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Newsclips - February 26, 2024

Lead Stories

NBC News - February 26, 2024

Democratic operative admits to commissioning fake Biden robocall that used AI

Steve Kramer, a veteran political consultant working for a rival candidate, acknowledged Sunday that he commissioned the robocall that impersonated President Joe Biden using artificial intelligence, confirming an NBC News report that he was behind the call. In a statement and interview with NBC News, Kramer expressed no remorse for creating the deepfake, in which an imitation of the president’s voice discouraged participation in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary. The call launched several law enforcement investigations and provoked outcry from election officials and watchdogs. “I’m not afraid to testify, I know why I did everything,” he said an interview late Sunday, his first since coming forward. “If a House oversight committee wants me to testify, I’m going to demand they put it on TV because I know more than them.”

Kramer said he has received a subpoena from the Federal Communications Commission, suspected he might get sued by a half dozen people and said he could even face jail time, but that he would keep working in politics. NBC News has reached out to the FCC for comment. Kramer claimed he planned the fake robocall from the start as an act of civil disobedience to call attention to the dangers of AI in politics. He compared himself to American Revolutionary heroes Paul Revere and Thomas Paine. He said more enforcement is necessary to stop people like him from doing what he did. “This is a way for me to make a difference, and I have,” he said in the interview. “For $500, I got about $5 million worth of action, whether that be media attention or regulatory action.” Kramer said he came up with the idea for the hoax entirely on his own and that it had nothing to do with his client, Biden's long-shot primary challenger, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. Phillips had paid Kramer over $250,000 around the time the robocall went out in January, according to his campaign finance reports. Phillips and his campaign have denounced the robocall, saying they had no knowledge of Kramer’s involvement and would have immediately terminated him if they had known. Phillips’ press secretary Katie Dolan said in response to Kramer’s statement Sunday, “Our campaign repeats its condemnation of these calls and any efforts to suppress the vote.”

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CNBC - February 26, 2024

Billionaire-backed Koch network halts Nikki Haley campaign funding after South Carolina loss

Americans for Prosperity Action, the network backed by billionaire Charles Koch, is pausing its financial support of GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s campaign a day after she lost to former President Donald Trump in her home-state primary in South Carolina. AFP Action said it still endorses Haley for president but now its support will only come in the form of words — not cash. “Given the challenges in the primary states ahead, we don’t believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen her path to victory,” AFP Action CEO Emily Seidel wrote in an email to staff, first reported by Politico. “And so while we will continue to endorse her, we will focus our resources where we can make the difference.”

AFP Action declined to provide further comment beyond the staff memo. AFP Action closing its wallet is the next nail in the coffin for the former South Carolina governor who has taken a series of hits since the start of the election year. Along with AFP Action, billionaire Reid Hoffman has also stopped funding Haley’s presidential bid. Despite the setbacks, Haley has pledged to stay in the race through Super Tuesday on March 5. Her campaign said that AFP Action pulling funding has not changed that calculus and that it still has the resources to stay afloat. “AFP is a great organization and ally in the fight for freedom and conservative government. We thank them for their tremendous help in this race,” Haley’s campaign said in a statement on Sunday. “Our fight continues, and with more than $1 million coming in from grassroots conservatives in just the last 24 hours, we have plenty of fuel to keep going. We have a country to save.” AFP Action will instead channel its resources to finance Republican campaigns on the congressional level. It has so far endorsed five candidates running for Senate and 19 candidates running for House seats.

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USA Today - February 26, 2024

How a Texas social media law before the Supreme Court could upend the Internet

A half-century after the Supreme Court said no government can dictate what newspapers may publish, the high court will consider whether Texas and Florida can tell social media giants how to operate. On Monday, the Supreme Court will debate the fate of laws passed by those states to limit the ability of social media giants such as Facebook, YouTube and X to moderate content. Republican lawmakers in Texas and Florida argue that social media companies have been too quick to throttle conservative viewpoints. The trade groups representing the nation's social media companies, as well as the Justice Department, say the Supreme Court should strike down the state laws because they are an infringement on the companies' First Amendment right to free speech, consistent with the court's 1974 ruling that Florida couldn’t require a newspaper to publish replies to editorials. “Just as the government may not tell the Miami Herald which editorials to publish or MSNBC which interviews to broadcast, the government may not tell Facebook or YouTube which third-party speech to disseminate or how to disseminate it,” lawyers for the trade associations NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association wrote in a filing.

But Florida and Texas say social media platforms are less like newspapers and more like telephone and telegraph operators who are transmitting content generated by customers, not creating it themselves. “The telephone company, internet service provider, and delivery company can all be prevented from squelching or discriminating against the speech they carry,” Florida’s lawyers have told the court. “And so can the platforms.” A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit blocked enforcement of most of Florida's law in 2022. But the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the similar Texas law. That created a split in how appeals courts are interpreting the laws. At the moment, neither the Florida nor the Texas law are in effect while the high court reviews them. The case is just one of three the justices will decide in the next few months with potentially enormous consequences for the way Americans interact on the internet. The justices will hear arguments next month about whether officials in the White House and federal agencies violated the First Amendment when they leaned on social media companies to suppress what they considered misinformation about the election and COVID-19.

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KHOU - February 26, 2024

Victim advocates hope Audrii Cunningham's death will enact change in Texas law

Victim advocates are calling for change after 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham, of Livingston, was found dead in the Trinity River under US-59 nearly six days after she was reported missing. The man charged with capital murder in connection with her death, Don Steven McDougal, is friends with the family and lived in a camper behind the home where Audrii lived with several of her family members McDougal is an ex-con with a rap sheet that dates back to 2001. He's been arrested in Harris, Montgomery and Liberty counties numerous times over the last two decades. In 2007, McDougal was convicted of enticing a child with intent out of Brazoria County. This is an offense the state of Texas doesn't require those convicted to register as a sex offender.

Lawmakers and activists say its unfortunate we have to keep naming laws in honor of children killed, to protect other kids, but they are hopeful Audrii's case will enact much needed change. Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston, is actively pushing for change on this matter. "I've already been in touch with several state senators and state representatives who, like everyone else, was just horrified and dumbfounded that this wasn't already an offense that you had to register," he said. More than 25 pieces of legislation have been passed, backed by Kahan. Legislation drafted in the case of Cunningham should receive bipartisan support, with right language. "Enticing a child encompasses a variety of different actions. So, the language that we're going to have to specifically focus is where there is a conviction of enticing a child, where there's obviously a sexual notation to the offense, which was obvious in this particular case," Kahan said. In the meantime, Kahan encourages everybody to reach out to their local state representatives and state senators.

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State Stories

NBC News - February 26, 2024

First responders in a Texas town are struggling to cope with the trauma of recovering bodies from the Rio Grande

The crisis unfolding at the U.S.-Mexico border since last year has spilled over into the fire engines and ambulances of a small Texas town. First responders in Eagle Pass say they are overwhelmed and increasingly traumatized by what they see: parents drowned or dying, their children barely holding onto life after attempting to cross the Rio Grande. The emotional strain on firefighters and EMTs has grown so great that city officials have applied for a state grant that would bring in additional mental health resources for front-line workers. “It’s an unprecedented crisis,” said Eagle Pass Fire Chief Manuel Mello. “It’s nothing close to what I experienced while I was on the line. It’s a whole different monster.” Firefighters say the first calls for help usually blare through the three stations in Eagle Pass while crews are still sipping their morning coffee, bracing themselves for what the day will bring.

Parents with young children might be near drowning or trapped on islands somewhere between the United States and Mexico, surrounded by the fierce currents of the Rio Grande. On some shifts, firefighters with the Eagle Pass Fire Department can spend three to five hours in the water, helping rescue migrants crossing the river or recovering their drowned bodies. “It’s something we’ve never gone through,” said Eagle Pass native Marcos Kypuros, who has been a firefighter and EMT for two decades. “It’s been hard having to keep up with that on top of everything else we take care of.” Eagle Pass has become ground zero in recent months for an unrelenting border crisis that is equal parts political and humanitarian. With hundreds of thousands of people attempting to cross the border illegally each year near Eagle Pass, city emergency personnel have increasingly been called upon to perform difficult and often dangerous rescues or to retrieve dead bodies, they said. They do this while juggling other emergencies in the city of 28,000 and throughout sparsely populated Maverick County.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 26, 2024

After heart attack, Ron Oliveira learns how to change his life at St. David's cardiac rehab

After a week of fun in Alaska, Ron Oliveira and his wife, Nelleen, were waiting to disembark from their cruise ship, but something didn't feel right to Oliveira. The former news anchor at KVUE had a lot of things on his mind: getting the rental car, crossing the border from Vancouver into Washington state and making the flight home. Then he threw up violently, he said, first thinking he was suffering from food poisoning. The chest pains kicked in as Olivera neared the United States border. Oliveira, 68, was having a heart attack. He survived, and the episode changed how Oliveira approaches eating and exercise. It started with intensive cardiac rehab at St. David's Medical Center once he returned to Austin.

That morning, Sept. 27, Oliveira and his wife drove to a hospital in Bellingham, Washington. The EKG confirmed he had a heart attack, and doctors needed to open up his blocked artery and insert a stent in an area just above where a previous stent was placed in 2012. Oliveira said he comes from a long line of family members who died early from heart disease. Growing up in Brownsville, his family dined on traditional Mexican food like rice, beans, enchiladas and tacos, and traditional American foods like Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and green beans. "It was good eating, but it was fatty," he said. And a lot of processed food. Because of his family history, Oliveira has been seeing a cardiologist since he turned 40 to monitor his heart and keep his blood pressure and cholesterol in check. He had tried to eat more healthfully, but it wasn't enough. St. David's main campus in Austin and its Georgetown hospital both adopted the Pritikin program, created by inventor Nathan Pritikin after having his own heart disease in the 1950s. St. David's began the program in August at these two locations and expects to roll the plan out to its cardiac rehab centers at its other hospitals soon. Often patients are fearful when they first come to rehab, said Laura Raymond, director of cardiovascular services at St. David's Medical Center, but rehab is designed to get them stronger physically as well as provide education on nutrition, exercise, medical treatments to reduce their cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as working with a psychologist on a healthy mindset. The plan is individualized to the patient.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 26, 2024

Austin office market has a glut of space, but experts predict it will eventually fill up

Every office market in the country now has way more office space than it needs. So pronounced Austin-area real estate expert Eldon Rude, as part of his 21st annual forecast event last week sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Austin. Just over 27% of office space in the Austin market was vacant at the end of last year, up from 21.8% at the end of 2022, Rude told about 700 industry professionals last week. Rude said Austin "has a huge amount of sublease space" (a sign of a slowing market). Rude said 5.5 million square feet of space was available for sublease by tenants who want to give it back to the market, up 41% from the last quarter of 2022. In Austin, one of the most notable examples is the more than 600,000 square feet of space that Facebook is seeking to sublease in a new 66-story tower at Sixth and Guadalupe streets, currently the tallest building on Austin's skyline.

In addition, Internet search giant Google delayed moving into a 35-story building it has leased downtown, the sail-shaped building overlooking Lady Bird Lake. "There will be issues with office," Rude said. "Tech companies are going to have to find creative ways to get people to the office." But he added: "At some point, these buildings will fill up." Rude said he thinks that, ultimately, not as many people will be going back to work in their office cubicles, and will spend more time in suburban locations. And that, he said, "is a positive for those providing suburban housing." In its latest market report, for the fourth quarter, HPI Real Estate Services & Investments, an Austin-based commercial real estate services firm, said that despite layoffs in the tech sector, three of the largest lease transactions of the quarter were signed by tech companies.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 26, 2024

Alamo observing 188th anniversary of the siege, battle amid construction chaos

The Alamo is surrounded by scaffolding, temporary fencing and heavy machinery — signs of a complete makeover of the mission and battle site that’s well underway after a decade of planning. But despite the chaos, construction workers silenced their equipment and listened with reverence Friday, along with hundreds of spectators, as Alamo officials observed the start of a 13-day siege and battle that began 188 years ago. “As you can see, there is much construction underway,” Alamo Trust executive director Kate Rogers told the crowd, explaining the activity was all part of “the ambitious $550 million Alamo plan” being executed through a public-private partnership involving the state and city of San Antonio. The project seeks to tell the entire 300-year history of the site, dating to 1724, when flooding from a hurricane forced the Mission San Antonio de Valero to move to its third and final location. Tejano, Native American and African American perspectives will be included in museum exhibits.

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Houston Public Media - February 26, 2024

Houston Mayor John Whitmire says he wants to meet with Food Not Bombs amid lawsuits, ticketing

Houston Mayor John Whitmire wants to meet with representatives of Food Not Bombs in hopes of reaching an agreement on feeding unhoused people. Food Not Bombs is an organization that provides free meals to unhoused people. The organization has been active in Houston since 1994 and started operating outside of Houston Central Library in 2005. In 2012 the city introduced an ordinance that prevents the distribution of free food to more than five people on any property without permission. The law had never impacted Food Not Bombs' operations until last year. During that time, under former Mayor Sylvester Turner, the city issued a large number of citations to volunteers working with the program. At-Large Council Member Julian Ramirez commented on the law's effectiveness.

"One person convicted under that ordinance in 12 years is not an effective ordinance," Ramirez said. During Wednesday’s Houston City Council meeting, Whitmire said a legal position is needed to address the issue, "but I think we need to work with the advocates and see if we can accommodate their interest in feeding the homeless.” Last month, the organization filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the enforcement of the 2012 ordinance was a violation of their First Amendment rights. A U.S. District judge ruled in Food Not Bombs' favor, requiring the city to stop issuing tickets to the group. Ramirez disagreed with the city's retaliation against Food Not Bombs. "The city intends to go forward with the trial in this case," Ramirez said. "I come down on the side of not criminalizing acts of charity like feeding the homeless." The city has designated a charitable feeding location at 61 Riesner Street, a police station, not far from the library. Mayor Whitmire said Food Not Bombs' operations have prevented residents from visiting the library. "I'll walk over to the library with you right now," Mayor Whitmire said. "It has deterred families from using the library. And city employees." Mayor Whitmire did not comment on when he plans on meeting with Food Not Bombs.

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KERA - February 26, 2024

People worry about housing costs and they want solutions. Why don’t politicians talk about it more?

Housing prices are up. Polls say Americans are worried and want elected officials to do something about it. And few politicians seem to be hitting the campaign trail with a pitch to be Congress’s housing problem-solver, at least in North Texas. Katherine Levine Einstein, a political science professor who studies housing at Boston University, said housing may first appear like a good issue — it’s broadly salient, several policy solutions have bipartisan support, and it’s a real issue affecting people’s lives. But there are challenges that make it less-than-ideal campaign fodder. “I can think of a number of compelling reasons why, if I were running for congressional seat, I might not choose to talk about housing,” Einstein said.

There are 33 candidates running for Texas’ three open Congressional seats this year. A review of their campaign websites shows just a handful mention housing among the issues they’re concerned about. That’s also true for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and the top Democrats vying to replace him. Some of the candidates don’t list any priorities, but most do. Where housing affordability shows up, it’s often in passing or as a general issue of concern. A few Democrats vying to replace Rep. Colin Allred, who is running for Senate, raise housing. The Democratic-leaning 32nd Congressional District covers much of northeast Dallas County and bits of Collin and Denton Counties. Most prominent is Brian Williams, an ER doctor, who calls for investing in affordable housing and fighting housing discrimination. Chris Ponayiotou says he’d “pressure [the] Federal Reserve” to drop interest rates, and use antitrust laws to prevent investors from “buying up large swaths of the housing market.” Zachariah Manning says he’d “ensure that our veterans and military have the healthcare, housing and funding needed.” Allred, in his bid for the Senate, says he wants to expand Medicaid to cover senior assisted living and to expand housing for homeless veterans. One of this opponents, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, notes the high cost of buying a home, but doesn’t offer specific solutions beyond “building an economy that works for everyone.” Brandon Gill, a Republican running the 26th Congressional District, opines that “housing is unaffordable,” but doesn’t include specific policy solutions. The district, which covers much of Denton County, all of Cooke County and some of Wise County, is heavily Republican and is represented by Michael Burgess, who is retiring.

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NBC News - February 26, 2024

Texas man allegedly made $1.76 million from insider trading by eavesdropping on wife's work calls

A Texas man allegedly made $1.76 million from insider trading by eavesdropping on several of his wife’s work-from-home calls about a merger, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Tyler Loudon of Houston overheard his wife, a BP mergers and acquisitions manager, discuss the company’s acquisition of TravelCenters of America Inc. and bought 46,450 shares of the latter’s stocks ahead of the announcement on Feb. 16, 2023, the SEC said in a news release. Loudon’s wife wasn’t aware that her husband bought the stocks. Loudon, 42, sold his shares following the announcement, which led to a nearly 71% rise in TravelCenters’ stock, making him a profit of $1.76 million. “We allege that Mr. Loudon took advantage of his remote working conditions and his wife’s trust to profit from information he knew was confidential,” said Eric Werner, regional director of the SEC’s Fort Worth office.

The SEC filed a complaint against Loudon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas accusing him of “violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.” Loudon did not deny the allegations against him and agreed to the entry of a partial judgment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas also announced criminal charges against Loudon, according to a news release. Loudon pleaded guilty to securities fraud and agreed to forfeit the $1.76 million to authorities, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. He will be sentenced on May 17 and faces up to five years in federal prison, as well as a $250,000 maximum fine.

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Bloomberg - February 26, 2024

Texas Bitcoin miners sue Energy Department over data usage survey

The Texas Blockchain Council, an industry association for Bitcoin miners including Riot Platforms Inc., is suing the U.S. Department of Energy’s statistics unit over a mandatory survey on their power consumption. The inquiry by the Energy Information Administration is “an unprecedented and illegal data collection demand” against the industry, the group said in a statement dated Feb. 22. Riot, one of the largest Bitcoin miners in the state, made $71 million last year, in part from prepurchasing electricity for its operations and selling some of it back to the grid for a premium amid power shortages. In a response to the lawsuit, the EIA said in a court filing that it won’t enforce a requirement for the survey to be completed and will sequester data already collected.

Bitcoin miners accounted for as much as 2.3% of the nation’s total power demand in 2023, and even the 0.6% low end of its range represents the same amount of electricity usage for Utah, EIA estimated in a Feb. 1 report. The agency earlier said it aimed to better evaluate power consumption of the industry with the poll. While Bitcoin mining began in the US a decade ago, the country saw an influx of mining companies from the world’s previous mining hub China after the Chinese government banned the practice in 2021. A slew of mining companies went public in the U.S. and set up large-scale operations in energy-rich states such as Texas and Georgia. Collecting data from Bitcoin miners for their energy consumption has been difficult since some of the data, including locations of the sites and electricity rates, could be considered as proprietary by the miners. “The TBC, alongside industry partners, views this as a direct assault on private businesses under the guise of an emergency, lacking legitimate grounds and demonstrating clear political bias,” TBC said in the statement.

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Dallas Morning News - February 26, 2024

Republican grudge match could unsettle Dallas-area politics

The March 5 Republican primaries for the Texas House are defined by the pursuit of vengeance and vindication. Last week I wrote about how Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are backing slates of House candidates in dueling revenge tours. Paxton has endorsed the primary opponents of 20 Republican House incumbents who voted last May to impeach him. Abbott, who is backing candidates who support his school choice proposal, is backing at least 17 incumbents on Paxton’s target list. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is endorsing a GOP primary challenger to incumbent Rep. Morgan Meyer, a University Park Republican who leads the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He is also chairs the Sustainable Property Tax Relief Select Study Committee.

What’s Patrick’s beef? He blames Meyer for not immediately compromising with the Senate on how to implement the largest property tax cut in Texas history. Last year, Meyer and House members pushed a plan that would achieve the $18 billion tax cut by replacing local tax revenue with state money, a strategy known as rate compression that was also embraced by Abbott. The Senate plan used rate compression but also featured raising the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000, letting property owners reduce more of the taxable value of their principal residence. In July during the second special session, the House and Senate sent a compromise bill to Abbott that included rate compression and the higher homestead exemption. Abbott signed it into law, and Texas voters gave their approval in November. Patrick is miffed that the legislative process took so long, so he’s backing Dallas lawyer Barry Wernick against Meyer. The lieutenant governor rarely gets involved in House races, but this cycle he announced that he’s joining Abbott in supporting 11 House incumbents. Patrick is also backing challengers to incumbents. He’s running digital ads against Meyer on behalf of Wernick, and he’s supporting Republican David Covey against House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.

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Houston Chronicle - February 26, 2024

Anthony Graves: A bad DA nearly cost me my life. Vote for a good one.

(Anthony Graves is the 138th exonerated death row inmate in America. He is a criminal justice expert, the author of “Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul.” He is also a motivational speaker.) I survived 18½ years in prison — 16 of those years in solitary confinement and 12 years on death row — for a crime I did not commit. It was all because a district attorney cared more about seeing me convicted than seeking the truth. My journey to hell and back began in August 1992. I was a few weeks shy of my 27th birthday when the police knocked on my door in Brenham, my hometown, and arrested me for a gruesome murder. I had an alibi witness, no connection to the crime, no motive and I maintained my innocence from the start. The person who actually committed the crime fingered me as his accomplice before recanting his lie — but the district attorney didn’t care about innocence or guilt. He just wanted to find some way to convict me. His zealousness was matched only by his reckless disregard for the truth. He built a case against me despite my innocence, and I was convicted and sentenced to death.

Because of a district attorney, my death was scheduled twice. Because of a district attorney, as I’ve written before, I will forever be known not only as Anthony Graves, grandfather, father and son, but as United States Death Row Exoneree 138. Voters in Harris County like me will begin the process of choosing our next district attorney during the March 5 primary election and the Nov. 4 general election. Incumbent Kim Ogg faces candidate Sean Teare in the Democratic primary. The winner will take on Republican Dan Simons, who is running unopposed, in the fall. Since my exoneration, I’ve become an advocate for criminal justice reform to prevent similar abuses of power. Here’s what a DA can do to make our communities stronger and safer. We need a district attorney committed to ending the damage that mass incarceration has done to communities, keeping families together and restoring stability to individuals. You shouldn’t be locked up — lose your job and be kept from your family — because you smoked a joint or missed a court date for a minor offense. To prevent wrongful convictions, the district attorney must ensure their office’s conviction integrity unit is well-resourced, staffed by seasoned attorneys and that it is truly independent. It should report directly to the district attorney.

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Houston Chronicle - February 26, 2024

Robert Slater to suspend congressional campaign, endorse Sheila Jackson Lee

Robert Slater, the longshot candidate challenging U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in the upcoming March primary, said he will suspend his campaign Sunday and endorse the incumbent congresswoman. Slater, a Houston chef and businessman, faced long odds in the Democratic primary dominated by Jackson Lee, who has represented Texas' 18th Congressional District since 1995, and former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards. Jackson Lee led Edwards by a 43% to 38% margin among likely voters in a recently published University of Houston poll, while Slater garnered just 3% support. "I don't have the benefit of having 28 years of an incumbency and name ID," he told potential voters in a video posted to social media Saturday.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 26, 2024

Houston Community College ends nursing associate's as statewide shortage looms

Houston Community College has shuttered its associate degree program for students training to be registered nurses, according to state licensure documents. The Texas Board of Nursing listed the closure as voluntary, effective Dec. 31. The Associate Degree Nursing program, or ADN, had been operating with “conditional” approval as of last April — a designation that means it didn’t meet state standards for three years. “HCC takes pride in the ADN program’s legacy,” college officials said in a statement. “This challenging decision to close the program reflects our adherence to the highest nursing education standards.”

Officials confirmed the closure in the statement, which was attributed to HCC. The decision came after 57 students who were required to take a licensure exam were not able to because “there were no available testing sites in Houston and the surrounding areas,” they said. The program, which has been operating since 1979, will now focus on graduating those 57 students and secure them a testing location, according to the statement. “In collaboration with the Texas Board of Nursing, this decision marks our proactive stance in adapting to healthcare education’s evolving needs, with a commitment to innovative nursing education solutions,” the statement reads. Licensure passage rates had plummeted in HCC’s associate’s program since 2018, according to board data. Almost 94% of students passed the RN exam that year, but by 2022, only 49% passed.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 26, 2024

UH education professor suspends course in protest of HISD's rigid lessons

A University of Houston education professor stopped teaching his course last week in protest of his student teachers' placements in Houston ISD schools, where he said the "scripted curriculum" used in HISD classes made it impossible for them to complete their assignments. Alberto Rodriguez, a distinguished professor of science education at the University of Houston College of Education, informed students in his "Science in the Elementary School II" course of the decision in a Feb. 14 email.

"I regret to inform you that I am suspending my teaching of this course in protest of the impossible school placements to which some of you have been assigned," Rodriguez wrote. "I feel it is unethical and unprofessional for me to continue teaching this course when you have been placed in school settings that make it very challenging for you to complete field-based assignments as expected in the effective preparation of teachers." University of Houston spokeswoman Shawn Lindsey said the college immediately assigned another faculty member, who teaches the other section of the course, to Rodriguez's class, ensuring the course continued uninterrupted. Lindsey declined to say whether Rodriguez, who is tenured at the university, would face any disciplinary action, saying they do not comment on personnel matters. "As districts across the state and nation have moved to varying degrees of curriculum autonomy, our teacher education program works to ensure our student-teachers gain valuable, authentic classroom experiences," Lindsey said. "We teach our student-teachers to work within a district’s curriculum guidelines just as they would in the real world, and our student-teachers remain able to practice skills a successful teacher needs — such as keeping students engaged, checking for understanding and adapting as needed."

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National Stories

Politico - February 26, 2024

Hidden in Trump’s big South Carolina win: A not-so-small problem for him in November

Donald Trump’s trouncing of Nikki Haley on her home turf Saturday put on full display his dominance across the demographic spectrum of the GOP. It also put to rest whatever lingering beliefs there were that this primary may still have some drama left in it. Here was Haley, the first candidate to get Trump in a head-to-head matchup, and she could not deliver, neither in moderate New Hampshire nor her home state. But Trump’s effortless win in the Palmetto State — he visited just three times in recent weeks, four if you count a fundraiser — was as much of a demonstration of his total control of the party as it was South Carolinians’ repudiation of Haley. “It’s a testament to how red South Carolina is as a state,” said former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford. “It’s a testament to people being squeezed at lower socio-economic levels … and wanting something different.” And Haley, he said, “probably didn’t mind the home fires as full as she should have.”

It’s hard to find a GOP demographic that doesn’t love Trump. If you really need more evidence of Trump’s dominance over the Republican Party — well, South Carolina had it in spades. A majority of every age demographic picked Trump over Haley. Men and women both backed Trump. Voters across all income ranges backed him, and he only narrowly lost college graduates while dominating among those without a college degree. Trump has a weak spot. It’s GOP primary voters who believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election — which he did — or who think Trump would not be fit for the presidency if convicted of a crime. A large majority of those voters were with Haley. Her problem is that they were just over a third of the overall electorate in both questions.

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Politico - February 26, 2024

A shutdown is approaching. Biden and Johnson’s lack of relationship isn’t helping.

President Joe Biden and House Speaker Mike Johnson have virtually no relationship. The two men holding the most powerful elected positions in the country have rarely talked. They don’t know each other. They are decades apart in age and miles apart in political philosophy. Their lack of a meaningful relationship — let alone any relationship at all — has contributed to political friction and standstills over the past few months. But it’s putting an additional strain on the nation’s government this week, as both Biden and Johnson barrel toward another government funding deadline on Friday and into a third year of war in Ukraine as the underfunded country fights off Russia. The White House has not taken Johnson up on his request for a one-on-one meeting but the two are likely to square off Tuesday when the four congressional leaders meet at the White House where the president plans to discuss both the supplemental and government funding.

In the lead up to the meeting, there have been few signs of affinity developing between the two. For Ukraine funding, the Biden administration is engaged in a public pressure campaign to effectively shame Johnson into allowing a vote on the floor. For government funding, the White House is working with Democratic allies who control the Senate ahead of a potential standoff with the GOP House. “It does matter that there’s not a more robust relationship,” said longtime appropriator Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). The administration, he argues, got used to the Democratic-controlled House often quickly approving its priorities in 2021 and 2022. Now, Cole said, “that’s not going to happen. And that’s a mistake and they need to get past that… We’ve gotta get to the point where they can talk to one another.” The theory that Washington D.C. best works on interpersonal relations is a bit of a glamorized and outdated view of politics. One doesn’t need to have tight friendships with lawmakers in order to win their votes.

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Washington Post - February 26, 2024

Russia looms over yet another Trump presidential campaign

In February alone, Donald Trump encouraged Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies that do not contribute sufficiently to the military alliance. He refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for the death of Alexei Navalny, 47, a Kremlin critic who died suddenly on Feb. 16 in a Russian penal colony — instead likening himself to Navalny, arguing they were both political prisoners. And in a Fox News town hall Tuesday evening, he praised Russia for being “a war machine.” “They defeated Hitler,” Trump declared, apparently referring to the Soviet Union’s role in World War II. Since announcing his first presidential campaign in 2015, Russia has followed Trump like an unshakable thunder cloud. The former president has repeatedly expressed a fascination with Russia, lavished praise on Putin and refused to stand up to the Russian president on a range of issues — from interfering in the 2016 presidential election to invading Ukraine almost exactly two years ago.

Trump’s reticence to forcefully confront Russia and his regular adulation of Putin have long raised the question: With Trump, why do “all roads lead to Putin?” as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) memorably asked in 2019 during a contentious Cabinet Room meeting. His latest round of pro-Russian cheerleading raises the same query — but now against a dramatically changed backdrop. The Russia-Ukraine war is entering its third year, with no signs of abating. Putin critics are calling the death of Navalny — who had survived a previous Russian attempt to poison him — a murder. And under Trump’s leadership, the Republican Party has drifted in a remarkably isolationist direction on foreign policy, with House Republicans currently holding up much-needed aid to Ukraine. “His buddy-buddy — whatever it happens to be — affection with Putin is dangerous — to our transatlantic alliance, to NATO, to our support of people fighting for democracy in Ukraine,” Pelosi said. “The Navalny assassination is something that is so startling and so blatant, and to see the former president’s comment about it just continues us on the path of: What is his connection to Russia?” Pelosi added. Both Russia experts and some Trump confidants say the answer is far more straightforward than some of the existing theories, including the theory that the Russians have damaging material — known as kompromat — on Trump and are using it to blackmail him.

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Washington Post - February 26, 2024

How Libs of TikTok became a powerful presence in Oklahoma schools

Far-right activist Chaya Raichik splits her time between California, where she’s registered to vote, and Florida, where she often travels. But the place where she arguably is having the biggest impact these days is Oklahoma, a state she’s visited only once. Raichik, who operates the social media account Libs of TikTok, has amassed an audience of millions on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, largely by targeting LGBTQ+ people. Last month, Raichik was appointed to the Oklahoma Library Media Advisory Committee by Republican schools superintendent Ryan Walters, a former history teacher who has been called “the state’s top culture warrior” for his opposition to teachers unions and other conservative targets, including LGBTQ+ students’ rights. Since her appointment, Raichik has sought to pull books depicting gay and transgender people, as well as sex education, from public school libraries, saying she has found “porn” in various districts.

But her growing role in the state has drawn greater attention since Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student, collapsed and died the day after a Feb. 7 fight in a girls’ bathroom at Owasso High School in suburban Tulsa. Family members said Benedict had been bullied for months for being openly nonbinary. Owasso Police Lt. Nick Boatman said Friday that Benedict did not die as a result of physical trauma, according to preliminary information from the medical examiner, and that the department is awaiting the results of toxicology testing to determine the cause of death. Benedict’s parents have questioned that conclusion. Meanwhile, gay rights supporters in Oklahoma and elsewhere have continued to blame the fight for Benedict’s death and to accuse Raichik of bearing some responsibility for the fight. On Thursday, Oklahoma City Councilor Sean Cummings (D) lambasted Raichik for stoking anti-LGBTQ+ hatred in the state, saying she has “blood on her hands.” And Matt Bernstein, a 25-year-old LGBTQ+ content creator in New York who has been targeted by Raichik, said: “I’m just hearing constantly how Chaya Raichik specifically has caused a rift in the experience of being a queer high-schooler in America.” As Libs of TikTok, Raichik has been blamed for sparking bomb threats, property damage, shooting threats, written and verbal harassment and other forms of violence against individuals, hospitals and schools across the country — including in Oklahoma, according to GLAAD, a nonprofit LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

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VOA - February 26, 2024

Consumers pushing back against price increases — and winning

Inflation has changed the way many Americans shop. Now, those changes in consumer habits are helping bring down inflation. Fed up with prices that remain about 19%, on average, above where they were before the pandemic, consumers are fighting back. In grocery stores, they're shifting away from name brands to store-brand items, switching to discount stores or simply buying fewer items like snacks or gourmet foods. More Americans are buying used cars, too, rather than new, forcing some dealers to provide discounts on new cars again. But the growing consumer pushback to what critics condemn as price-gouging has been most evident with food as well as with consumer goods like paper towels and napkins. In recent months, consumer resistance has led large food companies to respond by sharply slowing their price increases from the peaks of the past three years.

This doesn't mean grocery prices will fall back to their levels of a few years ago, though with some items, including eggs, apples and milk, prices are below their peaks. But the milder increases in food prices should help further cool overall inflation, which is down sharply from a peak of 9.1% in 2022 to 3.1%. Public frustration with prices has become a central issue in President Joe Biden’s bid for re-election. Polls show that despite the dramatic decline in inflation, many consumers are unhappy that prices remain so much higher than they were before inflation began accelerating in 2021. Biden has echoed the criticism of many left-leaning economists that corporations jacked up their prices more than was needed to cover their own higher costs, allowing themselves to boost their profits. The White House has also attacked “shrinkflation,” whereby a company, rather than raising the price of a product, instead shrinks the amount inside the package. In a video released on Super Bowl Sunday, Biden denounced shrinkflation as a “rip-off.”

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Alaska Beacon - February 25, 2024

With bipartisan action, Alaska House votes to increase public school funding formula

The Alaska House of Representatives ended days of deadlock with an unusual bipartisan triumph late Thursday, voting 38-2 to authorize a major increase in the state’s funding formula for public schools. “I’ve been around for a few years, and tonight really is a historical night. We have flipped the script of a major omnibus bill by doing it early in the session,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham and a House member since 2007. “We came together: Republicans, Democrats, independents, nonpartisans, and we got something done,” said Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok. The $680 increase to the state’s base student allocation, contained in the version of Senate Bill 140 that passed the House on Thursday night, is the largest nominal bump in state history. It’s also somewhat of a disappointment for education advocates, because it’s less than half of the $1,413 increase needed to make up for inflation since 2015.

“Six hundred eighty dollars is the bare minimum. It should be much higher. But it’s remarkable to see,” said Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage. In Juneau, where the local school district has been facing a multimillion-dollar deficit, the increase likely isn’t enough to forestall school closures, said Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau. “In the best-case scenario, we close only a couple schools,” she said. Schools are also likely to close in Fairbanks, said Rep. Ashley Carrick, D-Fairbanks. The bill contains some, but not all, of the education provisions sought by Republicans and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, which disappointed Republican members of the House, but not enough for most of them to vote “no.” Reps. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, and Mike Prax, R-North Pole, were the lone votes against the final bill.

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Georgia Recorder - February 25, 2024

GOP lawmakers ready to ease limits on hospital construction, set aside Medicaid expansion for now

A long-awaited health care proposal from House leaders would ease health care business regulations in some cases, but the measure is just as notable for what it does not do: expand Medicaid. Instead, the bill calls for a new commission that would be tasked with advising the governor, lawmakers and the state agency that administers Georgia’s Medicaid program on issues related to the access and quality of health care available for the state’s high number of uninsured residents. It also raises the cap on the state’s rural hospital tax credit program to $100 million a year, up from $75 million. But mostly, the measure focuses on the state’s certificate-of-need rules. It would, for example, allow a new acute care facility to open in a rural county if they meet certain requirements, such as agreeing to serve as a teaching hospital and serve as a trauma center. Easing the program’s rules for rural hospitals was a sticking point last year.

New or expanded psychiatric or substance abuse inpatient programs would also be allowed to sidestep the restrictions, so long as they have an agreement with a nearby hospital. That proposed change is a nod to the state’s continued push to improve access to mental health treatment. “It’s like working a Rubik’s Cube. When you figure one part of it, there’s another part of it that’s got to be worked,” said the bill’s main sponsor, Swainsboro Republican Rep. Butch Parrish. “But I really think this is a great step forward in trying to move health care in this state ahead and provide better health care all across the state to folks so we have better access to quality health care for everybody, no matter what your ZIP Code is.” The proposal, though, was seen as a sign that this would not be the year that Georgia expands Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This year’s legislative session had started with chatter after GOP leaders showed interest in an Arkansas-style model of expansion, which uses federal funds to purchase private plans for its low-income residents. Any proposal was expected to be tied in some way to changes to the certificate-of-need rules, similar to a deal passed in North Carolina last year.

