Quorum Report News Clips

View By Date
Printable Version of This Page

Newsclips - November 25, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

Houston rebid a contract to avoid using unpaid prison labor. Will Texas make a change too?

As Houston officials hashed out the budget last spring, City Council members Abbie Kamin and Carolyn Evans-Shabazz quietly asked to send a routine contract back to the Turner administration. The $4.2 million deal was needed to replace tire treading on the city’s commercial trucks and tractor-trailers. The city was about to award the contract on May 12 to the lowest bidder, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which offered to complete the work for some $750,000 less than the only private bidder, Southern Tire Mart. The state agency was able to offer a lower price in part because it does not pay its workers. The agency relies on the labor of prisoners, who do not earn wages when they work in Texas, one of a few states that do not pay workers in correctional facilities.

At the council members’ request, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration put out a new request for bids, this time including language that required compensation for workers. Three private vendors applied — TDCJ did not — and on Oct. 27 the city selected Southern Tire Mart for the $4.6 million contract. Kamin and Evans-Shabazz said the change was necessary to ensure the city does not funnel money into what they described as an amoral and unjust system. They hope the city will continue to bypass the state agency in future contracts while they lobby state legislators to address the pay issue. “Our hope is that we can have a citywide policy,” said Kamin, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee. “The important thing out of this example is that sometimes it’s the little things that may not be really exciting, but that can have a profound change on the systemic and lingering effects of racial discrimination in our criminal justice system.” Evans-Shabazz, like other critics of the state’s no-pay practice, likened such prison labor to slavery. If they earned wages, the workers could use that money for phone calls or commissary items, she said. TDCJ “told me they use the money for their employees. Well, that just doesn’t sit well with me and it seems more like ‘slave labor,’” Evans-Shabazz said. “Being an African American, that certainly doesn't sit well with me. … I just think that’s dehumanizing.”

Top of Page

WFAA - November 24, 2020

COVID-19 unit, ICU are full at Palo Pinto General Hospital, they're struggling to transfer patients, CEO says

The COVID-19 and intensive care units at a hospital in Mineral Wells are full and the facility is treating a record number of patients, said CEO Ross Korkmas in a Facebook post Tuesday. "At the writing of this message our ICU is full, our COVID unit is full and we have the highest number of patients in the hospital that anyone can recall," the post read in part. The Palo Pinto General Hospital, which is 53 miles west of Fort Worth, is struggling to transfer patients to higher levels of care in Dallas-Fort Worth, Korkmas said. He is asking for the community’s help in the fight to slow the spread of the virus.

"You are the front line to stop the spread and we need your help!" Korkmas said in the post. Palo Pinto County added 50 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, which is a record high. The previous record was on Aug. 11 with 32 new cases. “Please help protect your neighbor, help protect your coworkers, help protect OUR community from the spread of a virus,” he said. “Wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands and please limit gatherings.” The state reported 13,998 new cases on Tuesday and 166 additional deaths. The hospital has 74 licensed beds, 40 core physicians and 235 total physicians, according to the website.

Top of Page

KXAN - November 25, 2020

Billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson eyes Texas—will legalized casinos be next?

Previous efforts to legalize casino gambling in Texas have fallen short. But with the state facing a dire economic outlook imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, and a billionaire casino tycoon’s recent interest in the state’s politics, supporters of expanded gaming see a fresh window. Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has so far hired eight influential Austin lobbyists ahead of the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January. Adelson and his wife pumped $4.5 million into Republican campaigns for the state House in the 2020 cycle.

“Naturally, all of the significant players in the industry would put Texas at the top of their lists,” said Mark Lipparelli of the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. State Rep. Joe Deshotel, a Port Arthur Democrat, sees the 87th Legislature as a prime opportunity to revisit casino gambling in the state. “Now maybe the best opportunity that casino gambling has had in quite a while,” Deshotel told KXAN. “Keep Texas money in Texas.” Deshotel has proposed a constitutional amendment to authorize casino gambling in certain coastal areas of Texas. A similar effort failed in the previous legislative session, as did six other casino-related bills. Revenue generated by casinos for the state would be used to offset some of the cost of expensive windstorm insurance for homeowners and businesses, while also supporting catastrophic flooding assistance.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 24, 2020

Texas reports 14,000 new coronavirus cases, a daily record

State health officials on Tuesday reported 13,998 new coronavirus cases, a daily record. The number of infections and hospitalizations in Texas continues to climb, placing a growing strain on hospital capacity and staffing, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The previous record for new daily cases — 12,597 — was set on Saturday. Before that, the record, 12,256 cases, was set on Thursday. Over the past seven days, Texas has averaged 10,601 new cases and 151 fatalities reported each day. On Tuesday, the state reported 162 newly recorded coronavirus fatalities. Nearly 8,500 COVID-19 patients were being treated in Texas hospitals on Tuesday, the most since Aug. 4. The statewide hospitalization figure has steadily increased since early October. The pandemic high, 10,893 hospitalizations, occurred on July 22. “Our hospital heroes need our help,” reads a tweet shared by the Texas Department of State Health Services. “For nearly 9 months they’ve given us their all, risked their lives, and will work thru the holidays. To help them and ourselves, all we have to do is stay home when we can and wear masks.” Coronavirus patients have occupied more than 15% of the total hospital bed capacity in five of the state’s 22 trauma service areas — El Paso, Midland-Odessa, Amarillo, Lubbock and Laredo — for at least a week, a threshold that triggers tighter restrictions.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 25, 2020

Why Houston takes the hit when Irving-based Exxon falters

Exxon Mobil has long been the bluest of blue-chip businesses, earning a reputation as a company that could be counted on to deliver steady returns year after year, decade after decade. While investors benefited, so too did Houston. The nation’s largest oil company helped expand the economy and population of the nation’s energy capital, sparking development of master-planned communities such as Kingwood, world-renowned parks and cultural institutions. When the Irving-based behemoth decided to close many U.S. facilities and bring those employees to the area in 2015, it built a 385-acre campus in Spring that houses about 10,000 workers. The facility helped reshape Houston’s northern exurban region with expansive development.

That’s why Exxon’s recent losses, accelerated by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, strike deep in Houston, analysts say. Houston is no company town, but its fortunes still rise and fall with oil giants such as Exxon. The energy sector contributed $106.6 billion, or about 20 percent, to Houston’s gross domestic product in 2019, according to the Greater Houston Partnership, the city’s economic development group. Exxon, based in Irving but with a major presence in Houston, last year made a $14 billion profit. “For a long time, Exxon has done well and Houston has done well,” said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a think tank pushing for sustainable energy. “But I would say in 15 to 20 years, you’ll have a much smaller oil and gas industry in Houston. Your fiscal economics and economic development choices are going to have to change.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

Holidays during COVID bring increased risk of domestic violence, advocates say

Data shows family violence is intensifying and occurring at a higher rate in the Houston region during the pandemic, and as the holiday season approaches, advocates fear another big spike. The number of people killed by family violence in Harris County increased 58 percent from March through October compared to the same time frame last year, according to data from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. There were 12 family violence murders from March through October 2019, compared to 19 this year. The culmination of economic hardship, overall stress about COVID-19 and the holidays — a time that research shows family and intimate partner violence is likely to become more volatile — may bring deadly consequences for those most at risk, advocates say.

“It’s a time when people are very vulnerable to the dynamics of power and control that abusers try and exercise over victims,” said Emilee Dawn Whitehurst, president and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Shelter. “This year, the pandemic and economic hardships combined with holiday stress could escalate in ways that are really disastrous in our community.” Going into the pandemic, the spike in family violence was expected because research on natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017 showed a correlation between the two. Nine months into COVID-19, the increase has not slowed. Data from law enforcement agencies and information from advocacy organizations suggests that as the pandemic lingers, the intensity of violence being perpetrated is escalating. “We’ve heard from providers that their perception is the increase of lethality and the type of abuse that’s happening is becoming more violent,” said Melanie Susswein, a researcher at the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at the University of Texas at Austin, who recently helped survey hundreds of service providers in the state.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

Why Houston takes the hit when Irving-based Exxon falters

Exxon Mobil has long been the bluest of blue-chip businesses, earning a reputation as a company that could be counted on to deliver steady returns year after year, decade after decade. While investors benefited, so too did Houston. The nation’s largest oil company helped expand the economy and population of the nation’s energy capital, sparking development of master-planned communities such as Kingwood, world-renowned parks and cultural institutions. When the Irving-based behemoth decided to close many U.S. facilities and bring those employees to the area in 2015, it built a 385-acre campus in Spring that houses about 10,000 workers. The facility helped reshape Houston’s northern exurban region with expansive development.

That’s why Exxon’s recent losses, accelerated by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, strike deep in Houston, analysts say. Houston is no company town, but its fortunes still rise and fall with oil giants such as Exxon. The energy sector contributed $106.6 billion, or about 20 percent, to Houston’s gross domestic product in 2019, according to the Greater Houston Partnership, the city’s economic development group. Exxon, based in Irving but with a major presence in Houston, last year made a $14 billion profit. “For a long time, Exxon has done well and Houston has done well,” said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a think tank pushing for sustainable energy. “But I would say in 15 to 20 years, you’ll have a much smaller oil and gas industry in Houston. Your fiscal economics and economic development choices are going to have to change.” Houston faces a reckoning as its chief industry reels from the worst oil bust in decades and the industry’s chief company tries to recover from a record three-straight quarterly losses. It announced plans last month to lay off 1,900 U.S. employees, mostly in Houston.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

Texas A&M President Michael Young to resign earlier than planned

Texas A&M University President Michael Young announced Tuesday that he will resign a semester earlier than planned. Young, who has been president since 2015, announced in September that he would officially resign next May and would become director of A&M’s Institute for Religious Liberties and International Affairs within the Bush School of Government and Public Service. In his Tuesday letter to the community, Young wrote that he met with Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp to discuss his desire to resign Dec. 31 after having “time to reflect on my own interests and where I can make the greatest contribution.”

When asked about Young’s reason for leaving, a university spokesman directed the Houston Chronicle to Young’s letter which did not give a specific explanation about his amended and earlier departure. “Thank you for the incredible opportunity to serve as your 25th president,” Young wrote. “As this great university goes forward, please take care of each other, Aggies. Commit to the success of each other in heart and action -- the institution and Aggies will thrive as they always have.” Sharp said in a written statement that he accepted Young’s resignation and highlighted some of the president’s achievements, including navigating the university during the pandemic and increasing the school’s research expenditures to nearly $1 billion a year. “I want to thank him for his service to Texas A&M University and I look forward to seeing him fulfill his passion to create an institute addressing the issues of religious freedom and international affairs,” Sharp said. Sharp recommended Dr. John L. Junkins, chair of the engineering school, as interim president, noting that he will “bring a steady hand to the tiller to ensure that Texas A&M successfully navigates the next few months until a successor is named.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Sex education in Texas just joined the 21st century

Finally, the State Board of Education has aligned sex education guidelines with the realities of the world. Make no mistake. The best way for teenagers to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is to practice abstinence as the board’s sex education guidelines have long advised. But teenagers are teenagers. They don’t always make the decisions that would prevent the mistake of a lifetime. While parents should be the primary instructors of sex education for their children, we’re pleased that the board revised its curriculum standards for sex education to include teaching contraception and preventing sexually transmitted infections.

The change, the first in more than two decades, expands the current abstinence-only curriculum to what is commonly called abstinence-plus. A teenage girl who has a baby is unlikely to finish high school. Even if the father is involved, the real-life obstacles of babies having babies can silence dreams. Without a high school degree in hand, and opportunities to further education, the prospects of a well-paying career nosedive, and generational poverty becomes a tragic possibility. And even if we don’t realize it, the impact of teen pregnancies isn’t limited to the teenagers and their families. Health care and social services required to help young people and their children cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year. School districts in Texas are not required to teach sex education, but those that do were required by state law to emphasize abstinence. According to the Texas Freedom Network, over 83% of school districts in Texas surveyed in 2015-16 either provided abstinence-only sexual education or taught nothing at all.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2020

Dallas County reports 541 new coronavirus cases, 7 deaths; ‘too early’ to draw conclusions from lower numbers, Jenkins says

Dallas County on Monday reported 541 more coronavirus cases, all of them considered new. Seven new COVID-19 deaths were also reported. Monday’s report was an abrupt departure from the past four days, when the county reported more than 1,800 new cases each day. While early last week saw lower numbers due to a reporting glitch at the state level, County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement that Monday’s numbers are accurate. But he cautioned residents against drawing broad conclusions from the latest data.

“While this is good news, it’s too early to call it a trend,” Jenkins said. Four of the latest victims lived in Dallas — a woman in her 50s, a man in his 60s, a woman in her 70s and a man in his 80s. The other victims were a Garland man in his 40s, a Grand Prairie man in his 60s and a Lancaster woman in her 60s. All had underlying health problems. With just three days until Thanksgiving, Jenkins addressed residents over Facebook Live on Monday, asking people to limit their holiday celebrations to members of their own households and to avoid Black Friday shopping in stores. “Can’t you find a way — through Zoom, through Facebook Live, through cards, through traditional phone calls — to let your cousin and his wife, your sister and her kids, know how thankful you are for them? How much you love them?” Jenkins said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 25, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Ken Paxton plays the victim. But it’s Texas that is hurting

When earlier this month we called for the resignation of Attorney General Ken Paxton, we recognized that the state’s legal office could no longer function with its elected leader at the helm. Since there is no path to removing Paxton from office politically short of the next election, it is left to him to do the honorable thing and step down for the good of the people of Texas. No one expects that. Paxton has only dug in, refusing to acknowledge the increasingly troubling information that has surfaced about his actions in office.

He has falsely stated that seven of his top aides — almost all of whom have since been fired or resigned — “chose to air their grievances through the media and through the courts, rather than established and objective internal processes.” To be clear, the aides — all top lawyers for the state, some well-known conservatives — did act through the state’s internal processes, filing a complaint with the attorney’s general human resources department. The complaint revolves around the aides’ concerns that Paxton was becoming personally involved in legal matters involving a major donor to his campaign, real estate developer Nate Paul. Paxton’s top assistant, now former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer, said senior staff in the attorney’s general office tried to intervene. But Paxton persisted in engaging in legal matters involving Paul, including a federal investigation that saw Paul’s home and business raided by FBI agents in August 2019. Now we have learned that Paxton himself is under federal investigation. If there were not enough reason for him to step down before, there is every reason he must do so now.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2020

Faye Beaulieu: Texas’ working poor need help in coronavirus recession. Here’s what Congress can do

(Faye Beaulieu is senior vice president for community investment at United Way of Tarrant County.) At the United Way of Tarrant County, we work to advocate on behalf of all Texans, especially vulnerable individuals and families who struggle to make ends meet. We call some of these hard-working Texans ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — because although their income is above the federal poverty line, their low-wage jobs make it nearly impossible to cover basic necessities such as food, transportation, utilities and rent. The coronavirus pandemic threatens to send many ALICE families into poverty. We need lawmakers to support policies that will boost the economy, avert poverty and reward hard-working Texans.

Before the virus arrived, ALICE households were already struggling in our community. From 2010 to 2018, the number of Tarrant County ALICE households unable to afford to live and work in the modern economy increased from about 160,000 to almost 185,000. Statewide, this was accompanied by increases in the cost of living and stagnant wages. The overall number of ALICE households is sure to increase due to the pandemic’s damage to our economy, which has led to unemployment, income instability and overall uncertainty about our economic future. ALICE families without savings and working essential jobs are more likely to fall into debt and may not be able to protect themselves or afford treatment if they get sick. Although the road to a COVID-19 recovery will be long, there are strategies lawmakers can implement. One strategy is to connect hard-working Texans with the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2020

‘Major crisis.’ Midlothian nursing home blames COVID outbreak on new regulations

The Midlothian HealthCare Center announced on Friday that 41 residents have been tested positive for COVID-19 after new state regulations were put into place a few weeks ago, which caused the facility to move residents around the building. Among the positive tests are 25 staff members. “We are in a major crisis at the facility,” managing member Greg Loudermilk wrote on the facility’s website in a message that was directed to family members of residents.

Loudermilk, who spoke with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Tuesday, said he’s been a nursing home administrator for 22 years and the last eight months have been the hardest of his career. “It’s been a very difficult and stressful situation for everybody,” he said. At least two deaths at the nursing home since March can be tied to COVID-19, he said, explaining that one death was a man who arrived with a positive test and was already on hospice. Of the sick residents, at least 10 have recovered. But things became complicated when new state regulations required the center and others like it to create a quarantine unit to house people who have symptoms but are waiting tests, people who were hospitalized, and people who are new to the facility or who had been exposed to the virus, Laudermilk said.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2020

Tarrant County extends mask mandate until at least February amid record COVID spread

Tarrant County Judge Whitley on Tuesday extended the county’s mask mandate until at least Feb. 28, 2021. The Commissioners Court also voted unanimously to extend the declaration of disaster until the same date, which allows the mask order to be in place. Both were set to expire Nov. 30. Whitley originally put the mask order in place on June 25. Commissioner Roy Brooks was not present.

The declaration of disaster was first enacted on March 13, 2020, in response to the public health emergency as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The order goes hand-in-hand with Gov. Greg Abbott’s July 2 order, which requires people in counties with 20 or more confirmed COVID-19 cases to wear a face mask in buildings and businesses open to the public and outdoors where maintaining six feet of distance from another person isn’t feasible. The extension comes amid a record-breaking surge of coronavirus cases. The county reported a record 9,838 COVID cases in the past week, surpassing the record of 8,379 set Nov. 8-14. Vinny Taneja, the county’s public health director, told the commissioners that it took more than 100 days to reach the first 10,000 coronavirus cases. Most recently, it only took a week to record an additional 10,000 cases.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 24, 2020

Travis County reports 2 more coronavirus deaths, 366 new cases

Travis County health officials on Tuesday said 366 more people in the area have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total case count to 37,120. The figure marks the second consecutive day that county officials have reported more than 300 new coronavirus cases in a single day. Local health authorities also reported 368 new cases on Friday. Travis County health officials also said two more people in the area had died from coronavirus-related complications. The county’s pandemic death toll is now 478.

The county’s number of active cases continued to rise on Tuesday with 2,716. As of Tuesday, the number of estimated recoveries in the county was 33,926, according to local health officials. Of the 239 people in the hospital Tuesday with the coronavirus, 81 were in intensive care and 47 were on ventilators. The county reported 57 new hospital admissions for COVID-19 on Tuesday, and the area’s seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations is now 37.6 compared to 35 on Monday, according to health authorities. The record for the highest seven-day average number of new hospitalizations for the Austin-Travis County area stands at 75.1, reported on July 8. The seven-day rolling average of new hospital admissions is one of the main factors health officials look at when considering coronavirus-related restrictions in the city.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 25, 2020

Williamson County judge cited for violating stay-at-home order

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell plans to plead guilty to violating his own pandemic stay-at-home order in the spring by attending a family birthday party, according to his attorney. Gravell was charged Monday with violation of an emergency management plan, a Class C misdemeanor, according to court records. He will pay a $1,000 fine, his attorney said Tuesday. Gravell’s court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Williamson County’s top public official was captured in April on a neighbor’s camera arriving at the party at the home of a family member wearing firefighter protective equipment. The incident led to a criminal complaint, the appointment of a special prosecutor and an investigation by the Texas Rangers. “I apologize to the citizens of Williamson County for my lapse in judgment,” Gravell said in a statement Tuesday. “I will continue to do my best to guide and protect every life, every family and every business in our great county.” Gravell added that while his job is to be the county’s top executive, he also is a husband, father and grandfather, and that spurred him to attend the birthday party for his 5-year-old grandson. “Pawpaw Bill made an error in judgment that Judge Gravell deeply regrets,” he said.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2020

Ken Herman: Cornyn’s nod to reality

Good news to report today for those of us who, like it or not, live in the real world of reality. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, seems to be making solid progress toward fully accepting his former Senate colleague Joe Biden as the president-elect of the U.S. of A. Now, if we could just get the current president and his fringe-inhabiting supporters to join us in the real world of reality. Our recently reelected senior senator was in town Monday for a visit to a Central Texas Food Bank (true heroes) distribution at Burger Center. Cornyn, for public consumption, long has been a President Trump supporter, though he was not a candidate Trump supporter back during the 2016 GOP primaries. Journalist Carl Bernstein on Sunday night listed Cornyn as one of 21 GOP senators “who have privately expressed their disdain for Trump.”

So now, with Trump holed up in the White House, it seemed to me that Monday was a good day to check in with Cornyn about Trump’s most recent obnoxious behavior. So did Fox 7?s Rudy Koski. “Is it time to pull the plug on these lawsuits regarding the election and let’s move on?” Koski inquired. “Obviously, the outcome is becoming increasingly clear,” Cornyn replied in a welcome and unavoidable nod to the reality that Trump’s crack legal team and its lawsuits are a joke. “I think it is important to make sure that the people who did vote for President Trump feel like the election was fair and that he had an opportunity to make his case.” Let me inject a thought here. It would, of course, be helpful if they did, but I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done to make many of those zealots feel like the election was fair. It could help if their leader would acknowledge that. Enduring world peace and an end to global hunger also would be nice. Back to Cornyn: “But as you know, you’ve got to have evidence. And it seems like evidence of a systemic problem with our election seems to be wanting at this point.” Ya think? “But I think it’s helpful to let the process run its course,” Cornyn continued. “I have no doubt that the transition will proceed smoothly as a tradition that started with George Washington at the beginning of our history.”

Top of Page

KXAN - November 24, 2020

Despite calls for criminal justice reform, will Texas lawmakers add new crimes to the books?

The Texas District & County Attorneys Association, an advocacy group for prosecutors across the state, quipped on Twitter last week about state lawmakers’ effort to address criminal justice reform. “Some things never change” was followed by a shrugging emoticon. The TDCAA noted that out of the more than 800 bills filed ahead of the upcoming legislative session, 33 bills would create one or more new crimes, and 17 bills would increase the punishments for existing crimes, despite the expressed focus on criminal justice reform by many lawmakers.

Texas has more than 2,000 criminal offenses, already. But the bills, focusing primarily on gun control by Democrats, are unlikely to pass. Thousands of bills will be filed in the 87th Legislature and most won’t see the light of day—just 820 of more than 7,000 bills became law in the last legislative session. Criminal justice reform advocates said they’re committed to fighting for fewer crimes and more realistic punishments. “I hope policymakers will recognize that we need a system with a smaller footprint that focuses on addressing violent crime, addressing conduct that really imperils public safety,” said Marc Levin, chief of policy and innovation for Right on Crime, a conservative-leaning criminal justice reform organization. “Even for those things that are crimes, we need to look at what should subject someone to the possibility of arrest.”

Top of Page

KXAN - November 24, 2020

AOC, Ted Cruz swipe at each other over lack of COVID-19 relief

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spent Monday and Tuesday jabbing at each other over the lack of a national COVID-19 relief bill. The tiff began after Ocasio-Cortez, a vocal Democratic member of “The Squad,” tweeted: “People across the country are going hungry, COVID is set to explode, and Mitch McConnell dismissed the Senate last week. I don’t know how these people can sleep at night. I really don’t.” This drew the ire of Cruz, who responded: “Why is your party filibustering $500 billion in COVID relief? And Joe Biden is cheering them on. Thinking that blocking relief somehow helps Dems win Georgia.”

Ocasio-Cortez then explained: “The House doesn’t have filibusters, @tedcruz. We also passed several COVID relief packages to the Senate that not only include >$500 billion, but also prioritize helping real people as opposed to Wall St bailouts the GOP tries to pass off as “relief.” Nice try though.” Cruz then accused Ocasio-Cortez of ignoring the fact that Democrats are in the Senate, too. AOC then said, “You know in the House, when we don’t have the votes to pass something, we work on the bill until we pick up the votes to pass it. That includes GOP votes – & yes, GOP have voted for my leg too. The Senate should try it sometime! People are going hungry as you tweet from vacay.” Ocasio-Cortez continued tweeting on the subject, saying: “If you want to know why COVID relief is tied up in Congress, one key reason is that Republicans are demanding legal immunity for corporations so they can expose their workers to COVID without repercussions. Dems don’t want you to die for a check. That’s what we’re fighting over.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 25, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Another clumsy attempt to boost Texas oil and gas by the Trump administration

Bankers have long prided themselves in making wise financial decisions that helped build their communities into better places to live and do business. In the waning days of his presidency, President Donald Trump wants to take away some of the discretion banks use in making sound investments. The administration says it is leveling the playing field for all legal businesses, but the goal is to protect Texas oil and gas companies. Today, most businesses run on credit, and the energy sector relies on banks more than most for billions of dollars in loans every year. Companies use the money to buy land or hire drilling rigs. They also rely on trading desks to buy futures contracts and investment bankers to sell stocks and bonds.

Oil executives may be handsomely rewarded, but to keep the wells pumping and the oil flowing, they rely on OPM: other people’s money. But lately, banks have scaled back loans to oil and gas companies because they have struggled. There are other reasons, too. Environmentalists and climate change activists understand the role of financial institutions, which is why they have encouraged investment firms and wealthy individuals to pull their money out, or divest, from fossil fuel companies. They’ve also pressured banks to stop providing loans and other services. Their argument is simple. Climate change is damaging the economy, and banks hurt themselves and their clients when they support companies that cause global warming. The campaign is working better than anyone could have expected. Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo have announced plans to cut off funding for new drilling in the Arctic. Some have stopped funding coal projects, while others have taken more substantial steps. This is terrible news for Trump, who promised to save the coal industry and opened the Arctic to more drilling. No one will bid on leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if they cannot secure project funding. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a banking regulator that Trump oversees, doesn’t think the banks are playing fair. The agency wants to remove the banks’ flexibility in deciding which businesses to support.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 24, 2020

John Gilbert Getty, grandson of oil tycoon, died Friday in San Antonio

John Gilbert Getty, the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, died Friday in San Antonio, according to reports. Getty, 52, was found unresponsive in a hotel room, TMZ reported. No foul play was suspected and the cause of death was pending an autopsy. "With a heavy heart, Gordon Getty announces the death of his son, John Gilbert Getty," a representative for the family said in a statement. "John was a talented musician who loved rock and roll. He will be deeply missed."

John's daughter, Ivy, shared a tribute to her father Sunday on Instagram, writing, "My father was awesome- coolest man to ever land on this planet and I will forever be the proudest daughter." She added that San Antonio was one of his favorite American cities. John was predeceased by his mother, Ann, and brother, Andrew. Ann, a publisher and arts patron, died in September after suffering a heart attack. Andrew, 47, was found dead in 2015 at his Los Angeles home. J. Paul Getty, John's grandfather, was a wildcatter who built an empire in the United States and struck an oil deal with Saudi Arabia in the 1960s. His son Gordon, John's father, sold Getty Oil to Texaco for $10 billion in 1984. In 2015, Forbes magazine estimated the Getty family fortune at $5.4 billion.

Top of Page

County Stories

CBS 11 - November 24, 2020

Tarrant County DA says misdemeanor marijuana possession charges may be dismissed

The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office says misdemeanor marijuana cases don’t need to clog up the courts and is sharing how people charged with possession of less than two ounces, can get that charge dismissed.

They need to have three clean drug tests in three months – and then the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office will dismiss the charge. “One of the goals of the criminal justice system is rehabilitation; sobriety is the beginning of that rehabilitation,” Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson said. “When you bring proof of three months of sobriety– 90 days – the charge will be dismissed.” The most frequently committed offense in Tarrant County is possession of marijuana of less than two ounces. There were 3,750 cases filed last year.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 25, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Is an election being undermined in Dallas County?

Talk about trying to undermine an election. No, we aren’t talking about that election. We are talking about something much closer to home. We are talking about the effort to undo Dallas College’s 2019 bond referendum — the one where more than 70% of voters agreed to permit the county’s community college system to issue $1.1 billion in bonds to construct a consolidated downtown campus with student housing among a host of other important projects.

It’s hard to imagine how an election in which nearly 3 out of 4 voters approved a measure would be subject to a lawsuit alleging irregularities so severe that the plain will of the electorate should be overturned. But such are the times, and such is the allegation Kirk Lanius raises in his lawsuit. Lanius, himself a failed candidate for Dallas County sheriff, has put so much sand in the gears of the bond referendum that the critical construction work to boost Dallas College cannot begin. Lanius will have his work cut out for him to prove the allegations in his suit. And we are more than doubtful he can. It’s a shame then that students both at the high school and college level will see a delay in the broadly beneficial work Dallas College is planning.

Top of Page

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2020

What voters need to know about the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD school board runoff election

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD will hold a runoff election for its board of trustees this year after none of the three candidates running for the Place 5 seat received a majority of votes in the Nov. 3 election. The runoff is scheduled for Dec. 8, but district residents can early vote starting Monday. The two candidates running in the runoff election are Coley Canter and Tommy Snyder.

In the Nov. 3 election, Canter secured 38.32% of the vote and Snyder secured 30.85%. Snyder was followed closely by candidate Lori Crenshaw, who had 30.83% of the vote and trailed Snyder by less than 10 votes. Election Day voting will take place at the same two locations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Dec. 8. Coley Canter has spent her career in human resources, largely for TDIndustries, Inc., where she currently works. In her responses for The News’ Voter Guide, she cited safety and fiscal responsibility as two important issues she would focus on if elected. Tommy Snyder served in the U.S. Army and is president and CEO of financial services company 1619 Capital Partners. He worked as a musician and played with the USO, and served as a worship pastor at a local church. He did not respond to questions for The News’ Voter Guide.

Top of Page

National Stories

Washington Post - November 23, 2020

Foreign observers shocked by chaos over U.S. election

These are challenging times for foreigners whose job it is to interpret American politics for people in other countries. As President Trump has used a string of maneuvers to attack the election he lost as fraudulent and illegitimate, many observers are perplexed as they watch the country they have known and admired floundering in a constitutional crisis and growing mistrust of democratic institutions. For many, it is a struggle to maintain confidence that America’s principles and ideals will prevail.

“People who know the U.S. are shocked it’s going on so long,” said Michal Baranowski, the German Marshall Fund director of the office in Warsaw, of the post-election uncertainty and Trump’s refusal to concede. “We still say it will work out, because of the strength of U.S. institutions. But, man, it’s taking a long time, and I’m beginning to worry.” Some foreign observers are also struggling to explain the U.S. political drama to their baffled friends and colleagues. Beyond the usual questions about the electoral college and why anyone cares about the vote in Broward County, Fla., Barry Eidlin, a sociologist at McGill University in Montreal, keeps getting asked whether a country considered the beacon of democracy will have a peaceful transition of power come January. “This year, it’s gone haywire, sort of on the Bush versus Gore level,” said Eidlin, a dual citizen who splits his time between California and Quebec. “It’s been a source of puzzlement and bewilderment. It’s on the level of, what on earth is happening? It’s definitely a more challenging place to explain.”

Top of Page

Washington Post - November 24, 2020

Room Rater was a beloved pandemic distraction. But the backlash has arrived, courtesy of Jeb Bush.

Doug Heye was in a good mood as he made dinner Saturday night. The Republican strategist had just received a quarantine-specific distinction: A 9 out of 10 rating from the Room Rater Twitter account. “Love the port wine posters. Sunflowers. Depth. Add pillow to left. 9/10,” it read, referencing the background of his recent TV appearance.

“I had gotten a 5 earlier. I had really bad lighting, and I deserved it. So to get a 9, I was just like, ‘This is great,’ ” Heye said. “It’s admittedly silly, and yet so many people care about it.” The account, which is run by Claude Taylor and his fiance, Jessie Bahrey, became an early pandemic diversion, like sourdough bread, Netflix watch parties and newly adopted puppies. Pundits were suddenly appearing on the cable news channels not from remote studios but on Zoom or Skype from bedrooms, living rooms and makeshift offices. Taylor and Bahrey rate their home setups, docking points for things like visible cords or a poorly angled screen and awarded them for well-organized bookcases or stylish art. Taylor said the account, which has more than 350,000 followers, is meant to be “tongue in cheek.” “It’s all meant to be lighthearted fare for the covid pandemic and lockdown,” he said. “None of it is meant to be taken that seriously. And 98 percent of the time, people react with the humor in which it’s intended.” But a backlash against the account has been bubbling under the surface — and finally overflowed on social media the night of Heye’s rating, when former Republican Florida governor Jeb Bush retweeted it with some added commentary. “Mr. Room Rater, is it possible now that the election is over to rate rooms on a non partisan basis? Are you a room rater or a hyper partisan person that is the problem? We need less hyper partisanship on backgrounds at this time for our country,” Bush tweeted, adding, “Room man, do a review of your ratings based on ideology and publish it. The backgrounds are varied but your bias is constant. Be honest. Try to make a difference. If not, you are part of the problem.”

Top of Page

CNN - November 24, 2020

The Dow just hit 30,000. It was a long road to get there

Dow 30,000 is a milestone nearly 125 years in the making. The average began tracking the most powerful corporate stocks in 1896, and it has served as a broad measure of the market's health through 22 presidents, 24 recessions, a Great Depression and two global pandemics. Along the way, it also weathered at least two stock market crashes and innumerable rallies, corrections, bull and bear markets.

The blue chip index took just over 120 years to crack the 20,000 mark for the first time in early 2017, just after President Donald Trump took office. It needed just less than a year after that to reach the 25,000 mark on January 4, 2018. But the last three years have been more of a roller coaster ride. The Dow and the S&P 500 both closed lower in 2018, marking the worst year for blue chip stocks in a decade. The market bounced back with gains in 2019 but then a massive sell-off in February and March brought an end to history's longest bull market, as the coronavirus pandemic hit stateside. That plunge included the three largest one-day point drops on record in the course of only six trading days in mid-March. Fortunately for equity investors, the bear market turned out to be short-lived. With the Federal Reserve and Congress providing economic relief, the blue chip indexes have recaptured all of their earlier losses, and then some, since that March sell-off.

Top of Page

Axios - November 25, 2020

Trump tells confidants he plans to pardon Michael Flynn

President Trump has told confidants he plans to pardon his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts, two sources with direct knowledge of the discussions tell Axios. Sources with direct knowledge of the discussions said Flynn will be part of a series of pardons that Trump issues between now and when he leaves office.

Flynn's pardon would be the culmination of a four-year political and legal saga that began with the FBI's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the 2016 election. The retired lieutenant general is viewed by many Trump supporters as a victim of political retaliation by the Obama administration. Flynn's lawyers and members of conservative media have accused the FBI of entrapping him and cited his case as part of a broader campaign to discredit the Russia probe. Earlier this year, Trump commuted the sentence of Roger Stone, another associate charged in the Mueller investigation who the president complained had been unfairly targeted in a political witch hunt. Flynn's legal troubles began during the 2016 presidential transition, when he urged former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a phone call not to escalate in response to the Obama administration imposing sanctions on Russia for election interference. Flynn then lied about not discussing sanctions, to Vice President Mike Pence who repeated that denial to the media — causing alarm among Justice Department officials who feared the lies made Flynn susceptible to Russian blackmail.

Top of Page

AFP - November 24, 2020

$169 billion for 29,000 lives? Study calculates cost of US shutdowns

There's little doubt that government-ordered business shutdowns to stop the spread of Covid-19 damaged the US economy, but the exact cost has not been clear. Researchers from HEC Paris business school and Bocconi University in Milan have reached a sobering calculation: the closures beginning at the pandemic's onset in March through May saved 29,000 lives -- at a cost of $169 billion, or around $6 million per person. "Governors saved lives on the one hand, but reduced economic activity on the other," Jean-Noel Barrot, a professor at HEC Paris and member of France's National Assembly, told AFP. How to address the world's largest coronavirus outbreak has become a vexing, politically charged question in the United States, where the virus has infected more than 12.2 million people and killed nearly 257,000.

Virus cases are surging nationwide, prompting many states to again implement restrictions on businesses. But Barrot warns that changes in Americans' behavior may make renewed business restrictions less effective. "As people become, perhaps, more responsible, as they wear more masks and so on, the effect that we're seeing on infection is going to probably go down," he said. The March orders were applied unevenly by state and local governments, but caused unprecedented disruptions to the world's largest economy, prompting a debate over the government's role in forcing people to change their lifestyles in the name of public health. Critics have said the restrictions, which were relaxed to varying degrees in the spring and summer, are a costly assault on personal freedom, while supporters say they're one of the ways the out-of-control virus can be contained. A June study published in Nature found that without social distancing and business restrictions, the US would have seen cases hit 5.2 million in early April, rather than their actual level of around 365,000. Researchers at Columbia University meanwhile found that more than 35,000 lives could have been saved had such measures been put in place just a week earlier than their mid-March imposition. Though nowhere near as stringent as in other countries where curfews were strictly enforced and rulebreakers penalized, the restrictions' effects on the US economy were seen almost immediately.

Top of Page

NBC News - November 23, 2020

Feinstein says she's stepping down as top Democrat on Senate Judiciary Committee

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Monday she will step down as top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee in the new session of Congress beginning early 2021, marking a victory for progressives who pressured her to step aside. “After serving as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee for four years, I will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position in the next Congress,” the California Democrat said in a statement. Feinstein, 87, said she intends to remain on the committee. She won re-election to a six-year term in 2018 and her term doesn’t expire until the end of 2024. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, said after Feinstein's announcement that he intends to seek the party's top position on the Judiciary Committee.

