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Newsclips - August 12, 2020

Lead Stories

NBC News - August 11, 2020

Joe Biden selects Kamala Harris as his running mate

Joe Biden has chosen Kamala Harris, the prominent senator from California whose political career has included many barrier-breaking moments, as his running mate, his campaign announced on Tuesday. The decision comes more than a year after Harris, who was also a 2020 Democratic candidate, clashed with Biden over racial issues during the first primary debate. If elected, she would be the nation’s first female, first Black and first Asian American vice president. Picking Harris, who is 55, provides the ticket with some generational diversity. Biden, 77, would be the oldest president-elect in U.S. history.

The announcement from Biden caps weeks of speculation and is Biden’s biggest decision to date as the presumptive Democratic nominee — a detail Biden himself noted in his announcement. "You make a lot of important decisions as president. But the first one is who you select to be your Vice President. I’ve decided that Kamala Harris is the best person to help me take this fight to Donald Trump and Mike Pence and then to lead this nation starting in January 2021," Biden wrote in an email from his campaign to supporters. "I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person," he wrote. "I need someone who understands the pain that so many people in our nation are suffering. Whether they’ve lost their job, their business, a loved one to this virus." "This president says he 'doesn’t want to be distracted by it.' He doesn’t understand that taking care of the people of this nation — all the people — isn’t a distraction — it’s the job," Biden continued. "Kamala understands that. I need someone who understands that we are in a battle for the soul of this nation. And that if we’re going to get through these crises — we need to come together and unite for a better America. Kamala gets that."

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 10, 2020

UTMB estimates 200 layoffs from budget shortfall, officials say

The University of Texas Medical Branch likely will cut about 200 positions to account for a $174 million budget shortfall next fiscal year, according to a letter from the system’s interim President Ben Raimer. The budgetary gap is largely related to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Raimer said in the letter. The 200 positions make up about 1.5 percent of the system’s total workforce. “Our world was a very different place when I took the job as your president ad interim last September,” he said. “No one could have predicted then the devastating effects of this pandemic and the difficult decisions that would follow.”

Raimer said he and his executive leadership team decided on the cuts after reviewing programs, projects and employees “that we believe UTMB can no longer sustain.” He said UTMB will reorganize some departments, in addition to “planned measures to increase revenue and manage expenses.” Any employees affected by the cuts will be given appropriate notice and outplacement services, he said. They also will be prioritized for new open positions. “I will write again when I have more to share, but I did not want to delay in letting you know about our situation,” Raimer said. “I am proud to serve with such a dedicated team of people. I know we will continue to do all we can to support each other through these trying times.” The letter did not specify which positions would be cut or reorganized. A UTMB spokesperson said they could not comment beyond the information in the letter.

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Houston Chronicle - August 11, 2020

Mask-shunning Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert draws ethics complaint from watchdog group

A nonpartisan political watchdog group has asked the ethics office of the U.S. House to investigate Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert’s conduct during the coronavirus outbreak as he declined to wear a mask on Capitol Hill and reportedly “berated” his staff for wearing them. Gohmert tested positive for the coronavirus July 29; after his diagnosis, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a new rule requiring all lawmakers and staffers to wear masks in the chamber. The House had previously only required face coverings at hearings.

“At a time when health care and other essential workers lack the personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep them safe on the job, Rep. Gohmert has repeatedly opted not to wear a mask out of personal preference — putting his own health, and the health of all those who work for and around him, in danger,” the anti-corruption group Accountable.US wrote in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics. “And it is troubling to hear that individuals who joined the public service as congressional staff feel they must risk their health and well-being in order to fulfill their charge.” POLITICO reported last month that a member of Gohmert’s staff wrote to the outlet that “Louie requires full staff to be in the office, including three interns, so that ‘We can be an example to America on how to open up safely.’” “When probing the office, you might want to ask how often were people berated for wearing masks,” the staffer wrote.

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Houston Chronicle - August 10, 2020

People are ditching Houston for 'green pastures' because of city's COVID surge

The College Station area is known for Aggie pride and small- — but not that small — town feel. There are both ranches and retail, farmland and museums. You’ll also find, in increasing numbers, expat Houstonians. Since the pandemic, one out of three calls inquiring about homes in Mission Ranch, a master-planned community on the city’s southern edge, are from Houston, according to the subdivision’s developer, Caldwell Communities. “We’ve definitely seen more interest,” said Marci Raley, the subdivision’s welcome center coordinator.

The pandemic — which recently thrust Houston into the national spotlight for its surge in COVID-19 cases and strained hospital systems — is only the latest in a confluence of trends pulling people from Houston’s hustle and bustle to smaller towns an hour or two away. Terrible commutes, repeated flooding and a disconnect from nature are also driving people from the city. Many have headed to Brazos County, home of College Station. An estimated 3,800 people moved to Brazos County from Harris in 2017, the most recent year for which the Census data is available, making it the most popular destination for people moving out of Houston after Travis County, where Austin is located. “We have seen quite a bit of pick-up in buyers from Houston,” said Deborah Stepanek, a College Station real estate agent with the Houston-based brokerage CB&A. “They’re wanting to get out of the rat race of Houston.” Some families treat College Station as a sort of Houston suburb. Zac Henderson, for example, used to commute 45 minutes north from the Energy Corridor to his office off Texas 249 outside of Beltway 8. Now, he commutes an hour south from the edge of College Station closest to Houston.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 11, 2020

For the first time this season, Texas Rangers playing with Globe Life Field roof open

The Texas Rangers, pretty much from the last man on the bench to the people who pay his salary, wanted a ballpark with a roof. So, the people who pay the salaries ponied up $700 million for the $1.2 billion Globe Life Field to be built with a retractable roof to block out the searing summer sun. And the late-spring and early-autumn sun, too.

With temperatures Monday in Arlington hitting 100 degrees, naturally the Rangers opted to play the opener of a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners with the roof open. Come again? The Globe Life Field roof — yes, open — was open for the first time this season as the Rangers looked to extended their three-game winning streak. With an 8:05 p.m. start, the thought was the sun would be low enough beneath the west wall to keep the field in shade until sundown. But why do it, with the temperature well-above the 80-degrees threshold for closing and without a rainstorm in sight? “Curiosity, as much as anything else,” general manager Jon Daniels said. Curiosity, like, oh, how a struggling offense could benefit by playing with the roof open? “I don’t know that it will have an impact on the offense,” Daniels said. “It might have an impact on the flight of the ball a little bit.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 11, 2020

5 horses butchered near Pearland since May - and police think someone’s eating them

At least five horses have been killed around Pearland, Texas since late May — but it’s the way they’re being killed and what’s being done to their carcasses that’s particularly disturbing to locals. Pearland police made their first discovery June 10. Responding to an animal cruelty call along the 14000 block of Kirby Drive, they found a horse, dead and butchered. Police told the property owner, Jason Bockel, that they had never seen anything like it, FOX 26 Houston reported.

“They were just speechless,” he said. His son Tyler was the first to see the dead horse. He went out that morning to feed the horses, Goldie and Sugar, and found them tied to a tree. The killer — or killers — picked Goldie and spared Sugar. “I hit the ground immediately, she was butchered. She was murdered,” the son told FOX 26. “Nobody should ever have to go through that and see what I seen.” Goldie had been stabbed in the chest, according to police. After bleeding to death, the horse’s backstrap, and front and hind quarters were removed — cuts that lead police to believe Goldie was killed for her meat. Police discovered the two latest killings Saturday.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 11, 2020

Want to stay alive on Texas roads? This data makes the case for wearing seat belts

It has been 35 years since Texas enacted a law requiring motorists to wear seat belts. Yet even to this day, nearly half of all crashes in North Texas involve a motorist not strapping into a safety belt, according to a just-released report from CoPilot, an automobile sales listing site. The report, which uses data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, shows that 44.3% of fatal crashes in Texas involve an unrestrained motorist. The report looked at crashes that occurred from 2016-18.

In the Dallas-Plano-Irving area, 45.8% of fatalities involved a lack of seat belt use during that three-year period. The report didn’t break out data specifically for Fort Worth. Those figures are especially surprising considering that nearly 95 of every 100 motorists in the Lone Star State are regular seat belt users. So, those who refuse to strap themselves in are far more likely to be killed on the highways and city streets of Texas than those who comply with the law. “In Texas, 5.1% of commuters don’t wear seat belts, the 15th lowest share of commuters of all U.S. states,” the CoPilot report states. “Shockingly, these unrestrained commuters still comprise 44.3% of those killed in Texas car accidents.” In 2018, 36,560 people were killed on U.S. roads, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That’s about a 16.5% decrease from 43,825 people killed in 1985, the year by which Texas and most other states had declared safety belt use mandatory.

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Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

Court upholds murder conviction for ex-cop Roy Oliver, who killed Black teen Jordan Edwards

A Texas appeals court has upheld the murder conviction and 15-year sentence for Roy Oliver, a former Balch Springs officer who fatally shot a Black teenager in 2017. The 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas issued its opinion on Oliver’s appeal Monday. Oliver, who is white, shot Jordan Edwards, a Black 15-year-old who was riding in a Chevrolet Impala with two brothers and two friends, as the car drove away from him the night of April 29, 2017.

He testified that he thought the car would strike his partner, Officer Tyler Gross, who had responded with Oliver to a report of a noisy house party. Oliver, now 40, was found guilty of murder in August 2018 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He was acquitted of two counts of aggravated assault for shooting into the Impala. In his appeal, Oliver’s lawyers had argued that there were more than a dozen separate issues with his trial — including that no reasonable juror could’ve rejected his defense that he was acting to protect his partner and that the court allowed evidence it should not have. The appeals court overruled each of these issues. Four other aggravated assault charges against Oliver were dropped while he appealed the murder conviction, but they could be refiled. Two of those counts are related to the Edwards shooting, while the other two stem from an incident in which Oliver is accused of brandishing a gun at two women after a wreck in mid-April 2017.

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Dallas Morning News - August 11, 2020

Three unemployed candidates for every job opening? The Great Recession was twice as bad

By many measures, including impact on the economy, the pandemic has been devastating. But for job hunters, the prospects looked a lot worse during the Great Recession. In June, according to federal data released Monday, there were three unemployed people for every job opening in the U.S. That was down from 3.9 in May and 4.6 in April, an improving trend that tracked the reopening of much of the economy. Even at their worst, these numbers don’t rival those from the second half of 2009, when the U.S. was mired in a deep recession. At that time, over six unemployed people were competing for every job opening. And the ratio remained high for years, not falling to 3-to-1 until early 2013.

At the time, job hunters often complained about the tough labor market, saying companies were looking for “a purple squirrel.” That was a metaphor for a job candidate with an unworldly mix of experience, skills and pay history. In other words, employers wanted applicants who didn’t exist. Today, many companies have said they can’t get workers to return, either because they’re afraid of being exposed to COVID-19 or they don’t want to give up unemployment benefits, which had included an extra $600 a week from the feds. The number of job openings remains high by historical standards. At the end of June, there were 5.9 million openings, on par with monthly averages in 2015, ’16 and early ’17. That’s also more than double the monthly openings during the 2009 recession. That sounds promising for the unemployed, but a local economist warns against reading too much into the data.

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KUT - August 10, 2020

Restaurants, bars and breweries scramble to reinvent themselves to get around Abbott's bar shutdown

Hundreds of Texas bars and restaurants are scrambling to change how they operate, maneuvering through loopholes that will allow them to reopen after being closed by Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest shutdown targeting bars. Abbott has shut bars down twice since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in Texas. The first time bars were swept up in a total lockdown of statewide businesses. But the second time, on June 26, Abbott singled bars out while allowing virtually every other kind of business in Texas to stay open.

But other operations such as restaurants that sell a lot of booze, wineries and breweries were ensnared in the same order and also forced to close because alcohol sales exceeded 51% of total revenue, meaning they were classified as bars. “Generally everyone has a common sense understanding: ‘What is a bar? And what is a restaurant?’ I think that 51% rule is so broad that it actually picks up or encompasses businesses that we would normally think of as really being restaurants,” said State Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie, one of more than 65 lawmakers who signed a letter asking Abbott to update his order’s definition of a restaurant. Wray gave the example of a burger restaurant, where a patron might buy a burger and two beers. Oftentimes, the beer will cost more than the food, but that doesn’t make the restaurant a bar, he said. Emily Williams Knight, Texas Restaurant Association president, estimates that about 1,500 restaurants ranging from steak houses to coffee shops that sell wine were “inadvertently” forced to close when Abbott shut down bars, translating to about 35,000 lost jobs in the state.

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KUT - August 10, 2020

Texas, other states struggle to accommodate Covid-19 positive voters

With few signs the coronavirus is fading, election officials face an increasingly urgent question: how to accommodate voters who become infected in the days leading up to the election. In Texas — a state that fought expanding mail-in ballot access all the way up to the Supreme Court — COVID-19 positive voters can be put in the position of choosing between their right to vote and the public's health. Vote-by-mail is only available to people who are over 65, who are not present in the state on election day, or who have a disability. Democrats across Texas tried to expand the disability statute to include everyone during the pandemic, but the court ruled that being afraid of catching COVID-19 doesn't qualify. And you have to register almost two weeks before the election to vote by mail.

That's how Katya Ehresman came to be in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant, about 40 minutes before the polls for Texas' July 14 primary runoff closed, to meet Linda Harrison. Ehresman — the voting rights intern for the Texas Civil Rights Project, a legal organization that pushes for expanded voting access — had an emergency absentee ballot or hospital ballot for Harrison, a pediatric nurse who contracted COVID-19 after the state's mail-in application deadline. Harrison had to jump through hoops to get this ballot, including finding a doctor to certify she was ill. "I'm going to drop this off on the hood of her car while she gets out to fill our her ballot," said Ehresman. "Thank you," said a weary Harrison. She is 62, and despite being exhausted and sick, she drove 30 minutes to fill out this ballot. When completed, Ehresman had about a half hour to deliver the ballot, otherwise it wouldn't be counted. "It's ridiculous that we can't figure out a way for people who want to vote to get to vote," said Harrison, coughing. "How many people in Texas are in this situation? We cannot be the only ones." COVID-19 cases in Texas grew by 100,000 between the deadline to apply for a mail in ballot and the July election day. COVID-19 cases have been growing in dozens of states since June. If it persists, thousands could be in the same predicament as Harrison come November.

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The Hill - August 11, 2020

Lincoln Project expands GOP target list to include Cornyn, others, winning Trump ire

The former GOP operatives behind The Lincoln Project are expanding their list of Republican targets, infuriating allies of President Trump's and national Republicans scrambling to preserve the GOP majority in the Senate. In addition to a relentless negative ad campaign against Trump, the group has so far spent more than $1.3 million attacking Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), who is among the most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection. That’s by far the most they’ve spent on any Senate candidate.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings reveal The Lincoln Project has also targeted more than a half-dozen other Republicans up for reelection in 2020, including Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). The group is running ads in support of Democratic Senate candidates Steve Bullock in Montana and Al Gross in Alaska, who are seeking to unseat Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), respectively. Reed Galen, a strategist for the group, told The Hill that “the Senate map has expanded” and that off-cycle Senate Republicans “shouldn’t believe their day won’t come.” The Lincoln Project has invested very small amounts in ads going after Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

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Denton Record-Chronicle - August 11, 2020

Richard Cherwitz: More colleges should follow suit, cancel football season

(Cherwitz is the Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial professor emeritus in the Moody College of Communication and founding director of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin.) Since attending the University of Iowa (1970-78) I have been an enthusiastic fan of college athletics. After receiving my Ph.D., I became a professor at the University of Texas at Austin (1978-2019). For three years, I served as a faculty representative on the UT Men’s Athletics Council — a group overseeing the operation of the athletics department. During that period, my appreciation of student athletes, administration and coaches grew substantially. I realized that athletics requires a delicate balance between the business side of sports and the well-being of students. Let me be clear: I enjoy watching football games on Saturday, especially my Texas Longhorns, and sometimes this is my favorite day of the week.

Hence, at the risk of alienating football enthusiasts, businesses that profit from home football games and UT alumni, I believe more colleges and universities should follow the lead of the University of Connecticut, which on Wednesday became the first major university to cancel the 2020 season. If nothing else, the season should be delayed until it is safe. Bravo to the University of Connecticut! Our current COVID-19 environment demands we place health above entertainment and revenue — and that’s at least partially what motivated Connecticut’s decision. Anything less would have been an exercise in self-delusion and greed. Why? Consider the facts: After announcing a 10-game schedule, the Southeastern Conference notified football players that COVID-19 cases “on every single team” are inevitable. An SEC spokesperson declared: “There are going to be outbreaks. We’re going to have positive cases on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.” My own institution, UT, already has a significant number of COVID-19 cases on campus. While other institutions have failed to report their data, no doubt they too have many cases. It is hard to imagine that returning athletes at UT or elsewhere will be safe.

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SE Texas Record - August 6, 2020

Texas groups join hundreds of others in urging Congress ‘to stop growing wave’ of COVID-19 lawsuits

Numerous Texas groups have joined a coalition of nearly 500 businesses and organizations in petitioning Congress to pass the “SAFE TO WORK Act.” The act, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on July 27, seeks to “lessen the burdens on interstate commerce by discouraging” COVID–19 lawsuits “while preserving the ability” to sue for those who suffered “real injury.” Some of the Texas group to join the coalition include Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas Alliance for Patient Access and the Texas Civil Justice League.

The collation asserts the act’s “crucial protections” would “safeguard” healthcare workers, as well as businesses and educational institutions, against “unfair lawsuits so they can continue to contribute to a safe and effective economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.” “This legislation is critically needed and should be enacted as soon as possible,” the petition states. “To that end, we strongly urge you to support the inclusion of these provisions in a Phase IV COVID-19 relief package.” The coalition argues COVID-19 lawsuits “and their consequent exorbitant legal costs” could deter entities from reopening and ultimately cripple businesses and other organizations. “Now is the time for Congress to take strong action and … stop a growing wave of lawsuits from inhibiting our return to a robust economy and healthy citizenry,” the petition states. Conryn said the act would not provide “blanket immunity” during a June 10 webinar session with the Austin Chamber. “But for those who follow the guidelines … in doing everything they could do to safely reopen their business, we believe there ought to be some safe harbor for them,” Cornyn said. “The cost of litigation could make the difference between survival or demise.” Cornyn began working on the act with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell back in May.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - August 6, 2020

TCEQ commissioner: Communication key to better environment

Communication can be key to protecting the state’s environment, according to a state regulator. “We touch about every industry and business in some way for this state,” said Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Commissioner Emily Lindley, participating in the weekly Oilfield Strong webinar presented by OTA Compression/OTA Environmental and the Permian Basin Petroleum Association.

“I’d love for us to not be that big,” she said. “We have a robust stakeholder involvement process, whether it’s rulemaking or the permitting process. I encourage you, one, to dive into who we are, what we do, and if you have any questions on how to get engaged on topics, contact the agency. We need to be talking to the regulated community and hearing from you. We can’t do this job unless we know how it’s affecting the community.” The Midland native said she has never operated a well or drilled horizontally, so any proposed rules may be off the mark “in some ways. We’re not in the real world, having to be out there in the field. So, if there’s something we aren’t getting right, we don’t know that unless you tell us.” That will be particularly important in the coming months as the commission ponders some rules that could impact the industry, she said.

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ProPublica and Texas Tribune - August 11, 2020

ICE is making sure migrant kids don’t have COVID-19 — then expelling them to “prevent the spread” of COVID-19

Since March, the Trump administration has pushed thousands of migrant children back to their home countries without legal screenings or protection, citing the risk that they could be carrying COVID-19 into the United States. But by the time the children are boarded on planes home, they’ve already been tested for the virus — and proven not to have it. Court documents, and information given by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to congressional staff last week, reveal that the Trump administration has agreed to test every child in its custody before sending them back to their home countries under the expulsion policy.

ICE’s comprehensive testing appears to undermine the rationale for the mass expulsion policy: that it is necessary to “prevent the introduction” of COVID-19 into the United States. The Trump administration has argued that, because of the pandemic, it must circumvent protections built into immigration law for migrant children, which dictate they should be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (and ultimately to sponsors in the U.S.) and given a chance to seek asylum. Administration officials have said that they can’t risk that infected children would spread COVID-19 through the system. Yet even after children test negative for the virus, they aren’t being allowed to access the usual protections. The Trump administration has cited sections 265 and 268 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code, which allows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to order the exclusion of any person or thing that might introduce a disease into the United States. Citing that law, in March the CDC began barring the entry of anyone crossing into the U.S. without papers.

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KTEN - August 11, 2020

Victoria Neave, Julian Castro and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among high-profile Latinos participating in Democratic convention

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the progressive first-term lawmaker, is one of several high-profile Latinos slated to participate in the Democratic National Convention next week. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro will also have roles in next week's event, Democratic officials tell CNN. While the exact schedule is still being finalized, the lineup comes as the party seeks to highlight the diversity of its members and supporters as Joe Biden officially becomes its presidential nominee.

Ocasio-Cortez, an early endorser of Bernie Sanders' presidential bid, will be part of a segment nominating the senator from Vermont at the convention on Tuesday night, the officials said, and she also will be featured in a video airing on Wednesday. The congresswoman's participation further highlights the Biden campaign's efforts to bring the progressive wing of the party into the fold. After Sanders ended his 2020 run, Ocasio-Cortez served as a co-chair of a climate change task force between supporters of the Sanders and Biden campaigns, one of several unity commissions the two teams developed. Lujan Grisham and Cortez Masto, who were among the early names mentioned as possible contenders for the Democratic vice presidential nomination, will have individual speaking slots at the convention along with California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who endorsed Biden during the primaries. Castro, who delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, will be part of a segment featuring former 2020 presidential candidates.

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County Stories

KERA - August 11, 2020

A group that advocates for foster care children needs Hispanic volunteers

The nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates of Tarrant County, which advocates for children placed in foster care, is struggling to recruit Spanish-speaking and Hispanic volunteers. More than 40% percent of the children in the Texas' child welfare system are of Hispanic descent. Tarrant County serves nearly 20%, but only 9% of CASA's volunteers are Hispanic.

"Which is one reason why recruiting a more diverse pool of volunteers has long been a priority for CASA. But the need is even more urgent now, since we believe that child abuse removals may increase as the ongoing stress and isolation of the pandemic continue to take their toll on families," said Natalie Stalmach, CASA’s development director. CASA provides trained volunteers to families in court, and their duty is to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children in foster care. CASA’s volunteers check in daily on children, accompany them to court hearings, create a space for open dialogue and provide support for traumatized minors living with foster families. "We’ve had volunteers cook Hispanic meals for a group of siblings that the [foster] mom was not Hispanic, and it’s a comfort," said Stalmach. "It’s a reminder of home, when they lost so many of those connections.” Stress caused by COVID-19 and isolation put more children at risk.

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National Stories

NPR - August 11, 2020

Veteran GOP strategist Stuart Stevens takes on Trump — and his party — in 'it was all a lie'

Veteran political consultant Stuart Stevens has spent years working as a strategist for Republican campaigns, including the presidential bids of Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. But Stevens didn't support the party's candidate in the 2016 presidential election — and he wasn't alone. "In 2016, when I went out and attacked Trump on television," he says, "I would say maybe a third of the party hierarchy would email me and thank me for doing this." But Stevens notes that many of the Republicans who had privately voiced concern about Trump changed their tune on election night. "I started getting emails like, 'Could you maybe delete that email?' " he says.

"It's an extraordinary contradiction," Stevens tells Fresh Air in an Internet interview. He notes, "I've never heard any Republican officeholder speak of President Trump as if he should be president. ... They know he shouldn't be president. [But] he is president, and they still support him." In his new book, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump, Stevens argues that the party's support for Trump isn't just a pragmatic choice. Instead, he says, it reflects the party's complete abandonment of principles it long claimed to embrace, such as fiscal restraint, personal responsibility and family values. Stevens acknowledges his own role in the party's shift: "One of the things that drew me to the Republican Party was the concept of personal responsibility. So I don't know where to begin with personal responsibility except to take responsibility personally."

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ESPN - August 11, 2020

Pac-12 joins Big Ten in canceling fall football season, will attempt to play in spring

The Pac-12 has canceled the fall football season, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports. The league is scheduled to make the announcement formal on Tuesday afternoon, continuing a day of seismic news in the sport. The decision comes soon after the Big Ten announced that it was canceling its fall football season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both leagues plan to attempt to play in the spring. The Pac-12 decision was universally expected. The league has multiple teams that would have difficulty starting practice this week because of local government restrictions. The virus has been especially impactful in California and Arizona, which houses six of the 12 schools.

Of all the major conferences, the Pac-12 was viewed as the most likely to cancel the fall. The league was building sentiment toward this decision last week, but remained wary of being the first league to head in this direction. The Big Ten decision a little over an hour earlier gave them the company they needed to head to the sidelines. The Pac-12 decision marks the fourth FBS conference to cancel college football this fall. Overall, 53 of the 130 programs in college football have canceled their seasons. The Pac-12 decision shifts the intrigue to the Big 12, which has a call Tuesday night. The Big 12 is being viewed in college circles like Ohio or Florida in an election, as it has the power to dictate the future of the sport. A high-ranking Big 12 official told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday afternoon, “There’s an increasing sentiment that we’ll play.” The decisions by the Big Ten and the Pac-12 also put an onus on the ACC and SEC, which have stated clearly this week that they’d like to attempt to navigate the start of their seasons. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey pointed out on Twitter on Monday that the SEC “has been deliberate” since March in making decisions about the virus.

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Washington Post - August 11, 2020

Dan Morain: America is about to see what smart Republicans saw in Kamala Harris years ago

(Dan Morain, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times and editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee, has covered California politics and policy since 1991.)Smart Republicans could see Kamala D. Harris coming years ago, and they tried to smother her early. Now that Joe Biden has chosen the first-term senator from California as his running mate, America is about to see what those Republicans could see long ago: Harris is a quick learner and gifted political performer with genuine star power. It’s facile to compare Harris to former president Barack Obama, though the two are friends. Harris, 55, is the daughter of two academics, a mother from India and a father from Jamaica, who separated when she was 5. Harris and her younger sister were raised primarily by their mom. She was an early fundraiser for Obama when he first ran for U.S. Senate in 2004. Three years later, she was quick to endorse his presidential candidacy when others in the party held back.

Like Obama, Harris navigated her way through a swampy city filled with sharp-elbowed politicians. The shrewdest one of all, Willie Brown, the former San Francisco mayor and speaker of the California Assembly, helped out. I was in the union hall near Fisherman’s Wharf covering the Brown for Mayor victory party in 1995, when Harris, then a 31-year-old deputy district attorney from Alameda County across the bay from San Francisco, presented Brown with a baseball cap emblazoned with the words “Da Mayor.” Brown beamed. (The two were an item at the time. It didn’t last. She married Los Angeles attorney Douglas Emhoff in 2014.) In 2002 and 2003, Brown, ever loyal to his friends, encouraged Harris, by then a deputy San Francisco city attorney, to challenge San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, a former boss. She placed her campaign office in the Bayview District, a gritty part of the city, and set up ironing boards (a common campaign tactic in the Bay Area), often with help from her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a breast cancer researcher at the University of California at Berkeley who died in 2009.

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CNN - August 11, 2020

Supreme Court will not step in to halt ruling that will allow additional compensation for student athletes

Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan on Tuesday denied a request from the National Collegiate Athletic Association to freeze a lower court ruling that allows colleges to compensate athletes for education-related expenses, clearing the way for the ruling to go into effect. The NCAA asked the court to put the lower court ruling on hold while it appealed the decision. A panel of judges on the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling earlier this year that the NCAA violated federal antitrust law when it barred schools from certain expenditures for student athletes.

The case marks the latest battle concerning student athlete compensation. The lawsuit was brought by former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston in 2014 when he and his attorneys argued that NCAA rules that place any limit on compensation from universities to athletes violated antitrust law. The NCAA has argued that additional compensation beyond scholarships blur the line between college and professional sports. The association also said its rules are necessary to maintain the tradition of amateurism in college sports. "Each year, nearly half a million student-athletes play two dozen sports on nearly 20,000 teams at about 1,100 NCAA member schools and 100 member conferences in three divisions across the country," Seth Waxman, attorney for the NCAA argued in court papers.

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Wall Street Journal - August 9, 2020

Elon Musk’s SpaceX advances goal of becoming trusted, long-term military launch provider

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has vaulted into an elite tier of military suppliers, winning a multibillion-dollar contract that makes it one of the Pentagon’s two primary satellite-launch providers through most of the decade. In a significant boost to Mr. Musk’s closely held Southern California company, the Air Force on Friday said SpaceX will split an estimated nearly three dozen launches through 2027 with United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. Until a few years ago, ULA had a virtual monopoly on such business, which focuses on the highest-priority military and intelligence payloads. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the formal name of Mr. Musk’s company, is slated to conduct 40% of the missions, achieving a long-cherished goal of breaking into the ranks of the Pentagon’s most trusted corporate partners.

The Boeing-Lockheed joint venture is slated to carry out the rest of the launches. Initial awards for each company exceeded $300 million, though industry estimates of the eventual combined contract value range from more than $4 billion to about $6 billion. Blue Origin Federation LLC, run by Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, made a big push to snare some of the launches, stressing the strength of its technology and financial commitment to improve it further. The fourth bidder was Northrop Grumman Corp. Industry officials said the announcement appears to give SpaceX a long-term advantage over Blue Origin to become the dominant new entrant in the lucrative market for launching big U.S. national-security payloads over coming decades. Both companies consider government launches strategically important for their future prospects, and the military plans to reopen competition for later missions. With Pentagon spending on space programs, particularly classified projects, projected to continue climbing for years, competition between SpaceX and Blue Origin is likely to ramp up, even as ULA seeks to stay in the lead. Friday’s announcement, however, amounts to a potentially important SpaceX coup in an already simmering rivalry. Messrs. Musk and Bezos have traded satirical barbs on social media in the past, sometimes playing down or poking fun at each other’s space accomplishments.

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Newsclips - August 11, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

As unemployed wait for relief, Texas leaders unsure how Trump’s order would work

Two days after President Donald Trump’s surprise executive action to extend federal pandemic relief to unemployed Americans, questions abound about how the plan will be implemented in Texas. On Saturday, after two weeks of stalled congressional negotiations over extending financial relief for unemployed Americans, Trump took executive action that he said would ban evictions, suspend payroll taxes, give relief to student borrowers, and create $400 weekly payments to people who are out of work. Those payments would be $200 less per week than workers previously received under Congress’ coronavirus relief legislation.

But it is still unclear whether Trump has the legal authority to implement such orders because Congress controls federal spending not the president. Moreover, state agencies and officials tasked with carrying out the orders are still unclear about how to do that. “We’re currently reviewing the presidential memoranda and will provide additional information as soon as it becomes available,” said Cisco Gamez, a spokesman for the Texas Workforce Commission, which handles the state’s unemployment claims. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, did not respond to a request for comment. As of Monday afternoon, he had not made any public comments about Trump’s move. The plan calls for tapping into unused funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed in March. In a memo, Trump said more than $80 billion remains available in that legislation’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is meant to help state and local governments cover costs brought on by the pandemic.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 10, 2020

Rate of positive Texas COVID-19 tests is at 21%, highest recorded

More than a fifth of Texans taking the coronavirus test are currently testing positive, according to new state statistics. Over the past week, the average rate of Texans testing positive for the virus among those tested — known as the positivity rate — was reported on Monday as 21%. State health officials on Monday also reported 31 additional deaths attributed to the coronavirus, bringing the pandemic death toll in Texas to 8,490. Those deaths occurred over the seven to 10 days prior to when they were reported as state officials are now using death certificates to tally COVID-19 fatalities.

The figures released Monday are a departure from recent daily fatality tallies, which have approached 300. On Friday, the state reported 293 deaths from COVID-19. A spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services said there have been “very low death numbers on Mondays” — possibly, he said, because few death certificates are filed on Sundays. Officials also announced 4,455 new known COVID-19 cases, bringing the current statewide tally to 490,817 cases. Only two other states — California and Florida — have reported more cases. Slightly less than 7,500 people were being treated for COVID-19 in Texas hospitals, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That continues a downward trend seen since mid-July, when more than 10,000 people were hospitalized in Texas with COVID-19. The 21% positivity rate is part of a two-week uptick since the end of July, when the rate hovered around 12%. Gov. Greg Abbott, who issued a statewide mask mandate in early July amid a rapid rise in cases and hospitalizations, has said anything over 10% is cause for concern.

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KUT - August 10, 2020

Census changes could take political power, funding from Texas Latinos already hit hard by COVID-19

Texas’ growing Latino population is poised to be significantly undercounted in this year’s census, following a slew of recent Trump administration moves. Advocates say that means Latinos could face a decade of diminished political power and underfunding for essential government services as they try to recover from a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting them. The census is a national head count that happens every 10 years. It determines how much federal funding states and communities get, as well as how much political representation they get.

Lila Valencia, a senior demographer at the Texas Demographic Center at UT San Antonio, said Latinos made up half the total population growth in Texas between 2010 and 2019. “They are adding the largest numbers of people to the Texas population of any other race [or] ethnicity groups,” she said. Because of this growth, civic groups across the country had been preparing outreach campaigns for the census. Genesis Sanchez, the Texas regional census campaign manager for NALEO, said the stakes for Latinos are high. “If we don’t get counted … then we won’t have our political power,” she said. “It continues to get manipulated, whether it’s through redistricting or then the allocation of resources.” Latinos and other racial minorities, including the state’s fast-growing Asian population, were already going to be difficult to count, because they are less likely to respond to the census – either online, over the phone or by mail. “We have language barriers,” Alice Yi with the Austin Asian Complete Count Committee said. “We also have knowledge barriers. Many immigrant families do not know what the census is about.”

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NPR - August 11, 2020

California and Texas health officials: Mistrust a major hurdle for contact tracers

Contact tracing has been one of the key tools in the fight against the coronavirus. Now, as the virus has infected more than 5 million Americans, the U.S. has at least 41,122 contact tracers — but that's not even half what public health experts said would be needed to help contain the spread. Contact tracers call each person who has tested positive and track down their contacts to inform them of their risk so they can quarantine. They also often connect people with services so they can safely isolate. In addition to staffing shortages and testing bottlenecks, those who are on the job are running into other big challenges, including the difficulty of getting people to cooperate, health officials say.

Elya Franciscus, an epidemiologist with Harris County Public Health in Houston, estimates that about half of those contacted by her department's contact tracers are not fully cooperative. In the Los Angeles area, a few businesses have proven problematic — with outsize effects, says Michael Osur, assistant director and chief health strategist of the Riverside County Department of Public Health. Some businesses have even told staff that if they cooperate with health officials, they'll be terminated, Osur says. In these excerpts from their interview on NPR's All Things Considered, Franciscus and Osur describe the misinformation that's fueled the lack of cooperation and what can be done.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 10, 2020

Texas Rep. Poncho Nevárez reflects on 292 sober days since cocaine arrest

Democratic State Rep. Poncho Nevárez, who was caught on camera dropping an envelope containing two grams of cocaine at the Austin airport and turned himself in for the felony in November, said in a blog post Monday that he is 292 days sober. In the more than 2,000-word essay entitled “How I’m Doing,” Nevárez wrote about the difficulty of being in the minority party in the Texas Legislature, his frustration in reconciling with respected colleagues whose views and politics he found abhorrent, and how he turned to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. The personal injury attorney and four-term lawmaker is not seeking re-election. The third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance charge against him was dismissed in June after Nevárez successfully completed pre-trial diversion.