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Newsclips - February 25, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - February 25, 2024

Trump wins South Carolina, easily beating Haley in her home state and closing in on GOP nomination

Donald Trump won South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday, easily beating former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in her home state and further consolidating his path to a third straight GOP nomination. Trump has now swept every contest that counted for Republican delegates, adding to previous wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Haley is facing growing pressure to leave the race but says she’s not going anywhere despite losing the state where she was governor from 2011 to 2017. A 2020 rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden is becoming increasingly inevitable. Haley has vowed to stay in the race through at least the batch of primaries on March 5, known as Super Tuesday, but was unable to dent Trump’s momentum in her home state despite holding far more campaign events and arguing that the indictments against Trump will hamstring him against Biden.

The Associated Press declared Trump the winner as polls closed statewide at 7 p.m. That race call was based on an analysis of AP VoteCast, a comprehensive survey of Republican South Carolina primary voters. The survey confirmed the findings of pre-Election Day polls showing Trump far outpacing Haley statewide. “I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now,” Trump declared, taking the stage for his victory speech mere moments after polls closed. He added, “You can celebrate for about 15 minutes, but then we have to get back to work.” South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary has historically been a reliable bellwether for Republicans. In all but one primary since 1980, the Republican winner in South Carolina has gone on to be the party’s nominee. The lone exception was Newt Gingrich in 2012. Trump was dominant across the state, even leading in Lexington County, which Haley represented in the state Legislature. Many Trump-backing South Carolinians, even some who previously supported Haley during her time as governor, weren’t willing to give her a home-state bump. “She’s done some good things,” Davis Paul, 36, said about Haley as he waited for Trump at a recent rally in Conway. “But I just don’t think she’s ready to tackle a candidate like Trump. I don’t think many people can.”

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Austin American-Statesman - February 25, 2024

Here's why young voters in Texas have a quieter voice than older ones in elections

When it comes to elections, older residents have more power in deciding the outcomes of races up and down the ballot. At least that's what a snapshot analysis by a leading Texas political number cruncher shows of the first few days of early voting for the March 5 primaries. Let's take a look at the recent findings from Derek Ryan, an Austin political consultant who for the past several election cycles has taken a deep dive into the numbers behind the numbers on who actually votes. He breaks down the data by separating voters into sundry buckets, such as first-time voters, recidivist voters, voters who always vote in one primary or another, voters who toggle between the primaries depending on who's running for what, and so forth. But the age buckets are perhaps the most eye-catching thus far for the first 2024 contests. The biggest bucket on the Republican side, according to the early trend, is filled with voters who have already reached their 70th birthday. In fact, just a whisker under 47% of the earliest of the early voters were 70-plus. Next come voters 50 and up, and that bucket had almost 40% of the voters.

In layman's terms, just about 87% of the early GOP primary voters qualify for just about every discount and perk available through AARP. If we round up slightly, about nine out of 10 of those voters were alive when Richard Nixon was president. A cynic might say: "There's no surprise there. Republicans have had a lock on the gray-haired vote since forever." Perhaps, perhaps not. So what about voters on the Democrat side? Spoiler alert: That age bucket is not exactly made up of the Gen Z and millennial demographics. In fact, the blue side of the ledger pretty much tracks that of the red. Voters north of 70 years old actually accounted for a slightly larger share of the earliest Democratic early vote, with nearly 48%. The number for those 50 and older was 36%. The 30-49 age bucket for the Democrats was 12%, which was just fraction above for Republicans. And both parties were scarcely, if at all, raking in votes from people in their 20s or younger. For Democrats, it was 4%; Republicans managed a paltry 2.3%. So let's boil it all down to the basics. For voters in their 20s or 30s, and perhaps even their 40s, the same people who have made all the rules — from the time those younger voters left the maternity ward to when they trotted off to college, or the military, or the full-time job market or down the aisle — are still the ones driving much of the rule-making for what those voters' grownup options are out here in the real world.

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NBC News - February 25, 2024

Fewer grievances, more policy: Trump aides and allies push for a post-South Carolina 'pivot'

A growing chorus of top advisers to Donald Trump is urging him to fixate less on personal grievances and instead focus on hitting President Joe Biden and unifying the Republican Party. The attempt to turn to broader themes comes as the campaign looks ahead to Super Tuesday and the general election, according to nine top Trump aides and allies who spoke to NBC News. Trump’s commanding win in South Carolina over Nikki Haley is yet another illustration of an undeniable political reality: Trump will be the GOP nominee. “There is no question that after Saturday there will be a pivot, because there needs to be,” said a top adviser to the former president. “There is a mindset from our perspective that she [Haley] can do whatever she wants. She can do whatever, we don’t care.”

The adviser said the goal is to focus on bringing the Republican Party together after a fractious primary, but the person conceded that flashes of Trump’s trademark pugilistic style and tendency to go off-script, especially when discussing his growing legal woes, will stick around. “We are not going to totally be able to move away from what is going on in his personal life,” the adviser said. “It’s going to be happening every day, and he is a fighter and will talk about it. Everyone understands that.” While Trump retains a commanding lead in polling for the Republican race, a potential general election matchup with Biden — where voters may be less interested in his personal grievances — remains tight, according to NBC News polling. That attempted pivot was evident in Trump’s South Carolina victory speech, which did not mention Haley once, took shots at Biden and openly touted a GOP unity message. Trump is notoriously hard to wrangle, and he rarely sticks to the script. It’s unclear whether he will be willing, or able, to carry out a reset. But two people involved in conversations around the potential pivot said the topic has been under discussion in internal campaign deliberations. One of those people, who doubts Trump has the discipline to execute on it, said the idea is to make the campaign “more about issues and less about personality.”

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Wall Street Journal - February 25, 2024

A Christian oil billionaire upended Texas politics—and is coming for Washington next

Drilling for oil made Tim Dunn, a self-described activist Christian, into a billionaire. His second act has been pumping money to Texas Republicans intent on pushing their party to the right. His third act, he hopes, will be pulling off something similar on a national level—preferably during a second Trump administration. Brooke Rollins, a former Trump domestic policy adviser, pitched Dunn in 2021 on a new think tank, America First Policy Institute, with a mission to perpetuate Trump-era policies for generations to come. The West Texas oilman, whose efforts in his home state have been both successful and polarizing, responded with both enthusiasm and money. “He’s a visionary,” said Rollins, who previously worked with Dunn building a political think tank in Texas. “His ability to build organizations and structure and culture is so incredible. I’ve relied on him more for that than his funding.”

Conservative operatives regard the new group as one of several organizations attempting to assemble an “administration in waiting.” Rollins’s group boasts an in-house roster of Trump loyalists—including Larry Kudlow, Kevin Hassett and Keith Kellogg—available to fill key administration positions. Dunn is one of many wealthy Republicans jockeying to influence a second Trump administration in accordance with their own political agendas. Besides giving directly to the candidate—Dunn donated about $5 million to Trump’s political-action committee late last year—some of them have funded a handful of new pro-Trump think tanks dedicated to that task. In addition to America First, Dunn has provided funding to the Center for Renewing America, run by former Trump budget director Russell Vought, and America First Legal, led by former Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller. As nonprofits, none of the three groups are required to disclose who is donating to them, and how much. As Dunn sets his sights on Washington, he will be armed with an even bigger bankroll. In December, he agreed to sell the oil company he runs, Midland-based CrownRock, to Occidental Petroleum in a $10.8 billion deal. Dunn owns about 20%. Dunn has said he believes America was founded as a Christian nation. He likes to cite Scripture and has worked for a decade to construct an exact replica of Moses’ Tabernacle in West Texas, using materials imported from the Middle East. Allies say his faith informs his politics, but he is not a theocrat. Dunn calls himself a proponent of self-governance. In addition to property-tax reductions, he supports securing the Texas border and changing the way incentives are provided to solar and wind power companies.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2024

Texas county declares state of emergency ahead of solar eclipse

A small Texas county issued a state of emergency this week as it prepares for a surge in tourism ahead of the total solar eclipse in April. Bell County officials say they expect severe traffic congestion, fuel shortages and strains on first responders, hospitals, food, grocery stores and the cellular network beginning days before the April 8 eclipse. Officials predict the county’s population of 400,000 to double — or even triple — as people flock to Texas to glimpse the rare phenomenon. County Judge David Blackburn said at a press conference Wednesday the emergency declaration will help the county plan, prepare for and respond to the eclipse and coordinate with the state if needed.

“In order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of both residents and visitors, Bell County has determined that extraordinary measures must be taken in the form of a local disaster declaration,” the county said in a news release. As part of the declaration, property owners are required to register with the Bell County Emergency Management Office if they plan to host parties with more than 50 people. Owners must provide the county a site layout and ensure guests have adequate bathrooms, waste disposal and wastewater solutions. Registration will provide public safety officials and first responders with information when roads and highways are congested, the county said. The eclipse will carve a path of totality through Texas, plunging many cities into total darkness for several minutes when the moon passes between the sun and Earth. Millions of Americans will travel to witness the event, with many coming to Texas, according to Great American Eclipse.

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The Hill - February 25, 2024

O’Rourke supports campaign to vote ‘uncommitted’ in Michigan Democratic primary

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) is supporting a campaign asking Democratic voters to vote “uncommitted” in Michigan’s presidential primary, if they are unhappy with the way President Biden has handled the Israel-Hamas war. “I do think it makes sense for those who want to see this administration do more, or do a better job, to exert that political pressure and get the president’s attention and the attention of those on his campaign so that the United States does better,” O’Rourke said in an interview with the Michigan Advance. O’Rourke, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2020 and later endorsed Biden, is visiting Michigan on Saturday as part of his book tour, the outlet noted.

Abdullah Hammond, the mayor of Dearborn, Mich., recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that his community has been “haunted” by the scenes from Gaza, where Israel has launched a counteroffensive against militant group Hamas after it killed more than 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostage. Israel’s counteroffensive has resulted in nearly 30,000 deaths in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Hammond said he cannot support the genocide happening. “It is for that reason that I will be checking the box for ‘uncommitted’ on my presidential primary ballot next Tuesday,” he wrote. O’Rourke said he supports Hammond’s campaign, joining Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and former Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), the Michigan Advance reported. “I agree with the aims and the goals. We should have a ceasefire, there should be a return of each [and] every single one of those hostages [taken by Hamas], there should be an end to this war and there should be a negotiated solution to Palestinian statehood,” O’Rourke told the outlet. “All of that needs to happen, and I share the concern that the United States is not doing close to enough to bring those things to pass.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 25, 2024

Jennifer Danley Scott: Raise lawmaker pay to get more women to run for Texas Legislature

(Jennifer Danley-Scott is a faculty member in residence at the Center for Women in Government, part of the Jane Nelson Institute for Women’s Leadership at Texas Woman’s University in Denton.) In 2020 and 2022, talk of a “blue wave” in Texas pushed out discussion of gender parity in our government. This was disappointing. The share of women holding judgeships decreased to just under 40%, and in the Legislature, it’s 29.8% Our government is grappling with increasingly complex issues, and our laws are better when they’re informed by life experiences that vary across genders, cultures and backgrounds. Research in the hard sciences, social sciences, and humanities demonstrate the positive impact of diverse representation — it helps identify more problems and it scrutinizes proposals from more vantage points. We should see more women running for office and winning. Texas women are active politically. They vote. In the 2020 presidential election, 6.3 million Texas women voted, compared with 5.6 million men. Media attention on women candidates is generally plentiful and positive. Political parties are supporting women candidates.

People are rational when deciding to run for office, and pay and workload may be institutional barriers. Women responding to our survey were more likely than their male colleagues to identify the cost of running for office and the work of caring for family as impediments that initially kept them from running; women also identified missing work as a problem. These concerns in turn affect which offices attracted candidates. Women aspiring to higher office in our survey generally listed county office, judicial office or Congress; very few mentioned the Legislature, a natural step up from local office. In our survey, 50% of the women who marked caring for family as a barrier ultimately ran for and won city office, with 38% choosing county office and 12% choosing judicial office. The women concerned primarily about missing work similarly ran for county (51%), city (31.5%), and judicial (17%) offices. County and judicial positions are local campaigns where officeholders serve locally and receive professional pay. Why might these and other women avoid the Legislature? It’s rational. In Texas, we designed a Legislature with two disadvantages: We pay extremely little and expect a lot of work. This is not the case with other elected offices. The Texas Association of Counties shows full-time county officials are paid anywhere from $40,000 to $198,000 a year. They work in their home county without constant travel to the Capitol. Women are better represented in these offices, especially as clerks and treasurers.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2024

Texas says adios to El Niño. But what is La Niña and how will it affect our weather?

El Niño, the warming of tropical waters in the eastern Pacific that has brought wetter and cooler weather to Texas, appears to be losing its influence in the atmosphere. Forecasters think it will weaken more in the spring, and they give its counterpart, La Niña, a 55% chance of returning this summer. Texas summers are always brutal, but if La Niña — which tends to produce warmer and drier weather for us — persists strongly over fall and winter, like it did from 2020 to 2022, we could see summer-like heat linger into October, above-normal warmth in winter and little to no rain relief at the end of the year. What is La Nin~a exactly?

Don’t think of El Niño and La Niña, which are naturally occurring climate patterns, as storms or weather events that affect a specific area at a specific time. Instead, meteorologists say you should think of them as much broader phenomena, like the way road construction in one part of town can have ripple effects on traffic across a whole city. Because the world’s oceans make up nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that temperature shifts in the Pacific — the world’s largest ocean — can have an outsized influence on the planet’s weather.For La Niña to develop, for instance, sea surface temperatures off the Pacific coast of South America along the equator become cooler than normal, which then significantly alters tropical rainfall and disrupts atmospheric circulation patterns. The ripple effects end up redirecting the paths of mid-latitude jet streams. These circulating rivers of air not only steer storms across the United States but also keep cold air penned up north. When La Nin~a is strong, it tends to push the jet stream farther north away from Texas. As a result, polar air remains corralled up north and unable to encounter tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico. We typically depend on that confrontation of cold and warm air over Texas to produce storms and beneficial rain across the state.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2024

Houston-area farmers are facing more extreme weather. Here's how they're adjusting to climate change

Charlie Sherrard worked carefully, tucking a straight row of miniature sprouted broccoli into the loose soil of a planter at Sunnyside's Hope Farms on a recent February afternoon. Sherrard, the urban farm's lead gardener, has labored with other farmers and gardeners for weeks to reset crops that struggled after January's multiday freeze followed by a swing to rainy warmth. Repurposing the miniature broccoli was one of their final acts of recovery. "It survived the freeze, but will not do well in the field right now because it's getting too warm," Sherrard said. "So instead of getting rid of the broccoli I'm allowing it to flower and to be an early pollinator, because a lot of the other flowering plants won't be blooming until March or so." After a recent uptick in freezes, hot droughts and floods, many Houston-area farmers have been forced to get creative. Small farms used to rotating their crops have shifted what they plant and how much they expect to lose as a changing climate keeps them on their toes.

While some of the Sunnyside farm's diverse fruits and veggies made it through the most recent cold snap that started Jan. 15, others struggled. "We're starting to see a rebound of the crops that work fine with cold," said Gracie Cavnar, founder and leader of Hope Farms. "It's always a challenge in Houston because you've still got warm season crops growing in the winter. And they're productive, and then all of a sudden, they're wiped out, so it takes your productivity down by like 50%." Cavnar said farmers can try to steel themselves against freeze damage, harvesting some crops early and covering others, but that labor does not always pay off. And this year, since her farmers expected the freeze to be shorter than it was, she said they "didn't get as aggressive with protection." Still, since Winter Storm Uri in 2021 kicked off far more frequent freezes than in past decades and the last two years swung from lengthy droughts during scorching summers to increased flooding fears, local farms have adjusted to the extremes.

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Texas Public Radio - February 25, 2024

Federal judge questions Texas 'hubris' over foster care

In a federal court hearing where the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services was accused of among other things medical negligence and obscuring its own statistics on children in unsafe placements — Judge Janis Jack appeared insulted that the state had recently filed a motion to nullify substantive portions of the court’s oversight. “To have the hubris to file a motion for relief is just beyond me,” she said at the conclusion of the hearing. She will determine the fate of that motion in June. Lawyers for the state argued in the Feb. 13 filing that it has shown a good faith effort to comply with the federal court's orders — often showing more than 90% compliance in some areas. In a statement, the department said the state has spent $100 million, that its caseworkers were better trained with lower caseloads and that investigations occurred more rapidly.

“These improvements are clearly documented and have resulted in the state’s compliance with all remedial orders. We believe now is the right time to narrow the scope of this litigation by moving for relief on a subset of remedial orders the state feels strongly it has fully satisfied,” said Patrick Crimmins, a DFPS spokesperson. The court had already certified compliance in two of the 12 orders it sought to vacate. But Jack is currently weighing contempt fines over Texas' lack of compliance in numerous other areas. There are a total of more than 50 court orders upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018. And Friday's hearing saw new allegations from plaintiffs' attorneys and from Jack that the state was both hiding logs of serious incidents and manipulating its own statistics for children without placement (CWOP). These are youth who are housed in hotels or state-leased houses staffed by a rotating case of staff members, contractors and security guards, rather than foster homes or treatment centers.

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Valley Central - February 25, 2024

‘Great sadness’: Last sugar operation in Texas to permanently close

The last remaining sugar operation in Texas, located in the Rio Grande Valley, is set to permanently close after 51 years of business. Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers Inc. announced that numerous water shortages in the area and lack of support from the U.S. State Department are forcing the decades-long business in Santa Rosa to close its doors. The recently completed harvest and milling season of growing and processing sugarcane into raw sugar will be RGVSG’s last. “For over 30 years, farmers in South Texas have been battling with Mexico’s failure to comply with the provisions of the 1944 Water Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico that governs water sharing between the two nations on the Colorado River and the Rio Grande Valley,” the company stated. “RGVSG Inc. has no choice but to close its doors.”

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Texas Monthly - February 25, 2024

What does religious freedom mean in Ken Paxton’s Texas?

The borders of Ken Paxton’s vision of religious freedom became a little clearer this week when the attorney general sued Annunciation House, an independent Catholic immigrant ministry in El Paso. Claiming suspicions of “alien harboring, human smuggling, and operating a stash house,” on February 7 Paxton demanded the respite center’s documents regarding the identities and services rendered to the immigrants. Annunciation House asked for more time to seek counsel on whether any of the documents could legally be withheld. Paxton refused, so the migrant-aid group sued Paxton; now Paxton is suing Annunciation House to revoke its state license. In describing Annunciation House, Paxton’s press releases use the term “nongovernmental organization” (NGO), the term used most commonly to describe international relief agencies such as those that partner with federal governments and the United Nations. This is a specific word choice. There’s no technical difference between an NGO and a nonprofit organization in the United States, but on the far right, where Paxton generates votes and campaign funds, there’s a big difference in connotation. NGOs are big, liberal, global actors.

Nonprofits are the do-gooders next door, and they are often religious. The irony, of course, is that it doesn’t get much more next-door or religious than Annunciation House. Its website reads like a testimony at a Wednesday night prayer service: “the Gospel calls us all to the poor and . . . the life and presence of Jesus in the Gospels is so completely in relation to the poor.” “From my perspective, it’s incredibly frustrating to see politicians who regularly justify their actions based on their faith to then persecute those who use the same rationale to do things they don’t like,” said Stephen Reeves, executive director of Fellowship Southwest, a missions and advocacy group affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Reeves spent years as a lawyer with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, working to preserve the special place of religion in the United States. Paxton’s intentions are explicit, Reeves said, and instructive as to the kind of hostility religious organizations in Texas can expect if their expressions of religion aren’t in favor with the attorney general’s office. ??“It’s really trying to scare religious nonprofits into not following the dictates of their faith.” And if Paxton will go after a Catholic organization, there’s no reason to think he won’t also target one of the many Protestant border missions, many of which Fellowship Southwest supports, that have responded to a need in a way that they felt their faith demanded. “They feel very called by their faith—by what they understand Jesus telling them to do in the world—which is to serve migrants,” Reeves said. (Paxton’s office did not respond to an interview request by the time of publication.)

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Texas Monthly - February 25, 2024

Can a Texas Democrat get elected on gun control?

Given his often testy relationship with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the leader of the upper house of the Texas Legislature, it’s understandable that Roland Gutierrez, a Democratic state senator, felt especially uncomfortable when he couldn’t control his emotions in Patrick’s presence. Days after the May 2022 mass shooting in Uvalde, which falls within Gutierrez’s sprawling district, the state senator found himself in Patrick’s office, pleading for at least some small step toward gun control. Gutierrez had recently signed a nondisclosure agreement that allowed him to view police body cam footage of what he could only describe as kids being “mutilated.” One image in particular, of a little girl whose face was shot off, being dragged out of a classroom, was seared into Gutierrez’s brain. The Democrat felt hopeless—but he was also livid. He wanted big, sweeping reforms to curb future gun violence. But he told the lieutenant governor he’d settle for something much smaller: a proposal to raise the minimum age to purchase certain semiautomatic weapons from 18 to 21.

When Patrick flatly refused that request, Gutierrez realized that reminding his colleagues—at every opportunity—that the state had done little to prevent these children’s deaths was a futile act. Perhaps he could have more impact in Washington. “I am running for the Senate because we absolutely need an assault weapons ban in this nation,” Gutierrez recently told a group of about forty Democrats at a campaign event in Leander, north of Austin. “We are broken in this space and must demand real change on this issue.” Gutierrez is one of nine Democrats vying for the party’s nomination to challenge Republican senator Ted Cruz in the November general election. More than any of his opponents in the primary, he has made gun control a central tenet of his campaign. Even if he loses, he says, he will never stop pushing for the legislative reforms demanded by Uvalde parents. “I will advocate for those people for the rest of my lives,” he said. Making guns a central issue in a campaign wouldn’t be as big a risk for a national Democrat, but many in Texas have long believed it’s a toxic issue here. In 2014, Wendy Davis, a Democratic state senator challenging Greg Abbott for governor, posed for a photo with a shotgun and announced she supported an “open carry” law—which would have allowed Texans with handgun licenses to wear pistols on their hips while in public. Davis believed that backing gun rights was necessary to win a statewide election in Texas. (She lost her race by twenty percentage points and later said she regretted the position she took on guns.)

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Texas Observer - February 25, 2024

‘It’s the South’: Harris County sends 15 times more Black men to Death Row than white

Of the 21 people from Harris County most recently sentenced to death, all but one was a person of color, according to a report released today by the nonprofit Texas Defender Service (TDS). The report found that 15 death sentences were handed down to Black men since December 2004—three of which have since been overturned. Four were given to Hispanic men, one to Ali Irsan, a Jordanian immigrant, and only one to a white man. The county’s imposition of the death penalty in the 21st century is dubbed both “arbitrary and capricious”, with staggering racial disparities in sentence severity, in a report by TDS, a nonprofit legal and advocacy group dedicated to stemming the flow of “mass incarceration and excessive punishment.” TDS released the report on the anniversary of the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the death penalty for Duane Buck, a Black Harris County man who was condemned to die after jurors heard racist testimony.

Texas’ largest county also remains the state’s deadliest when it comes to capital convictions. A quarter of all Texans sent to death row since 1973 came from Harris County, the report found. If the county were a state, it would rank only behind Texas in terms of funneling people onto death row. Since the death penalty was reinstated here in 1976, nearly three-quarters of the people Harris County courts sent to death row were persons of color—and more than half were Black. Today, nearly 44 percent percent of Harris County residents are Hispanic, 27 percent are white and only 20 percent are Black, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The bulk of the past 21 death sentences, the report found, were imposed between 2004 and 2018. (The report looked only at standing newly imposed death sentences, not at defendants who were resentenced after appeals). “As shown by our review of Harris County’s history and modern practices, racism continues to impact the criminal legal system in general—and the administration of the death penalty in particular—in Harris County. This is unacceptable,” the report states.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 25, 2024

An Austin lawyer pushed progressive reforms on DA Joe Gonzales. Here’s how he responded.

For five years, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales and his top deputy kept up a wide-ranging, private conversation with an Austin-based legal reform group over how to advance a controversial agenda to keep people accused of low-level, nonviolent crimes out of court and out of jail. In text and email exchanges that only recently became public, Gonzales, First Assistant DA Christian Henricksen and Jessica Brand, a Harvard-educated former public defender, explored ways to reduce bail and avoid formal prosecution of people arrested for trespassing, vandalism, car burglaries, marijuana possession and similar offenses. A review of more than 400 pages of personal emails obtained under the state’s public records laws, along with a smaller volume of text messages, shows that Brand sent Gonzales and Henricksen lengthy proposals for overhauling probation, doubling down on drug treatment and anti-violence efforts, and pushing alternatives to traditional policing, prosecution and incarceration.

Brand urged the DA to revamp and reenergize a unit that reviews old cases for wrongful convictions and prosecutorial misconduct. She recruited Gonzales to join other DAs in filing a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the execution of a Killeen man convicted for his role in the 1999 murders of two youth pastors. After Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that outlawed abortions and issued a directive restricting gender-affirming care for transgender youth, Brand helped write public statements for Gonzales opposing the governor's actions. Brand, founder of the Wren Collective, a progressive consulting firm whose stated goal is to "dramatically decrease the legal system’s footprint in this country" and reduce incarceration, also offered the DA advice on dealing with the media, sometimes drafting news releases and talking points and offering to call reporters on his behalf. It's unclear how much Brand's advice influenced Gonzales, a Democrat who ran for office on a reform platform and was already inclined to do much of what she proposed. But the relationship, which was first disclosed by KSAT last month, has become a potential political liability for Gonzales, now 13 months into his second term.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 25, 2024

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton takes aim at San Antonio bar The Lucky Duck over weapon law

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has set his sights on a San Antonio bar he says violated state law by prohibiting police officers from carrying a weapon into the establishment. Paxton this week sued Le Bajec Le LLC, which does business as The Lucky Duck at 810 N. Alamo St., asking a court to impose penalties and issue a ruling that prevents it from continuing to break the law. The River North-area bar “has shown a continued disregard for state law, which is prejudicial to the state’s interest in protecting the public from criminal activity and harm,” the suit says. Lucky Duck principal Michael Bajec denied the allegations.

“Unfortunately, we cannot comment because we have not been served or made aware of this lawsuit, other than to say we have never denied a peace officer due to them carrying gun,” he said Friday in an email. Since at least 2022 — the year Lucky Duck opened — until now, Paxton alleges it has restricted entry to “off duty peace officers” who are authorized to carry a weapon. The first time it happened was July 10, 2022, when San Antonio police officer Joel Zulaica was barred from carrying his weapon into the establishment, the suit alleges. Zulaica went so far as to show bar staff the section of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that says establishments serving the public may not prohibit a peace officer or special investigator from carrying an authorized weapon on the premises. That prompted Paxton’s office to write Bajec “to secure a commitment to comply with the law.”

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San Antonio Express-News - February 25, 2024

Woman suing Texas over abortion ban is moving her embryos out of state in wake of Alabama ruling

An Austin woman who is suing Texas over its abortion ban is moving her frozen embryos out of state, fearing the state could seek to ban in vitro fertilization in the wake of an Alabama ruling. Amanda Zurawski, 36, the lead plaintiff in the suit, said she was denied an abortion after she experienced pre-term heath issues because doctors could hear a faint heartbeat. She developed a life-threatening case of sepsis and it was then that doctors performed an emergency induction abortion. She spent three days in the ICU battling the infection, which caused one of her fallopian tubes to permanently close. Her doctors warned against carrying another pregnancy, so she decided to freeze her embryos and use a surrogate to start a family, she told NBC News.

Now she’s signed the papers to transport the embryos out of Texas, fearing the state could follow the lead of Alabama, where the state Supreme Court recently ruled that embryos are considered people under state law. The ruling holds that anyone who destroys an embryo could be held liable. Moving her two frozen embryos is costing her thousands of dollars in what is already an expensive and unpredictable fertility process, NBC reported. To protect her chances to start a family, she did not say where she is transferring her embryos. “I don’t want them in a state where a similar ruling could very likely take place,” she told NBC.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 25, 2024

Will Texas State Board of Education bend farther to the right? Here are 3 races to watch.

Three Republican members of the State Board of Education are facing well-funded primary election challenges by opponents with ultraconservative ideologies, setting the stage for a possible tilt farther to the right for the 15-member state panel that sets education standards. The outcome of the March 5 primary races — and ultimately the general election in November — could place a hard-line conservative majority on the Republican-dominated board, which sets curriculum for schools in Texas. Of the seven state education board offices up for grabs, three have contested Republican primary races. The winners of these primaries will face the Democratic candidate in November. In District 10, which encompasses parts of the Hill Country, Williamson County and areas south of Dallas, incumbent Tom Maynard is being challenged by Round Rock school board member Mary Bone and Daniel “DC” Caldwell, who is running in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.

In District 11, a small region in the Fort Worth area, 20-year board veteran and former teacher Pat Hardy is being challenged by Brandon Hall, who has worked in ministry services. In the North Texas-based District 12, incumbent and former textbook publisher Pam Little faces three Republican challengers: Chad Green, a McKinney school board member; Jamie Kohlmann, a real estate agent and former education analyst at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation; and Matt Rostami, an eye doctor. Aside from its primary responsibilities of setting curriculum standards and reviewing and adopting instructional materials, the state board approves charter schools, oversees the Texas Permanent School Fund, sets graduation requirements and reviews the rules to certify educators. In the coming years, the board is expected to roll out a new list of approved instructional materials and will revise the social studies and math standards, called Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Any major changes in the makeup of the state board would probably have an effect on its curriculum decisions for all Texas students, said Jacob Kirksey, a Texas Tech University education professor. The board next year will approve a new social studies curriculum — a process that in 2022 became so divisive over several issues, including adding information about the LGBTQ Pride movement and the history of racism in the U.S., that those decisions were punted to 2025. “There’s going to be a lot of opinions about what goes into those based on the partisan leaning,” Kirksey said.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2024

Texas commercial property foreclosure filings are soaring

Commercial property foreclosure filings in Texas have more than doubled in the last year. Texas had 463 commercial foreclosure filings in the 12 months ending with January, according to a new report by Attom Data Solutions. Texas ranked third nationally for commercial foreclosures with 56 filings last month — a 143% year-over-year increase in the number of properties red-flagged for foreclosure by lenders in January. Nationwide, commercial foreclosure filings were up 97%.

“This uptick signifies not just a return to pre-pandemic activity levels but also underscores the ongoing adjustments within the commercial real estate sector as it navigates through a landscape transformed by evolving business practices and consumer behaviors,” Attom Data CEO Rob Barber said in a statement. California, New York and Texas lead the country in January commercial property foreclosure postings, according to Attom Data. The number of commercial property foreclosure filings in Texas is at the highest level in Attom Data’s decade of tracking. Texas commercial foreclosure filings were at a low point in 2018 when only 120 properties were threatened with forced sale by lenders. Texas commercial foreclosure postings began growing during the pandemic and hit new highs in January.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2024

Rep. Colin Allred invites Dallas doctor who fled state for abortion to State of the Union

Dallas obstetrician/gynecologist Austin Dennard, who had to travel out of state for an abortion after learning her fetus had a severe, lethal birth defect, will attend President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, invited her to the March 7 speech, joining Democrats across the country in putting abortion access at the heart of their 2024 campaign messaging. Dennard said Texas women are being denied basic rights under state laws so restrictive that providers are scared to utter the word “abortion,” even when discussing options for patients with medically complicated pregnancies. “It’s a disaster-relief situation now with providing standard medical care for women in pregnancy,” Dennard told The Dallas Morning News.

Another Dallas-area woman, Kate Cox, also will attend the speech as the guest of first lady Jill Biden. Cox unsuccessfully sued Texas for permission to end her pregnancy after receiving a lethal fetal diagnosis. Allred is the frontrunner in a crowded Democratic primary, with the winner to face Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November. Allred has touted his support of federal protections for abortion access and the right to interstate travel for health care. Allred praised Dennard’s willingness to speak out so other women aren’t forced to leave their states under similar circumstances. “I am so inspired by Dr. Dennard’s bravery and her resilience in the face of Texas’s cruel abortion ban,” Allred said in a statement. “No Texas woman should have to endure the hurdles that Dr. Dennard did to get the life-saving care she needed.” Cruz was asked about Cox’s invitation when it was announced last month and said the White House engages in “extreme and dishonest rhetoric” on abortion.

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KXAN - February 25, 2024

Is Texas’ medical billing transparency law working? KXAN investigates

Bernadette Moore remembers the frustrations. Bernadette Moore filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office after not being able to get an itemized bill last year. (Courtesy Bernadette Moore) All she needed was an itemized bill after a vein surgery last August in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “They just gave me the runaround. I mean, nothing. I got bounced around to seven different people at one point. I was on the phone weekly,” she explained. Moore said she is part of a health-sharing ministry where patients get reimbursed, but an itemized bill is required. “I remember crying to them on the phone — ‘I cannot get ahold of this.’ I’ve never had this much problem receiving an itemized bill,” Moore said. In November, she filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

“I have requested an itemized bill … at least 20 times. As of Sept, that is a TX state law, that businesses must give an itemized bill,” she wrote in her complaint. Through the Texas Public Information Act, KXAN obtained five itemized medical billing complaints sent to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office since September 2023. That’s when the law went into effect requiring hospitals and other health providers to give patients an itemized invoice before sending bills to collections. Senate Bill 490 also requires itemized bills be written in terms the patient understands and include medical codes and prices. The invoice can be issued electronically through a patient portal. “It’s important for consumers to have more transparency in health care,” said State Rep. Caroline Harris Davila, R-Round Rock. “It has become so convoluted, so complicated, and it really shouldn’t be because when it’s complicated, people may put off care. They may make poor decisions about their health care. ” Harris Davila knows every detail of the itemized billing law — she wrote the companion House bill. The legislation only applies to health care facilities and hospitals but does not apply to doctors or federally-qualified health centers. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is overseeing the rollout of the law and compliance. Since the law went into effect in September, the agency received two complaints that are pending investigation. These complaints are separate from what the Attorney General’s Office received. Late last year, HHSC posted draft rules online and gathered informal comments from two providers including clarification needed on language of the law and concerns about the costs of providing itemized bills. Harris Davila said her office would reach out to the providers with concerns.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Report - February 25, 2024

Tarrant Health director addressed misconduct allegations in letter before resignation

Tarrant County Public Health Director Veerinder Taneja’s response to three allegations leveled against him by newly hired county administrator Chandler Merritt are revealed in public documents newly obtained by the Fort Worth Report. The county released a Feb. 2 termination notice Merritt sent to Taneja and Taneja’s written response dated Feb. 3. In the notice, Merritt laid out three issues he wrote “created an irreparable level of distrust in your ability to satisfactorily perform the duties of your position.” Merritt was appointed to the job following the retirement of 35-year administrator G.K. Maenius in September. Democrat Alisa Simmons was the sole vote against his appointment, citing her preference for another candidate.

Maenius’s resignation occurred after significant turnover on the Tarrant County Commissioners Court. County Judge Tim O’Hare and two other new commissioners joined the court last year following the retirement of longtime County Judge Glen Whitley. Both Whitley and Maenius were involved in Taneja’s 2014 hire. Neither responded to requests for comment about the new documents. Merritt’s allegations against Taneja pertained to HIV tracing policy revisions, COVID-19 testing contracts and staff complaints in an internal human resources report. He cited six violations of the civil service rules and placed Taneja on administrative leave pending a final decision. Taneja disputed the allegations and questioned why Merritt immediately jumped to possible termination when Taneja had never been subject to discipline before. “I’m thankful for the collaborative efforts that our community pulled together to address the challenges,” he said. “I’m honored that I got to lead a great team of passionate and dedicated public health professionals. We served our community with integrity, honesty and compassion. I will forever cherish the love, respect and friendship they bestowed upon me. I wish my team and the Tarrant County community the best in health as I look forward to the next chapter in my life.”

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2024

'Offensive' text message could tip scales in race for Harris County GOP chair

Harris County Republicans will decide March 5 whether to give incumbent party chair Cindy Siegel a second term or instead choose her challenger, businessman Bobby Orr. A text message from Orr shared widely on social media in late January is gathering some backlash. Orr calls the party establishment a “small click of mostly women who this is their life.” Orr goes on to say in the text that they “don’t do s--- other than get together at Magic Circle Republican Women, other women’s clubs and at HCRP gatherings.” Orr added that these party members will “crash” Harris County, then the whole state. “I have been around them,” Orr wrote in the text. “You would never recruit any of them to work with you.”

