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Newsclips - November 28, 2022

Lead Stories

New York Times - November 28, 2022

Biden helped Democrats avert a ’22 disaster. What about ’24?

Expecting a cataclysmic midterm election, many Democrats had been bracing for an end-of-year reckoning with whether President Biden, who once declared himself a “bridge” to a new generation, should give way to a new 2024 standard-bearer. But the stronger-than-expected Democratic showing has taken the pressure off. And Donald J. Trump’s decision to announce a run for president again, and the Republican backlash against him, have abruptly quieted Democrats’ public expressions of anxiety over Mr. Biden’s poor approval ratings, while reminding them of Mr. Biden’s past success over Mr. Trump. Now, as Mr. Biden mulls a decision over whether to seek a second term, interviews with more than two dozen Democratic elected officials and strategists suggest that, whatever misgivings some Democrats may harbor about another Biden candidacy, his party is more inclined for now to defer to him than to try to force a frontal clash with a sitting president.

In recent days, officials ranging from Representative Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative House Democrats, to Representative Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have said they would support another Biden bid. In private conversations, younger Democratic operatives have shifted from discussing potential job opportunities in a competitive presidential primary to gaming out what a Biden re-election campaign might look like. And a variety of lawmakers have lauded Mr. Biden for the party’s history-defying midterm performance, crediting him with the major legislative accomplishments they were able to run on and with pressing a message that cast Republican candidates as extremists who threatened democracy. Already, Mr. Biden appears to be improving Democrats’ confidence in him: A recent USA Today/Ipsos poll found that 71 percent of Democrats surveyed believe he could win in 2024, up from 60 percent who said the same in August, though they were evenly divided on whether he should be the 2024 nominee. The concerns about Mr. Biden’s overall weak standing in public opinion polls — which was a burden for many Democratic candidates — have not dissipated entirely. And some Democrats say that the challenges confronting the 80-year-old president and his party should not be glossed over in the party’s relief over the outcome of the elections.

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Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2022

Boil water notice issued for entire city of Houston, Bellaire; HISD, others cancel classes

A boil water notice was issued for Houston Sunday after a power outage knocked down water pressure in the city's primary water system. As a result, Houston ISD decided to cancel classes at all campuses and close offices Monday, the district announced in a social media post late Sunday. Three other school districts — Spring Branch, Aldine and Pasadena — followed suit. Fort Bend schools will be open. The boil order is a precaution for the city's 2.2 million water customers, the city said — there is no evidence the city's water has been contaminated — and will be in place until late Monday or early Tuesday, when the city expects to begin receiving results from water samples it plans to submit for testing Monday morning.

The cities of Bellaire and West University Place also announced water boil notices in response to the Houston water pressure issue, though West University Place noted in its announcement that only residents on Law Street would be affected. The situation developed much earlier in the day when water pressure dipped below state safety requirements Sunday morning during an outage at the city's East Water Purification Plant, the city's Department of Public Works said in a statement. The city did not issue a news release ordering residents to boil water until several hours had elapsed. During that time, the city was investigating what had happened and was working with state regulators to determine what its legal obligations were, said Erin Jones, a spokeswoman for Houston Public Works. At first, the city thought a water main break may have caused the system to malfunction. Then, it learned a power outage of mysterious origins had caused the water pressure to briefly dip below state requirements.

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Bloomberg - November 28, 2022

Populist House Republicans picking a fight with US business over ‘woke capitalism’

Republicans and their longtime corporate allies are going through a messy breakup as companies’ equality and climate goals run headlong into a GOP movement exploiting social and cultural issues to fire up conservatives. The ensuing drama will unfold over the next two years in the US House, where the incoming GOP majority plans to pressure companies on immigration, equality and climate change stances that are now being assailed by key Republicans as “woke capitalism.” Most directly in the GOP cross-hairs is the US Chamber of Commerce, which is under pressure from likely House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to replace its leadership after the nation’s biggest business lobby backed some Democratic candidates.

As the conflict simmers, the California Republican and his top lieutenant, Steve Scalise, have refused to meet with Chamber representatives, according to a person familiar with their thinking. And rank-and-file Republicans are largely disregarding the once influential “key vote alerts” the Chamber distributes, a former senior Republican aide said. Divisions between populist Republicans and big business are rooted in President Donald Trump’s attacks on executives such as General Motors Co.’s chief executive officer, Mary Barra, Merck & Co. Chairman Kenneth C. Frazier, and Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos. When companies suspended campaign donations after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection to Republicans who denied the result of the 2020 presidential election, the rift widened, even though many businesses have since resumed their giving. With Trump mounting his third presidential campaign and DeSantis positioning himself as a potential rival, the discord between corporate interests and conservatives threatens to intensify. Interviews with lawmakers, lobbyists and former congressional aides highlighted the growing tensions with a new crop of Republicans more focused on social and cultural issues than business priorities. “All of those companies are going to have a hell of a time getting back into the good graces of Republicans,” said John Feehery, a veteran House Republican aide who is now a partner with the lobbying firm EFB Advocacy.

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Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2022

AG Paxton touted ‘unprecedented’ election fraud in Texas. Here’s how 4 major cases fizzled.

Kelly Brunner had been working at the State Supported Living Center here for just over a year when her bosses at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission appointed her to the Voter Registration Liaison team. Residents of the facility outside Waco include those diagnosed with serious psychiatric disorders; most also have been accused of crimes. Yet many remained legally eligible to vote as the 2020 general election approached. As a licensed social worker and former special education teacher, Brunner took her assignment seriously. “The purpose of the center is to teach residents life skills,” she said. “Part of that is teaching them how to be citizens.” She explained her plan in an email that fall: With the facility in COVID lockdown, “We will be applying for mail-in ballots and we will be reading the ballot to them. We have also discussed making posters listing the candidates and their stance on key issues so that the guys can make an informed decision.”

Instead, she was about to become one of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top exhibits of a supposed wave of election fraud sweeping Texas and the country. Brunner was quickly indicted for 134 election fraud crimes — one of the largest illegal voting cases filed in Texas. Paxton, who would become an active and enthusiastic amplifier of Donald Trump’s false claim that fraud cost him the presidential race — including speaking at the January 6 rally before the U.S. Capitol assault — depicted her as the worst sort of vote-stealer. Over a five-month period bracketing the November 2020 election, Paxton announced the largest election fraud cases since the attorney general’s office began tracking them in 2005. In addition to Brunner’s 134 counts, there was a 142-count prosecution in Medina County, outside of San Antonio; and a case in Gregg County, in East Texas, alleging 134 felony voting crimes. A sprawling case filed earlier in Edinburg, in the Rio Grande Valley, tacked three dozen more onto the count. As Texas lawmakers gathered for the 2021 Legislative session, influential Republicans cited the eye-popping numbers as evidence of rampant tampering in Texas. “Voter fraud is real and failure of the states to better secure future elections will only serve to undermine public confidence in the ballot box,” U.S. Rep. Chip Roy said in April, citing the big cases. Yet over the past year, as the lens through which the alarming accusations were viewed shifted from the political to the legal, each of the huge cases has deflated into something much less. For Paxton, the result is a record of courtroom whiffs that raises questions about the purpose of filing and broadcasting such ominous-sounding cases.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 28, 2022

‘A holding pattern of uncertainty’: Homebuilders walk away from new land deals

With many buyers on the sidelines due to affordability challenges and rising mortgage rates, builders have seen a dramatic slowdown in the pace of sales and have dramatically slowed down construction starts, leaving builders with more land than they plan to build on in the near future. That has brought new land acquisitions by builders in D-FW and throughout the U.S. to a screeching halt over the past few months, with many public builders telling investors during earnings calls that they have walked away from land contracts, paying millions in fees to do so. Arlington-based D.R. Horton, the largest U.S. homebuilder, wrote off $34 million in costs last quarter related to land and home-lot contracts it terminated or expects to terminate. The company saw a 15% year-over-year decrease in sales orders last quarter to 13,582 homes, and its cancellation rate rose to 32% last quarter from 24% in the previous quarter. Green Brick Partners, a Plano-based builder that builds in D-FW and Atlanta through brands including Trophy Signature Homes, Southgate Homes and CB Jeni, significantly slowed down land acquisitions until the market adjusts.

“We have no need to buy land to grow our business and don’t plan to buy much or any land in Q4 2022 or well into 2023,” co-founder and CEO Jim Brickman said in a third-quarter earnings call Nov. “While it is difficult to accurately predict what will happen in the short term, our long-term view on the immense imbalance of housing supply and demand remains intact. “A decade-long underproduction of housing has resulted in a gap of approximately 4 million housing units that will take many years to adjust, if not another decade. Recent and expected future reductions in housing starts are likely to exaggerate the housing shortage.” Green Brick also plans to postpone the next phase of land development for some communities due to the volatility in the market and slower sales, said Jed Dolson, chief operating officer. He said the company expects to pull back land and lot development spending about 45% next year compared with 2022. Arizona-based Taylor Morrison, which owns or controls about 80,000 lots nationwide, is reassessing every deal before closing. It reduced spending on new land 70% year over year in the third quarter to $102 million, its lowest level since 2016. “We have a really good land bank, so we don’t feel the pressure to get any deal to the finish line that doesn’t make sense,” Taylor Morrison chairman and CEO Sheryl Palmer said in a call with investors Oct. 26. “There will be an opportunity to invest at the right time.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2022

Texans approved $35 billion in construction projects, the most of any state

In the November elections, voters around the country approved $57 billion of borrowing for construction projects, on track for the most in a single election in the 10-year history of S&P Global Intelligence tracking the data, with Texas voters approving by far the most of any state. Voters from 39 counties in Texas approved more than $35 billion for school buildings, libraries, wastewater facilities, football stadiums, parks, roads and other projects. Experts said the explosion of borrowing for infrastructure in Texas was largely a product of population growth and the pandemic. Many projects were delayed during the worst days of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Nationally, I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand," said Sherri Greenberg, a former state representative who is now a fellow with the LBJ School Of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. "We’ve been through over two years of COVID, and so many things were shut down, right? And I don’t mean just stores and restaurants, I mean the economy, government, all kinds of plans were put on hold.” "People have re-emerged and there are infrastructure needs,” she said. Meanwhile, Congress has passed several rounds of stimulus and infrastructure funding that have left local governments flush with cash, and interest rates and construction costs are on the rise, making now a good time to start building. “For the most part, most states are in really good shape right now financially," said John Diamond, who studies public finance at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. "So I think they’re looking for ways to put their money to work, and they feel like they’ve got the resources right now to fund these longer-term projects.” Diamond said many cities and counties are hoping to lock in interest rates now, before they possibly rise higher.

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Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2022

Houston school districts have made safety a bigger priority after Uvalde, but budget issues persist

School districts across Texas have doubled up on safety measures in the years since the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School and even more in the months following the Uvalde school massacre. They are installing fences, upgrading door locks and even purchasing costly weapons detection systems with money voters have approved in bond issues. They're making sure their metal detectors are operating and conducting drills to make sure everyone knows how to handle an intruder, according to a survey completed by more than 150 Texas school districts by Hearst news organizations. While safety is the districts' top priority, it puts a strain on their budgets, according to the survey results. "Since Uvalde shooting, we have spent approximately $700,00 on safety upgrades/initiatives," Kingville Superintendent Cissy Perez wrote in the survey. "However, we have received $0 from the state/federal government. Districts are hurting financially and this is just one more thing to add to the strain on finance."

In the wake of the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed, the Hearst Television National Investigative Unit, with assistance from Hearst Newspapers, sought school safety information from every public school district in all 50 states. In Texas, 158 school districts responded. That's about 15 percent of districts statewide. Nationwide — despite the tragic, unceasing tempo of school shootings in America — a sizable number of districts that responded acknowledge they have not yet briefed their staffs about how local law enforcement would respond to an active shooter on their campuses. The 15-item questionnaire, sent to districts at the start of the school year this September, captured a unique snapshot of the evolving way schools are addressing safety – and reveal those that admit they are falling short of securing their schools. The results also spotlight new safety initiatives launched to protect classrooms, including those put in place after massacres of children at Sandy Hook, Parkland and Uvalde. More than 1 in 10 districts that responded to the questionnaire – 11.4 percent – said they allow teachers or district staff to carry loaded firearms on campus, an initiative in some states, such as in Texas and Florida, called “guardian” programs. Don Metzler, superintendent of Callisburg ISD, just north of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, said distance to emergency aid was a factor. “We do not have a local police department in this little town of 342 people,” he said.

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Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2022

Rep. Al Green pushes for return of Houston DACA recipient stuck in Mexico

When Jaime Avalos left Houston for an immigration interview in Mexico, he thought he was on the path to becoming a permanent resident of the United States, where he has lived since his parents brought him to the country as a 1-year-old. Instead, Avalos has been stuck in Juárez for three months — and might have to stay there for a decade — after learning that he was barred from re-entering the U.S. for breaking immigration law at the age of 7, when his mother took him back to Mexico to register his birth so he could be adopted by his stepfather. Aside from that trip, which Avalos said he doesn’t remember, he has lived his entire life in Houston, where he was protected from deportation by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Avalos graduated from Bellaire High School, married a U.S. citizen and has a son who turns 1 next month.

“I don’t know anything here. I don’t know anybody here,” said Avalos, who has been staying with an uncle since August. “I’m basically a stranger here. It doesn’t feel like home. It’s really hard.” Now, U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, is pushing to bring Avalos home, arguing that it’s an “injustice” that he would be punished for something he had no control over 21 years ago. Green has filed a bill that would allow Avalos to return to the U.S., as well as legislation rewriting the immigration law Avalos broke, which bars immigrants living in the country illegally from returning for a 10-year span if they leave. Green’s bill would create exceptions for children and for violations that are more than 10 years old. “All of this happened when he was a child. He had no control over what was happening at the time,” Green said. “This is an injustice, and we have to correct it.” Meanwhile, Avalos’ attorney, Naimeh Salem, has filed for humanitarian parole to allow him to come home sooner. She said she is optimistic he may be able to return before the end of the year. Immigration attorneys said Avalos’ exact situation is probably uncommon. Avalos was protected by DACA but forfeited that protection when he left the U.S. without permission, known as advanced parole. He traveled to Juárez in August for an interview with the Mexican consul there, as he sought to obtain permanent U.S. residency.

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Dallas Morning News - November 28, 2022

Carla Piñeyro Sublett: Keeping jobs in Texas: For women, connections are important

(Carla Piñeyro Sublett is the former senior vice president and chief marketing officer of IBM, president of the board of the Texas Conference for Women and co-author of “Rekindling a Sense of Community at Work,” published in the Harvard Business Review.) When I worked at Dell, a group of us decided to form a group focused on health, wellness and working out together. Some of us walked. Some of us ran. Some of us met at the gym. It was a simple, fun way to connect. We got to talk about ourselves, our families and our interests. We got to talk to people we never spoke to in the office. Titles mean little when you’re rounding a track. As groups like this popped up at Dell locations across the globe, we also got to feel part of something bigger. In short, we felt connected as part of a global corporation. We were a true team dedicated to a shared mission. This is the feeling many of us lacked during the COVID-19 years. Sure, remote work has its advantages. It even humanized many of us, as we had a chance to see people in their homes and even meet their families and pets. But there’s no denying remote work was isolating. And one of the prices we paid was a loss of connection. A recent survey of nearly 1,500 participants of the Conferences for Women found that women experienced a 37% decline in their sense of connection since COVID.

And clearly, women today value opportunities to make up for this decline. More than 15,000 women attended the 2022 Texas Conference for Women in Austin this month, the first time in our 23-year history that we offered in-person and virtual events in recognition of the growing importance of connection. Texas employers should pay attention to this if we are to maintain all the impressive new jobs we’ve gained in recent years. Texas has had nine consecutive months of job growth this year, adding 72,800 jobs during July alone, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. We’re also enjoying an unemployment rate of 4%, the lowest since before the pandemic. But we also know that many employees continue to quit their jobs at significantly higher levels than before the pandemic. The World Economic Forum reported this summer that employees in the United States were quitting their jobs at a rate 25% higher than before the pandemic, leaving some employers and entire industries with talent gaps. Research by McKinsey and Co. has also shown that inadequate compensation and opportunities for advancement are not the only reasons people give for quitting. Many employees also cite “softer” reasons. Specifically, 34% of those surveyed by McKinsey cited uncaring or uninspiring leaders as their reason for quitting. Twenty-six percent cited unreliable or unsupportive colleagues. Another 26% cited a lack of support for health and well-being.

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Dallas Morning News - November 28, 2022

Star Wars to science: UTD researchers harvest water from air to address shortages

In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker grows up on the hot desert planet Tatooine. His family owns a moisture farm that uses devices called “vaporators” to pull drinking water from the air. But while vaporators are a figment of science fiction, the technology that makes them work may be moving closer to fact. Researchers from Xianming “Simon” Dai’s lab at the University of Texas at Dallas are developing technology that can pull water from the air. They recently published a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showcasing a more efficient way of harvesting water that takes inspiration from a carnivorous plant. The technology has a long way to go before it’s ready for human use. But the researchers hope to one day create a portable device that people could use to access clean water during shortages. “We’re trying to get water everywhere, at any time, anywhere. That’s our goal,” said Dai, a UTD assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

In August, 62% of Texas faced extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Triple-digit temperatures, like the kind Dallas experienced this summer, can make heat waves and droughts worse, leading to water shortages. Dai is interested in decentralized water distribution: providing people with the water they need without the use of city-regulated water treatment plants and reservoirs. He has been studying water harvesting for the past 10 years, hoping to improve access to clean water by harnessing a natural process called condensation. When you take a cold glass of water outside on a hot day, tiny water droplets can form on the rim of the glass. The warm water vapor in the air is drawn to the cold glass and cools down, or condenses, into those droplets. Dai and his lab aimed to harvest water using a similar approach. If they could keep a surface cool, drawing warm water vapor to it, they could condense the water into droplets and collect it.

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Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2022

Jerome Solomon: The curious and complicated history of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and racism.

Let Jerry Jones tell it, he showed up outside his high school in North Little Rock, Ark., on Sept. 9, 1957, in the same manner as Forrest Gump did at a George Wallace gathering at the University of Alabama six years later. Innocently. They were at the same type of rally being held for the same reason — preventing Black students from enrolling at all-white schools in the Deep South. According to Jones he was just like Gump, simply “curious.” While they were dressed alike and sported the same haircut, two things stand out: Forrest Gump is not a real person. Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who Forbes lists as the 44th-richest person in America, is not that simple. This is not an easy one to wade through.

Before you chastise Jones for joining the racist mob that stood on school building steps 65 years ago blocking six Black students from entering, do remember, it was 65 years ago. Jones brought up that fact several times in an interview with media Thursday night after the Cowboys beat the New York Giants in America’s Team’s annual Thanksgiving Day game. We are not all heroes or villains. There is significant room between these two extremes in human behavior. Had Jones been on the side of the Black students, he would have gladly told this story many times over and been celebrated for it. Instead, his most significant memory is he got in trouble with his football coach for being there. One of the pictures from the day Jones ignored his high school coach’s directive to stay away was featured in a Washington Post report about Jones’ power in the NFL. In a millisecond of a freeze frame, Jones was caught looking on as his classmates blocked the North Little Rock Six, a far less recognized group than the Little Rock Nine. (A few days and a few miles made a difference.) The story points out that Jones has never hired a Black head coach and has been slow to acknowledge that diversity at that level should be a priority in the NFL.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 28, 2022

Texas colleges of education update curricula after COVID pandemic

When COVID-19 forced school districts across the country to close their buildings and move classes online in the spring of 2020, teachers were left scrambling to find new ways to do the job many had done the same way for decades. Although teachers and students have been back in school for more than a year, many of the changes brought about by the pandemic are likely here to stay. But digital tools aren’t the only change: Teachers must now find ways to work with students who are still suffering the mental health effects of the pandemic. Now, teacher preparation programs in Texas and nationwide are beginning to incorporate coursework designed to help the students understand how to teach using the same digital tools that long-tenured educators struggled to adopt during school shutdowns, and to prepare them to work with students who are dealing with trauma.

Leaders of those programs say they made those changes out of a recognition that the teaching profession may never look the same as it did before the pandemic. “We were very aware that we were at a crossroads in the teaching profession,” said Randy Bomer, dean of the College of Education at the University of North Texas. Shortly before the pandemic began, the college began a complete redesign of its elementary education curriculum — a major project that teacher preparation programs don’t take on very often, Bomer said. Historically, curricula at colleges of education have been relatively “fastened down” compared to other majors, he said, and don’t leave students with much choice about the courses they take. “There’s a lot of things teachers need to know and be able to do, and so, often, faculty will load up the curriculum, and it just kind of stays stuck in place for decades,” he said. Although the college began the curriculum overhaul in response to a change in state law and not with the pandemic in mind, it soon became obvious that the curriculum would need to change to prepare future teachers for the new roles they’d be stepping into, Bomer said. The fact that the college was already in the middle of that process gave it a head start, he said. The remodeled curriculum still covers all the things elementary teachers have always needed to know, Bomer said. Students will still learn how to teach reading, writing and math. But now, they also take courses on how to respond to students’ mental health needs and how to incorporate digital tools into their classrooms, he said. Students also leave the program better equipped to respond to a wide range of unpredictable situations — “more ‘normal’ ones as well as extraordinary ones like fully remote teaching,” he said.

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Austin Chronicle - November 28, 2022

Austin at Large: If legislators want to break up with Austin, they should at least put their backs into it

Former state Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Hous­ton, who currently awaits sentencing for federal tax evasion (he pleaded guilty in late October), was the last legislator I remember before the current crop who trotted out a bill to turn Austin into a state-run government district, like D.C. (or Mexico City) but unlike any other state capital. This was around 20 years ago when he was mad at the city for wanting to close the former airport – Mueller, now a neighborhood – which as a private pilot he found more convenient than Bergstrom, which had already opened. He was also friendly with the various real estate interests who would go crying to the Legis­lature whenever Austin asked them not to destroy the very environmental assets that made their land valuable, so Wilson was always ready with a quote about what trash we are. When he sprung his District of Travis stunt move, he reminded his colleagues that Austin was not a real city, and without the state capital would be "some sleepy town in the hills." (This was about 15 years after the first South by Southwest and 20 years after Dell was founded.)

Wilson got primaried out in 2004, but the idea has been revived by those lovable rogue characters Briscoe 'n' Frisco, the Panderin' Pups – Reps. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and Jared Patterson, R-Frisco. The latter has prefiled House Bill 714 and House Joint Resolution 50, identical to bills Cain filed last session, which would change the law and ask voters to amend the Texas Constitution to make the new District of, rather than the City of, Austin the seat of state government. This is necessary because we cannot be trusted to govern ourselves as commies and criminals and antifa supersoldiers, but also annoying vegans and soy boys and I guess also groomers? All at the same time. The "groomer" bullshit, which was never funny even when it was supposed to be a joke, is no longer something any of us should tolerate or let slide. It is slander and deserves a response to slander – boycotts, lawsuits, breaking some (metaphorical!) teeth. It's extra rich coming from soft-sided young MAGAsexuals like Briscoe 'n' Frisco who have no moral core and rely on the Second Amendment to help them stand upright. As Cain's disasterlarious tenure atop the House Elections Committee last session showed, you don't want to put these people in charge of anything they might break, and it's not clear that, having OWND us libs, Patterson intends to break a sweat figuring out how to put this idea into practice. HB 714 as written just changes names and adds a requirement to give notice to each chamber of the Lege when City, er, District Council adopts ordinances, including the budget. It doesn't eliminate home rule.

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KSAT - November 28, 2022

Trial starts Monday for former Border Patrol agent, accused serial killer Juan David Ortiz

The trial of Juan David Ortiz, a former Border Patrol agent accused of murdering four women near Laredo in 2018, will take place in Bexar County after a change of venue was granted. KSAT 12 will be streaming the entire proceedings, from gavel to gavel, on KSAT.com, KSAT Plus and YouTube. A jury was selected last month and the trial is expected to begin on Nov. 28. It was initially a death penalty case but the lead prosecutor on the case, Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz, recently took capital punishment off the table. He said the victims’ families agreed to the change which would also shorten the trial from four weeks to about two weeks. Ortiz’s alleged murder spree began in Sept. of 2018. Melissa Ramirez, Claudia Anne Luera, Griselda Cantu and Jannelle Ortiz were all found dead with gunshot wounds within weeks of each other off I-35, north of Laredo.

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KVUE - November 28, 2022

Austin mayoral candidates working to secure votes ahead of Dec. 13 runoff election

With the runoff election coming up on Dec. 13, mayoral candidates Celia Israel and Kirk Watson are using these final weeks to get voters ready. Both candidates note that with this election being a runoff, they expect to see much lower voter turnout, saying they hope to get as many people back out to the polls as they can. "We've been hustling since January. And to be in a runoff, it's like it's two campaigns," said Israel. Israel hosted a rally Sunday, Nov. 27 working to make sure people get out and vote. "This is a really important election. New mayor, several new council members. I would just implore everybody, your vote does matter," said Israel. For candidate and former Mayor of Austin Kirk Watson, he said this time is something he values. "The good news, I guess, with a runoff is that you get more time to visit with voters, to reach out and touch them and hear from them," said Watson.

But where does each candidate stand on issues Austinites want solutions to, like affordable housing, public transportation, infrastructure and more? "It's not sustainable that the nurse and the teacher who take care of us in the heart of the city go home at night to Bastrop and Elgin," said Israel in reference to housing costs. "We have to expand our airport. We've got to decide what I-35 is going to be and how we are going to connect our city." "We created when I was mayor, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. To help with this, we created the smart housing program that's used today," said Watson on affordable housing. "We're going to need the density and the housing along that rail line to make the line successful, but ultimately to make Austin successful," he said in reference to public transportation plans. Israel, who's served in the state House of Representatives for years, said it's important for people to know she would bring a fresh face to city hall. "I'm leaving the legislature not to do another task force and not to do more analysis. It's time for urgent action for working families in Austin," said Israel. For Watson, he said his track record as the former Mayor of Austin proves he would be a good fit to take office again.

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Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2022

Texas State fires football coach Jake Spavital after four seasons

Texas State has fired coach Jake Spavital after four years, athletics director Don Coryell announced Sunday afternoon. Spavital went 13-35 during his tenure with the Bobcats, closing the 2022 season Saturday with a 41-13 home loss to Louisiana to cap a 4-8 year. In an open letter to Texas State supporters announcing the change, Coryell said the program “simply did not win enough games and make the desired progress for us to believe that the immediate future would be different.” Spavital, who never won more than four games in a season at Texas State, had one year remaining on his initial five-year contract.

During the postgame news conference following the Bobcats' finale Saturday, Spavital was asked if he expects to return for 2023. “Those are out of my control, and I haven’t been told anything,” Spavital said. “What I do is I just show up every day and worry about what I can do. I talk about one day at a time, one play at a time. That's the approach I have, and that’s the approach all college coaches really have. Right now, nothing has been said, and I’ll wake up tomorrow and get back to work for the Bobcats.” Spavital, 37, arrived at Texas State in November 2018 after working as the as the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M (2014-15), Cal (2016) and West Virginia (2017-18).

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County Stories

KXAN - November 28, 2022

Travis County had 118 fentanyl deaths in first 6 months of 2022, same number as all of last year

Casey Copeland wrote in his journal every day for six years. In it, he documents his goals, workouts and on a Monday last fall he wrote three words: “Make Drs Appt.” It was his last entry. “I found him there on the bathroom floor,” Carilu Bell, Copeland’s mom, said. “And I had no idea what had happened. It wasn’t until I had gotten his toxicology report back.” Copeland, in his early-40s, died after taking Valium mixed with fentanyl. His mom said he was struggling with depression after the pandemic hit, and she believes he didn’t know the drug was mixed.

