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Newsclips - October 26, 2020

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Texas Senate hopeful MJ Hegar tries to woo suburban centrists while mobilizing progressive Democrats

MJ Hegar has no track record in public office. She’s never held one. By her own account, she’s been a Democrat for just eight years. And yet the national Democratic Party, which heavily recruited military veterans as it flipped the U.S. House in 2018, tapped her to run that year in a rock-ribbed Republican congressional district in Central Texas. Though Hegar narrowly lost, a viral video about her war record and advocacy for women in the armed services gave her a national following.

Perhaps because of her audacity, a trait she highlights in every ad and campaign appearance, Hegar saw in defeat the beginning of something big. Now, days before the election, she and her supporters — both in Texas and in Washington — have at least matched the financial firepower of Republicans as she seeks to oust three-term U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Whether Hegar can pull off the upset depends a lot on how other Democrats above and below her perform on the Nov. 3 ballot and whether it’s a record turnout — in the right places. But Hegar’s prospects also hinge on how successful she is at attracting Texans in the suburbs and elsewhere who haven’t been voting Democratic, while holding support from traditional Democratic voting blocs — Blacks, Hispanics, union members, white liberals. At least some loyalist Democrats have been wary, including her runoff opponent, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas.

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Washington Post - October 25, 2020

Rick Perry says Trump won’t visit Texas before Election Day because it’s ‘not a battleground state’

Former Texas governor Rick Perry (R) said Sunday that Trump isn’t planning to visit Texas before Election Day, dismissing polls that show a tight race in the Lone Star State. “He’s going to be in battleground states. Texas is not a battleground state. It’s that simple,” Perry, who served as Trump’s energy secretary, said on a call with reporters Sunday afternoon.

Trump won Texas by nine percentage points in 2016, the smallest margin for any Republican presidential nominee since 1996. Most polls show Trump leading Biden in the state by single digits, but early voting in some of the most populous counties, where Democrats have been gaining strength, has been eye-popping so far.

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Texas Observer - October 25, 2020

Democrats hope to end nearly 20 years of GOP dominance in the state government

The number is etched in Sharon Hirsch’s mind: 391. That’s how many votes she lost her 2018 race against Republican state Representative Matt Shaheen by, in Collin County’s House District 66. If 10 more people in each precinct had voted for her, she calculated, she would have won. “It really stunk to lose. I’m not gonna lie,” Hirsch says. The district is centered in Plano, a suburban city just north of Dallas with a population that’s grown by 50,000 since Republicans took control of the state House in 2002. Collin County has long been a bedrock of GOP conservatism—home to Ken and Angela Paxton and other influential tea partiers.

But the fact that Hirsch came so close was a sign to the former administrative staffer at Plano Independent School District that this once-ruby red suburban turf was changing—and fast. Two years before she came within a few hundred votes, Shaheen, first elected in 2014, had beaten his Democratic opponent by nearly 20 percentage points. Hirsch, a longtime Democratic activist in the area, promptly decided to challenge him again in 2020. The district is diversifying and she believes his politics are out of step with a community that prides itself on strong public schools and good parks, and is turned off by the rise of right-wing Trumpism. Apart from the 2019 school finance bill that passed out of the House near-unanimously, “I can’t think of any bill that he has supported that has been something good for the community,” she says of Shaheen, one of the most conservative members of the Texas House and a leading proponent of the “bathroom bill” legislation targeting transgender people. (Shaheen declined to be interviewed by the Observer.) The Democratic effort to flip the Texas House this year runs straight through District 66, the sort of suburban district that just a few years ago was seen as unwinnable for Democrats. As immense population growth has changed the political and demographic contours of the area, the district—and others like it—are now competitive. After flipping 12 House seats in 2018, Democrats need to flip only nine more this year in order to take control of the lower chamber, which would give them an official lever of power in state government for the first time in nearly 20 years.

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El Paso Times - October 25, 2020

El Paso Times Editorial: Here are our recommendations in federal races

We know the decision on who should serve as the next president of the United States is personal for most voters in the 2020 election. We respect those who are supporting President Donald Trump. We respect those who are supporting Democratic challenger Joe Biden. There also are other presidential candidates on the ballot. This recommendation is for those voters who wanted to wait until the final debate to make up their minds as they prepared to cast ballots in the Nov. 3 general election. After Thursday's debate, we are recommending Biden for president. As we explained earlier this month, remember our recommendations are not intended to tell you how to vote. Rather, they are offered as one of many sources for readers to make informed decisions.

MJ Hegar represents return to standing up for what's right It's easy to see how U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and many others in the Republican Party contributed to Trump's failures as president of the United States of America: We have lost confidence that Cornyn will stand up for what's right in a climate in which loyalty is more important than honor, political party is more important than principle and anything goes in the White House. We are counting on MJ Hegar to restore more independence to this important office. As Texas' senior senator, Cornyn has shown he is a fair and effective leader, yet he failed to speak out against Trump when he stepped over the line of decency. Cornyn owed Texas, Trump and the country to carry out his duties as a top Senate leader. He should have helped guide Trump rather than serving as an enabler when the president misused his powers, attacked anyone who attempted to rein him in and chose chaos over compromise to address acute, domestic issues. Gina Ortiz Jones for open seat: It is with some regret that we say so long to U.S. Rep. Will Hurd in Texas' 23rd congressional district. We are recommending Gina Ortiz Jones for this open seat in this swing district. The veteran is focused on three issues important to El Paso — education, jobs and affordable health care. Throw in national security and responsible immigration reform, and this new congresswoman will be busy. Republican Tony Gonzales' views on energy are more in line with much of the West Texas economy, but he is not running a centrist campaign that reflects the wide diversity of life in the congressional district.

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Houston Chronicle - October 23, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Texas plan would worsen homelessness

Supportive housing reduces homelessness, improves public safety and saves taxpayer money. It’s the kind of successful program that brings together the public and private sector, nonprofits and faith-based groups — even Democrats and Republicans. So, why is it suddenly under attack by the state of Texas? “This doesn’t make any sense. We are shaking our heads over here,” said Mike Nichols, head of the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County. “I believe good government can help, and this is just the opposite.”

A proposal by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs would block people with criminal records from accessing the effective combination of affordable housing and wraparound supportive services that has helped reduce Houston’s homeless population by more than 50 percent over the past eight years, according to Houston officials. The draft rule change is part of the state’s qualified action plan for 2021, which outlines how Texas spends federal funds earmarked for developing affordable housing. Barring those with criminal convictions would severely limit the main intervention used to successfully house the homeless, said Marc Eichenbaum, special assistant to the mayor for homeless initiatives. “By doing this, we’re creating this huge class of untouchables who are stuck on the streets,” he told the editorial board. “We’re creating modern day lepers without giving them even a colony.” Most chronically homeless people have criminal records. Nearly 50 percent self-identity as having been convicted of a felony, officials said. The real number is likely to be higher and is probably around 75 percent once you include misdemeanors, Eichenbaum said.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 25, 2020

Report: Kamala Harris to make campaign stop in Texas on Friday

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, will head to Texas on Friday, the Texas Tribune reported Sunday. Biden’s campaign sent an email to Democratic lawmakers saying the travel plans “will be publicly released momentarily,” the Tribune reported.

Harris initially planned to visit Texas earlier this month, but canceled the visit after her communications director tested positive for COVID-19. It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden will touch down in Texas before Election Day, but recent polls show him in a close race with President Donald Trump in the Lone Star state. A Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler poll among likely voters released Sunday shows Biden with a narrow lead over Trump, 48% to 45%, within the margin of error.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 23, 2020

Valero lost $464M in the third quarter of 2020

Valero Energy Corp. on Thursday reported a net loss of $464 million for the third quarter, providing more evidence of the global coronavirus pandemic's effects on the energy industry. The San Antonio-based refiner said in a statement to shareholders and investors its loss per share in the quarter was $1.14 per share, compared with $1.48 per share in the third quarter in 2019, when it earned $609 million. Energy analysts earlier projected Valero's loss per share in the recent quarter would hit $1.48 loss per share.

The company said fuel exports grew compared with the second quarter, despite the quarterly losses, and that demand for gasoline and jet fuel showed appeared to be improving after soft results in March and April. “As the global economy recovers, we are pleased to see a demand recovery for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel in the third quarter” said Joe Gorder, Valero Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Valero operates 15 petroleum refineries, including the two-plant Bill Greehey refining complex in Corpus Christi. The company generated $15.8 billion in revenue in the quarter ending Sept. 30, compared with $27.2 billion in the same period the year before.

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Rio Grande Guardian - October 25, 2020

Gary Mounce: Mexico and the U.S.: Whose oil?

(Dr. Mounce is a Professor Emeritus of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.) A quick glance back at Mexico’s history, the government acting to protect its sovereignty by nationalizing oil (President Lázaro Cárdenas, 1938), suffices to explain the symbolic role of oil in Mexico. Britain severed relations. Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, realizing the importance of Mexico in times of crisis, vowed to keep good relations. The current president of Mexico, López Obrador (AMLO), is trying to restore some of the nationalistic values cited by Cárdenas. His predecessor, right-wing Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN), rolled back some of those protections. Regardless of some of AMLO’s other peculiarities (a Trump-like ignoring of the Coronavirus), he has stood staunchly for Mexico’s sovereignty. Senators Cornyn and Cruz, joined (mostly) by fellow Republicans (open letter to Donald Trump, 22 Oct 20), demand Trump ensure the U.S. a larger share of Mexican oil.

They have no shame at the hypocrisy of greedily eyeing new oil fields in Mexico. They insist Trump pressure Mexico to cease protection of Mexico’s national oil company, PEMEX. They would scream “foul!” if Mexico attempted to dictate Texas energy policies, or co-opt the Texas Railroad Commission, which manages Texas oil. The immediate casus belli centers around a find—the first by a foreign firm, TALOS—of one billion barrels of oil off Mexico’s southern Gulf Coast (David Alire Garcia, “Mexico’s PEMEX,” Reuters, 30 Sep 19). The Mexican Minister of Energy, Rocio Nahle, is also Chair of the Board for PEMEX. (Yes, both countries are bothered by nepotism and fuzzy ethics.) He notes: “PEMEX should have a large part in the operations” of the new extraction project. The amount and nature of control is what worries U.S., oil-obedient Senators, since “AMLO is working to restore the primacy of PEMEX” (Keith Johnson, Foreign Policy, 4 Oct 19). Mexico is currently 8th in world oil production, 18th in terms of the largest oil and gas companies, and the U.S.’s largest export market for petroleum products. Much is at stake, for both countries. There is great concern but also great potential. At one time, “Texas was king of the energy world,” (Michael E. Webber, How Oil-loving, Frack-Happy Texas Could Lead the Low-Carbon Future,” Texas Monthly, 19 Sep 20). Webber warns: “Climate change threatens to knock us off the throne.”

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Austin Chronicle - October 23, 2020

Pipeline, drought key issues in the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District election

The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is not only a mouthful to say – it's likely an unfamiliar item on the ballot to many voters. Created in 1987 by the Texas Legislature to conserve groundwater and regulate pumpage from the Edwards and Trinity aquifers, the district is led by a five-member board representing five different precincts, which encompass 247 square miles of Caldwell, Hays, and Travis counties. The groundwater in this area has historically been used for farming and ranching but is rapidly shifting to mostly residential use as development spills out from Austin and San Marcos. According to the BSEACD website, "The use of groundwater in the segment has grown over the last 75 years from just incidental amounts to now serving as either a sole source or a primary source of drinking water of some 60,000 people." The district also includes beloved Barton Springs.

Three seats on the BSEACD board are up for grabs, but only Precinct 4 is contested (Dan Tickens in Precinct 1 and incumbent Blake Dorsett in Precinct 3 are running unopposed). In Precinct 4, Dr. Bob Larsen, a retired Texas State professor, has been on the board since 2002. Christy Williams, his challenger, is an environmental scientist and water resources regulator who volunteers with Sierra Club and TreeFolks and serves on Austin's Water and Wastewater Commission. Both Larsen and Williams want to conserve water through developing alternative sources like stormwater reuse, and both want to raise the price of water (currently 17 cents per 1,000 gallons) to incentivize pumpers to conserve. But stakeholders in the environmental community are worried about Larsen's record of making allowances for controversial actors. Though the board usually makes unanimous votes, Larsen's vote has run contrary in a couple of key cases, most notably the lawsuit brought over the Kinder-Morgan Permian Highway Pipeline for violation of the Endangered Species Act.

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KSAT - October 25, 2020

Gov. Abbott establishes ‘alternate care site’ in El Paso to expand COVID-19 hospital capacity

Governor Greg Abbott has announced that the Texas Division of Emergency Management is creating an alternate care site in El Paso to expand COVID-19 hospital capacity. This comes after a recent surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the area. The facility will be located at the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center and will have a capacity of 50 beds. The site can also expand to 100 beds if needed, state officials said.

The Emergency Management Division and the Texas Department of State Health Services has deployed auxiliary medical units as well, which can provide up to 100 beds at a local hospital, to help with hospital capacity surges, according to the statement. Abbott said the state has provided over 900 medical personnel to El Paso and will continue to provide additional medical staffing, equipment and bed capacity at the request of local officials. “The alternate care site and auxiliary medical units will reduce the strain on hospitals in El Paso as we contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region,” Abbott said in a statement. “We continue to work closely with local officials in El Paso and provide resources to reduce hospitalizations, mitigate the spread, and keep the people of El Paso safe.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 25, 2020

Tarrant County’s October COVID-19 surge continues for sixth consecutive day

Tarrant County reported 642 coronavirus cases and two deaths on Sunday. It’s the sixth consecutive day the county has reported at least 500 cases, a stretch in which it has averaged 688 new cases a day.

The county has reported 16 deaths this past week and 56 in October. COVID hospitalizations among occupied beds in the county hovered between 14% on Monday and 11% on Friday this past week. The rate was at 12% on Saturday. Tarrant County has confirmed 63,792 COVID-19 cases, including 719 deaths and an estimated 51,073 recoveries. Sunday’s reported deaths include a man in his 60s from unincorporated Tarrant County and a woman in her 80s from Forest Hill. Both had underlying health conditions. COVID-19 causes respiratory illness with cough, fever and shortness of breath and may lead to bronchitis and severe pneumonia. For more information go to coronavirus.tarrantcounty.com or call the Tarrant County Public Health information line, 817-248-6299.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

At least two Dallas County voters learn someone else voted in their name

Dallas County elections officials tell NBC 5 Investigates they have identified a voting system error after at least two voters showed up to cast ballots but were told that someone else had already voted in their name. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins confirmed the system error caused between two and four cases where someone actually voted in another person’s name.

But Jenkins said the error, which stemmed from the county’s electronic pollbooks, had the potential to affect between 72 and 100 voters. Still a tiny fraction of Dallas County’s more than 1.3 million registered voters. County officials say they have moved swiftly to address the problem and to make sure it is not more widespread.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

With class canceled, can Austin police hold onto cadets?

On Friday morning, the Austin Police Department introduced a new class of graduated cadets for what will probably be the final time in the next year or more. As the officers took an oath at a ceremony at a church in Northwest Austin, Ryan Hastings was on the other side of town rethinking his plan to be a police officer. Hastings, 24, has been accepted to participate in the department’s next cadet class. But, like others scheduled to join it, he has no idea when it will begin.

This summer, Austin City Council members canceled Hastings’ class, which had already been pushed back by one month, because of concerns that the curriculum for cadets lacked what they considered to be proper anti-bias and cultural sensitivity training. The council also axed two more classes scheduled for next year. It’s hard to say when the training academy will resume, but it won’t happen until the council members are comfortable with the material that instructors are teaching — and that might take some time. In November, the council is expected to pick a consultant to audit the existing curriculum. That consultant would then be expected to deliver a final report with recommendations in December 2021. A parallel review by a citizen task force charged with analyzing instructional videos used in the academy is near completion. They are expected to announce their findings in November. Austin police officials say the uncertainty is not helpful to the department’s recruiting efforts — and it also is forcing the 100 cadets in the next class to decide whether to hang tight or to find another line of work.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

Motors and mayhem: Underground car meetups surge in Austin amid pandemic

Like with many other commercial areas around town, the usual hustle and bustle at the parking lot at Interstate 35 and Parmer Lane in North Austin came down to a crawl with the pandemic. The AMC movie theater that sits at the intersection remains mostly empty. Only a handful of shoppers trot in and out of the businesses in the retail center nearby. But throughout the summer, as the clock got closer to midnight on weekends, the lot would ring with the cacophony of subwoofers rattling in trunks, tires screeching against pavement and engines roaring to life.

Approaching from the frontage road of the highway, smoke from burnouts could often be seen hovering above the lot. On some nights, more than a hundred cars would gather outside the theater, not for some big movie opening, but to take part in Austin’s now not-so-underground car meetup scene. But the excitement that the meetups stir among some car lovers is not shared by everyone. Local authorities say the gatherings have led to shootings and can be a breeding ground for criminal behavior. Organizers of car clubs that have met peacefully for years say the recent meetups have hurt their ability to park and hang out around town. Walking through the crowd, the mood feels festive. The smell of cheap beer and pot lingers in the air. Two friends nod at each other in approval as a red Corvette and a blue Lamborghini spin around each other like a carousel. A woman lifts up her child to give her a better view of the cars. Ice cream trucks, at least two of them, creep around the parking lot playing familiar tunes.

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National Stories

CNN - October 25, 2020

White House chief of staff: US won't control Covid-19

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday that the US is "not going to control" the coronavirus pandemic, as cases surge across the country and nearly 225,000 Americans have died from the virus. "We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," Meadows told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."

The comments from President Donald Trump's chief of staff come as coronavirus cases surge across the US and the administration continues to consistently disregard advice from government health experts to wear masks, social distance and avoid large gatherings as a way to curb the spread of the virus. The White House is also facing a potential second outbreak of the virus after at least five people in Pence's inner circle have tested positive in recent days, according to a source familiar with the situation. Pressed by Tapper on why the US isn't going to get the pandemic under control, Meadows said: "Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu." He added that the Trump administration is "making efforts to contain it." "What we need to do is make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it's therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don't die from this," Meadows said. The US reported its second-highest day of new cases on Saturday, with nearly 84,000 Americans contracting the deadly virus. As of Sunday, there were at least 8,575,000 total cases of coronavirus in the US, and at least 224,800 Americans have died from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Wall Street Journal - October 25, 2020

China trade war didn’t boost U.S. manufacturing might

President Trump’s trade war against China didn’t achieve the central objective of reversing a U.S. decline in manufacturing, economic data show, despite tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods to discourage imports. The tariffs did succeed in reducing the trade deficit with China in 2019, but the overall U.S. trade imbalance was bigger than ever that year and has continued climbing, soaring to a record $84 billion in August as U.S. importers shifted to cheaper sources of goods from Vietnam, Mexico and other countries. The trade deficit with China also has risen amid the pandemic, and is back to where it was at the start of the Trump administration. Another goal—reshoring of U.S. factory production—hasn’t happened either. Job growth in manufacturing started to slow in July 2018, and manufacturing production peaked in December 2018.

Mr. Trump’s trade advisers nonetheless say the tariffs succeeded in forcing China to agree to a phase one trade deal in January, in which Beijing agreed to buy more U.S. goods, enforce intellectual property protections, remove regulatory barriers to agricultural trade and financial services and to not manipulate its currency. They also say the tariffs—which remain on about $370 billion in Chinese goods annually—will over time force China to end unfair practices and help rebuild the U.S. manufacturing base. Tariffs “are having the effect of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in an interview, citing statistics that show a net gain of 400,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs from November 2016 until March 2020, when the pandemic forced widespread factory closures. However, about 75% of the increase in manufacturing jobs occurred before the first tranche of tariffs took effect against China in July 2018, when annual growth in manufacturing jobs peaked and then began to decline. By early 2020, even before the pandemic reached the U.S., manufacturing job growth had stalled out, and factories shed workers in four of the six months through March.

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The Nation - October 25, 2020

Gregg Gonsalves:

(Gonsalves is the codirector of the Global Health Justice Partnership and an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. A cofounder of the Treatment Action Group, he was the winner of a 2018 MacArthur fellowship.) Last Friday, the United States recorded 70,000 cases of SARS-CoV-2, the largest single-day tally since the end of July. Meanwhile, the president of the United States is trashing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying, “People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong.” In the White House, all the scientists are gone except for Scott Atlas from the Hoover Institution whispering into the president’s ear like Rasputin at the side of Russian Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, telling him what he wants to hear: You’re on the right track; masks don’t work; we don’t need to be testing widely; and we’re on the road to herd immunity. The winter is most likely to be grim. While it’s hard to predict with any reliability months out from now, the upward trajectory of cases over the past couple of weeks (34 percent over the previous two-week average) is all but certain to be followed by an increase in deaths.

And we’re all about to go inside, windows will be shut as the temperatures drop and we’ll all begin to lower our guard, lower our masks. In fact, that is already happening: It’s small gatherings now that are driving increases in cases in many places. I’m tired; you’re tired; we’re all tired. We crave human contact, to see our friends and family. The holidays will simply amp up this desire to get together to celebrate the fall and winter holidays as we do every year. As much as Trump has botched the response to the virus, it’s not only in the United States that we’re seeing a resurgence in cases. In Europe, countries that were successful in beating back the first wave of Covid-19 are seeing the virus roar back and instituting new measures to contain the latest outbreaks. As Julia Belluz reports in Vox, most of these countries didn’t use the summer wisely to scale up testing and contact tracing, ensure humane isolation and quarantine (e.g., paid isolation “leave”), institute mandatory mask-wearing, and retro-fit ventilation in places like schools. The countries that did, such as Germany and in Asia-Pacific—New Zealand, South Korea, and China—are thus far managing this next phase of the pandemic far better than the rest of us.

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NBC News - October 25, 2020

'Toxic': CDC staffers say morale inside the public health agency has plummeted during the pandemic

Months of mixed messages, political pressure and public gaffes about Covid-19 have caused morale at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to turn "toxic," said four current and two former CDC staffers, with one saying the election could be a "tipping point" for a mass exodus if President Donald Trump wins. "The house is not only on fire," said a veteran CDC staffer who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. "We're standing in ashes." Current and former CDC employees told NBC News that career staffers are still struggling to influence key decisions on the pandemic as new daily Covid-19 cases soar nationwide, but are overruled by Trump appointees when politics intrudes.

Most recently, they said, they wanted to extend the "No Sail" order for cruise ships through February. It had been set to expire four days before the Nov. 3 election. Instead, they say Vice President Mike Pence's office pushed for the order to expire, which stands to benefit 21,000 cruise industry workers in the swing state of Florida. The dispute between the White House and the CDC over the cruise ship order was first reported by ProPublica. A White House official said that when the CDC proposed an extension to the "no sail" order it seemed "arbitrary" and "they provided no metrics or data as to why." The White House official added that two or three weeks ago the vice president, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield hosted a call with the cruise lines to discuss their plan and "discussions about lifting no sail are currently in front of them, but no decision made yet. The political pressure has taken its toll on CDC employees, said the current and former staffers. One current staffer said that during a recent Zoom call, a supervisor went so far as to instruct CDC staff to be loyal to the Constitution, not to the president. Another current employee said: "I don't know if the damage to our reputation can be overcome with a new administration. I worry it's a permanent problem."

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Roll Call - October 25, 2020

Senate cuts off debate on Barrett nomination, moves to final vote on Monday

A sharply divided Senate dispensed with a key procedural hurdle Sunday on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, as Republicans raced to a final confirmation vote Monday that will solidify the high court’s conservative tilt. In a rare weekend floor vote mostly along party lines, 51-48, Republicans backed President Donald Trump’s pick of the reliably conservative federal appeals court judge to fill the vacancy left by the death last month of the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The only Republicans voting against the cloture motion were Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. On Saturday, Murkowski said she would vote Sunday against cutting off debate on the motion, but would vote to confirm Barrett on Monday.

At the same time, Democratic senators decried a plan to have Vice President Mike Pence preside over Monday night’s vote for the Supreme Court nominee from his state, even though his chief of staff and other staffers in his office tested positive for COVID-19. Pence’s office said he has tested negative. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, in a letter to the caucus, said members of a senator’s staff tested positive for the highly contagious novel coronavirus as well. He recommended that senators “not congregate in the Senate chamber today and that you cast your votes quickly and from a safe distance.” “Their carelessness with the health and safety of their colleagues and Capitol employees mirrors their carelessness with the health and safety of Americans during this crisis,” Schumer wrote. The compressed timeline Republicans set for the confirmation process means that Barrett, a longtime legal academic at Notre Dame law school and an appellate judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 2017, will arrive on the court in time to decide cases on contentious political and social issues. If confirmed, Barrett will boost the long-running advantage for justices appointed by Republican presidents from 5-4 to 6-3, which would mean the liberal wing would have to pick up at least two votes from the conservative wing to find any victories in cases on ideologically divisive issues.

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Newsclips - October 25, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 25, 2020

Biden rebounds to edge over Trump in Texas, as Hegar slightly narrows Cornyn’s lead in Senate race

Former Vice President Joe Biden has regained a narrow lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, after wooing more independents and Hispanics, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler. Biden’s lead among likely voters is 48%-45%, within the poll’s margin of error. In the Texas race for U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent John Cornyn lost a bit more ground against Democrat MJ Hegar. Cornyn’s lead now stands at 8 points, down from 11 in September. Also, in a sign of potential trouble for Texas as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, fewer than half of Texas registered voters say they’re likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. That’s a slide from last spring, when about three-quarters were willing.

“Texas remains a tossup because of the public’s attitudes toward President Trump,” said political scientist Mark Owens, who directed the poll. In September, 32% of Texans said they had no confidence in Trump’s ability to keep communities safe from the coronavirus pandemic, Owens noted. Today, 44% voice that sentiment. Trump, though, still has the advantage as the candidate Texans believe would handle the economy best. Biden, who was 2 points behind Trump among likely voters in The News and UT-Tyler’s September survey, edged slightly ahead of the president this month by expanding his support among independents and grabbing a better than 3-to-1 advantage among Hispanics. The former vice president’s rebound from last month, when Trump led among likely Texas voters, 48-46, is sure to boost the already high spirits of state Democrats. In recent days, some Democratic leaders have bitterly complained that the Biden campaign stinted on buying TV ads in Texas — possibly missing out on an opportunity to proclaim Trump’s presidency kaput on election night.

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Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intervened in donor’s legal affairs multiple times this year

For years, Jeff Mateer served as Attorney General Ken Paxton’s loyal second-in-command, handpicked to run the agency’s daily operations. But this summer, Mateer began to have serious qualms about his boss’s behavior. Paxton appeared to be taking a special interest in Nate Paul, a Texas real estate developer and campaign donor who was under federal investigation. In July, Mateer said, he learned Paxton wanted to personally appear in court to argue that a charity’s lawsuit against Paul’s businesses should be put on hold.

Attorneys general almost never show up for such lawsuits, and since the case involved a campaign donor, Mateer said he considered the circumstances suspect. “I was shocked,” Mateer told The Dallas Morning News in his first in-depth interview since he stepped down this month. “That, in my memory, no attorney general has ever done.” The incident was not isolated. This year, Paxton has personally intervened at least four times on a range of legal matters before his agency that involved or helped Paul, including at least one previously unreported incident in early spring, The News has learned. Experts say that level of involvement from the attorney general, the state’s top lawyer, is highly unusual and potentially unethical. Some of Paxton’s top deputies claim it is criminal.

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New Yorker - October 24, 2020

This Presidency poses stark questions about the ideological future of both parties.

The last weekend in August, 2001, two weeks before the attacks of 9/11, President George W. Bush travelled with his wife, Laura, and an entourage of government officials to a steel mill outside Pittsburgh. He worked the tables at a picnic for members of the United Steelworkers union and their families. I was there as a reporter, and I recall standing just a few feet away from the President on that hot day, listening to him make small talk with the factory workers and watching the sweat soak through his checkered shirt. After the picnic, he ascended a temporary stage and gave a speech promising a “level playing field” for American steel. A few months later, he instituted a tariff on steel imports. A President serves as the chief executive of the federal government, but he is also the functional head of his political party. Bush was at the steel mill more as Republican-in-Chief than as head of state. Though he couldn’t have imagined that Donald Trump, whom he is known to despise, would become President, Bush was trying out a populist turn in Republicanism as he attempted to persuade Democratic blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt to leave their party.

The failure of the war in Iraq and Bush’s insufficient response to Hurricane Katrina made him deeply unpopular, but the Bush dynasty retained enough of its mystique for Jeb Bush to enter the 2016 Presidential race as the heavy Republican favorite. He aimed to be friendlier than his brother had been both to the markets and to Latino voters. (His Spanish is better than George W.’s, and his wife is Latina.) Most of the other Republican candidates had similar positions, but Donald Trump made precisely opposite bets. He flung around flamboyantly offensive racial stereotypes about minorities, especially Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants. He defended Social Security. He resurrected the Buchanan-Perot position on trade, which both parties had rejected for decades. On foreign policy, he was an aggressive isolationist, hostile to the country’s elaborately maintained system of alliances. He attacked big business more often than any Republican candidate in memory. Trump will not be President forever—he may be in the role for only a few more months. It’s hard to imagine that the Republican Party could come close to replicating him with another Presidential candidate, unless it’s Donald Trump, Jr. But is there a future in Trumpism? This is a live question for both parties. The major political development of the past decade, all over the world, has been a series of reactions against economic insecurity and inequality powerful enough to blow apart the boundaries of conventional politics. On the right, this can be seen in the regimes of Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil; Narendra Modi, in India; Viktor Orbán, in Hungary; and Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, in Turkey. There are new nativist and nationalist parties across Western Europe, and movements like the ones that produced Brexit, in Britain, and the gilets jaunes, in France. An ambitious Republican can’t ignore Trumpism. Nor can an ambitious Democrat: the Democratic Party has also failed to address the deep economic discontent in this country. But is it possible to address it without opening a Pandora’s box of virulent rage and racism? Lisa McGirr, a historian at Harvard who often writes about conservatism, told me, “The component of both parties that did not grapple with the insecurity of many Americans—that created the opportunity for exclusionary politics. It’s not Trump. It’s an opportunity that Trump seized.”

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Austin American-Statesman - October 24, 2020

Nate Paul companies alleged to have defaulted on $258M in debt

Austin entrepreneur Nate Paul developed a reputation as a real estate wunderkind in recent years as he snapped up commercial properties here and elsewhere, growing his company into an industry force while still in his early 30s. But a quarter of a billion dollars in delinquent debt is raising questions about the stability of Paul’s real-estate empire.

Since late 2019, lenders have moved to foreclose on a combined $258 million in what they have contended are overdue loans made to more than two dozen Texas-based real-estate entities controlled by Paul and his company, World Class Property, according to bankruptcy filings and foreclosure actions reviewed by the American-Statesman. So far, the foreclosure efforts haven’t succeeded. Paul’s attorneys have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on 20 of the real-estate entities, often just before scheduled foreclosure auctions were to proceed, while scheduled auctions on seven others haven’t taken place for various reasons. The Statesman’s review of foreclosure proceedings involving Paul was limited to Texas. It’s unclear whether he faces similar issues in other states where he or his company owns real estate. It’s also possible that he has faced more foreclosure proceedings in Texas than those found by the newspaper. Neither Paul, 33, nor his attorney, Michael Wynne, responded to multiple requests for comment about the bankruptcy and foreclosure filings.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Ken Paxton fraud case should move back to Collin County, judge rules

The criminal cases against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton should be transferred back to Collin County, the presiding judge announced Friday, marking a huge win for the embattled GOP official. Harris County District Court Judge Jason Luong, the fourth judge to preside over Paxton’s cases, said his court effectively lost control of the cases in June when his predecessor decided to transfer the cases to Collin County. Luong further cemented his decision by stating that if an appeals court disagrees and finds he does have jurisdiction, the cases still should be transferred back because they should never have been moved from Collin to Harris County in the first place.

The special prosecutors pursuing the criminal charges against Paxton promised to appeal the decision, which they said divested “the citizens of Harris County of their right to determine if Ken Paxton is a felon.” “We trust the court of appeals will set aside this clearly erroneous ruling and keep these felony prosecutions in Harris County where the law mandates they belong," Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer said in a statement. Paxton’s defense team applauded the ruling and admonished the prosecutors. “We now have two separate judges saying that the case needs to be returned to Collin County for trial — I trust the Special Prosecutors will withdraw their appeal and let the case proceed," Philip Hilder said.

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Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Cornyn’s 18-year Senate record more nuanced, less warm and fuzzy, than his curated TV ads

Several words are missing from Sen. John Cornyn’s ad blitz hitting Texas TV viewers in the final weeks of his reelection bid: Republican. Conservative. Trump. Instead, the three-term incumbent focuses on his concern for victims of sexual violence and the scourge of COVID-19, and his dismay that challenger MJ Hegar uses vulgarity in public. One ad describes him as “calm, steady, effective,” another as “Common sense. Thoughtful. Proven leadership.”

It’s all very reassuring and not especially partisan, befitting a campaign season overshadowed by a pandemic and urban upheaval, and largely in the hands of suburbanites who have been abandoning the GOP in droves. President Donald Trump doesn’t appear in Cornyn’s ads. Nor do phrases like “liberal mob” — but that’s the TV image. It’s a tightrope, as Cornyn tries to avoid alienating suburban voters while also projecting that he’s conservative enough for the hard right activists who control the Texas Republican Party. “He’s really trying to carefully walk that middle ground to be, you know, not too far to the left, not too far to the right, just perfect. It’s the Goldilocks strategy,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist. The contrast is especially stark next to the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz. Compared to him, Rottinghaus said, Cornyn comes off as “a kind of moderate choice in a polarized Texas.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 24, 2020

Dallas County reports 533 confirmed coronavirus cases, 4 deaths; Tarrant County adds 848 cases

Dallas County reported 533 more confirmed coronavirus cases Friday, including 531 which the county considers new and two from previous months. Four new COVID-19 deaths were also reported. Labs either report coronavirus cases directly to the county health department or to the state health department, which then relays the information to individual counties. Of cases reported Friday, Dallas County health officials said 293 came from the state’s reporting system, including 291 from October and two from September. The remaining 240 cases were reported directly to the county health department.

The latest victims were three Dallas residents — a man in his 50s, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 80s — and a Seagoville man in his 80s. County Judge Clay Jenkins noted in a written statement that the new data continued a trend of increasing cases, adding that hospitalizations and emergency-room visits are also headed in “the wrong direction.” “At this point, you know what to do,” he said, referring to precautionary measures against spreading the virus like wearing masks and social distancing. “You just need to do it.” The newly reported cases bring the county’s total confirmed cases to 92,197. The county’s confirmed death toll stands at 1,097.

