their own courtrooms" in a statement.

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Wall Street Journal - September 21, 2018

Drugmakers’ free services spur government scrutiny

Federal prosecutors are probing whether big drugmakers including Sanofi, Gilead Sciences and Biogen potentially violated laws by providing free services to doctors and patients, according to a Wall Street Journal review of securities filings. Drug companies say the services, such as nurses and reimbursement assistance, help doctors and patients. But the practices, which have become more prevalent as drugmakers have introduced more complex and expensive drugs, are drawing scrutiny over whether they serve an illegal commercial purpose: inducing sales. Amgen, Bayer and Eli Lilly face whistleblower lawsuits alleging the services are illegal kickbacks. Meanwhile, California’s insurance commissioner this week sued AbbVie accusing the company of providing kickbacks in the form of nursing support and insurance assistance to prompt doctors to write prescriptions for its arthritis drug Humira. AbbVie’s share price has declined about 3% since the lawsuit was filed. The North Chicago, Ill., company said the California allegations, as well as a previous whistleblower lawsuit, are without merit, and that it complies with state and federal laws. It said it provides services for patients once they are prescribed Humira. Bayer and Lilly said the whistleblower lawsuits against them have no merit, and Amgen declined to comment. The lawsuit against AbbVie could have broader implications for the industry because the practices it describes “are similar to what other biopharma companies have also used to help patients start and stay on medications that their doctor prescribes,” Credit Suisse analysts said in a research note. Drugmakers are drawing scrutiny for an ever-widening array of practices that they say help patients, from defraying copay costs to providing disease education. However, prosecutors and critics say such practices, even if helpful, are intended to encourage continued use of specific drugs over alternatives. Additionally, some critics say that such tactics can boost overall health-care costs by pushing higher-priced drugs on people. A federal anti-kickback statute prohibits payments to induce drug prescriptions or other medical care that is reimbursed by government health programs. The Justice Department has probed drug manufacturers’ donations to third-party charities that help pay drug copays for Medicare patients. That practice tends to boost overall sales because Medicare pays the bulk of the cost. Last year, United Therapeutics Corp. agreed to pay $210 million to settle Justice Department allegations related to use of a third-party foundation to pay copays. United Therapeutics didn’t admit liability.

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Fox Business - September 20, 2018

Dow, S&P 500 set record highs on Thursday

The Dow and S&P 500 recorded fresh all-time highs Thursday with investors waving off the tit-for-tat exchange of newly imposed trade tariffs placed on U.S. and Chinese goods and focusing on the latest, positive economic data. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 251.22 points, or 0.95 percent, to 26,656.98 -- marking the Dow's 100th record close since the election of President Donald Trump and its first since January. The broader S&P 500 jumped 22.8 points, about 0.8 percent, to 2,930.75. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite gained 78.19 points, or 0.98 percent, to 8,028.23. Economic data released Thursday included a reading on weekly jobless claims. The number of Americans filing for first-time jobless claims fell to 201,000 in the prior week, well below the 210,000 estimate and the lowest late 1969. Manufacturing in Philadelphia rebounded in September, jumping to 22.9. Existing home sales were flat in August. The latest round of escalated tariffs has brought a reaction from Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma. Ma is backing down on his promise to create 1 million jobs in the U.S. over the next five years, amid the ongoing trade war between President Trump and China. The billionaire previously told Trump before his inauguration in January 2017 that he would commit to creating new jobs but recanted those sentiments in a Chinese news outlet on the heels of a new round of tariffs this week from both countries. On the U.S.-Canada front, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Wednesday with the two sides still disagreeing on major issues. Two meetings were held. Leaving their afternoon meeting, Freeland told reporters the talks had been constructive and said she would meet Lighthizer again on Thursday, according to Reuters.