“You lose a lot of control over how things go in the legislative process. I cannot stress this enough. It becomes a tornado. Out of control," he wrote. “For a perfectionist thriving on control, it can be maddening. My lack of patience hampered me. My ego pounded me. I became unable to manage defects in my character. My path towards full-blown alcoholism and addiction was pretty well set once I lost perspective.” Nevárez, 47, said that stress was further compounded by grief when he lost his sister and his best friend in 2017 within a span of six months. He started drinking more and started using drugs again for the first time since his 20s. “I could not handle the grief,” he wrote. “Worse, it became an excuse to continue on a very destructive path. It was never fair to their memories or to people who cared about me.” Nevárez, who is chair of the House’s Homeland Security & Public Safety committee, was also the House member who in 2017 shoved a Republican colleague during a confrontation at the Capitol. Then-state Rep. Matt Rinaldi had threatened to call immigration enforcement on protesters of the state’s sanctuary cities law.

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Houston Chronicle - August 10, 2020

Corpus Christi-area district first in Texas to cancel football, volleyball seasons

Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco ISD canceled its football and volleyball seasons Monday, making it the first school district in Texas to do so amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco High School, located 60 miles southwest of Corpus Christi, competes in Class 2A in the University Interscholastic League. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported the district’s school board voted to stay in an online-only curriculum for the first nine weeks of the school year. The district is not allowing practices for extracurricular activities through Oct. 3 and any possible start date for the football or volleyball regular seasons would be pushed to early November, making them untenable.

High schools in Class 1A through 4A in the UIL start football, volleyball, cross country and team tennis seasons later this month. For these schools, district certification dates — when playoff teams must be determined — are Oct. 27 for volleyball and Nov. 7 for football. Class 6A and 5A volleyball and football programs start fall practice Sept. 7. Ben Bolt is allowing cross-country athletes to train individually and compete in the district championship meet. The Houston area’s 4A and 3A teams commenced fall practice in football last week and the volleyball regular season begins Monday. Houston ISD’s eight 4A schools — Furr, Kashmere, North Forest, Scarborough, Washington, Wheatley, Worthing and Yates — are currently not participating in athletics with the district preparing to start the school year virtually Sept. 8 through Oct. 16. No extracurricular activities are allowed while the district is online, according to Houston ISD’s re-opening plan.

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Houston Chronicle - August 10, 2020

Reporter’s Notebook: What would man-made islands do to Houston Ship Channel?

The Palm Jumeirah Islands in Dubai captured mine and the world’s imagination in 2001. Created in the shape of a palm tree, the man-made archipelago and its surrounding ring were a bold declaration that the United Arab Emirates, an oil-rich member of OPEC, had entered the 21st century. The wealthy Persian Gulf nation, which exported $50 billion worth of oil in 2019, threw $12 billion at the ambitious project. The islands have since been populated with high-rises, luxury homes, resorts, an upscale water park and other tourist attractions.

Nearly 20 years later, a renewed call to build a chain of man made islands along the Houston Ship Channel, a critical route for the growing amount of U.S. energy exports, is capturing imaginations and raising important questions. The ship channel is being widened and deepened over the next few years to accommodate growing exports of crude oil, gasoline, diesel and petrochemicals as well as increased cargo container traffic. But a team that includes members from Rogers Partners Architects, Rice University and the civil engineering firm Walter P. Moore has made an eye-catching proposal to use the dredging material from the project to create a chain of man made islands that will become the 10,000-acre Galveston Bay Park. With most of the land surrounding the bay taken up by industry and homes, architects Rob Rogers and Tyler Swanson argue that man-made islands built along both sides of the ship channel would create thousand of acres of habitat for wildlife as well as trails, parks and campsites for people.

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Houston Chronicle - August 10, 2020

Explained: The latest eviction policies during the coronavirus

The economy is still in the tank, the novel coronavirus pandemic is raging on (at least in the United States and especially in Texas) and renters are even more worried about getting evicted. On Saturday, President Donald Trump signed a slew of executive orders. One of them mentioned evictions. Here’s a breakdown of where eviction policy and aid stands now, nationally and locally:

Does the president’s executive order stop evictions or give more aid? No. Nothing in the text of the order extends the old eviction moratorium or gives more money to either landlords or tenants to stave off evictions. (White House economic Larry Kudlow said during a Sunday CNN appearance that there “would be no evictions,” but nothing in the order explicitly says so.) What does it actually say? The order instructs different federal agencies to “consider” rental assistance or an eviction freeze. None of it requires action. But wait. Didn’t we have a federal eviction moratorium already? Yes. As part of the CARES Act, certain federally backed landlords couldn’t serve tenants with an eviction notice until July 25. But that’s expired. So how well did the CARES Act work? By an Urban Institute estimate, the CARES Act stood to impact at least 12.3 million rental units. But it didn’t come with an enforcement mechanism or consequences for landlords who violated it. New research on Harris County evictions estimates that nearly 24 percent of evictions filed during the CARES Act period were actually illegal.

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Houston Chronicle - August 10, 2020

Former TSU official tied to admissions scandal charged with theft

A former dean of admissions at Texas Southern University’s law school stole nearly $74,000 in scholarship money by inflating financial awards for two students and pocketing the excess funds, according to a criminal charge filed Monday. Edward Rene, 52, was charged with theft by a public servant, a second-degree felony. If convicted, he faces a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison. “The former TSU Law School dean of admissions masterminded a variety of schemes to steal money from the school by diverting student scholarship funds to himself,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement.

“He abused his power for personal profit and his actions hurt the school and the students,” Ogg said. “It was the TSU Board of Regents who brought us the case following an internal investigation, and we applaud their swift actions to bring this thief to justice.” Marc Carter, vice chair of the board of regents, said the board decided to involve authorities after TSU’s former administration failed to act promptly in addressing an “obvious crime” committed by Rene. Additionally, they hired an independent auditor to investigate and suggest “best practices” to prevent improprieties. “The regents have a duty to protect the university. That includes holding administrators accountable for their acts and in some cases their omissions,” Carter said. He added that TSU has moved beyond the controversy and “the board is now focused on the COVID pandemic, protecting students and ensuring they receive an excellent education.” “The criminal justice system,” Carter said, “will deal with former associate dean Rene.” Rene is expected to turn himself in, according to the district attorney’s office. He did not answer his cell phone Monday afternoon.

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Houston Chronicle - August 10, 2020

'I beg you, think about us': Cy-Fair teachers protest reopening plans

Her hair still short after enduring chemotherapy treatments, Gabriela Kulp pleaded with Cypress-Fairbanks ISD’s board of trustees like her life depended on it. “Please, I beg you, think about us,” Kulp said. “I don’t want to go into the school right now. I’m a single parent. Who’s going to take care of my kids if I get sick?” Kulp was among dozens of teachers at Cy-Fair ISD who came a school board meeting Monday to voice their disdain for the district’s reopening plans. They lined Jones Road in front of the district’s instructional support center, flashing posterboard signs asking district officials and trustees what they would do if teachers and students get sick and died of COVID-19 once schools reopen on Sept. 8.

More than 4,000 people crowd the halls of Cypress Ranch High School in normal times, Kulp said Monday night. Kulp said she loves teaching chemistry to the students there, and wants to be back with them as soon as she can. That time, she said, is not now. Not when she’s still weak from fighting breast cancer. Not on Friday, when teachers will be required to report back to their campuses for three weeks of professional development. And not on Sept. 8, when schools will open to all students who decided they would prefer to learn in-person rather than online. The teachers who attended the board meeting also worried that infections could begin spreading among them as soon as professional development begins on Friday. Many, including Lesley Guilmart, asked that teachers have the option to do training online “so as many of us as possible are healthy on the first day of school.”

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Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

Is an NFL season during the COVID-19 pandemic possible? We asked epidemiology experts to find out

Power brokers for the Power 5 conferences are discussing this week whether to cancel the 2020 college football season because of the health and safety challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. So what about the NFL, which is scheduled to kick off its season in a month? A majority of NFL teams will begin training camp practices this week at their team facilities with the hope players and coaches won’t contract the highly contagious coronavirus, which could hamper the ability to play games and possibly the season. The Cowboys will conduct their first practice on Friday at The Star in Frisco.

“The season will undoubtedly present new and additional challenges,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement last month. “But we are committed to playing a safe and complete 2020 season, culminating with the Super Bowl.” Will the teams’ safety precautions, approved by the players’ union and health officials, work? Several epidemiologists have doubts, calling what the NFL is doing high-risk behavior. “I think it’s difficult,” said epidemiologist Dr. Zachary Binney at Oxford College of Emory University. “So tackle football is a sport. I don’t think there’s any way you can reliably prevent transmission within football teams or across football teams in a game. So the focus really has to be on preventing a case from getting on the field in the first place, and that’s what the NFL is trying to spend a lot of its time doing and rightfully so.”

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Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

Even though air travel is down, gun seizures are up at U.S. airports, including DFW and Love Field

With air traffic nearing a five-month high, airport security is finding guns in passenger carry-on bags at three times the rate recorded before the pandemic. And 80% of the guns are loaded. The discoveries at airports comes at a time when U.S. gun sales are surging, and analysts believe many of those purchases are being made by first-time buyers. DFW International Airport tied for second nationally with 13 gun seizures last month, while Dallas Love Field ranked fifth with Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport at nine seizures each.

Officers found 15.3 guns for every million people screened in July, compared with 5.1 per million people in July of last year, the Transportation Security Administration said Monday. There has been a significant increase in loaded guns at checkpoints, said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. He said screeners are already working in conditions of heightened risks and that “no one should be introducing new ones.” “Even more concerning is that 80% of the firearms coming into the checkpoint are loaded, and it’s just an accident waiting to happen,” Pekoske said in a prepared statement. After an extended lull in activity, gun sales have begun to surge in recent months. FBI figures show that there were more than 3.6 million firearms background checks requested in July, a 79% increase from July 2019.

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Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

Dallas County reports 581 new coronavirus cases, 1 death

Dallas County reported 581 new coronavirus cases and one additional death on Monday. The latest victim was a Seagoville woman in her 90s who died in hospice care and had underlying health conditions. County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement that “every life is precious.”

He said a trend of lower COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admissions and ER visits continued Monday. However, county officials said new data on hospitalizations, ICU admissions and emergency room visits for the virus will be available Tuesday due to weekend reporting. According to state data, there are 1,282 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Statewide, hospitalizations total 7,304, according to the Department of State Health Services. Texas’ testing positivity rate has skyrocketed to roughly 21% as of Sunday, twice the rate Gov. Greg Abbott had set as a red line earlier in the pandemic. One contributing factor to the higher rate could be a drop in the number of total tests reported. The state reported a seven-day average of 34,200 tests last week, a significant drop from the average of 66,000 tests per day at the end of July. Texas reported 4,455 new cases. The state has continued to see a relatively low number of deaths reported on Mondays, and while 116 deaths were reported Sunday, just 31 were reported Monday. The state’s totals rose to 8,490 deaths, 490,817 cases and 349,833 estimated recoveries, according to DSHS.

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Dallas Morning News - August 9, 2020

Hussain Lalani and Arthur Hong: With COVID-19 spreading and unemployment up, Texas must expand Medicaid

On July 1, Oklahoma voters approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid to an estimated 200,000 uninsured residents. That makes Oklahoma the 37th state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, building on successful ballot initiatives in Nebraska, Idaho and Utah in 2018, with coverage set to begin July 1, 2021. Texas, it’s our turn to expand Medicaid. Texas ranks 51st among U.S. states and Washington D.C., with the highest percentage and number of uninsured residents — 5 million — according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

With the novel coronavirus rapidly spreading across our state, nearly 3 million Texans have lost their jobs. Many of these people have also lost their only source of health insurance. A recent report by Families USA on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic estimates that approximately 659,000 Texans became newly uninsured between February and May of this year. That will keep Texas at the bottom of the standings with well over 5 million uninsured adults, including one in four working-age adults. As physicians in Dallas caring for a diverse group of uninsured and underinsured patients, we hear stories that take our breaths away. Recently, we cared for a 25-year-old man who was found to have metastatic cancer. His diagnosis and treatment were delayed by over 6 months because he had no health insurance. The only way he was able to receive care was through the emergency department. This delay in his care may ultimately shorten the length of his life. And his story is one of the millions among Texans struggling without health insurance.

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Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

China issues vague threat of new sanctions on Ted Cruz as backlash to Hong Kong oppression grows

China announced fresh sanctions Monday against Sen. Ted Cruz and six other U.S lawmakers in retaliation for American sanctions over its most recent crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong. Cruz shrugged off the action. “The Chinese Communist Party thinks that it can distract from its crackdown on Hong Kong, including the arrest of freedom fighter Jimmy Lai, by re-announcing sanctions against Sen. Cruz that were already not credible to begin with. It won’t work,” said Cruz aide Lauren Blair Aronson. Lai, Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy media tycoon, was arrested Monday, and police raided the newsroom of his Apple Daily, under a new national security law in Hong Kong. Cruz tweeted that China’s Communist Party is “terrified of dissidents like Jimmy Lai who have devoted their lives to shining a bright light on China’s authoritarian regime.”

Zhao Lijan, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said in announcing the sanctions against Cruz and others that U.S. sanctions against 11 Chinese and Hong Kong officials had “grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, and seriously violated international law and the basic norms of international relations.” “In response to the U.S.‘s wrong behaviors, China has decided to impose sanctions on those individuals who behaved badly on Hong Kong-related issues,” Zhao said in a briefing on Monday. Sanctions were made against six U.S. lawmakers, including Cruz and five fellow Republican: Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey. China also announced sanctions against National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, National Democratic Institute President Derek Mitchell, International Republican Institute President Daniel Twining, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, and Michael Abramowitz, President of Freedom House. China offered no details on what the new sanctions would entail.

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National Review - August 10, 2020

Ted Cruz and Lila Rose: The federal government must stop the deadly abortion pill

While COVID-19 dominates the news cycle, a battle is being fought over a deadly drug that has killed over 3.7 million children and at least 24 women. The drug is Mifeprex — commonly known as the abortion pill. On July 13, an Obama-appointed federal judge enjoined the Food and Drug Administration requirements governing the prescription of Mifeprex. He ruled that requiring pregnant women to complete an in-clinic appointment to procure the drugs was a “substantial obstacle” to abortion and was to be suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic. This ruling suspends, for the abortion pill, the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS), the FDA’s rules for “certain medications with serious safety concerns to help ensure the benefits of the medication outweigh its risks.”

Women procuring abortion drugs without proper education or evaluation are at greater risk of complications and death due to undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy, hemorrhaging, infection, and more. This dangerous judicial activism should compel elected officials, entrusted with the care of their constituents, to take a stand when federal agencies jeopardize public health and safety. The first drug in the abortion-pill regimen, Mifeprex was approved by the FDA in 2000 after a highly politicized scramble within the Clinton administration. Beverly Winikoff is the founder of one of the abortion pill’s loudest proponents, Gynuity Health Projects. Winikoff claimed that the September 11 terrorist attacks “saved” Mifeprex because the nearly 3,000 Americans killed that day overshadowed news of a woman killed by the abortion pill a day prior. Mifeprex was designed specifically to kill the developing child and is approved for use up to ten weeks, at which point a child has arms, eyelids, toes, fingers, and organs.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 6, 2020

Killeen man charged with murder in slaying of Fort Hood soldier

Harker Heights police on Thursday said a 28-year-old Killeen man was charged with murder this week for the May slaying of U.S. Army Pfc. Brandon Rosecrans of Fort Hood. Authorities have accused Brandon Michael Olivares of shooting the 27-year-old soldier to death in the 2100 block of Fuller Lane in Harker Heights on May 18, according to a statement from police.

Thomas Berg, Rosecrans’ father, said he received the news after a memorial service for his son at Fort Hood on Thursday. “This is not over,” Berg said. “It is a victory, but at the same time this is just a piece of news until we can put this all together.” Rosecrans’ body was discovered on Fuller Lane on May 18, while his Jeep Renegade was found on fire about four miles away. Investigators on Thursday said Rosecrans and Olivares were driving together in the soldier’s car on the day of the shooting, the statement said. However, no details about a possible motive were released by authorities on Thursday. “The arrest just gave us even more questions,” Berg said. “We do know there are other warrants that will follow.” Authorities on Wednesday issued a warrant for Olivares’ arrest, but he was already in custody at the Bell County Jail on unrelated charges. Olivares’ bail is set at $1 million.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 10, 2020

A new website designed to clear up property taxes causes confusion in Tarrant County

Paul Clark, a longtime Tarrant County resident, was intrigued when he received an orange postcard in the mail recently from the Tarrant Appraisal District. It wasn’t an appraisal notice, but instead directed Clark to TarrantTaxInfo.com, a site where it said he could find information on his 2020 property taxes and proposed actions from local taxing units. The site didn’t have much detail on its homepage, but it did allow him to search for a breakdown of his property taxes by entering either his name, property ID or address.

“Every query that I tried, it would not return any records,” Clark said. Wendy Burgess, Tarrant County’s Tax Assessor-Collector, said that’s because the site had crashed for a short period on Aug. 3 when so many residents tried to access it at once. But Clark wasn’t the only resident who has experienced issues trying to access the new site. Jeff Law, the chief appraiser for the Tarrant Appraisal District, said that some residents have entered the site’s URL into a search engine, like Google or Bing, rather than directly into the address bar. From there, they’ve been directed to different websites that have charged them $1 to $2 look up the info — rather than the official site that allows them look it up at no cost.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 10, 2020

Bexar County considers 24/7 and mega vote centers to widen voter access in Nov. 3 elections

Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez believes having a voting site that’s open 24 hours a day during a portion of the early voting period in October, and giant “mega vote centers” to ensure social distancing on Nov. 3, would make it easier for residents to cast ballots. In a letter last week to County Judge Nelson Wolff, Rodriguez said the COVID-19 pandemic “has exacerbated existing barriers to voting and election participation, making it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote.” “We must take appropriate, proactive action to protect our voting system and ensure all eligible voters can vote safely and securely in the November 2020 general election,” he wrote.

Rodriguez said he and his staff consulted Harris County officials to come up with options “to make the ballot box as accessible as possible, as convenient as possible and as safe as possible.” “If we use an AT&T Center or an Alamodome or the Convention Center, you can certainly maximize space so that people are at least six feet apart” in a climate-controlled area, he said. “We have to be, I think, a little bit aspirational here, but I think also pragmatic about the realities this COVID environment we’re dealing with, and that means not just protecting the election workers but obviously making sure that the voters feel safe if they have to go and vote in person,” Rodriguez said. Wolff said commissioners could consider a resolution authorizing county staff to study the proposals at the next regular commissioners meeting Aug. 18. The county would use federal coronavirus aid to fund at least some of the initiatives, officials said.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

Sharon Grigsby: Amid pandemic, Dallas County is devising a new strategy to deal with prostitution cases

COVID-19?s consequences have fallen hard on the vulnerable women -- many already without a shred of hope -- who walk Harry Hines Boulevard and other Dallas prostitution hot spots to line the pockets of sex traffickers. Even when police officers made arrests this year, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office rejected case after case in order to keep the jail population down and reduce the chance of a coronavirus outbreak behind bars. But that decision also sent prostitutes back into the arms of waiting pimps.

Thank goodness, beginning this month, the DA’s Office has found a better way forward. The DA’s office now offers pre-trial intervention agreements that provide a roadmap to a better life. The agreements will allow any individuals arrested on a misdemeanor or felony prostitution charge to be eligible for their case to be dismissed and expunged from their record. It’s a far superior plan to anything tried before in Dallas County because the offer comes as soon as the DA’s office accepts a case and makes contact with arrested individuals -- the vast majority of whom are women -- and their attorneys. “Research shows that outcomes are better if you can get them more quickly connected to services right after arrest,” said Julie Turnbull, chief of the DA’s restorative justice division. Advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution point out that the sex trade is a complicated spectrum of choice, circumstance and coercion. But the stories that Shree Jackson, the DA’s human trafficking coordinator, documents every week are heartbreakingly similar:

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McAllen Monitor - August 10, 2020

Starr County health authority resigns amid frustrations with officials

After playing an instrumental role in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Starr County at the outset of the pandemic, Dr. Jose Vazquez, the county’s health authority, resigned from his position Monday morning, effective immediately. Vazquez’s abrupt resignation comes the morning that the Starr County Commissioners Court discussed a possible contract for Vazquez that would have increased his compensation from $500 to $10,000 per month, or $120,000 annually. “I had a disagreement with the way the commissioners court wanted to handle some situations,” Vazquez said.

He said Starr County Judge Eloy Vera approached him with the idea granting him a contract with a salary. However, that didn’t garner enough support from the other commissioners. “It was never a matter of making a salary,” Vazquez said. “I never asked to be paid a salary or anything but … the number of hours I was putting into this, it was enormous.” The doctor served in the role for more than 10 years but like with many health officials nationwide, his responsibilities grew beyond what anyone anticipated when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. When it did, he spearheaded and advised on the county’s efforts to mitigate the virus’ spread and has been tasked with staying abreast of how the disease is affecting the community. He was also key in acquiring the county’s drive-thru testing site in March which, at the time, was the Rio Grande Valley’s only COVID-19 testing site available to the public. While serving as the health authority, Vazquez also juggled managing his own practice and his duties as the board president for Starr County Memorial Hospital. “The commissioners court believed that somebody should continue doing that job, basically, for free,” Vazquez said of Monday’s discussion of a possible contract. “They did not appreciate the job that I had done up to now; they thought that somebody else could continue doing it for free.”

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KENS 5 - August 10, 2020

KENS 5 & Communities in Schools need your help to Stuff the Bus

The first day of school will look and feel a lot different this year for students across Bexar County. Whether students are starting off the year virtually, or on-campus with face to face instruction, they need all of the appropriate school supplies. That’s why KENS5 has partnered with Communities in Schools San Antonio to help Stuff the Bus, and ensure every child has what they need to kick off the school year.

“All of our families live at or below poverty, and so when people make a donation to Communities in Schools, they're allowing several thousands of families who've been affected by recent furloughs and job losses to not worry about that expense,” said Felisha Sanchez, Director of Marketing for CIS. CIS supports students in over 100 schools across Bexar County, and they’re asking for the public’s support in donating school supplies. Sanchez said starting off the year with all the needed supplies, helps students both academically and emotionally. “By allowing people to donate school supplies, it takes that insecurity off of our students and they can just start their school year off right, and feeling confident they have all the tools that they need, just like all the other students,” said Sanchez. Sanchez joined her CIS colleagues at the HEB plus! store off 1604 and Bandera Saturday to collect supplies in person.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 10, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Panther Island board gambles by turning down federal study money. Will it pay off?

Imagine that you’re trying to persuade your uncle to invest in a major project that you’ve been working on for nearly two decades. And suppose your uncle — let’s call him Sam — wants a detailed study of your idea before fully committing to invest. The study will be expensive, but just a fraction of the total you’re seeking, and he’ll pay half the cost of the review if you match it. Worth it? Apparently not to the board overseeing Fort Worth’s Panther Island flood-control project.

The consultant that the Trinity River Vision Authority board hired to coordinate the project, Mark Mazzanti, recommended that the panel ignore the $1.5 million offer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a feasibility study. The goal is for the corps to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to dig a bypass channel for the river, eliminating the risk of a disastrous flood and creating an island of prime real estate with business and recreational opportunities. At first blush, it’s confounding that the Trinity authority would thumb its nose at the first federal movement on the project in a while. But local officials have always insisted that an economic impact study isn’t necessary because the flood-control imperative is clear and Congress has signed off on the project. And the entities who are partners on the project have already been squabbling over more local spending, so the $1.5 million to match the Corps funding is significant, especially during a recession.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 10, 2020

For Nirenberg, plan to use sales tax for San Antonio’s economic recovery is familiar and risky

When 2020 began, Mayor Ron Nirenberg was determined to use millions in sales tax dollars to expand San Antonio’s public transit system. He would need voter approval to do it and was methodically gearing up a major campaign to win that support. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Hundreds of thousands of residents lost their jobs. Families sat in their cars in miles-long lines to receive free groceries from the San Antonio Food Bank — an image of desperation that shot across the country and haunted the mayor. Now, Nirenberg has a different legacy project in mind.

Rather than bolster VIA Metropolitan Transit in the near future, he wants to spend that sales tax money on an economic recovery plan. The idea is to seize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen San Antonio’s economic foundation and ensure a strong, broad-based, lasting recovery once the pandemic eases. Details on the mayor’s plan are scant at the moment. Writ large, it calls for spending $154 million from a one-eighth-cent sales tax over four years, plus more, on job training and higher education for people thrown out of work by the COVID-19 crisis. The idea is that when the economy gets back on its feet, they’ll qualify for better-paying jobs. But Nirenberg faces a daunting task. He already had backed off the transit expansion proposal, deciding it wouldn’t be prudent to ask voters for support at a time when many are suffering economic hardships and might recoil from any ballot proposition with the word “tax” in it. But VIA’s board would not be put off and threatened to get the tax proposition on the November ballot anyway, with or without the mayor’s support.

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National Stories

Rasmussen Reports - August 10, 2020

59% think Biden unlikely to finish a four-year term in White House

Likely Democrat nominee Joe Biden is expected to announce his vice presidential running mate any day now, and most voters think it’s likely that person will be president within the next four years if Biden is elected in November. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 59% of Likely U.S. Voters believe it’s likely Biden’s running mate will be president before the end of Biden’s four-year term if he wins this fall, with 39% who say it’s Very Likely. Thirty-five percent (35%) consider it unlikely that Biden’s vice presidential choice will be president before his four-year term ends, but that includes only 14% who think it’s Not At All Likely.

Even 49% of Democrats think it’s likely Biden’s vice president will become president in the next four years, although that compares to 73% of Republicans and 57% of voters not affiliated with either major party. However, only 45% of all voters say Biden’s choice of a running mate is important to their vote this fall, including 23% who say it’s Very Important. This compares to 76% who say generally speaking that a candidate’s vice presidential nominee is important to their vote, with 34% who feel it’s Very Important. But then just over half of voters continue to say they’re likely to vote against President Trump this fall, and a sizable majority of those voters don’t seem to care who runs against him. The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted August 6 and 9, 2020 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

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NPR - August 10, 2020

Border Patrol faulted for favoring steel and concrete wall over high-tech solutions

Trump's massive border wall gets all the buzz. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection is quietly testing a new generation of free-standing surveillance towers on the Arizona border that could revolutionize border security. The telescoping towers are equipped with infrared and daytime cameras, along with laser range-finders and illuminators that can zoom in on a target miles away for a close-up. They're mounted in the bed of a Ford F-150 pickup, so they're completely mobile and can be operated remotely.

They can tell an agent if an object moving north is a cow or a single migrant or a family. "The camera sees something, it's going to alert and send that information to an agent in the field. So my iPhone will have an app on it and that information will come directly to me," said Kelly Good, deputy executive director of CBP's Program Management Office Directorate. He's in charge of technology acquisition for the Border Patrol. At the Border Security Expo in San Antonio, held last March, "domain awareness" tech was the hottest gear. With Trump's border wall now approaching $25 million a mile, Good said the mobile towers cost the government less than $1 million each. Last month, the Inspector General's Office of the Homeland Security Department released a report critical of the Border Patrol's single-minded fixation on a wall as the answer to border security. "CBP's inability to effectively guide this large-scale effort poses significant risk of exponentially increasing costs," the report said. In fact, the audit said Border Patrol insisted on a wall, even though the agency's own internal analysis identified domain awareness technology and boots on the ground as smarter solutions in certain border regions.

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NBC News - August 10, 2020

QAnon groups have millions of members on Facebook, documents show

An internal investigation by Facebook has uncovered thousands of groups and pages, with millions of members and followers, that support the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to internal company documents reviewed by NBC News. The investigation’s preliminary results, which were provided to NBC News by a Facebook employee, shed new light on the scope of activity and content from the QAnon community on Facebook, a scale previously undisclosed by Facebook and unreported by the news media, because most of the groups are private. The top 10 groups identified in the investigation collectively contain more than 1 million members, with totals from more top groups and pages pushing the number of members and followers past 3 million. It is not clear how much overlap there is among the groups.

The investigation will likely inform what, if any, action Facebook decides to take against its QAnon community, according to the documents and two current Facebook employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The company is considering an option similar to its handling of anti-vaccination content, which is to reject advertising and exclude QAnon groups and pages from search results and recommendations, an action that would reduce the community’s visibility. An announcement about Facebook’s ultimate decision is also expected to target members of “militias and other violent social movements,” according to the documents and Facebook employees. Facebook has been key to QAnon's growth, in large part due to the platform's Groups feature, which has also seen a significant uptick in use since the social network began emphasizing it in 2017. There are tens of millions of active groups, a Facebook spokesperson told NBC News in 2019, a number that has probably grown since the company began serving up group posts in users’ main feeds. While most groups are dedicated to innocuous content, extremists, from QAnon conspiracy theorists to anti-vaccination activists, have also used the groups feature to grow their audiences and spread misinformation. Facebook aided that growth with its recommendations feature, powered by a secret algorithm that suggests groups to users seemingly based on interests and existing group membership.

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The Hill - August 11, 2020

QAnon supporter in Georgia heads into tight GOP runoff

Georgia House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene is coming under renewed scrutiny for her past racist rhetoric and embrace of conspiracy theories as she heads into Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff. Greene, who faces neurosurgeon John Cowan in the 14th Congressional District, has made a number of bigoted remarks, such as calling African Americans “slaves to the Democratic Party.” She has also embraced conspiracy theories like those put forth by QAnon. If Greene wins on Tuesday and in November, she would be the first open QAnon supporter elected to Congress.

And while House GOP leaders have condemned videos showing Greene making racist and Islamophobic remarks, most of the party’s leadership have stayed neutral in a runoff whose winner is almost certain to win in November. Several nonpartisan political forecasters rate the seat as “solid or safe Republican.” Greene has shored up significant support in the district, winning 40.3 percent of the vote in the June primary compared to Cowan’s 21 percent. A recent poll from Cowan’s campaign showed a much tighter race heading into the runoff, with the two candidates tied at 38 percent in late July. But strategists say Cowan should be way ahead given the controversy surrounding Greene. “If she ends up winning, it’s more of a reflection of John Cowan’s bad campaign than it is of her being a much better candidate,” said a Georgia-based Republican strategist. “I don’t know how he could not have put her away already.” “He’s a doctor,” the strategist said. “Don’t underestimate being a doctor in a pandemic -- that’s a big deal. And the fact is, he was only able to generate 20 percent of the vote.”

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ESPN - August 10, 2020

Source: Big Ten, Pac 12 presidents expected to meet Tuesday, decide on football

The Big Ten is expected to make another decision on its college football season Tuesday, but the impact of it could vary widely, as league presidents are considering pushing back the start of the season to Sept. 26 or postponing it to the spring, a conference source told ESPN. The presidents are expected to meet at 10:30 a.m. ET, and although they are still considering becoming the first Power 5 conference to postpone fall sports, the majority of their athletic directors aren't ready to "pull the plug," the source said. While the most likely options seem to be pushing back the start of the season or postponing until the spring, it's certainly possible they wind up somewhere in between.

It's another pivot for the conference under first-year commissioner Kevin Warren. Last Wednesday, the league went to great lengths to announce its 10-game conference-only schedule, beginning on Labor Day weekend. The model allows for opening games on the weekend of Sept. 3-5 to be moved to Sept. 12, Sept. 19 or Sept. 26 "through strategic sequencing." All five Power 5 conferences announced their scheduling models for the fall last week, only for the Big Ten presidents to reconsider moving forward with it during their meeting Saturday. Multiple sources said the majority of Big Ten presidents indicated that they would vote to postpone the football season, hopefully to the spring, but further conversations with their athletic directors Monday might have changed the vibe. The Pac-12 CEO group, made up of one president or chancellor from each of the conference's 12 universities, will meet Tuesday and is expected to discuss and vote on how to proceed with the 2020 football season, multiple sources confirmed to ESPN. The growing sense around the conference is that it is highly unlikely the Pac-12 will move forward with a fall season amid concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic and will look to playing in the spring, if possible, sources said. An official decision will not come prior to Tuesday's meeting.

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STAT - August 10, 2020

Winter is coming: Why America’s window of opportunity to beat back Covid-19 is closing

The good news: The United States has a window of opportunity to beat back Covid-19 before things get much, much worse. The bad news: That window is rapidly closing. And the country seems unwilling or unable to seize the moment. Winter is coming. Winter means cold and flu season, which is all but sure to complicate the task of figuring out who is sick with Covid-19 and who is suffering from a less threatening respiratory tract infection. It also means that cherished outdoor freedoms that link us to pre-Covid life — pop-up restaurant patios, picnics in parks, trips to the beach — will soon be out of reach, at least in northern parts of the country.

Unless Americans use the dwindling weeks between now and the onset of “indoor weather” to tamp down transmission in the country, this winter could be Dickensianly bleak, public health experts warn. “I think November, December, January, February are going to be tough months in this country without a vaccine,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. It is possible, of course, that some vaccines could be approved by then, thanks to historically rapid scientific work. But there is little prospect that vast numbers of Americans will be vaccinated in time to forestall the grim winter Osterholm and others foresee. Human coronaviruses, the distant cold-causing cousins of the virus that causes Covid-19, circulate year-round. Now is typically the low season for transmission. But in this summer of America’s failed Covid-19 response, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is widespread across the country, and pandemic-weary Americans seem more interested in resuming pre-Covid lifestyles than in suppressing the virus to the point where schools can be reopened, and stay open, and restaurants, movie theaters, and gyms can function with some restrictions.

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Newsclips - August 10, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 9, 2020

Texas surpasses 500,000 COVID-19 cases

Texas surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 cases on Sunday, a Houston Chronicle data analysis shows, with nearly a fifth of those cases in Harris County. There were also 91 newly reported deaths on Sunday, pushing the statewide total to 8,868. Some positive signs could be seen in the numbers, however. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases fell for the fourth straight day to 7,465. And the number of patients hospitalized with a confirmed case of COVID-19 statewide fell for the ninth straight day, to 7,437, the lowest tally since July 2.

The rate at which COVID-19 tests come back positive rose to a record high of 20.3 percent statewide, but this could be explained partly by a drop in the number of tests administered. The seven-day rolling average count of viral tests on Sunday fell to 39,726, the lowest mark since June 30. Several Texas counties do not report COVID-19 numbers on Sundays, but those omissions are accounted for in the use of rolling averages covering the seven prior days.

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Politico - August 8, 2020

Trump antagonizes GOP megadonor Adelson in heated phone call

When President Donald Trump connected by phone last week with Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson — perhaps the only person in the party who can cut a nine-figure check to aid his reelection — the phone call unexpectedly turned contentious. The 87-year-old casino mogul had reached out to Trump to talk about the coronavirus relief bill and the economy. But then Trump brought the conversation around to the campaign and confronted Adelson about why he wasn’t doing more to bolster his reelection, according to three people with direct knowledge of the call. One of the people said it was apparent the president had no idea how much Adelson, who’s donated tens of millions of dollars to pro-Trump efforts over the years, had helped him. Adelson chose not to come back at Trump. When word of the call circulated afterward, Republican Party officials grew alarmed the president had antagonized one of his biggest benefactors at a precarious moment in his campaign. They rushed to smooth things over with him, but the damage may have been done.