Now, Bell spends much of her days trying to educate people on the dangers of fentanyl so families aren’t put through the same pain she has experienced over the last year. “I’ll never be the same person that I was before, and as hard as I try, I have good days and I have not-so-good days, but it’s certainly been life-changing,” she said. Copeland’s family is far from alone. While we don’t usually get overdose death data until the medical examiner’s report comes out at the end of the year, Travis County Judge Andy Brown asked for numbers early this year. They show that in the first six months of 2022, there were 118 fentanyl-related overdose deaths, meaning someone died of an overdose and had fentanyl in their system. It’s the exact same number Travis County saw in all 12 months of 2021. Six months into 2021, there were 62 fentanyl-related deaths. “At first I thought that it somehow was not comparing apples to apples,” Brown said when he was asked what he thought when he got the data. “It just didn’t make sense that these were the numbers that I’m seeing for the first six months … disbelief at first, and disappointment that this is getting worse in our community.”

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 28, 2022

Jim Lane, Fort Worth lawyer, former councilman dies at 78

Jim Lane was nothing if not a fighter. In his trademark cowboy hats, boots and suits, the well-spoken, popular defense attorney — who was fiercely loyal and had a sense of humor as big as Texas itself — spent a lifetime fighting for those who couldn’t fight for themselves, both in the courtroom and at City Hall. Lane’s fighting days ended early Sunday. He died at a hospital of natural causes, a family friend said. Lane was 78. Lane loved all things Fort Worth — the cowboy traditions, the historic north side, even “Molly,” the iconic longhorn he would eventually fight to make sure was the official symbol of Cowtown. Former Fort Worth Mayor Ken Barr met Lane in 1962 when they were pledge brothers in the Delta Tau Delta fraternity at Texas Christian University. “I don’t think there are any stories I can tell about that,” he said on Sunday.

One day in the late 1990s, Lane, an advocate for the north side of Fort Worth, walked into Barr’s office with another in a line of ideas. “He said, ‘We’re going to walk longhorns down Exchange Avenue,’” Barr recalled. Spurning criticism that presenting the animals on a public street was a safety risk and that it would not become a successful tourist attraction, Lane formed the Fort Worth Herd of longhorns that can be seen in a twice-daily cattle drive in the Stockyards. Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker in a statement wrote that Lane, “was a trailblazer in countless ways, always carrying a fierce love for Fort Worth. We all owe Jim a debt of gratitude for his decades of service to our city.” Lane was born in Uvalde, but he spent much of his childhood visiting his grandparents in north Fort Worth. He soaked up the cowboy culture — and learned about Cherokee Indians, as his grandfather was one. His family moved to Fort Worth. He earned a bachelor’s degree from TCU and a law degree from Baylor. Lane first made headlines in the 1970s as a 24-year-old lawyer in the U.S. Army defending soldiers accused of taking part in the My Lai massacre. After winning an acquittal for his clients, he returned home three years later to practice law, settling in on the city’s north side, where he opened up a practice and bought an historic home. Lane was committed to police officers and firefighters and understood the challenges that public servants face, Barr said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 28, 2022

3rd anniversary of Atatiana Jefferson death haunts neighbors

Every day, James Smith re-lives Atatiana Jefferson’s death. The 64-year-old used to sit on his front porch swing and look out over his pristine, green lawn with a sense of peace. He chatted with his sister next door and waved at Yolanda Carr — Jefferson’s mom — and the Carr family across the street. After Oct. 12, 2019, the front of his house became a place of torture. Each glance across the street, where the blue house at 1203 E. Allen Ave. sits empty, reminds Smith of the call he made early that morning to the Fort Worth police non-emergency line. In his mind’s eye, he watches the two responding Fort Worth police officers creep into the back yard of the Carr house, where Jefferson was babysitting her 8-year-old nephew, Zion Carr. He hears Officer Aaron Dean’s shouts and the nearly simultaneous gunshot from Dean’s weapon. Every time he passes one of the 20 windows of his home, he imagines Jefferson looking into her dark back yard and seeing Dean’s flashlight just before he shot her.

These days, Smith retreats to his back yard, where he grows tomatoes, yellow squash and other vegetables. There, he is at least not faced with the house where Jefferson was killed, which is now decorated with banners displaying her name in big letters. Smith has a banner in his yard, too, adorned with a picture of Jefferson’s face and the words, “We Want Justice!!” in silver cursive. Smith, like most Black East Allen residents, has lived in his home for decades. On the south Fort Worth street, many residents inherited their homes from parents or, in Smith’s case, great-grandparents. One resident of East Allen, Leslie “Geronimo” Beasley, described the street where he’s lived for 51 years as a community where everyone not only knows each other — they all know each other’s families. “Every Black person you see here,” Beasley said. “... they been here my whole life, like me.” When Dean shot Jefferson at 1203 East Allen, repercussions rained on Fort Worth. The aftermath fell hardest on Jefferson’s family, Smith and those on the street where Jefferson was killed. As the third anniversary of the shooting approaches and the long-awaited murder trial for Dean is finally set to begin in Fort Worth on Dec. 5, the breath many have been holding might finally be released. But for Smith — and others directly touched by Jefferson’s death — a trial is not the end. “It’s never over,” Smith said.

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Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2022

With more money than expected, Metro pays off some debt

Metropolitan Transit Authority will end 2022 doing what a lot of people wish they could do: Paying down debt. Board members of the transit agency earlier this month approved a plan using money from federal grants, excess tax revenue and investment income to pay off the entire $83.55 million commercial paper program owed by the agency. Commercial paper essentially acts as the agency's credit card, allowing it to tap money when it needs to cover expenses, which can then be paid off as Metro receives money from the federal government and the revenue from its one-cent portion of the sales tax in Harris County, Houston and 14 smaller cities.

"This is a good move," said board member Terry Morales, chairwoman of the Metro finance and audit committee. "We have the cash on our balance sheet and it is a good cash management move." Officials had planned to pay off $20 million this year, rolling over the remaining $63.55 and spreading the repayment over the next five years. Instead, Metro's interim chief financial officer, George Fotinos, proposed using available funds to pay off the sum. The early payoff could save the agency between $10.9 and $14.9 million based on current interest rates. "Every dollar we save is more money to invest in our operations and our capital build-out," Metro chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran said. The rate Metro pays for borrowing can vary, based on financial conditions. Recently, interest rates have increased, Fotinos told Metro officials, making an early payoff warranted.

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National Stories

Reuters - November 28, 2022

In Arizona, election deniers refuse to back down

As Arizona counties face a Monday deadline to certify their midterm election results, Republican candidates and activists promoting false theories of voter fraud are refusing to back down. State Senator-elect Jake Hoffman, head of Arizona’s Freedom Caucus, a group of largely pro-Trump Republican state lawmakers, told Reuters he will lead an investigation into the state’s election when the legislature reconvenes in January. Right-wing activist Steve Bannon, a former Trump administration official and promoter of election conspiracy theories, said voting machine mishaps on the Nov. 8 Election Day tainted Democrat Katie Hobbs’ victory over Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor who has refused to concede.

Hobbs “will never be considered legitimate,” said Bannon, who has been providing Lake counsel. "That's going to cripple her ability to govern. So that's why this is a crisis. There's a crisis for the entire state.” Lake, a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, was one of dozens of Republican candidates who questioned or denied the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and lost in the midterms. The defeat of Lake and other election deniers was seen as a powerful rebuke of candidates who echoed Trump’s myths of a stolen election. Lake, however, has remained defiant after her 17,116-vote loss. “We know we WON this election and we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that every single Arizonan’s vote that was disenfranchised is counted,” Lake said in an interview posted on her Twitter account on Saturday.

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Dallas Morning News - November 28, 2022

Cynthia A. Fisher: New Congress must pass health care price transparency

(Cynthia A. Fisher is founder and chair of PatientRightsAdvocate.org, and the founder and former CEO of ViaCord Inc.) The divisive midterm elections are finally over, and with the resulting divided Congress, only legislation supported by both parties has a chance of becoming law. The new Congress can come together and achieve an early bipartisan victory by addressing one of the most pressing issues facing all Americans: the health care cost crisis. According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly 40% of Americans are willing to change their vote to the candidate with the best solutions to the nation’s health care problem. In other words, many people are willing to put effective health care policy above political party preference. The health care fix that receives the broadest bipartisan support is health care price transparency, which is supported by a supermajority of nearly 90% of Americans. By codifying and bolstering a federal hospital price transparency rule into law, Congress can empower Americans to substantially reduce their health care costs through choice and competition.

Addressing runaway health care costs is urgently needed. Recently, the Labor Department revealed that the cost of health insurance rose by 20.6% over the previous year, nearly three times the overall inflation rate. Last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation announced that the average annual employer-sponsored family health care premium reached $22,463 in 2022, nearly one-third of the nation’s median household income. Experts predict costs will spiral even faster next year. Numerous health plans, including the one covering New Jersey public workers, have enacted rate increases of more than 20% for 2023. As a result of skyrocketing health care costs, 100 million Americans hold medical debt, and nearly two-thirds avoid care each year for fear of financial ruin. Rapidly increasing employer health insurance costs attack American businesses and cannibalize funds that can otherwise go to pay raises to help workers contend with historic inflation. To not act in the face of this calamity is evidence of a form of health care Stockholm syndrome. Merely increasing the number of Americans with health insurance means little if consumers can’t afford premiums or care. In contrast, price transparency can actually bend the cost curve.

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Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2022

Liz Cheney, targeting Ted Cruz as an ‘election denier,’ has edge on him in new GOP presidential poll

A new poll of possible 2024 GOP presidential contenders has U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz trailing U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, a prominent Republican critic of former President Donald Trump who has slammed the Texas Republican as an “election denier.” The Emerson College poll released this week asked voters who they would pick in a GOP primary in 2024. Cruz drew 3.4 percent, just behind Cheney’s 3.6 percent. Trump, with 24.5 percent, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with 11 percent, were the top choices. Cruz’s Senate term runs through 2024, and the Texas Republican has said he would run again for president “in a heartbeat” after coming in second to Trump in the 2016 GOP primary. Cheney, meanwhile, has said she will do “whatever it takes” to make sure Trump is not the nominee in 2024, and she hasn't ruled out a presidential bid of her own to stop him.

Cruz and Cheney have been feuding since the summer, when Cheney launched a political action committee she said would target Cruz and other Republicans who “made themselves unfit for future office” by going along with Trump’s false claims about the 2020 presidential election. Cruz responded that Trump “shattered” Cheney’s mind and that she has “just become a liberal Democrat” because of her role on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. Cruz led an effort in the Senate to delay certifying President Joe Biden’s election win and objected to Arizona’s electoral votes less than an hour before demonstrators breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pointing to “unprecedented” — and unproven — allegations of voter fraud. Cruz at the time was pushing for an “emergency audit,” which he has argued could have provided the final say Trump supporters needed to accept the results

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Associated Press - November 28, 2022

WHO renames monkeypox as mpox, citing racism concerns

The World Health Organization has renamed monkeypox as mpox, citing concerns the original name of the decades-old animal disease could be construed as discriminatory and racist. The U.N. health agency said in a statement Monday that mpox was its new preferred name for monkeypox, saying that both monkeypox and mpox would be used for the next year while the old name is phased out. WHO said it was concerned by the “racist and stigmatizing language” that arose after monkeypox spread to more than 100 countries. It said numerous individuals and countries asked the organization “to propose a way forward to change the name.”

In August, WHO began consulting experts about renaming the disease, shortly after the U.N. agency declared monkeypox’s spread to be a global emergency. To date, there have been more than 80,000 cases identified in dozens of countries that had not previously reported the smallpox-related disease. Until May, monkeypox, a disease that is thought to originate in animals, was not known to trigger large outbreaks beyond central and west Africa. Outside of Africa, nearly all cases have been in gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men. Scientists believe monkeypox triggered outbreaks in Western countries after spreading via sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain. Vaccination efforts in rich countries, along with targeted control interventions, have mostly brought the disease under control after it peaked in the summer. In Africa, the disease mainly affects people in contact with infected animals such as rodents and squirrels. The majority of monkeypox-related deaths have been in Africa, where there have been almost no vaccines available. U.S. health officials have warned it may be impossible to eliminate the disease there, warning it could be a continuing threat mainly for gay and bisexual men for years to come.

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NBC News - November 28, 2022

‘There’s no rules. It’s crazy’: New money in NCAA recruiting leaves elite athletes ripe for exploitation

Over the summer, 16-year-old Georgia native T.A. Cunningham transferred to a powerhouse Southern California high school in pursuit of NFL dreams. His father wanted to cash in early with help from agents who boasted stars like Kansas City’s JuJu Smith-Schuster as clients. The family believed Cunningham stood to earn big in sponsorships, even before he got to college. Instead, the coveted junior recruit was benched, because of a decision from the state’s governing body for high school sports. “I was shocked,” Cunningham said. “And I think everyone involved with me was shocked, too.” The story rattled the world of college sports. It was the first incident of career-damaging fallout for a high school star since the NCAA’s decision to slash restrictions on athletes’ profiting from their fame after a Supreme Court loss in summer 2021.

A year after the rule change, so-called NIL deals, named after the initials for Name Image Likeness, have become increasingly common for elite student-athletes like Cunningham, who can now begin profiting from their talent before they play a minute of pro sports.But with that potential for great reward comes great risk. There are few guidelines for young athletes — kids — who are entering this chaotic new marketplace. Many are from low-income homes or difficult circumstances. In pursuit of their dreams or financial security for their families, they can wind up violating state-level restrictions that still pertain to high school athletes, and they can also find themselves exploited by adults who want to get rich off their skills. NBC News has reviewed a dozen written offers to high schoolers that experts have described as exploitative, including marketing contracts claiming exorbitant commissions of up to 40% and booster contracts with complex fee structures and legal jargon, reducing the athletes’ freedom to transfer or enter outside deals. One “contract” was just a $100,000 loan. “One of the really surprising things is the amount of people and companies and people that have just come out of the woodwork that had absolutely no experience,” said Courtney Altemus, a former financial manager for professional athletes on Wall Street, who now educates athletes across the country through her company ADVANCE NIL.

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Newsclips - November 27, 2022

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 27, 2022

Army of gambling lobbyists descends on Austin as casinos seek to crack Texas market

Even before Gov. Greg Abbott declared in October that he’s willing to consider expanded gaming options in Texas, that industry was trying to improve its odds in the state by doling out massive campaign donations and building an army of lobbyists in preparation for the legislative session that begins in January. More than 300 lobbyists are now registered in Texas to work on gambling issues, according to state records, led by Las Vegas Sands, which added another just last week and now has 72 — the most lobbyists in Texas for any single group or business. They are hardly alone. A newly created Sports Betting Alliance, BetMGM, Caesar’s, Boyd Gaming and Landry’s Entertainment, along with sports gaming companies like FanDuel and DraftKings, have all loaded up in what many in the gaming industry see as their best chance in decades to do business in Texas.

One reason for that is Abbott’s newfound willingness to listen to gambling options in Texas. In October, he told Hearst Newspapers through a spokeswoman that he’s prepared to listen to proposals. “We don’t want slot machines at every corner store, we don’t want Texans to be losing money that they need for everyday expenses, and we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming,” said Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary. “But, if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.” While far from an all-out green light, it’s a world away from where Abbott has been in the past. In 2015, Abbott said he “wholeheartedly” supported the state’s strict laws against expanding gaming, essentially icing any attempts to pursue casinos or online sports betting options that have proliferated in other states over the past four years. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law that had effectively banned sports betting in most states. Before that ruling, only Nevada had legalized sports betting. Since the ruling, more than 30 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of sports betting.

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Houston Chronicle - November 27, 2022

Natural gas production could skyrocket as Houston’s LNG industry grows

The North American natural gas market is projected to triple in size thanks to the rapidly growing LNG industry along the Gulf Coast, according to a new report from U.K. research firm Wood Mackenzie. Over the next decade, gas production in North America could jump by 29 billion cubic feet per day as the continent responds to the world’s growing demand for gas, the firm found. “The North America gas market expansion for the next decade will be equivalent to adding two new Permian basins,” said Wood Mackenzie’s Dulles Wang, director of gas and LNG research in the Americas. “As Europe diversifies to more secure supply sources and international buyers across the globe seek reliable low cost supply, North America is poised to deliver.”

The Ukraine war set off global shortages of natural gas and a race among LNG companies to build Gulf Coast facilities that can super-cool natural gas to a liquid and ship it overseas. Increases in natural gas production are happening in tandem. Gas prices in Europe are rising as Russia threatens to further reduce the supplies it sends to its western neighbors. Russia has said it may cut supplies traveling through Ukraine beginning next week, claiming Ukraine is diverting supplies intended for Moldova — an accusation the nation denies, said Wei Xiong, a senior gas and LNG analyst for Rystad Energy. U.S. states in the Northeast, meanwhile, have become vulnerable to natural gas shortages this winter as production in the Permian and Appalachian basins has been less than expected, Rystad said. Producers are reluctant to invest too much too soon on increasing production, Wood Mackenzie said, but will gradually increase their investments over the next few years to support the growing gas market. Any incremental increases will help put a damper on natural gas prices for a time until more LNG export facilities come online later this decade.

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Associated Press - November 27, 2022

Crowds angered by lockdowns call for China’s Xi to step down

Protesters pushed to the brink by China’s strict COVID measures in Shanghai called for the removal of the country’s all-powerful leader and clashed with police Sunday as crowds took to the streets in several cities in an astounding challenge to the government. Police forcibly cleared the demonstrators in China’s financial capital who called for Xi Jinping’s resignation and the end of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule — but hours later people rallied again in the same spot, and social media reports indicated protests also spread to at least seven other cities, including the capital of Beijing, and dozens of university campuses. Largescale protests are exceedingly rare in China, where public expressions of dissent are routinely stifled — but a direct rebuke of Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades, is extraordinary.

Three years after the virus first emerged, China is the only major country still trying to stop transmission of COVID-19 — a “zero COVID” policy that regularly sees millions of people confined to their homes for weeks at a time and requires near-constant testing. The measures were originally widely accepted for minimizing deaths while other countries suffered devastating wavs of infections, but that consensus has begun to fray in recent weeks. Then on Friday, 10 people died in a fire in an apartment building, and many believe their rescue was delayed because of excessive lockdown measures. That sparked a weekend of protests, as the Chinese public’s ability to tolerate the harsh measures has apparently reached breaking point. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered late Saturday in Shanghai, which experienced a devastating lockdown in the spring in which people struggled to secure groceries and medicines and were forcefully taken into centralized quarantine. On a street named for the city in China’s far west where the fire happened, one group of protesters brought candles, flowers and signs honoring those who died in the blaze. Another, according to a protester who insisted on anonymity, was more active, shouting slogans and singing the national anthem.

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NPR - November 27, 2022

What we know (and don't know) about how abortion affected the midterms

Ahead of the midterms, pollsters and strategists and — yes, journalists — were obsessed with voters' top issues. In poll after poll, including polling at NPR, voters reported inflation to be the most important issue. Despite this, a lot of people do not vote with a single issue top-of-mind, and that makes it hard to know how much abortion swayed the midterms. This year's midterms were certainly unusual — when the president's approval is below 50 percent (as President Biden's is), their party loses 43 House seats in midterm elections, on average. This year, Democratic losses may be in the single digits. As a result, less than six months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, both sides are working to figure out how big a part abortion played in the midterms.

First things first — the usefulness of polls in saying exactly how much people factored abortion into their voting is extremely limited. It's true that polls regularly showed Democrats caring more about the topic this year than Republicans, which makes sense in the wake of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe. It's also true there were voters who said the topic of abortion got them out to vote. The effect was probably much more complicated though, says Sarah Longwell, founder of the Republican Accountability Project, which opposes Republicans who deny the 2020 election results. She explained a pattern she often saw in swing voter focus groups she ran. "You say, 'OK, what issues are on your mind?' They say, 'inflation, the economy, crime, supply chain.' That's what they'd say up top," Longwell said. But then, abortion would come up later: "When you get to the vote choice, like, 'Who do you want to vote for, [Arizona Democratic Senate candidate] Mark Kelly or [Republican] Blake Masters?' People would say, 'Oh, I'm not voting for Blake Masters. His position on abortion is insane.' And that theme would repeat itself with Adam Laxalt in Nevada, with Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, with Tudor Dixon in Michigan, where I think abortion played a huge role." One way to read this is that abortion was not necessarily top of mind, but it was a prominent data point supporting a narrative that some Republicans were too extreme. That's how Democratic strategist Tom Bonier sees it.

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Politico - November 27, 2022

Newsom told the White House he won’t challenge Biden

Gov. Gavin Newsom has won three elections in five years in America’s largest state, is apoplectic about his party’s messaging defects and follows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the right-wing media ecosystem with a zeal that would put some opposition researchers to shame. But Newsom wants the word to go forth: He’s not going to challenge President Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2024. “I’ve told everyone in the White House, from the chief of staff to the first lady,” he recounted to me as we sat on the top floor of California’s now-ceremonial governor’s mansion on election night.

His message to Ron Klain and Jill Biden over the summer — when he visited Washington amid growing speculation, and considerable West Wing irritation, that he was plotting a primary challenge — was to count him as a firm supporter of Biden’s reelection: “I’m all in, count me in,” he said he told them. Newsom relayed the same to Biden himself on election night. After spending much of the evening with family, aides and supporters at the governor’s mansion watching the surprisingly strong returns for Democrats, the governor dashed over to a Sacramento hotel to briefly celebrate his own landslide reelection and trumpet the approval of a ballot measure enshrining abortion rights in California’s constitution. “We affirmed clearly with conviction that we are a true freedom state,” Newsom told reporters. He contrasted California, and himself, with book and abortion banning governors in other states who also won reelection but remained nameless. Or at least they did explicitly so, until Newsom alluded to the one “flying migrants to an island.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 27, 2022

Joe Straus: Election victors must govern for all Texans

Texans once again aligned with the Republican Party this month by electing GOP candidates in every statewide office on the ballot and returning the party’s healthy majority to the Legislature. This was no surprise. Republicans have been winning statewide elections in Texas for the better part of 30 years. More startling than the results was the way that the Republican Party of Texas reacted to them. In an email the day after the election, the state GOP warned of “two distinct Americas” at war with each other. “There is no longer any middle ground. Any appeal to common sense, rational thinking, or compromising is over,” the party’s screed read. This is the type of toxic tribalism that has turned so many Americans away from politics. Nowhere in the Texas Constitution does it say that Republican elected officials only represent Republican citizens, or that Democratic elected officials only represent Democratic citizens. While it is the job of political parties to create contrasts, those who actually govern understand that this work requires collaboration and cooperation.

I believe voters have sided strongly with Republicans in recent decades because they appreciate principles with which the party has traditionally been identified: limited government, fiscal restraint and local decision-making, among others. However, no political party has a monopoly on good ideas. While voters have stated their preference for Republican candidates, with governing comes a greater obligation to look beyond the last election — or the next one. This is a state with an increasingly diverse population and economy, home to leaders in countless industries and fields of study. Texas is too consequential for any elected official to focus primarily on partisan goals. Instead, the actions and priorities of those in office should reflect their diverse constituency and our global importance. The success of our private-sector economy has produced record state surpluses. Few debates are more illuminating about a governing body’s priorities than debates over how to spend — or not spend — a budget surplus. This is an opportunity to address the immediate concerns of Texans, such as relief from rising property taxes, while also making investments that will support continued economic growth over the long term. Since the last legislative session, for example, public schools have faced soaring costs for fuel and supplies, while teachers and other educators have faced sharp increases in housing costs. The shortage of fully certified teachers is a weight around our public school system and a crisis that transcends partisanship, just like the imperative to improve student safety and prevent mass shootings.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 27, 2022

As Dean trial opens in Texas, experts predict focus on fear

From opposite sides of the house’s outer wall, Aaron Dean and Atatiana Jefferson stood facing one another, their bodies fixed in the middle of the night within a window. The only eyewitness who was inside the ranch-style home on East Allen Avenue in Fort Worth told an interviewer working on behalf of law enforcement authorities that Dean and Jefferson each held a gun. Before that encounter illuminated by flashlight, neither Dean nor Jefferson was certain that the other was there. Jefferson and a child were in a back bedroom at ground level. Dean, a police officer, walked with another officer outside, along dark blue siding, through a fence gate into the back yard and to the window. Even when they were in view of each other, separated by glass, neither was certain why the other was there. Jefferson, who was 28 and had moved in with her mother to help as her health declined, was with her nephew. She may not have known that the man and woman outside the house in the Hillside-Morningside neighborhood were police officers.

A 2:25 a.m. report from a neighbor to police of open front and side doors launched the officers’ response on Oct. 12, 2019. The Saturday sky was clear, and the temperature was in the 40s. The neighbor had assessed that the open doors were unusual and wondered whether everything was as it should be. The neighbor’s intent that the police confirm the welfare of the residents was lost. A police communications employee classified the matter as an open structure. Two sedans, which the neighbor recognized as belonging to the residents, were parked in the driveway. Light filled the interior of the house. For the two police officers who arrived separately, there was scant information. What was going on inside the house? Were the open doors an oversight or intended? The outer screen doors were closed. Perhaps someone was inside the house who should not be. Jefferson may have wondered who was walking outside of the house and what danger there may be. What is known now about the innocuous circumstances before the shooting is more complete than the information that the involved people — Dean, Jefferson, Officer Carol Darch and Zion Carr — had at the time.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 27, 2022

No. 4 TCU dominates Iowa State to finish regular season 12-0

There was no need for a miracle field goal or a second-half rally against Iowa State. No. 4 TCU played like a team that belonged in the College Football Playoff with a dominant 62-14 win over Iowa State on Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Not only did the Horned Frogs finish the first regular season 12-0 under head coach Sonny Dykes, they also snapped a three-game losing streak to Iowa State. “Really proud of our guys. I thought we had a great week of practice, best week we’ve had in a long time,” Dykes said. “The defense scored two touchdowns, we really played well in the kicking game. It was a fun night.” TCU understood in order to beat an Iowa State team featuring one of the best defenses in the country, it would take their best effort offensively.

Even without star wide receiver Quentin Johnston, the offense answered the call with four scores on their first four offensive possessions. The Horned Frogs also had a pick six as Millard Bradford’s interception gave TCU a 24-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. “It was probably our most complete game,” Max Duggan said. “Both sides of the ball playing to their full potential and the defense making a ton of plays and getting turnovers and turning into points. Offensively, everyone was touching the ball and making plays.” Iowa State showed signs of trying to make a comeback as Hunter Dekkers rolled to his left and threw a 15-yard touchdown to DeShawn Hanika to cut the Horned Frogs’ lead to 24-7 just two minutes into the second quarter. TCU then responded with 10 straight points, including a Kendre Miller touchdown run with 14 seconds before halftime. Max Duggan completed a strike to a diving Savion Williams for a touchdown to open the second half to officially put the game out of reach. It was the first of three third-quarter touchdowns as the Horned Frogs extended their lead to 55-7. The Horned Frogs should move up in the CFP Top 25 rankings since No. 2 Ohio State lost to No. 3 Michigan.

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Fox News - November 27, 2022

Herschel Walker received tax break for permanent residences on Dallas home

Republican Herschel Walker is getting a $1,500 tax exemption from his home in Texas, meant only for primary residents, while running for Senate in Georgia, according to reports. According to publicly available tax records first reported by CNN, Walker is listed to receive a homestead tax exemption from his home in Dallas, saving him approximately $1,500. An official in the Tarrant County tax assessor’s office told CNN Walker applied for the tax break in 2021 and 2022, even after launch his bid for Senate in the Peach State.

Walker is set to face off against incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock in a runoff election on Dec. 6, after both candidates failed to get at least 50% of the vote in the midterm race earlier this month. According to the Texas Comptroller’s website, Texas residents are allowed to receive the homestead exemption even if you move away for less than two years – as long as you do not establish permanent residency somewhere else. According to the site, only a homeowner’s principal residents qualify for the tax break. The U.S. Constitution requires that that candidates in habit the state in which they will represent. The state of Georgia has about 15 rules that determine residency for candidates and includes that where a candidate claims a homestead exemption, that home will be considered their permanent residence.

