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Newsclips - July 18, 2024

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New York Times - July 18, 2024

D.N.C. slows Biden’s nomination as party discontent persists

The Democratic National Committee is pushing back by a week its plans to nominate President Biden for re-election in a virtual roll call as the party’s voters and many of its top officials continue to express discontent about heading into the general election with him atop their ticket. Top party officials announced on Wednesday that the virtual roll call for Mr. Biden would take place during the first week of August, an accommodation to Democrats who had protested about plans that would have started the voting as soon as next week. Mr. Biden’s weak debate showing, his uneven public appearances and his struggles in the polls have raised deep worries within his party. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats want him to quit the race, according to a survey released on Wednesday by The Associated Press and NORC. Congressional Democrats have also warned that Mr. Biden’s sagging political standing will make it far harder for them to win down-ballot races in November.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, was among those who pushed the party to hold off the start to its nominating process, according to a person familiar with Mr. Schumer’s involvement. And on Wednesday, Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, a candidate for Senate in the state and a top ally of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, called on Mr. Biden to drop out of the race. “Our nation is at a crossroads,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “A second Trump presidency will undermine the very foundation of our democracy, and I have serious concerns about whether the president can defeat Donald Trump in November.” Representative Jared Huffman of California, who in recent days has organized fellow Democrats to pressure the D.N.C. to delay its process, called the party’s new timeline “a positive step” but said it was not likely to alleviate concerns about Mr. Biden’s viability. “It’s a heck of a lot better than a jammed process that will tear us apart next week,” Mr. Huffman said. “This whole idea of jamming it through in mid-July crumbled under pressure, and that’s, I think, a good thing.” Mr. Huffman said he had helped persuade dozens of congressional Democrats to sign a letter protesting a nominating process that could have started as soon as Monday. Given the timeline the party announced on Wednesday, Mr. Huffman said, he will not be sending the letter.

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Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2024

What can state officials do to punish CenterPoint for Beryl failures? Here’s what history tells us.

Hurricane Beryl was not the first storm to test the performance of a Texas utility company after paralyzing much of East Texas’ power grid. Entergy, the utility company that serves areas north and east of Houston, became so overwhelmed during its response to a rare ice storm in 1997 that municipal employees handled live wires on their own in the company’s absence. It took the company seven days to restore power to 120,000 customers during a week of freezing temperatures. Not only was Entergy’s emergency response found lacking — much like critics have found CenterPoint’s hurricane response problematic — state regulators discovered that the company had slashed its maintenance spending, enhancing the storm’s natural ability to take down power lines.

“The January 1997 ice storm was certainly a severe storm that would have adversely affected even the best-maintained distribution system,” the state’s Public Utility Commission said in a 1998 order denying Entergy millions in profits it requested. “(Entergy’s) distribution system, however, is not the best-maintained.” The 26-year-old case shows the rare but not unprecedented mechanism that the state’s regulators can use to hold utility companies accountable for failures when they find them. In the wake of Beryl, it could serve as a model for how the PUC might penalize CenterPoint if it is found to have acted negligently. CenterPoint’s profits are guaranteed as part of the regulated monopoly it maintains in Houston, where the utility owns the network of electrical poles and wires carrying power into homes and businesses. Yet regulators have demonstrated they have discretion to reduce those profits when a utility fails to provide adequate maintenance and service to its customers. During an interview Tuesday, former PUC Chairman Pat Wood recalled being inundated with complaints from Southeast Texas after the 1997 storm. The regulatory investigation that followed found “egregious” failures on Entergy’s part.

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Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2024

Texas Republicans barely in RNC spotlight, but could shine under a Trump presidency

Camped in hotels nearly a 90-minute drive away from Milwaukee, delegates from Texas are farther from the action at the Republican National Convention than usual. They typically are given choice lodging assignments and seats toward the front of the arena, where cameras often capture their cowboy hats and western attire. Though they got bad hotel assignments, the delegates do have prime seats. This is the rare presidential election season when no major Texan sought the nomination. And no Texans were finalists in former President Donald Trump’s vice presidential sweepstakes, which went to Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance. Still, Lone Star State Republicans could play significant roles in the party’s future and in a possible second administration of Trump. That potential is on display this week, as Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson had prime speaking roles. Even more Texans could emerge as major players later, particularly if the GOP is victorious in November.

Texas is the largest Republican-controlled state in the country and helps set the tone with conservative legislation related to immigration, abortion, crime and taxation. In 2016 and 2020, leaders of Trump’s campaign finance team were from Texas, including Dallas investor Roy Bailey, who served as co-chairman of his joint fundraising operation with the Republican National Committee. Over the years, Trump has inserted himself into Texas politics by endorsing candidates in statewide and local races. “This is a Trump convention so, with that, it’s more about personality and the direction of the party rather than state-centric,” said Republican political consultant Matthew Langston, who is attending the convention. “The reality is that Texas still has an incredibly strong influence in the building and on President Trump.” Other political analysts agree. Some of Trump’s top allies are Texans, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller, who is sitting in for Patrick on Texas delegation business while the lieutenant governor remains in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl. “So goes Texas, so goes the rest of the party,” said Miller, an early supporter of Trump, who last Saturday was 30 feet away from Trump during an assassination attempt on the former president.

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Associated Press - July 18, 2024

Nearly two-thirds of Democrats want Biden to withdraw, new AP-NORC poll finds

Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say President Joe Biden should withdraw from the presidential race and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to a new poll, sharply undercutting his post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him even if some “big names” are turning on him. The new survey by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, conducted as Biden works to salvage his candidacy two weeks after his debate flop, also found that only about 3 in 10 Democrats are extremely or very confident that he has the mental capability to serve effectively as president, down slightly from 40% in an AP-NORC poll in February. The findings underscore the challenges the 81-year-old president faces as he tries to silence calls from within his own party to leave the race and tries to convince Democrats that he’s the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump.

The poll was conducted mostly before Saturday’s assassination attempt on Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. It’s unclear whether the shooting influenced people’s views of Biden, but the small number of poll interviews completed after the shooting provided no early indication that his prospects improved. Meanwhile, as Vice President Kamala Harris receives additional scrutiny amid the talk about whether Biden should bow out, the poll found that her favorability rating is similar to his — but the share of Americans who have an unfavorable opinion of her is slightly lower. The poll provides some evidence that Black Democrats are among Biden’s strongest supporters, with roughly half in the survey saying he should continue running, compared to about 3 in 10 white and Hispanic Democrats. Overall, seven in 10 Americans think Biden should drop out, with Democrats only slightly less likely than Republicans and independents to say that he should make way for a new nominee.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2024

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made his primetime debut at the RNC. Here are some takeaways

Gov. Greg Abbott took the stage at the Republican National Convention for the first time Wednesday night, where he touted the miles of razor wire he has strewn along the Rio Grande, the thousands of national guard soldiers patrolling the border and the migrants he has bused to Democratic-led cities. A crowd of delegates waving signs that called for “mass deportations now” cheered him on. The coveted speaking slot comes as Abbott has seen his national profile — and relationship with Donald Trump — grow as he has pushed an unprecedented, multi-billion-dollar crackdown on the southern border since President Joe Biden took office. He did not miss the chance to highlight those efforts to a national audience, seizing a moment that could test his appeal beyond Texas. It was a big moment for the governor, who got strong reactions from the crowd and joined Trump in his box after leaving the stage.

When Abbott has made news in the last few years, he’s often talking up his border crackdown. And on Wednesday night he stuck to that comfort zone, playing up his role as governor of the country’s biggest border state and framing his efforts not only as an attempt to stem migrant crossings, but also a fight against the Biden administration. “Biden is even fighting tooth and nail to stop Texas and other Republican states from securing our own borders,” Abbott said. “I deployed thousands of National Guard soldiers to build hundreds of miles of razor wire barriers – give it up for our National Guard – they built those barriers to stop illegal crossings,” he said. Like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz did Tuesday night, Abbott pointed to the death of the 12-year-old Houston girl as “the price we’ve paid for Joe Biden’s open border.” Jocelyn’s death has been held up by Republicans as an example of “migrant crime” at the center of Trump’s campaign. Two men, both of them Venezuelan nationals, have been arrested for capital murder in connection with Jocelyn’s death. Numerous studies have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born citizens. In Texas, immigrants in the country without legal authorization were 26% less likely than native-born Americans to be convicted of homicide, and legal immigrants were 61% less likely, according to a recent analysis. Abbott’s personal story was on display even if he didn’t talk about it. Moments before he spoke, RNC officials had the podium moved off stage so Abbott, in his wheelchair, was in clear view of the crowd. It was 40 years ago this week a tree crashed down on Abbott while he was running in Houston. The accident left him unable to walk.

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Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2024

Texas ranks almost dead last in the nation for women’s health care, research shows

Texas is the second to worst state in the country to be a woman with health issues, according to new findings from the Commonwealth Fund, a research foundation dedicated to improving health care. In the race to the bottom, the Lone Star state is behind only Mississippi, according to recently released scorecards by the foundation. Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. The Commonwealth Fund has been ranking states’ health care coverage since 2006. Since 2020, Texas’s overall ranking on the Commonwealth Fund’s state-by-state scorecard has steadily declined. Last year was the first time the foundation began including women’s health care in its analysis. This year, the foundation went further, producing scorecards specifically ranking women’s health care by state.

“One thing is absolutely clear: Women’s health in the U.S. is in a very fragile state,” said Joseph Betancourt, president of the Commonwealth Fund. Texas ranked last for health care coverage, access and affordability for women in the U.S. The Commonwealth Fund’s focus on women’s health per state arose after the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022, which left the right to abortion up to individual states. “There are stark disparities in women’s access to quality health care amongst states across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines,” Betancourt said. “These inequities are long-standing, no doubt, but recent policy choices and judicial decisions restricting access to reproductive care have and may continue to exacerbate this.” Since last year, Texas has moved down a ranking for women’s health, moving to the penultimate slot after New Mexico jumped from last to 41st. Since the Dobbs ruling, women have begun flocking to New Mexico for safe and legal abortion care because the state’s abortion laws are considered among the most permissive in the country.

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Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2024

Dallas City Council member Jaynie Schultz says she won’t seek reelection

Dallas City Council member Jaynie Schultz won’t seek a third term, saying she wants to pursue other opportunities and travel more than she could as an elected official. Schultz, who represents District 11 in North Dallas, announced Tuesday that she plans to leave the council when her term ends next June. She was first elected in 2021 and then again in 2023. Schultz told The Dallas Morning News that she concluded soon after winning a second term that it would be her final one because she felt she had accomplished what she wanted. “I’ve been thinking about where I want to be in the next phase of my life,” Schultz, 64, told The News. “I’m not young, and I know that there’s still things I want to do and, frankly, the clock is running out.” Schultz said she hopes potential candidates for her open seat will have time to decide whether to run before the election filing deadline early next year.

The last two council members representing District 11, Lee Kleinman and Linda Koop, left after serving the maximum limit of four two-year terms. Schultz said she would like to be involved in community issues, such as addressing climate change and planning a new school in the International District, a nearly 450-acre area in District 11 that includes the former Valley View Center mall site that is earmarked for redevelopment. Schultz’s decision not to run in 2025 means at least three new people will be elected to the Dallas City Council next year. Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins and council member Omar Narvaez will leave the group because of term limits. During her time in office, Schultz oversaw the last remnants of the Valley View Mall being torn down, a contentious process that dragged on for years, and rebranding the Valley View area as the International District into a cultural hub aimed at attracting more global businesses. Schultz said she also worked to improve city outreach and services to her district’s Esperanza neighborhood, a historically underserved area of around 10,000 predominantly Latino residents. She helped push for the city to create a program encouraging residents to donate directly to homeless service providers as a way to address panhandling.

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Houston Landing - July 18, 2024

As Beryl left millions in the dark, a network of moms stepped in to help feed Houston babies

When Alexandra Luttrell-Freeman lost power at her home in Spring during Hurricane Beryl, her mind instantly went to her two freezers. Stashed inside was 1,600 ounces of breastmilk, which she has been dutifully pumping since the birth of her daughter, eight months ago. She began counting down: In 48 hours, the freezer would hit its limit and the milk would spoil. That meant a loss of nearly two months’ worth of food her body had made for her daughter. She couldn’t let that happen. As one of more than 2 million people who lost power when Beryl slammed the Houston area with Category-1 level winds last Monday, Luttrell-Freeman followed restoration updates from CenterPoint Energy. “Because CenterPoint wasn’t communicating, and they were like, “We’ll have a million people’s power restored by tomorrow,’ I thought, statistically speaking, we should be OK,” she says. “But we got close to that 48-hour mark and I started freaking out about it.”

When her house was still dark and sweaty last Tuesday evening, she drove out of her neighborhood in search of cell service and solutions. By 9 p.m., she’d found a post in the neighborhood mom chat, in which another local mom offered freezer space to anyone in need of storing milk. Below that comment, she found an echoing chorus. It’s not the kind of thing Luttrell-Freeman would usually respond to. But she felt desperate. So she put her thumbs to work, messaging strangers. “And these wonderful women, I showed up at their doors to drop off milk at like 10:30 at night on a Tuesday, and they were like, ‘Come on over. Come give it to us. We know how hard this is.’” Breast milk, like anything in a freezer, can typically keep for about 48 hours in a power outage before it begins to thaw. That time window can vary, depending on the freezer’s temperature at the time the power shut off, and how cramped it is. A crowded freezer stays cool for longer. Somewhere around day two, once-solid bricks of breast milk will become squishy. That’s still OK, actually, as long as there are still a couple ice crystals within the liquid.

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Bloomberg - July 18, 2024

Texas furniture retailer Conn’s plans mass store closings ahead of possible bankruptcy

Furniture retailer Conn’s Inc. is planning to shutter around 100 locations and liquidate the inventory as part of a bankruptcy filing planned for the coming weeks, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company, based in The Woodlands, has also been huddling with investors in search of financing to help fund its bankruptcy process, according to some of the people, who asked not to be named discussing private information. The store closings would amount to nearly 20% of its footprint and more than 40% of the stores it controls. The company in an April presentation said it had more than 550 locations, though 378 were dealer-owned as part of its franchise model.

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Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2024

New class-action lawsuit accuses AT&T of negligence, ‘unjust enrichment’ after data breach

AT&T now faces a legal fight after the phone numbers of over 100 million U.S. customers who used the company’s wireless services between March and October 2022 were stolen in the company’s second major data breach of 2024. The case (3:24-cv-1797) is a class-action lawsuit against the Dallas-based telecommunications giant, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas late Friday by 15-year AT&T customer and named plaintiff Dina Winger. The suit alleges AT&T wasn’t transparent about the severity of the breach, didn’t safeguard important data from malicious parties and earned “unjust enrichment” from customers after failing to protect their information. “As a direct and proximate result of AT&T’s failure to exercise adequate and reasonable care and use commercially adequate and reasonable security measures, the [personally identifiable information] of Plaintiff and Class Members was accessed by ill-intentioned individuals who could and will use the information to commit identity or financial fraud,” the lawsuit reads. “Plaintiff and Class Members face the imminent, certainly impending, and substantially heightened risk of identity theft, fraud, and further misuse of their personal data.”

Patrick Yarborough, a Houston-based lawyer representing Winger who helped file the case, confirmed Monday that this was the first lawsuit filed against AT&T in Dallas for the breach. Should more plaintiffs sue the company, their cases could be lumped into Winger’s class-action lawsuit. Yarborough said he wouldn’t be surprised if dozens more plaintiffs and law firms get involved in the future due to the scope of the data breach. AT&T revealed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Friday that the cause of the breach was a “threat actor” who illegally accessed company workspaces on a third-party cloud platform in April. The actor gradually siphoned nearly six months of call logs dating from May 1 to Oct. 31, 2022, as well as Jan. 2, 2023, compromising the phone numbers of nearly all AT&T customers. AT&T said the breached channel is now closed and the stolen information isn’t publicly available nor personally identifiable (through information like Social Security numbers, names or ages), but phone numbers can still be traced to individuals with easy-to-access online tools like Whitepages. Wired reported Sunday that AT&T paid over $300,000 in Bitcoin to one of the hackers in May to delete the stolen data, which it confirmed with video evidence. The hacker obtained the data by breaking into one of AT&T’s cloud storage accounts hosted by software company Snowflake, Wired reported. Snowflake also serves companies like Ticketmaster, Advance Auto Parts and international banking firm Santander. All of those companies, plus roughly 150 others, were subject to breaches in April and May.

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Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2024

Texas school built to segregate Mexican American students becomes national park

A West Texas school built in 1909 to segregate Mexican and Mexican American students as part of “separate but equal” education became a national park on Wednesday. Alumni fought to preserve the school in Marfa, arranging for it to be turned into a museum and landmark despite their complicated connection to it, according to a National Parks Conservation Association news release. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally established the Blackwell School National Historic Site in Marfa, Texas, as the nation’s newest national park and the seventh national park unit designated by President Joe Biden. “This site is a powerful reminder of our nation’s diverse and often complex journey toward equality and justice,” Haaland said in a statement. “By honoring the legacy of Blackwell School, we recognize the resilience and contributions of the Latino community in our shared history.”

According to a 2022 Dallas Morning News story, the population of Marfa in the early 1900s was largely Hispanic, but the students were instructed to speak only English on campus. Spanish words written on slips of paper were buried in a mock funeral at the school, according to a story on the Blackwell School’s website. “They were told to bury their native language and leave it behind. They were threatened with punishments if they disobeyed,” said Theresa Pierno, chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Association, in a 2022 news release announcing the passage of the Blackwell School National Historic Site Act. The school was also underfunded with secondhand books and furniture at a time when segregating Hispanic schoolchildren was common across Texas.

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Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2024

Loren Steffy: How CenterPoint fleeces Houstonians. And why we still can't rely on our grid.

(Loren Steffy is an author, former Houston Chronicle business columnist, writer-at-large for Texas Monthly and founder of Stoney Creek Publishing Group.) The aftermath of Hurricane Beryl has been an unspeakable tragedy, but at least we seem to have a better understanding of how our electric system works. For years, as a columnist for this paper, I had to patiently explain that when the lights go out, you can’t call the company on your electric bill. You have to call CenterPoint. People seem to know that now. “CenterPointle$$” has become the stuff of I-10 underpass graffiti and trending hashtags. The public now knows who to blame. For two decades, I’ve written about the shortcomings of electric deregulation in Texas. But it seems that with every crisis, new elements of failure emerge. In the aftermath of Beryl, we see that deregulation has swept away yet another important market safeguard — accountability. When the regulated market was split apart in 2003, the transmission companies — in Houston’s case, CenterPoint — remained under government control. It would have been too unwieldy and expensive to allow competing transmission lines across the city.

As a result, CenterPoint has no real customers. It doesn’t answer to the public. It answers to the Public Utility Commission and to its shareholders. Nothing captures its lack of accountability more than the image of CEO Jason Wells lounging in front of a thermostat set at 70 degrees while millions of Houstonians sweltered. Tone-deaf PR moves like that don’t happen at companies that are used to public accountability. That’s not to say CenterPoint doesn’t recognize its responsibility to the public, just that the public isn’t the ultimate boss. It knows that ratepayers unhappy with how it’s handled the latest disaster can’t switch to another company’s wires. The PUC, whose members are appointed by the governor, has said it will investigate, but we shouldn’t expect it to bring CenterPoint to heel. The commission has long been less a watchdog of the public interest and more an emotional support animal for the industry it oversees. Gov. Greg Abbott, busy gallivanting around Asia on a trade junket, made it back six days into the crisis and demanded answers from CenterPoint. Abbott assembled the requisite public officials in over-starched crisis attire emblazoned with the logos of their office. But we saw the same show after the fatal freeze of 2021. The tough talk did little to address the grid’s failures.

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Fox News - July 18, 2024

Texas lawmakers press for 'political rhetoric' to be part of probe into Trump assassination attempt

Over two dozen Texas lawmakers are calling for the House Oversight Committee to look into "political rhetoric" used against former President Trump in their investigation into the assassination attempt that nearly took his life. The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability launched an investigation into the assassination attempt after the former president was shot in the ear at a campaign rally in western Pennsylvania on Saturday. State Rep. Ellen Troxclair, R-Texas, spearheaded a letter to the committee and Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., Wednesday, requesting they also look into "grotesque depictions of President Trump and the tens of millions of fellow Americans that support him as ‘enemies’ or ‘threats to democracy’ ahead of the assassination attempt."

Americans deserve answers," the lawmakers wrote, first thanking the committee for opening an investigation into the deadly incident. "At minimum, we need to understand how the attempted assassination was able to occur and what will be done to ensure it does not happen again." The Republicans then called on Congress to "include within its hearing an examination of the political rhetoric used during this current presidential campaign and how it has contributed to a rising threat of political violence." "While we are blessed to live in a country where we have a constitutional right to free speech, this constant flammable rhetoric has a tangible detrimental impact on our country," the letter read. "The Oversight Committee is now uniquely situated to raise attention to the effect this has on the American people and to lead us back to a place of honest political discussion focused on policy positions." Troxclair, of Texas House District 19, was joined by 26 other Texas state representatives and 2024 nominees in the letter.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2024

A fatal field trip: Texas bus crash shattered victims' lives, revealed regulatory lapses

Jessica Flores awoke her young son about 7 a.m. March 22. By then, she had made breakfast and driven her husband, Christopher Reza, to work in time for his 6 a.m. start as a stonecutter. She also had prepared her son’s lunch: a ham sandwich, cookies, water, juice, diced apples and a mandarin. Jessica dressed 5-year-old Mauro as he drifted in and out of sleep. She chose a white long-sleeved shirt, a Batman shirt and a black sweater. She formed a part and combed his hair to the right. It was the first day Mauro was to be farther away than school. She felt a strong desire to keep him home. She called her husband. “Oye, ¿y si no lo llevo?” she asked. Hey, what if I don’t take him? “No, lle´valo. Porque se va a divertir con los nin~os. Es una experiencia para e´l,” he said. No, take him. Because he’s going to have fun with the kids. It’ll be an experience for him.

An hour later, Mauro climbed aboard a yellow school bus for a much-anticipated trip to the Capital of Texas Zoo, about 26 miles east of his elementary school. So too did Caleb Jimenez Martinez, a playful and sassy boy with tightly cut hair, and Mauro’s classmate, 5-year-old Ulises Rodriguez Montoya, who smiled underneath an oversized black baseball cap. They joined 41 other 4- and 5-year-old prekindergarten children and 12 adults, including the driver, as they rumbled down Texas 21, a highway dotted with seasonal bluebonnets springing to full bloom along a rural landscape. Over two hours, students watched performances with otters and parrots, petted goats and other livestock, and heard the zookeepers list facts about the animals lounging in the shade. Then, they embarked on their return home. But Hays school district Bus No. 1106 never made it back. Instead, it became the center of the deadliest school bus crash in Texas in nearly a decade. What happened on Texas 21 revealed a cycle of misconduct that enabled a history of substance abuse and a regulatory system that was unable to take a dangerous driver off the road. By the evening, the bodies of a child on the trip and an adult traveling behind the group were covered in tarps on the side of the scenic highway. Dozens of other children and chaperones were rushed by ground and air to the hospital with broken bones, severe cuts and bruises — left with a lasting nightmare that replays in their minds.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2024

Already the talk of the town, Texas takes center stage at 2024 SEC media days

Texas wasn't scheduled to appear at this week's SEC media days until Wednesday. But that doesn't mean the Longhorns weren't already dominating the conversation this week before they even stepped in front of a microphone. "Texas media has arrived in the SEC," whined one writer on social media after LSU players were asked several questions Monday about the Longhorns, who aren't even on their schedule. That Texas remained relevant in absentia wasn't a surprise. This year's SEC media days are being held less than 200 miles away from the UT campus, so plenty of Austin reporters made the trip. Texas boasts a nationally known brand. And as newcomers to the SEC, the Longhorns are also a bright and shiny object for media members.

So that explains why Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin ended up describing Texas' roster as elite Monday. And how Vanderbilt's Clark Lea spent part of his trip to Dallas recalling the time he faced Steve Sarkisian while he was Notre Dame's defensive coordinator and Sarkisian was running Alabama's offense. And why Georgia quarterback Carson Beck and Missouri's Brady Cook talked Tuesday about their UT contemporaries Quinn Ewers and Arch Manning. On Wednesday, plenty of questions were still asked about Texas. But the Longhorns got to answer some of them. Sarkisian was joined at media days by quarterback Quinn Ewers, defensive back Jahdae Barron and left tackle Kelvin Banks Jr. Alabama, Florida and Mississippi State also participated in Wednesday's festivities. Sarkisian was one of three coaches at the Omni Hotel who coached last year in the College Football Playoff. Former Washington coach Kalen DeBoer is now at Alabama. Nick Saban, the legendary Alabama coach, was working as an analyst for ESPN on Wednesday. "I don't want to give you coach talk and coach cliche´, but that's the reality of it," Sarkisian said. "I've been asked a lot about how's it been since the last pass fell incomplete against Washington (in the Sugar Bowl), and I felt like we've had a football team that has been obsessed with wanting to get back. That obsession has led right into hard work, has led right back into who we are culturally, has led right back into highly competitive workouts and practices."

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KUT - July 18, 2024

The two finalists in Austin's police chief search are from Cincinnati and Milwaukee

Lisa Davis, an assistant police chief for the Cincinnati Police Department, and Jeffrey B. Norman, police chief at the Milwaukee Police Department, are the two finalists in Austin's search for its next police chief. Tuesday's announcement comes after weeks of sifting through applications after the city launched a national search for the role in May. Thirty-two candidates applied for the job, but interim Police Chief Robin Henderson was not one of them. Henderson said she will help with the transition, but ultimately decided to retire once the new chief settles in. “My career has been amazing and the decision to not apply was not an easy one, as serving alongside the women and men of APD is truly an honor and a privilege,” she wrote in a June memo. “Please know it is time for me to take a step back, enjoy time with my family and see what the next chapter in life has in store for me.” The City of Austin has been without a permanent police chief since last fall when Joseph Chacon retired. Henderson has been serving as interim since then.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 18, 2024

Fort Worth ISD OKs superintendent bonus amid criticism

The Fort Worth Independent School District’s Board of Education took vague action on the superintendent’s contract on Tuesday night after discussing her performance in a closed session. On Wednesday morning, the board released a statement revealing that she had received a $15,000 performance bonus. The board, in a close vote of 5-4, approved the action but did not elaborate on what the vote entailed regarding Superintendent Angélica Ramsey’s contract and evaluation. Board President Camille Rodriguez and other trustees declined to comment on the vote when approached by reporters after the meeting adjourned. On Wednesday morning, a district spokesperson told the Star-Telegram that the board approved a deposit of $15,000 to be made into Ramsey’s retirement account, which is the lowest amount Ramsey can receive for a performance bonus, according to her contract. Each year, she is eligible to earn between $15,000 to $25,000 at the discretion of the board, “payable only in the event that the superintendent meets the goals established by the superintendent and board.”

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KXAN - July 18, 2024

Austin metro at highest inventory of home listings since 2011, pushing median prices down

The housing supply in the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos metropolitan statistical area (MSA) continues to grow, which is already serving to push down the area’s median home price, according to the Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR). ABoR’s mid-year report (released on July 12) said that the market has seen a 25.9% year-over-year increase in active home listings for June — enough to meet buyer demand for the next five months. The group also claims that this growth returns the MSA to an availability level last seen in 2011. Within the City of Austin, current inventory is also up (43.4% YoY) to 5.8 months.

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National Stories

NBC News - July 18, 2024

Democrats are banking on outperforming Biden in key Senate races

When President Joe Biden held a rally here last week and soaked up the adoration of supporters, scores of prominent Michigan Democrats joined him — with one notable exception: Rep. Elissa Slotkin, the party’s top candidate in a must-win Senate race. The rally came in the midst of a divisive intraparty spat about whether Biden should remain the Democratic nominee or step aside after a bewildering debate performance and polls saying he's narrowly trailing Donald Trump nationally and in key states. Slotkin has said only that it's Biden's decision to make; her campaign said she had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t attend. “We’ve been saying since day one this would be one of the closest Senate races in the country,” Slotkin campaign spokesperson Antoine Givens said. “That’s why we’ve been building a grassroots campaign prepared to make the contrast clear between Elissa’s record of delivering for middle-class Michiganders and any of her Republican opponents.”

Slotkin's absence from the Biden rally comes amid an unease among down-ballot Democrats who party strategists believe will outrun Biden, yet worry that he could drag them down. But ticket-splitters — those who vote for a different party for president than for down-ballot candidates — are a shrinking breed. In dozens of contested Senate races during the last two presidential elections, only one state delivered a split result: Maine in 2020 voted for Biden and centrist GOP Sen. Susan Collins. Not a single state split the vote in 2016. “There are definitely ticket-splitters,” said Abby Clark, a Democratic organizer and former campaign aide in Detroit, who is calling on Biden to exit the race. “But overall those tides rise and fall together. Michigan is always very tight. A real collapse in support for the top of the ticket will have a huge impact on all the other races.” “Even with Slotkin running ahead of the president — how much ahead is possible?” Clark said. “There’s intense fear about the situation we’re in and what it means.” Polls taken before and after the June 27 debate paint a consistent picture: Democratic Senate candidates in key states are faring well and broadly leading GOP rivals, while Biden is in a dead heat with Trump or trailing him with the same set of voters. In some more recent polls, Biden has been underperforming other Democrats by 5 points to double digits. In Michigan, a recent EPIC-MRA poll found Biden trailing Trump by 3 points, while Slotkin led Republican Senate front-runner and former congressman Mike Rogers by 2 points — both within the margin of error.

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NBC News - July 18, 2024

Secret Service says it's appalled by DEI rhetoric against female agents after Trump rally shooting

The U.S. Secret Service said Wednesday that it stood by its female agents and was appalled by some of the criticism they’ve received on conservative social media since Saturday’s attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump. The Secret Service, in a statement to NBC News, said that the criticism from pundits and influencers was baseless. The agency also stood by its commitment to diversity in recruiting as helping, not hurting, the effectiveness of its protective teams. The statement follows a multiday campaign of derision by some conservatives who accused Kimberly Cheatle, the Secret Service director, of being unqualified and who said that female agents assigned to Trump hadn’t been physically capable of protecting him. Some critics said the Secret Service should return to being all-male, which it hasn’t been since 1970.

Anthony Guglielmi, the Secret Service’s chief of communication, said in the statement: “We stand united against any attempt to discredit our personnel and their invaluable contributions to our mission and are appalled by the disparaging and disgusting comments against any of our personnel.” “As an elite law enforcement agency, all of our agents and officers are highly trained and fully capable of performing our missions,” he said. “It is an insult to the women of our agency to imply that they are unqualified based on gender. Such baseless assertions undermine the professionalism, dedication and expertise of our workforce,” he added. Trump was wounded in right his ear at Saturday’s chaotic rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. An attendee was killed trying to protect his family, and another two were seriously injured.

