December 1, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2020

Harris County GOP chair Keith Nielsen resigns in wake of racist social media post

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Keith Nielsen resigned Monday, the party’s secretary confirmed, ending a brief tenure dogged by his social media post that displayed a Martin Luther King Jr. quote next to a banana. The post, which recalls a racist trope associating Black people with monkeys, sparked calls from high-ranking Texas Republicans for Nielsen to decline the office, which he won after defeating former party chair Paul Simpson in March. Nielsen at first said he would not take office, then reversed course, despite facing internal opposition from some precinct chairs due to the social media post.

Nielsen could not be reached for comment Monday. His resignation comes weeks after Democrats swept every countywide seat in Harris County for the third straight election. The Harris County Republican Party’s bylaws require the secretary, Josh Flynn, to call a meeting of the party executive committee to elect Nielsen’s successor. The meeting, which requires a 14-day notice, had not yet been called by Monday morning, precinct chair Rolando Garcia posted on Facebook.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2020

A massive solar farm may be a boon to Houston's Sunnyside. Or not.

In south Houston, Sunnyside residents hope a solar farm set to cover a former city dump will prove the exception to findings that large installations of energy-producing solar panels hurt property values in nearby neighborhoods. The city project, being built by Wolfe Energy, would produce enough power for about 5,000 homes. Along with its planned hiking and biking trails and aquaponic farming space, the 240-acre development could be a boon to this low-income neighborhood, some residents say. But recent studies, including one from the University of Texas at Austin, show that solar farms depress nearby home values.

Homebuyers are reluctant to live near the vast arrays of panels that click throughout the day as they adjust to capture the sun’s energy. Power generation sites — no matter how “green” — are unpopular neighbors, the recent research shows. For example, prices of homes within a mile of utility-size solar projects in New England were 1.7 percent lower than homes farther away, according to a recent University of Rhode Island study. Within a tenth of a mile of the solar arrays, home prices were 7 percent lower. A similar pattern emerged in a survey of property appraisers, who said the negative effect of solar farms on home prices worsens the closer a home is to a large-scale solar project, according to a survey by the University of Texas at Austin. Prices were negatively affected up to 1,000 feet from a small 1.5-megawatt site that would cover as much as 12-acres and up to one mile from a 102-megawatt site that would cover up to 816 acres, almost the size of New York’s Central Park. Large-scale solar sites are known for killing birds that swoop down on the shiny surfaces expecting a lake, said one building expert. They’re devoid of vegetation with the land clear cut to accommodate the solar panels. And they are never installed in wealthy neighborhoods but in remote areas where property values are already low.

Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2020

Texas AG Ken Paxton claims Harris County's elections office, administrator were created illegally

Harris County failed to follow the Texas Election Code when it created an independent election administration office, rendering the office and the appointment of Isabel Longoria as administrator null and void, according to Attorney General Ken Paxton. In a Nov. 25 letter to the county attorney’s office, Paxton said Harris County did not inform the secretary of state in a timely fashion, as required by law, when it created the new office in July and when an administrator was selected in October to run it. “As a result, neither the Commissioners Court’s July 14, 2020 order nor the Election Commission’s October 30, 2020 appointment of (Isabel) Longoria to the position holds any legal weight,” Paxton wrote. “In short, the Harris County Office of Election Administrator does not exist.”

Longoria’s appointment should be rescinded, the attorney general said. The Democratic majority on Commissioners Court voted in July to create an independent office to run elections in Harris County. The switch, which already has been made in the other largest Texas counties, consolidates the election management role of the county clerk and the voter registration duty of the tax assessor-collector. The Election Code requires counties to inform the secretary of state within three days of creating an elections administration office. Within six days, it must inform the state of the appointment of an administrator. Paxton said Harris County waited two weeks to inform the secretary of state it had created the elections administration office and three weeks to formally disclose the hiring of Longoria as administrator, a senior aide in the County Clerk’s Office. Harris County must take “corrective action” within 14 days, the attorney general said, or the state may take the issue to court. County Attorney Vince Ryan placed an item on Tuesday’s Commissioners Court agenda to discuss the matter.

Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Gov. Abbott must act to counter holiday virus surge in Texas

Despite warnings from elected officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of Americans traveled to visit friends and family for Thanksgiving. While many will come home renewed, their spirits cheered by shared food and conversation, many will also return with an unseen, potentially deadly companion. As experts forecast a spike in COVID-19 cases after the holiday, piling on top of what are already record numbers of infections and deaths throughout the country, Texas must be ready to meet the public obligation that comes when personal responsibility turns out to not be enough to slow the virus. During his most recent pandemic address, Gov. Greg Abbott rejected taking stronger measures or yielding more authority to local officials, instead he focused on the positive. He pointed to the distribution of two new COVID-19 antibody treatments and the promise held by vaccines that may come to market as soon as mid-December.

These are undoubtedly hopeful indicators that we will eventually win the fight against the pandemic, but in the meantime, there are no signs that the spread is abating, and the governor’s intransigence has a price. Tuesday was the largest single-day increase in Texas cases since the pandemic began. The state has topped one million reported infections, more than 21,000 deaths, and hospitalizations are climbing steadily. Abbott did the right thing when he ordered a statewide mask mandate in July, a move that some Republican-led states continue to refuse, but his directive should have come with a campaign to counter the mixed messages sent by President Donald Trump and vocal opponents within the GOP. Imagine what a “Don’t Mess with Texas”-style effort could do to spur and inspire proper mask use. Instead, other Texas leaders have mostly remained silent, or worse, dived headfirst into dangerously politicizing what should be commonsense, effective safety measures. This month, with more than 260,000 lives claimed by the virus nationally, Sen. Ted Cruz called a fellow U.S. senator’s mask use “an ostentatious sign of fake virtue” and tweeted a “war on Thanksgiving” meme with a takeoff on the Come and Take it flag where the cannon was replaced by a turkey.

Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2020

Will Houston’s next museum celebrate Native Americans?

The horizon line surrounding Houston’s recently-launched, online Southern Plains Museum and Cultural Center reminds visitors they have entered a virtual space. The grassy landscape reaches to jagged brown hills, more New Mexico than Gulf Coast. The vision for what such a place could hold, however, feels increasingly real to president Chance L. Landry. “We’re going to use this as a catapult,” she says.

The low-slung, drum-shaped building of glass and orange stucco resembles the #ArtforJustice virtual museum designed by the same virtual architecture firm, Invi, last summer. But its rooms hold exhibits, a health clinic and a library (where visitors can learn a few basic phrases of Athbaskan, the Apache language common to many tribes); and out back there’s a garden, an Aztec pyramid, a powwow arena and a teepee-lined court for market days. The dream has been percolating a long time for Landry, a member of the Lipan Apache Nation who grew up in Pasadena, and worked as geological draftsman, then a T-shirt artist. She has established a physical museum before — the short-lived Southern Apache Museum, which occupied a space inside Northwest Mall from 2012 to 2017. Opening that first museum was easy, she said, because she has painted all her life, interpreting scenes she reads in books of Native American history. She hung her lifetime of paintings and drawings to educate the general public. But Native Americans found her, too. People donated objects, including collections of arrowheads and ceremonial garb. Groups gathered at her space for practices and language classes. They formed an alliance of nations, and almost by default, the museum became a community center.

Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2020

Hunting hogs from a hot air balloon has not taken off in Texas

Turns out, hunting feral hogs from a hot air balloon is not all that popular in Texas. Three years after state lawmakers approved the high-flying hunts, no balloon company has gotten a permit, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. Gunning down feral hogs from a helicopter, however, has taken off. Since the Legislature passed the so-called “pork chopper” bill in 2011 to drive down invasive pig populations, scores of businesses have begun offering aerial hog hunts to customers willing to pay thousands of dollars for the experience.

An estimated 5 million feral hogs live across Texas in almost every county and cause millions of dollars of damage each year. Their populations run wild due to high breeding rates and a lack of natural predators. “They not only destroy crops, but now they are getting on golf courses, turning over headstones in cemeteries, turning up irrigation systems,” said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who advocated the aerial hunting laws. “They are just a real problem.” Miller said he floated the hot air balloon proposal to a state lawmaker after meeting a West Texan who raved about using balloons to hunt hogs. They are less noisy than helicopters and offer a more steady shooting platform, proponents have said. Still, balloons come with their own challenges, chief among them, the wind, which can send hunters flying in the opposite direction of the hogs. “Even though you might know where the winds are forecasted to go, doesn’t mean that’s always what the winds are going to do,” said Josh Sneed, Southwest Region Director for the Balloon Federation of America.

Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2020

Why did voters reject parts of Allen ISD’s latest bond package? School officials want to know

Allen ISD has launched an online survey to gather input on the two propositions rejected by voters in this month’s school bond election. Proposition B, which called for $7 million for track resurfacing and turf replacement at several athletic facilities across the district, failed with more than 61% of voters opposed. Proposition C would have provided $515,000 for tennis court repairs and resurfacing, but failed with more than 51% of voters against it.

“These projects remain as needs for our district, and your feedback will be invaluable as AISD looks for ways to complete the projects in the future,” the district wrote in a news release about the survey. Two other propositions, together totaling about $214 million of the $222 million overall package proposed by the school district, were passed. Those funds will go toward technology upgrades, safety improvements and various infrastructure projects on campuses across the district, among other things. The survey closes Wednesday, and all results will remain anonymous.

Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2020

Former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Trump’s NATO ambassador, pledges ‘smooth’ transition to Biden

Former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, on Monday vowed there would be a “smooth” and “seamless” transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, even as President Donald Trump continues to fight the election result. The Republican’s comments, delivered at a virtual news conference in Brussels, put her at odds with many of her GOP counterparts -- including Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz -- who’ve mostly refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory. “We are going to work in a transition for a new administration coming in,” she said ahead of a NATO ministerial meeting. “We are going to make sure it’s smooth. That’s what we have in democracies, and that’s what we are going to produce.”

Hutchison’s comments are particularly noteworthy, given that Trump is still her boss and that most administration officials have followed his lead in casting doubt on the November election. The Texan was unequivocal about what would happen come January, when Biden is sworn in as the next president. She repeatedly referred to the Democrat as the president-elect and made assurances that she would do her part to assist in the transition from one administration to the next. Hutchison even vouched for Biden, noting that she served in the U.S. Senate with him for many years. “President-elect Biden is certainly pro-NATO,” she said. “I know he is very much a multi-lateral organization supporter. We like to have allies. He likes to have allies. That is ongoing from this administration to the next administration.” The former senator also predicted that Biden’s “first trip to Europe will be to NATO.” “Because he is such a supporter of the trans-Atlantic bond, and also that’s a tradition that American presidents have followed,” she said. “There will be a seamless transition in support of our trans-Atlantic bond, and NATO and the United States – there will not be a difference.” She added: “America is very committed to NATO.” Hutchison didn’t comment on some of Biden’s foreign policy picks for his Cabinet. The incoming president, for instance, has announced his plans to nominate Anthony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state, to serve as his top diplomat. But Hutchison said the Biden administration, on various issues, would “need to determine what the policy is, as it stands” and “what the options would be going forward.” She cited as an example the Trump administration’s decision to relocate thousands of troops out of Germany.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 30, 2020

Marijuana legalization could bring in over $1 billion to Texas. Could it happen?

With Texas facing a large economic deficit brought on by the coronavirus, some Democratic lawmakers and marijuana advocates believe the budget can be restored by legalizing recreational marijuana as reports show it could bring in about $1 billion in revenue a year. A mix of bills addressing marijuana have already been filed as lawmakers prepare for the 87th Legislature, which is slated to start in January. None of them has been authored, co-authored or sponsored by Tarrant County Republican lawmakers. Last legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill legalizing hemp and thus making CBD oil legal in Texas.

Sean Taylor-Sears, part-owner of Purely CBD in Fort Worth, said legalization of marijuana would not bring down the sales of CBD because his product is catered for those who want a relaxing feeling but don’t want to be high. Those who want marijuana will buy marijuana, not CBD, and vice versa, he said. Legalization would create jobs and help the state overcome its $4.58 billion shortfall, advocates argue, but it won’t be an easy task to get cannabis bills through a Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick-led Texas Senate. Tarrant County House Districts 92, 93, 94, 96 and 97 will be represented by Republicans Jeff Cason, Matt Krause, Tony Tinderholt, David Cook and Craig Goldman. Cason, Tinderholt, Goldman did not respond when asked if they would support marijuana legislation. Krause told the Star-Telegram he had no comment.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 30, 2020

A coronavirus vaccine is coming soon. Here’s how Tarrant County plans to get it to you

Tarrant County public health officials are preparing for the distribution of coronavirus vaccines. The health department has been holding calls with Texas health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but there is no official word when the vaccine will arrive, said Vinny Taneja, the county’s public health director. The first vaccinations will go to first-responders and high-risk groups. It might not be until 2021 when vaccines are available for the general public, but Taneja said the vaccine will be available at pharmacies when it is released to the general public.

Taneja said the county is partnering with the John Peter Smith Hospital Network and other health care facilities to ensure it has ample space and resources to get vaccinations to people. The state will allocate vaccinations based on protecting essential workers, health care workers and vulnerable populations such as the elderly, according to a plan outlined by Gov. Greg Abbott. Officials are expecting a plethora of vaccinations, so a floor in one of the county’s buildings is being redone as a storage room with five freezers and five refrigerators. The freezers, which can reach minus-86 degrees, can store about 20,000 multi-vial doses. A refrigerator can hold 65,000, according to Erin Beasley, the county’s immunization outreach supervisor. Drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have promising vaccine candidates. Both require two doses. Pfizer’s booster shot will be given three weeks after the first one; Moderna’s is spaced four weeks later. But storage is only one of the challenges the county will face. Officials need a way to distribute the vaccine. Taneja said the county is testing its distribution plan by administering 17,000 flu vaccines at mobile clinics.

San Antonio Express-News - November 30, 2020

New surprises surround Alamo’s famed ‘18-pounder’ cannon that fired a hot round in response to Santa Anna’s demand for surrender

The Alamo’s “18-pounder” cannon that famously fired a defiant shot in response to Santa Anna’s demand for surrender in 1836 was actually a smaller 9-pounder altered to fire heavier rounds, a surprising new report shows. And the weapons likely was forged by the Swedish, not the British as long believed. A replica of the cannon, which disappeared from a display pad at San Pedro Springs Park more than a century ago, is in production in Ohio. It’s set to to be dedicated in Alamo Plaza in early 2021 and will be placed in the approximate location of the 1836 compound’s southwest corner, where the original cannon was fired.

The new information “does not diminish the importance of this particular cannon,” Alamo History researcher Kolby Lanham and Alamo Curator Ernesto Rodriguez wrote in the conclusion of the 14-page report, posted on the Alamo website, The report reveals the cannon was about 7 feet long and weighed between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds, about 1,500 pounds less than a true 18-pound cannon of its era. That means a 16-pounder on display at the Alamo since July 2019 was actually the largest cannon at the site. The 16-pounder measures more than 8 feet long, weighs 2,240 pounds and is on a carriage replica whose wheels were painted blue, to convey what historians believe it might have looked like in 1836, based on descriptions from Spanish military manuals. “We’ve always talked about the 18-pounder being the largest cannon west of the Mississippi. And it just doesn’t hold water anymore,” Lanham said. The words “18-pounder” and “16-pounder” refer to the weight of the cannonball the weapon fired.