Some women in the local party are “ticked” by the texts, according to Siegel, a former Bellaire mayor who was first elected party chair in 2020. She likened Orr’s comments to Hillary Clinton’s remark in 2016 that maligned former President Donald Trump’s supporters as “deplorables.” “I think he showed an arrogance and, quite frankly, a contempt for all the work of hardworking Republican men and women who are out there from all walks of life who believe in the party,” Siegel said. Orr said, his mission is to win elections. And if his methods offend people, so be it. “I’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelet,” Orr said. “I probably shouldn’t have said what I said, but there’s one thing I can tell you for sure — it probably will not be the last time I say something like that, so just fasten your seat belt.” Orr’s supporters in the party include conservative activist Steve Hotze, former Harris County Republican Party chair Gary Polland and the parent advocacy group Spring Branch Pipeline. But others were offended by the text, such as Rolando Garcia, a Siegel ally who represents Senate District 15 on the State Republican Executive Committee. “What an odious little man. What an embarrassment,” Garcia posted on the social media platform X. Siegel’s campaign has racked up numerous endorsements: the “C” Club, the Kingwood Tea Party and around a dozen current and former elected officials, including state Sens. Paul Bettencourt and Brandon Creighton and Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2024

Historic Inwood Theatre in Dallas is ‘temporarily closed’

The historic Inwood Theatre is “temporarily closed” after its landlord, Inwood Village, posted a lockout notice on the front door. The notice says the theater’s lease was terminated on Feb. 19 because of a default. A notice on the theater’s website and a call to the theater confirm the closure. “Thank you for calling Landmark’s Inwood Theatre. The Inwood Theatre is temporarily closed. Sorry for the inconvenience,” an automated message says. The Inwood opened in 1947, making it one of the oldest movie theaters in Dallas. Its art-deco exterior has remained largely unchanged even as the surrounding neighborhood has grown in the last 77 years. The theater lobby’s underwater-themed mural was painted by Dallas artist Perry Nichols.

The theater underwent extensive renovation in 2005, reviving its murals and recognizable marquee. The renovation brought in new screens, seats and carpeting. In 2008, the theater reimagined its first-floor auditorium as a screening lounge complete with couches, ottomans and loveseats, , according to the theater’s website. The upgrades came after movie chain Landmark Theatres took over the location in 2003, when Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s 2929 Entertainment bought the company. The Inwood changed hands again in 2018 when the Cohen Media Group purchased Landmark. Since then, the company has closed several theaters across the country, including Houston’s historic River Oaks Theatre in 2021. The closures have come at a time of uncertainty for the movie theater industry, which was hit hard by the pandemic. The number of movie screens in the United States has decreased by around 3,000 since 2019, CNBC reported in February 2023.

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National Stories

NBC News - February 25, 2024

Nazis mingle openly at CPAC, spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories and finding allies

Nazis appeared to find a friendly reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year. Throughout the conference, racist extremists, some of whom had secured official CPAC badges, openly mingled with conference attendees and espoused antisemitic conspiracy theories. The presence of these individuals has been a persistent issue at CPAC. In previous years, conference organizers have ejected well-known Nazis and white supremacists such as Nick Fuentes. But this year, racist conspiracy theorists didn’t meet any perceptible resistance at the conference where Donald Trump has been the keynote speaker since 2017. At the Young Republican mixer Friday evening, a group of Nazis who openly identified as national socialists mingled with mainstream conservative personalities, including some from Turning Point USA, and discussed so-called “race science” and antisemitic conspiracy theories.

One member of the group, Greg Conte, who attended the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, said that his group showed up to talk to the media. He said that the group was prepared to be ejected if CPAC organizers were tipped off, but that never happened. Another, Ryan Sanchez, who was previously part of the Nazi “Rise Above Movement,” took photos and videos of himself at the conference with an official badge and touted associations with Fuentes. Other attendees in Sanchez’s company openly used the N-word. For several years, CPAC and its supporters have attempted to temper the most extreme fringes of the conservative movement, and have welcomed the continued debate between Trump and more moderate conservatives. This year, however, some attendees and former attendees have expressed frustration with the conference’s stronger association with Trump and his wing of the party. In one of the most viral moments from this year’s conference, conservative personality Jack Posobiec called for the end of democracy and a more explicitly Christian-focused government. While Posobiec later said his statements were partly satire, many CPAC attendees embraced his and others’ invocations of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

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Washington Post - February 25, 2024

As Trump continues to trounce Haley, she presses on as MAGA antagonist

She came in third in Iowa. She lost by double digits in New Hampshire. In Nevada — where Donald Trump’s name wasn’t on the primary ballot — Nikki Haley trailed “none of these candidates” by more than 30 points. On Saturday, Haley suffered another blow in the lopsided race for the Republican presidential nomination, losing to Trump by about 20 points in her home state of South Carolina. Yet she promised to press on. “In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak,” Haley said Saturday night. “They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate. And I have a duty to give them that choice.” As the last Republican candidate standing against Trump, Haley has drawn polarized reactions as she has become a vehicle for the deep discontent that some in the party feel about a Trump rematch with President Biden. More a symbolic reservoir for that sentiment than an obstacle on Trump’s path to the nomination, Haley has positioned herself as the leader of a vocal minority, saying Saturday that her roughly 40 percent showing “is not some tiny group,” but a sign that “huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries” still want a Trump alternative.

Her decision to push forward, at least through Super Tuesday on March 5, has antagonized Trump and his allies and baffled plenty of political observers, who point out that there is little evidence she has a path to victory in a single state, let alone the primary as a whole. Her latest loss in South Carolina — where Haley served as governor for six years — ramps up the pressure on her to get out in the name of party unity, especially as she escalates her criticism of Trump. Yet even as the indignities of the primary season pile up for Haley, some supporters are happy to see her continue as the voice of the old-guard conservative wing of the GOP that Trump has cast aside and done little to court or placate as he moves into general-election mode. “Those of us from the Reagan wing of the party want her to stay in because we want to remind people we are still here,” said Eric Levine, a Haley donor. “We’re not winning without the Reagan wing of the party, and Nikki Haley represents that wing.” Further head-to-head contests between Haley and Trump are likely to underscore how thoroughly the former president has reshaped the party and overpowered its traditionalists. Polls in numerous Super Tuesday states show Trump well ahead, and Trump’s team expects him to clinch the nomination by mid-March.

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Politico - February 25, 2024

Haley isn’t dropping out. But the end may be near.

Even Nikki Haley is hinting her road may be coming to an end. Haley persisted through loss after loss in Iowa and New Hampshire and, now, South Carolina. And at least for the next 10 days, she says she is refusing to back down from a primary fight that looks all but over. But on Saturday, Haley signaled a wind-down could be in sight, committing only to keep running through Super Tuesday. Not only was she defeated in her home state, but her path forward has never seemed less clear. Even if it isn’t the proximate cause of her impending departure from the race, Donald Trump’s humiliation campaign against Haley looms over the primary. His recent taunts that she should “switch parties” and is “essentially a Democrat” threaten to further alienate her from the Republican Party’s base.

In the coming days, Haley will travel across the country at a feverish pace, hitting at least seven states and Washington, D.C., in what could be the final stretch of her campaign. She’ll make two stops each in Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia, while also stumping in Minnesota, Colorado, Utah and Massachusetts, and the campaign is expected to announce events in more states. And Haley is continuing to aggressively raise money, planning to hold at least 10 fundraisers in those 10 days, according to a campaign official granted anonymity to speak freely. But it could all come to an end right after that. On Saturday, Haley suggested that she isn’t necessarily committed to remaining in the race beyond March 5. “We’re going to keep going all the way through Super Tuesday,” Haley told reporters after casting her vote on Kiawah Island, inside a private, gated community. “That’s as far as I’ve thought in terms of going forward.” The list of states where Haley could make a splash between now and Super Tuesday is small. Even if she wins the Michigan primary, Trump will likely get the majority of delegates, which will mostly be awarded at a state convention next weekend. And while there are some Super Tuesday states with histories of nominating moderate Republicans in primaries, polls even there show Trump with a big lead. In Vermont, which has open primaries and where moderate, Trump-opposing Gov. Phil Scott has been the GOP nominee in four straight elections, a poll this week showed Trump leading Haley by 30 points.

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NBC News - February 25, 2024

Welcome to the housing market’s ‘new normal’ — 7% mortgage rates and all

Mortgage rates are high and housing inventory is tight, but some experts see the market’s deep freeze starting to thaw this spring. Homebuying started to pick up during and after the holidays. Existing home sales increased 3.1% from December to January, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, the inventory of unsold existing homes rose 2% from December to January, totaling around 1 million at the end of last month, slightly expanding buyers’ options. “While home sales remain sizably lower than a couple of years ago, January’s monthly gain is the start of more supply and demand,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a news release Thursday.

“This might be the market’s first steps toward a ‘new normal’– a world where inventory remains rather scarce by pre-pandemic standards, but buyers are not exactly swarming the doorway of every open house like in 2021 and early 2022,” Zillow senior economist Jeff Tucker wrote in a blog post last week. “More revived supply should help meet the returning demand, and head off the risk of renewed overheating,” he said. For the last few years, limited housing inventory and low rates have put the housing market on ice. Many homeowners who’d otherwise be eager to sell have hesitated to shake off the so-called golden handcuffs of mortgage rates as low as 2% or 3%. That’s finally starting to change, experts say — even though rates are now much higher, climbing again past 7% in recent weeks. “Markets are just kind of recalibrating for the reality that the Fed is not going to cut interest rates right away,” said Greg McBride, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. For many buyers and sellers alike, it’s beginning to sink in that “we’re not going back to three and four percent mortgage rates” anytime soon, he said. In many cases, lifestyle factors — like empty-nesters looking to downsize or growing families hunting for more space — are pushing people to move, rather than wait around for sweeter deals.

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Associated Press - February 25, 2024

Man guilty of killing transgender woman in hate crime trial over gender identity

A South Carolina man was found guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman in the nation's first federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity. After deliberating for roughly four hours, jurors convicted Daqua Lameek Ritter of a hate crime for the murder of Dime Doe in 2019. Ritter was also found guilty of using a firearm in connection with the fatal shooting and obstructing justice. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled. Ritter faces a maximum of life imprisonment without parole. "This case stands as a testament to our committed effort to fight violence that is targeted against those who may identify as a member of the opposite sex, for their sexual orientation or for any other protected characteristics," Brook Andrews, an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina, told reporters after the verdict. While federal officials have previously prosecuted hate crimes based on gender identity, the cases never reached trial. A Mississippi man received a 49-year prison sentence in 2017 as part of a plea deal after he admitted to killing a 17-year-old transgender woman.

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NPR - February 25, 2024

What could Biden's Israel-Gaza stance mean for his campaign? Michigan is an early test

Abbas Alawieh had planned to step away from politics this fall. He's a Democratic strategist who's worked with several progressive members of Congress. Then the Hamas attack on Israel happened that killed 1,200 people and took some 240 hostage, per the Israeli government. Israel's military response in Gaza has since killed nearly 30,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the ministry of health in Gaza. It may feel far away for some Americans, but Alawieh's city, Dearborn, has felt every death in Gaza deeply. It's home to one of the largest Arab American communities in the country. Alawieh started getting calls from cousins, friends and acquaintances in Michigan who'd barely expressed an interest in politics. "Those same people are reaching out to me right now saying, 'This is Biden's fault, what are we going to do to make sure Biden stops this?'" he said.

Just like that, Alawieh was pulled back into politics with an urgency he said he's never felt before. "Okay, so you have a community that is alienated, that Biden is alienating beyond what we can even capture in numbers," he said. So he and other progressive organizers in the Detroit metro area are trying to create those numbers. He's a spokesperson for the Listen to Michigan movement, the self-described "multiracial and multifaith, anti-war campaign" that's encouraging Democrats and Independents to show up to the polls for Tuesday's primary. But they're not getting out the vote for Biden, who Alawieh himself supported in 2020. They're urging voters to check the "uncommitted" box instead, as a way of protesting the Biden administration's handling of the Israel-Hamas war. "What we're saying is, first and foremost, we need a ceasefire, not some temporary thing," said Alawieh. "We're also saying, President Biden, you are losing people and have lost many people here in Michigan, key voters, where you need every vote you can get," he added. "And unless you take a different approach, you will be handing the presidency back to Donald Trump and his white supremacist buddies."

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Wall Street Journal - February 25, 2024

I read all 59 of Warren Buffett’s annual letters. These are the best parts.

Warren Buffett had an audience in mind for his latest letter to shareholders: his sister Bertie. Together with Buffett’s tribute to his late partner, Charlie Munger, the Berkshire Hathaway BRK.B 0.50%increase; green up pointing triangle chairman and chief executive’s references to his sister gave Saturday’s letter a familiar tone that would be unexpected in many corporate communications. But they were in keeping with a style Buffett developed over more than half a century of messages to owners of Berkshire shares. “In visualizing the owners that Berkshire seeks, I am lucky to have the perfect mental model, my sister, Bertie,” he wrote. Buffett went on to say that his sister is smart, sensible and nobody’s fool—but isn’t ready for a CPA exam and doesn’t consider herself an economic expert. “So,” the famed investor wrote, “what would interest Bertie this year?”

“The company has been searching for suitable acquisitions within, and conceivably without, the textile field. Although to date none has been successfully concluded, we continue to have an active interest in such acquisitions.” Dec. 2, 1966 (signed by Berkshire Chairman Malcolm Chace Jr. and President Kenneth Chace) Feb. 26, 1982: “Investors can always buy toads at the going price for toads. If investors instead bankroll princesses who wish to pay double for the right to kiss the toad, those kisses had better pack some real dynamite. We’ve observed many kisses but very few miracles. Nevertheless, many managerial princesses remain serenely confident about the future potency of their kisses—even after their corporate backyards are knee-deep in unresponsive toads.” Feb. 27, 1987: “Occasional outbreaks of those two super-contagious diseases, fear and greed, will forever occur in the investment community. The timing of these epidemics will be unpredictable. And the market aberrations produced by them will be equally unpredictable, both as to duration and degree. Therefore, we never try to anticipate the arrival or departure of either disease. Our goal is more modest: we simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.” Feb. 28, 1992: “It’s true, of course, that, in the long run, the scoreboard for investment decisions is market price. But prices will be determined by future earnings. In investing, just as in baseball, to put runs on the scoreboard one must watch the playing field, not the scoreboard.”

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Newsclips - February 23, 2024

Lead Stories

Washington Post - February 23, 2024

AT&T says massive cell outage caused by technical error, not cyberattack

AT&T said Thursday that a nationwide cellphone outage that affected more than 1.7 million customers and disrupted 911 services in several states was caused by an error made while it was expanding its network — not by a cyberattack. Spokesman Jim Greer said AT&T would continue to assess the outage, which began spiking early Thursday and quickly grew to tens of thousands of reports on Downdetector, peaking shortly after 9 a.m. Eastern time and gradually decreasing for the rest of the morning. He said AT&T restored service to all customers by about 3 p.m.

The outage prompted wide concern, particularly over the loss of emergency services — with some 911 centers urging customers to use a landline for any calls, or find a cellphone that uses a different carrier. It also prompted a flood of speculation over the cause, though experts early on suggested a technical mishap was more likely than some of the other suggestions, including a cyberattack or a solar flare. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are looking into the outage. The Federal Communications Commission is also investigating the outage, a spokesperson said.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Texans wait months to receive food stamps amid application backlog: ‘The state has let me down’

After the bills are paid each month, Mary Helen Olivarez has a tough choice to make: spend her remaining $100 on food or medication. So last April, the 71-year-old applied with the state for food assistance. Nearly a year later, she’s still waiting for help. Olivarez is one of many Texans in limbo as the state’s Health and Human Services Commission struggles to process a backlog of more than 225,000 applications for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program once known as food stamps. The federally-funded program helps low-income Texans buy groceries and the state is supposed to process applications within 30 days. Community advocates say the delays are putting strains on local food banks and on residents who don’t know when, or if, they will be approved for benefits.

The lag picked up last year with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Since April, HHSC has been tasked with rechecking the eligibility of more than 6 million Texans who received health care benefits during the pandemic. The state “is taking all possible actions to provide benefits to eligible Texans as quickly as possible,” said HHSC spokeswoman Tiffany Young in a written statement. The agency has brought on more than 2,100 eligibility workers and pulled staff from other areas to focus exclusively on processing SNAP and Medicaid applications. As of Jan. 26, it took an average of 38 days to process a SNAP application once it had been assigned to an eligibility advisor, Young said. The agency has not said how long the assignment process can take, and it said it could not provide details on Olivarez’s case due to confidentiality. Most of the applications waiting to be processed come from people who applied to multiple benefit programs and require review by an eligibility advisor trained in each, Young said. In September, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and 12 other Democrats in Congress urged the USDA to crack down on the state over delays that they said have been a problem since July 2021. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, has had HHSC under a “corrective action plan” since May 2020 for failing to meet federal timeliness standards for processing applications.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Houston Democrats Shawn Thierry, Harold Dutton fight for re-election after backing anti-LGBTQ bills

Democrat Lauren Ashley Simmons was about to launch into her campaign pitch on a recent Saturday of block walking in southwest Houston when the woman who answered the door interrupted. “We’re definitely getting Thierry out of here, so you don’t even have to give your spiel — we’re down for it,” Westbury resident Nicole Rodriguez, 31, said of Democratic state Rep. Shawn Thierry. She added that Thierry last year “really showed her true colors. And they’re not blue.” Thierry is one of two Houston Democrats facing competitive primaries after she and longtime state Rep. Harold Dutton voted with Republicans last year to ban gender-transition care for transgender minors and prevent transgender college athletes from competing on the teams that match their gender identity. Both also backed a GOP bill aimed at prohibiting books in public school libraries that include sexually explicit material, which critics charged would end up banning LGBTQ literature because it was too vaguely worded.

And Dutton has received flak for helping usher in a state takeover of Houston ISD, a move many fellow Democrats opposed because they worried it would give Republican state leaders too much sway as they work to crack down on race and LGBTQ content in classrooms. Thierry and Dutton’s campaigns have each drawn financial support from the Family Empowerment Coalition PAC, a group that advocates for private school vouchers and has raised money largely from GOP donors, and that contributes mostly to Republican candidates. Thierry, 54, said she hopes voters “keep an open mind” and judge her by the rest of her voting record beyond the LGBTQ votes. “Unfortunately, there are going to be those folks that are going to be single-issue voters,” Thierry said in an interview. “And you just can’t always agree with every single issue and every single person, and so I’ve accepted that.” Competitive primaries are not new for Dutton, who was first elected to his northeast Houston district in 1984. He has scraped by in a pair of tightly decided races in 2020 and 2022, most recently winning by 219 votes out of more than 8,000 cast. In both primaries, Dutton overcame backlash stemming from his effort to oust Houston ISD’s elected school board. That issue is again at the center of his re-election after HISD’s board was replaced last year under legislation authored by the Houston Democrat. Dutton’s main Democratic challenger, former Harris County Department of Education trustee Danny Norris, believes the takeover has made Dutton more vulnerable than ever, in light of what Norris called the “brazen, tyrannical actions” of state-appointed HISD superintendent Mike Miles. Dutton said he pushed for the state takeover because HISD leaders were not doing enough to change the status quo at two high schools in his district: Kashmere, which failed to meet state academic standards for 11 years, and Wheatley, Dutton’s alma mater whose failing grades put HISD on the path to a state takeover.

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Politico - February 23, 2024

Trump says long VP shortlist includes Tim Scott, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy

Former President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that at least half a dozen names are on his vice presidential shortlist — a list ranging from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. During a Fox News town hall event, host Laura Ingraham asked Trump about six possible choices for his running mate: DeSantis, Scott, biotech entrepreneur and former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Gabbard. “Are they all on your shortlist?” she asked. “They are,” Trump said, before adding: “Honestly all of those people are good. They’re all good, they’re all solid.”

Trump is known to talk off the cuff, and it would be surprising if he were to pick DeSantis. Trump and DeSantis spent a year savaging each other, before DeSantis dropped out of the presidential race following a disappointing second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. DeSantis, however, has since endorsed Trump. Trump has also stopped attacking the governor and has retired the “DeSanctimonious” nickname he had given him. Trump on Tuesday evening singled out Scott, who was in the audience, for the most praise. Scott, who dropped out of the Republican primary last year and later endorsed Trump, has been aggressively campaigning for Trump in his home state ahead of South Carolina’s Feb. 24 primary. “A lot of people are talking about that gentleman right over there,” Trump said, gesturing to Scott. “He’s been such a great advocate. I have to say this in a very positive way, Tim Scott, he has been much better for me than he was for himself. I watched his campaign, and he doesn’t like talking about himself. But boy does he talk about Trump. … I called him and I said, ‘Tim, you’re better for me than you were for yourself.’”

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Houston’s Intuitive Machines makes history as first private company to touch down on the moon

A Houston delegate is once again on the moon. Intuitive Machines’ uncrewed lander made history Thursday as the first privately owned spacecraft to touch down on the lunar surface. It was also the first U.S. vehicle to accomplish this in more than 50 years. The moment was nerve-wracking. A bustling company watch party in Houston fell silent as the landing time passed and mission control waited to see if it could establish communications with the spacecraft. The minutes stretched by until, finally, mission control announced that the lander was sending a faint signal to Earth. Then Intuitive Machines Chief Technology Officer Tim Crain made an announcement: "What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon and we are transmitting."

The room leapt to its feet. Employees decked in Intuitive Machines gear congratulated one another and celebrated with their children dressed as astronauts. The company later confirmed that the lander was upright on the lunar surface and was working to send back its first images. After four years of preparations, the company’s 14-foot-tall Nova-C lander navigated to a spot near the moon’s South Pole. It was the 24th mission to softly land on the moon since 1966. And with it comes a new era of exploration. NASA and its Houston-trained astronauts dominated moonshots of the ‘60s and ‘70s. This time, commercial companies and other countries are sharing more of the action. "To actually have my hands in this, to be a participant in this, it's a wild experience," said Mario Romero, an Intuitive Machines assembly, integration, and test engineer who brought his wife and 8-week-old son to the company's watch party. Six government and commercial-owned spacecraft from Japan, Russia, India and the U.S. have attempted to reach the moon in the past year. Three of the missions — led by India, Japan and Intuitive Machines — made soft landings, with their spacecraft at least intact enough to transmit a signal home. The Nova-C vehicle will have about seven days of sunlight to generate power for its scientific and commercial payloads, which were provided by NASA, the International Lunar Observatory Association, Lonestar Data Holdings and others.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Audrii Cunningham died of 'homicidal violence,' blunt head trauma, medical examiner rules

An 11-year-old girl whose body was found in the Trinity River on Tuesday died of homicidal violence, according to Harris County medical examiner records. Audrii Cunningham, who vanished on her way to school in Polk County, also suffered blunt head trauma, according to an Institute of Forensic Sciences autopsy performed this week. Her body was transferred to Harris County. A neighbor and family friend, Don Steven McDougal, 42, has been charged with capital murder in her death. He had been jailed Friday on an unrelated charge. The girl was reported missing Thursday. Days after an AMBER Alert was issued, searchers lowered the water level from the reservoir into the Trinity River and found her body.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Exxon warns Baytown, other hydrogen projects unlikely under federal draft rules

A year after Exxon Mobil announced it would be part of a team planning to build the largest clean hydrogen facility in the world, executives are warning the project at its Baytown refining and petrochemical complex along the Houston Ship Channel might no longer happen. At issue are draft rules issued by the Treasury Department late last year, which include no incentive to produce clean hydrogen fuel using natural gas with reduced methane emissions. That would limit Baytown and other proposed blue hydrogen projects, which use electricity from natural gas plants and store carbon emissions underground, to the lowest tier of hydrogen tax credit, making them less economic, said Mark Klewpatinond, global business manager for hydrogen at Exxon Mobil. "If were not able to differentiate natural gas production, it's highly unlikely Baytown would proceed," he said. "It needs to compete for capital against other projects we have."

Exxon is part of the HyVelocity Hub, a coalition of energy companies and nonprofits seeking to develop a clean hydrogen hub in Houston through $1.2 billion in funding from the Department of Energy. Representatives of HyVelocity declined to comment. The warning from Exxon and other hydrogen developers comes as cities such as Houston and Los Angeles move to develop large-scale clean hydrogen projects despite questions about whether the tax credit included in 2022's Inflation Reduction Act will be enough to get the nascent industry off the ground. Following failed efforts by former President George W. Bush and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Biden administration is moving to shift the industrial sector, along with heavy duty transportation like trucks and cargo ships, to clean hydrogen fuel in line with their goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But producing hydrogen fuel is hugely energy intensive, and the Biden administration is seeking to ensure it doesn't mistakenly incentivize the construction of a raft of hydrogen facilities with high greenhouse gas footprints.

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Community News - February 23, 2024

Randy Keck: Don’t let character assassination affect your vote

Politics is full of hyperbole. Donald Trump warned that if Joe Biden was elected. we wouldn’t have a country any more. Biden warns that democracy is at stake if Trump is re-elected. Last time I checked, we still have a country and we still have a democracy. “True believers” on either side probably earnestly believe the hype, but I think voters in general take it with a grain of salt. However, a line is crossed when political “hype” becomes dangerous disinformation, which is happening at an alarming rate locally. At this newspaper, we strive on our news pages to be as objective as possible. On our staff we have people with a variety of political opinions, but our policy is that those opinions are “checked at the door’ when writing news items. At the same time, occasionally a situation occurs that is so egregious that something must be said. In those instances, there can be no objectivity, because giving “both sides” is not fair to the truth of the situation. Such a case is the race for state representative in House District 60 between Dr. Glenn Rogers and Michael Olcott.

People who have voted in Republican primaries (like me and the vast majority of Parker County voters) are getting their mailboxes and social media flooded with hit pieces attacking Rogers. I have received a couple of pieces attacking Olcott, but nothing like the asymmetrical bombing that is happening against Rogers. In my mailbox it started with a photo of Rogers and the obligatory addition of Nancy Pelosi, as if there was any crossover of political thought between the two, with hundred-dollar bills floating in the background, proclaiming with the big word “FACT”that “Glenn Rogers voted with every Democrat to increase his pension this session.” Except it is not a fact. It’s a lie. First and foremost, Rogers does not even qualify to receive a state pension at this point in his career as a state representative. The back side of the mailer had a big photo of Rogers on a “Wanted” poster with the word “CRIME” in large capital letters. The mailer originated from “Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.” Here’s a shocker for you. Their current campaign finance report shows no contributors, and a total of $60 in contributions, leading to the question: “who are these people?” The same organization sent out at least two additional mailers accusing Rogers of a “reckless spending spree” and again doubling down on the pension lie. I would like to talk to someone from that organization for consultation on financial efficiency. It’s amazing what they have been able to do on just $60!

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Chris Tomlinson: Texas lawmakers target large 'climate-friendly' banks — and avoiding boycotts won't stop them

Texas lawmakers have never hesitated to use the power of the state to punish those with whom they disagree. Do you or your company refuse to do business with Israel? Then you cannot do business with the state of Texas. Do you boycott gunmakers? Don’t even think about applying for a state contract. The newest boycott legislation, though, goes much further. If a financial services firm refuses to do business with coal, oil or natural gas businesses or offers products that allow investors to avoid the fossil fuel industry, then no government authority in Texas can contract its services. If a company invests in those corporations — but demands they tackle climate change — the punishment is the same.

Texas’ law could cost taxpayers $22.5 billion in higher interest rates and fees over the next 30 years, a study by an economist at the Wharton School calculated. This column is part two of a three-part series on the conservative war against considering environmental, social and governance factors, known as ESG, when investing. For years, Big Oil executives have complained about a growing movement to boycott and divest from fossil fuel companies. Proponents of ESG investing have produced research showing how public companies contributing to climate change, income inequality and corruption pay less in total shareholder returns than socially responsible companies. Doing good and doing well are connected, they argue. Oil and gas corporations call ESG investing discrimination, and they’ve asked state lawmakers across the country to pass anti-boycott laws like Senate Bill 13, which became Texas law on Sept. 1, 2021. Texas is arguably the first state to pass anti-ESG legislation, which first emerged from conservative think tanks after large companies began advertising themselves as “climate-friendly” in the early 2000s. Conservative groups, such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation, lobbied Republican lawmakers to pass the bill, which Democrats mostly opposed.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Texas Legislative Black Caucus plans to revisit CROWN Act following Barbers Hill ISD ruling

Some Texas lawmakers have vowed to revisit legislation protecting hairstyles associated with race after a judge’s ruling that Barbers Hill ISD’s policy prohibiting male students from having long hair didn’t violate the CROWN Act. Judge Chap B. Cain III said in his ruling Thursday afternoon at the Chambers County courthouse that the district's decision to punish 18-year-old student Darryl George for refusing to cut his locs wasn't illegal in accordance with the new law. The decision follows a months-long battle between the district and supporters of George over the dress code policy. The Texas Legislature passed The CROWN Act, an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, in May 2023. The law went into effect Sept. 1, prohibiting school and employment dress codes or grooming policies from discriminating against hair texture or protective hairstyles associated with race.

George’s family contends his ongoing disciplinary actions regarding his hair violate the law. But at Thursday’s hearing, Judge Cain confirmed it did not. George wears his hair in dreadlocks pinned up in a barrel roll. The district prohibits male students from having hair "below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes" and cannot have hair "below the top of a T-shirt collar or be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a T-shirt collar, below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes when let down," according to the student handbook. George, a junior, has been suspended from Barbers Hill High School in Mount Belvieu since Aug. 31. According to district officials, the suspensions include infractions for conduct and failure to comply to the district's dress and grooming policies. And now, George will return to learning at an alternative school rather than learning in a classroom with his peers based on Cain's ruling. He'll likely finish out the remainder of his junior year in the facility. George’s family filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency and a federal civil rights lawsuit against Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. They allege neither Abbott nor Paxton enforced the CROWN Act based on the district's continued punishment of George. A date for the federal hearing, which will take place in Galveston, has not been set. In the meantime, George’s attorney Allie Booker, has stated she plans to file an appeal to Cain's ruling.

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Crypto News - February 23, 2024

Texas Bitcoin mining firm sues SEC for overreach on crypto

A Texas crypto firm and industry group sued the SEC, disputing its authority over exchange-traded crypto, aiming to classify them as non-securities. In a legal maneuver against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a Texas-based crypto mining firm called Lejilex and the Crypto Freedom Alliance of Texas (CFAT) initiated legal action, Reuters reports, citing the lawsuit. Both are challenging the SEC’s purported authority in the crypto domain, contending that the regulatory body lacks a definitive legal mandate. Lejilex aims to establish Legit.Exchange, a crypto trading platform, intending to list tokens, including those previously designated by the watchdog as securities, in lawsuits against Coinbase and Binance. Lejilex co-founder Mike Wawszczak expressed regret at resorting to legal action, saying the firm wanted to launch its business “instead of filing a lawsuit, but here we are.” Both Lejilex and CFAT challenge the SEC’s classification of cryptocurrencies as investment contracts, saying that such assets lack the ongoing commitments typically associated with securities.

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Beaumont Enterprise - February 23, 2024

Locally elected officials discuss LNG pause in Southeast Texas

President Joe Biden's pause on pending liquefied natural gas exports is hurting Southeast Texas -- that was the message given by a locally-elected politicians on the city, state and national level while gathered on Port Arthur soil on Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas; Texas Speaker Dade Phelan; and Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie on Wednesday met with Port Arthur LNG, Golden Pass LNG, Cheniere LNG and other stakeholders before publicly discussing the pause during a news conference. The officials didn't give many details regarding the meeting, which was closed to media, but said the group talked about the "positive impacts of LNG in Port Arthur."

"On Jan. 26, President Biden inexplicably announced an indefinite ban on pending LNG export projects -- a ban that could stretch past the November election and have a real impact that could cause hurt here in Port Arthur, Texas," Weber said. "That's why we're here today ... to highlight what this ban means for Southeast Texas." Biden previously said the pause will give time for the federal government to look at the impacts of LNG on energy costs, America's energy security and the environment. But Weber said Southeast Texas already knows that exporting LNG creates positive economic prosperity for local economies, and the Biden administration's pause prevents that. Neither Weber nor Phelan gave a straight answer on how much the pause could cost the area. Weber said the impact will depend on how long the pause extends, what stage of construction LNG plants were in and the cost of the individual plant.

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KBTX - February 23, 2024

Texas Congress members to hold briefing with USPS officials to address ongoing mail delays

District 17 Congressman Pete Sessions along with Congressmen Al Green and Troy Nehls, are set to tour a Houston USPS processing center Thursday to learn more about delivery delays impacting Texas. The Missouri City, TX facility, identified as the source of ongoing issues, has raised concerns among residents and businesses across the Brazos Valley and Central Texas for months. In early February KBTX spoke with a Leon County resident who waited over 30 days for delivery of heart medication that was shown on hold at the postal processing center in Missouri City. Earlier this month Congressman Michael McCaul from the Brazos Valley and Senator John Cornyn from Texas sent a letter to the Postmaster General expressing their concerns. The lawmakers say they have received multiple reports from constituents who have experienced delays.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2024

New Mavericks majority owner Miriam Adelson attends first game since purchase of franchise

The new-look Mavericks ownership group was on hand for Dallas’ star-studded win over Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night. Miriam Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate and fifth-richest woman in the world whose purchase of the Dallas Mavericks was approved by the NBA in December, was in attendance for her first Mavericks game since formally taking control of the franchise, joined by son-in-law and Mavericks governor Patrick Dumont. The 78-year-old Adelson, who is still the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., sat courtside next to Dumont clad in a coat decorated with blue, white and silver stars. A couple of seats down from them was Cowboys star pass-rusher Micah Parsons, who was pictured chatting with Adelson and Dumont during the game. Former Mavericks majority owner Mark Cuban, still with his 27% share of the franchise, was in attendance as well, seated in his typical baseline spot.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2024

Feds eye Texas as cases of syphilis surge in newborns

Syphilis is on the rise in Texas and nationally, causing serious medical complications, especially for newborn babies who contract the disease during pregnancy. Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine visited Parkland Hospital, Dallas County’s public hospital, Thursday to discuss the rise of syphilis and what can be done to prevent its spread. Though often thought to be a disease of the past, syphilis rates have grown consistently in the last decade. Between 2018 and 2022, syphilis cases jumped nearly 80% nationwide, while cases of congenital syphilis — or babies born with syphilis — nearly tripled, climbing 183%, according to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Texas saw 15.5 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people in 2022, putting it below the national average of 17.7.

For congenital syphilis, Texas ranked fourth highest among reporting states, with nearly 247 cases per 100,000 live births, more than double the national average. But a decade earlier, Texas had 6.6 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people and 19.4 cases of congenital syphilis per live births, according to the CDC.“This is a treatable bacterial illness. Almost all cases of congenital syphilis, again, which is devastating, are preventable,” Levine said. “We need, from a public health point of view both locally, statewide and federally, to be addressing this issue.”The rise of syphilis is likely due to a confluence of factors, including increased barriers to health care, which disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities. The disease is also tricky to identify. Early symptoms include a painless sore or rash that goes away whether or not someone receives treatment. Dr. Emily Adhikari, director of perinatal infectious diseases for Parkland Health, said she rarely saw maternal or congenital syphilis cases while she was training in the early 2010s. “It has not been rare for any of the trainees that I now train,” Adhikari said. “With the public awareness of syphilis as being a problem, I think we’re playing catch-up.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2024

Sen. Cornyn promotes his bill to fight online child exploitation in Dallas

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Thursday visited Dallas to discuss his proposed legislation that would aid in preventing online child abuse. The Protect Safe Childhood Act provides about $60 million a year to modernize technology used for online abuse investigations, improve coordination of law enforcement across jurisdictions and educate the public. The bill would reauthorize an existing program, started in 2006, through 2028. The Protect Safe Childhood Act was passed by the Senate in October and is awaiting consideration in the House. Cornyn said he is optimistic the bill will get over the finish line because of the issue’s nonpartisan nature. Cornyn was joined Thursday by local and national advocates, local law enforcement and survivors of child abuse. Speakers discussed their roles in combating these crimes and how the legislation would be beneficial.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2024

Sharon Grigsby: Former Dallas Mayor Rawlings talks about city manager Broadnax, new search for ‘unicorn’

The wonky title alone — Dallas city manager — makes your eyes glaze over. But no one is more important to the quality of our day-to-day lives. As Dallas’ top boss, this person has everything to do with how safe you are, how lousy your streets are and what the chances are that you can afford to live here. T.C. Broadnax is leaving that job and taking his talents elsewhere. He was far from perfect as city manager, but his performance doesn’t seem to be at the root of his departure. I’ve sometimes disagreed with Broadnax’s priorities. I’ve slammed frustrated words onto my keyboard when he didn’t fix problems as quickly as I felt he should. At times, I’ve even questioned whether the city would be better off without him. But as one of the diminishing few who have paid attention to Dallas City Hall for more than a hot minute, I always held out hope the old Broadnax would re-emerge. I’m talking about the guy who worked so effectively alongside former Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Rawlings and the City Council in late 2016 broke Dallas’ longstanding tradition of promoting a city manager from within when they named Broadnax the new boss. He came to Dallas after holding the same job in Tacoma, Wash., and with extensive experience in San Antonio. Much has been made of Broadnax’s $423,246 salary. For comparison, his predecessor, A.C. Gonzalez, was collecting about $400,000 annually when he resigned under pressure in May 2016. Rawlings, in announcing Broadnax’s hire Dec. 9, 2016, described him as a “very special and successful man” in all his previous jobs. “He’s all business, and focused on the right things,” Rawlings said that day. So how does Rawlings, who left office in June 2019, assess things today? I called him Thursday to get his perspective on all that’s gone wrong since that optimistic start to the city manager’s tenure. The farthest Rawlings would go in making a diagnosis was this: “T.C. is the same person, but we have a different council and a different mayor. And things change with that.” Rawlings then laid out how he and Broadnax worked during their two years together. They met twice every week — a regular one-on-one session and, before every council meeting, an hour-long huddle to walk through the entire agenda.