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Dallas Morning News - October 24, 2020

Texas Supreme Court stays order that had blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s mail ballot drop-off limits

The Texas Supreme Court on Saturday stayed a lower court’s order that had blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting counties to one mail ballot drop-off site. The decision followed a ruling Friday by Texas' Austin-based Third Court of Appeals that had upheld a state judge’s order blocking Abbott’s order. The state had appealed the Third Court of Appeals order. The state Supreme Court was still reviewing whether to take further action in the case and ordered both sides to file their responses by 5 p.m. Monday. By then, there will be just more than one week left for voters to return their mail ballots in person to early voting clerks around the state.

The case centers on whether local elected officials can accept mail ballots at satellite offices. Harris County had told voters it would accept such ballots at 11 of the early voting clerk’s annexes. Travis County and Fort Bend Counties also planned to offer multiple drop-off sites. But on Oct. 1, Abbott, a Republican, issued an order limiting each county to one drop-off site. He cited the need to prevent voter fraud as his main reason. Several Texas chapters of the Anti-Defamation League, the government watchdog group Common Cause, and two Texas voters filed suit against the state, saying Abbott’s order overstepped the governor’s authority in the Texas Constitution and violated equal rights of voters. Under the state Constitution, they argued, local elected officials, not the governor, are in charge of administering elections.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

Former Travis County Sheriff Raymond Frank remembered for early progressive stances

Hunter Pearsall said he still doesn’t know how his grandfather, former Travis County Sheriff Raymond Frank who died Oct. 10 at the age of 95, always seemed to have Texas mountain laurel seeds in his pocket. Also known as mescal bean, the evergreen shrubs bloom in spring with abundant bluish-lavender flowers that smell like grape bubblegum. “He would go plant them and, if he saw one with seeds, he would take them and plant them somewhere else,” said Pearsall, who is 29 years old.

Frank died of health complications due to his age. He was buried Friday at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio next to his wife, Charlotte Anne Frank. Pearsall said his grandfather taught him the values of being a good person. He remembers how Frank wanted to better his community as sheriff. As the county’s sheriff from 1973 to 1980, Frank supported progressive ideas, some of which resonate today. Frank allowed conjugal visits for jail inmates, refused to arrest nude sunbathers at Lake Travis and advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana. During his tenure, county voters approved a bond that would set the ground for what is now the Travis County Correctional Complex. “The Travis County sheriff’s office grieves with his family, friends and former colleagues,” the office tweeted Friday afternoon.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 25, 2020

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: These 545 kids and our nation need to heal

Three years. That’s how long 545 migrant children, ripped from their parents’ arms in 2017 as they crossed the border, have been waiting to see their mothers and fathers again, according to devastating new reporting this week. Nonprofit groups and pro bono lawyers have been working to reunite hundreds of migrant families torn apart by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy, an enforcement charade so cruel and roundly condemned that Trump had to end it in June 2018. But the damage endures. Those working to reunite families still haven’t found the parents for 545 kids. More than 200 of those children were under age 10 when they arrived in the U.S.

About 60 were under age 5. Now they’re growing up with foster families, or perhaps relatives. In many cases, it’s hard to say. Reunification advocates got such shabby records from the federal government — in some cases receiving only a misspelled name or outdated phone number — that they have managed to reach only 183 of the 545 children in question. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The same federal government that cared so little for the children while they were in their custody — failing to provide toothbrushes and soap, failing to provide a decent place to sleep, sometimes failing to provide lifesaving medical care — also didn’t care enough to track the information that would be needed to return these children to their families. But we should be appalled. This destruction of families was done in our name, by our government. It was done without a plan. It was done with callous disregard for the children whose pain became the Trump administration’s message to everyone south of the border: Don’t come to America. This editorial board has repeatedly emphasized that our government has every obligation to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. But it should do so with compassion, and it must follow the law. As immigration law experts rightly point out, many of the children separated from their families at the border in 2017 and 2018 were seeking asylum, having fled violence in Central America. It is legal to apply for asylum while in the United States or at the border, regardless of legal status.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 24, 2020

Jerry Jeff Walker, Austin country music legend, dies at 78

Jerry Jeff Walker, who moved to Austin after becoming famous with the song “Mr. Bojangles” and helped change the Austin music landscape in the 1970s, died Friday evening after an extended battle with throat cancer. He was 78. Walker’s wife of 46 years, Susan Walker, confirmed Saturday morning that Jerry Jeff died around 6 p.m. Friday at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. “He was at home until an hour before his passing,” she said. “He went very peacefully, which we were extremely grateful for.”

Walker had been dealing with throat cancer for several years and had nearly died in 2017. He rallied to finish a new album and played more shows, but a downturn in his health more recently resulted in difficulties with speaking and eating. Born Ronald Clyde Crosby on March 16, 1942, in Oneonta, N.Y., Walker wrote “Mr. Bojangles” in the mid-1960s after a night in a New Orleans jail where he met a man who “danced a lick across the cell.” Walker released the song as the title track of a 1968 solo album, shortly after he left the New York band Circus Maximus. In 1971, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took “Mr. Bojangles” to No. 9 on the pop charts. More than 100 other artists also recorded the song, including Bob Dylan, Sammy Davis Jr., Nina Simone and Neil Diamond. Walker was headed to California about 50 years ago when he stopped in Austin and ended up staying. Along with Willie Nelson’s move here a couple of years later, Walker’s arrival helped to herald a prosperous time for Austin music, with terms such as “outlaw country” and “cosmic cowboy” used to describe the music Walker and others were making. Walker’s 1973 live album “Viva Terlingua!” — recorded not in the West Texas town of Terlingua but in the hill country hamlet of Luckenbach — became a touchstone for that era. His influence looms large even today, as dozens of Texas country roadhouse bands and troubadours are essentially still following the same path that Walker blazed in the ’70s.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

When ‘Live PD’ cameras rolled, Williamson County deputies used more violence

Imani Nembhard got out of her car, exactly as Williamson County sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Pisa ordered. Without warning, he knocked her to the ground with enough force to send her shoes and skirt flying. He dug his knee into her shoulder, burying his fingers in her braids as he pressed her cheek into the hot pavement. Her 4- and 8-year-old daughters watched in terror from the backseat, crying for their mother. “They were screaming, ‘Please get off my mom,’” said Nembhard, a Killeen resident and U.S. Army veteran who served in Kuwait. The 29-year-old mother’s violations: a missing license plate and a little attitude.

The kind of violence Nembhard experienced that day in April 2019 became increasingly common in Williamson County after Sheriff Robert Chody invited the camera crews of “Live PD” to feature his department. An American-Statesman analysis of 124 use-of-force reports shows that violent encounters between Williamson County sheriff’s deputies and civilians nearly doubled from 43 in 2017 — the year before “Live PD” joined the department — to 82 in 2019. During the weeks when the reality TV show filmed with the department, deputies used force significantly more often than during weeks when those cameras weren’t on patrol. Black civilians like Nembhard and Javier Ambler II, a 40-year-old father killed after being chased by Chody’s deputies in March 2019, represented 1 in 5 of the use-of-force targets, despite the fact they make up just 1 in 10 of Williamson County residents. The reports show that many of the deputies who used force had been on the job two years or fewer — including Pisa — raising concerns about the quality of training officers receive before being assigned to patrol.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

What to expect with the Texas vote count on election night

Texas polls close at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, but officials caution that Election Day results will take hours to compile — and extremely close races could take almost a week to resolve. Some of the uncertainty is the result of an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots during the pandemic and heavy voter interest in the presidential election. But long-standing Texas election laws, human nature and geography will play a role as well. First, it’s important to note that vote counting doesn’t end on Election Day in Texas:

Mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Nov. 3 will be counted if they arrive at county offices before 5 p.m. on Nov. 4. ? Ballots mailed by military and overseas voters will be counted if they arrive before the close of business on Nov. 9. And provisional ballots — cast by voters whose registration was in question or who did not have acceptable identification — will be counted for those who visit their voter registrar’s office within six days of the election to correct the situation. “We’ll count everything we have in our hands on Election Day, but more votes come after that,” said Keith Ingram, director of the Texas secretary of state’s Elections Division. “So if anything’s close, what we always tell people when we get a call after Election Day (about a tied race) is, you might have a tie, but you don’t have one yet,” Ingram said. In 2016, approved provisional ballots and late-arriving mailed ballots added about 74,000 votes to the Election Day totals, he said. “I don’t know how 2020 will compare to 2016 on that score. It’s one of the things that I’m going to be watching pretty carefully,” Ingram said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 24, 2020

Bud Kennedy: ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs stolen before Republican rally for Barrett in Fort Worth

“Black Lives Matter” signs at a South Main Village florist were ripped down, stolen and destroyed Thursday before a faith-and-values Christian group’s Republican political rally next door. More than 30 small, simple signs printed on pale pink paper had been taped to The Greenhouse 817’s windows since April. Some also read, “No Justice — No Peace.” They were subtle. Heck, they were barely readable from South Main Street.

So I am not clear why someone hanging around a Christian political rally would find the very idea of justice and fairness upsetting enough to make an exception to “Thou shalt not steal.” “To have my property vandalized — it’s a little unfathomable. It makes you feel unsafe,” shop owner Deryk Poynor said. The signs were stolen from her unoccupied shop in broad daylight, moments before a “Women for Amy” national bus tour arrrived for a rally to drum up support for Republican political candidates and for Judge Amy Comey Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. Some of the signs were tossed in nearby trash, Poynor said. “I think it’s extra suspicious that they were not just taken but thrown away,” she said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 24, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: John Cornyn or MJ Hegar? Here’s the Star-Telegram’s Texas Senate race recommendation

For most of his long career, Sen. John Cornyn has faced little-known opponents in snooze-worthy campaigns. No longer. Cornyn is in the fight of his political life against Democrat MJ Hegar, and the nation is watching. Both candidates would benefit Texas in different ways, but we recommend voters send Cornyn back to Washington for a fourth term. His pragmatic conservatism, history of delivering for the state and ability to help broker compromises on the biggest issues needing attention give the Republican the edge. (Also on the ballot are Libertarian Kerry Douglas McKennon and Green Party nominee David B. Collins.)

The senator’s answer to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial Board’s question about his relationship with President Donald Trump sparked national news and significant Democratic outrage when he said that it was “maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.” But it illustrated something important about how Cornyn operates: He’s not a bomb thrower, and he knows how to adjust to the needs of the moment to be effective. There’s an old line, attributed to writer Michael Kinsley, that a Washington gaffe occurs when a politician inadvertently reveals a truth no one really wants to talk about. That’s what Cornyn did when he told us he had privately disagreed with the president on defense spending, trade and the deficit. In the four tumultuous years of the Trump presidency, many have been desperate for a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment. They want every Republican to run to the nearest microphone and denounce the president’s every move and utterance.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 24, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Our Editorial Board’s recommendation for voters in Arlington-area battle for Congress

Fewer things are less fun in politics than being in the minority in the U.S. House. The majority controls all the committees, the most powerful positions and the flow of legislation. It’s even harder if you’re a first-term lawmaker; without either seniority or party power, it’s hard to be effective.

Rep. Ron Wright, a Republican finishing up his two-year term under those circumstances, has nonetheless found ways to be effective, often in a bipartisan way. He’s earned a second term representing the 6th District, which covers much of Arlington and Mansfield and counties southeast of Tarrant. Wright, 67, is capping a career of service. He worked for his predecessor, Rep. Joe Barton, in North Texas and in Washington, giving him extensive knowledge of the district and a leg up on how Congress operates. Before winning the seat in 2018, he was also Tarrant County tax assessor-collector and Arlington mayor pro tem. He’s a rock-solid conservative, to the point of joining the House Freedom Caucus. That group has often created headaches for GOP leadership by drawing a hard line on tax and spending compromises. Wright, however, lacks the rough edges of many of his colleagues, and his views reflect much of his district.

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Houston Chronicle - October 24, 2020

Harris County hits an all-time record of 1 million early votes. Which party has the edge?

Harris County surpassed 1 million ballots cast Friday, setting an early voting record with seven days remaining, in spite of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and a flurry of lawsuits over the management of the election. The county reached the milestone at 3:14 p.m. as tens of thousands of voters again headed to 112 polling sites on a muggy October afternoon. A total of 68,819 voters cast ballots Friday, the Harris County clerk said. If residents continue at the current pace of more than 90,000 daily ballots, the total turnout record of 1.34 million set in 2016 will fall before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Turnout here through Thursday accounted for 15 percent of ballots cast in Texas, exceeding the number recorded by several states with more residents, including Indiana, Missouri and Maryland. Early vote tallies traditionally plunge after a raucous first few days — when the most motivated voters flood the polls — before surging on the final weekend with residents eager to avoid Election Day crowds. However, this year — after the pandemic ravaged Texas over the summer and led election administrators to worry it would deter voters in the fall — does not resemble any previous modern election. First to be bested Friday was the early voting record of 985,000 set four years ago. Within days, a series of others appear destined to fall: 1.18 million ballots cast in 2008, 1.2 million in 2012 and 1.22 million in 2018. The county’s projection that as many as 1.7 million votes could be cast this year appears within reach. The United States already has seen 110 percent of its early vote total from four years ago, driven in part by 6.4 million ballots cast in Texas, where many counties have set voting records. Turnout in Fort Bend County on Wednesday reached 39 percent, 2 percentage points ahead of Harris and Dallas counties.

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Houston Chronicle - October 25, 2020

These Texas women aren’t ‘flocking’ to Trump. They made up their minds weeks ago.

iz Castañeda does not play by party politics. The 49-year-old is “really in the middle.” She’s a big fan of Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, despises President Donald Trump and stayed out of the 2018 contest between former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Ted Cruz. This year, she’s most excited about two state legislative candidates in Carrollton, the Dallas suburb she calls home — one a Democrat and one a Republican. She arrived at the polls on Tuesday, Oct. 13, to cast her ballot on the first day of early voting — and the two names at the top of the ticket made her feel sick. It seemed like an absurd choice: “I’m not thrilled with” former Vice President Joe Biden, she said, but President Donald Trump “brings so much division and hate.” So she skipped the question and promised to come back to it later. “I didn’t want to deal with that, to be honest,” Castañeda said. After all, she had other candidates to vote for who actually made her excited about the future of her country.

For Castañeda, like many Texas suburban women, the election is a referendum on Trump — either a strong embrace or rebuke of the sitting president — though her indecision may be an outlier in a year when polls indicate that roughly 95 percent of likely voters have already made up their minds. Winning votes from women in the suburbs — including hundreds of thousands of educated Texas Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for Democrats in 2018 — is a central preoccupation for Trump, whose shout-outs to that demographic have become a national spectacle in 2020. “Finally!” Trump tweeted Thursday afternoon. “Suburban women are flocking over to us. They realize that I am saving the Suburbs — the American Dream.” Historically, pundits and politicians have used the term “suburban women” as code for middle-aged, white and affluent. That’s no longer true nationally or in Texas, where the suburbs are increasingly diverse in demographics, political ideology, education and other defining voting characteristics. In interviews, 15 suburban women on both sides of the aisle described deeply divided politics only worsened by 2020 — a hellish year that brought the coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest and economic uncertainty that will linger long after votes are counted. It is the year that anything can happen, but those events have only pushed many suburban women into their existing views — none of which exhibit particular excitement or disdain for a potential President Biden, but rather indicate strong opinions about the current President Trump.

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Houston Chronicle - October 25, 2020

Mourners celebrate life, legacy of Monica Roberts at funeral service

Mourners gathered Saturday at the University of Houston to celebrate the life and legacy of transgender rights activist and writer Monica Katrice Roberts. Flowers and photos surrounded Roberts’ coffin at the Cullen Performance Hall where family, friends and community members sang, cried and spoke with respect and awe throughout the morning for the towering icon of the LGBTQ community. On Sunday, a “Get Out the Vote” rally will be held in Roberts’ honor. Roberts died Oct. 6 of natural causes, according to the Harris County medical examiner. She will be laid to rest at a Pearland cemetary.

Roberts, born May 4, 1962 in Houston, launched a blog called TransGriot in 2006 in which she chronicled the history of black transgender people, wrote about transgender homicide victims who are often misgendered by officials and told stories of people in the community. Hundreds of comments from Roberts’ supporters poured in on the virtual Facebook page where the service was live-streamed. Hand sanitizer, masks and social distancing were implemented during the in-person ceremony. The ceremony was organized by A Community Funeral Home, owned by Unique Green, a transgender black woman. She hand-selected the casket, shopped for Roberts’ outfit, a pantsuit, and selected the lilies and rainbow roses that decorated the room. “To me, Monica is a legend, she’s a trailblazer, so to be given the opportunity to grace the world with this — there are no words to explain how grateful I was for the ability to present her to the world,” Green said. “It means everything.” Cristal Solares-Bockman and Nick Tripp wept together at Roberts’ coffin at the front of the auditorium where it sat surrounded by flowers and photos. Solares Bockman said she met Roberts at a mutual friends’ home when she was homeless at 19 after coming out as a transgender woman. When they talked, Roberts gave Solares-Bockman a sense of possibility when life seemed bleak, she said.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 25, 2020

‘I want to see them burn to the ground’ — Democrats angry with Republicans turning San Antonio’s 78209 into battleground

A longtime Republican stronghold in the heart of San Antonio is shaping up as a partisan battleground. For decades, ZIP code 78209 — the home of affluent Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills — was the domain of well-known Republicans, including former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and Congressman Lamar Smith. Support for President Donald Trump still is prevalent here. Flags with his name fly from trees and houses. Residents have given so much to Trump’s re-election campaign that ’09 ranks among the top ZIP codes nationally in fundraising for the president.

But “Republicans for Biden” signs also are in evidence. The Trump era has stoked Democratic turnout in ’09, delivering gains for Democrats in previously Republican neighborhoods. Even some longtime Republicans say they’re uneasy about giving the president a second term. For Terrell Hills resident Susie Golden, four years of Trump is more than enough. She voted for former Vice President Joe Biden this year and for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. “The list is so long, starting with the misogyny, the racism, just the lying, the craziness … the list is endless,” Golden said. “I just dislike everything about that man.” Golden grew up in a Republican household, she said, and still has residual respect for Republicans in the Straus mold — fiscally conservative with a moderate temperament and less eagerness to please a far-right base. But given sitting Republicans’ association with Trump, they don’t deserve to keep their jobs, she said. She voted for Democrats up and down the ballot.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 25, 2020

Elaine Ayala: San Antonio’s lack of leadership on the Alamo Plaza redevelopment project begs for change

If it isn’t already obvious, the city of San Antonio’s role in the $450 million Alamo Plaza redevelopment plan has been a failure. Throughout this six-year ordeal, the city has failed to lead. It has failed to be transparent. It has failed to be accountable. It has failed to be inclusive. It has failed to show good judgment, as it did in signing off to move the Alamo Cenotaph without getting local buy-in. As if city leaders didn’t know that the Cenotaph had more supporters than the redevelopment plan. As if the city had no clue the Texas Historical Commission might deny its permit to move it.

Like it has in the past, the city went along with another attempt by the state to bulldoze past every opposition, however great, however small. It has been a show of arrogance. This week, plans were announced to build a new repository to house the $15.5 million Phil Collins collection of Battle of the Alamo artifacts and documents. The building will be constructed behind the Alamo, on its grounds. The plan came out of nowhere. It also was a result of desperation. The Alamo risks losing the Collins collection if it doesn’t have a home for it by this time next year. This was a failure of the Texas General Land Office; the Alamo Trust, which operates the Alamo on its behalf; and the city of San Antonio. They’ve failed to build a museum and visitor center across from the Alamo. Again, not enough buy-in. The project sounds like it’s back to Square 1. From the start, the city has conducted itself as if it has no power over what’s done at Alamo Plaza. It has not acted as a partner on the project, but a servant.

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KXAN - October 24, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott says ‘We must end’ mail-in ballot fraud, points to KXAN investigation finding 150 charges since 2004

On Friday evening, Gov. Greg Abbott took to Twitter to call for the end of “mail ballot vote fraud in Texas.” In a tweet, Abbott cited a Thursday KXAN Investigation, which found that in Texas, 150 people have been charged with voter fraud crime since 2004. The methods of voter fraud in these charges included ineligible felons casting ballots and people voting using names of deceased people.

“This shows Mail ballot vote fraud in Texas,” Abbott tweeted Friday. “We must end it.” But many in the Governor’s replies pointed to the fact that 150 in 16 years does not necessarily reflect a widespread problem. “150 out of 250,000,000 in 16 years?” someone responded. Other replies included: “It shows how difficult it is to get away with mail ballot vote fraud in Texas.” The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at the New York University Law School, has widely researched instances of voter fraud in the U.S. In one of its most noted reports, “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” the Brennan Center reports that “voter fraud” is most often exaggerated. Additionally, the report says claims of voter fraud don’t take into account honest mistakes by voters: for instance, someone may not be aware they are currently ineligible to vote and may cast a ballot without knowing it.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 24, 2020

John Moritz: LBJ protege says Donald Trump is wrong to claim he's done most for Blacks since Lincoln

One Texan whose political career got more than a little help from Lyndon Johnson called Donald Trump's claim that he has done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln a gross distortion of history and an affront to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. "Johnson's Civil Rights (Act) was a moon shot," said former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who was elected to the Texas House in 1961 at age 22 and became a protege to both Johnson and former Gov. John Connally.

One Texan whose political career got more than a little help from Lyndon Johnson called Donald Trump's claim that he has done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln a gross distortion of history and an affront to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. "Johnson's Civil Rights (Act) was a moon shot," said former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who was elected to the Texas House in 1961 at age 22 and became a protege to both Johnson and former Gov. John Connally. Johnson, himself a southerner, had to break with several close friends in Congress, and some back home, as he cobbled together the coalition needed to break the impasse on what would become two of his signature domestic achievements as president — the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, signed one year later. "I don't think anyone could have passed that bill other than Lyndon Johnson," Barnes said.

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City Stories

McAllen Monitor - October 24, 2020

Electioneering ordinance designed to encourage participation in Pharr

The city of Pharr approved an ordinance that limits electioneering at polling locations throughout town. The first reading of the ordinance was introduced by Interim City Manager Edward M. Wylie during the Sept. 8 city commissioners meeting. During that meeting, Wylie suggested regulating election activity for the sake of keeping order.

Other officials sought to stamp out voter intimidation and to encourage greater participation at the polls. The measure was approved earlier this month and has been put into practice at Pharr polling locations since the start of early voting. “The law says that we cannot stop electioneering, which is the right of the people to push who they want to vote for, but we can control it,” Wylie said during the meeting. “We can regulate time, place and manner. We want to make it a little more orderly in the city of Pharr. So once you get on city property, i.e. the parking lot, once you drive into the parking lot, electioneering cannot happen. They can electioneer on the sidewalk, which is a public right of way. Pretty much that’s where they can do it.”

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San Antonio Express-News - October 23, 2020

TEA investigators urge a state monitor for South San Antonio ISD board

Trustees of the South San Antonio Independent School District violated state law last year when they repeatedly micromanaged their superintendent and his staff, state investigators have concluded. “This inability to govern caused dissent between Board members, the Superintendent and other district leadership and was detrimental to the students … thus affecting student outcomes,” states a report summarizing the Texas Education Agency’s findings.

The 18-page document, signed by Director of Special Investigations Adam Benthall, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the contentious relationship between former superintendent Alexandro Flores and a board majority that directed him and his staff to fast-track the reopening of three previously shuttered schools. A preliminary report not considered a public record until finalized, it was sent Tuesday to the district superintendent and board members. A copy was obtained by the Express-News. The report recommended a state monitor be appointed to the district. South San had a monitor last year, Laurie Elliott, who some trustees complained about or disregarded. Elliott recommended the TEA appoint a conservator, which has more direct oversight power and can overrule board actions. Trustees can request a review of the report and submit additional evidence by Nov. 2. If they don’t, it becomes final and they are then required to meet to explain its findings and their next steps and listen to anyone who wants to address them.

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KUT - October 25, 2020

A Texas Boogaloo Boi charged in Minneapolis riots was pulled over in Austin. He was let go.

A South Texas man charged with participating in a riot in Minneapolis after George Floyd's death was stopped by Austin police days later, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Friday. FBI investigators say 26-year-old Ivan Hunter of Boerne traveled from Texas to Minneapolis with the intent to start a riot. Hunter is a self-described member of the Boogaloo Bois, which has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

On May 28, Hunter allegedly fired an AK-47-style rifle into the Minneapolis Police Department's third precinct, which was ultimately set ablaze using Molotov cocktails. The fire was blamed initially on protesters. The Minnesota Star Tribune's Andy Mannix first reported news of the charges. The complaint alleges the de facto leader of the Boogaloo Bois, Steven Carrillo, told Hunter to "go for police buildings" hours before the shooting and the fire. A defendant cooperating with the FBI also told investigators Hunter fired the shots into the precinct. Authorities believe Hunter is the man on a video who yells "Justice for Floyd!" after firing 13 shots into the building. Days later, Hunter was in downtown Austin near protests outside Austin police headquarters with two other men – all three of whom allegedly were equipped with assault-style weapons and tactical gear.

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National Stories

BuzzFeed - October 24, 2020

A leaked internal report reveals The Wall Street Journal is struggling with aging readers and covering race

A brutal internal Wall Street Journal report obtained by BuzzFeed News reveals how the 130-year-old broadsheet is struggling mightily in the current digital and cultural age — such as not covering racial issues because reporters are afraid to mention them to editors, playing to the limited interests of its aging core audience, at times losing more subscribers than it takes in, and favoring “a print edition that lands in the recycling bin.” The crown jewel of Rupert Murdoch’s media company has weathered months of strife between its news and opinion sections. In July, the same month the report is dated, more than 280 staffers at the Journal and sister newsroom Dow Jones signed a letter to its publisher calling for clearer distinctions between the opinion and news. “Opinion’s lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources,” the letter said.

This week, the Journal’s news division ran a reported piece that knocked down claims published in an opinion section piece just hours earlier. The opinion piece was trying to connect the dots on a smear alleging corruption by former vice president Joe Biden just days before the presidential election. The report, which one person at the Journal said was sent to some editors but not the whole newsroom, argues that many of the Wall Street Journal’s editors do not understand the internet and its readers — focusing its content instead on its long-term older male subscribers, rather than on a growing younger audience key to its survival. “Here’s the bottom line: if we want to grow to 5.5 million digital subscribers, and if we continue with churn, traffic and digital growth about where they are today — it will take us on the order of 22 years,” the report reads. “Oh fuck, wow,” one Journal employee told BuzzFeed News in reaction to these figures. “Speaking honestly, I would say that paints a bleaker picture of the Journal’s competitive position than most rank-and-file employees have been led to believe.”

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CNN - October 24, 2020

Murkowski announces she will vote yes to confirm Amy Coney Barrett

Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Saturday that she will ultimately vote yes on Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States. "I believe that the only way to put us back on the path of appropriate consideration of judicial nominees, is to evaluate Judge Barrett as we would want to be judged -- on the merits of her qualifications. And we do that when that final question comes before us. And when it does, I will be a yes," Murkowski said on the Senate floor. The Alaska Republican had been keeping her decision private and had previously said that she did not believe the Senate should be taking up a Supreme Court nomination this close to the election.

Murkowski's announcement comes just one day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut off debate and set up a final confirmation vote for Barrett to take place just eight days before the election. McConnell's move sets up a Sunday afternoon procedural vote to break a Democratic filibuster and then a final confirmation vote, likely Monday evening. Only one Republican -- Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is facing a competitive reelection fight -- is expected to vote against the confirmation due to concerns that it's too close to the election to consider a nominee. All Democrats are expected to vote against the nomination, though Republicans still have enough votes to confirm Barrett. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination to the full chamber, over the boycott of Democratic committee members, who put in their seats pictures of individuals affected by the Affordable Care Act. Unable to stop the confirmation, Democrats have resorted to theatrical tactics instead to spotlight their anger. Democratic senators on Friday forced a rare closed session so members could privately discuss their concerns about the process. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he wanted the closed session in order to have a "candid conversation" about the push to confirm the nomination.

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Bloomberg - October 25, 2020

Two top Pence aides positive for coronavirus

Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, has tested positive for coronavirus infection, bringing the pandemic into the vice president’s inner circle. Earlier Saturday, Bloomberg News reported that one of Pence’s closest political advisers, Marty Obst, had also been infected by the virus, adding further to the cases in and around the White House. Short is Pence’s top aide, a constant presence in his company who frequently acts as a public spokesman for the vice president. Pence, who delivered a campaign speech in Tallahassee, Florida on Saturday evening, has not reported a positive test. Pence’s office confirmed Short’s diagnosis in a statement.

The vice president was aware of Short’s positive test before leaving for Florida, according to people familiar with the matter. Short was not seen aboard Pence’s plane, according to the pool reporter traveling with Pence, Megan Pratz. It wasn’t immediately clear if Obst or Short had developed symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Obst tested positive on Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. Short was diagnosed on Saturday, according to the statement from Pence’s office. Pence’s office said that the vice president is considered a close contact of Short but would not quarantine and would maintain his schedule as “essential personnel” under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Obst is not a government employee, but is frequently in contact with Pence and his staff and often visits the White House grounds. He was last around Pence about a week ago but wasn’t in close proximity to the vice president, two of the people said. Obst was quiet on Twitter the day of his diagnosis, with just one retweet, but has since been active on the social media platform, posting criticism of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Obst declined to comment. Short didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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New York Times - October 24, 2020

How The Epoch Times created a giant influence machine

For years, The Epoch Times was a small, low-budget newspaper with an anti-China slant that was handed out free on New York street corners. But in 2016 and 2017, the paper made two changes that transformed it into one of the country’s most powerful digital publishers. The changes also paved the way for the publication, which is affiliated with the secretive and relatively obscure Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong, to become a leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation. First, it embraced President Trump, treating him as an ally in Falun Gong’s scorched-earth fight against China’s ruling Communist Party, which banned the group two decades ago and has persecuted its members ever since. Its relatively staid coverage of U.S. politics became more partisan, with more articles explicitly supporting Mr. Trump and criticizing his opponents.

Around the same time, The Epoch Times bet big on another powerful American institution: Facebook. The publication and its affiliates employed a novel strategy that involved creating dozens of Facebook pages, filling them with feel-good videos and viral clickbait, and using them to sell subscriptions and drive traffic back to its partisan news coverage. In an April 2017 email to the staff obtained by The New York Times, the paper’s leadership envisioned that the Facebook strategy could help turn The Epoch Times into “the world’s largest and most authoritative media.” It could also introduce millions of people to the teachings of Falun Gong, fulfilling the group’s mission of “saving sentient beings.” Today, The Epoch Times and its affiliates are a force in right-wing media, with tens of millions of social media followers spread across dozens of pages and an online audience that rivals those of The Daily Caller and Breitbart News, and with a similar willingness to feed the online fever swamps of the far right. It also has growing influence in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. The president and his family have shared articles from the paper on social media, and Trump administration officials have sat for interviews with its reporters. In August, a reporter from The Epoch Times asked a question at a White House press briefing. It is a remarkable success story for Falun Gong, which has long struggled to establish its bona fides against Beijing’s efforts to demonize it as an “evil cult,” partly because its strident accounts of persecution in China can sometimes be difficult to substantiate or veer into exaggeration. In 2006, an Epoch Times reporter disrupted a White House visit by the Chinese president by shouting, “Evil people will die early.”

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NPR - October 25, 2020

Universal mask wearing could save some 130,000 lives in the U.S., study suggests

Universal mask wearing in public could greatly reduce the number of Americans who die by COVID-19 by February, a study published Friday in the journal Nature Medicine projects. Researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation made estimates based on some assumptions under different scenarios. In what they describe as the worst-case scenario, they project that COVID-19 deaths could exceed a million between September 2020 and February 2021 if what they call "the current pattern of easing" restrictions continues in states.

In a second scenario that they think is more likely, they say 511,000 could die between September and February under the assumption that "states would once again shut down social interaction and some economic activity" for six weeks once deaths reach a certain threshold per million residents. But in a third scenario where 95% of the population dons face coverings and social restrictions are in place, the projection is for deaths to be about 381,000 — or about 130,000 fewer than under the second scenario. If that mask percentage changes to 85% of Americans with restrictions, it could still save some 96,000 lives, they say. The study analyzed previous COVID-19 deaths and cases between Feb. 1 and Sept. 21. Researchers also pulled information from various surveys — including ones by Facebook and YouGov — to estimate that as of Sept. 21, only 49% of Americans reported always wearing a mask.

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Newsclips - October 23, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 22, 2020

The oil industry is consolidating. That's bad news for workers in Houston.

Mergers and acquisitions are sweeping the oil and gas industry, creating ever larger companies that can better withstand the crude market’s boom and bust cycles. ConocoPhillip’s $9.7 billion takeover of Concho Resources and Pioneer Natural Resources’ $4.5 billion pursuit of Parsley Energy — both announced this week — are the latest attempts by beleaguered energy companies to pool resources and slash costs in the wake of the historic oil bust caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The deals come on the heels of Chevron’s nearly $12 billion acquisition of Houston-based Noble Energy this month, and Devon Energy’s plans to purchase WPX Energy for nearly $2.6 billion.

But this new wave of consolidation will leave behind a smaller industry with fewer players employing fewer workers, analysts say. That’s bad news for Houston, the nation’s energy capital, which has already lost thousands of jobs in recent oil busts. “Everybody knows that when two companies come together, the sum of the two is not going to survive,” said Karr Ingham, a petroleum economist with the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. “If Company X has 1,000 employees and Company Y has 1,000, you’re not going to have a combined company with 2,000 employees. The tendency is that consolidation causes job loss.” Energy companies have laid off 17,500 drilling-related workers in the Houston region since 2018, with more than 70 percent of those cuts coming during the past six months of the pandemic, according to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. While it appears the job losses stemming from the pandemic are slowing this fall, more layoffs could be coming as companies merge and cut redundant positions.

