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Newsclips - September 21, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

DMN, UT-Tyler poll: 1 in 4 Texans say they likely won’t get COVID vaccine

As Texas reached the grim milestone of 60,000 COVID-19 deaths last week — 549 days after the state recorded its first — a poll of 1,148 Texans conducted by The Dallas Morning News and The University of Texas at Tyler demonstrates the anti-vaccine hurdles that the state still has to battle. Of the 1,093 people who answered a question about whether they plan to take the COVID-19 vaccine, about 1 in 4 said they either won’t, or are unlikely to. Eighteen percent said they won’t get vaccinated. Another 6% responded that it was unlikely they would get the vaccine, while 9% said they “probably would.”

Seven percent said they would “definitely” get the vaccine, according to the poll, which was conducted from Sept. 7 to Sept. 14. More than half of the respondents —59%— said they were already vaccinated. That figure aligns with the vaccine reality in Texas: as of Friday, 59.8% of eligible Texans were fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Of those who said they do not plan to make an appointment, the largest proportion — 27% — said they were concerned about potential side effects from the vaccine. Medical experts have repeatedly said that vaccine side effects, ranging from sore arms at the injection site, to fatigue and fever, pale in comparison to symptoms unvaccinated people who get sick with COVID-19 may experience. Another 15% said they do not have enough information about the vaccine. Only 4% said they were too busy to set up an appointment.

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Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Abbott’s approval rating on immigration is higher than that of Biden, new Texas poll finds

Texans registered to vote approve of Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of immigration at the border more than they approve of the way President Joe Biden handles the issue. But only 36% of those polled say Texas should spend more on a border wall. A new Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler poll found that 47% of those surveyed approve of the Texas governor’s border immigration policies, while only 29% approve of Biden’s “handling of immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.” The poll, conducted Sept. 7-14, surveyed 1,148 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. It surveyed Texas voters on a wide range of state and political issues. Results generally leaned toward conservative views, but there is some nuance over issues like the border wall and a legalization program for younger immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

“It might seem a paradox. But the public wants to see some decisive action but also some welcoming or compassion,” said Mark Owens, the UT-Tyler professor who directed the poll. The results also reflect beliefs that “decisive action” is being taken on border immigration, said Owens. Abbott’s policies have included sending state troopers and the Texas National Guard to the border, arresting migrants on state charges of property trespassing and spending an additional nearly $2 billion in border security. While almost half of responding registered voters approve of those policies, 41% of voter respondents say state funds should not be used to build a wall and 21% say the state has spent enough on such a barrier. After Biden froze billions in spending on former President Donald Trump’s federally funded wall effort, Abbott cobbled together about $1 billion for border barriers.

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Austin American-Statesman - September 20, 2021

Two lawsuits filed against Texas doctor who violated abortion ban could test law's constitutionality

A man in Arkansas and another in Illinois sued a Texas doctor in two separate actions on Monday, the first reported cases filed under the state's new law prohibiting most abortions. Dr. Alan Braid, a longtime physician in obstetrics and gynecology from San Antonio, wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post that he had performed an abortion outside of the legal window permitted in the law, which prohibits the procedure after about six-weeks of pregnancy. Braid became the first doctor to publicly share that he had violated the ban, which took effect Sept. 1, writing in the Post that he knew his actions could draw a civil lawsuit under the law, which permits any individual to sue abortion providers or others seen as aiding and abetting an abortion that violates the ban.

Oscar Stilley, a former lawyer convicted of tax fraud in 2010, sued Braid in state District Court inBexar County on Monday. "I woke up this morning ... and I saw a story about this doctor, Dr. Braid," Stilley told the American-Statesman. "He's obviously a man of principle and courage and it just made me mad to see the trick bag they put him in and I just decided: I'm going to file a lawsuit. We're going to get an answer, I want to see what the law is." Felipe Gomez, identified in his lawsuit as a "pro-choice plaintiff," also sued the San Antonio doctor on Monday in Bexar County, according to KSAT in San Antonio. Both Stilley and Gomez are representing themselves. The law allows successful plaintiffs to collect at least $10,000 for every illegal abortion that is exposed and does not require the individual to have any connection to the patient or defendant. Stilley, who is on home confinement, said he saw an opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the provision — and possibly snag $10,000 in the process. "(The statute) says any person can bring a lawsuit," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter that I'm a disbarred attorney. It doesn't matter that I'm in custody. It doesn't matter that I'm up in Arkansas and not in Texas. It kind of looks like I have nothing to do with it, but they said I can have a chance and I can go in there and I can sue and collect $10,000 for it.

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State Stories

The 19th - September 20, 2021

‘We’re seeing shock.’ Texas abortion clinics are now operating as trauma centers

Marva Sadler is not used to telling patients “no.” Since Senate Bill 8, Texas’ six-week abortion ban, took effect, she now feels like she’s saying it all day. Sadler is the director of clinical services at Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth. When patients arrive at the clinic, she said, they are aware of the realities of the new law: Abortion past six weeks is now illegal, with no exceptions for rape and incest. Still, they can hardly process that there’s little the clinic can do to help them. “We’re seeing shock. Absolute shock,” Sadler said. “They know the law but don’t expect to hear from us that there are no other options other than leaving the state.” As streams of patients continue to show up seeking procedures they can no longer receive, abortion clinics in Texas have become more like trauma centers — places where people are coming in severe emotional crisis. “There is anger, fear and sadness,” Sadler said. Being there to help patients process these feelings is not easy work, Sadler said, calling it a “wear on anyone’s mental stability.” For patients they can’t treat, clinic staff offer to schedule appointments with providers out of state. To date, not a single patient at Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth has taken them up on it.

Most are taken aback by the offer, Sadler said. They’ve already had to take time off of work, find child care and transportation, even leave meals for family at home just to make it through the door at her clinic. “It’s not just the financial piece, but about jumping up and leaving home without having the time or expectation to plan,” she said. “100 percent of our patients have left here with an ‘I don’t know what’s next for me.’ They’re leaving the clinic without a plan because there are no plans.” While Sadler emphasized that SB 8 has been especially hard on low-income people and people of color, she is also concerned about their patients who are minors, like a 17-year-old who had just learned on August 30 that she was 13 weeks pregnant, which she told Sadler was a result of rape by a close family friend. When she called on September 1, the day the law went into effect, there was no longer anything the clinic could do to help her. “I felt so horrible for her,” Sadler said. “What we could recommend and refer her to is so limited.” Doris Dixon, the director of patient access at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, said the days preceding and following SB 8 taking effect have “been nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster.” Dixon said she and her colleagues have gone from being people who help schedule health care appointments to staffers at “a crisis center.” They’re providing emotional support, referrals and logistics in lieu of actual abortion services. “[I’m] thinking about how we can provide resources, financial resources, get patients out of state just to get care,” Dixon said. “That’s where I’m at right now. I just try not to cry. It’s really, really hard sometimes.”

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KXAN - September 20, 2021

‘Home cooking’ concerns revealed in corruption prosecutions outside Texas capital

Massive floods tore through Central Texas on Memorial Day weekend in 2015. Rivers spilled over their banks and ripped waterfront homes from their foundations. Towns were inundated. While tragic deaths on the Blanco River and a ruptured dam in Bastrop State Park captured headlines, few noticed the damage to a low water crossing on Wilbarger Creek Drive — a private dead-end road south of Elgin. Nobody knew then how that broken bridge would brew a political storm of its own. Two years later, Bastrop County Commissioner Gary “Bubba” Snowden would be charged with three counts of abuse of official capacity. Two of the charges were felonies for misusing public dollars and county resources to resurface part of the road without county commissioners’ approval.

Snowden’s case was investigated under the state’s redesigned Public Integrity Unit. The previous state-funded Public Integrity Unit housed in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office was dismantled in 2015, following allegations it was politicizing prosecutions. State lawmakers aimed to reform the system by moving state public corruption investigations to the Department of Public Safety’s Texas Rangers and prosecuting accused officials in their home counties rather than Travis County. Though the sea change in Public Integrity Unit prosecutions didn’t fundamentally alter how Snowden’s case was handled, the former Bastrop County commissioner’s indictment and prosecution do exemplify most public corruption cases processed under the new system. Now, six years later, an investigation by the Texas Observer and KXAN found prosecutions of statewide public officials for corruption are nearly non-existent. Since 2015, the Rangers investigated a handful of state-level elected leaders, but few faced charges. From 2015 to 2020, the Texas Rangers completed more than 560 public corruption case investigations, but only 67 of those cases have been prosecuted, according to DPS data analyzed by the Observer. DPS said in an email to the Observer there were hundreds more inquiries and complaints beyond those investigated. No officials with DPS or the Texas Rangers would agree to speak with KXAN for this report. The prosecutions that have taken place are mostly against lower-level local officials or government employees and typically end with light sentences. Several Central Texas cases followed that pattern.

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KXAN - September 20, 2021

Comptroller says Texans are owed $6 billion in unclaimed property claims

The Texas Comptroller’s office says it has paid $285 million in unclaimed property claims in fiscal year 2021. The Comptroller’s office said in a press release on Thursday it has returned more than $3 billion in unclaimed property to rightful owners since Texas’ unclaimed property program began in 1962.

The state is currently holding more than $6 billion in cash and other valuables through the program. The $285 million from this year represents more than 538,000 properties, that includes thing like forgotten utility deposits, insurance proceeds, payroll checks, cashier’s checks, dividends, mineral royalties and abandoned safe-deposit box contents as examples. Generally speaking, owners can file a claim at any time to claim the property as there isn’t a statute of limitations.

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Waco Tribune-Herald - September 17, 2021

Waco region sees highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate in Texas

Experts say overlapping causes are behind the snowballing hospitalization rate for COVID-19 in this part of Central Texas, which is higher than any other part of the state. But even the low vaccination rate, the more contagious delta variant and the number of patients from outside counties do not fully explain just how bad things are compared to other areas. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services designates 22 clusters of counties, called Trauma Service Areas, guided by regional advisory councils. COVID-19 patients make up a higher share of total hospitalizations in Trauma Service Area M, the five-county region consisting of McLennan, Hill, Bosque, Falls and Limestone counties, than any other in Texas, with 243 COVID-19 inpatients and 55 COVID-19 intensive care patients filling 43% of occupied beds, as of Thursday.

The statewide COVID-19 hospitalization rate sits at 20%. Service Area H in East Texas is the current second highest at 38%. Christine Reeves, director of the Heart of Texas Regional Advisory Council, said she noticed a small increase in hospitalizations the first week of August that picked up speed over the next few weeks. Multiple days this week have seen new highs in the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Waco. Reeves said facilities in Coryell, Comanche and Freestone counties, which are in other trauma service areas, regularly transfer patients into Waco hospitals for surgeries and specific procedures not available back home. She said people used to coming to Waco for care likely would continue to do so, regardless of whether they cross the boundary of a trauma service area, a designation used for logistical purposes by the Department of State Health Services. “Coryell is the same distance to Waco, pretty much, as Clifton is,” Reeves said. “It’s a longer drive to go to Temple, even though that’s their trauma service area.”

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Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Russia is a concern, but Ted Cruz isn’t helping

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is right to be concerned about a soon-to-be-operational Russian gas pipeline. He’s wrong to obstruct U.S. diplomacy over it. For months, Cruz has been holding up dozens of State Department nominations as leverage to get the Biden administration to reinstate sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It’s an unprecedented level of obstruction, affecting nearly 80 diplomatic posts. To be clear: Cruz’s actions have nothing to do with the nominees or their qualifications. The nominations simply appear to be the only lever Cruz can think of, so he’s pulling it.

This is not a minor hiccup. Without those emissaries on watch, the world is less accountable to U.S. interests. This newspaper’s reporting of Cruz’s “tantrum,” as it was characterized by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, last week, has drawn a sobering comparison, just days after our nation’s observance of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The commission formed to investigate those attacks identified unfilled diplomatic posts as a dangerous vulnerability at the time. Eight months into his term, 57% of President George W. Bush’s nominees for key national security posts had been confirmed. At the same point in his tenure, Biden has just 26%, we reported. “It is scandalous that these nominees and many others are being held up for reasons completely unrelated to them and the positions they will hold,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. “Such irresponsible behavior jeopardizes our national security.” Cruz is understandably frustrated with the Biden administration. In passing the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019, Congress stipulated sanctions against Russia if they pressed construction of the pipeline. Biden dropped those sanctions, saying they weren’t working and the pipeline is all but operational.

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Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas lawmakers cannot leave foster care teens to their fate

Exasperation and exhaustion have set in for many of us who have followed the failure of the state’s foster care system to protect children while complying with reforms rightfully demanded by U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack. The latest report from court-appointed monitors of the system is yet another frustrating chapter in the legal battle over how to fix Texas foster care. According to the report, the number of children without placement — kids who are housed in unlicensed locations such as state offices, churches and hotels — has jumped from an average of 22 per night in January to 106 per night in June. Last year, that average was 10 kids per night between August and December.

These children are mostly older teens with severe needs who require a high level of care. But under the state’s supervision, some of them run away, engage in prostitution and harm themselves. Texas has lost more than 1,000 beds since 2020 after state officials revoked licenses or ended contracts over unsafe conditions. Jack has ordered Gov. Greg Abbott and his legal team to explain why the two state agencies that oversee the foster care system don’t agree over sanctions against some providers. This crisis — not myriad red-meat issues that the Legislature has embraced this year — is what must be a priority for Abbott and lawmakers. The Department of Family and Protective Services has suggested that court-ordered enhanced oversight of problematic providers — referred to as “heightened monitoring” — is to blame for the state’s inability to care for its neediest children. But the court monitors’ report disputes the state’s theory.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2021

Trial date set for Aaron Dean, Fort Worth officer accused of murdering Atatiana Jefferson

The murder trial of the former Fort Worth police officer charged in the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson in 2019 is set to start Nov. 16, according to Tarrant County court records. Aaron Dean, 36, is accused of shooting Jefferson to death on Oct. 12, 2019. Jefferson died as she was babysitting her 8-year-old nephew at her mother’s house in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue in Fort Worth. A neighbor telephoned the police because he was worried after seeing open doors at the house, and Dean and another officer responded to the call. Jefferson, who was 28 and Black, heard noise outside and thought a prowler was in the yard. She held a gun and looked through a bedroom window as Dean fired once from outside, killing her, according to an account from the nephew that is described in an arrest warrant affidavit for the former officer.

Last week, Jefferson’s family filed a lawsuit in federal court against Dean and the city of Fort Worth, citing the emotional trauma Jefferson’s nephew endured when she was killed in front of him. “At the age of 8,” the lawsuit says, Zion Carr “was forced to watch the murder of his aunt, Atatiana Jefferson, at the hands of Fort Worth Police.” Prosecutors have previously indicated they do not intend to offer Dean a plea bargain. If convicted of murder, Dean could face up to life in prison. Fort Worth City Council member Chris Nettles, an outspoken advocate calling for Dean to be tried for murder in Jefferson’s death, said the community has been waiting for this day. He said he and other community members have marched, protested and demanded justice in the case. “I truly believe that the persistence of community activists across Fort Worth helped bring this day to fruition,” Nettles told the Star-Telegram on Monday. “It’s time that Aaron Dean be held accountable for his actions through due process — a right that he stole from Atatiana Jefferson.”

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2021

Money is a barrier in solving Fort Worth cold cases. A new group seeks to change that.

On Aug. 24, the decades-long case of Carla Walker’s murder finally came to a close when Glen McCurley was convicted of killing the 17-year-old in 1974. But nearly 1,000 other families in Fort Worth still search for answers to their own cold cases. The name for these cases itself tells of the emotional limbo families face; they remain frozen, waiting for resolution as years and decades go by. Carla’s brother, Jim Walker, and the Fort Worth detectives who solved the case want to change that. In September 2020, after police arrested McCurley for the murder of Carla, Detective Jeff Bennett asked the department for permission to create a foundation dedicated to solving Fort Worth’s unsolved murders. On Wednesday, the FWPD Cold Case Support Group officially began accepting donations. “We’ve got justice for Carla,” Walker said. “We all understand what families go through. And I believe that’s where the focus is now. And to let the bad guys know, ‘We’re coming after you.’”

When they used forensic genealogy testing to solve Carla’s case, Bennett and cold case Detective Leah Wagner knew they needed a way to fund this form of testing in more cases. In Carla’s case, forensic genealogy and new DNA extraction technology allowed police to zero in on McCurley as Carla’s killer. The process cost tens of thousands of dollars. Walker said to his knowledge, the price tag was at least $18,000. Bennett said the cost for forensic testing was “in the mid-five figures.” The testing was made possible through $15,000 donations from NBC and producers of “The DNA of Murder,” who coordinated with Fort Worth police for an episode about Carla on the Oxygen show. Not every case is able to draw the kind of attention Carla’s received. And like every department at FWPD, the Fort Worth cold case unit has a budget. “I don’t want to say that cold cases are not important,” Bennett said, “but they prioritize where the money goes and obviously current crimes take priority.” Forensic genealogy is more in-depth than typical DNA testing. In most criminal cases, police develop a DNA profile and upload it into CODIS — the national DNA database. But if someone has never been put into that system — like McCurley — they won’t show up as a match to the DNA profile. With no matches on CODIS, Bennett and Wagner turned to Othram, a Houston-based lab that focuses on matching unknown DNA to people through genealogical databases, like 23AndMe and Ancestry.com.

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National Stories

Associated Press - September 20, 2021

U.S. eases foreign air travel restrictions, adds steps for unvaccinated flyers

The U.S. will soon allow entry to most foreign air travelers as long as they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — while adding a testing requirement for unvaccinated Americans and barring entry for foreigners who haven’t gotten shots. The measures, announced Monday by the White House, are the most sweeping change to U.S. travel policies in months, and widen the gap in rules between vaccinated people — who will see measures relaxed — and the unvaccinated. The new rules will replace existing bans on foreigners’ travel to the U.S. from certain regions, including Europe. While the move will open the U.S. to millions of vaccinated people, the White House cast the measure as a crackdown, pointing to stricter testing rules and a new contact tracing regime. The new policy will take effect in “early November,” according to the White House, though the precise date isn’t yet clear.

“We know vaccines are effective, including against the delta variant, and vaccines are the best line of defense against COVID, so this vaccination requirement deploys the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of the virus,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Monday. The new rules will replace the current system, which includes outright bans on entry for foreigners who’ve been in certain regions, such as the U.K. and European Union, within the previous two weeks, regardless of vaccination status. “We will protect Americans here at home and enhance the safety of international travel,” Zients said. News of the policy change caused U.S. airline shares to pare premarket losses. The Standard & Poor’s index of the country’s five biggest airlines rose less than 1% at 11:14 a.m. in New York, overcoming a global stock rout on anxiety over U.S. monetary policy and China’s real estate market. American Airlines Group Inc. climbed about 2%. Before the coronavirus crisis hit, the North Atlantic corridor connecting the U.S. and Europe was the single most profitable part of the global aviation market, filled with premium travelers paying top dollar for first- and business-class seats.

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Washington Post - September 20, 2021

Max Boot: Biden’s Australian submarine deal is a big win in the strategic competition with China

No pain, no gain. That’s as true in diplomacy as in the gym. The United States has gained much with its agreement to share nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia as part of a new Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) accord. But this achievement comes at a cost: France, complaining of a “knife in the back,” recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington (but not London) in its fury over losing a $66 billion agreement to sell diesel submarines to Australia. Was it worth it? Yes. Could it have been better handled? Also yes. This is a bit like a football team scoring a touchdown and then getting penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. AUKUS is the kind of “tremendously big deal” that former president Donald Trump always bragged about but seldom delivered. It turns the “Pacific pivot” that former president Barack Obama advertised into more than an empty slogan. Ten years ago, Obama dispatched 2,500 U.S. Marines to Australia. The impact of that deployment is trivial compared with having eight Australian nuclear submarines patrolling the silent depths of the Pacific.

China is building cruise missiles and ballistic missiles to target surface ships, including U.S. aircraft carriers. But the Pentagon reports that “it continues to lack a robust deep-water anti-submarine warfare capability.” That is a weakness the Royal Australian Navy will be able to exploit in conjunction with the U.S. and British fleets. (The United States already operates 68 nuclear submarines, Britain 11.) Once Australia’s nuclear submarines are ready, China’s ability to dominate sea lanes and invade or blockade Taiwan will be reduced. (The naval balance of power would tilt even further against China if Japan, which already has 20 diesel submarines, were to build its own nuclear subs.) But the first submarine is not due to be built Down Under until 2040. The program needs to be accelerated to reduce Australia’s window of vulnerability — and reduce the incentives for China to commit aggression while it still can. Chinese President Xi Jinping has no one but himself to blame for this development. China’s expansive territorial claims, appalling human rights abuses and brutish “wolf warrior” diplomacy have alarmed its neighbors — and created a strategic opening for the United States. Beijing, for example, tried to punish Australia with trade sanctions for refusing to buy Huawei’s 5G technology, criticizing Chinese human rights record and calling for a probe of covid-19’s origins. As a result, Australian perceptions of China turned sharply negative. That allows Biden to assemble a coalition to contain China. This week, just days after the announcement of AUKUS, the leaders of the Quad — a coalition of the United States, Japan, Australia and India — will meet in Washington. AUKUS and the Quad are the most important strategic initiatives undertaken by the United States in the 21st century, and they will help dispel some of the concerns about U.S. retreat following the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The United States could be even more effective in countering China if Biden would rethink his born-again protectionism and rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership that he extolled as vice president.

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Newsclips - September 20, 2021

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Beto O'Rourke expected to run for Texas governor against Greg Abbott

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke plans to run for governor next year, Axios reported Sunday. Rumors have swirled for months that O'Rourke, one of the state's highest profile Democratic politicians, has been considering a run against Gov. Greg Abbott.

O'Rourke, 48, gained national prominence when he challenged Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 in what was at the time one of the most expensive Senate races in history. Shortly after his failed Senate campaign, he mounted a bid for the presidency in 2020. He is likely to face significant challenges now, with a surge in immigration at the border and high-profile comments he made after the El Paso massacre in 2019, in which he advocated proposed mandatory buyback programs for assault weapons. According to the Dallas Morning News, Abbott leads O'Rourke in a hypothetical matchup by five points, 42-37. That's significantly narrower than earlier this summer, when O'Rourke faced a 12 point deficit.

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Business Insider - September 18, 2021

McConnell was not shocked by Trump's 2020 loss, said there were 'so many Maalox moments' during his presidency: book

After Joe Biden was declared the US President-elect by most major news outlets last November, many Republicans were in disbelief that the former vice president had beaten then-President Donald Trump. But then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had served in the upper chamber alongside Biden for decades, was "the least surprised," according to a new book by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, an early copy of which was obtained by Insider. McConnell, who had been a governing partner with Trump, shepherding through three Supreme Court justices and scores of appeals judges, along with passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and other conservative priorities, nonetheless had to contend with the wildly unpredictable president, who could tank a piece of legislation as easily as he could sell it to conservatives. The senator, who at the time was closely watching the Georgia Senate runoff contests that would determine whether Republicans controlled the upper chamber or ceded control to the Democrats, chose to give Trump some space as the election results were still sinking in, which Woodward and Costa wrote in "Peril."

Despite being in the same political party, McConnell told his staff that the president's actions could often lead to stressful predicaments, according to the book. "There were so many Maalox moments during the four years," he reportedly told his staff, referring to the antacid commonly used to treat stress-induced heartburn. During this time, McConnell continued to tread slightly with Trump — working behind to scenes to keep Biden from calling him for fear of upsetting the president, whom the then-majority leader still wanted to keep in his fold. "McConnell worried Trump might react negatively and upend the upcoming, hotly contested runoff Senate elections in Georgia," the book said. "He also said he did not want Biden, a serial telephone user, to call him. Any call from Biden was sure to infuriate Trump and set off unwanted calls from him, asking if he believed Biden had won the presidency." To keep things under wraps, McConnell reached out to GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to speak privately with Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Biden confidant, about a "back channel" for the then-majority leader to have a level of communication with the president-elect. Cornyn said that the senators were "in a delicate situation" since Trump may have assumed that the men were "cutting a deal behind his back to cut him out," which would make him "even more irrational."

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NBC News - September 20, 2021

As House returns, Democrats face hard choices on Biden mega-bill, infrastructure

When the House returns Monday, Democrats will face a series of difficult decisions about how to prevent a government shutdown, avert a catastrophic debt default and resolve deep divisions within their ranks about President Joe Biden's economic agenda. There is little time. Government funding expires Sept. 30, the Treasury Department says the debt ceiling will be breached in October without congressional action, and states need disaster relief. Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's complicated set of promises to competing party factions will face a major test. Pelosi, D-Calif., has promised centrists a deadline of Sept. 27 to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill. But she has told progressives that it will move side by side with the multitrillion-dollar Build Back Better measure.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has said for months that dozens of House Democrats are prepared to vote down the infrastructure bill if the larger spending bill isn't done. That means a cornerstone of Biden's agenda risks a humiliating defeat in the House if party leaders don't rapidly resolve a slew of differences among Democrats over price tag and policy in the bigger bill, which includes priorities like child cash payments, Medicare expansion, community college subsidies and tax increases on the wealthy. A House Democratic aide said party leaders remain confident that progressives will hold the line. Others doubt that they would tank a centerpiece of Biden's agenda in a bid for leverage over a different bill. Nine centrist Democrats led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., issued a joint statement Friday to rally support for the infrastructure bill and to remind Pelosi about her promise of a vote by Sept. 27. They said Congress "cannot afford to delay a single day." House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that Democrats are working to "make sure that we never get to that point" where the infrastructure bill could fail. "We are working with everybody in all corners of our party," he said. "They're trying to get to a common ground on all of these issues. And I feel very comfortable that we are going to get there." Clyburn said Democrats "ought to stop focusing on the number and start looking at what needs to be done" when it comes to the spending bill.

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Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

Anti-Trump group TV ad blasting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pulled before start of UT-Rice football game

A national television ad blasting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic that was slated to air during Saturday’s University of Texas vs. Rice University football game was pulled minutes before the contest started, according to the group that produced the television spot. Members of the Lincoln Project, a group of former and current members of the Republican Party who resist the polices of former President Donald Trump, are asking why the ad they produced and paid for didn’t air. The $25,000 spot was approved by ESPN’s legal department, a Lincoln Project spokesman said. “Despite being cleared by ESPN’s legal department, 10 minutes before kickoff, we were informed that the ad would not run,” according to a Lincoln Project statement. “When asked why, we were told it was a ‘University-made decision.’ Did Greg Abbott or his allies assert political influence to ensure the advertisement was not broadcast?”

A spokesman for Abbott said the governor had nothing to do with pulling the ad. Officials with the University of Texas could not immediately be reached for comment. Abbott is a University of Texas graduate. He appoints members of the school’s board of regents. “Once again, instead of focusing on the task of keeping Texans safe from the coronavirus pandemic, it appears they’ve focused their time and energy on censoring those that would hold him to account for his failures,” the statement read. “Indeed, multiple sources in Texas have informed us of the political panic inside the Governor’s office and campaign organization.” The television ad, named “Abbott’s Wall,” claims that if you made a wall from the caskets of Texans that died because of COVID-19, it would stretch from Austin to San Antonio. The ad features a gritty Texas landscape with captions that reveal dreadful coronavirus statistics. The commercial states that 3.8 million Texans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Of that total, 60,475 people have died. According to the ad, those deaths led to over 60,000 burials, with 85 miles of lumber used to make caskets.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Gov. Abbott will pick the Texas secretary of state, who gets vast new powers from GOP elections bill

The new GOP elections law gives broad new powers to the Texas secretary of state, and by extension Gov. Greg Abbott, who will choose its next leader. Whomever the Republican governor picks could shape Texas elections for years to come. When the law takes effect Dec. 2, the secretary of state will be newly empowered to fine counties up to $1,000 a day and to audit potentially years’ worth of their elections. The office will also have broader ability to pass on alleged voter fraud or missteps by election officials to the attorney general, who has made prosecuting election violations a top priority. The law leaves much of the rule-writing up to the secretary of state, so the office will have discretion in how it wields the new power.

“We’ve turned what’s largely an administrative function that does a little bit of training ... into this power center of regulatory heft and administrative fines,” said Adam Haynes of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties. The law’s backers say it makes sense for the secretary of state to have authority because it’s the highest election official in Texas. “The important thing is to find a path to make sure you have got good top-down guidelines for election processes,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. Overseeing elections is just one of the Texas secretary of state’s many tasks. But it’s increasingly becoming the most high profile as partisan battles over voting rights play out the national stage. Politics derailed Abbott’s most recent picks for secretary of state. Both of them failed to get confirmed by the state Senate. In 2019, Democrats blocked David Whitley’s nomination after he oversaw a botched attempt to purge voter rolls that wrongly flagged thousands of Texans as potential noncitizens. This year, the GOP-led Senate Nominations Committee never even considered Ruth Ruggero Hughs, who left the office in May. Republicans have not explained why they passed on Hughs. But Democrats speculate it was her office’s oversight of the 2020 election, which saw Houston’s Harris County roll out novel early-voting methods now banned by the new GOP-backed elections law. Abbott has yet to name a replacement. Spokeswoman Renae Eze said Abbott and his team continue to “carefully review all qualified applicants for Secretary of State to ensure the best representation for Texas.” Deputy Secretary of State Joe Esparza, a former Abbott staffer, is acting as interim. The office is still developing guidance for county election officials before the law kicks in later this year, spokesman Sam Taylor said.

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Associated Press - September 18, 2021

US launches mass expulsion of Haitian migrants from Texas

The U.S. flew Haitians camped in a Texas border town back to their homeland Sunday and tried blocking others from crossing the border from Mexico in a massive show of force that signaled the beginning of what could be one of America’s swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants or refugees in decades. More than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on three flights, and Haiti said six flights were expected Tuesday. In all, U.S. authorities moved to expel many of the more 12,000 migrants camped around a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after crossing from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. The only obvious parallel for such an expulsion without an opportunity to seek asylum was in 1992 when the Coast Guard intercepted Haitian refugees at sea, said Yael Schacher, senior U.S. advocate at Refugees International whose doctoral studies focused on the history of U.S. asylum law.

Central Americans have also crossed the border in comparable numbers without being subject to mass expulsion, although Mexico has agreed to accept them from the U.S. under pandemic-related authority in effect since March 2020. Mexico does not accept expelled Haitians or people of other nationalities outside of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. When the border was closed Sunday, the migrants initially found other ways to cross nearby until they were confronted by federal and state law enforcement. An Associated Press reporter saw Haitian immigrants still crossing the river into the U.S. about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) east of the previous spot, but they were eventually stopped by Border Patrol agents on horseback and Texas law enforcement officials. As they crossed, some Haitians carried boxes on their heads filled with food. Some removed their pants before getting into the river and carried them. Others were unconcerned about getting wet. Agents yelled at the migrants who were crossing in the waist-deep river to get out of the water. The several hundred who had successfully crossed and were sitting along the river bank on the U.S. side were ordered to the Del Rio camp. “Go now,” agents yelled. Mexican authorities in an airboat told others trying to cross to go back into Mexico.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Early voting starts Monday to fill House District 118 in San Antonio

Early voting in the special election to fill former state Rep. Leo Pacheco’s seat starts Monday at five polling sites. Five candidates — three Democrats and two Republicans — are seeking the House District 118 seat, which became vacant after Pacheco, 63, resigned last month to take a faculty job at San Antonio College. With only two weeks of campaigning and low turnout expected, Republicans are hoping to take the seat, which is in a traditional Democratic stronghold. The only time a Republican has won the South Side district was in the last special election, held in January 2016.

John Lujan, a retired firefighter, won that election with a margin of victory of 171 votes; 3,589 ballots were cast. He lost the seat in the general election held November 2016, when Pacheco won the seat back for the Democrats. Lujan is back, seeking to retake the seat. This time around, he’s facing fellow Republican Adam Salyer, a retired Army sergeant, and Democrats Katie Farias, a trustee for Southside Independent School District; attorney Desi Martinez; and Frank Ramirez, a former aide to City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval. If one of them doesn’t win a majority of all the votes cast, the election will go to a runoff between the two leaders. Election day is Sept. 28, but early voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2021

As COVID patients overcrowd hospitals, those with other medical issues wait for care

When Jazz Paz learned that the 93-year-old woman she takes care of waited 24 hours for a hospital bed, she choked back tears. The woman’s family hired Paz, a retired nurse, to be a companion for the woman back in February. Paz found her absolutely endearing. She laughed at her quick-wit, keenly listened to her childhood stories about living through the Great Depression and was impressed that someone her age was exercising daily. “Every day I was just amazed at how strong this woman was mentally and physically,” said Paz, 69, of Southwest Houston. “She didn't have any indications of being sick until she got this urinary tract infection.”

Given the woman’s age, her family and her doctor had pause about sending her to the hospital while the ICUs were near capacity, Paz said. Initially, they decided to treat her with antibiotics and keep her at home when she became ill. Data suggests that Paz and her client’s family’s decision wasn’t unfounded. About 98 percent of Texas ICU beds are full, and of those full beds 43 percent are used for COVID-19 patient, according to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, which oversees a 25-county hospital preparedness region including the Houston area. The majority of hospitalized COVID patients — 86 percent — are unvaccinated, according to the to the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation. Meanwhile, as hospitals across Texas and the nation fill and emergency rooms and ICUs are crowded with COVID patients, those with other medical needs, like Paz’s client, are left waiting. “We're still in a very dire situation, the hospitals are absolutely full, the emergency departments are full,” said Dr. David Persse, the chief medical officer for the city of Houston, where hospital occupancy closely reflects the state trend. In Harris County, 98 percent of beds are full, with COVID patients occupying 39 percent of those beds, according to SETRAC data as of Friday.

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Austin American-Statesman - September 18, 2021

Texas appeals court allows Round Rock school district's mask mandate to continue

A state appeals court has allowed the Round Rock school district to continue requiring masks on campus, as a lawsuit from Attorney General Ken Paxton over the district's mask mandate proceeds. A panel of judges from the 3rd Court of Appeals on Friday blocked a temporary order from state District Judge Rick Kennon that had prevented the school district from enforcing its mask mandate amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, Paxton had declared a victory after Kennon, a Republican in Williamson County, issued a temporary restraining order against the school district's mask requirement.

The Round Rock school district argued Kennon abused his discretion by issuing the order without a hearing, notification or explanation and asked the appeals court on Friday to put a hold on it. Judges Thomas Baker, Gisela Triana and Edward Smith, all Democrats, granted the school district's request and ordered the state to respond no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday. In an announcement late on Friday, Round Rock school district leaders said they plan to continue requiring masks. The Round Rock school board is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss and take possible action on the district's mask mandate, which was set to expire on Saturday after the board postponed the discussion because of tension and disruptions at a meeting last week. More than a hundred school districts are defying or have defied an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott that banned public schools from requiring masks in schools, according to a list from the attorney general's office. In response, Paxton sued school district leaders in Round Rock and Elgin, along with several other school districts.

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Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Despite ongoing debate over transgender rights, Black and brown leaders continue to care for Houston's trans communities

When the Legislature convenes Monday for its third special session, the main order of business is redrawing the state’s political boundaries for the next decade’s worth of elections. But tucked into Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda, again, is a bill that would bar transgender children from playing in school sports that align with their gender identity. Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, says his bill — which already failed to pass during the 87th legislative session and the two special sessions that followed — is about protecting competitive balance for cisgender girls, or those whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth. It is just the latest in a history of attempts to curtail the rights of transgender Texans, but for longtime advocates in Houston’s transgender community, it only reinforces their conviction in their causes and each other. In Texas, at least 14 transgender people were killed between 2017 and 2020, eight of whom were Black and four of whom were Latinx, according to the Transgender Law Center. That’s about 10 percent of the 139 transgender people who were killed nationwide in that time; Texas has just under 9 percent of the U.S. population.

Earlier this summer, Abbott successfuly pushed to have gender-affirming surgery for children redefined as “genital mutilation,” a characterization that goes against the longstanding wisdom of medical professionals. In 2015, Houston voters struck down the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance — which protected marginalized groups including transgender people from discrimination — after opponents stoked fears of transgender women using women’s restrooms. Neither Abbott nor Perry’s offices returned requests for comment. For transgender people in Houston, and especially people of color, the political attacks mean many have had to take matters into their own hands to keep themselves and their communities safe. Some choose to take their fight to lawmakers, while other tune out the political noise and focus on what they can do to help each other. “When people say I’m a trans advocate, I’m actually a human rights advocate. It just so happens that I’m trans and that population needs attention, and I have some privilege in that space to use my voice,” said Atlantis Narcisse, founder of Save Our Sisters United.

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Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Brett Perlman: Houston can lead 'Earthshot' to cheap, clean hydrogen

(Perlman is the president and CEO of Center for Houston’s Future, a nonprofit that brings business, government and community stakeholders together to engage in fact-based strategic planning, collaboration and action on issues of great importance to the region. The center receives donations from energy companies, but the views expressed here represent an independent assessment.) President John F. Kennedy delivered a bold vision in his historic Moonshot speech in Houston, 59 years ago this month: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Given our current turmoils we need to find similar inspiration to achieve great things in our own time. In Houston, our inspiration should be to transform energy, the area in which we’re globally recognized, and address climate change. Last June, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm made Houston her first visit outside the nation’s capital because she recognized the unique role our region can play in leading the energy transition.

The week following that visit, she announced her own Kennedyesque vision: an “Earthshot” to address climate change through new ambitious targets. The first is to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80 percent to $1 per kilogram in one decade. And to deploy it on a grand scale. At the Center for Houston’s Future, we believe that these events were no mere coincidence. As Granholm well understands, the world’s energy capital must answer her call if the country is to achieve this ambitious climate vision. Just as NASA used hydrogen as spacecraft fuel on moon missions, the first element can be employed for this new challenge. Hydrogen is a remarkably flexible element. Today, we use hydrogen to refine gasoline and create petrochemicals, but tomorrow we can convert it to a low-carbon fuel that can reduce our carbon emissions and decrease air pollution. As we innovate to reduce emissions and drive down production costs, we will also create new markets for hydrogen in steel and cement manufacturing and in energy storage and new global export markets. These will create a new low-carbon energy industry in Houston with good-paying jobs and significant economic growth potential. This vision is not without its detractors. Recently, some have criticized the drive to produce low-carbon “blue” hydrogen using natural gas combined with carbon capture technology as “greenwashing,” an industry subterfuge to perpetuate fossil fuels. They prefer “green” hydrogen produced with renewable energy through the process of electrolysis, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. Today, that’s both expensive and requires vast amounts of renewable energy, and therefore will take a decade-long “Earthshot” to make it competitive.

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Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Social Security and Medicare are in financial trouble, these people will save them

Social Security and Medicare trustees say these funds are running out of money, leaving older Americans to wonder who will finance their retirement. Most people have been paying into these trust funds throughout their working lives. While the monthly check from Social Security will be barely enough to live on, Medicare is the only way most of us can afford health care in old age. Decades of Congress playing three-card monte with our premiums, though, could leave us all losers.

“Social Security and Medicare both face long-term financing shortfalls under currently scheduled benefits and financing,” the trustees wrote in their 2021 report. “Both programs will experience cost growth substantially in excess of GDP growth through the mid-2030s due to rapid population aging. Medicare also sees its share of GDP grow through the late 2070s.” Social Security will pay out $2.4 trillion more than it takes in over the next decade. The program’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance only has 13 years left to insolvency. Disability Insurance is in better shape, currently forecast to last until 2057. When the accounts are combined, though, Social Security will run out of money in 2034, when the government will automatically reduce benefits by 22 percent. “Lawmakers have only a few years left to restore solvency to the program, and the longer they wait, the larger and more costly the necessary adjustments will be,” the conservative group Committee for a Responsible Budget said in its analysis. The fund for Medicare, the health insurance relied on by most Americans over 65, will run out of money in 2026, according to its trustees. Congress has not adequately funded the trusts since 2003, the report added. “Medicare’s costs under current law rise steadily from their current level of 4.0 percent of GDP in 2020 to 6.2 percent in 2045,” Medicare trustees report.

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Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Collin County deserves more from its sheriff

An improper police action. An anonymous whistleblower. An alleged cover-up. These aren’t the plot points of the latest Hollywood thriller. They’re all part of a real-life story that has been unfolding in Collin County for four years and is only now coming to light. We expect better transparency and accountability from Sheriff Jim Skinner, and residents should too. On Dec. 4, 2017, Collin County Deputy Sheriff Robert Merritt conducted a traffic stop along U.S. 75 north of McKinney. The motorist, a 45-year-old Black man named Ronnie Brown, was driving alone. He said he was on his way to the night shift at work, and that he was stopped for a missing light on his license plate. Riding along with Merritt was a civilian named Leos Drbohlav, a dog trainer who works with the department’s K-9 units. In dashcam footage of the stop, Drbohlav is seen wearing a tactical vest marked “POLICE” on front and back. He carries a holstered sidearm. Merritt and Drbohlav search Brown’s car, which Brown said he consented to. At one point, Merritt comes away from the car, leaving Drbohlav to search alone. Drbohlav is not a sworn peace officer.