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Houston Chronicle - November 27, 2022

Rockets have first winning streak: 'We're just tired of losing.'

Confetti streamers showered the Toyota Center court for the second night in a row, an unusual yet welcome sight. Following Friday night’s comeback win against the Hawks, the Rockets could have deflated on Saturday against the Thunder in the second half of a back-to-back. Instead, after a back-and-forth first quarter, they blew open the game and never came close to giving up the lead in the final three quarters. The result was Houston’s first win streak of the season, achieved right before the Rockets embark on a four-game road trip to Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco. “It feels good,” Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. said. “We don't want it to be short lived, though, so we got to continue this intensity that we've been playing with.”

Intense is an apt descriptor for how the Rockets played Saturday. Hungry is another. Jalen Green lit up the bottom of the net with six 3-pointers but also distributed nine assists. Alperen Sengun faked and pivoted his way to outlandish finishes under the basket. Jabari Smith Jr. jumped over opponents to snatch rebounds. The Rockets outrebounded the Thunder by 12 after outrebounding the Hawks by 31 — the first time since March 15, 2017 that Houston outrebounded the opposition by double-digits in consecutive games. “The way that we fought back in last night's game, we didn't have a dip in energy at all (tonight),” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “We played with really good intention as far as what we were trying to do with the game plan on both ends of the floor. So yeah, that is a sign of maturity.” Silas saw his team blow a 20-point lead to the Pacers eight days earlier, and multiple times before that witnessed turnover-laden collapses and bungled opportunities. Even when the Rockets outscored the Thunder by 20 in the second quarter, even when they were up 27 midway through the third, Silas did not harbor an illusion of safety.

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KBTX - November 27, 2022

Warren Finch to retire from Bush Library & Museum after 30 years of service

After more than 30 years of public service to the Bryan-College Station and Texas A&M communities Warren Finch will hang up his hat as the director of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Finch was named director of the library in 2004 but was a vital member of the library team long before its existence. Finch came to College Station in 1993 as a member of the library project team and play a vital role in the library and museum’s development, construction, and opening in 1997. Prior to moving to College Station, Finch served as an archivist with the National Archives and Records Administration in the Office of Presidential Libraries in Washington D.C. He later served briefly with the Ronald Reagan Library in California.

Finch also served in the Bush White House in 1992, assisting with the move of presidential materials and records to Texas, and has been in College Station ever since. Finch earned an M.A. in history from Auburn University and a B.A. from the University of South Alabama. He says his love of history has been the driving force behind his longevity with the museum. Since his time as leader of the museum Finch has held a front seat to history that many could only dream of. From his time sorting records and materials in an old bowling alley in College Station, to the groundbreaking and upgrades of the library and museum in 1997 and 2007, Finch has seen it all. He’s had a hand in overseeing many if not all of the community projects like the annual Easter Egg Hunt, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, to the George & Barbara Bush Day of Service. “I started off in the Chimney Hill Bowling Alley where the records were stored until the building opened in November ‘97. I was an archivist and then supervisor archivist, deputy director, and then I’ve been director of this great place since December of 2008,” Finch said.

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CBS News - November 27, 2022

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes may serve prison time in Bryan

The judge who sentenced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes to 11 years and three months in prison has recommended she serve out her term at a minimum-security women’s facility in Texas. Judge Edward Davila of the Northern District of California recommended Holmes serve at the Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, according to a court filing last week. The facility holds about 540 female inmates across four dormitory units on a 37-acre campus, according to its website.

It isn’t certain Holmes will be sent to the Bryan facility. That is up to the Bureau of Prisons, which will make the final determination of where she serves her sentence, although it will take Davila’s recommendation into account. Holmes, who at one time was hailed as a biotech wunderkind, must check into a facility on April 27, 2023. Holmes was sentenced last week for her role in defrauding investors in Theranos, a once-promising blood-testing startup that collapsed after revelations that its key technology didn’t work as promised.

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Houston Chronicle - November 27, 2022

‘My vote doesn’t count’: Texas city councils put voter-approved cannabis measures at risk

Voters in two Central Texas cities overwhelmingly passed propositions earlier this month that would stop citations and arrests for low-level marijuana offenses within city limits. But elected officials in Bell County are pushing back. On Tuesday, Harker Heights City Council voted to repeal the measure, saying that decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana was inconsistent with state law, as marijuana possession remains illegal statewide and federally. The City Council in Killeen agreed to put its decriminalization measure on hold as elected officials there weigh whether to repeal, amend or green light the ordinance that passed on Election Day. Neither ballot measure legalizes marijuana. Instead, they prevent people from being cited or arrested for having up to 4 ounces of the drug. The propositions also prohibit city police officers from stopping someone because they smelled marijuana.

David Bass, the founder of Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana, told City Council on Tuesday that the people of Killeen have spoken. Regardless of the legality of marijuana, the ordinance was clear and he said the council should respect voters’ decision. “What I know is that the people of Killeen voted overwhelmingly for our police to stop arresting people for small amounts of cannabis,” Bass said. “We should listen to the will of the people of Killeen.” Shirley Fleming, a former Killeen city councilwoman, told the Harker Heights City Council that repealing the ordinance could make residents feel like their vote doesn’t matter. “If you stomp on this, a lot of people will say, ‘My vote doesn't count,’” Fleming said. “Let’s respect their vote.” Five Texas cities voted this month to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession. The effort was pushed by Ground Game Texas, who successfully worked with local organization and pushed for measures to appear on the ballots of Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights.

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Dallas Morning News - November 27, 2022

Salman Bhojani: I am the first Muslim elected to the Texas Legislature

(Salman Bhojani will represent Texas House District 92.) I was 21 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. Back then, I was not a politician. I was working retail, making $6 an hour, while attending college. As a Muslim immigrant to America, I watched in horror as terrorists attacked my country in the name of my religion. On that day, my heart broke twice — once for my nation and once for my faith. But soon my family and I became the enemy. In the weeks and months that followed the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Islamophobia reared its ugly head. Muslims were targeted. Mosques were destroyed. We were watched with suspicion and fear. My father was forced to close his business. We were no longer seen as Americans; we were seen as terrorists. That experience has haunted my community for more than 20 years. It also shaped me into the leader I am today. Instead of mirroring the hate and violence I saw on 9/11 and in the years after, I dedicated my life to serving my neighbors, my community and my country. In 2018, I made headlines by becoming the first Muslim and the first person of color elected to the Euless City Council.

This year, I became the first Muslim and the first South Asian elected as a state representative in Texas. And starting in January, I will be one of the first two Muslims to serve in the Texas Legislature. Suleman Lalani won election in Fort Bend County. He will share this honor with me. It is a victory for our Muslim community, which will see one of its own in the halls of the Texas Capitol. It is a victory for our immigrant communities, whose children will hear their stories echoed by their elected officials. And it is a victory for all Texans who will benefit from a new perspective at the decision-making table. I immigrated to America because it is the great melting pot; a place where everyone belongs; a place where even a Muslim kid from Pakistan can serve his neighbors as their elected representative. I was not just elected by Muslim Americans; I was elected by Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, atheists, agnostics and everyone in between. That’s America. E pluribus unum — out of many, one. But in recent years, we have seen hatred and Islamophobia dominate our politics — Muslim travel bans, anti-Islamic rhetoric and escalating hate crimes against our immigrant neighbors. The only way our American experiment will flourish is if we learn to work together across our differences. Democracy depends on community. Democracy depends on solidarity. Democracy depends on loving our neighbors.

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Dallas Morning News - November 27, 2022

Kelly Hancock: My son-in-law’s gift may have saved my life

“No signs of possible rejection.” In many ways, this phrase gave me my life back last month. I was always a pretty active guy, but one day in my mid-twenties, I noticed some odd symptoms after a game of racquetball and decided to go get checked out. My doctor ran just about every test in the book, eventually discovering that I had a rare genetic disease called immunoglobulin A (IgA) nephropathy, an autoimmune disease that breaks down kidney cell structure. The diagnosis raised as many questions as it answered. When would my kidneys fail? When would I need dialysis or a transplant? How would this impact my ability to work? Exercise? Eat? As a young couple with a newborn, my wife Robin and I had to face the unknown and determine how to approach the diagnosis together. Yes, this was a serious and potentially deadly disease. Yes, managing it posed significant obstacles. No, we wouldn’t let it slow us down.

Years later, on one particularly fortunate day at the Texas Capitol, my now-adult daughter Chloe met a young man named Greg, who soon became my son-in-law. Right around the time they got engaged, the checkup finally came. We learned my kidney function was deteriorating more quickly, and dialysis was on the horizon. My diet became even more strict, and checkups more frequent. Complications of the disease, such as gout in my feet, became more common and more painful. We managed to put it off longer than expected, but this time last fall, with the family gathered for Thanksgiving, it was time for a very difficult conversation: Dialysis was imminent, life was about to change significantly, and I needed to apply for the transplant list. For those who don’t know, being added to the transplant waitlist is quite a process. You can’t get on it until your kidney function basically bottoms out, and most people are on dialysis for years before they’re considered bad enough to qualify for a deceased-donor organ.

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Dallas Morning News - November 27, 2022

This affluent city in Mexico has become a waystation for migrants with eyes on Texas

Graced with Lone Star brands like H-E-B, Whataburger and 7-Eleven, this affluent city in northeastern Mexico is home to global conglomerates and posh neighborhoods, enjoying strong economic and cultural ties to Dallas-Fort Worth. It’s a mere two-hour drive from the Texas border. Francisco Contreras, who migrated here from Guatemala, has grown fond of Mexico’s third largest metro, with its wide avenues, skyscrapers and plentiful jobs. Then there are the smuggling organizations. They’ve offered to take him to the United States, he said, to a choice of destinations. It was late summer. Standing outside a faith-based shelter, borrowing a cellphone, he pointed to a map of border cities within a short ride. He said he’s in no “real hurry” to continue his journey to North Texas, where he knows many other Guatemalans working in construction. “I’m waiting,” he said, “for the right moment.”

How Contreras got here underscores the importance of Monterrey, not just as a prosperous city with a need for more workers, but also as a high-profile waystation — an increasingly important logistical hub for some people fleeing violence and economies ravaged by nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider it a long layover: Instead of rushing to the Texas border, Contreras and many other migrants are waiting before heading north, settling here while watching the shifts in U.S. immigration policy. And when these migrants finally decide to continue their journey, many will come to North Texas, motivated by jobs and networks of families and friends, according to Mario Lino Garcia, an immigration specialist and director of Clinica Juridica Migratoria (Judicial Migratory Clinic) at the University of Nuevo León in Monterrey. “Many migrants have stayed in Monterrey and raised or formed families,” said Victoria Rios Infante, coordinator of Tendiendo Puentes (Building Bridges), an effort to integrate migrants into their communities. She co-authored an October 2020 Tufts University study, A Picture of Central American Mobilities, examining how migrants have transformed Monterrey’s neighborhoods.

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Texas Lawbook - November 23, 2022

GOP lawmakers target corporate law firms over hot-button issues

Republican lawmakers in Texas and Washington, D.C., are threatening some of the nation’s largest corporate law firms if they provide what the lawmakers consider to be improper advice on issues such as climate change, diversity and abortion. Texas legislators have even threatened business lawyers with criminal prosecution and disbarment. In letters sent Nov. 3, five GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee told 51 of the nation's largest law firms, including 33 with offices and lawyers in Texas, that they have a "duty to inform clients of the risks they incur by participating in climate cartels and other ill-advised ESG schemes." The memo doesn't describe what a "scheme" involving environmental, social and governance principles might look like. Nor does it say what is objectionable about efforts to defend the environment or democratize corporate capitalism.

In July, 11 members of the politically conservative Texas Freedom Caucus sent a letter to Sidley Austin Dallas partner and chair Yvette Ostalaza, threatening her and other corporate law firms operating in Texas with criminal prosecution, civil sanctions and a ban on practicing law if they help their employees in the state get an abortion in another state. The three-page letter to Sidley Austin, which has nearly 200 lawyers in Houston and Dallas, accused the firm of being “complicit in illegal abortions.” The Freedom Caucus members posted the letter on the group's website and sent a copy to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Sidley declined to comment about the letter. The letters, legal experts say, show that conservative Republican lawmakers believe they can score political favor with their base by attacking corporate lawyers, which they see as facilitating more liberal causes. “Corporate law firms, especially in Texas because of the political environment, are taking these letters very serious,” said Kent Zimmermann, a consultant who works with several Texas law firms. “These are pure political hit jobs, but the law firms do not want to give any of these threats oxygen by responding.” "It puts law firms in an unfair position in what amounts to a play to the (GOP) base," Zimmermann said. Law firm leaders need to respect the lawmakers, even if the demands are not legally sound, Zimmermann said. "The ESG movement attempts to weaponize corporations to reshape society in ways that Americans would never endorse at the ballot box," states the letter from the U.S. senators. "Of particular concern is the collusive effort to restrict the supply of coal, oil and gas, which is driving up energy costs across the globe and empowering America’s adversaries abroad."

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KXAN - November 27, 2022

State of Texas: ‘Passing the torch,’ Congressman-elect Casar aims to push progressive policies in DC

Newly-elected members of Congress are already gearing up for action on Capitol Hill. On the week after the election, members-elect from across the country traveled to Washington for the orientation for freshman members. As a newly elected congressman (TX-35), Democrat Greg Casar traveled to the Capitol to begin the process of learning the ropes. “Orientation started out like so many other jobs, you get your parking pass and are given your laptop,” Casar said. He and other new members posed for a group photo on the Capitol steps. There was one moment in particular that Casar described as “incredibly powerful”: “I was on the House floor as Speaker Pelosi who has led the Democratic Party now for decades, gave her speech passing the torch along to new leadership.”

Following Speaker Pelosi’s announcement, Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (NY-8), announced his bid to be the new leader of the House Democrats. Casar said he supports Jefferies as a successor and spoke to him about addressing Texas’ issues in Congress. “We talked about Texas, we talked about the fact that abortion rights have been stripped away here, we talked about the fact that we have less people insured with health insurance in Texas,” Casar said. “I had that conversation with him and really urged that we look at what’s happening in Texas as a crisis and that we need his support and the Congress to be focusing on those issues.” Republicans will gain power, with the party’s narrow win of the House. That power shift will likely make it difficult for progressive Democrats like Casar to advance legislation. Compromise could be key to getting things done. “’I’m willing to negotiate and compromise to make progress. What I’m not willing to do is go backward,” Cesar said. “I’m willing to negotiate on the budget…where I’m not willing to negotiate is on taking people’s civil rights away, on taking people’s voting rights away, on cutting Social Security.”

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KXAN - November 27, 2022

Texas Parks and Wildlife looking to bolster drone fleet

Just this month, the Texas Game Warden Search and Rescue Drone Program has helped locate two missing people and track down a violent crime suspect. It launched in 2018, and Lieutenant and certified drone pilot Matthew Bridgefarmer said it’s been monumental. “Game wardens have always worked search and rescue missions across the state, and it seemed like a natural tool to add to our toolbox,” he said. Most urban first responder agencies have their own drones, but the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) comes in when rural departments need help.

“If we’re talking way out in West Texas, it could take several hours for a helicopter to get to a wooded area for a search,” said Lt. Bridgefarmer, adding that before TPWD acquired a drone fleet – that scenario was often the case. While the tool has proven imperative, Lt. Bridgefarmer said drones are pricey – and don’t always have the best longevity. “Part of our fleet is very outdated, being we started back in 2018, you can imagine how technology progresses, so yes, they outdate themselves real quick,” he said. “Only 14 of our drones are thermal camera capable which obviously is crucial in the search and rescues we’ve had lately. So one thing we’re really hoping to do when we update is our fleet is getting more with thermal camera capability.” To keep the program successful, Bridgefarmer said the department would need more funding, which typically comes from the state and donations from the Gear Up for Game Wardens foundation.

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KXAN - November 27, 2022

Texas ISD where students made monkey noises at Black players had to address racism before

A central Texas school district where students were heard shouting monkey noises at black basketball players addressed different racial discrimination allegations on its campus months earlier, according to school board records. Marble Falls Independent School District officials said Monday they are investigating allegations their students made insensitive comments and noises at Black East Central Lady Hornets players during the Hill County Classic Basketball Tournament over the weekend. The Marble Falls High School principal said the district was also reviewing video footage and interviewing students who attended the game.

The video of the game shows senior East Central player Asia Prudhomme taking a shot at the free throw line as loud monkey noises came from the stands. “Once our team found out about it, they immediately stood up and they hugged Asia on the bus. It was a very sweet moment, but it’s hard to watch it happen,” Lady Hornets Coach Vanessa Villarreal said. Prudhomme, 18, said she was still in shock over the incident but said she was focused on finishing her senior year — and playing ball in college. Records show the previous school year, Marble Falls ISD had to address parent concerns of racial discrimination on campus brought up at a January 2022 school board meeting, including the alleged use of the N-word towards students of color. The district held a special meeting in February to discuss “acts of discrimination of the Marble Falls ISD community and how to address this form of unacceptable behavior,” school board records show. “We have some students who used terms ignorantly, and we are going to have to outline what those terms are and that they can’t use them,” Superintendent Chris Allen said during the February 2022 meeting updating the school board.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 27, 2022

Nonprofit vows to offer free nursing training to 400 Texans per year

When Dwyer Workforce Development bought Regency Integrated Health Services for $590 million in September, it didn't just acquire more than 50 nursing and rehabilitation centers in Texas. It began a program in Texas to increase the number of people working in health care. Dwyer Workforce Development is a nonprofit that was founded in 2021 in Maryland by Jack and Nancy Dwyer. It buys for-profit senior care centers and converts them into nonprofit centers. The money earned from the centers goes back into health care training through the organization's Dwyer Scholars program.

Locally, the nursing and rehabilitation centers Dwyer took over include Brodie Ranch, Heritage Park, Onion Creek, Riverside, Southpark Meadows, West Oaks and Windsor in Austin; and in Central Texas, Bastrop Lost Pines, Silver Pines and Windsor in Bastrop, and Elgin Nursing, Pflugerville Nursing and Towers in Smithville. The money those centers earn will go back into training more people through the Dwyer Scholars program. The scholars program offers certified nursing assistant training to people who "who lack opportunities," said Barb Clapp, CEO of the Jack and Nancy Dwyer Workforce Development Center. "Great things happen when you give people the tools to change their lives,” said Jack Dwyer, founder, owner and president of Capital Funding Group and founder of Dwyer Workforce Development.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 27, 2022

As end of Texas tax break looms, fate unclear for billions in potential projects

The next few weeks could be key for the fate of billions of dollars in potential corporate expansion projects in the Austin metro area and statewide. That’s because the possibility of tax breaks under one of the biggest economic development programs in Texas disappears at the end of this year, when the so-called Chapter 313 incentives program is set to expire and no new deals will be authorized under it. With the clock ticking, pending Chapter 313 applications for nearly 200 potential projects across the state — including a number in the Austin area involving Samsung and NXP Semiconductors, as well as Linde Inc., a Samsung supplier — had yet to receive certification from the Texas comptroller’s office, a critical step in the process to win final approval.

A potential incentive agreement for a possible Tesla plant in South Texas to refine materials used in batteries also is part of the backlog. If built, the plant would help supply Tesla's electric vehicle factory and battery manufacturing operations in Travis County. "Given the size of these projects, losing the ability to use Chapter 313 (to attract them to Texas) could well result in different location decisions" by the corporations involved, said Ray Perryman, a Waco-based economist. The Chapter 313 program — named for a section of the tax code — enables school districts in Texas to grant significant property tax breaks to companies in exchange for projects that will create jobs and investment within their boundaries. Perryman and other advocates for economic development in Texas have voiced optimism that a replacement mechanism to provide such tax breaks for corporate expansions and relocations after Chapter 313 expires will be enacted during the upcoming session of the state Legislature that begins in January. It's far from a certainty that will happen, however, because the two-decade-old Chapter 313 program has been dogged by controversy in recent years, culminating in a lack of support among lawmakers to renew it during the 2021 legislative session and triggering its upcoming Dec. 31 expiration.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - November 27, 2022

Bridget Grumet: How to soften the blow of the next Austin Energy rate hike

The second jab of a one-two punch is about to hit Austin Energy customers, and you can bet the City Council is looking for ways to soften the blow. Just over a month ago, the council took a painful vote to raise the fuel and regulatory charges that are tacked onto every Austin Energy bill, adding $15 a month to the typical resident’s tab (and considerably more for commercial customers). Now the council is approaching a vote to revamp the utility’s base rates — a proposal that, at least on paper, would add an additional $14 a month to the typical resident’s electric bill. I say “at least on paper,” because it’s hard to imagine the City Council will adopt Austin Energy’s proposed rate hike in the next week or two without tweaking it, perhaps substantially. What might that look like?

First, let me recap what’s on the table for residential customers. Austin Energy proposes raising the monthly service fee from $10 to $25, a jaw-dropper designed to bring a larger stream of dependable revenue to the utility regardless of how much electricity customers use. So what could the council do? Go for a smaller increase in the flat monthly fee. Let’s say the council kept the tiered rates it currently has for electricity use, and simply increased the monthly base fee by $2 (instead of the $15 hike Austin Energy seeks). The Electric Utility Commission, an advisory panel that suggested that idea, says that minor bump would generate $11.4 million annually, making up nearly a third of the revenue Austin Energy says it needs to raise. Roll out the increased fees gradually. Council Member Leslie Pool, who chairs the council’s Austin Energy oversight committee, asked during a Nov. 15 discussion whether the increase in the monthly fee could be spread over three years. “I'm interested in any approaches that would lessen the rate shock that may be experienced for utility customers,” Pool said. “I think we all are in agreement about that.” Reduce the scale of the rate hike. A tremendous amount of work has been done on this front by consumer advocates, environmentalists and commercial customers who have a shared interest in keeping electricity as affordable as possible. Earlier this month, this coalition issued a proposal to raise the monthly fee by $2 and shift the electricity use tiers more gradually, resulting in a $12 million annual increase in revenue.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2022

Austin Chamber of Commerce CEO Laura Huffman to step down at the end of the year

Laura Huffman, who led the Austin Chamber of Commerce through the COVID-19 pandemic and a major wave of regional business expansion, is leaving her CEO role at the end of the year. Huffman, a long-time leader at the Nature Conservancy, became CEO of the chamber in April 2020, just as the pandemic was creating significant upheaval for the business community, which was facing layoffs, temporary shutdowns and permanent closures. The announcement did not give a reason for Huffman's departure. The chamber said it will announce an interim leader in coming days. After that, a national search will be conducted to find a permanent CEO.

“Laura took the reins of the chamber at an incredibly difficult time for our community and country,” said Ali Khataw, chair-elect of the chamber's board of directors. “She provided key direction on issues including the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness, public safety, talent and workforce development. Her engagement helped businesses and the community navigate turbulent times and find solutions to these pressing challenges.” Austin also had a number of major economic development victories during Huffman's tenure. Central Texas saw a manufacturing boom, led by electric automaker Tesla, which has made Austin its headquarters. The company opened a $1.1 billion manufacturing facility in southeastern Travis County, where it is producing its Model Y electric SUVs. Meanwhile, tech giant Samsung is building a $17 billion semiconductor manufacturing facility in Taylor. According to documents filed with the state, Samsung also is considering building 11 chipmaking facilities in the Austin area over the next two decades, a move that could lead to nearly $200 billion in new investment and create more than 10,000 jobs for the technology giant.

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ABC 13 - November 27, 2022

'It hurts': Family of a 17-year-old killed in Gessner hit and run speaks about heartbreaking loss

About a week after a hit-and-run crash that left a teenager dead in southwest Houston, a memorial with candles and flowers has been left behind in honor of the victim. Family members of 17-year-old Isandro Deleon, lovingly known as Chano, are trying to come to terms with the fact that he is gone. His older brother, Emmanuel, says the two were inseparable. Emmanuel was with his brother the night he died. "And it hurts me a lot because I don't get to see him no more, I don't get to hug him, I just want to tell him I love him one more time," Deleon tearfully said.

Emmanuel says he and his brother, along with their cousin and the suspect, who was identified as 19-year-old Angel Martinez, were out together that Sunday night. Their cousin, Jose Loza, says all he remembers from that night is the suspect slamming on the gas and turning the car violently. "And we just go straight, and then everything just, I don't know what we hit, but my body just flew, everything just flew," Loza said. Police said it happened around 4:45 am. Investigators say Martinez was traveling southbound near Gessner Road and failed to stay in the single lane before crashing into a pole. Investigators say Martinez fled, but Isandro's brother and cousin stayed behind. Police eventually caught and arrested Martinez. He remains in jail, is due for a court appearance on Monday, Nov. 28. As for the Deleon family, family members are now holding on to memories and hope for justice.

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National Stories

New York Times - November 27, 2022

Trump’s latest dinner guest: Nick Fuentes, white supremacist

Former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night had dinner with Nick Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and racist who is one of the country’s most prominent young white supremacists, at Mr. Trump’s private club in Florida, advisers to Mr. Trump conceded on Friday. Also at the dinner was the performer Kanye West, who has also been denounced for making antisemitic statements. Mr. West traveled to meet with Mr. Trump at the club, Mar-a-Lago, and brought Mr. Fuentes along, the advisers said. The fourth attendee at the four-person dinner, Karen Giorno — a veteran political operative who worked on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign as his state director in Florida — also confirmed that Mr. Fuentes was there. Attempts to reach Mr. Fuentes through an intermediary on Friday were unsuccessful. In recent years, Mr. Fuentes, 24, has developed a high profile on the far right and forged ties with such Republican lawmakers as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, largely through his leadership of an annual white-supremacist event called the America First Political Action Conference.

A Holocaust denier and unabashed racist, Mr. Fuentes openly uses hateful language on his podcast, in recent weeks calling for the military to be sent into Black neighborhoods and demanding that Jews leave the country. It is unclear how much Mr. Trump knew of Mr. Fuentes’s well-documented bigotry and extremism before their dinner. Citing people close to Mr. Trump, some earlier news coverage of Mr. West’s visit to Mar-a-Lago had falsely reported that Mr. Fuentes did not attend the dinner. During the dinner, according to a person briefed on what took place, Mr. Fuentes described himself as part of Mr. Trump’s base of supporters. Mr. Trump remarked that his advisers urge him to read speeches using a teleprompter and don’t like when he ad-libs remarks. Mr. Fuentes said Mr. Trump’s supporters preferred the ad-libs, at which Mr. Trump turned to the others, the person said, and declared that he liked Mr. Fuentes, adding: “He gets me.” In a statement on Friday, Mr. Trump said: “Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago. Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.” The statement said nothing about Mr. Fuentes’s views.

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Washington Post - November 27, 2022

Early voters in Georgia head to the polls Saturday for Senate runoff

Georgia voters flocked to the polls Saturday to cast their ballots in the Senate runoff, taking advantage of an extra day of voting brought about by a lawsuit filed by Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D), who is defending his seat against Republican Herschel Walker. In more than two dozen counties across the state, thousands of voters from both parties came out to vote, some waiting for hours in lines stretching around the block for the chance to cast their ballot early for the Dec. 6 runoff. The secretary of state’s office reported that at least 70,000 people voted Saturday. The first Saturday of early voting for the general election drew 79,682 people, more than double the 2018 number. Early voting will continue through Friday.

Those taking advantage of Saturday voting included college students visiting home for Thanksgiving, police officers and ambulance workers with busy work schedules, lifelong voters who make it a point to always cast their ballots on the first day they are allowed, and retirees just seeking an escape from holiday guests. “We got a house full of company. This gave me a good excuse to get out for a little,” said Bill Chapel, a Walker supporter from Bartow County, who said he typically votes early. Chapel said he hopes that Saturday voting ends up helping Walker more than Warnock, who filed the lawsuit that resulted in the polls here being open a day earlier than had been planned by state elections officials. Democrats have organized more around the Saturday early vote and have promoted the option this past week more than Republicans. A total of 27 counties conducted Saturday voting, giving greater opportunities to cast a ballot for voters who may be occupied during the week. The participating counties, which include most the state’s major metropolitan areas and several rural counties, ensured that just over half the state’s population had the opportunity to vote on Saturday.