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Fort Worth Report - February 23, 2024

Voters to test grassroots vs. establishment dynamic in Republican race for Granger’s seat

Kay Granger’s plans to leave Congress created an open race and rare moment for Texas’ 12th Congressional District, one that five Republicans hope to seize. Since 1919, only five people have represented the district. State Rep. Craig Goldman is among those running in the GOP primary and has the money, name recognition and backing of key Tarrant County officials in his bid. His opponents say that with the Fort Worth establishment throwing its support behind him, the only way to win the district is through grassroots support. Voters will put this dynamic to the test as they decide who among five Republican contenders should carry their party’s banner in the Nov. 5 election.

The Republican candidates are: Army veteran and engineer Clint Dorris, Electrical engineer Shellie Gardner, State Rep. Craig Goldman, Retiree Anne Henley, and Former banker John O’Shea. The winner of the GOP primary will go on to face either Trey Hunt or Sebastian Gehrig as the Democratic nominee for the seat. A runoff is possible for the Republicans, said Thomas Marshall, a retired political science professor. He sees the race coming down to one person. “I think it’s still a question of whether Mr. Goldman can get to 50%, and I don’t think it’s a certainty,” Marshall said. A candidate who receives more than 50% of the vote outright wins the primary, avoiding a runoff election. If no one hits that threshold, the top two vote-getters face off in another election to determine who will carry their party’s mantle in the general election. Goldman and his team have been canvassing across the 12th Congressional District, which covers the western half of Tarrant County and most of Parker County. He is using the $1 million in his campaign’s coffers to tell Republican primary voters he is the right candidate. “We’re out knocking on doors now and getting our message out that I have a proven conservative voting record and, no offense to my other opponents, they don’t,” Goldman told the Fort Worth Report.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Houston supports 17 affordable housing proposals as developers vie for competitive tax deals

Houston City Council unanimously approved support for 17 new affordable housing proposals, paving the way for developers to vie for a share in this year’s highly competitive low-income housing tax credit program. After a week-long delay, City Council on Wednesday voted to approve a resolution of support for 17 applications for this year’s 9% tax credit program with no discussion. Federally funded and administered by the state, the program offsets a portion of developers’ federal tax liability in exchange for the creation or preservation of affordable rental units.

In the Houston area, typically only six to eight developments are chosen each year to receive the tax breaks, according to city officials. While officials from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs have the final say on who gets funded, a proposal has little chance of approval without local government backing. The city initially selected 19 of the 34 submissions for support, using a competitive scoring system that evaluates housing needs, income levels and the availability of high-performing schools and transit options. However, following City Council’s decision to delay last Wednesday’s vote, the developers of two Kingwood projects chose to withdraw their applications.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Houston’s push to buy thousands of electric cars by 2030 is far behind schedule, city data shows

Houston is unlikely to meet its climate action goal of phasing out gas-powered vehicles, with just 49 electric and hybrid cars added to its 13,000-vehicle fleet over the past two years, according to Fleet Management Director Gary Glasscock. In 2020, former Mayor Sylvester Turner unveiled a series of long-range goals to curb greenhouse gas emissions and combat the adverse effects of climate change. The plan included a bold target for Houston to electrify all non-emergency, light-duty city vehicles within a decade.

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National Stories

Bloomberg - February 23, 2024

UnitedHealth blamed ‘nation-state’ threat in hack that disrupted pharmacy orders

A cyberattack against a division of UnitedHealth Group Inc. has caused a nationwide outage of a computer network that’s used to transmit data between health-care providers and insurance companies, rendering some pharmacies unable to process prescriptions, according to the company and reports from affected organizations. UnitedHealth found a “suspected nation-state associated cyber security threat actor” had access to subsidiary Change Healthcare’s systems on Feb. 21, prompting the company to disconnect them from other parties, the company said in a filing Thursday. UnitedHealth, the country’s largest health insurer, said in a statement Thursday that the cyberattack and related “network interruption” only impacted Change Healthcare and that all its other systems are operational. Change Healthcare is a key intermediary in the $1.5 trillion US health insurance market.

UnitedHealth is working with law enforcement and security experts but can’t say when the service will be restored, according to the filing. The company hasn’t determined that the attack is likely to affect its financial results, it said. “Change Healthcare is experiencing a cybersecurity issue, and our experts are working to address the matter,” the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company said earlier in a statement on its website. “Once we became aware of the outside threat, in the interest of protecting our partners and patients, we took immediate action to disconnect our systems to prevent further impact.” The incident is the latest in a series of attacks where hackers have compromised providers of back-end IT software and services — companies that are often little-known outside of their industries yet play critical roles in the normal functioning of everything from financial markets to government services — and triggered cascading disruptions across their customer bases.

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Politico - February 23, 2024

Biden impeachment effort on the brink of collapse

The House GOP’s push to impeach Joe Biden appears close to stalling out for good. First, the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas scraped through on the narrowest of margins — and took two tries, raising serious doubts about Republicans’ appetite for an even bigger impeachment fight. Then, a high-profile informant making bribery allegations against the Biden family was not only indicted, but has now linked some of his information to Russian intelligence. Even before those recent developments, the numbers were lining up against House Republicans, who can only afford to lose two votes on the floor after Democrats won a special election in New York. Falling short on a Biden impeachment would be yet another embarrassing bullet point for a conference that struggles to square the ambitious demands of its right flank with the reality of a thin majority.

“I happen to know there are like 20 Republicans who are not in favor of a Biden impeachment. Mainly because it smells bad what he did, it looks bad, but when you ask them what crime is committed — they can’t tell you,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a vulnerable purple-district incumbent who’d raised doubts about impeaching Mayorkas but eventually backed that effort. Bacon estimated that as many as 30 House GOP lawmakers may be currently opposed to impeaching the president because they haven’t seen evidence of any crime. Private briefings to update members on the investigation haven’t swayed those holdouts, and Republicans know it only gets politically riskier to try to impeach Biden as they head deeper into an election year — possibly giving the president a polling boost even if they succeed. Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.), in a TV interview after the party lost a special election in New York last week, said that the “math keeps getting worse” for impeaching Biden. Conservatives, however, are still hoping to eke out new momentum from next week’s scheduled deposition of Hunter Biden and a March hearing with Special Counsel Robert Hur, who investigated Joe Biden’s mishandling of classified documents.

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Bloomberg - February 23, 2024

Why are there suddenly so many car washes?

The town of Streetsboro, Ohio, just off the state’s famous turnpike, owes a not insignificant part of its identity to automobiles and the industries that support them. About 6.5 million cars drive by every year, and the local retail mix is dominated by motels, gas stations and various drive-through businesses. But in recent years, Mayor Glenn Broska has heard from a lot of constituents angry about one particular element of the autocentric landscape: car washes. There are four full-service car washes in town, with a fifth on the way; three are bunched up on a mile-and-a-half stretch of Route 14. Social media complaints about car wash overkill spurred town leaders to take action. Early last year, Streetsboro ended up enacting a moratorium on new car wash businesses. “A car wash does not provide a lot of jobs for the community, and they take up a lot of space,” Broska said. “If you want to invest your dollars into a car wash, then God bless you. But at the same time, I’m responsible for 17,500 people and have to be cognizant of their wishes.”

Other such “saturation bans” have emerged in nearby northeast Ohio cities such as Stow and Parma, Cleveland Scene reports. In Buffalo, New York, a surge of suburban car wash openings in 2023 triggered opposition from nearby residents and community members — including the owners of an existing car wash nearby. New Jersey, Louisiana and Alaska are also seeing their own car wash booms as national chains like Mister Car Wash and Zips Car Wash expand. Last fall, the planning commission in Lebanon, Tennessee, rejected a permit to build a new Mister Car Wash location, arguing that the largely automated facility wasn’t the best use for a prominent Main Street site. In response, the company is suing. In a country with roughly 280 million private cars and trucks, can there be such a thing as too many car washes? A growing number of city leaders seem to think so. Unlike stores, restaurants or other businesses, most self-service car washes don’t pay sales taxes to their host communities. And they don’t bring much else to the table in terms of local benefits, critics argue; like drive-through-only fast-food outlets (which have also been the target of local bans), the latest generation of automated facilities provide few jobs even as they pump out noise, traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. But where neighbors might see a too-crowded market, investors see the beginning of a boom. From the Snow Belt to the Sunbelt, companies are scrambling to add locations and grab a piece of a $14 billion-plus industry.

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Politico - February 23, 2024

‘She abandoned us’: Haley’s South Carolina problem isn’t just Trump

Nikki Haley is running into a wall of hard feelings among conservatives in her home state, who feel that she ditched them for national politics years ago. Since leaving the governor’s office, Haley has largely ignored the state’s grassroots activists, according to interviews with more than a dozen GOP operatives across South Carolina. One striking illustration came in December, when a junior-level staffer on Haley’s presidential campaign sent the South Carolina GOP an email asking how to find out about county party events so that Haley could begin sending surrogates to them. It was a surprisingly basic question coming from the campaign of the state’s two-term former governor. And to state GOP officials who had been communicating for months with her rivals’ campaigns, it was off-putting that it came so late in the election cycle — and from someone so unfamiliar with the state party.

It was also reflective of a significant problem Haley has in South Carolina — one that has more to do with her than with the front-runner, Donald Trump. For years after she left the governor’s office, Haley failed to nurture her own base of support with the party faithful. “We didn’t abandon her,” said Allen Olson, formerly the head of the Columbia Tea Party, who was supportive of Haley as she entered the governor’s office. “She abandoned us.” As Haley campaigns in her home state ahead of Saturday’s primary, she is encountering an electorate that is not only enamored with Trump but that she has done little to cultivate. More than a decade after she last won over conservative voters here, Haley had become a stranger at state and local party events, avoiding Silver Elephant Dinners, party conventions and grassroots gatherings as she embarked on national speaking circuits and book tours, stumped for Republican candidates around the country, appeared on national TV and flirted with the question of whether she would run for president. And when she did enter the race, her presidential campaign made few attempts until late in the contest to work with state party activists or show up at their regular events. The email from the Haley staffer, a copy of which POLITICO obtained, never received a response from the state party. There was a time when that would have been unthinkable — back when Haley, then a star of the tea party movement, rode a wave of far-right, anti-establishment fervor to win a crowded Republican primary here in 2010.

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Wall Street Journal - February 23, 2024

The hedge funds that changed the game

Hedge-fund titans Steve Cohen, Izzy Englander and Ken Griffin are killing it. Their imitators are having trouble keeping up. The big three’s advantage comes from having pioneered what has become the hedge-fund industry’s hottest strategy over the past few years: Known as multimanager firms, they divvy up money across as many as hundreds of specialized investment teams with the aim of producing steadier returns that are uncorrelated to broader markets. Their method turns on its head the original idea of a hedge fund as the strategic vision of just one manager.

Cohen’s Point72, Englander’s Millennium Management and Griffin’s Citadel notched returns of around 10% or more last year. That is not nearly the 26% return, including dividends, of the S&P 500 last year, but hedge funds typically don’t mark their success against the overall market. They aim to make money in any type of market environment. A broad hedge-fund index returned 7.5% last year, according to research firm HFR. The top three’s competition, meanwhile, struggled to beat the return any investor can get by stashing cash at the bank and earning interest. Balyasny Asset Management finished up 2.7% in its flagship fund. Schonfeld Strategic Advisors gained about 3% in its main fund. Walleye Capital, founded in Minnesota, returned about 4%. London-based LMR Partners generated returns of 2.9% in its main fund. Huge sums of money have flowed into multimanager firms in the past few years, defying what has otherwise been a period of tepid asset growth in the hedge-fund industry. Assets at multimanager funds ballooned from $185 billion at the end of 2019 to $350 billion at the end of last year, according to Barclays. Big institutional investors like pensions and endowments find them attractive because they operate more like an institution than a trading shop.

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CNN - February 23, 2024

Judge rejects Trump’s request to delay finalizing the $355 million civil fraud order

The judge overseeing the $355 million civil fraud case has denied Donald Trump’s request to delay the judgment for a month. Judge Arthur Engoron told lawyers for Trump and the New York attorney general of his intentions in an email sent Thursday. Once the judgment is officially entered, it will start the 30-day clock for Trump to file an appeal. During that period, Trump will need to put up cash or post bond to cover the $355 million and roughly $100 million in interest he was ordered to pay the state. The judgment was pending but not uploaded on the court website as of late Thursday.

In the email, Engoron rejected Trump’s request for an additional 30 days, writing, “You have failed to explain, much less justify, any basis for a stay.” The judge said he would sign off on the New York attorney general’s office proposed judgment, saying Trump’s attorney didn’t tell him what was incorrect in the state’s papers or how his proposal would be different. “The proposed judgment accurately reflects the spirit and letter of the February 16 Decision and Order,” the judge wrote. The judge found Trump and his two adult sons liable for fraud. In addition to the payment, the judge banned Trump from serving as an officer of a New York business for three years and instituted a two-year ban for Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. The brothers were ordered to each pay $4 million. The judge also ordered an independent monitor, who has been in place since 2022, to continue in that role for at least three years. The judge directed the monitor to recommend a person to serve as an independent compliance director for the Trump Organization.

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Newsclips - February 22, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - February 22, 2024

Trump faces warning signs that his fundraising prowess may have limits in 2024 campaign

Donald Trump’s legendary ability to raise massive sums of political cash may be on a collision course with a new and unpleasant reality. Campaign finance reports released this week flashed bright warning lights, showing two key committees in his political operation raised an anemic $13.8 million in January while collectively spending more than they took in. A major driver of those costs was millions of dollars in legal fees from Trump’s myriad of court cases. The latest numbers offer only a partial snapshot of the Trump operation’s finances because other branches won’t have to disclose their numbers until April. But Trump’s diminished cashflow presents an alarming picture of the overwhelming favorite to be the GOP’s presidential nominee, particularly to would-be donors who aren’t eager to subsidize Trump’s legal challenges. Despite threats of vengeance by Trump, some are instead backing his last standing rival, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who outraised Trump’s primary campaign committee by nearly $3 million last month.

In a statement, Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt did not directly address the campaign’s finances. “President Trump’s campaign is fueled by small dollar donors across the country from every background who are sick and tired of Crooked Joe Biden’s record-high inflation, wide open border invasion, crime and chaos,” Leavitt said. “Voters don’t want four more years of misery and destruction.” When asked specifically about the numbers, a Trump spokesman texted a link to a Fox News story published Tuesday, stating that Trump was expected to raise $6 million at a fundraiser held that day. Legal fees dominated Trump’s January expenditures, amounting to $3.7 million of the roughly $15 million spent by the two committees. One of the committees, Save America, held nearly $2 million in unpaid legal debts, the records show. Save America was also bolstered with a cash infusion from a pro-Trump super PAC, which accounted for almost all of the money it raised in January. The committee received another $5 million “refund” installment from the super PAC “Make America Great Again Inc.,” which was initially seeded through a $60 million from Save America in the fall of 2022. Instead, Trump campaign officials opted to claw that money back in installments, a running total that has now reached $47 million, records show.

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Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2024

HPD dropped up to 2,000 criminal and sexual assault cases, prompting major investigation

The Houston Police Department dropped as many as 2,000 total cases because of a lack of personnel, police officer union president Doug Griffith said. The Houston Police Department’s review into sexual assault investigations revealed the number of closed cases since 2021. Police administrators have launched an investigation to determine who was closing out cases using the code to signify lack of personnel, Griffith said Wednesday, one day before Chief Troy Finner is set to address the cases in a Thursday afternoon news conference. But there’s no reason to believe sexual assault investigators were the only ones who’ve used it, Griffith said. “We didn’t even know there was such a code,” Griffith said. “We don’t know how many other types of crimes were cleared this way. It’s a large investigation to see how many and what types of cases this affects.”

Griffith didn’t have specific numbers of investigators in the sexual assault crimes unit, but said most investigative units were down between 10% to 15%. He explained that the department provides codes to close cases in many different instances – perhaps a complainant wants to withdraw charges, or maybe investigators run out of leads in another case, Griffith said. But lack of manpower shouldn’t be a reason, he argued. The department investigated between 20,000 and 23,000 felony cases each year since 2021. Griffith said he suspects someone started intentionally using the code and then, for whatever reason, a supervisor allowed it to continue. Representatives for the Houston Police Department said Finner would wait until the Thursday news conference to discuss the matter further when reached for comment about Griffith’s assertions. But Mayor John Whitmire said he was very concerned. “I am allowing the chief to review and report,” he said. “It happened under a previous administration. I will hold people accountable.”

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CNN - February 22, 2024

Speaker Mike Johnson once again stuck in the middle as funding deadline looms

If there is a master plan to keep the government funded through March 1, no one seems to know what it is yet on Capitol Hill. With just days until a partial government shutdown and lawmakers out on recess until next week, House Republicans are divided over the best path ahead with Speaker Mike Johnson yet to make a call and House and Senate appropriators still haggling over conservative policy riders deemed poison pills by Democrats. It’s a messy and complicated situation that comes as Johnson is still grappling with how to lead his unruly and narrow majority and as patience is running thin for the inexperienced speaker who has already punted several funding deadlines since taking the gavel. “Now, we are in a fully Johnson-run House, and he’s got to own all the decision making in the 12 appropriations bills. That’s probably not best for him. Probably not best for public policy either,” Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said. “It’s actually drug out what is sort of inevitable here, which is we will either perform to the (spending caps) or have a government shutdown.”

In January, Johnson announced a deal with the Senate to fund the government at $1.66 trillion much to the frustration of his right flank. But the fight over where that money goes and what programs get funded has dragged on for weeks now, with appropriators working around the clock to try and reach a deal before the next government funding deadline on March 1. Johnson is facing pressure from members of the House Freedom Caucus to include dozens of policy riders that would never pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Earlier this week, Johnson huddled with members of his leadership team in Florida, but sources present said that Johnson didn’t articulate or lay out a specific path to keeping the government funded, instead summarizing how the process worked and signaling he hoped a deal could come together next week that he could put on the floor. On Wednesday, members of the House Freedom Caucus upped the ante in a letter to Johnson, imploring him to give them a status update on appropriations talks and warning that if he couldn’t secure a series of conservative policy riders including items like zeroing out Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s salary, defunding Planned Parenthood and blocking funding a new FBI building, he would be better off moving to pass a one-year continuing resolution that would fund the government at current levels but would be subject to automatic cuts across the board after April 30.

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Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2024

Judge rejects AG Ken Paxton's attempt to dismiss Harris County securities fraud case

Ken Paxton will have to stand trial in a security fraud case after a Harris County judge on Friday rejected the Texas attorney general’s attempt to have it dismissed. Paxton attempted to have the 9-year-old securities fraud case dismissed, claiming the charges have taken too long to go before a jury. The long-awaited trial on the felony charges is expected to proceed in April. Paxton, 61, is accused of encouraging investors in 2011 to invest in a technology startup, failing to disclose that the firm paid him for those referrals. In a separate charge, officials allege Paxton solicited clients for a friend’s investment company without registering himself as an adviser with the state.

The attorney general blamed the special prosecutors for trying for years to seek additional payment from Collin County, where the case began, for the bulk of the delay. An appellate court is separately considering their payment concerns. Paxton’s lawyer, Dan Cogdell, said his client had nothing to do with delays over payment — a contention that prosecutors disputed. Brian Wice, one of the prosecutors, said Paxton has been free on bond for most of the case, a privilege people unable to afford bail lack. “Unlike those folks in the holdover, Paxton is living his best life,” Wice said. Judge Andrea Beall asked both sides to tally the number of days Paxton had spent behind bars and how many court appearances he had made. His jail time amounted to about a day before he quickly posted bail. He has appeared in court at least four times in Harris County and other occasions in Collin County, the lawyers said. Cogdell conceded Paxton’s number of court appearances were few. The judge then weighed in. Both sides had earlier agreed that the April trial date would work with their schedules, she said, then dismissing Paxton’s motion. Cogdell described the ruling as expected.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2024

Rick Perry jokes being a RINO is ‘sexy’ while campaigning for Texas House speaker

Rick Perry kind of thinks the term “RINO” — Republican in name only, that is — is “sexy.” The former Texas governor, stumping for House Speaker Dade Phelan in his Southeast Texas district last week, made light of recent accusations that he, Phelan and several other Republicans are actually RINOs. “I think it’s kind of sexy, frankly,” Perry told a crowd of roughly 400 people, putting his hand on his head to mimic a rhino’s horn. “When you think about it … it’s one of the baddest boys on the block, right?” Attendees laughed in response — but then the former governor, who also served as energy secretary under former President Donald Trump, turned serious. “Dade Phelan is no more a RINO than Rick Perry,” he said.

Most Republicans bristle at the smear that is increasingly being weaponized against elected members of the state’s deeply divided GOP. Perry jokingly embraced it as he makes campaign stops across the state this election cycle to boost several House Republicans facing difficult reelection campaigns because of their votes to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton last year. Phelan, the Beaumont Republican who has led the lower chamber through two sessions, is Paxton’s No. 1 target. Early voting started Tuesday for the March 5 primary. Perry also has campaigned for state Rep. Jacey Jetton of Richmond, appeared in video ads supporting Rep. Stan Gerdes of Lockhart and endorsed Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano, among others. Perry has tried to present himself as a voice of reason during an especially tense primary season. Separately, Gov. Greg Abbott also is targeting some Republicans because they oppose his priority private school voucher plan. Perry supports private school vouchers.

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Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2024

University of Houston System regents table proposal reducing student fee subsidy to athletics

The University of Houston System Board of Regents tabled a vote on a student-led proposal to cut student fee subsidies to athletics at the main campus, hopeful that finance officials can work to appease protesters who bashed President Renu Khator and pushed her to divert the money to services including mental health supports and addiction recovery programs. The regents saw their most engaged crowd in years as tension boiled over in a long-simmering debate about Khator's priorities on athletics and academics. Students protested ahead of Wednesday's meeting, yelling, “Renu, Renu you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.” They sat in sight when the board convened, some holding signs that read, “You can’t bench mental health” and “Stealing from students.” Members of the Student Fees Advisory Committee – a formal delegation whose proposal for athletics cuts was preliminarily rejected by Khator – also challenged the regents as they tried and failed to hash out the issue in open session.

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Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2024

Houston, NHL talks on potential new hockey team have intensified, says Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta

Tilman Fertitta’s bid to bring an NHL team to Houston is far from being on ice. The Rockets' owner told Bloomberg in an article published Wednesday that he views a pro hockey team as a vessel to boost the downtown economy. “We are talking to the NHL, but it’s got to be good for both of us,” Fertitta told Bloomberg. “We just know that when there’s a concert downtown how it activates downtown. We know what the Astros do for downtown. We know what even soccer does for downtown.”

Houston is the nation’s largest city without a pro hockey team, with no club having skated at Toyota Center since the American Hockey League’s Aeros moved to Des Moines, Iowa, after the 2012-13 season. The prospect of an NHL franchise in Houston has been bandied about for more than 30 years — the Minnesota North Stars looked at Houston in 1993 before relocating to Dallas, team chairman Jim Lites told the Chronicle in 2018 — with rumblings picking up in recent years. When Fertitta bought the Rockets in October 2017, he said “I would put an NHL team here tomorrow” as its owner or as a co-tenant at Toyota Center. He had said little publicly in the years since about the NHL before this week’s comments, telling Bloomberg discussions have intensified recently. Fertitta said he was open to bringing in an expansion franchise or relocating a team from another market. Fertitta also told Bloomberg that Houston-area suburbs have reached out about helping bring an NHL team, but his interest is in boosting the downtown core, where he has various restaurant holdings. Another way a hockey team could boost Fertitta's interests is by providing additional programming for Space City Home Network, the recently rebranded regional sports network now owned by the Astros and Rockets. Last October, Rockets president of business operations Gretchen Sheirr told the Chronicle the ongoing renovations at Toyota Center included “making sure it’s hockey ready” with an “ice machine” needed for it to become an NHL venue.

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KERA - February 22, 2024

Major League Soccer referees picket in Dallas as season opens with non-union replacements

Major League Soccer referees picketed outside a Dallas hotel Wednesday to protest a lockout imposed by their training organization ahead of the 2024 season. More than a dozen members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association and supporters gathered outside the Hilton Dallas Lincoln Centre Hotel, where inside, some Professional Referee Organization staff led a training for non-union referees to officiate upcoming MLS games. PSRA, a union representing soccer referees across the United States and Canada, announced Saturday the union's members rejected a tentative agreement with PRO, which employs referees for Major League Soccer and other professional sports leagues. PRO announced that same day it would lock out union-member officials from the 2024 season. "We have continued to see an incredible growth within Major League Soccer, and we feel that that growth should include us," fifth-year MLS referee Rosendo Mendoza said at Wednesday’s picket.

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KERA - February 22, 2024

Texas got a sex education update two years ago. Advocates say there are still gaps

Two years ago, Texas students received updated health curriculum, including instruction on human sexuality, across all grade levels. It was the first time since the 1990s the Texas State Board of Education updated the learning goals for school districts. But the new curriculum did not include information on consent, gender or sexuality. Lawmakers also made the instruction opt-in, meaning parents and caregivers have to sign a permission slip so students can receive this information. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Texas ranked in the top 20 states with high rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea in 2022. Texas is also in the top 10 states for teen birth, and had the second-highest rate of repeat teen births in the country in 2021 Advocates say one way to improve these outcomes would be prevention efforts, like sex education. But despite the update, they say things are worse than they were two years ago, and they’re concerned kids are missing crucial information.

“If we are able to provide this information in a preventative measure, we’re going to see better outcomes for all people,” said Alison Macklin, the director of policy and advocacy for national policy organization Sex Ed for Social Change (SEICUS). Health education in Texas is required in elementary school and middle school, but sex education is not required in high school. According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), elementary school students learn skills around five topic areas: physical health, mental health, and injury and violence prevention. Middle school and high school students learn about reproductive and sexual health, drug prevention and interpersonal violence. The new curriculum standards implemented in 2022, called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Health Education, included information on puberty, contraceptives, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and boundaries. These standards start in middle school and continue into high school. Sex education in Texas is abstinence-first and does not have to be comprehensive or medically accurate. According to SEICUS, Texas “receives the highest amount of abstinence-only funding in the country” from federal programs through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “It’s very much about risk and risk avoidance,” said Sherri Cook, founder of Wholly Informed Sex Ed (WISE), a Dallas-based organization providing whole-health sex education instruction. “It’s all about pushing away other people and not trusting. There’s very little in there about learning how to be a healthy person in relationship with other people.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2024

Texas voter registration reaches nearly 18M ahead of March primary election

More than 17.9 million people are registered to vote in Texas ahead of the March 5 primary election, a new high, according to Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson. Roughly 17.2 million Texans were registered to vote before the March 2022 primaries, while 16.2 million were registered ahead of the March 2020 primaries.

Experts say the increase is likely caused by population growth and does not necessarily foreshadow a change in voter turnout. Texas’ population grew by nearly half a million people last year, the largest numeric change of any state in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The state is now home to an estimated 30.5 million people. Most people “register to vote out of reflex,” such as when they are given the option to add their name to the voter rolls when they get a driver’s license, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor.

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Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2024

Friends, family celebrate life of Audrii Cunningham at Livingston vigil

Audrii Cunningham's favorite color was purple. So, more than 24 hours after news of her death made national headlines, friends and family gathered at Texas Craft Fair in Livingston Wednesday evening wearing that color. "She was just sweet and soft and kind. She could be a little sassy at times," said Cunningham's mother, Cassie Matthews. "Parents always say their babies are perfect, but she was definitely the kind of person to remind other people not to take things for granted and how to be a human being."

Cunningham's family reported her missing Feb. 15 after she failed to come home from school. On Tuesday, Polk County officials found the body of the 11-year-old in the Trinity River at U.S. 59 and soon charged Don Steven McDougal, a friend of her father, with capital murder. Amid the sadness surrounding Wednesday's candlelight vigil, stories of the fifth-grader's humor and imagination emerged. Cunningham was goofy even as a baby, Matthews said. She joked that she was part of the "cool kids club" with her uncle because they both wore glasses, and when she and her mom watched a Spider-Man movie for the first time, she climbed on the coffee table and pretended to shoot webs from her hands.

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Orange Leader - February 22, 2024

44-year-old local man indicted for threats against Speaker of the House

A 44-year-old man from Orange who allegedly made terroristic threats toward Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan was indicted by a Jefferson County grand jury on Wednesday. Daniel Troy LeBlanc is in the Jefferson County Correctional Facility with bond set at $500,000 on the charge of terroristic threats against Phelan. On Jan. 14, a Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigations Division special agent received information about a person posting threatening/deadly statements towards Phelan via Facebook, according to a probable cause affidavit. Through investigation law enforcement was able to find the Facebook account and the posts, some of which threaten violence and death. Agents were notified by Phelan’s staff that Phelan reviewed the statements and felt threatened. A lieutenant on the case had previously investigated LeBlanc for implied threats made on social media to a Chambers County judge, according to the court document.

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News West 9 - February 22, 2024

Midland native just getting started in helping Midland ISD students through unique role

Communities in Schools of the Permian Basin has been providing support for students for the last 25 years, helping empower kids through any struggles they may face during their educational journey. Following a long career as a justice-of-the-peace in Midland, native Midlander Billy Johnson is now the organization’s coordinator for a unique campus in Midland ISD. If history has taught us anything, it is everything. “I know the struggles of my parents, my grandparents," said Billy Johnson, campus coordinator for Communities in Schools of the Permian Basin at the Midland Alternative Program Campus within Midland ISD. "As an African American man, as a black man, knowing my history and always wanting to study my history – I didn’t want somebody just to tell me about my history – I wanted to study it.”

For Johnson, studying history is also a tangible process. “When we say history, all of our history is not pleasant – and the things of the Edmund Pettus Bridge were certainly not pleasant – and so we’ve had the opportunity to visit the bridge twice and walk across that Edmund Pettus Bridge and have a Sunday morning prayer on that bridge in 2018," Johnson said. That moment shared with family. “To have my children understand ‘you know what, Daddy’s serious about that, so you know what, we need to understand this stuff so that we know about our people [and] we know about our culture – we won’t have to repeat that stuff,'" Johnson said. Johnson also learned from one of his inspirations when meeting late Congressman John Lewis. “Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one thing he talked about was service in that we can all do something to give a little bit back, y’all give back…when you have an opportunity, don’t just let it squander, you want to make a difference, you make a difference," Johnson said. Making a difference is exactly what Johnson is doing. “MAP is the Midland Alternative Program, the alternative campus, the disciplinary campus within MISD," Johnson said. "All of these secondary campuses where they have discipline issues, the students are sent over there from seventh grade through graduation – through 12th grade.”

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D Magazine - February 22, 2024

Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax has announced his resignation

City Manager T.C. Broadnax will resign on June 3 at the behest of a majority of the City Council, which cited the broken relationship with Mayor Eric Johnson as a primary factor in their decision. Six council members drafted an announcement that, in part, says “the dynamic between these key citywide figures has unfortunately hindered the realization of our city’s full potential.” “It is imperative that we address this issue head-on in order to move forward,” the release says. “It is essential to recognize that effective governance requires collective effort and a shared commitment to the well-being of our community.” Council members Jaime Resendez, Jaynie Schultz, Omar Narvaez, Adam Bazaldua, Zarin Gracey, and Gay Donnell Willis worked together to draft the release. Council member Paula Blackmon also said in an interview that she would support the city manager’s firing, but did not help with the announcement.

“In order to have a successful city, the mayor and the city manager have to work together,” said Blackmon, who served as chief of staff under Mayor Mike Rawlings and deputy chief of staff in Mayor Tom Leppert’s office. She cited what she said were successful partnerships between former City Manager John Ware and Mayor Ron Kirk, as well as former City Manager Mary Suhm and Mayors Laura Miller, Leppert, and Rawlings. “When you have a dysfunctional relationship, you get chaos,” Blackmon said. Johnson and Broadnax have spent years waging private and public battles over the direction of the city and their responsibilities. In Dallas’ form of government, the city manager is essentially the chief executive. He plans and oversees a $4.3 billion budget and more than 14,000 employees. The mayor can create and assign committees and runs Council meetings, in addition to organizing volunteer-led task forces and other adjacent initiatives. But he is one vote of 15, and the city manager follows the will of the Council as a whole. The mayor and city manager rarely meet together, instead choosing to communicate through memos. Johnson quietly led an attempt to fire Broadnax in 2022, which ultimately failed. But the push progressed far enough that three council members privately offered Broadnax the opportunity to resign, Willis said at the time. “We thought that was the best course of action,” she said then.

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2024

House Speaker Dade Phelan, targeted by ultraconservatives, embroiled in cutthroat primary

The speaker of the Texas House is one of the most powerful Republicans in Texas, but potent factions from within his party have declared Dade Phelan to be Public Enemy No. 1 among those not named Joe Biden. Legislative victories on abortion, guns and border security have not protected Phelan from being labeled as insufficiently conservative — a RINO (Republican in Name Only) — by former President Donald Trump, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and some of the most conservative members of the Texas House. After nine years in the House, the last three years as its speaker, or presiding officer, Phelan is competing in his first primary as an incumbent. It’s been a cutthroat campaign and during a recent rally inside a Beaumont airplane hangar, Phelan angrily accused his political opponents of dirty tricks and lies.

“I need your vote. I need your family and friends out,” Phelan, his voice rising and his face reddening, told the crowd of about 400. “This is a war.” Phelan has two opponents in the March 5 primary — David Covey and Alicia Davis — but most of the attention has focused on Covey, a consultant for the oil, gas and petrochemical industry who is making his first run for office. Covey, 34, has the support of Patrick, who has repeatedly blamed Phelan for the demise of conservative priorities in the House, particularly school choice initiatives that failed in the regular and special sessions last year. Trump, who is close to Patrick and Paxton, also has endorsed Covey, criticizing Phelan as an “Absolute Embarrassment” on his Truth Social media platform after the House voted last year to impeach Paxton, only to watch the Senate, led by Patrick, vote for acquittal. Covey, running to the right of Phelan, would end the practice of appointing Democrats to chair committees, a custom followed by Phelan and previous Republican speakers who sought to reward expertise over strict party affiliation. Covey also would support school choice legislation and eliminate “gun-free zones,” according to his campaign. “We have a speaker who is selling out our state,” Covey said at a January campaign event joined by Paxton.

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2024

Dallas Stars exploring free, direct-to-consumer streaming platform to replace Bally Sports

The Dallas Stars are exploring an alternative to regional sports network broadcasting agreements that could revolutionize the way fans are able to consume sports. Stars president and CEO Brad Alberts confirmed to The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday the team has been working with A Parent Media Co. Inc. (APMC) to create an application where the Stars could stream games direct-to-consumer (DTC). Mike Heika with DallasStars.com first reported the news. It’s a model other professional sports teams have explored in recent years amid uncertainties with regional sports networks such as Bally Sports Southwest. But the difference is this would be completely free. “We have to be prepared,” Alberts said. “It’s all about where is Bally? Do we have an RSN or not? We have to have contingency plans. This certainly is an option if Bally isn’t an option.” The platform would follow an advertising-based video on demand model (AVOD) where all revenue would be supported through advertisements instead of paid subscriptions. Therefore, a consumer would only need to download an app on a mobile device or smart TV to watch a Stars game.

APMC partnered with Dude Perfect, a sports and comedy group headquartered in Frisco, to create a similar platform that it is replicating for the Stars. Bally Sports’ future has been uncertain since its parent company, Diamond Sports Group, voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March. Bally Sports holds the broadcast rights for 11 teams across the NHL, including the Stars, as well as the Mavericks, Wings and Rangers. Bally has the rights to 70 of the Stars’ 82 regular-season games this season. But the beginning of the 2023-24 season was marked by multiple outages of the Bally Sports+ app during Stars games, raising frustrations among in-market fans. Fans also have complained that Bally Sports Southwest is not available on the most popular streaming platforms, including YouTube TV, Hulu and Sling TV. The only options for streaming are DirectTV Stream, FuboTV and the Bally Sports+ app. Plus, the price for in-market fans is higher than out-of-market. Fans in North Texas can subscribe to the Bally Sports+ app to watch Mavericks, Stars and Wings games (Rangers games are a separate cost) for $19.99 per month or $189.99 per season. Out-of-market fans subscribing to NHL Power Play on ESPN+ pay just $10.99 a month or $109.99 per year. “It’s one of the most complicated business issues I’ve ever worked through,” Alberts said. “Certainly, the challenge is to fix the two problems that we have right now, which is distribution and money to the teams.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2024

Widow of Dallas postal worker who died in 2023 heat wave to attend State of the Union

The heat-related death of Dallas mail carrier Eugene Gates Jr. will get a national spotlight next month when his widow, Carla Gates, attends the State of the Union address as the guest of U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas. Gates and Crocket hope the attention that surrounds the big presidential speech will boost calls to better protect those who deliver the mail — as well as others who work outdoors — from extreme heat. “All of the employers should be able to make some type of changes to accommodate these employees out in the weather,” Carla Gates told the Dallas Morning News. “I’m operating with a broken heart, trying to make a difference for someone else.” Carla Gates is the second Dallas-area woman invited to President Joe Biden’s March 7 speech before Congress.

