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Newsclips - January 26, 2021

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NBC News - January 25, 2021

Supreme Court wipes out lower court rulings in Texas abortion battle

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to advocates of abortion rights, wiping lower court rulings off the books that had upheld a Texas order banning nearly all abortions in the state during the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbot ordered a halt to nonessential medical procedures in late March of last year to conserve hospital resources and personal protective equipment. Attorney General Ken Paxton then said the order applied to "any type of abortions," including medical abortions that do not involve surgery.

Planned Parenthood also sought to get permission for medication abortions, which do not consume protective equipment, and surgical abortions for women who are nearing 22 weeks of pregnancy, after which most abortions in Texas are illegal. But the appeals court said no to that, too. The governor issued a new order a short time later that allowed abortions in Texas to resume, but the state asked the Supreme Court to keep the appeals court rulings on the books. Those decisions "have been cited hundreds of times in courts across the country" in legal disputes over Covid-19 restrictions, lawyers for the state told the court. A federal judge in Texas declared the order too broad and lifted the ban. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans put it back in place. In public health emergencies, the appeals court said, a state can restrict constitutional rights including, "one's right to peaceably assemble, to publicly worship, to travel, and even to leave one's home. The right to abortion is no exception."

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2021

COVID-19 pandemic concerns force Texas Gov. Greg Abbott into a televised state of the state speech

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing Gov. Greg Abbott to shed the trappings of a high-profile event and deliver this session’s state of the state speech next week on live TV, from a small business in the greater Austin area. On Monday, Abbott announced he’ll give his speech on live television on the evening of Feb. 1 as part of an hour-long program being produced and broadcast by Irving-based Nexstar Media Group Inc. Usually, not long after the start of a legislative session, a Texas governor appears in the House chamber at the state Capitol to deliver what, with all three branches of state government assembled, can be a nearly hour-long stemwinder about Texas’ accomplishments, challenges and priorities.

This year, with no live audience packed on the House floor and galleries because of the risk of coronavirus infections, Abbott’s speech will last 30 minutes. As aides and producers of the event noted, there will be no applause lines and standing ovations, shortening the speech’s duration. Abbott’s expected to talk about, among other things, distribution of COVID-19 vaccine, efforts to help small businesses recover from economic hits caused by the pandemic and how the state will maintain the increased aid for public schools it began in the 2019 session. “We are at a pivotal moment in our state’s history, and this televised address is an occasion for every Texan to celebrate our state’s exceptionalism and recognize our shared goal for an even better Texas,” Abbott said in a written statement. “Despite the challenges that America has endured over the past year, Texas remains a leader for the rest of the nation, and we have a duty to keep it that way.” The speech will air at 7 p.m. CT on Feb. 1 on 16 Nexstar television stations serving 14 Texas markets, including KDAF-TV, the CW 33 channel in Dallas.

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2021

U.S. Supreme Court declines to take up Texas death row case involving police hypnosis

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a Texas death row inmate who argued that hypnosis helped convict him of murder. The decision was a blow to inmate Charles Don Flores, who was sentenced to death for the murder of Farmers Branch resident Elizabeth “Betty” Black in 1998. It was also a setback for critics of the use of hypnosis by Texas law enforcement officers, who had hoped the Supreme Court would rule that investigative hypnosis is junk science that has no place in U.S. courts Flores’ lawyer, Gretchen Sween, said she will continue to fight for her client’s release from prison, but she wished the high court had taken a look at how hypnosis helped put him there. “I do think one of the positive things that has come out of this litigation is that Charles’ case has unsettled a lot of people. There is a lack of awareness that this is something the police do,” Sween said Monday.