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Washington Post - November 27, 2022

E.J. Dionne, Jr.: Divided government demands creativity. Here are 3 ways to get things done.

The past two years deserve to be seen as a time of progress — and the 2022 election as ratification that voters noticed. Even in the face of high inflation, they kept the Senate in Democratic hands, limited Republican gains in the House and rejected far-right candidates at the state level. Lord knows, there is much that remains to be done, and President Biden and the Democrats should not back off from fights for tougher gun laws, voting rights, political reform, steps to rein in a right-wing Supreme Court, new measures to fight climate change and a sane immigration policy. But Republican control of the House will make it very difficult for progressive legislation to go forward. This requires Democrats (and Republicans seeking ways to break with their investigation-infatuated leadership) to be creative in thinking simultaneously about what’s possible over the next two years and how to lay the groundwork for change later. Here are three suggestions that I hope others build on.

Presidents can do a lot through executive orders, and Biden will certainly try. But there are other avenues available to change-makers, as my Brookings Institution colleague Thomas E. Mann suggests. First, much of the legislation enacted in the past two years — on infrastructure and investments in technology and green energy for starters — will involve substantial spending between now and the end of Biden’s first term. Democrats should be aggressive in claiming credit for what’s being built. But the Biden administration should also be very public about all it’s doing to make sure the money is spent wisely. “When a bill is finally passed and signed into law,” Mann told me, channeling Churchill, “that’s not the end, but the end of the beginning.” Progressives propose to do a lot of good things through government. They need to make clear they will be in the forefront of reforming how it works. The Internal Revenue Service should do its part with highly visible help to make tax filing as easy as possible and to speed refunds. It would be a way of showing that the employees added to the IRS to prevent cheating at the top are also there to improve service to everyone.

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Los Angeles Times - November 27, 2022

Can Ron DeSantis ride the culture war to the White House?

If you've been yearning for a preview of the battle for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, the place to be last weekend was Las Vegas, where the Republican Jewish Coalition held what some attendees cheekily called a "kosher cattle call" for potential candidates. Former Vice President Mike Pence was there. So were former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo. Former President Trump appeared by video — only a few days before dining with two of the country's best-known antisemites. The biggest buzz of the weekend, though, was attached to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the rising 44-year-old star of the conservative firmament, fresh from a landslide reelection. Around the country, DeSantis noted, many Republicans fell short in this year’s midterm elections. Florida, he said, offered “a blueprint for success.” DeSantis isn’t running for president yet, at least not officially. He has told supporters to “chill out” until Florida’s legislative session ends in May.

Polls don’t mean much at this early stage. At this point ahead of the 2016 GOP race, the top contenders in polls were former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. What the polls can say, however, is that most Republican voters have focused on three names: Trump, DeSantis and Pence. Six months ago, most of them didn’t know who DeSantis was. “It’s too early to call anyone a front-runner,” said Alex Conant, a strategist for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the 2016 campaign. “But you’d rather be Ron DeSantis than anyone else in the field. He’s made as good a first impression on Republican voters as anyone in decades.” DeSantis has several things going for him, including the adulation of Fox News, which treats him as a front-runner and has begun casting Trump as yesterday’s man. DeSantis has used that attention to build a national following as a conservative champion in a multifront culture war on not only traditional GOP issues like abortion and immigration but newer targets like antiracism education in public schools (pilloried by DeSantis and others as “critical race theory”), transgender surgery for minors (DeSantis wants to outlaw it) and a crusade against what he calls “woke banks.”

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Associated Press - November 27, 2022

Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada

Pedro Meraz says living in Colima, Mexico, was like living in a war zone, with shootings, burning cars and dismembered bodies being left outside of schools. When his wife Rocio Gonzalez, a 28-year-old lawyer who worked with abused women, began receiving death threats from a cartel and the local authorities ignored her pleas for assistance, they knew they had to leave. “They knew where we lived and what car we drove,” said Meraz, 41, who taught at The University of Colima, near the Pacific Coast and about 300 miles (485 kilometers) west of Mexico City. “Feeling that you are going to lose your life, or one of your daughters, I don’t mind starting from scratch.” The family is part of a surge in the number of Mexicans who have requested asylum in Canada this year.

Due to the relative ease of obtaining asylum in Canada compared to the U.S., visa-free travel between Mexico and Canada, and the threat of violence back home, more than 8,000 Mexican nationals have sought refugee status in 2022. That’s almost five times as many as last year and more than twice as many as in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions that accompanied it. The vast majority of them are flying in to Montreal, which has many direct flights to and from Mexico. Among them is Viviana Tapia Gonzalez, a human rights activist and mother of four from Aguascalientes, about 265 miles (425 kilometers) northwest of Mexico City, who said she left Mexico in January after being attacked by the military. She said her work with the families of missing and murdered women and girls made her a target. “Death threats were constant,” she said. “I thought it was the last option I had to be safe. I work for many causes and help many people. I did not want to stop helping, but I must also protect (and) take care of myself.” Tapia Gonzalez has been living in a Montreal women’s shelter while awaiting a decision on her asylum claim, which she fears might get rejected. If her claim is turned down, she wouldn’t be alone. In the first nine months of 2022, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, an independent tribunal that investigates and decides asylum cases, finalized more than 2,700 claims by Mexican asylum seekers. Of those, 1,032 were accepted, 1,256 were rejected; and the remaining 400-plus were either abandoned, withdrawn, or had other outcomes, said Christian Tessier, an IRB spokesperson.

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Newsclips - November 23, 2022

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Texas Supreme Court declines to throw out 2K Harris County ballots after last-minute AG intervention

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to throw out around 2,000 provisional ballots cast in Harris County during an extended voting hour on Election Day, responding to an 11th hour attempt from the Texas Attorney General's office to get those ballots tossed just before members of Commissioners Court met to certify the election results. The ballots in question were cast between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Election Night, Nov. 8. Republican Ken Paxton's Attorney General's office filed its petition to try to disqualify the 2,000 ballots on Monday afternoon, the day before the Commissioners Court meeting. That meeting was getting underway around the same time the Supreme Court order came down.

Christopher Hilton, chief of the general litigation division of the Attorney General's Office, declined on Monday to comment on why the office did not ask for the ruling sooner. Could election results change? While the provisional ballots are included in the official count certified by Commissioners Court, the Supreme Court also is ordering the county to include in the final canvassed results a separate report that details the votes of the "later cast votes for each candidate in each race." That way, candidates can determine whether this group of ballots would change the outcome of their race and "assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted." Given that Harris County voters cast more than 1.1 million ballots overall, the 2,000 provisional ballots have little chance of changing most election outcomes. However, a handful of candidates in tight races may consider legal challenges over election results.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Kevin McCarthy meets with Border Patrol in El Paso, calls for Mayorkas to resign

U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to resign on Tuesday, accusing him of failing to adequately address the historic surge of migrant crossings at the southern border. McCarthy, standing with Texas Republicans at an El Paso press conference, raised alarms about "the worst border crisis in U.S. history" and blasted Mayorkas for asserting last week that the border is secure. McCarthy, who is running to become speaker of the U.S. House, also left the door open for the new GOP majority to launch impeachment proceedings against Mayorkas next year.

"His actions have produced the greatest wave of illegal immigration in recorded history," McCarthy said. "Our country may never recover from Secretary Mayorkas' dereliction of duty. This is why, today, I am calling on the secretary to resign. He cannot and must not remain in that position. If Secretary Mayorkas does not resign, House Republicans will investigate every order, every action and every failure to determine whether we can begin an impeachment inquiry." A spokesperson for DHS said Mayorkas does not plan to resign, and he "is proud to advance the noble mission of this department, support its extraordinary workforce and serve the American people." "The department will continue our work to enforce our laws and secure our border, while building a safe, orderly and humane immigration system," the spokesperson said. "Members of Congress can do better than point the finger at someone else; they should come to the table and work on solutions for our broken system and outdated laws, which have not been overhauled in over 40 years." McCarthy's press conference featured Texas Reps. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, Dan Crenshaw of Houston, Brian Babin of Woodville and August Pfluger of San Angelo.

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Wall Street Journal - November 23, 2022

Oil-shipping costs soar as Ukraine war reshapes global trade

A surge in the cost of shipping oil between the world’s ports is buoying energy prices, even as a gloomy economic outlook has dragged down crude near its lowest levels of the year. Economic fallout from the war in Ukraine has severed many of the short oil- and petroleum-product trading routes across the Baltic and North seas. Now, as Europe scrambles to find new suppliers and Russia looks to send exports elsewhere, tankers are spending more time on water before reaching their destinations. Many shipments now spend five times longer in transit to refineries or wholesalers than they would have before the conflict, tanker operators and analysts say. The upshot is that fewer vessels are available in a global fleet that has little prospect of quickly expanding in size, a boon for shipping companies.

Average tankers have earned more than $40,000 a day for four months, their longest such stretch in 15 years, according to London-based shipbroker Clarksons. The spot price for modernized ships known as very large crude carriers, which can stretch more than three football fields in length and carry two million barrels of oil, surpassed $115,100 a day on Nov. 18. That is an 11-fold increase from that class of ship’s average daily rate last year. The price increases come at a key moment for oil markets, with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their Russia-led allies set to meet Dec. 4 amid flagging global demand and tensions with the U.S. The following day, Western governments will begin imposing sanctions against Russian energy exports that analysts expect will push traders to redirect more shipments on longer routes. The soaring cost of transporting oil, which comes as ships carrying liquefied natural gas also fetch high prices, contrasts with plunging rates for container ships amid slowing demand from retailers and factories to move cargo. “The world’s oil-supply maps are being completely redrawn,” said Christian Ingerslev, chief executive of Copenhagen-based shipping operator Maersk Tankers A/S. Tankers departing from Primorsk, Russia, which is near St. Petersburg, can reach the Dutch port of Rotterdam in roughly four days, Teekay Tankers Ltd. Chief Executive Kevin Mackay said during an earnings call this month. But many Russian shipments have rerouted on a roughly 26-day trip around the continent, across the Mediterranean Sea, and through the Suez Canal for delivery on the western coast of India.

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Washington Post - November 23, 2022

Supreme Court clears way for Trump tax returns to go to Congress

The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for a congressional committee to examine Donald Trump’s tax returns, denying without comment the former president’s last-ditch effort to extend a legal battle that has consumed Congress and the courts for years. The justices’ brief order means that the Treasury Department may quickly hand over six years of tax records from Trump and some of his companies to the House Ways and Means Committee. There were no recorded dissents and, as is often the case in emergency applications, the court did not state a reason for denying Trump’s request to withhold the records. Lawmakers have said they need Trump’s tax returns from his time in office, plus the year before his term and the year after for comparison, to help evaluate the effectiveness of annual presidential audits. Trump has argued that Democratic lawmakers are on a fishing expedition designed to embarrass him politically.

“It has been 1,329 days since our committee sought Donald Trump’s tax returns — almost as long as the American Civil War,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight. “And for 1,329 days, our request made under law has been delayed, obfuscated and blocked by Donald Trump and his adjutants in the government and the courts. … The Supreme Court is right to keep its nose out of this case.” It was unclear when the Treasury Department will turn over the documents — a spokesman said only that the department would comply — but time is not on the side of Democrats who run the committee, who will cede control to Republicans in January as a result of the recent midterm elections. House General Counsel Douglas N. Letter had told the justices that “delaying Treasury from providing the requested tax information would leave the Committee and Congress as a whole little or no time to complete their legislative work during this Congress, which is quickly approaching its end.” The court decision immediately touched off a scramble on Capitol Hill, and speculation about whether the records Trump has so vigorously guarded would at some point become public.

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State Stories

CBS 7 - November 22, 2022

West Texas rancher worried about livelihood as well blowouts increase

Well blowouts have become a common sight on Schuyler Wight’s land near the Pecos County and Crane County border, which he uses for ranching. “I’m a fourth-generation rancher,” Wight said.” I’ve been ranching all my life.” But in recent years, he’s devoted less time to ranching and more time to solving problems related to oil and gas. “These wells are getting older, they’re getting deteriorated, they’re rusting,” Wight said. “It’s going to happen just because they’re so old.” The exponential increase in blowouts and the contaminated water that’s leaking to the surface (as well as staying below) has Wight worried his cattle business could find itself in trouble.

“I can’t afford it,” Wight said. “That’s how I make my living. If I sell my cattle, I can’t make a living. I just have to do the best I can and make sure they don’t get out here and drink this nasty crap.” On Monday, Wight sat at the site of a major plugging operation that he says has cost the RRC over $1 million to plug, destroyed nearly 40 acres, and created a temporary hole that would make a Red Bull cliff diver proud. “You know, when there’s a mess like this, it just upsets you,” Wight said. “It’s really painful to watch.” He’s spoken to the Texas legislature about the problem numerous times, but any real long-term solution for Wight or other West Texas ranchers still seems far away. “They need to get on these well and get them plugged before this gets worse,” Wight said. Wight says he 100% supports the oil and gas industry and even brought up how the industry helped the ranch survive the Dust Bowl nearly 100 years ago. He wants the RRC to plug wells at a greater rate to put a dent in the state’s increasing orphaned well population to help ranchers and residents like himself.

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Associated Press - November 23, 2022

Texas, 14 other conservative states try to keep court from lifting Trump asylum policy

A coalition of conservative-leaning states is making a last-ditch effort to keep in place a Trump-era public health rule that allows many asylum seekers to be turned away at the southern U.S. border. Late Monday, the 15 states filed what’s known as a motion to intervene — meaning they want to become part of the legal proceedings surrounding the public health rule referred to as Title 42. The rule, first invoked by Trump in 2020, uses emergency public health authority to allow the United States to keep migrants from seeking asylum at the border, based on the need to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s set to end Dec. 21, potentially upending border enforcement as Republicans are about to take control of the House from the Democrats following midterm elections and are planning to make immigration a central part of their agenda.

The states argued that they will suffer “irreparable harm from the impending Termination of Title 42? and that they should be allowed to argue their position well before the Dec. 21 termination date. In a statement, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union which has been arguing to end the use of Title 42 called into question the states’ motivation for trying to keep the public health rule in force. “Title 42 is not about asylum general border enforcement but public health, and these states cannot plausibly claim their real interest is about public health,” said Lee Gelernt. Immigrant rights’ groups have argued that the use of Title 42 unjustly harms people fleeing persecution and that the pandemic was a pretext used by the Trump administration to curb immigration. A judge on Nov. 15 ruled for the immigrants rights’ groups, calling the ban “arbitrary and capricious.” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled in Washington that enforcement must end immediately for families and single adults. The administration has not used Title 42 with regard to children traveling alone. The judge later granted a request by President Joe Biden’s administration to set a Dec. 21 deadline for his order to go into effect, giving the administration five weeks to prepare for the change.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Colorado Springs shooter grew up in Texas under different name, public records show

The 22-year-old accused of killing five people in a Colorado Springs LGBTQ bar this weekend spent most of his life in San Antonio, public records show. The man now known as Anderson Lee Aldrich was raised in San Antonio as Nicholas Brink until he was 15 years old, the Washington Post reported. For unknown reasons, in April 2016, just before his 16th birthday, he petitioned a Texas court to change his name from Nicholas F. Brink to Anderson L. Aldrich. On Sunday, Aldrich walked into Club Q, a popular LGBTQ bar in Colorado Springs, and opened fire into the crowded club, authorities said. The bar, which was celebrating National Transgender Day of Remembrance, was packed with people.

Aldrich allegedly killed five and injured another 18 before he was tackled and subdued by a Club Q patron until police arrived and arrested Aldrich. The suspected shooter was hospitalized, and his condition remains unknown. The suspected shooter was born in 2000 in Orange, Calif., a year before his parents divorced. Aldrich went to San Antonio to live with his mother, Laura Voepel. Voepel has multiple Bexar County addresses listed, including residences on TPC Parkway, Hideout Falls, Stone Oak Parkway and Thousand Oaks Drive, according to public records. Aldrich’s mother has also a criminal record. She was arrested on suspicion of arson in 2012, when Aldrich was 12, and was found guilty of criminal mischief in connection with that incident, according to public records. She was ordered to undergo psychological evaluations and mandatory drug testing by the court. Aldrich’s paternal grandfather is Randy Voepel, a Republican in the California State Assembly who lost his seat in November after a redistricting change altered his district. Voepel — who previously was mayor of Santee, a city outside San Diego — had aligned himself with the tea party movement in the past and spoke in favor of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2022

19-year-old unseats veteran GOP district clerk in Hays County

Hays County’s newest elected district clerk called his election win on Nov. 8 a “little bit shocking.” Perhaps it’s because he’s never held a position in the office — or any office at all. Or perhaps it’s because he unseated an incumbent with 30 years’ experience. Maybe it’s because he spent $0 on his campaign. But most likely, it’s because Avrey Anderson, Hays County’s newest elected official, is only 19 years old. “My family took it as a shock,” he said. “They didn’t think I could win.” The teenager graduated from Dripping Springs High School last year. He now looks forward to a four-year term as the district clerk of the Hays County court system after winning the Nov. 8 election by 1,906 votes. That’s a margin of 2 percentage points.

Democrats swept the Hays County local races on Election Day. The county commissioners court has a new Democratic majority, and Democrats won every major office on the countywide ballot, including county clerk and county treasurer. Running as a Democrat, Anderson unseated Republican Beverly Cowan Crumley, who was elected district clerk in 2011. She previously served as a deputy clerk from 1992 to 2011. Crumley did not return a message seeking comment. She has not posted on her campaign Facebook page since Nov. 4, encouraging people to vote, and Anderson said she has not called him to concede. The teenager from Dripping Springs said he owns a small landscaping company and decided to run for office so he could be a public servant for the community. He opted to run for district clerk because he didn’t meet residency requirements to run for county commissioner, and if he had run for county judge, he “would have lost.” “I feel like I’m more able to make records than make county legislation,” he said.

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Dallas Observer - November 22, 2022

Ground Game Texas tells Denton to implement marijuana decriminalization ordinance

After Denton officials told residents they didn’t plan to fully enforce an ordinance voters passed on Nov. 8 that would essentially decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, they got a memo from one of the principal groups pushing for measures like these across the state. The group is Ground Game Texas, which successfully lobbied voters to pass a similar ordinance in Austin earlier this year. In a memo to the Denton mayor and City Council, the group said it was concerned that the city appears to be ready to “disregard the electoral outcome and usurp the policy-making authority of city voters.” Ground Game Texas urged Denton to implement the ordinance after the city’s canvassing meeting on Tuesday.

Another local group, Decriminalize Denton, has been the main force behind Proposition B. After trying to get such an ordinance passed by city council, Decriminalize Denton decided to let the voters decide through a ballot initiative. About 71% of voters in Denton approved the ordinance, which would prevent the city’s police department from citing or arresting for low-level marijuana possession in most cases. Exceptions would be made if a violent felony was also involved or if it was part of a broader narcotics investigation. The ordinance would prohibit police from giving out Class C misdemeanor citations for possession of drug residue or drug paraphernalia, and keep them from ordering THC tests unless a felony was involved. The group encouraged residents to turn out to the canvassing meeting at Denton City Hall Tuesday morning to speak in favor of the ordinance. Denton city staff and the city manager both issued press releases after Proposition B, the decriminalization ordinance, was approved by voters in the Nov. 8 election. Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the city directed the Observer to these press releases, which claimed that Texas law prevents them from being able to enforce the ordinance completely. They said Texas bars the city from adopting rules that would keep police from fully enforcing state and federal drug laws. Ground Game Texas and Decriminalize Denton disagree.

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2022

AT&T Stadium to host 2030 Men’s Final Four, NCAA announces

The NCAA announced on Tuesday that AT&T Stadium has been selected to host the 2030 Men’s Final Four. This will be the third time that North Texas has been selected to host a Men’s Final Four, with AT&T Stadium earning the honor in 2014, and Dallas’ Reunion Arena doing so in 1986. “We are thrilled that the NCAA has again chosen North Texas as host of the 2030 Men’s Final Four,” said executive director of the Dallas Sports Commission Monica Paul in a statement. “As we like to say, everything is bigger here in Texas. And when it comes to college basketball, nothing is bigger than the Final Four. Having been selected as a host for the 2031 Women’s Final Four yesterday, today’s announcement further solidifies our region as a proud partner to elite basketball and premier experiences.”

On Monday, the NCAA also announced that Dallas and the American Airlines Center will be the site of the 2031 Women’s Final Four, scheduled for April 4-6. “This is indeed a festive week for the Big 12,” said Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark. “We are thrilled with the news that we will host the 2030 Men’s Final Four in Arlington in addition to the 2031 Women’s Final Four in Dallas. “As home to the last two men’s basketball national champions, we look forward to staging this marquee event along with hosting men’s preliminary rounds three of the next four seasons and the 2023 Women’s Final Four.” On April 7, 2014, 79,238 fans packed AT&T Stadium as the UConn Huskies edged the Kentucky Wildcats for the program’s fourth, and most recent, national championship. The announced attendance on that evening set a record for an NCAA Tournament final that still stands. AT&T Stadium also hosted a Men’s Regional in 2013, the only other time the tournament tipped off in Arlington.

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2022

Court throws out 737 Max passenger lawsuit against Boeing, Southwest Airlines

A federal appeals court has rejected a class-action lawsuit against Boeing and Southwest Airlines that accused the companies of putting 737 Max passengers in harm’s way and covering up known dangers to the flying public. The case was one of the most significant consumer actions over the 737 Max crisis after the crashes of two jets in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people and set off a worldwide investigation into the airworthiness of the Boeing plane. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2019 after the 737 Max was grounded as details began to emerge that Boeing had long known about issues with the software system known as MCAS that was blamed for steering the planes into the ground. The lawsuit claimed that Dallas-based Southwest, Boeing’s largest 737 Max customer, was aware of the problems and hid the dangers from the public.

The plaintiffs argued that consumers were duped into flying on unsafe airplanes. “The actual prices of the tickets that were purchased as a result of the misrepresentations by Southwest and Boeing about the safety of the MAX 8 and MAX Series Aircraft were significantly higher than the value of those tickets, which for many, if not most, passengers was zero,” the suit argued. At the time of the suit, Southwest said the claims that the airline knew of 737 Max flaws were “completely without merit.” But in a 3-0 decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the case’s class-action status and ordered it to be sent back to the lower court “with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.” “In sum, plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged any concrete injury,” appeals court judge Andrew S. Oldham wrote in the opinion. “They concededly have suffered no physical harm. They have offered no plausible theory of economic harm.” Boeing was forced to pay $2.5 billion in a controversial plea deal to settle the 737 Max charges, a settlement that family members of crash victims are challenging.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Harris County and Houston homeless initiatives win $5M grant from a Jeff Bezos fund

The Coalition for the Homeless in Houston and Harris County announced Tuesday it had won a $5 million grant from a fund launched by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. The Day 1 Families Fund is meant to help groups providing shelter and hunger support to young families. Since 2018, the fund has issued more than $520 million in awards, according to its website. The Coalition for the Homeless in Houston and Harris County is the lead agency that coordinates organizations working to address homelessness through the region, which has received nationwide attention for reducing its homeless count by 64 percent this January since January of 2011.

The Day 1 Families Fund money follows a $10 million award meant to address youth homelessness from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Similarly to how the Coalition has distributed those funds, its plans for the Day 1 Families funds involves distributing the $5 million to local organizations that provide services to the demographic specified by the grant -- in this case, families. First, the Coalition will pull together data about families experiencing homelessness and meet with its steering committee to discuss how the funds can be used to further the organization's five-year plan. Then it will meet with partners and others to see if money can be used in conjunction with other sources of funds, before asking its members to submit proposals and deciding how to distribute the grant money. The money has to be spent within five years, according to the Coalition. Michael C. Nichols, chief executive of the coalition, said he was "thrilled" about the new grant. He added that the grant is especially timely because advocates are worried that current economic and policy developments -- such as the increase in housing prices and the wind down of rent relief funding -- could result in more families losing their housing.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 22, 2022

Bills targeting Austin start trickling at Legislature. But how far will they go?

Bill filing is underway in the Texas Legislature ahead of the 88th session, and some lawmakers are laying the groundwork for their priorities while others take aim at Austin. Two anti-Austin bills are in the pipeline, the most fractious coming in a long-shot proposal from state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, to abolish the capital city and fold it into a planned district under the lieutenant governor's and House speaker's authority. A similar bill came up last session and died. The second bill, from state Rep.-elect Ellen Troxclair, R-Lakeway, who once represented Southwest Austin on the City Council, would prohibit cities from giving out taxpayer money to struggling residents under a program, already underway as a pilot in Austin, known as guaranteed income. In Austin, 85 families are getting $1,000 a month for a year to spend as they please. The program, which has not yet been reviewed for long-term viability, costs taxpayers $1 million.

By bringing forward the legislation, Troxclair, elected in House District 19 this month, is making good on a campaign promise to end Austin's money handout. "Getting a job is what lifts people out of poverty, and I think the misuse of taxpayer money is causing insult to injury to Austinites struggling to make ends meet," Troxclair said. The Legislative session will begin Jan. 10. The deadline to file bills is March 10. The anti-Austin bills are the first but, Troxclair warns, maybe not the last to target Austin, whose liberal policies often become prey for the political right. Two years ago, GOP lawmakers worked successfully to undo controversial measures Austin approved related to police budget cuts and allowing public camping, and fought unsuccessfully on behalf of wealthy lakefront homeowners who wished to disannex from and stop paying taxes to the city.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 22, 2022

Elon Musk floats idea of dual Twitter headquarters in Texas and California

Even before Elon Musk completed his deal to acquire Twitter, there was speculation the billionaire might move the social media company's headquarters from San Francisco to Austin, which has become a center of operations for Tesla and other Musk-led companies. Musk has said little publicly about the possibility until this week, when he was asked about it during a meeting with Twitter employees. While saying he currently "does not intend" to move Twitter's headquarters to Texas, Musk left open the possibility that some of Twitter's operations could be moved to the Lone Star State, according reports from technology news sites.

During the meeting, Musk said he not ruled out adding a second headquarters in Texas, according to a report from tech publication the Verge. Musk said it could make sense to “dual headquarter” the company in California and Texas. The report said the Verge had spoken to two people who attended and had obtained a partial recording of the meeting. Musk said he didn't want to fully move the corporate headquarters to Texas because it would "play into the idea that Twitter has gone from being left-wing to right-wing," which Musk said is not the case, and he instead considers it a "moderate-wing takeover" of the company, according to the Verge report. A separate report from Business Insider on the meeting also indicated Musk told employees he "does not intend" to move Twitter's headquarters to Texas from San Francisco. During the same meeting, Musk also said that Twitter, which has made extensive cuts in recent weeks , was done with layoffs and would be actively recruiting for roles in engineering and sales, the reports said.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Fall guy: Texas A&M's recent woes started under coaches hired by former AD Scott Woodward

Texas A&M sent a strong message to football coach Jimbo Fisher this week: The Aggies fired their volleyball coach. We kid, but A&M athletic director Ross Bjork is not in taking a small first step in cleaning up one of the leftover messes of his predecessor, Scott Woodward. That’s current LSU athletic director Scott Woodward, who left A&M in April 2019 for his alma mater in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. In the wild world of college sports, one theory among a handful of A&M fans — let’s hope it’s only a handful — is Woodward purposely sabotaged their favorite athletic department with bad hires before smirkingly heading home to an SEC West rival. The bad Aggies and division champ Tigers happen to meet in football on Saturday night at Kyle Field, and Woodward will be the guy with the big grin in the maroon suites considering his early success with the hire of coach Brian Kelly from Notre Dame a year ago.