According to multiple sources, he is from the Czech Republic and not an American citizen. We spoke to Drbohlav briefly by phone, but when we asked about his citizenship status, the line went dead. He has not responded to multiple attempts to contact him since then. Civilians are not allowed to pose as police officers or participate in police searches. The sheriff department’s own internal policy on ride-alongs forbids them to carry firearms, give the impression that they are police, use police equipment or participate in an investigation. The 2017 stop broke all those rules. In an email, Sheriff Jim Skinner called the incident a “mistake” that “should not have occurred.” Fortunately, any escalation was avoided once patrol Sgt. Russell Driver arrived. When he discovered what was happening, he said, he told Merritt to let Brown go. Then he reprimanded Merritt and Drbohlav and ordered the ride-along over, he told us.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2021

Attorney: Colleyville Heritage principal wasn’t told why contract may not be renewed

James Whitfield, the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School, will learn whether he will keep his job during a specially-called board meeting. Grapevine-Colleyville trustees will meet at 5 p.m. Monday at the school administration building, 3051 Ira E. Woods Avenue. Whitfield has been on paid administrative leave since late August, and last week, trustees were supposed to vote on whether to renew his contract, but the meeting was postponed because not enough board members could attend. David Henderson, an attorney who is representing Whitfield, said he and his client learned on Sept. 9 that the superintendent was going to recommend that the school board should vote against renewing Whitfield’s contract. Henderson described how Whitfield was not given specific reasons why officials did not want to renew the contract.

Whitfield received a document listing 34 possible reasons for “non-renewal.” The school district highlighted several which include: Deficiencies pointed out in observation reports, appraisals or evaluations, supplemental memoranda or other communications, insubordination or failure to comply with official directives and failure to meet the District’s standards of professional conduct. Henderson said Whitfield will receive an explanation after the school board votes, implying that his fate is already decided. “They refused to provide any specificities until after the board votes. They’re leaving him in the dark and they don’t provide any clarity,” Henderson said. Whitfield was called out publicly and accused of teaching and promoting critical race theory during the July 26 school board meeting. Publicly naming employees during a school board meeting goes against district policy. Whitfield wrote a lengthy Facebook post several days later saying he could no longer remain silent about racial attacks against him after he was publicly named at the meeting. The district told the Star-Telegram previously that Whitfield’s being placed on administrative leave is a personnel matter, and that it had nothing to do with accusations that he taught critical race theory or photos he posted showing him with his wife on the beach while celebrating their anniversary. Henderson said serving as principal at Colleyville Heritage is more than a job to Whitfield. “Right now, this is his life. The district is treating this just like this is just his job. But when you are a principal, this is not a 9 to 5 job. You live in the community and your kids go to school here; the decent thing to do is provide more clarity,” Henderson said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2021

Military plane crashes in Lake Worth neighborhood; 2 pilots injured, 3 homes damaged

Two military pilots were seriously injured when they ejected from their plane before it crashed into the back yard of a home in North Texas during a training exercise Sunday morning. No residents in the neighborhood, off Tejas Trail in Lake Worth, were injured, authorities said at a press conference Sunday afternoon. But families were displaced from three homes that had significant damage. One of the pilot’s parachutes became tangled in power lines, and the other pilot landed in a nearby neighborhood, authorities said. Both pilots were taken to local hospitals, one in critical condition and the other in serious condition, according to a MedStar official. Two neighbors said they saw one pilot’s flight suit catch fire. The names of the pilots have not been released.

The Navy jet crashed in a back yard between the 4000 blocks of Tejas Trail and Dakota Trail shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday, according to Lake Worth police. The neighborhood is near the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, in an area that the military has identified as a potential accident zone, because of its proximity to where planes take off and land, police said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. The cause of the crash is under investigation. A statement on the Chief of Naval Air Training Facebook page said it was a Navy T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft assigned to Training Air Wing 2 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, that crashed in Lake Worth, about two miles north of Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. “The two occupants ejected from the aircraft,” the Navy’s statement said. “The instructor pilot is in stable condition; the student naval aviator was reported in serious condition – his injuries were not life threatening. Both were transported to medical facilities for evaluation.” “The pilots were conducting a routine training flight that originated from Corpus Christi International Airport,” the statement said. “The cause of the crash is unknown.”

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Vox - September 18, 2021

The Texas GOP sees Haitian migrants in crisis as a political opportunity

Amid an influx of Haitian migrants, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to stir up fear about a crisis at the border yet again. On Thursday, he said that he had ordered state troopers and the Texas National Guard to “shut down six points of entry along the southern border” at the direction of federal immigration authorities as thousands of Haitian migrants await their turn to enter the US under an international bridge in the city of Del Rio in southwest Texas. But Abbott backtracked just hours later, claiming that the Biden administration had “flip-flopped” on its request for state assistance. The Department of Homeland Security has said that it isn’t asking Texas for help in shutting down ports of entry and that it would be a “violation of federal law for the Texas National Guard to unilaterally do so.” The situation in Del Rio — where more than 12,000 migrants are camping in increasingly squalid conditions without adequate access to water, food, and sanitation — is growing dire from a humanitarian perspective. Most of these migrants are from Haiti and plan to seek asylum in the US, as is their right under federal and international law.

In just the last few months, Haiti has suffered from a political crisis stemming from President Jovenel Moïse’s July assassination, resultant gang violence, and the one-two punch of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake and a tropical storm that left about 2,200 dead and many thousands more injured or missing. Those conditions appear to have driven more Haitians to make the treacherous journey to the US border: Federal immigration authorities have encountered more than 30,000 Haitians this fiscal year, nearly six times the number encountered over the previous fiscal year. But Abbott has sought to twist that humanitarian crisis into a security crisis designed to appeal to Republican voters in his state, who have long identified immigration and border security as top priorities in public opinion polling. He told the Texas Tribune that he was trying to “stop these [migrant] caravans from overrunning our state” and described US Customs and Border Protection agents as “overwhelmed by the chaos.” That’s in line with his recent rhetoric trying to demonize migrants arriving on the southern border as lawbreakers and carriers of disease. Other Texas Republicans have followed suit, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who warned during a Fox News segment on Friday of an “invasion” of migrants who could “take over our country without firing a shot.”

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San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Roger C. Barnes: Under Abbott, state in Human Rights Hall of Shame

State executions, criminalization of homelessness, imprisonment of debtors, systemic racism, abuse of immigrants. These are not simply moral ills or social problems. More deeply, they are human rights violations. And Texas knows its fair share of such violations. The concept of human rights took on a sense of urgency following World War II and the atrocities of the Holocaust. On Dec. 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, setting forth a person’s “basic rights and fundamental freedoms.” The declaration lists 30 articles that apply to every person. It includes the freedom of movement and residence, freedom of education, right to property, right of peaceful assembly, and the rights of conscience, religion, opinion and expression.

Importantly, it declares the right to equal pay for equal work, and the right to an adequate standard of living, including medical care and freedom from torture. Further, no one should be subjected to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The drafting committee for the declaration consisted of an international group chaired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There was no dissenting vote when the U.N. adopted the declaration. The U.S., never reluctant to lecture other countries — China, North Korea, Russia, Cuba — on their human rights violations, does not itself have a very good record on human rights. The Human Rights Measurement Initiative tracks 13 rights in three categories: civil and political rights, safety from the state, and economic and social rights. The scores for the U.S. are “worse than average” compared to other high-income countries in the latest report. The HRMI notes, “Our research shows that if the United States used its existing resources better, millions more Americans could be enjoying their basic human rights.” It is no wonder the HRMI says that “human rights defenders fight an uphill battle” in the U.S.

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Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Abby M. McCloskey: Why Texas pro-life Republicans should support paid family leave

(Abby M. McCloskey is the founder of McCloskey Policy LLC and a former campaign policy director for Howard Schultz and Rick Perry.) Pro-life Republicans in Texas have put forward a law that makes abortion illegal after six weeks of pregnancy. Regardless of your view on that law, there’s another opportunity to protect all newborns and their families in the early days following birth, and one that engenders broad support. An infant comes into the world with no resources other than her parents. She has no savings. She can’t care for herself or feed herself. Her own central nervous system can’t even regulate itself outside of close, bodily contact with her parents. Yet America is the only country in the developed world that does not protect the early weeks and months of a newborn’s life by ensuring that all parents, irrespective of income or job, can be home with their children during this critical time of healing, bonding and development.

We have no national paid family leave policy. Businesses don’t provide paid time off after birth either; fewer than 1 in 5 workers have access to paid family leave from employers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While some workers patch together vacation days and sick days to help cover the time, 40% of workers and 80% of low-wage workers do not receive any paid leave upon the birth of a child, according to an Abt Associate survey. Forty percent of all workers don’t even have job protection following the birth of a child from the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to the Department of Labor, meaning that an already physically, emotionally and financially taxing event can also be accompanied with job loss. As a result, nearly 1 in 4 women go back to work within two weeks of childbirth, according to a Department of Labor survey. Unsurprisingly, this is associated with a host of downsides, including reduced rates of breastfeeding, one of the highest neonatal fatalities rate in the developed world, maternal depression and more. Some states have taken action to change that, passing paid family leave policies of their own over the last decade. Congress, too, is debating a paid leave policy, which could be used for paid parental leave, embedded in its $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. (There’s a lot to take issue with in the legislation, but allowing all parents to spend early weeks with their babies is not one of them.) But Texas doesn’t need to wait on Washington to pass its own statewide paid parental leave policy. Especially considering the good it would do for infants and their families.

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Austin American-Statesman - September 20, 2021

University of Texas hits record undergraduate Hispanic student enrollment

The University of Texas hit a record percentage of Hispanic undergraduate students enrolled this year, surpassing for a second year the threshold that qualifies the institution for federal money designated for schools with significant numbers of Hispanic students. The number of Hispanic students at UT has steadily increased over the past decade. In 2011, about 20% of undergraduate students at UT identified as Hispanic, compared with 27.1%, or 11,087 undergraduate students, this year, according to new enrollment data obtained by the American-Statesman. Luis Zayas, co-chair of UT’s Hispanic Serving Institution Transition Committee, said Hispanic enrollment has grown as more Hispanic high school students become eligible for admission and university officials engage in outreach with students around Texas.

“We have been very active in building a presence throughout the state, and our leaders have gone to the various parts of the state, whether it's the (Rio Grande) Valley, West Texas or Central Texas, to really show that we care and we're interested,” said Zayas, dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. UT surpassed 25% Hispanic undergraduate enrollment for the first time last year, qualifying the school as a Hispanic Serving Institution. This year, after meeting that designation again, UT will be eligible to apply for three grants offered by the U.S. Department of Education focused on enhancing the quality of such institutions, increasing the number of Hispanic students in STEM fields and expanding post-baccalaureate opportunities for Hispanic students. Deborah Parra-Medina, a Hispanic Serving Institution Transition Committee member and director of the Latino Research Initiative at UT, said being named a Hispanic Serving Institution is important for UT to show the community that it is committed to providing high-quality education that values the Latino experience along with other student experiences. “Many of the strategies that we design or implement often positively impact other students as well, such as first-generation students or students who are financially disadvantaged,” said Parra-Medina, a Mexican American and Latina/o Studies professor. “I think people think it's exclusively about the Latino experience, but actually, it does benefit large aspects of the university population.”

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KHOU - September 18, 2021

Doctor accused of stealing vaccine plans to sue Harris County, CBS News has learned

A Houston-area doctor says he was punished for trying to save lives and he is ready to strike back. Dr. Hasan Gokal was fired from his job and charged with a crime in 2020 after giving out COVID vaccine doses that were about to expire. This was at the end of last year, when vaccine doses were often scarce and appointments hard to find. CBS Morning's lead national correspondent David Begnaud has learned that Dr. Gokal plans to sue the Harris County Public Health District that fired him.

Dr. Gokal was charged with theft by a public servant, but a judge threw the case out, saying there was no proof of theft. The Texas Medical Board later cleared the doctor of any wrongdoing and a Harris County grand jury declined to indict him in June. Begnaud was told by sources that in the lawsuit, which is expected to be filed in the next 72 hours, Dr. Gokal will claim he was discriminated against on the basis of race and national origin when he was fired. The suit will reportedly seek damages in excess of $1 million for what Dr. Gokal claims is mental anguish, economic loss and loss of reputation. This story gained international attention when it broke, but the headlines were not as prominent and glaring when the criminal case that District Attorney Kim Ogg brought against the doctor fell apart. “Tell folks why did what you did,” Begnaud asked Dr. Gokal. “I did what a physician would do which is take resources for patients and give it to them instead of throwing it away and that’s why it was so infuriating,” he said. The doctor, who headed up HCPHD's first COVID-19 vaccine rollout, said there was no protocol for what to do with leftover vaccine. Instead, he chose to follow what the Texas Department of State Health Services suggests frontline workers do with doses at risk of expiring.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2021

Bad blood has developed between Dan Crenshaw and Lizzie Fletcher. How did we get here?

Ever since Republican Dan Crenshaw and Democrat Lizzie Fletcher entered Congress together in early 2019, the Houston-area representatives have avoided clashes with one another while occasionally issuing joint press releases that contain mutual praise. But that all changed Monday during an exchange that drew in at least three other members of Congress, brought a rebuke from a House committee chairman and resulted in Crenshaw taking to Twitter to slam Fletcher on an entirely unrelated point. It started when an agitated Crenshaw attacked some Democrats during a marathon meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is working on the massive “Build Back Better” spending bill that Democrats are pushing. Republicans offered an amendment that could have potentially blocked 911 funding for police in states where cities have considered reducing funding for law enforcement, as the city of Austin did last year after the death of George Floyd.

After several Democrats objected to the amendment as political theater, Crenshaw went off on them like he was on a radio talk show. The former Navy SEAL, a regular on conservative talk shows who has a big presence on social media, accused Democrats of lying and said they and their policies were the reasons for a rise in crime in American cities. In Fletcher, Crenshaw couldn’t have drawn a more different combatant. During her time in Congress, Fletcher has typically worked behind the scenes, rarely doing national television interviews and often using social media to offer nonpartisan takes on issues. But there she was on Monday immediately calling out Crenshaw for engaging in nonserious partisan “gotcha” tactics. Crenshaw started it all when he explained why Republicans wanted to make Democrats vote on a Defund the Police amendment. “This amendment is common sense, just like all the previous amendments,” Crenshaw said. “They expose the hypocrisy and contradictions that are present on the other side of the aisle. That is the purpose of this, to expose how insane this actually is. To expose the reality that if a city is defunding the police, they probably don’t need more money for 911 centers, now do they?” Crenshaw didn’t stop there. “So spare me the outrage on the other side because we’re for exposing what your side says all the time,” Crenshaw said, raising his voice.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - September 19, 2021

Fire at Georgetown pet resort kills all 75 dogs inside Saturday night

A pet boarding facility caught fire Saturday night in Georgetown, killing all 75 dogs inside and raising a number of questions investigators vowed to answer in the days ahead. Just before 11 p.m., crews with the Georgetown Fire Department were dispatched after receiving calls about a fire at the Ponderosa Pet Resort. The facility is east of Interstate 35 on North Austin Avenue. Fire Chief John Sullivan said firefighters arrived within five minutes and discovered "the worst possible scenario," with heavy smoke and the presence of fire. No people were present.

Speaking to reporters from KVUE and other media outlets Sunday morning, Sullivan said he did not know what caused the fire or where in the building it originated. He said those answers could come in another week or so. He did note that the boarding facility is not required by local, state or federal laws to have a sprinkler system due to the size and use of the building. At that time, Sullivan said he did not have a breakdown of the different types of animals that were present when the blaze erupted. Later in the day, the city released a statement saying all of the animals killed were dogs and that arrangements are being made for owners to retrieve the remains. The resort's owner, Phillip Paris, did not respond to a message Sunday seeking comment. The city's statement said Paris is cooperating with the investigation. According to the city's statement, the dogs probably died of smoke inhalation, not burns.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2021

SAWS closer to controlling where treated wastewater it discharges goes

A permit application submitted in 2013 by the San Antonio Water System to control 50,000 acre-feet of treated water per year discharged into the San Antonio River is in the approval process’s final stages. And the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority is still seeking to derail it. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has issued a draft “Bed and Banks” permit that SAWS has sought for environmental and economic purposes. In Texas, groundwater is privately owned while surface water belongs to the state, and such a permit authorizes the use a stream’s beds and banks to transport water.

If granted, the permit would allow the city-owned water company to maintain control of water withdrawn from the Edwards Aquifer after it’s used and discharged into the San Antonio River as treated effluent — in essence, using the river as a natural pipeline to move that water downstream. SAWS’ Bed and Banks permit application is unique in that unlike other permit holders that move treated water downstream for irrigation, SAWS is seeking to safeguard its water from being withdrawn by others. During very dry periods, the San Antonio River can reach low levels that threaten its downstream ecosystem, the San Antonio Bay and estuaries along the coast. For several years, SAWS has voluntarily discharged treated water into the river — critical to maintaining its health when its flow is reduced. But there’s no legal protection to ensure the water remains instream, said Greg Eckhardt, a senior analyst with production and treatment operations at SAWS. “Anyone downstream could divert the water for their own purposes,” Eckhardt said. If approved, SAWS’ permit will protect this flow all the way to the bay in perpetuity. “We just want to make sure we have ownership and control over all existing and future discharges of our groundwater,” Eckhardt said.

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Austin American-Statesman - September 17, 2021

Austin's jobless rate falls to 3.8%, lowest since pandemic began

In the latest sign that Austin's economic recovery from COVID-19 is pushing ahead, the area's unemployment rate last month fell to its lowest point since the pandemic hit. The jobless rate in the Austin metro area came in at 3.8% in August, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That's down from 4.2% in July and 5.5% in August 2020. The metro area numbers are from Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties. Employers in the region added 1,400 jobs last month, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, bringing total nonfarm employment to 1.24 million — about even with the number of people employed in the Austin area in February 2020, just before COVID-19 pummeled the economy nationwide.

Nearly 140,000 local nonfarm jobs were shed in March and April last year amid the initial shock of the pandemic. Austin's current jobless rate signals how far the recovery has come since last year, when unemployment hit a pandemic peak of about 12% in April 2020. After that peak, the jobless rate spent months hovering in a monthly range of about 5% to 6% — roughly double pre-pandemic levels since the area's jobless rate had been 2.6% in February 2020. The Austin metro area's unemployment rate remains below Texas and national rates, which both stand at 5.3%, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. The rapid comeback in comparison with past downturns is not surprising, said Ray Perryman, an economist based in Waco. The pandemic "was an entirely different animal" because there were no big speculative bubbles or structural issues that are seen in a typical downturn. Austin's jobless rate falls to 3.8%, lowest since pandemic began Lori Hawkins Austin American-Statesman In the latest sign that Austin's economic recovery from COVID-19 is pushing ahead, the area's unemployment rate last month fell to its lowest point since the pandemic hit. The jobless rate in the Austin metro area came in at 3.8% in August, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That's down from 4.2% in July and 5.5% in August 2020. The metro area numbers are from Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties. Employers in the region added 1,400 jobs last month, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, bringing total nonfarm employment to 1.24 million — about even with the number of people employed in the Austin area in February 2020, just before COVID-19 pummeled the economy nationwide. More:Texas economy faces hurdles, but growth still in the forecast More:Austin's jobless rate fell to 4.2% in July, lowest since COVID struck More:$180 million project envisioned for Hill's Cafe site in South Austin Floor manager Casey Langford, left, and owner Suzy Ranney, stock shelves at Paper Place on North Lamar Boulevard. Austin's unemployment rate fell to 3.8% in August. A tight job market has put pressure on employers to raise wages, economists say. Nearly 140,000 local nonfarm jobs were shed in March and April last year amid the initial shock of the pandemic. Austin's current jobless rate signals how far the recovery has come since last year, when unemployment hit a pandemic peak of about 12% in April 2020. After that peak, the jobless rate spent months hovering in a monthly range of about 5% to 6% — roughly double pre-pandemic levels since the area's jobless rate had been 2.6% in February 2020. The Austin metro area's unemployment rate remains below Texas and national rates, which both stand at 5.3%, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. The rapid comeback in comparison with past downturns is not surprising, said Ray Perryman, an economist based in Waco. The pandemic "was an entirely different animal" because there were no big speculative bubbles or structural issues that are seen in a typical downturn. "Obviously, this report is encouraging overall," Perryman said. "The state and the Austin area continue to gain jobs, and the growth is relatively diverse. The strength in business and professional services is a distinct positive aspect of the report, as it indicates that offices are opening and resuming more normal activity." However, the outlook will depend on whether the COVID-19 delta variant can be brought under control, he said.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

San Antonio community icon Joe Webb Sr. dies at 86

Joe Webb Sr., a former San Antonio city councilman and longtime community leader on the East Side, died Saturday. He was 86 years old. Webb died of complications from kidney failure at Metropolitan Methodist Hospital, according to his son, Vincent Dee Webb of San Antonio. He served as District 2 city councilman from 1977 through 1991 and was the first official elected to that seat, after the city council elections went from at-large seats to 10 districts to ensure equal representation. Webb also opened the city’s first Black-owned, full-service grocery store, WebbWay, at 2145 E. Houston St. in the early 1980s, said his niece, Lisa Jackson of San Antonio. Described as the “people's man,” Webb was known to talk with constituents over the counter of his store and make the rounds of East Side churches.

Webb also helped establish the city’s famous Martin Luther King Jr. March, one of the largest in the nation. And he helped to secure the Alamodome, his family said. In 1992, the city renamed the Durango Bridge after him, which is still known today as the Joe Webb Bridge. “Uncle Joe and all of those of his generation are icons,” Jackson said Sunday. “And they are standard bearers ... So when you look back at Uncle Joe, you smile — you have pride. We had actual leadership during that period of time, which we’re severely lacking today. Uncle Joe was a groundbreaking leader.” She noted her uncle regularly engaged with people face to face, shook their hands and rode the bus. Webb’s death is “the passing of an era,” Jackson said. “There’s a passing of responsibility — of community responsibility.” Webb and his colleagues on the City Council “weren’t career politicians,” she said. “They weren’t making speeches for soundbites, and they weren’t putting up polls for clicks and likes and followers. They actually had to do the work in the community to earn the vote and to lead the people.” Webb is survived by his wife, Barbara, and four children.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: SA Council freshmen rebel against the city budget process

City Council budget-approval sessions tend to be predictable and dull. Council members inevitably praise city staff for all their hard work and express pride over the new budget, which they describe as a righteous document. This year was different. The council has four new members and three of them — Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, Teri Castillo and Mario Bravo — are insurgents elevated to the dais by progressives, with the understanding that their mission is to disrupt complacency, shake up the protocol, challenge old assumptions and afflict the comfortable. At both Wednesday’s final budgetary work session and Thursday’s budget-approval session, the three freshmen were in their full glory.

McKee-Rodriguez, a former high-school math teacher, employed his arithmetic skills to argue against the proposed $15 million increase in the city’s police budget, a hike of more than 3 percent. The East Side councilman pointed out that if the city increased its police funding by 3 percent annually over the next decade, in 10 years we’d be facing a police budget $172 million bigger than where it currently stands. Given that a recent state law all but negated the possibility of big cities reducing their police budgets, even small annual increases essentially become locked in and irreversible. McKee-Rodriguez introduced a budget amendment that would have trimmed $5.7 million from the proposed police budget increase, with the thought that the funding could be used to give residents property tax relief. It was a small gesture, an attempt to repurpose less than half of 1 percent of San Antonio’s general-fund budget. But its bigger purpose was to break the chain of municipal rote thinking when it comes to police funding. McKee-Rodriguez’s amendment failed by an 8-3 vote. Unsurprisingly, the three votes of support came from McKee-Rodriguez, Bravo and Castillo.

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KUT - September 17, 2021

Ideology, not access, is keeping people from getting vaccinated, Austin Health officials say

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Austin area were on the decline earlier this week, but health officials say those numbers appear to be plateauing, or leveling off — a sign the community needs to redouble its efforts to slow the spread of the virus. The five-county region is seeing an average of 55 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day, down from a peak of 84 in mid-August. Still, that number keeps Austin in Stage 5, the highest level of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines. “We are close to that Stage 4 threshold, and we can do it again by continuing to do what we know works,” Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said during a news conference Friday. “Wearing masks, getting vaccinated, staying home when we’re sick, and if we do test positive, getting in touch with a health care provider and seeing if we’re eligible for monoclonal antibody therapy.”

The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the region is at 537, which is down from the all-time-high of 653 on Aug. 25. But the number of people in intensive care units continues to exceed the region’s ICU-bed capacity. Walkes said the region — which consists of Travis, Hays, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties — has an ICU capacity of 200 beds. As of Thursday, though, the region had 229 ICU patients. That's causing congestion at hospitals, Walkes said; people are being cared for in unconventional spaces and patients are waiting for care on stretchers in hallways. Walkes said COVID-19 patients are needing to stay in the ICU longer than during previous surges because of the delta variant, which is causing more severe disease than previous variants. Health care providers have been stretching their staff and resources to meet the demand of COVID-19 patients, the majority of whom are not vaccinated, she said. But the high number of patients means people with other health issues, like strokes and heart attacks, are having to wait to get the help they need, which can be fatal. “We’re reaching that point where we … [are] assessing who needs to have the care first and where they need to be in order to have that care,” Walkes said. Nine months after COVID-19 vaccines were introduced into the Austin community, health officials are continuing to implore people to get vaccinated. Just under 70% of people eligible for the vaccine in Travis County are fully vaccinated against the virus. But surrounding counties, which also rely on Austin’s hospital systems, have lower rates.

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National Stories

Washington Post - September 20, 2021

Senate parliamentarian rules against immigration measure in budget bill

The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that Democrats’ bid to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants through a $3.5 trillion budget package — which would have allowed them to leverage their slim majority to overcome Republican opposition — is “not appropriate” for that type of measure. Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan arbiter of the Senate’s rules, advised against including immigration in the budget bill more than a week after she heard arguments from Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Her decision is a blow to Democrats’ plans to create a path to legal residency, and then U.S. citizenship, for as many as 8 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including many who have lived here for years. The last major legalization was a bipartisan bill signed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.

MacDonough had to decide whether giving citizenship to immigrants was primarily a budget matter, enough to merit being included in the proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which would require a simple majority to pass the Senate instead of the usual 60-vote threshold. That normal process would require GOP support. But she found that granting legal residency to millions of immigrants would be a “tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact.” She warned that such a move would “set a precedent” that could also expose any immigrant to losing their legal status through the same type of legislation. “That would be a stunning development but a logical outgrowth of permitting this proposed change in reconciliation and is further evidence that the policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation,” she wrote. Her ruling could foreclose legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants via the budget reconciliation package, which progressive Democrats have said they want to pass together with a bipartisan infrastructure package.

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Washington Post - September 20, 2021

Biden seeks a phone call with France’s Macron to calm the waters

President Biden is pressing to set up a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron in coming days, U.S. officials said Sunday, hoping to end a frantic stretch of public snubs and behind-the-scenes exchanges between the two allies. The two leaders have not spoken since French leaders erupted last week at Biden’s announcement that the United States was forming a new defense alliance with Australia and the United Kingdom focused on the Indo-Pacific. As part of the deal, the United States will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia, prompting the Australians to drop a $66 billion submarine contract with France. U.S. officials acknowledged Sunday that they have been surprised by the strength of France’s reaction, which included abruptly recalling its ambassador from Washington last week. They privately attributed the spat largely to internal French politics as Macron seeks reelection but said they were nonetheless working urgently to tamp down the flare-up and avoid further inflaming a close ally.

One U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations, said national security adviser Jake Sullivan met face to face with French Ambassador Phillipe Etienne on Thursday and Friday. Friday’s visit was to inform Sullivan of the ambassador’s immediate recall, and Etienne left Washington hours later. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, attempted to set up a phone call with his French counterpart, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, to describe the U.S.-U.K.-Australia deal before it was announced, but American officials said the French told them that they were unable to schedule a call. Officials at the White House and State Department predicted that relations would warm up again after the French have made their displeasure known, saying they expected the French ambassador to return to Washington in the coming weeks. One French official said the recall for consultations was likely to last at least a week. The ambassador’s departure “should not be interpreted as a major rift in the bilateral relationship,” said one U.S. official, who spoke on the anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Paris also recalled its ambassador to Australia. U.S. officials noted that the collapse of the submarine deal is a significant economic blow to France’s important defense industry, suggesting that the French government had to signal its frustration to the country’s voters. “It’s a difficult situation, but we’ll manage it,” the U.S. official said.

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NBC News - September 20, 2021

Trump won these counties big. His supporters question the results there, too.

Former President Donald Trump won Mesa County, Colorado, by 28 points in last fall's election. In Barry County, Michigan, he won by more than 32 points. And in Lander County, Nevada, his victory was in excess of 61 points. Yet in each county, Republican officials have sought to further investigate those results and, in some cases, suggested they may not be accurate. That's despite no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election there or elsewhere. With denial of President Joe Biden's victory at the core of the pro-Trump movement, demands for partisan election investigations styled after the one authorized by Republicans in Arizona — focused in a county Biden won — have proliferated. Now, a push to revisit November's results is underway or being called for in at least nine counties Trump won by more than 24 points.

The trend is symptomatic of the increasingly entrenched idea among the Trump base that elections are rigged and not to be trusted — a lie Trump continues to vigorously promote and which has become a litmus test for GOP officials at all levels of government. A recent CNN poll found that nearly 6-in-10 Republicans say believing this false claim is important to their partisan identity. Some county officials have taken increasingly irregular steps to probe the prior election while others face pressure at rowdy local government meetings from groups demanding such investigations. Experts say this is another flashing red light for the state of U.S. elections. The growing trend of unorthodox election reviews "demonstrates that the Big Lie is getting bigger," Jena Griswold, a Democrat who serves as Colorado's secretary of state, told NBC News, referring to Trump's baseless and unceasing claims that massive fraud prevented him from winning a second term. "The threat to democracy is increasing." The county efforts are happening on a parallel track to partisan reviews launched by or in conjunction with state legislatures in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, reviews that largely stray from typical vote-auditing procedure and have sometimes involved private firms with little relevant experience or expertise. Partially for those reasons, these reviews in solidly red counties have not been immune to skepticism from fellow local GOP officials — including those who run elections.

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NBC News - September 20, 2021

Pfizer says its COVID vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 5 to 11

Pfizer-BioNTech said on Monday that the companies' two-dose Covid-19 vaccine was safe and showed a "robust" antibody response in children ages 5 to 11. Based on data collected in a trial that included more than 2,000 children, Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, said in a press release that the vaccine was "safe, well-tolerated, and showed robust neutralizing antibody responses" for this age group. No Covid vaccines have yet been authorized or approved for use in children under 12. According to Pfizer-BioNTech, the children in the trial were given two smaller doses of the vaccine than those given to people 12 and older. The companies said that it produced antibody responses, and side effects, in children that were comparable to those seen in a study of people 16 to 25 who received the full dose of the vaccine.

More than 466.5 million Covid vaccine doses have been given in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech is one of three in use in the U.S., along with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Around 12.7 million children under the age of 18, or around 54 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds, have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics analysis of CDC data as of Sept. 15. In August, the AAP recommended against giving the vaccine to children under 12 until it was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer-BioNTech said they will now submit their data from the trial to the FDA for emergency use authorization. They are also testing the vaccine in children under five and expect results from that trial by the end of the year. Pfizer first applied for emergency use authorization for its vaccine for adults in November. The FDA granted full approval to the two-dose vaccine in August for those ages 16 and up. It was the first Covid vaccine to pass this final regulatory hurdle. The vaccine is currently given to 12-to-15-year-olds under the FDA's emergency use authorization. The news comes as Covid cases have surged in the U.S. in recent months. In total, nearly 5.3 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for Covid since the onset of the pandemic, or around 15 percent of all cases as of Sept. 9, according to the AAP. More than 243,000 cases were added that week alone, the second highest number of child cases recorded in a week since the pandemic began. Concerned with rising cases in children, the head of the AAP wrote in August to the FDA to work "aggressively" toward authorizing a Covid vaccine for children under age 12. Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, whose Covid vaccines are in use in the U.S., are also researching the effects of their Covid vaccines in pediatric trials.

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CNBC - September 17, 2021

After years of being ‘squeaky clean,’ the Federal Reserve is surrounded by controversy

The Federal Reserve has a big meeting on tap this week, one that will be held under the cloud of an ethical dilemma and will be run by a policymaking committee that finds itself with fairly pronounced divisions about the path ahead. Markets largely expect the Fed to follow the two-day session with no major decisions, but rather just the first but significant nods that the historically easy pandemic-era accommodation is coming to an end soon if slowly. “Tapering” will be the word of the day when the post-meeting statement is issued Wednesday, at which time individual officials also will release their forecasts on the future arc of interest rates as well as economic growth and inflation. All of that will be set against a backdrop of controversy: News reports in recent days indicate that Fed officials have been trading stocks and bonds that could be influenced at least indirectly by their policy decisions.

For the normally staid Fed, the present circumstances are unusual and could yield some interesting dynamics. “I think it’s embarrassing for the Fed. It had such a squeaky-clean reputation,” Greg Valliere, chief U.S. policy strategist at AGF Investments, said of the trading controversy that largely involved regional presidents Robert Kaplan of Dallas and Eric Rosengren of Boston. “But I don’t think it’s going to change policy in any regard at all. I think it will be rearview mirror pretty soon, assuming there’s no other shoe to drop.” Valliere did note the issue will help fuel Fed critics such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who had been a vocal detractor of the Fed’s looser regulatory approach in the years since the 2008-09 financial crisis. More than that, though, the Fed lives on its credibility, and some of the recent problems could dent that. There’s the market credibility issue – Wall Street and investors need to believe that the Fed is at least mostly unified in its monetary policy approach to setting interest rates and associated moves that have market impact. Then there’s the public credibility – at a time when faith in Washington’s institutions has plunged, ethical missteps only add to that and can have repercussions, especially at such a delicate time.

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NPR - September 19, 2021

How Ivermectin became the new focus of the anti-vaccine movement

Through July and August, Julie Smith watched her husband Jeffrey get worse and worse from COVID-19. In early July, the healthy, 51-year-old outdoorsman had tested positive for the coronavirus. Within a week, he was admitted to the intensive care unit at a hospital near their home, in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. The hospital treated him with antiviral drugs, convalescent plasma and steroids, but he continued to decline. Weeks later he was on a ventilator, in a medically induced coma — "on death's doorstep," Smith wrote in a legal complaint filed August 20. Smith felt the hospital had given up on her husband, but she could not, according to the complaint. After doing research on the internet, she sued the hospital to require it to treat her husband with ivermectin — an inexpensive anti-parasitic drug that's been used to cure animals and people from worms and lice since the 1980s. U.S. health authorities and most doctors do not recommend using it to prevent or treat COVID-19, citing a lack of clear evidence on whether the drug works.

Yet myths and beliefs around the drug have taken on a life of their own, fueled by a small group of doctors whose views diverge from the medical consensus, by right wing commentators and by internet groups where people share tips on sourcing and dosing. That people like Smith, and a handful of other families of COVID-19 patients, are turning to the courts to enforce treatment with the drug, shows how heated the debate over ivermectin has come to be in the U.S. "There's misinformation on both sides," says Jennifer Granston, head of insights at Zignal Labs, a firm that conducts data analysis on internet trends. She cited inflated, unsubstantiated claims of both the drug's efficacy and its harms. "At the end of the day, does this medication help COVID patients or does it not? That's a scientific issue." How did a science question about the efficacy of an inexpensive, everyday drug become an inflamed public morality debate — where people on both sides believe the wrong position could cost lives? It's a tale that spans science and politics, pitting health officials against celebrities and communal responsibilities against individual rights. And it's a debate that public health experts worry could prolong the pandemic, as individuals forgo vaccines and proven prevention measures and instead take up alternative treatments that may not be effective.

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Newsclips - September 19, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

North Texas is ground zero for looming fight over how to draw legislative, congressional boundaries

State lawmakers Monday are convening to redraw Texas’ legislation and congressional boundaries, an exercise that will likely bolster the Republican dominance in the state, and—if history is a guide—lead to lawsuits that will claim that the new maps are discriminatory. North Texas is an important region in the process. The area could get one of the two new congressional districts earmarked for the fast-growing state. Additionally, the makeup of the area’s delegation to the Legislature could change, since Republicans are looking to expand their majorities in the House and Senate. Expect a big fight over Senate District 10, where incumbent Democrat Beverly Powell of Burleson is in a seat that Senate Republicans are trying to make more favorable for the GOP. On Saturday, Senate officials released a tentative plan that gives the GOP a chance of at least 19 and potentially 20 seats in the 31-member upper chamber. The proposed new boundaries make it nearly impossible for Powell to get elected. Republicans hold a 18-13 advantage in the Senate.

“The proposed State Senate map is a direct assault on the voting rights of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and, if adopted, it would be an intentional act of discrimination,” Powell said Saturday in a statement. She pointed out that the new proposal would disenfranchise Black, Hispanic and Asian voters that currently have a strong voice in the district. In order to make Senate District 10 a GOP district, Republicans have proposed removing Black and Hispanic voters in the south, east and north to nearby districts, where their voting clout would be diminished. If the plan is approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, voting rights activists will pursue legal action. The new Senate proposal also bolsters Collin County’s Senate District 8 for the GOP, which would help incumbent Republican Angela Paxton of McKinney. Because of demographic shifts, that district had been trending in favor of Democrats. Republicans are expected to fortify House districts in Dallas County, if that’s still possible. Dallas County could lose a House seat because of a population dip and suburban growth in other counties. That could mean a new district elsewhere, perhaps Collin County.

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Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

Abbott’s right turn deflates GOP rivals but opens door for O’Rourke, McConaughey: News/UT-Tyler poll

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has kept conservative primary challengers at bay by tacking hard right on abortion, the border, mask and vaccine mandates, guns and critical race theory. But the strategy has come at a high price. His overall support is plunging, potentially leaving him vulnerable to the likes of actor Matthew McConaughey and former congressman Beto O’Rourke, according to a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler. A whopping 54% of Texans surveyed think the state is on the wrong track. Just 41% approve of the governor’s job performance. The poll on state and political issues was conducted Sept. 7-14. It surveyed 1,148 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. In the past two months, McConaughey has gone from slightly behind to 9 percentage points ahead of Abbott in a hypothetical match-up, and O’Rourke has cut the governor’s lead from 12 points to five. As the state death toll from COVID-19 tops 60,000, Texans are unhappy about many things.

The causes Abbott has championed to endear himself to conservatives and survive the primary have also hardened opposition against him. “So many issues are on the table,” said pollster Mark Owens, a political scientist at UT-Tyler. “The collective attention of what the state is doing and leading the country on is not even confined to just one message.” Abbott’s far-ranging 2021 agenda includes a legally provocative ban on abortions as early as six weeks, a dream come true for social conservatives, and a $1 billion commitment of state funds for border wall construction, sure to please Donald Trump and his followers. The governor’s political fortunes are entwined with these and other equally divisive initiatives. Of poll respondents who support the right to carry a gun without a permit, or Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, two-thirds think Texas is on the right track. It’s 3-in-5 among those who support Abbott’s ban on vaccine mandates, or the abortion ban. On the other side, nearly everyone (83%) who disapproves of Abbott’s job performance thinks Texas is on the wrong track. Of Texans who oppose spending state revenue on a border wall, 74% say Texas is on the wrong track. Even 29% of Abbott supporters are in that camp. “I don’t know where the bottom is on this,” said Owens. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip the country in March 2020, Abbott’s approval rating was 59%. It’s been dropping since January and is now at a rock-bottom 41%. The hard-right agenda has alienated a critical swing bloc. Abbott’s approval among independents has dropped from 53% early last year to just 30% in the new poll — a perilous low. “The man is a complete idiot. He’s not listening to scientific results [and] he’s initiated his own little war,” said Walter Story, 51, an independent and former paramedic from Sulphur Springs east of Dallas.

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Washington Post - September 18, 2021

Alan Braid: Why I violated Texas’s extreme abortion ban

(Alan Braid is a physician who provides abortion care in San Antonio.) Newly graduated from the University of Texas medical school, I began my obstetrics and gynecology residency at a San Antonio hospital on July 1, 1972. At the time, abortion was effectively illegal in Texas — unless a psychiatrist certified a woman was suicidal. If the woman had money, we’d refer her to clinics in Colorado, California or New York. The rest were on their own. Some traveled across the border to Mexico. At the hospital that year, I saw three teenagers die from illegal abortions. One I will never forget. When she came into the ER, her vaginal cavity was packed with rags. She died a few days later from massive organ failure, caused by a septic infection. In medical school in Texas, we’d been taught that abortion was an integral part of women’s health care. When the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, recognizing abortion as a constitutional right, it enabled me to do the job I was trained to do.

For the next 45 years — not including the two years I was away in the Air Force — I was a practicing OB/GYN in Texas, conducting Pap smears, pelvic exams and pregnancy check-ups; delivering more than 10,000 babies; and providing abortion care at clinics I opened in Houston and San Antonio, and another in Oklahoma. Then, this month, everything changed. A new Texas law, known as S.B. 8, virtually banned any abortion beyond about the sixth week of pregnancy. It shut down about 80 percent of the abortion services we provide. Anyone who suspects I have violated the new law can sue me for at least $10,000. They could also sue anybody who helps a person obtain an abortion past the new limit, including, apparently, the driver who brings a patient to my clinic. For me, it is 1972 all over again. And that is why, on the morning of Sept. 6, I provided an abortion to a woman who, though still in her first trimester, was beyond the state’s new limit. I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care. I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested. Though we never ask why someone has come to our clinic, they often tell us. They’re finishing school or they already have three children, they’re in an abusive relationship, or it’s just not time. A majority are mothers. Most are between 18 and 30. Many are struggling financially — more than half qualify for some form of financial aid from us.