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The Hill - July 18, 2024

Physician burnout is on the decline but doctors aren’t cheering

After peaking during the COVID-19 pandemic, physician burnout has dipped under 50 percent for the first time in four years, but doctors say working conditions in the medical field remain far from ideal. A survey published by the American Medical Association (AMA) this month found that 48.2 percent of physicians in 2023 experienced at least one symptom of burnout, down nearly 15 percent from when this metric peaked in 2021. Reported job satisfaction rose from 68 percent to 72.1 percent between 2022 and 2023, while job stress dropped in the same time frame, going from 55.6 percent to 50.7 percent. “It’s good news and it’s bad news,” Steven Furr, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told The Hill. “It’s good news that the numbers have gone down but still they’re higher than what we’d like them to be.”

The AMA has tracked physician burnout rates since 2011 along with the Mayo Clinic and Stanford Medicine. Prior to the pandemic, burnout rates ranged from 43.9 percent in 2017 to 54.4 percent in 2014. Among physicians, burnout is defined as a long-term stress reaction that manifests through different symptoms like emotional exhaustion; a lack of empathy or a feeling of negativity towards patients; or a decreased sense of personal achievement. According to Furr, the reason rates of burnout may be dropping is “multifactorial.” “I think the biggest thing is just the awareness in the workplace that that is an issue,” said Furr. “I think there’s been some stabilization in the workforce, particularly around those who work around physicians, the nurses and the other people they work with. For a while there was a lot of turnover there.” Furr noted that reducing stress in the medical field is also crucial due to the aging population of doctors.

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Hollywood Reporter - July 18, 2024

Emmy's nominees announced

Shogun leads the pack for the 2024 Emmys nominations, which were unveiled Wednesday morning. FX’s series landed 25 noms, including best drama series, setting several records in the process. Also among the top nominees are FX’s The Bear (with 23 nominations, a comedy series record), Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building (21), HBO/Max’s True Detective: Night Country (19) and Netflix’s The Crown (18). Overall, Netflix leads all nominees with a total of 107 noms (across 35 programs), followed by FX with 93 (nine programs), HBO with 91 (29 programs) and Apple TV+ with 72 (16 programs). Looking at conglomerates as a whole, The Walt Disney Co. — which has series and projects across FX, ABC, Hulu and Disney+ and others — notched a personal-best tally of 183 Emmy nominations. Tony Hale, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Television Academy chair Cris Abrego announced this year’s nominees from the El Capitan Theatre in a ceremony that was livestreamed. During the livestream, Abrego gave Abbott Elementary star Ralph the news that she had received another Emmy nom this year for best supporting actress in a comedy series, an award she won in 2022. The 76th Emmys are set to air live from the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 15 from 5-8 p.m. PT/8-11 p.m. ET on ABC. The Creative Arts ceremonies, where a majority of the Emmy trophies are handed out, are set for Saturday, Sept. 7, and Sunday, Sept. 8. A host for the ABC Emmys ceremony has not yet been named, but Jesse Collins, Dionne Harmon and Jeannae Rouzan-Clay are set to executive produce the telecast for the second year in a row.

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Washington Post - July 18, 2024

Vance focuses on hardscrabble roots, military service in RNC address

Donald Trump’s running mate, Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, recounted his hardscrabble Ohio upbringing and his post-Sept. 11 military service as he introduced himself and his young family to the nation at the Republican National Convention here Wednesday night. Unfurling the tale of a boy who grew up in poverty in southwest Ohio with an absent father and a drug-addicted mother — a boy who is now a 39-year-old man nominated to become the next vice president — Vance offered an up-from-the-bootstraps story that the Trump-Vance ticket hopes will resonate with working-class and rural America. Vance spoke of being raised in Middletown, Ohio, midway between Cincinnati and Dayton — “a small town where people spoke their minds, built with their hands, and loved their God, their family, their community and their country with their whole hearts” — but also a town “cast aside” by the ruling class in Washington.

There, while his own mother struggled with addiction, Vance said he was raised by “Mamaw” — “the name we hillbillies gave to our grandmothers” — who he described as “an old woman who could barely walk but she was tough as nails.” The account was familiar to readers of Vance’s 2016 best-selling memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy.” Taking the stage to the twangy strains of Merle Haggard’s “America First,” Vance offered voters a narrative through-line about how the lessons he learned with Mamaw in greater Appalachia shaped his populist and isolationist worldview, from his and Trump’s restrictionist trade policies and skepticism of overseas entanglements to their shared hard-line immigration stance and concerns about the scourge of fentanyl in communities across America. “President Trump represents America’s last best hope to restore what — if lost — may never be found again,” Vance said, saying he and Trump were fighting for people like “the autoworker in Michigan, wondering why out-of-touch politicians are destroying their jobs” and “the factory worker in Wisconsin who makes things with their hands and is proud of American craftsmanship.”

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Associated Press - July 18, 2024

President Biden tests positive for COVID-19 while campaigning in Las Vegas

President Biden tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a speaker at the UnidosUS annual conference broadcast on the White House’s YouTube channel. White House officials said his doctors reported that Biden’s symptoms were mild and his respiratory rate is normal. Biden was slated to speak at the event in Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon as part of an effort to rally Hispanic voters ahead of the November election. Unidos US President and CEO Janet Murguía told the guests that the president sent his regrets and could not appear because he tested positive for the virus. Get the latest politics news from North Texas and beyond. The president had previously been at the Original Lindo Michoacan restaurant in Las Vegas, where he was greeting diners and was scheduled to have an interview with Univision.

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Stateline - July 18, 2024

Dental therapists, who can fill cavities and check teeth, get the OK in more states

During a game of Red Rover when she was 16 years old, Rochelle “Roz” Siuvuq Ferry lost a front tooth. Ferry, who is Inupiaq, remembers having to get on a plane to get from her remote Alaskan village to the city of Nome to start the tooth replacement process. Traveling to Nome for dental care is what everyone in her community had to do — even for a toothache or a basic cleaning. There was no such service where they lived. Ferry knew many members of her community whose teeth decayed so badly, they needed extraction — simply because they didn’t have access to care. Her tooth mishap 28 years ago and her awareness of neighbors’ struggles led Ferry to become a dental therapist.

Dental therapists are licensed to fill cavities, place temporary crowns, extract diseased teeth and provide other basic preventive dental care, working under a dentist’s supervision. They have more training than a hygienist but not the advanced degree of a dentist. More than a dozen states have authorized the licensing and practice of dental therapists, and the occupation is growing. Critics of dental therapy say state and federal policy should instead focus on supporting dentists. But many experts say dental therapists can help provide better access to oral health care for underserved communities — including in rural areas and for adults and children who lack insurance coverage or who are on public insurance. About 58 million Americans live in areas with dentist shortages, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. And the American Dental Association estimates just a third of dentists across the nation accept Medicaid. More than half of Medicaid enrollees are Black, Hispanic and American Indian or Alaska Native, and children of color experience significant disparities in oral health.

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Washington Post - July 18, 2024

GOP senators berate Secret Service director at RNC over Trump assassination attempt

A group of Republican senators followed Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle through the Fiserv Forum at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday evening, shouting questions at her about the agency’s failure to prevent the shooting at former president Donald Trump’s rally. “This was an assassination attempt!” yelled Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, according to a video of the confrontation obtained by The Washington Post. “You owe the people answers! You owe President Trump answers!” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming also followed Cheatle, and another person could be heard saying that Cheatle was “stonewalling” the senators about what happened on Saturday. “It is appalling that the Secret Service Director refused to answer our questions,” Blackburn said in a statement. “This is one of the greatest security failures in the history of the agency. She can run but she cannot hide. She is a failed leader and she needs to immediately step down from her position.”

Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement afterward that Cheatle does not intend to step down. “She deeply respects members of Congress and is fiercely committed to transparency in leading the Secret Service through the internal investigation and strengthening the agency through lessons learned in these important internal and external reviews.” Since the rally shooting in Butler, Pa., which left one man dead, Cheatle has faced mounting calls for her resignation, including from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). She has taken responsibility for her agency’s failure to prevent the attack but has said she will not resign. “The buck stops with me,” Cheatle told ABC News earlier this week. “I am the director of the Secret Service, and I need to make sure that we are performing a review and that we are giving resources to our personnel as necessary.” Her public dressing-down by a group of U.S. senators at the GOP convention reflected the deep breach between top Republican officials and the agency, which is charged with the protection of the country’s leaders.

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Newsclips - July 17, 2024

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2024

How Greg Abbott made the Texas border America's problem

Children were afraid to play outside. Ranches were being destroyed. Neighborhoods were overrun by drugs, human smuggling and gun-wielding immigrants. “And the federal government and the Biden administration does not care about it,” the governor said in June 2021. For three years now, Abbott has delivered a near daily version of the same indictment, hounding President Joe Biden on immigration in press conferences, on social media, in Fox News appearances and trips to South Texas. As Donald Trump claims the GOP’s nomination this week in Milwaukee, no Republican has done more than Abbott to keep the former president’s signature issue top of mind for voters across the nation. And in the process, he’s tethered himself to the party’s ascendant right wing. “He is effectively acting as the Trump administration in exile,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.

Immigration is a familiar target for Republicans, especially when a Democrat is in the White House. But Abbott has taken it to new levels, leveraging billions of state dollars on a militarized crackdown, arresting and detaining thousands of migrants, busing many more to Democratic-led cities and attempting to seize deportation duties from the federal government. The barrage has catapulted the third-term governor, 66, into the national spotlight at a moment when Republicans are feeling hopeful about their chance to retake the presidency in November — and eying who could one day pick up the torch after Trump. Abbott’s appeal will be tested this week like never before as he seeks to translate his policy victories at the border to a broader Republican audience, who will be focused on immigration Tuesday with the RNC's planned "Make America Safe Again" theme. The governor, who has a sought-after speaking slot at the convention but was still deciding on Monday whether to attend amid Hurricane Beryl recovery efforts, is not known for being a charismatic speaker and has not always been warmly welcomed by ultra-conservative voters. “In politics now, especially where the Republican Party is, you only get one bite at the apple, and he has to make it count,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “He is a national figure in many regards. But it hasn’t translated to real political power, at least outside the state lines.” The governor has long shot down questions about seeking higher office. But he has laid down a road map for a national bid, showing it’s hard to lose on immigration enforcement in the current political climate. Just a few years ago, as Trump left office, voters were divided on finishing a border wall and staunchly opposed to his push to separate migrant families. Now, even Democrats are pushing restrictions to the asylum system Biden campaigned on rebuilding in 2020, and polling shows a majority of voters are open to much more radical ideas, including mass deportations.

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ProPublica - July 17, 2024

Arizona school voucher program causes budget meltdown

In 2022, Arizona pioneered the largest school voucher program in the history of education. Under a new law, any parent in the state, no matter how affluent, could get a taxpayer-funded voucher worth up to tens of thousands of dollars to spend on private school tuition, extracurricular programs or homeschooling supplies. In just the past two years, nearly a dozen states have enacted sweeping voucher programs similar to Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account system, with many using it as a model. Yet in a lesson for these other states, Arizona’s voucher experiment has since precipitated a budget meltdown. The state this year faced a $1.4 billion budget shortfall, much of which was a result of the new voucher spending, according to the Grand Canyon Institute, a local nonpartisan fiscal and economic policy think tank. Last fiscal year alone, the price tag of universal vouchers in Arizona skyrocketed from an original official estimate of just under $65 million to roughly $332 million, the Grand Canyon analysis found; another $429 million in costs is expected this year.

As a result of all this unexpected spending, alongside some recent revenue losses, Arizona is now having to make deep cuts to a wide swath of critical state programs and projects, the pain of which will be felt by average Arizonans who may or may not have school-aged children. Among the funding slashed: $333 million for water infrastructure projects, in a state where water scarcity will shape the future, and tens of millions of dollars for highway expansions and repairs in congested areas of one of the nation’s fastest-growing metropolises — Phoenix and its suburbs. Also nixed were improvements to the air conditioning in state prisons, where temperatures can soar above 100 degrees. Arizona’s community colleges, too, are seeing their budgets cut by $54 million. Still, Arizona-style universal school voucher programs — available to all, including the wealthiest parents — continue to sweep the nation, from Florida to Utah. In Florida, one lawmaker pointed out last year that Arizona’s program seemed to be having a negative budgetary impact. “This is what Arizona did not anticipate,” said Florida Democratic Rep. Robin Bartleman, during a floor debate. “What is our backup plan to fill that budget hole?” Her concern was minimized by her Republican colleagues, and Florida’s transformational voucher legislation soon passed. Advocates for Arizona’s universal voucher initiative had originally said that it wouldn’t cost the public — and might even save taxpayers money.But as it turns out, the parents most likely to apply for these vouchers are the ones who were already sending their kids to private school or homeschooling. They use the dollars to subsidize what they were already paying for.

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2024

Texas Windstorm Insurance Association weighing 10% rate increase in wake of extreme weather events

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the state-operated insurer of last resort for many property owners along the Gulf Coast, is contemplating a rate increase as the risks from extreme weather events grow. TWIA’s actuarial and underwriting committee voted Monday to recommend that the association’s board of directors approve a filing to increase rates by 10% for 2025 residential and commercial policies. The association’s average residential premium stood at $2,300 as of June 30, TWIA spokesman Aaron L. Taylor said in an email. TWIA’s board will vote on the recommendation when it meets Aug. 6 in Galveston. The committee made its recommendation after reviewing TWIA’s 2024 Rate Adequacy Analysis, which found that current rates are inadequate by 38% for residential coverage and 45% for commercial coverage.

The request comes as Houston recovers from Hurricane Beryl and as a number of insurance companies are pulling back in Texas, particularly in coastal areas. Farmers Insurance, for example, sent a number of policyholders in Harris County nonrenewal notices this year after “initiating targeted underwriting actions designed to mitigate our risk exposure in the state,” a spokesman for the company told the Chronicle last month. Others have raised rates dramatically as extreme weather events, in conjunction with inflation, have resulted in a large number of costly claims. Over the course of 2023, according to a January analysis from S&P Global, average homeowners insurance premiums rose by at least 10% in 25 states, and Texas led the pack, with an effective rate increase of 23.3%. The situation has spurred homeowners to turn to TWIA and the Texas Fair Plan Association, which TWIA administers. TWIA, a not-for-profit insurance association, provides residential and commercial policies covering wind and hail damage to home and business owners in Texas’ 14 coastal counties, as well as the portion of Harris County east of Texas 146. As of March, there were about 250,000 TWIA policies in force in coastal Texas, a 37% increase from 2020, about half of those in Galveston and Brazoria counties.

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2024

CenterPoint's $2.3B plan is supposed to protect against extreme weather. Houston is skeptical.

Opposition to CenterPoint Energy’s nearly $2.3 billion “resiliency plan” to shore up its electric transmission and distribution infrastructure against extreme weather and other risks was already brewing among some Houston-area cities and consumer groups before Hurricane Beryl left a record number of the utility’s customers in the dark. CenterPoint is now facing the ire of politicians and regulators who will investigate if it was underprepared for the Category 1 storm that crippled the company’s power lines and poles in the Houston region. Under pressure to do more to prepare for future storms, questions about whether CenterPoint’s desired investments are prudent have become even more relevant.

The plan, filed with the Public Utility Commission of Texas in April, includes such measures as replacing and upgrading equipment most susceptible to severe weather, elevating substations to avoid flooding damage, wildfire mitigation, moving of certain power lines underground, vegetation management and funding a City of Houston employee who would oversee implementation of power resiliency projects for city facilities. Katie Coleman, managing partner at the Austin office of O’Melveny, the law firm representing the Texas Industrial Energy Consumers trade group, said her clients are concerned that CenterPoint includes existing projects in the resiliency plan. The trade association filed comments with the PUCT protesting the plan in June. “It’s stuff that they were going to do anyway and that they should do anyway,” Coleman said.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2024

Texas Senate chief, lawmakers at odds over sexual harassment policy. Are changes coming?

Several current and former Texas senators are calling for change in the state's upper legislative chamber after a Texas Monthly investigation published Friday uncovered new sexual harassment allegations against two senators and found that lawmakers who are accused of sexually harassing or assaulting staff members are "seldom held accountable." Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, however, told the American-Statesman on Friday that he stands by the Senate's rules and procedures. "The members and I take this issue very seriously," Patrick, who oversees the Senate, said in an email response to the Statesman's questions. "Harassment of any type is not tolerated on my own staff. Each of my staff, including myself, has taken sexual harassment prevention training, as have senators and their staffs." The magazine's story highlights a 2018 policy revamp that Patrick requested and was spearheaded by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. Its enforcement is largely overseen by Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw, the executive administrator of the upper chamber.

While the policy added a requirement for sexual harassment prevention training, it puts senators, supervisors and their chiefs of staff in charge of managing any complaints their offices receive and it does not require the complaints to be recorded or reported to higher authorities. Yet Texas law makes employers legally liable for harassment if they are aware of the behavior and fail to correct or prevent it, regardless of whether a formal complaint is made. And for public servants in Texas, subjecting a person to sexual harassment is a crime that can range from a Class A misdemeanor to, in rare cases, a felony. "Leaders in the Texas Senate have created a system in which lawmakers who sexually harass employees, interns, and students — a state crime — are seldom held accountable," Texas Monthly reported. "As a result of a lack of records, the public is left in the dark.” The policy also says victims can bypass their supervisors to report an incident to the secretary of the Senate or human resources, which will trigger an independent investigation, but it has not yet been done.

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2024

CenterPoint spent $800M on mobile generators. Where are they post-Hurricane Beryl?

Over the last three years, CenterPoint Energy – the company in charge of delivering power to millions of customers in the Houston region – has spent $800 million on 20 massive generators. The hefty price tag was controversial at the time, but state regulators approved it because CenterPoint claimed the generators would keep the lights on during an extended power outage. Last week, Hurricane Beryl led to massive outages in and around the nation’s fourth-largest city, leaving more than a million people in the dark for days. So, where were those generators? It turns out that almost none of them were deployed in the wake of Hurricane Beryl, the Chronicle has found – even as some 90,000 people remained in the dark as of Tuesday afternoon.

That’s partly because even though CenterPoint has referred to the equipment as “mobile generation,” the vast majority of it is not actually that mobile. Fifteen of the generators – each with a capacity of 32 megawatts, big enough to power entire neighborhoods – take several days to assemble and cannot be moved without a special permit, which itself can take days to secure. None of those generators have been put in service since CenterPoint first began renting them in 2021. Indeed, the company told the Chronicle this week that they are “not for rapid response use” and “are not designed to be ‘mobile’,” even though it has repeatedly described them as “mobile” in news releases, regulatory filings and memos to investors. In Beryl’s wake, CenterPoint has deployed three of its remaining five large generators at a water processing plant and two senior living centers. Each of those is the size of a tractor-trailer and has a capacity of about five megawatts.

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KXAN - July 17, 2024

Police K-9 memorial in the works, officer shares ‘incredible’ bond with fallen dog

Cedar Park K-9 Officer Justin Gower lost his K-9, Rogue, in the line of duty in 2021. He said Rogue had a rare disease that goes undetected until acute symptoms arise, and it’s typically too late. Rogue died during a training exercise. “We spend more time with our dogs than we do with our families, so our bond that we have is incredible,” he said. Right now, various groups are trying to create a K-9 memorial for all police dogs who have lost their lives in the line of duty. It would sit on the Capitol grounds near the Texas Peace Officers’ Memorial. “All of this has to be approved by the State Preservation Board, and it has to be done in phases,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, one of the groups working to build the memorial.

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Religion News Service - July 17, 2024

Denton's Matt Chandler under fire as podcast alleges Village Church hired father despite known abuse

On an episode of the “Bodies Behind the Bus” podcast Wednesday (July 11), two former members of the Village Church Denton in Denton, Texas, alleged that church leaders employed a custodian for five years, despite knowing he had previously admitted to sexually abusing a child. The custodian, they said, was Steve Chandler, the father of Matt Chandler, lead pastor of its umbrella church at the time. The allegations have sparked controversy online, with some calling the church’s decision not to inform the congregation until 2019 “unacceptable” and others calling for the resignation of Matt Chandler, a popular author and Acts 29 executive chairman. A few have drawn comparisons to Hillsong Church co-founder Brian Houston, who was charged in Australia with concealing his late father, Frank Houston’s, sexual abuse of a young man. Brian Houston was acquitted in August. In response to questions about Steve Chandler, Village Church told Religion News Service that they care deeply about protecting children and prioritize the safety of those who attend their gatherings.

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2024

Houston officials warn residents to stop violent threats toward CenterPoint employees: 'It must stop'

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo addressed the recent outbreak of violent threats against CenterPoint employees at a Friday news conference. “We have heard reports of someone pulling a gun on a group of lineman, somebody shooting pellets at the truck,” Hidalgo said. “I know people are angry at the situation, and the heat makes us all more frustrated and the tempers run higher, but these folks are here just to help us.”

Hidalgo’s conference came after CenterPoint representatives told the Chronicle their crews were experiencing a spike in threats toward linemen and support employees. Thursday night, a staging area near Barnett Stadium in southwest Houston was forced to shut down after crew members there were threatened with a drive-by shooting. Hidalgo urged residents not to take out their anger on linemen or other CenterPoint employees, many of whom have come from out of state to help repair damage caused by Beryl. She advised Houstonians interested in accelerating recovery efforts to volunteer and assist in debris cleanup and tree removal. “It could take up to six people an entire day to remove one large tree,” Hidalgo said. “We need so much more help than we have right now.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2024

HISD Board of Managers questions plans for CTE centers, transparency in $4.4B school bond proposal

About three weeks before its potential vote, Houston ISD’s Board of Managers held a special meeting Tuesday to question parts of the district’s plans for a $4.4 billion school bond package. In response to dozens of questions from board members before the meeting, HISD leaders provided further details on the bond development process, the district’s planned career-and-technology education investments, and plans for oversight and community engagement if the bond passes. The board, which was not initially scheduled to meet in July, is expected to vote Aug.8 on whether the bond will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. The bond would allocate about $2 billion for rebuilding and renovating schools with “poor facilities and learning conditions.”

It would also provide $1 billion for expanding pre-K, building three new career and technical education centers and technology upgrades and $1.35 billion for lead abatement, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning improvements and security upgrades. “Our kids can’t wait. We do have some serious safety and health needs today, and if the bond passes that’s one of the first projects we can work on right away” state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles said. “They're resilient. They're just doing their thing, teachers too are also resilient and just doing good work, and really, we owe them better.” At the board’s previous meeting in June, members heard from leaders of the school bond Community Advisory Committee, who shared a report outlining more than 20 recommendations that address “challenges, opportunities and questions” with the largest proposed bond in Texas history. The committee said that the district also should reconsider spending $425 million on new CTE centers and instead plan to invest its resources on renovating or rebuilding existing campuses. During Tuesday's meeting, multiple board members, including Janette Garza Linder and Cassandra Auzenne Bandy, questioned whether having a center in all four divisions was necessary.

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2024

Greg Abbott to address Republican National Convention on Wednesday

Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed he will be speaking at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night. “I can’t wait to be there and talk about Texas’ plans to fix some of our country’s biggest issues such as securing our southern border, implementing school choice for parents, and defending the American people’s personal liberty,” Abbott said in a fundraising email sent to supporters on Tuesday. RNC officials already had announced Abbott would be a featured convention speaker, but the governor missed the first days of the event to address lingering power outages in Houston caused by Hurricane Beryl. Abbott originally was expected to be in Wisconsin for a separate speech on Tuesday morning in Madison but canceled to remain in Texas to continue monitoring the hurricane recovery efforts. It will be Abbott’s first official convention speech since he became governor in 2014. He is one of six Texas elected officials with speaking slots at the event that draws GOP activists from across the country.

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Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2024

Huffman ISD among districts accused of electioneering by Attorney General Ken Paxton

The Huffman ISD superintendent gathered a group of roughly 200 teachers and staff members in the Hargrave High School cafeteria on the morning of Feb. 7 to encourage his employees to support a list of Republican primary candidates who opposed school choice ahead of the March primary. “If we don’t support those 16 representatives in the upcoming election, we roll into the next session almost assured that we’re going to face a universal voucher bill that will change the face of public education forever, ” Benny Soileau said, according to a meeting transcript. Solieau also spoke about the district’s dire financial situation and his disappointment with Gov. Greg Abbott’s push for vouchers in the 88th legislative session.

“The word on the street … is that (Abbott) would have had an opportunity to become the attorney general at the federal level if he could deliver a voucher bill to the state of Texas,” Solieau said. “So he pushed real hard to try to make that happen, and he did it at the expense of 5.4 million public school kids in the state of Texas.” Solieau’s pitch put Huffman ISD among six school districts sued for illegal electioneering by Attorney General Ken Paxton over nine days, a lawsuit the district is continuing to fight. Paxton also sued the Denton, Frisco, Castleberry, Aledo and Denison ISDs, claiming the districts’ electioneering violated both the Texas Election Code and the Texas Education Code.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 17, 2024

Tarrant DA investigating former school board candidate’s vote

The Tarrant District Attorney’s Office is investigating a complaint that a former Mansfield school board candidate cast a provisional ballot when he was ineligible to vote. The voter, Angel Hidalgo, did not have an active registration when he cast his ballot on March 1 for the March 5 primary, according to documents obtained by the Star-Telegram through an open records request. A Texas registration becomes effective 30 days after it is submitted and accepted. Hidalgo registered to vote in Tarrant County on Feb. 25 after he moved from Dallas County. A resident of the Mansfield school district filed a complaint about Hidalgo’s vote with the Tarrant County Election Integrity Unit on March 28. The Sheriff’s Office conducted the initial investigation in May.

”We received information from the Sheriff’s Office regarding Angel Hidalgo’s voting eligibility. Our office is currently investigating the matter,” a District Attorney’s Office spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday. Hidalgo was declared ineligible for the school board seat because he had not been a registered voter in the district for the required six months before the May 4 election. In a letter to the school district’s attorney obtained by the Star-Telegram, Hidalgo wrote that his voter registration was mistakenly linked to another address and that he voted in the primary after “rectifying the situation.” Provisional ballots are for voters who aren’t sure about their eligibility. The election judge at the Mansfield sub-courthouse did not count Hidalgo’s ballot because his registration was not active, according to the Sheriff’s Office investigation. The Sheriff’s Office determined that Hidalgo’s “intent to violate the voter laws would be difficult to prove.” In addition, the investigator determined that because the vote was disqualified “no crime was violated since his vote was not counted.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 17, 2024

Pastor, ex-lawmaker banned from Tarrant commissioners meetings

Former state Rep. Lon Burnam and the Rev. Ryon Price of Broadway Baptist Church spend nearly every other Tuesday speaking in favor of progressive policy at Tarrant County Commissioners Court meetings. Neither will be at the next meeting on Tuesday. Tarrant County Sheriff’s deputies have issued both trespassing warnings after Judge Tim O’Hare said they violated the rules of Commissioners Court on July 2. Price was banned for one year because he exceeded the three-minute time limit for public comment by eight seconds. Burnam was issued the warning after he approached O’Hare at the conclusion of the meeting. A page attached to the sign-up sheet for public comments spells out the rules for courtroom decorum and notes the judge may remove anyone he feels does not follow them.

Price said in a statement Monday: “I had no intention of exceeding my time at the commissioners court. But a ban for an eight-second infraction is excessive. I question the fairness of the penalty. “I do intend to comply with order because I respect the rule of law and because I am committed to helping be a peacemaker now. But I do hope the decision will be revisited.” Someone in the audience booed when O’Hare ordered Price out of the court, and the county judge told that person, “Try me.” Burnam was ejected after he approached O’Hare to express his grievances about his treatment of Commissioner Alisa Simmons, a Democrat who represents southeast Tarrant County, following a heated exchange between the two. Simmons was questioning the county administrator about training materials for Sheriff’s Office employees as O’Hare tried to close the meeting. “You’re out of order,” O’Hare said, then banged his gavel. “The chair has not recognized your right to speak.” Burnam said he can’t remember his exact words to O’Hare but said he let the judge know what he thinks of him. In a phone call with the Star-Telegram Monday, Burnam said he is tired of O’Hare dismissing Simmon’s comments at meetings. He called the argument at the July 2 meeting the “last straw for him.”

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WFAA - July 17, 2024

North Texas CEO sentenced in $65M fraud case had tried to buy English soccer clubs

The former CEO of a North Texas tech company last week was sentenced to 20 years in prison, accused of living a lavish lifestyle while defrauding investors in his company. And the news caught plenty of attention overseas. Christopher Kirchner, 37, the founder of Slync, was convicted on multiple counts of wire fraud and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity. After a jury found him guilty in January, Fort Worth federal Judge Mark Pittman on July 11 sentenced Kirchner to 20 years in prison and ordered him to pay $65 million in restitution. While Kirchner's sentencing made headlines in North Texas, it was also covered internationally in England, including by the BBC. That's because Kirchner reportedly had attempted to purchase two English soccer clubs in recent years -- Preston North End and Derby County, according to reports from the BBC and The Athletic.

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Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2024

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson slams Democrats on public safety in RNC speech

On stage at the Republican National Convention, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson stuck to Tuesday’s theme of making America safe again by detailing what made the self-described former “conservative Democrat” reconsider party affiliation. He called out Democrats on public safety during his nearly five-minute speech by recounting an incident in 2020 during which he said progressive activists stood outside his home to intimidate his family as they called on Dallas to defund its police force. “When those activists tried to scare my kids, my fellow Democrats were silent. It was Republicans who offered their support, both privately and publicly,” he said to applause. “Party affiliation didn’t matter. They cared about doing what was right.” Johnson introduced himself to attendees at the Milwaukee convention and others watching at home as “the proud Republican mayor of Dallas, Texas, the largest city in the United States led by a Republican.” Both statements drew applause.

He lamented that Democrats “were never actually there for me, for Dallas families or for the American people.” “With their words and their actions — and sometimes with their silence and their inaction — Democrats in power demonstrate they don’t care about stopping the killers or the thieves who terrorize Black and brown communities,” he said. “They don’t care about securing our border, and they don’t care about dangerous homeless encampments. No, the heart of today’s woke Democrat Party is with the criminals, not with their victims.” Republicans offer communities a better way, he said, touting Dallas’ three consecutive years of violent crime reduction. “Today, Dallas is viewed as America’s safest large city, and Republicans lead 11 of the top 15 safest cities,” he said to more applause. “And that’s because Republicans won’t be silent about public safety.” “Together,” he concluded, “let’s make America safe again by retiring Joe Biden and electing Donald J. Trump.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2024

Elon Musk says SpaceX headquarters is moving from California to Texas — and X too

Mercurial tech titan Elon Musk says SpaceX headquarters is moving to Texas from California, attacking Golden State Gov. Gavin Newsom for policies that Musk says are “attacking both families and companies.” The space exploration and rocket company will move its headquarters to Boca Chica, Texas, which Musk refers to as Starbase, the company’s CEO posted Tuesday on X. In a follow-up message, Musk said that X will also move headquarters to Austin, putting it close to the central offices of electric car maker Tesla.