No. 6 LSU, a near 10-point favorite on the road at A&M, must beat the Aggies and then Georgia in the SEC title game on Dec. 3 in Atlanta, Ga., to likely make the four-team College Football Playoff. In a game of musical chairs among athletic directors a little more than three years ago, A&M hired Bjork from Mississippi to replace Woodward. Bjork’s first big hire, baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle from TCU, led the Aggies to their highest finish in program history: No. 3 in the final 2022 Associated Press poll and in the final four of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Incredibly considering the deep pockets and deeper passion of A&M and its huge fanbase, that No. 3 ranking was the Aggies’ highest in any of the big three men’s sports — football, basketball and baseball — since the football team won the national title in 1939. Bringing us back to Woodward and his mound of failures (to date) at A&M. Five years ago he hired Kansas assistant Laura “Bird” Kuhn to head up volleyball following the resignation of Laurie Corbelli, who’d turned the program into an NCAA Tournament regular over 25 years. Kuhn made the NCAA postseason once in five seasons before her firing this week by Bjork. In a much higher profile hire a few weeks prior to Kuhn five years ago, Woodward brought his old friend Fisher onboard to lead the football team.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2022

John Sharp: Program helps youth earn Texas A&M engineering degree

Becoming an engineer isn’t easy. It takes intelligence, hard work and real grit. But it doesn’t have to be unaffordable. We’ve proven that at Texas A&M University through the success of our Engineering Academy Program, which allows kids who have the intelligence and drive to become an engineer — even if they can’t afford to leave home for a dorm room in College Station after high school. More than 2,300 kids from Fort Worth, Austin, Brenham, Dallas, Houston, Midland, San Antonio and Bryan-College Station have taken advantage and enrolled in the academy program since its launch in 2015. And they are saving a ton of money in the process. Getting this done wasn’t rocket science, and this program’s success can be replicated.

Here’s how it works: We send top-notch engineering professors from Texas A&M to community colleges, where students take their first two years of basic courses before transferring to the College of Engineering at Texas A&M in College Station to finish up. We have plans to expand this opportunity to other partner institutions soon, broadening the reach of this ambitious effort. One of our partners is Tarrant County College. Most of these kids stay at home, with the support of their families. That saves them tens of thousands of dollars in expenses. The statistics on the kids who have taken advantage of this program are encouraging: 33% of them are the first generation in their family to earn a college degree. Nearly one-fifth are female, and 40% are Hispanic.

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Associated Press - November 23, 2022

Judge backs full $49M jury award against Alex Jones in Texas

A Texas judge said Tuesday she will not lower a nearly $50 million punishment against Alex Jones that a jury handed down earlier this year over the Infowars host spreading false conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Since that August trial in Texas, other judgments against Jones in Connecticut have stacked up to a staggering $1.44 billion — setting up what experts say is likely a long fight ahead for Sandy Hook families to try to collect that money. The decision in Texas by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble is another defeat for Jones and notable because a state law has raised questions about how much of the punishment would stand.

In most civil cases, Texas law limits how much defendants have to pay in “exemplary,” or punitive, damages to twice the “economic damages” plus up to $750,000. But jurors are not told about this cap, and eye-popping verdicts are often hacked down by judges. But Gamble said she would enter a judgment for the full amount. Jones could appeal and has already said he has little money to pay the damages. He said during the Connecticut trial he has less than $2 million to his name, which contradicted testimony at the trial in Texas. Infowars parent company Free Speech Systems, meanwhile, is seeking bankruptcy protection. Twenty children and six adults died in the shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2022

23 clergy urging federal probe into Tarrant County jail death

Nearly two dozen clergy are urging Tarrant County commissioners to seek a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the death of Robert Miller, who died in 2019 after being pepper-sprayed three times in the county jail. A Star-Telegram investigation in October cast doubt on the county medical examiner’s findings that Miller, 38, died of natural causes from a sickle cell crisis. A review of medical records and interviews with sickle cell experts found that Miller almost certainly didn’t have the disease. The newspaper uncovered evidence that suggests Miller may have died as a consequence to how he was treated in jail. After the story published, county leaders said they would enlist an outside medical examiner to review Miller’s autopsy results. Commissioner Roy Brooks said that the review would determine “what the next courses of action are.” On Tuesday, County Judge Glen Whitley said commissioners will vote on a contract to hire the third-party examiner during their next meeting on Dec. 6.

The clergy are pushing for action sooner. Their letter, signed by 23 members of the Circle of Clergy, was sent to county commissioners on Monday, according to Ryon Price, Broadway Baptist Church’s senior pastor. “We write to you as members of the Circle of Clergy, an interfaith collaboration working for racial justice and unity in Fort Worth and beyond,” the letter starts. “Having read the recent Star-Telegram reporting of Nichole Manna, we are deeply troubled over the circumstances of the 2019 in-custody death of Mr. Robert Miller and call upon the County to request a Department of Justice investigation of the death in the Tarrant County Jail and its initial review by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner and the Texas Rangers.” The letter points to several questions raised by the Star-Telegram that an external investigation could answer, including when jail staff sought medical attention for Miller, why an initial report failed to mention he was pepper-sprayed multiple times, and why the call to medics was put out as a possible drug overdose. “The Star-Telegram article suggests Mr. Miller’s civil and human rights may have been violated and that criminal negligence could be culpable in both his death and the subsequent review of his death,” the letter says. “Given these grave considerations, an independent DOJ review is both appropriate and necessary.” Sheriff’s officers had pepper-sprayed Miller, who was homeless and suffered from mental illness, at least three times at close range while he was being booked. He was found unconscious and face-down in his cell 38 minutes later. The Star-Telegram consulted with outside experts in medicine, pathology and sickle cell anemia who said Miller almost certainly did not have the blood disease.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Three deaths at Harris County Jail this week push 2022 death toll to 27

Three inmates in the Harris County Jail have died since Sunday, one during an apparent fight and two others from health issues — prompting the death toll at the crowded lockup to surpass more than two dozen people, according to county officials. A 45-year-old man, Michael Griego, died Tuesday after spending nearly two weeks hospitalized for injuries he suffered during a Nov. 13 fight. He was in a pod with several other defendants when someone likely attacked him, Harris County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jason Spencer said.

Court records show Griego had been found incompetent to serve trial in March on a felony aggravated assault of a family member charge and ordered months later to undergo a competency restoration review through The Harris Center while housed at the jail. The Texas Rangers are investigating the death and the filing of charges is likely, Spencer said. With Griego's death, and that of two others this week, the number of jailhouse fatalities stands at 27 this year and is the highest in nearly 20 years, according to county officials and Texas Justice Initiative nonprofit records. The deaths come amid overcrowding concerns at the jail — also experiencing its highest population in more than a decade. Spencer contends the number of deaths is on par for other populous Texas counties, such as Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Tarrant and Travis counties. The jail population started climbing last December and frequently surpassed more than 10,000 defendants for the second half of the year. Officials have started sending inmates to facilities elsewhere at an attempt to lessen the population. As of Monday, the jail population remained at around 9,800 defendants. More than 900 additional defendants were being housed in facilities in Louisiana and Garza County in west Texas, county records show.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 22, 2022

Hays County OKs $5 million contract to operate new public defender's office

Cyrus Gray spent four years in the Hays County Jail after he was accused by police in the 2015 death of Texas State University student Justin Gage. Now Gray, who was not originally granted bail, is out on bail, which came after two rounds of bond reduction hearings. He is awaiting trial again after a jury in July was unable to reach a verdict in his case. Four years is too long to wait for justice, said Gray, who is now 28. He said he believes the process could have been expedited if Hays County had a public defender's office with access to resources and tools for often overwhelmed court-appointed attorneys. “Dealing with a court-appointed attorney it is very hard to feel secure or hopeful because they have a lack of resources and are overloaded with cases, and it's impossible to get adequate or fair defense," Gray said.

“With a public defender’s office, it’s a great thing and an important thing, because now people have the opportunity to get fair representation and public defenders will have the resources they need to expedite these cases.” Three years after first introducing the idea of creating a public defender’s office, the Hays County Commissioners Court on Tuesday finalized a contract for operation of the office. Commissioners approved an agreement between the county and Neighborhood Defender Service. This comes about six months after the county first selected the group to run the office following a request for proposals period. Neighborhood Defender Service, a pubic defense nonprofit, was one of two applicants for the job. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid also had submitted a bid for the project. The creation of the office has been part of a multiyear campaign by county leaders and San-Marcos based criminal justice activists group Mano Amiga to open up alternatives to jail time as Hays County’s jail population has continued to rise, with a majority of the inmates being Hispanic or Black.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - November 22, 2022

Austin indie bookstore Malvern Books, a hub for writers, to close

Malvern Books, a University of Texas-area purveyor of literary fiction, announced recently that it will close its doors at the end of the year. "We’ve had a wonderful time sharing our favorite books with you over the past nine years," manager Becky Garcia said in a statement posted on the bookstore's website, "and it’s been an honor to celebrate the work of so many brilliant writers through our readings and events." The store's last day will be Dec. 31. Malvern Books cofounder Joe W. Bratcher III died on July 28, at age 64, from complications from COVID-19. Upon his death, Bratcher was saluted as a humanitarian, filmmaker, teacher, musician and publisher, who earned his Ph.D. in English literature from UT. With wife Elzbieta Szoka, he started and ran a publishing house, Host Publications, which put out a literary magazine called the Dirty Goat and several books of poetry and prose.

After teaching and writing in New York, Bratcher returned to Austin in 2010, hoping to open a bookstore specializing in recent literary fiction and poetry. Malvern Books opened in 2013, at a time when many leaders in the publishing world predicted the end of the printed book, as well as the death of the independent, curated bookstore. "I anticipated many quiet sales days, with Joe and I just sitting there, looking at each other," Garcia said in the closure announcement. "He told me if that’s how it ended up, well, at least we’d have a chance to chat — and since we always seemed to laugh a lot when we talked, it sounded like a good way to spend some time. "And so from then on, whenever we’d have a really slow sales day, with just a few people coming in, we’d look at each other and say, 'We’re living the dream!' and we’d laugh." The spot at 613 W. 29th St. became a hub for writers and their fans. Tourists from other countries dropped by to check out Malvern's attentively selected inventory. Authors relished the store's informed readers, who gathered regularly for signings and talks.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Pearland ousts longtime city manager amid budget shortfall

Pearland’s longtime city manager is out after a decision the council made late Monday because the community needed new leadership, elected officials agreed. And the ongoing budget shortfall issues were only the tip of the iceberg, Council member Alex Kamkar said Tuesday. “At some point, you get fatigued,” Kamkar said. “Every 90 days or so, there’s a crisis in this city. And a lot of members agree there’s become an ethos.” After a closed executive session late Monday, the council voted, 6-0, to fire City Manager Clay Pearson. The firing is effective immediately for the man who had been in charge of Pearland since 2014, said Joe Calderon, a spokesperson for the city.

Pearson could not immediately be reached for comment. A phone number for Pearson was not available in online record databases. Calls to numbers listed for Pearson online returned busy signals and messages saying they were no longer working numbers. Monday’s vote can’t be blamed on one failure, but rather on a series of problems that have arisen in recent months, Council member Layne Cade said. “I don’t think the budget issue alone would have been the catalyst for this change,” she said. “Rather, this was a culmination of many things that began with the water billing issue and finally came to a head with the budget issue.” Not all members of council were as blunt in their assessment of Pearson’s tenure. Mayor Kevin Cole said he held no ill will toward Pearson, that no single issue affected his vote and that he just felt it was time for a change in leadership. “We want Clay and his wife to know we appreciate the work and effort he’s done over nine years,” Cole said. “It was just time to move forward. We want what’s best for Pearland and we want it to go to the next level as a city.”

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KSAT - November 23, 2022

New museum opening to celebrate San Antonio’s African American history

Thirty years ago, Charles Williams had a very specific vision in his mind. Now, he finally is able to look upon those images with his own two eyes, in the form of brand new museum that he built from the ground up. “I felt a profound need to do this, not just for me but for the community,” Williams said. “As you see it standing today, I saw it looking this way at least 15 years ago.” With words, pictures, and personal property he has collected for decades, he created the Williams Historical Museum as a way to pay tribute to one particular segment of the local community.

It honors both the triumphs and struggles of African Americans in San Antonio throughout the years. “These people laid the groundwork for us to be here today, doing what we’re doing and enjoying some of the benefits,” he said. Williams, himself, is like a walking history book. He is glad to give a guided tour, pointing out people in his photos and telling stories about each one. Williams’ story began in Granger, Texas, where he once worked in the fields, picking cotton. In 1957, he moved to San Antonio where he began working as a barber. He said he was impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit among local African Americans at the time. Eventually, he became a businessman, himself, opening and operating only the second African American barber college in the city. Williams never forgot the people who inspired him, though. Many of their faces now decorate the walls of his museum.

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National Stories

Associated Press - November 23, 2022

Multiple people killed in shooting at Virginia Walmart, police say

A shooting at a Walmart in Virginia on Tuesday night left several people dead and wounded, though the exact numbers were not immediately known, police said. The shooter was among the dead, officials said. Officers responded to a report of a shooting at the Walmart on Sam’s Circle around 10:15 p.m. and as soon as they arrived they found evidence of a shooting, Chesapeake Officer Leo Kosinski said in a briefing. Over 35 to 40 minutes, officers found multiple dead people and injured people in the store and put rescue and tactical teams together to go inside to tend to victims, he said. Police believe there was one shooter, who is dead, he said. They believe that the shooting had stopped when police arrived, Kosinski said. He did not have a number of dead, but said it was “less than 10, right now.” Kosinski said he doesn’t believe police fired shots, but he could not say whether the shooter was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot.

“We are shocked at this tragic event at our Chesapeake, Virginia store,” Walmart tweeted early Wednesday. “We’re praying for those impacted, the community and our associates. We’re working closely with law enforcement, and we are focused on supporting our associates,” the tweet said. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for Sentara Healthcare, said in a text message that five patients from the Walmart are being treated at Norfolk General Hospital. Their conditions weren’t immediately available. The Virginia shooting comes three days after a person opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado, killing five people and wounding 17. That shooter, who is nonbinary, was arrested after patrons at the club tackled and beat them. The shootings come in a year when the country was shaken by the deaths of 21 in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Tuesday's shooting also brought back memories of another shooting at a Walmart in 2019, when a gunman police say was targeting Mexicans opened fire at a store in El Paso and killed 22 people. Walmart didn't have a security guard on duty that day.

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Associated Press - November 23, 2022

Biden to extend student loan pause as court battle drags on

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that his administration will extend a pause on federal student loan payments while the White House fights a legal battle to save his plan to cancel portions of the debt. “It isn’t fair to ask tens of millions of borrowers eligible for relief to resume their student debt payments while the courts consider the lawsuit,” Biden said in a video posted on Twitter. The moratorium was slated to expire Jan. 1, a date that Biden set before his debt cancellation plan stalled in the face of legal challenges from conservative opponents. Now it will extend until 60 days after the lawsuit is resolved. If the lawsuit has not been resolved by June 30, payments would resume 60 days after that.

Biden’s plan promises $10,000 in federal student debt forgiveness to those with incomes of less than $125,000, or households earning less than $250,000. Pell Grant recipients, who typically demonstrate more financial need, are eligible for an additional $10,000 in relief. More than 26 million people already applied for the relief, with 16 million approved, but the Education Department stopped processing applications this month after a federal judge in Texas struck down the plan. The Justice Department last week asked the Supreme Court to examine the issue and reinstate Biden’s debt cancellation plan. By extending the pause, the administration says it’s giving the court a chance to resolve the case in its current term. “I’m completely confident my plan is legal,” Biden said Tuesday. Biden announced the decision a day after more than 200 advocacy groups urged him to extend the pause, warning that starting payment in January would cause “financial catastrophe” for millions of borrowers.

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Washington Post - November 23, 2022

Ukrainian energy systems on brink of collapse after weeks of Russian bombing

After just six weeks of intense bombing of energy infrastructure, Russia has battered Ukraine to the brink of a humanitarian disaster this winter as millions of people potentially face life-threatening conditions without electricity, heat or running water. As the scope of damage to Ukraine’s energy systems has come into focus in recent days, Ukrainian and Western officials have begun sounding the alarm but are also realizing they have limited recourse. Ukraine’s Soviet-era power system cannot be fixed quickly or easily. In some of the worst-hit cities, there is little officials can do other than to urge residents to flee — raising the risk of economic collapse in Ukraine and a spillover refugee crisis in neighboring European countries. “Put simply, this winter will be about survival,” Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, regional director for the World Health Organization, told reporters on Monday in Kyiv, saying the next months could be “life-threatening for millions of Ukrainians.”

Already, snow has fallen across much of Ukraine and temperatures are dipping below freezing in many parts of the country. Dr. Kluge said that 2 million to 3 million Ukrainians were expected to leave their homes “in search of warmth and safety,” though it was unclear how many would remain inside the country. The dire warnings indicate that despite a string of losses on the battlefield, Russia’s airstrikes have wrought destruction that will severely test Ukrainians’ national resolve and sharply raise the costs for Kyiv’s Western allies, who are struggling with spiking energy prices in their own countries. Military experts said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to compensate for territorial losses, and to create a sense of war fatigue among Ukraine’s European NATO allies in hopes that they will eventually pressure Kyiv to make concessions and slow arms shipments that enabled Ukraine’s victories. “This is all about the weaponization of refugees,” retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of U.S. Army Europe, said in a phone interview.

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Washington Post - November 23, 2022

Advertisers are dropping Twitter. Musk can’t afford to lose any more.

More than a third of Twitter’s top 100 marketers have not advertised on the social media network in the past two weeks, a Washington Post analysis of marketing data found — an indication of the extent of skittishness among advertisers about billionaire Elon Musk’s control of the company. Dozens of top Twitter advertisers, including 14 of the top 50, have stopped advertising in the few weeks since Musk’s chaotic acquisition of the social media company, according to The Post’s analysis of data from Pathmatics, which offers brand analysis on digital marketing trends. Ads for blue-chip brands including Jeep and Mars candy, whose corporate parents were among the top 100 U.S. advertisers on the site in the six months before Musk’s purchase, haven’t appeared there since at least Nov. 7, the analysis found. Musk assumed ownership of the site Oct. 27.

“Mars started suspending advertising activities on Twitter in late September when we learned of some significant brand safety and suitability incidents that impacted our brand,” said a statement to The Post from Mars, which, in addition to its namesake candy, makes other foods and pet products. Pharmaceutical company Merck, cereal maker Kellogg, Verizon and Samuel Adams brewer Boston Beer also have stopped their advertising in recent weeks, the Pathmatics data shows. The companies didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Post. Pathmatics data is generated from collecting the ads shown to a sample of Twitter users in the United States. The company estimated that each top marketer’s ads were shown tens of millions of times per week or more during their busiest weeks on the site, with some of the advertisers’ ads being shown billions of times over the six months before the pause.

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Politico - November 23, 2022

Biden's generation is ceding the stage as he plots his next act

Days after his 80th birthday, President Joe Biden gathered loved ones on Nantucket to earnestly begin family discussions about his 2024 plans. The talks come a week after the 82-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she would be handing over her leadership role, declaring: “The hour has come for a new generation to lead.” Those words echoed Biden’s own from the presidential campaign trail where he once declared himself a “transition candidate” who would restore stability to the White House before passing the torch to younger leaders. But that was then. Now, it increasingly appears that Biden isn’t ready to cede the stage just yet. While there has been simmering tension within the Democratic Party about making a generational change, Biden’s fate appears to be intrinsically linked to Donald Trump, whom he defeated in 2020 and has deemed a threat to American democracy.

The former president has already declared his own 2024 campaign and Biden has privately made clear that he believes he might be the only Democrat who could vanquish Trump again. And while Pelosi had an established line of succession in the House, those close to Biden say the field to follow him is far more unsettled. “Why would he get out now?” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “He has no clear successor and what matters here is Trump. Joe Biden is seen as the Donald Trump slayer and many Democrats think he can do it again.” In Washington, old age has become the norm. Biden is the nation’s first octogenarian president and the oldest man ever to hold the office. And he has plenty of senior citizen peers populating the halls of power: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is 71, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is 80 and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is 83, just to name a few. Plus, Trump himself is 76. After Pelosi’s announcement, Hoyer also decided he would resign his leadership role, clearing the way for a slate of lawmakers decades younger. Pelosi’s expected successor as Democratic leader will be 52-year-old Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

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Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2022

Crypto executives need to grow up or go the way of FTX, Riot Blockchain leader says

The highly publicized collapse of the crypto platform FTX is a wake-up call for crypto executives to act more professionally, one of crypto’s most prominent North Texas leaders says. Chad Harris, chief commercial officer of Riot Blockchain, which is building North America’s largest bitcoin mining facility in Corsicana, gave advice to crypto entrepreneurs at the Texas Blockchain Summit in Austin last week. “I might hit your emotions when I say this,” he told the crowd. “I can see the future. And some people in this room and across the industry may not be in it.” His comments come after FTX, once the world’s second-largest crypto exchange, filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month, leading to further questions about the legitimacy and long-term viability of the crypto industry. “That bad behavior of mismanagement, poor cash planning, all those things that turn into bankruptcy ... every time that happens, it makes it harder for the rest of us,” he said. “And it makes it hard for the public to trust us again.”

Harris mentioned in his speech that there were fewer people in the audience at the summit this year, the first one since the November 2021 crypto crash. The price of Bitcoin has dropped 73% in the last year to $15,786. “Two years ago, this audience was packed,” he said. “Today, this is an audience full of passionate people who believe that they can actually facilitate what they tell the public. I think it’s important because every single time one of us fails in a disastrous way, it affects every one of us in this room.” Harris said that bad actors, poor cash management and a difficult business environment will continue to weed out players in the crypto industry like FTX. Harris took another dig at FTX, which owes over $3 billion to its 50 largest creditors, by saying his company was smart enough to not take on debt. “Some of the things we did that others haven’t is we remained very, very lean along the way,” he said. “We didn’t take on any debt. We didn’t hire contractors. We built a team of passionate people that believed in the core value of our business.” Harris also said he attributes Riot’s success to hiring more than 500 employees. Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder and chief executive of FTX who resigned on Nov. 11, the same day FTX filed for bankruptcy, resisted hiring more team members and preferred to keep a staff of about 300. Harris said tax abatements and sales tax credits allowed Riot Blockchain to hire a large team. And Rockdale, the site of its 700-megawatt facility, is collecting more in sales taxes than ever before, he said. Crypto executives also need to stop overinflating claims about the capacity of their facilities, Harris said. “If we don’t start providing expectations that are actually factual, that we can stand behind and actually deliver, we are going to continue to have elected officials be so concerned,” he said.

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Newsclips - November 22, 2022

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Texas AG moves forward with last-ditch effort to block late-cast Harris County votes

The Texas Attorney General's Office is attempting a last-minute intervention to toss out 2,000 provisional ballots before a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday to certify the November election. The ballots in question were cast during a one-hour period Nov. 8. "Although the ballots were processed, Harris County now intends to include them in the final vote canvass," Christopher Hilton, chief of the general litigation division of the Attorney General's Office, said Monday. "We have never agreed that these ballots can be part of the final election results, and this afternoon we're going to ask that the Texas Supreme Court rule that these late-cast votes should be excluded as Texas law requires." The petition was filed Monday afternoon. Hilton declined to comment on why the office did not ask for the ruling sooner.

"A court of law ordered Harris County to keep the polls open for an additional hour on Election Day, and people across our county cast their ballots during that time," Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement. "My office is going to do everything we can to protect every single vote that was cast. Republican, Democrat or Independent — no eligible voter should have their ballot thrown out because the attorney general can’t accept the results of Harris County elections." On Election Night, the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas obtained a court order from a judge requiring all Harris County polling locations to extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after the groups argued in a lawsuit that late openings at some polling locations prevented some residents from voting. Voters who were in line by 7 p.m. were able to vote normally, while those who arrived between 7 and 8 p.m. were allowed to cast provisional ballots. That evening, in quick succession, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a writ of mandamus asking the Texas Supreme Court to vacate or reverse the court order, and the Supreme Court responded by staying that order, saying votes cast after 7 p.m. "should be segregated," without specifying whether they must be excluded from the final count.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 22, 2022

Largest rail union rejects Biden-brokered agreement

The votes are in, and four rail unions representing more than half of the nation’s unionized rail workers are headed back to the bargaining table to reach a deal as another potential strike looms. The largest railroad union, SMART-TD, announced Monday its members voted down the deal President Joe Biden helped broker in September. SMART-TD represents about 28,000 of the nation’s more than 100,000 rail workers. This vote reopens negotiations between SMART-TD and rail carriers, including Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway. A cooling-off period which prevents a strike or lockout by carriers ends Dec. 9. Congress can also intervene to prevent a strike.

“The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson. “But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.” SMART-TD joins three other unions in voting down the deal: the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. The second-largest rail union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, or BLET, announced Monday its members approved the agreement. BLET represents about 24,000 engineers. While eight unions, including BLET, have voted to ratify the deal, it’s unlikely their workers would cross the picket line in the event of a strike. News of SMART-TD’s vote has carriers calling on Congress to step in and avoid a strike that the American Association of Railwords has estimated could cost $2 billion a day.

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Washington Post - November 22, 2022

House Democrats’ path back to the majority could run through the Supreme Court –– and Texas

When Democrats recaptured the House majority in 2018, they were aided by legal victories in the preceding years that produced more favorable maps for the party in Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Days after losing the majority this cycle, Democrats are eyeing a similar strategy to help them retake the House in 2024 — and this time redistricting lawsuits alone could put them in a position to erase Republicans’ fragile majority. Democrats are suing to overturn congressional maps in six states they weren’t able to undo before the midterm elections: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas. If courts side with them, Democrats believe it could be the difference between the majority and the minority.

“I certainly think that were we to win the majority of those cases [and keep the seats they currently hold], Democrats would be in control of the House of Representatives,” said Eric Holder, the former attorney general who chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC). “I don’t think there’s any question about that.” Marina Jenkins, the NDRC’s director of litigation and policy, estimated Democrats could pick up nine to 13 seats if they prevailed in all six cases — enough seats to flip the House. Republicans say the strategy is doomed, especially after voters elected conservative state Supreme Court justices in Ohio and North Carolina. “It makes total sense that Democrats would try to bring back their ‘sue-to-blue’ strategy, because it did work for them in the middle part of the last decade,” said Adam Kincaid, the president and executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust. “But it failed in 2022. It was the first time the NRRT was around to push back against these liberal lawsuits.” Democrats started the NDRC in 2016 to exert greater control over the once-a-decade redistricting after Republicans dominated the process following the 2010 Census. Republicans countered in 2017 by forming the NRRT. In interviews, NDRC President Kelly Burton and Holder credited the group’s efforts with helping to limit Republicans’ gains in the House. “Our redistricting strategy worked,” Holder said. But Marc Elias, a leading Democratic election lawyer, said it’s misleading to think of redistricting as something that happens once a decade. Instead, it’s a never-ending legal battle. “Redistricting is no longer a one-and-done phenomenon,” Elias said. “It is an ongoing phenomenon that as we saw in the last decade can have profound consequences as we get later and later into the decade.” Redistricting lawsuits helped Democrats gain nine House seats between 2010 and 2020, Elias said. If Democrats hadn’t brought those suits, the party might not have held onto its House majority in 2020.

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Associated Press - November 22, 2022

GOP sees slight Latino vote gains, painful candidate losses

Republicans had placed hopes on a roster of Latina candidates around the country as they looked to make gains with Latino voters in a midterm election that some had predicted would yield sweeping GOP victories. The verdict was mixed. While Republican House candidates made modest inroads among Latino voters in 2022 compared with 2018, several GOP Latina candidates in high-profile races lost. Overall, the House will see a net gain of at least eight Latino members, with seven of them being Democrats, according to a tally by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. With the additions, the Republican Party will now have 11 Latino House members, while Democrats will have 35, with one race featuring a Democratic Latino still undecided, NALEO said. That will bring the total Latino representation in Congress to 11%, lower than the 19% Latino population in the U.S.