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Deadline - October 23, 2020

Final presidential debate review: Joe Biden & Donald Trump offer few surprises as campaign limps to the end

In the last debate of likely the last campaign of their respective presidential ambitions, Joe Biden and Donald Trump offered few surprises tonight, which may have been the biggest surprise of all. With just 12-days to go before the election, this meet-up in Nashville was a far cry from the train wreck of the first debate last month. Yet, for all the muted microphone hype and anticipation, in the end, the two septuagenarians and tonight’s tepid event probably didn’t change a single voters’ mind in a nation where more 40 million have already cast their ballots. Just before the candidates strolled on stage, moderator and NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Walker prophesied a “really robust discussion” after greeting the respective families and scant guests. For the most part, with Biden passionately slamming Trump’s racism and his “dog whistle about as big as a foghorn,” that was true, but there was little new in the last stretch of the bitterly contested campaign.

Additionally, trying to hold the boys to their best behavior and time, Walker may have had a series of subjects on her agenda. In the end, this second meet-up of the ex-vice-president and the Celebrity Apprentice host was all about the coronavirus and the incumbent, just like the election. “We’re learning to live with it,” Trump said of the virus that has killed more than 222,000 Americans and seen more than 8.3 million confirmed cases, including the incumbent himself. Biden replied with the tragic line of the night: “People are learning to die with it.” In fact, with a lot of the same old same old talking points we’ve heard too many times before, the tone and drama was set before anyone said a word. Biden walked on stage in a black mask that he took off as he approached the podium and the former real estate developer entered with a scowl on his face. When Biden, in the first 30 minutes, told Trump that we ought to be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time” on managing the pandemic and the economy, the die was cast – even if you count the duo literally arguing over Abraham Lincoln.

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Financial Times - October 23, 2020

Inside the Democrats’ battle to take back Texas

The first time Sima Ladjevardian experienced a political revolution, she was 12 years old and sitting in a classroom in Tehran in the middle of what felt like an earthquake. “Everything was shaking,” she says, recalling the uprising that engulfed Iran four decades ago and led to the country’s Islamic republic. “We all came out and it was a sea of people throwing acid into the school and shooting guns in the air. Very scary.” There had been whispers at home about the dangers of the revolution. Ladjevardian’s grandmother had helped women secure the right to vote and then become a member of parliament. Her father was also an MP at the time. But after that eventful day, those rumours turned into a harsh reality when her mother told her and her brother that they would go to Paris — just for a short while. “I had a really weird premonition that we were just never gonna go back,” she says. She was right. Her family spent two years in France, before moving to California to pursue the American dream. As a teenager, Ladjevardian perfected her English by watching Star Wars. Now 54, she talks to me from Houston, Texas, where in next month’s US elections she will embark on her own political quest with the Democratic party: she is campaigning to oust Dan Crenshaw, a freshman Republican in the second congressional district in Texas.

The turning point for Ladjevardian was watching Donald Trump win the White House in 2016. “That night when Trump won, I honestly had so much anxiety and flashbacks to everything that had happened in my life, to kind of thinking, ‘Oh my god, there’s going to be a revolution in this country,’” she says, explaining that she felt Trump had given licence to people to be racist and xenophobic. There was only one answer. “I decided to get more involved.” Four years later, Ladjevardian is one of many Democratic candidates in Texas hoping to convert anti-Trump sentiment into victories at the state and national level on November 3. Women are at the forefront of this push — from MJ Hegar, a retired Air Force pilot who is taking aim at Senator John Cornyn, to those such as Natalí Hurtado and Keke Williams, who are fighting for seats in the Texas House of Representatives — the lower house of the state legislature. Expectations for their party are rising. Joe Biden, the Democrat presidential candidate, is trailing Trump in Texas by just four points and has invested several million dollars there to boost his campaign and help other races. Democrats are also raising record amounts of money, helping to return the Lone Star state to serious battleground status for the first time in years. The Ladjevardian-Crenshaw fight is the eighth most expensive congressional contest of the 435 races this November. Republicans in the state take the threat seriously. Steve Munisteri, former head of the Texas Republican party, says: “We have to treat it like the largest competitive state in the union. Democrats are pouring a lot of money into the state, but Republicans are not.” Yet the former Trump White House official, who is advising Cornyn in his race, says the Republican National Committee is convinced that “Texas is pretty solid” for them, even if he thinks the president is only “slightly ahead”. Scott Braddock, editor of Quorum Report, a Texas politics newsletter, says the current situation reminds him of the Republican effort in 2002 to win the state House. “It’s that aggressive,” he says. But it’s also a sign of how big a challenge it will be. “A majority victory isn’t possible unless they win in some of those unexpected places,” says Braddock. The Texas Democratic party is targeting 22 Texas House districts — nine where O’Rourke beat Cruz and 13 where he lost with a margin of less than 10 points. In one district that is home to the Fort Hood military base, Keke Williams, a black retired army captain, is trying to oust Brad Buckley. Just before my call with O’Rourke, I read that Williams said she had raised more than $330,000 in seven weeks. O’Rourke says it is “phenomenal” that the veteran has raised so much money in an area that “is not a liberal bastion”.

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Houston Chronicle - October 23, 2020

Second whistleblower who accused Texas AG Ken Paxton of corruption has been fired

A second whistleblower who accused Attorney General Ken Paxton of public corruption has been fired, potentially exposing the state to liability for illegal retaliation, the Houston Chronicle has learned. Blake Brickman, hired in February to be Paxton’s deputy attorney general for policy and strategic initiatives, was fired on Tuesday, according to a former high-ranking state official and documents reviewed by the Chronicle. Brickman, a Dallas native who had recently served as chief of staff to former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, declined comment. Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Brickman is at least the second of seven Paxton accusers to be fired. The Texas Tribune reported this week that Lacey Mase, former deputy attorney general for administration, had been terminated. At least one of the whistleblowing aides has been placed on leave by Paxton’s office and another resigned to take a different job.

Brickman, Mase and five other top Paxton aides made an official complaint to law enforcement on Sept. 30, then wrote him a letter accusing him of multiple violations of law, including “abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses.” Paxton, a Republican, has called them “rogue employees” who sought to impede a legitimate investigation and made false allegations against him. The aides are accusing Paxton of using his office to benefit his friend and donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor whose home and offices were raided last year by the FBI. Paul, who gave Paxton a $25,000 campaign contribution in 2018, has complained vociferously that he was treated unfairly and illegally by state and federal law enforcement. Those complaints reached Paxton and eventually led the attorney general to launch an investigation. The probe proved to be the final straw for the whistleblowers, prompting them to report the attorney general to law enforcement and complain that Paxton was using the “criminal process” to help his donor. Earlier this month, Paxton pulled the plug on the investigation after Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore distanced her office from it. The firings of the two whistleblowers are raising eyebrows from employment attorneys. Under a unique provision of Texas law, a state agency is presumed to be retaliating against a whistleblower if a termination occurs 90 days or less after the whistleblower reports the violation to law enforcement.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

‘Will you remember that Texas?’: Key moments from the final Biden-Trump presidential debate

After an intense debate exchange between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden over dueling claims of corruption, the Democrat said there was an explanation for why the Republican was “bringing up all this malarkey.” The president “doesn’t want to talk about the substantive issues,” Biden asserted. “It’s not about his family and my family,” the former vice president said, turning to speak directly to the camera. “It’s about your family, and your family’s hurting badly.” Trump listened intently while Biden cited families who might be sitting around the kitchen table, discussing how to make it through the coronavirus pandemic and its related economic downturn. Then the president interjected to mock the former vice president’s tone and approach.

“Let’s get off this China thing, then he looks to family, around the table, and everything, just your typical politician,” Trump said. “That’s why I got elected. Let’s get off the subject of China. Let’s talk sitting around the table. Come on, Joe, you can do better.” The moment captured one of the White House race’s fundamental divides, one that persisted even amid a presidential debate in Nashville that was decidedly less combative as the two candidates accepted the use of a mute button and mostly followed the moderator’s rules. Trump, a businessman, takes pride in having redefined what it means to be presidential. Biden, a career politician, sees Trump’s approach as reckless and harmful. That fissure was exposed repeatedly throughout the 90-minute clash – the final debate of the 2020 White House race – as the candidates covered a wide range of issues, with Texas playing into the contest at a few key junctures.. Texas received an early mention in the debate as Trump and Biden discussed the coronavirus pandemic. Asked to explain how he would combat the outbreak as cases begin to rise again, the president said “we’re fighting it and we’re fighting it hard.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 22, 2020

Joe Biden leads in Texas in latest poll

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads in Texas in a poll of more than 3,000 likely voters released Thursday that showed him with a 1-percentage point edge over President Donald Trump. The Morning Consult poll of 3,347 likely voters conducted between Oct. 11 and 20 carries a margin of error of 1.7 points. It showed Biden leading Trump 48 to 47. It’s not the first to show Biden with a lead in Texas, but it’s by far the largest survey to show such a result. A Public Policy Polling survey of 721 likely voters released earlier this month showed Biden leading 48-49. On Wednesday, a Quinnipiac University survey showed Biden and President Donald Trump in a dead heat in Texas.

The Morning Consult poll comes just hours before Biden and Trump are scheduled to meet for their final . It showed a close Senate contest as well, with Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn leading Democratic challenger MJ Hegar, a former Air Force pilot, by five percentage points. It’s the latest poll to show Texas is staring down its first competitive presidential race in decades. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Experts say polling in Texas should be viewed cautiously this year, perhaps more than ever, in part because of that increasing competitiveness. Pollsters say Texas isn’t easy to gauge accurately even in a normal year, and 2020 is anything but that. Texas Democrats were encouraged by the polls, but urged voters to not get complacent. "Polls don't vote. We need all hands on deck,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the party. “We're on the verge of history."

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Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Congressional battle between Rep. Roger Williams, Julie Oliver spotlights Texas' evolving political map

When Julie Oliver launched a longshot campaign in 2018 to unseat Republican Rep. Roger Williams in a conservative stronghold that stretches out from the Fort Worth suburbs, the Democrat said she “wasn’t thinking at the time, ‘Am I going to win?’” Instead, she recalled, her mentality was more along the lines of “Gosh, I hope I can win.” But after coming within nine points of Williams in that election – and then subsequently raising hundreds of thousands of dollars more this cycle than she collected for her bid two years ago – the former health care executive said “something has shifted.”

“I know I can win,” she said. It remains to be seen if her confidence is warranted in a mostly Central Texas district that President Donald Trump won by 15 points in the 2016 election, particularly since Williams has stressed that he’s taking “nothing for granted” and is running his campaign accordingly. “I feel good about our chances,” said the four-term congressman, who’s also scaled up his operation from two years ago. The fact that it’s even a question is a testament to Texas' evolving political map. Williams' district runs from south of Fort Worth through Fort Hood on down past Austin – forming a swath that was designed to be solid GOP turf. But the region’s fast-changing suburbs have altered the political calculus – and Oliver, a former “math-lete,” has seized upon that. What’s perhaps most fascinating amid that backdrop is how Oliver and Williams are running unabashed campaigns. Williams, the scion of a family-owned car dealership empire, touts his business bonafides, saying he serves as a “voice for Main Street” in Washington. Oliver counters that the Republican has “put himself first,” using his influence in Congress to benefit his business and his donors.

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

Health care could be deciding factor in Dallas County battleground district for Texas House

Republicans once had a stronghold on House District 114 — now, the North Dallas seat is one of the more intriguing legislative battlegrounds after Democrat incumbent Rep. John Turner flipped the district two years ago. Gone are the days of Jason Villaba, a three-term Republican from Dallas, who lost to Lisa Luby Ryan in the 2018 GOP primary. Despite Villaba’s 15-point victory in the 2016 general election, staunch conservative Ryan lost to Turner, a first-time candidate and moderate Democrat, by over 11 points two years later. Hillary Clinton even beat President Donald Trump by 8.9 points in 2016 in the district.

Now, HD 114 is providing another interesting race, this time between Turner and his GOP challenger Luisa del Rosal, a Mexican immigrant who is a pro-business, small government Republican with what some describe as a moderate approach. Turner only has two years of experience in the Texas Legislature, but the Yale-educated attorney believes what he’s learned since 2018 is crucial to help him navigate what is sure to be a turbulent session that begins in January. One of his victories in the 86th legislative session, Turner said, was working on his top issue: education. That meant tackling House Bill 3, which included a $11.6 billion school finance measure, with $6.5 billion for new public school spending and $5.1 billion for lowering Texans' property taxes. “Personally, I was able to pass a number of bills in my first session, bipartisan bills on first responders, on support for trial victims of crime and got to work on the budget as a member of the Appropriations Committee,” Turner said. “So I feel good about those accomplishments in the first session.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

D-FW polls are sanitized and distanced, but some voters refuse to wear masks in 2nd week of early voting

Texans have packed the polls in the second week of early voting despite the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 5.1 million in-person ballots cast. Even where people had to wait together in long lines, many said they felt safe — though a little uncomfortable at times. Hand sanitizer, masks and good efforts to maintain safe space in crowds were common. But not everyone kept their distance. Some voters have been reluctant or unwilling to cover their faces, and some folks — including poll workers — may let their mask slip below their noses.

Polling locations prepared for weeks to get ready, stocking up on disposable styluses, cotton swabs and plenty of sanitizer. The efforts were focused on following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Voters and poll workers have been encouraged to wear masks in line and while voting, but they aren’t legally required at the polls as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order. People who are waiting to cast their ballots have been urged to stay 6 feet from the people around them, which contributed to the long lines during the first week of early voting. Many polling locations were following the same social-distancing trend this week, but the rules weren’t universally observed. Jordan Niland, a 27-year-old Dallas resident, said the line outside Fretz Park Branch Library in Far North Dallas was long Monday afternoon because people were socially distanced. Inside, though, the close quarters of the library made her a little uncomfortable. “Once you actually get in, the little registration table where you give them your ID or your voter registration card is not socially distanced,” she said. “Everyone’s wearing a mask, but as far as socially distanced, I’m not really noticing that happening.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

As Cornyn says Hegar’s salty language is too naughty for a senator, she says he’s too prim for Texas

The swear jar is out in Texas' Senate race. Sen. John Cornyn, the incumbent Republican, on Thursday launched a digital advertisement that featured several bleeped-out clips of his Democratic opponent, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, using curse words at forums and in other public settings. “Warning. Graphic language,” the ad began. “Here’s the truth, MJ,” Cornyn’s camp added on Twitter. “Texans DO … care… about who represents them, and in these times, they need a leader with a steady hand who treats people with respect.” Hegar’s response? A few more bleeps. “Here’s another ad for you, John!” she wrote on Twitter.

“You’re a sell-out, and Texans see through your bull----,” she continued, not censoring her words. “We’re mad as hell that you tried to gut our health care. It’s a damn shame you’ve spent so long in DC you forgot what regular Texans sound like. So we’re gonna send your ass home!” It’s a war of words, in other words, over bad words. The tart-tongued tussle almost certainly reflects the growing battle for the Texas suburbs, traditionally conservative areas outside of Dallas and other urban centers that have started to trend more Democratic since President Donald Trump -- foul-mouthed in his own right -- won the White House. If the potty mouth politics sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Just two years ago, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ran an similar digital advertisement against his Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, highlighting the former El Paso congressman’s penchant for the f-bomb with a tagline that said O’Rourke was “showing the #@%* up.” “If Beto shows up in your town, maybe keep the kids at home,” the Cruz ad intoned.

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

An early look at census numbers in North Texas shows Dallas is the biggest loser

The 2020 census came to an early end last week, and Dallas County appears to be the biggest loser in North Texas. With a self-response rate of 63.9%, Dallas County had the lowest rate of the four most populous counties in North Texas, trailing Collin County (73.8%), Denton County (71.4%) and Tarrant County (68.8%). Self-response rates reflect households that responded to the census online, by mail or by phone. These response rates do not include households that were visited in person by census workers and are not the official census counts.

Through Monday, 67% of American households had responded through self-response, and 32.9% were visited in person, according to the Census Bureau. Of the four counties, Dallas had a lower self-response rate than the previous 2010 census. Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties had high self-response rates this year compared with the previous census — albeit by margins no greater than 2%. The overall self-response rate in Texas was 62.8%, lower than the 64.4% rate in the 2010 census. Though the figures may seem small, every person undercounted in this year’s census equates to a loss of about $15,000 in federal funding over the next decade, according to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Even an undercount of 1% of the county could mean a loss of $400 million in federal dollars over the next 10 years. The loss of those funds could affect day cares, clinics, food stamps and senior citizen support, among a long list of programs that count on federal help, according to Edward Rincón, president of Rincón & Associates. “You see long lines of people collecting food. People are already suffering because of the pandemic,” Rincón said, adding that an undercount will only compound that. “It’s going to really strap our ability to do business as usual.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro fume that Biden has neglected Texas, demand ‘crunch time’ investment

Two of Joe Biden’s top allies in Texas pleaded Thursday for him to pay attention to the state, venting frustration at his lack of investment despite vast resources and signs that Texas is closer than it’s been in decades to slipping from the GOP grip. “We need some help from the national ticket,” said Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who nearly toppled Sen. Ted Cruz two years ago. “The voters in Texas are doing their part,” he said on a Texas Democratic Party call to preview Thursday night’s presidential debate in Nashville.

Julián Castro, the former Obama housing secretary and San Antonio mayor echoed the demand. “My hope is that we will see from the DNC and from the Biden campaign investment in Texas in these last 12 days, because this is it. It’s crunch time. It’s now or never,” he told reporters ahead of the final Biden-Trump showdown. Castro noted that Biden has $180 million more cash than President Donald Trump, and the gap may widen as donors see victory as a real possibility. “There are big priorities,” he conceded, "like making sure that Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are locked down. The Biden campaign is doing a fantastic job of locking those states down, and they need to. “But to have Texas at 48-47, 48-48 -- that’s just too much to ignore. The resources and investments ought to be made,” he said. The public reprimand marks an escalation. They and other Texas Democrats have expressed annoyance at the Biden campaign’s relatively casual approach to Texas. Jimmy Carter was the last Democratic nominee to win the state, in 1976, and through the Reagan and Bush eras the GOP solidified their control.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

TEA investigators urge a state monitor for South San Antonio ISD board

Trustees of the South San Antonio Independent School District violated state law last year when they repeatedly micromanaged their superintendent and his staff, state investigators have concluded. “This inability to govern caused dissent between Board members, the Superintendent and other district leadership and was detrimental to the students … thus affecting student outcomes,” states a report summarizing the Texas Education Agency’s findings. The 18-page document, signed by Director of Special Investigations Adam Benthall, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the contentious relationship between former superintendent Alexandro Flores and a board majority that directed him and his staff to fast-track the reopening of three previously shuttered schools.

A preliminary report not considered a public record until finalized, it was sent Tuesday to the district superintendent and board members. A copy was obtained by the Express-News. The report recommended a state monitor be appointed to the district. South San had a monitor last year, Laurie Elliott, who some trustees complained about or disregarded. Elliott recommended the TEA appoint a conservator, which has more direct oversight power and can overrule board actions. Trustees can request a review of the report and submit additional evidence by Nov. 2. If they don’t, it becomes final and they are then required to meet to explain its findings and their next steps and listen to anyone who wants to address them. West Campus High School, Kazen Middle School and Athens Elementary were opened just in time to welcome students last fall, but attendance was dismal. Trustees in the board majority who had pushed for the swift reopenings blamed Flores for not doing enough to attract students. The superintendent left the district two weeks later, taking a contract buyout that totaled $187,000, and three trustees who had sided with him against the majority abruptly resigned.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

Elaine Ayala: Dan Patrick’s Texas, where voting has been discouraged by Republicans, or at least not encouraged by them

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick long has drawn scurrilous attention for his raw-to-half-baked declarations. His legendary brand of absurdity made national headlines in March when he suggested the elderly would be willing to sacrifice their lives in the name of reopening the economy. Patrick famously championed a bill that would’ve restricted potty use to further marginalize transgender citizens. That nabbed him Texas Monthly’s top Bum Steer award in 2018 for dragging “Texas politics into the bathroom.” A die-hard gun-rights supporter, Patrick said too many entrances and exits in a school building led to a shooting that left 10 dead. He blamed everything but lax gun laws.

Perhaps only Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, accused by senior aides of bribery and abuse of office, has been more embarrassing for Texas than Patrick. Though that would be a competitive race. This week, in the face of increased mail-in balloting in Texas — and higher early-voting numbers — Patrick said everyone knows there’s fraud in mail-in ballots. He then reacted angrily when told the fraud charge sounded like more voter suppression. That was hyperbole. There has been very little documented voter fraud in the United States — hard period — and little to none in mail-in ballots. His comments sounded more like desperation from a party — and President Donald Trump’s man in Texas — that will do anything to stay in control of Texas, several experts said. Lydia Camarillo, who leads the national voter advocacy group Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, studies voting rights and trends. Patrick’s comments were meant to discourage voting. Strangely, she said, those comments may impact Republican voters, too.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

In ‘uncharted waters’ of competitive Texas politics, can the polls keep up?

President Donald Trump frequently derides “phony polls” after he proved them wrong by defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016. But in Texas, some public polls had the opposite problem: They overestimated Trump’s margin of victory by three percentage points. Two years later, polls in Texas yet again underestimated Democrats, including Beto O’Rourke, who came within 3 percentage points of unseating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz after public polling showed him down by as many as 9 percentage points that October.

As Texas appears to be acting more like a swing state than it has in decades, O’Rourke and other Democrats have turned the idea that polling underestimates them into a sort of rallying cry as they seek to convince voters that Texas is actually in play for former Vice President Joe Biden, or that former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar could unseat longtime Republican Sen. John Cornyn. “Pollsters have a very hard time locating, tracking and counting the votes of likely Democratic voters,” O’Rourke said recently. “Even with the polling this tight, I think actually the advantage is to Biden.” O’Rourke’s assessment drew eye rolls from Republicans, who have fended off Democrats in every statewide race since 1994. Still, public polling indicates Trump and Biden are in a dead heat in the state, where polls from Morning Consult and Quinnipiac University this week showed them statistically tied. The Senate race is also close, with Cornyn holding a lead of anywhere from six to nine percentage points over Hegar.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

Dan Crenshaw and Beto O’Rourke fight on social media over pre-existing conditions coverage

Houston Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw tore into former congressman Beto O’Rourke on social media on Wednesday as the El Paso Democrat plays an increasingly bigger role in the campaign of Crenshaw’s opponent, Democrat Sima Ladjevardian. O’Rourke slammed Crenshaw on social media as “the gaslighting Texas Trump puppet” who is trying to reduce access to health care. “My lord, you seem unhinged,” Crenshaw shot back on Twitter and Facebook.

Crenshaw went on to rip O’Rourke for employing “Democrat scare tactics” about health care policies — particularly on protections for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions granted under the Affordable Care Act. With the Trump administration seeking to wipe out that law in the courts, Democrats have warned it would leave patients with pre-existing health conditions subject to being priced out of their insurance plans again, a routine occurrence prior to the ACA being enacted in 2010. While President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he would put forward a health care bill that would protect coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, no such legislation has been presented to Congress. Ladjevardian has tried to tie Crenshaw to the president’s actions and has argued if he’s re-elected, he’ll help the GOP get rid of that coverage, a tactic Democrats are using around the nation. Crenshaw says it’s false and he’s continually declared his support to protect people with pre-exisiting conditions.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

Stephen Amberg: Cornyn has been, and will be, a barrier to progress

(Stephen Amberg has taught courses on American political development, comparative economic policy, social movements and political creativity for 30 years at the University of Texas at San Antonio.) Sen. John Cornyn made a deathbed conversion this summer to support Dreamers and unemployment benefits to mixed immigration status families. He was against these before he was for them, but Cornyn knows the Republican Party is tanking. Yet Cornyn’s long record as a partisan Republican suggests he’ll revert to type if re-elected to a fourth term. The Republican Party adopted no platform for America for the first time since the 1850s — and Cornyn has no vision for the new Texas. Texas will soon have a majority minority population, which means that its future is tied to social justice for Blacks and Mexican Americans. Texas needs a senator who is committed to public education and closing the digital divide, guaranteed health care, policing and bail reform, workers’ rights to bargain collectively, renewable energy, infrastructure modernization and generous pandemic relief.

Instead, Cornyn favors the corporate elite over working people. Faced with massive needs during the pandemic economic crisis, Cornyn has worried about the federal debt, which wasn’t a concern when he supported President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion tax cut, which overwhelmingly benefits the richest 1 percent of people and corporations, rather than helping people by passing the HEROES Act. This obstruction will not change if Joe Biden is elected but Republicans control the Senate. The last time there was a Democratic president and a Republican Senate, Republicans blocked Barack Obama’s proposals for rapid economic development, raising college graduation rates, developing renewable energy and infrastructure. A vote for Cornyn is a vote for obstruction of a President Biden. Texans want to move beyond Cornyn’s rhetoric that confuses calls for racial justice with crime and immigration reform with border security, culture war claims that removing Confederate names from U.S. military bases erases Southern heritage, a proposal for mental health care in response to the racist gun massacre in El Paso, and assurances he will always protect life before birth but oppose paid family leave.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 22, 2020

Texas Supreme Court rejects GOP bid to kill drive-thru voting

The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday turned away GOP-led efforts to shut down 10 drive-thru early voting sites in Harris County, quelling fears about the legality of 75,000 ballots already cast by voters in their vehicles. The court’s order gave no reason for denying separate requests to intervene by the Texas Republican Party and the Harris County GOP, but one member of the all-Republican court disagreed.

Justice John Devine said he would have blocked drive-thru voting until the court could determine whether the new form of voting meets the state law definition of “polling places.” Devine’s dissenting opinion also argued that drive-thru voting stretched election law beyond common-sense understanding, adding: “I struggle to see how the Election Code contemplates such a novel concoction.” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo expressed relief. “This is a victory for democracy, for the thousands of courageous voters who have participated, even in the face of suppression attempts, and it’s a fair interpretation of the law,” the Democrat said via Twitter. Earlier Thursday, Hidalgo asked Gov. Greg Abbott to guarantee the validity of votes cast in drive-thru settings, saying she feared the Republican challenges were laying the groundwork to toss out the ballots in “an outrageous act of voter suppression.” In its petition to the state Supreme Court, the state GOP argued that drive-thru voting booths violated the state law that strictly limits curbside voting to those who have submitted sworn applications verifying that they are sick, disabled or in danger of harm if required to vote inside a polling location.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 22, 2020

Texas regents: ‘The Eyes of Texas is, and will remain, the official school song’

The UT System Board of Regents took a proactive step Thursday to shield new University of Texas president Jay Hartzell from “The Eyes of Texas” hailstorm and left no doubt it will remain the Longhorns’ school song. Regents chairman Kevin Eltife reiterated the board’s approval of Hartzell’s announcement that “The Eyes” will remain the university song even though some band members are now refusing to play it.

“To be clear, the UT System Board of Regents stands unequivocally and unanimously in support of President Hartzell’s announcement that The Eyes of Texas is, and will remain, the official school song,” Eltife said in a statement. Each member of the UT System Board of Regents is appointed by the Texas state governor. It’s well known that Gov. Greg Abbott is a Longhorn fan. Collectively, the regents are the highest-ranking authoritative body within the statewide university system. “The Eyes of Texas has been UT Austin’s official school song for almost 120 years,” Eltife said in his statement. “It has been performed at most official events — celebratory or solemn — and sung by proud alumni and students for generations as a common bond of the UT family. It is a longstanding symbol of The University’s academic and athletic achievements in its pursuit of excellence.”

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

$3 million in ICE fines targeted 9 sanctuary-seekers, email shows

A 2019 email suggests that, through steep fines, U.S. immigration officials targeted undocumented immigrants — including one mother in Austin — who were living in American churches and had spoken out publicly about their experiences. The heavily redacted email written by an unknown U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official says he or she “sent out nine ‘notice of intention to fine’ for sanctuary cases,” all of which “already had high media interest.” The fines for the nine people totaled more than $3 million, the email says.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights released the June 27, 2019, email Thursday. The center, along with two Austin-area immigrant rights groups, sued ICE for the documents in February. ICE officials said they could not provide a response to the American-Statesman about the email by press time. The email to several unknown recipients indicates that ICE was tracking nine undocumented immigrants, at least some of whom were living at churches. “In April 2019, you were tasked with providing to HQ details on 9 individuals who actively sought sanctuary from removal by entering into residence at a church or other sensitive location,” the email says. “The information provided was to be used to determine whether to impose a civil penalty against these individuals who have made clear their intention to continue non-compliance with their departure orders.” Hilda Ramirez, who said she fled domestic violence in Guatemala four years ago and has been living in sanctuary at an Austin church with her 14-year-old son, said she believes ICE sent her a $303,620 fine in the summer of 2019 to intimidate her and other immigrants who might seek asylum. ICE later dropped the fine, but Ramirez said ICE later sent her a different fine for about $59,000.

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Associated Press - October 22, 2020

Texas housing market rebounds in September along with U.S.

Texas’ housing market rebounded in September as homebuyers rushed to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates. Existing homes sold through Texas Multiple Listing Services increased 10.7 percent from August and are running 2.6 percent higher relative to the first three quarters of 2019. “Many prospective homebuyers who were planning to purchase next year have been pulled into the market early as their affordability has suddenly improved,” said Dr. James Gaines, chief economist for the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. “This pull factor contrasts the pent-up demand that drove the summer sales surge.”

Home-purchase mortgage applications have increased within Texas despite tightening lending standards, according to a news release from the Real Estate Center. “Loan-to-value and debt-to-income ratios are falling, while credit scores for qualifying applicants are rising as lenders acknowledge the current state of economic uncertainty,” said Gaines. Aggressive fiscal and monetary policies in response to the coronavirus crisis have helped buoy housing demand, but the effect of those stimulants may be short-lived. Center Research Economist Dr. Luis Torres said consumer purchasing power has been affected since the onset of the global pandemic. “Texas’ real income per capita increased 8.1 percent year over year during the second quarter, explaining much of the housing markets’ resiliency. This income growth, however, was driven purely by an increase in transfer payments, like the stimulus checks widely distributed at the beginning of the pandemic. Net earnings and dividends/interest/rent components of the real income calculation decreased as expected. Congress is still debating the extent of the next round of stimulus,” said Torres.

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Associated Press - October 22, 2020

Ex-Blue Bell Creameries CEO charged in deadly listeria case

The former president of Blue Bell Creameries has been charged with wire fraud for allegedly trying to cover up a 2015 listeria outbreak linked to the company's ice cream that killed three people in Kansas and sickened several others, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday. A federal grand jury in Austin returned a seven-count indictment Tuesday charging Paul Kruse with six counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to a Justice Department statement.

Health officials notified Blue Bell in February 2015 that two ice cream products from the company’s flagship factory in the central Texas city of Brenham and its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, plant tested positive for listeria. The bacterium can cause severe illness or even death in vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and the immuno-compromised. Blue Bell recalled products after its ice cream was linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas. Prosecutors allege that Kruse schemed to deceive Blue Bell customers by directing employees to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without alerting grocers and consumers as to why. They say he also directed employees to tell customers who asked that there was an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine. The company did not immediately recall the products or issue a formal warning to customers about potential contamination.

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Houston Chronicle - October 22, 2020

Exxon Mobil, still reeling from massive oil bust, to lay off workers after all

In May, as oil and gas companies were starting to cut thousands of employees, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods said he had no plans to lay off any of its nearly 16,000 employees. “As you all know, we work hard to avoid layoffs,” Woods told shareholders on May 27. “Today, we have no layoff plans.” On Wednesday, Woods reversed course, telling employees at a town hall meeting at its Spring campus that layoffs are inevitable. ExxonMobil is undertaking a country-by-country review of its businesses, and is “very close” to completing its assessment of its U.S. and Canadian operations, Woods said. He did not disclose how many employees will be affected.

“We still have some significant headwinds, more work to do and, unfortunately, further reductions are necessary,” Woods said in a company letter to employees Wednesday. “Making the organization more efficient and more nimble will reduce the number of required positions, and unfortunately, reduce the number of people we need.” It’s a stunning admission by ExxonMobil, once the world’s most valuable company just seven years ago and one that has long prided itself on weathering the boom and bust cycles of the crude market without resorting to layoffs. But times have changed as ExxonMobil is reeling from the worst oil bust in decades driven by the coronavirus pandemic. The Irving company deferred more than $10 billion of capital spending and slashed 15 percent of its operating expenses to weather the economic downturn. Even if demand recovers over the next couple of years, Exxon faces the prospects of declining fossil fuel demand in the coming decade as more countries and corporations take action to mitigate climate change.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 22, 2020

Joe Barton: Texas coastal gas drilling fuels jobs, clean energy. Why would Joe Biden curtail it?

In these tough times, all of us are looking for signs of optimism, especially when it comes to getting the economy back on track. Here in Texas, one of the answers is right under our feet: our natural gas sector. It has been a bright spot amid the economic woes of 2020, and it’s keeping tens of thousands of Texans working while providing low-cost, reliable energy that consumers need. Today, Texas produces more natural gas than any other state. It has the potential to ramp up production even further if demand increases. The reason? Lawmakers in Washington and Austin have worked hard to promote all forms of energy development.

While both presidential candidates have been generally supportive of natural gas production on private land, Democrat Joe Biden has promised, if elected, to impose a ban on natural gas leases on federal lands. Federal lands include leases under federal waters on the outer continental shelf. That is of real concern because 22 percent of the nation’s total oil production and 12 percent of its natural gas production come from federal lands and waters. Politically, a federal leasing ban would seem to be out of touch with the voting public. A recent Morning Consult poll found that 64 percent of swing state voters prefer candidates who support “policies that ensure consumers continue to have access to natural gas and oil produced in the U.S.” A federal leasing ban certainly would be tone deaf in Texas, where 9% of all natural gas operations occurs from federal leases, mostly in the federal outer continental shelf. In Texas, a federal leasing ban would wreak economic havoc. A recent American Petroleum Institute analysis estimating that Texas would be harmed more than any other state, losing almost 120,000 well-paying jobs.

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Politico - October 22, 2020

Where Texas could actually turn blue in 2020

This is not a story about Texas as a whole turning blue on Nov. 3. The state’s Republican governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are not up for reelection this year. Republican Sen. John Cornyn maintains a lead, though a narrowing one, over his Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar. The Texas congressional delegation will still be majority-Republican even if Democrats pick up a few seats. The state Senate will remain majority-Republican when the legislature convenes in January. President Donald Trump is also leading Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Texas, though by slim margins.