Adelson's allies say it’s unclear whether the episode will dissuade the Las Vegas mogul — long regarded as a financial linchpin for Trump’s reelection — from helping the president down the home stretch. A White House spokesman declined to comment. The president needs the money. With less than three months until the election, he is overwhelmed by a flood of liberal super PAC spending that his party has failed to match. Since this spring, outside groups supporting Joe Biden have outspent their pro-Trump counterparts nearly 3-to-1, an influx that’s helped to erase the president’s longstanding financial advantage. Now, Republican leaders are pleading to billionaires for help. Trump advisers are pining for new outside groups to form, and the White House is growing anxious to see what Adelson, who has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Republican super PACs over the past decade, will do. “It’s important that the word get out to donors that we need the super PACs and we need them to step up to the plate,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh, whose group is poised to launch a $5 million TV campaign next week. “There hasn’t been the urgency on the super PAC side. But now we’re seeing that you’ve got to take care of that, too.” The avalanche of spending on the left isn’t expected to end anytime soon. Pro-Biden groups have reserved over $70 million on the TV airwaves between now and the election, while Trump-allied groups have booked just $42 million, according to the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

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Houston Chronicle - August 10, 2020

Ted Cruz goes up against Donald Trump in endorsement battles — and loses

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz lost to President Donald Trump again. Twice in two months, the former Republican presidential rivals were pitted against one another as they endorsed opposing candidates in different parts of the nation. And in both cases, Trump has prevailed, countering critics who have suggested that as his own poll numbers have slipped, his endorsements would carry less weight. The most recent example was Thursday night in Tennessee, where Cruz had traveled twice in 10 days and sent $5,000 through a political action committee he controls to support Nashville surgeon Manny Sethi who was up against former ambassador Bill Hagerty, whom Trump had endorsed earlier in the race.

“It’s the conservative warriors who are marching in side by side with the president, and I’m confident that’s what Manny will do,” said Cruz during a rally in Memphis earlier in the week. “I’m proud to be here to support this campaign.” But Cruz’s support wasn’t enough. Hagerty defeated Sethi by 12 percentage points Thursday and will be a heavy favorite to win the Senate seat in November. But more than a battle between former 2016 rivals, Hagerty-Sethi and other contests around the nation have been about what the Republican Party will look like after Trump leaves office, said Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. He said it is clear Cruz wants to run for president again and is trying to build a network that can help him in 2024. And he’s far from alone in that endeavor. In Tennessee, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotten, R-Arkansas, was an aggressive supporter of Hagerty, as were former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and Vice President Mike Pence — all potential 2024 contenders.

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Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

5 questions that could determine Senate race between John Cornyn, MJ Hegar

Most Texas voters are paying close attention to the contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, a marquee event that will chart the course of Texas politics. But another intriguing matchup is one spot below on November’s general election ballot. Incumbent Republican John Cornyn is trying to win reelection against hard-charging Democrat MJ Hegar. Texas Democrats haven’t won a statewide race since 1994, and Cornyn hasn’t has a serious Senate challenge since 2002, when he beat Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor and U.S. trade representative. With Trump dominating the headlines and the coronavirus pandemic severely limiting traditional campaigning, Cornyn and Hegar, a former Air Force helicopter pilot, are locked in a tactical struggle that could end the political career of the loser. A Cornyn defeat would almost certainly send the three-term senator into retirement, while Hegar, who in 2018 narrowly lost a congressional race to Rep. John Carter, R-Georgetown, can’t afford to lose two straight high-profile contests. Want to know where the race stands?

How does Cornyn navigate a difficult political climate that in some areas is made more challenging by Trump? Cornyn and his team realize that they are fighting against a tough political climate. Polls show many suburban women voters have soured on Trump. If Cornyn is closely linked to Trump and his policies, that could hurt him in areas that Republicans have traditionally won, including the suburbs around Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. But if Cornyn tries to move away from Trump, he’ll infuriate rural and small town voters who are solidly behind the president. Can MJ Hegar raise enough money to pull off an upset? In 2018, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke raised a stunning $80 million for his close but unsuccessful Senate race against incumbent Ted Cruz. Hegar won’t come near that pace. She has raised over $6.6 million for her campaign, most of it spent to beat state Sen. Royce West of Dallas in their July 14 runoff.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 7, 2020

Millions of dollars later, oil giant BP is prepping its next step toward cleaner energy

environmentally friendly light, with a sunflower logo and a “Beyond Petroleum” slogan, symbolizing a commitment to cleaner energy. Still looking to make good on its vision and under pressure from environmental activists and investors, the company this year announced plans to become a net-zero emitter by 2050. The company’s plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and offsetting the rest. In doing so, BP became the first energy major to acknowledge that it must produce less oil and gas over time to meet its net-zero goal. It took a step toward that goal Tuesday, announcing it will cut oil and gas production by more than 1 million barrels a day, about 40 percent, to 1.5 million barrels from 2.6 million by 2030.

It also said it would cut emissions from operations by 30 to 35 percent by 2030. BP also said it will accelerate its investment in renewables and biofuels by 10-fold to around $5 billion per year by 2030. The transformation will create challenges for many of BP’s 70,100 workers around the globe, including 4,000 in the Houston area. But CEO Bernard Looney, who succeeded Bob Dudley in February, says a diminishing supply of carbon fuels makes it necessary. “The world’s carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero,” Looney said shortly after taking the helm of BP. “We all want energy that is reliable and affordable — but that is no longer enough. It must also be cleaner. To deliver that, trillions of dollars will need to be invested in replumbing and rewiring the world’s energy system. It will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it.”

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Houston Chronicle - August 7, 2020

Longtime Sundance Records owner Bobby Barnard dies at 67, remembered as ‘consummate record guy’

Watching Bobby Barnard work his way around the Midtown record store Sig’s Lagoon was like watching a bower bird collect and assemble snatches of bright debris into a nest to woo a mate. Barnard’s nests were designed to welcome people who loved music. Barnard’s career in music retail spanned decades and two cities miles apart: Houston and San Marcos. But he left an indelible imprint on both. Barnard suffered a stroke this week and died Thursday at age 67. Tomas Escalante, owner of Sig’s Lagoon, called Barnard, “the consummate record guy.” Those who run record stores are often thought as facilitators rather than artists: They connect listeners to the musicians who help define their lives. But each record store is a carefully designed ecosystem and a work of art itself. Barnard left a particularly visual stamp on the record stores he cared about.

For 30 years he ran the beloved Sundance Records in San Marcos, a cultural hub in the town with a bustling university population comfortably removed from the “Live Music Capital of the World.” There, Barnard mentored others who would follow him into that line of work, like Tomas Escalate, owner of Sig’s Lagoon, and Greg Ellis, who operates Groover’s Paradise in Austin. “He was as old-school as it gets,” Ellis says. “There used to be a guy like him in every college town. But now they’re literally a dying breed. But he impacted so many lives.” Ellis entered Sundance as a journalism student at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State) in 1982. Weeks later he became the store manager at the store, which Barnard founded and operated with his wife, Nancy. “My entire career, everything I’ve done, just because I walked into a record store and talked to a guy about a Nick Drake record,” Ellis says. “But it was an incredible atmosphere that encouraged people to buy music.” Ellis says songwriter Todd Snider’s musical education took place in part from being a customer at Sundance. He also says the late blues great Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown would visit the store when passing through town. “He’d pull out his records and say, ‘Oh, I got paid for this one’,” Ellis says. “Or he’d say, ‘Never seen this one.’ ‘Didn’t make a dime off that one.’ An atmosphere like that doesn’t exist in many places anymore.”

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Houston Chronicle - August 6, 2020

George W. Bush pays tribute to immigrants in new book

A new book by former President George W. Bush will highlight an issue which now sets him apart from many of his fellow Republicans — immigration. Bush’s “Out Of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” will be published March 2 by Crown. The book includes 43 portraits by the 43rd president, four-color paintings of immigrants he has come to know over the years, along with biographical essays he wrote about each of them. Bush, who served as president from 2001-2009, has often praised the contributions of immigrants, a notable contrast to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies. As president, Bush supported a bipartisan immigration reform bill that narrowly failed to pass in 2007, with opposition coming from both liberals and conservatives.

“While I recognize that immigration can be an emotional issue, I reject the premise that it is a partisan issue. It is perhaps the most American of issues, and it should be one that unites us,“ Bush writes in the new book’s introduction, noting that he did not want it to come out during the election season. Bush has not endorsed Trump or his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. “My hope is that this book will help focus our collective attention on the positive impacts that immigrants are making on our country.” The book will serve as a companion to an upcoming exhibition at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

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Dallas Morning News - August 9, 2020

Zeph Capo: It’s appalling that Texas leaders are ignoring health guidance to open schools

(Zeph Capo is president of Texas AFT public school employee union.) Misty Griffin was the kind of teacher every student wants and every parent dreams their child will have. She was a 14-year middle-school English language arts teacher at Dan. F. Long Middle School in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD near Dallas. Kids adored her. She always knew just what it took to reach each child. She was good at her job. But Griffin resigned last month because she was forced to return to her school in August even though it was offering remote learning. That’s right, she would be required to conduct distance learning, not from home, but from inside the school building, along with at least 100 other educators and school workers. Because Griffin is a single parent of a young child and has asthma and other high-risk factors for COVID-19, she couldn’t take the risk. Her painful decision to resign is just one of many that are piling up in Texas because of ridiculous policies.

It is appalling that state leaders continue to call for schools to reopen without ensuring safety for kids and their educators. COVID-19 is a very serious disease, even deadly, for people of all ages. Yes, kids get it. In Austin, children ages 10 to 19 represented the highest COVID-19 positivity rate during the last two weeks of July, according to health authorities. Even worse, state leaders keep moving the goal posts for our school districts by changing the rules and holding state funding hostage. The latest directive from the Texas Education Agency — based on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s nonbinding counsel — tells districts they will not receive funding for remote instruction if they follow their county health department and close campuses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This is just the latest in confusing and often contradictory guidance from TEA, leaving school districts struggling to answer a critical question: How do we provide education and necessary supports to our students without threatening the lives of our students and educators due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in our communities? This is not an easy question to answer, even when the state actually does provide necessary resources, funding and support. To ask our districts to develop plans with changing edicts from Austin that threaten school funding at the local level is not only unfair but flies in the face of the realities our communities are facing.

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Dallas Morning News - August 9, 2020

Dallas County reports 843 new coronavirus cases, 4 deaths

Dallas County reported 843 new coronavirus cases Sunday, along with four deaths. The latest fatalities were a Balch Springs man in his 50s, an Irving man in his 60s, a Dallas woman in her 60s, and a Grand Prairie woman in her 70s. The Grand Prairie woman and Irving man had underlying high-risk health conditions; the other two victims did not, officials said.

The newest cases bring the county’s total of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 54,674 — or about 20.7 out of every 1,000 county residents — and the death toll rose to 755. Dallas County does not report recoveries. The county also reported 130 new probable cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total of probable cases to 2,202, including six probable coronavirus deaths. County officials said new data for hospitalizations, intensive-care admissions and emergency-room visits — three key indicators of the virus’s risk level in the area — will be available Tuesday.

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Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

Jennifer Nagorka: Why it matters that we call the pandemic virus by the proper name: SARS-CoV-2

(Jennifer Nagorka is a writer in Dallas.) We’re missing a lot of lessons during this viral pandemic, things we should learn now so we’re better prepared for the inevitable next pandemic. One is how viruses are named. Another is how ubiquitous they are. President Donald Trump calls the virus that causes COVID-19 the “China virus.” Judge for yourself whether that’s a racist appellation, but from a medical perspective, it’s useless. It’s similar to calling every sport played with a ball in the United States the “American game.” If you want to learn the rules of NFL football, or how to score doubles tennis, Googling the “American game” won’t help you figure it out. Specificity matters, in sports and in science.

Viruses are bits of DNA or RNA wrapped in a protein coat. In nature, they can only replicate inside the living cells of a host organism. There are trillions and trillions of different viruses, most of which don’t infect humans and have not yet been detected or described. Many viruses mutate frequently, so they’re constantly evolving into new strains. When researchers isolate a previously unknown virus, they sequence sections of its genetic material and compare the result to known viruses. Eventually, they assign the new virus a position in a hierarchy of viruses, similar to the animal kingdom “Tree of Life” diagram that kids often memorize in high school biology. The taxonomy, or classification, of viruses is important because it provides clues about how viruses evolve and, sometimes, where to start the search for diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatments. It also can help researchers better understand the global distribution of viruses and which ones are more likely to trigger human pandemics.

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Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2020

Texas Democrats ramp up vote-by-mail program as COVID-19 looms over elections

The Texas Democratic Party will announce Monday that it is doubling down on its vote-by-mail campaign with a goal of reaching 1.7 million potential mail voters by the end of the month -- the most for an election cycle in the state party’s history. To reach that goal, party officials will launch an effort to send out more than 815,000 vote-by-mail applications by the end of August to those already eligible to receive the ballots -- like those over 65 or people with disabilities. Those mail ballot applications may play a major role in this year’s crucial elections, as voters weigh whether voting in person is safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Democratic officials said voting by mail is the safest way to vote and cast their campaign as an effort to keep Texans safe in the absence of action by the Republican-dominated state government.

“Now more than ever, to have our seniors vote safely, voting by mail is the best option for them,” Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party said in a statement. “This historic investment in our Vote-by-Mail program is the next phase of our plan to win the state of Texas. We will continue to register new voters, expand the electorate, fight back against all Republican attempts to suppress the vote, and harness the energy and enthusiasm that we’ve seen across the state.” Recent polling has Democrats believing Texas is in play at the presidential level. They want their presumptive nominee, Joe Biden, to be the first Democratic candidate to win the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976. They also are making a push to win the Texas House for the first time since 2001. Mail voting could be key. The practice does not usually give either party an advantage, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. But with more than 140,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and the pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, an application to vote by mail could entice an otherwise apathetic voter to cast her ballot.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 8, 2020

Crowd gathers to protect Confederate statue in Weatherford after protest rumors spread

About a hundred people circled the Parker County courthouse on Saturday after rumors spread that Black Lives Matter protesters were going to try and remove a Confederate statue from the courthouse lawn. The lawn was blocked off with caution tape. State troopers, Weatherford police and sheriff’s deputies stood in groups around the square. Traffic stalled on the streets around the building, and people driving past frequently honked their horns at the counter-protesters. Several businesses shut down for the day.

Several groups of 10 to 25 people stood on patches of grass or on sidewalks around the town square. Some people flew Confederate flags. Some donned Trump 2020 paraphernalia or camouflage, and many carried shotguns, rifles or semi-automatic weapons. Jim Webster, a former county commissioner, circled around with his truck, towing a mock jail cell that held two mannequin versions of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Banners on the fake cell read, “History Matters” and “All Lives Matter.” As of 2 p.m., no protesters had appeared in Weatherford. Two groups — Enough is Enough Fort Worth and Parker County Progressives — announced earlier this week they had no plans to protest on Saturday. Still, rumors abounded on social media and at Parker County Square. Counter-protester Shawn Clark said he heard that busloads of protesters were planning to descend on the small townto tear down the Confederate statue that has been the center of debate. Social media posts speculated that a black militant group was on their way.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 9, 2020

Bill could give live music venues like Billy Bob’s Texas a ‘lifeline’ amid COVID

Casey Donahew can’t wait to get back on the stage and sing for crowds. “Music does heal,” the country music singer said. “It happens every day.” Donahew on Friday showed up at Billy Bob’s Texas Friday to talk about the proposed Save Our Stages Act, a bipartisan bill U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, is trying to pass through Congress. The measure, also filed by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, would funnel financial help to independent music venues that have been shut down by officials to slow the spread of coroanvirus. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.

“Independent live music venues have been hardest hit,” Rogers said during a press conference Friday, noting they were the “first to close, last to open.” Williams stressed that this industry has been hit. But the venues still have to pay bills such as rent or mortgages, utilities, taxes and more. And live events such as concerts may not be a possibility at many places for months, possibly until a vaccine is ready. Williams said a number of venues in his district, which stretches from the edges of Tarrant County to Austin, have been “devastated by this pandemic.” This bill, he said, is designed to “give them a lifeline.” The bill would create a grant program in the Small Business Administration that can provide as much as $10 billion in economic relief for independent live music venues that have been impacted by coroanvirus. That’s especially important in cities such as Fort Worth, which received the first designation as a music-friendly city in the state of Texas, said Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth.

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KUT - August 7, 2020

Texas is sued for banning the sale of 'smokable' hemp products

New rules prohibiting the retail sale and distribution of "smokable" hemp products are unconstitutional, companies argue in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Travis County. When Texas legalized hemp last year, the legislation explicitly outlawed manufacturing and processing hemp products meant to be smoked. But rules released Sunday defining the state’s hemp program also banned the sale of these products. That cut off a major source of income for many small businesses that sell hemp in Texas. Custom Botanical Dispensary, a downtown Austin shop that carries hemp products and oils, is one of four plaintiffs suing the state.

Owner Sarah Kerver, who also founded the hemp brand 1937 Apothecary, said 51% of her sales are of products that can be smoked or vaporized. “Speaking to other retailers and brands around the state, they’re in the same economic situation,” she said. The lawsuit argues the ban of manufacturing and processing smokable products enacted as part of the law is unconstitutional and that the ban on distributing and selling these products is not valid. Jax Finkel, executive director of the Texas Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said banning the sale of smokable products goes beyond the intent of the bill.

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KUT - August 8, 2020

Extended families living together raise risks for COVID-19 transmission

Maria Hernandez shares a four-bedroom house in Los Angeles with her husband, Michael Josephy, three of her daughters and her 85-year-old mother. Her 3-year-old granddaughter often stays there, too. To Hernandez, family is everything. Family members are close. So when the pandemic hit, she was worried about her family contracting the coronavirus. "It was a challenge mostly to think about my mother," she said. Hernandez, 50, works night shifts at Ralphs, a grocery store chain in California. She'd been careful while at work and at home, changing out of her clothes every time she got home and sanitizing her house constantly. But one day in late May, she felt a wave of exhaustion hit her. The next day, it got worse. "My husband took me to the emergency room because my fever was up to 102. I had trouble breathing. I felt dizzy. I felt nauseous," she said.

Hernandez tested positive for the coronavirus. The next several weeks were a bit of a daze, she recalled. She isolated herself in the master bedroom upstairs, while her family left food outside the door. In total, she stayed inside the bedroom for about seven weeks. "It was an experience that I don't wish upon anybody. Because this thing instead of getting you guys closer to your family, it's getting us far apart," she said. "It's very hard." Her family members, including her mom, thankfully didn't get COVID-19. But Hernandez said she still worries about bringing the virus back home now that she's recovered and gone back to work. She said many of her day-to-day interactions with her mother have changed since the start of the pandemic. "I had to stop doing what I did, giving her a hug. We Latinos are used to that, giving them a hug, a kiss on the cheek. You know, letting them know we are back, we're secure, we're home," she said.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 10, 2020

A coronavirus vaccine is on the horizon, thanks to a key discovery by UT researchers

When the latest coronavirus emerged, Jason McLellan and his team were ready to take action. McLellan, an associate professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas, has been studying respiratory diseases for years. In 2017, McLellan’s postdoctoral researcher Nianshuang Wang identified genetic mutations necessary to stabilize a key component of diseases like MERS, also a coronavirus. So when Chinese researchers shared the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus on Jan. 10, UT researchers were able to quickly map the virus and inject it with previously-discovered mutations, allowing the researchers to freeze a key protein in a way that would become essential for creating a vaccine.

“Now every pretty much everybody’s using them,” McLellan said. “I think four of the five leading coronavirus vaccines all contain the stabilizing proteins my lab designed.” Several major companies, bankrolled by billions of dollars from the federal government, are in a race to complete clinical trials for their version of a coronavirus vaccine. It can normally take years for a vaccine to pass through clinical tests before it becomes available to the public, but the process has been expedited over the past several months for coronavirus vaccine candidates from companies including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Moderna. The vaccine candidates are either in or close to the final stages of clinical trials before final authorization by federal drug authorities, and all four are using the UT team’s discovery in their vaccine formulas. “It’s really exciting,” McLellan said. “It’s like everything I hoped for when I wanted to start doing research.”

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Vox - August 8, 2020

How coronavirus devastated Texas’s vulnerable borderlands

It was a Friday night, and Ivan Melendez, the public health authority for Hidalgo County, Texas, had been on the job since 7 am. He was preparing to put in another 10 hours of work as he parked outside Edinburg Regional Medical Center, about a half-hour drive from the Mexican border. He knew what to expect inside the hospital, where an office space had been converted into a temporary Covid-19 floor with about 50 beds separated by curtains. For months, he had witnessed scenes that had once been unimaginable: bed after bed of intubated and dying patients; people forced to catch last glimpses of their loved ones by phone because they couldn’t be bedside; doctors and nurses collapsing into tears amid all the suffering.

“The other patients are looking at them not wanting to be intubated because they know what that means: They’re slowly dying,” Melendez said. For Melendez, who has been in the thick of the pandemic since March, it’s a crisis that’s been both professional and personal in nature: He had to intubate his former sixth-grade teacher, and a nurse he’s known for 30 years is dying. He contracted Covid-19 himself and technically recovered weeks ago, but he’s still feeling sluggish. He nevertheless continues to visit five Covid-19 units at hospitals across the county every single day. “It’s just a nightmare,” he said. “It’s a completely surreal world. When you’re driving down the expressway, you see these very well-appointed hospital buildings with beautiful landscaping and nice windows. But if people could see inside those walls, it would change their attitude. It would change their behavior.” Hidalgo is one of four counties in Texas’s hard-hit Rio Grande Valley, where there have been more than 37,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and hospitals have been operating at full capacity. The area, which is overwhelmingly Hispanic, has some of the highest coronavirus death rates outside of the Northeast — in Hidalgo County, there are roughly 90 deaths per 100,000 people, surpassing other hot spots, including Miami-Dade County in Florida.

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McAllen Monitor - August 8, 2020

McAllen Monitor Editorial: Orders regarding schools threaten students’ welfare

It might be argued that many decisions regarding our children’s education too often is driven by politics rather than what’s best for the students. A current mandate from our president and Texas’ governor could force some parents to choose between sending their children to school and risk exposure to a potentially lethal virus, or let them stay home and fall behind in their school work to a level that could take years to fully recover from. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other officials, eager to comply with President Trump’s wishes despite warnings from medical experts that already have proved true, continue to demand that our state’s public schools reopen this month for the fall semester — even though in many parts of the state including the Rio Grande Valley, the pandemic is affecting more people than when campuses were ordered to close in the name of protecting public health. That bears repeating: Current conditions are worse, and in South Texas much worse, than the conditions that forced schools to close their doors in the first place.

And yet President Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott both have ordered that schools reopen or risk losing federal and state funding. Several school districts, mayors and county judges said the risks were still too high. In response state Attorney General Ken Paxton — who has sued the federal government nearly 50 times alleging government overreach — declared local orders invalid. State Education Commissioner Mike Morath has offered a compromise, saying that schools could offer remote learning but must offer in-class instruction to those families that need or want it. They can begin the semester with full remote learning, as part of an eight-week transition period to reopening the campuses. If a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in a school it can be closed, but only for five class days. That gives us a two-month window to pray that the pandemic subsides — and to do our part to make it happen. However, some parents already have said they’d rather keep their kids home. Many teachers with vested pensions are choosing to retire rather than put their health at risk. Naturally, we hope the pandemic dies out quickly. We hope a return to class doesn’t incite a new spike in contagion. And if the disease lingers beyond the eight-week transition period, we trust that state officials will show prudence and revisit the mandate.

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KBTX - August 9, 2020

Republican Party of Brazos County nominates candidate for County Commissioner Pct. 2

The Republican Party of Brazos County announced in a press release Saturday evening that they have nominated Russ Ford to be the Republican candidate to fill the unexpired term for Brazos County Commissioner – Precinct 2. The position is on the ballot this November following the passing of Commissioner Sammy Catalena in May.

The press release stated that seven residents of Precinct 2 submitted applications to be nominated to the position. All seven met individually with the committee on Saturday. After reviewing the applications and interviewing each applicant, the committee voted and selected Russ Ford to be the Republican nominee. Republican Party of Brazos County Chair, David Hilburn said, “We were truly fortunate to have seven strong applicants. From a party standpoint, it’s a very good problem to have where any of seven options make you proud. However, we could only choose one, and we are proud and excited to see Russ Ford on the ballot in November as the Republican nominee to fill the unexpired term of Brazos County Commissioner – Precinct 2.” Originally from Waco, Russ graduated from Texas A&M with a Bachelor of Science in Construction Science in 1982. He works locally as the Manager for Business Development for Lockwood, Andrews, and Newnam, Inc., a national civil engineering firm. Russ currently serves Brazos County Central Appraisal District Board of Directors and has been a Republican Party of Brazos County Precinct Chair. He has lived in Kurten for the past 36 years. Russ and his wife Vickie Sheffield Ford have 3 daughters and 3 grandchildren.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 9, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: A step closer to telling full Latino story

A nation’s story will never be fully told if it excludes or minimizes the stories of all the people who make it a nation. Throughout most of the history of the United States, the telling of the American story has been incomplete because the roles played by Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans were too often ignored. When they were acknowledged in textbooks, museums and popular culture, it was often done in dismissive, stereotypical fashion. It’s telling that it hasn’t been until the 21st century that the Smithsonian, through Congress, built the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016.

We may still be more than a decade from the opening of a similar museum honoring the long history and rich contributions of Latinos to the country, but we’re closer than ever thanks to delayed but welcome movement in Congress. Last month, for the first time, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would establish a National Museum of the American Latino. It was done with bipartisan support by voice vote. The next step would be passage of the version in the Senate, where the lead sponsor is Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. Cornyn should be commended for not only taking the lead on the Latino museum but also co-sponsoring legislation that would make Juneteenth a national holiday. Like the Native American and African American museums, the Latino museum, when it becomes a brick-and-mortar reality, will have been preceded by years of advocacy, reports and planning, and a lot of fundraising. The time between passage of the bills that established these museums until the times they opened their doors was 15 and 13 years, respectively. The sooner the Senate passes Cornyn’s bill, the quicker we’ll see the new museum.

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NBC 5 - August 9, 2020

3 Texas Parks and Wildlife employees die in helicopter crash in West Texas

Three Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employees died in a helicopter crash in West Texas on Saturday. Dr. Bob Dittmar, Dewey Stockbridge and Brandon White were conducting aerial surveys for desert bighorn sheep on the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in Brewster County when the helicopter crashed, according to wildlife department.

The three worked for department as a state wildlife veterinarian, wildlife biologist and fish and wildlife technician, respectively. The pilot, a private contractor, survived and was taken to El Paso for treatment, the department said. "No words can begin to express the depth of sadness we feel for the loss of our colleagues in this tragic accident," said Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in a written statement. "These men were consummate professionals, deeply liked and highly regarded by their peers and partners alike for the immense passion, dedication, and expertise they brought to their important work in wildlife management and veterinary medicine."

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - August 9, 2020

LULAC and Bexar County work with Census Bureau to help East Side residents return forms before deadline

East Side residents were startled Saturday morning as a 35-car caravan rolled along the streets, beeping horns, blinking lights and blaring a message that time is running out to complete forms for the 2020 census. “Make sure you’re counted!” comedian Cleto Rodriguez’s voice boomed from speakers as he held onto the railing of the lead trailer. “Come to your senses! Everybody counts!” Rodriguez and J.C. Williams, director of community engagement for City Council District 2, relayed that message via microphones for 45 minutes along the 11-mile round-trip route that started at the Claude Black Community Center, 2805 E. Commerce St.

This was the second caravan sponsored by the Census Bureau and partners to raise awareness about the upcoming deadline to send in census forms; the group’s first caravan was last week on the South Side. Recently, the bureau announced that Sept. 30 would be the deadline for all collection of data, a month earlier than previously arranged. LULAC District 15 of San Antonio and the San Antonio Bexar County Complete Count Committee partnered with the bureau on the caravan that went along the perimeter of the East Side. Members of groups that also made up the caravan included the NAACP, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Ladies of the Red Hat Society. “We need to get our friends, our neighbors, everyone,” District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said before the event, “and if they tell you they already did it, you tell them that they need to ask somebody else if they filled out the census as well.”

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Houston Chronicle - August 9, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Racial profiling of Latinos must stop in Fort Bend

Is the Fort Bend County Narcotics Task Force racially profiling? Based on an investigation by Chronicle reporters Eric Dexheimer and St. John Barned-Smith, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Data show that officers assigned to the task force stop and search Latino motorists at a rate that is statistically impossible unless race is a driving factor. This means that you are more likely to experience a humiliating, hours-long stop by the side of the road if you happen to have a Spanish surname. This is not unique to Fort Bend — studies have found that if you are Black or brown, you are more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested by police — but that doesn’t make what is going on there any less egregious.

During a two-year period, for example, records show one officer made 819 stops, out of which almost 98 percent of them involved Latinos behind the wheel. He was not alone. Other task force members had similar rates that run counter to the region’s demographics, which put Latinos at 21 percent of the population. Statewide, Latinos are only 40 percent of the population. The task force is overseen by the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and includes members from nearby police departments. Contrast its numbers with those of the county’s sheriff’s deputies alone: They reported that fewer than 16 percent of their traffic stops in 2019 were of Latinos. Racial profiling is against the law in Texas. It is also unconstitutional. But vague statutes that fail to even properly define what represents a violation and no state agency monitoring compliance mean there is little accountability. A decades-long struggle to remedy this has failed. Simply collecting data to identify which of the state’s nearly 2,000 law enforcement agencies are unfairly targeting minorities has been met with roadblocks.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 7, 2020

Dallas councilman vows to help builders untangle permitting process

A Dallas city councilman is pledging to help local builders who are struggling with a slowdown in the city’s building permit process. Since the start of the pandemic, homebuilders say they’ve faced delays in getting permits to begin new construction project. The city of Dallas has shifted almost all of its permitting process to an online platform to keep workers and the public safe from COVID-19.

But builders say glitches with the web-based system can sometimes add a month or more to getting approvals to start their projects. Dallas councilman Chad West said he will work to set up a concierge program to help builders, and he wants an efficiency study for the city’s building permitting process. One option is to privatize some of the services, which are now backed up, West said. “To provide basic services like public safety, streets and sidewalk repair, and maintenance of parks and libraries, the city relies on sales tax and property taxes,” West said in an email. “Sales taxes are going to take a big hit due to COVID.

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Dallas Morning News - August 9, 2020

Six Dallas museums announce plans to reopen

Six museums in downtown Dallas announced Sunday their ambitious plans to reopen, two on Friday and others no later than September, with all acting in unison to enforce “new measures to ensure the health and safety of their staff and all visitors.” It won’t be business as usual. Each venue is imposing restrictions, ranging from limited hours to limited capacity to required reservations. Several are working to make better use of outdoor spaces as a further safeguard against spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Dallas Museum of Art and the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum will open on Friday, Aug. 14, after being shuttered for almost five months. The Holocaust museum and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science attempted to reopen in July but held back over renewed concerns about COVID-19. In a joint announcement released by the six museums, the Nasher Sculpture Center said it will open on Aug. 20. The Crow Museum of Asian Art will open on Sept. 18. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza said it will open in “mid-September.” The Crow, the Perot and the Nasher were all damaged during protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May. The damage complicated reopening plans that were already challenging to formulate in light of the pandemic.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 10, 2020

Austin Police Department seeing more officers leave

The average number of officers and cadets leaving the Austin Police Department each month has more than doubled since the end of 2017 and increased by nearly 34% through mid-June compared to 2019. The increased rate of departures has sparked concerns within the department about its ability to perform its duties as city leaders tee up major cuts to the police budget. But as police officials worry that decreases in staffing and budgetary rollbacks will hamper their ability to conduct proactive, community policing, social justice advocates say those efforts haven’t been working anyway.

At the end of May 2019, Austin police had seen 45 officers leave, including cadets and sworn officers, whether through resignation, retirement or termination. One officer also died. Through the end of May this year, the department had lost 66 officers, 21 more than the previous year. The department typically would rely on new cadet classes to fill gaps left by those vacant positions. But after city leaders vowed to cut portions of the department’s budget — much of which initially comes from eliminating open positions and postponing or canceling cadet classes — it’s unclear how, when or if those positions will be filled. Austin police currently have one class of cadets going through the academy, with those cadets scheduled to graduate in the fall. Another class that was scheduled for this summer has been indefinitely postponed. Austin police Cmdr. Mark Spangler, who oversees the police academy, said the department continues to recruit for a class of cadets in the fall, but whether that class will convene is uncertain.

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National Stories

New York Times - August 6, 2020

The coronavirus is new, but your immune system might still recognize it

Eight months ago, the new coronavirus was unknown. But to some of our immune cells, the virus was already something of a familiar foe. A flurry of recent studies has revealed that a large proportion of the population — 20 to 50 percent of people in some places — might harbor immunity assassins called T cells that recognize the new coronavirus despite having never encountered it before. These T cells, which lurked in the bloodstreams of people long before the pandemic began, are most likely stragglers from past scuffles with other, related coronaviruses, including four that frequently cause common colds. It’s a case of family resemblance: In the eyes of the immune system, germs with common roots can look alike, such that when a cousin comes to call, the body may already have an inkling of its intentions.

The presence of these T cells has intrigued experts, who said it was too soon to tell whether the cells would play a helpful, harmful or entirely negligible role in the world’s fight against the current coronavirus. But should these so-called cross-reactive T cells exert even a modest influence on the body’s immune response to the new coronavirus, they might make the disease milder — and perhaps partly explain why some people who catch the germ become very sick, while others are dealt only a glancing blow. “If you have a population of T cells that are armed and ready to protect you, you could control the infection better than someone who doesn’t have those cross-reactive cells,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington who is studying the immune responses of Covid-19 patients. “That’s what we’re all hoping for.” T cells are an exceptionally picky bunch. Each spends the entirety of its life waiting for a very specific trigger, like a hunk of a dangerous virus. Once that switch is flipped, the T cell will clone itself into an army of specialized soldiers, all with their sights set on the same target. Some T cells are microscopic assassins, tailor-made to home in on and destroy infected cells; others coax immune cells called B cells into producing virus-attacking antibodies.

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Bloomberg - August 9, 2020

Julian Lee: Saudi Arabia turns off America’s oil taps again

(Julian Lee is an oil strategist for Bloomberg. Previously he worked as a senior analyst at the Centre for Global Energy Studies.) For the second time in three years, Saudi Arabia is slashing the volume of crude it’s sending to America in an attempt to force down stockpiles in the world’s most visible oil market and thereby hasten the rebalancing of supply and demand. Weekly U.S. oil inventory data — usually published on a Wednesday and covering the period up to the previous Friday — is routinely pored over by oil analysts and traders alike. Despite their shortcomings, the figures give the most up-to-date picture of changes in the oil balance and influence trading decisions and crude prices around the world.

Shifts in the flow of crude into and out of American ports can have a big impact on the level of U.S. inventories. Riyadh has clearly decided it’s time to do its bit to bring them down from heights reached in May and June, when the coronavirus pandemic and the kingdom’s own output hike combined to drive the fastest ever surge in U.S. commercial crude stockpiles. In the five weeks between March 20 and April 24, the inventories increased at a rate of 2.1 million barrels a day and by the first week of June it was hitting new highs. Excess stockpiles act as a drag on oil prices and the most visible stockpiles are in the U.S. because the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration reports levels weekly. That’s in stark contrast to other places around the world where the data are much less timely, if they are published at all. China, for example, stopped divulging official data on inventory levels in 2017. It’s no wonder then that Saudi Arabia should focus on the U.S. This is precisely the same policy that it adopted three years ago, shortly after the wider OPEC+ alliance was formed and its first output deal was running into trouble.

