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Newsclips - December 11, 2019

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - December 10, 2019

Revised trade pact set for likely approval by Congress in 2020

A new U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada gained backing from House Democrats, setting the agreement on course for likely ratification by Congress in 2020 and marking a victory for President Trump after months of negotiations to modify it. Mr. Trump ran for office in 2016 on a pledge to remake or blow up the North American Free Trade Agreement, and his administration used a combination of pressure tactics and closed-door negotiations to win support for an amended version of the agreement from Democratic lawmakers, labor unions and Mexican officials.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) embraced a version that Democrats had negotiated with the administration just an hour after she backed two articles of impeachment accusing Mr. Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. That sets up an expected House vote on the trade deal next week, before a likely divisive election year in 2020. “We are so proud of the distance that we have come from where we started with the administration on this legislation,” Mrs. Pelosi said of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. “This victory for America’s workers is one we take great pride in advancing.”

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Washington Post - December 10, 2019

ExxonMobil prevails over New York in high-profile climate fraud case

ExxonMobil prevailed Tuesday in its much-watched legal battle with the state of New York, beating back claims that it misled investors for years in how it calculated the financial risks of climate change. The high-profile trial, which saw testimony from former ExxonMobil chief executive and former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, marked the culmination of a more-than-three-year probe under three different New York attorneys general, during which Exxon handed over millions of documents about its internal dealings.

But that extensive effort wasn't enough to convince New York Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager that the oil and natural gas giant broke state securities laws when describing to shareholders how it analyzed the effect of future greenhouse gas regulations on the company's bottom line. During a 12-day trial this fall, the state tried to wield a powerful anti-fraud law, called the Martin Act, that does not require prosecutors to prove that a company intended to deceive investors. The office of Letitia James, New York's current attorney general, tried to show the company lied to investors by keeping two sets of books - one public, one private - for estimating the cost of complying with future climate regulations. But even with that relatively low bar, Ostrager found New York's allegations "to be without merit" and the use of the state's securities law to be a stretch in this case.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Is Texas trying to blow the 2020 census? Let’s hope not for everyone’s sake

If you set out to mow a lawn, you ought to mow the whole lawn and finish the job. If you set out to paint a room, you ought to paint the whole thing, even those hard-to-reach corners. And if you set out to conduct a census of everyone in a country, you ought to count every person in the country. That seems like an obvious truth, and one Americans could embrace in 2020. But the devil, along with the politicians, is in the details.

Texas is one of only five states that has elected not to set up a “complete count committee” — a statewide ad hoc organization working with counties and cities to make sure that every person in the state is counted. In the absence of such a committee, a coalition of 120 counties and nonprofit agencies has created a statewide campaign called Texas Counts to help ensure a fair and accurate count. There’s a lot at stake here. According to the education advocacy group Educate Texas, failing to count 1% of the people in Texas would cost the state $300 million in federal funding per year for the next 10 years. And there are political stakes as well. Texas could gain three new seats in Congress.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Former top Mexican official accused of taking millions from violent cartel captured in Dallas

A former top law enforcement official with the Mexican government who’s been charged with taking millions in bribes from a violent drug cartel in that country in exchange for protection had his first appearance Tuesday in federal court in Dallas. Genaro Garcia Luna, 51, was arrested in Dallas on Monday in the parking garage next to an apartment he leases in the city. He is wanted by the feds in New York where he was indicted on Dec. 4 on four counts, including being involved in an international cocaine distribution conspiracy.

A court filing says Garcia Luna took millions in bribes from the notorious Sinaloa Cartel to allow it to “operate with impunity in Mexico.” Garcia Luna moved from Mexico to Miami in 2012 after leaving his Mexican government post and obtained lawful resident status, according to the filing, made in the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. Garcia Luna also is accused of lying about his past on a 2018 application for naturalization, for which he is charged with making false statements. He faces up to life in prison if convicted. His attorney left the courtroom after Tuesday’s arraignment without talking to reporters.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Dallas Morning News Editorial: While California burns, researchers at Texas A&M offer technology that could save the state

This year was a tough one for those poor souls who live in California. Not only did wildfires rage across the state, but a utility fell into the habit of shutting off the power to large areas in hopes of not sparking the next conflagration. But then, lucky us, researchers at Texas A&M University may have developed a new technology that can put an end to this blunt approach to fire prevention. At first blush, this may seem a bit fanciful. After all, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. shut off the power because it’s impossible to know when certain electric equipment will fail and spark a new blaze. After being hit with lawsuits that pushed it into bankruptcy, PG&E wasn’t in the mood to take chances and was shutting off the power in elevated risk situations. If this left large swaths of the state in the dark, well that’s the price to pay for avoiding the next costly fire.

Or so many people thought. But then, our friends in Aggieland had a better idea. Researchers at A&M invented technology that can detect when there is deterioration in electric equipment. So with this technology, power companies could know in advance when equipment is breaking down and fix it before it sparks a fire. If successful, this technology would prevent wildfires and prevent power outages as well. “Once it blows up we tend to get it offline really fast, but it’s already blown up. This is about prediction and prevention,” said Don Russell, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M. He and research professor Carl Benner have been studying outages for years and created Distribution Fault Anticipation software. The software analyzes the electrical current on power lines to detect deteriorating conditions before something breaks. Believe it or not, computer-based diagnostic tools, long standard in cars, are new for utilities.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Almost 700,000 Californians moved out of state last year. Most of them came to Texas.

The tidal wave of Californians headed to Texas shows no sight of slowing, with almost 700,000 leaving the Golden State last year. More than 86,000 of those California expats came to Texas, according to a new report by Yardi Systems. “Texas takes second place on the podium among the most popular states for moving to in 2018, with almost 564,000 newcomers,” according to the new report by Yardi System’s StorageCafe. About 15% of the people who moved to Texas last year hailed from California.

Florida had the largest number of interstate moves in 2018 with most of the transplants coming from New York. Florida continues to be a haven for retiring baby boomers. Most of Texas’ newcomers are moving for jobs. Texas’ employment base has grown by almost 300,000 jobs in the last year. Dallas-Fort Worth is the top job growth market in the country, accounting for a third of Texas’ employment gains. Almost 140,000 people moved to the D-FW area last year, with the most relocations to Dallas and Tarrant counties.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Gov. Abbott endorses Houston Rep. Sarah Davis, after opposing her in 2018

Less than two years after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spent over $223,000 in a failed effort to defeat State Rep. Sarah Davis in a GOP primary, the Republican governor is now supporting her re-election. On Tuesday, after no Republicans filed to challenge Davis as she seeks re-election next year, Abbott released a statement to the media declaring he is endorsing Davis this time. “She is an effective leader for improving flood control and disaster preparedness,” Abbott said. “Representative Sarah Davis has proven her ability to deliver results that matter for her district and should be re-elected to the Texas House."

That is a striking divergence from his comments almost two years ago when he said Davis was “absolutely hostile” to his policies and should quit the Republican Party to run as a Democrat. Abbott endorsed Davis’s primary opponent Susanna Dokupil, contributed over $223,000 to her campaign and appeared in ads for her. It didn’t work. Davis defeated Dokupil by 12 percentage points in the primary and in November 2018 defeated Democrat Allison Lami Sawyer by 6 percentage points to win her fifth two-year term representing the 134th District, which includes West University Place, Bellaire and Southside Place. Davis responded at the time that it was a “sad and pathetic failure of leadership” for Abbott to be working against fellow Republicans.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Diverse Republican contenders flood Houston-area congressional battleground

A vaping-business owner, a professional sitar player, a sheriff and a former border patrol agent are among a growing field of candidates competing in a Fort Bend County-based district that has fast become one of the hottest congressional races in the nation. Already 12 candidates have qualified to run just in the Republican primary for the 22nd Congressional District, with more still likely to join the fray by the end of Monday when the filing deadline hits. And Democrats, too, could be looking at two or three candidates in the primary for the district that both parties have declared a must-win in 2020.

The growing field of candidates is largely due to the 22nd Congressional District being a rare open seat with no incumbent seeking re-election. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, announced earlier this year he would not run for a seventh term in Congress. But it also exemplifies a surge of congressional candidates in Texas in the era of President Donald Trump. A combined 200 Republican and Democratic candidates have filed to run for Congress in Texas in 2020. In 2016, the last presidential election cycle, just 129 candidates were running for Congress in Texas from the two major parties. The district has been solidly in Republican hands for decades, but in 2018, Olson won by just 4 percentage points — the closest re-election of his career in a fast-changing area that has become increasingly diverse.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Houston billionaire buys nearly 1 million shares of Enterprise Products Partners

Houston billionaire and philanthropist Randa Duncan Williams bought nearly 1 million shares of Enterprise Products Partners, a pipeline company founded by her late father Dan Duncan in 1968. Williams bought more than 950,000 shares of the company's stock, valued at nearly $25 million, over the past week, filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show.

The transactions give Williams more than 699 million shares of the company's stock, or just under one-third control of the company. Ranked by Forbes as the 100th richest person in the world, Williams is estimated to be worth $6 billion. She is considered to be the second-richest person in Houston just behind Kinder Morgan co-founder Rich Kinder.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 10, 2019

Hearing set to determine if Cook Children’s Hospital can end baby’s life support

A hearing has been set to determine whether or not Cook Children’s Medical Center will be barred from ending the life-sustaining treatment of a 10-month-old baby. A hearing for Tinslee Lewis’ case has been scheduled at 9 a.m. Thursday in the 48th District Court in Fort Worth, Tinslee’s family’s attorney Joe Nixon confirmed Tuesday.

Cook Children’s moved to end Tinslee Lewis’ treatment in October under the Texas Advance Directives Act, which grants physicians the power to end life support treatment if an ethics committee deems the treatment futile. Tinslee’s family filed for a temporary restraining order against the hospital in November, and Family Court Judge Alex Kim extended the order to Dec. 10. The family is hoping to receive an injunction against the hospital that will prevent its physicians from ending Tinslee’s treatment, Nixon said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 10, 2019

State Rep. Bill Zedler drew a primary challenger and dropped out of the race. Here’s why.

One day after Mansfield Mayor David Cook filed to challenge him in the Republican primary to represent House District 96, state Rep. Bill Zedler withdrew his bid to seek re-election. Zedler, 76, said Tuesday that he has been having health issues and talked to his wife about retiring from the Texas Legislature. “Maybe it’s just time to take care of yourself, take care of medical issues you’ve got,” Zedler, R-Arlington, said he thought. “I’ll still work to make sure we have a successful November.

Joe Drago is unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face Cook in the November general election. The House district includes parts of Arlington, Burleson, Crowley, Fort Worth, Kennedale and Mansfield. It is among the five that Tarrant Democrats have said they are targeting, along with districts 92, 93, 94 and 97. “We know District 96 is highly winnable for a Democrat,” Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples said. “We are confident that whoever is in that (Republican) primary, we are going to win the race.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 10, 2019

Hearing set to determine if Cook Children’s Hospital can end baby’s life support

A hearing has been set to determine whether or not Cook Children’s Medical Center will be barred from ending the life-sustaining treatment of a 10-month-old baby. A hearing for Tinslee Lewis’ case has been scheduled at 9 a.m. Thursday in the 48th District Court in Fort Worth, Tinslee’s family’s attorney Joe Nixon confirmed Tuesday.

Cook Children’s moved to end Tinslee Lewis’ treatment in October under the Texas Advance Directives Act, which grants physicians the power to end life support treatment if an ethics committee deems the treatment futile. Tinslee’s family filed for a temporary restraining order against the hospital in November, and Family Court Judge Alex Kim extended the order to Dec. 10. The family is hoping to receive an injunction against the hospital that will prevent its physicians from ending Tinslee’s treatment, Nixon said.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 10, 2019

GOP revolt against party chair in San Antonio includes lawsuit threat

Three Bexar County Republican candidates met with party chairwoman Cynthia Brehm on Monday to pressure her to agree to hold the March 3 primary election jointly with Democrats and abandon her plan to hold a separate contest. Backed by the threat of a lawsuit, the three — who had been delegated by a larger insurgent group of disaffected GOP leaders upset with what they consider Brehm’s divisive leadership — extracted a promise that she would change her plan, said Mike Berlanga, a Republican running for county tax assessor-collector.

He said the three Republican candidates who met with Brehm had all previously held public office — he would not name them — and that the meeting lasted about 90 minutes at Republican Party headquarters at 12000 Starcrest Drive. The riled Republicans believe, with considerable evidence, that joint primaries run by the county elections office at the same polling places increase turnout. Last week, Brehm refused to sign a routine resolution at a Commissioners Court meeting agreeing to let the county elections office run the GOP primary jointly with other parties.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 10, 2019

Beto O’Rourke isn’t running in 2020, but his staffers jumped into U.S. Senate race

Beto O'Rourke isn’t running for Senate again as many Democrats had hoped. But the people who helped the former El Paso congressman come closer to winning statewide office than any Democrat in a generation are now working to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2020. Many of the staffers from O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign are now working with Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a progressive labor organizer in the crowded Democratic primary field vying to take on Cornyn. They include his former campaign manager, Jody Casey, and 20 other members of his campaign.

“I believe that Cristina’s incredible work ethic and community-focused approach will inspire and activate Texans, and will be the key to defeating John Cornyn in 2020,” Casey wrote in an online post, in which she describes first meeting Tzintzún Ramirez while working on O’Rourke’s Senate campaign. Tzintzún Ramirez will first face a field of nearly a dozen Democrats who have filed to run, including former Houston congressman Chris Bell, state Sen. Royce West, former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar and Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards.

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KXAN - December 6, 2019

Former Congressman Chris Bell says experience gives him an edge to beat John Cornyn

Former U.S. Congressman Chris Bell has turned his sights towards the U.S. Senate. In a crowded primary field where name recognition will be important, Bell is the Democratic candidate most voters have heard of, according to a University of Texas and Texas Tribune poll. Bell said one of the main reasons he’s running is because he can’t stand the the direction the country is headed, so he wants to take it back. “I think in order to accomplish that it’s going to take individuals with experience to run against John Cornyn and be able to take him down,” Bell said. “I think Texas deserves better leadership.”

Texas ranks as one of the worst states in healthcare. Bell supports Medicare for all, but he said he still wants Texans to have the option to choose their insurance company. “But for others who have really found this whole system to be a nightmare, I do think they should have the ability to buy into a public option,” Bell said. When it comes to paying for Medicare for all, Bell said it depends on where the economy is, but he believes President Donald Trump’s tax plans have been a disaster. “I think there are a lot of other ways to increase revenue for the United States,” Bell said. “Whether we’re going to have to look at some kind of wealth tax to have wealthier individuals pay their fair share, I think all of those things are going to be on the table.”

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Austin American-Statesman - December 10, 2019

Acevedo slams Cruz, Cornyn over gun measure

In wake of officer fatal officer shooting, Houston chief decries opposition to gun measure Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo is denouncing Texas’ two U.S. senators over gun laws in wake of the shooting death of a Houston officer. Acevedo, formerly Austin’s often outspoken police chief, sharply criticized U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Monday for failing to support an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act that would broaden gun ownership restrictions for domestic abusers.

The emotional remarks came after Houston police Sgt. Christopher Brewster, 32, was killed while responding to a domestic violence call over the weekend. Houston police charged 25-year-old Arturo Solis with capital murder. In his remarks, Acevedo, who served as Austin police chief from 2007 to 2016, also called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for siding with the National Rifle Association on the issue. “We all know in law enforcement that the one of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room and having a conference committee with the House and getting the Violence Against Women’s Act is because the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends,” Acevedo said at a news conference.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - December 10, 2019

Austin council steps away from second motel to house homeless

Austin City Council members on Tuesday walked away from a planned purchase of a second motel to house Austin’s homeless, at least for now. The council had weighed purchasing the Microtel at 7705 Metro Center Drive, which would have provided 71 bridge housing units to the city’s homeless service network.

The motel is situated in a cluster of hotels near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Ending Community Homelessness Coalition Executive Director Matt Mollica said the decision came down to the ability to eventually convert units at the property to permanent supportive housing so close to the airport. The property would have cost up to $6.8 million, and another $1 million to the project for renovations, bringing the grand total to $7.8 million.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Luis Carassco: We honor Houston Police Sergeant Christopher Brewster

Houston Police Sergeant Christopher Brewster was shot and killed Saturday while responding to a domestic disturbance call. The death of the nine-year veteran of the department is a tragic reminder of the dangers law enforcement face every day so the rest of us may be safe. We are grateful for his service and our thoughts and condolences are with his family.

He is the second law-enforcement officer to be gunned down in the line of duty in Harris County this year. In September, Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal was shot from behind during a traffic stop. Eleven other law enforcement officers have died this year in Texas The man who allegedly shot Brewster, 25-year-old Arturo Solis, was walking down the street when police arrived on the scene. According to reports, he was identified by his girlfriend. “That’s who you are looking for,” she said. Brewster knew the suspect could be armed, but as he stood in the residential area, with the man’s girlfriend close by, he waved and called out to Solis to get his attention.

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National Stories

USA Today - December 10, 2019

Merriam-Webster announces ‘they’ as the word of the year

Merriam-Webster announced the word of the year for 2019: the singular non-binary pronoun “they.” According to Merriam-Webster, searches for “they” increased 313% over the year.

“English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years,” Merriam-Webster said in a statement.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Venezuela reported to have released ‘Citgo 6’ from prison

Six executives of Houston refiner Citgo are out of a Venezuelan prison, according to a late Monday report by Reuters. After spending two years in prison on corruption charges, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Pereira are said to have been released on house arrest.

Known as the “Citgo 6,” the executives were called to a meeting in Caracas at Citgo’s parent Petroleos de Venezuela SA in November 2017. Once in Venezuela, they were arrested and accused of various corruption charges. With some of them naturalized U.S. citizens and their families living in Houston and Louisiana, their arrests became a source of tension between the United States and Venezuela. While not directly confirming the report, Citgo did issue a statement Tuesday morning reacting to the news.

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CBS 2 - December 10, 2019

Jersey City shootout: 6 dead including police detective, 2 suspects, 3 civilians

A police officer was among six killed in a lengthy gun battle in Jersey City Tuesday. The two suspects were also killed, along with three civilians. Their bodies were found in a kosher grocery store at Bayview Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard after an intense, hours-long shootout with police. Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly said police believe the three civilians killed in the grocery store were shot by the suspects.

t began at roughly 12:30 p.m. at the Bay View cemetery at Garfield Avenue. The suspects were spotted at the cemetery in a stolen rental van. Kelly said he believes Det. Joseph Seals – who was part of the unit responsible for removing guns from the street – was attempting to interdict weapons in the van when he approached the suspects, and they opened fire. Det. Seals was hit. He was rushed to the hospital, but did not survive. The suspects then drove about a mile to the grocery store in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where more shots were fired.

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Associated Press - December 10, 2019

Democrats unveil impeachment charges; Trump left ‘no choice’

House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, declaring his actions toward Ukraine “betrayed the nation” as they pushed toward historic proceedings that are certain to help define his presidency and shape the 2020 election. The specific charges aimed at removing the 45th president of the U.S.: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen of impeachment inquiry committees at the U.S. Capitol, said they were upholding their solemn oath to defend the Constitution. Trump responded angrily on Twitter: “WITCH HUNT!” Voting is expected in a matter of days by the Judiciary Committee, and by Christmas in the full House. The charges, if approved, would then be sent to the Senate, where the Republican majority would be unlikely to convict Trump, but not without a potentially bitter trial just as voters in Iowa and other early presidential primary states begin making their choices.

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Politico - December 10, 2019

Small group of Democrats floats censure instead of impeachment

A small group of vulnerable House Democrats is floating the longshot idea of censuring President Donald Trump instead of impeaching him, according to multiple lawmakers familiar with the conversations. Those Democrats, all representing districts that Trump won in 2016, huddled on Monday afternoon in an 11th-hour bid to weigh additional — though unlikely — options to punish the president for his role in the Ukraine scandal as the House speeds toward an impeachment vote next week.

The group of about 10 Trump-district lawmakers included Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), and Ben McAdams (D-Utah.). “I think it’s certainly appropriate and might be a little more bipartisan, who knows,” Schrader said Tuesday when asked about the possibility of a censure resolution. But he acknowledged: “Time’s slipping by.” The idea of censure, according to the lawmakers, is to offer a competing alternative to impeachment that could attract at least some Republican support on the floor. It would also help Democrats avoid a lengthy impeachment trial in the Senate, which some in this group fear could tilt public opinion toward the GOP in the final months before the 2020 election.

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Newsclips - December 10, 2019

Lead Stories

Associated Press - December 9, 2019

Democrats poised to unveil 2 impeachment articles vs. Trump

House Democrats are poised to unveil two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — with an announcement expected early Tuesday. Democratic leaders are pushing ahead with formal charges saying the president put U.S. elections and national security at risk by asking Ukraine to investigate his rivals, including Joe Biden, while withholding military aid for an ally trying to counter hostile Russia neighbors. They warn Trump could do it again if left unchecked.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined during an evening event Monday to discuss the articles or the coming announcement. Details were shared by multiple people familiar with the discussions but unauthorized to discuss them and granted anonymity. When asked if she has enough votes to impeach the president, the Democratic leader said she would let House lawmakers vote their conscience. “On an issue like this, we don’t count the votes. People will just make their voices known on it,” Pelosi said at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. "I haven’t counted votes, nor will I.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Harris County Commissioner Radack won’t seek re-election, vacating powerful county commissioner seat coveted by Democrats

Steve Radack will not seek a ninth term as Harris County commissioner for Precinct 3, vacating a powerful position he has held for three decades that Democrats hope to flip next year. Radack, 70, said he plans to invest his time and significant campaign account into helping Republicans regain seats after disastrous elections in 2016 and 2018. “I’m not through being involved in public service, and I felt that there’s a lot I can do to help the Republican Party,” Radack said.

Harris County commissioners are among the most powerful Texas politicians, outside statewide elected officials. Though Commissioners Court governs the whole unincorporated county, members traditionally have refrained from meddling in each other’s precincts, effectively rendering each a fiefdom of more than 1 million residents where commissioners individually control tens of millions in annual infrastructure spending. Court members often serve until retirement; in the four decades preceding 2016, they were more likely to be forced from office by criminal indictments than tossed out by voters. Radack’s retirement creates the first open seat since 2016, when Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee died unexpectedly.

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Houston Chronicle - December 9, 2019

White House, Democrats reach tentative agreement on USMCA trade deal

Democratic negotiators and the White House have reached a tentative agreement on a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, which could be voted on in the House before the end of the year, according to sources close to the trade talks on Capitol Hill. Since President Donald Trump signed the United States Mexico Canada Agreement last year, the White House has been working to win over House Democrats to get the deal ratified in Congress. Chief among the outstanding issues was an enforcement mechanism to ensure Mexico complied with trade rules designed to bring some Mexican manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

But nothing is final yet. After news reports of a deal emerged Sunday night, one unnamed Democratic aide told The Hill, “we’re still studying the proposal.” The USMCA would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has come under increasing criticism from Democrats and Trump alike for allowing industry to move too easily overseas. One new provision would require 75 percent of automobile components be manufactured in the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as 40 to 45 percent of automobile parts made by workers earning at least $16 an hour by 2023. The USMCA appeared a rare moment of bipartisan agreement in recent weeks, as Washington remains hotly divided over Democrats’ efforts to impeach Trump for asking Ukraine to investigate Democratic president candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

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New York Times - December 8, 2019

Jamelle Bouie: Why the ‘wokest’ candidates are the weakest

Democrats are too “woke” for their own good, or so goes the argument. “Today’s progressivism is more or less a secular form of religion with its own high standards,” Matt Lewis, a conservative columnist, wrote this spring. “Eventually,” he concluded, “the revolution devours its own.” Wokeness, in this rendering, is an overly rigid commitment to identity politics and social justice ideology.

And in their zeal, these woke Democrats are pushing the Democratic Party away from the voters it needs to beat President Donald Trump in 2020. If this were actually true, you would expect real traction for the wokest candidates in the Democratic presidential race. But it’s been just the opposite. The woke candidates have been the weakest, electorally speaking, and the defining attribute of the Democratic primary has been a preoccupation with the voters that put Trump in the White House. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York centered her campaign on racial justice and the fight against sexual assault. During one debate, she identified herself as a “white woman of privilege” and promised to reach out to “white women in the suburbs who voted for Trump and explain to them what white privilege actually is.” Fluent in wokeness, Gillibrand hoped to win the most progressive, social justice-minded Democrats.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 9, 2019

Texas oil and gas regulator sued over flaring decision

Texas oil and gas regulators have granted almost 30,000 permits to burn natural gas into the air over the past seven years, but a pipeline company is now challenging its authority to unilaterally green-light the practice of flaring. Williams Cos., based in Tulsa, Okla., is suing the Texas Railroad Commission in state District Court in Travis County, arguing that it made the wrong decision when it recently allowed oil exploration company Exco Resources Co. to flare.

The commission ruled that Exco didn’t have to use a Williams pipeline in the Eagle Ford shale play to transport gas Exco pumped as a byproduct from its oil wells in the South Texas field. The low prices for natural gas — several times this year, producers would have had to pay to get the gas taken off their hands — and a shortage of pipelines have driven energy companies to file a blizzard of flaring permits. And the Railroad Commission, looking to spur oil production in Texas, has approved nearly every request. The commission is also charged with preventing waste of the state’s natural resources. Oil producers have traditionally asked the commission to OK flaring only when there was no pipeline available to transport the gas. It hasn’t always been that way, Williams lawyers contend. Oil and gas regulators had rejected gas flaring applications by oil companies.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 9, 2019

No shortage of interest in the seat Rep. Will Hurd will vacate in 2021

Republican Rep. Will Hurd’s pending retirement from Congress has triggered a flood of candidates in a district some regard as ripe to be picked off by Democrats in 2020. For years, the 23rd District has generated highly competitive races and drawn national attention. It stretches from San Antonio nearly to El Paso and includes a vast expanse of the U.S.-Mexico border Hurd, a moderate serving his third consecutive term, gave Republicans an unlikely foothold in a fast-changing, predominantly Latino swath of Texas. But in August, he announced that he would leave Congress at the end of his current term.

Now, Republican hopefuls must chart a path to victory in the 23rd without the advantages of incumbency and in the midst of a Democratic blitz aimed at the district and five others in Texas. Hurd, 42, a former CIA case officer known for his willingness to break with Republican orthodoxy, won by narrow margins in each of his three successful campaigns in the 23rd. Last year, he edged out Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones by fewer than 1,000 votes. Since Hurd’s surprise announcement that he wouldn’t run again, some Washington analysts have moved the seat from the “toss-up” column — meaning Democrats and Republicans had an equal shot at winning — to “lean Democratic.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 9, 2019

Homeowners along Texas coast want the rest of us to help defend their risky choices

Owners of hurricane-prone properties are trying to pass the price of their high-risk choices onto all Texas property insurance holders this week, manipulating a little-observed corner of state politics while most of us are not paying attention. Coastal home and business owners will crowd into a Texas Windstorm Insurance Association meeting in Corpus Christi on Dec. 10 and refuse to pay their fair share. They want you and me to subsidize more of the cost of insuring their property or rebuilding it when the next storm hits.