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Wall Street Journal - September 19, 2021

Natural-gas prices surge, and winter is still months away

It is supposed to be offseason for demand, and prices haven’t climbed so high since blizzards froze the Northeast in early 2014. Analysts say that it might not have to get that cold this winter for prices to reach heights unknown during the shale era, which transformed the U.S. from a gas importer to supplier to the world. Rock-bottom gas prices have been a reliable feature of the U.S. economy since the financial crisis. Gas crashed and never recovered thanks to the abundance extracted with sideways drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Gas is burned to generate electricity and heat homes and to make plastic, steel and fertilizer. A substantial and sustained increase in price would be felt from households to heavy industry.

Stocks have already gotten a lift from $5 gas. Energy has been the best performing sector in the S&P 500 stock index in September and one of only two that are up this month. Monetary-policy makers often exclude energy prices when they gauge inflation because the prices move around so much. Even so, rising natural-gas prices are another factor for investors trying to tease out whether higher materials costs will fade or are here to stay. The Federal Reserve’s monetary-policy meeting Wednesday headlines the week ahead for investors. They will look for signs that the Fed will begin tapering bond purchases after its November meeting as well as indications that more officials believe that short-term interest rates can be raised by the end of next year. Also in the coming week, rental-home firm Invitation Homes Inc. , apartment owner UDR Inc. and other landlords will update investors on rents, occupancy and return-to-work at a big real-estate conference. Home builders KB Home and Lennar Corp. , which have faced higher materials costs, are part of a busy week of corporate earnings: Nike Inc. , Costco Wholesale Corp. , FedEx Corp. , Darden Restaurants Inc. and General Mills Inc. are scheduled to report and shed light on input expenses and consumer behavior.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

'Out of breath': Oversight of hazardous Texas concrete plant emissions comes to a head

Imelda Sanchez tries not to go outside if she doesn’t have to. Dust from the nearby Martin Marietta batch concrete plant in Kirby cakes on her windows, settles on cars and powders the water she stores in a bucket in the garage. Sanchez, 63, blames it for a deep cough that tightens her chest. “Even walking down to the street,” she said, “I feel out of breath.” With more than two dozen such plants that supply wet concrete ready to be poured in the San Antonio area, and more than 1,300 across Texas, many residential neighborhoods like hers live with the dust they generate. But it’s more than a nuisance. It contains tiny particles that can be hazardous to people’s health. Crystalline silica, a mineral present in the cement and other materials at batch plants, has been linked to lung disease, chronic respiratory problems and silicosis. Whether the concentration of airborne silica in neighborhoods such as Sanchez’s is high enough to endanger human health hasn’t been established. Plant operators do not monitor silica emissions. Nor does Texas’ environmental regulator.

For years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the material doesn’t need to be regulated at batch plants, and for that reason, the state historically did not require plant operators to monitor the air for silica. That changed, at least on paper, in 2012 when the TCEQ inadvertently removed an exemption for silica. Technically, the plants have been required to eliminate silica from their emissions since then. But no plants in Texas are known to have done so, and the TCEQ has not enforced the requirement. The industry maintains it’s impossible to produce concrete without releasing silica particles. The matter will be back before the TCEQ on Sept. 22, when it is expected to decide whether to restore the exemption or impose limits on silica emissions that could affect a $10 billion industry. For Sanchez and her husband, whose house is less than 250 yards from the concrete plant, the issue comes down not to money but to dust. “Is someone going to do something about this?” she asked. Concrete batch plants are popping up throughout Texas to meet demand spurred by development in the nation’s fastest-growing state. The number of applications for air quality permits for batch plants rose 25 percent from 2014 to 2019, according to the Texas Tribune. Of the 27 permits in Bexar County, 12 were applied for in the last five years, according to the TCEQ. The plants are operated by companies that include Martin Marietta Inc., a nationwide supplier of building materials based in Raleigh, N.C.; Alabama-based Vulcan Materials Co.; and Alamo Concrete Products Ltd. Concrete batch plants combine cement, air and materials such as sand and gravel in large drums. The material is loaded into trucks, mixed with water and transported to construction sites.

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Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Federal rationing threatens Texas supply of Regeneron COVID treatment, a key to Abbott's plan

Accessing a critical COVID-19 therapy could soon be tougher in Texas as the federal government moves to ration the treatment amid the spread of new variants. The Biden administration is taking over distribution of monoclonal antibodies, returning to the system that had been in place until vaccines became readily available and infections began to plummet this year. It also purchased 1.4 million additional doses. Under the old system, the federal government had been doling out doses to states based on need, and states were then responsible for distributing them. The administration had until recently been allowing hospitals and other health care centers to order directly from manufacturers, and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department would initiate a review of any individual site that ordered more than 50 doses to make sure none were hoarding.

But with the highly contagious delta variant continuing to spread nationally, demand for the treatment has soared, with concerns that it could soon outstrip supply. By last week, the vast majority of doses — 70 percent — were going to just seven Southern states where COVID cases are still high and vaccination rates are low, including Texas. “The recent increase in the prevalence of the delta variant coupled with low vaccination rates in certain areas of the country resulted in a substantial (20-fold) increase in the ordering and utilization of (monoclonal antibodies) since mid-July,” the federal health services agency said in a statement. “Just seven states accounted for about 70 percent of our monoclonal antibody ordering. Given this reality, we must work to ensure our supply of these lifesaving therapies remains available for all states and territories, not just some.” Under the new model — and a 50 percent bump in allocations that President Joe Biden ordered this month — Texas and Florida are still getting far more doses than other states. Texas received 23,640 doses this week, behind only Florida, which received 30,950. Georgia received the third most, 9,920. The Biden administration has been working to increase the total number of available doses by 50 percent this month, from 100,000 per week in early August to 150,000 per week currently. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, a critic of the administration’s pandemic response, said he sent a letter to the health agency demanding more information and was expecting to be briefed on the rationing Friday afternoon.

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State Stories

Politico - September 17, 2021

Sarah Isgur: Why Republicans are scared of Texas’ new abortion ban

(Sarah Isgur is a graduate of Harvard Law School who clerked on the Fifth Circuit. She was Justice Department spokeswoman during the Trump administration and is the host of the legal podcast Advisory Opinions for the Dispatch.) When the Supreme Court allowed Texas’ 6-week abortion law to stand earlier this month, it was presented as a major victory for anti-abortion conservatives. After all, Republican state legislators in deep red states have long been passing increasingly restrictive abortion laws, only to see many later get struck down in the courts. Finally, one law got through (at least for now). But if it’s the victory conservatives were hoping for, why aren’t high-profile Republicans celebrating it? Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell — never one to shy away from a political fight — had only this to say about the Supreme Court’s ruling: “I think it was a highly technical decision.” Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee who oversees the platform for the party, was out within hours declaring that she would challenge the legality of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate, yet has been totally silent on the Texas abortion case — as well as the Biden Justice Department’s decision to challenge the law. Even most of Texas’ congressional delegation remained silent on the new abortion legislation.

For decades, Republican state lawmakers have been able to vote for and pass highly restrictive abortion laws without living through the political consequences, because the laws were typically enjoined by the courts before they ever took effect. The politicians got to check the pro-life box important to a segment of their voters without their constituents ever living under those strict laws. This kept the political backlash to their votes to a minimum. This month, the Supreme Court called these legislators’ bluff by letting the Texas abortion law stand. Now the most restrictive abortion law in the country is under the political microscope and Republicans in Washington are being uncharacteristically quiet — at least in part because they sense that this law will do more to motivate the opposition than it will to rally the faithful. Already, the Democrats can’t stop talking about it. After a brutal August that mired the Biden White House in one bad news cycle after another, the Supreme Court’s decision on Texas was like rain breaking a long drought for Democratic operatives. The issue allowed Democrats to unite their warring factions on the Hill, moved the news cycle off wall-to-wall coverage of Biden’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal, and raised money for Democratic candidates. If larger historical trends hold, Republicans would be favored to win back the House in 2022, but the question now is whether anti-abortion advocates just handed a beleaguered White House the key to energizing their pro-abortion rights voters and potentially staving off a GOP landslide. By finding a legal loophole that allowed the Texas law to go into effect, did they win the battle but lose the war?

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Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

Most Texans oppose gerrymandering, disagree that party in power should be able to rig political maps

A majority of Texans are against gerrymandering, disagreeing that a party in power should be able to intentionally draw political maps to favor one party, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. With the Republican-controlled state Legislature beginning the redistricting process on Monday, 54% of Texans of all political stripes opposed allowing partisan map manipulation. On the other hand, 22% agreed the majority party should call the shots. The poll, conducted Sept. 7-14, surveyed 1,148 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. It surveyed Texas voters on a wide range of state and political issues. “The public is not looking for a redistricting process that’s going to point to Democrats being excluded from meetings, or those communities led by Democrats being split up into multiple different districts,” said pollster Mark Owens, who teaches political science at UT-Tyler.

The poll showed Texans preferred an independent commission to draw the maps, a polarizing process that typically leads to court battles. Texas must add two new U.S. House districts and redraw congressional and state legislative boundaries after the release of new population data from the U.S. Census. Republicans currently command the Legislature, meaning they run the redistricting process. Asked whom they would trust most to determine the district boundaries, 36% of registered voters preferred an independent commission and 20% preferred the state Legislature. “Voters might have a little less trust in state legislatures, which in the past have shown aspects of partisan gerrymandering,” Owens said. “Some additional checks and balances are what the voters want to see.” Fairness is a primary concern for voters, Owens said, noting that 42% of those who didn’t know who they want to run the redistricting process disagreed that the outcome should favor one party intentionally. Among voters who most trusted the independent commission — which Texas does not have – 35% preferred, of the other available options, a panel of federal judges to draw the maps. The Legislature was favored by 12% of those voters, with 29% preferring a board of statewide elected officials. A lawsuit filed earlier this month by two Democratic state senators seeks to have judges create interim redistricting plans, forcing the Legislature to wait to draw its maps until the next regular session in 2023.

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Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

Paxton stalls under ethics cloud, Texans unenthused on Cruz or Abbott presidential bid: News poll

One of the state’s most embattled politicians is treading water in a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. An endorsement from Donald Trump in late July provided no meaningful bump for Ken Paxton as he seeks a third term as Texas attorney general. Nor did the report Paxton’s own office released a month ago purporting to clear him of bribery and abuse of office allegations that prompted an FBI investigation. Fewer than half of Republican voters polled (48%) say Paxton has the integrity to serve in the job he’s held since January 2015. That’s actually up 3 points from earlier in the summer. But doubts about Paxton’s integrity are rising, among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. Paxton has been under indictment on charges that he violated state securities law for his entire tenure, and the FBI probe began after former aides accused him of illegally helping a campaign donor.

Even so, he holds a commanding 43-28 lead in the GOP primary over Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman trails far behind at 5%. Paxton was at 42% just before the Trump endorsement, so that didn’t help much — except perhaps to muddy the waters. Bush was the only member of his prominent family to embrace Trump, and after the ex-president’s snub, he dropped 6 points. But this may be Paxton’s high-water mark. Most of the support Bush lost flowed into the undecided column. Only 1 in 4 undecided GOP voters approve of Paxton’s job performance, and most think he lacks the integrity needed to serve as Texas’ top lawyer. “I don’t really think much of him at all,” said Austin independent Christopher Clark, 48. “He exonerated himself?” And he added, “I’m generally turned off by all super-conservative tea partyists.” Two Texas Republicans may be eyeing higher office: Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott. But the voters who know them best — Texas GOP primary voters — aren’t keen on seeing either of them run for president in 2024. Cruz was Donald Trump’s runner-up for the GOP nomination in 2016 and has already visited Iowa this year, helping GOP congressional candidates in the state that hosts the first presidential contest every four years.

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Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

‘If we fail the state economy fails’: Texas small-business owners tell Gov. Abbott they need workers

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met with 12 small-business owners from around Texas on Friday and heard a common theme: They need more workers if they are going to succeed. The roundtable took place at the Dallas Farmers Market as part of National Small Business Week. The business owners were all members of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices community, which advocates for policies that matter to members. “We focus on workers because we know you need employees to make your business work,” Abbott told them. While 73% of U.S. small businesses are currently hiring, 87% of those hiring are finding it difficult to fill those spots with qualified workers, according to a survey this month from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices.

Hyacinth Belcher runs Dallas live events company Onstage Systems and had to let 80% of her staff go overnight. Her company lost 70% of its revenue for 18 months due to the pandemic. For three months last year, it had zero revenue. “We lost millions,” she said. “A lot of people left the industry.” A second-generation family business, Onstage used its savings to survive 2020. It also received two forgivable loans and one low-interest loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Now business is picking back up. In late April, it worked the Ubbi Dubbi electronic dance music festival, which was dubbed the first festival back after the pandemic caused most events to be canceled in 2020. But Belcher said she doesn’t have enough employees to handle the increase in requests. Before the pandemic, she had 50 full-time employees. Now, she has 25 full-time employees and is struggling to find more. “Between 45% and 50% of the Texas workforce works for small businesses so if we fail, the state economy fails,” she said. Belcher suggested that Abbott and the state work on helping business owners provide child care for employees to help bring them back to work. The Goldman Sachs survey showed that 44% of small-business owners think a return for kids to remote learning would make it difficult to retain employees.

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Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

More than 60,000 Texans have now died from coronavirus

A year and a half after Texas reported its first death from COVID-19, more than 60,000 Texans have now died from the coronavirus. The state reported 377 deaths Friday, raising its toll to 60,357. California is the only other state to have more residents — about 67,000 — die from the virus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Texas ranks 24th among the states in deaths relative to population, with its 206 deaths per 100,000 residents slightly above the national average of 201. Mississippi’s 306 deaths for every 100,000 residents is the nation’s highest rate, while Vermont’s 45 is the lowest.

The state’s deaths have largely occurred in three waves: last summer, this winter and now, as the highly contagious delta variant of the virus spreads mostly through residents who have not gotten vaccinated. But the toll — higher than the population of Euless — averages out to more than 3,300 Texans dead each month from COVID-19, or 110 per day. Though the most recent wave has led to more severe cases among children than previous coronavirus surges, the vast majority of the deaths have occurred among older Texans. More than 47,000 victims — 78% — were at least 60 years old, and 18,670 were at least 80. Only 502 of the state’s deaths have occurred among people younger than 30, with just 79 of those among children and teenagers. Across the state, 18,628 more cases were reported Friday, including 18,097 new cases and 531 older ones recently reported by labs. Of the new cases, 13,929 were confirmed and 4,168 were probable. Of the older cases, 252 were confirmed and 279 were probable. The state’s case total is now 3,902,306, including 3,265,735 confirmed and 636,571 probable. There are a total of 12,475 hospitalizations in the state, including 3,423 in North Texas. According to the state, 16,963,517 people in Texas have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 14,390,670 — 59.8% of the state’s population 12 and older — are fully vaccinated.

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Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Analysts: Companies will keep moving to Texas, even as state’s abortion ban prompts business concern

Business-friendly policies attracting companies to Texas are proving crucial to the state’s economic-powerhouse identity in the wake of condemnation from a handful of high-profile companies over the recently enacted Heartbeat Act. Despite public outcry surrounding the strictest anti-abortion law in the country, the economics of staying in the state largely outweigh the tightening social legislation’s potential financial or talent attraction burdens, economists and business analysts say. “I don’t expect a mass exodus of firms from Texas, and the state will continue to attract new activity,” said Texas economist Ray Perryman. Just this week, airplane manufacturer Boeing announced plans to move 150 supply-chain jobs from Washington and California to North Texas, where the company’s Global Services division is headquartered.

Access to major airports and ports, economic incentives and comparatively inexpensive real estate are key advantages for the state, which has welcomed swaths of companies exiting expensive markets in California and New York. The Lone Star State won 113 California corporate relocations from Jan. 1, 2018, through June 30 of this year, according to an August study by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and McKinney-based Spectrum Location Solutions. It outpaced its nearest competitor, Tennessee, by nearly 90 companies. “The comparative benefits of being located in Texas are significant, as evidenced by the fact that the state has been at or near the top of many rankings for decades,” Perryman said. “For a public company with a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, the allure is substantial.” Only a handful of Texas companies have spoken publicly about the abortion law, including dating app companies Match Group and Bumble and rideshare firms Lyft and Uber. They picked up a big ally this week when Apple told its thousands of workers in Austin that it’s monitoring legal challenges to the Texas law. “In the meantime, we want to remind you that our benefits at Apple are comprehensive, and they allow our employees to travel out-of-state for medical care if it is unavailable in their home state,” according to an internal company memo seen by TechCrunch.

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Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

First Baptist’s Robert Jeffress: ‘There is no credible religious argument against the vaccines’

As Americans increasingly seek religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates, many faith leaders are telling them no. With more employers imposing the mandates, the push for exemptions has become more heated. At issue for many whose faith leads them to oppose abortion is that the most widely used coronavirus vaccines were tested on fetal cell lines developed over decades in laboratories, though the vaccines themselves do not contain any such material. Among the religious leaders rejecting the exemptions is the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, who said he and his staff “are neither offering nor encouraging members to seek religious exemptions from the vaccine mandates.”

“There is no credible religious argument against the vaccines,” the downtown megachurch’s senior pastor told The Associated Press in an email. “Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection.” Though he has aligned himself with former President Donald Trump — whose supporters are among the least-vaccinated Americans — Jeffress has steadfastly supported the coronavirus vaccines. First Baptist hosted vaccine clinics in the spring, with Jeffress encouraging his congregants to get inoculated so they could safely worship in person. Jeffress, who is vaccinated, also has compared his positions on vaccination and abortion: “We talk about life inside the womb being a gift from God,” he said on Fox News. “Well, life outside the womb is a gift from God, too.” The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York laid out its own vaccine-exemption stance during the summer, saying that any priest issuing an exemption letter would be “acting in contradiction” to statements from Pope Francis that receiving the vaccine is morally acceptable and responsible. Both the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have said Catholics can receive the vaccines in good conscience given the lack of alternatives and the goal of alleviating suffering — even while objecting to research with even a remote connection to abortion.

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Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Petition aims to relocate 2023 Women’s Final Four from Dallas in response to Texas ‘Heartbeat Act’

Sue Favor was in attendance for the 2017 Women’s NCAA Tournament Final Four at American Airlines Arena. It marked her first time in Dallas. “It was a great time,” said Favor, who covers women’s basketball at both the collegiate and professional level on her own website. “They put on a great show.” The sequel is set to happen in 2023, when American Airlines Center once again hosts the women’s Final Four. Favor and over 53,000 Americans hope that doesn’t happen. In light of SB 8 — the state’s “Heartbeat Act,” which bans abortions in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy — Favor started a petition on Change.org to relocate the 2023 Final Four out of Dallas and out of Texas. The petition, started on a whim by Favor, is over halfway to 100,000 signatures and climbing since it was started on Sept. 5.

“I’ve always been an extremely strong women’s rights proponent,” Favor said, “and we’ve seen so many advances in the last few years, especially for women and also women in sports. “This law, it came out of the blue, and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. We were just making all this progress, and now we’re back in 1973?’ That doesn’t fit.” The petition, according to Change.org, is mostly made up of people outside of Texas. Roughly 16% of signees are from Texas. The next states featuring the largest representation are California, New York and Florida. There’s precedent for this type of action from the NCAA. In 2016, the NCAA moved seven championship events from North Carolina after the state passed HB 2, the controversial Bathroom Bill that required public school bathrooms and locker rooms only be used by people based on the gender they were assigned at birth. A year later, the NCAA “reluctantly” voted to re-allow championship events in North Carolina after a compromised version of the bill replaced the original. The Dallas Morning News asked the NCAA if it’s considering moving championship events out of Texas based on SB 8, like the petition hopes. The NCAA declined to comment. The News also reached out to The Dallas Regional Chamber and Monica Paul, the Executive Director of the Dallas Sports Commission, but didn’t hear back.

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Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott signs tougher anti-critical race theory law

Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that aims to further ban critical race theory from Texas classrooms, even after educators and advocacy groups fought against the move for months. The new law, signed Friday without fanfare, prohibits teaching certain concepts about race; develops a civics training program for teachers; and largely bars schools from giving credit to students for advocacy work. It also urges educators to teach only that slavery and racism are “deviations” from the founding principles of the United States. It aims to strengthen Texas’ law passed in May that seeks to eliminate critical race theory from schools. The new law goes into effect Dec. 2. The theory is an academic framework that probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism. Texas teachers and education leaders across the state have insisted repeatedly that critical race theory is not part of K-12 curriculums.

But Republican leaders have said Texas needs to ensure critical race theory rhetoric stays out of public schools. “I think critical race theory and the belief in critical race theory is creating racial disharmony in the United States,” Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, said last month. Toth was among the lawmakers pushing to address the issue. Advocates worry attempts to curb critical race theory will hinder schools’ efforts to address inequities in classrooms and teachers’ abilities to discuss current events and social issues. During this summer’s debates on the bill, Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, said the bill is blatantly attempting to censor teachers and “whitewash our history.” Many worry about the law’s vague language. Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, said in August that teachers should have the latitude to be able to nurture and engage with students’ interests in what’s happening outside of school. “Helping students make connections between what they read in books and what they see in the public square is something that we should celebrate in our educational system,” she said, “not something that we should discourage.”

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Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2021

Erica Grieder: Republicans need to take Ken Paxton to task, if they want to unseat him in the GOP primary

They seem to be lining up to challenge Texas’ two-term attorney general, Ken Paxton. Wonder why? State Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican from Fort Worth first elected in 2012, recently announced that he was joining the field of GOP candidates seeking to unseat Paxton. It already includes Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Two Democrats — former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski and Dallas civil rights attorney Lee Merritt — have also set their sights on Paxton. They will face off for their party’s nomination. Krause and Bush are not seeking releection to their respective posts in order to run, and Guzman stepped down from the state Supreme Court before announcing her bid. So it’s safe to assume that they’re running to win, rather than to raise their public profiles. Why then are Paxton’s Republican challengers approaching this primary with such a diffident attitude to the man they’re trying to unseat? Take Krause, for example, since he just got in the race.

“As your Attorney General, I will continue to fight to keep critical race theory out of our schools, protect Texas families from the crisis at our southern border, and stand proudly with our men and women in law enforcement,” he said in a campaign announcement. This would be a fine pitch, perhaps, in a typical Republican primary. Krause is a founding member of the Texas House’s Freedom Caucus and had one of the most conservative voting records of any member during this year’s regular legislative session, according to an annual ranking put out by political scientist Mark Jones of Rice University. But Paxton himself is a pretty far-right guy, who was endorsed by most of the Freedom Caucus types, including Krause, in his first bid for attorney general seven years ago. And more to the point, Paxton — the state’s chief law enforcement officer — continues to face a plethora of legal problems. Since 2015, Paxton has been under indictment for alleged violations of state securities law, all of them felonies. The case remarkably has yet to go to trial, allowing Paxton to do what he does best — file lawsuits promoting conservative causes, like those brought against school districts over mask mandates intended to keep kids safe. Paxton is also reportedly the focus of an FBI investigation after seven of his top aides accused him of abusing his office to help a donor. All have since resigned or been fired. Paxton also faces a civil lawsuit brought by four of those whistle-blowers, who argue that they were fired in retaliation. Paxton has denied all of the accusations.

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Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2021

Biden administration boosting access to emergency contraception in Texas in wake of strict abortion law

The Biden administration has pledged to help boost access to emergency contraception in Texas as part of its response to the state’s strict new abortion law banning the procedure after six weeks. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Bacerra said Friday the agency will send more funding to family planning clinics here through its local Title X administrator, a nonprofit in Austin called Every Body Texas. The administration did not disclose the amount, but a representative for the group said it will be used to increase supplies of different types of contraception that can stave off pregnancy if taken shortly after having unprotected sex. “We’re trying to make sure this is a normal part of an interaction and increases the number of people who don’t just have access to emergency contraception, but actually have it on hand,” said Mimi Garcia, the group’s director of communications.

Emergency contraception, sometimes known as the morning-after pill, is currently available for free at many low-income family planning clinics, but only for patients who request it. It can cost about $50 at a retail pharmacy. There are no age requirements to purchase it and parental consent is not required, according to pro-choice groups, which stress that emergency contraception is not the same as the so-called “abortion pill.” The financial infusion comes as abortion providers and their supporters are scrambling to minimize the impacts of the new law, Senate Bill 8, which went into effect earlier this month and bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, before many people realize they’re pregnant. The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, allowed the law to take effect, pointing to SB 8’s unique enforcement approach. It allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and others who assist in obtaining the procedure if they defy the state’s guidelines. But the high court has not ruled on the merits of the law.

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Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Idea to reduce backlog by dismissing thousands of felony cases proves too far for Harris County

The number of criminal cases pending before Harris County courts currently stands at more than 94,000. That includes 41,000 misdemeanors and 53,000 felonies, numbers so high that if prosecutors stopped filing criminal charges tomorrow, it would take misdemeanor judges a year to clear their dockets; felony judges would need 19 months, based on their average pace for closing cases since 2017. Forty-six percent of these cases are considered backlogged — defined as misdemeanors pending more than six months and felonies older than one year — beyond which the likelihood of conviction plummets as investigators retire, victims withdraw and witnesses’ memories fade. “As the county recovers from natural disasters and navigating a public health crisis, it has put our justice system in a crisis state,” said Ana Yáñez Correa of the Harris County Justice Administration Department. “All county partners are diligently working to address this backlog which is counter to what procedural justice should look like.”

The backlog is so high, that the Justice Management Institute, a Colorado nonprofit that has helped the county improve its criminal justice system since the early 2000s, offered a startling proposal last summer: Dismiss most nonviolent felony cases more than 9 months old, which would allow judges to focus on disposing the newest and most serious cases, including murders, rapes and assaults. Piecemeal solutions would be inadequate, the group said. A year later, that proposal has proven too radical for commissioners, judges and Harris County’s chief prosecutor, many of whom ran for office on platforms that included criminal justice reform. District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office said justice would be better served by hiring many more prosecutors, which Commissioners Court has refused to do, rather than dismiss cases without considering the facts of each. “We have a duty to enforce the law, and the wholesale dismissal of entire classes of cases based on an arbitrary deadline is a violation of that duty and a slap in the face to crime victims,” Ogg spokesman Dane Schiller said. “Every case is unique and we prosecute on a case by case basis, based on the evidence.” Case backlogs long have plagued Harris County courts, which in September added their first new felony judge since 1984, though the county’s population has almost doubled since then.

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Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: $29 billion won't stop the Big One. Here's why the Ike Dike is still worth it.

Doomsday, we’re told, will go something like this: A 20-foot storm surge propelled by 150 mph winds from a cyclonic beast spawned in the balmy Gulf of Mexico is on a collision course with the Houston Ship Channel. The wave tosses debris, vehicles, shipping containers into refineries and chemical plants, unleashing pyrotechnic clouds of toxicity unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Mass evacuations ensue. Hundreds, if not thousands are left dead or severely injured. Galveston Bay, an ecological jewel vital to the local economy, becomes so polluted it’s rendered unusable for a generation. The Port of Houston, one of the busiest in the nation, is crippled, stalling the global supply chain. If you’ve lived in the Houston-Galveston region through even one hurricane season you’re likely familiar with this scenario.

After Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, pushing a 17-foot storm surge over Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, causing $30 billion of damage and killing 43 people, there was a collective epiphany. We could no longer rely on our prayers, weather forecasters and emergency go-bags to get us through the most volatile months of hurricane season. We needed protection from deadly storm surges as fast as possible. Thirteen years later — the Army Corps of Engineers won’t win any awards for speed — the agency has finally unveiled full-fledged plans for the so-called Ike Dike. Named by Texas A&M oceanographer Bill Merrell who proposed the concept shortly after Ike hit, the proposal is the product of an exhaustive, seven-year study that the Corps’ chief of engineers is expected sign off on by Oct. 12 and send to Congress. The $29 billion plan is more expansive than Merrell’s original idea. It includes projects up and down the Texas Gulf Coast, but the bulk of the work will be south of Houston. A series of gates designed to protect against a surge of up to 22 feet would stretch from the east end of Galveston Island across the mouth of Galveston Bay to Bolivar Peninsula.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 17, 2021

Tourists from Texas assault hostess who asked them for vaccination proof, NYC cops say

Three women from Texas were taken into custody Thursday after they assaulted a New York City restaurant worker who asked them for proof of COVID-19 vaccination, police say. Video obtained by WNBC shows a hostess at Carmine’s Italian Restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan being attacked by the women. The hostess had asked the Texas tourists for their vaccine proof, which is a part of New York City’s new protocols that recently went into effect. The hostess stand nearly toppled over during the tussle outside the restaurant, video shows. The 22-year-old was punched and slapped but declined medical attention, WCBS reported.

A 44-year-old woman, her 21-year-old daughter, and a 49-year-old woman were apprehended at the scene, WABC reported. Their charges were not publicly disclosed. A spokesperson for Carmine’s said it is “shocking and tragic” to see one of its employees assaulted for complying with the COVID-19 protocols. “Our focus right now is caring for our employee and the rest of our restaurant family,” the spokesperson said. “We are a family-style restaurant, and this is the absolute last experience any of our employees should ever endure and any customers witness.” People 12 years and older are required to show they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter a New York City restaurant. Restaurants that do not comply could be fined $1,000. Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase penalties for assaulting restaurant workers and to increase awareness of the city’s vaccine requirements. “Assaulting a restaurant worker for doing their job is abhorrent and those responsible must be held accountable,” Rigie said in a statement to McClatchy News.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 19, 2021

Bud Kennedy: Lincoln Project slams Greg Abbott as ‘Trumpist,’ but he’s on track for re-election

Gov. Greg Abbott is starting his 30th year of a perpetually charmed political career. He remains as calm as any former civil court judge. Meanwhile, his Republican challengers are kicking up a fuss or self-destructing. Democrats? They haven’t won anything in Texas since 1994. Plus, elections in the middle of a president’s term rarely favor the party in the White House. Right now, everything points to Abbott sailing into a third term as governor. So why is a wealthy PAC of former Republicans running a TV ad criticizing Abbott?

Rick Wilson, the Florida campaign strategist who co-leads the PAC, said through a spokesperson: “After letting Texans freeze in the dark, failing to lead on COVID, cheerleading a racially motivated voter suppression bill, and enraging millions of Texas women in both political parties, [Abbott’s] being held to account.” The Lincoln Project cranked up in 2019 to oppose then-President Donald Trump. Now, it targets anyone for what co-founder Reed Galen described as extreme “Trumpist behavior.” The 60-second TV ad during the Texas Longhorns-Rice Owls football game shows a counter with the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Texas, enough to require “over 3.6 million feet of casket lumber.” The tagline: “If Governor Abbott wants to build a new wall” at weak points along the Mexico border, “tell him to stop building this one,” showing a long row of caskets lined up on end. It’s not a convincing ad. We see the numbers every day. Measuring the loss of 60,000 loved ones in terms of “casket lumber” seems macabre.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 17, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott approves nearly $2 billion for border security while in Fort Worth

Hundreds of miles away from the Texas-Mexico border in Fort Worth, Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday signed a nearly $2 billion border security bill. The $1.8 billion allocated for border security efforts is in addition to more than $1 billion set aside during the regular legislative session that ended in May. The latest allotment was passed during a second special session that ended earlier this month. “Let me explain to you why we are making this announcement in Fort Worth,” Abbott said at the Fort Worth Police Officers Association Headquarters. “We need to understand and make clear that the challenges that you see on the border do not stay on the border. They go to every community in the state of Texas. In fact, go to communities across every state in the United States.”

Abbott has made stops in Fort Worth in the past where he’s attributed an increasing use of fentanyl, an opioid, to President Joe Biden’s border policies. He again discussed the effect of the drug on communities like Fort Worth during the Friday news conference. In attendance was Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Manny Ramirez, who said there’s been an increase in drug overdoses and overdose deaths locally. There’s also been an “exponential increase” in fentanyl cases, he said. ”The drugs scare me. The weapons scare me. The human smuggling rips at my heart, and it is a darn shame that the federal government isn’t doing its job,” said State Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who chairs the Senate Finance committee. Abbott has clashed with the Biden administration over its immigration policy. On Friday, he reiterated his position that the Biden administration has failed at border security. “So Texas is stepping up and doing what the federal government is supposed to do,” Abbott said. The latest allotment includes nearly $155 million to the Texas Department of Public Safety for law enforcement efforts, such as roughly $134 million to Abbott’s Operation Lone Star launched in early March. The operation tasks the department and the Texas National Guard with combating the smuggling of people and drugs across the Texas-Mexico border. The bill also allocates $301 million to the Texas Military Department. The bill allocates about $1 billion for physical border barriers. According to an Abbott spokesperson, $250 million of that would reimburse the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for a “down payment” for a border wall.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2021

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calls Haitian migrant surge an 'invasion,' echoing conspiracy theory

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick referred to the Haitians massing at the Texas border as pawns in a Democratic plan “to take over this country” in a Thursday night interview on Fox News, making an argument that is part of a conspiracy theory known as The Great Replacement. The theory — embraced by white supremacists and far-right nationalists in the U.S. and Europe for about the last 100 years — holds that minority ethnic groups are engaged in a plot to take power from whites, with the ultimate goal of domination or extermination of the white race. “Let me tell you something, Laura and everyone watching: The revolution has begun. A silent revolution by Joe Biden and the Democrat Party to take over this country,” Patrick said, speaking on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.

“(Democrats) are allowing this year probably 2 million — that’s who we apprehended, maybe another million — into this country. At least in 18 years, even if they don’t all become citizens before then and can vote, in 18 years if everyone of them has two or three children you’re talking about millions and millions and millions of new voters. And they will thank the Democrats and Biden for bringing them here. Who do you think they’re going to vote for?” Patrick took it a step further. “We now will have illegals in this country denying citizens the right to run our government,” Patrick said. “This is trying to take over our country without firing a shot.” The Texan who has been charged with shooting and killing 23 people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, Patrick Crusius, was linked to an online manifesto that made a similar argument. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” it said, adding that the Democratic Party intends to dominate the U.S. government by flooding the country with immigrants living in the country illegally and courting their votes, drowning out Republicans.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Elaine Ayala: Abbott's response to Del Rio migrant crisis was pure opportunism

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did what he does best this week. He preened and postured as a hardliner to grab the Republican national spotlight. It matters not what the issue is, only that it gets him more face time on Fox News than other Republicans positioning themselves to seek the party’s 2024 presidential nomination — especially Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. This time, Abbott’s cause was border security. He announced that he would send more Texas National Guardsmen and state troopers to the U.S.-Mexico border to close six official ports of entry after migrants gathered by the thousands at an international bridge in Del Rio. It might have scored Abbott some points with unknowing viewers. In reality, he has no authority over immigration or the border. No governor does. It’s a federal responsibility. Abbott boasted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had requested the state’s help in sealing the border.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP, responded that it had done no such thing. The department warned that it would be a violation of federal law if Texas Guardsmen shut down ports of entry unilaterally. Abbott responded with spin, his specialty. He said CBP had changed its mind. The Texas Guard and state troopers would “maintain their presence at and around ports of entry to deter crossings.” The governor’s empty edict was his opportunistic response to an alarming situation at the bridge connecting Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. The throng of migrants grew from 2,000 a week ago to more than 8,000 by the end of the week. The site has become a refugee camp — and like others around the world, it is a product of human desperation, war, poverty and climate disasters. Thousands of the migrants, mostly Haitian, are seeking asylum after a presidential assassination and a devastating earthquake led to unbearable suffering in their homeland. As the government processes the migrants’ claims, some will be deported. Others will be given the chance to prove their cases while staying in the U.S. with relatives or sponsors.

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New York Times - September 18, 2021

Texas lawmakers, after a rightward shift, plan for more of the same

In the span of a few months, the nation’s second most populous state followed what was perhaps the most conservative legislative session in state history with a special session packed with even more of the prerogatives of the right flank, a pronounced political shift that has caught even many conservative residents off guard. The Legislature is set to convene another special session Monday to consider further laws on cultural issues, such as transgender athletes, and to redistrict the state, likely in favor of Republican members. The new laws, which passed with surprising speed, restrict abortion, voting rights and the teaching about race in schools. They also expand gun rights, fund a border wall with Mexico and prohibit bans on social media because of political opinions. The moves cheered conservatives, alarmed liberals and forced Texans to wrestle with their state’s identity as the tip-of-the-spear for conservatives in the nation’s most contentious social conflicts. Add to that a surge in coronavirus cases and an ongoing tug of war over the pandemic response between Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, and Democratic leaders in growing urban centers, and the mood among many Texans has turned glum. For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of residents told pollsters from the University of Texas last month that the state was heading in the wrong direction.

“Texans are watching their state government that is consumed with these partisan debates over abortion and election reform, but they’re actually living in a state where schools can’t give clear safety guidance on Covid,” said Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican who served as the speaker of the Texas House until 2019. “The concern is that the conservative faction has gone too far and is damaging our state’s reputation.” None of that has slowed the momentum among conservatives, led by Mr. Abbott and the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who oversees the staunchly right-wing Texas Senate. Both remain more focused on appealing to their own primary voters than to the shifting demographics of the state’s rapidly growing Democratic cities. For a new special session of the House starting next week, the governor has added legislation that would restrict the participation of transgender athletes in school sports, a late addition to a session focused on redistricting. The Republican-controlled Legislature will redraw boundaries for the first time since the Supreme Court gutted provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that provided federal oversight. In the past, Texas had been found in violation of the act during redistricting, and Democrats fear that Republicans will use the opportunity to redraw districts in a way that blunts the influence of the state’s growing Black and Hispanic populations, maintaining control in the Capitol for rural white legislators in a state that is increasingly more diverse. The process could extend the Republican lock on the state for at least another decade, at a time when statewide and presidential races in Texas have been growing more competitive. “The Republican Party should be very, very optimistic about the ’22 cycle,” said Ray Sullivan, a Republican political consultant who served in the administrations of two recent governors, George W. Bush and Rick Perry. “The vaunted blue wave from 2020 never happened, and P.S., the Democrats don’t even have a candidate for governor.”

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NBC News - September 19, 2021

'We've been preparing for a post-Roe world': Ripples from Texas abortion law spread to Illinois safe haven

The day was jampacked at a Planned Parenthood clinic in southern Illinois when a woman who had just driven over 12 hours from Louisiana for an abortion procedure erupted into tears during her health intake. Kawanna Shannon, the surgical services director at the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, dropped her tasks and led the woman into a private room to talk. The woman said she was panicking because she had used her rent money to pay for child care for her two kids, rent a car, buy gas and drive to the clinic in Fairview Heights. The days leading up to and after Texas’ restrictive abortion law went into effect, clinics in surrounding states became overbooked, diverting patients further away, including this patient who only had one extra day off work to get the procedure done, Shannon said. The woman's only option was Illinois, but it cost her her rent, she said.

“No one is thinking about these hardships when they put these bans on. People have other children, people have health issues, people have all types of things and they are spending every dime just to go somewhere else because this basic need isn’t accessible in their own state,” Shannon said. “But there are people fighting for them, no matter what laws are being passed or what the restrictions are, and we are doing everything we can to be able to service these patients. They need to know that we're going to continue to fight for them.” The Illinois clinic, emblematic of a state that has deemed itself a safe haven for abortion care, is feeling the reverberations of the Texas law in the form of dozens of women forced to travel hundreds of miles just to secure an appointment. Despite facing its own challenges, including staff shortages and similar legislation up for consideration across the border in Missouri, the Illinois clinic said it is fully prepared to welcome any woman who needs the medical care. The clinic has long been preparing for what it calls “the writing on the wall,” according to Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, which oversees the Fairview Heights clinic. “This is the reality that we have been seeing for a long time, and we’ve been preparing for a post-Roe world with a plan to ensure abortion services remain accessible with this clinic.”

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National Stories

CNBC - September 18, 2021

Small crowd gathers near the Capitol to protest arrests of Jan. 6 rioters

A sparse crowd of demonstrators gathered in Washington to rally for those criminally charged in the Jan. 6 deadly pro-Trump insurrection. Organizers called the rally “Justice for J6,” referencing the date in which supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of the 2020 election results. Protestors were met with heavy presence of local, state and federal law enforcement — and members of the press — outnumbering event attendees. U.S. Capitol Police made a few arrests Saturday in an otherwise nonviolent demonstration, according to the department’s social media. Arrests included weapons violation, possession of a firearm and probation violation, according to police.

Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee told NBC News the crowd was “about what we expected” and the heightened police presence may have deterred attendance. Police in advance of Saturday ramped up security around the Capitol, erecting fences around the Capitol grounds, Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and other congressional office buildings. One hundred National Guard troops were on standby to help protect the Capitol, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday. Matt Braynard, the former Trump campaign staffer who organized the rally, previously told CNBC he expected the protest to be peaceful. The Jan. 6 Capitol riot began shortly after Trump, speaking at a rally outside the White House, urged the crowd to march to Congress and fight against the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president. Four people died that day in connection with the riot, including a woman shot by a police officer as she tried to crawl through a window toward the House of Representatives chamber. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died the following day after collapsing hours after he was attacked by rioters. Four police officers who responded to the insurrection have died by suicide since the attack.

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The Atlantic - September 19, 2021

Why Biden bet it all on mandates

When president joe biden rolled out his plan requiring vaccinations on a mass scale, he sounded a bit like a gambler at a point of desperation. Biden’s presidency, and much of his legacy, hinges on defeating the prolonged pandemic. During a dismal summer of rising infections and deaths due to vaccine holdouts and the Delta variant, the pandemic seemed to have defeated him. Under the new rules, Biden hopes to pressure about 80 million more Americans to get their shots. It’s a political risk that opens him up to Republican attacks that he’s intruding on peoples’ freedoms, ahead of midterm elections that could easily strip the Democrats of their congressional majority. Biden gets this. He’s all in, win or lose. “There are going to be people who don’t believe in the mandates and don’t believe they should be told what to do,” Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told me, encapsulating an argument that his party plans to make ahead of the midterms. “We’re supposed to live in a country where you’re not being dictated everything.” While Scott’s sentiment may resonate with hard-line Republicans, he appears to be misreading the larger public mood. As frustration with the pandemic mounts, Republican leaders look to be on the wrong side of an effort to expand vaccinations through a more forceful show of executive power. Under Biden’s plan, businesses with more than 100 employees will face fines unless they require their workers to be vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 tests.