Kate Cox, who unsuccessfully sued Texas for permission to end a pregnancy after receiving a lethal fetal diagnosis, will be one of first lady Jill Biden’s guests as the White House highlights the impact of abortion restrictions ahead of the 2024 election. Eugene Gates Jr. collapsed in June on a day when the heat index reached 113 degrees. An autopsy later found the 66-year-old died from the heat and heart disease. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a citation in December alleging USPS had failed to protect workers the day Gates died from “the recognized hazard of high outdoor heat including high temperature, high humidity and direct sun exposure.” The agency proposed a $15,625 fine for the agency. The Postal Service is contesting the citation and fine, which is under review by the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 22, 2024

NTTA bills couple $1K for tolls on cars they don’t own

“Does this look like a used car lot?” Anne Smith asked as she prepared coffee in the kitchen of her North Richland Hills home. The home of Anne and her husband Dale — former lead pastor of Colleyville Presbyterian Church — is not a used car lot, but the charges from the North Texas Tollway Authority would indicate it is. Since October of 2022, the Smiths have received bills for 11 vehicles they don’t own, totaling $1,065. The Smiths said when they told NTTA about the billing error, the agency said they had to prove they didn’t own the cars. NTTA is a governmental organization that operates toll roads in North Texas. Anne said the couple lost sleep over the stress. Being retired, they weren’t in a position to spend money on a lawyer, she said. So they reached out to the Star-Telegram after their attempts to convince NTTA failed, including getting the police involved. The police tracked the cars to an Arlington dealership, which buys vehicles from a man also named Dale Smith.

But the issue was not resolved until NTTA received a call and an email from the Star-Telegram on Thursday, asking for an interview. That evening NTTA notified the couple that their debt was voided. In a statement on Friday, NTTA said it “dug” into the case after it received a call from the Star-Telegram and discovered the plates were associated with someone else. Agents should have looked deeper into the original call made by Anne in 2022, but they believed they had the correct address, the spokesperson wrote. NTTA said its records show the Smiths called customer service three times. While their 17-month dispute with NTTA appears to be over, Anne said she was not pleased with the agency’s handling of their case. “You just think people are going to be honest and are going to respond appropriately,” she said. “They just don’t care.” Dale described the requirement of proving they didn’t own the vehicles as “proving a negative.” The couple attempted to do so anyway. In January 2023 the Smiths filed a report with the North Richland Hills police department. The police report, reviewed by the Star-Telegram, shows that a detective traced the plate numbers on the Smith’s bills to temporary tags from a used car dealership in Arlington.

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KETK - February 22, 2024

East Texas leaders discuss economic development through intellectual property patents

Texas Rep. Nathaniel Moran (R) and East Texas entrepreneurs discussed how the area can be turned into a hub for innovation on Tuesday’s event hosted by the University of Texas at Tyler East Texas Launchpad. “As a member of the judiciary committee and further as a member of the subcommittee that deals with intellectual property is something that we know is critical to our economic growth in Texas,” Moran said. Intellectual property was one of the main topics discussed during the event. “Otherwise referred to as IP, is the rights for an inventor to actually keep the rights to their invention to be able to monetize those and it prevents from other people infringing on it which is to say, use it without their permission,” Brandon Reynolds, director of UT Tyler’s ETX Launchpad, said.

Reynolds said it’s about securing the right to your personal invention or idea. The leaders discussed wanting an easier patent process to be made by the government. During the event, Moran said securing people’s rights to intellectual property is necessary as new ideas come to life in the form of legal patents. “You’re talking about the right of individuals that they have put together, their intellect on paper, to make an idea come to life and we want to protect that,” Moran said. “We have this idea, we have this ability to use it, to market it, to develop it without fear of it being taken away,” Reynolds said. The congressman is taking feedback from the discussion back to D.C. with things already in the works. “How can we make our U.S. PTO work better for inventors, for developers, those who want to again bring their innovation to life and bring it to market place and so we are going to continue to do that,” Moran said. Also those in attendance included UT Tyler president Kirk A. Calhoun, Tyler Economic Development Council president and CEO Scott Martinez, Tyler software entrepreneur Phil Burks and current Co-Chair of the Council for Innovation Promotion and former Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu.

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MySA - February 22, 2024

Threats increase at school districts on Texas coast, FBI says

School threats continue to rise in Texas, including the Coastal Bend area. The Federal Bureau of Investigation Division in Houston confirmed to KRIS 6 News that its department has been monitoring an increase in school threats at districts along the Texas coast. The department discovered that the Corpus Christi region and the surrounding area have reported at least two dozen threats since the beginning of the 2023 school year, according to the news station. Officials said the increases have been between the holidays, suspecting that students want to have an extra day off and make threats online to get out of school or have a longer weekend. Most of the threats have been found on Snapchat and Instagram, KRIS 6 News reported. While some turn out to be hoaxes, officials take each one seriously. Corpus Christi Police Chief Kirby Warnke told the station that an "innocuous unintended threat is going to have the same impact."

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 22, 2024

Tarrant commissioners reject funding bus rides to the polls

Tarrant County commissioners voted 3-2 along party lines Wednesday not to contribute toward funding Trinity Metro’s free rides to polling locations. The election transportation partnership service has been in place since 2019, though the county has not provided funding every year. It provides voters free rides to polling locations along fixed routes on election days and during early voting. Trinity Metro asked for a $10,000 reimbursement for providing the service for primary elections, which represented a 50-50 split. Trinity Metro did not immediately return a message requesting comment. County Judge Tim O’Hare said the county should not subsidize the service and said public subsidization of transportation to the polls goes against federal law, citing a case in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “That is not the responsibility of county government. It’s not the responsibility of taxpayers,” O’Hare said. “Taxpayer funds should not be used to get people to the polls.”

Democrat Roy Brooks took issue with the O’Hare’s comments and the motion to reject funding. Brooks said it is the county’s responsibility to make voting as accessible as possible. Republican Manny Ramirez told the Star-Telegram in an interview that he voted against the subsidizing of Trinity’s free rides for voters because many in his districts wouldn’t be able to use the service. “My citizens in Azle, Saginaw, Blue Mound, Samson Park, they’re not getting the benefit that everyone in Tarrant County would have been paying for,” Ramirez said. “Ultimately, if there’s a solution in the future that looks at transportation, issues to the polls and there’s some common sense solutions there, or nonprofits that want to plug in and help that’s great. But ultimately, I don’t think Tarrant County taxpayer dollars should be utilized when not every Tarrant County taxpayer or citizen is benefiting.”

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2024

Move local elections from May to November? No, says charter review group

On Tuesday, the Charter Review Commission, working its way through the city’s constitution, shot down a measure to move municipal elections from May to November. Members who favored the change said residents are demonstrably more involved in November, especially during a presidential election. But many on the commission were wary of meshing partisan politics with local elections and voted 9-6 against it. Angela Hunt, former council member and District 14 commissioner, said her experience on Dallas City Council allowed her to work on local issues with people who she did not agree with on national politics. “If we begin to interject national partisanship into our local government, we will lose that camaraderie, that ability to work together,” Hunt said. “We will be focused on issues that should not be addressed and cannot be addressed at the local level.”

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National Stories

CNBC - February 22, 2024

U.S. cellular outage hits thousands of AT&T users

Large swathes of the U.S. were hit by a cellular outage early on Thursday, with thousands of users reporting disruptions with the services offered by telecom firms including AT&T. More than 32,000 outage incidents were reported with AT&T’s service around 4:30 a.m. ET, according to data from outage tracking website Downdetector.com. Impacted cities included San Francisco, Houston and Chicago, the website showed. Users of Verizon, T-Mobile and UScellular also reported issues with the telecom firms’ services, according to Downdetector. The companies did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment on the reason behind the outages. A post on social media platform X from the San Francisco Fire Department said the outage was impacting people’s ability to reach emergency services by dialing 911. “We are aware of an issue impacting AT&T wireless customers from making and receiving any phone calls (including to 911),” the fire department said on the platform formerly known as Twitter, adding that it was “actively engaged and monitoring this.”

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NPR - February 22, 2024

Sen. Joe Manchin on why he can't endorse Trump, but isn't sold on Biden

At 76, West Virginia senator Joe Manchin waves off the concerns of some of his colleagues about a candidate's age and how it might affect their ability to carry out the responsibilities of office. "I don't look at age," the democratic senator told NPR's Michel Martin. "I look at [candidates] person by person. And with Joe Biden, every time I've been with him, we've talked, I've had no problem whatsoever". He is, however, reluctant to back the President in the 2024 election. "I'm hoping that the Joe Biden that I know, the Joe Biden that I've known for a long time will come back," Manchin told Morning Edition. As a self described "conservative Democrat," Manchin has frequently played spoiler to some of Biden's key legislative initiatives – in 2021 he refused to support the Biden administration's Build Back Better bill, even after the White House made multiple concessions in an effort to assuage his concerns.

He similarly withheld his vote from Biden's federal voting rights, climate-change agendas and tax reform policies by refusing to join with fellow Democrats in an evenly divided Senate. "I can tell you it's difficult being in the middle," Manchin said. "...A 50/50 Senate, it's not an enviable place to be at all." Last week, the senator announced that he won't be running for the presidency in 2024 after flirting with a third party bid for months. During his announcement, he declined to endorse Biden or any other candidate, although he did offer praise to Trump's lone GOP rival, the former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley. "I think Nikki is spot on," Manchin said, regarding Haley's remarks critical of Trump in a speech on Tuesday. "It's hard with the Democratic Party and Republican parties being the businesses that they are in Washington today, and I mean businesses, these are big billion dollar businesses that have picked their product.and pretty much have gone in the direction of choosing who they think that would be their strongest product, if you will. And that's what they're going to go with. And I, I just don't fit in the Democrats process and they are doing things or the Republican process. I've always been independent minded," he added.

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Washington Post - February 22, 2024

Leaked files from Chinese firm show vast international hacking effort

A trove of leaked documents from a Chinese state-linked hacking group shows that Beijing’s intelligence and military groups are carrying out large-scale, systematic cyber intrusions against foreign governments, companies and infrastructure — exploiting what the hackers claim are vulnerabilities in software systems from companies including Microsoft, Apple and Google. The cache — containing more than 570 files, images and chat logs — offers an unprecedented look inside the operations of one of the firms that Chinese government agencies hire for on-demand, mass data-collecting operations. The files — posted to GitHub last week and deemed credible by cybersecurity experts, although the source remains unknown — detail contracts to extract foreign data over eight years and describe targets within at least 20 foreign governments and territories, including India, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Taiwan and Malaysia. Indian publication BNN earlier reported on the documents.

“We rarely get such unfettered access to the inner workings of any intelligence operation,” said John Hultquist, chief analyst of Mandiant Intelligence, a cybersecurity firm owned by Google Cloud. “We have every reason to believe this is the authentic data of a contractor supporting global and domestic cyberespionage operations out of China,” he said. U.S. intelligence officials see China as the greatest long-term threat to American security and have raised alarm about its targeted hacking campaigns. Experts are poring over the documents, which offer an unusual glimpse inside the intense competition of China’s national security data-gathering industry — where rival outfits jockey for lucrative government contracts by pledging evermore devastating and comprehensive access to sensitive information deemed useful by Chinese police, military and intelligence agencies. The documents come from iSoon, also known as Auxun, a Chinese firm headquartered in Shanghai that sells third-party hacking and data-gathering services to Chinese government bureaus, security groups and state-owned enterprises. The trove does not include data extracted from Chinese hacking operations but lists targets and — in many cases — summaries of sample data amounts extracted and details on whether the hackers obtained full or partial control of foreign systems.

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CNN - February 22, 2024

Putin looms over a third successive US election

“Russia, Russia, Russia.” Ex-President Donald Trump’s scathing catchphrase for a torrent of investigations during his administration also serves as an apt catch-all for the current meltdown over Moscow roiling US politics. The United States might have beaten the Kremlin in the Cold War and ever since regarded Moscow as a mere irritant — albeit one with nuclear arms — and have been desperate to concentrate on the showdown with its new superpower rival, China. But Russia and its leader, whom President Joe Biden described as a “crazy S.O.B.” at a Wednesday fundraiser, won’t go away. President Vladimir Putin has trained the malevolence of his intelligence agencies, his military power, global diplomacy and obstructive statecraft into a multi-front assault on American power in the United States and abroad.

He has carved out baleful influence at the center of US politics in an extraordinary display of an adversary penetrating and exploiting American political divides. The ex-KGB lieutenant colonel, who conceived a grievance after watching the Soviet Union dissolve from his outpost in East Germany, has sparked chaos in a single-minded effort to discredit and weaken the United States. Successive US presidents have underestimated Russia, misread its historic humiliations and struggled to work out how to change Putin’s course and contain his threat. Western observers often point out that Putin’s leadership has been a disaster for Russia. As oligarchs plundered natural resources, Russians were hammered by international sanctions, democracy was crushed and thousands of soldiers perished in his wars. But Putin has been remarkably resilient following earlier signs that his invasion of Ukraine – nearly two years ago – was a disaster and could even bring him down. There are now signs that Russia’s reconstituting of its armed forces and willingness to absorb horrendous losses are turning the tide of the war and raising the prospect of a victory that would turn Putin into a far greater danger. The Russian leader’s leveraging of power and successful forays into US politics are, meanwhile, threatening to cause a schism between the US and European NATO allies that could put the post-World War II security architecture at risk.

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Wall Street Journal - February 22, 2024

Are executives abusing corporate jets? The IRS wants to know.

The Internal Revenue Service will begin auditing dozens of companies over the personal use of corporate jets by executives and other wealthy travelers. Millions of dollars of tax deductions are at stake. The agency will start with three to four dozen audits of large corporations and partnerships, and audits of high-income individuals likely will follow, IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said Wednesday. “These aircraft audits will help ensure that high-income groups aren’t flying under the radar,” he said. “What we believe is happening is there’s not enough robust record-keeping going on, and there is systemic overstating of these business deductions.” The audits are part of a larger IRS effort to step up enforcement with a focus on the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers, using new funding from the Inflation Reduction Act. Dozens of IRS workers are working on collection cases against high-income, high-wealth individuals who either haven’t filed their taxes or failed to pay what they owe. The IRS also has ramped up audits on large partnerships.

“The IRS is working to make sure everyone is paying their fair share, highfliers included,” Werfel said. Companies typically get a tax deduction for the cost of aircraft and flights used for business purposes. Some also allow top executives to take personal trips on the plane, often at company expense, typically citing safety and efficiency benefits. For tax purposes, businesses need to track how much the jets are flown for business and personal use. That can mean recording everyone who was on a flight and for what purpose. The records should be contemporaneous, not created once the IRS comes calling. The announced audits will span multinational corporations, domestic corporations, and complex partnerships across a diverse set of industries, focusing on whether they overstated deductions. Then, once the IRS gets a better understanding of the issue, the next wave of audits would be on individuals who aren’t reporting personal trips as income, Werfel said. Spending by large publicly traded companies on these personal flights soared in recent years, a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from securities disclosures showed in January. Overall spending by large publicly traded U.S. companies reached $65 million in 2022, up about 50% from 2019, and early figures suggest 2023 expenditures also rose. Companies typically disclose such costs annually in the spring, and amounts disclosed can differ from calculations reported to the IRS, which typically aren’t publicly available.

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Religion News Service - February 22, 2024

Trump-aligned think tank, denying policy plans, gives voice to Christian nationalist views

A conservative think tank with ties to former President Donald Trump is denying the existence of an internal document detailing Christian nationalist policy goals should Trump win back the White House in November, but has nonetheless endorsed using the ideology to shape public policy. On Tuesday (Feb. 20), the Center for Renewing America, headed by a former Trump director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, denied a Politico report claiming that the Washington think tank drafted a document that includes “Christian nationalism” among a bulleted list of priorities for a second Trump term. “The so-called reporting from Politico is false and we told them so on multiple occasions,” a CRA representative told Religion News Service on Tuesday via email. Politico stood by its reporting, saying in a statement to RNS that the story was “thoroughly vetted and reported” and that “CRA seems to be unable, or unwilling, to specify what it believes to be inaccurate.”

Vought has long been rumored to be on Trump’s shortlist for White House chief of staff should he be reelected, and the Center for Renewing America, which Vought founded in 2021, has been connected to Project 2025, a sweeping conservative plan to reshape the executive branch to greatly expand the power of the presidency, according to reports. According to Rolling Stone, the CRA’s support for the U.S. to withdraw from NATO helped Trump warm to the proposal. A graduate of Wheaton College, the evangelical Christian school outside Chicago, Vought has been openly supportive of forms of Christian nationalism. “We’re meant to be a Christian nation — we should be a Christian nation,” he said during an appearance on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s “War Room” show Wednesday on the Real America’s Voice channel. Vought continued: “We should provide religious liberty for everyone in this country to practice their faith. But the Constitution, the system, doesn’t work, Western civilization does not work, without the underpinnings of a Judeo-Christian worldview.”

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Newsclips - February 21, 2024

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express-News - February 21, 2024

Donald Trump backs GOP challengers to anti-voucher Texas House members

Former President Donald Trump endorsed four candidates trying to oust Republican Texas lawmakers who voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton and who oppose private school vouchers. Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, said on Truth Social that he is backing Republican candidates who will “Champion School Choice,” secure elections and lower taxes. The endorsements include Helen Kerwin, Alan Schoolcraft, Mike Olcott and Liz Case. It’s unusual for presidents or former presidents to wade into races so far down the ballot.

Trump’s endorsements provide a powerful boost to Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott as they try to oust the four incumbents — Republican Reps. DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, John Kuempel of Seguin, Glenn Rogers of Graford and Stan Lambert of Abilene — for their own reasons. Paxton is opposing several House members who voted to impeach him last year, while Abbott is targeting about a dozen who voted to block his plan to subsidize private education with public dollars. The governor has spent well over $400,000 supporting these challengers and has barnstormed the state giving speeches for them. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also has endorsed Schoolcraft and Kerwin. Trump also endorsed Brent Hagenbuch, who is running for Senate District 30, a seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Drew Springer. Although Springer voted with the majority to acquit Paxton in his Senate impeachment trial last fall, more recently Springer has called for reopening the impeachment inquiry after Paxton opted to stop contesting many of the core claims against him in a court proceeding. Last month, Trump endorsed a Republican challenging House Speaker Dade Phelan in the GOP primary. Early voting began Tuesday for the March 5 election.

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NBC News - February 21, 2024

Biden administration weighs action to make it harder for migrants to get asylum and easier to deport them faster

A congressional aide with knowledge of the deliberations said the Biden administration has yet to make a decision, but raising the bar on asylum and deporting more newly arrived migrants are considered “low hanging fruit” and actions that can be taken quickly. The three U.S. officials said it is unclear whether the policies would be achieved through executive order or a new federal regulation, which could take months to implement. Making it harder to claim asylum and fast-tracking migrants for deportation are not new ideas, but they are being considered more seriously as the Biden administration looks for ways to tamp down chaos at the border after Republicans blocked border security provisions in the National Security Supplemental bill earlier this month.

Without the bill, any action the president takes unilaterally will be limited in scope because the Department of Homeland Security is short on funding. ICE is currently facing a budget shortfall of more than $500 million and may have to start cutting key services by May without more money from Congress, sources told NBC News last week. One DHS official expressed skepticism over the “last in, first out” policy because it would leave millions of migrants already in the U.S., including thousands of homeless migrants in major cities, in a long legal limbo as their immigration cases are pushed to the back of the line. A spokesperson for DHS emphasized that Congress should still act to avoid compromising border enforcement. “If Congress once again refuses to provide the critical funding needed to support DHS’s vital missions, they would be harming DHS’s efforts to deliver tough and timely consequences to those who do not have a legal basis to remain in the country,” the spokesperson said. “There are real limits to what we can do given current funding because Congress has failed to pass a budget or respond to the President’s two supplemental budget requests. We again call on Congress to act and provide the funding and tools our frontline personnel need.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 21, 2024

HISD Superintendent Miles announces major overhaul to tackle 'inefficiencies,' pay for NES expansion

Nearly a year into the state takeover, appointed Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles says he has uncovered long-standing inefficiencies, wasteful spending and redundancies that he plans to fix to free up money to support his school reforms without drawing down district savings. The superintendent said the plan unveiled Tuesday will support the addition of over 100 schools to his New Education System next year, paying for higher salaries and other elements of his controversial reform program. Though Miles did not give an estimate of how much the cuts will save or how much the expansion will cost, he promised his planned corrections would keep the district’s rainy-day fund above $850 million. Previous Superintendent Millard House II’s administration had predicted that fund would drop to about $550 million by the end of the next school year.

“In order to increase the salaries at NES schools, we have to find efficiencies in the rest of the system,” Miles said. “The increase will be offset by efficiencies.” The eight-part plan released Tuesday points to corrections in wasteful purchases, unnecessary contracts and ineffective staffing practices as steps HISD can immediately take to save tens of millions of dollars moving forward. Overhauls to district transportation and maintenance services will further cut down on “inefficiencies” in the long run, Miles said. The superintendent said that decades worth of mismanagement had led HISD to a precarious position, and that “systems” were to blame rather than individuals. “If we don’t fix these systems, we can’t be as efficient and effective in supporting our schools,” Miles said. The findings come just shy of a year of when the Texas Education Agency announced it was taking over the state’s largest school system, largely due to repeated academic failure at one campus. Employees, parents and students have steadily protested both the takeover and the series of reforms that have come in its aftermath.

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Houston Chronicle - February 21, 2024

DA Kim Ogg quietly dropped a theft case against a GOP activist. Her explanation is full of holes.

Five years ago, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg appeared poised to prosecute Jared Woodfill, a prominent local attorney and Republican activist, for serious financial crimes. Ogg's office received a judge's permission to conduct a raid of his office, accusing him of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from former clients. But then the case died with no explanation. Prosecutors never even asked a grand jury to consider charges against Woodfill — a decision now under fresh scrutiny as Ogg, a Democrat, faces a tough primary election, and as Woodfill challenges an incumbent state lawmaker in the Texas House of Representatives. Ogg said in a recent interview with the Chronicle’s Editorial Board that she “put the brakes on the whole thing” because she thought the allegations against Woodfill wouldn’t hold up in court. But her account is contradicted on several points by a Chronicle review of hundreds of pages of court documents, internal emails, and more than a dozen interviews.

Ogg said her own investigators didn’t have legal justification to seize some of the evidence from Woodfill’s office in the first place. But a state district judge ruled they did, and an appeals court upheld the decision. She also said she’d lost confidence in the prosecutors dealing with the case, but the attorneys in question were assigned high-profile cases and got promoted before eventually leaving the office. An internal office memo written by one of the prosecutors in 2021, John Brewer, says Ogg knew about every step of the investigation and appeared supportive of it, telling her staff to “follow the evidence wherever it led.” In an interview, Brewer said he disagrees with Ogg’s recent statements about the Woodfill case and pointed to court documents authored by her own office that contradict her explanation. He added that he is legally forbidden from discussing more details. Meanwhile, Woodfill’s accusers say they’re still waiting for justice. Earlier this month, two of them asked the FBI to look into the case and accused Ogg of dropping it “for reasons contrary to the interests of justice.” “They have completely defiled the court system,” said Amy Holsworth, who complained about Woodfill to the Houston Police Department back in 2017 and sparked the DA’s initial investigation. “They've made a mockery of it.” Holsworth alleges that Woodfill stole more than $200,000 from her.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 21, 2024

Chris Tomlinson: Texas started a war against 'anti-fossil fuel' banks. It could cost taxpayers $22 billion.

The Normangee Independent School District in 2022 needed to raise some for its run-down schools. Administrators needed more middle school classrooms, a cafeteria renovation and a new elementary playground that could accommodate disabled students. Voters in the small community halfway between Houston and Waco approved an $18.6 million bond initiative on May 7, 2022. Elated, the district invited bids from some of the world’s largest banks to raise the money. School districts, cities, states and all kinds of government bodies routinely ask voters for permission to take on debt. They sell bonds to banks, who then sell to investors, who like so-called municipal bonds because they are almost always paid back. Banks compete for the business by offering the lowest interest rate. Bigger banks doing more bonds can afford lower rates. UBS Group, a Zurich-based multinational investment bank, made the winning bid, offering an interest rate of 4.0808433%. The competition is so fierce that the final digit can make a difference, especially over 30 years. The school district thought it was all set when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stopped the process on Sept. 2, 2022, according to documents obtained through a public information request.

Eleven days earlier, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar had put one of the world’s largest financial institutions on a blacklist and banned it from doing business with any state or local entity in Texas. Paxton’s office soon sent a letter demanding UBS pay the school district nearly $1.8 million in damages for lying in a sworn statement. Texas was firing the first shot in its war on companies that offer investment vehicles that exclude oil and gas companies. Wall Street’s top names were losing access to the state’s $50 billion-a-year debt market for agreeing to fight climate change. A year earlier, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 13 along party lines to challenge banks that promised to phase out business with fossil fuel companies. Authored by GOP state Sen. Bryan Birdwell, the law prohibits state agencies from investing funds with financial firms that boycott energy companies or adopt climate policies not mandated by law. Normangee ISD’s taxpayers were compensated for the extra interest. But research by economists from the Wharton School and the Federal Reserve of Chicago shows that blacklisting the world’s biggest bond dealers allows the remaining dealers to charge Texans 0.41 percentage points more in interest. “Texas issuers will incur $300 (million) - $500 million in additional interest on the $31.8 billion borrowed during the first eight months following enactment,” the 2022 paper concluded. If that pattern holds, the law will force taxpayers to pay $22.5 billion in higher interest over 30 years. How did some of the world’s largest banks get blacklisted? What criteria does Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar use to make his blacklist? What happened next and how UBS and BlackRock tried to avoid the list is in Part 2 of this three-column series.

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Texas Monthly - February 21, 2024

How the Texas House could become more radical

The nation is beset by dangerous radicals, according to those who lead the Republican Party of Texas. But some are more dangerous than others. To see the face of radicalism in Texas today—to bear witness to a truly dangerous and seditious man—skip over the purple-haired anarcho-communists of Deep Ellum and Montrose. Turn instead to Palo Pinto County, an hour west of Fort Worth, and the frightening visage, if you can bear it, of Glenn Rogers, representative for Texas House District 60. Rogers doesn’t look particularly dangerous: He’s a bespectacled, Texas A&M University–trained rural veterinarian and sixth-generation rancher with a shock of salt-and-pepper hair and a cowboy hat to match. He owns land on the Brazos River, which he surveys, through transition lenses, from his Ford F-350. His politics are conservative—pro–border wall, antiabortion, anti–gun control—and his brow seems perpetually furrowed. In the family of man, Rogers comes from the Hank Hill branch. It would be a minor miracle if Rogers can once again skate through. But he isn’t going quietly. In December, Miller posted a picture of himself holding a shotgun with the warning that he was on a “RINO [Republican in Name Only] hunt,” on his way to “tak[e] back the Texas GOP from the double dealers, the backstabbers, the liberals, and the teachers’ union shills!” He means folks like Rogers, who appears to have texted Miller—per screenshots posted by Miller on X—to up the ante.

What’s different this election year is the number of interested parties trying to put their stamp on the House—to extract from it some measure of loyalty or dependency going into the 2025 legislative session. Confusingly, these crusades, by Abbott and Paxton and Dunn and the Wilks brothers and the rest, don’t always overlap in the way they have against poor Glenn Rogers. All the crusaders are trying to elect friends and beat back perceived enemies, but their level of commitment across their supported candidates varies wildly, and sometimes they’re fighting with one another. To track all the conflicting agendas, you need a bulletin board, a stack of mug shots, and some string, like Matthew McConaughey in True Detective. Maybe also, for good measure, a case of Lone Star. The Texas GOP is under the leadership of former state representative Matt Rinaldi, a long-ago-purchased princeling of Dunn, the Wilks brothers, and Dallas hotel magnate Monty Bennett. Rinaldi is a veteran of the civil war against Straus, when he was Speaker from 2009 to 2019. The GOP chairman, in line with his owners, hates current Speaker Dade Phelan and House leadership more generally, and most often cites Phelan’s willingness to appoint Democrats as committee chairs—a common practice in the House as long as Republicans have held the chamber, even under Straus’s right-wing predecessor, Tom Craddick—as the reason. Rinaldi is supporting Phelan’s primary opponent, David Covey, in Beaumont, and the party is supporting anti-Phelan candidates in other ways and other places.

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Texas Observer - February 21, 2024

‘It's time for a change’: Dem behind HISD takeover faces challengers

Despite public outcry, Texas House Representative Harold Dutton Jr. isn’t sorry he opened the door to the state takeover of the Houston Independent School District. In fact, he’s proud of it. “Some people mistakenly believe that the idea first came from Gov. Greg Abbott or some other Republican. But in fact, it came from me, a Democrat,” Dutton wrote in an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle back in March when the state first announced its decision to take over the district, oust its elected board, and install an unelected board of managers and superintendent. Community members and public education advocates upset at the takeover’s repercussions and Dutton’s record of voting against the party are now throwing their support behind Dutton’s opponent in the election for state representative for District 142, an area that covers the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens neighborhood in Houston as well as Humble and Sheldon. Danny Norris, a lawyer and former Harris County Department of Education trustee, has picked up the endorsements of public education advocates, labor unions, and Black and Latino Democrats, among others. Clint Norris, a pastor from Humble, told the Texas Observer he is also running to return control of the school district to the local community. Dutton did not respond to the Observer’s request for an interview.

Like Dutton, Daniels graduated from Wheatley High School in the Fifth Ward, the school whose performance the state cited as the reason for the takeover. But Daniels, who is still involved with the school community, said Wheatley had been making progress and was meeting state standards at the time of the takeover. She said it has only made problems worse and cited the loss of wraparound services to meet the basic needs of the predominantly low-income students of color in the neighborhood as well as the influx of uncertified teachers in the district. Norris said he admires Dutton’s commitment to his alma mater and agreed the schools in the community need improvement. But he said handing control of the district to Governor Greg Abbott, who is attempting to privatize public education—in part by trying to push through a voucher system—is having the opposite effect. “Dutton’s explanation is that he felt the need to hold a gun to the school district’s head. The issue is that now they’ve given the gun to the state education commissioner, who is appointed by Greg Abbott. I don’t think people in the district want that gun in the hands of Greg Abbott,” Norris said. In his 40 years in office, Dutton has been long known to buck the party line. In 2021, he voted with Republicans to allow Texans to openly carry handguns without permits. That same year, he supported and then revived a bill that would restrict which teams transgender student-athletes could join and then banded with Republicans on the floor to vote on a voter suppression bill, while other Democrats walked out in protest. Like another persona non grata among state Democrats, District 146 Representative Shawn Thierry, in the last legislative session Dutton voted for charter school expansion, school library book bans, and to deny gender-affirming care to transgender teens. Thierry drew public censure from Texas Democrats when she vocalized her support of the healthcare ban with a 12-minute speech on the house floor, arguing she was voting for Black constituents in her district.

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Texas Observer and Garrison Project - February 21, 2024

Kim Ogg: DA under fire

It was 2016, and history was being made in Houston. For the first time in 40 years, a rapidly changing Harris County had elected a Democrat as its top prosecutor—arguably the most influential role over criminal justice policy in the state’s most populous county. The sheriff would also be a Democrat, as would several new folks wearing black robes in the courthouse. Standing on her victory stage surrounded by progressives, soon-to-be District Attorney Kim Ogg declared that her office would reject the “heavy-handed” system of her predecessors that earned the county the title of “death penalty capital of the nation.” “It’s a new day of justice in Harris County. It’s a new day for the people,” Ogg called out to supporters packed into a chic restaurant in the Heights. Those who had long combated practices that led to mass incarceration rejoiced: Now was the time for meaningful reforms in a county already embroiled in a federal court battle over its routine jailing of poor defendants facing low-level criminal charges. Change happened fast. Within months of Ogg taking office, she swiftly let go of dozens of prosecutors and stopped pursuing most low-level marijuana cases. And a federal court ruling transformed the misdemeanor bail system, requiring release from jail for most people accused of relatively minor nonviolent crimes, including crimes associated with poverty, like trespassing and theft.

The quick evolution faced opposition from conservative politicians, police groups, and politically connected private bail bonds companies, which stood to lose millions when bonds were radically reduced. Before the justice system could adapt, Hurricane Harvey devastated Harris County in August 2017, flooding the courthouse and creating chaos that would last years. Then came 2020, when the nation experienced a global pandemic, a reckoning connected to the police murder in Minnesota of Houston’s own George Floyd, and a spike in violent crime. The political winds turned, and Ogg, up for reelection, went with them. In February 2024, as Ogg fights to remain in office and early voting is about to begin, she’s in a war in Houston politics—not against police groups and conservative activists who have defied and even removed, reform-minded prosecutors in other major cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia, but against her own party. She lost much of the support that swept her into office, with the county’s progress having fallen far short of where some initial supporters hoped it would be. Despite the significant reforms implemented under Ogg and a new swath of Democratic judges, complex problems old and new retain a strong hold over the Harris County criminal justice system. The county jail remains overcrowded and has repeatedly failed state safety inspections. Dozens of incarcerated people have died in recent years, with 27 deaths in 2022 alone—the highest death toll in at least 15 years. And a case backlog that erupted after Harvey and COVID-19 has left presumably innocent people to languish behind bars longer while other defendants post cash bail and remain free for years before facing trial.

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Daily Sentinel - February 21, 2024

Daily Sentinel Editorial: Greg Abbott’s lies, half-truths are assault on rural Texans

We were wrong. A decade ago, we endorsed Greg Abbott, saying the then-Texas Attorney General was a man of good character who had “the respect necessary to govern our state.” Our opinion of what makes a good governor hasn’t changed, but Abbott has. He’s become the Disrespecter-in-Chief of Texas. After listening to Abbott stoop to fear mongering, spewing lies and half-truths and twisting logic in contradictory and baffling ways, we believe he no longer respects the rural voters who have sent him to Austin for three terms. This election cycle, he wants to buy the votes of rural Texans with a campaign of lies financed by billionaires from out of state, and he’s confident we’re dumb enough to believe him.

We heard a litany of complaints from rural Republicans when Democrat Beto O’Rourke raised millions from outside the Lone Star State in 2022, but Abbott expects us to not bat an eye when his pockets are lined with $6 million from Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass. “Some people get elected and they go to Austin, Texas, and they represent Austin values not Nacogdoches values,” Abbott said Monday. He might have been speaking of himself. The direct targets of Abbott’s campaign of disrespect are clear. In Nacogdoches County, he’s put a target on the back of State Rep. Travis Clardy, but Abbott’s scheming isn’t limited to House District 11. He and his billionaire buddies are pouring money into what could be best described as propaganda campaigns across Texas aimed at mostly rural Republicans who voted to strip school vouchers from a bill supported by the governor. Were Abbott a sitting member of the Texas House, waging such a campaign could get him kicked out of the Republican Party, per caucus rules. We expected the standard-bearer of the Texas Republican Party to follow the same rules as the House members he wishes so desperately to control.

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Dallas Morning News - February 21, 2024

Randall Bryant: Black men are shifting Republican, and Democrats need to wake up

(Randall Bryant serves on the State Democratic Executive Committee for the Texas Democratic Party and is the former chair of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Dallas Chapter.) With many impactful races up and down the ballot in the upcoming Democratic and Republican primaries, partisan turnout percentages will serve as the first indicator of potential outcomes for the November general elections. Although Democrats haven’t won a Texas statewide office since 1992, data suggests Democrats are, in fact, inching closer and closer to flipping our beloved Lone Star State. To combat this proverbial “blue wave,” Republicans are working just as hard to keep the soon-to-be battleground state leaning in their favor and are incorporating a new strategy to quietly swing over a sleeping giant within the Democratic Party base: Black men. Not too long ago, Black Republican men were a mere handful of names we could easily identify: Gen. Colin Powell, a former secretary of state; former Republican National Committee Chair Ron Steele, and Dallas entrepreneur Comer Cottrell. Now, they are numbers — numbers of a vast and diverse coalition, deciding between living in a cold mansion with the Republicans or warm efficiency with the Democrats.