Feinstein came under fierce criticism from progressives after she lavished praise on Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for his handling of the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court hearing, and gave him a hug after the proceedings concluded on Oct. 15. “I just want to thank you. This has been one of the best set of hearings that I've participated in,” Feinstein told Graham in the committee room. “Thank you so much for your leadership.” Progressive groups including Demand Justice, NARAL and MoveOn.org called on Feinstein to step aside, accusing her of undercutting the party’s message against Republicans holding a Supreme Court hearing on the eve of the 2020 election after they refused to under President Barack Obama in 2016. “This was a necessary step if Democrats are ever going to meaningfully confront the damage Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell have done to the federal judiciary,” said Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice who led the calls for Feinstein to step aside. “Going forward, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee must be led by someone who will not wishfully cling to a bygone era of civility and decorum that Republicans abandoned long ago.”

Top of Page

Newsclips - November 24, 2020

Lead Stories

Bloomberg - November 23, 2020

Walmart rejected by Supreme Court on Texas liquor sales

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a bid by Walmart Inc. to start selling liquor at its Texas stores, leaving intact for now a state law that bars such retail sales by publicly owned companies. The rebuff, which came without comment, sends Walmart’s challenge back to a federal trial court, where the world’s largest retailer will have to show that Texas is intentionally discriminating against out-of-state commerce with the 1995 ban.

Walmart said it shouldn’t have to show intentional discrimination because the Texas law has the effect of excluding virtually all out-of-state retailers, violating the Constitution. The company says 98% of liquor stores in the state are wholly owned by Texans. The ban “operates to block anyone in a position to compete with Texans in the retail liquor market from doing so,” Walmart argued in its unsuccessful appeal. Texas said the law is a legitimate effort to make alcohol less accessible by preventing large corporations from using their economies of scale to reduce prices and increase the number of liquor outlets. State law doesn’t preclude public companies from selling beer and wine. “This approach has served Texas well -- it has consistently ranked among the states with the lowest per capita liquor consumption,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman struck down the Texas law as unconstitutional in 2018, but 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Walmart had to make a stronger showing of discrimination. The Supreme Court last year invalidated a Tennessee law that imposed residency requirements on people seeking to run liquor stores there. The 7-2 decision said states can’t use their liquor regulations to engage in economic protectionism. The Texas challenge turns on the so-called dormant commerce clause, a judge-made doctrine that says the Constitution doesn’t let states discriminate against interstate commerce unless authorized by Congress. The case is Walmart Stores v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, 19-1368.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

John Cornyn, other senators hold Trump in 'extreme contempt,' Carl Bernstein says

U.S. Senator John Cornyn is among 21 Republican senators who have privately “expressed extreme contempt” for President Donald Trump while publicly steering clear of outright criticism, according to veteran reporter Carl Bernstein, who interviewed staffers. In Sunday tweets detailing the list of GOP names, Bernstein said that the GOP Senators have also challenged Trump’s fitness for office behind closed doors — while publicly steering clear of outright criticism. “With few exceptions, their craven public silence has helped enable Trump’s most grievous conduct — including undermining and discrediting the US electoral system,” Bernstein wrote in a tweet following his naming the members of Congress.

Cornyn’s staff declined to comment on Bernstein’s tweets. In recent months, Cornyn has cautiously backed away from endorsing some of Trump’s claims, including those downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. In comments to Hearst newspapers in October, Cornyn said Trump’s rhetoric had created confusion as the country deals with swelling case numbers. Still, Cornyn has been reluctant to denounce Trump’s outspoken and unfounded allegations of voter fraud and election insecurity, though he indicated he expects to see President-elect Joe Biden in office come January. “It will probably be Joe Biden,” Cornyn told reporters last week. “I haven’t seen anything that would change the outcome.” Trump has repeatedly refused to abide by the results of the election. At least two GOP senators, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have thus far publicly opposed the President on his move to overturn results in key states. Cornyn, meanwhile, has largely skirted the issue of election results, though last week he seemed to tacitly signal his support for a peaceful transition of power in a tweet Sunday morning.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

Federal appellate court allows Texas to deny Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood

Texas can bring back its ban on Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday. Opponents of legal abortion have long sought to deny funding from the federal-state health insurance program to Planned Parenthood because some of its affiliated clinics perform abortions. Abortion rights supporters and advocates for women’s health have argued that the move also would deny needy women the right to choose their providers for a variety of vital non-abortion health services. “The Fifth Circuit correctly rejected Planned Parenthood’s efforts to prevent Texas from excluding them from the state’s Medicaid program,” said Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement. “Planned Parenthood is not a ‘qualified’ provider under the Medicaid Act, and it should not receive public funding through the Medicaid program.”

Among the five Medicaid providers involved in the suit were two Planned Parenthood affiliates serving the Houston and San Antonio areas. Melaney A. Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which is headquartered in Houston, called the ruling “yet another devastating blow in Texas’ long history of preventing people from accessing life-saving and essential health care at Planned Parenthood. “Texas politicians have shown time and time again that they value extremist agendas over Texans’ access to quality, affordable health care,” Linton said. Texas joined several other Republican-led states in using misleading video published by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress in 2015 as cause for cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood that year. The heavily edited video purported to show abortion providers illegally selling fetal tissue for profit, though unedited video reveals that parts of the video were omitted that showed the staff member explaining that the cost was for reimbursement of the clinics’ expenses In October 2015, Texas state officials said Planned Parenthood had violated accepted medical and ethical standards, and in turn, Texas’s Medicaid program requirements, and began the process of knocking the provider out of the program. Planned Parenthood sued the state, thus kicking off this long-running legal battle.

Top of Page

Associated Press - November 24, 2020

US agency ascertains Biden as winner, lets transition begin

The General Services Administration ascertained Monday that President-elect Joe Biden is the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election, clearing the way for the start of the transition from President Donald Trump’s administration and allowing Biden to coordinate with federal agencies on plans for taking over on Jan. 20. Trump, who had refused to concede the election, said in a tweet that he is directing his team to cooperate on the transition but is vowing to keep up the fight.

Administrator Emily Murphy made the determination after Trump efforts to subvert the vote failed across battleground states, citing, “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results.” Michigan certified Biden’s victory Monday, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state. Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the Biden transition, said in a statement that the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.” He added: “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”

Top of Page

State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2020

Fort Worth prison torturing woman on death row with cruel conditions, ACLU suit says

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued U.S. Attorney General William Barr and others claiming the death row conditions at a Fort Worth prison are re-torturing Lisa Montgomery, who awaits a January execution. The ACLU contends in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this month that the conditions violate her Eighth Amendment rights, which protects her from cruel and unusual punishments. The ACLU also contends that prison officials are discriminating against her based on her disability.

In addition to Barr, the lawsuit names as defendants the federal Bureau of Prisons, two officials with the Bureau of Prisons and the wardens of Terre Haute Correctional Complex and Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth. The 52-year-old Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Dec. 8. After two of Montgomery’s lawyers caught COVID-19 from the Fort Worth prison, her legal team filed a motion to move Montgomery’s execution date to give them more time on her clemency application. Montgomery’s execution was pushed to Dec. 31 on Thursday. On Monday, the federal government moved the execution date again to Jan. 12. Montgomery, who is from Melvern, Kansas, was convicted in 2007 of strangling 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in northwest Missouri, cutting her unborn baby from her womb and kidnapping the baby. The child was later found safe.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 20, 2020

Richard Greene: Arlington chamber looks to fend off Texas Legislature’s attacks on home rule

Even before the next president takes the oath of office, the future of Texans’ power to shape their lives and their communities will begin to be decided by their representatives in Austin. As the Legislature convenes Jan. 12, much is at stake for all of us. The state’s agenda, already in the making, will unfold, and we should be making our desires known to those we have sent there to carry out our will. Critical decisions that affect us all will have been made by the time adjournment comes around 140 days later, and we don’t want to be looking back at what happened and wish it had been something more to our liking.

The Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce has been working for months, surveying its members and meeting with legislators and their staffs, to develop its preference on the issues and probably the city’s most comprehensive examination of concerns we all face. The resulting position paper that represents the great majority of the Chamber’s membership has been approved by its board of directors and provided to the area’s representatives in the Texas House and Senate. For the sake of full disclosure, I recently served as a member of that board and on the Chamber’s public policy committee. “Our agenda,” the overview of the report reads, “seeks the continuation of the economic success our state and region currently enjoy by creating sound policies that ensure we have the necessary tools, talent, infrastructure and healthcare systems for economic and community prosperity.” Supporting a robust local economy leads to benefits for all citizens through job creation and corporate investment that shifts property tax burdens from residents to the commercial sector. The centerpiece of this objective is to leave the decisions of how to shape cities in the hands of their citizens. In recent sessions of the Legislature, there have been wrong-headed efforts to shift that power to the state.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2020

Texas is changing how it plans for floods. What does that mean for Dallas-Fort Worth?

The devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey on the Gulf Coast in 2017 has triggered an unprecedented effort to prevent the same damage from happening again in communities across Texas, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Thanks to the passage of a $1.7 billion flood control bill during the 2019 legislative session, 15 regional groups have begun developing Texas’ first-ever statewide flood plan under the supervision of the Texas Water Development Board. With growing concerns about urban flash flooding in Fort Worth and surrounding cities, the plan for the Trinity region, encompassing North Texas, will lay out the area’s flood risks and name specific goals for how officials can address those issues.

Investments in stormwater infrastructure and the pursuit of more state funding for flood prevention projects will likely be included in the Trinity region’s blueprint, said Rachel Ickert, a member of the planning committee and the water resource engineering director for the Tarrant Regional Water District. The rapid growth in Tarrant County and the accompanying sprawl of concrete that cannot absorb water and can exacerbate flooding problems is also on Ickert’s radar. “We’re looking to do some more proactive planning before all the development occurs, and try to get a handle on the flows and do some mitigation before there are all these structures in place, and there is such a problem to deal with,” Ickert said. “If you can mitigate on the front end, you can save yourself a lot of money down the road.” While this type of long-term planning is the norm for ensuring that Texas cities have an adequate water supply, this is the first time the same rigor is being applied to flood planning and mapping. That’s a significant demonstration of the state’s commitment to addressing the complexity of flooding issues, said Nick Fang, a civil engineering professor and flood control expert at UT Arlington who was most recently tapped to lead flood prevention efforts at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2020

Trucks that can drive themselves are already on Texas roads, and more are on the way

The age of self-driving 18-wheelers traveling on U.S. highways may be much closer than many people realize, and North Texas is emerging as the likely location of a major hub for the trucks. One company that is aggressively working to build a nationwide freight network of driverless trucks is TuSimple, which has offices in Beijing and San Diego. TuSimple recently announced plans to build a hub for its autonomous trucks at Fort Worth’s AllianceTexas development. The trucks use cameras and sensors that provide vast amounts of data, so the vehicle’s computer software knows what’s happening up to 3,000 feet up the road, and can react to emergencies 10 times faster than a typical human.

For now, TuMobile is operating the self-driving trucks with a safety operator in the driver seat who can take the controls if needed, and a test engineer in the passenger seat to monitor the on-board cyber system. But the company plans to begin operating its trucks with no human in the cab possibly as early as next year on selected routes — including routes in Texas. Driverless cars are already legal on Texas roads. In 2017, the state Legislature passed a law authored by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, that allows automated motor vehicles to use Texas highways, as long as the vehicles are insured and equipped with video recording equipment. TuSimple is already running self-driving trucks from Arizona to West Texas, and the new Fort Worth hub will help the company extend its network to Austin, San Antonio and Houston. The company aims to have its nationwide network in place by 2023. The company will be building its Fort Worth logistics hub on Eagle Parkway, inside the so-called Mobility Innovation Zone near Alliance Airport. The zone was created last year as a place for shipping companies to test, scale and commercialize their latest technologies.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2020

Students, booming suburbs swung Hays vote to Democrats

Catherine Wicker had to go about registering Texas State University voters much differently this year. Typical get-out-the-vote events were out the window with the coronavirus pandemic. Outside organizations were prohibited from holding voter registration events on campus. Wicker, a graduate student in public administration, said her efforts with the national nonpartisan organization Campus Vote Project had to evolve. Passing around clipboards wouldn’t work. Sharing pens was too risky. But an even greater challenge was finding where to meet her fellow Bobcats while many of the university’s 37,849 students attended classes remotely.

In the end, Wicker said, volunteers were able to register 1,200 new voters in Hays County. While it is a small fraction of the nearly 108,000 people who voted in this month’s election, the voting power of Texas State University played an outsized role in Democrat Joe Biden winning by nearly 11 percentage points in a county that hadn’t favored a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992. An American-Statesman analysis of precinct level voting data showed that the areas surrounding the campus and in San Marcos bent heavily for Biden. Biden ran up the score on President Donald Trump in and around the San Marcos campus by margins that were generally above 60 percentage points. In one student-housing heavy precinct east of campus along Aquarena Springs Drive, Biden won by nearly 70 percentage points, the highest margin in Hays County. While Trump generally won in the more rural western reaches of Hays County, his margins of victory were far slimmer than the wallopings delivered in San Marcos. A heavily Democratic student body and an exploding population along the Interstate 35 corridor that leans progressive is fueling Hays County’s dramatic shift toward the left in recent years, county political leaders say. “Pretty much what we’re seeing is the bedroom community aspect of Travis County,” Hays County GOP Chair Bob Parks said. “Williamson County also had a little bit of a change there with more Democrat votes, and Hays County is the same way. There’s a lot of bedroom communities that are close and contiguous with Travis County. As you know, Travis County is our liberal bastion.”

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2020

Trial again delayed for woman linked to Vanessa Guillen slaying

A federal judge once again delayed the trial for Cecily Aguilar, a woman whom authorities have accused of helping dismember and dispose of the body of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen in April. Aguilar’s hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 19, according to officials from the U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, Waco Division. Her rearraignment — where she can choose to change or keep her plea of not guilty — is set for Jan. 5.

If Aguilar continues to maintain her innocence, then jury selection will begin before the trial on Jan. 19. Judge Alan Albright ordered the trial to be reset again following a request by Aguilar’s defense team for extra time to prepare their case. Aguilar, a 22-year-old Killeen civilian employed at a local gas station before her arrest, is charged with three felony counts of conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Army officials at Fort Hood allege that Aguilar helped her boyfriend, Spc. Aaron David Robinson, cover up the April 22 slaying of Guillen. Authorities believe Robinson, who died July 1 after shooting himself as Killeen police tried to detain him for questioning, killed 20-year-old Guillen with a hammer as they worked together in a weapons room on post. Army officials have not publicly given a possible motive for the killing.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2020

State lawmakers seek to improve sexual assault prosecution, data collection

Texas lawmakers are working to draft legislation that they hope will make it possible to hold more people accountable for sexual assault, after a recent audit outlined several reasons why prosecuting these crimes can be difficult and recommended solutions. The audit, requested by state lawmakers last year, examined the investigation and prosecution processes for reported sexual assaults of both adults and children in Texas from 2014 through 2018. During that time, people reported 71,274 sexual assaults to law enforcement agencies in Texas. Those cases resulted in 23,422 arrests, and about 70% of those arrests resulted in prosecution.

“Everything that was reported here we already knew, to a certain extent,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. “But it was clarified and validated by the audit.” Howard said her office is already working with the statewide Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force, established during the last legislative session, to draft legislation that requires more police and prosecutor training in working with people experiencing trauma, and prohibits having victims take a polygraph tests. Howard said she also wants to remove law enforcement’s ability to deny sexual assault examinations to survivors because they think they made false reports. “The whole point here is ... to create policies that can make a difference and improve the process of how we treat sexual assault cases,” Howard said. Additionally, the audit pointed out that it’s difficult in Texas to track statewide sexual assault reports and arrests. Data collected on reported incidents are maintained by a different system than the system that monitors arrests, prosecutions and court dispositions. “Reported incidents cannot be traced to arrests. ... Furthermore, the information on certain outcomes of sexual assault investigations, such as those that do not lead to an arrest, is not collected at a statewide level,” says the report from the Texas State Auditor’s Office. Click to find out more about a new promotion Fixing this problem will also be a goal of Howard’s in the upcoming Legislative session, she said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2020

Who’ll get Texas’ first COVID-19 shots? Hospital, nursing home, EMS, home health workers top the list

Hospital staff members working directly with coronavirus patients and workers in long-term care institutions serving vulnerable populations should be the first state residents to receive vaccines for COVID-19, a Texas health department panel has recommended. On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott hailed the issuance of a priority list for who should receive initial shots from a limited supply of vaccine, beginning as early as next month.

Abbott also praised the panel for embracing seven standards to guide its future rationing decisions, such as initially placing priority on health-care workers and workers essential to the state’s economy moving forward, but also protecting at-risk subgroups of the population and recognizing “health inequities” and Texas’ considerable geographic diversity. The standards and a definition of health care workers were adopted in recent days by the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, a group of 17 advisers, including legislators, that state health commissioner John Hellerstedt created last month. “These guiding principles established by the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel will ensure that the State of Texas swiftly distributes the COVID-19 vaccine to Texans who voluntarily choose to be immunized,” Abbott said in a written statement.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2020

Texas Senate committee wades into debate over tributes to the Confederacy with focus on artwork

The ongoing debate over tributes to the Confederacy at the state Capitol has moved to the Texas Senate, where a special committee met for the first time Monday to discuss the artwork depicting Confederate leaders in the Senate chambers. The Senate Chamber Review Committee, formed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick about a year ago, met for the first time Monday to hear invited testimony on the history and procedure of the placement of art in the Senate. Paintings of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy; Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston; and John H. Reagan, who was the postmaster general of the Confederate States of America, all hang in the Senate and will be addressed by the special committee.

State Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who is one of the three Democrats on the committee, said before the hearing that this is the first time in Texas history that two African Americans — himself and Houston Sen. Borris Miles — are on a Senate committee. Miles also thanked Patrick but said it is unfortunate this subject has to be addressed in 2020. “Some claim we cannot forget history by erasing monuments or artwork,” Miles said. “But should Sen. West have to give his speeches on the floor with a 10-foot painting of Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnson as this backdrop?” The board heard from Dealey Herndon, who served as the first executive director of the State Preservation Board from 1991-1995. She helped lead the Texas Capitol preservation and extension project. After West asked her whether or not the people who are depicted on Capitol grounds should be there in the first place, given the history of the Civil War, Herndon said she is very worried about where the country is headed if history is taken away. She was in Dallas for her 49th wedding anniversary when the Robert E. Lee statue was removed from Lee Park in September 2017 after a 13-1 vote from Dallas City Council.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2020

TEA opens investigation into Lancaster ISD superintendent buyout

Texas education officials are investigating why the Lancaster ISD gave the superintendent a controversial $2 million buyout, according to a letter sent to the school district on Monday. The Texas Education Agency is also looking into allegations that the former school board president used district resources for her own business.

Meanwhile, the board voted to suspend Superintendent Elijah Granger with pay effective immediately and consider revising his payout agreement at a future date. Only four trustees were present for the vote and all voted in favor of letting legal counsel negotiate a revised buyout. Trustee Ty G Jones said the board wants to reduce how much money Granger will receive in a buyout. “We will allow counsel to negotiate to minimize the district’s exposure to ensure that we have funds available for students, teachers, and for staff,” he said Powered by an available twin-turbo V6, the Genesis G70 leaps off the line with confidence. BY GENESIS Trustees also indicated they were interested in hiring a forensic auditor to review the district’s finances, but said they wanted to refine their scope before taking further action. Board members LaShonjia Harris, Rhonda Davis and LaRhonda Mays were not present for any board votes.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

Expect more consolidation in oil industry through mid-2021

Mergers will continue to shrink the energy industry as the pandemic rolls into next year, giving fewer companies larger shares of U.S. oil output and threatening to further slash a workforce vital to Texas and Houston. By mid-2021, there will be at least six deals among oil and gas companies, including one or two mergers among oil majors, two to three large independents taking over smaller players, and two or three mergers of equal-size small and midsize companies, according to a forecast by Global consulting firm Accenture. Accenture predicts that eight to 12 companies will produce half of the U.S. onshore oil by the end of 2021, down from about 16 to 17 players currently.

“You can’t have 5,000 relevant players,” said Muqsit Ashraf, Accenture’s lead energy consultant. “There isn’t room for so many players.” Energy companies have been joining up regularly for several years, after crude prices tumbled from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to about $40 amid the coronvirus pandemic and efforts to battle climate change. The pace of mergers has accelerated since the pandemic this year strangled demand and squeezed company profits. Several oil and gas companies have already started to consolidate, including Chevron’s nearly $12 billion acquisition of Houston-based Noble Energy last month and ConocoPhillips’ $9.7 billion takeover of Concho Resources. The oil industry recognizes the need for consolidation, Accenture analysts said. Companies need scale to produce oil profitably at low prices, and that scale can help companies access Wall Street capital and the top-producing oil fields to remain relevant in this competitive industry, Ashraf said. “Consolidation fortifies these companies to withstand the onslaught of low oil prices,” Ashraf said.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

What happened to Mayor Turner’s plan to open a theme park in Houston?

For more than four years, Mayor Sylvester Turner has trumpeted Houston’s need for a destination theme park that would boost the region’s tourism industry and provide an outlet for families. In the final weeks of his reelection campaign last year, he even said an amusement company was interested and that an announcement could come within weeks. “I’ve had investors come and sit around my table to talk about it,” he said that October. That teaser came months after the mayor appeared at rapper Travis Scott’s concert — part of the Grammy-nominated Houston native’s “Astroworld” tour, named for a theme park that sat across the South Loop from the Astrodome for 37 years before closing in 2005.

Standing on the Toyota Center stage, Turner gave a beaming Scott a key to the city and drew thunderous applause when he said, “Because of him, we want to bring another amusement theme park back to the city!” The announcement hinted at last fall never came, however. After he won reelection last December, Turner said investors had surveyed land on the north side but determined the site was not a good fit. Still, Turner said several large parcels within the city limits could host a marquee park, and said he planned to form a task force in January of this year to focus on the idea, with the goal of having a park open by the time term limits force him from office at the end of 2023. Turner spokeswoman Mary Benton said this month that the mayor was in the process of asking people to join his theme park task force when the pandemic arrived and became the administration’s main focus. Still, she said, Turner has not abandoned the goal. “The mayor looks forward to resuming work on developing a theme park as soon as possible,” Benton said. “There is strong interest among developers who recognize the value of building a new theme park venue in Houston.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2020

Mike Finger: Texas won’t let worsening pandemic get in the way of sports

Outside two hospitals in Lubbock this month, auxiliary tents have been erected to deal with coronavirus cases that keep surging. As of Friday afternoon, the city’s health department reported a combined 26 patients holding for beds at both medical centers, with only 19 staffed beds open. In a span of 40 days there, the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths doubled, and in a region full of virus hot spots, Lubbock remains one of the hottest. One might look at all of this and think the locals would want people to stay away.

But this is Texas, where we value freedom, and we understand the paramount importance of sports. So when the University of New Mexico needed a place to relocate its men’s basketball team after restrictions in its state prevented coaches and players from conducting team activities, where were the Lobos welcomed with open arms? In Lubbock, of course. “We’re an open-door community,” Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish told the Texas Tribune about the Lobos’ move Thursday. Sure, you might be thinking, it’s easy for public officials to claim to be hospitable because it sounds nice. But rest assured that Parrish is no fair-weather host. This might sound too incredible to believe — and trust me, I barely could believe it myself — but less than an hour before his interview with the Tribune, Parrish’s office announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. That’s how committed people here are to making sure everyone retains the inalienable rights to five-on-five scrimmages and group film sessions, even in a city where 28 percent of the local hospital capacity is taken up by coronavirus patients. To be sure, Lubbock isn’t alone in accommodating out-of-state teams. UNM’s women’s basketball squad is moving to Amarillo, while its football team is living in Nevada and playing “home” games at UNLV.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 23, 2020

Texas artist responds to Ted Cruz's 'come and take it' Thanksgiving post with sobering tweet

@abandonedameric quote tweeted this drawing in response to Cruz's tweet last weekend. 2 of 10@abandonedameric quote tweeted this drawing in response to Cruz's tweet last weekend.Photo: Twitter: @abandonedameric @DrEricDing tweeted that Cruz's tweet is "irresponsible" because many people lost someone to COVID-19 and can't celebrate with their loved ones. 3 of 10@DrEricDing tweeted that Cruz's tweet is "irresponsible" because many people lost someone to COVID-19 and can't celebrate with their loved ones.Photo: Twitter: @DrEricDing An El Paso artist was one of many who responded to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's Thanksgiving tweet that some say is insensitive to the coronavirus crisis. On Saturday, Cruz posted a photo showing a turkey on a platter with a star above it with the words "Come and Take It" on the bottom of the dish. It comes after several health officials are urging citizens to rethink their Thanksgiving plans and to cancel large gatherings in response to the rising COVID-19 cases in the country.

Patrick Gabaldon retweeted Cruz's post and included a drawing he created depicting a doctor pushing a hospital bed with presumably a COVID-19 patient's body on it. "Come and See it" is written on the drawing with a mountain in the background to represent El Paso, a city experiencing a dramatic surge in local cases. Others on Twitter responded to Cruz's tweet with a similar message to the one Gabaldon attempted to convey with his drawing. Twitter user @abandonedameric made a drawing that had the well-known image of the coronavirus, and it read "Come and Get It." "Fixed it for you, Ted," the user tweeted. @DrEricDing called out the senator, tweeting millions of Americans can't celebrate Thanksgiving with their family because the coronavirus gave their relatives "cold dead hands."

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 24, 2020

‘Christmas in the hospital’: San Antonio officials urge residents to avoid indoor activities amid rising coronavirus transmission

San Antonio officials urged residents on Monday to avoid travel and all indoor activities with people outside their households as transmission of the coronavirus continued to worsen just days ahead of Thanksgiving. “This means whether it is a restaurant or your friend’s house or your own house, this is not the time to be indoors with people other than your immediate family,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg at the daily coronavirus briefing. Nirenberg, who made his first in-person appearance at the briefing since his exposure to a person who later tested positive for the virus, said the city is intensifying efforts to enforce state public health guidance to mitigate transmission. It has assigned additional officers, enough to conduct up to 350 business inspections each week.

Even so, the mayor reserved his strongest words for residents, whose behavior he said would determine the trajectory of the area’s outbreak over the next few weeks. “We cannot stop this virus if you don’t change your behaviors,” Nirenberg said. “If you don’t heed the warnings this Thanksgiving holiday, you or your loved ones could be spending Christmas in the hospital. That’s just the facts.” Officials reported 709 new cases Monday, bringing Bexar County’s cumulative number of infections to 74,591. The new cases add to a recent spike in infections in San Antonio, which has logged more than 2,700 new infections since Friday. The seven-day rolling average for new cases has increased to 549, up from the low 100s in early October. Other measures of San Antonio’s coronavirus transmission also continued to worsen Monday, signaling that the area is entering a more dangerous period for infection heading into the holidays. “We’re reaching the point that it’s going to be an inflection point for us, and that’s Thanksgiving,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “We’re going to have to be extremely careful.” The positivity rate, which tracks the portion of people who test positive for the virus on a weekly basis, has risen to 10 percent, up half a percentage point since last week. The measure has doubled since early October, when transmission of the virus in San Antonio was stable, and is now classified as severe by local officials.

Top of Page

KXAN - November 23, 2020

Dead and undone

If someone died in police custody in a far-flung part of Texas in 1983 – and it didn’t make the news – you might never have known. Such cases could easily be kept quiet, potentially swept under the rug and away from scrutiny. That’s how Walter Martinez described a dark era in law enforcement transparency — the early 80s — a period, he added, that lately doesn’t seem so far removed from what’s happening across the state today. Questions over police tactics and public information are once again top of mind. Back then, Martinez was entering his first session as a Democratic state representative from San Antonio. He knew no state agency kept track of all the people dying in jail, prison and police custody. Without that information, it was exceedingly difficult to analyze patterns of deaths or identify solutions, he said. Martinez changed that. With sponsorship from then-state-senator and current Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Martinez filed and passed Texas’ law requiring jails and other law enforcement agencies to submit a death report to the Texas attorney general’s office.

The new law required law enforcement agencies to provide details about the incident and cause of death. The reports would be public, and the penalty for failing to file them a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail. At that time, the law required the reports to be submitted within 20 days of a death, but that timeframe was later lengthened to 30 days. “The purpose was to create a central databank and hopefully with that databank to begin to analyze it and look at what is the problem, and how can we begin to address future legislation to address this problem,” Martinez said in an interview with KXAN. “It was about trying to create some transparency and some accountability in the system and to hopefully use this data for future legislation.” To date, more than 13,000 custodial death reports have been filed, providing perhaps the most comprehensive collection of in-custody death records in Texas. The information is available online, categorized and searchable by law enforcement department and deceased individuals’ names. Martinez said he passed the most robust bill he could at the time, with the intention of returning to improve it later. But, he didn’t win a second term and significant alterations to the law have not happened.

Top of Page

Texas Politics Project - November 23, 2020

Jim Henson and Joshua Blank: Can Gov. Abbott help Texas escape Trunmp's COVID-19 failure?

As Texans pondered their Thanksgiving plans last week after national public health officials advised Americans to drastically trim down their plans for holiday gatherings (like don’t have them), Governor Greg Abbott held his first public briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic in months from afflicted Lubbock. The oft-quoted, central message wasn’t focused at all on the looming holiday: It is important for everybody in the state to know that statewide, we’re not gonna have another shutdown. There's an overestimation of exactly what a shutdown will achieve, and there's a misunderstanding about what a shutdown will not achieve.

If the syntax in that last couplet is just one “mis” away from George W. Bush-level word salad, the political message is pure red meat: The Governor will not be shutting down the state even though public health officials assure us that the pandemic is home for the holidays. The Governor’s determination to resort to denial and double-negatives couldn’t come at a worse time. As Thanksgiving week begins, the inevitable holiday travel stories on cable news seem eerily familiar given the objective situation at the moment. Texans and Americans have started travelling all across the country even though they face the bleakest point yet in our collective inability to contain the coronavirus. With daily cases surging far beyond last summer’s peak, implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, the Governor’s call to persevere and trust the efficacy of a strategy that is already demonstrably failing is sure to result in more of the same. Governor Abbott’s rejection of efforts by local officials in El Paso to enact protocols meant to protect their constituents in response to the state’s current surge is consistent with his approach to date. But his unwillingness to implement a course correction as case counts surge past summer high marks conveys the embrace of a Trumpian avoidance of being criticized (again) for adjusting to a situation either beyond his control, or even worse, made more severe by his previous policy choices.

Top of Page

McAllen Monitor - November 24, 2020

Congressmen introduce bipartisan missing persons bill

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, announced Monday legislation that would help local officials’ ability to record and report missing persons and unidentified remains found in areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a news release. The proposed resolution, named HR 8772 or the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act of 2020, was introduced by Congressmen Gonzalez and Will Hurd as a companion bill to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s and Vice President-Elect and California Sen. Kamala Harris’s legislation passed in the senate last week.

“With the devastating landfall of Hurricanes Iota and Eta and the destruction of crops and livelihoods, we can expect more migration from Central American countries to the United States in the future,” Gonzalez said in the release. “While we continue to work with neighbors to address the root causes of migration, our local governments in South Texas and across the U.S.-Mexico border continue to need help recovering and identifying the remains of missing migrants. “It’s my hope that these resources will offer relief to local law enforcement and provide closure for the families of those tragically lost.” The bill would expand grant eligibility to allow applicants from state and local governments, select accredited forensic labs, medical examiners, nonprofit organizations and other uses of the National Crime Information Center, the release states. In addition to expanding eligibility, the proposed legislation would require reporting to the NCIC, for missing persons and people found dead in the applicant’s jurisdiction, and add privacy protections for biological family reference samples that could be entered into a DNA index system. The bill would also provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection resources that would help them locate and rescue people who get lost on their trek along the border.

Top of Page

CBS 11 - November 23, 2020

Dallas ER doctor: ‘We’re getting about 30% positivity’ rate in COVID-19 testing; sees no relief until Spring 2021

Those who run coronavirus testing locations say they are being overwhelmed as people prepare to gather for the holidays. The desire to see family and friends may be driving a rush for testing. At Frontline ER in Dallas, doctors said they are seeing an overwhelming demand. The Gaston Ave. location is open 24-7, so lines began forming there at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. By 8:00 a.m., officials said 70 people were in line to be tested.

By 11:00 a.m., they had to stop accepting patients — because 150 people were in line –and they were overwhelmed. Doctors said they’re not only seeing the need for tests going up, but also the amount of positive cases. “I think we’re getting about 30 percent positive, in the summer it was 11 percent,” said Frontline ER Doctor Neal Agarwal. “Some are admitting, ‘I’m not wearing my mask.’ Everyone is fatigued from [COVID-19].” Dr. Agarwell said he understands the fatigue, but asks that everyone continue to mask up and respect social distancing. He also said because of the colder weather and the holidays, he doesn’t anticipate the case count going down significantly until the end of February or March 2021.

Top of Page

Politifact Texas - November 23, 2020

Fact check: Texas GOP leader claims early voting more susceptible to fraud

The claim: “We don’t need to have this early voting. The election day should be a national holiday, but when you hear people talk about, we can extend (the early voting period by) two days, seven days, two weeks … it just opens it up for this chicanery and this fraud that we’re seeing.” Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West made this remark during a radio appearance in which he suggested that early voting should be eliminated. PolitiFact rating: False. There’s no evidence indicating that early voting is any more or less risky than Election Day voting.

A database of documented voter fraud cases maintained by the right-leaning Heritage Foundation shows that fraud tied to in-person early voting is exceedingly rare. Among the 1,298 instances of fraud recorded since 1982, 208 cases involved absentee ballots and around 10 cases were directly tied to early in-person voting. On the day after Election Day, West joined conservative talk radio host Rick Roberts on the air to express concerns about Joe Biden’s lead over President Donald Trump after mail-in ballots in several battleground states were tallied. West’s grievances over absentee ballots were similar to the claims made by some Republicans since Election Day — that the record numbers of mail-in ballots led to widespread voter fraud that allowed Democrats to steal the election from Trump. (No evidence has yet been uncovered proving these claims.) But West takes the claims of fraud further by not just casting aspersions on mail-in voting. He goes on to say, without citing evidence, that early in-person voting also invites fraud.

Top of Page

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2020

McKinney is first city in Texas to hold virtual jury trials during COVID-19

In a bid to avoid an extensive backlog in cases during COVID-19, McKinney is implementing the first virtual criminal jury trial program in the state. The trials involve the city’s municipal courts that handle Class C misdemeanors. The first such virtual case took place this month, the city said in a news release. “We want our citizens to have efficient case resolution when they exercise their right to jury trial, so that meant we had to get creative,” Associate Judge Claire Petty said in the release.

While the court has been holding hearings online throughout the pandemic, the first fully virtual trial occurred Nov. 10. In the virtual trials, evidence is presented online and witnesses can be called, just like in-person trials. Pretrial hearings are held in advance, and if defendants object to a virtual trial, they can request the judge hold it in person after court restrictions are lifted. The state has said justice and municipal courts cannot hold in-person jury trials until at least Feb. 1. “We put a lot of time and effort into preparing and planning for our first trials to ensure a smooth process for all involved,” courts administrator April Morman said in a release. “I commend our entire team for pulling this off and being the first in the state is a huge honor and accomplishment we are very proud of. Municipal courts play an important role in our community, and we are pleased to continue our work despite the current conditions.” Trials are streamed live in accordance with the open courts provision on the McKinney Municipal Court YouTube channel and are deleted when the trial ends.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2020

Irving ISD denies 150 staff requests to work from home as teacher shortage worsens

Some school staff in Irving say they feel pressured by the school district to return to in-person teaching despite health concerns as more children return to the classroom during the coronavirus pandemic. The Irving school district, like other Dallas-Fort Worth schools, has started to fill the hallways with students this month as more families choose in-person learning. Irving began optional in-person learning for students on Sept. 28. Every six weeks, students can choose to return to school or continue virtual learning.

At the end of October, the district told staff who were previously allowed to remotely teach due to health concerns that they needed to come back to campus by Nov. 9. A teacher’s aide currently on oxygen support, a special education teacher on immunosuppressants and a teacher of 20 years who just completed chemotherapy were among those asked to return to campus. “What Irving has done is ripped the rug out from under a lot of employees who are at-risk,” Steven Poole, Executive Director of the United Educators Association union, said. The school district said it is working to provide a quality education to students “while staying committed to the health and safety of our employees,” district spokeswoman Nicole Mansell said in an email. But the district is in a tough spot. The number of face-to-face students has increased “at a rapid rate,” Mansell said, and the district has such a shortage of in-person supervision that central office staff have been sent as substitutes to supervise classrooms. “Because of the increased number of face-to-face learners each six weeks, it had become an undue hardship for the district to continue allowing remote work arrangements to occur,” Mansell said. “Quite simply, we do not have enough teachers (or paid substitutes) to adequately supervise the face-to-face learners.”

Top of Page

National Stories

Bloomberg - November 23, 2020

Pompeo trolls critics in long goodbye as he looks to his future

By the time Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was wrapping up a 10-day swing through Europe and the Middle East, he had angered Turkey’s leaders, infuriated the Palestinians and befuddled the French. It’s a trip that seemed almost calculated to offend -- and to burnish Pompeo’s conservative credentials for a possible 2024 presidential campaign. Never one for niceties of etiquette or protocol, Pompeo’s last big tour as America’s 70th secretary of state offered provocations of those who have questioned Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and Pompeo’s role as its No. 1 promoter.