“This is the final straw,” Musk posted, linking to a separate post about a new California law that Newsom signed banning schools from notifying parents of transgender students. “Because of this law and the many others that preceded it, attacking both families and companies, SpaceX will now move its HQ from Hawthorne, California, to Starbase, Texas.” “I did make it clear to Governor Newsom about a year ago that laws of this nature would force families and companies to leave California to protect their children,” Musk said in another message. The apparent headquarters moves come as Musk takes an increasingly political stance, endorsing Donald Trump on Saturday shortly after the assassination attempt on the former president and 2024 White House candidate.

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Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2024

Latino voters will back Trump despite historical support of Dems, Texas congresswoman says

Rep. Monica De La Cruz, R-Texas, expressed confidence that Latino voters will flock to former President Donald Trump in 2024 despite such voters’ historically Democratic leanings. Trump’s choice of J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, will resonate with many Latinos because the senator is a millennial at age 39, De La Cruz said. “Younger voters don’t connect with (President Joe) Biden, and one of the reasons is age,” she said. Hispanic voters skew younger than other ethnic and racial groups. De La Cruz’s comments came during a panel sponsored by the news outlet Axios that was focused on policies important to Latino voters. The second day of the Republican National Convention was largely focused on immigration issues. The congresswoman was joined on the panel, which was not an official RNC event, by Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., for the discussion moderated by Julio Vaqueiro of the Spanish-language TV network Noticias Telemundo. “Hispanics, especially in my community, it’s not about what you say. It’s what you do,” De La Cruz said. “And what we found in Hispanic communities like mine is that you were better off four years ago. We had more money in our pocket.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2024

Veterans can become certified teachers under new Texas law. Few opted for the classroom

Faced with an educator shortage, Texas lawmakers last year made it easier for military veterans to become teachers. The idea was touted not just as a way to fill vacant classrooms but to expose children to people who fought for their country. The legislation passed easily – at the same time when several other bills aimed at boosting teacher pay and strengthening educator recruitment and training failed. Data obtained by The Dallas Morning News through an open records request shows fewer than 30 veterans made use of the program that allowed them to earn special teacher certifications, putting only a minuscule dent in the broader effort to fill classrooms. “What that probably tells us is we need to do a better job of promoting that opportunity for the veteran community,” said Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, who authored the bill. “That tells me they’re not aware of it.”

Texas public schools hired more than 49,000 new teachers last school year. Only 28 military veterans were granted certifications through HB 621's new pathway between Sept. 1, 2023, and June 25, according to data provided by the Texas Education Agency. Veterans seeking to teach through this program can only do so in career and technology education classes, the result of a late amendment that limited the bill’s scope. “We narrowed it, which is probably causing an issue,” Shaheen said. “Expanding it should be something that we take a serious look at.” Traditionally, to become a certified teacher in Texas, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, complete an educator preparation program, pass related exams, submit a state application and complete a background check. A growing number of new teachers lack state certification entirely, meaning officials have no way to know whether they received rigorous training before stepping into a classroom. Roughly one in three new teachers hired in the state during the 2022-23 school year were uncertified.

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National Stories

Associated Press - July 17, 2024

Sen. Bob Menendez guilty of taking bribes in cash and gold and acting as Egypt’s foreign agent

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez was convicted of all charges Tuesday in a sweeping corruption trial in which he was accused of accepting bribes of gold and cash from three New Jersey businessmen and acting as an agent for the Egyptian government. A jury in Manhattan deliberated for parts of three days before finding the Democrat guilty of 16 crimes, including bribery, extortion, honest services fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Prosecutor said he abused the power of his office to protect allies from criminal investigations and enrich associates, including his wife, through acts that included meeting with Egyptian intelligence officials and softening his position toward that country as he speeded its access to millions of dollars in U.S. military aid. Menendez, 70, looked toward the jury at times and appeared to mark a document in front of him as the verdict was read. Afterward, he sat resting his chin against his closed hands, elbows on the table. He vowed to appeal as he left the courthouse.

“I have never violated my public oath. I have never been anything but a patriot of my country and for my country. I have never, ever been a foreign agent,” Menendez said before a collection of microphones before walking briskly to a waiting car. Menendez did not testify at the nine-week trial, but insisted publicly that he was only doing his job as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said gold bars found in his New Jersey home by the FBI belonged to his wife, Nadine Menendez. She too was charged, but her trial was postponed so she could recover from breast cancer surgery. She has pleaded not guilty. The verdict potentially dooms Menendez’s chances of winning reelection as an independent. The trial’s outcome prompted a chorus of Democrats to call on Menendez to resign, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New Jersey’s junior senator, Corey Booker, and the party’s nominee to replace Menendez, Rep. Andy Kim. “In light of this guilty verdict, Senator Menendez must now do what is right for his constituents, the Senate, and our country, and resign,” Schumer’s statement said.

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Reuters - July 17, 2024

US Rep. Schiff warns of big Democratic losses with Biden atop ticket

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is running for the Senate, warned donors in a private meeting that his party was likely to suffer major losses if President Joe Biden continued his reelection campaign, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing two unnamed sources. "I think if he is our nominee, I think we lose," the Times reported, citing a person with access to a transcription of a recording of the event, a Saturday fundraiser in New York. "And we may very, very well lose the Senate and lose our chance to take back the House." A spokesperson for Schiff's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. At least 19 congressional Democrats have publicly called for Biden to end his campaign after a halting performance in a debate against former President Donald Trump last month, even as Biden has repeatedly vowed to stay in the race.

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Bloomberg - July 17, 2024

Billionaires take sides as turbulent presidential race heats up

The US presidential election has seen a wave of unprecedented events, but one constant has been donor money pouring into campaign coffers. Since surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday, former President Donald Trump has received a cascade of money, capped by billionaire Elon Musk’s pledge to donate $45 million a month to a super political action committee that aims to pay for Trump’s ground game in battleground states. Despite a disastrous performance at the first presidential debate that caused murmurs that he should step aside to mount to a chorus, President Joe Biden raised $38 million from the day of the debate to the end of June for his campaign and party. Democratic mega donors also rallied to support him. Hedge fund manager George Soros donated $5 million to Future Forward PAC, the main super PAC backing Biden the day after the debate. Former Google chief executive officer Eric Schmidt and real estate developer Herbert Simon made six-figure donations to Biden’s campaign and the Democratic Party in recent weeks.

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CNN - July 17, 2024

Amazon Prime Day ‘major cause of injuries’ for workers, Senate finds

Amazon’s warehouses are especially dangerous for workers during the company’s annual Prime Day event, as well as the holiday season, according to an investigation by the US Senate. Prime Day, held on Tuesday and Wednesday this year, is “a major cause of injuries for the warehouse workers who make it possible,” said a report by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, published Monday, noting “the extremely unsafe conditions in Amazon warehouses” during the two peak periods. The report called on the company to do more to protect warehouse workers. During its ongoing investigation, the committee, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders, found that Prime Day and the holiday season are characterized by an “extremely high volume” of work and “intense pressure to work long hours and ignore safety guidelines.”

The report makes public, for the first time, the company’s internal data on warehouse injury rates. The data shows that during Prime Day 2019 the rate of “recordable” injuries — those Amazon is required to disclose to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — exceeded 10 per 100 workers, more than double the average in the US warehousing and storage industry. But Amazon’s total injury rate, which includes injuries the company does not have to report to OSHA, was just under 45 per 100 workers, the report said. “These injury rates are especially egregious in light of the incredible revenue the company generates and the resources it has available to make its warehouses safe for workers,” it added. Amazon raked in $12.7 billion in sales on July 11 and 12 last year, its Prime Day 2023 event, and said July 11 was the single biggest sales day in the company’s history. For the first three months of 2024, the e-commerce giant reported a profit of $10.4 billion.

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Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2024

Home Run Derby anthem singer Ingrid Andress says she was drunk during performance

Country music star Ingrid Andress released a statement on Tuesday afternoon following her highly-criticized performance of the national anthem prior to Monday’s Home Run Derby at Globe Life Field. On social media, Andress said she was intoxicated during her performance of the Star-Spangled Banner, and will be checking into a rehab facility to seek help. “That was not me last night,” she posted. “I apologize to MLB, all the fans, and this country I love so much for the rendition. I’ll let y’all know how rehab is I hear it’s super fun.”

In the hours after her performance, few are talking about the Derby itself, with most attention focused on 32-year-old Andress, who drew criticism and snark on social media and online. USA Today called her rendition “cringeworthy,” and Entertainment Weekly said Andress was “unbound by the notes that we’re used to hearing” from the Star Spangled Banner. And those were among the kinder reviews. Andress broke through in 2019 with her debut single “More Hearts That Mine,” which later hit No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The Colorado-raised singer has received four Grammy nominations, including best country song, best country album and best new artist, which she lost to rapper Megan Thee Stallion in 2021. Her most recent Grammy nomination came in 2023 for “Best Country Duo/Group Performance” for the single “Wishful Drinking” with Sam Hunt.

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Washington Post - July 17, 2024

Teamsters president delivers fiery address at RNC, as Republicans flirt with populism

Teamsters President Sean O’Brien addressed the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee Monday night, marking the first time that a leader of the storied union has addressed the GOP convention. “President Trump had the backbone to open the doors to this Republican convention and that’s unprecedented,” O’Brien said, noting that the invitation has caused “political unrest” from both sides of the political spectrum. “You can have whatever opinion you want but one thing is clear: President Trump is a candidate who’s unafraid to hear from new, loud and often critical voices,” O’Brien said to a round of cheers. O’Brien’s appearance marks an extraordinary departure for one of the country’s most powerful unions that has for decades supported Democrats, at a moment when the GOP is divided over whether to embrace a move toward more populist right-wing politics.

The union president from outside Boston also criticized big business in his speech, including Amazon, Uber and Lyft, for selling out American workers and showered praise on Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in particular, for being willing to question corporate power. O’Brien, who was invited to speak by former president Donald Trump, has been wielding the union’s endorsement as political leverage in Washington. Most major unions have rallied behind President Biden, whose administration has gone to great lengths to champion unions. O’Brien also has requested to speak at the Democratic National Convention in August but has not yet received an invitation, Teamsters spokesperson Kara Deniz told The Washington Post. The Teamsters, with some 1.3 million members, many across key battleground states, will not be endorsing until after both conventions, Deniz said last week. O’Brien has explained his decision to wait to endorse this year as an effort to carefully assess the union’s options, saying that his members’ votes “will not be taken for granted.”

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Washington Post - July 17, 2024

Biden set to announce support for major Supreme Court changes

President Biden is finalizing plans to endorse major changes to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks, including proposals for legislation to establish term limits for the justices and an enforceable ethics code, according to two people briefed on the plans. He is also weighing whether to call for a constitutional amendment to eliminate broad immunity for presidents and other constitutional officeholders, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. The announcement would mark a major shift for Biden, a former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has long resisted calls to make substantive changes to the high court. The potential changes come in response to growing outrage among his supporters about recent ethics scandals surrounding Justice Clarence Thomas and decisions by the new court majority that have changed legal precedent on issues including abortion and federal regulatory powers.

“I’m going to need your help on the Supreme Court, because I’m about to come out — I don’t want to prematurely announce it — but I’m about to come out with a major initiative on limiting the court. … I’ve been working with constitutional scholars for the last three months, and I need some help,” Biden said, according to a transcript of the call obtained by The Washington Post. Term limits and an ethics code would be subject to congressional approval, which would face long odds in the Republican-controlled House and a slim Democratic majority in the Senate. Under current rules, passage in the Senate would require 60 votes. A constitutional amendment requires even more hurdles, including two-thirds support of both chambers, or by a convention of two-thirds of the states, and then approval by three-fourths of state legislatures. The details of Biden’s considered policies have not been disclosed. A White House spokesperson declined to comment. Shortly after The Post published this story, former president Donald Trump criticized the move on Truth Social: “The Democrats are attempting to interfere in the Presidential Election, and destroy our Justice System, by attacking their Political Opponent, ME, and our Honorable Supreme Court,” he wrote. “We have to fight for our Fair and Independent Courts, and protect our Country.”

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Associated Press - July 17, 2024

Can a Medicaid plan that requires work succeed? First year of Georgia experiment is not promising

By now, Georgia officials expected their new Medicaid plan, the only one in the nation with a work requirement, to provide health insurance to 25,000 low-income residents and possibly tens of thousands more. But a year since its launch, Pathways to Coverage has roughly 4,300 members, much lower than what state officials projected and a tiny fraction of the roughly half-million state residents who could be covered if Georgia, like 40 other states, agreed to a full Medicaid expansion. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s office has presented Pathways as a compromise that would add people to Medicaid while also helping them transition off it. Blaming the Biden administration for delaying the program’s start, Kemp’s office says it’s redoubling efforts to sign people up. Health and public policy experts believe the enrollment numbers, dismal even compared to what Kemp’s office had said Pathways could achieve, reflect a fundamental flaw: The work requirement is just too burdensome.

“It’s clear that the Georgia Pathways experiment is a huge failure,” said Leo Cuello, a research professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy. Pathways requires all recipients to show at least 80 hours of work monthly, volunteer activity, schooling or vocational rehabilitation. It also limits coverage to able-bodied adults earning no more than the federal poverty line, which is $15,060 for a single person and $31,200 for a family of four. Cuello noted the program makes no exceptions for people who are caring for children or other family, lack transportation, suffer from drug addiction or face a myriad other barriers to employment. Then there are people with informal jobs that make documenting their hours impossible. In rural Clay County in southwest Georgia, Dr. Karen Kinsell said many of her patients are too sick to work. Over the last year, Kinsell has suggested Pathways to about 30 patients who might meets its requirements, but none have signed up. “I think the general idea is it would be too much work and too complicated for little benefit,” she said. Just going online each month to submit proof of work can be a significant obstacle, said Harry Heiman, a health policy professor at Georgia State University.

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Newsclips - July 16, 2024

Lead Stories

CNN - July 16, 2024

Trump selected Ohio Sen. JD Vance, a critic turned ally, as running mate after last-minute push from son

Donald Trump has named US Sen. JD Vance as his running mate, further elevating the Ohio Republican who has adopted the former president’s populist agenda after years of pointed criticism of Trump. “After lengthy deliberation and thought, and considering the tremendous talents of many others, I have decided that the person best suited to assume the position of Vice President of the United States is Senator J.D. Vance of the Great State of Ohio,” Trump said on his Truth Social platform. Trump’s selection came on the first day of the Republican National Convention and just two days after he survived an assassination attempt at his campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, over the weekend. On the floor of the convention, shortly after news of Vance’s selection broke, delegates celebrating the party’s ticket were writing Vance’s name onto Trump signs using markers.

Trump called Vance on Monday, to officially offer him the spot 20 minutes before the former president made the announcement on Truth Social, a source familiar with the process told CNN. The two had met at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club on Saturday, before the rally at which Trump was shot in the ear. Ahead of Trump’s selection of Vance, the Ohio senator’s supporters, including Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and conservative media figure Tucker Carlson, had argued that Vance has the strongest relationship with Trump of a group of finalists that also included Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and would be the most loyal selection, multiple sources familiar with the discussions said. They made the case that Vance can appeal to working-class voters viewed as essential to winning the key battleground states in November, given his upbringing in a poor Rust Belt town in Ohio. They also pointed to his wife, Usha Chilukuri — the child of Indian immigrants — as being someone who could appeal to minority voters, the sources said. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, on the convention floor, described Trump’s selection of Vance as “a great day for Ohio.”

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NBC News - July 16, 2024

Biden bristles at continued questions about his age and abilities in NBC interview

As the first night of the Republican National Convention unfolded, President Biden sat for a new televised interview where he pushed back when asked about whether he needed to do more to convince his party that he’s got what it takes to run for a second term. Since the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump on Saturday, the steady drumbeat of public calls from Democrats in Congress for Biden to step back from the presidential race has receded. And Biden told NBC’s Lester Holt that he is resolved to continue his reelection bid, despite faltering badly in his debate against Trump last month. Holt asked the president who he listens to when it comes to “deeply personal decisions,” like whether to continue campaigning.

“Me,” Biden said. “I’m old,” Biden later said, acknowledging that he understands questions about his age. “But I’m only three years older than Trump, No. 1. And No. 2, my mental acuity has been pretty damn good. I’ve gotten more done than any president has in a long time in 3½ years. I’m willing to be judged on that.” Holt asked Biden if he had watched tape of the debate. ”I was there,” Biden said. “I didn’t have to see it, I was there.” Holt asked if Biden would be willing to debate Trump again before an agreed-upon second debate in September – a chance, Holt suggested, to “get back on the horse?” “I’m on the horse!” Biden said, describing the flurry of events he has done since the debate to try to show it was just one bad night. “Where have you been? I’ve done 22 major events and thousands of people, overwhelming crowds. A lot’s happening.” Biden said he spoke with Trump after the shooting, describing the call as “very cordial” and said he told his predecessor “he was literally in the prayers of Jill and me.” “I hope his whole family was weathering this,” Biden added. Biden gave an Oval Office address on Sunday where he called on Americans to “lower the temperature in our politics.”

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San Antonio Express-News - July 16, 2024

Texas insurers hike rates as extreme storms like Beryl proliferate — and fatter profits are forecast

Destructive storms like Hurricane Beryl, which knocked out power to 3 million homes and businesses in Texas, are growing more frequent and intense — and insurers are jacking up rates in response. That could mean more big profits for property and casualty insurers like Allstate, State Farm and USAA in the coming year. Investors have bid up shares in the sector about 19% so far this year, outpacing the S&P 500’s 17% gain. It also means more struggle for homeowners who already are facing higher costs of housing. Rate increases have been a way for property insurers to offset the cost of catastrophic events.

In Texas, rates jumped an average 21.1% last year, by far the biggest increase in a decade. That was nearly twice the U.S. average, according to S&P Global. Progressive’s rates rose 10.4% in 2023, compared with just a 2.9% rise in 2022, and Allstate’s rates jumped 10.2%, up from 4.3% in 2022. Storm-driven rate increases at San Antonio-based USAA last year got credit for helping the company return to profitability. Across the U.S., hurricanes account for most insured catastrophe losses, according to investment research company CFRA. Hurricane Ian in 2022 is a reminder of the risks facing insurers. It was among the costliest storms in U.S. history at just over $118 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the costliest at about $200 billion. The U.S. experienced 28 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2023 — the most ever — according to NOAA. That surpassed 22 such events in 2020. The current hurricane season is already one for the record books. Hurricane Beryl, just the second named storm of the season, became the earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic. NOAA is forecasting an above-normal season with as many as 25 named storms, up from 20 named storms and seven hurricanes in 2023. “If this grim forecast comes to fruition, it will likely buoy pricing for many lines of property-casualty insurance and reinsurance, providing certain underwriters’ shares with a catalyst,” according to a research report from CFRA. Global insurance giant Swiss RE expects the broader sector’s return on equity, a key measure of profit, to grow 9.5% in 2024, well above last year’s 3.4% growth.

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Click2Houston - July 16, 2024

‘I will be issuing an executive order’: Gov. Abbott examines CenterPoint’s future in Texas after Beryl response

Texas Governor Greg Abbott toured NRG Arena Monday to examine the 250 beds set up there for Houstonians who’ve been discharged from area hospitals but don’t have a safe place to go after Hurricane Beryl. The state set up the operation at NRG Arena to help with healthcare access and provide ready-made meals, water, ice, and shelter to those who lost power. With Houston Mayor John Whitmire by his side, Abbott said Texas will continue to focus on assisting residents directly impacted by the storm and those who are still without power. Abbott doubled down on his stance on demanding answers from CenterPoint Energy, stating that they have a deadline to give them information on their response or Abbott suggests issuing an executive order.

“If CenterPoint does not respond to my request, I will be issuing an executive order imposing, what I think, are the appropriate standards,” Abbott said. “The standards I want to impose on CenterPoint would be far more costly than what they may be coming up with. Separate from that, if they don’t comply with my request and refuse to work with them, we’re going to completely re-evaluate the current status of CenterPoint in our area.” Abbott did not pull any punches Sunday afternoon in going after CenterPoint for their failures in getting the lights back on for Houstonians as well as hundreds of thousands of others in the area. “The failure of power companies to provide power to their customers is completely unacceptable,” Abbott said. Abbott, who is back in the state after an economic trade mission to Taiwan, South Korea and Japan last week, joined Lt. Governor Dan Patrick at a news conference Sunday afternoon at Gallery Furniture. The governor made it clear that hurricane season is far from over and CenterPoint will be required to immediately start addressing multiple key issues to avoid what has happened post-Beryl from happening again this hurricane season.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2024

CenterPoint outages down to 142K, Metrorail resumes service

CenterPoint officials Monday said they anticipate restoring power to 98% of affected customers by the end of Wednesday, more than a week after Hurricane Beryl ripped through the region and knocked out electricity for millions of Houstonians. More than 2 million affected customers’ power had been restored as of 1 p.m. Monday, while just under 237,000 remained without electricity, according to the energy company’s website. The company drew criticism from customers and government officials for its response time and communication issues. CenterPoint officials said in a statement they would conduct a thorough review of the company’s response.

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Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2024

Houston restaurants 'fed up' with CenterPoint join class action lawsuit filed by Tony Buzbee

The Buzbee Law Firm, representing a cohort of Houston restaurants, is filing a class action lawsuit against CenterPoint Energy. Attorney Tony Buzbee released a statement on social media, stating the case makes claims of CenterPoint's negligence and violations of the law. All of the restaurants suing lost power during Hurricane Beryl, and they are "fed up," the statement reads. The lawsuit will make a case that CenterPoint failed to invest in its infrastructure for years, maintain and upgrade equipment, and adequately train personnel, among other issues. Further, Buzbee asserts, CenterPoint has a monopoly by not giving residents a choice in their energy provider.

"As such, CenterPoint has a duty to act in a reasonable manner, not the grossly negligent and incompetent way it has conducted itself for years. Imagine, if the restaurants filing this case were to conduct their businesses in the way that CenterPoint has done, these restaurants would be out of business," Buzbee said in his statement. He states that the case is not about money, but about "forcing CenterPoint in court to do what the administrative, legislative and executive system has failed to require." Houston area restaurants were greatly affected by the power outages that resulted from Hurricane Beryl. Many were closed for multiple days on end, resulting in a loss of tens of thousands of dollars. Dandelion Cafe owner Sarah Lieberman estimated a loss of $40,000 as of Friday. The cafe is one of the restaurants still without power on Monday, a week after the storm. The lawsuit will be distributed once it is filed.

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Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2024

Houston Rep. Wesley Hunt makes debut at RNC and goes after Biden on inflation

U.S. Rep. Wesley Hunt made his primetime debut Monday night when the Houston congressman took the stage at the Republican National Convention, introducing himself to the GOP as a “military guy.” “I understand that when you’re given a mission, you show up, you identify the problem and you execute,” Hunt, a West Point graduate and former Apache helicopter pilot, said. “Biden and Harris haven’t shown up.”

It was a short speech, but a big moment for Hunt. He is still serving his first term in Congress, but has seen his profile begin to grow as he has gotten closer to Donald Trump, frequently appearing at the former president’s rallies. Sticking with the theme of the night, “Make America Wealthy Again,” Hunt delivered an economic-focused message, hammering President Joe Biden, who he said imposed “what Ronald Reagan called the cruelest tax: inflation.” “We the people can fix this Democrat disaster,” Hunt said to the loudest applause of his brief appearance.

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Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2024

Judge lifts order blocking Sutherland Springs church from razing mass shooting memorial

A judge on Monday dissolved an order blocking First Baptist Church leaders in Sutherland Springs from demolishing a memorial to the victims of the 2017 mass shooting there. But it was unclear if the church planned to immediately forge ahead with plans to raze the memorial. Church officials and members who support the demolition, who attended a court hearing Monday on the matter, left without talking to the media. And the church's lawyers said they had no comment. Relatives of three victims of Nov. 5, 2017, massacre filed a lawsuit in Floresville court on May 17 and obtained a temporary restraining order on July 2 that blocked the church’s planned demolition of the 100-year-old structure, a focal point for the community’s grief. The plaintiffs claim they and others were either wrongly removed from the church rolls ahead of a vote three years ago to decide whether to tear down the memorial sanctuary, or not told when the vote would take place.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 16, 2024

State OKs water quality permit for controversial quarry in Comal County

The Vulcan Materials Quarry in Comal County is a step closer to becoming a reality, after state regulators signed off on its water quality protection plan over the objections of environmental groups, state legislators and a local water company. Opponents are running out of options to stop the project, which they’ve been fighting since 2017, citing concerns about its potential impact on air quality and water in an environmentally sensitive area. Vulcan Materials Company plans to operate a 1,500-acre quarry between New Braunfels and Bulverde. It would sit on the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, the area where water enters the groundwater system that provides water for more than 2 million people. Last week, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the company’s water pollution and abatement plan, a document required because of the quarry’s location on the aquifer.

The plan calls for mining nine different areas, ultimately reaching about 956 acres, with another 545 acres of buffers, berms and floodplain areas. The document lists caves, boreholes, sinkholes and wells on the property, including five with a “high probability for rapid infiltration.” Vulcan’s plans include vegetation strips to filter runoff, buffers around sensitive features and mining a prescribed distance above the groundwater level. The Alabama-based company has said it will operate “in a safe, socially and environmentally responsible manner,” and will “protect and conserve water resources.” Vulcan produces construction materials, including crushed stone and gravel, as well as asphalt and concrete. In addition to mining, its plan calls for building a plant on the Comal County site for crushing and processing rock before hauling it away. The mining process includes clearing land, drilling and blasting, then moving the materials to the plant.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 16, 2024

UTSA coach Jeff Traylor's son helped shield a reporter during shooting at Trump rally

As shots rang out last Saturday during former President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, Jake Traylor leapt to action in an effort to protect ABC correspondent Rachel Scott from incoming gunfire. Traylor, an NBC News presidential campaign reporter and the son of UTSA football coach Jeff Traylor, was in proximity to the stage when the 20-year-old suspect, Thomas Matthew Crooks, fired multiple shots at Trump in a failed assassination attempt. Crooks pierced Trump’s right ear with a bullet, leaving the presumptive Republican nominee's face bloodied, killed one spectator and critically wounded two other people before Secret Service agents killed him, according to law enforcement officials.

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KXAN - July 16, 2024

Public Utility Commission of Texas to launch investigation into CenterPoint Energy over Beryl response

The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) is officially launching an investigation into CenterPoint Energy’s response to prolonged power outages caused by Hurricane Beryl and the utility’s preparation ahead of the storm, according to an announcement Monday afternoon. Thomas Gleeson, the PUC’s chairman, told reporters during a news conference Monday afternoon in Houston that he asked the agency’s staff members to initiate this investigation since they’re responsible for regulating CenterPoint. “CenterPoint has to do better — I cannot urge this enough,” Gleeson said. “I have tried to stress with their executives that CenterPoint has to have a sense of urgency. What I’ve guaranteed to the governor is I will bring back actions we can do immediately and not wait to address. I will expect those to be done during this hurricane season. We’re still at the beginning of hurricane season. We have a number of things, including communication, that can be addressed right now.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 16, 2024

Dallas PD officer accused of writing ‘aim better’ online after Trump assassination attempt

A Dallas police officer was put on paid administrative leave amid allegations he wrote “aim better” on social media this weekend after an assassination attempt on former U.S. President Donald Trump. Sgt. Arturo Martinez, 37, published the two-word post Saturday after the shooting at a Butler, Penn., campaign rally, which left a man dead and wounded Trump and two spectators, according to officials and a screenshot of the post obtained by The Dallas Morning News. Police spokeswoman Kristin Lowman confirmed Martinez is on leave as the internal affairs unit investigates him. An internal complaint was received Saturday about a social media comment, she said without elaborating. “When I received the notification regarding the comment posted, disappointed would be an understatement,” Dallas police Chief Eddie García told The News when asked for comment. “If in fact true, the comment made has no place in our society, and certainly no place in law enforcement.”

Martinez did not immediately respond to requests for comment over the phone. His attorney, Jane Bishkin, told The News he was acting as a private citizen making a single post on a social media account with no identification of him as an officer, which she said “he has a 100% constitutional right to do.” The post, shared on Instagram, was a “misunderstanding,” she said, adding he was referencing the Secret Service and not Trump. She believes he’ll be exonerated after the investigation. “He thought, ‘How in the hell is a guy allowed to even get that close to Trump?’” Bishkin said. “His job is to protect people. When dignitaries come to Dallas, he’s on the detail. ... He couldn’t believe that this was allowed to happen. That’s what that reference was, and it was taken out of context.”

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Border Report - July 16, 2024

South Texas leaders push to meet with incoming Mexican president over water debt ‘crisis’

Lawmakers from the Rio Grande Valley are vying to meet with Mexico’s incoming president over water owed to the United States. U.S. Rep. Monica De La Cruz, R-Texas, this week wrote to Mexican President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum requesting a meeting to address water deliveries that are owed to the United States under a 1944 international treaty. “The ongoing water scarcity in South Texas represents a true crisis for both communities and farmers,” De La Cruz wrote Monday in the letter. “Given the dire need for water relief in South Texas, I respectfully request a meeting with you so that we may best work together to resolve this long standing issue.” U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez told Border Report on Friday that he has meetings planned with Sheinbaum “and some incoming members of her cabinet Monday and Tuesday.”

Gonzalez recently told “Inside Valley Politics” that he was meeting with Sheinbaum to discuss water payments and other issues. “I have a meeting with the incoming president Sheinbaum,” Gonzalez said. “I intend to bring up the issues that I’ve been critical on Mexico, the insecurity along our borders, and in the interior of Mexico. I’m going to bring up the water debt that still hasn’t been paid, and other issues that I think are concerns for us.” Both lawmakers have been outspoken and aggressive in efforts to get Mexico to pay water owed to the United States, and specifically to the Rio Grande, which supplies most of the drinking and agriculture water for South Texas communities. “Under the 1944 Water Treaty, Mexico pledged to supply the United States with an average 350,000 acre feet of water annually over a five year cycle,” De La Cruz wrote. “Unfortunately, there have been consistent delays in meeting these obligations which is causing agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley to suffer.” Under the treaty, Mexico is obligated to pay 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the United States via the Rio Grande during a five-year cycle. The current cycle ends in October 2025 and Mexico has not yet delivered 400,000 acre-feet of water — that’s barely one year’s worth of water owed, according to the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees the Rio Grande.

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Business Insider - July 16, 2024

Mark Cuban worries algorithms will decide the president in 2024

Will social media decide who becomes president? That's what Mark Cuban is worrying about. The billionaire "Shark Tank" investor warned about social media's outsized influence this election cycle. "This is the first AI driven election season where policy and personalities mean nothing and algorithms drive everything," Cuban wrote on X on Monday. Cuban argued that "narratives delivered by the algorithms" — whether factual or not — are now more important to voters than "actual events." This means employees at social media companies who design algorithms have "the most influential positions in politics," Cuban said — followed by campaign staffers "who can figure out how to reverse-engineer the algos." Cuban outlined his argument on X, but said the thesis applies to all social platforms "that are tuned to maximize engagement and or revenue."