Today, Black Republican men include U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is a former presidential candidate; Mark Robinson, a furniture maker turned lieutenant governor of North Carolina; and, of course, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. Some were shocked, others relieved, and the rest just didn’t care when Johnson announced his political party affiliation switch five months ago. However, as I noted then in one of the first Dallas Morning News stories published on Johnson’s switch, “The largest group of voters Republicans can go after right now in Texas is college-educated and business-minded Black men.” Now that former Florida Congressman and Texas gubernatorial candidate Allen West looks to unseat Jennifer Stoddard-Hajdu as the next Dallas County Republican Party chair, Johnson and West together could form the perfect duo Republicans need to set a full-court press into motion to win over Black men right here in Dallas county. This is now your second wake-up call. If Democrats are going to keep Black men beholden to the Democratic Party, the party must begin to incorporate a platform and messaging strategy that amplifies issues that matter to Black men, especially those who are business-minded and college-educated. The fact is, in Dallas County, Democratic women already outvote men 3-to-2. And since 2006 when Democrats first flipped the county, only four male candidates have ever overcome a woman in a countywide Democratic Primary election: Judge Martin Hoffman, District Attorney John Creuzot (twice), County Clerk John Warren and County Tax Assessor-Collector John Ames.

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Houston Chronicle - February 21, 2024

Natural gas power plant planned in former Texas coal town now home to bitcoin miners

A 1,200-megawatt natural gas power plant capable of generating enough electricity to power more than 800,000 homes is planned for Lee County near Rockdale, a former coal town that has emerged as a hub for cryptocurrency miners. The Sandow Lakes facility, about 140 miles northwest of Houston, would supply power to the grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, developer Sandow Lakes Energy Co. announced this week. Construction is expected to begin in 2025, with the plant generating electricity by 2028, according to a company statement. Sandow Lakes Energy has an agreement with Siemens Energy for two gas turbines, which have “excellent fuel efficiency” and the capability to operate on hydrogen with “only minor modifications to the equipment,” according to the companies.

The announcement comes as state officials and regulators amp up efforts to draw more natural gas power plants to the ERCOT grid to shore up power supply they say is needed to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Developer Xebec Realty bought the 32,000-acre Sandow Lakes Ranch property in 2021 and last year announced plans to build a 3,300-acre logistics and manufacturing center on part of the site. Sandow Lakes Energy is not directly affiliated with Xebec Realty, but the two do share some principals, a Sandow Lakes Energy representative said. While it will connect to the ERCOT grid, the new power plant will also serve the electricity needs of tenants at the planned logistics and manufacturing center and other developments at the larger site, the Sandow Lakes Energy representative said.

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Houston Chronicle - February 21, 2024

Audrii Cunningham's body found after Texas girl went missing near Trinity River, authorities say

Authorities found the body of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham in the Trinity River on Tuesday after lowering the water level while searching for her, Polk County officials said. Audrii was last seen Thursday morning in the 100 block of Lakeside Drive in Livingston as she set off for school, toting her camouflage backpack, officials said. Her family reported her missing when she failed to come home from school. Authorities classified her disappearance as an abduction in an Amber Alert notification, which ended upon the discovery of her body. "My heart aches with this news," Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said. "I express with my deepest sympathies and condolences to everyone who knew, who cared for and loved Audrii."

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KXAN - February 21, 2024

‘Concerned’: Mayor calls for shut down of Austin’s involvement in Fayette Power Plant

When looking at the future of Austin’s energy generation, Mayor Kirk Watson says he’s looking at three prongs: sustainability and climate, affordability and reliability. Those prongs are elements Austin Energy is looking at right now as part of its 2030 Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan, which is slated to come back to Austin City Council next month. But late Friday, Watson announced in a newsletter that he was “concerned” about the direction Austin Energy was heading with that plan. Namely, that he didn’t feel it incorporated a hard enough approach to departing from Austin’s largest greenhouse gas producer — the Fayette Power Plant. “I think we need to set a clear vision of a goal on when we’re going to get out of this,” Watson said. “And we should continue to balance those three things that I talked about, we run our issues and our questions through the prism of how do we get out of Fayette Power Plant no later than January of 2029.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 21, 2024

Former Houston Rockets star Robert Reid, a key member of two NBA Finals teams, dies at 68

Robert Reid — who played 10 seasons with the Rockets, including as a key member of the franchise’s first two NBA Finals teams — died Monday at 68 after a battle with cancer. "It is with great sorrow that my family and I received the news of the passing of Rockets legend, Robert Reid," Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta posted on Twitter on Tuesday. "I have had the privilege of knowing Robert for over 40 years, and his presence always brought joy and positivity to any room he entered. I will never forget watching the Rockets teams he was a part of in the '80s compete in the Finals and the love he had for the game. My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Diana, and all those who held him dear. Robert's absence will be deeply felt, and he will be fondly remembered."

The Rockets picked the 6-foot-8 guard in the second round of the 1977 NBA draft after he starred at San Antonio’s St. Mary’s University. He quickly became a team leader and was known for his versatility and defensive ability, even while averaging 11.6 points per game in his Rockets' tenure. Reid, who grew up in San Antonio, was the third-leading scorer behind Moses Malone and Calvin Murphy on the 1981 team that made it to the NBA Finals. In that series, Reid was tasked with guarding Larry Bird, who posted back-to-back 8-point outings in Games 3 and 4 of the Finals, which the Celtics won in six games. Reid’s defensive prowess was enough to earn a mention in Bird’s 1989 book “Drive: The Story of My Life,” even if it was a bit of a backhanded compliment. “I scored eight points in both games down there. All of a sudden, Robert Reid is this great defensive force,” Bird wrote. “Robert is a good defensive player, but he’s no Michael Cooper. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I couldn’t hit a shot, but otherwise, I thought I was playing good basketball.” After the Rockets traded Malone in 1982, Reid retired at 27 years old to focus on his religion. He returned the following season and played five more seasons with the Rockets, including averaging 12 points for the 1986 team that reached the Finals and again lost to Bird and the Celtics.

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Houston Landing - February 21, 2024

Spring Branch ISD confirms imminent elimination of all school librarian positions

Spring Branch Independent School District will not employ librarians at any of its campuses beginning in the 2024-25 school year, a district spokesperson confirmed Tuesday after several days of uncertainty about their fate. Instead, lesser-trained “media center assistants” will keep libraries running for the district’s nearly 34,000 students. The changes come as the district completes its $35 million districtwide budget slash. Job postings on Spring Branch’s website show that the assistants, who only need a high school diploma, won’t need to possess the same experience as the district’s trained librarians, all of whom had college degrees. The assistants will, however, perform many similar duties, such as handling book check-outs and helping students find materials. Libraries will now function as “campus media centers,” district spokesperson Linda Buchman said. She did not detail what changes this entails beyond replacing librarians.

District leaders announced last week that librarian positions would be part of the latest job cuts, but Spring Branch officials did not detail whether all librarians would lose their jobs. The district employed about 35 librarians in 2022-23, the most recent year with state data. Leigh Anne Bryant, who has two children at Terrace Elementary School, described their campus librarian as a “magical, real-life Ms. Frizzle.” She was brought to tears when she discovered the employee who helped her 8-year-old daughter begin a school newspaper would be cut. “This is a whole different level of disastrous decision-making,” Bryant said. “I do understand that $35 million has to be cut. But I’m extremely disappointed in our state’s inability to fund public education. … This is eroding public school and I don’t know if we could ever recover.” Spring Branch’s months-long process of presenting major budget cuts for the 2024-25 school year came to a close last week. Since October, district leaders have trimmed roughly 300 jobs, voted to close several majority-Hispanic schools and made various changes to how campuses will operate, among other changes. The cuts came after trustees and Superintendent Jennifer Blaine insisted they had run out of time while waiting for Texas lawmakers to increase funding to public schools as districts face inflationary pressures.

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El Paso Matters - February 21, 2024

Annunciation House targeted by Texas AG in latest escalation of state immigration enforcement

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking to shut down Annunciation House, an El Paso Catholic nonprofit organization that has provided shelter and other services to migrants and immigrants for decades. “The chaos at the southern border has created an environment where (nongovernmental organizations), funded with taxpayer money from the Biden administration, facilitate astonishing horrors including human smuggling,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. “While the federal government perpetuates the lawlessness destroying this country, my office works day in and day out to hold these organizations responsible for worsening illegal immigration.” Ruben Garcia, the founder and director of Annunciation House, denounced the attorney general’s action in a statement Tuesday night. “The attorney general’s illegal, immoral and anti-faith position to shut down Annunciation House is unfounded,” Garcia said.

He had raised concerns last year that Texas’ crackdown on immigration could imperil the work of church-based groups on immigration. “The church is at risk because the volunteers are asking themselves, ‘If I feed someone who’s unprocessed, if I give someone a blanket who’s unprocessed, if I help them get off the street, am I liable to be prosecuted for that?’” Garcia told a bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators visiting El Paso in January 2023. “Shame on us, that on this day, this is even being brought up in the United States.” On Tuesday, Garcia said his organization provides a vital service, and warned that other organizations could be at risk of actions by Paxton. “Annunciation House has kept hundreds of thousands of refugees coming through our city off the streets and given them food. The work helps serve our local businesses, our city, and immigration officials to keep people off the streets and give them a shelter while they come through our community,” he said. “If the work that Annunciation House conducts is illegal, so too is the work of our local hospitals, schools, and food banks.” This month’s actions mark the latest escalation by Texas state officials to assert control over immigration issues along the U.S.-Mexico border. In court filings, the Texas Attorney General’s Office says Annunciation House also provides assistance to people who enter the country and evade Border Patrol officials, citing a 2023 El Paso Matters article about the nonprofit’s efforts to help migrants apply for asylum.

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KXAN - February 21, 2024

Hundreds of United Methodist Churches lose insurance, struggle to find new policy

United Methodist Churches across Texas are scrambling after losing insurance coverage they’ve had for generations. “We were notified…in the fall of ’23 that the carrier would not be continuing that coverage,” Kevin Reed, chair of the board of trustees for the Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, said. “They had found that it wasn’t profitable for them.” Reed said there are around 300 United Methodist Churches within the Rio Texas Conference. Reed told KXAN that until recently, the conference had a single policy plan for all of its churches, with the same provider for generations. “We didn’t have any choice but to go out to the individual churches and say, ‘we need you to go out and see if you can find coverage because we can’t find coverage for the group as a whole,'” Reed said. “We have churches that still don’t have coverage.”

Not having coverage shouldn’t impact an individual church’s day-to-day or how they serve overall, Reed said. But there are still challenges ahead. “[Churches are] still worshiping…they’re still running food banks,” Reed said. “The problem will be that if we have a severe storm, if we have a hail event, if we have a fire, those churches won’t be covered.” Insurance expert Douglas Emerick said it’s not common for churches to lose coverage. “The church might be able to obtain coverage by contacting a local independent insurance agency,” Emerick said. Reed said it hasn’t been easy for churches to do that. “Frankly, even those people who have been able to find coverage have found it to be incredibly expensive,” Reed said. “[Some] have had anywhere from a $25,000 a year increase to a $150,000 a year increase…and when you’re a relatively modest-sized church, a $70,000 increase in your insurance premium is enormous for you. That’s not something you plan for.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 21, 2024

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson paid campaign money to firm tied to his new Republican group

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson won reelection by a landslide in May then started paying a consulting firm run by his former chief of staff thousands of dollars a month in campaign funds, records show. Adept Strategies, which was registered with the state on the same day the mayor reported making his first payment to it, is also tied to a group created by Johnson to promote Republican mayors. Johnson said in campaign finance reports he paid the firm more than $110,000 for “strategic consulting services” from May 15 to Dec. 20. The series of seven payments, which ranged from $4,000 to more than $21,000, started soon after Johnson was reelected May 6. State records show Adept Strategies was founded by Mary Elbanna. She left Johnson’s office as chief of staff in February 2022, according to city payroll records.

Johnson’s campaign finance reports list Adept Strategies’ mailing address as a Dallas post office box. The Republican Mayors Association uses the same box as its mailing address, and Elbanna is one of five national board members listed for the organization. Johnson launched the mayors’ group last fall after he announced he was switching party affiliations from Democrat to Republican. The connections raise questions about where contributions to Johnsons’ nonpartisan campaign for mayor are ultimately ending up. Texas politicians have flexibility in how they spend their campaign funds as long as they support their political activities, but when that money appears to move to closely related groups, it demands an explanation, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “When you get these kind of connections — shared mailboxes, a member of the board receiving large payments — that has to be explained,” Jillson said. “It’s in the mayor’s interest to explain that in a way that readers of the main newspaper in town can understand.”

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San Antonio Express-News - February 21, 2024

I-35 work ‘will never conclude’ as region keeps growing, TxDOT director says

If you’re hoping for a future when there’s no construction work snarling traffic on Interstate 35, Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Marc Williams has some bad news. “The work will never conclude on Interstate 35,” Williams said Tuesday at a regional transportation summit in San Marcos. The rapid population growth in the San Antonio-to-Austin corridor has put significant pressure on TxDOT to keep up with the ever-rising tide of traffic between San Antonio and Austin, Williams said. “We add 1,300 new residents every day in Texas, an extraordinary rate of growth. The demand on us is really to keep pace,” Williams said at the summit, which was hosted by the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater San Marcos Partnership.

TxDOT has a record $39 billion of construction projects in the pipeline statewide, and that number is likely to exceed $40 billion soon, Williams said. It also has a record number of contracts in place and a record number of payments going out to contractors, he said. Those payments are 20% to 25% higher than a year ago, he said. That includes the I-35 Northeast Expansion project, which calls for adding elevated lanes on I-35 to make room for more traffic. The first phase, NEX Central, which consists of 9.5 miles of elevated lanes from Loop 410 North in San Antonio to FM 3009 in Schertz, is already underway. Two more phases, NEX North and South, ultimately would stretch from Loop 410 South to FM 1103, with the total project adding 15 miles of elevated lanes. Williams told the San Antonio Express-News that TxDOT will continue looking at that kind of double-decker approach in the region to add more capacity in its existing footprint. “It’s a definite maybe,” he said. “We have to continue to do what we can within the right-of-way,” he said.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - February 21, 2024

Accused swindler ‘Prince’ Alex Tannous was arrested with a Mar-A-Lago card, FBI says

A man accused of falsely claiming to be a “prince” and bilking investors in San Antonio out of hundreds of thousands of dollars was denied bail Tuesday after testimony that he held passports bearing fake names and had traveled to several countries while being sought by the FBI. Earlier, the judge found that FBI agents had enough probable cause to charge Tannous with a single count of wire fraud based on allegations that he swindled $70,000 from a San Antonio operator of so-called ghost kitchens, eateries that serve only delivery customers. When Alex Tannous was arrested Feb. 6 after returning to the United States from abroad, officers found at least four passports in the car he was driving, FBI Special Agent Monroe Giese testified. Giese said agents also found a handgun and a membership card to Mar-A-Lago, the Florida golf club owned by former President Donald Trump, in Tannous’ wallet in the name of Sacha Thanus, an alias Tannous allegedly used.

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Dallas Morning News - February 21, 2024

With $2 million donation, National Juneteenth Museum inches toward fundraising goal

The planned National Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth picked up a big donation this week, bringing it closer to its $70 million fundraising goal. The museum announced a donation of $2 million from Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which will have naming rights for part of the museum. With Tuesday’s announcement, the museum has met the halfway point of its capital campaign. A groundbreaking is planned for later this year, and the museum is set to open in 2026. Once it opens, the museum will share the story of both slavery and emancipation, telling the story of Juneteenth while exploring the larger theme of global freedom. Included in plans are galleries, a 250-seat amphitheater, a food hall that features emerging chefs and a business incubator.

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National Stories

Associated Press - February 21, 2024

Warnings of the impact of fertility treatments in Alabama rush in after frozen embryo ruling

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, a decision critics said could have sweeping implications for fertility treatment in the state. The decision was issued in a pair of wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic. Justices, citing anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, ruled that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the death of a minor child “applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.” “Unborn children are ‘children’ ... without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in Friday’s majority ruling by the all-Republican court. Mitchell said the court had previously ruled that fetuses killed while a woman is pregnant are covered under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and nothing excludes “extrauterine children from the Act’s coverage.”

The ruling brought a rush of warnings about the potential impact on fertility treatments and the freezing of embryos, which had previously been considered property by the courts. “This ruling is stating that a fertilized egg, which is a clump of cells, is now a person. It really puts into question, the practice of IVF,” Barbara Collura, CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, told The Associated Press Tuesday. The group called the decision a “terrifying development for the 1-in-6 people impacted by infertility” who need in-vitro fertilization. She said it raises questions for providers and patients, including if they can freeze future embryos created during fertility treatment or if patients could ever donate or destroy unused embryos. Sean Tipton, a spokesman with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said at least one Alabama fertility clinic has been instructed by their affiliated hospital to pause IVF treatment in the immediate wake of the decision. Dr. Paula Amato, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said a decision to treat frozen fertilized egg as the legal equivalent of a child or gestating fetus could limit the availability of modern health care. “By insisting that these very different biological entities are legally equivalent, the best state-of-the-art fertility care will be made unavailable to the people of Alabama. No health care provider will be willing to provide treatments if those treatments may lead to civil or criminal charges,” Amato said.

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Associated Press - February 21, 2024

Robots and happy workers: Productivity surge helps explain US economy's surprising resilience

Trying to keep up with customer demand, Batesville Tool & Die began seeking 70 people to hire last year. It wasn’t easy. Attracting factory workers to a community of 7,300 in the Indiana countryside was a tough sell, especially having to compete with big-name manufacturers nearby like Honda and Cummins Engine. Job seekers were scarce. “You could count on one hand how many people in the town were unemployed,” said Jody Fledderman, the CEO. “It was just crazy.’’ Batesville Tool & Die managed to fill just 40 of its vacancies. Enter the robots. The company invested in machines that could mimic human workers and in vision systems, which helped its robots “see” what they were doing. The Batesville experience and others like it have been replicated countlessly across the United States for the past couple of years. Chronic worker shortages have led many companies to invest in machines to do some of the work they can’t find people to do. They’ve also been training the workers they do have to use advanced technology so they can produce more with less.

The result has been an unexpected productivity boom, which helps explain a great economic mystery: How has the world’s largest economy managed to remain so healthy, with brisk growth and low unemployment, despite brutally high interest rates that are intended to tame inflation but that typically cause a recession? To economists, strong productivity growth provides an almost magical elixir. When companies roll out more efficient machines or technology, their workers can become more productive: They increase their output per hour. A result is that companies can often boost their profits and raise their employees’ pay without having to jack up prices. Inflation can remain in check. Austan Goolsbee, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, has likened surging productivity to “magic beanstalk beans for the economy. ... You can have faster income increases, faster wage growth, faster GDP without generating inflation.’’ Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at the tax and consulting firm RSM, said, “The last time we saw anything like this was the late 1990s.” That was when a productivity surge — an early payoff from the sudden embrace of laptops, cellphones and the internet — helped allow the Federal Reserve to keep borrowing rates low because inflation remained under control even as the economy and the job market sizzled.

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USA Today - February 21, 2024

President Biden to hit Russia with 'major sanctions' in response to death of Navalny

The Biden administration will impose "major sanctions" on Russia, the White House said Tuesday, in response to the death of Alexei Navalny, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who died in prison last week under mysterious circumstances. John Kirby, the White House's national security communications adviser, said the new sanctions are designed to "hold Russia accountable for what happened to Mr. Navalny" as well as "all its actions over the course of this vicious and brutal war" that has raged in Ukraine for two years. President Joe Biden plans to unveil the sanctions package Friday. Kirby declined to elaborate on what the new sanctions could look like or explain how they might differ from previous U.S. sanctions targeting Russia. Biden, before leaving Washington for a three-day campaign fundraising swing in California, told reporters he won't discuss the details of the sanctions until Friday.

After Putin invaded Ukraine in 2022, the Biden administration hit Russia with a range of economic sanctions that blocked major Russian financial institutions from Western financing, banned the U.S. import of all Russian energy products and penalized wealthy Russian oligarchs tied to Putin, among a host of other actions. "This is another turn of the crank, another turn of the wheel, and it is a significant range of targets that we have worked persistently and diligently to identify to continue to impose costs for what Russia has done," Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, said of the new sanctions. Although Biden immediately pinned responsibility on Putin, the U.S. has still not determined how Navalny, 47, died while in captivity in an Arctic Circle maximum-security prison. "We all would love to know what happened here," Kirby said. "Regardless of the actual scientific answer, Mr. Putin is responsible for it." The White House also called out the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for leaving for a two-week recess without approving $60 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, arguing the lack of supplies is already showing on the battlefield. Kirby said passing the funding package is "one of the most powerful things that we can do right now to stand up to Vladimir Putin."

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New York Times - February 21, 2024

Justice Alito renews criticism of landmark ruling on same-sex marriage

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Tuesday renewed his criticisms of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision recognizing the right to same-sex marriage, saying that people who oppose homosexuality risk being unfairly “labeled as bigots and treated as such.” The justice included his warning in a five-page statement explaining why the court had rejected a request to hear a Missouri case about people removed from a jury after voicing religious objections to gay relationships. The case, Justice Alito added, “exemplifies the danger” from the court’s 2015 decision, Obergefell v. Hodges. The ruling, he added, shows how “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.” The statement appeared to offer a glimpse into Justice Alito’s continued discontent with Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the court, by a 5-to-4 vote, guaranteed a right to same-sex marriage, a long-sought victory in the gay rights movement.

In the years since, Justice Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas, who both dissented from the 2015 decision, have appeared to urge the court to reconsider the ruling. The court, they have contended, invented a right not based in the text of the Constitution and said it had cast “people of good will as bigots.” Only two members of the court who ruled in Obergefell remain on the bench — Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The court has since transformed under the presidency of Donald J. Trump with the addition of three conservative justices who have solidified a conservative supermajority. The case at issue on Tuesday, Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney, No. 23—203, involved a dispute over the dismissal of jurors who voiced religious concerns about gay relationships during jury selection in an employment discrimination case. Jean Finney, an employee of the Missouri Department of Corrections, claimed that after beginning a same-sex relationship with a co-worker’s former spouse, that co-worker made Ms. Finney’s job intolerable. The colleague spread rumors about her, sent demeaning messages and withheld information she needed to complete her work duties, Ms. Finney said. Ms. Finney sued the Department of Corrections, accusing the department of being responsible for the co-worker’s actions. The trial lawyer moved to strike certain jurors on the basis of his questions, according to the legal brief filed by the Department of Corrections. The brief took issue with the trial lawyer’s tack, saying that it essentially endorsed the idea that “a person with traditional religious beliefs should never sit on a jury when a party has been in a same-sex relationship because when a prospective juror believes as a religious matter ‘that is a sin, there’s no way to rehabilitate.’”

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Politico - February 21, 2024

‘Exhibit A for term limits’: Some Democrats question Rep. David Scott’s reelection bid

The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee is gearing up for a reelection campaign some of his fellow Democrats had hoped he wouldn’t pursue. A growing number of colleagues have expressed alarm about Rep. David Scott’s (D-Ga.) health and what they describe as his declining capacity to negotiate the $1.5 trillion farm bill, which is currently stalled in Congress. So his announcement that he’ll seek a 12th term representing his heavily Democratic Atlanta-area district was a surprise to many members, who had assumed the 78-year-old would retire at the end of the year. Even in private meetings, Scott frequently reads from a script and at times has trouble carrying out substantive conversations in real time about much of the food and agriculture policy that he oversees, according to more than a dozen lawmakers, congressional staff, lobbyists and agriculture advocates who have spoken with Scott in recent months and were granted anonymity to speak candidly about their concerns. Some lawmakers who’ve served with Scott for years note he’s long been well-liked by members in both parties, but they also describe him as much sharper a decade ago.

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Washington Post - February 21, 2024

Trump and allies plotting militarized mass deportations, detention camps

Faced with a surge of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018 and 2019, Donald Trump’s White House discussed ways to more aggressively deploy the resources and the might of the U.S. military. Aides and officials spoke privately about detaining migrants on military bases and flying them out of the country on military planes — ideas that the Pentagon headed off. Throughout his presidency, Trump himself would frequently demand to send troops to the border and catch people crossing. “He was obsessed with having the military involved,” said a former senior administration official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions. That approach and unfinished business has taken on renewed significance and urgency as the country confronts another migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, and as Trump closes in on the Republican presidential nomination. The former president is making immigration a core campaign theme, promoting a proposal for an unprecedented deportation effort if he is returned to power.

Trump pledges that as president he would immediately launch “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history.” As a model, he points to an Eisenhower-era program known as “Operation Wetback,” using a derogatory slur for Mexican migrants. The operation used military tactics to round up and remove migrant workers, sometimes transporting them in dangerous conditions that led to some deaths. Former administration officials and policy experts said staging an even larger operation today would face a bottleneck in detention space — a problem that Trump adviser Stephen Miller and other allies have proposed addressing by building mass deportation camps. “Americans can expect that immediately upon President Trump’s return to the Oval Office, he will restore all of his prior policies, implement brand new crackdowns that will send shock waves to all the world’s criminal smugglers, and marshal every federal and state power necessary to institute the largest deportation operation in American history,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt in a statement. She added that undocumented immigrants “should not get comfortable because very soon they will be going home.” Trump has made similar promises and has used inflammatory smears since his 2016 campaign. But he, his aides and allies say a second turn in office would be more effective in operating the levers of the federal bureaucracy and less vulnerable to internal resistance. During his term, former officials said, Trump learned to install more officials at the Department of Homeland Security who would carry out his orders instead of trying to curb his impulses.

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Washington Post - February 21, 2024

Supreme Court reviews EPA plan to cut pollution that crosses state lines

The Supreme Court on Wednesday is reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to cut emissions from power plants and factories to reduce pollution that blows into neighboring states — a federal initiative that environmentalists have said is necessary to protect people, especially children and the elderly, from lung-damaging smog. Those challenging the effort include three states — Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia — and various industry groups that have asked the high court to put the Biden administration’s plans on hold while they work to defeat the rules in the lower courts. In an unusual move, the justices went a step further than that request, agreeing not only to decide whether to suspend the EPA regulation, but also to consider whether it is reasonable before a lower court has ruled on that question. Supporters of what’s known as the “good neighbor” rule say there would be real health consequences from even a temporary stay of the regulation.

It expands on an Obama-era rule that required power plants in Midwestern and Appalachian states to clean up their emissions, which the nation’s prevailing west-to-east winds carry across state boundaries. President Biden’s EPA extended the mandate to cover steel mills, cement factories and other major sources of industrial air pollution. The new limits target nitrogen oxide pollution, a major component of ground-level ozone, or smog, that has been found to worsen asthma, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. They are designed to cut emissions of nitrogen dioxide from upwind states by roughly 70,000 tons by summer 2026, which EPA officials estimate could prevent as many as 1,300 premature deaths and reduce hospital and emergency room visits. Although it was intended to cover 23 states, separate legal challenges in lower courts have prevented the rule from fully taking effect. Today, it is in force in 11 states. In recent years, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has taken a skeptical view of federal agency power not specifically granted by Congress. Two years ago, in a blow to the Biden administration’s plans for combating climate change, a divided court limited the EPA’s ability to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Now, the court is considering a challenge that could curb the agency’s power to address deadly air pollutants that have long been a source of tension between states dependent on coal-generated electricity and their downwind neighbors struggling to reduce smog.

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Newsclips - February 20, 2024

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 20, 2024

Will school choice in Texas trump other GOP issues in primary? Here's what experts say

After being a major focal point of Texas education policy for more than a year, school choice is likely to be one among many issues motivating voters in the Republican primary election. During the 2023 legislative year, school choice, also known as vouchers or education savings accounts, drew thousands of supporters and opponents to the Capitol as lawmakers took up various iterations of the issue — none of which made it to the finish line. Advocates from across the country flew to Austin to persuade lawmakers to change their votes. Gov. Greg Abbott threw the weight of his office behind school choice, touring schools across Texas to encourage voters to call their representatives, and even called on religious leaders to preach about the issue from the pulpit. When, after months of politicking, Abbott failed to pass school choice legislation through the Texas House, he vowed to challenge at the ballot box any representatives who refused to support the measure.

But school choice — a proposal that would use public dollars to help K-12 students pay for private school tuition — is not likely to be top of mind for primary voters, political experts say. Republicans are more likely to vote based on bread-and-butter conservative issues, such as border security or the economy. However, Abbott’s money and influence could bring an indirect effect from the school choice fight to some House races. Border security, immigration, inflation and political corruption ranked among the top issues for Texas voters in a December poll by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. Even when voters ranked only education-specific issues, school choice — though backed by a majority of respondents — drew far less support than other key education policies. While 54% of Texans said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support a school choice or voucher program, a larger portion of voters, 68%, supported increasing per student funding, according to the poll. Another 81% of Texans supported raising public school teachers’ pay, and 82% supported more public school funding in general. “The Republican primary election is the point at which ESAs, vouchers, school choice is going to be most important for Republican voters,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the politics project. “The question is going to be whether it's more important than other issues they care about.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 20, 2024

Gov. Greg Abbott’s approval rating is rising amid border confrontation with Biden administration

Gov. Greg Abbott’s approval rating has rebounded to its highest point in nearly four years as he clashes with the Biden administration over the southern border, according to a recent poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. The poll, conducted earlier this month, found that 53% of Texas registered voters approve of Abbott’s performance as governor. That’s up from 48% in December. It is also Abbott’s strongest showing in the Texas Politics Project’s polling since April 2020, the first full month of the COVID pandemic, when 56% approved of the Republican governor’s job performance. Abbott gained ground from the December poll among voters in both parties. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats approved of his job performance in this month’s survey, up from 19%. And 83% of Republicans approved of him in the recent poll, compared to 78% in December.

The latest poll was conducted from Feb. 2 through Feb. 12, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for federal authorities to remove razor wire that Texas officials had strung along the banks of the Rio Grande to deter migrants from crossing. It also came after state soldiers seized control of Shelby Park, a key border area near the Eagle Pass International Bridge. Abbott says the Biden administration is helping migrants cross the river by cutting the razor wire, while federal officials say they are trying to prevent injuries to migrants who can legally claim asylum once on U.S. soil. The third-term governor has emerged as a leading voice in the country’s immigration debate, drawing praise from fellow GOP governors and influential conservative commentators. Democrats have accused Abbott of using anti-immigrant rhetoric and interfering with the federal government’s immigration enforcement to score political points. President Joe Biden’s approval rating also saw a modest rebound in the Texas Politics Project’s latest poll, going from 38% approval in December to 42% this month. But his approach to immigration and border security remains unpopular among Texas voters, with just 30% saying they approve of how he’s handled those areas. Voters voiced nearly the opposite view of Abbott on immigration, with 54% approving of his approach to the issue.

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Texas Newsroom - February 20, 2024

Texas will build a base camp for more than 2,000 soldiers on the border

The Texas National Guard will expand its presence on the border in the form of a new operations center in Maverick County that can house more than 2,000 soldiers. Gov. Greg Abbott announced the construction of a base camp, which will be built on 80 acres of property near the banks of the Rio Grande, Friday afternoon. “This will increase the ability for a larger number of Texas Military Department personnel in Eagle Pass to operate more efficiently and more effectively,” Abbott said during a news conference. It marks the latest escalation of Abbott’s border security mission, Operation Lone Star, which he initiated almost three years ago and has cost the state billions in taxpayer dollars to sustain. The Texas Legislature appropriated an additional $5.1 billion for border security operations during last year’s legislature, but the cost of the governor’s new project wasn’t mentioned.

The facility will house up to 1,800 guard members with the possibility to increase capacity to 2,300 if the state has “surge needs.” Abbott said the facility will have individual rooms for soldiers, dining halls, recreation areas and computer labs and will improve living conditions for the troops, adding that the facility will enable easier expansion of the state’s mission. “Before this effort here, they've been living in conditions that were atypical for military operations. Now, because of the magnitude of what we're doing, because of the need to sustain — and actually expand — our efforts, it's essential that we build this base camp for these soldiers,” he said. “It’s going to be good for them.” Eagle Pass and the surrounding area has for several weeks been the epicenter of Abbott’s feud with the Biden administration over border security and immigration. In early January, the state took over control of Shelby Park in Eagle Pass and has since rejected efforts by U.S. Border Patrol agents to enter the area and perform their duties. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that federal agents should have access to the banks of the river and be able to cut through miles of razor wire installed during Operation Lone Star, but the agents remain restricted from entering the area.

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NPR - February 20, 2024

How far can cities go to clear homeless camps? The U.S. Supreme Court will decide

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a major case that could reshape how cities manage homelessness. The legal issue is whether they can fine or arrest people for sleeping outside if there's no shelter available. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has deemed this cruel and unusual punishment, and this case is a pivotal challenge to that ruling. The high court declined to take up a similar case in 2019. But since then, homelessness rates have climbed relentlessly. Street encampments have grown larger and have expanded to new places, igniting intense backlash from residents and businesses. Homelessness and the lack of affordable housing that's helping to drive it have become key issues for many voters. The case, Grants Pass v. Johnson, could have dramatic implications for the record number of people living in tents and cars across the United States.

In the small city of Grants Pass, Ore., homeless people say the city broke the law when it aggressively tried to push them out over the past decade. To discourage people from sleeping in public spaces, the city banned the use of stoves and sleeping bags or other bedding. But during several years when she had lost housing, Helen Cruz says she needed to live in city parks because they're close to the jobs she had cleaning houses. "We're not out there because we want to be," she says. "We don't have a choice. There's no place to go." Grants Pass has no homeless shelter that's open to everyone. A religious mission takes in a few who agree to attend services. That left Cruz racking up thousands of dollars in fines, which she remains unable to pay. "And I keep getting mail from Josephine County court saying, 'You owe this. If you don't pay this, it's going to collections,'" she says, "which has destroyed my credit." A lawsuit originally filed in 2018 on behalf of homeless people in Grants Pass said the situation there was part of a larger crisis, as homelessness rates around the U.S. were high and growing. It accused the city of trying to "punish people based on their status of being involuntarily homeless." The 9th Circuit agreed, saying the city could not ban people from sleeping outside with "rudimentary protection from the elements" when there was nowhere else for them to go.

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State Stories

Yahoo! - February 20, 2024

How Texas came to rival New York as a finance hub

JPMorgan Chase is putting up a massive new headquarters in midtown Manhattan. But New York is no longer the state where it employs the most people. Texas is. The country’s largest bank has 31,500 employees in the Lone Star State following an expansion over the last decade highlighted by a four-building, 1-million-square-foot campus in Plano, a suburb of Dallas. That is 2,600 more than it has in New York. "This state has been booming," JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told Yahoo Finance in November during a summit with local business owners in Frisco, Texas. It’s not just JPMorgan. What’s happening at the nation’s largest lender is also playing out across the wider world of banking. Texas recently passed the state of New York in finance employment for the first time ever in a 33-year period, according to an analysis by Yahoo Finance of Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 1990 to 2023. It happened in December, when Texas had 384,900 such workers. That was 100 more than New York state.

This tally counts jobs directly tied to the banking industry — like analysts, loan officers, and financial managers — and does not include the insurance and real estate sectors. The New York City metropolitan area, which includes parts of New Jersey, is still No. 1 in finance workers when compared to other metro areas. But a well-known Texas region — Dallas — has taken the No. 2 spot. The emergence of Texas as a banking center is many decades in the making. In fact, New York state has been slowly losing its grip as the dominant place for banking jobs since the years following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That’s when some of the biggest financial institutions began shifting parts of their workforce elsewhere to save on costs and manage risks. California took over the top spot between 2001 and 2006, but a housing meltdown and the 2008 financial crisis sent employment in that state and New York tumbling again. New York eventually regained its top spot and began adding more workers as the wounds of 2008 healed. But Texas accelerated at a much faster rate, with Dallas as a new hub for many finance giants attracted by the state’s lack of an income tax, lower cost of living, plentiful building sites, and easy transportation access.

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KERA - February 20, 2024

'Secret' legal opinion may limit Dallas oversight board's ability to investigate police complaints

The Dallas Community Police Oversight Board may be limited in how it can carry out one of its chief responsibilities — to investigate complaints made against police officers. A legal opinion shared during a recent board meeting basically said the oversight board can only investigate certain complaints. Office of Community Police Oversight (OCPO) Interim Director Elaine Chandler told the board that people have two options when submitting a complaint: either through the police department or though the community oversight office. “It’s just that OCPO nor the board can vote to investigate something that hasn’t first been investigated by IAD,” Chandler said. But complaints classified as "no investigation" by the Internal Affairs Department are also off limits to both the OCPO and the board. "In the unofficial discussion with CAO, it was communicated that uninvestigated complaints are ineligible for board review," Chandler said in a memo to the board prior to Tuesday's meeting.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 20, 2024

With Abbott at the border, advocates brought signs of a different crisis to his doorstep

The crisis facing Wayne Becker isn’t the sort of thing that attracts breathless coverage on cable TV news. His plight is playing out quietly at home, as with thousands of Texans with disabilities who need help with tasks like showering or making meals, and who rely on state-funded personal care attendants who receive pitifully low pay. “My caregivers are giving me a six-month time to find somebody else because they can’t afford to live on the wages of $11 an hour,” Becker said Friday, taking his wheelchair and his cause to the front gate of the Governor’s Mansion. More than a dozen people — some caregivers, some clients — joined Becker in chants and testimonials. They left a giant 3-foot-by-4-foot letter at the mansion's locked gates, urging Gov. Greg Abbott to meet with members of ADAPT of Texas and the Personal Attendant Coalition of Texas, and to make higher caregiver pay a state priority.

