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Newsclips - November 30, 2021

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Associated Press - November 29, 2021

Inside the 'big wave' of misinformation targeted at Latinos

Before last year’s presidential election, Facebook ads targeting Latino voters described Joe Biden as a communist. During his inauguration, another conspiracy theory spread online and on Spanish-language radio warning that a brooch worn by Lady Gaga signaled Biden was working with shadowy, leftist figures abroad. And in the final stretch of Virginia’s election for governor, stories written in Spanish accused Biden of ordering the arrest of a man during a school board meeting. None of that was true. But such misinformation represents a growing threat to Democrats, who are anxious about their standing with Latino voters after surprise losses last year in places like South Florida and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Heading into a midterm election in which control of Congress is at stake, lawmakers, researchers and activists are preparing for another onslaught of falsehoods targeted at Spanish-speaking voters. And they say social media platforms that often host those mistruths aren’t prepared.

“For a lot of people, there’s a lot of concern that 2022 will be another big wave,” said Guy Mentel, executive director of Global Americans, a think tank that provides analysis of key issues throughout the Americas. This month’s elections may be a preview of what’s to come. After Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy won New Jersey’s close governor’s race, Spanish-language videos falsely claimed the vote was rigged, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud — a fact the Republican candidate acknowledged, calling the results “legal and fair.” In Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin campaigned successfully on promises to defend “parental rights” in classrooms, false headlines around a controversial school board meeting emerged. “Biden ordenó arrestar a padre de una joven violada por un trans,” read one of several misleading articles, translating to “Biden ordered the arrest of a father whose daughter was raped by a trans.” The mistruth was spun from an altercation during a chaotic school board meeting months earlier in Loudoun County that resulted in the arrest of a father whose daughter was sexually assaulted in a bathroom by another student. The father claimed the suspect was “gender fluid,” which sparked outcry over the school’s policy allowing transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

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The Guardian - November 29, 2021

Beto and the Spanish name-game in the Texas governor’s race

Within hours of former congressman Beto O’Rourke announcing his intent to run for governor of Texas against incumbent Greg Abbott, the Republican party apparatus began tweeting about “Robert Francis O’Rourke.” It harkened back to the days the GOP referred to “Barack Hussein Obama”. But instead of suggesting to the American people that Obama might be some kind of foreigner, the recent GOP maneuver has the opposite goal: reminding voters of O’Rourke’s all-American, all Anglo pedigree. “Robert Francis O’Rourke thinks it is ‘dangerous’ for you to have a gun to defend yourself,” Abbott tweeted of the Democrat on his campaign account after the acquittal of murder suspect Kyle Rittenhouse in Wisconsin. “Texans know that self-defense is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. We won’t let dangerous progressive policies hijack your God-given rights.” It should be an interesting maneuver by Abbott who, pre-O’Rourke, was waging an aggressive anti-immigrant campaign that many view as anti-Hispanic.

Now, with O’Rourke in the race, Abbott appears to be following the Ted Cruz campaign model of trying to appeal to Hispanic sentiment by accusing the Democratic challenger of cultural appropriation. To be sure, there is an element of anger that can arise among Hispanic voters who view politicians as cynically trying to appropriate elements of their culture for votes, particularly the tired attempts by candidates of appealing to Hispanics by saying a few broken lines in Spanish during stump speeches. I can recall many debates about cultural appropriation that I had with fellow Hispanics when O’Rourke was challenging Cruz for the US Senate in 2018. I always fell back on what I call “Guero’s phenomenon”, named after a popular Austin Mexican restaurant, favored by Bill Clinton. After his first meal there, the wait to get into that restaurant was upwards of three hours, something I experienced when out-of-town visitors asked to eat there when I lived in that city. What I noticed when we were finally seated was that the vast majority of the clientele at this Mexican restaurant was Anglo. The only Hispanics that I could see in the dining room were serving food and bussing tables.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Jones, Flowers join growing Dem field for Coleman’s House seat

At least four candidates have announced they are running for state Rep. Garnet Coleman’s seat, less than two weeks after the longtime Houston Democrat announced he would not seek re-election next year. The field, made up entirely of Democrats so far, includes Jolanda Jones, a former Houston ISD trustee and at-large city council member, and Reagan Flowers, a Houston Community College trustee. Jones announced her candidacy Monday morning, days after Flowers’ announcement last week. Whoever wins the Democratic primary likely will succeed Coleman in the solidly blue district, which covers Midtown, Third Ward, a majority of Montrose and other parts of Houston’s urban core. It also takes in the University of Houston and a large chunk of southeast Houston along Interstate 45.

It is among the more diverse House districts in the state, with a population that is about 37 percent Hispanic, 35 percent Black, 22 percent white and 7 percent Asian, according to Census Bureau estimates. In a statement announcing her candidacy, Jones said she would be “a champion for affordable health care, better jobs, safer streets and stronger schools” if elected to the seat. She rolled out an initial list of endorsements from elected officials and community leaders, including state Sen. Royce West of Dallas. “Representative Garnet Coleman raised the bar for public servants in Texas,” Jones said. “He cannot be replaced, but I will do my best to carry the torch for the residents of District 147.” Following a stint on Houston City Council from 2008 to 2012, Jones served on the Houston ISD board from 2016 to 2020, where she was known to openly criticize state education officials and her fellow trustees. She opted not to seek re-election, and mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett in last year’s Democratic primary.

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Texas Tribune and NBC News - November 29, 2021

“People should probably be worried”: Texas hasn’t done enough to prevent another winter blackout, experts say

After last winter’s freeze hamstrung power giant Vistra Corp.’s ability to keep electricity flowing for its millions of customers, CEO Curt Morgan said he’d never seen anything like it in his 40 years in the energy industry. During the peak days of the storm, Vistra, Texas’ largest power generator, sent as much energy as it could to power the state’s failing grid, “often at the expense of making money,” he told lawmakers shortly after the storm. But it wasn’t enough. The state’s grid neared complete collapse, millions lost power for days in subfreezing temperatures and more than 200 people died. Since the storm, Texas lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at making the grid more resilient during freezing weather. Signing the bill, Gov. Greg Abbott said “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid.” But Morgan isn’t so sure. His company has spent $50 million this year preparing more than a dozen of its plants for winter. At the company’s plant in Midlothian, workers have wrapped electric cables with three inches of rubber insulation and built enclosures to help shield valves, pumps and metal pipes.

No matter what Morgan does, though, it won’t be enough to prevent another disaster if there is another severe freeze, he said. That’s because the state still hasn’t fixed the critical problem that paralyzed his plants: maintaining a sufficient supply of natural gas, Morgan said. Natural gas slowed to a trickle during the storm, leaving the Midlothian facility and 13 other Vistra power plants that run on gas without enough fuel. The shortage forced Vistra to pay more than $1.5 billion on the spot market for whatever gas was available, costing the company in a matter of days more than twice the amount it usually spends in an entire year. Even then, plants were able to operate at only a fraction of their capacity; the Midlothian facility ran at 30% of full strength during the height of the storm. “Why couldn’t we get it?” Morgan said recently. “Because the gas system was not weatherized. And so we had natural gas producers that weren’t producing.” If another major freeze hits Texas this winter, “the same thing could happen,” Morgan said in an interview. The predicament in Midlothian reflects a glaring shortcoming in Texas’ efforts to prevent a repeat of February, when a combination of freezing temperatures across the state and skyrocketing demand shut down natural gas facilities and power plants, which rely on each other to keep electricity flowing. The cycle of failures sent economic ripples across the country that cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Outlier: Among this year’s affordable housing proposals, the deal at the center of City Hall scandal stuck out

When Houston officials began soliciting proposals from developers for this year’s highly competitive affordable housing tax credits, they had a very different message than in recent cycles: Do not count on money from the city. For the prior two years, the city had used a pot of $450 million in Hurricane Harvey disaster recovery funds to pair with the tax credits to help developers build affordable housing. The 38 projects currently in the pipeline will help fund more than 4,700 affordable apartments throughout the city. By the start of this year, however, the city had just $12.6 million of those Harvey moneys left. Officials told developers to look elsewhere to bridge any financing gaps. All but one of the applicants responded by arranging financing that did not rely on new city money. Dozens of the proposals were withdrawn altogether, and about half of the 17 developers who submitted a full application trimmed the number of housing units from their initial plans.

The one developer who did not follow the city’s advice was MGroup, which pursued a senior housing deal called Huntington at Bay Area. That proposal would later spark an unprecedented public broadside against Mayor Sylvester Turner by the city housing director, who accused him of arranging a sham funding process and steering city money to the developer. Instead, MGroup forged ahead with a request for $15 million the city said it had no plans to offer, incurring significant costs and risk along the way. Mark and Laura Musemeche run MGroup. Barry Barnes, the mayor’s longtime former law partner, and his colleague Jermaine Thomas were co-developers on the plan. Among the 17 complete tax credit proposals, Huntington was the largest project, with plans for 148 units. It also had the highest number (60) and share of market-rate apartments (41 percent), and the highest overall development costs at $37 million. MGroup also topped the others with a developer fee of $4.2 million, and it had the highest expected cash flow — $3.1 million over 15 years, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of the applications. The averages for competing proposals: 94 overall units including 13 market-rate apartments, $21 million in development costs, $2.1 million in developers fees and $1.3 million in cash flow.

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Texas Lawbook - November 29, 2021

Judge, known for expertise in complex litigation, has her work cut out in winter storm cases

Sylvia A. Matthews presided over more than 175 jury trials and 160 bench trials during her decade as a Harris County District Court judge. Lawyers for plaintiffs and defendants say she is smart, fair, well-prepared, hard-working, efficient and decisive. Matthews will need all those qualities over the next several months as she oversees more than 150 highly complex civil lawsuits filed by victims seeking billions of dollars in damages as the result of last February’s winter storm, which was one of the deadliest and costliest disasters in Texas history. The lawsuits filed across Texas include individuals suing for wrongful death, personal injury and property damages and companies complaining about breach of contracts, interruption of business and price-gouging. Some of the largest power companies, such as the Houston utility CenterPoint Energy, the Chicago company Exelon and Vistra Energy of Irving, one of the state’s biggest generators and retail electricity providers.

While the lawsuits have been filed in more than a dozen Texas courts, the Texas Supreme Court has consolidated them into one docket, called multidistrict litigation. The cases are consolidated for efficiency, allowing pretrial issues, such as production of evidence and admissibility of testimony, to be decided in a uniform matter. Once the pretrial issues are decided, the cases are usually sent back to the courts where the lawsuits were filed for trial. For example, lawyers predict that the 200 lawsuits already filed in the Astroworld tragedy will also be consolidated into a single proceeding for pre-trial purposes. The litigation involves some of the most experienced and high-profile lawyers in Texas and they overwhelmingly say that Judge Matthews is the perfect jurist to tackle such a massive undertaking. “She’s absolutely one of the most predictable judges I’ve been in front of - and that’s a compliment,” said John Zavitsanos, a Houston trial lawyer who tried numerous cases before Matthews. “I didn’t always like her rulings, but I could always understand why she made them.” Judge Matthews declined a request for an interview. “The judicial canons of ethics prevent me from communicating with you about this pending matter,” she said in an email.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Nuclear must bring down prices to help with climate change

Wyoming, the capital of coal country, will soon host a cutting-edge, zero-emission source of electricity that promises to replace mining jobs with better-paying jobs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If this pilot project works, it could speed the electrification of everything, a necessary energy transition to slow the planet’s warming. But that’s a big if, and one not without controversy. Bill Gates-backed TerraPower plans to construct a new nuclear reactor unlike any in use today. A reader writes almost every month asking about nuclear power’s potential to meet our carbon-free energy needs. The quick answer is light-water reactors are too expensive to compete with wind, solar and battery storage. A better question is why wealthy investors are betting new technologies will bring those costs down.

Like the South Texas Plant in Brazos County, today’s nuclear power plants were designed in the 1960s and built in the 1970s using slide rules and analog adding machines. They require a colossal construction budget, and decommissioning costs a fortune. A conventional nuclear plant takes six years to construct and costs $6,034 per kilowatt of generation capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. A combined-cycle natural gas plant with equipment to capture 90 percent of carbon emissions would take three years to construct and cost $2,471 per kilowatt of capacity. By comparison, onshore wind power takes three years and costs $1,846. Solar photovoltaic arrays with battery storage built-in cost $1,612. Even a coal-fired powerplant with 90 percent carbon capture is cheaper at $5,861 per kilowatt of capacity. Electric companies are adding wind and solar at a far faster pace than other generation sources; not out of some do-gooder sentimentality, they are looking for the lowest price so they can be competitive. Low construction prices are critical in competitive electricity markets such as Texas’s ERCOT. Nuclear engineers have learned a lot in 60 years. They have designed small, modular reactors that are simpler. The reactors can be built in a factory and then delivered wherever needed. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still reviewing the designs for safety.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

SMU announces Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will replace Sonny Dykes as head coach

For the past five weeks, there’s been a question overshadowing the SMU football program: would this be the final year for head coach Sonny Dykes? Before that question was answered officially, SMU already answered the next question: who will replace Dykes? Miami (FL) offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, formerly an offensive coordinator at SMU, was announced as the next head coach of the Mustangs on Monday morning.

“As with previous transitions, our process was thorough and competitive. Ultimately, though, our conversations kept leading us back to one man — Rhett Lashlee,” Athletic Director Rick Hart said in a written statement. “Rhett’s ability to connect with recruits, his passion and love for his players and his alignment with our vision and values are among the many reasons he has been selected to lead SMU Football. We will provide Rhett with the support and resources he needs to bring a championship to the Hilltop, and are thrilled to welcome Rhett back to SMU. Lashlee met with SMU players Monday morning, sources told The Dallas Morning News. Senior offensive lineman Hayden Howerton, the school record holder for games played and games started, tweeted after, “The future of SMU Football is in GREAT hands.” “I am humbled and excited to be returning to SMU to lead Dallas’ College Football Team,” said Lashlee in a statement. “I want to thank President Turner, Rick Hart and the members of the search committee for this opportunity. My family and I look forward to engaging the community and continuing to strengthen the program’s ties to the city. On the field, we want to build on the foundation of success we’ve established and compete for — and win — championships.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Galveston Republicans gut precinct represented by county’s lone Black, Democratic county commissioner

During the last moments his political precinct was still intact, the lone Black member of the Galveston County Commissioners Court delivered a closing message to his all-Republican colleagues, as they prepared to approve a map that would effectively doom his re-election chances. “We are not going to go quietly in the night,” Commissioner Stephen Holmes said, half turning to address the other members at a Nov. 12 meeting. “We are going to rage, rage, rage until justice is done.” The new map, approved seconds later, dramatically reshapes Holmes’ Precinct 3, uprooting it from areas that he had represented since being appointed to the court in 1999. While the precinct had previously cut through the middle of Galveston County, covering an area where the majority of eligible voters were Black and Hispanic, it is now consolidated in the largely white and Republican northwest corner of the county, taking in Friendswood and League City.

Under the freshly drawn boundaries, Galveston County Republicans have laid the groundwork for winning a 5-0 majority on Commissioners Court in a county where 38 percent of voters cast their ballots for President Joe Biden last year. Holmes, the court’s only Democrat, is up for re-election in 2024. The dismantling of Holmes’ precinct mirrors the aggressive redistricting efforts seen across the country in recent months, with members of both parties using data from the 2020 Census to draw new political boundaries that expand or preserve their majorities — often at the expense of their fellow elected officials. No longer bound by strict federal supervision, Texas and other Republican-led southern states have crafted new maps in which minority voters are drawn into predominantly white districts. They’ve also enacted voting restrictions that critics say are aimed at suppressing turnout of minority communities. Holmes said he expects to be replaced by a white candidate, given that only about a quarter of the eligible voters in his new precinct are minorities.

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Houston Chronicle - November 26, 2021

'This is going to be a marathon': Texas congressional delegation preps push for Ike Dike

Members of Texas’ congressional delegation are gearing up for a "marathon" effort to secure funding for a long-sought barrier to protect the Texas Gulf Coast from catastrophic storm surge. That’s because it’s unlikely much, if any, of the resiliency funding in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law this month will go toward the $29 billion project. The effort will begin in earnest next year, when Texans in both chambers will push to include federal authorization for the so-called “Ike Dike” in a massive water resources bill that Congress passes every two years. But members of the delegation are bracing for what will likely be a long, difficult push for as much as $18 billion in federal funding.

“This is going to develop over a number of years,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, told Hearst Newspapers. “This is going to be a marathon.” Cornyn said he doesn’t anticipate trouble getting the federal OK for the project in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act, a biennial, typically bipartisan bill that helps pay for flood mitigation infrastructure across the country. But the water bill typically doesn’t pass Congress until fall or winter, and it isn’t expected to include funding for the coastal spine. “That’s going to be a heavy lift because, unfortunately, it’s easier to get money after a natural disaster than it is to prevent one,” Cornyn said. The project draws its name from Hurricane Ike, a catastrophic storm that hammered Galveston and the Texas Gulf Coast in September 2008. Ike rampaged through 26 Texas counties, leaving dozens dead and causing nearly $30?billion in damage before turning north.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

This North Texas city is the best place to live in the nation, New York Times says

An opinion column in The New York Times lists Euless as the best place to live in the nation. Other North Texas cities placed in the top 10 in the piece by Farhad Manjoo titled “Everyone’s Moving to Texas. Here’s Why.” Manjoo’s rankings examined criteria such as the cost of living, jobs, racial diversity and climate. The study examined 16,847 towns and cities across more than 30 metrics. “If you’re looking for an affordable, economically vibrant city that is less likely to be damaged by climate change than many other American cities, our data shows why Texas is a new land of plenty,” Manjoo wrote. Manjoo’s top 10 list also includes Edgecliff Village, a small suburb south of Fort Worth; Garland; Grand Prairie; DeSoto; Mesquite; and Cedar Hill. Other area cities, including Plano, McKinney and Allen, “came up a lot,” Manjoo wrote.

Manjoo identified jobs, housing, highly rated schools, good restaurants, clean air and racial and political diversity as some of the reasons. The area offers it all “at a steep discount compared to the cost of living in America’s coastal metropolises.” Manjoo also noted that tens of thousands of Californians have moved to Texas every year of the last decade, linking to a Dallas Morning News story about how Elon Musk’s relocation to the state follows 687,000 other Californians who’ve moved here in last decade. Texas is also out-competing every state in the race for California company relocations, The News reported in August. Euless has about 58,000 people with large numbers of Tongan and Nepalese residents. A sizable portion of the city is home to DFW Airport.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

North Texas man charged with assaulting cops during Capitol insurrection is running for Texas House

A North Texas man facing federal charges for allegedly assaulting police officers during the Jan. 6 insurrection and siege at the U.S. Capitol is now running for a Texas House seat. Mark Middleton, who was indicted in May by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. David Spiller of Jacksboro in House District 68. Following this year’s redistricting, the district stretches from the Oklahoma border south to Lampasas and San Saba counties at the edge of the Texas Hill Country. According to the Texas secretary of state website, the state Republican Party has accepted Middleton’s application to be a candidate in the March 1 primary. Middleton and his wife Jalise, of Forestburg, were captured on video and in photographs participating in the riot, the FBI says in a federal criminal complaint. They were arrested and released in April from the Collin County jail, according to jail records.

The couple have pleaded not guilty and are free on a personal recognizance bond while they await trial on nine counts involving assault of a law enforcement officer, interference with a law enforcement officer during civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, unlawful entry on restricted grounds, and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Mark Middleton could not immediately be reached for comment. Middleton, 52, lists on his LinkedIn profile that he is a volunteer firefighter and Cub Scout leader who worked in sales for Nortex Communications, an internet services company. He holds two business degrees and a Masters of Theology from Liberty University, according to his campaign website. On his candidate filing papers, Middleton listed a P.O. box in Era, which is 15 miles east of Forestburg, in Cooke County. He and Jalise live in southwest Cooke County on a small family farm, according to his campaign website. In the complaint, the FBI says it obtained body camera video that shows a man, later identified as Mark Middleton, pushing against the Capitol barricades and police line during the riot. The man yells an expletive at officers and struggles against them “for more than 30 seconds” as police tell the rioters to get back.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Former Burleson educators arrested on charges of abuse of disabled individual

Two former Burleson educators accused of improperly restraining students were arrested last week. Teacher Jeanna Mangus and teacher’s aide Holly Monroe were arrested on three misdemeanor charges of assault against an elderly or disabled individual. They worked with students with disabilities at Burleson’s Norwood Environmental Science Academy, an elementary school south of Fort Worth. The two are now former employees, Principal Candice Cook wrote in a message to families. She detailed allegations that Monroe and Mangus used “improper restraints behind the closed doors of their classroom.” Cook said that when she became aware of the allegations in late September, the school removed the educators from the classroom and investigated.

Burleson school officials declined to share details of the investigation publicly, citing federal privacy laws. “Student safety and welfare remains a top priority, and Burleson ISD will always act swiftly to intervene and partner with parents to provide students with the best learning environment possible,” district spokeswoman Mikala Hill said. Monroe and Mangus weren’t using approved techniques to restrain children “even though they were trained to do so,” Cook wrote to families. Mangus declined to comment Monday, and Monroe did not respond to a request for comment. Monroe received her educational aide certification from the state in 2002, and Mangus has been certified as a teacher since 2009, according to the State Board for Educator Certification. Burleson police referred questions to a city spokeswoman, who declined to provide further details about the case.