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Associated Press - August 9, 2020

Amid pandemic, future of many Catholic schools is in doubt

As the new academic year arrives, school systems across the United States are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Roman Catholic educators have an extra challenge — trying to forestall a relentless wave of closures of their schools that has no end in sight. Already this year, financial and enrollment problems aggravated by the pandemic have forced the permanent closure of more than 140 Catholic schools nationwide, according to officials who oversee Catholic education in the country. Three of the nation’s highest-ranking Catholic leaders, in a recent joint appeal, said Catholic schools “are presently facing their greatest financial crisis” and warned that hundreds more closures are likely without federal support.

“Because of economic loss and uncertainty, many families are confronting the wrenching decision to pull their children out of Catholic schools,” said New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They urged Congress to include funding in the next pandemic relief bill for scholarship assistance for economically disadvantaged families to use at Catholic or other private schools. Many Catholic schools already have received substantial federal aid from the U.S. Department of Education and from the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to pay wages at businesses or nonprofits impacted by the pandemic. The pace of closures has been relentless since March. Within the past month, Catholic leaders have announced the shuttering of five schools in Newark, New Jersey, and 26 in the New York City area. Among the schools closed earlier was the Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore, a 173-year-old girl's high school that's the alma mater of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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NPR - August 7, 2020

Democrats worry Attorney General has an 'October Surprise' in the making

Attorney General William Barr has promised the Justice Department will not take any action to influence the upcoming election. But Democrats and department veterans aren't so sure about that. In opinion pieces and letters, they warn that Barr might be preparing to spring an "October Surprise." There's one big reason for that: recent testimony from the attorney general himself. Democrats are monitoring the status of an investigation by prosecutor John Durham, who appears to be looking at intelligence gathering and other actions by the Obama administration in 2016. Barr tapped Durham to look into the origins of the Russia investigation in May 2019.

When Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., asked Barr whether he would commit to not releasing any report by Durham before the November election, Barr said bluntly, "No." Durham has been on the job for more than a year now, leading some lawyers familiar with the investigation to believe he may be close to the end. One such source told NPR that Durham has asked to interview former President Barack Obama's CIA director, John Brennan, confirming a report by NBC News. That source said both sides are trying to iron out details for the interview, which largely involves technical questions. The source added that Brennan has been told he is not a target of prosecutors. For his part, the attorney general said Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, who's now running for president, are not targets in the case either, and that criminal investigations are focused on others. One may be former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who allegedly doctored an email used as part of a process to secure court approval to renew surveillance on onetime Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

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Newsclips - August 9, 2020

Lead Stories

Galveston County Daily News - August 9, 2020

Lyle Larson: We need to get rid of the two-party system

The massive divide our nation is experiencing provides a compelling reason to reevaluate the American election process. Making structural changes to our system could address many underlying causes of this division and ultimately unite Americans. For years, voters have expressed their desire to cast their vote for someone outside of the binary choice they have been given, but they fear that a vote for a third party will be wasted, or worse, unintentionally result in the election of the establishment party candidate they like least. George Washington’s farewell address is often remembered for its warning against hyper-partisanship: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”

John Adams, Washington’s successor, similarly worried that “a division of the republic into two great parties ... is to be dreaded as the great political evil.” Americans should welcome the departure of the two-party system and instead encourage members of either political party who feel disenfranchised to create new political parties that better fit their ideologies and beliefs. Watching cable news, you’ll see views on the far ends of the political spectrum, but the majority of Americans are centrist and simply want the government to effectively provide core services. Most importantly, rather than continuing to force the square peg of their political beliefs into the round hole of Republican or Democrat, voters would finally have the opportunity to support a party with which they truly identify. As many aspiring presidential candidates have learned, attempting to force an established political party to morph to fit one’s belief is an exercise in futility. One day a “Texas Independent Party” may flourish from a centrist ideology that focuses on fiscal issues and core government responsibilities such as education, health care, infrastructure and public safety. The Texas Independent Party could balance out the fractious far left and right leanings of the incumbent parties.

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Dallas Morning News - August 7, 2020

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wants fourth judge to step down from his fraud case

Lawyers defending Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton against securities fraud charges want the latest judge to preside over the case — the fourth in five years — to recuse himself over the vehement objections of prosecutors. This latest back-and-forth proves to even further delay the years-long case. This week, Paxton’s attorneys argued Harris County District Court Judge Jason Luong, a Democrat, should step off the case because the office of the attorney general is representing the judge in a separate legal matter. Luong’s colleague on the bench and the third judge to preside over the case, Judge Robert Johnson, recused himself for this reason last month. “Because Defendant, as Attorney General of Texas, defends Judge Luong in this federal litigation, Judge Luong’s impartiality might reasonably questioned,” Paxton’s lawyers wrote.

Special prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer, who have been pursuing charges against Paxton since 2015, replied Friday, calling the defense’s arguments “absurd,” “hackneyed” and “moribund.” “If ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,’ a baseless recusal motion is the last refuge of a defendant fearful of losing a consequential ruling,” the prosecutors wrote. “Paxton’s take may make for a good movie, [but it] does not stand up as a piece of legal analysis or bear resemblance to reality.” In addition to being “untimely,” the prosecutors argued Paxton wants Luong off the case because he may decide to keep it in Harris County. The case was moved from Collin County, where Paxton has lived for years, to Harris County in 2017 after the prosecutors argued they would be unable to ensure a fair trial in Paxton’s backyard. “Because Paxton’s palpable fear that Judge Luong will follow the law and keep these felony cases in Harris County does not come within a time zone of meeting the Draconian burden required for recusal, his motion is without merit and should be denied,” the prosecutors wrote. Paxton’s lawyers argued because Johnson recused himself, Luong should also.

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Washington Post - August 7, 2020

Hispanic, Black children at higher risk of coronavirus-related hospitalization, CDC finds

Hispanic children are approximately eight times more likely and Black children five times more likely to be hospitalized with covid-19 than their White peers, according to a study released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report — which used hospitalization data collected in 14 states including California, Georgia, New York and Ohio from March 1 through July 25 — acknowledged that most pediatric cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are asymptomatic or mild and that hospitalization rates among children remain relatively low. But like covid-19 in adults, Black and Hispanic children are far more likely to experience symptoms warranting hospitalization. The report calls for improved understanding of the broader social forces that affect health so that racial and ethnic disparities in pediatric hospitalization rates can be mitigated.

It arrives as schools are beginning to reopen amid fraught political and scientific debates about the wisdom of doing so. President Trump has pushed for fully reopening classrooms, arguing that children’s immune systems are strong and that they will recover quickly from the virus if infected. Some epidemiologists urge caution, warning that not enough is known about how children transmit the virus to understand the risk in-person learning might pose to children, staff and families. Children should wash their hands often and engage in social distancing, and those age 2 and older should wear a mask when with people outside of their families, the CDC report said. The CDC report underscored the relative rarity of children being hospitalized: While 164.5 adults per 100,000 were hospitalized with covid-19 from March to July, eight children per 100,000 required hospitalization. Those under age 2 had the highest pediatric hospitalization rate. The median patient age was 8, and underlying conditions were common, with 42 percent of those requiring hospitalization diagnosed with such conditions.

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KUT - August 9, 2020

Biden says he'll advertise in Texas. What Would A Full Campaign Require?

Former Vice President Joe Biden first tantalized Democrats when he tossed out a television ad in Texas in mid-July. The campaign aired versions of the spot in three other states. Biden followed it up this week when his campaign announced a $280 million purchase of political ads for this fall in 15 states, Texas among them. The buy includes $220 million in broadcast ads and $60 million in digital ads. The Biden campaign wouldn't say, however, exactly what share will be dedicated to the Lone Star State.

Democrats in Texas are urging him to mount a full-fledged campaign here, and polls have him running neck and neck in the state with President Trump. In a statement this week, Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Manny Garcia said, "if we do the work and continue to fight for Texas families, Joe Biden and the rest of the Texas Democratic ticket will win up and down the ballot in November." But it's still not certain how forcefully Biden will compete in Texas. So, what would a full-fledged campaign require? The high price of running a statewide campaign has a lot to do with Texas' big four media markets – Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. In his 2018 U.S. Senate race, Democrat Beto O'Rourke spent $29.5 million on advertising, with 34% going to digital ads. He lost by 2.6 points to Republican Ted Cruz, who spent $12.6 million in advertising with 8.2% on digital, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. Steve Passwaiter, vice president and general manager of Kantar/CMAG, said there will be even more competition for airtime this year because a wide range of advertisers are looking to make up ground lost to the coronavirus.

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Houston Chronicle - August 8, 2020

First trial of a coronavirus vaccine under way in Houston

Linda Lamberth dutifully wears a mask and practices social distancing, but at 66, she figures a little additional protection couldn’t hurt. So Lamberth rolled up her sleeve Friday and became the first participant in a Baylor College of Medicine clinical trial testing the effectiveness of an experimental coronavirus vaccine, one of the world’s great hopes to halt the pandemic and restore a semblance of normalcy. “There needs to be a vaccine, and if I can help that process, I thought that was something I should do,” said Lamberth, a Spring resident who works in a Texas Medical Center laboratory that conducts research on bacteria. “It’s nice to know that my taking the vaccine could make life safer for other generations, both younger and older, and that if evidence from the trial shows it works, it’ll make others want to get it.”

The Baylor trial brings to Houston the latest chapter in the battle against the coronavirus — pivotal, late-stage testing of a vaccine candidate developed in record time using new genetic technology. If it works, it could result in more wide-scale deployment by early next year. The vaccine, arguably the most hyped of the many coronavirus vaccines in development, was made by the biotech firm Moderna. At the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, researchers last week began testing another genetic vaccine, made by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech. The vaccines, both part of President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed project to accelerate an effort that usually takes years, are the two furthest along of more than 100 in development. Through the two trials, 60,000 people will receive either the vaccine or a placebo at more than 200 sites this summer. Neither participant nor medical staff providing the inoculations will know which is being given.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 8, 2020

GOP activists elect state Sen. Pat Fallon to replace spy chief John Ratcliffe on TX-04 ballot

State Sen. Pat Fallon was elected Saturday afternoon by 145 Republican officials from northeast Texas to replace Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe as the GOP nominee on the ballot for Texas’ 4th Congressional District, likely sending the Prosper Republican to Washington as the district’s next representative. Fallon, who represents District 30 in the Texas Senate, beat out 17 other candidates with 82 votes from the 144 voting GOP county and precinct chairs who live in the district, needing only one round to secure a majority. The chairs gathered Saturday afternoon at the Hopkins County Civic Center for more than 3 hours in Sulphur Springs to vote in the unusual election.

“This is a unique district, this is a district rich in history, this is a district of giants,” Fallon told the crowd after being declared the winner. “I see several hundred giants in this room. I am a better person for the experience of the last 90 days. I didn’t get 82 votes. I had 82 friends who supported me, and I am humbled.” Fallon will face Democratic nominee Russell Foster in November, but the conservative will be heavily favored running in a district where Ratcliffe received more than three-quarters of the vote in 2018 and nearly 90% of the vote in 2016. “We and us, now from this day forward, in the 4th Congressional District are united to beat the socialists because everything that our ancestors built is under threat,” Fallon said. The broad field of candidates had several household names like Ratcliffe’s former district chief of staff Jason Ross and local leaders like Atlanta Mayor Travis Ransom and Rockwall City Council member Trace Johannesen. Outsiders also made strong pushes for the seat, including Fallon, who was endorsed by Republican U.S..Sen. Ted Cruz and Aaron Harris, a conservative activist and the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden, a Republican who represents the neighboring 5th Congressional District. Harris was endorsed by Young Conservatives of Texas and Grassroots America.

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Dallas Morning News - August 9, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Instead of cutting the police, proposed Dallas budget funds help where it’s needed

In a difficult time, with a pandemic still gripping the country and marches in the streets for social justice, City Manager T.C. Broadnax has delivered a serious biennial budget proposal that addresses concerns over police action, protects the city’s investment in public safety and considers the reality that taxpayers cannot sustain a substantial expansion in government spending. Before Broadnax and his senior staff delivered his plan, we had every reason to believe the city’s budget would be far worse than it appears to be in terms of widespread cuts to city services and staff, as well as short-sighted reductions in the police department budget.

Instead, thanks in part to a surprising amount of new construction still happening in Dallas, Broadnax was able to present a budget that makes important investments. Those include the expansion of the city’s RIGHT Care program — teams of social workers, paramedics and police officers who respond to mental health calls. He also created or boosted programs to address food, housing and transportation crises, as well as to help formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into society. There will be additional police training, better lighting for high-violence areas and a program to avoid jailing people for public intoxication and instead diverting them to treatment. All of these new or expanded programs come at a cost of some $32 million in the coming year and $25 million in the next. It isn’t cheap, but it is real and represents a serious approach to very difficult social problems within the limited reach of City Hall’s capacity. Broadnax managed to do this without bending to loud but limited demands that he “defund” police by deeply cutting the budget and re-allocating money to social programs.

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Dallas Morning News - August 7, 2020

Amber Guyger’s defense team seeks to overturn her murder conviction for killing Botham Jean

Amber Guyger’s defense team filed an appeal this week to overturn her 2019 murder conviction and instead convict her of criminally negligent homicide, citing insufficient evidence. Guyger is serving a 10-year sentence in a Texas prison for shooting and killing 26-year-old Botham Jean on Sept. 6, 2018, in his apartment at the South Side Flats near Dallas Police Department headquarters. At the time, Guyger was a Dallas police officer, but she was fired after the shooting.

She testified at her trial last year that she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own and shot him because she wrongly thought he was an intruder. Guyger, who was off duty but in her police uniform, said she feared for her life when she shot Jean with her service weapon. Jean, an accountant from St. Lucia, was eating ice cream on his couch when Guyger entered his apartment. Prosecutors and Guyger’s defense team could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. Guyger’s team argued in a brief filed Tuesday that although she did knowingly shoot with the intention of killing Jean, her belief that he was an intruder justified her use of deadly force. “The evidence was legally insufficient to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Guyger committed murder because (1) through mistake, Guyger formed a reasonable belief about a matter of fact — that she entered her apartment and there was an intruder inside — and (2) her mistaken belief negated the culpability of murder because although she intentionally and knowingly caused Jean’s death, she had the right to act in deadly force in self defense since her belief that deadly force was immediately necessary was reasonable under the circumstances,” court documents read.

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Dallas Morning News - August 9, 2020

‘I felt like my chest was on fire’: Photo shows Dallas police officer shooting protester with pepper-ball gun

The photograph captures a police officer aiming a weapon at a woman. She is holding a purple phone. She has her hair in a top knot. She is wearing workout shorts. The officer has just blasted her in the breast with a pepper ball. Smoke rises from her T-shirt. She clutches her breast. In the background, officers are zip-tying two protesters facedown in the grass. Farther back, a protester holds up empty hands.

The scene unfolds along a highway access road on the western edge of downtown Dallas. Moments earlier, these protesters were walking across a grassy slope, moving away from shots they had heard coming from the highway, some 50 yards behind them, they say. The image freezes time at 8:33 p.m. on Saturday, May 30, five days after the death of George Floyd. It captures the very dynamic that has driven millions of protesters to the streets across America: A white officer unleashing violence on a person of color. Combined with other photographs and witness accounts, the image tells the story of how police stormed peaceful protesters who, in the end, were not prosecuted for anything. The chaos unfolded fast, lasting just under two minutes.

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Dallas Morning News - August 9, 2020

AT&T’s Randall Stephenson exits on top as region’s highest-paid CEO

AT&T's Randall Stephenson went out on top. Stephenson, who retired July 1, reclaimed his title as the highest-paid chief executive at Dallas-Fort Worth in The Dallas Morning News’ annual ranking of CEO pay at public companies. The ranking is compiled by Houston-based compensation firm Longnecker & Associates. At age 60, Stephenson walked away from the telecommunications giant with a pension valued at $64 million, guaranteeing him over $230,000 a month for the rest of his life.

He had slipped to second last year after rising to the top of the list in 2017, when he passed Rex Tillerson, who fell out of first place in his final year as head of Exxon Mobil before joining the Trump administration. Stephenson, who stepped into the CEO role in 2007, received $32 million in total direct compensation in 2019 — a 10% increase over 2018. That’s significantly more than No. 2 on the list, Ronald Rittenmeyer of Tenet Healthcare Corp., who received $24.3 million. Rittenmeyer’s 62% year-over-year increase was mainly based on stock awards after he helped the company generate a 122% return for shareholders last year.

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Dallas Morning News - August 6, 2020

Letter to Oklahoma Gov. shows Dak Prescott is using his platform like few Cowboys QBs have before

Being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys is a precious position, one that doesn’t go without its share of criticisms and pressures. Dak Prescott has handled these challenges with dignity; his transgressions can be viewed as minor incidents that come with being 20-something years old. On Thursday afternoon, Prescott entered the emotional fray of social justice when he authorized Time magazine to release a letter he has written to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board calling for the release of Julius Jones, a Black man convicted in 2002 of first-degree murder after a 1999 carjacking and killing of a white man in Edmond, Okla. Jones has exhausted his appeals and faces the death penalty when the state of Oklahoma resumes executions later this year.

Jones’ attorneys and supporters cite numerous inconsistencies in the handling of his case. Those include an alleged racial comment made by one of the jurors; Jones’ public defenders not being allowed to present his alibi to the jury — he was home at the time of the incident; and the lone witness’ inability to properly identify Jones by his hairstyle. “The treatment of Julius Jones is the kind of miscarriage of justice African American men like myself live in fear of,” Prescott wrote in his letter, “and that is why I feel compelled to use the influence that God has blessed me with to speak up for what I believe is right and to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.” At the end of the letter, Prescott signs his full name, Rayne Dakota “Dak” Prescott. He also includes the words Dallas Cowboys underneath his signature. The fact Prescott included the Cowboys with his signature on a letter asking for the release of a Black inmate on death row in Oklahoma is significant.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 7, 2020

Jonathan Tilove: Shelley Luther defies gravity of the pandemic

When the history of the coronavirus pandemic in Texas is written, Gov. Greg Abbott is likely to be the lead. But among the memorable supporting players in the unfolding drama is Shelley Luther, who was briefly jailed in early May for opening her North Dallas Salon à la Mode before Abbott’s edicts allowed. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered to pay her fine and serve her time. Ted Cruz flew to Dallas to get his hair cut at her salon. Abbott rushed plans to reopen other salons and retroactively eliminated jail time for violating his order just in time for a White House visit at which President Donald Trump inquired about the fate of “the woman that I’ve been reading about,” and Abbott, thanks to the Texas Supreme Court, was able to report, “She’s free today.”

Had there been an in-person Republican state convention last month, Luther, who is contemplating a run for office, would have been there and swept the delegates off their feet. As it was, in its virtual setting, the delegates chose as their new party chairman Allen West, who, like Luther, considers the governor’s executive orders acts of tyranny. “I just feel like the government overreach in this entire process has just been utterly ridiculous and has totally taken power out of the people’s hands, and that’s not what the government is supposed to be for,” Luther told me in a recent interview. “They’re not supposed to protect us. They’re not there to protect us. And the Constitution is to protect us against them.” By that standard, she judges Trump a success. “I think that he’s done a great job,” Luther said. “He’s stayed out of it, basically.” “And Texas is definitely — we’re stubborn and we’re strong, independent people. And we don’t feel like Gov. Abbott is being a representative of that.” She likes the no-lockdown, no-mask-mandate leadership of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem as “definitely more representative of what Texas should have done.”

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Austin American-Statesman - August 7, 2020

Texas Tech fires coach Marlene Stollings amid abuse claims within women’s basketball team

Texas Tech fired women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings on Thursday night amid allegations of abuse within the program, athletic director Kirby Hocutt announced in a statement. In a text message to members of the team, which was obtained by USA TODAY Sports, Hocutt said: “Good evening, I have really appreciated your trust in our conversation these past two days. I wanted to let y’all know we have decided to terminate Marlene as our head coach. We will be putting out a statement about it tonight. I will set up a Zoom call for us tomorrow to touch base. Kirby”

The move came a day after a USA TODAY Sports investigation detailed players’ allegations of abuse by Stollings, strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella, and assistant coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins. Petrella, who has denied any misconduct, resigned in March after the conclusion of the season. The school fired Lowry Dawkins after she met with Hocutt on Friday morning, a school spokesperson confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. Hocutt met with the players Wednesday afternoon for more than an hour, and subsequently with the team and coaching staff for more than two hours, he said in a statement that evening. “There is nothing more important to Texas Tech and me personally than the experience of our student-athletes,” Hocutt added. “We will continue our conversation tomorrow to work through concerns about our program as we seek a path forward to make sure we are providing an environment to educate, serve and grow our student-athletes.” Wednesday’s report by USA TODAY Sports, in collaboration with The Intercollegiate, was based on season-ending exit interviews with players from the past two seasons, as well as other documents and interviews with 10 players, two former assistant coaches and two parents. Six of the players spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 7, 2020

Tesla Gigafactory could transform Del Valle area

Del Valle, an underdeveloped area of southeastern Travis County that had seen minimal commercial investment for decades, was already poised for growth. Grocery chain H-E-B is sniffing around an area badly in need of a grocery store. A Chanel subsidiary has a skin care products factory in the works in the area. Software company Zoho plans to build a headquarters nearby, employing hundreds. But with last month’s announcement that Tesla Inc., the worldwide darling of the electric automobile industry, would invest at least $1 billion in the area and employ 5,000 in manufacturing jobs, many are now wondering whether its so-called gigafactory will trigger a sea change to this often neglected area of Travis County.

On 2,100 acres just off Texas 130, Tesla is already — in the words of one developer — “moving at the speed of Elon” Musk, as bulldozers move dirt to pave the way for the huge assembly plant. Work on the site comes after the county and Del Valle school officials approved a combined $60 million in local tax breaks for the California-based company run by billionaire Musk. Tesla’s arrival is expected to rev up development — bringing in jobs, retail options and more housing — in an area that historically has lacked employment centers and fundamental services. “No libraries, no community centers, no public spaces for families to enjoy, and the primary park is behind barbed wire fences,” said Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion, whose district covers a large part of the Del Valle area, including the Tesla site. Development in the area could transform a community whose residents are nearly twice as likely to be Black compared with Travis County as a whole. The area’s concentration of Latino families is also above average for the county. As in many communities of color, the household incomes lag those in areas with a larger percentage of whites. Within Del Valle Independent School District’s boundaries, the average median income is $20,000 less than Travis County at large, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

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Houston Chronicle - August 7, 2020

GOP Sen. John Cornyn supports stimulus checks for 'mixed status' Texas families

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn signaled Friday that he’s willing to extend coronavirus relief checks to over 600,000 Texans — citizens and green card holders — who were edged out in the first round of payments because they are members of so-called mixed status households. March stimulus payments did not go to citizens and permanent residents who file their taxes jointly with others in their households who are immigrants, including those who came to the country illegally. Cornyn is calling for the next round of checks to go to any taxpayer with a Social Security Number, regardless of whether he or she lives with unauthorized immigrants.

“This pandemic has hit all Texans hard, and we shouldn’t make it harder by withholding recovery resources based on the status of a U.S. citizen’s spouse,” Cornyn said in a statement. “The intent of these recovery checks is to provide a lifeline to as many U.S. citizens in dire need of support as we could, and this bill will allow us to help more Texans while we continue to fight the coronavirus.” It’s the latest example of Cornyn, who faces what many expect will be his most difficult reelection run yet, charting a more moderate course on immigration even as other Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, have voiced firm opposition to proposals that offer a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, or coronavirus aid to households that include them. Under the CARES Act, U.S. citizens who file taxes jointly with a non-citizen were deemed ineligible for stimulus checks. Those denied the federal payments of $1,200 for adults and $500 for children included some 940,000 Texans who are U.S. citizens or green card holders who would have otherwise been eligible, according to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute.

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Houston Chronicle - August 8, 2020

Border wall: Hundreds of miles funded, 5 new miles built

President Donald Trump’s signature campaign to build a border wall from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific has added only 5 miles of new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border. Since he took office in 2017, the administration has set aside $15 billion for 738 miles of walls and fencing on the 2,000-mile border, with the money coming from Homeland Security, the Defense Department and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund. The federal government has completed 260 miles of replacement and secondary walls, but only 5 new miles of the 30-foot high steel bollard fencing where none existed before, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by the Express-News.

At least 3 miles of the new barrier are in the Rio Grande Valley, near Roma. The administration also has completed 24 miles of new secondary fencing — a double barrier — and replaced 236 miles of outdated or dilapidated fencing. Overall, the administration has allocated funding for 400 miles of replacement walls, 57 miles of new secondary fencing and 281 miles of new primary walls. “(Trump) is trying to say he’s kept his campaign promise, but he’s not saying what he’s actually doing, which is just replacement sometimes of a double fence,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. Trump promised to build the wall and make Mexico pay for it in his 2016 campaign. A key feature in his efforts to limit immigration, the wall has proceeded slowly under congressional budget constraints and several lawsuits that sought to block construction. The administration sidestepped Congress last year and diverted more than $6 billion from the military budget and more than $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund to speed up wall construction. The government said it would divert an additional $3.8 billion this year from the Defense Department. Opponents sued to block the spending, but the Supreme Court ruled last week the administration can use the reprogrammed funding to continue building barriers in New Mexico, Arizona and California while a legal battle over the funds plays out in court.

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Houston Chronicle - August 8, 2020

Erica Grieder: Looming eviction crisis needs to be confronted directly

For the first few months of the pandemic, Veronica Trancoso of Pasadena managed to make ends meet, even without her regular income from cleaning houses, which plunged as clients sheltered at home. She began making enchiladas and selling them to passersby, as well as construction workers in her neighborhood. That brought in some money — enough to pay for utilities and other small bills. But in recent weeks that business has faltered, too, as heavy rains across southeast Texas drove the construction workers inside. And now the 47-year-old’s financial position is precarious enough that she’s worried she and her children will end up on the streets. “No hay trabajo,” Trancoso said — there is no work. One of her neighbors was already evicted, she added, after falling severely behind on rent. Another “self-evicted,” out of fear of a legal process that could expose her to immigration authorities.

An alarming number of Americans are in a similar predicament, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic itself, the toll it has taken on the economy, and the relatively skimpy relief provided to struggling workers thus far as part of the response to both. The unemployment rate has soared, across the state and country. A federal evictions moratorium, prohibiting landlords whose properties are backed by the government from evicting tenants, expired last month. So did emergency unemployment insurance, also part of the CARES Act, which had supplemented lost wages with an extra $600 a week. Amid a congressional standoff over a new aid package, President Donald Trump on Saturday signed executive orders to extend the evictions moratorium and provide a lower amount, $400 a week, to the unemployed; Democrats have questioned the legality of the moves. “It is a humongous problem,” said Marcia Johnson, a professor of law at Texas Southern University, prior to Trump’s announcement. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, she continued, there was an evictions crisis in Harris County, with a disproportionate impact on African-American women and children. COVID-19 has exacerbated that problem by creating new challenges for anyone experiencing housing insecurity. “It’s not a matter of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” said Johnson, who also serves on the Housing Stability Task Force established in June by Harris County and the city of Houston. At the task force’s last meeting, she continued, they heard testimony from a man, the sole provider for his family, who had been unable to work since contracting the virus.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 9, 2020

Bud Kennedy: How a Back the Blue rally went haywire, and left a police mother worried and grieving

Everything about policing gets political these days, and it breaks a grieving mother’s heart. “It’s just really tough and hard,” Valerie Zamarripa said, after riding as an honored guest in what began as a Back the Blue Cruise truck and biker club rally but turned into an ugly spectacle by the time it reached a south Dallas church. The caravan of nearly 1,000 pickups and motorcycles had picked up a racist militia, a Confederate battle flag and a Donald Trump 2020 campaign flag. Then, of all places, the giant truck and biker rally swarmed into the parking lot of a prominent social-justice Baptist church to stop for a break.

Four years ago, Valerie Zamarripa’s police officer son Patrick, 32, was ambushed and shot dead in Dallas by a violent loner while protecting a Black Lives Matter protest against police killings. “Not all officers are bad,” she said. “My son was a good one.” But not everybody who says they back the blue is really a friend to law enforcement. For example, in both the road rally and the recent violent attack in Weatherford against a Black Lives Matter protest, the various organizers included at least one ex-offender with a criminal history or multiple DWIs. Then there was the recent March for America in Fort Worth. It was billed as a pro-police rally but was organized by a partisan activist and featured candidate speeches. In a time of divisive and hostile national, state and county politics, law officers must rise above anything partisan, especially if they’re wearing a uniform or using publicly owned vehicles or logos.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 9, 2020

Virus grants temporary reprieve to man accused in Molly Matheson's murder, sexual assault

Restrictions meant to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus have put a stop to the jury selection process in the trial of a man suspected in multiple murders and sexual assaults. A mistrial was declared this week during the jury selection process for the capital murder trial of Reginald Kimbro, 26, of Plano. Kimbro was initially arrested April 24, 2017, by Fort Worth police in connection with the death of 22-year-old Molly Jane Matheson, whose body was found April 10 in the shower of her Fort Worth apartment near TCU.

Fort Worth police allege Kimbro, who had previously dated Matheson, raped and strangled the woman, then washed her body, clothes and bedding in an attempt to destroy evidence. On Feb. 27, 2020, the full panel of jurors was assembled in the Kimbro case and attorneys had completed juror questionnaires for nearly 220 individuals. Jury selection, also known as voir dire, was scheduled to begin March 16. But on March 13, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster due to the spread of COVID-19, and the court granted Kimbro’s motion for continuance, according to a court official. The court subsequently postponed jury selection to another time due to COVID-19 restrictions. Jury selection was to begin Aug. 3, but prior to that date, Kimbro’s defense counsel requested a mistrial based on the coronavirus and the impractical nature of convening people together for jury selection and an eventual trial.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 9, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: Montoya aims for an upset in GOP House District

Simply by deciding to run for Texas House District 121 in 2018, Celina Montoya achieved a milestone. For the first time in 18 years, a Democrat dared to even compete in a general election for this reliably Republican seat, which includes northeast San Antonio, Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills and Olmos Park. This was the base from which former House Speaker Joe Straus served for 14 years. Democrats stayed out of District 121 not only because they valued having Straus, a San Antonian with a willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion, in the speaker’s office, but also because there was no realistic hope of flipping the seat. Montoya lost her 2018 race to local attorney Steve Allison, but she lost in a most encouraging fashion.

With no prior experience as a candidate and no real campaign infrastructure, she got within 8.4 percentage points of Allison. But the most startling development was that Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, actually carried the district (albeit by a thin margin) over incumbent Republican Ted Cruz. Clearly, something was happening here, even if we didn’t know what it was. That’s why Montoya decided to give it a second shot against Allison. District 121 is one of nine GOP-controlled seats that were decided by single-digit margins in 2018 and carried by O’Rourke. If Democrats flip all nine of those seats, and maintain the ones they currently hold, they will take control of the Texas House for the first time in nearly two decades. Montoya has cause for optimism. For one thing, she has worked her way out of the implausibility zone that hampered her efforts to raise money and build support two years ago. This time, it’s an established fact that a Montoya victory is within the realm of plausibility. She already has proved that.

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Amarillo Globe-News - August 6, 2020

Texas Tech, Midwestern State leaders sign memorandum of understanding

Midwestern State University is a step closer to joining the Texas Tech System after regents for both approved a memorandum of understanding during separate meetings Thursday. Emerging from executive session Thursday afternoon, the Midwestern State University Board of Regents authorized Chair Caven Crosnoe and President Suzanne Shipley to execute a memorandum of understanding between Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls and the Texas Tech University System. Tech regents followed suit later in the afternoon.

Thursday’s action enables university leadership to begin the process of working with local state legislators to introduce legislation seeking approval for MSU Texas to become the fifth university of the Tech System. Tech System Board of Regents Chairman Christopher M. Huckabee released a statement saying Tech continues to make positive strides on a partnership with MSU Texas as their leadership teams have remained in constant conversation over the past several months. “The action taken today by both boards represents an alignment of priorities as a memorandum of understanding was approved,” he said in the statement. “Our organizations have enjoyed the productive conversations, development of mutually beneficial plans and steps forward on this strategic partnership. We look forward to the upcoming legislative session where our hope is to finalize this partnership for MSU Texas to become the fifth member institution of the Texas Tech University System.”

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KXAN - August 6, 2020

‘Heavily concerned’: Texas GOP chair weighs in on lawsuit facing Gov. Greg Abbott

Newly-elected Republican Party of Texas Chair Allen West told KXAN he’s “heavily concerned” with a $295 million contact tracing contract that the state awarded to a Frisco-base firm, without approval from the state legislature, which is now the source of a lawsuit facing Gov. Greg Abbott. In an interview on Thursday, West, who opposed the statewide mask mandate to slow the spread of coronavirus, would not say whether rank-and-file Republicans have lost confidence in Abbott. He did say, however, that “everyone” should be concerned with how the contract was awarded to MTX Group, Inc.

“You don’t have an executive branch that can go out and write a check without that legislative approval,” West said. Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment from KXAN on Wednesday. The lawsuit was filed by five Texas Republican lawmakers in Travis County District Court on Monday, claiming Abbott violated competitive bidding laws and separation of power by awarding the contract to MTX Group, Inc. The lawsuit claims Abbott exceeded the additional power he was granted during the COVID-19 disaster declaration. “The first reason to invalidate the contract is that DSHS materially failed to follow competitive bidding rules in awarding the Texas-MTX contract,” the lawsuit states. “The second reason to invalidate the contract is that the Texas Constitution requires a separation of powers, and that separation leaves policy-making decisions with the Texas legislature.”

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The 19th - August 7, 2020

Can the LBJ Women's Campaign School build a nonpartisan pipeline for women candidates?

When Amy Kroll was 6, she was on a tour of the White House and spotted two books in the gift shop: One on U.S. presidents and the other on first ladies. “I remember being upset that one book was full of boys and one book was full of girls,” she said. “And I knew that this was a problem from just that very young age.” It was her first lesson on the disproportionate power of men in politics. Kroll, now 30, is the founder and executive director of the LBJ Women’s Campaign School at the University of Texas at Austin. This year’s inaugural class features 50 women from different ideological backgrounds who aspire to either run for office or manage a campaign.

Despite making up more than half of the U.S. population, women represent just under 30 percent of lawmakers in statehouses, and just below 24 percent of those in Congress. The LBJ program wants to close that gap. Women who lead campaigns is in itself a growing reality. “We want to get to gender parity,” Kroll explained. “Everybody needs to work together. It needs to transcend party lines.” Kroll said she reached out to more than 200 organizations across the country to recruit the inaugural class — chambers of commerce, community groups, bar associations and organizations that elevate people underrepresented in politics. Her efforts paid off in key ways: More than half of the inaugural class — 58 percent — is a person of color. But the program’s goal to recruit and train women from across the political spectrum proved trickier. This first class is made up of 33 Democrats, 12 Republicans, 4 independents and one person who identifies as other. “The bottom line is that center right women are underrepresented in elected office,” Kroll said. “Our program is still addressing that problem by serving the center right women who we do serve, and championing them and encouraging them, and helping them to feel welcome. I’m hopeful that we will move towards that 50 percent number. But I do also feel very proud of where we’re at right out of the gate.”

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Click2Houston - August 7, 2020

Bettencourt, Whitmire call for change in how bond is handled in Harris County

Two prominent Houston area state senators told KPRC 2 Investigates addressing the issue of bond reform will be a priority in the upcoming legislative session. Both said they want to see an end to suspected criminals being repeatedly released on bond. “This is terrible public policy. It’s terrible safety for the public. I think it’s abhorrent judicial practices,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. “It just has to stop, the public won’t stand for it.” Bettencourt said he is working on a law to prevent people from being released from jail on multiple personal bonds. These bonds do come with monetary amounts attached, but a defendant does not have to put any money toward the bond to be released. Fees associated with personal bonds can be charged or waived and conditions can be set, such as GPS monitoring.