But in Texas, a blue state House would be a shocker all by itself. The “lege” is a creature of its own in American politics, a deep-red institution that only meets for 140 days on alternate years, and reliably gets caught up in national culture-war issues — stricter and stricter abortion rules, looser and looser gun limits, an anti-transgender rights bathroom bill in 2017 — that are less and less reflective of the state overall. And beyond the symbolic value, control of the state House would give Democrats a say in next year’s redistricting process, in turn laying the groundwork for future gains in Congress. And that looks ahead to an even bigger prize: The battle for the state House might end up being the first step in the Democratic Party’s long-term goal of flipping the nation’s third most populous state. Two years ago, Brandy Chambers lost to Republican incumbent Angie Chen Button by 1,110 votes in a Dallas County state House district. This time around, Chambers is running against Button with about $800,000, or more than triple the funds she had two years ago. Chambers told me that in 2018 Democratic donors were in denial that some of these races were winnable. But she saw O’Rourke’s near win as a sign that voters would come out of the woodwork if Democratic candidates actually challenged the incumbents.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 22, 2020

32,000 Harris County voters return mail ballots to vote in person

Samina Mirza had read enough in the news about U.S. Postal Service delays that she decided there was no way she’d trust the mail to deliver her ballot to Harris County election officials on time. The 70-year-old retired nonprofit staffer had originally planned to drop off her ballot at a location near her home in Katy, until Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation limiting counties to just one drop-off site. “I wasn’t going to drive 25 miles to downtown Houston to use the dropbox because the nearest one was taken away, so I said ‘OK that’s fine, I’ll take a chance and just vote in person,’” said Mirza, who voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president.

Mirza is one of about 32,000 voters in Harris County and almost 9,600 in Bexar County who had received a mail-in ballot but chose to instead vote in person as of Wednesday — and there’s still a week and a half left of early voting to go. That’s about 13 percent and 9 percent of all voters who received mail ballots in each county, respectively. About 759,000 Harris County residents had voted early in person by Wednesday and about 115,000 had done so by mail. In Bexar County, about 326,000 had voted in person and about 70,000 by mail. “Since there are more people voting by mail in general, it does make sense that some people might change their mind for whatever reason and decide to vote in person,” said Roxanne Werner, Harris County spokeswoman. “Some people may have applied months ago, and with news about USPS and general situations changing, they may have decided to vote in person.”

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 22, 2020

Fort Worth-area voting site closed after poll worker tests positive for coronavirus

Tarrant County has closed an early voting location in Hurst after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, officials said. Tarrant County election officials tweeted at 11:23 a.m. Thursday that the lead clerk for the Brookside Convention Center told officials that he tested positive. The last day he was at the location was Monday.

All poll workers from that location have been quarantined, according to the tweet. A replacement team of poll workers is being put together, and the site will reopen as soon as it is safe to do so, the county said. This is the second time the county has had a worker inform them that he or she has tested positive for the virus. On Oct. 13, the opening of the Euless Family Life Senior Center voting location was delayed several hours after a worker tested positive. That worker, along with about 20 others who trained together the week before, had to be quarantined.

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National Stories

Washington Post - October 22, 2020

Trump weighs firing FBI director after election as frustration with Wray, Barr grows

President Donald Trump and his advisers have repeatedly discussed whether to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray after Election Day - a scenario that also could imperil the tenure of Attorney General William Barr as the president grows increasingly frustrated that federal law enforcement has not delivered his campaign the kind of last-minute boost that the FBI provided in 2016, according to people familiar with the matter. The conversations among the president and senior aides stem in part from their disappointment that Wray in particular but Barr as well have not done what Trump had hoped - indicate that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, or other Biden associates are under investigation, these people say. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal discussions.

In the campaign's closing weeks, the president has intensified public calls for jailing his challenger, much as he did for Hillary Clinton, his opponent in 2016. Trump has called Biden a "criminal" without articulating what laws he believes the former vice president has broken. People familiar with the discussions say that Trump wants official action similar to the announcement made 11 days before the last presidential election by then-FBI Director James Comey, who informed Congress he had reopened an investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state after potential new evidence had been discovered. Trump emphasized the point in an interview Tuesday with Fox News, saying "we've got to get the attorney general to act" and that Barr should do so "fast." The president was alluding to information about Hunter Biden recently touted by Trump's private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and based on the contents of a laptop computer purportedly belonging to the former vice president's son. "This is major corruption," Trump added, "and this has to be known about before the election."

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Washington Post - October 22, 2020

Senate Republicans fume as Mnuchin gives ground to Pelosi in search of deal

Senate Republicans are growing increasingly frustrated with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as he makes what they see as unacceptable compromises in his quest for a stimulus deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, multiple people familiar with the talks said Thursday. Mnuchin has committed to a top-line figure of around $1.9 trillion, much too high for many Senate Republicans to swallow. That includes at least $300 billion for state and local aid, also a non-starter for many in the GOP. The treasury secretary is also giving ground on multiple specific policy issues, such as reducing payments that Republicans wanted to go to farmers so that some of the money would go for food boxes instead, according to two people involved in the talks who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the developments.

He has left open the possibility of allowing even more money to flow to states and localities via Community Development Block Grants sought by Democrats. “He negotiates harder with his own side than he does with her. Folks over here are sick of it,” said one Senate GOP aide who added that Republicans were “reaching a boiling point with him” as Mnuchin “gives and gives and gives and gets nothing in return.” Another Senate GOP aide said: “Fair to say the feeling is he’s giving away the store. No one is surprised, but yes frustrated. The idea that our conference is going to go along with whatever bad deal he cuts with Pelosi is completely unrealistic.” A spokeswoman for Mnuchin had no immediate comment. The complaints come as Pelosi (D-Calif.) voices optimism about her ongoing talks with Mnuchin, making clear that she believes she has leverage because President Trump wants a big new deal with less than two weeks remaining until the election. “The president wants a bill. The president wants a bill. And so that’s part of the opportunity that we have,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.

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Fox News - October 22, 2020

Senate Judiciary Republicans advance Barrett nomination despite Democrats' boycott, committee rules

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously advanced the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett at its executive business meeting despite a decision by Democrats to boycott the markup in protest of how close Republicans are moving the nomination to Election Day. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the boycott "is not a decision the members of the committee have taken lightly, but the Republican majority has left us no choice. We are boycotting this illegitimate hearing." Barrett was reported favorably out of the Judiciary Committee by 12-0, with no Democrats present.

"That was their choice. It will be my choice to vote the nominee out of committee," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at the beginning of the meeting. "We are not going to allow them to take over the committee. They made a choice not to participate." Graham also slammed Democrats for allegedly beginning the process that led to the increased politicization of the Supreme Court during the Obama administration, when they removed the filibuster for lower federal court nominees. "I remember telling Sen. Schumer, 'You will regret this,'" Graham said Thursday of when Democrats got rid of the judicial filibuster. "Today he will regret it." The acrimony around judicial nominations can be traced all the way back to the nomination of Judge Robert Bork in the 1980s and has been contributed to by, among other things, Republicans' decision to hold open the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia for months before the 2016 presidential election.

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Bloomberg - October 20, 2020

Defeat for Trump would mean some other leaders also lose out

If Donald Trump is forced from the White House in the November election, he won’t be the only loser. Though many governments would likely celebrate the end of the most unconventional and at times chaotic U.S. presidency of modern times, others will have reason to miss it. For the leaders of Turkey, North Korea and Israel, the ledger has been almost entirely positive. Trump’s ejection would confront them with immediate challenges. The scorecard for countries like China is more nuanced. Even so, what the mostly authoritarian winners from Trump’s four years in office have in common is a fear his departure would spell the return of a more conventional U.S. foreign policy. That could see the U.S. mending alliances and promoting the universality of values such as democracy and human rights, or the fight against climate change. “This president embraces all the thugs in the world,” Trump’s opponent Joe Biden said at a recent town hall event, as he sought to highlight the political divide.

Kim Jong Un: No relationship with the U.S. changed more under Trump than North Korea’s. What began with mutual threats and insults morphed into a sometimes bizarre love-in as Kim and Trump met three times and exchanged more than two dozen letters, showcasing their “mysteriously wonderful” chemistry. Still, the radically different U.S. approach has also failed to secure North Korea‘s denuclearization. Kim unveiled a huge new intercontinental ballistic missile on Oct. 10 that appears capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads. Mohammed bin Salman: Trump set the tone for his approach to international relations in Saudi Arabia, choosing Riyadh for his first foreign visit in 2017. He was greeted by a huge image of his own face projected onto the facade of the palatial hotel where his delegation stayed. The Saudi Crown Prince made important gains, above all Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, his country’s mortal rival. Trump also offered personal support and vetoed Congressional sanctions when MBS, as he’s known, was besieged by allegations he’d ordered the 2018 murder of prominent regime critic Jamal Khashoggi. Recep Tayyip Erdogan: If anyone relies more on Trump than MBS for political protection, it’s Turkey’s president. Trump has stood virtually alone between Turkey and the imposition of Congressional sanctions over Erdogan’s decision to buy Russia’s S-400 air defense missile system, despite being a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally.

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Wall Street Journal - October 22, 2020

Biden team prepares for potentially bumpy transition

Senior advisers to Joe Biden are preparing for the possibility that the Trump administration will throw up roadblocks to Mr. Biden’s transition to the presidency if he wins the election, according to people familiar with the internal discussions. Mr. Biden’s transition team, a low-profile group of policy experts tasked with making sure the former vice president is ready to take office, has crafted alternative plans if President Trump—who has given mixed messages on whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power—refuses to comply with requirements that a president-elect’s team be allowed into federal agencies ahead of Inauguration Day. The team is also planning for a scenario in which the Trump administration declines to share resources or provide briefings seen as crucial for a smooth transition of power, the people said.

So far, these worst-case scenarios haven’t come to pass, people close to the Biden campaign and transition said, adding that the former vice president has received classified briefings and lower-level Trump administration officials have been professional in initial interactions with the team. “Transition officials have been planning for various scenarios. So far, the pre-election process has run smoothly,” said a person familiar with Mr. Biden’s transition planning. Asked for comment, a White House official said, “We’re following all statutory requirements.” Mr. Trump has said he wants a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, but has equivocated about whether he will commit to one. “We’re going to have to see what happens,” he said last month. At an NBC News town hall last week, Mr. Trump said he would accept a peaceful transition, “but I want it to be an honest election.” He has repeatedly suggested that the election results can’t be trusted. “A lot of corrupt stuff going on,” Mr. Trump said about the voting process during a Michigan rally this week. Mr. Trump has said several times that an increase in mail-in balloting would lead to widespread fraud. Researchers have found instances of absentee-voter fraud, but studies show it isn’t widespread and election officials say they employ safeguards against it.

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The Guardian - October 22, 2020

Ghislaine Maxwell deposition unsealed about Jeffrey Epstein relationship after court ruling

A court document containing detailed information about Ghislaine Maxwell and her relationship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was unsealed on Thursday morning in New York just moments before a court-imposed deadline. This document, an April 2016 deposition, is among about a dozen long-awaited Maxwell files that have been unsealed, with the first filing involving Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre’s lawyer alleging the British socialite avoided a question “about allegedly ‘adult’ sexual activity related to Jeffrey Epstein”. She also tried to distance herself from and play down links between Epstein and former US president Bill Clinton, who had used the financier’s private plane.

And Maxwell claimed she did not introduce Britain’s Prince Andrew to minor sex partners, in the tense and defensive deposition that was part of a civil case. While the name is redacted in this deposition, the description of events involving this redaction echo claims involving Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. Maxwell was also asked at the time about speculation that Epstein may have performed shady financial work for the US and possibly the Israeli governments. She also provided additional information on her romantic ties to Epstein and how he provided her financial assistance. Asked if she had considered herself Epstein’s girlfriend, Maxwell replied: “That’s a tricky question. There were times when I would have liked to think of myself as his girlfriend.” In the deposition, Maxwell denied inviting under-18s to Epstein’s homes, except, she said, the children of friends in a social setting, but fudged on whether she “brought” Giuffre as a 17-year-old to Epstein’s home.

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Newsclips - October 22, 2020

Lead Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 22, 2020

A ‘tied race’? Poll suggests this North Texas congressional race is anyone’s game

Stephen Daniel may have more leeway in attracting Democrats and independents than incumbent Rep. Ron Wright in the race for Texas’ 6th District, according to a public opinion survey. National firm GBOA Strategies found that while 45% of survey respondents supported Ron Wright, his 4% lead over Daniel is within the poll’s margin of error. Additionally, Daniel garnered more support from independents than Wright. Daniel’s campaign has labeled the results as proof the race is a “toss-up” between Daniel, a Waxahachie attorney, and the freshman representative.

“It’s clear that Ron Wright’s extreme conservatism and status as Donald Trump’s ‘yes-man’ in the Texas delegation have left voters looking for an alternative that will represent Texas values in Washington,” said James Sonneman, Daniel’s campaign manager. Wright’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. According to the report, 9% of those surveyed said they heard from Daniel’s campaign, while 24% said they’ve heard from Wright’s. Sonneman said the feedback is the chance to tell more people about Daniel’s background as a working-class Itasca native. “It’s just important for us to tell Stephen’s story and the fact that he has roots in the district,” Sonneman said.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Trump and Biden tied in Texas, according to new poll

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden are tied as early voting is underway in Texas, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday, the latest to indicate the presidential race is on track to be the closest the state has seen in decades. The poll also showed a tightening race between Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his Democratic challenger, former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar. Both Biden and Trump had the support of 47 percent of likely voters in the poll, which was conducted between Oct. 16 and 19 and carried a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points. Cornyn led Hegar 49 percent to 43 percent.

Both races are closer than they were in the last poll by Quinnipiac, released on September 24, which showed Trump leading Biden 50 to 45, while Cornyn led Hegar 50 to 42. “Biden and Trump find themselves in a Texas standoff, setting the stage for a bare knuckle battle for 38 electoral votes,” Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said in a statement. “While Cornyn maintains a lead, there are still two weeks to go, and you can’t count Hegar out.” Texas has posted record turnout through the start of early voting — with more than 4 million voting by Sunday. Sixty-nine percent of likely voters said were planning to cast their ballot at an early voting location, while 18 percent say they plan to vote in person on Election Day and 12 percent say they have voted or plan to vote by mail or absentee ballot.

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Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2020

‘It never happened,’ Exxon says of a hypothetical fundraising call Trump described having with company’s CEO

Exxon Mobil, the Irving-based energy giant, on Monday evening took to Twitter with a somewhat puzzling message, at least for those observers not tracking the minute-by-minute developments of the White House race’s waning days. It denied the existence of a made-up conversation. “We are aware of the President’s statement regarding a hypothetical call with our CEO,” the company wrote, referring to President Donald Trump and its chief executive, Darren Woods. “And just so we’re all clear, it never happened.”

Say what? The only-in-2020 exchange resulted from an extended aside Trump made earlier on Monday at a rally in Arizona, where the Republican is desperately trying to hang onto a swing state that most polls and prognosticators say is poised to flip to Democrat Joe Biden. The president was trying to make the point that he could “be the greatest fundraiser in history,” if he so chose. All he would have to do, Trump claimed, is call the “head of every major company” and ask them to make a major donation to his campaign. To hammer home that point, he decided to create a hypothetical conversation with a CEO – “I don’t know … I’ll use a company,” he said. Exxon is apparently what popped into Trump’s head. “I call the head of Exxon,” the president said. “'Hi, how you doing? How’s energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits, huh? OK.' … I say, ‘You know, I’d love you to send me $25 million for the campaign.’” Trump then invented a response from Woods. “'Absolutely, sir, why didn’t you ask? Would you like some more?'” the president said, impersonating the CEO’s voice.

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The Hill - October 22, 2020

GOP power shift emerges with Trump, McConnell

A subtle power shift is emerging on Capitol Hill as Republicans face a possible future that might no longer include President Trump. The shift has been most apparent in the dynamics surrounding negotiations on a new coronavirus relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sought to avoid a vote on a massive stimulus package that would badly divide the Senate GOP conference right before Election Day, even as Trump urges Republican senators to “go big.”

McConnell told Republican colleagues at a lunch meeting Tuesday that he warned the White House against a vote on a massive stimulus package before election day. He quipped that he knew his message that was delivered in a private meeting would get out to the public very quickly. “He made his statement prefaced by ‘this will probably be on Twitter in a few minutes,’” said a GOP senator recounting Tuesday’s meeting. A majority of GOP senators oppose a bigger coronavirus relief package, even as Trump pushes for one. “Mitch understands his troops,” the senator said. “He’s made the calculation that it’s not helpful to bring it to the floor because it would show we’re not on the same page as the president. There would be a lot of Republican nos. It’s just one of the emerging differences between the two pillars of GOP power in Washington. Republican lawmakers also have concerns about the management of Trump’s re-election campaign, ranging from his performance during the first debate, to its cash shortage, to the president’s tendency to highlight politically divisive topics instead of focus on the issues.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

Joe Straus: Medicaid expansion a smart business move

It’s often said government should be run like a business. More to the point, it should be run like a successful business. But our state may no longer be making the right business decisions when it comes to health care. Texas receives federal support for our health care system — specifically to provide care for children, pregnant women and disabled adults from our lowest-income families. But our state accepts those dollars in a rather inefficient way, with a patchwork system of waivers that have left us with the country’s highest uninsured rate, a sparse safety net of doctors in many communities, and property taxes that are driven higher and higher by the cost of providing basic care to uninsured Texans in emergency rooms.

A smarter business approach would be to accept federal assistance in a more straightforward and transparent way that maximizes value for all Texans, including taxpayers. For years, Texas has resisted calls to expand Medicaid health coverage to low-income, able-bodied adults through the terms and programs other states have accessed. Instead, Texas has suffered the consequences of an increasingly rickety — and, for those who pay property taxes, expensive — health care system across the state. This is a missed opportunity. It is estimated more than 1.5 million Texans who lack health insurance would enroll if Texas sought federal funding to expand coverage. Many of these Texans are among the nearly 700,000 people in our state who have lost insurance during the pandemic. An eligible adult could be a 35-year-old single man who works in a meatpacking plant in the Texas Panhandle and cares for aging parents. Or she could be a single woman who provides home health care shift work and earns less than $13,000 per year.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 21, 2020

As students drift, some rural school districts outside San Antonio are canceling remote learning

Rural school districts outside San Antonio are eliminating their remote instruction options after seeing staggering numbers of virtual learners log absences and fail classes. Some campuses in Hondo Independent School District saw 80 percent of their remote learners miss five or more days of instruction, Superintendent A’Lann Truelock said. And there’s a correlation between absences and poor grades — as of Friday, the end of the first six weeks of the school year, 63 percent of remote learners were failing at least one class, she said.

“If this learning gap continues, we’ll have years of having to remediate kids that, through no fault of their own, lost a significant portion of their education, and I don’t want that for the children in Texas,” Truelock said. On Oct. 6, Bandera ISD informed parents that any student learning remotely who didn’t pass all classes on their progress report on Oct. 16 would be required to return to campus. It is not clear, however, if the Texas Education Agency will allow Bandera ISD to be selective about who gets ordered to return to classrooms. “Discontinuing remote instruction in a way that only targets struggling students is not permitted,” according to TEA guidance that was updated Oct. 15. Districts can discontinue remote learning altogether, and must give parents at least a 14-day notice of it. Parents may enroll their kids in other school districts that offer remote learning to transfer students. In light of that directive and an uptick in coronavirus cases in the district, Natalia ISD twice modified an Oct. 12 decision by its school board to discontinue remote learning in phases.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 21, 2020

San Antonio mayor to discuss Space Force, military medicine in Pentagon visit

Mayor Ron Nirenberg will spend Thursday in Washington talking with top Pentagon officials about bolstering the military’s many medical assets here, as well as the city’s hope to serve as the new home of U.S. Space Command. He’ll meet with the Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., as well as Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, U.S. Space Force’s chief of space operations, and the head of the Defense Health Agency, Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place. Call it a low-key trip with ambition as Nirenberg meets with the highest-level defense officials he’s yet to encounter. His goal is to convince them that San Antonio, “Military City, U.S.A.,” is ready to host Space Command, support other new and existing Air Force operations, and expand military medicine.

“I would say it’s low key in the sense it’s going at a time when things are still relatively dormant across the county and certainly in D.C., and that why I wanted to go now,” Nirenberg said. “We have been told repeatedly that San Antonio is one of the few cities, if not the only city, that shows up in force up there. Several “big things” are on the agenda, he continued, and while defense officials know the city’s record and commitment, Nirenberg said he wanted to make “a clear and present impression at a time when people are avoiding the area.” “I wanted them to know San Antonio is going to show up, even when the world’s on pause,” he said. Unlike the annual SA to DC lobbying trip to Washington, this one will be an affair with a small footprint, with the mayor bringing only two others with him. Nirenberg called this visit a “precision exercise.” “If SA to DC is sending in the cavalry, this trip is the air strike,” he said. In setting up the meetings, Pentagon officials asked that Nirenberg keep the group to just three people because they were to meet with key decision-makers. The others with him are retired Marine Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, director of the city’s Office of Military and Veteran Affairs, and Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president/CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 21, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Forget the Alamo’s myths, do not risk San Antonio’s reputation

What to do with the Alamo has consternated San Antonio’s business community for 150 years, but the last time the rancor got this bad was in the summer of 1908. Preservationist Adina De Zavala wanted to restore the Alamo compound to how it looked during the 1836 battle. Clara Driscoll, her rival for control of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, wanted the chapel to stand alone as the centerpiece of a gracious park. Their feuding chased away a wealthy out-of-state hotel developer courted by the Chamber of Commerce.

“By (focusing on the Alamo) we are advertising San Antonio not as a modern and enterprising city … but are associating her with a name that carries with it the idea that San Antonio is still a Mexican village,” said L.J. Hart, a member of the Business Men’s Club, according to the San Antonio Daily Express. “Let’s let the people abroad forget the Alamo,” he proclaimed. In recent years, a commission of San Antonio citizens, business people and politicians crafted a deal with Land Commissioner George P. Bush to renovate Alamo Plaza into a world-class attraction to boost tourism. They agreed to tell the Alamo’s whole story, not just regurgitate hoary myths, and pledged to raise $450 million for their ambitious renovation. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, fearful Bush will overshadow him in 2022, blew up that deal, criticized San Antonio’s leaders and demanded allegiance to legends created by racists. If the city caves into Patrick’s bullying and agrees to his plans, San Antonio risks ending up with an embarrassing monument to white supremacy instead of an inclusive experience that would attract tourists from far and wide. I came across Hart’s quote while writing a new book about the Alamo with Bryan Burrough and Jason Stanford. The book, which will come out next year, is titled “Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth,” not because we deny the former Spanish mission’s importance, but because it’s time to forget the fiction and tell the truth.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Former Trump Hispanic adviser from Houston breaks ranks to help Joe Biden

This was hard for Jacob Monty. As a lifelong Republican, the 52-year old Houston attorney has been in the trenches with former President George W. Bush, never voted for a Democrat for president and even was part of President Donald Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council. But there he was on Wednesday at a Texas Democratic Party press conference, going public with his decision to vote for Joe Biden for president. “This is not a decision I took lightly, I love the GOP,” said Monty who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP causes over the years.

But Monty said voting Trump out is the only way he sees to save the GOP he grew up in. “I’ve not changed my philosophy, I’ve just determined that Donald Trump is an existential threat to America and a threat to the GOP,” he said, adding that he’s still voting Republican down the ballot. Monty, a former member of the University of Houston’s Board of Regents, joined with four other Republicans — including two former U.S. congressmen from Dallas and a GOP political strategist — in making a very public showing of their plan to vote against Trump and for Biden. To be sure, public polling shows they are a rarity in the GOP. In a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday, Trump was winning 92 percent of Republican voters in Texas. Trump has repeatedly Tweeted out polls that show 95 percent of Republicans approve of his work as president.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Hollins asks secretary of state to affirm support for drive-thru voting amid legal challenges

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is seeking assurance from Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs that her office is “committed to defending the votes” cast at the county’s drive-thru voting sites, the subject of two lawsuits currently before the state Supreme Court. In a letter sent to Hughs Tuesday, Hollins cited prior support from state election officials, including Elections Director Keith Ingram, for the legality of drive-thru voting. He asked Hughs to confirm by noon Wednesday that the office stands by those statements.

By noon, Hollins had not received a response from Hughs, according to a spokeswoman for the clerk’s office. A spokesman for Hughs said the office had received Hollins’ letter, but he declined to say whether Hughs or anyone from her office planned to respond. He also did not say whether Hollins had accurately characterized the position of state elections officials on drive-thru voting. Last week, on the eve of early voting, the Texas Republican Party sued Hollins in an attempt to halt the drive-thru voting system, arguing the Texas Election Code limits curbside voting, including drive-thru voting, to voters who are sick or disabled, or if voting inside the polling location “would create a likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Those provisions do not apply to the coronavirus pandemic, the party argued in its filing. A Houston appeals court dismissed the lawsuit last Wednesday, less than two days after it was filed. The Republican Party then sought a writ of mandamus from the Texas Supreme Court, again arguing Hollins should not be allowed to extend drive-thru voting to all registered voters. Houston Republican activist Steve Hotze filed a similar motion with the state Supreme Court on Thursday, the day after the appeals court dismissal.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

72 percent of Houston hotel loans are in danger during COVID pandemic

Houston’s hotels are floundering during the pandemic. Seventy-two percent of securitized lodging loans in the area are delinquent, according to securities data company Trepp, compared to 23 percent across the nation. Trepp has predicted a "wave of foreclosures" over the next several quarters.

Social distancing measures meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have hit the hotel industry particularly hard. Former business travelers are meeting over Zoom instead of coffee; conventions, sporting events and festivals that once attracted visitors have been canceled; and though leisure travel has begun to return, many are opting to escape cities rather than visit them. Houston-area hotels are struggling more than those in other cities, including Dallas and Austin. Borrowers are behind on $720 million in loan payments out of the $995 million in Houston-area hotel loans that have been packaged into commercial mortgage-backed securities and sold to investors. Just $348 million out of $1.48 billion (23 percent) is delinquent in the Dallas area and $310 million out of $886 million (35 percent) in Austin. That’s because Houston’s hotel market is dealing not only with the pandemic but also an energy bust, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 21, 2020

Texas launches funding initiative for students with disabilities

State leaders are launching an initiative to help students with severe disabilities get special education services outside the classroom. Since the coronavirus pandemic abruptly shuttered schools in March, many special education students were left without needed services, contributing to learning gaps.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Education Agency officials on Wednesday announced the creation of the Supplementary Special Education Services program, which will provide up to $1,500 to families of children with severe cognitive disabilities to get supplemental education services, including tutoring, therapy or digital resources. Abbott is allocating $30 million for the effort from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, part of the federal CARES Act. “This program is a win for Texas families and children with special education needs, many of whom have endured education disruptions due to COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement. “Education is vital to the future of every Texas child, and every student is entitled to a high-quality education.” Abbott said the program aims to improve outcomes for students with disabilities and builds on the services students already are receiving in school.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 21, 2020

Tesla’s Austin-area site could include battery production

Tesla could be planning to build more than just vehicles at its $1 billion assembly plant in southeastern Travis County. The electric vehicle manufacturer has plans to produce battery cells at the site, according to documents filed with the state. The company has already said it will produce its Cybertruck, Semi, Model 3 compact sedan and Model Y vehicles at the plant.

Telsa has started construction on the Travis County site, and the company has begun hiring in Central Texas. Currently, Tesla’s job site lists more than 80 open positions in Austin. If a battery facility is added to the Travis County site, it could be the first Tesla location to co-locate a full scale battery and vehicle production, in addition to being the second U.S. vehicle-assembly factory after its flagship Fremont, Calif., plant. A company spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. Tesla executives were scheduled to issue the company’s third-quarter financial report on Tuesday afternoon. Amber Gunst, CEO of the Austin Technology Council, said on-site battery production would add to the benefits Tesla brings to Central Texas.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2020

Armando Sanchez: Social workers should care for LGBTQ Texans — not turn them away

I have been a social worker for 10 years and a gay Latino Texan since birth. I take pride in what I do and who I am. So I am outraged by the decision last week by the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners to change its code of conduct to allow social workers to deny services to members of the LGBTQ community. The policy change, recommended by Gov. Greg Abbott, takes away language that used to prohibit social workers from turning away clients on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as disability. Inserting prejudice into the Social Work Code of Conduct is extremely damaging.

It invites malice into a profession that exists to serve and do no harm to individuals and communities. It opens a path to harm LGBTQ Texans. Abbott may not be concerned about those consequences. But I know many social workers take issue with this strike against LGBTQ people and the professionals who are supposed to help them. I chose this profession because it allows me to live out my calling to help others. For the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of supporting people in their time of need. I help clients look within and outside of themselves to boldly face challenging and traumatic aspects of their life in order to find healing and growth. When I look at Texas, its people and the systems that make up this state — whose greatness hangs on a thread due to many of Abbott’s decisions as governor — I see a need for healing. I see a need for the work that social workers do tirelessly every day. My profession is a helping profession committed to serving without discrimination. As social workers, we embody and preserve our values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 21, 2020

COVID-19 hospitalization rate dips in Tarrant County for first time in 2 weeks

Tarrant County reported 633 coronavirus cases and one death on Wednesday. The lone death was a Haltom City man in his 70s who had underlying health conditions, according to officials.

COVID hospitalizations dropped to 12% Wednesday among occupied beds in the county on Tuesday, down from 14% the day before. It’s the first drop in the hospitalization rate since Oct. 6. There are 480 confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Wednesday. Tarrant County has confirmed 60,795 COVID-19 cases, including 710 deaths and an estimated 49,544 recoveries. COVID-19 causes respiratory illness with cough, fever and shortness of breath and may lead to bronchitis and severe pneumonia.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 21, 2020

Kelley Shannon: Texas governments must restore access to meetings and records cut off by COVID-19

The reopening of public places amid the coronavirus pandemic should certainly be carried out with caution. Government offices are no exception. But citizens must have the ability to watch over their government, even during an emergency. Especially during an emergency. It’s long past time to reopen public access to government records and meetings that have been closed off for months. This can happen even if government employees continue to work from home for safety reasons.

The Texas Public Information Act and Texas Open Meetings Act – two major open government laws that help us learn about everything from local zoning decisions and school safety to toxic dumps – have suffered serious setbacks since March, when the coronavirus swept in. Some governments misused a provision in the law allowing “catastrophe notices.” They are intended to temporarily postpone responses to public information requests because of a hurricane, flood, epidemic or other calamity. But certain governments tried to turn the temporary halt into an indefinite one. Others developed their own questionable policies about when government offices are considered “closed” or operating with a “skeleton crew,” days not counted as business days under the Public Information Act. However, if employees paid by tax dollars are on duty and working from home and records are accessible electronically, as so many are today, why can’t a citizen’s public information request be answered? Clarifications and updates are badly needed in the Texas Public Information Act to reflect workplace realities in modern times. We need uniformity in how the law is applied.

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Washington Post - October 19, 2020

Jennifer Rubin: It’s Republicans like John Cornyn who deserve to lose

The Post reports on an interview Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) had with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board: “Cornyn was asked about his relationship with the president. Cornyn responded with an analogy, describing himself as ‘maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.’ ” He continued, “I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump. He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between.” He added, “What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.” Cornyn’s opponent in the Senate race, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, replied by tweet: “Coward.”

Let’s unpack that, starting with Cornyn’s image of women as civilizers, cunningly trying to domesticate their spouses. It is the stuff of 1950s comedies. It’s a variety of “benevolent sexism” — something that seems like a compliment but is really a put-down and effort to assign women to their traditional role. It is what we saw in Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, when Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) asked who does the laundry in her house. He wouldn’t have dreamed of asking a male nominee the same question. Kennedy wasn’t much better than other Republicans on the committee who fawned over her for raising seven kids and working as a professor and then judge. There are millions of women holding more strenuous jobs than law professor or appellate judge (so where have Republicans been on child care?), but more to the point, her husband was sitting right there. Why assume she has primary responsibility for the kids?

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Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2020

Police, autopsy reports reveal more details about Dallas woman who died of COVID-19 during flight

A Spirit Airlines employee performed CPR on an unconscious Dallas woman during a July flight that made an emergency landing in New Mexico, where the woman was pronounced dead. The woman’s death was later determined to have been caused by COVID-19, and Dallas County officials included her in their daily roundup of coronavirus cases and deaths Sunday.

Police reports obtained Wednesday by The Dallas Morning News offer more details about the incident than had previously been released. Officers were sent to Gate B7 at the Albuquerque International Sunport the night of July 24 after learning of an inbound flight with a medical emergency — a 38-year-old woman who was unconscious and not breathing. Spirit Flight 208, headed from Las Vegas to DFW International Airport, landed at the Albuquerque airport a little more than an hour into its scheduled 2½-hour duration, according to the flight-tracking service FlightAware. Firefighters and medical personnel from a nearby Air Force base went aboard and took over CPR. A crew member had performed CPR during the flight but had passed out from exhaustion, police wrote in an incident report. First responders then placed the woman on a cloth gurney and moved her onto the jetway, where they continued trying to revive her.

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KXAN - October 20, 2020

Health leaders warn 2nd wave of pandemic could be a few weeks out in Central Texas

Austin’s top doctor is sounding the alarm as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise again in Central Texas. On Tuesday, Dr. Mark Escott shared projections from the University of Texas in a briefing with Travis County commissioners. A week ago, those projections showed a 66% chance that cases would increase in the coming weeks. As of Tuesday, it has grown to almost a 90% chance of the pandemic worsening in Central Texas.

“This disease hasn’t changed. What’s changed is us, and that we have this pandemic fatigue,” Escott said Tuesday. Austin Public Health reports an increase both in case numbers and hospitalizations, especially among the elderly, over the past month. Escott said at the current rate Central Texas is moving, models predict the area will be at the same mark as it was this summer, when health officials were concerned about running out of space in hospitals. However, this fall, flu cases will be also be a factor, meaning surge capacity in hospitals will be lower than it was in the summer. “Thanksgiving’s going to be ugly if we don’t change our actions now,” Escott said. He warns families should be cautious this Halloween to prevent a spike in cases related to the holiday. APH is asking families not to trick-or-treat door-to-door this year. “Create a new tradition this year,” Escott suggested. “Some folks are doing a candy hunt similar to an Easter egg hunt this year. My family’s doing a piñata. So, there are lots of options for recognizing the holiday and doing fun things. Virtual Halloween costume contests are another popular choice for folks.”

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Texas Tribune - October 20, 2020

Top aide in Texas attorney general's office terminated after accusing Ken Paxton of bribery

Lacey Mase, one of the top aides who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of crimes including bribery and abuse of office, has been fired, she told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday evening. “It was not voluntary,” she said, but declined to comment further. Mase was hired in 2011 and worked most recently as the deputy attorney general for administration. Paxton's office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Top aides say Paxton has used the power of his office to serve the interests of a political donor, Nate Paul. Several employees in his office brought concerns to law enforcement.