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D Magazine - November 29, 2021

The New York Times tries to figure out why people are moving to North Texas

Farhad Manjoo, self-described “lefty New York Times columnist” and Californian, paid a recent visit to Dallas in an effort to find out why “everyone’s moving to Texas.” The resulting column is worth reading, if a little scattershot. (It’s packaged with a fun little “Where Should You Live?” project that invites you to input your city-living priorities and spits out a recommended place to live; I got Chapel Hill, N.C.) It contains a handful of pertinent observations, like Manjoo’s suspicion that the blue state vs. red state stuff is overblown. For the people moving here (or anywhere), politics matter much less than (relative) affordability, jobs, and housing. Manjoo is right that Texas’ badly underfunded public services look even more pitiful when compared to California’s welfare benefits. But while our state’s natural beauty can’t quite match the mountains and beaches and forests of California no matter how many lagoon communities developers here throw up, most of the scenery is really quite similar:

“Texas has barbecue and California has burritos, but the American urban landscape has grown stultifyingly homogeneous over the past few decades, and perhaps one reason so many Californians are comfortable moving to Texas is that, on the ground, in the drive-through line at Starbucks or the colossal parking lot at Target, daily life is more similar than it is different.” I think Manjoo overrates the extent to which fear of climate change is now pushing people along the California-to-Texas pipeline, although that’s obviously something we should all take more seriously before it’s too late. (And if things continue the way they’re heading, climate change should prove more of a factor in cross-country moves). And Manjoo’s coastal eliteness gets the better of him at times. He avoids gratuitous references to livestock and things being bigger in Texas, which I very much appreciated, but is nevertheless shocked that people with liberal politics live in the ninth biggest city in the country.

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Quartz - November 29, 2021

Texans are bearing the cost of keeping the working class out of the statehouse

In March, members of the Texas House of Representatives presented a proposal to expand Medicaid benefits. The bill, signed by 67 Democrats and nine Republicans, had enough votes to pass. It would have set Texas on the path to join the majority of US states (38 so far) that have expanded their populations’ eligibility for Medicaid—which provides healthcare insurance to low-income groups—since it became a possibility under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet the bill was never brought to the House floor, as the Republican leadership opposed it based on two main arguments. The first was that the expansion isn’t financially sustainable in the long run. The second was ideological: Opponents of the expansion think it promotes dependency on government support while taking resources away from children and others in need, to the benefits of individuals who don’t deserve the help.

The uninsured Texans, known as the “working poor,” include about 1.4 million hourly or low-wage workers. These people, disproportionately Hispanic (61% of the uninsured) tend to have low levels of education (48% of the uninsured don’t have a high school degree), and earn less than $35,000 a year despite typically working full-time, often in jobs such as construction or the service industry. They are, in other words, part of the working class—a group to which precisely zero Texas legislators belong. Would the path of the Medicaid expansion—or at least the motivations to deny it—be different if more of the elected officials had direct experience in low-wage, working-class jobs? It’s likely, according to research by Nicholas Carnes, a political scientist at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, who has been studying whether being part of the working class has an impact on legislator voting behavior. The Texas legislature isn’t very representative of the state. Out of its 181 members—150 representatives and 31 senators—just three (1.7%) are Asian, 18 (10%) are Black, and 43 (23%) are Hispanic, even though nearly 60% of Texans are non-white. Women are underrepresented too, making up just over a quarter of the legislature. The lack of diversity is especially striking among Republican legislators: Out of 101, 98 are white, and 88 male.

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Houston Public Media - November 29, 2021

Masks, state takeovers and ‘critical race theory’ are on the ballot as 4 HISD board members face runoff challenges

Heather Golden is a parent in the Heights, part of HISD Trustee District 1. She’s the mother of two HISD high schoolers, both of whom have attended Title I schools for the majority of their education — schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40% of enrollment. Top of mind for Golden is a worry about children in Houston’s underserved communities. “My kids have gone to school in Title I schools the majority of their education time in HISD, and they see their friends who are struggling and need more help,” Golden said. “They want their friends to receive the help they need." She’ll be casting her ballot in the District 1 runoff election, in which incumbent Elizabeth Santos will face a challenge from Janette Garza Lindner. In describing how she made up her mind before voting in the general election, Golden said she looked at the incumbent’s performance and voting record. She’s also looking at the pandemic, and how the candidates propose to make up for learning losses.

Monday marks the start of early voting for Texas runoff elections, and four of the five Houston ISD board members who ran for reelection earlier this month must face the voters again. The contests hinge on issues ranging from local concerns about the quality of education, to statewide issues about the survival of the board as an elective body, to national debates over mask mandates and the teaching of critical race theory. Santos led the first round of voting in the District 1 general election, but fell short of 50%, prompting the runoff. Golden said she’ll be voting for Santos' challenger. But other Heights voters have concerns about Garza Lindner. Karina Quesada pointed to an interview Garza Lindner gave to The Leader newspaper that raised the issue of Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath's threat to take over HISD and replace its elected board with an appointed one. That threat is the subject of a lawsuit now before the Texas Supreme Court. "She stated that if there wasn’t new members on the board that she is open to a state takeover, and for me that is that is really important," Quesada said. "That bothers me very much because as a constituent, as a citizen, as a taxpayer, as a homeowner, I don’t want anybody, that’s OK with taking my ability to elect a representative to represent us, my children, and our teachers in this community."

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County Stories

Fort Worth Report - November 22, 2021

Local, state policies may contribute to higher cervical cancer death rate for Hispanic women in Tarrant County

Alma Zuniga kept her cancer a secret for as long as she could. She hid the evidence under wigs and makeup, and with eyebrow pencils she’d use to draw on facial hair every morning before work. “When people start talking about cancer, they’re going to say, ‘Well, what kind of cancer do you have?’” she said. Her answer — that she’d been diagnosed with human papillomavirus, and the HPV had turned to cervical cancer — felt too intimate to share. When she received her late-stage diagnosis in 2013, Zuniga was in her late 40s. She remembers her oncologist in Fort Worth saying her uterus was “very, very angry.” When she looks back, Zuniga blames her ignorance. Back then, she didn’t know much about cervical cancer, a disease that disproportionately affects Hispanic women in Tarrant County, Texas and the country.

The disparities deepen across county lines. Although their incidence rates are similar, Hispanic women in Tarrant County are more likely to die from cervical cancer than Hispanic women in Dallas County, according to a recent study funded by the American Cancer Society. The differences stem, in part, from a lack of education about cervical cancer and a lack of access to care, according to Marcela Nava, a health equity researcher and assistant professor at The University of Texas at Arlington. For some women, local and state policies make that access even harder. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by HPV, a virus that can pass from person to person through sex, and is typically preventable. “We can eliminate it in our lifetime,” said Erika Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine in 2006. Texas almost mandated the vaccine when Rick Perry was governor. “A lot of our other cancers, it’s hard to pinpoint: What do you need to do to prevent this cancer? For cervical cancer, we know. It’s pretty straightforward,” Thompson said. Much of her research centers HPV prevention. But not everyone knows about or accesses vaccines or preventive screening like Pap smears and HPV tests. Disparities along the “spectrum of prevention” contribute to disparities in cervical cancer incidence or death rates, Thompson said.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 29, 2021

Pickup accessory factory considers Fort Worth location

RSI SmartCap, a South Africa-based truck bed canopy company, is considering plans to build a plant in south Fort Worth. The City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to sweeten the pot. The plant is expected to bring a minimum of 250 jobs paying at least $65,800. That is one of the conditions RSI is expected to meet if it wants to get a proposed tax break from the city. Construction will also bring opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses. The city will require that 15% of all construction costs go to businesses with at least 51% minority or women ownership.

RSI SmartCap makes modular truck bed canopies, meaning they can be more easily assembled than the standard single-body models. The caps are made with stainless steel instead of fiberglass. Each cap has five stainless steel pieces and ranges in price from $3,195 to $3,895. The plant would be at 1501 Joel East Road. RSI plans to invest at least $2.5 million to improve an existing manufacturing plant, which the city expects will generate $55 million in taxable value once the project is completed. To encourage the development, the city could extend RSI a five-year tax abatement that would knock 40% off its property tax bill if the company meets certain conditions. Half of that tax break would come from increasing the total appraised value of the property to $55 million, up from $23.5 million. The other half would come from the staffing and minority- and women-owned business requirements. If it meets those conditions, RSI would see a tax break starting in 2027. The benefit is capped at $737,508. The council will vote at its 10 a.m. meeting on Tuesday.

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National Stories

Associated Press - November 29, 2021

Chris Cuomo's off-air role: Brother Andrew's strategist

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo had a bigger role than previously known in helping defend his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, from sexual harassment allegations that forced him out of office, newly released transcripts and text messages show. The TV journalist offered to reach out to "sources," including other reporters, to find out whether more women were going to come forward and relayed what he was hearing to his brother's advisers, according to the materials made public Monday. He also sparred with the former governor's aides over strategy, urging an apologetic tone and critiquing an early statement that he saw as downplaying the allegations. He accused a top aide of hiding information from his brother. At the same time, Chris Cuomo told investigators he spoke regularly with his brother, coaching him on his response and admonishing him for "bad judgment."

Chris Cuomo previously acknowledged it was a “mistake” to act as his brother’s unofficial adviser, but the full extent of his involvement — including using journalistic contacts to scope out accusers — only became clear with Monday's release of his July interview with investigators and 169 pages of text messages, emails and other communications. “I was worried that this wasn’t being handled the right way, and it’s not my job to handle it, okay?” Chris Cuomo told investigators, according to the transcript. “I don’t work for the governor." Andrew Cuomo resigned in August to avoid a likely impeachment trial, after an investigation led by state Attorney General Letitia James found he sexually harassed at least 11 women. Chris Cuomo, the host of CNN's “Cuomo Prime Time,” said he never reported on his brother's situation for the network and never tried to influence coverage. On-air in August, he said: “I tried to do the right thing,” adding he “wasn’t in control of anything.” CNN issued a statement saying the transcripts and exhibits “deserve a thorough review and consideration. ”

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Health expert warns of next pandemic unless U.S. takes these important steps

Nearly two years since the first confirmed case in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic is still in full swing. National case numbers are rising. Only 59% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Doctors, scientists and public health experts are working to soften the coronavirus’ impact through new medications. Booster shots are available to all vaccinated adults. Two pharmaceutical companies are awaiting approval of their experimental pills to treat COVID-19. But until the U.S. addresses social, economic and racial inequities, the country won’t be ready to fight the next pandemic-inducing virus, warn experts like Dr. Sandro Galea, a physician, epidemiologist and dean of the Boston University School of Public Health.

“As the [next] pandemic hits, we are going to understandably be talking a lot about vaccines, about the need for therapeutics and about the need for stockpiling. But all of that is not going to be enough,” Galea said. “We also need to pay attention to the underlying social structures that determine our health.” Galea will speak at the Park City Club in Dallas on Thursday, Dec. 2, in an event hosted by the World Affairs Council of Dallas-Fort Worth. He will address the systemic public health issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways they leave the U.S. vulnerable to future health crises. Galea has spent years studying the components that create healthy populations. His work in rural communities across the world helped inform his new book, The Contagion Next Time, which outlines ways to “increase pandemic resiliency.” The country has done well in treating illnesses and moving quickly to develop new medical technologies like the COVID-19 vaccines, Galea said. Where we’ve fallen short is in addressing the factors that determine health, he said. What builds and supports “health is whether you have a livable wage, whether you’re living in a safe house, whether you’re breathing clean air, have drinkable water, nutritious food, whether you have the opportunity to exercise,” he said. “All of that is created by the world around you, by the conditions of where you live, work and play.”

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Newsclips - November 29, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Matthew McConaughey says he will not run for Texas governor

Actor Matthew McConaughey said Sunday evening that he has decided not to run for Texas governor after considering the idea for several months. In a three-minute video posted to his Twitter and Instagram accounts, the Oscar winner said that he was humbled to be regarded as a possible candidate but that it is a path he is “choosing not to take at this moment.” “As a simple kid born in the little town of Uvalde, Texas, it never occurred to me that I would one day be considered for political leadership,” he said. “It’s a humbling and inspiring path to ponder.” McConaughey, 52, said that as he was considering running for governor, he was learning about Texas and American politics and found that “we have some problems that we need to fix.” “We’ve gotta start shining a light on our shared values — the ones that cross party lines, the ones that build bridges instead of burning them,” he said. “I’ve learned that with freedom comes responsibility and that great leaders serve.”

McConaughey said he would continue to be of service in other ways, by supporting “entrepreneurs, businesses and foundations that I believe are leaders.” He signed off in the video with “Until next time, just keep livin’.” McConaughey, who first came to prominence for his role in the movie Dazed and Confused in 1993, won an Academy Award for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, a 2013 film about the early days of the AIDS epidemic. He was named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2005. His announcement came almost two weeks after Democrat Beto O’Rourke launched his campaign for governor. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott filed for a third term Tuesday. A campaign representative for O’Rourke declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Abbott’s campaign. Alice Stewart, the former communications director for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, said on CNN Sunday evening that the actor had raised some important issues in his announcement. “He did talk about the political discourse in this country and lowering the temperature and the need for making sure that we have elected officials that serve people for all the right reasons,” she said.

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Axios - November 29, 2021

GOP courts anti-vaxxers with jobless aid

Republican officials around the country are testing a creative mechanism to build loyalty with unvaccinated Americans while undermining Biden administration mandates: unemployment benefits. Driving the news: Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have changed their unemployment insurance rules to allow workers who are fired or quit over vaccine mandates to receive benefits. The big picture: Extending unemployment benefits to the unvaccinated is just the latest in a series of proposals aligning the GOP with people who won't get a COVID shot. Republicans see a prime opportunity to rally their base ahead of the midterms. No matter how successful their individual efforts, the campaign is a powerful messaging weapon.

Details: Nine GOP-controlled states have passed laws requiring exemptions for the Biden administration's vaccine mandate, or banning private companies from requiring vaccination altogether, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Several states have made it as easy as possible for workers to claim exemptions, allowing them to opt-out on philosophical grounds or requiring businesses to accept all requests for religious or medical exemptions without proof. Legal uncertainty created by a wide variety of new vaccine exemptions in Florida – including for past COVID-19 infections and "anticipated future pregnancy" – prompted Disney World to suspend its vaccine mandate on Tuesday. In Congress, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) is leading a formal challenge against the federal vaccine mandate using the Congressional Review Act, the official process for Congress to eliminate an executive branch rule. The resolution is "guaranteed a vote on the Senate floor," according to Braun's office, which could come as early as December. At least 20 bills have been introduced to chip away at Biden's mandates. The backdrop: On Sept. 8, President Biden announced a new rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to implement vaccine mandates, affecting roughly 80 million private sector workers, as well as millions of federal workers and contractors.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Why cryptocurrency miners pose the next big threat to the Texas’ electric grid

Texas, already home to the most vulnerable power grid in the U.S., is about to be hit by a surge in demand for electricity that’s twice the size of Austin’s. An army of cryptocurrency miners heading to the state for its cheap power and laissez-faire regulation is forecast to send demand soaring by as much as 5,000 megawatts over the next two years. The crypto migration to Texas has been building for months, but the sheer volume of power those miners will need — two times more than the capital city of almost 1 million people consumed in all of 2020 — is only now becoming clear. The boom comes as the electrical system is already under strain from an expanding population and robust economy. Even before the new demand comes online, the state’s grid has proven to be lethally unreliable. Catastrophic blackouts in February plunged millions into darkness for days, and, ultimately, led to at least 210 deaths.

Proponents like Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, say crypto miners are ultimately good for the grid, since they say the miners can soak up excess clean power and, when needed, can voluntarily throttle back in seconds to help avert blackouts. But it raises the question of what these miners will do when the state’s electricity demand inevitably outstrips supply: Will they adhere to an honor system of curtailing their power use, especially when the Bitcoin price is itself so high, or will it mean even more pressure on an overwhelmed grid? “There’s nobody looking at the scale of potential investment in crypto and its energy demand over the next couple of years and trying to account for that in some sort of strategic plan,” said Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of the consumer advocacy and lobbying group Public Citizen, which has sharply criticized the vulnerabilities of the state’s unregulated power market. Texas is rolling out the red carpet for crypto miners as onetime leader China has banned the industry. Mining for crypto requires massive amounts of power, complicating Beijing’s efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and shore up energy supplies ahead of the winter.

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Associated Press - November 29, 2021

Supreme Court set to take up all-or-nothing abortion fight

Both sides are telling the Supreme Court there's no middle ground in Wednesday's showdown over abortion. The justices can either reaffirm the constitutional right to an abortion or wipe it away altogether. Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that declared a nationwide right to abortion, is facing its most serious challenge in 30 years in front of a court with a 6-3 conservative majority that has been remade by three appointees of President Donald Trump. “There are no half measures here,” said Sherif Girgis, a Notre Dame law professor who once served as a law clerk for Justice Samuel Alito. A ruling that overturned Roe and the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey would lead to outright bans or severe restrictions on abortion in 26 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

The case being argued Wednesday comes from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. The Supreme Court has never allowed states to ban abortion before the point at roughly 24 weeks when a fetus can survive outside the womb. The justices are separately weighing disputes over Texas' much earlier abortion ban, at roughly six weeks, though those cases turn on the unique structure of the law and how it can be challenged in court, not the abortion right. Still, abortion rights advocates were troubled by the court's 5-4 vote in September to allow the Texas law, which relies on citizen lawsuits to enforce it, to take effect in the first place. “This is the most worried I’ve ever been,” said Shannon Brewer, who runs the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The clinic offers abortions up to 16 weeks of pregnancy and about 10% of abortions it performs take place after the 15th week, Brewer said. She also noted that since the Texas law took effect, the clinic has seen a substantial increase in patients, operating five days or six days a week instead of two or three.

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State Stories

Texas Observer - November 28, 2021

As Texas’ $10 billion corporate tax break program comes to close, state comptroller wants to cover up its costs

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar is pursuing new rules that opponents warn would weaken transparency and accountability for the state’s biggest corporate tax break program, Chapter 313, just as it is set to expire at the end of 2022. The comptroller’s proposals, which were published last Friday, would effectively cover the program in a cloak of opacity, obscuring the billions of dollars that the state will still be on the hook for even after the program shuts its doors. Hundreds of these lucrative school property tax deals are still in their early years—or still awaiting approval—and will remain active for decades to come, as far out as 2049. The hulking property tax abatement program met its unexpected demise this year when state lawmakers chose not to renew it. For years, Chapter 313 has allowed local school districts to grant corporations steep discounts on property tax bills for 10 years in exchange for building large-scale projects. The program was a coup for major manufacturing firms, oil and gas giants, and other large corporations that have saved billions of dollars on school property taxes since the Chapter 313’s inception 20 years ago.

But support for the once-popular program flagged amid concerns about its rapidly ballooning size, at last count, of 600 active projects and an estimated total lifetime cost of roughly $11 billion in foregone tax revenue. Chapter 313 also drew scrutiny over its biggest selling points: that these projects—which technically would only happen because of these deals—create lots of high-paying quality jobs and that the value these facilities bring to school tax rolls over the long-term easily outweigh the cost of a decades worth of tax breaks. The data and reports that the comptroller is proposing to get rid of or make less accessible have allowed for several exposés uncovering the program’s many flaws. A recent Texas Observer investigation into the Chapter 313 deals that have now come to an end found that companies often drastically overestimated how much value the projects will bring back to the tax rolls. A Houston Chronicle investigation also found that corporations routinely failed to create the required job and wage requirements once they secured the tax incentives. The Comptroller’s Office, which administers Chapter 313, has decided the best response to these findings is to simply do away with the pesky data collection and value projections and weaken job reporting requirements. First, the comptroller wants to do away with the biennial reports that require companies to provide actual and estimated figures for a project’s market value, taxable value, and annual gross tax benefits for the entire lifespan of their Chapter 313 agreements—including for a number of years after the tax breaks end. This data provides critical information on the projected long-term costs and benefits of the program. For instance, the comptroller uses that data to forecast the total amount of tax revenue that is foregone because of the program each year. (The annual cost of the tax breaks is currently projected to surpass $1 billion a year in 2023.) That dataset is a powerful tool for analysis and accountability. That data revealed that companies applying for 313 deals routinely make wildly optimistic projections about how much their projects will generate once they return to tax rolls.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

The $400 million federal push to steer Texas drivers toward an electric future

The U.S. has never been more serious about transitioning to clean energy on roadways. But is Texas serious about it? A Biden administration plan aims to shift 50% of passenger vehicle sales in the U.S. to electric vehicles by 2030, rather than cars and trucks running on fossil fuels. To accomplish this, the administration has pushed legislation providing a slew of tax credits for EV purchases as well as funding for infrastructure. It’s an ambitious plan — the success of which will depend partly upon the buildout of a $7.5 billion nationwide network of charging stations with funding from the recent infrastructure bill passed by Congress. Texas will receive $408 million of that funding for charging stations, and could apply for additional grants from a $2.5 billion pool. Experts see additional, faster-charging stations placed strategically around the state as a way to persuade more consumers to buy electric. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 80% of electric vehicle charging happens when the car is parked at home and plugged in at night.

Still, one of the biggest perceived roadblocks for consumers considering the shift is something called “range anxiety.” It’s a term used to describe the fear of setting off on a trip only to be stranded with a dead vehicle and nowhere to charge it. In Texas, reaching U.S. goals will mean overcoming anxieties and getting millions more electric vehicles on the road. California leads the nation in EV adoption, followed by Florida and Texas. The states with the most EVs on the road also happen to be the country’s most populous. Texas had 52,190 electric vehicles registered by the end of June 2021, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s fewer than 1% of the 22 million total vehicles registered in the state, according to data from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The state needs more than 14,000 charging stations to support the number of electric vehicles projected to be on roads by 2030, according to a 2018 report from environmental research nonprofit Environment Texas. Whether that estimate holds true for Texas in coming years is dependent on how fast adoption grows — especially considering the switchover to electric is happening faster than previously anticipated, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, executive director of the Texas Electric Transportation Resource Alliance.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 29, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: In Texas politics, moral victories can be meaningful

When people talk about elections having consequences, they usually mean that winners get to exert their will over the lawmaking process. But election consequences are often more subtle than that. Consider the case of state Rep. Ina Minjarez, the San Antonio Democrat who has devoted much of her time in the Legislature to finding common ground on issues that cut across the partisan divide, such as foster care reform and cyberbullying. This year, however, Minjarez grew frustrated with a relentless GOP culture-war agenda that ignored urgent problems (the state’s fragile power grid; the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic) in favor of targeting transgender kids and critical race theory, allowing permitless carry of handguns, restricting voting access and weaponizing private citizens to enforce a near-total abortion ban. So she decided to walk away.