Investigative hypnosis is a technique used by police attempting to guide witnesses or victims into a trance so they might better recall details of a crime. A Dallas Morning News investigative series published last year revealed Texas has become the country’s premier destination for police hypnosis — both in training and practice — even though the scientific consensus is that the practice can warp memories. While many other states ban the testimony of people who have been hypnotized, or bar the introduction of evidence elicited during hypnosis sessions, law enforcement officers in Texas have used hypnosis to investigate hundreds of crimes over the years, sending dozens to prison — and some to their deaths. Flores challenged his conviction based on the fact that police tried to use hypnosis to refresh the memory of a witness who saw two men enter Black’s home on the morning of the crime. The justices denied his petition for review without comment Monday. Sween said this decision meant the court decided not to take up the case; it did not make any judgment on the merits of the case or the challenge against investigative hypnosis. She will now return to state court and continue fighting to overturn Flores’ conviction on other grounds. While declining to provide specific details about her upcoming argument, Sween said she has recently learned additional details about the prosecution that raised questions about her client’s conviction.

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2021

The SAT is dropping parts of its exam. What does that mean for Texas students?

The SAT is discontinuing portions of its college-entrance exams as a result of a growing effort among universities to place less emphasis on such standardized tests. The move comes as the pandemic has sped up many changes in college admissions and as schools focus more on students’ entire academic and personal portfolios. The College Board announced on Tuesday that it was discontinuing the 20 different SAT subject tests that focus on topics ranging from English to history to math to science as well as its optional essay section. But few schools required such subject tests. Universities across Texas and the country waived SAT and ACT requirements becoming “test optional” through 2021 as the coronavirus interfered with test days and testing sites.

Now more schools are looking at how — and if — they should continue using any part of the college-entrance exams. “With COVID, everything shifted,” said Nikki Young, the director of admissions at Texas Woman’s University. “We have to look at education differently, from a different lens. The expectations that we previously set are not working today.” The primary SAT test, which focuses on math and critical reading and writing, is not affected by the College Board’s announcement. The 20 subject tests, which students were able to take to show their interest in a major or program or get credit for introductory-level courses, and the optional essay were add-ons that could help students’ applications stand out. Some colleges plan on shelving SAT requirements indefinitely. In May, for example, the University of California Board of Regents unanimously approved the suspension of the standardized test requirements for state applicants until fall 2024. The system plans on creating its own assessment by fall 2025, but if it doesn’t meet certain criteria, it will eliminate the standardized testing requirement for California students altogether.

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2021

CVS says it’s done with first doses in Texas nursing homes

CVS Health said Monday that it has completed the first round of COVID-19 vaccines to almost 8,000 long-term care facilities in the U.S. and expects to be done with the second doses in four weeks. Some governors have criticized the federal program that partnered with CVS and Walgreens, saying it’s taking longer. There were challenges with getting the vaccines delivered, some said. Another issue cited was completing paper work including consent forms from nursing home residents that often required locating family for approvals. Karen Lynch, executive vice president of CVS Health said in a statement Monday that, so far it’s administered two million shots to the vulnerable population, in many cases with its staff going room-to-room.

In Texas, CVS is responsible for about 2,000 long-term care locations in the state with a total population of 275,000 residents and staff and started the program on Dec. 28. It’s completed first doses at 581 nursing homes and second doses have started, the retailer said. This week, CVS said it will finish administering first doses for nearly 90% of all the 1,431 assisted living and other long-term care facilities in the state. CVS said Monday that it has administered 57,877 vaccines at Texas nursing homes, including 5% of the second doses. It has given 67,767 shots at assisted living facilities. That’s about 45% of the estimated total resident and staff population at the facilities CVS was assigned in Texas. Friday, Walgreens provided a progress report saying it will be done with nursing home first doses today, and that it had administered more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccinations at long-term care facilities in the U.S. In Texas, Walgreens is assigned to 482 nursing homes and 936 assisted living locations. Walgreens said that through last week it had administered 45,543 vaccines at Texas nursing homes and 22,231 at assisted living facilities in the state. Retailers say they’re ready to start vaccinating from their stores and Walmart said Friday it has added Texas. Amazon said it contracted with a company to get its large workforce vaccinated. Other retailers are beginning to offer incentives to employees to get the shots.

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Will Biden swap Keystone for renewables?

