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Newsclips - June 18, 2024

Lead Stories

Reuters - June 18, 2024

Texas court favored by conservatives to pause transferring cases elsewhere

A federal court in Texas that has become a favored destination for conservatives suing to block President Joe Biden's agenda on Monday adopted a new rule that would automatically pause decisions by judges to transfer cases to other jurisdictions. A majority of judges on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas approved a rule that would stay for 21 days any decisions to transfer civil cases to courts outside of the jurisdiction of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The rule will take effect on Sept. 3, absent any changes in response to public comment, according to an order by Chief U.S. District Judge David Godbey, and would at that time slow down transfers orders that without a stay can happen swiftly.

The rule will make it more difficult for the Biden administration to avoid defending against lawsuits in the Northern District, whose small courthouses in cities like Amarillo and Forth Worth have become a favored venue for challenges to its policies. The one or two active federal judges in both of those two cities were appointed by Republican presidents and often rule in the favor of Republican state attorneys general and conservative activists on issues like abortion, immigration and gun control. One of those judges, Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, last year suspended approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously reversed the lower-court rulings that would have restricted access to the pill. The U.S. Judicial Conference in March sought to curb so-called "judge shopping" of such lawsuits to these one-or-two judge courthouses by adopting a policy that called for lawsuits challenging federal or state laws to be assigned a judge randomly throughout a federal district.

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NPR - June 18, 2024

Biden's plan will shield undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens from deportation

President Biden is set to announce Tuesday new executive actions that will offer protection against deportation to an estimated half a million undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens. The plan grants "parole in place" to undocumented people who have been in this country for at least 10 years. This measure will also allow eligible immigrants to apply for legal permanent status. Additionally, it would extend a path to legality to noncitizen minors, and stepchildren of American citizens. These executive actions include providing eligible immigrants with work permits. Biden’s plan intends to keep families together, said senior White House officials who asked not to be identified because the information they provided will be announced on Tuesday by the president.

“These actions will promote family unity and strengthen our economy, providing a significant benefit to the country and helping U.S. citizens and their noncitizen family members stay together.” This plan comes two weeks after other executive actions severely restricting asylum for most undocumented immigrants were put in place. The administration has said that while securing the southern border is a priority, so is fixing the immigration system for families in America. Contrary to popular belief, undocumented immigrants cannot simply marry U.S. citizens to obtain legal status. For mixed-status marriages, this has meant that attempts to legalize could end up in long-term separation of families. Alejandro Paz Medrano and his wife, Erin Messinger, met nearly 20 years ago in Pennsylvania, when Medrano, originally from Mexico, took an English course. In 2016, they got married. In many ways, their life together has been like other couples: they have different tastes in food, Messinger always falls asleep while watching movies, and Medrano snores at night.

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KHOU - June 18, 2024

State activates emergency resources ahead of expected heavy rain from tropical Gulf system

While Texas isn’t expected to get a direct hit from Potential Tropical Cyclone 1, the effects of the storm will likely be felt all along the state’s coast in the coming days. In the Houston area, we’re expecting several rounds of heavy rain from the system throughout the week. Gov. Greg Abbott’s office sent out a release Monday, saying how the state is preparing for the effects of tropical weather along coastal and inland communities. If needed, the state has also readied the Texas A&M Forestry Service, Public Utilities of Texas, Railroad Commission of Texas and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to jump into action.

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AFP - June 18, 2024

Wall Street stocks end at fresh records

Wall Street stocks rallied to fresh records Monday behind enthusiasm over artificial intelligence, while European markets bounced despite political uncertainty in France. Both the tech-rich Nasdaq and the broad-based S&P 500 pushed to all-time closing highs. "It's not a broad rally but it's a rally with the index up for sure," said Art Hogan of B. Riley Wealth Management, who pointed to the recent share price gains of Apple, Microsoft and Nvidia as a source of momentum. Hogan also noted that the outlook for US monetary policy had improved somewhat following last week's US inflation data, which kept alive the chance of interest rate cuts in 2024.

Bourses in Paris and Frankfurt also climbed despite angst following President Emmanuel Macron's move last week to call an early general election after his party lost out to the far-right National Rally (RN) in EU parliament elections a week ago. "European markets have risen off the lows of last week but there’s little enthusiasm among investors for the region given the prevailing political uncertainty," said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at online trading platform IG. The move has fanned fears about instability in Europe's second-biggest economy, and observers said France could be on course for a standoff with the EU if extremists win. "Uncertainty over the extent to which the far right RN party will have effective control of the next French parliament after July 7 will be an ongoing source of market angst," said Ray Attrill of National Australia Bank.

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State Stories

KUT - June 18, 2024

UT Austin lays off communications staff amid 'crises' following protests, DEI changes

UT Austin has let go nearly two dozen employees responsible for communications and marketing after a turbulent academic year, according to multiple sources who described the news as abrupt. Their last day is Aug. 31. A vice president informed affected employees in the University Marketing and Communications department of the layoffs two weeks ago, saying they were necessary so the university could focus on “managing reputational issues and crises.” This is according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the changes. They asked to remain unnamed because they worried about future job opportunities or weren’t authorized to speak about the layoffs. Sources said 19 to 20 people were laid off — about a quarter of the department, according to an online list of employees.

Mike Rosen, a university spokesperson, declined to comment beyond saying the department was going through a “restructure” and positions had been eliminated. He would not confirm the number of employees impacted. The move follows months of turmoil at one of the state’s largest public universities and amid scrutiny of institutions of higher education by Republican lawmakers. In April, UT Austin laid off dozens of staff to comply with a new state law banning diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs. That same month, university officials called in police to respond to two pro-Palestinian protests on campus. Officers arrested more than 100 people, including some students who now face criminal charges and university discipline. University spokespeople had struggled to communicate a clear message about what, if any, discipline arrested students would face. At the time, spokesperson Brian Davis said students who had been arrested would not be allowed to return to campus. He walked back that statement, eventually saying students could return to campus for “any reason.” A little over a week ago, the university started disciplinary proceedings against some of the arrested students. (Sources said Davis was among those laid off.) UT Austin President Jay Hartzell’s handling of these events has garnered praise from some of the state’s most notable conservative leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott. But many university faculty and staff have condemned Hartzell’s actions.

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El Paso Matters - June 18, 2024

White House canceled 'party' for NSF grant in El Paso amid UTEP concerns

University of Texas at El Paso leaders were dismissive of plans for a celebratory launch party by the White House meant to recognize the school and its partners for being awarded several significant grants, including a major National Science Foundation grant, El Paso’s congresswoman said. They cited concerns that it would appear political in an election year, according to U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, whose office was supposed to help coordinate the event.

The celebration of the recent grants — including the NSF grant which could have meant $160 million for the regional economy — was canceled by the White House on April 23. This was a day after initial inquiries from UTEP’s Office of Auditing and Consulting Services and two days before the NSF announced its decision April 25 to suspend the UTEP-led Paso del Norte Defense and Aerospace Innovation Engine. Escobar told El Paso Matters that “the president’s team,” referring to UTEP President Heather Wilson, intimated that a party scheduled for May 3 that included White House signage might be too political in an election year. She was surprised at that reaction and mentioned it to Wilson when both met April 30 in Washington, D.C. Wilson said that her team recommended caution, Escobar said.

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El Paso Matters - June 18, 2024

Judge promises ruling soon on Paxton efforts to close Annunciation House

An El Paso judge will rule within two weeks on the attempt by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to close Annunciation House’s migrant shelters, he said at the end of a hearing Monday. “There are a number of issues that were raised here that were addressed in the pleadings, but that, as you’ve argued them, require me to go back and revisit and look at it a little more closely. So, I would expect, and I’ll do my best to get something to you sooner, but expect a ruling on this in two weeks, by the end of two weeks,” 205th District Judge Francisco Dominguez said at the end of a 45-minute hearing. During the hearing, attorneys essentially summarized arguments they made at a previous hearing and in written filings to the court. Paxton and attorneys in his office say that Annunciation House – which has deep ties to the Catholic Church – runs “stash houses” and engages in human trafficking, allegations vehemently denied by the nonprofit.

“We believe that the evidence demonstrates concealment, harboring, and shielding (of undocumented immigrants) because Annunciation House denies entry to law enforcement without a reasonable expectation of privacy. Annunciation House withheld documents pertaining to illegal aliens based on frivolous and pretextual objections,” Assistant Attorney General Robert Farquharson argued. The Attorney General’s Office has said Annunciation House’s refusal to provide requested business records in February gives the office the authority to strip the nonprofit of its ability to do business in Texas. Annunciation House’s attorneys say the state officials are violating the organization’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures, and its religious freedoms. “Annunciation House does not assert that the attorney general has no investigative authority or cannot investigate Annunciation House. No, the attorney general can, but there are laws, and the attorney general must respect those laws and has tried very hard to get around them at every juncture in this litigation,” said Jerome Wesevich, an attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid who is representing Annunciation House.

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San Antonio Report - June 18, 2024

Low pay for disabled Texans' caregivers cause staffing shortages

The state of Texas manages a waiting list of residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities seeking services that currently has close to 130,000 people on it. Many wait for a decade or longer to get into a group home or day program. That’s in part because the agencies that provide those services are facing a critical shortage of caregivers to work with them. Texas reimburses those agencies $10.60 an hour for caregivers and most pay that rate or only slightly higher to employees who work directly with some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. During the last legislative session, state lawmakers raised the pay of these community-based caregivers — who provide care in people’s homes, group homes and day care centers — to $10.60 from $8.11 an hour. But it also raised pay for workers at state hospitals and state-supported living centers to a minimum of $17.50 an hour in an effort to fill critical staffing shortages at those institutions.

That pay imbalance led some community-based caregivers to seek higher-paying state jobs, further impacting the shortage, said Jelynne LeBlanc Jamison, president and CEO of the Center for Health Care Services (CHCS), which provides mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services for adults, children, older adults and veterans in Bexar County. Higher pay at state-run institutions was definitely needed, she said. “I just wish, with the [budget] surplus that we’ve been able to enjoy in the state of Texas,” lawmakers also prioritized community-based caregiving of “this very, very vulnerable population.” Intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) are disorders usually present at birth, although they can be triggered by brain injuries, that negatively affect an individual’s physical, intellectual and emotional development. These disorders include autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome and spina bifida, among others. While it depends on the severity of the disorder, most people with these disabilities cannot live independently as adults. Many families in Texas sign up for the wait list immediately upon getting a diagnosis for their child, knowing it can be more than a decade before they are eligible for services.

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E&E News - June 18, 2024

FERC sued for green-lighting Texas-to-Mexico pipeline

Environmentalists and consumer rights advocates are suing federal energy regulators for clearing the way for construction of a major gas pipeline from Texas to Mexico. The Sierra Club and Public Citizen filed a petition to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s review of the Saguaro Connector Pipeline. The pipeline is slated to be about 500 miles long, but FERC determined it only had jurisdiction over 1,000 feet of pipe on the Texas side of the southern border — and issued a certificate for that segment in February. The groups argue that FERC should have conducted a thorough analysis of all 157 miles of pipeline that would be built in the U.S.

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Canary Media - June 18, 2024

UK’s Octopus Energy plans to ramp up Texas presence with new investment

Octopus Energy has surged to the top of the U.K. electricity market with its plucky brand of clean, flexible, customer-centric energy. Now it’s loading up on new investment to make a broader push into North America. The sprawling clean energy startup pulled in two new investments in recent weeks. On May 7, it announced a re-up from existing investors, including Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management and the Canada Pension Plan. Last week, it added a new round from the $1 billion Innovation and Expansion Fund at Tom Steyer’s Galvanize Climate Solutions. The parties did not disclose the size of the new infusions but said that they lift Octopus’ private valuation to $9 billion. Previously, Octopus raised an $800 million round in December, putting its valuation at $7.8 billion.

Thus, eight-year-old Octopus enters the summer of 2024 as one of the most valuable privately held startups in the world, but one whose impact is felt far more in Europe than in the U.S. The new influx of cash will help fund expansion in North America, both by growing its retail foothold in Texas and by ramping up sales of the company’s marquee Kraken software to other utilities. The company has its work cut out if it wants to reproduce its U.K. market dominance across the pond. “It is a Cambrian explosion of exciting growth in almost every direction,” Octopus Energy U.S. CEO Michael Lee told Canary Media last week. In the U.K., Octopus has gobbled its way up the leaderboard of electricity retailers, consuming competitors large and small until it reached the number one slot this year. It supplies British customers in part with clean power from a multibillion-dollar portfolio of renewables plants that it owns. The company lowers costs to customers by using smart devices or behavioral nudges to shift their usage to times when the renewables are producing the most cheap electricity.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 18, 2024

Statesman names veteran journalist Courtney Sebesta as new executive editor

Courtney Sebesta, a homegrown journalist who has risen from an entry-level newsroom position to top management at the Austin American-Statesman, will lead the publication as its new executive editor. Gannett, Co. Inc., owner of the Statesman, which is part of the USA Today network, announced Sebesta’s promotion Monday following a national search. She will become the Statesman’s top editor effective July 1. Sebesta, a graduate of the University of Texas School of Journalism and Media, will oversee all aspects of the Statesman’s editorial operations, including developing content strategy and innovation as well as efforts to reach new audiences.

“Courtney has an extensive and impressive track record as a journalist and longstanding member of the Austin community,” said Gannett Media Chief Content Officer Kristin Roberts. “Her talent and expertise will further our mission to deliver impactful, relevant news and content to her fellow Texans.” The Statesman staff broke into applause when executives made the announcement. Michael Anastasi, Gannett’s vice president of local news, said Sebesta emerged as a front-runner for the job among a competitive field of applicants nationally. “We are looking forward to the journey ahead,” he said. “The way we look at it, we are just getting going.” Ray Rivera, vice president of news for Gannett’s Middle America Region, called Sebesta a digitally savvy editor and strategic thinker who will lead the storied newsroom to new heights of audience growth. He added that Sebesta’s connection with the newsroom stands out with “the compassion she exudes for everyone she works with and how everyone she works with feels the same about her.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 18, 2024

True Texas Project says it was told venue was overbooked

The CEO and founder of True Texas Project wrote in an email that the Fort Worth Botanic Garden initially told her the organization could not host its birthday celebration because the venue was overbooked. “The venue for our party (Ft Worth Botanical Gardens) claimed they had double-booked and had to cancel us,” Julie McCarthy wrote in a newsletter titled “Julie unleashes” sent to subscribers at 1 a.m. Sunday. “We took them at their word until a few hours later when we learned the Trib’s hit piece had come out.” The “hit piece” McCarty is referring to is a June 12 Texas Tribune article that outlined the agenda for the birthday party, which includes sessions on “Multiculturalism & The War On White America” and “Great Replacement Theory.”

Four speakers have pulled out of the event since the Tribune article posted, including former state Sen. Don Huffines. On June 12 the Garden told True Texas Project it could not host its birthday party there. Responding to a comment on Facebook, the Garden said it “celebrates the diversity of our community and rejects all forms of hate speech, discrimination, or bigotry.” Two days later the city of Fort Worth told the Botanic Garden had to reinstate the event at the city-owned park. A statement from the city of Fort Worth said “through discussions between the City of Fort Worth and BRIT (Botanical Research Institute of Texas), the City’s legal department directed that the True Texas Project event be reinstated, as the City cannot restrict access based solely on a potential renter’s viewpoint.” McCarty wrote she wondered if the double-booking explanation was an excuse to cancel the event. “And of course it was no time after that when the gardens took to social media to let the world know they would never host a hate group like TTP,” she wrote.

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Los Angeles Times - June 18, 2024

Maxine Waters tells judge of 'nightmares' after Texas man threatened to cut her throat

Rep. Maxine Waters stood at the podium in front of a federal judge to tell him of the nightmares that stemmed from a Texas man's threats, including one to cut her throat. Waters told U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner on Monday that her family members — several of whom were present in the Los Angeles courtroom — live "in fear every day" because of violent threats made by Brian Michael Gaherty, a Houston resident. Gaherty, 61, pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to one count of threatening a United Sates official. In his plea agreement, he admitted to threatening to assault and murder Waters in phone calls he made in 2022, in which he used racial slurs and repeatedly referenced the congresswoman's race.

"This growing effort to target people of color and women of color ... has given me nightmares. I am in fear of my life," said Waters (D-Los Angeles). "I believe that we must all be accountable," she added. "Nobody is above the law." Klausner agreed, sentencing Gaherty to nearly three years in prison and fining him $10,000. The judge found that Gaherty targeted Waters because of her race and applied a hate-crime enhancement to the sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. Gaherty's attorneys, who had asked the judge to sentence their client to time served, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. As U.S. marshals prepared to take Gaherty away, he told reporters he was "sorry this happened" and added, "I have no hatred in my heart." “Threats to harm or kill elected officials are anathema to our nation’s values and must not — and will not — be tolerated,” U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said in a news release. “My office and the entire Department of Justice will continue to combat threats against public officials and other attempts to chill democracy.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 18, 2024

Mavericks took us on a wild ride, earning higher expectations for next season and beyond

The Mavs are coming home without the Finals or the Celtics, who may not make it out of the West End for a week. The locals take their hoops seriously. Deliriously, you might say. The Bruins flamed out, the Patriots stink and the Red Sox are already a dozen games back of the hated Yankees, but the C’s came through with their NBA-record 18th title and first in 16 years, locking down streets around TD Garden for blocks in anticipation of the postgame party. Back in Dallas, meanwhile, there will be no need to shut down Uptown. No parade for the conquering heroes. No bad karaoke of “We Are the Champions.” Be the smartest Mavericks fan. Get the latest news. Not after the Celtics’ dominating 106-88 win Monday, rendering the Mavs’ face-saving blowout Friday merely a curiosity in a gentlemen’s sweep.

In the Finals reckoning, the Mavs simply couldn’t contend with everything Boston brings to the table. Be glad they didn’t join the nine other teams that have been swept. “They’re a great team,” Luka Doncic said. “That’s what they do.” Besides the fact that Luka and Kyrie Irving combined for 43 points, which is about 20 short of what they need from their superstars, the Celtics matched the Mavs in the paint, the one area where they’d held an advantage the first four games of the Finals. Boston also reasserted itself on the glass, outrebounding the Mavs 51-35, a virtual flip-flop of Game 4. Here’s how you knew it wouldn’t be the Mavs’ year: Payton Pritchard, Boston’s real-life leprechaun, made his second half-court halftime buzzer beater of the series. Otherwise, the Celtics just did what they’ve done all year while winning 64 games and losing just two in the playoffs. Jayson Tatum led with 31 points and Jaylen Brown backed him up with 21, earning the finals MVP, meaning Jason Kidd got that right after all. Even the return of Kristaps Porzingis, a sentimental favorite at TD Garden, didn’t hurt the Mavs all that much. Not like he did in Games 1 and 2. He averaged 16 points in helping the Celtics build a 3-0 lead but was good for just for 5 on Monday with a single rebound.

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Globe Street - June 18, 2024

Moderating home prices in Texas could signal trend in Sun Belt Region

In Sun Belt states, where housing premiums are among the highest in the nation, some metropolitan areas in Texas are beginning to offer home buyers some relief and could signal an overall trend toward slowing home prices across the region. "The housing market in Texas could be well on its way to moderating and offering buyers a better buying opportunity than other measured metros in the Sun Belt states based on historical pricing trends," said Ken H. Johnson, real estate economist in Florida Atlantic University's College of Business. Researchers from FAU and Florida International University co-produce a monthly index of housing premiums and discounts in the 100 most populated metropolitan areas across the country.

A typical home in El Paso is 24.2 percent overvalued compared to its historical average, followed by Dallas at 22.17 percent, McAllen at 19.15 percent, Houston at 16.02 percent, Austin at 12.46 percent and San Antonio at 11.49 percent. That compares with housing premiums of more than 30 percent elsewhere in the Sun Belt region. Seventeen out of the 20 most overvalued measured markets in the country are within Sun Belt states.

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Candy's Dirt - June 18, 2024

Don’t TREAD on me: The Advocacy group that’s protecting Texas landowners’ rights

A bipartisan landowner advocacy group is ramping up its work ahead of the 2025 Texas legislative session to ensure that Texas landowners know their rights and have a voice in things like access to water and broadband services — and are protected when the dreaded eminent domain rears its ugly head. Many CandysDirt.com readers live in urban areas and are more concerned with walkability than water for their horses, but as high-speed rail and Interstate 345 construction pick up steam, property rights have floated to the top among concerned citizens. There also are numerous subdivisions in rural parts of North Texas that have been underserved for decades when it comes to accessing basic human necessities like water.

As advocates prepare for the 2025 Texas legislative session, TREAD’s priorities include oil and gas pipeline reform, eminent domain reform, fair property taxes, conservation, and water rights, according to the nonprofit’s informational brochure. Additional legislative priorities include expanding broadband to rural communities, access to healthcare and rural public health, telehealth in rural communities, rural economic development, and promoting local artists. “With Texas becoming more urban, the issues change, and legislative representation leans toward urban concerns,” Karlsruher said in the Land.com article. “As more issues are viewed through an urban lens, it is even more imperative that rural citizens unite and be a part of a coalition that is actively defending private property rights and working to solve the myriad of issues caused by land fragmentation.” TREAD membership is open to all Texans, regardless of how much land they own. Benefits of membership include access to educational materials, “TREAD Talks,” and a voice at the state Capitol. “We work with peer organizations on sound policy and best practices to promote smart growth and thoughtful land stewardship,” Karlsruher said. “TREAD also engages with the various caucuses in the Legislature providing them with data and real-life examples of what’s happening with their constituency so they may influence their peers to protect rural Texas.”

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KERA - June 18, 2024

George Strait sets a new record for the largest ticketed concert in U.S. history

Country singer George Strait just smashed another record in his chart-topping musical career. On Saturday, the Texas native played the largest ticketed concert in U.S. history before a crowd of 110,905 fans, according to Billboard. The performance at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station beat out the previous record held by the Grateful Dead, which jammed before 107,019 attendees during a 1977 show at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. Though Strait nabbed the record for the largest ticketed musical performance, there have been bigger crowds at some music festivals and free concerts held in the U.S., such as the 1986 performance by the New York Philharmonic in Central Park that drew an estimated 800,000 people.

And according to American Songwriter, perhaps the largest audience for a concert in history goes to the reputed 3.5 million fans who crammed onto Brazil’s Copacabana Beach in 1994 to hear Rod Stewart perform. Strait is no stranger to setting records. The singer has the most No. 1 singles of any artist in any genre and is the only artist to boast a Top 10 hit every year for three decades, Billboard reported. According to Strait’s website, the country music star also holds more than 20 attendance records at music venues across the U.S. Strait, whose new album Cowboys and Dreamers drops in September, will perform in Salt Lake City later this month, followed by concerts in Detroit and Chicago in July.

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National Stories

Agriculture Dive - June 18, 2024

USDA awards $50M to help farms hire migrant workers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday said it awarded $50 million for farms to attract temporary workers under the H-2A visa program, part of a pilot program to expand legal migratory pathways in Guatemala and other northern Central American countries. Grants as high as $1.7 million went to 141 businesses across 40 states and Puerto Rico. The funding will assist 177 unique agricultural operations and over 11,000 workers, the USDA said. The grants are meant to help farms address labor shortages while improving working standards and expanding regular migration pathways for workers in Northern Triangle countries including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. As the U.S. grapples with a significant farmworker shortage, agricultural businesses often rely on the H-2A visa program to secure temporary, seasonal workers and fill labor shortfalls. However, the program is both expensive for farms and rife with abuse and exploitation.

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Politico - June 18, 2024

As the Hill sets its focus on China, DC trade groups are the latest in the line of fire

More than half a dozen lobbying firms dumped Chinese clients earlier this year after POLITICO reported that congressional offices were threatening to blacklist them for working for companies linked to the Chinese military. And as distrust of the Chinese government reaches a fever pitch in Washington on both sides of the aisle, companies with roots in the country — or suspected links to the Chinese Communist Party — are rapidly finding themselves without allies to make their case to lawmakers. The pressure campaign is now turning to Washington’s trade associations, with several major industry groups buckling under demands to boot China-linked members when faced with congressional inquiries. In an industry where relationships and access to those in power are currency, threats alone can be enough to spook advocates, especially if being associated with one client could compromise a lobbying firm or trade group’s ability to advocate on behalf of the rest of its clients.

“Many people say, you know, ‘All we have is our reputation,’” said Tom Spulak, a partner at King & Spalding who advises clients on lobbying compliance. “If one’s reputation is marred on the Hill, that could be existential to your ability to stay in business.” The dynamics in Washington are a marked change from even a few years ago, when the Chinese telecom giant ZTE was able to hire major names like former Sens. Norm Coleman and Joe Lieberman to defend it in Washington as it fought against being barred from doing business with American companies. The value of membership in a trade group isn’t only in the ability to mobilize the lobbying and financial muscle of the collective against threats to an industry. Trade groups also give their members a veneer of credibility and can serve as a crucial defender of individual members. Take NetChoice, the center-right tech group that in May dropped TikTok from its membership rolls after pressure from House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s office. NetChoice stuck with the social media giant through lawmakers’ initial efforts to ban it from the U.S. and defended the app in court — including that same week. A trade group representing the biopharmaceutical industry, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, cut ties with one of its member companies, the Chinese biotech firm WuXi, in March after lawmakers questioned whether BIO should be required to register as a foreign agent for lobbying against legislation that would hurt WuXi.

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Newsweek - June 18, 2024

Donald Trump's fortunes reversed in two battleground states

Donald Trump has lost his marginal leads in two key battleground states, less than five months before the presidential election. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee is set to face incumbent President Joe Biden in November, and polls have so far shown that the results of the 2020 White House rematch will be tight, with the pair statistically tied or holding only marginal leads in a number of surveys. However, according to the VoteHub tracker, which aggregates the averages of polls by highly rated pollsters given a rating of "A" or "B" in the past 28 days, Trump is now behind Biden in Michigan and Wisconsin for the first time during this election cycle. In March, Biden trailed Trump by -3.7 percentage points in Michigan, the voting tracker showed. But after closing the gap to 0.7 percent in April, the current White House occupant took the lead in May, claiming a 1 percentage point lead over his Republican rival. This has now declined to a lead of 0.8 percent as of June but is still a slim lead on Trump.

In 2016, Trump took Michigan, but Biden flipped it back to blue in 2020. Democrats have won the state in seven of the last eight presidential contests. Trump has seemingly also lost support in Wisconsin. In late May, a Bloomberg/Morning Consult survey of 4,962 registered voters in seven swing states showed Trump narrowly leading in the state by 47 percent to 46 percent of the vote share. But according to VoteHub, Biden is now ahead of Trump in Wisconsin by 0.2 percent. Trump attracted criticism last week when he reportedly made negative comments about Milwaukee, Wisconsin's most populous city. Experts have suggested that these comments may affect the Republican's chances of success in the state. Trump won an upset victory in Wisconsin in 2016, carrying the state by less than 1 percent. In 2020, Biden won Wisconsin with 49.4 percent of the vote to Trump's 48.8. Before 2016, Democrats had won the seven previous presidential elections in Wisconsin. Newsweek contacted representatives for Trump and Biden for comment by email outside normal business hours. Battleground state polls are important as the election will likely be determined by a handful of key swing states, as the Electoral College system awards each state a certain number of votes based on population.

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CNN - June 18, 2024

Biden targets Trump’s conviction as tensions ramp up ahead of debate

President Joe Biden is directly trying to exploit Donald Trump’s criminal conviction in a significant new campaign gambit ahead of their pivotal debate clash next week. The Biden campaign on Monday debuted a new ad that will air in battleground states that blasts the presumptive Republican nominee as a felon who only cares about himself. The strategy appears to resolve a debate among Democrats about how overtly they should highlight the ex-president’s legal woes in a neck and neck White House race. The new front in the 2024 campaign opened up after Trump sought to win votes among Black Americans, a traditional Democratic power base where the ex-president is trying to make inroads despite his tarnished personal history on race.

This comes as Republicans embrace their presumptive nominee despite his conviction and bid to overturn the 2020 election result, going all in on Trump as they seek to win back the White House and the Senate and keep the House. Biden’s new ad zeroes in directly on the guilty verdict in Trump’s hush money trial and his huge loss in a civil fraud case to strike a sharp contrast with Biden’s character. As the ex-president’s mug shot flashes on screen, a narrator says: “This election is between a convicted criminal who’s only out for himself and a president who is fighting for your family.” The ad marks the Biden campaign’s most explicit strategic use so far of Trump’s legal woes in a campaign message. Biden campaign co-chair Mitch Landrieu explained the thinking on CNN’s “News Central”: “What this ad is about is about showing the American people about the issue that’s going to decide this campaign: wisdom, courage, character.” Trump’s campaign responded by blasting the hush money trial as “election interference” and highlighted polls showing the former president’s strength in swing states. “The contrast between President Trump’s strength and success versus Crooked Joe Biden’s weakness, failures, and dishonesty will be made clear on the debate stage next week,” Karoline Leavitt, a campaign spokesperson, wrote on X.

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CNBC - June 18, 2024

New Jersey Democratic kingmaker George Norcross indicted on racketeering charges

George Norcross, who for decades had been a Democratic political kingmaker in New Jersey, was charged with racketeering in an indictment unsealed Monday. Norcross’s brother, Phillip Norcross, and four other defendants also were charged in the 13-count, 111-page indictment filed by New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin. Platkin accused George Norcross of leading a “criminal enterprise” in South Jersey that used political influence to tailor economic redevelopment along the waterfront of Camden, New Jersey to suit the defendants’ financial interests, extorting and pressuring others to obtain property rights and tax incentive credits linked to the development efforts.

“The entities that benefitted, including Cooper Health and [the insurance firm Conner Strong & Buckelew CSB] then occupied the properties they obtained interests in and sold the tax credits they obtained for millions of dollars,” the indictment said. George Norcross, a 68-year-old insurance executive and former member of the Democratic National Committee, was chair of the board of trustes of Cooper University Health Care and chair of Conner Strong & Buckelew. Now a resident of Florida, George Norcross was in attendance at a press conference Platkin gave on the charges Monday in Trenton. “The indictment unsealed today alleges that George Norcross has been running a criminal enterprise in this state for at least the last twelve years,” said Platkin. “On full display in this indictment is how a group of unelected, private businessmen used their power and influence to get government to aid their criminal enterprise and further its interests,” the attorney general said. “The alleged conduct of the Norcross Enterprise has caused great harm to individuals, businesses, non-profits, the people of the State of New Jersey, and especially the City of Camden and its residents.”

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Business Insider - June 18, 2024

House Republicans say they 'desperately need a place to smoke cigars'

House Republicans are facing yet another crisis — but it's only tangentially related to the business of crafting and passing laws. They need a place to smoke cigars near the House floor. Until recently, they had one: Rep. Tom Cole, a long-serving Oklahoma Republican with a penchant for cigars, had provided space for such activities as chair of the House Rules Committee, which meets on the second floor of the Capitol. "The rules office was a great place," Cole told Axios. "But I'm not rules chairman anymore."

Cole recently got a new job. He took over as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a panel that oversees government funding, after Rep. Kay Granger of Texas opted to step down. Cole let Granger keep her office in a show of respect, leaving him without a space in the Capitol for cigar puffing. "We desperately need a place to smoke cigars," Cole said. Several House Republicans backed Cole up, saying that having a space for cigar smoking in the Capitol was important for mentoring newer colleagues and building relationships, especially in a place with as much GOP infighting as the House of Representatives. "There's no better time to build a relationship than over a cigar," Rep. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania told Axios. "You can actually have a long conversation with somebody, and it really leads to building bridges." In general, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to be smokers at the Capitol. Rep. Troy Nehls, a Republican former sheriff from Texas, can often be seen lighting up a cigar at the top of the House steps after votes. And the smoking trend extends to some younger staffers. "My Senate office probably has the highest ratio of smokers of anybody in the US Senate," Republican Sen. JD Vance of Ohio told Business Insider in January. "So there's probably something to be said there."