Last week, Minjarez, one of the most dedicated and effective members of the Texas House, announced that she will run for Bexar County judge rather than seek another term in the Legislature. The way Minjarez sees it, the Texas Legislature will continue to be a dysfunctional body until/unless voters send a message to this state’s leaders. “It’s all determined on what the election results are going to be,” she said on the Express-News’ Puro Politics podcast. “The session before (in 2019), the Republicans got the scare of their life when it looked like the AG (Ken Paxton) barely held on to his seat, (Lt. Gov.) Dan Patrick as well. Because of that, we had such a great session. “That was the whole focus on public education funding. We lovingly referred to it as the ‘Kumbaya Legislative Session,’ because we were are all in sync together.” In the 2014 midterms, every single statewide Republican candidate won by a margin of at least 19 percentage points. In 2018, four statewide Republican incumbents (including Paxton and Patrick) won re-election by less than five points. Democrats gained 12 seats in the Texas House and two seats in the U.S. House.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 29, 2021

Trey Martinez Fischer: Once again, San Antonio cut out of redistricting

In 1968, San Antonio celebrated its 250th birthday on the global stage with the World’s Fair. Among the many local leaders who contributed to the success of HemisFair ’68 was the late U.S. Rep. Henry B. González, who represented downtown San Antonio. Today, that park is no longer represented by a San Antonian. Like many other downtown assets, it has been drawn into a congressional district anchored in Austin. For many, the specifics of redistricting are foreign concepts. Some don’t know what it is, and some believe it is primarily political gamesmanship played by elected officials seeking to preserve their power. That’s part of the story for some lawmakers, but it fails to capture how this process can drastically change communities. This process, done carelessly or with ill intent, can lead to bad outcomes for all of us. District lines change, incumbents gain new constituents, and communities are divided.

This year, with a new round of redistricting, San Antonio lost, and we will feel that loss for a decade without intervention. Perhaps the courts will step in and find a Section 2 violation of the Voting Rights Act, meaning lawmakers denied Latinos the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. Or perhaps Congress will provide relief by passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would require federal oversight of state redistricting and voting rights laws in states such as Texas with a history of targeted voter suppression. Until then, Texas is stuck with the discriminatory maps signed into law last month. Politics aside, this loss for San Antonio will be felt personally by many of our neighbors. Being represented in Congress by someone who lives in our community, who knows its concerns and who shares in its burdens is important. For many San Antonians, this will not be the case over the next 10 years. Our region’s priorities may not be addressed as swiftly, and we will lack an advocate that places our needs first. Under the new maps, our central business district, downtown university and the River Walk have been drawn into a district anchored by a majority of its population in Austin. Our beloved Alamo, a famed historical landmark and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state, has been drawn into a district anchored in Laredo.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Houston has two of the top 3 best value colleges in Texas; one beats UT Austin

Houston is the best city in Texas for students seeking a cost-effective higher education, according to a 2021 list of best value colleges compiled by financial technology company SmartAsset. Rice University and the University of Houston ranked first and third in the company's list, which considered the base tuition, the average scholarship size, and the average starting salary, along with student retention rate and local living costs. Prairie View A&M University, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, ranked seventh, the top value historically Black university in Texas. No other city in Texas had more than one college in the top ten. The University of Texas at Austin took a distant second place, with the Rice Owls trouncing the Longhorns for the best overall value despite the far higher tuition at the private university.

While the state's top public university charges only $10,600 per year for in-state students compared to Rice's $47,300 price tag, the latter brings down its sticker price with $38,000 in scholarships on average. Rice graduates also obtain an average starting salary of $72,000, about $10,000 more than the average UT graduate. The University of Houston, at third, is the best value local university in Texas, offering tuition and an average scholarship comparable to UT Austin and an average starting salary of $57,000. The school shot up from 7th place in the 2020 rankings and Houston's Cougars edged out the Aggies of Texas A&M University, which sank to fourth with a slightly higher tuition and lower average scholarship than their rival in Austin. The Aggies were followed by UT Dallas, Texas Tech, Prairie View A&M, LeTourneau University, Midwestern State, and Texas State in the Lone Star top ten. UT Arlington and Trinity University in San Antonio no longer made the list this year. But in a U.S. list dominated by technical universities and institutions, Texas schools fell short of cracking the top ten best value colleges nationally. Rice University ranked 16th, behind the Virginia Military Institute but ahead of Duke University, while the University of Houston ranked 35th, behind the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Texas overall ranked in the bottom half of states at 28th nationally.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Thousands of children in Texas lost a parent to COVID, and families are left to pick up the pieces

More than 140,000 children — including 14,000 in Texas — lost at least one parent or caregiver to COVID-19 through the first 14 months of the pandemic, according to study by American Academy of Pediatrics, and the impact will be felt beyond the families who suddenly lost heads of households, wage earners, caregivers and the love of parents and spouses. Study after study has shown that single-parent households are likely to do worse than those with two parents and more likely to slip into poverty and all that entails, including increased risks of unstable housing, low educational attainment and mental health problems. The academy’s study, published in October, also underscored how the pandemic has disproportionately affected minorities. In Texas, for example, about 58 percent of the children who lost parents were Hispanic and another 16 percent were Black. These heart-rending statistics can be explained in part by some minority groups having larger families, which means the loss of a parent affects more children. But other factors were at work, too.

More than 70 percent of Black and Hispanic men worked work in frontline jobs in industries such as retail, warehousing, meat packing and health care, increasing the risk of exposure to COVID-19, according to the National Institutes of Health. Hispanics were nearly twice as likely to contract COVID-19 as non-Hispanic whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In addition, deeply rooted inequities in the health care system have put some racial and ethnic groups at higher risk of conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease, which would make them more vulnerable to COVID and likely experience worse outcomes if they caught it. “The entire pandemic has thrown into sharp contrast these health disparities among racial and ethnic groups,” said Susan Hillis, the author of the report. Other epidemics, such as the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ‘90s, have increased the number of children losing one or both parents, Hillis said. What sets COVID-19 apart is how quickly the disease can progress, leaving families with little time to ready themselves for the loss. “With COVID, often someone is dead within like several days or two weeks,” Hillis said. “And so suddenly, there's this anticipated shock without adequate time to prepare families.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

Coral in the Gulf of Mexico are facing an extreme threat. Here's how Moody Gardens is trying to help.

Brooke Carlson checks in at least once each shift on the nearly 100 refugee coral at Moody Gardens. Scientists rescued them in recent years from Florida, where a disease is swiftly killing colonies. Zoos and aquariums nationwide took them in. The coral are the hope for one day building back the reef. The Florida coral in Galveston now live in three large, blue tanks. Carlson and the team make saltwater for them to live in, stir together refrigerated and frozen food to eat, and monitor how they respond to LED lights that mimic the sun. The process involves both caring for and learning about them; at least one species has never been in captivity before. “These animals didn’t choose to be here,” said Carlson, squeezing their liquid lunch into the tank with a turkey baster. “As a keeper, my job is to give them what the ocean would, which is a very big task.”

That so many coral were saved and so many facilities offered to look after them shows how important scientists felt the effort was. Coral worldwide already suffer from climate change. The disease in Florida, called stony coral tissue loss disease, affected almost half the stony coral species there, according to the state. More than 80 percent that got it died. But the success story in saving some also gave way to further concern. Galveston researchers realized the disease might come closer to home. The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary near Texas has some of the healthier coral that remain. The coral are deep in the Gulf of Mexico and roughly 100 miles off the coast, which might protect them, though it also makes them harder to help. Stony coral tissue loss disease spread quickly. People first identified it in 2014 in Florida. It went on to infect coral along the entire 360-mile Florida Coral Reef, which curls along the bottom tip of that state. Scientists hoped the disease wouldn’t reach Dry Tortugas National Park at the westernmost end. It did. That sounded alarm bells at Flower Garden.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Resign, Craddick and Christian. Regulators misled about winter storm and failed to prevent another

Nine months ago, Wayne Christian was standing in his dark house, wearing three layers of coats to keep warm, one of millions of Texans who lost power from a ferocious winter storm. On the morning of Feb. 17, Christian, the chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s natural gas industry, phoned into the agency’s emergency Zoom meeting to test drive a statement that could spin the crisis in favor of oil and gas. “The takeaway from this storm should not be the future of fossil fuels, but the dangers of subsidizing and mandating intermittent, unreliable forms of energy at the expense of using our resources to make the grid more resilient to extreme weather events,” Christian said. It took less than 24 hours for the statement to become gospel — and for wind and solar, which played bit parts in the winter storm tragedy, to be cast as arch villains.

Long before public officials could take inventory of the storm’s damage — as many as 700 people dead, more than 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses, including 1.4 million in the Houston area, were without power for days — Christian’s chief goal seemed to have nothing to do with protecting Texans and everything to do with protecting industry, and his political career. In email responses, he doubled down on absolving the natural gas industry, according to the Texas Tribune, even including his statement in a newsletter to his political supporters. Meanwhile, Christian’s fellow commissioner and the agency’s former chairwoman, Christi Craddick, declared that the industry did not need to uniformly weatherize — “one-size-fits-all is always a challenge for us,” she told the Legislature. She told a U.S. House committee in March that the oil and gas industry were not the problem, but rather “the solution.” “Any issues of frozen (natural gas) equipment could have been avoided had the production facilities not been shut down by power outages,” Craddick said. (The RRC’s third commissioner, Jim Wright, was elected last November, and had only been in office a short time when the storm struck.)

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

GOP-drawn congressional map splits up Hispanic communities in D-FW, diluting their voting power

Texas’ new, Republican-drawn congressional map carves up Hispanic communities in the Dallas and Fort Worth suburbs, placing some of them in an enlarged district that’s controlled by white voters. Those shifts boost the GOP’s grip on Congressional District 6 while weakening Hispanic clout in Congressional District 33, a majority-minority seat in which Hispanics previously made up nearly half of eligible voters. Mapmakers this year stretched District 6 from a fairly compact seat in southern Tarrant County and Ellis and Navarro counties into a sprawling district that includes Cherokee County in East Texas and the more rural Hill, Freestone and Anderson counties. Snaking through southeast Tarrant County, the redesign pulled in some heavily Hispanic areas of the old Congressional District 33, including a large part of Irving in Dallas County. Democrats and voting rights advocates say the contorted lines whitewash the booming Hispanic community, which made up nearly half of Texas’ population gain since 2020.

People of color accounted for 95% of the state’s population growth over the last decade, with much of the increase concentrated in cities and suburban areas, census data show. “It’s a power grab at the expense of the Hispanic vote,” said Sal Carrillo, director of a North Texas district of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “It’s not just [Republicans] maintaining power. It’s taking away power from the Hispanic population,” said Carrillo, of LULAC District 21, who lives in Fort Worth. Similar efforts to engineer solidly red seats were evident throughout North Texas, as GOP lawmakers melded fast-changing suburban communities with larger, whiter and more rural districts. The maneuvering comes as Tarrant County has emerged as one of the state’s biggest political wildest cards. Demographic changes have made Democratic Party candidates more competitive in the historically Republican area. In 2020, former President Donald Trump won District 6 by about three percentage points. Under the new plan, Trump would have carried the district by about 24 points. The redraw protects first-term GOP Rep. Jake Ellzey.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Reports detail Texas Railroad Commissioners’ ties to oil and gas industry

A series of reports from an advocacy group has made broad allegations that all three elected members of the Texas Railroad Commission are too closely tied to the oil and gas industry that they regulate. The nonprofit group Commission Shift in a series of reports undertaken with Texans for Public Justice alleges that the Railroad Commission is a “captured” agency — one that has become so entwined with the industry it regulates that it can no longer effectively oversee it. Among its many findings, Commission Shift found that all three commissioners received more than 60% of their campaign donations from companies or individuals with direct or indirect ties to the oil and gas industry. It also found that some members did not recuse themselves from votes involving companies they had personal or indirect connections with through their business or investment holdings.

Commission Shift is calling for stricter rules on commissioners recusing themselves from votes, more specific financial disclosures and campaign contribution rules barring companies with pending matters before the board from donating to candidates or commissioners. It also proposed Texas adopt similar rules to Oklahoma, which requires members of its oil and gas regulatory board to divest from the industry. “Bottom line, I think it is time to reform conflict of interest policies at the Railroad Commission,” said Virginia Palacios, Commission Shift’s executive director. The series of three reports highlights that all three commissioners have ties to the oil and gas industry. The oddly named Railroad Commission has little to do with trains and is Texas’ chief regulator of the state’s massive oil and natural gas industry. Unlike many of Texas’ other regulatory boards, its members are elected in statewide elections. Many view the Railroad Commission as a stepping stone to higher office. In a series of three reports released in recent months, Commission Shift detailed the personal finances of each railroad commissioner, examining their personal finance reports that elected officials are required to file with the Texas Ethics Commission. All three commissioners responded to questions from The Dallas Morning News about Commission Shift’s findings and their ties to the oil and gas industry. All three either did not respond to Commission Shift’s criticism of their ability to regulate an industry they have stake in or said it did not make a difference in their judgment.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2021

Finally, here comes infrastructure: ‘A big prize for every person in Texas,’ says expert

“Infrastructure week” became a punchline in American politics because elected leaders spent years talking about repairing roads, bridges, dams, rail lines, airports, water supplies and more — yet never could manage to pony up the money. All that changed this month after Congress approved $548 billion in new spending on infrastructure. President Joe Biden said this would be the biggest such investment since the U.S. built the interstate highway system and launched the space program decades ago. Texas stands to be among the major beneficiaries because it’s the second-most-populous state and the fastest-growing one. Since 2010, Texas has added 4.1 million people — over 1 million more than Florida and nearly 2 million more than California, its closest rivals in population growth. Dallas-Fort Worth added 1.27 million people in the past decade, surpassing the growth of larger metros like New York and Los Angeles.

“There’s a lot of people and a lot of need,” said Mark Boyd, principal engineer for LCA Environmental Inc. in the Dallas area. “So many are moving here every day, and they’re not bringing their water supply with them — or their roads.” Texas is in line to get over $35 billion in infrastructure improvements over the next five years, according to White House estimates. That includes $26.9 billion for highways and roads in Texas, along with $3.3 billion for public transportation and $2.9 billion for improving water infrastructure. Texas’ highways and roads were graded a “D+” by the American Society of Civil Engineers in its 2021 report card on Texas infrastructure. That means highways and roads are poor and at risk. “Many Texas motorists are seeing increased delays, limited roadway capacities and deteriorating conditions,” the report card said. “Auto commuters in Austin, D-FW and Houston face significantly more congestion than the national average. The average Texan spends 54 hours in traffic at a cost of $1,080 annually.” Implementing the buildup will be a challenge, in part because engineering firms and construction companies already have labor shortages. The infrastructure bill is projected to support over 175,000 new construction jobs annually, along with almost 46,000 jobs in professional, scientific and technical services, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

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FOX 7 Austin - November 29, 2021

Texas Gov. Abbott promises power will stay on this winter

The cooler air that blew into Texas Friday was a reminder winter is not far away, and a reminder of how the electrical power grid almost collapsed back in February. FOX 7 Austin asked Gov. Greg Abbott about his expectations for the grid and if he was confident it’s going to stay up. "Listen very confident about the grid and I can tell you why, for one I signed almost a dozen laws that make the power grid more effective," said Abbott.

A big part of protecting the grid is set to happen Dec. 1 when power generators across Texas must notify the Public Utility Commission winter weatherization plans are in place. Inspections will begin in January - and with power companies reporting 15% more power generating capacity than last winter- Abbott doubled down on his confidence in the grid. "I can guarantee the lights will stay on," said Abbott. That promise may have strings attached to it. Dr. Ed Hirs, an energy expert with the University of Houston, offered his assessment on what may best be described as a "conditional" promise. "Well the governor is betting the weather stays mild, and if it gets cold that the electric utilities are ready to go. There is no evidence that they are," said Hirs. Hirs warned the power generation stated by the governor falls short of what would be needed to address another February crisis. He is also worried some natural gas pipe lines, that froze up as temperatures fell, will not be winterized. That concern is fueled by a loophole created by the agency regulating that industry. "The Railroad Commission has given critical gas infrastructure an out, all they have to do is send in an application for exemption from the rules, $159 fee, there's still investigations going on as to whether or not the market had been purposely manipulated. FERC in its report of two weeks ago said that investigation is ongoing with other FERC offices and probably with other law enforcement agencies," said Hirs.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 29, 2021

Move to ban 'pornographic' books in TX schools targets LGBTQ+ memoirs, novels on race

In their award-winning memoirs, Maia Kobabe and Carmen Maria Machado write about sexual experiences. In "Gender Queer: a Memoir," Kobabe, who identifies as nonbinary and goes by the pronoun eir, shares the experience coming to terms with eir gender identity and sexuality. Machado focuses on an abusive same-sex relationship in her book, "In the Dream House." The autobiographies — considered by many librarians to be beneficial for teens grappling with similar questions about their gender, sexuality or experiences in relationships — have become the target of a new movement to ban books in schools. Gov. Greg Abbott called this month for authorities to investigate "any criminal activity in our public schools involving the availability of pornography,” having previously pointed out school districts that had removed books from libraries or reading lists.

But can nonfictional memoirs be considered pornography and legally censored? Several legal and library experts interviewed by the American-Statesman said probably not. But calls to have some pulled from library and school district shelves are growing, even as the First Amendment is supposed to protect the "right to receive ideas" and places a high bar for public entities to remove access to books. Although Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency to investigate criminal activity related to obscenity in schools, law enforcement officers usually carry out criminal investigations and share them with prosecutors who decide whether to file charges. A jury would then determine whether the material is obscene and in violation of state law. Because of First Amendment protections, such prosecutions don't occur very often, said Shannon Edmonds, staff attorney for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. Pornography is not usually mentioned in the legal system, unless it is in reference to the crime of child pornography. “The terms can get thrown around, but legally speaking, (books, pictures, films or videos) have to meet these different standards under the First Amendment or under these criminal statutes,” said Rebecca Pirius, legal editor of the online resource Nolo. More often, such cases hinge on whether sexual content is obscene or is protected by the First Amendment.

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KUT - November 23, 2021

Small towns around Austin struggle with big-city housing costs

To get to Taylor from downtown Austin, you’ll likely take U.S. Highway 79 east through the booming suburbs of Round Rock and Hutto. Continue on and that development begins to thin out and the surroundings return to a semblance of what most of this area looked like 20 years ago, rolling farmland in Texas' Blackland Prairie. Driving into Taylor, the vibe is rural but not the usual trope of a dying, small town. The city has seen a gradual increase in its population in the past 10 years, and with that has come a renaissance of sorts. Taylor will soon be home to a $17 billion Samsung microchip-making plant, which is also expected to bring a lot of newcomers. Downtown Taylor features the classic Louie Mueller barbecue joint, as it has for decades. But it’s now accompanied by new businesses that have made downtown their home. A brewery, coffee shop, some bars, restaurants and small boutiques are scattered among other various abandoned, historic buildings.

“All we had was basically fast-food restaurants,” said Gerald Anderson, a native of Taylor who serves on the city council. “And now you see a lot more mom and pop restaurants popping up, a lot of bars and just things for people to do. So, over the last 10 years, it's changed dramatically for the better.” But Anderson is concerned that as Austin's population continues to grow outwards, Taylor’s growth will accelerate at a rapid pace. And with the surge in housing prices during the pandemic, he says his rural community is grappling with urban issues like affordability and gentrification. The real estate mortgage company Redfin estimates the median home price in Taylor was $188,000 in October 2019. Two years later, that median home price jumped to $300,000. According to U.S. census data, the median household income in Taylor is $52,672, and only one-third of households earn more than $75,000. “The new subdivisions that start at $270,000, most people can't afford,” Anderson said, “especially people directly out of college or just getting started on their own or young families. They're being priced out, and they're priced out of Austin and priced out of Round Rock. So, what we don't want to do is price them out of Taylor.”

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Beaumont Enterprise - November 28, 2021

Beaumont’s Battleship Texas dreams are still afloat

Bringing the only remaining American vessel to serve in both World War I and World War II, The Battleship Texas, to dock in Beaumont’s waters is not off the table. And Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of The Battleship Texas Foundation Bruce Bramlett came to a Beaumont City Council workshop last week to share financial information and again pitch the ship as an asset to the city. The ship currently is moving to a shipyard in Galveston where repairs will be completed. “There's only one piece of this puzzle left and it is the one (that) has been most present on my mind since this all started,” Bramlett said. “Where will the new home of the Battleship Texas be? It is the most critical question I believe we face as an organization because if we get this wrong, there will be no turning back.”

The foundation is looking at multiple locations, including Beaumont, to be a home for the ship, but so far no city officially has submitted a proposal. The ship’s repairs will happen in Galveston and are estimated to take about a year. At that point, it will be ready to move to its new home. The foundation is unable to say how much Beaumont could have to spend to take on the ship. The city would have to consider not just docking the ship but also shoreline facilities. But Bramlett was very clear about one thing: “Every spot that we have visited with somebody inevitably says, ‘Oh, we don't want to get involved with The Battleship Texas because if it's in our city then we are responsible to maintain it.’” he said. “I have no idea where that came from. It is totally false.” The State of Texas owns the ship and is expected to pay maintenance fees, according to a letter from Texas Parks and Wildlife. According to Beaumont City Manager Kyle Hayes, the rough estimate for docking the ship is $7 million dollars. In order to find a hard number, the council would need to have a full investigation done.

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Associated Press - November 28, 2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci fires back at Sen. Ted Cruz over COVID claims about Chinese lab

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, blasted Sen. Ted Cruz for suggesting that Fauci be investigated for statements he made about COVID-19 and said the criticism by the Texas Republican was an attack on science. “I should be prosecuted? What happened on Jan. 6, senator?” Fauci, who is President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation." It was a reference to the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump that was stoked as Cruz helped lead GOP objections to Congress' certifying the 2020 election results. “I’m just going to do my job and I’m going to be saving lives, and they’re going to be lying,” Fauci said.