“It obviously is not the outcome many of us were expecting, but it still brings hope,” said Wadi Gaitan, communications director for the conservative group Libre Initiative, which mobilizes Latino voters to help get Republicans elected. “Inroads inspire Latinos and Latinas to look for office.” The blows were felt in Texas and in Virginia, where Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger prevailed over Republican Yesli Vega, a daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, in one of the country’s most expensive and competitive races. Vega, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is a former police officer who co-chaired Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Latino voter coalition last year. In South Texas, Democrats held on to two of three heavily Latino districts aggressively targeted by Latina Republican candidates, who dubbed themselves the “spicy tacos” after a comment by first lady Jill Biden that Latinos were “as unique” as San Antonio breakfast tacos. She later apologized for the remark. The GOP scored a victory with Latina businesswoman Monica de la Cruz winning a newly redrawn district there. But in a rare race between two sitting members of Congress — both Latinos — in a Democratic-leaning district, Republican U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores was ousted. Flores, who made history in a special election earlier this year by becoming the first Mexican-born congresswoman, said the heavily Hispanic region has always been conservative, with a focus on faith and family values, leading to a growing GOP impact. “The future of South Texas is Republican. We didn’t go backwards,” Flores said. “Little by little, we are going to make bigger impacts.”

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2022

Jon Taylor: Why Texas Democrats perpetually disappoint

(Jon Taylor is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio.) Texas Democrats suffered through yet another disappointing election. As a Houston Texans fan, I empathize. Like the Texans, Democrats in the Lone Star State regularly show a lot of promise and hype, only to see things collapse into abject failure. Once dominated by the Democrats, Texas began its slow swing toward the Republican Party in the 1980s, which only accelerated during the 1990s. Since 1976, no Democratic presidential nominee has won Texas. Since 1990, no Democrat has won the governor’s race. No Democrat has won any statewide executive branch elective office since 1994 — the longest losing streak in the country. And no Democrat has won a seat on Texas’ highest courts since 1992. Since losing the last vestige of control of the Texas Legislature in 2002, Democrats have been shut out of state government. That’s a long time without a major win. Even the hapless Texans have occasionally made the playoffs.

While Democrats nationally had their best showing for governors since 1986 and lost fewer seats in the U.S. House than any Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1978, the midterm in Texas was a disaster peppered with some county-level wins. The lack of statewide success begs a question: How is it that in a year when Democrats nationally outperformed expectations the same didn’t happen here? As a political scientist, I can cite a number of scholarly studies or think-tank pieces to explain the Democrats’ long electoral drought. While useful, it might help to seek truth from facts. Here’s the harsh reality for Texas Democrats: While the party won a majority of the vote in Texas’ largest 30 counties in the governor’s race, its vote share was down significantly from 2018. Worse, Democrats hit a record low of just over 21 percent of the vote in the state’s remaining 224 counties. That’s a fiasco for a party that regularly underperforms as it simultaneously proclaims that it’s turning Texas blue. Winning Texas requires more than just winning the large urban counties and portions of the counties along the Rio Grande. It requires being present and active in all of the state’s 254 counties.

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Fox 7 - November 22, 2022

Bill to abolish 'pink tax' in Texas filed for fourth time

A bill to abolish the 'pink tax' in Texas is being filed for the fourth time. A pink tax refers to how women tend to pay more for products that are specifically branded toward women, even though the product is the same or similar than those marketed towards men.

Democratic state Rep. Donna Howard of Austin has been introducing a bill to lift taxes on menstrual hygiene products for three legislative sessions now. Howard filed the bill for the fourth time on Monday, the first day of the legislative filing period, for the new session that begins in January. If passed, Texas will join 24 other states that don't tax feminine hygiene products. In August, Gov. Greg Abbott voiced support for removing the taxes on menstrual products after Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, voiced their support from eliminating the "tampon tax".

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Houston Chronicle Editorial: This Texas law could make being a journalist a crime

Which one of these things is not like the other? Scott Tidwell, a former Winkler County attorney, abused his position to obtain access to confidential complaints about a county hospital for the purpose of retaliating against two nurses who filed the complaints. Daniel Reyna, a former Los Fresnos city administrator, used his position to forge competing bids for city projects, giving the appearance of rewarding the lowest bid to a contractor, while pocketing some of the funds for himself. Priscilla Villarreal, an independent local blogger, corroborated public information with a Laredo police officer about a Border Patrol agent who died by suicide and published it on her Facebook page. All three of these people have been arrested and charged under the same obscure Texas statute: misusing public information with the intention of obtaining an undeserved benefit, a third-degree felony punishable with two to 10 years in prison. Tidwell and Reyna were corrupt public officials who abused their authority. Villarreal is a journalist executing the core function of her job: sharing newsworthy information with the public.

For several years, Villarreal has been embroiled in a legal dispute that raises fundamental questions about this statute and whether journalists in Texas are afforded First Amendment protections. Any law that can be leveraged to arrest a journalist for informing the public could set a chilling precedent. That Villarreal was arrested by the Laredo Police Department, the same agency which supplied the information she supposedly obtained illegally, only adds to the statute’s absurdity. In April 2017, Villarreal broke the story about a Border Patrol agent who died by suicide. Like any diligent reporter, she first confirmed the employee’s name with the Laredo Police Department’s public information officer before publicizing it on her Facebook page. Eight months later, Villarreal was booked and charged for allegedly reporting information that had not yet been made public. Villarreal’s arrest attracted national attention for the constitutional concerns it raised. The U.S. Supreme Court has time and time again established that the First Amendment protects the right to publish information obtained from government sources, even when the source of that information breaches confidentiality – as former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg famously did in 1971 with the Pentagon Papers – in disseminating it. That a local blogger would be arrested for publishing the name of a deceased public employee certainly appears to be, on its face, a blatant violation of this established judicial precedent.

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Inside Higher Ed - November 22, 2022

A step toward outcomes-based funding for Texas 2-year colleges

State funding for Texas community colleges, long distributed based mostly on student credit hours, would reward institutions for helping students transfer, graduate and move into high-demand fields under a new model proposed by a state commission. The recommendations, in a report released Thursday by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, would, if approved by state legislators, create a much more outcomes-focused approach that is expected to result in more funding, especially for small and rural community colleges. The proposal has widespread support among community college leaders who believe the move would markedly increase state allocations and aid dollars to their institutions and help them build capacity to meet the workforce training needs of the state’s growing population.

“Our Commission believes the new funding model must do three things: reward colleges for positive outcomes, especially in credential completion and transfer, ensure equitable access through financial aid, and help community colleges increase capacity to meet rapidly changing workforce needs,” Woody Hunt, chairman of the Texas Commission on Community College Finance, wrote in the report. The commission, made up of lawmakers, community college leaders, business executives and policy experts, was tasked last year by the Texas Legislature to suggest a new funding system. The recommendations could have a major impact on the state’s 50 community college districts. Funding would be tied to student success metrics, including the number of degrees and certificates awarded, the number of credentials earned in high-demand fields, transfer rates to four-year universities, and the number of students completing dual-credit courses. Under the current funding formula, the majority of state funding for Texas community colleges is allocated based on the number of credit hours students take, a measure dependent on enrollment. A portion of the funding, 17 percent, is allocated through a performance-based funding model including student success metrics over the previous three years, such as the number of students who completed their first college-level math course and the number of students who successfully finished their first 15 credits.

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Fort Worth Business Press - November 22, 2022

Congressman-car dealer Roger Williams seeks chairmanship of Small Business Committee

Republican Congressman Roger Williams, the vice-ranking member of the House Small Business Committee, announced his candidacy for the committee chairmanship Thursday, pledging to “bring government back to the people” and “get government out of small business’s life.” Williams, who represents the sprawling 25th Congressional District that stretches from Fort Worth to Austin, made the announcement during an extensive live interview with Maria Bartiromo on the Fox Business Network. He told Bartiromo that chairing the Small Business Committee is the perfect role for him after 51 years as a car dealer employing hundreds of people in Texas. Williams is in line for the committee chairmanship because Republicans won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Democrats, who had held the majority in both houses of Congress, retained control of the Senate.

Williams said the chairmanship would help him and his Republican colleagues address the crippling concerns of small businesses in the current economy, including inflation, supply chain logjams and worker shortages. He said small businesses have been penalized by the “heavy-handed policies of the Biden administration.” As the Fox interview drew to a close, Williams said this “is a great time to be in America … the future’s ahead of us. I’m excited about being in the majority … we’re gonna give hope to small business owners, we’re gonna give hope to those who want to start a business … we’re gonna make things happen and America is gonna become number one in the world again ….” Here is Williams’ formal statement declaring his candidacy for chairman of the House Small Business Committee: “For over 50 years, I’ve dedicated my life to building and growing a business. Our family business employs hundreds of people in Texas, so I don’t just read about the challenges facing Main Street, I live them firsthand. I’m a team player who values input from my colleagues and always places the greater good above all else. Democrats have derailed the important mission of the House Small Business Committee and I believe only a small business owner can right the ship. As Chairman, I will provide the leadership and clear direction required to drive free-market policies and conduct proper oversight of this administration. I’m ready to fight for our Nation’s job creators and ensure that capitalism endures and small businesses can compete.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2022

Civil rights investigations into Frisco, Keller schools sought over bathrooms and books

North Texas schools implementing policies that will harm LGBTQ children must be investigated, the ACLU of Texas said in federal civil rights complaints filed Monday evening. The ACLU’s attorneys — along with several other advocacy groups — want the Office of Civil Rights to investigate Keller ISD for its new policy prohibiting books about gender fluidity and Frisco ISD for its policy restricting bathroom usage to facilities that align with a person’s biological sex. Both policies, approved by trustees earlier this month, drew outcry from LGBTQ advocates. The ACLU argues that the districts’ actions violate federal law and harm vulnerable students, according to letters sent to federal officials Monday. Frisco officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Keller’s spokesman Bryce Nieman said the district is closed for the holiday this week and so officials have not seen a copy of the complaint.

Should the Office of Civil Rights open investigations, it could take months or even years to reach resolutions. If the office finds a civil rights violation, it would work to negotiate a “voluntary resolution agreement.” Federal officials would then monitor how those steps were implemented over time. “We very much hope that the Office of Civil Rights will quickly open an investigation and take all necessary remedial steps,” said Kate Huddleston, an attorney with ACLU of Texas. The Keller school board recently approved a policy prohibiting library books across all grade levels that references gender fluidity. The policy defines gender fluidity as promoting the idea that it’s possible for a person to be nonbinary. It also applies the term to any support of therapies that alter a person’s body to match their “self-believed gender that is different from the person’s biological sex,” as determined by their birth certificate.

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Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2022

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Violent suspects released too often in Dallas County

Dallas Police Chief Eddie García has repeatedly complained about a revolving door that lets violent suspects return to the streets to commit other crimes while they await trial. So Garcia commissioned a criminologist to conduct a snapshot of those whom Dallas police officers have arrested to determine the likelihood that they will be rearrested or commit a violent crime while out of jail. The sample included 464 people, including all 109 murder suspects, who were arrested in 2021. They were tracked through May 15, 2022. Despite representing just a smattering of the thousands of people arrested during the year, findings are alarming. Garcia presented the survey to the city’s Public Safety Committee last week. Of the murder suspects, 37, or 33.9%, were released on bail or on their own recognizance. And of those released, five, or 13.5%, were rearrested within an average of 175 days and two were rearrested in connection with a violent crime.

Other stats are disturbing, as well. According to this sampling, a person arrested in the robbery of a business or of an individual or who had been charged with a weapons violation is more likely to be rearrested and more likely to commit a violent crime while awaiting trial than a person charged with murder. The survey found that 80% of those arrested the robbery of a business and released pending a court date were rearrested within an average of 256 days. Two are accused of committing a violent crime while out of jail. And 39.1% of those accused of robbing an individual and out of jail while awaiting a court date were arrested again within 120 days. Four are accused of committing violent crimes. A similar pattern emerged with those charged with weapons law violations. Roughly, 39.1% were rearrested within 134 days, three in connection with a violent crime. You don’t have to be a criminologist to see a pattern: If a person has been arrested in a robbery or for a weapons violation, the risk of being rearrested increases. Judges, who make the call on who is released before trial, need to know this. So too do state legislators who need to give bail policies a detailed review next session.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 22, 2022

Rachel Bhalla: Bills on transgender kids, school sports will backfire on GOP

(Rachel Bhalla is a former Texas House staffer and a graduate student and activist who lives in New York.) When the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade’s federal abortion protections came down in June, Republican politicians exalted in their biggest legal victory in decades. But while they were busy celebrating the completion of a project 49 years in the making, they neglected to heed the burgeoning disillusionment of a major segment of their electorate: women. The elimination of federal abortion rights and the clear Republican connection to the Dobbs ruling activated many women and alienated them from the GOP — as the 2022 midterm election results showed. In an urgent attempt to staunch the bleeding of women from their party ranks, Republicans have doubled down on their most trendy “pro-woman” platform: transgender sports bans. Many of the policies they point to as defending women tend to be overtly anti-LGBTQ, with particular aim at limiting trans athletes’ freedom to participate in teams aligned with their gender identities. Former Kentucky Secretary of State and pro-LGBTQ community activist Trey Grayson described the GOP stance on trans sports bans as: “I’m not picking on this group. I’m defending women.”

Exit polls from last week’s midterm revealed that 60% of voters are dissatisfied with the decision to overturn Roe. And this frustration directly affected voting. Abortion access was rated as the second most important issue overall for voters, with women and voters under 30 leading the charge in this prioritization. As we turn away from election season and back into legislative sessions, Republicans seem to hope that by loudly and repeatedly declaring their intention to “protect” women from trans athletes, they can reclaim this disappearing voting bloc for 2024. The number of anti-trans bills filed in state legislatures doubled from 2021 to 2022, skyrocketing to an all-time high of 280 bills targeting trans individuals this year. Texas legislators approved a law last year limiting trans athletes’ to competing in sports for their birth gender, and 2023 is likely to bring new efforts to limit trans people’s rights in the state. It is clear. The GOP is all in on trans sports bans. But women don’t appear to be swayed: 43% of women in a recent poll said that trans folks should be allowed to play on teams matching their identities. Compounding this, about half of adults younger than 30 know a transgender person, compared to 19% of those 65 or older. These young adults are influenced by their relationships with trans individuals and are more likely to support an athlete’s choice.

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Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

Texas drag queens fear for their safety over right-wing attacks. But that won't keep them off stage.

For the past several years, the far right has held up drag artists as bogeymen to broadly scapegoat the LGBTQ+ community. They cloak their attacks in the rhetoric of protecting children, falsely casting drag queens as pedophiles and groomers. “You can’t get kids involved in your creepy sex stuff,” Carlson declared after the video of Jan’s routine played on his show. This past summer, a Texas state representative proposed a ban on minors attending drag shows, asking for prayers in the “fight to protect kids.” “It’s just this latest flavor of homophobia or transphobia,” said Jonathan Hamilt, executive director of Drag Story Hour. “Before it was just gay people in general, but that doesn’t play well, so if you go after drag culture, which is a part of queer culture, and put this ‘protect the children’ spin on it, it’s a really good way to incite fear and violence and spread really dangerous lies about queer people.” The inflammatory anti-drag campaign has manifested in demonstrations and threats against drag events across the country. Over just the last few months in Texas, drag shows have been canceled or protested in Galveston, Houston, Roanoke, Katy and Pflugerville. The consequences spill over into the lives of the queens, leaving some worried about their own safety even as they refuse to be deterred from being who they are.

Drag Story Hour, an organization through which drag queens read to children, has always had safety protocols, Hamilt said. But the recent threats have staff on a new, rapid-response model. (For obvious reasons, they aren’t sharing their internal plans.) The organization is working with the Anti-Violence Project, a New-York based organization formed in the wake of attacks on gay men in the 1980s. AVP has trained storytellers on community safety planning: figuring out what groups are there for them and what help they can ask for. It’s a plan-ahead model. No one wants to be making decisions in a crisis. Terry Fuller, a 15-year drag veteran, knew there would be trouble from the minute First Christian Church Katy announced that he’d be hosting a drag bingo as Kiki Dion Van Wales. The handful of protesters he saw when he got out of his car at the church that day in September would swell into a crowd of at least 100, including Proud Boys and neo-Nazis. Armed guards stood by. Everything felt like it was in slow motion.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2022

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Bexar County’s Take Responsibility program needs to end

Let’s be clear: Bexar County’s Take Responsibility program helps drunken drivers avoid responsibility. It rewards people who endanger the public and, in turn, penalizes the innocent. And it needs to end. We’re aghast that Bexar County prosecutors have allowed the Take Responsibility program to persist across three administrations and thousands of DWIs. As has been reported by Brian Chasnoff and Libby Seline, far too often, the Take Responsibility program removes consequences for potential DWI offenders, putting the public at significant risk. Created under former District Attorney Susan Reed in 2008, the program was supposed to allow first-time DWI offenders the chance to plead down to a lesser-known charge, “obstructing a highway.” Drivers would complete probation and move forward with their lives without a DWI on their record.

While the program was created under Reed, standards loosened significantly under her successor, Nico LaHood. District Attorney Joe Gonzales, who defeated LaHood in 2019 and just secured re-election, has maintained the program but sought to restore the eligibility requirements. But problems persist. As Chasnoff and Seline reported, by the end of 2021, 14 months after Gonzales had re-established rules for the Taking Responsibility program, about 35 percent of DWI suspects pleading to obstructing a highway had a BAC above 0.15. Christian Henricksen, chief of litigation in the district attorney’s office, has said that in some cases a person might have been just barely above 0.15. Gonzales said sometimes witnesses are not available or victims may not want to prosecute, making a plea deal the best option. Maybe so, but we fail to see the value of a program that fosters such a culture of leniency. One of the most glaring problems with the Take Responsibility program is how it lessens potential penalties for repeat offenders. As state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, told the reporters, pleading down to obstructing a highway means “there is no first-time DWI offense.” In turn, the second offense becomes the first offense in the eyes of the law, and the third offense becomes the second.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2022

Judson ISD chief accepts sudden contract buyout of $140K amid ‘personnel’ problems

Capping days of secret talks, the Judson Independent School District board voted to give Superintendent Jeanette Ball a $140,000 buyout of her contract, which still had more than two years remaining. The move came late Monday after the board failed to approve her annual evaluation last week despite two lengthy discussions. It also came weeks after the district secured voter approval of a $345 million bond proposal that Ball had worked to pass. Ball could not be reached for comment. District spokeswoman Nicole Taguinod said by email that the board had approved a “resignation agreement” but said she couldn’t comment further until it was finalized. Rafa Diaz, the board’s vice president, had said Monday’s meeting was to discuss a possible resignation “and other personnel matters having to do with the superintendent.”

“Beyond that, I can't discuss anything right now because of the sensitivity of the matter. It's a personnel matter,” he said. The board took no action after conducting Ball’s annual evaluation Wednesday, then took up the same discussion in an executive session at Thursday’s regular monthly meeting. It again took no action on an agenda item “regarding approving the Superintendent's evaluation and contract.” Ball is a former superintendent at Uvalde Consolidated ISD, where she was employed for five years. She became Judson’s superintendent in the summer of 2018. The Judson board last year extended her contract to January of 2025. After losing a bond election in November 2021, the district retooled its proposal into a pair of ballot propositions totalling $345 million, with a heavy emphasis on school security. Ball was a passionate advocate for its passage on Nov. 8. Commenters on social media said some trustees have worked against the superintendent. Other commenters, including current and former teachers in the district, lodged complaints about Ball’s behavior towards staff. Most of the hundred or so comments on the Judson ISD Parents, Students and Staff Facebook page expressed sadness at the possibility of Ball’s departure.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2022

Alamo previews new building set to open in March — first addition on the historic grounds in 72 years

The first new public building on the historic Alamo grounds in 72 years is almost ready to open. After decades of vision-casting, master planning and ideas that went down in flames — including glass walls in Alamo Plaza and a strongly contested proposal to move the 1930s Cenotaph — the Alamo is putting the finishing touches on something everyone agrees the site needs: museum-quality exhibit space and conservation labs to store and preserve precious artifacts. It currently has only enough space to exhibit about 1 percent of its collection, and the new Alamo Collections Center is part of a long-planned $400 million makeover of the mission and battle site. “As we walk through the doors to the new Alamo Collections Center, we can finally say that after many years of shenanigans of different kinds: The Alamo plan is no longer a dream, and it’s actually becoming a reality,” said Kate Rogers, executive director of the Alamo Trust.

The 24,000-square-foot center, set to open to the public March 3, has 10,000 square feet of exhibit space that will enable the Alamo to display hundreds of its more than 4,000 relics, weapons and documents, including items from the Texas Revolution era donated by musician Phil Collins, and mission-era tools and other artifacts recently purchased from renowned Western artist Donald Yena and his wife, Louise Yena. The $20 million building on the northeast corner of the grounds is the first new public facility at the site since the Daughters of the Republic of Texas opened a library there in 1950. The two-story building, designed by Gensler| GRG, has a rooftop terrace overlooking the Alamo Gardens. Construction by the Clark/Guido joint venture began in September 2021. Also planned is an education center on the grounds and a $150 million, 100,000-square-foot museum and visitor center, set to open in the plaza in March 2026. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush forged partnerships with the city and Alamo Trust to move the Alamo plan forward. But in perhaps his last public appearance at the site while still in office, Bush said local leaders, donors and community groups have been instrumental in advancing the plan since he took office eight years ago.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2022

Respect for Marriage Act would be a rare win for LGBTQ rights in Texas

The likely passage of a federal law legalizing same-sex marriage is a rare win for LGBTQ Texans who feel like they have been under assault by a Republican party that has made opposition to them a part of its official platform. The bill — which would shore up marriage equality if the Supreme Court were to overturn the 2015 ruling establishing the right — is expected to pass the Senate in the coming weeks, and it is seen as a brief reprieve before a legislative session in Austin where the GOP is pushing against LGBTQ rights in a significant way. For married same-sex couples in Texas, the legislation would protect family health care plans, wills and more if the high court were to revisit its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Still, a recent court decision struck down LGBTQ protections against discrimination in the workplace, and advocates are bracing for another wave of legislation targeting that group. Republican state lawmakers have already filed more than 10 bills that would primarily affect LGBTQ Texans. They include measures targeting gender-affirming care for transgender teens and ongoing efforts to limit classroom discussion of human sexuality — both of which will be priorities in the state Senate next year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said. “The LGBT community has had some tough losses, and we are being attacked in this really complex and layered way,” said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, which advocates for LGBTQ rights. “It’s restorative for our spirits and for folks who have been struggling with a news cycle that has been incredibly brutal.” The federal legislation is expected to have enough GOP support to pass, but it has been opposed by all but one Texas Republican, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio. Texas Republicans argue the Respect for Marriage Act doesn’t do enough to protect religious liberty. And they say there is no need for the legislation when same-sex marriage was already made legal by the Supreme Court.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2022

Teen’s fentanyl overdose launches Hays County mom on a mission

In the months after her firstborn son died of fentanyl poisoning, Janel Rodriguez has not hidden her tragedy from the world. In fact, she’s putting it on a billboard. Noah Rodriguez, 15, died of fentanyl poisoning Aug. 21 amid a string of such overdoses among students in the Hays County Independent School District. Fentanyl, an opioid that the Drug Enforcement Administration says is 50 times more potent than heroin, appears in many illicitly produced drugs, from Xanax to oxycodone. Her son’s death led her to share her family’s grief in the hopes of preventing another life-shattering loss. Her Kyle-area community’s support surprised Rodriguez. She’d expected to be judged for the nature of Noah’s death. Perhaps her neighbors would see Noah as an addict and their sympathy would fade.

Even the Hays County Sheriff’s Office shared Rodriguez’s concern, she said. “The sheriff’s department was concerned that people were going to look at Noah as a drug addict or like a junkie instead of a curious teenager,” Rodriguez said. “His first time doing coke happened to put him in a coma. But we know a lot of people here, so everybody already knew Noah’s story.” Despite what the neighbors might say, Rodriguez shared Noah’s story on social media and received an outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike. Many comments assuaged her fears that Noah would be smeared as an addict. “‘Don’t feel ashamed,’” Rodriguez said some people told her. “‘Thank you for speaking out because our kids need to hear this type of thing.’” To get her message out to as many neighbors as possible, she’s renting a digital billboard on one of Texas’ busiest highways. Rodriguez said the billboard will read: “Fentanyl steals your friends.” Pictures of Noah and two other Hays CISD students who died of fentanyl poisoning over the summer will accompany the message. The billboard sits near Interstate 35’s Exit 217 in Kyle, Rodriguez said — an area shaken by a rise in fentanyl deaths an overdoses in recent months.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2022

At Houston gay bars, news of Colorado shooting met with strengthened resolve

Mike Potter typically would stay in on a chilly Sunday, but waking up to the news that five people had been killed in a mass shooting at a Colorado gay club on Saturday pushed him out of his comfort zone. Rather than scaring him into staying home, Potter, a gay man, said the shooting had galvanized him to get out and support his local gay establishments. “I use a bike to get around and generally try to stay out of the cold, but today it felt important to be with my community,” Potter said. Potter, 58, was sipping a mixed drink at the Houston Eagle on Sunday afternoon as he discussed the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs the night before with a bartender. At least five people were killed and 25 more were wounded when a man with a "long rifle" walked into the gay nightclub and opened fire. The alleged gunman, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, was taken into custody and authorities were investigating to determine a potential motive.

The club had been hosting its weekly drag show Saturday and a drag brunch had been planned for Sunday morning as part of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which commemorates those who have been killed in attacks of anti-transgender violence. In Montrose, the historic center of LGBTQ nightlife in Houston, at least one bar was taking added precautions Sunday to ward off potential copycat shooters. A security guard at the Houston Eagle waved a metal detector over patrons’ bodies as they entered the bar, explaining the measure had been instituted due to the shooting in Colorado Springs. Houston police have said: “While at this time, there does not appear to be any Houston-specific threats, our officers continue to be vigilant and remind everyone to report any threats or suspicious activities.” Still, Potter worries after all the progress that has been made for LGBTQ rights, the United States may be taking a step backward with the rise in homophobic rhetoric from far-right officials and media personalities — and the violence that comes with it. "They're stoking racism and anti-gay prejudice," Potter said. "I don't like the direction society is headed, and our society has come so incredibly far." At George Country Sports Bar, a gay bar on Fairview Street, others echoed Potter's sentiments. The shooting was distressing, said Mark Jumonville, but he wouldn't let it intimidate him.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 22, 2022

Facebook parent Meta laying off over 220 workers in Austin as part of national cuts

Facebook's parent company Meta Platforms is laying off more than 220 workers in Austin, documents filed with the state show, as the tech giant moves to cut thousands of jobs across the country. Meta said in early November that it planned to shed 11,000 jobs, or 13% if its workforce, but didn't provide details about where those cuts would occur. At the time, the company declined to comment on how many Austin-area workers would be affected. Documents released by the Texas Workfor Commssion on Monday show that a total of 222 workers at four Austin facilities will lose their jobs. The details were inlcuded in a WARN letter — short for Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act — which is a federally mandated notice an employer must provide to state governments in the event of major layoffs.

The titles of impacted positions were redacted on the WARN notice, but indicate a range of positions and departments were affected. The letter also said the employees were in four office locations, two in downtown Austin, one in the Domain, and one in the Tech ridge area. The WARN notice said the 222 employees will no longer be with the company as of Jan. 13, and that the separations would be permanent. Employees were previously notified. Meta had more than 2,000 employees in Austin across a number of Facebook departments, and the company had been growing swiftly over the past several years in Central Texas. Meta is also the parent of Instagram, Whatsapp and Meta Quest. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company's plan for layoffs in a letter earlier this month, addressed to employees. It cited declines in the company's revenue and wider problems in the technology sector. He also said the reductions will impact all sectors of the company. Employees were also expected to receive 16 weeks of pay plus two additional weeks per year of service, and six months of health insurance.