Judges and criminal justice reform advocates have long argued, except in capital murder cases, that a bond is a constitutional right and it is unfair to hold a person in jail until their trial simply because they cannot afford bond. Bettencourt argues granting a person multiple personal bonds provides no incentive for compliance. “This is not what anybody thought was supposed to be a part of bond reform,” said Bettencourt. On Aug. 4, Ashton Broussard, 30, was killed during a confrontation with a Houston police officer. Broussard was accused of disarming a security guard and then pointing that gun at a police officer when he was shot. Court records show Broussard was released on a personal bond on July 21 after being charged with assault. Broussard was then arrested and charged with criminal mischief and escape but was again released on personal bonds on July 27 under the condition his whereabouts would be monitored by GPS. His bond was forfeited on July 30 when he failed to show for court.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 9, 2020

Tarrant County reports 7 more coronavirus deaths, nearly 800 new cases on Saturday

Tarrant County reported 779 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths on Saturday. The county has confirmed 33,369 COVID-19 cases, including 421 deaths and at least 21,172 recoveries.

The latest deaths include five Fort Worth residents, one in Hurst, and the first reported COVID death in Blue Mound. Other details including age and sex have yet to be released by county officials. Among the latest deaths are a Blue Mound man in his 40s, three men in their 70s, including two in Fort Worth and one in Hurst, and two Fort Worth women in their 60s. All had underlying conditions, according to health officials. Hospitalizations in the county for COVID-19 remained at 9%. That’s the percentage of all available hospital beds in Tarrant County used for coronavirus patients, as of Friday. It’s the lowest rate since officials reported 8% on June 30. Through eight days in August, Tarrant County has reported 4,498 new cases. In the last eight days of July, the county reported 4,309 new cases.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 9, 2020

Metro Health reports 10 more novel coronavirus deaths in Bexar County but five straight days of fewer people with the virus in hospitals

Bexar County has 232 new cases of novel coronavirus, Metro Health reported Saturday, increasing the total to 42,531 in the six months since the pandemic took hold in San Antonio. That’s up from 42,299 on Friday. There were 10 deaths posted Saturday, but they occurred over several days’ time. The total death count in Bexar County stands at 432. “Please stay home and stay safe this weekend. Keep doing what you're doing,” Nirenberg said in a social media post Saturday. “We must remain vigilant to accelerate the downward trend in hospitalizations and cases.”

Of the 10, five were at the PAM Specialty Hospital, a long-term acute care facility, including four Hispanic men, one in his 50s, one in his 60s and two in their 70s; and one Hispanic woman in her 40s. All had underlying health conditions. The dates of their deaths weren’t immediately known. The others were a Hispanic man in his 60s and a Hispanic woman in her 70s, both with underlying health conditions, who died at Methodist Hospital Texsan. A Hispanic man in his 30s died at University Hospital, as well as a Hispanic woman in her 80s who died at Methodist Hospital Specialty and Transplant and a white man his 60s, a resident of Meridian Care Nursing Home. All had underlying health conditions. Hospital numbers continued to improve, as Nirenberg noted. There were 743 people with the virus in San Antonio hospitals, down from 770 Friday. That’s five straight days of fewer people with the disease requiring hospitalization.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - August 9, 2020

The coronavirus means San Antonio parents have to make choices this fall — and some have more options than others

Barbara Espinoza-Vera recently did something she never imagined: She retired early, at age 61, from her longtime job at the Bexar County Clerk’s Office so she could stay home with her son and help with his remote learning, an option his school provides. She’s too afraid to send 10-year-old Elijah back to school in person this fall, she said. Even with all the safety precautions his district plans to take to guard against the coronavirus, she felt it was too perilous. “I probably won’t feel safe about sending him to school until there’s a vaccine,” she said. “He’s a typical 10-year-old boy, and they don’t know about leaving a mask on all day. And all the people who go in and out of the school — you don’t know how careful they are.”

Espinoza-Vera finds herself in the same boat as countless parents across San Antonio as the new school year dawns and the choice becomes stark: Send your child back to school and hope for the best? Keep them home and continue the challenge of remote instruction? It’s an excruciating dilemma, one that pits the parental urge for safety against a child’s need for teacher-led learning and peer interaction. And it’s not just parents of school-aged children who are caught in the conundrum. Even those with younger children must negotiate the choice of sending their kids to a child care center, in an industry that has been decimated by falling enrollments and higher operating costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. About half of licensed child care centers across the nation could end up permanently closing because of the virus. So far, 28 child care centers in San Antonio have closed because of the virus, Workforce Solutions Alamo says. The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of the nation’s early childhood education system, which already operated on razor-thin margins. The virus only served to further erode a network that doesn’t just provide working parents with a safe place to put their children during the day.

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Houston Chronicle - August 9, 2020

Search for bomb ends up uncovering golf clubs at Hobby Airport

A man who was supposed to fly into Houston’s Hobby Airport Saturday morning was detained in St. Louis after he said he had a bomb in his bag, according to airport officials. The man never made it on Southwest Flight 784, but his bag did, according to Augusto Bernal, a spokesman for the Houston Airport System. Police responded to the airport and searched for the man’s bag. They apparently found golf clubs and other items inside — but no bomb, Bernal said.

The airport system was notified about the threat at 11:20 a.m., after the plane landed, Bernal said. The bag was cleared eight minutes later. Ro Hawthorne, a spokesperson for Southwest, said an airport police officer and Transportation Security Agency officer approached the ticket counter in St. Louis asking for a passenger’s bags. Hawthorne did not have information about the suspect and referred questions to law enforcement. Officials with St. Louis police and the TSA did not respond to requests for comment. An HPD spokesman said he did not have any information about the response.

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D Magazine - August 7, 2020

What a NIMBY victory in Plano means for the future of urban planning in Texas

The final death knell for one of the most promising, forward-thinking urban planning efforts in North Texas sounded Aug. 5. During a joint session of the city of Plano’s City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission, Plano officials are expected to vote to repeal the city’s Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan and replace it with the 1986 master plan—literally putting Plano a generation behind on planning for its future growth and success. The Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2015, and since then, it has been embroiled in a long legal feud seeking its repeal. Opponents feared the new plan and said it would allow dangerous amounts of density that would erode the suburban city’s character. To me, the Plano Tomorrow plan looked like exactly the kind of urban planning vision that could begin to reverse the damaging effects of 70 years of sprawl-style suburban growth.

That style of growth, while often trumpeted as the bedrock of the region’s incredible economic success, has also proven to treat North Texas cities and communities like disposable commodities, cycling urban neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs alike through a series of booms and busts. The short-term economic gains of sprawl-style growth do not pay for the ultimate erosion of tax bases, inequitable transfers of wealth, and hidden costs of living. Plano was once the poster child of sprawl, which made the Plano Tomorrow plan even more extraordinary and revolutionary. The plan recognized that the pattern of growth that has defined the last 70 years of urban expansion in North Texas will not allow the region to remain sustainable, and it charted a new path forward. It allowed for pockets of density, rethought how to integrate transit into a highway-dominated city, and accommodated for a deepening tax base driven by a mix of commercial and residential investment. It reimagined the suburban city not as a commuter-berg of single-family houses flanked by highways and strip centers, but as a vibrant, resilient community unto itself. Plano Tomorrow wasn’t perfect, but it recognized reality: more than a half-century of economic growth has transformed Plano from an ideal suburban utopia into a more dynamic and complex city, with large job centers, an expanding commercial base, and demand for a diversity of housing, services, and mobility options. But that was too much for some Plano residents. They fought the adoption of the plan through the courts while waging a disinformation campaign that drudged up tired clichés about density and urban life.

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National Stories

Associated Press - August 9, 2020

Trump orders more unemployment pay, a payroll tax deferral

Seizing the power of his podium and his pen, President Donald Trump on Saturday moved to bypass the nation's elected lawmakers as he claimed the authority to defer payroll taxes and extend an expired unemployment benefit after negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus rescue package collapsed. At his private country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump signed four executive orders to act where Congress hasn't, contending Washington's gridlock had compelled him to act as the pandemic undermined the country's economy and imperiled his November reelection hopes. Perhaps most crucially, Trump moved to continue paying a supplemental federal unemployment benefit for millions of Americans out of work during the outbreak. However, his order called for $400 payments, one-third less than the $600 people had been receiving. Congress allowed those higher payments to lapse on Aug. 1, and negotiations to extend them have been mired in partisan gridlock, with the White House and Democrats miles apart.

Trump largely stayed on the sidelines during the administration’s negotiations with congressional leaders, leaving the talks on his side to chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Trump’s embrace of executive actions to sidestep Congress runs in sharp contrast to his criticism of former President Barack Obama’s use of executive orders on a more limited basis. And the president’s step-back from talks with Congress breaks with his self-assured negotiating skills. Now, Trump, who has not spoken with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi since last year, sought to play the role of election-year savior, with the $400 weekly assistance, as well as a deferral of payroll tax and federal student loan payments and the continuation of a freeze on some evictions during the crisis. “It's $400 a week, and we're doing it without the Democrats,” Trump said, asking states to cover 25% of the cost. Trump is seeking to set aside $44 billion in previously approved disaster aid to help states maintain supplemental pandemic jobless benefits, but Trump said it would be up to states to determine how much, if any of it, to fund.

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Associated Press - August 8, 2020

Joe Arpaio loses sheriff's race in second failed comeback bid

Joe Arpaio on Friday was narrowly defeated in his bid to win back the sheriff’s post in metro Phoenix that he held for 24 years before being voted out in 2016 amid voter frustrations over his taxpayer-funded legal bills, his penchant for self-promotion and a defiant streak that led to his now-pardoned criminal conviction. Arpaio lost the Republican primary for Maricopa County sheriff to his former top aide, Jerry Sheridan. In the Nov. 3 general election, Sheridan will face Democrat Paul Penzone, who unseated Arpaio four years ago.

The loss marked Arpaio’s second failed attempt to return to politics. He ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for U.S. Senate in 2018, not long after President Donald Trump had pardoned his 2017 criminal contempt of court conviction for disobeying a judge’s order in a racial profiling case. As metro Phoenix’s sheriff from 1992 through 2016, Arpaio rose to political prominence by creating old-time chain gangs and housing inmates in tents during triple-digit heat. But he is most well known for launching immigration crackdowns, some of which contributed significantly to his political downfall. While his defiant streak played well with voters for many years, Arpaio faced heavy criticism for taking on policies that he knew were controversial and racking up $147 million in taxpayer-funded legal bills. His agency also botched the investigations of more than 400 sex-crimes complaints made to his office.

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Real Clear Politics - August 6, 2020

Mercedes Schlapp: CNN's dishonesty on universal vote-by-mail

(Mercedes Schlapp is senior adviser of strategic communications for Donald J. Trump for President Inc.) Most of the mainstream media say the same thing when it comes to voter fraud -- it’s too rare to be consequential. In endlessly repeating this line, the media is now doing more than just slinging mud at President Trump. Dismissing any concerns about the integrity of America’s electoral process is a danger to our system of democracy. CNN, it should come as no surprise, is parroting this narrative with even more certitude than its media counterparts. On Tuesday, I was a guest on Brianna Keilar’s CNN show. I discussed our campaign’s concerns with a new law in Nevada that would open up the potential for voting fraud on a scale rarely seen before in this country. In 72 hours, Nevada Democrats rushed a fundamental change to the state’s election system in an eleventh-hour bid to change the rules to favor a Democrat victory in November.

In the dead of night and less than 100 days from the election, Nevada Democrat Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law a universal vote-by-mail system that would send a ballot to every address on Nevada’s voter rolls --requested or not -- and whether the voter was still alive or not. Furthermore, the law includes a provision that ballots received in the three days after the election would be counted, even if that ballot is not postmarked to prove the vote was cast before Nov. 3. Imagine a scenario where Nevadan Democrats wake up on Nov. 4 to learn that President Trump won their state. Conceivably, they could collect ballots for Joe Biden and mail them the day after the election and, if they are received within the next three days, they would be counted. Any reasonable person realizes how such a system exposes the election to massive voter fraud. CNN doesn’t see it that way. It’s important to call them out -- especially when it concerns something as crucial and important as the integrity of our election system. The day after my segment, Keilar doubled down on her ignorance of the new law and did a “fact check” on the Trump campaign’s legitimate and valid concerns. During Keilar’s fact-checking segment, she claimed that ballots will only be counted “as long as they are postmarked by dates of election.”

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Axios - August 7, 2020

Trump considering order on pre-existing condition protections, which already exist

President Trump announced on Friday he will pursue an executive order requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, something that is already law. The Affordable Care Act already requires insurers to cover pre-existing conditions. The Trump administration is currently arguing in a case before the Supreme Court to strike down that very law — including its pre-existing condition protections.

The big picture: Even if this wasn’t already law, it’s unclear what authority the president has to unilaterally require insurers to cover pre-existing conditions. What he's saying: "Over the next two weeks I'll be pursuing a major executive order requiring health insurance companies to cover all pre-existing conditions for all customers," the president said. "That's a big thing. I've always been very strongly in favor. We have to cover pre-existing conditions so we will be pursuing a major executive order requiring health insurance companies to cover all pre-existing conditions for all of its customers. This has never been done before." The bottom line: It has been done before — in the exact law Trump is trying to overturn.

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New York Times - August 7, 2020

Brent Scowcroft, a force on foreign policy for 40 years, dies at 95

Brent Scowcroft, a pre-eminent foreign policy expert who helped shape America’s international and strategic decisions for decades as the national security adviser to Presidents Gerald R. Ford and George Bush and as a counselor to seven administrations, died on Thursday at his home in Falls Church, Va. He was 95. His death was announced by a family spokesman, Jim McGrath, who did not cite a specific cause. Mr. Scowcroft wanted to be a fighter pilot after World War II, but a plane crash changed the young man’s life and, as it turned out, gave the nation one of its most authoritative military intellectuals — a diplomat, linguist, tactician on nuclear arms and missile systems and a scholar of global politics who became an influential voice in Washington for more than 40 years.

He accompanied President Richard M. Nixon to China in 1972, oversaw the Ford administration’s evacuation of Americans from Saigon in 1975, laid groundwork for President Jimmy Carter’s Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviet Union in 1979, evaluated the MX missile systems for President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and directed President Bush’s strategy in the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Mr. Scowcroft was a principal architect of American policy toward post-communist Russia, a leading Republican voice opposing the American-led invasion of Iraq after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a voice in President Barack Obama’s selection of a national security team after the 2008 elections. He also wrote books, taught at universities and counted among his many protégés Condoleezza Rice and Robert M. Gates, both national security experts who became secretaries of state and defense for President George W. Bush.

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Washington Post - August 7, 2020

Postal Service overhauls leadership as Democrats press for investigation of mail delays

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s mail service, displacing the two top executives overseeing day-to-day operations, according to a reorganization memo released Friday. The shake-up came as congressional Democrats called for an investigation of DeJoy and the cost-cutting measures that have slowed mail delivery and ensnared ballots in recent primary elections. Twenty-three postal executives were reassigned or displaced, the new organizational chart shows. Analysts say the structure centralizes power around DeJoy, a former logistics executive and major ally of President Trump, and de-emphasizes decades of institutional postal knowledge. All told, 33 staffers included in the old postal hierarchy either kept their jobs or were reassigned in the restructuring, with five more staffers joining the leadership from other roles.

The reshuffling threatens to heighten tensions between postal officials and lawmakers, who are troubled by delivery delays — the Postal Service banned employees from working overtime and making extra trips to deliver mail — and wary of the Trump administration’s influence on the Postal Service as the coronavirus pandemic rages and November’s election draws near. It also adds another layer to DeJoy’s disputes with Democratic leaders, who have pushed him to rescind the cost-cutting directives that have caused days-long backlogs and steady the Postal Service in the run-up to the election. DeJoy clashed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a meeting on the issue earlier this week. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), chair of the House subcommittee responsible for postal oversight, called the reorganization “a deliberate sabotage” to the nation’s mail service and a “Trojan Horse.” David E. Williams, formerly chief operating officer and executive vice president, will take the role of chief logistics and processing operations officer, a new position for a trusted adviser to former postmaster general Megan Brennan and members of the agency’s governing board. A new organizational chart also gives Williams the title “executive vice president,” though that role was not included in the internal restructuring announcement obtained by The Washington Post. The Postal Service’s Kevin L. McAdams, the vice president of delivery and retail operations and a 40-year USPS veteran, was not listed on the chart.

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Los Angeles Times - August 7, 2020

Trump, losing his grip on GOP, wields less influence as crises mount

Less than three months before election day, evidence is mounting that President Trump is losing political influence in Washington and facing the early onset of "lame duck" status as Republican leaders in Congress increasingly appear willing to defy or rebuff him. In recent days, GOP lawmakers who once saluted — or at least didn't publicly oppose — Trump initiatives have thrown cold water on some of his ideas and proposals — rejecting his suggestion to delay the Nov. 3 election, repudiating his unsubstantiated claims that mail-in-voting leads to mass fraud, eliminating funds for a new FBI headquarters across from his hotel, and snubbing his calls for a payroll tax cut. Although the nation is in a deep economic slump, with more than 31 million Americans seeking jobless benefits, Trump has shown little interest in twisting arms in Congress to negotiate another coronavirus financial relief package that would extend unemployment benefits and help school districts struggling during the pandemic.

Trump is "not really a player in these negotiations," said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist. "He does not have much political capital to spend on [Capitol Hill.]" "Congressional Republicans don't want to cross Trump, but they also don't want to carry his water," Conant said. Trump's disengagement from the nitty-gritty of governing is not new. Nor is his penchant for contradicting his own administration on matters large and small. But after nearly four years of daily presidential mistruths, polls show a strong majority of Americans don't trust what Trump says about the pandemic, or his bizarre claims of success in fighting it — a distinct liability as he faces reelection with more than 160,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 and a 10.2% unemployment rate. Now as he enters the twilight of his first term with dimming prospects for a second, the president is finding that Republicans are notably less willing to indulge his inclinations, ideas and persistent magical thinking amid a seemingly never-ending national crisis.

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Newsclips - August 7, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 7, 2020

Texas jobless claims plunge again, a sign layoffs may be slowing

New claims for unemployment benefits in Texas fell for the fourth consecutive week, indicating that layoffs across the state are slowing. About 62,000 people in Texas applied for unemployment benefits last week, down nearly 20 percent from 77,000 a week prior. Initial jobless claims in Texas have fallen after a midsummer spike driven by a surge in COVID-19 cases. While jobless claims in Texas are the lowest levels since shutdown orders began in March, claims are still running four times higher than pre-pandemic levels; typically, about 14,000 people apply for unemployment benefits each week in Texas.

Nationally, initial jobless claims fell last week to 1.2 million from 1.4 million the previous week. It’s well below the nearly 7 million per week in late March. Before the pandemic, around 218,000 claims were filed in the United States each week. While declines in initial jobless claims are a welcome sign, the figures still show a labor market in distress, experts said. Continuing claims remain elevated, meaning that those receiving benefits are not finding work or getting called back to their previous job. “While we are moving in the right direction, I think we’ll need to see this downward trajectory (in claims) sustained over the coming weeks and months,” said Christopher Slijk, a Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas associate economist. “We’re far from a firm footing.” Dallas Fed economists expect employment growth to slow significantly in the second half of the year, according to a forecast published Thursday. After a rebound when pandemic-related business shutdowns were lifted in May, economists said, the resurgence of COVID-19 cases this summer has reversed some economic gains in Texas.

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Houston Chronicle - August 6, 2020

'Harrowing' outbreak at Missouri City nursing home leaves 19 residents dead

Nineteen residents of a Missouri City nursing home who were infected with COVID-19 have died, according to state data and a city news release, marking the second-highest death toll among nursing facilities in the Houston region. Some 37 residents at the Paradigm at First Colony nursing home also were simultaneously sick, according to the state data, highlighting the immense vulnerability of nursing home residents to the virus amid statewide efforts to keep them safe. Focused Care at Westwood has the highest death toll in the region; it reported 24 residents who had died, according to the data, current as of July 22. But by July 27, the Houston facility had only two residents who were known to be positive, a spokeswoman said then.

Another pair of facilities with 25 deaths each — one in Brenham and another in Lubbock — ranked highest in the state. Missouri City Mayor Yolanda Ford said the city was concerned about the Paradigm residents and their family members. She called for everyone to take the pandemic more seriously after what she called the “harrowing development” there. A statement from Paradigm was not immediately shared. The state has banned visitors to nursing homes since early in the pandemic and stopped group activities in an effort to keep the virus out. Advocates say the moves have come at a cost to residents’ mental and physical health.

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Dallas Morning News - August 6, 2020

Texas to begin allowing visitation at nursing homes with no active COVID-19 cases

Some Texas nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will be allowed to begin having visitors for the first time in months, according to new rules from the state health department. The reopening is limited to facilities with no confirmed staff cases of COVID-19 in two weeks and no active cases in residents, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said. At nursing homes, the staff must also be receiving weekly coronavirus tests to reopen. Any physical contact between visitors and residents is prohibited at those facilities that reopen, the new rules stated.

The new rules also require that all visits at nursing homes occur outdoors. Visits at other long-term care facilities, such as assisted-living facilities, can happen indoors if a plexiglass safety barrier is used. Long-term care facilities in Texas have been shuttered to visitors since March 20. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican who chairs the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, said Thursday the decision to reopen some facilities was made with families in mind. “Access to family and loved ones is an important part of every resident’s health and well-being, which is why this policy shift is a move in the right direction for some of our most fragile Texans,” Kolkhorst said in a prepared statement. The news came the same day The Houston Chronicle reported that 19 residents at a nursing home in Missouri City had died of complications due to COVID-19. According to state data, more than 1,950 long-term care residents had died of the disease as of July 23. This number includes nearly 150 deaths in Dallas County facilities, this same state data showed.

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Dallas Morning News - August 6, 2020

After NY seeks to dissolve NRA for fraud, Trump suggests move to Texas and state GOP leaders offer red carpet

With New York trying to dissolve the NRA over allegations of persistent corruption, President Donald Trump suggested a friendlier home base Thursday: Texas, where some top Republicans shrugged aside the accusations and rolled out a welcome mat for the powerful gun lobby. “The NRA should move to Texas and lead a very good and beautiful life,” Trump said at the White House after news of the New York attorney general’s investigation. “Texas would be a great place and an appropriate place for the NRA....They’ve been absolutely decimated by the cost of that lawsuit and it’s very sad.”

While the suggestion seemed to come out of the blue, this time last year the Washington Post reported that NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre – accused Thursday of draining tens of millions of dollars from the nonprofit for personal gain – had sought to have the NRA buy him a $6 million mansion in a gated community in suburban Dallas. The 10,000-square-foot French country style estate in Westlake has lakefront and golf course views. The deal never went through but it attracted the attention of New York investigators. LaPierre maintained that he and his wife needed a more secure place to live after the February 2018 rampage at a high school in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people. Soon after Trump’s comments Thursday, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued open invitations to the National Rifle Association to relocate.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - August 6, 2020

Louis Jacobson: We’re watching these 12 Texas congressional battlegrounds

As the Texas suburbs grow increasingly diverse and college educated voters continue to turn away from the GOP, Texas has emerged this election cycle as a congressional battleground. No fewer than a dozen U.S. House seats — one third of the total number of Texas seats — are on the radar of state and national politicos for the possibility of switching party control this fall. Ten of the seats are controlled by Republicans and two are represented by Democrats who flipped the seats in the last election. What follows is a ranking of the dozen competitive districts, starting with most likely to change party hands. We have categorized each race in one of three categories: “highly vulnerable,” “vulnerable,” and “potentially vulnerable.” We define vulnerability as the likelihood that the opposing party will seize control of the seat. Within each category, the races are also ranked by vulnerability in descending order.

The common thread connecting most of the districts on our list is that they are affluent and well-educated. With one exception — the open 23rd District that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso — each of the districts on our list has a higher median income than the state as a whole (which is $57,051 statewide) and each has a higher percentage of residents with at least a college degree (which is 28.7% statewide). The data comes from the Almanac of American Politics 2020. This tracks with the general pattern, both nationally and within the state, of more affluent, more educated, and more suburban voters moving away from the GOP and toward the Democrats.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 6, 2020

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: It’s the school boards’ call. Let them make it.

Either it’s a school board decision or it isn’t. Either it’s up to the most plugged-in local education officials to make the difficult decisions on when to start in-person classes in the coronavirus era; or it’s up to state functionaries who don’t answer to the families and staffers who are affected. Gov. Greg Abbott says these tough calls belong to local school boards. “It really is the responsibility of and the necessity of the locally elected school boards that are responsive to the teachers, to the parents, to the students, to the public, to make the decision that is best for the school,” he said during a news briefing Tuesday.

But that’s not entirely true: School districts risk losing millions of dollars in state funding if the Texas Education Agency doesn’t agree with their plans. Such a funding blow would only compound the disruption that districts face as they try to manage new safety and instructional challenges on an unprecedented scale. Now is no time for bureaucratic red tape. Abbott should back up his words — that local school boards make the decision — by ensuring they won’t lose state funding by exercising that choice. As it is now, the TEA allows districts to teach online only for up to eight weeks, with that second four-week period requiring state approval. Providing online-only instruction beyond that would also require a waiver from the state. The Austin school district, which is looking to push back the start of the school year to Sept. 8 and gradually add in-person learning in October for those who want it, would need the state’s blessing for that plan, too. State Education Commissioner Mike Morath has said that “protecting the health of students, teachers, and staff remains our first priority.” Does anyone doubt that is the top priority of school districts, too?

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Austin American-Statesman - August 6, 2020

Adler’s Austin: 5 takeaways from State of the City address

Austin Mayor Steve Adler outlined a number of community goals and priorities Wednesday night during the annual State of the City address. Adler focused on racial issues, the coronavirus, policing and transportation, and about how each should be leveraged to create a more equitable Austin as things get back to normal from the pandemic. Here are five takeaways from the speech that signal where city leaders could be heading:

The Austin Police Department’s budget has been top of mind for many at City Hall and throughout the community since protests against police brutality erupted in June. Since then, calls from the community to defund the Police Department have been met with support from Austin City Council members. Adler said he supports such measures, but he said major systemic changes will take longer than many had hoped. Adler said some issues have a clearer path forward and need to be changed as quickly as possible, including moving the forensics lab from the Police Department’s control and making changes to training at the police academy. But for the larger issues — which involve millions of dollars, large numbers of staff members and significant infrastructure — Adler said he supports removing elements from the police budget and putting them into a transition budget category, which likely will contain well over $100 million in elements currently in the police budget. The council would have to readdress that funding within six months.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 6, 2020

Group behind Austin homeless camping petition asks for donations to continue fight

The group behind a petition drive to bring Austin’s homeless camping ban before voters in November is asking for donations after City Clerk Jannette Goodall ruled Wednesday that Save Austin Now failed to collect enough signatures to earn a place on the ballot. The petition sought to restore a ban on camping in public spaces and overnight panhandling. The Austin City Council last year rescinded that ban.

The decision sparked a political firestorm that pitted city leaders against Gov. Greg Abbott, who waded into the fray by sending state resources to Austin to conduct cleanups and established a camp site on state-owned land as an alternative for those with nowhere else to go. Save Austin Now, which opposed the rule change, announced plans for a formal petition initiative in February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began in Austin. After five months of collecting signatures, Goodall certified about 19,122 of the more than 24,000 collected. The effort needed 20,000 to get on the ballot. “We do not believe there is any chance whatsoever that we submitted fewer than 20,000 petitions signed by registered voters in the city of Austin,” Matt Mackowiak Travis County Republican Party chairman and co-founder of Save Austin Now, wrote in a Facebook post. “After throwing out hundreds of signed petitions, they are now claiming that a 25% sample found 18.9% invalidity. We believe this is impossible since roughly 75% of our signed petitions came in the mail.”

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Austin American-Statesman - August 6, 2020

Austin-based Yeti blows past Wall Street expectations

Strong drinkware and cooler sales amid the coronavirus pandemic gave Yeti Holdings a big boost in the second quarter. The Austin-based maker of high-end outdoor and recreational products on Thursday reported earnings that blew away Wall Street expectations.

Yeti reported a profit of $33.5 million for the quarter that ended June 27. On a per-share basis the company posted a profit of 38 cents. Adjusted for one-time gains and costs, earnings came to 41 cents per share, according to the company. The results exceeded analysts’ expectations. The average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 15 cents per share. Revenue increased 7% to $246.9 million, compared to $231.7 million during the same period last year. Those results also surpassed Street forecasts, as analysts had expected $190.9 million in revenue. “Whether setting up in the backyard or chasing new adventures in the outdoors, Yeti remains the brand of choice for active outdoor pursuits,” said Matt Reintjes, Yeti’s CEO. “We delivered a strong overall second quarter performance in the face of significant market disruption.”

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Houston Chronicle - August 6, 2020

Next stretch of I-45 rebuild in Galveston will cost $225 million, make freeway 8 lanes

The long-running joke that TxDOT never stopped building Interstate 45 will live on a few more years as state officials this week issued construction contracts to widen the freeway toward Galveston Island. Wednesday in Austin, Texas Department of Transportation officials opened bids to widen the freeway north and south of the Texas City Wye, in La Marque. Houston-based Williams Brothers Construction was the apparent low bidder at $225.8 million. Williams Brothers also is the contractor on nearly $400 million worth of construction north of the Texas City Wye, where crews are rebuilding the freeway and widening it to four main lanes and two frontage road lanes in each direction.

When widened all the way to 61st Street in Galveston, the freeway rebuild and expansion south from Houston will cost TxDOT more than $900 million. The next phases will put most of the freeway in Galveston County into a work zone, likely to last for five or six years. Officials are working to make sure all that construction does not complicate commuters and beach-goers more than required, TxDOT spokesman Danny Perez said. “We always work to not have folks driving into multiple closures,” Perez said. Though drivers may want a break from work zones that have dotted I-45 from the Sam Houston Tollway to Galveston for roughly a decade, Perez said officials believe pressing ahead is needed to get to work completed rather than waiting for one project to finish before starting another. “Staggering the projects is not a good way to move forward,” he said. “It may sound like a good idea but we stand the chance of losing funds if we don’t proceed.”

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Houston Chronicle - August 5, 2020

Latino voters in Texas ‘much more’ motivated to vote in 2020, poll finds

Latinos in Texas say they are much more motivated to vote this November than they were in 2016, with gun safety being a big factor after the shooting in El Paso a year ago, according to a new poll. The survey of 800 Latinos who are registered to vote found that 57 percent are “much more” motivated to vote in November, with 74 percent saying they are “almost certain” to vote in the presidential race and even more — roughly 80 percent — saying they are “almost certain” to vote in the U.S. Senate and congressional races.

The poll, shared exclusively with Hearst Newspapers, was conducted by the gun safety group Giffords — one of a handful of national advocacy groups that have vowed to make Texas their big target in November — and the Latino Victory Project, a progressive group that seeks to grow Latino political power. The survey carries a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. The poll is likely welcome news for Democrats who have long hoped they will be carried to victory statewide by a wave of Latino voters — who make up 30 percent of eligible voters in the state, according to the Pew Research Center. But Latino turnout has lagged, with just 28 percent voting in the 2018 midterms, the lowest of any racial or ethnic group tracked by U.S. Census data. The poll indicates gun safety could be a motivating factor this time around. The vast majority of those surveyed supported stricter gun laws and most said candidates’ views on gun laws are more important now than in 2016. More than 80 percent voiced support for universal background checks and red flag policies that temporarily remove guns from those who pose an immediate danger to themselves or others. Nearly three quarters of the respondents support a ban on assault weapons.

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Houston Chronicle - August 7, 2020

The man behind the mask rule: Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert catches COVID, and criticism

When U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert tested positive for the coronavirus July 29, many of his colleagues in Congress were up in arms after spending weeks on Capitol Hill with the East Texas Republican who hardly ever seemed to wear a mask. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a new rule requiring all lawmakers and staffs to wear masks — the second House rule aimed directly at Gohmert in as many years. But in his hometown of Tyler, people understood where Gohmert was coming from as he explained that “in the last week or two I have worn a mask more than I have in the last four months” and wondered whether fidgeting with it might have led to his infection.

“I don’t know about everybody, but when I have a mask on I’m moving it to make it comfortable, and I can’t help but wonder if that put some germs in the mask,” he said in a video posted online. “Keep your hands off your mask? Anyway, who knows?” It was a statement that drew even more groans and outrage — including from Democrats who called him selfish, irresponsible and more. Back in Texas, the distaste that some in the Swamp have for Gohmert has always been a part of his appeal. The Republican lawmaker wears it with pride, once joking that the ribs he’s been known to barbecue on his office balcony are “probably the only time here on Capitol Hill when I actually leave a good taste in people’s mouths instead of a bitter taste.” Gohmert, a former state appeals court judge, has been in Congress since 2005 with the same sort of populist wild-card appeal as President Donald Trump, only minus the billions in personal wealth. He sleeps in his office and his supporters are glad to see him ranking among the poorest members of the House, which they see as proof he hasn’t been bought off during his 15-year tenure.

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Houston Chronicle - August 7, 2020

Houston teen Steven Garza at the center of Sundance’s hit documentary ‘Boys State’

What would the world look like if it were run by teenagers? Maybe not all that different from the one we’re all living in right now, with those in charge pandering and plotting for power — if the documentary “Boys State,” streaming on Apple TV+ starting Aug. 14, is any indication. Filmed in Austin in 2018 during the weeklong, American Legion-sponsored Boys State event organized to promote leadership skills among young Texans, the movie chronicles how the 1,200 high school juniors came together to form a society, electing heads of parties and a governor, and even staffing their own media outlet.

There are Boys State — and Girls State — “governments” all across the country (as well as national Boys Nation and Girls Nation gatherings) and a roster of famous former “citizens” that includes Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Jane Pauley, Michael Jordan, Cory Booker, Roger Ailes, Rush Limbaugh, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. There are at least a couple of participants who went on to become actual governors — Ann Richards in Texas and Charlie Crist in Florida. And now you can add Houston’s Steven Garza to the list. Along with San Antonio’s Ben Feinstein, Chicago via Pflugerville’s René Otero and Austin’s Robert MacDougal, he’s one of the breakout stars of Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s “Boys State,” the film that generated enough buzz at the Sundance Film Festival in January to win a grand-jury prize and a reported $12 million deal with Apple and hot indie distributor A24.

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Dallas Morning News - August 7, 2020

Dallas County reports lowest daily number of coronavirus cases since June 1, at 230; 10 deaths also added

Dallas County announced 230 new coronavirus cases Thursday, its lowest daily number since June 1. Ten new deaths also were announced. County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement that the low number of cases are “strong evidence” that universal masking is working but that now is not the time to let up on wearing masks and following other safety protocols. He also noted that for the second straight day a man in his 40s who had no underlying health conditions was among those who died.

“COVID-19 is a very dangerous disease for everyone, and that’s why wearing a mask, maintaining a six-foot distance, regular hygiene and avoiding unnecessary trips is absolutely essential,” Jenkins said. In addition to the Irving man in his 40s, three other victims were Dallas residents — a man in his 50s, a woman in her 60s and a man in his 60s who lived in a long-term care facility. The remaining deaths are a Lancaster woman in her 60s; an Irving woman in her 60s; two Mesquite men in their 70s; and two Garland residents — a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s. The county’s death toll is now 736. The county has recorded 52,869 confirmed coronavirus cases, or 20.1 for every 1,000 residents. The county does not report recoveries.