Like President Trump, Pompeo refuses to publicly acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory in the Nov. 3 election. Nonetheless, the seven-nation journey, one of the longest he’s taken as secretary, offered evidence that Pompeo is already looking past the Trump era, chockablock as the trip was with pronouncements likely to make Biden’s life difficult and setting out a platform for his own political future. “He’s spending his last two months in office trolling the world,” said Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It’s an odd role for the nation’s top diplomat to be playing at a rather sensitive time.” The trip started in Paris, where Pompeo’s first event -- before seeing government officials -- was a private meeting with reporters from right-wing French media, including Valeurs Actuelles. It’s a magazine that was roundly condemned as racist -- and was put under preliminary investigation by a prosecutor -- after printing an image that depicted a Black French lawmaker as a slave in a piece of fiction. In Turkey, Pompeo proposed that government ministers come to him in Istanbul -- they refused -- where he met with the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Turkish officials called Pompeo’s statement on religious freedom in the country “extremely inappropriate,” while senior State Department officials blamed a scheduling conflict for his failure to travel to Ankara, the capital. In Georgia, Pompeo waded into that country’s election dispute, lending legitimacy to a government that has cracked down on protesters demanding a new vote.

Top of Page

CityLab - November 19, 2020

Rising star mayor who championed guaranteed income loses hometown race

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs came into elected office on a high in 2016, winning 70% of the vote. Since becoming mayor, he put himself and his economically distressed hometown on the national map through his advocacy for progressive programs, including one of the first guaranteed income experiments in the U.S. The subject of documentaries and Daily Show appearances, particularly as cash assistance programs gained momentum during Covid, Tubbs had been a rising political star. But this November, Tubbs’ star fell in Stockton: The 30-year-old mayor conceded the race to his Republican challenger, Kevin Lincoln, who was leading by 12 percentage points (though the tally isn’t final yet).

What changed? Some residents resented his national profile, viewing him as more committed to his own reputation than to giving attention to the city. Others objected to his progressive policies, choosing instead the candidate who was supported by the local police union and ran on a campaign to reduce homelessness and make government more efficient. But Tubbs and his supporters also point to another factor that has become an increasingly common suspect in national and local races alike: A targeted misinformation campaign, in this case led by a local blog called the 209 Times. The blog has published damaging and often misleading or false articles about the mayor, including misstating the impact of a scholarship program he spearheaded and inflating the amount of funding the city had received to address homelessness. “I think when you spend four years unchecked with no real counter, just blatantly making things up every single day, there’s an impact,” said Tubbs of 209 Times’ influence. “I wish I had a crystal ball to foresee that, but I was too busy doing the work.”

Top of Page

CNBC - November 23, 2020

Trump fears Giuliani, other lawyers in Biden vote challenge are ‘fools that are making him look bad’

President Donald Trump is sweating over his campaign lawyers’ dismal and often outlandish efforts to reverse President-elect Joe Biden’s projected electoral victory. Trump is worried that his campaign’s legal team, which is being led by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, is composed of “fools that are making him look bad,” NBC News reported Monday. That group, which has unironically called itself an “elite strike force team,” to date has failed to win any legal victories that would invalidate votes for Biden, the former Democratic vice president, even as they tout wildly broad claims of fraud for which they have offered no convincing evidence.

On Sunday, one of the team’s members, conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, was effectively fired after suggesting — again without any proof — that the Republican governor and secretary of state of Georgia were part of a plot to rig the election for Biden. Powell’s ouster came days after she made similarly over-the-top claims at a press conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. Trump has complained to White House aides and outside allies about how Giuliani and Powell conducted themselves at that event, NBC reported. On Sunday before Powell got the axe, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a close Trump ally and former top federal prosecutor, called the president’s legal team a “national embarrassment.” But when asked why Trump doesn’t fire Giuliani and other attorneys who remain on the team, a person familiar with the president’s thinking gave a profane shoulder shrug of an answer. “Who the f--- knows?” that person said to NBC News.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

With COVID dragging down gasoline demand, refineries look to biofuels to prop them up

Three months ago, facing dismal projections for gasoline demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, Phillips 66 announced it was converting an oil refinery outside San Francisco to produce biofuels made from used cooking oil and animal fat. With the Houston company’s stock price down by half from what it was 10 months earlier, CEO Greg Garland described the project as “a great example of how Phillips 66 is making investments in the energy transition that will create long term value for our shareholders.” Refiners like Phillips 66 are turning to biofuels and the valuable government credits that come with them to prop up sagging revenues as a surge in the coronavirus cases drives renewed government restrictions and lower demand for gasoline and diesel.

Since COVID-19 took hold in the spring, refining companies have announced new biofuel plants and refinery conversions at a steady pace, with close to 20 projects in the planning stages, according to analysis by S&P Global Platts. “This is really a turning point for many refiners, who are suffering under harsh financial pressures because of the COVID pandemic,” said Richard Joswick, managing director of oil research at S&P. “The costs of biofuel production are basically driven by the cost of vegetable oil, and right now it’s quite profitable.” Many of the projects are located on the West Coast, where biofuels producers selling into California or Oregon, can earn around $3.50 a gallon in state and federal credits that can be sold to other refineries to meet federal requirements for blending renewable fuels, such as ethanol. And that’s not counting the price of the biodiesel itself, about $3.30 a gallon in California. With other states looking at similar low carbon fuel standards, analysts are predicting that by 2025 advanced biofuels production will have nearly double to 5 billion gallons a year, which would amount to 8 percent of current diesel production.

Top of Page

WBUR - November 23, 2020

Biden taps John Kerry for new national security role focused on the climate crisis

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday released the names of several key members of his foreign policy and national security team. Among them is John Kerry, a former U.S. secretary of state and Massachusetts senator. Kerry is slated to lead the administration's efforts to combat climate change as special presidential envoy for climate — a role that for the first time ever will sit on the National Security Council.

Shortly after the Biden administration released a statement Monday, Kerry tweeted that "America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is." Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey is praising the pick, tweeting that there is "simply is no one better" for the role. Markey says Kerry understands the stakes and has been part of every major environmental fight in the U.S. for decades. The senator says he thinks Kerry's first priorities should be to rejoin, "improve upon, strengthen the Paris Climate Agreement, because the science says that the climate crisis is even more threatening than it was a decade ago." Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, said the youth-led progressive climate advocacy group feels “encouraged” by Kerry’s appointment, saying the position’s seat on the National Security Council sends a “strong signal” about how seriously the Biden administration takes the threat of climate change.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - November 23, 2020

Janet Yellen is Biden’s pick for Treasury Secretary

President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, an economist at the forefront of policy-making for three decades, to become the next Treasury secretary, according to people familiar with the decision. If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Yellen would become the first woman to hold the job. Mr. Biden’s selection positions the 74-year-old labor economist to lead his administration’s efforts to drive the recovery from the destruction caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Ms. Yellen, who was the first woman to lead the Fed, would become the first person to have headed the Treasury, the central bank and the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Ms. Yellen declined to comment by phone on Monday. Separately, Mr. Biden’s transition team said he would nominate Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence. Former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as special presidential envoy for climate change. Mr. Biden’s economic team is set to confront a grim outlook, with millions of Americans still out of work and job growth slowing after a sharp bounceback when businesses reopened in May, June and July. Economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. said last week they expect the U.S. economy to contract slightly in the first quarter of 2021 due to rising virus infections. While the Obama administration also faced a bleak landscape before taking office in January 2009, Democrats then enjoyed large House and Senate majorities that created far fewer political constraints to action—something Mr. Biden won’t have even if Democrats deny Republicans a Senate majority by winning two Georgia runoff elections in early January. Ms. Yellen has said recently the recovery will be uneven and lackluster if Congress doesn’t spend more to fight unemployment and keep small businesses afloat. “There is a huge amount of suffering out there. The economy needs the spending,” Ms. Yellen said in a Sept. 28 interview.

Top of Page

CNN - November 24, 2020

David Dinkins, NYC's first African American mayor, dies at 93

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, the city's first African American mayor, has died at age 93. Dinkins died Monday evening at his residence on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) told CNN. The department had received a call from Dinkins's residence regarding an unconscious person having difficulty breathing, according to the NYPD. Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed Dinkins's death to The New York Times.

CNN has reached out to the mayor's office for a statement on Dinkins's passing. Dinkins served as the 106th mayor of New York City from 1990 to 1993, according to his bio on the city's website. He was born in 1927 in Trenton, New Jersey, and graduated from Howard University before receiving a law degree from Brooklyn Law School. Dinkins was also a veteran who served in the Marines in Korea, the bio said. The former mayor briefly practiced law in New York City before getting into politics, first as a district leader and then as a Harlem state assemblyman. His political rise took him from president of the Board of Elections to City Clerk and Manhattan Borough President. Dinkins went on to defeat Rudolph Giuliani in 1990 with the narrowest electoral margin in New York City's history. During his inauguration speech, Dinkins "vowed to be 'mayor of all the people of New York,' and declared: 'We are all foot soldiers on the march to freedom,'" according to the bio. He also spoke on oppression, human rights, and the need for equality during the speech.

Top of Page

Newsclips - November 23, 2020

Lead Stories

Washington Post - November 23, 2020

Giuliani releases statement distancing Trump campaign from lawyer Sidney Powell

The president's legal team was thrown into tumult Sunday when two Trump attorneys - Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis - released a statement abruptly distancing the campaign from a third attorney, Sidney Powell. Giuliani, Ellis and Powell all appeared together at a news conference Thursday, when they made a range of baseless accusations about the integrity of the election. Powell in particular has been vocal in lobbing some of the most convoluted claims, alleging a conspiracy that involved "communist money," the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and an algorithm favoring Democrats.

"Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own," Giuliani and Ellis said in their statement Sunday. "She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity." At the beginning of Thursday's news conference, Giuliani said he, Ellis, Powell and other attorneys present were "representing President Trump and we're representing the Trump campaign." Ellis introduced the group as "an elite strike force team that is working on behalf of the president and the campaign to make sure that our Constitution is protected." Two advisers to Trump, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said the president disliked the coverage Powell was receiving from Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson and others, and that several allies had reached out to say she had gone too far. The advisers also said she argued with Giuliani and others in recent days. Trump believed she was causing more harm than help, an official said. "She was too crazy even for the president," a campaign official said. Powell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Top of Page

NPR - November 20, 2020

1,000 U.S. hospitals are 'critically' short on staff — and more expect to be soon

More than 1,000 hospitals across the United States are "critically" short on staff, according to numbers released this week by the Department of Health and Human Services. Those hospitals, which span all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, represent about 18% of all hospitals that report their staffing status to HHS. And that number is expected to grow: 21% of all hospitals reporting say they anticipate having critical staffing shortages in the next week.

The worst-hit state is North Dakota with 51% of hospitals that reported saying they're facing shortages; seven states say over 30% of their hospitals are in trouble. This is the first time the federal agency has released this data, which includes limited reports going back to summer. The federal government consistently started collecting this data in July. After months of steadily trending upward, the number of hospitals reporting shortages crossed 1,000 this month and has stayed above since. The data, however, are still incomplete. Not all hospitals that report daily status COVID-19 updates to HHS are reporting their staffing situations, so it's impossible to tell for sure how much these numbers have increased. While the data is a welcome addition to the arsenal of information that public health officials have to fight COVID-19, it highlights the shortcomings of what the federal government has made available to the public. Though the government has precise daily figures for COVID-19 hospitalizations at thousands of the country's hospitals, it shares only a small subset of this information to people outside government.

Top of Page

WFAA - November 22, 2020

Texas GOP chair wants an attorney general focused on constituents, not personal legal issues

The chairman of the Republican Party of Texas continued to make clear on Inside Texas Politics how he feels about two prominent Texas Republicans. While he stopped short of saying Attorney General Ken Paxton should resign as the FBI reportedly investigates him, the GOP chairman did say Paxton shouldn’t want to be a drag on the party or the office. “But it would be really good to have an Attorney General’s office that is not concerned about their own personal legal matters and they can be concerned about the matters of the people of Texas,” Allen West said on Inside Texas Politics.

The FBI is reportedly investigating whether Paxton illegally used the power of his office to help a political donor. At least eight of Paxton’s former top aides have lodged allegations against the Attorney General. In another GOP battle, West has come out against Beaumont Republican Dade Phelan’s campaign to become the next Speaker of the Texas House. Phelan, however, says he has the votes. But West has called Phelan a “Republican political traitor” after Phelan gained the support of many House Democrats. West said, in particular, he doesn’t want to see any Democrats gain any committee chair positions. “We have an 83 – 67 majority in the Texas State House," said West. "And it seems that someone, Mr. Phelan, decided he would go across the aisle and get the support of some 25 or 30 Democrats. Those are the exact same people we worked hard to make sure they did not get a majority in the Texas statehouse, so why would we acquiesce to them?”

Top of Page

El Paso Times - November 20, 2020

Texas COVID-19: How the state went from zero to a million cases, 20,000 deaths in 8 months

Huddled with reporters and flanked by top emergency leaders in an underground operations center, a concerned but confident Gov. Greg Abbott assured Texans he and his team were ready to meet the challenge presented by a strange new virus. "We are preparing for all possible contingencies," the governor said in front of the same backdrop he'd often used when leading the state's response to hurricanes and other disasters. It was Feb. 27, one day after Vice President Mike Pence had been put in charge of the national task force to battle the coronavirus, which first appeared a few months before in China and had now found its way to the United States by way of international cruise ship travelers. The first known case in the United States came one week earlier and the nation's first known death would come one month later.

But in Texas, even as Abbott spoke, the virus that would come to be known as COVID-19 seemed more like a distraction than a danger. The state's only known cases were those of former cruise ship passengers who were being held safely under quarantine in San Antonio. But eight days later, the threat from coronavirus would begin upending life in Texas. That's when Austin Mayor Steve Adler took the unprecedented step of canceling one of his city's signature and most lucrative events, the international South By Southwest festival, in an effort to keep the virus at bay. Soon after, rodeos, livestock shows, music events and even the State Fair of Texas would be shelved. And eight months after Texans were told the state would be prepared "for all possible contingencies," Texas is in the midst of its worst spike in COVID-cases to date. Two weeks ago, the state reported that one million of the state's 29 million residents had been infected and more than 20,000 of them had died from the virus. And in the months since COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic, Texas authorities have scrambled to get personal protective gear and medical supplies to health workers battling the virus on the front lines. Non-essential businesses across the state were shuttered for weeks before being allowed to gradually reopen.

Top of Page

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2020

Coronavirus pandemic claims nearly century-old Del Rio News-Herald

“Trusted by the Queen City of the Rio Grande,” was the reassuring slogan used by the Del Rio News-Herald, a modest community newspaper with roots going back to the 19th century. That trusted local voice spoke for the last time Wednesday, as the News-Herald became the latest Texas newspaper to be silenced by the coronavirus pandemic. “Closing this newspaper is not what we wanted to do,” said Leonard Woolsey, president of Southern Newspapers Inc., which owned the Herald.

“However, with the current economic conditions and the trends we can see, we can no longer continue to serve the community at the level we feel it deserves,” he said in a news release. In its final edition last week, the obvious banner story was the News-Herald’s closure. Other articles captured the routine ebb and flow of life in a border city of 35,000 people. They included results of the “Border Bass Battle” at Amistad Reservoir, an update on construction planned for Frontera Road, and a feature story about a local teacher’s dream to “keep an educational farm alive.” “I’m kind of in disbelief. I did not have a hint this was happening,” Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said. “We were already struggling to reach some of our audiences, the older generation. Now they are going to feel disconnected.” The closure leaves Val Verde County without a newspaper or local television station.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2020

Elaine Ayala: Texas needs a State Board of Education that isn’t repressed about reality

It’s colorful what has passed for sex education in Texas. My classroom experience involving anything resembling sex education left me two memories. One involved an upper lip, the other a watermelon. It was 1970 and I was in my seventh-grade class. Girls had been separated from the boys, and the physical education teacher at Truman Junior High in the Edgewood Independent School District had the task of terrorizing us.

The class must have covered more than what I remember, but this is what remains: The teacher spoke of what it was like to have a baby. She had had one, so she spoke from experience. She compared having sex, and thus getting pregnant and thus having a baby, to taking one’s upper lip and pulling it over one’s head, all the way back to the nape of one’s neck. She offered another vivid description that compared giving birth to passing a watermelon. Today, the preferred curriculum in the Lone Star State is to teach abstinence, so perhaps there’s been some improvement. Candy and flowers have replaced torture and large fruit. A story in our paper last year featured several female college students recalling their abstinence classes. One story involved two Butterfinger candy bars. The teacher took a bite out of one, then asked the students which they’d prefer. No one, of course, opted for the pre-bitten bar. That student walked away with several lessons. First, that sex is dirty and gross; and, second, if you have sex now, no one will want you in the future.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 20, 2020

Joe Straus: The people have spoken on this election — honor them

Given the turbulence of the last four years, it was somewhat predictable that we would arrive here: The president is refusing to acknowledge he lost his race for re-election and is threatening both the substantive and symbolic transfer of power to the new administration the American people have chosen to lead our country. But even the predictable can be alarming. Elections belong to the people, and candidates honor the very principles of our electoral system when they accept and respect the people’s wishes. The president’s refusal to bless an orderly transition dishonors our democracy and the voters who keep it functioning.

For the good of the country they have sworn to lead, defeated presidents have historically accepted their loss and pledged a smooth transition going forward. The defeated presidents who offer words of congratulations and cooperation to their successors are no doubt devastated by the results, but they also recognize the need for Americans and the world to witness an orderly and peaceful transfer of power. In the note he left in the Oval Office for President Bill Clinton, who had defeated him after one term, President George H.W. Bush said, “You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” President Donald Trump’s decision not to allow for a full transition to President-elect Joe Biden could have dangerous consequences. Biden and his team have not been getting all the briefings and other information incoming administrations receive. This could affect not only our standing in the world but also the new administration’s ability to effectively combat the coronavirus from the day Biden takes office.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2020

Historic river crossing in West Texas is filled with death

As state historical sites go, few can rival this remote muddy ford on the Pecos River for rank obscurity. Until recently, only a bullet-pocked, vandalized state historical marker, erected in 1936, miles off the paved road, gave any hint of the wrenching frontier dramas that once played out here, 30 miles northeast of Fort Stockton. As the marker inscription notes, the crossing got its odd name from the bleached animal skulls found hanging from bushes by a government surveyor in 1850. Back then, when it was one of the few safe crossings along the treacherous, high-banked Pecos River, this was an action-packed and perilous place, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Comanche war parties returning from Mexico with stolen horses crossed here, as did immigrants and adventurers drawn by the California goldfields, as well as pioneering cattle drovers, including Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, pushing their leggy longhorns through to northern markets. From 1858 to 1861, the Butterfield Overland Mail stage also stopped here on its daring 2,700-mile run between St. Louis and San Francisco. An intrepid reporter on the first westward stage shared the grim observations made along the 75-mile waterless stretch coming to the Pecos from the east. “Far as the eye could reach along the plain, decayed and decaying animals, the bones of cattle and sometimes of men, all told a fearful story of anguish and terrific death from the pangs of thirst,” wrote Waterman L. Ormsby, who also noted the abundance of prairie dogs and antelope. And while its importance began to fade 150 years ago, out here on the barren mesquite and greasewood flats, Horse Head Crossing has never been forgotten.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 20, 2020

‘Damaging’: GOP silent on Trump’s conspiracies of voter fraud

As President Donald Trump and his GOP allies continue to lob false claims of voter fraud in an election that handed the White House to President-elect Joe Biden, many Republicans who emerged victorious in the same cycle are united in their response to Trump’s refusal to concede. They’re staying silent. Asked about the president’s allegations, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican whose district stretches from San Antonio to Austin and covers a swath of the Hill Country, declined to comment. “You can reach out to my comms team,” Roy said, a reference to his communications team. “I’ve got to roll.”

Trish DeBerry, a Republican who won an open seat on the Bexar County Commissioners Court in a traditionally GOP precinct, also declined to comment. So did Tony Gonzales, who defeated his Democratic opponent in Congressional District 23. Republican state Rep. Steve Allison, who won re-election in House District 121, did not return calls requesting comment, nor did Republican state Rep. Lyle Larson, who was re-elected in District 122. In a call with reporters Thursday, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, touted his own re-election win this month before saying he did not consider Biden the president-elect. “He is not president-elect until the votes are certified,” Cornyn said. “So the answer to that is no, and I don’t know what basis you or anybody else would claim that he’s president-elect before the votes are certified and these contests resolved.” Cornyn added that he saw “no evidence” of widespread voter fraud: “I’m just saying the process needs to play itself out.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Southwest is losing millions a day, and it’s expanding. That’s not crazy

This year has been tough on all sorts of businesses. It’s been devastating for airlines. Layoffs and furloughs by the tens of thousands have hit airline workers. Their companies, meanwhile, are burning through cash while often losing money on the planes that are still in air. But here in Dallas, we see our own Southwest Airlines doing what it has done so often — looking for opportunity in troubled times.

Not that Southwest hasn’t been hurt too. It’s been losing $10 million a day or more, threatening its seemingly impossible 47-year record of profitability. Despite that, Southwest didn’t give up on seeking markets where the company can tap demand. That’s the sort of thinking we’ve expected from a company that bucks trends and takes risks when and where others can’t or won’t. Southwest has been able to do this in large part because it was smaller and more nimble than competitors. During hard times, that gave the airline the ability to look at areas that can generate revenue and move quickly to seize them. We can’t say it’s much smaller anymore. But it apparently remains nimble.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 2, 2020

Dave Lieber: Your Texas driver’s license, vehicle information and lien holder were stolen in a huge data theft

You’ve been hacked. We’ve all been hacked. No one else has said it, but The Watchdog will. This is likely the largest and one of the more significant data breaches ever to hit Texans. About 27.7 million Texas driver’s license holders are affected. If you haven’t heard about this, that’s part of the problem. It’s almost like no one wants you to know. Why 27.7 million affected licenses when Texas’ total population is around 28 million? Because the number includes former state residents and dead people who were issued licenses before February 2019. So, it includes just about everybody who held a Texas license going back an unknown amount of years. It doesn’t include children.

The Watchdog has the story. Yes, the information involved here is already available on a paid data site such as PublicData.com, although that site is not always current. But there you have to look up each individual. With this breach, all the information is already bundled and in one place. What do the crooks have? Your license information (name, address, DL number), the color, model, year and VIN of your vehicle and the lender to whom you make car payments. I’ll show you how this happened, what crooks can do with the information and how you can be prepared. The culprit here is a company you probably never heard of — Vertafore of Denver, which, like many companies, buys data from state governments. Vertafore works with the insurance industry to concoct ratings that help agents, brokers and others. “As a result of human error,” Vertafore says in a news release, “three data files were inadvertently stored in an unsecured external storage service that appears to have been accessed without authorization.” Someone found the information and grabbed the files before Vertafore realized it, the company says. The FBI and state law enforcement are investigating. It appears to The Watchdog that although this data breach began in March and continued to August, our Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which stores vehicle information, and the Texas Department of Public Safety, which handles licenses, probably didn’t know about the hack until recently because their own databases were not compromised.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Holiday travel: how Dallas ensured safe passage for millions of birds

This Thanksgiving, millions of birds are giving thanks for Dallas. That’s because our city protected their migratory flyway by dousing lights during the fall migration. More than a dozen large buildings participated, including Reunion Tower, the Hunt Consolidated Building, Bank of America Plaza, AT&T Discovery District, City Hall, the Dallas Zoo, and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Ornithology researchers from Cornell University who have been tracking the migration say the effort likely saved thousands of birds. The Lights Out Texas campaign has taken flight this year after artificial intelligence-powered research revealed that the number of birds migrating over Texas skies is much larger than previously known — as many as 1 billion. City lights disorient migrating birds who use moon, stars and landmarks to navigate at night. Thousands of birds die when they collide with brightly lit buildings, especially glass ones.

Former first lady Laura Bush lent her influence to the campaign, posting on social media and praising the city’s efforts. “Thanks to everyone in Dallas for joining the Lights Out Campaign this year,” Bush wrote. “By turning off our lights we helped more birds survive their migration through our state. I am grateful for the support of Mayor [Eric] Johnson, The Dallas Morning News, businesses and homeowners, who helped birds on their flight.” Johnson said Dallas “stepped up” to save both wildlife and energy. “I hope more Texas cities will join us in the spring as we strive to improve our environment for ourselves and for the generations to come,” he said. Indeed, Dallas has outpaced other Texas cities in this effort. “Houston and other cities need to get on board,” Andrew Farnsworth, one of the Cornell researchers, said. Farnsworth noted that the next migration, in spring of 2021, is expected to peak between April 17 and May 7. “Having their mayors follow Eric Johnson’s lead during the critical April to May period would be huge. If we can get really big buy-in and see large swaths of non-essential lights go out, we can observe patterns on radar to look at how birds respond relative to previous years.” The Lights Out campaign will go dark for a few months, but we encourage Houston, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio to hop aboard the effort when it lifts off again in the spring.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2020

Biden, Texas candidates should be thankful for Black voters, Donald Trump, expanded electorate

It’s been a challenging year. The coronavirus pandemic has taken lives, sickened millions, disrupted the economy and cost too many Americans their businesses and jobs. Along the way, the pandemic was the backdrop for an extraordinary election season, where Texans participated in competitive contests in unusually high numbers. Known as a non-voting state, Texas became a state with high voter participation. It all occurred after mandated shutdowns to combat the virus and few political rallies. Most Democratic Party candidates didn’t knock on doors.

But even without extensive in-person campaigning, the elections had dramatic moments, and the winners of the 2020 contests should be thankful to an array of people. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, here are a few examples of folks who deserve a dollop of cream on their sweet potato pie. Candidate: Joe Biden should thank: Black voters After badly losing the early primary contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Joe Biden was given up for dead by the media and many in the Democratic Party. The former vice president figured he would struggle against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders early in the primary process. Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also gave Biden heartburn with his surprising success in the Hawkeye and Granite states. But Black voters, especially women, served as Biden trump cards. With the help of Palmetto State Rep. James Clyburn, Biden overwhelmingly won South Carolina, showcasing his strength in states with a diverse electorate and revealing the weakness that Sanders and Buttigieg have with Black voters.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 20, 2020

Justice Department sues National Association of Realtors over commission structure

An antitrust suit filed Thursday by the Department of Justice alleges the National Association of Realtors’ rules on commissions artificially inflated fees paid to real estate agents by homeowners. “NAR has coordinated and enforced anticompetitive agreements, which have likely contributed to reduced price competition among buyer brokers and a lower quality of buyer broker services for home buyers,” the Department of Justice’s suit said. The NAR denied any wrongdoing, but said Thursday evening it had reached an agreement that fully resolved the questions raised by the Justice Department. It declined to detail what the agreement entailed.

“While NAR disagrees with the DOJ’s characterization of our rules and policies, and NAR admits no liability, wrongdoing or truth of any allegations by the DOJ, we have agreed to make certain changes to the Code of Ethics and MLS Policies...” Mantill Williams, NAR’s vice president of communications, said in an email. At the heart of the lawsuit was how buyer’s agents are compensated. If the agreement succeeds in lowering fees, it could potentially save individual home sellers thousands of dollars in commissions, but it would also cut the earnings of real estate agents across the country — including some 37,000 in the Houston area — and put more pressure on traditional brokerages, already contending with a host of discount and online competitors. In particular, the Department of Justice found fault with four NAR policies that: allow real estate agents to characterize their services as “free” to homebuyers (in fact, the real estate agent fees will be paid out of the sum the buyer provides at closing); recommend concealing how large of a commission a buyer’s agent will make upon the sale of a home; allow buyer’s agents to filter listings by the size of the commission they’ll be paid; and limit real estate agents who are not association members from accessing lockboxes.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

Ted Cruz digs in for congressional battle over ‘censorship’ on Twitter, Facebook

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz set conservative Twitter on fire as he tore into Jack Dorsey, the platform’s CEO, during a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, creating the sort of viral moment senators crave from such high-profile exchanges. “Facebook and Twitter and Google have massive power. They have a monopoly on public discourse in the online arena,” Cruz told Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whom the Texas Republican and other GOP members of the committee had subpoenaed to address what they view as “censorship” and “suppression” by Big Tech during the 2020 election. “Your policies are applied in a partisan and selective manner,” Cruz said, demanding that Dorsey and Zuckerberg produce data showing how often they flag or block Republican candidates and elected officials as opposed to Democrats.

“What a moment,” right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza tweeted, sharing a clip from the hearing with his 1.9 million followers. “This is almost TOO GOOD,” tweeted Dan Bongino, another conservative commentator, urging his 2.7 million followers to “Watch Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey absolutely squirm in his chair as Ted Cruz goes full trial lawyer on him.” As social media companies cracked down on misinformation during the election — under pressure to prevent a repeat of 2016’s Russian meddling — they found themselves increasingly targeted by conservatives such as Cruz, who call it censorship when Twitter flags President Donald Trump’s posts that falsely claim he won re-election, or when Facebook tries to stop its users from sharing a debunked story about President-elect Joe Biden’s son. It’s a sign of how an area of bipartisan agreement — the need to reform Big Tech — has become increasingly politicized, worrying experts that it will be yet another effort mired in congressional bickering. “The fundamental question is what right does a social media platform have to label something posted on it as potentially untrue,” said Chris Bronk, an expert in cyber geopolitics who is an associate professor at the University of Houston.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 20, 2020

New breathalyzer from Texas A&M, Dallas company might detect COVID-19 in a minute or less

Texas A&M researchers and a Dallas artificial intelligence company are developing a rapid COVID-19 test that would use a breathalyzer, rather than a swab, and potentially make it safer to hold large gatherings. The testing device, housed in a kiosk that can fit in the back of an SUV, could be set up outside of large group settings such as schools, churches and corporate offices. People would step up to the device and, with a disposable straw, blow into a copper hole on the front of the kiosk.

The system captures the user’s breath and analyzes it for compounds that a body generates when it’s fighting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Users would receive the results within a minute of the test through a mobile app. “It’s all about establishing a controlled environment where people can interact and have confidence about it,” said Rob Gorham, executive director of SecureAmerica Institute, a network of public institutions and private manufacturing and technology companies based at Texas A&M. “It can create more normalcy around establishing these trusted group settings, whether it be an airplane or a football stadium.” The device, called Worlds Protect, is a collaboration between Texas A&M researchers, who developed the hardware for the testing systems, and Worlds Inc., which developed the artificial intelligence software. Texas A&M invested $1 million in Worlds Protect’s development. Food and Drug Administration regulators still are evaluating the device for public use under an emergency use authorization before it heads into mass production. If approved, Worlds Inc. and SecureAmerica could begin manufacturing dozens of kiosks as soon as March.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Time has come for Texas to legalize marijuana, and decriminalize much more

American companies sell thousands of products that harm consumers, create addictions and generate health care costs for society-at-large, all in the name of personal liberty. Legalizing marijuana, therefore, is completely consistent. Texas should follow the lead of 15 other states that have realized cost-savings and community benefits from legalization that far outweigh the downsides. The first step, as they say, is to free your mind. Almost every year for the past decade, some U.S. jurisdiction somewhere has loosened access to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot. Most states started by allowing medical marijuana, then reduced the penalties for possession and many are now legalizing THC completely.

Fifty-three percent of voters in conservative South Dakota last month legalized marijuana for adult recreational use. Texas is one of 27 states that allows use of marijuana products for medical purposes. Only five states and the federal government forbid any use of cannabis. President-elect Joe Biden supports decriminalization, which makes possession a civil violation, like a speeding ticket. Laws forbidding marijuana have never made sense in a country where alcohol and tobacco are legal. Excessive drinking costs the U.S. about 95,000 lives and $156 billion a year, while tobacco-related deaths total 480,000 a year, with illnesses costing the country $300 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Prohibitionists argue that marijuana is too powerful and addictive to legalize. But the more we learn about addiction, the more we realize how everyday substances and behaviors create dangerous habits and poor health outcomes. David Courtwright, an emeritus professor at the University of Florida and author of three books on addiction, recently spoke at Rice University’s Baker Institute about what he calls limbic capitalism, where companies make money from developing compulsive behaviors in their customers.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 22, 2020

Texas reports 8,554 new COVID-19 cases, 89 deaths

Texas reported 8,554 new COVID-19 cases across the state and 89 deaths connected to the pandemic on Sunday. The number of cases and hospitalizations has been increasing in the state since early October, prompting state health officials to urge Texans to limit Thanksgiving gatherings and to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Texas set a single-day record for new coronavirus infections on Thursday and on Friday recorded the second highest single-day record for new cases. State health officials reported 8,174 hospitalizations on Sunday, a minor uptick since Friday, which marked the first time since August that the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 has exceeded 8,000. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on Friday that he will not initiate another shutdown to slow the transmission of the virus. Instead, he said the state response will emphasize the improved treatment options available for COVID-19 and a renewed emphasis on face coverings and avoiding crowds. “Statewide, we’re not going to have another shutdown,” Abbott said in Lubbock on Friday, where he traveled to promote the distribution of a new antibody therapy intended to limit the strain on hospitals. Some areas of the state have experienced more strain than others. In El Paso, which has struggled with rising cases and hospitalizations for more than a month, the Texas Army National Guard deployed a team to assist with mortuary services in the area. The deployment came after reports of the city using county jail inmates to move bodies. In Travis County, health officials said the area had entered into Stage 4 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines in response to rising case numbers. Under Stage 4 guidelines, it is recommended that businesses and restaurants reduce capacity and that individuals reduce travel and social gatherings.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 20, 2020

Investigation shows Fort Hood leaders failed to protect soldiers, Army secretary says

One of several investigations aimed at Fort Hood leadership is complete, and early findings point to significant failures in how officials respond to and prevent sexual misconduct among soldiers, U.S. Army officials said this week. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who released a video statement about the independent review Wednesday, said Army leaders plan to publish the completed report Dec. 8.

However, McCarthy said his early takeaways from the report show Fort Hood’s sexual harassment/assault response and prevention program, also known as SHARP, is not working. “My preliminary review of the report, recent cases and recent media coverage have hardened by belief that the Army SHARP program hasn’t achieved its mandate to eliminate sexual assaults and sexual harassment by creating a climate that respects the dignity of every member of the Army family,” McCarthy said. In August, Army officials released the names of five non-military members tasked to lead the independent investigation. The Independent Review Committee included: Chris Swecker, a lawyer and 24-year veteran of the FBI who has conducted similar independent reviews for the North Carolina state police and Winston-Salem police; Jonathan Harmon, a West Point graduate who went to the University of Texas Law School; Carrie Ricci, a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture who served nearly 22 years as an Army officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel; Queta Rodriguez, a regional director of FourBlock, a nonprofit serving veterans, who lives in Bexar County. She served in the Marine Corps from 1991 to 2012 as an intelligence analyst and manpower operations officer; Jack White, another West Point graduate who served as a law clerk for then-appellate judge and later Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 21, 2020

Ken Herman: Time to abolish the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission?

In the overall scheme of things, we’re not talking about a lot of state dollars here. But the Texas Sunset Commission staff, in a blistering report, says the dollars spent by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission largely have been a waste. The recently posted staff report, which now goes to the 10-member commission for a recommendation to the 2021 Legislature, says the THGC, established by lawmakers in 2009 to educate Texans about the Holocaust and genocides, should be abolished. It’s the most severe and rarest outcome of the state’s Sunset process of periodically reviewing state agencies.

The big letters on the first page of the staff report’s executive summary summarize the diagnosed problem: “THGC has exceeded its statutory authority, neglected certain duties and cannot show any measurable benefit to the state.” The Sunset staff often recommends remedies for problems found at agencies. This agency, it said, can’t be fixed. The recommendation at the end of the detailed report says: “Many factors have contributed to the commission’s structural, operational and accountability issues, but fixing them would require a full reconsideration of the state’s role in helping educate Texans about the Holocaust and other genocides, including how that role should be structured and funded, which is beyond Sunset’s purview.” Abolishing the THGC would save the state $707,013 per year, according to the staff report. The THGC is led by an unpaid, 15-member commission (appointed five each by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker) and a small staff. The state education commissioner, higher education commissioner and Texas Veterans Commission executive director are non-voting members of the THGC.

Top of Page

KXAN - November 22, 2020

Feds: Texas must fix therapy program for babies and toddlers with disabilities

Mariana Castillo looks at the colorful Ferris wheel in front of her and uses her little finger to spin the toy. Her mom immediately erupts into cheer. “Yay! Good job,” said Natalia Castillo. The spinning wheel is part of her therapy encouraging her to touch and strengthen her hand-eye coordination. “The therapist will tell me what to do, what kind of exercises to do with her, and they will guide me,” explained Castillo.