Not only do most people favor vaccine mandates, but even a good chunk of Republican voters who’ve gotten their shots are inclined to blame the unvaccinated for the pandemic’s persistence. Forcing people to get the shots wasn’t Biden’s first choice. Inside the White House, the preference was that Americans do this on their own. But with so many people still unvaccinated even though the shots are readily available, Biden was losing patience. “Months ago, because of the potential political blowback, no one wanted to resort to mandates,” a senior Biden-administration official told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk more freely. “But then it became clear that we didn’t have any other choice, because, essentially, we had pulled out all the stops. We tried trusted messengers [to promote the vaccines]. We made it very convenient. It wasn’t enough.” Biden’s bet, while risky, grows more solid by the day. Republicans are making a counterargument that they believe their base wants to hear, which would be fine if their base were sufficient to wrest control of Congress from the Democrats. Biden is trying to appeal to a wider audience. Two of the most prized voting blocs in an election—suburban and independent voters—favor Biden’s vaccine-mandate plan by solid margins. They don’t see the vaccine requirement as government overreach; for them, it’s a step toward reentering a world they remember from two years ago.

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Reuters - September 19, 2021

U.S. authorities accelerate removal of Haitians at border with Mexico

U.S. authorities moved some 2,000 people to other immigration processing stations on Friday from a Texas border town that has been overwhelmed by an influx of Haitian and other migrants, the Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday. Such transfers will continue "in order to ensure that irregular migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed, and removed from the United States consistent with our laws and policy," DHS said in a statement. While some migrants seeking jobs and safety have been making their way to the United States for weeks or months, it is only in recent days that the number converging on Del Rio, Texas, has drawn widespread attention, posing a humanitarian and political challenge for the Biden administration.

DHS said that in response to the migrants sheltering in increasingly poor conditions under the Del Rio International Bridge that connects the Texas city with Ciudad Acuna in Mexico, it was accelerating flights to Haiti and other destinations within the next 72 hours. Report ad DHS added it was working with nations where the migrants began their journeys - for many of the Haitians, countries such as Brazil and Chile - to accept returned migrants. Officials on both sides of the border said most of the migrants were Haitians. Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry expressed solidarity with the mass of migrants at the border in a series of posts on social media late on Saturday, saying "arrangements have already been made" to warmly receive those who return to the Caribbean nation. "I share their suffering and say to them welcome home," he wrote. U.S. Customs and Border Protection was sending 400 additional agents to the Del Rio sector in the coming days, DHS said, after the border agency said on Friday that due to the influx it was temporarily closing Del Rio's port of entry and re-routing traffic to Eagle Pass, 57 miles (92 km) east.

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NBC News - September 19, 2021

Suburbs take center stage as U.S. growth slows

In 1990, fewer than 10,000 people lived in Meridian, Idaho, a sleepy bedroom community surrounded by farmland. Now, with a population of 117,600, its main thoroughfare, Eagle Road, gets so congested at rush hour that motorists might forget they're in one the country’s most sparsely populated states. The 2020 Census listed Meridian as one of the 10 fastest-growing large cities in the country. All the cities on the list grew at rates of more than 44 percent. They are all in the South and the West. And they are all suburbs.

South Jordan, Utah, for example, is outside Salt Lake City. Frisco, Texas, is just north of Dallas. Buckeye, Arizona, is west of Phoenix. And Meridian is outside Boise. Meridian and the nine other cities represent a trend, according to U.S. Census Bureau officials. As the country’s biggest cities grow and become increasingly unaffordable to many, their suburbs have ballooned, taking on their own identities. Marc Perry, a senior demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau, said in an email that “for the past several decades the general trend has been for the fastest-growing cities of 50k+ population to be located on the outskirts of generally fast-growing metro areas in the South and West.” The Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth metro areas have had suburbs on this list every decade, he said. “Sizable amounts of empty land for construction of housing” encourages this population growth, and that land is more commonly available in the West and South. Now, people are often going farther and farther from city centers to search for empty lots, especially in cities that have been growing for the past half-century, Perry said.

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Wall Street Journal - September 19, 2021

Elon Musk’s push to expand Tesla’s driver assistance to cities rankles a top safety authority

Tesla is readying a major upgrade of its driver-assistance software. The country’s top crash investigator says the move may be premature. Chief Executive Elon Musk last week said drivers would soon be able to request an enhanced version of what Tesla calls its “Full Self-Driving Capability.” The upgrade is expected to add a feature intended to help vehicles navigate cities, expanding the suite of driver-assistance tools that had been designed mainly for highways. Despite its name, Full Self-Driving doesn’t make cars fully autonomous, and Tesla instructs drivers to remain alert, with their hands on the wheel. Jennifer Homendy, the new head of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Tesla shouldn’t roll out the city-driving tool before addressing what the agency views as safety deficiencies in the company’s technology. The NTSB, which investigates crashes and issues safety recommendations though it has no regulatory authority, has urged Tesla to clamp down on how drivers are able to use the company’s driver-assistance tools.

“Basic safety issues have to be addressed before they’re then expanding it to other city streets and other areas,” she said in an interview. Ms. Homendy also expressed concern about how Tesla software is tested on public roadways. Ms. Homendy called Tesla’s use of the term Full Self-Driving “misleading and irresponsible,” adding that people pay more attention to marketing than to warnings in car manuals or on a company’s website. In Tesla’s case, she said, “It has clearly misled numerous people to misuse and abuse technology.” Mr. Musk has said Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance features prevent crashes and make driving safer. He has expressed mixed views about the Full Self-Driving system in recent months. “We need to make full self-driving work in order for it to be a compelling value proposition. Otherwise people are, you know, kind of betting on the future,” he said in July, responding to a question about customer interest in subscribing to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving package. Tesla didn’t respond to requests for comment. Some safety advocates and transportation officials have raised concerns that drivers may be overestimating the capabilities of advanced driver-assistance systems such as Tesla’s. “We’re consistently hearing that it’s definitely a work in progress, so it’s just how do we make sure the public understands its limitations?” Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission, told The Wall Street Journal.

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The Hill - September 19, 2021

Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks'

The 26-page indictment of former cybersecurity attorney and Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann by special counsel John Durham is as detailed as it is damning on the alleged effort to push a false Russia collusion claim before the 2016 presidential campaign. One line, however, seems to reverberate for those of us who have followed this scandal for years now: “You do realize that we will have to expose every trick we have in our bag.” That warning from an unnamed “university researcher” captures the most fascinating aspect of the indictment in describing a type of Nixonian dirty tricks operation run by — or at least billed to — the Clinton campaign. With Nixon, his personal attorney and the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) paid for operatives to engage in disruptive and ultimately criminal conduct targeting his opponents.

With Clinton, the indictment and prior disclosures suggest that Clinton campaign lawyers at the law firm of Perkins Coie helped organize an effort to spread Russia collusion stories and trigger an investigation. Durham accuses Sussmann of lying to the general counsel of the FBI in September 2016 when Sussmann delivered documents and data to the FBI supposedly supporting a claim that Russia’s Alpha Bank was used as a direct conduit between former President Trump's campaign and the Kremlin. According to Durham, Sussman told the FBI general counsel that he was not delivering the information on behalf of any client. The indictment not only details multiple billings to the Clinton campaign as the data was collected and the documents created; it claims Sussman billed the campaign for the actual meeting with the FBI. At the time, Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias was general counsel for the Clinton campaign. Both men have since left the firm. The big trick in 2016 was the general effort to create a Russia collusion scandal with the help of Justice Department insiders and an eager, enabling media. It was only last October, for instance, that we learned that then-President Obama was briefed by his CIA director, John Brennan, on an intelligence report that Clinton planned to tie then-candidate Trump to Russia as “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.” That was on July 28, 2016 — three days before the Russia investigation was initiated.

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Washington Post - September 18, 2021

The days of full COVID coverage are over. Insurers are restoring deductibles and co-pays, leaving patients with big bills.

Jamie Azar left a rehab hospital in Tennessee this week with the help of a walker after spending the entire month of August in the ICU and on a ventilator. She had received a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in mid-July but tested positive for the coronavirus within 11 days and nearly died. Now Azar, who earns about $36,000 a year as the director of a preschool at a Baptist church in Georgia, is facing thousands of dollars in medical expenses that she can’t afford. “I’m very thankful to be home. I am still weak. And I’m just waiting for the bills to come in to know what to do with them,” she said Wednesday, after returning home. In 2020, as the pandemic took hold, U.S. health insurance companies declared they would cover 100 percent of the costs for covid treatment, waiving co-pays and expensive deductibles for hospital stays that frequently range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But this year, most insurers have reinstated co-pays and deductibles for covid patients, in many cases even before vaccines became widely available. The companies imposed the costs as industry profits remained strong or grew in 2020, with insurers paying out less to cover elective procedures that hospitals suspended during the crisis.

Now the financial burden of covid is falling unevenly on patients across the country, varying widely by health-care plan and geography, according to a survey of the two largest health plans in every state by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. If you’re fortunate enough to live in Vermont or New Mexico, for instance, state mandates require insurance companies to cover 100 percent of treatment. But most Americans with covid are now exposed to the uncertainty, confusion and expense of business-as-usual medical billing and insurance practices — joining those with cancer, diabetes and other serious, costly illnesses. (Insurers continue to waive costs associated with vaccinations and testing, a pandemic benefit the federal government requires.) A widow with no children, Azar, 57, is part of the unlucky majority. Her experience is a sign of what to expect if covid, as most scientists fear, becomes endemic: a permanent, regular health threat. The carrier for her employee health insurance, UnitedHealthcare, reinstated patient cost-sharing Jan. 31. That means, because she got sick months later, she could be on the hook for $5,500 in deductibles, co-pays and out-of-network charges this year for her care in a Georgia hospital near her home, including her ICU stay, according to estimates by her family. They anticipate she could face another $5,500 in uncovered expenses next year as her recovery continues.

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Associated Press - September 18, 2021

New redistricting commissions splinter along partisan lines

When voters in some states created new commissions to handle the politically thorny process of redistricting, the hope was that the bipartisan panelists could work together to draw new voting districts free of partisan gerrymandering. Instead, cooperation has proved elusive. In New York, Ohio and Virginia, commissions meeting for the first time this year have splintered into partisan camps to craft competing redistricting maps based on 2020 census data. The divisions have disappointed some activists who supported the reforms and highlighted how difficult it can be to purge politics from the once-a-decade process of realigning boundaries for U.S. House and state legislative seats. As a result, the new state House and Senate districts in Republican-led Ohio will still favor the GOP. Democrats who control New York could still draw maps as they wish. And a potential stalemate in Virginia could eventually kick the process to the courts.

Redistricting can carry significant consequences. Subtle changes in district lines can solidify a majority of voters for a particular party or split its opponents among multiple districts to dilute their influence. Republicans need to net just five seats to regain the U.S. House in the 2022 elections, which could determine the fate of President Joe Biden’s remaining agenda. Throughout most of American history, redistricting has been handled by state lawmakers and governors who have an incentive to draw lines favoring their own parties. But as public attention to gerrymandering has grown in recent decades, voters in an increasing number of states have shifted the task to special commissions. Some commissions — such as those in Arizona, California, Colorado and Michigan — consist solely of citizens who hold the final say on what maps to enact. But others, such as in Ohio and Virginia, include politicians among their members or require their maps to be submitted to the legislature for final approval, as is the case in New York, Virginia and Utah. If New York’s Democratic-led Legislature rejects the work of the new commission (consisting for four Democrats, four Republicans and two independents), then lawmakers can draft and pass their own redistricting plans. The prospects of that increased last week, when Democrats and Republicans on the commission failed to agree and instead released competing versions of new maps for the U.S. House, state Senate and state Assembly.

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Newsclips - September 17, 2021

Lead Stories

Washington Post - September 16, 2021

Brooke Rollins and other Trump aides to spearhead multimillion-dollar campaign against Biden economic plan

A new conservative coalition led by former Trump administration advisers plans to launch an up to $10 million campaign to attack President Biden’s economic package as it advances through Congress. The effort, set to launch Friday, is being spearheaded by the America First Policy Institute founded earlier this year by former Trump officials, as well as conservative organizations such as the Conservative Partnership Institute, the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and FreedomWorks. Leaders of the campaign, called the “Save America Coalition,” met Wednesday night at the Washington headquarters of the America First group located near the White House. They discussed plans to rally more than 100 conservative organizations and draw donors for advertisements and social media campaigns criticizing the Biden proposal in swing states and districts controlled by centrist Democrats.

Conservative alarm about Biden’s proposed tax hikes — which some nonpartisan estimates have found overwhelmingly target the rich and large corporations — has intensified as they move toward passage. Democrats face a difficult legislative path in holding together virtually all of their members in both the House and Senate to approve a plan to spend approximately $3.5 trillion over 10 years on safety net expansions, education programs, and funding to mitigate climate change. Among those leading the Save America Coalition is Brooke Rollins, who led the White House Domestic Policy Council under Trump and is now the CEO of the America First Policy Institute. Rollins told The Washington Post the campaign will “include all of our key people to fight on every front,” including Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser; Linda McMahon, the former professional wrestling executive who led the Small Business Administration; and Russell Vought, Trump’s budget director. Former Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore is also helping lead the coalition through the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. Kudlow confirmed his involvement in a brief interview and said the phrase “Save America” was his idea for the campaign. A spokeswoman confirmed Vought’s involvement. Rollins said other senior Trump economic, health, and environmental officials would play roles in the campaign. Chad Wolf, Trump’s acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, leads immigration issues for the America First Policy Institute and is also expected to be involved. “The Biden economic agenda is designed with one goal in mind — to remake America and the principles upon which our nation was founded,” Rollins said. “These policies threaten American prosperity, small businesses, the economic health of every American family, and our standing in the world.”

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Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Texas’ redistricting special session begins Monday as GOP moves to boost majority, settle scores

You may think Texas legislators have been squawking and scrapping over contentious stuff all year. But just wait until they return for a third overtime session on Monday. No topic lands closer to home than what’s at the top of their agenda – redistricting. Once a decade, the Legislature decamps behind closed doors to redraw political boundaries. This year, it’s a chance for ruling Republicans to tighten their grip on the levers of power. Individual lawmakers, even the most high-minded, will furiously try to claw out safer seats. For the wily, the intrigue-filled exercise offers opportunities to store up IOUs – and settle scores. “It’s the most personal thing that a legislator will do,” noted former Rep. Burt Solomons, a Carrollton Republican who ran the House Redistricting Committee in 2011. “It’s all about how their district looks. Do they have the numbers [of friendly voters] to have a reasonably good chance of being elected? That’s it, period. … You get some raw emotions. The tension and the stress really build up.”

According to experts, Texas Republicans are confident, in no mood to be merciful and face fewer constraints from federal judges and Justice Department officials who in earlier cycles sometimes looked askance at how GOP map makers treated minorities. “They’re comfortable and even a little bit cocky with where they stand,” University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said of the Republicans. “First, they’ve got the numbers,” he said, referring to the party’s 83-67 edge in the House and 18-13 majority in the Senate. “And the courts have been pretty consistently on the side of the GOP. On issues about redistricting by race or by partisanship, the Republicans figure out how to maneuver redistricting to their advantage and not run afoul of the law. " Normally, redistricting is done in the first regular session after a new census is taken but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the federal government’s population count. Detailed census data that are needed to make maps didn’t start arriving until a few weeks ago. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who added remapping to the year’s third special session, also asked lawmakers to try again to pass a transgender sports bill that restricts public school athletes to competitions of the sex on their birth certificates. Months after Democrats wanted to, Abbott also asked the Legislature to divvy up the nearly $16 billion that President Joe Biden’s COVID-relief package sent to Texas. Abbott also beseeched lawmakers to decide whether state and local governmental bodies can require individuals to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. He is against such requirements. And he asked them to revive an anti-dog tethering law that, in an act that sparked loud protests from animal lovers, he vetoed in June.

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Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will step on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s turf for campaign event in Dallas

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is invading Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s home turf for a campaign fundraiser. According to an invitation obtained by The Dallas Morning News, DeSantis and his wife, Casey, will be in Dallas Monday for an event at the home of Dallas billionaire Kenny Troutt and his wife, Lisa. Guests are asked to pay $2,500 a person, while event co-chairs are kicking in $25,000 a person. DeSantis, in his first term as Florida governor, is widely considered a GOP presidential contender for 2024, particularly if former President Donald Trump opts against a comeback. His rapid reopening of Florida, when most states were still in lockdown mode in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic, made him a darling of many national conservatives. He’s been an outspoken critic of mask mandates and so-called vaccine passports.

DeSantis is the routine winner of most Republican straw polls for the 2024 race that don’t include Trump. He was victorious in the July “if Trump doesn’t run in 2022” straw poll done at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas. Trump was the winner of the straw poll that included his name, while Abbott wasn’t a factor in the surveys. Since then Abbott has become more of a national figure because of the controversial Texas elections bill he signed into law, as well as the new law that bans all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The Texas governor has also resisted a return to mask mandates. He’s currently in legal fights with local authorities that are implementing such mandates despite his ban. Both men are up for reelection in 2022 and are believed to have presidential aspirations. No word yet on whether Abbott will travel to Florida to raise campaign cash.

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Associated Press - September 16, 2021

Federal Reserve reviewing ethics policies in wake of Dallas chief’s stock trades

The Federal Reserve is reviewing the ethics policies that govern the financial holdings and activities of its senior officials in the wake of recent disclosures that two regional Fed presidents engaged in extensive trading last year. Robert Kaplan, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, traded millions of dollars of stock last year in companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Google, while Eric Rosengren, president of the Boston Fed, traded in stocks and real estate investment trusts, according to financial disclosure forms. Both pledged last week to divest those holdings after they were reported by The Wall Street Journal. Comments made by Fed regional presidents can move markets and they have a hand in the Fed’s interest rate policies. Such high-placed officials often have exclusive access to discussions about upcoming policy shifts that could benefit or be detrimental to some economic sectors, though they are prohibited from trading on that knowledge and are unable to trade in the period leading up to Fed meetings.

Both Kaplan and Rosengren said last week that their trades were permitted under the Fed’s ethics rules. But they also said they would sell their holdings the end of this month and place the money in index funds, which track a wide range of securities, or in cash. Still, the trades occurred last year when the Fed took extraordinary steps to buoy the U.S. economy and stabilize financial markets during the pandemic. The central bank cut its short-term benchmark interest rate to zero in March 2020 and has since purchased trillions of dollars in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed bonds to hold down longer-term interest rates. One impact of those policies has been to make stocks a more attractive investment relative to bonds, which provide very little return when interest rates are low. The Fed has come under criticism for worsening wealth inequality by pushing up the value of stock portfolios. The Fed’s purchase of mortgage-backed bonds, which are issued by mortgage buyers such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has been criticized by some other regional bank presidents for contributing to the run-up in home prices in the past year. One investment that Rosengren made was in real estate investment trust Annaly Capital Management, which also purchased those same securities. In a prepared statement Thursday, the Fed said that Chair Jerome Powell late last week requested a “fresh and comprehensive look at the ethics rules around permissible financial holdings and activities by senior Fed officials.”

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State Stories

Washington Examiner - September 16, 2021

Abbott says Biden reversed course and refused to allow closure of Texas border crossings

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made the unprecedented move of shutting down six ports of entry with Mexico on Thursday following a surge of migrants crossing illegally into the United States. However, he reversed course an hour later, saying the Biden administration changed course and refused to shut the crossings. Earlier in the day, the Republican governor said he directed the Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to shut down six points of entry on the southern border to "stop these caravans from overrunning our state." “The sheer negligence of the Biden Administration to do their job and secure the border is appalling," he had said in a statement provided to the Washington Examiner Thursday afternoon. Abbott's office did not specify which six ports of entry would be shuttered or how long the closure would last. However, Abbott said the federal agency, Customs and Border Protection, asked the state to step in and assist.

But shortly after announcing the closure, which only the federal government has the ability to do because ports are federally operated, Abbott reversed course, saying ports would be open. "Six hours after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection requested help from Texas to close ports of entry and secure the border, the Biden Administration has now flip-flopped to a different strategy that abandons border security and instead makes it easier for people to cross illegally and for cartels to exploit the border," Abbott wrote in a statement. "The Biden Administration is in complete disarray and is handling the border crisis as badly as the evacuations from Afghanistan," Abbott said. Instead, Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety officers will be present in the area to "deter crossings." However, military and police cannot arrest migrants on immigration crimes, as it is a federal crime and only federal law enforcement can make an arrest. Images that show thousands of people who illegally crossed the border and are in Border Patrol custody under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, were published this week on Twitter by Fox News reporter Bill Melugin. Border Patrol does not have facility space to detain and process the thousands being encountered, and an unknown number of people are evading detection when crossing and getting away.

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Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Federal judge in Austin denies DOJ’s bid for expedited briefing on challenge to Texas’ abortion law

A federal judge in Austin late Thursday denied the U.S. Justice Department’s request this week for expedited briefing in its challenge to SB 8, the Texas law that bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The order by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman says that the case presents “complex” and “important” questions that merit giving each party the full opportunity to present their positions to the court.

On Tuesday, the district court denied the DOJ’s emergency motion request for a injunction on the abortion ban until the case is decided. On Wednesday, Pitman set an Oct. 1 hearing on the U.S. request. The “Heartbeat Act” enforcement mechanism is unique in that private citizens can sue anyone — such as providers, friends, family, and clergy — who “aids and abets” a elective abortion after fetal heartbeats are detected. Private citizens can sue for $10,000 plus legal fees. The law took effect Sept. 1. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling denied an emergency request to block SB 8 from going into effect. Although elective abortion is federally legal through the decision in Roe v. Wade in the U.S., SB 8 has, for the time being, circumvented its enforcement in Texas.

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Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Report: Southwest to offer extra pay, quarantine days to employees who get COVID vaccine

Southwest Airlines joined other U.S. carriers in using incentives to encourage their employees to get vaccinated on Wednesday. Southwest employees will get extra pay if they can show proof that they have received both doses of the COVID vaccine before mid-November, according to a company memo, CNBC reported. People who work for the Dallas-based airliner will get 16 hours of pay when they upload their vaccination card by Nov. 15. However, flight attendants and pilots will get paid for 13 trip segments.

The decision comes a week after the Biden administration announced a plan to adopt rules mandating that companies with more than 100 employees require workers to get vaccinated. However, in the memo, Southwest officials said the new pay incentives are unrelated to the planned vaccine mandate, CNBC reported. “If you have not been vaccinated and choose to do so, this timeline gives you enough time to receive both rounds of a two-series vaccine or the single-dose vaccine,” Southwest wrote to staff, CNBC reported. The vaccine incentive will go into effect as major corporations are finding ways to encourage their employees to get the shot. In August, United Airlines announced that it would require all of its 67,000 employees to get inoculated for COVID. Employees will receive an extra day of pay after providing proof of the shot by Sept. 20 to United officials. Meanwhile Delta is charging increased healthcare premiums for employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

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Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo in hot water in Miami over 'Cuban Mafia' comment

Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo may have thought moving to Miami would be sun and fun, but he appears to have landed himself in some hot water recently. Readers may recall that Acevedo abruptly announced in March that he was moving to the Magic City. At the time, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez touted the surprise hire -- Acevedo never formally applied for the job -- by saying “We got the Michael Jordan of police chiefs.” But almost immediately, Acevedo's hire prompted controversy. One city commissioner complained that Suarez and City Manager art Noriega "came out of nowhere and picked a policy chief that wasn't vetted."

In Houston, Acevedo quickly established himself as an outgoing leader who wanted his department to be in touch with the community it protected, and became a fixture at community meetings -- neighborhood associations, schools, civic clubs and public hearings on a variety of issues — and for his friendly relations with local media. He was no stranger to controversy here, engaging in high-profile spats with fellow Republicans such as Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas’ senior Sen. John Cornyn and drawing the wrath of rank-and-file police officers for a discipline style some said was too harsh. As Houstonians doubtless recall, Acevedo was no stranger to the camera, frequently marching in protests alongside criminal justice reform advocates. But over the last years of his tenure in Houston he was dogged by the Harding Street drug raid scandal. In Miami, his tenure has come under fire far more quickly than his time here in Houston. The Miami Herald reported that Acevedo has come under criticism for a string of disciplinary decisions, including firing the highest-ranking police couple in the department for not properly reporting a patrol vehicle accident, relieving a popular sergeant-at-arms and abruptly demoting several supervisors -- including a high-ranking Black female officer.

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Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

47 arrested, more than 100 guns seized in Pleasant Grove in 90-day law-enforcement push

A collaborative effort to curb gun violence in Pleasant Grove resulted in at least 47 arrests and the seizure of hundreds of firearms over the course of 90 days, law enforcement officials say. Operation Pegasus involved more than 117 undercover efforts and “strategic enforcement,” Dallas, state and federal officials announced Thursday. Dallas Police Chief Eddie García said the Pleasant Grove area of southeast Dallas was chosen because it has a high concentration of violent crime. He said Dallas police were “all in” when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approached the department about the collaborative effort, which included the Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI. “We know that it’s a few individuals that are causing the majority of the crime,” García said. “And in order for the vast majority of our residents that live in Pleasant Grove that live in fear to live their lives without these criminals is very, very important.”

The announcement of the operation’s results came as the police chief has overseen a strategy that aims to reduce violent crime after two years of increased homicides. On Monday, he marked the end of the initial 90-day implementation of the strategy’s first phase, which focused on increasing patrol resources in high-crime areas, relying on raising police visibility and targeting offenders. The plan also focuses on dealing with drug houses and tackling poverty as a root cause of violent offenses. Police and city officials voiced confidence in the plan this week, noting there had been fewer murders and robberies across Dallas during the first half of the year, though aggravated assaults were slightly higher than in 2020. Operation Pegasus is one of multiple interagency efforts that have taken place since García’s arrival about seven months ago. “The collaboration that I’ve seen with our state and federal partners is the best that I have experienced in nearly 30 years of law enforcement in two different cities and in two different states,” García said Thursday. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Prerak Shah said firearm offenders are about 50% more likely to revert to criminal behavior than non-firearm offenders.

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AV Club - September 16, 2021

Texas man cited by police for walking around in a storm dressed as Michael Myers

On Monday, as Galveston, Texas prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Nicholas, a lawyer decided to amp up an atmosphere of dread just a little bit more by throwing on a Michael Myers costume and walking along the beach holding a fake knife. Despite this being a straightforwardly cool and fun thing to do, the lawyer was quickly slapped in handcuffs and cited for disorderly conduct. Footage shows Mark Metzger III enjoying himself by strolling along the beach as a storm rolls in, doing stuff like staring at onlookers and pointing his bloody knife at them. This may seem kind of menacing but Metzger later explained that his performance was just meant to make people happy.

Metzger told ABC13 that he wanted to “find a little bit of positivity in the gloomy doom” of 2021 and that horror movie cosplay was his way of accomplishing that goal. For his efforts, he was handcuffed by police—who soon figured out that his knife and the blood on it weren’t real—and cited for disorderly conduct before being released. He later told ABC13, “I guess there’s some people out there that don’t have a sense of humor or, you know, can’t please them all.” He also said his arrest “felt like a scene out of Scooby-Doo after they handcuffed me and pulled the mask off, like, ‘I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling Karens, you know?’” In a Facebook post, he reiterates some of the same comments about wanting to dress up like a serial killer in order to “[restore] our faith in humanity through humor” and writes that he’s “still fuzzy on what exactly was illegal about my actions.” Metzger also mentions that he got to meet Tom Araya of Slayer during the prank (and attaches a photo) and then tosses out a few hashtags, like #irreverentwarriors on his post. Just like Myers, this defeat isn’t likely to stop him for long. Metzger told ABC13 that “If I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would,” which suggests that he’ll probably be out during the next big storm getting his overalls all wet and sandy. Keep an eye on the beach.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 16, 2021

Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause running in election for Texas attorney general

Fort Worth Republican Rep. Matt Krause is the latest candidate to launch a 2022 bid against embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for his statewide office. Krause on Thursday announced his bid for the seat. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman have previously announced campaigns for attorney general in the Republican primary. On the Democratic side, civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who represents the families of Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean, is running for attorney general, as well as Galveston lawyer Joe Jaworski. “I can bring a faithful, conservative fighter to that position to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect the values and liberties of Texans while pushing back against a Biden and Harris administration that too often seeks to exert too much influence into the lives of Texans,” Krause said.

Krause, who practiced constitutional law before serving in the legislature, has represented House District 93 in the Texas House of Representatives since 2013. In seeking statewide office, Krause will not again run for his House seat. Krause pointed to his legislative record and experience in the state legislature as what differentiates him from other candidates. Voters could expect to see similarities between him and Paxton when it comes to policies, he said. But Krause said turnover and allegations related to abuse of office concern him and factored into his decision to run. Paxton, who took office in 2015, is facing federal felony securities fraud charges. He is separately under investigation by the FBI for allegedly using his office to benefit a political donor, according to the Associated Press. “Anytime you have that kind of environment surrounding an office, it takes your focus off the ability, not necessarily to do anything good for Texans, but most effective and the best things for Texas,” Krause said. In a Thursday statement, Paxton touted his endorsement by former President Trump and his record challenging the Biden administration. “I have taken the American First fight to this far left administration on the border and reinstated Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy,” Paxton wrote. “I am also prosecuting dozens of felony charges of voter fraud and helped lead the investigation and closure of the largest human trafficking website in America. I stand by my record and values, and ask each voter to join President Trump in standing with me for a safer and stronger Texas.”

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Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Dave Lieber: Ken Paxton released a report clearing himself of any and all crimes. How brilliant is that?

Dear Attorney General Ken Paxton, Man, you are one slick lawyer. I give you credit. In a world where there’s very little originality, you’ve carved out a special place for yourself in the annals of law enforcement. You and your office released a 374-page report that supposedly clears you of all wrongdoing in a case in which you stand accused of using your powers to help a friend who is also a campaign donor. I’m surprised you haven’t already done this in your separate securities fraud case you’ve been fighting now for six years. Clear thy own name. Wow. Why didn’t I think of that when I received a one-week suspension in the fifth grade for using foul language? I should have cleared myself in a report to the principal. My grandmother from the old country would have called this a great example of chutzpah. It’s probably not a word anyone much uses in Minot, N.D., where you were born. But Dictionary.com defines the Yiddish word’s meaning as shameless audacity, arrogance, nerve and gall.

To use it in a sentence, you, sir, displayed extraordinary chutzpah when you cleared yourself of all crimes. The word is not pronounced like it’s spelled. It’s not shutz-pa. It’s more like hootz-spa. You could print T-shirts that say, “Full of chutzpah.” (Wait, I just checked. You can already find them on the Internet for $19.90.) I admire the way you flipped the scenario. You had eight staff members accuse you of wrongdoing for allegedly favoring buddy Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor, with special treatment. These officials, who worked in the office with you, claim you abused your power as the state’s top law enforcement officer. But you blamed them for the wrongdoing instead. Beautiful. Such malcontents. Good thing they no longer work for you. Who needs employees with a conscience? I love the way empty moving boxes were placed in the hallway near some of their offices. The message was clear: Time to go, you traitors. Darn those whistleblowers. Such tattletales. In an explosive lawsuit, several of them wrote that you “became less rational” in your decision-making and more “unwilling to listen to reasonable objections” to your instructions. They claimed you became obsessed with helping Paul, also under FBI investigation, achieve goals he needed for his business.

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Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

AT&T debuts first of three ‘connected learning centers’ in Dallas with plans to open 20 nationwide

AT&T’s effort to address the digital divide is underway with Thursday’s opening of a downtown Dallas education center aimed at assisting mostly low-income families left behind by gaps in affordable, reliable internet availability. The so-called “connected learning centers” are part of a $2 billion commitment by AT&T to bridge inequities in modern internet infrastructure. AT&T declined to provide the specific amount it’s investing in 20 centers planned nationwide. In many parts of the U.S., people living in majority non-white neighborhoods and regions with lower incomes lack access to high-speed internet, creating barriers to education for children and to finding employment for adults.

The gap in accessibility became starker when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to turn to virtual instruction and companies told employees to work from home. In Dallas, which ranks among the worst connected for U.S. cities of its size, the city invested hundreds of thousands to turn library parking lots into internet hot spots and distributed laptops and tablets to students. AT&T is partnering with Dell Technologies, which is providing 15 computers for each center, the Public Library Association and Black-owned global IT firm Overland-Tandberg, which will provide technical assistance to the centers. Family Gateway, which supports homeless families, also is on board. The nonprofit is one that’s familiar to Dallas-based AT&T, whose employees have volunteered their time at Family Gateway after work for several years, tutoring the children of families staying there, according to the organization’s president and CEO Ellen Magnis. AT&T employees will continue to volunteer at the center. The learning centers will be equipped with educational content from Khan Academy and an in-house learning program that includes content from WarnerMedia’s brands like the DC Comics Universe and Cartoon Network. The company also is giving $50,000 to each nonprofit it partners with to cover additional operational costs.

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Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Here comes another Texas voter purge, but this time with a wrinkle

Two years after Texas officials fumbled an effort to double-check the voting rolls on a hunt for noncitizens — and instead threatened the voting rights of nearly 60,000 eligible Texans — similar efforts to purge noncitizen voters are now the law of the land, thanks to provisions tucked into the massive elections bill enacted this month. The secretary of state will again be allowed to regularly compare driver’s license records to voter registration lists in a quest to find people who are not eligible. But while Republicans are determined to make another run at the purge that alarmed civil rights groups two years ago, they insist they’ve made key changes to prevent a repeat of the same mistakes. “They blew it last time,” acknowledged state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.

So much so that then-Secretary of State David Whitley resigned in the aftermath and triggered a public apology from his office. Civil rights groups also sued his office and blocked the state from continuing the purge at the time. Starting by December of this year, the secretary of state will review Department of Public Safety records every month looking for potential noncitizens. But this time, lawmakers have put in a provision that intentionally bars the secretary of state from going too far back in time as they scour driver’s license records, something that led to some of the problems in 2019. In some instances, the state flagged legal voters who had become naturalized citizens since the time they first applied for a driver’s license a decade or more earlier. Noncitizens, including those with visas or green cards to stay in the U.S., are able to get Texas driver’s licenses. The state’s 2019 analysis flagged those drivers, but it never accounted for the fact that about 50,000 Texans become naturalized citizens each year. The result was many legitimate voters receiving letters warning they were at risk of being knocked off the voter rolls and facing potential legal action because of faulty data.

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Rio Grande Guardian - September 13, 2021

McAllen-Reynosa area about to benefit from EDC’s focus on China

Multiple visits to China in 2019 by McAllen leaders is finally set to pay off with Chinese companies investing in the McAllen-Reynosa area. That is the prediction of Jorge Torres, president and founder of InterLink Trade Services, a customs brokerage company with offices in McAllen, Pharr and Brownsville. Torres participated in the trips to China two years ago. They were organized by the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and featured then-McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. “For our region, there is a lot of potential for growth. Because of USMCA and Covid, we have a very good opportunity for growth in our region because companies will be interested in setting up operations, both on the U.S. side of the border and on the Mexican side as well,” Torres said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.

The interview was arranged as a follow-up to a recent webinar Torres hosted in collaboration with McAllen EDC about USMCA. USMCA stands for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and is the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Torres pointed out that provisions in USMCA that were not present in NAFTA require more raw materials to be sourced in North America for manufactured products coming into the United States if manufacturers wish to avoid paying import duties. For an automobile or a light duty truck, the original value content, as of 2023, is going to be 75 percent. “The USMCA rules of origin, particularly in the automotive industry, are making (supply) companies think about setting up operations in North America. In particular cross-border operations. That is going to allow them to meet the rules of origin for their customers and therefore comply with USMCA requirements,” Torres said. “That is pretty much a given, especially for the automotive industry. Companies like General Motors and Ford and other companies that assemble cars in our region are going to start demanding that their components are originating here so they count in the 75 percent. That is forcing companies to locate operations in North America if they want to keep supplying North America. If they want to supply manufacturing companies they need to make the product in North America in order to company with the rules of origin for USMCA purposes.”

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Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Evan Mintz: Texas put a bounty on my rabbi. Is it time for us to leave?

While I was hoping to hear the deep blasts of the shofar in person, yet another year of virtual High Holiday services has given me the opportunity to catch up on some paperwork that my Jewish guilt had been urging me to begin for some time. I started applying for my kids’ passports. The annals of Jewish history stretch back for millennia, yet all those chronicles point to a single indispensable lesson: Be prepared to leave. Whether it’s Israelites escaping Pharoah before they had time to let bread rise or my own great-grandfather fleeing his hometown after his mother was murdered by Cossacks, the perpetual narrative of the Jewish people is one of exodus. After the passage of Senate Bill 8, I have started to worry that Texas will be part of that narrative for my own family. SB 8 was nominally crafted to prohibit abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, but that’s not the part that concerns me.

Rather, it’s the provision that delegates enforcement to individual Texans. Anyone in the state can take private civil action not only against those who seek or provide an abortion, but also those who merely assist in pursuit of one. You’ll find the leadership of my own synagogue in that latter category. Like most American Jews, I belong to a denomination that believes life begins at birth and places the utmost value on that life — especially when carrying a future child. That’s why, for example, rabbis have developed a specific process for accommodating a woman’s pregnancy cravings if she happens to hanker for a slice of honey-glazed ham. Her wellbeing, and that of the fetus, matters far more than Kosher law. That’s also why Danny Horwitz, a rabbi at Congregation Beth Yeshurun, once explicitly instructed a woman to get an abortion after hearing about how another child would put undue stress on her preexisting health issues. “Thus, when this woman came to me for direction, I told her not that she could have an abortion, but that she must have an abortion, that the God of my understanding would want her to do it,” he wrote. That advice alone would likely be in violation of SB 8. I have to wonder how long until a self-proclaimed “baby-murder bounty hunter” like state Rep. Briscoe Cain, one of the bill’s sponsors, fixes his metaphorical crosshairs on my synagogue. I also have to wonder how long until someone drops the metaphor.

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Dallas Observer - September 10, 2021

Parents sue Allen ISD over 'failure' to protect children with COVID safety measures

Allen Independent School District parents have petitioned and protested for more COVID-19 protocols throughout the district, including a mask mandate for students. But the district hasn't budged. So now, these parents are taking their chances in court. In a federal class-action lawsuit filed late Wednesday, the parents demand the district implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19, including a temporary mask requirement for students. These guidelines wouldn't require teachers and staff to wear masks, according to the lawsuit. In May, Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order banning mask mandates by government entities, which included schools. But Abbott has faced a swell of defiance from many school districts around the state, including Dallas ISD, as they implement mask mandates. Other districts challenging the governor include Austin, Fort Worth and Houston.

Attorney Martin Cirkiel filed the suit on behalf of students and parents only identified as Jane and John Doe. It alleges Allen ISD and school board members violated students’ constitutional rights by not implementing enough protocols to curb the spread of the coronavirus. “This failure by the school district has caused too many children to get sick and has put them, their classmates and their families, as well as staff, at further risk,” Cirkiel & Associates said in a press release. The lawsuit said the school board has a responsibility to assure students’ right to life and that it’s not living up to this. “While it yet to be determined whether or not a student has a constitutional right and liberty interest in not wearing a mask at school, even if so, it does not supersede the Doe’s constitutional right to life (and by extension their health) to have those same students wear a mask at school, because of the current rampage of the COVID-19 pandemic delta variant,” the lawsuit said. But Allen ISD officials insist the district is doing just fine. “Due to the ongoing litigation, the school district cannot speak to the specifics regarding its response to the lawsuit at this time,” an Allen ISD spokesperson told the Observer by email. “The District, however, strongly disagrees that the students’ constitutional rights have been violated by leaving masks as an option for students and staff. Allen ISD continues to work proactively and professionally with parents who have questions or concerns about COVID-related issues.”

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KXAN - September 16, 2021

Tension in Texas: What is, and isn’t, allowed at ISD board meetings under state law

This week in Central Texas, at least two school board meetings dissolved into chaos as districts work to navigate COVID-19 safety protocols, specifically whether they will enforce mask mandates, regardless of Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order. On Monday night, several people were escorted out of a Leander ISD board meeting, according to people at the meeting and videos obtained by KXAN, despite a warning from leaders in their previously posted agenda, which announced people who were disruptive would be removed. That’s exactly what ended up happening. “I don’t think a general reminder at this point is going to help us altogether, I don’t think a plea for respectful interactions is really helping before I end up giving a warning and asking for removal if you are disrupting the meeting,” one of the members of the board said as parents continued to yell. The agenda shows that action items included accepting a board member’s resignation and options for filling that vacancy.

A day later, the Round Rock Independent School District had to cut a meeting short after it was disrupted several times by angry community members. A number of people were upset at not being allowed in the main chamber for the meeting, which was at one point blocked off by police. A spokesperson for Round Rock ISD says they let the room fill up as much as possible while abiding by social distancing guidelines. Once the room was full, people were put in an overflow room, where they could watch the meeting on television and come into the main room to talk — if they signed up to speak. Community members were unhappy with that, citing the Open Meetings Act. Politics and opinion aside, there appears to be some confusion on what can and can’t be done by a school board, and by police, under the Open Meetings Act and within the bounds of freedom of speech. We took community members’ concerns to University of Texas law professor Steven Collis to break down what the Open Meetings Act means for you. Can I legally be escorted out of a public meeting? Collis said, “Generally speaking, people can’t disrupt the meeting. There are reasonable times allotted for when people can make comments, and if they’re preventing the operation of a meeting by say, screaming or yelling or violence or anything like that, then at that point they can be escorted out.”