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Dallas Morning News - August 6, 2020

U.S. wants to seize North Dallas office campus it says was bought to launder Ukrainian money

The U.S. Justice Department is trying to seize a North Dallas property with a rich history, alleging it was bought to launder money embezzled from a Ukrainian bank. The government filed civil forfeiture complaints Thursday against investors that own the Dallas office building and a Louisville high-rise. It said the two buildings are worth a combined $70 million. The Dallas property is the former Electronic Data Systems headquarters campus on Forest Lane west of U.S. Highway 75. The 20-acre office campus at 7505 Forest Lane has been empty for more than four years since CompuCom Systems Inc. moved its offices out of 8-story tower.

The building has been owned since 2010 by a Miami-based investor, OPTIMA 7171 LLC, tax records show. In its legal action, the Justice Department claims the North Dallas building and the Kentucky office tower were purchased “using funds misappropriated from PrivatBank in Ukraine [and] are subject to forfeiture based on violations of federal money laundering statutes.” The government complaint states that the owners of PrivatBank of Ukraine -- oligarchs Ihor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Boholiubov -- embezzled and defrauded the bank of billions of dollars. The owners obtained fraudulent loans and lines of credit and laundered money through U.S. real estate purchases, according to the legal filing. The investors “operating out of offices in Miami, created a web of entities, usually under some variation of the name ’Optima,’ to further launder the misappropriated funds and invest them,” according to the government complaint. “They purchased hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate and businesses across the country, including the properties subject to forfeiture: the Louisville office tower known as PNC Plaza, and the Dallas office park known as the former CompuCom Headquarters.”

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Dallas Morning News - August 6, 2020

Texas businesses back Cornyn’s proposed COVID-19 liability shield; critics call idea ‘mean-spirited’

Ian MacLean says he’s taken just about every precaution he can imagine at Highland Landscaping in Southlake to help prevent his 40-odd employees and countless customers from contracting the novel coronavirus in the course of business. The office is stocked with personal protective equipment. Work stations have been spaced out amid air diffusers. Field workers must wear masks unless they can keep proper distance. Commonly touched surfaces are regularly cleaned, as are company trucks. Employees are checked for fever. Sales staff are barred from conducting meetings inside clients’ homes.

But “even if we are doing everything that we can for our team and our customers, we can’t always protect them from each other or themselves,” he said. MacLean, as a result, is among the many business owners in Texas and beyond who are pushing Congress to bolster liability protections to buffer their firms from coronavirus-related lawsuits, so long as they don’t wantonly disregard safety guidelines. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican facing a tough reelection, has taken up the cause, saying it’s necessary to allay businesses’ fears as they operate amid the pandemic. No one disputes the challenges that many businesses are facing in the coronavirus era, particularly as the public health crisis has also wrought economic devastation on a historic scale. But a sharp divide has emerged over whether a liability shield is necessary or appropriate.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 6, 2020

Tarrant County COVID hospitalizations lowest in month; 464 cases, 7 deaths reported

Tarrant County reported 464 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths on Thursday. The latest COVID-19 deaths included three residents each in Fort Worth and Mansfield and one in Keller. Each had underlying health conditions, according to officials.

The ages included women in their 60s and 80s and a man in his 80s from Mansfield, a man in his 60s and women in their 70s and 80s from Fort Worth, and a Keller woman in her 70s. Tarrant County has confirmed a total of 32,299 COVID-19 cases, including 411 deaths and an estimated 19,478 recoveries. COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to drop in the county. As of Tuesday, 10% of all hospital beds in the county were occupied by confirmed COVID-19 patients and 14% of all occupied hospital beds were used by COVID-19 patients. Both are the lowest rates since July 8.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - August 5, 2020

Del Mar College board regent Gabe Rivas III dies after battle with COVID-19

Del Mar College board regent Gabe Rivas III died Wednesday evening after a weeks-long battle with COVID-19. Rivas, 66, had been a first vice chair regent for the community college since 2007. His family confirmed his death Wednesday in a Facebook post. "This has to be the hardest post we have ever had to make, but our brother Gabe Rivas III just passed a few minutes ago due to COVID-19," his brother Joseph Rivas said. "He was fighting so hard to stay alive but could not win this battle."

Tuesday, The Nueces County Democratic Party stated in a Facebook post the regent was "fighting for his life" in ICU on a ventilator after contracting the virus. The post states Rivas was admitted into a local hospital on July 16 after testing positive for COVID-19 a week earlier. Rivas' condition began to improve until Sunday, but he remained in critical condition in an ICU until his death, the post said.

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Texas Tribune - August 7, 2020

An abrupt change to the census deadline shortened the response period by a month, increasing fears of an undercount in Texas

For months, as Texans have been asked to stay home to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus, Jennifer Edwards has been doing the rounds at gas stations in a trio of counties near the Texas-Louisiana border. Volunteering as a census community organizer, the Tarleton State University professor reasoned that gas stations, like grocery stores, would continue to see foot traffic during the pandemic. Setting up a booth just outside the front doors offered her face time with essential workers to deliver an essential message — please fill out the census.

“When we’re meeting with people in front of the tractor supply or the dollar store or the gas station … the communication is focused on ‘Well when does it end, what’s the deadline?’” said Edwards, who had been sharing the pandemic-induced October deadline for counting every person living in the U.S. for the once-a-decade census. But on Monday evening, the U.S. Census Bureau upended the timeline Edwards and hundreds of other organizers, volunteers and local officials had been working under. After previously stating the census would run through Oct. 31, the bureau announced it was cutting the count short by a month, moving up the deadline for responding to Sept. 30. The October cutoff had offered organizers crucial overtime for the count after the coronavirus pandemic derailed a ground game for canvassing and outreach efforts that in some regions of the state had been in the works for years. Now, the earlier deadline is heightening risks that Texas will be undercounted and that some Texans, particularly those who are low-income or Hispanic, will be missed in the count as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage their communities.

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Texas Lawyer - August 6, 2020

No jury trials in Texas until October under new emergency order

The date jury trials can resume statewide was pushed back again to Oct. 1 in a new Texas Supreme Court emergency order. The high court initially banned jury trials across Texas—except for a limited number of approved experimental trials—until Aug. 1, but had already pushed back that date to Sept. 1. This 22nd emergency order extends the date for one more month. The few jury trials that are still happening in Texas are very controlled. Judges get permission from regional presiding judges and the Texas Office of Court Administration.

Their plans must detail how they’ll conduct the proceedings while keeping everyone safe. Extreme planning goes into them. There have already been some experimental jury trials that tested out how to keep people safe from coronavirus infection while still having court in-person. Three rural counties conducted court in their local high schools’ auditoriums so that potential jurors could space out and socially distance themselves. One judge only used the auditorium for voir dire, and returned to his courtroom—with the jury in the gallery and the rest of the courtroom rearranged to face them. Another judge did the entire trial in the auditorium, because he had so many spectators that they wouldn’t have been able to spread out enough back in the courthouse.

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KUT - August 5, 2020

Health care jobs at risk in Texas as uninsured rate soars

Texas is at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of health care-related jobs if unemployment remains high and the state’s uninsured rate continues to climb. According to a new study from the nonpartisan group Families USA, Texas is slated to lose more health jobs than any other state in the country. The group recently estimated about 659,000 Texas adults under 65 became uninsured this past spring after losing jobs because of the pandemic and the insurance that came with those jobs.

Texas is one of the few states that have not expanded Medicaid to more low-income adults, which means many of those Texans don’t have options to get health care coverage elsewhere. The growing uninsured rate means massive losses of revenue for hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other health care-related employers, according to this latest report. If unaddressed, the study found Texas could lose up to 362,000 health care jobs. Health care advocacy groups are urging state officials to expand health care coverage in Texas. Katie Mitten, a health policy associate at Texans Care for Children, said in a statement that tackling the state’s uninsured is key to the state’s economic recovery. “Texas already had the worst uninsured rate in the nation before the pandemic hit, and now it’s getting even worse,” she said. “To make sure Texas is supporting infants and toddlers during the critical early years of brain development, state leaders should particularly focus on making sure that moms and kids have access to health insurance.”

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San Antonio Current - August 6, 2020

So far this week, Ted Cruz has insulted a fellow senator, Oprah and people who don't like trucks

Even for famously acerbic Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, this has been a banner week for bluster. On Tuesday, the Republican lawmaker staged a committee hearing on conservative bogeyman Antifa that got so combative one of his Senate colleagues walked out. And, as if that wasn't enough, he also found time to get worked up over 'Muricans' right to drive-ass giant pickup trucks and — in what appears to be his latest attempt to provoke a celebrity Twitter feud — accused Oprah Winfrey of spewing "racist BS." Let's review.

The Hearing: During a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Cruz called Tuesday to purportedly throw back the curtain on Antifa, Cruz accused Democrats of "facilitating" street violence that occurred in some U.S. cities during police brutality protests. After understandable pushback from the Dems on that assertion, Cruz badgered Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, for roughly ten minutes, claiming she was afraid to denounce violent protesters. Finally, she left the hearing, calling out what may rank as one of the great understatements of the year: "Sometimes I don't think you listen."

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D Magazine - August 6, 2020

What the Census deadline change could mean for Dallas

the Trump administration decided to end the 2020 United States census four weeks sooner than expected, leaving only six weeks to get the Constitutionally mandated, once-a-decade headcount right. Moving up the deadline, however, basically ensures that the Census Bureau won’t get the count right, and Dallas may stand to be disproportionately affected by the move. For one, the region is home to the fourth largest population of undocumented immigrants in the nation, and the deadline change will only make it more difficult to track down a population already fearful of being noticed. Secondly, communities of color tend to be undercounted during censuses, and Dallas is a minority-majority city. A severe under count could affect Dallas in many ways. Here’s one: according to a report in the Dallas Observer, a mere 1 percent undercount could cause Dallas County to lose around $40 million a year in funding.

Undercounting the undocumented population could be particularly devastating. Undocumented immigrants still use area hospitals and send their children to local schools, two of the sectors that could lose out on potential funding if the census numbers come in short of reality. “We don’t have the capacity to provide for the population that we have now,” state Rep. Carl Sherman told the Observer. “We know we’re growing, and this will only create more of a burden on a system that needs expansion.” A number of activists and political observers quoted in the Observer piece believe that’s precisely the point: “We feel like this is part of the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to discount immigrants in America and to deprive them of their right to political power and their fair share of federal funding,” said Sarah Brannon, the managing attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.

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KHOU - August 6, 2020

Mom of murdered pregnant woman wants bail reform law passed

One year ago, police said a woman who was four months pregnant was killed by her husband. At the time, the accused killer was out of jail on multiple bonds. Now, the family of Caitlynne Guajardo said they want Caitlynne's Law passed to make sure it doesn't happen again. “The system absolutely failed my daughter," said Melanie Infinger, Caitlynne's mother. Infinger didn’t just lose a daughter, she also lost a grandchild.

“Actually, the day before this (Caitlynne's death) happened, I was planning a wonderful gender reveal, we were so excited," Infinger said. Investigators said Guajardo and her baby were murdered by Alex Guajardo at their Pasadena apartment in August 2019. Alex Guajardo was out of jail on multiple PR bonds, meaning he didn’t have to pay. On the last charge for assaulting Caitlynne, he made bond just days before he’s accused of stabbing her to death. A year after her daughter's murder, Infinger is focusing her efforts on advocating for Caitlynne’s Law.

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USA Today - August 6, 2020

Texas sees hotter-than-normal year so far

Temperatures soared higher than normal across much of the nation in June and through the first six months of 2020, putting the country on track for what could be another one of its warmest years on record.

Every one of the 48 contiguous states saw above-normal average temperatures during the first half of the year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in its most recent update on climate conditions in the United States and around the world. The average temperature for the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, from January through June was 50 degrees, 2.4 degrees above normal. It was the eighth-warmest January-to-June period on record. In Texas, the year-to-date average daily temperature on June 30 was 63.9 degrees, 2.6 degrees warmer than normal. The agency expects that trend to continue.

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City Stories

KERA - August 6, 2020

Dallas nonprofit hosts 'Census Walks' in undercounted Latino communities

About 20 volunteers with the Latino nonprofit The Concilio spent Wednesday evening knocking on doors asking people to fill out the 2020 U.S. Census. When the deadline to fill out the census was cut short from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30, The Concilio decided to double-down on its census outreach. Their first stop was Bachman Lake, one of the city's most undercounted communities.

"Ahorita es muy difícil con el coronavirus y a veces decimos no tenemos tiempo para hacer el censo pero también es importante darnos el tiempo de hacernos contar," said Susana García, a volunteer with The Concilio. Garcia, from Guanajuato, Mexico, but now a resident of Dallas, says it's gotten harder to encourage people to fill out the census during the pandemic, but she's still out here telling people they need to be counted. The community of Bachman Lake is majority Latino, essential workers, and has low resources, Garcia said. She's lived there for 13 years. She said she remembered the first time she filled out the census. "Si no te cuentas no hay fondos para las escuelas, los hospitales. Y me quede pensando aunque soy hispana, yo necesito escuela y necesito hospitales," Garcia said. "If you don't fill out the census there are no funds for the schools and hospitals. I kept thinking even though I'm Hispanic, I need a school and I need hospitals."

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - August 5, 2020

Flour Bluff ISD superintendent dies after battle with COVID-19

Flour Bluff ISD announced Wednesday morning its superintendent has died. "We are heartbroken and grief stricken over the sudden loss of our fearless leader," a post on the district's Facebook page reads. "Dr. Freeman had been battling health issues over the past few months." David Freeman was named superintendent in July 2019. He was 46.

Freeman's sister said on social media he was in intensive care with COVID-19. Freeman was a husband and father to three children -- two girls and a boy. The district asked his family be given privacy, the post reads. Freeman served as superintendent of London ISD for five years before he joined Flour Bluff ISD. He also served as associate superintendent and chief academic officer in his hometown of Wichita Falls, Corpus Christi American Federation of Teachers said in a Facebook post.

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Dallas Morning News - August 6, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Murders in Dallas on pace to match a terrible 2019, and we need to understand why

At this time last year, the Dallas Police Department was reeling from an unsettling spike of 40 murders in May. By summer, police had re-doubled their presence in crime hot spots and controversially deployed state troopers to tamp down crime. The murder rate returned to more normal levels in the second half of the year. Nonetheless, the city recorded 211 in 2019, about a 27% increase, the most in more than a decade. This year, despite far less public outcry over homicide rates, the count stands at 131, on pace to eclipse 200 again. If that happens, 2019 and 2020 would be the first back-to-back years of more than 200 homicides since the city posted back-to-back years of 200-plus murders in 2000 and 2001, and again in 2004 and 2005.

The trend is disturbing given the citywide and department-wide emphasis on preventing a replay of 2019, including the implementation of a comprehensive strategy to reduce violent crime. Statistically, Dallas could finish this year with a slight drop or slight increase in slayings. Whatever the final tally, we have already reached — yet again — an unacceptable level of killings in this city, something that we must not permit to become a new normal for Dallas. Asked to comment on the trend, Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall said Tuesday that the number of murders and aggravated assaults are “unacceptable,” and added that in “no way will I make an excuse for crime.” She cited gains in reducing crime such as robbery, which exceeded her reduction targets, and she emphasized that the department will continue to target crime hot spots and employ a data and intelligence-driven approach to fighting crime. Hall also said murders and aggravated assaults are difficult policing challenges, since many of these crimes stem from unpredictable arguments and conflicts among acquaintances that erupt into someone losing a life, often to gunfire.

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National Stories

Forbes - August 7, 2020

Kanye West indicates his spoiler campaign is meant to hurt Biden

Amid various reports that Republican and Trump-affiliated political operatives are trying to get Kanye West onto various state ballots for November’s presidential election, the billionaire rap superstar indicated, in an interview by text today, that he was in fact running to siphon votes from the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. Asked about that directly, West said that rather than running for president, he was “walking,” quickly adding that he was “walking . . . to win.” When it was pointed out that he actually can’t win in 2020—that he won’t be on enough ballots to yield 270 electoral votes, and that a write-in campaign isn’t feasible—and thus was serving as a spoiler, West replied: “I’m not going to argue with you. Jesus is King.”

West rebuffed various attempts to clarify who was driving his ballot access or strategy and whether it’s being coordinated by or with Republican-affiliated officials. He does, however, appear to have a continuing relationship with the Trump White House. West says that he’s “designing a school within the next month” and that “I’m meeting with Betsy DeVos about the post-Covid curriculum.” (The Secretary of Education’s press office hadn’t responded to a request for comment by the time we published.) “I like Kanye very much,” President Trump told reporters at the White House yesterday. “No, I have nothing to do with him getting on the ballot. We'll have to see what happens.” West’s intentions have come under increased scrutiny this week, following reports by CNN, New York, the New York Times and others, about efforts by GOP political operatives to get him onto several ballots, including states like Wisconsin that could be pivotal in deciding the next president. West has been a vocal Trump supporter, including visiting the president in the Oval Office. Texts from West to me earlier this summer repeatedly ended with the sign-off “Trump 2020,” and a fist raised high. West’s recent actions have also drawn public focus, given his bipolar disorder—and many, including his wife, Kim Kardashian-West, have expressed concern about his mental health. West did not respond when asked whether he feels he’s being used. When I pointed out to West that the slapdash operation to get him on the ballot, which includes one operative previously arrested for voter fraud and multiple West “electors” from the same address, didn’t feel like a Kanye West production, West replied that it was a “God production.”

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Associated Press - August 6, 2020

DeWine tests negative after positive test before Trump visit

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday after testing positive earlier in the day before he was to meet with President Donald Trump, according to a statement from his office. His wife, Fran DeWine, also tested negative, as did staff members. They underwent a different type of test in Columbus; one considered to be more accurate than the rapid-result test which showed DeWine to be positive for COVID-19 just ahead of a planned meeting with Trump in Cleveland.

The conflicting results underscore the problems with both kinds of tests and are bound to spur more questions about them. Many people in the U.S. can’t get lab results on the more accurate version for weeks, rather than the few hours it took the governor to find out. The governor and first lady plan to undergo another test Saturday, according to the statement. DeWine, an early advocate among Republicans of wearing masks and other pandemic precautions, said he took a test arranged by the White House in Cleveland as part of standard protocol before he was to meet Trump at an airport. He had planned to join the president on a visit to the Whirlpool Corp. plant in northwest Ohio. Instead, he received the news he tested positive, called his wife, and returned to central Ohio where he took the other test that showed him to be negative.

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Washington Post - August 7, 2020

Federal judiciary is overcharging for access to public records online, court says

The federal judiciary is overcharging for public access to online court records, an appeals court ruled Thursday in a decision that could result in lower fees to search and download case documents. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said affordable access to public records is critical for oversight and transparency in the nation’s court system. “If large swaths of the public cannot afford the fees required to access court records, it will diminish the public’s ability ‘to participate in and serve as a check upon the judicial process — an essential component in our structure of self-government,’?” wrote Judge Todd M. Hughes, who was joined by Judges Alan D. Lourie and Raymond C. Clevenger III.

The ruling does not eliminate the paywall for the service known as PACER, an acronym for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. But the decision upholds a District Court finding that the current 10 cents per page charge is “higher than necessary to operate” the system. The court limited fees to the amount needed to cover the cost of providing access to docket information online. Attorney Deepak Gupta, who argued against the paywall, said high fees are a “tremendous barrier to access to the courts” for academic researchers, journalists and ordinary citizens tracking the work of the court system. The ruling, he said, means fees will have to be reduced and unlawful fees refunded to the people who paid. “The next step should be to make access to these records completely free,” Gupta said. The court said Thursday that such calls for free access are “better directed to Congress.” The ruling sends the case back to the District Court in Washington. A spokesman for the judiciary’s Administrative Office of the Courts declined to comment on the ruling. The Justice Department can ask for rehearing or seek review by the Supreme Court.

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The Hill - August 6, 2020

Birx warns of uptick in coronavirus cases in 9 cities

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx is warning of an uptick in coronavirus cases in nine U.S. cities. “Many of the Sun Belt states have made substantial progress with their mitigation efforts,” Birx told state and local officials on Wednesday, according to a copy of the call obtained the Center for Public Integrity, referring to a slew of Southern states that experienced surges earlier this summer.

But Birx said that the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive is increasing in nine U.S. cities as well as California's Central Valley. "We are concerned that both Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a very high level. Kansas City, Portland, Omaha, of course what we talked about in the Central Valley,” Birx said. "We are seeing a slow uptick in test positivity in cases in places like Chicago, Boston and Detroit and D.C.” Birx also said that Nebraska and California have moved into the red category, with more than 10 percent of tests coming back positive. And she noted that while Los Angeles saw improvements, there was significant movement of the virus up California's Central Valley. Birx noted that the virus has entered a new phase, “in that it's in both rural and urban areas."

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Newsclips - August 6, 2020

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - August 5, 2020

State adds 235 more to the Texas coronavirus death toll

State health officials reported 235 additional deaths attributed to the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the pandemic death toll in Texas to 7,497. Officials also announced 8,706 new known cases, bringing the current statewide tally to 459,887 cases. Only two other states — California and Florida — have reported more cases.

The number of coronavirus patients in Texas hospitals was reported Wednesday as 8,455, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That figure is part of a continuing downward trend since mid-July, when more than 10,000 people were hospitalized in Texas with COVID-19. But the current seven-day rolling rate of Texans testing positive for the virus among those tested is 15.58%, the highest since July 17 and part of a continuing trend upwards since July 31, when the positivity rate hovered at 12% . Gov. Greg Abbott, who issued a statewide mask mandate in early July amid a rapid rise in cases and hospitalizations, has said anything over 10% is cause for concern.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 5, 2020

Petition to put Austin’s homeless camping ban on ballot fails, city clerk says

Austin City Clerk Jannette Goodall issued a ruling Wednesday that a petition by a local group to bring Austin’s homeless camping ban to a public vote in November failed to include enough signatures to earn a place on the ballot. Goodall wrote in her decision that her office initially received a petition from Save Austin Now, which is headed by Travis County Republican Party Chairman Matt Mackowiak, with 11,198 pages containing 24,598 signatures.

After the petition was handed in on deadline day, 60 people contacted the clerk to have their names withdrawn, according to Goodall. Save Austin Now also submitted 85 signatures from people who had signed who asked to be withdrawn. Of those 145 signatures, the clerk located 96 and removed them. Discrepancies over language, however, led to 397 more signatures being thrown out, leaving 24,201 — still above the city’s threshold of 20,000 signatures or 5% of the city’s qualified voters. “Upon review of the petition, it was discovered that the petition contained two versions of the language being proposed in the ordinance,” Goodall said. “A small number of pages had different wording than the main petition, and therefore, 93 pages with alternate wording and containing 397 signatures were removed from the submitted pages and not included in the number of submitted signatures, the random sample, nor verified.”

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NBC News - August 5, 2020

Republicans in at least four states are helping Kanye West gain ballot access

Republicans in at least four states, including a crucial swing state, appear to be helping music superstar Kanye West gain ballot access for November's election, actions that raise new questions about the hip-hop star's presidential bid. West's bid has been marred by missed deadlines and faulty filings that have frustrated his efforts to make the ballot in enough states to actually win the presidential election. But people connected to Republican politics have worked to get him on the ballot in states like Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois. And his fledgling campaign did successfully submit paperwork Tuesday aimed at getting on the ballot in Wisconsin, a pivotal battleground state President Donald Trump won by about 23,000 votes in 2016, seemingly with Republican help.

While West won't officially secure ballot access until the state's Election Commission can validate his signatures, the specter of West appearing on a ballot in such a key state has upped the stakes for his quixotic campaign. "It's hard not to feel like Republican operatives are using a mentally ill, very famous rapper who is not going to be president because they think for some reason that it's going to take Black votes away from Joe Biden," said Jesse Lehrich, a Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016. "To the extent that people are using him for their own political gain, it's pretty gross and I hope he gets whatever help he needs." Last month, West sent a series of tweets that included a claim his family was trying to "lock me up." His wife, Kim Kardashian West, said last month in an Instagram post that West has bipolar disorder and said that "his words sometimes do not align with his intentions." West’s recent political history had, up until his presidential bid, been defined by his relationship with Trump. He heaped praise on Trump during a 2018 Oval Office visit where he donned a “Make America Great Again” hat, and his wife has repeatedly lobbied the administration on criminal justice reform, successfully pushing for Trump to commute the sentence of a woman jailed on nonviolent drug charges.

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Click2Houston - August 5, 2020

More than 12,000 Texans, lawmakers push for ban on visitation at nursing homes to be lifted

As some parts of the state have reopened, like stores, restaurants and bars, an entire part of Texas has remained locked down. We’re not talking about prisons. For nearly five months, nursing homes have been restricting visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic and the high risk the virus poses to residents. But family members have had enough. Thousands of people with loved ones in nursing homes across the state have joined a movement to ease visitation restrictions. Kathy Harper, a Katy resident, can’t stop thinking about her 82-year old mother who is in a nursing home. Older people, like Harper’s mother, need close, personal contact with their families to survive, Harper said.

“So they’re dying in there because they are dying of loneliness,” said Harper. “They’re absolutely dying of loneliness and nobody should have to go through that,” she added. For nearly five months, tens of thousands of families have been dealing with the pain of not being able to touch or hug or even speak directly to their loved ones in nursing homes. They are separated by stringent rules handed down by Texas governor Greg Abbott. Families like Harper's are forced to stand outside and peer through windows, their voices crackling over a cellphone. Channel 2 Investigates tagged-along for a window visit between Harper and her mother. “What would you like to see change during this mom?” asked Harper. “I’d like it if we might have more freedom to meet with our families,” Gwynne, Harper’s mother, replied, For Harper and her mother, these "no contact" visits have begun to take their toll. "My biggest fear is that mom's just going to give up," said Harper. For Harper, the worst part has been watching the doctors and support staff having contact with her mom, but she can’t. “Why is he allowed to and I‘m not?” said Harper. “That’s my mother, that’s my mother and I should have the right.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 6, 2020

In unusual closed-door election, 150 Texas GOP officials will choose likely member of Congress

About 150 local Republican officials in Northeast Texas will gather Saturday to select the likely replacement in Congress for Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe in an election closed to the public. The voters, made up of GOP county and precinct chairs who live in Texas' 4th Congressional District, will have a lot of choices. More than 20 candidates have announced their intention to run for the seat. The district is one of the most Republican in Texas, so the candidate chosen to face a Democratic opponent in November likely will be the next Congress member.

"We're hoping that whoever it is will have about the same values as John Ratcliffe had," said Donnie Wisenbaker, chair of the Hopkins County Republican Party who will chair Saturday's election. "He was very conservative and for small government. We just want a good conservative with the conservative values that we hold pretty dearly." Candidates are vying to represent a vast expanse of the Northeast corner of Texas, from West of Texarkana to the eastern edge of Dallas' suburbs. Population centers are located along Interstate 30, which cuts diagonally through the district. The surrounding areas are rural, leaving candidates to sell themselves as the person best suited to represent suburbanites, residents of the many small towns in the district and those who live in the countryside. The broad field of candidates has several household names like Ratcliffe's former district chief of staff Jason Ross and local leaders like Atlanta Mayor Travis Ransom and Rockwall city councilman Trace Johannesen. Outsiders are also making strong pushes for the seat, including state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, and Floyd McLendon, a former Navy SEAL who lost a March primary in Texas' 32nd Congressional District in Dallas. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has endorsed Fallon.

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Dallas Morning News - August 5, 2020

COVID-19 has infected about 1 in 50 Dallas County residents as 508 new cases are reported Wednesday

About one in 50 Dallas County residents have now been diagnosed with COVID-19, after the County reported 508 new coronavirus cases and four deaths Wednesday. A Dallas man in his 40s who did not have underlying health conditions was among the dead, County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement. “This is a somber reminder that although COVID-19 statistically has a worse course on high-risk individuals, it can cause serious damage and even death to otherwise healthy individuals,” Jenkins said.

The other three victims are another Dallas man in his 40s, a Dallas woman in her 60s and an Irving man in his 90s who was resident of a long-term care facility. They had underlying health conditions. Fewer deaths were reported Wednesday after a near-record of 31 deaths announced Tuesday. The most reported in one day is 36. The county has now reported 726 deaths and 52,639 cases. That’s about 1 in every 50 residents. The county does not report recoveries.

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Dallas Morning News - August 5, 2020

Biden says border wall construction will stop if he’s elected president

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden doesn’t want to tear down the wall, but he does want to cease all construction of fencing along the border. Biden took direct aim at President Donald J.Trump’s signature promise to wall off the U.S. from Mexico in a wide ranging interview with journalists representing the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists, including The Dallas Morning News. Biden said he wouldn’t dismantle the existing fence along the border, but will stop future construction and pursue a high-tech ‘virtual wall’ to ensure border security.

“There will not be another foot of wall construction in my administration,” Biden said. “I’m going to make sure that we have border protection, but it’s going to be based on making sure that we use high-tech capacity to deal with it. And at the ports of entry — that’s where all the bad stuff is happening.” The full interview with the former vice president, which includes a number of other topics, is set to be released Thursday during the NABJ-NAHJ August 5-6 joint virtual convention. The journalists approached both Biden and Trump for interviews but only Biden accepted the invitation. During the nearly hour-long interview, Biden said he would also end land confiscations for the wall along the border, taking a more blunt position than when President Barack Obama did when he took office after President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act in 2006. “End. Stop. Done. Over. Not going to do it. Withdraw the lawsuits. We’re out. We’re not going to confiscate the land,” Biden said.

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Dallas Morning News - August 5, 2020

Echoing Trump, Ted Cruz falsely claims ‘the Democrats are arguing for abolishing the police'

Sen. Ted Cruz falsely claimed Wednesday that the Democratic Party supports “abolishing the police.” President Donald Trump trotted out the same unsubstantiated allegation three weeks ago, and Cruz’s broadside dovetails with his effort this week to portray Democrats as fellow travelers of “antifa,” a loose affiliation of anarchists the White House blames for clashes at protests against police brutality. “Two months ago if I told you the Democrats are arguing for abolishing the police you would have said, come on Ted that that’s a bit nuts; no one is going to embrace that. That’s where the angry extreme in the Democratic Party is and it’s driving their agenda,” Cruz said.

Abolishing police is not part of the Democratic Party platform. Trump’s challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, explicitly rejects calls to “defund the police.” Most advocates of “defunding” don’t mean elimination of funding. They mean shifting some funds away from traditional policing into social workers or improving public health and education to reduce poverty and crime. Cruz made his claim Wednesday during a livestreamed interview with Washington Post political reporter Robert Costa. He attributed the policy to Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “We’re seeing a phenomenon where the Democratic Party – they’ve really unleashed the craziest voices in their party. The people who are driving the train – it’s not Joe Biden. Instead the voices that are ascendant are Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and AOC and they’re pushing socialism. They’re embracing radical positions like abolishing the police,” he asserted. The comments came a day after Cruz led a hearing on antifa at which Democrats accused him of echoing scare tactics Trump has used to justify sending troops and federal tactical units into U.S. cities.

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Associated Press - August 6, 2020

Endangered GOP senators, including Cornyn, are driving force for virus deal

A small but singularly influential group is a driving force for an agreement on a stalled coronavirus relief bill: endangered Senate GOP incumbents who need to win this fall if Republicans are going to retain control of the majority. Confronted with a poisonous political environment, vulnerable Senate Republicans are rushing to endorse generous jobless benefits, child care grants and more than $100 billion to help schools reopen. Several of them are refusing to allow the Senate to adjourn until Washington delivers a deal to their desperate constituents.

Sen. Martha McSally, who has fallen behind in polls in Arizona, is breaking with conservatives to endorse a temporary extension of a $600-per-week supplemental benefit. Republicans up for reelection such as John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are demanding results before returning home to campaign. And Sen. Susan Collins is in overdrive, backing help for cash-starved states and local governments — and Maine's shipbuilding industry. The opinions of senators up for reelection are of more consequence to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell than those held by conservatives like Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who are broadcasting their opposition to the emerging legislation as costly and ineffective. As other Republicans gripe that they're going to have to swallow a deal brokered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the vulnerable Republicans are craving just such a bipartisan result. “Maybe eight Republicans who are up in tough states have a bigger interest in getting this COVID-19 bill done," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I think that's accurate." Republican strategists, grappling with a political environment for their party that has worsened over the summer, said it's imperative for GOP lawmakers to be able to head back to their states and districts with a deal in hand to show voters they are taking the pandemic and the economic fallout seriously. “GOP Senate candidates need a deal, a good deal ... so they can get home and campaign on helping small businesses get up and moving again,” said Scott Reed, the chief political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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Associated Press - August 5, 2020

Former Dem donor and developer Ruel Hamilton facing bribery charges put on house arrests

A Dallas real estate developer has been put on house arrest after two federal judges found that he violated conditions of his release by contacting a potential government witness in his pending bribery trial. Ruel Hamilton was recorded in January telling a former employee that she doesn’t have to talk with investigators and that his company would cover the cost of a lawyer for her, according to court records unsealed Tuesday.

Hamilton was charged with two counts of bribery in a corruption probe that has shaken local government in Dallas. He pleaded not guilty and was released ahead of his trial. Prosecutors argued Hamilton was trying keep his former employee quiet despite “carefully framed” statements that she was free to talk to the FBI. In July, a federal judge ruled this was an “egregious” violation and ordered Hamilton jailed, but another judge modified the order to house arrest after Hamilton’s lawyers argued that sending him to jail amid the coronavirus pandemic would put his life at risk. Hamilton’s attorneys declined to comment on the record. They said in court filings that he “erred” in contacting the former employee but that he didn’t know she was on the government’s witness list at the time.

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Associated Press - August 5, 2020

'We are no less American': Deaths pile up on Texas border

When labor pains signaled that Clarissa Muñoz was at last going to be a mom, she jumped in a car and headed two hours down the Texas border into one of the nation’s most dire coronavirus hot spots. She went first to a hospital so desperate for help that nurses recently made 49 phone calls to find a bed 700 miles away to airlift a dying man with the virus. From there, she was taken to a bigger hospital by ambulance. Along the way, she passed a funeral home that typically handles 10 services a month but is up to nine a week. And when she finally arrived to give birth, she was blindsided by another complication: A test revealed that she too was infected. Hours later, Muñoz was granted just a few seconds to lay eyes, but no hands, on her first born, who was quickly whisked away.

On America’s southern doorstep, the Rio Grande Valley, the U.S. failure to contain the pandemic has been laid bare. For nearly a month, this borderland of 2 million people in South Texas pleaded for a field hospital, but not until Tuesday was one ready and accepting patients. In July alone, Hidalgo County reported more than 600 deaths — more than the Houston area, which is five times larger. At DHR Health, one of the largest hospitals on the border, nearly 200 of the 500 beds belong to coronavirus patients isolated in two units. A third unit is in the works. That doesn’t even include the COVID-19 maternity ward, where mothers and newborns are separated immediately. Doctors and nurses rushed Muñoz’s baby out of the delivery room and down a hallway sealed by a zippered tarp to restrict contaminated air. Seven hours later, she still did not know his weight. Across the street, alarms blared constantly in a coronavirus intensive-care unit, summoning nurses to roll patients onto their stomachs to force more air into their lungs. “It’s a really, really ugly feeling,” Muñoz said of watching her son being taken away.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 4, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: What’s worse than COVID-19? Stroke or heart attack. ERs are safe if you have symptoms

Emergency room doctors and first responders across Dallas-Fort Worth have an urgent message for you: If you’re showing signs of a major health crisis, such as heart attack or stroke, go to the hospital or call 911. Don’t worry about catching the coronavirus. Don’t fret that doctors and nurses are already overwhelmed with the pandemic. Don’t wait. Just go. It could be the difference between life and death.