Texas’ 367 miles of coastline exposes the state to all of the dangers the Gulf of Mexico can muster. Every two to five years, the warm water produces a storm capable of literally blowing the roofs off our economy. The problem for policymakers and the public is how to insure against those predictable disasters. Whether due to location or condition, a market-based premium to insure some coastal properties would exceed what anyone can pay. To provide affordable wind and hail coverage for those properties, the Texas Legislature formed the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. This quasi-governmental entity requires private insurance companies to put aside $1 billion for about 200,000 high-risk properties; a cost passed on to the rest of Texas’ property insurance policyholders.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

With Beto O’Rourke out of the picture, Democrats in Texas can look for a champion against Sen. John Cornyn

After months of being maligned as candidates who aren’t ready for prime time, the contenders for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Texas have the chance to seize a star-making role. Neither Beto O’Rourke nor Julián Castro will be on the ballot for the March 3 Senate primary, a reality that disappoints some Democrats but provides opportunities for others.

Whether it’s former Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, Houston council member Amanda Edwards, former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar of Round Rock, activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez of Austin or state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, the opportunity exists for a Democrat with a compelling message to rise to challenge John Cornyn in the 2020 general election. The changing politics of Texas didn’t begin or end with O’Rourke, whose electrifying but unsuccessful 2018 campaign against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz set a high bar for this year’s crop. Democrats must be able to field an array of candidates with the potential to win statewide races.

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Dallas Morning News - December 10, 2019

Texas congressional primaries play out against backdrop of impeachment

Texas voters will fill three dozen seats in Congress in the March 3 primaries and the general election. In ordinary times the vast majority would be incumbents. But these are not ordinary times. Exhibit A: The impeachment drama coming to a head this week in the House, a drama that will overshadow those congressional fights. Exhibit B: The incredible turnover in the delegation. GOP incumbents are leaving a half-dozen seats vacant.

Some barely survived the decimating midterms, when Democrats made huge inroads in suburbia. Others held safe seats but could see the party’s dim prospects for reclaiming the majority and figured it wouldn’t be much fun. What happens when those factors come together? In the two or three true battleground districts, congressional candidates will have to choose between ginning up the base, or moderation aimed at broadening their appeal. In GOP districts, backlash against impeachment will favor the most adamantly pro-Trump candidates.

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Houston Chronicle - December 9, 2019

Pierce Bush announces run for 22nd Congressional District

Pierce Bush, the grandson of former president George H.W. Bush, is running as a Republican for the 22nd Congressional District, he said in a phone interview Monday. Bush, CEO of the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, joins a crowded GOP primary field seeking the nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a Sugar Land Republican who is not seeking re-election. Earlier this year, Bush weighed a run for the 7th Congressional District, the seat once represented by his grandfather. He filed for the 22nd district Monday morning, ahead of the 6 p.m. deadline to sign up for Texas’ March 2020 primaries.

At least 14 candidates have qualified to run in the Republican primary for the district, which covers parts of Fort Bend, Brazoria and Harris counties. Democrats also are targeting the seat, which Olson won by his narrowest margin ever in 2018. Asked how he would distinguish himself among a packed primary field, Bush said he would emphasize his work at the Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate, which provides youth mentoring services. He also downplayed the importance of his family name. “If you have met my grandmother, Barbara Bush, you would know that no grandkid of hers could be entitled and think that anything was theirs because of anything else,” Bush said.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Houston Councilman Jerry Davis to challenge state Rep. Harold Dutton

Houston City Councilman Jerry Davis filed Monday to run as a Democrat for House District 142, a northeast Harris County seat long represented by state Rep. Harold Dutton.

Davis, who has represented District B since 2011, is prevented from seeking re-election due to Houston’s term limits. His council district overlaps part of the House district, which includes the Fifth Ward and runs east and then north to FM 1960. The move ensures Dutton, D-Houston, will have his most challenging primary in years. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1984 and frequently has coasted to victory without primary opposition. Last cycle, he beat primary challenger Richard A. Bonton, 65 percent to 35 percent. Bonton is running for the seat again this cycle.

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Houston Chronicle - December 10, 2019

Former O’Rourke adviser announces for Congress, picks up his endorsement

Sima Ladjevardian, a Houston attorney and former adviser to Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke, filed Monday to run as a Democrat for the 2nd Congressional District, which is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston.

Ladjevardian announced her filing in a tweet and was endorsed soon after by O’Rourke, who called Ladjevardian’s candidacy “[g]reat news for Texas and the country.” “Sima is one of the smartest, hardest working people I’ve met,” O’Rourke said. “She helped produce record turnout in 2018 in Texas for my campaign and will beat Crenshaw in 2020 in hers!”

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KUT - December 10, 2019

How one Gulf Coast city is planning for its cut of $4 billion in Harvey relief

The Texas General Land Office has proposed a plan to help mitigate damage from Hurricane Harvey – damage that some homeowners are still dealing with over two years later. Over $4 billion in federal community development block grants will go to those affected. But first, local governments have to figure out how, exactly, to spend the money.

Patrick Rios is mayor of Rockport – the Gulf Coast town near where Harvey first made landfall. He says Rockport plans to use the money to prepare the city for future storms. “We’re looking at how we can make our community more resilient, harden our resources against any future storm,” he says. “We know there’ll be another storm, we just don’t know when.” He says in practice, mitigation will involve improving the city’s infrastructure – things like streets, storm drainage and water treatment plants.

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Brownsville Herald - December 7, 2019

ACLU files federal lawsuit, seeks to stop removals of asylum seekers

Civil rights attorneys have filed a lawsuit against the federal government challenging an “expedited removal” pilot program put into place by the Trump administration which strips asylum seekers at certain ports of entry along the U.S/Mexico border of their right to counsel. According to a press release circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU-TX), the coalition filed a lawsuit in the District of Columbia against several government agencies under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that handle immigration and asylum cases.

Reports indicated that the Trump administration implemented two new, secretive asylum processes on or around Oct. 7 in which would expedite applicants’ credible fear interview. Credible fear interviews are an integral piece of the asylum process where those who have fled their home countries are given the opportunity to present a “credible”, or believable fear of torture or persecution if they were to return in accordance with both federal and international law. The lawsuit filed by ACLU attorneys in D.C. this week alleged that the two new programs, called Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) force applicants to go through the process while detained in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities commonly known as “heirlas” (or “iceboxes”).

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 9, 2019

Watch this Fort Worth area race. It could help decide which party controls Texas House

House District 92 is in the spotlight. Not only have Tarrant Democrats targeted this district, but now at least three Republicans are in the race to replace the retiring Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. “This district has been growing steadily more Democratic in the past decade, making it a very flippable district for 2020 if the Democrats nominate a strong candidate,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Suburban Texas has been and will be the battleground where party control of the Legislature is won and lost.

The battle for the seat ramped up earlier this year when Stickland, long known as a firebrand and political bomb thrower, announced he wasn’t seeking re-election to the post he has held since 2013. “It is not the Lord’s will,” he said. Democrat Steve Riddell, who claimed 47.43% of the vote to Stickland’s 49.8% in 2018, was already in the race. He recently was joined by fellow Democrat Jeff Whitfield, an attorney and veteran. And at least three Republicans: former Bedford City Councilman Jeff Cason, small business owner and veteran Taylor Gillig and former Bedford Mayor Jim Griffin. Cason, a former Bedford city councilman, said he’s in the race “to put Texas back on a conservative path and ensure conservative representation” for the district.

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KVUE - December 6, 2019

You may not find out where credit card skimmers are found until months later

If you’ve ever had a skimmer steal your credit card information, you pause before you fill up your tank. Maybe check the card reader to see if it’s loose. If you haven’t been a victim, the Texas Department of Agriculture regularly reminds Texans how the thieves work. “We all know it’s a growing problem,” said Paul Hardin, president and CEO of the Texas Food and Fuel Association (TFFA).

TFFA represents gas station owners in the Texas legislature. They pushed for House Bill 2945, which “amends the Business & Commerce Code and Government Code to provide for the reporting and investigation of payment card skimmers on motor fuel dispensers, for related enforcement provisions, and for the creation of a payment fraud fusion center.” The bill was signed into law on June 10. The Office of the Attorney General will create rules for merchants, like protocols for skimmer inspections and what to do if one is suspected. Violating the rules could result in a fine. The fusion center will operate in Tyler, Texas. It will cost taxpayers $1.2 million over the next two years.

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Newsweek - December 10, 2019

Houston Police Union condemns Chief Art Acevedo's comments after he accused GOP of siding with NRA

The Houston Police Officers' Union has hit out at Chief Art Acevedo's words against GOP lawmakers for failing to pass the Violence Against Women Act. Acevedo made the comments after a police sergeant was killed on-duty while responding to a domestic violence call. Acevedo singled out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texan Republican senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn for criticism during an emotional press conference outside the funeral home of Sergeant Christopher Brewster. The police chief condemned the GOP-controlled Senate for stalling the bill, which would ban those convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing firearms.

Brewster, 32, was shot multiple times after police received a call from a woman saying her boyfriend was armed and assaulting her. Brewster was killed at 7400 Avenue L about 5:45 p.m. on December 7, after seeing the couple walking down the street together. "We all know in law enforcement that the one of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room and having a conference committee with the House and getting the Violence Against Women's Act is because the NRA doesn't like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends," Acevedo told reporters. "And who killed our sergeant? A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend. "I don't want to see their little smug faces about how much they care about law enforcement when I'm burying a sergeant, because they don't want to p*** off the NRA. "Make up your minds. Whose side are you on gun manufacturers, the gun lobby or the children are getting gunned down in this country every single day." Acevedo added: "That will be the last thing I say this week because the rest of this week is going to be about Christopher Brewster and his sacrifice. And the fact that his mom, his father, his wife, his sisters, his friends, and ultimately the community that he laid down his life for, will be putting him to rest before Christmas because of the cowardice of the political people that we have in office."

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - December 9, 2019

Judge Julie Kocurek draws surprise opponent on filing deadline for Dem primary

The widely held belief in Travis County was that no one would dare challenge state District Judge Julie Kocurek in next year’s Democratic primary. The concern was that any interested candidates would come across like they were picking on a woman who nearly lost her life in a botched assassination attempt in front of her teenage son four years ago. On Monday, that prediction turned out to be false.

Albert Amado, an attorney who lives in Austin but does not practice here, announced on the final day of the filing period that he will pursue the 390th district court bench that Kocurek has occupied for the past 20 years. Calling the attack on Kocurek “heinous,” Amado said Monday he is sympathetic to the anguish his opponent went through following the shooting outside of her Tarrytown home — but that Democratic voters deserve an alternative. “I have tremendous amount of sympathy for any person who has gone through what she went through,” Amado said. “The attack on her was an attack on the judicial system. I certainly hope no one views my political interests in sharpening the debate as anything like an attack on her. Certainly, I mean no disrespect by running against her.” He said he’ll remind the public that Kocurek was once a Republican who was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. George W. Bush before switching parties to protect her political ambitions. If elected, Amado said he’ll make it a priority to catch social and class inequities early before people enter the criminal justice system.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 9, 2019

In county attorney race, some see Delia Garza as strong candidate; critic says she’s the ‘least qualified’

Austin City Council Member Delia Garza made it official Monday and filed paperwork to run for county attorney in Travis County, ending months of speculation that she would attempt the unconventional shift from crafting municipal policies to prosecuting misdemeanor crimes. Garza, who is Austin’s mayor pro tem and is the first Latina to serve on the council, made the announcement on the last day to file for the Democratic primary, becoming the fourth candidate to line up for the position that will open when longtime county attorney David Escamilla retires.

Her announcement was met with disdain from former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire, who addressed a three-page letter to Garza that he also circulated to media outlets saying she’s unqualified due to her short legal experience. “If you get elected, you would be — demonstrably — the least qualified county attorney in Travis County’s history,” Aleshire wrote. “Your ability to lead that law office would be suspect from day one.” Aleshire, an open-government lawyer, also raised concern that Garza might accept contributions in her bid for county attorney from special interest groups that want favors from her as a city council member. Garza will remain on the council until her term expires in 2021. Aleshire called for Garza to resign from her council seat or adhere to the city’s campaign finance rules, which cap an individual’s donation to a race at $400. Garza, who has represented District 2 in Southeast Austin since joining the council in 2015, said on Monday she couldn’t comment because she was in a meeting about the city’s new land development code.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 9, 2019

Bexar County deputy arrested, but District Attorney’s Office rejects charge of domestic violence

A sheriff’s deputy was taken into custody Monday on suspicion of domestic violence, but hours later, the Bexar County district attorney rejected the charge and the deputy was released. It was an unusual turn of events for an arrest highly publicized by the Sheriff’s Office, which has been rocked by criminal charges against dozens of deputies. In a statement, Sheriff Javier Salazar remained adamant that his office will continue to investigate the deputy and press charges again if warranted.

The deputy was off duty when he was taken into custody at 1 a.m. Monday by sheriff’s patrol deputies in North Bexar County and charged with assault bodily injury after a family disturbance, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release. Salazar touted his agency’s actions in arresting the officer, whose name was not released. “Our employees are constantly trained and reminded of our strong stance regarding family violence and off-duty conduct,” he said. “When that point is still not taken and an incident occurs, we have to act in the interest of justice. I’m extremely disappointed in this employee’s alleged misconduct, but proud of the way deputies, supervisors and investigators on scene made the right call.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 9, 2019

Tax rate cut, ambitious budget requests leave Harris County with tough choices

Several Harris County departments are seeking significant budget increases for the upcoming fiscal year, though Commissioners Court may have little room for generosity after two members forced a property tax cut in October. Ahead of budget hearings next week, department heads asked for $114 million in additional funds, led by ambitious requests from the sheriff and district attorney and a pitch by Harris County Public Health Executive Director Dr. Umair Shah to nearly double his funding.

With less revenue expected, Budget Officer Bill Jackson estimated the county would be able to offer an additional $50 million to spend in the upcoming fiscal year. That figure may make the funding requests appear excessive, though Jackson said the county asked departments to be candid about their deficiencies. The current county general fund budget is $3.07 billion. Shah’s request for $28.6 million — an increase of 97 percent — is the boldest proposal. It would fund 189 new positions, including 62 health clinic staff, 46 for the county animal shelter and 31 focusing on nutrition and chronic disease prevention.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 9, 2019

‘Don’t read between the lines,’ Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says of letter on crime uptick

In his first State of the City address on Monday, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said it was finally an appropriate time for him to call for a concrete plan from the Dallas Police Department about the city’s rise in violent crime. After submitting a strongly worded letter to City Manager T.C. Broadnax last week, Johnson said the public shouldn’t “read between the lines” and interpret anything from his actions beyond what he said. “I’m not a read-between-the-lines type of leader,” Johnson said, denying any tension between him and Broadnax or Police Chief U. Reneé Hall. “If I wanted to call for someone’s removal, I’d call for their removal."

In a question-and-answer session with Julie Fine of KXAS-TV (NBC5) — similar to the format used by former Mayor Mike Rawlings in his State of the City address last year — Johnson said he faced pressure earlier in his administration from media and his political opponents to “play into scare tactics" and call the uptick in crime a public safety “crisis.” It was unhelpful from a leader and too early to tell, he said Monday. Now, as the year comes to an end, Johnson noted that the city’s on pace to have more homicides than the city has had in over a decade. The number of African Americans alone that have been killed this year rivals the total number of homicides Dallas usually counts in a year, he said. "It's a concern. It's a significant concern," Johnson said.

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KUT - December 10, 2019

Chief Equity Officer calls Austin ISD's school closure process inequitable and 'short-sighted'

School closures and consolidations are not "equity strategies," the Austin Independent School District's chief equity officer says in a report released Monday.

"They are short-term and often short-sighted approaches to cost savings that are seldom reinvested in programming in the very school communities that are displaced and dispossessed," Stephanie Hawley continues. The report was dated Nov. 14 – five days before the vote to close four schools last month.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 9, 2019

As growth consumes the Texas prairie, Fort Worth considers a plan to slow sprawl

Each year, Fort Worth developers are turning 2,800 acres of Texas prairie into housing divisions, strip malls and warehouses. That’s equal to about 2,100 football fields. While the growth is good for Fort Worth, it’s not great for the air and water quality in North Texas or its natural habitats. Fort Worth is growing by about 20,000 people a year, and to lessen the effect on the environment, city planners have pitched a partnership with the Trust for Public Lands, a nonprofit that advocates for public open space and helps cities develop park plans.

The effort will identify high priority property still in a relatively natural state that may be worth maintaining, if the City Council gives the OK. To get an idea of where there is still undeveloped land worth protecting, the Trust for Public Land plans to examine data like flood plain and land use maps, said Robert Kent, the nonprofit’s North Texas director. The trust will build a website where the public can see possible zones worth protecting, weighed against how the open land would benefit public health, mitigate flooding, improve water quality and spur economic development. Cost of the land and its ecosystem preservation will also be factors. Identifying those areas could cost Fort Worth about $360,000, less than what Dallas spent on a similar initiative that finished last year.

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National Stories

New York Times - December 9, 2019

Documents reveal US officials misled public on war in Afghanistan

Prominent American officials concealed pessimistic assessments about the long-running military campaign in Afghanistan, according to thousands of pages of documents published by The Washington Post on Monday. Taken together, the documents paint a stark picture of missteps and failures.

The United States military achieved a quick but short-term victory over the Taliban and Al Qaeda in early 2002, and the Pentagon’s focus then shifted toward Iraq. The Afghan conflict became a secondary effort, a hazy spectacle of nation building, with intermittent troop increases to conduct high-intensity counterinsurgency offensives — but, over all, with a small number of troops carrying out an unclear mission. Even as the Taliban returned in greater numbers and troops on the ground voiced concerns about the American strategy’s growing shortcomings, senior American officials almost always said that progress was being made. The documents obtained by The Post show otherwise.

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New York Times - December 7, 2019

Video games and online chats are ‘hunting grounds’ for sexual predators

When Kate’s 13-year-old son took up Minecraft and Fortnite, she did not worry. The video games were hardly Grand Theft Auto — banned in their home because it was too violent — and he played in a room where she could keep an eye on him. But about six weeks later, Kate saw something appalling pop up on the screen: a video of bestiality involving a young boy. Horrified, she scrolled through her son’s account on Discord, a platform where gamers can chat while playing. The conversations were filled with graphic language and imagery of sexual acts posted by others, she said. Her son broke into tears when she questioned him last month.

“I think it’s a huge weight off them for somebody to step in and say, ‘Actually this is child abuse, and you’re being abused and you’re a victim here,’” said Kate, who asked not to be identified by her full name to protect her family’s privacy. Sexual predators and other bad actors have found an easy access point into the lives of young people: They are meeting them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps, making virtual connections right in their victims’ homes. The criminals strike up a conversation and gradually build trust. Often they pose as children, confiding in their victims with false stories of hardship or self-loathing. Their goal, typically, is to dupe children into sharing sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves — which they use as blackmail for more imagery, much of it increasingly graphic and violent.

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The Atlantic - December 10, 2019

Harry Reid is still the party’s kingmaker

Swing past Caesars Palace; head up the Bellagio’s driveway, where its famous fountains are erupting to an auto-tuned Cher hit. Walk by the Dale Chihuly glass-flower ceiling above the check-in line, and the animatronic exhibit with the half-human, half-monkey figures. Head past the blackjack tables and the jangling slot machines and the chocolate fountain to the austere concrete corridors beyond them. There, getting wheeled around in a red metal-frame wheelchair is the 80-year-old man on whom the unity of the Democratic Party in 2020—if not the Democratic nomination—may hinge. If he can stay alive that long.

Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have both stopped by for meetings and checked in via phone. Pete Buttigieg made a special pilgrimage to see him. Bernie Sanders welcomed Reid to his hospital room after his recent heart attack. Before Mike Bloomberg started filing the paperwork to enter the primaries, he didn’t alert many Democratic Party figures—but he did call Reid. He smiled, running his right hand over his left wrist, then his left hand over his right wrist. He usually knows exactly what he wants to say, but seconds ticked by. He tapped his foot. “I don’t know ...” he said, stalling. Barack Obama would seem to be the natural choice; he’s not only the last Democratic president, and the only one since Franklin Roosevelt to be elected twice with majorities of the electorate, but he remains the most popular figure, by far, in the Democratic Party.

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Fox News - December 8, 2019

America’s rural hospital crisis becomes major 2020 campaign issue

Since 2010, more than 100 rural hospitals have closed, with another 430 at risk of shutting their doors, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. This poses a huge challenge -- and danger -- for the 20 percent of the population living in rural America. As the crisis worsens, it has started to generate increased attention on the campaign trail. Presidential candidates are now talking about the rural hospital shortage on a regular basis, unlike past cycles, as they court voters in critical states like Iowa where the thinning medical infrastructure is an everyday reality.

“Rural health just simply has not been a topic in presidential debates and campaigns in the past,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association (NRHA). “We're seeing a unique focus on rural health … this presidential campaign that we haven't seen in the last 20 to 30 years … It's surfacing the issue as a key presidential campaign topic as we move forward.” Voters in rural Iowa say health care access is one of their top concerns and will play a role in deciding who to vote for in the Feb. 3 caucuses. Most of the major Democratic primary candidates have outlined plans to tackle the crisis, with many in favor of expanding "telehealth" services -- essentially doctor's appointments via video chat, and increasing reimbursement rates for rural hospitals.

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Washington Post - December 9, 2019

James Comey: The truth is finally out. The FBI fulfilled its mission.

For two years, the president of the United States and his followers have loudly declared that the FBI acted unlawfully in conducting a counterintelligence investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. They repeatedly told the American people that the FBI had done all sorts of bad things, such as tapping Donald Trump’s wires during the campaign, opening an investigation without adequate cause, with the intent to damage Trump, and inserting secret informants into the Trump campaign.

The president said the FBI’s actions were “treason.” The current attorney general even slimed his own organization by supporting Trump’s claims, asserting there had been “spying” on the campaign. Crimes had been committed, the Trump crowd said, and a whole bunch of former FBI leaders, including me, were likely going to jail. On Monday, we learned from a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, that the allegation of a criminal conspiracy was nonsense. There was no illegal wiretapping, there were no informants inserted into the campaign, there was no “spying” on the Trump campaign.

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Bloomberg - December 9, 2019

Paul Volcker, inflation tamer who set bank risk rule, dies at 92

Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who broke the back of U.S. inflation in the 1980s and three decades later led President Barack Obama’s bid to rein in the investment risk-taking of commercial banks, has died. He was 92. He died Sunday in New York, according to the New York Times, which cited his daughter, Janice Zima.

In a career that spanned more than half a century, Volcker became a one-man economic cleanup crew, called on to devise a successor to the gold standard, a cure for runaway inflation and, in 2008, a response to the housing-market collapse that exposed Americans as perilously leveraged and their banks as highly prone to risk. That last effort led to the Volcker Rule, widely loathed by bankers and subsequently a top priority for overhaul by the Trump administration. The grandson of German immigrants, Volcker held strong beliefs about the dangers of inflation and the virtues of frugality. He flew coach, grumbled about restaurant prices and took his first wife on a honeymoon to a fishing cabin in Maine rather than to Bermuda, as she’d hoped. He scorned financial industry innovations such as credit-default swaps and quipped that the best new financial product in recent decades was the automated teller machine.

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Associated Press - December 10, 2019

A free pass for Trump? GOP presses edge in key battlegrounds

A full year before Election Day 2020, Republicans quietly executed a “dry run” of President Donald Trump's massive reelection machine. They activated tens of thousands of volunteers and tested phone bank capabilities and get-out-the-vote operations in every state in the nation. Before and after the sprawling exercise, GOP officials coordinated thousands of so-called “MAGA Meet ups” to organize and expand their network of Trump loyalists, paying close attention to battlegrounds like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

And on Tuesday, Trump himself will face thousands more cheering supporters in Pennsylvania, his fourth appearance in the swing state this year. The nation's best known Democrats, meanwhile, are pouring most of their time and resources into the states that matter most in their primary fight: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Three of the four will be considered swing states next November, but they are far from the biggest electoral prizes come Election Day 2020.

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Newsclips - December 9, 2019

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Ted Cruz calls impeachment ‘kangaroo court,’ pushes debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in 2016 election

Sen. Ted Cruz came out swinging on impeachment on Sunday, accusing Democrats of mounting a “show trial” meant to railroad President Donald Trump while averting their eyes from actual corruption regarding Democrat Joe Biden. “This is a kangaroo court in the House,” Cruz said. “The American people know this is a waste of time and this is Democrats putting on a circus.”

He insisted that Trump was justified in pressing Ukraine for dirt on Biden because Ukraine “interfered” in the 2016 election. That’s a theory that U.S. intelligence agencies have not endorsed. Trump critics consider the theory baseless, and a theme of Kremlin propaganda aimed at deflecting attention from Russia’s own election meddling while simultaneously driving a wedge between Kyiv and Washington. Cruz also likened Russia’s hacking in the 2016 election, which Vladimir Putin denies, to a public condemnation by Ukraine’s government when then-candidate Trump floated the idea of conferring U.S. recognition on Russia’s control of Crimea, the Ukrainian territory it had invaded and occupied for two years.

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Reuters - December 8, 2019

Democrats zoom in on Trump impeachment charges this week

Democratic lawmakers could vote this week on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, the House Judiciary Committee chairman said on Sunday as lawmakers sharpened their focus on charges of wrongdoing in his dealings with Ukraine. U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler said the panel will not decide on the specific articles until after a hearing on Monday to consider evidence gathered by the House Intelligence Committee in its investigation of the Republican leader.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump's request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the November 2020 election. Nadler told NBC's "Meet the Press" that articles of impeachment would be brought to the panel later in the week. Asked on CNN if lawmakers could vote this week, he said, "It's possible." Democratic lawmakers on Sunday played down the possibility of basing one of the articles of impeachment on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election interference in 2016.

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Politico - December 8, 2019

House-Senate fix could break gridlock on 'surprise' medical bills

Bipartisan efforts to protect patients from “surprise” medical bills are regaining momentum after stalling out over the summer. Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the chairman of the Senate health panel announced a deal Sunday they said would rely on “a new system for independent dispute resolution often called arbitration." The lawmakers didn't elaborate.

The administration is "supportive," according to a senior administration official. Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), called for swift passage of the package, though it's unclear whether there's enough time in a legislative calendar already consumed with impeachment and year-end spending debates. Congressional aides said details of the legislation were forthcoming. The top Democrat on Senate HELP Committee, Patty Murray notably hasn't signed on to the deal — in a sign significant hurdles could remain.

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KUT - December 9, 2019

Ahead of 2020, voting group warns most county election websites in Texas are not secure

Almost 80 percent of county election websites in Texas are not secure ahead of the 2020 presidential primary, according to a report from the League of Women Voters of Texas. Before every major election, the nonpartisan voting group says, it looks through the state’s 254 county election websites to make sure they have the information they are legally required to have, that the information is easy to find and that it’s easy to read. League of Women Voters of Texas President Grace Chimene said as the group conducted this review, it found a glaring issue.