Beyond politics, he called the impact of unpredictable algorithms on children today "terrifying" — and even more influential than their parents. So how does Cuban think we should solve the problem? "Any site that doesn't fully publish their algorithms, with complete source code, shouldn't allow minors on the site," Cuban told Business Insider. If they do, Cuban said "there should be an option for each parent to get a text history file, showing links to all the videos, emailed to them daily." Cuban similarly warned of social media's ills Sunday after the attempted assassination of former president and GOP nominee Donald Trump. Cuban warned users to watch out for scammers and grifters like people creating fake fundraisers. He also wrote he hoped the former president was okay, and thanked the Secret Service for putting themselves in harm's way. The famed entrepreneur has previously voiced his support for President Joe Biden in November's election.

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Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2024

United Way, Houston officials open Hurricane Beryl Disaster Fund to help residents in need

Officials with United Way of Greater Houston and the Houston Disaster Alliance announced Monday they are opening a Hurricane Beryl Recovery Fund to help residents with storm recovery. The news conference with Mayor John Whitmire and County Judge Lina Hidalgo was a rare joint appearance by the two top local government officials. They also appeared at a joint news conference after May’s derecho.

The fund will go toward helping the most vulnerable residents in Houston and Harris, Waller, Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties with emergency financial assistance, home repairs and resource navigation services. So far, the fund has accumulated more than $3 million. H-E-B has donated $1 million, the Sarofim Foundation has donated $1 million and CenterPoint Energy Foundation has donated another $1 million. Wells Fargo and Shell have also contributed, but it’s unclear how much.

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Dallas Morning News - July 16, 2024

James Armstrong: Nation’s healing must be intentional and start here in North Texas

(James Armstrong is CEO of Builders of Hope Development Corporation and senior pastor of Community Fellowship Church in West Dallas.) Shortly after a gunman’s failed attempt to assassinate former President Donald Trump at a Pennsylvania rally, President Joe Biden perfectly described the act as “sick.” Examining the condition of our country’s political climate, all symptoms point to the same diagnosis: America is sick and in need of healing. The disease that plagues our land has claimed great empires in the past and been the downfall of the most formidable dynasties. In fact, this isn’t the first time America has been afflicted. This malady claimed more than 750,000 lives in one chapter of American history. The sickness that I speak of is division rooted in hate. If rioting is the voice of the unheard, then political violence like we saw last weekend is the symptom of a divided land. The progression of single-issue pursuit of partisan interest, rise of supremacism in the ranks of government officials, and exclusionary rhetoric that solidifies them-versus-us ideology are all contributing to the ailment of American democracy as we know it.

As a housing developer in Texas, I know that hairline cracks in a foundation or sheetrock are common and mostly cosmetic. But there are certain cracks that serve as a symptom of a deeper structural issue. American society has become too accepting of cracks that threaten the structure of our democracy. The disregard and demeaning of one another based on belief, the petty points made on social media, and the offensive and hateful language we use to express our disagreements are all slight cracks to core values that create an even bigger divide among us. It’s now common practice that has become American culture. There is a generation that only knows a sick, contentious America, and we’re to blame. Rather than working together amid disagreement, political sides are now seen as enemies with the victory being lost for both, and that’s the real danger. When division reigns, it welcomes destruction. After two weeks living with my first college roommate, I stormed into my resident advisor’s office demanding to be relocated to another room. After intense questioning by my RA, I realized my displeasure boiled down to the fact that my roommate was different than me, we disagreed on just about everything, and I had not learned to live with it. The advisor gave me advice that I still use today: Disagreement doesn’t have to be detrimental nor does it have to disrupt fellowship. I understand the nature of a two-party political system is that of disagreement. However, a disregard of one’s rights and very existence in the midst of disagreement should never be tolerated and will never lead to progress. The consequence of us continuing on this path is found in the old aphorism, “a house divided cannot stand.”

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MyRGV - July 16, 2024

SpaceX wants to launch 25 times per year from Boca Chica

SpaceX wishes to dramatically increase the number of Starship-Super Heavy launches it conducts out from the company’s Boca Chica production and testing complex, otherwise known as Starbase. The Federal Aviation Administration announced last week that it will hold public meetings next month in Port Isabel and South Padre Island on a Draft Tiered Environmental Assessment (Draft EA) for SpaceX’s proposal to ramp up its launch cadence — up to 25 times a year. The company also wants to conduct up to 25 landings each of the Starship and Super Heavy per year. The company’s goal is to recover and reuse Starship and Super Heavy many times, which would require landing them on the ground or an offshore platform.

On June 6, during its fourth Starship orbital test flight, SpaceX managed for the first time controlled water landings of Super Heavy (in the Gulf) and a Starship (in the Indian Ocean). No recoveries have been attempted with the early orbital test flights, and the vehicles — or pieces of them — have been allowed to sink. Musk posted on X July 5 that the fifth orbital flight test would take place “in 4 weeks,” which would make it the first week of August. The first Draft EA public meeting will be held Aug. 13, 1-3 p.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the South Padre Island Convention Center, 7355 Padre Blvd. The second meeting will take place Aug. 15, 1-3 p.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center, 309 E. Railroad Ave. A virtual meeting will also take place, on Aug. 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m. The link to register can be found here.

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WFAA - July 16, 2024

Texas Republicans want Dallas Congresswoman to resign over bill aimed at stripping Trump Secret Service

A group of Texas Republicans is calling on North Texas Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett to resign over her support of a bill that would have stripped former President Donald Trump of his Secret Service protection. Crockett, who represents Dallas and other surrounding cities in the U.S. House, was one of several Democratic lawmakers who introduced a bill in April that would have terminated Secret Service protection for convicted felons. The bill, known as the "DISGRACED Former Protectees Act," would have, in effect, stripped Trump of his Secret Service protection after his conviction on felony charges of falsifying business records in a hush-money case in New York in May. The bill was introduced to the House on April 19 and referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. The bill has not moved forward from there.

The call for Crockett's resignation came in a letter Monday -- two days after the assassination attempt on Trump -- and was signed by 16 Texas Republicans, including State Rep. Brian Harrison, State Rep. Jeff Leach, State Sen. Bob Hall, State Rep. Briscoe Cain, State Rep. Carrie Isaac, State Rep. Mark Dorazio and State Rep. Caroline Harris Davila. Republican state house candidates Shelley Luther, Andy Hopper, Helen Kerwin and AJ Louderback also signed the letter. "Texans believe that, regardless of party, Presidents of the United States of America, both current and former, must be protected," the letter stated. Crockett's office has not yet responded to a request for comment about the calls for her resignation or if she still supports the bill introduced in April. On Saturday, Trump was holding a rally in Pennsylvania when he was grazed on the ear by a gunman's bullet. Secret Service officers rushed to his aid, covering him from more fire. Officers working the rally returned fire at the shooter, Matthew Thomas Crooks, killing him, authorities said.

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National Stories

New York Times - July 16, 2024

By burning down buildings, insurers want to change how they’re built

The insurance industry is setting homes on fire — just to make a point. The fires are controlled, kindled in a research lab or staged at training facilities used by fire departments. They are designed to simulate the conditions that help wildfires spread through neighborhoods and cause what the insurers call a “conflagration event,” like the one that killed 102 people and destroyed the town of Lahaina on Maui in Hawaii last August. The message to homebuilders is stark: Homes in certain parts of the United States must now be constructed with wildfires in mind, or they most likely will not be insured, which would mean they couldn’t be bought with a mortgage. In part because of climate change and the resulting increase in catastrophic storms and fires, insuring homes in some parts of the country has become a money-losing proposition for the industry. Across the United States, insurers lost $33 billion in 2023 on personal home and auto insurance, according to AM Best, a ratings agency for the industry.

In California, where fires have consumed more than roughly 220,000 acres of land in just this year, major insurers like State Farm, Allstate and Farmers have all pulled back. In some areas, they have stopped writing new policies and have canceled some existing policies. This month, State Farm asked California’s insurance regulator to approve a 30 percent rate increase for the owner-occupied home insurance it still provides in the state. “We’ve always had insurance, it’s just been there, it’s been included in our everyday processes like getting a mortgage,” said Josh Wilkins, a retired firefighter in Idaho who now consults with insurers and property owners about reducing fire risk. But “that business model is dying,” he said. “The end users — the insurance customers — are actually going to have to do something to make sure that they keep the business model going.” That “something” could be the biggest overhaul of building standards in more than 30 years. After Hurricane Andrew devastated part of South Florida in 1992, pressure from the insurance industry compelled homeowners and builders in the state to switch to stronger windows and roof ties. The industry is applying a similar kind of pressure now in response to growing wildfire risk. Leading this effort is the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, or I.B.H.S., which is backed by more than 100 insurance companies. The I.B.H.S. is advocating new standards for landscaping, fencing and building materials that it says can help prevent a wildfire from ripping through a neighborhood. It is also staging side-by-side burn demonstrations, comparing the fire-resistant designs and materials with more traditional structures.

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NPR - July 16, 2024

As a baby bust hits rural areas, hospital labor and delivery wards are closing down

Rural regions like the one surrounding this southern Iowa town used to have a lot more babies and many more places to give birth to them. At least 41 Iowa hospitals have shuttered their labor and delivery units since 2000. Those facilities, representing about a third of Iowa hospitals, are located mostly in rural areas where birth numbers have plummeted. In some Iowa counties, annual numbers of births have fallen by three-quarters since the height of the baby boom in the 1950s and '60s, when many rural hospitals were built or expanded, state and federal records show. Similar trends are playing out nationwide, as hospitals struggle to maintain staff and facilities to safely handle dwindling numbers of births. More than half of rural U.S. hospitals now lack labor and delivery services.

"People just aren't having as many kids," said Addie Comegys, who lives in southern Iowa and has regularly traveled 45 minutes each way for prenatal checkups at Oskaloosa's hospital this summer. Her mother had six children, starting in the 1980s, when big families didn't seem so rare. "Now, if you have three kids, people are like, 'Oh my gosh, are you ever going to stop?'" said Comegys, 29, who is expecting her second child in late August. These days, many Americans choose to have small families or no children at all. Modern birth control methods help make such decisions stick. The trend is amplified in small towns when young adults move away, taking any childbearing potential with them. Hospital leaders who close obstetrics units often cite declining birth numbers, along with staffing challenges and financial losses. The closures can be a particular challenge for pregnant women who lack the reliable transportation and flexible schedules needed to travel long distances for prenatal care and birthing services.

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NBC News - July 16, 2024

'Project 2025' insiders see Trump’s disavowal as 'two siblings in a fight' — not a rejection

The brain trust behind “Project 2025” isn’t sweating former President Donald Trump’s disavowals of their wide-ranging presidential transition plan and policy roadmap for a potential second Trump administration. At recent events in Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, Project 2025 proponents and allies sought to defuse tensions and go on offense against the press and Democrats, after Trump took the wind out of their sails with critical social media posts as Democrats oriented their campaign around the plans. “The lesson of the last few days and the motivation for something like Project 2025 is to make Washington a heck of a lot less important in our lives,” Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, which is leading the project, said Monday during the think tank’s Policy Fest at the Republican National Convention, pointing to the assassination attempt against Trump on Saturday.

Earlier, at the three-day National Conservatism Conference in Washington last week, more than a dozen leaders, advisers and contributors to Project 2025 and their allies made their case for drastically reconstituting the civil service, retaliating against Democrats for the ongoing prosecutions of Trump, launching mass deportations of undocumented immigrants and countering “anti-white” discrimination. Since its 2019 launch, the conference has become a favored stop for the pro-Trump intelligentsia, think tank leaders and politicians who are pushing the conservative movement to keep marching in a right-wing populist and nationalist direction. Though the conference organizers are separate from Project 2025, activists connected to the effort had a strong presence there, while Project 2025 had a booth at NatCon. Amid a stream of Democratic attacks on the project, including from President Joe Biden and his campaign, Trump distanced himself from it, posting earlier this month to his social media site that he knows “nothing” about Project 2025 and has “no idea” who is behind it. On Thursday, he wrote that “Radical Left Democrats are having a field day, however, trying to hook me into whatever policies are stated or said.”

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NBC News - July 16, 2024

Police warned Secret Service of a suspicious person at Trump rally before gunman opened fire, source says

Before a would-be assassin took aim at Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, local police officers notified the former president’s Secret Service detail that they were looking for a suspicious person in the area, a U.S. official told NBC News. The suspicious person, later identified as Thomas Crooks, 20, was first flagged to local police officers by rallygoers on their way into the event. The attendees reported they saw Crooks pacing and behaving strangely near the magnetometers, four officials told NBC News. Local police officers began pursuing Crooks on foot, the officials said. During the pursuit, the U.S. official said, local police told the Secret Service they were looking for a suspicious person near the event.

It is not clear what time the Secret Service was notified and whether it was before Trump took the stage on the grounds of the Butler Farm Show, a venue roughly 36 miles north of Pittsburgh. The U.S. official said the Secret Service was told of a suspicious person before local police discovered Crooks on the roof of a nearby glass research company’s building. That discovery occurred shortly before Crooks opened fire, according to two law enforcement sources. The timing raises questions about whether other measures could have been taken to stop Crooks. In the wake of the shooting, a Secret Service spokesman said the location of the roof fell outside the Secret Service’s central security perimeter and was the primary responsibility of local law enforcement. The spokesman said it is common for the Secret Service to coordinate with local law enforcement agencies. Current and former Secret Service officials told NBC News that, ultimately, responsibility for the security of the agency’s protectees lies with the Secret Service. The former officials said the agency identified the roof where Crooks fired his rifle toward Trump as a potential vulnerability before Trump took the stage. Two former Secret Service agents said the agency could have deployed plainclothes countersurveillance agents to stop the gunman.

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Washington Post - July 16, 2024

J.D. Vance pick unnerves GOP’s business elite, thrills populists

Former president Donald Trump’s choice of Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) as the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee reflects the ascendancy of the party’s populist economic wing — and the choice is alarming traditional conservative policymakers and elite donors who opposed the pick. Vance has suggested a break with the Republican Party’s economic orthodoxy of the last several decades on a range of policy issues, including unions, antitrust, trade and taxes, even making comments that appear at odds with Trump, who already scrambled the party’s ideology. The first-term senator has embraced a more active role for government intervention in the economy than most Republicans, emerging as a leader of a minority faction among GOP senators that also includes Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.).

Vance has praised President Biden’s antitrust crusader at the Federal Trade Commission, called for a higher minimum wage and even once called for raising taxes on corporations — all positions anathema to conservatives. The departure is particularly stark compared with the vice president of Trump’s first term, Mike Pence, who branded himself as an adherent of Ronald Reagan by embodying GOP orthodoxy on everything from deficits to taxes, or former House speaker Paul D. Ryan, another GOP vice-presidential nominee known for his free-market orthodoxy. “It’s clear to most leaders of the party that the future will be the Vances, the Hawleys and the Rubios — to have one of them be on the ticket is a very significant marker, or in some ways validation, of the direction the Republican Party is now heading on key economic issues,” said Oren Cass, a Vance ally and president of American Compass, a think tank closely tied to the economic populists in the GOP. “Vance articulates a very clear perspective on the failure of what he’ll call the 'market fundamentalism’ of the GOP — the consensus economic policy of the last few decades.” Vance’s predecessor, former senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), was also viewed as closely allied with the party’s traditional GOP policymakers. “The emergence of Trump has caused a populist, aggressive side of the GOP to split off on economics, and Vance is one of the leaders of that populist caucus,” said Brian Riedl, who served as an aide to Portman and is now at the Manhattan Institute, a center-right think tank.

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Politico - July 16, 2024

FBI, DHS warn of possible retaliation for attack on Trump

U.S. authorities are concerned about possible attacks in retaliation to the attempted assassination of Donald Trump, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said Monday in a rare joint intelligence bulletin. Violent extremists or others “may attempt follow-on or retaliatory acts of violence” in response to the attempted assassination of Trump at a rally over the weekend in Pennsylvania, the agencies said in the bulletin obtained by POLITICO. No specific targets are mentioned, but the four-page bulletin notes that extremists have conducted or plotted attacks against “perceived political or ideological opponents,” in the past, the DHS and FBI said. “The FBI and DHS remain concerned about the potential for follow-on or retaliatory acts of violence following this attack, particularly given that individuals in some online communities have threatened, encouraged, or referenced acts of violence in response to the attempted assassination,” the bulletin said.

The warning comes amid what authorities had already determined was a “heightened threat” environment, with the country deeply polarized as the Republicans gather for their nominating convention in Milwaukee and the Democrats prepare for theirs in Chicago. “This attack reinforces our assessment that election-related targets are under a heightened threat of attack or other types of disruptive incidents,” the bulletin said. The agencies said that Thomas Matthew Crooks, the 20-year–old shooter in Saturday’s attack at the rally, had improvised explosive devices in his car as well as his home and ordered packages potentially containing hazardous material over the last several months. Authorities have not yet determined what motivated Crooks, who was shot and killed by the Secret Service after he opened fire on the rally, killing one spectator and critically wounding two others. In the lead-up to the November election, federal and state law enforcement agencies have stepped up efforts to prevent political violence and lone-wolf attacks against elected officials, government officials, candidates, law enforcement and the media. The Justice Department has vowed to relentlessly crack down on threats against election workers and elections facilities.

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Associated Press - July 16, 2024

Federal judge dismisses Trump classified documents case over concerns with prosecutor's appointment

A federal judge in Florida dismissed the classified documents case against former President Donald Trump on Monday, siding with defense lawyers who said the special counsel who filed the charges was illegally appointed by the Justice Department. Hours later, special counsel Jack Smith’s office said it would appeal the order, which could result in it eventually being overturned by a higher court. But for now at least, the dismissal by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon brings a stunning and abrupt halt to a criminal case that at the time it was filed was widely regarded as the most perilous of all the legal threats the Republican former president confronted. Though the case had long been stalled, and the prospect of a trial before the November election already nonexistent, the judge’s order is a significant legal and political victory for Trump as he recovers from a weekend assassination attempt and prepares to accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee this week.

AP Washington correspondent Sagar Meghani reports Donald Trump has scored a big legal win days after the attempt on his life. It’s the latest stroke of good fortune in the four criminal cases Trump has faced. He was convicted in May in his New York hush money trial, but the sentencing has been postponed after a Supreme Court opinion that conferred broad immunity on former presidents. That opinion will cause major delays in a separate case charging Trump with plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. Another election subversion case filed in Atlanta has been delayed by revelations of a romantic relationship between the district attorney and a special prosecutor she hired for the case. In a statement on his social media platform, Trump said the dismissal “should be just the first step” and the three other cases, which he called “Witch Hunts,” should also be thrown out. The classified documents case had been seen as the most legally clear-cut of the four given the breadth of evidence that prosecutors say they had accumulated, including the testimony of close aides and former lawyers, and because the conduct at issue occurred after Trump left the White House in 2021 and lost the powers of the presidency. The indictment included dozens of felony counts accusing him of illegally hoarding classified records from his presidency at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and obstructing FBI efforts to get them back. He had pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing.

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Newsclips - July 15, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - July 15, 2024

The RNC’s first day will still focus on the economy. Here’s what to know about Trump’s plans

Donald Trump goes into the Republican National Convention with bold promises about the U.S. economy, but he has sketched out notably few details about how his plans would actually work. The convention’s first day is still expected to focus on the economy even after Saturday’s shooting at a Trump rally in Pennsylvania in which the former president was injured. If the program goes ahead as planned, expect speakers to argue that Trump’s agenda of sweeping tariffs and lower taxes would jump-start the economy. The former president says he wants tariffs on trade partners and no taxes on tips and would like to knock the corporate tax rate down a tick. The Republican platform also promises to “defeat” inflation and “quickly bring down all prices,” in addition to pumping out more oil, natural gas and coal.

The platform would address illegal immigration in part with the “largest deportation program in American history.” And Trump would also scrap President Joe Biden’s policies to develop the market for electric vehicles and renewable energy. Democrats and several leading economists say the math shows that Trump’s ideas would cause an explosive bout of inflation, wallop the middle class and — by his extending his soon-to-expire tax cuts — heap another $5 trillion-plus onto the national debt. Trump has released few hard numbers and no real policy language or legislative blueprints. Instead, his campaign is betting that voters care more about attitude than policy specifics. The Associated Press sent the Trump campaign 20 basic questions in June to clarify his economic views and the campaign declined to answer any of them. Spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt insisted that Trump best speaks for himself and directed the AP to video clips of him. By contrast, Biden has an exhaustive 188-page budget proposal that lays out his economic vision, even as his campaign had increasingly devolved before Saturday’s rally shooting into questions about his age and whether he should remain the nominee after a self-defeating June 27 debate. A recent analysis by the Peterson Institute of International Economics showed that deporting 1.3 million workers would cause the size of the U.S. economy to shrink by 2.1%, essentially creating a recession. Stephen Moore, an informal Trump adviser and economist at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said Trump is unique in that he’s already been president and voters can judge him off his record in office.

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Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2024

Houston's insured losses after Hurricane Beryl could total an estimated $600 million, experts say

Powerful winds and storm surges after Hurricane Beryl inflicted an estimated $210 million to $600 million in losses to insured properties and businesses in Harris County, according to new estimates from property data firm CoreLogic. Harris County’s insured losses are expected to account for about 30% to 40% of all the insured losses estimated in Texas, which could total $700 million to $1.5 billion, according to CoreLogic. That estimate includes insured losses to residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural properties — including damages to the contents of those properties and losses from business interruption. It doesn’t include uninsured losses or damage owners may pay out of pocket. While commercial building owners were still picking up the pieces after the storm and contending with power outages late this week, many real estate experts say the pain could have been much worse.

Insured losses after Beryl could have been higher had the hurricane made landfall in a densely populated area, instead of the less-populated area of Matagorda, which is about 90 minutes from Houston, said Jon Schneyer, CoreLogic’s director of Catastrophe Response. “If it had been direct hit into Houston, right, we could be talking about a big loss event. You can say we were a little lucky in that it made landfall in a more remote area, and the strongest wind speeds were going on trees,” Schneyer said. Moody’s estimated that about 18,000 commercial properties and apartments in Houston — totaling a cumulative $109 billion in value — were likely to have been exposed to potentially damaging winds of at least 50 miles per an hour during Beryl. “While major damage to many assets is likely to be minimal, it is also likely that thousands of properties face minor repairs, some of which may not be severe enough to meet their insurance deductibles,” said Natalie Ambrosio Preudhomme, associate director at Moody’s. “This has the potential to add unplanned capital expenditure, leaving property owners more vulnerable to repeated damage throughout what’s expected to be a lively hurricane season.” So far, property managers said their work to prepare for a busy hurricane season paid off in Hurricane Beryl. Several large commercial building owners and property management firms across Houston — including Hines, Transwestern, JLL, Avison Young, Brookfield Properties, Granite Properties and Cushman Wakefield — told the Houston Chronicle that many of their office and commercial properties they oversee in Houston sustained minor to moderate damage, as well as power outages.

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Associated Press - July 15, 2024

In prime-time address, Biden asks Americans to reject political violence and ‘cool it down’

President Joe Biden on Sunday urged Americans to reject political violence and recommit themselves to resolving their differences peacefully, saying the upcoming presidential election will be a “time of testing” in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump. In a prime-time national address from the Oval Office, Biden said political passions can run high but “we must never descend into violence.” The president said his party and the Republicans can compete forcefully over different policy visions — but must do it in a civil fashion. “All of us now face a time of testing as the election approaches,” Biden said. “There is no place in America for this kind of violence — for any violence. Ever. Period. No exception. We can’t allow this violence to be normalized.” Biden spoke for six minutes in his third address to the nation since Saturday evening’s attack by a shooter that left Trump with a bloodied ear, killed one rallygoer and seriously injured two others.

His warning came hours after FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said agents have seen increasingly violent rhetoric online since the attack at the Trump rally. Since the shooting, the president and his team had been grappling with how to calibrate the political path forward after the weekend attack targeting the very person Biden is trying to defeat in November’s election. Biden sharply condemned the attack, but indicated he plans to continue to press his campaign agenda and has “no doubt” Republicans will do the same when they open the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Monday. He emphasized that said those disagreements must remain peaceful. “We can do this,” Biden pleaded, saying the nation was founded on a democracy that gave reason and balance a chance to prevail over brute force. Biden also warned that political tensions were being inflamed by a balkanized media environment and exploited by American enemies. “Here in America we need to get out of our silos, where we only listen to those with whom we agree, where misinformation is rampant, where foreign actors fan the flames of our division to shape the outcomes consistent with their interests, not ours,” Biden said.

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Associated Press - July 15, 2024

Abbott demands answers as customers remain without power after Beryl

With around 350,000 homes and businesses still without power in the Houston area almost a week after Hurricane Beryl hit Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said he’s demanding an investigation into the response of the utility that serves the area as well as answers about its preparations for upcoming storms. “Power companies along the Gulf Coast must be prepared to deal with hurricanes, to state the obvious,” Abbott said at his first news conference about Beryl since returning to the state from an economic development trip to Asia. While CenterPoint Energy has restored power to about 1.9 million customers since the storm hit on July 8, the slow pace of recovery has put the utility, which provides electricity to the nation’s fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm that left people without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Abbott said he was sending a letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas requiring it to investigate why restoration has taken so long and what must be done to fix it. In the Houston area, Beryl toppled transmission lines, uprooted trees and snapped branches that crashed into power lines. With months of hurricane season left, Abbott said he’s giving CenterPoint until the end of the month to specify what it’ll be doing to reduce or eliminate power outages in the event of another storm. He said that will include the company providing detailed plans to remove vegetation that still threatens power lines. Abbott also said that CenterPoint didn’t have “an adequate number of workers pre-staged” before the storm hit. CenterPoint, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment following the governor’s news conference, said in a Sunday news release that it expected power to be restored to 90% of its customers by the end of the day on Monday. The utility has defended its preparation for the storm and said that it has brought in about 12,000 additional workers from outside Houston. It has said it would have been unsafe to preposition those workers inside the predicted storm impact area before Beryl made landfall.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2024

Number of CenterPoint customers without power falls below 270,000

The number of CenterPoint customers in the Houston area without power dipped below 270,000 Sunday night, six days after Hurricane Beryl tore through the Houston area. The company said it expected to bring 350,000 customers online Sunday. The day prior it restored power to around 219,000 homes and businesses amid mounting pressure from government officials and customers alike to return power and provide transparent communication in the wake of Beryl. The company said it had returned power to 1.8 million customers total, about 80% of its service area, but said some restorations could take until July 19. Some areas in Houston do not yet have an estimated restoration time.

As of 8 p.m. Sunday night, Texas-New Mexico Power has restored power to 93% of customers impacted by Beryl, according to a statement. TNMP serves eastern parts of Galveston County and parts of Brazoria County. Around 11,000 customers were out at the beginning of the day, and the company's crews 3,000 restored through Sunday, accrding to the TNMP statement. "TNMP is dealing with small clusters and individual service-level outages that are taking significant time and resources to restore," according to an update on its outage tracker. The utility asked customers to report outages via the Report Outage button on the outage map site, by emailing hurricane@tnmp.com or by calling 888-866-7456.

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Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2024

The story behind the story of Texas, OU joining the SEC

A lesson I learned as a child attending annual family reunions in Giddings and Dime Box applies to journalism: Old people often like to talk, and old people know some eye-opening things (even more than Google) if you take time to soak in their stories. Three years ago this month the biggest kick I got out of Texas and Oklahoma intending to enter the Southeastern Conference wasn’t breaking the story — admittedly that provided a pretty big kick — but an immediate reaction from some speculators that the stunning news stemmed from a well-oiled, orchestrated move by Texas A&M to earn maximum attention during the 2021 SEC Media Days. To quote my sisters in the 1990s, “As if!” With all proper respect to A&M, some conspiracy-minded folks were giving the Aggies way too much credit with the idea A&M somehow timed up the seemingly far-fetched story hitting the Internet minutes before then-A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was set to take the stage in Hoover, Ala. More on that in a minute.

I go back to what my mother has told me from nearly day one: God has a sense of humor. It’s the only thing I can come up with to explain the events and timing of that day and that week. A handful of reporters were there that day in the lobby of the regents’ board room at A&M and wrote about Loftin’s eyebrow-raising declaration (and it’s when I first learned the power of a simple tweet). Within a couple of months in that memorable summer of 2011 the Aggies officially declared their intent to exit the Big 12 and enter the SEC, in primarily blaming the Longhorn Network (a convenient excuse, really). Three years ago around this time I was trying to come up with story ideas during the dog days of summer and sandwiched around vacation time (and when the Aggies aren’t playing ball of any sort). It occurred to me the 10-year anniversary of Loftin’s seismic statement was approaching at that time in the summer of 2021, so I began calling just about everyone I could think of associated with the move a decade prior, people who perhaps had been in power at the time but were now retired or moved on to other jobs (hence the aforementioned old people). That 10-year anniversary story, which included reaching across state-border rivers (particularly one of a certain color), led to a tip that I began furiously chasing while also attending SEC Media Days in July 2021 in Hoover, Ala. The two events were unrelated, but my geographic location certainly came in handy that day.

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KERA - July 15, 2024

Some Fort Worth residents want groups like True Texas Project banned. It's not that simple

In the weeks leading up to the conservative activist group True Texas Project’s event at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, more than 500 community members signed a petition opposing the event hosted on city-owned property. True Texas Project — which rented the space for its 15th anniversary party and conference — included sessions with titles like “Multiculturalism & The War On White America,” “Great Replacement Theory” and “The Case For Christian Nationalism,” along with notable speakers like Kyle Rittenhouse, who gained popularity in far-right circles after shooting three men at a civil rights protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 2020. But whether or not an event is divisive, can the city block political organizations like the True Texas Project from its properties? The answer, according to the city and First Amendment experts, is no.

Following an article published by the Texas Tribune outlining the conference sessions, the Botanic Garden denied the group space for its event. The city of Fort Worth, which owns the Botanic Garden, told garden officials that they had to host the event. Dale Carpenter, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, agreed that banning the event would have been a violation of the group’s First Amendment right to free speech. “The nature of debate in this country is that sometimes people disagree vehemently, and that's OK,” he said. “Sometimes they don't like each other and shout and that's OK.” Free speech is limited in some circumstances, but it is very rare. Public safety and incitement of violence are some instances where the government can intervene. But while private entities can choose what speech it allows on its property or platform, government entities can not in most cases — and that would applies to government-owned properties like the Botanic Garden “The government cannot discriminate against speech, it can't punish people for speech based on the viewpoints expressed by the speaker,” Carpenter said. The True Texas Project did not respond to KERA’s request for an interview. The Southern Poverty Law Center has placed the group on its list of extremist organizations, and critics of the conference and its speakers say they're concerned about their impact on the community.