The 14-month-old was diagnosed with Central Core Disease, which impacts her muscles. Castillo said she has a tracheostomy which helps her breathe and a feeding tube. “Whenever she came home from the hospital in January, they told me she was going to be bed bound,” Castillo said. “They told me that, you know, she wasn’t going to be able to move—that she wasn’t going to be able to get up out the bed—or do anything just because of her condition.” Twice a week her mom and a nurse work with Mariana virtually, because of the pandemic, on a number of exercises. The speech therapy she gets helps her with her mouth movement. The occupational therapy will teach her to move her body, and the physical therapy will teach her to crawl and walk. Castillo worries about the future of these therapies, which have made a big difference in Mariana’s life. Child advocates have been sounding the alarm for years saying the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program has been lagging in funding. The program provides therapies for children under age three with autism, speech delays, Down Syndrome and other disabilities.

Top of Page

Texas Public Radio - November 22, 2020

‘This has been the hardest’ month: Life – and death – in an El Paso funeral home

Perches Funeral Homes manager Jorge Ortiz sees the devastation of COVID-19 up close. He works with families who have lost loved ones to the virus. “The last two weeks, we have received more COVID cases than the past, I would say, months,” Ortiz said. “When we hit the peak back in the summer, that’s nothing compared to what we’re living right now.” Ortiz runs six funeral homes in El Paso. So many bodies have come in, he had to convert one of his chapels into a cooler, transforming the sacred space into a refrigerated storage area. “It was something that needed to be done because we were looking at the numbers just increasing,” Ortiz said. “Right now, sometimes we hit that capacity quick.” His team tries to manage the constant flow of bodies — “the workload behind the scenes” — while also comforting grieving families.

“We have funeral directors who are meeting with five, six families a day,” Ortiz said. “This is every single day. It’s nonstop.” They help families plan events to honor and say goodbye to their loved ones, despite limitations on how many people can gather together during the pandemic. Perches now offers drive-through funerals and livestream memorial services. Ortiz does what he can to support mourners who couldn’t be with beloved family members for their final moments and are still reeling from the suddenness of their deaths. “They just took them to emergency, they left them there, and next time they saw them was two weeks later when they passed away,” he said. “But they saw them in a coffin. They saw them in the funeral home.” Some are grieving multiple losses. “There’s many stories where family members have not only lost one family member but they lost both of the parents and then siblings,” Ortiz said. All this work takes a toll. The Perches team is consoling families while navigating their own grief and mourning one of their own: pastor and funeral director Harrison Johnson died of complications from COVID-19 on Oct. 15. Johnson was known for his constant smile and ability to know what a grieving family needed right when they walked through the door, Ortiz said. “What he taught me, it’s gonna stay with me all my life. Just listening to people, reading their gestures, what they’re going through...He was definitely a stupendous person.” Though Ortiz had spent months burying COVID victims, Johnson’s death affected him on a deeper level. “When you know someone so close, I think that’s when it really hits you,” he said. “Through all these months of this pandemic, this has been the hardest in my personal life.” His team is struggling too.

Top of Page

KUT - November 22, 2020

Group looking to overturn Austin's homelessness rules sues, alleging city threw out valid petition signatures

A group hoping to overturn Austin's rules related to homelessness is suing the city. Save Austin Now submitted signatures it gathered between February and July to overturn the city's ordinances, which passed in 2019 and relaxed bans on where people can sleep or sit in public. The group, led by Travis County GOP Chair Matt Mackowiak, ultimately wanted to put the issue to voters in November. The city clerk estimated, however, there was a 3-in-1-billion chance the group turned in enough valid signatures to force a petition-based referendum. At least 20,000 are required.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Travis County District Court, Mackowiak and co-founder Cleo Petricek argue the clerk threw out valid signatures and that Austin is less safe than it was before the city revised the ordinances. "Every Austinite should demand a safe city. We know that Austin is less safe today than it was a year ago. We submitted more than enough signatures and we believe the courts will come to the same conclusion," Petricek said. "The city of Austin is arrogant. They do not want to hear from residents. We demand the right to be heard and look forward to making our case.” The city said it eased the rules because they saddled homeless Austinites with fines and fees they couldn't pay, leading to arrest warrants that could jeopardize their chances of getting employment or stable housing.

Top of Page

City Stories

WFAA - November 23, 2020

'They underestimate what we can do': WFAA finds banks exclude Blacks, Hispanics in Southern Dallas from access to loans

For many people in Dallas, Interstate 30 is just a freeway. But for many minority community leaders, it’s something else – an arbitrary boundary dividing the city’s mostly white population to the north from the city’s mostly Black and Hispanic communities to the south. A WFAA investigation found that it is also a line that many banks use to determine who their customers are, and who they are not.

It’s a topic with which North Texas has long struggled. Consider the story of Robert Pitre. WFAA’s former longtime anchor John McCaa interviewed him for a 1988 documentary, “The Divided City,” which highlighted racial inequities. The two talked about Pitre’s problems getting bank loans in southern Dallas. Pitre, back then, spoke about how he had to go to Houston to get financing for his business after seven local banks and savings and loans turned him down. Pitre said he sees his problems as typical -- wanting to expand but getting little or no support from financial institutions. “In this community, it's an economic embargo,” Pitre said at the time. If banks were equitable, he said, “we wouldn't have a housing problem. We wouldn't have an unemployment problem. We wouldn't have a police problem." Fast forward to 2020. We decided to find Robert Pitre and see how he’s doing. We found him in the same location, still selling cars in southern Dallas.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 20, 2020

Hispanic flight from Austin tied to affordability, gentrification, experts say

Bertha Rendon Delgado said the East Austin neighborhood she grew up in isn’t what it used to be. The neighbors she once knew and houses that made up the area have slowly started to disappear. Rising property taxes and the redevelopment of the neighborhood has pushed many families out, completely changing the face of the once thriving Chicano community, she said. “Our culture has been struggling for centuries,” Delgado said, “And people don’t understand what has happened to my community.”

The East Town Lake neighborhood, which makes up part of Austin’s District 3, has faced an increase in property taxes and the cost of living — what many residents are seeing as gentrification — pushing many Hispanic families out. The trend is happening all over the city, as more and more Hispanic families seek affordability outside of the Austin city limits. Carlos A. Martinez, a spokesperson for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Austin is a desirable city for people to live and work, and the more people move in, the higher the demand becomes for jobs and real estate. But that is not good news for everyone. “Austin is one of the most expensive places to live in Texas,” Martinez said. “And as more and more people move in, it becomes less and less attainable for working-class people.” Hispanic families, which he said make up a good portion of the working class, move to places they can afford, but because they still work in Austin, their destinations tend to be neighboring Travis County communities such as Del Valle or Manor, or places adjacent to the county, such as Buda in Hays County or areas near the Williamson County line.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2020

Fort Bend ISD expands mental health support for students during pandemic

As the pandemic rages on, school districts are busy combating a growing, lockdown-induced mental-health crisis among students. Fort Bend ISD has decided to expand its mental health program in order to enhance student safety and wellness. The district has assigned three student support specialists from non-profit Communities in Schools of Houston (CIS) to Arizona Fleming, Blue Ridge and Ridgegate elementary schools. These are in addition to the CIS specialists already working at Christa McAuliffe Middle School.

While CIS is a 41-year-old organization and its specialists have been working with Houston-area schools for years, the pandemic created a noticeable increase in the need for student mental health and wraparound support. “Expanding was actually in the works prior to the pandemic,” said Matt Garcia-Prats, chief operating officer of CIS. “I think it’s pretty timely that we are there at a time when families are facing challenges. We’re really grateful that we can provide the district and the schools an extra layer of support.” In the recent months, learning interruptions, social isolation and economic uncertainty have contributed to a spike in depression and anxiety among students. “We partner with school districts and community organizations,” said Garcia-Prats. “Our staff, called student support specialists, are put onto campuses to help students with whatever challenges they're facing. Our goal is to surround kids with support and break down barriers that they face.” Garcia-Prats said teachers referred students to CIS specialists upon sighting red flags, such as troubling comments in school chatrooms or a child repeatedly failing to log on for virtual lessons. Masked CIS representatives have also checked up on students missing from online classrooms by visiting their homes.

Top of Page

National Stories

Associated Press - November 23, 2020

Lobster biz hopes for stability after tumultuous Trump era

President Donald Trump positioned himself as a friend of New England’s lobstermen, but members of the industry said they are looking forward to something that has been lacking in the crustacean business: stability. Trump’s trade war with China led to a rocky few years for the industry, which is based mostly in Maine. Trump, who campaigned hard in Maine and won an electoral vote in the state, touted economic aid and environmental reforms intended to benefit the business. The Republican Party even had Maine lobsterman Jason Joyce speak at its national convention.

What the industry really needs is assurance that it will be able to sell lobsters to other countries without punitive tariffs, said Stephanie Nadeau, owner of The Lobster Company, an Arundel, Maine, dealer. She and others said they are hopeful that assurance will arrive under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden. “You can’t plan. You can’t live in chaos,” she said. “The trade war, was it going to last a week, was it going to last a month, was it going to last four years? How do you operate around that?” U.S. lobster exports to China, a major buyer of seafood, fell off a cliff after the Trump administration escalated trade hostilities. That led to heavy tariffs on U.S. lobsters, and exporters saw a drop of more than 80% in the first half of 2019. Then, this summer, Trump directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide lobster fishermen with financial assistance to make up for lost income from the Chinese tariffs. He also brokered a new deal with China, which agreed to start buying U.S. lobster again. It was a whipsaw of a time for an industry that is already used to dealing with uncertainty because of issues such as the fluctuating volume of catch, dangerous weather and the changing prices of bait and fuel.

Top of Page

Associated Press - November 22, 2020

First US coronavirus immunizations could arrive on Dec. 12

The head of the U.S. effort to produce a coronavirus vaccine says the first immunizations could happen on Dec. 12. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is set to meet Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer Inc.’s request for an emergency use authorization for its developing COVID-19 vaccine.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech recently announced that the vaccine appears 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease in a large, ongoing study. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of the Operation Warp Speed, the coronavirus vaccine program, says plans are to ship vaccines to states within 24 hours of expected FDA approval. Slaoui told CNN he expects vaccinations would begin on the second day after approval, Dec. 12.

Top of Page

New York Times - November 22, 2020

Biden team, pushing quick stimulus deal, prepares for renewed recession

Advisers to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. are planning for the increasing likelihood that the United States economy is headed for a “double-dip” recession early next year. They are pushing for Democratic leaders in Congress to reach a quick stimulus deal with Senate Republicans, even if it falls short of the larger package Democrats have been seeking, according to people familiar with the discussions. Until now, Mr. Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, have insisted that Republicans agree to a spending bill of $2 trillion or more, while Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, wants a much smaller package. The resulting impasse has threatened to delay additional economic aid until after Mr. Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Many of the president-elect’s advisers have become convinced that deteriorating economic conditions from the renewed surge in Covid-19 infections and the looming threat of millions of Americans losing jobless benefits in December amid a wave of evictions and foreclosures require more urgent action before year’s end. That could mean moving at least part of the way toward Mr. McConnell’s offer of a $500 billion package. But top Democrats remain publicly adamant that Republicans need to move closer to their opening offer of $2.4 trillion. Mr. Biden, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer have given no public indication of how much they are willing to scale back their ambitions in order to reach a deal with Mr. McConnell, arguing that the Republican leader has not been willing to compromise. “The Covid-19 pandemic and economic recession will not end without our help,” Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer wrote in a letter this month, asking Mr. McConnell to resume negotiations. “It is essential that this bill have sufficient funding and delivers meaningful relief to the many Americans who are suffering.” Mr. Biden’s team is also considering a range of other policy options for fighting a renewed downturn and the prospect of rising unemployment when he takes office, according to the people familiar with his plans. Some of them, like a sweeping spending bill that includes all or large parts of his campaign proposals for infrastructure, could depend on Democrats winning Senate control in two special elections in Georgia in January.

Top of Page

NBC News - November 22, 2020

'A huge catastrophe': Democrats grapple with congressional and state election losses

Heading into the election, Democrats dreamed it would go something like Star Wars, with rebel forces blowing up the Death Star and celebrating in the streets as a blue wave swept them into power in Washington and state capitals across the country. But President-elect Joe Biden's victory ended up looking more like the horror movie Alien, with the last bedraggled survivor kicking the monster out the airlock and then drifting off to an uncertain fate in deep dark space. And wherever they ended up, there would probably be another alien. Yes, Biden soundly defeated President Donald Trump — and there was even some partying in the streets — but the results were brutal down the ballot for Democrats in ways that could haunt them for years.

The party fumbled key Senate races, lost ground in the House, and failed to capture state legislatures in a redistricting year despite having the political winds at its back, more money in its bank account and a hyper-activated grassroots that had spent four years preparing for this moment. If this wasn't the year for Democrats to win big, then when can they? "It’s really hard for our party psychology to learn any lessons when we keep winning," said Democratic strategist Danny Barefoot, referring to the presidential race. "But someone needs to have the hard conversation of saying: It's not enough." In interviews with more than two dozen operatives and elected officials, Democrats said they are worried the 2020 results will hamstring the party and the progressive agenda, setting up a bleak next decade of uphill fights in which winning workable legislative majorities will be difficult at both the state and federal level. Of special concern was the party's lackluster showing in state legislative races, not only because the GOP will once again have the upper-hand in drawing districts, but because it revealed a fundamental problem in communicating the Democratic party's brand. "We have to demonstrate that we are the party that's on the side of working families," said state Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic leader in the Texas state House. In Washington, the plan for many Democrats was to capture the Senate and pass a lightning round of reforms, from voting rights to admitting new states to the union, that would help the party overcome structural limitations and set it up for not only sweeping policy wins, but further electoral gains down the line.

Top of Page

Bloomberg - November 23, 2020

Biden to name longtime aide Blinken as Secretary of State

President-elect Joe Biden intends to name his longtime adviser Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to three people familiar with the matter, setting out to assemble his cabinet even before Donald Trump concedes defeat. In addition, Jake Sullivan, formerly one of Hillary Clinton’s closest aides, is likely to be named Biden’s national security adviser, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be nominated to serve as Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations. An announcement of the president-elect’s top national security advisers is expected for Tuesday, the people said. Biden’s incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Sunday the president-elect would be making his initial cabinet announcements on Tuesday, but declined to specify which positions would be filled first. The people familiar with Biden’s selections asked not to be identified because he hasn’t yet made the announcements. Both Sullivan, who is 43, and Blinken, 58, served stints as Biden’s national security adviser when he was vice president.

Thomas-Greenfield, a career foreign service officer, served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Obama administration, was part of a purge of senior State Department officials when Trump took office. She is currently a senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington. Secretary of state is regarded as one of the most prestigious cabinet posts, and as the nation’s top diplomat, Blinken will conduct meetings with foreign leaders across the globe. The president’s national security adviser is one of the most important and powerful jobs in the White House, leading a staff of dozens of experts drawn from the government’s military, diplomatic and intelligence agencies who develop U.S. foreign and military policy. The ambassador to the United Nations, another top foreign policy posting, serves as the head of the country’s delegation to the U.N. Blinken, Sullivan and Thomas-Greenfield didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. A Biden spokesman declined to comment. Blinken has been regarded as one of the leading candidates to run the State Department. After serving as the vice president’s national security adviser, he was elevated to deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama. When Biden was a senator, Blinken served as his staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before leaving to work on Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign. Blinken graduated from Harvard and from Columbia Law School. Following the Obama administration, Blinken co-founded WestExec Advisors, a political strategy firm, with a top Obama-era Pentagon official, Michele Flournoy.

Top of Page

Newsclips - November 22, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2020

After Republicans keep the House in political dogfight, where does Texas politics go?

Morgan Meyer faced a tough election this fall. Two years ago, Democrat Joanna Cattanach came within 220 votes of unseating Meyer with a bootstrap campaign that coincided with a blue wave that flipped 12 seats in the Texas House. This November, Democrats felt the tide turning and threw millions of dollars at more than two dozen Texas House races, including Meyer’s in Dallas County, where Cattanach said she was back to finish the job. But Meyer survived and even expanded his winning margin to more than 1,600 votes. Republicans won all except one of the races Democrats had targeted and kept their commanding 83-67 majority in the Texas House.

Meyer’s victory, along with others in the Texas House, illustrates two things about Lone Star politics going forward: Republicans remain the dominant party and can win competitive races; and while Democrats failed to flip more seats this year, they have continued to make gains in urban and suburban areas that make them a viable threat. “The margins were very tight,” said Edith Jorge-Tuñon, political director of the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group dedicated to helping the GOP win state house seats. “This should be a sign to Republicans that you have to fight for your seat. Hopefully, this will help guide them with the decisions they make in the Legislature and make sure they show up for their constituents. For a long time we got away with not being active.” Despite striking out this election cycle, Democrats remain optimistic. They tapped into millions of dollars from national groups to run competitive campaigns in some districts for the first time in recent history, and their margins narrowed from the last presidential cycle. Still, they know the road ahead will be long, especially after electoral maps are redrawn next year. “Doing better is not enough,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic political strategist. “But make no mistake about it, it is better.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 20, 2020

Texas Senate is jump-starting its 2021 offensive against city and county governments

It didn’t take long for Republicans in the Texas Senate to send a clear message to local governments that they should prepare for another high-stakes battle in Austin. Just weeks after the Nov. 3 election, the Texas Senate’s State Affairs committee is already setting up its first meeting for Dec. 7 to discuss lobbying reforms that would bar cities and counties from using taxpayer funds to hire lobbyists. While there is no specific bill set to be discussed, the committee chaired by Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Republican from northeast Texas, made clear in its meeting announcement that it will “make recommendations to protect taxpayers from paying for lobbyists who may not represent the taxpayers’ interests.”

It is hardly a surprise that cities and counties will immediately be put on the defense. The last two sessions have been aggressively anti-local government with Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — both Republicans — pushing to hem in cities and counties on issues ranging from tree ordinances and annexation rules to property taxes, police budgets and how much they can spend on lobbyists. In May 2019, a bill that would have prohibited cities and counties from hiring lobbyists died in the final days of the Legislative Session after the House voted down the legislation. The Texas Legislature, which meets once every two years, is set to reconvene in January. While leaders have not rolled out a clear set of priorities yet for the session, the revival of the lobbying ban for local governments show state lawmakers are not letting up. Even after the anti-lobbying bill failed in 2019, Republican leaders were already making it a top priority going forward. After the session ended, then-House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, a Republican from Brazoria County, was caught on a secret recording talking at length about that bill and bragging about his efforts to make life miserable for mayors and county judges all over the state.

Top of Page

Associated Press - November 22, 2020

Trump’s legal team cried vote fraud, but courts found none

As they frantically searched for ways to salvage President Donald Trump’s failed reelection bid, his campaign pursued a dizzying game of legal hopscotch across six states that centered on the biggest prize of all: Pennsylvania. The strategy may have played well in front of television cameras and on talk radio. But it has proved a disaster in court, where judges uniformly rejected their claims of vote fraud and found the campaign’s legal work amateurish. In a ruling late Saturday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann — a Republican and Federalist Society member in central Pennsylvania — compared the campaign’s legal arguments to “Frankenstein’s Monster,” concluding that Trump’s team offered only “speculative accusations,” not proof of rampant corruption.

Now, as the legal doors close on Trump’s attempts to have courts do what voters would not do on Election Day and deliver him a second term, his efforts in Pennsylvania show how far he is willing to push baseless theories of widespread voter fraud. It was led by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who descended on the state the Saturday after the Nov. 3 election as the count dragged on and the president played golf. Summoning reporters to a scruffy, far-flung corner of Philadelphia on Nov. 7, he held forth at a site that would soon become legendary: Four Seasons Total Landscaping. The 11:30 am. news conference was doomed from the start. At 11:26 a.m., news outlets had started calling the presidential contest for Democrat Joe Biden. The race was over.

Top of Page

New York Times - November 22, 2020

How Trump hopes to use party machinery to retain Control of the G.O.P.

As President Trump brazenly seeks to delay the certification of the election in hopes of overturning his defeat, he is also mounting a less high-profile but similarly audacious bid to keep control of the Republican National Committee even after he leaves office. Ronna McDaniel, Mr. Trump’s handpicked chairwoman, has secured the president’s support for her re-election to another term in January, when the party is expected to gather for its winter meeting. But her intention to run with Mr. Trump’s blessing has incited a behind-the-scenes proxy battle, dividing Republicans between those who believe the national party should not be a political subsidiary of the outgoing president and others happy for Mr. Trump to remain in control of it.

While many Republicans are hesitant to openly criticize their president at a moment when he is refusing to admit he has lost, the debate crystallizes the larger question about the party’s identity and whether it will operate as a vessel for Mr. Trump’s ambitions to run again in four years. Mr. Trump will have no political infrastructure once he leaves office except for a political action committee he recently formed, and absent a formal campaign, he is hoping to lean on the R.N.C. to effectively give him one, people familiar with his thinking said. The continuing influence of Mr. Trump could also have implications for some of the national committee’s most critical assets: Its voter data and donors lists contain thousands of names of contributors and detailed information about supporters. The voter data in particular is a focus of attention, after distrust arose between the committee and the Trump campaign over the data’s use in the final months of the campaign. While the committee and the Trump campaign are in the process of untangling joint agreements over access to that information, Mr. Trump sees control of the lists that he helped build over the past four years as a way to keep a grip on power — and to neutralize potential challengers for supremacy over the party, according to Republicans close to the White House.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 20, 2020

Dade Phelan rides bipartisan support to speaker’s chair

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it seemed like state Rep. Dade Phelan was everywhere. Kathleen Jackson, a member of the Texas Water Development Board, traveled to her hometown of Beaumont and the surrounding area to survey the flood damage after Harvey inundated Southeast Texas in late August 2017. Phelan, a Beaumont Republican with two legislative sessions under his belt, was always two steps ahead of her, meeting with emergency responders and those affected by the devastating storm.

By the time the Legislature next convened in 2019, Phelan was chairing the powerful House State Affairs Committee and shifted his focus to how the state could better prepare for future storms. He sponsored a relief package that tapped $1.7 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to finance flood mitigation projects. It was approved with broad support from Republicans and Democrats, one of several efforts that earned him a reputation as a legislator who seeks middle ground while listening to all sides of an issue. Two years later, Phelan, 45, is riding that reputation to control the levers of power in the Texas House, securing an overwhelming majority of support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for House speaker. “The race is over, and the work of the 150 members coming together to serve Texas begins today,” Phelan said in a Capitol press conference earlier this month. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2020

Dan Patrick’s ‘dangerous’ Austin wouldn’t scare Bigfoot

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s recent warning that the capital of Texas is “one of the most dangerous cities in America and definitely in Texas” worried me so much that I rushed online to price one of those armored vehicles wealthy Mexican and Brazilian residents buy to protect themselves against drug-cartel kidnappings. I discovered that I can pick one up from a company in San Antonio that combines “bespoke manufacturing” and “vehicle conversion” to outfit my BMW, Audi, Jeep or Range Rover with polycarbonate curved glass, composite armor, ballistic nylon “bomb blankets” and wheels made to run flat, among other hyper-safety features. (The company website doesn’t mention whether bespoke manufacturing can transform my 2014 Ford Escape.)

Maybe you detect a hint of sarcasm, dear reader, since Austin actually ranks as one of the safest big cities in the nation, but there was a time when Patrick’s warnings would have resonated. It was some years back. One-time Austin resident William Alexander Anderson Wallace comes to mind. The young Virginian who would be known for most of his life as Bigfoot ventured into Texas in 1837 to avenge the death of an older brother who lost his life in the Goliad Massacre. After hanging around San Antonio for a couple of years, Wallace made his way up the trail to the brand-new capital of the brand-new Republic. There on the picturesque banks of the Colorado he discovered a ragged frontier settlement that was, in the words of biographer Stanley Vestal, “plenty dangerous.” Bigfoot liked to hunt, for fun and profit, and he soon discovered that game was plentiful around Austin. Hunting deer, bear and turkeys, he made a good living supplying his fellow Austinites with fresh meat. He often ventured, usually alone, into dangerous territory north and west of town. One morning he was wandering around Mt. Bonnell, a limestone bluff bounded by the Colorado River and Cypress Creek. Along the edge of the sheer cliff high above the river, an Indian trail spiraled toward the top. It was so narrow that two people meeting each other would be unable to pass without hugging the rock face. As Vestal noted, “a single misstep might throw him far down into the river.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2020

Houston hospitals preparing for COVID-19 vaccine delivery

After months of anticipation about how fast a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine could be produced, four Houston-area hospitals are scrambling to prepare for shipments of the first one, likely in mid-December. Texas Children’s, Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann and MD Anderson Cancer Center confirmed Saturday they’re in talks with local, state and federal officials about the shipments, to be earmarked for front-line hospital workers. The talks are needed to coordinate the vaccine’s storage in ultra-cold freezers, then thawing and administration in great numbers of workers in a short time.

“This is a tremendous development in the fight against this pandemic,” Mark Wallace, CEO of Texas Children’s Hospital, wrote in an email to staffers last week announcing TCH’s participation. “I can think of no greater challenge we have had to overcome together, and I can think of no better news to hear than that Texas Children’s will be given such a vital tool in combating this highly infectious disease.” Wallace wrote that Texas Children’s has received confirmation it is “pre-positioned to receive a shipment next week,” but hospital officials clarified Saturday that there is “no definitive timeline at this point.” Later Saturday, a Houston health department official suggested the timeline calls for sometime in December. She said the latest word is that the vaccine will not be shipped to hospitals until the Food and Drug Administration grants it emergency use approval.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Texas must do more to keep prisoners from dying

More than 190 people have died in Texas prisons from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, the most in the country on sheer numbers and the third highest death rate even when adjusting for the size of the prison system, which is America’s largest. The biggest tragedy isn’t that people are dying in Texas prisons. After all, the pandemic has reached every corner of America and claimed more than 250,000 lives. The travesty is that many of those deaths were preventable and that the state’s refusal to act made them unavoidable. Now that the virus is surging again in Texas, and all over the country, it’s time for state officials to recommit to bolder action to save lives.

According to a recent analysis by the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the virus has caused 27 staff deaths and 190 reported prison deaths in the state from March through October. Researchers note the number is likely higher. The study found that prisoners test positive for the virus and die from COVID at higher rates when compared to the overall Texas population, the national average, and the national prison average. For example, COVID deaths per 10,000 people are 5.7 in the overall Texas population, 10 in U.S. prisons and 13.6 in Texas prisons. Almost 26,000 inmates and more than 6,000 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, according to data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs Texas prisons. Officials point out that one reason Texas prisons have reported so many cases is because the state has led the way in testing in the nation, with more than 70,000 employee and 225,000 inmate tests carried out. “This is far more than any other correctional system in the country and where there is more testing there will be more cases discovered,” Jeremy Desel, TDCJ director of communications, said in a statement.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2020

Erica Grieder: STAAR tests should be a diagnostic at most during challenging time

Texas children are learning a lot lately about the world in which they live and the country they will inherit — a country vulnerable to pandemics, natural disasters, recessions and the occasional ham-handed coup attempt. If they’re not learning as much grammar and arithmetic as usual — well, that’s hardly their fault. Nor are educators or parents to blame for the disruption that COVID-19 has caused during this school year, or the last one; we all understand that.

So it’s no wonder that a bipartisan group of legislators is calling on the state to cancel next year’s scheduled State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests — or at least to treat the 2021 STAAR test results as merely diagnostic, rather than using them to evaluate students, teachers, principals, and districts. The group wants the Texas Education Agency to seek waivers from federal testing and accountability requirements from the U.S. Department of Education. “At most, any administration of the STAAR during the 2020-21 school year should only serve as a diagnostic instrument to see where our students stand academically as opposed to an assessment instrument to determine district and campus sanctions under the current A-F accountability system,” the legislators wrote Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 22, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Paxton scandals aren’t just distractions — they’re a disgrace to Texas

Back when Gov. Greg Abbott was attorney general, he liked to joke that his primary mission each day was to make life difficult for President Barack Obama. “I go into the office in the morning. I sue Barack Obama and then I go home,” Abbott remarked more than once. For Ken Paxton, Abbott’s two-term successor as the state’s top law-enforcement official, finding time to sue anybody must be a challenge. Weighed down for years with legal and ethical challenges of his own, Paxton is like a man who took a short cut through a feed lot during a rainstorm and emerged teetering on boots stilted with, er, muck. Lots of muck. A public official so burdened cannot focus on the people’s business. An attorney general cannot be trusted to enforce the law when he can’t be trusted to follow it. Ken Paxton needs to go.

Now. And Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other top Republicans need to show some leadership and call for him to step down before he does any more damage to the credibility of his office, and of this state. Like Pig-Pen, the messy little guy in the comic strip Peanuts, Paxton has attracted a murky cloud since before he was elected attorney general in 2014. Not long after being sworn into office, he was indicted on three counts, including two charges of felony securities fraud. He allegedly persuaded investors to buy stock in a company without revealing to them that he was making a commission on the deal. He also was accused of failing to register with the Texas State Securities Board, which resulted in a reprimand and $1,000 fine. More than five years after the indictments came down, Paxton continues to employ various legal maneuverings and high-priced lawyers funded by wealthy donors and “family friends” to stay out of court - as a defendant, that is. The indictments, critics have joked, are now old enough to attend school.

Top of Page

KXAN - November 18, 2020

Lawmakers defunded an office that could be helping Texas minorities in the fight against COVID-19

It’s a rare, quiet moment in the middle of a jam-packed November morning of seeing patients. Dr. Guadalupe “Pete” Zamora took off his face shield and mask and escaped to his office at his medical practice in east Austin – an area of the city that’s been a COVID-19 hot spot. Still dressed in blue scrubs and a Dallas Cowboys bandana tied around his head, Zamora sat down at his desk and jumped on a Zoom call to walk us through what he’s seen the last few months, weeks and days. “I guarantee you of the three [patients] I tested today, all will be positive,” Zamora said. “It’s coming back, and we’ll be in stage four soon.” Zamora treats mostly Black and Hispanic patients, and has had about 220 people test positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic first flared up in mid-March.

“We’ve lost two. They were both older folks,” Zamora said with sadness in his voice but also a hint of relief that he hasn’t had more deadly cases. The virus is hitting the populations he serves the hardest. In Travis County, hospitalization rates have been higher among Hispanics than any other race, according to the Austin Public Health COVID-19 dashboard. Nationally, cases are more than twice as high for Hispanics and Black people when compared to white people, and deaths among Black people are twice as high as deaths among white people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Zamora said the state’s cases highlight the need for a state office — like the now-shuttered Office of Health Statistics and Engagement — that focuses on racial disparities in health care. Early in the pandemic, that office could’ve helped cities like Austin pinpoint areas where people were more likely to get sick and create a plan to address it. The Office of Minority Health Statistics and Engagement was created in 2010 and was originally called the Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities. Its first big project and discovery: Child Protective Services was more likely to remove children from Black parents than from white parents.

Top of Page

KXAN - November 22, 2020

Over 100 Texas counties entering Thanksgiving week at red-level COVID-19 ‘tipping point’

Thanksgiving week may be a critical, or even dangerous, tipping point for at least 100 Texas counties. New data from Harvard University shows at least 120 Lone Star State counties are now at red-level COVID-19 risk level — meaning they currently have 25 or more cases per 100,000 people. Harris County leads in Texas and is fifth nationally for number of confirmed cases, with 178,811. The county is home to Houston, the fourth-largest city in the U.S. It ranks 10th nationally in number of deaths, with 2,943 fatalities reported as of Saturday.

Dallas County, which includes Dallas, follows Harris as number two in numbers of cases, with 113,754. Tarrant County follows third, statewide, with 87,536 cases. According to the Harvard risk dashboard, ‘tipping point’ level suggests stay-at-home orders are necessary. Despite surging numbers, however, Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier this week that no more lockdowns are going to happen. In an interview on a Dallas radio show, Gov. Abbott said: “We are not going to have any more lockdowns in the state of Texas. Our focal point is gonna be working to heal those who have COVID, get them out of hospitals quickly, make sure they get back to their normal lives.” But as Thanksgiving approaches — bringing the desire to gather with family and friends — the holiday could be the turning point toward disaster. Only four Texas counties will enter Thanksgiving with the lowest risk of COVID-19 spread (green-level): Motley and King counties in north Texas, Cherokee County in east Texas, and Kenedy County in south Texas. Of these four, King County has the fewest numbers of cases, with just one confirmed as of Saturday.

Top of Page

KXAN - November 22, 2020

State of Texas: Working to help communities hit hardest by COVID-19

It’s a rare, quiet moment in the middle of a jam-packed November morning of seeing patients. Dr. Guadalupe “Pete” Zamora took off his face shield and mask and escaped to his office at his medical practice in east Austin – an area of the city that’s been a COVID-19 hot spot. Still dressed in blue scrubs and a Dallas Cowboys bandana tied around his head, Zamora sat down at his desk and jumped on a Zoom call to walk us through what he’s seen the last few months, weeks and days. “I guarantee you of the three [patients] I tested today, all will be positive,” Zamora said. “It’s coming back, and we’ll be in stage four soon.” Zamora treats mostly Black and Hispanic patients, and has had about 220 people test positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic first flared up in mid-March.

“We’ve lost two. They were both older folks,” Zamora said with sadness in his voice but also a hint of relief that he hasn’t had more deadly cases. The virus is hitting the populations he serves the hardest. In Travis County, hospitalization rates have been higher among Hispanics than any other race, according to the Austin Public Health COVID-19 dashboard. Nationally, cases are more than twice as high for Hispanics and Black people when compared to white people, and deaths among Black people are twice as high as deaths among white people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Zamora said the state’s cases highlight the need for a state office — like the now-shuttered Office of Health Statistics and Engagement — that focuses on racial disparities in health care. Early in the pandemic, that office could’ve helped cities like Austin pinpoint areas where people were more likely to get sick and create a plan to address it. “You could make the case by going into those communities and seeing, like, what is it that’s driving the spread? What is it that’s driving deaths?” said Lauren Lluveras, a former employee of the minority health statistics office.

Top of Page

KXAN - November 20, 2020

Texas lawmakers eye reining in governor’s power during disasters

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has faced friendly fire from some Republicans over his use of executive power during the coronavirus pandemic, repeatedly committed this week that there will no more lockdowns even as cases and hospitalizations are again on the rise across the state. Some Republican lawmakers are attempting to rein in that power by either restricting the governor’s authority during a declared disaster or by including the Texas Legislature in the state’s response.

Brandon Rottinghaus, an author and political science professor at the University of Houston, believes the debate over the power of the Governor’s Office will likely play a role in the upcoming 87th Legislature. “Texas government has historically been extremely decentralized going all the way back to the post-Civil War era. There’s been frustration about executive power,” Rottinghaus told KXAN. “For an extended pandemic like this, this disaster has to be governed in some way, and simply having one person in charge of it really does cut against the grain of Texas political history.” Rep. Drew Springer, a North Texas Republican, proposed a law that would establish an “Emergency Powers Board” composed of the governor, lieutenant governor, Speaker of the House, and leaders of the House and Senate State Affairs Committees. He also proposed a constitutional amendment that would trigger a special legislative session if a disaster or emergency declared by the governor continues for more than 21 days.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2020

5 things to know about Sidney Powell, the Dallas lawyer on Trump’s legal team alleging election fraud

Dallas lawyer Sidney Powell is at the head of President Donald Trump’s legal team alleging unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud, and she made headlines after Trump’s legal team held a closely watched news conference Thursday. Here are five things you need to know about her.

Unsubstantiated claims of election fraud: Powell has propagated a conspiracy theory in which the president’s campaign claims that an “algorithm” was developed by Democrats to switch votes from Trump to President-elect Biden, but it broke down because of unprecedented strong support for Trump. In order to make up for this error, she claims Democrats manipulated the vote with mail-in ballots. However, there is no evidence that her claims are true. Furthermore, it would require election workers across the country to be involved in this fraud scheme, according to The Washington Post. Tension with Tucker: Fox News host Tucker Carlson said he invited the Dallas lawyer on his show, but Powell refused to give him and his team evidence for her claim. Powell in Texas: Powell is originally from Durham, N.C., but she was an assistant U.S. attorney and appellate section chief in the Western and Northern Districts of Texas. In Western Texas, Powell was a prosecutor in the trial of American drug trafficker Jimmy Chagra for criminal enterprise violations. Among other crimes, Chagra was implicated in the 1979 assassination of U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr. in San Antonio.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2020

Texan and war hero Scott O’Grady nominated to defense post by Trump, squares off with critics

President Donald Trump has nominated Texan Scott O’Grady, who once campaigned for state Senate, for assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. Following his nomination, the Dallas resident known for his career as a fighter pilot and war hero quickly came under fire on social media. O’Grady made headlines in 1995, when his F-16 fighter was shot down over Bosnia. He survived in enemy territory for about a week before he was rescued by the U.S. Marines. O’Grady’s story inspired his own book Return with Honor which was a New York Times best-seller, and the movie Behind Enemy Lines is loosely based on his experiences.

The war hero also received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service. O’Grady moved to Texas about 20 years ago, and he ran as a Republican in a primary for a state Senate seat in Collin and Rockwall counties in 2012 against now-Attorney General Ken Paxton. O’Grady later suspended his bid, even after getting endorsements from former presidential candidate Ross Perot, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He now serves as the co-chair of Veterans for Trump. Almost immediately after his nomination was announced Tuesday, O’Grady sparred with critics on Twitter. In response to a journalist who tweeted that he “thought Trump didn’t like fliers who got shot down,” an allusion to Trump’s criticism of war hero former Sen. John McCain of Arizona, O’Grady dared him to “tell me that in person.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 22, 2020

Totals continue to soar: Dallas County announces 2,163 coronavirus cases, while Texas records 12,567

Dallas County on Saturday added a record 2,183 coronavirus cases, all of them considered new. It was the first time the county has reported more than 2,000 cases in a single day without a significant portion coming from previous months, and it continues the menacing trend of rapidly rising case numbers. Nine new COVID-19 deaths were also reported Saturday. All of the latest victims lived in Dallas and had underlying health problems. They include a man in his 40s, two women and a man in their 50s, a man in his 60s, two men and a woman in their 70s, and a woman in her 80s.