Austin American-Statesman - November 30, 2020

Texas manufacturing loses steam as virus flares

Texas factory output is slowing amid a rise in coronavirus cases this fall that’s taking a toll on the state’s economy. A key barometer of manufacturing activity devised by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reflects expansion in November, but at a pace well below average since the sector began recovering over the summer from a virus-induced free fall. “The Texas manufacturing recovery lost some steam in November, with production and demand growth decelerating from October,” said Emily Kerr, senior business economist at the Dallas Fed.

The state production index, a broad measure of the sector that the Dallas Fed compiles through anonymous surveys of manufacturing executives, registered 7.2 in November, compared with 25.5 in October and a monthly average of about 18 since June. Positive readings indicate expansion, while negative readings indicate contraction. Despite the slowdown, the latest figure reflects conditions for Texas manufacturers that remain significantly improved from March, April and May, when the initial shock of the coronavirus pandemic sent the state and national economy into a tailspin. In April, the Dallas Fed’s production index slumped to negative 55.6 — the lowest point since compilation of the data began in 2004. The index has been in positive territory since June, however, as infection rates declined during the summer and as coronavirus-related business restrictions began to be loosened. But coronavirus cases have risen sharply this fall. Hospitalizations have climbed steadily statewide since early October, straining hospital capacity and staffing. According to the Dallas Fed, the trend is putting a new damper on Texas manufacturers, as well as other businesses across the state.

KXAN - November 30, 2020

Indicted Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody makes first court appearance

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody spent part of Monday morning in his first court appearance since the members of the county grand jury indicted him in September. Chody, wearing a blue pull over and a black mask, was seated at a conference room table beside his attorney, Gerry Morris. Williamson County prohibited the public from recording audio or video of the streamed hearing, which would traditionally be held in a public courtroom.

The hearing comes after Chody and his co-defendant, Jason Nassour, were each indicted on one count of Tampering with or Fabricating Physical Evidence with Intent to Impair the use of the Evidence on Sept. 25, stemming from the March 2019 in-custody death of Javier Ambler. The charge is a felony in Texas. Williamson County deputies attempted to stop Ambler’s white SUV after deputies said he failed to dim his headlights, which resulted in a chase that ended in Travis County. Ambler died about an hour after his arrest. Both Nassour and Chody pleaded not guilty to the evidence tampering charges. Chody alleged the indictment was used as a political hit to impact his reelection effort, which Chody lost. Sheriff-elect Mike Gleason beat Chody by 33,242 votes in the Nov. 3 election.

Spectrum News - November 30, 2020

Dallas leaders plan update to fix the State Fair of Texas after history of racism

Everything you love about the State Fair of Texas, from the food, the rides, and the car shows, is tied to the displacement of many African-American families in the 1960s. Now, city leaders are trying to right a wrong with new plans for the attraction. Back in the ‘60s developers kicked dozens of Black families away from South Dallas so they could build a parking lot. It’s a moment of removal that’s created built-up tension that people still talk about today. There are no pauses in life, especially for Brian Luallen. As the executive director for Fair Park First, there are deadlines for projects and plans he constantly meets to make sure the State Fair of Texas runs smoothly so families can enjoy food and fun.

“We see this park as sort of an extension of that southern tradition of the front porch,” said Luallen. Time moves forward for all of us, but the feelings of hurt and neglect from being displaced have stayed with this South Dallas community. “This is something that’s been talked about in the neighborhoods, around the city for 40 years almost,” added Luallen. Putting a park in Fair Park is how board members and developers want to give this space back to the community that was once dismantled by eminent domain. A $58 million price tag for green space has been approved unanimously by the city council. "When peeling back the layers of the history of the city that I call home, there are so many things that I feel ashamed of. I realize that as a leader we have an opportunity to either to feel ashamed or to try and make it better,” said council member Adam Bazaldua. The council member says it wasn’t hard for the council to reach that decision. The community park is expected to be a spot for outdoor yoga, splash pads, movies in the park, on top of the traditional yearly events Fair Park is known for.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2020

City creates task force to solidify Dallas as an entrepreneurial hub in the U.S.

Mayor Eric Johnson will create a new task force Monday to examine how to make Dallas a top city for entrepreneurs. The task force will be led by Mandy Price and Trey Bowles, two significant figures in the Dallas-Fort Worth startup scene. Bowles has spent the last decade working in the space, mentoring entrepreneurs and developing programs to support them in his work as CEO of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center. Price is CEO and co-founder of Kanarys, a platform where employees can anonymously review companies’ performance on issues like diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace. Kanarys recently received funding from Google through its startup accelerator program for Black founders.

“Dallas is a great city for big businesses, which is why we are home to 11 Fortune 500 companies’ headquarters,” Mayor Johnson said in a statement. “But as the economy changes and our recovery from COVID-19 begins, we have the opportunity to accelerate our growth if we foster a culture of innovation and focus on doing what it takes to ensure that small businesses are able flourish in Dallas. " The task force will be working with an April 30 target to recommend a course of action to Johnson and Tennell Atkins, who chairs Dallas City Council’s economic development committee. Potential funding to support the recommendations won’t come until after city leaders review them. Another of the mayor’s task forces, the Task Force on Safe Communities, recently received $4.5 million in the city’s 2020-21 budget to implement its recommendations on combating violent crime.

Dallas Observer - November 30, 2020

Tenants at former Dallas Housing Authority apartments say new owner is pushing them out

Residents in three low-income housing projects formerly managed by the Dallas Housing Authority say their complaints about poor maintenance and unsafe living conditions have been met not with repairs, but draconian regulations enforced by private security they believe are intended to drive them out of their homes. The authority, they say, abandoned tenants when it transferred management and then sold the properties to a for-profit company earlier this year. A group of tenants alleges new owner Silver Tree Residential, which is based in Tennessee and manages Section 8 housing in 26 states, is deaf to their complaints.

On Nov. 5, Tramonica Brown was working in a Section 8 housing project not far from the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas’ Highland Hills neighborhood. She was canvassing for a free turkey drive sponsored by the anti-police brutality group she founded, Not My Son, and arrived at the apartments locals call “the Pinks,” whose real name is either Estell or Estelle Village, depending on where you look. By any name, you probably wouldn’t have heard of them unless you live in the Highland Hills neighborhood near Paul Quinn College. Estelle Village is a product of a previous era of public housing — drab, barracks-like buildings spread across a relatively barren patch of land. All of the residents are low-income and most are Black. It is one of three projects DHA sold in July to Silver Tree Residential. Of the three, at least two of the projects have become sites of tenant-organized protests regarding management. The privatization of these public housing projects is a part of a broader national shift in public housing management driven by years of funding cuts and an Obama-era program, the Rental Assistance Demonstration, that allows public housing to be converted to privately managed housing funded by Section 8 vouchers, which pay part of tenants’ rent. While there, Brown says, she saw resident Jacqueline McMaryion receive a lease violation for standing outside. “A ton of people came out. It was a big scene” Brown says. “The security was trying to get me out of the public area,” McMaryion says. “They also gave me a lease violation previously because it smelled like marijuana in the breezeway outside of my door, but it didn’t smell like that in my apartment."

National Stories

The Hill - November 30, 2020

US media layoffs on track for record high in 2020

Media industry layoffs are poised to reach an all-time high in 2020 due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, according to new research. An estimated 28,637 cuts were reported in the industry by late October, Variety, citing data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, reported, nearly as many as the record 28,803 reported in the media sector in 2008. By comparison, the sector saw just over 10,000 job losses in 2019 and 15,474 in 2018.

Job losses spiked in May during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. After a June drop-off, layoffs increased again over the summer, dropping to pre-pandemic levels in September and October, Variety noted. Several major media conglomerates, including ViacomCBS, Comcast, Disney and AT&T, have announced cuts throughout the year. AMC Networks cut about 1 in 10 workers last week, and ViacomCBS laid off 450 people in May, citing “economic conditions.” But as early as February, before the virus had significantly affected the U.S. economy, ViacomCBS laid off 117 people due to consolidation at the company. NBCUniversal laid off 5 percent of employees in its television and streaming departments and has broader plans to cut 1 in 10 workers, according to Variety. Even amid the cuts, the number of new media jobs is up compared to 2019, according to the research. The industry has posted 1,586 hiring announcements in 2020 thus far, more than double the 622 posted during the same period in 2019. Despite the number of job losses, the media industry barely cracked the top 20 industries for layoffs, according to the data. The leisure industry led with 845,945 layoffs, followed by retail with 179,520 and transportation, with 159,674.

CNN - November 30, 2020

Chris Cillizza: Is this Joe Biden pick already doomed?

On Monday, President-elect Joe Biden announced that Neera Tanden was his pick to be the next Office of Management and Budget director. More than 18 hours prior, however, Republicans were already predicting that Tanden would never make it through the confirmation process. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton referred to Tanden as a "partisan hack." "Neera Tanden, who has an endless stream of disparaging comments about the Republican Senators' whose votes she'll need, stands zero chance of being confirmed," tweeted Drew Brandewie, communications director for Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), described the Tanden pick as a "sacrifice to the confirmation gods." "Neera Tanden is a big-government, big-spending radical liberal who's a terrible choice for OMB Director," Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) tweeted. "It's just more proof that @JoeBiden and the Democrats will continue to move further and further to the Left." At issue for Republicans is Tanden's role as the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, an influential liberal think tank. And specifically, her outspoken opposition to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018. In the wake of Kavanaugh's narrow confirmation to the nation's highest court, Tanden said this: "Senate Republicans chose to give him the promotion of a lifetime and send a terrible message to sexual assault survivors. In his hearing, Kavanaugh repeatedly lied about matters big and small and revealed himself as an obviously unfit, dishonest, pure partisan."

National Review - November 30, 2020

National Review Editors: Trump’s disgraceful endgame

President Trump said the other day that he’d leave office if he loses the vote of the Electoral College on December 14. This is not the kind of assurance presidents of the United States typically need to make, but it was noteworthy given Trump’s disgraceful conduct since losing his bid for reelection to Joe Biden on November 3. Behind in almost all the major polls, Trump stormed within a hair’s breadth in the key battlegrounds of winning reelection, and his unexpectedly robust performance helped put Republicans in a strong position for the post-Trump-presidency era. This is not nothing. But the president can’t stand to admit that he lost and so has insisted since the wee hours of Election Night that he really won — and won “by a lot.”

There are legitimate issues to consider after the 2020 vote about the security of mail-in ballots and the process of counting votes (some jurisdictions, bizarrely, take weeks to complete their initial count), but make no mistake: The chief driver of the post-election contention of the past several weeks is the petulant refusal of one man to accept the verdict of the American people. The Trump team (and much of the GOP) is working backwards, desperately trying to find something, anything to support the president’s aggrieved feelings, rather than objectively considering the evidence and reacting as warranted. Almost nothing that the Trump team has alleged has withstood the slightest scrutiny. In particular, it’s hard to find much that is remotely true in the president’s Twitter feed these days. It is full of already-debunked claims and crackpot conspiracy theories about Dominion voting systems. Over the weekend, he repeated the charge that 1.8 million mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania were mailed out, yet 2.6 million were ultimately tallied. In a rather elementary error, this compares the number of mail-ballots requested in the primary to the number of ballots counted in the general. A straight apples-to-apples comparison finds that 1.8 million mail-in ballots were requested in the primary and 1.5 million returned, while 3.1 million ballots were requested in the general and 2.6 million returned. Flawed and dishonest assertions like this pollute the public discourse and mislead good people who make the mistake of believing things said by the president of the United States.

November 30, 2020

Lead Stories

NBC News - November 29, 2020

New Mexico promised its students free college. Then oil prices tanked.

The New Mexico governor's office made sure to alert The New York Times before the big announcement last year that a public college education would soon be free for all residents. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said New Mexico, notoriously poor and almost last in state education rankings, would be the first state to take the step, thanks to a blue wave that swept the state in 2018, when Democrats elected Lujan Grisham after eight years of a Republican governor, flipped the state's sole Republican seat in Congress from red to blue and strengthened majorities in the state Legislature.

"This program is an absolute game changer for New Mexico," Lujan Grisham said at the time. "In the long run, we'll see improved economic growth, improved outcomes for New Mexican workers and families and parents." In New Mexico, the median household income is around $12,000 less than the national average, and the poverty rate hovers near 18 percent. Lujan Grisham, who is known to have national political ambitions, went on a National Public Radio show to talk about the idea, which she said would boost not only the state's economy but also its reputation and students' futures. But the plan, to be funded by revenue earned from fracking in the Permian Basin, never materialized. Grisham faced opposition in the Legislature, even from members of her own party, and from some college presidents skeptical about how much it would help low-income students. Instead, the state implemented a massively scaled-down version of the idea during the 2020 legislative session that provides tuition assistance for residents enrolled in two-year colleges.

Bloomberg - November 29, 2020

Francis Wilkinson: The Biden era will be neither normal nor boring

(Francis Wilkinson writes about U.S. politics and domestic policy for Bloomberg Opinion. He was previously executive editor of the Week, a writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.) Having spent the past four years with the political equivalent of heavy metal music blasting outside their psychic windows late into the night, millions of Americans are hoping that the Biden administration will usher in a new era of calm. They are likely to be disappointed. To a limited extent, such wishes will be granted. Under President Joe Biden, the White House will no longer generate a cacophony of incompetence. Tweet tantrums will yield to process and predictability. Outright falsehood will be supplanted by more traditional spin, tethered to truth. Cabinet officers and appointees will conspicuously fail to match their predecessors’ reckless driving, or the ethical and policy car crashes that resulted. No one will be kidnapping migrant children and blithely deporting their parents to destinations unknown. But while Biden may proceed with business as usual, the nation and the world will not. U.S. domestic politics is an ugly mess, and whatever muddling consensus might have been forged among U.S. allies regarding Chinese ambitions, global migration or climate peril is further from realization than it was four years ago.

No matter how dull Biden aspires to be, the forces of entropy — including a soon-to-be-removed incumbent desperate to polarize for profit — will push toward chaos and conflict. Notably, all suppositions of calm in U.S. politics are based, explicitly or implicitly, on Democratic political dominance. Yet the demographic destiny of the party continues to be over the next hill. Trump did his best to drive the GOP deeper into an all-White cul-de-sac. Yet as a Bloomberg News analysis concluded, in counties as varied as Miami-Dade in Florida, Maricopa in Arizona and Harris in Texas, Trump did better among Hispanic voters in 2020 than in 2016. He also succeeded in bringing more White non-college-educated voters to the polls. All in all, Republicans fared spectacularly well for a party that had ostentatiously failed to address a crisis responsible for killing more than a quarter million Americans so far this year. Meanwhile, the GOP is ever more invested in a set of interlocking resentments — of liberal elites, of Black Americans, of feminism and nontraditional sexual identities, of immigrants, of rich cities, of poor cities, of all the emerging and dynamic quarters of the U.S. economy.

Houston Chronicle - November 27, 2020

Immigration groups hopeful and wary of Biden administration

President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security was instrumental in providing protections for young undocumented immigrants and was second-in-command at the agency when a wave of more than 68,000 unaccompanied minors arrived at the U.S. border in 2014. Now, immigration stakeholders are counting on him to undo many of President Donald Trump’s policies. Alejandro Mayorkas would be the first Latino and first immigrant to serve as head of the agency, which was created in 2002 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. DHS, boasting a budget of $51.7 billion budget, is the umbrella for more than a dozen agencies, including the Coast Guard, Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration.