Environmental activists a decade ago made the Keystone XL pipeline into a symbol of Big Oil and tailpipe pollution. By killing federal permits for the project on his very first day in office, President Joe Biden on Wednesday made the Keystone pipeline a fresh symbol of the Democrats’ drive to eliminate fossil fuels. In reality, the Keystone pipeline is hardly relevant to Biden’s goal of reducing pollution. Killing the project does not remove a single car from the road or add even one solar panel to the grid. While it sets the tone for a more environmentally minded administration, whether Biden achieves any reduction in pollution will depend on a strategy to build opportunities for conservation and renewable energy. The reason we’ve supported the Keystone project is that a modern pipeline is safer and more efficient than our aging oil infrastructure or, much worse, moving oil by rail. Further, a pipeline is important to global politics, local workforce and energy prices.

A pipeline from Canada to the U.S. would likely mean the U.S. would consume more oil from its neighbor ally, one more way that geopolitical power might shift from the Middle East and Russia to North America. Canadian oil field workers gain job security; pipeline welders get a multi-year project. More of the U.S. oil market pricing involves Canadian issues rather than OPEC issues. At the same time, Biden’s vision of building the U.S. renewables industry in terms of energy consumed, infrastructure built, and jobs created, is worth keeping an open mind about. It will be important to closely observe whether Biden is swapping Keystone for renewable energy, infrastructure and jobs, or whether he is swapping a modern oil pipeline for aging oil infrastructure. Our hope is that the decision to nix the Keystone pipeline is followed up by smart initiatives that drive us to a more energy efficient country in ways that are affordable for all Americans. This past year, for example, we all saw the benefits of driving less. What’s more, it should be clear that electricity will increasingly serve as a transportation energy source, but if that electricity is simply generated by burning fossil fuels we may not gain much by swapping gasoline-powered cars for electric vehicles.

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Houston Chronicle - January 25, 2021

Harris County judge dismisses vaccine theft charge against doctor, blasts Ogg

A Harris County judge has dismissed a case against a doctor accused of stealing nine doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine he said would otherwise go to waste. County Court-At-Law Judge Franklin Bynum criticized Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg for attempting to prosecute Dr. Hasan Gokal and said the single misdemeanor charge of theft by a public servant lacked probable cause. “In the number of words usually taken to describe an allegation of retail shoplifting, the State attempts, for the first time, to criminalize a doctor’s documented administration of vaccine doses during a public health emergency,” Bynum wrote in his order, adding the prosecutor’s affidavit was “riddled with sloppiness and errors.”

Gokal, who worked for Harris County Public Health, was supervising a vaccine distribution site on Dec. 29 when an opened vial of Moderna doses was left over at the end of the day, around 6:30 p.m. Since the doses would expire within six hours, Gokal through his attorney said that he offered the vaccine to health workers and police on site, but they declined or already had been inoculated. Gokal said he called a supervisor at the health department, who knew of no available patients. He then used contacts in his cell phone and administered about nine doses off-site to eligible recipients: elderly residents or those with certain medical conditions. He said he gave the final dose to his chronically ill wife after 11 p.m., unable to find any other recipient. Gokal said he entered all of the recipients into the state’s database the following day, as required. He was fired Jan. 8 when Harris County Public Health leaders determined he had violated policy by taking doses away from a vaccination site. The health department has yet to respond to a Chronicle request for its vaccine distribution protocols. The doctor’s attorney, Paul Doyle, said Friday that Gokal is also preparing to sue Harris County for wrongful termination.

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Houston Chronicle - January 25, 2021

Harris County to create COVID-19 vaccine wait list to handle massive demand

Harris County on Tuesday will launch a COVID-19 vaccine wait list to ensure shots are fairly administered among eligible residents. Instead of the first-come, first-served approach used by other distributors, including the city of Houston, the county’s system will randomly choose recipients for appointments. Older residents will be made a priority, Harris County Public Health said. “Let me put it bluntly: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine shouldn’t be like the ‘Hunger Games,’” County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “It shouldn’t be about who can hit refresh on a browser the fastest.”