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Stateline - June 18, 2024

For child care workers, state aid for their own kids’ care is ‘life-changing’

In 2022, Kentucky lawmakers changed the employer child care assistance program to specifically include child care workers at all income levels who work at least 20 hours a week. Other states, including Rhode Island, have since launched programs modeled after the one in Kentucky. The Kentucky program was to end Sept. 30, but Stephanie French, spokesperson for the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, wrote in an email that the state will be using a combination of federal and state funding to continue the program. At least half a dozen states now have similar programs or are considering legislation to start them, according to EdSurge, a news site that covers education issues. Supporters, including Republicans and Democrats, see retaining child care employees as a benefit not only to the workers and the centers facing worker shortages, but also to the states’ economies. For many people, the lack of affordable child care is a barrier to joining the workforce.

Charlene Barbieri, founder and owner of four Little Learners Academy locations in Rhode Island, said in an interview that it is difficult to hire and keep qualified employees. The child care subsidy program helps, she said. “Early learning here is very expensive as we know, right?” Barbieri said. “So any supplemental programs, monetary or otherwise, are exceptionally beneficial. “We have had many teachers come to us to say that if this program wasn’t here, we could not afford to send our children to child care and still help our families by bringing in additional income,” she said. Rhode Island lawmakers added the child care subsidy to its fiscal 2025 budget this spring, moving the program out of the “pilot” category. Democratic Gov. Dan McKee is expected to sign the budget this week. “It’s a good program, and we’ve seen great results with it,” Rhode Island House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, a Democrat, said in an interview. “We have a labor shortage across the whole spectrum of our labor market. So, by giving [caregivers] free child care, they’re able to get back in and take care of other kids, which allows more people to enter the workforce.”

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Newsclips - June 17, 2024

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 17, 2024

Texas lawmakers turn on cryptocurrency industry after learning of high power demand projections

Spooked by projections of how much electricity Texas could need by 2030, lawmakers have soured on the growth of cryptocurrency mining after years of welcoming the industry to the state. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, said in April that Texas could need 152 gigawatts of electricity by the end of the decade, compared with a record 85.5 gigawatts set by the grid last summer. This forecast is approximately 40 gigawatts greater than what ERCOT expected last year, with around 60% of that new demand coming from potential cryptocurrency mines and data centers, regulators told lawmakers this week during legislative hearings about the power grid. The Permian Basin alone is expected to see 24 gigawatts of added power demand, about half from electrification of oil and gas operations and half from data centers and cryptocurrency mines, ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas told lawmakers.

This unprecedented growth could further strain Texas’ power grid and would require significant new infrastructure, such as transmission lines to move electricity across the state. Lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, expressed concern that Texas residents would ultimately bear the costs. “I’m more interested in building the grid to service customers in their homes, apartments, and normal businesses and keeping costs as low as possible for them instead of for very niche industries that have massive power demands and produce few jobs,” Patrick wrote in a post on X. “We want data centers, but it can’t be the Wild Wild West of data centers and crypto miners crashing our grid and turning the lights off.” Transmission costs make up 30% to 40% of the average customer’s electric bill each month, according to Courtney Hjaltman, chief executive of the Office of Public Utility Council, which represents residential and small commercial customers in rate cases. That portion of the bill has been rising as utilities upgrade equipment to withstand extreme weather and build new lines to accommodate demand growth.

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CNN - June 17, 2024

A water war is looming between Mexico and the US. Neither side will win

Tensions are rising in a border dispute between the United States and Mexico. But this conflict is not about migration; it’s about water. Under an 80-year-old treaty, the United States and Mexico share waters from the Colorado River and the Rio Grande, respectively. But in the grip of severe drought and searing temperatures, Mexico has fallen far behind in deliveries, putting the country’s ability to meet its obligations in serious doubt. Some politicians say they cannot give what they do not have. It’s a tough argument to swallow for farmers in South Texas, also struggling with a dearth of rain. They say the lack of water from Mexico is propelling them into crisis, leaving the future of farming in the balance. Some Texas leaders have called on the Biden administration to withhold aid from Mexico until it makes good on the shortfall. Both countries are staring down the prospect of another long, hot summer and many are pinning hopes on a storm to swell Mexico’s drought-stricken rivers. Yet experts say the pray-for-rain approach is a risky, short-term strategy in the face of a knotty long-term problem.

The conflict underscores the immense difficulties of navigating how to share shrinking water resources in a hotter, drier world. Under a 1944 treaty, Mexico is required to send 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the US every five years from the Rio Grande, and the US to send 1.5 million acre-feet of water to Mexico from the Colorado River each year. One acre-foot is enough water to flood one acre of land a foot deep. It adds up to an enormous amount of water exchanged between the two countries: around 490 billion gallons from the US annually and 570 billion from Mexico each five year period. Mexico is falling far behind in its obligations, said Maria Elena Giner, the US commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission, the bi-national body that oversees the treaty. “We’ve only gotten about a year’s worth of water and we’re already well into our fourth year,” she told CNN. The current cycle ends in October 2025. The Rio Grande — called the Río Bravo in Mexico — is one of North America’s longest rivers and flows roughly 1,900 miles from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, weaving through three US and five Mexican states before ending its journey in the Gulf of Mexico.

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CNN - June 17, 2024

Surgeon General demands warning label on social media apps

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the threat social media poses to children requires urgent action, and he demanded Congress to put a label on the apps as it does with cigarettes and alcohol. “The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor,” Murthy said in an op-ed in the New York Times Monday. Murthy pointed to several studies, including a 2019 American Medical Association study published in JAMA that showed teens who spend three hours a day on social media double their risk of depression. Teens spend nearly five hours a day on social media apps, according to a Gallup poll. But Murthy cannot act unilaterally to put a warning label on apps — that requirement would have to come from Congress, with whom Murthy pleaded to take urgent action.

“It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents,” Murthy said. “A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe.” Similar labels on tobacco, first instituted in 1965, led to a steady decline in cigarette smoking in America over the past several decades. Congress has long chastised social media companies, claiming they pose harm to children. CEOs of tech companies have been grilled routinely on Capitol Hill, most notably Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg — who publicly apologized to families whose children killed themselves because of online bullying and harassment. But Congress has taken little action to curb children’s social media usage. Murthy has warned about social media’s harm to children’s welfare for years. But Monday’s declaration of an emergency and his appeal to Congress represent his most urgent call to action on the issue so far.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2024

131 college scholarships put on hold or modified due to Texas DEI ban, documents show

For Richard Oliver, the night of June 3, 2014, was a parent’s worst nightmare. His daughter Devin Oliver and her classmate Aubree Butts, players on the women’s basketball team at Texas A&M University at Commerce, were killed in a car crash in rural Paris, Texas. The community mourned and celebrated Oliver and Butts by creating a memorial scholarship. “I appreciated the fact that that scholarship was targeted specifically for that demographic type — Black female athlete, and particularly basketball — because that’s who my daughter was,” Richard Oliver told The Dallas Morning News.

Now the Devin Oliver and Aubree Butts Memorial Scholarship — and 130 others across Texas — are frozen or being modified as the state’s public universities implement a new state law, according to documents obtained by The News through open records requests. The affected scholarships comprise 80 at Texas A&M University institutions, 45 at University of Texas-affiliated campuses and six at three other public universities. Known as Senate Bill 17 and authored by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the law is a ban on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs at public universities in Texas and went into effect Jan. 1. The definition of DEI can be vague, but the law generally says colleges should not have programs designed for students of specific races or genders. When SB 17 was debated at the Capitol, the focus was on shutting down diversity training and departments that oversee diversity initiatives. Scholarships were not significantly discussed by lawmakers. Creighton did not speak to The News after his office was contacted requesting an interview about the legislation’s effect on scholarships. He said in an emailed statement that several campuses have saved money by closing “DEI bureaucracies.” Many of the scholarships affected by the DEI law were administered by schools but funded through donations — not taxpayer dollars — including memorial scholarships created to support students with similar interests and backgrounds to the person being honored or remembered. A Texas A&M at Commerce spokesman confirmed that the frozen scholarship was intended for women’s athletics, though the most recent recipients included students of color outside of the athletic program. The scholarship was endowed after a charity dinner in 2015. Three students received the scholarship in 2023, according to Sam Butts, Aubree’s father. “The scholarships do not have anything to do with that diversity program or the state law,” Butts said. “We’re disappointed because that scholarship was set up to help minorities.”

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State Stories

New York Times - June 17, 2024

Black farmers in Georgia cool to Biden, reflecting a bigger challenge

On a hot day in May, Andrew L. Smith Sr., a vegetable farmer from Ludowici, Ga., listened with skepticism as Tom Vilsack, the U.S. agriculture secretary, touted President Biden’s efforts to help Black farmers overcome decades of discrimination. Seated alongside hundreds of farmers in front of a former plantation once owned by a Georgia slaveholder, Mr. Smith, 62, wondered why he had not benefited from any of those programs, including one aimed at helping Black farmers clear their debts. Mr. Smith, a third-generation farmer, said he was especially frustrated that he is not eligible for another effort that will compensate farmers who have faced discrimination. He was told that he cannot apply for that money because he does not have the correct paperwork documenting the discrimination his family faced. “We march on using what we got and then they tell us that you can’t even use that,” he said.

Mr. Smith voted for Mr. Biden in 2020. This year, he is considering backing former President Donald J. Trump. Black voters are key to Mr. Biden’s re-election, but many say they are disenchanted with the president and are considering voting for Mr. Trump in November. The visit by Mr. Vilsack to the Sherrod Institute’s annual “field day” in Albany, Ga., was part of an intensifying effort by Mr. Biden’s top aides to court them ahead of the election. Polls show that Mr. Biden’s support among a constituency that powered him to victory in 2020 has been shaky in critical swing states like Georgia, where Black farmers are a small but important voting bloc that is feeling let down. At the farm event, Mr. Vilsack tried to make the case that progress is underway. He pointed to a new racial equity committee, the hiring of several Black leaders and efforts to root out racism within the Agriculture Department, which some Black farmers call the “last plantation” because of its history of lending policies that discriminated against Black farmers. “It’s been an uphill battle,” Mr. Vilsack said of the plight of Black farmers in America. “An act of defiance against the system designed to protect the incumbent.” The overture was met with polite applause but also with doubts, echoing the sentiments expressed by Black farmers both in Georgia and nationwide during Mr. Biden’s term.

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KUT - June 17, 2024

Ascension health insurance plans also see hiccups following cyberattack

A ransomware attack that disrupted Ascension hospital operations in May also caused issues with billing and claims processing for marketplace health insurance plans offered by the hospital system. In addition to operating some 140 hospitals across the U.S., Ascension offers several health insurance plans on the ACA Marketplace through Ascension Personalized Care, available in Texas and several other states. Following the May 8 hack, policyholders temporarily had to pay their premiums by check while the electronic billing system was offline. But the impacts extended beyond billing inconveniences. One Central Texas woman with Ascension insurance told KUT she became concerned after discovering a lump in her armpit last month. “If I wasn't having this health crisis, I wouldn’t have noticed [these insurance issues],” said the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to health privacy concerns.

After a flurry of tests that included a biopsy, she was diagnosed with lymphoma. A PET scan was ordered to learn more. The patient believes she is close to meeting her deductible, which would mean most of the cost of the scan should be covered by insurance. But the claims for her May tests have not yet been processed, leaving her in the dark about whether she will have to pay the full cost of the scan out of pocket. “It's very scary to feel like in this tense moment, my insurance company is just not really functioning,” she said. Ascension representatives did not respond to questions about how the ransomware attack had affected Ascension Personalized Care ahead of a deadline. Ben Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Insurance, said Ascension appropriately reported the ransomware attack to the state agency. Ascension told TDI the insurer’s electronic processes had been disrupted, including its ability to “accept and process claims.” “While systems have come back online, they have a backlog of claims to enter and process,” Gonzalez said.

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KUT - June 17, 2024

Austin's light-rail trial set to begin, but an AG appeal could signal delays

A hotly anticipated trial that could determine whether Austin can build a 10-mile light-rail system for $7 billion is likely to come to a screeching halt Monday just as it leaves the station. The central legal issue swirls around the unique funding mechanism devised to pay for the largest transit service expansion in Austin's history. The Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) — a local government corporation created after voters approved a property tax increase to fund light-rail — is seeking the court's approval to take on debt without being stopped by the Texas Attorney General. ATP plans to borrow up to $5 billion to cover the upfront costs of building a light-rail system. The money would be repaid with the voter-approved increase in property taxes, currently generating about $166 million annually. The City Council must vote each year to transfer the money to ATP.

The legal action by ATP is known as a bond validation lawsuit. Bonds are a type of debt where investors lend money to government agencies with a promise the cash will be paid back with interest. Without the court's blessing, the Texas AG would decide whether ATP could issue bonds. If ATP wins the lawsuit, the AG wouldn't be able to deny the bond issuance. But Monday's court action could stop before things get rolling. The Attorney General's Office plans to file an immediate appeal if Travis County Judge Eric Shepperd allows the trial to begin at 10 a.m. The AG says allowing the hearing to proceed would implicitly deny the state's argument that ATP is not qualified to bring a bond validation lawsuit. At a hearing in April, lawyers for ATP and the City of Austin asked the judge not to issue any ruling, but instead to take the question "under advisement." "I've never in my career asked a judge to take a matter under advisement, but this is the case," said Paul Trahan, an attorney with Norton Rose Fulbright, who's representing the city. Trahan told the judge if he did rule on ATP's qualifications to file the suit, it would trigger a lengthy appeals process, delaying the case for months and leaving ATP unable to issue bonds in the meantime. "Even if you rule in [ATP's] favor, this case will come to a screeching halt," Trahan said at the April hearing. "It will be years before the merits of the case are ever reached."

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KXAN - June 17, 2024

TEA releases 2024 STAAR results for grades 3-8

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its Spring 2024 STAAR assessment results for grades 3-8, which showed mathematics and science performance across all grade levels declined. TEA said in a news release that this decrease in math proficiency had not “recovered to pre-pandemic levels.” “Results from the 2024 STAAR 3-8 assessments reveal the significant gaps in mathematics achievement across our schools. While we continue to see progress in other areas – which is a testament to the dedication and skill of our Texas educators – it’s clear that math performance is not where students need it to be for success after graduation,” said Texas Education Commissioner, Mike Morath, in the release.

Moreover, results in the reading-language arts assessment showed proficiency for students varied across grades. Grades 3, 5 and 8 showed a decrease, with each dropping by 2%, the release said. Students in grades 4 and 6 “rose by three and four percentage points.” Lastly, results showed a “percentage of students who scored on grade level in social studies held steady, mirroring results from 2023,” the release said.

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KXAN - June 17, 2024

Round Rock police chief has message for suspect in deadly shooting during Juneteenth celebration

Two people were killed and 14 others were injured in a shooting at a Juneteenth celebration Saturday night, Round Rock police say, and they now have an idea of who they are looking for as a suspect. Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks said the shooting happened around 10:50 p.m. at Old Settlers Park after a fight between two groups who were at the event. During a media briefing around 6 p.m. Sunday, Banks described the suspect in the shooting as: Black male, 5 feet, 7 inches tall, Thin build, 19-20 years old, Hair in short dreads, Last seen wearing a white hoodie. Banks said police believe the subject is “armed and dangerous” and not to approach the suspect if seen. He said “most” of the 14 injured have been released from area hospitals with the remaining victims in stable condition and should be released “within the next day or so.” The victims’ ages ranged from 10 to 62-years-old.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 17, 2024

Bill Barker: Turn parking lots into parks, and turn heat into healing

(Bill Barker has degrees in physics and urban affairs, and has taught urban and regional sustainability in the graduate program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is an adviser to the Great Springs Project.) It’s been said, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It turns out a group in San Antonio is doing something like that when it comes to our extreme heat and environmental issues. San Antonio is one of the hottest large cities in the U.S., and last summer was the second year in a row for record summer temperatures. By the end of this century, San Antonio may experience an additional 80 days per year with temperatures higher than 100 degrees. Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas have estimated that “for every 1-degree increase in average summer temperature, Texas annual nominal GDP growth slows 0.4 percentage points.” They note that the leisure and hospitality industry is hit the hardest.

While Luke Howard, the “father of meteorology,” documented more than 200 years ago that cities are hotter than their surrounding countryside — known as the “urban heat island” — more recent research, assisted by satellite data, has gotten a better grasp of what makes a city hotter. Research in Japan found, for example, that an asphalt parking lot was about 34 degrees hotter at noon than an adjacent grassy park. On a July afternoon last year, when the official temperature was 103 degrees in San Antonio, I measured the surface temperature of the asphalt at Third Street and Broadway at 162.7 degrees. Human skin tissue is instantly destroyed at 162 degrees, so if one were to trip and fall on the street, they would be seriously injured. Asphalt parking lots not only add to the increasing heat in San Antonio but also contribute to flooding and water pollution. Our region has geological features that provide a water supply that is vulnerable, as well as a nationally recognized flash flood alley. The Parking Reform Network, a nonprofit formed about five years ago, gave San Antonio a Parking Score of 89, the fourth highest of the cities with a population larger than 500,000 studied, meaning it had an unusual amount of land dedicated to parking compared to the median for a city in an urbanized area of that size.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 17, 2024

Air Force is considering Port San Antonio's unique proposal to build new cyber headquarters

As the Air Force reviews a $1 billion proposal to move the service’s main cyber headquarters to Port San Antonio, it’s taking interim steps to relocate some of its elements from crumbling infrastructure at Joint Base San Antonio. Their destination: Port San Antonio. The temporary moves come as officials including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn are talking up the Port’s audacious pitch to build a high-tech campus to replace the aging mishmash of buildings that house the 16th Air Force — an idea built on a type of services agreement not previously used for such projects. “I am very pleased to hear that they’ve received and are considering our proposal,” said Jim Perschbach, the Port’s president and CEO.

He was reacting to statements from the Air Force hinting that it’s open to the novel idea. In an emailed response to questions, spokeswoman Laurel Falls said the Department of the Air Force “seeks to maximize the use of existing assets and land development opportunities, providing a mutual benefit to the community,” and is open to exploring what she termed “potential concepts with partners.” The “concept” could be the Port’s pitch to develop a public-private partnership with the Department of Defense to build a consolidated campus for the 16th and its partner agencies on the Southwest Side tech and manufacturing campus formerly known as Kelly Air Force Base. It would develop the complex via an intergovernmental support agreement, which are commonly used for municipalities to provide services such as water, waste removal and road maintenance on military installations. Using such an agreement to provide a purpose-built facility for the Air Force would be a novel approach. But it’s one Perschbach has said could provide the 16th with modern space in half the time and at half the expense of the traditional military construction process.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 17, 2024

Killeen ISD approves policy requiring students to lock cell phones in pouches during school hours

Students at Killeen Independent School District will have to lock their phones in secure poaches and put them away next year as part of a new policy intended to curb behavioral issues in the classroom. The Killeen ISD board voted unanimously Tuesday to make campuses “phone-free” for the 2024-2025 school year. It joins a movement of schools nationwide that have removed personal electronic devices from campus to quell bad behavior, boost student engagement and improve mental health. “Our classrooms and schools are increasingly challenged by phone use,” Susan Buckley, assistant superintendent for administrative services, said at the June 11 board meeting. The plan is for all middle and high school students to store their phones in a school-issued pouch, such as Yondr pouches, at the beginning of the day. The phone — and any other personal electronic devices, including AirPods and Apple Watches — will remain in the pouch until classes are over for the day.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2024

Mavericks could be in for a successful Game 5: ‘As the series goes on, they get better’

Five could serve as a lucky number for these Dallas Mavericks. At least, that’s what history suggests. The Mavericks are faced with a pivotal Game 5 on Monday night that could decide the outcome of their season. A win guarantees an extension in the NBA Finals and another game at American Airlines Center. A loss marks the climactic end to of one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. The Mavericks are undefeated in Game 5s throughout the postseason (3-0) and they’ve won four out of six Game 5s since Jason Kidd was hired as coach in 2021. Dallas has accumulated a 5-3 record in Game 5s since Luka Doncic was drafted in 2018.

Kidd was asked if there’s something to infer from Dallas’ recent success in Game 5s after Sunday’s practice in Boston. “Yeah, I think there’s probably something to that,” Kidd said. “If we look at the analytics of our group, they are young, and as the series goes on, they get better. Hopefully, that’s true tomorrow night. Sometimes when you do play an opponent over and over, you get used to the tendencies and you start to capitalize on that on both ends, defensively and offensively. Hopefully, our group has seen enough of Boston to understand what they are good at, and hopefully, we can take that away tomorrow night.” Dallas is coming off a dominant 122-84 rout over the Celtics on Friday night. It was a night when mostly everything went well for the Mavericks on both ends of the floor, and almost nothing went right for the Celtics. Boston produced poor shooting splits and lost the rebounding battle in their second game without Kristaps Porzingis. An uncharacteristic game for the Celtics, who now look to win their first championship since 2008 in the presence of their home fans.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2024

Denton County prostitution sting: 14 arrested, including Highland Village fire chief

The Denton County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday that 14 men had been arrested in a “prostitution demand suppression operation,” which included the fire chief of Highland Village. All 14 men were arrested on charges of solicitation of prostitution, which is a state jail felony. This type of felony is usually punishable with up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Two men, including fire chief Jason Collier, also face charges of resisting arrest, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.

Collier has been with the fire department since 2008 and was promoted to chief in 2022, according to a city spokesperson. Following the arrest, Collier was placed on paid administrative leave per policy and subsequently resigned Saturday, the city said. Read the crime and public safety news your neighbors are talking about. The majority of the men arrested were from Denton County, but a few were from neighboring North Texas counties and one was from North Carolina.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2024

Beyond selecting leaders, November’s election will measure Texas’ political direction

With their state party conventions in the books, Democrats and Republicans are turning their attention to a November general election that will shape the course of Texas politics. Election Day will not only determine how deep the GOP majority is in the Legislature, which could impact laws and policy decisions for the 2025 legislative session: the results will indicate how close Texas is to becoming a legitimate political battleground. Republicans have controlled both chambers of the Legislature since 2003, and Democrats haven’t won a statewide race since 1994. Though Democrats have called Texas the biggest battleground in the country, the more apt description is that Texas is a red state that is flirting with being a political battleground. That reality guides the general election expectations for both parties.

Republicans would be happy with a status quo result. That includes reelecting U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz over Democratic U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, Donald Trump winning a Texas rematch against Joe Biden and the GOP maintaining safe majorities in the Texas House and Senate and the delegation to Congress. Democrats see the election as an opportunity to settle a score. In 2018, Cruz held off Beto O’Rourke by 2.6 percentage points in a year when Democrats gained 12 seats (10 from North Texas) in the Texas House. This time, Democrats hope Allred, a former NFL player and civil rights lawyer turned Dallas politician, develops a coalition that can beat Cruz. The marquee Cruz-Allred showdown will test whether Texas politics is changing direction in favor of one party or the other. Allred not only needs a strong turnout from Democrats, he has to convince independents and some Republicans to ditch Cruz. That’s why he’s casting himself as a problem solver who takes a bipartisan approach, while Cruz paints Allred as a liberal lapdog of party leaders like former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 17, 2024

Bud Kennedy: Race, eating bugs: All on far-right Texas activists’ agenda

It is always helpful when our neighbors show us how hateful and bigoted they are. Today, we see the truth behind the True Texas Project, a Grapevine-based activist group that promotes native white Christians as superior and says Christianity, not American freedom and liberty, should be the law of the land. Leaders Julie and Fred McCarty of Grapevine and their board members often tell us outright how they’re better than everyone else. In 2019, Fred McCarty wrote on Facebook dismissing the mass killing of 23 people in an El Paso shooting as “blow-back” against “foreign people.”

Newly fueled since 2019 with anonymous donations and embraced by the Republican Party church clique, the patriot-movement group operates in 37 counties across Texas as a far-right freak show. Monthly meetings mix traditional religious conservative views with increasingly incendiary topics such as “The Black Robed Regiment,” referring to armed pastors leading a violent overthrow to impose forced Christian government, or “Globalists Want You Eating Bugs.” You’d think a group like this wouldn’t have any real standing in the Republican Party. Nope. The True Texas Project dominates the Republican Party in much of Tarrant County. The group is nonpartisan on paper. Yet its meetings are announced on the county Republican Party calendar alongside those of traditional GOP clubs. Fred McCarty is a Republican precinct chairman. When my own vote was thrown out completely in a 2020 election — because I didn’t use the same kind of pen to sign the mail-in application and ballot — most of the ballot review board members canceling my vote were members of the True Texas Project. They were appointed by the Republican county chairman and told to challenge ballots. They picked out mine. Lately, the True Texas Project has faked being more mainstream. When the group sponsored a fundraiser in April at River Ranch Stockyards, one of the speakers was “Dr. Phil” McGraw, now a Christian TV host on a new religious network in Fort Worth.

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National Stories

Washington Post - June 17, 2024

Here’s what the Christian right wants from a second Trump term

Donald Trump’s presidency delivered to Christian conservatives some of their most coveted goals: Hundreds of sympathetic judges joined the federal bench. The U.S. Embassy in Israel moved to Jerusalem. And the center of gravity on the Supreme Court shifted firmly to the right. Since Trump lost his reelection bid, they have claimed additional successes, with Republican-run red states enacting legislation that restricts transgender care and limits the books that can be taught in school or borrowed from the library. The Supreme Court in 2022 ended the legal right to abortion. Last year, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), an evangelical Christian who has said his worldview is the Bible, became speaker of the House. But far from declaring victory, those who advocate for a more pronounced role for hard-line conservative Christian doctrine in American public life are actively planning to enact a fresh wave of changes in a second Trump term. Should Trump reclaim the presidency in November, they say, it would represent a historic opportunity to put their interpretation of Christianity at the center of government policy.

To advocates for civil, women’s and gay rights, the proposals represent something else: a threat to basic freedoms and a dangerous blurring of boundaries between church and state. Among the proposals being pushed by the Christian right’s various groups and leaders: Removing the words “gender” and “abortion” from federal program documents, as well as the related funding; Imposing new restrictions on abortion pills, perhaps through the authority of the Food and Drug Administration; Carving out greater exemptions to anti-discrimination laws intended to protect LGBTQ people; Establishing a more visible role for Christianity in public schools, including more prayer led by both teachers and students. Trump advisers have stressed that outside groups and allies do not speak for the campaign and its policy plans. But Trump has made politically conservative Christians a bedrock of his base and has signaled he remains attuned to their priorities, even as many in the community appear prepared to back him no matter what specific promises he makes. In 2016, Trump had to overcome the suspicion of conservative Christian leaders that came with being a twice-divorced celebrity who had publicly backed abortion rights and had never exhibited any particular religiosity. He picked Mike Pence, the evangelical Indiana governor, as his running mate in part to assuage worries he wasn’t sufficiently committed to their cause.

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NBC News - June 17, 2024

Epic heat wave to expand from Midwest to East Coast, bringing warnings to 72 million

Almost 72 million people across the country were under warnings of extreme heat Monday morning, the National Weather Service said. With Thursday's seasonal solstice taking place amid a weeklong heat wave expected for the East Coast and the Midwest, the summer of 2024 is coming in hot. Extreme heat warnings were in place for Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, New York City and Albany, New York. Models show the heat could last through Friday and beyond.

“The duration of this heat wave is notable and potentially the longest experienced in decades for some locations,” the federal Weather Prediction Center said. A high pressure system called an upper-level ridge that is over the Ohio Valley is expanding over the Midwest and the East Coast and will produce clear skies, warm, stable air and record-breaking temperatures in the 90s and beyond, forecasters say. Some areas will experience temperatures as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the weather service. Forecasters say temperatures will reach as high as 25 degrees above normal for many areas under the summer system. The weather service office in Phoenix said it reached 112 degrees there Sunday, 7 degrees above average and not far short of the daily record of 115.

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NPR - June 17, 2024

Half of the U.S. military bases nationwide are in 'health care deserts'

For hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and their families, when the Pentagon orders them to find health care off base there is none. An NPR analysis found that 50% of active duty military installations stand within federally designated Healthcare Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA). Those are places where medical services are hard to find — commonly called “health care deserts.” “Military members often don't have a lot of control over where they're stationed. Certainly their families don't,” says Eileen Huck, with the National Military Family Association. “It's incumbent on the military to make sure that when you send a family to a location, the support and resources are available to take care of them. And that obviously includes healthcare,” she says.

NPR mapped counties designated as shortage areas for primary care, mental health care and maternity care nationwide. Excluding National Guard installations, half the bases landed within at least one desert. Three out of four bases in primary care deserts are also in either a mental health care desert, a maternal care desert, or both. By population, 1 in 3 U.S. troops and their families live in a health care desert. For more than a decade the Department of Defense has been trying to realign medical services, bringing the four branches of the military under one health agency with the aim of cutting costs and downsizing military treatment facilities. A big part was pushing family members away from treatment on base and out into the civilian community where they could use their Tricare health insurance. Troops, families and military retirees have used Tricare for decades, and it once enjoyed a good reputation. A joke about marrying a soldier used to go, “You had me at Tricare.” Now the Pentagon admits the downsizing has gone too far and may be hurting military readiness as well as recruitment, according to a DoD memo titled "Stabilizing and Improving the Military Health System." Issues with access to care and medical staff shortages on base have been documented by a DoD Inspector General's report. “You do not have a robust surrounding civilian medical care,” says Sean Murphy, who served 44 years, retiring as Deputy Surgeon General of the Air Force. Civilians, he says, are free to choose where they live. Troops don't get as much say about where they're stationed.

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CNN - June 17, 2024

‘They’re treating us like we’re spies’: Florida property ban has Chinese citizens fuming

After his employer implemented a return-to-office policy last year, Jin Bian decided to cut down his one-hour commute time by purchasing a house closer to the office in Tampa, Florida. Then, he was told the purchase might get him prison time. “That was really shocking to me. It’s just purchasing property,” Bian, who is originally form Nanjing, China, said. “Once I learned that, I didn’t even bother to look anymore.” Bian, a 31-year-old software engineer who has lived in the US for 12 years, is a recipient of an H-1B visa, which allows companies to employ foreign workers. For nearly a year, however, it has been a crime for him to purchase a home in Florida after the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a law restricting Chinese nationals without US green cards from purchasing property in the state.

Bian and other Florida residents told CNN that the rules have fostered uneasiness and confusion among ethnic Chinese people living in the state. Some say the law has damaged their businesses, while others say they are considering abandoning Florida altogether. And the law underscores the heightened tensions between the two biggest economies in the world in a US presidential election year. Bian said that lately, he had begun reconsidering his life in Florida. He isn’t alone. Ever since Florida Senate Bill 264 went into effect on July 1, 2023, Chinese citizens without green cards face a felony charge and possible prison time if they purchase property in the state. Sellers and real estate agents can also be found liable under the law. “We feel like we’re different from everyone else because of this type of law,” said Echo King, a US citizen who was born in China and is president of the Florida Asian American Justice Alliance. “We feel like we’re not welcome.” Under SB 264, citizens of Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria are prohibited from buying property within 10 miles of any “military installation or critical infrastructure facility” in Florida.