They wrote in an Oct. 1 letter to the agency’s human resources department that they had a “good faith belief that the attorney general is violating federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses.” Since then, one of the top aides — Jeff Mateer, who previously spent years as Paxton’s top deputy — has resigned, and another, Mark Penley, has been placed on leave. Paxton has dismissed the scandal as “rogue employees” wielding “false allegations” and said he will not resign, though some in his party have called on him to do so. Mase’s personnel file, obtained through a public records request, shows she rose quickly through the agency’s ranks, earning frequent promotions. She was promoted as recently as Sept. 1, 2019, earning a nearly 12% pay bump to $205,000 annually. When Mase was promoted in April 2018, a supervisor wrote that she “consistently exceeded standards” in all her roles at the agency. Her salary has multiplied over the past few years, from $50,000 in 2013 to more than $200,000 most recently.

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CBS 11 - October 21, 2020

Dallas County Democratic Party says campaign signs were set on fire at HQ

The Dallas County Democratic Party says campaign signs for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were set on fire outside the party’s headquarters. Officials say they believe the incident happened Tuesday evening and that they reported it to the Dallas Police Department. There has been no word on any suspects at this time.

Four signs in total were set ablaze, officials say. Pictures from the party show one of the signs that was burned. The Dallas County Democratic Party tweeted another picture of the burned sign, saying “Stealing & vandalizing is illegal! Help us defeat Trump supporters!” No information has been released from authorities that show any evidence that the crime was committed by a specific group or individual. Former Vice President Biden and California Sen. Harris are the duo running against President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the 2020 presidential election. Early voting in Texas began last week and ends on Friday, Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2020

Former sex crimes prosecutor indicted on prostitution charge in Tarrant County

A criminal defense attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor has been indicted on a prostitution charge in Tarrant County, according to court records. Colin McLaughlin is accused of having paid for sex with a woman who was his client in January 2019. A Tarrant County grand jury returned the direct indictment on Sept. 23, charging McLaughlin, 38, of Colleyville, with the misdemeanor.

The indictment accused McLaughlin of knowingly offering to pay another for the purpose of engaging in a sexual conduct. The alleged incident occurred in Grapevine. Authorities did not release any other details on the case. If convicted, McLaughlin who is a partner in Hoeller & McLaughlin in Colleyville, faces a maximum of six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Steve Gordon of Fort Worth, McLaughlin’s attorney, declined Monday to comment on the case. McLaughlin was free on a personal recognizance bond. McLaughlin was a clerk at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and a prosecutor in Harris and Tarrant County, according to Hoeller & McLaughlin’s website.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Fire chief: Midtown bar where shootings happened should not have been open

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña says the Midtown bar where three people were shot dead Tuesday night should not have been open due to COVID-19 restrictions. Three people were killed and another wounded after shots rang out around 9:45 p.m. at the DD Sky Club on Chenevert Street, according to Houston police. The gunmen remain at large. The bar was hosting an open mic night and was mostly packed with a regular crowd of local rap artists, witnesses said.

“The establishment is classified as a bar and was operating contrary to Governor Abbott’s executive order,” Peña told the Chronicle. Fire officials are tasked with enforcing the capacity restrictions. The chief said the fire marshal is reviewing records to see if anyone had referred the club to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in the past. Many bars have been able to open as restaurants under loopholes in rules administered by the TABC. If an establishment collects less than 51 percent of its gross receipts from alcohol, it can qualify as a restaurant. The state agency broadened the category of those receipts in August, allowing more bars to qualify.

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Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2020

Dallas City Council applauds new master plan for a greener Fair Park

The Dallas City Council got its first look at the updated master plan for Fair Park ahead of a vote scheduled for next week. The rendering for the 277-acre park in South Dallas — most of which is currently concrete — features an infusion of green space and a 14-acre Community Park designed with a vibe akin to Uptown’s Klyde Warren Park.

“That is one of the biggest excitements — to see this space be activated as an actual park,” said Adam Bazaldua, a council member who represents the Fair Park area. “This is park space. This is space that belongs to the people of Dallas.” Representatives from Dallas Park and Recreation, Fair Park First, the nonprofit that manages the area and its for-profit partner, Spectra, presented the plan to council members at a briefing on Wednesday. Phase one of the plan, which costs $58 million, includes the small MLK Gateway Park at one of the Fair Park entrances off Robert B. Cullum Boulevard, a 2-acre-plus music green and a parking deck near the Music Hall facing Parry Avenue.

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National Stories

NBC News - October 20, 2020

Lawyers say they can't find the parents of 545 migrant children separated by Trump administration

Lawyers appointed by a federal judge to identify migrant families who were separated by the Trump administration say that they have yet to track down the parents of 545 children and that about two-thirds of those parents were deported to Central America without their children, according to a filing Tuesday from the American Civil Liberties Union. The Trump administration instituted a "zero tolerance" policy in 2018 that separated migrant children and parents at the southern U.S. border.

The administration later confirmed that it had actually begun separating families in 2017 along some parts of the border under a pilot program. The ACLU and other pro-bono law firms were tasked with finding the members of families separated during the pilot program. Unlike the 2,800 families separated under zero tolerance in 2018, most of whom remained in custody when the policy was ended by executive order, many of the more than 1,000 parents separated from their children under the pilot program had already been deported before a federal judge in California ordered that they be found. "It is critical to find out as much as possible about who was responsible for this horrific practice while not losing sight of the fact that hundreds of families have still not been found and remain separated," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "There is so much more work to be done to find these families.

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Politico - October 21, 2020

White House looks at cutting Covid funds, newborn screenings in ‘anarchist’ cities

The White House is considering slashing millions of dollars for coronavirus relief, HIV treatment, screenings for newborns and other programs in Democratic-led cities that President Donald Trump has deemed “anarchist jurisdictions,” according to documents obtained by POLITICO. New York, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Seattle could lose funding for a wide swath of programs that serve their poorest, sickest residents after the president moved last month to restrict funding, escalating his political battle against liberal cities he’s sought to use as a campaign foil. The Department of Health and Human Services has identified federal grants covering those services, which are among the nearly 200 health programs that could be in line for cuts as part of a sweeping government-wide directive the administration is advancing during the final weeks of the presidential campaign and amid an intensifying pandemic Trump has downplayed.

Trump in a Sept. 2 order called on federal agencies to curtail funding to jurisdictions that “disempower” police departments and promote “lawlessness.” The memo argued that the cities haven’t done enough to quash riots stemming from this summer’s protests over systemic racism and police violence. The HHS list offers the most detailed picture yet of the administration’s efforts to quickly comply with the Trump directive and the potentially large cuts facing these cities even as the pandemic strains local budgets. It isn’t immediately clear what criteria the budget office will use to evaluate the grants — or how or when cuts may be made. But while the White House pores over existing funds, at least one department has already moved to implement Trump’s directive for new funding. The Department of Transportation earlier this month said Trump’s “anarchy” memo would factor into the department’s review of applications for a new $10 million grant program supporting Covid-19 safety measures. "My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses,” Trump tweeted shortly after releasing the Sept. 2 defunding memo. Almost three weeks later, Attorney General Bill Barr labeled New York City, Portland and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions.” The White House budget office also instructed departments to also scrutinize funding for Washington, D.C.

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The Guardian - October 21, 2020

Rudy Giuliani faces questions after compromising scene in new Borat film

The reputation of Rudy Giuliani could be set for a further blow with the release of highly embarrassing footage in Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to Borat. In the film, released on Friday, the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist.

Following an obsequious interview for a fake conservative news programme, the pair retreat at her suggestion for a drink to the bedroom of a hotel suite, which is rigged with concealed cameras. After she removes his microphone, Giuliani, 76, can be seen lying back on the bed, fiddling with his untucked shirt and reaching into his trousers. They are then interrupted by Borat who runs in and says: “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.” Representatives for Giuliani have not replied to the Guardian’s requests for comment. Word of the incident first emerged on 7 July, when Giuliani called New York police to report the intrusion of an unusually-dressed man. “This guy comes running in, wearing a crazy, what I would say was a pink transgender outfit,” Giuliani told the New York Post. “It was a pink bikini, with lace, underneath a translucent mesh top, it looked absurd. He had the beard, bare legs, and wasn’t what I would call distractingly attractive.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

NASA takes six seconds to get asteroid rocks and dust to answer cosmic questions

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which made NASA history Tuesday when it touched down on an asteroid, appears to have been successful in kicking up dust and pebbles to help answer one of humanity’s nagging questions: How did we get here? The team still needs to confirm how much of this material was collected, which they’ll do using a spacecraft camera for visual observations and a spinning maneuver to measure mass, but researchers were optimistic on Wednesday.

“Everything that we can see from these initial images indicate sampling success,” Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, said during a news conference. This was NASA’s first attempt at collecting samples from an asteroid. The Bennu asteroid formed nearly 4.5 billion years ago and is like a time capsule for the solar system’s earliest years. Some scientists believe that when ancient asteroids or comets crashed into the Earth, they may have been carrying water and carbon-based molecules that helped initiate life on our planet. Returning samples from Bennu could help researchers better understand the composition of asteroids and if these celestial bodies might have contributed to the early life on Earth. And since Bennu has a 1-in-2,700 chance of colliding with the Earth between the years 2175 and 2199, knowing more about its composition could help future generations create a deterrence plan should it be needed.

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Newsclips - October 21, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2020

Silicon Valley billionaires bankroll $28M deluge to help Hegar oust Cornyn in Texas Senate contest

A little-known super PAC seeded with Silicon Valley money plans to lead four other outside groups in a $28 million TV ad blitz to try to help Democrat MJ Hegar unseat Texas Sen. John Cornyn. Future Forward’s own ads began airing Tuesday, according to ad-tracking service Advertising Analytics. They’re part of a planned deluge of advertising for Hegar in the election’s final two weeks that’s being orchestrated by the super PAC’s leader, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, with assists from four other Democratic groups, the news site Recode first reported.

Citing a confidential memo circulated to major donors last week, Recode said the $28 million of ad buys will include $10 million from New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Senate Majority PAC, which on Thursday announced an $8.6 million TV buy to help Hegar. The $8.6 million is part of the $28 million of late advertising being planned. Other groups assisting Future Forward in the push are Strategic Victory Fund, Way to Win, and Mind the Gap, reported Recode, a former technology news site that last year joined forces with Vox Media to probe Silicon Valley’s influence on politics. A Cornyn spokesperson accused Hegar of hypocrisy, recalling that the Democrat has run on overturning a 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. FEC, which said the First Amendment forbids restrictions of independent political expenditures by corporations.

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Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2020

Texas puts frontline workers, people with chronic conditions at front of line for eventual COVID-19 vaccine

Health care workers, first responders, Texans with chronic health conditions and several other “vulnerable populations” would be the first to receive a coronavirus vaccine once one becomes available, state public health officials are proposing. Under a plan released Monday, Texas again would form a public-private partnership for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Participation by health care providers and institutions administering the vaccine, as well as individuals receiving doses, would be voluntary.

The plan is similar to one the Texas Department of State Health Services created for allocating vaccine for the H1N1, or “swine flu,” virus in 2009. Through Friday, 1,044 Texas health care professionals, hospitals and long-term care providers had signed up to receive shipments of the coronavirus vaccine and administer them, according to department spokesman Chris Van Deusen. That was only nine days after Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the provider program, calling it a “proactive approach” to getting Texas ready for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Of the providers and facilities stepping forward, 237 were in the two public health regions that include Dallas-Fort Worth as well as Abilene and Wichita Falls, said Imelda Garcia, the department’s associate commissioner over laboratories and infectious disease programs. “A provider could be a whole hospital system with multiple clinics,” she noted. The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Politico - October 20, 2020

Biden eyes GOP candidates for Cabinet slots

Joe Biden’s transition team is vetting a handful of Republicans for potential Cabinet positions — despite doubts it will win him new support from the right and the risk it will enrage the left. Reaching across the aisle to pick senior members of his administration could shore up Biden's credentials as a unity candidate, a message he's made a cornerstone of his campaign. Past presidents including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have all done the same. But that tradition died with President Donald Trump, and liberal Democrats are already warning that a Republican pick, even a moderate one, could sow distrust within the party before Biden even takes office.

“My primary concern is that he involves people in the Cabinet who push back against corporate power and support a massive economic stimulus and the broad provision of health care,” said David Segal, the executive director of Demand Progress, a liberal advocacy group. “Unfortunately, there are no prominent Republicans I know of who are on board with that agenda.” Nevertheless, one person close to the Biden transition said it remains “a priority to have options” from different parts of the ideological spectrum for the former vice president to consider. That person and another official familiar with the transition deliberations confirmed to POLITICO that Biden staffers are analyzing some Republicans’ backgrounds and resumes as they compile shortlists of candidates for high-profile Cabinet positions. The goal is to have some GOP options among the finalists that Biden would choose from after the election. Among the names being floated for possible Biden Cabinet posts are Meg Whitman, the CEO of Quibi and former CEO of eBay, and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, both of whom spoke at August’s Democratic National Convention. Massachusetts GOP Gov. Charlie Baker and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have also been mentioned, as has former Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.), who resigned from Congress in 2018 and became a lobbyist.

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Houston Chronicle - October 20, 2020

A 'blue wave' or eager Trump voters? 5 takeaways from early voting in Harris County

More than 700,000 Harris County residents cast ballots during the first week of early voting, an astounding figure that appears to indicate that fears the COVID-19 pandemic would suppress turnout have been allayed. By Monday evening, the county had passed 50 percent of total turnout from 2016, with 12 days of voting remaining. Harris County, the most populous in the state, also has accounted for 18 percent of the 4.1 million votes cast in Texas through Sunday.

The Chronicle analyzed the votes cast so far by age, gender and precinct compared to the last presidential election in 2016, using the election roster from the Harris County Clerk. We also examined 2020 turnout so far in precincts that went for President Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats appear to be doing well in Harris County, but don’t call it a wave yet. Turnout to date has been strong in precincts carried by Trump and Clinton in 2016. Why is this good news for Democrats? Because Clinton won more precincts and carried the county by 12 points. Harris County already is a blue county, and a similar Democratic turnout this year would mean another shellacking for local Republicans. Trump precincts form a ring around the county border, clockwise from Katy to Seabrook, with a red sliver from River Oaks west through the Energy Corridor. Most saw 40 to 70 percent of the total 2016 turnout through the first six days of early voting. A surge in voter registration probably helps Democrats. Harris County added more than 298,000 voters since 2016. That is more than the population of Lubbock. Democrats disproportionately benefit from this, political scientists say, because new registrants are more likely to be younger and people of color, two groups that favor that party.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Dan Patrick claims 'almost everyone in office' knows mail-ballot fraud is real

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called it “nonsense” that Republicans are trying to suppress the vote by fighting Harris County for allowing multiple drop-off locations for mail-in ballots. In a national interview airing this week on The Circus on Showtime, Patrick said fraud is rampant in mail-in voting, but hard to prove. “It’s a hard crime to prove, without question, but we know it exists,” Patrick told The Circus co-host Mark McKinnon, the longtime political adviser.

Texas Republicans have fought to block Harris County from accepting mail-in ballots at more than one location. Harris County had attempted to have 12 locations to ease ballot drop-offs for people who didn’t feel safe mailing in their ballots. Patrick, first elected Lieutenant Governor in 2014, suggested mail-in voting fraud is one of the dirty secrets of modern politics. “Almost everyone in office, particularly on the Democrat side, knows that there is fraud in mail-in ballots,” said Patrick, 70. Democrats have pointed to numerous studies that show voter fraud is extremely rare. And McKinnon, a former adviser to George W. Bush, told Patrick during the interview that Colorado has had mail-in voting for years, yet very few documented cases of fraud. Patrick, who is President Donald Trump’s Texas re-election campaign chairman, insisted those cannot possibly be right. When McKinnon questioned whether Republicans were engaging in systemic suppression of the vote, Patrick was sharp in his response. “That’s just nonsense,” Patrick said. “We want people to vote.” He pointed to the extra week of early voting by Gov. Greg Abbott as evidence that Republicans are trying to give people more chances to cast a ballot.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

PACs wage blistering TV ad war over Kulkarni-Nehls U.S. House race

The narrator begins in a low, dramatic voiceover: “It’s all public record.” A photo of Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls appears on screen, next to copies of an incident report from the Republican’s decades-old underage drinking charge and his termination notice from the Richmond Police Department. The 30-second TV spot, run by a Democratic super PAC in one of Texas’ hottest battleground congressional races, concludes voters “can’t trust Troy Nehls to keep us safe.” It is just one installment in a bruising advertising war, funded largely by political action committees, playing out across Texas’ 22nd Congressional District in Fort Bend, Brazoria and Harris counties. The ads spotlight a handful of episodes from Nehls’ law enforcement career and Democratic nominee Sri Kulkarni’s drug arrest in 1997, reflecting the intense national interest in the longtime Republican district.

Currently represented by U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a Sugar Land Republican who is not seeking re-election, the district is rated a tossup by the Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the main nonpartisan House forecasters. Kulkarni, a former state department diplomat, has come under fire in the ads for his arrest at age 18 for possessing less than a gram of cocaine and, more recently, attending the Burning Man festival in Nevada — or “notorious desert drug parties,” as the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC characterized it in a recent TV spot. The ad, which casts Kulkarni as “too reckless, too liberal,” also notes that he voiced support for Medicare for All, a proposal for a single-payer health insurance program, in early 2018, when he made his first run for the seat. “The negative ads against Nehls are trying to cut into his law-and-order support among the Republican base. The goal is to try to peel off potentially moderate Republicans who might not like (President Donald) Trump and might consider backing somebody else,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “The negative ads against Kulkarni attempt to paint him as being too radical, which is the kind of broad talking point that Republicans are using against Democrats all over the country.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

16 Houston ISD schools temporarily close due to COVID-19 cases

Sixteen Houston ISD schools temporarily have closed due to a confirmed or presumed COVID-19 case on campus, swift shutdowns that come one day after the state's largest district resumed in-person classes. HISD officials confirmed 16 of the district's 280 schools have transitioned to virtual classes as cleaning and sanitization efforts get underway. The 16 classes are Daily, Foerster, Hines-Caldwell, Lewis, Piney Point, Roberts, Valley West and Whittier elementary schools; Lanier, Lawson and Pershing middle schools; Bellaire, Waltrip and Westbury high schools; Houston Academy for International Studies; and Pilgrim Academy.

HISD initially reported three closures early Tuesday morning, then added another 13 campuses to the shutdown list in the early afternoon. Parents will be notified when schools are cleared to re-open. The district's COVID-19 protocols call for shutting down a campus for a "recommended number of days to allow for disinfection and sanitization" after learning of a positive or presumed case. Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan has said district leaders would consult with city and county health officials, the district's communicable disease plan task force and district operations staff to determine need actions and length of closures. Unlike HISD, the vast majority of Houston-area districts are keeping schools open even after learning of students and staff stepping foot on school grounds and later testing positive for COVID-19. Several high schools, including those in Alvin, Klein, Humble and Spring Branch ISDs, have remained open after showing double-digit active cases in recent weeks.

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Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Another victim of Texas’ failure to expand Medicaid? Kids.

Not all our troubles can be blamed on the pandemic. Even before the novel coronavirus outbreak, the number of children living without health coverage in the United States had risen to the highest levels in more than a decade. After reaching a historic low of 4.7 percent in 2016, the rate began to increase in 2017 before jumping to 5.7 percent in 2019, according to a new study by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. A dismal statistic — especially during the longest economic expansion in American history. That increase translates to approximately 726,000 more children without health insurance since the beginning of the Trump administration and its efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

The numbers are even grimmer in Harris County, where 15 percent of children are without coverage, 2.5 times the national rate. The rest of Texas isn’t doing much better at 12 percent, more than twice the national number. Behind all these numbers are real children who have little or no access to the basic care they need not only to survive the bumps and bruises of childhood, but for the kinds of medical exams and treatments that can help them avoid or manage long-term health problems later in life. The Georgetown report estimates the three-quarters of a million additional youngsters nationwide without health insurance include about 178,000 infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers under the age of 6. That is unacceptable in a wealthy nation and a state as prosperous as Texas. This is before calculating the costs of the pandemic, which left 3.6 million Texans unemployed in October, stripping many of them of their employer-provided health insurance. More than 25.5 million Americans are out of work nationally, under similar circumstances. Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families estimates that an additional 300,000 children have become uninsured this year. Experts suggest that the long-term answer is an overhaul of America’s health care system, something that Republicans in Congress have not been able to agree on. President Trump has repeatedly promised a major retooling but has so far fallen short. The quicker fix for Texas would be to simply take advantage of the ACA’s option of expanding Medicaid, the largely federally funded program that provides health coverage for low-income adults, children and pregnant women. Texas is now just one of 12 states that have declined to tap into the program, which comes with 90 percent funding from the federal government for new enrollees against a 10 percent share from the state. Of those dozen refusing expansion, Texas has the highest number of uninsured residents at 5 million. The Children's Health Insurance Program provides low-cost or no-cost care for children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid. But advocates say that red tape, fears about immigration enforcement and cutbacks in outreach have caused many children to fall off of the CHIP rolls in recent years. Texas Govs. Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, both Republicans, have refused to sign the state up for Medicaid expansion. Perry said the program was unsustainable and Abbott accused the federal government of being “coercive” in trying to bring the state on board.

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Houston Chronicle - October 20, 2020

Texas oil trade group launches online career center as layoffs mount

The Texas Oil and Gas Association has launched an online career center to help those in the industry who have been laid off during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Job seekers can submit their resume for a free review and evaluation by a third party group, TopResume. The website also features free resources on resume writing, interviewing and career advancement. TXOGA members receive discounted prices for job postings and other recruitment options through the career website.

“We are proud to be able to connect our members with the talent they need to fill some of the best jobs in Texas,” TXOGA President Todd Staples said in a statement. “The Career Center is also a great resource for job seekers looking to join one of the many facets of the oil and natural gas industry.” The new career website from Texas’ largest energy trade group comes as oil and gas companies are laying off thousands of employees in the face of low crude prices and a weakening outlook for fossil fuel demand amid mounting climate change actions. The U.S. oil and gas industry lost 107,000 jobs -- or about 7 percent of the 1.6 million employed nationally -- between March and August, according to global consulting firm Deloitte. Texas, the nation's top oil producing state, has borne the brunt of the industry's layoffs.

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Houston Chronicle - October 20, 2020

Fort Bend statehouse race is a study in 2020 whiplash politics

The last time Gary Gates and Eliz Markowitz squared off in an election, in January, the economy was stable, schools were open and there was a decent chance that Bernie Sanders would be the next Democratic nominee for president. A lot has changed in the nine months since. State Rep. Gates easily won that first contest, handing Republicans a key victory in a statehouse race that Democrats had hoped would portend larger gains for their candidates this fall. But that was before the coronavirus pandemic and the recession that followed. It was before Democrats nominated a moderate to head the national ticket, and before protests erupted across the country over racism and policing.

In a year of disruptions, few races in Texas like that for House District 28 stand to show just how much the whiplash of 2020 has shifted the state’s politics, especially in the suburbs. The district, in Fort Bend County just west of Houston, has been reliably Republican for years. But it is also one of the fastest growing counties in the country, with a richly diverse electorate, and Democrats still believe they can win there — if not now, then soon. “You look at the Republican slate right now and they just don’t have the same coalition building power, the same outreach” said Rocky Saligram, Markowitz’s campaign director and the head of Fort Bend Young Democrats. “They just keep going back to their same pool of voters.” Republicans attacked Markowitz in January after several prominent Democrats, including Beto O’Rourke, jumped in to help, tying her to their records on guns and other issues. O’Rourke had performed well in the district when he ran to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, but had moved left since entering the presidential primaries. It became an easy target.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 20, 2020

A campaign about nothing? A reunited Seinfeld cast wants Texans to vote Democratic

Republicans might call it a campaign about nothing. But Democrats are excited that members of the ”Seinfeld” television cast will reunite for a special event Friday, in which Texans will be encouraged to vote blue. The legendary show ran on NBC from 1989-98, and was known for being a “show about nothing” for the forays of its characters into everyday-life situations.

Actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Larry David are among those scheduled to appear on the event, which will be livestreamed Friday evening and is being billed as a “Fundraiser About Something.” Seth Meyers is scheduled to host the event, which begins with a VIP reception at 6:30 p.m. The show is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Those interested in watching the online show can register online by donating any amount to the Texas Democratic Party. (The VIP reception, in which participants can interact with the Seinfeld stars, requires a $5,000 donation.) Organizers say the show will only be accessible during the livestream. The actors say they will discuss behind-the-scenes activity in their favorite Seinfeld episodes.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 20, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Bill Waybourn or Vance Keyes? Here’s our recommendation in Tarrant County sheriff race

Politics, not policing, has dominated discussion of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office for the last few years. The county needs a sheriff equipped to implement smart, targeted changes at the jail, support reforms in law enforcement and engage with an increasingly diverse community. For those reasons, Democrat Vance Keyes is the best choice for voters. Keyes has two decades of experience as a Fort Worth police officer and leader. That gives him an understanding of what the bulk of the county needs to fight crime smartly and what police departments need from the sheriff’s office.

He currently oversees the tactical operations division, including SWAT and Special Operations — important units in a large city with the usual urban crime challenges. Keyes, 44, of Fort Worth is also a reasonable voice on police reform, and his perspective, with the megaphone of the sheriff’s office, would be valuable. This Editorial Board has said repeatedly that while defunding or disbanding law enforcement is not the solution to police-violence issues, legislative and policing leaders must be serious about changes to training, detention policies and more. The sheriff’s office’s role in much of that is small. But Keyes, with the credibility borne of his service, could help push the discussion in the right direction. He understands that over-policing is part of the problem, and he would work to reduce the Tarrant County Jail’s population of non-violent inmates.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 20, 2020

Tarrant County passes 60,000 COVID cases, reports 6 deaths including woman in her 30s

Tarrant County passed 60,000 coronavirus cases after reporting 500 new cases and six deaths on Tuesday. The six COVID-19 deaths include an Arlington woman in her 30s, a Euless man in his 50s, a Watauga man in his 70s, Arlington men in their 70s and 90s, and a Fort Worth man in his 70s. All six had underlying health conditions, according to health officials.

COVID hospitalizations increased to 14% of all occupied beds in the county as of Monday, the highest rate since Aug. 5. The hospitalization rate in the county has increased steadily since Sept. 20. The county reached a pandemic high of 20% on July 23. Tarrant County has confirmed 60,162 COVID-19 cases, including 709 deaths and an estimated 49,136 recoveries. COVID-19 causes respiratory illness with cough, fever and shortness of breath and may lead to bronchitis and severe pneumonia. For more information go to coronavirus.tarrantcounty.com or call the Tarrant County Public Health information line, 817-248-6299.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 20, 2020

Things to know about La Niña and its effect on Texas weather

National Weather Service forecasters last week said their winter outlook for the nation “favors warmer, drier conditions across the southern tier of the U.S. ... thanks in part to an ongoing La Niña.” Here are five things to know about La Niña and its effect on Central Texas:

La Niña in the Pacific can affect Texas. When you hear forecasters talk about La Niña, they’re referring to the opposite phenomenon of El Niño, which is the warming of sea temperatures in the equatorial waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean. The warmer ocean translates into changes in the jet stream, a river of air that can fend off or deliver cold air masses from the north. We’ve had a drier and warmer October. Austin’s main weather station at Camp Mabry has recorded only 0.01 inches of rainfall so far in a month that normally produces as much as 3.88 inches. Unless the city gets measurable rain in the next 10 days, October 2020 is on track to be the second-driest on record.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 20, 2020

Austin’s Parsley Energy sold to Dallas firm for $4.5 billion

Austin-based oil and natural gas company Parsley Energy is being acquired by Dallas-based oil and gas exploration and production company Pioneer Natural Resources for $4.5 billion, the companies said Tuesday.

The deal would boost Pioneer Natural Resources’ position as a top producer in the in the Permian Basin oil field in Texas and New Mexico. The companies said the acquisition is expected to close early next year. It still is subject to approval from the shareholders of both companies. The companies said that Quantum Energy Partners, Parsley’s largest shareholder, is in favor of the deal. Factoring in Parsley Energy’s debt, the total value for the deal is about $7.6 billion, the companies said. Pioneer said it projects combining the companies can save about $325 million per year by reducing administrative expenses and other costs.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 20, 2020

Texas among 11 states in lawsuit against Google

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is one of 11 state attorneys general joining the U.S. Justice Department in its lawsuit Tuesday against Google, accusing the company of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising to stifle competition and harm consumers.

“Google’s anticompetitive business strategies have disrupted the competitive process, reduced consumer choice, and stifled innovation,” Paxton said in a written statement Tuesday. “The violations set forth in the complaint show that Google no longer resembles the innovative startup it was 20 years ago. Our action today is intended to restore competition and allow rivals and next generation search engines to challenge Google so that the marketplace, not a monopolist, will decide how search services and search ads are offered.” Last year, Paxton was also one of the leaders of a coalition of 48 states — along with the District of Columbia and U.S. territory Puerto Rico — that signed on to take part in an investigation into potentially anti-competitive practices in Google’s advertising business.

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Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2020

Texas college student flies home from California to cast his ballot as voter turnout surges

When Texas Sen. John Cornyn saw the latest Texas early voting numbers on Monday, he asked his Twitter followers a simple question: “Who says voting in Texas is hard?” Bradley Bain, a 23-year-old senior from Dallas at Pomona College in California, is one Texan taking exception because he’s finding it very difficult to vote. “I’m literally spending >$400 to fly to Dallas and vote in person because you ‘accidentally’ flagged me as committing voter fraud in 2018, took me off the voter rolls, and made me ineligible to vote by mail in 2020,” Bain responded to the Republican in a tweet that had more than 176,000 likes as of Tuesday evening.

Bain hadn’t received a response for weeks after sending his absentee ballot application to the Dallas County Elections Department, so on Monday he booked a last-minute flight home to Dallas so he could vote in person. “It’s been such a saga just to figure out how to vote,” said Bain, who cast his ballot Tuesday during early voting. “I wasn’t going to waste my opportunity to do so.” Bain’s trip halfway across the country to vote captures the enthusiasm of Texas voters this election cycle — even in the midst of a pandemic. As of Tuesday morning, after seven days of early voting, more than 4.6 million Texans had cast their ballots. In each of Texas' 10 largest counties, turnout was higher than at the same point in 2016. Harris County, which had 566,741 votes after seven days four years ago, had more than 720,000 this year. Dallas County had 326,149 at this time four years ago. This election, it was up to 392,774. Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties — all battleground areas — also have higher turnout.

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Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2020

Texas still hasn’t made up construction jobs

Despite a boom in residential building and industrial development, Texas is still struggling to regain construction jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas has lost almost 52,000 construction jobs since February, before the pandemic hit and the economy turned down. Only California, with a decline of 54,800 construction jobs, has lost more workers in the sector during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Construction employment has fallen this year in all but eight states. The biggest gain was in Virginia, which has added 4,300 jobs in the sector since February. “New spikes in coronavirus cases, along with ongoing pandemic-related costs and revenue losses, are causing ever more private owners, developers and public agencies to delay and cancel projects,” Ken Simonson, General Contractors of America’s chief economist, said in a new report. “Although single-family homebuilding is gathering steam, multifamily and nonresidential construction activity has stalled, leaving large numbers of workers at risk of losing their jobs as current projects finish up with nothing on the horizon.” With many construction projects delayed and some canceled, construction firms relied on federal programs, which have run out.

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Associated Press - October 20, 2020

University of Texas to create center to study stuttering

A new center for research and education into stuttering is being created at the University of Texas at Austin, the university announced Monday. The Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Research and Education is being underwritten by a 10-year, $20 million legacy grant from Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank, who owns the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, the MLS Atlanta United, and the venue where both play, Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The center will be founded and led by Dr. Courtney Byrd, a professor of speech, language and hearing sciences at the university. She also is a founder of other stuttering clinics and institutes at the University of Texas. The center will advance understanding of the nature and effective treatment of stuttering; scale evidence-based programming to treat children, teenagers and adults worldwide; and create a pipeline of expert clinicians and researchers to make quality care accessible to all people, according to a university statement. Stuttering has genetically been part of Blank’s family for several generations. He, too, is a person who stutters who previously attempted treatment to improve fluency, according to the statement.

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CBS 4 - October 19, 2020

El Paso ISD superintendent, former school board president named in lawsuit

Allegations surfaced in the Fall against the superintendent of the El Paso School District and a former school board president. El Paso ISD superintendent Juan Cabrera and former El Paso ISD school board president Dori Fenenbock are accused of defrauding millions of dollars from investors while launching an online school.

The lawsuit, which was obtained by CBS4's sister-station KFOX14, was filed last month in San Diego County Superior Court. The lawsuit stems from a criminal case in California that includes the original investors in the Texas-based online school. Cabrera and Fenenbock approached a charter school company in California in 2018 with plans to develop a for-profit school, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that Cabrera and Fenenbock presented themselves as co-founders of eSchool Prep. Cabrera promised to resign from his role as superintendent in order to secure a $5 million investment in eSchool Prep, the lawsuit also alleged. After the $5 million investment was made, the lawsuit alleges that the original investors were forced out of the partnership then paid a settlement of only $483,000, less than 10 percent or the original investment. The “defendants refuse to return the $5 million dollars andrefuse to provide an accounting of how the money was spent” according to the lawsuit.

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KSAT - October 20, 2020

Texas legislators fighting new rule allowing social workers to deny service to LGBTQ, disabled clients

Organizations and legislators continue to lash out after the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners voted to allow social workers to refuse service to people based on disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. The board voted unanimously to change the code of conduct protections one week ago on Oct. 12.

“Not only will our community suffer, but the disabled community will suffer. I know specifically for our community, LGBTQIA+ folks are already at a disproportionate level of being vulnerable to self-harm and other issues, and this will only further add to that problem,” said Pride Center San Antonio Executive Director Robert Salcido. State legislators are hearing calls for intervention from organizations like the Pride Center. “You’re at one of your lowest points already and someone tells you, ‘I’m sorry my religious beliefs will keep me from treating someone like you.’ You know what? If that’s how you feel, don’t take that job. Don’t be in that line of work if that’s going to put you in front of people that need help,” said State Sen.Jose Menendez. Menendez announced Monday that he has joined State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez from Dallas, who chairs the House LGBTQ Caucus.

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KHOU - October 21, 2020

Who was Houston police Sgt. Harold Preston?