“One of things that stood out to us is that there is a definite problem with website security,” she said. “I was really surprised. I was totally shocked that this is a problem.” In particular, Chimene said, 201 of the 254 sites don’t have https in their URLs, signaling the website is secure. “This is just the most simple thing to fix and it hasn’t been fixed,” she said. The overwhelming majority of sites also didn't have a .gov address, indicating they are government-verified domains. Chimene said only nine counties in the state have a .gov address. “Voters need to know that when they land on a website that it is actually the correct website,” she said. “Right now we have websites that are .net, .org, .com, and it’s really hard to tell whether it’s an actual website by the government or if it’s another website by perhaps some other organization that doesn’t have good purposes and wants to lead voters astray.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Here’s why Charles Schwab and other finance companies keep coming to North Texas

A rising tide may lift all ships, but what happens when the momentum turns and things get rough? For Dallas-Fort Worth, prospects can get even better. That’s one way to think about Charles Schwab’s recent decision to move its corporate headquarters from San Francisco to North Texas. Schwab, a leading discount broker, has been facing financial pressure from online upstarts, heavyweight rivals and low interest rates.

In September, it laid off 600 employees, about 3% of its workforce, and the next month, Schwab cut commissions to zero for online trading of stocks and options. The no-fees move shook up the brokerage business. Then Schwab followed up with a blockbuster deal to acquire TD Ameritrade. It touted the combination’s money-saving potential, what executives like to call synergies. The new company expects to save up to $2 billion annually by cutting overlapping jobs, real estate, overhead and other areas. That means fewer workers and offices — except in Westlake, where Schwab is building a major campus for 6,000 employees and has room to grow. Next door, in Southlake, Ameritrade has a sparkling regional office that opened in 2018.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

3 men indicted on capital murder charges in slaying of Joshua Brown, witness in Amber Guyger’s trial

Three men have been indicted on capital murder charges in the slaying of Joshua Brown, a witness in Amber Guyger’s murder trial for the slaying of Botham Jean. A Dallas County grand jury handed down the indictments Thursday for 22-year-old Thaddeous Charles Green, 20-year-old Jacquerious Mitchell and 32-year-old Michael Diaz Mitchell. Three men have been indicted on capital murder charges in the slaying of Joshua Brown, a witness in Amber Guyger’s murder trial for the slaying of Botham Jean. A Dallas County grand jury handed down the indictments Thursday for 22-year-old Thaddeous Charles Green, 20-year-old Jacquerious Mitchell and 32-year-old Michael Diaz Mitchell.

The Mitchells — who are uncle and nephew — are being held in the Dallas County jail. Green remains at large more than two months after the fatal shooting. Brown, 28, was shot Oct. 4 outside the Atera apartments in the 4600 block of Cedar Springs Road, near the Dallas North Tollway, where he’d moved after Jean’s slaying at the South Side Flats near downtown Dallas. He died later at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Brown had testified just days earlier in the high-profile murder trial of Guyger, a former Dallas police officer. He lived across the hall from Jean and told the jury what he had seen and heard the night of Sept. 6, 2018, when Guyger shot Jean while she was off duty but still in uniform.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Could a Texas lawyer make Facebook face its ‘ugly’ truth? So far, she’s winning

It’s one thing for social media giants to let their platforms be used as agents of foreign powers to manipulate the American people, sow social discord and disrupt democracy. Our elected leaders and even the courts appear willing to abide that disgrace. But it is altogether another thing to stand by while social media companies facilitate the work of sex traffickers who groom and exploit children and then see those companies use federal law as a shield against taking any real responsibility for what happens on their websites.

That has long been the secret of Big Tech’s consolidation of power and influence — a bad law. And that is the reason that a small number of tech companies have captured near-monopolistic market share — because of a provision in the 1996 Communications Decency Act that gives them almost blanket immunity from liability for what people post on their sites. Forget about fake news. To Big Tech, child sex trafficking and other horrible abuses aren’t really their problem — at least not when it comes to taking legal responsibility for the way their sites are used as mediums of exchange for this sort of terrible material. Maybe, though, that is about to change, and maybe Texas will lead the way.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Erica Grieder: Second Amendment ‘sanctuary’ movement reflects nation’s broken gun debate

Last month, Montgomery County became a “Second Amendment sanctuary.” Shortly thereafter, Waller County followed suit. Houston-area residents who heard about either development might well have been perplexed. A number of counties across the country have adopted such resolutions, which seek to protect residents from unconstitutional restrictions on their Second Amendment right to bear arms. That includes a growing number of Texas counties since Hudspeth County, in west Texas, in the spring became the first to proclaim such a status.

Still, when it comes to guns, this would seem to qualify as a sanctuary state. The explanation for the movement’s traction, however, is straightforward enough. Some advocates for Second Amendment rights were frustrated by the results, or lack thereof, of this year’s legislative session. Many are worried about restrictions that might be put on law-abiding gun owners by the federal government — or even by the state, given that Democrats have a chance of retaking the Texas House in 2020. And even in Texas, it’s hard to miss that the tone of debates about gun laws has changed in recent years.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Ilan Levin and Adrian Shelley: Budgets for industry oversight are shrinking as industry profits, and disasters, grow

“The black stuff floating, don’t touch it,” Troy Monk, the director of health, safety and security for the Texas Petroleum Chemical Group in Port Neches, said. “You don’t want to be downwind from this.” Port Neches residents had just survived two explosions at the TPC plant in their community. As the fire burned, they posted frightening photos and videos taken from the front steps of their homes, windows blown out by the propulsive force of the first explosion at 1 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving.

“You don’t want to be downwind from this,” Monk said. But what choice did TPC give Port Neches, Groves, Nederland and Port Arthur? “This” was at least the fifth petrochemical disaster — with ITC in Deer Park, KMCO in Crosby and ExxonMobil in Baytown, twice — this year in the region. Quickly, many observers drew a link from TPC to President Trump’s recent gutting of the Chemical Disaster Rule. That link is difficult to establish without knowing what caused the Port Neches explosions, but the rule, enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration after the deadly explosions in West, Texas, in 2013, was designed to prevent exactly this.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 8, 2019

Land donated to Rey Feo foundation sold to chairman’s grandson

In summer 2018, the Rey Feo Scholarship Foundation found itself in an enviable position as a property owner. A developer had donated about 2 acres of land to the nonprofit on behalf of Rey Feo LXVIII Darren Casey. At that time in 2015, the appraisal district had valued the vacant property on the far East Side at about $96,000. Two years later, H-E-B purchased land near the foundation’s property, and by summer 2018, the grocery company was months away from breaking ground on a 1.6 million-square-foot warehouse, the first phase of a plan to develop the 871 acres into a master-planned campus for manufacturing and distribution.

Johnny Gabriel Sr., owner of the Don’s & Ben’s and Gabriel’s Liquor store chains and longtime chairman of the Rey Feo foundation board, knew the value of the donated land at 518 Saints Haven soon would rise due to H-E-B’s nearby investment. Tom Rohde, the developer who donated the property, said the land’s value could skyrocket to $1 million, depending on its use. But rather than put the land up for sale on the open market, the foundation’s board voted that summer to sell it for $95,000 to Gabriel’s grandson, Regan Gabriel. The proceeds — about $89,000 — went back to the charity, Gabriel Sr. said. At the time of the vote, 60 percent of the foundation’s board consisted of Gabriel family members, including Gabriel Sr. and two of his children, Inez Cindy Gabriel and Ronnie Gabriel, minutes of the meeting show.

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Click2Houston - December 2, 2019

What is TxDPS doing about the upcoming federal requirements established by the REAL ID Act?

The question: What is TxDPS doing about the upcoming federal requirements established by the REAL ID Act? Stricter ID rules take effect in October 2020 as part of the federal REAL ID Act and the Lone Star State is working to ensure Texans comply with the new requirements.

The REAL ID Act is a federal law passed by Congress in 2005. Spurred by the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses,” the law establishes specific federal requirements for state-issued driver licenses used for federal purposes, like boarding a domestic flight or entering a federal building. The Act prohibits federal agencies from accepting licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet the requirements listed in the act. While the law was passed in 2005, it does not go into effect until 2020.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 8, 2019

Almost $700,000 - Why DFW Airport’s leader is the highest-paid airport CEO in America

There are a lot of takeoffs these days at DFW Airport, including the chief executive’s salary. The Dallas Fort Worth Airport board on Thursday approved a hefty bonus and merit pay increase for Sean Donohue, airport chief executive officer. Donohue is believed to be the highest-paid airport CEO in the United States. Including his salary and bonus, Donohue is expected to earn a total of $694,863 in 2019.

“He has been here six years and he has done a beautiful job,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who sits on the DFW Airport board. “All you have to do is look at the financials, the increase in passengers, in revenue.” Donohue, whose base salary for 2019 was $511,568, on Thursday was awarded a one-time bonus of $183,295, based upon a complicated formula in which Donohue gets credit for the airport’s achievements in revenue, passenger volume and other goals. For 2020, Donohue received a 3 percent merit increase in his base salary, bringing it to $526,915. A year from now, he could be eligible for an additional six-figure bonus, if the airport meets certain financial targets and other goals.

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Rio Grande Guardian - December 5, 2019

Rep. Vincente Gonzalez not opposed to classifying drug cartels as terrorist organizations

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez says he is not opposed to classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, claiming the violence they inflict on Mexican citizens is no worse than violence in the Middle East. Gonzalez, D-McAllen, spoke about insecurity in Mexico during a news conference with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar in Mission on Monday. For his part, Cuellar, D-Laredo, acknowledged that the violence perpetrated by Mexican drug cartels is horrific but did not believe it warranted their reclassification.

Asked by a reporter if classifying Mexican drug cartels as terror groups would provide more federal dollars to fight them, Gonzalez said: “I do not know if there would be more funding. There is a huge pushback from the federal government that could impact trade and business. Now me, personally, I am not completely opposed to the idea because I see some of the murders and massacres that are happening in Mexico. They do not look that different to some of the things that are happening in the Middle East.” Gonzalez acknowledged that Mexico is a friend and neighbor to the United States.

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Waco Tribune-Herald - December 7, 2019

Waco Tribune-Herald Editorial: Gov. Abbott's meddling in independent commission's affairs only adds to confusion about rule of law

It’s rotten luck that not only McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley but also the city of Waco — so earnestly striving to portray itself to tourists as an inviting, all-inclusive, non-judgmental community — now finds itself swept up in a tempest involving Gov. Greg Abbott. The Republican governor’s apparent behind-the-scenes political machinations now ensure that an embarrassment concerning Justice Hensley’s religious reservations about same-sex marriages will fester amid evidence of Abbott’s seeming intolerance, contempt for settled law, even corruption.

The Trib last week reported that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has issued a warning to Justice Hensley regarding the inappropriate practice of officiating opposite-sex weddings but refusing the same service to same-sex couples. In doing so, the commission cited the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct: “A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extra-judicial activities [such as performing wedding ceremonies] so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge....” Last week Hearst Newspapers reported that two members appointed by Abbott to the judicial conduct commission in 2018 — neither yet confirmed by the Legislature — saw their nominations pulled by the governor’s office ahead of confirmation.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2019

Texas Libertarians celebrate as judge strikes down filing fees

One week before the filing deadline for Texas candidates, a judge in Harris County blocked the secretary of state from assessing a new fee for third-party candidates that was added by the Legislature this past session. Seven Libertarian voters and potential candidates sued over the law in state District Court in Harris County in October.

Being freed of filing fees ranging from $750 for a candidate for state representative to $5,000 for a U.S. Senate election is a big advantage for a party that operates on a shoestring budget and whose candidates often run with little to no cash in their campaign coffers. In a temporary injunction issued Monday, Judge Kristen Hawkins called the fees an “actual or threatened violation of the Texas and United States Constitutions.” The injunction applies statewide. “This temporary injunction was a crucial step to ensuring voters have choice at the ballot box, as half of all Texas races in 2018 would have been unopposed without Libertarian Party nominees,” said Harris County Libertarian Party Chair Katherine Youngblood, who represented the plaintiffs.

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Washington Post - December 8, 2019

Texans on southern border vow to fight Trump's efforts to take their homes for border wall

Salvador Castillo was yearning for tranquility when he became enchanted by a one-acre homestead close - but not too close - to the city, a place where cows graze beneath whispering mesquite trees on the property's edge. They never imagined a border wall could dissect their property someday. But the first letter, stamped with an official government seal, arrived about a year ago. Their neighbors, the Carrascos and Trevinos, got them too. The United States wanted permission to enter and survey their land - three homes targeted in two neighboring U-shaped Texas subdivisions - in preparation for construction of the Trump administration's new border wall system.

President Donald Trump aims to build 166 miles of border barrier in Texas, almost all of it slated to go on private land that the government has yet to acquire - thousands of parcels along the river, an unknown number of them occupied by their owners, including churches and single-family homes. No new border wall has been built on private land in Texas since the president took office, but land acquisition in the Rio Grande Valley is about to enter a new phase this week, as U.S. attorneys began filing initial petitions in court while making cash offers to property owners, according to Justice Department officials with knowledge of the process. On Friday, the federal government filed its first land acquisition case to condemn nearly 13 acres of private property in the Rio Grande Valley, a parcel near the river levee in Hidalgo County. The owner was offered $93,449 in compensation for the land.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Advocates, reformers oppose Harris County DA’s request for more prosecutors

A coalition of advocates, legal groups and a workers’ union wrote to Harris County commissioners on Sunday, opposing the district attorney’s upcoming budget request for 58 more prosecutors and questioning her commitment to justice reform. The groups’ four-page letter, which comes one day before Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is set to appear before commissioners with her $7.4 million ask, faults the elected Democrat for “overzealous prosecution” of low-level cases, opposition to a bail reform agreement and “inefficient use of prosecutorial resources.”

The request comes nearly a year after Ogg asked commissioners for $21 million to fund 102 new prosecutors, a move that drew criticism from some of the progressive groups who once backed her candidacy. The high-dollar request failed, but the new, scaled-back plea brings more opposition — including from Service Employees International Union, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Texas Organizing Project, the Texas Civil Rights Project and a half-dozen other groups. In her request, Ogg focused on the need for more resources to address the growing number of pending cases and the increased workload created by changes in the law and the proliferation of body camera footage, which can take hours to review. She highlighted her office’s accomplishments, including the creation of a new unit to handle requests for evidence and thus relieve some of the workload from overburdened trial prosecutors.

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Harris County DA Kim Ogg says prosecutors will review additional narcotics casework

Prosecutors will review a 2013 drug possession case in which a Houston police narcotics officer told a local judge he used another cop as his confidential source, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said this week. The review by the district attorney’s office is the latest to hit the Houston Police Department’s embattled narcotics division, which came under scrutiny after a drug raid at 7815 Harding St. in January ended in a shootout that left two homeowners dead and five officers shot or injured.

After the Harding Street shooting, authorities accused Gerald Goines — the officer who orchestrated the fatal raid — of lying about having a confidential informant buy drugs at the home. The debacle — one of the worst scandals to hit the police department in decades — sparked investigations into Goines, his squad and the narcotics division. In November, the Houston Chronicle published an investigation into HPD’s narcotics division, probing Goines’ past cases and troubling conduct by other officers. The 2013 drug case being reviewed by Ogg’s office involved an officer named Marco Santuario. The Chronicle’s investigation showed that an HPD narcotics officer told a Harris County judge during a 2016 court hearing that Santuario acted as his confidential source in their case against a defendant named Arthur Welborn.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 8, 2019

Sheriff: Deputy conducted unlawful strip searches on 6 women while on-duty in South Bexar County

A Bexar County sheriff’s deputy has been arrested and charged in connection with unlawful strip searches of at least six women. Floyd Berry, 49, a patrol deputy, was arrested late Saturday evening on three counts of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor. In one incident, Berry allegedly instructed a woman to “lift her bra and shake” four times during a traffic stop, fully exposing her breasts Berry, an 18-year veteran of the department, was issued a proposed termination, which is tantamount to firing, for the alleged misconduct.

He was taken off patrol and put on administrative duty Dec. 4, a day after two victims reported improper strip searches to the sheriff’s office. The accusations prompted an investigation by the agency’s Public Integrity Unit and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Berry was arrested after he reported to duty at the Adult Detention Center around 11 p.m. Saturday. His bond was set at $45,000. Berry’s arrest comes as the sheriff’s office struggles with personnel problems that have plagued the agency since Sheriff Javier Salazar took office Jan. 1, 2017. More than 40 employees have been arrested for family violence, drunk driving and other misconduct.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 8, 2019

Forest Hill mayor fined for violating Texas Election code

Forest Hill Mayor Gerald Joubert was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine after the Texas Ethics Commission found that he violated numerous sections of the election code. According to the ethics commission report, Joubert accepted contributions from a corporation, improperly documented campaign expenditures and failed to properly list his name and address on reports.

The report found that Joubert accepted four prohibited political contributions, three of which were “intertwined” with Conatser Construction Inc. and included JRC Investments, Inc., JRC Management, L.L.C., and Jerry Conatser. The contribution was for $2,500. Jerry Conatser contributed to Joubert’s 2017 campaign as well as Conatser Site Services. When asked about the commission’s findings on accepting contributions from corporations, Joubert said, “I thought that they were from a personal friend of mine (Jerry Conatser). I’ve known him for 10 years.” Conatser could not be reached for comment.

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KUT - December 6, 2019

Parts of Lamar, Congress and Cesar Chavez are still state roads. The city wants to change that.

The Austin City Council voted Thursday to begin the process of possibly taking over portions of some of the city’s most prominent roads that are currently controlled by the Texas Department of Transportation. The move could make it easier to make infrastructure and transit improvements, by removing a step in the process. The technical names of the roads are State Loop 343, which encompasses portions of South Lamar Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street, and State Loop 275, which includes portions of North Lamar Boulevard in North Austin and South Congress Avenue.

“They used to be the main highways through town at one time, and as we’ve built more regional facilities like I-35 and MoPac, these streets or these highways have really become remnant roads,” said Robert Spillar, director of transportation for the City of Austin. He said the goal of taking over the roads is to “have better control of the management and operations of those roadways.” The city manager will now formally request that TxDOT transfer ownership of the roads, a process that will involve negotiations and an ultimate vote from the Texas Transportation Commission. A TxDOT spokesman said the agency “is aware of the request.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Arturo Solis charged with capital murder in shooting death of Houston Police Sgt. Christopher Brewster

Arturo Solis had racked up a slew of criminal convictions dating back to 2014, but his father said on Sunday he seemed to be getting his life back on track. His son, however, now faces a capital murder charge and is accused of fatally shooting and killing Houston Police Sgt. Christopher Brewster. “He’s going to have to pay for what he did,” Roberto Solis, 59, said of his 25-year-old son. “But it wasn’t him. It was his mind.” Authorities said Solis’ girlfriend called 911 on Saturday and reported he was armed with two guns and had assaulted her. Brewster arrived to find the woman walking down the street behind Solis.

She yelled out, “That’s who you are looking for,” pointing to her boyfriend, according to the statement prosecutors read Sunday morning at Solis’ probable cause hearing in which a Harris County judge ordered him to be held without bond. The prosecutors stated Brewster waved and called out to Solis to get his attention, at which point the east Houston man shot the nine-year HPD veteran “unprovoked” multiple times near the 7400 block of Avenue L. Despite his injuries, Brewster managed to radio in a description of Solis to his fellow officers before losing consciousness. The officer was wearing a bulletproof vest but was struck in areas it did not cover.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - December 8, 2019

Elections Administrator concludes Midland ISD bond vote failed by 25 votes, stands by machines

Elections Administrator Deborah Land said she believes the 820-vote discrepancy between the manual paper ballot recount and electronic machine tabulations is a result of an error that may have happened during the recount. “All along, I have stood by our equipment and our system, and I still do,” Land said. She said she believes the outcome tabulated by electronic machines on Nov. 12 — showing the bond failed by 25 votes — is the accurate result rather than the recount that shows the bond passing by 11 votes.

Land told the Reporter-Telegram she didn’t have a report on how many residents signed to vote at each polling location, but it matched the exact number of ballots tabulated on the electronic machines. Including Greenwood, Precinct 202, there were 24,862 ballots cast on electronic machines. She said, if she did the math correctly, about 23,828 ballots were cast (excluding Greenwood), and 23,631 were cast “for” or “against” the bond measure. “(No one) is going to find out that (electronic votes) have been duplicated, because the number of ballots we have and show on our tapes is the same number of people who signed in,” Land said. “Those numbers matched, and those are different systems.”

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Patch - December 6, 2019

Nonprofit delivers thousands of coats, shoes to Houston students

As the season of giving ramps up, a Houston nonprofit is working with partners near and far to make the holidays a little brighter—and warmer—for local kids. Communities In Schools of Houston (CIS) teamed up with national nonprofit Soles4Souls and its subsidiary Clothes4Souls, as well as Macy's, Gordmans and Skechers to deliver more than 1,500 coats and more than 4,000 pairs of shoes to Houston-area students and their families.

Every student at Houston Independent School District's Wesley Elementary lined up to be fitted for brand new shoes courtesy of CIS, Soles4Souls and Skechers. After finding the perfect fit, each child was able to personalize their new kicks at decorating stations. All the kids received a toy and a gift card to Gordmans, too. And with another cold front expected next week, CIS, Macy's and Clothes4Souls provided new coats to hundreds of students and their families at Houston ISD's Neff Elementary in Sharpstown.

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National Stories

Politico - December 8, 2019

Epic Sunday: Trump goes all-in on the tweets

President Donald Trump had a quiet Sunday schedule, with just one afternoon event in the Blue Room. But by midnight, he had fired off 105 tweets and retweets, going for the usual suspects — Democratic rivals, the impeachment inquiry and allegations of fake news by the mainstream media. Trump’s Twitter barrage comes the day before House impeachment investigators will present their findings against the president to the Judiciary Committee. The White House has chosen not to participate in future Judiciary Committee hearings designed to outline evidence in support of Trump’s impeachment. Here are some highlights from Trump’s day on social media.

In a brief, late afternoon tweet, Trump teased the release of the much-anticipated Inspector General report Monday, which coincides with House investigators’ presentation to the Judiciary Committee — a key step before Democrats finalize articles of impeachment. The IG report will examine the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign, detailing the bureau’s decision to open an investigation into Trump-Russia ties and its conduct during that investigation. “I.G. report out tomorrow. That will be the big story!” the president wrote Sunday.

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Politico - December 7, 2019

Medicare chief asked taxpayers to cover stolen jewelry

A top Trump health appointee sought to have taxpayers reimburse her for the costs of jewelry, clothing and other possessions, including a $5,900 Ivanka Trump-brand pendant, that were stolen while in her luggage during a work-related trip, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. Seema Verma, who runs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, filed a $47,000 claim for lost property on Aug. 20, 2018, after her bags were stolen while she was giving a speech in San Francisco the prior month. The property was not insured, Verma wrote in her filing to the Health and Human Services department.

The federal health department ultimately reimbursed Verma $2,852.40 for her claim, a CMS spokesperson said. Verma’s claim included $43,065 for about two dozen pieces of jewelry, based off an appraisal she'd received from a jeweler about three weeks after the theft. Among Verma's stolen jewelry was an Ivanka Trump-brand pendant, made of gold, prasiolite and diamonds, that Verma’s jeweler valued at $5,900. Verma’s claim also included about $2,000 to cover the cost of her stolen clothes and another $2,000 to cover the cost of other stolen goods, including a $325 claim for moisturizer and a $349 claim for noise-cancelling headphones.

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Axios - December 9, 2019

Poll: Impeachment is helping Trump in 3 key battleground states

Quarterly polling by the Republican firm Firehouse Strategies, with Optimus, had President Trump struggling in the mega-battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — but in the newest edition, he beats every Democrat.

Trump won by an average of six percentage points in hypothetical match-ups against all current Democratic candidates, including Joe Biden, who was performing well in head-to-head contests against Trump in polling conducted earlier in the year.

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Axios - December 8, 2019

Biden promises restrictions on Hunter, family if elected

Former Vice President Joe Biden, in an interview with "Axios on HBO," promised to prohibit his son Hunter, and other family members, from cashing in on his name and position overseas if he wins the presidency. Questions may intensify as impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump move to the Senate and the Iowa caucuses approach. Biden already has drawn scrutiny for allowing his son to get paid handsomely by a Ukrainian business while the VP led the Obama administration's anti-corruption push in Ukraine.

The big question: Will Biden move away from a posture of defending his son's honor to acknowledge and address legitimate concerns about his own judgment among some Democrats and swing voters? Biden told Axios' Mike Allen that Hunter did nothing wrong — but that he has not dug into what Hunter actually did while working in Ukraine. “I don't know what he was doing. I know he was on the board. I found out he was on the board after he was on the board and that was it,” Biden told us. Asked whether he wants to get to the bottom of it, Biden said, "No. Because I trust my son."

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Associated Press - December 8, 2019

Schumer: Fed workers to get 12 weeks of paid parental leave

The Senate’s top Democrat said Sunday that congressional leaders have reached a “real breakthrough” deal to give 12 weeks of paid parental leave to millions of federal workers as part of the annual defense policy bill. Sen. Charles Schumer said the agreement over the National Defense Authorization Act was reached late Friday night and a vote is expected later this week. The establishment of President Donald Trump’s proposed Space Force is also included in the bill.

Trump administration officials have said Space Force is urgently needed to preserve U.S. dominance in space. A proposal from the Pentagon released earlier this year suggested the service would have about 15,000 personnel and begin in 2020. Space Force would reside within the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps exists within the Navy. The must-pass bill includes a provision that would allow more than 2 million federal government workers to take paid leave to care for a new baby or for an adopted child. Parental leave was a priority for high-ranking Democrats, including Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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The Hill - December 8, 2019

Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests

President Trump on Sunday renewed his criticism of Fox News, claiming that the network was pandering to the Democratic Party by repeatedly hosting liberal lawmakers to discuss the impeachment inquiry.

"Don’t get why @FoxNews puts losers on like @RepSwalwell (who got ZERO as presidential candidate before quitting), Pramila Jayapal, David Cicilline and others who are Radical Left Haters," Trump said on Twitter just hours after Fox News anchor Chris Wallace hosted Cicilline, a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, on "Fox News Sunday."

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McClatchy - December 6, 2019

How progressives are plotting to stop Pete Buttigieg’s rise in the 2020 race

Progressive activists around the country are mobilizing to halt the momentum of Pete Buttigieg, who they increasingly view as a formidable threat to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Top liberal leaders from multiple organizations are independently crafting strategies that center around three prongs: a heightened focus on Buttigieg’s checkered record on race in South Bend, Ind., his little-known work at the McKinsey consulting firm and an argument that his tempered policy proposals align with the wishes of large corporations.