Only people who meet the criteria for phases 1A — first responders and health care workers — and 1B — residents at least 65 years old or those with certain medical conditions — will receive appointments. Registration will be available at readyharris.org; residents also can call (832) 927-8787 to sign up. Operators are available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. The health department said its distribution plan complies with state guidelines. Dallas County backtracked on a plan to focus vaccination efforts in certain low-income ZIP codes after the state threatened to withhold supply of the vaccine. Harris County has administered more than 27,000 vaccine doses to date, less than the capacity of Minute Maid Park. Hidalgo said the county has received about 9,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine each week. People who are not eligible for the 1A or 1B categories still can sign up. Vaccines may not be available for most residents, however, until May or June.

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Houston Chronicle - January 25, 2021

Fact check: Texas lawmaker says 70% COVID immunization is key to ‘herd immunity’

The claim: “To defeat this pandemic AND recover our economy, the safest and most effective way is for the population to be immunized. The way to reach ‘herd immunity’ is for >70% of the population to get vaccinated.” — State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Cypress. Rosenthal, who has lost a family member and a friend to COVID-19, said he took to Twitter to dispel “rampant misinformation” about the virus and its vaccine. PolitiFact rating: Mostly True. The herd immunity threshold is calculated by using a disease’s rate of transmission. Although scientists have not agreed upon a definite rate, and even though these rates are highly theoretical, estimates show that the threshold for COVID-19 lies between 60 percent and 83 percent.

The strategy to achieve herd immunity within a population to reverse the spread of COVID-19 has been a matter of intense debate over the course of the pandemic. One component of this debate involves the herd immunity threshold, or the percentage of a population that must be immunized from a disease, be it through infections or vaccinations, for the spread to abate. The more infectious a contagion, the higher its threshold. For instance, measles, a highly infectious disease that is at least three times as contagious as COVID-19, requires a herd immunity threshold level of around 94 percent, meaning that 94 percent of a population would need to be immune to measles before its transmission rate declines. But pinning down a concrete herd immunity threshold level for COVID-19 has so far been theoretical guesswork. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say that the herd immunity threshold for any virus lies between 50 percent and 90 percent.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 25, 2021

Fort Worth has chosen a new police chief to replace Ed Kraus. Here’s who got the job

Neil Noakes is the Fort Worth Police Department’s new chief as of Monday, following the retirement of former chief Ed Kraus, according to City Manager David Cooke. Noakes helped research and develop the city’s VIP Fort Worth program, which employs ex-gang members and cons to stop gang violence before it happens. Noakes acknowledged in August that the city can’t arrest its way out of crime. In his cover letter, Noakes wrote candidly about how police need to build relationships in diverse communities.

“I believe we need innovative leadership and genuine engagement with the citizens we serve,” he wrote. “Officers must be inspired to reject the notion that societal issues are not our problem. We have a duty to address the generational neglect that has occurred in undeserved communities and become part of the solution.” Noakes wrote that it’s now the time to break through barriers between police and the people they serve and he chose to step up to lead that effort. He also wrote about the low morale of being a police officer in the current climate but said that he’s seen the opposite in Fort Worth officers and instead sees a group of men and women who are committed to being more socially conscious. “Those are qualities we must continue to cultivate in our department and emphasize as we recruit, hire and train our next generation of leaders,” he wrote.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 25, 2021

Rep. Roger Williams, a TCU trustee, faces faculty vote over objection to Biden’s win

The TCU Faculty Senate will consider a resolution calling for the removal of Rep. Roger Williams from the university’s Board of Trustees after he voted against the certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College votes. Williams objected to certifying the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania, and that undermines TCU’s mission “to educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community,” according to the Faculty Senate resolution. The Senate will discuss and vote on the resolution on Feb. 4. If passed, the Senate will call for the Board of Trustees to remove Williams for “conduct which causes notorious or public scandal or would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule to the University.”