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Washington Post - June 17, 2024

Mike Johnson’s Intelligence Committee choices anger some GOP lawmakers

The quiet announcement that Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) earlier this month tapped two controversial members to serve on the House Intelligence Committee set off alarms among some House Republicans. Lawmakers’ phones were suddenly buzzing with texts from shocked colleagues and calls were made to the highest echelons of leadership asking for an explanation. One call Johnson received was from former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who felt it imperative to understand the new speaker’s rationale for appointing Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) to the critical panel, according to two people familiar with the conversation, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. The appointment of Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.) to Intelligence also drew unease from some House Republicans, but not as much as Perry, because he is not a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus and does not often buck GOP leadership.

The moves were especially surprising because McCarthy had worked in tandem with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and top leaders of the Intelligence Committee — Chairman Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) and ranking Democrat Jim Himes (Conn.) — to depoliticize the panel after members of both parties contributed to increased partisanship over the years. In calls with McCarthy and other Republicans last week, Johnson justified his decision by saying he appointed Perry and Jackson partly because former president Donald Trump urged him to do so, according to two other people with direct knowledge of the matter. Trump repeatedly and unusually vilified the intelligence community as president, insisting that it had unfairly targeted him during the 2016 campaign, most recently describing the Justice Department at last week’s gathering with House Republicans as “dirty, no-good bastards.” “[Johnson] has reversed course on this committee, and has now made it political again. He has reversed all the advances, which could harm America’s preparedness,” one high-ranking Republican said. “This is not a place to play games. This is not a place to appease somebody. This is where you got to do the real work.” Johnson briefly explained his decision, telling The Washington Post that it is “important to have a broad spectrum of perspectives on that committee” and that he believes both members are “going to do a good job.” The appointments came before Trump rallied House Republicans on Capitol Hill last week to unite lawmakers behind a political and policy message aimed at establishing a GOP lock on Washington in the November elections.

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CNN - June 17, 2024

Benjamin Netanyahu disbands Israeli war cabinet

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has disbanded the country’s war cabinet, an Israeli official has told CNN, just over a week after opposition leader Benny Gantz withdrew from the body. “The security cabinet will continue to decide on matters regarding the war,” the official said, claiming Netanyahu “will hold smaller forums on sensitive matters.” It was unclear who specifically Netanyahu would be consulting with for matters regarding the war in Gaza. Gantz announced his resignation from the body last week, citing Netanyahu’s failure to devise a strategy for the war in Gaza and the future governance of the Strip.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has faced growing calls from the far-right members of his coalition, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, to join the war cabinet. The war cabinet was formed five days after the Hamas-led terrorist attacks of October 7, when former Defense Minister and IDF chief of staff Gantz agreed to join an “emergency government.” Along with Netanyahu and Gantz, the cabinet comprised current Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as Netanyahu confidant Ron Dermer and former general Gadi Eisenkot as “observers.” Ben-Gvir and Smotrich were excluded at Gantz’s behest. Announcing his “complex and painful decision” to leave the war cabinet on June 9, Gantz said, “Netanyahu prevents us from moving forward to a real victory [in Gaza].” Eisenkot also quit the war cabinet.

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Newsclips - June 16, 2024

Lead Stories

New York Times - June 16, 2024

Republicans and Democrats are trading places on turnout

In a reversal of one of the most familiar patterns in American politics, it appears that Donald J. Trump, not President Biden, would stand to gain if everyone in the country turned out and voted. In New York Times/Siena College polls over the last year, Mr. Biden holds a wide lead over Mr. Trump among regular primary and midterm voters, yet he trails among the rest of the electorate, giving Mr. Trump a lead among registered voters overall. The pattern is the latest example of how the Trump brand of conservative populism has transformed American politics. His candidacy galvanized liberals to defend democracy and abortion rights, giving Democrats the edge in low-turnout special and midterm elections. Yet at the same time, early polls suggest, many less engaged and infrequent voters have grown deeply dissatisfied with Mr. Biden.

The disengaged voters do not necessarily like Mr. Trump, the polling shows. But they’re motivated by pocketbook issues, more desiring of fundamental changes to the political system, and far less concerned about democracy as an issue in the election. Many low-turnout voters — notably including many who consider themselves Democrats — now say they’ll back Mr. Trump. This unusual turnout dynamic is one of the central forces shaping the 2024 campaign. It helps explain why recent polls and election results seem so divergent, and why Mr. Trump has gained among young and nonwhite voters, who are less likely to vote than older white voters. It creates a challenge for the campaigns, who are finding that time-tested strategies for mobilizing irregular voters may not work quite the same way as they did in the past. With five months to go until the election, there’s still time for less engaged voters to tune in and swing back toward Mr. Biden. Many infrequent voters aren’t yet tuned into the race, and their preferences appear highly volatile. If the polls are right, they’ve swung 20 percentage points since 2020, but some changed their answers when re-interviewed in the wake of Mr. Trump’s felony conviction in New York. Even if Mr. Trump holds his edge among the disengaged, it’s not clear many of these low-turnout voters will ultimately show up to vote.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 16, 2024

'A really bad spot': Water shortage threatens agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley and Texas

In a dusty field northeast of Edinburg, water is pouring from a blue pipe and splashing through rows of flowering cotton plants. It's an unusual sight in this part of the Rio Grande Valley these days. Most farmers and irrigation districts, which manage water from the Rio Grande, have had little or no water for months. Troy Allen, general manager of the Delta Lake Irrigation District, which provides water to farmers, ranchers and several cities, doesn't mince words about the gravity of the situation. “I’m days away from shutting off my farmers,” he said, staring across the field on a hazy morning. A water crisis is growing in the Valley, and it threatens to ripple across the Texas economy.

The Valley — as the swath of South Texas comprising Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties is commonly known — is an agricultural powerhouse. The region accounted for $887 million in agricultural production in 2022, according to a Texas A&M Agrilife report. The Valley — as the swath of South Texas comprising Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties is commonly known — is an agricultural powerhouse. The region accounted for $887 million in agricultural production in 2022, according to a Texas A&M Agrilife report. But it takes water to grow those crops, and reservoirs on the Rio Grande are shrinking, leaving less water both for farming and the 1.4 million people who live in the Valley. If the conditions persist, losses related to the water shortage could reach $495.8 million, the Texas A&M report estimated. In nearby Santa Rosa, the state’s only sugar mill has already closed. Locals say they worry that the citrus industry could be in for a similar fate. Even farmers with drought-tolerant crops, such as grain sorghum and cotton, are concerned. “The only time we get water is if God makes a deposit of rain,” Allen said. “Or when Mexico makes a deposit, but we know Mexico doesn't deposit anymore.”

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Religion News Service - June 16, 2024

Paul Pressler, SBC legend accused of abuse, is dead at 94

Paul Pressler, a retired Texas judge and one of the most influential evangelicals of the past 50 years, has died. Pressler, 94, died June 7 but his death went largely unnoticed until Baptist Global News, an independent Baptist news site, reported the news of his funeral on Saturday (June 15), held at the Geo. H. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home in Houston. Pressler was one of the chief architects of the “Conservative Resurgence,” also known as the fundamentalist takeover, that changed the course of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 1990s, turning it into a decidedly conservative theological denomination with deep ties to the Republican Party. As a member of the Center for National Policy, a conservative think tank, he helped forge ties between the GOP and the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

But in recent years, Pressler became known mostly as a symbol of the SBC’s sexual abuse crisis. In 2017, a former Pressler assistant named Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. sued Pressler, claiming the older man abused him for decades. The suit, which named Pressler, the SBC and other Baptist entities, was finally settled in December, with all of the accused denying any wrongdoing. In January of this year, a lawyer for the SBC, Gene Besen, called Pressler a “monster” who had leveraged his “power and false piety” to sexually abuse young men. “The man’s actions are of the devil,” Besen told Religion News Service at the time, clarifying that he spoke in his personal capacity and not as a representative of the denomination. In 2004, the same year Pressler was first elected vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, his home church warned him in a letter about his habit of naked hot tubbing with young men after a college student complained that Pressler had allegedly groped him, according to The Texas Tribune. Months later Pressler agreed to pay $450,000 to settle Rollins’ earlier claim that Pressler had assaulted him in a hotel room. When Pressler stopped making the agreed payments, Rollins sued again, this time alleging sexual abuse.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2024

Texas Supreme Court affirms winter storm emergency pricing that cost Texans billions

Luminant, a subsidiary of Irving-based Vistra Corp., argued that Texas’ power grid regulator, the Public Utility Commission, exceeded its authority by ordering electricity prices pegged at $9,000 per-megawatt-hour. During the freeze and blackouts, which led to the deaths of more than 200 people, the commission ordered the price artificially set at the cap price for four days. Several companies and utilities went bankrupt after paying about 300 times more for electricity than is typical in Texas. Luminant lost roughly $1 billion during the freeze, according to court documents. In the aftermath, every member of the Public Utility Commission and ERCOT’s leadership resigned or was fired. The commission has since lowered the cap to $5,000 per megawatt-hour. The court ruled 7-0 against Vistra, reversing a ruling from the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, which said the emergency pricing order violated ERCOT’s state-mandated competitive market design. Supreme Court Justices Rebeca Huddle and Evan Young did not participate.

“The Commission has the expertise to manage the electric utility industry; the courts do not,” Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote in the ruling. “The court of appeals thus strayed from its lane by inquiring whether the Orders could have used ‘competitive rather than regulatory methods’ to any greater extent than they did.” Vistra did not immediately respond to an email and phone message seeking comment. Texas electricity customers remain on the hook for sky-high electricity and natural gas prices paid during the winter storm. Through government backed bonds, Texans will be paying off the 2021 winter storm energy bills for decades to come through a surcharge on their monthly utility bills. During the February 2021 freeze, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas saw cascading power plant failures, prompting the power grid’s operator to shut off power to 4.5 million households and businesses to prevent the grid from a catastrophic failure. At its peak, 49% of the state’s power generating facilities were offline. At the time, ERCOT officials contacted the Public Utility Commission after they observed that power prices were hovering far below the cap.

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KXAN - June 16, 2024

Police: 2 killed, multiple injured in shooting at Round Rock Juneteenth celebration

Police are looking for suspects after two people were killed and multiple were injured in a shooting at a Juneteenth celebration Saturday night. Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks said in a media briefing the shooting began around 10:50 p.m. at Old Settlers Park after a fight between two groups who were at the event. “The unfortunate part is that we had innocent victims as a result of this reckless actions of certain subjects,” Banks said. “We’re here to celebrate Juneteenth and the unfortunate part is these folks could care less about someone’s life and take someone’s life and on a day we’re here to celebrate community.”

Banks shared that police officers and members of the Round Rock Fire Department who were there immediately tried to help the victims of the shooting. Austin-Travis County EMS medics also responded to the incident and said four adults and two kids had potentially serious injuries. Those injured were taken to area hospitals. Banks said they were not part of the fight. “My thoughts and my prayers go out to the victims,” said Banks. “My condolences go out to the families of the deceased.” Suspects are believed to have left the scene, and police continue to search for them.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 16, 2024

Texas exodus: 35,500 Texans traveled out of state for abortions last year

A new report from the Guttmacher Institute reveals that Texans are traveling the most across state lines to obtain an abortion. After the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, several states like Texas passed abortion bans, leading many women to travel to other states for the procedure. According to the study, the number of people who traveled for an abortion more than doubled in 2023 compared to 2019. Last year, 170,000 patients left their state for an abortion. Of those, 35,500 were Texans, compared to 2,400 in 2019. Most traveled across state lines to New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana. But the study showed Texans also traveled to California for the procedure.

“We’re having people travel hundreds or thousands of miles for a procedure that typically takes less than 10 minutes and can be done in a doctor’s office setting,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder of Whole Woman’s Health, told the New York Times for a report this week examining the data. “Nobody does that for any other medical procedure.” Texas’ mass exodus comes in the wake of Senate Bill 8, a near-total abortion ban that went into effect in September 2021. Isaac Maddow-Zimet, Guttmacher Data Scientist, testified this week before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights, about their findings. “In 2023, we estimate that approximately 170,000 people travelled across state lines to access abortion,” he testified. “This represents 17% of all abortions provided in states without total bans, and is more than double the number of people who travelled across state lines for abortion care in 2019 or in 2020, the most recent prior years for which data are available.”

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KUT - June 16, 2024

Supreme Court sides with Austin gun dealer, striking down federal ban on bump stocks

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on bump stocks Friday, declaring that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives exceeded its authority when it banned the devices on grounds they convert otherwise legal semi-automatic weapons into illegal machine guns. The vote was 6-3, with the court’s three liberals in angry dissent. Writing for the court’s conservative supermajority, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that a semi-automatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a "machine gun" because it does not fire more than one shot "by a single function of the trigger," as the statute requires. He added that even if it could, it would not do so “automatically.” He wrote that the ATF exceeded its statutory authority by classifying bump stocks as machine guns.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that "the Congress that enacted" the law at issue here "would not have seen any material difference between a machinegun and a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bumpstock. But the statutory text is clear, and we must follow it." He added that Congress could — if it wanted — amend the law. The question before the court was whether a bump stock converted a semi-automatic weapon into a machine gun. The court said it does not. President Trump ordered the ATF to ban the sale and possession of bump stocks in 2018 after a single gunman in Las Vegas, using multiple guns modified by bump stocks, killed 60 people and wounded 400 more — all in the space of 11 minutes. Machine guns have been illegal in the U.S. since 1934, almost a century, and Congress has twice amended the National Firearms Act to say that machine gun parts themselves count as machine guns. The case was bought by the owner of a gun shop in Austin, Texas, who was forced to surrender two bump stocks after the ban went into effect. On Friday, the Supreme Court, siding with him, ruled that the ban on bump stocks went too far.

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Houston Public Media - June 16, 2024

Whistleblower faces federal charges after exposing alleged continuation of gender-affirming care at Texas Children’s Hospital

A whistleblower is facing federal charges after sharing documents that allegedly exposed a Houston hospital for providing gender-affirming care to minors after Texas officials equated the medical practice to child abuse. Houston surgeon Eithan Haim is charged with four counts of criminal HIPAA violations after leaking internal documents that allegedly showed that Texas Children’s Hospital continued to provide gender-affirming services to minors after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion in 2022 stating gender-affirming care was a form of child abuse. “Our client is a mandatory reporter of child abuse who reported as a whistleblower to the State of Texas what he had seen in his hospital,” said Marcella Burke, Haim’s attorney. “It is our opinion that this is the government going out of its way to prosecute a whistleblower.”

In May 2023, Haim shared the documents with Christopher F. Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice is accusing Haim of violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was passed with the aim of protecting patient health information. However, according to Rufo, the documents provided by Haim contained no information that “identified any individual.” “All the documents were, in fact, carefully redacted,” Rufos wrote on June 6. Just days after Rufo received the documents, Paxton launched an investigation into the hospital for “actively engaging in illegal behavior” by providing gender-affirming care to minors. On Monday, Paxton’s office didn’t confirm whether that investigation was still active. In an interview with Fox News last week, Haim said he believed the charges were “politically motivated” because of the federal government’s “commitment to the transgender ideology.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2024

Texas town battles Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ plan to build temple

The Collin County town of Fairview is fighting back against the proposal by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to build a temple with a spire over 170 feet tall, according to recent reports. The church wants to build the McKinney Texas Temple — first announced in October 2022 — next to one of its existing churches in Fairview, according to the church’s website. However, Fairview residents have come out strongly against the proposal. The controversy is not due to the temple’s religious affiliation but rather its size.

The temple, is planned for a site that is a little more than 8 acres along Stacy Road, next to one of the church’s meetinghouses. It would be about 44,000 square feet and multiple stories, according to the church’s website. The church’s spire, proposed to be 173 feet and 9 inches, would make it the tallest building in Fairview, a town of about 10,000 south of McKinney and east of U.S. Highway 75. A structure that tall cannot be accommodated by any town ordinances, according to WFAA-TV (Channel 8). However, the church is seeking special approval that would allow construction to move ahead anyway . The church and its supporters have argued the Constitution protects the spire from zoning limits because it serves a religious purpose. Church spokeswoman Melissa McKneely told WFAA that the spire is religiously important because it is a “representation of something reaching up to the heavens and it helps us look to heaven and God.” In early May, the church held an open house, during which residents and media were invited to talk about the project, WFAA reported. “It’s just a good-faith effort to be able to share details about our project, listen to their concerns and have them ask questions,” McKneely said, according to WFAA.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2024

North Texas storms may worsen because of climate change, scientists say

In recent weeks, a deadly tornado ripped through North Texas and severe thunderstorms knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of area residents and brought flash flooding and hail. Texas is no stranger to volatile weather. The state leads the nation in heavy weather events in 2024, with 706 hail storms, 530 strong wind events and 96 tornadoes, according to a May 29 report by The Dallas Morning News that used preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service. Severe storms have caused more than 1,400 deaths and more than $50 billion in damage in Texas since 1980. As emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gasses continue to increase, climate scientists said the risk and intensity of severe weather in the state is likely to worsen.

“The underlying conditions that would make these events possible are becoming more frequent,” said Avantika Gori, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston. “We’re basically stacking the odds that we’re going to observe these extreme events.” It’s impossible to say whether climate change has caused any specific weather event, Gori said. But scientists can determine if climate change increased the likelihood or intensity of severe weather by using a method called extreme weather attribution. This involves running computer simulations of weather events with or without rising levels of greenhouse gasses, said Kerry Cook, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. An attribution analysis from 2018 found that climate change made the rainfall from 2017's Hurricane Harvey about 15% more intense or three times more likely to happen. Hurricane Imelda in 2019 was 9 to 17% more intense or up to 2.6 times more likely to happen because of climate change, according to a report by the World Weather Attribution, a scientist-led climate initiative. Texas is prone to severe weather, particularly during warmer months, because of its location, said Feifei Pan, a professor of geography and the environment at the University of North Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2024

Mavs governor Patrick Dumont looking for ‘heartbeat of the city’ during finals run

It was clear that Patrick Dumont wanted to put his best Dallas Mavericks face forward at his first official local media event Friday afternoon. About a dozen broadcast, sports and business reporters were invited to talk with Dumont, governor of the Mavs organization, in a series of sessions at the team’s practice facility near American Airlines Center, before game 4 of the NBA Finals. “This business is very challenging, but it’s also incredibly fun,” he said during his session with The News and two other business journalists. “There’s 18,000 friends when you’re in the arena. There’s no real way to prepare yourself for it. “It’s better than anything that I imagined it would be.” So are his courtside seats. “It’s a very big thrill. I never did that in my life before,” Dumont said. “There’s a game within a game — the talking on the court, the physicality. Where I used to sit way up high, you didn’t really see a lot of that.”

He gave shoutouts to Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Mavs organization, and its general manager Nico Harrison, who were in the conference room with him. “The character of the organization is fantastic. I don’t know what you can see from the outside, but from the inside, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “There’s camaraderie, and lunch is good. In November, Mark Cuban sold a majority stake in the Mavs to the Adelson and Dumont families for nearly $4 billion. Dumont is the son-in-law of Miriam Adelson, widow of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Dumont, who grew up in Brooklyn and lives in the Las Vegas area, serves as president and chief operating officer of the family-controlled, publicly held Las Vegas Sands Corp. “Business is inherently local, so understanding the heartbeat of the city is important,” he said. He’s been meeting individuals and small groups of people to learn the “ethos of the community.” What does he see as the heartbeat of Dallas six months into the job? “I travel all over the world, and there’s a warmth in Dallas that should be respected and appreciated, because you don’t get that everywhere. That’s been one of the biggest surprises.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2024

Chipmaker Onsemi to relocate North Texas design operations

Onsemi, a semiconductor designer, manufacturer and supplier based in Arizona, will move its Dallas-Fort Worth design center from Richardson to Allen. The company, which provides chips to the automotive market, will lease more than 97,000 square feet at 505 Millennium Drive, the two-story Millennium Center office owned by Austin-based Capital Commercial Investments. The building is located off of Bethany Drive, across U.S. 75 from the Marriott Dallas Allen Hotel & Convention Center.

Improvements to Onsemi’s new design center space are expected to cost about $28 million, with architecture firm Gensler leading design to retrofit the space to include product research and development labs. Work on the space will begin in August, with completion slated for next spring. On Thursday, Onsemi announced that it would cut about 1,000 jobs globally, consolidate nine sites and either reassign or ask approximately 300 employees to relocate, according to a report from Reuters. The moves are an effort to streamline operations and cut costs as the company copes with a slow electric vehicle market and an inventory surplus. The company had about 30,000 full-time employees at the end of 2023, Reuters reported.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2024

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 is being investigated for a ‘Dutch roll’

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft is being investigated by federal officials for a “Dutch roll” while in flight. A Dutch roll is a lateral movement, often a rolling motion, where an aircraft is moving around two axes at the same time. The plane essentially rocks from wingtip to wingtip, like a Dutch ice skater. It’s most common at high altitudes. The incident occurred on May 25 at 8 a.m. Pacific time on Southwest flight 746 from Phoenix to Oakland at about 34,000 feet in the air. There were 175 passengers on board and six crew members, none were injured. A preliminary report from the Federal Aviation Administration showed that an inspection after the flight showed damage to a unit that provides backup power to the rudder. Southwest notified the National Transportation Safety Board of the damage on June 7.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2024

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Texas GOP, Dems agree on housing crisis. Are they wrong about the solution?

When lawmakers return to Austin early next year, housing affordability — most notably reducing property tax burdens — will be a top priority. Gov. Greg Abbott also has signaled that he wants to do something about the impact of institutional investors buying up residential properties for rental on the supply and cost of single-family homes across the state. There is also growing pressure to reform land use policies. A growing chorus of real estate experts, urban planners, cities and elected officials now say Texas also should adopt more flexible land use and zoning policies to ease housing availability and affordability crunches. A popular policy prescription involves reducing minimum lot sizes to permit multiplexes and townhomes to be built next to single-family dwellings, which advocates say would expand housing supply and stabilize housing prices. We have a housing supply problem, so it’s no surprise that Texans on the right and the left have taken up the issue as a policy priority. If zoning is so onerous that homebuilders don’t have flexibility, Texas won’t be able to solve that supply problem. But state and local governments must take a more nuanced view of zoning than what leading partisan voices are offering.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, recommends that lawmakers abolish minimum lot sizes and adopt “no use” zoning to allow a lot to be used for just about any purpose that doesn’t run afoul of nuisance regulations. Meanwhile, the Texas Democratic Party’s platform calls for “ending racially motivated exclusionary forms of zoning,” with some people in the party arguing that single-family zoning is discriminatory. When political polar opposites recognize the same problem, it’s worth working hard to find bipartisan consensus. We are concerned that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan are expected to push for statewide zoning reform to curtail local zoning powers of cities. This is likely to pit the big blue cities in the state against the conservative Legislature in yet another battle of state rules vs. local autonomy. Cities have to be more flexible in their land use policies, but ham-fisted efforts from state lawmakers to limit zoning and other local government powers risk unintended consequences that we worry won’t allow cities to make adjustments unique to their markets. The solution, in our view, is not to get rid of minimum lot sizes or to curtail single-family zoning. Cities must respect existing neighborhoods and the investments that residents made based on rules that existed at the time they bought their homes. But officials must loosen zoning rules in other areas of their cities to incentivize home construction on undeveloped land and in commercial districts, where land can be tapped for more density. The exodus of people and industries from high-cost states like New York, California and Illinois to Texas is in part due to Texas’ longstanding competitive advantage as a more affordable place to live.

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Hood County News - June 16, 2024

United Republicans of Hood County host State Representative Dr. Glenn Rogers

The United Republicans of Hood County gathered on Tuesday evening, June 11, with Dr. Glenn Rogers, State Representative for House District 60, as the keynote speaker. The meeting opened with an invocation, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Texas Pledge, setting a patriotic tone for the evening. Dr. Rogers, a sixth-generation Texan with roots in Palo Pinto County since the 1890s, graduated from Texas A&M University and returned home to run the family ranch and establish a veterinary practice. Known for his strong support of rural conservative values and Second Amendment rights, Rogers emphasized his dedication to his constituents. “I’m a Christian, I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a veterinarian, I’m a rancher, I’m a conservative Republican,” Rogers declared. “I consider my district my first responsibility, and I’m a state representative.”

Addressing the difficulties of running for office, Rogers spoke about facing opposition from well-funded adversaries like Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks. “These men hide behind their money and religion, causing more damage to Texas than anyone I know. They spread lies in the name of God,” Rogers asserted. Rogers refuted several accusations from his opponents, including claims that he voted for Sharia law and granted himself a pension. “I voted with the majority of Republicans 99% of the time. Claims that I supported Sharia law or voted for a pension are absolute lies,” he explained. “You don’t even get a pension until you’ve served for eight years.” The representative criticized the influence of wealthy donors in politics. “Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks want you to get all your information from their sources. They want to eliminate public education and enforce a hardline theocracy and oligarchy,” Rogers warned. He referred to their influence network as a “cartel,” highlighting its complexity and constant rebranding. Rogers mentioned Cary Cheshire and Tony McDonald, referencing a 2020 runoff incident involving a leaked audio recording that mocked Governor Abbott for being in a wheelchair. The crude language in the recording led to the rebranding of “Empower Texas” to “Defend Texas Liberty,” and has since rebranded a third time into “Texans for a Conservative Majority.” The change came after the Texas Tribune revealed a meeting that took place between Empower Texans leader Jonathan Strickland and well-known Neo-Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.

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New York Times - June 16, 2024

Unruly Texas passenger who was restrained with duct tape faces record fine

An American Airlines passenger who kicked and spat at flight attendants and passengers and attempted to open the cabin door before she was secured to a seat with duct tape has been sued by the Federal Aviation Administration for $81,950, the largest-ever fine assessed by the agency for unruly behavior. The passenger, Heather Wells, 34, of San Antonio, was traveling first class from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., on July 7, 2021. About an hour into the flight she ordered a whiskey and became agitated and said she “wanted out” of the plane, according to a lawsuit filed on June 3 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Ms. Wells began running toward the back of the plane, where she dropped to her knees in the aisle and began “talking incoherently to passengers, before crawling back toward the main cabin,” the lawsuit said.

When a flight attendant responded, Ms. Wells “became verbally aggressive and told the flight attendant that she would ‘hurt him’ if he didn’t get out of her way,” according to the court document. She then pushed him and moved to the front of the plane where she “lunged toward and attempted to grab” the cabin door, “all the while screaming and yelling profanities.” That was when two flight attendants and a passenger tried to physically restrain Ms. Wells, who struck one of the flight attendants in the head multiple times, the lawsuit said. They were able to restrain her with duct tape and flex cuffs and place her on a seat. But she continued to “kick and spit and attempted to bite and head butt,” which “necessitated” Ms. Wells to be further restrained with tape, including on her mouth, according to the suit. The captain determined that landing in Charlotte would be the quickest resolution, and law enforcement officers were waiting for the plane’s arrival, according to the lawsuit. Ms. Wells continued to act violently once officers boarded, breaking the seat in front of her, before she was sedated and removed from the plane.

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D Magazine - June 16, 2024

Elevated high-speed rail through Downtown Dallas to Fort Worth appears dead

The Dallas City Council unanimously agreed Wednesday to oppose any new elevated passenger rail projects through downtown. Yesterday, the regional agency charged with securing money for these sorts of enormous transportation projects said it is no longer planning to put a 17-story rail line through downtown Dallas. The agency promised more details next month, but it is a significant about-face from recent discussions. All this hubbub is about a possible high-speed rail line west to Arlington and Fort Worth, whose stations would be below ground. The consternation happens when the train surfaces aboveground in West Dallas and continues, 17 stories in the air, through downtown, on its way to a station in the Cedars. Much of the recent discussion around this project happened late last year in the Arlington headquarters of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the aforementioned regional agency.

When the matter got to City Hall last March, bureaucratic hell broke loose. Each of the four alignments showed an elevated line running through the southwest corner of downtown. Hunt Realty, which is planning to spend $5 billion on a mixed-use project on its empty land near where the line would go, commissioned renderings of an elevated line running perilously close to the Hyatt Regency and Reunion Tower. Hunt floated the idea that Reunion would have to be torn down, which was reported by WFAA. Council members expressed concern about how the project might affect the nearly $4 billion plans for the new convention center next door. Was an elevated rail bisecting a corner of downtown really worth putting all this new development at risk? Wednesday, at the behest of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, the body voted wholly in support of keeping an elevated train out of downtown, Uptown, and Victory Park. This decision basically tells the feds that the city would not support such an alignment, which could put funding at risk. Then on Thursday, Michael Morris, the transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, broke some news. “I think our plan forward is not to have an elevated train through your downtown,” Morris said. “We’re more than happy to comply and simply move forward.” Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn asked him to share the alignments. He declined, saying he would need more time to explain them, and promised to unveil more at a workshop next month. He declined again on Friday when asked by D Magazine, saying he could not share any specifics with the public until briefing the board of the Regional Transportation Council.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2024

Southlake megachurch pastor Robert Morris accused of sexual abuse in the 1980s

Robert Morris, the senior pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, one of the largest churches in the country, has been accused by a woman of sexually abusing her when she was between the ages of 12 and 16. The Oklahoma woman, now in her 50s, said Morris abused her on multiple occasions in the 1980s. The allegations, first publicized Friday in the religious watchdog blog Wartburg Watch, said the abuse happened in Oklahoma and Texas between 1982 and 1987.The Christian Post published a story Saturday about the allegations.

Morris has not been criminally charged. Morris did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment Saturday. Gateway Church officials on Saturday said they were aware of the allegations, but declined comment when asked for a statement by The Dallas Morning News. Lawrence Swicegood, who is listed on the church website as executive director of Gateway Media, replied by email to The News late Saturday saying, “At this time we are not granting interviews or providing additional statements.” Morris did not preach at the Southlake campus’ Saturday afternoon service, and the allegations were not addressed by pastors during the service. Several attendees either declined to comment or said they were unaware of the allegations. A statement reportedly sent to church staff by church elders of Gateway posted to X said Morris “has been open and forthright about a moral failure he had over 35 years ago.” According to the statement, Morris’ restoration process was closely administered by elders and included professional counseling. “Since the resolution of this 35-year-old matter, there have been no other moral failures,” the statement read. “Pastor Robert has walked in purity, and he has placed accountability measures and people in his life. The matter has been properly disclosed to church leadership.”

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 16, 2024

Scott, McCrutcheon win runoff elections for Harris County appraisal board

Kyle Scott and Ericka McCrutcheon won runoff races for two Harris Central Appraisal District board seats on Saturday. Though the elections were officially nonpartisan, the night ended with a strong showing for local Republicans According to the unofficial results, Scott, a small business owner, beat former Houston City Council Member Melissa Noriega by 57% to 43%. With 62% of the vote, McCrutcheon, who previously ran for Houston City Council, defeated businesswoman Pelumi Adeleke, who had 38% of the vote. In May, Kathy Blueford-Daniels, a former HCAD board member who previously served as a Houston ISD trustee, won the Place 1 seat outright against Bill Frazer with 50.4% of the vote. Blueford-Daniels had been endorsed by local Democrats, while her opponent had been endorsed by local Republicans. No candidate won at least 50% of the vote in the other two races, triggering Saturday’s runoff election – the fourth election in four months in Harris County. Though no party affiliations were listed on the ballot, both local parties have hustled to get out the vote for their slate of endorsed candidates.