The escalation of attacks against Buttigieg comes not only as he emerges as a next-generation alternative to moderate Joe Biden, but as he shows signs of undercutting a progressive’s path to victory in the 2020 primary. “My expectation is that as he gets more scrutiny, he’ll come down. He has liabilities as a candidate,” said Joe Dinkin, the campaigns director for the Working Families Party, which endorsed Elizabeth Warren in September. “I think Pete is not going to hold up well to the scrutiny.” Warren allies see Buttigieg’s ascent as coming at the expense of the Massachusetts senator, whose position in the race has declined over the last month as white college-educated Democrats have shifted their allegiance to the 37-year-old mayor. They believe Buttigieg’s attacks on Medicare for All helped resurrect some voters’ anguish about Warren’s electability.

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Washington Post - December 8, 2019

Jennifer Rubin: It has come to this: Ted Cruz is Putin’s stooge

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has spent his entire adult life touting the West’s defeat of communism in the Cold War. In July 2014, he declared to a young conservative group, “‘Mr. Putin, give back Crimea.’ Why is it so unimaginable for President Obama to utter those words?” He continued, “We need to stand up and speak out for freedom. The words that come from the president of the United States matter. President Reagan demonstrated that. One of the saddest things is President Obama doesn’t do that.”

So Cruz and other Republicans, in particular President Trump, have been lying about Obama’s stance on Ukraine for a long time. One can argue, as I did at the time, that Obama’s response should have been stronger, but he was no apologist for Russia. In that regard, Obama cannot hold a candle to Trump, who in the 2016 regurgitated Russian talking points that “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.” To quote Cruz, why is it so imaginable that Trump should not tell Vladimir Putin to give back Crimea? I see you there, chortling. Of course it is unimaginable that Trump should demand anything of Putin or demand it cease its illegal invasion and annexation of Ukraine.

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Newsclips - December 8, 2019

Lead Stories

KUT - December 6, 2019

After controversy, Texas Medical Board is no longer writing rules for surprise bill law

The Texas Medical Board will no longer be writing the rules for a new law outlawing surprise medical bills for some Texans. The law goes into effect Jan. 1. During a meeting Friday morning, the board decided to relinquish its rulemaking authority after consumer advocates accused it of undermining the law. Earlier this year, Republican and Democratic lawmakers came together to pass legislation that would shield people with state-regulated health insurance plans from getting expensive bills for out-of-network care – particularly in cases where patients cannot choose their provider.

Senate Bill 1264 creates an arbitration process for insurers and providers to negotiate fair prices for that out-of-network care without involving patients. Currently, patients can get a “surprise bill” when both sides can’t agree on a fair price. Consumer advocates – who championed SB 1264 – began raising concerns when agencies started writing rules for the law. Specifically, they pointed to an alleged “loophole” within rules proposed by the Texas Medical Board that would have allowed providers in non-emergency situations to ask patients to agree to pay high out-of-network prices.

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Reuters - December 8, 2019

Saudi airman may have become radicalized before U.S. Navy base attack

The Saudi airman accused of killing three people at a U.S. Navy base in Florida appeared to have posted criticism of U.S. wars and quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on social media hours before the shooting spree, according to a group that tracks online extremism. Federal investigators have not disclosed any motive behind the attack, which unfolded at dawn on Friday when the Saudi national is said to have begun firing a handgun inside a classroom at the Naval Air Station Pensacola.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during a public appearance on Saturday he was not ready to label it an act of terrorism. A vigil was held on Saturday for those wounded and killed, among them a recent Naval Academy graduate who dreamed of being a fighter pilot and a teenage Arab American. A sheriff's deputy fatally shot the gunman, authorities said, ending the second deadly attack at a U.S. military base within a week. Within hours, Saudi Arabia's King Salman had called U.S. President Donald Trump to extend his condolences and pledge his kingdom's support in the investigation. Authorities confirmed the suspect was a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who was on the base as part of a U.S. Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Republicans look to hold off Democrats’ gains in Dallas, win back Texas House seats in 2020

Luisa del Rosal is a dream candidate for Dallas County Republicans. She’s a millennial, a Latina and an immigrant. She’s also a traditional pro-business Republican who describes herself as “pro-life.” “I’m a conservative Republican and I’m a proud one,” she said. “I want to talk about all the things we’ve done that have led to prosperity.” But del Rosal faces several challenges next year as she runs for a seat in the Texas House. She’s up against an incumbent Democrat, John Turner, whose moderate approach and yeoman work ethic during his first session in the Legislature impressed many in his district and kept him out of the political fights that engulfed other freshman Democrats.

Many Dallas County Republicans are facing the same test as they look to win back seats they lost in 2018, or at least hold on to the seats they still have. The fields will be set Monday at 6 p.m., the filing deadline for the March 3 GOP and Democratic primaries. Perhaps a bigger concern — or advantage, depending on whom you ask — is that del Rosal is on the ticket during a year when President Donald Trump and his no-holds-barred style of Republicanism will be on the ballot. Jim Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas, said the expectation in the state given last year’s election is the continued growth of Democratic voters. But because 2018 had an unusually high turnout, it is difficult to gauge how much more growth is left. “Was the big surge in 2018? Was 2018 closer to a new floor or a new ceiling?” he said. “I’m not sure anybody knows. Everybody is trying to figure it out.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Steven W. Pedigo: Texas’ rapid economic growth is reaching its limits. Here’s what we should do

We Texans have more than earned our bragging rights when it comes to our state’s economy. If Texas was a country, its $1.7 trillion economy would be the tenth largest in the world. Our statewide unemployment rate is just 3.4%, the lowest it has been since tracking began. Chief Executive magazine has ranked Texas “The Best State for Business” for 15 years running.

I’m from Southeast Texas and as proud a Texan as any. But as the newly-appointed director of the Urban Lab at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and an advisor to more than 50 cities around the world, it’s clear to me that our state’s relentless focus on growth for growth’s sake is rapidly approaching its limits. For decades, Texas has relied on its low taxes and light regulations to draw jobs and people to the state. Up until now, it’s worked very well; more than 3 million people have moved to the state since 2010. But too many Texans are being left behind. To ensure a sustainable future, Texas must make five central investments:

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New York Post - December 7, 2019

Professor renowned for predicting elections says 2020 ‘too close to call’

A professor who has accurately predicted the winner of eight of the last nine presidential elections says 2020 is still officially “too close to call.” “This is a very close and very difficult call. I don’t think either the Democrats or the Republicans should be sending up any victory flags at this point,” Allan J. Lichtman, a political historian at American University, told The Post. “Too much is still up in the air and in the age of Trump, things can change very quickly.”

Lichtman, 72, has become a cult figure in American politics for developing a set of 13 criteria which he has used to make his prediction. Metrics include things like scandal, foreign military failure and social unrest. The theory is laid out in his 1996 book “The Keys to the White House.” The system was able to predict Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection back in 1982 — during a recession. (In 2000, he predicted Al Gore would win the popular vote, though tripped up on the ultimate outcome of the electoral college. Something he still doesn’t accept. “2000 was a stolen election,” he says.)

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Associated Press - December 8, 2019

Watchdog expected to find Russia probe valid, despite flaws

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog will release a highly anticipated report Monday that is expected to reject President Donald Trump’s claims that the Russia investigation was illegitimate and tainted by political bias from FBI leaders. But it is also expected to document errors during the investigation that may animate Trump supporters.

The report, as described by people familiar with its findings, is expected to conclude there was an adequate basis for opening one of the most politically sensitive investigations in FBI history and one that Trump has denounced as a witch hunt. The report comes as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry in Congress centered on his efforts to press Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden. Trump also claims the impeachment investigation is politically biased. The release of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review is unlikely to quell the partisan battles that have surrounded the Russia investigation. It’s also not the last word on that investigation. A separate internal investigation continues, overseen by Trump’s attorney general, William Barr and led a U.S. attorney, John Durham.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Shaheen Pasha: Muslim-American politicians face Islamophobia online, but hardly ever from their constituents

Watching the results roll in on election night, I felt a curious mix of emotions. As a Muslim-American woman I took pride in the news that Virginia had elected its first two Muslim women to office. My heart expanded even more as I discovered that two Muslim Somali-American women — former refugees — had been elected to their respective city councils in Minnesota and Maine. The momentum set by Muslim women in the 2018 midterm elections is accelerating ahead of the 2020 election, and this was a moment of validation that my identity was finally being represented in a meaningful way in the country in which I was born.

But as a journalist and the co-author of a recent report on Islamophobia in the 2018 elections, my pride was tinged with sadness at the road that lies ahead for this new class of Muslim politicians. It’s a road paved with Islamophobia and misogyny that starts on the campaign trail and extends to service. It’s one that I understand all too well, not only as a researcher who examined this issue but as a Muslim woman in the media who has been at the receiving end of such vitriol on social media. Last year, I was asked to join a research project, led by Lawrence Pintak, to examine the experiences of the roughly 80 Muslim American candidates who ran for office in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2019

Texas is one of the most gun friendly states. These county officials want to keep it that way.

For nearly a dozen years, the routine has been the same for Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds. A constituent or two would approach him convinced that the federal government was coming for their guns and that he would help them. Deeds would do his best, one at a time, to reassure his neighbors that wasn’t the case. Then Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman and onetime presidential candidate, promised that if he were elected to the nation’s highest office, he really would confiscate military-style assault weapons.

Folks in Hood County, which sits about 90 minutes southwest of Dallas, freaked out. So, Deeds began researching his options and learned that cities and counties across the country were declaring themselves sanctuaries for gun owners and fierce defenders of the Second Amendment. Since the fall, nearly 20 Texas counties have adopted similar resolutions, according to the conservative news website The Texan. The latest -- and so far, the most populous -- is Collin County, which adopted its resolution Nov. 25. The counties -- including Hood, Ellis, and Palo Pinto -- represent a tiny fraction of local governments in Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

Insurance won’t fully cover costs to replace 3 Dallas schools damaged by tornadoes. So DISD is getting creative

Insurance will not completely cover the cost to rebuild three Dallas schools damaged by the October tornadoes, DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Thursday. District officials got the news this week as DISD worked on a proposal that would shuffle around grade offerings at a handful of North Dallas campuses near neighborhoods affected by the storm. The district is currently expecting about $60 million to $70 million in insurance reimbursement. But rebuilding could easily top $100 million depending on design costs and other specifications that could pop up during rebuild.

Hinojosa said the district is pushing back against the insurance determinations and is working with the county to urge federal officials to declare a federal disaster designation, which could significantly help the district in rebuilding. The Oct. 20 tornadoes significantly damaged three schools. Cary Middle School was destroyed and will not be rebuilt, Hinojosa said. Those students have been moved into two other middle schools. Insurance officials declared that Thomas Jefferson High School and Walnut Hill Elementary have “significant” damage, meaning the district won’t receive full replacement costs. Hinojosa said the district will try to salvage what it can from the two sites. The Walnut Hill site, for example, has some “good bones” in the façade that might be saved. The district was already planning to bring a bond proposal to voters in 2020. Now DISD will have to include rebuilding costs in that plan, Hinojosa said. The district could also tap into savings if needed.

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Dallas Morning News - December 8, 2019

Methodist conference sues SMU over university’s steps to redefine its relationship with the church

The United Methodist Church’s South Central Jurisdictional Conference last week filed a lawsuit against Southern Methodist University to prevent the university from reconfiguring its relationship with the church. At stake is whether the university is controlled by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference or by the university’s own board of trustees. The dispute is related to division within the United Methodist Church over the church’s stance on LGBTQ inclusion.

Delegates at a conference in February voted in favor of a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which strengthened bans on LGBTQ-affirming practices within the church. The proposal widened a rift within the church's progressive and conservative members. The controversy has raised the possibility that the church will split into different denominations. On Nov. 6, SMU amended its articles of incorporation to say the university is not controlled by the SCJC but by the school’s own board of trustees. SMU President R. Gerald Turner said the university’s actions were done to protect the school’s future. “We’re trying to get this done before the church decides what kind of split they’re going to have, so that we can continue to educate everybody from all Methodist denominations and from other denominations, and people who don’t believe at all.” he said.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Digital roughnecks: Oil and gas workforce changing as tech’s role grows

Scrum master. Agile coach. Data scientist. Cloud architect. Jobs in the oil and natural gas industry are changing as technology plays an ever larger role in extracting fossil fuels beneath the ground and under the sea. A younger, diverse class of tech workers holding these and other titles, such as big data engineer or user experience designer, are increasingly replacing roughnecks, roustabouts and other blue collar workers who toil under the hot Texas sun or on platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Energy companies, fighting to stay profitable with oil prices stuck in the $50 to $60 range, are making a major push to digitize and automate operations, allowing drilling in West Texas or in the middle of the ocean to be operated and monitored from control rooms in Houston. That push is driving the growth of six-figure tech jobs that prize skills such as coding, design, data analysis and computer system architecture over physical prowess. While statewide employment in the oil and natural gas industry is down by 3 percent compared to a year ago, tech jobs in the sector appear to be growing, especially in Houston where nearly two-thirds of the estimated 228,000 tech jobs in the region are outside of traditional technology companies such as Google, Amazon and Dell.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Celebrations of the Confederacy don’t belong in Texas

If you’ve been to the state Capitol you’ve probably seen it. The Confederate Soldiers monument is one of the first things that greets visitors coming through the southern entrance. Also known as the Confederate dead monument, it features four bronze statues representing the branches of the Confederate military, while a figure of Jefferson Davis towers over all. Words etched in the granite base — about how the south, “animated by the spirit of 1776,” decided to secede — exalt the Confederate fighters who “died for states’ rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”

This means that standing in a place of honor since it was erected in 1903 — in the heart of Texas — there is a memorial that’s topped by a traitor to the United States and based on a lie. Perhaps one day soon, Texas lawmakers can honestly discuss what it means to have monuments that celebrate the Confederacy, and which perpetuate the false claim that it was anything other than the preservation of slavery that was at the heart of the Civil War. When they do, they’ll finally understand that it’s not history critics of the memorials are contesting, but rather the contemporary judgments we make about which historic figures should be honored, and which should instead simply be studied in textbooks, museums and other appropriate settings.

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Houston Chronicle - December 8, 2019

Fort Bend’s Nehls announces bid for Congress

Republican Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls announced Saturday he is running for Congress, joining a crowded field of candidates vying to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Pete Olson. Nehls made the announcement on the conservative morning show “Fox & Friends,” then kicked off his campaign at Freedom Hall in Richmond Saturday evening.

Nehls’ announcement comes more than four months after Olson, R-Sugar Land, announced in July he would not seek a seventh term representing the district, which covers parts of Fort Bend and Brazoria counties and a sliver of south Harris County. Nine Republicans have filed for the seat, according to the Texas Secretary of State, ahead of Monday’s filing deadline. At least three Democrats are running, too, including 2018 Democratic nominee Sri Kulkarni. National Democrats have the district in their sights, encouraged by its quickly diversifying population and Kulkarni’s 5-point loss in 2018, a far narrower result than in prior years.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2019

Dannenbaum pleads guilty to illegal donations

James Dannenbaum, the former head of a prominent Texas engineering firm and a major political donor, pleaded guilty Friday to circumventing federal election laws by helping employees funnel illegal campaign contributions to congressional and U.S. Senate candidates.

Dannenbaum, a Houston resident who served a six-year term as a University of Texas regent, admitted to a federal judge that he helped employees make illegal donations to the re-election campaigns of a candidate for the U.S. Senate and two candidates for U.S House of Representatives in a single year. He pleaded guilty to a single count of making contributions in the names of other people when he gave $10,000 to $25,000 in a single year by illegal means. The former company CEO, now 80, arrived at the Houston federal courthouse in a wheelchair. He provided a written statement prior to his court appearance.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 6, 2019

Why Republicans are confident Donald Trump will carry Texas in 2020

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has a simple message for Democrats who think the nation's most reliable red large state is ripe for the flipping: Bring it. It's Patrick's job to shower cold water on Democrats. In addition to being the No. 2 statewide elected official in state government, he's also President Donald Trump's point man in Texas. And as such, Patrick filed the paperwork needed to put Trump's name on the March 3 GOP Texas primary ballot.

When he turned in the box containing some 15,000 petition signatures of Republican voter to party officials in Austin to secure Trump's spot on the ballot, Patrick made the bold prediction that the president would surpass his 2016 performance when he carried Texas by 9 percentage points. That margin appears to be comfortable enough. But in the recent history of Texas political, a 9-point spread actually qualifies as a nail-biter for the Republicans in a presidential election. Four years earlier, Republican Mitt Romney smoked President Barack Obama by 16 points. Before that, Texan George W. Bush carried in his home state by more than 22 points in his two presidential elections.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 8, 2019

Areas producing oil, gas in Texas see more fatal crashes

Danielle Galvan was driving to Dallas from her parents' home in the Panhandle when her compact Chevrolet Spark crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer that was attempting to back up onto U.S. 287 about 10 miles west of Wichita Falls. The 23-year-old aspiring fashion designer and model died in the fiery wreck on the night of March 6, 2018, leaving behind two children and a grieving extended family in Hereford, southwest of Amarillo. The crash that claimed her life occurred on a highway that connects some of the largest and busiest oil- and gas-producing regions of Texas to the sprawling population center anchored by Dallas and Fort Worth, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported.

Galvan was among the 1,673 people who lost their lives in 2018 while motoring through one of Texas' five largest oil and gas plays, according to figures compiled by the Texas Department of Public Safety. That's about half of all traffic fatalities in the state and represents a grim downside to the Texas resurgent energy sector that is helping to propel the state's booming economy. "It's very scary out there right now," said Richard Minnix, the owner of McClatchy Brothers, a Midland trucking company that serves the booming and oil-rich Permian Basin. "The biggest problem is distracted driving. It's jacking with your cell phone, text messages." The TxDOT figures still show speeding as the No. 1 cause of crashes in Texas, with distracted driving close behind. Lawmakers in 2017 banned texting and driving in Texas, but the crash rate still increased during the first year the law went on the books.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 5, 2019

Record number of children adopted from Texas foster care system, new figures show

The number of children adopted from the state's foster care has reached a four-year high and just over half of the kids were adopted by family members, according to data released Wednesday by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. “This is certainly great news, and affirmation that our year-round adoption efforts are paying off,” said Kristene Blackstone, an associate commissioner for Child Protective Services, an arm of DFPS.

All tolled, more than 20,000 children left Texas foster care during the 12-month period that ended Sept. 1. However, only 6,107 found permanent homes through the adoption process. Of those, 3,095 were placed with family members. Both numbers are all-time highs, officials said. Also, the number of children who left foster care outnumbered those entering the system care by more than 1,700 children, the state agency said. "The increase in relative adoptions is especially good news, said Kate Murphy, a senior policy associate for Texans Care for Children, a nonprofit advocacy group. "There is a growing recognition that in most cases children in foster care do better when they live with a family rather than in a group or institutional setting, and even better still if they are able to stay connected to their actual family members or community."

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Wichita Falls Times-Record - December 6, 2019

Wichita County Commissioner Lee Harvey filed to run for Congress

Wichita County Precinct 2 Commissioner Lee Harvey has thrown his hat into a ring already crowded with candidates running for the 13th Congressional District seat. Harvey has filed with the Texas Republican Party for a place on the March 3 GOP Primary ballot after floating the idea on Facebook Thursday morning.

Thornberry is the Republican from Clarendon who has served as the 13th CD congressman for about 25 years. He announced earlier this year that he is not seeking re-election and is retiring in January 2021. Eleven Republicans, including Harvey, and two Democrats have filed to run in the primaries as of Friday evening, according to the websites of the Texas Secretary of State and the Texas Republican Party.

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El Paso Times - December 6, 2019

Backed up at the border: What caused worst wait times in 10 years at international bridges

Pedro Rey has a wife, two kids, a trucking company and a life that straddles the border. He lives in the U.S. and works in Mexico, where his parents and grandparents still reside; weekends are split between the cities. So he faces down the international bridge lines on a near-daily basis, along with the more than 50,000 people who cross each day between El Paso and Juárez. Which is to say: He knows how bad it's been this year.

Border wait times for passengers and pedestrians have stretched into hours-long odysseys in 2019, a year in which immigration news has figured prominently in national politics and provoked a flurry of policies that have stoked bottlenecks at ports of entry.But even SENTRI lane wait times have grown from 10 to 15 minutes, to 40 minutes on a good day, he said — slow enough to read books on his Kindle. Earlier this year, he waited two hours in the "fast" lane, he said. A sharp increase in migrants arriving at the Juárez-El Paso border earlier this year — many of them with children, seeking asylum — set in motion policy changes that have made cross-border commutes longer and more unpredictable.

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Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2019

Josh Flynn’s eligibility for battleground House District 138 race questioned

A state law that deems certain officeholders ineligible for the Legislature is raising questions about whether Texas House candidate Josh Flynn is allowed to run for the seat while keeping his current position as a Harris County Department of Education trustee. Flynn, one of three Republicans to file for the House District 138 primary in March, joined the HCDE board in January after winning the Position 4, Precinct 3 election in 2018. The board elected Flynn president at his first meeting.

The law in question is a section of the Texas Constitution that deems “any person holding a lucrative office under the United States” ineligible for the Legislature. The law does not define “lucrative office,” but a 1992 Texas Supreme Court opinion issued by then-justice John Cornyn determined that “an office is lucrative if the office holder receives any compensation, no matter how small.” Flynn and his fellow HCDE trustees receive $6 per meeting, as required by state law. The Constitution and the Supreme Court opinion do not appear to specify when “lucrative” officeholders must resign in order to be eligible. However, a 1995 attorney general letter opinion determined that the law “does not disqualify the holder of a lucrative office from running for the legislature ... if the officeholder resigns from the lucrative office before filing for the legislature.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 7, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: Warring Bexar County Dems could be headed for truce

Whatever divisions you find within a political party just get intensified at the local level. While Democrats on the national stage are working out their ideological differences on health care, college tuition funding and immigration reform, within the Bexar County Democratic Party, most of the fighting tends to be over personalities and family feuds. A good chunk of the party’s County Executive Committee never accepted or trusted Manuel Medina, the political consultant who served as Bexar County chair from 2012-18.

When Medina lost his seat last year to Monica Alcántara, Medina’s loyalists — derisively called “Manuelistas” by his detractors — refused to cooperate with her. This conflict has almost nothing to do with policy or political strategy differences between Medina and Alcántara. If such differences exist, it would take a high-powered microscope to spot them. Nonetheless, as we approach Monday’s filing deadline for this state’s 2020 primary election, the Bexar County Democratic Party is basically operating as two organizations that refuse to recognize each other’s legitimacy.

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Texas Public Radio - December 6, 2019

Military families at Randolph, Laughlin, ask judge to stop ‘negligent’ private housing contractor

Eight military families who claim they were sickened by mold, vermin and other toxins while living in privately-managed housing at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph and Laughlin Air Force Base are now upping the ante in court.

They sued contractor Hunt Military Communities for damages and mental anguish in October, attributing their housing problems to the company’s "profound neglect, malfeasance and greed." In an amended pleading filed Thursday, they asked a federal judge to stop Hunt from putting more people at risk. The families want Hunt to be prevented from moving anyone else into base housing at Randolph or Laughlin until an outside inspector deems the homes safe to live in. In the meantime, they want to freeze the automatic rent payments Hunt receives. The families also seek to enjoin Hunt from retaliating against those who complain of mold and other health and safety conditions, according to their court filing.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 7, 2019

Ken Herman: Church, state, Texas politics and ‘enemies of the word of God’

We’ve had some interesting recent crossings (pardon the expression) into democracy’s most precarious intersection, that of church and state and politics. Let’s take a look and see what we think. First, let me reiterate that I don’t believe in total separation of church and politics. One’s religion should inform one’s politics. Religions offer guidance on a variety of important issues hashed out in the political arena, including education, abortion, adoption, marriage, capital punishment, human rights and more.

It is in the inevitable interaction between politics and state that we run into difficulties, difficulties we never have and never will sort out to everyone’s satisfaction. Our first example today is one in which Rick Perry recently raised some hackles, mostly among people who have seen Perry as a hackle-raiser since back before the turn of the century. In a November interview on Fox News during his closing days as energy secretary, Perry told us he had told President Donald Trump that he’s God’s “chosen one” to lead the United States. Our ex-governor said God “is still very active in the details of the day-to-day lives of government.?

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

As flu soars early in Tarrant County, a child has died of the virus, authorities say

A child has died of the flu in Tarrant County for the first time since 2015, authorities said Thursday.

The child had other health conditions that Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja did not describe. “The patient tested positive for Influenza B, which is circulating early and predominantly this season,” he said.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 7, 2019

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Past time for bail reform in Bexar County

Now that a federal judge has signed off on Harris County’s historic bail reform agreement, criminal court judges here in Bexar County have no excuses to not follow suit. Under the Harris County agreement, cash bail has been eliminated for roughly 85 percent of misdemeanors. These are nonviolent offenses. There are exceptions for family violence, bond violations and repeated drunken driving. There are myriad reasons for eliminating cash bail for these minor offenses. Numerous studies have shown the longer people languish in jail, the more likely they are to end up there again.

It’s expensive for taxpayers to jail defendants. Families are separated and employment is disrupted — all before innocence or guilt is established, mind you. But the prevailing concern is what’s known as wealth-based detention. That is, two people might be charged with the same crime. But one can afford to pay his or her bail while the other cannot, and that can be the difference between guilt or innocence. Many indigent defendants will plead guilty simply to be released from jail. As Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote in her opinion: “No system can guarantee that all those accused of misdemeanors who are released on personal bonds — rich or poor — will appear for hearings or trial, or that they will commit no crimes on release.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 7, 2019

Willie D’s plan to run for county commissioner rejected by Harris County Democrats

Former Geto Boys rapper William “Willie D” Dennis wants to run for Harris County Commissioners Court, but local Democratic party officials rejected his application to get on the ballot, citing his criminal history and a state law that has become a lightning rod in north Houston politics over the last month. Dennis filed an application Thursday with the Harris County Democratic Party, seeking to challenge incumbent Rodney Ellis for the court’s Precinct 1 seat. He said he wants to bring his unique perspective to government.

On Saturday, the party notified him that he was ineligible because of his 2010 felony conviction for wire fraud charges, stemming from an iPhone sales scam. The party cited a state law that forbids candidates from running for public office if they have been convicted of felony from which they have not been pardoned or otherwise released from its “resulting disabilities.” The statute doesn’t define that phrase and has invited varying interpretations that have not been definitively resolved by courts. It is currently the subject of a contentious lawsuit surrounding the stalled runoff in the Houston city council’s District B election. “I would add that this is not my decision,” said party chair Lillie Schechter. “We follow the Texas Election Code.”

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - December 6, 2019

Did the Austin chamber influence school closures?

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce for years has quietly pressed plans to close Austin schools, culminating this summer with an offer of financial assistance for communication strategies for school closures, according to multiple former board members and district records obtained by the American-Statesman.

The chamber directed $10,000 to an outside firm that helped shape the school board’s messaging strategy in the runup to a 6-3 vote to shutter four campuses, a role by the chamber that was previously undisclosed. “I have never before seen the chamber financially support the district’s efforts to close schools,” said state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, a former Austin school board president who opposes the school closures. “It is the chamber’s prerogative to have an agenda to close schools. What is disappointing to me in all this is that the school district, the public institution, has not been transparent about that relationship.”