“We're talking about a workforce that has evaporated, evaporated,” said Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. “Why? There's only one reason. It's because the pay is so low.” “I've been using attendant services all my life,” said Nancy Crowther, who uses a wheelchair, “and this is the worst I've seen. In my own house, I cannot find attendants to work with me.” She worries her next health setback could land her in a nursing home. Even with the state raising the base pay for caregivers last fall from $8.11 to $10.60 an hour, the compensation is starkly out of line with the job market and the cost of living. People can make $15 an hour serving burgers at P. Terry’s, $18 an hour ringing up travelers’ provisions at Buc-ee’s, or $20.80 an hour selling snacks at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. In terms of making ends meet in the Austin area, MIT’s Living Wage Calculator says a single person with no children should make at least $23.98 an hour to cover their bills. And did I mention the state-funded caregivers don’t get health insurance or any paid time off? We don’t even take care of the attendants who care for others. Ensuring people with disabilities can live with dignity shouldn't be controversial. Properly paying caregivers — which would help ensure Texas has enough of them — should be an investment that our prosperous state can afford. It should be a commitment for anyone who values life and freedom.

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Texas Observer - February 20, 2024

America, Texas spar over state deportations law

In a packed federal courtroom in downtown Austin Thursday morning, attorneys for the United States government squared off with attorneys for the State of Texas over the fate of the latter’s Senate Bill 4, an unprecedented anti-immigrant law creating a state deportation scheme, which is set to take effect March 5 unless the court halts it. During a three-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge David Ezra, a Reagan appointee, appeared to favor the United States’ position that the law is likely unconstitutional and should be blocked. Ezra peppered Texas’ lead attorney Ryan Walters with constant skeptical questions and criticized the bill as sloppy, saying that “A little more care, in fact maybe a lot more care, could have gone into the drafting of this statute.” Ezra also said the bill could portend each state having its own immigration system, which would “turn us from the United States of America to a confederation of states”—precisely what the Civil War prevented, he noted. The judge also said, regarding one of SB 4’s provisions: “It just slaps the federal immigration law right in the face.”

At the hearing’s conclusion, Ezra said he would decide on enjoining the law “as quickly as [he] possibly can” and well before the March 5 deadline. (Anand Balakrishnan for the American Civil Liberties Union also argued before the court Thursday, as a separate lawsuit that organization filed had been consolidated with the government’s.) SB 4 creates state-level crimes for illegally entering or reentering the country in addition to inaugurating a state deportation scheme. At present, the federal government enforces criminal entry and reentry statutes at its discretion and is the sole arbiter of deportation decisions. The Texas law constitutes an unprecedented transfer of exclusively federal power to a state and challenges 150 years of jurisprudence on immigration. Some, including Judge Ezra, argue it challenges the United States’ very cohesion as a single nation. SB 4 makes it a misdemeanor crime for non-U.S. citizens to improperly enter Texas from another nation—for example, by wading across the Rio Grande from Mexico. To avoid prosecution and a possible six-month jail sentence, alleged border-crossers may agree to a judicial order to return to the country from which they came. If convicted, they’ll still face an identical removal order upon completing their sentence. Refusal to comply with these orders is a separate felony offense.

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Houston Chronicle - February 20, 2024

Texas drivers are most likely to drive drunk, according to nationwide study

Texans like to go big, but its drivers should consider staying home after drinking alcohol, according to a recent study. The state has the highest number of drivers likely to operate a vehicle while intoxicated, found a study conducted by Laborde Earles Injury Lawyers, a firm out of Louisiana. They analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on alcohol impairment levels of drivers who were involved in fatal crashes from 2017 to 2021. The top five states, ranked in order, are Texas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Montana and Washington. They found more than four out of every 10 drivers involved in a fatal crash in Texas had a blood-alcohol content that exceeded the legal limit of .08, researchers found. Nearly 30 percent were above .15, nearly twice the legal limit. San Antonio has had several high-profile people charged with driving while intoxicated.

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Texas Community Health News - February 20, 2024

As more students seek mental health services, college counseling centers struggle to hire staff

Texas colleges and universities are struggling to keep up with the demand for mental health services amid a statewide shortage of care providers. This isn’t just a public health crisis in Texas but across the United States, according to Zachary Zoet, the assistant director of Midwestern State University’s Counseling Center in Wichita Falls. “There’s a lot of different factors that are going into the staffing issues, the salary issues, these retention and recruitment issues, because this is a serial theme that administrators in counseling centers are discussing at the state and national level,” Zoet said. The need for mental health support is urgent. During the 2020-2021 academic year, the majority of college students across the country met the criteria for at least one mental health diagnosis — a nearly 50 percent increase from 2013. It’s an alarming finding from a recent Healthy Minds Study, which surveyed more than 90,000 students on 133 U.S. campuses.

But the study did reveal a silver lining: more college students than ever before report receiving therapy or counseling. The increase in cases is partly due to more awareness and less stigma associated with mental health care, said Hillary Jones, associate director of clinical services at the Texas State University Counseling Center. She said students with less serious concerns, who in the past might not have considered counseling, are seeking help. Rising demand for mental health services on Texas college and university campuses hasn’t been matched by a corresponding increase in funding. This has led to higher caseloads per campus clinician – the number of sessions each counselor is expected to handle. “There’s a lot of students here at Texas State, so it’s a lot of resources to be able to meet the mental health needs of all those students,” said Jones. “I think it's just been an ongoing conversation, both within the counseling center and upper administration of ‘How do we meet those needs? How do we do this in creative and innovative ways?’”

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Houston Landing - February 20, 2024

Solitary confinement cases are on the rise for detained immigrants in Houston

More than 640 immigrants detained in the Houston area have been placed in solitary confinement since 2018 in conditions that could be considered torture by the United Nations, according to a new report by Harvard University and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). The data, obtained from 125 Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities from September 2018 to September 2023, revealed that immigrants were held in solitary for up to 759 days, far exceeding the 15 days laid out by the UN as prolonged confinement and often leading to physical, mental and sexual abuse. The reasons ranged from arbitrary to punitive, from sharing a consensual kiss, swearing or refusing to get up during bunk count. Solitary confinement, which has been shown to pose mental and physical health risks, is increasing nationwide and at Houston’s biggest detention center, despite past guidelines from ICE urging the limited use of the practice, according to the report.

“There’s a lot of research about how bad it is for one’s physical and mental health, and there are almost always alternatives and particularly alternatives for using it for long periods of time,” said Katherine Peeler, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, PHR medical expert, and report co-author. “But particularly in immigration detention where the vast majority of people are detained administratively, using something like solitary confinement is unconscionable.” An ICE spokesperson said the agency is “firmly committed to the health, safety, and welfare of all those in our custody.” The agency’s oversight mechanisms include daily on-sight compliance reviews, routine inspections and audits by the DHS Office of the Inspector General and other government agencies, as well as third-party audits to ensure impartiality. “By undergoing these rigorous and layered channels of oversight, ICE is able to provide a high standard of care for the detained population and quickly identify and correct issues that might arise at any of its detention facilities,” the spokesperson said. Houston houses four detention centers within a 75-mile radius, with a daily population of 3,751 as of January 2024, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

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Houston Chronicle - February 20, 2024

Audrii Cunningham search update: 'Main person of interest' last to see 11-year-old girl, police say

Don Steven McDougal, the “main person of interest” in the disappearance of Audrii Cunningham, was the last person to see the 11-year-old girl, authorities said Monday. Byron Lyons, the Polk County Sheriff, said during a news conference that McDougal had acknowledged to authorities that he left the Audrii’s family’s home with the girl Thursday morning but he wouldn’t say whether he had dropped her off at the bus stop. Audrii was last seen around 7 a.m before she was supposed to catch the bus to school, but she did not get on the bus. Her family reported her missing when she didn’t return from school, leading the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to issue an Amber Alert.

Lyons said McDougal was a friend of Audrii’s father and lived in a trailer behind the house where the child lived with her father, grandparents and other family members. On several occasions, Lyons said McDougal had previously taken Audrii to the bus stop or taken her directly to school if she missed the bus. According to the Texas Department of Safety, investigators named Don Steven McDougal, 42, as one of the persons of interest in Audrii’s disappearance Saturday. Lyons said Monday that McDougal was the main person of interest in the case, but they were not ruling out anyone else. Texas DPS previously said that McDougal’s 2003 dark blue Chevrolet Suburban was believed to be involved in the disappearance. They are asking the public to report any sightings of the vehicle on Thursday or Friday. McDougal is now in custody after the sheriff’s office charged him with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which they said was unrelated to Audrii’s disappearance. Lyons said authorities charged McDougal for the assault — which took place in August — after he made a statement about the incident following his arrest last week.

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MyRGV - February 20, 2024

Texas LNG project at Port of Brownsville approved

Asecond liquefied natural gas export proposed for the Port of Brownsville has received final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas Railroad Commission, moving the project a step closer to a Final Investment Decision (FID) to proceed with construction. Texas LNG, a subsidiary of Glenfarne Energy Transition LLC, would be capable of producing up to 4 million metric tons per year (MTPA) of liquefied natural gas for export to foreign markets. The project received final permitting from USACE and railroad commission under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 in January. Texas LNG received conditional approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2019, though in 2021 the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that FERC failed to conducgt an adequate analysis of “climate and environmental justice impacts,” in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Natural Gas Act, according to the Sierra Club.

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Dallas Morning News - February 20, 2024

Dallas-Fort Worth home to some of the worst drivers in the U.S., per study

If you have ever grumbled about terrible North Texas drivers, you might have a point. A new study by Forbes has ranked U.S. cities by worst drivers, and both Dallas and Fort Worth landed in the top 10, with Dallas at No. 6 and Fort Worth No. 9. Other Texas cities included San Antonio at No. 12, Houston at No. 23 and Austin at No. 24. This month’s report by Forbes Advisor analyzed the country’s most populated cities across five key metrics, including the number of fatal car crashes that involved speeding or a drunken or distracted driver. Fatal car accidents are increasing across the country, with the number of deadly crashes climbing by nearly 10% from 2020 to 2022, the study noted. “In some cities, there is a higher percentage of dangerous drivers on the road, putting everyone at greater risk when they get behind the wheel,” it read.

Dallas ranked 7th among cities for total number of fatal car crashes, with approximately 14.6 fatal crashes per 100,000 residents, the study found. It also had the 3rd-highest number of fatal car crashes involving a drunk driver and the 4th-highest number of fatal crashes involving speeding. In Fort Worth, approximately 10.6 fatal crashes occurred per 100,000 residents. Fort Worth ranked also reported the 5th-highest number of fatal car crashes involving a drunk driver , 11th-highest involving a distracted driver and 12th-highest involving speeding. The most dangerous city in the U.S. to drive in is Albuquerque, which has the highest number of fatal car accidents involving a distracted driver, at 5.4 crashes per 100,000 residents. To compile the rankings, Forbes used data from 2017 to 2021 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The study also noted that driving is directly tied to car insurance rates, which have soared in recent years in Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - February 20, 2024

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson recall petition likely to fail, lead organizer says

The lead organizer of a petition attempting to recall Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says the effort will likely fall well short of the 103,595 valid voters’ signatures needed by March 5. Davante Peters told The Dallas Morning News on Monday that he estimates having close to 10,000 signatures, planned to keep getting people to sign onto this effort into next month and would also try to garner support for a future recall petition against the mayor. “Unfortunately, we don’t believe we’re going to pull it off this go-around, so come March 6 we’re planning to refile,” Peters, a local activist and health store owner who has run for Dallas City Council three times, told The News. “We’re going to be out here collecting signatures, but we haven’t had any organization that wants to be part of this process with us, a lot of people don’t know about it, and that’s made it difficult.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 20, 2024

Bobbie Wygant, trailblazing North Texas TV journalist, dies

Bobbie Wygant, the longtime KXAS entertainment reporter who joined the TV station when it was created as WBAP-TV in 1948 and took part in celebrations of the station’s anniversary, died Sunday, KXAS reported. She was 97. Wygant did “a little of everything” at KXAS, from hosting Dateline and live game shows to interviewing celebrities, the news station reported. She was hired two weeks before the station, founded by Amon Carter as the first TV station in Texas, went on air and said she in a book she published that she planned to stay in television until she was 98. She retired after 70 years with the station and continued freelancing for KXAS, returning regularly for major anniversaries. Wygant was born in Lafayette, Indiana, as Roberta Frances Connolly on Nov. 22, 1926. She and her husband, Phil Wygant, came to Texas after going to Purdue University, where she got a degree in broadcasting and psychology, KXAS reported.

Born in Lafayette, Indiana, as Roberta Frances Connolly on November 22, 1926, Bobbie and her husband Phil Wygant came to Texas after college. She had a degree in broadcasting and psychology from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and said she always wanted to come to Texas. “I was always in love with Texas. When I was a little kid I guess, movies and things, I just always knew that someday I would go to Texas,” Wygant said, according to KXAS. “I was the first woman to host a general interest television talk show. Before that women had to do the housekeeping things and the cooking and so forth.” Wygant said, according to WFAA.. “The staff was ‘moi!’ I produced it. I did my own research.” Throughout her career, Wygant interviewed celebrities like Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Bob Hope, Jimmy Dean and Richard Chamberlain. She received several recognitions and awards including induction into the Gold Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and received the Gracie Award, KXAS reported.

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Chron - February 20, 2024

Harris County man kills alleged thief who stole BBQ pit from his home

A Houston area homeowner chased down a man who allegedly stole a barbecue pit from his property early Sunday, eventually shooting and killing the man for fear of his life, according to Harris County authorities. The deadly shooting occurred around 2 a.m. in northeast Houston on the 1500 block of Ralston Road and Kensington Oak Drive in Humble, roughly 25 minutes outside of Downtown Houston. Later on Sunday afternoon, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez reported early findings from the investigation, which detail the sequence of events. According to Gonzalez, investigators determined the alleged robber stole the barbecue pit from the home just a few minutes before he was killed. The homeowner chased down the man in his car and confronted him "a short distance away from the original scene," Gonzalez posted on X.

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City Stories

Chron - February 20, 2024

Houston City Hall drama: Whitmire’s rescinded job offer sparks uproar

A behind-the-scenes battle unfolded at City Hall this week as Houston Mayor John Whitmire offered – and then rescinded – the job of chair of the Houston Housing Authority, an organization in the middle of massive turmoil and claims of mismanagement. In addition to rescinding the chair job, Whitmire announced seven new commissioner appointments over concerns about "lack of leadership and operational effectiveness." The new appointments come amid controversy at City Hall where family law attorney and former Position 1 At-Large City Council candidate Melanie Miles said Whitmire initially offered her the top job at the HHA, but the opportunity was revoked over previous beef with her opponent, Council Member Julian Ramirez. In an interview with Chron on Friday, Miles said she was contacted by Whitmire about the job last Thursday but was notified Monday that the city was repealing the offer. According to Miles, Whitmire cited Ramirez's opposition to her appointment and not wanting to upset Republican councilors on the 16-member nonpartisan group.

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Dallas Morning News - February 20, 2024

Adam Bazaldua: Why I voted against the 2024 Dallas bond proposal

This week, the Dallas City Council voted to approve funding allocations for the 2024 bond propositions that will go to the voters on May 4. I cast the lone dissenting vote. After months of meetings, calls, emails, public speakers and more, I believe we as a City Council managed to find consensus and commitment to the most voiced needs of the city, such as streets and parks. However, several opportunities were ignored in this bond package, including dissatisfaction with the lack of funding allocated to some of our most pressing issues.

When children come to City Hall to speak about how housing insecurity is a worry in their young lives, it tells me it’s not a choice but an obligation. As a former teacher, I witnessed these stories on a daily basis firsthand. We have seen housing costs rise exponentially over the past few years, and it disappoints me that when we had the chance to have a greater impact on so many lives, we chose differently. My no vote also represented frustration regarding a lack of funding for critical improvements at City Hall. City Hall, an internationally recognized and extraordinary architectural structure designed for the people of Dallas, has experienced years of neglect since its opening in 1978. While I understand infrastructure doesn’t garner as much attention, City Hall’s current steam boiler system and associated piping are original to the facility’s construction and had an intended lifespan of 30 years. It is not for lack of trying, as each budget cycle other “priorities” take precedence over our own storefront. We’ve had one project this past year to install new boilers and piping, but that’s only scratching the surface of the building’s greatest needs. If you’ve been to City Hall, you know. I acknowledge the bond process requires give and take to reach compromise. However, I believe we as a City Council lack policy-guiding principles for a citywide vision that can align with our district goals. When there are so many conflicting interests, we must have leadership to help us see the city as a whole through our wide variety of lenses. Without our “north star,” every major decision leaves council members vying for the wants and needs of an individual district over the needs of our entire city. Sadly, it is the residents present and future who will suffer.

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Houston Public Media - February 20, 2024

Community leaders urge Greg Abbott to reverse permit for concrete crushing plant near LBJ Hospital

On Friday, community leaders, healthcare organizers and professionals called for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, to reverse a permit that would build a concrete crushing plant across the street from LBJ Hospital at 5656 Kelley St. Organizers sent 800 letters and statements to Abbott after the press conference that was held at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on Dabney St. Organizers included The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), which is an association of local churches throughout the region, state and local government, and Harris Health.TMO is encouraging the company to build its concrete crusher in a different place. Pastor Father Martin Eke leads St. Francis Church, which is across from LBJ Hospital. He said it’s "unconscionable" for a company to build the concrete crushing plant there. "This community already bears the burden of too many pollutant-heavy industries," he said. "For them to be saddling us with yet another one, this close to where some of the poorest and sickest seek medical attention – it's a slap in the face."

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National Stories

CNN - February 20, 2024

US proposes a ‘temporary ceasefire’ in Gaza in draft UN resolution

The United States has proposed a United Nations Security Council draft resolution on Gaza calling for a temporary ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas and warning against an Israeli ground incursion into Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have fled over the course of the conflict. The US draft comes after it had vowed to veto an Algerian draft proposal calling for an immediate ceasefire. The Council will vote on the Algerian draft Tuesday morning. According to the text of the US-proposed draft, which CNN has seen, the US is calling for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable,” which falls short of the wishes of most other Security Council members who want an immediate ceasefire. The US, which has traditionally protected its ally Israel from UN actions, has repeatedly resisted calls for a “ceasefire,” emphasizing what it claims is Israel’s right to defend itself following Hamas’ terror attack on October 7. It has also voted against at least two Security Council resolutions on the war.

“We do not plan to rush to a vote,” a senior US official said, adding that the administration does “not believe the Council has to take urgent action” with a deadline for a vote. The US resolution “underscores its support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released.” The US, they said, will redouble efforts to negotiate on the ground. On Friday, President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House that he’s had “extensive conversations” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the last several days where he relayed his position “that there has to be a temporary ceasefire” to secure the safe release of hostages still held by Hamas. The US draft warns of the effects of an Israeli ground offensive into Rafah, saying it would “result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighboring countries, which would have serious implications for regional peace and security.” Despite international pressure, Israel has said it plans to expand its ground operations into Rafah as part of its goal to destroy Hamas after the October 7 attacks. Many fear that military action in the refugee tent city could spark an exodus and result in the deaths of thousands of civilians.

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NBC News - February 20, 2024

Prominent election deniers are running again in 2024, but some have toned down their claims

At least 17 Republican candidates who put false claims about the 2020 election at the center of their 2022 and 2023 statewide campaigns are running for office again in 2024. But this time around, most of them aren’t making the debunked claims that the race was stolen from Donald Trump a linchpin of their pitches to voters. Rather, these candidates have generally broadened their focus on the issue, campaigning on ideas such as “election security” and “election integrity.” After outspoken 2020 election deniers suffered defeats in battleground states across the board in the last midterm elections, it's a shift GOP operatives say is critical for these candidates to appeal to voters beyond the hardcore Trump supporters. “That message didn’t work,” veteran Republican strategist Alex Conant said. “Republicans want to win in 2024. They know they’re not going to win in 2020 — there’s nothing we can do now to change what happened.”

“For a lot of Republican voters, they want to make sure that their votes count, and are more interested in what candidates can do about election security than listening to them complaining about 2020 conspiracy theories,” he added. But groups tracking candidates who have sown doubt about Joe Biden's 2020 victory say the pivot is also intended to obscure these candidates' disproven, and dangerous, positions. “The election denial movement has damaged trust in our elections and has led to threats and harassment that election officials are dealing with every day,” said Joanna Lydgate, CEO of States United Action, a nonpartisan group that tracks election deniers running for office. “I think that’s a really important point to remember, in light of those candidates who may appear to have backed away from some of their representations in the past two election cycles.” Many of those 17 Republican candidates running again are doing so in crucial swing states and for offices, including Senate and Congress, whose responsibilities in some cases could be tied to certifying results in those states. In Arizona, which had been a hotbed for false claims about the 2020 election results, the list includes Kari Lake, who is running for U.S. Senate, Abraham Hamadeh, who is running for a U.S. House seat, and Mark Finchem who is running for the state Senate.

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NBC News - February 20, 2024

Trump compares Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's death to his own legal woes

Former President Donald Trump on Monday compared the sudden death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a prison colony to the legal peril he faces in the United States, elevating a talking point in some right-wing circles linking the two in his first comments on Navalny’s death. “The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. “It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction. Open Borders, Rigged Elections, and Grossly Unfair Courtroom Decisions are DESTROYING AMERICA. WE ARE A NATION IN DECLINE, A FAILING NATION! MAGA2024.” Trump's comments came after a judge who presided over a civil business fraud trial against the former president on Friday ordered him, his sons, business associates and his company to pay more than $350 million in damages. Trump also faces criminal liability in four separate jurisdictions after being charged for his effort to overturn the 2020 election, handling of classified documents and alleged hush payments to women.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the U.N. and lone remaining major candidate facing him in the GOP presidential primary, condemned Trump’s response to Navalny’s death. Haley criticized Trump repeatedly over the weekend for not mentioning Navalny’s death, which was reported Friday, and for recent comments in which Trump said he once told NATO allies he would “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if those allies did not increase their defense spending. “Donald Trump could have condemned [Russian President] Vladimir Putin for being a murderous thug,” Haley tweeted. “Trump could have praised Navalny’s courage. Instead, he stole a page from liberals’ playbook, denouncing America and comparing our country to Russia.” Navalny’s death, which was announced by Russia’s prison service, followed his surviving several poisoning attempts, including one in 2020 in which he was poisoned with a military nerve agent during a business trip to Russia. Navalny, who crusaded for years on exposing corruption in Putin’s government, blamed the poisoning attempt on the Russian president. The Kremlin has denied involvement in the poisoning attempts and dismissed suggestions Putin was behind Navalny's death.

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Market Watch - February 20, 2024

Meet the former organized-crime prosecutor now overseeing the Trump Organization

Barbara Jones, a lawyer and former federal judge, will now have total oversight of the real-estate conglomerate that played a central role in shaping the public image that helped Trump win the White House in 2016. Jones, 76, has been serving as a monitor at the Trump Organization since November 2022, when she was appointed by New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron to oversee certain financial matters at the company. The appointment came shortly after New York Attorney General Letitia James brought civil fraud charges against Trump and members of his family, accusing them of ripping off banks and insurers by routinely misstating the value of their properties. Following Jones’s initial appointment, the company was required to inform her of any financial move it made after the fact. But now it will need her approval before taking any steps involving financial disclosures to third parties — primarily meaning loan applications to banks.

The judge’s ruling also ordered that an independent compliance officer, who will report to Jones, be hired within 30 days. Jones, who became a partner at Bracewell LLP after serving 16 years on the federal bench in the Southern District of New York, now takes the helm of a corporation made up of 415 separate entities that include properties, licensing deals and management arrangements, according to court filings. The entities all are held as part of the Donald J. Trump revocable trust, which was formed in Florida in 2014 and amended as recently as 2021. In a report issued to Engoron before his ruling in the Trump Organization fraud case, Jones said that she had determined the company had multiple “disclosure deficiencies,” in which financial reports were “either incomplete or demonstrated a lack of transparency.” Trump’s lawyers challenged the findings and said Jones had engaged in a “Javert-like quest against the defendants” — a reference to the relentless prosecutor from the novel and musical “Les Miserables” — and was interested only in continuing her role as monitor, for which Bracewell had already collected $2.6 million in fees.

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Wall Street Journal - February 20, 2024

Tech leaders fled San Francisco during the pandemic. Now, they’re coming back.

In 2020, venture capitalist Keith Rabois urged startup founders to join him in ditching San Francisco for Miami, touting the city’s relative safety, lower taxes and tech-friendly mayor. The self-proclaimed contrarian investor, who made a fortune backing companies such as Airbnb and DoorDash, once tweeted that San Francisco was “miserable on every dimension.” The hard pivot to Miami has faltered. Several of the startups that Rabois backed are relocating or opening offices elsewhere to better attract engineering talent. Late last year, he was pushed out of his old venture firm, Founders Fund, after falling out with some colleagues. Now, he plans to spend one week a month in San Francisco for a new employer, Khosla Ventures, and is busy renovating a house there. During the pandemic, scores of Silicon Valley investors and executives such as Rabois decamped to sunnier American cities, criticizing San Francisco’s government as dysfunctional and the city’s relatively high cost of living.

Tech-firm founders touted their success at raising money outside the Bay Area and encouraged their employees to embrace remote work. Four years later, that bet hasn’t really worked out. San Francisco is once again experiencing a tech revival. Entrepreneurs and investors are flocking back to the city, which is undergoing a boom in artificial intelligence. Silicon Valley leaders are getting involved in local politics, flooding city ballot measures and campaigns with tech money to make the city safer for families and businesses. Investors are also pushing startups to return to the Bay Area and bring their employees back into the office. San Francisco has largely weathered the broader crunch in startup funding. Investment in Bay Area startups dropped 12% to $63.4 billion last year. By contrast, funding volumes for Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles, two smaller tech hubs, dropped 27% and 42%, respectively. In Miami, venture investment plunged 70% to just $2 billion last year. “An ecosystem such as SF’s that has been built over the last 50-plus years doesn’t just die because of a pandemic for a few years,” said Mo Koyfman, founder of venture firm Shine Capital. He pointed to the proximity of universities such as Stanford as reasons why top-tier venture firms need to maintain a presence in the Bay Area. Shine Capital, which is based in New York City, opened an office in San Francisco in January.

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Associated Press - February 20, 2024

Capital One to buy Discover for $35 billion in deal combining U.S. credit card giants

Capital One Financial is buying Discover Financial Services for $35 billion, in a deal that would bring together two of the nation’s biggest lenders and credit card issuers. Discover Financial shareholders will receive Capital One shares valued at nearly $140, according to a news release issued by the companies Monday. Discover shares closed Friday trading at $110.49. Virginia-based Capital One was the 12th-largest U.S. bank as of the third quarter, with $471.4 billion in total assets and $346 billion in deposits, according to S&P Global. Illinois-based Discover was the 33rd-biggest, with $143.4 billion in assets and $104 billion in deposits. Both companies have benefitted from Americans’ increased use of credit cards. In the fourth quarter of 2023, Americans held $1.13 trillion on their credit cards, and aggregate household debt balances increased by $212 billion, up 1.2%, according to the latest data from the New York Federal Reserve.

At the same time, the two lenders have had to boost their reserves against the possibility of rising borrower defaults. After battling inflation for more than two years, many lower- and middle-income Americans have run through their savings and are increasingly running up their credit card balances and taking on personal loans. The additional reserves have weighed on both banks’ profits. Last year, Capital One’s net income available to common shareholders slumped 35% versus 2022, as its provisions for loan losses soared 78% to $10.4 billion. Discover’s full-year profit sank 33.6% versus its 2022 results as its provisions for credit losses more than doubled to $6.02 billion. Discover’s customers are carrying $102 billion in balances on their credit cards, up 13% from a year earlier. Meanwhile, the charge-off rates and 30-day delinquency rates have climbed. With the merger, the new company will surpass longtime rivals JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. by U.S. credit-card loan volume, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence. Capital One holders will own about 60% of the combined company and Discover holders will own about 40%, according to the statement.

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Stateline - February 20, 2024

State universities admit more out-of-state students for the tuition bump

Kennedy Cole, a college junior studying accounting, knew she wanted to attend school outside her native Nevada to expand her choices, meet new people and explore different places. Emma Nichols, a sophomore majoring in vocal performance, chose a school close to her home in Corvallis, Oregon. The two friends, Oregon State University tour ambassadors who guide prospective students and families around campus, both think they made the right decision. Cole said it was scary and tough to be at a school where many first-year students already knew one another or had gone to local high schools, but she found most students were friendly. Nichols said one of the exciting aspects of Oregon State’s campus is the ability to meet “out-of-state students and international ones from a different culture.” But while they both have scholarships, there’s a big difference in their base tuition. The university charges an estimated $13,800 in tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates in the 2023-24 academic year and about $36,600 for nonresidents.

At a time when school budgets are tightening and college enrollment is decreasing, state universities are increasingly turning to nonresident students to boost their revenues. In 47 states, public research universities increased the proportion of out-of-state undergraduate students they admitted between 2002 and 2022, according to an analysis of federal education data done for Stateline by University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor Nicholas Hillman. In those two decades, the percentage of out-of-state undergraduate students at those universities rose steadily from a nationwide average of 18% to 28%, Hillman found. Public research schools are generally large state universities that receive significant grants for research. “Universities that have broad access missions have the least revenue stream,” Hillman said in an interview. Any shift in public funding “affects them more. Slots are being given away to people paying higher tuition. Politically, this is such a hot potato. Legislators are getting interested in this.” While the funding boosts universities, critics worry that in-state students are being shut out. To minimize that, some states limit the number of out-of-state students. Aaron Klein, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank, wrote a report on out-of-state enrollment in 2022. In an interview with Stateline, Klein said: “The ability to go to a high-quality school near where you grew up is being taken away for many kids through a complex process in which public universities are swapping in-state students for out-of-state. In the end, society is no better educated, and student debt rises substantially.”

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Newsclips - February 19, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - February 19, 2024

Biden's rightward shift on immigration angers advocates. But it's resonating with many Democrats

In his 2020 campaign, Joe Biden vowed to undo former President Donald Trump ’s immigration policies, specifically expressing frustration with a policy setting limits on the number of asylum seekers accepted each day at the southern border. This year, Biden backed a Senate proposal that would have set daily limits on border crossings — and Democrats are planning to campaign to reelect him by emphasizing that Republicans caused the deal to collapse. Democrats are reframing the immigration debate, going from embracing more welcoming policies in response to the Trump administration’s programs at the border — including its separation of hundreds of immigrant children from their parents — to declaring that they can get tough on border security and adopt policies long sought by Republicans. Biden’s rhetorical shift risks straining his support from immigrants and their advocates who campaigned for him in 2020, but it appears to be working for Democrats after they won a special election in New York.

“We need to lean into this and not just on border security, but, yes, tough border security coupled with increased legal pathways,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist. “They tried it the Republican way, and Republicans were not serious about that.” Democrat Tom Suozzi, who won Tuesday’s special election in New York for the House seat once held by ousted Republican Rep. George Santos, ran ads calling for more border security and featuring an interview he did on Fox News in which he supported U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His district includes parts of Queens, a diverse New York borough that has received thousands of migrants bused from the border. Suozzi also shares Biden’s position on creating a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants referred to as “Dreamers,” who are in the country illegally after coming to the U.S. with their families as children. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a New York Democrat, said he does not think the reframing of the immigration debate will backfire. “I think that we can agree that it’s far better under a Biden administration than a potential rerun of Trump,” Espaillat said. But to many immigrant advocates, the deal Biden negotiated with leaders in the Senate showed how a president who had long deemed Trump’s border policies inhumane was willing to curtail asylum in exchange for wartime aid for Ukraine. More than 130 organizations from around the country sent a letter to Biden opposing the deal and the tougher standards for asylum. Some immigration activists expressed frustration with Biden and a lack of enthusiasm to go knock on doors for him at a recent gathering of more than a dozen advocacy groups in Arizona.

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Wall Street Journal - February 19, 2024

America’s oil power might be near its peak

A U.S. shale boom that helped suppress oil-price surges over the past two years is waning. The country’s crude oil output is expected to increase by just 170,000 barrels a day in 2024 from last year, down from a jump of 1 million barrels a day in 2023, according to federal record-keepers. That is the smallest annual increase since 2016, not counting the pandemic. Gushers of new U.S. crude have helped cap soaring oil prices despite OPEC production cuts and global turmoil, including most recently in the Middle East. The gains were driven by private producers that commandeered rigs after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent prices soaring to more than $120 a barrel in early 2022. Now, that growth is expected to slow dramatically. Declining oil prices led producers to lay down rigs last year. Then, many of the operators that had been drilling with abandon were acquired by bigger players looking for ways to expand in the U.S. Those big public companies have given priority to returning cash to shareholders over drilling new wells.

“The ease in growth has gone, unless somebody comes up with a very dramatic new technical innovation,” said Paul Horsnell, head of commodities research at Standard Chartered Bank. Last week, Morgan Stanley analysts lowered their estimate for U.S. oil output this year and raised their forecast for Brent crude to a range of $80 to $85 a barrel, from $75 to $80. The move came a day after Diamondback Energy said it was buying privately held Endeavor Energy and indicated it would give priority to controlling costs. Private companies such as Endeavor have been the country’s swing producers in recent years, boosting production when prices are high and cutting back when they fall. Ten private producers, including Endeavor, accounted for half the Permian Basin’s production increase between December 2019 and March 2023, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights. The Permian Basin, which straddles West Texas and Southeast New Mexico, has accounted for nearly all the country’s oil output growth since the pandemic. Last year, the U.S. produced an estimated 12.9 million barrels of oil a day, which would be a record high and more than any other country. But the number of oil rigs operating in the U.S. has dropped nearly 20% since the end of 2022 to about 500, according to oil-field services firm Baker Hughes. The decline signals a huge deceleration in growth could be coming, since so many wells have been drilled recently and because a shale well’s output declines most rapidly early in its life, said Standard Chartered’s Horsnell.

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Dallas Morning News - February 19, 2024

Nikki Haley takes hard line on immigration, calls for ‘fixes’ to Texas abortion law

Struggling to gain traction in the March 5 Texas primary, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley took a hard line on immigration and pressed the state to clarify abortion exemptions during an interview Friday with The Dallas Morning News. With the nation’s southern border under pressure from migrant crossings, Haley said the U.S. should deport millions of people who are already in the country without authorization. “You have to send them back,” Haley said during a 17-minute interview at the Fairmont Dallas hotel. “As cruel as that sounds, those that came here during these past several four or five years, we have to send them back. And the reason you do that is you have to go and let them know they can’t cut the line.” Haley, who is of Indian descent, said her parents legally immigrated to America.

“They put in the time, they put in the price,” Haley said. “They are offended by what’s happening on the border. My mom would always say if they don’t follow the law when they come here, they won’t follow the law when they actually get here.” Asked if it was practical to deport millions of people, Haley said: “If we can find them, yes.” During the interview with The News, Haley weighed in on another hot-button issue in Texas. She said Texas officials should revisit laws that prompted Kate Cox, a Dallas-area woman, to leave the state for an abortion. Cox had sought a medical exemption to the state’s strict anti-abortion laws, arguing doctors said her nonviable pregnancy was a threat to her health and future fertility. The Texas Supreme Court denied Cox’s challenge, saying her doctors had not proved she was legally entitled to the exemption. “They should make sure no woman in that situation ever goes through that again,” Haley said. “When you see something wrong, fix it,” she added. “We don’t want any other woman to go through what she went through. … It’s OK to put laws in place, but let’s not be so blinded that we don’t fix them when we see there’s something that needs to be adjusted.” Haley said she opposes draconian penalties for getting an abortion. “Let’s make sure for any woman who has an abortion that no state can say that she’s going to get the death penalty or go to jail over that,” Haley said.

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Dallas Morning News - February 19, 2024

Ken Paxton wants revenge on impeachment supporters, but Greg Abbott stands in his way

Wearing jeans and tan cowboy boots, Attorney General Ken Paxton thanked a roomful of voters for helping to save his job, then asked them to drive out House Republicans who voted last year to impeach him. “You let your voice be heard, and by the grace of God I’m here today,” Paxton said at a recent political rally, telling the crowd of about 100 at Collin College in Wylie that their work was not yet done. “This matters more than anything I’ve ever done, that we win these races and that we win the Texas House,” he said. Paxton’s quest has been described as a revenge tour, but to succeed in ridding the House of Republicans who supported impeachment, he has to go through Gov. Greg Abbott. Paxton has endorsed the primary opponents of 20 GOP House incumbents who voted to impeach him. Abbott, operating under different priorities, is backing at least 17 incumbents on Paxton’s target list. Their biggest clash centers in Collin County, where Paxton is trying to oust the GOP’s entire five-member delegation to the Legislature in the March 5 primary. Abbott has asked voters to return four of the five to the House.