It also oversees a host of immigration functions, including Customs and Border Protection, the country’s largest law enforcement agency with 20,000 Border Patrol agents and 24,500 CBP officers. “I’m really excited about what he can bring and the people around him, but there’s going to be really, really difficult choices, hard choices. There has to be some major housecleaning of the leadership” within DHS, said Gil Kerlikowske, a former Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection who worked closely with Mayorkas under President Barack Obama during the 2014 migration surge. He expects Homeland Security career personnel to welcome Mayorkas with open arms. “I hate to say things like ‘over the moon’ - but I really am over the moon about that nomination,” he said. Kerlikowske traveled to Cuba with Mayorkas in 2014 when Mayorkas was deputy secretary of DHS. It was his first time returning to the country since his family fled Cuba as political refugees when he was an infant. One of the rapid changes will come in the refugee settlement program. Biden has said he will increase refugee admissions to as high as 125,000 a year — a 730 percent increase compared with admissions under Trump, who capped the number at 15,000 this year.

Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2020

Training, oversight of Texas law enforcement blasted in report

Last year, more than 600 Texas law enforcement officers received a dishonorable discharge from their agencies for misconduct. Yet more than a quarter of them were rehired to work as sworn officers. To qualify for a peace officer license, Texas cops need fewer hours of basic training than licensed cosmetologists, and less than half the education required of air conditioning and refrigeration contractors. While the basic training requires officers to spend 48 hours on the firing range, it demands only two hours of “civilian interaction” instruction.

The difficulty of purging bad officers from the ranks of Texas police and outdated and inadequate officer training highlight how state lawmakers have rendered the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement unable to meaningfully oversee the profession, according to a blistering new report by the Sunset Advisory Commission. The commission reviews the performance of state agencies every 10 years or so. The Sunset Advisory Commission’s critical findings come amid a contentious nationwide re-evaluation of the fundamental role of police. The deaths of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and George Floyd, among others, have prompted calls for stronger oversight from police departments and civilian review boards, as well as stricter limits on police use of force. But in Texas the regulation of law enforcement is “by and large, toothless,” the Sunset report concluded. Although it is charged with licensing police and correctional officers and 911 dispatchers, the law enforcement commission differs from state agencies that regulate other professions in that it has almost no authority to act against an officer’s license. Instead, most oversight of police conduct is left up to each of the state’s 2,700 law enforcement agencies, which set their own policies and standards.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - November 29, 2020

Declared innocent, ex-death row inmate fights Texas for money

Last year, Alfred Dewayne Brown was declared innocent of the crime that sent him to prison for 12 years, including nine years awaiting execution on Texas death row — the 2003 shooting death of a Houston police officer. Brown’s innocence was established by a trial judge at the insistence of Harris County’s top prosecutor and a special prosecutor whose 185-page report concluded that evidence hidden by an assistant district attorney showed that Brown was not at the crime scene. Like many wrongly convicted Texans, Brown applied for compensation from a state fund that pays $80,000 for every year spent in prison. For Brown, that added up to about $1 million, with a matching $1 million annuity that would provide monthly payments for life.

But powerful forces took exception to the finding of innocence — including the Houston police union, the officer’s widow and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — and the state has refused to pay Brown, launching a legal fight that is now before the Texas Supreme Court. For Brown’s lawyers, the state payment is a matter of fairness. “The Legislature wrote compassion into the law,” lawyer Wallace Jefferson said during oral arguments before the Supreme Court in late October. “Remember, this man is innocent, actually innocent.” But Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, Paxton’s chief appellate lawyer, argued that state law does not allow Brown to be compensated because he was found innocent by a judge who did not follow proper legal procedures. State Comptroller Glenn Hegar had no choice but to deny payment to Brown, Hawkins told the court. “It has to be a valid court order issued from court of competent jurisdiction,” he said. In October 2005, Brown was found guilty and sentenced to die for the shooting death of Houston police officer Charles Clark during a robbery at a check-cashing store. Later, however, it was discovered that a prosecutor failed to turn over landline phone records that supported Brown’s alibi, and the state’s highest criminal court tossed out his conviction in late 2014, returning the case to Harris County for a new trial.

Austin American-Statesman - November 27, 2020

TxDOT’s new $300 million HQ starts to take shape

Construction is underway on the Texas Department of Transportation’s new $300 million headquarters in southeast Austin. The facility, which is expected to be completed in February 2022, will be home to about 2,000 agency employees. Eventually, it will consolidate TxDOT’s presence in Austin. The agency’s workers are currently spread over three sites across the city.

Two of those sites are buildings that the agency rents off of East Riverside Drive and offices the agency owns at Camp Hubbard near 35th Street and MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1). The site of TxDOT’s new headquarters is a 49-acre tract along East Stassney Lane just south of the intersection with Burleson Road. The transportation agency paid $8.9 million for the property in 2017. It is now appraised at $9.6 million, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District. TxDOT’s plans call for five structures on the site. The main office is a five-story office building with about 425,000 square feet. There will also be a parking structure capable of holding about 1,580 vehicles, as well as a 74,000-square-foot materials lab where TxDOT will test a variety of things, including road construction materials and paints and coatings used for marking lanes. A 145,000-square-foot building will be home to a print shop for road signs. It will replace a TxDOT warehouse facility near Rutland Drive and Metric Boulevard in North Austin.

Austin American-Statesman - November 27, 2020

Fighting space junk: UT, IBM project aims to bring order to orbital chaos

It’s getting crowded in Earth’s orbital space. More than half a million man-made objects -- ranging from as small as a speck to as large as a school bus -- are orbiting the planet at a variety of speeds and paths. Many of those devices are no longer active -- space junk, if you will -- and only about 26,000 satellites are being tracked. Still, various governments and private companies have plans to send 20,000 more objects into orbit within the next five years.

Satellites serve a variety of key uses, from national security to keeping the Internet online. But for the most part space traffic -- and the resulting debris -- is being tracked imperfectly, inconsistently or not at all. “There are no sort of laws or rules right now in the space. It’s the Wild West. Whoever can put stuff up, it’s yours,” said Naeem Altaf, an Austin-based IBM engineer and the company’s chief technology officer for space tech. Altaf is teaming up with Moriba Jah, an aerospace engineer professor at the University of Texas, in an effort to bring some order to that chaos. Jah and Altaf are working with a partnership called the Space Situational Awareness project. The project’s intent is to track, analyze and update the locations of thousands of objects in orbit. With technology improving rapidly, many satellites developed just a few years ago are also already largely obsolete. Each device also has a finite work life, Altaf said. As a result, technology continues being built and sent up rapidly with little accountability for the creation of more space junk and light pollution, as well as the possibility of catastrophic collisions and other problems.

Austin American-Statesman - November 29, 2020

Vicki Spriggs: Let’s keep unhoused families together during the pandemic

(Vicki Spriggs is the CEO of Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a nonprofit dedicated to improving the child protection system through legislation and public policy changes.) When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the Evictions Protection Act, a temporary eviction moratorium in September, it provided vital security to the more than 43 million American households and six million Texans who rent their homes. Under the order, landlords and property owners are prohibited from evicting tenants who are financially affected by COVID-19 and earn less than $99,000 a year. However, landlords will be able to resume evictions on December 31, 2020. Since more than one in five Texan households rent their homes, this could mean millions of Texas parents and children may be forced out of their homes and onto the streets. Unfortunately, homelessness is likely to be one of the most long-lasting and detrimental effects of the pandemic. And with that, a potential crisis in children entering the foster care system may ensue, unless we take preventative action now.

Child Protective Services (CPS) cannot remove children from their parents solely because they are experiencing poverty. However, CPS is more likely to investigate a family that doesn’t have stable housing. Loss of shelter creates a cascade of other risk factors—it can create or exacerbate mental health issues and potentially trigger substance use, all of which increase the likelihood that children may be removed from their families by the state. The state could determine that neglect is taking place if a parent is unable to provide for their child’s basic needs — such as access to shelter, food, education and medical care — as a result of their housing instability. Supportive services may be offered by CPS, but parents without shelter may also lack transportation and the capacity to get to regular appointments. Children in this circumstance might enter the foster care system, which is already overburdened with more than 30,000 children and too few foster homes. CASA programs (Court Appointed Special Advocates) are local non-profit organizations that train volunteers who are appointed by judges to advocate for the best interest of children and youth in the child welfare system. The potential for an increase in evictions and children entering the system is a major concern for CASA and other advocates for children and families.

Austin American-Statesman - November 28, 2020

Travis County reports 232 new coronavirus cases

Travis County health officials on Saturday said 232 more people in the area have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 37,898. Health officials have not reported any new deaths since Thanksgiving. The county’s pandemic death toll remained at 483, as of Saturday. The county’s number of active cases on Saturday was 2,510, compared to 2,481 on Friday. As of Saturday, the number of estimated recoveries in the county was 34,905, according to local health officials. Of the 215 people in the hospital Saturday with the coronavirus, 73 were in intensive care and 40 were on ventilators. That’s down from 81 in intensive care and 45 on ventilators Friday.

The county reported 26 new hospital admissions for COVID-19 on Saturday. The area’s seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations remained at 33, the same as Friday. The record for the highest seven-day average number of new hospitalizations for the Austin-Travis County area stands at 75.1, reported on July 8. The seven-day rolling average of new hospital admissions is one of the main factors health officials look at when considering coronavirus-related restrictions in the city. Of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the pandemic, 47% were Hispanic, according to recent Austin data. Non-Hispanic whites made up about 34% of cases; 7% are Black and 3% are Asian. According to the 2019 census estimates, the county is about 49% non-Hispanic white, 9% Black and 7.4% Asian, and 33.6% of the population is Hispanic. Local health officials last week released pandemic-related safety guidelines for holiday gatherings and activities and said the area had entered into Stage 4 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines.

Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Don’t ditch the STAAR

All of us can sympathize with the sentiment that this isn’t the year for high-stakes testing. The reality is that COVID-19 has wrecked educational efforts, despite the heroic work of teachers and administrators who are going above and beyond every day to keep kids learning. We have no doubt that any test given this year will reveal just how severe the learning loss has been. Many children will not only have failed to advance their education over the past year, they will also have regressed. Data from Dallas ISD has already shown this is the case for too many students. Now, there is legislative pressure to kill the annual State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness given the pandemic.

Our Emily Donaldson and Corbett Smith reported that nearly half of Texas lawmakers are calling for the STAAR’s cancellation or postponement this year. At first blush, their arguments are reasonable. No one doubts the hardships the pandemic has created. Nor do we disagree that administering the test will come with added challenges to ensure safe conditions. But we urge Texas education commissioner Mike Morath to hold firm on plans to administer the STAAR because the information we will lose without it could make it that much harder to know how we can get students who have fallen behind back on pace. Apparently, superintendents from major districts in this area agree. They’ve asked Morath to go forward with giving the test. They understand that the data the STAAR provides may be more important this year than it has ever been. We join these superintendents in calling for the STAAR to be decoupled, however, from the A-F rating assigned to schools. Scores this year are simply not an appropriate baseline for judging school performance. We cannot, and should not, abandon the school rating system. But suspending it in an impossibly difficult year for education is the right choice.

Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2020

Why more women struggle in the COVID economy: ‘It’s really overwhelming because it’s like never-ending’

COVID-19 affects different people differently, and the same holds true for the coronavirus economy. Women, especially women of color, are suffering more from the current downturn and face a longer road to recovery. They’re more likely to have lost their job, more likely to work in distressed service businesses such as hotels and restaurants, and much more likely to have stopped looking for work altogether. With many child care centers closed, with kids at home for remote schooling, with elderly relatives needing attention, the caregiving responsibilities seem to just keep growing. All while COVID cases are surging, raising health risks for everyone.

“It’s complications every day,” said Nicole Hardman, a Dallas single mom who’s looking for a job, taking classes for a new career and helping her two teens navigate remote high school. “Sometimes I can help them, sometimes I can’t, sometimes we cry. “It’s really overwhelming because it’s like never-ending,” she said. Hardman, 40, lost her job as a security officer in June, and she lost her health insurance soon after. She concluded that she needed more skills to get good-paying work and signed up for barber school. That’s been tough to juggle with home duties, and the school efforts won’t pay off for many months. Meanwhile, the bills are piling up, and she’s struggling to provide enough food for her family. If only she could get some help to get through the next six months, she said. But the extra unemployment payments in last spring’s coronavirus relief package ended in July, and lawmakers in Washington remain gridlocked over providing more financial support. “I try not to watch the news as much anymore because it seems like there’s no hope, no let up for us,” Hardman said.

Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2020

Dallas County reports 3,303 more coronavirus cases, 6 deaths; Tarrant County reports 1,305 new cases, 5 fatalities

Dallas County on Sunday reported 3,303 more coronavirus cases and six COVID-19 deaths. The latest fatalities were a woman in her 40s, a man in his 50s, a man in his 60s, a man in his 80s, and a man in his 90s, all of whom were Dallas residents and had been hospitalized. The sixth victim was a Mesquite man in his 50s who had been ill at a hospital. All six victims had underlying health problems, the county said.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, Sunday’s COVID-19 report included cases from Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. “When you spread that out over the three days, it’s actually a lower number than we’ve been averaging for the last week and probably indicates less people getting tested as most testing facilities were closed Thursday and Friday,” Jenkins said. Of the cases reported Sunday, 3,083 were confirmed and 220 were probable. They raise the county’s total confirmed cases to 126,006 and probable cases to 12,090. The county has recorded 1,209 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 32 probable COVID-19 deaths.

Dallas Morning News - November 26, 2020

7 things to know about how Texas intends to parcel out its limited supply of coronavirus vaccine

Texas has received $14.4 million from the federal government to help it prepare for distributing vaccines against COVID-19. More than 3,800 health care providers and institutions in 226 of the state’s 254 counties have signed up to receive shipments of vaccine and administer the shots. Throw in pharmacy chain locations, and there will be at least 6,300 sites across Texas where health-care professionals will be giving shots, possibly starting next month, state officials say. But decisions on priority populations and public education are still being worked out, said Imelda M. Garcia, who is the top infectious-disease official at the Texas Department of State Health Services, under Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner. Garcia, associate commissioner over the Division of Laboratory and Infectious Disease Services, holds a master’s in public health from Columbia University and has worked for the state agency for more than 10 years.

1. How will this work? Think of the federal government’s approach to vaccine distribution as two funnels into Texas – one through the Department of State Health Services and the other through the major pharmacy-store chains. The feds will give vaccine to each. The chains have to report to the state who’s getting shots in their stores, so the department will have the complete picture, Garcia said. 2. Is it really free? The federal government is providing vaccine to states and pharmacy chains, free of charge. Health insurers and the federal government will absorb the cost of administering shots, Garcia said. 3. Are health care workers really going to take the vaccine – voluntarily? According to government surveys and news reports, as many as half of frontline health care workers have said they do not plan to get the shots, at least initially. That’s of great concern, especially in hospitals where employees risk the most exposure to the virus, Garcia said. 4. When do stockers at grocery stores, delivery-van drivers and other essential workers get their shots? Next week, the Expert Vaccine Distribution Panel will discuss a definition of essential, non-health care workers, Garcia said. 5. Could white collar workers who are able to work remotely from their homes somehow jump the line? Providers who enroll as COVID-19 vaccinators agree to follow the federal and state rules on which people should get first dibs on doses, Garcia said. 6. Have you come up with a marketing slogan as memorable as “Don’t Mess with Texas?” A public education campaign is in the works, and Garcia said the department has selected Austin’s Sherry Matthews Group to help devise a multimedia advertising effort that will include messaging to racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. 7. Given that some of the vaccines require cold storage, how are you handling refrigeration? Although a vaccine by Pfizer Inc. will require storage at extremely low temperatures -- as low as -112 degrees Fahrenheit -- the department has followed federal guidance and not rushed out to buy ultra-cold freezers, Garcia said. Pfizer is planning to package its vaccine in thermal wrappings that last up to 15 days, Garcia has explained.