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Austin American-Statesman - December 6, 2019

Austin’s 2nd motel for homeless will cost up to $6.8 million

Less than a month after the Austin City Council approved an $8 million purchase and renovation of a motel in Southeast Austin to provide housing to the city’s homeless, council members on Monday will consider the purchase of a second motel for $6.8 million. The Microtel Inn and Suites at 7705 Metro Center Drive, near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, is a 71-room motel situated in a cluster of hotels immediately southwest of the intersection of East Ben White Boulevard and U.S. 183.

“The property is an ideal location given the proximity to areas where individuals who are experiencing homelessness live, accessible by public transportation, close to major arterials, and within reasonable distance of health care facilities,” city documents said. The property sits on a 1.4-acre lot and is valued at nearly $5.6 million, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District. City leaders plan to allocate another $1 million to the project for renovations, bringing the grand total to $7.8 million. Should the purchase go through, the city will have amassed 158 bridge shelter units for the city’s homeless response system within a month.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 7, 2019

Hundreds express ire with Austin’s planned rewrite of land use rules

A sizable number of residents registered their ire Saturday with the city of Austin’s ongoing effort to overhaul the decades-old land development code during a marathon public hearing. The hearing was the only one before the Austin City Council on Monday considers preliminary approval of the code rewrite, which will dictate what can be built and where throughout the city of Austin.

In total, 703 people indicated their thoughts on the proposed rewrite with 483 — or about 69% — signing up as against the rewrite as it stands. The land development code rewrite broadly aims to address a housing shortage by encouraging the construction of 135,000 new housing units in the next decade. The hope is that the city can do that while preserving neighborhoods and encouraging density near the city’s more well-traveled streets in so-called transition zones. However, many have scoffed at transition zones as an existential threat to well-established Central Austin neighborhoods. “What you are proposing is taking my home away,” said Virginia Hoffman, a District 9 resident.

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Associated Press - December 6, 2019

Texas IDs cancer cluster in polluted Houston neighborhood

Texas health officials identified a cancer cluster in a north Houston neighborhood polluted by the wood preservative creosote from a nearby railroad operation, prompting calls from residents and the city for a more in-depth investigation of potential ongoing risks. An assessment by the Department of State Health Services didn't attempt to determine whether the cancers were linked to chemicals beneath homes in the city's Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens.

But the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requested the assessment because of residents' concerns that a plume of polluted groundwater from the Union Pacific site had made some of them sick, and city health officials said it underscored the need for a closer examination. ”I was crying and frustrated," after learning about the cancer cluster, resident Leisa Glenn told the Houston Chronicle. Creosote, deemed a probable human carcinogen, was used for more than 80 years in a rail yard in the historically black area, until the 1980s, the Chronicle reported. The assessment found that the number of lung and bronchus cancers was, on average, 36% higher than would be expected, esophagus cancers almost 63% higher and larynx cancers 90% higher. But the study cautioned that lifestyle and other factors also could be a cause, and it did not account for how long residents had lived in the area.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 7, 2019

San Antonio ISD giving high-schoolers the gift of internet at home

Lanier High School senior Uriel Agundiz constantly has college-level homework for Advanced Placement literature and statistics classes. He also has two younger brothers in school — and no internet at home. That is, until Friday, when Agundiz received a wireless hot spot with 10 gigabytes of high-speed monthly data — all for free until he graduates. “It gives more opportunities to my family,” said Agundiz, 17, in the school library, as he cradled a little cardboard box holding the black rectangular gadget that will connect him to the world. “I’m happy to help them in any way I can.”

Agundiz is one of an estimated 42 percent of high-schoolers in the San Antonio Independent School District who lack reliable internet at home, according to a survey conducted this fall in all the district’s high school English classes. At Lanier, on the West Side in the city’s poorest ZIP code, that number jumps to 76 percent, said Patti Radle, president of the SAISD board and a longtime resident of the area. All of the students who said they had little or no internet access — almost 5,200 across SAISD — will receive free hotspots or cellphones in the next two weeks with paid-for data plans, courtesy of Sprint and the 1Million Project Foundation, a national nonprofit seeking to bridge the digital divide.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

Fort Worth city manager defends choice of Ed Kraus for police chief

Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke defended his choice to hire a permanent police chief without a national search or public engagement on Thursday as residents of minority communities questioned the city’s commitment to end racial division.

Ed Kraus, who had served as interim police chief since May, accepted the department’s top job Wednesday when it was offered to him. The roughly six-month period included multiple officer-involved shootings and unrest, but also offered Kraus a tryout period in which he “more than stepped up,” Cooke said. “During a very difficult time as our chief, he has been very responsive and visible in the community,” he said. “He is open and transparent and he is humble and exhibits sincere empathy.”

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National Stories

New York Times - December 7, 2019

Trump can’t resist campaigning for governors. But they can resist him.

His grip on Republican senators has held in the lead-up to a historic impeachment trial. Members of the House have faced the prospect of retiring before going against him. And he frequently boasts about his strong approval ratings among Republican voters. Yet for a party leader who inspires fear in Washington, President Trump has been bedeviled by governor’s races time and again, even after his aggressive campaigning has helped Republican candidates win.

Unable to modulate his excitement for other people’s political battles — and, according to advisers, not understanding the distinct incentives for governors who run their own states and senators who have to work with him in Washington — Mr. Trump has plunged headfirst into contests that have done little but expose his own political vulnerabilities. In the last month, two Republican candidates the president supported lost their off-year races for governor, puncturing his self-proclaimed role as kingmaker. But even his successes in the 2018 governor’s races have left him disappointed: The winners he championed, once in office, have defied his wishes and cast aside his allies, as recently as this past week.

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New York Times - December 7, 2019

Katie Hill: It’s not over after all. I overcame the desperation I felt after stepping down from Congress, and I’m still in the fight.

On Nov. 6, 2018, I was elected to Congress; at 31, I was one of the youngest women ever elected to the House of Representatives. One year later, I was sitting on a train to New York to meet with my lawyers about suing The Daily Mail for cyber exploitation — and I was no longer a member of Congress. A few days earlier, on Oct. 31, 2019, I stepped up to the microphone to deliver my final speech on the House floor.

It was the first time I had spoken publicly since my relationship with a campaign staffer was exposed, since naked photos of me — taken without my knowledge and distributed without my consent — had been posted online, since wild accusations from my estranged husband about a supposed affair with a congressional staffer (which I have repeatedly denied), since I had resigned my hard-fought seat in Congress. That day, oddly, I didn’t get nervous the way I normally did. I got every part of the routine right. I felt calm and strong as I began to speak, because I had to be. I needed to say something to the countless people who had put their faith in me. I needed to say something to the girls and young women who looked up to me, and also to those who didn’t even know my name.

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Wall Street Journal - December 6, 2019

Buttigieg releases details about his work at McKinsey

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, responding to questions about his past employment, released a detailed timeline and lengthy statement Friday evening about his nearly three years at McKinsey & Co. The new information comes after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a top nomination rival, this week called on Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., to disclose the names of his clients while he was at the consulting powerhouse.

In his statement, Mr. Buttigieg said much of his work at McKinsey, including the names of clients served, is covered under a confidentiality agreement he signed when he started working at the firm. “I am today reiterating my request that McKinsey release me from this agreement, and I again make clear that I authorize them to release the full list of clients I was assigned,” Mr. Buttigieg wrote in the statement. “This company must recognize the importance of transparency in the exceptional case of a former employee becoming a competitive candidate for the U.S. presidency.”

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Wall Street Journal - December 8, 2019

Mexico’s polarizing president presides over rising violence, flailing economy

On Dec. 1, tens of thousands of people gathered in Mexico City’s gritty central square to celebrate Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s first year in office. His supporters chanted “It’s an honor to support Obrador.” A few blocks away, thousands of protesters marched along the city’s elegant Reforma boulevard to rail against the president. Their chant was different: “It’s a horror to support Obrador.”

Since taking power, the silver-haired populist has polarized Mexico more than any president in recent memory. A majority see him as their first honest leader in decades, a man of the people and champion of the forgotten poor. For a growing minority, the president is a dangerous authoritarian who is consolidating power and failing to address the country’s basic problems like out-of-control crime and weak economic growth. His first year wasn’t an optimistic harbinger of his remaining five years in power. Mexico’s economy hasn’t grown at all this year, its worst performance in a decade. Even as the U.S. economy chugs along, Mexican businesses have slowed investment, spooked by the president’s governing style and economic decisions like suspending the country’s historic opening to private investment in the energy industry.

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Vox - December 6, 2019

A former Republican Congress member explains what happened to his party and why it belongs to Trump now.

Republicans haven’t used the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump to question the underlying facts of the case Democrats are making against him. Instead, they’ve gone all in for Trump, echoing conspiracy theories and pushing alternative narratives for conservative media to consume. Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee ranking member from California, spent most of his time at the November 13 hearing railing against the media. “Anyone familiar with the Democrats’ scorched-earth war against President Trump,” he said, “would not be surprised to see all the typical signs that this is just a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.”

Other Republicans, like Jim Jordan (R-OH), obsessed over the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint initiated the impeachment process. The point, of course, was to divert attention away from the substance of the claims (which were already corroborated by transcripts released by Trump’s own White House). There really is no doubt that Trump did what Democrats accused him of doing. But so far, Republicans have been unwilling to admit it. They may be dishonest, and they’re almost certainly acting in bad faith, but are they being irrational? Not necessarily. I reached out to David Jolly, a former GOP Congress member from Florida. Jolly left Congress in 2017 and has since renounced his membership in the Republican Party. He explained his reasoning in an article last year, rejecting not only Donald Trump, but what the Republican Party had become.

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Associated Press - December 8, 2019

Andrew Yang having fun, but Democrat's message is serious

Of all the many Democrats running for president, Andrew Yang is having the most fun. Unburdened by expectations and unbothered by political convention, the tech entrepreneur has spent months cruising around the country, mixing his dark warnings about America's new tech economy with doses of humor and unscripted bluntness. He has crowd-surfed, skateboarded and made memorable quips at nationally televised debates. At a new office opening in New Hampshire, he sprayed whipped cream from an aerosol can into the mouths of hyped-up supporters.

Later this month in Las Vegas, he'll raise money for his campaign at a high-roller poker tournament featuring World Series of Poker champions. The formula has made him one of this 2020 campaign's phenomenons. His outsider bid is fueled by policy, personality and technology. It's outlasted the White House campaigns this year of some governors and senators, and seems to be following the advice of a state party chairman who said voters can tell whether candidates are enjoying themselves. Yang's campaign may not have him on track to winning the nomination, but it may be delivering sober warnings to conventional Democrats about the kinds of voters they're leaving behind.

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Washington Post - December 7, 2019

Trump touts accomplishments in address meant to woo Jewish voters and bolster support in Florida

President Trump pitched his administration’s record on Israel while slashing into political opponents in front of a packed beachfront ballroom here Saturday night, seeking to convince Jewish voters that they should vote for him in 2020 even if they don’t like him or his tactics. In a 45-minute speech to the Israeli American Council that hewed to a script more than many of the president’s rally jeremiads, Trump crowed of pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2017, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and eliminating funding for the Palestinian Authority as consequential achievements that made him deserving of a second term.

The president dismissed the lack of a Middle-East peace plan by his administration, which he has vowed to create since taking office, calling it the hardest deal ever to strike. The ballroom address, coupled with a private speech to GOP activists a few miles away, were designed to buttress his support in Florida, highlight his popularity among conservative Jewish voters and pay homage to Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and megadonor to Trump. The president regularly mentioned Adelson throughout his remarks.

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Axios - December 8, 2019

Rep. Matt Gaetz calls Giuliani's Ukraine trip "weird"

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said on ABC's "This Week" that Rudy Giuliani's trip to Ukraine to dig up information that he hopes will undercut the impeachment proceedings is "weird," but added that he's glad Giuliani has expressed an interest in coming before Congress to "explain his role."

"It is weird that he's over there, and I am grateful that very soon after I made those comments on CNN, the president put out a statement that said that Rudy Giuliani does want to come into Congress and explain his role, explain what's been up to. And I believe that the president urging Mayor Giuliani to provide that clarity to the Congress will be helpful in resolving what seems to be odd having him over there at this time," he said. Allegations that Giuliani led a shadow campaign on behalf of Trump to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president's political rivals are at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

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Miami Herald - December 8, 2019

Someone ate the $120,000 banana at Art Basel. Some quick thinking saved the day

Someone ate a really expensive snack at Art Basel Saturday afternoon — to the tune of $120,000.

For one banana. By now you have probably heard of the now world-famous banana duct-taped to Emmanuel Perrotin’s outer gallery wall at Art Basel Miami Beach. The piece that sold to an art collector for $120,000.

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Newsclips - December 6, 2019

Lead Stories

New York Times - December 5, 2019

Pelosi says House will draft impeachment charges against Trump

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday that the House of Representatives would begin drafting impeachment articles against President Trump, pushing ahead with a rapid timetable that could set the stage for a vote before Christmas to charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors.

Wrapping her announcement in the words of the Constitution and the nation’s founders, Ms. Pelosi said it had become clear over the course of two months of investigation that Mr. Trump had violated his oath of office by pressing a foreign power for help in the 2020 election. Allowing Mr. Trump to continue in office without remedy, she said, would come at “the peril of our republic.” “His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” Ms. Pelosi said in a formal address lasting less than six minutes, delivered against a backdrop of American flags from the hallway outside her office in the Capitol. “Our democracy is what is at stake. The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Trump’s Texas fundraising surges as Democrats push for impeachment

As Democrats in Congress push for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, his fundraising in Texas is surging as donors seek to defend him. In September, after Democrats began their impeachment inquiry, Trump had his best fundraising in Texas since he took office, pulling in more than $1.3 million for the month. That is more than double the amount of money he raised the month before.

And with tens of thousands more raised in Dallas and Fort Worth last month during a rally and fundraiser that has yet to be reported, Trump now has raised almost as much in Texas for his re-election as he did in his entire 2016 campaign. “Democrats have spent 2019 focusing on partisan witch hunts and pushing socialist policies while President Trump and Republicans have amassed a huge cash advantage allowing us to build our campaign infrastructure early in the cycle,” Trump re-election campaign spokesperson Samantha Cotten said. “As a result, we are in a prime position to win up and down the ballot in 2020.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Ex-members of Judicial Conduct Commission say Abbott ousted them over gay marriage case

Two former members of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct say Republican Gov. Greg Abbott removed them from the panel because he disagreed with their position on a case involving same-sex marriage. Retired information technology executive Amy Suhl and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Maricela Alvarado were appointed as public members to the agency, which disciplines judges, in June of last year. About nine months later, when it came time for the Texas Senate to confirm them, their names were removed from consideration.

It’s extremely uncommon for Abbott’s office to go back on an appointment. Since 2017, only one other person has been removed for a reason other than a resignation or death, records show. The two say they were told that the governor had decided to go in a different direction. But they believe Abbott pushed them out because of their votes to sanction a Waco judge who officiates opposite-sex marriages while refusing to conduct gay marriages. Suhl made an audio recording of a meeting with the governor’s staff and a later phone call. The recordings, which were reviewed by Hearst Newspapers, shows that the staffers were encouraging her to act with Abbott’s views in mind.

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Politico - December 5, 2019

Senate Republicans puncture House GOP dreams for impeachment trial

On Wednesday, a conservative backbencher in the House issued an explosive request to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham: Subpoena the phone records of House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff. On Thursday, Graham had a succinct response: “We’re not going to do that.”

The demand from Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) reflects House Republicans’ eagerness to see Democrats squirm once impeachment moves to the GOP-controlled Senate and out of the “sham” process they’ve derided in the House. “I’m talking to my Senate colleagues: here are the witnesses you should call and here are the questions you should ask,” said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah). “It’s going to cast us in a different very light. This is a chance to tell the other side of the story.” President Donald Trump has joined in as well, tweeting on Thursday that he wants to call Schiff, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Bidens as witnesses in his impeachment trial.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Frack to the Future: Houston’s economy is emulating the 1980s oil bust

Fracking Bust: The Sequel. At least, that’s how Greater Houston Partnership’s lead economist Patrick Jankowski sees Houston right now. With an over-saturated real estate market, an overbuilt industrial market and a bleak outlook for oil and gas, history may not be repeating itself, but it looks pretty close, Jankowski wrote in his annual economic forecast report for the region. “There was a downturn in the 80s, and things got better in ‘85, and then another downturn in ‘86,” he said. “We had a downturn (in 2016), then 2017, 2018 looked pretty good, and now we’re seeing another downturn. It’s a very similar pattern.”

The good news: Houston’s banking sector isn’t about to collapse (like it did in the 1980s). And the rest of the nation is doing fine, which is likely to continue to propel Houston’s economy forward. “The U.S. economy is performing better (right now) than everyone thought it would,” Jankowski said. The Houston economy will likely add 42,300 jobs in 2020, according to the GHP forecast. That would be a slowdown of more than 22,000 jobs from what Houston is on track to add by the end of 2019, at 64,400. Houston’s economy is tied to the energy market, and the energy market is not doing so hot. Energy makes up 9 percent of the local economy, and the sector is set to lose a net 4,000 jobs next year, according to the GHP’s forecast.

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

HPD chief Acevedo and Sen. John Cornyn joust over who is holding up key legislation

Once again, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn are clashing on Twitter over public policy. Acevedo, the city’s police chief for the past three years, started this one saying that it is “past time” for the U.S. Senate and, more specifically, Texas Sens. Cornyn and Ted Cruz to lead and get the Violence Against Women Act passed and to the president for his signature.

“It’s time for the Senate to act,” Acevedo said during a press conference earlier on Thursday at the Houston Area Women’s Center. “Lives are sitting in the balance.” The Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding and grants for domestic abuse programs, passed originally in 1994. However, it needs to be reauthorized by Congress. The House passed a version earlier this year but it includes a provision that Republicans and the National Rifle Association have opposed that would expand the list of people who could be banned from purchasing guns to include dating partners convicted of abuse or those who have a restraining order against them.

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Blinded in detention, a Houston immigrant struggles to see his future in war-torn Sierra Leone

Mohamed Gordon’s vision was fading. A legal resident from Sierra Leone, Gordon had slipped in the Fort Bend County jail in the fall of 2017, smacking his head so hard he ended up in the hospital. Months later his eyesight blacked out, and doctors diagnosed him with a detached retina. He needed urgent surgery to save his right eye, he was told. Gordon, 27, shuttled between county jail, state prison and federal immigration custody, where he finally had the operation weeks later in August 2018.

But that only marked the beginning of a months-long saga to recover his sight. Gordon complained to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Conroe at least 17 times of pain and pressure, explaining that he needed follow-up care, his medical records show. Doctors warned that without an immediate second surgery, he risked losing his vision permanently. His mother pleaded for ICE to allow him out on bond so that she could pay for the operation. Advocates say the case is another example of the government’s “systemically failing” to provide adequate medical care to many of the more than 47,200 immigrants held daily in some 200 civil federal detention centers across the country — roughly a third of them detained by private prison companies in Texas. Complaints about the facilities have persisted for years, but came under increased attention in recent months as lawmakers, watchdog outfits and advocacy groups accused the government of knowing about “horrific, inhumane, punitive” conditions, but doing nothing to improve them.

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Houston Chronicle and NBC News - December 6, 2019

Hundreds of parents accused of child abuse by doctors come forward

Parents in Michigan lost custody of their 6-week-old son after a doctor observed marks on the baby’s abdomen and reported them as “diagnostic of physical abuse.” A judge ordered the child and a sibling to be returned months later, however, after hearing evidence that the lesions were likely caused by the straps of a baby swing. A special education teacher in Florida and her paramedic husband were separated from their 4-month-old son after a doctor told child welfare workers that bleeding in the boy’s brain must have been the result of violent shaking. But the doctor had overlooked an underlying medical cause.

These stories are among those shared with NBC News and the Houston Chronicle by more than 300 families from 38 states, following a yearlong investigation highlighting the plight of parents accused of child abuse based on mistaken or overstated reports by doctors. The flood of responses demonstrates the nationwide reach of problems detailed in the series, which showed that child welfare workers in Texas removed children from homes after receiving reports from doctors that were later called into question.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 6, 2019

Fort Worth trans inmate sues Texas over law that prevents her from changing legal name

Three transgender inmates, including one from Carswell Prison in Fort Worth, are arguing that a Texas law that prohibits them from legally changing their names is unconstitutional. The women are suing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton in a lawsuit filed in the Austin division of district court Wednesday. They, and their attorneys, argue the inability to legally change their names to reflect their gender is cruel and unusual punishment.

Abbott and Paxton’s offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.Texas Family Code 45.103 prohibits a person with a felony conviction from changing their name within two years of serving their sentence. Those in the lawsuit want the state to declare the provision unconstitutional and allow the women — Donna Langan at FMC Carswell, Teresa De Barbarac at FCI Texarkana and Alexandra Carson, who was recently released from prison — to change their names to reflect their gender.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 6, 2019

Can you get alcohol delivered in Texas? Soon – just in time for your holiday parties

If you’re hosting a party in Texas and the booze is running low, you soon won’t have to worry about driving to the liquor store. Alcohol delivery will be available shortly — just in time for the holiday season, officials say.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is accepting applications from companies that want to bring beer, wine and liquor to customers’ front doors, according to a Thursday news release. Third-party companies such as Favor or Instacart will pick up alcohol from bars, restaurants and liquor stores.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

Ryan Rusak: Before you curse city, county for high property taxes, hear what Tarrant Judge Whitley has to say

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley really wants you to know that he and other county officials are not the reason your property tax bill is high — no matter what state leaders say. In response to a sustained assault from Austin, Whitley has honed a presentation about local governments’ taxes and spending. He argues that counties in particular are in a bad spot: The state allows them to raise money in only a few ways, but they’ve been taking much of the blame for homeowners’ ever-escalating bills.

“We’re not overtaxed, we’re over property-taxed,” Whitley, a Hurst Republican, told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board this week. His perspective is important, because this issue is not going away. If anything, it feels like we’re nearing a breaking point over property taxes and how Texas pays for public education. Like the accountant he is, Whitley lays out a numbers-heavy argument. Here’s the crux of it: Texas is a low-tax state overall, ranking 37th in government revenue as a share of overall personal income, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. But it’s heavily reliant on property taxes, particularly to fund schools, and other streams of income have lagged. Consider the gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised in 20 years.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

Cook Children’s motion granted for new judge in 10-month-old baby’s life support case

A Texas judge granted a motion Wednesday to remove another judge from the case of a 10-month-old baby whom Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth has sought to take off life support. Family Court Judge Alex Kim signed a temporary restraining order against Cook Children’s on Nov. 10 and extended the order on Nov. 19, giving the family of Tinslee Lewis until at least Dec. 10 to find another hospital for the baby.

Cook Children’s moved to end Tinslee’s treatment under the Texas Advance Directives Act, which grants physicians the power to end life support treatment if an ethics committee deems the treatment futile. The hospital filed a motion to have Kim recused from Tinslee’s case, saying the juvenile court judge is biased and he and the family’s lawyer violated legal procedure by handpicking Kim for the case. Fourth Administrative Judicial Region Judge David Peeples granted the motion Wednesday, Cook Children’s spokeswoman Kim Brown confirmed Thursday. “Today’s hearing is out of care and concern for Tinslee,” Cook Children’s said in a statement Wednesday night. “We believe she deserves to have a judge with the appropriate judicial oversight and experience to review and assess her case fairly.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 5, 2019

Accused Santa Fe shooter transferred to mental health facility in Vernon

The young man charged with capital murder in the Santa Fe High School shooting rampage that left eight students and two teachers dead has officially been transferred from county jail to a mental health facility, his attorney said Thursday. The accused gunman, 19-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, arrived Thursday at the maximum-security North Texas State Hospital in Vernon where he will be evaluated and medicated for at least 120 days.

“The idea is that in 120 days we should get some kind of progress report indicating kind of where he is,” said Nick Poehl, Pagourtzis’ defense attorney. Pagourtzis was evaluated by three independent psychiatric experts, all of whom agreed that he was not fit to stand trial in his current mental state. Galveston County prosecutors did not challenge the finding and state District Judge John Ellisor on Nov. 15 officially signed the order declaring Pagourtzis’ incompetency. Ellisor wrote Pagourtzis, “does not have the sufficient present ability to consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding; or a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 5, 2019

Castro warns of dwindling diversity in Democratic presidential field without Kamala Harris, has seen surge of support

Julián Castro says he has enjoyed a surge in financial support since Sen. Kamala Harris of California ended her presidential campaign, but he is also warning that the absence of diversity in the top tier of Democrats could damage the party next year. “I’m worried that if we have a debate stage without any racial and ethnic diversity on it, that we are putting ourselves at a greater risk of failure in 2020,” Castro said Thursday while speaking to reporters.

As of Thursday night, the six candidates who have qualified for the next debate this month — four men and two women — were all white. They are former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer, the hedge fund billionaire turned liberal activist. The end of Harris’ campaign this week compounded the racial disparity in what started as a highly diverse field. Castro said that since Tuesday, when Harris quit, his campaign has taken in $360,000 and signed up enough new donors to meet one of the Democratic National Committee’s criteria for participating in the Dec. 19 debate.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 5, 2019

Here's who saved Kingsville Record, Bishop News from brink of closure

The Kingsville Record will go on after all thanks to a rallying of support from community leaders and organizations that fought to save it from closing. The 113-year-old newspaper's last edition was set to print this week after its owners, the King Ranch, decided to shutter it. That also meant the closure of the Bishop News. But now plans are in the works for ownership to transfer to the Kingsville Area Industrial Development Foundation, according to a Thursday story from the Kingsville Record.

That foundation's chairman, Kleberg Bank President Brad Womack, told the Kingsville Record, that the community — which has a population of about 25,000 — had fought to save its newspaper. “With support from folks like Mayor Sam Fugate, Dr. Mark Hussey and Robert Underbrink we have gained great support for this transfer,” Womack told the newspaper. Underbrink, King Ranch Inc.'s CEO, told the newspaper the company would still lend its support and help ease the transition of ownership. With the new ownership will come new leadership for the newsroom. Tim Acosta was named the editor and publisher of Kingsville Record. The Texas A&M University-Kingsville graduate served as an editor for several years at the newspaper.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - December 5, 2019

John Cornyn: Impeachment 'will never be successful' in ousting President Trump from office

Republican U.S. John Cornyn called Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to push forward with impeaching President Donald Trump a partisan process that "will never be successful." Cornyn, who is seeking his fourth six-year term in 2020, would not say whether he was troubled by the underlying action for impeachment — the president's demand that Ukraine look for political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden's son. But he did say the act did not merit removing the president from office.