Some Republicans, including Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have accused Fauci of lying to Congress when he denied in May that the National Institutes of Health funded “gain of function” research — the practice of enhancing a virus in a lab to study its potential impact in the real world — at a virology lab in Wuhan, China. Cruz has urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Fauci’s statements. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the GOP criticism nonsense. “Anybody who’s looking at this carefully realizes that there’s a distinct anti-science flavor to this,” he said. Cruz and Paul say an October letter from NIH to Congress contradicts Fauci. But no clear evidence or scientific consensus exists that “gain of function” research was funded by NIH, and there is no link of U.S.-funded research to the emergence of COVID-19. NIH has repeatedly maintained that its funding did not go to such research involving boosting the infectivity and lethality of a pathogen. When asked in the CBS interview whether Republicans might be raising the claims to make him a scapegoat and deflect criticism of Trump, Fauci said, “of course, you have to be asleep not to figure that one out.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 28, 2021

North Texans facing eviction even after pandemic rent relief

The Texas Rent Relief program, a federally funded rental assistance program, has multiple aims: It intends to help keep tenants in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to prevent “financial hardships” for both tenants and property owners, according to the program’s website. But gaps in the rules and inconsistent enforcement have meant that some tenants face eviction hearings or displacement even after paying their landlords with rent relief funds — or while waiting for their applications to be approved. Luck of the draw plays a significant role, too, housing advocates and attorneys say. A more sympathetic landlord or judge, or access to legal representation, could be the difference between a tenant losing or keeping their home. A spokesperson for Texas Rent Relief sent some program information over email, but declined repeated requests for interviews for this story.

Although the program stopped accepting new applicants in early November, thousands of tenants are still in the system, which will continue to operate until it runs through all of its $1.9 billion in funding. In general, landlords and those who back them say that evictions are a last resort. “Evictions are bad for business,” said Perry Pillow, the CEO of the Apartment Association of Tarrant County, the local chapter of a property owners’ lobby. “It costs time, it’s money. You want to keep a good resident there, somebody that’s going to pay. Evictions are typically a last resort because they are bad for business.” But tenant protection measures such as the federal eviction moratorium helped to drop eviction rates, according to The Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Meanwhile, Texas’ protections, as the Star-Telegram has reported extensively, have been particularly weak — leading in some cases to landlords losing their income and tenants losing their homes. Christina Rosales, the former deputy director of Texas Housers who now works on housing issues nationally, said the rent relief program and its “pitfalls” point to a central confusion about the role housing plays in society. “What is housing? Is it a right, is it something that we need to keep people safe and the foundation for everything in our communities?” Rosales said. “Or is it a business?” Twenty months into the pandemic, and nine months into Texas’ statewide effort to keep tenants housed, some North Texas residents are still facing down evictions that advocates say could have been avoided.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 28, 2021

TCU to introduce Sonny Dykes as next football coach Tuesday

TCU plans to formally introduce SMU coach Sonny Dykes as its next football coach on Tuesday, sources told the Star-Telegram. Dykes emerged as the top target for the Frogs following a national search as the Star-Telegram reported last week. The sides didn’t want to make it “official” until after the regular season but news leaked Friday that Dykes would be leaving SMU for rival TCU. Dykes and TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati have yet to publicly confirm the move. Dykes declined to answer a question on the subject from The Dallas Morning News following SMU’s regular-season finale on Saturday. Donati declined comment when asked by the Star-Telegram during TCU’s season finale at Iowa State on Friday.

Dykes coached SMU’s regular-season finale against Tulsa on Saturday in Dallas, and was heckled by Mustangs faithful as he entered the stadium. The Dallas Morning News reported one fan yelled, “Put your purple on, Dykes.” A couple of fans wore “TCU Sucks” shirts as he walked by. The Mustangs fell 34-31 to the Golden Hurricane on Saturday. SMU lost four of its last five games under Dykes. Dykes did not answer a question when asked if he’d be heading to TCU in his postgame news conference. “I hate the way this thing ended,” Dykes said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “I hate the way this whole season ended.” Regardless of SMU’s late season struggles, Dykes has long been considered a front-runner for TCU after the school parted ways with longtime coach Gary Patterson on Oct. 31. Dykes emerged as the top choice out of a group of finalists that included Louisiana’s Billy Napier, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Jackson State’s Deion Sanders and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. TCU also had interest in NFL-level coaches, including Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and Denver Broncos running backs coach Curtis Modkins.

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Fort Worth Business Press - November 28, 2021

Fruitcake & crime spice up a small Texas town in documentary with local ties

It is holiday time, and what is better than a tale that includes fruitcake? The story is of a crime – spanning years in the making and perhaps long forgotten by many – telling the saga of an unremarkable little man who once held a humdrum job in a small Texas town. Beginning Wednesday, December 1, Fruitcake Fraud, a 90-minute documentary will be available on discovery+ streaming. The film chronicles the life of Sandy Jenkins, the accountant for Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, about an hour’s drive south of Dallas. Collin Street Bakery, esteemed far and wide as the artisan in fruitcake production, crafts each cake to perfection. “When I first heard about what happened here, it seemed too nutty to believe,” says Celia Aniskovich, Director and Executive Producer. “But it’s all true, and our film is filled with those jaw-dropping moments. The people of Corsicana and the employees of the bakery opened their doors and welcomed us into their lives to share this remarkable story.”

Bob McNutt, President and CEO, is the third generation to carry on the family enterprise, having inherited it from his father. His grandfather and great uncle were two of a group of investors who bought the company in 1946, the business already a half-century old, the original owners having begun baking in 1896. Early on the bakery produced mainly bread, but later the owners decided to gamble on a specialty product – fruitcake. The bakery flourished and has maintained that success under Bob McNutt. “During the holidays, it is not uncommon for daily cake sales to be in the tens of thousands,” says Hayden Crawford, VP Customer Service. “We ship to all 50 states, and 196 foreign countries. During what we call ‘fruitcake season’, we employ up to 500 employees and expect to ship nearly two million pounds this season.” It was 1998 when Sandy Jenkins began working for the bakery. Hired as an accountant, Sandy was good at his job – he was reliable, he maintained the books, and he was never late meeting payroll or paying corporate taxes. By the year 2000, he had worked his way up to corporate controller and a $50,000 annual salary.

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National Stories

Associated Press - November 27, 2021

Some states dropping ‘dehumanizing’ terms for immigrants

Luz Rivas remembers seeing the word on her mother’s residency card as a child: “alien.” In the stark terms of the government, it signaled her mother was not yet a citizen of the U.S. But to her young daughter, the word had a more personal meaning. Even though they were going through the naturalization process, it meant the family did not belong. “I want other children of immigrants, like me, to not feel the same way I did, that my family did, when we saw the word ‘alien’,” said Rivas, now an assemblywoman in the California Legislature. The Democratic lawmaker sought to retire the term and this year authored a bill — since signed into law — that replaces the use of “alien” in state statutes with other terms such as “noncitizen” or “immigrant.” Her effort was inspired by a similar shift earlier this year by the Biden administration. Immigrants and immigrant-rights groups say the term, especially when combined with “illegal,” is dehumanizing and can have a harmful effect on immigration policy.

The word became a focal point of debate in several states earlier this year as the number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border swelled and led to fierce backlash against Biden administration policies by Republican governors and lawmakers. Lawmakers in at least seven states considered eliminating use of “alien” and “illegal” in state statutes this year and replacing them with descriptions such as “undocumented” and “noncitizen,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only two states, California and Colorado, actually made the change. “I want all Californians that are contributing to our society, that are small business owners, that work hard, to feel that they are part of California communities,” Rivas said of the reason behind her legislation. State Sen. Julie Gonzales, who co-sponsored the new Colorado law, said during a legislative committee hearing that words such as “illegal” were “dehumanizing and derogatory” when applied to immigrants. Gonzales said the legislation aimed to remove the only place in Colorado statute where “illegal alien” was used to describe people living in the U.S. illegally. “That language has been offensive for many people,” she said. “And some of the rationale behind that is really rooted in this idea that a person can certainly commit an illegal act, but no human being themselves is illegal.”

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Washington Post - November 29, 2021

Youngkin tests activists' patience as he pushes abortion and guns aside

Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin says he would "entertain" certain antiabortion legislation next year, but it is not part of his "day one" agenda. Gun rights appear to be on the back burner, too. The Republican who launched his bid for Virginia's highest office promising to "protect life before birth and after birth" and to roll back a slew of gun-control laws is focused on other matters as he prepares to assume the governorship on Jan. 15. Youngkin was vocal about abortion and guns early in his campaign, when he was seeking the Republican nomination, then downplayed those polarizing issues after he'd won the nod and begun courting moderate suburbanites. But some conservative activists hoped - if not expected - that he would put those causes front and center again once elected.

Youngkin himself indicated that was the plan over the summer, when he was caught on video saying he couldn't speak publicly about abortion ahead of the election for fear of alienating independents. But if he won, and Republicans took control of the House of Delegates, he said, he'd go "on offense." "I'm not going to go squishy on you," he promised then. Asked how he plans to go "on offense" on abortion now that the Executive Mansion and House have flipped red, Youngkin said last week he would consider a "pain threshold bill." That would ban most abortions after 20 weeks, something he voiced support for in September, in two gubernatorial debates. "I'm pro-life," Youngkin said at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Phoenix. "I believe in exceptions in the case of rape, incest and when the mother's life is in jeopardy. I've also been very clear that a pain threshold bill was something that I would entertain." But he also said he would tackle other issues before abortion, such as lowering taxes, creating a "great curriculum" for public schools, expanding charter schools, "funding law enforcement" and cutting back business regulations.

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CNN - November 29, 2021

DOJ prosecutors push back against Bannon for wanting to publicize evidence against him

Prosecutors in the case against former President Donald Trump's ex-adviser Steve Bannon have accused him of attempting to try his criminal case through the media instead of in court, saying his tactics could affect witnesses against him, according to a new filing in DC District Court. Bannon is trying to convince a judge not to bar him and his lawyers from sharing documents he receives from the Justice Department with the public before his trial. The DOJ prosecutors said in the filing Sunday some of those records must stay private while the case is pending, because they include internal communications between congressional staffers and notes of FBI interviews with witnesses who could testify against Bannon at trial.

"Allowing the defendant to publicly disseminate reports of witness statements will have the collateral effect of witness tampering because it will expose witnesses to public commentary on their potential testimony before trial and allow a witness to review summaries of other witnesses' statements recounting the same event or events," the prosecutors wrote on Sunday. Bannon is charged with two counts of contempt of Congress, for failing to testify and turn over documents in response to a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack at the US Capitol. He has pleaded not guilty. The defense team and prosecutors are set to be back in court on December 7, when they'll talk about a trial date and potentially discuss confidentiality issues in the case again. It's not publicly known what witnesses the FBI interviewed about Bannon.

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NBC News - November 29, 2021

Congress faces jampacked end to 2021

Congress will confront a packed agenda when it returns from Thanksgiving recess, from facing hard deadlines to keep the federal government running to passing President Joe Biden's $1.7 trillion safety net and climate legislation. "When I look at this drama in the next month, I break it down into a miniseries. And the first part is the defense bill and a bridge to the budget. Vast majority of senators support that. We’ll get that done," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "Second thing, the debt ceiling. If the Republicans want to scrooge out on us and increase people’s interest rates and make it hard to make car payments — go ahead, make that case. We're going to stop them from doing that," she said before mentioning voting rights and Biden's social spending bill. "And, finally, what we just talked about, the Build Back Better bill. We can get this done." The newly discovered omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has caused alarm and led to some new travel restrictions to the U.S., is also likely to be a hot topic.

Government funding runs out Friday, and it remains uncertain whether the parties can agree to a yearlong appropriations bill in time. But neither side wants a shutdown, so Congress could fall back on another stopgap measure to preserve funding at current levels. The federal government is already functioning at levels agreed to during the Trump administration after Congress passed a stopgap bill in September. Democrats are eager for a new budget, but they need Republican support, because the legislation is subject to the 60-vote filibuster rule in the Senate. "I am guessing what we may end up doing is a short-term extension. I’m not sure what that end date will be," Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Thursday on MSNBC. "I’ve heard some in the Senate say February, which would be a gift but, I suspect, unlikely to be able to happen." Congress plans to expand the military budget. The House voted 316-113 in September on a bipartisan basis to pass a massive $778 billion Pentagon policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate plans to pass the legislation by the end of the year. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said on "Fox News Sunday" that the measure "should have been passed months ago, but it's been on the back burner," for which he blamed Democrats.

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Politico - November 28, 2021

No one seems to like the Lincoln Project anymore

It was the darling of the resistance for savagely attacking Donald Trump. But now, everyone keeps rolling their eyes at the Lincoln Project and fears they may be clearing a path for the former president’s reemergence. The outside political organization headed by disaffected Republicans and other top Democratic operatives has experienced caustic blowups, internal disputes over beach house-level paydays, and disturbing allegations involving a disgraced co-founder. A recent campaign stunt evoking the march on Charlottesville to close the Virginia governor’s race earned them near universal scorn. And one of the organization's most recognized members is facing blowback for rooting for another Trump nomination on grounds that he’d be the easiest Republican to beat in the general election. “Read the room,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist and former senior aide to Hillary Clinton. “They sound like me in 2016.”

“It is incredibly important that we all head into the upcoming elections with a level of humility and fresh eyes about what the political landscape is going to look like,” Petkanas added. “It would be a mistake to know for certain who is easier to beat than somebody else. We’ve all seen this movie before and they occasionally have a twist ending.” Officials working for the Lincoln Project contend they’re simply being practical — even shrewd — about the new political climate, in which Trump is likely to be the GOP nominee anyway and brass-knuckle tactics are now the norm. President Joe Biden even called one of the Lincoln Project co-founders Steve Schmidt after the 2020 election to say thank you for the group’s work helping him get elected, according to a person familiar. The White House did not comment. But a year after delighting liberals with their insistence on bringing guns to a gunfight, operatives across the spectrum now say the group is, at best, ineffective and prodigal, at worst, counterproductive. In particular, fellow never-Trumpers and moderate Republicans have recoiled at Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson’s recent encouragement of a Trump presidential run in 2024.

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Politifact - November 27, 2021

PolitiFact fact-check: Would Build Back Better 'parole' immigrants who committed crimes?

Viral Image on Facebook: "Build Back Illegal: 'Parole' amnesty for millions of criminal illegal aliens." PolitiFact's Ruling: Mostly False Here's Why: An image showing a bare-chested, heavily tattooed man attacks the Build Back Better bill by claiming: "Build Back Illegal: 'Parole' amnesty for millions of criminal illegal aliens." The image, shared on Facebook, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. The claim gives the misleading impression that people who entered the U.S. illegally and were convicted of crimes would be paroled and allowed to stay. But parole has a different meaning in immigration law, and the parole provisions of the bill as they’re currently written would not be available to people convicted of crimes in the U.S.

The viral image alludes to members of criminal gangs. The photo of the man in the image appears to be cropped from a photo of three men that appears with articles about the MS-13 gang, which grew out of poor Los Angeles neighborhoods that housed many refugees from civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua in the 1980s. In the United States, law enforcement officials have indicted MS-13 members for a wide range of crimes, including racketeering, murders, attempted murders, assaults, obstruction of justice, arson and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The image was shared by the Great American Movement in a post that urges people to tell their congressional representatives to oppose the Democratic-supported Build Back Better bill. The slogan of the group, which has 135,000 Facebook followers, is: "'America First' should not just be a political slogan. It should be a way of life for all Americans." Great American Movement’s Facebook page lists GreatAmericanMovement.com as its contact information, but that link did not lead to a working website when we checked it on Nov. 23. We’re fact-checking the claim, made Nov. 15, based on the version of the Build Back Better Act that passed the House on Nov. 19. The bill could be changed in the Senate.

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Associated Press - November 27, 2021

Chris Christie aims to shape future for GOP and for himself

Chris Christie is everywhere. The former New Jersey governor and onetime Republican presidential candidate denounced “conspiracy theorists” during a September appearance at the Ronald Reagan Library in California. He followed up with a speech this month to influential Republicans in Las Vegas, warning that the party will only succeed if it offers a “plan for tomorrow, not a grievance about yesterday.” In between, he’s been interviewed by everyone from Laura Ingraham on Fox News to David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, on CNN. On its face, Christie’s publicity campaign is in service of “Republican Rescue,” his new book that offers a simple prescription for his party: stop talking nonsense about 2020 and focus on the future — or keep losing elections. But the frenzied pace of his appearances and the increasingly obvious jabs at Donald Trump suggest Christie is plotting a political comeback with the 2024 campaign in mind. In a recent interview, Christie said he hadn’t made a decision yet about his political future and wouldn’t until after next year’s elections. But he was blunt in saying he would run if he believes he can be elected.

“If I see a pathway to winning, I’ll run,” he said. “And I feel like I have the skills and the talent and the ability to be able to make a difference in our party and in the country. And I’m certainly, at 59 years old, not ready to retire. But I’m not going to do it if I don’t see a pathway to winning. So that’s why I’m not making any decision now.” One of the biggest questions that hangs over the 2024 campaign is whether Trump will run again. If the former president does, polls suggest he would easily clinch the nomination. But until that’s decided, Christie is testing the openness of GOP voters to someone who largely supports Trump’s record but dismisses Trump’s lies that the last election was stolen. It’s an approach that pits him against other Republicans who may run in 2024, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who have taken high-profile stands against Trump. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state, have pitched themselves as fierce Trump loyalists. Former Vice President Mike Pence has tried to find something of a middle ground, highlighting his work alongside Trump but noting the two hold different views about the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

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Newsclips - November 24, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2021

Matthew McConaughey says he’ll make a decision on Texas governor run ‘shortly’

Actor Matthew McConaughey promised a decision on whether he’ll run for Texas governor “shortly” in an interview with Hollywood Reporter published Tuesday. The actor, who’s been talking about making a run for the office for months, talked about his decision-making process in a wide-ranging interview with the show business publication. The deadline to file for the Republican or Democratic primary — or to declare as an independent candidate — is Dec. 13. “I’m a storyteller. I’m a CEO. But being CEO of a state?” he said. “Am I best equipped for the people in the state, and for my family and myself? There’s great sacrifice that comes with a decision. That’s what I’ve been doing, and there’s no tease to it. There’s me doing my diligence, and I will let you know shortly.” McConaughey said he wasn’t being coy about the race.

“It’s a new embassy of leadership that I have really been doing my diligence to study, to look into, to question what it is, what would it be for me,” he said. “Not the question of, ‘Hey, do you think I could win?’ No. Let’s talk about what Texas politics is. Talk about a policy statement.” The interview with the Hollywood Reporter came days after Democrat Beto O’Rourke entered the race for governor. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott officially filed for a third term on Tuesday. Abbott will face several primary challengers. McConaughey, also a best-selling author, was asked his reaction about O’Rourke entering the race. “I missed the news. I figured he would,” he said. A Dallas Morning News/University of Texas-Tyler poll released Sunday showed that in a three-way race with Abbott, O’Rourke and McConaughey, Abbott had 37% of registered voters polled with McConaughey at 27% and O’Rourke at 26%. Those polled said they’d support McConaughey over Abbott, 43% to 35%, with 22% wanting someone else to run. But by nearly 2-to-1, all voters would be more likely to support McConaughey than O’Rourke. Pluralities of Democrats and independents want the Oscar-winning movie star and products endorser to run.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2021

Amid funding cuts at UT, Legislature directs $6 million for conservative Liberty Institute

The Legislature this year approved $6 million to establish a conservative think tank at the University of Texas known as the Liberty Institute, even as lawmakers trimmed the budgets of multiple departments, museums and other existing entities at the university. University leaders didn't ask for the funding in their budget request, which was followed by another $6 million from the UT System Board of Regents for the institute. The center, which will be dedicated to free markets, economic development and personal liberty, was championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrickand private donors as a way to bring "intellectual diversity" to the campus. State leaders asked UT and other agencies to reduce budget requests to the state 5% last year as Texas faced economic uncertainty amid the pandemic.

In May, the Legislature passed a budget during the regular session that removed or reduced $5.2 million in funding at UT based on the university's budget request. Without the funding, university employees said one museum on campus probably will be forced to close and other institutions will have to reduce the services they provide to the community. During the third special session this year, lawmakers directed millions of dollars for building renovations at UT — and restored some of the funding cuts as part of a bill that allocated nearly $16 billion in total federal coronavirus relief dollars to multiple agencies. However, the funds didn’t cover everything that had been slashed earlier in the year. In October 2020, UT sent its budget request to the Legislature for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years. Lawmakers directed UT to make $5.2 million in cuts to “non-formula” funding from the state, or “direct appropriations to institutions for programs or projects,” according to the document. UT called for the state funding to be eliminated for the Texas Memorial Museum, the Briscoe Garner Museum, the Bureau of Business Research and the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution. The elimination of funding was “unfortunate,” but ultimately, the four institutions were “not central to the core missions of education and research at the state’s flagship,” the document says. The conservative think tank, which is still in development, does not have an official name, mission or governance structure, but it will be modeled after the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the philosophy, politics and economics department at Oxford University, according to UT’s website.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 24, 2021

Samsung confirms site near Taylor for $17 billion chip plant

Samsung is making another multi-billion-dollar bet on Central Texas, as the technology giant confirmed Tuesday that it has picked a site in Williamson County, near Taylor, to build a $17 billion chip-making fabrication facility. Samsung made the announcement Tuesday — at a news conference alongside Gov. Greg Abbott — nearly a year after the South Korea-based company was first reported to be searching for a location to build a new fabrication facility. Austin — where Samsung has its lone U.S. manufacturing plant — was in the running, as were locations in New York and Arizona. But Samsung's search for a site for the new plant ultimately landed on Taylor in Williamson County, which has plentiful land for the project and where city, county and school district officials aggressively pursued it with incentives packages worth hundreds of millions of dollars combined.