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San Antonio Express-News - September 16, 2021

As Texas Republicans celebrate wins on abortion and voting, Democrats predict a 2022 reckoning

Two years ago, Texas' Republican leaders agreed to boost public education spending by billions of dollars, setting aside most of the incendiary social issues that had derailed similar efforts in the past. But the GOP’s fixation on bread-and-butter issues — seemingly driven, at least in part, by a painful 2018 midterm election — proved to be fleeting. After Democrats fell flat in their lavishly funded attempt to retake the Texas House in 2020, Republicans responded by adopting a parade of conservative priorities this year, including the nation's strictest anti-abortion law and an overhaul of Texas elections that prompted Democrats to leave the state for over a month to stall it. While Republicans have touted their string of policy wins over the last few months, Democrats are already predicting a reckoning in the 2022 midterms, arguing that the state's hard shift to the right went too far and will fuel Democratic gains at the polls.

“There is such a thing as a Republican who publicly — in their social groups, maybe at church — will profess to be hardline about something, but when they finally get it, they realize that is not the world that they want,” said state Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio. “They might be pro-Second Amendment, but they may not like permitless carry. They may be pro-life, but they recognize the dangers of having an outright ban on abortion, especially without exceptions for rape and incest. “Democrats don't have to spin those issues. They just have to make sure people are aware of what's happened, because they honestly just speak for themselves.” Even if the Republican policies have created some ammunition for Democratic candidates, the party also faces headwinds next year, including the tendency for a president's party to lose seats in midterm elections — the same phenomenon that aided Democrats in 2018. They will also need a major candidate to oppose Gov. Greg Abbott and his $55 million war chest. And the next round of redistricting, a top priority for the legislative session that begins Monday, gives Republicans a chance to shore up some of the seats Democrats are targeting. Those factors, combined with national issues like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Biden administration’s messy exit from Afghanistan, have muddled the political outlook for Texas heading into 2022, said Renée Cross, senior director of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. “We've seen throughout history the midterms are traditionally very hard on the party in power,” Cross said. “However, we've got all these other variables that I don't think we've really had to deal with before. In our generation, we haven't had to deal with ending a 20-year war and a pandemic.”

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Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Texas judges order DA Kim Ogg to stop withholding Harding Street raid evidence - yet again

The ruling from the state’s highest court Wednesday to Harris County prosecutors was definitive, and final: Turn the documents over. For more than a year, Harris County prosecutors have fought requests from defense attorneys for information and evidence that are routinely turned over in every criminal case. The documents being sought are those used to charge some of the Houston police narcotics officers at the center of the Harding Street drug raid scandal. After a 2019 drug raid ended in the deaths of two homeowners, Houston police investigators said the operation by Narcotics Squad 15 was based on lies by Gerald Goines, the veteran narcotics officer who led the operation. The firefight led to investigations from the FBI, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and an internal probe by the police department.

The FBI’s investigation led to federal charges against Goines — for violating the rights of the slain couple, Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas — and his former partner, Stephen Bryant, with lying on government documents. Local prosecutors, meanwhile, began re-examining hundreds of cases Goines and his colleagues worked, dismissing many of them and pushing to have some convictions overturned. Ultimately, Goines was charged with felony murder, and a grand jury indicted him and 10 other current and former officers with a slew of other crimes, mostly related to lying on government documents to pad their overtime pay. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg trumpeted the indictments in January, comparing the officers’ behavior to “straight-up graft,” which she said “can literally rot an institution from the inside out.” At the time, defense attorneys representing several of the accused officers asked Ogg’s prosecutors for documents and information DA investigators used as the basis for the charges — documents they say they routinely receive in other cases. Under the Michael Morton Act, prosecutors are required to share such information with defendants, but Ogg’s civil rights prosecutors have fought defense attorneys’ requests for the documents by arguing that they are protected from disclosure because they are work product.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2021

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul slams 'appalling' Texas abortion ban, criticizes Greg Abbott

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul this week sharply criticized a new Texas law that essentially bans most abortions and said that her state intends to assist women who want to leave the Lone Star State to access the procedure. “For women in Texas, we want you to know: We will help you find a way to New York. And right now we are looking intensely to find what resources we can bring to the table to help you have safe transport here, and let you know there are providers who will assist you in this time of your need,” Hochul said in a Wednesday night interview on MSNBC. She went on to attack Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, saying he and Republicans like him claim to be proponents of deregulation and small government, but then seek to control women’s bodies.

“I’m going to help women get elected all over this country who are pro-choice. I’m going to use my energy and my resources to make sure that happens as well. That’s the only thing that’s going to change this: We have to wipe out men like Governor Abbott,” said Hochul, a Democrat who became the state’s first woman governor last month. “It’s so appalling what’s going on in these Republican states. And their people are suffering, and I can’t stand it any longer. We have to take a strong position against this and call it out whenever we see it.” A spokeswoman for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear from Hochul’s remarks whether she means that New York will have a policy to financially assist Texas women seeking to travel to her state for abortions, or whether she simply means that New York’s existing clinics that perform abortions will be open to Texans. “New York State provides care for people regardless of residency. We will do everything we can to help individuals who are seeking the procedure in New York State,” Haley Viccaro, a spokeswoman for Hochul, wrote in an email.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 16, 2021

Group pushes to decriminalize cannabis in San Marcos

Social justice advocates in Hays County are pushing to keep people who possess or use cannabis in San Marcos out of jail. At a news conference last week, Mano Amiga announced a campaign of public outreach aiming to get a measure on the ballot in November 2022. It would decriminalize use and possession of small amounts in the city.

Come January, the group will have 180 days to collect the signatures of 10 percent of voters, said Sam Benavides, a Mano Amiga campaign fellow. “We are confident that this will be a campaign widely popular across the political spectrum,” Benavides said via email. “It is time that members of our community stop having their lives so needlessly disrupted over possession of something that people in other states have legally created million-dollar companies selling.”

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Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Flashlight beatings, chokings and threats: Dallas officer faced multiple allegations of brutality

Two Black men accused the officer of beating them with his flashlight so badly they were treated at a hospital. Another Black man said he threatened to yank his “[expletive] through this window.” A Black woman said the officer choked her while saying, ‘B----, you want to die?’’ Those complaints were among the first from people who alleged brutality, racial profiling and other misconduct by Sgt. Roger Rudloff over his 26 years on the Dallas police force. And the allegations of abuse kept coming, at least 18 in all, mostly from Black and Latino people, police records show. Eight people accused Rudloff, who is white, of using inappropriate force. Thirteen accused him of making racist or abusive remarks. The allegations rarely resulted in discipline, a Dallas Morning News investigation found. Instead, Rudloff moved up the ranks, serving as a field training officer for new recruits and racking up at least 125 commendations for his aggressive police work.

Then last year, a photograph of Rudloff shooting pepper balls at a Black Lives Matter protester stoked concerns from community leaders about police violence. In March, police quietly cleared Rudloff, 48, of criminal wrongdoing, despite experts’ opinions that there was ample evidence to charge him. The Dallas Morning News examined more than a thousand records tracking Rudloff’s career. The pepper-ball shooting, captured in a photo published by The News, marked the first time allegations against Rudloff prompted a criminal investigation. The disclosure of Rudloff’s history comes as the Dallas Police Department is facing scrutiny by the FBI, the Dallas County district attorney’s office and City Council for a string of scandals since last year. Among the problems: a flawed murder investigation into a former officer that led to his release from jail and a suspected Ponzi scheme involving a dozen officers. Dallas police Chief Eddie García, who started in February, has vowed to improve accountability. In a statement, García declined to comment on the complaints against Rudloff because a separate internal investigation is pending. Rudloff declined repeated requests for interviews. His lawyer described all of the complaints against Rudloff as baseless. The sergeant’s record of achievement speaks for itself, he said.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Joe Manchin: The last of the oil and gas Democrats?

Natural gas is a booming business in West Virginia, and when the state’s gas producers started getting nervous about President Joe Biden’s climate policies earlier this year, they put in a call to the last Democrat holding statewide office in West Virginia. Sen. Joe Manchin, the newly appointed chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, took their questions for an hour, discussing topics such as pipeline construction and industry tax breaks, said Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil & Natural Gas Association of West Virginia. “We talked about issues like intangible drilling costs and percentage declines. He is very well versed,” Burd said. “Everyone gets a visit, but he welcomes us.” Since last year’s election turned him into a critical swing vote in the closely divided Senate, Manchin has used the spotlight to advocate aggressively within his party for climate change policy that allows the continued use of fossil fuels — or as he likes to describe his position, “innovate not eliminate.”

Facing off against President Joe Biden and other members of his party calling for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, Manchin has emerged as one of the last Senate Democrats willing to go to bat for the fossil fuel industry, whether it’s West Virginia’s still sizeable coal mining sector or oil and gas drillers in states like Texas. “Senator Manchin has a lot of power and has wielded it,” said Matthew Davis, legislative director at the environmental group League of Conservation Voters. “He’s shaping the way things are running.” Manchin’s office declined interview requests for this story. But the senator has not been shy in publicly expressing his displeasure with his party’s approach to climate change. Trying to navigate his way through a scrum of reporters in the Capitol this summer — all eager to get his take on Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget proposal — Manchin issued a stern warning to Democrats looking to use the budget to shift the nation away from fossil fuels. “I know they have the climate portion in here, and I'm concerned about that," Manchin told reporters. "Because if they're eliminating fossils, and I'm finding out there's a lot of language in places they're eliminating fossils, which is very, very disturbing.”

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Washington Post - September 16, 2021

Joe Manchin gets all the attention. But Kyrsten Sinema could be an even bigger obstacle for Democrats’ spending plans.

Senate Democrats were riding high on the afternoon of July 28: A long-delayed bipartisan infrastructure package had finally come together, with many senators eager to finish that bill and move forward with a multitrillion-dollar piece of economic, climate and social legislation — President Biden’s signature “Build Back Better” plan. But one senator, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), punctured the gleeful atmosphere with a warning shot. While Democratic members of the Senate Budget Committee may have agreed on the size of the second bill, she had not. “[W]hile I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion,” Sinema said in a statement that struck some of her fellow Democrats as poorly timed — coming just hours before she was counting on a united caucus to advance the infrastructure deal she had painstakingly negotiated. Sinema, 45, is not the only Senate Democrat to raise pointed concerns about the size of the party’s legislative agenda. In fact, her objections have been largely obscured by the much more prominent complaints that fellow Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has aired about the left wing’s ambitions in newspaper op-eds, TV news appearances and near-daily comments to reporters.

Sinema, on the other hand, has remained almost entirely mum. While Manchin appeared on multiple Sunday news programs this month, Sinema hasn’t done a national television interview in weeks. But her vote in the evenly divided Senate is just as crucial as Manchin’s, and some Democrats quietly fear her objections could be even more nettlesome. She remained silent when asked about her priorities in shaping the bill at the Capitol this week, and a spokesman, John LaBombard, said in a statement Wednesday that Sinema “is continuing to work in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden as this legislation develops.” According to more than a dozen interviews with her Senate colleagues and aides involved in the negotiations, Sinema and her staff have been closely involved in the talks, putting detailed questions to several key lawmakers and committee aides to understand the justification for proposed spending and tax increases. “She’s gone through the whole package and has very specific concerns and questions about very specific pieces,” said Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who said Tuesday that he has personally fielded questions from Sinema about his own proposal for a new Civilian Climate Corps — a multibillion-dollar line item that is a key priority for the left. Sinema, Coons said, wanted to know more about whether the program could be quickly grown to the scale that its supporters envision. “It’s a perfectly reasonable question,” Coons added. “I spoke up in caucus and said, you know, this is one of the ones I’m working really hard on. And she said, ‘Okay, I need answers to this, this, this and this.’”

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Associated Press - September 17, 2021

Milley: Calls to China were ‘perfectly’ within scope of job

The top U.S. military officer said Friday that calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final stormy months of Donald Trump’s presidency were “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job. In his first public comments on the conversations, Gen. Mark Milley such said calls are “routine” and were done “to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case in order to ensure strategic stability.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to The Associated Press and another reporter traveling with him to Europe. Milley has been at the center of a firestorm amid reports he made two calls to Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army to assure him that the United States was not going to suddenly go to war with or attack China.

Descriptions of the calls made last October and in January were first aired in excerpts from the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The book says Milley told Li that he would warn Li in the event of an attack. Milley on Friday offered only a brief defense of his calls, saying he plans a deeper discussion about the matter for Congress when he testifies at a hearing later in September. “I think it’s best that I reserve my comments on the record until I do that in front of the lawmakers who have the lawful responsibility to oversee the U.S. military,” Milley said. “I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to go into in a couple of weeks.” Milley and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are scheduled to testify Sept. 28 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in what initially was going to be a hearing on the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation of Americans, Afghans and others from that country. Now, however, Milley is expected to face tough questioning on the telephone calls, which came during Trump’s turbulent last months in office as he challenged the results of the 2020 election. The second call, on Jan. 8, came two days after a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s White House victory.

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Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2021

Energy Department lowers U.S. Gulf oil production estimates after Hurricane Ida

The Energy Department lowered its oil production estimates in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ida temporarily halted production at the vast majority of offshore oil platforms last month. U.S. Gulf oil output is expected to fall by 200,000 barrels per day in August to 1.5 million barrels per day. September production is expected to fall by 500,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels per day, the agency said Thursday. Ida caused the largest disruption to U.S. offshore oil production since Hurricanes Delta and Zeta in October 2020. U.S. crude oil production fell by 1.5 million barrels per day between Aug. 27 and Sept. 3, the Energy Department said.

Offshore oil producers are still reeling from Ida, which made landfall Aug. 29 in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm shut down as much as 96 percent of crude oil production and 94 percent of natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Interior Department. More than two weeks after Ida, nearly 30 percent of oil production and 40 percent of natural gas production in the Gulf remains shut down, the Interior Department said Wednesday. The Gulf of Mexico represents 15 percent of U.S. crude production. The Energy Department expects that Gulf oil production will return to pre-Ida levels by October, but warned that refinery operations could take longer to recover. At least nine refineries shut down or reduced production in response to Ida. Gulf Coast refineries took in 1.6 million fewer barrels of oil per day from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3. Although some refiners have restarted operations, the Energy Department expects that refinery runs will average 713,000 barrels per day less in September as a result of Ida. “Repairs to any infrastructure required to resume refinery operations, however, could potentially take longer, making the forecast highly uncertain,” the Energy Department said. Ida caused crude oil inventories in the Gulf to fall by 2.6 million barrels from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3, the Energy Department said. Over the same period. Crude oil imports into the Gulf Coast fell by 247,000 barrels per day while crude oil exports from the Gulf fell by 698,000 barrels per day. Hurricane Nicholas, which made landfall in Texas as a Category 1 hurricane on Sept. 14, could delay the oil industry’s recovery from Ida, analysts said. Oil producers, refiners and petrochemical manufacturers are assessing damage from Nicholas, although preliminary reports found no significant damage from the storm.

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CNBC - September 16, 2021

Lawyer who allegedly advised Clinton campaign charged with lying to FBI in tip about possible Trump-Russia bank link

A lawyer who allegedly advised the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign was indicted Thursday on a charge of lying to the FBI. Federal prosecutors say Michael Sussmann, then a partner at law firm Perkins Coie, lied when he offered a tip that same year about the possible secret electronic channel between former President Donald Trump’s company and a Russian bank. The charge against Sussmann was filed as part of special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of a prior probe by the FBI and former special counsel Robert Mueller into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. Then-Attorney General William Barr put Durham in charge of the investigation in early 2019 after Trump had railed about the Russia inquiry for several years.

Sussmann, a 57-year-old former federal prosecutor, has reportedly denied working for the Clinton campaign. He is accused in the indictment of lying to the FBI’s general counsel during a September 2016 meeting by falsely stating he was not representing any legal client as he relayed the information about a possible electronic link between the Trump Organization and the Alfa Bank. “In fact, Sussmann assembled and conveyed the allegations to the FBI on behalf of at least two clients, including a U.S. technology executive and the Clinton Presidential Campaign,” Durham’s office said in a statement announcing the indictment by a Washington, D.C., federal court grand jury. The indictment says that beginning in July 2016, Sussmann worked with the tech executive, other cyber-researchers, and an American investigative firm to assemble data and documents that Sussman later gave the FBI and media. “The technology executive, for his part, exploited his access to non-public data at multiple internet companies and enlisted the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract designed to identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber-attacks and protect U.S. national security,” Durham’s office said.

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Washington Post - September 17, 2021

GOP Rep. Gonzalez, who voted to impeach Trump, announces he won’t seek reelection, citing ‘toxic dynamics inside our own party’

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach former president Donald Trump, on Thursday announced he will not seek reelection in 2022, citing a desire to “build a fuller family life” as well as “the toxic dynamics inside our own party.” Gonzalez, a former professional football player, was once seen as a rising star within the GOP, before his vote to impeach Trump incurred the wrath of the former president and his supporters. Gonzalez was facing a tumultuous primary against Max Miller, an aide to the former president, whom Trump endorsed in February. Gonzalez, who turns 37 on Saturday and has two children, said in a statement Thursday that his decision was based on concerns about the toll the job was taking on his young family, as well as the state of the Republican Party.

“Since entering politics, I have always said that I will do this job for as long as the voters will have me and it still works for my family,” Gonzalez said, before conceding that it had become “clear that the best path for our family is not to seek reelection next fall.” “While my desire to build a fuller family life is at the heart of my decision, it is also true that the current state of our politics, especially many of the toxic dynamics inside our own party, is a significant factor in my decision,” Gonzalez added. In an interview with the New York Times, Gonzalez went into more detail about how those concerns intersected, describing the difficulty of dividing his time between Ohio and Washington, and noting an “eye-opening” moment with his family this year at the Cleveland airport, where they needed additional security after the impeachment brought a new wave of threats. “That’s one of those moments where you say, ‘Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport?’” Gonzalez told the newspaper. Gonzalez also told the Times that he saw Trump as “a cancer for the country” and that he would devote most of his political energy to ensuring Trump would never be president again.

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Newsclips - September 16, 2021

Lead Stories

Associated Press - September 16, 2021

FDA strikes cautious, neutral tone ahead of Friday vaccine booster meeting

Influential government advisers will debate Friday if there's enough proof that a booster dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective — the first step toward deciding which Americans need one and when. The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday posted much of the evidence its advisory panel will consider. The agency struck a decidedly neutral tone on the rationale for boosters — an unusual and careful approach that's all the more striking after President Joe Biden and his top health advisers trumpeted a booster campaign they hoped to begin next week. Pfizer’s argument: While protection against severe disease is holding strong in the U.S., immunity against milder infection wanes somewhere around six to eight months after the second dose. The company gave an extra dose to 306 people at that point and recorded levels of virus-fighting antibodies threefold higher than after the earlier shots.

More important, Pfizer said, those antibodies appear strong enough to handle the extra-contagious delta variant that is surging around the country. To bolster its case, Pfizer pointed the FDA to data from Israel, which began offering boosters over the summer. That study tracked about 1 million people 60 and older and found those who got the extra shot were far less likely to become infected soon afterward. Pfizer said that translates to “roughly 95% effectiveness” when delta was spreading, comparable to the protection seen shortly after the vaccine’s rollout earlier in the year. The Israeli data, also published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, cannot say how long the boosted protection lasts. The FDA's reviewers, however, suggested they would mainly look to research on how the vaccines are working among Americans, saying that “may most accurately represent vaccine effectiveness in the U.S. population.” Overall, the data show that the Pfizer and other U.S.-authorized COVID-19 vaccines “still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death in the United States,” the agency said, summarizing the evidence. The FDA is not bound to follow the advice of its independent advisory panel. But if the agency overrules its own experts, that could stoke public confusion. Earlier this week, two top FDA vaccine regulators joined a group of international scientists in rejecting boosters now for otherwise healthy individuals, citing the strong continuing protection against severe disease. Dr. Anna Durbin of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health said it’s important to understand the FDA’s decision simply is whether an extra dose is safe and does what it promises — to raise immunity levels.

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Marshall News-Messenger - September 16, 2021

Harrison County GOP censures State Rep. Chris Paddie

The Harrison County Republican Party’s executive committee recently voted, 9-1, to censure State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall). Local party chair Lee Lester said the vote was spurred by Paddie’s seemingly lack of support to the party’s platform. “He was censured in Harrison County,” said Lester. “We were kind of waiting to see if he did anything in this legislative session. We were hoping that he would and we wouldn’t have to do anything, but he’s still not representing the people who sent him. “We’re in a representative republic, and he doesn’t represent us, so we have to do something,” said Lester.

The local party chair said Paddie has been invited to their meetings several times to entertain questions about his representation of House District 9, to no avail. “He has not even responded to our request,” said Lester. Thus, in accordance with Rule 44 of the Rules of the Republican Party of Texas, the executive committee voted to move forward with the censure, having duly offered Representative Paddie an invitation and opportunity to speak to such grievances, the censure states. Paddie, who is now gearing up for a third special session in Austin, expressed his disappointment in the executive committee’s move to censure him. “It is shameful that while the Legislature was busy passing Republican priorities, such as election integrity, pro-life legislation, and a 13th check for retired teachers, a handful of folks were busy trying to tear apart the Republican Party,” Paddie said in a statement to the News Messenger. “Their misinformed censure motion is in contrast to the almost 80 percent of Harrison County Republican voters who supported me in the last primary,” said Paddie.

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Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

U.S. Senate Democrats are pushing a new voting rights bill. If passed, what would it mean for Texas?

A new elections bill introduced Tuesday could impact balloting in Texas and other states, with several provisions potentially changing how Texans register to vote, vote by mail and in-person and drop off ballots. A group of U.S. Senate Democrats — including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key swing vote — introduced a new voting rights package to establish federal elections standards and counter what they see as Republican efforts at the state level to limit access to the ballot box. “As we have seen in states like Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Montana, and most recently Texas, we are up against a coordinated attack aimed at limiting the freedom to vote,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “This demands a federal response, and the Constitution could not be clearer. It says right there that Congress can make or alter laws regarding federal elections.”

Klobuchar introduced the legislation, which builds off of both the stalled For the People Act that Senate Republicans filibustered in June and a compromise framework laid out by Manchin, who argued the For the People bill was too broad and partisan. Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Angus King, I-Maine, Manchin, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. are cosponsors. Despite Manchin’s support — and his efforts to garner support from his fellow centrists — Republican opposition is expected, and passage looks unlikely with the filibuster still in place, which requires 60 votes to overcome. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday he expects a procedural vote on the bill possibly as soon as next week. The new bill, called the Freedom to Vote Act, would make Election Day a public holiday and ensure all states offer same-day, automatic and online voter registration. According to the statement Klobuchar released Tuesday, the act would also allow “voters to present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form” when casting a ballot in-person. In Texas, you currently can’t submit an application online to register to vote unless you’re updating your driver’s license — it must be mailed in, and the application must be received in the County Voter Registrar’s office or postmarked 30 days before an election in order for you to be eligible to vote in that election.

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Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

Interest in self-managed abortion rising in Texas as new restrictions face legal challenges

Each morning, Brenna McCaffrey, a Ph.D. student at City University of New York, checks her TikTok inbox, where people send messages about videos she makes about self-managed abortions. In the past two months, she says, 60% of the dozens of messages have been from people in Texas asking for more resources about how to manage a medication abortion at home. In her most recent video, McCaffrey, who studies medical anthropology, explains an illustrated graphic that details the process of properly taking the abortion-inducing medications. Other videos have specifically discussed where Texas women can find the pills, which are widely available online and in pharmacies across the border in Mexico. Senate Bill 8, which went into effect Sept. 1, makes it illegal to “aid or abet” an abortion in Texas, but that hasn’t stopped people like McCaffrey from going online to provide information about self-managed medication abortions.

Although she knows that SB 8?s vague language could prompt a lawsuit against those who make these materials available, McCaffrey said she isn’t worried. “In the United States, where freedom of speech is such a tenet of our society, I am not worried that speech and spreading information would ever be truly classified as aiding and abetting,” McCaffrey said. Abigail Aiken is the principal investigator of Project SANA, a research group that studies self-managed abortion in the United States. According to the group’s research on requests for abortion pills, more Texans are going online or out of state to seek abortion-inducing medications now that the new abortion restrictions are in effect. Some say that trend could grow even more when another new law goes into effect later this year that is intended to restrict access to drugs used to induce medication abortions. Aiken, who also teaches public policy at the University of Texas at Austin, said individuals like McCaffrey as well as groups like Plan C, which provides informational resources through its website and outreach events, are filling a gap created by the state’s new restrictions of abortion. She said the information they provide helps women avoid any confusion and take the medication safely. She said the information is important to make available because women will seek out self-managed abortions if no other options are accessible.

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State Stories

Houston Public Media - September 15, 2021

Federal judge will consider temporarily blocking Texas abortion ban

A federal judge on Wednesday agreed to consider blocking the enforcement of a new Texas law banning abortions after about six weeks. In his order, Judge Robert Pitman set a preliminary injunction hearing for Oct. 1, where he’ll hear arguments over whether the implementation of Senate Bill 8 should be put on hold pending a ruling on its constitutionality. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state last week after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed SB 8 to go into effect.

The law bans abortions after cardiac activity is detected, and allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helps someone access an abortion. If successful, that plaintiff could be awarded $10,000 or more. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Two weeks ago, a Travis County judge granted a temporary restraining order to three Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates, blocking anti-abortion group Texas Right To Life from suing those providers under the new law. Anti-abortion groups have slammed the DOJ’s suit, with Texas Right to Life calling it a “desperate move.” In a statement before the ruling, Helene Krasnoff, vice president for public policy litigation and law for Planned Parenthood, called any injunction a “welcome step forward.” “For two weeks now, Texans have been forced to either cross state lines for care or carry a pregnancy against their will,” the statement read. “They need relief now.”

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Forbes - September 15, 2021

Atomic chickens: Texas lawmakers reject proven plan to store nuclear waste

The best, safest, least expensive solution to our nuclear waste problem gets a near-unanimous bipartisan negative vote from the Texas Legislature. The lawmakers banned the storage of high-level radioactive waste in Texas, including spent nuclear fuel, at their approved nuclear waste disposal site near Andrews, Texas. The Texas bill expresses opposition to a pending U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission license application to store this waste in West Texas, near where we have already been safely disposing of nuclear waste for over 20 years. The legislation also directs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to deny any state permits for the project. If you remember, the federal government licenses nuclear facilities and the State permits them. In other words, the feds control radioactive materials but the States control the RCRA hazardous materials like lead, mercury and toxic chemicals. Since it’s rare to have no toxic chemicals in with the rad, this is where the state exerts its power. The Texas Senate approved House Bill 7 unanimously and the bill cleared the House by a 119-3 margin on September 2 – a rare bipartisan agreement in the Texas Legislature. But when Republicans and Democrats join and religious groups, and environmental groups like Public Citizen and Sierra Club join with oil and gas companies, you know something’s strange.

They don’t seem to understand that Texas already has storage sites like this with lots of this nuclear waste already in storage, over 2,600 metric tons, in exactly the same way as this proposed storage site would have. These are at their two nuclear power plants, Comanche Peak and South Texas Generating Station. Texas also has nuclear weapons waste from its Pantex Plant near Amarillo. Putting all of its nuclear waste in one spot is the safest thing they can do. It’s also one of the most patriotic things they could do, helping the country take care of an important issue. This centralized facility is no different, nor more dangerous, than any of the others in Texas or around the country, just because it would have more of the same waste than any individual site. The risk of this storage facility would actually be less than the two storage facilities at their nuclear power stations, and much less than the 30-plus storage sites around America, because the number of sites trumps the size of a site with respect to risk. Having a centralized storage facility that takes all waste of this type from Texas would half the risk of any event in Texas. If it took all the waste from America, since there’s not much of it anyway, it would reduce the risk of any event by about 30 times. And the proposed location near Andrews, Texas is physiographically ideal for this facility, better than the facilities that already exist in Texas or most anywhere else in America, and the design is much higher tech. It’s always been puzzling to those of us who handle nuclear waste how nuclear waste got such a bad rep. It’s not coincidental that no one has been killed by nuclear power or nuclear waste. It’s just too easy to shield and store. It’s not like coal, oil or gas waste, that do kill people every year. As does chemical waste.

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San Antonio Report - September 15, 2021

SAISD’s Pedro Martinez to be named Chicago Public Schools CEO

San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez is leaving the district to become CEO of Chicago Public Schools, the third largest U.S. public school system. His appointment was scheduled to be announced Wednesday morning at Chicago’s Benito Juarez High School, where he was once a student. Martinez told the San Antonio Report he plans to start his new job at the end of the month, returning to the city where he grew up and the school system where he began his education career. “I will always love San Antonio,” Martinez said Tuesday. “I will always love the community because it was a community that embraced me from day one, and the only district that would even have an opportunity to take me away is my hometown of Chicago.”

Last month, Martinez emerged from a pool of 25 applicants as one of four finalists for the Chicago CEO position. He served as the school system’s chief financial officer from 2003 to 2009, managing a $5 million budget. Arne Duncan, then the head of Chicago’s public schools and later the U.S. Secretary of Education, recruited Martinez to join a team working to turn around the school system. Now, Martinez will lead the district of roughly 340,000 students through the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic, but the 51-year-old said that he is ready for the challenge. While he is familiar with the school system, Martinez is prepared to listen and learn about the changes Chicago’s public schools have endured in the past decade, such as declining enrollment. In SAISD, Martinez faced similar challenges, including generational poverty and declining enrollment that led to a $31 million budget shortfall in 2018. He acknowledged that there is still work to be done, but Martinez said he believes he is leaving the school district in a strong position, from the school board to the staff at each campus. At every level, the culture has shifted to prioritize supporting students, Martinez said.

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Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

Portland scraps Texas boycott, changes response to the state’s new abortion

The city of Portland, Oregon has walked back a proposed Texas boycott and travel ban in response to the state’s dramatic curtailing of abortion access. Instead, city officials are considering setting aside $200,000 that will go to organizations “that deliver programs and services related to reproductive health care,” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. The resolution does not specify if the groups to receive that money would be based in Oregon. The city council will consider the new proposal on Wednesday. Days after Texas passed legislation that banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, the council announced the city would be withdrawing its business over what they called an “attack on the reproductive rights, freedom, and autonomy of people across the country.”

City spokesperson Heather Hafer said the city had purchased slightly less than $35 million in goods and services from Texas in the past five years. City officials have scrambled since the initial proposal to nail down how such a boycott would work. Late Tuesday afternoon, the city released the draft resolution showing the boycott had been scrapped. “The Portland City Council wishes to manifest its opposition to the Texas abortion ban, and its support for those who are affected by it, by ensuring that those who seek to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion have access to certified healthcare providers in safe and secure facilities,” the ordinance says. The resolution also directs the council to send a letter to the Oregon Congressional delegation urging them to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, federal legislation that would preserve people’s right to access abortion, and a letter to the Biden Administration supporting the Department of Justice’s challenge to the Texas law. Wheeler’s previous plan to boycott drew the ire of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who insulted Portland on Twitter as a “dumpster fire” and called its leaders “depraved” in response. The Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks — before some people know they are pregnant. It differs significantly from laws blocked in other states because it leaves enforcement up to private citizens through lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.

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KVUE - September 15, 2021

Austin wants to be a model of modern policing, but the future remains unclear

A little more than a year ago, Austin leaders set out on a new mission in the aftermath of unprecedented protests: To make the city a vanguard of modern policing and create a template that could be replicated across America. In the months following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the local controversial police shooting of Michael Ramos, council members cut or reallocated $140 million – about one-third – from the Austin Police Department's budget by removing operations such as 911 dispatch and the forensics lab from law enforcement oversight. In what turned out to be among the most far-reaching decisions, officials also nixed three cadet classes, giving the department time to transition the police academy from a military-style boot camp to something that more closely resembles a college classroom. The cancellation meant that as more than 130 officers left in the past year, the department had no new rookies to replace them. Officials also directed new money to programs to help address what they said were underlying causes of police interactions, including mental health.

All told, Austin at the time was among the biggest cities in the U.S. to remove that high of a percentage of the local police budget and to launch such a dramatic policing overhaul. But recent interviews by the KVUE Defenders and the Austin American-Statesman with more than 30 City leaders, City Hall staff, activists, politicians and community leaders reveal Austin’s efforts to dramatically reform police have, in many ways, yielded a fragmented picture of success a year later. Much of the discussion has become acutely political, with new laws passed by the Texas Legislature – primarily aimed directly at Austin – limiting cities from decreasing police budgets without the threat of losing tax dollars. The discussion of police reform also has been infused with issues such as a rise in homicides and gun violence. “The conversations in our community are ongoing to make sure that we have a public safety system and police force that makes everyone feel safe, and that’s the conversation we’re involved in,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a recent interview. “There’s a lot of work to do.” Austin remains in a unique moment for that continued discussion. The City is in the midst of hiring a new police chief. Voters in November will consider a measure pushed by the political action committee Save Austin Now that would mandate a minimum staffing level for the police department at an estimated cost of $119 million a year. To help promote ongoing and fact-based dialogue, KVUE and the Statesman early in October will jointly host a community forum with panelists from all sides of the issues. The goal: To discuss the future of policing in Austin and the community’s goal of reform. And, in the end, create a platform of discussion to help ensure that what happens in Austin will reflect policing for all.

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Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Houston company hopes to store renewable energy in salt domes

Beneath a salt dome near where the first major oil field was discovered outside Beaumont, Houston-based Renewable Storage Co. hopes to begin storing energy. But it won’t be crude or other chemicals that are typically stored beneath the salt formations across the Texas Coast. Instead, it will be compressed air that, when released, will turn a turbine to generate electricity in a pinch. It’s being called a mechanical battery, and if the company can wrap up Series A fundraising with enough capital, it could be operating by late 2023 and the first of its kind in Texas. Art Gelber, one of the partners behind the Houston-based Renewable Storage Company, said only a handful of similar batteries exist in the world, including one in Alabama and one in Germany. The battery he hopes to build, however, differs in that it will not use natural gas or hydrocarbons to generate power.

“When it comes to making renewables more reliable power, generators and consumers don’t want to go backwards,” he said. “It is imperative that generators and consumers have a way to use 100 percent fossil-free energy all day, every day.” He said the battery, called Greenstore, works sort of like a balloon. When there’s an abundance of cheap electricity on the grid, air compressors will inject high volumes of air into the salt caverns, which are impervious. Then when grid conditions get tight, wholesale prices shoot up and there’s a need for more power, the battery releases some of that compressed air to turn a turbine that, in turn, generates electricity. But the air pushed out of the battery cools as it expands, which can make it difficult for it turn the generator. Other mechanical batteries use natural gas to heat the air as it leaves, but Renewable Storage is working with the U.S. Department of Energy to test a new system that would use heavily insulated concrete blocks that would be heated when compressed air enters the salt dome. The blocks would heat the air that leaves. That, Gelber said, gives it an edge when it comes to carbon emissions.

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Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Democrats' tax plan is full of old tricks, including protection for the ultra-wealthy

Democrats wanting to raise taxes is nothing new, but who will not pay more under their proposal is revealing. First things first, the tax plan that House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal released Monday would not raise taxes on the vast majority of Americans. If you make less than $400,000 a year and do not have millions invested in the markets, your taxes will not go up. If you are among the highest 10 percent of American earners, your taxes could rise. But then, Democrats are also planning to keep some of the most unfair loopholes in the tax code.

Stipulate, if we may, that fiscal irresponsibility and subservience to big-money donors are bipartisan vices. Republicans manifest them in lowering taxes without reducing spending. Democrats demonstrate them by raising taxes alongside spending without addressing the growing budget deficit. Both habits lead to a growing national debt that taxes future generations. Members of both parties only discover fiscal discipline when they are out of power. Democrats fell back on their tried-and-true tax tricks this week. They proposed creating corporate tax brackets, like the personal income tax, with the top rate rising from 21 percent to 26.5 percent. Their tax plan would increase the top rate on stock and bond sales—the capital gains tax—to 28.8 percent from 23.8 percent. The top personal income tax bracket would rise from 37 percent to 39.6 percent. If you make more than $5 million a year, the Internal Revenue Service would levy an additional 3 percent surcharge. Taxing the rich is standard operating procedure for moderate Democrats. The progressive wing of the party, meanwhile, considers the package wholly inadequate.

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Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Democrats see their opening in race against embattled AG Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, with his snowballing legal troubles and slim margin of victory in his 2018 re-election, has instilled new fervor in challengers from both parties — but especially Democrats hoping to seize on what they see as a prime opening. Paxton, who has been under indictment since 2015 for felony securities fraud charges and is facing an FBI investigation after being accused of corruption by his top aides last October, will face at least two high-profile challengers in the Republican primary: Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Both have identified the seat as one vulnerable to a Democratic flip. “They see that Ken Paxton is our weak link,” Bush said about Democrats at his campaign announcement in June. “They know that if he was the lowest vote-getter statewide in the last election cycle, and they know that if he is our nominee again, they have their first statewide elected office in close to 30 years.”

Two candidates are so far vying for the Democratic nomination: Joe Jaworski, 59, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, and Lee Merritt, 38, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney. Both of the Democrats have emphasized the need to bring integrity back to the attorney general’s office. It’s a line of attack that Paxton’s Republicans challengers are putting front and center, as well. “Of course, I was saying that before George Bush was, but I welcome his perspective,” Jaworski said. “I mean, of all offices, for Christ’s sake, the attorney general’s office needs to be above reproach.” Austin attorney Justin Nelson also focused on Paxton’s legal woes when he came within 3.6 percentage points of defeating him in 2018. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing in both the securities fraud case and the corruption inquiry. The FBI investigation has been ongoing for nearly a year without a resolution. A Paxton primary win would indeed give the Democrats their best chances to win a statewide election next year, said Juan Carlos Huerta, professor of political science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “If Guzman or Bush were to win the nomination, that takes away all the scandal and investigations that surround Paxton,” Huerta said.

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Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Gov. Abbott, please recognize International Underground Railroad Month

September is International Underground Railroad Month. Gov. Greg Abbott should recognize it with an official proclamation. In 2019, Maryland adopted such a proclamation, choosing September because that’s the month in which two of America’s most well-known freedom-seekers escaped slavery — Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Last year, several other states joined Maryland in recognizing the designation. Those include New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. We learned about all of that from Diane Miller, program manager for a National Park Service initiative called National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

That program seeks to document historic sites related to freedom-seekers in American history and tell their stories. Miller and her team have been spreading the word to recruit more states to adopt Underground Railroad Month. According to Renae Eze, a spokesperson for the office of the governor, Abbott could make Texas one of those states with just his signature. Ceremonial observations like this don’t require legislative approval. They are usually issued in response to constituent requests and can take as little as a few days to process. We encourage Abbott to take that action before the end of this month. Texas’ history in this area is just now coming to light as historians from the University of North Texas to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have started giving more attention to our state’s unique place in the journey of hundreds of those escaping slavery. Many of those freedom-seekers escaped to Mexico or Caribbean nations, which is part of the reason the September recognition includes the word “international.” Miller said enslaved people escaped to many nations, not just Canada, which seems to be what people assume when they think of the Underground Railroad. Her agency is working with the International Council on Monuments and Sites to expand the network. Miller said there is not a federal designation for the month and, in fact, the involvement of the park service could be a hindrance to that. “We can’t really initiate such a thing out of the agency. It’s viewed too much like lobbying,” she said. “That kind of thing is better coming from the outside.” That, too, sounds like a worthy endeavor to us. An official designation from the federal or Texas government could help raise awareness and uncover more corners of this important part of American history. As Americans, and especially as Texans, we put a high value on freedom. It makes sense for us to celebrate those in our history who risked their lives to pursue it, and those who helped them.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 16, 2021

Judge calls for changes to Texas ban on political apparel at the polls

A U.S. magistrate judge this week recommended striking down parts of Texas law that prohibit wearing political apparel within 100 feet of a polling place as unconstitutionally vague — but upholding a narrower provision that specifies that clothing bearing messages related to what’s on the ballot can be banned. The issue first arose in 2018 when Harris County resident Jillian Ostrewich wore a Houston firefighters T-shirt to a polling place and election workers told her to turn it inside out because it related to Prop B, a pay parity measure for firefighters on that ballot that year. Claiming she was unconstitutionally censored and her right to free speech infringed upon, she sued Harris County and state officials.

The case puts to the test a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June of that year in which the justices struck down a Minnesota law that banned voters from displaying “issue-oriented” apparel at the polls for being overbroad. The Texas suit was brought by Pacific Legal Foundation, the same California-based libertarian public interest law firm that won the Minnesota case. “It’s a win for free speech and for objective standards,” said foundation attorney Wen Fa. The parties to the suit will now have 14 days to respond to the magistrate’s recommendation. A U.S. district judge will ultimately make the final ruling. The Texas Attorney General’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. All 50 states restrict political activities near polling places while voting is taking place, but the types of restrictions vary. Texas is one of at least seven states other than Minnesota that ban political apparel near polling places. U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew M. Edison in his report on Tuesday said the election judge had a constitutional basis for rejecting Ostrewich’s shirt because it had a clear relationship to the ballot measure, even if it did not explicitly say to vote for that measure. Under that law, Edison said, Ostrewich had not been harmed and therefore was not entitled to damages.