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City Stories

Houston Public Media - June 16, 2024

Emergency leaders, Houston councilmembers discuss disaster response plans amid busy hurricane season

Houston leaders are working on plans to improve the city’s response to disasters in preparation for a busy hurricane season. The season began on June 1, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting one of its busiest seasons yet, with 17 to 25 named storms and upwards of 13 hurricanes.

More than 922,000 CenterPoint customers were left in the dark for hours, and some days, following the derecho that left eight people dead. The straight-line wind storm tore down trees and electrical lines and scattered debris across the city and its suburbs. Some are still working on cleanup efforts nearly a month after the storm. In the days following the storm, CenterPoint Energy removed its outage tracker map that identified the most impacted areas across the Houston area. The company has not detailed a timeline to resume its outage map, and city leaders are saying it’s essential during hurricane season. “With the tool not functioning as it should, we worked to provide a short-term solution during the multi-day event which included producing maps with estimated restoration times as well as providing service-area-level restoration updates,” said Michelle Hundley, a CenterPoint Energy spokesperson last month. Committee members and emergency leaders said the city needs to solidify its communication with CenterPoint and other stakeholders that are essential to its disaster response.

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National Stories

Politico - June 16, 2024

These three politicians once looked like the future of the GOP. 72 hours later the dream was dead.

They mounted the stage in the dying of the light. In the small town of Chapin, South Carolina, on the evening of Feb. 17, 2016, Nikki Haley, the nation’s youngest governor, and Sen. Marco Rubio, the youngest presidential candidate, had arrived in a bus emblazoned on its sides with “A NEW AMERICAN CENTURY.” “I wanted somebody that had conviction to do the right thing, but I wanted somebody humble enough that remembers that you work for all the people, and I wanted somebody that was going to go and show my parents that the best decision they ever made for their children was coming to America,” the 44-year-old Indian American Haley told the crowd, formally endorsing the 44-year-old Cuban American Rubio. “She embodies for me,” Rubio said when he took the mic, “everything that I want the Republican Party and the conservative movement to be.” The next morning in Greenville, they were joined by Tim Scott, the 50-year-old Black senator, and Trey Gowdy, the 51-year-old, white, hipster-haircut-having congressman.

What Rubio was offering was in some sense familiar Republican fare — limited federal government and anti-Obamacare, pro-Second Amendment, tax cuts and reduced regulations, along with a belief in some path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But his candidacy was generationally and demographically something irrefutably new — and tonally, too. The pitch in sum was an unsubtle appeal to GOP voters to select as their standard-bearer someone other than the older, angrier and front-running Donald Trump, who was campaigning for a border wall and a ban on travel from majority-Muslim countries and that month was engaged in wars of words with George W. Bush and the pope. “We were presenting as clear an alternative as you possibly could,” Republican consultant and 2016 Rubio communications director Alex Conant told me recently. “I remember watching the stage with Marco Rubio, Hispanic American conservative; Nikki Haley, Asian American conservative; Tim Scott, African American conservative; and Trey Gowdy, traditional, southern, white-guy conservative, and I took a picture of it, and I showed it to anybody who would listen and said, ‘This is the future of the Republican Party,’” Whit Ayres, a Rubio pollster in 2016, told me. “It felt,” Conant said, “like it could be the future.” Could have been. But was not. Those three days in South Carolina, it would turn out, represented the last gasp of a party that was desperate to repair and remake itself after its frustrating failures four years before, even producing a deeply self-critical post-mortem urging “comprehensive immigrant reform” and messaging that was more “inviting,” “inspiring” and appealing to a wider array of constituencies. “We need to campaign among Hispanic, Black, Asian and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too,” Reince Priebus, then the RNC chair, had said. “We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities.”

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Associated Press - June 16, 2024

Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him

Donald Trump on Saturday night suggested President Joe Biden “should have to take a cognitive test,” only to confuse who administered the test to him in the next sentence. The former president and presumptive Republican nominee referred to Texas Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, who was the White House physician for part of his presidency, as “Ronny Johnson.” The moment came as Trump was questioning Biden’s mental acuity, something he often does on the campaign trail and social media. “He doesn’t even know what the word ‘inflation’ means. I think he should take a cognitive test like I did,” the former president said of Biden during a speech at a convention of Turning Point Action in Detroit.

Seconds later, he continued, “Doc Ronny Johnson. Does everyone know Ronny Johnson, congressman from Texas? He was the White House doctor, and he said I was the healthiest president, he feels, in history, so I liked him very much indeed immediately.” Jackson was elected to Congress in 2021 and is one of Trump’s most vociferous defenders on Capitol Hill. Trump, who turned 78 on Friday, has made questioning whether the 81-year-old Biden is up for a second term a centerpiece of his campaign. But online critics quickly seized on his Saturday night gaffe, with the Biden campaign — which has long fought off criticism about the Democratic president’s verbal missteps — posting a clip of the moment minutes later. Trump took the cognitive test in 2018 at his own request, Jackson told reporters at the time. The exam is designed to detect early signs of memory loss and other mild cognitive impairment.

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Hollywood Reporter - June 16, 2024

President Biden and Barack Obama rip Donald Trump during starry L.A. fundraiser

White House residents and Hollywood megastars shared the stage inside Los Angeles’ Peacock Theater on Saturday night for what turned out to be a record-setting Democratic fundraising haul as President Biden‘s reelection campaign netted a historic $28 million from the one-night-only event. But even with all that cash and the glamour of A-list headliners George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jimmy Kimmel (who moderated a 40-minute chat with Biden and former President Barack Obama), the shadow of Biden’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump, loomed large over L.A. Live. During the conversation, the trio took turns ripping Trump’s questionable track record, his history of lying to the American people, a freshly stamped criminal record with 34 felonies and a recent threat of bloodshed and retribution should he come out victorious in the November election.

“I could have done nothing and done better than him,” Biden said at the top of the conversation, during which much attention was paid to the incumbent’s victories in passing legislation, boosting the economy, creating jobs and erasing millions of student loan debt. “We’re trying to give ordinary people a chance, just a chance.” Obama was the one who took aim at Trump’s felony convictions. “Look, part of what has happened in the last several years is we’ve normalized behavior that used to be disqualified,” he said. “The other spectacle of the nominee of one of the two major parties is sitting in court and being convicted by a jury of his peers on 34 counts. You have his foundation, it’s not allowed to operate because it was engaging in monkey business and not actually philanthropic. You had this organization being prosecuted for not paying taxes. … There was a time when we had certain core values that we agreed with. We believed in basic honesty. We believed in paying your taxes. We believed in making sure that we didn’t make fun of [prisoners of war], that we did not try to politicize our military, that we respected the ballot.”

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Mother Jones - June 16, 2024

MAGA Youth Activist Charlie Kirk’s big conservative shindig is full of old folks

Turning Point USA, which casts itself as a conservative political youth movement, appears to be aging. Founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, then 18, TPUSA quickly won the backing of rich Republican megadonors eager to try to recapture young voters, who overwhelmingly had been supporting Democrats. The group has since become a staple on college campuses, where it decries “cancel culture” and warns students of encroaching socialism, and has been a major player in Trump world. In 2019, Kirk started a nonprofit political action committee (PAC), Turning Point Action, to gain more sway in elections. This weekend, the group is hosting a “People’s Convention” in Detroit, with the usual fireworks, klieg lights and rock-concert treatment for an all-star MAGA lineup that includes Donald Trump Jr., Lara Trump, and Donald Trump himself.

Judging from the first two days of the event, it would be hard to call this a youth movement. Saturday morning, I attended a breakout session headlined by voter registration activist Scott Presler. There were about 50 or 60 people in the room, virtually all well over 40. When Presler opened the floor for a Q&A, the first questioner said he was 77 years old. Waiting in line afterwards to speak to Presler, I met Steve, a registered Democrat from Philly, who said he now felt more at home in MAGA world. I asked him about the age issue, and he suggested that Turning Point Action events were offered to a broader audience than the standard college confabs. Steve is 74, so he should know. He’s more of a contemporary of some of the People’s Convention biggest stars than Kirk is. Also on the speaker lineup: former Trump HUD secretary Ben Carson, 72; Trump advisor Roger Stone, 71; Steve Bannon, 70—and Trump, of course, just turned 78. AD There’s further evidence of the conference demographic by the exhibit hall entrance, where attendees are greeted by the huge booth of one of the event’s biggest sponsors: the Association of Mature American Citizens—a conservative alternative to senior citizen powerhouse AARP.

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Politico - June 16, 2024

The Montana candidate recruited by a bogus political group

Dennis Hayes, a retired builder in Townsend, Montana, had strong libertarian leanings and a bone to pick with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Then he got an unexpected tap on the shoulder. The call came from a man in Arizona identifying himself as a volunteer for the Patriots Run Project, a group recruiting right-leaning conservatives to run for office. Would he run for Congress? A donor provided the $1,340 he needed to register. Since that call in February, Hayes has been running against incumbent Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Trump-friendly Republican who he is challenging from the right. Just one problem: The Patriots Run Project, according to a new research report, is a fake grassroots group that was running numerous accounts on Facebook without any identifiable people behind the operation.

Though the group claims to be run by citizens across 14 states, researchers at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a nonprofit that researches disinformation, found it was all managed by the same unknown person or small group of people who cross-posted content and all listed the same address at a UPS store in Washington. The network of accounts ran for nearly a year until Meta removed them last week for violating its policies against inauthentic accounts misleading users. Hayes, however, is still running for office, in a bizarre example of how fake groups online can shape politics in the real world. The website for the Patriots Run Project offers no contact information, and the group did not respond to multiple emails sent to the address listed on its Meta ad library page. The phone number listed was disconnected. Hayes provided a phone number for the Arizona volunteer, who did not respond to multiple calls. Under persistent fire about the impact of social-media front groups — as well as trolls, bots and other misinformation tactics — social media companies like Meta largely promise to patrol their own networks, with policies to take down clearly bogus campaigns. The ISD research report shows that in practice, these policies still let groups slip through, and that can still have repercussions. The researchers say the Patriots Run Project shows how easy it still is to set up fake political groups online — and how long it can take companies like Meta to remove them. Called by POLITICO last week about the report and the Patriots Run Project, Meta said it removed dozens of Facebook accounts, pages, groups and ads associated with the project throughout that week for violating its policy on “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” saying the fake accounts intended to “mislead people about who’s behind them and what they are doing.”

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The Hill - June 16, 2024

Lara Trump vows to prosecute anyone who cheats in an election: ‘We will track you down’

Lara Trump, the co-Chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and former President Trump’s daughter-in-law, promised Friday to prosecute anyone who cheats in an election, threatening “we will track you down.” “This year is the year we do it,” Lara Trump said at Turning Point USA’s Detroit convention. “We are also sending a loud and clear message out there to anyone who thinks about cheating in an election, we will find you, we will track you down and we will prosecute you to the full extent of the law.” Lara Trump and other RNC officials kicked off a massive effort to mobilize thousands of “election integrity” watchdogs to monitor every step of the election process, create hotlines for poll watchers to report perceived problems and escalate those problems through legal action. The initiative immediately drew concerns that it will lead to the harassment of election workers, The Associated Press reported.

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New York Times - June 16, 2024

The resistance to a new Trump administration has already started

Opponents of Donald J. Trump are drafting potential lawsuits in case he is elected in November and carries out mass deportations, as he has vowed. One group has hired a new auditor to withstand any attempt by a second Trump administration to unleash the Internal Revenue Service against them. Democratic-run state governments are even stockpiling abortion medication. A sprawling network of Democratic officials, progressive activists, watchdog groups and ex-Republicans has been taking extraordinary steps to prepare for a potential second Trump presidency, drawn together by the fear that Mr. Trump’s return to power would pose a grave threat not just to their agenda but to American democracy itself. “Trump has made clear that he’ll disregard the law and test the limits of our system,” said Joanna Lydgate, the chief executive of States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan democracy watchdog organization that works with state officials in both parties. “What we’re staring down is extremely dark.”

While the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an attempt to nullify federal approval of the abortion pill mifepristone, liberals fear a new Trump administration could rescind the approval or use a 19th-century morality law to criminalize sending it across state lines. The Democratic governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, said he had secured a large enough supply of mifepristone pills to preserve access for women in his state through a second Trump administration. The supply is locked away at a state warehouse. “We have it physically in the state of Washington, which could stop him and his anti-choice forces from prohibiting its distribution,” Mr. Inslee said in an interview. “It has a life span of five or six years. If there was another Trump administration, it’ll get us through.” There is always discussion in any election year of what might happen if the other side wins the White House. Such talk has been typically limited to Washington chatter and private speculation, as much of the energy has focused on helping one’s party win the election and develop wish-list policy plans.

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Newsclips - June 14, 2024

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2024

HISD board narrowly approves $2.1 billion budget in rare split vote since state takeover

Houston ISD's appointed Board of Managers approved Superintendent Mike Miles' $2.1 billion budget for the upcoming school year by a 5-4 vote during a contentious board meeting Thursday, allocating one-third of district funds to schools in Miles' New Education System amid a $528 million shortfall in district funding. Though the budget ultimately passed, the four votes against his proposal by board members Adam Rivon, Rolando Martinez, Cassandra Auzenne Bandy and Michelle Cruz Arnold represent the board's largest public rebuke of any Miles proposal since the Texas Education Agency appointed them to the positions last June. The budget vote followed two public workshops over the last month where Miles laid out the massive deficit facing HISD, which he chalked up to the expiration of federal pandemic relief funds, declining enrollment and stagnant state funding.

HISD has made up that $528 million shortfall, in part, by reducing 1,500 positions in the central office between November and June. While the district has not provided details on all the jobs slashed, Miles has said his goal was to "keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible." The 130 schools in the New Education System, where Miles is centering his most dramatic reforms, will receive over $684 million under the adopted budget for the 2024-2025 school year. The other 144 schools will receive about $657 million. Both figures are less than what was previously proposed in the district's first public budget workshop in May. Average per-pupil funding at NES schools comes out to $9,445 per student, while per-pupil funding at non-NES schools will be about $6,882, according to the district budget presentation. The per-pupil funding at NES schools, which have historically served a greater proportion of low-income students, represents about a 60% increase from 2019, compared to an increase of about 28% at non-NES schools. Miles has said the greater costs at NES schools are due largely to the higher salaries paid to staff at those campuses — where teachers made an average of about $80,000 last year compared to the $65,000 across the rest of the district, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis — as well as increased special education resources at those schools. The superintendent argued that growth in student performance at NES schools this year justifies the additional expenses.

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New York Times - June 14, 2024

Thomas took additional trips on Harlan Crow’s private jet, documents show

Justice Clarence Thomas never disclosed three trips aboard the private jet of the Texas billionaire Harlan Crow, according to documents obtained by the Senate Judiciary Committee released on Thursday. The documents, obtained by Democrats on the panel, list three visits that have not previously been reported: one to a city in Montana, near Glacier National Park, in 2017; another to his hometown, Savannah, Ga., in March 2019; and another to Northern California in 2021. The purpose of each trip was not immediately clear, nor was the reason for their omission on the justice’s disclosure forms. However, all of the flights involve short stays: two were round trips that did not include an overnight stay. The revelation underlined the extent to which Justice Thomas has relied on the generosity of his friends over the years and the consistency with which he declined to report those ties.

Justice Thomas has said that he had been advised he did not need to disclose gifts of personal hospitality from friends who did not have cases before the Supreme Court. The announcement is all but certain to fuel the fight over greater transparency at the Supreme Court. Lawmakers’ efforts to require that justices be held to ethics standards similar to those for the executive and legislative branches have faltered. And even as the court, under immense public scrutiny, announced its first ethics code in the fall, experts immediately pointed out its lack of an enforcement mechanism or penalties should a justice have violated it. The revealing of the trips “makes it crystal clear that the highest court needs an enforceable code of conduct, because its members continue to choose not to meet the moment,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the committee, said in a statement. Justice Thomas did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His lawyer, Elliot S. Berke, did not respond to questions about details of the trips, but defended the trips in a statement.

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Reuters - June 14, 2024

Pentagon ran secret anti-vax campaign to incite fear of China vaccines

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. military launched a secret campaign to counter what it perceived as China’s growing influence in the Philippines, a nation hit especially hard by the deadly virus. The clandestine operation has not been previously reported. It aimed to sow doubt about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and other life-saving aid that was being supplied by China, a Reuters investigation found. Through phony internet accounts meant to impersonate Filipinos, the military’s propaganda efforts morphed into an anti-vax campaign. Social media posts decried the quality of face masks, test kits and the first vaccine that would become available in the Philippines – China’s Sinovac inoculation. Reuters identified at least 300 accounts on X, formerly Twitter, that matched descriptions shared by former U.S. military officials familiar with the Philippines operation. Almost all were created in the summer of 2020 and centered on the slogan #Chinaangvirus – Tagalog for China is the virus.

“COVID came from China and the VACCINE also came from China, don’t trust China!” one typical tweet from July 2020 read in Tagalog. The words were next to a photo of a syringe beside a Chinese flag and a soaring chart of infections. Another post read: “From China – PPE, Face Mask, Vaccine: FAKE. But the Coronavirus is real.” After Reuters asked X about the accounts, the social media company removed the profiles, determining they were part of a coordinated bot campaign based on activity patterns and internal data. The U.S. military’s anti-vax effort began in the spring of 2020 and expanded beyond Southeast Asia before it was terminated in mid-2021, Reuters determined. Tailoring the propaganda campaign to local audiences across Central Asia and the Middle East, the Pentagon used a combination of fake social media accounts on multiple platforms to spread fear of China’s vaccines among Muslims at a time when the virus was killing tens of thousands of people each day. A key part of the strategy: amplify the disputed contention that, because vaccines sometimes contain pork gelatin, China’s shots could be considered forbidden under Islamic law. The military program started under former President Donald Trump and continued months into Joe Biden’s presidency, Reuters found – even after alarmed social media executives warned the new administration that the Pentagon had been trafficking in COVID misinformation.

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CNN - June 14, 2024

Inside Trump’s gripe-filled meeting with House GOP and his reunion with McConnell

Former President Donald Trump led House Republicans through a gripe-filled closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill on Thursday, airing grievances about his legal and electoral challenges, attacking his critics in the room, and only briefly addressing policy matters like abortion and taxes, according to multiple GOP lawmakers in the room. In his first time returning to the Capitol campus area since leaving office after the January 6, 2021, riot, the former president met with lawmakers for over an hour. In between rants about Taylor Swift and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump went after his detractors – those who have since lost their seats and some who were in the room – as he warned Republicans to not be afraid of the hot button issue of abortion.

In a sign that the former president is reveling in how the party has fallen in line behind him, Trump bragged that most of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him were no longer in office and singled out one of the remaining two GOP lawmakers left: GOP Rep. David Valadao of California. “I never loved him,” Trump said of Valadao, according to a GOP member. As a number of House Republicans find themselves in competitive primary races, the former president said he wanted to do tele-town halls, but acknowledged his help would not be welcomed by some, given that he had endorsed their primary opponents. Trump did not shy away from acknowledging the bad blood between House Speaker Mike Johnson and GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who unsuccessfully tried to oust Johnson against Trump’s wishes. The former president playfully asked Greene, a staunch ally of his who he strongly supports, to be nice to the speaker. “He’s always so sweet, recognizing me, and he said ‘are you being nice to Speaker Johnson?’ He was joking. And I said ‘eh,’” as she gestured with her hands. “He said ‘OK be nice to him’ and I nodded my head,” she added.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2024

What the Supreme Court's ruling on a popular abortion medication means for Texans

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected on Thursday a move to ban a widely used abortion pill, halting for now a case that could have drastically reduced access to reproductive care for millions of Americans. Siding with plaintiffs would have added further obstacles for Texans, who have almost no legal access to abortion in the state. But all nine justices said the plaintiffs in the case did not having standing to sue over the federal Food and Drug Administration's approval of the medication, mifepristone, and its later actions to expand access to it. The high court did not weigh in on the merits of the case, only that the anti-abortion doctors and groups who sued hadn't sufficiently shown they were harmed by the regulations. The case is not over, however. The justices sent it back to the district court level, where three Republican-led states have since joined on. They could try to revive the lawsuit and return it to the high court. Here's what to know about the impacts of the high court's ruling for Texans.

Texas law bans all abortions except to save a pregnant person's life or prevent "substantial impairment of major bodily function." It does not include exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. Mifepristone comprises half of a two-pill combination used to end pregnancies in more than half of U.S. abortions, and more than half of those in Texas.Mifepristone blocks a hormone needed for the pregnancy to continue, and misoprostol empties the uterus. If the plaintiffs had won, what would it have meant for Texas? Without the pill, clinics and doctors in states where the procedure is legal said they would switch to using only misoprostol, the other drug used in the two-drug combination. That single-drug approach has a slightly lower rate of effectiveness in ending pregnancies but is widely used in countries where mifepristone is illegal or unavailable. The case could have also impacted access for Texans who now have to travel out of state to access the procedure. Since abortions were severely restricted in Texas in 2021, at least 1,300 Texans a month have traveled to states including New Mexico and Colorado for abortion care, according to the group formerly known as Texas Policy Evaluation Project. Who brought the case? The plaintiffs included the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, two prominent anti-abortion groups. They asked U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo to order the FDA to immediately suspend or withdraw its approval of the drug, arguing it is unsafe despite researchers saying decades of scientific evidence proves otherwise.

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Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2024

Texas is busing far fewer migrants to Democratic-led cities, state figures show

Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s insistence that he’s going to keep busing migrants from the Texas border to cities with Democratic mayors, data from his office shows a dramatic drop in the program over the last six months as those cities have fought back in court and in the political arena. That drop mirrors declining border crossings in the same period as Mexico has become more aggressive in blocking migrants from getting to Texas.

In the second half of 2023, Abbott’s busing program sent about 77,000 migrants to six U.S. cities with Democratic mayors. But over the last six months, that number fell to about 17,000, and three cities are no longer getting bused migrants at all. Abbott continues to tout the program to Republican audiences as he tries to build up his national political profile at a time when he’s getting more frequent mentions as a potential running mate to former President Donald Trump. Last month in Dallas, he received a rousing ovation from thousands of attendees at the National Rifle Association convention when he talked about keeping the buses rolling into northern cities, particularly New York. And in a speech in New York in April, Abbott said he has no plans to stop the busing program despite increasing legal challenges.

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El Paso Matters - June 14, 2024

El Paso lags behind on state board appointments, representation

When then-Gov. Rick Perry appointed Ted Houghton to the Texas Transportation Commission in 2003, El Paso didn’t yet have a completed highway loop around the city, while other cities had already started on their second or third thoroughfares encircling their cities. Over his 11 years on the commission, Houghton worked to raise awareness of the region’s needs as a major commerce hub, pointing out that much of the traffic from the huge ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach ends up on Interstate 10, making transportation funding crucial for the city. “You have to bring awareness to the leadership down in Austin,” Houghton said, adding that El Paso is underrepresented on state boards and commissions. An analysis by El Paso Matters of appointments made by Gov. Greg Abbott between January 2022 and January 2024 shows that El Paso has lagged behind many other communities in representation.

In those two years, El Paso received 19 of the 866 gubernatorial appointments to state boards and commissions – about 2% of the appointments made over those two years, despite being the sixth largest city in Texas and having almost 3% of the state’s population. The information was obtained through an open records request to the governor’s office. Comparatively, the data show that cities such as Austin, the fourth-most populated city, received almost five times as many, or over 9% of those appointments. Fort Worth, with only slightly greater population than El Paso, had almost 4%, or 32 appointees. Houghton, a financial consultant who last year was appointed to the Texas Historical Commission, said many people he served with on various commissions have never been to El Paso and have little knowledge of its resources and needs. It’s why being appointed and bringing attention to the region is critical, he said.

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Texas Public Radio - June 14, 2024

Johnny Canales, Tejano music star-maker and legendary TV host, has died at age 77

Johnny Canales, the Tejano music star-maker who was a household name for decades, has died at the age of 77. His wife, Nora Canales, announced his passing Thursday morning on Facebook. “He was more than just a beloved husband, father, TV host, musician, and entertainer; he was a beacon of hope and joy for countless people,” she wrote. Canales was musician and host of "The Johnny Canales Show," a program produced in Corpus Christi that introduced several Tejano stars, including Selena, Emilio Navaira, and La Sombra, to U.S. audiences. He helped these three artists gain two Grammy awards and eight nominations over 17 years on live TV. The show premiered in the 1980s and remained on the air until 2005. It was revived several years later. Many fans remember hearing, “You got it! Take it away!” before stars would perform.

South Texans, including Patricia Avila, who helps run the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame & Museum, had fond memories of Canales. “Everybody in South Texas grew up with Johnny Canales on a Sunday. He was like our Dick Clark, 'American Bandstand,' she said. “So yeah, Johnny Canales' 'take it away,’ those were words that would always ring in our ears.” Miami-based filmmaker Adrian Arredondo, who is working on a documentary about the TV host, said Canales embodied the American Dream. “He was putting on his TV show artists who people in the United States had one no idea existed, who had no idea that the genres existed,” Arredondo said. Arredondo spoke to TPR in May when it was announced that Canales was gravely ill. “I would describe Johnny Canales as one of the funniest people that I've ever met, and one of the most genuine human beings,” he said. Canales grew up in Robstown along the coast, served in the Army, and was a radio DJ in the '70s before he turned to television.

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Texas Monthly - June 14, 2024

Who will buy Infowars?

After years of lawsuits from several of the families of the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, two high-profile defamation trials, and a bankruptcy process that’s stretched for nearly two years, something of a resolution has finally emerged in the saga of Alex Jones and Infowars. As a reminder, Jones was found liable in court for defamation in 2022 because of his repeated, absurd on-air claims that the Sandy Hook parents were actually actors hired by someone—the New World Order or the deep state—as part of a plot to seize Americans’ guns. The result was that two juries, one in Austin and one in Waterbury, Connecticut (about twenty miles northeast of Newtown, where the Sandy Hook shooting occurred), ordered him to pay damages totaling nearly $1.5 billion. Jones responded by declaring bankruptcy, and last week, he agreed in a Houston court to reclassify his bankruptcy as a Chapter 7 liquidation, which will require him to sell off his assets to pay a portion of his debt.

Notably, those assets include Infowars itself—the company, name, branding, and web domain—along with an indeterminate number of boxes of dietary supplements with names such as Super Male Vitality and Brain Force that helped transform the far-right conspiracy site into a financial juggernaut. A court-appointed trustee—typically a bankruptcy attorney—will oversee the sale, which means Jones is unlikely to have much input on who the buyer is or how much money Infowars is worth. According to one such attorney we spoke with, the trustee could pursue an open auction, solicit bids, or identify what’s known as a “stalking horse” buyer, whose interest is already known. The trustee will also consider whether to sell Infowars and its assets as a single entity or strip the company for parts—sending the armored truck to one buyer, the glass-topped Infowars desk to a different one, and the trademarks, real estate holdings, and Infowars.com domain to yet another. Who might be interested in purchasing these assets? Let’s explore the options. For an ordinary right-wing celebrity, having to find a new patron isn’t necessarily a catastrophe. When Fox News abruptly fired Tucker Carlson, for example, the anchor found a new benefactor: Elon Musk, who offered him a show on X. It’s possible that someone like Musk—a right-leaning billionaire who purports to champion free speech—would be eager to take up Jones’s cause and effectively bail him out by purchasing the company and keeping Jones on its payroll. (Trump political consultant and longtime Jones ally Roger Stone, while not a billionaire, proposed putting together an investment group to buy Infowars in a tweet he posted at about 1:30 in the morning on Monday.)

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Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2024

Dallas woman tells Congress she had to leave Texas for medically necessary abortion

Lauren Miller and her husband were surprised to discover they were having twins with their second pregnancy but quickly dove into new plans and joked about the unexpected two-for-one deal. The Dallas couple was soon devastated by more shocking news when a 12-week ultrasound revealed one of the twins had serious abnormalities. Those abnormalities became more severe as the pregnancy continued, and doctors told her it was a question of when, not if, the boy would die, Miller told a U.S. Senate hearing.

Continuing without intervention would put the healthy twin and Miller at risk, she said, but when she asked about options, doctors would abruptly stop and tell her they couldn’t say more. After one ultrasound, Miller said, a frustrated doctor ripped off his gloves, threw them in the trash and spoke bluntly: “This baby isn’t going to make it to birth. I can’t help you. You need to leave the state.” Miller traveled to Colorado, where she was able to get an abortion. Miller shared her story Wednesday while testifying during a Senate hearing called by Democrats to promote legislation intended to protect abortion travel rights. Some cities and counties in Texas have moved to ban those seeking an abortion from traveling through their areas, although the legal basis and practicalities of enforcing such bans are murky. Democrats promoting federal legislation to protect abortion access have repeatedly cited the examples of Texas women who were denied medically necessary abortions, including Miller’s doctor, Austin Dennard, who had to leave the state for an abortion after learning her fetus had a severe, lethal birth defect.

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Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2024

Texas Republicans aid another rout of Democrats in annual congressional baseball game

When U.S. Rep. August Pfluger knocked the ball into center field in the final inning of Wednesday night’s congressional baseball game, his colleague, Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., couldn’t make the catch. The San Angelo Republican went for it, cruising around all the bases and sliding into home plate barely ahead of the throw. It was the Republican team’s last run in their 31-11 drubbing of the Democrats – the fourth straight GOP win in an annual contest that dates back to 1909. The game raises money for Washington charities and is intended to provide a bipartisan break from vitriolic battles on Capitol Hill. “Great game. Better cause,” state Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Midlothian, posted on X.

Third baseman Pfluger, right fielder Ellzey and catcher state Rep. Morgan Luttrell of Magnolia helped their side bury the Democrats. Pfluger also provided relief pitching late in the game. State Rep. Nathaniel Moran, R-Tyler, who had to sit out last year’s game after injuring himself in a scrimmage, came off the bench Wednesday and hit a double. State Rep. Greg Casar, D-Austin, recently claimed the title of fastest man in Congress by winning the annual Capital Challenge 3-mile race. He put that speed to use as a pinch runner, stealing several bases and scoring runs while wearing a University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners jersey. Pfluger and the other Texans put together a video to be played at the game honoring former President George H.W. Bush. Wednesday would have been Bush’s 100th birthday. They also introduced a resolution honoring Bush this week.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 14, 2024

How likely are the rolling blackouts ERCOT warned about?

As summer heats up and memories of last year’s streak of 105 degrees days come rushing back to North Texas residents, the idea of losing power in August may seem a bit frightening. Fears of that possibility popped up after Texas’ power grid operator ERCOT warned in a report published last week that it may have to force rolling blackouts as energy demand rises in August. ERCOT may need to order controlled outages during peak hours of energy consumption, which will be most likely at around 9 p.m. This, according to the report, is the time at which the power grid will be most vulnerable to low electricity generation from wind energy.

Rolling blackouts are not completely out of the realm of possibility, but they are unlikely, according to energy and power grid experts. Still, ERCOT is erring on the safe side. “They’re very conservative in terms of generation availability,” said Tom Seng, an assistant professor of professional practice in energy finance at TCU. “They look at worst case scenarios.” When crunching the numbers for its Monthly Outlook for Resource Adequacy report, ERCOT lowers its projected output capacity by as much as 10% just to be on the safe side, he said. Joshua Rhodes, a mechanical engineering researcher at UT Austin who focuses on the bulk energy system, agreed, saying that ERCOT has been “putting out more kind of extreme scenarios than they have in the past.” So while he did not completely rule out the possibility of rolling blackouts come August, he did say that they are not as likely as some headlines might make them seem.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 14, 2024

Fort Worth Mayor responds to Dallas high speed rail concerns

The future success of the Metroplex depends on regional partners working collaboratively especially when it comes to high speed rail, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said in a statement released Thursday. Parker’s comments came a day after the Dallas City Council unanimously passed a resolution withdrawing support for an above ground high speed rail connection between Dallas and Fort Worth. The connection would be the last leg of a route that could transport passengers from Houston to the Metroplex in as little as 90-minutes.