"The question is, should he be removed from office," Cornyn told Texas reporters in a conference call from the nation's capital. "I don't see anything that has come to light yet that deserves that treatment, particularly less than a year before the election." Asked if he would consider asking Afghanistan to dig up damaging information on Democrat MJ Hegar, who served in that country as a combat pilot and is now seeking her party's nomination for Senate next year, Cornyn sidestepped the question. "I'm not going to indulge in a bunch of hypotheticals," he said. Hegar, a former combat helicopter pilot and one of several Democrats seeking the nomination in the March primary to challenge Cornyn, chastised the Republican for not outright condemning any foreign interference in U.S. elections.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

Lockheed Martin expects Grand Prairie-based division to lead growth in 2020, CFO says

Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control unit based in Grand Prairie is driving the fastest growth in the company and that’s expected to continue next year, CFO Ken Possenriede told investors Thursday. “Our fastest growth business area still is Missiles and Fire Control," Possenriede told attendees at the Credit Suisse Annual Industrials Conference in Palm Beach Florida this week.

Possenriede said he expects Missiles and Fire Control’s growth to be “a little less” in 2020 compared to its performance in 2019. The unit was just awarded a $988.8 million modification contract by the U.S. Airforce for its Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW. The division represents roughly 14% of Lockheed Martin’s sales, according to the company, but has been a significant driver for growth in the last year. Missiles and Fire Control saw $2.6 billion in revenue in the third quarter. The F-35 program also is expected to continue growing, Possenriede said. Lockheed recently struck a $34 billion deal with the Pentagon to produce 478 more of the fighter jets, which have been the company’s largest source of profit.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

UT to disclose names of professors with sexual misconduct violations to people who request them

The University of Texas at Austin says it will disclose the names of faculty and staff with sexual misconduct violations to anyone who submits an open records request, but students want the names published online. Spokesman J.B. Bird said UT is working to compile a summary of violations as far back as November 2017. It will be released to individuals who have submitted open records requests within this calendar year, but a university working group will be reviewing whether to publicly release the information.

“This year with the protests there’s been a lot of interest in this information,” Bird said. “Whether the university should publish the information instead of just releasing it, that’s a question that students have asked and that we’ve decided to review.” Students have held several sit-ins and protests after learning that two professors, Sahotra Sarkar and Coleman Hutchison, returned to teaching after being disciplined for sexual misconduct. Students told The Dallas Morning News they signed up for the professors’ courses without knowing about their history.

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Texas Public Radio - December 5, 2019

Texas politicians clash over developing Trump impeachment

Saying she had “no choice but to act” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she wanted House committee chairs to proceed with articles of impeachment. “The facts are uncontested – the president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security by withholding military aid and a crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival,” Pelosi said.

In the six minute formal address, the San Francisco Democrat said over the course of the two months of investigation it became clear that President Trump’s actions strike at the very heart of our constitution. But speaking to reporters in a conference call, Texas Sen. John Cornyn called into question Pelosi’s motivations. “I think she's lost control of her own radical base among house Democrats and is doing this against her better judgment,” said Cornyn. Cornyn, a high ranking Senate Republican, said he can only reach this conclusion about Pelosi based on what she has said in the past about impeachment.

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Fort Hood Herald - December 3, 2019

Roger Williams: Our nation's military needs a defense bill

As we gather together with family and friends during the holiday season, I hope we will all take pause and think of our military servicemembers who will spend their Thanksgiving and Christmas deployed in our nation’s defense. America’s warriors spend these cherished moments far from home, sacrificing time spent with loved-ones to guarantee the safety of every American family celebrating at home.

Texas’ 25th District is home to Fort Hood, one of the largest military installations in the world and the headquarters for the III Armored Corps. Since 2003, the installation has deployed hundreds of thousands of troops for combat and humanitarian missions across the globe. Our “Phantom Warriors,” as they are so heroically known, have participated in every major combat operation since 9/11. And while our warriors across the military commit themselves to our security, the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. has failed to respond in kind.

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El Paso Times - December 5, 2019

With presidential run over, how much influence does Beto O'Rourke have in Texas races?

Beto O'Rourke's time on the Democratic presidential campaign trail has ended, but the former congressman turned senate, then presidential hopeful continues to push for a blue Texas. And though that presidential run didn't go anywhere as well as O'Rourke or his followers hoped, political experts say his voice still carries weight in state races.

O'Rourke in a Monday email to supporters asked for donations for Flip the Texas House, an initiative that started this year and is working to flip more than a dozen state House seats filled by Republicans. It's not the first time since exiting the presidential field about a month ago that O'Rourke has lent his voice to fellow Democrats. Just weeks after exiting the presidential race, O'Rourke called on supporters to get behind the Democratic presidential nominee. He has also chimed in on a special runoff election in House District 28, where Democrat Eliz Markowitz is vying to win the seat vacated by Republican John Zerwas. Cari Marshall, who volunteered for O'Rourke during his senate run and leads the Flip the Texas House initiative for the Texas Blue Action Democrats, said there are many in the state who value his judgement.

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Austin Chronicle - December 5, 2019

How Texas Impact turns faith into a tool for progress

When one thinks about how big Texas is, the scope doesn't just come down to geographical measurement. Really, what makes Texas loom so large in the collective American consciousness is how many perspectives can fit within it: It's a place whose peoples can be as varied in faith and philosophy as the global community. That's why Austin-based interfaith policy organization Texas Impact works to bring a local faith perspective to discussions of globally impactful issues like climate change – and vice versa.

As Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy/Texas Impact Executive Director Bee Moorhead explains, previous groups like the Texas Conference of Churches eventually closed up shop in part because "churches [are] kind of an outmoded way of talking about it. ... It used to be [that] people were like, 'Interfaith. So, Catholic and Protestant, right?'" But that limited view doesn't take into account the diversity of faith in Texas, where, as Moorhead points out, Houston alone has "more than 80 separate faith traditions." "Our job," she continues, "is to be the convener for the institutional bodies that are kind of the thought leaders within those traditions." As different policy issues come up, Texas Impact's work is to find a legislative position with "100 percent consensus on the part of all the people representing all these different faith traditions. They have to all agree that the teachings of their tradition lead them to that same conclusion."

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Texas Monthly - December 4, 2019

Chris Hooks: Rick Miller’s racist remarks about “Asians” were not part of the GOP plan for Fort Bend County

We didn’t even make it to three this time. On November 15, Democratic state representative Poncho Nevárez of Eagle Pass turned himself in after dropping a cocaine-filled envelope with his office letterhead on it at an Austin airport. On Tuesday, Republican state representative Rick Miller of Sugar Land dropped off a present of his own on the doorstep of the Houston Chronicle, when he was asked to characterize his two challengers in the upcoming GOP primary: He summed up one of his opponents like this: “He’s a Korean,” said Miller, describing Jacey Jetton, a former chairman of the Fort Bend GOP. “He has decided because, because he is an Asian that my district might need an Asian to win. And that’s kind of racist in my mind, but anyway, that’s not necessary, at least not yet.”

A bit of context: Fort Bend County, which Miller represents, is one of the most interesting political battlegrounds in the country, a place where you can watch Texas change in real time at a block-by-block level. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Fort Bend, the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so since 1964, and in 2018 Beto O’Rourke won the county and Democrats won control of the commissioners court. Fort Bend is in the crosshairs again in 2020. The Republican collapse there has several factors, but one of them has certainly been the growing political power of the county’s Asian American communities. (Of course, it’s silly to group Chinese and Vietnamese and Korean and Indian Americans under a single label, as Miller did.)

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 6, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: An open letter to Cynthia Brehm

Dear Cynthia: It’s probably an understatement to say that you’re disinclined to take advice from me. As we both know, I’ve been pretty critical of the way you’ve handled your duties as Bexar County Republican Party chair during your first 18 months in office. Your tenure got off to a rocky start, to be sure. You campaigned on the strength of your status as a “retired Army wife” but somehow neglected to tell party members that your husband, Norman, pleaded guilty to indecently exposing himself to your then-14-year-old daughter — his stepdaughter — in 1999.

After this history came to light, you faced a revolt within your party, including a resolution calling for your resignation. You survived that rebellion, but the Bexar County GOP has been a dysfunctional, fractious organization on your watch, with some party officers avoiding all contact with you and many precinct chairs openly showing their disdain for your leadership. You’ve also shown yourself to be susceptible to conspiracy mongering, a trait that caused all kinds of ugliness at the Bexar County Elections Office in June, during San Antonio’s municipal runoff. You and your friends camped out at the elections office between the end of early voting and election day and became so disruptive that Jacque Callanen, the county elections administrator, had to call the sheriff’s office for reinforcement.

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KUT - December 5, 2019

Longtime Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty won't seek reelection

Longtime Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty says he does not plan to seek reelection when his term expires next year. He has been elected to four four-year terms and is currently the only Republican on the five-member commissioners court.

In his announcement Thursday, Daugherty touted his accomplishments to bring more transportation infrastructure to Precinct 3 – in particular, the completion of State Highway 45 in Southwest Austin. Daugherty served on both the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization during his tenure on the court. Daugherty said he would continue advocating for expanded transportation infrastructure after his term ends next November.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2019

Dallas County DA John Creuzot seeks dismissal of contempt case over interview about Amber Guyger trial

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot filed a motion Thursday seeking dismissal of his contempt case, in which he is accused of violating a gag order in the murder trial of former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger for the fatal shooting of Botham Jean.

State District Judge Tammy Kemp, who presided over Guyger’s trial, filed a show-cause order in October requiring Creuzot to appear in court to explain why he should not be held in contempt for giving an interview to KDFW-TV (Channel 4) about the case. In the order, Kemp said the interview was a “direct violation” of a gag order she set in place to prevent prosecutors and defense attorneys from speaking publicly about the murder case. Creuzot’s motion Thursday asks a judge to dismiss Kemp’s order.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

Robert Wilonsky: ‘It’s Fair Park’s time’: Maybe, after decades, Dallas has a plan to turn albatross into jewel

The urban designer from Minnesota saw Fair Park for the first time on August 13. Before his arrival, John Slack had read nearly everything he could on the subject – musty histories, dusty master plans, racist reports penned in the ‘60s, a far more recent proposal authored by college students who suggested a future for a place more past tense than present. He knew as much about Fair Park as any stranger could from a distance and more than most in this city. But it wasn’t until his visit, on a 100-degree Tuesday, that he saw it with his own eyes. And then …

“I was …” Here, during our conversation this week, Slack took a moment, to make sure he used the right word. “I was surprised,” said the landscape architect based out of architecture firm Perkins & Will’s Minneapolis office. “There is no access to the park from the surrounding neighborhoods, which look underserved. There’s a fence around the park. The gates were open, but it’s hard to tell: Is it open to the public or not? And when you’re in the park, there’s nobody there, nothing to do.” All of these are things that have been said about Fair Park countless times on an endless loop. Slack, the outsider who didn’t sit through all those council and community meetings held in recent years, who never made or broke a promise to the neighborhood, who doesn’t suffer from the Fair Park fatigue that ails so many of us, is the man tasked with erasing those grievances. It’s his job now only to give us what we’ve been promised ad infinitum.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

Video leads Dallas ISD bus driver to be placed on leave for refusing to allow student to board bus

A bus driver from Dallas Independent School District’s transportation department has been placed on leave after a video posted on social media showed him refusing to allow a student to board the bus, even as the student implored the driver to open the door while standing in the middle of a busy street. In the video, which was posted to Facebook on Tuesday and originally reported by WFAA-TV, a student is standing in front of the bus, arm extended.

Initially, the driver -- who remains unnamed by the district as of Thursday afternoon -- did not bring the bus to a complete stop. Instead, he continued to roll the vehicle forward slowly, forcing the student to walk backward in front of the bus as several cars passed by. The driver stopped only after a bystander banged on the side of the bus, yelling at the driver to stop. As the student yelled to “open the door," the bystander took pictures of the driver. Later in the video, the bystander said that he was calling the police.

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KUT - December 5, 2019

World War II Veteran Richard Overton's home is now a historic Austin landmark

The home of Richard Overton, who was believed to be America's oldest World War II veteran before he died last year, will now be harder to alter or tear down after Austin City Council members deemed it historic Thursday. “He was a physical link to the history of our nation and our city, and now that he’s gone his house is our physical link to him," said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who oversees the district where Overton's house sits.

Overton died Dec. 27 at the age of 112 after being hospitalized for pneumonia. Born in Bastrop County in 1906, Overton joined the U.S. Army in 1940 as part of an all-black engineer aviation battalion, serving in Pearl Harbor and in the Pacific theater at Okinawa and Iwo Jima. "Uncle Sam called me in, and I went there and I had to do it," he told KUT in 2015. Roughly 2,000 people attended a funeral service for Overton in January, before he was buried with full military honors at the Texas State Cemetery.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Fort Worth police chief hire deserved nationwide search, with diversity a priority

By nearly all accounts, Ed Kraus is a strong choice to be Fort Worth’s police chief. Is he the best possible choice? We can’t know that, and neither can city officials. That’s because in the six and a half months Kraus has had the job on an interim basis, the city does not appear to have considered other candidates.

City Manager David Cooke told the Star-Telegram on Wednesday night that he had conducted no national search for a new chief. That’s unusual for a city of Fort Worth’s size, and less than ideal for one facing its challenges. Since taking over when Chief Joel Fitzgerald was fired in May, Kraus has performed admirably under difficult circumstances. His first few months on the job saw officers fatally shoot civilians six times. Black residents, already distrustful of the force, were enraged when an officer shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson in her own home without identifying himself. Kraus handled these situations as well as could be expected. He was quick to denounce the actions of Officer Aaron Dean, Jefferson’s killer, and to declare that Dean did not represent the department’s 1,700 other officers.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2019

From ghost routes to empty bags, how Houston police foil robbers in armored car heist capital of U.S

In the two weeks leading up to a thwarted armored truck heist outside a Walgreens in November, a team of Houston police officers was tracking a crew of men who were apparently amassing stolen cars and casing the entrances to a supermarket, a drug store and a meat market. These were all places where armored trucks carrying cash made regular drop-offs. When unmarked police units and camera surveillance detected the robbery crew was poised to strike, Sgt. David Helms employed a tried and true strategy to foil the plan.

From an unmarked car and again from his office far from the scene, he contacted the armored trucks making deliveries and told them to ditch the drop-offs, according to his testimony at a hearing for two men arrested in the incident. “I am personally disrupting routes, calling routes off,” explained Helms, an HPD officer assigned to the FBI Violent Crime Task Force who specializes in robbery. He called these scenarios where no cash is dropped off “ghost routes.” The aim is to protect the couriers and, of course, to prevent crime.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2019

Feds’ court filing says late Dallas council member told candidates how to evade campaign laws

In court documents filed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, statements by former Dallas City Council member Carolyn Davis explain quite clearly how council members and candidates could skirt campaign finance laws — and avoid the FBI. The filing comes nine months after Davis pleaded guilty to pocketing $40,000 in bribes from an affordable housing developer — and five months after she and her daughter were killed in a car crash.

Federal prosecutors filed court documents alleging that developer Ruel Hamilton “engaged in a scheme to corruptly influence public officials.” Chief among them was Davis, who four months before her death pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Hamilton while she chaired the council’s Housing Committee. This new indictment adds two charges to those already leveled against Hamilton: conspiracy to commit bribery and a violation of the federal Travel Act, which prohibits using the mail to “promote, manage, establish, carry on" illegal activities.

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National Stories

Associated Press - December 6, 2019

Uber reports more than 3,000 sexual assaults on 2018 rides

Uber, as part of a long anticipated safety report, revealed that more than 3,000 sexual assaults were reported during its U.S. rides in 2018. That figure includes 235 rapes across the company’s 1.3 billion rides last year. The ride-hailing company noted that drivers and riders were both attacked and that some assaults occurred between riders.

The Thursday report, which the company hailed as the first of its kind, provides a rare look into the traffic deaths, murders and reported sexual assaults that took place during billions of rides arranged in the U.S. using Uber’s service. It is part of the company’s effort to be more transparent after years of criticism over its safety record. In 2017, the company counted 2,936 reported sexual assaults — including 229 rapes — during 1 billion U.S. trips. Uber bases its numbers on reports from riders and drivers, meaning the actual numbers could be much higher. Sexual assaults commonly go unreported.

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Associated Press - December 5, 2019

House Speaker Pelosi rebukes reporter: ‘Don’t mess with me’

Finger pointing and voice hoarse, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday delivered a broadside to a reporter that might well apply to all of impeachment-era Washington: “Don’t mess with me.” It was a warning scarcely needed among the official set, least of all by President Donald Trump as he fights Pelosi and the Democrats in their drive to impeach him.

Only a few hours earlier, Pelosi had instructed the Judiciary Committee to write articles of impeachment — formal charges — against Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and resisting Congress’ probe. The House speaker insisted she brought impeachment proceedings because Trump’s conduct and the Constitution left the House no choice. “The president’s actions have seriously violated the Constitution,” Pelosi said from the speaker’s office at the Capitol. “He is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.”

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Washington Post - December 5, 2019

Biden calls Iowa voter a ‘damn liar’ after he brings up his son and Ukraine

Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden got into an extraordinary exchange Thursday afternoon with an Iowa farmer who first called him too old to run and then challenged him on Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine, triggering Biden to call the man “a damn liar.”

During an event in New Hampton, Iowa, the man rose to say he had two issues with Biden’s candidacy. “You’re damn near as old as I am,” the man started. “You’re too old for the job. I’m 83, and I know damn well I don’t have the mental faculties I did 30 years ago.” Then he turned toward what he said was a more pressing concern.

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Bloomberg - December 6, 2019

Saudi Aramco to lead elite $1 trillion-plus club after IPO

It seems like only yesterday equity investors had pegged $1 trillion as the dividing line between run-of-the-mill large cap companies and freakishly huge ones. Saudi Aramco just took things to a whole new level.

The oil producer’s initial public offering Thursday valued the company at $1.7 trillion. That may have trailed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s hoped-for $2 trillion valuation, but it gives the Saudi Arabian behemoth about a $600 billion lead on Apple Inc. and Microsoft Inc., the only two other companies in the world worth more than $1 trillion.

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NPR - December 5, 2019

White House names controversial pick to head homelessness office

The Trump Administration has named its choice to lead the federal office on homelessness: Robert Marbut, a well-known consultant to cities trying to tackle the issue. As the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, it will be Marbut's job to coordinate the 19 federal agencies and departments that have some responsibility for the issue -- including Housing, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Veterans Affairs. The office also works with state and local officials, conveying the administration's philosophy on the best ways to combat homelessness.

But advocates for the homeless worry that Marbut's appointment signals a turn away from the approaches that have worked over the last 20 years, getting more people into housing. Marbut's strategies, they say, are more like those that prevailed in the 1990s, such as attaching services and housing to good behavior. Critics say his work has shifted taxpayer money away from proven strategies such as permanent and affordable housing, and funneled it instead into large shelters that some have compared to prisons. Homelessness in the U.S. actually decreased by 15 percent from 2007 to 2018, but it remains a huge issue: more than a half million people were experiencing homelessness on a single night last year. California, in particular, is struggling with a large population of unsheltered homeless people.

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Slate - December 5, 2019

Republicans invade Barron Trump’s privacy, drag him into politics

At the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment-related hearing earlier today, constitutional law expert Pamela Karlan sent Republicans into a frenzy when she publicly mentioned that the president has a son by the name of Barron. The noting of the existence of the president’s youngest child came in response to a question from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who asked Karlan about comparisons “between kings that the Framers were afraid of and the president’s conduct today.” Karlan offered the following in response: "Contrary to what President Trump says, Article Two does not give him the power to do anything he wants. The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Barron, he cannot make him a baron."

It is, admittedly, an awful pun that is nonetheless perfectly clear in its meaning. Most people would have forgotten the bit of wordplay entirely if it weren’t for what happened next. First came the White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham: “Classless move by a Democratic “witness”. Prof Karlan uses a teenage boy who has nothing to do with this joke of a hearing (and deserves privacy) as a punchline. And what’s worse, it’s met by laughter in the hearing room. What is being done to this country is no laughing matter.” While Grisham’s complaint was a little haphazard (was she mad that people were laughing at a sentence that contained the word Barron or that people were laughing at something related to impeachment?), Melania Trump’s Twitter account jumped in to help streamline the matter: “A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”

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Politico - December 5, 2019

Joe Biden defends son Hunter but acknowledges Ukraine work 'may have looked bad'

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden acknowledged it "may have looked bad" for his son to serve on the board of foreign companies, but the former vice president stood firm that his son did nothing wrong.

"What may have looked bad but wasn't anything wrong is totally different than whether a president has held up $400 million in aid for the Ukrainian military when Ukrainians are dying," Biden said during an interview with Telemundo released Thursday. "That is criminal."

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Newsclips - December 5, 2019

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2019

Impeachment hearing: Legal expert uses Texas example to explain Ukraine scandal

What if the president refused to send federal funding to Texas after a hurricane unless state leaders agreed to investigate one of his political rivals? In impeachment hearings Wednesday, one legal expert testified that’s what President Donald Trump essentially did with Ukraine.

To illustrate why Trump’s actions were so problematic, constitutional scholar Pamela Karlan of Stanford University posed this hypothetical question to the panel: "What would you think if, when your governor asked the federal government for the disaster assistance that Congress has provided, the president responded, 'I would like you to do us a favor.’ I’ll meet with you and send the disaster relief once you brand my opponent a criminal?'” Karlan said. "Wouldn’t you know in your gut that such a president had abused his office, betrayed the national interest, and tried to corrupt the electoral process?"

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New York Times - December 4, 2019

Scholars call Trump’s actions on Ukraine an impeachable abuse of power

The House of Representatives on Wednesday opened a critical new phase of the impeachment proceedings against President Trump, featuring legal scholars vigorously debating whether his conduct and the available evidence rose to the constitutional threshold necessary for his removal from office. In a daylong hearing convened by the Judiciary Committee, three constitutional scholars invited by Democrats testified that evidence of Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine for political gain clearly met the definition of an impeachable abuse of power. They said his defiance of Congress’s investigative requests was further grounds for charging him.

A fourth scholar invited by Republicans disagreed, warning that Democrats were barreling forward with a shoddy case for the president’s removal based on inadequate evidence, and risked damaging the integrity of a sacred process enshrined in the Constitution. The spirited exchange unfolded as the Judiciary Committee began determining which impeachment charges to lodge against Mr. Trump based on an investigation by the House Intelligence Committee. The president abused his power, sought to subvert an American election and endangered national security when he pressured Ukraine for political favors, Democrats said. In an investigative report released on Tuesday, they also concluded that Mr. Trump pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats, while withholding a White House meeting and $391 million in vital security assistance.

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Washington Post - December 5, 2019

How two housekeepers took on the president — and revealed that his company employed undocumented immigrants

It was important for Sandra Diaz to be invisible. Before entering the Trump family villa, she would tie back her hair, pull on latex gloves and step into delicate paper shoe coverings. She knew not to wear makeup or perfume that might leave the faintest trace of her presence. As Donald Trump’s personal housekeeper, Diaz was dealing with a fussy celebrity owner who presided like a monarch over the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster long before he was elevated to president. She was an immigrant from Costa Rica working illegally for Trump with a fake Social Security card she had bought for $50. Being invisible was her life’s work.

The years of service that Diaz and other undocumented immigrant housekeepers, cooks, landscapers, greenskeepers, waiters, bellhops, farm hands and caddies devoted to the Trump Organization have given them a remarkable vantage point into the unvarnished lives of the now-first family. They have seen poolside tantrums and holiday arguments. They’ve laughed with the in-laws and watched after the grandkids. Their recollections also show how Trump’s entrance into presidential politics — denouncing illegal immigrants as criminals and job-stealers — upended their lives and prompted some of them to publicly confront their former boss. Over the past year, The Washington Post has spoken with 48 people who had worked illegally for the Trump Organization at 11 of its properties in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. These workers spent years — and in some cases nearly two decades — performing the manual labor that keeps Trump’s resorts clean and their visitors fed.

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Washington Post - December 4, 2019

Trump rejects Nixon, Clinton precedent on impeachment

The showdown had been years in the making, Bill Clinton's personal lawyer confronting the lead investigator pushing for the second ever impeachment of a sitting president. "Mr. Starr, good evening," David Kendall, the presidential attorney, said in November 1998. "Good evening," replied Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel investigating Clinton. "How are you, David?" "I'm very well, Ken," Kendall said. For the next hour the two legal giants squared off in a prime-time clash exactly a month before the House voted to impeach President Clinton for his effort to cover up an affair with a White House intern. They debated the facts of the case and the merits of impeachment, as both Republicans and Democrats barely said a word.

It was the sort of legal battle royal that President Donald Trump would probably love to see from his legal team, feisty and carried live on national cable TV. But Trump, unlike Clinton and President Richard Nixon in 1974, has opted against having legal advisers present for the House Judiciary Committee's first impeachment hearing Wednesday. The White House decision, delivered to Democrats Sunday evening, accused them of a "complete lack of due process" but left open the possibility that his legal team "may consider participating" in future hearings if they are deemed a true process. That move relinquishes Trump's side of the fight to Republicans on the committee, an unusual move for a president who loves to see his own top aides in public sparring with Democrats and the media. Many of those GOP lawmakers are his closest allies, and they plan to vigorously fight Democrats over committee procedures.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2019

Gov. Greg Abbott joins in on Zodiac killer meme after Ted Cruz’s baby Yoda tweet

The question has dogged Sen. Ted Cruz for years: Is he the Zodiac killer? In case there were any doubt, he's definitely not. The killings in California's Bay Area began in 1968, two years before he was born. But that hasn’t stopped the Texas Republican and his colleagues from having fun with the conspiracy theory. On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, “The Zodiac Killer strikes again,” in response to a New York Post story claiming Cruz “killed” the viral baby Yoda meme with an earlier tweet.

The Post story refers to a character in The Mandalorian television series that has recently taken over the internet for being small, green and adorable. Cruz tweeted the baby Yoda meme Tuesday, after NBA writer Duncan Smith tweeted that he was “furious just thinking about" how the Texas senator was going to be the one to kill it. References to Cruz being the Zodiac killer last surfaced in February, when Republican Sen. Ben Sasse tweeted a photo of a crossword someone slid under his door. Instead of writing in Ted for the answer of “Senator Cruz,” someone went outside of the provided space and wrote “Zodiac.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2019

Congress takes step toward memorializing Republic of Texas diplomats in D.C.

Lawmakers have taken a small, but significant step toward building a memorial in the nation’s capital to the long-forgotten diplomatic efforts of the Republic of Texas, the independent country that became the Lone Star State. A House subcommittee on Wednesday marked up a bill by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, to authorize a commemorative work to that history, likely on or near the National Mall.

The action spotlights the often overlooked tale of how Texas emissaries came to Washington in the mid-1800s to establish a legation – similar to an embassy – in the then-foreign capital and ultimately secured the fledgling republic’s annexation to the United States. It also seeks to right something of a historical injustice. While the sites of the Texas legations in London and Paris have long been honored with historical markers, no such recognition exists in D.C. Indeed, the Washington locations have all but disappeared from the map, effectively hiding a noteworthy chapter of America’s past.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2019

Texas police want Twitter, Facebook, Google to be better partners in battling online threats

Officials from some of the world’s biggest tech companies told state lawmakers Wednesday that they are working hand-in-hand with law enforcement to detect and prevent mass violence attacks. But police officials in the room said the companies need to be better partners. “I believe that they want to do the right thing,” said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. “It just hasn’t happened yet.”