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Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Dallas’ public safety math: Too few cops, steep overtime costs

Dallas City leadership has to come to grips with three basic truths about public safety. The first is that Dallas needs more police officers. The second is that the police department has to continue to manage resources more effectively. The third involves the police overtime budget, which is increasing because there is work to be done on the first two truths. For years, Dallas has treaded water just to keep a force at roughly 3,000 officers. In the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years, for example, the department lost to attrition more than twice the number of officers it hired, and it wasn’t until the 2019 fiscal year that new hires began to keep pace with departures — and then just barely. Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s budget calls for the department to hire 275 new officers in each of the next two fiscal years, which is projected to get the department to around 3,100 officers.

This editorial board has urged the department to do more with available resources, and it has. The department adopted some key reforms from a KPMG management study, such as increasing the non-uniform share of total staff to free up officers for patrol duties, and Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia’s violent crime reduction plan is an example of how laser focus on the right things in the right ways can begin to bend the curve of rising crime. The challenges of law enforcement have grown, and the number of available officers needs to grow, too. And that is why the debate over police overtime misses a point. A persistent shortage of police officers has been driving up overtime costs for the city. Moving dollars in and out of overtime isn’t material to the overall budget, nor does it solve the basic police manpower shortage or acknowledge the efforts that the department has made to control overtime. Nonetheless, following the lead of councilmember Chad West, the City Council last week voted 8-7 to move $10 million of next year’s roughly $28 million police overtime budget to a reserve fund that will require the police department to make a formal request to the council’s Public Safety Committee to tap those funds. His concern is that the police department needs checks on its overtime and that putting the $10 million aside would compel closer accountability.

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Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says he’ll propose restoring $10 million in police overtime

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson wants to undo a proposal to place $10 million of police overtime in reserves. And it appears he’s got council support. After the City Council narrowly voted last week to move nearly a third of the money into a reserve fund, the mayor said he is proposing to reverse the decision to transfer $10 million of next year’s roughly $28 million in police overtime. At least three council members who were part of the 8-7 majority in favor of the decision now say they’ll support the mayor’s idea. His plan comes after a preliminary city audit report released last Friday found no apparent waste or abuse of Dallas police overtime between 2018 and 2020. Johnson, who requested the overtime review in December, said he’ll make a formal proposal next Wednesday, when council members take a final vote on the city’s $4.35 billion budget. The City Council tentatively approved the spending plan last Thursday, but members can still suggest changes.

This is the second year in a row that the Dallas police overtime budget has been hotly debated among the city’s elected leaders. The department has needed more money than planned to cover overtime payouts every year since 2013. The topic has divided the council. Some have expressed concerns that the system can be exploited by police staff and result in wasted taxpayer dollars. Others have argued that the department needs all the money it can get for public safety. “I believed that if any evidence existed of such waste, we needed to address it promptly,” Johnson said in a memo to City Manager T.C. Broadnax, announcing his upcoming budget proposal. “After reading this interim [audit] report’s findings, I am satisfied that no problem exists.” Even before budget planning began, Johnson has consistently said that police needed more money, adding that it was one of his top funding priorities. The mayor, in his memo, also mentioned Police Chief Eddie García, saying during last week’s council meeting that his department would need the $10 million. Johnson also said that hiring more officers could reduce overtime costs. Broadnax has proposed that the city hire 500 new police officers over the next two fiscal years.

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KXAN - September 16, 2021

Round Rock ISD pushes mask mandate decision to Saturday after unruly board meeting

The Round Rock Independent School District did not make a decision on whether to extend its mask mandate Tuesday night after the meeting was disrupted several times by angry community members. They were overall upset at not being allowed in the main chamber for the meeting. A spokesperson for Round Rock ISD says they let the room fill up as much as possible while abiding by social distancing guidelines. Once the room was full, people were put in an overflow room, where they could watch the meeting on television and come into the main room to talk — if they signed up to speak. Community members were unhappy with that, citing the open records act.

In the district’s live stream, board members can be heard asking a police officer at the meeting to remove one of the members of the crowd. “We cannot continue our meeting with him speaking,” one of the board members said. That person, who can’t be seen in the district’s live stream, but was caught on camera by KXAN and can be seen being escorted out in the video above, screams at the board members on his way out. “It’s an open meeting! Shame on you. Communist! Communist! Let the public in!” he said. KXAN has reached out to police and the district to see if the man who was escorted out is facing charges. This article will be updated when we hear back. Two RRISD trustees also walked out during the meeting after being yelled at for not wearing their masks — despite the mandate. The district is one of several school systems being sued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton over mask rules. Its current mask mandate ends on Friday.

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KVUE - September 16, 2021

24 attorneys general file amicus brief to support Biden administration's effort to block Texas abortion law

Twenty-four attorneys general have filed an amicus brief in support of the Joe Biden administration's effort to block Texas' restrictive abortion law. The new law, which went into effect Sept. 1, blocks abortions when cardiac activity can be detected in a fetus, which is typically at six weeks and before many women even know they're pregnant. It's the most restrictive abortion ban since the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973. The amicus brief, filed by Massachusetts' attorney general in addition to 23 other Democratic attorneys general, was filed Sept. 15. The attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawai'i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and North Carolina also joined in on the amicus brief.

The attorneys general echoed what President Biden has said about Texas' new law: That it's a direct contradiction to a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court. “Today, virtually no one can obtain an abortion in Texas,” the brief said. “In order to obtain abortion care, patients now have to travel out-of-state, which makes abortion for many people too difficult, too time-intensive, and too costly.” The Justice Department under the Biden administration earlier filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas, asking a federal judge to declare that the law is invalid, “to enjoin its enforcement, and to protect the rights that Texas has violated.” “The act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “The United States has the authority and responsibility to ensure that no state can deprive individuals of their constitutional rights through a legislative scheme specifically designed to prevent the vindication of those rights.” Supporters of the new anti-abortion law, like nonprofit Texas Right To Life, said it will save lives. Senior Legislative Associate for Texas Right To Life Rebecca Parma said they think a halt will be granted, but the anti-abortion law will stand in the long run. "This request for an emergency order isn't surprising and it isn't adding no new arguments to the lawsuit or bringing a new lawsuit," said Parma. "It just highlights the Biden administration's desperate attempt to as quickly as possible, by any means necessary, stop this lifesaving law."

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Reason - August 12, 2021

Former staffers condemn cruel treatment of inmates at a Texas prison for sex offenders

For many men serving time for committing sex offenses in Texas, their prison term never really ends—even if they complete their sentence. That's because they're required to enter a live-in mental health facility before returning to society. That facility—in Littlefield, Texas—is actually a former maximum security prison in the middle of a dirt field. "It comes as a surprise," says Mary Sue Molnar, founder of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to reforming the state's sex offense laws and registry. "I often get letters from prison saying, 'Oh my god, they're going to civil commit me. What should I do?'" Civil commitment is the practice of keeping people locked up past their release date, on the grounds that they are so dangerous they need therapy—years and years of it—before they can safely return to society.

Of course, Molnar notes, if the state really "wanted them to have treatment and counseling, they had plenty of time to get that done. In some cases, these men served 20 to 25 years" in an ordinary prison before being civilly committed. This might seem just. But even as we feel great anger and sorrow on behalf of sex crime victims, we can also see that civil commitment is an extra prison sentence by another name. Originally called clients or residents when the center opened in 2015, the men have been re-labeled "inmates" since Management and Training Corporation, a private prison company, took over in 2019. "MTC does not run it in a therapeutic manner whatsoever," says Mandi Harner, a former security officer at the facility who was fired for having a relationship with one of the residents. "They run it like a prison. I'm not going to tell you everyone in there is an angel. But there are some men who deserve treatment they're not getting, and also some who did things as teenagers who don't deserve to be there their whole lives." For their first year or two at the treatment facility, the men are required to wear electronic ankle monitors that they have to pay for, according to Harner. MTC declined a request for comment about this and other claims made by sources in this article, as did the Texas Civil Commitment Office (TCCO), the government agency that oversees the facility.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 15, 2021

Fort Worth school district’s ever-changing mask requirements leave students confused

Last week, Omar Marquez broke a piece of news to his students. Starting Monday, he told them, there will be a new rule requiring everyone at school to wear masks. Marquez, a sixth grade science teacher at Applied Learning Academy in Fort Worth, wasn’t sure how the kids would react. But to his surprise, none of them complained. A few even broke into cheers. But that rule didn’t even survive the school day. A state appeals court issued a ruling Monday blocking Fort Worth’s school mask requirement, marking the fifth change to the district’s mask policy in the past four months. Teachers in the district say the long series of rule changes has been confusing for their students.

Kids like procedures and predictable rules, Marquez said. When rules change — and especially when they change several times — it can leave students confused and frustrated, he said. Monday marked the first day the Fort Worth school district was able to enforce a new mask requirement after the Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District of Texas lifted a temporary injunction barring the district from enforcing the rule. But Monday afternoon, the appeals court granted a motion to reinstate the injunction brought by the four parents who are challenging the district’s mask rule. That means the district can’t enforce the rule while the parents’ lawsuit makes its way through the court system. Following the ruling, the district released a statement saying it would abide by the injunction. District officials and the district’s Board of Trustees will “stand firm in strongly encouraging” students and district employees to wear masks inside school buildings, according to the statement.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 15, 2021

Should felons be on Fort Worth police oversight board? That and other questions remain.

A community-based board designed to provide oversight of the Fort Worth Police Department was recommended by the city’s police monitor office at Tuesday’s city council meeting. According to the recommendation, the board would be made up of a maximum of 15 community members approved by the council with a mission to review police activities and recommend ways to ensure fair and equitable policing. Board members would have to be Fort Worth residents, be at least 18 years of age, pass a criminal background check and have experience with a diverse community perspective such as civil rights, LGBTQ issues or immigration. Board members would also be trained in Fort Worth police policies and procedures.

But the working group tasked with establishing criteria for the oversight board wasn’t able to reach consensus on everything, including whether members would be allowed to have a felony on their record. “Those are the individuals more than anyone who have the lived experience that is needed to provide input on this board,” said Pamela Young of United Fort Worth and member of the working group. “They live this.” Police monitor Kim Neal said that having board members with a felony isn’t the standard practice for oversight boards across the country. Some people on the working group were concerned whether a person with a felony conviction could be impartial when evaluating police actions, Neal said. The group also couldn’t agree on the training process, including whether board members should have to ride along with police. The city council will ultimately decide whether to implement these recommendations.

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Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

City of Houston rolls back regulations on taxis, drops cap on permits

Taxi drivers in Houston no longer will have to vie for permits under a city-imposed cap, nor will they have to paint their cars white or yellow, under a regulatory rollback approved Wednesday. City Council voted unanimously to permanently ease some restrictions on the taxi industry, beleaguered by a pandemic that upended its business in 2020 and by years-long headwinds from rideshare companies, such as Uber and Lyft. Most of the rules codify temporary changes Mayor Sylvester Turner made last year to help cabbies when COVID-19 ground travel to a halt. “The industry came back and said, ‘These have been helpful, is there any way we can make them permanent,’” said Kathryn Bruning, assistant director for the city’s Administrative and Regulatory Affairs Department.

The city long has operated with a cap of 2,505 permits, though only 1,169 of them were active or available as of Wednesday. When previous owners forfeited a permit, they were retired indefinitely, lowering the number of permits in the marketplace. More than 700 people forfeited permits during the pandemic, Bruning said. Now, applicants will be able to get permits once they can prove they have an eligible car and can pay the $450 fee. The city also will offer temporary, 30-day permits. “This basically gives them flexibility,” Bruning said. “As the need for taxis rises, more permits can be issued. As the need for taxis contracts, people can turn in permits and don’t have to carry the ancillary costs that go along with owning one.” The city enacted color requirements in 2014 to try to keep the taxi fleet consistent. It called for white cabs with dark green lettering, unless the cars were operated by a dispatch service. Independent drivers complained that process was costly, Bruning said, and the city decided to scrap it.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Democrats call for a fee on excess methane emissions

House Democrats and Republicans clashed Monday over a proposed fee on methane emissions that could cost the natural gas industry in Texas and other states billions of dollars a year. Within their $3.5 trillion budget legislation, Democrats laid out plans to charge oil and natural gas producers $1,500 per ton of methane allowed to escape into the atmosphere, part of a wide ranging series of initiatives designed to address U.S. contributions to climate change. In 2019 the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that through leaks and flaring the U.S. oil and gas industry released 91.5 million tons of methane, even as large companies like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell have sought to rein in those emissions to address climate change.

"There is no time for delay. This summer, the communities of nearly 1 in 3 Americans were hit by an extreme weather disaster," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Natural disasters cost Americans a record-shattering $95 billion in damages last year and they are expected to be even higher this year. Bold action is clearly needed — the days of incremental change are long gone." At a hearing before the House Energy committee Monday, the proposal drew strong criticism from House Republicans, who accused the Democrats of risking massive increases in energy costs that could wreak havoc on the U.S. economy. "This is nothing short of an attack on America's energy system," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lake Dallas. "It's going to determine the nations fate for decades to come." The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest lobbying group, criticized the fee as a jobs killer, arguing instead for better government regulation on drilling over direct fees on industry.

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Reuters - September 16, 2021

White House plans new system for international travel, contract tracing rules

The United States is developing a "new system for international travel" that will include contact tracing for when it eventually lifts travel restrictions that bar much of the world's population from entering the country, a senior White House official said on Wednesday. White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients told the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board the administration does not plan to immediately relax any travel restrictions citing COVID-19 Delta variant cases in the United States and around the world. Reuters first reported early in August that the White House was developing vaccine entry requirements that could cover nearly all foreign visitors. The White House previously confirmed it was considering mandating vaccines for foreign international visitors.

"The American people need to trust that the new system for international travel is safer even as we - I mean at that point - we'll be letting in more travelers," Zients said on Wednesday, adding it will eventually replace existing restrictions. "We are exploring considering vaccination requirements for foreign nationals traveling to the United States," Zients said. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said at the same meeting that the spike in COVID-19 cases is preventing lifting international travel restrictions. "We want to move to a metrics-based system," Raimondo said. "Before we can do that, we have to get a better handle on the domestic situation, which requires us to get everyone vaccinated." Zients said the new plan would replace the current restrictions and would be "safer, stronger and sustainable." He did not lay out specific metrics for when the administration might relax restrictions. "Vaccination rates matter here at home and other countries," Zients said, urging travel companies like airlines to quickly mandate employee vaccines. Some industry officials fear the Biden administration may not lift travel restrictions for months or potentially until 2022. The extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions were first imposed on China in January 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19. Numerous other countries have been added, most recently India, in May.

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Washington Post - September 16, 2021

Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers approve wide-ranging subpoenas for personal information of 2020 voters

Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania on Wednesday approved subpoenas for a wide range of data and personal information on voters, advancing a probe of the 2020 election in a key battleground state former president Donald Trump has repeatedly targeted with baseless claims of fraud. The move drew a sharp rebuke from Democrats who described the effort as insecure and unwarranted and said they would consider mounting a court fight. Among other requests, Republicans are seeking the names, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, last four digits of Social Security numbers, addresses and methods of voting for millions of people who cast ballots in the May primary and the November general election. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called Wednesday’s vote “merely another step to undermine democracy, confidence in our elections and to capitulate to Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.”

Wolf added in a statement, “Election security is not a game and should not be treated with such carelessness. Senate Republican[s] should be ashamed of their latest attempt to destabilize our election system through a sham investigation that will unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars.” But Sen. Cris Dush, the Republican chairman of the committee that approved the subpoena, argued during the hearing that the information is needed because “there have been questions regarding the validity of people who have voted — whether or not they exist.” “Again, we are not responding to proven allegations. We are investigating the allegations to determine whether or not they are factual,” he said, adding that the vetting process for outside vendors will be “rigorous.” Judges, including on the Pennsylvania and U.S. Supreme Courts, have denied bids by Trump and his allies to overturn President Biden’s win in the state or invalidate millions of ballots. Yet in Pennsylvania and other battleground states, Republican legislators have bowed to pressure from Trump and his base to investigate the results, despite a consensus among judges, election officials and experts that there was no widespread fraud in the election.

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CNN Business - September 14, 2021

White House praises Fox for its new Covid policy, encourages network to 'convey to their audience' why it's effective

Fox is earning some rare praise from the White House after essentially admitting on Tuesday that it will follow the protocols pushed by the Biden administration to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In a memo I obtained, Fox Corp. human resources chief Kevin Lord effectively communicated to employees that they all face a choice: Get vaccinated or face a daily Covid-19 test. Lord told staffers that after the company asked employees to report their vaccination status, more than 90% of full-time Fox staffers "reported that they are fully vaccinated." Lord then explained that "soon" the company will introduce daily testing for the staffers "who are not vaccinated or have not provided their vaccination status." Lord said "additional details about this protocol" would be "shared with the relevant employees in the near future."

In effect, Fox has adopted a more stringent version of the vaccine and testing mandate President Biden announced last week — the mandate that the company's loudest voices have trashed and deemed to be nonsensical and "authoritarian." While Biden pushed a vaccination or weekly testing requirement, Fox is saying it will implement a vaccination or daily testing requirement for unvaccinated staff. All of this has prompted the White House to offer some praise to the Rupert Murdoch-controlled company, while also issuing a challenge to it: "Today's news from Fox News follows a trend we're seeing across the country: vaccination and testing requirements work," a White House spokesperson told me Tuesday night. "We are glad they have stepped up to protect their workforce and strengthen the economy, and we encourage them convey to their audience that these types of practices will protect their employees, their communities, and the economy..." Throughout the pandemic, Fox has privately implemented common sense health measures to protect its employees, while simultaneously allowing its most influential hosts and personalities to publicly trash such measures. It has been true for face masks. It has been true for the concept of vaccine passports. And now it is true regarding vaccines and testing. Which is all to say, that while it would be nice if Fox's biggest stars did encourage its audience to follow basic health precautions — as the White House is challenging the company to do — I will not hold my breath...

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Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

'We deserve answers': Simone Biles testifies about botched FBI probe of Larry Nassar

Simone Biles said she was haunted for years by the abuse she suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, including as she trained for and competed in the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Biles, who said she was the lone competitor in the games who had been abused by Nassar, testified to a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday that the Olympic training process “meant I would be going to the gym, to training, to therapy, living daily among the reminders of this story.” And because the games were postponed due to the pandemic, it meant another year of reminders.

Biles said she persevered because she did not want “this crisis to be ignored.” It was the same reason that Biles agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee — even as the Houston native said she could “imagine no place that I would be less comfortable” — about sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Nassar while the FBI and other agencies failed to investigate allegations against him. Biles, the most decorated gymnast in the world, did not draw a connection between the abuse and her decision to opt out of several competitions at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health. But she said her experience in Tokyo amid the constant reminders of the abuse were an “exceptionally difficult burden for me to carry.” “I can ensure you that the impacts of this man’s abuse are not ever over or forgotten,” Biles said. “I am a strong individual and I will persevere, but I never should have been left alone to suffer the abuse of Larry Nassar. And the only reason I did was because of the failures that lie at the heart of the abuse that you are now asked to investigate.” Biles was one of four Olympic gymnasts who testified Wednesday as the panel continues to probe the FBI's bungled investigation into the allegations against Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics doctor who was sentenced in 2018 to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing women and girls.

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Newsclips - September 15, 2021

Lead Stories

New York Times - September 15, 2021

Newsom’s anti-Trump recall strategy offers Republicans a warning for 2022

California basks in its clairvoyance. “The future happens here first,” says Gov. Gavin Newsom, calling his state “America’s coming attraction.” By emphatically turning back the effort to recall him from office, however, Mr. Newsom made clear that California’s cherished role presaging the politics of tomorrow was not as significant as another, larger factor in Tuesday’s results: the tribal politics of today. The first-term Democratic governor will remain in office because, in a deeply liberal state, he effectively nationalized the recall effort as a Republican plot, making a flame-throwing radio host the Trump-like face of the opposition to polarize the electorate along red and blue lines. Mr. Newsom found success not because of what makes California different but because of how it’s like everywhere else: He dominated in California’s heavily populated Democratic cities, the key to victory in a state where his party outnumbers Republicans by five million voters.

“Gavin may have been on a high wire, but he was wearing a big, blue safety harness,” said Mike Murphy, a California-based Republican strategist. The recall does offer at least one lesson to Democrats in Washington ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue- and purple-state strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists can still prove effective with the former president out of office, at least when the strategy is executed with unrelenting discipline, an avalanche of money and an opponent who plays to type. “You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you’ll get Donald Trump,” President Biden said at an election-eve rally in Long Beach, making explicit what Mr. Newsom and his allies had been suggesting for weeks about the Republican front-runner, the longtime radio host Larry Elder. By the time Mr. Biden arrived in California, Mr. Newsom was well positioned. Yet in the days leading up to the recall, he was warning Democrats of the right-wing threat they would face in elections across the country next November. “Engage, wake up, this thing is coming,” he said in an interview, calling Mr. Elder “a national spokesperson for an extreme agenda.” California, which has not elected a Republican governor since the George W. Bush administration, is hardly a top area of contention in next year’s midterms. Yet for Republicans eying Mr. Biden’s falling approval ratings and growing hopeful about their 2022 prospects, the failed recall is less an ominous portent than a cautionary reminder about what happens when they put forward candidates who are easy prey for the opposition.

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Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

Justice Department seeks injunction to stop Texas’ fetal heartbeat abortion law from being enforced

The Justice Department late Tuesday night filed a request for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against Texas’ fetal heartbeat abortion law banning abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The filing comes just days after the Biden administration sued Texas to block the six-week abortion ban, known as Senate Bill 8 and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. In a news conference announcing the lawsuit last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland blasted the state for deputizing legal “bounty hunters” to deter a procedure that remains legal, technically, under state law and Supreme Court precedent. In its filing in federal court in Austin, the Justice Department wrote that a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order is necessary to “protect the constitutional rights of women in Texas and the sovereign interest of the United States in ensuring that its States respect the terms of the national compact. It is also necessary to protect federal agencies, employees, and contractors whose lawful actions SB 8 purports to prohibit.”

The new Texas law seeks to sidestep Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling in another Texas case that has limited governmental restrictions on abortion since 1973, by deputizing enforcement to individuals and groups that oppose abortion. Senate Bill 8 bars health care providers from performing an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. And it offers a $10,000 bounty for lawsuits against providers or anyone who “aids or abets” and abortion, a private enforcement action that could even target an Uber driver who transports a woman to a clinic. If courts allow the Texas law to survive, it will be the end to the Roe era. The filing said that the ban has “gravely and irreparably impaired women’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion across the state. Due to the prospect of ruinous liability for clinics and providers, beginning September 1, abortion providers in Texas ceased providing abortions after six weeks, absent a medical emergency, which likely amounts to between 85 and 95% of all abortions previously provided.” It also noted that some women are seeking appointments hundreds of miles away in Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico and Colorado, “where abortion providers have been overwhelmed with Texas residents unable to obtain abortions in Texas.” Following the Justice Department’s lawsuit last week, Abbott was confident the law will be upheld in court, said spokeswoman Renae Eze.

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Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2021

Blistered by federal judge, Texas foster care chief says: 'I do feel like I am failing children.'

Nearly 400 Texas children — many with serious mental, behavioral or physical problems — spent at least one night in the care of the state without a place to stay last month, often sleeping in motels or in office buildings. The steep rise in displaced children — in August 2020 there were 47 — meant more and more of them were looked after by case workers, some of whose training amounted to a 60-minute video on how to care for troubled kids, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Jaime Masters acknowledged to a federal judge Tuesday morning. Many of the children were abused while in the care of the state and had been in foster care for years, Masters said, and she had heard reports that some children had engaged in prostitution in the offices of case workers who were supposed to be protecting them. Almost a third — 31 percent — of the children in temporary placements were from Bexar or Harris counties, the report said.

Masters also acknowledged that the case workers “are not adequate” for the tasks they’re assigned. “I do feel like I am failing children,” Masters said, as a lawyer quizzed her on the depths of the problems. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack retorted: “I think we’ve got a clear record that you don’t think these children you’re stuffing into hotels and offices should be placed in a position where they’re free from increased risk of harm. I think we’re all clear on that. “Your days of looking the other way while children are warehoused, raped and abused, and fed psychotropic drugs are done,” the judge said. Tuesday’s hearing before Jack was the latest development as the state struggles to implement reforms the judge has ordered as she presides over a 2011 class-action lawsuit against Family and Protective Services alleging that children were held in unsafe conditions. Jack also heard Tuesday from monitors who are charged with making sure the state follows through on the judge’s orders. The monitors’ report explored the standard of care for children in temporary housing, finding incidents of child-on-child sexual abuse, children being over-medicated, children not getting their prescribed medication, being unnecessarily physically restrained and meeting sex traffickers at state office buildings and then leaving with them.

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Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2021

Senate Democrats push for vote on national elections reform

Senate Democrats on Tuesday rolled out their latest proposal to rewrite the nation’s election laws, launching yet another long-shot bid to pass a voting bill that would target restrictions pushed by Republican in states like Texas. The bill — now with support from key moderate Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — is a slimmed-down version of an elections bill that Republicans have blocked before, most recently last month when U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz objected as the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sought consent for the Senate to consider the bill. The bill would make Election Day a national holiday, create a right to vote by mail in federal elections and spell out that governments “may not diminish the ability to vote.”

It includes provisions aimed at preventing gerrymandering as states including Texas set about drawing new electoral maps and would establish new disclosure requirements for “dark money” groups that don’t currently disclose their donors. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate may vote on the bill as soon as next week as Manchin has said he is meeting with Republicans to get them to sign on. He would need to convince at least 10 Republicans to vote for the legislation unless Democrats scrap or amend the filibuster, which Manchin and others remain opposed to doing. “The fact of the matter is that this legislation is critical for stopping some of the most egregious assaults on voting rights happening at the state level,” Schumer said, specifically calling out Texas’ new elections bill signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month, which Schumer called “one of the most sweeping voter suppression bills in the entire country.” Texas Republicans say Democrats are greatly exaggerating the possible effects of the new state voting laws, which they argue are necessary to protect against voting fraud, despite no evidence it is a widespread problem.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2021

'Cowardly move': Paris ISD lawyer cries foul as AG Ken Paxton trumpets win over mask rule

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton won a temporary restraining order stopping Paris ISD in North Texas from enforcing its mask requirement for students; Paris had attempted to use its dress code policy to circumvent Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on such mandates. Dennis Eichelbaum, lawyer for Paris ISD, said Paxton’s office — despite the fact Paxton had sent multiple letters threatening lawsuits beforehand — didn’t notify the district of the lawsuit until after the hearing was over, and the restraining order had been granted. Paris ISD didn’t get to make its case against the restraining order as a result, Eichelbaum said, describing it as “a cowardly move” from Paxton. “First, it’s against the rules of civil procedure. So he doesn’t care about the law when it applies to him,” Eichelbaum said. “He’s very brave to go to court when you’re not there to defend yourselves.”

“A lot of times attorneys will get sanctioned for it if they do something like this,” he added, saying he will ask the district’s trustees if they want to pursue the matter with the judge. Paxton blasted out a press release trumpeting his victory in court over Paris ISD, describing it “as a win for the rule of law in Texas.” The release doesn’t mention that Paris’ attorneys weren’t present in court. “The law is clear, and this superintendent knows this, yet he has no issue continuing to waste precious state resources on impossible lawsuits instead of providing for his students,” Paxton said in the release. “This temporary restraining order is just the first step in restoring order to our great state and ending this disruption from rogue local officials.” Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Statewide, implementation of Abbott’s ban on local mask mandates has been patchwork. The federal government is pursuing investigations of several states with bans on mask mandates in schools, but not Texas because of inconsistent enforcement. Paxton has acknowledged in court that it will be left to local district attorneys to enforce the ban, and several prosecutors from the state’s largest counties — such as Bexar and Harris — have said they don’t intend to do so.

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Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

Texas hospitals face soaring expenses, shrinking profit margins as delta variant spreads

The surging delta variant is taking a financial toll on hospitals, especially in Texas, where COVID-19 hospitalizations are near last winter’s record peak. From June to July, operating profit margins fell 45% for Texas hospitals, triple the decline for hospitals nationwide, according to Kaufman, Hall & Associates, a consulting firm that tracks data from over 900 hospitals. Texas’ weak performance went beyond a single month. From January through July, margins at Texas hospitals fell 16% compared with the same period in 2019, before the pandemic. Nationwide, hospital margins declined 7%, less than half as bad. And that’s before August and September results, when statewide COVID hospitalizations doubled from their July high.

The decline in Texas hospitals’ profitability “is markedly different, and it’s quite worrisome,” said Erik Swanson, a senior vice president leading Kaufman Hall’s data and analytics group. “And it doesn’t look like there may be a very fast abatement of this trend.” Hospitals generally have small operating margins so even small declines can be meaningful, he said. These margin declines exclude federal CARES aid, which has been crucial to bolstering the finances of many providers. Kaufman Hall reports the results with and without the aid, and Swanson said it was important to get a sense of how core operations are performing on their own: “It gives us a cleaner view,” he said. Texas hospitals also had a 7.4% decline in margins on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — an important measure for funding future initiatives. Hospital leaders will be cautious about making investment decisions, said Stephen Love, CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, which represents the local industry. “When they look at capital investments, they may ask if they could postpone them for three to six months,” he said. “And they might well do that. They’re going to really focus on good cost containment until we get through this.

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Austin American-Statesman - September 13, 2021

Texans pay millions for units that can restart power grid, but some went out during freeze

It was probably the shakiest 4 minutes and 23 seconds the Texas power grid ever felt. During the frigid early morning hours of Feb. 15, as snow fell across Texas, cascading failures at power plants across the state led to power being cut to millions of Texans. Texas' grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, later revealed that the February freeze, which killed hundreds of Texans, could have been a lot worse. The grid was just minutes from a complete collapse. Had the grid totally shut down, ERCOT would have begun a process known as a "black start," which calls for activating several strategically placed and independently powered electricity production units at 13 power plants across Texas.

Those units are the first step in restoring full operations to Texas' power grid — and as such they are supposed to be the grid's most reliable. Texans pay these power companies and electric utilities millions of dollars each year to ensure that those units are the electrical source of last resort in the face of a statewide blackout. Each unit is supposed to be able to fire up independently of any outside power source. In a black start event, they would be used to jump-start neighboring power plants to begin repowering the grid in a process that could take several hours or several weeks, depending on the circumstances. But during the February freeze, many of these plants proved themselves to be no more reliable than any of the hundreds of power plants that shut down. At nearly half of the power plants contracted to be the most reliable — six out of 13 — black start units failed during the February freeze. In Fort Bend County, a relatively small natural gas unit at NRG's sprawling WA Parish Generating Station shut down during the tensest moments that freezing February morning when the grid nearly failed. Texans are on the hook to pay NRG more than $1.5 million over two years for this unit to be operational to jump-start the grid. But had the grid collapsed at that moment, this unit would not have been available to help restart operations.

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BuzzFeed - September 10, 2021

The Texas abortion ban has led to confusion over access to emergency contraception, and experts are worried

Within days of Texas implementing its 6-week abortion ban, fears arose over how the law might affect access to emergency contraception. It doesn't. But how the ban might affect other elements of reproductive health are concerning experts who say they already have to fight misinformation to ensure people know their options. The recent law, SB 8, bans nearly all abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, usually around the 6th week of a pregnancy. It does not concern emergency contraceptives such as Plan B, also known as the “morning-after pill,” which was approved for over-the-counter sale by the FDA in 2013. But as often happens, confusion over what the law does and doesn’t do has been percolating social media. “So, can Texas women still take the Plan B pill (morning after pill) if they had unprotected sex or any sex with birth control that is not 100% effective? #TexasWarOnWomen #TexasAbortionLaw,” @meggal asked on Twitter.

“SB 8 is designed to instill fear and confusion about accessing reproductive healthcare services, so it’s no surprise people are confused about whether it affects access to emergency contraception or basic contraceptive methods,” said Elisa Wells, cofounder and director of Plan C, a website that provides information on medication abortion and how it differs from other reproductive health methods. She added it’s understandable how the turn of events in Texas has prompted people to question how SB 8 applies to the morning-after pill, despite the fact that emergency contraception is not going anywhere and remains available in the state. The ensuing confusion is a “deliberate” campaign from proponents of laws like SB 8 to stir hesitancy about all forms of reproductive healthcare, Wells added. Tracey Wilkinson, a board member at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told BuzzFeed News that Americans have always been confused about the difference between medication abortion and emergency contraception pills. And many don’t even know government-approved medication abortion is an option — only 20% of US adults and one-third of women between the ages of 18 and 49 have ever heard of the abortion pill mifepristone, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. A reason for the confusion is that both emergency contraception and abortion pills came to the United States around the same time in the 1990s, Wilkinson said. Their entry to the reproductive field caused a “messy” conflation and confusion despite the fact that the drugs “work in completely different ways,” she said.

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Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Americans don't trust government, but somehow trust their bosses

President Ronald Reagan liked to say government was the problem, and private enterprise was the solution. Americans have bought in, lock, stock and barrel. We trust business leaders more than government or media, and we expect our workplaces to reflect our values and give our lives meaning, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer survey. Our shattered society, fractured by an epidemic of misinformation and disinformation, is leading to corporatocracy. I’ve written before about how Americans trust their bosses more than their political leaders or any form of media. But after the COVID-19 pandemic, 61 percent of those surveyed said they trust business leaders the most. Only 53 percent trust government, and 51 percent believe traditional media.

With great faith, though, comes great expectations. More than 85 percent of the 33,000 people surveyed in 28 countries said they expect CEOs to publicly speak out about the issues they care about. Nothing matters more to them than remaining safe from COVID-19. Almost 60 percent said they want CEOs to prioritize employee safety and impose pandemic protocols, including requiring masks and vaccinations. More than half want routine job skills training and regular communication with the top dog. Fifty percent want a diverse workforce representative of their community. Workers may no longer have faith in their democratically-elected leaders, but they definitely want more democracy in the workplace. More than 60 percent of employees say they want a seat at the table in strategic decision-making, and 50 percent say they are more likely to speak up or protest compared to a year ago. A more specific Edelman survey reveals that employees expect more personal fulfillment from their jobs than ever before. While in the past, you worked to live, today’s employees live to work. More than 70 percent of 7,000 workers in seven countries, including the United States, told Edelman that a prospective employer must reflect their values, perform meaningful work, and provide an opportunity to address social problems.

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Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2021

Relieved but exhausted': Residents pick up the pieces after Hurricane Nicholas

Across southeast Texas on Tuesday, weary residents such as the Steels woke to assess the damage. The overall Houston region fared better than feared, with coastal areas bearing the brunt of the storm’s impacts as it tracked up the coastline, leaving the city of Houston largely spared after prepping Monday and hunkering down. No injuries or deaths were reported in the city of Houston because of the storm, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. The fire department conducted one high-water evacuation in the Kingwood area. Schools remained closed and some morning flights were canceled. Metro buses and trains started operating again. “This storm could have been a lot worse for the city of Houston,” Turner said. “I think we fared fairly well from Hurricane Nicholas.”

Nicholas was erratic, a quality that ended up sparing Houston from the worst rains. Its center kept developing, breaking down and redeveloping. Just before landfall, the lopsided Nicholas shifted east, with most of its heavy rain bands southeast of the storm’s center. This change kept the heavy rains offshore for longer, said Katherine Lenninger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Houston/Galveston office. Still, the storm’s impacts weren’t insignificant: Perhaps at worst, Nicholas dropped around 10 inches of rain in Deer Park, 9 near Hitchcock and 8 around Sargent, according to early National Weather Service reports. Coastal communities on the whole saw roughly 6 to 8 inches of rain. Rainfall averaged less than 2 inches in northern Harris County and between 5 and 6 inches in southern portions, according to the flood control district. Some areas along Clear Creek reported 7 inches of rain. Clear Creek was among the channels that overflowed their banks. Forecasters had focused on flooding as the biggest potential risk, but Nicholas also brought wind, catching some off-guard, Lenninger said.

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Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

While state and cities quarrel over mask mandates, Metro mask policy operates 'smoothly'

Amid rush hour traffic on a late August afternoon, a Metro bus lurched to a halt in front of a stop on Hillcroft Ave. in southwest Houston. Two passengers were waiting, but only one got to board. The driver held out her hand to stop the other, would-be rider: a man not wearing a face mask. In June, she might have offered him one, but those supplies have apparently dwindled over the summer. Instead, she shut the door and shook her head as the bus pulled away. Since June 2020, refusing service to mask-less riders has been standard operating procedure for Harris County’s Metropolitan Transit Authority. The mass transit operator is bound by federal Transportation Security Administration guidelines requiring everyone over 2 years old to be masked onboard its vehicles. Violators can face fines of up to $3,000.

The rule, recently extended to Jan. 2022, has allowed Metro to sidestep a Texas-sized showdown over local mask mandates that erupted this summer after Governor Greg Abbott’s May executive order banning such mandates. As Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton escalate reprisals against school districts for requiring masks, Metro is quietly operating some of the most masked facilities in Houston: public buses and light rail. Mask enforcement is usually handled by bus operators, who deny passengers attempting to board without face coverings. But once or twice per day across the network, a passenger will board anyway and refuse to comply, according to Metro spokesperson Jerome Gray. “When that occurs … operators contact supervisors, stop the vehicle and arrange for alternate transportation,” Gray said in an August interview. “Generally, that prompts the patron who refuses to wear a mask to either put on a mask or get off the vehicle.” Requiring bus drivers, teachers or other employees to enforce mask requirements has produced mixed results in many cities. Social media abounds with viral videos of irate, maskless customers arguing with or assaulting service workers asking them to comply with rules. But on Houston’s buses and rail, the mask requirement has been “going pretty smoothly,” said Fidel Minor, vice president of the Transit Workers Union Local 260, which represents Metro workers. The policy is part of a range of protective measures Metro implemented quickly after the pandemic started, Minor said.

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Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Erica Grieder: Seriously, let's build the Ike Dike

It feels like Hurricane Nicholas took pity on us, in a way. This was a sloppy-looking storm, and one that behaved erratically after forming in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend. Although its trajectory and impact were hard to predict, we knew the tropical storm was heading for the Texas coast and bound to do something. So on Monday evening, most Houstonians were in a state of suspended animation, hunkered down at home, under an eerily beautiful pink and orange sky, waiting, once again, to see what the night would bring. Those of us who could sleep amid the howling winds woke up to good news: Nicholas had mustered some ambition, making landfall on the Matagorda Peninsula shortly after midnight, as a Category 1 hurricane. It then whuffled up the coast, uprooting trees and knocking down power lines and raining on everybody, but ultimately seeming more oafish than anything else. “This storm could have been a lot worse for the city of Houston,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said Tuesday morning.

That’s accurate. No deaths were immediately reported from Nicholas, and only a few high-water locations had been reported. Some 440,000 CenterPoint customers in the Houston region were without power Tuesday morning, according to the company, as a result of the storm. But most Texans on the Gulf Coast did have power, which was — all things considered — a remarkable achievement as well as a pleasant surprise. Not that there weren’t disappointments, like the cancellation of British pop star Harry Styles’ concert at NRG Stadium Monday night — surely the right move under the circumstances at the time. “Safety must take priority, so please go home and be safe,” Styles tweeted Monday afternoon. “I’m so sorry, thank you for understanding. I love you all.” Gov. Greg Abbott, for his part, made an unusual plea before the storm, tweeting to Texans on Sunday that they should “heed warnings from local officials and be sure to avoid high water.” If only the governor were so respectful when it came to the mask and vaccine mandates that local authorities have been pushing for to bring an end to this 18-month-long pandemic. In any case, Abbott turned his focus back to politics soon enough. Monday evening, as Nicholas approached the Texas coast, the governor—who declined to take questions from the media at a briefing on storm preparations earlier in the day—appeared on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show to bash President Joe Biden’s new plan to promote vaccines. While there, he touted a monoclonal antibody treatment that he received after coming down with COVID-19.

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Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Democrats pitch Harris County property tax cut but Republicans want to go deeper

The three Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday proposed cutting the overall property tax rate for the third year in a row, though the two Republican members left open the possibility they may force the adoption of a lower rate by skipping the vote in two weeks. County Administrator David Berry warned that option would leave the county scrambling to pay for essential services, including debt service for the $2.5 billion flood bond program. Republican commissioners Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle, however, see an opportunity to compel the Democratic majority to cut what they view as wasteful spending. “We are having a budget challenge because of wasteful spending, not because of tax rates,” Ramsey said, citing the creation of new county departments and hiring outside consultants for various studies. “So, when we adopt a tax rate, it should be in that context.”

Each year, Harris County sets the tax rate for the county government, flood control district, hospital district and Port of Houston; the first three together comprise an overall rate that is used to calculate each property owner’s annual tax bill. Berry proposed an overall rate of 58.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value. This would save the owner of a home valued at $200,000 with the standard 20 percent homestead exemption $27 since their last tax bill. The three Democrats on Commissioners Court have expressed support for that rate. Cagle’s pitch of 57.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, which included lower county and hospital district rates, would save this same homeowner $48. The Precinct 4 commissioner said residents who still are struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic deserve more property tax relief. “When we do the tax rate hearings, we need to be very careful that we make sure we don’t keep just the tax-spender mindset,” Cagle said. “The taxpayers, right now, are going through a rough season in their lives.”