With Thanksgiving just days away, the soaring numbers underscore the need for county residents to heed medical experts’ guidance and limit attendance at holiday get-togethers, County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement. “I know this is disappointing news for Thanksgiving, but we have so much to be thankful for,” Jenkins said. “We must focus on what we’re thankful for and protecting it for the future and not give in to momentary weakness or selfishness that will lead to bad decisions.” The county’s provisional seven-day average of daily new confirmed and probable cases for the latest reporting period, Nov. 8-14, was 1,321 — a rate of 50.1 daily new cases per 100,000 residents. It’s the highest rate the county has seen throughout the entire pandemic.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 22, 2020

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: Texas’ leaders should urge Paxton to step down

Above all else, public servants should serve the public. No one can argue it serves the public interest for Attorney General Ken Paxton — still under indictment for an old scandal and now under FBI investigation for a new one — to remain the state’s chief legal and law enforcement officer. His integrity is tattered. His credibility is shot. True to form, Paxton this week resolved to stay put and fight the allegations that he repeatedly misused his powerful office to help Austin real-estate investor Nate Paul, a donor who gave $25,000 to Paxton’s 2018 campaign. Paxton, who has firmly denied any wrongdoing, might prevail in the battle ahead. But the cloud of corruption over his agency does not serve the public, which relies on the attorney general’s office for legal opinions, help securing child support payments and prosecution of white-collar crimes similar to the ones that Paxton has been accused of committing.

Paxton won’t resign of his own accord. It is incumbent on other public servants — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republican leaders — to prevail on Paxton to step down for the good of Texas. So far, the most prominent official to make that call is U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Hays County and Paxton’s former chief deputy, who publicly urged Paxton to resign when the latest scandal broke this fall. Roy rightly noted: “The attorney general deserves his days in court, but the people of Texas deserve a fully functioning AG’s office.” We’ve disagreed with Roy on other issues, but his decision here to put state over party is commendable. Indeed, as a former colleague, Roy knows the credibility of the seven senior officials who went to the feds this fall to report serious allegations of misconduct against Paxton. This is no partisan witchhunt. These accusations come from some of Paxton’s closest aides, people who share his political views but couldn’t tolerate his abuse of his office. Those whistleblowers allege Paxton took several actions to benefit Paul — most notably, appointing a special prosecutor to “investigate the investigators” who were going after the Austin-based investor. Paxton’s senior staff found no “good-faith factual basis” to challenge the FBI and other federal agencies who have been investigating Paul since 2019. But Paxton plowed ahead anyway, personally appointing a special prosecutor to do his donor’s bidding.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 20, 2020

Texans urged to limit holiday gatherings as state posts 2nd-highest daily case total

The Texas Hospital Association on Friday urged Texans to keep Thanksgiving gatherings small as statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 11,738 new cases Friday, the state’s second-highest single-day total of the pandemic. The record was set Thursday, with 12,256 new cases.

“We are counting on you to stay vigilant and protect yourself, so that we can remain ready and able to provide help to those who need us most,” the association, which represents nearly 500 Texas hospitals, said in a statement. “This has been a long road, and while we have come a long way, Texas hospitalizations are sharply increasing, reaching almost 8,000 hospitalizations yesterday — the highest we’ve seen since the devastating summer outbreak in Texas.” A spokeswoman for the association said the group continues to be concerned about hot spots in El Paso, the Panhandle and elsewhere in West Texas. State health officials reported 8,164 hospitalizations Friday, the first time since Aug. 7 that the number has exceeded 8,000. Hospitalizations reached a plateau of just over 3,000 through much of September before starting to steadily rise since the beginning of October.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 20, 2020

Travis County reports 368 coronaviruse cases, largest single-day increase since July

Travis County health officials on Friday said 368 more people in the area have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total case count to 35,984. The figure marks the largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases since July 21, when the total was 603. The county also saw 350 new cases in a single day on Aug. 18, according to local health authorities.

Local health authorities also said three more people in Travis County have died from coronavirus-related complications. The county’s pandemic death toll is now 476. Local health officials earlier on Thursday said the area had entered into Stage 4 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines. Under renewed Stage 4 guidelines: Higher-risk individuals (those older than 65 and those who have chronic medical conditions) should limit social gatherings to no more than two people outside their household. They should stay home, except for essential trips such as buying groceries or receiving medical care. Lower-risk individuals should avoid social gatherings with more than 10 people and non-essential travel. Business and restaurant owners are encouraged to voluntarily reduce capacity by 25% to 50%. Schools are encouraged to limit attendance at sporting events to players, coaches and parents. The county’s number of active cases continued to rise on Friday with 2,375.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 20, 2020

Texas SBOE adopts new sex ed curriculum

The Texas State Board of Education gave final approval Friday to a revamped sex education curriculum that teaches middle school students about birth control, but excludes information on consent, sexual orientation and gender identity. The changes are the first to the state’s sex education curriculum for public schools since 1997.

Seventh and eighth graders will learn about the effectiveness, risks and failure rates of birth control in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Such lessons currently are relegated to high school, but the health courses are not part of graduation requirements. Revisions also include teaching fifth graders about fertilization and sixth graders about sexual intercourse. But the state board shot down proposals to include consent or definitions of gender identity and sexual orientation. The new curriculum will roll out in 2022. The majority of the state’s school districts either don’t teach sex education or focus on abstinence-only curriculum. However, districts can teach an “abstinence-plus” curriculum, which encourages abstinence but also teaches other methods to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The Austin school district has such a curriculum, and it updated standards last year to include lessons on sexual orientation, gender identity and consent.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 22, 2020

Tarrant County reports 1,368 coronavirus cases, two deaths on Saturday

Tarrant County reported 1,368 coronavirus cases and two deaths on Saturday, bringing to an end one of the worst weeks since the pandemic began. There were more confirmed cases between Sunday and Saturday — 7,348 — than any other week, and the second-most total cases — 8,301 — when including probable infections, according to data from the county public health department. There were 8,379 total cases between Nov. 8 and Nov. 14, the highest total so far, the data shows.

The county set a record on Wednesday with 2,112 cases and followed that with 1,777 cases on Thursday, the second-highest ever total. The health department didn’t immediately release information on Saturday about the two individuals whose deaths were announced. Data on Saturday showed about 18 percent of occupied hospital beds across Tarrant County belong to COVID patients. This comes as public health officials warn many Texas counties, including Tarrant, are at tipping points ahead of Thanksgiving. Judge Glen Whitley is expected to extend the county’s mask mandate for another month amid rising hospitalizations.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 22, 2020

Julie Butner: This state program helps food banks get fresh produce to families. Why cut it now?

(Julie Butner is president and CEO of Tarrant Area Food Bank, the region’s largest hunger-relief charity.) Food banks across Texas have seen a staggering increase in demand for their services as families struggle to make ends meet amid the coronavirus pandemic. Just in the Tarrant County area alone, Tarrant Area Food Bank has seen a 47.5% increase in the number of families we serve. Now a critical program that helps feed families and support Texas farmers is on the chopping block. In response to the governor’s request that all state agencies reduce their budgets by 5% for the rest of the 2020-21 budget cycle, the Texas Department of Agriculture has proposed cutting 44% from the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant program. This devastating cut would take away $1.9 million that would help food banks feed hungry families. It also means 15.2 million pounds of produce across the state will go to waste instead of providing nutritious meals.

For nearly 20 years, the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant has allowed food banks to obtain donations of surplus or unsellable produce from Texas farmers. In doing so, we help to offset their harvesting, storage and packaging costs while enabling us to provide high-quality, fresh produce to local families. For every dollar appropriated to the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant, the Tarrant Area Food Bank can provide eight pounds of fresh produce for those most in need. This program has been a huge win for hungry residents in Fort Worth and surrounding cities. If the proposed cuts are finalized, however, the food bank will not be able to procure nearly 1.5 million pounds of produce from Texas farmers, which translates to 1.25 million nutritious meals. It would also mean lost revenue for Texas agricultural producers — one of the hardest hit sectors of the Texas economy this year.

Top of Page

Texas Monthly - November 22, 2020

A bad cop's best friend?

One morning in late January 2019, Rhogena Nicholas texted a prayer to her mother, Jo Ann Nicholas, just as she did every day. A widow in her eighties, Jo Ann could no longer make the four-hour drive from Natchitoches, Louisiana, to visit her daughter and her son-in-law, Dennis Tuttle, at their bungalow in the Pecan Park neighborhood of southeast Houston, but the family remained close, texting and speaking on the phone regularly. Rhogena, 58, worked as a bookkeeper, among other jobs. That afternoon, on January 28, she called Jo Ann to warn her against venturing outside in the icy weather gripping central Louisiana. Then she said goodbye, telling her mother that she and Tuttle were going to take a nap. Less than an hour later, eleven armed Houston Police Department officers broke down the door of 7815 Harding Street and killed Rhogena, Tuttle, and their dog in a fusillade of bullets; autopsies would reveal that police shot Rhogena three times and Tuttle nine times. Four officers were also shot, allegedly by Tuttle, a 59-year-old disabled Navy veteran. At a press conference that evening, Houston police chief Art Acevedo said that a neighbor had tipped off officers that heroin was being sold at the Harding Street home, leading a judge to issue a search warrant. Then Joe Gamaldi, the 37-year-old president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, stepped up to the microphones.

A native of Long Island who started his career in the New York Police Department, Gamaldi has a slender build and short stature—his former NYPD partner affectionately calls him a “good little man”—that belie his street fighter instincts. And on this night, with four of his officers in the hospital, he was ready for a brawl. “We are sick and tired of having dirtbags trying to take our lives,” Gamaldi announced in his reedy New York accent, jabbing his forefinger at the assembled reporters. “And if you’re the ones that are out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy—well, just know, we’ve all got your number now.” To Gamaldi, the deadly Harding Street raid was the latest skirmish in what he considers a war on cops being waged by a panoply of sinister left-wing groups. But Nicholas and Tuttle weren’t heroin dealers. There was no heroin; the warrant was based on false information, and the narcotics officer who led the Harding Street raid has since been charged with two counts of murder. The couple’s families believe, based on an independent evaluation of the crime scene by a forensic investigator that they commissioned, that the injured officers were hit by friendly fire. Those relatives have filed a petition asking the City of Houston to turn over ballistics evidence from the raid. In the aftermath of that Monday’s events, the prayer Nicholas texted her mother in the morning seems especially bittersweet. It began, “Dear Lord, thank you for a new day and week ahead that is full of promise and possibilities.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 22, 2020

Maria Anglin: Filling the historical gaps with Latino Smithsonian

Last week, Sen. John Cornyn testified before the Senate Rules Committee on the National Museum of the American Latino Act. The bill, which the Texas Republican co-sponsored with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., paves the way for the Smithsonian Institution to create a museum dedicated to the contributions of American Latinos. Only a week before, Cornyn tweeted an awkward message about letting the political process in the election run its course, referencing a New York Times story about 200 boxes of uncounted votes that turned up in Puerto Rico. He caught some flak for this, then responded he never said anything about those votes affecting the winner of the 2020 presidential election. It’s a benefit-of-the-doubt moment, but it makes sense; that tweet read like a rookie mistake, and Cornyn — who won more votes in Texas than President Donald Trump — is no rookie.

Unlike Texas voters, Puerto Rican voters don’t get a say in the presidential election. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, not a state. Some want statehood, others want to remain a commonwealth. Some want better representation, others don’t want senators and representatives from there in the Beltway. Many Puerto Ricans prefer Spanish to English, even though English is required in schools. It’s complicated, as we learned after Hurricane Maria wrecked the island in 2017. That’s when a lot of us found out, for the first time, that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Remember someone floating the idea that the U.S. could trade Puerto Rico for Greenland? It sounds like a punchline, but there were surely a lot of Americans who thought, “Oh. We can do that?” There is a lot about Puerto Rico that mainstream America doesn’t know. And that, my fellow Americans, is why America needs a National Museum of the American Latino.

Top of Page

El Paso Times - November 21, 2020

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo says Hispanics have higher COVID-19 hospital rates than “normal Caucasians”

In a nationally televised interview, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said El Paso is facing a COVID-19 crisis because Hispanics are far more likely to be hospitalized than “normal Caucasians.” “And as the CDC said earlier this week — our population is 85 percent Hispanic and we are four times more prevalent to be hospitalized because of COVID than any other, than the normal Caucasians,” Margo said Friday on ABC’s morning news show “GMA3: What You Need to Know.”

Margo has not responded to a request for comment. This is the second time in recent weeks that Margo has made inflammatory remarks when discussing El Paso’s COVID-19 crisis. In October, Margo accused city Rep. Peter Svarzbein — who lost family in the Holocaust — of proposing “Gestapo-like tactics” when he advocated for closing off inside dining at restaurants for two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19. Margo later apologized. The portrayal of white people as “normal” — and people of color as not — has a long, racist history in the United States. In 1982, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates said Black people might die in police chokeholds because “their veins or arteries do not open up as fast as they do on normal people.” El Paso has had almost 50,000 new COVID-19 infections in the past five weeks. Hospitals have been overwhelmed, and federal and state agencies have rushed additional medical personnel to El Paso. El Paso has confirmed more than 850 COVID-19 deaths, with another 449 under investigation.

Top of Page

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2020

DeSoto will hold a special election to fill late DeSoto Mayor Curtistene McCowan’s seat

DeSoto plans to hold a special election Feb. 2 to name a new leader after Mayor Curtistene McCowan’s death last month.

McCowan, who passed away Oct. 28 after being diagnosed with lung cancer, was the first African American elected to public office in the city after winning a seat on the DeSoto ISD board in 1990, and she started serving on the City Council in 2012 before becoming mayor in 2016.

Top of Page

National Stories

Wall Street Journal - November 22, 2020

In Arizona, Democrats see blue trend, while Republicans see blip

Arizona voters this month backed a Democrat for president for the first time since 1996 and sent a second Democrat to the Senate for the first time since the 1950s, but local political leaders say it might not be a lasting blue shift. While President-elect Joe Biden and Sen.-elect Mark Kelly won with the support of a diverse coalition that included Latinos, Native Americans and disaffected white moderates in the suburbs, the GOP did better in down-ballot races. Republicans held on to a competitive U.S. House seat and both chambers in the state legislature despite aggressive Democratic campaigns. They also took back a key local position, the Maricopa County recorder, who oversees elections in the Phoenix region.

“I’m not comfortable with calling it blue,” said Gina Woodall, a senior lecturer at Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies. “Maybe purple trending blue.” Mr. Biden beat President Trump by just over 10,000 votes in the state, according to Associated Press tallies, while Mr. Kelly unseated Republican Martha McSally with a lead of nearly 79,000. Arizona is at least a few election cycles from potentially joining former swing states that are now predominantly Democratic, such as Colorado and Virginia, local leaders said, and could remain one of the most competitive states in the nation for many years. Republicans will have a chance in 2022 to take back the Senate seat from Mr. Kelly, who won this year in a special election and must run for a full term in two years, as well as retain the governorship currently held by Doug Ducey, who will leave due to term limits. “The state, as a whole, is still very socially and fiscally conservative,” said Kelli Ward, chairwoman of Arizona’s Republican Party.

Top of Page

Associated Press - November 21, 2020

Trump campaign requests recount of Georgia’s presidential vote

President Donald Trump’s legal team said Saturday that his campaign has requested a recount of votes in the Georgia presidential race after results showed Democrat Joe Biden winning the state. Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Friday certified the state’s election results, which had Biden beating Trump by 12,670 votes out of about 5 million cast, or 0.25%. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp then certified the state’s slate of 16 presidential electors.

The statement from Trump’s legal team said: “Today, the Trump campaign filed a petition for recount in Georgia. We are focused on ensuring that every aspect of Georgia State Law and the U.S. Constitution are followed so that every legal vote is counted. President Trump and his campaign continue to insist on an honest recount in Georgia, which has to include signature matching and other vital safeguards.” On Friday, in certifying the results, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also brought up concerns about signatures. But Raffensperger has reiterated confidence in the results, and in a Saturday opinion piece in the Washington Post he said: “Georgia’s voting system has never been more secure or trustworthy.” And in fact, the signatures on absentee ballot applications and envelopes are required to be checked when they are received. Georgia law allows a candidate to request a recount if the margin is less than 0.5%. The recount would be done using scanners that read and tabulate the votes. County election workers have already done a complete hand recount of all the votes cast in the presidential race. But that stemmed from a mandatory audit requirement and isn’t considered an official recount under the law.

Top of Page

Washington Post - November 21, 2020

The Founders didn't prepare for a president who refuses to step down, historians say

President Donald Trump continued Friday to deny the results of the election, pressuring state officials in Michigan and Georgia to overturn the will of voters, and increasing fears that he might refuse to cede power to President-elect Joe Biden. But those looking to the nation's Founders, or the Constitution they framed, for answers to such a crisis will come up empty-handed. There is nothing in the Constitution about what to do if a president refuses to step down when his term expires, according to three historians and a constitutional law professor. "No, the Framers did not envisage a president refusing to step down or discuss what should be done in such a situation," said Yale historian Sean Wilentz. "There's obviously nothing in the Constitution about it."

"This is a contingency that no one would have actively contemplated until this fall," said historian Jack Rakove, a professor emeritus at Stanford University. "We [historians] pride ourselves in saying, 'Don't worry, this has happened before,' or, 'Worry, this has happened before,'" said Jeffrey A. Engel, the founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. "Right now, if all your historians can say is, 'We are in entirely uncharted waters,' I don't even know how the rest of that sentence ends." Recently, Engel asked the post-doctoral fellows and undergraduates affiliated with the center - whose areas of study range from George Washington to Trump - to drop everything they were doing and search for any historical clues or parallels. "They all say they got nothing," Engel said. The Constitution says a president's term expires after four years. That's it. Congress set Washington's first term as officially beginning on March 4, 1789. March 4 became the de facto inauguration date until the 12th Amendment made it official in 1804. Then, in 1933, the 20th Amendment moved that date up to January 20, and further specified a president's term expires at noon.

Top of Page

Roll Call - November 20, 2020

Hoyer: Earmarks are likely coming back next year

House Democratic leaders are proceeding with plans to bring back earmarks for the 117th Congress, according to Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer. Hoyer, D-Md., said in an interview Friday that sometime after the Appropriations Committee’s new chairwoman is elected the week of Nov. 30, she will begin soliciting House lawmakers to “ask for congressional initiatives for their districts and their states.” The three candidates to replace retiring House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., are all on board with restoring “congressionally directed spending,” as it has come to be known.

Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida had previously endorsed the return of earmarks. Connecticut’s Rosa DeLauro had hesitated but now “unequivocally” backs restoring line items for members’ districts after further conversations, an aide said. Hoyer said all three support, with leadership’s backing, transparency measures similar to those in place a decade ago before the practice was banned entirely. That includes making a project’s requestor publicly available as well as the justification for spending taxpayer dollars on it, and clearly noting in legislation which provisions constitute member-requested items. “There are three candidates for chair of the Appropriations Committee. All have indicated they are for congressional initiatives, congressional add-ons with the structure I’ve just talked about — transparency when you ask, when it’s given, when it’s on the floor,” Hoyer said. He left a little wiggle room on the topic, noting that the decision was ultimately up to appropriators and the caucus.

Top of Page

Bloomberg - November 22, 2020

Regeneron gets emergency U.S. clearance for COVID-19 therapy

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s antibody cocktail received an emergency-use authorization from U.S. drug regulators for treatment of early Covid-19 symptoms, adding to the expanding arsenal of therapies available to physicians at a time when the virus is surging. Regeneron’s treatment was given to President Donald Trump last month after he contracted Covid-19. While Trump received a number of drugs to combat the virus, he said after he was released from the hospital he expected speedy authorization of Regeneron’s therapy, crediting it with his recovery.

The company said in a statement on Saturday that its therapy, called REGN-COV2, had been authorized for the treatment of mild to moderate Covid-19 in adults and some children of at least 12 years of age. A similar antibody therapy made by Eli Lilly & Co. received emergency clearance from the FDA on Nov. 9. The FDA’s decision comes as U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths all trend upward, and as other drugmakers race to win emergency clearance for experimental vaccines. New cases in the U.S. have topped 100,000 each day since Nov. 5., and on Saturday surpassed 12 million since the start of the pandemic. “The FDA remains committed to advancing the nation’s public health during this unprecedented pandemic,” Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in the statement. “Authorizing these monoclonal antibody therapies may help outpatients avoid hospitalization and alleviate the burden on our health care system.”

Top of Page

Newsclips - November 20, 2020

Lead Stories

Associated Press - November 19, 2020

Joe Biden wins Georgia, flipping the state for Democrats

Joe Biden has won Georgia and its 16 electoral votes, an extraordinary victory for Democrats who pushed to expand their electoral map through the Sun Belt. The win by Biden pads his Electoral College margin of victory over President Donald Trump. Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election on Nov. 7 after flipping Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to the Democrats’ column. Biden now has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.

Trump won Georgia by 5 percentage points in 2016 over Democrat Hillary Clinton. In 2020, Democrats had focused heavily on the state, seeing it in play two years after Democrat Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the governor’s race. Both of Georgia’s Senate seats were on the ballot this year, further boosting the state’s political profile as well as spending by outside groups seeking to influence voters. Those two races are headed to a January runoff. Georgia hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992.

Top of Page

Five Thirty Eight - November 18, 2020

Republicans won almost every election where redistricting was at stake

Joe Biden may have won the White House, but down-ballot races were much better for Republicans. In fact, the GOP’s victories in state-level elections could pay dividends long after Biden leaves office, thanks to their influence over next year’s redistricting process. Every 10 years, after the census, congressional and state legislature districts are redrawn to account for population changes. This gives whoever is drawing the maps the power to maximize the number of districts that favor their party — a tactic known as gerrymandering. And as we wrote last month, the 2020 election represented the last chance for voters to weigh in on who would draw those maps. Both parties went into the election with a chance to draw more congressional districts than the other, but the end result was just about the best-case scenario for Republicans. As the map below shows, Republicans are set to control the redistricting of 188 congressional seats — or 43 percent of the entire House of Representatives. By contrast, Democrats will control the redistricting of, at most, 73 seats, or 17 percent.

How did Republicans pull that off? By winning almost every 2020 election in which control of redistricting was at stake: The GOP kept control of the redistricting process in Texas by holding the state House. Given that Election Data Services estimates Texas will have 39 congressional seats for the next decade, this was arguably Republicans’ single biggest win of the 2020 election. Republicans successfully defended the Pennsylvania legislature from a Democratic takeover, although they’ll still need to share redistricting power over its projected 17 congressional districts, as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has veto power. Republicans held the majority in both chambers of the North Carolina legislature, which will enable them to draw an expected 14 congressional districts all by themselves. Amendment 1 passed in Virginia, taking the power to draw the state’s 11 congressional districts out of the hands of the all-Democratic state government and investing it in a bipartisan commission made up of a mix of citizens and legislators. In Missouri (home to eight congressional districts), Gov. Mike Parson was elected to a second term, keeping redistricting control in Republican hands.

Top of Page

CNN - November 19, 2020

'Busting out of the seams': West Texas hospitals pushed to the limit in unprecedented Covid-19 surge

Denise Mourning tried to hold back the tears behind her face shield. The acute care nurse practitioner in Odessa, Texas, was reflecting on the emotional arc of the coronavirus pandemic, one that began with a sense of unity but has unraveled into exasperation. "At first it was, 'Thank you so much, you're frontline, we appreciate what you're doing,'" she said. "And now, I mean, I'm getting threats." Mourning is often on the receiving end of frustrated phone calls by patients' family members who aren't allowed to visit the hospital or feel like she's not doing enough.

"I think that it's sad," Mourning said. "We're trying to help, and we're trying to do the greater good. And I want people to know that." It was a stunning plea for civility as the Covid-19 spread continues to worsen. "There was only a few times in the summer where we were really pushed to the extreme," said Mourning, recalling the surge from July and August. "But now for the last few weeks, we're...busting out of the seams." At the Odessa Regional Medical Center, where Mourning works, a once neonatal intensive care unit has turned into a Covid-19 ICU for adults. This week the hospital is treating 28 Covid-19 patients as of Thursday. But more significantly, the center maxed out its capacity in the ICU and in a separate medical surge area for Covid-19 patients as well. The hospital had to open an "overflow" unit earlier this week in a separate building just to keep up.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott touts arrival of new COVID-19 treatment, rejects calls for sterner measures

With at least six hospital regions in Texas burdened by worrisome loads of coronavirus patients, Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday traveled to one such area – Lubbock – to hail the federal government’s distribution of a new antibody treatment. Abbott also rejected suggestions he give county judges and mayors more authority to tailor COVID-19 shutdowns for their areas.

The Republican governor said the local elected officials, many but not all of them Democrats, haven’t enforced his existing coronavirus orders. Abbott said bamlanivimab, a new therapy developed by Eli Lilly & Co., has arrived – in Lubbock and across Texas. The drug shows great promise for COVID-19 patients with mild or moderate symptoms, he said. Initially, it’ll be distributed to hospitals in “communities with high COVID-19 disease burden,” said a release from Abbott’s office. “People need to be thankful for the way that the genius of the medical leaders in this country and the medical innovators in this country have been able to so quickly respond with the medicines that are needed to make sure that soon we will be able to put COVID behind us,” Abbott said. People who aren’t infected or are in late stages of a COVID-19 infection wouldn’t qualify for the Eli Lilly treatment, a monoclonal antibody that is infused intravenously, Abbott said at a news conference at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. “Typically it’s those who are 65 years or older and with some other, health care-based issue and early-stage COVID,” he said.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 19, 2020

Rep. Dan Crenshaw opposes Trump troop withdrawal plan in Afghanistan

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw is warning against President Donald Trump’s plan for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan before he leaves office. Trump is reportedly considering pulling as many as 2,000 of the remaining 4,500 to 5,000 U.S. soldiers remaining in Afghanistan. He’d also pull back more troops from Iraq. Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, warned the plan could hurt the U.S. in the long term.

“Withdrawing troops rapidly might make some people feel better, but it won’t be good for American security,” the Houston Republican said. “We will be right back in the same place as pre-9/11. No deterrence, no situational awareness, vulnerable to emboldened terrorists.” Crenshaw, who won re-election earlier this month, found quick criticism of his stance from retiring U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a former Republican turned Libertarian. Amash said the wars have gone on long enough and said what Crenshaw is “really saying is that he wants perpetual war for just-in-case reasons.” Crenshaw pushed back, saying the U.S. needs to protect its flank against enemies who still want to kill Americans. Crenshaw is not the only Republican in Texas taking issue with Trump’s plan. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican, also is warning that a premature withdrawal would “endanger U.S. counterterrorism interests.” “We need to ensure a residual force is maintained for the foreseeable future to protect U.S. national and homeland security interests and to help secure peace for Afghanistan,” said McCaul, who is the top-ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 19, 2020

Top superintendents, business leaders support STAAR, but want to nix accountability ratings

Fourteen Texas school superintendents, including those leading Dallas, Fort Worth and Aldine ISDs, joined with several business and education advocacy organizations Thursday to voice support for continuing to give standardized tests to students in the spring. The announcement came one day after 70 members of the Texas House of Representatives issued a bipartisan call for state leaders to take steps toward canceling the annual exams, illustrating the split over a hot-button education issue that has riled teachers and families.

In a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, the superintendents, business leaders and education advocates said they “believe strongly in understanding where Texas students are in their learning journey.” The group argued the exams would provide vital data to help measure students’ academic achievement and growth amid the pandemic. “We think it is critical for government leaders and policy makers to fully understand the extent and the disproportionate nature of COVID-19 learning loss that has likely occurred for our communities from limited income homes and our communities of color,” the letter read in part. While education and business advocates encouraged giving the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, commonly known as STAAR, they did not support continuing to grade schools and districts based on the results. The Texas Education Agency’s academic accountability system results in A-through-F letter grades to campuses and districts largely tied to STAAR scores. In arguing against accountability ratings, the superintendents and advocates said it would be “almost impossible to assign A-F ratings in a fair and equitable way.” “We respectfully request that academic accountability for school and district ratings be placed on pause for the 2020-21 school year, and that superintendents and school leaders are given this information as soon as possible,” the group wrote.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 19, 2020

Citing uptick in COVID cases, Wharton ISD cancels in-person classes, moves to online instruction

An influx of COVID-19 cases at a Texas school district has prompted officials to move to virtual instruction and cancel in-person classes through the end of the month. Wharton ISD Superintendent Michael O'Guin said in a Nov. 17 letter to students and community members that the district is experiencing a "slight uptick" in COVID cases that has resulted in more students and teachers having to quarantine. O'Guin said the move to online-only is a "precautionary measure" and that in-person instruction will resume on Nov. 30.

Extracurricular activities, including sports and fine arts, are not canceled. "Please know that this decision was not made lightly," O'Guin wrote in the letter. "We understand how disappointing and disruptive this decision can be for our families. However, in following with state guidelines, this decision was determined to be necessary as a preventative health measure." Cases have steadily climbed at school districts across the state since many reopened campuses for in-person instruction. Approximately 24,439 students and 14,852 teachers and staff members are currently positive for COVID-19, according to the latest available data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Cases are self-reported by school districts on a weekly basis; the state's data does not include private schools. Several Houston-area districts have had to close campuses due to recent outbreaks, including schools in HISD, Splendora ISD and Katy ISD. Wharton ISD is located about an hour's drive southwest from Houston.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 19, 2020

Fort Worth, Houston not a finalist for the U.S. Space Command headquarters

Houston was not selected as a finalist for the U.S. Space Command headquarters. San Antonio, however, did make the cut. It is among six locations being considered by the Department of the Air Force. “The Department of the Air Force will find no better location for the U.S. Space Command than Port San Antonio,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “Not only does the state of Texas have the resources, universities, and human capital necessary to support the Space Command, but we are also enriched by our long-standing and celebrated tradition of military service and innovation in Texas.”

Space Command directs military forces as they move beyond the purview of gravity: operating and protecting satellites and working to deter conflict in space. It is different from the U.S. Space Force, which became the sixth branch of the military on Dec. 20, 2019. Space Force is a military service such as the Army, Navy and Air Force. Military services are responsible for training people and providing equipment. Military services assign forces to a combatant command, such as Africa Command and Cyber Command, that is responsible for commanding and controlling those forces during military operations. So Space Command is responsible for commanding America’s military space forces, Frank Rose, senior fellow for security and strategy at the Brookings Institution, previously told the Chronicle. Communities from across 24 states nominated themselves as potential Space Command headquarters. On Thursday, the Department of the Air Force announced its six finalists: Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Port San Antonio in Texas and Redstone Army Airfield in Alabama.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2020

Erica Grieder: COVID fatigue is real, but so is this deadly illness

Houstonians who have straggled through the first 10 months of the coronavirus pandemic might be tempted to let their guard down. Sure, we know at an intellectual level that the pandemic isn’t over, that public health officials — those nervous nellies! — are urging us to remain vigilant. Some are going so far as to suggest that we cancel our plans to gather with friends and family over the coming holidays. But the reality is, now may be the time to be the most careful. “Even if we’re tired of COVID-19, it’s not tired of us,” said Umair Shah, the outgoing executive director of Harris County Public Health, recently. And on Monday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the city’s Thanksgiving parade would be canceled for the first time in its history and replaced with a food distribution event at NRG Center this weekend.

Granted, there’s good news on the horizon, starting with the fact that we may soon have two vaccines that protect against COVID-19. Pfizer announced last week that it has developed a vaccine that protected 90 percent of study participants from illness, and Moderna followed a week later with similarly auspicious findings. Moderna’s vaccine was developed with the financial assistance of none other than Dolly Parton, who reportedly donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University after hearing of “some exciting advancements” by researchers there. Who could hear that detail and not feel heartened? And while outgoing President Donald Trump has taken a desultory attitude towards the coronavirus — particularly since losing the election — President-elect Joe Biden clearly intends to treat the virus with more urgency. Trump has not attended a meeting of his coronavirus task force for five months; Biden unveiled his COVID-19 advisory group within days of being declared the victor. The 77-year-old Democrat has been continuously sounding the alarm about what Americans should expect in the coming weeks.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 20, 2020

Food lines, late payments, falling income: As COVID cases surge in Dallas and Texas, so do signs of distress

For years, the local and state economies have outperformed the nation’s, and Dallas-Fort Worth and Texas stood up well in the early days of the pandemic. The recovery is a different story. Job growth has been lagging national rates, unemployment claims remain stubbornly high and thousands have dropped out of the labor force. As COVID-19 cases spike again in Texas — and Congress continues to whiff on a relief plan — there are signs of growing distress. Late payments are rising, many expect their incomes to fall, and food lines stretch for miles, including the 8,500 families who waited for food at Dallas’ Fair Park last weekend.

“People have sort of locked down on their own, even without a government mandate,” said Pia Orrenius, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “We can’t really escape the effects of the virus, because we all pull back as consumers when the virus surges.” The pandemic recession is different than most deep downturns, in part because the government stepped up quickly and dramatically in the spring. Extra unemployment benefits of $600 a week, stimulus checks and special support for small businesses and their workers made a real difference. Low-income families were able to sustain their spending and some increased it. That led to a strong rebound in consumer spending after the national lockdown ended, even if it didn’t match pre-pandemic levels — and didn’t extend to every sector.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2020

Lancaster ISD superintendent buyout could drain district reserves

The financial outlook for Lancaster ISD will be grim if a $2 million superintendent buyout moves forward. Should the district pay out former Superintendent Elijah Granger, LISD will have to take $2.24 million from its fund balance, wiping out the majority of its savings. “It is going to reduce our projected fund balance to virtually nothing,” chief financial officer Shonna Pumphrey said at a board meeting Thursday night. “And that’s provided all of our revenue projections hold.”

That’s also before the state docks an estimated $1.8 million from the district for such a large buyout. However, the buyout’s future is uncertain after a judge temporarily halted the payment Thursday afternoon. The judge granted the request of three trustees – Marion Hamilton, Carolyn Ann Morris, and Ty G Jones –– who voted against the buyout agreement and sought a temporary restraining order to stop the payout. The district is temporarily enjoined from paying Granger any money related to his Nov. 9 buyout, and the three trustees will make further arguments for an injunction on Dec. 2, according to the order. Granger’s annual salary was set at $315,000 in a contract approved Oct. 29, and the buyout agreement offered the departing superintendent more than $2 million to end his employment. A buyout agreement that exceeds the value of one year’s salary and benefits triggers stiff financial penalties from the state. The state’s reduction in funding would likely come next school year, Pumphrey said. At the board meeting Thursday night, the three trustees who won the order and newly elected trustee Kendall Smith voted to table a proposed $2.24 million budget amendment until December.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2020

Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey walks back speculation of a potential run for Texas governor

Matthew McConaughey is walking back speculation that he is considering a run for Texas governor in 2022. “I have no plans to do that right now,” McConaughey said of a potential run for governor in a Wednesday night interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “Right now, no. I don’t get politics. Politics seems to be a broken business, politics needs to redefine its purpose.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, is up for reelection in 2022.

The Dallas Buyers Club star has been notoriously apolitical, but the Texas native made headlines Wednesday when he left the door open for a potential gubernatorial run in a radio interview Tuesday on The Hugh Hewitt Show. “It would be up to the people more than it would me,” McConaughey said in the interview. “I would say this. Look, politics seems to be a broken business to me right now. And when politics redefines its purpose, I could be a hell of a lot more interested.” McConaughey has been repeatedly asked if he would make a run for governor as he stumps for his New York Times best-selling book Greenlights, but the actor said he currently sees himself better fit for other leadership roles where he would be most useful. Still, the actor didn’t completely rule out getting into politics or some public leadership role in the future. “Whatever leadership role I can be most useful in, and I don’t know that that’s politics,” McConaughey said. “Right now, I don’t see it as politics — I’ll drink to that.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2020

Cornyn insists that Joe Biden isn’t president-elect, because the election is contested and too close

Texas Sen. John Cornyn said Thursday that he does not consider Joe Biden to be the president-elect, arguing that it is premature to apply that title until votes are certified and legal challenges are resolved. But Cornyn acknowledges that he is unaware of any evidence backing up President Donald Trump’s contention that the election has been stolen through fraud or ballot tampering. “He is not president-elect until the votes are certified. So the answer to that is no,” Cornyn said on a call with Texas news organizations. “And I don’t know what basis you or anybody else would claim that he’s president-elect before the votes are certified and these contests are resolved.”