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Associated Press - July 15, 2024

Actor Matthew McConaughey tells governors he is still mulling future run for political office

Actor Matthew McConaughey continued to tease he might run for political office to a room full of governors Friday, joshing about drinking his brand of tequila with at least one of them the night before and taking advice from another to be himself if he ever does run. Whether the star known for “Dazed and Confused,” “A Time to Kill” and “True Detective” would run as a Democrat or Republican, and for what office, remained unknown. McConaughey has been vague about his political affiliation and didn't tip his hand at the National Governors Association meeting. “I'm on a learning tour and have been for probably the last six years,” McConaughey told New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who asked about his plans. “Do I have the instincts and intellect that it would be a good fit for me and I would be a good for it. You know, would I be useful?"

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Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2024

Ken Hoffman, Houston's beloved, witty columnist, dies

Ken Hoffman, a beloved longtime Houston columnist, died suddenly Sunday morning, according to family and close friends. Hoffman, mostly recently a writer at the online outlet CultureMap, was known for his witty, biting columns on “the quirky side of Houston.” Previously, he spent 22 years at the Houston Chronicle, writing weekly fast food reviews, a homeless pet feature and, in his own words, “silly columns about life in Houston.” He worked at the Houston Post before it closed. Hoffman’s most recent column, published last week, criticized CenterPoint Energy and local and state officials on both sides of the aisle for the extent to which Beryl devastated Houston and the slow response in its aftermath. Hoffman and his family were at their lake house by Lake Conroe this weekend because their residence in West University doesn’t have power, his wife Erin Hoffman said. He died unexpectedly while they were there, she said.

Hoffman was born and raised in New Jersey. After graduating from Rutgers University, he held various jobs in journalism in Michigan, Florida and Arizona before coming to the Houston Post, Erin Hoffman said. He was a trivia master because he'd covered so many different topics from so many different angles. “He was just one of the funniest people ever. He had an amazing sense of adventure, and he was eternally curious,” Erin Hoffman said. “He loved to travel, and you didn't even have to plan it. You could come in one day and say, ‘Let's go to fill-in-the-blank,’ and he would jump at it.” Melissa Aguilar, the Chronicle’s senior editor for features, said Hoffman was an everyman who wanted to write about and for everyday people. A foodie who didn’t really eat very much, Hoffman insisted they have their one-on-one meetings at Chick-fil-A instead of the office, she said. Hoffman liked fast food because “it was what everyone eats,” Aguilar said. “He didn't like to put himself above other people. He wanted to be the regular guy, and that's what people eat, so that's what he wanted to review,” she said.

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Inside Higher Ed - July 15, 2024

A hopeful first year for new Texas funding model

Texas community colleges underwent a radical shift last year as the state ditched its old funding structure in favor of a new, ambitious performance-based model. Community college leaders say that, so far, the change seems to be paying off. Signed into law last summer, the new structure earned unanimous support from leaders of the state’s 50 community colleges—as well as the trepidation that comes with so significant a change. The goal of the new model is to incentivize community colleges to improve student outcomes and provide them with the cash to do so, rather than base funding on student credit hours, which makes funding heavily dependent on enrollments. To achieve that, state lawmakers budgeted $210 million more for community colleges in fiscal year 2024 than the previous year, according to documents from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2024

Retired news photographer who covered JFK killing contrasts it with Trump shooting

When retired Texas news photographer Harry Cabluck — one of the few people in President John F. Kennedy's motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963, who are still alive — watched Saturday's television coverage of the attempt on Donald Trump's life, his mind did not wander back to that dark day in Dallas so many years earlier. Instead, in an interview Sunday, Cabluck marveled at the intensity and poise of the photojournalists whose job it was to capture the up-close still images and videos that told the story of the fear and confusion around the stage in Butler, Pa., in real time and for generations to come. "He did not flinch," said Cabluck, who is now 86 and lives in Austin, referring to Associated Press photographer Evan Vucci. "Everybody else got down, but he ran to one side and shot pictures. He knew that the escape route from the podium would be to the other side, so he ran to the other side and got between Trump and the limousine.

Vucci and several photographers from Reuters and other news outlets were able to get photos of the instant Trump reacted to being wounded and the frantic efforts by Secret Service agents to protect him. There were no such opportunities in the moving Kennedy motorcade, said Cabluck, who was a young photographer working for his hometown newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, when he was assigned to cover the presidential visit. Like most of the other journalists in the motorcade that rolled through downtown Dallas during the autumn day's lunch hour, Cabluck was riding in the press bus several cars behind the now-iconic, top-down Lincoln Continental carrying the president and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy along with then-Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie. Connally was seriously wounded but survived. The only images Cabluck could capture from the press bus showed the scramble at the infamous grassy knoll near the assassination site. Instead of following the Lincoln to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where the 35th president would be pronounced dead from a gunshot wound, the press bus went on to its planned destination, the Dallas Trade Mart, where Kennedy was to give a speech. Cabluck, who would spend much of his long career with AP — the last several years at its Capitol bureau in Austin before retiring in 2009 — knew the Trade Mart was not where the story was. So he and a Star-Telegram reporter had to improvise.

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Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2024

Summer tensions for Texas House Republicans distracting from work that matters, some say

Summer could have been a time for Texas House Republicans to heal from a bruising primary season, setting the tone for choosing the next House leader and identifying priorities for the legislative session that starts in six months. Instead, Republicans are exchanging insults on social media, four conservative lawmakers have been censured by fellow Republicans for campaigning against incumbents, and GOP factions are pushing contrasting calls for action ahead of the 2025 session. The tension has strained relations within the party, distracting from the work that matters — developing sound state policy and passing laws that help Texans, legislators say. It comes as Republicans prepare to choose a House speaker who will wield extensive power over which policies succeed or fail in the next two years.

Dade Phelan, the current speaker, is under siege from his party’s right flank, with two other Republicans vying for his job and several others weighing a challenge. Phelan supporters and opponents frequently clash on social media — a public airing of disdain that is remarkable for a legislative body that thrives on personal relationships and party cohesion. The fight for leadership, frequently pitting pro-Phelan conservative and moderate Republicans against anti-Phelan conservatives, will influence a host of contentious issues awaiting legislative action, including school choice, property tax cuts and border security. The strains are taking a toll. “Normally going into session is a fun exercise. We look forward to it,” said Rep. Carl Tepper, R-Lubbock. “In this atmosphere, with so many combative camps, there’s a lot of uncertainty and consternation about how the session will unfold.” The Dallas Morning News spoke to 20 House incumbents, candidates and high-ranking staff members for this story, including 11 who declined to go on the record when discussing internal House dynamics and how they impact legislation. Phelan’s office, contacted twice by email and once by phone, declined to comment.

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Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2024

Texas GOP delegates rally around ‘conquering hero’ Trump in Milwaukee after shooting

Texas Republican delegates to this week’s national convention say they expect the party to be more energized and unified in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s survival of an apparent assassination attempt. A defiant Trump emerged Saturday from a pile of Secret Service agents with his fist in the air and blood on his face as he shouted “fight” after suffering a gunshot wound to his right ear at a campaign rally in Butler, Pa. Republicans are more enthusiastic than ever to knock doors and make calls on Trump’s behalf, said Dr. Robin Armstrong, Texas’ Republican national committeeman. “He’s going to come into the convention hall as a conquering hero,” Armstrong said. “The fact that he survived this, I think it’s going to be a rallying point.” Representatives from the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee have said he is “fine” and “doing well.” Trump announced he considered delaying his trip to Milwaukee for a couple days given Saturday’s “terrible events,” but the former president departed for Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon.

Trump couldn’t allow a “shooter” or “potential assassin” to force changes in his schedule or anything else, he wrote in a social media post that also highlighted the urgency to unite in “not allowing Evil to Win.” The RNC kicks off its nominating convention Monday, just days after the GOP’s presumptive nominee was grazed by a bullet and a spectator at his campaign rally was killed. Scores of delegates from Texas are expected to attend. While many are bracing for the convention to have heightened security and more gravity than usual , they also expect solidarity among Republicans. “We are going to be more united, more energized, more committed to reelecting Donald Trump than anybody could have imagined 24 hours ago,” said state Rep. Brian Harrison, R-Midlothian, who served as chief of staff in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration. Gov. Greg Abbott, an at-large delegate who is listed as a convention headliner, assured reporters Sunday he will be in Texas on Monday as the state continues its recovery from Hurricane Beryl. Abbott, who returned Saturday from a weeklong trip to Asia, framed his possible convention attendance as a day-by-day assessment based on Beryl recovery. Asked about the assassination attempt, Abbott lamented that Saturday’s shooting wasn’t an “isolated incident,” citing the recent “assassination” of a sheriff’s deputy and the shooting of a police officer in Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2024

Dallas real estate icon Virginia Cook dies at 84

Virginia Cook, co-founder of Virginia Cook Realtors, died Saturday afternoon, her former business partner confirmed. She was 84. Cook worked in Dallas real estate for over 50 years, starting her own firm in 1999 with business partner Sheila Rice. They grew to six offices across the region — in North Dallas, Uptown, the Park Cities, Sherman, Fort Worth and Plano — before closing their doors in 2019. Virginia Cook Realtors was one of the largest independent North Texas real estate sales firms at the time of its closing. Described in this 2018 Dallas Morning News article as a “5-foot-2-inch powerhouse,” Cook was known for her determination, wit and energy; even in the face of immense challenges. The News wrote in 2019 that Cook was “as well known in local real estate circles as other industry icons including Allie Beth Allman and the late Ebby Halliday.”

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National Stories

Washington Examiner - July 15, 2024

Trump rewrites Republican convention speech to focus on unity not Biden

Former President Donald Trump has completely rewritten his convention speech in light of the assassination attempt against him on Saturday and will call on Thursday for a new effort at national unity. In an exclusive interview with the Washington Examiner a day after being hit by a sniper’s bullet, Trump said he wanted to take advantage of a historic moment and draw the country together. “The speech I was going to give on Thursday was going to be a humdinger,” he said, “Had this not happened, this would’ve been one of the most incredible speeches” aimed mostly at the policies of President Joe Biden. “Honestly, it’s going to be a whole different speech now.”

He has switched, he said, from planning to excite his voter base to one that demonstrates his belief that the attack on him at a rally in Pennsylvania had changed the election campaign entirely. Both Republicans and Democrats have acknowledged this in the aftermath of Saturday’s shocking incident. Trump said people all across the country from different walks of life and different political views have called him, and he noted that he was saved from death because he turned from the crowd to look at a screen showing data he was using in his speech. “That reality is just setting in,” he said. “I rarely look away from the crowd. Had I not done that in that moment, well, we would not be talking today, would we?” Talking as he boarded his plane in Bedminster, New Jersey, for Milwaukee, where the Republican National Convention starts Monday and lasts through Thursday, Trump said his speech will meet the moment that history demands. “It is a chance to bring the country together. I was given that chance.” Early Sunday morning, Trump posted on Truth social that it was “God alone who prevented the unthinkable from happening” and that he would “fear not.” Again, in talking to the Washington Examiner, he invoked “God” for his deliverance.

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Wall Street Journal - July 14, 2024

America’s HR lobby scraps the ‘E’ from DEI

The country’s top organization for human-resources professionals is distancing itself from the “equity” plank of diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. SHRM, a lobbying and advocacy group with 340,000 members, announced this week that it wants employers to focus on inclusion and diversity efforts—in that order. The group, a powerful lobby in Washington, said that it’s moving away from equity language to ensure no group of workers appears to get preferential treatment. Equity, in HR parlance, is the notion that companies should take steps to level the playing field for workers. “By emphasizing inclusion-first, we aim to address the current shortcomings of DE&I programs, which have led to societal backlash,” the group said in a statement posted on LinkedIn.

The announcement is the latest example of business leaders grappling with diversity measures during a time when those very efforts face fire from legal, political and employee groups. Diversity recruiting efforts are shrinking at some big banks and consulting firms, and elsewhere companies are reducing staff or shifting initiatives once designed to advance underrepresented minorities. A few years ago SHRM stopped using the DEI abbreviation in favor of inclusion, equity and diversity, or IE&D. The group emphasizes inclusion so that all employees, including white men, feel they belong, according to Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president of SHRM. The decision to drop “equity” and create a new abbreviation—I&D—is a move to temper political polarization around diversity, he added. “We need a world where inclusion is front and center,” he wrote. “Everyone has a right to feel that they belong in the workplace.” SHRM’s LinkedIn post was quickly flooded with comments, many critical. Hundreds of people accused SHRM of backing away from DEI efforts and several said they would cancel their membership or join other HR groups.

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Wall Street Journal - July 15, 2024

More women are working than ever. But they’re doing two jobs.

More women than ever have entered the American workforce. Heady demand for employees combined with more opportunities for remote work and a surge in female entrepreneurs are sending a flood of women into the labor market. Women now hold a record 79 million jobs, and the share of women in their prime working years who are employed or seeking work now stands at 77.9%, up from 75.8% five years ago. But it’s not time for a victory lap just yet. The same work-from-home opportunities that have enabled many moms in particular to enter or rejoin the workforce are also shackling them with fresh responsibilities. Many say they are effectively working two full-time jobs: managing their households and their careers. Sarika Paralkar left her job in tech after giving birth to twin girls almost 10 years ago to focus on raising them. She recently started a full-time fellowship with her Oakland, Calif., city government focused on furthering local climate initiatives.

Since the position only requires Paralkar, 44, to be in the office a few times a month, she’s still able to shuttle her twins to and from school, camp, playdates and extracurricular activities. She thought that would make for an ideal compromise between being either at home or in an office full time. Instead, she often feels like she isn’t living up to her own expectations for herself as either a mother or an employee. “As much as I appreciate the flexibility, I often feel like I would rather go into work so that I don’t have the constant drumbeat in my head of the chores that need to happen around the house,” she said. Her husband, Vidyut Naware, has also been home four or so days a week since the pandemic and has stepped up. Still, “after nine years of me being the one who’s home all day, it’s hard for me to adjust,” she said. Paralkar’s situation is becoming a new normal. Women in heterosexual partnerships still, on average, take on more of the child-raising bargain than do men. That means that work-from-home can exacerbate an existing gender divide, said Dartmouth College economics professor Claudia Olivetti. Moms have to ask themselves: “Are you taking on more child care because you have a more flexible job, or did you take a more flexible job because you were already doing most of the child care?” Olivetti said.

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Wall Street Journal - July 15, 2024

A portrait emerges of Trump’s shooter: Quiet, withdrawn, with little political footprint

Students in the 2022 graduating class at western Pennsylvania’s Bethel Park High School gave boisterous hoots and cheers for most of their classmates when they shuffled in caps and gowns to a podium to accept their diplomas. Thomas Matthew Crooks’s name drew only faint applause. The man who authorities say tried to assassinate former President Donald Trump was a quiet student who took advanced classes and a sometimes-bullied loner who wasn’t vocal about his political views, classmates said on Sunday, as a portrait began to emerge of the gunman who shocked an American public already becoming inured to escalating political violence. Schoolmates said Crooks, at times dressed in camouflage or hunting attire, had few friends and interacted awkwardly at school. “If someone would say something to his face, he would just kind of stare at them,” said Julianna Grooms, who graduated one year after Crooks. “People would say he was the student who would shoot up high school.”

Others in his tidy, suburban neighborhood of brick ranch homes said they had no recollection of him at all. Students from area high schools, gathered at summer parties this weekend, were checking their social media feeds for any trace of him and found little. Law-enforcement officials struggled to quickly identify him after Saturday’s shooting, finding no photo ID on his body. They said the AR-15 rifle he used belonged to his father, and they were trying to determine whether he took the weapon without the older man’s knowledge. The elder Crooks assumed his son had gone to a gun range on Saturday, but became concerned when he couldn’t reach him and called police after news of the shooting, people familiar with the investigation said. Crooks had fired multiple times from a rooftop roughly 400 feet away from where Trump spoke, killing one spectator, critically injuring two others and leaving the former president bloodied and defiant. Investigators found rudimentary explosive devices in Crooks’s car parked near the rally in Butler, Pa., and found bomb-making materials at his family’s home, one hour to the south, said Federal Bureau of Investigation officials, who were working to determine what they were made of and if they were viable.

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AFP - July 15, 2024

Trump rally shooting reshapes US election

A bloodied candidate, his fist raised in defiance after surviving an assassination attempt. It is still early to know what impact the attempt on Donald Trump's life will have on the 2024 White House race, but the image of the former president as he was rushed from the stage of a rally in Pennsylvania has already taken on iconic status. The great disrupter whom many see as the clear and present threat to democracy and the rule of law has himself become a victim -- and survivor -- of the ultimate act of political violence. Pennsylvania's Democratic junior senator, John Fetterman, cautioned Sunday that the attack should not become "an opportunity for politics or strategy, or how this might play out."

Yet the dynamics of the Republican Party's national nominating convention, starting Monday in the Midwestern city of Milwaukee, are sure to be transformed along with the campaign more broadly, as Trump seeks to make political capital from his ordeal. An often divisive figure but a canny campaigner with unswerving political instincts, Trump took the high ground Sunday as he called for Americans to stand together in "not allowing evil to win." He might have expected a ticker-tape parade anyway in Milwaukee, but his brush with death ensures near-mythic status among the 50,000 expected attendees there who already see the Republican tycoon as their warrior and champion. Plastered on front pages around the world and spreading virally on social media, the image showing Trump's raised fist against the backdrop of an American flag flying above him will be worth more than even the most lavish ad campaign. Election messaging is about contrasts and, seizing the moment, Trump demonstrated a courage and fortitude that voters are certain to compare with weeks of disastrous headlines about President Joe Biden's frailty. Crucially, the attack plays into Trump's grievance narrative about Democrats being out to get his support base, and his insistence that he is taking the slings and arrows -- literally, now -- so that they don't have to. Discussing the impact of the shooting on the convention, Democratic former White House strategist David Axelrod predicted on CNN that Trump would be "greeted as a kind of martyr." Meanwhile, the Republican's adversaries are likely to find criticizing the former president a trickier proposition.

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Washington Post - July 15, 2024

A powerful photograph that could change America forever

Before talking about images, talk about reality. One person is dead, two others are critically injured, and American political life is more dangerous today than it was yesterday. Former president Donald Trump was wounded in the right ear and will recover; the body politic was wounded far more deeply, and the prognosis isn’t clear. We don’t yet know the motivation of the shooter, but it seems the threshold between violent rhetoric and violent action has been breached once again, and every time it is crossed, the crossing gets easier. There is another reality added to all of that: Evan Vucci’s photograph for the Associated Press of Trump in the immediate aftermath of a shooting at a Pennsylvania political rally. Trump is seen with blood on his face, his right arm raised to pump a fist at the crowd while the American flag streams above his head. Independent of how this photograph is read and interpreted, it is strongly constructed, with aggressive angles that reflect the chaos and drama of the moment, and a powerful balance of color, all red, white and blue, including the azure sky above and the red-and-white decorative banner below. Trump seems to emerge from within a deconstructed version of its basic colors.

It has the concentrated power that the Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination lacks, and its impact on the fate of American politics probably transcends the infamous 1988 image of then-candidate Michael Dukakis in a tank, which changed only the course of a single political campaign. It emerged all but simultaneously with the event, spreading faster and further than any similar image from the analog age. And its symbolic meaning arrived at the same moment as its literal content, without a moment to think. Vucci’s photo will create a reality more real than reality, transforming the chaos and messiness of a few moments of peril onstage in Pennsylvania into a surpassing icon of Trump’s courage, resolve and heroism. Densely packed with markers of nationalism and authority — the flag, the blood, the urgent faces of federal agents in dark suits — it will encourage some of the darkest forces in American civic life. People who preach violence, who revel in its political potential, can now say that one of their own is a victim, and he was. From that, more cycles of violence are almost inevitable. Political violence can only degrade democracy, never advance it, and this photograph is painful proof of that corrosive power. Violence creates victims who must be avenged, and it very often strengthens the power of the people it targets, making heroes of them if they survive and martyrs if the violence achieves its terrible ends.

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Washington Post - July 15, 2024

Victim in Trump rally shooting died while shielding his family from gunfire

On Saturday, Corey Comperatore drove to a fairground half an hour away from his house to hear from former president Donald Trump, someone he had admired for years. Comperatore, an engineer and father of two, had just turned 50. He and his family watched from a set of bleachers draped in the colors of the American flag as Trump began to speak. Minutes later, the sound of gunfire ripped through the sweltering air. Comperatore didn’t hesitate. He threw himself on top of his family to shield them, his wife, Helen, told Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D). She and her daughters emerged unscathed, only to discover that Comperatore had been fatally shot. “Corey died a hero,” she told the governor, who recounted their conversation Sunday. Saturday’s shooting has sent shock waves across the country and the FBI is investigating the attack as an assassination attempt.

But for Comperatore’s family, the tragedy is a personal earthquake — the loss of someone who loved his children, who never missed a chance to go fishing, who spent years as a volunteer firefighter running toward danger. “The hatred for one man took the life of the one man we loved the most,” wrote his older sister Dawn Comperatore Schafer in a post on Facebook. “This feels like a terrible nightmare but we know it is our painful reality.” In addition to identifying Comperatore, of Sarver, Pa., authorities Sunday also named two men from other parts of Pennsylvania — David Dutch, 57, and James Copenhaver, 74 — who were gravely wounded in the attack. They were transported to a Pittsburgh hospital, where a hospital official said they were in critical condition. Shapiro described Comperatore as a firefighter, a churchgoer and a proud “girl dad.” He was “so excited” to attend the rally, Shapiro said. Friends were following Comperatore’s posts on Facebook from the event. “Corey was the very best of us,” Shapiro added during a news conference at the Butler Township administration building. He ordered all flags at state government buildings to fly at half-staff in recognition of the tragedy and to honor Comperatore’s memory. He also extended prayers on behalf of all Pennsylvanians to the two injured men and their families. For Comperatore’s family, there was grief and shock.

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NBC News - July 15, 2024

Rooftop where gunman shot at Trump was identified as a security vulnerability before rally: sources

The rooftop where a gunman shot at former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally was identified by the Secret Service as a potential vulnerability in the days before the event, two sources familiar with the agency’s operations told NBC News. The building, owned by a glass research company, is adjacent to the Butler Farm Show, an outdoor venue in Butler, Pennsylvania. The Secret Service was aware of the risks associated with it, the sources said. “Someone should have been on the roof or securing the building so no one could get on the roof,” said one of the sources, a former senior Secret Service agent who was familiar with the planning. Understanding how the gunman got onto the roof — despite those concerns — is a central question for investigators scrutinizing how a lone attacker managed to shoot at Trump during Saturday’s campaign event.

The Secret Service worked with local law enforcement to maintain event security, including sniper teams poised on rooftops to identify and eliminate threats, Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. But no officers were posted on the building used by the would-be assassin, outside the event’s security perimeter but only about 148 yards from the stage — within range of a semiautomatic rifle like the one the gunman was carrying. The Secret Service had designated that rooftop as being under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, a common practice in securing outdoor rallies, Guglielmi said.Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldinger said his office maintains an Emergency Services Unit team, which deployed four sniper teams and four “quick response teams” at the rally. But he said the Secret Service agents were in charge of security outside the venue. “They had meetings in the week prior. The Secret Service ran the show. They were the ones who designated who did what,” Goldinger said. “In the command hierarchy, they were top, they were No. 1.”

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Newsclips - July 14, 2024

Lead Stories

Reuters - July 14, 2024

Trump survives assassination attempt after major security lapse

Donald Trump survived a weekend assassination attempt days before he is due to accept the formal Republican presidential nomination, in an attack that will further inflame the U.S. political divide and has raised questions about the security lapses. Trump, 78, had just begun a campaign speech in Butler, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles (50 km) north of Pittsburgh, on Saturday when shots rang out, hitting the former president's right ear and streaking his face with blood. "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Trump mouthed to supporters, pumping his fist, as Secret Service agents rushed him away. His campaign said he was doing well and appeared to have suffered no major injury besides a wound on his upper right ear. The FBI identified 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, as the suspect in what it called an attempted assassination. He was a registered Republican, according to state voter records and had made a $15 donation to a Democratic political action committee at the age of 17.

Law enforcement officials told reporters they had not yet identified a motive for the attack. The shooting occurred less than four months before the Nov. 5 election, when Trump faces an election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden. Most opinion polls including those by Reuters/Ipsos show the two locked in a close contest. The suspect was shot dead by Secret Service agents, the agency said, after he opened fire from the roof of a building about 150 yards (140 m) from the stage where Trump was speaking. An AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle was recovered near his body. One person who attended the rally was killed and two other spectators were critically wounded, the Secret Service said. "In this moment, it is more important than ever that we stand United, and show our True Character as Americans, remaining Strong and Determined, and not allowing Evil to Win," Trump said on his Truth Social service on Sunday. Trump left the Butler area under Secret Service protection and later arrived at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

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E&E News - July 14, 2024

DOE rejected Houston grid improvement a year before Beryl blackout

The Biden administration rejected a request from Houston’s power utility last year for $100 million to strengthen its electric poles and wires against the type of hurricane winds and flooding that knocked out power to millions of people this week, a utility document shows. CenterPoint Energy sought the money from a new $10.5 billion Department of Energy program that is helping utilities, states and local agencies protect the electric grid from the growing threats of extreme weather and climate change. “I don’t understand how the grant application could be rejected,” University of Houston energy economist Ed Hirs said. “This is the home of the petrochemical part of America. I mean, for God’s sakes, what’s DOE thinking?” “A grant to CenterPoint to make the service in and around Houston more resilient is truly a matter of national security,” Hirs said.

CenterPoint has faced criticism for widespread power outages after Hurricane Beryl, a Category 1 storm, hit the area Monday morning, downing electric poles and wires across the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area. CenterPoint said Thursday it had restored power to more than 1.1 million homes and businesses. But more than 1 million customers remained without electricity as the region sweltered under “extremely dangerous heat conditions,” according to the National Weather Service. A lack of air conditioning “will aggravate the risk for heat-related illnesses,” NWS said, noting that the heat index reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday. CenterPoint said its outages were “largely related to” damage that Beryl caused to its distribution system — the same network of poles and wires for which it sought DOE money. It’s unclear why the department rejected CenterPoint’s request. DOE did not respond to questions. Federal departments and agencies routinely reject grant proposals because their programs have limited funds. It’s also unclear to what extent CenterPoint would have strengthened its distribution system by the time Beryl hit if DOE had awarded the company money in October. CenterPoint said in email Thursday, “These are highly competitive processes with applicants from around the country.” The company said it “incorporated the feedback from DOE” into a revised proposal that it resubmitted in January when the department launched a second round of funding under the $10.5 billion program.

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Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2024

New data reveals CenterPoint’s unprecedented glitches and power loss after Beryl

Two months after May’s derecho took CenterPoint Energy’s outage-tracking map down, the utility’s data systems are still malfunctioning on an unprecedented scale, new data shows. In the wake of Hurricane Beryl, the ongoing technical challenges are exacerbating concerns about CenterPoint’s ability to adequately track and respond to power issues in real time. On Monday, as millions dealt in the dark with Beryl’s landfall – and the flooding, oppressive heat and storm damage that followed – the utility’s technology crisis left customers in a frustrating information vacuum. CenterPoint’s outage portal displayed only general statistics on power loss in its Bayou City service area, which covers a dozen counties. The information proved useless to customers searching for updates on local outages and recovery times.

Meanwhile, the system that once fed CenterPoint’s map – which has quietly continued to report data under the hood of the utility’s website – became overwhelmed almost immediately after Beryl reached the greater Houston area. It glitched for hours through Monday afternoon. The utility waited an additional 24 hours before posting a new outage-tracking map online. And that map came with a disclaimer warning about potential inaccuracies and lags. “With the tool not functioning as it should, we worked to provide a short-term solution during the multi-day event,” said Logan Anderson, a CenterPoint spokesperson, in an email. “We recognize the inconvenience to our customers.” New data made available by a Maryland-based technology company shows what the CenterPoint system should have been reporting all along. A wave of blackouts kept more than 60% of Harris County’s CenterPoint customers in the dark for over 24 hours. Restoration efforts progressed slowly, leaving over 865,000 customers still without power at 5 p.m. Thursday.

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Associated Press - July 14, 2024

Biden says ‘everybody must condemn’ attack on Trump, hopes to speak with ex-president soon

President Joe Biden said Saturday that “everybody must condemn” the suspected assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, adding that he hoped to speak with his 2024 presidential rival soon. Addressing the nation about two hours after the shooting, Biden said he was relieved that Trump is reportedly “doing well.” He said he had been unable to reach Trump before his remarks and pledged to update the public later Saturday on whether they speak as well as additional details about the investigation. “We cannot allow this to be happening,” Biden said. “The idea that there’s violence in America like this is just unheard of.” Biden, speaking without a teleprompter, said he was waiting for additional information before formally calling the attack an attempted assassination on the former president. “I have an opinion, but I don’t have any facts,” he told reporters, pledging to provide updates as he learns more.

The president delivered remarks from the White House’s emergency briefing room in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, which is set up whenever the president travels to allow him to deliver remarks to the country in a matter of minutes. He was spending the weekend at his beach home and was at a nearby church for mass when the shooting occurred. Biden received an “initial briefing” from aides after he left church minutes after the shooting and then convened security officials for a more in-depth update from Kimberly Cheatle, the director of the United States Secret Service, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and White House homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall. After the shooting at Trump’s rally, the Biden campaign said it was pausing all messaging to supporters and working to pull down all of its television ads as quickly as possible, the campaign said. Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement that she was also briefed, adding that she and her husband “are relieved” that Trump was not seriously injured. “We are praying for him, his family, and all those who have been injured and impacted by this senseless shooting,” she said.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2024

Texas lawmakers pray for former President Donald Trump after gunshots rang out at a Saturday rally

Texas lawmakers were quick to express support and hope for a quick recovery for former President Donald Trump after gunshots were fired at a Pennsylvania rally Saturday. Trump is fine, his campaign manager said, but the gunman and at least one rally attendee are dead. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who was at the rally, told the Houston Chronicle he was within 30 feet of the former president when the gunshot sounds rang out about 10 minutes after Trump started speaking. He said that he heard at least several shots. “Trump’s speaking, and shots go off, probably a .22, not very loud. Thought maybe a firecracker or balloon," he said. "People started ducking."

"Thank God he appears not to be seriously injured," Cruz stated. "Heidi & I are lifting President Trump up in prayer right now." Other elected officials also said they were praying or were asking others to pray for the former president, including Sen. John Cornyn and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. "Whoever is responsible must face swift justice. May we all pray for our country tonight," Cornyn posted on X. Democratic lawmakers in Texas also swooped in to condemn the shooting, with U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, of Houston, and Colin Allred, of Dallas, wishing Trump a recovery from any injuries he sustained. "Violence of any kind has no place in our democracy," Allred said in a statement. Gov. Greg Abbott repeatedly tweeted his staunch support for Trump after the shooting, sharing a photo of the former president's grazed ear and declaring him a "legend."

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Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2024

Hurricane Beryl leads to at least 13 Houston area deaths, but a full count is weeks away. Here's why.