Stories about the steep decline in emergency responses began to emerge not long after stay-at-home orders took hold in March. And while calls for emergency assistance and non-virus ER visits are creeping back toward normal levels, too many people are still delaying needed treatment, at great cost to their health. Emergency responders around the country saw huge increases in the number of cardiac-arrest patients who died on the scene. In July, MedStar found, people with heart attack symptoms were waiting even longer to call for help than in March and April. And many patients refuse transport to a hospital over virus fears. “By time they would call, there’s nothing we could do,”said Matt Zavadsky, a spokesperson for MedStar, which provides emergency response to Fort Worth and more than a dozen other local cities. ER doctors note that hospitals are equipped, and workers are trained, to deal with infectious diseases. Several local physicians who are members of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians told us recently that they know of no one who has caught COVID-19 from a hospital visit.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 5, 2020

A customer complained about a Whataburger employee’s BLM mask. Now she’s out of a job.

Ma’Kiya Congious showed up for her shift Tuesday morning at the Brentwood Stair Whataburger wearing a Black Lives Matter mask. It was the same one she had worn on Friday with no issues, she said. But after a customer complained, according to Congious, management condemned her wearing of the mask, leading her to ask about resigning and management to call the police on her. Congious, 19, was working curbside pickup Tuesday. She had bought the Black Lives Matter mask last week at a shop in Meadowbrook and received compliments from customers on Friday and Tuesday. Even before she started wearing the mask a customer who came nearly every day would tell her, Congious said, “‘You remember Black lives matter and you stay safe.’”

But in the early afternoon Tuesday she said she took an order to a white woman who then asked for the customer service phone number. “I asked, ‘Is it something I did wrong?’” Congious said. “She said, ‘They should not allow you to wear that mask ... don’t worry about it you’ll be hearing from corporate.’” According to Congious, she went inside to tell her manager. The restaurant manager, as well as a higher-ranking manager who regularly visited the restaurant and another higher-ranking district manager who visited infrequently, happened to be present, she said. Congious said the district manager had greeted her in the parking lot when he arrived and expressed no problems regarding the mask. But when Congious explained the lady planned to call corporate about the Black Lives Matter mask she said the managers told her the mask was inappropriate. Congious recorded a portion of a conversation with a woman who Congious says is one of the managers.

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Houston Chronicle - August 5, 2020

U.S. crude oil prices surge on continued inventory draws

U.S. crude oil prices surged Wednesday morning as inventories continue to fall and refining activity continues to increase. Commercial crude oil inventories stood at 518.6 million barrels on Friday, a decrease of 7.4 million barrels from the previous week, figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show.

Refineries processed an average of 14.6 million barrels of crude oil per day last week, an increase of 42,000 barrels per day from the previous week, EIA figures show. The figures marks two weeks in a row of inventory draws and increased refinery activity, which can be viewed as signs of life during an industry downturn caused the coronavirus pandemic. Prices for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for crude oil, rose roughly 4 percent Wednesday morning in response to the figures. West Texas Intermediate was trading above $43 per barrel for the first time since early March.

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Houston Chronicle - August 5, 2020

As Texans swarm beaches during COVID, so too do 'gross' fecal bacteria

Dirty water issues have been made more dangerous during the pandemic, according to a group working to solve Texas’ pressing environmental issues. More people are crowding the beaches in efforts to socially distance while retaining some sense of a normal summer, said Anna Farrell-Sherman with the Environmental Texas Research Policy, a nonpartisan group. The group released its annual “Safe for Swimming?: Pollution at our Beaches and How to Prevent It” report in July.

At any given moment, there is traceable and harmful amounts of fecal bacteria in Texas Gulf Coast waters from Sea Rim State Park in Southeast Texas to Boca Chica State Park in the Lower Grande Valley. The Texas General Land Office works with local health department officials along the state’s shoreline to monitor the water’s bacteria levels for Enterococcus, a bacteria commonly found in fecal matter. Testing is typically conducted every three days to a week. After large rain events, bacteria swarm the beaches, Farrell-Sherman said. “I think the fact that 90 percent of our beaches in Texas are unsafe to swim in at least once a year — that speaks to a really big problem with runoff pollution,” she said. “It’s something that’s not only gross, but it can make us sick.” The Texas GLO’s Texas Beach Watch program is partially funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal is to provide information about water quality at selected recreational beaches in Aransas, Brazoria, Cameron, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson, Matagorda, Nueces and San Patricio counties.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 5, 2020

Roy, Zwiener ask state regulators, governor to reconsider bar closures

Jason Carrier works from his computer at the Dogwood, but the scene at the Austin bar changed overnight about six weeks ago. He’s no longer surrounded by customers. He’s often the only person in the bar. Carrier is one of three founders of Carmack Concepts, the company behind Austin mainstays the Dogwood, Chuggin’ Monkey and the Dizzy Rooster — which were among hundreds of Central Texas businesses that closed their doors when Gov. Greg Abbott pulled back on moves to reopen businesses amid rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The governor shuttered bars and reduced restaurant occupancy June 26. A week later, he issued a statewide mask order and suspended elective surgeries in much of the state. “We didn’t know June 26 was coming,” Carrier said, adding that, “it’s the unknown” that makes it impossible to plan for the future. Abbott’s bar order closed businesses that operate with more than half of their income coming from alcohol sales, a threshold the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission uses to distinguish between restaurants and bars. That 51% rule has made allies of a Democrat and Republican, who say it’s too arbitrary and closes businesses, including those that operate primarily outdoors, that could safely meet social distancing guidelines. “We fall under the same umbrella as a busy nightclub ... but there’s all different types of businesses under 51%,” Carrier said while speaking from the Dogwood’s Domain Northside location, which boasts an outdoor patio. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Hays County, penned a letter Monday to TABC Chairman Kevin Lilly, urging the agency to rethink its classification for restaurants and bars during the pandemic. Roy sent a copy of the letter to Abbott. “It is not my view that a simple majority of on-premise alcohol sales should dictate whether hundreds of businesses survive during this unprecedented time,” Roy wrote.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 5, 2020

San Antonio in hunt to land U.S. Space Command

San Antonio is in the hunt to be the new home of U.S. Space Command. Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Wednesday the city has survived the initial cut as the Air Force seeks a headquarters for the command, which is now in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Governors from 26 states nominated cities to host the command, which is part of U.S. Space Force. Nirenberg, who said he learned of the development last weekend, didn’t know how many cities were originally in the contest or how many had made the cut, but he said Houston and Fort Worth also had been nominated by Gov. Greg Abbott.

He said San Antonio was a natural fit for the command because of its quality of life, highly skilled work force that includes military personnel transitioning to civilian life, large veterans community, and specialists who work in space-related fields. “We have the largest presence of cyber and intelligence capabilities outside of the national capital region,” Nirenberg said. “And we have a public-private military and civilian infrastructure that’s required, including medical and military support networks, housing, transportation and veteran services, as well as electric, water, gas and telecommunications that are all critically important. And not to mention the proximity to our key allies in North America and the presence of significant private space flight technology that’s underway.” Space Force was established in December and is the space warfare branch of the armed forces. One of eight uniformed services, it was created with the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and will be stood up over the next 18 months.

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Click2Houston - August 5, 2020

Houston police chief, victims’ advocates angered by cases of accused murderers released on multiple bonds

From the streets of Harris County to the state capitol, bail reform has been an intensely debated topic. While a federal lawsuit addressed inequities in misdemeanor cases, the way bond in felony cases is handled remains in dispute. “I started noticing a trend when I started to look at the cases of defendants that were charged with murder,” said Andy Kahan with Crimestoppers Houston. “A lot of them had multiple felony bonds, a lot of them were on (personal) bonds, a lot of them had violated their bonds.” Kahan raised specific concerns about defendants who had been released on multiple bonds only to then be charged with murder. Kahan said his research found 42 such defendants in murder cases since 2018.

“I’m just flabbergasted that amount is so high, I’m stunned no one wants to talk about it,” Kahan said. Many in law enforcement, including Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, have been particularly critical of a system allowing those accused of crimes to be released on multiple bonds. “We have people that have been booked for murder, charged with murder, released while charged with murder and murdering again,” said Acevedo. “What are your officers saying on the streets,” asked Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold. “They’re frustrated,” said Acevedo. “The proof is in the real victims in this city that are dying at the hands of people that should not have been running around loose.” Every Texan has a constitutional right to a bond except in capital murder cases. Defense attorneys, criminal justice reform activists and judges argue you can’t keep people locked up before their trial just because they’re poor. Kahan said he does not dispute that point. “What we don’t support is when offenders are being repeatedly let out, time and time again to re-offend,” said Kahan.

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CBS 11 - August 6, 2020

AG Ken Paxton sues clinic for alleged fraudulent coronavirus testing

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a clinic in La Porte, which “has both misrepresented the character of its COVID-19 testing as well as its failure to secure patients’ sensitive personal information.” According to the AG’s office, Clinica Hispana claims its tests can diagnose an active infection, but the type of tests used by the clinic are not approved for such a use.

“I will not allow anyone or any business to fraudulently represent COVID testing in our communities. Patients must be assured that the tests they take and results they receive are accurate and their personal information will be protected,” said Attorney General Paxton. “We look forward to litigation in this case and will continue working diligently to ensure Texans receive the testing and potentially life-saving treatment they need.” An Office of the Attorney General investigation discovered Clinica Hispana was giving people antibody tests and telling them that it would diagnose an infection, when such test cannot diagnose an active infection. In addition to conducting fraudulent tests, Clinica Hispana also threw away test results using an unsecured dumpster behind the clinic, which directly violates Texas identity theft laws, the AG’s office alleges.

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KVUE - August 4, 2020

Sen. John Cornyn speaks on reopening schools in Texas

In an interview with KVUE on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said he supports the reopening of schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it's important to make sure students feel safe in classrooms. "I think starting slowly with online learning, but then maybe transitioning for some students to come back on campus using the same sort of safeguards that we're all now using," Cornyn said. "Masks, hand washing, social distancing, plexiglass barriers like we've seen in some of the stores and things like that. Those are the sorts of things that let us adapt to this virus. It's not going to go away."

Cornyn added that the decision to resume in-person learning should be decided by local school districts and said he thinks starting out online and eventually transitioning to in-person learning is a good idea, especially because of how many children are having a difficult time learning from home. "If you're a wealthy person, you can pay for private tutors, private instruction, you have all the internet connection and the hardware," Cornyn said. "But if you're a low-income student, maybe with a single parent at home who's trying to figure out how to be a parent, how to be a teacher and how to put food on the table, it's an extraordinary burden on low-income families."

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USA Today - August 6, 2020

Texas Tech women's basketball players describe toxic culture: 'Fear, anxiety and depression'

The first player in the Texas Tech women’s basketball locker room on Monday mornings texted a picture to the rest of the team. Stomachs churning, sweat glands in overdrive, the players glanced at their phones and the image of a floor-to-ceiling dry-erase board. It displayed what they knew to be the bottom line: results from wearable heart-rate monitors mandated for every game, practice and workout. Names scribbled near the top, beside the black-marker box, announced “MADE.” At the bottom, written in red marker, names were declared “OFF.” “OFF” was a list of players whose heart rate had supposedly dropped below 90% capacity for more than two minutes of game time. Fail to keep up, and players had to answer to coach Marlene Stollings and her staff. Playing time might suffer. Conditioning assignments were likely.

“It was basically like a torture mechanism,” Erin DeGrate, who transferred to Baylor in 2019, told USA TODAY Sports. “I feel like the system wasn’t supposed to be used how she was using it.” In a series of season-ending exit interviews, players alleged a culture of abuse in the Texas Tech program since Stollings took over in April 2018. They say a toxic atmosphere has prompted an exodus of players, including 12 of 21 leaving the program, seven of whom were recruited under Stollings. Two players detailed these allegations to the NCAA and were granted waivers allowing them to play the next season. USA TODAY Sports collaborated with The Intercollegiate, a college sports investigative media outlet that obtained Texas Tech’s exit interviews with players from the past two seasons via public records requests. In addition to reviewing those documents and others, USA TODAY Sports interviewed 10 players, two former assistant coaches and two parents about the program. Six of the players spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

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County Stories

NBC 5 - August 5, 2020

Tarrant County reports record 1,673 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 8 deaths

Tarrant County Public Health is reporting a single-day record 1,673 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday along with eight more deaths. The latest deaths include a woman in her 70s, a man in his 80s, and a woman in her 80s, all from Arlington; a woman in her 80s from Southlake, a man in his 50s from Haltom City, a woman in her 40s from Sansom Park; and a woman in her 40s and a woman in her 60s, both from Fort Worth. All had underlying health conditions.

Ahead of the nearly 1,700 cases reported Wednesday, the county health department said they expected a backlog of cases to be reported this week. On Tuesday, the health department reported 805 cases also attributed to the lag. The new cases Wednesday bring the total number of cases in Tarrant County to 31,835 since testing began in March. The cases also increased the county's 7-day average to 669 and the 14-day average to 593. The county is also reporting nearly 1,200 new recoveries, bringing the total number of survivors to 18,886. There are currently an estimated 12,545 active cases in the county. Of the county's cases, 68% of those who have died were over the age of 65. Those aged 25 to 44 make up the largest percentage of people with COVID-19 at 38%.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 5, 2020

Proposed Williamson County tax rate will raise taxes by $10 for average homeowner

Williamson County commissioners have approved a proposed property tax rate that will raise taxes by $10 for the average homeowner. The proposed property tax rate of 45.9 cents per $100 valuation is also the current tax rate. The owner of an average home worth $298,507 this year will pay about $1,370 under the proposed tax rate. The owner of an average home valued at $296,316 last year paid about $1,360.

A public hearing on the proposed tax rate will begin at 10:15 a.m. on Aug. 25 at the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 South Main Street in Georgetown. The proposed budget does not include any new employees or any pay raises for employees not covered by civil service. Civil service employees, including law enforcement and corrections officers, are getting raises connected to each year of service. The Commissioners Court on Tuesday also unanimously accepted the recommended budgets for three funds, a county news release said. The proposed general fund budget is $218.9 million, a decrease of approximately 1% from this year’s general fund. The recommended road and bridge fund budget is $44.5 million, a decrease of approximately 1.06%. The recommended debt service budget is $126.8 million and includes $25 million to pay down debt early, the release said.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 31, 2020

Nicole Conley, No. 2 Austin school official, calls it quits

Nicole Conley, the Austin school district’s second-in-command and an influential player at the Capitol on school finance issues, is resigning after being passed over for the superintendent job.

Conley, the district’s chief business and operations officer, who often amplified Austin’s and other school districts’ voices at the Legislature, lobbied the state to better fund public education. She served on a powerful committee in 2018 that helped shape marquee legislation the next year that made sweeping changes to the Texas school finance system. Conley gave the district notice of her resignation Thursday. She said it probably will take effect Aug. 31, and that she will take accrued leave before then. Conley said she doesn’t have immediate plans but is considering several options. Her resignation comes a week after the Austin school board named Stephanie Elizalde, a top Dallas administrator, the lone finalist for superintendent to replace Paul Cruz, who announced his resignation in February.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 5, 2020

Residency of Austin ISD board candidate questioned, putting run in jeopardy

Austin school district officials are questioning the validity of a school board candidate’s residency listed on his application, which could jeopardize his run for the at-large position. The school district’s election administrator has notified at-large District 8 candidate Jared Breckenridge that in order to be placed on the ballot, he will need to submit proof of residency within the school district.

Edna Butts, the elections officer, in a letter sent Wednesday morning to Breckenridge, said the address discrepancy was discovered during her routine verification of candidate residency requirements. Breckenridge lists the address of Huston-Tillotson University, where he is a student, as his permanent address. His voter registration as of Friday and spring payroll records for the district, where Breckenridge serves as a substitute teacher, reflect a residence in Pflugerville, according to the district letter. Breckenridge, 25, did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday. To be eligible to run, candidates must have lived for one year in Texas and for six months in the single-member district for which the applicant seeks or within the school district if seeking an at-large position. The letter states Breckenridge changed his voter registration Monday to reflect the college as his residence.

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NBC 5 - August 5, 2020

Fort Worth’s famed Billy Bob’s Texas reopening as a restaurant

“The World’s Largest Honkey Tonk,” Billy Bob’s Texas has convinced the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to reclassify the music venue after being shut down by Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order. “Our restaurant is now the entire club,” said Marty Travis, general manager of Billy Bob’s. “Our restaurant’s just really big, with a dance floor and it has a retail store in it. It’s almost like a mall.” At the end of June, Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order forced establishments that earn 51% or more of their revenue from alcohol sales to close their doors in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Billy Bob’s went from 270 employees to 10. “By the permit we have, we’re a bar,” Travis said. “It’s a numbers game with TABC for food and beverage.” The TABC is now giving bars like Billy Bob’s the chance to reopen if they can alter their business model. “And once they do that, they can then operate under the same capacity and social distancing that other restaurants in Texas are operating under,” said Chris Porter, the public information officer for TABC. Since the end of June, TABC has processed about 250 requests from bars across the state looking to change their business model to operate as restaurants or to update their sales figures to prove they’re below that 51% threshold. When Billy Bob’s opens its doors, patrons will have to pass a temperature check on their way in, wear masks, and maintain social distance.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 5, 2020

Fort Worth cut its tax rate for four years. Coronavirus brought an end to that.

Fort Worth’s general fund will be out a little more than $22 million this year from declining sales tax related to the recession, kicking off what could be five lean years for city coffers. Despite a projection of stagnant growth, many homeowners will see no change to their property taxes in 2021. The sales tax hole is smaller than estimated at the beginning of the pandemic when the forecast projected a loss between $35 million and $40 million for the general fund, the source of the city’s discretionary spending.

While that’s good news, City Manager David Cooke said the recession will eat into the growth of the city’s tax base, so departments may have to pull back on some expenses. Cooke has proposed keeping the city’s tax rate the same in fiscal year 2021, 74.75 cents. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 with a homestead exemption would pay $1,119.60 in city property taxes. For four years the city had reduced the tax rate, totaling more than a 11 cent reduction since 2017. Those who saw a jump in their home’s appraisal are likely to see taxes go up despite the same tax rate. There is no change to water, sewer and other fees. Cooke said the city could raise the rate by nearly 2 cents without calling an election, but he didn’t feel that would be proper. Unemployment is between 12 and 15%, he said, and businesses are closing “all the time.”

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National Stories

New York Times - August 5, 2020

Trump’s bank was subpoenaed by N.Y. prosecutors in criminal inquiry

The New York prosecutors who are seeking President Trump’s tax records have also subpoenaed his longtime lender, a sign that their criminal investigation into Mr. Trump’s business practices is more wide-ranging than previously known. The Manhattan district attorney’s office issued the subpoena last year to Deutsche Bank, which has been Mr. Trump’s primary lender since the late 1990s, seeking financial records that he and his company provided to the bank, according to four people familiar with the inquiry.

The criminal investigation initially appeared to be focused on hush-money payments made in 2016 to two women who have said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. But in a court filing this week, prosecutors with the district attorney’s office cited “public reports of possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization” and suggested that they were also investigating possible crimes involving bank and insurance fraud. Because of its longstanding and multifaceted relationship with Mr. Trump, Deutsche Bank has been a frequent target of regulators and lawmakers digging into the president’s opaque finances. But the subpoena from the office of the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., appears to be the first instance of a criminal inquiry involving Mr. Trump and his dealings with the German bank, which lent him and his company more than $2 billion over the past two decades. Deutsche Bank complied with the subpoena. Over a period of months last year, it provided Mr. Vance’s office with detailed records, including financial statements and other materials that Mr. Trump had provided to the bank as he sought loans, according to two of the people familiar with the inquiry.

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New York Times - August 5, 2020

Trump raises $165 million with party in July, overtaking Biden.

President Trump raised $165 million in July for his campaign and shared committees with the Republican National Committee, outpacing Joseph R. Biden Jr., who raised $140 million last month as a record-setting pace of money continues to flood into the presidential campaign. Mr. Biden had out-raised Mr. Trump in the two previous months, the first time that the presumptive Democratic nominee had out-raised the Republican incumbent. Mr. Biden had raised $141 million in his shared accounts with Democratic National Committee in June, compared to $131 million for Mr. Trump with the R.N.C.

The sums for both parties are far higher than four years ago, when Hillary Clinton raised $89 million with the party in July and Mr. Trump collected $80 million. Mr. Trump released his July figure in a statement on Wednesday evening. Mr. Biden’s campaign announced his fund-raising haul also that evening. “The Biden campaign is on the march, building off the incredible momentum from this summer with another lights-out fund-raising month, banking another $50 million for the final stretch to Election Day,” said Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon in a statement. She said the campaign entered August with $294 million in the bank. Mr. Trump’s campaign said he had more than $300 million cash on hand. “The enthusiasm behind President Trump’s re-election continues to grow as July’s massive fund-raising totals prove,” said Bill Stepien, Mr. Trump’s new campaign manager.

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New York Times - August 5, 2020

Another Inspector General resigns amid questions about Pompeo

The State Department’s acting watchdog has resigned from his post less than three months after replacing the previous inspector general, whom President Trump fired in May, the department said on Wednesday. The departure of Stephen J. Akard came as Congress continued to investigate the firing of his predecessor, Steve A. Linick, who was pursuing inquiries into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Three congressional committees issued subpoenas this week to top aides of Mr. Pompeo. Mr. Linick had opened investigations into Mr. Pompeo’s potential misuse of department resources and his effort to push arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The department gave no explanation for the departure of Mr. Akard, an ally of Vice President Mike Pence. A department spokeswoman said Mr. Akard, who is from Indiana, would be “returning to the private sector,” and the deputy inspector general, Diana R. Shaw, would take over as acting inspector general. Mr. Akard “left to go back home,” Mr. Pompeo said at a news conference on Wednesday. “This happens. I don’t have anything more to add to that.” The departure is yet another disruption to the State Department’s internal watchdog office, where hundreds of employees investigate fraud and waste. Mr. Akard took over the acting inspector general role after Mr. Linick, who was appointed to the post by President Barack Obama in 2013, was fired by Mr. Trump in mid-May at the private urging of Mr. Pompeo. Mr. Linick was known to be cautious and nonpartisan. The events surrounding Mr. Linick’s removal have come under intense scrutiny. Three congressional committees are investigating Mr. Pompeo’s role in the events. Mr. Pompeo has said Mr. Linick was “undermining” the work of the State Department, though he has given no details.

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Wall Street Journal - August 5, 2020

Trump’s 90-day challenge: Settle on a message and erase Biden’s lead

President Trump’s campaign has hundreds of millions of dollars, a small army of staffers and the power of incumbency. But as he seeks to turn his re-election bid around, he is racing the clock. With 90 days until Election Day and weeks until the early voting process starts in some states, the president’s campaign is trying to refocus as he trails presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in national and swing-state polls. Newly minted campaign manager Bill Stepien is seeking to better define the president’s message, concentrate more on key battleground states and target advertising dollars at early voters.

“We’re going to run like we’re the underdog. We’re going to run like we’re two points behind, even if and when we’re two points ahead. That’s the mentality we’re going to have, that’s the mind-set we have over the next three months of this campaign,” Mr. Stepien said on Fox News Monday. The campaign efforts follow a push to get Mr. Trump to offer a more somber, clear message on the coronavirus, which aides and allies see as key to stabilizing his standing with voters, which has been battered by public frustration with the response to the pandemic and widespread protests over racial injustice. Mr. Trump has been inconsistent in his coronavirus messaging, at times criticizing his own health advisers and arguing with reporters during interviews and news conferences over whether the crisis is improving. While those close to the president argue that their internal polling is more encouraging than the public numbers and that there is time to get on the right track, some privately acknowledge the window is narrowing to course correct. Absentee ballots will be mailed out in North Carolina starting on Sept. 4, and other states follow close behind.

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CBS News - August 5, 2020

Biden campaign announces largest ad buy ever by a presidential candidate

Pretty soon it'll be hard to escape Joe Biden on your television. Or your radio. Or your phone. The Biden campaign on Wednesday is announcing what it says is the largest TV ad buy ever by a presidential candidate, with $220 million set aside for commercials to air through the fall and another $60 million budgeted to reach audiences digitally on social media or gaming platforms.

Biden's team is planning to reach voters in at least 15 states, with messages that feature the former vice president speaking directly to camera about the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fall. Signaling the states they see as most competitive, the Biden campaign said their ads will target: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, Virginia, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas. And given the 15-state reach of the TV campaign plus the buys on digital platforms, it's likely most Americans will be unable to miss at least some of Biden's advertising, either on traditional broadcast TV channels in swing states; during coverage of sporting events on cable channels; as they watch video clips on their Vevo feed; or while playing online games. Most of all, many Americans can expect to see Biden for longer periods of time — 60 seconds, up from the usual 30 seconds for a political spot. Top Biden strategist Mike Donilion said that's designed to give voters a "fuller, clearer message."

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ESPN - August 5, 2020

UConn becomes first FBS team to cancel football season because of coronavirus

UConn, which last month officially left the American Athletic Conference, announced Wednesday that it is suspending its football program for the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic. UConn, which went 2-10 in its final season in the AAC, is the first FBS program to suspend its football team because of the pandemic. The Huskies were expected to play as an independent this season.

"After receiving guidance from state and public health officials and consulting with football student-athletes, we've decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season," UConn athletic director David Benedict said in a news release. "The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk." Huskies football coach Randy Edsall said he consulted his players before the university made its decision. "We engaged and listened to the concerns of our football student-athletes and feel this is the best decision for their health, safety, and well-being," Edsall said in the news release. "Our team is united in this approach and we will use this time to further player development within the program and gear ourselves to the 2021 season." The university said members of the football team will remain enrolled in classes, either virtually or in person, and would have access to facilities and support services to ensure they remain on track academically.

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Washington Post - August 6, 2020

Democrats and Republicans push back on Trump's desire to deliver convention speech from White House

Local and national leaders pushed back Wednesday against President Donald Trump's desire to deliver his convention acceptance speech from the White House, warning that the event could bring protests and novel coronavirus spread to the nation's capital while violating historic norms that separate political activity from the seat of presidential power. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., predicted that a political convention gathering at the White House "won't happen," for legal and ethical reasons, while District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, said she did not plan to offer "any exemptions" for the event from a recent health order that restricts the movement of nonessential visitors to the city from 27 states with elevated rates of the virus.

Members of the District Council expressed alarm about the idea, and on Capitol Hill, some Republicans also voiced concern. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas called it "problematic," Sen. John Thune of South Dakota questioned the legality of political events at the White House, and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin suggested that other plans should be made. "Probably not allowed," he said. "Probably shouldn't do it." The pushback came as Trump indicated publicly for the first time that he preferred speaking from the White House at the end of four nights of convention programming, from Aug. 24-27, that will be a mix of live speeches from around the country and prerecorded video. In an interview Wednesday on "Fox and Friends," he described the White House as a "beautiful setting" that is "greatly representative of our nation" where the logistics would be easy and inexpensive to arrange. A Republican involved in the planning said it was highly likely that Trump's speech would be delivered at the White House, perhaps on the South Lawn, but various locations were being discussed. Vice President Mike Pence was considering Fort McHenry in Maryland, the site of a major battle in the War of 1812, to give his convention speech.

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Associated Press - August 6, 2020

In a horrific instant, a burst of power that ravaged Beirut

As black smoke billowed into the sky, Shiva Karout stepped out of his gym with his colleagues and customers to watch. His gym, Barbell House, sits just across the coastal highway from Beirut’s port where a fire raged. They were curious. Then a first boom shook them, and curiosity turned to fear realizing how close they were. “We got a bit scared, and we all went back in,” Karout recounted. Tense moments passed, waiting inside, and one of his customers panicked and ran out. Karout went after him.

That was when hell erupted. A gigantic explosion threw up a towering mushroom cloud and sucked out the air, and a wave of destructive energy shot across Lebanon’s capital. The force threw Karout to the ground. He was cut and bruised, his full arm and leg tattoos of the Hindu god Shiva, after whom he is named, were punctured with lacerations and clotted blood. But his gym — and everyone still in it — took the brunt of the blast. It smashed out the windows, knocked holes in the walls. Blood now stains the welcome counter. One of his clients took a major head injury and lies in a coma in a hospital and nearly a dozen others sustained medium to serious injuries. That flashing instant, when a heavy fire on the horizon turned into an unimaginable burst of megatonnage, united Beirutis in a shared trauma and on Wednesday, the day after, they were still reeling with it and its aftermath.

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Bloomberg - August 6, 2020

Twitter, Facebook block Trump video, citing COVID misinformation

Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. blocked a video shared by accounts linked to U.S. President Donald Trump for violating their policies on coronavirus misinformation. The Trump re-election campaign’s Twitter account, @TeamTrump, was briefly banned from sending new tweets after it posted a clip of an interview Trump did Wednesday with Fox News in which he said children were “virtually immune” from the Covid-19 coronavirus. “[Children] don’t have a problem, they just don’t have a problem,” Trump said in the video as part of an argument for why schools should reopen. “It doesn’t have an impact on them. I’ve watched some doctors say they’re totally immune.”

Trump posted the same video to his account on Facebook, which removed the clip shortly before Twitter froze the campaign’s account. Both social-media companies have policies that forbid sharing misleading information about the coronavirus that could cause people harm. The Washington Post initially reported that Twitter had barred Trump from posting to his personal account, but later corrected its story to say that the temporary ban had only impacted the @TeamTrump campaign account. The @TeamTrump account resumed posting Wednesday evening after the video appeared to have been taken down. “The original Tweet from @TeamTrump is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation, and we’ve required removal,” according to a post from Twitter spokesman Nick Pacilio. Though the president also shared the video on his personal account, @realDonaldTrump, that account wasn’t punished because the clip was re-shared from the campaign’s feed instead of uploaded directly, Twitter said. “Silicon Valley is hopelessly biased against the President and only enforces the rules in one direction,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a tweet in response to the company’s actions.

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Newsclips - August 5, 2020

Lead Stories

Politico - August 4, 2020

Senate Democrats wade into pricey Texas race

Senate Democrats' official campaign committee is making its first big investment in Texas for the general election to boost Democrat MJ Hegar in her bid against Republican Sen. John Cornyn. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is planning a seven-figure investment in Texas through coordinated campaign funds, which is intended for a combination of TV ads, polling and field organizing and data resources, according to details shared first with POLITICO. This marks the Senate committee's first significant investment in Texas for this fall, though neither the DSCC nor outside allies have booked independent expenditures to run in the state's multiple expensive media markets.

The new investment comes after the committee commissioned an internal poll showing a tight race between Cornyn and Hegar. The survey, conducted late last month, showed Cornyn with a slim lead over Hegar, 43 percent to 42 percent, with 15 percent of voters undecided. The poll was conducted by Global Strategy Group and Latino Decisions. The poll showed Hegar with relatively low name ID and room for growth. One-third of voters rated her favorably compared to 23 percent who rated her unfavorably. Cornyn, a three-term incumbent, was viewed favorably by 38 percent of voters and unfavorably by 37 percent. Democrats have grown optimistic about Texas this cycle, with most public polling showing Joe Biden competitive against President Trump and a handful of critical House battleground races taking place in the state. Still, the Senate race has not emerged as a top-tier battleground. "This race is a dead heat, and our increased investment reflects how MJ's campaign and the increasingly competitive climate has put another offensive opportunity on the map," Scott Fairchild, the DSCC executive director, said in a statement.

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Associated Press - August 5, 2020

Chasm grows between Trump and government coronavirus experts

In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump was flanked in the White House briefing room by a team of public health experts in a seeming portrait of unity to confront the disease that was ravaging the globe. But as the crisis has spread to all reaches of the country, with escalating deaths and little sense of endgame, a chasm has widened between the president and the experts. The result: daily delivery of a mixed message to the public at a moment when coherence is most needed. Trump and his political advisers insist that the United States has no rival in its response to the pandemic. They point to the fact that the U.S. has administered more virus tests than any other nation and that the percentage of deaths among those infected is among the lowest.

“Right now, I think it’s under control,” Trump said during an interview with Axios. He added, “We have done a great job.” But the surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths tells a different story. And it suggests that the president is increasingly out of step with the federal government’s own medical and public health experts. The U.S. death toll, which now stands at 155,000, is expected to accelerate. The latest composite forecast from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects an average of nearly 1,000 deaths per day through Aug. 22. Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator, warned this week that the virus has become “extraordinarily widespread.” Trump didn’t like that. He dismissed her comment as “pathetic” and charged she was capitulating to criticism from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had earlier criticized Birx. Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services who has avoided contradicting the president throughout the crisis, said on Sunday it was time to “move on” from the debate over hydroxychloroquine, a drug Trump continues to promote as a COVID-19 treatment even though there is no clear evidence it is effective. Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, last week acknowledged during an ABC News interview that the initial federal government response to the virus too slow. “It’s not a separation from the president, it’s a cavernous gap,” said Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University. “What we’re seeing is that scientists will no longer be cowed by the White House.”

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KENS 5 - August 4, 2020

Distillers: 33% of Texas distilleries face closure if state laws don't change

Inside a building older than prohibition stands a business, going through its own dry spell. "Our sales have gone down some 75% and once the market caught up on sanitizer we didn't have any more of those sales either," Maverick Whiskey General Manager Ken Fey said. Like most of the distilling industry, Maverick Whiskey stepped up and provided hand sanitizer for those in need but, as the sanitizer market caught up with demand not much, has moved from their shelves.

"We fall prey to the 51% rule filing into the category of a bar as its currently configured," Fey said. "So that's been a bad situation for us." A bad situation Fey says is only made worse because of Texas laws. Currently, distilleries are only allowed to sell two bottles per person every 30 days and distilleries are not allowed to ship directly to customers; distillers say Texas is the largest state in the country that still has that restriction. "We're not asking for a handout we're asking to remove the handcuffs that the distilleries have been operating under that have only been exacerbated by COVID-19," Spencer Whelan, the Texas Whiskey Association executive director said.

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Dallas Morning News - August 5, 2020

Monty Bennett, Dallas hotelier who returned $69 million in PPP loans, now under SEC investigation

Three Dallas-based hotel companies run by hotelier Monty Bennett received a subpoena from U.S. securities regulators for records involving related-party transactions. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigation comes shortly after Bennett’s hotels returned at least $69 million in COVID-19 relief funds received under the Paycheck Protection Program. Bennett agreed to return the money after intense public scrutiny about large companies dipping into the pool forced the U.S. Small Business Administration to rewrite the rules.

In a regulatory filing Monday, Bennett revealed that his trio of publicly traded companies, including Ashford Inc., Ashford Hospitality Trust and Braemar Hotels and Resorts, received a subpoena in June to produce documents starting from Jan. 1, 2018. The requested documents included the companies’ accounting practices and controls. Ashford Hospitality Trust said in the filing that it’s responding to the SEC request and can’t predict the timing or outcome of the investigation. The company said it could result in significant legal expenses and divert its management’s attention from running the 117 hotels in its trust, including The Ashton in Fort Worth and Lakeway Resort and Spa near Austin. “If the SEC were to determine that legal violations occurred, we could be required to pay significant civil and/or criminal penalties ... we can provide no assurances as to the outcome of the SEC investigation,” the company wrote in the filing.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 5, 2020

Erica Grieder: Texans frustrated with lack of progress on coronavirus pandemic

A recent Gallup survey found that 13 percent of Americans are satisfied with the state of the nation. That’s a dismal figure, down 32 points from February. And yet somehow it seems too high, doesn’t it? After months of being mired in the coronavirus pandemic, it’s debatable whether we’re even making all that much progress in fighting what President Donald Trump occasionally refers to as “the invisible enemy.” Texas, for example, has been grappling with a surge in novel cornavirus cases and fatalities since the summer began. As of this past weekend, state health officials were reporting more than 440,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 7,000 fatalities.