Hours earlier, Cornyn did seem to refer to Biden by that title in a tweet, pasting a sentence from a Politico story about the Georgia Senate runoffs that referred to “a striking message for President-elect Joe Biden” from progressive Democrats. Trump’s status as president-elect was unchallenged after Election Night in 2016, or certainly after the next morning when Hillary Clinton conceded, a step that Trump adamantly refuses to do. Later that day, Nov. 9, Cornyn issued a statement in which he congratulated “President-elect Trump.... I look forward to working with President-elect Trump to address the critical issues Texans and the American people have entrusted us to solve.” On Nov. 23, 2016 – four years ago next Monday – Cornyn issued a tweet that referred to Trump as PEOTUS, which stands for president-elect of the United States. The Electoral College met that year on Dec. 18 but the outcome was uncontested at that point.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2020

Dean Stansel and Meg Tuszynski: California migrants are not trying to un-Texas Texas

(Dean Stansel and Meg Tuszynski are economists at the Bridwell Institute for Economic Freedom at Southern Methodist University.) For centuries, people have been fleeing governments that limit their freedoms and moving to countries, or to less regulated areas within their own nations, that afford greater freedom. For many years, the U.S. had an open door to those immigrants. That door is no longer quite so open. One reason is that some immigration opponents believe immigrants will import the bad institutions and policies from their countries of origin. The idea that people fleeing countries with bad public policies will later support those very same policies in their new country seems dubious at best. We believe it’s more likely they will self-select into countries affording more freedoms. We recently examined this question using data over three decades for all 50 states, and found virtually no evidence of a significant relationship between the levels of immigration we have experienced in recent decades and a decline in “economic freedom” (a measure of the level of government intervention in the economy). This confirms previous findings and provides some evidence that restricting immigration out of fear it could harm American institutions is misguided.

The same issue arises within the U.S. We’ve seen large domestic population migrations out of states like California and New York, where government intervenes excessively in the economy, and large migrations into states like Texas and Florida, where government tends to intervene far less. That mass migration has led many Texans to express concern about the potential California-ization of our state. Our research suggests that those concerns may be overblown. The residents and businesses choosing to leave California are, in many cases, likely doing so because of economic policies that make it too expensive to live and work there, and it makes no sense they would move to Texas to champion those same policies. Numerous poll results support that explanation. For example, in the 2018 Senate election, exit polls showed that those born outside of Texas voted for Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, instead of his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, by a 57% to 42% margin. Native Texans chose O’Rourke by a 51%-48% spread. If new residents were determined to implement California’s economically restrictive policies, we would expect to have seen the opposite results at the polls.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 19, 2020

Austin-Travis County health chief urges tighter Stage 4 coronavirus restrictions

Hours after Travis County health officials on Thursday recommended an immediate tightening of coronavirus restrictions as infections surge across the state, Williamson County moved to its highest alert level for the virus. Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County interim health authority, said he was putting the county in Stage 4 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines, which establish recommended rules for those at high risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Williamson County and Cities Health District also announced that Williamson County had met the criteria to move into the “red” phase, which indicates uncontrolled community coronavirus transmission. County Judge Bill Gravell said that, although the number of cases has increased, “other indicators, such as the hospitalization rate for our region, are below Governor Abbott’s threshold for adopting more stringent guidelines.” The Williamson County district reported 126 new cases and 57 people in the hospital on Thursday. Williamson County recently reopened bars and had no plans to close them again. Travis County has not yet reopened its bars. Austin-Travis County health officials first recommended Stage 4 restrictions on June 15, at the beginning of a massive summer surge in cases. But a decline in cases in late August led health officials to downgrade its recommended guidelines to Stage 3 restrictions since Aug. 25. The guidelines range from Stage 1, which calls for minimum restrictions, to Stage 5, which recommends the toughest restrictions. The guidelines are not legal requirements, but some aspects are enforced as part of the county’s health codes.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 19, 2020

Jay Hartzell to make $1.25M as UT president

University of Texas President Jay Hartzell will earn a $1.25 million annual salary, nearly a quarter more than UT’s previous president. The UT System Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously approved his employment agreement two months after selecting Hartzell as president. Hartzell was appointed to serve as interim UT president in June, when Gregory L. Fenves left to serve as president of Emory University in Atlanta. At that time, the board set Hartzell’s salary at $795,000.

Greg Bosley, a desktop operations manager in UT’s College of Liberal Arts, was the only member of the UT community to speak to the board on the matter and said he was “outraged” to see the regents consider such a sizable salary in light of cuts implemented at the university amid the coronavirus pandemic. “We’re beginning to see that there are two universities, one UT for the few admins at the top who make decisions for their own benefit and a UT where the majority of Longhorns make sacrifices,” he said. Board Chairman Kevin Eltife said he “fully supports” the proposed salary, adding that he is grateful to Hartzell for serving as interim president during the pandemic. “Our philosophy with regard to presidential compensation is to be competitive and transparent in our actions,” UT System Chancellor James Milliken said. He said the system looks at the salaries of other top university leaders in the state when setting base rates and opts to include all compensation for presidents in the base salary, instead of awarding sizable bonuses and other compensation down the line, which happens at other universities.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 18, 2020

Travis County DA-elect’s transition team brings history of justice reform

Travis County District Attorney-elect José Garza has assembled a transition team made up of a combination of activists and attorneys, many of whom have worked extensively to reform the criminal justice system. The move underscores Garza’s campaign promises to reform the system from the inside out, through efforts such as eliminating bail for people charged with nonviolent crimes and ending prosecution for people in possession of a gram or less of any drug.

Garza announced Wednesday that Austin-based criminal justice reform expert Trudy Strassburger would be his first assistant district attorney when he takes office in January. Strassburger, managing director of the Justice Collaborative, a national reform advocacy group, was previously deputy director of the Capital Area Private Defender Service, which represents those charged with crimes when they can’t afford a lawyer. Meanwhile, Garza has accepted a director position under current DA Margaret Moore, whom he defeated in the Democratic primary earlier this year. Garza said he will now join the DA’s office on Dec. 1, a month earlier than planned, to get him up to speed on cases and the office and to begin the transition process. “Margaret has been incredibly gracious and is committed to a smooth transition,” Garza said. “She always has the best interests of the office and our community in mind. This is an opportunity to ensure that the transition is as seamless as possible.” Many of the people on Garza’s team have experience defending people charged with crimes, prosecuting people charged with sexual assault or prosecuting police officers accused of excessive force.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 18, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Investment in workforce, education and transportation sets San Antonio apart

San Antonians may have the lowest per capita incomes among America’s 10 most populous cities, but its citizens have demonstrated they are among the wisest stewards of taxpayer money. This week, election officials certified the passage of three ballot measures that will help the nation’s seventh largest city provide cutting-edge job training, public transportation to their new jobs and quality pre-kindergarten programs for their kids. City and Bexar County leaders pitched the bond package as a COVID-19 relief package, but that’s not quite right. The Greater San Antonio area desperately needed these investments in the future long before the coronavirus struck and will benefit long after the disease lives on only in history books.

If only every city in Texas city would make such investments in its people. Mayor Ron Nirenberg campaigned hard for the first bond, which will use $154 million to provide job training or college degrees to 40,000 people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The investment cannot come quick enough for those laid off from tourism-related jobs that might not come back for two years or more. The community has no time to lose. San Antonio’s per capita income was $25,091 in 2018, compared to $31,576 in Houston or $40,391 in Austin. San Antonio’s public transportation authority, VIA, will receive 1/8 of a cent from existing sales tax revenues. The new revenue stream will help VIA match federal funds to upgrade routes, technology and equipment to help decrease reliance on personal automobiles. Lastly, San Antonio also voted to continue leading the nation with its innovative early childhood education known as Pre-K 4 SA. Over eight years, the program has proven it can boost test scores, increase teacher training and improve student health.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - November 17, 2020

Wife of disgraced San Antonio oilman defaults on settlement

Convicted felon Brian Alfaro’s wife has defaulted on a settlement agreement for investors who were defrauded by the disgraced San Antonio oil and gas businessman. Kristi Alfaro, 49, and two companies she controls agreed to pay $370,000 under a settlement reached last year, but they stopped payments after turning over $85,000, a court-appointed receiver told a bankruptcy judge Monday.

“They have acknowledged that the note is in default, and I am evaluating my collection options,” receiver J. Scott Rose said in an interview following the court hearing. It marks the latest troubles for the Alfaros. On Nov. 10, Brian Alfaro, 51, was sentenced to 10 years and a month in federal prison and was ordered to pay $9.9 million in restitution to his victims following his conviction on mail fraud charges. A day earlier, Texas securities regulators issued a cease-and-desist order that bars the Alfaros and two of their children from selling securities in a new venture promoting a wildlife breeding program in South Texas. Regulators deemed ARCA Wildlife Development and Conservation LLC a “fraud.” Rose was appointed in 2018 to recover assets on behalf of nine investors who won a nearly $8 million court judgment against Brian Alfaro and his companies after the investors alleged they had been defrauded in the sale of units in oil and gas wells. He used investor money to support a lavish lifestyle. The case was the basis for Brian Alfaro’s indictment. Rose alleged in a bankruptcy court filing last year that Kristi Alfaro may have committed fraud when she set up and funded a company called Synergy Capital Group LLC to pursue oil and gas ventures. She collected more than $40,000 in salary from about $75,000 raised from investors. The Alfaros’ two oldest children also were paid $1,500 a week.

Top of Page

Texas Monthly - November 17, 2020

How Austin cut one third of its spending on the Police Department

In September of 2019, Austin city councilman Greg Casar spoke before his colleagues as they were poised to infuse an additional $20 million into the city’s police department, in part to hire 30 new officers. He hoped to restrain the city’s spending on the department, after some policemen had been accused of using excessive force against Black and brown citizens. He didn’t have the support to cut the police budget, so he argued instead to reduce the proposed increase by funding only 26 new patrol positions and shifting $700,000 toward domestic violence prevention and services to its victims. He didn’t win support for that measure, and the city council passed the general municipal budget, with the full Austin Police Department allocation, ten votes to one. The vote set up APD to account for 40 percent of the city’s general fund in the 2019–20 fiscal year, a higher percentage than in Texas’s other large cities, such as Houston (33 percent), Dallas (36 percent), and San Antonio (38 percent). It was a familiar story in Austin: efforts to rein in APD’s budget—which has grown every year since 2009 and by 50 percent since 2013—had for years received little political support.

“We would always talk about the need for reallocation,” said Chris Harris, a member of the City of Austin’s Public Safety Commission and director of the Criminal Justice Project at Texas Appleseed, a social and economic justice organization. “But the fights themselves always ended up being about just trying to limit or prevent [budget] increases.” Considering that history, social justice advocates were surprised this summer when Austin became one of the only cities in the nation to successfully begin reallocating significant funding from its police department to other city programs. In August, the council voted unanimously to eliminate upcoming cadet classes in the troubled police academy, diverting $20 million to programs that address homelessness, mental health, and family violence prevention. Over the course of the year following the budget vote, another $80 million will be reallocated from the department by placing some functions, such as forensics and 911 dispatch, within other parts of the city’s government. The council also flagged another $50 million for “community led” review. Notably, not a single officer was laid off to accommodate the budget changes. While the city council’s vote came in the wake of intense nationwide protests that followed George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis, the decision to divert millions of dollars away from APD wasn’t simply a reflex response. It marked the latest step for the city’s growing social justice movement—spurred by a handful of high-profile police shootings in Austin in recent years—and the culmination of fairly recent developments that have allowed Black and brown communities to be better represented in local government. “Too often, city hall has settled for Austin’s progressive branding without necessarily living up to the progressive values that people in Austin espouse,” Casar said. “When they see such blatant injustice, more and more people become committed to making Austin’s progressive reputation more than brand.”

Top of Page

New York Times - November 17, 2020

No, a high-level member of the Biden campaign was not arrested in Texas.

In recent days, conservative websites have reported that a high-level staff member in Texas for the election campaign of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. was arrested on charges of voter fraud for his role in supposedly helping to orchestrate a ballot harvesting scheme. The news seemed to acquire additional credibility when supporters of President Trump began circulating a photo purporting to show the staff member, Dallas Jones, in handcuffs being escorted by police officers. But Mr. Jones, a political consultant based in Houston who serves as the Texas state political director for the Biden campaign, called the rumors “lies.”

“I was not arrested,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview. “These are categorically made-up allegations. They are baseless.” There have also been no voter fraud criminal cases filed against Mr. Jones, according to court records in Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located. An official with the Biden campaign also denied additional reports that Mr. Jones had been fired from his campaign job, calling the claims surrounding Mr. Jones “laughably false.” As for the photo, it was from June 2019 and shows the actor Cuba Gooding Jr. after he surrendered to police in New York and was charged with sexual abuse and forcible touching after a woman accused him of groping her at a rooftop bar. The rumors surrounding Mr. Jones stem from a court case initiated by Republicans in September that sought to block the extension of time for mail-in and early voting in Harris County. The Texas Supreme Court rejected the Republican request in October. The court filings included accusations of an illegal “ballot harvesting operation” in Harris County, where volunteers and other workers were gathering absentee and mail-in ballots and delivering them to ballot collection sites. Citing inquiries conducted by private investigators, the filings claimed that the “harvesters” were taking the ballots of homeless people and nursing home residents, forging signatures and picking candidates of their own choosing.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 19, 2020

Tarrant County reports 1,777 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths on Thursday

Tarrant County reported 1,777 new coronavirus cases and seven more deaths on Thursday, continuing a trend of surging case numbers that has alarmed public health officials ahead of Thanksgiving. It’s the second-highest daily total the county has reported after Wednesday’s 2,112 new cases, and about 250 more cases than the next highest daily total of 1,525, set on Nov. 9.

The seven people whose deaths were announced on Thursday include three Arlington residents, including a woman in her 30s, and four Fort Worth residents, officials said in a news release. Six had underlying health conditions. After peaks in July and August, COVID cases began trending downward in early September, data from the public health department shows. But cases have been rising sharply since early October, leading to the roughly 8,400 confirmed or probable cases reported between Nov. 8 and Nov. 14 — the highest weekly total ever by almost 3,000. If Tarrant reports at least 1,500 cases on Friday and Saturday, it will beat that record. The percentage of occupied hospital beds in Tarrant County that belong to COVID patients, as of Thursday, dropped slightly to 18% after it was around 20% between Sunday and Wednesday. As of Thursday, the county was reporting there were a total of 36 ICU beds available.

Top of Page

Associated Press - November 19, 2020

Judge halts federal execution of man in Arlington teen’s killing

A federal judge halted the scheduled execution Thursday of a man convicted of kidnapping and raping a 16-year-old North Texas girl, bludgeoning her with a shovel and burying her alive. The ruling was handed down just hours before Orlando Hall was scheduled to die by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. He would be the eighth federal inmate put to death since the Trump administration resumed federal executions this year after a pause of nearly two decades without one.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said the execution must be put on hold as the court weighs constitutional questions raised by Hall’s attorneys, including concerns over the federal Bureau of Prisons’ protocols for executions. “The court is deeply concerned that the government intends to proceed with a method of execution that this court and the Court of Appeals have found violates federal law,” Chutkan wrote in the decision. Less than an hour after the order was handed down, the Justice Department filed an immediate appeal with a federal appeals court in Washington. Separately, another appeal in Hall’s case is making its way through the Supreme Court. Hall’s lawyers have also argued that bias played a role in his death sentence; Hall is Black, and his sentence was recommended by an all-white jury. His lawyers also contend that restrictions and concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic have limited their ability to help him. The Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter Thursday to Attorney General William Barr, citing concerns about the virus in urging a stay of execution. The letter stated that the virus “will make any scheduled execution a tinderbox for further outbreaks and exacerbate concerns over the possibility of miscarriage of justice.”

Top of Page

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - November 19, 2020

Delia Garza avoids sanctions over law license payments

The city commission tasked with reviewing ethics complaints against officeholders will not sanction Austin City Council Member Delia Garza for using taxpayer money to make $1,400 in payments related to her law license. At a preliminary hearing held Wednesday evening, the Ethics Review Commission voted that there weren’t sufficient grounds to proceed on the potential code violations that the city auditor’s office brought against Garza in September for using her office budget on expenditures they said did not benefit the public.

The decision not to proceed on the allegations against Garza went down to the wire, with the commission coming up one vote short of the six votes needed to proceed to a final hearing on an allegation that Garza used city “facilities, personnel, equipment, or supplies” for a private purpose. “I’m grateful the Ethics Review Commission did not find reasonable grounds and therefore the complaint was dismissed for these baseless and politically motivated allegations,” Garza said in a written statement Thursday. Garza has represented southeast Austin since 2014. She decided against pursuing a third term this year, instead running for Travis County attorney and winning the Democratic nomination in the party’s primary runoff. Garza, who did not have a Republican opponent in the November general election, will transition to her new role in January as the county’s top misdemeanor prosecutor. The payments at the center of Wednesday’s hearing were between August 2018 and February 2020. Garza, who attended the virtual hearing with a lawyer, presented an argument that keeping an active law license was necessary to advance her knowledge of legal issues she faces in her role on the city council. Garza said the idea that her constituents don’t benefit from that knowledge is “so absurd.”

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 18, 2020

Economist: Austin poised for post-pandemic rebound

The coronavirus has sapped the strength of Austin’s once-booming economy, but the city is positioned for solid growth next year if the pandemic is brought under control, according to a forecast for 2021. “Overall, Austin remains in a very strong position,” said Sarah House, senior economist for Wells Fargo Securities. “It has weathered the (COVID-19) storm exceptionally well when you compare it to a lot of other areas.”

House, speaking Wednesday during an annual economic outlook event sponsored by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, didn’t provide a forecast for the amount of growth in the region’s gross domestic product she expects over the coming year. But she said business activity nationwide is likely to pick up in the back half of 2021, when Wells Fargo is anticipating that virus vaccines will be widely available. Two pharmaceutical companies — Pfizer and Moderna — have recently announced successful efforts to develop vaccines, although both still must win government approval and face hurdles manufacturing and distributing them in high volumes. In the interim, House said, economic activity may well decline in the near-term, including in Austin, because of rising rates of infections this fall and because federal stimulus programs are winding down that had been aimed at providing assistance to people and businesses hurt financially by the virus. “We are going to see probably momentum continue to slow over the next couple months, as that fiscal stimulus fades and virus cases mount,” she said. Still, Austin “was an out-performer and a highflier before the pandemic, and the pandemic hasn’t change that” relatively speaking, House said. The city “hasn’t been able to escape the downturn that we have seen nationally, (but) it has been much more modest” here than either statewide or nationally.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 19, 2020

Houston's rate of unsolved murders is soaring. Experts say the police department is to blame.

Pecora Sanders felt something was wrong as soon as the news alert flashed across her phone: A man had been shot to death on Hollister, near U.S. 290, earlier that morning. Her younger brother, Yurone Kinney, lived over that way. He’d had problems with a neighbor who had driven through the apartment complex too quickly and almost hit his son. She called family and friends, but no one had seen Yurone. She went to his apartment, her worry spiking. The door was unlocked, the TV blared. The next day, Aug. 17, she filed a missing person’s report. Then her mother called the morgue. That was where they found him. The family tried to reach Houston Police Department detectives, but for days got nowhere. Months later, they have no idea where the case stands.

Houston police detectives are solving fewer cases, leaving criminals on the street and damaging residents’ trust in police at a time when violent crime is surging. An internal audit and other records obtained by the Houston Chronicle show HPD’s homicide clearance rates have plummeted from their high point a decade ago. Homicide detectives solved 89 percent of homicides in 2011. As of May, that number had fallen to 49 percent. The audit by the department’s Risk Management Division — which has never been released publicly — also found unworked cases languished for months, investigators hadn’t completed mandatory classes and case files weren’t tracked effectively. HPD officials said in a written statement: “As with any audit, findings will be followed up on and addressed accordingly. The purpose of audits is to continually improve in order to provide the best possible service to the citizens.” The audit team sent surveys to members of the division, which fields 96 investigators, and several responses raised issues about morale and workloads. One survey respondent wrote that supervisors viewed investigators as expendable and told employees, “Anyone can do this job.” Interviews with former homicide investigators, HPD commanders and prosecutors paint a picture of a division suffering from a loss of experienced detectives and managers. A unit traditionally staffed with seasoned investigators now has a workforce averaging 5.7 years experience. Approximately a third of the division has two years investigative experience or less, HPD records show. Postings once viewed as among the most sought after at HPD now see extensive turnover.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 20, 2020

Well-known Houston radio host Dinah Powers dies after cancer battle

Dinah Powers, the former co-host of "The Rod Ryan Show" on 94.5 FM, died this week following a bout with cancer, the show announced Thursday. She had been fighting stage 4 uterine cancer that spread to her lungs, according to a tribute from host Rod Ryan. Powers left the station in September 2019.

"She fought to the end," Ryan wrote. "She was one of a kind and we are all richer for having known her." Powers began outpatient chemotherapy in late September, according to a GoFundMe page for her medical expenses. She moved to Houston in 2012 after winning the co-host position on The Rod Ryan Show in an on-air competition. She was previously at 102.5 FM in Tampa.

Top of Page

KUT - November 19, 2020

As Texas doles out Eli Lilly antibody treatment, virologist says don't let guard down

This week, Texas began distributing an emergency monoclonal antibody treatment to some patients with COVID-19. The treatment, bamlanivimab, is produced by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, and it's supposed to help the immune system fight the coronavirus. Dr. Hana El Sahly, an associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology and medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told Texas Standard that the treatment has been shown to help "neutralize" the virus. But it's not a surefire cure.

Eli Lilly had to prove that the treatment is effective in order to get an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. It showed that one in three doses significantly reduced the amount of the coronavirus in the nose, compared to a placebo. It's meant for those with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, not those with severe infections. "That was the main outcome they were after, which is eliminating the virus from the nose in one of the three evaluated dosages because they tested three different doses of the monoclonal. So one of them seemed to work well," Sahly said. But less convincing is the so-called clinical outcome, which includes symptom scores for people who received the antibody treatment versus those who received a placebo. "The clinical outcome of symptom score was only minimally different between people who got the antibody and those who got just placebo," she said.

Top of Page

National Stories

Bloomberg - November 19, 2020

Nevada GOP asks judge to declare Trump winner of election he lost

The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit targeting Nevada’s six presidential electors, who are planning to cast their votes for President-elect Joe Biden, including one woman who claims she’s a homeless military veteran. The suit seeks to invalidate the state’s vote tally in the Nov. 3 election, claiming “substantial irregularities, improprieties and fraud” and naming the Biden-pledged electors individually as defendants. One of them, Gabrielle d’Ayr, took to Twitter to criticize the claims by representatives of President Donald Trump. “DJT continues his assault on the active duty & vets of Nevada by both attempting to invalidate their absentee votes, & now suing a homeless Navy Vet,” d’Ayr said in a tweet. “Enough is enough.”

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris won Nevada by 33,596 votes, or 2.4 percentage points, according to an Associated Press tally. Officials in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, certified the results, but the Trump campaign isn’t accepting them. “Once again, they are repeating allegations the courts have already rejected, misstating and misrepresenting evidence provided in those proceedings, and parroting erroneous allegations made by partisans without first-hand knowledge of the facts,” Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said in a statement. The Trump side has so far failed to produce evidence of widespread fraud in the election. In the suit, which the Trump campaign said was filed Wednesday in state court in Carson City, Republicans say the vote was skewed by faulty electronic voting machines and scanners, denial of access to observers and improper outreach programs among Native American voters. More than 40,000 Nevada votes were tainted, the Trump campaign claimed in a statement. The case is Law v. Whitmer, Nevada First Judicial District Court (Carson City).

Top of Page

Bloomberg - November 19, 2020

Oil dips with sluggish U.S. economic data a warning for demand

Oil edged lower with growing virus restrictions and signs the labor-market recovery may be slowing in the U.S. dampens the near-term demand outlook. Futures fell as much as 1.8% in New York before closing little changed as the dollar erased gains late in the trading session, boosting the appeal for commodities priced in the currency. U.S. equities also staged a rally. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 0.2% to $41.92 a barrel.

Oil’s upward momentum seen earlier this week was zapped Thursday after U.S. jobless claims rose for the first time in five weeks, presenting yet another obstacle to a sustained rebound in consumption. With coronavirus cases rising across the U.S., many states are increasing restrictions, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving. “It’s not good news,” said Bill O’Grady, executive vice president at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis. “This is probably going to be a disappointing travel holiday coming up, and that’s going to weigh on demand.” Oil is still headed for a weekly gain after vaccine developments and signs of demand recovering in Asia boosted optimism over the outlook for consumption in the longer-term. However, as virus cases surge from the U.S. to Europe, the ongoing recovery in oil product global trade flows is slower than previously expected, according to Maersk Tankers Chief Executive Officer Christian M. Ingerslev.

Top of Page

New York Times - November 19, 2020

Will Lara Trump be the next Trump on a ballot?

Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law who emerged during the 2020 presidential campaign as a defender of President Trump’s basest political instincts, is now eyeing a political future of her own in her home state of North Carolina. As Mr. Trump attempts to subvert the election to remain in power, Ms. Trump, three allies said, has been telling associates she is considering a run for Senate in 2022, in what is expected to be a competitive race for the first open Senate seat in a very swingy swing state in a generation. Senator Richard Burr, an unobtrusive Republican legislator who was thrust into the spotlight as chairman of a committee investigating the president’s ties to Russia, has said he will retire at the end of his term.

Despite expanded turnout in rural areas, Mr. Trump won North Carolina by a smaller margin than he did four years ago, just 1.3 percentage points, a sign that overall the state is trending blue and that the race for the Senate seat will be tightly contested by both parties in the first post-Donald Trump election. But not, perhaps, an entirely post-Trump election, if Ms. Trump proceeds. Ms. Trump, 38, a former personal trainer and television producer for “Inside Edition,” wed Eric Trump at the family’s Mar-a-Lago estate in 2014 and worked as a senior adviser on the 2020 Trump campaign. Now, the daughter-in-law whom Mr. Trump had often joked to donors that he “couldn’t pick out of a lineup” is floating herself as the first test of the enduring power of the Trump name. “She’s very charismatic, she understands retail politics well, and has a natural instinct for politics,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a Trump campaign adviser who traveled the country as a surrogate alongside Ms. Trump. “In North Carolina, in particular, she’s a household name and people know her. She worked really hard on the campaign and was very involved in a lot of decisions throughout.”

Top of Page

The Hill - November 20, 2020

Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions

President Trump is maintaining a tight grip on Senate Republicans even as he's frustrated them this week by announcing new policies and firing administration officials. The president’s troop drawdown in Afghanistan and a staff shakeup are exposing cracks between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, where national security has been a perennial sticking point that encapsulated many of the skirmishes between Trump and his GOP allies in Congress.

But Republicans are still sticking close to the president — who they need in their corner for an impending government funding battle and two Senate runoff elections in Georgia — in a sign they’ll support Trump’s post-election legal fights for now, even as he rankles them on other issues. “The election outcome is at some point going to resolve itself,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, asked if the disagreements would cause GOP lawmakers to break with Trump on the election. Thune added that some Republican senators view Trump’s decision to draw down troops in Afghanistan or his firing of Chris Krebs, a top cyber official, as “a big mistake,” but “I don’t think they converge really … the political stuff is going to resolve itself.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) — who voiced some of the strongest pushback in the Senate GOP caucus to Krebs’s firing and has spoken out against the president’s actions in Afghanistan — indicated he didn’t expect those disagreements to influence how he positions himself on Trump’s election strategy or change his overall posture toward the White House. “If I have disagreements with him, I’ll have that discussion in private,” Cornyn said.

Top of Page

ABC 7 - November 19, 2020

Disturbing new details in alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

There is new and disturbing information in the alleged militia plot against the governor of Michigan. The 14 men charged had far more violent plans than just a kidnapping, according to federal and state authorities.

New filings claim there was a Plan B the militiamen had drawn up, that involved a takeover of the Michigan capitol building by 200 combatants who would stage a week-long series of televised executions of public officials. And, according to government documents now on file in lower Michigan court, there was also a Plan C -- burning down the state house, leaving no survivors. In southern Wisconsin Wednesday afternoon the 14th man charged in the plot, Brian Higgins, was closer to extradition to Michigan, even as prosecutors there piled on new, even more outrageous accusations against the men. Higgins appeared from his home for the video court hearing. "My client is going to leave this house when this hearing concludes. And unless you tell him otherwise, he's going to go straight to the sheriff's department and turn himself in," said Higgins attorney, Christopher Van Wagner. The latest accusations include the charged threat that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was to be kidnapped and possibly killed; now government court records cite subplots to stage an armed takeover of the state capitol in Lansing and televise the executions of politicians.

Top of Page

Newsclips - November 19, 2020

Lead Stories

NBC News - November 19, 2020

Trump's team prepares for election fight to end in December

President Donald Trump's allies are preparing for the end of his legal fight over the election results when the Electoral College meets in December, and they continue to push him to accept a conclusion to his presidency and make post-White House plans. "The legal challenges are continuing, but those close to the president, and frankly the president, understand they're futile," a senior administration official said. While Trump has scarcely been seen since President-elect Joe Biden was projected as the winner more than a week ago, he has regularly continued to fire off tweets contending — without evidence — that he won the election and that it was stolen because of rampant fraud.

As a result, the transition of power appears to be in suspended animation. Trump and most of his staff continue to talk publicly as if he will remain in the White House for a second term. The Biden team is trying to launch a transition but without the official sanctioning that would allow it access to critical information and resources to smooth the handoff. And while Trump's unrelenting use of Twitter to litigate the election in the court of public opinion has drawn minimal response from within his party, it has left some on the outside questioning his endgame: Could he keep fighting until the Jan. 20 inauguration — or later? Trump's advisers are talking to him about what the end looks like — using the word "conclusion" rather than "concession." One off-ramp being recommended as a "conclusion" is that he admits that Biden will enter the White House on Jan. 20 while continuing to allege the results are questionable, and simultaneously announces that he's running for president in 2024, a senior administration official said. The Dec. 14 cutoff his allies point to is likely to be forced on Trump. The Electoral College formally votes that day, shortly after the states certify their results. Even if Trump holds out on accepting the results until then, there is hope inside the administration that he would approve some formal intelligence briefings for Biden before then, a senior administration official said.

Top of Page

Los Angeles Times - November 18, 2020

Pelosi just won reelection to lead House Democrats. That’s the easy part . . .

With no challenger in sight, Speaker Nancy Pelosi breezed through her reelection bid in Wednesday’s House leadership vote and moved closer to what is expected to be her final two-year term in the high-profile post. It’s what she faces on the other side that could be the real challenge: a narrower House majority than she’s ever had due to the unexpected loss of seats to Republicans; a long to-do list following four years under President Trump; and a renewed intraparty battle between moderates and progressives tussling over how best to govern. Heading into the election, House Democrats had a majority of 232 to 197, with one Libertarian and five open seats. The split for the new year now stands at 219 Democrats to 204 Republicans, with twelve contests too close to call.

That could leave Pelosi (D-San Francisco) with one of the smallest majorities in decades. To control the House, 218 seats are needed. The success of what is expected to be her last term — Pelosi, now 80, agreed in 2018 to not run for speaker after 2022 — will also depend on the results of a Jan. 5 runoff election for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats. If Democrats win both, they will have the ability to control the Senate, and with President-elect Biden in the White House, have bills signed into law. But if Republicans win even one of those seats, they will retain the Senate majority and the power to block Biden’s agenda, regardless of what the House passes. In either scenario, Pelosi will have to balance the demands of the Democratic Party’s up-and-coming progressive members with the kind of moderate proposals that will have a better chance of passing a narrowly divided Congress. To hold on the House majority in 2022, Democrats will need to deliver something if they want to avoid voter backlash in the midterm election.

Top of Page

CNN - November 17, 2020

Trump team looks to box in Biden on foreign policy by lighting too many fires to put out

President Donald Trump's order of a further withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq is the latest foreign policy move on a growing list in his final weeks in office that are meant to limit President-elect Joe Biden's options before he takes office in January. The White House has directed newly installed acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller to focus his attention in the remaining weeks on cyber and irregular warfare, with a focus on China in particular, an administration official tells CNN. It is contemplating new terrorist designations in Yemen that could complicate efforts to broker peace. And it has rushed through authorization of a massive arms sale that could alter the balance of power in the Middle East.

The Trump team has prepared legally required transition memos describing policy challenges, but there are no discussions about actions they could take or pause. Instead, the White House is barreling ahead. A second official tells CNN their goal is to set so many fires that it will be hard for the Biden administration to put them all out. It's a strategy that radically breaks with past practice, could raise national security risks and will surely compound challenges for the Biden team -- but it could also backfire. Analysts and people close to the Biden transition argue the Trump team may act so aggressively that reversing some of its steps will earn Biden easy goodwill points and negotiating power with adversaries. In other areas, they say the Trump team may be confusing style with substance -- that the difference between Trump and Biden isn't a matter of the end goal, such as a departure from Afghanistan or a nuclear-free Iran, but simply a matter of how each leader wants to get there.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2020

Health experts call for a Texas reserve force to battle the next pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is far from over, but a group of Texas health experts is already looking forward, recommending that the state prepare for future health crises by improving data collection, expanding access to health care and building a reserve force of Texans who can help with surge efforts including testing, contact tracing and logistical support. In a report released Wednesday, the group, which includes doctors, academics and health care executives, also said federal and state lawmakers should increase funding for public health and develop incentives for more students to enter the field, including more degree programs at public universities and government-sponsored internships.

“Texas has a history of ignoring the importance of maintaining robust, reliable, and sustainable funding for public health activities,” the authors said in the report, which was commissioned by a D.C.-based nonprofit, the Wye River Group. “The committee found issues with insufficient funding for public health and dysfunction in how public health infrastructure is funded, organized and equipped to use its funding,” they wrote. Texas has been among the states hardest hit by the pandemic, and health experts have previously pointed to large disparities in access to health insurance, an outdated and fragmented health data collection system, and an understaffed and underfunded public health network as contributing factors. The report reiterates those concerns. “I am still in full COVID mode,” Dr. Mary Dale Peterson, the chief operating officer of Driscoll Health in South Texas, says in the report. “The state has come in to provide help but now I don’t know where we are in the pandemic — 1,500 cases have been added in the last two days, but we aren’t sure that those numbers are current.”

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2020

Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd shames Trump for firing cybersecurity chief Christopher Krebs

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd said the federal cybersecurity official President Donald Trump fired Tuesday after he shot down the president’s claims of fraud “should have been rewarded, not dismissed.” Hurd, the first Texas Republican to push back on the controversial firing, called Christopher Krebs, who was the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security, “a true patriot.” “He was instrumental in us having one of the most secure elections in history despite bad actors trying to influence our elections,” Hurd tweeted on Wednesday.

Krebs’ firing on Tuesday came after a federal election integrity group he led issued a statement calling the Nov. 3 election “the most secure in American history.” “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” members of Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee said in a joint statement. Trump — who has been falsely claiming he won re-election for two weeks though his attorneys have yet to provide evidence of widespread fraud — tweeted that he was firing Krebs over the statement, which he claimed was “highly inaccurate.” Texas Democrats have been crying foul over the firing, with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee saying it signals a “crisis.” “We’re living in a surreal time now and I don’t think we as members of Congress, really Republicans and Democrats, should in any way take this lightly,” Jackson Lee, a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CNN on Tuesday night. “We’re at the water’s edge. We don’t know what the president is going to do next.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2020

Abbott announces $420 million to reimburse schools for COVID-19 technology purchases

The state will use $420 million in CARES Act funding to reimburse Texas school districts for laptops and mobile wifi hotspots they purchased to help students with remote learning, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday. The new reimbursement program dovetails with the state's Operation Connectivity initiative, which aims to provide internet access and devices to students who lack such technology at home. The Texas Division of Emergency Management already has reimbursed some school systems that bought technology after campuses closed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in March.

“This reimbursement program will significantly ease the financial burden on Texas public schools that have purchased these crucial eLearning devices and also helps ensure that more students have access to these devices as needed,” Abbott said in a statement. The CARES Act set aside $13 billion to help schools weather the pandemic, about $1.3 billion of which went to Texas. Prior to this latest initiative, the state has spent $362 million to help schools pay for devices and cover the costs of COVID-19 expenses, according to the governor’s office. School districts can begin to apply for the new technology reimbursements on Friday. While all Texas school districts are required to offer five days a week of in-person instruction to all students who want it, Texas Education Agency guidance allows districts to offer families a remote-learning option without risking state funding.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2020

New Republican bills would block Texas counties from sending mail-ballot applications

Republican state lawmakers have filed bills to codify the Texas Supreme Court decision that blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to all of its 2.4 million registered voters. Senate Bill 208, authored by Sens. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Brian Birdwell; Bob Hall and Kel Seliger, would stop election officials from sending absentee ballot applications, regardless of eligibility. State Rep. Valoree Swanson, a Republican from Houston, filed a companion bill, House Bill 25.

“We must recognize the obvious that we didn’t need to mail 2M+ absentee ballot applications to registered voters in Harris County to have a record 11.2 million Texas voters cast their ballots in November,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “It is important to note that the 66.2% turnout in 2020 was without wasting taxpayer money by doing shotgun mailings to everyone on the voter roll.” Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins’ plan to do so, an attempt to make voting easier during the pandemic, was thwarted after the county’s Republican Party sued. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in early October that Hollins would be exceeding his authority, though two lower courts had previously approved of the mass mailings. Hollins had already sent out nearly 400,000 applications to Harris County voters who were 65 and older by the time the suit arose. The proposed legislation filed this month would extend to even such mailings to eligible voters because they would prevent counties from sending any unsolicited mail ballot applications.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2020

Bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers call on state to move toward canceling next year’s STAAR tests

Nearly 70 members of the Texas House of Representatives called on the state Wednesday to take steps toward canceling annual standardized tests in the spring of 2021, citing the disruption of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In a letter sent to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, a group of 50 Democrats and 18 Republicans requested that state leaders seek the necessary federal waivers to forgo administering the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, commonly known as STAAR exams.