Abbott's office said Samsung would also receive $27 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund, a deal-closing tool used by the governor’s office. Dr. Kinam Kim, Vice Chairman and CEO of Samsung Electronics Device Solutions Division, said the new facility in Taylor lays the groundwork for an important chapter in Samsung's future. "With greater manufacturing capacity, we will be able to better serve the needs of our customers and contribute to the stability of the global semiconductor supply chain," Kim said. "We are also proud to be bringing more jobs and supporting the training and talent development for local communities, as Samsung celebrates 25 years of semiconductor manufacturing in the United States." Samsung intends to build a 6 million-square-foot next-generation plant at the site that will be its most advanced factory to date, boosting the company's ability to compete in global chip market. The company is expected to build the manufacturing facility on more than 1,000 acres southwest of downtown Taylor, near U.S. 79 and County Road 401.

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Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2021

Major U.S. utilities spending more on electricity delivery, less on power production

Major utility companies in the United States have been spending more on delivering electricity to customers and less on producing that electricity over the past decade. Major utilities spent 4.3 cents per kilowatt hour in 2020, an increase of 65 percent over the 2.6 cents per kilowatt hour spent on electricity delivery in 2010, according to the Energy Department. Spending on electricity delivery increased every year from 1998 to 2020 as utilities worked to replace aging equipment, build transmission operations to accommodate new wind and solar generation, and install new technologies such as smart meters to increase the efficiency, reliability, resilience, and security of the U.S. power grid.

Spending on electricity delivery also includes the money spent to build, operate, and maintain the electric wires, poles, towers, and meters that make up the transmission and distribution system. Meanwhile, utilities are spending less on power production. Investments decreased to 4.6 cents per kilowatt hour in 2020 from 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour in 2010, according to the Energy Department. Power production includes the money spent to build, operate, fuel, and maintain power plants, as well as the cost to purchase power in cases where the utility either does not own generators or does not generate enough to fulfill customer demand. As well, spending on production includes the cost of fuels, capital, labor, and building materials, as well as the type of generators being built. The retail price of electricity reflects the cost to produce and deliver power, the rate of return on investment that regulated utilities are allowed, and profits for unregulated power suppliers. In 2021, demand for consumer goods and the energy needed to produce them has been outpacing supply, contributing to higher prices for fuels used by electric generators, especially natural gas, according to the Energy Department.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2021

Retired general files case in Denton County court over business dispute with U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon

A retired two-star general is seeking to depose North Texas Congressman Pat Fallon over a business dispute involving one of the freshman Republican’s apparel companies. Two star General Timothy Haake filed the petition last month in an effort to investigate potential claims of fraud, breach of fiduciary duties and interference with contractual relationships, the document said. Haake is also seeking to depose Fallon’s wife, according to the petition filed in Denton County. Fallon, R-Frisco, denied any wrongdoing. His attorney, Jason Freeman, called the petition a “political shakedown” that arose only after Fallon was elected to Congress in November 2020. According to Haake’s petition, the dispute stems from an apparel company Fallon and Haake formed together in 2008, Recon Sportswear and Jackets LLC, and a business agreement the two entered into later that year with Recon and an additional company, American Airborne Store.

Haake claims he was granted a “10% ‘profits interest’ in Recon and American Airborne” in the 2008 agreement, as well as 10% “capital interest” in any other entity Fallon might later form that does business at the Fort Benning U.S. Army Base in Georgia. Haake claims he’s also entitled to receive certain consulting fees tied to the gross revenues of all the Fort Benning companies. The case is not a lawsuit; the allegations were brought forth in a petition for oral deposition that said the Fallons’ testimony is necessary to understand the financials. Fallon said he filed for arbitration, in which a third party would hear the dispute and render a binding decision, and is confident the outcome will be in his favor. “Mr. Haake’s allegations are not supported by actual facts—only politically-motivated allegations,” Freeman said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News. “Mr. Haake didn’t make this claim for 13 years, then began asserting that he was owed consulting fees going back a decade-plus. He was not. And Congressman Fallon refused to pay him because the claims were untrue.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

Texans don’t trust elected leaders to decide which books to ban in schools, News/UT-Tyler poll finds

Texans don’t trust the state’s elected officials to decide which controversial books should be removed from public schools, according to a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. While some of the state’s Republican leaders recently have thrown themselves into the school library culture war, the poll indicates much of the electorate is skeptical about this kind of interference in education. The News and UT-Tyler polled 1,106 registered voters between Nov. 9-16. Asked whether they had faith in elected officials’ judgment in identifying which books should be removed, 35% of poll respondents said they have no confidence while another 31% said “not too much.” Less than 10% of people who took the poll said they trusted state leaders’ judgment on books “a great deal.” The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Heather Zana, the parent of two high school students, said such decisions shouldn’t fall to elected officials who may or may not have children in school. “I’m of the opinion that a library should have some things that are controversial,” said Zana, a 49-year-old living in Williamson County. “People need to learn how to think, and think through things they may not have considered before, and look at new and different viewpoints.” Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott directed Texas education officials to investigate whether pornography is available in public schools and to notify law enforcement if it is accessible to children, though he did not define what he considers pornography to be. Abbott’s move escalated an already simmering political backlash against books that delve into issues of race, gender and sexuality. The Texas Education Agency, State Board of Education and Texas’ library and archives commission are working to develop standards to prevent the presence of “pornography and other obscene content” in schools, at the governor’s request. Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Forth, recently launched a House investigation into what’s in school libraries, sending district officials a list of more than 800 books ranging from the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner to puberty guides like Everything You Need to Know about Going to the Gynecologist.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 24, 2021

Louie Gohmert enters race for Texas attorney general as Matt Krause exits

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, is running for Texas attorney general, entering the crowded Republican primary race for the seat after teasing a run earlier this month. "Texas I am officially running to be your next Attorney General and will enforce the rule of law," Gohmert said in a tweet Monday after announcing his campaign during an appearance on the conservative news outlet Newsmax. As Gohmert entered the race, another Republican challenger dropped out: state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth. Krause said he was withdrawing to run instead for Tarrant County district attorney, as first reported by WFAA late Monday.

Two other Republicans are challenging incumbent Ken Paxton, who is seeking reelection to a third term: Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Gohmert, Bush and Guzman all have zeroed in on Paxton's legal woes in their campaigns, arguing that he has been under a cloud of impropriety for too long. Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges tied to private business dealings and is the subject of a federal investigation stemming from allegations made by former officials within his agency that he used his office improperly to help a friend and political contributor. Paxton has denied wrongdoing in both cases. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Paxton, who filed numerous lawsuits to defend administration policies while Trump was in office and frequently challenges President Joe Biden.

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KXAN - November 23, 2021

‘We did not have time’: Inside TABC’s ‘rocky’ $8.5M web launch and how it impacted Texas business

Workers inside the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission were coming up on a deadline back in August. For two years, the agency worked to build a new web portal for bar and restaurant owners to apply for alcohol permits. It was set to be a big step-up from a system that required owners to apply and renew their licenses in person. “For years, I would make a trip up to headquarters for a renewal and I would take two copies, stamped,” said Bob Woody, who owns more than 20 establishments in Austin. “I would post it here, give it to all the managers, everybody and we’d be safe.” In 2019, the Texas legislature allocated nearly $10 million to TABC to update – what it called – an ‘outdated’ system. (The agency had to return $1.3 million halfway through development because of budget cuts, according to the TABC Chief Financial Officer.) But the money came with a deadline.

TABC had to update its rules, application forms – and go live with the new website by Sept. 1, 2021. Two years after taking on the project, the rollout of the new system, called AIMS, has been anything but smooth. Nearly two months after its release – licensing consultants, business attorneys, and commissioners who’d been fielding calls about the problematic rollout of AIMS sounded off during an October commission meeting about the myriad of errors with the system. One Dallas-based attorney, who helps businesses apply for alcohol-related permits, said virtually every encounter with the new AIM System has been a “technological issue or a communication issue.” “Since that launch, some [clients] have been forced to open without permits and unable to get their AIMS applications processed,” said David Denney, who was invited by the commission to share his experience back in October. Denney added TABC’s licensing department has worked diligently to create workarounds for his clients.

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

Houston's largest hospitals aren't posting price lists for medical services, could face federal fines

The Texas Medical Center’s largest hospitals are not fully complying with a federal mandate to post a list of prices they negotiate with private insurers — information that could be used to drive down the cost of health care, according to a review by the Houston Chronicle. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services required hospitals to post the information — which includes the negotiated prices of basic services such as x-rays and lab tests - by Jan. 1, 2021, or face fines up to $300 per day. Houston Methodist Hospital, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center all had not posted their negotiated prices as of Friday.

Hospitals can charge vastly difference prices for the same service: An August report in the New York Times found that at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a colonoscopy costs $1,463 with a Cigna plan, $2,144 with an Aetna plan and $782 with no insurance. Knowing these prices could help employers like Stephen Carter, CEO of the Sugar Land-based Sterling Staffing Solutions, find cheaper options for health care coverage. He and his brother co-founded the business, which provides nurses and therapists to the home health care market 10 years ago, and each year he must pay more for his health care plan for his employees. The rising cost “will definitely impact our ability to hire as many people … so we'll have to do more with less,” Carter said. “Of course we’ll try to be creative so that our employees don't have to suffer, but certainly there's going to be an offset somewhere.” The Houston hospitals now are among a minority of health care providers that have yet to comply. Nationwide, 27 percent of acute care, children’s or rural primary-care hospitals have not posted the required pricing data, according to data from the price-transparency startup Turquoise Health Co.

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

GLO review finds city Harvey housing program ‘undermines’ competitive process

The city used too much personal discretion from the mayor and housing staff in granting money to developers, incorrectly scored applicants and undermined the competitive process for distributing federal relief funds in Houston’s $450 million Hurricane Harvey multifamily housing program, a review by the Texas General Land Office found. The land office’s 11-page report, delivered to city officials Tuesday, spells out five findings and requires the city to take corrective actions before submitting any more projects for approval. The agency said it could seek to claw money back if the city does not prove it has corrected the alleged issues. The report has broad implications for the city’s multifamily housing program, and it halts — at least for now — seven developments in the city’s. The GLO named five deals in particular it no longer would approve, and it said the most recent funding round would have to be presented anew, meaning the two projects chosen so far would need to reapply.

The findings include: inconsistencies in the criteria and methodology of the city’s three funding rounds used to award the money, incorrect scoring of applicants, lack of documentation to support the qualitative and discretionary processes used to choose winners, deficient internal controls to enforce the conflict of interest policy, and the use of subjective factors that undermine a competitive process. The city must strengthen its funding structure and new rounds, strengthen its scoring method, ensure project awards are adequately documented and strengthen its conflict of interest function, the GLO said. The review was spurred by former Housing Director Tom McCasland’s allegations that Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration ordered the third funding round to benefit the developers of a proposal called Huntington at Bay Area, a charge the mayor has denied. However, the GLO’s report did not include that controversy because the development in question never was submitted to the state for approval. Turner later withdrew the recommendation to fund the Huntington project, saying the scrutiny of it had become a “distraction” for his administration and the city. His former longtime law partner, Barry Barnes, was a co-developer on the deal, a fact Turner and McCasland both said they did not know until the Chronicle reported it.

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

Jury awards $44 million to woman alleging a Houston hotel failed to protect her from sexual assault

A Harris County jury has awarded $44 million to a woman who alleged that she was sexually assaulted at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston, and the hotel failed to protect her. The verdict against the Hilton hotel chain and the man who allegedly assaulted the woman includes $37 million to compensate the woman for past and future anguish from the events of March 11, 2017. The woman, then 29, was in Houston for a conference at George R. Brown Convention Center and was staying with her then-fiancé at the Hilton, according to court records. She went out drinking with a group of colleagues, court records said, and was found incapacitated near the hotel in the early-morning hours. A male colleague was observed on top of her with his pants undone, according to a witness who testified in the case.

Police were called, but left after the man told them the woman was staying with him, according to court records. Rather than check to see if she was a guest at the hotel, the woman alleged in court documents, hotel staff allowed the man to take her upstairs, where he sexually assaulted her. The man was criminally charged, though the charges were later dropped without prejudice — meaning the case can be reopened. In court records, attorneys for the man and Hilton Hotels argued the woman consented to sex. The woman has since left her six-figure-salary job and is now teaching yoga because she no longer feels comfortable traveling for business or being in large groups, her attorneys said. Houston attorney Andy Drumheller, who represented the man, said he plans to appeal the verdict, which still must be reviewed by District Court Judge Scot Dollinger before a final judgment is entered. Judges can approve, reject or modify a jury award. Drumheller called the outcome a “sensational verdict based on conduct the jury found to be almost exclusively caused by the hotel’s alleged negligence.” In a statement, a Hilton spokesperson said, “The safety and security of our guests is a top priority and we do not condone violence of any kind.” The hotel staff, the spokesperson said, had “acted at the direction” of police who were briefly called there.

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Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2021

Katy ISD blocks LGBTQ+ resources, suicide prevention websites from students

Katy ISD blocks several websites of organizations that serve LGBTQ+ children, including a suicide prevention hotline, through the district’s student internet, a Houston Chronicle analysis found. A group of students and advocates say limiting access to these sites makes it more difficult for kids in need to reach life-saving resources, such as the Trevor Project, a suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth and an advocacy nonprofit. They also argue censoring material aimed at helping kids sends a harmful message that their identities are not validated and their lives are not valued. “The Trevor Project is a website that is meant to support youth who are in crises regarding their sexuality or their gender identity,” said Cameron Samuels, a senior at Seven Lakes High School. “It needs to be accessible by all students. There should be no reason that a suicide prevention hotline should be prohibited.”

The other sites apparently blocked by the district include the Montrose Center, a Houston nonprofit with youth services and support groups, the Human Rights Campaign and Advocate, a news source focused on the LGBTQ+ community. Though it may be possible for some students to access the websites by other means on personal devices off of school internet, others do not have that ability. “That’s assuming that all kids have internet access at home and personal cell phones and that they’re safe enough to do so,” said Laura Kanter, manager of youth services at the Montrose Center. “Parents finding out that their child is looking at this information could result in the child being subjected to conversion therapy, violence or being kicked out of home.” Katy ISD would not confirm that the websites are restricted from student access after multiple inquiries. The Houston Chronicle observed a student attempting to access the sites at Seven Lakes High School. When trying to load the Trevor Project’s website, a message popped up saying that there was no internet access.

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Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2021

Hard questions at Deer Park go unanswered

Guy Hackwell, the manager of the Shell-operated refinery here, has worked for Royal Dutch Shell for 30 years. His employment at Shell may come to end in fewer than two weeks. "As of December 1st, I will no longer be a Shell employee,” he recently told residents and officials of this city of 35,000 southeast of Houston. “I will be a Pemex employee.” Shell expects regulatory approval by November 29 from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Hackwell, an Australian with 30 years with the oil major Royal Dutch Shell, provides a good example of sudden change coming to the Deer Park when Shell completes the sale of its half-interest in the refinery to its partner, Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, and ends more than 27 years as the operator. Hackwell, who was named general manager in February, has become the public-relations front man for both the seller and prospective buyer. The message: The refinery will operate as it always has under the new owner.

In three recent public meetings (one online), Hackwell said the handover of operations from Shell to Pemex has already begun. He assured residents that the jobs of Shell’s 900 refinery workers are safe and the emergency response team would be transferred to Pemex along with the refinery. “There will be job gains, as new positions will be created to meet the needs of two companies,” he added. But Hackwell left unanswered many critical questions, skirting them when pressed by residents, reporters, and me: How realistic is it to imagine that all of the refinery’s output could be sent to Mexico, as Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, says he wants? What evidence is there that Pemex is qualified to operate the refinery? Pemex was merely an observer of refinery operations in Deer Park. In Mexico, Pemex’s refineries operate on average at less than half their capacity.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2021

Arlington receives high HRC rating for LGBT protections

After years of collaboration with a prominent North Texas LGBT resource group, Arlington has achieved a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, joining the ranks of neighboring Fort Worth and Dallas. The city’s score jumped to 100 from 63 last year, after the City Council unanimously passed an anti-discrimination ordinance shielding members of protected classes, plus sexual orientation and gender identity, from discrimination in housing, employment and access to public services. The City Council also unanimously approved updates to the fair housing ordinance to include gender identity and sexual orientation. Businesses including Amazon have used the score when considering whether to move into cities, according to the company and a previous interview with Arlington communication staff.

“Their questions were more about, ‘What is the environment our employees are going to be living in?’” said Jay Warren, Arlington’s communication and legislative affairs director, in June. DeeJay Johannessen, CEO of HELP Center for LGBT Health and Wellness, congratulated officials and the city government for the improvement Tuesday morning. “Arlington’s perfect score is a reflection now of who we are now as a city — open, supportive, and dedicated to Arlington’s diverse community,” Johannessen said in a statement. The new ordinance and updated housing policy marked the “last major accomplishment” on the road to a perfect score, according to the HELP Center statement. Barbara Odom-Wesley, District 8 council member, spearheaded the ordinance’s passage through the Unity Council, a city task force that proposed nearly 60 recommendations to create more equitable city policies.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2021

Sara Stevenson: Gov. Abbott, Texas leaders shouldn’t target school librarians

(Sara Stevenson is a former middle school librarian in Austin and a member of the Texas Library Association and the American Library Association.) Gov. Greg Abbott never misses an opportunity to jump into the culture wars. He recently sent out an incendiary letter, essentially accusing schools and their librarians of promoting pornographic materials and threatening them with the force of law. What are these pornographic materials, and how widespread is this practice? Perhaps he should consider these factors before impugning the reputations of our school librarians. Later, Abbott pointed to two memoirs that have recently experienced local book challenges: “In the Dream House” by National Book Award-nominated Carmen Machado and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. Are these books widespread and being pushed into the hands of innocents? And are they pornography? Librarians, as public servants, have no secrets. Anyone can access our online library catalogs. It is also important to note that the existence of a book in a library in no way signifies endorsement.

Our job is to provide access to our communities and not only to materials which match our personal tastes or values. For example, children have access to “Mein Kampf” by Adolph Hitler in school libraries in Texas. A quick search of the Austin ISD catalog reveals that in the entire district, serving 77,000 students, four copies of “The Dream House” and three copies of “Gender Queer” are on our high school library shelves. And Austin is a liberal city. I suspect only a handful of these two titles exist in Texas school libraries. Even the legal definition of pornography in Texas states that the term applies to “any visual or written material that depicts lewd or sexual acts and is intended to cause sexual arousal.” Neither book fits this definition. Just because a book includes some mature content does not make it pornography. School districts have policies for dealing with book challenges, and these should be followed before any books are removed from the shelves.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2021

Colonial adjusts timeline for renovation to golf course

Colonial Country Club officials call it a generational project. The iconic golf course in Fort Worth will undergo a $21 million renovation that will take it back to its roots. However, the initial timeline for the project to begin immediately after the 2022 Charles Schwab Challenge has been pushed back a year to start following the 2023 tournament. With labor shortages and supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, Colonial executives and its members felt it made more sense to adjust the timeline and turn the project into a two-year plan rather than try to get it done in one year. “When we scheduled and planned this, we had a commitment to the PGA Tour and a commitment to the membership,” said Frank Cordeiro, Colonial’s general manager and chief operating officer. “Part of the sacrifice that our members are making in addition to the financial investment is giving up their golf course for 12 months for the work to be done.

“When it became clear that supply chain, labor issues, things of that nature out of our control were going to jeopardize our ability to keep that commitment, we had to revisit the schedule. We all agreed it was the right thing to do.” Along with the pandemic-related issues, adjusting the timeline also allows the club ample time to acquire the proper construction permits from various government entities to go forward with the project. This is a massive renovation project that will take the course back to its roots. Gil Hanse, one of the top architects in today’s game, is overseeing it. Hanse’s vision is inspired by the layout that attracted the 1941 U.S. Open to the course. Colonial opened in 1936 and was designed by architects John Bredemus and Perry Maxwell. “Colonial has always been a great golf course,” said Jim Whitten, Colonial tournament committee chairman. “But we’ve had a summer where we didn’t have the greens or the fairways are rough. You just want the course to be as good as it can be. Everybody is super excited about it.

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Inside Higher Ed - November 24, 2021

UT professors protest halting of antiracism study

Recruiting for a research study on the effectiveness of antiracism training for white children is on hold at the University of Texas at Austin. This follows a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that the project is racially discriminatory, among other criticism. The university is now reviewing the study. Numerous professors are asking the university to allow the research to proceed during the internal and external reviews, arguing that UT Austin’s institutional review board previously approved the project, as did peer reviewers during a competitive internal funding process. These professors warn that halting research due to outside complaints threatens the integrity of the study at hand and, more generally, chills free inquiry into timely subjects such as antiracism.

UT Austin “leadership’s decision to pause elements of the study based on the mere filing of a complaint, and before any assessment of whether the complaint poses a credible claim, compromises the integrity of the research and the academic freedom to conduct research and draw conclusions rooted in evidence,” 18 UT Austin education professors said this week in a letter to President Jay Hartzell and Provost Sharon Wood. The study “is time-sensitive, as it requires rolling out of materials and assessments according to a very strict schedule that has already been compromised,” the letter continues. “The leadership’s decision to pause any aspects of the study has the effect of legitimizing actions that, however unfounded, seek to suppress scholarly pursuit of truth and the advancement of scientific knowledge.” GoKAR!, or Kids Against Racism, recently began recruiting up to 200 pairs of children and their caregivers, advertising opportunities to “engage in dialogue about anti-Black racism with their preschool-aged children at home.”

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Click2Houston - November 23, 2021

Former Houston Astros manager Bill Virdon has died at 90 years old

Former Houston Astros manager Bill Virdon, who is the franchise leader in career wins, has died at 90 years old. Virdon was Astros manager from 1975 until 1982. He compiled a 544-522 record over that time. In 1980, Virdon helped lead the Astros to the franchise’s first-ever postseason appearance. That season he was also named the National League Manager of the Year. Virdon and the Astros would make the postseason again in 1981.