Dallas has expressed concerns that a proposed route would derail plans to renovate the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, and is asking for an economic impact study before lending support to the project. Dallas-based Hunt Realty Investments, which owns the Reunion Tower, has also expressed concerns about the project’s impact on a $5 billion renovation of 22 acres around the tower announced in 2023. The proposed route would travel above ground next to the existing railroad tracks before turning west just north of the Reunion Tower and running parallel the Interstate 30, according to a presentation at the May 13 meeting of the North-Central Texas Council of Government’s Regional Transportation Council. However, the economic feasibility of the project must take into consideration the impact on the entire route, not just Dallas, Parker said in her statement. “This is a regional decision that will require the stakeholders and elected officials to collaborate and solve complex problems for the advancement of our North Texas Region,” she said.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 14, 2024

Confusion, anger abound at meetings over zoning, land use changes around Toyota's South Side plant

Over the past few weeks, dozens of frustrated South Side landowners have packed into city planning and zoning meetings expressing confusion about proposed changes to land around Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas Inc.’s plant. Some have denounced moves they fear will restrict the use of their property, making it less attractive to potential buyers even as construction of homes, stores and restaurants on the South Side is accelerating. And some have questioned whether the city is pushing for the changes at the behest of Toyota because the move would essentially codify — while reducing — a buffer zone elected officials pitched to persuade the automaker to build its plant in 2006. It now employs more than 3,700 workers, while suppliers on its sprawling campus employ another 5,800.

“My concern is that I think Toyota is the one that runs the city of San Antonio,” Alfred Garcia told the Planning Commission at a meeting this week. The original deal, known as the “Starbright Agreement,” created a 3-mile zone to discourage residential construction and other uses Toyota considered incompatible with manufacturing. Critics have long contended it amounts to contract zoning, an illegal quid pro quo in which Toyota has authority over what’s built. The city’s new rezoning proposal reduces the zone to 2 miles. Confusion over why and what it means has led frustrated residents — many clutching notices they received in the mail — to pack commission meetings seeking clarification about the impacts on them and their families. Some said they tried calling the city for information, but to no avail. Would they have to leave their homes, they wondered? Can they continue farming? Can they build houses? Will the change affect the rural nature of their neighborhoods? Would their taxes go up?

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Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2024

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD considers changing its library materials policy to give conservative board the ultimate say

After voting to remove content from state-approved textbooks in May, the Cypress-Fairbanks school board is now considering overhauling its library collection policy to give trustees a first look at book title acquisitions and the final say on book challenges. Under a policy that could be voted on Monday, the conservative-majority board would receive a list of upcoming library acquisitions at least five days ahead of a public posting of those titles online for at least 30 days. Megan Culpepper, who served on the committee to review the suggested library policy, said the committee did not see this version of the policy slated for approval by the board. Culpepper said the paragraph giving "oversight and ultimate responsibility for the review, inclusion, and final reconsideration of library materials" to the board was added afterward the committee's final meeting in April and that there was no suggestion in the committee meetings that the board should have final power.

"Is the board aware that the unapproved revision to this paragraph could potentially override the formal reconsideration process developed by the library committee over the past year, and thereby render the entire process pointless?" Culpepper asked. Trustee Julie Hinaman, a lone dissenting voice who voted against the removal of textbook chapters in May, noted that a book could be removed from the acquisition list between the time the board receives the list and the time it is posted for the public. In a lengthy back-and-forth with General Counsel Marney Collins Sims, Hinaman questioned this aspect of the proposed policy. "So we trust the librarians to select appropriate books for our students, but, yet, we don't trust them enough such that we aren't going to pre-screen their list," Hinaman said. Sims, who added this language into the policy, responded there is no provision for a book to be removed from the list after trustees see it. She said she thought the board would appreciate having that list in case of questions from community members. Hinaman said she appreciated that intention from Sims, but countered, "Another intention that can be perceived is it's a pre-screening by the board."

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Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2024

As black water erupts from old oil well, rancher fears more are coming

Foul black water has erupted from another West Texas well in the same area as one that flowed toxic water for weeks and inspired a controversial no-fly zone in December. The latest well, discovered Saturday in northern Pecos County, is about 14 miles from the “unusual” Crane County well that raised eyebrows earlier this year. It’s roughly 5 miles from the so-called Lake Boehmer, the infamous ever-growing 60-acre body of poison water spewing from an old wildcat well. It’s the latest sign of trouble under the aging oil fields just north of Fort Stockton, where water under pressure can travel underground — at times carrying radioactive elements, chemicals and other oil field waste — until it finds the path of least resistance to the surface, often an unplugged well, and bursts to the surface.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, said crews have been at the site in Pecos County since Monday working to plug the orphaned oil well. “We are containing and removing the fluids and preparing to plug the well,” she said Thursday. The state is treading water with its list of more than 8,000 orphaned oil and gas wells, which are neglected wells left to rot by oil companies that have gone bankrupt or no longer exist. The commission’s crews are working steadily to plug orphan wells, yet the list is growing just as fast. Schuyler Wight, who owns the Pecos County property, said the latest well is just one of about 250 orphaned and neglected oil wells threatening to spring to life across his 20,000-acre cattle ranch. “You just never know when one’s fixing to fail,” he said. The Railroad Commission has plugged nine wells on his ranch this year, Wight said. Six of the nine were trickling out dirty water, but this one is the worst he’s seen on his property. “This one’s by far flowing more than all the others combined.”

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2024

House Republicans accuse ESG investors of working with activists as 'climate cartel'

House Republicans accused some of the nation’s largest financial institutions Wednesday of violating U.S. antitrust laws through a campaign to force oil and gas companies and other fossil-fuel industries out of business At a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Republicans said fund managers and pension funds were colluding with climate activists as a “climate cartel” to force U.S. companies to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels. “It’s restraint of trade. And it’s illegal because it drives up costs for consumers and the American people we represent,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “They’ll say it’s for a good cause, we’re going to save the planet. Never mind the cost of food is going to go up, the cost of fuel is going to go up.” The hearing was the latest in an ongoing debate over so-called ESG investing, an acronym for environmental, social, governance, through which investors seek to shift companies away from practices harming society, like greenhouse gas emissions.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 14, 2024

US Senate Democrats, Republicans unable to unify. Push to protect IVF fails.

U.S. Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked passage of a Democratic bill that would have established federal protections for in vitro fertilization, highlighting Congress' inability to unite around access to the decades-old procedure. The Right to IVF Act from Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., sought to bar states from adding "unreasonable limitations" and restrictions to IVF. It would also have required health insurers to pay for IVF treatment. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined the Democratic lawmakers in supporting the bill, but it fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance. The bill could come up for another vote in the future. Republicans have been pushing an alternative IVF bill sponsored by GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Katie Britt of Alabama. They sought unanimous consent to pass that bill Wednesday, but it was struck down by an objection from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who called it “a PR tool, plain and simple.”

The Cruz-Britt bill proposed to withhold Medicaid funding for states that enact an outright ban on IVF, but it would still allow for restrictions on IVF embryo storage and destruction. The failed Senate votes come as the Texas Supreme Court is weighing whether to hear a case that experts say could significantly affect in vitro fertilization access in a state where thousands of IVF babies are born annually. The plaintiff in the case is arguing that embryos are unborn children under the state’s new abortion bans and that custody proceedings should determine which parent has rights over frozen embryos. The IVF controversy exploded to the forefront of national debate in February after the conservative Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are “unborn children” under that state's wrongful death statutes. Three of Alabama's largest fertility clinics shut down after the court ruling and only reopened after state lawmakers relieved them of legal liability for embryo destruction or damage. Addressing the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Cruz said that "no state in the union is trying to ban IVF" while defending his bill, which prohibits state-level IVF bans.

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Associated Press - June 14, 2024

GOP women who helped defeat a near-total abortion ban are losing reelection in South Carolina

A near-total abortion ban was defeated in South Carolina with the help of the only three Republican women in the Senate, but after Tuesday’s primary, they’re losing their election bids. Voters handed the senators – and winners of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award for people who risk their careers for the greater good – two losses and a runoff after they joined with Democratic women to defeat the measure, saying a pregnant woman shouldn’t lose control of her body as soon as an egg is fertilized. But the state had only men in the Senate in 2012 and may end up without a single Republican woman in the chamber in 2025. There are just two Democratic women among the 46 members. “You can’t tell me that’s not a slap in the face of women,” said Sen. Katrina Shealy who is gearing up for a runoff. “Republican women lose like this over one issue when we fought so hard for other things.”

Voters on Tuesday went against a trend of having second thoughts about more restrictive abortion law. Statewide polling has indicated a near total ban doesn’t have wide support. But turnout was low and races were in Republican-drawn districts, where experts say voters tend to be more fervent about issues like abortion. The Republican women had forced a compromise, and the state eventually implemented a ban once cardiac activity is detected, typically around six weeks after conception. “It’s easier to fight mini battles than it is to take on a whole statewide war,” said Dave Wilson, a conservative political consultant who has worked with groups opposing abortion. “In the mini battles, voters can turn around and say they aren’t happy with the stance you took and the way you went about it. It doesn’t take a lot of them.” Abortion wasn’t the only reason Penry Gustafson lost, said her sole opponent, Allen Blackman, who believes life begins at conception. Gustafson had less than 20% of the vote in a freshly redrawn district that no longer included her base, and where constituents complained she didn’t solve their problems. Sen. Sandy Senn’s loss by just 31 votes to state Rep. Matt Leber is close enough for a recount, but those rarely alter a race by more than a few votes in South Carolina. The race was fraught with accusations. She posted signs with Leber’s mugshot, which he said were from inflated accusations that never led to convictions.

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CNN - June 14, 2024

Judge blocks Biden administration from enforcing new protections for LGBTQ+ students in 4 GOP-led states

A federal judge has blocked the Biden administration from enforcing new federal protections for LGBTQ+ students in four GOP-led states. The preliminary injunction issued Thursday by US District Judge Terry Doughty prevents the Biden administration from implementing the new protections – which are set to take effect August 1 – in Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and Idaho. The judge said that the order will remain in effect until the states’ lawsuit is resolved or a higher court permits enforcement of the new rules. CNN has reached out to the Education Department for comment on the judge’s ruling. The lawsuit is one of more than half a dozen challenging the new changes to Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal aid.

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Washington Post - June 14, 2024

Red states strike deals to show controversial conservative videos in schools

A privately funded effort to use disputed videos to teach conservative values in public schools is gaining traction, as Louisiana recently became the sixth state to endorse educational materials produced by Prager University. PragerU is not a university but a nonprofit that produces short videos that push patriotism and conservative views of history, race, sex and gender, among other topics. Since last year, Florida, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Montana and Arizona have also announced partnerships with PragerU under which the nonprofit’s lessons become state-sanctioned, optional teaching materials for public schools. PragerU is neither paying nor receiving money from state partners, the nonprofit and state officials said. The company and its supporters hail the moves as countering what they call left-leaning ideas in education. The half dozen partner states, said PragerU Chief Executive Marissa Streit, are just the beginning.

“We are pursuing every state in America,” she said. Opponents say materials produced by PragerU amount to right-wing indoctrination. “PragerU’s materials are hyperpartisan to the point of propaganda, inaccurate and incredibly substandard,” said Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association, a statewide teachers group. Arizona launched a PragerU partnership in January. PragerU, founded in 2009 by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager and screenwriter Allen Estrin, began by producing videos aimed at college students and expanded its offerings in 2021 to reach younger students. Its website says its goal is to counter “the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education” by promoting “American values.” Two of the most-watched videos on the “PragerU Kids” YouTube channel are a lesson on “Student Loans 101” and a cartoon-style retelling of the biblical story of David and Goliath that instructs children, “when God is on your side, you have nothing to fear.” Some of PragerU’s videos have drawn criticism for factual inaccuracies, especially for a fictionalized animated clip that portrays famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass defending the nation’s Founding Fathers’ support of slavery.

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NBC News - June 14, 2024

From hugs to guillotines, Trump's fundraising emails are a roller coaster

“You’re on my mind.” “Do you need a hug?” “I love you.” “They want to sentence me to death!” No, these aren’t increasingly desperate attempts at romance (albeit with a terrifying swerve at the end) from someone you met on a dating app. They are fundraising emails from Donald Trump. “It’s like a reading multiple-personality battery test. I’m not sure exactly what they’re aiming for,” said Democratic strategist Tim Lim. But for the Trump campaign, the answer is clear: “a personal feel.”

“The Trump campaign cares about supporters and every single American. President Trump’s supporters appreciate messages that have a personal feel, in addition to messages highlighting Crooked Joe Biden’s record of failure and weakness,” said Caroline Sunshine, the Trump campaign’s deputy communications director. Politicians (and scammers) have long leaned on emotional appeals to get people to part with their money. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee became the scourge of donors’ inboxes with frequent, dire fundraising emails like, “URGENT” and “We’re on the verge of the Dem-pocalypse,” beseeching loyal Democrats to give money before it was too late. Then-President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign helped bring the country to this point when it realized the effectiveness of casual subject lines that sounded like they were coming from a friend. Things like “Hey” and “I don’t usually email” raked in big bucks. But if Obama was your laid-back pal up for grabbing a cup of coffee, Trump’s vibe veers from intimacy to fear and back again. “You are the reason I wake up every morning. I love you to the moon and back, and I really mean that,” read a Trump email on May 3. “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me you love me too!” read another from April 26. And for people who want some legal drama, there was this one from May 3: “I’m in court right now. I only have a few minutes left for my lunch break and I’m using it to speak with you.”

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NPR - June 14, 2024

Bill Gates is going nuclear: How his latest project could power U.S. homes and AI

Artificial intelligence may come for our jobs one day, but before that happens, the data centers it relies on are going to need a lot of electricity. So how do we power them and millions of U.S. homes and businesses without generating more climate-warming gases? Microsoft founder, billionaire philanthropist and investor Bill Gates is betting that nuclear power is key to meeting that need — and he’s digging into his own pockets to try and make it happen. Gates has invested $1 billion into a nuclear power plant that broke ground in Kemmerer, Wyo., this week. The new facility, designed by the Gates-founded TerraPower, will be smaller than traditional fission nuclear power plants and, in theory, safer because it will use sodium instead of water to cool the reactor’s core. TerraPower estimates the plant could be built for up to $4 billion, which would be a bargain when compared to other nuclear projects recently completed in the U.S. Two nuclear reactors built from scratch in Georgia cost nearly $35 billion, the Associated Press reports. Construction on the TerraPower plant is expected to be completed by 2030.

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Newsclips - June 13, 2024

Lead Stories

Texas Observer - June 13, 2024

Ex-legislator faces investigation for possible violation of lobbying law he co-sponsored

A former legislator who chaired a powerful state House committee is under investigation by the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) for his alleged violations of a Texas revolving-door law that restricts lawmakers from leaving office to become lobbyists. The legislator under scrutiny is former Republican state Representative Chris Paddie, who resigned his East Texas seat in March 2022 to become a lobbyist and consultant for private sector interests. His departure came at the height of his power: As chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Paddie played a central role in the state’s response to the deadly electric grid failure in 2021. But his attempted career transition, a common one in Austin, was thwarted by a 2019 lobbying law that Paddie himself had co-sponsored, which bans departing legislators who contributed campaign funds to fellow lawmakers from lobbying in Texas for two years after their last donation. Before leaving office, Paddie made several campaign contributions to Republican House colleagues. In December 2022, Paddie registered as a lobbyist with the state and disclosed a list of clients—including Vistra, the state’s largest power company.

As the Texas Observer reported then, Paddie claimed he’d come into compliance with the revolving-door law because he had personally reimbursed his campaign for the roughly $50,000 in contributions he’d made to other lawmakers. He remained registered as a lobbyist until February 2023 when the TEC commissioners unanimously voted in favor of a legal opinion that Paddie was violating the law regardless of his personal reimbursement. “The Legislature was very clear that this was the behavior they were trying to prohibit and that there was no cure because the goodwill for the contribution, the benefit has already been received,” Randall Erben, the commission’s vice chair, said at the February meeting, according to the Houston Chronicle. Paddie terminated his registration the next day. Now, the TEC is investigating Paddie’s activities both in that three-month period from 2022 to 2o23 and over a longer 33-month period to determine whether he did engage in illegal lobbying. It’s a significant development for Paddie and the TEC, which is charged with enforcing the state’s notoriously weak ethics and lobbying laws. Rarely has the agency so aggressively pursued a politician for potential violations. TEC is investigating all of “Paddie’s activities to prepare for or conduct lobbying activities that violated the two-year bar under the revolving-door lobby law,” the agency has said. If Paddie is found to have violated the law, the commission could potentially fine him for as much as three times the amount he was paid to lobby. In court filings, Paddie said his clients paid him about $130,000 in the three-month span he was registered to lobby.

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Reuters - June 13, 2024

Golden Pass LNG construction turmoil to delay Texas plant's startup, analysts say

The startup of Golden Pass LNG, the QatarEnergy (QATPE.UL) and Exxon Mobil, opens new tab $11 billion joint venture liquefied natural gas project in Texas, has been delayed by at least six months due to construction turmoil, analysts said on Thursday. The project at the Sabine Pass site of a former gas-import terminal that was converted to process natural gas for LNG exports, is one of two large U.S. terminals whose startup had been expected to significantly expand supplies from the world's top exporter of the fuel in the next 12 months. Golden Pass LNG's startup, however, was thrown into doubt last month when lead contractor Zachry Holdings (ZHII.UL) filed for bankruptcy and quit the project. The plant was 75% complete and an updated completion schedule would be disclosed, Exxon then said.

On Wednesday, a regulatory filing on a pipeline that will deliver natural gas to the plant said the latest forecast for startup may be revised due to Zachry's bankruptcy, without providing a new date. The filing indicates "train one will be online by the end of June 2025, with trains two and three following in December 2025 and March 2026," analyst Zach Van Everen at energy investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt and Co wrote in a note published on Thursday. The first of three processing units was originally expected to begin processing this year, but was pushed back earlier this year into the first half of 2025. The full over 15 million metric tons per annum (MTPA) production was also initially set for 2025, Golden Pass LNG previously said. Golden Pass LNG had warned earlier in May of possible impacts on construction of the first three trains of the project. A company spokesman on Wednesday said he had no update on a revised completion schedule or whether the joint venture owners have identified a new engineering, procurement, and construction contractor. Exxon, which owns a 30% stake in the project, was not immediately available for comment.

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Washington Post - June 13, 2024

Trump, seeking to show unity, to meet with GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill

Former President Donald Trump will return to Washington on Thursday with the goal of uniting ideologically splintered House and Senate Republicans behind his policy and political agenda as they pivot to November and a possible GOP return to the White House in 2025. Trump is expected to tell House and Senate Republicans in separate gatherings Thursday that they must align and remain “forward focused on how Republicans can work together to advance policies to save America,” according to a Trump campaign official who, like others in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the private meetings, which will take place steps away from the Capitol. These will be Trump’s first meetings with GOP lawmakers since a jury found him guilty on all 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in his New York hush money case, making him the first former U.S. president convicted of a crime.

Since the guilty verdict last month, Republicans have largely fallen in line behind Trump, as he and President Biden continue to be locked in a tight race. It will also be Trump’s first public visit to Capitol Hill since the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, in which a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol complex to stop the certification of Biden’s 2020 victory. Though Trump was not at the Capitol that day, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, including his actions leading up to and during the attack, are at the heart of federal charges against him. Trump’s actions and words influenced several Republican lawmakers to publicly break from the former president and endorse other candidates in this year’s GOP presidential primary. Although many Republicans had previously bemoaned Trump’s sometimes erratic behavior and norm bashing, the electoral fates of those who broke with him — like former representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) — has not gone unnoticed by them. Only two of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot remain in Congress — Reps. Dan Newhouse (Wash.) and David G. Valadao (Calif.). Neither has endorsed Trump this cycle, and only Newhouse has said he will attend Thursday’s meeting.

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NBC News - June 13, 2024

Republican National Committee prepares for a convention Trump may not attend

Donald Trump is preparing for a scenario in which he will be unable to attend the Republican National Convention, a decision influenced in part by the possibility that he could be sentenced to home confinement after his historic conviction late last month. Preparations are being made at both Mar-a-Lago, his home in Florida, and in Milwaukee, the host city for the convention next month, should Trump either choose to make appearances from afar or be unable to attend, according to two sources familiar with the planning. “The campaign in conjunction with the RNC is planning an amazing convention program that will highlight the party and officially designate President Trump’s nomination,” senior adviser Brian Hughes said in a statement to NBC News. “President Trump will be featured as an active part of this official event and celebration of our pathway to victory in November.”

A New York jury found Trump guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records tied to a hush money payment to an adult film star during the 2016 campaign. His sentencing is set for July 11, just four days before the Republican convention. He faces a fine, probation or up to four years in prison per count; legal experts have mixed views about what punishment he is likely to receive, but home confinement remains an option. Trump has said he is “OK” with the idea that he could face jail time or house arrest. In case of potential house arrest, the Republican National Committee is already setting up convention-themed staging at Mar-a-Lago, along with a massive screen at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, where most convention activities will take place. “If you look at what has been released about the stage at our convention, it’s going to be the highest-tech stage ever,” a Republican operative who has toured the convention site said. “It will allow the campaign to utilize people not in Milwaukee to be projected into the hall.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 13, 2024

Conservative politics seeps into decision to remove vaccines, climate change from Cy-Fair textbooks

The former science coordinator at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD was “appalled” as she watched the conservative stronghold on the school board vote to remove 13 chapters from science, health and education textbooks last month, scrapping in just minutes countless hours of work done by both state and local textbook review committees. “Chapters are not independent entities. They're put in an order purposefully, and they build off of prior knowledge, and they reference information in prior areas,” said Debra Hill, who has 40 years of experience in science education. “It's like saying, ‘I'm going to take off the chapter on adding and subtracting, and we'll just skip ahead to multiplication.’”

One Cy Falls High School teacher, who served on the review committee for the earth systems course materials, has filed a grievance with the board that will be discussed at Thursday’s board workshop, according to information shared on social media by Trustee Julie Hinaman, the lone opposing vote on removing the chapters. Critics question whether students will get all the information the state intends -- and will test for -- in a last-minute effort to replace the materials. The earth science textbook had three entire chapters removed, titled, “Earth Systems and Cycles,” “Mineral and Energy Resources” and “Climate and Climate Change.” Other content removed from the textbooks included chapters on cultural diversity, vaccines, COVID-19 and climate change. Courses impacted include education, health science, biology and environmental science. Cy-Fair ISD's Chief Academic Officer Linda Macias assured board members when they made the vote in May that it would be possible for their curriculum staff to make these changes, even as the staff has been slashed in budget cuts for the 2024-2025 school year. But Hill isn’t so sure it will actually be possible for Cy-Fair teachers to teach the required Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills next year, she said. Creating a new curriculum is hard enough, and the district must also provide students with materials that pertain to every single science TEK, she said. Cy-Fair’s curriculum staff and other educators may be responsible for creating their own textbook pages to replace the ones that were deleted, a process that could take countless hours outside of instruction that could drive teachers from the profession altogether, she said.

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Houston Chronicle - June 13, 2024

Houston council passed a $7.3B budget. Here's what it means for trash, drainage and public safety

The Houston City Council approved a $7.3 billion budget Wednesday, paving the way for more spending on drainage projects in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, more police officers and a new program to improve heavy trash pick up services. The budget is up $1.1 billion over last year and leaves the city with a $192 million deficit after council members added new spending measures just before the vote, Finance Director Melissa Dubowski said. The budget does not include new taxes or fees proposed by Mayor John Whitmire. More changes could be in store as the council will address proposals to implement a trash fee and examine the maximum hours the city pays its terminated employees in upcoming meetings. “There’s no such thing as a perfect budget,” Whitmire said ahead of the 15-2 to pass vote.

The votes against the budget came from Council Member Edward Pollard and Tiffany D. Thomas. Pollard told the council he was concerned the budget wasn’t bringing enough new tax revenue given the city's growing financial challenges. “We’re going to have to start to become much more serious about our spending trends … because all we’re doing is enlarging our structurally unbalanced budget,” Pollard said. Thomas told the Chronicle after the meeting that she had concerns about the city’s $650 million settlement with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, and the hole it could blow in the budget next year. Controller Chris Hollins did not certify the money to pay the agreement due to a range of questions, prompting a standoff with Whitmire. The mayor is urging the council to take swift action to avoid having the agreement expire. The council did, however, vote to certify the bond debt that rely on taxpayer money to pay off the deal over the next 25 to 30 years, assuming it wins final council approval. The council approved the debt 14-3 with Pollard, Thomas and Council Member Mary Nan Huffman voting in opposition.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 13, 2024

Johnson family reacts to homicide ruling in Tarrant jail death

Jacqualyne Johnson said getting the news that the Tarrant County medical examiner ruled her son’s death in the Tarrant County Jail a homicide was like him dying again. It was the family’s first public statement since the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office released the autopsy results on Friday ruling Anthony Johnson Jr’s death a homicide by asphyxiation. On the doorstep of the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in downtown Fort Worth on Tuesday, the family’s attorney Daryl Washington said he is confident that criminal charges are coming as a result of that ruling. He expects that by the end of June, Lt. Joel Garcia and jailer Rafael Moreno will face indictments from a Tarrant County grand jury, based on conversations he’s had with authorities and the evidence he’s seen.

Johnson became unresponsive and died after Moreno put his knee on the 31-year-old inmate’s back after he had been pepper-sprayed, restrained and handcuffed by corrections officers in the county jail on April 21, partial video of the altercation shows. While face down on the ground, Johnson could be heard saying that he couldn’t breathe. The ruling of mechanical and chemical asphyxiation means the medical examiner found that the use of force and pepper spray contributed to Johnson’s suffocation. The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office has said that Johnson resisted jailers’ orders during a routine contraband check of his cell, but his family contends that video of the altercation shows the opposite. The released footage of the altercation includes two sets of video, one from a security camera across the pod from Johnson’s cell and another from a cell phone recorded by Garcia, who was the commanding officer. The security camera footage is grainy, but Johnson’s family has said that it shows that he was not resisting jailers when the struggle began.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 13, 2024

Fort Worth Botanic Garden cancels True Texas Project event

The True Texas Project will have to find another venue for its 15th birthday. It had advertised its celebration for July 12 at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden but on Tuesday the garden said in a Facebook post that the event would not be there. The Garden “celebrates the diversity of our community and rejects all forms of hate speech, discrimination, or bigotry,” its post read. A spokesperson declined to comment because the Garden’s CEO was unavailable.

The decision followed a story posted Tuesday morning by the Texas Tribune that outlined the event’s agenda, which included sessions on “Multiculturalism & The War On White America” and “Great Replacement Theory.” The Texas Tribune also reported that Don Huffines, who runs the conservative think tank Huffines Liberty Foundation and was listed as a keynote speaker for the event, pulled out following its report. Julie McCarty, CEO and founder of the True Texas Project, formally the NE Tarrant Tea Party, did not respond to a request for comment. The True Texas Project was added to national list of extremist groups in 2022. True Texas Project has previously hosted Tarrant County leaders at events including last year, when County Judge Tim O’Hare, District Attorney Phil Sorrells and Sheriff Bill Waybourn talked about the election integrity unit at a North Richland Hills church.

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Fort Worth Report - June 13, 2024

Dallas throws up roadblock to high-speed rail to Arlington, Fort Worth

Dallas City Council members hit the brakes on a proposed elevated high-speed passenger rail line that would connect with Arlington and Fort Worth. The council, including Mayor Eric Johnson, approved a resolution 14-0, with council member Jaime Resendez absent. The June 12 action pauses the project for at least four months as city officials conduct a long-range economic impact study to determine the effects of the rail project in the Central Business District. Council member Jesse Moreno said there are still many unanswered questions about the project, currently proposed to run along the Interstate 30 corridor. “This is a critical part of downtown Dallas,” he said, adding that the city is investing major funding for downtown projects such as the expansion of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

In their resolution, council members said, “the City Council does not support construction of any above ground passenger rail lines through downtown and adjacent areas aside from streetcar projects.” Furthermore, the resolution states that the council “will reconsider the Dallas to Fort Worth high speed rail alignment upon completion of the economic impact study.” The council’s pause in the rail project evoked memories of transportation disputes between Dallas and Fort Worth that have lingered for more than 100 years. Conflict arose starting in 1876 when Fort Worth residents rallied to bring the Texas & Pacific rail line to town. Since then, the two cities have bickered over similar conflicts involving the construction of Interstate 35 east and west as well as with the creation of the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Concerns about the high-speed rail project first surfaced at the December 2023 Regional Transportation Council meeting, the independent transportation policy group of the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens, who chairs the Regional Transportation Council, said she wasn’t bothered by the Dallas resolution.

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KUT - June 13, 2024

UT Austin, one of the city's largest employers, is eliminating most remote work

UT Austin will require "almost all" staff members to return to working on-site, full-time ahead of the fall semester. In an email to the campus community Wednesday, UT President Jay Hartzell said leaders of individual colleges and schools will finalize logistics by early July, and the policy will fully take effect by Aug. 19 — the week before fall classes start. "Staff members can most effectively serve our students, faculty, fellow staff members, and other stakeholders when working together in an environment that fosters collaboration, innovation, availability, and reliability," Hartzell said in the email. "We are here because of our students, and your consistent presence will help provide a more complete and engaging learning experience for students throughout campus."

Some roles will still be eligible for remote or hybrid work based on what department leaders decide. Hartzell didn't share specifics, but said the roles "will be characterized by observable productivity; work that is transactional, internal, or service related; or functions that require high levels of individual time to perform." Mike Rosen, a spokesperson for UT Austin, said in an email that "certain accounting, payroll, or IT positions" could be examples of jobs eligible for hybrid or remote work. Rosen said UT Austin doesn't have a tally of how many staff members the new policy will affect, but that many employees have already returned to full-time, in-office work. UT Austin has 21,000 faculty and staff members, according to its LinkedIn profile. That makes it one of the largest employers in the area, according to data from the Austin Chamber of Commerce. KUT staff are also employees of UT Austin.

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KUT - June 13, 2024

Alamo Drafthouse, an Austin institution, is bought by Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures Entertainment has bought Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for an undisclosed amount, the two companies jointly announced Wednesday. Sony will continue to operate 35 Alamo Drafthouse theaters in 25 metro areas, per a news release. The dine-in movie theater was founded in Austin by husband and wife duo Tim and Karrie League back in 1997. “We are beyond thrilled to join forces with Sony Pictures Entertainment to expand our company vision to be the best damn cinema that has ever, or will ever, exist now in ways we could only ever dream of,” Tim League said in a statement. “They have a deep respect and understanding of cinema’s ability to both drive growth and create lasting cultural impact which aligns perfectly with everything Alamo Drafthouse stands for. It's unclear what the acquisition means exactly for Austin theaters.

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KUT - June 13, 2024

Rents in the Austin area have been falling for a year

To draw the picture of Austin rent prices over the past several years is to trace a dizzying mountain — up, up, up. And then a slope. A small slope, but a slope. Down. Not up. For the past year, the average price of rent in the Austin area has been falling. Rent prices have decreased by about 6% year over year. The average monthly rent is now $1,528 for an apartment any size, down $100 a month from last year. According to data from Zillow, this is the longest sustained drop in rent prices in the past decade. “It’s bad for landlords and it's great for tenants,” said Jake Wegmann, a real estate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “We should be happy about this.” The cause? A surge in apartment building and a drop in the number of people moving to the area.