The conflicting endorsements reflect contrasting goals. Abbott, who has endorsed about 60 GOP House candidates, wants to retool the House to add supporters for his school choice plan, which has been thwarted by mainly rural Republicans and Democrats. On Feb. 6, Abbott stopped in McKinney — Paxton’s hometown — asking voters to rally behind GOP House incumbent Jeff Leach, once a Paxton friend whom the attorney general badly wants to defeat. Leach urged senators to remove Paxton as unfit for office during closing arguments at September’s impeachment trial. Where Paxton sees an opponent, Abbott sees a like-minded Republican. “He’s a powerful conservative leader that I need back in Austin to work side-by-side with me to keep Texas the No. 1 state in the United States of America,” Abbott said of Leach. The split endorsements are part of a rollicking primary season that has some of the biggest names in Republican Party politics choosing sides, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, former Gov. Rick Perry and former President Donald Trump. Political observers say they need a scorecard to keep track. “We need to diagram these races between people that are not for school choice, people who voted for impeachment and all the other subplots,” said Austin-based lobbyist Bill Miller. “It’s just a mess. I’ve never seen such a cross-section of interests and opposition.”

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State Stories

San Antonio Report - February 19, 2024

After 2022 sweep, Bexar County Republicans throw in the towel on judicial races

Republican judicial candidates have fared so poorly in recent Bexar County elections that this year, none are even running. Democrats took control of the last four remaining Republican-held state District Court bench seats in Bexar County in 2022, completing a partisan shift that began in 2018. Democrats and Republicans are supposed to choose their candidates for 12 other District Court seats on the November ballot, but in the March 5 Republican primary, voters won’t even see those races on their ballot. . “It’s kinda funny, but it’s really pathetic,” said San Antonio Republican political consultant Kelton Morgan. “It used to be that top-tier Republican candidates would fight to get on the ballot in the gubernatorial year, and second-tier candidates would run in presidential year. This year even crazy people are looking at that thinking it’s not competitive.”

Of the 12 District Court seats up in 2024, 11 feature an incumbent Democrat running unopposed in the primary. In the 73rd Civil District Court, Judge David Canales, a Democrat, stepped down Feb. 1, and Gov. Greg Abbott appointed former Bexar County Commissioner Marialyn Barnard, a Republican, to fill the seat Friday. The filing deadline for the primary closed in December, so Barnard will hold the seat only until one of three Democrats running to replace Canales is elected in November. Republicans haven’t had success countywide in Bexar County since 2010. “There’s really not a point [in running], said Timothy Johnson, a Republican who served as a judge for the Bexar County Court-at-Law No. 5 from 1986 to 2009 and has served as a visiting judge across Texas. Johnson pointed to the widespread losses Bexar County Republican candidates weathered during the 2020 presidential election as evidence that the quality of candidate had no bearing their success. “Good, bad, indifferent, they all lost by about [the same number of] votes,” he said. This year, both state and local GOP party leaders have been more focused on running candidates against their own elected office holders.

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KHOU - February 19, 2024

'Reclaiming what is ours': Lakewood Church resumes in-person services a week after shooting

A week after shots were fired inside Lakewood Church, in-person services resumed. Genesee Moreno was killed by two off-duty officers after she walked inside the megachurch armed with an AR-15 style rifle and fired shots. Moreno’s 7-year-old son, Samuel Moreno, who she brought to the church, was shot in the head. He’s still in a hospital in critical condition. Another man, an innocent bystander, was hit in the leg. Pastor Joel Osteen said this special service on Sunday was one of healing and unity. “It was a shooting, but somebody said it didn’t have the word mass before it and that’s the grace of God. I thank God for that," he said. Victoria Osteen also said the service was about reclaiming. "Reclaiming what is ours. Reclaiming the space,” she said. Despite what happened, Pastor Osteen said several miracles took place that Sunday afternoon. “The thing that hits me is that that the officer that helped to neutralize her was really a hero,” said Osteen. “And it was a miracle that he stepped up because she had this big, long weapon and he didn’t have that. I mean that was certainly a miracle.”

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ABC 7 - February 19, 2024

Fairley falsely claims endorsements in upcoming March primary

Early voting for the March 5 primary election begins Tuesday. ABC 7’s Devyn Darmstetter received a tip about a candidate running for statewide office who’s claiming endorsements that never happened. House District 87 candidate Caroline Fairly has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her bid to replace State Representative Four Price. She’s also gotten endorsements from some big-name republicans like Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Congressman Ronny Jackson. Locals have also endorsed her, like Amarillo Mayor Cole Stanley.

Upon scrutinizing the list of endorsements featured on FairlyFortexas.com, we found the names of three people who explicitly stated they did not endorse her. Among those, Potter County Republican Chairman Dan Rogers. "If it's a true endorsement, it should be in writing, and if it's not in writing, it didn't really happen," said Rogers. "But you know there's misinformation in the website. There's all these layers of people that they're dealing with and mistakes can happen. "No. As a county chair, we don't endorse candidates. It's not our role. It's flattering that people want to think that I did. I don't think my opinion matters. What matters is the voters opinion. And what I tried to do as a county chair is I tried to inform the voters," said Rogers. "Because it's our primary, I don't believe it's proper for us to be endorsing candidates." We should note that Rogers announced in August that he was running for the House District 87 seat. But he put his campaign on hold on October 11, 2023. "In recent weeks, I've had the privilege of meeting a promising young candidate with solid conservative values who is genuinely committed to representing the people of District 87," said Rogers at the time. "This candidate will have the resources needed to run an effective campaign and will draw broad conservative support. I am confident that this individual will serve our district with distinction." Fairly announced she was running on October 19, 2023. Dumas Downtown Director Irene Delgado and her husband J, who's running for Moore County Sheriff, were also listed as endorsements on Fairly's website. However, they said they never publicly or privately endorsed Fairly. They did not wish to comment.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 19, 2024

‘Calm kits’ at Uvalde CISD aim to reduce stress in students with trauma

As Uvalde’s students enter the classroom next week, they will have a new tool available to them when they experience big emotions. Cincinnati-based company Calm Caterpillar is becoming part of the district’s mission of trauma-informed care — following the Robb Elementary School massacre — with a donation of 166 Calm Corner Kits. The kits — meant to create a soothing space in classrooms — come with a seat cushion, sensory breathing ball, feelings flashcards and weighted caterpillar “Calmee” designed for guided breathing.

“Helping children develop emotional regulation skills positively contributes to their ability to manage difficult situations,” Nichole Henderson, Uvalde CISD director of recovery services, said in a news release. Calm Caterpillar founder Sarah Habib visited Uvalde on Thursday to train district educators on using the materials, which can be molded according to the age of the student. Little ones can practice “Coyote breathing,” named for the mascot, and older kids can throw the breathing ball back and forth with classmates. “Often for kids, breathing is like a nebulous concept,” Habib said. “When we give them something that they can hold, and they get tactile feedback about how to take a deep breath, it really allows them to focus in.”

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San Antonio Express-News - February 19, 2024

Gen Z is flocking to Texas, making it the most popular state for movers

Members of Generation Z are moving to Texas more than any other state, according to a new report from Zillow. California was the second state that Zoomers, people born between 1996 and 2004, moved to the most. The report considered where members of Gen Z are moving to and away from based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2022 American Community Survey. The report, which excluded college students, found that Texas saw an extra 76,000 Gen Z movers make Texas their home in 2022. Texas saw the highest population increase in the country in 2021 and 2022, and it also has some of the fastest-growing counties, according to a census analysis. More than 470,000 new residents moved to Texas in 2020.

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WFAA - February 19, 2024

Parents upset after Keller ISD trustees brought an Evangelist film crew into schools and filmed students

As they stood together near Keller ISD’s Central High School on Friday, a group of parents shared their anger and frustration. “I’m livid,” said Laney Hawes, a parent whose child attends Central HS. “Our rights and our kids rights have been violated.” Their anger stems from what the district confirmed happened last Friday, February 9. Sandi Walker, a school board trustee brought an Evangelical-based film crew into the high school to conduct interviews with her. Multiple students and parents told WFAA children were filmed and interviewed by the production crew without their consent. Trustee Micah Young was also involved in the filming. Evangelische Omroep (EO), a Netherlands-based Evangelical broadcast television network previously produced the documentary: ‘God, Jesus, Trump.’

“We don’t want politics in our kids schools,” Hawes said. “If kids wanna bring God into schools, beautiful, but it cannot be the administration. There is a separation of church and state.” Elliot Mullaney, a freshman at Central High School said he witnessed the filming take place during his lunch hour. “It’s an invasion of privacy,” said Mullaney. “I think that it’ll be used to spread hate and spread untrue opinions.” The trustees involved, Walker and Young addressed the incident in Facebook posts. Walker apologized in a post, saying: “I recently participated in a foreign documentary focused on public schools in Texas. Some filming took place while students were present. I take safety and privacy of our students seriously. I apologize for allowing students to be captured on film.” Young, who said he “briefly assisted my colleague in an interview about Texas public schools,” said in a Facebook post: “I regret if any students were captured on film. My understanding is the District has been assured by the crew that no student will appear in the footage. The safety and privacy of our students is of utmost importance to me.”

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WFAA - February 19, 2024

Keller ISD board trustee announces resignation amid controversy over film crew brought into school

A Keller ISD school board member announced on Facebook Sunday she will resign from her position. In a post from her now-deleted page, Sandi Walker wrote she decided to resign as a trustee after prayer and conversations with friends and family. Walker added she was proud of what the board had accomplished in her nearly two years as a member. "Over the last 20 months, I have had the privilege to serve the KISD community," Walker wrote. "Thank you all for your support and kindness. My faith is in Jesus and I can rest in the confidence of knowing His plans are good." Walker was one of two KISD trustees who issued apologies amid controversy about an Evangelist film crew from the Netherlands who was allowed into a school and filmed students without the district's or parents' consent. The district confirmed this happened on Feb. 9.

In a letter to Central High School families, KISD Superintendent Tracy Johnson said the crew was on campus to conduct an interview with Walker, who was later joined by fellow trustee Micah Young. The crew then toured the school with Walker and interviewed students and employees. "The District and the Board were not aware of the scheduled interview," Johnson said in the letter. "KISD administrators have been in contact with the film company who have assured us that no students or teachers would be visible in the video that they are producing." Parents frustrated by the incident Sunday called Walker's resignation "welcome." "I don't want my kids used as political pawns," Central High School parent Laney Hawes told WFAA Sunday. "My kids aren't props. I'm angry they came in and filmed my kids to be props for their political agenda." Hawes and others expressed concerns about their children's safety, too. The district has not explained whether the film crew went through normal safety screenings. "They had cameras and bags and suitcases," parent Stacy Rimes said. "What if they had something different?" "It made me pretty angry that these people from a whole different country who we know nothing of were roaming around the halls," Rimes added.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 19, 2024

Will McCorkle: The manufactured rhetoric about the immigration crisis is dangerous

(Will McCorkle is an education professor who works with asylum-seekers in the Mexican border cities of Matamoros and Reynosa.) If you would have told me a month ago that a restrictive immigration reform bill would be largely supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, I would not have believed it. However, this is exactly what happened. The GOP opposed the Senate bill that would tie border security and restrictions to aid for Ukraine and Israel. They stopped it going forward for one primary reason: Former President Donald Trump told them to. This reversal, however, does reveal that the immigration crisis has largely been exaggerated for political reasons. I am glad the bill failed. I do not think we need highly restrictive policies at the border, and I certainly would not want it tied to more money for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, which is facing charges of war crimes. However, I do find it ironic that Sen. Ted Cruz and other representatives who daily scaremonger about the border would not vocally support the bill.

What they certainly must know is that in a time of a dwindling birthrate in the U.S., we are in need of immigrants, including many of the working-class immigrants currently crossing our border. Perhaps more than anything, the increased immigration at the border has helped a little with our labor shortage and skyrocketing inflation. Our legislators should know that increased immigration means economic growth, which helps their own stock portfolios. It is time for the scaremongering and xenophobia to stop. It is not only disingenuous and a distraction from the real issues facing voters, it is dangerous. Trump saying undocumented immigrants are poisoning the blood of our nation sounds like something that would be in a far-right European campaign in the 1930s, not something acceptable to a nation that prides itself on the ideas of freedom and equality. The immigrant crisis is largely invented, but it still is having horrific effects on our body politic, the lives of immigrants and our national values.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 19, 2024

This San Antonio state House race is key to the future of Texas school vouchers

In a debate this week between San Antonio Rep. Steve Allison and the Republican trying to take his place, the moderator was so eager to ask the pair about private school vouchers that she skipped the candidates’ opening remarks. The issue is defining the GOP primary between Allison, who voted against vouchers, and Marc LaHood, who says he would support spending taxpayer dollars on private education. The race is one of a dozen the governor is targeting to push his school voucher program over the finish line. And the contest between Allison and LaHood appears to be among the closest and most heated in the state. Adding to the stakes: the seat will be one of the most competitive in the state come November, so nominating a more conservative Republican could create an opening for Democrats.

Although Allison enjoyed a huge fundraising head start last year, in the last month LaHood narrowed the gap, thanks to hefty donations from Gov. Greg Abbott and James Leininger, a San Antonio billionaire who has long donated to conservative causes, particularly to support school vouchers. Voters in the district say they’re receiving prodigious amounts of mailers, text messages and digital ads in the race. Jon Taylor, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who also lives in the district, said he doesn’t see many LaHood or Allison yard signs in the district, but there’s a “heated virtual campaign.” “Vouchers are on the ballot, no question,” Taylor said. “Given the amount of money and the amount of at least virtual air war that’s taking place, especially on LaHood’s side, it does make me wonder if he’s going to pull an upset.” There is a third candidate in the race, physician assistant Michael Champion, who unsuccessfully ran against Allison in 2022 and won about 2,500 votes. Taylor noted that if Champion were to win enough votes, he could force LaHood and Allison into a runoff that would likely draw intense statewide attention and outside spending. Statewide, most of the anti-voucher Republicans live in rural districts where they say voters aren’t interested in the subsidies because there are very few private education options and public schools often serve as the center of local communities. Allison, however, represents a wealthy area of north San Antonio and Alamo Heights that counts a number of private schools.

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Houston Chronicle - February 19, 2024

Judge Lina Hidalgo calls for increased gun regulations after Lakewood Church shooting

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has joined the list of area elected officials to call for increased gun regulations in response to the Lakewood Church shooting. “All of us in Harris County are hurting from the shooting at Lakewood Church,” she wrote in a statement Friday. “Part of our response to what is now just the latest tragedy like this, which is not unique, is looking at how we can prevent an unstable person from accessing a gun.”

The suspected shooter likely acquired her gun legally, despite a history of mental health concerns and a criminal record, Hidalgo said. State lawmakers should consider passing stricter gun regulations, including a red flag law. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez made the same plea to lawmakers with a statement lake Thursday evening. An expert told the Chronicle that existing Texas laws likely would have allowed Moreno, 36, to purchase guns despite several arrests and reports of a history of mental health concerns. Moreno, 36, fired an AR-style rifle and was also carrying a .22-caliber rifle when she walked into Joel Osteen’s megachurch that afternoon and began shooting, according to police. Two off-duty officers working security shot and killed Moreno. Her 7-year-old son and a 57-year-old man were wounded in the exchange.

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Dallas Morning News - February 19, 2024

It’s a 9-way race, but Colin Allred looks strong in the Democratic Senate primary

It’s difficult to get more than 50% of the vote in a race with nine candidates. Still, Colin Allred has a chance to win the Democratic U.S. Senate primary without a runoff and face Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz in the general election. Allred, a U.S. representative from Dallas, has that possibility because he entered the race early, raised $18.3 million and projected an air of inevitability with political operatives and pundits in Washington and Texas. Early voting for the March 5 primaries begins Tuesday, and for the last few weeks Allred has been alone on the Texas airwaves. He’s the only candidate reaching large swaths of voters in Dallas, Houston, Austin and the Rio Grande Valley, where he’s running the bulk of his TV spots. He has waged a stout digital campaign and has an army of grassroots volunteers across the state.

Though Allred’s fundraising has always dominated the Democratic race, Gutierrez was considered to be a competitive opponent. His advocacy on behalf of the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, where 19 students and two teachers died, put his face in front of voters. A series of special legislative sessions last year may have hampered his ability to raise money and storm out of the starting block. Other candidates also were slow out the gate. Gutierrez acknowledges that Allred has a money advantage but rejects the notion that the race is over. He has been traveling across Texas on a major get-out-the vote swing. “We’re powered by people here. We’re working hard. We’re traveling the state where we’re going up on digital media as well,” Gutierrez said. “I keep all the punditry and all the strategy to my staff and I just get out there to work and talk to people about their problems.” Gutierrez is receiving inspiration from Crandall school teacher Victor Morales, who in 1996 beat U.S. Reps. John Bryant of Dallas and Jim Chapman of Sulphur Springs and Houston lawyer John Odam to win the Democratic nomination for Senate. Morales lost the general election to Republican Phil Gramm. Lacking campaign cash, Morales drove a white pickup across Texas to deliver his message. His surname also helped him attract Latino voters. “He didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” Gutierrez said of Morales. When I pointed out that Morales had the white pickup, Gutierrez was undaunted. “I have a white pickup,” he said.

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Dallas Morning News - February 19, 2024

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We recommend Rep. Julie Johnson in the Democratic primary for the 32nd Congressional District

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred’s decision to run for the Senate has created an opening in this safely Democratic district stretching from southern Dallas to Richardson and Carrollton. Ten candidates are battling for the Democratic nod to replace Allred. Voters should give it to state Rep. Julie Johnson, who is the most qualified. While candidates in this race share common Democratic stances, none comes close to matching Johnson’s command of the issues and her insights on a range of domestic and foreign policy topics. Johnson, an attorney, has put in the time to build her legislative résumé. She has served three terms in the Texas House representing District 115, which includes parts of Addison, Carrollton, Coppell, Dallas, Irving and Farmers Branch. Johnson, 57, has written and passed bills to lower health care costs in Texas, including a measure to make it easier for people with autoimmune diseases to get their prescriptions, and has been a champion for Medicaid expansion in Texas. Her record shows that she often reaches across the aisle.

In an interview with us, she highlighted her work with state Sen. Bob Hall, an ultraconservative, on a bill to reform the Texas Medical Board so it can better protect patients against dangerous doctors. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law last year. Johnson told us she would have supported a bipartisan U.S. Senate bill scuttled by Republicans that would have created new emergency powers to restrict claims from asylum seekers between ports of entry. While Johnson also supports overhauling visa programs to better respond to U.S. labor needs, she described the situation at the southern border as a “hot mess.” Johnson’s strongest challenger is Dr. Brian Williams, 54, who shares her bipartisan spirit. Williams was the trauma surgeon in charge of the emergency room trauma team at Parkland Hospital on July 7, 2016, when a gunman killed five police officers during a protest in downtown Dallas. He has been a heroic voice for sensible gun laws and helped shape the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as a policy adviser in Congress, but he lacks Johnson’s legislative experience and her more extensive record building alliances across the aisle. Attorney Callie Butcher, 34, highlights her record as a community advocate working with legislators in Austin to defend LGBTQ rights. She is well versed on important policy issues, but her stances are more progressive than those of many voters in this district. Johnson has shown that she can deliver pragmatic wins for Democrats and for good government. She deserves the nomination.

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County Stories

Chron - February 19, 2024

San Saba County ranch, owned by one family for generations, hits market

A sprawling ranch in Texas Hill Country, held by the same family for generations, is being publicly offered for sale for the first time ever. The nearly 1,500-acre Zodiac Ranch, located about 16 miles west of the town of San Saba in its eponymous county, was recently listed by Sam Shackelford of Republic Ranches for $17.875 million. Photos show a remarkably beautiful and unusually large plot of land for a region of Texas that has seen land values skyrocket. In fact, while the price of Zodiac Ranch makes it unaffordable for…almost anyone, the listed cost works out to about $12,500 per acre, which is comparatively a steal for a large legacy property in Hill Country. The $80 million Mt. Solitude Ranch, outside of San Antonio, was listed for closer to $22,000 per acre and the Johnson Legacy River Ranch, if sold in full, is about $23,331 per acre. The average cost per acre of rural land in Hill Country at the end of 2022 was $7,127, though that was in the middle of a booming rural land market that has cooled off a bit, according to Texas A&M's Real Estate Research Center.

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San Antonio Report - February 19, 2024

How Bexar Pct. 1's Clay-Flores went from newbie to formidable incumbent

When Democrat Rebeca Clay-Flores defeated an incumbent to win a seat on the Bexar County Commissioners Court in 2020, she arrived with few connections from her campaign or previous jobs. Clay-Flores raised just $32,000 for that long-shot race against a well-funded commissioner from her own party and received almost no attention from local political leaders. Now headed in her first reelection race, the onetime insurgent has become a formidable incumbent whose relationships and fundraising ability have helped keep any of her five Democratic challengers from gaining much traction as the March 5 primary approaches. As of Jan. 25, the last date covered by the most recent campaign finance reports, Clay-Flores had more than a half a million dollars in the bank. Her best-funded opponent, former nonprofit leader Amanda Gonzalez, who has the backing of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County, reported $9,300 on hand.

While a runoff is still entirely possible, political watchers say none of the challengers have picked up much momentum, in part because of Clay-Flores’ success navigating the county’s power structures. “[Her 2020 race] was a stunning victory and she did it with very few resources, so nobody really knew her, myself included,” former Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “But she had a stunning academic background … so I knew she was going to be bright, and it didn’t take her long to assimilate.” Clay-Flores grew up on San Antonio’s South Side, where her family was at times homeless when she was a child. She attended Princeton University on a scholarship, received a master’s degree in education from Harvard and spent most of her career teaching before going to work for the city’s Metropolitan Health District. In her campaign for Commissioners Court, Clay-Flores promised to bring a new perspective to a body that had never elected a woman of color. But after defeating four-term incumbent Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez in a runoff with more than 60% of the vote, her policy objectives remained a mystery to colleagues and staff. “She was independent,” Wolff said. “And people didn’t really know her philosophy.” Longtime observers of the court suspected Clay-Flores would team up with Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), who also represents some of the county’s most economically disadvantaged residents and has long butted heads with county leaders over spending priorities. Calvert’s father, community organizer T.C. Calvert, was one of Clay-Flores’ few well-known supporters during her campaign. But shortly after taking office, Clay-Flores found herself in closer alignment with Wolff. In April 2021 Gov. Greg Abbott was seeking to shut down a county-run shelter for unaccompanied migrant youth, claiming they were being abused by facility staff. Clay-Flores, who started a Bible study at the facility, crashed the governor’s press conference and got him to tour the facility.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - February 19, 2024

San Antonio Tejano music community reacts to death of beloved DJ at Kansas City parade shooting

The San Antonio Tejano community is rallying in support of the family of Lisa Lopez-Galvan, a Tejano music DJ who was killed in the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl parade shooting. Lopez-Galvan was a longtime fan of the “Taste of Tejano” radio show on KKFI in Kansas City, before she became a co-host in March 2022. The daughter of a trumpet player, she called music “a source of life and happiness,” according to her KKFI bio. Local Tejano DJ “Tex-Mex Mike” paid tribute to the 43-year-old mother on social media, asking his fans to keep her family in their prayers. San Antonio radio host “Bigg Boyee” of KLMO also held a moment of silence on air Thursday and dedicated a live stream of his show to Lopez-Galvan.

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National Stories

CNN - February 19, 2024

High-profile Republicans head for the exits amid House GOP dysfunction

House Republicans were shocked by some of the recent high-profile retirements announced by their colleagues, which have included powerful committee chairs and rising stars inside the GOP. But given the miserable state of affairs inside the House right now, they also weren’t exactly surprised. “They’ve signed up to do serious things. And we’re not doing serious things,” said Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, a conservative who is retiring after bucking his party on several key issues. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, a moderate who represents a key swing seat, pointed to his party’s struggle to govern as driving the departures. “When you’re divided in your own conference, the joy of the job is harder,” Bacon told CNN. “When you have folks on your own team with their knives out, it makes it less enjoyable.” And Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida, an ally of deposed former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, said this is not how he or many of his colleagues imagined life in the majority, saying, “I thought that some of our members would be smarter.”

As the 118th Congress has been dominated by deep dysfunction and bitter divisions inside the GOP, a number of Republicans – particularly from the so-called governing wing – are heading for the exits. So far, 23 GOP lawmakers have decided to not seek reelection or resigned early, including five committee chairs, though some have cited personal reasons or are seeking higher office. Still, the caliber and timing of some of the retirements has raised alarm bells, particularly those who are giving up coveted committee gavels that some work their whole career to achieve. Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is not even term-limited yet in her plum post, while China select committee Chair Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, a 39-year-old who was once seen as the future of the party, recently announced he was leaving Congress after facing intense blowback for voting against impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. And on the Energy and Commerce Committee alone – a highly sought-after assignment – there are eight Republicans who are retiring. “Those are big losses for us,” said Rep. Greg Pence of Indiana, who is among the members on the panel hanging up his voting card. “It is alarming. Especially for the institutional knowledge … So, that’s a big deal.” The wave of retirements is rattling some of the Republicans who are choosing to stick around and fueling concern about a potential brain drain as more senior members decide to leave and take their wealth of institutional knowledge with them.

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Washington Post - February 19, 2024

Biden administration weighs slowing the shift to electric vehicles

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering relaxing one of its most significant climate change rules — tailpipe emissions limits for cars and trucks — by giving automakers more time to boost sales of electric vehicles, according to two people familiar with the matter. Rather than mandating a rapid increase in electric vehicle (EV) sales in the coming years, the agency could delay these requirements until after 2030, the two people said. The individuals spoke on the condition of anonymity because no final decision has been made; the rule will not be finalized until March at the earliest. The move comes as the Biden administration faces pressure on multiple fronts to weaken its electrification targets, in part because of slowing EV sales and also problems with public EV charging stations.

The New York Times first reported that the EPA is mulling such a change, which would mark a major election-year concession to automakers and labor unions. It comes as President Biden walks a political tightrope by balancing two high-profile priorities: fighting climate change and championing labor rights. During a contentious strike in the fall, the United Auto Workers sounded the alarm that a rapid shift to EVs could come at the expense of well-paying jobs. The union has been wary of EVs because they generally require fewer workers to assemble than gasoline-powered vehicles, and because many EV plants are being built in Southern states less friendly to unions. In April, the EPA issued a proposed rule that called for EVs to account for 67 percent of all new passenger car and light-duty truck sales by 2032. Weeks later, UAW President Shawn Fain wrote that the union was withholding its endorsement of Biden’s reelection campaign over “concerns with the electric vehicle transition.” In January, the EPA sent the final rule to the White House for interagency review. Soon after, the UAW endorsed Biden at its annual legislative conference in Washington.

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Washington Post - February 19, 2024

Sinclair’s recipe for TV news: Crime, homelessness, illegal drugs

Every year, local television news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting conduct short surveys among viewers to help guide the year’s coverage. A key question in each poll, according to David Smith, the company’s executive chairman: “What are you most afraid of?” The answers are evident in Sinclair’s programming. Crime, homelessness, illegal drug use, failing schools and other societal ills have long been core elements of local TV news coverage. But on Sinclair’s growing nationwide roster of stations, the editorial focus reflects Smith’s conservative views and plays on its audience’s fears that America’s cities are falling apart, according to media observers, Smith associates, and current and former staffers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal company matters.

Smith, an enthusiastic supporter of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump who has built Sinclair into one of the largest television station operators in the country, purchased the Baltimore Sun last month. In a private meeting with the Sun’s journalists, he urged them to emulate coverage at the local Sinclair station, Fox45, which in 2021 produced a documentary titled simply “Baltimore Is Dying.” Sinclair’s local network of 185 stations across the country makes it an influential player in shaping the views of millions of Americans, especially at a time when local newspapers are rapidly being gutted — or closed altogether. As Sinclair increasingly fills the void, it offers its viewers a perspective that aligns with Trump’s oft-stated opinion that America’s cities, especially those run by Democratic politicians, are dangerous and dysfunctional. “Sinclair stations deliver messages that appeal to older, White, suburban audiences, and they play up crime stories in a way that is disproportionate to their statistical presence,” said Anne Nelson, a journalist and author of “Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right.” “All of it is fearmongering and feeds into a racialized view of cities.” Nelson, who has spent decades studying conservative media and political propaganda, said that local TV news reports traditionally cover local crime stories, but Sinclair’s programming does it “more than usual, and with a particular message.” She said that the lack of local papers has changed the role of local TV news.

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CNN - February 19, 2024

2 police officers and 1 firefighter killed responding to a domestic incident outside Minneapolis, governor says

Two police officers and a firefighter were fatally shot and another officer was injured after responding to a domestic incident early Sunday morning in Burnsville, Minnesota, according to local authorities. The incident began around 1:50 a.m. CT, when Burnsville police were called to a home where a man was reported to be armed and barricaded inside with family members, city officials said in a news release. “After arriving, the situation escalated into gunfire with responders,” the city said in the release. Three men were fatally shot, while another officer, Sgt. Adam Medlicott, was injured and taken to a hospital. He is believed to have suffered non-life-threatening injuries, the city said. Burnsville city officials identified the three victims Sunday afternoon as officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge, both 27, and firefighter/paramedic Adam Finseth, 40. The suspect, who has not been identified, was also killed, according to the news release.

The other family members were able to leave the home and are safe, officials said. A total of 7 children between the ages of 2 and 15 were in the home, Superintendent Drew Evans of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said during a news conference Sunday. He said the 911 call came from someone in the home. The unidentified man had “several guns and a large amount of ammunition,” when he shot at police “from multiple positions in the home,” Evans said. Multiple firearms were recovered from the residence, he added. Body camera footage from the officers will be reviewed and the medical examiner will identify the suspect, Evans said. Autopsies are scheduled for Monday. The city said although there is no active threat in the area, residents are asked to stay away while the incident is being investigated. “Minnesota mourns with you,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said during the news conference. Walz expressed his support for the families of the victims in a post online. “We must never take for granted the bravery and sacrifices our police officers and first responders make every day. My heart is with their families today and the entire State of Minnesota stands with Burnsville,” Walz said. The governor added flags would be flown at half-staff across Minnesota on Monday and the state Department of Public Safety is “coordinating with local law enforcement to conduct an investigation.”

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Politico - February 19, 2024

A journalism professor blames Wall Street for the newspaper industry’s collapse.

The great American newspaper ain’t what it used to be. At practically every newspaper in the country except for a fortunate few, hard times have reduced page count, eliminated news beats and resulted in the layoffs of thousands of journalists. The hardest hit, Margot Susca reports in her new book, Hedged: How Private Investment Funds Helped Destroy American Newspapers and Undermine Democracy, have been the chain newspapers — Gannett, GateHouse, Lee Enterprises, et al. — purchased and squeezed by private equity firms like Alden Global Capital. Nationwide, the percentage of newspapers owned by private equity rose from 5 percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 2019; they include such storied titles as the Chicago Tribune, the Orange County Register and USA Today, as well as scores of smaller papers. Some papers have been reduced to zombie versions of their former selves as the new owners have shaved them down to minimize costs, depriving readers of the comprehensive coverage they enjoyed in the golden age of newspapers.

By JACK SHAFER 02/18/2024 07:00 AM EST Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer. He has written commentary about the media industry and politics for decades and was previously a columnist for Reuters and Slate. The great American newspaper ain’t what it used to be. At practically every newspaper in the country except for a fortunate few, hard times have reduced page count, eliminated news beats and resulted in the layoffs of thousands of journalists. The hardest hit, Margot Susca reports in her new book, Hedged: How Private Investment Funds Helped Destroy American Newspapers and Undermine Democracy, have been the chain newspapers — Gannett, GateHouse, Lee Enterprises, et al. — purchased and squeezed by private equity firms like Alden Global Capital. Nationwide, the percentage of newspapers owned by private equity rose from 5 percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 2019; they include such storied titles as the Chicago Tribune, the Orange County Register and USA Today, as well as scores of smaller papers. Some papers have been reduced to zombie versions of their former selves as the new owners have shaved them down to minimize costs, depriving readers of the comprehensive coverage they enjoyed in the golden age of newspapers. Susca, an American University professor of journalism and a former newspaper journalist, writes that these new owners have turned their backs on what she thinks is the true purpose of newspapers — to serve democracy — in their pursuit of greed. For a taste of the book, see this excerpt in Neiman Reports. As someone who’s covered the industry’s growing travails for some time, you can detect a bit of skepticism from my questions. Is Wall Street really to blame for the fall of newspapers? By the end of our conversation, she was asking me, “Did you just brush up on your Milton Friedman?” "Newspaper executives pressured by private equity investors chose mergers and acquisitions as the strategy to face the digital future. It stacked debt as advertising losses also mounted. But before and after the recession, investment firms and the private equity divisions of Wall Street banks created conditions that left newspaper chains hamstrung and in debt for billions of dollars after a wave of acquisitions and consolidations. Different private firms then profited off newspaper bankruptcies or debt financing," she said.

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New York Times - February 19, 2024

Democrats hope the road to House control starts in Long Island

Within hours of Tom Suozzi’s decisive victory in a House special election in New York last week, the optimistic pronouncements from Democrats began rolling in. Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed that her party’s path to regaining control of the House of Representatives “flows through New York.” And the House minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, took a shot at the “much-hyped Nassau County Republican machine.” The outcome for Democrats was a welcome reversal of fortune on Long Island, where voters — wary of property taxes, inflation and a pandemic-era jump in crime — had recently embraced Republicans. Until Mr. Suozzi’s victory in New York’s Third Congressional District, Republicans had held all four congressional seats on Long Island, and they crushed Democrats in a pivotal 2022 election, helping swing the House to Republican control.

It is far from clear if Mr. Suozzi’s defeat of the Republicans’ largely untested candidate, Mazi Pilip, was simply a product of its unique circumstances — a February special election to replace George Santos, a Republican whose never-ending cascade of lies led to his expulsion last year. But Democrats contend that Mr. Suozzi’s successful approach — concentrating on the improving economy and adopting moderate stances on divisive issues like crime and immigration — portends bigger gains for the party in the fall. “Common-sense Democrats can win on Long Island when our voters come out,” said Laura Gillen, a Democrat who is trying to unseat Representative Anthony D’Esposito, a first-term Republican, in the neighboring Fourth District in southern and central Nassau County, adding that her party should not “let the G.O.P. own tough issues.” Ms. Gillen, who lost to Mr. D’Esposito in 2022, added: “I think this was a firm rejection of the G.O.P.’s rigid ‘my way or the highway’ political agenda that they’ve been taking.” Broad discontent with leaders from both major parties was evident in interviews with dozens of voters in the Third District. If there was frustration with President Biden, there was also reluctance to return to Donald J. Trump. “Anything that will defeat Trump and Republican craziness,” said Mark Rubin, 64, a retired founder of a manufacturing business who cast an emphatic vote for Mr. Suozzi mostly because Mr. Suozzi is not a member of Mr. Trump’s party. “Make sure the Democratic Party can be counted on.”

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Washington Post - February 19, 2024

Iran, wary of wider war, urges its proxies to avoid provoking U.S.

Iran, eager to disrupt U.S. and Israeli interests in the Middle East but wary of provoking a direct confrontation, is privately urging Hezbollah and other armed groups to exercise restraint against U.S. forces, according to officials in the region. Israel’s brutal war on Hamas in Gaza has stoked conflict between the United States and Iran’s proxy forces on multiple fronts. With no cease-fire in sight, Iran could face the most significant test yet of its ability to exert influence over these allied militias. When U.S. forces launched strikes this month on Iranian-backed groups in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, Tehran publicly warned that its military was ready to respond to any threat. But in private, senior leaders are urging caution, according to Lebanese and Iraqi officials who were briefed on the talks. They spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive conversations.

U.S. officials say the message might be having some effect. As of Saturday, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria hadn’t attacked U.S. forces in more than 13 days, an unusual lull since the war in Gaza began in October. The militants held their fire even after a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed a senior Kataib Hezbollah official. “Iran may have realized their interests are not served by allowing their proxies unrestricted ability to attack U.S. and coalition forces,” one U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter. The Biden administration has taken a similarly cautious approach with Iran. In launching dozens of strikes on Feb. 2 — retaliation for a drone strike last month that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan — U.S. forces targeted Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria but did not strike inside Iran. U.S. diplomats, meanwhile, are pressuring Israel and Hamas to agree on a cease-fire in Gaza. During the negotiated pause in the fighting in November, attacks by Iranian-backed groups dropped throughout the region.

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