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Politico - September 20, 2018

Kavanaugh accuser leans on Democratic operative who helped Anita Hill for advice

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, is being advised by Democratic operative Ricki Seidman. Seidman, a senior principal at TSD Communications, in the past worked as an investigator for Sen. Ted Kennedy, and was involved with Anita Hill’s decision to testify against Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas. “I believe her and I think she’s very courageous for coming this far,” Seidman said in a brief interview, confirming her role advising Ford. She also worked as Joe Biden’s communications director during the 2008 general election campaign, after he was named Barack Obama’s running mate. In 2009, according to her online biography, she helped the White House manage the confirmation of Obama's Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Before that, she worked in the Clinton White House as deputy communications director. Democratic operatives in Washington, D.C. have been cautious about linking Ford and her claims to partisan activists working on her behalf over concerns about further politicizing an already complicated case. “[Ford] didn't come at this through anyone political and needs to keep her distance from it," said one Democratic operative. Seidman was brought in to offer personal advice to Ford, a California-based psychologist who has no experience living in the spotlight of a national story, or in the crosswinds of Washington politics. It is not yet clear whether Ford plans to testify in front of Congress. A source familiar with her thinking said she is still making up her mind. Her attorney Debra Katz has said she wants to wait until the FBI completes its investigation into her claims. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has given Ford a Friday deadline to submit her testimony. For now, Ford is not actively preparing for what would be a high-stakes public testimony akin to Hill’s hearings during Thomas’ confirmation, which gripped the entire country almost 30 years ago, according to a person familiar with her activities this week. While Kavanaugh has been huddling with a team at the White House every day for the past week, a source familiar with Ford’s prep said she has not been participating in moot hearings or other mock proceedings.

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ABC News - September 20, 2018

Remains of two US soldiers identified from boxes turned over by North Korea

President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the remains of two U.S. Army soldiers missing in the Korean War nearly seven decades ago have been identified from the 55 boxes turned over by North Korea this summer. The president tweeted out their names, noting they were "identified as a result of my Summit with Chairman Kim," referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "These HEROES are home, they may Rest In Peace, and hopefully their families can have closure," Trump tweeted. The two soldiers were Master Sgt. Charles Hobart McDaniel and Private First Class William H. Jones who both went missing in November 1950. McDaniel was a medic with the 8th Cavalry Regiment Medical Company, supporting the regiment's 3rd Battalion when he was reported missing in action on November 2, 1950, after his unit fought with Chinese military forces near the village of Unsan in North Korea. Jones was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, who was reported missing on November 26, 1950, after his unit fought Chinese forces near Pakchon, North Korea. Shortly before the president tweeted, Kelly McKeague, the director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) told reporters two of the 55 boxes contained two partial skulls that had dental remains, along with two clavicles. DPAA researchers used dental records, chest x-rays and DNA samples to conclusively identify the remains of the two soldiers. The Army notified both families earlier this week that the remains of their loved ones had been recovered.

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Axios - September 20, 2018

Exxon, Chevron join global industry climate group

Some of America’s most powerful U.S.-based oil companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum — are joining a global consortium of oil and gas producers seeking to address climate change, Axios has learned. The companies are the first U.S.-based members of the group, called the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. This is one of the strongest signs yet of how America’s biggest oil companies, under pressure from investors and lawsuits, are joining most other U.S. corporations in working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions despite President Trump reversing America’s course on the matter. CEOs of most of the group’s 13 member companies, including Saudi Aramco, Shell, BP and Occidental, are scheduled to speak at an event Monday in New York City hosted by the group and facilitated by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, led by former Obama officials. “It will take the collective efforts of many in the energy industry and society to develop scalable, affordable solutions that will be needed to address the risks of climate change," said Exxon CEO Darren Woods, according to a draft release viewed by Axios. Spokespeople for companies involved declined to comment, as did Columbia University. CEOs of Exxon and Chevron likely can’t make Monday's event due to prior obligations, along with CEOs of one or two foreign-based companies, people familiar with the planning say. The group’s purpose is twofold: Work toward cleaner operations, particularly in the area of emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s the primary component of natural gas. These efforts are continuing and growing despite Trump repealing methane regulations. Investment in new technologies, for which members contribute to a $1 billion investment fund. The primary goal is to commercialize technologies that capture carbon dioxide, but also include ones like reducing methane emissions, lowering transportation sector pollution and improving energy efficiency. The new member companies will contribute $100 million to the fund, according to a press release issued after publication of this story. The other side: Environmentalists and others skeptical of the industry say commitments by oil companies to address climate change ring largely hollow absent more aggressive action urging governments to price carbon emissions. The group’s mission is expressly not geared toward influencing any government policy.