“During the pandemic we saw all of this demand and developers said, ‘We need to build,’” said Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, a company that tracks home construction data. Tens of thousands of people moved to Austin in the early years of the pandemic. Many could work from home, while others could afford to leave shared living situations and look for their own apartments. In response, rent prices rose at an incredible pace. To developers this indicated a need: more homes. In 2022, developers started building about 40,000 new apartments, more than they had in any subsequent year. While the population surge that defined Austin in 2020 and 2021 has since slowed, tens of thousands of new apartments are still opening. That’s because of the nature of construction; typically, several years pass between breaking ground on a new building and opening apartments to renters. What typically happens when developers start building a significant number of new rental homes is that prices drop, Wegmann said, but often only among the most expensive apartments. But there are so many new apartments in Austin that prices are falling across a spectrum of buildings, from apartment complexes with gyms and pools to buildings built half a century ago and beset with much-needed repairs.

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Associated Press - June 13, 2024

Frontier Communications hit with class action suit in Texas after massive data breach

Dallas-based telecommunications company Frontier Communications Parent was hit with a class action lawsuit after a data breach compromised the information of more than 750,000 people — including 88,000 Texans. A data security breach report filed with the Texas Attorney General's Office shows the types of information compromised includes people's names, addresses, social security numbers and dates of birth. Frontier serves more than 1.7 million residential and commercial customers across 25 states. The company did not respond to requests for comment. Court documents allege "unusual activity" was detected on Frontier's computer system on April 14. An investigation later revealed an unauthorized party had access to certain company files a day earlier.

Frontier filed an official notice to the Office of the Maine Attorney General on June 6. Frontier also sent letters to customers whose information was compromised on or about June 6, according to court documents. The data breach was posted to the Texas Attorney General's website Monday. Texas law requires businesses and organizations experiencing a data breach affecting 250 or more Texans to report to the Office of the Texas Attorney General, "as soon as practicably possible and no later than 30 days after the discovery of the breach." The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Northern District Court of Texas in Dallas, alleges Frontier customers were and continue to be at significant risk of identity theft and various other forms of personal, social, and financial harm for their respective lifetimes. The suit also alleges Frontier failed to comply with industry standards and Federal Trade Commission guidelines, which highlight the need for data security in all business decisions. "Frontier was at all times fully aware of its obligation to protect the Private Information of its customers yet failed to comply with such obligations," according to the lawsuit.

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Dallas Morning News - June 13, 2024

UT Dallas protesters in legal limbo, banned from campus, degrees withheld

After Mousa Najjar’s name was called during a May graduation ceremony, he stopped in the middle of the stage in front of the audience, raising a Palestinian flag with the words “divest from death” written on it. He was escorted out of the ceremony soon after by a University of Texas at Dallas administrator and, later, off campus by police officers. The 22-year-old computer science major was told by officers that he couldn’t be on school grounds because he was violating his bond conditions. Nearly a month later, he has yet to receive his diploma. Najjar is among the 21 people arrested during a pro-Palestinian protest at UTD on May 1 who remain in legal — and academic — limbo weeks later. Collin County officials have not dropped criminal trespassing charges, according to the attorneys representing the protesters.

“I’m paralyzed with my options,” said Najjar, who was planning on applying to graduate school. Now he’s unsure what’s next as the status of the legal case is unclear and his transcripts and degree are being withheld. Bill Wirskye, first assistant in the at Collin County district attorney’s office, said the UTD cases are pending and he could not comment further. Those arrested during the May 1 protest — including students, faculty and people unaffiliated with the university — were released on bail and personal bond conditions that included restricted access to the school. When Najjar attended his May 15 graduation, he expected the ceremony to be his last activity on campus. He said he didn’t receive clarity on what counted as a class-related activity but noted the ceremony for computer science majors included his name and a set time slot for him to go up on the stage. John Walls, vice president for communications at UTD, said in a statement that Najjar disrupted the ceremony and was asked to leave. “Once outside, he was asked to leave campus based on the university’s understanding of his bond conditions,” the statement read.

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Dallas Morning News - June 13, 2024

Federal judge blocks expanded background checks for gun sales in Texas, 3 other states

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the enforcement of federal regulations that require gun sellers — including individuals and those at gun shows and flea markets — to conduct background checks in Texas and three other states. The preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, appointed by former President Donald Trump, stops the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from enforcing new rules expanding background checks before firearm purchases. “I’m proud to fight and win for our Second Amendment rights,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose lawsuit to block the rule was joined by Louisiana, Mississippi and Utah. Kacsmaryk’s ruling was limited to Texas and the three states, plus gun rights groups that were also plaintiffs.

The ATF’s new rules, Kacsmaryk wrote in a 21-page order, misinterpreted a law President Joe Biden signed in 2022 after a string of high-profile mass shootings that year, including the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead. Federally licensed gun dealers are required to search national databases to determine if prospective buyers are prohibited from buying firearms. As the federal agency responsible for regulating gun sales, the ATF said the 2022 law also covered purchases made at gun shows, flea markets, gun ranges, by mail order and over the internet. The rules also said a seller should become licensed if they meet criteria such as repeatedly selling guns of the same make. In addition, a single transaction can require a license if there is other evidence of commercial activity, such as a seller offering additional guns for sale. In his ruling, Kacsmaryk said the rules contained requirements that were not included in the 2022 law, putting gun sellers at risk of prosecution.

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Dallas Morning News - June 13, 2024

$425 million expansion at UT McCombs School of Business in Austin moves ahead

A massive undertaking at the University of Texas at Austin is officially underway with the demolition of a key building. The $425 million development of new undergraduate facility Miriam and James J. Mulva Hall will catalyze the creation of what the university has dubbed a “business neighborhood,” with about 25% of the school’s student body set to take classes in the forthcoming facility. Demolition of the Dobie Garage at Whitis Avenue and 20th Street in Austin began this week, making way for what will be one of the tallest buildings on the UT campus at 17 stories. With designs from Perkins&Will’s Dallas studio, the tower will span 373,000 square feet and will feature 29 classrooms, including a 200-person auditorium and three specialty education labs with enhanced technology. Classrooms will average 65 seats.

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Houston Chronicle - June 13, 2024

Texas legislator considers statewide expansion of law abolishing Harris County's elections office

A Texas state legislator who chairs the House elections committee is considering removing top election officials in counties across the state, expanding a controversial new law abolishing the Harris County elections office. Under SB1750, a law authored by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, the Texas Legislature last year forced Harris County to return duties for overseeing elections back to the two elected positions that ran them until Commissioners Court voted in 2020 to create an appointed administrator. At a Texas House Elections Committee hearing on Wednesday, Committee Chair Reggie Smith, R-Sherman, raised the question of whether they should broaden the law moving forward to apply to more counties. The next legislative session won't convene until January 2025, but lawmakers are holding interim committee hearings over the summer to monitor key issues and prepare for the year ahead.

Committee members on Wednesday questioned Christina Adkins, director of the Texas Secretary of State's elections division, and Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth about how the law has been implemented since going into effect last September. Hudspeth took over election duties, while Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett assumed responsibility for voter registration. Adkins said her office has observed steady improvements in Harris County with Hudspeth at the helm. More than half of Texas' 254 counties have appointed elections administrators, but SB1750 applies only to counties with a population greater than 3.5 million. Harris County is the only county of that size. Smith asked Adkins on Wednesday whether lawmakers should consider lowering the population bracket, which would make the law apply to more counties. "Do we have some other counties around the state that are having issues that are analogous to what was going on with Harris County that would benefit from some attention on the part of SB1750?" Smith said. Adkins said other large counties in Texas have elections administrators, like Harris County used to, and that they tend to have more reported problems than smaller counties.

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KXAN - June 13, 2024

How long may Operation Lone Star last?

The Texas Senate’s Committee on Border Security heard testimony from state and local officials regarding their border enforcement efforts Tuesday morning, part of the upper chamber’s work to monitor the implementation of new laws before the next legislative session begins in January. Among key questions on current priorities and the efficacy of recent laws, senators probed the sustainability of Operation Lone Star – Texas’ unilateral efforts to patrol the border, fortify barriers, and station state troops in what they describe as negligence from the Biden administration. The operation has cost more than $11 billion. “If we maintain current funding and the administration in Washington does not change, Director, how long can we do this,” State Sen. Brian Birdwell, the chair of the Senate Border Security Committee, asked DPS Director Steve McCraw. “We’ll do it as long as we’re instructed to do, plain and simple,” McCraw responded.

Director McCraw told Nexstar after his testimony that his department will need to hire more troopers in order to keep up with the combined demand of Operation Lone Star and typical public safety needs elsewhere in the state. “The bottom line is, everywhere you put a trooper, it’s safer. And everywhere you take a trooper from is going to be less safe… it’s Law Enforcement Physics 101,” he said. “With an ever-growing state… 287,000 miles of area to cover and 313,000 miles of roadway, we need more troopers. We need more special agents and we need more Texas Rangers.” “A lot of it has to do with money,” Sen. Birdwell said. He alluded to the possibility of a reduction in the state budget, at which point “the legislature will have some very difficult decisions” as it relates to Operation Lone Star. The implication: inevitably, lawmakers will either need to scale back the operation or find the money from other areas. Jessie Fuentes, an Eagle Pass native who sued Gov. Abbott last year over the state’s buoy barriers in the Rio Grande, testified against the state’s actions. “It’s a failed policy. And at what cost? We don’t have access to our park. Now, there’s an 80 acre military base there,” Fuentes told Nexstar. “There’s millions of dollars being invested, but I’d rather have it spent on infrastructure. I’d rather spend on health care, on education, on learning institutions, instead of housing soldiers.”

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Chron - June 13, 2024

Houston energy company to build largest new refinery in half a century

A Houston company will construct the largest new refinery in the last 50 years in Brownsville, Texas. Element Fuel Holdings LLC is spending between $3 and $4 billion on the project, which will produce more than 160,000 barrels per day of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from shale oil production, according to a report by the Houston Business Journal. "Since no one's built a refinery in 50 years, there's probably a better way to do it. Let's optimize it," Element Fuels founder and co-CEO John Calce told the business outlet.

The refinery will be located in the Port of Brownsville and constructed in three phases. The first construction phase includes building a naphtha hydrotreater and reformer, which is expected to be operational by 2027. Element will also build a power plant that uses hydrogen and natural gas to produce energy and include carbon capture and storage to reduce the facility's carbon footprint. Element Fuels told the Houston Business Journal that it intends to produce enough hydrogen to supply all the refinery's power needs, significantly reducing the refinery's emissions compared to older refineries that run on diesel. The Houston-based firm said that in its second phase, it will also add a crude distillation unit and diesel hydrotreater. In its third phase, the refinery will investigate using excess hydrogen and carbon dioxide to make biofuels.

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County Stories

Click2Houston - June 13, 2024

Fort Bend Co. Commissioner candidate arrested on felony online impersonation charges

A man running for public office in Fort Bend County has been arrested with concerning charges. An investigation by the Texas Rangers led to the arrest of a political candidate for Precinct 3 Commissioner, 30-year-old Taral Patel. He is being charged with online impersonation, a third-degree felony, as well as a Class-A misdemeanor charge of misrepresentation of identity. He is currently being held on a $20,000 bail for the felony charge and a $2,500 bail for the misdemeanor. According to Patel’s campaign website, the democratic candidate has political experience at both the local and national level, even serving as a White House liaison under current U.S. President Joe Biden. The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the arrest to KPRC 2, although they specified that they are not leading the investigation. We asked them to define “online impersonation” as it relates to this case, and we’ll provide updates when we receive further updates.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 13, 2024

What Tarrant’s GOP & Democratic chairs told Arlington NAACP

The leaders of Tarrant County’s Republican and Democratic parties talked abortion, jail deaths and election integrity at a political forum Tuesday hosted by the Arlington branch of the NAACP. The event took place at the Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church with a conversation between GOP chair Bo French and Democrat Crystal Gayden, moderated by Jason E. Shelton, professor of sociology and director of the center for African American studies at UT Arlington. The forum was advertised as “neighbors engaged in good conversation,” and the phrase held true, for the most part. Democrats in the crowd were the most vocal — clapping, booing and laughing while French spoke, to the point that the crowd needed to be reminded of “decorum.” Despite the reactions, French and Gayden remained friendly, even cracking jokes between their responses.

When asked about the recent jail deaths, French opted not to get into specifics at the Tarrant County jail but broadened the question. “When you talk about people dying in jail, this actually kind of goes on not just inside of jail, but outside of jail. We have a problem in our country where people don’t respect other people, and they don’t respect laws, and they don’t respect police,” French said. “This is not a racial thing, it is a societal thing. And I think we have a breakdown in our society where people don’t understand how to be a member of the civil society.” French said that there are examples of people of all races not respecting law enforcement. “You can get on YouTube and watch videos all day long — white people, Black people, Mexican people, whatever race you want to call it, getting shot by the police or beat up by the police because they’re not listening to the police,” French said. “I think if people had more respect for the authorities, we’d have fewer accidents.” Gayden’s response focused on Tarrant County’s jail and the need for expanded mental health services. She also said there needs to be accountability for the recent deaths, such as Anthony Johnson Jr. in April.

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KSAT - June 13, 2024

Bexar County DA Gonzales defends $9K per year car allowance, despite routinely being driven by security detail

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales has continued to collect a $9,000 yearly car allowance despite repeatedly being driven around by members of his security detail, public records and footage gathered by KSAT Investigates show. The allowance, which amounts to around $750 a month, has been in place since Gonzales took office in 2019, meaning he has collected around $50,000 since being sworn in nearly five and a half years ago, records show. Gonzales defended accepting the money in a tense interview with KSAT last month, saying there is no county rule that regulates or prohibits the amount of executive protection he has. Over several weeks, beginning on March 4, KSAT Investigates repeatedly captured footage of Gonzales arriving to work at the Bexar County Justice Center while being driven by members of his security detail.

KSAT did not see Gonzales driving himself in his personal vehicle at any point until shortly after we reached out for an interview for this story. A DA spokesman and attorneys claiming to serve as legal counsel to Gonzales have all told KSAT that threats against the DA’s life have required him to be driven by his executive security detail from time to time. None of the individuals, however, have addressed the DA’s decision to continue collecting the car allowance for periods of time when he is not driving. As of April 1, Gonzales was among 39 employees of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office eligible for a car allowance, public records show. A vast majority of the employees on the list work as DA investigators. Gonzales is the only employee eligible for a car allowance who earns an annual salary of over $100,000, the records show.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 13, 2024

Woman stole mortuary van with body inside: Fort Worth police

A dead person was on Tuesday night taken on a circuitous journey after leaving a Fort Worth hospital when a woman stole the van in which the corpse was being transported, police said. An employee of a mortuary service arrived in a van at John Peter Smith Hospital to retrieve a body. The driver parked the van, in which there already was a body, in the ambulance bay and went into the hospital. About 7 p.m., while the driver was inside the building, Valerie Traglor-Ellis got into the van and drove off, Fort Worth police said. Traglor-Ellis steered the van and body to the Fort Worth Zoo, in the 2600 block of Park Place Avenue, where she left the vehicle, police said. Officers found Traglor-Ellis, 35, a short time later and took her into custody on suspicion of auto theft and abuse of corpse. The van and body were released to the mortuary service driver.

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National Stories

Wall Street Journal - June 13, 2024

Elon Musk’s boundary-blurring relationships with women at SpaceX

When Elon Musk personally contacted a former SpaceX engineering intern to discuss a role on his executive staff in 2017, the woman spoke with excitement to her friends about a high-profile problem-solving role at the rocket company, a dream for someone a few years out of college. She and Musk had met years earlier during her internship, when she was still in college. She’d approached him with ideas for improving SpaceX. Her outreach had led to a date, which led to a kiss, and eventually sex, she told friends. The year after her internship, the billionaire had the fresh college graduate flown out to a resort in Sicily, before they ended things, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Musk, who is more than 20 years her senior, attempted to restart their relationship but she rejected his advance. They remained close as she tried to establish herself in the new job. He texted her often and invited her to come over to his Los Angeles mansion at night on multiple occasions. Sometimes she accepted his invitations, but friends said she told them at the time that his behavior made her job harder.

She eventually moved off Musk’s executive team, according to friends she told and to people familiar with her time at SpaceX. The woman left the company in 2019. Her lawyers, who also represent Musk, provided the Journal with two affidavits signed by the woman. The affidavits disputed some aspects of the Journal’s reporting but confirmed many others, including that she had a romantic relationship with Musk in the past. She said she invited him to dinner near the end of her summer internship and broke things off the following year. She said at no point during employment at SpaceX from 2017 to 2019 was there any “romantic relationship” with Musk. “Nothing that Elon Musk did towards me during either of my periods of employment at SpaceX was predatory or wrongful in any way,” the woman said. She is one of several female employees at SpaceX who have told friends, family, or the company itself, that Musk showed them an unusual amount of attention or pursued them. One woman, a SpaceX flight attendant, alleged that in 2016 Musk exposed himself to her and offered to buy her a horse in exchange for sex acts. Another woman who left the company in 2013 alleged in exit negotiations with SpaceX human resources and legal executives that Musk had asked her to have his babies.

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Reuters - June 13, 2024

Musk says Tesla shareholders voting yes for his $56 billion pay package

Tesla shareholders are voting to approve a $56 billion pay package for Elon Musk and to move the electric vehicle maker's legal home to Texas, the CEO said on social media on Wednesday, adding that passage was by wide margins, opens new tab. "Thanks for your support!!" Musk said in his post on X. Overwhelming shareholder approval of the largest remuneration terms in U.S. corporate history could allay investor concerns about Musk's future at the company, while giving the electric carmaker ammunition in its fight to reverse a court decision to void the pay package. Tesla shares were up 6.6% in premarket trading on Thursday after rising 3.9% a day before the shareholder meet.

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Tribune News Service - June 13, 2024

Challenger Mucarsel-Powell surges in US Senate poll, closing in on Rick Scott

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., is in a tighter-than-expected contest with his leading Democratic challenger, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. A Florida Atlantic University Poll released Wednesday shows Scott with support from 45% of likely voters. Mucarsel-Powell has 43%. Effectively that’s a tie, within the survey’s margin of error. The contest between Scott and Mucarsel-Powell is much tighter — a difference of just 2 percentage points among likely voters — than it was in FAU’s last statewide poll in April. Scott had support of 53% of likely voters in the previous poll, 17 points ahead of Mucarsel-Powell’s 36%. “In April, a lot of people didn’t know who Mucarsel-Powell was. Her name recognition has improved considerably. With that, the support for her has improved,” said Kevin Wagner, an FAU political scientist.

“If that trend line holds it suggests that it could be a competitive race,” he said, adding that it is still early to make that assessment. “It’s still June, so we’ll see how that turns out.” Wagner is also co-director of FAU’s PolCom Lab, a collaboration of the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies and Department of Political Science, which conducted the poll. Scott’s reelection contest hasn’t garnered as much attention as other key U.S. Senate races from national political prognosticators, given Florida’s increasingly Republican leanings. Democrats had a voter registration advantage when he was first elected to the Senate in 2018; now Republicans are far ahead of Democrats. And Scott is the wealthiest member of the U.S. Senate, with an estimated net worth of $300 million. He has shown in previous races — including two successful campaigns for Florida governor — that he is willing to spend his own money on his political efforts. Expand article logo Continue reading Mucarsel-Powell, who served one term in Congress before she was defeated in 2020, isn’t especially well known statewide. She’s the leading Democratic candidate, but faces an August primary.

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The Hill - June 13, 2024

Republicans vote to hold Garland in contempt of Congress

House Republicans voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress after he declined to turn over subpoenaed audio of President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur. The 216-207 vote is a win for the House GOP, after numerous members privately voiced concern over backing the measure, leaving the Republican priority lingering for nearly a month. With Republicans’ razor-thin House majority, they could afford to lose only two votes if every member was present. Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) was the lone GOP “no” vote.

Republicans already have the transcript of the conversation, and while the president discussed no items relevant to their impeachment investigation, the GOP has nonetheless connected the issue to their probe. House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) kicked off debate Wednesday by accusing the Justice Department of trying “to cover up President Biden’s wrongdoing.” They also see the audio as a vehicle for exploring Hur’s comments that Biden had a poor memory. Democrats meanwhile argued the move was an effort to aid an imploding impeachment probe, with Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) calling Garland “collateral damage for [this] failed effort to impeach the president of the United States.” While the vote makes for a formal censure of Garland, it’s unlikely to yield any tangible results. Such measures serve as referrals to the Justice Department, which must then weigh whether they merit prosecution.

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The Hill - June 13, 2024

Teamsters president keeps Democrats, GOP on their toes

President Biden and former President Trump are gunning for an endorsement from the Teamsters union, but the labor organization is keeping the presumptive nominees on their toes. The Teamsters president has asked to speak to both parties at their national conventions, a spokesperson confirmed to The Hill — a rare move as suspense builds over to whom the influential group will throw its support. The pro-labor community is confused by the Teamsters’ request. Many see Biden and Democrats as the natural choice, noting the president’s record in the White House. Fears that leaders may back Trump have also grown as polling shows a consistently close race less than five months until Election Day. “It’s going back to a time when the Teamsters endorsed Nixon,” said one labor movement leader in a swing state.

President Sean O’Brien’s request to appear at the marquee events for both Democrats and Republicans — a development that was first reported on by The New York Times — has challenged conventional wisdom that the major unions would ultimately back Biden. “I don’t think he likes Trump,” said the union organizer about O’Brien. “It’s more we all see the competition model as vital to getting the Democrats to do the right thing.” “And if the Republicans want to help, we are welcoming it and building bridges,” the source added. A spokesperson for the Teamsters said they typically wait until after the conventions to make a formal endorsement. Still, O’Brien’s desire to address opposing crowds is notable. “It’s not that often that a union president asks to speak at both conventions,” said Bob Bussel, director of the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon.

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NBC News - June 13, 2024

South Florida residents told to steer clear of 'life-threatening' flooding

Torrential rains pounded South Florida on Wednesday as officials warned residents to steer clear of "life threatening flooding" in some of the state's most populous regions. The National Weather Service in Miami urged residents to stay indoors, off the roads and away from dangerous moving waters. Flood warnings for parts of four South Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, will continue until 8 a.m. Thursday. The downpour is complicating air travel in and out of the region. Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport told would-be travelers that its entrances and exits were flooded.

As of Wednesday evening, 284 flights out of or into that airport had been canceled. At Miami International Airport, the number of cancellations was a combined 326, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. “Started at 9:30, got bumped to 12:30, got bumped to 3:30, got bumped to 6:30. I’m going to miss all my connection flights, and I’m stuck here with like a foot of rain falling down,” a traveler told NBC South Florida. The Florida Highway Patrol shut down part of southbound Interstate 95 in Broward County on Wednesday afternoon, officials said. First responders in Hollywood, near Fort Lauderdale, rushed to trapped motorists late Wednesday afternoon. "We are receiving calls of some people who are stuck in vehicles they've driven in the flooded roads," city spokesperson Joann Hussey told NBC South Florida.

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CNN - June 13, 2024

Biden leads new drive to cement the West’s Ukraine war effort against Putin – and Trump

President Joe Biden is leading the world’s richest democracies in sending a beefed-up message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the West will not forsake Ukraine despite political shocks casting doubts over its commitment. Biden meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Italy on the sidelines of the G7 summit Thursday, aiming to personally reinforce a promise he spelled out last week on Normandy battlefields where fascism began to crack 80 years ago. “We will not walk away, because if we do, Ukraine will be subjugated and it will not end there,” Biden said surrounded by the last surviving US veterans of D-Day and the graves of more than 9,000 of their fallen comrades. “Ukraine’s neighbors will be threatened. All of Europe will be threatened. … The autocrats of the world are watching closely to see what happens in Ukraine.”

Yet Biden’s undertaking will come up against growing concerns in Europe that he will merely be an interregnum between two Donald Trump administrations. The ex-president’s term that ended in 2021 shattered decades-old certainties that the United States will be a stabilizing force in transatlantic affairs and will always secure Europe’s security. And the “autocrats of the world” name checked by Biden will no doubt be watching on Thursday when Trump demonstrates his lock on the Republican Party by meeting GOP House members and senators on Capitol Hill. The show of authority will take place two weeks after Trump became the first former president to be convicted of a crime and less than five months before the presumptive Republican nominee will ask voters to return him to the White House. Biden’s emotional, political and diplomatic investment in Ukraine cannot be questioned and will be the foundation of his presidential legacy. But uncertainty over the West’s long-term commitment is perennially stubborn. It’s fueled by shifting political currents on both sides of the Atlantic that must worry Zelensky. In the United States, Trump – who disdains Ukraine, lionizes Putin and cares little for Europe’s security given his endless attacks on NATO – may be less than five months from winning back the presidency. Big gains by far-right parties in European Parliament elections last weekend – especially in powerhouses France and Germany – could create future complications for European Union support for Ukraine. And Putin’s willingness to throw thousands of Russian lives into the meat grinder of the front-line without suffering any political effects back home in a nation purged of political opponents means the possibility always remains that the West tire of the conflict before he does.

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Newsclips - June 12, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - June 12, 2024

President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, is convicted of all 3 felonies in federal gun trial

Hunter Biden was convicted Tuesday of all three felony charges related to the purchase of a revolver in 2018 when, prosecutors argued, the president’s son lied on a mandatory gun-purchase form by saying he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs. Hunter Biden, 54, stared straight ahead and showed little emotion as the verdict was read after jury deliberations that lasted only three hours over two days in Wilmington, Delaware. He hugged his attorneys, smiled wanly and kissed his wife, Melissa, before leaving the courtroom with her. President Joe Biden said in a statement issued shortly after the verdict that he would accept the outcome and “continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal.” Now Hunter Biden and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the president’s chief political rival, have both been convicted by American jurors in an election year that has been as much about the courtroom as about campaign events and rallies.

Hunter Biden faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika, though as a first-time offender he would not get anywhere near the maximum, and there’s no guarantee the judge would send him to prison. She did not set a sentencing date. Defense attorney Abbe Lowell said they would “continue to vigorously pursue all the legal challenges available.” In a written statement, Hunter Biden said he was disappointed by the outcome but grateful for the support of family and friends. The jury’s decision was read swiftly after the announcement that it reached a verdict. First lady Jill Biden sat through nearly every day of the trial but did not make it into the courtroom in time to hear the verdict. Hunter Biden walked out of the courthouse holding hands with the first lady and his wife before they got into waiting SUVs and drove off. Joe Biden steered clear of the federal courtroom where his son was tried and said little about the case, wary of appearing to interfere in a criminal matter brought by his own Justice Department. But allies of the Democrat have worried about the toll that the trial — and now the conviction — will take on the 81-year-old, who has long been concerned with his only living son’s health and sustained sobriety.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 12, 2024

Effort to remove Travis County District Attorney Jose´ Garza likely won't go forward

An effort to remove Travis County District Attorney Jose´ Garza from office under a new state law that critics say targets progressive prosecutors is likely dead, according to new court filings obtained Monday. Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols, a Republican prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge to review evidence in the case, filed a three-page motion late Friday to dismiss the case "with prejudice." Nichols wrote that he investigated whether Garza's office had a policy of not prosecuting certain crimes — a key basis for the suit — and found no such policies in place. He found that previous policies about not prosecuting drug crimes, for example, were rescinded and new directives adopted after the new "rogue prosecutor" law was put in place in September 2023.

The move comes two months after Travis County resident Mary Elizabeth Dupuis filed the lawsuit under Texas House Bill 17, alleging Garza’s refusal to prosecute certain crimes, which she contends amounts to “incompetency and official misconduct.” Nichols also found that the way in which Garza's office handles cases against police officers is not "a valid grounds for removal." The lawsuit targeted Garza's approach to such cases to boot him from office. The case marked the first time since the law went into effect in September that a judge accepted a lawsuit for consideration and appointed a special prosecutor to review the matter. The case is set for a hearing Tuesday. Dupuis wrote on social media that she filed the petition because she did not think Garza’s office properly handled her sexual assault case. The filing alleged that the district attorney’s office has adopted a “blanket non-prosecution policy” for drug possession and cites Garza’s promise not to prosecute abortion crimes. The petition also points to Garza's approach to police use-of-force cases, which it describes as “discriminating” against law enforcement officials, as evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.

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Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2024

Mike Miles said STAAR gains could mean faster end to state takeover

A higher percentage of Houston ISD students met or exceeded grade level on most STAAR exams in grades 3 through 8, closing the gap with students across Texas, state-appointed Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles said Tuesday. Miles also pointed to greater percentage point increases among New Education System schools, who just completed their first year under his strict reforms. Miles said there's hope that the district can transition to an elected board "relatively quickly" if the percentages of students meeting or exceeding grade level continue to increase at this pace. Those gains come as scores statewide fell slightly in most categories in meeting or exceeding grade level. HISD scores remain below state averages in every category, but the gaps closed some this year.

"I think that, yes, we will have shown and we will have gotten enough schools out of D and F status — maybe not all 123 of them — we will have gotten enough schools out of D and F status that a transition can start. That's what I think. Those are some big ifs, right, and we have a lot of work to do between now and then," Miles said. Statewide STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) exams sort students into four categories: did not meet grade level, approached grade level, met grade level, or mastered grade level. Grades 3 through 8 students have reading and math exams. There are also exams for fifth and eighth grade science and eighth grade social studies. In its early preliminary results, the district saw increases across all STAAR subject tests for third through eighth grade, except in Grade 3 Reading and Grade 5 Science, which saw declines of 1 percentage point and 5 percentage points.

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Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2024

Texas faces 12% chance of rotating outages this August on nights with low wind, ERCOT says

Texas faces an estimated 12% chance of controlled outages in August on nights when wind power production is low, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the power grid for most of the state. From 8 to 9 p.m., when the grid is most stressed, the potential for a grid emergency is about 16% in August if wind production is low, according to an ERCOT report released Friday. Typically, two other factors also are present when there is substantial risk of a grid emergency or outages in the summer: extreme heat and a high level of fossil fuel power plants offline for maintenance. The assessments come ahead of what is expected to be another blistering summer in Texas. Last summer, the second-hottest on record in Texas, ERCOT repeatedly asked Texans to conserve electricity usage as the state’s grid strained to keep up with record-shattering power demand.

according to previously released reports. In June, there is a 1% chance of a grid emergency and a 0.27% chance of controlled outages from 8 to 9 p.m., if there’s extremely low wind generation. In July, those probabilities are 4.8% and 2.36%, respectively. ERCOT keeps power reserves on hand so it can maintain the grid’s balance in case of sudden changes, such as if a large power plant unexpectedly fails. If power reserves fall below 2,500 megawatts, ERCOT can initiate a grid emergency to access various resources to reduce demand and increase supply. One megawatt can power about 250 Texas homes during the hottest summer days, according to ERCOT. If power reserves drop below 1,500 megawatts, ERCOT can initiate rotating outages in the final stage of a grid emergency as a last resort to prevent a total collapse of the grid, during which power could be out for weeks. It initiated rolling blackouts during the February 2021 freeze that left hundreds dead, though what were meant to be temporary outages often lasted for days across the state.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2024

It's George H.W. Bush's 100th birthday this week. Here's what to know

Celebrations for George H.W. Bush's 100th birthday began Monday morning with an event hosted by the Bush family and Houston Mayor John Whitmire at the George Bush Monument in Downtown Houston. The event, sponsored by the George & Barbara Bush Foundation and the Houston First Corporation, began with a performance from the Bushes’ favorite local music organization, the Theater Under the Stars Musical Theatre Academy Ensemble, a news release detailed. The event also included a program featuring Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale, Linda Lorelle, Houston First CEO Michael Heckman and a tribute from the Houston Police Department. The Houston event kicked off a week of festivities that features a three-day birthday celebration held in College Station June 11-13.