Houston Chronicle - November 26, 2020

Texas Republicans will hold all the cards when redistricting Houston. It’ll still be messy.

The stakes were crystal clear for Texas Democrats heading into 2020. Republicans had a lock on the state Senate, governorship and at least four of the five seats on a little-known board charged with settling disputes over redistricting, the decennial exercise of redrawing political maps to account for population changes. Democrats could only break Republicans’ two-decade stranglehold on the process by winning control of the Texas House and electing a Democratic speaker, who would serve as the lone non-Republican on the redistricting board. The party went all out in pursuit of the nine seats needed for a majority, while Democratic groups from outside the state spent tens of millions across a broad battlefield of districts.

Instead, they failed to net any seats in the lower chamber, and state Rep. Dade Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, is the presumptive House speaker. Republicans are set to wield full control over the shape of Texas’ state and congressional districts through 2030, allowing them to reinforce seats around Houston and other areas where Democrats recently came within striking distance. And for the first time in decades, lawmakers will be unbound by a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had placed Texas’ political maps under automatic federal supervision due to the state's history of discriminating against minority voters. “That’s why there has been, nationwide, a desire among the Democratic Party to regain control of various statehouses, including in Texas — because of redistricting,” said Sherri Greenberg, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and former Democratic state legislator. “These maps may end up in the courts, but eventually they will be resolved, and it'll set the stage for the next 10 years.” Wielding the map-drawing power will not be entirely painless for Republicans, who have seen their grip on dozens of state and federal districts erode since the last round of redistricting.

Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2020

Joe Holley: Texas horned toad who refused to die took the country by storm

The New York Times reported on the miraculous tale. Some 3,000 onlookers witnessed it firsthand. And today, nearly a century later, true believers scoff at the doubters. They swear by the story of Old Rip, the horned toad who refused to die. In the second decade of the 20th century, this little town 55 miles east of Abilene was in the midst of a boisterous oil boom, with fortunes being made and population soaring to about 25,000. These days, sturdy brick buildings on the courthouse square and handsome, well-kept homes along tree-lined residential streets are reminders of that wildly prosperous era. With a population today of about 4,000, Eastland is quieter and more sedate than it was decades ago. Old Rip, his mummified body lying in a cigar box-sized coffin, is ensconced in a glass case at the north entrance to the Art Deco-style Eastland County Courthouse. He is as quiet as he ever was. The tale traces back to 1897, when Eastland County was building a new courthouse.

As the story goes, a local justice of the piece named Ernest Wood was hurrying downtown for cornerstone-laying ceremonies when he noticed that his little boy Will had been playing with a horned toad. Wood pocketed the spiny, little creature and continued downtown. The JP, who also was the cornet player in the town band, handed the lizard to a friend before joining his fellow musicians in providing music appropriate for the occasion. The friend on the spur of the moment deposited the horned toad in the hollowed-out cornerstone before the stone and its occupant were sealed into the wall of the new building. Three decades later, officials decided Eastland County needed a new courthouse. In the process of razing the old one, they announced that on Feb. 17, 1928, they would reach the wall that held the cornerstone where the horned toad had been entombed. The curious on that winter day craned their necks and jostled for a better view as they watched a worker use a pick to chip away at a layer of cement sealing a metal lid. Sliding back the lid, they found the little creature, flattened and dusty. When County Judge Ed Pritchard lofted the lizard by a back leg and the other leg twitched, onlookers went crazy. They watched the little body swell with a breath of air, and they themselves were breathless. Amazed. In 1989, a 75-year-old Eastland resident named Joe Gray told an Associated Press reporter he was there, “on the front row just as close as you could get. . . . They pulled out a horned toad, and somebody shouted, ‘Hey, there’s Ol’ Rip!’ After a while, he wiggled a leg.”

San Antonio Express-News - November 28, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: An erosion of democracy

It has been three weeks since many Americans rightfully recognized Joe Biden as president-elect, the next leader of a divided nation facing tremendous health, economic and civic challenges. The most generous interpretation of this brief window of time is that our democracy and electoral traditions held strong despite immense pressure and efforts from President Donald Trump to subvert the election as he lied about winning, alleged baseless voter fraud, fought to overturn the results in key swing states and even now refuses to concede. “This is an embarrassment to our country,” Trump said the day after the election, as mail-in votes continued to be counted and the outcome was unclear. “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”

But, of course, he did not win. More than 80 million voters, representing 306 Electoral College votes, chose Biden. Continuing with this generous interpretation of the last three weeks, we can praise federal Judge Matthew W. Brann, a conservative in Pennsylvania, who dismissed a Trump campaign lawsuit that sought to disenfranchise nearly 7 million voters. The president’s lawyers, Brann said in poignant judicial writing, should have been “armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption.” Instead, they offered only “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations.” He likened their case to Frankenstein’s monster, “haphazardly stitched together.” But, of course, the true monster in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is its creator. And we can praise Brad Raffensperger and Katie Hobbs, secretaries of state in Georgia and Arizona, who persevered despite threats, and showed heroism in administering fair and credible elections. Just as we can praise members of arcane canvassing boards who have certified results and state lawmakers who did not move to select partisan pro-Trump electors. Under unprecedented pressure, the system held. And perhaps those who harbor doubts about this election’s outcome can find solace in this. Perhaps.

San Antonio Express-News - November 30, 2020

Group protests curfew at the Alamo; San Antonio surpasses 80,000 coronavirus cases

More than 80,000 San Antonians have been infected with the coronavirus since March, with 888 new cases reported Sunday, the final day of the Thanksgiving weekend curfew. Officials also reported 758 backlogged cases from more than two weeks ago, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 80,057 cases. There were no new deaths, but officials added 13 backlogged deaths from between July 8 and Nov. 10, raising the total to 1,357 deaths.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases rose to 774 from 728 on Saturday. A week ago, the average was at 476. “Our numbers continue to move in the wrong direction,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “Our hospitals are becoming increasingly stressed, and it is crucial that they not become overwhelmed. By working together, we can flatten the curve and prevent our situation from getting more dangerous.” Protesters gathered in front of the Alamo on Friday and Saturday, openly defying the temporary 10 p.m. holiday curfew ordered by city and county leaders to help slow the spread of COVID-19. “Thanksgiving, we would’ve made a lot of money that we totally needed,” said the owner of a sports bar and grill, addressing the crowd using a loudspeaker as she stood near the Alamo Cenotaph. “But, yeah, they had to close us down, didn’t they?”

The Hill - November 30, 2020

Cornyn spokesperson: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick

A spokesperson for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Sunday that President-elect Joe Biden's reported pick to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has "no chance" of being confirmed by the Senate should Republicans remain in control next year. In a tweet, Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie said that Center for American Progress head Neera Tanden's past history of "disparaging comments about the Republican Senators' whose votes she’ll need" made her confirmation highly unlikely. Tanden would need 51 votes in the Senate to become head of the OMB; Democrats currently control 48 seats in the Senate, though they are hoping to pick up two more in Georgia as the state's Senate elections head to runoffs in January.

The statement from Brandewie is a departure from his boss's remarks earlier this month. Cornyn said that Biden's win over President Trump in the 2020 election would not be assured until all states have certified their votes. Trump has refused to concede the election and has launched a host of legal challenges seeking to overturn results in various states that have yet to see any measure of success. “He is not president-elect until the votes are certified. So the answer to that is no,” Cornyn said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “And I don’t know what basis you or anybody else would claim that he’s president-elect before the votes are certified and these contests are resolved.” he Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Tanden would be Biden's pick to lead the OMB. She has led the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, since 2010. During the 2016 election, Tanden was a top ally of the Democratic Party's then-nominee, Hillary Clinton, and was seen at the time as a likely candidate for a White House role. Representatives for Biden's transition team did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill.

Tyler Morning Telegraph - November 29, 2020

A different game: No stranger to Texas, Elk population growing in West Texas

White-tailed deer are and always will be the big game trophy to Texas hunters. But had the state evolved differently we might have been elk hunters too. Evidence of elk in western Texas is found in Native American petroglyphs, but there are also historical writings by explorers going back to the 1600s documenting sightings of large herds in what is today the Trans Pecos, Panhandle, North Texas, Edwards Plateau, South Texas and even the Pineywoods regions. Modern archeological digs have confirmed elks’ existence in Northeast Texas.

The elk originally found in Texas were believed to be the subspecies Merriam’s elk. However, with settlers came unregulated hunting and loss of habitat to farming and ranching. The elks’ range shrunk to the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas, and even there the last remaining animals were gone by the late 1800s. The Merriam’s subsequently became extinct throughout its range. Today elk are back in the Lone Star State, but this time it is Rocky Mountain elk. Although there were attempts to restock elk as far back as the 1920s, success has come more recently in the Trans Pecos and eastern Panhandle where it is believed most have dispersed into Texas from New Mexico and expanded their free range over time. Deer are considered a non-game species by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department so exact numbers are not known, but the population in the Trans Pecos has grown resulting in a viable herd that is still expanding its range.

Brownsville Herald - November 29, 2020

Despite moratorium, evictions remain source of stress for vulnerable Valley residents

Thanksgiving meals packed into Styrofoam boxes sat on a table by the dining hall door of Loaves & Fishes, the homeless shelter here. People lined by the glass doors or would drive up, and employees would come out with the boxes in hand. It’s different from previous years when Bill Reagan, the executive director, would stand by the door, much like a pastor at the end of a church service, and greet every visitor. “We got about 300 plates. We won’t use them all. We’ll probably serve 150 in Raymondville,” Reagan predicted. As the pandemic set in, the shelter became busier than before.

“The shelter is full almost every night, both the men’s side and the women’s side,” Reagan said. It changed in March “pretty much right away.” The dining hall was sparsely populated Wednesday afternoon. Mostly men and a few women sat at the tables several feet apart. No table sat more than two people at a time. Sitting by the table closest to the window was Jim Ginther, a man with a frail frame but a hearty sense of humor. “I had a stroke, diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in the lung. I have emphysema. I have COPD. I’m knocking on the door, ready to go,” he said chuckling. Ginther, 80, made light of his homeless situation spurred by a stroke from a 90% blocked carotid artery about two months ago. He was hospitalized for three weeks. A nonprofit community housing development organization, Come Dream Come Build, or CDCB, estimates hundreds of Cameron County residents were left homeless since the beginning of the pandemic. They set out to study the eviction rate in the Rio Grande Valley. In Cameron County, they found 301 evictions were filed from late March through August. In 2019, 473 evictions were filed during the same time period. “It shows that the rate was about the same,” Caelen Mitchell-Bennett, a policy fellow who calculated the totals for CDCB, said.

San Antonio Report - November 29, 2020

Nirenberg seeks ‘path forward’ on Alamo project as city leaders push for changes to redevelopment plan

A long-awaited plan to redevelop Alamo Plaza isn’t dead yet, with San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg among those still committed to seeing the project realized in some form after a setback related to the monument at the plaza’s center. The Alamo Plan remains in turmoil after a September vote by the Texas Historical Commission against moving the Cenotaph, a 1930s monument to Texas revolutionaries. The conflict with the historical commission led to the departure of several donors charged with raising $200 million or more for a new Alamo museum and visitors center. Sensing an opportunity to make changes in the redevelopment plan, some influential figures are urging Nirenberg to solidify a few key priorities in formal agreements with the State of Texas.

In a Nov. 18 letter, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, former Mayor Phil Hardberger, and former Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee member Phil Bakke urged Nirenberg to keep Alamo Street open to at least occasional vehicle traffic, including the Battle of the Flowers parade. They also called for an open plaza with no barriers meant to block public access. Those two elements of the redevelopment plan were among the most controversial when proposed two years ago, drawing at least as much criticism as moving the Cenotaph. “We feel that the state plan has gone astray from its beginning by not recognizing the history of Alamo Plaza as our most important public space in our city,” the letter states. Nirenberg is an important voice in setting the tone for the relationship between the City, which owns Alamo Plaza, and the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which owns the Alamo itself and the historic Woolworth, Palace, and Crockett buildings on the plaza’s west side. Both sides are bound by a 2018 lease agreement that transfers control of Alamo Plaza from the City to the GLO. “In the 40 years of wrangling over the redevelopment of the Alamo, the one most significant thing that’s occurred this time is that we have agreed on a mutual path forward that respects all of that,” Nirenberg said. “I think that’s worth retaining.”

Houston Public Media - November 19, 2020

Study: Houston’s Police Oversight Board among least effective in Texas

A new report by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research found that Houston's independent police oversight board is among the weakest of Texas' largest cities. Kinder Institute director Bill Fulton and staff researcher Steve Sherman analyzed police oversight groups in Houston, Dallas, Forth Worth, Austin and San Antonio, examining how close they align with the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement‘s guiding principles. They found that Houston's nine-year-old oversight board is the only one that consists solely of unpaid volunteers.

"In Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth, the people at the head of their agencies are trained lawyers who actually have experience in police oversight in other cities in the U.S.," Sherman said. And he said members of Houston's oversight group effectively work under a gag order. "They really can't talk publicly about the work they do and the cases that they review," Sherman said. "And they're really just looking at completed internal affairs investigations." The report also found that cities' civilian oversight is limited by state law, specifically Local Government Code 143, as well as police union contracts. After the death of George Floyd in May, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner created a task force to tackle police reform. Its responsibilities include improving the city’s police oversight board. Fulton, the co-author of the Kinder Institute's report, served on that taskforce. The study is an extension of his work regarding the police oversight board. Turner’s office did not respond to a request for comment, though a Rice University spokesperson said the city did have a copy of the report. Unlike Houston, other cities' oversight boards don't just look at use of force incidents, Sherman said, but also conduct policy research and make recommendations on things like hiring and community outreach, which the police departments usually follow. The researchers also found San Antonio's police oversight board to be lacking in power. "At least Houston's is independent from the police department," Sherman said. "San Antonio's is actually a part of the SAPD's internal affairs division."

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2020

Margaret Nosek, advocate for Houstonians with disabilities, dies

Margaret Nosek, a Houston activist in the disability rights and independent living movements and pioneering researcher who helped lay the foundation for the American Disability Act of 1990, has died. She was 68. Nosek, one of the first people to examine the psychosocial and physical health of women with disabilities, made her groundbreaking contributions despite a degenerative neuromuscular condition that made her reliant on a wheelchair starting at age 10, choose to use a respirator to improve her breathing at about 50 and lose all mobility except for her right index finger at about 55. She wrote that medical science had grabbed her from “the jaws of death” many times.