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National Stories

Fox News - November 22, 2022

AZ county board members refuse to certify election results

The board overseeing a southeastern Arizona county whose Republican leaders had hoped to recount all Election Day ballots on Friday delayed certifying the results of last week's vote after hearing from a trio of conspiracy theorists who alleged that counting machines were not certified. The three men, or some combination of them, have filed at least four cases raising similar claims before the Arizona Supreme Court since 2021 seeking to have the state's 2020 election results thrown out. The court has dismissed all of them for lack of evidence, waiting too long after the election was certified or asking for relief that could not be granted, in increasingly harsh language. But Tom Rice, Brian Steiner and Daniel Wood managed to persuade the two Republicans who control the Cochise County board of supervisors that their claims were valid enough for them to delay the certification until a Nov. 28 deadline.

They claimed the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission allowed certifications for testing companies to lapse, and that voided the certifications of vote tabulation equipment used across the state. That came despite testimony from the state's elections director that the machines and the testing company were indeed certified. "The equipment used in Cochise County is properly certified under both federal and state laws and requirements," state Elections Director Kori Lorick told the board. "The claims that the SLI testing labs were not properly accredited are false." The move is the latest drama in the Republican-heavy county in recent weeks, which started when GOP board members Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd voted to have all the ballots in last week's election counted by hand to determine if the machine counts were accurate. Crosby also defended a lawsuit he and Judd filed against the county elections director earlier this week seeking to force the hand-count. They dropped the case against Lisa Marra on Wednesday.

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Associated Press - November 22, 2022

‘It’s the reflex’: Veteran helped disarm gunman at gay club

When army veteran Rich Fierro realized a gunman was spraying bullets inside the club where he had gathered with friends and family, instincts from his military training immediately kicked in. First he ducked to avoid any potential incoming fire, then moved to try to disarm the shooter. “It’s the reflex. Go! Go to the fire. Stop the action. Stop the activity. Don’t let no one get hurt. I tried to bring everybody back,” he said Monday outside his home. Fierro is one of two people police are crediting with saving lives by subduing a 22-year-old man armed with multiple firearms, including an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, who went on a shooting rampage Saturday night at Club Q, a well-known gathering place for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. Five people were killed and at least 17 wounded.

Fierro was there with his daughter Kassy, her boyfriend and several other friends to see a drag show and celebrate a birthday. He said it was one of the group’s most enjoyable nights. That suddenly changed when the shots rang out and Kassy’s boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, was fatally shot. Speaking to reporters at his home Monday, Fierro teared up as he recalled Raymond smiling and dancing before the shots rang out. Fierro could smell the cordite from the ammunition, saw the flashes and dove, pushing his friend down before falling backwards. Looking up from the floor, Fierro saw the shooter’s body armor and the crowd that had fled to the club’s patio. Moving toward the attacker, Fierro grasped the body armor, yanked the shooter down while yelling at another patron, Thomas James, to move the rifle out of reach. As the shooter was pinned under a barrage of punches from Fierro and kicks to the head from James, he tried to reach for his pistol. Fierro grabbed it and used it as a bludgeon. “I tried to finish him,” he said. When a performer who was there for the drag show ran by, Fierro told them to kick the gunman. The performer stuffed a high-heeled shoe in the attacker’s face, Fierro said. “I love them,” Fierro said of the city’s LGBTQ community. “I have nothing but love.”

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NBC News - November 22, 2022

Democrats slam Kevin McCarthy over his vow to remove them from committees

Three House Democrats swiftly pushed back at Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's threat to strip them of their committee assignments if he is elected speaker. After Republicans narrowly won control of the House in the midterm elections, McCarthy this weekend doubled down on his pledge to remove several prominent House Democrats from their committee assignments if he becomes speaker. McCarthy said he would not allow Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California, on the House Intelligence Committee. In a tweet posted Saturday alongside a video clip, McCarthy said that he would keep his promise to remove Omar “based on her repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks.” He made similar comments during an appearance on Fox News on Sunday.

Omar issued a blistering statement Monday in response to McCarthy’s remarks, taking aim at Republicans for making it “their mission to use fear, xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism to target me on the House Floor and through millions of dollars of campaign ads.” Omar pointed to McCarthy’s support of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. During an interview with CNN this month, McCarthy said he would reinstate the far-right lawmaker’s committee assignments if he becomes speaker. Greene was stripped of her assignments last year in light of incendiary remarks musing about the execution of Democratic lawmakers. “McCarthy’s effort to repeatedly single me out for scorn and hatred— including threatening to strip me from my committee — does nothing to address the issues our constituents deal with. It does nothing to address inflation, health care, or solve the climate crisis,” Omar said. “What it does is gin up fear and hate against Somali-Americans and anyone who shares my identity, and further divide us along racial and ethnic lines,” she continued. “It is a continuation of a sustained campaign against Muslim and African voices, people his party have been trying to ban since Donald Trump first ran for office.”

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NBC News - November 22, 2022

Iowa GOP threatens to move caucuses to Halloween to mess with Democrats

Iowa’s Republican Party chair wants to make it as difficult as possible for national Democrats to dethrone his state from its early perch in the presidential primary season, even if it means moving the state's caucuses up by several months. Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann, who also heads the national GOP committee that oversees its presidential schedule, wants both parties in his state to hold their caucuses on the same day, even though there's no rule that mandates they do so.

National Democrats are pursuing an overhaul to their primary schedule, including dropping Iowa amid complaints that it isn’t racially or ethnically diverse and has grown so red it isn’t worth the early investment. But if a different state were to move into Iowa’s slot for Democrats, Kaufmann said he will make sure he keeps jumping so Iowa’s Republican caucus goes first. “This is the Democrats that are pulling this crap and I’m telling you right now, they don’t want to play chicken with me. This is pure, progressive, power politics,” Kaufmann told NBC News Friday. Kaufmann’s position could complicate the overall schedule even more since New Hampshire has a law on the books that it has to hold its primary just after Iowa’s caucuses. “If, for some reason, California and New York dictate policy for the entire DNC and they give the middle finger to Iowa and the Midwest — if that happens, we will be first,” Kaufmann said. “I’ll move this thing to Halloween if that’s what it takes.” The caucuses are typically not scheduled until January or early February of the same year as the presidential race.

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Philadelphia Inquirer - November 22, 2022

Second immigrant bus arrives in Philadelphia from Texas, activists wonder if more coming

A second bus carrying immigrants from Texas arrived in Philadelphia on Monday morning, a twice-in-six-days sequel that propelled the city to offer fresh welcome to more weary, uncertain travelers from the border. Immigration advocates said the bus with an estimated 48 Spanish-speaking passengers was sent here by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The bus landed outside 30th Street Station in freezing temperatures, welcomed by more than 20 immigrant leaders, city officials and volunteers, some of whom had waited hours to help provide a greeting. They immediately handed out blankets and, to a toddler, a puffy winter coat. Shortly after the bus arrived at 9:45 a.m., Abbott tweeted that “Texas has bused over 13,500 migrants to sanctuary cities” — and ticked off the numbers, including 8,400 to Washington, D.C., 3,800 to New York City, 1,200 to Chicago and as of Monday almost 100 to Philadelphia.

Local advocates believe that more buses could be coming here soon, and say they’re ready to provide a warm, safe welcome. Most of the arrivals on Monday were men. All aboard had crossed the border into Texas, and all have permission to be in the United States, at least for now. The travelers originally came from Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru and the Dominican Republic. About 30 riders were quickly transferred to a waiting SEPTA bus, to be moved to a city welcome center in North Philadelphia. There they would be offered additional drinks, food, medical screenings and temporary shelter. Passengers Mayra and Kevin Arvoledo described a harrowing two-month journey from Ecuador. Some others making similar treks died along the way, they said The couple and their 3-year-old daughter, Sofia, are headed to Connecticut to be with family. As volunteers zipped Sofia into a warm jacket, Kevin described being overwhelmed by the kindness he’s been shown in Philadelphia. “All these organizations have really made us feel welcome,” he said in Spanish, as his family waited for relatives to pick them up. Kevin Torres, with Casa de Venezuela, said those on the bus were in good spirits and had no emergency medical needs. One man reported having a broken leg, but wanted to go to the welcome center before seeking medical help.

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Vox - November 19, 2022

The Federalist Society controls the federal judiciary, so why can’t they stop whining?

William Pryor is chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. For nearly two decades, he’s ruled on which death row inmates will live and which will die in the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. He’s overruled Cabinet secretaries and reshaped how entire states conduct their elections. He’s also a very bad standup comedian. On Thursday, Pryor gave the opening speech at the annual conference of the most powerful legal organization in the United States. But the bulk of the judge’s remarks to the Federalist Society was a Bill O’Reilly-style barrage of insult comedy, largely directed at left-leaning journalists who cover the federal judiciary. Sample joke: “No less an authority than [Slate’s Supreme Court reporter] Mark Joseph Stern — and really, is there less an authority?” It’s hard to imagine an event that better symbolizes the mix of power and pathos that underlies the Federalist Society than Pryor’s foray into insult comedy.

The first conference was largely a retrospective, looking back upon the impressive array of victories the conservative legal movement chalked up in the Supreme Court’s last term. Panels celebrated the death of Roe v. Wade and the gaping hole the Federalist Society’s justices tore into the wall separating church and state. The first day of the conference included three different panels touting the so-called “major questions doctrine,” a judicially created doctrine that gives the Court and its current Republican-appointed majority a virtually limitless veto power over federal regulations that they do not like. As several conference attendees told me, the fact that so much of the conference was backward-looking — cheering past victories rather than planning for new ones — is hardly a sign that the society’s power is diminished. After a round of generational victories, it’s normal to pause for a moment and regroup before beginning a new offensive. For the moment, however, the conference offered only the narrowest window into where the Supreme Court might go next. The second conference-within-a-conference emphasized the conservative legal movement’s cultural grievances. All four of the conference’s “showcase” panels — large sessions that were scheduled alongside no other events so that everyone could attend them — were a part of this. These four showcase panels emphasized complaints that Federalist Society conservatives often feel out of place at law schools, at large law firms, inside bar associations, and in the legal profession more broadly.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2022

Twitter's uncertain future could leave politicos without a powerful tool

The possibility of Twitter going dark could leave political and public figures scrambling to find alternative ways to broadcast their messages. On Thursday night, #RIPTwitter began to trend after reports of a mass exodus of Twitter employees, adding another saga to Elon Musk's takeover of the company. If Twitter were to go away, a local political consultant said it would take away people's ability to deliver their message quickly, especially those in power. "It functions as a micro-press conference, allowing for people like (Gov. Greg) Abbott or (Beto) O'Rourke, even local politicians, to make comments on news, knowing full well their audience is either media or organizations coalescing around particular issues," said Laura Barberena, who recently worked on Bexar County Judge-elect Peter Sakai's campaign.

Barberena noted that Twitter's role in the U.S. is likely much different than it is in other countries and that most who use the platform are "opinion makers, thought leaders and journalists." Twitter now functions as a place where the media finds trending stories and what various personalities are saying about those stories. Musk's push to make users pay for a "verified" blue checkmark may have been a source of trouble for the company, Barberena said, noting that advertisers left en masse after the announcement. Alex Heath, an editor at the technology news website The Verge, tweeted on Thursday that he is "hearing from employees that the odds of Twitter breaking are highly likely in the near future." Barberena said Twitter "might just be in the ICU" with an opportunity for the platform to be resuscitated. People may also decide to replace Twitter with other social media outlets, forcing politicians and communication experts to master new platforms quickly. Barberena pointed out the increasing popularity of TikTok, which, unlike Twitter, is a video platform. "We got used to Twitter," Barberena said. "Speaking to journalists on that platform took the place of relationships. We may go back to the old-fashion things we used to do, like press releases, putting things on your website. We need to look toward new technology and new platforms." A world without Twitter may be a boon for tradition forms of communication, like newspapers. "The print news could fill the void, create a platform to fill the void, and offer journalistic services that were taken over by Twitter," Barberena said.

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Newsclips - November 21, 2022

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - November 20, 2022

Earthquake in top Texas oil region spurs calls for new fracking rules

A powerful earthquake in West Texas is drawing fresh scrutiny to frackers’ water-management operations in the nation’s hottest petroleum-producing region. A 5.4-magnitude earthquake, the fourth largest in Texas history, struck an oil-and-gas production hot spot in Reeves County on Wednesday afternoon, sending tremors that were felt as far as Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio, where it damaged a historical building. No injuries were reported. The temblor adds pressure to the state’s oil-and-gas regulators to impose stricter rules on frackers pumping wastewater underground to stymie the Permian basin’s dangerous new seismic activity, analysts and executives said. It could also prompt a review of management practices and affect oil operations, they said.

The quake was one of thousands to shake the oil-rich Permian basin of West Texas and New Mexico in recent years. Scientists have linked the increase in seismic activity to shale companies pumping billions of gallons of wastewater—a byproduct of oil-and-gas production—down shallow and deep disposal wells. Injections modify the pressure underground and can cause faults to slip and create earthquakes. The temblor was unlikely to have an immediate impact on oil-and-gas production in the area, according to analysts. But some executives said it should be a wake-up call for regulators and companies to figure out how to deal with the vast volumes of water that surface daily in the oil patch. Kirk Edwards, an oil executive and former chairman of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, said he felt this week’s earthquake at his office in Midland, Texas, about a three-hour drive away from the site of the temblor. “We cannot keep cramming a tremendous amount of water through a disposal well at one site,” Mr. Edwards said.

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Houston Chronicle - November 20, 2022

Phelan addresses need for tax relief, transportation investment with five key numbers

Texas being flush with cash could make for some long nights for House Speaker Dade Phelan next spring. “It is a heck of a lot easier to pass a budget with a deficit than a surplus,” Phelan joked during lunchtime remarks to the Transportation Advocacy Group-Houston Region on Wednesday. When Texas has deficits, he said, people come before lawmakers and quickly make their case but don’t stick around much to talk about their work. The longer they are in the hot seat in front of appropriators, the longer they need to defend themselves. With a surplus, Phelan, R-Orange, said, officials looking for funding linger. Meetings stretch into the late evening. “They need every single dime of that or they will cease to exist,” he joked. Here are five numbers, in descending order, that Phelan cited that could provide some context on how infrastructure will be discussed this session.

$85 billion: State transportation officials have a record amount to spend over the next decade, but also growing needs. Phelan said the money set aside on Texas' Unified Transportation Plan may not be enough to solve chronic road damage in oil and gas areas, notably around Midland and Odessa. $26.95 billion: Increase in the state’s economic outlook, essentially what it will collect in taxes for the two-year budget period, which governs what lawmakers have to spend. Phelan said the increase could be $30 billion by the time the legislature convenes and Comptroller Glenn Hegar revises his economic calculations. That massive pot of money already has drawn a lot of speculation, particularly by lawmakers who want to promise property tax relief. Phelan, however, warned that the state is woefully behind on maintaining and expanding its infrastructure — from roads to broadband internet — and cannot promise long-term tax relief with a surplus that may not be there in two years.

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Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2022

Texas lawmakers, energy experts unsure ‘complicated’ new power grid market would work

The agency charged with overhauling Texas’ electricity market has proposed an untested structure in hopes of retaining the free-market system some blame for the blackouts during the 2021 winter storm. Texas legislators ordered the overhaul of the state’s deregulated energy market, which Public Utility Commission Chairman Peter Lake has called “crisis-based” because incentivizes power companies to provide low-cost electricity, at the risk of the grid’s reliability. The proposed “performance credit mechanism” — or PCM, as it’s known in the acronym-heavy parlance of energy insiders — offers power producers a financial reward to have their plants available during times when Texans are consuming the most energy. The model balances grid resiliency with free-market sensibilities, Lake says. With his blessing, the PUC will adopt it or another design before state lawmakers return to Austin for the legislative session that starts Jan. 10.

Lake says the PCM will encourage companies to invest in new natural gas plants, a top priority for lawmakers and energy insiders who are concerned that the ascendancy of cheap renewable energy in Texas will weaken natural gas producers. But some doubt Lake’s assertion and are scratching their heads over the model, which he said would take four years to implement. “This plan is so convoluted and has a long timeline to put in place, that it is a set up for failure for everyone,” New Braunfels Republican Sen. Donna Campbell said at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. Senators from both parties appeared perplexed by the decision to pursue the PCM. Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican who chairs the committee, questioned why the PUC should create a new, untested market mechanism to encourage companies to build new natural gas plants rather than directly providing government money as the incentive.

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The Hill - November 21, 2022

Inside Kevin McCarthy’s math problem to becoming Speaker

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has a math problem. He won the House GOP’s nomination to be Speaker this week in a 188-31 vote. But far more GOP members voted against him than he can afford to lose on the floor Jan. 3 in a vote that would officially elect him Speaker. A vocal faction of Republicans who have the potential to make or break his Speakership continue to withhold support. Recent 2022 election projections put Republicans on track to win up to 222 seats, a much slimmer majority than they were expecting before Election Day. Just a handful of Republican defectors could sink McCarthy. “The hard thing for Kevin, realistically, is there are a fair number of people who have said very publicly they’re ‘Never Kevin.’ Like, there’s nothing that Kevin can do to get their vote,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), who declined to share his own thinking on McCarthy. Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the former chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus who challenged McCarthy for the Speaker nomination, have outright pledged not to vote for McCarthy on the House floor.

But other critics of McCarthy aren’t going quite that far. The questions are, how many skeptics can he sway to his side? What they want in return? And, who could the alternative be? McCarthy has projected confidence that he will win the votes he needs by January. He noted that former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was nominated 200-43 in 2015 before winning 236 votes the next day on the floor, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was nominated 20-32 before winning 220 on the House floor in 2019. Both Pelosi and Ryan, however, had more substantial majorities. “Look, we have our work cut out for us. We’ve got to have a small majority. We’ve got to listen to everybody in our conference,” McCarthy said in a press conference after clinching the closed-door nomination. His supporters also note that some who voted against McCarthy via secret ballot will not want to be on the record publicly opposing him in January. But skeptics are pushing back. “The Leader does not have 218 votes,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the current chair of the Freedom Caucus. “It is becoming increasingly perilous as we move forward.”

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State Stories

WFAA - November 20, 2022

Republican senator expects criminal charges in Harris County elections investigation

Now that Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has opened an investigation into the Nov. 8 election in the state’s largest county, the question is whether she will find anything criminal. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston, thinks she will. “You’ve got 23 polls that seemed to have run out of paper, or weren’t given enough to start with and they weren’t followed up with to get more ballots to those polls on a timely manner,” Sen. Bettencourt said on Inside Texas Politics. Governor Greg Abbott was the first to call for an investigation into what he called “widespread problems” with Harris County’s elections. The Governor cited frustration and confusion and said delays were caused by insufficient paper ballots, staffing problems and more.

“The allegations of election improprieties in our state’s largest county may result from anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct,” the Governor said in a statement. The Harris County Republican Party also filed a lawsuit, claiming the county and Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum violated the Texas Elections Code. One allegation includes the improper handling of damaged ballots. But the allegation receiving the most attention involves those paper shortages at 23 polling locations. Bettencourt claims it led to some voters not being able to cast a ballot. “One precinct judge had to dismiss 150 people from line. Think about that. You’ve got a line that’s 150 deep and you’re out of paper and you have to dismiss them,” the Republican told us. But Harris County voters, like voters in many other counties in Texas, had the ability to cast a ballot at any location in the county. And on Election Day, there were 782 voting locations for them to choose from.

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Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2022

Dallas elections chief says it went well, amid state law changes, public anxiety

Dallas County officials say the midterm elections went well, despite months of concerns from commissioners, new rules related to changes in state law and public anxiety about election integrity. Elections Administrator Michael Scarpello followed through on his promise of a stable, accountable election, several elected officials and party leaders told The Dallas Morning News. While they trust the election results, there have been some complaints. A new law relaxed poll watcher rules, leading to concerns from the elections department and the Democratic Party about voter intimidation. The party said that poll watchers would cough on voters and look over voters’ shoulders while they cast their votes. “There were poll watchers – Republican poll watchers at different sites – who were really trying to figure out where the line is in terms of what they can do within the polling locations,” Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Kristy Noble said. Some people were concerned about what appeared to be sudden spikes in vote counts at voting centers, claiming there was election fraud. The county said this issue was a result of lagging computers.

There were also small, technical issues that Scarpello hopes to address in the coming months. “We had a good election, but we want to be even better than that long term,” he said. Scarpello has repeatedly told Dallas County commissioners and the media that he wants to restructure the department and put in place better, more transparent and verifiable processes. His vision has been met with some skepticism by stakeholders. Over the last few months, commissioners and the public expressed their worries over waiting lines at the polls to vote, payroll problems for election workers, complaints from poll workers who said they are not getting paid on time after past elections and who said southern polling centers did not receive the same support as northern county poll workers. Scarpello said he feels that voting centers were largely staffed with well-prepared and well-trained poll workers, helping keep waiting times down. The county’s live wait-time database and public messaging that voters can vote at any poll in the county helped reduce wait times, he said. On average, voters waited 1.2 minutes throughout the county during early voting and on Election Day, the average wait time was 3.5 minutes.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 21, 2022

Texas Rep. Chip Roy's Thanksgiving message to Republicans: 'Stop kissing each other's rear ends'

As members of Congress headed home for Thanksgiving, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy took to the floor of the House to harangue fellow Republicans who he said care more about power than reining in government spending. "Do you know every conversation that has been had in this body, at least on my side of the aisle, since last Tuesday?" Roy said during the lengthy speech Thursday afternoon. "Who’s going to have power? And the answer is: Anybody but the American people."

The Austin Republican, who is among the most conservative members of the House, said that even as the GOP made inflation and government spending a cornerstone of its midterm campaigns, he expects little will change when the party takes control of the chamber next year. With Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans holding only a slim majority in the House, the GOP likely can do little to cut spending in a significant way. But Roy said he expects few members would even try. "There is not a remote indication that my colleagues on my side of the aisle understand what time it is in America, understand what it is we’re facing," Roy said. "It’s not just a campaign statement. It’s not just something to rile up the American people to get elected — to get elected, to get power, to get on a certain committee. "Stop kissing each other's rear ends asking and begging for some slot on a committee," he said. "We didn’t come here to be on committees. We didn’t come here to get a title." Roy was a key player in a challenge from the right to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's bid to become House Speaker.

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Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2022

10 days after election, Harris County criminal judge race flips in favor of DaSean Jones with updated ballot count

The Harris County felony judge race for the 180th criminal state district court flipped Friday night in favor of incumbent DaSean Jones after new mail and provisional ballots were counted. Jones, who assumed office in 2019, has taken a 449-vote lead over Republican Tami Pierce. Pierce led by more than 1,200 votes the morning following the election. That number dwindled to 165 votes on Nov. 10.

Nearly 5,300 new ballots were counted in the latest update by Harris County Elections — including a little under 1,000 mail, nearly 1,800 early provisional and about 2,500 E-Day provisional. Jones declined multiple requests for comment. Pierce said she had not heard from Jones regarding any aspect of the race. This was one of five countywide judicial races Republicans were poised to flip this year. The GOP candidates still lead in the other four races. According to Harris County Elections, the results posted Friday are the "final unofficial posting" before Tuesday when Harris County Commissioners Court is scheduled to canvass the results. The Elections office is still working on the reconciliation form.

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El Paso Matters - November 20, 2022

Abbott urges county judges to press for reimbursement for state’s migrant expenses

Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott has sent a letter to county judges in Texas reminding them he invoked the invasion clauses in the state and U.S. Constitutions over the summer – asking that they pressure Congress to reimburse the state for the billions of dollars it has spent on border security. “Texas has forcefully responded to Biden’s open border policies by doing more than any state in the history of America to do the federal government’s job to secure the border,” Abbott said in the statement Tuesday. He attached a copy of the letter sent to county judges on Monday. The governor has not formally declared an invasion – a description of migration that has been denounced by human rights advocates and Democratic leaders – but in July issued an executive order authorizing the Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety to return to the ports of entry migrants they apprehend for illegally crossing the border.

In a tweet Tuesday, Abbott said he’s authorized Texas to take “unprecedented measures to defend our state against an invasion.” Abbott in the tweet again outlined some of the measures in his executive order, including the deployment of troops and guardsmen to the border, building a border wall, designating Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations, entering a compact with other states to secure the border and providing resources to border counties. In his letter to county judges, Abbott said when the next Congress is sworn in come January, “we must remind our representatives in Washington that securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility.” He added that Congress should reimburse Texas for what it has spent on border security, not directly addressing the controversial migrant busing program he began in April that has sent thousands of migrants to Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago – and as of Tuesday, to Philadelphia Texas has “devoted” more than $4 billion of taxpayer dollars toward his border security efforts, Abbott said in the letter.

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El Paso Matters - November 20, 2022

El Paso County looks to approve $100 million in debt as it fights IRS case

The El Paso County Commissioners Court on Thursday may take the next step toward issuing up to $100 million in certificates of obligation for numerous county facility upgrades – at the same time the county is working to settle an outstanding case with the Internal Revenue Service over debt it undertook a decade ago. The court during its special meeting on Thursday will consider publishing a notice of intent to issue the debt to rebuild a major county road, renovate Ascarate Park, expand the Fabens airport, build a new medical examiner’s office and upgrade the heating, cooling and alarm systems at its jails and juvenile detention facilities, among other projects. Publishing the notice is a required step to allow for public input before the court votes on selling the bonds in January. Certificates of obligation bonds, or COs, are debt that doesn’t require voter approval and is repaid through property taxes and other revenue.

The $100 million issuance could cost the owner of a $165,000 home about $23 a year, said Jose Landeros, the county’s director of capital planning. The issuance won’t increase the county’s debt portion of the tax rate, Landeros said, because it will offset existing debt that will be paid off in 2024, before the county begins repaying the new bonds. But even if the tax rate doesn’t change, taxpayers may see larger county tax bills if their home valuations increase. “This is the time we have been waiting for – for our debt to drop off,” Commissioner Carlos Leon said during a staff presentation on the proposed bonds to Commissioners Court on Monday. “There’s a tremendous amount of need. … There’s so much need and growth that we have to keep up with.” IRS notice on 2012 bonds Commissioners Court last issued certificates of obligation in 2012, approving about $100 million to build the Tornillo-Guadalupe Port of Entry, renovate the Eastside jail annex, buy new sheriff’s vehicles and update the radio communication system for law enforcement officers countywide, among other projects. Last year, the IRS issued the county a proposed adverse determination – a notice telling the county it may not have been in compliance with certain requirements of the tax code – related to the 2012 certificates of obligation it sold as tax-exempt to bond buyers. The county refinanced those COs in 2015 and 2017.

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Houston Chronicle - November 20, 2022

Brian Smith: Texans' troubles start at top in pointless season

The McNairs are failing the Texans, again. General manager Nick Caserio is two seasons into a rebuild that feels hopeless and looks pointless. Lovie Smith hasn’t provided a reason that he deserves to receive a second year as the Texans’ head coach. Davis Mills? Lost and hopeless, also, and Caserio’s first draft pick would have been benched at halftime of a totally depressing 23-10 defeat to the Washington Commanders on Sunday, if Caserio had given his constantly losing HC a better backup answer at quarterback. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton should be fired by Monday morning. Local truthers have already quit on the 2022 season, despite seven games remaining, and Tua Tagovailoa, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott still left on the Texans’ schedule.