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Rolling Stone - September 20, 2018

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello on the recovery, climate change and Trump

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello is a man at the center of the storm — several of them, in fact. First there was Hurricane Maria, which slammed into the island a year ago today. At the time, Rossello had been in office less than a year. He thought his most important job was going to be convincing his fellow Americans to accept the territory as the 51st state. Instead, Rossello found himself at the center of catastrophic destruction, as well as dealing with a catastrophically inept U.S. president. Despite the fact that President Trump waited 13 days to visit the storm-ravaged island, only stayed a few hours, and tossed rolls of paper towels at suffering Puerto Ricans, Rossello understood that trashing the president wouldn’t help the relief effort. In fact, Rossello actually praised Trump effusively after the hurricane — and Trump returned the favor, calling Rossello “a great guy and leader who is working really hard.” (Trump saved his vitriol for San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who had lambasted the poor federal response to the hurricane.) As one Puerto Rican who is close to the governor put it to me, “Rossello hates Trump, but he is smart enough to know that flattery is what’s going to keep the billions of dollars in federal aid flowing to the island.” The dynamic between Trump and Rossello changed, however, after a recent study by George Washington University prompted Rossello to revise the official death toll from Maria from 64 people to 2,975. Trump tweeted that “3,000 people did not die” and that the newly revised death count was “done by the Democrats to make me look as bad as possible.” Like all of Trump’s conspiracy theories, this one is insane. Rossello isn’t even a Democrat — he’s a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party. And by increasing the official death toll, he is not just making Trump look bad — he is making himself look bad, too, not only for his role in the mismanagement of the hurricane response but for initially releasing such unrealistically low fatality figures. So far, Rossello’s push-back to Trump has been cool but forceful: “The victims and the people of Puerto Rico should not have their pain questioned.” As a politician, Rossello, 39, is as un-Trump-like as they come. He trained as a scientist (he has a Ph.D in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan) and speaks in a way that suggests logic and rationality are the highest virtues. He understands cellular reproduction much better than he understands the media: On TV, he is often stiff and overeager, looking like an A student called upon to recite his homework. But he is also a person who has kept his head in the face of extreme weather, both natural and political. And when it comes to science-related subjects like climate change, he’s strikingly articulate and well-informed.

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Asheville Citizen Times - September 20, 2018

President Trump to North Carolina resident: 'At least you got a nice boat out of the deal'

As part of his trip to the Carolinas to survey storm damage by Florence, President Donald Trump on Wednesday toured homes along River Drive in New Bern, a low-lying neighborhood of brick and clapboard houses that was swamped by the Neuse River. “We’re giving you a lot of help,” Trump said to one resident. “Do you want to see my house? It’s over there,” another resident said, pointing to a badly damaged yellow house across the street. Trump crossed the street to a small brick house, where he stopped to greet an older man in the T-shirt. Behind the house, a large yacht had washed ashore and was shipwrecked against the wooden deck. He gazed at the yacht, saying, “Is this your boat?” The owner said no. Trump turned and replied with smile, “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.” Speaking to reporters, Trump said the owner told him his insurance company didn't want to pay for the damage to his home. “We’re going to find out,” he said. “We’re going to find out the name of the insurance company.” “I think it’s incredible what we’re seeing,” the president added. “This boat just came here.” During his trip, Trump pledged the full support and finances of the federal government to support states struck by Florence. Minutes after arriving in North Carolina to survey storm damage, Trump vowed “100 percent” backing to Gov. Roy Cooper. Trump twice stressed that, even though the skies above were clear and “beautiful,” the surrounding state was still at risk for flood.

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