“She was a woman not to be denied,” said Lex Frieden, a professor at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics and a chief architect of the ADA himself. “She was utterly resilient and driven, with an aura and personality that made an immediate impact on people. She had an uncanny ability to organize her own life and others to be productive.” Frieden and others said said Nosek’s legacy are the scholarly articles she wrote and the advocacy efforts she led to improve the health and life choices of people with disabilities. Nosek, founder and executive director of the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities at Baylor College of Medicine, succumbed to complications of spinal muscular atrophy on Nov. 21 at Houston Methodist Hospital. She had been working earlier in the week. Thomas Nosek, her brother, said she considered her major achievement to be her work assisting Justin Dart Jr. in the passage of the ADA, the landmark civil rights law that prohibited discrimination based on disability and imposed accessibility requirements on public accommodations.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 29, 2020

TCU booster and Fort Worth business leader Dick Lowe dies

One of the most significant figures in the history of TCU — and the man who helped make Gary Patterson a head football coach — has died. Dick Lowe, who made and lost fortunes three times through oil and gas, donated millions to his alma mater and helped land TCU on NCAA probation, died on Sunday morning. He was 92. TCU confirmed Lowe’s passing.

“So sad,” former TCU and current Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “Legend.” The family has not released the cause of death. Friends said Lowe had slowed down considerably in the last year. It is the second major loss this week suffered by TCU and Fort Worth. On Thursday, long time TCU booster and influential Fort Worth business woman Susan Nix died at the age of 72. “We have lost two great people and Frogs this week — Susan and Dick,” Patterson said in a message. “Forever grateful to them both.” Lowe played guard at TCU under coach Dutch Meyer and finished his football career in 1951, but he figured his career in oil and gas started when he was 11 growing up in Wichita Falls. “The TCU athletics community is incredibly saddened by the passing of Dick Lowe,” TCU director of athletics Jeremiah Donati said. “As a standout student-athlete during a memorable era in our program’s history and as a generous supporter after his playing days were over, there are few who have had a similar impact at their respective institutions.”

National Stories

Associated Press - November 29, 2020

Fauci: US may see 'surge upon surge' of virus in weeks ahead

The nation's top infectious disease expert said Sunday that the U.S. may see “surge upon a surge” of the coronavirus over the coming weeks, and he does not expect current recommendations around social distancing to be relaxed before Christmas. “When you have the kind of inflection that we have, it doesn’t all of a sudden turn around like that,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s “This Week." “So clearly in the next few weeks, we’re going to have the same sort of thing. And perhaps even two or three weeks down the line ... we may see a surge upon a surge.”

Fauci also appeared on NBC's “Meet the Press,” where he made similar remarks, adding that it's “not too late” for people traveling back home after Thanksgiving to help stop the spread of the virus by wearing masks, staying distant from others and avoiding large groups of people. "So we know we can do something about it, particularly now as we get into the colder season and as we approach the Christmas holidays,” he said. The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the United States topped 200,000 for the first time Friday. The highest previous daily count was 196,000 on Nov. 20, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Since January, when the first infections were reported in the U.S., the nation's total number of cases has surpassed 13 million. More than 265,000 people have died. Fauci said the arrival of vaccines offers a “light at the end of the tunnel.” This coming week, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss a rollout of the vaccine, he said.

The Hill - November 29, 2020

Trump banking proposal on fossil fuels sparks backlash from libertarians

A new Trump administration proposal that could push more banks to finance fossil fuel activities is creating divisions in conservative circles as free market groups decry the move as government overreach. The proposed rule, which would put limitations on banks that try to exclude entire industries like oil and gas from financing, has garnered support from a number of Republican lawmakers who back fossil fuels while sparking criticism from libertarian-oriented organizations.

Those groups argue the rule is inconsistent with free market principles and could backfire in the long run by forcing conservative bank owners to provide financing for abortion providers and other groups they don’t like. The division among conservatives has also created unlikely bedfellows with libertarians and environmentalists both opposing the proposal. Green groups say banks should be allowed to choose whether they want to provide financing for fossil fuel companies. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) put forth the rule last week, billing it as a measure to ensure fair access to financing while singling out the unwillingness of some banks to finance certain fossil activities. “It is one thing for a bank not to lend to oil companies because it lacks the expertise to value or manage the associated collateral rights; it is another for a bank to make that decision because it believes the United States should abide by the standards set in an international climate treaty,” the rule states. “Organizations involved in politically controversial but lawful businesses – whether family planning organizations, energy companies, or otherwise – are entitled to fair access to financial services under the law,” it continued. After it was published, several Capitol Hill Republicans from oil-producing states lauded the proposal.

Washington Post - November 29, 2020

Biden hires all-female senior communications team, names Neera Tanden director of OMB

President-elect Joe Biden plans to break several barriers in his nominations to key economic policy and communications positions, bringing in women and minorities to craft his public communications and guide the country's recovery from the economic downturn. Biden is expected to nominate Neera Tanden, the chief executive of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, as director of the influential Office of Management and Budget, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the nominations freely. Tanden, whose parents immigrated from India, would be the first woman of color to oversee the agency. In addition, Biden is set to appoint Princeton University labor economist Cecilia Rouse as chair of the three-member Council of Economic Advisers, with economists Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey serving as the other members.

Rouse, who is African American, would be the first woman of color to chair the council, which will play a key role in advising the president on the economy, which has been ailing since the pandemic struck the country, throwing tens of millions out of work. Jennifer Psaki, a veteran Democratic spokeswoman, will be Biden's White House press secretary, one of seven women who will fill the upper ranks of his administration's communications staff. It is the first time that all of the top aides tasked with speaking on behalf of an administration and shaping its message will be female. Biden's press team will be led by Kate Bedingfield, a longtime Biden aide who served as his campaign communications director and will hold the same title in his White House. Taken together, the plans demonstrate the president-elect's determination to bring in a more diverse leadership team than what Washington has seen in the past. Biden's operation decided to announce the women on the communications team as a group to signal that the various top administration offices will coordinate closely, said Anita Dunn, a top Biden campaign aide.

New York Times - November 28, 2020

In key states, Republicans were critical in resisting Trump’s election narrative

The telephone call would have been laugh-out-loud ridiculous if it had not been so serious. When Tina Barton picked up, she found someone from President Trump’s campaign asking her to sign a letter raising doubts about the results of the election. The election that Ms. Barton as the Republican clerk of the small Michigan city of Rochester Hills had helped oversee. The election that she knew to be fair and accurate because she had helped make it so. The election that she had publicly defended amid threats that made her upgrade her home security system. “Do you know who you’re talking to right now?” she asked the campaign official. Evidently not. If the president hoped Republicans across the country would fall in line behind his false and farcical claims that the election was somehow rigged on a mammoth scale by a nefarious multinational conspiracy, he was in for a surprise.

Republicans in Washington may have indulged Mr. Trump’s fantastical assertions, but at the state and local level, Republicans played a critical role in resisting the mounting pressure from their own party to overturn the vote after Mr. Trump fell behind on Nov. 3. The three weeks that followed tested American democracy and demonstrated that the two-century-old system is far more vulnerable to subversion than many had imagined even though the incumbent president lost by six million votes nationwide. But in the end, the system stood firm against the most intense assault from an aggrieved president in the nation’s history because of a Republican city clerk in Michigan, a Republican secretary of state in Georgia, a Republican county supervisor in Arizona and Republican-appointed judges in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. They refuted conspiracy theories, certified results, dismissed lawsuits and repudiated a president of their own party, leaving him to thunder about a supposed plot that would have had to include people who had voted for him, donated to him or even been appointed by him. The desperate effort to hang onto office over the will of the people effectively ended when his own director of the General Services Administration determined that Joseph R. Biden Jr. is the president-elect and a judge Mr. Trump put on the bench chastised him for ludicrous litigation.

The Hill - November 30, 2020

Incoming Congress looks more like America

The 117th Congress will be the most diverse group of lawmakers ever to chart the nation's course when it meets in January after women and nonwhite candidates made gains in the November elections. At least 121 women will be among the 441 members and delegates to the House of Representatives, with several races yet to be formally declared. And women will occupy 26 seats in the Senate — at least until the first woman who will serve as vice president, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), resigns her seat. White men still hold a majority of seats in Congress, but the next session will include 59 Black Americans, the highest number on record and up five from the previous Congress. Eighteen members of Asian descent and 45 who identify as Hispanic or Latino will serve, along with five Native Americans and one Native Hawaiian.

The new Congress will include the first three Korean American women ever to serve in Congress, Reps.-elect Michelle Steel (R-Calif.), Young Kim (R-Calif.) and Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.). The number of veterans who will serve in the new Congress continues a decades-long downward trend. Just under 90 members of the new Congress will have served in the nation's military, the lowest figure in modern memory. In the 1970s, at least 70 percent of lawmakers had served in the military, according to the Pew Research Center; today, that number is under 20 percent. Congress remains a bastion for older Americans. The average member of the House of Representatives is 57.7 years old, while the average senator is 63.7 years of age. There is more than half a century between the nation’s oldest lawmakers — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) — and the youngest, Rep.-elect Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.). The oldest Senate delegation will come from Vermont, where Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) is 80 and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) is 79. The youngest hails from New Mexico, where Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) and Sen.-elect Ben Ray Luján (D) are both just under 50.

Kaiser Health News - November 30, 2020

Turns out people are weakest link for smartphone apps tracking COVID-19

The app builders had planned for pranksters, ensuring that only people with verified COVID-19 cases could trigger an alert. They’d planned for heavy criticism about privacy, in many cases making the features as bare-bones as possible. But, as more states roll out smartphone contact-tracing technology, other challenges are emerging. Namely, human nature. The problem starts with downloads. Stefano Tessaro calls it the “chicken-and-egg” issue: The system works only if a lot of people buy into it, but people will buy into it only if they know it works. “Accuracy of the system ends up increasing trust, but it is trust that increases adoptions, which in turn increases accuracy,” Tessaro, a computer scientist at the University of Washington who was involved in creating that state’s forthcoming contact-tracing app, said in a lecture last month.

In other parts of the world, people are taking that necessary leap of faith. Ireland and Switzerland, touting some of the highest uptake rates, report more than 20% of their populations use a contact-tracing app, Kaiser Health News reports. Americans seem not so hot on the idea. As with much of the U.S. response to the pandemic, this country hasn’t had a national strategy. So it’s up to states. And only about a dozen, including the recent addition of Colorado, have launched the smartphone feature, which sends users a notification if they’ve crossed paths with another app user who later tests positive for COVID-19. Within those few states, enthusiasm appears dim. In Wyoming, Alabama and North Dakota, some of the few states with usage data beyond initial downloads, under 3% of the population is using the app. The service, built by Google and Apple and adapted by individual countries, states or territories, either appears as a downloadable app or as a setting, depending on the state and the device. It uses Bluetooth to identify other phones using the app within about 6 feet for more than 15 minutes. If a user tests positive for COVID-19, they’re given a verification code to input so that each contact can be notified they were potentially exposed. The person’s identity is shielded, as are those of the people notified.

Wire Services - November 30, 2020

Moderna asking US, European regulators to OK its coronavirus vaccine

Moderna Inc. said it would ask U.S. and European regulators Monday to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine as new study results confirm the shots offer strong protection — ramping up the race to begin limited vaccinations as the coronavirus rampage worsens. Multiple vaccine candidates must succeed for the world to stamp out the pandemic, which has been on the upswing in the U.S. and Europe. U.S. hospitals have been stretched to the limit as the nation has seen more than 160,000 new cases per day and more than 1,400 daily deaths. Since first emerging nearly a year ago in China, the virus has killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide.

Moderna is just behind Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in seeking to begin vaccinations in the U.S. in December. Across the Atlantic, British regulators also are assessing the Pfizer shot and another from AstraZeneca. Moderna created its shots with the U.S. National Institutes of Health and already had a hint they were working, but said it got the final needed results over the weekend that suggest the vaccine is more than 94% effective. Of 196 COVID-19 cases so far in its huge U.S. study, 185 were trial participants who received the placebo and 11 who got the real vaccine. The only people who got severely ill — 30 participants, including one who died — had received dummy shots, said Dr. Tal Zaks, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, company’s chief medical officer. When he learned the results, “I allowed myself to cry for the first time,” Zaks told The Associated Press. “We have already, just in the trial, have already saved lives. Just imagine the impact then multiplied to the people who can get this vaccine.”

November 29, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2020

State officials ready to distribute Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine ‘in the coming days,’ Abbott says

State officials were prepared to distribute doses of drugmaker Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine “in the coming days,” Gov. Greg Abbott said Saturday. Abbott tweeted a link to a Wall Street Journal article that reported United Airlines had started operating charter flights to position doses of the vaccine for rapid distribution if approved by federal and global regulators and wrote, “Texas is ready to distribute these vaccines in the coming days.”

The comment was the latest Abbott has made about the state being ready to distribute a vaccine when approved. “Texas is already prepared structurally for the quick distribution of those vaccines once they are approved,” he said during a news conference Thursday. The Chronicle reported last week four Houston-area hospitals were scrambling to prepare for shipments of the first vaccine, likely in mid-December.

San Antonio Express-News - November 29, 2020

Leaving Las Vegas — to its own devices; this holiday season, many tourists are avoiding Sin City

Candy and Doran Jones wore masks as they traipsed around Las Vegas for their Thanksgiving vacation, but what the couple from Illinois said really kept them safe from COVID-19 was the lack of fellow tourists. “It’s easy to socially distance in Las Vegas,” Candy said. “There aren’t many people here.” Last year, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said nearly 300,000 visitors came for the Thanksgiving holiday. Crowds filled the Strip and Fremont Street downtown, where most of the larger casino-hotels are located. This year, the crowds are thin. Some large hotels are offering deep discounts — as low as $35 on Saturday night.

On Sunday, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak — after a sharp increase in coronavirus cases — ordered what he called a three-week “temporary pause” to the reopening of Las Vegas and the rest of his state. Maximum capacity at casinos and restaurants dropped to 25 percent from 50 percent. Restaurants were required to go a reservation-only policy. “It doesn’t scream out, ‘We are open for business,’” said Howard Stutz, a veteran Las Vegas casino industry observer and executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. Stutz said the governor’s order probably convinced some potential guests to stay home, hurting an already fragile casino industry. Some hotels, he said, are starting to close during the week because of the absence of conventions and meetings. Las Vegas took a bigger economic hit because of the pandemic than almost any other major U.S. city, given its dependence on tourism. Tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Hotels in Las Vegas only filled an average of 46.9 percent of their rooms last month, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. That was about half the average in October 2019.

New York Times - November 28, 2020

How Democrats suffered crushing down-ballot losses across America

Just a few seats shy of a majority in the State House of Representatives, Democrats in Pennsylvania this year zeroed in on Republican-held suburban districts, where disdain for President Trump ran hot. One of their prime targets was in the North Hills suburbs outside Pittsburgh, which are home to big brick houses, excellent public schools and “the fastest-trending Democratic district in the state,” according to Emily Skopov, the Democratic nominee for an open seat there, who gamely knocked on the doors of Republican voters in the days before Nov. 3. She was half right. Joseph R. Biden Jr. carried Pennsylvania’s House District 28, after Mr. Trump had won it by nine percentage points in 2016. But Ms. Skopov, the founder of a nonprofit group who positioned herself as a moderate, was defeated.