“Bill Virdon was an extremely vital part of the Astros success, leading the franchise to its first two postseason appearances,” the Houston Astros said in a statement. “He was respected throughout baseball for his intensity and knowledge of the game and enjoyed a long, successful career both as a player and manager. His impact on the Astros organization will never be forgotten. We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Shirley, and to his family and friends.” In the team’s media release about Virdon, former Astros great Enos Cabell said, “I loved Bill. He gave me my first chance to play every day in the Major Leagues and was always honest and truthful with me. I played for four Hall of Fame managers, and Bill was my favorite. He was one of the best baseball minds of anyone that I played for. It is very sad to hear that he has passed.” Virdon also managed the Pirates, the Yankees, and the Montreal Expos. Overall, he had a managerial record of 995-921.

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KUT - November 23, 2021

New collaborative hopes to address equity gaps in Austin's response to homelessness

Austin has consistently struggled to get people living outdoors into homes. Part of that failure lies in the city’s unprecedented real estate boom and affordability crisis over the last 10 years. Another reason is that people of color — who are overrepresented among Austin's homeless population — haven’t been able to connect with housing and case management as easily as white Austinites. A new project hopes to change that. The St. David’s Foundation is giving the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) a $2 million grant to focus on getting marginalized Austinites — Black, Latino and LGBTQ folks — services.

The project, called the Austin Street Outreach Collaborative, aims to hire 12 people over the two-year grant to connect these individuals with grassroots organizations already doing the work in marginalized communities. Alesandra Dominguez, the associate director of ECHO's Crisis Response System, said this program could be crucial, as those smaller, more flexible nonprofits have on-the-ground experience, but don’t get as much federal or local grant money as larger groups. "This type of funding will really allow us to make a shift toward a more equitable system," she said. "A lot of those more grassroots outreach providers don’t have the services to be able to … [support] more people." The effort was spurred in part by ECHO's retooling of a program that determines who needs services the most. Dominguez found the system connected white Austinites with housing more often than Black Austinites. She said the collaborative also hopes to address geographic equity by expanding service beyond the downtown area. She said the outreach team will go directly to folks experiencing homelessness, rather than rely on folks to come to a certain provider. "It allows us to really reach ... more marginalized clients that maybe don't feel as comfortable accessing our [services] at our more traditional access points, which are typically, unfortunately, in downtown areas," she said. Dominguez said the program aims to begin hiring and get off the ground early next year.

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Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

Chase is leaving its longtime downtown Dallas skyscraper

One of downtown Dallas’ biggest skyscrapers is losing its namesake tenant. JPMorgan Chase is moving its longtime banking operations and offices out of the landmark Chase Tower on Ross Avenue. The move — which has been rumored for months — will put the big bank’s downtown operations on five floors of Hunt Consolidated’s building at 1900 N. Akard St. at Woodall Rodgers Freeway. Built in 2006, the 14-story office building overlooks Klyde Warren Park. “Downtown is incredibly important to the future and vibrancy of this city and our region,” said JPMorgan Chase’s Dallas chair Elaine Agather in a statement. “Our bank has been an important part of Dallas for more than 100 years now, and we’re committed to being an important part of the city’s future for many years to come.”

The move will mean a lower profile — its bright blue logo atop the skyscraper it now occupies is visible for miles on the downtown skyline — and a smaller office footprint downtown. Chase will occupy 132,000 square feet in its new location on Woodall Rodgers. It’s leaving 194,000 square feet on 11 floors on Ross Avenue. JPMorgan Chase has been the lead tenant in the 55-story Chase Tower since the late 1990s, when the New York-based financial giant took over the operations of Houston-based Texas Commerce Bank. Texas Commerce was the original anchor tenant in the Ross Avenue skyscraper, built in 1987. Chase Tower is now owned by New York-based Fortis Property Group. Chase plans to relocate about 600 workers to the 1900 N. Akard building and will have a ground floor retail banking operation. The bank will have new signage on the building.

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El Paso Times - November 23, 2021

Cross-border traffic increases at El Paso-Juarez crossing

Everyone thought that when the U.S. border reopened to tourists, people in Juarez were going to line up at ports of entry like it was Black Friday already. But fewer than a dozen Mexican nationals with border crossing cards showed up before the 10 p.m. reopening on Sunday, Nov. 7, at the Downtown bridge. The next day, vehicle and pedestrian lines at El Paso-area international bridges were shorter and faster than usual. Cross-border traffic has been creeping up from that weak start, keeping hopes alive for a stronger holiday shopping season at El Paso stores. But there are obstacles, economists say, that are holding Mexican shoppers back from rushing north of the border.

A weak Mexican peso is making dollar-based goods more expensive. Middle-class household income declined in Juarez during the pandemic, meaning family budgets are tighter than usual. And price inflation has hit hard on both sides of the border. The pool of people in Juarez able to cross the border under current rules has also shrunk. Tens of thousands of people watched their border crossing card visas expire during the pandemic and either didn’t renew the cards or were unable to because the U.S. Consulate in Juarez had reduced services. Mexican public school teachers were also left out: They were among the first to get vaccinated in Juarez, but the Mexican government gave them doses of Cansino, a vaccine not on the U.S. list of accepted brands. In the days since the U.S. lifted restrictions on non-essential travel for fully vaccinated foreign nationals, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seen a steady increase in traffic at the El Paso area crossings, according to Ray Provencio, CBP acting El Paso Ports Director.

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Candy's Dirt - November 23, 2021

Dallas, Houston renters create a pipeline between the metro areas, data finds

Could it be that the Texas Rangers baseball team just doesn’t win enough? Is the cultural scene better? Certainly, the traffic isn’t an attraction. It’s not you, it’s us, right? Whatever the reason, Apartment List came up with an interesting finding in its third-quarter Migration Report: Houston ranks as the most popular destination for Dallas renters looking to move outside the metro area. According to the report, 6.6 percent of Dallas renters hunting for an apartment outside the metro area are checking out Houston, followed by Tulsa (5 percent), and Oklahoma City 4.7 percent).

On the flip side, maybe the Rangers, the cultural scene, and the traffic are better than we expected. Dallas is the top destination site for Houston renters looking to move with 13.6 percent checking out our area. Dallas is the top search for Austin (4.7 percent) and San Antonio (3.2 percent). In all, 34.7 percent of Dallas-area apartment hunters are looking to move away from the metro area, and 24.5 percent of those seeking somewhere to live in the Dallas area are searching from outside the metro area. The report is based on Apartment List’s searches between July 1 and Sept. 30. Apartment List analyzes data on millions of searches to see where its users are preparing to move, shedding light on the migration patterns of America’s renters. According to Apartment List, “2021 poised to be a historic year for the rental market, as rapid price appreciation threatens affordability across the country. Housing is already taking center stage in local politics, as cities debate rent control, upzoning, eviction moratoria, and other legislation to improve short- and long-term housing security for renters. All of these shifts have the potential to accelerate migration as renters reconsider how their current living arrangements align with their housing preferences, their work arrangements, and their financial standing.” So, maybe it isn’t just the baseball team, cultural scene, or traffic.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2021

Arlington volunteers, groups rally for Thanksgiving

Coronavirus cases and travel restrictions may be down for the holiday season, but north Texas families’ needs are greater than ever amid rising living costs and supply chain issues, local volunteers said. Robin Wheeler, Arlington Charities’ pantry manager, did not expect an influx of families in need for the holiday season. The nonprofit at 811 Secretary Drive held its annual Thanksgiving distribution Nov. 17 and 18, however, and served as many as 1,300 families, she said. Hundreds more have signed up for Christmas distribution Dec. 15 and 16. Wheeler attributed the influx of need to rising prices. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced in October the consumer price index rose 6.2% over the last year, the steepest increase since November 1990.

Around 11% of Tarrant County residents live below the poverty line, and around a quarter live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to the 2018 United Way ALICE report “I think that the need is just as much there as it was before if not more,” Wheeler said. “I think a lot more families are facing food insecurity, a lot of people still haven’t returned to the full-time workforce.” Volunteers at Mission Arlington had assembled more than 4,000 of the 6,000 turkey boxes for the group to hand out Thanksgiving Day, according to Tillie Burgin, the mission’s executive director. The prominent, faith-based group fed more than 24,000 families last year, and Burgin said she hopes for long lines Thursday. “It’s a wonderful time for the community to get to know each other,” Burgin said. The distributions are among a few of the ones planned across Tarrant County this holiday season. Tarrant Area Food Bank will host several holiday drives throughout December. The group’s next event, Holiday Mega Mobile Market, is set for Dec. 2 in Fort Worth at 1911 Montgomery St.

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Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

Dallas’ first Black city manager, Richard Knight Jr., dies at 76

Richard Knight Jr., Dallas’ first Black city manager, died Monday. He was 76 years old. Knight’s son, Marcus, confirmed that his father died but declined to provide details, saying he and other relatives were in the process of notifying family members and friends. Knight had been assistant city manager for four years before he was hired as the top administrator in 1986. He served in that role until 1990. “We’re very sad that he’s no longer here with us, but we’re grateful and proud of who he was and what he’s done for our family and for this community,” said his son. “It’s been a tough day.” Born in Georgia, Knight was an Army veteran who served in Vietnam. He earned a bachelor’s from Fort Valley State College in Georgia and a master’s from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Knight also had served in top roles in Durham and Carrboro, both in North Carolina, and in Gainesville, Fla. before working in Dallas. Knight was about to leave his post as acting city manager in Dallas and follow the top leader, Charles Anderson, to DART when the City Council in 1986 tapped him to succeed Anderson. In his assistant role, Knight had been in charge of every department in the city, making him a natural fit for the top job. Knight had not been a candidate for the post. Known as “Mr. Fix-it” in City Hall under Anderson, Knight was known for his quiet, effective way of dealing with issues wherever problems arose. He resigned in 1990 to take an executive job at Caltex Petroleum Corp. Knight was credited then with guiding the city through its toughest economic period and helping repair relationships with the Police Department and the city’s communities of color. He also gained a reputation for hiring and promoting people of color in City Hall.

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KSAT - November 19, 2021

San Antonio police officer with long history of road rage incidents resigns

A San Antonio police officer with a documented history of road rage has resigned months after being charged in a drunk driving hit-and-run case, department officials confirmed Friday. Officer Dezi Rios, 39, resigned Nov. 1. He had been on suspension without pay following the crash. Rios was arrested for DWI in July, after crashing into another driver’s vehicle that was stopped at a red light at the intersection of O’Connor and Stahl Roads and then fleeing the scene. The other driver involved in the crash, 61-year-old Ara Halibian, followed and confronted Rios, police said. Rios then allegedly assaulted Halibian during a subsequent confrontation under an overpass at Bulverde Road and Loop 1604.

Halibian suffered a broken nose, significant trauma to his face and injuries to his shoulder, elbow and knee after being punched by Rios — according to Halibian’s count — between 20-25 times. The crash was at least the third known road rage incident involving Rios since August 2017. Days after the wreck, a Bexar County grand jury indicted Rios for failure to stop and give information. Rios remains free on bond on both misdemeanor charges, Bexar County court records show. Rios, to date, has not been charged with assault. A spokeswoman for the Bexar County District Attorney’s office said as recently as last week that the office could not comment on matters that may be under investigation or review. Rios was shot six times during a shootout outside All-Stars Gentlemen’s Club in May 2018, following a rolling altercation with another driver that started on Interstate 10 East and concluded after both men pulled into the Northwest Side parking lot.

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National Stories

Washington Post - November 23, 2021

Competitive House districts are getting wiped off the map

From Texas to Oregon, competitive congressional districts are disappearing. As states finalize new borders ahead of the 2022 midterms, state legislatures are approving maps they hope will advantage one party in the coming struggle to control the narrowly held U.S. House. In the 15 states that approved new congressional district maps as of Monday morning, the number of districts where the 2020 presidential margin was within five percentage points has fallen from 23 to just 10, according to a Post analysis. The new maps in those states have already netted a double-digit increase in solidly Republican seats compared with previous maps there. The completion of maps in more states will provide a fuller picture in the coming months.

Other states are considering maps that have attracted accusations of extreme partisan gerrymandering. A Democrat-drawn plan awaiting the Illinois governor’s signature eliminates two competitive districts in favor of two Democratic-leaning seats. Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature has proposed adding another GOP-leaning seat in what appears to be an attempt to stifle Democratic gains in the Atlanta suburbs. The maps could face years of legal challenges once they are approved by state legislatures or other commissions charged with drawing the lines. The net effect of the changes in motion is that the next session of Congress will have an even more partisan makeup, and likely more rancor, than the already polarized House today. The new map in Texas would reduce the state’s 12 existing competitive districts to one. The elimination of competitive seats will likely limit Democrats’ chances to flip seats as the state’s population changes over the next decade. Currently, Republicans hold a 23-to-13 advantage over Democrats in the House delegation. The new lines, which include two additional seats because of population growth, nearly double the safest Republican seats from 11 to 21 and increase the safest Democratic seats from eight to 12. One seat leans Democratic and three lean Republican, according to the analysis.

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Washington Post - November 24, 2021

House Jan. 6 committee intensifies focus on law enforcement failures that preceded Capitol attack

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is increasingly focused on law enforcement failures that preceded the insurrection, scrutinizing in particular multiple warnings of possible violence that went unheeded by the FBI, according to people familiar with its work and individuals who have been contacted by the committee. Donell Harvin, the former head of intelligence for D.C.’s homeland security department, said he has met twice in the past two weeks with committee investigators, who he said appeared intent on understanding how information was shared between agencies in the weeks before the attack. Harvin — whose team was in charge of assessing threats to D.C. — said he told committee investigators that he did not learn of the warnings received by the FBI in advance of Jan. 6 until months after the Capitol siege. “I told them that I think there needs to be a big discussion about how we look at domestic intelligence, because right now, it’s fragmented,” he said.

Harvin is among a half-dozen people familiar with law enforcement actions before the attack who have been contacted in recent weeks by the committee. The interviews indicate that along with efforts to assess the role of President Donald Trump and his allies in spurring on the mob, the panel is pursuing a significant review of the intelligence and national security failures that is similar to the one undertaken by the 9/11 Commission in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The committee is examining the failures of various government agencies to recognize, share and elevate critical early warnings of extremists discussing violence in the run-up to Jan. 6, according to two people familiar with the panel’s work, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the investigation. A spokesman for the select committee declined to comment. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) serves as chairman of the panel, and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) serves as vice chair. The FBI did not comment. The committee’s examination of some specific red flags that preceded the Capitol attack follows a Washington Post investigative series published late last month on the causes, costs and aftermath of Jan. 6. The series revealed that the FBI and other federal agencies did not respond with urgency to a cascade of warnings that Trump supporters were planning mayhem in Washington that day.

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NPR - November 24, 2021

The biggest problem facing the U.S. electric grid isn't demand. It's climate change

The power grid in the U.S. is aging and already struggling to meet current demand. It faces a future with more people, who drive more electric cars and heat homes with more electric furnaces. Alice Hill says that's not even the biggest problem the country's electricity infrastructure faces. "Everything that we've built, including the electric grid, assumed a stable climate," she says. "It looked to the extremes of the past — how high the seas got, how high the winds got, the heat." Hill is an energy and environment expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. She served on the National Security Council staff during the Obama administration, where she led the effort to develop climate resilience. She says past weather extremes can no longer safely guide future electricity planning.

"It's a little like we're building the plane as we're flying because the climate is changing right now, and it's picking up speed as it changes," Hill says. The newly passed infrastructure package dedicates billions of dollars to updating the energy grid. Hill says utility companies and public planners around the country are already having to adapt. She points to the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. "They thought the maximum would be 12 feet," she says. "That storm surge came in close to 14 feet. It overcame the barriers at the tip of Manhattan, and then the electric grid — a substation blew out. The city that never sleeps [was] plunged into darkness." Hill noted that Con Edison, the utility company providing New York City with energy, responded with upgrades to its grid: It buried power lines, introduced artificial intelligence, upgraded software to detect failures. But she says upgrading the way humans assess risk is harder. "What happens is that some people tend to think, well, that last storm that we just had, that'll be the worst, right?" Hill says. "No, there is a worse storm ahead. And then, probably, that will be exceeded." In 2021, the U.S. saw electricity outages for millions of people as a result of historic winter storms in Texas, a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest and Hurricane Ida along the Gulf Coast. Climate change will only make extreme weather more likely and more intense.

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Hollywood Reporter - November 24, 2021

TV news' dangerous bet: Hedging on a streaming future

Does TV news have a future outside of the existing television ecosystem? The question is top of mind for news executives as the entertainment world dramatically shifts, with linear TV channels facing steady decline and streaming on the rise. In his 1991 book Three Blind Mice, Ken Auletta detailed how the rise of cable TV, and specifically CNN and its coverage of the Gulf War, threw the network news divisions at ABC, NBC and CBS into chaos. “Instantly, the public glimpsed the cataclysmic changes in the television industry,” Auletta wrote. “Viewers realized that CNN, not the three networks, was the channel of convenience for live, up-to-the-minute news … All at once, everyone seemed to be talking about whether network news had a future – indeed, whether the networks had a future.” The networks found their future by becoming tied to the pay TV bundle.

But executives now have to balance the management of that lucrative but declining legacy business with a streaming future that’s just as disruptive to TV news as CNN was 30 years ago. “I think this is as big a change for the video news business as the introduction of the cable news channels was — only it is happening much faster,” says Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University and a former NBC News executive. “That was a slow tectonic shift from broadcast to cable, and while broadcast news obviously still exists, and while programs controlled by the news divisions — the morning shows in particular — still make a ton of money, the overwhelming emphasis for years now has been on cable news.” While entertainment giants are now diving into streaming — and shifting their structures accordingly — TV news divisions have exercised more caution, taking steps into the streaming pool but not jumping in. A subscription to HBO Max negates the requirement to watch Succession on HBO’s linear channel, and a subscription to Hulu will cover your fix of ABC’s The Rookie. But if you want to watch NBC’s Today, or CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight live on a streaming platform, you’re out of luck. The business rationale is simple: The cable bundle and broadcast retransmission fees pay programmers billions of dollars in revenue annually. TV news ad sales for the broadcast news divisions and cable channels are hundreds of millions annually.

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CNN - November 23, 2021

Jury finds Unite the Right defendants liable for more than $26 million in damages

A jury has awarded more than $26 million in damages after finding the White nationalists who organized and participated in a violent 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, liable on a state conspiracy claim and other claims. The jury in the federal civil trial said Tuesday it could not reach a verdict on two federal conspiracy claims. The violence during the Unite the Right rally turned the Virginia city into another battleground in America's culture wars and highlighted growing polarization. It was also an event that empowered White supremacists and nationalists to demonstrate their beliefs in public rather than just online.

The first federal conspiracy claim was the most prominent against the defendants because it alleged the defendants conspired to commit racially motivated violence while the second alleged the defendants had knowledge of a conspiracy and failed to prevent it. "We are thrilled that the jury has delivered a verdict in favor of our plaintiffs, finally giving them the justice they deserve after the horrific weekend of violence and intimidation in August 2017," plaintiffs' attorneys Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn said. "Today's verdict sends a loud and clear message that facts matter, the law matters, and that the laws of this this country will not tolerate the use of violence to deprive racial and religious minorities of the basic right we all share to live as free and equal citizens." One defense attorney called the verdict a win. "It's a politically charged situation. It's going to be hard to get 11 people to agree," said attorney Joshua Smith, who represented three defendants. "I consider a hung jury to be a win, considering a disparity of resources."

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Reuters - November 23, 2021

U.S. not heading toward COVID lockdown, White House says

The United States does not need to impose a lockdown or shut down its economy to curb the spread of COVID-19 and will rely on other tools, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Monday. "We are not headed in that direction. We have the tools to accelerate the path out of this pandemic; widely available vaccinations, booster shots, kid shots, therapeutics," Zients told reporters at a White House briefing. "We can curb the spread of the virus without having to in any way shut down our economy." U.S. regulators expanded eligibility for booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines to all adults on Friday, and 3 million people received them since, Zients said.

"In fact, just across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we got 3 million booster shots into arms. A million booster shots per day," he said. "Don't delay, get your booster shot so you can have enhanced protection for COVID as we head into the winter." Separately, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said U.S. health officials are not currently recommending lockdowns or economic restrictions to curb rising COVID-19 cases. Europe is once again the epicenter of the global pandemic with Austria reimposing full lockdown, riots breaking out in cities across the Netherlands over a partial lockdown, and many other countries imposing restrictions. The current seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in the United States rose 18% from last week's average to 92,800 per day, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at the briefing. U.S. hospitalizations rose 6% to an average of 5,600 per day and average daily deaths are about 1,000 per day, she said. Around 47 million eligible American adults and over 12 million teenagers are still not fully vaccinated, Walensky added. As of Sunday, COVID-19 had killed 776,188 people in the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

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Newsclips - November 23, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

East Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert jumps in to Attorney General race, seeking to unseat Ken Paxton

East Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert joined the crowded GOP race for attorney general late Monday, announcing he reached the goal of raising $1 million to fund the effort. In a short campaign video posted online, the tea party conservative named “election integrity” as his top priority. Gohmert also accused the embattled officeholder, Republican Ken Paxton, of “working harder” only after being accused of crimes last year by his top staffers. The FBI is investigating the allegations. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing. “I will not wait to be busiest until after there’s some bad press about legal improprieties,” Gohmert said. “I’ll start boldly protecting your rights on day one.” Gohmert’s entry raises the stakes on what is already one of the most competitive races of the 2022 election cycle. Paxton is running for a third term and already faces several high-profile GOP challengers in Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and state Rep. Matt Krause.

However, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reported Monday night that Krause would forego the attorney general’s race and instead run for Tarrant County District Attorney. Democrats are also lining up for the job. They include civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski and Rochelle Garza, a former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. Paxton’s opponents say he’s unfit for the job and are highlighting his legal woes, which also include a 6-year-old fraud indictment. He’s pleaded not guilty. The primary is March 1. Known for inflammatory comments, Gohmert, 68, has courted controversy during his nine terms in Congress. He’s been one of the most outspoken members echoing former President Donald Trump’s baseless assertions that the 2020 election was stolen. His unconventional antics, such as trying to drown out a critic in a House hearing by tapping his desk, made headlines last year. Before joining Congress, Gohmert was a state district judge in Smith County. In the 90-second announcement video posted to YouTube, Gohmert said “unconstitutional mandates will not be tolerated” and “parental consent is still an important concept.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

Tough border policies appear to boost poll results for Gov. Abbott

Support is deepening for Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of immigration at the border, compared with that of President Joe Biden’s performance, according to a new Texas poll. Why does it matter? The Republican governor’s get-tough border policies may give him an edge in his bid for re-election in 2022, and prove a testing ground for a politico who’s also eyeing a White House run. A new poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler shows that 49% of polled registered voters approve of Abbott’s border policies — up from 47% in September. The poll surveyed 1,106 registered voters on a range of issues from Nov. 9-16. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. Many of the findings on immigration and the border showed an increasingly conservative stance when compared with the last poll in early September. In mid-September, national attention became focused on the chaotic arrival of asylum-seekers in Del Rio.

There, more than 15,000 Haitians swam across the Rio Grande, where they were placed in an outdoor camp under the international bridge. Abbott sent state troopers and members of the Texas National Guard to park their vehicles along the riverbanks in an effort to discourage the mass crossings while federal authorities struggled to cope with the arriving migrants. Adding to the tension were policies recently implemented by Abbott that allowed for the arrest of migrants on state charges of property trespassing. The poll found: 50% of voters agree or strongly agree that a wall along the Texas-Mexico border is “necessary for a safe border. That’s 2% higher than early September polling; 48% of voters support granting permanent legal status to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. In September, 51% supported granting permanent legal status. Democrats supported such a measure by 71%, and Republicans by 40%.

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Associated Press - November 23, 2021

US to release 50 million barrels of oil to ease energy costs

The White House on Tuesday said it had ordered 50 million barrels of oil released from the strategic reserve to bring down energy costs, in coordination with other countries including China. The move is an effort to bring down rising gas prices. Gasoline prices nationwide are averaging about $3.40 a gallon, more than double their price a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association.

The release will be taken in parallel other nations including, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom, major energy consumers. The U.S. Department of Energy will make the oil available from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in two ways; 32 million barrels will be released in the next few months and will return to the reserve in the years ahead, the White House said. Another 18 barrels will be part of a sale of oil that Congress had previously authorized.

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Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2021

Appeals court affirms Abbott’s mask mandate ban violated Jenkins’ ability to manage pandemic

A state appeals court in Dallas on Monday affirmed a judge’s August ruling that Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates violates Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ ability to lead the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After state District Judge Tonya Parker issued a temporary injunction in Jenkins’ favor Aug. 25, Abbott’s office appealed to the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas. The ruling is a significant victory for Jenkins, who has emphasized the importance of masking as a weapon against the spread of the coronavirus. But masks have been a political flash point at the same time he has tried to improve Dallas County’s vaccination rates, particularly as the highly contagious delta variant led to a major resurgence of COVID-19.

“I am thankful for this ruling,” Jenkins said in a written statement late Monday. “To the lawyers who represent not just me but the interest of public health, I am forever grateful. I will continue to stand for your safety against any threat. The enemy should not be another elected official. This is Team Human vs the Virus, and to protect life and our economy we should all follow the science wherever it leads.” Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have consistently opposed masking requirements. Although the Republican leaders have publicly agreed that masks are important in fighting COVID-19, they say Texans deserve the power of choice about whether to wear them. On July 29, Abbott issued an executive order stating that in places where COVID-19 transmission rates are high, such as Dallas County, residents should follow safety protocols but could not be required by local government leaders to wear masks. Not long after, Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch sued Jenkins, alleging that the county judge had illegally made a “unilateral decision to require face coverings” during a Commissioners Court meeting in violation of the executive order. Koch wanted Jenkins’ enforcement of a mask mandate to be struck down as illegal. Jenkins responded by filing a counterclaim against Abbott.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

With no Supreme Court ruling Monday, Texas SB 8 abortion restrictions remain in effect

It’s now been three weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two challenges to Texas’ novel new law that bans abortion after six weeks and allows private citizens to enforce it through lawsuits, but the court still hadn’t issued a ruling as of Monday. Justices seemed to indicate they wanted to review and rule on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 8 quickly when they put the case on the fast track in October, setting oral arguments for Nov. 1. On Friday, speculation began to circulate that the court will finally issue a ruling on Monday, Nov. 22. “#SCOTUS set to issue one or more opinions on Monday,” Steve Vladeck, UT law school professor and CNN’s lead Supreme Court analyst, tweeted Friday. “There is no *guarantee* that we’ll get the rulings in the #SB8 cases, but it sure is *likely* that we will.” However, come Monday morning, the court did not release a ruling on either challenge to SB 8. It’s unclear when a decision from the justices may come.

In the meantime, the Texas law remains in effect, preventing women in Texas from accessing an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy. This cutoff comes before some women know they’re pregnant, and long before the roughly 22 to 24 week mark that five decades of Supreme Court rulings recognize and protect. “Every single day that SB 8 is in effect in Texas is a travesty and an injustice for Texans who need abortion care,” said Caroline Duble, political director for Avow, a Texas-based abortion rights advocacy organization. “We are frustrated that the court is taking so long, and we have been frustrated with the way that they’ve handled this law since the first time it appeared before them.” Anti-abortion groups, on the other hand, are celebrating every day the Texas law remains in effect as a success. “We’re encouraged by the Supreme Court’s judicial restraint,” Kimberlyn Schwartz, director of media and communication for Texas Right to Life, said in a statement. “Every day the Texas Heartbeat Act is in effect is a victory because the law saves an estimated 75-100 babies from abortion per day.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson won’t run for Congress to replace Eddie Bernice Johnson

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said Monday that he will not campaign to succeed U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson. “I love being mayor, and it’s the only job in American politics that I want right now, period, full stop, end of story,” Johnson told The Dallas Morning News. “This is the right job for me and for my skill set and my passion, which is the people of this city…If I’m going to be in American politics in any job, this is the one.” On Saturday, Eddie Bernice Johnson announced that she will retire when her term ends in 2022, capping a 30-year career as the representative for the Dallas-anchored Congressional District 30. Her decision has sparked what’s expected to be a crowded race to replace the trailblazing Democrat. Eric Johnson, a former state representative, would have been a frontrunner for the seat. He was mentioned as a potential successor for Johnson, when she considered retirement in 2019. But Johnson ran for mayor of Dallas.

During a mayoral debate that year at the Belo Mansion, Johnson insisted he would remain mayor, even if the District 30 seat opened. When Eddie Bernice Johnson made her announcement, Eric Johnson said his phone began ringing. “I have no doubt in my mind that if I threw my hat into the ring, I would be going to Congress,” Johnson said. “I have the job I want right now. I want to continue to be mayor.” Johnson said that Eddie Bernice Johnson knew he wanted to remain mayor. He was out of town with his family when she made her announcement. The mayor said he’d hope the longtime congresswoman would stay for another term. “I was one of the folks who was hoping she’d actually stay on, because we need her down there, especially right now when we’re trying to get these infrastructure dollars in Dallas,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a competitive process to get some infrastructure money. It’s not going to just be given out on sort of a block grant type basis. So we need a real champion. Now is not the ideal time to go to Washington with a junior congressperson.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2021

Fort Worth Rep. Matt Krause to run for Tarrant County DA

Fort Worth Rep. Matt Krause is running for Tarrant County District Attorney after previously announcing his candidacy for Texas Attorney General. Krause, who has served in the Texas House of Representatives since 2013, announced in September his plans to challenge Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in what’s expected to be a crowded Republican primary. However, earlier this month Tarrant County DA Sharen Wilson, a Republican, announced she wouldn’t seek reelection. As of Nov. 12, Krause told the Star-Telegram his focus remained on the attorney general election. At the time he said it’s the “very, very strong likelihood” he’d remain in the AG race. The remarks came after a tweet by the editor of the Quorum Report, a political newsletter, noting rumors of him switching bids.

Krause’s campaign confirmed he plans to announce for district attorney on Tuesday morning. On Monday, CBS DFW and WFAA reported he would run for district attorney. Also on Monday, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert announced he’d run for attorney general as a Republican. Republicans running for attorney general include Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Democrats who’ve said they are running include civil rights lawyer Lee Merrit, Galveston lawyer Joe Jaworski and former ACLU lawyer Rochelle Garza. Krause did not immediately return a request for comment. Candidates who’ve filed for District Attorney in Tarrant County include Tiffany Burks, a Democrat, and Phil Sorrells, a Republican. Tarrant County District Court Judge Mollee Westfall, a Republican, has also announced she’ll run for DA.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 23, 2021

San Antonio to have more say in closely watched race between Rep. Cuellar, progressive challengers

When U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros face off in a hotly anticipated Democratic primary rematch next year, they’ll be competing for votes from a much larger chunk of San Antonio, after the district long anchored in Laredo was redrawn to include tens of thousands more potential voters from Bexar County. The new boundaries could shake up what will likely be one of the most closely watched primaries in the state, if not the nation. Cisneros’ progressive challenge in 2020 drew national attention as the Laredo native came within 3 percentage points of unseating Cuellar, a longtime congressman and one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. The district, which previously covered parts of Bexar County almost entirely east of Loop 410, now stretches across much of southeast San Antonio and into downtown. Its northwestern-most tip now extends beyond the Alamo.

The new district is likely bluer: Under these new boundaries, the margin between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump would widen by 2.6 percentage points. The result: Cuellar, who struggled in Bexar County in 2020, and his Democratic challengers will likely be spending a lot more time and money in San Antonio in the coming months. And they will likely not be alone. At least four Republicans have jumped into the GOP primary, as the national party targeted Cuellar’s district to flip after Trump’s surprisingly strong showing in South Texas in 2020. Both Cuellar and Cisneros argue that the addition of some 41,000 San Antonio and Bexar County residents old enough to cast ballots in the race will benefit them. Cisneros won the portions of the district in Bexar County by a 2-1 margin in 2020. The primary was decided by just 2,700 votes. Her campaign is optimistic that she can make up the difference by turning out voters there this time. “San Antonio did play such a crucial role last time, and obviously with the numbers now, I expect nothing less,” Cisneros said.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2021

Dangling air fresheners and 'faulty' plates: These Texas police make the most minor traffic stops

Police describe traffic enforcement as a matter of public safety. Running red lights, distracted driving and speeding imperil all motorists. “That’s why I designated a traffic safety officer — to try to slow people down,” Corrigan Police Chief Darrell Gibson told the Chronicle for a recent article about speed traps. “Every time there was a traffic death, it was because they were going very fast.” Yet many stops have little to do with a driver’s dangerous behavior. Records from Texas’s 2,500 law enforcement agencies show that about one in five last year was for a so-called vehicle violation — a broken tail light, an expired registration, an insufficiently visible license plate. Policing experts say such stops often are used not to make roads safer, but as a “pretext” for police to temporarily detain drivers so they can interview them and look inside their cars for contraband or other possible illegal activity.

“When you’re stopping someone for absolutely trivial violations, it’s probably safe to say you’re looking for something greater,” said Patrick O’Burke, a former commander for the Texas Department of Public Safety who now trains police. A Houston Chronicle analysis has identified the law enforcement agencies that conducted the highest rate of minor violation traffic stops last year, pulling over vehicles for equipment and paperwork infractions at a rate three and four times the state’s overall average. In La Vernia, a small city east of San Antonio where more than half of the police department’s traffic stops last year were for minor vehicle violations, Chief Bruce Ritchey said his officers often stop vehicles “as a courtesy” to alert drivers to broken equipment. But he acknowledged they also take the opportunity to scope out vehicles and drivers for potential crimes. Drivers “may not have a driver’s license, they may not have insurance. They may have dope in the car,” he said. Using the traffic stops to investigate drivers, “is like a gun and handcuffs; it’s another tool to keep the community safe.” Several of the departments that made a high number of minor-violation stops also ranked at the top of Texas police departments conducting the most vehicle searches, the Chronicle’s examination showed.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2021

Texas A&M grad donates $20 million for scholarships, finance department

A pledged donation that started at $10 million to support scholarships at Texas A&M University turned into a $20 million gift to also bolster academic programs and hiring, the university announced Monday. The Mays Business School’s Department of Finance will soon be named after Adam Sinn, an Aggie who graduated in 2000 who owns the oil and energy trading company Aspire Commodities. He solidified the $20 million commitment last week through the Texas A&M Foundation. “The main focus of it is releasing the financial burden off of some of these students so that in the future they can take a bet on themselves when they see that opportunity,” Sinn, 43, said in a video interview Friday, proudly sporting an A&M sweatshirt. “And hopefully they’ll pay it forward and help out somebody else.”

About $7.5 million from Sinn’s gift will support scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. The rest will help recruit top faculty and and create and expand high-impact programs for finance students, the university said. More than 1,000 students are enrolled in finance department programs for the 2021-22 academic year, a 30 percent increase in five years, according to a press release from the university. “I applaud Mr. Sinn’s willingness to invest in our university,” M. Katherine Banks, the university’s president, said in the release. “Contributions such as these not only help elevate the department but provide a brighter future to our students for generations to come.” Thinking back on his own financial constraints growing up, Sinn requested priority be given to applicants from his hometown of Hoopeston, Ill., and nearby Cissna Park, Ill., and Dorado, Puerto Rico, where he now lives. If there aren’t enough applicants from those areas, the scholarships will be made available to students enrolled in the business school’s Trading, Risk and Investments Program (TRIP), which prepares participants in the fields of energy trading, investments and risk management.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2021

Report: Future of groundwater pumping in Texas unsustainable

The future of water looks murky in the Lone Star State. Groundwater levels are declining in Texas, according to two reports published last week by Texas State University and the Environmental Defense Fund. Seven of 20 aquifer systems analyzed in the state are being overpumped, and that number could double by 2070, which would leave only six aquifers sustainable for future groundwater use in the state. Unsustainable pumping of aquifers can lead to wells drying up, less groundwater storage and the degradation of rivers and springs that depend on aquifers for their ecosystems.

For the Edwards Aquifer, groundwater is protected by the Endangered Species Act — limiting the amount of water pumped in order to protect creatures such as the blind salamander and the San Marcos Gambusia. Currently, the Edwards Aquifer is being pumped sustainably and will continue to be in 2070, according to the Texas State University report. But the Edwards is connected with the Trinity Aquifer, which stretches north from San Antonio through Texas Hill Country. “Most of the Edwards Aquifer’s recharge comes from rivers across the recharge zone that leak into the aquifer, and then most of that water flowing through those rivers is a source for the Hill Country,” said Robert Mace, a professor at Texas State University and executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. “But there’s water that also flows underground from the Trinity aquifer into the Edwards, so if there’s less water in the Trinity, there’s going to be less water flowing into the Edwards.” While the Trinity Aquifer as a whole is projected to be managed sustainably in the future, the Trinity within the Hill Country is not, Mace said. The Trinity’s groundwater levels are projected to decline by 30 feet by 2070.

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Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2021

Dallas master sommelier stripped of title amid sexual misconduct investigation

A Dallas wine expert is among six master sommeliers being stripped of their prestigious titles amid allegations of sexual misconduct, according to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle. The Court of Master Sommeliers announced Wednesday that Drew Hendricks, co-founder of the Dallas-based wine conference and awards competition TEXSOM, and five other master sommeliers will no longer be members of the elite wine group after an external investigation of allegations brought forward last October in an article in The New York Times. Details of the allegations against each of the sommeliers were not given, but the court said in its announcement that accusations ranged from “inappropriate comments and flirting to nonconsensual touching and exploiting a mentoring relationship for a perceived quid pro quo.”

Hendricks has previously worked at Pioneer Wine Co. in Dallas and Republic National Distributing Co. Representatives from Pioneer told the Houston Chronicle that Hendricks hasn’t worked there since November 2020. Hendricks has previously worked at Dallas restaurants Pappas Bros. Steakhouse and now-closed Charlie Palmer at the Joule. Hendricks could not immediately be reached for comment. James Tidwell, a Dallas-based master sommelier who co-founded TEXSOM with Hendricks in 2005, said Hendricks hasn’t had any ownership in or involvement with the organization since the publication of The Times’ article last year. “Once the article came out and things were brought to light, he was no longer involved,” Tidwell said. “Since then, we’ve moved in directions that are more inclusive and equitable and diverse, and I think that is something you can see if you attend the conference.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

‘Undeniably a cult’: Fringe QAnon group remains in Dallas, awaiting JFK Jr.’s arrival

Weeks after they first gathered near Dealey Plaza, dozens of believers in the furthest fringe of the QAnon conspiracy theory remain in Dallas, expecting long-dead John F. Kennedy Jr. to reveal himself in the city where his father was assassinated and usher in the reinstatement of Donald Trump as president. While their beliefs are patently absurd, the fervency and devotion of this particular group, along with their loyalty to a leader known as Negative48 and unwillingness to leave Dallas, is unique — and cause for alarm and concern, according to an expert who has followed QAnon for years. “I think what you’re seeing here is really, undeniably a cult,” said Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us, which chronicles the rise of, and fallout from, QAnon. The leader of the group is Michael Brian Protzman, a Washington man who amassed a following on social media with his version of gematria, a Hebrew numerology language.

Interpreting codes that include numbers and letters, and using elements of Christianity and QAnon, his followers have come to believe that Kennedy, who died in a plane crash in 1999, will reappear in Dallas and commence a new Trump administration. Some of Protzman’s followers believe President John F. Kennedy wasn’t assassinated in 1963; others believe he was, but then resurrected as a messiah shortly thereafter. Despite the failure of either Kennedy — or other dead celebrities who were expected, including Michael Jackson and Princess Diana — to appear during the initial Nov. 2 rally that drew hundreds to downtown Dallas, a hardcore group of Protzman’s followers remain in Dallas, expecting their arrival. Even some of the more mainstream believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory — which is based on the premise that a cabal of liberal celebrities and politicians partake in a child sex-abuse ring and will be executed upon Trump’s reinstatement — think Negative48 is too fringy, Rothschild said. The group is also distinct from the larger umbrella of QAnon because it has a leader able to persuade hundreds of people from across the country to come to Dallas.

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2021

UT Austin to keep Stan Richards’ name on advertising school, despite ‘too Black’ comments

The University of Texas will keep Dallas marketing icon Stan Richards’ name on its school of advertising and public relations, despite racially insensitive comments that led to his resignation last year. A university email cited Richards’ remorse and condemnation of racism after the 87-year-old founder of a namesake agency referred to a proposed ad campaign as being “too Black” for the Carrollton-based Motel 6 chain’s “white supremacist constituents.” “While we strongly denounce Richards’ remarks, we also acknowledge his remorse and his condemnation of racism and bigotry in all its forms,” Moody College of Communication Dean Jay Bernhardt said in an email to the college, according to The Texas Tribune. “When considering Richards’ offensive comments and subsequent apology on balance with his many significant contributions to the field and the college, we have decided that his name will remain on the school.”

Richards resigned after his 2020 comments went public, telling employees he was firing himself. Motel 6 dropped The Richards Group as a client, followed by other big name companies including Home Depot and H-E-B. The defections caused the firm to lose as much as 40% of its revenue. UT’s decision to keep the Richards name for its college comes after two independent reports both recommended removing it. The first report, compiled by Overcoming Racism, is based on listening sessions with various stakeholders at the school as well as alumni who worked at Richards’ Dallas firm, one of the largest independent ad agencies in the country. The report found that some students felt ashamed that the name of their school was attached to Richards. Others who supported Richards felt he made a mistake, and that he still represents “the best in the profession.” Former Richards Group employees who attended UT told the report’s authors that the ad firm had a “long-standing lack of representation with regards to women and Black employees” and that his words were “reflective of his company’s casual racist and sexist culture and practices,” according to the report.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2021

Your sales tax may be going to another Texas town and back to the company thanks to these two obscure laws

When Aasheel Kadiwal clicked the "place your order" button on Best Buy’s website last year and paid more than $2,000 for a video camera, iPad Pro and Apple watch, he didn't think to ask where his tax dollars were going. If he had known the answer, Kadiwal wouldn’t have liked it. The roughly $40 he paid in local sales taxes for his online purchase wasn’t collected by the community of Richmond outside Houston, where the college student lived at the time. Instead, Kadiwal and other Best Buy customers in Texas paid sales taxes to San Marcos in Hays County every time they bought products from the electronics company online — even if they didn’t live in those communities. And most of the tax dollars collected by the city and county weren’t spent on fixing streets, paying firefighters or funding other essential government services.

Under economic incentive agreements signed with Best Buy, San Marcos and Hays County gave 75 percent of the net tax revenue to the company after it opened an “e-commerce sales operation” and hired up to 112 new full-time employees. Total payments to Best Buy since 2017: more than $40 million. "It does bother me," Kadiwal said in a recent interview after he learned how his tax dollars were spent. "I feel like it should have gone to the town where I was living in, you know?" Best Buy’s tax incentives were made possible by obscure Texas laws that allow cities and counties to sign such deals with few restrictions — even if it means taking tax money from Texans who have no say in the agreements. Known as “Chapter 380” for cities and “Chapter 381” for counties, the laws were passed during the recession of the 1980s without the typical safeguards that lawmakers placed on other economic incentive programs. There’s no limit on the duration of each deal; no minimal job-creation requirements; and no reporting on how much the agreements ultimately cost taxpayers. A wide variety of incentives can be offered under such agreements, and rebates on sales taxes are nothing new. What’s changed is how online shopping has transformed tax rebates into money-making machines for a growing number of businesses and Texas communities.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Conservative culture war keeping kids from college, hurting economic future

College enrollment dramatically dropped in 2021 for the second year in a row, particularly among young men, a result triggered not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but a more worrisome trend. The shrinking proportion of young Americans participating in higher education threatens the nation’s economic competitiveness and reflects the nation’s political divide. Partisans are making everything we say, do, think, and believe political talismans by which to judge others. This culture war, though, is hurting our children. Today, less than a third of working Americans have a college degree. In the 1960s, a high school diploma was all that most people needed to find a decent job. A full-time job making minimum wage could support a family. Recently, I wrote about why a four-year degree is not the only path to economic success, and I stand by that. However, the jobs of the future are increasingly technical and require some post-secondary study, as demonstrated by the millions of job openings for people with advanced skills.