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Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

Ted Cruz, accused of ‘tantrum’ for blocking Biden security picks, digs in over Nord Stream pipeline

Accused of throwing a “tantrum” over President Joe Biden’s refusal to block a Russian gas pipeline that Germany and other U.S. allies want, Sen. Ted Cruz relented — slightly — in his monthslong effort to squeeze the administration by stonewalling every State Department nominee. On Tuesday, the day after Cruz dropped his hold on three of about 80 nominees, the nation’s top diplomat pleaded with the Senate to confirm the rest. “It is essential that we accelerate the process for national security appointments since a catastrophic attack could occur with little or no notice,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In a tense confrontation with Blinken, Cruz accused the Biden administration of trying to deflect blame for failures in Afghanistan, where the extremist Taliban routed the U.S.-backed government in mere weeks and U.S. forces left behind some 64,000 machine guns, 33 Blackhawk helicopters and 16,000 night vision goggles. “We will see American blood spilled because of these colossal mistakes,” the Texas Republican said, insisting that Biden has “presided over the worst foreign policy catastrophe in a generation… Just like Jimmy Carter owns the disaster of the Iran hostage crisis, you own this.” Pressure has built on Cruz to relent. And he did, partially, by allowing confirmation Monday of assistant secretaries of state whose jobs entail overseeing Afghanistan and intelligence, saying he did so because both are “directly related to trying to clean up the mess, the disaster, the Biden administration has created in Afghanistan.” But he said on the Senate floor, “None of the nominees I have holds on would have made one difference in what happened in Afghanistan.”

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Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

For a second year, Dallas County commissioners fail to pass raises for elected officials

For the second straight year, Dallas County commissioners failed to approve a cost-of-living raise for themselves and other elected government officials. Now, a committee of elected officials and grand jurors selected from the public will decide whether those who have filed salary grievances will get a pay bump. In a special-called session of the court Tuesday, commissioners debated whether to give all county employees — including elected officials — a cost-of-living adjustment. Commissioner John Wiley Price suggested 3%, while Commissioner J.J. Koch suggested 2%. Price’s motion failed in a vote, while Koch’s did not get a second motion. The procedural stand-off means that no raise was approved.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Elba Garcia said they would not support any increases in elected officials’ salaries. Jenkins abstained from the vote on Price’s motion, and Garcia voted against it. “Elected officials know what they’re making when they run,” Jenkins said. “I don’t vote for elected official increases.” Garcia said she’d rather see raises go to county employees who make less than $60,000, a measure that’s still being considered before the court finalizes the 2022 budget and tax rate at the end of this month. “We have to be considerate about how we use the money,” Garcia said. “The county has to be very responsible.” The measure was initially slated for a vote last week, but Commissioner Theresa Daniel criticized a 2% raise for county employees that did not include one for elected officials. She said the officials who do important work for the county shouldn’t be left out, prompting the special meeting Tuesday. She said she hoped any salary increase would include those officials to help make civil service jobs competitive with private-sector wages. “We are not doing ourselves any favors,” Daniel said. “How many elected officials walk off the job because they don’t like the salary?” Koch countered. “That would be a gross, gross violation of the public trust. ... You’re there to serve.”

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Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

Lockheed Martin secures $2 billion in Pentagon contracts for F-35 fighter jet program

The Department of Defense this week awarded contracts valued at over $2.01 billion to Lockheed Martin Corp. to continue making and maintaining the F-35 fighter jet fleet for the U.S. and its allies through 2023. Under the contracts, the Maryland-based company will continue to provide logistics support, maintenance and training, among other services, for more than 3,000 F-35s. Both Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon emphasized the importance of cost-reduction in coming years. The majority of the work — 57% — will be performed in Fort Worth, where the company employs about 18,400 workers in its aeronautics division. The F-35 jets are assembled there.

“These contracts represent more than a 30% reduction in cost-per-flying-hour from the 2020 annualized contract and exemplify the trusted partnership and commitment we share to reduce sustainment costs and increase availability for this unrivaled 5th generation weapon system,” said Lockheed Martin vice president and F-35 program general manager Bridget Lauderdale. Lockheed Martin reduced its cost-per-flight-hour by 44% in the last five years, the company said, and it expects to reduce that number by an additional 40% in the next five years. It said the savings will be achieved by improving efficiencies and reliability. As of Sept. 1, Lockheed Martin has trained over 1,460 pilots and delivered over 690 aircraft as part of the F-35 Lightning II Program. It employs about 114,000 people worldwide. The contracts pave the way for a longer-term performance-based logistics agreement for the F-35 program, which would incentivize even more cost-savings, the company said. “Together with the F-35 Joint Program Office, we recognize the critical role the F-35 plays in supporting our customers’ global missions and the need to deliver this capability affordably,” Lauderdale said. The company is one of the largest contractors working with the Department of Defense, receiving $75 billion in Pentagon contracts in fiscal year 2020, according to a Brown University study released Monday. Defense contractors received one third to one half of the Pentagon’s $14 trillion in spending since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. Lockheed Martin, which recorded $6.8 billion in profit last year, isn’t just interested in aircraft defense here on Earth. The company expanded its foray into space travel and missile defense in December 2020 with the $4.4 billion acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. Lockheed’s division in Grand Prairie also makes guided missiles for the military.

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Dallas Morning News - September 14, 2021

Texas AG Paxton sues more districts, including Paris ISD, which incorporated masks into dress code

The Texas attorney general’s office filed even more lawsuits on Tuesday against districts that require students to wear masks to school. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced it filed suit against nine more school districts, including Waco and Paris ISDs. In August, Paris — a 3,800-student district about 100 miles northeast of Dallas — added masks as part of the school’s dress code “to address health issues in light of [the] pandemic.” On Friday, Paxton filed a lawsuit against Richardson ISD, following through on his pledge to sue school districts who mandate masks.

The districts defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting local entities from requiring masks. The RISD trustees voted in early September to affirm Superintendent Jeannie Stone’s decision to require face coverings, after they were forced to close an elementary school because of a spike in COVID-19 cases and a sixth grader was admitted into the intensive care unit. Paxton noted in a release that the office anticipates filing additional lawsuits against the districts flouting the governor’s order. This could include Dallas ISD -- the first to openly defy Abbott. “Not only are superintendents across Texas openly violating state law, but they are using district resources —that ought to be used for teacher merit raises or other educational benefits — to defend their unlawful political maneuvering,” Paxton said in a statement. In a district statement, Richardson spokesperson Tim Clark stated that “RISD has not been served with such a lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation.” RISD officials determined masks are necessary to protect students and staff amid a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant. More than half of all public school students are too young to get the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking inside schools.

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D Magazine - September 14, 2021

The Texas two-step and how corporations may use it to avoid bankruptcy

Healthcare and pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has been dealing with accusations about its baby powder for decades, and investigations have revealed that the company knew that its signature product contained asbestos. They were sued in 1997, and J&J denied the allegations, even though internal documents from the 1970s revealed the presence of asbestos in its baby powder. Now, more than 34,000 lawsuits are alleging that the asbestos in the talc in baby powder has contributed to cancer in patients all over the country, including women connecting the use of the powder to ovarian cancer. The product is no longer sold in the US and Canada. But J&J explored a plan to use a Texas law to deflect the blame and financial punishment to another company, Reuters reports. The move is called the “Texas Two-Step.”

It works like this: A company with liabilities, like J&J and the asbestos suits, transforms into a Texas entity, and then the new company undertakes a “divisive merger” that splits that company into two companies, which is allowed under Texas’ divisive merger statute. Then, liabilities and assets can be split, protecting the money and letting the other company take on the liabilities. Though this would typically be a fraudulent transfer, Texas law makes it legal. The company taking on the liabilities next files for bankruptcy, and the other company is released from all claims against it. During settlement discussions, J&J lawyers mentioned that the company was considering the move. There wouldn’t have been anything plaintiffs could have done to stop it. The potential payment could be $24 billion, and the move would limit compensation to pennies on the dollar and could end all trials in state courts across the nation. “The parent company would not have any of the stigma attached to filing bankruptcy,” says Andy Birchfield, Mass Tort Section Head of the Beasley Allen law firm, which represents thousands of ovarian cancer victims. “It would just be the new company that is formed, and there would be a limited pool of assets in that new company that would be available to the victims that are now creditors.”

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Austin American-Statesman - September 14, 2021

Fewer patients but critical care still strained as Austin struggles to improve in COVID-19 hospital data

Health data for the Austin area on Monday showed sluggish progress toward an end to this most recent surge in coronavirus cases. Despite a drop in the number of hospital patients for COVID-19, the disease continues to strain critical care resources. Hospitalizations for illnesses linked to the coronavirus reached their lowest level in more than a month over the weekend, with a total of 507 patients reported Saturday, 491 Sunday and back up to 509 Monday. The last time the Austin area saw hospitalizations so low was on Aug. 6, when 510 patients were reported. As hospitalizations for the disease continued to decrease Monday, the number of those needing critical care or ventilators to breathe remained largely unchanged.

On Monday, 217 patients were in Austin-area intensive care units, compared with 212 reported Friday. And 142 patients were on ventilators as of Monday, the same number reported Friday. On Sunday, just seven adult and four pediatric ICU beds were available for the 11-county trauma service region that includes the Austin metro area, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The region, which serves about 2.3 million people, had reached a pandemic low of zero adult ICU beds Sept. 5 and zero pediatric ICU beds Sept. 4. Texas health data on Monday showed that the number of hospital patients for COVID-19 in the state had dropped by more than 850 in the past two weeks. On Monday, 13,065 people were hospitalized in Texas with COVID-19, a decrease from the previous day and an improvement after reaching a summer high of 13,932 last month. The pandemic high was 14,218 Texans hospitalized in January.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 15, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: Texas lawmakers shred the Constitution to punish social-media companies

In the thicket of bad legislation churned out this year by Texas lawmakers, it’s easy for HB 20 to get overlooked. While we’re concentrating on voter suppression, the practical banning of abortion, permitless carry of firearms and the mandate that teachers must deliver patriotic, noncritical assessments of U.S. history, we can lose sight of the way our elected leaders shredded the Constitution just to make an example of social-media companies. The Freedom from Online Censorship Act, signed into law last Thursday by Gov. Greg Abbott, prevents digital companies from banning or restricting a user based on that person’s “viewpoint” or the way the viewpoint is expressed. “Freedom of speech is under attack in Texas,” Abbott said at last week’s signing ceremony. “There is a dangerous movement by some social-media companies to silence conservative ideas and values.”

Abbott said the law “fights back against Big Tech political censorship” and allows Texans who have been “wrongly de-platformed or restricted to be able to file suit to get back on the site.” Just so there’s no misunderstanding, the passage of this bill is purely and nakedly a message move to the GOP base, a theatrical display of retaliation against Twitter and Facebook for banning former President Donald Trump. It’s also part of Abbott’s ongoing attempt to keep up with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed a similar bill into law back in May. Hours before the Florida law was set to take effect, a federal judge blocked it. The Texas law could be headed for a similar fate. HB 20 is wrong-headed on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s consider Abbott’s allegation that social-media companies are practicing “censorship.” Few words in our society are misused as frequently as “censorship,” which tends to get thrown around every time a recording artist doesn’t get as much radio airplay as they’d like. Censorship occurs when a government entity restricts the free expression of private citizens.

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Associated Press - September 15, 2021

Southwest Airlines president retires suddenly after not getting CEO job

Southwest Airlines President Tom Nealon, who was once seen as a leading candidate for CEO but was passed over this year, has retired. Southwest said Monday that Nealon, 60, will still serve as an adviser focusing on environmental issues, including plans to reduce carbon emissions. In a statement issued by the airline, Nealon said he was honored to have served Southwest in several jobs, especially president, and looks forward to taking on a strategic role. The airline said that Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven, 59, has become president. The company declined to make Nealon available for comment.

Nealon was once the airline's chief information officer, but left and then rejoined Southwest in 2016 in a strategy role. In January 2017, he was promoted to president, a position previously held by CEO Gary Kelly. That — along with Kelly's statement that he, Nealon and Van de Ven would form a three-headed office of the CEO — triggered speculation that Nealon would eventually ascend to the top job. But in June, the Dallas-based airline announced that Robert Jordan, a Southwest veteran who is currently executive vice president, will become CEO upon Kelly's retirement next February. Kelly said Monday that the transition to Jordan is “going extremely well” and officials who handle finance, legal and technology issues have begun reporting to Jordan instead of to Kelly or Nealon.

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CBS Austin - September 13, 2021

New laws, bills up for debate causing concerns for businesses thinking about coming to TX

After a regular session and two special sessions filled with partisan heel digging pushing hardline conservative bills to the finish line, tech and business leaders are keeping an eye on how these new laws plus other bills in the works in the third special session could affect Texas' ability to attract a workforce. In recent years, the population boom in Texas and other tax incentives have attracted businesses - particularly companies in the tech industry - to expand operations into the Lone Star State. Google, Facebook, and Apple have built campuses in Austin alone, with Amazon considering the capital city as a finalist for their HQ2 project. However, laws passed in the lawmaking periods this past year have some industry leaders worried this business growth may come to a screeching halt.

Critics have called out two bills specifically: the election bill tightening restrictions for certain voting methods lawmakers passed in the final days of the second special session, and the bill that bans abortions as early as six weeks which was passed in the regular session and went into effect September 1. The abortion bill - labeled "The Texas Heartbeat Act" because it bans abortions when a "fetal heartbeat" is detected, despite doctors stating what sounds like a heartbeat is actually just electrical stimulation because a heart is not formed that early - is now at the center of legal battles over questions of its constitutionality as one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. Critics have pointed to the fact this would not only deprive women of healthcare, but also disproportionately put women of color at risk of seeking out dangerous, unregulated abortion procedures. Joshua Baer is the founder of Capital Factory - which is a major investment hub in Austin where entrepreneurs are connected to investors and employees - and the advocacy group Austin Tech Alliance. In talking with so many employers within the tech space, he has noticed the concerns over the political direction Texas lawmakers opted for the past eight months.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 13, 2021

Dallas mulling settlement in state investigation of Fire-Rescue’s patient care

Dallas is considering a settlement agreement with the state health department over allegations of improper patient medical care provided by city paramedics. Texas’ Department of State Health Services since last year has been investigating 17 potential violations involving Dallas Fire-Rescue and initially proposed a $217,500 fine. But the state proposed a settlement last Wednesday stemming from only nine allegations that could result in a $108,000 fine. Dallas Fire-Rescue Chief Dominique Artis told council members during a public safety committee meeting Monday that the investigation was over emergency medical service complaints dating back to 2016. He said he believed the proposed fine is now half the initial penalty.

“The possibility exists that we probably won’t have to pay it, if we follow some conditions,” said Artis, who claimed the city was contesting “some inconsistencies” in the health department’s notice of violations. “But we are in the process of going through that and negotiating with the state on those issues.” The specific allegations, why the number of potential violations was reduced, and details of the proposed settlement are unclear. The state health services department has declined to provide details of its investigation, saying information gathered is confidential until the case is closed. The fire department on Monday declined to release a copy of the state notice it received last week, citing the ongoing investigation. Health department officials since April have determined four city fire paramedics violated state policies following separate investigations, including two emergency responders who failed to intervene or provide proper care in the August 2016 police custody death of Tony Timpa. Their emergency medical services licenses have been put on probation status.

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Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

Arlington ISD sued over $1.2 million in unpaid Texas winter storm repairs

A North Texas construction company has accused the Arlington school district for refusing to pay over $1.2 million in emergency repairs after the winter storm in February. In a complaint filed June 28 in Tarrant County District Court, Robert Jordan Construction says it dried and dehumidified 450,000 square feet of Sam Houston High School after the school suffered widespread flooding, according to media reports. Owner Robert Jordan aired his grievance Sept. 12 in a seven-minute video on YouTube. “My company has not been paid one penny for the work we performed at Sam Houston,” Jordan said in the video.

But district officials say they did not enter a written contract with the company and that attorneys for the construction company have not shown that such a contract exists, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. The district’s attorneys also argued the district has governmental immunity from the lawsuit, according to the Star-Telegram. Jordan told KTVT-TV (Channel 11) that Arlington ISD is requesting documentation from him that does not exist. He told the news station that he worked around the clock for a week-and-a-half to complete the work. “It’s a big dragon that we had to slay,” he told the station. “I was pretty proud of the work we did there.” Jordan posted the YouTube video after growing frustrated by the school district’s legal tactics, he told Channel 11. The video has been viewed more than 19,000 times. The lawsuit is ongoing, but the district indicated in court records that it could take years to reach an agreement, according to Channel 11.

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National Stories

The Hill - September 14, 2021

DeSantis spokesperson says governor 'doesn't want to turn private citizens against each other' on abortion

An aide to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) indicated he has concerns about a key provision in Texas's recently enacted abortion law that allows private citizens to sue women who terminate their pregnancy or people who help them do so. “Gov. DeSantis doesn’t want to turn private citizens against each other,” Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for DeSantis, told BuzzFeed News in an article published Saturday. When contacted by The Hill on Tuesday, Pushaw said her comments to BuzzFeed were "in a broader sense – the type of enforcement action is being considered carefully to avoid any unintended consequences."

"Governor DeSantis has always been pro-life," she told The Hill in a statement. "Advances in science, technology, and medicine since Roe v. Wade was decided, have only bolstered the pro-life position. With that said, the governor has not indicated that the same legislation recently enacted in Texas will be on the table in Florida. At the same time, nothing is off the table. All the Governor has said is that he’s looking into what the best option might be in terms of legislation to protect life." DeSantis, who is seen as a leading contender among Republicans for a potential White House run in 2024, said earlier this month that he would "look more significantly" at a so-called heartbeat bill for his state following the passage of such a law in Texas. “What they did in Texas is interesting and I haven’t really been able to look at enough about it,” DeSantis said on Sept. 3. "They’ve basically done this through private right of action. So, it’s a little bit different than how a lot of these debates have gone, so we will have to look. I am going to look more significantly at it." Texas's law has come under criticism from members of both parties, some of whom say it opens the door for a federal challenge to Roe v. Wade and others who argue it stands on constitutionally shaky ground.

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Wall Street Journal - September 14, 2021

Census figures show Americans’ incomes fell in 2020

American incomes fell last year despite increased government aid tied to the Covid-19 pandemic that prevented millions from falling into poverty, Census Bureau figures released Tuesday show. The new data, in an annual assessment of the nation’s financial well being, offers insight into how households fared during the pandemic’s first year and arrives as Washington debates how much more to spend to bolster the economy during the worst public health crisis in a century. Median household income was roughly $67,500 in 2020, down 2.9% from the prior year, when it hit an inflation-adjusted historic high. The last time median household income fell significantly was 2011, in the aftermath of the 2007-09 recession. The poverty rate in 2020 was 11.4%, an increase of 1 percentage point from 2019 and the first increase after five consecutive years of declines.

That translated to 37.2 million people in poverty, an increase of 3.3 million from 2019. For a four-person household, the threshold for meeting the definition of poverty was about $26,000 in 2020. The official poverty measure doesn’t reflect how much a household pays in taxes, and it also omits noncash government aid like tax credits, housing subsidies and free school lunches. A broader poverty measure that accounts for such expenses and income actually fell last year to 9.1%, down 2.6 percentage points from 2019. The decrease, coinciding with an increase in the official poverty rate, highlighted the role of the government safety net, which was expanded during the pandemic. The two poverty yardsticks have tracked closely for a decade, but last year was the first time that the supplemental measure dropped below the official measure. Without the first two rounds of stimulus checks issued last year, the broader poverty measure would have risen by almost a percentage point instead of dropping, the bureau said.

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Wall Street Journal - September 14, 2021

What’s your raise really worth? Inflation has something to say about it.

This should be the best of times for low-wage workers, as pandemic-induced labor shortages force employers to sharply raise pay. Yet for many, it doesn’t feel that way, because those same disruptions have pushed inflation to near its highest rate in over a decade. Troy Sutton, age 61, lost a job as a custodian at the start of the pandemic in 2020 that paid $12 an hour, and he spent more than a year unemployed. This past summer, he landed a job as a custodian at the University of Pennsylvania he said pays $18 or more an hour. But Mr. Sutton’s water, electricity and cable bills are higher than a year ago, he said. He is shelling out more for veterinary checkups and dog food for his two Chihuahuas, Princess and Precious. At the supermarket near Mr. Sutton’s house in Philadelphia, eggs climbed from about $2 a dozen in 2019 to $3.69 during the pandemic. He and his wife started shopping more at supermarket chain Aldi this year, where many groceries are cheaper, he said. But the longer drive and higher gas prices have eaten up some of the savings. He has also cut out brand-name cereals, rice, oatmeal, ketchup and mustard. “I’m making more money. I should be able to see it,” Mr. Sutton said. “But I don’t see it because I’m paying more money for stuff now.”

Overall consumer prices rose 5.3% in August from a year earlier, a slightly slower pace than in June and July but still near a 13-year high, said the Labor Department. That means that for the lowest-earning tier of workers, “real” wages—pay adjusted for inflation—fell 0.5% in August from a year earlier, according to data from the Atlanta Fed and the Labor Department. That contrasts with 2.1% annual growth in the two years before the pandemic. The combination of strong wage gains and high inflation reflects the unusual nature of the current economic recovery. State reopenings, vaccinations and fiscal stimulus had until recent weeks fueled a powerful surge in demand, in particular for in-person services such as dining and travel that consumers shunned for most of the pandemic and that skew toward low-pay jobs. Companies couldn’t hire fast enough and boosted pay to attract workers and retain those they had. Employees in typically low-paying jobs such as those in restaurants, airports and hotels reaped the biggest wage gains. Annual wage growth for the 25% lowest-earning workers was running at 4.8% in August, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. That was the highest rate of growth since 2002, and slightly above the 4.7% reached in the months before the pandemic, when unemployment hit a historically low 3.5%. Annual wage growth for the highest-earning workers, by comparison, was 2.8% in August.

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Washington Post - September 15, 2021

Conservative radio host who spurned vaccines, mocked AIDS patients dies of COVID-19

For years, Bob Enyart used his conservative media platform in Denver to mock those who died of AIDS by name or call for women who receive abortions to face the death penalty. Recently, the radio talk-show host — who had successfully sued the state over mask mandates and capacity limits in Colorado churches last year — joined a chorus of conservative voices who have bashed the coronavirus vaccine and vowed to stay unvaccinated. In Enyart’s case, he pushed for boycotting vaccination because of the debunked claim that the vaccines were developed using aborted fetal cells. “While it is not inherently sinful to take an immorally-developed” vaccine, he wrote on his website last month, Enyart urged people to “boycott” the vaccines “to further increase social tension and put pressure on the child killers.” But weeks after he and his wife, Cheryl, tested positive for the virus after being unvaccinated, Enyart died of covid-19, his radio co-host announced Monday. Enyart was 62.

“It comes with an extremely heavy heart that my close friend and co-host of Real Science Radio has lost his battle with Covid,” Fred Williams said in a Facebook post. “Bob Enyart was one of the smartest, and without question, the wisest person I’ve known.” The Jefferson County Coroner confirmed to The Washington Post that Enyart had died. The coroner was unable to say when he died or provide an official cause of death, citing privacy issues. An official with the coroner’s officer said the hospital where he was being treated had yet to sign the death certificate as of early Tuesday. Cheryl Enyart and other family members did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On Facebook on Monday, she posted a picture of what appeared to be her holding her husband’s hand with a caption that read, “Enyart Strong.” Messages left for Williams, KMOV, the radio station that airs their show, and Denver Bible Church, where Bob Enyart was pastor since 2000, were not immediately returned. Enyart is at least the fifth conservative radio talk-show host to have died of covid-19 in the last six weeks after speaking out against vaccinations and masking. The others are Marc Bernier, 65, a longtime host in Florida; Phil Valentine, 61, a popular host in Tennessee; Jimmy DeYoung, 81, a nationally syndicated Christian preacher also based in Tennessee; and Dick Farrel, 65, who had worked for stations in Miami and Palm Beach, Fla., as well as for the conservative Newsmax TV channel.

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The Hill - September 15, 2021

Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight

Democrats expect to see President Biden get more intimately involved in the messy budget reconciliation process in the House and Senate to ensure that the $3.5 trillion social spending package gets across the finish line. Biden for the last month has been occupied by major crises — namely the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the COVID-19 pandemic — and has largely left it to congressional officials to work out the details of the package. Yet to get the measure through a Congress narrowly held by his party, Democrats believe Biden needs to publicly and privately put more muscle into resolving disputes within his party. “He has to get involved for a lot of reasons,” said one Democratic strategist who talks to the White House. “He doesn’t want to apply pressure, but he knows he has to in his own way. This is a massive legacy item for him.”

“He doesn’t want it to be winnowed down like Obama’s bill,” the strategist said, referring to the 2009 stimulus legislation. That legislation cost more than $700 billion, a huge amount at the time, but might have been even larger if Democrats had been able to win more support from Republicans and centrists in their own party. Those close to the White House say Biden will continue speaking to key players involved in the congressional battle. He’s likely to travel and speak about the legislation when the time is right, the sources said. Biden has already been plugging his economic agenda, and specifically the aspects of it that address climate change, during his first official trip out West as president this week. “I think Biden will be involved but probably more behind the scenes until he needs to apply public pressure. We’re still in the posturing and positioning phase right now,” added Democratic strategist Joel Payne. Payne predicted Biden would likely do some kind of “road show” to sell the package. “I think when he needs to, he will use the bully pulpit of the White House to apply pressure and get it over the finish line,” he said.

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CNN - September 14, 2021

Woodward/Costa book: Worried Trump could 'go rogue,' Milley took top-secret action to protect nuclear weapons

Two days after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, President Donald Trump's top military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, single-handedly took top-secret action to limit Trump from potentially ordering a dangerous military strike or launching nuclear weapons, according to "Peril," a new book by legendary journalist Bob Woodward and veteran Washington Post reporter Robert Costa. Woodward and Costa write that Milley, deeply shaken by the assault, 'was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.' Milley worried that Trump could 'go rogue,' the authors write. "You never know what a president's trigger point is," Milley told his senior staff, according to the book.

In response, Milley took extraordinary action, and called a secret meeting in his Pentagon office on January 8 to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons. Speaking to senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon's war room, Milley instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved. "No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I'm part of that procedure," Milley told the officers, according to the book. He then went around the room, looked each officer in the eye, and asked them to verbally confirm they understood. "Got it?" Milley asked, according to the book. "Yes, sir." 'Milley considered it an oath,' the authors write. "Peril" is based on more than 200 interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses, and it paints a chilling picture of Trump's final days in office. The book, Woodward's third on the Trump presidency, recounts behind-the-scenes moments of a commander in chief unhinged and explosive, yelling at senior advisers and aides as he desperately sought to cling to power.

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Politifact - September 14, 2021

Fact-check: Do the Bidens own 10% of Chinese electric vehicle battery maker?

Viral image: "The Bidens own 10% of” a Chinese firm whose stock is up almost 300% since Joe Biden was elected. PolitiFact rating: False Here's why: A vague attack on "the Bidens" claims they own 10% of the Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd., and that the company’s stock "has soared almost 300%" since Joe Biden was elected. CATL is known as China’s top battery maker and counts electric vehicle maker Tesla among its customers. It has been a hot stock as more automakers shift their attention to electric vehicles. A 10% stake would be worth about $18 billion. The attack, shared in a Facebook post, continues with a conspiracy theory alleging that the Bidens will profit because China has been in talks with the Taliban and will "take over" Afghanistan’s market for lithium, which is used in electric vehicle batteries.

Biden in August issued an executive order aimed at making half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 electric. The Facebook post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. There is no evidence for either part of the claim. No Bidens among largest shareholders: Three individuals own 10% or more of CATL, according to MarketScreener.com, a stock market and financial news website. They are the company’s chairman, Yu Qun Zeng; its vice chairman, Shi Lin Huang; and Chinese billionaire Zhen Hua Pei. No individual stocks owned by Joe, Jill Biden: Since becoming president, Biden has filed one financial disclosure form for himself and his wife, Jill, on May 17, 2021. Previously, Biden filed a disclosure as a presidential candidate, on May 20, 2020. The forms show that the couple’s investments did not include any individual stocks.

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Real Clear Politics - September 14, 2021

Ted Cruz: Admin imports potential Afghan terrorists, predators into U.S.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a committee on which I serve. The secretary has a lot of explaining to do. In the past month, we have seen a catastrophic failure of policy in Afghanistan by the Biden administration. Over and over and over again, President Biden and top officials in his administration made policy decisions that demonstrated their radical ideology and manifest incompetence. They allowed military vehicles and weapons, and key infrastructure such as Bagram Air Force Base, to fall into Taliban hands. They left stranded hundreds of Americans and Afghans who risked their lives to support the American military mission. Further, they loaded tens of thousands of unknown and unvetted Afghans on flights to the United States without sufficient concern for security, public health, or human rights.

Two weeks ago, I toured housing that’s being built at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. The camp will house up to 10,000 Afghan evacuees. At the time, there were flights coming in with evacuees every couple of hours. I asked the commanding general what they were doing to ensure each arriving Afghan evacuee had been properly vetted, and he told me that vetting was being done in Afghanistan. Admin Imports Potential Afghan Terrorists, Predators Into U.S. COMMENTARY .By Sen. Ted CruzSeptember 14, 2021 Admin Imports Potential Afghan Terrorists, Predators Into U.S.Scott Applewhite) On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a committee on which I serve. The secretary has a lot of explaining to do. In the past month, we have seen a catastrophic failure of policy in Afghanistan by the Biden administration. Over and over and over again, President Biden and top officials in his administration made policy decisions that demonstrated their radical ideology and manifest incompetence. They allowed military vehicles and weapons, and key infrastructure such as Bagram Air Force Base, to fall into Taliban hands. They left stranded hundreds of Americans and Afghans who risked their lives to support the American military mission. Further, they loaded tens of thousands of unknown and unvetted Afghans on flights to the United States without sufficient concern for security, public health, or human rights. Two weeks ago, I toured housing that’s being built at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. The camp will house up to 10,000 Afghan evacuees. At the time, there were flights coming in with evacuees every couple of hours. I asked the commanding general what they were doing to ensure each arriving Afghan evacuee had been properly vetted, and he told me that vetting was being done in Afghanistan. We now know, in fact, that in many cases vetting was inadequate and, worse, in other cases checks weren’t even attempted until they arrived in the United States. Afghanistan is an exceptionally dangerous place where radical Islam is pervasive. We saw that just two weeks ago when a suicide bombing took the lives of 13 servicemen and women. Of the roughly 30,000 Afghans already brought to the United States, about one-third had not been sufficiently screened and had to be rescreened. One hundred Afghans triggered security alerts — one of whom had previously been deported after committing rape while in the United States. If even just one or two people among the evacuees are seeking to commit acts of terrorism, we could see a suicide bombing in an American mall, restaurant, or other public venue.

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Newsclips - September 14, 2021

Lead Stories

Click2Houston - September 14, 2021

Tropical Storm Nicholas brings heavy rain, gusty wind to Houston area

Nicholas has been downgraded to tropical storm status as of the 4am advisory. The storm made landfall several hours ago and has decreased in sustained winds from 75 to now 70mph and has slowed its forward movement to 9mph toward the NNE1. A look at the forecast track shows that Houston will be dealing with the effects of Nicholas through the day today as the storm makes a slow progression across the region and into Louisiana by Wednesday morning as a tropical depression. Flooding is still a concern for areas to the east of I-45 and along the coastal counties. Wind is also a factor as the storm is gradually losing steam as it leaves its power source, the Gulf of Mexico.

The heavy rain is located east of the storm’s center, which has triggered Flash Flood Warnings as the heaviest rain makes a gradual movement north as the storm continues its NNE movement as well. With our exclusive partnership with Harris County Flood Control you can see there is one area of concern as of 5:00am A closer look shows the area near the Clear Creek, Nassau Bay, League City areas which are the areas where heavy rain continues to fall and several streams are out of their banks. The high winds from the east are helping to push water into that area.

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Bloomberg - September 13, 2021

U.S. regulators approve Texas nuclear dump despite opposition

Federal regulators approved a private company’s plans to store tens of thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste in west Texas oil fields, the latest development in a decades-long saga of where to store the nation’s spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license to Orano CIS LLC and its joint venture partner, Waste Control Specialists LLC, to establish a repository in the heart of Texas’ Permian Basin oil fields for as many as 40,000 metric tons of radioactive waste.

The joint venture, known as Interim Storage Partners LLC, plans to have waste shipped by rail from around the country and sealed in concrete casks where it would be stored above ground at a site about 30 miles from Andrews, Texas, near the New Mexico border. But the project faces stiff opposition from the local community, the state, and oil companies that fear a leak could taint a region that produces millions of barrels of oil a day. The waste that can remain radioactive for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years. The Andrews County Commissioners’ Court, which functions as the county’s board of commissioners, had previously backed the plan as a means of diversifying the area’s fortunes from the boom and bust of oil cycles. But it reversed course earlier this year and voted unanimously to oppose the project. And Texas’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott last week signed into law legislation that attempts to block the project from moving forward.

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Bloomberg - September 13, 2021

Why U.S. oil supply took such big hit from Ida

Hurricane Ida unleashed such furious winds and waves that almost two weeks later oil drillers, power suppliers and refiners are still picking up the pieces. They won’t be done any time soon. The damage to offshore platforms, pipelines and even heli-pads was so severe that two out of every three barrels of crude normally pumped from the U.S. sector of the Gulf of Mexico are unavailable. The ripple effects are still playing out as refiners and brokers scour the globe for replacements and the Gulf’s biggest oil producer, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, tells some customers it can’t honor supply commitments. It will be weeks -- maybe longer -- before normal conditions can be restored off the Louisiana coast and in the warren of oil-processing and chemical plants that occupies a 100-mile corridor from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

“What’s different is this is lasting longer,” Bert Winders, 63, a Baker Hughes health and safety director, said in reference to how Ida’s disruption compared with previous hurricanes. “It’s just demanding on people. Three to five days, they can deal with. But when you start talking two, three, even four weeks, that’s really tough on a family.” The recovery efforts are being closely watched around the world in large part because of the unprecedented scale and duration of the oil outages. Within days of the hurricane, traders were seizing on arbitrage opportunities created by the disappearance of some U.S. Gulf grades of oil such as Mars blend. For example, crude from Russia’s Ural Mountains is a popular alternative to Mars because they share similar characteristics. Ida’s drawn-out aftermath offers a chastening glimpse of what may be in store as climate change fuels ever-more furious storms along low-lying coastal regions dotted with heavy industry and vital fuel-making facilities. Typically, when tropical storms and hurricanes menace the oil-producing region of the Gulf, drillers batten down hatches, shut off the subsea wells funneling oil up to platforms and evacuate crews. When the skies clear, they often can chopper inspection teams back out in a matter of hours or days and resume production shortly thereafter.

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Associated Press - September 14, 2021

Biden: Results of California recall will be felt nationally

President Joe Biden put Democrats’ approach to the coronavirus pandemic on the line Monday, casting the California recall that could remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office as an opportunity for voters to show the nation that “leadership matters, science matters.” “The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re going to make isn't just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly, not a joke, around the world,” the Democratic president said at a rally in the Southern California city of Long Beach. The closing pitch from Newsom and his most prominent Democratic ally came a night before voting concludes in the race that could remove the first-term governor from office.

He is just the fourth governor in U.S. history and the second in California to face a recall. Californians removed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Biden’s appearance underscored the importance to Democrats of keeping the governor’s office in the nation’s most populous state, where many progressive policies originate. Newsom and other prominent Democrats have cast the race as a battle The results of the race ending Tuesday will send signals about how voters are poised to react to Democrats who adopted aggressive pandemic policies in next year’s midterm elections, when control of Congress and half the nation’s governorships are at stake. “Gavin will be a governor who will help us finish the job," Biden said, regarding the pandemic. Just a half hour south from where Biden spoke, Republican front-runner and talk radio host Larry Elder was urging his supporters not to let up on getting out the vote among fellow Republicans, friends and neighbors in the race’s final 24 hours. The party needs a strong Election Day showing to catch up to Democrats who performed better in early voting, mostly by mail. Nearly 8 million Californians already have cast mail-in ballots.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 13, 2021

Gov. Abbott signs GOP bail bill - the Damon Allen Act - into law in Houston

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed a bill into law that limits the ability of defendants to be released on cashless bail and provides judges with more information about their criminal histories when setting bail. The Republican-backed legislation was named after Damon Allen, a state trooper who was gunned down in 2017 while conducting a routine traffic stop. At a bill-signing ceremony in Houston on Monday morning, Abbott was joined by Allen’s widow, Kasey Allen, as he vowed that the new law would “keep dangerous criminals behind bars” and “fix the broken bail system” that allows defendants to walk free as they await trial. A Houston Chronicle investigation found that in 2020, more than 18,000 Harris County defendants were charged with new felonies and misdemeanors while out on bond, three times as many as in 2015.

“You have revolving-door releases of dangerous criminals back out onto streets who then go commit even more crimes,” Abbott said. “The Damon Allen Act makes it harder for dangerous criminals to be released from jail on bail.” Abbott, a former civil district court judge in Harris County, made clear the bill was aimed at Houston, where he said there is a “serious crime issue…more so than any other part of the state of Texas.” He did not take questions from reporters after his remarks. Democrats and civil rights groups that opposed the bill argue it will do little to curtail violent crime, as most people accused of murder while out on bond in Harris County had secured their release by paying bail, the Chronicle investigation found. The bill’s restrictions apply only to no-cost and low-cost bonds, meaning those who can afford to post bail will still be able to do so under the new law. The law would not have prevented Dabrett Black, the man charged with Damon Allen’s murder, from posting the $15,500 bond he had used to get out of jail after allegedly assaulting a deputy in Smith County earlier that year.

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Dallas Morning News - September 13, 2021

Court backs Planned Parenthood bid to block lawsuits tied to Texas abortion law; formal ruling next

A Travis County District Judge sided with Planned Parenthood’s request to be shielded from legal action from abortion opponents on Monday, but a formal order will not be filed until later this week. Travis County District Court Judge Karin Crump, who oversaw Monday’s hearing, found that the new law creates the threat of imminent harm for plaintiffs and violates the Texas Constitution. Crump’s temporary restraining order that prevents the women’s health clinic and known abortion provider from being sued under the new abortion law is set to expire on Friday, and the action pending from the judge is expected to continue the original order.

The anticipated extended injunctive relief will be narrow in scope, protecting only three Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates and one of its abortion providers from being sued by named defendants in the lawsuit. It would not prevent Planned Parenthood from being sued by another person who is not working with anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life from suing the plaintiffs. Formal protection from enforcement is expected to be ordered in the next few days, before the temporary restraining order expires. A trial in the case is set for April 4, 2022. The lawsuit was similar in design to several filed in late September on behalf of several groups that support reproductive rights. A hearing for injunctive relief in those cases is set for Oct. 4. Under Senate Bill 8, private citizens are empowered to file lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion in Texas. Parties who bring successful lawsuits will be granted $10,000 and are entitled to compensation for legal fees. Attorney Julie Murray, who is representing Planned Parenthood in the lawsuit, said injunctive relief wouldn’t mean her clients would stop complying with Senate Bill 8 — abortions would not be performed if a fetal heartbeat were detected. She said the intention of her clients’ lawsuit is to block frivolous lawsuits, which she fears could be used to frighten providers from facilitating abortions even before a fetal heartbeat is detected.

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Texas Monthly - September 14, 2021

Why Democrats are losing Texas Latinos

South Texas lately has become an object of political fascination for pundits, some of whom have not taken the time to understand even the most basic facts about the region. Until recently, officials from McAllen typically found themselves on the national radar only when they welcomed visiting national politicians. But Villalobos’s win—albeit in a race in which his party affiliation did not appear alongside his name on the ballot and fewer than 10,000 of the city’s 73,000 registered voters went to the polls—was noteworthy for one reason. It seemed to confirm what Democrats had spent the past seven months denying: they have a deep problem in South Texas—and therefore in statewide races as well. Last year, McAllen experienced the biggest shift in party vote share, toward Donald Trump, of any large city in the country save for Laredo, 150 miles to the northwest. In both border towns, Trump improved on his 2016 results by more than 23 points. Many predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods in Texas’s major cities, such as San Antonio’s Prospect Hill, also experienced double-digit shifts toward the incumbent president, though they ultimately stayed Democratic. But no area fled further into the GOP camp than South Texas, where 18 percent of the state’s Hispanic population lives. In Starr County, just upriver from McAllen, Republicans increased their turnout by almost 300 percent between 2016 and 2020. While Hillary Clinton won there by sixty points, Joe Biden barely scraped out a five-point victory.

In Webb County, home of Laredo, Trump cut his 2016 margin of defeat by more than half. And in Zapata County, which didn’t even have a local Republican party, Trump became the first GOP presidential candidate to win since Warren G. Harding was on the ballot a century ago. This shift has shattered years of political assumption—and perhaps arrogance. Democrats ranging from Barack Obama’s Latino outreach coordinator, Cuauhtémoc Figueroa, to former San Antonio mayor and presidential candidate Julián Castro had long maintained that Hispanic voters would be the party’s salvation in the Lone Star State. Their logic was syllogistic. In the early 2020s, according to the state demographer’s projections, Texas’s Hispanic population would achieve plurality status, constituting around 41 percent of the state’s total and surpassing non-Hispanic white Texans as its largest demographic group. And most Hispanic Texans—more than 60 percent in 2016—voted Democratic. Banking on an identity-based appeal, Democrats last year trotted out the sort of bilingual messaging in South Texas that has played well among Mexican Americans in Los Angeles and Puerto Ricans in New York, focused on a celebration of diversity and immigration. Republicans, by contrast, recognized that Hispanic South Texans share many of the same values as non-Hispanic white voters elsewhere in Texas and swept in with a pitch about defending gun rights, promoting the oil and gas industry, restricting abortion, and supporting law enforcement. Republicans proved more persuasive.

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San Antonio Report - September 14, 2021

Rick Casey: Did 101 legislators and the governor violate a law by passing new abortion restrictions?