Information comes fast but not always accurately when storms bear down on the Houston region. Reported storm deaths — an important measure of storm severity — from Hurricane Beryl have ranged from nine to 11, to the Chronicle’s estimate of at least 13. But an accurate count for the region might not come for weeks, according to those in charge of the tally. Brent Taylor, spokesman for the Houston Office of Emergency Management, said Friday that the office keeps a running tally of possible deaths that may be storm-related, but the final determination will come from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences and might take time to become final. “People have this desire to get information faster than the process takes,” Taylor said.

Representatives for the institute, which serves as Harris County’s medical examiner, provided data showing the county could have as many as eight deaths connected to Beryl. If accurate, the number would bring the region’s total to 13. “Incoming cases are still being assessed,” said Jasmine Jefferson, a spokeswoman for the institute. “A list of confirmed storm-related deaths is now available on our website and will be updated as cases are certified.” Each case is considered individually to determine whether it’s storm related, including medical history, environment and postmortem examination findings, she said. The latest additions include a 76-year-old woman who drowned after her sailboat struck a boat and sank into Clear Lake during the storm, a 77-year-old man who drowned when his vehicle submerged in water, and a 76-year-old man, a 50-year-old woman and a 78-year-old man who all died of hyperthermia when they lost power after the storm.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2024

Texas U.S. representative says his nephew was injured in shooting at Trump rally in PA

U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson said Saturday that his nephew was injured during a shooting at former President Donald Trump’s campaign event in Pennsylvania that is being investigated as an attempted assassination. During an interview on Fox News, the Amarillo Republican described how a bullet grazed the neck of his nephew, whom he did not identify, while he sat “in the line of fire” in a section behind the former president during his rally. “They were in the friends and family pin. They heard the shots,” Jackson said of his nephew and sister-in-law who attended the rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. “He was grazed in the neck, a bullet crossed his neck, cut his neck and he was bleeding.”

Jackson, a former Trump White House physician, did not attend the event, which abruptly ended after the Secret Service whisked Trump off the stage. The presumptive Republican nominee for president appeared to have streaks of blood smeared across his face. Rally attendees speaking to media outlets have described a chaotic scene following the gunshots, which were mistaken by some as popped balloons or firecrackers. Among those in attendance was Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who told The Dallas Morning News he was standing about 30 feet behind Trump. “It was panic and chaos,” Miller told The News. “People’s ducking down and laying on the ground scared.” Jackson said his nephew was later treated at a triage tent, where he saw the body of the man who was fatally shot. The Associated Press has reported that two people were killed — one attendee and the suspected shooter — while two attendees were critically injured. The shooting is being investigated as an assassination attempt, the wire service reported.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2024

Feet away from Trump during deadly rally, Texas’ Sid Miller recounts ‘panic and chaos’

For Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, the first shot sounded like a balloon pop. When he heard the second one, he thought it was firecrackers. “And then the third one, I realized what it was,” Miller said in a phone interview Saturday night. Miller was about 30 feet behind former President Donald Trump – standing in the front row of the bleachers – at a campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, when he witnessed what is being investigated as an assassination attempt on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, according to The Associated Press.. “It was panic and chaos,” Miller said. “People’s ducking down and laying on the ground scared.”

Trump was quickly removed from the stage by the Secret Service as what appeared to be two thin lines of blood were streaked across his face. Blood also appeared to be coming from his right ear. The former president raised a fist as he was removed from the stage. On Saturday night, Trump said a bullet pierced the upper part of his right ear. “I knew immediately that something was wrong in that I heard a whizzing sound, shots, and immediately felt the bullet ripping through the skin,” Trump posted on Truth Social at 7:42 p.m. A shooter and a rally attendee were killed, The Associated Press reported Saturday afternoon. When he heard the gunshots, Miller did not duck down, as he was busy trying to find out where the shots were coming from. “It’s kind of stupid now that I think back on it, but I was trying to figure out where all the shooting was coming from,” Miller said. “I knew they weren’t shooting at me. They were shooting at Trump.” Miller believes that a woman behind him in the crowd was shot as he saw what appeared to be blood on her clothing, he said.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 14, 2024

Cedric Golden: Texas football enters the SEC with expectations that might be too high

In “Great Expectations,” Charles Dickens wrote: “Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but — I hope — into a better shape.” Chuck never watched a Texas football game, but his words ring true more than 150 years later. The Longhorns’ return to national prominence last season wouldn't have happened without struggle, and now that oddsmakers are projecting a smashing debut for them in the Southeastern Conference, it would be easy to believe it’s going to happen without acknowledging the work it took to get here. So Texas goes 11-1 in the regular season and plays for a conference title in its first season in the SEC? Sounds about right to many in the fan base.

It could happen, but let’s see how the Longhorns handle their first real prosperity since the 2018 team won the Sugar Bowl over the Georgia Bulldogs, the same night Bevo nearly sent Uga X to the Rainbow Bridge well before his time. Sure, the Longhorns aren’t quietly entering America’s scariest conference like the new kid in a new town, but should the oddsmakers all take a cue from head coach Steve Sarkisian and pump the brakes before declaring Texas is going to march through the SEC like Sherman through Atlanta? As Sark said at the SEC Celebration: “Easy. Easy.” There’s lots of football to be played. With that said, the Longhorns checked nearly every box in their Big 12 farewell, smoking Oklahoma State in the conference title game and making the program’s first College Football Playoff appearance, and while the past is the past, it does matter that Texas is carrying some nice momentum into the most anticipated season since the 2005 championship campaign. When Sarkisian leads quarterback Quinn Ewers, defensive back Jahdae Barron and left tackle Kelvin Banks Jr. into Wednesday’s afternoon session of SEC media days in Dallas, it will be with the same confidence we witnessed during last season’s 12-2 run and first Big 12 title since 2009.

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KXAN - July 14, 2024

Understanding civil legal representation for low-income Texans

When Kayla Muzquiz got out of the Texas foster care system, she didn’t know where to start, and didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer for help to navigate the transition. Muzquiz’s mom died in a 2005 car accident. She found herself in foster care at 11 years old. Getting out of the system proved to be another hurdle for Muzquiz, and she didn’t have the financial tools or legal literacy to navigate the transition from foster care to adulthood. It’s why advocates want to see more funding for legal aid, to help low-income Americans get in touch with free services to help with their civil cases. For Muzquiz, this journey started when she was trying to regain possession of critical documents from the state, like her Social Security card and birth certificate.

While all citizens have the constitutional right to legal representation when being charged with a crime that could result in imprisonment, there is no automatic right to legal representation in non-criminal cases in most states. However, there are numerous free and affordable options available for representation in such situations. “It’s almost like you’re starting out homeless, as soon as you leave foster care,” Muzquiz said. “Because I had four Social Security cards ordered while I was in foster care. That wasn’t me losing my Social Security information. That was the state losing [that] paperwork.” Muzquiz said she likely would not have been able to go to college and find her independence, if it weren’t for the free legal aid she received from the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s foster youth assistance program. “A lot of people experience feeling alone. But sometimes foster youth, they kind of just feel forgotten,” Muzquiz said. “So it’s really nice to work with people who are lawyers and don’t forget about you.” Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht is leading the charge in expanding civil legal representation access for low-income Texans. He testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday to advocate for reducing the so-called justice gap.

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KVUE - July 14, 2024

Third suspect in Round Rock mass shooting allegedly used 'Glock switch,' lost control of gun

A third suspect arrested in the Round Rock mass shooting may have lost control of his gun while using a machine gun conversion device. Court documents obtained by KVUE reveal 18-year-old Keshawn Dixon is a documented gang member with an "extensive history" with Round Rock police. Dixon is the latest person to be arrested in the deadly shooting at the Juneteenth festival at Old Settlers Park. According to the affidavit, Dixon told authorities he was only at the festival before the shooting that left two women dead and 14 others hurt. Witnesses stated that they recognized Dixon even though he was wearing a white ski mask and a gray hoodie. One of Dixon's family members also allegedly admitted to a witness that he was involved in the shooting.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2024

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson to speak at Republican National Convention

The GOP released the list of speakers for next week’s Republican National Convention, and it includes Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. The Republican National Convention opens Monday in Milwaukee. There will be the usual convention tasks throughout the four days. Delegates, almost 2,400 of them, must approve a platform and formally designate the presidential ticket: Donald Trump and his yet-to-be-named running mate.

On Saturday, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Convention’s Committee on Arrangements announced a list of headliners and keynote speakers. Texans on the list include U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz but not the senior senator from Texas, John Cornyn. Also on the list are U.S. Reps. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, Monica De La Cruz of McAllen, Wesley Hunt of Houston, Abbott and Johnson. The Dallas mayor announced in September he was switching political parties, citing his disillusionment with Democrats and a desire to lead one of America’s largest cities under the Republican banner. He blamed Democratic policies for “exacerbated crime and homelessness.” Johnson’s shift to the right positions him as the only Republican-identifying mayor of the top 10 largest cities in America. He was quickly welcomed into the GOP by the state’s top Republicans, including Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

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Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2024

Fort Bend County officials detail progress from emergency to recovery

Fort Bend County has moved from "emergency mode" to "recovery mode" county leaders said at a news conference Friday afternoon. Fort Bend County is among the 67 counties approved for federal disaster assistance following Hurricane Beryl's impact on the state, as part of a Major Disaster Declaration authorized by President Biden. Residents are encouraged to take the iSTAT damage survey, to help EMS officials understand the extent of the damage suffered by the county. "It helps us (estimate) the mass damage that we had throughout the county, the county has to meet a threshold of $4.8 million of damage for us to be able to get federal dollars to come in here to support the incident," said Greg Babst, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

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Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2024

HISD unveils new regulation for selecting principals

As Houston reels from power outages and damage from Hurricane Beryl, its school district released Wednesday a rewrite of the principal hiring regulation that empowers division leadership to decide a principal’s desired qualities with input from families. The rewrite comes after HISD scrapped in June the previous regulation requiring a committee of community stakeholders to interview finalists for a principal position. HISD is filling what is understood to be a large number of vacancies after a wave of principal departures at the end of the year. Some of these departures catalyzed school communities to protest because the district requested an unknown number of principals to resign or face board termination.

“This is a regulation not a policy. Regulation is not set by the Board; it is set by the Administration. This regulation is being rewritten because it is out of date and does not reflect current practice,” a district spokesperson wrote in a statement. The new regulation, effective Tuesday, does not outline how input from parents and caregivers will be collected, nor does it put in place any measures for the community to check during the hiring process what input is incorporated. “Except in the case of direct appointment, division leadership will create a principal profile designed to determine the best match for the campus,” the regulation reads. “The principal profile will be shaped from input from parents and caregivers in the school community. The principal profile will identify the special characteristics, desired background, and qualifications required for the position.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2024

Houston deserves a much better electricity distribution system

In brief: Today’s post offers some thoughts about the need for a reckoning with power distribution in the greater Houston area, and greater resiliency given the conditions we regularly experience. In terms of a forecast, we will see additional thunderstorm chances today and Saturday before a hotter and calmer pattern begins Sunday. Three and a half years ago nearly everyone in Texas had a bogeyman for the power issues that bedeviled the state during the Valentine’s Freeze of 2021. More than 4.5 million homes and businesses were left without power, and at least 250 people were killed directly or indirectly by the freeze. Property damages in the state approached $200 billion when “rolling” blackouts never actually rolled. It was a disaster—both natural and manmade. The underlying issue was power generation, in particular the failure of power plants under extremely cold conditions, and an insufficient supply of natural gas for power plants.

The reasons for this lack of preparation are complex, and partly political. The bottom line is that the organization tasked with supplying the vast majority of the state’s electricity and managing the grid, ERCOT, received the majority of the blame. This led to a reckoning for ERCOT and, at least theoretically, reforms that will prevent future issues. So far, so good. The failure of Houston’s power grid during the derecho in May and, most recently Beryl, is a distribution issue rather than a generation issue. There was plenty of power available, it just could not be delivered to residents. There are three electricity distributors in the Houston region: CenterPoint, Texas-New Mexico, and Entergy. However by far the largest distributor is CenterPoint, which has drawn the lion’s share of angst and anger since the outages began early on Monday morning. Let’s face it, being without electricity, especially in the middle of July in Houston, is absolutely miserable. We have been pretty clear here at Space City Weather that the region should not have experienced such widespread outages. Beryl knocked out electricity to more customers than Hurricane Ike did in 2008. At Beryl’s peak, 85 percent of CenterPoint customers lost electricity. This matters because Ike was much larger and more powerful than Beryl, and brought hurricane-force sustained winds across large chunks of the Houston metro area. I’m not saying Beryl wasn’t a nasty storm, but its winds were quantitatively, and significantly, less than those of Ike.

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Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2024

Jim Blackburn: What we need to learn from Hurricane Beryl

(Jim Blackburn is a faculty scholar at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, a professor in the practice of environmental law in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rice University and a practicing environmental lawyer with the Blackburn & Carter law firm in Houston.) Hurricane Beryl came at us for over a week. We saw it come across the Yucatan Peninsula as a diminished storm and then defy predictions and come north and hit Texas as a Category 1 storm. I don’t know about you, but that Cat 1 was enough for me. I don’t want anything to do with a Cat 4 or 5 storm, yet such storms are more and more likely in our future — a future that is changing as our climate changes. Hurricanes pose three dangers: wind, rain and surge. Most of Beryl’s damage was due to wind, but a big storm will have aspects of all three. Hurricane Ike was a Cat 2 storm with a surge more characteristic of a Cat 4 storm, leading the National Weather Service to separate hurricane-category prediction (which is based on wind speed) from surge predictions. When Hurricane Harvey approached the Houston area, many of us learned about rapid intensification.

Storms are more often growing big late in the game, leaving less time to prepare for them — and meaning that many people who should evacuate will fail to do so, thinking that the storm won’t be a big one. Had Hurricane Ike come ashore where Beryl did, or even a bit farther north, it could have killed thousands who failed to evacuate because Ike was “only a Cat 2.” The Houston area learns more with each storm. With Beryl, we managed to handle 6 to 10 inches of rain, but that strained our capacities. Storms that bring more rain — storms that resemble Allison, Harvey and Imelda — will overwhelm us. And we know that our future will bring storms much larger than Beryl. Our new drainage projects have improved runoff catchment and conveyance, but the rains that we need to plan for are simply getting heavier. The goalposts keep moving. That is the reality of climate change: The past is no longer a reliable predictor of the future. I suggest that as a community, we might learn a thing or two from the insurance industry. That industry takes climate change very seriously. They are recognizing the increasing risk and are changing policies because of it. We may not like the result, but the fact is, these companies are using science to guide their decision-making. The private sector has a lot to offer to the governmental sector, which has traditionally addressed flood control and community planning. We might consider creative ways to get the best of both these sectors. Houston has been successful because it has managed to combine brains and a private-sector entrepreneurial spirit.

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National Stories

Reuters - July 14, 2024

After Trump shooting, the presidential race will change dramatically. And possibly violently.

In a country already on edge, the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump has enraged his supporters, paused the Democratic campaign and raised fears of further political violence in the run-up to November's election. Trump's Republican allies painted him as a hero on Saturday, seizing on the image of him with his ear bloodied and fist raised, appearing to mouth the words "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Whereas Trump has regularly used violent language with his followers, advisers and allies of the former president flipped the script on his Democratic opponent President Joe Biden, saying it was the demonization of the Republican presidential candidate that led to the assassination attempt. "Today is not just some isolated incident. The central premise of the Biden campaign is that President Donald Trump is an authoritarian fascist who must be stopped at all costs. That rhetoric led directly to President Trump's attempted assassination," U.S. Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, a top candidate to be Trump's running mate, said on X.

Biden moved quickly to try to defuse the situation, denouncing the attack as unacceptable political violence and pulling election ads attacking Trump. "There's no place in America for this kind of violence. It's sick," Biden told reporters. The motivation of the shooter is not yet known. The suspect, 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, was a registered Republican, according to state voter records. He previously made a $15 donation to a political action committee that raises money for left-leaning and Democratic politicians. In the short term, the attack will likely boost Trump's appearances in Milwaukee this week at the Republican National Convention as he accepts his party's presidential nomination, fortifying the sense of grievance and estrangement his supporters already feel toward the nation's political class. Within hours of the shooting, Trump's campaign sent out a text asking voters to contribute to the campaign. "They're not after me, they're after you," the message read. Billionaires Elon Musk and Bill Ackman also swiftly endorsed Trump. "I fully endorse President Trump and hope for his rapid recovery," Musk said on X, the social media site he owns.

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The Hill - July 14, 2024

Calls grow for RFK Jr. to get Secret Service protection

Calls for independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to get Secret Service protection were renewed Saturday following the attempted assassination of former President Trump at a weekend rally in Pennsylvania. Kennedy, who is running for president against former President Trump and President Biden, said last year his request for Secret Service protection had been denied. Repeatedly pointing to the assassination of his father — former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the independent presidential candidate has argued he has an increased risk because of his family history. He is also the nephew of former President Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963.

Shortly after the shooting at Trump’s rally in Butler, Penn., which injured the former president and killed one attendee, political figures from both sides of the aisle emphasized the need for Kennedy to receive Secret Service protection. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) on Saturday night called on the Biden administration to grant Kennedy’s request for protection. “I encourage @POTUS to immediately provide secret service protection for@RobertKennedyJr,” Polis wrote on X. The Secret Service is authorized to protect major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses within 120 days of a general presidential election. The Homeland Security secretary, in consultation with an advisory committee of House and Senate leadership, determines which candidates are in that “major” category.

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Washington Post - July 14, 2024

Democratic executive committee member pushes plan to replace Biden

Former Oklahoma governor David Walters, a member of the executive committee of the national Democratic Party, proposed Saturday a process for replacing Joe Biden as the party’s nominee, if the president decides to step aside. The plan calls for a 27-day process, beginning in the last week of July, that would require candidates to get endorsements from at least 40 members of the Democratic National Committee to earn a place in a set of nationally televised town halls. Those events would be held before the party’s Chicago nominating convention starting on Aug. 19. Convention delegates would then vote to choose the nominee, who would immediately announce a running mate. “We do have the time to have a compressed certification process as is outlined in this and then have proper town halls to introduce these candidates,” Walters said about his plan, which he plans to distribute broadly. “I just think it would be an energizing opportunity to create a new narrative.”

Biden, however, has repeatedly said he will remain in the race, saying Thursday that he would only step aside if his advisers told him “there is no way you can win.” Walters, who was governor of Oklahoma from 1991 to 1995, served on the Democratic nominating convention rules committee in 2008. He was elected by the Midwestern states to serve on the current DNC executive committee, a group of about 45 people who run the broader party business. He said he drafted the plan with another DNC member, James Zogby, who put forward a proposal on July 2 for a similar mini-primary process that ended with a delegate vote at the convention. Walters and Zogby both argue that Biden cannot win the general election and should step aside. They say he alone must decide how to proceed and this plan would not force him to drop out.

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Wall Street Journal - July 14, 2024

House Speaker urges cooling down of political rhetoric

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R., La.) joined a growing chorus of legislators calling for Americans to turn down divisive rhetoric saying political violence must be “roundly condemned.” “We've got to turn the temperature down in this country. We need leaders of all parties, on both sides, to call that out and make sure that happens so that we can go forward and maintain our free society that we all are blessed to have,” Johnson said during a Sunday appearance on NBC. The speaker also said he is seeking answers, both from the administration and through Congress, about how a shooter was able to launch Saturday’s attack at a campaign event for former President Donald Trump. He said he spoke to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and “asked him some pointed questions with regard to homeland security and what happened there.” Johnson also said that Congress would conduct an investigation into the attack to “determine where there were lapses in security and anything else that the American people need to know and deserve to know.”

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Wall Street Journal - July 14, 2024

A couple won the Powerball. Investing it turned into tragedy.

In spring 2008, Paul Rosenau, a construction supervisor and heavy-equipment operator in Waseca, Minn., bought a Powerball ticket—and hit a $59.6 million after-tax jackpot. Rosenau, a devout Lutheran and the son of a pastor, recalls with a tremor in his voice how he and his wife, Sue Rosenau, felt when they woke up the next morning. They realized their granddaughter Makayla had died exactly five years earlier. She had Krabbe disease—a rare neurodegenerative illness that strikes infants and usually kills them in less than four years. Makayla died at the age of two. “We were very sure [the Powerball jackpot] was divine intervention,” Rosenau recalls, “and we were very sure what we were supposed to do with it.”

What they hadn’t counted on, though, was that human intervention can be destructive. What happened next is a heartbreaking tale that shows how powerfully fees and commissions can pervert financial advisers’ judgment and crush their clients’ wealth. It’s also why I think investors should welcome regulations that require advisers, brokers and insurance agents to act in their customers’ best interests. The Rosenaus promptly used $26.4 million of their winnings to fund a nonprofit, now known as the Rosenau Family Research Foundation. Its mission is to seek treatments for, and support the families of, children with Krabbe disease. Having almost no investment experience themselves, the couple hired John Priebe, a local financial adviser and insurance agent, to manage the family’s and the foundation’s money. Priebe worked for Principal Securities, the brokerage and investment-advisory arm of Principal Financial Group, the Des Moines-based retirement, asset-management and insurance giant. He claimed to be putting his new clients’ best interests ahead of his own, but that’s not what the evidence suggests.

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CNN - July 14, 2024

The West finally allowed Ukraine to strike back at Russia — and it seems to be working

Bankir and his men have been trying to fight off Russian attacks along the Ukrainian front lines for more than two years. But it’s only now that they are finally able to strike where it hurts: Inside Russia’s own territory. The newly granted permission by the United States and other allies to use Western weapons to strike inside Russia has had a huge impact, Bankir said. “We have destroyed targets inside Russia, which allowed for several successful counteroffensives. The Russian military can no longer feel impunity and security,” the senior officer in Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) told CNN. For security reasons, he asked to be identified by his call sign only. After many months on the back foot because of ammunition and manpower shortages, Kyiv is finally able to take full advantage of Western military aid that started to flow into the country last month, after months of delays.

Soldiers on the front lines say the deliveries are beginning to make a difference – especially since they can now use the arsenal to strike across the border. “We can see the impact of the aid every day. Artillery, longer-range multiple launch rocket systems with various types of ammunition and submunitions… it’s affecting the overall battlefield picture,” Ivan, an officer with the 148th artillery brigade, told CNN. He also asked for his full name not to be published for security reasons. “We are deploying the most effective weapons systems in the areas where the Russians are trying to break through the defensive lines and there has been a significant slowdown in the Russian advance,” he added. While Kyiv hasn’t managed to reclaim large swathes of territory, it has successfully averted what could have been a disaster: The occupation of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city.

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CNN - July 14, 2024

Shots heard around the world: Global leaders react to Trump assassination attempt

The shots were heard around the world. And leaders from across the globe, both allies and rivals alike, were quick to condemn the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump at his campaign rally in Pennsylvania. In neighboring Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “sickened by the shooting,” in a post on X. “Political violence is never acceptable.” European leaders were also quick to offer their support to Trump, who was shot in the ear. Several European leaders and politicians had been attacked in the run-up to elections there. The U.K.’s new Prime Minister Keir Starmer said he was “appalled by the shocking scenes,” in a post on X. “Political violence in any form has no place in our societies and my thoughts are with all the victims of this attack,” he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz both wished Trump a “speedy recovery,” in posts on X. Macron added that France shared “the shock and indignation of the American people,” while Scholz said: “Such acts of violence threaten democracy.” Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also offered her “best wishes,” to the presumptive Republican nominee. Elsewhere, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also took to X to say that “such violence has no justification and no place anywhere in the world.” He offered his condolences to the spectator who was killed at the rally and two other people who were critically injured. And In Japan, where former prime minister Shinzo Abe died in hospital after he was shot at a political campaign event in July 2022, the country’s current leader, Fumio Kishida, called for a stand against violence that “challenges democracy.” Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he and his wife Sara were “shocked” by the attack, while Turkey’s President Recep Tayip Erdogan said he strongly condemned it. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi called it a “treacherous incident,” on Facebook.

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Newsclips - July 12, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - July 12, 2024

Biden staying in presidential race: ‘I’m in this to complete the job I started’

President Joe Biden opened his highly anticipated press conference Thursday with a forceful defense of his foreign and domestic policies, and batted away questions about his ability to serve another four years even as he flubbed a reference to Donald Trump in one of his first answers. “I’m not in this for my legacy. I’m in this to complete the job I started,” Biden said as he insisted his support among the electorate was strong and he would stay in the race and would win. Democrats are facing an intractable problem. Top donors, supporters and key lawmakers are doubtful of Biden’s abilities to carry on his reelection bid after his disastrous June 27 debate performance, but the hard-fighting 81-year-old president refuses to give up as he prepares to take on Trump in a rematch.

As of Thursday evening, a dozen House Democrats had called for him to exit the race. The news conference was an effort to show he’s up for another four years; voters are watching, and elected officials are deciding whether to press for another choice. “Today, Kyiv still stands and NATO stands stronger than it has ever been,” Biden said, said in stressing the alliance’s support for Ukraine. Earlier, his campaign laid out what it sees as its path to keeping the White House in a new memo, saying that winning the “blue wall” states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan is the “clearest pathway” to victory. And it declared no other Democrat would do better against Trump. “There is also no indication that anyone else would outperform the president vs. Trump,” said the memo from campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon and campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez that was obtained by The Associated Press. The memo sought to brush back “hypothetical polling of alternative nominees " as unreliable and it said such surveys “do not take into account the negative media environment that any Democratic nominee will encounter.”

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Yahoo! - July 12, 2024

Inflation is cooling overall, but not for seniors

Inflation may be down for the first time in years, but try telling that to seniors and retirees. US consumer prices fell in June for the first time since the early months of the pandemic. Consumer prices dipped 0.1% on a monthly basis, bringing the annual rate of inflation to 3% from 3.3% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest Consumer Price Index report. However, prices for items such as shelter, electricity, hospital, and outpatient medical services — major expenses for millions of seniors — continue to outpace the overall rate of inflation. “Prices are coming down, but the things that seniors are spending on are going up,” Mary Johnson, a Social Security and Medicare policy analyst, told Yahoo Finance. “This is clearly causing distress.” This summer’s record-breaking heat means record-breaking electrical bills for many people, Johnson said, which can be a heavy burden for retirees and others on fixed incomes.

Electricity costs have risen 4.4% from a year ago. Meanwhile, more than 138 million Americans were under heat warnings this week, and reports of heat-related deaths are rising. In Santa Clara County, Calif., there were 14 deaths being investigated as heat-related — eight of the victims were over 65. “The amount of electricity is going to be a huge change in seniors’ bills because they’re just not used to using that much electricity just to stay cool and to stay alive,” she said. For seniors with health issues, medical care costs are on the rise as well. Inpatient care rose 4.5% from a year ago, while outpatient care surged 7%. Home healthcare services have climbed 11.4% — roughly three times faster than overall inflation. “People just don't have enough saved for assisted living, so that in-home care is something that people have to turn to when they've had a hospitalization, and they need care to get back up to speed,” Johnson said. Home health nurses are often under contracts where they come in for a specified amount of time during the day, and many have a minimum of four hours. “Those can be some very pricey costs,” she added.

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CNN - July 12, 2024

Nearly all AT&T cell customers’ call and text records exposed in a massive breach

The call and text message records of tens of millions of AT&T cellphone customers in mid-to-late 2022 were exposed in a massive data breach, the telecom company revealed Friday. AT&T blamed an “illegal download” on a third-party cloud platform that it learned about in April – just as the company was grappling with an unrelated major data leak. AT&T said the compromised data includes the telephone numbers of “nearly all” of its cellular customers and the customers of mobile virtual network operators on its network between May 1, 2022 and October 31, 2022. The records of a “very small number” of customers on January 2, 2023 were also implicated, AT&T said.

AT&T listed approximately 110 million wireless subscribers as of the end of 2022. The breach also included AT&T landline customers who interacted with those cell numbers. AT&T said customer names were not exposed in this incident, however the company acknowledged that publicly-available tools can often link names with specific phone numbers. Additionally, AT&T said that for an undisclosed subset of its records, one or more cell site identification numbers linked to the calls and texts were also exposed. Such data could reveal where the broad geographic location of one or more of the parties. “At this time, we do not believe that the data is publicly available,” AT&T said in a statement. “We sincerely regret this incident occurred and remain committed to protecting the information in our care.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2024

CenterPoint CEO defends power delays, vows better communication after Hurricane Beryl

Jason Wells’ home in Houston lost power for two days thanks to Hurricane Beryl, but the CenterPoint Energy CEO didn’t notice it much. He’s been working a lot. Plus, he has a backup generator. Hurricane Beryl knocked 2.26 million CenterPoint customers offline, and with about half of those restored four days later, Wells is in the eye of a storm. Hot and sweaty residents of the Houston area are enraged, officials are asking more and more pointed questions and 12,000 utility crew members are fanned across the region installing new poles and power lines. “I think we could do a better job of communicating expectations with our customers, and I personally own that,” Wells said.

In his first media comments since the storm, Wells talked positively about the restoration efforts, acknowledged the company should and will do more to let the public know what’s going on and said more investment is planned to harden Houston’s defenses from its most common threats of wind and rain. Here are key points Wells made during an exclusive 30-minute interview about the recovery, why it was necessary to restore power to so many customers to begin with, and the criticism the company has faced as it makes repairs. “I understand how frustrating it is to be without power, especially in this heat. I understand what a difficult situation this is for our customers, but I am proud of the progress we have made. Restoring 1.1 million customers within effectively 48 hours of the storm's passing is faster than what many of our peers have seen in the past 10 named storms." Wells notes that fewer than 1 million customers lost power in the May wind event, and many likely stayed off longer than the vast majority of those impacted Beryl will be. Unlike the wind event, however, which caught the region off-guard, CenterPoint had days to plan for the hurricane and prepare for a possible major restoration job. Believing the storm would stay mostly to the Houston metro region’s west, CenterPoint mobilized about 3,000 contractors last week. Over the weekend, as Beryl crept north and appeared ready for a direct hit on the region, CenterPoint called in more resources to be ready. About 10,000 contractors came in to augment CenterPoint’s own 2,000-person crew.

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State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 12, 2024

Poll shows tight Senate race between Ted Cruz, Colin Allred

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s Democratic opponent in the November election trails by 3 percentage points, according to a new poll. U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas Democrat challenging the longtime Republican for his U.S. Senate seat, has the support of 44% of likely Texas voters, according to a University of Houston and Texas Southern University poll released Thursday. Cruz has the support of 47% of likely voters, the poll found. The margins are closer than some other recent polls, which have put Cruz ahead with a double-digit lead. Other polls have also had the two candidates separated by 3 to 4 percentage points, according to 538. Cruz was last on the ballot in 2018 when he defeated Democrat Beto O’Rourke, a former El Paso congressman, with 50.9% of votes to O’Rourke’s 48.3%. The University of Houston and Texas Southern University poll surveyed 1,484 likely voters between June 20 and July 1 and has a 2.5% margin of error.