Early in the fourth quarter, I walked toward one of NRG Stadium’s Kirby Drive-facing windows, took a few calming breaths, and glanced down at the street. Fans were yet again streaming out and moving on to better things, content to leave another Texans home defeat in the distant past. We could keep going on and on with all the failing names and this losing team but, really, what’s the point? The Texans are wasting our time and killing Sundays until another draft arrives. These Texans (1-8-1) aren’t worth watching or paying real money for. The Texans also accumulated just 66 offensive yards on 38 plays as the fourth quarter approached against Washington, while once-promising rookie running back Dameon Pierce had eight rushes for seven yards. Pierce was invisible in Week 11. Mills unleashed one of his worst performances as a Texan and would be a backup, at best, on every other NFL team. Smith keeps backing his completely overmatched QB and equally overmatched OC, despite neither earning the belief in 2022. But it’s easy to blame a losing coach, losing QB and losing offensive coordinator right now. Smith is also in charge of a bad defense, so it’s even easier to state facts and say that the Texans need another HC and DC. But let’s be fair and accurate on a day when the McNair family hung out with Alex Bregman and clapped nearby, while a real world champion was celebrated on the Texans’ Jumbotron. This NFL depression starts all the way at the top.

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WFAA - November 20, 2022

Creuzot fulfills pledge, rescinds controversial theft policy in Dallas County

After pledging to reconsider his controversial theft policy, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot fulfilled the promise and quietly rescinded it over the weekend. “I want the people of Dallas County and our partner police agencies to know that I have heard their concerns, and I will change when change is needed, so to that end, I am rescinding the policy. My assistants and I will use our discretion to prosecute those who deserve it and utilize our strengthened Pre-Trial Intervention programs and other community resources to get vulnerable populations the help they need. The policy change is effective immediately,” Creuzot said in a statement to WFAA.

During his first term, Creuzot instructed assistant district attorneys not to prosecute people for stealing items like food, diapers, or baby formula valued between $100 and $750 unless those individuals tried to resell them. Critics immediately pounced saying the district attorney was letting criminals go free if they stole anything under $750. But last month, during his re-election campaign, Creuzot told WFAA’s Inside Texas Politics that he would reconsider the policy. “Like anything else that’s neutral, but controversial, I think in the near future we’ll have to consider whether we’ll keep it,” the Democrat said on the Sunday morning program, October 9th. “If we can’t show that it’s having any impact one way or the other, but people have a negative opinion about it, I think if I did that right now, I’d be accused of crass politicism or whatever. But I’m certainly open to it.”

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San Antonio Express-News - November 21, 2022

Popovich falls ill, is not on the bench as Spurs lose to Lakers

Spurs assistant Brett Brown was walking out the tunnel at the Crypto.com Arena on Sunday night, same as he had before 17 games this season and for 11 seasons before that. He was expecting to look behind him and see a familiar face trailing behind. He was concerned when Gregg Popovich was nowhere to be found. “It could have been I looked behind me and here comes Pop,” Brown said. “That didn’t happen.” The 73-year-old Popovich was a late scratch from Sunday’s road trip finale against the Lakers, falling ill with an undisclosed illness just before tipoff. Brown coached in Popovich’s place, guiding the Spurs in a 123-92 loss to the Lakers that sent them to 0-5 on a five-game road trip. Popovich never left the arena after falling ill Sunday, a Spurs spokesman said. Doctors who examined Popovich in the locker room pronounced him OK, Brown said.

“We’ve been advised that he’s fine,” Brown said. The Spurs declined to provide further details of Popovich’s condition. News Popovich would not be coaching Sunday came as a surprise to Brown and players. Brown found out about as late as could be that he would be coaching his first game since 2020, when he was in Philadelphia. “I didn’t know about it until 20 seconds before the game was going to be played,” Brown said. Players, too, were taken aback by Popovich’s sudden absence. “Everybody knows Pop is very competitive,” center Gorgui Dieng said. “When they told us he wasn’t coming out, it was surprising.” Indeed, about an hour and a half before tipoff, Popovich had engaged in a sprawling pregame meeting with reporters that last 12 minutes and contained about as many punchlines. He appeared in good health and good spirits, fielding questions on everything from the art of coaching a young team, to the greatness of LeBron James and any other topic lofted his way.

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Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2022

Texas Democrats ask hard questions after midterm election losses

High-ranking Texas Democrats have sought to numb acute pain from a drubbing they took in this month’s midterm election by accentuating the positive: Predictions of a GOP “wave election” didn’t come true, they note. For the most part, Democrats fended off a nationally funded, much-publicized Republican incursion in South Texas – traditionally, a Democratic stronghold. Also, Democrats posted notable wins in some of the state’s big urban and suburban counties, such as Harris, Dallas and Collin. Still, momentum from Democrats’ bravura performance in the previous midterm, 2018, has ebbed with each of the past two general elections in Texas. Some Democrats are asking hard questions about whether the party’s latest statewide slate was too male and white, its messages too stilted and its structures obsolescent. Some also want to demand more electioneering and resource-sharing by longtime Democratic members of Congress and the Legislature. While their coffers have swelled in seats that are safe because of GOP redistricting gerrymanders, they need to be prodded and shamed into campaigning and giving money to other Democrats on the ballot, critics say.

“The undeniable fact is that we’re not built for statewide victory,” said Ali Zaidi, who managed the lieutenant governor campaign of Houston businessman Mike Collier. Two-term Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick defeated him by 10.4 percentage points. “We are at risk of becoming a party in search of relevance,” Zaidi said. In 2018, then-Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by almost 2.6 percentage points. In 2020, successful Democratic challenger Joe Biden lost Texas to then-President Donald Trump by nearly 5.6 percentage points. Earlier this month, though, O’Rourke lost the governor’s race to Gov. Greg Abbott by 11. State Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, nonetheless, points to long-term trend lines and insists his party is posting steady gains. Hinojosa, first elected in 2012, released graphs of U.S. Senate contests that began with former GOP Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison’s 23-point blowout wins in the early 1990s. His aides issued presidential and gubernatorial election-outcome graphs that used former President George W. Bush’s towering Texas victories as starting points. From those vantage points, state Democrats’ losses have narrowed.

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CBS Austin - November 21, 2022

GOATSgiving: Giant sculpture of Elon Musk as a goat, riding a rocket is coming to Austin

A giant GOAT sculpture is heading to Austin this weekend, with the ultimate journey to the Tesla Giga Factory as a gift to billionaire, Elon Musk. $EGT developer Ashley Sansalone tells us, "We just put a goat on a rocket with him on it because I think that he's, he's the goat in his industry." The sculpture which features Elon's head on a goat body, straddling a rocket is the brainchild of cryptocurrency firm Elon Goat Token ($EGT).

The 20-foot-tall sculpture is complete and will be heading to Austin later this week. Sansalone says you'll see it floating on a trailer along Austin roads before the big delivery day to Elon Musk on November 26th. "We're gonna throw an event, gather up a bunch of cars, ideally as many Teslas as possible, and then we'll deliver it to, to tesla Giga factory here in Austin and just hope for the best. I mean, it really is kind of a crazy viral marketing plan." $EGT believes Elon knows about the giant gift, but it's still a mystery, whether or not he will accept it. The company would love for you to join this momentous moment. They will be meeting at COTA on November 26th. Then, they'll parade to the Giga factory with fans following behind the massive monument. Register to attend the event here. Here's what the company says on Instagram regarding the delivery day: "We gather and throw a big party, then rally to GIGA and ask that Elon claims it! Crazy plans for this world's first Crypto Token marketing concept."

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Dallas Morning News - November 21, 2022

Cowboys’ identity, ability to contend for Super Bowl on full display in historic road win

Kirk Cousins went viral recently when he showed up shirtless and in diamond chains on the team plane, the league’s coolest quarterback on the league’s hottest team. After a 40-3 beat-down by the Cowboys, one could only presume he kept his shirt on Sunday. And a good thing, too, because it’s freezing up here. Any ice on his bare chest wouldn’t have been jewelry. The Cowboys didn’t just put the Vikings and their seven-game winning streak on ice, stunning a packed U.S. Bank Stadium into silence, they recorded the largest road win in team history. And that a week after they made history by blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in Green Bay. So now, with the Beckham Bowl beckoning in just four days at JerryWorld, the question is, which team are they? “We’re both teams,” said Jayron Kearse, who had one of the Cowboys’ seven sacks. “We put that on film that’s who we are.

“But what we showed tonight is who we’re trying to continue to become, week in, week out.” For the record, that was the correct answer. Some of us have learned a valuable lesson with this team, which is, essentially, don’t jump to any conclusions. First we wrote them off after a shockingly bad opening loss to Tampa Bay. A month later, after Cooper Rush’s fourth win in a row, we recalibrated our second thoughts at the prospects of what might be after Dak Prescott’s return. And then the Cowboys followed up the debacle at Lambeau by dominating a team that went into the game tied for the league’s best record. One guess what Jerry Jones made of the latest results. “I sure do think what I see out here right now,” the eternal optimist said, “is the team like you could go get a Super Bowl with.” So the Cowboys can contend for a title? “A resounding yes. Yes, unequivocally yes.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 20, 2022

Indigenous leaders bring climate discussion back to Houston

The day after global leaders wrapped up major climate talks at COP27 in Egypt, a handful of Indigenous community leaders in Houston shared what climate action could look like if those most impacted by global warming were leading the response. “Everything's connected,” said Monica Villarreal, who helped organize the Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, which took place Saturday at the Houston Botanic Garden. “Figuring out ways to cultivate our land, creating a better habitat or environment for ourselves, is really important -- and knowing our own faults, our own responsibility, to be stewards of these lands, because that's what we're here for: to protect Mother Earth.”

Villarreal is a Houston artist who helps lead the Xochipilli Collective, a group focused on connecting Indigenous peoples with culture, art and each other. The collective organized the climate forum, which included storytelling and discussions centering Native communities, who are among the most threatened by global warming despite contributing the least to greenhouse emissions, according to the United Nations. More so, the U.N. asserts practices and knowledge from tribal communities are crucial in the global response to climate change. “In fact, indigenous peoples are vital to, and active in, the many ecosystems that inhabit their lands and territories and may therefore help enhance the resilience of these ecosystems,” the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs wrote in a brief on Indigenous communities and climate change. “In addition, indigenous peoples interpret and react to the impacts of climate change in creative ways, drawing on traditional knowledge and other technologies to find solutions which may help society at large to cope with impending changes.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2022

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Are Texas Democrats finally getting wise on the border?

We hoped that Texas Democrats’ drubbing in statewide races on Nov. 8 would push them to look in the mirror and reflect on why their message didn’t land with voters. So we were glad to see the stirrings of introspection in an internal post-election party memo that was obtained by the Texas Tribune. Bullet point No. 5 includes this passage: “Here’s a tough truth we as Democrats must realize on border security: it’s a hugely important issue to our state.” That voters in a border state think of the border as a top issue, particularly in a year when migrant crossings reached the record-breaking number of 2.4 million, should have been readily apparent to Democrats since the beginning. Still, better late than never. Texas needs both Republicans and Democrats to agree there is a problem before we can even begin to work toward meaningful solutions. In the memo, Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Jamarr Brown noted that Democrats across the country tried to pretend the border was not an issue even as Republicans made it a leading issue.

That observation is consistent with what we experienced in the run-up to the general election, when we interviewed Republican and Democratic candidates in dozens of races in Texas. Unlike the GOP candidates, who largely listed the border as a top 3 priority, most Democrats running for state office downplayed the influx of migrants, addressing the topic only when we asked about it. Their comments were generally attacks against Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star. One candidate for the state Legislature even went so far as to recommend that Texas defy federal immigration law by issuing its own work permits to migrants. In the party memo, Brown accuses Republicans of playing on racist fears about immigration. He pointed out that immigrants are statistically less likely than native-born U.S. citizens to commit violent crimes. He highlighted that border cities are among the safest in the country. It’s a mistake, however, to dismiss any concern about border crossings as Republican fearmongering and to characterize any attempt to enforce border security as inhumane. There is a reason why Democrats are finally acknowledging that their silence on the border is politically damaging. Democratic-led border cities such as El Paso have struggled, overwhelmed by the thousands of migrants seeking shelter on the U.S. side of the border. Even El Paso echoed Abbott’s actions and sent migrants on charter buses to other cities earlier this year.

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Jewish News Syndicate - November 20, 2022

UT Austin students ban Ye’s music at sports events

Dallas resident Alexander Feinstein, 20, said he watched all of the recent interviews in which celebrity Kanye West, now known as Ye, made antisemitic statements. The sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin thought something needed to be done. Feinstein, who is a university-wide representative in student government, introduced a resolution that would ban the use of Ye’s music at campus sporting events. It passed unanimously on Nov. 1. When he spoke in favor of the resolution, which was introduced with the help of fellow representatives Surekha Balakrishnan and Jerold Holman, he was met with applause, he told JNS. Feinstein noted that at the Oct. 29 college football matchup in Jacksonville between the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs, someone projected “Kanye is right about the Jews” on the side of TIAA Bank Field.

“A statement doesn’t have the influence that it should,” Feinstein said. “When some actionable item is completed, it brings a lot more awareness to the issue and gives more power to the message you’re trying to portray.” Feinstein is involved in Jewish life at the university, including with the campus Chabad, and said he ran for student government in part to help protect the Jewish community. “I care deeply about Israel and want to make sure America is a safe place for Jews,” he said. “When I came across the interviews [with Ye], I felt I needed to be knowledgeable about it, because I knew it was going to be a growing problem that needed to be combated,” Feinstein recounted. “I watched all the clips to see what he was saying. “Yes, he seemed bipolar, but antisemitism is never okay in any way or any form,” he said. “Mental illness is not a reason to be an antisemite. I don’t think that perception is good for the mentally ill community or any community for this to be used as an excuse.” Feinstein said he was once head of the Dallas Youth Commission and doesn’t know if he will go into business or politics when he graduates. He emphasized that all university campuses should work against hate of any kind and noted that some of his friends were involved in an altercation over the weekend involving antisemitism.

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City Stories

Houston Public Media - November 20, 2022

Advocates call for creative solutions as Houston region fails to meet decade-old federal ozone standards

The greater Houston area has been deemed a "severe" violator of federal ozone standards, meaning the state will have to take steps to reduce ozone pollution in the region. Houston is one of five metropolitan areas across the country – including Dallas – that failed to meet the EPA's 2008 ozone standards, according to a recently-published notice in the Federal Register. The EPA takes a city's fourth worst ozone day of the year and averages across three years to evaluate whether it's exceeding the limit of 75 parts per billion. The Houston region has been hovering around a concentration of 79 parts per billion, according to the EPA. That also means the Houston area is failing the more recent – and more stringent – 2015 standard of 70 parts per billion.

"We’re not getting worse, but just the longer this lasts of not meeting an old standard, the more that EPA ratchets up the rules for the region," said Dan Cohan, an atmospheric scientist at Rice University. Ground-level ozone, or smog as it's commonly referred to, is formed when types of chemicals called volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides react in the air. Industrial facilities and exhaust from cars and other vehicles are two of the biggest sources of these pollutants. But they also need heat and sunlight to react, which is why ozone pollution is worse in the summer. "When the air gets really stagnant and hot in the Houston region, we get violations of the standard," said Cohan. Ozone pollution in the Houston area has gotten significantly better in the past three decades, dropping by 36% since 1991, according to data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. But improvement has stalled in recent years.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 20, 2022

Bridget Grumet: What's the total cost for all the bonds Austin voters just passed?

Austin voters recently approved a massive spending spree — nearly $3.6 billion! — to upgrade Austin schools, create more affordable housing and expand community college facilities. All three bond packages marked the largest of their kind in Austin history. Do you know how much this is actually going to cost you? I’m not questioning the worthiness of the bond packages for the Austin school district ($2.44 billion), the city of Austin ($350 million) and Austin Community College ($770 million). I voted for all of them, as did nearly three-quarters of the voters on Nov. 8. But the math and messaging around these bonds was frustratingly disjointed. Officials gave us different scenarios for homes of different homes: The Austin school district outlined its tax impact for a $650,000 home. The city of Austin used a $448,000 home. ACC projected its bill for a $500,000 home.

All of that made it impossible to add up the proposed tax increases and see what the typical Austin homeowner would pay for all three. I've heard from a few readers who also wondered about the total cost, so I figured this was a good opportunity to seek clarity. If you’re a bottom-line person: My calculations put the typical homeowner’s cost for all three bonds around $54 in the first year, then climbing up to about $116 by Year 6. At that point, the tab would just inch up with rising property values for the remaining 15-20 years, until the bond debts are paid off. But I want to be clear, this was an imperfect exercise that doesn't account for rising property values, and I had to make some assumptions along the way. The Austin school district and ACC provided calculations for this exercise. The city of Austin did not, given the variables I'll explain, so I made a projection on that part of the bill. First, a piece of good news: You won’t see any of this on the property tax bills hitting mailboxes in the next few weeks.

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Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2022

Dallas developers of color find access to capital through inaugural initiative

Queenetra Andrews knew the offer could help her cousins. “Hey did y’all know you can qualify for this?” she texted in a group chat meant for coordinating Thanksgiving plans. It wasn’t the first time she’d dropped a link in the family text thread to a bank offering to help first-time homebuyers. She’s found a new library of resources since starting the Equitable Development Initiative six months ago. The Equitable Development Initiative is aimed at supporting emerging real estate developers of color to create affordable housing in Dallas. Capital Impact Partners, a nonprofit community development financial firm headquartered in Arlington, Va., started the program in 2018 with groups in Detroit, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area. Andrews is one of 15 developers graduating Friday from Capital Impact’s inaugural Dallas cohort of the program funded by JPMorgan Chase and Charles Schwab.

The roughly six-month training course is free to the handful of developers selected from more than 100 applicants. At Friday’s ceremony, they get to pitch conceptual real estate projects that include affordable housing in disinvested Dallas communities. Andrews said many of the resources she’s learned about through EDI could benefit her family and the people she grew up with in southern Dallas. “I educate myself on all of the programs out here and I try to speak at roundtables just to tell people in the community,” Andrews said. Capital Impact concentrates on connecting developers of color with access to capital, said Aaron Gougis, its Dallas initiatives manager. “We look for the areas that are typically overlooked by traditional lenders,” Gougis said. “Those may be developers or entrepreneurs who are just starting out in their careers. They may not have the vast experience that lenders may look for.” Southern Dallas business owners struggle with access to business loans that flow to established developers, meaning they can be left out of planning conversations, Gougis said. “In our city, our local citizens don’t necessarily have a seat at the table to be part of how their communities are shaping in the future,” he said. “We hope to be able to be part of the solution to be able to address that.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2022

Dallas nonprofits aching for help as we head into the holidays in the post-pandemic world

Local social service groups already hit hard by the pandemic are entering a holiday season with increased demand and calls for help. Nonprofits that provide food, clothing, financial donations and other services to lower-income households struggling to make ends meet are facing new and growing problems due to rising housing costs and inflation. Jay Dunn, managing director of The Salvation Army of North Texas, says the spike in costs has driven working families who have historically been able to make ends meet to seek out charitable help. “It’s like dominoes starting to fall,” Dunn said, citing the new problem of more people’s wages not keeping up with climbing expenses.

The Salvation Army has seen across-the-board increased needs for their youth and child development, economic mobility, crisis prevention and recovery and counseling services. The organization is also getting more requests for rent, utility and food assistance with a new trend of working families who still have income but can’t keep up. More families are also seeking child care help because they are working more jobs. Jeff Smith, senior manager of communications with North Texas Food Bank, said his organization has always served the working poor and saw a sharp increase in demand when people lost their jobs due to COVID-19. NTFB historically provided about 7.3 million meals a month before COVID-19. From the early stages of the pandemic through February, the nonprofit gave out 10.5 million meals a month; since March when inflation began hitting families hard, the group has given an average of 12.3 million meals a month. “Now with inflation rates at their highest point that they’ve been in 40 years… Texans are spending $325 more each month on food today than they did the same time last year,” Smith said. Mesquite-based food pantry Sharing Life has seen an uptick in clients since the start of the pandemic, said Teresa Jackson, the nonprofit’s founder. The pantry has seen an increase in needs from not only low-income families, but also more moderate-income people who previously were not regular clients. “If you’re making $15 to $20 an hour in this economy, you can’t make it alone,” Jackson said. “They’re not going to earn enough to meet the basic needs of their families.”

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National Stories

E&E News - November 20, 2022

How beating up Big Oil helped Dems hold the Senate

Republicans expected the high price of gas to hand them a midterm sweep. Instead, it might have helped Democrats win the race that delivered them the Senate. Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto spent months blasting GOP nominee Adam Laxalt over his ties to Big Oil. On the campaign trail and in million-dollar ads, Democrats accused oil companies of profiteering from high fuel prices — and funneling those profits to the campaign of Laxalt, who as attorney general opposed investigations into the oil sector’s climate disinformation campaigns. Cortez Masto, among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents of the midterms, prevailed by about 9,000 votes, according to unofficial results, or less than 1 percentage point.

In such a close race, every factor matters. And like Democratic candidates across the U.S., Cortez Masto campaigned heavily on abortion rights — an issue that pollsters say was key in limiting Democratic losses and preventing the predicted “red wave.” But Cortez Masto stands out from other Democrats in how aggressively she campaigned against Big Oil. Her victory has emboldened climate advocates to push that message harder in future elections. “She clearly … saw it as an important and winning message, and, frankly, hammered on it,” said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund, the country’s largest environmental super political action committee. “As an issue, it existed in other races, yes,” he said. “[But] not as prominently, not with as much sharpness, as it did in Nevada’s Senate race.” Seventeen percent of Democratic TV ads in Nevada’s Senate race tied Laxalt to the oil industry, adding up to about $6.5 million, according to an E&E News analysis of AdImpact spending data. That’s less than what Democrats spent on ads in Nevada about abortion ($10.5 million) or Republicans spent on ads about inflation ($13.5 million). But it’s more than the parties spent on some other core issues in the state, like crime for Republicans ($3.1 million) or lowering prescription drug prices for Democrats ($2.3 million).

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New York Times - November 20, 2022

Was this $100 billion deal the worst merger ever?

Soon after a sweeping courtroom victory in 2018 cleared the way for AT&T’s $100 billion takeover of Time Warner, John Stankey, AT&T’s chief operating officer and the newly anointed chief executive of Warner Media, summoned his top Warner Media executives to a meeting at the Time Warner Center off Columbus Circle. They included Kevin Tsujihara, the head of the Warner Bros. movie studio; Richard Plepler, the head of HBO; and Jeff Zucker, CNN’s chief executive. Mr. Stankey handed them a typed document titled “Operating Cadence and Style,” and sat there while they read it. The memo was two pages, single-spaced, and the silence stretched for what seemed an excruciating length. The document, which was reviewed by The New York Times, told them how to approach and interact with their new boss. Accustomed as they were to emailing, texting or calling Time Warner’s previous chief executive, Jeff Bewkes, pretty much any time of the day or night, such a directive had never proved necessary. Now their dismay mounted.

Among Mr. Stankey’s dictates: 30 minutes was the “default” length for meetings, Saturdays were reserved for “quality time” with his family, and he expected to be home for dinner by 6:30 or 7. “My routine is important to me,” Mr. Stankey wrote. Although “I really, really don’t like formal presentations and PowerPoint, I do like brief bullet outlines and references to working documents,” he elaborated. “I prefer to reserve more formal slide decks for moments of seminal importance. I will invest to get messages right and articulated when it counts and has the opportunity to move an issue of significance.” Few details were overlooked: “Digital documents are preferred,” Mr. Stankey wrote, “with PDF format the minimum standard.” Curiously, given their presence in a 12th-floor conference room, he added: “I’m not a big fan of meetings. A good meeting is purposeful, has a small number of responsible participants and closes with decisions being made.” When everyone finished reading, Mr. Stankey asked if he had made himself clear. No one said anything. But afterward, there was a flurry of profanity-laced texts. Less than four years later, all three Warner executives had been replaced. And then Mr. Stankey bailed.

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Mediaite - November 21, 2022

Elon Musk explains why he won’t let Alex Jones back on Twitter

Elon Musk is a fierce advocate of free speech and the First Amendment and has applied that to Twitter since purchasing the social media platform. There is one notable exception that he is holding out on, however, and that is allowing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones back on Twitter. Jones has long been banned from Twitter and is in a significant financial crisis (if not collapse) due to a recent judgment in which he owes hundreds of millions of dollars in punitive damages to parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. Jones insisted that the tragedy was something of a false flag, complete with crisis actors, and no children were killed. He was wrong and profited handsomely from that ugly conspiracy.

German-Finnish Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom followed up in reply to Musk, writing, “Alex fucked up with Sandy Hook. He admitted that and apologized. He also got a lot of “conspiracy theories” right. If serial liars like Biden and Trump are allowed on Twitter, then Alex Jones should be allowed to. Please reconsider in the interest of real free speech.” Musk answered by revealing that his firstborn child died in his arms and that he felt his last heartbeat. “I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics, or fame,” he added. While some may laud Musk for having some standards about free speech, others may note that his standards, in this instance, are entirely subjective and situational. This is completely understandable but puts the challenge of being an absolutist on free speech — or anything else — in stark relief. Freedom of expression is complicated to manage for any institution, but especially for a social media platform designed for communication and reward for provocative and informative messaging.

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The Hill - November 21, 2022

Keith Naughton: Trump may not make it to the primaries

(Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant.) The conventional wisdom has Donald Trump as either the man to beat for the Republican nomination or at least headed for a drawn-out fight to the finish with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But could Trump flame out and not even make it to the Iowa caucuses? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. In fact, it’s not far-fetched at all. Trump has severe strategic problems and polling problems, not to mention his legal difficulties. They all add up to a very rough trajectory over the next several months. Everyone knows Trump hates to lose. When faced with losing, he either claims he was cheated, or quits. A year from now, Trump might be far enough behind DeSantis that quitting will be the only way to avoid losing.

Trump’s polling has been soft for more than a year, with the percentage of Republicans who want him to run consistently falling 20 points or more below his approval ratings. He has found it difficult to score above 50 percent on ballot tests against Republicans who aren’t even running yet. And those numbers are getting worse. Both YouGov and Morning Consult conducted post-election benchmarks, and Trump’s fortunes are falling across the board. Morning Consult has the best polling for Trump, but Trump’s favorable rating with Republicans edged below 80 percent. While 61 percent of Republicans still want Trump to run, 73 percent of independents don’t. Trump’s ballot test against DeSantis fell from a 48 percent to 26 percent advantage pre-midterm to a 47 percent to 33 percent advantage, down 8 points. The YouGov poll is a disaster for Trump. In one week Trump fell from 81 percent approval to 77 percent. Far worse, Republicans who want him to run collapsed from 60 percent to just 47 percent. DeSantis holds a 46 percent to 39 percent advantage on the ballot test. YouGov polled all voters on a Trump-DeSantis ballot and every demographic preferred DeSantis, except Hispanics who were split evenly. Conservatives favored DeSantis 51 percent to 33 percent, a catastrophe for Trump.

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Politifact - November 21, 2022

Donald Trump is the least accurate politician that PolitiFact has ever covered

Former President Donald Trump announced Nov. 15 at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida that he'll seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. Trump has long hinted that he would run again, and has disparaged potential rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. The full results of the 2022 midterm elections are still being counted, but some pundits have described Trump as the "big loser" of the midterms, suggesting he is to blame for weaker-than-expected results for Republicans.

PolitiFact has fact-checked Trump 960 times since 2011, as a businessman, presidential candidate and president. He is the most fact-checked politician on PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. He has spread conspiracy theories, repeated baseless false claims and has been thrice "awarded" PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year. His record on the Truth-O-Meter started with a Pants on Fire! ruling in February 2011 after claiming that people who went to school with then-President Barack Obama "never saw him." This was part of Trump’s push of the "birther" conspiracy theory, which baselessly and falsely alleged Obama was not a U.S. citizen and therefore could not be president. But the baseless claims and embrace of conspiracy theories didn’t end there. Every year, PolitiFact editors select the falsehood that played the most significant role in undermining truth and name it the Lie of the Year. In 2015, PolitiFact named Trump’s misstatements from the Republican primary campaign the Lie of the Year. His track record for accuracy saw no improvement as president, as he earned the 2017 Lie of the Year distinction after claiming that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election was a "made-up story."

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