The comments from law enforcement came at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety, which was formed after the August shootings in El Paso and Odessa. Texas lawmakers have highlighted the lack of communication between law enforcement and technology companies in preventing online threats. The companies have been hesitant to participate in the discussions and haven’t provided specific answers to detailed questions from lawmakers at the hearings. Representatives from Google, Twitter, Amazon and Microsoft skipped a similar meeting the equivalent House committee held in October, which Facebook attended.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2019

These three Texas cities are among nation’s top 10 ‘boomtowns’

Three of the nation’s fastest growing and most prosperous cities are in Texas, according to a new ranking. Denton, New Braunfels and Round Rock are considered American “boomtowns” in a study by financial advisory firm SmartAsset. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the firm examined 500 cities and ranked them based on positive trends in employment, business creation, population growth, housing growth and household income.

Denton came in second, trailing only Longmont, Colo. It’s known as a college town, serving as the home of the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University, and often praised for its music culture. From 2014 to 2018, Denton’s population grew by 8% and household income rose by 36%. Denton County’s median household income sits at around $86,000 – a decent bit above the national median of almost $62,000. Since August 2018, the city’s unemployment rate has fallen by 0.2%. SmartAsset also ranked Denton as one of the most affordable cities in the U.S. with great school districts this year. Other Dallas-Fort Worth cities making the top 50 were Frisco (13th), McKinney (14th), Flower Mound (24th) and Allen (37th). All posted high five-year growth rates in the number of local businesses and local housing units. Dallas and Fort Worth also performed well, ranking 63rd and 69th.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2019

Crude inventories plunge as U.S. emerges as net petroleum exporter

The nation's stockpiles of commercial crude oil plunged by nearly 5 million barrels last week as the United States continues to emerge as a net petroleum exporter at the end of 2019.

The U.S. is churning out record-high crude oil production at an estimated 12.9 million barrels a day and exporting nearly a quarter of that crude daily. Although the U.S. still imports about twice as much crude as it exports - when counting refined products such as gasoline - the country exported 62,000 more barrels of petroleum products than it brought in last week, according to weekly data from the U.S. Energy Department.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2019

Former Houston police officer Gerald Goines ordered released from federal custody

After spending Thanksgiving in federal lock-up, the former Houston police officer behind a January drug raid that left two homeowners dead was ordered released on Wednesday from federal custody. The move comes a week after federal prosecutors argued ex-narcotics officer Gerald Goines could be a flight risk, and a magistrate judge delayed her decision on whether to keep the 55-year-old former case agent in custody or let him go. Goines is charged with witness tampering, falsifying records and violating the rights of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle, the couple killed in the Jan. 28 raid on their home at 7815 Harding Street, in south Houston.

At Goines’ bond hearing last month just after his arrest by the FBI, prosecutors described “vast and growing” evidence that he fabricated an informant and then lied on a search warrant affidavit, an offense report and the tactical plan made in preparation for the fatal January bust. Prosecutors also accused Goines of repeatedly lying about casework, having sex with an informant and keeping loose drugs and a stolen gun in his car. Goines has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty. The 34-year veteran officer already was facing two felony murder charges in state court because the deaths occurred during the course of another alleged felony, tampering with a government record

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2019

University of St. Thomas to layoff faculty, reorganize departments amid ‘renewal’

Students and faculty at University of St. Thomas at Houston are distressed after learning that the private Catholic college is reorganizing academic departments and will not renew contracts for several faculty members next year. The “renewal,” part of a restructuring plan proposed by the university’s Board of Directors, is intended to help the college achieve financial stability and combat its longstanding operational budget deficit.

That deficit increased from $7 million last year to a little over $8 million at the beginning of 2019, but was offset by fundraising dollars to about $2.5 million, according to university officials. The restructuring will affect at least 30 faculty members, who will not be offered a contract renewal for the 2020-2021 academic year, and although academic programs are not set to be eliminated, departments and programs will be reorganized into new “divisions,” said St. Thomas President Richard Ludwick. The changes are essential in making the university stronger, more fiscally sound, and able to grow in important ways, said Ludwick, who added that the university’s costs have exceeded its revenue for nearly a decade.

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2019

Texas among top states in country to cut funds to environmental agencies

Texas slashed funding to its environmental enforcement agency by more than a third over the last decade, a new study has found, raising concerns about how closely the oil and gas industry is being policed at a time when the sector is booming and petrochemical plant fires in the Houston region are drawing national attention. The Lone Star State cut funding for pollution-control programs at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality by 35 percent between fiscal years 2008 and 2018, even as the overall state budget grew by 41 percent, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.

The analysis of states’ budget cuts comes as the Trump administration has eased environmental rules and sought to reduce funding to the Environmental Protection Agency. “The Trump Administration has been trying to roll back EPA’s authority and funding by arguing that the states will pick up the slack and keep our air and waters clean,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project. But it’s just a shell game, he said, “because state agencies are often badly understaffed and the EPA workforce is already at its lowest level in more than thirty years.” Nationwide, the Austin- and Washington, D.C.-based group found that 30 states had cut funding from their respective environmental agencies and 40 had reduced staffing over the decade reviewed. Texas and Louisiana tied for second place, with only Wisconsin reducing a larger share.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2019

Self-funded candidates achieve mixed results in Houston area

A rash of candidates around the Houston area are pumping hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars in personal wealth into their political campaigns, forcing opponents to take them seriously but generally yielding a poor rate of return.

Mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee is the most prominent recent example, pouring $10 million into his campaign through late October under a pledge to refuse any contributions. The money helped Buzbee reach a runoff against Mayor Sylvester Turner, though he trailed the incumbent, 47 percent to 28 percent. Also self-funding his campaign this cycle is attorney Eric Dick, who has reported about $192,000 in expenses on his campaign for an at-large Houston City Council seat. He has funded the campaign in part through a $75,000 personal loan, with just $1,435 in contributions, and now is in a runoff against Sallie Alcorn, a former city council and housing department staffer. The apparent trend has permeated other levels of government, too, with political fundraiser and tech startup investor Kathaleen Wall putting about $6.2 million into her unsuccessful bid for Texas’ 2nd Congressional District in 2018.

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KUT - December 4, 2019

Kamala Harris' withdrawal from the presidential race could help Julián Castro

On Tuesday, the last Texan in the presidential race, Julián Castro, lamented about the dwindling number of presidential candidates of color vying for the Democratic nomination. Kamala Harris had just suspended her bid, and Castro chastised the media for contributing to candidates of color leaving the race. Ironically, the comment seemed to motivate donors to support Castro's flagging campaign, leading to a better-than-normal day of fundraising for the former San Antonio mayor.

Sonia Garcia is a professor of political science at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, and says Castro criticized the media for applying different standards to Harris, an African American woman, and other candidates. She says the media criticized Harris for not having a clear message, and for flip-flopping. Garcia doesn't believe those narratives are accurate. "It's no surprise that women, especially women of color, are treated [with] a different standard – unlike men, unlike white women," Garcia says. "So there's this extra scrutiny placed on women of color."

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San Antonio Express-News - December 4, 2019

San Antonio historical review panel delays action on Alamo project

After getting an earful from nearly 30 people speaking passionately against moving the 1930s Cenotaph, wary city officials postponed any decisions, effectively delaying the start of construction on the $450 million Alamo Plaza makeover project. It wasn’t just moving the 58-foot-tall monument that worried the members of the Historic and Design Review Commission on Wednesday night, it’s the pending federal lawsuit that seeks to have Alamo Plaza designated a cemetery meriting legal protection.

“I’m really having difficulty with the process,” Commissioner Gabriel Velasquez said, adding that he’s worried a rushed decision “may put us on the wrong side of history.” The commission last year approved moving the huge monument about 500 feet to the south end of Alamo Plaza. Wednesday night’s vote largely was expected to be a formality, but that didn’t deter the 28 San Antonians and Texans who came from hundreds of miles away to urge the advisory committee to rethink its position. The speakers were opposed to moving the monument outside the geographic footprint of the 1836 fort, where some 200 Texians and Tejanos died in an early morning battle for Texas independence.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 4, 2019

Capitol hearing explores video game link to violence

After a gunman killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart in August, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick laid part of the blame for acts of mass violence on graphic video games that teach “young people how to kill.” On Wednesday, a gaming industry representative rejected that conclusion while appearing before a special Texas Senate committee that Patrick created to study violence and propose solutions to limit, if not stop, future attacks.

“Numerous well-respected authorities have found no scientific evidence to suggest any causal link between video games and real-world violence,” said Tom Foulkes with the Entertainment Software Association, which represents makers of video and computer games. Although the same video games are played around the world, “the United States is the only industrialized nation that experiences gun violence at this level and frequency,” Foulkes told the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety during a hearing at the Capitol. “Societies where the same types of video games are played just as avidly do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur here in the U.S.,” he said, adding that studies, metastudies and science do not point to the video game industry as the problem.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 3, 2019

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Sheriff has been open with public, but jail issues still disturb

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar has had a pretty rough first term. As Salazar seeks a second term next year, one question voters will need to consider is how much responsibility he bears for persistent issues at the county’s jail. We give Salazar high marks for being open with the public about these issues. Less clear, though, is whether he has a handle on them. The former San Antonio Police Department officer, elected in 2016, is the first to admit his administration has faced a never-ending series of challenges running the county’s detention center and law enforcement agency. Again and again, deputies have been arrested.

At last count, there have been 16 “erroneous” releases of inmates this year, the jail only recently regained compliance with the state, and there have been nine inmate deaths this year, including three suicides, according to state data. There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s move through each of these issues. As far as the employee arrests go, we see this as a product of the agency’s culture. This is something Salazar inherited when he was elected, and he is doing his best to address the issue. He has shown zero tolerance for deputies who fail to meet agency standards. Salazar has doubled the internal affairs unit and created a four-member public integrity unit to address corruption and other concerns. Earlier this year, he hired a psychologist to help address mental health pressures deputies may be facing.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 5, 2019

Interim Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus to strive for transparency in permanent role

As it struggles with matters of race and use of force, the Fort Worth Police Department will have an insider at its rudder. Ed Kraus, who became a Fort Worth police officer in 1992, on Wednesday accepted the department’s top job when it was offered by City Manager David Cooke. His selection as chief comes after a six-month tryout period of sorts. Kraus, who is white, was named interim chief in May when Cooke fired Joel Fitzgerald, the city’s first black chief.

Kraus’ elevation also comes about a month and a half after a Fort Worth police officer was charged with murder after he fatally shot a woman in a major blunder from which the department has been trying to recover. Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman, was shot in her home by a white officer, Aaron Dean, who resigned. Kraus, 52, will succeed Fitzgerald, who was fired in May following a confrontation in Washington, D.C., with the head of the state police union during a memorial for fallen officers. The city has said he was fired because of the D.C. clash and his failure to exercise sound judgment and leadership. Fitzgerald is suing the city and has said that he was fired unjustly. The city did not conduct a national search for Fitzgerald’s replacement.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 4, 2019

Fort Worth City Council passes regulations to limit spread of dollar stores

Six months after the Rolling Hills community tried and failed to fight a new Family Dollar opening in their community, the city of Fort Worth passed measures that would limit the opening of new dollar stores. The city council passed the measure at its meeting Tuesday night, 8-1 with Councilman Brian Byrd being the only no vote. The measure was an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance.

It defines dollar stores as “small box discount stores” that have a floor area of less than 10,000 square feet and sell a variety of home and personal goods and also food and beverages, but don’t sell gasoline or have a prescription pharmacy. The definition also includes that small box discount stores dedicate less than 15 percent of their space for fresh food and vegetables. The zoning amendment requires that future dollar stores would have to meet two requirements: the first was that they could not locate within two miles of an existing dollar store. The second was that at least 10% of the store must include fresh produce and meat and dairy products. The first requirement addresses the issue of proliferation, and the second requirement addresses the issue of the quality of products the stores offer.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2019

Election challenge could delay District B runoff until March, county says

The Houston City Council District B runoff could be delayed until March if a lawsuit contesting last month’s election result is not resolved by Monday, the Harris County Attorney’s office said. The third-place finisher in the race filed the contest, arguing that second-place finisher Cynthia Bailey’s felony conviction bars her from holding public office. Meanwhile, incumbent District B Councilman Jerry Davis said he intends to hold the seat until a successor is elected, while Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said the runoff should not have been delayed.

“There’s a lot of people out there that are angry,” Ellis said at the Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday. “And to be honest with you, I’m angry as well.” Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said Monday is the deadline to place District B on the Jan. 28 ballot, which also will feature the runoff for the vacant District 148 seat in the Texas House of Representatives. The county will begin sending mail ballots for that election next week, Ray said. “We don’t want to have to run another election in addition to the ones that we’re already doing,” Ray said. A hearing on the election contest has been scheduled for Friday. Ray said the litigation forced county officials last month to remove the runoff from the Dec. 14 ballot, putting it on pause as 12 city runoffs are settled next Saturday.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2019

FEMA to pay $25M to help build flood gates and waterproof Kingwood High School

Two years after Hurricane Harvey left more than five feet of water sloshing through Kingwood High School, FEMA has approved $25 million in funding to construct flood gates and waterproof the building’s brick exterior to fend off future storms. The flood gates will protect the school’s doors and windows, offering what Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen hopes will be peace of mind for Kingwood High students who were displaced from the campus for months after Harvey.

Now, every time that the students experience a water event, they are wondering and worrying ‘Will this mean we’ll be displaced, we’ll have to share facilities,’ all these things,” Fagen said Wednesday. “We believe in letting them know that we put measures in place so their school will not be inoperable.” The $25 million from FEMA will cover about 90 percent of the cost to build the flood control system. The school district will pay the remaining $3 million. The flood mitigation systems will not be ready until 2022, Fagen said. While the 2,700-student Kingwood High may be the first K-12 school in Greater Houston to use flood gates, it is not the first to make itself more flood and storm resistant. After Hurricane Ike crashed onto Galveston’s shore and flattened schools across that district in 2008, architecture firm PBK worked with Galveston ISD to rebuild and reinforce its campuses from future storms.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 4, 2019

Judge, Ethics Board dismiss allegations against San Antonio councilwoman

The city’s Ethics Review Board and a Bexar County district court judge have dismissed residency and nepotism allegations that have lingered against San Antonio District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan since she won her runoff in June. Last month, James Myart Jr., a resident in District 2, filed a complaint with the city’s Ethics Review Board claiming that Andrews-Sullivan didn’t live in the district she represents and that she hired her boyfriend, with whom Myart claimed she was living, as a council aide, in violation of the ethics code regarding nepotism.

The board reviewed the allegations Tuesday night and voted to drop Myart’s complaint due to lack of jurisdiction on the matter of residency and lack of evidence on the nepotism charge. Board members said they have no jurisdiction over where City Council members live, and Frank Garza, outside counsel, told the board there was no evidence that hiring Eartis Eaglin, the council aide, violated the ethics code. Andrews-Sullivan has called Eaglin her “best friend” and said they have been friends “since we were 12.” But she has denied he’s her boyfriend and denied they lived together. The city ethics code prohibits city officials from hiring spouses or “any member of his or her household.”

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National Stories

Associated Press - December 4, 2019

Home-state skepticism of Kamala Harris foretold trouble

When Sen. Kamala Harris entered the presidential race in January, her California roots were supposed to give her special access to the cash and delegates required to win the Democratic nomination. Instead, she faced headwinds in her home state that would become a microcosm for the trouble that ultimately forced her sudden departure from the contest.

One by one, politically active celebrities lined up behind Harris' rivals, such as Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Many of the state's energized progressive activists lent their passion and small-dollar donations to Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. And those who weren't yet paying close attention to the 2020 race — and there were many in a state of nearly 40 million people — gravitated to the name they knew best: former Vice President Joe Biden. A quiet but significant turning point came in late March, when prominent California donor Susie Tompkins Buell, who had backed Harris, began supporting Buttigieg as well.

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Associated Press - December 4, 2019

Montana's Bullock squashes talk of Senate run after presidential bid

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday that he doesn't know what's next for him after his long-shot presidential bid fizzled, but he knows one thing for sure: He's not running for Senate. Bullock said repeatedly during his first news conference since he suspended his presidential campaign that he won't challenge first-term Republican Sen. Steve Daines. “I've said before, during and after that I'm not going to be running for Senate," Bullock said. “I've made that clear, that's just not what I want to do."

That may dash the hopes of some Democrats who saw Bullock as the party's best chance for flipping Daines' seat. Democrats would need to gain four seats — or three seats and the vice president's tie-breaking vote — to win control of the Senate. The governor said he will spend his final year in office thinking about his next move, and that he would consider a Cabinet position if a Democrat defeats President Donald Trump next year and offers him one. “If a president-elect called, you’d have to take the call,“ Bullock said. ”But right now, look, I’m focusing, I still get to do this job for a year and there’s still a lot more to do."

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Associated Press - December 4, 2019

Georgia governor picks political newcomer over Trump pick for U.S. Senate

Georgia's Republican governor has chosen a wealthy businesswoman and political newcomer to fill an upcoming vacancy in the U.S. Senate, flouting President Donald Trump's preferred candidate in a play for moderate suburban voters. Gov. Brian Kemp formally announced his selection of Kelly Loeffler on Wednesday, pushing aside intense criticism from hard-core Trump advocates who wanted Kemp to appoint Rep. Doug Collins, one of Trump's staunchest defenders in Congress.

But Loeffler has been quickly embraced by Senate GOP leadership, which could make any top-tier Republican candidate rethink plans to challenge her for the seat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called her "a terrific appointment." Loeffler will succeed three-term Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down at the end of the month because of health issues. She will be only the second woman in history to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. The seat will be up for grabs again in a November 2020 special election for the final two years of Isakson's term, and then again in 2022. Also on next year's ballot will be Republican Sen. David Perdue, who is running for a second full term.

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The Hill - December 4, 2019

LGBTQ advocates slam Buttigieg for past history with Salvation Army

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is facing criticism online from some members of the LGBTQ+ community and gay rights advocates after images of the South Bend, Ind., mayor volunteering with the Salvation Army resurfaced online Tuesday. LGBTQ+ publication “Out” published a story Tuesday with some of the critical tweets, which spurred more pushback from some activists who called out the Democrat for volunteering with an organization that has a history of opposing gay rights.

“I know the photos are two years old, but still, I can't help but wonder if Mayor Pete just looks at what LGBTQ activists have been working on for years and then chooses to spite it (e.g. Salvation Army, Chick-fil-A, queer media in general, etc.).,” tweeted Zach Ford, press secretary for the Alliance for Justice, with a link to the “Out” story. The pictures are from 2017 when Buttigieg was volunteering as part of the Red Kettle Ring Off, an annual charity in which local South Bend officials raise money for the Salvation Army, according to a report from WSBT, a local CBS-affiliate, from the time. Buttigieg’s campaign declined to comment on the backlash.

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The Hill - December 5, 2019

Pelosi to discuss 'status of impeachment inquiry'

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will deliver a statement on the “status of impeachment inquiry” into President Trump at 9 a.m., her office announced early Thursday morning. Pelosi will speak from the Speaker’s Balcony Hallway, where in September she announced the launch of the impeachment inquiry into Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

Her remarks follow the House Judiciary Committee's first impeachment hearing. Three constitutional scholars called by Democrats told lawmakers on Wednesday that Trump committed impeachable offenses. A fourth Republican witness disagreed. The House Intelligence Committee earlier conducted the initial impeachment hearings with former and current Trump officials. The committee published a 300-page report on its findings Tuesday.

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Reuters - December 5, 2019

Musk defamation trial may head to jury after billionaire and diver spar in court

Elon Musk’s defamation trial could be in the hands of jury by the end of Thursday after the billionaire and the diver who is suing him sparred over the meaning and impact of a “pedo guy” tweet at the heart of the case.

British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth testified on Wednesday he felt “branded a pedophile” despite Musk’s assertion that his “pedo guy” tweet was not meant to be taken literally. Unsworth’s appearance in a packed federal courtroom in Los Angeles came hours after Musk, the chief executive of electric carmaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and founder of rocket company SpaceX, concluded two days of testimony seeking to minimize his tweets as offhand comments. But Unsworth, his voice cracking with emotion, said Musk’s remarks about him on Twitter left him feeling “humiliated, ashamed, dirtied.”

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Bloomberg - December 4, 2019

Trump Administration moves to end food stamps for 700,000

The Trump administration announced a plan Wednesday to end food-stamp benefits for about 700,000 Americans, issuing a new regulation that makes it harder for states to gain waivers from a requirement that beneficiaries work or participate in a vocational training program. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the new rule will move more food-stamp recipients “toward self-sufficiency and into employment.”

Conservatives have long sought cuts in the federal food assistance program for the poor. House Republicans tried to impose similar restrictions last year when Congress renewed the program but were rebuffed in the Senate. The work requirement covers “able-bodied” recipients. A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said it doesn’t apply to recipients who are over 50, disabled or pregnant, or anyone with a child under 18. The measure would be the first of three Trump administration initiatives curtailing food stamp benefits to take effect. The Urban Institute estimated in an analysis last month that the measures together would cut 3.7 million beneficiaries from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, often known by its previous name, food stamps.

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NPR - December 4, 2019

George Zimmerman sues Trayvon Martin's family for more than $100 million

George Zimmerman is suing the family of the teenager he shot nearly eight years ago, seeking $100 million from Trayvon Martin's parents, their attorney and others. Zimmerman claims he was the victim of a conspiracy, along with malicious prosecution and defamation.

Martin's family has responded with a statement saying there's no evidence to back Zimmerman's contentions that he was the victim of a conspiracy. Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges related to his shooting of Martin, who was 17 and unarmed when Zimmerman shot and killed him in a gated Florida community where Martin's father lived. Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense during a scuffle. Zimmerman had faced charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the case, which also shed light on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.

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Newsclips - December 4, 2019

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2019

Rep. Rick Miller won’t seek re-election, apologizes for comment about ‘Asian’ candidates

State Rep. D.F. “Rick” Miller of Sugar Land dropped his re-election bid on Tuesday as fellow Republicans rebuked him for saying that two GOP candidates are running against him in the primary because they’re “Asian.” In a statement, the four-term lawmaker said he used a poor choice of words that were “insensitive and inexcusable,” but not meant to be hurtful. “My comments were not made with malice nor do they reflect who I am or who I strive to be,” he said. “I do not want to be a distraction for my party or my constituents, and therefore I have decided not to seek re-election.”

Earlier Tuesday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded his endorsement of Miller, calling his comments “out of touch with the values of the Republican Party,” and the Fort Bend County Republican Party chairwoman asked Miller to withdraw from the race, saying it is “absolutely impossible” for him to represent Fort Bend County without embracing diversity. “Derogatory comments such as the ones made by Rep. Miller are completely out of step with my beliefs and the beliefs of our party,” said Linda Howell, the county party chairman. “Our party values and respects diversity, strong families, faith, business growth, volunteerism, honor, and love for our neighbors. Because of this, and as chairman of the Fort Bend Republican Party, I respectfully ask Rep. Miller to strongly consider withdrawing his candidacy from this race. This would allow a candidate that fully embraces and respects diversity in candidates and office holders to fill this important seat."

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New York Times - December 3, 2019

Impeachment report says Trump solicited foreign election interference

House Democrats on Tuesday asserted that President Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to help him in the 2020 presidential election, releasing a 300-page impeachment report that found that Mr. Trump “placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States.” The report by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee was a sweeping indictment of the president’s behavior, concluding that his actions sought to undermine American democracy and endangered national security.

They left it to another committee to decide whether to formally recommend Mr. Trump’s impeachment and removal, but the report laid out in searing fashion what are all but certain to be the grounds on which the House moves to impeach the president. “The founding fathers prescribed a remedy for a chief executive who places his personal interests above those of the country: impeachment,” it said. The report’s release set in motion the next phase in the impeachment of Mr. Trump, accelerating a constitutional clash that has happened only three times in the nation’s history. Both parties are poised for a fierce, partisan debate in the House Judiciary Committee over whether to charge the president with high crimes and misdemeanors, the Constitution’s threshold for removal, and a likely partisan vote by the House to do so before Christmas.

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Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2019

House report details Rick Perry’s involvement in Trump’s Ukraine ‘scheme’

Rick Perry was one of several senior Trump administration officials who knew about and approved of President Donald Trump's attempt to “use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election," according to a report by Democrats running an impeachment inquiry into the president.

The report, the culmination of weeks of public and private hearings by the House Intelligence committee, says the president “subverted” foreign policy toward Ukraine and “undermined” national security when he pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce investigations into Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as debunked theories that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. Trump’s so-called scheme was “undertaken with the knowledge and approval of” senior administration officials, including Perry, the former Texas governor who stepped down as U.S. Secretary of Energy earlier this week.

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Reuters - December 4, 2019

2020 U.S. census plagued by hacking threats, cost overruns

In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau faced a pivotal choice in its plan to digitize the nation’s once-a-decade population count: build a system for collecting and processing data in-house, or buy one from an outside contractor. The bureau chose Pegasystems Inc, reasoning that outsourcing would be cheaper and more effective. Three years later, the project faces serious reliability and security problems, according to Reuters interviews with six technology professionals currently or formerly involved in the census digitization effort.

And its projected cost has doubled to $167 million — about $40 million more than the bureau’s 2016 cost projection for building the site in-house. The Pega-built website was hacked from IP addresses in Russia during 2018 testing of census systems, according to two security sources with direct knowledge of the incident. One of the sources said an intruder bypassed a “firewall” and accessed parts of the system that should have been restricted to census developers. “He got into the network,” one of the sources said. “He got into where the public is not supposed to go.” In a separate incident during the same test, an IP address affiliated with the census site experienced a domain name service attack, causing a sharp increase in traffic, according to one of the two sources and a third source with direct knowledge of the incident.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2019

Six million records added to national background check system since signing of Fix NICS bill

During a time of partisan divide on the issue of gun control, some lawmakers are declaring a 2018 law to strengthen the FBI’s background check system a success. Since President Donald Trump signed the Fix NICS Act last year, six million new records have been added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to a recent Department of Justice report. The system is a database containing information that could prevent someone from passing a background check to purchase a gun.