The poll also asked Texans their thoughts on the matchup between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, the presumptive nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties. Forty-nine percent of likely Texas voters said they planned to voter for Trump, a Republican, and 40% said they’d support Biden, a Democrat. The poll notes that about two-thirds of its fieldwork was done before the June 27 debate between Biden and Trump. Biden’s performance has led some in his own party to call for the president to step aside. Eight Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives had asked Biden to drop out of the race as of Wednesday afternoon. That includes Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett, an Austin Democrat, who was the first Democrat in Congress to publicly request that Biden withdraw, according to the Associated Press. Biden has said he’s staying in the race. Trump defeated Biden Texas in 2020 with 52.1% of votes to Biden’s 46.5%.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 12, 2024

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott demands investigation into power outages in Hurricane Beryl's wake

Gov. Greg Abbott wants an investigation into why more than 2 million Texans lost power after Hurricane Beryl barreled ashore Monday and why up to one-fourth of them might have to wait until next week before electricity is fully restored. "What I'm going to be doing immediately is instructing the Public Utility Commission to undertake an immediate study to find out why this is repeatedly happening in Houston, Texas," Abbott told Bloomberg TV in an interview from Asia where he is on an extended trade mission. "They should not be losing power." The target of Abbott's ire was CenterPoint Energy, and electricity transmission company that serves the Houston area, where the outages have been concentrated.

CenterPoint executive Jason Ryan went before the Public Utility Commission on Thursday and was questioned about the outages and asked what was being done to restore power. "We know that we have a lot of work to do. We will not stop the work until it is done," Ryan told commissioners. "To our customers that not only have power out, but have significant property damage from the trees we talked about coming up from the roots, our hearts go out to you and our hearts go out to our community."

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Austin American-Statesman - July 12, 2024

UT takes fight to keep athletes' sexual misconduct records private to Texas Supreme Court

Five years after the American-Statesman sued the University of Texas for records on students who were disciplined for violence and sexual misconduct, and two years after an appellate court ordered the records released, the school is taking its fight to withhold the information to the state Supreme Court. Set for a hearing Oct. 1, the case may decide whether public universities in Texas can protect the names of students found responsible for such offenses through campus disciplinary proceedings — and could have broader ramifications for public information access in the state, experts say. The Statesman requested the records from UT and UT-El Paso in 2019 as part of a USA Today investigation into college athletes who were able to continue playing Division I sports after being found responsible for violent, criminal or sexual misconduct.

While fewer than 40 of the 226 U.S. schools contacted by USA Today produced disciplinary records, the investigation revealed that at least 33 student-athletes had been able to transfer schools and walk onto the field sometimes just months after being charged with crimes or being found responsible for violating school policies on violence and sexual harassment or assault. The newspaper asked the schools for three pieces of information as authorized for release by the federal Family Education Records and Privacy Act, or FERPA: the name of each student found responsible for a violent offense or sexual misconduct, the violation committed and any punishment imposed. While FERPA makes most aspects of student records confidential, Congress amended the law in 1998 to allow federally funded universities to disclose those records. “If students do not know about violent offenders in their college community, how will they know how to protect themselves?” U.S. Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pennsylvania, said during floor debate on the provision.

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KXAN - July 12, 2024

Should the City of Austin run a bank? City Council eying it

Next week, Austin City Council members could vote to kickstart a feasibility study for the creation of a “public bank,” which “is owned and operated by a public institution, such as a municipal government,” according to council documents. Brought forward by Council Member Zohaib “Zo” Qadri — and co-sponsored by members Ryan Alter, Vanessa Fuentes and José ”Chito” Vela — the resolution asks the city manager to look at any legal barriers and possible models for creating a public bank. “I think creating a public bank to be able to reinvest in city revenues locally, to democratize banking and provide non-predatory banking services is only a positive,” Qadri said. If approved, the resolution asks the city manager to return with that feasibility study no later than November 1.

According to the Public Banking Institute (PBI) — a nonprofit group that, in part, keeps track of legislative efforts tied to public banking — North Dakota is the only state in the U.S. with an operating public bank. The territory of American Samoa has also created its own public bank because the private industry left the territory. According to the Bank of North Dakota’s website, a group of frustrated North Dakota farmers were behind the early 1900s effort to create that public bank. It’s been in operation since. States like New Mexico, Arizona, Virginia and Alaska have considered public banking through studies, the creation of a task force or introduction ballot measures, according to the PBI. “Philadelphia, San Francisco and LA — I think those are the communities really leading the pack right now. But we’ve got places like New Jersey, places like Ohio, Missouri, Florida, all of these are places where public banking has come up in conversation,” said Geeta Minocha, executive director of the PBI.

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San Antonio Report - July 12, 2024

Bexar County wants to hire outside vendor to register new voters

Several of Texas’ large urban counties have a new plan to boost voter participation ahead of the 2024 presidential election: hiring an outside company to find and register new voters. It’s the latest chapter in the ongoing battle between counties that want to make voting easier and a state with a Republican-led legislature pushing in the opposite direction. On Tuesday, Bexar County Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of asking county staff to find roughly $600,000 for a subscription to Civic Government Solutions (CGS), which keeps a database of unregistered voters, tracks voters as they move from other places and mails out prefilled voter registration forms with prepaid return envelopes. It’s the type of work normally done by nonprofit groups, political parties and individual campaigns, which target likely supporters based on their voting history or other data they’ve collected.

CGS, on the other hand, says it targets all potentially eligible voters and uses a “proprietary database” to identify people who wouldn’t normally appear in commercial voter files. “We send each potential voter in your universe customized persuasive messaging and state-specific instructions,” the company’s website says. When people receive that information along with the prefilled form and envelope, it says, “this combination of materials has proven to maximize returns.” Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2), who brought the idea forward, said he learned about it from Harris County, which voted in April to pursue a roughly $1 million voter registration effort with CGS. Travis County Commissioners voted to hire CGS at the beginning of 2024 and could spend up to $500,000 for its services this year. Dallas County has been in talks with the company as well, according to CSG. “This is not, from my perspective, a Democrat or Republican agenda item,” Rodriguez told the San Antonio Report. “It’s how do we get more people civically engaged? How do we make it easier for them?” But the move is already drawing complaints from some local Republicans who’ve balked at the idea of using public funds to boost voter turnout in a Democratic stronghold.

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Dallas Morning News - July 12, 2024

Dallas to Fort Worth high-speed rail gets tentative thumbs up to avoid downtown route

A top North Texas transportation official said he supports a regional high-speed rail line that doesn’t run through downtown Dallas — as long as it keeps the project on track. Moving forward with a new alignment for an estimated $6 billion Dallas to Fort Worth bullet train that loops to the west of downtown could add an extra year to the project’s environmental review phase, said Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments. But he said it would be worth it if it gets federal approval and complies with a recent Dallas City Council resolution opposing the seven-story high downtown throughline. Council members are concerned a track cutting across downtown would disrupt plans for a new $3 billion convention center and other multi-billion-dollar redevelopment projects near Reunion Tower.

“It is better to get into a potential delay and not have a fatal flaw than to pursue a more expedient path and potentially have a fatal flaw in a Dallas resolution that doesn’t change,” Morris told the Regional Transportation Council on Thursday. The environmental review for the rail project planned to stop in Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth began last year and could be complete by February. Funding for the project is still under discussion, and the $6 billion estimate could change after the review. The transportation council, a 45-member group of North Texas elected and appointed officials that oversees regional transit policies and planning, could vote as soon as August on whether to greenlight the new route. But several hurdles need to be cleared first. Morris said the newest proposal must receive initial approval from the Texas Department of Transportation, the city of Dallas, Amtrak, the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration and other involved entities. Five Dallas City Council members who serve on the transportation council said Thursday they wanted to wait until a study examining the project’s economic impact is completed before the city reconsiders its stance.

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Chron - July 12, 2024

Whitmire questions whether Astros should be playing during outages

As a significant portion of the Houston area remained without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl, the Astros offered fans a distraction in the form of $5 tickets, air conditioning and dollar hot dogs for Tuesday's game against the Miami Marlins at Minute Maid Park downtown. While the promotion was largely a hit among the team's fan base, much of which was happy to get out of the heat and enjoy an Astros victory, Houston Mayor John Whitmire didn't appear thrilled about it. During Wednesday's City Council meeting, Whitmire offered a critique on the Astros' game being played one day after Beryl swept through the city, leaving millions without power. "George Brown [Convention Center didn't] have energy yesterday," Whitmire said, via Axios. "We have 1,500 students in the Marriott and the Hilton, but we've got a ballgame going on down the street two blocks [away]. We've got to get our priorities right."

Whitmire's sentiment was a notable contrast from that of his predecessor, Sylvester Turner, who in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey encouraged the Astros to return home amid recovery efforts. "What better place to symbolize our ability to overcome our obstacles and our hurdles than the Astros playing? Let's play ball, let's lift up our spirits and let's go forward," Turner said in 2017, per the Houston Chronicle. It was alleged that George R. Brown Convention Center actually did have power on Tuesday, differing from the mayor's comments. Whitmire's office did not confirm or deny these claims, directing Chron to Houston First Corporation for an official answer. A spokesperson for Houston First said the convention center lost power Monday morning, but it was restored later that evening. GRB began hosting the Texas FFA Convention on Tuesday, bringing roughly 12,000 people to the facility this week. Whitmire's comments about the Astros drew criticism on social media, with users calling the mayor's response "tone deaf" and a "bad hill to die on." Tuesday's game had a paid attendance of 34,776, with 23,018 dollar hot dogs being sold.

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Border Report - July 12, 2024

Texas hard-line tactics putting migrant lives in danger, activists say

Civil rights activists again are raising red flags after Texas and New Mexico firefighters on Tuesday rescued 54 imperiled migrants from the swelling waters of the Rio Grande. The mass rescue in a portion of the river that meanders between Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico comes two weeks after four migrants drowned along the same stretch of water. “We continue to be very concerned about the rising trend of migrant rescues and migrant deaths here in El Paso,” said Alan Lizarraga, a spokesman for the Border Network for Human Rights. “The deterrence policies we have at the border right now continue to push migrants to take very dangerous routes.”

BNHR on Wednesday staged a protest against some of those policies – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star and state legislation (SB4) passed last year to empower police officers to demand a person’s immigration status. Texas Army National Guard troops and Department of Public Safety troopers participating in Operation Lone Star patrol the Rio Grande near the Texas-New Mexico line where the rescues occurred. Military vehicles, razor wire, and soon a taller “anti-climb” wall prevent migrants from coming across. Lizarraga said President Biden’s June executive order closing the border between ports of entry when daily illegal crossings reached 2,500 on average over a week compounded the situation. It placed migrants in the hands of smugglers. Migrant foot traffic has plummeted since early June, so the activist also questioned the need for Texas to add fencing and concertina wire.

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Border Report - July 12, 2024

Texas man linked to fentanyl deaths gets 20 years in prison

A Texas man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in a fentanyl trafficking conspiracy that led to the deaths of two men. The first death took place in May 2022 in Kermit, Texas. Court records show law enforcement responded to an unattended death of a male at a residence that was later attributed to a fentanyl overdose. An investigation revealed the victim and William Jake Childers, 39, of Midland, had communicated about the sale of counterfeit M-30 Oxycodone pills containing fentanyl, the Justice Department said in a statement on Wednesday. In May 2023, Midland Police Department officers discovered an unconscious male at a residence who died after being transported to a Midland hospital. The death was also confirmed to be from a fentanyl overdose, and investigators again traced the fentanyl pills to Childers, according to the Justice Department.

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Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2024

Controversial 'Witness' sculpture vandalized at University of Houston during Hurricane Beryl

"Witness,” a controversial 18-foot-tall statue honoring women, was beheaded Monday morning at the University of Houston during Hurricane Beryl, according to the New York Times. The golden sculpture by Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander depicts a woman with root-like arms and legs, horn-like braids and a large hoop skirt frame with mosaic patterns. Kevin Quinn, executive director of media relations for the university, told the Times that the school believed the damage to the statue was intentional and campus police were investigating the incident. “This has disturbed all of us, and we are working to fix this unbelievable and regrettable act as quickly as possible amidst the immense damage that the hurricane brought,” Rachel G. Mohl, the university’s head of public art programs, told Sikander in an email, according to the Times.

The Times wrote that university officials told Sikander they had footage of the vandalism, which occurred as the Houston area faced strong winds and heavy rain from a Category 1 hurricane, causing damage and dayslong power outages across the city. “As an artist, as a woman, I personally feel harmed,” Sikander said in a statement to the Houston Chronicle. “It is an intentional, violent and misogynistic act that should be investigated as a crime, and I urge the University of Houston to release the footage of the perpetrator.” The statue was co-commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy in January for temporary display before moving to Houston in February as part of the UH System’s Temporary Public Art Program. Its arrival at UH quickly prompted an on-campus protest from groups such as Texas Values who criticized the statue’s ram-like horns as “satanic.”

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KXAN - July 12, 2024

Austin woman fighting for stricter penalties on intoxicated manslaughter convictions

It has been almost three years since Tanya Roberts’ son, Colton, was hit by an impaired driver while on his way back to school and killed. The man driving the car, Scott Taylor, pled guilty to intoxicated manslaughter. Roberts is now a victim advocate for Moms Against Drunk Driving and she wants to see some changes in Texas law when it comes to intoxicated manslaughter convictions. Currently, someone convicted of intoxicated manslaughter will face anywhere between two and 20 years in prison and a maximum two-year suspension of their drivers license. That means when someone gets out of prison they will be able to get behind the wheel again. That is concerning to Roberts. She wants to see that suspension period extended.

“I would like to see a person’s right to drive a deadly weapon more permanently taken away from them if they have repeat offenses, and if they have either killed someone or caused harm,” Roberts explained. She believes the community is safer without those people on the roads. Second, she also wants to see stricter restrictions on people who were proven to be on drugs when driving. This comes from her experience in her son’s manslaughter trial. She said even after a toxicology report showed Taylor was on drugs during the night of the crash that killed her son, he was still allowed to drive while out of jail on bond. During the judicial process, Taylor failed a drug test that he had driven to, proving Roberts’ worst fear. “For our case, we knew the defendant was on drugs. We knew he was on drugs when he killed Colton. We know he was continuing to use drugs and we still could not get him off the street for a number of months, which is pretty frightening,” Roberts said. His license was finally suspended and taken away from him following the failed drug test.

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Texas Monthly - July 12, 2024

Shelley Duvall found fame in Hollywood and peace in Texas

Shelley Duvall, the actor who starred in classic films ranging from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining to Robert Altman’s live-action version of Popeye, died Thursday at her home in Blanco. She was 75. “My dear, sweet, wonderful life partner and friend left us,” her longtime partner, Dan Gilroy, said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. “Too much suffering lately, now she’s free. Fly away, beautiful Shelley.” Duvall died in her sleep due to complications from diabetes, Gilroy said. The actor recently celebrated a birthday on July 7 with Sarah Lukowski, an Austin woman who was an avid fan and became her friend over peach cobbler at a restaurant in the Texas Hill Country, where Duvall lived away from the spotlight after a 32-year career in Hollywood. “She said it was a fantastic day because of all the goodies and cards I brought,” Lukowski wrote on X of her recent visit to Duvall’s home. “We had lots of laughs and many hugs.”

Shelley Alexis Duvall was born in Fort Worth on July 7, 1949. She was the daughter of a real estate broker mother and a cattle auctioneer father, who later practiced law. The family, which included three younger brothers, moved around Texas but settled in Houston when Duvall was a girl. Duvall was discovered, by three crew members on Altman’s 1970 film Brewster McCloud, at a Houston art show for her then-fiancé, Bernard Sampson. The crew invited her to bring Sampson’s artwork to a gathering, according to the Los Angeles Times, where she first met Altman and the film’s producer Lou Adler. “The paintings weren’t great—but her sales pitch was,” Adler told the Times in 1991. “She had the most amazing amount of energy I’d ever seen in anyone. She looked like a flower; her face was painted with marks around her eyes to accent them. She was overwhelming.” Duvall’s thin frame and striking looks—including her spidery eyelashes—made her an unusual beauty whose on-screen presence was intensely watchable. The young woman, who’d never been out of Texas, was eventually cast in Brewster McCloud and went on to star in many more films directed by Altman, including 1971’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller, 1974’s Thieves Like Us, 1975’s Nashville, and 1977’s 3 Women.

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Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2024

Houston hospitals see abnormally large spike in carbon monoxide poisoning visits, even compared to past storms

An abnormally high number of patients have sought care for carbon monoxide poisoning this week in the Houston area, health officials and doctors said Thursday, as Hurricane Beryl knocked out power for millions and left many relying on portable generators. "I think we’re on record pace here unfortunately," said Dr. Joseph Nevarez, a UTHealth Houston professor and director of hyperbaric medicine and wound care at Memorial Hermann — Texas Medical Center. Hurricane Beryl on Monday knocked out power for more than 2 million households, 1 million of whom still do not have power as of Thursday. Since the storm swept through Houston, four to eight patients per day have needed to use Memorial Hermann's hyperbaric chamber, which delivers pure, pressurized oxygen and is usually reserved for the most severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, Nevarez said.

Other patients have needed lower levels of care in the hospital's emergency room. The problem has further strained busy Houston emergency rooms and illustrated what health professionals say is a lack of education about an increasingly popular piece of machinery in the storm-stricken region. While the number of carbon monoxide poisoning complaints usually increase with power outages, the Houston Health Department said the current volume stands out. Surveillance from medical facilities in Harris, Montgomery and Fort Bend counties found 116 carbon monoxide-related visits from midnight Monday to 10:45 a.m. Thursday morning, according to data provided by the health department. "The Houston Health Department has not seen it spike so high as it did the past couple of days," including the during the May derecho and Winter Storm Uri in 2021, said health department spokesman Porfirio Villarreal.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 12, 2024

What's on new Central Health CEO's agenda? Innovation and whole person care

"Trust is the first step to health." "Whole person care is one size fits one." Health care in Travis County is like a tree: "one trunk, many branches." Dr. Patrick Lee, the new head of Central Health — the hospital district of Austin and Travis County created by voters in 2004 — repeats these phrases often and with enthusiasm. He is spreading the gospel of hope and health care around the county to the people who live at or below 200% of the poverty level served by Central Health as well as to the medical community in which it operates. "What I've learned about Austin and Travis County is that it is a really special place," Lee said. "It is a small, big town that is deeply relational. ... People deeply care." Lee arrived in Austin six months ago to lead a hospital district that recently turned 20 and is unique in that it is the only hospital district in Texas without its own hospital. He replaced Mike Geeslin, who served a planned six years as the head of Central Health and announced his decision to leave at the end of 2023 that April.

This year is a pivotal year in Central Health's history. It launched a seven-year health equity plan, which includes pivoting from being mainly a payer of health care through its Medical Assistance Program and MAP Basic programs (similar to insurance), to becoming a provider of health care by opening up its own clinics as well as starting respite services for people leaving the hospital. Lee, 46, describes himself as a "physician executive" with a "lifelong commitment to health equity." Lee spent the past two years as the system chairman of medicine for One Brooklyn Health in New York, which works in three hospitals and 27 ambulatory centers. Before Brooklyn, he was in the Boston area as an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, the chair of medicine at Salem Hospital, the chief performance improvement officer at Lynn Community Health Center and the medical director at the Cambridge Primary Care Center. He leans on the work he did early in his career in Liberia, where he picked up this "one trunk, many branches" idea of creating a unified health system. "One trunk many branches is more than a metaphor for me," Lee said in May. "It is a daily practice. What we are doing is building trust in every direction so we can create partnerships in every direction so we can really advance our mission."

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National Stories

NBC News - July 12, 2024

More Democrats call on Biden to step aside from 2024 race after his news conference

At least three more House Democrats called on President Joe Biden to withdraw from the presidential race Thursday after his first solo news conference in months following the NATO summit. Even though Biden’s team felt optimistic about his performance, it remained unclear whether he did enough to repair the damage with members of his party who worry he no longer has what it takes to defeat Donald Trump and be effective for another four years. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., praised Biden as “a remarkable leader of unparalleled public service” but said it’s time to go. “The 2024 election will define the future of American democracy, and we must put forth the strongest candidate possible to confront the threat posed by Trump’s promised MAGA authoritarianism,” Himes said in a statement. “I no longer believe that is Joe Biden, and I hope that, as he has throughout a lifetime of public service, he will continue to put our nation first and, as he promised, make way for a new generation of leaders.”

Biden was asked about that promise during Thursday’s news conference and said he needed to “finish” the job he was given, arguing that he hadn’t realized “the gravity of the situation I inherited in terms of the economy, our foreign policy and domestic division" before he entered office. Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., said in his own post-news conference statement that Biden’s debate performance last month was “not a blip” and that swing state polls have “worsened alarmingly” since then. “Today I ask President Biden to withdraw from the presidential campaign. The stakes are high, and we are on a losing course. My conscience requires me to speak up and put loyalty to the country and to democracy ahead of my great affection for, and loyalty to, the President and those around him,” Peters said in a statement. “We must find a candidate from our deep bench of talent who can defeat Donald Trump.” Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Ill., who is running for re-election in a competitive district in November, said he is “hopeful President Biden will step aside in his campaign for President” and be replaced with “a candidate for President who will communicate a positive vision for every person in this country.” “In 2020, Joe Biden ran for President with the purpose of putting country over party. Today, I am asking him to do that again,” Sorensen said in a statement.

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New York Times - July 12, 2024

A Trump ally is training 75 armed citizens. Is that a militia?

The leader of a New York City suburb is recruiting 75 armed citizens, many of them former police officers, for a force of “special deputies” to be activated whenever he chooses. Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who has allied himself with former President Donald Trump and thrust himself into the culture wars, posted a call in March for residents with gun permits and an interest in becoming “provisional emergency special deputy sheriffs.” The posting called the initiative a strategy to assist in the “protection of human life and property during an emergency” such as a hurricane or blackout — and perhaps, Blakeman later added, “a riot.” The new force has drawn vocal opposition in this well-to-do Long Island county, which is one of the country’s safest, protected by one of the largest police departments. It has plunged Nassau into a national debate about authoritarianism in an election season that some see as a fork in the road for U.S. democracy.

Blakeman said in an interview that the program was about “providing another layer of protection” for residents. “I didn’t want to be in a situation where we had a major emergency and we needed help and people were not properly vetted or trained,” he said. But critics have accused him of creating, with little notice or explanation, an unsanctioned militia answering only to him. They called the move especially dangerous amid heightened fears of political violence, and as Trump promulgates plans for mass deportations and quashing dissent. Sabine Margolis, an IT program manager from Great Neck, said Blakeman was using the pretext of an emergency response team to create a “clandestine armed presence.” Her online petition called “Stop Bruce Blakeman’s Personal Nassau County Militia” has received more than 2,600 signatures, and opponents have held rallies pillorying both the program and the lack of details on training, scope of recruitment and parameters of the deputies’ duties. Blakeman dismissed criticism that the program is politically motivated, but it has provoked a more forceful reaction than his previous provocations. He has railed against bail reform, migrants and mask mandates, has called Democrats like Gov. Kathy Hochul soft on crime and has portrayed Nassau County as besieged by lawlessness — and used neighboring New York City as a cautionary example.

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Wall Street Journal - July 12, 2024

Democrats escalate election year pressure on Supreme Court

Seething at a Supreme Court they see as an arm of Donald Trump’s personal and political agendas, Democrats are escalating their attacks on both the ethics and the ideology of justices in the conservative majority. On Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) introduced articles of impeachment against Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, accusing them of accepting unreported gifts and voting in cases in which they had conflicts of interest. “The unchecked corruption crisis on the Supreme Court has now spiraled into a constitutional crisis threatening American democracy writ large,” Ocasio-Cortez said. Republicans scoffed. “These impeachment articles are just the latest Democrat attempt to interfere with the Supreme Court,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.) said Thursday. “These articles are going straight into the trash can.”

Earlier this week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for appointment of a special counsel to investigate Thomas’s acceptance of lavish gifts from wealthy friends—and whether those benefactors complied with tax laws. The Senate’s top two Democrats, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Judiciary Committee chairman, both gave floor speeches criticizing the court’s rulings and its ethics. Schumer said he was looking to legislation to strip Trump of the presidential immunity the court granted him last week from some of the criminal charges stemming from his attempts to undo President Biden’s 2020 victory, and that Democrats would keep pushing proposals “to rein in the abuses of our federal judiciary.” With Congress divided and election season under way, there is little chance that these legislative and legal gambits will succeed. But beyond blowing off steam, Democrats hope to focus voter attention on the court—an issue that could cut against Republicans, with the conservative supermajority the GOP created bringing the court’s public approval to historic lows.

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New York Times - July 12, 2024

Heat-related emergencies are soaring in the U.S. Can hospitals keep up?

Extreme heat, intensified by climate change, has blanketed much of the United States this summer, killing more than a dozen people in Oregon in recent days. Large parts of California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah have been under excessive heat warnings, which local officials believe contributed to more than 90 deaths in the West this month. The consequences are increasingly playing out in the nation’s emergency rooms, where medical workers are confronted with heat-stricken patients whose soaring body temperatures can be fatal if not addressed quickly. Around 2,300 people died from heat-related illnesses in the United States in 2023, triple the annual average between 2004 and 2018. Nearly 120,000 heat-related emergency room visits were recorded across the United States last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In part, those figures are because heat waves last longer now than they did decades ago, as an Environmental Protection Agency report released last week made clear.

On Thursday, more than 60 million Americans were under heat alerts from the National Weather Service. Temperatures have at times this summer run between 10 and 30 degrees above average in Western states. Some places like Las Vegas, which hit 120 degrees on Sunday, have broken records. The heat has been particularly problematic in New Mexico. In July 2023, the state had nearly 450 heat-related emergency room visits and more than 900 between April and September. That is more than double the number recorded during the same time in 2019, said Dr. Srikanth Paladugu, an epidemiologist at the New Mexico Department of Health. Heat-related emergency admissions at University of New Mexico Hospital also doubled in 2023 compared with the previous year, and the state has recorded over 500 heat-related emergency department visits since April 1 of this year. Those are likely undercounts because of the ways that health problems are recorded in hospital software. “It’s difficult for us to know how many people are impacted by extreme heat when we look at emergency room data,” said Kelly Turner, a heat expert at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Many hospitals don’t have a code for heat or extreme heat. If, for instance, what actually happened is someone came in with headaches and pulmonary issues, that’s what’s going to be coded.”

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The Hill - July 12, 2024

Anti-ESG group launches campaign around farm bill

An advocacy group that opposes environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing launched a broad public relations effort to shape negotiations around a new farm bill. Consumers’ Research, a leading anti-ESG group, wrote to top lawmakers on agricultural issues in a letter obtained first by The Hill and launched billboards and television ads warning against the risks of including certain policies in potential legislation. “Simply put, Americans cannot afford to allow the same ESG regime currently infecting corporate boardrooms to gain purchase on family farms,” Will Hild, the organization’s director, wrote a letter to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, respectively, and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), the chair and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, respectively.

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The Hill - July 12, 2024

JD Vance moves toward Trump on abortion as VP announcement nears

Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) has been reshaping how he talks about abortion amid widespread speculation that he could be tapped as former President Trump’s running mate. Much like Trump, who is expected to announce his vice president pick by this weekend, Vance has been trying to show he can moderate on the issue. He previously applauded the overturning of Roe v. Wade and supported Texas’s ban on abortion, which does not allow exceptions other than cases where the mother’s life is at risk. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said in 2021 when asked whether abortion laws should allow for exceptions for rape and incest.

When voters in his home state approved a constitutional amendment protecting abortion and other forms of reproductive health care, Vance called it a “gut punch.” But Vance has more recently praised and echoed Trump’s position that states can make their own abortion laws, and that there needs to be exceptions for rape, incest and the mother’s life. In a July 7 interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vance called Trump a “pragmatic leader” for his leave-it-to-the-states approach. That’s in contrast to his Senate campaign, when Vance said during a debate in 2022 that “some minimum national standard is totally fine with me.” In the same “Meet the Press” interview, Vance also said he supports mifepristone “being accessible,” even as many conservatives want to ban the drug. “The Supreme Court made a decision in saying that the American people should have access to that medication, Donald Trump has supported that opinion, I support that opinion,” Vance said.

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Reuters - July 12, 2024

Grid operator tells Californians to prepare for power conservation

The California Independent System Operator (ISO) on Wednesday told customers to be prepared to conserve energy as forecasts of extreme heat this week are set to raise power demand and could strain the grid. The grid is stable right now, California ISO said, but it said events that linger for days can overtax generators and cause outages. The grid operator expects higher electricity demand on Wednesday and Thursday, with Thursday set to be the hottest day this week. "If weather or grid conditions worsen, the ISO may issue a series of emergency notifications to access additional resources, and prepare market participants and the public for potential energy shortages," the ISO said. It said it may also issue a Flex Alert, urging consumers to voluntarily reduce electricity consumption between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. on certain days.

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Newsclips - July 11, 2024

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2024

With 1.2M customers in the dark, CenterPoint aims to restore power to 750K by Sunday

About 1.2 million customers were still in the dark and without air conditioning in a triple-digit heat index two days after Hurricane Beryl ripped through Houston. CenterPoint promised it would restore 1 million customers Wednesday; by the end of Tuesday, the company had restored about one-third of total outages. The company's website showed 1,371,480 customers were still without power as of 4:55 a.m. Wednesday, down from more than 2.26 million during Hurricane Beryl Monday. Beryl, which hit Texas as a Category 1 hurricane and later was downgraded to a tropical storm, killed at least eight people in the Houston area.

More than 2.2 million Houston customers lost power in the storm. The company said in the release that it plans to release updated estimates Thursday. "Our restoration progress so far reflects our continued commitment to deliver on our promises to our customers," Senior Vice President of Electric Business Lynnae Wilson stated in the release. "We are fully focused on achieving our next restoration goals, while continuing to address the issues in the hardest-hit areas where there is major damage to our equipment and infrastructure."

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NBC News - July 11, 2024

'It's already disastrous': Biden campaign fundraising takes a major hit

President Joe Biden’s campaign has already suffered a major slowdown in donations and officials are bracing for a seismic fundraising hit, with the fallout from a debate nearly two weeks ago taking a sizable toll on operations, according to four sources close to the re-election effort. “It’s already disastrous,” one of the sources close to Biden’s re-election said of fundraising. "The money has absolutely shut off," another source close to the re-election said. Two of the sources said this month is on a path to be down by possibly half — “or much more,” one of them said — from large donors alone. Sources emphasized that the donations were down across the board.

“Donors are negative. They had a call with the president. The call seemed so contrived to people; I don’t think they buy it,” one of the people close to the campaign said, referring to a recent national fundraising call between Biden and donors. “They called on people who were the most loyal, die-hard … There were no tough questions for the president." Initially after the debate, the campaign reported an uptick in donors. But that quickly fell off, the sources said. A Biden campaign spokesperson pushed back against the notion that fundraising was down. "That’s not accurate," spokesperson Lauren Hitt said. "On grassroots fundraising, the first seven days of July were the best start to the month on the campaign — and many of those were first-time donors. On the high-dollar side, we’ve had folks max out since the debate, as well." Hitt didn’t share how many donors have hit the maximum allowed under federal law since the debate. One of the people close to the re-election efforts said this week that the campaign believed major donors who have threatened to jump ship after the debate would come around — if only to avoid helping former President Donald Trump by sitting out the race.