“Instead of proceeding with the administration of the STAAR exam as planned, the (Texas Education Agency), along with our districts and campuses, should be focused on providing high-quality public education with an emphasis on ensuring the health and safety of students and educators,” the legislators wrote. State education officials still are debating how to move forward with testing and Texas’ academic accountability system, which grades schools on an A-through-F system largely tied to STAAR scores, Morath said Wednesday. While state standardized exams remain about six months away for the vast majority of Texas students, policy battles over testing and the state’s accountability system are heating up. Opponents of administering the exams argue testing diverts attention and money away from more pressing issues amid the pandemic. They also say any grades given to schools and districts will be invalid given the number of students who likely will not participate in tests while learning from home.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2020

Houston’s deadliest day: A string of mayhem and the families left behind

The grief-stricken family of Rene Cantu wielded a concrete chunk to hammer a white cross into the ground to mark where on Montrose Boulevard he was shot to death. Cantu had left his wallet at home, likely to set off on a pre-dawn jog the morning of Nov. 9, relatives said. As loved ones to the 34-year-old Univeristy of Houston employee stood where a bystander found him, collapsed on the sidewalk, they wondered what led up to the shooting. The attack happened out of sight from surveillance cameras at a neighboring gas station and law office. His family checked the building facades, just to be sure, and embraced each other in tears. Next on their list on Sunday afternoon was to finish packing up Cantu’s Museum District apartment. There, his mother, Hilda Cantu, helped to clean up her only child’s kitchen. She clutched a wooden piggy bank that was found among his possessions.

Cantu’s unsolved death kicked off the year’s deadliest day in the city. The string of mayhem — which added to Houston’s rising violence amid a pandemic — continued for 12 hours and left six people dead, including a Houston Police Department sergeant. Officials have since attributed at least 347 deaths to murders and are bracing for the possibility that Houston could top 400 deaths of that nature by year’s end. Also killed on that violent Monday were: Julio Barreno Vasquez, 23; Francisco Ortega, 69; Dietrich Hawkins, 28; Danielle Bradley, 39; and Sgt. Sean Rios, 47, whose funeral is Wednesday. Rios was shot and killed along Interstate 45 during an off-duty confrontation — possibly over a road rage incident — with Robert Soliz near the Taj Inn & Suites. Soliz faces a murder charge in his death. HPD Commander Belinda Null, who has led the Homicide Division since April, said it was one of the busiest days that she could recall. But despite the high number of death investigations, they still had homicide investigators to spare. She got a hint of the growing chaos by the fourth death around noon, but the day did not end there.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2020

For a price, this Texas DA drops drug charges — and gives the money to local charities

Press As she campaigned in the northwestern-most corner of the Texas Panhandle last winter, Erin Lands heard a nervous question over and over from local charities: “All the nonprofits were saying — Hey, are you going to continue the program?” Lands was challenging David Green, the long-serving district attorney of the 69th District, a sparsely populated four-county region that sprawls across an area about twice the size of Delaware. The charities were worried about losing a program Green had started five years ago.

Since then, the pretrial diversion initiative has become a money-printing machine, and Green has embraced the role of community philanthropist doling it out. Records show he has given about $1 million to Meals on Wheels, Safe Place, the YMCA and local school organizations, among others. “It’s been crucial,” said Shane Nelson, executive director of the Y. Dumas school Superintendent Monty Hysinger said the DA has funded everything from high school student organizations to elementary playground equipment. “It always seems to come when we need it the most,” added Meals on Wheels director Sheila Haltom. There’s only problem: Green’s program appears to violate Texas law. A number of people in the community have known or suspected as much, but stayed mum — a testament to how many benefited. Pretrial diversion gives low-level offenders an opportunity to avoid prosecution in exchange for community service and other conditions. If successful, defendants can avoid the stain of a conviction and have all traces of their arrest erased from the public record. Green’s version, however, has an unusual feature: To enter, offenders arrested in his jurisdiction must “donate” several thousand dollars to the district attorney’s office, in addition to paying monthly fees. That ignores a Texas statute stating district attorneys may collect a maximum of $500 from pretrial diversion participants, to be used only to offset the program’s cost. Panhandle defense lawyers say Green’s initiative is profiting off a state law that treats possession of even small amounts of THC-laced foods such as gummies — cheaply and legally purchased in nearby Colorado — as a potentially life-altering felony crime. With the drug cases flooding his district, the program has become more and more lucrative, records show.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 17, 2020

Restaurant limits, bars closures likely as North Texas COVID hospitalizations soar

Tarrant County health officials on Tuesday described the COVID-19 surge as “dire” and pleaded for restaurants to voluntarily reduce capacity and bars to close to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. But the businesses may not have a choice under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order if the numbers keep increasing. His executive order issued in October, which allowed businesses to increase capacity and bars to open, requires that COVID-19 hospitalizations do not exceed 15% of capacity for seven consecutive days.

As of Tuesday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the 19-county North Texas Trauma Service Area are at 14.39% of capacity, according to Vinny Taneja, the county’s public health director. If the number tops 15% for seven consecutive days, businesses would have to go back to 50% capacity and bars would have to close. Taneja and his team also issued a public health warning as only 36 ICU beds are available in the county. While not a mandate, his warning is a plea to residents to do their part to get the numbers down. He urged that business owners to voluntarily lower capacity to 50% and that non-essential ones go to 25%. Bars should also consider closing, he said, and he also reiterated Judge Glen Whitley’s plea that schools stop sporting events. In addition, parents should consider online learning for their children and cancel any social gatherings they have planned. “We’re heading into the holidays and I want to make sure we have as safe a holiday as possible,” Taneja said.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 18, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Our COVID-19 approach isn’t working. Here’s what Texas, Tarrant leaders must change

Tarrant County public health director Vinny Taneja began his weekly coronavirus pandemic briefing to county commissioners Tuesday by announcing he was going to “do something different.” Taneja was talking about a change in his usual presentation. If only he’d meant a change in our approach to the virus. As cases soar, death tolls mount and hospitals fill, it should be clear that what we’re doing, both locally and nationwide, isn’t working.

We need new messages for leaders and better strategies for persuading people. “Wear a mask” isn’t working. “Cancel Thanksgiving” falls on too many deaf ears. It’s not necessarily the fault of city, county or state leaders. But they have to adjust their arguments to this fact: A significant segment of the population has decided that the risk to themselves is small and the tradeoffs of curtailing activities aren’t worth it, especially with “Covid fatigue” setting in. We need prominent figures at every level, and not just in politics, to address this head on. Corporate, civic and religious leaders must find a new approach. First, stop messages that are ineffective, if not actively counterproductive. The most serious of these is the push for an end to in-person school. Yes, some districts may have to adapt to large numbers of cases, particularly if they have staffing shortages.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 18, 2020

North Texas financial adviser charged with murder of client, Ponzi scheme, police say

An Allen financial adviser accused of bilking at least nine people out of more than $1.9 million is accused of killing one of those clients in February and making it look like a suicide. Carrollton detectives said the reason for the killing was the adviser was attempting to gain control of his clients’ finances, according to a warrant charging the suspect with murder. Keith T. Ashley, 48, who also owns Nine Band Brewing in Allen, was arrested Friday near his home by authorities.

Ashley is accused of shooting to death 62-year-old James “Jim” Seegan on Feb. 19 in Seegan’s home on Cannes Drive in Carrollton, police said in a news release Wednesday. Carrollton police said Ashley then staged the death to make it look like suicide, placing a handgun in Seegan’s left hand and leaving a typed note near the body, according to the murder warrant released by Carrollton police on Wednesday. A federal grand jury indicted Ashley this month on six counts of wire fraud. The murder warrant written by Carrollton Detective B. Bonner gave this brief account of the investigation: Sakidida “Dida” Seegan arrived home on the night of Feb. 9 after a day of work and found her husband, Jim Seegan, dead from a gunshot wound to his head in an upstairs office in their home. Carrollton police found Seegan seated in an office chair with a black semi-automatic handgun in his left hand. His wife told detectives her husband was right handed and he did not own a gun. Lying on a desk near Seegan’s body was a typed suicide note without any handwriting or signature. The last sentence stated, “My last friend Keith Ashley will help you with 972-658-6113.”

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 18, 2020

Tarrant County reports 2,112 COVID-19 cases, breaking single-day record by almost 600

Tarrant County reported more than 2,100 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, breaking the previous single-day record by nearly 600 as the rate of hospitalization across the county remains as high as it’s been since the start of the pandemic. The county additionally reported nine more coronavirus deaths, including four people in their 70s or 80s and five people in their 50s or 60s. Eight had underlying health conditions, according to a county news release.

The 2,112 cases reported on Wednesday come as county officials contend with what has been described as a new coronavirus wave amid cooling temperatures and residents feeling “COVID fatigue.” Last week, between Sunday and Saturday, data shows the county reported 7,032 confirmed cases with another 1,347 probable cases — a record. Rates have been climbing since early October. The previous record for daily new cases was set on Nov. 9 — 1,525 — but the county came close on Sunday with a reported 1,523 cases. As of Wednesday, there were 794 COVID-19 patients in Tarrant hospital beds, about 20 percent of the 4,029 occupied beds, according to data from the public health department. That rate, which has remained consistent since Sunday, is the highest since late July.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 18, 2020

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price tests positive for coronavirus

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy has tested positive for COVID-19. Price, 71, said Wednesday morning she would quarantine after her husband, Tom, was diagnosed earlier this week with the novel coronavirus. Shortly after 3 p.m. Price’s Twitter accounted issued a statement that she too had tested positive. The couple has mild symptoms, according to a statement.

“As we head into the holiday season, we continue to ask everyone to remain vigilant and prioritize the health and safety of our community by wearing a mask and social distancing,” she said. Both are in good spirits, according to the statement. Price did not attend Tuesday’s City Council meetings and instead appeared by video. A city spokeswoman said no city employees would have to quarantine. Price’s diagnosis comes as Tarrant and Dallas counties have been reporting records for daily new cases and COVID hospitalizations have soared to a level unseen since late July. Tarrant County reported more than 2,100 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, breaking the previous single-day record by nearly 600. There have been 85,759 COVID cases and 811 deaths in Tarrant County since March. A total of 63,223 people have recovered from the virus. As of Tuesday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the 19-county North Texas Trauma Service Area are at 14.39% of capacity, according to Vinny Taneja, the county’s public health director. If the number tops 15% for seven consecutive days, businesses would have to go back to 50% capacity and bars would have to close.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 19, 2020

Texas Democrats’ down-ballot disappointment spurs messaging debate, pitting moderates vs. progressives

Even after winning back the White House, Democrats have wasted little time before diving into an internal squabble over their lack of down-ballot success, pitting progressives against moderates in a debate about the party’s messaging and policy priorities. Some centrists have blamed the likes of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for pushing Medicare for All, “defunding the police” and other hot-button ideas. Those progressives have put the onus on certain moderates for mediocre campaigns that tilted too much at crossover voters. Texas is hardly immune from that discourse.

In a year in which Texas Democrats advertised their state as the nation’s biggest battleground and trumpeted their hopes of flipping at least a few U.S. House seats, the party failed to win a statewide race and didn’t make a single dent in the GOP’s congressional advantage. Democrats in Texas agree something went wrong, both at home and nationally. “People running in moderate suburbs need to take some lessons from those of us who ran in what are essentially the Alabamas of gerrymandered Texas congressional districts,” said Julie Oliver, a progressive Democrat who lost her bid against Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin. They disagree on exactly what. “For the progressives to say, ‘Oh, don’t blame us, don’t blame our language, you guys should’ve done a better campaign,’ it’s insulting” to moderate Democrats in swing districts, said Laredo Rep. Henry Cuellar, a centrist who won reelection in what’s been a safe Democratic seat. The post-mortems are already underway. “We’re going to find out what happened,” pledged Fort Worth Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat in a secure seat who briefly considered a bid to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats' campaign arm. “You have to look district by district.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sending DPS troopers to Dallas again to tackle violent crime

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday he was sending troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to help Dallas police after one of the city’s deadliest weekends. Dallas police said the troopers’ focus will be on investigative operations. Dallas Police Department officials, according to the governor’s statement, requested the support, much like in summer 2019 when the city was seeing similar trends in violence.

But this time the joint-operation operation will likely look much different. Sgt. Warren Mitchell, a Dallas police spokesman, said these plainclothes troopers will not be part of field operations such as patrol. It is unclear how many will be involved. The announcement comes as Dallas recorded 220 homicides compared to 180 this same time a year ago. The weekend saw seven homicides in 24 hours. In addition to state troopers, the agency will also deploy special agents, troopers to support gang and drug investigative operations, and a team of intelligence analysts. DPS will also provide two helicopters and two patrol planes. A team of Texas Rangers will help Dallas police with homicide investigations. Additional resources will be made available as needed. In summer 2019, Dallas police had a joint operation with DPS that focused on patrol operations, which was both praised and criticized. Critics said troopers didn’t effectively stop violent crime with aggressive traffic enforcement that led to hundreds of low-level arrests.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2020

Dallas County adds 645 coronavirus cases, but Jenkins expects higher totals from recent days to return

Dallas County on Tuesday reported 645 more coronavirus cases, all of them considered new. Four new COVID-19 deaths also were reported. Tuesday’s number of new cases was substantially lower than totals from previous days, including a record 1,831 reported Monday. County Judge Clay Jenkins said he doesn’t suspect the low number is the start of a reversal in recent trends but rather stems from a reporting glitch at the state level.

“There have been problems with the state’s electronic laboratory reporting system in the past, and today it appears the system is reporting artificially low numbers to several counties,” Jenkins said. “In the meantime, there is little reason to believe that if the full numbers were reported, they would be different than the trend we’ve been seeing for the last several days or the projections that the medical modelers have made for North Texas.” With biotechnology company Moderna announcing promising vaccine study results Monday — the second potential COVID-19 inoculation to emerge in as many weeks — Jenkins asked county residents to keep taking precautionary measures “for just a little while longer.” The latest victims included three Dallas women with underlying health problems — one in her 60s and two in their 70s. The other victim was a Farmers Branch man in his 60s who did not have pre-existing, high-risk conditions. Of the new cases reported Tuesday, 457 are confirmed and 188 are probable. The newly reported cases bring the county’s total confirmed cases to 111,174 and probable cases to 10,186. The county has recorded 1,147 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 20 probable deaths. The county recently announced it is counting only positive antigen tests (sometimes called rapid tests) as probable cases; a few antibody and “household” results were included previously.

Top of Page

Inside Higher Ed - November 18, 2020

UT Austin sees increase in Pell enrollment

Most people in higher education have heard the bad news by now: enrollment is down, for pretty much everyone, across nearly all student demographics, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Much of the loss is concentrated among community colleges and students of color. Renewals of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid were down nearly 5 percent for students from the lowest-income backgrounds. The typical countercyclical nature of higher education enrollment -- when employment rates drop, enrollment rises -- isn't happening this time around, many experts say.

It may be surprising, then, that the University of Texas at Austin reports its enrollment of low-income students is actually up from last year's. Enrollment for Pell Grant-eligible freshmen increased from 1,803 students to 2,361 students, accounting for more than one-quarter of the incoming class. Pell Grant enrollment rates for all undergraduates is up by about one percentage point. Pell enrollment rates for Black students are up from 9.8 percent to 10.5 percent, and rates for Latinx students from 46.2 percent to 48.2 percent. These numbers are reassuring, said Mamie Voight, vice president of policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Enrollment in Texas statewide is down 3.6 percent, with the majority of colleges reporting, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. UT Austin's undergraduate enrollment is about flat, with a drop of only 0.3 percent, led mainly by a decline in international student enrollment. Jay Hartzell, president of UT Austin, credits several factors for the uptick in Pell Grant-recipient enrollment.

Top of Page

Denton Record-Chronicle - November 18, 2020

Michelle Smith: 2020 election season is finally over — the real work starts now

(Michelle Smith is the vice president of policy and advocacy at Raise Your Hand Texas, an advocacy and lobbying group supporting public education.) Higher political engagement across Texas could bring changes during the next legislative session, but one thing remains intact: strong support for public education. Something incredible happened in Texas this fall. An unprecedented number of Texans made their voices heard and were counted this November, driving the highest voter turnout in Texas since 1992. Texas went from being a nonvoting state to receiving nationwide recognition for voter engagement this election cycle. For Texas public education, this movement actually began in 2018 when Texans showed up to let their elected officials know that public education is a priority. Legislators wisely responded with historic, bipartisan legislation in the form of House Bill 3, adding over $6 billion to our public schools.

Now we have a tremendous opportunity to build on the bipartisanship from the 2019 Texas Legislative Session. Reaching across the aisle and passing legislation to strengthen our state and our public schools isn’t a Republican or Democrat pursuit, it’s the quintessential Texas can-do spirit at work. While electorally, we are a state and nation deeply divided, it’s clear now, more than ever before, we must work together to tackle the very challenging budget and policy priorities that Texas will face when lawmakers convene in Austin this January. During the interim, the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation held over 60 in-person and virtual candidate forums where new and seasoned candidates alike declared their support for public schools, their reticence to cut public education next session, their dislike of our current standardized tests, and their concerns regarding the rapid expansion of charter schools. With the election behind us, now it’s time to get to work. It won’t be easy. The 2021 legislative session will be like no other. Cuts to the budget will be debated while the inequities and vast needs of our state have been laid bare amidst the ongoing pandemic. We hope our Texas leaders understand what Texas voters and public education advocates know so well.

Top of Page

Politico - November 17, 2020

Trump didn’t win the Latino vote in Texas. He won the Tejano vote.

Of all the results from the November 3 election, few drew as much attention from national political observers as what happened in a quiet county on the banks of the Rio Grande River. Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Zapata County’s vote in a hundred years. But it wasn’t its turn from a deep-blue history that seemed to be the source of such fascination but rather that, according to the census, more than 94 percent of Zapata’s population is Hispanic or Latino. Zapata (population less than 15,000) was the only county in South Texas that flipped red, but it was by no means an anomaly: To the north, in more than 95-percent Hispanic Webb County, Republicans doubled their turnout. To the south, Starr County, which is more than 96-percent Hispanic, experienced the single biggest tilt right of any place in the country; Republicans gained by 55 percentage points compared with 2016. The results across a region that most politicos ignored in their preelection forecasts ended up helping to dash any hopes Democrats had of taking Texas.

To many outsiders, these results were confounding: How could Trump, one of the most virulently anti-immigrant leaders, make inroads with so many Latinos, and along the Mexican border no less? In Zapata, however, these questions have been met with mild chuckles to outright frustration. The shift, residents and scholars of the region say, shouldn’t be surprising if, instead of thinking in terms of ethnic identity, you consider the economic and cultural issues that are specific to the people who live there. Although the vast majority of people in these counties mark “Hispanic or Latino” on paper, very few long-term residents have ever used the word “Latino” to describe themselves. Ascribing Trump’s success in South Texas to his campaign winning more of “the Latino vote” makes the same mistake as the Democrats did in this election: Treating Latinos as a monolith. Ross Barrera, a retired U.S. Army colonel and chair of the Starr County Republican Party, put it this way: “It’s the national media that uses ‘Latino.’ It bundles us up with Florida, Doral, Miami. But those places are different than South Texas, and South Texas is different than Los Angeles. Here, people don’t say we’re Mexican American. We say we’re Tejanos.” Though not everyone in the Rio Grande Valley self-identifies as Tejano, the descriptor captures a distinct Latino community—culturally and politically—cultivated over centuries of both Mexican and Texan influences and geographic isolation. Nearly everyone speaks Spanish, but many regard themselves as red-blooded Americans above anything else. And exceedingly few identify as people of color. (Even while 94 percent of Zapata residents count their ethnicity as Hispanic/Latino on the census, 98 percent of the population marks their race as white.) Their Hispanicness is almost beside the point to their daily lives.

Top of Page

The Hill - November 18, 2020

McConaughey says he'd consider running for Texas governor

TheHill.com McConaughey says he'd consider running for Texas governor BY JUDY KURTZ - 11/18/20 12:35 PM EST 277 2,762 Just In... NFL to impose 'intensive' coronavirus protocols on a 'mandatory, league-wide basis' NEWS — 3M 22S AGO Trump seeks to settle scores in final days ADMINISTRATION — 4M 37S AGO Republicans hammer Ga. Senate candidate Warnock over 'cannot serve God and the military' comment SENATE — 15M 20S AGO Barack Obama memoir tops Michelle's in first-day sales IN THE KNOW — 20M 58S AGO VIEW ALL Matthew McConaughey says he'd consider trading acting for politics by running for governor of Texas. "I don’t know. I mean, that wouldn’t be up to me. It would be up to the people more than it would me," the "True Detective" star said Tuesday on "The Hugh Hewitt Show" when asked about the prospect of making a gubernatorial run. "I would say this: Look, politics seems to be a broken business to me right now. And when politics redefines its purpose, I could be a hell of a lot more interested," the Lone Star State-born performer said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is up for reelection in 2022. "I want to get behind personal values to rebind our social contracts with each other as Americans, as people again," McConaughey told Hewitt. The country, he said, doesn't "trust each other." "That leads to us not trust in ourselves, which if that becomes epidemic, then we’ve got anarchy," the actor said. "I’m all for the individual, and I think it’s for — to make collective change that the individual needs to look in the mirror and say, 'How can I be a little bit better today?'" The 51-year-old Academy Award winner, who has shied away in past interviews from talking politics, touched on former Vice President Joe Biden's win over President Trump in the White House race earlier this month.

Top of Page

News4SA - November 18, 2020

Advocates hope Bexar County's needle exchange program sparks change statewide

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the opioid crisis out of the headlines, but opioids remain a huge problem in our community. The Trouble Shooters show you a program that’s been operating under the radar this year and why state lawmakers are paying attention. Right now, Bexar County has the only legal needle exchange program in Texas. It’s paid for with your tax dollars and just wrapped up its first year. "Syringes are only a very small part of what we do,” says Dr. Lisa Cleveland from UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing. "We offer referrals to treatment. We offer basic primary care, a hot meal, as well as testing.”

The program’s official name is the Bexar County Harm Reduction Initiative, funded by $80,000 from Bexar County. In the past year, it’s distributed more than 3,000 safe injection kits and more than 1,200 condoms all to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. "It really protects the health of our community,” Dr. Cleveland says. Outreach teams also connect with addicts, urging those who are ready to seek treatment and giving those who are not life-saving medication. "We've given out a lot of Narcan. I think 5,000 doses of Narcan have already been distributed,” Dr. Cleveland says. "And then 300 lives were saved - and those were the lives we know about - from that Narcan,” adds TJ Mayes who leads the Bexar County Joint Opioid Task Force. He says the program was forced to make adjustments during the pandemic but still met critical goals. "If our goal was to reduce overdose deaths, we did so. If our goal was to reduce the risk of the spread of HIV or Hepatitis-C, we did so. If our goal was to increase access to treatment, we did so,” Mayes says. Advocates hope what’s happening on the ground in Bexar County will spark change statewide. State Representative Ina Minjarez from San Antonio just filed a bill lawmakers will consider next year that would make it legal for community groups and churches to operate needle exchanges. Her office says all 49 other states already have laws that protect faith-based groups from prosecution while running needle exchanges. "This is a public health issue. It's not a criminal issue,” Dr. Cleveland says

Top of Page

KVIA - November 18, 2020

Attorney couple ID’d as central El Paso shooting victims: wife killed, husband remains hospitalized

The victims in a weekend shooting at a central El Paso home have been identified, both were lawyers who worked for the Texas Attorney General's Office. Georgette Kaufman was shot and killed, while her husband 47-year-old Daniel Kaufman remained hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition but was expected to recover.

The couple's 16-year-old son was in Dallas for a fencing tournament at the time of the shootings, according to his coaches. The teen has been staying with another relative since his return to El Paso on Sunday.

Top of Page

County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 18, 2020

‘Negroes’ sign in North Texas courthouse covered up following national outrage

A segregation-era “Negroes” sign in the Ellis County courthouse was covered up after an Ellis County constable, the only Black person and Democrat serving in an elected position in the county, was moved to a shared basement office near the sign. Curtis Polk Jr. was elected as constable for precinct 3 in Ellis County in 2018. On Nov. 3, the county commissioners court voted to make changes to the Historical County Courthouse to make room for the County Treasurer’s Office, according to a social media post from Polk that was first shared by Smash Da Topic Breaking News on Monday.

After the adjustments were complete, Polk was given an office space with two sheriff deputies in the basement of the courthouse. This made him the only elected official in the county without a private office. On Wednesday morning, Polk met with County Judge Todd Little to discuss his office situation, said Jana Lynne Sanchez, Polk’s friend and fellow politician who first drew national attention to Polk’s story. Little agreed to cover up the sign and move Polk to one of his own offices, Little and Polk said in a livestreamed press conference Wednesday afternoon. “It was good to work together to move forward,” Polk said during the livestream. “Once me and the judge sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk, he saw fit to give me this office, which is one of his offices, and he was willing to make things right.” The future of the sign will be decided by the Ellis County Historical Society, Little said.

Top of Page

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 18, 2020

League City mayor tests positive for COVID

League City Mayor Pat Hallisey has tested positive for COVID-19 and is resting at home, a city spokesperson said Tuesday. The mayor, 70, complained of a sore throat and “doesn’t feel well,” city spokesperson Sarah Greer Osborn said.

Hallisey told the Galveston Daily News on Tuesday that he would be quarantined for two weeks after becoming ill the day before and being tested at a Houston hospital. Hallisey suffered a heart attack in 2017 and had his left leg amputated days later. He is also diabetic. “It is unnerving because he is elderly and he has health conditions, and everyone is concerned and we wish him the best,” Greer Osborn said. She said the city began the process of contact tracing immediately, alerting any city employees, City Council members or others who have recently been in proximity to Hallisey. Hallisey made several public appearances in the past two weeks, including at a council meeting on Nov. 10, a Veteran’s Day event on Nov. 11 and another event on Nov. 12 at College of the Mainland’s League City center. Hallisey said in October that he had sought to be “overly cautious” to avoid exposure to the virus. In June, Hallisey voiced concerns about the timing and approach of a city effort to promote the reopening of businesses as COVID-19 cases were increasing in Galveston County. He said that while he supported recovery of the local economy, he believed that effort didn’t put enough emphasis on underlying risks posed by the pandemic.

Top of Page

National Stories

ProPublica - November 18, 2020

Trump campaign officials started pressuring Georgia’s Secretary of State long before the election

Long before Republican senators began publicly denouncing how Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger handled the voting there, he withstood pressure from the campaign of Donald Trump to endorse the president for reelection. Raffensperger, a Republican, declined an offer in January to serve as an honorary co-chair of the Trump campaign in Georgia, according to emails reviewed by ProPublica. He later rejected GOP requests to support Trump publicly, he and his staff said in interviews. Raffensperger said he believed that, because he was overseeing the election, it would be a conflict of interest for him to take sides. Around the country, most secretaries of state remain officially neutral in elections. The attacks on his job performance are “clear retaliation,” Raffensperger said. “They thought Georgia was a layup shot Republican win. It is not the job of the secretary of state’s office to deliver a win — it is the sole responsibility of the Georgia Republican Party to get out the vote and get its voters to the polls. That is not the job of the secretary of state’s office.”

Leading the push for Raffensperger’s endorsement was Billy Kirkland, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign who was a key manager of its Georgia operations. Kirkland burst uninvited into a meeting in Raffensperger’s office in the late spring that was supposed to be about election procedures and demanded that the secretary of state endorse Trump, according to Raffensperger and two of his staffers. When reached by phone, Kirkland directed the request for comment to the Trump campaign, which did not respond. The White House and the Georgia Republican Party also did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Joe Biden has been projected as the winner of the presidential election in Georgia by a margin of roughly 14,000 votes. The state is now conducting a hand recount at the Trump campaign’s request. Raffensperger’s office has said that the recount won’t swing enough votes to tip the state into Trump’s column. Raffensperger said that the Trump campaign “scapegoated” him. Its contention that he ineffectively managed the election amounts to “hot air and hyperbole,” he said. “In Georgia, it is not new to see failed candidates claim fraud or suppression. At the end of the day, the Trump campaign’s messaging didn’t resonate with 50% plus one of the voters.” The campaign’s formal efforts to gain the secretary of state’s endorsement began on Jan. 10, when Kirkland emailed Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs, assuming that Raffensperger would welcome the opportunity to serve in an unofficial role. “We are getting ready to release the campaign’s statewide leadership team and wanted to make sure you were good to be listed as an honorary co-chair?” he wrote, according to an email obtained by ProPublica. At the direction of Raffensperger, Fuchs declined.

Top of Page

CNN - November 19, 2020

'This will get worse.' A top US official says hospitalizations and deaths will keep climbing as Covid-19 cases explode nationwide

An end to the Covid-19 pandemic may now be in sight with more good news on vaccine candidates, but for now "this will get worse," a top US official said Wednesday. "We have had one million cases documented over the past week, our rate of rise is higher than it even was in the summer, we have hospitalizations going up 25% week over week," Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, told CNN. "There are so many more cases that we have, that deaths are going up."

It is what experts have repeatedly warned in the past weeks, as Covid-19 conditions continue to deteriorate across the country: things will get worse before they get better. Infection numbers in Massachusetts are eight times what they were on Labor Day and hospitalizations have quadrupled. Only 6% of Oklahoma's ICU beds remain available. In Arkansas, more than 1,000 people could lose their lives in the next five weeks, according to the governor. In Illinois, the virus is now the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. More than 250,000 Americans have so far died of the virus -- a higher death toll than any other country -- and another 188,000 are projected to lose their lives over the next three and a half months, according to the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. By mid-January, the IHME model predicts more than 2,100 Americans could be dying daily. "As you've heard so many times before, we know how to fix this," Giroir told CNN Wednesday night. "It's all about absolute adherence to wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, and yes, we can keep the economy open but we're going to have to diminish indoor places like indoor dining and restaurants."

Top of Page

NBC News - November 19, 2020

White House killed deal to pay for mental health care for migrant families separated at border

The Trump White House blocked the Justice Department from making a deal in October 2019 to pay for mental health services for migrant families who had been separated by the Trump administration, two current and two former senior administration officials told NBC News. Three sources involved in the discussions who requested anonymity said the Office of White House Counsel made the decision to reject the settlement of a federal lawsuit after consultation with senior adviser Stephen Miller, the driving force behind many of President Donald Trump's immigration policies, including family separations. "DOJ strongly, and unanimously, supported the settlement, but not all agencies involved were on the same page," an administration official said. "Ultimately, the settlement was declined at the direction of the White House counsel's office."

Another administration official said: "Ultimately, it was Stephen who prevailed. He squashed it." The White House's refusal to accept the deal ended up costing taxpayers $6 million. A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not say why the White House counsel's office rejected the settlement and denied that Miller was involved: "Mr. Miller was not involved, and any suggestion that he was is false." After nine months of negotiations, primarily in Los Angeles, an $8 million settlement for screening and counseling thousands of migrants had been "agreed to in principle" by both lawyers for the Justice Department and lawyers representing the migrant families, said Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer with the pro bono public interest law firm Public Counsel representing the families. Rosenbaum said the pressure to come to an agreement, and quickly, was mounting.

Top of Page

CNBC - November 18, 2020

New York City will close schools for in-person learning to curb Covid outbreak, Mayor de Blasio says

New York City’s schools will move to remote learning only as the city tries to tamp down a growing number of coronavirus cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday. The shuttering of the nation’s largest school system had been anticipated for days after de Blasio told parents on Friday to have a plan in place in case the city decided to close schools for in-person learning, NBC News New York reported. Remote learning will begin Thursday, the mayor said in breaking the news over Twitter. “We’re in the middle of something really tough right now,” de Blasio said at a press briefing Monday. “We have put health and safety first, and we will put health and safety first.” The mayor said the city would close classrooms if the citywide positivity rate, or the percent of Covid-19 tests that are positive, hits an average of 3%. That was reached on Wednesday.

“We will have an update in the next couple of days on the plan to bring back the schools. What additional standards will be needed,” de Blasio said at a press conference shortly after announcing the closures Wednesday. “We warned parents days ago that this moment might come, but we had to be 100% sure we were accurate this morning, and we had to have that conversation with the state.” On a call with reporters Friday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the city has the authority to close schools if local officials think it’s appropriate. Mayor de Blasio was forced to delay the start of in-person learning twice earlier this fall after union leaders objected to the lack of health measures to protect teachers, students and staff from the coronavirus. The schools will shutter their classrooms even as indoor dining at restaurants and the city’s gyms, which experts say are at high risk for spreading virus, remain open at a reduced capacity. De Blasio has said that the city would try to safely reopening the schools as soon as possible if they were closed due to the outbreak.

Top of Page

Newsclips - November 18, 2020

Lead Stories

Associated Press - November 18, 2020

AP Sources: FBI is investigating Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

The FBI is investigating allegations that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton broke the law in using his office to benefit a wealthy donor, according to two people with knowledge of the probe. Federal agents are looking into claims by former members of Paxton’s staff that the high-profile Republican committed bribery, abuse of office and other crimes to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, the people told The Associated Press. They insisted on anonymity to discuss the investigation because it is ongoing.

Confirmation of the criminal probe marks mounting legal peril for Paxton, who’s denied wrongdoing and refused calls for his resignation since his top deputies reported him to federal authorities at the end of September. A criminal defense attorney for Paxton, Philip Hilder, declined to comment. Spokespersons in the attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It’s unclear how far the FBI is into investigating the allegations against Paxton. An agency spokeswoman in San Antonio declined to comment. Paxton is accused of using his position as Texas' top law enforcement official to benefit Paul in several ways, according to seven senior lawyers in the attorney general’s office and the agency’s head of law enforcement. Central to their claims is the fact that Paxton hired an outside lawyer to investigate the developer’s allegations that the FBI improperly searched his home and offices last year.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 17, 2020

‘A really critical time’: Texas sets new coronavirus case record

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 10,826 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, a new daily record. The number exceeded the state’s previous high of 10,791 cases set July 15 amid a summer surge of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

New cases have been rising in recent weeks, as well as hospitalizations. Coronavirus patients now make up more than 15% of the total hospital bed capacity in six regions of Texas, a threshold that triggers tighter restrictions. The rising numbers, which mirror a surge in much of the rest of the country, come as the holidays approach, alarming public health experts, who say more is needed to slow the spread of the virus. “This is a really concerning time, a really critical time for the pandemic,” Dr. Mark McClellan, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s medical advisers on reopening the state’s economy, told the American-Statesman on Tuesday, adding that, although a vaccine is on the horizon, “there are some further incremental steps that could definitely help.” In mid-September, Abbott relaxed capacity limits for businesses in much of the state — including restaurants, retail stores and gyms — citing declining hospitalizations. Businesses can accommodate 75% of capacity, as long as the area’s COVID-19 patients occupy 15% or fewer of available hospital beds. Abbott later said that bars could reopen at 50% capacity starting Oct. 14 with the approval of local officials, again as long as COVID-19 patients take up no more than 15% of available beds in the hospital service area. McClellan said the region-by-region approach works, but he added that Abbott should consider a wider array of restrictions for hot spots, including lower business occupancy rates and additional restrictions on gyms, bars and restaurants for certain areas.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - November 17, 2020

Hundreds of companies that got stimulus aid have failed

About 300 companies that received as much as half a billion dollars in pandemic-related government loans have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of government data and court filings. Many of the companies, which employ a total of about 23,400 workers, say the funds from the Paycheck Protection Program weren’t enough to keep them going as the coronavirus and lack of additional stimulus payments weighed on their businesses. The total number of companies that failed despite getting PPP loans is likely far higher. The Journal only analyzed the big borrowers from the program, which accounted for about half of the overall loans though only about 13.5% of the total participants. And many small businesses simply liquidate when they run out of cash rather than file for bankruptcy.

The government awarded a total $525 billion in PPP loans to 5.2 million companies since April, according to the Small Business Administration. The SBA has only released data on the largest borrowers, which the Journal linked to bankruptcy filings. The total amount lent to companies that went bankrupt is between $228 million and $509 million—the government publishes a range for the loan amounts. Half of the 285 firms identified by the Journal have filed for bankruptcy since August. Dozens of recipients, which come from nearly every state, cited the pandemic as a primary reason for entering bankruptcy. Keith Clark ran Waterford Receptions, a popular wedding and events venue operator with two locations in Northern Virginia, for 20 years. He is closing for good, losing his business as well as his house because of the pandemic. The hospitality industry was the hardest hit among companies getting PPP loans. Restaurants and hotels that filed for bankruptcy employed nearly 6,600 workers, the most of any industry. There is growing evidence that the government’s policy of lending money with few questions asked has allowed fraud and abuse among borrowers, according to the SBA’s inspector general.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 17, 2020

AG Ken Paxton on misconduct allegations: ‘I make no apologies’

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that he stands ready to defend himself against allegations by former top aides of possible criminal conduct while taking a swipe at those pursuing a 5-year-old criminal case against him. “Unfortunately, I know a little something about being falsely accused and being forced to counter allegations that are the result of overreach by prosecutors and law enforcement,” Paxton said in a statement. The four-paragraph document, addressed to the citizens of Texas, provides a glimpse into how Paxton will respond to allegations that he abused his authority to investigate whether FBI agents and federal officials violated the constitutional rights of a friend and high-end campaign donor during a search of the donor’s Austin properties last year.