Only the board has the power to remove one of its members. Williams, a Republican, told the Star-Telegram he has no plans to step down. He said he was surprised to see members of the TCU community call for his removal from the TCU board, on which he has served since 2002. His congressional district stretches from southern Tarrant County to Austin. In a statement shortly after the Jan. 6 certification vote, Williams said his objection was a statement for “free and fair elections” and not an attempt to overturn the results. He did not give examples of how the election was not free or fair. Two committees with the Department of Homeland Security said the Nov. 3 election was the most secure in American history. “Just because they want me to resign because of the way I vote is way off,” he said. “I am not getting off the board. People know I’ve been on this board for 20 years, and they all know I’m a conservative. That’s not some secret. Why didn’t they want me off the board back in 2016, or 10 years ago?”

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KXAN - January 25, 2021

Lawmaker vows reform of Texas’ police oversight agency after KXAN racial profiling investigation

When we decided who to ask about correcting the problems we uncovered inside the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s handling of the state’s racial profiling law, the first stop was the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. The commission is in the middle of deciding whether TCOLE will exist after the legislative session gavels to a close this summer. State agencies undergo Sunset review once every decade and if the legislature fails to pass a bill to continued an agency, it’s eliminated by an effect of law. TCOLE is one of 19 agencies under review right now.

“I have to say a little bit, it’s not surprising. There are definitely major issues that we are addressing and we will address,” said Rep. John Cyrier, a Republican from Lockhart. Cyrier, who chairs this session’s Sunset Advisory Commission, reviewed the findings of our “Failure to Report” investigation, uncovering oversight lapses in TCOLE’s collection of racial profiling reports. The racial profiling data is an annual collection of the race, ethnicity and gender of drivers involved in traffic stops across the state. The law, passed in 2001, requires every law enforcement agency in Texas that routinely conducts traffic stops to report traffic stop data to TCOLE by March 1 of each year. The law also requires Texas law enforcement agencies to perform comparative analyses of that data. The purpose of these analyses are to ensure agencies aren’t simply collecting data and reporting the numbers to the state without first investigating whether indicators of racial profiling exist.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 25, 2021

Harris County DA Ogg announces more charges in Harding Street investigation

A Harris County grand jury has indicted six current and former Houston Police Officers with crimes related to a years-long probe into the 2019 Harding Street raid. Narcotics officer Felipe Gallegos was indicted on murder for the shooting death of Dennis Tuttle. Two other officers, Oscar Pardo, Frank Medina, were charged with tampering with a government record and aggregate theft, while retired officers Cedelle Lovings — who was paralyzed in the raid — and Griff Maxwell were hit with similar indictments. Ogg also announced a slew of organized crime members against the officers and several other officers previously charged in July with aggregate theft or tampering with government records.

The widened investigation is the latest development following the January 2019 raid of 7815 Harding St., which led to the deaths of homeowners Dennis Tuttle, 59, and Rhogena Nicholas, 58. In the days after the operation, police announced that Goines, a veteran narcotics officer and the leader of the raid, was under investigation for lying about buying drugs from the Harding Street home. The scandal prompted several other investigations, including a federal civil rights probe, and a massive review by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office of cases that Goines and his colleagues had handled. Goines was later charged with murder, tampering with government records, and violating Nicholas and Tuttle’s civil rights. His partner, Steven Bryant, was charged with tampering with government records. Both men retired from the department.

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National Stories

Washington Post - January 25, 2021

'Mass murder’ suspect arrested: Six shot dead, including pregnant woman, Indianapolis officials say

Six people, including a pregnant woman and her fetus, died early Sunday in what Indianapolis authorities said was the largest mass casualty shooting in the city in more than a decade. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers responded to a call about a shooting around 4 a.m. on the city’s north side and found a boy who had been wounded. Following reports, they went to a nearby house, where they found five people who were dead. The boy was taken to a hospital and is expected to survive, authorities said. A suspect, whose identity was not released because they are a juvenile, was arrested Monday, police said. Police identified the victims as Kezzie and Raymond Childs, both 42; Elijah Childs,18; Rita Childs, 13; and Kiara Hawkins, 19, and her fetus.