Those are grim statistics, and a majority of Texans believe some blame lies with our political leaders, including Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott. The latter’s approval rating for his handling of the crisis has plummeted from 61 percent in April to just 38 percent last month, according to a new poll from Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern and Rutgers universities. And Abbott was singled out for blame by at least one bereaved family after the death of 79-year-old David W. Nagy, a father of five, in east Texas in July. “Family members believe David's death was needless,” his wife Stacey wrote in a scathing obituary. “They blame his death and the deaths of all the other innocent people, on Trump, Abbott and all the politicians who did not take this pandemic seriously and were more concerned with their popularity and votes than lives.” Making matters even more bleak is the fact that Texas’s numbers, as ominous as they are, are apparently not telling the whole story. A Houston Chronicle analysis published Aug. 2 found the state is likely undercounting coronavirus cases by tens of thousands because it is not including the results of antigen tests in official tallies.

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Houston Chronicle - August 4, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Mayor Turner right to slap $250 fines on unmasked Houston scofflaws

With children preparing to return to classrooms, health-care workers nearing exhaustion and the fall flu season looming, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is right to begin enforcing fines for those who repeatedly shirk the statewide face mask order. This is about public health, not politics. And the Democratic mayor is in bipartisan agreement with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s statement that “Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19.” Turner announced on Monday that Houston law enforcement officials would continue to issue warnings on first encounters before issuing a citation for $250 fines for second and subsequent offenses as allowed under Abbott’s July 2 order.

“For months, we have been focusing on education and not citations,” he said, “but now I am instructing the Houston Police Department to issue the necessary warnings and citations to anyone not wearing a mask in public if they do not meet the criteria for an exemption.” Those refusing to comply with the facial covering mandate in public have no excuse. After weeks of cajoling and a full month under the statewide mandate, the importance of wearing a mask in public and the consequences of not doing so should be clear to everyone. The fine puts some teeth into what is essentially a public-safety and life-saving measure, no different than cracking down on speeding and seat belt laws. “It’s all about public health and driving our numbers down, especially when in-person schooling is scheduled to start,” Turner said at a press conference. “Fall is right around the corner with flu season. August then becomes a very, very critical month. Lives are at stake.”

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Houston Chronicle - August 4, 2020

UH coaching great Bill Yeoman out of hospital after COVID-19 battle

Add another win to Bill Yeoman’s total. Yeoman, the winningest football coach in University of Houston history, was released from the hospital Tuesday after a months-long battle with COVID-19, his son Bill Jr. said.

Yeoman, 92, tested positive in late June. “He’s doing really well,” Bill Jr. said. “I was a little scared when they said he was positive.” Yeoman won 160 games and four Southwest Conference championships and made 11 bowl appearances in 25 years at UH. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001. Yeoman retired from coaching in 1986.

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Houston Chronicle - August 4, 2020

Houston man accused of spending COVID relief funds on strip clubs, Lamborghini

A Houston man is in custody after federal prosecutors say he fraudulently obtained $1.6 million in COVID-19 business relief money, some of which he spent on personal purchases such as a Lamborghini Urus and visits to strip clubs. Lee Price III, 29, is at least the second person in Houston’s federal court accused of stealing money from the Paycheck Protection Program, which gives loans at low interest rates to business financially struggling as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic downturn.

Authorities say Price partook in a scheme to submit fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program applications to federally insured banks and other lenders, netting $900,000 from one application and $700,000 from another. A company called Price Enterprises Holdings received the first loan, according to an unsealed complaint, and 713 Construction received the second. The applications stated that both businesses had numerous employees and large amounts of payroll expenses, neither of which was true, according to prosecutors. Other information on the forms was false as well, the complaint alleges. The person listed as a CEO on the 713 Construction loan application had died a month before the application was submitted in May.

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Dallas Morning News - August 4, 2020

Dallas County may withhold millions of dollars from coronavirus testing company, citing concerns over contract

Dallas County may withhold payment to a Washington-based company that is operating one of the region’s largest public coronavirus testing sites after commissioners raised concerns during their meeting Tuesday. Commissioner John Wiley Price, who represents southern Dallas County, said he was worried about a lack of oversight of the Honu Management Group’s testing site, which the county is spending millions of dollars for. “Who is paying attention to what Honu is doing?” he asked. “I’m just saying we entered into a contract where we have nothing to say.”

Dallas County is splitting the cost of the $14.6 million contract with the city of Dallas, which led the effort to work with Honu. The city and county hired Honu to run the testing site at the University of Dallas in Irving after the federal government ended financial and logistical support for a testing site at the American Airlines Center in June. The testing location was moved to Dallas College Eastfield Campus this month. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Theresa Daniel, who represents eastern Dallas County, echoed Price’s concerns. “I’m not a defender of Honu, by any stretch,” Jenkins said, without getting into specifics. “There are problems. The city of Dallas has been good to work with, but there are challenges with the Honu contract.”

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Dallas Morning News - August 5, 2020

How Dallas missed potential red flags in picking a company to run a major COVID-19 testing site

When Honu Management Group pitched itself to run a major coronavirus testing site for the city and county of Dallas, the company listed impressive experience. Testing for a national healthcare company. Working with the Indian Health Service. Even gaining White House approval for its testing program. The problem: One reference said Honu overstated the scope of its work. A South Dakota tribe said it used the company’s tests and the results were unreliable. And any stamp of White House approval seems to have never materialized. The city’s vetting process did not pick up potential red flags, The Dallas Morning News found.

Honu’s CEO said the company was truthful in the application. The city said Honu is meeting the obligations of the contract, including turning around test results quickly. The Washington state company edged out industry giant Quest Diagnostics and a local firm to land a $14.6 million contract with the city of Dallas to test thousands of people for COVID-19, city officials said. In seeking a contractor, city officials bypassed the usual competitive bidding rules. Many governments are turning to emergency procurements in the scramble to provide crucial services and goods related to the pandemic like testing supplies and protective gear. In the rush, some untested companies are winning work in Texas and across the country. The city said it did not know that Honu, under a prior name, had been mentioned in a Washington state investigation of a kickback scheme involving podiatrists and prescription foot creams.

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Dallas Morning News - August 5, 2020

Schools aren’t following air quality recommendations to reduce COVID-19 risk, DMN finds

Improving ventilation and air quality is one method that schools can take to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission, scientists say. Yet, in a survey of large school systems in North Texas, The Dallas Morning News found that schools fell short of air quality guidelines released in June by building experts. Researchers from Harvard University recommended high-rated air filters, portable air cleaners, and ultraviolet light inside air ducts to help eliminate the virus. Carbon dioxide checks in classes full of students can show if enough fresh air is getting in.

The News asked a dozen area school districts, as well as the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, about their air filtration and monitoring, and did not find a school that met all the recommendations set out by Harvard’s researchers. Three school districts did not respond to multiple requests: Allen, Arlington and Grand Prairie. Indoor air quality has been a problem in America’s K-12 schools for decades. Aging buildings tend to be worse. Said Hobie Hukill, a 69-year-old educator in Dallas and a librarian at Samuell High School for the past decade: “There hasn’t been a time when our HVAC system didn’t have something wrong with it.” Evidence points to three routes of transmission of the virus – touching contaminated surfaces and then your face, taking in droplets at close range, and inhaling smaller airborne particles of virus from a distance. Masks that cover the nose and mouth can reduce the amount of virus exhaled by someone who is infected. But masks aren’t perfect barriers, said Richard Corsi, a former engineering professor at the University of Texas Austin, and now a dean at Portland State University in Oregon. And a person who is infected will breathe out a plume of infectious particles.

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Dallas Morning News - August 4, 2020

After month of work, Dallas County cities are ready to invest in underserved communities but not ‘defund’ the police

A committee of community activists and city managers from across Dallas County — formed after a national outcry over police brutality — will have its last meeting Wednesday as public officials begin crafting budgets they hope can strike a balance between concerns about crime and demands to defund the police. Although a final report is still to come and the independently elected councils of the six cities participating in the committee must approve any local budget changes, committee members hope their work in the last month will help shift how the nation’s ninth-largest county addresses crime, mental health emergencies and poverty. The cities involved are Balch Springs, Dallas, DeSoto, Irving, Lancaster and Mesquite.

The drastic cuts in police budgets that some committee members have recommended are unlikely. But activists and bureaucrats said there’s a new mutual understanding that the current system that leads to the over-representation of Black, Latino and poor people in the criminal justice system must end. Meanwhile, the county government is expected to play a larger role in coordinating efforts, and it’s also expected to launch several programs of its own. Among the programs that are most likely to take hold is a jail alternative championed by District Attorney John Creuzot that would help the homeless and people with mental health problems find resources, including shelter and medicine, rather than simply throw them in jail. “The idea you’re going to accomplish something positive by putting the homeless and mentally ill in jail is ridiculous,” said Creuzot, who began developing his idea last year after he visited a similar program in Harris County.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 5, 2020

Just over a year since BDT deal, Whataburger prepares new look, pushes into new turf

Denise Chapa grew up going to Whataburger with her grandmother, stopping at one of the restaurants on the way to her house for a visit. Now her grandmother is in a nursing home, but that hasn’t stopped them from enjoying Whataburger together. Chapa “religiously” brings her order to the facility: a Whataburger Jr., all the way, no cheese, cut in half, paired with a Diet Coke with no ice. When she arrives, her grandmother is often wearing an orange-and-white “Whatagrandma” T-shirt the family made for her birthday this spring. “It’s the little things,” said Chapa, who lives in McAllen.

San Antonio-based Whataburger has built a devoted following over the last 70 years, and while it operates more than 800 restaurants across 10 states, it holds a special place in the hearts of many Texans. The state is home to the bulk of the burger chain’s locations. So loyalists were stunned when they learned in June 2019 that Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners was acquiring a majority stake in Whataburger. The firm, started by former Goldman Sachs banker and Warren Buffett adviser Byron Trott, advises and invests in family- and founder-owned businesses. It’s raised multiple billion-dollar funds and its investments include coffee pod maker Keurig Green Mountain Inc. and whiskey distiller WhistlePig. The firm also has consulted on deals involving Mars Inc. and Walmart Inc., according to Bloomberg. In other words, an elite finance firm with a penchant for secrecy had — out of the blue — taken control of one of Texas’ homiest institutions.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 4, 2020

‘Major disconnect’ between state, counties on COVID-19 deaths

Gov. Greg Abbott asserted Tuesday that the state is ensuring “the highest level of accuracy” in its county-by-county totals of COVID-19 deaths, but officials from San Antonio to the Rio Grande Valley expressed doubt about the veracity of those numbers. In Hidalgo County, where the disease is so widespread that an overflow hospital opened at a convention center on Tuesday, the state is undercounting coronavirus deaths by 244, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said. Cortez said 727 people had died of COVID-19 in Hidalgo since the start of the pandemic. The state’s official count was much lower: 483.

The state’s numbers are widely reported nationally by news outlets and research institutions that collect and analyze state-by-state reports, including the influential Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The data help to shape public impressions of the crisis and of where outbreaks are most severe. “Anything anybody reports, we want it to be accurate,” Cortez said in an interview. “So to the extent that people are receiving inaccurate information, then it’s not good for the public.” In Bexar County, the situation is the opposite of Hidalgo’s: The state is reporting nearly twice as many COVID-19 deaths as the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, a disparity that muddies a fundamental measure of the crisis’ severity. As of Tuesday evening, Metro Health listed 380 total deaths for Bexar County. The state reported 646. That’s a difference of 266. “It’s a major disconnect,” said state Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio. “Right now, what’s so important is we are relying on data, and it’s important to have accurate data. It’s a huge discrepancy, which shows there’s miscommunication between the state and our local authorities. We need to have data so we can research and right this pandemic in the future.”

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San Antonio Express-News - August 5, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: Trump preemptively makes excuses for possible defeat

The past five NBA seasons were rigged. They were fixed, fraudulent scams masquerading as legitimate competition. How do I know? Simple. The Spurs failed to win any championships during that time. You see, I’m simply applying our president’s definition of the word “rigged.” In the dictionary that resides within Donald Trump’s mind, a “rigged” election is one that doesn’t go his way.

Right now, the 2020 general election is most definitely not going Trump’s way. National polls show him trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by double digits, his approval ratings languish under 40 percent and he’s struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic wreckage it has wrought. It’s no surprise that Trump is preemptively making excuses for a possible election loss by suggesting that expanded mail voting will result in widespread fraud. That’s how he operates. If he’s going down in November, he wants to take all remaining trust in our electoral system and bring it down with him. On election night in 2012, as early results indicated that Trump’s chosen presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, was headed for defeat to Barack Obama, Trump called the election “a total sham and a travesty.” Trump also incorrectly assumed that Obama would lose the popular vote while winning the election by virtue of the Electoral College. (Obama ultimately carried the popular vote.) So Trump tweeted that the Electoral College is “a disaster for our democracy.”

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San Antonio Express-News - August 5, 2020

San Antonio lawyer Thomas J. Henry’s divorce case hinges on whether he’s even married

A key issue in flashy San Antonio personal-injury lawyer Thomas J. Henry’s split with longtime partner Azteca Henry wouldn’t be up for debate in a typical divorce case. That is, are they even married? Thomas J. Henry, 58, argues they’re not husband and wife. Azteca, 42, says they are. Records show Henry and Azteca wed in 1999 but divorced 15 years ago.

However, according to a court filing by Azteca last week, the pair was living together at the time of their 2005 divorce and continued to live together until he moved out last summer. Azteca filed the latest divorce petition in November in San Antonio, using the couples initials — backwards — rather than their names to hide the case from prying eyes. The case surfaced last month when Thomas J. Henry’s role in a court battle involving his new flame, Evelin Crossland, landed him in the spotlight. Crossland has taken her estranged husband to court over their oil field services company, a legal dispute that the husband claims Henry has bankrolled. Drew Crossland submitted a court exhibit containing photos of Henry and Evelin, 30, posted to their Instagram accounts as proof of an “extramarital and adulterous relationship.” The pictures included amorous poses with captions such as “My Valentine” with a heart emoji.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 4, 2020

Abbott stresses Texas school boards are best to set reopenings of classrooms amid COVID

As Texas school districts weigh when and how to start the school year, Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated Tuesday that local school boards are best suited to determine when classrooms reopen, and cautioned that reopenings and the upcoming flu season will increase the need for personal protective equipment. With the novel coronavirus still spreading, both events will put “an even greater strain” on the demand for personal protective equipment, like face masks and gloves, Abbott said Tuesday from a Texas Division of Emergency Management warehouse during a press conference in San Antonio.

But he stressed that the state has “abundant supplies” to ensure equipment is provided not just to schools, but also to hospitals, nursing homes and testing sites that need PPE to respond to the pandemic. As of Tuesday, the Texas Division of Emergency Management has distributed over 130 million face masks, 33 million gloves, 7 million gowns and 4 million face shields across the state. Schools have received over 59 million masks, 24,000 thermometers, 565,000 gallons of hand sanitizer and more than 500,000 face shields, Abbott said. In a statement following Abbott’s press conference, Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said that 59.4 million face masks would equal roughly 11 masks per student, and that it was only “a drop in the bucket, compared to what will be needed if schools are forced to reopen before it’s safe.” “That might get students through the first week of school,” Molina said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 4, 2020

TCU football coach apologizes for ‘unacceptable’ use of racial slur

TCU football coach Gary Patterson issued a statement Tuesday, apologizing for repeating a racial slur while telling one of his players to stop using it. Patterson repeated the N-word to linebacker Dylan Jordan on Sunday to emphasize his point that Jordan should not use the slur during team meetings. “I met with our Seniors and Leadership Council last night about how we move forward as a team, together,” Patterson posted on his Twitter handle. “We are committed as individuals and as a program to fighting racial injustice of any kind.

“I apologize for the use of a word that, in any context, is unacceptable. I have always encouraged our players to do better and be better and I must live by the same standards. “Our players, past and present have always been the strength of our program. These men are and will always be my motivation and driving force.” TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini described the incident to the school’s student media by saying “it was a teachable moment for him [Patterson] and many others.” The Big 12 is not expected to discipline or reprimand Patterson, calling it an “institutional matter.” A source said Patterson is not expected to face internal discipline for the matter.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 4, 2020

Paxton: Face mask mandates OK for counties, public transportation

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a pair of opinions Tuesday siding with counties and transportation authorities on face mask requirements. The opinions both stated that local authorities can issue face mask mandates, something that Republican state lawmakers had resisted until cases spiked in recent months.

The first opinion from Paxton’s office applies to county facilities, such as courthouses. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, a Democrat, requested the opinion. The second opinion relates to a face mask mandate issued by METRO, the public transit authority for Harris County. Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, requested the opinion. Paxton’s office states in both opinions that Gov. Greg Abbott’s July 2 executive order granted the authority to both public transit agencies and county officials to regulate face masks in their respective facilities, including buses, trains and courthouses. Paxton’s guidance regarding face mask mandates on public transit is pretty straightforward.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 4, 2020

Roger Williams: Music venues are part of our fabric. They need our help.

(Williams, R-Austin, represents the 25th District of Texas.) Across our state, uncertainty still looms as small businesses reopen their doors and Texans take cautious steps toward returning to the “norm” prior to COVID-19. The response in our communities to support local businesses, order carry out, and utilize curbside pickup has softened the blow for many businesses in our neighborhoods over the last few months. Sadly, while we have been fortunate to buoy some local shops, there are industries that have experienced unmitigated hardship with more uncertainty on the horizon.

Independent live music venues nationwide have been uniquely affected by the government’s actions during the pandemic. Unlike some businesses who are on the road to recovery, music venues that have been cultural staples for generations will continue to bear the negative impacts of recommended social-distancing and health precautions for the foreseeable future. Venues like Mohawk and Nutty Brown Amphitheatre in Austin, Hudson’s on Mercer Street in Dripping Springs, or Poodie’s Roadhouse in Spicewood provide some artists with what is often the only avenue for their music to be heard. They play a crucial role in our societal identity – American music legends that rose to fame once graced stages that are currently empty. They moved the young and old alike and inspired the next generation of artists with an outlet for personal expression. Each year, thousands of music venues host millions of events, staffed by hundreds of thousands of employees, and attended by hundreds of millions of concertgoers from all backgrounds. Our venues create jobs, generate billions of dollars for local economies, and support growing area businesses. As long as occupancy limits and social distancing remain in place, these pillars in our communities will need help if they are to rebound. To meet these needs, last week I introduced the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act with my colleague Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) to ensure these businesses and their employees have the resources necessary to recover and fully reopen when ready.

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Brownsville Herald - August 3, 2020

Judge orders principals in former Brownsville ISD's VP case not to talk about it outside of court

A federal judge last week signed a protective order restricting Sylvia Atkinson, her attorneys, and government prosecutors from making certain statements outside the court concerning her federal bribery case pending trial. The protective order was filed on Friday following a motion hearing that was closed to the public. Under the terms of the order, extrajudicial statements that create the risk of prejudice include “statements concerning the nature of the evidence, views and opinions about specific allegations or possible evidence supporting specific allegations, views about the identities of possible witnesses, or statements about the character of the Defendant or the motives of the Government in the prosecution.”

The order is binding on Atkinson, her counsel, counsel for the government, as well as individuals employed or controlled by Atkinson, her counsel, or the government’s counsel. The court found that the dissemination of certain information to the public may prejudice Atkinson’s right to a fair trial before an impartial jury. In the order, Rodriguez wrote that the “local community and local media have demonstrated an interest in this case that is significantly greater than in a typical criminal proceeding.” As Atkinson is an elected official, local media has followed the case closely. She is the former vice president of the Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustees, on which she still serves, and a former Texas Southmost College employee who faces eight counts including conspiracy, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and violation of the Travel Act-State Bribery Law. An indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in December accused Atkinson of soliciting and accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as an employee of local film production and advertising company Pink Ape Media.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 4, 2020

Pastor of Dallas church says uninvited presence of Back the Blue caravan was ‘act of intimidation’

A pastor said Tuesday that the presence of a Back the Blue caravan in his Red Bird-area church’s parking lot over the weekend was an “act of intimidation” that included white supremacists. Senior Pastor Frederick Douglass Haynes and the staff of Friendship-West Baptist Church have expressed its outrage after the large caravan supporting law enforcement stopped Sunday at the lot on Wheatland Road, near Interstate 20 and South Hampton Road. The caravan, hosted by the Texas Ram Club and North Texas Jeep Club, started in Bedford before its planned stop at the church.

After conducting an internal investigation, Haynes said that the caravan had not been invited but that a Back the Blue Cruise organizer had approached a church staff member last week to use the lot as a pit stop for 30 cars. The event was approved, but according to the church, the organizer did not say the caravan was a Back the Blue event. “They flat-out lied to us,” Haynes said. “Not only did they lie to us about what the intent was behind it, but accompanying some of the persons who were part of this were white supremacists.” Haynes said Back the Blue Cruise participants waved Trump 2020 and Confederate flags outside the church, which has a large Black Lives Matter banner on display. The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 to protest police brutality against Black people across the country, and Blue Lives Matter began in 2014 as a counter-movement in support of law enforcement.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 4, 2020

Fort Worth residents demand action on policing as city council locks in union deal

The Fort Worth City Council Tuesday approved a four-year contract with the city’s police union despite calls from residents to delay the vote and gather more input from policing experts. Those speaking Tuesday saw the contract as a concrete way to impose police reform. Since late May, a renewed interest in police tactics has drawn protesters to Fort Worth’s streets and into the council chambers. They have called for substantial changes to policing and criticized the council for being disengaged.

James Smith, a neighbor of Atatiana Jefferson, kicked off a string of speakers Tuesday urging the council to delay the contract vote. Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean killed Jefferson in her home last October. He resigned and has been charged with murder. Smith said provisions of the contract needed to be tweaked to provide more accountability, calling the current contract “a miscarriage of justice.” “As we approach the anniversary of Atatiana’s death, I’m hopeful that some substantial changes will be made in honor of our victims and in hopes of a better Fort Worth,” he said. The contract would have expired in September, though a one-year grace period prevents it from lapsing immediately. Though negotiations take place between city staff and the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, the City Council must vote to accept the contract.

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Dallas Morning News - August 3, 2020

Dallas Contemporary says see you next year

Dallas Contemporary, raised a white flag on Monday, announcing that, because of COVID-19, it will remain shuttered for the rest of the very strange year that is 2020. The Glass Street venue will not reopen until late January at the earliest, said executive director Peter Doroshenko, who noted that, despite being dark for so long, Dallas Contemporary will not be forced to lay off or furlough any of its eight full-time or four part-time employees. “The decision was made a little more than a month ago,” Doroshenko said. “Basically because Dallas and Texas are a COVID-19 epicenter. No group, no parents, no grandparents, want to be in a confined building. That’s the reality we are in. Nobody wanted this to happen, but it’s happening.”

In the Dallas Arts District, all museums remain closed as well, with no indication of when they’ll reopen. Doroshenko hopes that when Dallas Contemporary reopens in January, “It will be a much better and more positive situation.” In the meantime, it will continue to do what it can online, at dallascontemporary.org, which remains an avenue of opportunity for museums all over the world. When it comes to the financial impact of navigating the coronavirus, Doroshenko said, “Obviously, there are always impacts. We always had a reserve. We have amazing stakeholders, board members and members that have turned up in force during this current unsettling time.”

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National Stories

Associated Press - August 5, 2020

Protest leader Bush ousts 20-year US Rep. Clay in Missouri

Cori Bush, a onetime homeless woman who led protests following a white police officer’s fatal shooting of a Black 18-year-old in Ferguson, ousted longtime Rep. William Lacy Clay Tuesday in Missouri’s Democratic primary, ending a political dynasty that has spanned more than a half-century. Bush’s victory came in a rematch of 2018, when she failed to capitalize on a national Democratic wave that favored political newcomers such as Bush’s friend, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But this time around, Bush’s supporters said protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and outrage over racial injustice finally pushed her over the edge. An emotional Bush, speaking to supporters while wearing a mask, said few people expected her to win. “They counted us out,” she said. “They called me — I’m just the protester, I’m just the activist with no name, no title and no real money. That’s all they said that I was. But St. Louis showed up today.” Bush’s campaign spokeswoman, Keenan Korth, said voters in the district were “galvanized.” “They’re ready to turn the page on decades of failed leadership,” Korth said. Bush, 44, also had backing from political action committee Justice Democrats and Fight Corporate Monopolies this election. She campaigned for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during his presidential bid. Bush’s primary win essentially guarantees her a seat in Congress representing the heavily Democratic St. Louis area. Missouri’s 1st Congressional District has been represented by Clay or his father for a half-century. Bill Clay served 32 years before retiring in 2000. William Lacy Clay, 64, was elected that year. Clay didn’t face a serious challenger until Bush. This year, he ran on his decades-long record in Congress.

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Associated Press - August 5, 2020

‘Squad’ member Tlaib leads in Michigan primary

“Squad” member Rashida Tlaib was trying to fend off a serious challenge for her House seat in Michigan’s primary on Tuesday, in a rematch with the woman she narrowly defeated two years ago. Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, was seeking reelection in the 13th District in and around Detroit. Her sole opponent is Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who lost by 1 percentage point in 2018 when the primary field was larger. Jones on the same day defeated Tlaib to fill out the remainder of John Conyers’ term.

Tlaib, 44, was leading in early returns. But a large number of votes had still not been counted and the winner was not expected to be determined until later Wednesday. “I’m confident. I’m confident in the movement that we started. I’m confident that as we experience this tonight, we are going to see that our country is ready, is ready for someone like me and others that are saying, ’Enough. Enough with corporate greed. Enough with the assault on our families,” Tlaib said in a video to supporters after the polls closed. The Democratic showdown in one of the country’s poorest districts featured Jones criticizing Tlaib’s confrontational style and vowing to focus on bringing home funding. Tlaib once called the president an expletive while vowing to impeach him. He later targeted her with racist tweets. Tlaib, an unapologetic fighter and progressive with a national profile, noted that Trump signed into law a bill she sponsored to protect retirees’ pension benefits and that she has gotten amendments approved with bipartisan support. She also cited work creating neighborhood service centers to help residents throughout the district.

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Reuters - August 4, 2020

State attorneys general urge U.S. to increase supply, lower price of Gilead COVID-19 drug

A bipartisan group of state attorneys general on Tuesday urged the U.S. government to allow other companies to make Gilead Sciences' COVID-19 treatment, remdesivir, to increase its availability and lower the price of the antiviral drug. The coalition of more than 30 state attorneys general called on the government to act or allow states to do so, saying in a letter to U.S. health agencies that Gilead “has not established a reasonable price” for remdesivir.

“Gilead should not profit from the pandemic and it should be pushed to do more to help more people,” the letter said. The drugmaker is charging most U.S. patients $3,120 per course, or $520 per vial of remdesivir. The medicine is one of only two that have demonstrated an ability to help hospitalized COVID-19 patients in formal clinical trials. It received emergency use authorization (EUA) in the United States and approval in other countries after it shortened hospital stays in a large U.S. trial. In the letter, the coalition, led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, urged RemdesivirFINALLetter202008041.pdf the federal government to exercise its rights under the Bayh-Dole Act and license remdesivir to third-party manufacturers to scale up production. The letter went to the heads of the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) department, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

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Other Words - July 29, 2020

Robert P. Alvarez: Police departments are over-militarized at the local level, too. Here’s one way to change that.

(Robert P. Alvarez is a media relations associate at the Institute for Policy Studies. He lives in Portland.) The smell of tear gas is hard to describe, but it’s horrifying. It pinched my nose from the inside, burning deep in my nasal cavity. My throat slammed shut as my body tried to block out the fumes. My eyes burned, oozed tears, and clamped closed. “I can’t see,” my fiancé screamed in panic. “I can’t breathe,” I yelled back. Men with weapons and armor charged forward, protected by qualified immunity and licensed to kill us on a whim. It was my birthday, July 21, and we were participating in a nonviolent Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Oregon. Just as the nation had begun to grapple with what should be done about police violence, President Donald Trump unleashed federal agents on the place I call home.

The agents, summoned from special Customs and Border Protection units, the U.S. Marshall Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have been snatching protesters off the streets and throwing them into unmarked vehicles without any charges. And when they’re not tear gassing our moms, they’re cracking our skulls with so-called “less-lethal” munitions. Federal overreach is definitely part of this story — rest assured, I want those camouflaged troops out of Portland and every other city. But the truth is, local Portland police were brutalizing and tear gassing people long before the first federal boot hit the pavement. It’s been the same story across the country, as police at all levels have responded to protests against police brutality with alarming violence. Now, more cities are bracing themselves for an influx of federal agents eager to coordinate with local police. This epidemic of violence is why activists have been chanting to “defund” and “demilitarize” the police. What might that mean? For starters, the Poor People’s Campaign and other movements have put forth a demand for city governments and state legislatures to ban participation in the infamous 1033 program, which allows the Department of Defense to give excess military-grade equipment to local authorities for free.

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Reuters - August 4, 2020

Clorox won't have enough disinfecting wipes until 2021, its CEO says

Grocery shelves won’t be fully stocked with Clorox’s disinfecting wipes until next year, CEO Benno Dorer told Reuters on Monday, as the world’s biggest cleaning products maker struggles with overwhelming pandemic-led demand for its top product. Since the start of global lockdowns, makers of hygiene goods have seen a sustained boom in sales. While California-based Clorox typically holds aside excess supply for flu seasons, it says it has been unable to keep up with a six-fold increase in demand for many of its disinfectants.

The company is currently understocked across much of its portfolio, which includes Glad trash bags and Burt’s Bees lip balm. Supply for most products, like liquid bleach, will improve dramatically over the next four to six months - but not wipes, Dorer said. Clorox products are used in Uber vehicles and United Airlines planes, and are sold by major retailers like Walmart, Amazon and Kroger. “Disinfecting wipes, which are the hottest commodity in the business right now, will probably take longer because it’s a very complex supply chain to make them,” Dorer said. Many wipes are made from polyester spunlace, a material currently in short supply as it is also used to make personal protective equipment like masks, medical gowns and medical wipes.

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The Hill - August 5, 2020

Missouri votes for Medicaid expansion over GOP governor's objections

Voters in deep-red Missouri narrowly approved Medicaid expansion on Tuesday over the objections of Republican state leaders. The vote makes Missouri the 38th state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and the sixth state in three years to pass it by ballot measure, a blow to the Trump administration's anti-ObamaCare agenda. The ballot measure, backed by progressive activists as well as state business and health groups, would expand the state's MO HealthNet program to anyone earning less than 133 percent of the poverty level, which is less than $18,000 a year for an individual, and less than $30,000 for a family of three.

The expansion will take effect on July 1, 2021. The measure was approved 52 percent to 48 percent with 83 percent of precincts reporting on Tuesday night. According to Healthcare for Missouri, one of the groups spearheading the effort, it would mean coverage for more than 200,000 currently uninsured Missourians, and could result in up to $1 billion of savings. Missouri has one of the strictest Medicaid programs in the country. As the policy stands currently, adults who do not have disabilities and who do not have minor children living at home cannot qualify for Medicaid coverage, no matter how little money they make. Parents with dependent children can only earn up to 21 percent of the poverty level, which is about $2,700 each. Under ObamaCare, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost of states that expand Medicaid. Missouri has not yet outlined a plan to pay for its 10 percent share.

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Yahoo - August 4, 2020

Two huge Beirut explosions kill 73, injure thousands

Two enormous explosions devastated Beirut's port on Tuesday, leaving at least 73 people dead and thousands injured, shaking distant buildings and spreading panic and chaos across the Lebanese capital. The second blast sent an enormous orange fireball into the sky, immediately followed by a tornado-like shockwave that flattened the port and swept the city, shattering windows kilometres (miles) away. Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that 2,750 tonnes of the agricultural fertiliser ammonium nitrate that had been stored for years in a portside warehouse had blown up, sparking "a disaster in every sense of the word".

Bloodied and dazed wounded people stumbled among the debris, glass shards and burning buildings in central Beirut as the health ministry reported 73 dead and 3,700 injured across wide parts of the country's biggest city. "What happened today will not pass without accountability," said Diab. "Those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price." General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim earlier said the "highly explosive material" had been confiscated years earlier and stored in the warehouse, just minutes walk from Beirut's shopping and nightlife districts. The blasts were so massive they shook the entire city and could be heard throughout the small country, and as far away as Nicosia on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 240 kilometres (150 miles) away. A soldier at the port, where relatives of the missing scrambled for news of their loved ones, told AFP: "It's a catastrophe inside. There are corpses on the ground. Ambulances are still lifting the dead." "It was like an atomic bomb," said Makrouhie Yerganian, a retired schoolteacher in her mid-70s who has lived near the port for decades.

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NPR - August 4, 2020

Conservative Kris Kobach loses Kansas GOP Senate primary

Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall has defeated former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the Republican Senate primary, according to The Associated Press, calming Republicans' worst fears about putting a seat in a deep red state in play this fall with the Senate majority contested. Marshall was the favored candidate of many party leaders to take on Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier in November — in what some strategists believe may still be a competitive general election. Marshall and Bollier, a former Republican and retired anesthesiologist, will compete for the seat currently held by GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, who is retiring.

Kobach lost the 2018 governor's race to Democrat Laura Kelly and his possible primary victory was concerning to some Republicans worried about holding Senate control in November with Republicans already on defense in far more competitive states than Kansas. Kobach has a controversial political tenure focused on curbing illegal immigration and championing unproven theories about voter fraud. He worked directly with the Trump administration on a 2018 investigation into possible voter fraud in the 2016 election, but it found no evidence. "You have sustained real-world trials and evidence and data that say that Kris Kobach is an extremely poor general election candidate who absolutely could be the first Republican to lose a Senate race in Kansas in over 80 years," Republican political operative David Kensinger told KPR's Jim McLean.

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Reno Gazette Journal - August 4, 2020

Four Station Casinos properties in Las Vegas may never reopen after pandemic closure

There’s a chance four Station Casino resorts in Southern Nevada have closed for good. Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Station's parent company, Red Rock Resorts, revealed in an earnings call Tuesday the company is uncertain whether Texas Station, Fiesta Henderson, Fiesta Rancho and the off-Strip Palms will reopen in the wake of COVID-19. “We don’t know if – or when – we’re going to reopen any of the closed properties,” Fertitta said. “We think it’s too early to make that decision at this time.” Station Casinos had closed 20 properties in Southern Nevada for almost three months following Gov. Steve Sisolak’s sweeping shutdown order in March.

Before deciding whether to reopen the properties, Red Rock’s Chief Financial Officer Stephen Cootey said the company must learn whether data shows healthy demand at reopened resorts. "So far we're very pleased with results that we've had, the ability to move some of the play from the closed properties to our existing properties, and we're going to continue to try to get clarity and navigate the situation to make well-informed decisions," Fertitta said, "but whatever decisions we make will be in the best interest of shareholder value." Red Rock Resorts reported net second quarter revenues of $108.5 million – a drop of 77.5% from the $482.9 million collected in the same quarter of 2019. The company’s net loss was $118.4 million. In the second quarter of 2019, the company recorded a loss of $7.1 million. Revenues at Red Rock’s Las Vegas properties alone dropped $356.7 million year over year.

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