The FBI said it can’t determine whether all the additions are because of the act, but it represents a larger effort by state and federal entities to improve the system. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, proposed the bipartisan bill in the wake of the November 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs that left 26 people dead. “I authored the Fix NICS Act to help close the gaps in the criminal background check system,” Cornyn said. “I commend the Department of Justice for working to fully implement this law, and I look forward to seeing the continued progress Fix NICS can make to ensure missing records don’t put more innocent lives at risk.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2019

‘It’s just out of control’: Texas senators frustrated over rise of vaping, lack of regulation

Texas lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday over the rise of vaping devices among youth and the lack of federal and state regulation, despite a new law that raised the smoking age to 21 in September. “We don’t know where they’re being made,” Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said during a hearing. “We don’t know what’s in them, and there is no real requirement on labeling.” The use of electronic smoking products, referred to as vaping, has sparked an outbreak of associated lung injuries, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Forty-seven deaths nationwide, including one in Texas, and 2,290 cases of lung injury have been connected to vaping, according to the CDC’s latest data from November. “It’s just out of control,” said Republican Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, vice chairman of the committee. The FDA began setting up a process to regulate e-cigarettes and similar devices in 2016 and manufacturers have been required to submit applications to remain on the market by May 2020. But this means there are currently no products pre-approved by the FDA, Kolkhorst said. With 109 cases reported as of Dec. 3, North Texas leads the state in the number of lung injuries associated with vaping, according to the Department of State Health Services. The department also reported the first vaping-related death in the state in North Texas in October.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2019

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick files Donald Trump’s re-election papers, predicts Trump will romp in Texas

President Donald Trump has kept his promises such as tax cuts and is more in tune with Texas voters than anyone the Democrats will nominate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Tuesday. Democrats have embraced “radical” policies such as the Green New Deal that threaten Texas’ energy-production jobs, Patrick said as he filed papers in Austin to officially put Trump on next year’s ballot in the state.

Patrick indirectly alluded to the embrace by some Democratic presidential candidates of Medicare for All, which he said would be unacceptable because nearly 15 million Texans would lose their private health insurance plans. The U.S. House’s Democratic majority is pursuing a “phony baloney” impeachment inquiry against Trump instead of passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact the GOP president has negotiated, the lieutenant governor complained. “They’re sitting on that, which hurts Texans,” Patrick said. Patrick dismissed Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s recent remark in a secretly recorded audio with a conservative activist that Trump is “killing” the state GOP in the suburbs.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2019

Was Dallas’ Oct. 20 tornado a disaster? Feds haven’t said so yet, and millions in relief are on the line

Dallas and Texas officials believe the Oct. 20 tornados that tore through the county far exceed the dollar amount needed to trigger a presidential disaster declaration. But for the moment, at least, federal emergency officials disagree. And it might all come down to whether or not the feds believe they should pay to replace a bunch of Dallas’ aging, outdated traffic signals destroyed in the storm.

In large part, this one issue is why it remains unclear whether Washington, D.C., will help fund the clean-up and rebuilding or leave locals to foot a bill likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars. City, county and Dallas ISD officials are waiting on that presidential disaster declaration because it is required for the release of millions in federal relief funds. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to recommend such a declaration because the agency insists the city, county and school district sustained around $32.7 million in uninsured losses. That’s around $6 million short of the finish line. The uninsured losses must total $38.5 million before FEMA can recommend the disaster declaration to President Donald Trump. He would then decide whether or not to release the federal funds.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2019

‘I am not a threat,’ Botham Jean’s brother says as he accepts award from police training group

The teenager who brought a courtroom and observers around the world to tears when he forgave the former Dallas cop who murdered his brother, Botham Jean, stepped into the spotlight again Tuesday when he accepted an award from a group that trains police officers. Brandt Jean, 18, received the 2019 Ethical Courage Award from the Institute for Law Enforcement Administration. The Plano-based group said Jean should be admired for the example he set by forgiving and hugging Amber Guyger after she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering his brother.

Jean, who lives with his parents in their native St. Lucia, used the opportunity to tell the officers in attendance at a two-day ethics conference that they could and should do better. “I want you all to know that I am not a threat, that young black males are not inherently dangerous or criminal,” Brandt Jean said from a podium at the institute. “I implore you to champion policies and procedures that amplify the value of all lives. I insist that you encourage diverse leadership that can model inclusion and restraint.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 3, 2019

HUD to send $212 million to Texas for recovery from Tropical Storm Imelda

The federal government plans to send more than $212 million to Texas to help with recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Imelda, which dumped more than 40 inches of rain on some parts of the state earlier this year. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on Tuesday it has allocated $212 million to Texas to repair homes and businesses damaged by Imelda. The department also announced it had allocated over $26.5 million more in disaster recovery funding for floods that hit the state in 2018.

It could be awhile before Texans receive the money, however. The funds are part of a federal program with a history of delays, including more than $4 billion Congress approved for Texas after Hurricane Harvey that has yet to make it to the state. That money, likely still months from being released, was long delayed while federal officials drafted new rules for how it would be doled out — a process that HUD has to follow every time Congress gives it the green light to offer new disaster relief funding. HUD still has to write its rules for how the new funding can be spent. The Texas General Land Office will then have to draft a plan for how it will spend the money. All told, it’s a process that can take months.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 3, 2019

Alamo’s former historian to work for Bexar County

Bruce Winders, the longtime on-site historian at the Alamo who abruptly resigned in July, will have a new, part-time Bexar County consulting job for at least two years. The county is celebrating its 100-year-old parks system next year and needed a historical consultant. Winders was available, having left the Alamo after 23 years as historian and curator.

Winders’ presence will give the county an expert on the extensive $450 million makeover coming to the Alamo and the plaza, said Betty Bueché, Bexar Heritage & Parks Department director. The county has raised concerns about the public-private project, although it is not a partner in it. Bueché said county leaders could ask Winders for opinions about the project, which includes a new museum and a reconfigured, larger plaza. The first phase could begin with utility relocations this month. By late next year, the 1930s Cenotaph honoring Alamo defenders will be repaired, cleaned, updated and rebuilt nearly 500 feet south of its central location in the plaza.

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Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2019

Halliburton shifts strategies in Oklahoma amid ongoing shale slump

Houston oilfield service giant Halliburton is shifting strategies sand relocating some of its field operations in Oklahoma amid the ongoing shale slump. In a statement released Tuesday morning, the company reported that it is relocating the majority of its El Reno operations to its Duncan field camp, about 80 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. The announcement came after the company, facing reduced demand for its services, said it would close its El Reno field camp near Oklahoma City and lay off its 800 employees.

"We made this decision in response to reduced activity levels in Oklahoma and the greater Mid-Continent area," company spokeswoman Emily Mir said in a statement. "Consolidating our operations takes advantage of Halliburton’s extensive footprint and synergies in the Duncan area including a strong employee hub and manufacturing expertise." Halliburton, the second-largest oilfield service company in world, remains profitable but has cut its workforce in response to prolonged $50 per barrel crude oil prices that have resulted in lower demand for drilling and well completion services in shale plays across the United States and Canada.

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Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2019

Pipeline operator sues Railroad Commission in flaring dispute

The controversial oil and natural gas industry practice of burning off natural gas produced as a byproduct of crude oil production is under fire in a lawsuit filed by a pipeline company alleging that Texas regulators allowed one of its potential customers to flare natural gas instead of moving it to market and selling it.

In a Nov. 20 lawsuit filed before Judge Jan Soifer with the 345th State District Court in Austin, Oklahoma pipeline operator Williams and its subsidiary Mockingbird Midstream Gas Services sued the Railroad Commission of Texas over the agency’s 2-1 decision on Aug. 6 allowing Dallas oil and natural gas company Exco Resources to burn natural gas produced by 138 wells in the Eagle Ford shale of South Texas. Williams argues that its natural gas gathering pipelines were already connected to Exco’s wells and would have allowed the company to move the gas to market and sell it instead of burning it off in an industry practice known as flaring.

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Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2019

Erica Grieder: State lawmaker’s comments raise questions about Texas GOP’s ability to compete in a diverse state

Republican D. F. “Rick” Miller, who represents House District 26 in Fort Bend County, has mostly avoided controversy since being elected in 2012 to the Texas Legislature. That changed abruptly and decisively on Monday, when Miller attacked two of his fellow Republicans in flatly racist terms. Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott joined Democrats in condemning Miller, a Navy veteran and business owner who by the end of the day decided not to seek re-election in 2020.

He may seem like the latest casualty of “political correctness.” His comments, however, reflect poorly on the Texas GOP’s old guard, as well as raising questions about the party’s ability to compete effectively in a diverse, outward-looking state. Miller, 74, had drawn three primary challengers in his bid for re-election next year. Two of those challengers—Jacey Jetton and Leonard Chan—are of Asian descent, as are roughly 20 percent of voters in Fort Bend County. Both have been involved for some time in local politics . But in an interview with Hearst newspapers, Miller alleged that the ethnicity of these two opponents explains why they are challenging him in the primary, and insinuated that it is the sole source of their appeal to voters in the district.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - December 3, 2019

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth draws a GOP challenger. Is it her biggest test?

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger might be facing the toughest Republican primary battle she’s had since taking office in 1997. Chris Putnam, a well-funded former Colleyville city councilman, is ready to go head-to-head with Granger, a 76-year-old former Fort Worth mayor, teacher and insurance agent. This battle for the 12th congressional district is drawing national attention, as many expect it to pit establishment Republicans against their more conservative grassroots counterparts.

This is Granger’s first primary challenge since 2012, when she bested Bill Lawrence with more than 80% of the vote. Granger is known for working behind the scenes to help her district, from spearheading the Panther Island enterprise — a $1.17 billion project that would reshape the Trinity River north of downtown Fort Worth — to being a staunch defender of the military and F-35 fighter jets, built in Fort Worth by Lockheed Martin. Putnam raised $455,785, which includes a personal $250,000 loan to his campaign, between July 1 and Sept. 30, Federal Election Commissions reports show. Donors include a number of grassroots Republicans, such as state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, and Julie McCarty, who heads the tea party group that has renamed itself the True Texas Project. Records show he has $448,110 in cash on hand.

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Texas Observer - December 3, 2019

A world without immigrant prisons

“I imagine a future that looks more like United States history than United States present. I imagine a future in which immigration prisons do not exist.” Those provocative lines come from the conclusion of Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking up Immigrants, a new 200-page plea for Americans to rethink our base assumptions about migration and incarceration. Released December 3, the book is the second title from University of Denver law professor and longtime blogger César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández.

The author’s timing is apt, as President Donald Trump’s xenophobia-laced first term draws to a close and Democrats debate the priorities of a possible new administration in 2021. García Hernández, a Rio Grande Valley native, suggests that to understand how we might transform our current immigrant detention regime—a sprawling system that incarcerates some 46,000 migrants as I write this—we must step back about 130 years. Though it may boggle the modern mind, America operated without immigrant detention during its first century of independent governance. It was only in the late 1890s that shipping companies began holding migrant passengers in squalid dockside warehouses so that the government could parse the worthy from the unworthy.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 3, 2019

New program expands access to HIV prevention drug, including in Travis County

The federal government on Tuesday launched a new program that will expand access to a medication that prevents HIV, making it available to people without prescription drug coverage at no cost, including in Travis County, which sees some of the highest rates of new infections annually. The program, called Ready, Set, PrEP, is one of the key components of the Trump Administration’s new effort, announced earlier this year, to curb HIV infections by 75% in five years and 90% in ten years.

To achieve this, health officials have said they aim to get all Americans living with HIV on a medication cocktail that lowers their viral load so they cannot transmit the disease and to place those at high risk of infection on the medication PrEP, which prevents disease infection when taken daily. Though PrEP is highly effective at preventing new HIV cases and could benefit more than 1 million people who are at risk, many people don’t have have access to it, federal health officials said. “Ready, Set, PrEP will increase access to this effective and preventive drug for people at risk,” U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir said in a statement Tuesday. ”“It is a critical tool for ending the HIV epidemic, but to make an impact it has to be available for people who need it most.”

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KUT - December 4, 2019

Critics protest timing of hearing on crude oil terminal proposed for Port Aransas

Plans for a crude oil export terminal in Port Aransas have provoked strong opposition from environmentalists and local groups worried about what the project could mean for the Gulf Coast and the popular tourist community. Now, opponents say the state agency responsible for permitting the project is ignoring their concerns. Developer Lone Star Ports has partnered with the Port of Corpus Christi to build the terminal. According to Lone Star Ports' website, the terminal would be able to load "very large crude carriers," i.e., ships capable of carrying up to 2 million barrels of oil each.

Because that process would emit carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, Lone Star Ports needs permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. As part of that permitting process, TCEQ is holding a public hearing tonight in a tent outside the Port Royal Ocean Resort and Conference Center. The problem with that, activists say, is city leaders will not be present; they'll be in Washington, D.C., to talk about hurricane disaster aid with FEMA. John Donovan, a spokesman for the Port Aransas Conservancy, said the TCEQ was asked not to hold the hearing today but did anyway. “If this is the attitude that they’re showing going in, we’re very concerned about the results coming out of this,” he said. Donovan said his group plans to protest the hearing, which is being held in a tent because the conference center is still damaged from Hurricane Harvey.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2019

Harris County Judge Hidalgo named to Forbes’ ‘30 under 30’ list

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was named to the annual Forbes 30 Under 30 list, the business magazine announced Tuesday. Hidalgo was selected for the law and policy section of honorees. A Colombian immigrant, she was elected a year ago as county judge in her first run for public office.

“If a natural disaster strikes the Houston area, it’s 28-year-old Lina Hidalgo’s job to handle the crisis,” the publication wrote. Hidalgo earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stanford University in 2013. Before taking office in January, she had been enrolled in a joint master’s program at Harvard University and law program at New York University.

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Houston Chronicle - December 2, 2019

Harris County once again leads Texas in number of STDs, new report shows

The annual Texas STD Surveillance Report published by the Texas Department of State Health Services is out. In 2018, the most recently published version of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention report stated that there are roughly 2,457,118 active STD cases in the United States. In 2017, that figure came in at 2,365,761. A report for 2019 is not yet available.

As a state, Texas saw an estimated 205,732 cases in 2018 — so where do the largest counties in Texas and those around the Houston area stand? Click through the gallery above to see how notable counties around Houston and the rest of Texas ranked in terms of STDs. First, it is important to note that the report only tracks chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis cases.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 3, 2019

Discord erupts over March primaries in Bexar County

The chairwoman of Bexar County’s Republican Party refused to sign a resolution Tuesday for joint primaries, creating a possibility of separately run elections on March 3. GOP Chairwoman Cynthia Brehm said she wanted to meet privately with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and county and party election officials to discuss the March 3 vote. Wolff said it was the responsibility of commissioners to hire and fire a county elections administrator, but not to get involved in the administration of the voting process.

“Keep us out of the politics of that,” Wolff told Brehm, later saying, “Run your own election.” The discord arose after commissioners approved a resolution requesting “successful status” from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office for a new vote center system, used for the first time in the Nov. 5 election. The new system, which allows voters to cast ballots at any polling site in Bexar County, was hailed as a leap forward in voting technology for the county, accommodating more than 56,000 votes on Election Day and more than 106,000 including early voting, while also keeping a paper record to be used in the event of a recount.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2019

Former longtime Houston councilman Larry McKaskle dies at 89

Larry McKaskle, who represented the residents of District A in northwest Houston on city council for 22 years, died Saturday. He was 89. McKaskle first ran for the council in 1961, then worked for three years as an aide to former mayor Louie Welch before being elected to the District A seat in 1969. He served with Welch and mayors Fred Hofheinz, Jim McConn and Kathy Whitmire during his 22-year tenure, before losing to challenger Helen Huey in 1991, the same year Houston voters instituted term limits — an initiative McKaskle had backed as early as 1985.

“A person should not spend as long in office as I did,” McKaskle said after the loss. “Had I been one of the voters, I would have voted the same way.” Described at the time as “a government minimalist,” McKaskle favored more police, better roads, lower city budgets and fewer powers for the mayor in Houston’s strong-mayor system. He opposed a failed plan to grow the council by eight members, a garbage fee and increases to tax and water rates. McKaskle critiqued each mayor he served under, but his feud with Whitmire led him to briefly organize a challenge to her in 1983. The campaign disbanded for lack of funds. McKaskle also ran twice for Congress and three times for county commissioner.

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Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2019

HISD initiative aims to get 60 boys from low-rated schools into top colleges

Midway through an early-morning class at Houston ISD’s Worthing High School, instruction specialist Jaelynn Robinson asked about 20 attentive boys to envision their ideal lives, free from the constraints of money and practicality. Davis wants his dream to become reality, using his artistic and networking talents to start his own fashion brand. To reach those heights, he wants to enroll in college, a milestone reached by only a third of Worthing High School graduates in recent years.

His vehicle is the Miles Ahead Scholars Program, a new initiative that provides about 60 male underclassmen from three traditionally lower-rated HISD campuses with instruction, mentorship and unique opportunities. “I’ll have the connections, I’ll have the skills, and it expands every day,” Davis said on a recent Friday, following a Miles Ahead class. “College is most definitely going to help me.” Using about $2 million in grant funding and a strong push from state Sen. Borris Miles, the Miles Ahead effort aims to usher more black and Hispanic boys into some of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions.

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Houston Chronicle - December 3, 2019

Emergency domestic violence shelters struggle to meet growing need in Houston

Lovinah Igbani miscarried within hours of being assaulted by her ex-husband five years ago. In that moment, she knew getting out of the abusive home was a matter of life and death. “I lost my baby,” she said. “Who’s to say if I would be alive right now if I’d stayed?” Igbani was one of the fortunate ones. The shelter at the Houston Area Women’s Center had space the day she asked for help in 2014.

But a growing number of domestic violence victims are turned away as the need for emergency shelter outpaces available space, surveys compiled by the state and the U.S. Census Bureau show. Survivors seeking emergency shelters in the Houston region have been turned away more than 8,000 times so far this year, advocacy groups report. “We have seen a continued growth in the (number of survivors) denied shelter,” said Molly Voyles, public policy manager for the Texas Council on Family Violence. “We have seen the number more than double in less than 10 years statewide.” Houston-area advocacy groups point to stagnant government funding, difficulty attracting private donations and population growth for creating the void in emergency shelter space.

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Dallas Morning News - December 3, 2019

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson demands plan from police department to make city safer

Mayor Eric Johnson is demanding a plan by the end of the year to reduce crime in Dallas. In a hard-bitten letter to city Manager T.C Broadnax that highlights a rash of statistics illustrating violent crime, Johnson on Tuesday set a high expectation for the police department in 2020 to work “more aggressively and transparently.”

The letter is the mayor’s most outspoken comments about the police department’s response to the increasing crime, especially since he put his faith in Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall as violent crime increased and the deployment of Texas state troopers brought complaints in the beginning of his term. Hall and Broadnax were not immediately available for comment. So far this year there have been 194 homicides, with the city well on track for its highest number of homicides in more than a decade. Assaults involving guns are also up about 27% compared to last year, according to the Dallas Police Department’s crime dashboard, while robberies are up 15%.

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National Stories

CNBC - December 4, 2019

Trudeau, Macron, Johnson appear to joke about Trump on hot mic video

The leaders of France, Canada and the U.K. appeared to be gossiping about President Donald Trump at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, according to video footage circulated of the event. In the video, in which the world leaders don’t appear to realize their conversation is being recorded, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson asks French President Macron: “Is that why you were late?” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then steps in and says: “He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.”

It is not clear who Trudeau was referring to and none of people present — which also includes Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Princess Anne — mention Trump by name. However, Trump’s remarks alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier on Tuesday lasted 53 minutes, according to a White House transcript, when the itinerary had suggested that it would last 20 minutes. The U.S. president was later involved in 38 minutes of remarks alongside Macron. The footage also features a “jaws drop to the floor” sentence from the Canadian prime minster, potentially referring a team of officials that work in close contact with a world leader. But the words do not appear to be a continuation of Trudeau’s previous comments.

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CNBC - December 2, 2019

Silicon Valley giants accused of avoiding over $100 billion in taxes over the last decade

Six of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies had a combined “tax gap” of more than $100 billion this decade, according to a new analysis. Fair Tax Mark, a British organization that certifies businesses for good tax conduct, assessed global tax payments from Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Microsoft between 2010 and 2019. The companies are sometimes collectively referred to as the “Silicon Six.” The research, published Monday, analyzed their 10-K filings, which are financial forms submitted by businesses to the U.S. government.

It looked at tax provisions — the amount companies set aside in their financial reports to pay taxes — and compared those to the amounts that were actually handed over to the government, referred to as cash taxes. Over the decade, the gap between the Silicon Six’s provisions and the taxes they actually paid reached $100.2 billion, researchers found. The report noted that scrutiny of big corporations’ tax payments often focused solely on tax provisions, which was not always the final amount received by governments. It also claimed that profits continued to be “shifted to tax havens, especially Bermuda, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.” Researchers said the bulk of the shortfall “almost certainly arose outside the United States,” with foreign tax charges amounting to just 8.4% of the profit the companies made overseas during the decade.

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Associated Press - December 3, 2019

Kamala Harris ends Democratic presidential campaign

Sen. Kamala Harris told supporters on Tuesday that she was ending her bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, an abrupt close to a candidacy that held historic potential. “I’ve taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life," the California Democrat said. “My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue.”

A senior campaign aide said Harris made the decision Monday after discussing the path forward with family and other top officials over the Thanksgiving holiday. Her withdrawal marked a dramatic fall for a candidate who showed extraordinary promise in her bid to become the first black female president. Harris launched her campaign in front of 20,000 people on a chilly January day in Oakland, California. The first woman and first black attorney general and U.S. senator in California’s history, she was widely viewed as a candidate poised to excite the multiracial coalition of voters that sent Barack Obama to the White House. Her departure erodes the diversity of the Democratic field, which is dominated at the moment by a top tier that is white and mostly male.

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Associated Press - December 3, 2019

Gun background checks are on pace to break record in 2019

Background checks on gun purchases in the U.S. are climbing toward a record high this year, reflecting what the industry says is a rush by people to buy weapons in reaction to the Democratic presidential candidates' calls for tighter restrictions. By the end of November, more than 25.4 million background checks — generally seen as a strong indicator of gun sales — had been conducted by the FBI, putting 2019 on pace to break the record of 27.5 million set in 2016, the last full year President Barack Obama was in the White House.

On Black Friday alone, the FBI ran 202,465 checks — one every 4.85 seconds. Some analysts question how accurately the background check figures translate into gun sales, since some states run checks on applications for concealed-carry permits, too, and some purchases involve multiple firearms. But the numbers remain the most reliable method of tracking the industry. In the years since President Donald Trump took office, the industry has struggled through what has been referred to as the Trump Slump, a falloff in sales that reflected little worry among gun owners about gun control efforts. But with the 2020 presidential election less than a year out and virtually every Democratic candidate offering proposals to restrict access to firearms, fears appear to be driving up sales again.

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Washington Post - December 4, 2019

Right-wing group must stop building private border wall in South Texas, judge says in temporary order

For nearly a year, allies of President Trump ignored seemingly every obstacle that might keep their right-wing group from building a crowdfunded wall at multiple points along the U.S.-Mexico border. They didn’t get permits in advance. They refused government orders to stop and study their engineering. And on the banks of the Rio Grande, they began bulldozing land where, true to their group’s name — “We Build the Wall” — they want to erect more than three miles of 18-foot steel fencing. But a Texas judge on Tuesday issued what may be the strongest rebuke yet to the group, which is led by Stephen K. Bannon, ordering it to temporarily halt all construction because of possible harm to a nearby nature preserve.

A state judge in Hidalgo County ruled that the National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre riverfront preserve in Mission, Tex., could face “imminent and irreparable harm” if We Build the Wall continues with plans to erect a “water wall” between the nature refuge and a state park. Javier Peña, a lawyer for the butterfly center, told The Washington Post that the wall could act as a dam that would redirect floodwater to the sanctuary — a popular spot for school groups and birders — and wipe out its vegetation, thus destroying the site or reducing its property value. “You can do almost anything with your property. But what you can’t do is hurt other people’s property,” he said. “For these guys to come down and use fear and hate to destroy it [the center] for their personal gain — that’s what troubles us.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2019

Rep. Devin Nunes sues CNN for $435 million over report about allegation he met with Ukrainian

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes is suing CNN for $435 million over a report that an associate of Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, claimed Nunes had met with a former Ukrainian official last year to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden. Nunes, a California Republican, filed the defamation lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia.

CNN reported last month that an attorney for Lev Parnas — a Soviet-born associate of Giuliani who has been charged with making illegal campaign contributions using foreign money — said his client had been told by former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that he had met with Nunes in Vienna, Austria, last December. Shokin had been ousted by the nation’s Parliament in 2016 under pressure from the United States and other Western nations that said he was ignoring corruption.

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Freight Waves - December 2, 2019

Union Pacific sues Texas town over 1870s-era jobs promise

Union Pacific is suing the city of Palestine, Texas, to nullify a 150-year-old contract to keep a certain number of jobs in the town indefinitely. The agreement between Union Pacific and Palestine — which was signed in 1872 — dates back to the days when the city was at the crossroads of several railroad companies that promised to keep jobs there indefinitely, according to the Palestine Herald-Press.

Union Pacific’s lawsuit, filed Nov. 27 with the U.S. District Courts in the Eastern District of Texas, alleges the railroad’s contract with Palestine should have been invalidated when the federal Surface Transportation Board became the nation’s regulating authority for freight rail in 1996; and again in 1997, when Union Pacific merged with the Missouri-Pacific Railroad. The agreement requires the Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad to keep 0.52% of its total jobs in Palestine, local officials said. Union Pacific operates around 32,000 miles of track in 23 Western states. The company had around 37,000 employees as of its last earnings report.

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Axios - December 3, 2019

Appeals court orders Trump's banks to turn financial records over to Congress

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that Deutsche Bank and Capital One must comply with a congressional subpoena for President Trump, his children and his company's financial records. Trump filed an appeal in August after a New York district judge declined to block the subpoenas, which were issued by the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees in April as part of an investigation into foreign influence.

Deutsche Bank said in a letter in October that while it has some of the records sought by the House, it is not in possession of the president's tax returns. Trump is currently engaged in court battles with both House Democrats and the Manhattan district attorney over subpoenas ordering his longtime accounting firm Mazars USA to turn over his tax returns. He has appealed both cases to the Supreme Court, where the Deutsche Bank and Capital One case is likely to end up as well.

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GQ - December 3, 2019

Charles Pierce: The Democratic race is poorer for losing Kamala Harris

The Democratic presidential primary season hit its first major pivot point on Tuesday when California Senator Kamala Harris announced that she no longer had the resources to continue her campaign. Harris was a first-tier candidate when she launched her bid and remained one through most of the summer. Then, in the first debate, she dared call out friendly ol’ Joe Biden for the accommodations he’d made with the defenders of white supremacy in the decades since he first got to the Senate. (I mean, it’s OK to attend Strom Thurmond’s services, I guess, but you didn’t have to eulogize the old racist sonuvabitch.)

They can all tap-dance around this as much as they want to, but Harris’s audacity shook the comfort zones of a whole lot of people committed to the Democratic establishment, especially those with a history of complicity with the conservative movement. Couple that with the “Kamala Is A Cop” business coming from the portsiders, and Harris soon found that she didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. Her visibility dropped to near-zero. Her fundraising dried up. And, unsurprisingly, since campaign operatives generally have the loyalty of gaboon vipers when things go south, stories blew up over the weekend about what a hopeless mess her campaign had become. And now she’s out, and here the Democrats are.

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