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Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2024

Texas leaders were slower to request federal Beryl aid than in past hurricanes

Texas was quick to ask for federal aid when Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, when Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017, and again when Hurricane Hanna touched down in 2020. But that did not happen this year as Hurricane Beryl approached Houston, triggering a round of finger-pointing between the White House and Texas officials over how quickly federal supplies including food, water and generators should have been distributed. President Joe Biden told the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday that he had to personally reach out the state's acting governor, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, for a formal request a day after the storm hit, knocking out power to more than 2 million CenterPoint Energy customers. “I’ve been trying to track down the governor to see — I don’t have any authority to do that without a specific request from the governor,” Biden said in a call. That’s not how Texas leaders have handled past hurricanes.

The night before Harvey first made landfall in Texas in 2017, Abbott already had a request signed and submitted to then-President Donald Trump in anticipation of the storm making landfall near Rockport. Days later, the storm hit Houston, dropping more than 50 inches of rain on the city. In 2020, Abbott requested a major disaster declaration from Trump before Hanna made landfall in South Texas as a Category 1 hurricane. “I submit this request in anticipation of the impacts of Hurricane Hanna, currently forecast to make landfall as a hurricane along the southern coast of Texas with continuing impacts to counties along the entire Texas coast and further inland,” Abbott said in his letter to Trump. Abbott's predecessor, Rick Perry, filed a major disaster declaration with then-President George W. Bush on Sept. 12, 2008, the day before Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston as a Category 2 storm with 110-mph winds.

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ABC News - July 11, 2024

Biden's solo, unscripted news conference a pivotal moment in debate rebound effort

As with every public appearance now, his performance will be scrutinized. President Joe Biden, facing a political crisis as Democrats question the viability of his campaign and mental fitness, will be put to the test on Thursday when he holds his first solo news conference of the year. The high-stakes moment is an opportunity for Biden to change the narrative after his poor debate performance triggered a drumbeat of concerns in his own party that he might be too weakened to win against Donald Trump this November. But any stumbles in the unscripted setting could add fuel to the fire, despite Biden's repeated attempts to rebuff his critics and his insistence that he is staying in the race. Many Democrats have said they need to see Biden clearly answer questions without faltering or losing his train of thought -- what so alarmed them about his debate showing with Trump two weeks ago.

The news conference will come after Biden concludes hosting a NATO summit in Washington. Biden kicked off that off with a strong speech on the strength of the alliance, which is marking its 75th anniversary, and an announcement of new air defense capabilities for Ukraine in its fight against Russia. But overshadowing the international gathering was Biden's domestic political fate amid debate over his ability to lead the U.S. for another four years and the possibility of a second Trump presidency threatening NATO policy on Ukraine -- and the alliance itself. Those questions have been top of mind for congressional Democrats this week as they returned to Washington after the holiday weekend and have been huddling behind closed doors to discuss the path forward. Biden tried to preemptively block criticism in a defiant letter to Democrats on Monday, in which he said it was time to "come together" and that he is "firmly committed" to staying in this race to the end. But there are now nine House Democrats and one Democratic senator who have called on Biden to resign. Privately, many have expressed concern about the possibility of not only losing the presidency but also the House and Senate if Biden remains atop of the ticket.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2024

AG Ken Paxton says Texas House committee is preparing to impeach him again

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said a House investigating panel is attempting to impeach him once more – an accusation a member of the committee denied Wednesday. The House General Investigating Committee is meeting July 17 at the Capitol, but the committee’s agenda does not mention a meeting topic – a common practice for a panel that operates in secret during investigations. Without providing evidence, Paxton issued a written statement Wednesday evening saying the meeting was “yet another desperate attempt by the Republican establishment to impeach me.” “Their bitter obsession with taking me down knows no bounds, and they will stop at nothing to remove me from office,” Paxton wrote.

A member of the House committee said Paxton was wrong. “There’s no basis for that whatsoever,” a member of the General Investigating Committee told The Dallas Morning News. “I’ll put it this way: I don’t think we’re going to be there very long.” A staff member for Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, who leads the five-member committee, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday night. Paxton’s statement came about 15 months after the House voted 121-23 to impeach him over accusations of bribery, obstruction of justice and abuse of office over help provided to a friend and political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul. In early 2023, the House General Investigating committee launched an investigation into Paxton after the attorney general asked the legislature to fund a $3.3 million lawsuit settlement with four former agency executives who were fired in 2020 after telling the FBI about Paxton’s ties to Paul.

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Washington Post - July 11, 2024

How a Texas man turned Whataburger into the state’s power outage tracker

Hurricane Beryl had pummeled Southeast Texas on Monday, leaving millions in the Houston area without power. But with technical issues plaguing the tracker for the city’s main energy provider, there was no way to check the status of power outages — or find the still-lit pockets where residents could buy food, gas and other necessities. Then Bryan Norton, a 55-year-old tech worker and podcast host, found help from an unlikely source: the Whataburger app. The app’s map showed where its restaurants — which have a massive presence across Houston — were still open. Instead of providing Texans with info about where they could snag burgers, biscuits and taquitos, Norton soon noticed the map could be used to gauge where power in the city was still on or had been restored.

His discovery went viral after he posted about it on social media, where thousands credited him with helping them find out if their loved ones had power or how they could escape the sweltering heat as temperatures and humidity levels soared. “The fact that Whataburger’s app is giving us that bit of hope — well, it doesn’t get more Texas than that,” Norton told The Washington Post. Norton’s eureka moment happened during a late-night hunt for food. His home in Tomball, Tex. — a town some 35 miles north of Houston’s center — lost power around 7 a.m. on Monday as Beryl made landfall as a Category 1 storm, toppling transmission lines and knocking down trees. His backup generator soon whirred to life, illuminating the house and kick-starting a fridge holding the barbecue enthusiast’s many pounds of meat. The internet, however, went down that afternoon. Though he and his wife had planned to hunker down for a few days, Norton said they didn’t want to go “completely stir crazy.” That night, they decided to check for open restaurants — a search that led Norton to a restaurant chain that “tastes like my childhood memories,” he said. He downloaded the Whataburger app, where the one restaurant in Tomball appeared open, making Norton a little skeptical. That’s why he widened his search to the whole Houston area — and soon saw a patchwork of gray and orange Ws, where the latter logos marked the open Whataburgers.

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Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2024

Houston Mayor John Whitmire criticizes CenterPoint's performance following Hurricane Beryl

Mayor John Whitmire criticized CenterPoint's response to Hurricane Beryl at a Houston City Council meeting on Wednesday, saying the energy company "needs to do a better job" restoring power to millions of customers who lost it when the storm tore through Houston. “That is the consensus of Houstonians, that’s mine,” Whitmire told reporters following the meeting. Whitmire, however, declined to give a grade on CenterPoint’s performance. “I’m not in the business to grade,” Whitmire told the Houston Chronicle. “I’m in the business of saying, ‘Let’s get it done. Let’s fix it.’”

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Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2024

On Asia trip, Gov. Greg Abbott focuses on AI, space exploration as Texas advantages

The beaten path to national security has typically involved developing lethal weapons, a skilled military, and the food and fuel needed to sustain a country. With advanced technology increasingly charting the world’s future, Gov. Greg Abbott has focused on two areas of exploration — artificial intelligence and outer space — as core themes of his economic development trip to East Asia. Working to entice business and political leaders in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan to invest in Texas, Abbott says AI and space exploration can lead to greater security and economic power.

“The role that Taiwan plays on the global stage is so incredibly important,” Abbott told Taiwan President Lai Ching-te during a Sunday meeting in Taipei. “Trade is an obvious one, semiconductors technology, innovation is another one, but what you do also is so important for world peace and for democracy across the globe.” Taiwan faces a threat from China, which doesn’t recognize its independence and hasn’t ruled out using force to bring the island nation under Beijing’s control. South Korea is threatened by North Korea, where officials continue testing sophisticated weapon systems in hopes of boosting its nuclear deterrence. Japan may have to spend more on defense, particularly if former President Donald Trump is reelected and follows through on plans to rework various military alliances. In 2019, Trump asked Japan to quadruple the money it pays to station U.S. troops in the country to $8 billion. Japan did not comply. On Wednesday, Abbott said mastering AI could lead to a robust defense against cyberwars and defense systems in space could affect military conflicts. U.S. military officials are already on top of the issues, he said. “This information I shared is public information from the United States Army, so it was not me creating this concept,” Abbott told The Dallas Morning News after arriving in Japan. “What we are creating is making sure that Texas is going to be at the center of what will be involved in shaping the future.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2024

Xfinity reports 620,000 outages in Houston, with 36% restored after Hurricane Beryl

An Xfinity spokesperson said Wednesday that service was restored to approximately 355,000 customers — or about 36% of those experiencing service outages — in the 36 hours after Hurricane Beryl moved out of the Houston area. Millions of Houston area CenterPoint customers lost power after a Category 1 hurricane swept through the region, and about 1.3 million are still without power as of early Wednesday afternoon. Xfinity said most of its current service outages are tied to power loss at homes and businesses.

Approximately 620,000 customers still did not have service, an Xfinity spokesperson wrote, and more than 700 technicians are deployed. “At our peak, there were approximately 975,000 residential and business customers who experienced storm-related temporary loss of service. Most service interruptions are due to power outages," wrote Senior Director of Communications and Public Relations Foti Kallergis. “Comcast's critical network facilities remained online during and after the storm.” AT&T representatives said in a Tuesday statement that the company would waive talk, text and data overage charges for wireless customers in affected areas. The company said it responded to 18 FirstNet emergency support requests by public safety agencies and deployed a flying cell site to beam LTE coverage to Matagorda County customers, according to statements posted to its website.

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Houston Chronicle - July 11, 2024

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott calls for investigation into Houston power outages after Hurricane Beryl

Two days after Hurricane Beryl knocked out power for a record 2.26 million CenterPoint customers in the Houston area, Gov. Greg Abbott said he is directing the Public Utilities Commission to study why the region has not been able to access electricity “on multiple occasions.” Abbott, who is currently on an economic development trip in Asia, said in two TV interviews on Wednesday that he wants to find out “why this is repeatedly happening in Houston.” He did not specifically mention any other natural disasters, but more than 1 million Houston-area customers also lost power in May after a massive wind storm — also known as a derecho — swept through the city.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been acting as governor in Abbott’s absence. “They should not be losing power,” Abbott said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “I want to find out: Was there a structural flaw with regard to the electrical delivery system? … Or was this a personnel issue of not having enough power personnel in all the right locations to get power back and going again? “All I can tell you is this: I want the PUC to provide information to both me and the Texas Legislature so that we will be able to act on it next year to make sure events like this never happen again,” Abbott told Bloomberg TV. Thomas Gleeson, the chair of the PUC, said at a Monday press conference that the agency would work with local utility companies after the storm to conduct a post-event analysis of the state’s response “to review what we've done and try to get better.” Abbott’s directive seems to focus just on the Houston area. CenterPoint has not provided a concrete timeline on when all customers will have their electricity restored. About 1 million customers were back online by Wednesday.

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Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2024

Frisco megachurch removes pastor of 17 years for ‘moral failure’

A megachurch in Frisco has removed a longtime pastor due to a “moral failure,” according to a Tuesday email the church sent congregants that was obtained by The Dallas Morning News. Tony Cammarota, a former associate pastor at Stonebriar Community Church, “confessed to church leadership of a moral failure” on July 7, the church’s email said. “He is deeply remorseful but his sin disqualifies him from serving on our staff as a pastor,” it added. Cammarota did not return three phone calls requesting comment on the situation. Representatives for the church did not respond to three calls and two emails requesting comment. Cammarota worked at the church as an associate pastor for over 17 years, according to his LinkedIn profile. More than 3,000 people attend Sunday services at Stonebriar, according to a recent church news release, and around 16,000 watch online.

The church’s email did not describe the nature of the “moral failure” it said led to Cammarota’s removal and urged readers not to speculate about it. “And please guard against giving the Devil any foothold for more damage to our church through unnecessary speech and speculation,” it read. “This is a sad day and we don’t want the Devil making it worse through any one of us in the days ahead.” The church’s email has received criticism on social media. A screenshot of the email obtained by the blogger Amy Smith and posted to a Frisco Reddit group has received over 100 comments so far, with a number of people taking issue with the request not to talk or speculate about the situation. “Oh, and if you want to find out if the moral failing hurt anyone, you’re only helping the devil,” user “crowej” wrote. “Ironic how anything bad that happens is the Devil and not the pastor’s fault, and the church family is supposed to just not talk about the sin because that would be spreading the Devil,” user “r3dk0w” wrote.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 11, 2024

North Texas bitcoin mine found not guilty on noise citations

The plant manager for a bitcoin mine and data center in unincorporated Hood County has been found not guilty on 12 counts of noise violations. Defendant David Fischer, the plant manager for Marathon Digital — a multi billion dollar bitcoin mining operation out of Florida — was found not guilty by a jury on Tuesday. Hood County attorney Matt Mills represented the residents and presented the noise citations.

“I’m disappointed for the victims in the case,” Mills told the Star-Telegram in a statement Wednesday. “The feedback I received from jurors is they believed it was an unreasonable noise. However, they had trouble connecting it with the individual defendant, David Fischer. Testimony was that he was the plant manager. But the jury’s questions revolved around how much control did he have over operations, and how much he could alleviate the noise problems.” The case stemmed from noise citations written by Hood County constable John Shirley, who has recorded dozens of readings the past few months over 85 decibels, the state’s threshold for which noise is considered unreasonable. The case revolved around citations addressed specifically to Fisher, not Marathon Digital. Bob Gill and Miles Brissette, the defendant’s attorney, said the reading conducted by Shirley were improper and inflated.

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Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2024

Don’t call it a rally, but Dallas office numbers continue to swell

The Dallas area continues to outperform the nationwide baseline for return-to-office numbers, according to data from Placer.ai. Placer.ai puts the nationwide average for visits to office buildings at 29.4% below pre-pandemic levels when compared with June 2019. Dallas’ figure comes in at 24.1% below using data from June 2024. Placer.ai, which specializes in analyzing location and foot traffic data, honed in on about 1,000 commercial office buildings for its Nationwide Office Building Index.

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San Antonio Report - July 11, 2024

After rough Biden-Trump debate, Libertarian Party targets Texas

Days after a CNN presidential debate left some Democrats and Republicans feeling unnerved, Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver and his running mate Mike ter Maat were traversing the state of Texas — courting support from those who want to upset the nation’s two-party political system. “The debate woke a lot of Americans up to the fact that the two choices provided by Democrats and Republicans just aren’t satisfactory,” Oliver said in an interview during a June 30 fundraiser in the Monte Vista neighborhood of San Antonio. “More people are now Googling us, looking us up and giving us a fresh look.” Libertarians typically align with Republicans on fiscal issues, while embracing more liberal social values.

While many of their candidates come from Republican backgrounds, Oliver, 38, is a former Democrat who started as an anti-war activist in the George W. Bush era, and left the party amid disappointment with former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy decisions. Vice presidential candidate ter Maat is a 63-year-old economist who worked in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in the early 1990s and ditched the Republican Party when he says its leaders abandoned fiscal conservatism. Their four-day tour of the Lone Star State included stops in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas, where they courted support from both Republicans and Democrats — jumping from Pride parades to donor gatherings to meet-and-greets at breweries. They brought in about $10,000 at the San Antonio fundraiser where roughly 60 attendees sipped wine, posed for photos with the candidates and opened their checkbooks, all while seeming perfectly clear-eyed about Oliver and ter Maat’s chances.

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KUT - July 11, 2024

Bursting at the seams, Texas Music Museum seeks bigger space for decades-old artifacts

It’s cramped in the Texas Music Museum in East Austin. Bright colored exhibits line every open space on the walls of a narrow corridor. They include memorabilia about jazz, blues, Tejano, gospel and country musicians. The three-person staff walks closely together, careful not to knock a frame off the wall or hit a record player from the 1900s. It’s a cozy, safe space at this museum, which has also held classes and live performances since 1984. But even with limited space, the staff beams with pride for their work. Unfortunately, only a fraction of the up to 100-year-old artifacts are on display at a given time. Another two dozen exhibits are in storage. “We [don’t] know where to put everything,” Sylvia Morales, community manager at the museum, said.

Museum staff started looking for new space at the beginning of the year. They met with the city's Music Commission on Monday in hopes of getting support to expand. Pat Buchta, CEO of Austin Texas Musicians, has been advocating for the museum to get a bigger space. “I think we have a few avenues to lift this thing up,” he said. “Their dire need right now is space.” Clay Shorkey, a retired UT Austin professor, said his passion for collecting music and Austin history led him to open the museum 40 years ago. “We don’t want to be limited to a couple displays,” he said. “We want our Texas museum to show all these incredible musicians of every genre.” The museum is only about 2,000 square feet and borrows additional storage space from the police department. It has to vacate that space next summer. Morales said museum leaders ideally want about 13,000 square feet in East Austin for exhibits and another 2,000 square feet for storage. The estimated cost for a space of that size is $330,000. “It would be wonderful if the city of Austin can help us move forward with one of their underutilized buildings,” Morales said. “I don’t know what we would do [without it], to be honest.”

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Border Report - July 11, 2024

Texas to install anti-climb barriers in El Paso, governor says

Texas soldiers in El Paso are installing new rows of razor wire in a stretch of the Rio Grande where they took down the barrier last week. Uniformed members of the Texas Army National Guard wearing hard hats walked along a recently mowed levee to set up thin metal fence posts on Tuesday. Some bent to tie new concertina wire to the posts as large wads of the old razor wire could be seen next to trash containers in the background. Last week’s removal of the barrier Texas placed at the border to discourage illegal migration prompted concerns it would encourage new unauthorized crossings from Mexico. The area less than two years ago teemed with migrants seeking asylum and prompted the U.S. Border Patrol to set up a processing camp known as West Bridge.

Migrant crossings began to move eastward as the Guard arrived in December 2022. In the months that followed, it set up concertina fencing and deployed more soldiers and military vehicles to the area. In an email to Border Report, the Texas Military Department said it plans to reinstall the razor wire barrier. “Wire was temporarily removed to allow the International Boundary and Water Commission access to mow and service the area,” the state agency said on Tuesday. “This mowing reduces vegetation and increases the ability to detect illegal activity.” TMD said it increased the number of security personnel patrolling the area while the concertina wire was down. It plans to reinstall any additional wire that is taken down for Rio Grande levee maintenance or any other contingency.

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County Stories

Big Bend Sentinel - July 11, 2024

Colonias appoint representatives for new county Utility System Board

On Wednesday, a small group of concerned citizens from the smallest and most remote communities in Presidio County convened for a meeting of the Utility System Board, which aims to address urgent water needs in the communities of Candelaria, Redford, Ruidosa and Shafter. When the board was formed last fall, it consisted of the county judge and commissioners, but the plan was always to appoint a member from each of the communities. Soon-to-be Precinct 1 Commissioner Deirdre Heisler will serve as chair for the board approved at yesterday’s meeting: Martha Stafford of Shafter, Bianca Tellez of Candelaria, Wikar Kadhim of Ruidosa and Charlie Angell of Redford. Las Pampas — a dry colonia located between Presidio and Shafter — doesn’t currently have representation, though officials stressed the need to seek out a community member to participate.

Over the past few years, the majority of these communities have been plagued by outages and uncertainties. Candelaria has been hit particularly hard. In April, the town’s water operator Rosaelva Madrid passed away, leaving no one to check on the system’s well, nor to collect payments and check the fifty-odd local meters. Shafter is also in a state of limbo. Historically, the community’s water has been provided by the nearby silver mine free of charge — but the financial troubles of parent company Aurcana Silver and the uncertainty of a potential sale have left the system in the lurch. Without an operator doing all required testing and no chlorinator, the town is under a perpetual boil-water notice, with residents questioning whether they’ll wake up one morning and not be able to turn on the tap. The county board is distinct from the individual water corporations from each small town that make decisions about system maintenance and funding. Some are more sophisticated than others — County Judge Joe Portillo highlighted the Redford Water Corporation, which he referred to as “the most consistently run … overall, it does very well for itself.”

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National Stories

Religion News Service - July 11, 2024

How a perfect storm sent church insurance rates skyrocketing

The Rev. John Parks was taking his first sabbatical in 40 years of ministry when he got a call from his church’s accountant with some bad news. Church Mutual, the church’s insurance company, had dropped them. “This does not make sense,” Parks, the pastor of Ashford Community Church in Houston, recalls thinking at the time. “We’ve never filed a claim.” Five months and 13 insurance companies later, the church finally found replacement coverage for $80,000 per year, up from the $23,000 they had been paying. “It’s been an adventure,” said the 69-year-old Parks from his home in Houston, where the power was out after Hurricane Beryl. “That’s putting it politely.” Parks and his congregation are not alone.

An ongoing wave of disasters — Gulf Coast hurricanes, wildfires in California, severe thunderstorms and flooding in the Midwest — along with skyrocketing construction costs post-COVID have left the insurance industry reeling. As a result, companies such as Church Mutual, GuideOne and Brotherhood Mutual, which specialize in insuring churches, have seen their reserves shrink. That’s led them to drop churches they consider high risk in order to cut their losses. Hundreds of United Methodist churches in the Rio Texas Annual Conference learned they’d lost property insurance in November last year, leaving church officials scrambling. More than six months later, some churches have found new insurance, often at a steep increase. Others still have none, said Kevin Reed, president of the conference board of trustees. Reed said the conference had about a month’s notice that its property insurance policy, which local congregations could buy into, was being canceled. That wasn’t enough time to find new coverage before the policy expired. It also left local churches on their own. We have not found a good solution,” said Reed. “It continues to be a significant problem for our churches.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 11, 2024

Vice President Kamala Harris announces initiative targeting maternal mortality

Vice President Kamala Harris announced a new White House proposal targeting the U.S.’s high maternal mortality rate during a speech to her sorority sisters in Dallas on Wednesday. The policy would create baseline standards for maternal health services at hospitals. Some of these standards include mandating annual staff training on maternal health practices, according to a news release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Nearly every hospital in our country will soon be required to provide new mothers with delivery rooms that are fully stocked with life-saving medical equipment,” Harris said of the proposal during her speech to Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority members. Harris was the keynote speaker for the sorority’s national convention, which was hosted at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

AKA is the oldest Greek-lettered sorority founded by college-educated Black women. Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. exceed those of other high-income countries, a 2024 Commonwealth Fund report found. Harris said the mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. is three times higher than for white women as she spoke Wednesday to thousands of AKA members. Her visit to Dallas comes at a tenuous time for President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. Following a halting debate performance in late June, Harris has been considered a potential replacement candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket. A small but growing number of elected democrats have been publicly urging Biden to drop out of the race, including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. During a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., extolled Biden’s accomplishments and called him a “great president.” But she stopped short of urging him to stay in the race, instead saying it’s up to Biden to make that decision and adding “time is running short.”

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Associated Press - July 11, 2024

Dallas-based company selling ammunition in vending machines

A company has installed computerized vending machines to sell ammunition in grocery stores in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas, allowing patrons to pick up bullets along with a gallon of milk. American Rounds, which is based in the Dallas-area, said their machines use an identification scanner and facial recognition software to verify the purchaser’s age and are as “quick and easy” to use as a computer tablet. But advocates worry that selling bullets out of vending machines will lead to more shootings in the U.S., where gun violence killed at least 33 people on Independence Day alone. The company maintains the age-verification technology means that the transactions are as secure, or more secure, than online sales, which may not require the purchaser to submit proof of age, or at retail stores, where there is a risk of shoplifting.

“I’m very thankful for those who are taking the time to get to know us and not just making assumptions about what we’re about,” said CEO Grant Magers, who lives in Richardson, according to his LinkedIn page. “We are very pro-Second Amendment, but we are for responsible gun ownership, and we hope we’re improving the environment for the community.” There have been 15 mass killings involving a firearm so far in 2024, compared to 39 in 2023, according to a database maintained in a partnership of The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. “Innovations that make ammunition sales more secure via facial recognition, age verification, and the tracking of serial sales are promising safety measures that belong in gun stores, not in the place where you buy your kids milk,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. “In a country awash in guns and ammo, where guns are the leading cause of deaths for kids, we don’t need to further normalize the sale and promotion of these products.”

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Washington Post - July 11, 2024

Mexico’s new leader is a climate expert. Can she save an oil nation?

She was an energy engineer, a quiet, driven Mexican academic who’d worked at a major U.S. government lab and investigated some of the toughest problems in climate change. Claudia Sheinbaum was a natural choice when the prestigious U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change selected scientists for a landmark report in 2014. It would warn the world was hurtling toward “irreversible” damage from greenhouse gases, and call for urgent action. Sheinbaum’s contributions were “an added value for the team,” said Manfred Fischedick, a professor in Germany who worked on the report. “And — I would like to stress that aspect specifically — she never came across as a politician.” Now, Sheinbaum is about to become Mexico’s president.

Her election has given hope to environmentalists and diplomats who’ve despaired as Mexico has gone from a global leader on climate change to a laggard. Yet Sheinbaum has a complicated record. She’s the protégé of outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, who sidelined green-energy projects and prioritized tapping petroleum fields. In her recent stint as Mexico City mayor, Sheinbaum loyally defended his policies — even as she introduced electric buses and covered the capital’s massive food market with solar panels. “Like a political chameleon, she adapts to the situation she’s in,” said Antonio Mediavilla, an environmental scientist who has worked on projects with her administration. “But now, she will be the boss.” What direction will she take? The answer will have implications far beyond Mexico’s borders. The country is the world’s 11th-biggest oil producer, and the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in Latin America. Much of that is derived from energy — car exhaust, methane emissions from gas and oil infrastructure, planet-warming gases drifting from fossil fuel-burning electricity plants.

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Border Report - July 11, 2024

60% of newly arrived migrants find jobs

Three out of five newly arrived migrants have found jobs in the United States and are contributing to the growth of the economy, according to a study released Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The Dallas Fed used annual census population surveys, Congressional Budget Office data and other resources to come up with its projections. They show the foreign-born population in the U.S. surged by 2.6 million in 2022 and was projected to increase by another 3.3 million in both 2023 and 2024. “The boost to gross domestic product and employment from the recent increase in population growth is considerable,” the researchers wrote. “Over the past year, the immigration wave contributed to higher GDP growth by adding nearly 2 million newly employed workers. (This) likely occurred with very little effect on inflation.”

The Dallas Fed says 60 percent of recent arrivals from other countries have made a quick transition from processing centers to work sites in the American communities they now call home. “The mechanics of the higher growth rate are straightforward: If immigration increases population by 1 percent and these newcomers integrate into the labor force at rates comparable to native-born citizens, employment and output expand immediately,” the researchers said. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is part of the Federal Reserve System – the central bank of the United States. Immigration advocates for years have echoed the themes raised by the Dallas Fed’s newest findings. “Immigration strengthens the U.S. economy and contributes to greater prosperity for all Americans,” FWD.us, a political advocacy organization that bills itself as being bipartisan, said in a policy brief last March. “Immigrants help create jobs, raise wages, reduce inflation and increase productivity and innovation.” Others argue the economic impact of newly arrived migrants on the U.S. economy is not as straightforward as advocates say. “Illegal immigrants actually have high rates of work and they do pay some taxes, including income and payroll taxes,” Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said in prepared testimony to a House subcommittee in January. “The fundamental reason illegal immigrants are a net drain is they have a low average education level which results in low average earnings and tax payments.”

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Washington Post - July 11, 2024

Talking ‘el aborto’ with Latino voters to pass pro-abortion measures

“Votando por libertad,” read the flier in Tony Vargas’s hand. Voting for freedom. The retired police officer considered the message. In the parking lot of his stucco apartment building, canvassers were out on this hot morning to meet Latinos like him. Their goal was to persuade as many as possible, regardless of political affiliation, to vote for a November ballot measure that would establish the right to abortion in a state with one of the country’s strictest bans. “El aborto” needs to remain “seguro y legal,” the flier urged. Safe and legal. “I believe in a woman’s choice,” said Vargas, who is 65 and an Independent. The canvasser from the grass roots organizing group Mi Vecino — my neighbor — marked him down as a ‘yes’ this fall.

This fall, against a contentious national backdrop, voters here and in at least half a dozen other states will decide whether to enshrine abortion rights into their state constitutions. Latinos could make the difference in passage or defeat for several of those measures, and their potentially pivotal influence explains the outreach to their communities. In Florida, which arguably has the highest-stakes ballot question, Mi Vecino and a coalition of voting rights organizations are campaigning for Amendment 4 by devoting bilingual resources to wooing Latinos. The opposing campaign, Too Extreme for Florida, is also distributing materials and posting ads in Spanish. They accuse proponents of acting deceptively — of a bait and switch, or “gato por liebre.” In Arizona, canvassing by both sides is expected to ramp up fast in both languages once state officials certify that enough signatures were gathered to put the question on the ballot. One in four voters there is Latino, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO), with a recent poll by the nonprofit advocacy group Lucha showing 75 percent of Latinos supporting access to reproductive health care and women’s bodily autonomy.

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Washington Post - July 11, 2024

The Supreme Court upended gun laws nationwide. Mass confusion has followed.

Semiautomatic weapons. Large-capacity magazines. Guns with scratched-off serial numbers. Ghost guns. Guns in bars and restaurants. Guns in the hands of people who have threatened to kill themselves or someone else. Which firearms are legal and who can have them all expanded in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision two years ago in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which strengthened Second Amendment rights in America and launched hundreds of lawsuits challenging gun restrictions nationwide. This summer, the Supreme Court said it had been misunderstood: Courts were taking too far Bruen’s guidance that gun laws must align with U.S. “history and tradition.” People under domestic violence restraining orders, the justices decreed, could be barred from having guns, allowing a looser interpretation of its decision from two years ago. But on both sides of the gun-control debate, people say the ruling will do little to ease the confusion and disruption unleashed by the high court’s 2022 historical mandate.

Only eight of roughly 500 federal court cases that are challenging the constitutionality of firearms restrictions since the Bruen decision that are being tracked by the gun-control advocacy group Brady involve the law recently upheld by the Supreme Court, according to a Washington Post review of the data. Those opposing gun regulations said they still plan to aggressively target laws that they believe violate the Constitution. The high court also didn’t clarify how far back in American history judges must go to justify allowing firearms regulations. That leaves other major gun laws vulnerable at a time when the U.S. surgeon general has declared gun violence a public health crisis and as a new study reports that gun rulings have become more politically polarized, experts said. The Bruen test was created in response to conservative complaints that the Second Amendment was not taken seriously enough, with courts too often prioritizing public safety concerns over gun rights. In Bruen, the court said no such choice was allowed — all that matters is whether there is a historical analogue for the regulation being challenged.

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