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Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2024

Texas shrimpers are dying at a staggering rate. Houston researchers think they know why.

Texas shrimpers face grueling work during monthlong boat stints in the Gulf of Mexico, and their limited health care access onshore adds to the industry’s striking fatality rate, a team of UTHealth researchers found. “For example, research shows that self-medication is an issue among commercial fishermen,” said Shannon Guillot-Wright, an environmental and occupational specialist at UTHealth Houston who led the research. Her team’s study was published last week in the American Journal of Public Health and looked at how workers dealt with the hazardous conditions, strenuous labor, long hours and harsh weather that feed the industry’s increased risks. “Some of the shrimpers told us they couldn’t afford medicine and used alcohol to cope with injuries, like back pain, which could then increase their risk of falling overboard,” she said.

For shrimpers, the sequence is often deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the U.S. fishing industry’s occupational fatality rate was about 40 times higher than the national average. From 2000 to 2019 in the Gulf of Mexico alone, 201 fishermen died from traumatic injuries on the job, 51% of whom worked as shrimpers. In Texas, the labor is largely left up to migrants and refugees, many with Vietnamese and Mexican origins. While the CDC data shows vessel disasters and overboard falls caused 80% of the Gulf Coast deaths in the past two decades, Guillot-Wright said the region’s commercial shrimp fishermen were most worried about how their overall health issues led to the dangerous slips, trips and falls. “At first we thought we might need some type of intervention around personal flotation devices,” she said, but the shrimpers “kind of just laughed” at that starting point, sharing in research interviews that many had not even seen a doctor in decades. So the UTHealth team pivoted: It still used interviews and observations for its research, but focused a parallel action plan on bringing health care to the workers. The group opened a monthly dockside clinic in Galveston that has seen more than 300 patients in the past three years, a program it plans to expand.

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Border Report - June 12, 2024

Smuggling of endangered monkeys taxing South Texas zoo

Incubators have been brought in and zoo staff are working around the clock to try to keep alive dozens of baby monkeys that have been smuggled into South Texas from Mexico. Since March, the Gladys Porter Zoo in the border town of Brownsville has been struggling to have enough personnel and equipment to care for 18 infant Mexican spider monkeys and a howler monkey that federal authorities have confiscated from smugglers on separate occasions.

“This is deliberate smuggling. And the sad part about it is to get the baby spider monkeys, they killed the mother. And the fact that we’ve got 19, how many more made it through the border undetected?” Dr. Pat Burchfield, zoo executive director and CEO, told Border Report on Monday. Officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Texas Parks and Wildlife Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have brought in the monkeys. They were found in backpacks and hidden in vehicles at CBP ports of entry and elsewhere on the border. Some were barely alive.

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San Antonio Current - June 12, 2024

San Antonio's Tony Gonzales offers odd excuse for nearly losing GOP runoff to 'AK Guy'

U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, whose district spans a wide swath of South Texas, including part of San Antonio, offered an unconventional excuse for the close call he experienced in last month's GOP runoff against YouTube gun influencer Brandon Herrera. Gonzales' excuse? First, Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which he represents, is really big. And, second, he's just not polished enough as a politician. “It was so close because I happened to represent the toughest district in America,” Gonzales said during an interview with Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA. “Texas 23 is absolutely brutal. It’s larger than 30 states. It’s two time zones. I really represent four different types of people. And I’d also say, two: I’m a little early in my — in politics. I’m not very good at the polished B.S. yet, and I hope I never get that way.”

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MySA - June 12, 2024

Texas State Capitol begins next step in $900 million remodel

One of Austin's most popular tourist destinations is getting a huge remodel. The Texas State Capitol is about to get a whole new look in the next few years. Three new filings with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation show that several new construction projects are underway at the Capitol totaling to $575 million. They all appear to be apart of phase II of the state's larger $900 million Capitol Complex Project which aims to consolidate the number of staff currently working in leased space, according the its master plan. "Consolidating staff has the potential to create operational efficiencies between and within agencies, provide visitors easier access to agency offices, and eliminate the cost of leased space for these offices," the project's website says.

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Eater - June 12, 2024

This South Texas Chef took home the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Texas

Ana Liz Pulido of Ana Liz Taqueria in Mission, Texas took home the Best Chef: Texas win at the 2024 James Beard Awards. She bested the only one finalist from Austin this year — Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel of Birdie’s in the Best Chef: Texas category. Christopher Cullum of Cullum’s Attaboy in San Antonio was also a finalist for Best Chef: Texas. Pulido thanked her father from the stage, and expressed her gratitude at the chance to represent the Rio Grande Valley and a border town community. In an interview after her win, Pulido told Eater Austin that she was so excited that she was speechless. “Being the first South Texas restaurant [to win], I’m just so honored,” she said.

Pulido’s restaurant is a scratch kitchen for Mexican food that nixtamalizes it’s corn daily to make tortillas, using a Mexican corn. The meat is smoked and prepared in-house. She keeps the menu small, and offers special menus inspired by her travels to Mexico three times a year. Pulido says she appreciates the Beard Awards for recognizing the skill that goes into that preparation. “I have a trip to Oxaca in August, and hopefully I’ll bring back ideas for that.” Coming up for Ana Liz Taqueria is an expansion. Pulido says that two weeks ago she signed a lease for the establishment next door to allow the restaurant, which currently only holds five tables, to take it over. For those planning a trip down south to try out Ana Liz Taqueria now that it’s chef is an award-winner, Pulido says you must try the espada — there is always a different version on the menu.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 12, 2024

Joe Straus: Celebrating President George H.W. Bush, who governed with principle

This week marks what would have been the 100th birthday of President George H.W. Bush. It is a time to celebrate a man who distinguished himself by what he accomplished and how he led. Bush’s presidency from 1989 to 1993 was highly consequential: The United States won the Cold War, helped broker the peaceful reunification of Germany and liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Bush signed the landmark American with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act. Strength and diplomacy abroad, combined with kindness and compassion at home, defined his time in the White House. Jean Becker, who served as Bush’s chief of staff after his presidency, is the author of a newly published book, “Character Matters: And Other Life Lessons from George H.W. Bush,” which includes stories and tributes from many of Bush’s family, friends and former aides.

The book vividly illustrates Bush’s results-driven leadership and personal integrity. For example, former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu recalls the extraordinary care that Bush demonstrated in his relationships with international leaders, including Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, during a period of significant change for Europe. Sununu writes, “President Bush’s decades of integrity and credibility allowed him to move these powerful leaders in unison toward a common goal. They trusted his tactics and strategy, and most importantly they trusted that he would ensure that they shared the credit for the success of this world-changing effort.” Before, during and after his presidency, Bush put principles over politics. Author and historian Jon Meacham recalls in his book “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” that as a congressman representing Houston in the 1960s, Bush came under attack from within his own party because he supported legislation aimed at ending discrimination in the housing market. Bush, however, did not waver. He said of one critic, “He couldn’t have been uglier and meaner. But that just made me more determined to do what was right.”

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Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2024

Texas Gun Rights names Kyle Rittenhouse new outreach director

Texas Gun Rights has announced Kyle Rittenhouse as the organization’s outreach director. The gun advocacy group disclosed the new hire on Tuesday. “Joining Texas Gun Rights is an awesome opportunity to continue advocating for our constitutional freedoms,” Rittenhouse said in a statement. “I am excited to work with TXGR to mobilize Texans in support of their right to keep and bear arms. Together, we can ensure that our voices are heard and our rights are protected in Austin and D.C.” Rittenhouse, who found himself in the national spotlight following the shooting death of two men in 2020, ended up being acquitted of all charges in 2021. The deadly incident sparked debates across America about racial injustice protests and gun rights. Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin, armed with an AR-15-style rifle.

Since his acquittal, Rittenhouse has traveled nationwide speaking about topics such as Second Amendment rights and censorship. Last year, he launched an anti-gun control nonprofit called the Rittenhouse Foundation in Texas. According to the Secretary of State’s filing, the organization's purpose centers on protecting “human and civil rights secured by law, including an individual’s inalienable right to bear arms” and ensuring “the Second Amendment is preserved through education and legal assistance.” “His unique perspective and uncompromising energy will undoubtedly revolutionize our outreach and advocacy efforts," said McNutt. "With Kyle on board, we are not just defending gun rights — we are leading a bold and unstoppable charge to ensure every Texan's right to keep and bear arms is fiercely protected."

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Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2024

Mayor Whitmire and Controller Hollins clash as concerns over firefighters' settlement stall approval

City Council approval for Houston’s $1.5 billion settlement deal with the firefighters union may face further delay as Controller Chris Hollins, who pumped the brakes on the deal last week, raised additional questions about the agreement. Mayor John Whitmire first put the agreement on the council agenda a week ago, but members could not vote on it because the controller, Houston’s independently elected watchdog, had not certified the funds were available – a necessary step before the council can approve any financial commitments by the city. Hollins said his office received the draft less than two days prior and had not completed a financial review.

On Monday, Hollins sent Whitmire a 10-page inquiry with 44 questions about the deal, covering topics from base pay increases and drug testing requirements to discipline procedures and negotiation concessions. Without satisfactory answers, Hollins said he would not certify the proposal. “My job is transparency and accountability,” the controller told the Chronicle. “I wouldn't be doing my job in the way that Houstonians have elected me to do if I move forward with this before getting the answer to these questions.” Whitmire responded to Hollins’ inquiry Tuesday evening, but only to five of the controller’s questions seeking confirmation about the cost of the settlement and other financial commitments. The mayor said these are the only questions relevant to the certification of the agenda item. “All administrative work of the city government is under the sole control of the Mayor, which includes negotiations and settlements with our unions,” Whitmire said in a written letter to the controller. “Any suggestion that there could have been a better deal is speculative and uninformed.”

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Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2024

Houston city leaders want extra HPD cadet class, new fees and drainage dollars in next year's budget

Houston Mayor John Whitmire has agreed to fund an additional police cadet class as he weighs around 50 changes City Council members have proposed to his budget plan for the new fiscal year starting in July. The mayor unveiled in May the first spending plan of his tenure. The proposal’s current version consists of $7.3 billion in expenditures across city operations. Of that total, $3 billion would go into the general fund, primarily supported by property and sales taxes and covering essential services such as policing, trash collection, parks and libraries. The remaining dollars would be directed to enterprise funds, which are self-sustaining and use fees and charges to pay for specific functions.

Under Houston’s “strong mayor” system, the power to propose amendments is the most significant tool at council members’ disposal during the annual budget season. Thirteen of the 16 members have submitted at least one. Per usual, most of these suggestions aim to draw extra funds from the city's savings to boost services such as policing, drainage repairs and community code enforcement. At the same time, with the city facing serious financial challenges and no measures in Whitmire’s current plan to generate new revenue, over a dozen amendments aim to stabilize Houston’s finances by creating new fees or cutting certain expenses. Most budget amendments historically fail to pass, with the mayor's backing often being the deciding factor. Mary Benton, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said Whitmire is still reviewing and considering most of the amendments.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 12, 2024

Charles Breithaupt, executive director of the UIL, will retire after 2024-25 academic year

Charles Breithaupt, the executive director of the University Interscholastic League, will retire after the 2024-25 academic year, he announced Tuesday. Breithaupt made the announcement at the UIL's legislative council meet. He just marked his 15th year as the UIL's executive director. Breithaupt has spent his entire adult life as a coach and administrator of high school sports. A graduate of Buna High School, he coached football, baseball, track and field, basketball and cross country for 17 years before he joined the UIL in 1992. He served as associate director of the UIL and UIL athletic director before he was appointed executive director in 2009.

Breithaupt's portfolio includes a host of accolades. He was named coach of the year nine times and was the state's coach of the year by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches in 1991. He was inducted into the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, the Southeast Texas Coaches Hall of Honor in 2001 and the Texas High School Coaches Hall of Honor in 2005. Breithaupt became the seventh executive director in the 100-year history of the UIL when his predecessor, Bill Farney, retired in 2009. "When you think of the 100-year tradition of the league, you want to continue that great tradition," Breithaupt said after he was named executive director. "There is always room for tweaking, areas where schools want us to change."

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San Antonio Express-News - June 12, 2024

Audit: San Antonio Police Department failed to meet state deadline for nearly 10% of rape test kits

The San Antonio Police Department failed to meet a state-mandated guideline in its handling of nearly 10% of sexual assault test kits collected over a two-year period, a new city audit found. The kits include DNA evidence such as bodily fluids and skin cells, which are gathered by medical professionals in hospitals after an attack. The test results can be invaluable in sexual assault investigations. The state requires law enforcement agencies to send the kits to a crime lab for analysis within 30 days, but from Oct. 1, 2021 through Sept. 18, 2023, SAPD missed that deadline 117 times. The department handled 1,249 kits that fell within San Antonio police jurisdiction during that period.

It submitted 91 of the late kites — known as sexual assault nurse examination, or SANE, kits — to the Bexar County Criminal Investigation Laboratory within two months. The other 26 sat on a shelf for 61 days or more. Some of the longest delays resulted from hospital nurses logging incorrect case numbers on kits they submitted SAPD, which slows the department's process for sending the tests to the lab, according to Captain Rene Gallegos. "It kind of gets lost," Gallegos said. "We had a few of those, but they were few and far between." But most of the missed deadlines were because of slow internal processes. In response to the city audit's findings, SAPD shook up how it handled the kits to consistently meet the 30-day deadline. (The department was given the chance to respond to City Auditor Kevin Barthold's report before it was publicly released this week.) SAPD added a second courier so that tests are taken to the county four times a week instead of two. Also, the evidence room staff that keeps the tests now reminds the department's special victims unit — which investigates sexual assault cases — of pending test kits once a week, instead of every other week as it previously did.

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Texas Tribune - June 12, 2024

Amarillo City Council rejects so-called abortion travel ban

After months of debate, the Amarillo City Council rejected a so-called abortion travel ban, championed by statewide anti-abortion activists and certain residents. The council’s decision made Amarillo the largest conservative Texas city to reject the proposed policy, which would forbid the use of the city’s roads and highways to seek an abortion out of state. Now, a group of residents who petitioned for the ordinance will decide if the issue goes to voters in the Texas Panhandle city this fall. In rejecting the proposal, Amarillo Mayor Cole Stanley said the city has no authority to put the proposed policy in place. “What you’re asking me to do is put forward this ordinance and enact it into city law, that would exercise an authority I don’t believe I have,” Stanley said.

The council first debated the issue last fall when a string of other Texas cities and counties passed similar local laws, which abortion rights advocates and legal experts consider dubious and unconstitutional. Amarillo residents, backed by Texas anti-abortion activist Mark Lee Dickson, forced the council to revisit the issue this year after they gathered enough petition signatures of registered voters. Two versions of the ordinance were considered during Tuesday’s meeting. Both were rejected on a 4-1 vote. Only Council member Don Tipps supported the policies. The packed council chambers erupted into cheers and clapping when the mayor made the vote final. One was the original ordinance proposed last year by anti-abortion advocates who don’t live in Amarillo. The other was an amended version, a compromise from the petitioning committee. That version offered few differences. After hours of public comment, council members still had questions. Council member Tom Scherlen asked if companies that cover abortion in their insurance plans would be liable for aiding and abetting. Steve Austin, a representative with the petitioning committee, encouraged this to be voted in and make it illegal, saying the companies would follow the law. “In my opinion, that is communism,” Scherlen argued. “Where I come from, you don’t dictate the law.”

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ESG Dive - June 12, 2024

Vanguard says ExxonMobil made a ‘compelling case’ for its shareholder lawsuit

Vanguard, the nation’s second-largest asset management firm, supported ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods and its board of directors at the energy giant’s board meeting May 29, but expressed concerns over the oil company’s ongoing lawsuit against shareholder Arjuna Capital in a release explaining the votes. Vanguard’s investor stewardship team said it questioned why Exxon decided to continue to pursue investors Arjuna Capital and Follow This in court, despite the shareholder proposal at issue being withdrawn. A judge recently dismissed Follow This, a Dutch organization, as a defendant but ruled the suit against Arjuna Capital could continue. “We would have concerns if a company leveraged its resources to pursue such legal cases with the intent of chilling the shareholder proposal process more generally,” Vanguard said. Ultimately, the firm said it supported the board slate after engaging with Exxon and coming to the conclusion that the company displayed appropriate oversight.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 12, 2024

Alamo Colleges, A&M-San Antonio blaze a tuition-free trail to a four-year degree

Alamo Colleges District officials announced a partnership with Texas A&M University-San Antonio as their newest tool to break racial and economic barriers to higher education, pledging to open an affordable “pathway to the middle class.” Under the Promise to Promise Partnership, students attending the district’s five colleges or high school dual enrollment programs through its five-year-old AlamoPROMISE initiative can transfer to TAMU-SA’s Jaguar Promise, extending a tuition-free route to a four-year bachelor’s degree. Among the first to use it will be Aubri Lalinde, a McCollum High School graduate, first-generation college student in a family that owns a restaurant and the mother of a 3-year-old son named Andre. She earned an associate degree in business administration last month from Palo Alto College, and will pursue a bachelor’s in marketing or human resources.

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National Stories

Miami Herald - June 12, 2024

U.S. deploys warships as Russian fleet makes close pass to Florida in approach to Cuba

The U.S. Navy has deployed warships and aircraft to track a Russian naval flotilla after the Russian vessels sailed less than 30 miles off South Florida’s coast on Tuesday, U.S. officials told McClatchy and the Miami Herald. Last week, Moscow sent three ships and a nuclear-powered submarine to the Caribbean for what U.S. officials say will be a set of extensive military air and naval exercises — the first of their kind in at least five years. The drills began on Tuesday in the Atlantic, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, with its hypersonic-capable frigate and nuclear-capable submarine simulating a strike on a group of enemy ships. It is unclear whether the frigate is armed with hypersonic missiles, but the U.S. intelligence community has assessed that none of the Russian vessels are carrying nuclear weapons.

While the Biden administration has said it is not concerned by the Russian activity, it has nevertheless authorized the deployment of three powerful destroyers and a submarine reconnaissance aircraft to the region, a U.S. Northern Command official told McClatchy and the Herald on Tuesday. “In accordance with standard procedures, we’ve been actively monitoring the Russian ships as they transit the Atlantic Ocean within international waters,” the NORTHCOM official said. “Air and maritime assets under U.S. Northern Command have conducted operations to ensure the defense of the United States and Canada. Russia’s deployments are part of routine naval activity which pose no direct threat or concern to the United States.” The U.S. deployment includes three guided-missile destroyers — the USS Truxtun, USS Donald Cook and USS Delbert D. Black — as well as a Coast Guard cutter, the Stone, and a Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.

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AFP - June 12, 2024

Phony 'news' portals surpass US newspaper sites, researchers say

Partisan websites masquerading as media outlets now outnumber American newspaper sites, a research group that tracks misinformation said Tuesday, highlighting a local news crisis in a year of high-stakes elections. Hundreds of sites mimicking news outlets –- many of them powered by artificial intelligence -- have cropped up in recent months, fueling an explosion of polarizing or false narratives that are stoking alarm as the race for the White House intensifies. At least 1,265 "pink slime" outlets -- politically motivated websites that present themselves as independent local news outlets -- have been identified, the US-based research group NewsGuard said in a report.

By comparison, 1,213 websites of local newspapers were operating in the United States last year, according to Northwestern University's "local news initiative" project. "The odds are now better than 50-50 that if you see a news website purporting to cover local news, it's fake," the NewsGuard report said. Nearly half of the partisan sites were targeted at swing states, according to an analysis by the news site Axios, in what appears to be an effort to sway political beliefs ahead of the November election expected to be between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Those sites include a network of 167 Russian disinformation sites that NewsGuard said were linked to John Mark Dougan, a US former law enforcement officer who fled to Moscow. The other sites are backed by conservative as well as influential left-leaning groups such as Metric Media, Courier Newsroom and States Newsroom, the report said.

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The Hill - June 12, 2024

Giuliani bankruptcy hits breaking point as creditors seek takeover

Tensions in Rudy Giuliani’s bankruptcy case are coming to a head, with his creditors hoping for the drastic remedy of having a third party take control of the former New York City mayor’s finances. Since Giuliani filed for bankruptcy protection, spurred by a $148 million defamation verdict, his creditors have accused him of hiding assets and a coffee deal, spending egregiously and failing to timely file required paperwork. They have now had enough. On Monday, lawyers representing Giuliani’s creditors will return to bankruptcy court in New York, hoping to persuade a judge that the time has come for a trustee to step in. “Simply put, Mr. Giuliani and his bankruptcy case have reached an impasse,” the unsecured creditors committee wrote in their motion. In December, Giuliani hastily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after a jury ordered him to pay two Georgia election workers $148 million for defaming them by spreading a baseless conspiracy on behalf of former President Trump in 2020 that they were involved in mass election fraud. He has vowed to appeal.

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Associated Press - June 12, 2024

A Florida law blocking treatment for transgender children is thrown out by a federal judge

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a 2023 Florida law that blocked gender-affirming care for transgender minors and severely restricted such treatment for adults, calling the statute unconstitutional. Senior Judge Robert Hinkle said the state went too far when it barred transgender minors from being prescribed puberty blockers and hormonal treatments with their parents’ permission. He also stopped the state from requiring that transgender adults only receive treatment from a doctor and not from a registered nurse or other qualified medical practitioner. And he barred a ban on online treatment for transgender adults. Hinkle said transgender people are constitutionally entitled to the legitimate treatment they need and, quoting the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., compared those who oppose it to those who were once against equality for minorities and women.

“Some transgender opponents invoke religion to support their position, just as some once invoked religion to support their racism or misogyny,” Hinkle wrote in his 105-page decision. “Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender. “In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished,” he continued. “To paraphrase a civil-rights advocate from an earlier time, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office blasted Hinkle’s ruling, issuing a statement calling it “erroneous,” and vowing to appeal. “Through their elected representatives, the people of Florida acted to protect children in this state, and the Court was wrong to override their wishes,” the statement said. “As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom, and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.” But those who sued the state celebrated the decision. Lucien Hamel, a transgender adult, issued a statement saying, “I’m so relieved the court saw there is no medical basis for this law — it was passed just to target transgender people like me and try to push us out of Florida.”

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Baptist News Global - June 12, 2024

Americans growing more socially liberal but remain economically conservative, Gallup says

Americans continue to grow more liberal in their social views but remain more conservative on economic issues, according to Gallup. Since 2015 — coincidentally the year the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage after a sea change of public opinion on the matter — Americans have been almost equally divided on saying they have liberal or conservative social views. That was a departure from the previous decade when Americans were about 50% more likely to identify as socially conservative than socially liberal. At the same time, Americans have remained more conservative on economic issues, although the percentage leaning more liberal has been growing.

“Both trends toward more liberal views than in the past are driven by U.S. Democrats; neither Republicans nor independents have become more liberal in their views over time,” Gallup researchers said. “These trends on social and economic views are separate from the slight long-term increase in Americans’ description of their political views, broadly, as liberal.” In separate polling results, Gallup found Americans have nuanced opinions on one of the most divisive social issues of the day: Transgender identity. For the third year in a row, 51% of Americans said they think changing one’s gender is morally wrong, while 44% say it is morally acceptable. However, more than six in 10 Americans oppose laws banning gender-affirming care for minors. Responding to and acknowledging transgender identity has become a highly politicized issue, as Republican legislators have enacted strict laws in half of U.S. states regulating or banning treatment of transgender minors — aided by religious conservatives who deny transgender identity is real. Thus, Americans’ views on the morality of changing one’s gender also show major differences along party lines. Majorities of political liberals (81%), Democrats (72%), those who do not identify with a religion (67%), those who do not attend religious services regularly (59%), young adults ages 18 to 29 (56%) and college graduates (53%) believe changing genders is morally acceptable.

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CBS News - June 12, 2024

Public ownership works for some of world's best sports teams -- is there a future for the idea in America?

The main difference between the private and the public ownership models can be surmised as such: Under one, teams are run like businesses; under the other, they're run like public goods. Private owners demand profit. They're willing to do whatever it takes to make the number go up, even if that means fielding a poor product or threatening the community with relocation. Public ownership does away with the unchecked profiteering, as well as with the relocation threats -- the team is owned by the municipality it resides in, after all. That is not to say that profit is not a goal, it is merely not the only priority; besides, the public model demands greater transparency and democracy when it comes to a team's finances. The public model may be a foreign concept to the average American fan accustomed to their favorite teams being held by an individual or corporate entity. Those figures have long since convinced fans that they -- the owners themselves -- are crucial to the operation; why else would they be the first ones to lift the trophy when their teams win a championship? Yet there's ample evidence abroad demonstrating that the billionaires who run America's major-league teams are often the least important part of the machine.

Take the recent Champions League final between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, a matchup that featured zero external or corporate owners, as evidence that it doesn't take a billionaire to build a winner. For more evidence, consider those teams' respective home leagues. Over in Germany, the Bundesliga (the country's top-flight soccer league) requires every club to own at least 50% of its shares, plus one more. That way, there's no possibility of investor overreach. In fact, the Bundesliga outlawed private ownership entirely until 1998. There have been exemptions for investors with longstanding ties to a club, though those are all together rare. Bundesliga's difference in philosophy shines through in various ways, including how the business side of the game is talked about and managed. "The German spectator traditionally has close ties with his club. And if he gets the feeling that he's no longer regarded as a fan but instead as a customer, we'll have a problem," Hans-Joachim Watzke, the CEO of Borussia Dortmund, said in 2016. "An investor in Dortmund would soon turn 28,000 standing places into 15,000 seats, which would guarantee several million euros more per year. But I don't want the fans to be milked as is happening in England."

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Politico - June 12, 2024

Nancy Mace outmaneuvers Kevin McCarthy’s revenge operation

Kevin McCarthy’s revenge tour is off to a bumpy start. South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace was one of eight Republicans who voted to strip the former speaker of the gavel, and the former speaker’s allies spent big to take her down. They couldn’t. Mace decisively defeated Catherine Templeton, a former gubernatorial candidate, whose allies plunged more than $5 million against the incumbent, according to ad tracker AdImpact. Her victory could be a good sign for McCarthy’s other detractors who have primary challenges in the coming weeks and months, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), who correctly predicted that Mace was “about to roll her opposition.”

Crucially, Mace won the backing of Donald Trump. The former president wasn’t always a Mace fan. He backed her ultimately unsuccessful primary challenger in 2022, after Mace blamed him for the Capitol riot. But Mace also evolved since that election. The congresswoman, who repeatedly broke with her party on abortion, has swung away from and back to supporting Trump. She was known for throwing herself into the spotlight. At one point during the rancorous speaker fight, she signaled how her vote might ostracize her from her party by wearing a scarlet “A” on her shirt, a reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” But in recent months, she has stayed relatively quiet. South Carolina Republican Rep. Ralph Norman described Mace as being more mellow in Congress this year: “She’s kind of low-profile now.”

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NPR - June 12, 2024

With 'chronic absenteeism' soaring in schools, most parents aren’t sure what it is

As the school year comes to a close, one problem is plaguing educators across the country: chronic absenteeism. In 2023, roughly 1 student out of 4 was chronically absent across the school year. The problem is aligned with historic drops in reading and math scores nationwide. School districts have launched campaigns with text messages and home visits in efforts to get students back in class. Educators have long been aware that missing 15, 20 days a year or more creates serious learning setbacks and puts students at a greater risk of dropping out. But parents – according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll – don’t yet see the urgency. Experts aren’t surprised: “In general, the public doesn't understand what it is and why it matters,” says Cecelia Leong, a vice president at Attendance Works, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce chronic absenteeism. “Parents aren't used to hearing about it.” The issue really rose to the forefront during the pandemic, and since 2020 the number of chronically absent students has ballooned: “We went from 8 million students to over 14.6 million chronically absent,” Leong says.

She notes that absenteeism can creep up on parents: A student only has to miss two days of school a month to end up chronically absent, so parents often don’t see it happening. Even when parents see absenteeism as a problem, they don’t always see it as their problem: According to the NPR/Ipsos poll, only 6% of parents surveyed identified their child as chronically absent – but the numbers nationwide show a disconnect. “Prior to the pandemic … about 15% of students would meet the definition of chronic absenteeism. And that rate grew to nearly 30% in the 21/22 school year,” says Thomas Dee, an education professor at Stanford University. “One very prominent explanation here that meets the evidence,” Dee says, “is that during the pandemic many children and parents simply began to see less value in regular school attendance.” Scholars call it “norm erosion": It essentially means students and parents fell out of the habit of school. Maritza Hernandez lives in Phoenix with her three children. Two are still in school – one is 7 and the other is 18. Her youngest struggles with bad allergies during parts of the year and, before the pandemic, that didn’t necessarily mean a sick day from school: “He could still go to school again with some Tylenol,” she recalls. “He's good.” But, after the pandemic, Hernandez adds, “I can't send him to school because you might get somebody else sick. I don't know if this is just allergies, or it might be worse.” She's a single mom, and says that, with all the challenges of getting her children fed and off to school, and herself to work, there are many days when her kids are late. "I'm guilty, she says. "I'm one of those parents."

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Newsclips - June 11, 2024

Lead Stories

New York Times - June 11, 2024

Fed is in no rush to cut rates as economy holds up

Federal Reserve officials are entering an uncertain summer. They are not sure how quickly inflation will cool, how much the economy is likely to slow or just how long interest rates need to stay high in order to make sure that quick price increases are fully vanquished. What they do know is that, for now, the job market and broader economy are holding up even in the face of higher borrowing costs. And given that, the Fed has a safe play: Do nothing. That is the message central bankers are likely to send at their two-day meeting this week, which concludes on Wednesday. Officials are expected to leave interest rates unchanged while avoiding any firm commitment about when they will cut them.

Policymakers will release a fresh set of economic projections, and those could show that central bankers now expect to make just two interest rate cuts in 2024, down from three when they last released forecasts in March. Economists think that there is a small chance that officials could even predict just one cut this year. But whatever they forecast, officials are likely to avoid giving a clear signal of when rate reductions will begin. Investors do not expect a rate cut at the Fed’s next meeting in July, after which policymakers will not meet again until September. That gives officials several months of data and plenty of time to think about their next move. And because the economy is holding up, central bankers have the wiggle room to keep rates unchanged as they wait to see if inflation will decelerate without worrying that they are on the brink of plunging the economy into a sharp downturn. “They’ll continue to suggest that rate cuts are coming later this year,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, head of U.S. rates strategy at TD Securities. He said that he expected a reduction in September, and that he did not think the Fed would give any hint at timing this week.

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Associated Press - June 11, 2024

Southwest shares jump after activist investor takes $1.9 billion stake, calls for new CEO, board

Activist shareholder Elliott Investment Management has bought a $1.9 billion stake in Southwest Airlines and is seeking to force out the CEO of the airline, which has struggled with operational and financial problems. Shares in the airline rose 7% Monday, their second-best day since 2020. In a letter to Southwest’s board, the investment firm complained that Southwest’s stock price has dropped more than 50% in the past three years. Elliott said Southwest — the largest carrier at San Antonio International Airport — has failed to evolve, hurting its ability to compete with other carriers. The firm blamed the Dallas-based carrier’s massive flight cancellations in December 2022 on what it described as the airline’s outdated software and operational processes.