Houston police Sgt. Harold Preston was shot and killed Tuesday morning while answering a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex in west Houston. He was 65. “We have lost a wonderful human being," Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said at a press conference Tuesday outside Memorial Hermann hospital. "As good as he was as a cop, he was a better human being."

Houston police Officer Courtney Waller (pictured below) was Preston was sworn in as a Houston police officer on Aug. 25, 1979. He was in HPD Academy Class No. 86 and was a 41-year veteran of the force. In April 2016, Preston was off duty when a would-be intruder tried to break into the home he shared with his elderly parents. At the time, Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said Preston warned the man to leave and when he broke the glass of his front door, Preston shot the man. "Our sergeant and his family were awakened to someone pounding on the front door," Acevedo said at the time. "(Preston) armed himself, came to the door, and started yelling several commands: ‘Who are you? What do you want?' and the suspect ignored the commands." Acevedo said the suspect continued to pound the door, eventually punching through the glass. That’s when Preston shot the man, identified at the time as 36-year-old Patrick Jenkins. Jenkins survived the shooting and Preston was temporarily placed on restricted administrative duty. When Preston was shot on Tuesday, Acevedo said his elderly mother was able to reach Memorial Hermann before he died. Acevedo said Preston was a man of faith and was surrounded by his family at the end of his life.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

3 dead in shooting at Midtown nightclub, police say

At least two suspects remained at large early Wednesday following a shooting that killed three people at a Midtown night club, police said.

Three men were pronounced dead on the scene, while a fourth was hospitalized in critical condition. They have not been identified. Police said they have not received a clear description of the suspects. A possible third shooter could be involved, according to Houston Police Commander Caroleta Johnson. Police initially were called at 9:45 p.m. to the DD Sky Club, located on the second floor of a strip mall, based on a report of several people dead inside, Johnson said. Investigators learned that up to 30 people were inside for an open mic night, she said. At some point, one person appeared to instigate a fight, she said.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Galveston Mayor Brown seeks to stave off challenges from ex-mayor, three other candidates

It’s been 16 years since Roger “Bo” Quiroga served as Galveston’s mayor. To hear him tell it, Quiroga would have been content finishing out his career in the private sector if not for a groundswell of support from island residents to run for a belated fourth term. “To be honest with you, I never wanted to do this,” Quiroga said, of running for mayor again after serving in the post from 1998 to 2004. “But a lot of my constituents in Galveston think that the city has gone into the wrong direction by spending too much.”

In many ways, the race for Galveston mayor is a choice between the continuation of the status quo and a return of the Old Guard. While there are five candidates running for the nonpartisan position, the race is largely seen as a two-man contest, pitting Quiroga, 67, against Craig Brown, 74, the mayor pro tem who succeeded Jim Yarbrough as mayor in July after he resigned due to health concerns. Brown, a retired pediatric dentist who has served on the City Council since 2014, hopes he’s proved that he’s up for the job after taking over in the midst of a public health crisis and presiding during a busy hurricane season. Brown stresses expanding economic development in Galveston, not just in the form of new businesses, but in building more affordable housing on the island to support a workforce that is being squeezed by soaring real estate prices. “We have undeveloped land and that land needs to be looked at and evaluated and see what is the best use of that land as far as economic development and what would benefit this community,” Brown said. If elected, he hopes to create a governing body whose primary aim would be to support a vision for economic development that includes housing, boosting small businesses, and a more efficient permitting process.

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Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2020

Keller ISD’s COVID-19 case count continues to climb

Keller ISD’s COVID-19 case count is on a sharp rise. One month after reporting 34 active cases among students and staff, the district reported 85 positive cases Tuesday morning, according to its COVID-19 dashboard. Over a period of two hours Tuesday morning, the case count increased by two. There are 59 student cases and 26 employee cases.

The school district did not return a request for comment Tuesday morning. In late September, the district sent 314 in-person Fossil Ridge High School students home to quarantine for 14 days following the discovery of a “small number of confirmed positive student and staff cases,” the district said in a statement. One month before that, 145 in-person fifth-graders and staff at Indian Springs Middle School were quarantined and transitioned to remote learning for 14 days. Over the summer, Keller parents sought answers to a number of positive COVID-19 cases reportedly stemming from a Keystone Church camp. Keller ISD’s total enrollment in 2019-2020 was 34,999 students.

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Houston Chronicle - October 20, 2020

One HPD officer dead, another injured in SW Houston shooting

One Houston police officer was killed and another was injured when they were shot while responding to a reported domestic disturbance Tuesday morning at a southwest Houston apartment complex, according to police. A suspect has been taken into custody and transported to a hospital. Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner asked for prayers and condolences for the family of Sgt. Harold Preston, who they identified as the slain officer. He served the department for 41 years. The second officer, Courtney Waller, who has served the department for three years, was shot in the arm and is expected to survive. Both officers were taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital.

"As good as he was as a cop, he was a better human being. And we're going to miss him," Acevedo said about Preston, calling him a hero. Law enforcement members gathered in prayer in front of the hospital and planned to escort Preston's body to the medical examiner's office. The shooting occurred on the 2600 block of Holly Hall Street south of the Texas Medical Center while the officers were responding to a call regarding a domestic dispute, police said. When they arrived, the suspect and officers exchanged gunfire. The suspect's 14-year-old son was struck in the arm. He was taken to Texas Children's hospital and is expected to survive. Preston was shot multiple times in the head and spine, police said. After Waller was shot in the arm, a Good Samaritan helped him get to the front of the apartment complex away from the gunfire, Acevedo said.

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National Stories

New York Times - October 21, 2020

Tax records show Trump maintains Chinese bank account

President Trump and his allies have tried to paint the Democratic nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., as soft on China, in part by pointing to his son’s business dealings there. Senate Republicans produced a report asserting, among other things, that Mr. Biden’s son Hunter “opened a bank account” with a Chinese businessman, part of what it said were his numerous connections to “foreign nationals and foreign governments across the globe.” But Mr. Trump’s own business history is filled with overseas financial deals, and some have involved the Chinese state. He spent a decade unsuccessfully pursuing projects in China, operating an office there during his first run for president and forging a partnership with a major government-controlled company.

And it turns out that China is one of only three foreign nations — the others are Britain and Ireland — where Mr. Trump maintains a bank account, according to an analysis of the president’s tax records, which were obtained by The New York Times. The foreign accounts do not show up on Mr. Trump’s public financial disclosures, where he must list personal assets, because they are held under corporate names. The identities of the financial institutions are not clear. The Chinese account is controlled by Trump International Hotels Management L.L.C., which the tax records show paid $188,561 in taxes in China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015. The tax records do not include details on how much money may have passed through the overseas accounts, though the Internal Revenue Service does require filers to report the portion of their income derived from other countries. The British and Irish accounts are held by companies that operate Mr. Trump’s golf courses in Scotland and Ireland, which regularly report millions of dollars in revenue from those countries. Trump International Hotels Management reported just a few thousand dollars from China. In response to questions from The Times, Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, said the company had “opened an account with a Chinese bank having offices in the United States in order to pay the local taxes” associated with efforts to do business there. He said the company had opened the account after establishing an office in China “to explore the potential for hotel deals in Asia.”

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CNN - October 21, 2020

Trump lashes out wildly as he seeks an election comeback

President Donald Trump is struggling to find a compelling rationale for his reelection ahead of the final presidential debate, firing off wild, scattershot attacks against an expanding list of perceived political enemies. On a day of vitriol and stunts, the President's base-stoking narrative of anger and personal persecution targeted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes," the Commission on Presidential Debates, the Supreme Court and Dr. Anthony Fauci. At an evening rally in Pennsylvania, he even took a shot at "Crooked Hillary." He also intensified pressure on Attorney General William Barr to launch criminal probes into Biden.

But Trump's quest for distractions simply underscored how he is ignoring the true and most dangerous adversary facing America -- the pandemic that has buckled his false reelection narrative of a nation on the rebound and has left millions out of work. His frantic efforts to save his presidency lacked the focus of his populist, nationalist economic arguments in 2016 -- and an opponent in Hillary Clinton, who he was conveniently able to cast as a villain for his outsider message. Build your own road to 270 electoral votes with CNN's interactive map This year's Democratic nominee, whose polling lead has survived all Trump's claims that he is corrupt and a Trojan horse for radical leftists, is a more elusive target. The former vice president spent another day huddled in his Delaware home prepping for Thursday's debate -- the last scheduled set-piece event of an often bizarre 2020 campaign. Trump, in the middle of a grueling set of rallies after recovering from the virus, traveled to Erie, where he needs to outperform his strong 2016 showing to cut Biden's current lead in Pennsylvania, potentially the pivotal 2020 swing state.

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NBC News - October 20, 2020

New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern wins big after world-leading COVID-19 response

In the tumultuous global landscape of 2020, everything about Jacinda Ardern seems opposite. It's not just that she won reelection this weekend as prime minister of New Zealand, a place seemingly about as far removed from Washington geographically as it is politically. Ardern, 40, stands almost alone as having all but eradicated community transmission of Covid-19. While the coronavirus rages elsewhere, New Zealand has become something of a parallel universe where lockdowns, masks and social distancing are no longer necessary.

Even before the pandemic, she had become a darling of liberals around the world for her compassionate reaction to the Christchurch mosques attack that killed 51 worshipers last year. She gained further acclaim after becoming just the second world leader to have a baby while in office — and taking her infant into the chamber of the United Nations General Assembly. In short, as leader of the center-left Labour Party her image couldn't cut a starker contrast to nationalists and populists such as President Donald Trump. So viewed from abroad her historic reelection is all the more notable, securing 49 percent of the vote and a majority of seats in Parliament — considered a landslide in New Zealand's coalition-dominated politics. "This kind of landslide should be almost impossible under New Zealand's system of proportional representation," said Harshan Kumarasingham, a New Zealander who teaches politics at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. "It's very difficult for any one party to get the majority that she has, and normally they would have to go into coalition."

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Wall Street Journal - October 20, 2020

William McRaven: Biden will make America lead again

In their 1998 book, “A World Transformed,” George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft recount the events that fundamentally changed the world during the Bush presidency. At the end of the last chapter Bush observes: “The importance of American engagement has never been higher. If the United States does not lead, there will be no leadership. . . If we fail to live up to our responsibilities, if we shirk the role that only we can assume, if we retreat from our obligation to the world in indifference, we will one day pay the highest price once again for our neglect and shortsightedness.” For all the challenges the past 20 years brought on this country—for all the loss, the heartache, the hubris and the errant decisions—in times of crisis, the world still looked to America to lead. They believed that in spite of our political differences, our domestic turmoil, the ugliness of our democratic process and some bad decisions, America in the end would do the right thing. That we would stand up to tyranny, lift up the downtrodden, free the oppressed, and fight for the righteous.

Now, the world no longer looks up to America. They have been witness to our dismissiveness, our lack of respect and our transactional approach to global issues. They have seen us tear up our treaties, leave our allies on the battlefield and cozy up to despots and dictators. They have seen our incompetence in handling the pandemic and the wildfires. They have seen us struggle with social injustice. They no longer think we can lead, because they have seen an ineptness and a disdain for civility that is beyond anything in their memory. But, without American leadership the world will indeed be transformed, just not in the way we hope. This could all change in November. We need a president who understands the importance of American leadership, at home and abroad. We need a leader of integrity whose decency and sense of respect reflects the values we expect from our president. We need a president for all Americans, not just half of America.

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USA Today - October 19, 2020

Dentists could raise fees, exit family practices as pandemic keeps patients away

Millions of Americans are delaying dental appointments over concerns about coronavirus infection, and that's likely to trigger increased fees for patients, job cuts for workers and fewer family practices. When the pandemic began this spring, essentially all dentists temporarily shut down for all but emergency appointments, putting hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work. While 99% of dentists have reopened, the number of patients visiting offices remains about 20% below usual levels, according to the American Dental Association.

And dentists don't expect it to improve much more anytime soon despite significant safety measures they’ve rolled out to protect themselves and patients from COVID-19. Spending on dental care could fall by up to 38% in 2020 and 20% in 2021, the ADA projects. Of dentists surveyed by the trade group, more than 46% said their patient volume was down at least 15% from usual levels during the week of Oct. 5. About 15% to 20% of regular dental patients say “they’re not going to go back to the dentist until there’s a vaccine or a proven treatment,” said Marko Vujicic, chief economist of the ADA. “They’re a segment of the population that’s very cautious, and they’re waiting for COVID to pass, so to speak,” Vujicic said. “They’re simply not returning to usual activities, period.” Katia Lee is among them. Lee, a self-employed professional photographer in Columbia, South Carolina, hasn’t gone to the dentist since before the pandemic began, in part because she doesn’t want to risk getting infected and passing it to her 76-year-old mother.

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Vox - October 20, 2020

Bill Barr and Elizabeth Warren find a common enemy: Google

You have to do something extraordinary to unite Elizabeth Warren and Bill Barr. But that’s what Google has done. President Trump’s attorney general and personal fixer has filed an antitrust suit against the trillion-dollar internet titan. And the Massachusetts senator, who despises everything about the Trump administration and has called on Barr to resign, is cheering him on. Sort of. “Two things can be true at the same time: Bill Barr is a corrupt Trump crony who should not be the Attorney General and the Justice Department has the power to pursue a legitimate, long-time-coming suit against Google for engaging in anti-competitive, manipulative, and often illegal conduct,” Warren said in a statement to Recode.

This would be a striking alliance at any time. It’s even more so now that we’re days before an election, when you’d think that a Democrat would go out of their way not to support what the Trump administration wants. But Warren and many others on the left have decided that going after Google, in what may be the most important tech lawsuit since the US government sued Microsoft nearly two decades ago, is worth making common cause with a bitter enemy. Tuesday’s lawsuit is the most consequential result of the so-called “techlash” that has been brewing over the past few years — a feeling, often hard to quantify, that the big tech companies have grown without any kind of checks or balances from the government, and need to be reined in … somehow. News organizations now scrutinize Google and other big companies with newfound zeal, and Congress has hauled in tech executives for public hearings. But that hasn’t slowed these companies’ velocity or reduced their power. Even punitive acts like a $5 billion fine levied against Facebook for privacy violations barely qualify as a wrist slap. And while a landmark congressional report laid out an argument for restraining Google, Facebook, and their peers this month, there’s no guarantee that lawmakers will end up acting on any of that.

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Newsclips - October 20, 2020

Lead Stories

Los Angeles Times - October 20, 2020

Trump: Americans “are tired of listening to Fauci and these idiots” as COVID-19 cases and deaths rise

President Donald Trump reignited his feud with the nation’s top infectious disease expert Monday as U.S. deaths from COVID-19 topped 220,000 and coronavirus hospitalizations rose across the country, raising fears of a deadly third wave of infections as winter approaches. In a call intended to rally his beleaguered campaign staff two weeks before Election Day, Trump slammed Dr. Anthony Fauci and insisted Americans “are tired of listening to Fauci and these idiots” who were critical of the White House response to the pandemic. Trump’s broadside was a reminder of his distrust of science, and his refusal to heed warnings about the deadly contagion as he tries to salvage a reelection campaign that has sunk in the polls due to his handling of the worst disease outbreak in a century.

Trump’s decision to target Fauci — which continued with a series of tweets mocking the doctor’s “worst first pitch in the history of baseball” at a Washington Nationals game — made little sense politically. Although Trump’s right-wing supporters view Fauci with suspicion, polls show far more Americans trust him on the coronavirus than the president. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, was off the campaign trail Monday ahead of Thursday’s second and final debate. His campaign praised Fauci, adding that “Trump’s reckless and negligent leadership threatens to put more lives at risk.” “Trump is his own worst enemy,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster. “He is basically helping Biden make his case about his response to the pandemic. Dr. Fauci is one of the most popular figures in America, even if Trump’s base doesn’t like him.” Trump’s ire may have been sparked by Fauci’s interview Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” when the widely respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases said he was not surprised that the president had contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized for three days early this month. Trump’s wife and son Barron also tested positive with the coronavirus.

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Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2020

Texas leads nation in early voting totals, with 4 million ballots cast

Texas is leading the country in ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election so far, with more than 4 million votes counted as of Sunday. The Lone Star State is first in the nation in both the raw number of ballots cast and the total votes as a percentage of 2016 turnout, according to the U.S. Elections Project, a collection of voting statistics compiled by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald. As of Sunday, more than 4 million Texans have voted in the general election, either through absentee ballots or in-person early voting, which began last Tuesday. Those ballots account for roughly 45 percent of the nearly 9 million total votes counted during the presidential election four years ago.

California, the only state with a higher population than Texas, has counted more than 3 million ballots to date, approximately 21 percent of 2016 turnout, according to the U.S. Elections Project. The state began its early voting period on Oct. 5. In Florida, the third-most populous state, 2.5 million people have voted so far, accounting for roughly 26 percent of ballots cast in 2016. Early voting began across much of Florida on Monday. New York, the fourth-most populous state, doesn’t begin early voting until next week. Only Vermont has approached Texas’ turnout as a percentage of 2016 ballots cast. There, more than 130,000 ballots have been returned since early voting began on Sept. 21 — about 43 percent of the vote count four years ago. Georgia, where nearly 1.5 million people have cast ballots, is approaching 36 percent of 2016 turnout. Early voting started there on Oct. 12.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2020

Appeals court: Texas not required to let voters fix signatures on rejected ballots

Texas does not have to give voters a chance to correct mail-in ballots that were rejected for signature problems, a federal appeals court ruled Monday. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the state’s signature-matching process does not place a severe burden on voting rights, even if Texas voters are not notified that their ballots were rejected until well after vote counting has ended. “Even if some voters have trouble duplicating their signatures, that problem is neither so serious nor so frequent as to raise any question about the constitutionality of the signature-verification requirement,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote for the appeals court’s three-judge panel.

The panel placed on hold a Sept. 8 ruling by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, who said mail-in ballots cannot be rejected for a signature mismatch unless voters are notified and given a chance to correct or “cure” the problem. The current system, Garcia said, curtails voting rights that are “vitally important to a functioning democracy,” particularly for Texans with a disability that limits their ability to write consistently. But the panel rejected Garcia’s conclusions and placed his ruling on hold until a different three-judge panel can weigh the state’s appeal and determine if Garcia’s order should be upheld or overturned. That won’t happen until after the Nov. 3 election. Under state law, voters must be notified that their ballot had been rejected within 10 days after an election. The law does not require that voters be given a chance to challenge the rejection.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 20, 2020

Cornyn broke ranks with President Trump. Is that good or bad for his political future?

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s comments critical of President Trump have raised eyebrows in recent days. But political observers don’t necessarily think they’re a sign that Cornyn’s re-election bid is in trouble, or his Washington career is near an end. Cornyn late last week told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial Board that he had disagreed with Trump on issues such as budget deficits, tariffs and trade and use of national security funds for a border wall, but kept his opposition private rather than speaking up and potentially drawing Trump’s wrath.

The comments went viral, with election candidates, pundits and other news organizations chiming in. Democrats over the weekend took the opportunity to lambaste Cornyn, with his Democratic opponent MJ Hegar calling Cornyn a “coward” on her Twitter feed. But Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston, says Cornyn’s break with Trump likely won’t hurt his re-election chances and could actually help him among suburban voters, especially women. Rottinghaus said long-time elected officials in states such as Texas and Florida may find that the demographics of their constituencies have changed so much while they have been in office that their old messages may not work anymore. Cornyn, already seen as less conservative than Texas’s other Republican senator, Ted Cruz, may feel like the moment is right for sending voters a moderate message.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2020

Texas puts frontline workers, people with chronic conditions at front of line for eventual COVID-19 vaccine

Health care workers, first responders, Texans with chronic health conditions and several other “vulnerable populations” would be the first to receive a coronavirus vaccine once one becomes available, state public health officials are proposing. Under a plan released Monday, Texas again would form a public-private partnership for distribution of COVID-19 vaccine. Participation by health care providers and institutions administering the vaccine, as well as individuals receiving doses, would be voluntary.

The plan is similar to one the Texas Department of State Health Services created for allocating vaccine for the H1N1 or “swine flu” virus in 2009. Through Friday, 1,044 Texas health care professionals, hospitals and long-term care providers had signed up to eventually receive shipments of the coronavirus vaccine and administer them, according to department spokesman Chris Van Deusen. That was only nine days after Gov. Greg Abbott announced launch of the provider program, calling it a “proactive approach” to getting Texas ready for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Of the providers and facilities stepping forward, 237 were in the two public health regions that include Dallas-Fort Worth as well as Abilene and Wichita Falls, said Imelda Garcia, the department’s associate commissioner over laboratories and infectious disease programs. “A provider could be a whole hospital system with multiple clinics,” she noted. The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2020

Negotiations in works to free hostage Austin Tice, a Texan believed held in Syria since 2012

Talks are continuing to bring home Austin Tice, a journalist from Texas, with the White House confirming to some media organizations that senior official Kash Patel went to Damascus earlier this year for talks. Patel was attempting to negotiate the release of two American hostages believed to be held in Syria, Tice and Majd Kamalmaz, a psychotherapist from Virginia, according to The Wall Street Journal and McClatchy. Tice, a Houston native and Marine veteran, traveled to Syria in 2012 as a freelance journalist for McClatchy, The Washington Post and other news outlets. Just days before he was supposed to come home, he was detained at a checkpoint.

Tice has not been heard from again — save for a 43-second video released five weeks after his disappearance titled “Austin Tice is Alive,” which showed him held by a group of unidentified armed men, according to Tice’s family. Recent negotiations are the first known talks between the U.S. and Syrian officials in 10 years, according to the Journal. The Obama administration suspended diplomatic relations with Syrian officials in 2012 after the onset of the Syrian civil war. On the eighth anniversary of Tice’s disappearance in August, President Donald Trump called for his release. “There is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans missing abroad,” Trump said. “The Tice family deserves answers. We stand with the Tice family and will not rest until we bring Austin home.” Texans in Congress also have demanded Tice’s release, including Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican who has worked with the administration on this case since 2017. “The Tice family has had an empty seat at their dinner table for eight years, and I admire their tremendous strength and tenacity on behalf of their son and brother,” Cornyn said in a statement Monday. “I’m grateful to the administration for what they’ve done to try to bring Austin home, and I renew my call for his captors to release him into American custody immediately.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: The reason Klyde Warren Park isn’t in California

Downtown Dallas got something to celebrate last week. Klyde Warren Park announced a major donation to jump-start a 1.65-acre expansion. Construction on this next phase is set to begin in 2021 and end in 2024. It will include a three-story enclosed pavilion for special events, an ice skating rink in winter, and a 36,000-square-foot green space that will host markets, festivals and other community events. That space will be named The Jacobs Lawn after the Jacobs technology and engineering company donated $8 million to the project. On the opposite end of the deck, park champions Jody and Sheila Grant are planning a fountain that will spray water 55 feet into the air, lit with pastel colors and choreographed to music. Promoters say it’s destined to become a “blimp shot” and one of Dallas' most iconic locations.

Klyde Warren Park is a model for public-private partnerships, a testament to what a city can do when its business and civic leaders work together. Since opening in 2012, the park has hosted more than 10 million visitors and had a $2.5 billion impact on the city, according to a Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation estimate. And we would point out that its newest donor is a testament to what a corporate neighbor can do when given the opportunity. Jacobs moved its headquarters to Dallas in 2016, in part to escape the crushing tax and regulatory atmosphere in California. Jacobs isn’t alone. According to reporting by CNBC, 18,000 companies left California for more business-friendly states between 2008 and 2019. Jacobs CEO Steve Demetriou told us the business climate in Texas was a key factor in the company’s decision to move here. “It’s really been, I think, part of the reason why we’ve had a successful run in the company over the last four years. We’ve seen significant shareholder value creation and our employee culture has been transformed, and I think a lot of it stems from having our home office here in Dallas,” Demetriou said.

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Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2020

Dallas County adds 331 confirmed coronavirus cases, doesn’t report any new deaths

Dallas County reported 331 more confirmed coronavirus cases Monday, including 329 the county considers new and two from previous months. No additional COVID-19 deaths were reported. Labs either report coronavirus cases directly to the county health department or to the state health department, which then relays the information to individual counties. Of cases reported Monday, Dallas County health officials said 263 came from the state’s reporting system, including 261 from October and two from September. The remaining 68 cases were reported directly to the county health department.

County Judge Clay Jenkins said Monday that a recent increase in hospitalized coronavirus patients in Dallas County, as well as a higher test positivity rate, mean residents need to wear masks, avoid crowds, maintain a six-foot distance from people outside their households and wash their hands frequently “Now is a critical time for us to get the numbers going back in the right direction,” he said in a written statement. “We know what we need to do, we just need to do it.” The newly reported cases bring the county’s total confirmed cases to 90,318. The county’s confirmed death toll stands at 1,085. Additionally, Dallas County reported 51 probable cases Monday, bringing the total number of probable cases to 4,631. The county has also reported 13 probable COVID-19 deaths. Tarrant County reported 388 coronavirus cases and no new deaths Monday. The newly reported cases bring the county’s total to 59,662, including 54,332 confirmed cases, 5,330 probable cases and 48,930 recoveries. The death toll stands at 703. According to Monday’s county dashboard, 459 people are hospitalized with the virus. Collin County officials had not reported new coronavirus data by 6 p.m. Monday. As of Sunday, the county had recorded 16,937 total cases, with 171 deaths and 15,939 recoveries. According to the county’s data, 154 patients remain hospitalized. Denton County reported 153 coronavirus cases — of which 123 are active — and one new death Monday. The latest victim was a man in his 50s who had been in custody at the Denton County jail.

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Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2020

Thomas R. Phillips, Wallace B. Jefferson and Paul W. Green: Texas courts were strikingly well-prepared for COVID-19

Although governments at all levels have struggled to respond to COVID-19, Texas courts have remained largely open, processing cases electronically and conducting thousands of hearings since the March shutdown. And while many governmental initiatives — school closings, dining and entertainment restrictions, even mandatory face coverings — have generated controversy, changes to judicial operations have been widely accepted, and court functions have been both accessible and safe. The pandemic once threatened to close our courtrooms. That prospect brought home the importance of the judicial system to the everyday lives of millions of Texans. Texas families have faced eviction, uncertainty about child?custody and visitation arrangements, disputes about medical decisions, and discord over educational and safety choices. Those accused of crimes and society as a whole are entitled to prompt resolution of guilt or innocence.

And the pandemic itself is at the root of many disputes about whether contracts are capable of performance, and who should bear the loss if they are not. For these pandemic-related disputes and ordinary judicial business, the courts must remain open. When the pandemic’s enormous scope became apparent, Texas law was far better structured to deal with COVID-19?s consequences than it would have been a generation ago. In the wake of 9/11, several devastating hurricanes, and multiple threatened pandemics, the Texas Legislature had in recent years overhauled the state’s disaster response laws. Among other reforms, a 2009 law authorized the Texas Supreme Court to “modify or suspend procedures for the conduct of any court proceeding affected by a disaster during the pendency of the disaster declared by the governor.” Within hours of Gov. Greg Abbott’s March 9 disaster declaration, the Texas Supreme Court promulgated its first emergency order, which has since been supplemented by 26 additional orders. Among other things, these orders implemented these temporary changes: Amended child visitation schedule changes due to school closures; Imposed a moratorium on home evictions; Created an innovative eviction diversion program enabling tenants to remain in their homes and landlords to be paid using $167 million in CARES Act funding; Placed restrictions on consumer debt cases that permitted families to keep their stimulus fund checks; Extended deadlines for bringing and prosecuting lawsuits; Increased legal aid funding by $4.2 million to assist low-income Texans facing eviction, domestic violence or employment issues related to COVID-19.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2020

Third of voters in Central Texas cast ballots in early voting’s first week

With less than two weeks of early voting to go, Central Texas counties are on track to record their largest early voter turnout in recent memory. Williamson County is leading the way, with ballots from nearly a third of its registered voters already accounted for. With 16.9 million voters registered statewide, more than 4 million Texas, or about 24%, cast a ballot in the first week of early voting, according to Stephen Chang, communications director for the Texas Secretary of State.

Before 2019, the state only collected data for a slice of the largest counties, which included Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis, and Harris. By comparison, he said that for those five counties the first week of early voting in 2016 was around 1.68 million and in 2020 that is about 1.74 million. Travis, Hays, Williamson and Bastrop counties combined reported that nearly one-third of its registered voters cast a ballot in the first week of early voting, which kicked off on Oct. 13. Across the four counties, 1.4 million people are registered to vote, and 433,591 cast a ballot by the end of Sunday. In Travis County, about 27.36% of voters, or 234,016 or the 855,175 registered voters, cast a ballot as of Sunday. More than 198,000 were cast in-person, while the remaining 35,000 were mailed in, according to data from the Travis County clerk’s office. In 2016, 223,768 ballots had been cast by the end of the first week of early voting, according to data from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir reported last week that the number of voters at the polls increased over the first four days of early voting, surpassing the same days in 2016. Over the weekend, daily voter turnout dropped a bit because of some drizzle Saturday and fewer hours available Sunday, but it had picked back up by Monday. By 3 p.m. Monday, more than 22,000 people had voted in-person. About 51% of the county’s more than 732,000 registered voters had cast an early vote in the 2016 presidential election, which had total turnout of 65%.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2020

Williamson County turnout hits 31.6% in 7th day of early voting

Early voting turnout for Williamson County hit 31.6% early Monday evening. Since early voting began on Tuesday, 119,476 ballots have been cast in seven days. Voters cast 14,105 votes on Monday alone as of 5:30 p.m., according to the county’s election website.

Williamson County has a total of 376,931 registered voters. The county led the state on Sunday in its cumulative voting percentage at 32.48%, according to a Secretary of State website. The cumulative voting percentage is a percentage calculated using the number of early votes and the number of mail-in ballots.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2020

Texas’ Tom Herman: Players not mandated to stay for ‘The Eyes’ but team is unified going forward

As far as “The Eyes of Texas” goes, Tom Herman laid all his cards on the table Monday. The Longhorns coach said there would be no mandate that players stay on the field for the post-game singing of the school song. Administrators hope that players would stay to show appreciation for the fans, but nobody at UT has “mandated our players do anything,” Herman said. Thus, it’s unclear whether any players will stay for The Eyes after Saturday’s game against Baylor (1-1, 1-1 Big 12). It could be a jarring image at Royal-Memorial Stadium, but one that Texas fans may have to accept.

“I think mandate is a very strong word,” Herman said. “That’s never been a word that’s been used to us as coaches from our administration, nor from us coaches to our players.” Herman typically talks for about a half-hour on Mondays. This particular Monday was notable for its length (50 minutes) and its message. The coach talked about off-week fixes, dabbled in philosophy, filibustered a little and expounded on his close relationship with Baylor coach Dave Aranda. But a good portion was spent on The Eyes, a century-old song that is forcing UT faithful to choose sides. “If you line 10 guys up in a locker room, you might get nine or 10 different opinions on what we should do, what the song means, what the fans mean, what the university means,” Herman said. “And so just handling that encouragement with the utmost sensitivity, I think is topic No. 1 for us.” Herman reiterated that athletic director Chris Del Conte has been talking to coaches for weeks about this issue. The athletic director has told players they are not required to sing the lyrics, but he “expects” players to participate in team traditions, which means staying on the field while fans sing.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 20, 2020

The Texas congressional delegation doesn’t reflect the state’s diversity. Will the election change that?

The Texas congressional delegation long hasn’t reflected the demographic diversity of the state. Currently, Anglos occupy roughly two-thirds of the Texas seats in the U.S. House, while Anglos make up 41% of the Texas population. Latinos, on the other hand are severely underrepresented, with 19% of seats and comprising 40% of the population. This year, amid a national reckoning of systemic racism in all aspects of American life, candidates of color are running in 24 of the state’s 36 congressional districts, including 10 districts where both Democrat and Republican are nonwhite.

Yet when the dust settles from the election, now two weeks away, the state’s delegation is expected to remain mostly white. There are 13 people of color representing Texas in the U.S. House — six Blacks and seven Latinos. Eleven of them are running for reelection and none are expected to lose their seats, according to national political forecasters. Two are retiring: U.S. Reps. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, and Will Hurd, R-Helotes. The two candidates running to replace Flores — Republican Pete Sessions and Democrat Rick Kennedy — are white. Running to replace Hurd, who is the only Black Republican in the House: Republican Tony Gonzales and Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who is of Filipino descent. No white incumbent facing a challenger of color is expected to lose — including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who faces Republican Jenny Garcia Sharon — because their districts were drawn to favor one party or the other. But some might face close races. And a few open seats that are occupied by retiring white representatives have drawn candidates of color and are up for grabs.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 20, 2020

High early voting numbers prompt Tarrant County to consider adding more sites

Tarrant County election officials are looking to add eight more voting sites for the last two days of early voting after a strong turnout during the first week. During the first five days of early voting, 222,354 people cast ballots, which represents almost 19% of the county’s registered voters. That is up from the 211,000 who voted during the first five days in 2016. Early voting started Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 30.

Heider Garcia, Tarrant County elections administrator, said he will seek approval from the Tarrant County commissioners on Tuesday to open the additional sites on Oct. 29 and 30, the last two days of early voting, which are traditionally the busiest days during the period. Garcia believes that the county will have a higher early voting turnout this election than it did in 2016, when the county recorded 482,000 early voters. As of Monday afternoon, 261,185 had voted in Tarrant County. The elections team has had this plan ready for the last couple of weeks and the voting numbers have told Garcia that it’s time to put it in place, he said. “This is our break the glass in case of an emergency moment,” he said. Wait times were up to four hours on the first day of early voting and only 16 voting centers were reporting wait times on the county’s new interactive map. The other 34 centers were displaying a message that read “no data available today.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Ending racism would add trillions to US economy

Forget socialism or fascism. Never mind repealing Obamacare or passing Medicare for all. Acknowledging the legacy of slavery, the persistence of racism and the reality of privilege will do more to boost the country than almost anything else. After years of writing this column, I am no longer surprised by the outpouring of vitriol when I point out that bias prevents the United States from reaching its full potential. Judging people by their appearance holds back some of our nation’s most talented citizens. Yet suggesting that someone with white skin and a middle- or upper-class upbringing may have some advantages over a Black person growing up in poverty always triggers bigoted and ignorant comments. Certain Americans do not want us to talk about racism.