Recently, I wrote about why a four-year degree is not the only path to economic success, and I stand by that. However, the jobs of the future are increasingly technical and require some post-secondary study, as demonstrated by the millions of job openings for people with advanced skills. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s goal is to have 60 percent of Texans holding some kind of advanced certificate by 2030. We’re not going to get there at this pace; young people are not pursuing the skills employers need. Enrollment in undergraduate college classes dropped 3.2 percent this year after declining 3.4 percent last year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Community colleges that offer vocational training for good middle-class jobs have seen enrollment drop 14.1 percent since 2019. Young men are skipping post-secondary school education more than women. Their enrollment is down 9.3 percent since 2019 compared to women at 5 percent. Women now make up 60 percent of students at four-year universities. The trend is sparking a debate and some pearl-clutching.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 22, 2021

Bridget Grumet: Antisemitic agitators came to Austin for a reason

It’s tempting to put the ugliness and hate we’ve seen in recent weeks in a box labeled “not from here.” After all, the college student accused of setting fire Oct. 31 to the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, a brazen hate crime charring the entryway of a beloved Central Austin temple, lives in San Marcos. And the ringleader of the neo-Nazis who hoisted vile, antisemitic banners over MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) a few weekends ago isn't even from Texas. We can dismiss such people as outsiders and express outrage that they would dare show up in our diverse, welcoming city. Or we can ask ourselves what makes such people think the door is propped open, even a tiny bit, for them to step inside.

To be sure, many in Austin swiftly condemned antisemitism and stood in solidarity with our Jewish neighbors. Hundreds waved signs of hope at last weekend’s Rally for Kindness outside the Capitol. More than 1,100 faith leaders, elected officials, business leaders and residents signed on to a letter by Interfaith Action of Central Texas condemning acts of intimidation and violence. More than $150,000 in donations have poured into Congregation Beth Israel to help with the extensive repairs needed, and a group of donors has pledged another $100,000 in matching funds. This is the Austin many of us know and hold dear. But we cannot tune out the low buzz of hate and intolerance that’s always humming in the background. Ignore it long enough, and someone will feel emboldened to turn up the volume. Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, a statewide interfaith advocacy group, draws comparisons to the broken window theory. When people see that a certain level of blight is tolerated, bad actors believe they can get away with worse forms of misbehavior, and good people feel powerless to stop the demise. You don’t have to look hard to find the seedy corners of our public square.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 21, 2021

Jena Heath: The chilling effect on campuses isn't because of left-wing ideology

(Heath is an associate dean at the School of Arts and Humanities at St. Edward's University, an associate professor of journalism and digital media, and coordinator of the Journalism and Digital Media program.) When news broke that a group of academic heavyweights and conservative firebrands plans to launch a new university in Austin dedicated to “the fearless pursuit of truth,” by which the founders mean combatting what they see as left-wing ideology flooding college campuses, the Twitter bomb-throwing made for amusing reading. Critics pointed out that the University of Austin isn’t conferring degrees, isn’t accredited, doesn’t have a location for its campus, and wasn’t shy about fundraising. The word “grifter” appeared frequently, along with comparisons to scandal-ridden Trump University. Just this week, two prominent advisory board members announced they were stepping down. The founders, among them a former Harvard University president and one-time New York Times Opinion editor turned right-wing darling, say they are defending free speech by creating a place where no idea is off limits.

Their announcement paints a picture of left-wing terrorism silencing students and ousting academics, “for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as gender differences or immigration,” and other cancel culture concerns. “The reality is that many universities no longer have an incentive to create an environment where intellectual dissent is protected and fashionable opinions are scrutinized,” the announcement proclaimed. As a professor at a private liberal arts university, I am well aware of the challenges facing higher education. I don’t disagree with the group’s critique of low graduation rates, opaque financing formulas, and top-heavy administrative structures, and I’m glad to see students and families asking questions. It also seems to me that real dissent and disagreement has been less evident on campus. But here’s a thought: The reason for the silence isn’t left-wing bullying, it’s money. Nothing puts a pall over the workplace like financial fear. For too many colleges and universities, the COVID pandemic is exacerbating what birthrate demographics had already made clear: Fewer babies are in the pipeline and that means fewer college students to recruit.

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Rolling Stone - November 22, 2021

George P. Bush scrubs endorsement from indicted sheriff linked to the Oath Keepers

In his bid for state Attorney General, George P. Bush puts “Defend Our Law Enforcement” at the heart of his “pro-Texas agenda.” It’s a law-and-order message that has earned him prominent endorsements, including from the National Border Patrol Council. Bush’s endorsement page also recently included a plug from a top north Texas lawman who insisted Texas “needs a clear leader who backs the blue.” But that official, Sheriff Jeffrey C. Lyde of Clay County, has become notorious in recent days — and his plug has been scrubbed from Bush’s website. Early last week, Rolling Stone highlighted Lyde’s appearance in hacked membership rolls of the far-right Oath Keeper militia. Then, on Thursday, Lyde was arrested and detained at his own jail, on charges of “official oppression,” for allegedly illegally detaining two inmates. Lyde’s endorsement has since disappeared from Bush’s website. Rolling Stone took the screenshot below Thursday afternoon.

Bush’s campaign did not reply to queries about what happened to the endorsement from Lyde, its views on his indictments, or whether the campaign is standing by Lyde as he defends himself against the charges he abused his powers. The scrubbed endorsement underscores the tricky spot Bush is in, politically, as he campaigns to be Texas’ top cop. The GOP scion — the grandson and nephew of presidents, and son of a governor — belongs to one of the most storied political dynasties in America. His middle initial, P., stands for Prescott, the first name of his great grandfather, who represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. But in this Trumpy age, being the next-gen Bush is at best a mixed blessing. P. has attempted to straddle the gap between his establishment inheritance and the party’s anti-establishment leader. Despite his father, Jeb Bush, having been raked over the coals by Trump during the 2016 GOP presidential primary, P. has cozied up to the 45th president. In his current post as Texas Land Commissioner, P. appeared with Trump at a 2019 signing ceremony to expand oil pipelines. “This is the only Bush that likes me!” Trump crowed as he called P. to the stage for a handshake. “This is the Bush that got it right.” P. publicly backed Trump in the 2020 election.

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MyHighPlains.com - November 22, 2021

The case of Thomas Brown: Attorney General’s Office and private investigator give conflicting updates

Both a newly released investigation summary from the Attorney General’s Office and the hours-long Wednesday presentation from Private Investigator Phillip Klein left a glut of allegations and evidence to sort through in the case of Thomas Brown. Thomas Brown, a teenager in Canadian, went missing the night before Thanksgiving in 2016. In early 2019, according to Klein’s company, his remains were found near Lake Marvin about 19 miles east of Canadian. The official investigation into his death was a joint effort between the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Attorney General’s Criminal Investigations Division, Texas Rangers, and the FBI. However, this case spurred the AG’s Office to establish a Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit, announced in the last week, that is now the base for the AG’s side of the investigation.

Klein Investigations & Consulting, a group of private investigators hired by Brown’s family and led by Phillip Klein, has released multiple updates regarding its own investigation. From timeline details to whether or not to view Brown’s death as a suicide or the result of foul play, Klein’s proposed narrative of the case has conflicted with the AG’s Office. Klein said that he would go through his alleged narrative of the case including a timeline during the Oct. 20 meeting, as well as that he would address some of the new AG investigation summary report. During the presentation, Klein did propose his version of the case’s timeline – though notably there were inconsistencies with the Attorney General’s report, and the meeting was dotted with heated exchanges between himself and others from the community. MyHighPlains.com checked in with attending reporter Judd Baker live during the event, as well as took a full recording.

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County Stories

McAllen Monitor - November 22, 2021

Rodriguez not seeking reelection as Hidalgo County DA

Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. announced Monday he is not seeking reelection for a third term.

The announcement follows Rodriguez’s exploration of a congressional run in District 15, which he decided not to pursue. He has served as the elected district attorney since 2014. Prior to that, he was the 92nd state District Court judge and before that he was a member of the Edinburg City Council.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 22, 2021

Little Elm schools to hold listening session after protest

Little Elm school district’s superintendent will hold a listening session Nov. 30 to address the district’s policies for reporting and investigating sexual harassment after a student demonstration ended with students being pepper-sprayed and tased, according to a statement on the district’s website. The listening session will be held at Little Elm High School’s auditorium at 6 p.m. Nov. 30. Four Little Elm High School students were arrested Friday morning after they were accused of assaulting Little Elm police officers during a student-led protest.

According to Little Elm ISD officials, students at the high school had planned a demonstration inside the campus that caused a “major disruption.” Police said they used a taser and pepper spray on students. The district still has not released any specific details on what prompted the student demonstration but said it was related to a claim of sexual harassment. The district said Friday that the protest was sparked by a social media post “that contained inaccurate information regarding an incident that happened a month ago.” Little Elm school district Superintendent Daniel Gallagher said in a statement on the district’s website he also has plans to implement three steps while looking into changes to policy: Create an independent committee to review the district’s policies on reporting and investigating sexual harassment claims in the district; Instruct the Little Elm ISD Safety and Security Committee to create and present an after-action report on the student demonstration and subsequent unrest on the campus of Little Elm High School; Perform an independent investigation into the sexual harassment claim that led to the demonstrations Friday.

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National Stories

Politico - November 23, 2021

Why Biden picked Powell

In choosing to renominate Jerome Powell to head the Federal Reserve, President Joe Biden is placing the economic future of his administration largely in the hands of a Republican selected by Donald Trump who made his fortune in private equity and enjoys overwhelming support among GOP lawmakers. Biden passed on an opportunity to put the central bank under the helm of a woman and a Democrat — Fed Governor Lael Brainard — for years to come. Why? In part, people close to Biden say he did it because of Wall Street’s confidence in Powell’s stewardship during the pandemic — the Dow jumped a couple of hundred points on Monday right after the news. And Biden by nature tends to favor incumbents, continuity and bipartisanship.

There also wasn’t an overwhelming case to fire Powell, though the scary surge in inflation offered one potential way out. Democrats arguing for change wanted someone tougher on bank regulation, the environment and economic inequality, but there's little distance between Powell and Brainard on monetary policy, the main focus of a Fed chair. Perhaps the biggest reason of all: The path to confirming Biden’s other finalist, Brainard, a loyal Democrat, looked thorny at best in the face of potentially strong GOP opposition and even some trepidation from moderate Senate Democrats, who favor Powell. In the end, Biden did what many close to him expected: He took a longer-than-anticipated amount of time to arrive at a reasonable, moderate decision that thrilled few but carried limited risk. “The president made a strong statement about the importance of continuity and not injecting additional uncertainty when there is already a lot of it around,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard professor and former top economic adviser to President Barack Obama who has close ties to the Biden White House. “He believes in institutions and likes the idea of there being at least one corner left in Washington that is not incredibly politicized.”

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Politico - November 23, 2021

Tapped out: Judge spikes DeSantis' gambling plan

A federal court has handed Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida a sizable defeat. In a ruling that landed late Monday, a federal judge struck down the state’s $2.5 billion deal with the tribe and brought an end to sports betting in the nation’s third largest state. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich with the District of Columbia said the compact was illegal because it allowed people to place sports bets anywhere in the state in violation of federal laws governing gambling on Indian lands. The ruling came in reaction to twin lawsuits filed by rival casino owners, longtime South Florida gambling opponents, and a statewide anti-gambling group.

Friedrich’s ruling also sided with gambling opponents by saying the only way sports betting could be allowed outside of tribal lands in Florida is through a citizen initiative. Voters in 2018 approved an amendment — backed by the Seminole Tribe and Disney — that said voters must approve any future expansions of casino gambling. The GOP-controlled Legislature and DeSantis sidestepped that amendment by insisting the new compact was legal because the actual processing of bets occurred on tribal lands even though someone could use a mobile app anywhere in the state. Friedrich said she could not accept this “fiction” and added that “when a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by 'deeming' their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not.” DeSantis personally lobbied lawmakers to muscle this latest deal through, which also authorized the tribe to add craps and roulette to its current casinos and build additional casinos on the tribe’s Hollywood reservation that is already home to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

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Washington Post - November 22, 2021

RNC agrees to pay some of Trump’s legal bills in N.Y. criminal investigation

The Republican National Committee is paying some personal legal bills for former president Donald Trump, spending party funds to pay a lawyer representing Trump in investigations into his financial practices in New York, a party spokeswoman said Monday. In October, the RNC made two payments totaling $121,670 to the law firm of Ronald Fischetti, a veteran defense attorney whom Trump hired in April. According to a person with direct knowledge of the payments, the requests came earlier this summer but were voted on by the party’s executive committee only in recent weeks. Fischetti has been representing Trump as he faces investigations by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D). There has been no indication that either investigation involves Trump’s time as president or any of his political campaigns. A person familiar with the RNC’s decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations said the organization was willing to foot the bills because James has made comments indicating she wanted to go after Trump.

James in 2018 told supporters that she intended to investigate Trump, noting that “I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings.” James has said her investigation is following the law and not guided by politics. The RNC is not paying some of the president’s other bills, such as those for his court battles over the House Jan. 6 committee’s requests, said the person familiar with the RNC’s decision. “As a leader of our party, defending President Trump and his record of achievement is critical to the GOP,” the party said in a written statement. “It is entirely appropriate for the RNC to continue assisting in fighting back against the Democrats’ never ending witch hunt and attacks on him.” Trump is a wealthy businessman with dozens of properties, and he has built an independent political operation, which at last count had more than $100 million on hand. “The RNC is our important partner in advancing America First policies and fighting back against the endless witch hunts,” Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesman, said in a statement. “The Democrats have become obsessed with weaponizing their offices against President Trump, which is a complete abandonment of their Constitutional obligations.”

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Associated Press - November 22, 2021

Target will keep stores closed on Thanksgiving for good

Target will no longer open its stores on Thanksgiving Day, making permanent a shift to the unofficial start of the holiday season that was suspended during the pandemic. To limit crowds in stores, retailers last year were forced to turn what had become a weekend shopping blitz into an extended event, with holiday sales beginning as early as October. That forced shift appears to have been fortuitous. U.S. holiday sales last November and December rose 8.2% in 2020 from the previous year, according to The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group. The trade group predicts 2021 could shatter that record, growing between 8.5% and 10.5%.

Americans, able to get the same offers over a broader timespan relieving some of the stresses that go hand in hand with the holidays, appeared to embrace the change. “What started as a temporary measure driven by the pandemic is now our new standard — one that recognizes our ability to deliver on our guests’ holiday wishes both within and well beyond store hours,” Target CEO Brian Cornell wrote in a note to employees. The new standard at Target, on top very healthy sales last year, could push other retailers to follow in its path. Distribution and call centers will have some staff on Thanksgiving, Target said Monday, but stores will remain closed. Target began opening its stores on Thanksgiving a decade ago, joining other retailers in kicking off Black Friday sales a day early and creating a holiday rush after the turkey feast. Many did so to compete with Amazon.com and other rising online threats.

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Chicago Tribune - November 23, 2021

The next Kyle Rittenhouse legal battle? The $2 million bail posted after his arrest.

With the ink barely dry on his acquittals, Kyle Rittenhouse is expected to face another legal battle soon over the $2 million bail posted after his arrest. Rittenhouse’s attorneys filed a motion shortly after the verdict, arguing that the money should be given to the teenager because it was raised on his behalf. Another party, however, thinks the money belongs to them and staked their claim to it even before Rittenhouse’s attorneys did. The Fightback Foundation — an organization run by right-wing lawyer Lin Wood — filed a motion shortly after the verdict Friday asking that the money be refunded to that group. The seven-figure amount, however, was posted by Rittenhouse’s former attorney John Pierce and included contributions that Rittenhouse’s mother, Wendy, helped collect.

“John Pierce is the person who posted the bond,” Rittenhouse defense attorney Mark Richards said following the teen’s acquittal. “All of that money was raised on behalf of Kyle. Lin Wood and Fightback say that they’re entitled to it. ... There was half a million dollars, I think, that came directly from Wendy Rittenhouse from money she had raised. So there’s gonna be a fight over that.” According to the defense team’s motion, the Fightback Foundation wired the money to Pierce on Nov. 20, 2020 with the purpose listed as “For Benefit of Wendy Rittenhouse as legal guardian for “Kyle Rittenhouse (bail)” listed. Shortly afterward, Rittenhouse fired Pierce and the attorney’s affiliation with Fightback ended. “Bond funds consist of donations from individual donors who intended their funds be used to support Kyle Rittenhouse and his defense of this matter,” Richards wrote. “It would seem, therefore, it would be in this court’s well-considered discretion to determine that all remaining bond funds ... be transferred to or for the benefit of Mr. Rittenhouse, for whose benefit they were donated, and posted, in the first instance.”

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NPR - November 22, 2021

Hey, I want to buy your house: Homeowners besieged by unsolicited offers

Jennifer Folden-Nissen's three-bedroom, Victorian-style house in Duluth, Ga., isn't for sale. But that hasn't stopped a guy calling himself Henry from phoning her at least once a week. She says the pitch is always the same: "I want to buy your house. I'm willing to pay cash. Today." She says it's sort of like having to deal with an insistent car salesman. "I just let him leave voicemails," she says. But even those are pushy. "Call me back, call me back, call me back, call me right now — I'm out front of your house." Folden-Nissen works at the local fire department, and she'd call home and ask her husband to see if the guy was outside. But nobody ever was. Then Folden-Nissen started to get postcards from the same guy — with no stamp, so apparently hand-delivered — with photos of her own home on them.

Why is this happening? In short, the blistering housing market. The supply of available homes is nowhere close to the demand from people who want to buy them. The supply is nearly 4 million homes short, according to the government-sponsored mortgage firm Freddie Mac. Many homebuilders went out of business after the housing crash, and that has led to a historic housing shortage. And now investors large and small are jockeying to snap up homes as the tight supply keeps pushing prices higher. So big companies such as Redfin and Opendoor, countless individual speculators, real estate agents and some more predatory outfits have been contacting homeowners, just on the slim chance that they might be willing to sell to some random person calling on the phone. "They have just gotten increasingly worse in the past six months, six or seven calls every day," says Lauren Barber, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. "If you know anything about Columbus, it's growing and it's hot," she says. "People want to live here." Barber bought her house about 10 years ago for $155,000. She says now it's worth more than twice that. Investors can go on the internet and buy lists of phone numbers for people whose homes have risen in value, maybe more than the owners' realize.

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The Atlantic - November 22, 2021

The complicated truth about Trump 2024

If Donald Trump tries to run for president again, one of his former campaign advisers has a plan to dissuade him. Anticipating that Trump may not know who Adlai Stevenson was or that he lost two straight presidential elections in the 1950s, this ex-adviser figures he or someone else might need to explain the man’s unhappy fate. They’ll remind Trump that if he were beaten in 2024, he would join Stevenson as one of history’s serial losers. “I think that would resonate,” said this person, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to talk more freely. “Trump hates losers.” Trump might not listen to his former campaign confidant. But the mere fact that someone who worked to elect Trump the first time is rehearsing arguments to stop a comeback suggests that the former president’s tight grip on the Republican Party may be slipping. A few other developments in recent weeks point to the early stirrings of a Republican Party in which Trump is sidelined. Glenn Youngkin’s recent victory in the Virginia governor’s race demonstrated that a Republican candidate could win in a battleground state without yoking himself to Trump.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, now making the rounds to promote a new book that counters Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election, signaled that he might run for the 2024 GOP nomination whether or not Trump enters the race. A poll last month offered encouraging news for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in New Hampshire, the state that traditionally holds the first primary contest of the presidential-election season. Though Trump was the first choice among likely Republican voters, DeSantis’s favorability rating had climbed to 62 percent, eight points higher than Trump’s. Unlike past presidents who willingly ceded the stage after defeat, Trump has made himself impossible to ignore since leaving office earlier this year. He’s behaving like a candidate-in-waiting. “I’d be shocked if he doesn’t run,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump ally, told me. “I think Trump is our best pick, to be honest with you, because everybody knows his flaws, but his successes are in stark contrast to what we’re experiencing now.” (A pandemic, two impeachments, and an economic collapse don’t sound like triumphs, but that’s a topic for another time.)

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Politifact - November 22, 2021

Fact-check: Was unleaded gas as high as $7 per gallon in a California city?

Viral Internet Image: Unleaded gas costing $7 per gallon in Lancaster, California PolitiFact's ruling: False Here's why: A viral image of a Circle K convenience store gas station sign with eyebrow-raising prices is raising eyebrows on the internet. "Location: East Lancaster, Antelope Valley, California," a description of the image says. "11/9/2021." It shows $6.99 a gallon for unleaded gas, $8.90 for premium and $9.90 for diesel. Some people sharing the photo are blaming President Joe Biden. "Way to go, Joe," one person wrote. The image appears to be authentic, but the prices aren’t.

Gasoline prices have been rising steadily since mid-2020, and Californians pay some of the highest prices in the nation. For the week that ended Nov. 15, the price for all grades of gasoline in California averaged $4.619 a gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. We searched Circle K’s website for locations in Lancaster, which is north of Los Angeles. It shows that there are two that are open and one, at 108 E. Ave. K, that is listed as "coming soon." We looked up the other stations on GasBuddy and found that regular gas was reported at one as costing $4.79 a gallon, $5.09 for premium and $4.89 for diesel. Prices were similar at the other station. Searching the address for the third, not-yet-open location, we found a Google street image from March that shows an empty, dusty lot with green construction fencing on the perimeter. A tag that shows the company providing the fencing — United Site Services — is visible in the picture.

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