Paxton’s relationship with investor Nate Paul — including his decision to hire an outside prosecutor to investigate Paul’s claims — is at the center of allegations that Paxton improperly worked on Paul’s behalf. “I make no apologies for being a fierce investigator and defender of individual rights in the face of potentially unreasonable and authoritarian actions,” Paxton wrote. “Doing so is not favoritism. It is doing what the people of Texas expect from every law enforcement agency, their attorney general, and the staff of this office.” Paxton has been under recent scrutiny after seven senior officials reported alleged misconduct to federal officials in late September. Last week, four of the seven filed a whistleblower lawsuit in District Court that laid out multiple claims against Paxton, including that he improperly advocated for the release of investigative records to Paul and ordered staff to issue a legal opinion limiting foreclosure sales during the pandemic — allegedly to help Paul. Paxton’s decision to hire a five-year Houston attorney to investigate the actions of the FBI also came against the recommendation of his staff, who had reviewed Paul’s complaint and were ready to close the matter. Brandon Cammack, the outside investigator, subpoenaed records from the FBI in a highly unusual move. The lawsuit accused Paxton of retaliating against the whistleblowers. The criminal case against Paxton began in 2015 when a Collin County grand jury indicted him on two counts of securities fraud and one count of failing to register with state securities regulators based on private business deals from 2011 and 2012.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2020

For Texas immigrants, the switch from Trump to Biden is 'like leaving years of abuse'

A text message from a friend popped on Devani González’s phone when Joe Biden was named president-elect on the Saturday after Election Day. “How do you feel?” The days that passed between the last ballots cast and the announcement of Biden’s win were grueling. But so were the last four years. She took a moment before writing back. “I don’t know. I just feel like, relief. I feel very emotional. I feel hope.” For many like González, a 24-year-old Houston paralegal, the election ousting President Donald Trump meant the end of years of worry, threats of deportation and being the target of abuse. A core base of Trump’s supporters stood by his immigration policies, which brought increased enforcement, and his vitriol, which made life more difficult for both immigrants and people in the country illegally.

González is among the so-called Dreamers, those brought into the country illegally when they were children, their hopes threatened under the Trump Administration. “Our hope is that even if we don’t have somebody to help us 100%, at least we won’t have somebody that’ll continue to hurt us 100%,” said César Espinosa, leader of FIEL Houston, one of the largest immigrant advocacy organizations in the city. The election drew a record number of ballots, including more than 73 million people who voted for Trump, many of whom supported his focus on immigration. In national surveys, most Trump supporters say they view illegal immigration as a significant problem. They support in high numbers stronger law enforcement and tougher border security. Todd Bensman, a Texas-based Senior National Security Fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies, said Trump was justifiably targeting programs that should not be protecting immigrants in the country illegally from deportatation. Allowing them to continue, Bensman said, serves “as another fantastic incentive for mass migration.” One of the programs is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that protects dreamers from deportation and provides work permits. Conservatives have long challenged the constitutional legality of DACA, created under executive order by former President Barack Obama. Trump tried to eliminate the program, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that effort. Nonetheless, he closed the door to new applicants — around 500,000 newly eligible young immigrants — and imposed new restrictions. Beneficiaries are now forced to apply for renewal every year instead of every two.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2020

Powerless to issue COVID-19 restrictions, Hidalgo to urge no multi-household Thanksgiving gatherings

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday plans to urge residents to limit Thanksgiving gatherings to immediate family to limit the spread of COVID-19, according to two county officials familiar with her planned 3:30 p.m. remarks. The county also will send an emergency cell phone alert to all residents urging them to get tested for the virus, regardless of whether they have symptoms, as uncontrolled community spread has driven up new case and hospitalization numbers to a point higher than before Labor Day. Hidalgo and health officials fear a sustained surge like the one in June and July, which pushed Houston-area hospitals beyond their base ICU capacity.

Hidalgo’s requests will be voluntary, since Gov. Greg Abbott in April stripped local officials of the ability to issue their own COVID-related restrictions. The governor rebuffed Hidalgo’s request in June for a new stay-at-home order; she warned during her annual State of the County remarks last week that new restrictions may be needed to combat this most recent wave of infections. At no point has Harris County reached its goal of a two-week average positive test rate of below 5 percent. Since June, the county has been at its highest threat level, which advises residents to stay home when possible and avoid unnecessary contact with others. Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday canceled Houston’s Thanksgiving parade for the first time in its 71-year history, and also implored residents to avoid large holiday gatherings. At the afternoon news conference, Hidalgo also is expected discuss the resignation of Dr. Umair Shah, the county’s public health authority. Shah, who has lead the county’s pandemic response, has taken a new position in Washington state.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2020

Dr. Umair Shah, head of Harris County’s COVID-19 response, to step down

Dr. Umair Shah, Harris County’s public health authority, will step down in December, two county officials said. As the executive director of Harris County Public Health, Shah has lead the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has accepted a position in Washington state, the officials said. Shah could not immediately be reached for comment.

He will join Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo at a 3:30 p.m. news conference. His last day will be Dec. 18. His departure comes as the pandemic worsens in Harris County. The Houston area reported 1,273 COVID-19 hospitalizations, higher than any point since Labor Day. Commissioners Court will appoint an interim public health authority, likely at its Dec. 1 meeting. Shah, an Ohio native, became head of Harris County’s health department in 2013.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2020

Texas colleges encourage testing before sending students home for the holiday break

As Thanksgiving break approaches, many Texas colleges are encouraging students to take extra precautions before returning home for the holidays and remainder of the semester, that includes getting a COVID-19 test. “The greatest gift a student can give his or her family — including parents and grandparents — during this holiday season is the gift of a negative COVID test,” Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said. He asked each of the A&M system’s 11 universities to encourage students to get tested for the virus before they leave campus, according to a university release.

“Let’s do all we can to stop this pandemic and get back to life as we knew it,” Sharp wrote to the more than 150,000 students. “Thanks to everyone who chooses to take a test before heading home.” The A&M System and the Texas Division of Emergency Management will increase the number of testing sites, which will include testing vans and tents on system campuses in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Both the flagship Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University have kiosks that provide free COVID-19 tests for students. Additionally, Prairie View A&M officials have asked its students to self-isolate for at least 14 days ahead of their departure home next week. And students will be advised to isolate 14 days before returning to campus in January for the spring semester. Baylor University, which has experienced a steady increase of cases since the end of October, is also encouraging students to quarantine ahead of departure and will offer rapid testing Nov. 23-25. Tests will be covered by student and employee’s insurance provider, with the remainder covered by the college. Results are expected to be available within an hour after testing, Baylor officials said.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2020

‘Grossly misguided’ and ‘ill-motivated’: Black Houston leaders blast vote against HISD interim

About 20 of Houston’s leading Black elected officials, clergy and racial justice advocates called Tuesday for Houston ISD’s school board to reverse its vote last week declining to name Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan as the district’s long-term leader. In a statement and at a news conference, many of the city’s Black leaders argued Lathan has proven herself worthy of the top job since assuming the position on an interim basis in March 2018. Some officials also questioned whether trustees were motivated in part by race, given that the board’s three Black members supported retaining Lathan while the six non-Black members voted against it.

“For several reasons, we are united in our belief that the decision not to name Dr. Lathan as superintendent of HISD was grossly misguided, and I must add, ill-motivated,” NAACP Houston Branch Second Vice-President Bishop James Dixon said Tuesday, surrounded by about a dozen Lathan supporters outside the district’s headquarters. The rebuke of trustees came five days after board members voted to resume the district’s long-dormant superintendent search and forgo removing Lathan’s interim tag. The board majority argued HISD should conduct a national search — with Lathan as a candidate, if she chooses to apply — before selecting a long-term leader. “My decision is totally based on best practices. I cannot stress that enough,” said HISD Trustee Dani Hernandez, who voted for a search. “My decision is not based on race at all.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - November 17, 2020

First bump stock prosecution under Trump edict backfires in Houston

The first case testing a Trump administration edict outlawing bump stocks failed during a brief federal bench trial in Tuesday in Houston. A federal prosecutor withdrew the unique charge before the trial began for a Houston man accused of owning the device. However, the defense was prepared to call an ATF expert to testify that bump stocks, attachments that cause a rifle to fire more rapidly, do not render a semiautomatic gun a machine gun.

Senior U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller convicted Ajay Dhingra, 44, on three remaining counts that he lied when he purchased a handgun, rifle and ammunition, and illegally possessed a weapon as a person who had been committed for mental illness. Experts had conflicting views on the matter, said defense attorney Tom Berg. But Rick Vasquez, a retired ATF agent and firearms expert, would have told the court the bump stock did not meet the statutory definition of a machine gun. The prosecution dismissed case, he said, because the government couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt the bump stock was a machine gun. Dhingra’s sentencing is expected to be expedited. He has been in federal custody since his arrest in 2019. Sidestepping the standard congressional lawmaking process for firearms, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker issued the rule in December 2018, giving official notice through an administrative rule that bump stocks fell within the federal definition of “machine gun” because they allow a person to shoot a semiautomatic firearm in a continuous cycle with a single pull of the trigger.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2020

Ending ‘Willful Neglect’: Cornyn-sponsored bill to build National Latino museum closer to passage

Over 25 years ago, a Smithsonian report titled “Willful Neglect” faulted the absence of Latinos from almost every aspect of the institution. Still striving to correct that, The National Museum of the American Latino got one step closer in Congress to becoming a reality Tuesday. The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held a hearing for legislation creating the museum, introduced by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat. After the committee votes to send the bill to the Senate floor, the Senate can vote to create a museum at the Smithsonian Institution to honor Latino Americans' contributions to the United States. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz sits on the committee.

The bill has garnered bipartisan support in the Senate with 45 cosponsors — including six Republicans. Partner legislation to the bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously earlier this year. Hispanic and Latino Americans make up the largest ethnic minority in the United States as 18% of the population. As of 2017, Texas had an estimated 11.1 million Hispanic and Latino residents, and they are on the path to become the state’s largest ethnic population as soon as 2022. Latinos are also becoming an increasingly important potential Republican voting bloc. In Texas, Latino voters voted overwhelmingly for President-elect Joe Biden in urban areas, but in urban areas along the border, President Donald Trump successfully courted a large number of Latino voters. Cornyn, who was a witness in the hearing for the establishment of a Latino museum, said as a San Antonio native, he has personally experienced the influence of Latinos in American and Texas culture. “Unfortunately, for many Americans, the contributions of generations of Latinos are largely unknown,” Cornyn said, “and I hope this committee will soon take action to right this wrong by advancing legislation to establish a National Museum of the American Latino.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2020

Baylor Scott & White teams with Baylor College of Medicine on new med school campus in Temple

Two of Texas' leading health care players are teaming up to create a new medical school campus to reduce the state’s physician shortage and foster more health care innovation. Baylor Scott & White Health, the largest nonprofit hospital system in Texas, said it’s collaborating with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the state’s top-ranked medical school. Their 20-year agreement will be anchored by a regional medical school campus in Temple, about a two-hour drive south of Dallas. In 2023, an inaugural class of 40 medical students is expected to begin training in Temple, and over four years, enrollment is projected to total 160.

The organizations will rely on tuition and donations for expenses, not state funding — with Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White covering any financial shortfalls, said Peter McCanna, president of the hospital company. “We really believe this is crucially important for our patients and for Texas,” McCanna said in an interview. “Having top educators and top students and residents in the mix makes for the best medical care for our patients.” Four years ago, the two announced a research alliance that included working together on clinical trials. They share a common heritage and the school started in Dallas in 1900. The school moved to Houston in 1943 and separated from Baylor University in 1969 to become independent. “This is a great opportunity to expand Baylor College of Medicine’s outstanding medical education programs to a regional medical school campus,” Dr. Paul Klotman, CEO of the school, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to being in Temple.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2020

McCaul, Cornyn, Thornberry join GOP pushback to Trump’s plan to slash U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan

Top Texas Republicans are pushing back on President Donald Trump’s decision to reduce in the coming weeks the number of American troops in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been fighting for nearly two decades. Austin Rep. Michael McCaul and Sen. John Cornyn panned the move, which would cut the U.S. presence in the war-torn country from 5,000 troops to 2,500, even before it was made official on Tuesday.

“A premature U.S. withdrawal would not only jeopardize the Afghan government’s ability to negotiate, but would endanger U.S. counterterrorism interests,” McCaul, who serves as the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Monday. Cornyn, Texas' senior senator, took to Twitter late Monday say that “rapidly removing US forces from Afghanistan would only serve to weaken our allies & benefit our enemies.” Then Clarendon Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services, criticized the decision after the Pentagon formally announced it, saying on Tuesday that “these additional reductions of American troops from terrorist areas are a mistake.” “Further reductions in Afghanistan will also undercut negotiations there,” said Thornberry, who’s retiring at the end of this term. “The Taliban has done nothing – met no condition – that would justify this cut.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2020

Report: Texas needs dependable funding for public health, before next pandemic strikes

To be ready for the next pandemic, Texas must find a dedicated source of tax revenue so it can hire enough scientists and update computer systems, a group of a dozen experts recommended in a report that will be released Wednesday. Before the next crisis, Texas also needs to expand access to broadband to bring telemedicine to 1.8 million residents now shut out because they lack internet connections, the Texas Advisory on Public Health Infrastructure Improvement said in a report. The state will need to fund training programs for — and then hire more — government epidemiologists, the experts said in the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

Epidemiologists interpret data and help decide which populations are at risk and where to move vaccines first, and Texas currently has 240 on public-sector payrolls. But half of them are in the Houston region, with only 40 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the report noted. The Texas Department of State Health Services and some local health departments that haven’t obtained national accreditation should do so, the advisory group said. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that undergoing the accreditation process helps an entity identify weaknesses and improve management. And the experts stressed that state and local public health departments, hospital systems, clinical laboratories, pharmacies and schools urgently need to update and integrate their information technology platforms. “Texas experienced challenges during the current COVID-19 outbreak caused by incompatible systems, changes in reporting requirements and lags in reporting positive cases from labs, resulting in missed opportunities for contact tracing,” the report said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 18, 2020

Dallas County adds 645 coronavirus cases, but Jenkins expects higher totals from recent days to return

Dallas County on Tuesday reported 645 more coronavirus cases, all of them considered new. Four new COVID-19 deaths also were reported. Tuesday’s number of new cases was substantially lower than totals from previous days, including a record 1,831 reported Monday. County Judge Clay Jenkins said he doesn’t suspect the low number is the start of a reversal in recent trends but rather stems from a reporting glitch at the state level.

“There have been problems with the state’s electronic laboratory reporting system in the past, and today it appears the system is reporting artificially low numbers to several counties,” Jenkins said. “In the meantime, there is little reason to believe that if the full numbers were reported, they would be different than the trend we’ve been seeing for the last several days or the projections that the medical modelers have made for North Texas.” With biotechnology company Moderna announcing promising vaccine study results Monday — the second potential COVID-19 inoculation to emerge in as many weeks — Jenkins asked county residents to keep taking precautionary measures “for just a little while longer.” “COVID won’t be with us forever,” Jenkins said. “The vaccines are very promising and will be here soon, but wishing that it would go away and pretending that things are better than they are will not work.”

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 7, 2020

Travis County reports 3 new coronavirus deaths, 251 more cases

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Travis County moved past 35,000 on Tuesday, according to county health authorities. Travis County health officials said 251 more people in the area tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, bringing the total confirmed cases in the county during the pandemic to 35,020 as of Tuesday.

Health authorities also reported three more deaths from coronavirus-related complications. The county’s pandemic death toll is now 469. The county’s number of active cases hit 2,077 on Tuesday, reaching levels seen in early August. Of the 196 people in the hospital Tuesday with the coronavirus, 65 were in intensive care and 39 were on ventilators. The county reported 39 new hospital admissions for COVID-19 on Tuesday. The area’s seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations, which reached above 30 on Monday for the first time since Aug. 17, was 32.4 on Tuesday, according to health authorities. The record for the highest seven-day average number of new hospitalizations for the Austin-Travis County area stands at 75.1, reported on July 8. The seven-day rolling average of new hospital admissions is one of the main factors health officials look at when considering coronavirus-related restrictions in the city.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - November 17, 2020

Andy Brown sworn in as county judge for Travis, faces budget, pandemic challenges

Andy Brown on Tuesday became Travis County’s top administrator, tasked with tackling such knotty local issues as declining revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic, criminal justice reform and deciding whether to reopen bars before the new year. Brown, who was sworn into office during a Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday, said he plans to focus on making Travis County communities safer and more equitable through criminal justice reform, better access to health care, a sustainable transit system and a smart plan for growth.

“Together we can rise to any challenge,” Brown said. “And together we can meet the needs of our community as we respond to COVID(-19) and the movement of this moment that calls for racial justice.” Brown immediately stepped into his new role by leading the second half of the voting session during Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting. Seated beside Brown was his young daughter, whom he gave a high-five to before hearing his first item. Brown, a Democrat who previously worked as an attorney for his own Austin-based law firm, earned overwhelming support from voters over his Republican opponent, local attorney Michael Lovins. Brown finished with 391,952 votes, or 69.6% of the vote. Lovins garnered 171,294 votes, or 30.4%. As Travis County judge, Brown will be the presiding officer of the Commissioners Court and represent the county in many administrative functions. The job typically includes setting the agenda for the court, building consensus with the other four commissioners and overseeing a $1.2 billion budget. The seat for Travis County Judge opened unexpectedly this year, when Sarah Eckhardt won a special election for state senator. Former county judge Sam Biscoe served as interim judge before Brown was sworn in Tuesday.

Top of Page

Texas Tribune - November 16, 2020

How split-ticket voting might have saved two Republican Texas lawmakers in a blue county

Judging from Donald Trump’s unpopularity in Dallas County, Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button should have been doomed this November. Meyer and Button are the only two remaining Republican state House members in the state’s second-most-populous county, where former Vice President Joe Biden’s margin over Trump was nearly 32 percentage points. The margins were slimmer in Button’s and Meyer’s districts: Biden won Button’s district by 9 percentage points and Meyer’s by 14. Still, the two Republicans will be returning to the Texas House next year. According to unofficial vote counts as of Friday, Button eked out a win by 223 votes. (Her Democratic opponent, Brandy K. Chambers, conceded last week, saying she won’t call for a recount.) Meyer won by a larger, but still narrow, margin of 1,634 votes.

What appears to have been their lifeline was a willingness of some Texas voters to split their tickets, rejecting Trump but nonetheless pulling the levers for the Republican Party’s other candidates. And it may have been aided by lawmakers’ decision to eliminate straight-ticket voting in the state, starting with this year’s election. “Republicans are probably breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t invite people to take the easy way out” and do straight-ticket voting, said Sam Martin, an associate professor at Southern Methodist University. “The decision to end straight-ticket voting came at exactly the right moment for them.” “It gives conservatives the opportunity to vote against Trump, but stick with their team,” Martin said. Republicans weren’t the only beneficiaries of split tickets, however: State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Eddie Morales Jr., who will replace state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, won their Democrat-held seats near the Texas-Mexico border after Trump carried each district by more than 50% of the vote share. Their victories came after the Legislature voted in 2017 to eliminate the straight-ticket voting option. Republicans generally supported the idea, saying it could help produce better-informed voters. Democrats argued that the legislation would lengthen lines at the polls and make it harder to vote, disproportionately impacting voters of color. A back-and-forth played out in the courts this year when a federal judge moved to reinstate straight-ticket voting, but a panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against that and affirmed the state law.

Top of Page

CNN - November 17, 2020

Ted Cruz calls Democratic senator an 'ass' following Senate floor mask dispute

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Monday called Sen. Sherrod Brown "a complete ass" following a tense dispute over mask wearing on the Senate floor between the Ohio Democrat and Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan. The dispute, captured in a video clip that has now gone viral, took place when Brown asked Sullivan to wear a mask while speaking as he presided over the Senate, a request that Sullivan refused to comply with.

Brown, who wore a mask as he spoke, said, "I'd start by asking the presiding officer to please wear a mask as he speaks." Sullivan, who was not wearing a mask, responded tersely, "I don't wear a mask when I'm speaking, like most senators, I don't need your instruction." Cruz criticized Brown over the incident in a tweet on Monday, writing, "This is idiotic. @SherrodBrown is being a complete ass. He wears a mask to speak—when nobody is remotely near him—as an ostentatious sign of fake virtue." The Texas Republican went on to say that Sullivan was "over 50 feet away" from his fellow senator, adding "last I checked 50 feet is more than 6 feet." However, Cruz's tweet was misleading, as Brown seemed to be referring to the staffers who were just a few feet away from Sullivan while he was maskless. Brown made clear during a press call with reporters on Tuesday that he was expressing concern for Senate staff who must work on the floor, often nearby to where the presiding officer is seated.

Top of Page

Newsweek - November 17, 2020

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. uses alleged GOP vote cheats to claim Texas counterpart's fraud reward

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has claimed a $2 million reward for finding alleged voter fraud after two Republicans were charged by prosecutors in the state in separate incidents. Fetterman, a Democrat, claimed the reward from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican. Patrick had made headlines by offering the sum of $1 million in exchange for evidence of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Fetterman took to Twitter on Monday to make his claim for the bounty in what seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the Trump campaign's claims of voting irregularities. He's claiming $2 million because of two alleged cases. He shared a tweet from Allan Lichtman, Distinguished Professor of History at American University in Washington, D.C. highlighting Patrick's offer. A week ago, Texas Lt. Gov. Patrick offered up to a million dollars for proof of voter fraud. Easy money with 150+ votes & @realDonaldTrump's claim of vast fraud," Lichtman wrote. "Nope. No takers. Confirmation of DHS finding that this was the most secure election ever. Money talks, BS walks."

Top of Page

KVIA - November 17, 2020

‘Our family is devastated’: EPCC trustee who has now lost 6 relatives to virus calls for ‘true shutdown’

An El Paso mother and grandparent is now mourning the loss of six family members to Covid-19 after the recent deaths of her aunt and uncle. "This morning at 12:30 a.m. we lost another wonderful man to Covid-19," Bonnie Soria Najera wrote Sunday in a Facebook post. "My Tio Louie and my dad weren’t only cousins, they were best buds. My cousin Joey and I just got off the phone reminiscing on how our dads were always together and never lost that bond. Our family is devastated to have lost a 6th family member."

Bonnie Soria Najera, an El Pasco Community College trustee, first lost her mother in May and father in June before contracting the virus herself. Her condition worsened and required hospitalization at which point she thought she was going to die. Shortly after Najera was discharged from the hospital her cousin and aunt became the third and fourth family members to die due to Covid-19. But things took another turn for the worse within the last week. Najera's other aunt died last Monday and her uncle died over the weekend. "Like we don't catch a break," Najera said. "It's like one thing after another. And I know people have questions like did they have this mass gathering or something, were they together. This has happened over a lapse of a long time. And we weren't together. We were very careful. And yet it still happened."

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 17, 2020

Tarrant County reports 8 COVID-19 deaths as hospitalization rate hits new high of 16%

Tarrant County reported eight coronavirus deaths and 732 new cases on Tuesday. It’s the most COVID-19 deaths since nine were reported on Nov. 11.

The latest deaths include a Watauga man in his 50s, a Forest Hill man in his 50s, a Hurst man in his 60s, a Grand Prairie woman in her 70s, Fort Worth men in their 70s and 80s, a Mansfield woman in her 90s, and a Keller woman in her 90s. One of the eight patients did not have any underlying health conditions, according to officials. Tarrant County has reported a total of 83,647 COVID-19 cases, including 802 deaths and an estimated 62,507 recoveries. COVID-19 hospitalizations remained at 20% of the 3,848 occupied beds in Tarrant County as of Monday. It matches the pandemic high of 20% on July 23. Since dropping to 7% on Sept. 21, the rate has steadily increased.

Top of Page

Midland Reporter-Telegram - November 18, 2020

Midland City Council votes down mask mandate 6-1

The Midland City Council on Tuesday voted against an ordinance that would have required businesses to enforce mask wearing or face a $500 fine. Council members voted against the ordinance in a 6 to 1 vote, with Michael Trost being the only council member to vote in favor of the ordinance. Mayor Patrick Payton voted down the item despite adding it to Tuesday meeting’s agenda himself last week.

He said during Tuesday’s meeting he placed the item on the agenda to have a “representative” discussion about it. Responding to those who might ask why he proposed an ordinance he planned to vote against, Payton said he did so to hear feedback on the issue from the community. Council members Scott Dufford and Lori Blong also spoke against the ordinance during the meeting. Council members John Norman and Michael Trost said they were in favor of the council passing something related to mask wearing and would propose their own ordinances at next week’s city council meeting. 7 deaths were reported the day before the council vote.

Top of Page

KFYO - November 17, 2020

Lubbock City Council rejects proposed anti-abortion ordinance

Tuesday's Lubbock City Council meeting was one of the longer meetings in recent memory, taking over seven hours long. After handling all, but one, items on the meeting's agenda, the council began consideration of a proposed ordinance to ban abortion within the city. The proposed ordinance was submitted to the city council from the citizen petition process, which is a rarely used process outlined within the city charter.

As part of the citizen petition process, a public hearing was attached to the consideration for the proposed ordinance. Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope and the members of the city council listened to over four hours of citizen comments discussing numerous sides of the issue. Following the conclusion of citizen comments, the members of the Lubbock City Council all had a chance to speak on the record before a vote was taken. District 3 Councilman Jeff Griffith was the first council member to speak after the conclusion of the public hearing. Councilman Griffith stated that the legal issues surrounding proposed ordinance were insurmountable. Griffith noted that the legalization of abortion was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, and that the city can't overrule a Supreme Court ruling. District 5 Councilman Randy Christian said he is pro-life, but he couldn't support the proposed ordinance because it would be in conflict of federal law. He noted that as part of the citizen petition process for proposed ordinances, the proposed ordinance would go to a vote of Lubbock's citizens, if rejected by the council. Councilman Christian said he favored having a vote of the citizens concerning the ordinance, rather than just having a vote of the council. He also said that if the council approved the ordinance, it would open the city to legal action, "... unconstitutional, unenforceable and costly," Christian said.

Top of Page

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 16, 2020

OTC won't return to Houston until August

OTC, the world’s largest oil and gas trade show held each year in Houston, has postponed next year's convention because of the coronavirus pandemic. The OffShore Technology Conference, which usually takes place every May at NRG Center, is now scheduled to take place August 16-19, "due to the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19," organizers said on Monday. “By postponing OTC to the second half of 2021, we aim to preserve the significant work of the program committee and authors, as well as minimize the economic impact this decision has on business in Houston and throughout the industry,” OTC said in a statement.

The cancellation is another setback for Houston’s hotel and restaurant industry, which has counted on OTC for decades to boost their revenues. The conference, founded in 1969 for the offshore drilling sector, drew 60,000 attendees last year and has an economic impact of about $100 million hotel bookings, dining and entertainment, according to Houston First, the city’s convention arm. OTC organizers canceled this year's convention, which was originally scheduled to take place in May but then postponed to August or September. IHS Markit also canceled CERAWeek this year, citing concerns about the coronavirus. CERAWeek, scheduled every March, brings more than 5,000 international visitors to Houston every year. There are more than 238,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 3,865 deaths, reported in the Houston area since March. Texas has reported more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 20,000 deaths, according to Chronicle data.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - November 17, 2020

Edith O’Donnell, praised for belonging on ‘a Mount Rushmore’ of Dallas philanthropists, dies at 94

Edith Jones O’Donnell, who played a pivotal role in advancing educational and arts endeavors in her adopted city — so much so that one executive describes her as belonging on “a Mount Rushmore” of Dallas philanthropists — died at her home Saturday night. She was 94. “Edith lived a purpose-driven life,” said Peter O’Donnell Jr., 96, whom she married in 1952 and with whom she shared a more than 60-year partnership in philanthropy. “She never stopped thinking about the arts and the next big thing. Her central concept was making Dallas a center for creativity.” O’Donnell and her husband co-founded the O’Donnell Foundation in 1957, and for many years most of their gifts — which total $780 million, according to her husband’s published memoir — were anonymous.

“It was not until recently that they liked their names on anything,” said Edith O’Donnell’s close friend and fellow philanthropist, Margot Perot, the widow of Ross Perot Sr. “They had a wonderful marriage and were a great team,” Perot said Monday. “They have done so much for Dallas. They were so close. They did everything together. They gave in so many quiet ways and were supremely generous.” Born in Abilene, O’Donnell was the daughter of Percy Jones, an engineer and builder of railroads in West Texas. He also acquired ranch properties that were part of what we now know as the Permian Basin. During their marriage, O’Donnell’s husband became a successful investor in publicly traded securities. She and her husband shared their wealth extensively but for years clung to a low profile. One exception to O’Donnell’s anonymous style of largesse came in 2014, when she gave $17 million to the University of Texas at Dallas for the creation of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History. The UT system followed O’Donnell’s gift with an additional $10 million, and other philanthropists added $3 million more, according to Michael Thomas, director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History. It is housed in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, which was dedicated in 2013.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Business Press - November 17, 2020

Report: Startups a steady supplier of jobs in Fort Worth, but more could be done

The impact of startup businesses on job creation in Fort Worth is substantial, according to a new report, and in five years new businesses created more than three times the new jobs that the much-vaunted Amazon HQ2 relocation was projected to bring to the area. Those are just a few of the key findings from new research released by Sparkyard, a free resource to connect entrepreneurs to resources in the area. The research was funded by The University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC) at Fort Worth.

The Fall 2020 Jobs Report says that new companies — defined as businesses zero to 1 year old — created 25,157 jobs in 2018 and more than 25,000 jobs in Tarrant County every year from 2013 to 2018, according to the report. In total, startups created 155,307 new jobs from 2013 to 2018, . more than three times as many jobs that the aforementioned Amazon HQ2 relocation was projected to bring to the area. The report is first-of-its-kind research in Texas and represents a new way to show the impact that new firms have on job creation in our local economy. “As our economy recovers from the effects of the pandemic, this research shows that additional resources should be provided to encourage more job creation in this important but underappreciated segment of our local economy,” said HSC President Dr. Michael Williams. During a speech to attendees at the Global Entrepreneurship Week Fort Worth on Nov. 17, Williams said the study shows the impact of entrepreneurs and startups in the area but it also highlighted some issues.

Top of Page

National Stories

Hearst - November 16, 2020

Zoom lifting 40-minute limit on video calls for Thanksgiving

There will be no limit to how long you can virtually hang out on Thanksgiving. Zoom has announced it will waive its 40-minute time limit for calls on Thanksgiving across the globe as families and friends plan to gather virtually while adhering to public health recommendations. The video-calling giant has seen an astronomical rise in popularity amid the coronavirus pandemic this year. Zoom went from a user base of about 10 million in December 2019 to nearly 300 million by April, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The announcement from Zoom comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health experts have advised against having Thanksgiving gatherings with anyone from outside your home. Thanksgiving will come next week as the pandemic continues to surge throughout the United States. The U.S. has surpassed 11 million cases, the number of daily deaths is on the rise and hospital systems nationwide are starting to get overwhelmed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its holiday guidance, noting the virus crisis is worsening and that small household gatherings are “an important contributor." The CDC said older adults and others at heightened risk of severe illness should avoid gathering with people outside their households.

Top of Page

Politico - November 18, 2020

Florida Democrats are having a postelection meltdown

It wasn’t just one bad cycle. For Democrats in Florida, Election Day 2020 was a tipping point in a long, painful buildup to irrelevancy. After suffering crushing losses from the top of the ballot down, the state party now is mired in a civil war that could have profound consequences for future elections. High hopes for gains in the state Legislature have given way to recriminations and finger-pointing. Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo is almost certain to lose her job, but no one has stepped up to claim her mantle. Prospective 2022 gubernatorial candidates, including state Rep. Anna Eskamani and state Sen. Jason Pizzo, are slinging blame. And redistricting, which could deliver Democrats into another decade of insignificance, is around the corner.

Even as Joe Biden heads to the White House, state Democrats know that President Donald Trump did more than just win in Florida. He tripled his 2016 margin and all but stripped Florida of its once-vaunted status as a swing state. His win, a landslide by state presidential standards, was built on record turnout and a Democratic implosion in Miami-Dade County, one of the bluest parts of the state. “We have turnout problems, messaging problems, coalitions problems, it’s up and down the board,” said Democrat Sean Shaw, a former state representative who lost a bid for attorney general in 2018. “It’s not one thing that went wrong. Everything went wrong.” While Democratic losses were particularly devastating in Florida, the party fared poorly across the country at the state level. The timing couldn’t be worse. Political redistricting begins next year and Republicans in control of statehouses across the country will have a chance to draw favorable maps that will help their state and federal candidates for the next decade. What happens next in Florida could be an early signal of how the Democratic Party’s current progressive-centrist divide plays out in Washington and elsewhere. In interviews, more than 20 Democratic officials, organizers and party leaders throughout the state said the party schism has grown only deeper since Election Day. Would-be gubernatorial candidates have already begun trading fire as they begin to lay the ground to try and defeat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Top of Page

NBC News - November 17, 2020

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejects Trump campaign lawsuit over election observers in Philadelphia

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out one of the Trump campaign's longest running post-election complaints Tuesday, ruling that officials in Philadelphia did not violate state law by maintaining at least 15 feet of separation between observers and the workers counting ballots. The ruling is likely to undercut the Trump campaign's case in federal court, where Rudy Giuliani joined a hearing Tuesday afternoon to argue on behalf of President Donald Trump's effort to contest the election results in Pennsylvania.

Republican observers said they were kept so far back, behind a waist-high fence, that they couldn't see any of the details on ballot envelopes or reach any conclusions about whether vote counting procedures were correctly followed. The Trump campaign sued, and a state appeals court said the observers were not given enough access. It ordered the county to move the fence closer to the counting tables. But the state Supreme Court reversed that ruling by a vote of 5-2. It said Pennsylvania law requires only that observers must be allowed “in the room” where ballots are counted but does not set a minimum distance between them and the counting tables. The Legislature left it up to county election boards to make these decisions, the court said. In the case of Philadelphia, the local board “fashioned these rules based on its careful consideration of how it could best protect the security and privacy of voters’ ballots, as well as safeguard its employees and others who would be present during a pandemic.”

Top of Page

Associated Press - November 17, 2020

Pentagon to cut troop levels to 2,500 in Iraq, Afghanistan

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said Tuesday the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, asserting that the decision fulfills President Donald Trump’s pledge to bring forces home from America's long wars even as Republicans and U.S. allies warn of the dangers of withdrawing before conditions are right. The plan will accelerate troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan in Trump's final days in office, despite arguments from senior military officials in favor of a slower, more methodical pullout to preserve hard-fought gains. Trump has refused to concede his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, who takes office Jan. 20, just five days after the troop withdrawals are to finish.

Miller, who refused to take questions from reporters after reading a prepared statement before TV cameras at the Pentagon, said the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500. Speaking a week after taking over for former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was fired by Trump, Miller notably did not say that the drawdown plan had been recommended or endorsed by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or by other senior military officers. He said only that military commanders had agreed to execute it. Miller said the U.S. remains ready to respond if conditions in Afghanistan or Iraq deteriorate. “If the forces of terror, instability, division and hate begin a deliberate campaign to disrupt our efforts, we stand ready to apply the capabilities required to thwart them,” he said in a roughly eight-minute statement — his first extended public remarks since taking office.

Top of Page

Politico - November 17, 2020

In abrupt reversal, Michigan’s largest county certifies election results

Election officials in Michigan’s largest county abruptly reversed course on Tuesday night and certified the presidential election results, with Republican members of the board backtracking after initially blocking the decision. The two Republicans on the four-member Wayne County board of canvassers — charged with validating the vote count — initially opposed certification and raised questions about mismatches between the totals submitted by local precincts and the final canvass. Less than two hours later, the Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues to unanimously certify the tally from the county, which includes Detroit, and called for Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to audit the mismatched precincts.

The board’s reversal quickly undercut celebrations among Trump allies who called the board’s initial 2-2 deadlock against certifying the results the beginning of a potential chain reaction that could flip the state into the president’s column — even though Joe Biden leads by more than 145,000 votes. The board’s certification vote occurred just moments after Trump himself celebrated the initial vote with a tweet that praised the Republican canvassers’ “courage” for halting the certification. “Wow! Michigan just refused to certify the election results! Having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!” Trump tweeted, erroneously saying the whole state had not certified results. Trump continued to celebrate, even after the board had voted to certify. Other Republicans had embraced the board’s initial ruling, as well, with state GOP officials saying they were “proud” of the delay in certification and Trump’s campaign describing it as an opportunity to overturn the state’s election results. Democrats had lashed out at the two Republican canvassers, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, for what they described as a purely political decision to delay Wayne County’s certification. Top Democrats in Michigan noted that the decision would have had the effect of upending the votes in Michigan’s largest African-American communities, and others said it was simply a partisan effort to shore up the Trump campaign’s false claims of widespread fraud.

Top of Page