Laurence Tribe, a prominent former Harvard law professor, recently published a column in the Washington Post proposing a legal way for the Biden administration to block Texas’ now infamous abortion law — the one that permits anybody in the world to collect $10,000 by suing anyone in Texas involved in performing an abortion or aiding and abetting in an abortion that takes place after the first six weeks of pregnancy. “Attorney General Merrick Garland has the power, under federal civil rights laws, to go after any vigilantes who employ the Texas law to seek bounties from abortion providers or others who help women obtain abortions,” Tribe wrote. He cites Section 242 of the federal criminal code. Passed to suppress the Ku Klux Klan’s war on former slaves who had the temerity to vote, the law makes it a crime for those who “under color of law” willfully deprive individuals “of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

The penalty provided is a fine and up to a year in prison. If a victim was kidnapped or killed — as often happened — the perpetrators could receive life sentences, or even the death penalty. Tribe’s argument is based on the incontrovertible fact that until Roe vs. Wade is reversed, the law of the land is that women have a constitutional right to obtain abortions considerably later than six weeks into their pregnancies. The current U.S. Supreme Court may well strike down Roe vs. Wade, but it could take a year or more. The new law, which passed the Legislature as Senate Bill 8, has virtually shut down Texas’ abortion clinics, and by a 5-4 vote the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the law while it is being contested in court. About 55,000 abortions were performed in Texas last year, the vast majority of them after six weeks. So tens of thousands of Texas women will be deprived of their constitutional rights by the statute. Tribe makes a powerful argument, but I think Texas could well handle the issue itself. And we could do so not by going after the “vigilantes,” but after the people who empowered them. Section 39.03 of the Texas Penal Code says this: “A public servant acting under color of his office or employment commits an offense if he … intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful.” Those responsible for depriving these women of their constitutional rights include the 83 members of the Texas House of Representatives and the 18 senators who voted for the bill. It also includes Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill into law. (The only San Antonians who voted for the bill were Republican Reps. Lyle Larson and Steve Allison.)

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KVUE - September 14, 2021

Travis County Commissioners Court to discuss allocating $110 million to rehousing the homeless

The Travis County Commissioners Court is set to discuss allocating $110 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to “address homelessness and affordable housing.” Item 37 says Travis County was allocated $247,450,630 Local Fiscal Recovery Funds through ARPA. The money can be used to “address public health needs including affordable housing and strategies to rehouse people experiencing homelessness.” Multiple organizations have requested portions of the funds to assist with project costs. The requests total nearly $110 million.

Foundation Communities and Mobile Loaves and Fishes/Community First! Village are asking for $50 million to help create the Burleson Village, a “supportive housing community” for approximately 700 residents. Another $50 million was requested by the Travis County Supportive Housing Collaborative. These funds would go to developing new affordable housing communities across Travis County for 1000 new residents. The Other Ones Foundation requested $3 million to assist with developing Camp Esperanza. The tiny home community’s goal is to rehouse 400 to 475 people a year. Foundation Communities also needs $6.5 million to complete the Juniper Creek Apartments, which will be made up of 100 affordable units for formerly homeless families with children. Overall, the $110 million, if approved, would fund over 2,000 new units. In April, local leaders set a goal of rehousing 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in the next three years at the Summit to Address Unsheltered Homelessness in Austin. The Austin City Council has collectively approved approximately $106 million of federal stimulus money for homelessness, according to a report from the Austin-American Statesman.

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Dallas Morning News - September 13, 2021

Texas GOP website restored after being hacked by pro-abortion activists

The Texas Republican Party website Texasgop.org is back up after being hacked on Saturday. The site was shut down over the weekend by activists protesting Texas’ Heartbeat Act, according to a statement on the site. Prior to the site being shut down, hackers put the words “Planned Parenthood” at the top of the website’s homepage among other pointed statements in an attempt to insult the organization and Texas GOP politicians. One of them said: “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer,” an Internet meme that began during the 2016 election cycle. The Heartbeat Act, supported overwhelmingly by Republican lawmakers, allows citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected. That can occur at around six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

After the law, also known as SB 8, went into effect on Sept. 1, Texas Right to Life created an anonymous abortion reporting system. The site prolifewhistleblower.com was removed by website hosts due to social pressure online. The site is still not up, Texas Right to Life has not revealed when it will be relaunched. Most of the text on the hacked Texas GOP site used profanities. The hackers also put a link to join Anonymous Operation Jane, a pro-abortion group that has vowed to hack any pro-life group that promotes a reporting system for abortion. The Texas GOP put out a statement on its relaunched website saying that it plans to increase “online security and advocacy efforts in support of the Heartbeat Act.” “Pro-abortion activists targeted us because of our strong support for the Heartbeat Act. This attack adds to a growing list of actions by the radical left who tries to silence anyone that disagrees with them,” the statement said. The Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi said in a statement that the hack helped the organization recognize its cyber vulnerabilities and promote fundraising. “Pro-abortion hackers changed our web page for a short time before we took it down. We will be increasing security and appreciate the hackers providing us with a fundraising opportunity — funds we will use to promote even more robust Pro-Life legislation in Texas,” Rinaldi said. The GOP hack follows a cyber attack on Texas Right to Life, where 300 résumés were extracted from the site and shared online the weekend following the enactment of SB 8.

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Dallas Morning News - September 10, 2021

Sharon Grigsby: Plan to overhaul Dallas convention center is a huge story, but few in the city even know about it

If you’re one of the relative few aware that planning is underway to overhaul the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center — maybe even demolish it and rebuild from scratch — you likely fall into one of two camps: Burn it down so City Hall gets out of the convention business or remake it into the best in the U.S. I’m betting most of you don’t have the slightest clue what I’m talking about, so today I’ll get everyone up to speed on the most underreported yet consequential story going on at Dallas City Hall. We can’t even get people to pick up the trash or a 911 call, but, with City Council’s blessing, we’re well down the road on planning for a convention center redo — without a serious public discussion of whether any makeover is the right thing to do.

That’s a gaping hole that will eventually bite City Hall in the butt, especially as preliminary briefings to council committees begin next month. If you are beginning to feel your wallet shudder, let me point out that any millions or billions needed for the overhaul won’t come from taxpayers — rather from hotel occupancy taxes and convention center revenue. But that doesn’t mean we should salute what’s going on — at least not until we have more answers. Momentum at 1500 Marilla St. for this latest facelift dates back to 2015. A study commissioned two years later delivered a long list of convention center deficiencies and called for another ballroom and more meeting spaces, plus a “signature entrance.” Months before we ever heard the word coronavirus — which would effectively shut down the convention business — city staff began a master plan initiative in June 2019 to reimagine the facility. Last January, City Council OK’ed a $5 million planning contract with WSP USA, and, with one virtual public meeting remaining, on Oct. 19, four options have emerged: Baseline plan: For $500 million, it would do updates and deferred maintenance, renovate and reconfigure some spaces and construct a new addition for more meeting rooms and another ballroom. Hybrid plan: For $1 billion, this one would also rebuild portions of the existing structure to add new lobbies, meeting rooms and ballrooms.

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Dallas Morning News - September 13, 2021

Glenn Hammer: Don’t let Democratic overreach kill the infrastructure bill

(Glenn Hammer is chief executive of the Texas Association of Business.) The United States economy is on the verge of being dramatically transformed by a simple majority vote in the Senate. It’s time for the chamber community to unite, educate Americans about the danger this radical $3.5 trillion package presents to the free market system, and ultimately defeat it. Historically, when major companies are headed toward disaster, the federal government has opted to bail them out. It’s the too-big-to-fail approach, based on the assumption that their demise would have far-reaching effects that could bring down the country. But what happens when the government is headed toward disaster? Whose pockets do they reach into? You know the answer. It’s the American people. And the current price tag of $3.5 trillion is a wish list of social and environmental programs that are being marketed as “infrastructure.”

The multi-trillion-dollar Democratic proposal is a catchall for everything from green energy subsidies and tuition-free community college to Medicare and Medicaid expansion — resulting in a government so big that some Democrats are having a hard time backing it. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., outlined his opposition in the Wall Street Journal: “I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., told The Arizona Republic “I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.” What’s worse, actual infrastructure investments are being held hostage. On Aug. 10, the Senate passed a bipartisan $1.2 trillion package called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that makes meaningful investments, mainly through public-private partnerships, in our roads, waterways, public transit, airports and more. This bill is good governance and has garnered strong bipartisan support from local chambers of commerce.

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Dallas Morning News - September 13, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Looking for a job? Maybe this is why you haven’t gotten it

Inquiring minds want to know: Do you tip a robot? Dallas restaurant La Duni is using robots to cope with staffing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Robots don’t call in sick, can work long shifts performing tedious, boring tasks, deliver food and drinks to tables, and won’t hang out in a gaggle in the kitchen. At least we hope not. And maybe robots can deal with rude, demanding customers without blowing circuitry. The pandemic is reshaping work relationships and has added a new wrinkle to longstanding debates over automation and job insecurity. Robots have taken over the factory floor, and artificial intelligence is calling the shots on management decisions including hiring, where algorithms sort résumés and determine whether a human applicant gets a shot at a job.

According to a recent Harvard Business School study that estimates that about 10 million workers are excluded from hiring discussions, this is part of a pernicious cycle. The study notes that companies are finding fewer people with the right skills, in the numbers they want, at the time they want them. In response, companies deploy still more technology that allows them to reduce their dependence on workers that are increasingly hard to find, the study notes. At least 10.9 million job openings existed at the end of July, up from 10.2 million in June, and 9 million are jobless for a wide variety of reasons, including workers deciding when and where they want to work (nearly 4 million people quit jobs in July) and companies learning to manage a scaled-down workforce. In pre-pandemic times, a flood of unemployed workers in an expanding economy would be a catalyst for additional job growth. But for some reason that isn’t happening, at least not consistently. And that is why we see headlines that nonfarm payrolls increased by 943,000 jobs in July, followed the next month by news that nonfarm payroll growth in August increased by just 235,000, well short of the 720,000 jobs economists had predicted.

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Houston Chronicle - September 13, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: What if we faced down the pandemic like we do a storm?

Sometimes it’s only after the storm that we really get to know our neighbors. Because suddenly we need them. We may need their help moving a big limb off the car. We may need to run an extension cord from their house to ours because we haven’t gotten the power back yet. We may just need someone to talk to as we stand alone on the front porch, watching the water rising in the street, and not knowing when it will stop. There isn’t much good about a hurricane — or any storm or natural disaster, for that matter, except maybe the sense of community we feel afterward. For some reason, we humans need to be reminded that we’re part of a community, that we need other people and they need us, that our lives and fates and even extension cords are intertwined.

And sometimes, we need a visit from the Cajun Navy to remember that our circle is much larger than our own street or city. Complete strangers come by air, land and water to lend a helping hand for no reason other than the golden rule and a sense that we’re all, ultimately, in this together. Even before Tropical Storm Nicholas made landfall Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott had issued a disaster declaration for 17 counties, including Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Matagorda and Montgomery. School was canceled in school districts across the region. So were flights leaving from Bush and Hobby. So were concerts and dinner plans. Everyone was told to stay off the roads from sundown to sun up. This is all part of the drill — this preparation, this disruption of our lives. And we put up with it. We even welcome it. Because we know it can save us. But as we watch the rain, knowing full well that our hospitals can’t handle much more strain from a new disaster when they’re barely treading water in the pandemic disaster, we must ask ourselves: Why don’t the same rules of preparation, prevention and community spirit apply to COVID-19, which has killed more than 57,000 Texans?

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Houston Chronicle - September 13, 2021

Several Texas colleges make 2022 ranking of best universities in the nation

Several Texas and Houston-area universities have graced a new list of best colleges in the nation. U.S. News & World Report, the global authority in education rankings, released its list of the 2022 U.S. Best Colleges on Monday. More than 1,400 colleges and universities across the nation were evaluated across several measures to compile the rankings. Of those measures, graduation rates, graduate indebtedness and social mobility indicators carried the most weight, accounting for 40% of a college's rank. Graduate indebtedness includes the proportion of bachelor’s degree graduates who took out federal loans and the average amount they borrowed; social mobility includes schools that enroll a high proportion of Pell Grant students; graduation rates consist of the percentage of first-year students returning to campus and graduating within six years, according to the report's methodology.

Other measures used to rank schools include faculty resources, financial resources, student excellence, alumni giving and opinions from experts such as presidents, provosts and admissions deans. One Houston-area university cracked the top 20 in the ranking of best national universities. Rice University placed No. 17 on this list, tied with one other school, and took the spot for No. 1 school in Texas. The University of Texas at Austin ranked No. 38 overall on this list, tied with three other schools, and was the second in Texas; followed by a tie between Southern Methodist University and Texas A&M University at No. 68 overall, who also tied with five other schools, and are third in Texas; and Baylor University at No. 75 overall, tied with three other schools, and is the fourth in Texas. The Texas schools that ranked on the list of best public schools include the University of Texas at No. 10 overall, tied with four other schools, and No. 1 in Texas; Texas A&M ranked No. 26 overall, second in Texas; The University of Texas at Dallas ranked No. 64 overall, tied with two other schools, third in Texas; the University of Houston ranked No. 88 overall, tied with seven other schools and was fourth in Texas; and Texas Tech University ranked No. 107 overall, tied with three other schools, and was fifth in Texas. Rice University also claimed the No. 5 spot for best value colleges in the nation, with an average discounted tuition cost of $20,513 and an average of 44% of students receiving need-based aid through grants or scholarships.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 13, 2021

TCU has become ‘full-fledged’ leader in protecting endangered African rhinos. How?

An African safari trip was always in the cards for Katie Lawton. From the minute she stepped foot on TCU’s campus, she was on a mission to study abroad in South Africa, where the university has taken groups of students since 2015. What she didn’t expect was for that three-week journey, led by the TCU Rhino Initiative, to change the course of her collegiate and professional career. Learning about the rhino poaching crisis and doing hands-on procedures with animals gave Lawton an “unexplainable” feeling pushing her to take action. “It was honestly life-changing,” said Lawton, who graduated with an environmental science degree in June. “Because they immerse you so well into the actual rhino issues, you come out feeling really changed, like you’ve experienced the whole culture and that you really want to do something about it.” The world’s rhino population has dropped precipitously since the beginning of the 20th century, driven by poaching and demand for horns in countries where they are believed to have medical benefits or religious power, according to Save the Rhino. Around 27,000 rhinos remain in the wild, compared to 500,000 in the early 1900s, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Those alarming statistics inspired Michael Slattery, the director of TCU’s Institute for Environmental Studies, and South African wildlife veterinarian William Fowlds to form the Rhino Initiative in April 2014. Originally imagined as a study-abroad program to give students direct experiences with wildlife, TCU’s initiative has grown to become the “full-fledged” academic partner for rhino conservation in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Slattery said. “We are very singularly focused on raising awareness and funds here in the United States so that we can relieve the burden of these reserves in South Africa that can help with rhino protection and management programs,” Slattery said. “That burden is especially acute as a result of COVID, because at the end of the day, wildlife conservation is a very expensive proposition.” The pandemic cut deeply into South Africa’s safari tourism economy, which doubles as a massive funding source for wildlife conservation in the region. COVID-19 also forced the cancellation of TCU’s annual Rhino Run in March 2020, taking away one of the program’s most important fundraisers and “galvanizing” community events, Slattery said. In the past, the thousands of dollars raised by the run have gone toward building the anti-poaching communication center at the Amakhala Game Reserve, where Fowlds is based. This year, funds will go solely toward rhino procedures, including the process of collaring rhinos to track their movements and help with anti-poaching efforts. “COVID has put such a dent in the finances of these game reserves that they are a year to 18 months behind in their upkeep and maintenance, including batteries for these collars,” Slattery said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 13, 2021

Mask mandate prohibited once again at Fort Worth schools after parents’ motion granted

Mask mandates are once again prohibited in the Fort Worth school district after a motion was granted Monday by an appeals court. The Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District of Texas ruled Monday afternoon that the district cannot legally enforce a mask requirement to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as a lawsuit makes its way through the courts. After the Fort Worth ISD superintendent issued a mask mandate for schools in August, four parents of Fort Worth ISD students sued the school district to try to prevent enforcement of the requirement. A Tarrant County district judge granted a temporary injunction to the parents.

But the school district filed an appeal with the Second Court of Appeals, and as a result, the temporary injunction was paused and not enforceable, and the district said it would begin requiring masks on Monday. The parents filed another motion on Friday and asked the appeals court for the injunction to resume. On Monday afternoon, the Court of Appeals granted that motion. In its ruling, the Court of Appeals said that the Texas Supreme Court “has made it clear that the Governor’s authority to make face-covering decisions is the status quo” and the status-quo should be preserved amid the ongoing legal controversies in the state. Gov. Greg Abbott’s GA-38 executive order, passed July 29, ruled no government entity can require masks, including school districts. The court order on Monday came halfway through the first day of school in which masks were required at Fort Worth district schools. Fort Worth Board of Education trustees approved a resolution at a special board meeting on Aug. 26 authorizing Superintendent Kent Scribner to implement a mask mandate once he could legally do so. The mask requirement went into effect Monday morning.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 13, 2021

Hunkering down against COVID, San Antonio's charter schools are in the mask minefield

Charter schools get more flexibility than traditional public school districts on curriculum and other state rules and standards — but not when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. Charters in San Antonio, large and small, are in the same political and legal conflict as all public schools, somewhere between Gov. Greg Abbott’s order forbidding mask requirements and the local health authority’s order — backed by a lawsuit against the governor by the city and Bexar County — that they mask up. Neither state nor local governments are enforcing either directive. The lawsuit’s outcome is uncertain. That leaves superintendents and school boards in control of their own COVID-19 safety protocols, for now. And not every parent is happy with the results.

“Of course, we have had some people say, ‘I don’t want to adhere to (mask-wearing)’” said Allen Smith, the superintendent of KIPP San Antonio Schools, one of the area’s largest charter networks. “But I’m not in the political space, nor do I want to be. I’m interested in keeping students safe.” KIPP safety protocols and contact tracing look mostly similar to last year. Students are required to wear masks, screen for symptoms and social distance. Up until Friday, masking was also required at Great Hearts San Antonio, a charter network with six campuses. The requirement was issued Aug. 22 in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases across the region, but Wednesday, Great Hearts’ board voted to make masks optional. The move pleased most parents and community members who attended the meeting and voiced their dislike of the mandate. It also angered and frustrated some parents watching it online, who said the mandate had resulted in a drop in coronavirus case numbers at the schools that was now at risk of reversal.

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San Antonio Express-News - September 14, 2021

Republicans hope to beat Democrats to the punch in San Antonio House District 118

Republicans are hoping to pick off a Texas House seat in a traditional Democratic stronghold, the 118th District in south San Antonio. With the election scheduled for Sept. 28 and low turnout virtually guaranteed, the five declared candidates say the two weeks of campaigning will be a frenetic race of door-knocking, hand-shaking and phone-calling. The district is 73 percent Hispanic, a fast-growing segment of the population nationally that Republicans hope to court, and one that moved away from the Democratic Party in the 2020 election. Democratic underperformance among Hispanic voters in 2020 led to worse-than-expected results last fall for President Joe Biden in both Florida and Texas, two key Electoral College states. The last time there was a special election in this district, in January 2016, there were 3,589 ballots cast in total, with a margin of victory of 171 votes.

There are currently five candidates — three Democrats and two Republicans — and unless one of them wins a majority of all the ballots cast, which is unlikely, the election will go to a runoff between the two leaders. John Lujan became the first Republican to hold the seat in its history when he won that last special election in January 2016. He lost the seat in November of that year in a general election to state Rep. Leo Pacheco. “I’m a little smarter than I was in 2015 just jumping in for the first time in politics, and just who I am today and who I am now,” Lujan said, adding he’s received about $90,000 in fundraising, much more than last time around. Pacheco, 63, held the seat until he resigned last month to take a new job teaching public administration at San Antonio College, triggering the special election. Lujan, a retired firefighter and former law enforcement officer, is running for the seat again this year after Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan personally called him to recruit him for the race. Lujan said when he picked up his phone and the caller identified himself as Phelan, he thought it was one of his firehouse buddies playing a prank on him.

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El Paso Times - September 10, 2021

Experts say Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's rape comments perpetuate a dangerous stereotype about sexual violence

A Texas law went into effect this month that bans abortions at six weeks with no exceptions for rape and incest, making it one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. When a reporter Tuesday asked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott how the law will impact rape and incest survivors, he said he intends to “eliminate rape” in his state. “Rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets," he said Tuesday. "So goal No. 1 in the state of Texas is to eliminate rape so that no woman, no person, will be a victim of rape."

Sexual violence experts say Abbott's approach is fundamentally flawed. When leaders suggest it's possible to end sexual assault by capturing or containing all the rapists, they fail to comprehend the ubiquity of rape and the powerful cultural forces shaping a society that minimizes sexual violence, excuses perpetrators and blames victims. Fear and shame prevent most rape survivors from reporting their assaults to police, which makes identifying perpetrators a challenge. And often those perpetrators are not lurking on "the streets" – they're in women's homes and workplaces, in their doctors' offices and college dorms. Most victims of sexual violence know their perpetrators and many of them are men who are loved and even revered. Nearly 40% of rapes are committed by an acquaintance and 33% are committed by a former spouse, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Less than a fifth of rapes are committed by a stranger. "Sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime and the people who are committing rape and sexual assault are people the victim knows and trusts," said Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. "We have numerous cases of doctors, coaches, teachers, officials committing sexual assault. The idea that these people are out on the streets waiting to be captured is very inaccurate."

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KXAN - September 13, 2021

Austin is resettling the most Afghan refugees in Texas

Austin is leading the way in taking in Afghan refugees as more people flee the Middle East country after the Taliban took over the nation’s capital in August. According to data from Refugee Services of Texas, the Austin office has received 48 refugees in both August and September. Since Oct. 1, 2020, Austin has helped place 127 refugees.

The service says Austin is nearly at 70% capacity when it comes to refugees the office can process. Austin’s office can take up to 185 refugees. The service’s Dallas office took in 21 refugees in August and 107 overall since Oct. 1, and it’s at about 75% capacity. Austin is the only site that has received refugees in September. The Fort Worth office is about at half its capacity with 60 total since Oct. 1. Houston’s office has received 38 and is 33% full. Both Austin Independent School District and the University of Texas at Austin are also helping refugees and families get settled. AISD recently accepted 13 Afghan refugee students and has around 350 Afghan refugee students total. UT has revved up its refugee student mentor program as more refugee students have come in. The program was started in 2015 and is designed to pair incoming students with UT volunteers who spoke the same language as them to help get the refugees acclimated to campus life.

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Austin American-Statesman - September 13, 2021

Cody Summerville: Texas should not allow 11 two-year-olds with one child care teacher

(Summerville is executive director of the Texas Association of Education of Young Children, a professional membership association that works to increase access to high-quality early childhood education and to advance a diverse, well-prepared and well-compensated early childhood profession.) As Texans head to work today, hundreds of thousands of them are first stopping at a child care center to drop off babies, toddlers and young children. Whether those families are in Austin or Lubbock or Brownsville, every one expects that their child will get the attention needed to stay safe until it’s time to head home. The hard-working staff at Texas child care centers, including those who are members of our organization, wholeheartedly agree that children’s safety is their top priority. Unfortunately, several years ago, state officials determined that current Texas child care standards pose a risk to children’s safety, but left them unchanged. The state typically only updates those child care rules once every six years. The good news is that six years have now passed, so child care officials at the state’s Health and Human Services Commission now have an opportunity to improve those child care standards and fulfill the expectations of Texas families.

Here’s a good place for them to start: Texas currently allows as many as 11 two-year-olds with a single teacher. It’s one of several state standards on child-teacher ratios and group sizes that is far out of step with the recommendations of experts. For example, to be accredited by our national affiliate, the limit is 6 two-year-olds per teacher. In fact, the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services previously declared that it “does not believe the current standards for group size...or ratios adequately protect the health and safety of children in some age ranges.” When the Austin American-Statesman published its 2018 investigative series on child injuries and deaths in child care, it also pointed to these same standards as a dangerous example of inadequate child care oversight in our state. One reason why the current standards are unsafe: Most two-year-olds are either not potty-trained or at least need a lot of help in that department. This means if there is only one teacher with 11 curious two-year-olds, a lot of the teacher's day will be spent changing diapers and helping these toddlers learn to use the toilet. Meanwhile, there are 10 tiny children with minimal supervision left to their own devices.

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Spectrum News - September 12, 2021

Nonprofit newsroom works tirelessly to explain abortion ban

Newsrooms not only here in the Lone Star State, but across the nation are working tirelessly to explain what Senate Bill 8 means for Texas. It has been grabbing headlines since the “Heartbeat Act” became law in Texas on Sept. 1. Not only is Abby Johnston a wife, a daughter and a Texan, she is also a storyteller. "I think it's just important to chronicle people's stories and to do that in a responsible way,” Johnston explained. Johnston is the deputy editor of The 19th, a women-founded newsroom dedicated to writing about gender, politics and policy. "The way that we approach gender is in a really holistic way. So to us that means women but that means LGBTQ+ folks,” Johnston said. “It means covering men too and how gender impacts them."

They have been pretty busy lately, working on a number of stories. However, one of the biggest right now is Texas enacting what is known as the strictest abortion law in the country. "We've done some really great follow-ups on just how this law can impact people in ways that we may not necessarily think about right off the bat,” Johnston said. With a story like this that requires continuous coverage, there may not be a better time for an independent, nonprofit newsroom like The 19th to exist. “(We are) really trying to represent how this is going to impact people and what moves are next,” Johnston said. “Because I think that that's the big question on people's minds is, you know, how does this play out in Texas? How does this play out across the nation?" As for how it will play out in their newsroom, Johnston suspects they will be working on this story for a while.

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KUT - September 13, 2021

Austin’s had a record number of murders this year, but the murder rate is still lower than in the 1980s

Sixty people have been murdered in Austin so far this year, marking a record number of homicides since the police department began keeping count in the 1960s. In 1984, Austin recorded 59 murders, which was the previous record. “Unfortunately, I think this trend might continue, probably will continue, and we need to do everything that we can as a community … to stop that number from growing,” said Austin Police Department's interim Chief Joseph Chacon at a virtual press conference Monday. Of the 60 murders so far this year, he said 49 have been solved. He said the department has added two detectives to its homicide unit, bringing the total number of detectives to 14.

But the number of murders per population size remains lower than it has been in past decades. Currently, Austin has recorded roughly six murders per 100,000 people. (KUT used 2020 population numbers, since 2021 estimates are not yet available, so it’s likely this rate is lower.) In the 1980s and early 1990s, Austin regularly had a murder rate of nine to 10 murders per 100,000 residents. On Monday, Chacon blamed the rise in murders on several factors. He pointed to a corresponding increase in gun violence and what he classified as a shortage of police officers. He also said a number of murders had been committed by people who had been arrested and then released on bonds. Since 2018, the number of full-time sworn officers employed by APD has decreased by 5%, or about 100 officers. “[Officers are] running from call to call and do not have an opportunity for proactive police work," Chacon said. "[That] has decreased ... officer presence and has provided opportunities for people to commit these acts of violence." When asked to further clarify his comments, Chacon said many of this year’s murders started as “interpersonal disagreements,” and that if officers had been able to intervene earlier, the incidents might not have turned so violent. Voters will be asked in November if the city should require a minimum of two police officers per 1,000 residents. Currently, the city employs about 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents. Save Austin Now, the group behind the petition effort, has linked Austin's rising number of murders to a decreasing police force.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 14, 2021

Is your safety, property at undue risk due to Fort Worth Fire Dept. staffing levels?

Michael Glynn, president of Fort Worth’s firefighters’ union, says the city needs to hire more firefighters as the city grows and response times to fires and medical calls have worsened. City officials say studies of staffing and response times are needed to fully understand the situation before more money is committed. Discussion of fire department staffing took up nearly half of the city council’s Sept. 10 budget work session, where council members questioned city manager David Cooke’s decision not to increase the size of the department as recommended by Fire Chief Jim Davis in a June 24 report. Davis’ report showed Fort Worth’s Fire and EMS response times have increased by as much as one minute since 2011. Inside the 820 Loop the time has increased from 4.47 minutes to 5.3 minutes. Outside the loop the time has increased from 5.59 minutes to 6.61 minutes.

The widely used National Fire Protection Association standard recommends fire crews respond within four minutes. “A fire generally doubles in size ever minute, so there’s a greater chance for fire growth with a delay in response times,” Glynn said, adding that this increases the safety threat to firefighters and those who may be trapped inside. For emergency medical services, he said delays can be damaging for persons suffering cardiac arrest, with brain cells starting to die after four minutes. Davis’ report said the city needs to budget for an additional 254 firefighters to the supplement the current staffing level of 953 firefighters. This will help the department keep up with growth and reduce its reliance on overtime to meet staffing shortages. That number came from comparing the departments’ staffing to similarly structured departments in cities including Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Austin and Indianapolis. Representatives for Davis and the Fort Worth Fire Department deferred to the city manager’s office when reached for comment. Valerie Washington, an assistant city manager who worked for the City of Indianapolis before coming to Fort Worth, said there are other factors affecting response time besides staffing, citing road conditions and construction as two potential variables.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 14, 2021

Colleyville Heritage principal’s job on hold after school board postpones meeting

The specially-called meeting where Grapevine-Colleyville school board trustees were to decide whether Colleyville Heritage High School’s first Black principal could keep his job was postponed because some trustees could not attend. The school district announced on Twitter that the meeting to discuss James Whitfield’s contract will now take place Sept. 20 at 5 p.m. David Henderson, a civil rights attorney with the Ellwinger law firm and who is representing Whitfield, said in a news release that the district was aware that not all trustees could attend when the agenda was posted late Friday.

“Shortly before GCISD scheduled the meeting, Dr. Whitfield was told for the first time that Superintendent Robin Ryan would recommend today (Sept. 13) that the Board vote against renewing his contract. GCISD refused to explain why. Representatives told Dr. Whitfield to expect an explanation after the Board votes, implying that his fate is already sealed.” Henderson said the superintendent should withdraw his recommendation not to renew Whitfield’s contract and that the district’s lack of transparency is taking an unnecessary and substantial emotional toll on Whitfield, his family and the students that he is serving. The agenda for Monday night’s meeting was posted at 5 p.m. Friday, the same day that over 100 students walked out of their classes to protest the district’s decision to place Whitfield on paid administrative leave. The students said they want an explanation from administrators concerning specific reasons why Whitfield is on leave. The district issued a statement which said that it was a personnel matter. Whitfield has been on paid administrative leave since late August. Whitfield came under scrutiny during a July 26 board meeting when former school board candidate Stetson Clark spoke during public comments, stating that Whitfield was teaching critical race theory, and calling for Whitfield to be fired, which drew cheers from some in the audience. Clark also named the principal several times which is against school board policy.

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Houston Chronicle - September 13, 2021

Houston Symphony's 'Opening Night' Renée Fleming concert and gala raises $600K

Something old, something new -- that was the spirit in downtown Houston Saturday night, as the Houston Symphony Society and Houston Symphony League attempted the city's most ambitious pandemic social gathering to date, "Opening Night Concert and Gala: An Evening with Renée Fleming." In order to safely gather inside Jones Hall again, protocol changes were made. The challenge was, could they be implemented without sacrificing the magic of an event that has traditionally hosted a packed house of 1,600 patrons? Not to mention a seated dinner for high-level donors? And shuttle services between venues? Houston Symphony has pulled off seemingly impossible feats before. In September 2020, the organization became the country's first orchestra to perform live and in-person. At that time, only 75 guests were admitted into Jones Hall. Check-in times were staggered. Masks were required.

Ushers stood watch to enforce social distancing. City Kitchen delivered charcuterie trays and adult beverages from Spec's Wine, Spirits & Finer Foods to individual homes. All-in-all, it was an impressive, historic and fiscally successful night -- more than was $518,000 raised. Still, it just wasn't the same. But on Saturday night, chairs Robin Angly and Miles Smith mixed the best of pre-pandemic togetherness with new-normal caution. Symphony leadership called it a "low- to no-touch experience." "This is only temporary," one usher said of the pop-up bar setups on stair landings leading up to the mezzanine level. This replaced the Green Room, an intimate, stage-adjacent space where season ticket-holders typically enjoy champagne and nibbles before performances and during intermission. Minutes before the concert, a voice announced via loudspeaker: "Masks are required during the entire performance. Should your mask slip at any time, an usher will ask you to raise it. Should your mask slip a second time, an usher will escort you from the venue." Everyone complied. Some nodded in approval. Then, the music began.

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National Stories

NPR - September 13, 2021

The unexpected reason Arizona's mask mandate ban may be unconstitutional

Days before the deadline for Arizona lawmakers to pass a budget, state Rep. Joseph Chaplik said he would refuse to vote for a GOP-negotiated spending plan unless he got something in return. "I said I'm not signing onto the education budget if we don't have control of the masks," the Scottsdale Republican told conservative radio host Garret Lewis in June. Chaplik was referring to mask mandates — requirements for students, staff and visitors at Arizona public schools to wear face coverings to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Republicans such as Chaplik were demanding the budget include a policy banning the state's public schools from issuing such mandates. The controversial ban on mask mandates is now scheduled to take effect on Sept. 29 after Chaplik and other Republicans got their way. But that's where attorney Roopali Desai says lawmakers got it wrong.

In August, Desai filed a lawsuit on behalf of Arizona's teachers union, school business officials, civic groups and others arguing a handful of policies passed as part of the budget are unconstitutional. That includes rules for conducting elections, regulations for what teachers can and can't talk about in their classrooms, and the ban on local school leaders requiring students and staff to wear masks. What all those policies have in common, Desai says, is they have nothing in common with the budget. "There's not any budget provision relating to a prohibition on COVID-19 mitigation policies [such as mask requirements]," she says. "It's simply a substantive policy that was put in here because ... certain legislators insisted that it be in there if somebody wanted them to vote on a budget." The city of Phoenix later filed a separate lawsuit making the same argument. City attorneys say a policy designed to undermine civilian oversight of the Phoenix Police Department is unconstitutional. It's not the substance of the laws that are at issue, Desai says. It's the way Republican lawmakers approved them. Chaplik and other Republicans leveraged their votes on the budget for something in return. It's a common tactic in many states, even in Congress, called horse-trading.

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NPR - September 13, 2021

The U.S. Capitol Police will reinstall fencing ahead of a far-right rally

Congressional leaders and top security officials say the U.S. Capitol will be well-prepared for a far-right rally expected for the area this Saturday, including plans to reinstall perimeter fencing that was up for months after the Jan. 6 insurrection. This weekend's rally will present law enforcement officials with the first large-scale security test to the Capitol since the attack on the complex by a pro-Trump mob. On Saturday, right-wing demonstrators plan to protest the ongoing criminal cases tied to individuals charged after the deadly riot. The weekend rally has drawn the attention of far-right extremist groups, The Associated Press has reported.

Monday's vote of confidence in Capitol security plans came following a security briefing for the top Democratic and Republican leaders in each chamber by Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger and House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker. Both Manger and Walker were installed into their posts after their predecessors were forced to resign in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack. "They seem very, very well prepared, much better prepared than before Jan. 6," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "And I think they are ready for whatever might happen." Schumer made the remarks following the joint meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Manger said he shared with the leaders the intelligence the agency is aware of, along with its operational plan for that day.

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Politico - September 13, 2021

Tensions mount between CDC and Biden health team over boosters

Top Biden Covid-19 officials are increasingly clashing with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the administration pushes to begin distributing booster shots widely by Sept. 20. In meetings and conversations over the past month, senior officials from the White House Covid-19 task force and the Food and Drug Administration have repeatedly accused CDC of withholding critical data needed to develop the booster shot plan — delaying work on the next step of President Joe Biden’s vaccination campaign and making it more difficult to set clear expectations for the public. One particularly frustrating episode occurred last month, two officials said, when the agency appeared to publicly reject the administration’s plan to offer boosters to all adults. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had joined other top Biden health officials in signing a high-profile statement on Aug. 18 endorsing the approach.

But less than two weeks later, when it came time for CDC to make the case for boosters to an influential advisory panel, senior agency officials argued that priority should be given to nursing-home residents and frontline health workers before expanding access to other groups based on their vulnerability. The new approach blindsided senior health officials across the federal government, further straining the tenuous relationship between the White House and the CDC. Seven senior administration officials working on the federal pandemic response, and three other people familiar with the matter, described the growing tension in interviews with POLITICO. All spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter more openly. The infighting comes as the administration seeks new approaches to quash the Delta variant and win back Americans’ trust after two months of setbacks and missteps. And it raises questions about the administration’s ability to make clear policy recommendations to safeguard Americans as the pandemic rolls on. Doing so will require close collaboration between health agencies and the White House to distill fast-moving and unpredictable discoveries about the virus’ behavior and vaccines’ performance into practical guidance.

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Associated Press - September 13, 2021

A press release announced a Walmart cryptocurrency partnership. It was fake.

Walmart denied any partnership with the digital currency Litecoin after a fake news release led to a brief flurry of inaccurate reports from national news outlets and social media users on Monday. A news release claiming a partnership between Walmart and Litecoin is “not real,” according to Walmart spokesperson Molly Blakeman. The false announcement was temporarily featured on a major press release wire and in outlets including Reuters, CNBC and Yahoo Finance, before being deleted and corrected. It wasn’t immediately clear who created it. Here’s a closer look at the facts.

Claim: Walmart on Monday announced a major partnership with the digital currency Litecoin. The facts: The nation’s largest retailer is not partnering with Litecoin, despite a bogus news release claiming as much, Blakeman told The Associated Press by phone. The release touted the false headline “Walmart Announces Major Partnership With Litecoin.” It fabricated quotes from Walmart’s CEO and the creator of Litecoin to falsely claim Walmart would allow customers to pay with the digital currency starting Oct. 1. After the release was published, Twitter users pointed out that Walmart hadn’t announced the partnership on its own corporate website, nor did the contact email in the release match the company’s actual website address. Though this announcement is fake, Walmart is looking to hire an expert in digital currencies and blockchain, Blakeman said. The false news release briefly tripped up national news outlets, Twitter users and cryptocurrency buyers. The price of Litecoin jumped from about $175 early Monday to about $233 within seconds of the press release being published. The price fell just as fast a few minutes later. GlobeNewswire, which briefly featured the release on its site before removing it, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company is an Associated Press client that distributes press releases to AP’s network of customers.

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Vox - September 11, 2021

Are Biden’s new vaccine requirements legal?

On Thursday, President Joe Biden voiced the frustrations that millions of vaccinated Americans have expressed to each other for months. The US economy is still being squeezed, and many Americans’ lives are in danger, because there is a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” caused by “nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.” He also announced several new policies intended to encourage vaccination. The most potent is a rule requiring large employers to protect their workers from unvaccinated colleagues by requiring either vaccination or weekly testing. “The Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees, that together employ over 80 million workers, to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week,” Biden revealed. Additionally, the Labor Department will “require employers with 100 or more workers to give those workers paid time off to get vaccinated.”

That immediately raised the question of whether the Labor Department can actually do that. In response to Biden’s announcement, several GOP governors immediately promised litigation, even though it is far from clear why a state, not a private employer, would be the proper plaintiff to bring such a lawsuit. Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Vaccine mandates are not unconstitutional. The Supreme Court upheld a local health board’s decision to mandate smallpox vaccinations in Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905). And states routinely require nearly all school-age children to receive a long list of vaccines. In Georgia, for example, nearly all children must be vaccinated against many diseases, including polio, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, meningitis, and septicemia. But just because the Constitution permits the government to require vaccines does not necessarily mean that the Labor Department may, as Biden says it will, issue a binding rule requiring large employers to encourage vaccination. The Labor Department may only act pursuant to an act of Congress. So unless Congress passes a new law, the department must rely on an existing statute if it wishes to regulate employers.

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CNN - September 13, 2021

Trump is showing just how divisive a new White House run would be

Only Donald Trump knows whether he will mount a run for the White House in 2024. But it's already clear what such a campaign would look like. It would be built on a lie that he was cheated out of office and would relentlessly politicize and monetize America's ideological, social and racial divides. As a political neophyte in 2016, Trump tapped into a seam of discontent with the economy and a sense that the Washington establishment was ignoring millions of people. His victimization of Mexican and Muslim immigrants in that campaign played on a fear of outsiders. Some Democrats believe his win was also born from a racist backlash to the country's first Black commander-in-chief that benefited from his racist and false accusations about ex-President Barack Obama's birthplace. Already, what looks like a new attempt by Trump to reclaim the White House is shaping up as an even more sinister affair, not least because a twice-impeached President who already incited an insurrection and tried to subvert US democracy to stay in office would be seeking to regain the awesome powers of the presidency.

In recent days, Trump has appeared to sense an opening, with President Joe Biden heavily criticized over his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and with the pandemic resurgent, to accelerate his own political aspirations. The former President hasn't offered any political plans or useful suggestions, for example, of how to tackle the country's greatest crisis -- the Covid-19 emergency that he so badly botched while in office. Rather his statements and attacks most often suggest that a new presidential campaign would be a vehicle for personal vengeance and the wounded vanity of being rejected by voters after a single term. That was clear this weekend when the country solemnly marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the former President unleashed a string of political assaults on his successor. There was something rather sad that the most recent ex-President felt unable to join Biden and ex-Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama at official commemorations of the attacks. Trump has never been interested in being a member of the ex-President's club. And his political brand as an outsider often relies on attacking pillars of the establishment like former Presidents. But his absence underscored gaping divides in a nation that is now unable to even join as one to mark the most unifying event in modern history: the national response to the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

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