Across the country, suburban voters’ disgust with Mr. Trump — the key to Mr. Biden’s election — did not translate into a wide rebuke of other Republicans, as Democrats had expected after the party made significant gains in suburban areas in the 2018 midterm elections. From the top of the party down to the state level, Democratic officials are awakening to the reality that voters may have delivered a one-time verdict on Mr. Trump that does not equal ongoing support for center-left policies. “There’s a significant difference between a referendum on a clown show, which is what we had at the top of the ticket, and embracing the values of the Democratic ticket,” said Nichole Remmert, Ms. Skopov’s campaign manager. “People bought into Joe Biden to stop the insanity in the White House. They did not suddenly become Democrats.” That dawning truth is evident in the narrower majority that House Democrats will hold in Congress next year, and especially in the blood bath that the party suffered in legislative races in key states around the country, despite directing hundreds of millions of dollars and deploying top party figures like former President Barack Obama to obscure down-ballot elections. This year, Democrats targeted a dozen state legislative chambers where Republicans held tenuous majorities, including in Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina and Minnesota. Their goal was to check the power of Republicans to redraw congressional and legislative districts in 2021, and to curb the rightward drift of policies from abortion to gun safety to voting rights.

San Antonio Express-News - November 28, 2020

‘Never stops moving’ — Dade Phelan’s rep as a hard-working, straight-shooting coalition builder made him a shoo-in as Texas’ next House speaker

Tommy Williams was preparing to run for the Texas Senate in 2001 after two terms in the House when a young Dade Phelan strode into his office. Phelan handed Williams a list of almost two dozen people in his hometown of Beaumont who he thought Williams needed to win over to cinch the election. Phelan told him he could help him do it. Williams, a Republican from The Woodlands, hired him on the spot. “Beaumont was the largest city in my Senate district,” Williams recalled. “But I wasn’t from Beaumont. I didn’t ever live there. So I told him real quickly, ‘You know what? You’re my Jefferson County campaign manager.’” It paid off: Williams won, and Phelan became the legislative aide the senator depended on for the next five years. Now, almost two decades later, the 45-year-old Phelan is the presumptive House Speaker, and he has hired the former state senator to lead his transition team. A similarly bold, self-starting move, exhibiting the same networking skills, propelled Phelan to the speakership earlier this month.

Within days of the Nov. 3 election, he’d lined up support from 83 members, a majority of the 150-seat House, for his bid to become speaker. Soon after, the number grew to 106, including 57 Republicans and 49 Democrats. It’s now up to 140, according to a Phelan spokesman. The full House will take an official vote when the session begins in January. Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike said they supported Phelan because of his ability to bring people together and find common ground. That’ll be doubly important this session, they said, as the Legislature prepares to tackle weighty and contentious issues: coronavirus relief, a budget shortfall and the once-a-decade task of redrawing the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts. Phelan declined to be interviewed for this story. The speaker is the presiding officer of the Texas House, and his duties include conducting meetings of the House, appointing committees and enforcing House rules. The speaker, along with the governor and lieutenant governor, are often referred to as the Big Three: Texas’ most powerful officials, who set the state’s legislative agenda. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso who was on Phelan’s original list of supporters, said Phelan enjoys support from a broad cross-section: legislators of both parties as well as members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Austin American-Statesman - November 29, 2020

Margaret Spellings and A.J. Rodriguez: Budget, health care and aging tech are grave concerns

(Margaret Spellings, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, is president and CEO of Texas 2036. Rodriguez, a long-time business and civic leader and former Texas Association of Business Chair, is Texas 2036?s executive vice president.) This year, more than 11 million Texans voted. This record turnout shows voters on all sides are invested in electing candidates who will ensure Texas is the best place to live and work. Voters know there’s always more our state can do on that front. In part one Friday, we described three critical facts — about elementary school reading levels, post-secondary training, and broadband access — that should keep Texans up at night. Today, we’ll share three more that demand attention. All six overlap with our 2021 legislative agenda. Sixty percent of Texas households skipped or postponed needed health care due to cost, according to the Episcopal Health Foundation’s 2019 Texas Health Policy Survey.

Skipping care can have long-term consequences for patients and pocketbooks: Texas ranks among the worst large states in key metrics like deaths from treatable conditions and preventable hospitalizations. The state should explore options to increase federal health funding, improve price transparency, and implement other consumer-driven reforms that reduce costs for patients. Legislators also should comprehensively address rural health challenges through a combination of telemedicine, provider, and emergency care delivery reforms. Fewer than 20 percent of state agencies reported significant progress in modernizing services, and nearly half of the state technology agency’s employees were eligible to retire in three years, according to a 2018 Texas Department of Information Resources report. Aging, inadequate government technology has grave implications for Texans. Too many state agencies use outdated manual processes, costing Texas time and money. And during this pandemic, Texans have experienced inefficiencies from institutions and organizations that still rely on fax machines — thousands of Texans experienced long wait times for unemployment claims, and public health data was delayed. Further, many agencies lack the technology or personnel to use data in ways that best serve taxpayers. The state currently projects a $4.6 billion budget shortfall, on top of health, education, and pension cost growth.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: There’s a now a surprising rupture with Mexico that could imperil the drug war

One week before Thanksgiving and two months before the end of President Donald Trump’s term, a diplomatic dust-up with Mexico has revealed the tenuous nature of that international relationship. On Nov. 19, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard announced that his country would no longer allow officials accused of corruption to be tried in the United States, a reversal of a decades-old practice that helps protect Americans as well as Mexicans. The move came after the U.S. Justice Department announced charges in October against former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos. In court documents, prosecutors claim Cienfuegos was nicknamed “The Godfather” and sat atop a pyramid of corruption that included government officials, armed forces, and the H-2 drug cartel.

Cienfuegos, 72, was secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2019 and arrested in Los Angeles last month. But in a hearing on Nov. 18, the Justice Department did an about-face and requested that the charges be dismissed and Cienfuegos be returned to Mexico. A judge granted that request. The general returned to his home country and was promptly released. There is much to sort out here, including claims that Mexico threatened to expel DEA agents over the Cienfuegos charges, and indications that some accused officials may still be extradited. After Ebrard’s announcement, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signaled through a spokesperson that Ebrard may have gone too far, saying the country was still willing to send officials or drug traffickers to trial north of the border. While on-the-ground relations with Mexico have been strained recently, to say the least, the relationship between Trump and Obrador has, at times, seemed disconnected from that reality. The only international trip Obrador has taken during his two years as president so far was to Washington.

Dallas Morning News - November 27, 2020

In bid to run House Foreign Affairs panel, San Antonio Rep. Joaquin Castro offers progressive vision

On paper, Rep. Joaquin Castro would seem to have little shot at leading the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The San Antonio Democrat lacks the seniority — often the predominant consideration — of the two others vying for the post: California Rep. Brad Sherman and New York Rep. Gregory Meeks. Even the history books are against Castro, as no Texan has ever led the committee. But Castro is putting the outside-the-box nature of his bid front and center, particularly as he pitches what he’s describing as a progressive vision for American foreign policy.

“It’s mostly talking about issues through a foreign policy lens that haven’t always been discussed as foreign policy,” he said, citing examples like the “threat of climate change, what to do about climate refugees, the rights of indigenous people, and the rights of women around the world.” He continued: “Congress historically either hasn’t looked at those issues as Foreign Affairs issues or hasn’t attended to them very much through our committee work.” Castro, a soon-to-be five-term lawmaker who now serves as the panel’s vice chairman, will find out after Thanksgiving whether his colleagues are open to a new kind of approach. House Democrats, who hung on to their majority in this month’s election, will see their 40-plus-member steering and policy committee make a recommendation after the holiday. Then, depending on how that goes, it could come down to a vote of the party’s entire conference. That Castro — whose twin is former White House hopeful and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro — is even in this position is somewhat unusual. When he joined the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence four years ago, he had to give up his posting on either House Foreign Affairs or the House Armed Services Committee. Many in Castro’s shoes would’ve stayed on the military panel, which often has a higher profile.

Dallas Morning News - November 27, 2020

Pilot Point Rep. Michael Burgess vies for top Republican spot on powerful House Energy and Commerce panel

Pilot Point Rep. Michael Burgess will never forget an early markup he participated in as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A fellow Texas Republican, then-Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis, was the chairman. One of the panel’s Democrats, then-Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, offered an amendment related to the energy efficiency of ceiling fans. The debate on that one provision lasted a staggering five hours. “I did wonder, ‘What in the world have I gotten myself into?’” Burgess recalled with a laugh.

But the moment was also clarifying, confirming a career path in Congress that’s now led him to compete for the top Republican spot on the illustrious House committee. “When I got to Congress, I knew if I was going to be useful, if I was going to be effective, my place was doing the policy work in the committees,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “I really didn’t aspire to elected leadership in the House,” said Burgess, who was first elected in 2002. “I certainly wasn’t using this as a stepping-stone to a different elected office. This was where I belonged, and this is where my work was.” Burgess is vying against two other GOP stalwarts for the party’s top spot on the House Energy and Commerce panel: Ohio Rep. Bob Latta and Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Dallas Morning News - November 27, 2020

Dallas ISD launched an ambitious program to prep students for careers. How’s it going during a pandemic?

Fourteen-year-old Israel Olivares logs into school from home most days. He’ll usually sit in his bed, staring at a screen for seven hours. Then, for a couple of treasured class periods each Friday afternoon, he explores the skies above Oak Cliff. Israel is learning to operate drones and log time in a flight simulator, where he can practice “taking off” from the Dallas Executive Airport. His aviation course is housed in one of Dallas ISD’s career institutes, which opened this fall as part of an effort to give more teenagers hands-on experience in booming industries.

Fulfilling the promise of that interactive training has become much more complicated with the coronavirus pandemic raging. But the public health crisis has only emphasized the importance of training students for jobs that are now often referred to as “essential,” school officials said. “It was a lot of pivoting and adjusting, but at no time did we say, ‘We’re not going to do this,’” said Oswaldo Alvarenga, the assistant superintendent who oversees the program. Architecture students use personal toolkits that include a bow compass and scale so they can sketch at home instead of in a studio. Teachers demonstrate how to properly cut pipes via videos shared with students studying plumbing. The district launched the career institutes to give students more options. Some DISD high schools already offer International Baccalaureate courses for university-bound students, and early-college programs at other campuses allow students to graduate with an associate’s degree. The career institutes now expand the options for teenagers interested in earning industry-recognized certifications in fields such as plumbing, cybersecurity and construction.

Dallas Morning News - November 28, 2020

Dallas County adds 982 coronavirus cases, is seeing highest average daily case rate of pandemic

Dallas County on Saturday reported 982 more coronavirus cases, all of which the county considers new. Four new COVID-19 deaths were also reported. The latest victims were a Lancaster man in his 60s, a Dallas man in his 70s and a man and woman from DeSoto, both in their 80s. All the victims had been hospitalized and had underlying health conditions.

Saturday’s report included COVID-19 test results reported through late Wednesday afternoon, while Sunday’s report will include results from Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. “Testing generally goes down on holiday weekends and we expect the numbers will be more representative of the situation on the ground by mid-week,” Jenkins said in a written statement. “Overall, I believe Dallas County residents took the health community’s warnings and advice to heart and there was less gathering and less going to crowded spaces for this holiday. We will be able to tell to what extent we saw a spike from the Thanksgiving weekend beginning one to two weeks after it is over.” Of the new cases reported Saturday, 739 are confirmed and 243 are probable. The newly reported cases bring the county’s total confirmed cases to 122,923 and probable cases to 11,870. The county has recorded 1,204 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 31 probable deaths.

Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2020

North Texas has millions in unspent aid for renters during the pandemic, yet 75% of applications are denied.

Before the coronavirus pandemic thrashed the country, Maria Ramirez and her husband made plenty of money to afford their modest two-bedroom apartment in northeast Dallas. Now they owe more than $4,000 in back rent and late fees. Ramirez and her husband, both Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission, lost work during the shutdown and were unable to pay rent this spring. They fell further behind this summer when they began paying rent for Ramirez’s parents, who were both sick in the hospital for weeks fighting COVID-19.

They applied for aid without success. With tens of thousands of similar stories across North Texas, housing advocates are worried that money set aside by the state and local governments to help people pay for housing is not reaching the most vulnerable. There is a patchwork of programs with inconsistent criteria and awards, advocates say, and the application process is onerous. Plus, demand greatly outpaces the money available. What’s more, advocates are worried that millions of dollars will be sent back to Washington because local and state governments will not meet the Dec. 30 congressional deadline to spend the money. “When people can’t pay their rent, there are all sorts of consequences,” said Josephine Lopez Paul, the lead organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, a nonprofit that advocates for working families. “We should feel shame that we’re not able to meet the tremendous amount of need in our city. It’s becoming a shell game of shifting pots of money.” The interfaith group estimates as much as $20 million of the city’s rental assistance programs, which first began in April, has not been spent.

Dallas Morning News - November 27, 2020

Freshman lawmakers Colin Allred, Van Taylor ride bipartisan message to reelection

As they entered the studio to record the KXAS (NBC 5) and The Dallas Morning News’ Sunday political show Lone Star Politics, Democrat Colin Allred tugged on Republican Van Taylor’s jacket and told him that he needed Taylor’s backing on a piece of prescription drug legislation. A reporter who watched the exchange joked about it, but Allred insisted that he and his congressional colleague from the GOP had a working relationship. “The thing I always appreciated about Van is that we have mostly the same end goal, even though we might not agree on every single thing about how to get there,” Allred said recently. “I never question Van’s motivations and we’ve become friends. And I think that matters too.”

Taylor agrees, noting that in 2018 Allred was the first political call he made after winning the District 3 congressional seat that had been held by the late Sam Johnson. “I congratulated him on his victory,” Taylor told The News. “He and his district are important to me and my district. We have shared interests that are real, that are tangible.” On Nov. 3 Allred and Taylor, both freshmen lawmakers, won easy victories in their Dallas-area congressional districts by crafting bipartisan messages and touting accomplishments that they achieved by working together. Allred beat Dallas business executive Genevieve Collins in District 32, an area in northern and eastern Dallas County that was solid Republican until Allred beat Pete Sessions in 2018. Taylor cruised past Lulu Seikaly, a Plano lawyer making her first run for office. She had hoped to take advantage of the area’s changing demographics. The white population has decreased, while communities of color have grown.

Houston Chronicle - November 27, 2020

Thanks to a loophole, Houston ambulance trips leave door open for high, unexpected bills

One night last September, just after dinner, Michael’s Schwab’s 1-year-old daughter suddenly started convulsing, her tiny back arching as her eyes rolled back in her head. Terrified, he and his wife called 9-1-1. Soon, an ambulance arrived at their west Houston home. The emergency workers did a quick examination, but by then the seizure had passed and she showed no sign of distress except a fever. Still, as a precaution, the child and her mother rode by city ambulance for the 6-mile trip to Texas Children’s Hospital in Katy for a thorough exam. Whatever she needs, Schwab told himself. He wasn’t thinking about cost when his daughter’s health was at stake. Besides, he had good health insurance through work. Then the ambulance bill arrived from the city: $1,976.92, all out-of-network from his Aetna plan.

Months of overdue notices followed as Schwab tried to navigate the system. Eventually the bill was turned over to collections. It must be a mistake, he kept thinking. It was no mistake. In the nation’s fourth-largest city, all city-run ambulance services are out-of-network for all insurers, leaving the door wide open for high, unexpected bills. It is happening with private ambulance companies, too. By the industry’s own estimate, up to 90 percent of its ambulance services in Texas are outside at least some major insurance networks, if not all, according to the president of the Texas Ambulance Association. To have near zero chance of in-network ambulance coverage in Texas during a medical crisis is “unbelievable,” said Stacey Pogue, a senior health care policy analyst at Every Texan, an Austin-based advocacy group. It also stunned Schwab, who now knows the odds of what could happen if he ever calls 9-1-1 again. “I am embarrassed for my state,” Schwab said.

Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2020

Erica Greider: Democratic leaders should practice what they preach when it comes to holiday travel

Many Democratic leaders, it would appear, are hewing to the strict guidelines they’re advocating in public when it comes to limiting the spread of the new coronavirus. The handful who aren’t deserve a lump of coal in their stockings for Christmas — another holiday that they would presumably like the hoi polloi to spend in near-isolation. In recent weeks the question of whether to gather for the fall and winter holidays has become politicized, because of course it has. Republicans led by President Donald Trump, who survived COVID-19 only to host super-spreader events at the White House, have scoffed at the suggestion that Americans should eschew their usual plans in lieu of scaled-back or virtual celebrations.

“I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings,” Trump said in his official Thanksgiving proclamation this week. The statement acknowledged the “unprecedented challenges” faced this past year but also commended Americans for “developing groundbreaking therapeutics and life-saving vaccines on record-shattering timeframes.” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, also a Republican, was widely razzed for cavalierly tweeting a meme of the “Come and Take It” flag from the 1835 Battle of Gonzales, with the flag’s cannon replaced by a nice plump turkey. The message was that he planned to celebrate Thanksgiving as usual, despite the pandemic and suffering it has brought. As of Thanksgiving Day, Texas had reported some 1.2 million coronavirus cases, including 76,519 confirmed cases since the previous Thursday, and more than 21,000 deaths. Democrats, by contrast, have been exhorting Americans to follow the guidance offered by public health officials, who are rightly worried about surging coronavirus cases across the country— and in some cases taking concrete steps to enforce their recommendations.

Houston Chronicle - November 28, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Among Biden top priorities — undoing years of damage on immigration under Trump

President Donald Trump never got around to erecting his Great Wall along the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border, a wall he mused might be topped with spikes and painted “flat black” so it would blister anyone who came in contact with it under the southwestern summer sun. Granted, he built a few miles of wall during his four years in office, but he apparently found little, if any, support for a border moat teeming with ravenous alligators and poisonous snakes. In his relentless effort to wall off America, figuratively and literally, Trump managed to make an already chaotic immigration system more chaotic and certainly crueler. Trump, feeding off the ideas of White House xenophobe-in-residence Stephen Miller, did his level best to push a nation of immigrants toward zero immigration.

He and his young senior adviser envisioned a nation where immigrants of any kind, with or without documentation, as well as refugees and those seeking asylum, simply were not allowed in. Among the first tasks for President-elect Joe Biden, then, will be to begin undoing the damage Trump has done. He won’t need to wait for Congress to get started, because so many of Trump’s own policies were the result of executive action, proclamations and, according to the Immigration Policy Institute, more than 400 policy memos. The easiest fix, one that enjoys broad public support, is protecting the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012. Designed to prevent the deportation of immigrants who arrived here as children, DACA was a temporary program that provides renewable, two-year work permits and peace of mind to young immigrants trying to build a life for themselves in the only country that many have ever known. Obama’s idea was to create a safe space for those young adults while Congress wrestled with a more permanent fix. Trump claimed it was overreach, and killed the program even as he called on Congress to replace it with new protections for the so-called “Dreamers.” He was immediately sued, and Trump has fought these lawsuits tooth and nail. Fortunately, Biden can change that on day one, and simply drop the government’s challenge to the lawsuits and if needed issue new orders to restore the program.

Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2020

Children At Risk rankings: Consistency rewarded in school grades amid pandemic

Amid a pandemic that figures to set back millions of children, the Houston education advocacy and research nonprofit Children At Risk argues that the region’s consistently top-scoring schools, such as Amigos Por Vida - Friends For Life, are best-positioned to minimize the damage to students. With that theory in mind, this year’s annual Children At Risk school rankings and letter grades rely on three years’ worth of past student performance, aiming to highlight campuses and districts showing strong year-after-year results.

“Because of the pandemic, we have really delved into this idea of consistency,” Children At Risk President and CEO Bob Sanborn said. “We know with the pandemic that especially for low-income kids, who represent the majority of kids across Houston and Texas, there’s going to be a significant learning lag. The idea of going to a school that’s been consistently good is really the best shot for some kids getting up to speed.” Children At Risk traditionally calculates annual rankings and grades for all Texas public schools, primarily relying on state standardized math and reading test scores, as well as high school achievement data, from the previous school year. The nonprofit takes into account student demographics by filtering the data through three lenses — raw achievement, year-over-year growth and performance relative to poverty levels — for all schools and a college readiness measure for high schools. Children At Risk added another factor this year, designed to account for racial equity.

Austin American-Statesman - November 27, 2020

Travis County reports 428 new cases since Thanksgiving

Travis County health officials on Friday said 428 more people in the area have tested positive for the coronavirus since Thanksgiving Day, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 37,666. Local health authorities did not update its coronavirus data on Thursday because of the holiday. Officials said 163 people tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, and added that 265 more cases were reported on Friday.

Health officials have not reported any new deaths since Thanksgiving. The county’s pandemic death toll remained at 483, as of Friday. The county’s number of active cases on Friday was 2,481, compared to 2,559 on Wednesday. As of Friday, the number of estimated recoveries in the county was 34,702, according to local health officials. Of the 218 people in the hospital Friday with the coronavirus, 81 were in intensive care and 45 were on ventilators. The county reported 37 new hospital admissions for COVID-19 on Friday and the area’s seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations was 33, compared to 37.1 on Wednesday. The record for the highest seven-day average number of new hospitalizations for the Austin-Travis County area stands at 75.1, reported on July 8. The seven-day rolling average of new hospital admissions is one of the main factors health officials look at when considering coronavirus-related restrictions in the city.

Austin American-Statesman - November 27, 2020

Texas sees fewer coronavirus reports over Thanksgiving, though infections still rising

State health officials on Friday reported 2,473 new coronavirus cases and 51 new deaths. The number of infections and hospitalizations in Texas continues to climb, placing a growing strain on hospital capacity and staffing, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Friday’s numbers depart from a sharp upward trend in newly reported infections, though it’s possible reporting is low because of the holiday.

The state reported record-breaking infection numbers on two days within the last week. The record for new daily cases — 14,648 — was set on Wednesday. The previous record, 13,998 cases in a day, was set on Tuesday. Over 8,500 COVID-19 patients were being treated in Texas hospitals on Friday, the most since Aug. 4. The statewide hospitalization figure has steadily increased since early October. The pandemic high, 10,893 hospitalizations, occurred on July 22. Coronavirus patients have occupied more than 15% of the total hospital bed capacity in five of the state’s 22 trauma service areas — El Paso, Midland-Odessa, Amarillo, Lubbock and Laredo — for at least a week, a threshold that triggers tighter restrictions. The rising case numbers and hospitalizations in Texas are part of a nationwide coronavirus surge. Health officials are urging people to avoid traveling for the holidays and to keep gatherings limited to their immediate households. For the last several weeks, health officials repeatedly pleaded with residents to abandon plans to gather with extended family over the Thanksgiving holiday to avoid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Austin American-Statesman - November 27, 2020

Ken Herman: An overdue honor for an overarching Texan

I don’t mean to sound as if I’m surprised by this discovery, but in sifting through the hundreds of measures already filed for the 2021 Texas legislative session I came across one that’s actually a pretty darned good idea. One of our local lawmakers wants to name a new state office building for a great-granddaughter of a Texas GOP legislator who voted to ban interracial marriage. Yeah, hmmm. It doesn’t sound so good when phrased that way. Let’s try it this way: Barbara Jordan. Better, right?

Let’s start with the history lesson. State Rep. Edward A. Patton, R-Evergreen, was the only Black member of the 22nd Texas Legislature, which convened in 1891. In retrospect, he had something of a checkered voting record. Here’s some Patton info from the Texas State Historical Association’s “Handbook of Texas”: “He opposed the adoption of a poll tax, supported the establishment of a state railroad regulatory commission and sought to relieve property taxes on landowners in his district whose lands suffered from flooding. He also voted for legislation that banned interracial marriages and supported the Texas Confederate Home.” Patton was a one-and-done lawmaker. The 22nd was his only session. A blip, not much of a legislative legacy, and bios on him seem inconclusive on when he died. But Patton was Jordan’s great-grandfather. He gets extra legacy points for that, lots of them. Now, these many years later, because of a state office building that’s going up and one that came down, Patton’s great, late great-granddaughter could become the only Black person with his or her name on a state office building, Rep. Sheryl Cole, D-Austin, recently put this in motion by filing House Concurrent Resolution 5, which begins thusly: “Whereas, a towering figure in the Texas Legislature and the United States Congress, Houston native Barbara Jordan blazed a remarkable trail on the national stage for other women and people of color.” The resolution details Jordan’s remarkable life and career, a résumé that reminds us that she blazed a trail for all people, a path toward equality that we’re still navigating.

Wall Street Journal - November 28, 2020

Texas Attorney General’s legal woes potentially hinder Google case

Eight high-ranking employees of the Texas attorney general’s office reached out to law-enforcement authorities in September with a bold accusation, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this month. They claimed that their boss, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, had illegally used his office to interfere with an FBI investigation into a campaign donor. In the weeks after the employees notified the attorney general’s office of their claims, all eight were fired or resigned, and some faced retaliation from Mr. Paxton, according to the lawsuit, which was brought by four of the fired employees and alleges violation of whistleblower protections.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun questioning people about Mr. Paxton, said people familiar with the matter, but the full scope of its investigation isn’t known. Mr. Paxton has said he did nothing wrong. An FBI spokesman didn’t return a message seeking information on the scope of the agency’s investigation. The allegations have sent shock waves through the top ranks of the Texas Republican Party and raised questions about the future of cases the attorney general’s office is handling, including an investigation Texas is leading with a coalition of state attorneys general of Alphabet Inc.’s Google’s advertising business, in cooperation with the U.S. Justice Department. The lawyer who had been in charge of the case, Darren McCarty, was one of the employees who came forward and resigned in late October. Google’s advertising technology business, which controls tools used to buy and sell ads across the web, has been called a monopoly. Google declined to comment but has previously said its products help expand choices for consumers and businesses.

Wall Street Journal - November 29, 2020

Solar power booms in Texas

Wind power made Texas the leading renewable-energy producer in the U.S. Now solar is fast catching up. Invenergy LLC broke ground this year on a $1.6 billion solar farm northeast of Dallas that is expected to be the largest in the country upon completion in 2023. AT&T Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are among the large corporations that have contracted to purchase power from the project, which will span more than 13,000 football fields and supply enough electricity to power 300,000 homes. It is part of a growing number of solar projects in sunny, land-rich Texas, where experts long predicted solar farms would bloom. Solar-farm development in Texas is expected to accelerate in the coming years as generation costs fall and power demand grows. That growth puts it on track to claim a much larger share of a power market dominated by wind farms and natural-gas power plants.

Invenergy has developed wind farms in west and central Texas, but the solar project is its first one in the state. Ted Romaine, the company’s senior vice president of origination, said that unlike wind, which often peaks at night, Texas solar has the potential to boost electricity supplies when daytime demand is highest. “Solar is the natural next step in a state like Texas,” Mr. Romaine said. Five years ago, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, projected that as much as 12,500 megawatts of solar-generating capacity would be installed across the state by 2029. It now expects to surpass that as soon as next year. Generally speaking, 1,000 megawatts can power 200,000 Texas homes. There are now about 3,800 megawatts of solar capacity on the Texas grid, a fraction of the 25,000 megawatts of wind power it supports. By 2023, that gap is expected to narrow, ERCOT says, with as much as 21,000 megawatts of solar and 38,000 megawatts of wind installed. That could put Texas on track to surpass California, which leads the nation with more than 13,000 megawatts of large-scale solar capacity. Texas is the leader in renewables overall with nearly 29,000 megawatts of wind and solar generation.

KXAN - November 27, 2020

City of Austin defends taxpayer-funded lobbying ahead of contentious legislative session

The City of Austin is a familiar sparring partner with the Texas legislature. Bracing for a contentious legislative session when state lawmakers return to the Texas Capitol in January, city leaders defended the use of taxpayer-funded lobbyists to achieve and defend agenda goals while Republican leaders fight to end the practice. “Everybody should have the ability, as effectively as they can, to advocate for their positions and make sure the legislators know what’s true and what’s not true,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler told KXAN. “People on the other side just don’t want to hear from folks in Austin or other cities — and the surest way to do that is to make sure they’re not part of the conversation, and that’s not right.”

In 2020, the City of Austin has spent $435,000-$824,000, according to state ethics reports, on lobbying services with five firms. Three lobbyists on the City’s outside, taxpayer-funded team work for Focused Advocacy, an agency that specializes in lobbying for municipalities. Focused Advocacy has received $110,000-$225,000 from the City of Austin this year and lobbies for 16 other cities, ethics reports show. Brie Franco, director of the City’s Intergovernmental Relations Dept., said outside lobbyists are vetted for potential conflicts and follow the agenda set forth by the Austin City Council. “Out of the 7,300 bills filed each session, about 2,500 affect cities,” Franco said. “It’s seeking that assistance for the legislative expertise, for the knowledge of how the system works, and then also the relationships with the members.”

KERA - November 27, 2020

U.S. has largest immigration court backlog on record and Texas is more behind than any other state

More than 1.27 million immigration cases in the U.S. are pending – the most on record — and Texas leads the country with a backlog of 205,391 cases. That’s according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, a program that obtains and analyzes government immigration data. The partial court shutdown due to COVID-19 is one of the reasons for the growing number of pending cases. Currently, only some immigration courts are open, while others are open only for filings and hearings for detained migrants. Though the pandemic hasn’t help, it’s not the only reason for the backlog.

“The Texas courts – San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, El Paso – have been, I think, understaffed over the years,” said Paul Zoltan, a Dallas immigration attorney. “Other states, other cities have been better able to find a proper workable balance between the number of cases that are pending and the number of judges that are adjudicating them.” Zoltan said most of his hearings have been postponed and rescheduled several times. Some migrants have had to wait years for a hearing. Zoltan has one client whose case has been delayed to 2022, which would make it eight years that it’s been pending. In Texas, the largest number of pending cases involved nationals from Honduras, followed by Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. Zoltan said he hopes President-elect Biden will reverse some immigration measures implemented by the Trump administration. One of those is known as administrative closure, a tool used by immigration judges to close cases and clear their dockets, making room for higher priority cases.

KSAT - November 29, 2020

Conservative group ALEC ranks Texas’ Greg Abbott as nation’s top governor

According to a recent report from national industry-backed conservative groups, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was named the nation’s best governor for “school property tax limitations and strong budgetary policies across the board, including in spending and reserves.” The report, published by Laffer Associates and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), ranked all 50 governors in the U.S. based on “economic freedom,” coronavirus response and pro-corporation or conservative policies such as tax and education systems, union regulations, welfare spending and overall spending levels.