President Donald Trump is one of those people, recently forcing CEOs at America’s largest companies to choose between creating equitable workplaces or potentially losing government contracts and falling under federal investigation. Trump signed an executive order on Sept. 22 banning federal agencies and their contractors from conducting routine anti-racism training. The order’s haughty tone presumes to promote equity but surreptitiously perpetuates discrimination. The order is one of the ugliest, covert boosts to white supremacy produced by a federal official in decades. Trump demonstrates his ignorance of every study about how racism is propagated and perpetuated by a rigged meritocratic system that punishes people of color. The order bans experts from explaining how growing up in an all-white environment may leave a person ignorant about the realities faced by Blacks and other minorities. The Greater Houston Partnership’s recent One Houston Together webinar on fighting bias would have violated Trump’s order. The White House is taking aim at every corner of U.S. commerce, extending it to every company that does business with every company that does business with the government. The Department of Labor has set up a hotline for employees to report violations.

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Houston Chronicle - October 20, 2020

More than 80,000 Houston ISD students return to campus for a 'year of flexibility'

When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston ISD’s Mitchell Elementary School in 2017, Jude and Tiffany Irving faced a dilemma: tear away their autistic kindergartner, Grant, from the students and staff who embraced him, or drive 30 minutes round-trip to a temporary campus in the opposite direction from their work. “In our minds, we have found this school where it’s lovely and perfect for him,” said Jude Irving, a physical education teacher for Pasadena ISD. “All the sudden, the uncertainty came back.” The Irvings ultimately kept Grant with his classmates, gritting through the daily drive as HISD officials demolished and rebuilt the school on Houston’s southeast side. Their patience paid off Monday, when Grant, now in third grade, and nearly 250 of his peers re-entered the bright, new expansive Mitchell Elementary.

“I wish I could have seen his face when he walked in,” Tiffany Irving said. “You could tell he was excited for something this morning.” While the novel coronavirus pandemic delayed and dampened back-to-school plans, HISD brought an estimated 80,000-plus of its 196,000 students onto campuses Monday for the first in-person classes in seven months, joining all of the region’s other public school districts in offering face-to-face instruction. The return arrived as the Greater Houston area faces an ominous, if still slight, uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, inspiring strong opinions about if and when to reopen school buildings. For many parents, HISD’s reopening ensures their children will receive a better academic and social experience, while also allowing them to return to work during the school day. At the same time, many school staff members remain concerned about the possibility of on-campus COVID-19 spread, though early returns show only a handful of already-open local schools experiencing school-based outbreaks. Families opting for face-to-face instruction saw extensive changes to school operations in what district officials describe as a “year of flexibility.” At Young Elementary School on the city’s south side, all students and staff wore masks while on campus, a bus driver helped riders off while donning a face shield and parents waited with their children in a socially-distanced line for their temperature checks.

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Houston Chronicle - October 16, 2020

Texas Southern University welcomes 3 new regents

Texas Southern University officially welcomed three new board of regents members. Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Mary Evans Sias of Dallas to serve on TSU’s board through Feb. 2021, and James Benham of College Station and Stephanie Nellos-Paige of Houston for terms that are set to expire in Feb. 2023 and Feb. 2025 respectively, according to a Monday release from Abbott’s office. The appointments follow the departure of three regents earlier this year.

Sias is the assistant to the president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and also serves as the organization’s director of the Millennium Leadership Initiative, which aims to provide the needed support, training and networking opportunities for traditionally underrepresented individuals in senior-level positions as they advance toward the presidency of their respective institutions. Sias has had a vested role in higher education, previously serving as the president of Kentucky State University and as the senior vice president of student affairs and external relations for the University of Texas at Dallas. She has also served as chair of the boards of AASCU, the Southern Intercollegiate Association and the Educational Testing Service Advisory Board for HBCUs. She received a bachelor of science in sociology from Tougaloo College, an HBCU in Mississippi, graduated with her master’s and doctorate in sociology from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and received a master’s of business administration from Abilene Christian University.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 20, 2020

Cynthia Allen: Coronavirus has crippled efforts to stop domestic violence, especially in one key area

While many Americans are struggling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, many more are facing the cascade of unintended consequences brought about by our public policy response. Untold numbers have suffered under economic and emotional stress caused by a shuttered economy and government-imposed social isolation. In some cases, measures taken to save lives have cost them — a reality starkly apparent in the sharp and disturbing increase in domestic-violence homicides this year.

In Tarrant County, 2020 is the worst year on record for intimate partner violence. Safe Haven, a local nonprofit that focuses on domestic violence support and prevention, reports 17 intimate partner-related homicides since stay-at-home orders went into effect this year. For context, that’s more than double the total number of domestic violence homicides in the whole of 2019 (eight). And the year, and the pandemic, are far from over. Domestic violence hotlines and local police have also experienced a dramatic rise in calls about abuse, an increase that has remained steady since the virus hit. It’s a kind of “pandemic within the pandemic.” Those statistics are devastating, but they are consistent with national trends, which suggest that statewide lockdowns and limits on social interactions have created a dangerous environment for domestic violence victims.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2020

Tarrant County’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate climbs to two-month high

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Tarrant County continued to climb over the weekend. The rate of hospitalizations in the county for coronavirus patients was at 13% of all occupied beds as of Sunday. That’s the highest it has been since Aug. 9. The rate has been increasing since Sept. 18 when it had leveled off at 6%.

The rate hit a high of 20% on July 23 before consistently dropping until mid-September. For the past month, COVID hospitalizations in the county have risen. Tarrant County reported 388 new coronavirus cases and no deaths on Monday. That’s down from the previous seven-day average of almost 600 cases a day. The county has reported more than 300 cases every day in October but Oct. 5. In 12 of the 19 days, more than 400 cases have been reported. Tarrant County has confirmed 59,662 COVID cases, including 703 deaths and an estimated 48,930 recoveries.

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Texas Tribune - October 19, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott spends millions to help down-ballot Republicans in Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign is ratcheting up its down-ballot efforts in the final weeks before the November election, working to defend the Republican majority in the state House and to remind voters about the importance of electing the party’s judges farther down the ballot. In what his campaign described as a “mid-seven-figure” total expenditure, it is putting its weight behind two dozen House races and running statewide TV and radio commercials about judges. The news of the effort, detailed to The Texas Tribune, comes as early voting is underway and both sides have already invested millions of dollars in the House fight.

Abbott’s campaign is confident Republicans will beat back the Democrats’ drive to capture the majority, which would be a major prize ahead of the 2021 redistricting process. “They’re spending a lot of money — there’s no question about that — and that’s nothing we didn’t expect from Day 1,” Abbott’s chief political strategist, Dave Carney, said in an interview. He acknowledged Republicans “will lose some members,” but noted the possibility that the party could win back some seats it lost in 2018. “I think there’s zero chance that they can take control of the House,” Carney added. Democrats are currently nine seats short of the majority in the 150-member House, after picking up 12 in 2018. Some Democrats see as many as 34 seats on the November battlefield — the 12 seats that they won two years ago and now have to defend, and 22 other pickup opportunities. Abbott’s campaign has zeroed in on 24 districts. Ten of those are held by Democratic freshmen, 10 are represented by GOP incumbents and four are open seats in battleground territory.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 16, 2020

Andres Alcantar: In a pandemic, upskilling or reskilling is your best investment

(Andres Alcantar is a member of the WGU Texas Advisory Board and former Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission. This forum was submitted unsolicited.) COVID-19 has changed so many aspects of our lives in unprecedented and devastating ways, and perhaps no more tumultuously than our job and business security. Millions of Americans are out of work, and thousands of businesses across Texas have drastically downsized or even permanently closed their doors. The pandemic has accelerated the future of work dramatically shifting the workplace and creating significant new skills requirements. Both companies and employees that cannot adapt to the new norms and the advancement of technology will face a challenging future. Positions in skilled, high-wage essential work have become highly desirable, and the value of training and development has increased as businesses and employees look to secure their future. In a nutshell: upskilling and reskilling have never been a better investment.

History tells us that completing a postsecondary education is transformational. We know from past economic downturns that higher educational attainment levels lead to better jobs, workplace flexibility, benefits, and higher wages. But we have also learned that companies that invest in the upskilling of their workforce have fared better, especially during crises. Amazon is proving to be a necessity to most Americans during this pandemic, thanks in part to their ability to adapt and innovate quickly. Last year, Amazon pledged to spend $700 million on upskilling their workforce, showing that they are focused on the future: from cutting-edge coders and digital marketers to keep their online platforms in pace with demand, to reskilling employees whose jobs may soon be transformed. Amazon is not the only company who understands the value of a skilled employee: Nationwide, Home Depot, IBM, and PricewaterhouseCoopers are among the Fortune 500 who have sunk big bucks into upskilling initiatives in recent years. The time to invest in yourself or your team is now.

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Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2020

Democratic super PAC commits another $5.8 million to flip the Texas House

A Democratic super PAC focused on flipping the Texas House has doubled its commitment to flipping the Texas House, bringing its spending in legislative races to $12 million for the election cycle. The Forward Majority Action political action committee said Tuesday it was adding $5.8 million to its effort to flip 18 state house districts, mostly in Dallas and Houston, that are either open or held by GOP incumbents. That money will be spent on expanding TV, digital and mail ads in those districts and comes after the Republican State Leadership Committee pledged to spend more than Forward Majority’s $6.2 million commitment in September.

“The RSLC and Karl Rove aren’t going to call the shots in Texas in this election,” Ben Wexler-Waite, communications director for Forward Majority, said in a statement as he called the Republican organization a “GOP outside group.” Rove, a Republican political strategist who served as a senior political advisor for President George W. Bush, sits on the Republican State Leadership Committee’s board of directors. “Republicans are hemorrhaging millions on Texas state house races because they know their majority is in grave jeopardy and that this is the most important state in the country for redistricting," Wexler-Waite added. "We’ve long seen several paths to flipping the Texas House and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure Democratic legislative candidates aren’t drowned out by millions in special interest money.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in the 2018 cycle, Forward Majority’s biggest donors were LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and Washington-based dark money group The Sixteen Thirty Fund, each of which gave $1 million; and the family of Fort Worth’s David Bonderman, cofounder of the private equity giant TPG, which gave at least $937,500.

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Dallas Observer - October 19, 2020

Professor's tweet about Pence's "Little Demon Mouth" sparks Collin College controversy

On Oct. 7, Collin College history professor Lora Burnett tuned into the vice-presidential debate and began to tweet. Like many other Americans, Burnett noted the fly that made itself at home on Vice President Mike Pence’s head for a full two minutes. Like many other Americans, she pointed out his blood-red left eye. But it was this tweet that would get her in trouble with her employer.

“The moderator needs to talk over Mike Pence until he shuts his little demon mouth up,” Burnett wrote. As Plano’s Collin College has made clear, such lighthearted liberal quips aren’t welcome in solidly conservative counties. Burnett’s posts became troll fodder after they were published on Campus Reform, a conservative watchdog news site that seeks to “expose liberal bias and abuse” on college campuses. Then, Fox News grabbed the baton and ran its own piece. From there, Burnett was deluged with obscene and vulgar emails from internet trolls, she wrote in a column published by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Blustering bullies called her a Nazi, a Marxist and a pig. Soon, her college began receiving calls. Burnett claims to have warned her administration about the impending fiasco and figured that they'd be on her side. She also said she copied her college president, Neil Matkin, to her responses so he could see how she was handling the online harassment.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 19, 2020

Jelynne LeBlanc Burley: San Antonio Water System won’t raise rates in 2021

Even before joining the San Antonio Water System board of trustees in September, my familiarity with the utility went back decades. Having worked at the city of San Antonio for 24 years — including as deputy city manager, and as executive vice president and chief delivery officer for CPS Energy — I feel I am uniquely qualified for my new role as chairwoman of the SAWS board of trustees. I bring the experience that has aided me in maneuvering the red tape of municipal government to achieve new avenues for accessibility, transparency and savings for our residents and ratepayers. I plan on holding all SAWS team members accountable, because the dollars spent by SAWS are coming directly from you — the ratepayers.

However, from my short time as chairwoman, I can tell you I’ve walked into a world-class municipal utility, as recognized by its membership in the Leading Utilities of the World. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, SAWS was in an enviable financial position with stellar bond ratings that save ratepayers millions of dollars in interest on the necessary large infrastructure projects that keep the system running smoothly. On top of that, SAWS had more than a year’s worth of cash reserves for emergency use. No one could have predicted the pandemic. Yet SAWS was prepared. Seven months into this health crisis, SAWS’ financial strength helped it withstand the effects of COVID-19. It’s why SAWS is still able to suspend customer cutoffs to protect public health, while temporarily absorbing the revenue hit. No furloughs or layoffs are projected, saving local jobs and ensuring its team members can safely and effectively deliver reliable and affordable water services around the clock and take care of their families. That’s a testament to the thoughtful planning I have seen during my short time as chairwoman. Our strong financial position allows SAWS to pay the increased revenue percentage (from 2.7 percent to 4 percent) requested by the City Council in 2019, amounting to an additional $10 million to the city.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2020

District B election set for Dec. 12, nearly a year after its original date

At long last, voters in the north Houston neighborhoods that make up City Council’s District B will get to select a new representative in December. Visiting state District Judge Grant Dorfman on Monday ordered the long-delayed runoff to be held Saturday, Dec. 12, almost exactly a year after the election was originally scheduled last year. Tarsha Jackson, a criminal justice organizer, and Cynthia Bailey, a neighborhood advocate, will face off in the election. That is the same date for any runoffs necessitated by the Nov. 3 general election.

The District B race has been held up amid contentious litigation filed by the third-place finisher in last year’s general election, Renee Jefferson-Smith. She filed two lawsuits contesting Bailey’s eligibility for public office, arguing her 2007 felony conviction for theft was disqualifying. The Texas Election Code bars people with felony convictions from running for office unless they have been pardoned or otherwise “released from the resulting disabilities.” The law does not clearly define that phrase, which has led to varying interpretations. Bailey has asserted she is eligible because she completed her sentence. While no judge ever ruled on the merits of Bailey’s eligibility, an appeals court in August upheld a lower court ruling that the city did not err by failing to remove Bailey from the ballot because her ineligibility was not conclusively proved. Jefferson-Smith declined to continue the appeals process, effectively ending the dispute.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2020

The Fort Worth Cats were supposed to be playing ball at LaGrave soon. What happened?

After the Tarrant Regional Water District canceled the latest effort to breathe new life into LaGrave Field, it is unclear what will happen to the deteriorating stadium and if the Fort Worth Cats will ever return. The district’s board of director’s in May 2019 approved a 10-year agreement with the Save LaGrave Foundation to rehab the stadium and bring minor league baseball back to the city. But in September the board unanimously voted to end the agreement and request new proposals on the advice of legal counsel, which said Save LaGrave had not met the requirements of the agreement by an August deadline.

Though the latest plan to save the field north of downtown has ended, Jim Lane, a water district board member and former Fort Worth councilman who has championed LaGrave, remains adamant baseball will return to the North Side. “I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Lane said. “It’s just a question of who.” Last year Scott Berry, a Decatur lawyer and president of Save LaGrave Foundation, was optimistic about the deal. Though the foundation needed at lease $3.5 million to repair the abandoned stadium, he said he was confident donors would come through and work would begin in time to have baseball in the park as early as this year. Berry did not return a call for comment. Under the agreement signed in May 2019, the foundation should have spent at least $1.5 million on capital improvements within 18 months. The foundation then had to spend an additional $1.5 million over the following 18 months to bring the 4,100-seat stadium back to life. Save LaGrave was also to provide the water district with an upfront 10-year rent payment of $1.75 million.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2020

Fort Worth city council member arrested, accused of driving while intoxicated

Fort Worth city council member Cary Moon was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in Burleson, CBS 11 reported. Moon sent the following statement to CBS 11 Monday afternoon: “Thank you to those who have offered support. At this time, we are not able to discuss details of the case. I will be responsible for my actions and own up to any personal or legal failures.”

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National Stories

San Antonio Express-News - October 20, 2020

Oil industry unlikely to recover until 2022

The U.S. oil industry may not fully recover from the COVID-19 economic downturn until 2022, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The energy sector has climbed back somewhat from the historic collapse in oil prices and demand earlier this year. But a resurgence in COVID-19 cases and slower-than-expected economic recovery is bogging down its recovery. “It’s going to take time for demand for oil products to come back,” said Pia Orrenius, a senior economist at the Dallas Fed. “Even with a vaccine, by the time you get a vaccine distributed, and you get businesses beginning to plan business travel and households and families begin to travel, it’s going to take a while to ramp back up.”

U.S. oil producers were projected to produce 13 million barrels of oil per day prior to the pandemic. But with oil prices steadily hovering around $40 per barrel — down from around $55 dollar per barrel at the beginning of 2020 — oil production may not reach 11 million barrels per day until the end of 2021, the Dallas Fed reported. The International Energy Agency, meanwhile, projects global energy demand will not reach pre-pandemic levels until between 2023 and 2025. Yet, the number of oil and gas rigs in operation has inched up in recent weeks, one sign that oil production could pick up in the coming months. The rig count last week increased to 282, up 13 from the week prior. In the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, 16 rigs are in operation, an increase of three in the last week, according to oil field services firm Baker Hughes and Enverus, an energy research firm. Still, there were nearly 800 rigs in operation in the U.S. in January. “It means hopefully that we’ve bottomed out in terms of production in Texas in the energy sector,” Orrenius said. “But does it mean we’re out of the woods? No, I don’t believe so, because we need demand to recover. “We still think production is going to be flat going into next year.”

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New York Times - October 19, 2020

U.S. charges Russian intelligence officers in major cyberattacks

The Justice Department on Monday announced indictments of six Russian military intelligence officers in connection with major hacks worldwide, including of the Winter Olympics and elections in France as well as an attack in 2017 aimed at destabilizing Ukraine that spread rapidly and was blamed for billions of dollars in damage. Prosecutors said the suspects were from the same Russian unit that conducted one of the Kremlin’s major operations to interfere in the 2016 American election: the theft of Democratic emails. They attacked the 2017 French presidential elections; targeted British authorities investigating the poisoning of a Russian former intelligence operative and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea; and hacked the Ukrainian Parliament, finance ministry and electrical grid, according to court documents.

The case was another effort by Trump administration officials to punish Russia for its meddling in other countries’ affairs, even as President Trump has adopted a more accommodating stance toward Moscow. The charges did not address 2020 election interference; American intelligence agencies have assessed that Russia is trying to influence the vote in November. “No country has weaponized its cybercapabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” said John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security. In a dig at President Vladimir V. Putin’s claims that he is restoring Russia to greatness, Mr. Demers added, “No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way.” Prosecutors said the suspects worked for Unit 74455 of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, commonly referred to as the G.R.U. Known among cybersecurity analysts as Sandworm, the unit worked hand in hand with another G.R.U. unit, known as Fancy Bear, to leak Democrats’ stolen emails during the 2016 election, embarrassing Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the final stretch. One of the suspects charged in the newly unsealed indictments, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, was indicted two years ago on charges announced by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, over his suspected role in the 2016 election meddling.

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Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2020

Spy chief weighs in on Hunter Biden laptop dispute, says NY Post story isn’t Russian disinformation

Director of National Intelligence and former Texas congressman John Ratcliffe said Monday on Fox Business Network’s Mornings with Maria there is no intelligence supporting claims that a New York Post story raising questions about Democrat Joe Biden’s relationship with Ukraine is part of a Russian disinformation effort. “Let me be clear, the intelligence community doesn’t believe that because there’s no intelligence that supports that,” said Ratcliffe, the former representative of the 4th Congressional District in northeast Texas. Democrats warned during Ratcliffe’s confirmation hearings in May that he could have a distorted view of intelligence due to his loyalty to President Donald Trump.

The story centers around an email of questionable authenticity that the Post says it retrieved from a hard drive from a laptop provided by Trump’s lawyer Rudi Giuliani, who has repeatedly pushed unfounded claims about the Bidens. In the email, Vadym Pozharskyi thanked Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, for “for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure.” Pozharskyi was an adviser to Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden once served on the board of directors. When asked if the email is legitimate, Ratcliffe said he knew “little” about the contents of the hard drive but that the intelligence community is not investigating the emails as part of a Russian disinformation campaign. That statement contradicts reports from NBC, the AP, the Daily Beast and USA Today that the FBI is investigating the possibility that the hard drive is part of a Russian disinformation effort targeting the 2020 election. The FBI took custody of the laptop and an external hard drive as early as December, according to the Post.

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CNN - October 19, 2020

Jeffrey Toobin suspended from New Yorker, on leave from CNN, after accidentally exposing himself on Zoom call

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal analyst and a renowned reporter for The New Yorker, has been sidelined at a pivotal moment in the run-up to the presidential election. The reason: He exposed himself during a Zoom call with colleagues in what he says was an accident. The New Yorker said that it had suspended Toobin following the incident, and said it was investigating the matter. The suspension was first reported by Vice on Monday.

A spokesperson for CNN said "Jeff Toobin has asked for some time off while he deals with a personal issue, which we have granted." Neither news outlet said how long Toobin would be out. Ordinarily Toobin would be busy covering a controversial Supreme Court confirmation and an election that could end up being challenged on legal grounds. An upcoming event relating to Toobin's recent book about Trump was also postponed on Monday. Toobin declined to comment to a CNN Business reporter, instead pointing to his statements to Vice, which indicated that the incident was an accident. "I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake, believing I was off-camera," Toobin said. "I apologize to my wife, family, friends and co-workers. I believed I was not visible on Zoom," he added. "I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me. I thought I had muted the Zoom video."

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Mediaite - October 20, 2020

Fox News passed on Hunter Biden laptop story over credibility concerns

Mediaite has learned that Fox News was first approached by Rudy Giuliani to report on a tranche of files alleged to have come from Hunter Biden’s unclaimed laptop left at a Delaware computer repair shop, but that the news division chose not to run the story unless or until the sourcing and veracity of the emails could be properly vetted. With the general election just three weeks away, Giuliani ultimately brought the story to the New York Post, which shares the same owner, Rupert Murdoch.

The tabloid has been exhaustively covering the contents of the laptop — which include everything from emails regarding Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian company to personal photos of the recovering addict — with each morsel being amplified in the conservative media world, including on Fox News’ top-rated opinion programs. Thus far, the Fox’s News division has only been able to verify one email from the tranche leaked. The former New York City mayor and personal attorney to President Donald Trump has long had a working relationship with Fox News, the cable news network whose opinion shows have an overwhelmingly pro-Trump point of view. But according to two sources familiar with the matter, the lack of authentication of Hunter Biden’s alleged laptop, combined with established concerns about Giuliani as a reliable source and his desire for unvetted publication, led the network’s news division to pass. Fox News declined to comment on this story. Some of Fox News’ top news anchors and reporters have distanced themselves from the story. During an on-air report that largely focused on how social media platforms handled this story, Bret Baier said, “Let’s say, just not sugarcoat it. The whole thing is sketchy.”

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Wall Street Journal - October 20, 2020

Partisan sites posing as local news expand ahead of election

The Copper Courier in Arizona and the Decatur Times in Alabama both describe themselves as startup news sites helping to fill the void from the decline of local news outlets across the U.S. In fact, they are both the fruit of partisan efforts to shape the news narrative, from the left and the right, ahead of the 2020 election. The Copper Courier is part of a network of eight sites launched in battleground states, backed largely by Acronym, a liberal nonprofit with close ties to Democratic donors. Acronym has been building out the network, called Courier Newsroom, over the past 18 months. As of May, the sites had an $11 million budget and aimed to publish around 300 original articles and videos a week that it would promote aggressively on social media, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The Decatur Times is part of Metric Media, a network of sites with ties to well-established Republican donors and operatives, including the head of the GOP small-dollar fundraising operation, according to Federal Election Commission records and people familiar with the matter. Metric Media already has more than 1,000 sites, including many in swing states, that blend right-leaning news stories with news releases and data scraped from public databases. The digital news landscape is filled with outlets that have a slant on the news. What separates networks such as Courier and Metric Media is that they are targeting individual states and cities, hoping to capitalize on readers’ trust in local news sources for information on everything from coronavirus updates to politics. And they are doing that while playing down their partisan interests and often obscuring their donors. Their rise, which comes as many local news organizations are radically downsizing or shutting down, is adding to an already noisy news marketplace where determining the provenance and accuracy of information is increasingly difficult for consumers.

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Newsclips - October 19, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2020

Cornyn defended Trump for siphoning Pentagon budget to pay for border wall, but now claims he was against it

Sen. John Cornyn, trying to distance himself from President Donald Trump as Election Day looms, now says he opposed siphoning off billions from the Pentagon in order to build the border wall, a claim that directly contradicts multiple statements defending that budget maneuver. In February, for instance, he argued that congressional Democrats had left Trump no choice by refusing to authorize wall funding. “I believe border security is part of national security. So I support the efforts to accomplish that secure border,” Cornyn told reporters on Feb. 20, asked about Trump’s recent move to siphon another $3.8 billion from the Pentagon’s budget. “The president’s left with a bad hand and has to play the best hand he can.”

But Friday, 18 days before voters decide whether to give him a fourth term or replace him with Democrat MJ Hegar, Cornyn met with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board and insisted otherwise. Describing himself as “very much a defense hawk,” Cornyn maintained that he opposed shifting money from the defense budget to build the wall. Cornyn aides did not respond to requests to explain the discrepancy between the senator’s public statements on the topic and his new assertion that he opposed siphoning Pentagon funds. “This is a blatant lie,” said Billy Begala of the Texas Democratic Party. The Trump administration has taken nearly $10 billion from the defense budget to pay for border security, using military construction funds and other accounts. In February the Pentagon shifted $3.8 billion intended by Congress to pay for fighter jets, shipbuilding and National Guard equipment. In July, a 5-4 Supreme Court allowed the use of such funds to continue, overturning rulings from lower courts in Texas and California.

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Houston Chronicle - October 18, 2020

Harris County Republicans have benefited from mail ballots in recent elections, analysis shows

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to drive millions of Americans to vote by mail this year, a shift that data suggest is underway even in Texas, where only some voters are allowed to cast mail ballots. Texas’ Republican leaders this year have fought efforts to expand mail balloting or have questioned its integrity, with some echoing President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that mail ballots are a source of rampant fraud. And yet, historically, mail ballots in Harris County clearly have favored Republicans, a Houston Chronicle analysis of election data shows. Though the GOP presidential candidate narrowly lost Harris County in 2008 and 2012, for example, the Republican ticket won three quarters of the 300 voting precincts in which the most mail ballots were cast in both elections.

That trend held even in 2016, when Trump lost the county badly but still won two-thirds of the 100 voting precincts in which the most mail ballots were cast. What most drives the partisan skew in mail ballots, University of Houston political scientist Jeronimo Cortina said, is Texas’ status as one of the few states to require voters younger than 65 to have an excuse to cast a ballot by mail. “The constituency of the Republican Party tends to be older,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that Republicans are more likely to vote by mail just because they’re Republicans, but maybe because being Republican is correlated with other demographics that make you more likely to vote by mail, in comparison to Democrats.” As of Friday, more than 241,500 Harris County residents had requested mail ballots — more than twice the 2016 figure — and some 58,400 people already had returned them. An analysis of the precincts driving the increase in mail ballot requests suggests no obvious partisan advantage. Just 0.2 percent of mail voters hand-delivered their ballots during the low-turnout July primary runoff. However, concerns about postal service delays helped drive 13 percent of mail voters to deliver their ballots to the county election headquarters at NRG Park as of Friday.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 16, 2020

John Moritz: House divided: No matter what party wins majority, minority will have voice

Whichever party emerges from the Nov. 3 election with control of the Texas House, the Legislature's lower chamber could be as evenly divided as it's been in nearly 15 years. Republicans are scrambling to hold onto the majority they won in 2002 when for the first time since Reconstruction they wrested the House from Democratic rule. And in doing so, they assumed complete control of state government, leaving Democrats in Austin to play nothing but defense ever since. But structural weaknesses in the GOP majority were made plain two years ago when Democrats wrested away 12 House seats from the Republicans. And during the 2020 election cycle, they've set their sights on some 18 more, in hopes of winning the nine seats needed to secure the majority.

A poll released Thursday by a boutique news site called Reform Austin looked at some 22 competitive districts – five presently held by Democrats and 17 by Republicans – and found that Democrats are positioned to win five of the GOP seats and have opportunities to pick up six more without losing any of their own. According to the news site, more than 400 likely voters were polled in each district using an electronic voice-response system. That means the respondents did not actually talk to a poll-taker, but instead indicated their responses by pushing numbers on their telephone keypads. Time will tell how reliable the methodology proves, but a Democrat in the thick of the party's effort win the House said the findings are consistent with what's being learned on the ground in targeted districts around the state. That would leave the party with a three-seat majority in the 150-member House. The odds are such a majority would produce a Democratic speaker. But because in Texas, unlike in Congress, speakers' races are a free-for-all, it would be possible for enough Republicans to unite behind their preferred Democrat and essentially choose the speaker.

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Reuters - October 18, 2020

House Speaker Pelosi 'optimistic' on coronavirus relief deal before U.S. election

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday differences remain with President Donald Trump’s administration on a wide-ranging coronavirus relief package but she was optimistic legislation could be pushed through before Election Day. Pelosi, the top elected Democrat, said she wanted a bill passed before the Nov. 3 presidential election between Republican Trump and Democrat Joe Biden but acknowledged an agreement would have to come within 48 hours for that to happen. “I’m optimistic because, again, we’ve been back and forth on all of this,” Pelosi said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week.”

However, with her negotiating partner, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, in the Middle East until Tuesday, a deal appears to be a long shot. The White House proposed a $1.8 trillion stimulus last week to help Americans struggling with the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. Pelosi said the offer fell short in a range of areas including tax credits for poor people, aid to state and local governments, worker protections and rent help. She has stuck to her demand for a $2.2 trillion aid and stimulus package. The Republicans who control the Senate, however, are loath to pass another giant relief bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would vote on Wednesday on a pared-down $500 billion proposal to target specific areas of need. Democrats have rejected so-called skinny bills with pared-down funding, saying much more is needed.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2020

Texas leans Republican, but Democrats poised for across-the-board gains

The first week of early voting confirms what many political analysts already knew. Texas is a state that leans Republican, but the political climate gives Democrats a serious chance at flipping the Texas House and winning a statewide race. Inside the Lone Star State’s legislative districts, Democrats are poised to roll up impressive victories in the suburbs, especially outside of Dallas. In those areas they are boosted by the unpopularity of President Donald Trump, a surge of base Democratic voters, and new Texas voters with a history of voting for Democrats in other states.

While what I’m writing will ruffle Trump loyalists and others ignoring the trends, it’s not shocking to Democratic Party or GOP operatives on the ground. Just like 2018, when they made gains in the Texas Legislature and Congress, the political climate is conducive for a change election. The biggest question: How prepared are Democrats to take advantage of a unique political opportunity? “It’s perfect weather for them,” Republican consultant Bill Miller said of Democrats, adding that it would be a crushing letdown if they didn’t win a statewide election or seize the Texas House. “This should be their best round of golf.” The early voting numbers tell the story. While there are still two weeks left, Democrats are out-voting Republicans in the overwhelming majority of state House races in the Dallas area. Some Dallas House races are certainly longshots at best for the GOP, including House District 108, where a surge of Democratic Party and anti-Trump voters is expected to lift Joanna Cattanach of Dallas over Republican incumbent Morgan Meyer of University Park.

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Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Why did Texas strip protections for LGBTQ and disabled from social worker code?

The language in the Texas social workers code of conduct couldn’t be any clearer or more obviously necessary. The code lays out 13 areas of what constitutes professional behavior, the first among them being the following: A social worker shall not refuse to perform any act or service for which the person is licensed solely on the basis of a client’s age; gender; race; color; religion; national origin; disability; sexual orientation; gender identity and expression; or political affiliation.

We should say that code was in the state’s code of conduct. As Washington correspondent Paul Cobler pointed out in a story last week, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and the state board overseeing social work stripped the sexual orientation, gender identity and disability protections from the code. The ostensible reason here was to make the administrative code used by state licensing agencies conform to state statute. Let’s set aside for a moment what that says about the state statute and instead focus on whether this change was really as necessary as the governor’s office has claimed. First, national standards for social workers plainly require that they not discriminate against the people they are trying to help on the basis of those protections now removed from the state code. And having those protections within the state code should not have trumped the statute had the question ever arisen, much less federal protections. It’s hard to credit the idea expressed by both the governor’s office and the state’s Behavioral Health Executive Council that this was just cleaning up a technical misalignment between code and statute — especially in a state where not so long ago the Legislature was held in thrall by a bill governing public bathroom usage by private citizens.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2020

Colin Allred accuses Genevieve Collins of darkening his skin in her campaign mailers

Democratic U.S. Rep. Colin Allred on Sunday accused Republican rival Genevieve Collins of darkening his skin in her campaign mailers. “You’ve been fearmongering throughout this campaign about not only me, but also what’s going to happen if I get reelected, that I’m going to try and defund the police,” Allred told Collins during a virtual debate sponsored by the American Jewish Committee-Dallas. The debate began at 6 p.m.

“You’ve darkened my skin in mailers. That’s not who we are here in North Texas, and so I think you should be responsible for what you’ve done in your advertisements as well … I don’t think that’s what reflects the attitude that I’m hearing here tonight.” Collins did not respond to the charge during the debate, but Collins' campaign manager, Rob Costello, vehemently denied darkening Allred’s skin in the mailers. “No,” he said when asked if Allred’s claim was true. “Absolutely not.” One of the mailers in question features a photoshopped image of Allred, with a microphone in his hand, standing in front of what appears to be looters and burning property. “Collin Allred is putting our families in danger,” the mailer reads. Another campaign mailer has a photoshopped image of Allred standing with his arms folded and eyes squinted. Protesters are in the background. The Congressional District 32 contest has become contentious in recent weeks, with Collins dubbing Allred as an “ineffective, party line politician,” and Allred contending that she’s lying about his record and running a campaign of distortions because she doesn’t have a positive record of her own. The question of whether Collins' campaign mailer features a darkened Allred came as the candidates debated policing reforms.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2020

Dem Senate hopeful MJ Hegar stumps in North Texas, seeks to put spat with Royce West in rearview mirror

MJ Hegar on Sunday embarked on an aggressive North Texas get-out-the vote tour, where she moved to shore up her standing with Black residents and fire up suburban voters who have become part of the Democratic Party’s emerging coalition. “I grew up in a place that was largely ignored,” Hegar said during a news conference at the Disciple Central Community Church in DeSoto. “I think all of Texas is incredibly important … I’ve had a determination to not leave families like mine out of the conversation. So, we don’t look at where’s the highest return on investment.”