“Poor execution and leadership’s stubborn unwillingness to evolve the Company’s strategy have led to deeply disappointing results for shareholders, employees and customers alike,” the investment firm said in the letter, dated Monday. It was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Southwest CEO Robert Jordan “has delivered unacceptable financial and operational performance quarter after quarter,” the letter read. It said Jordan and former CEO Gary Kelly, now the airline’s executive chairman, “are not up to the task of modernizing Southwest.” Elliott is calling for executives from outside the company to replace Jordan and Kelly, and for “significant” changes on the board, including new independent directors with experience at other airlines. Southwest said it was contacted by Elliott on Sunday and looked forward “to better understanding their views on our company.”

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San Antonio Express-News - June 11, 2024

At El Paso convention, Democrats embrace Beto even as they try to move on

“Beto! Beto! Beto!” the crowd chanted as former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke told a room of Democrats that they have the power to defeat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in November. If this sounds like 2018, perhaps it was by design. But it was the kickoff for the 2024 Texas Democratic Party convention, hosted in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso. Clad in the dark jeans and dress shirt with rolled up sleeves that has become a trademark, the man who nearly unseated Cruz six years ago was like an aging rock star on a reunion tour – he played the hits. “That extraordinary campaign that we were all a part of in 2018 — a campaign not about the candidate, not even about the political party, but about the people of Texas — it got within 215,000 votes of Cancun Cruz,” O’Rourke said.

“Do you think that you can find 215,000 votes over the next five months to make sure that Colin Allred is the next United States senator from the state of Texas?” O’Rourke shot to fame in the 2018 contest. But even with a celebrity candidate, record-breaking political contributions and a political environment where Democratic candidates surged across the country, it wasn’t enough to put a Democrat over the top statewide. Six years later, the party looks back on 2018 as its high water mark. And Democrats are facing another tough election cycle this year with internal divisions over immigration and the Israel-Gaza conflict, as well as sluggish voter enthusiasm for President Joe Biden. Party conventions are a delicate balance of exciting political speeches and the more rote, behind-the-scenes work of party building and maintenance. Despite the energy surrounding O’Rourke and other party leaders, many Democrats in attendance acknowledged that it was time to shift the party’s focus toward the latter. In other words, celebrity Democratic candidates won’t be enough to win the state on their own. To win long-term, attendees said in interviews and speeches, the party needs to build out its network to recruit and support candidates, including turnout operations, voter and volunteer databases and skilled political staffers. It also needs to register more likely Democratic voters.

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Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2024

HISD outlines plans to slash 200 wraparound positions as some question NES expansion

State-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles said social work services for students will be provided by a trimmer team of wraparound specialists who will each serve multiple campuses and refer students to off-campus support centers. Houston ISD is cutting more than 200 wrap-around specialists — who help Houston ISD's neediest students access food, clothing, hygienic products and other basics — as part of the proposed budget that started with a $528 million deficit. The 48 remaining wraparound workers split their time among four and seven schools each. "In the 24-25 school year, we will still have wraparound specialists but they will be able to refer kids (to HISD support centers and healthcare providers) much more efficiently and effectively," Miles said, noting that the specialists would maintain clothing and food banks at every school.

Miles said the cuts were an unfortunate necessity as wraparound services has been funded with grants and federal COVID relief money, known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, which expired this year. He said the program had cost HISD about $20 million this year, though the district's ESSER dashboard indicates HISD spent only about $3.3 million on wraparound specialists. District officials did not immediately return a request for comment about the discrepancy. Next year, HISD will rely more heavily on its seven "Sunrise Centers," which are located throughout the city and offer many of the same services that wraparound specialists provided, in partnership with community organizations that offer a variety of resources for families facing poverty, homelessness, violence and other challenges. Some community members, however, have raised concerns about the Sunrise Centers, which cost $8 million, arguing that their location at off-campus sites may pose a challenge to families seeking assistance. Christy Brewster, a retired HISD nurse who worked closely with wraparound specialists, said that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the inherent value of the program, which she said had hit its stride in recent years after a rocky launch in 2017. HISD Chief Academic Officer Kristen Hole said the district plans to partner with METRO to provide free bus passes to families that need to use Sunrise Centers, but Brewster worries it may not be enough to make up for the loss of a wraparound specialist at a student's home campus.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2024

At the center of HISD's takeover, 'resilient' Wheatley students say first year came with ups and downs

Wheatley High School students walked into school every morning this year to the same greeting from their principal, blasted over the building's public address system. "Come on everyone, let's ride the A-train!" Principal Sabrina Cuby-King told her students. At Wheatley, the message is two-fold. Like any school leader, Cuby-King wants her students to achieve the highest grades possible in their classes. But Wheatley is also the sole school that in 2019 prompted the state's takeover of Houston ISD by failing state standards seven years in a row. After a protracted legal battle — and an amendment from Rep. Harold Dutton, a Wheatley alumnus — the Texas Education Agency last year replaced HISD's superintendent and elected board of trustees with Superintendent Mike Miles and a Board of Managers.

One year under state-appointed leadership, Cuby-King is determined to raise Wheatley's overall state rating to an A, and she reminded her students of that expectation daily. "There is additional pressure (on us to succeed) because Wheatley is in the spotlight, but it's pressure that's necessary because of the past history and past low-performance of the campus," Cuby-King said. "It's well within time to ensure that Wheatley comes out on the other end as a successful school." Miles' first move after being appointed superintendent was to keep Wheatley squarely in the spotlight by announcing that it would be one of three high schools whose entire feeder patterns would make up the first schools of his "New Education System." Staff at Wheatley, along with the 28 other NES schools, all were forced to reapply for their jobs. Cuby-King was brought back for a second year as principal. Students say they took her challenge in stride, even if the burden was not of their making. "Wheatley students and Wheatley as a campus, we are resilient, we're adaptable," said Gabriel Flint, a graduating senior who was voted "Mr. Wheatley" by his fellow students.

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Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2024

HPD's internal report on suspended cases scandal coming soon, Mayor John Whitmire says

A final report examining the scandal surrounding Houston Police Department dropping more than 264,000 cases citing a lack of personnel should be available sometime early next week, Mayor John Whitmire confirmed Monday. The internal department report, which follows one released by an independent city committee, should contain information about which department personnel have been disciplined and who might have been reassigned as part of the investigation, said Douglas Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers Union. But department and city leaders have kept a tight lid on the specifics. "I want to see where this investigation falls,” Griffith said when asked what he expected out of the report. “I want to see what the end game is for the department.”

In May, an independent panel echoed a Chronicle investigation in blaming the suspended cases scandal on a total system failure. The report, which came about a week after then-Chief Troy Finner abruptly retired, barely mentioned him and said the code was implemented during one of the department’s most chaotic years and said the special victims division was an early and frequent adopter. The report didn’t delve into the matter of who should be held responsible for the code’s continued use in subsequent years, saying that was a matter for an internal investigation. Thus far, only two people have been demoted and one resigned in connection with that investigation. Griffith said he hadn’t heard many specifics on who else might be disciplined, but expected there would be more demotions. Most of the names mentioned in the first report have either retired or left the department, so it’s not clear who else might be disciplined, Griffith said.

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Dallas Morning News - June 11, 2024

National Democratic group spends $140,000 on Texas voter turnout effort

The Democratic National Committee is providing $140,000 to help Texas Democrats boost voter turnout in the November general election. “Texas firmly holds a spotlight within the national political arena,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “This partnership makes one thing very clear: Texas will play a huge role in the Democratic Party’s goal of securing victories up and down the ballot in 2024.” The grant brings the DNC’s total investment in Texas this year to more than $515,000, according to DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison.

“The DNC is committed to re-electing President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and, as President Biden has made clear since his inauguration, Democrats must also win up and down the ballot and strengthen organizing across all fifty states,” Harrison said in a statement. The Democratic National Committee has considered winning the presidential race in Texas a longshot, so, for most cycles, it has not invested much money or resources in the state. National Democrats have followed their lead, with out-of-state candidates traveling to Texas to raise campaign dollars to use outside the state. In 2020, Biden committed to provide resources to help Texas Democrats in that year’s general election but did not follow through. Biden and Harrison were in Dallas for two March fundraisers, collecting more than $4.5 million. Considering that total alone, the DNC’s Texas investment is minor. Still, Harrison said, it shows Texas is a priority for the party. “Today’s announced investment in the Texas State Democratic Party shows that priority in action,” he said in the statement. Hinojosa was happy to get the money.

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Dallas Morning News - June 11, 2024

Antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ flyers reported in Flower Mound over the weekend, police say

Flower Mound residents over the weekend reported finding plastic bags containing antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ messages, police say. On Saturday afternoon, Flower Mound police responded to “several” people who said they found the material, the department said in an email. People reported seeing two males throwing the bags from an older Nissan sedan, police said, adding that “approximately hundreds” of bags were disseminated around the area. “FMPD will continue to investigate and we urge our residents to contact us with any information on this incident and in the event these subjects return to our Town,” police wrote in the email.

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Dallas Morning News - June 11, 2024

Dallas promised to make Eddie García the highest-paid police chief in a major Texas city

In order to keep Eddie García as Dallas’ police chief, the city committed to keeping him among the highest-paid police chiefs in the state. According to last month’s amendment to García’s offer letter that the city said would keep him in Dallas at least through mid-2027, the city agreed to give García a raise if any Texas police chief in a city with at least 1 million residents makes more than him. Besides Dallas, that list for now includes just Houston, which has more than 2.3 million people, and San Antonio, which has a population of almost 1.5 million. But that group could soon include other growing cities like Austin, which has around 980,000 residents, and Fort Worth, which has around 978,000 people. Dallas has around 1.3 million residents.

“The city is committed to paying you a base salary of $306,440.40 or the highest salary for a police chief of a Texas city with a population of over one million,” interim city manager Kimberly Bizor Tolbert wrote in García’s offer letter amendment, which was signed May 16. “If a police chief of a Texas city with a population of over one million receives a higher salary than your base salary, your salary will be increased to a higher salary that will take effect on the first uniformed pay period 30 days after the effective date of that police chief’s salary.” The city announced on the day the amendment was signed that García would remain as the leader of Dallas’ police department and was “making a commitment to stay in Dallas until at least May 2027.? The agreement was reached at a time that city officials in Houston and Austin were interested in hiring García, who has received national acclaim for his violence reduction plan in Dallas. Houston and Austin each has an interim police chief. “I’m honored that the city has valued the work we’ve done together,” García told The Dallas Morning News on Monday. “I’m tremendously grateful that City Manager Tolbert placed that provision in the agreement.” Tolbert didn’t immediately respond Monday to a text request for comment. She told The News in May she believes García deserves to be Texas’ highest-paid police department leader.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 11, 2024

Rapid-fire gun 'switches' are proliferating; feds are cracking down

Demand for illegal firearm "switches" — small devices attached to semiautomatic pistols to make them fire like machine guns — is exploding and so is their availability on the black market, federal authorities said Monday. "Unfortunately, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of switches on our streets across Texas, and they are alarmingly popular among juveniles," said Jaime Esparza, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. That's largely because of social media posts that feature switches, which are attached to the backs of Glocks and similar weapons to increase their firing rates. Authorities say switch makers and distributors also sell them through social media sites.

Esparza's and three other U.S. attorneys offices in Texas are teaming up with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to slow the proliferation of the devices, also known as "sears" and "chips." "Because of that increased firing rate, these weapons are notoriously difficult to control and notoriously difficult to aim," said Robert Topper, assistant special agent in charge of the ATF in San Antonio. "That brings a hugely much greater risk to innocent bystanders whenever they're used." During a news conference to announce "Operation Texas Kill Switch" on Monday, officials showed a video of an ATF agent demonstrating the fire power of a Glock with a switch attachment. The recoil pushed the agent backward, and he struggled to keep the pistol steady as he fired.

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Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2024

Rep. Christina Morales: I toured an HISD school. I was shocked.

Schools should be a safe space where students can learn, grow and interact with each other. Here in Houston, our schools are anything but. With Houston Independent School District now under management of the Texas Education Agency, the state is responsible for the students and teachers on every campus in HISD. As a state representative, I visited Wainwright Elementary in April. It is an HISD school that opted into Superintendent Mike Miles’ New Education System. I was shocked by what I saw. The tour showed a school run without any accountability to voters, and a community of educators that answer to one person. The superintendent has broad discretion over what happens within each school, and the state-appointed board of managers seemed to have very little knowledge of what is happening in the district.

As the day progressed, another state representative and I realized that though HISD had originally invited us to tour and see what we felt was important for us to know as legislators, we were actually shadowing Miles on the superintendent’s visit to the school. Not only did the visit feel staged, but we were not allowed into areas and classrooms that were not on the original schedule. Even the places that we were shown felt sterile, rushed and threatening. In the classrooms, timers on the board forced the teachers to change gears every few minutes. These timers are a new strategy employed by Miles. We worried that they forced the teacher to move rapidly through the curriculum without regard for student comprehension or learning differences. And in the classes we saw, there was no opportunity for students to interact — a key pillar of childhood development. Roughly three-quarters of Wainwright’s students are Hispanic, and at least before the state took over HISD, around half were enrolled in a bilingual program or English as a Second Language classes. We asked if we could see a dual language classroom. Though we said we were willing to wait as long as needed, Miles and the principal refused to show us one. Even more concerning, we interacted with only one Spanish speaker at the school, and it was the receptionist. None of the teachers or learning coaches we interacted with spoke Spanish, and the superintendent sidestepped the majority of our questions about Spanish language education at the school.

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Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2024

Federal judge convicts man who called in threat into U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's office

A federal judge on Monday found a Fort Bend County man guilty of making threats to injure U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Isaac Ambe Nformangum, 24, of Richmond, was charged with one count of interstate communications with a threat to injure. Nformangum was accused of calling Cruz's Houston office on June 26, 2022, and leaving a 7-minute-long threat, during which he said Cruz would be found and killed. According to court records, Nformangum referred to Cruz as "Senator Rafael" and began his message by referencing the Republican Party of Texas' position in support of repealing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"Every last one of your Republican colleagues to have signed off on that platform is to be found and, is to be found and killed, be it by a bullet to the face or by the smashing of a brick in your skull," Nformangum said in the message, according to a federal indictment. "You will be found and killed," he said later, according to the indictment. Nformangum's last name appeared on the office phone's caller ID, according to the indictment. He was arrested on June 28. 2022. In an interview with FBI agents after his arrest, Nformangum said he was upset about the GOP platform and called Cruz's office from a private area at his work. Nformangum told the agents he didn't plan to carry out the threats and expected to end up on some sort of watch list. Nformangum was found guilty following a two-hour bench trial in front of U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 11, 2024

SpaceX's Starship launch damaged shorebird nests, environmental survey finds

Last week’s launch of SpaceX’s giant Starship from South Texas damaged or destroyed numerous shorebird nests in the state park surrounding the private space company’s launch facility, according to a new report that also noted other environmental impacts. The Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program said its survey found that each of nine nests it monitored south of the launch pad had missing and broken eggs after Thursday morning’s launch. The report echoes similar findings after Starship’s first flight in April 2023 and revives concerns about Starship’s environmental impact on the sensitive wildlife area.

“Ongoing and annual monitoring of the Boca Chica area has documented shifts, and overall reductions, in shorebird nesting activity in recent years since rocket testing and launch activity began,” the Corpus Christi-based nonprofit environmental research and advocacy group said in its report. Last week’s survey did not find any injured or dead wildlife. However, the group’s biologists noted “minor metal sheet and insulation debris on the intertidal flat along the north side of Highway 4 — most within 100 meters of the road.” It also noted evidence of a 400-square-foot wildfire in Boca Chica State Park southwest of the launch pad and effects of the the pad’s water deluge system. “The soil in much of the South Launch sandflat appeared a darker color than the day before and also appeared slightly bumpy and crunchy, indicating that water, vapor and/or sand and mud may have been projected out over the landscape and begun to dry already in the hot sun,” the report said.

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Religion News Service - June 11, 2024

Tony Evans says he is ‘stepping away’ from leading Dallas megachurch due to ‘sin’

Tony Evans, the longtime leader of a Dallas megachurch and bestselling author, has announced that he is stepping back from his ministry due to “sin” he committed years ago. “The foundation of our ministry has always been our commitment to the Word of God as the absolute supreme standard of truth to which we are to conform our lives,” Evans said in a Sunday (June 9) statement to his Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship church that was posted on its website. “When we fall short of that standard due to sin, we are required to repent and restore our relationship with God. A number of years ago, I fell short of that standard. I am, therefore, required to apply the same biblical standard of repentance and restoration to myself that I have applied to others.” Evans, 74, was not specific about his actions but said they were not criminal.

“While I have committed no crime, I did not use righteous judgment in my actions,” he said. “In light of this, I am stepping away from my pastoral duties and am submitting to a healing and restoration process established by the elders.” Evans, the founder of the Christian Bible teaching ministry The Urban Alternative, has led the congregation for more than 40 years and has a radio broadcast, The Alternative with Tony Evans, that is carried on hundreds of radio outlets across the globe. An additional statement on the website of the predominantly Black nondenominational church said Evans made the announcement about stepping away from his senior pastoral duties during both of the congregation’s services on Sunday. “This difficult decision was made after tremendous prayer and multiple meetings with Dr. Evans and the church elders,” the other statement reads. “The elder board is obligated to govern the church in accordance with the scriptures. Dr. Evans and the elders agree that when any elder or pastor falls short of the high standards of scripture, the elders are responsible for providing accountability and maintaining integrity in the church.” The second statement said Pastor Bobby Gibson, lead associate pastor of fellowship, and the church’s elders will provide more details about future steps concerning interim leadership.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 11, 2024

Tucker Carlson, Roseanne Barr at Fort Worth’s Dickies Arena to "troll the establishment"

Conservative firebrand Tucker Carlson will be in Fort Worth as one of the stops in a 15-city arena tour this fall where he will interview a guest at each town. Each stop on his tour is sure to troll those with opposing viewpoints, but he will be praised by the political warriors that have hung on his every word while a commentator on Fox News and after his ignominious exit from the conservative network. “I can’t wait to take our show on the road in cities across America,” Carslon said in a press release. “We’re going to be talking about real issues with real people. You’d better believe the establishment will be losing their minds.” Carlson’s Fort Worth interview subject is comedian, actor and political provocateur Roseanne Barr. The former Fox News host is embarking on a national tour this fall and is appearing at Dickies Arena on Sept. 24.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 11, 2024

Slap fights go viral, but is it a sport? Texas is poised to say yes.

While touring Japan a decade ago, Raymond Hernandez saw something on TV he thought was pretty funny. Five guys stood in a circle. One turned to his right and slapped the guy next to him in the face, hard. No. 2 then turned and slapped the guy to his right. Those who couldn’t take it left the circle. The last man standing was the winner. “A comedy,” Hernandez recalled. As the owner of the touring Ink Master Tattoo show franchise, Hernandez was always looking for interesting things to add to the mix. For the February 2015 show at the Lubbock Convention Center, he decided to put on his own low-budget version.

Two guys would face each other across a plastic folding table with a red vinyl tablecloth and take turns smacking each other in the face. Whoever handled it best would win $300. “It was the cheapest entertainment,” Hernandez said. It can be difficult to grasp how popular slap fighting has become, and how quickly. Power Slap, the most prominent league — and, thanks to its affiliation with UFC, the highest-profile and most powerful — hosted its first public event barely a year and a half ago. Since then, the Las Vegas-based organization has gained 15 million social media followers and its events have racked up 6 billion total views, said league President Frank Lamicella. Some of its videos get hundreds of millions of views — “pretty much the most-viewed clips in sports.” If the league’s claims occasionally sound unbelievable, it’s for good reason, according to some fact checks. Still, it seems safe to say a shocking number of people have expressed interest in an obscure and violent activity that popped up on the public radar only recently. Lamicella, who is a partner in Power Slap with UFC’s current owners and mixed martial arts impresario Dana White, said the explosive growth was predictable to anyone paying attention. Early slap videos coming out of Eastern Europe featuring burly shirtless Slavs were attracting 200-300 million views, and that was without production values.

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National Stories

USA Today - June 11, 2024

Critical primaries in four states on Tuesday loom large for fall elections

Voters in four states on Tuesday will head to the polls to choose which candidates in a slate of congressional and state primaries will battle it out in contentious races this fall. The results of close races in Nevada and Maine could determine which party controls the House and Senate next year and with it significant power over the agenda for the 2024 White House winner. Contests in South Carolina and North Dakota are almost certain to decide the general election winner in heavily Republican areas. Republican Rep. Nancy Mace faces a competitive primary challenge for South Carolina’s 1st congressional district from former state cabinet official Catherine Templeton. The race is shaping up to be a proxy fight between former President Donald Trump’s MAGA wing of the Republican party and establishment conservatives. Mace has received criticism from members of the GOP for voting with seven other House Republicans in 2023 to oust then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. McCarthy had backed Mace when she initially ran for Congress in 2020, but the Charleston-area Republican lawmaker argued that McCarthy had not kept his promises.

American Prosperity Alliance, a group aligned with McCarthy, ran an ad against Mace in the race. And McCarthy’s political action committee, Majority Committee PAC, has donated $10,000 to Templeton’s campaign. Templeton, who served as head of the state health and environment department under then-Gov. Nikki Haley, has received endorsements from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. Mace, meanwhile, received the backing of Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson. But it’s unclear how far Trump’s support will go in her coastal district. The balance of power in the U.S. Senate hangs on a handful of key races in November, including for first-term Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen’s Nevada seat. In the GOP race, retired U.S. Army Capt. Sam Brown is facing off against Jeff Gunter, the former ambassador to Iceland during the Trump administration and former Nevada state Rep. Jim Marchant. Two Republicans are vying to take on third-term Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in Maine’s 1st District, encompassing the northern half of the state. Golden is one of just five Democrats in Congress who hold districts that Trump won in the 2020 election. One of the biggest decisions North Dakota voters must confront on Tuesday isn’t about who is running, but about who can appear on the ballot in the state. Voters will decide on a controversial ballot measure that would set an age limit for congressional candidates. If passed, the measure would prevent people who would reach the age of 81 by their last year in office from running.

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Wall Street Journal - June 11, 2024

Gaza Chief’s brutal calculation: Civilian bloodshed will help Hamas

For months, Yahya Sinwar has resisted pressure to cut a ceasefire-and-hostages deal with Israel. Behind his decision, messages the Hamas military leader in Gaza has sent to mediators show, is a calculation that more fighting—and more Palestinian civilian deaths—work to his advantage. “We have the Israelis right where we want them,” Sinwar said in a recent message to Hamas officials seeking to broker an agreement with Qatari and Egyptian officials. Fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas units in the Gaza Strip’s south has disrupted humanitarian-aid shipments, caused mounting civilian casualties and intensified international criticism of Israel’s efforts to eradicate the Islamist extremist group. For much of Sinwar’s political life, shaped by bloody conflict with an Israeli state that he says has no right to exist, he has stuck to a simple playbook. Backed into a corner, he looks to violence for a way out. The current fight in Gaza is no exception.

In dozens of messages—reviewed by The Wall Street Journal—that Sinwar has transmitted to cease-fire negotiators, Hamas compatriots outside Gaza and others, he’s shown a cold disregard for human life and made clear he believes Israel has more to lose from the war than Hamas. The messages were shared by multiple people with differing views of Sinwar. More than 37,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, most of them civilians, Palestinian officials say. The figure doesn’t specify how many were combatants. Health authorities said almost 300 Palestinians were killed Saturday in an Israeli raid that rescued four hostages kept in captivity in homes surrounded by civilians—driving home for some Palestinians their role as pawns for Hamas. In one message to Hamas leaders in Doha, Sinwar cited civilian losses in national-liberation conflicts in places such as Algeria, where hundreds of thousands of people died fighting for independence from France, saying, “these are necessary sacrifices.” In an April 11 letter to Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh after three of Haniyeh’s adult sons were killed by an Israeli airstrike, Sinwar wrote that their deaths and those of other Palestinians would “infuse life into the veins of this nation, prompting it to rise to its glory and honor.”

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Wall Street Journal - June 11, 2024

‘Anti-woke’ shareholders are going after corporate boards

A new kind of shareholder activism is rattling companies: “anti-woke” agitators. Shareholders at dozens of big companies, from GE Aerospace to UPS, are voting on proposals opposing environmental and social initiatives this year. Investors backed by conservative groups are suing Target and other companies for their progressive stances. And companies are muting their focus on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives as DEI programs come under legal and political threat. The activists frame the push as getting politics out of business—and suggest getting used to it.

“We who would prefer corporate behavior without partisan influence have really started to get into the game after years of quiescence,” said Scott Shepard, general counsel at the National Center for Public Policy Research, or NCPPR, a conservative think tank that has proposed dozens of shareholder measures questioning corporate initiatives on climate, diversity and other subjects. Advocates for more progressive environmental, social and corporate-governance shareholder proposals call the newcomers politically motivated and cite research suggesting more established ESG measures improve long-term financial outcomes at companies. Supporting ESG work is the right thing to do and “absolutely imperative for your business and the future of your business,” Sarah Kate Ellis, chief executive of Glaad, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ advocacy, said in an April interview. Shareholders have voted on 70 measures opposing traditional ESG initiatives at S&P 500 companies through the end of May this year, up from 30 two years ago and seven in 2020, according to data from ISS-Corporate, a unit of proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services. Several ask for more corporate oversight of diversity and inclusion efforts and donations to LGBTQ groups.

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New York Times - June 11, 2024

In secret recordings, Alito endorses nation of ‘Godliness.’ Roberts talks of pluralism.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. told a woman posing as a Catholic conservative last week that compromise in America between the left and right might be impossible and then agreed with the view that the nation should return to a place of godliness. “One side or the other is going to win,” Justice Alito told the woman, Lauren Windsor, at an exclusive gala at the Supreme Court. “There can be a way of working, a way of living together peacefully, but it’s difficult, you know, because there are differences on fundamental things that really can’t be compromised.” Ms. Windsor pressed Justice Alito further. “I think that the solution really is like winning the moral argument,” she told him, according to the edited recordings of Justice Alito and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., which were posted and distributed widely on social media on Monday. “Like, people in this country who believe in God have got to keep fighting for that, to return our country to a place of godliness.”

“I agree with you, I agree with you,” he responded. The justice’s comments appeared to be in marked contrast to those of Chief Justice Roberts, who was also secretly recorded at the same event but who pushed back against Ms. Windsor’s assertion that the court had an obligation to lead the country on a more “moral path.” “Would you want me to be in charge of putting the nation on a more moral path?” the chief justice said. “That’s for people we elect. That’s not for lawyers.” Ms. Windsor pressed the chief justice about religion, saying, “I believe that the founders were godly, like were Christians, and I think that we live in a Christian nation and that our Supreme Court should be guiding us in that path.” Chief Justice Roberts quickly answered, “I don’t know if that’s true.” He added: “I don’t know that we live in a Christian nation. I know a lot of Jewish and Muslim friends who would say maybe not, and it’s not our job to do that.” The chief justice also said he did not think polarization in the country was irreparable, pointing out that the United States had managed crises as severe as the Civil War and the Vietnam War.

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Washington Post - June 11, 2024

The Post at a crossroads: Existential questions in a dire season for news

For the people who work at The Washington Post — as well as the people who read it — a window into the motivations of the newspaper’s sometimes-remote owner opened briefly over a 48-hour period last October. On a Monday night that month, Jeff Bezos played host at his Kalorama mansion to a ceremony honoring the courage of female correspondents. One of them, a Post reporter, shared her account of coming under intense artillery fire in Ukraine, fully expecting not to survive. Bezos, the founder of Amazon and one of the richest people in the world, was mesmerized. He later told the reporter he was moved nearly to tears. Two days later, he sent an email to staff saying how invigorated he was to spend time with Post journalists — before turning to the health of the business.

After “a full business update, [I] wanted to make sure you know I’m as committed to the future of The Post as ever,” he wrote. “Long term it’s important that The Post return to profitability, a key signal that we’re serving readers in a way that’s important to them.” What Bezos wants from and for The Post has remained the compelling question through a week of internal turmoil, during which his handpicked new publisher and CEO, William Lewis, abruptly replaced the newspaper’s first female executive editor and announced a reorganization of the newsroom — the exact plans for which remain unclear — in a bid to boost earnings. Even as The Post’s staff struggled to absorb these sudden changes, reports about Lewis attempting to dissuade journalists from covering his role in a long-running British phone-hacking scandal raised new questions about whether The Post is headed for a larger shift in its values and standards, as well as its structure. Lewis denied attempting to influence The Post’s coverage. Both Lewis and Robert Winnett, the British editor he has tapped to take over the traditional news division this fall, are veterans of the Telegraph, a London newspaper where they collaborated on a blockbuster investigation of government corruption that was lauded but also criticized by some as “checkbook journalism” because of the six-figure fee paid to a key source — a tactic more common in the United Kingdom and generally unaccepted in U.S. newsrooms.

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Associated Press - June 11, 2024

The main takeaways after the far right rocks European politics, sparking a snap election in France

A four-day election has shaken the foundations of the European Union, with the far right rocking ruling parties in France and Germany, the bloc’s traditional driving forces. For the next five years it will be harder for the European Parliament to make decisions. French President Emmanuel Macron called snap national elections after Marine Le Pen’s National Rally humbled his pro-European centrists in the polls. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats also suffered as the extreme-right Alternative for Germany shrugged off scandals to make massive gains. In Italy, the party of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, which has neo-fascist roots, won more than 28% of the national vote for the EU assembly, which would make it a key player in forming future alliances. Green and pro-business liberal groups across Europe suffered heavy defeats, but mainstream formations held their ground, with the center-right European People’s Party remaining the biggest bloc in the 27-nation EU’s assembly.

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Associated Press - June 11, 2024

The Rev. James Lawson Jr. has died at 95, civil rights leader’s family says

The Rev. James Lawson Jr., an apostle of nonviolent protest who schooled activists to withstand brutal reactions from white authorities as the Civil Rights Movement gained traction, has died, his family said Monday. He was 95. His family said Lawson died on Sunday after a short illness in Los Angeles, where he spent decades working as a pastor, labor movement organizer and university professor. Lawson was a close adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who called him “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.” Lawson met King in 1957, after spending three years in India soaking up knowledge about Mohandas K. Gandhi’s independence movement. King would travel to India himself two years later, but at the time, he had only read about Gandhi in books.

The two Black pastors — both 28 years old — quickly bonded over their enthusiasm for the Indian leader’s ideas, and King urged Lawson to put them into action in the American South. Lawson soon led workshops in church basements in Nashville, Tennessee, that prepared John Lewis, Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, Marion Barry, the Freedom Riders and many others to peacefully withstand vicious responses to their challenges of racist laws and policies. Lawson’s lessons led Nashville to become the first major city in the South to desegregate its downtown, on May 10, 1960, after hundreds of well-organized students staged lunch-counter sit-ins and boycotts of discriminatory businesses. Lawson’s particular contribution was to introduce Gandhian principles to people more familiar with biblical teachings, showing how direct action could expose the immorality and fragility of racist white power structures. Gandhi said “that we persons have the power to resist the racism in our own lives and souls,” Lawson told the AP. “We have the power to make choices and to say no to that wrong. That’s also Jesus.” Years later, in 1968, it was Lawson who organized the sanitation workers strike that fatefully drew King to Memphis. Lawson said he was at first paralyzed and forever saddened by King’s assassination.

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