Laffer Associates is a Tennessee-based business consulting firm run by conservative economists and ALEC is a nonprofit group of conservatives that provides conservative, pro-business model legislation to state and federal lawmakers in the United States. ALEC has a large footprint at the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, serving up fill-in-the-blank bills and campaign funds to Republican legislators. The top-ranking governors in the report are all Republicans. Gov. Abbott was followed in the report by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, and South Dakota Gov. Kriti Noem, who was in third. The only Democrat governor that made the top 10 in the report was Colorado Governor Jared Polls, who came in ninth. Gov. Abbott primarily received his ranking “due to his commitment to fiscal conservatism and free-market policies,” according to the report. “Keeping government trim also enabled Texas to be more prepared for the fiscal shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic than 40 other states,” the report noted. With more than 21,000 Texans dead from COVID-19, the state has the second-most deaths in the United States but ranks near the middle of states by case rate per 100,000 people.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 29, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: COVID-19 is raging. Why are we bringing thousands of rodeo fans to Fort Worth area?

The advice comes over and over again, often with urgent, dire tones: avoid large gatherings with other people. It’s crucial to curtailing the rapidly growing pandemic. Why, then, are Fort Worth and Arlington eagerly welcoming thousands of rodeo fans to town in early December? After all, they’re not coming here to enjoy our hotels, lovely though they may be. They’re coming, by the thousands, for public events. It’s confusing at best to say in one moment that a family holiday dinner will spread disease while thousands of people in an arena or other venue — Globe Life Field for the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo or, say, AT&T Stadium for Dallas Cowboys games — is fine.

Though the main events for the rodeo are at the Rangers’ ballpark, Fort Worth will see a host of related activities, especially in the Stockyards. Both cities and event organizers have taken steps to make the events safe, and they vow mask requirements will be enforced. This Editorial Board has urged adaptation to the virus, following science about how it’s spread and figuring out how activities can be altered to be safe. But part of adaptation is acknowledging reality about the current moment of the pandemic and whether a gathering that might have been safer before is too dangerous now. With Tarrant County and Texas setting COVID-19 case records, the timing is terrible. Plans are in place for limited capacity, giving out masks and stringent cleaning, but organizers can’t control human behavior. Visitors will cluster in hotels and restaurants. Masks will slip. The virus will spread. In this phase of the pandemic, the bar for events such as these should be high. When the deal to move the event from Las Vegas to Arlington was announced in September, perhaps it seemed the virus would remain under better control. And the area certainly needs the economic boost, particularly in the hospitality industry. But future requests for crowd permits must be closely scrutinized.

National Stories

CNBC - November 27, 2020

Evictions have led to hundreds of thousands of additional COVID-19 cases, research finds

Expiring state eviction bans have led to hundreds of thousands of additional coronavirus cases, new research finds, raising alarm about what will happen when the national eviction moratorium lapses next month. During the pandemic, which at one point was estimated it would displace as many as 40 million people, 43 states, plus Washington, D.C., temporarily barred evictions. Many of the moratoriums lasted just 10 weeks, while some states continue to ban the proceedings.

The researchers, from the University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, San Francisco, Johns Hopkins University, Boston University and Wake Forest University School of Law, found that lifting state moratoriums and allowing eviction proceedings to continue caused as many as 433,700 excess cases of Covid-19 and 10,700 additional deaths in the U.S. between March and September. The findings are not yet published in a journal but will be available online Monday. “When people are evicted, they often move in with friends and family, and that increases your number of contacts,” said Kathryn Leifheit, one of the authors on the research and a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “If people have to enter a homeless shelter, these are indoor places that can be quite crowded.” To best understand the direct impact that evictions continuing in a state has on the spread of the coronavirus, the researchers controlled for stay-at-home orders, mask orders, school closures, testing rates and other factors. The study period was from March to early September, before the most recent spike in cases.

New York Times - November 23, 2020

The fight to win Latino voters for the G.O.P.

This month, less than two weeks after it became clear that control of the U.S. Senate would be decided by two runoff elections in Georgia, Daniel Garza flew to Atlanta. A slender, charismatic 52-year-old with salt-and-pepper hair, Garza has spent the past 30 years wooing and mobilizing Hispanic conservatives, first for the Republican Party and now for the Libre Initiative, an organization he started with the Charles Koch Institute in 2011. He regularly opines on political happenings for Univision, Telemundo and PBS as president of Libre. I have seen him speak before hundreds of Latino entrepreneurs and mingle with scores of politicos at White House events. In Atlanta, however, he faced a tiny audience. Fewer than a dozen souls put on face masks and gathered in an office that Monday morning for Garza’s pep talk, which was followed by a little phone-banking and a few hours of door-knocking. “Georgia right now stands at that intersection that it can decide the future of this country,” Garza said. According to the political-research firm Latino Decisions, 160,000 Hispanics cast votes in the presidential election in Georgia.

While most of those votes went to the Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, 28 percent went to President Trump, two percentage points higher than Senator David Perdue’s share in the election. Garza believes that with targeted and sustained outreach, Perdue can significantly improve his performance among Hispanics. The choice, Garza told the staff assembled before him, was stark. Either America would exist as “a free society, a free market, a free people” — “libre” means “free” in Spanish — or the nation would find itself in a future where “we’re going to look to government as the remedy to every social ill under the sun.” He mentioned school choice, deregulation, private health care and an odd troika of historical heroes: the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican president Benito Juárez and the American president Thomas Jefferson. This mash-up put me in mind of Sir Isaiah Berlin, the political philosopher who once noted that “freedom” would always be a favorite word among both revolutionaries and moralists because “it is a term whose meaning is so porous that there is little interpretation that it seems able to resist.” Libre’s work in Georgia began in earnest last year, when it hired David Casas, a Republican former state representative, to develop its relationships with local Latinos. During the 2020 campaign season, however, Georgia’s fledging chapter was an afterthought. It did not officially endorse any candidate, though Casas helped Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of a Koch-engineered network of affiliated libertarian organizations, in its efforts to re-elect Perdue. Instead Libre targeted Senate races in Colorado, North Carolina and Texas, as well as dozens of down-ballot races and measures throughout the country. It began knocking on doors for Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina nearly a year before the election. While Libre officially sat out the presidential contest, Garza knew that these efforts would assist Trump. “The turnout we do for Tillis is helpful to the president indirectly, because we’re turning out conservatives who are aligned,” he told me. Two of the three Senate candidates Libre supported this year won.

The Guardian - November 28, 2020

Can dozens of new Republican congresswomen change the face of the GOP?

Kat Cammack was raised on a cattle ranch by a working class single mother. She was the third generation of her family to go into business as a sand blaster. And at 32, she is about to become the youngest Republican woman in the US Congress. “I think a lifetime of experiences has shaped me to be a Republican and a conservative,” said Cammack, elected to an open seat in Florida. “There has been a stereotype about the Republican party, that it was the Grand Old Party, that it was your grandfather’s political party of choice. The election in 2020 has definitely helped push back on that narrative.”

Of the 12 seats in the House of Representatives that Republicans have flipped from Democratic control so far this year, nine were won by women, two by Latino men and one by an African American man. The trend represents a conscious effort by a party still dominated by white men: diversify or die. It also reflects the complexities of America’s voting demographics, which saw Trump make gains among Latinos in states such as Florida and Texas, win a majority of white women for the second time and improve his standing among African Americans. The counterintuitive data have been seen as a wake-up call for Democrats. Cammack argues that the Republican party was a natural choice for her after watching her mother try to run a small business while fending off intrusions from big government, and after the family lost their small cattle ranch in 2011 “due to an Obama-era housing programme”. She recalls: “That was really the turning point in my life where you find yourself homeless, you had a life plan and all of a sudden that is completely out the window and you have to make a choice. Do I put my head back in the sand? Do I rebuild my life and keep going down the path that I had envisioned for myself? Or do I do a hard right and get involved and try to fix the system?”

Marijuana Moment - November 26, 2020

Mexico’s President says legal marijuana is about freedom, as legislation advances in Congress

Mexico’s president said on Thursday that a bill to legalize marijuana nationwide that was approved by the Senate last week is “part of carrying out a revolution of consciences, where each of us is responsible for his actions.” “The development of freedoms is very important,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a press conference in response to a question about whether legalizing cannabis is could be a “Trojan horse that corrupts the health of young people and leads to a higher crime.” “Things do not have to be prohibited, prohibited, prohibited,” the president said. “If something is authorized, if something is allowed, well, act responsibly. I believe that this will happen in this new legislation on the use of marijuana. Have confidence in people and seek do good.”

López Obrador’s comments come as the cannabis reform bill is advancing in the country’s legislature. After passing the Senate by a vote of 82 to 18, the bill was formally transmitted to the other body of the nation’s Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, this week, and has been referred to several committees there. The proposal, which was circulated in draft form earlier this month, would establish a regulated cannabis market in Mexico, allowing adults 18 and older to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. It “seeks to regulate the use of cannabis and its derivatives, under the approach of public health, human rights and sustainable development, to prevent and combat the consequences of the problematic use of psychoactive cannabis and to contribute to the reduction of the crime incidence linked to drug trafficking,” the Chamber’s Board of Directors said in an announcement about receiving the legislation, according to a translation. The bill will also promote “peace, security, and individual and community well-being,” legislative leaders said.

Associated Press - November 28, 2020

Pennsylvania high court rejects lawsuit challenging mail-in ballot system

Pennsylvania’s highest court on Saturday night threw out a lower court’s order preventing the state from certifying dozens of contests on its Nov. 3 election ballot in the latest lawsuit filed by Republicans attempting to thwart President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the battleground state. The state Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, threw out the three-day-old order, saying the underlying lawsuit was filed months after the expiration of a time limit in Pennsylvania’s expansive year-old mail-in voting law allowing for challenges to it. Justices also remarked on the lawsuit’s staggering demand that an entire election be overturned retroactively.

“They have failed to allege that even a single mail-in ballot was fraudulently cast or counted,” Justice David Wecht wrote in a concurring opinion. The state’s attorney general, Democrat Josh Shapiro, called the court’s decision “another win for Democracy.” President Donald Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, have repeatedly and baselessly claimed that Democrats falsified mail-in ballots to steal the election from Trump. Biden beat Trump by more than 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania, a state Trump had won in 2016. The week-old lawsuit, led by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of northwestern Pennsylvania, had challenged the state’s mail-in voting law as unconstitutional. As a remedy, Kelly and the other Republican plaintiffs had sought to either throw out the 2.5 million mail-in ballots submitted under the law — most of them by Democrats — or to wipe out the election results and direct the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature to pick Pennsylvania’s presidential electors. In any case, that request — for the state’s lawmakers to pick Pennsylvania’s presidential electors — flies in the face of a nearly century-old state law that already grants the power to pick electors to the state’s popular vote, Wecht wrote.

CNN - November 28, 2020

In Japan, more people died from suicide last month than from COVID in all of 2020. And women have been impacted most

Eriko Kobayashi has tried to kill herself four times. The first time, she was just 22 years old with a full-time job in publishing that didn't pay enough to cover her rent and grocery bills in Tokyo. "I was really poor," said Kobayashi, who spent three days unconscious in hospital after the incident. Now 43, Kobayashi has written books on her mental health struggles and has a steady job at an NGO. But the coronavirus is bringing back the stress she used to feel. "My salary was cut, and I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "I constantly feel a sense of crisis that I might fall back into poverty."

Experts have warned that the pandemic could lead to a mental health crisis. Mass unemployment, social isolation, and anxiety are taking their toll on people globally. In Japan, government statistics show suicide claimed more lives in October than Covid-19 has over the entire year to date. The monthly number of Japanese suicides rose to 2,153 in October, according to Japan's National Police Agency. As of Friday, Japan's total Covid-19 toll was 2,087, the health ministry said. Japan is one of the few major economies to disclose timely suicide data -- the most recent national data for the US, for example, is from 2018. The Japanese data could give other countries insights into the impact of pandemic measures on mental health, and which groups are the most vulnerable. "We didn't even have a lockdown, and the impact of Covid is very minimal compared to other countries ... but still we see this big increase in the number of suicides," said Michiko Ueda, an associate professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, and an expert on suicides.

Reuters - November 27, 2020

Lockdown-weary Americans begin pandemic-changed holiday season

Pandemic-weary Americans entered the holiday season on Friday under strong pressure from political leaders and health officials to stay home, avoid most gatherings and curtail Christmas shopping as the coronavirus surged nationwide. One day after the nation celebrated a muted Thanksgiving, malls and retailers imposing strict COVID-19 rules saw fewer Americans in stores for the traditional Black Friday start of the holiday shopping season. "Remember, skip the crowds and shop from home this Black Friday," Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, a first-term Democrat, wrote on Twitter, a sentiment echoed by many state and local officials.

COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have spiraled in recent weeks, prompting increasingly aggressive clamp-downs in many U.S. states as the country awaits government approval of vaccines developed by drug-makers Pfizer Inc and Moderna . The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will take a formal step early next week toward deciding who gets the first round of vaccine once it is approved, with an advisory committee meeting and vote on the "allocation of initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccine" on Tuesday, according to an agenda posted on its website. Roughly 90,000 patients were being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals on Friday, a number that has doubled in the last month amid rising infections and is the highest since the pandemic began. The U.S. Supreme Court late on Wednesday struck down as unconstitutional an order by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo imposing severe limits on the number of people who could worship at churches and synagogues in the state.

November 25, 2020

Lead Stories

KXAN - November 25, 2020

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

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

WFAA - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

Why Houston takes the hit when Irving-based Exxon falters

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 25, 2020

Why Houston takes the hit when Irving-based Exxon falters

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

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

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Dallas Morning News - November 25, 2020

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

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

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

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - November 24, 2020

Travis County reports 2 more coronavirus deaths, 366 new cases

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - November 25, 2020

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

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2020

Ken Herman: Cornyn’s nod to reality

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

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

KXAN - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

KXAN - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

San Antonio Express-News - November 25, 2020

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

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

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

San Antonio Express-News - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

County Stories

CBS 11 - November 24, 2020

Tarrant County DA says misdemeanor marijuana possession charges may be dismissed

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

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

Dallas Morning News - November 25, 2020

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

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

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

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

National Stories

Washington Post - November 23, 2020

Foreign observers shocked by chaos over U.S. election

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

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

Washington Post - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

CNN - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Axios - November 25, 2020

Trump tells confidants he plans to pardon Michael Flynn

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

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

AFP - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

NBC News - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

November 24, 2020

Lead Stories

Bloomberg - November 23, 2020

Walmart rejected by Supreme Court on Texas liquor sales

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Associated Press - November 24, 2020

US agency ascertains Biden as winner, lets transition begin

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

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

State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 20, 2020

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

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2020

Students, booming suburbs swung Hays vote to Democrats

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2020

Trial again delayed for woman linked to Vanessa Guillen slaying

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - November 23, 2020

State lawmakers seek to improve sexual assault prosecution, data collection

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

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

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

Dallas Morning News - November 23, 2020

TEA opens investigation into Lancaster ISD superintendent buyout

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

Expect more consolidation in oil industry through mid-2021

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 21, 2020

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

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

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

San Antonio Express-News - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

San Antonio Express-News - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Politifact Texas - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

KXAN - November 23, 2020

Dead and undone

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

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

Texas Politics Project - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

McAllen Monitor - November 24, 2020

Congressmen introduce bipartisan missing persons bill

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

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

CBS 11 - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 24, 2020

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

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

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

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

National Stories

Bloomberg - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

CityLab - November 19, 2020

Rising star mayor who championed guaranteed income loses hometown race

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

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

CNBC - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

Houston Chronicle - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

WBUR - November 23, 2020

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

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

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

Wall Street Journal - November 23, 2020

Janet Yellen is Biden’s pick for Treasury Secretary

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

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

CNN - November 24, 2020

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

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

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