The DeSoto church, inside one of the highest-voting precincts in Dallas County, was Hegar’s first stop. There she met with several Black leaders who voiced support for her in the aftermath of her public spat with state Sen. Royce West of Dallas.Hegar did not call West, whom she defeated in a tight runoff race to win the Senate nomination, to bring him on board her campaign against Republican Sen. John Cornyn. The perceived snub defied a traditional political practice that would have been a symbol of unity for the party. At a televised debate with Cornyn earlier this month, Hegar insisted that she didn’t seek endorsements from leaders, and that she was taking her case directly to Black voters. Later that night, West said he wasn’t voting in that race. After Cornyn dropped a television ad to exploit the controversy for political gain, an infuriated West blasted Cornyn as not the best choice for Black voters. He added that he would vote for the entire Democratic Party ticket, though he didn’t name Hegar. West said Sunday afternoon he had no further comment beyond his earlier statement. On Sunday, Hegar called the political drama a “bump in the road” and said that most people outside the political “echo chamber” were curious about other, substantive issues.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2020

John Dickson: Russians are trying to disrupt the election by going after the most vulnerable component: Voters

(John B. Dickson is a principal with Denim Group, an expert on digital security and a former president of the Texas Lyceum.) Elections are the most fragile component of our democracy and the most vulnerable to influence. Although much has been written about election security and hacking voting machines, I worry that the most vulnerable facet of our election is the electorate itself. As we rapidly approach the November presidential election, we should prepare ourselves for what many anticipate will be the most contested in our lifetimes. The voting process, always an imperfect function, will likely undergo scrutiny like none previously seen in our country. Not since the 2000 Bush vs. Gore presidential contest and its hanging chad in Florida will there be more at stake. However, unlike in 2000, this year we know there are external actors who will use these conflicts to try to kill a crucial component of our democracy: faith in the legitimacy of elections and their outcomes.

These external actors, namely nation states like Russia and China, learned in 2016 that they could undermine confidence in the outcomes of our election, and do so largely without consequence. The Russians and others have targeted social media platforms to deliver what they call “influence operations.” They are less concerned about which president takes office and more concerned about sowing disruption and undermining our confidence in the election and democracy. I believe that in 2020, our country is better prepared for external interference in the election itself than we were in 2016. The Department of Homeland Security has deemed election infrastructure part of our nation’s critical infrastructure. State and local elections officials are aware and more prepared for a nation state attack on their systems. Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other tech companies are on high alert and have already identified and deleted numerous accounts associated with troll farms run by certain nation states. We do not have to be willing participants in efforts to undermine our democracy via attacks on election infrastructure and social media platforms. There are several straightforward things we can do as voters to prepare ourselves for the worst and to make our election less vulnerable to outside influence.

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Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2020

Dallas County reports 554 more confirmed coronavirus cases, 3 deaths; Tarrant logs 501 new cases

Dallas County reported 554 more confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday including 516 which the county considers new and 38 from previous months. Three new COVID-19 deaths were also reported. Labs either report coronavirus cases directly to the county health department or to the state health department, which then relays the information to individual counties. Of cases reported Sunday, Dallas County health officials said 390 came from the state’s reporting system, including one from June, five from July, 26 from August, six from September and 352 from October. The remaining 164 cases were reported directly to the county health department.

The latest victims included a Garland woman in her 30s who died on an “interstate airline flight,” according to the county. A spokeswoman said she couldn’t release further details about the case, citing the need to protect the woman’s medical privacy. The remaining victims were a Glenn Heights woman in her 50s and a Dallas man in his 50s who had each been hospitalized. All three had underlying high-risk health conditions. Tarrant County reported 501 coronavirus cases and no new deaths Sunday. The newly reported cases bring the county’s total to 59,274, including 54,025 confirmed cases, 5,249 probable cases and 48,688 recoveries. The death toll stands at 703. According to Sunday’s numbers on the county dashboard, 463 people are hospitalized with the virus.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 18, 2020

First heart transplant at Dell Children’s gives life to new program and a boy

At 9:30 p.m. Oct. 2, Dr. Chesney Castleberry got the call. A new heart was being offered to 18-year-old Gerardo, who had been in heart failure for almost a year and had been turned away from being listed by another hospital in Texas. She called his family that night and told them to be at the hospital at 5 a.m., that she was 90% sure he would get the heart transplant they had been praying for the next morning.

“Please give us this opportunity to have him a little bit longer,” his mom, Myrna, remembers praying. “It was a gift from God,” she says, and the best birthday present for her. His family prayed and lighted a candle for him. They could not sleep. Gerardo’s family didn’t know he had a heart condition until he collapsed on the soccer field at school in 2017. Doctors discovered he was born with an abnormal valve, but he also had a thickening of his heart muscle caused by Danon disease, which was affecting both sides of his heart. Danon puts him at risk for sudden cardiac arrest, and Castleberry says that when she meets boys with Danon disease, they are automatically talking about a heart transplant. The family knew a transplant was going to be needed, but they thought they had more time. Last fall, he didn’t have any energy and wasn’t eating (and this was a kid who would take six trips to the buffet line). He was officially in heart failure. On Aug. 1, he passed out twice in a shopping center parking lot and was taken by ambulance to Dell Children’s Medical Center. Since then, he has been in the cardiac care unit.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 18, 2020

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: A democracy under siege needs Joe Biden

The stakes in this year’s presidential election could not be more consequential. The contrast between the candidates could not be more stark. And the right choice could not be clearer. That choice is Joe Biden. Our nation teeters on a precarious perch. We have seen how fragile our way of life can be. As the deadly coronavirus pandemic rages, our democratic norms and institutions are also under assault under President Donald Trump’s unrelenting attacks. They strike at our core — the fundamentals of governance, our elections, a free press, our relationships around the world. Four more years of his leadership could spell disaster for our democracy.

Trump sows divisions for personal and political gain. Leaders should unite, not divide. Joe Biden embodies the values we have been missing and which we desperately need to heal. He brings the legislative and executive branch experience needed to get our elected officials back to working for the benefit of we the people. The safety of the American people did not appear to factor into Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which has been a staggering failure. Biden vows to handle the greatest public health threat of our lifetime with honesty and empathy, letting science and data guide his response, and working in tandem with states. That is the smart and prudent response we expect from a leader in a time of national crisis. As we know from his own words, Trump let the American people down. He knew the true and deadly threat of the coronavirus as early as February — before the first confirmed virus death in the U.S. Yet, he concealed the threat and downplayed it publicly, belittling those who wore masks for protection and contradicting his own experts. Even after contracting the virus himself, Trump continues this dangerous and deliberate deception, asserting the virus is nothing to be afraid of.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 16, 2020

Ken Herman: Prosecutors tee up question for Paxton

As if Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton doesn’t have enough on his plate — what with facing a pending indictment and a possible future one — he now has to wrestle with something else thrown his way by prosecutors. This one, via a pair of Montgomery County crime fighters, could be a matter of lives and deaths. The question is simple: What’s the deal with golf carts on the streets?

Montgomery County District Attorney Brett W. Ligon and Montgomery County Attorney B.D. Griffin have asked for the AG’s official opinion on whether one needs a driver’s license to operate a golf cart on a public street on which they’re legal in Texas. This is unrelated to the kerfuffle I recently wrote about concerning whether it’s legal to operate three-wheeled eTuks in the Great State of Texas. Paxton, via an opinion request, also was dragged into that one. In this case, we all know what Ligon and Griffin are talking about. You’ve seen golf carts on the street. Sometimes we can tell if the occupants are headed to the golf course, perhaps to work on their putting, or just puttering around town. In general, plaid shorts indicate a bona fide trip to the golf course. But, as Ligon and Griffin recount for Paxton in the opinion request, the Texas Legislature’s attempts to sort all this out have left confusion as to whether golf cart drivers need a driver’s license. It is believed this is the only time in the history of Texas that something our legislators did left confusion. (To be clear here, golf cart drivers do not need a license to operate a driver or any other club in their bag.)

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San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: S.A. advertising legend lends his talents to the Lincoln Project

Lionel Sosa lined up at the San Antonio College polling site an hour before the start of early voting Tuesday morning and cast his ballot for Joe Biden. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about that fact, unless you consider that Sosa, a San Antonio advertising legend, worked on Latino marketing for seven Republican presidential campaigns from 1980 to 2008. In 1978, Sosa saved the political career of the late Republican Sen. John Tower with a Spanish-language commercial that boosted Tower’s Latino support from the single digits to 37 percent. In 2004, he helped George W. Bush garner more than 40 percent of the Latino vote in Bush’s successful re-election campaign.

Sosa, 81, still considers himself a Republican, but he’s definitely a disaffected one. For more than a decade, this child of Mexican immigrants has expressed frustration with what he regards as his party’s callous and hypocritically hawkish stance on the border. That frustration, however, grew to full-blown animosity in 2016, as Sosa watched Donald Trump make it to the White House by demonizing Mexican undocumented immigrants and promising to build a coast-to-coast border wall paid for by Mexico. This year, Sosa has joined forces with the Lincoln Project, a group of veteran GOP strategists employing their battle-honed messaging skills to bring down Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress. Sosa had long-standing friendships with several members of the Lincoln Project team, going back to shared experiences working for George W. Bush. One of those friends, Mike Madrid, the former political director for the California Republican Party, approached Sosa with the idea of joining the Lincoln Project.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 19, 2020

H-E-B cuts ties with Dallas advertising firm after founder's racist remarks

H-E-B has cut ties with a Dallas advertising firm after a report that its founder made racist remarks in a meeting. During a creative review, Richards Group founder Stan Richards said that a proposed ad for Motel 6 was "too Black" and would not resonate with the company's "significant white supremacist constituents," according to Ad Age, an advertising and marketing magazine. Richards, 87, stepped down Thursday after Motel 6 and several other clients severed ties with the agency.

"The derogatory and racially charged remarks made by Stan Richards have no place at H-E-B nor in the communities we serve," the San Antonio-based grocer said in a statement. "As soon as we learned about this egregious incident, we commenced discussions with The Richards Group and have since ended our business relationship with the agency." The agency had penned a number of commercials for H-E-B since the mid-2000s, including Super Bowl spots and the popular series featuring San Antonio Spurs players. Richards' remarks about the Motel 6 campaign came during an internal Zoom meeting on Oct. 8. He signed off abruptly after some of the stunned attendees challenged him, Ad Age reported, before apologizing to hundreds of employees the following day. "If this was a publicly held company, I’d be fired for the comments I made. But we’re not public, so I am firing myself," Richards told Bloomberg. "Our employees, first and foremost, deserve that."

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Politifact Texas - October 19, 2020

Fact check: Gov. Abbott says Austin property crime rising after police budget cut

The claim: “Property crime rising in Austin. This is the kind of thing that happens when cities defund and deemphasize police. Residents are left to fend for themselves.” — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Abbott made the statement on Twitter on Oct. 1 as part of his sustained campaign to criticize the Austin City Council’s decision to cut funding to its police department. PolitiFact ruling: Mostly False. Total property crimes have actually dropped 2 percent in the city, compared with last year. And researchers have demonstrated that the size of police forces is not directly related to crime.

The tweet cited an advisory from the Austin Police Department warning residents to secure their homes before going on a trip. The article noted 2,983 burglaries had occurred through the first eight months of this year — an 11-percent increase over the first eight months of last year, according to the Austin Police Department’s August crime report. But burglary is not the only form of property crime, and Abbott’s assertion that property crime is rising in Austin fails to take that into account. Property crime generally has been falling in Austin, with the notable recent exceptions of 2018 and 2019. So far this year, property crime has dropped slightly. And Abbott’s attempt to link crime to the City Council’s budget decision misses the mark. Each month, the Austin Police Department posts to its website the Chief’s Monthly Report, which tallies the number and category of crimes officers respond to each month. The 2,983 burglaries cited in Abbott’s tweet comprise 9 percent of all property crimes recorded through August. Other crimes that fall into this category include shoplifting, credit card fraud, embezzlement and vandalism. Austin police responded to nearly 34,000 total property crimes through August, which is a 2 percent drop compared with 2019. According to FBI data, property crime in Austin increased in 2018 by 8.5 percent and in 2019 by 8.7 percent.

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Daily Beast - October 18, 2020

Texas Governor Abbott opened the bars and Lone Star Republicans still hate him

After a summer surge that devastated the state’s plans to cut back on restrictions, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has tried to put his state back on the reopening track. In late August, he hinted at new reopening plans being on the way before rolling out an executive order in September that boosted the capacity allowed in places like restaurants and shops. And last week Abbott took action on bars in the state, which he had ordered closed back in late June amid the surge, saying the venues could soon reopen at as high as 50 percent capacity in most places if their county’s judge agreed to the move. But none of that has stopped some key figures in Abbott’s own party from picking him apart after the Texas Republican Party faithful on the state’s Republican Executive Committee called last month to see the state fully reopened from his measures.

Stephen Broden, a member of the committee who is also a pastor, said he was “disappointed” in Abbott and “disgusted with his methodology and his approach.” And Ruth Cremin, who serves as the party’s executive committeewoman in Senate District 24 went even further, saying the government overreach is ruining the state and that Abbott is “not acting at all like a Republican.” “I wouldn't vote for him to be anything at this point,” she said. Last weekend the chairman of the state GOP made clear at a rally near the governor’s mansion in Austin that the party wanted more from their chief executive. Speaking to the attendees, Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West read through a resolution that he said had been passed overwhelmingly by the state's GOP executive committee on Sept. 19 that called on Abbott to “immediately rescind all COVID-related mandates, closures and restrictions to open Texas now.” As he started speaking, some in the crowd chanted “West for Governor,” though the chairman downplayed the show of enthusiasm, according to a YouTube video of his comments posted by the state party.

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Texas Jewish Post - October 16, 2020

Keeping party politics out of the pews at Beth-El

A political clash was on the horizon and Rabbi Brian Zimmerman of Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth had to prevent it. Two members of his congregation in the southwest part of the city were running for the same seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Democrat Elizabeth Beck first had to defeat primary opponent Dr. Dan Willis in the primary. Both had sought to take on Rep. Craig Goldman, a four-term state Republican incumbent. The race, which Beck ultimately won, was tight to take on Goldman, whose seat is among state Democrats’ top targets. Nationally, Democrats had just seen two prominent Jewish presidential candidates — former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont — duke it out for the nomination before ceding it to former Vice President Joe Biden.

So, figuring he was not alone, Zimmerman asked clergy colleagues from across the country what to do. “Every one of them said no, they hadn’t faced this issue,” he said during a morning Rosh Hashanah sermon. He bounced the question off Rabbi David Segal, a visiting scholar for Selichot. Rabbi Segal is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s lead organizer for Texas. “He was at a loss. And he’s not usually at a loss,” Zimmerman said. So, having to go at it alone, he had an idea about preventing divisiveness over the political battle. Beck and Goldman would each walk down the aisles and sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary. They would then hold the Torah and march through the temple while congregants reflected on the candidates’ commitment to the country. The goal was to get the members to ask, “How can we be our best Beth-El selves?” Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing the temple to move to online High Holiday services, shelving that vision. Yet Zimmerman beams with pride at having two candidates as members of Beth-El Congregation. “How many Jews live in Fort Worth? A few thousand. This is really incredible. Let’s not be so jaded that we don’t realize how incredible this is. Two leaders from the same temple running for the same position in Fort Worth, Texas. In our broken country, this is something to feel proud of. Let’s take a moment to feel the awe and wonder of this experience in our collective history.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 16, 2020

Investors in Texas tiny homes are reaping big rewards during COVID

Waco’s most famous destination is a former cotton oil mill reimagined as a home-decor store. The unusual set up is part of the allure. Chip and Joanna Gaines, who oversaw the conversion, are famous for transforming old homes into places that feel one-of-a-kind, and an estimated 50,000 visitors a week from around the world travel to see, first hand, the example of their handiwork: proof that unique design can turn a building into a destination. Waco residents Kenneth Wheeler and his son, Amos Wheeler — who have worked with the Gaineses more than once — have taken the lesson to heart. They, too, fashion homes that exude a combination of minimalism and homeyness, with shiplap aplenty, as well as a twist: all of their homes are miniature, made of shipping containers the size of a hotel room. Just like hotel rooms, most are for rent.

Unlike hotel rooms, however, the tiny-home rental business is booming during the era of social distance, a pandemic-proof investment during a period that has put traditional hotels deep in the red. A quirky rental that combines the affordability of a hotel room with a distance from neighbors associated with a cabin or single-family home has become a destination in itself this pandemic. Even before COVID, tiny homes — and the Wheelers’ tiny homes in particular — were catching the eyes of travelers like the ones flocking to the former mill. In a report released in February, Airbnb announced one of the double-decker container homes built and managed by the family’s companies was among the Top 5 wish-listed tiny houses in the world. Bookings for tiny homes in general were already up 85 percent in 2020 compared to the year before, said Airbnb. “With sustainable travel in focus, more travelers are taking the minimalist approach when it comes to planning their getaways this year,” the report said. “More than half of Americans would like to spend their money taking a long weekend trip, and more guests are also exploring destinations by car, with searches for listings with free parking up 46 percent.” Then came the novel coronavirus.

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Brownsville Herald - October 15, 2020

Brownsville Herald Editorial: Say what? Special penalties for protests unnecessary threat to dissent

Our nation’s founders recognized the value of dissent — in fact, they considered it essential to progress. Frank discussion of opposing viewpoints, they frequently wrote, is the best way to determine the best policies and solutions to problems. They thought so much of protecting the people’s right to disagree that the very first item in our Bill of Rights — the very first amendment to our Constitution — not only guarantees our right to speak freely, but it also has other provisions specifically protecting our right to protest, and to protest against our government. Gov. Greg Abbott, a lawyer and former state attorney general, might need to reacquaint himself with our right to protest before he considers any legislation that specifically targets public protests.

Speaking at a news conference at the Dallas Police Association headquarters, Abbott announced several measures that would strengthen existing crimes and create new ones for people participating in any activity that police might categorize as a riot. Under the proposals, anyone who causes injury or damages property during a protest could be charged with a felony, as would anyone who points a laser beam toward a law enforcement official. Blocking emergency routes such as entrances to hospitals also would be felonies. The governor asserted that anyone who threw a water bottle could spend a minimum of six months in jail if that bottle hit a police officer. Attacks on or injury to first responders already are prosecuted as hate crimes under a law Abbott promoted and signed in 2017. Special laws against protesters shouldn’t be necessary if the primary intent is to address violence. Laws against such violence already exist, and there should be no reason to address the same actions differently because they occurred during a public protest; people who damage a car, for example, during a constitutionally protected protest should not face more severe charges than revelers who flip over vehicles after their team wins the national championship.

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Texas Observer - October 18, 2020

Lulu Seikaly wants to flip one of Texas’ most conservative suburban districts

Texas’ Third Congressional District fits neatly within the borders of Collin County. Since the 1960s, the district has been represented by conservative, white men who have served for decades at a time, often running unopposed. Sam Johnson, rated one of the most conservative lawmakers in the U.S. House in 2010, held the seat for nearly 30 years before he announced his retirement in 2018. Few were surprised when Van Taylor, a veteran Republican politician who’d spent the previous decade in the Texas Legislature, won Johnson’s seat. What did come as a surprise was the fact that he won by only 10 points against Lorie Burch, an openly gay, pro-choice, pro-gun control Democrat who once told the Dallas Morning News that climate change was the greatest national security threat facing the United States. Burch was running something of a shoestring campaign with only $313,000; Taylor had raised well over $3 million. “I put him close,” Burch says. “He told me after the election that he’d never had to work so hard.”

In hindsight, the hairline cracks in this Republican stronghold were apparent two years ago. With a little more pressure, and support from the national Democratic Party, it’s possible that one of the state’s most conservative suburban districts could finally flip in November. The looming possibility of a second term for Donald Trump has galvanized Democratic voters: More than 63,000 voted in the March primaries, nearly doubling the Democratic turnout from the previous election year. Meanwhile the number of Republican primary voters, who didn’t have a primary to vote for in this race, remained roughly the same: 54,000. The spike in Democratic turnout has not gone unnoticed: The Cook Political Report now predicts that the district could “lean Republican” come election day. That’s a noticeable downgrade from “solidly Republican,” the rating the district has garnered almost every previous election year. This November, Lulu Seikaly has a shot at becoming the first Democratic woman to represent the district in its history. She would also be the state’s first Arab American woman ever elected to Congress. Seikaly’s campaign is standard Democratic fare: She supports gun control, abortion access, LGBT rights, and action on climate change. Her immigration platform contains the most specific action items, like giving DREAMers a path to citizenship. She’s running heavily on her identity as the daughter of immigrants, and it’s clear that Seikaly’s campaign is betting on turning out the district’s Asian American vote. Nearly one-fifth of the district is Asian or Arab American, a demographic that’s been a political afterthought for decades.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2020

Political ad from Fort Worth rep’s campaign altered to mislead viewers, opponent says

The Democratic challenger for the District 97 seat in the Texas House accused her opponent Sunday of altering videos to create a deceptive advertisement. Elizabeth Beck’s campaign said in a news release that Craig Goldman’s campaign “improperly manipulated footage from an October 7 candidate forum” in an ad posted Saturday. Beck’s campaign said Goldman’s team altered clips from the forum, which was about education, to make it sound as if Beck supports new taxes as well as raising property taxes and creating a statewide income tax. The campaign said that Beck does not support an income tax for Texans and that other statements were taken out of context.

Anthony Holm, spokesman for Goldman’s campaign, said in a statement that the campaign did no such thing. “Elizabeth Beck is trying to deceive the voters: if elected she very clearly intends to raise taxes next session to address some of the anticipated budget deficit and everyone can watch the full video to see for themselves,” the statement says. A narrator opens the 30-second ad by saying, “Most liberals won’t tell you they’re going to raise your taxes. Elizabeth Beck just did.” A clip of Beck is shown where she says, “We are going to have to look at creating new streams of revenue.” The narrator continues; “New revenue means new taxes.” Another clip plays, with Beck saying, “... so that’s from the property owner or homeowner to our corporations.” In the full forum video, which was posted on Facebook, Beck says Texas will need to “look at creating new streams of revenue” and offers examples such as taxes collected from the expansion of gambling and legalization of retail marijuana sales. While discussing tax loopholes and exemptions, Beck says it is important to make sure everyone pays a fair share of public education “from the property owner or homeowner to our corporations.” Shari B. Albright, president of Raise Your Hand Texas, which sponsored the forum, said the campaigns were not authorized to use the video clips.

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County Stories

San Antonio Report - October 17, 2020

Risk vs. reward: High stakes in petition drive against CPS Energy

All eyes are on the Nov. 3 general election, and rightly so, as nearly 200,000 voters in Bexar County cast votes in the first week of early voting. But a critical challenge to the future governance of CPS Energy looms large and merits our undivided attention now, long before the May 2021 City election. A Recall CPS petition drive launched in August by the Save Our Power Political Action Committee likely will achieve its goal of 20,000 qualified signatures needed to seek significant change to the San Antonio City charter. Organizers want voters to approve a charter amendment that would eliminate the municipally owned electric and gas utility’s five-person governing board and make CPS Energy a City-managed enterprise.

The same ballot initiative, if passed, would require CPS Energy to eliminate coal, which now accounts for 18 percent of the utility’s energy-generating portfolio, by 2030 and all fossil fuel use by 2040. In the memorable and somewhat chilling words of the Sierra Club’s Darby Riley, who is said to have authored the petition language, activists seek to “decapitate” the utility’s leadership structure. The petition drive comes after months of unsuccessful talks between multiple grassroots groups and CPS Energy management. There are multiple dimensions to the standoff between those pushing the petition and CPS Energy officials, who are garnering the support of City leaders and the business community. Such backing, while important, is probably irrelevant in a petition drive. Ratepayers might be smart not to pick sides just yet, while studying the underlying issues and considering the possibility still of renewed negotiations rather than an election day showdown. The risk vs. reward equation here is significant. Unintended consequences often result in such showdowns. One only has to look back a few years to the prolonged standoff between the City and the firefighters union to see how union officials used petition drives to hijack City Council authority in setting compensation for the city manager even as they failed to limit the council’s ordinance-making power.

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McAllen Monitor - October 17, 2020

Felon’s designation to Hidalgo County ballot board draws concern

The Hidalgo County Democratic Party appointment of a convicted felon to serve on a committee handling mail-in ballots, though legal, has drawn concerns from members of both parties in the ongoing, contentious election. “I feel it’s an insult to the members of Hidalgo County,” Adrienne Peña-Garza, who sits as the chair of the opposing Republican party, said. Sylvia Handy is serving on the Hidalgo County Signature Verification Board, a committee tasked with verifying and processing mail-in ballots. This year, the county sent out over 18,300 ballots by mail.

From 1997 until 2009, Handy served as an Hidalgo County commissioner until she was convicted on federal charges. Handy entered into a plea deal March 8, 2010, affirming she was guilty of employing and claiming a tax credit for a housekeeper who did not have legal status to reside in the U.S. and hiring a different woman to work for Hidalgo County Precinct 1 under an unlawfully assumed citizenship identity for six years. While serving 30 months in a federal prison, Handy was indicted by a Hidalgo County grand jury on eight charges of theft of property in 2011. The charges stemmed from the hiring and rehiring of staff that were not believed to have performed work for the county. Handy was appointed by the Democratic party and approved by the County Election Board on Aug. 7, according to Hilda Salinas, Hidalgo County elections analyst. The board is composed of the sheriff, county clerk, Democratic and Republican party chairs, and the county judge.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2020

Plans to rebuild tornado-ravaged schools delayed but DISD focused on ‘can-do’ spirit one year later

A year removed from the Oct. 20, 2019 tornado that slashed a 15-mile path from northwest Dallas to Richardson, DISD is still reeling from the destruction. While more than 20 public and private schools were in the storm’s path, three DISD campuses -- Thomas Jefferson High School, Cary Middle School and Walnut Hill Elementary -- were the hardest hit of any school in the area. All three buildings are still closed, years away before reopening their doors to students, and a controversy over the contract for rebuilding the schools has put the district’s plans back even farther.

Students at those three campuses have been shuffled into other schools, or shuttled out to other facilities for instruction. And yet, learning is still happening -- even with the added stresses of the coronavirus pandemic put on the shoulders of students, families, teachers and administrators. “We took our culture, and put it in another building,” said Walnut Hill principal Phillip Potter. “We lost a building, but we didn’t lose our school.” Damage along the tornado’s path varied tremendously, not surprising given the fickle nature of tornadoes and the ebb and flow of that particular vortex. DISD’s Burnet and Cigarroa Elementary Schools -- near Webb Chapel Road, north of Bachman Lake and west of the trio of severely damaged schools -- received enough damage to keep them closed for about a week. DISD used a basketball arena to hold classes for those schools, until power could get restored and storm damage cleared. At St. Mark’s School of Texas, just east of the Dallas North Tollway, several buildings on the north side of its campus suffered heavy damage. The east and west sides of the school’s gym were blown out, the performing arts building lost a portion of its roof, and the bell tower was stripped of its brick facade in several places. But no cluster of schools were harder hit than three Dallas ISD campuses: Cary, Thomas Jefferson and Walnut Hill.

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National Stories

KUT - October 16, 2020

The Pandemic wiped out 50 years worth of workplace gains for women

The recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has hit women harder than men, according to a new report published by the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and the YWCA USA, titled "America's Recovery From the 2020 "Shecession": Building a Female Future of Childcare and Work." Victoria DeFrancesco Soto is lead author of the report. She told Texas Standard the goal was to look at who has been most affected by the 2020 recession. Unlike in 2008, when men were more affected by layoffs, this recession has hit women hardest, both through unemployment and a lack of childcare. Some are calling it the "shesession."

"So women, as a result of this COVID-induced economic recession, are feeling it from all ends," DeFrancesco Soto said. "There's really a lot of worry that the recovery to get back to where they were prerecession is going to be a long path." The report offers a way forward, starting with a look back at WWII-era social programs. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Lanham Act to give low-cost, universal childcare to women who entered the workforce to fill gaps left by men off at war. "I think it's very telling that when the government is focused on really supporting the labor efforts of women that this can happen," DeFrancesco Soto said. In the paper, DeFrancesco Soto "charts a tangible course" for federal, state and local policymakers to help get women back to work and build a comprehensive child care system. Young women often leave the workforce to care for children; they also don't get the training they need to have a career in an economy in which service jobs are disappearing. The report suggests how to get women the training needed to go into STEM and other career paths that are more secure. DeFrancesco Soto said data shows it's worth the effort. "It's return on investment," she said. "Countries that invest more in supporting their female workforce have greater productivity."

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CNN - October 15, 2020

Why Pete Buttigieg's Fox News appearances keep going viral

Pete Buttigieg is savage. At least that's how one TikTok user described his recent interview on Fox News, during which he was asked about President Donald Trump's refusal to participate in a virtual debate. The event has since been canceled, but it was originally moved to a virtual format after Trump tested positive for Covid-19. "I don't know why you would want to be in a room with other people if you were contagious with a deadly disease and you care about other people," Buttigieg said to "Fox & Friends" host Steve Doocy last Thursday. "But maybe the President doesn't care about other people."

Even as Buttigieg called out a "weakness of [Trump's] campaign," Doocy — a reliable Trump ally on the President's favorite morning show — nodded along in agreement as the former South Bend mayor spoke. Fox News declined to comment for this story. Buttigieg's tone was measured, his message was coherent and the policies he espoused were centrist — qualities that were previously panned by younger, more liberal voters. TikTok users referred to Buttigieg as "Mayo Pete" because he was "bland and overwhelmingly white" like the condiment, according to MEL magazine. But his recent words on Fox News were cutting — or "savage" — earning him praise on Twitter and TikTok this time around. On TikTok, the interview clip was overlaid with the song, "Pretty Savage," by K-pop group BLACKPINK. Buttigieg has been making media appearances as a surrogate for the Biden-Harris campaign — showing up on national TV networks and on Instagram Live. But Buttigieg's hits on Fox News have been gaining attention for his ability to cut through the fog of Trump boosters on the network. "His threshold for doing a media hit at this point is, if it would be helpful to the Biden-Harris campaign, or for Democrats up and down the ballot, he's eager to do it," Buttigieg spokesperson Sean Savett told CNN Business in the wake of his recent viral fame.

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Politico - October 16, 2020

No Democrats expected to join Trump's DOJ in suing Google

The Justice Department is likely to file its long-awaited antitrust suit against Google early next week, but without the sign-on of any Democratic attorneys general, four people familiar with the case said Friday — upending the Trump administration's hopes to enlist bipartisan support for its fight against the internet giant. The suit, the first major monopolization case in decades, comes as both Republican and Democratic politicians have been berating Google and other massive tech companies like Facebook and Apple about their outsize influence over the U.S. economy and their treatment of competitors.

The Justice Department has been negotiating for months with a group of attorneys general from 48 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia about whether they can combine their separate investigations into a unified complaint against Google over its search engine. A strong backing from Democratic AGs could have helped the case make the transition to a Joe Biden administration if the former vice president wins the White House next month. While some Republican attorneys general have signed onto the Justice Department complaint, others have joined Democratic AGs in a group that is moving ahead with a separate complaint against Google, the people said, speaking anonymously to discuss the ongoing investigations. That bipartisan group of states expects to file an antitrust complaint challenging Google’s search practices at a later date, the people said. That group, led by Democratic attorneys general in Colorado and Iowa along with Nebraska’s Republican attorney general, has expressed concern about what they view as the Justice Department’s narrow approach to the case, the people said. Filing a separate suit would allow more leverage if the DOJ negotiates a settlement with Google they don’t like, they said.

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New York Times - October 18, 2020

New York Post published Hunter Biden report amid newsroom doubts

The New York Post’s front-page article about Hunter Biden on Wednesday was written mostly by a staff reporter who refused to put his name on it, two Post employees said. Bruce Golding, a reporter at the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid since 2007, did not allow his byline to be used because he had concerns over the article’s credibility, the two Post employees said, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Coming late in a heated presidential campaign, the article suggested that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had used his position to enrich his son Hunter when he was vice president. The Post based the story on photos and documents the paper said it had taken from the hard drive of a laptop purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden.

Many Post staff members questioned whether the paper had done enough to verify the authenticity of the hard drive’s contents, said five people with knowledge of the tabloid’s inner workings. Staff members also had concerns about the reliability of its sources and its timing, the people said. The article named two sources: Stephen K. Bannon, the former adviser to President Trump now facing federal fraud charges, who was said to have made the paper aware of the hard drive last month; and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, who was said to have given the paper “a copy” of the hard drive on Oct. 11. Mr. Giuliani said he chose The Post because “either nobody else would take it, or if they took it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out.” Top editors met on Oct. 11 to discuss how to use the material provided by Mr. Giuliani. The group included the tabloid veteran Colin Allan, known as Col; Stephen Lynch, The Post’s editor in chief; and Michelle Gotthelf, the digital editor in chief, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting. Mr. Allan, who was The Post’s editor in chief from 2001 to 2016 and returned last year as an adviser, urged his colleagues to move quickly, the person said. As deadline approached, editors pressed staff members to add their bylines to the story — and at least one aside from Mr. Golding refused, two Post journalists said. A Post spokeswoman had no comment on how the article was written or edited.

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The Hill - October 18, 2020

Whatever happened to Deborah Birx?

Deborah Birx is nowhere to be found at the White House these days. Though she retains the title of coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, Birx has not attended any of President Trump's press briefings on the pandemic since he started them anew in late July, nor was she at a recent event to tout the administration's advances in testing. Instead, Birx has been on the road, visiting 36 states and 27 different colleges and universities since the end of June to meet with state, local and university leaders to advise on best practices for containing the coronavirus and to gather information on what's been working in each place.

Olivia Troye, a former coronavirus task force adviser who worked with Birx and is now a Trump critic, said White House officials grew irritated by Birx's detailed and data-heavy presentations in the early summer that showed emerging hot spots and difficulties getting the virus under control. Some officials rolled their eyes as Birx delivered a message that clashed with the administration's preferred narrative that things were improving, Troye said. The frustration preceded a push to get Birx out on the road to meet with state and local leaders, multiple officials familiar with the discussions said. She last appeared publicly alongside Trump in an early August Oval Office meeting with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R). "It’s convenient because they don’t want her at the White House and don’t want her at the podium,” Troye said. “But in many ways it probably ended up being better for her." Administration officials and those who have met with Birx recently say she remains a vital resource and argue that she may be more comfortable being away from Washington, D.C., where she had to navigate the politics of the White House. She often drew criticism for praising Trump publicly while attempting privately to impress upon others the seriousness of the situation.

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