“What we saw this morning was a different kind of evil,” Police Chief Randal Taylor told reporters Sunday afternoon. “What occurred this morning based on the evidence that’s been gathered so far was a mass murder.” AD Authorities said that they have determined the attack was “targeted" but declined to provide details about a motive. Police said they do not think any other shooter was involved. The shooting was one of several overnight in Indianapolis and just days after officials announced a crime-reduction plan to combat a rise in violence, which they attributed to drugs and poverty. IMPD conducted a record number of criminal homicide investigations in 2020, at least 160, according to the Indianapolis Star. The previous high was 159 in 2018. The city, like others nationwide, experienced a surge in homicides and aggravated assaults last year, police spokesman Sgt. Shane Foley told The Washington Post. Police have already responded to 20 homicides this year, he said. FBI crime data indicated that killings rose nearly 21 percent nationwide in the first nine months of the year, The Post previously reported.

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Associated Press - January 25, 2021

Biden signs order reversing Trump ban on transgender people in military

President Joe Biden has signed an order Monday reversing a Pentagon policy that largely barred transgender individuals from joining the military. The new order, which Biden signed in the Oval Office during a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, overturns a ban ordered by President Donald Trump in a tweet during his first year in office. It immediately prohibits any service member from being forced out of the military on the basis of gender identity. Biden’s order says that gender identity should not be a bar to military service.

“America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception,” the order says. “Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.” The order directs the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to take steps to implement the order for the military and the Coast Guard. And it says they must reexamine the records of service members who were discharged or denied reenlistment due to gender identity issues under the previous policy. It requires the departments to submit a report to the president on their progress within 60 days. Biden had been widely expected to quickly overturn the Trump policy. And the move also was backed by Biden’s newly confirmed defense secretary, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who spoke of the need to overturn it during his Senate confirmation hearing last week.

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NPR - January 25, 2021

California lifts stay-at-home orders: 'Light at the end of the tunnel'

California is lifting stay-at-home orders for all regions in the state, including Southern California, the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley — the three regions that had still been under the order — citing a drop in intensive care unit projections. But health officials warn that most counties still need to follow strict guidelines. "COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it's important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner," said Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state's public health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health. More than 40 million people live in the 54 California counties where the state deems COVID-19 risk to be "widespread," according to the latest official assessment. Only four counties, with a total population a bit more than 35,000, are currently in lower-risk tiers. Still, for many businesses, the new change is good news.

"The lifting of regional closures is welcome relief to restaurants that can resume outdoor dining, and businesses such as gyms, hair and nail salons that can now reopen with modifications," NPR's Eric Westervelt reports. "But county and local officials can still maintain closures and other restrictions, as several are likely to do. Los Angeles County, in particular, remains in a tough spot, despite a drop in new cases," he added. California announced its regional stay-at-home order in early December, saying it would apply to any region where intensive care unit availability is projected to fall below 15%. The Sacramento region exited the order earlier this month; Northern California was never affected by it. California has emerged as a new epicenter in the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., reporting a total of more than 3.1 million cases and nearly 37,000 deaths in its most recent bulletin. Well over half of the state's cases were found in people 18-49 years old. As COVID-19 patients overwhelmed emergency rooms, California recently took the extraordinary step of overriding its own law that puts a limit on the number of patients each nurse can be assigned to look after.

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2021

After 2020 debacle, Republicans look to retool as specter of Trump looms

Before Donald Trump departed Washington after four tumultuous years as president, he pledged that his movement — one that seized control of the Republican Party — would continue and that he would be around to lead it. “I just want to say goodbye, but hopefully it’s not a long-term goodbye,” Trump said as he left Washington before the inauguration of President Joe Biden. “We’ll see each other again.” The specter of Trump hovers over a Republican Party in transition. How the GOP handles Trump and his legions of followers will dictate if it rebounds from its 2020 national shellacking, or loses more ground to a Democratic Party that benefited from the former president’s controversial tenure.

Republicans have to mollify Trump voters miffed about the 2020 presidential election. Many of those loyalists are still swayed by the false statements by Trump and others that the election was rigged. Trump and his allies have already promised political retribution to Republican leaders who didn’t fight to overturn the election results. Even if that proves to be poppycock, Republicans must use one hand to keep Trump voters engaged in politics and the other hand to block Trump from remaining in control of the GOP. It’s tough task. Some Republicans say the answer involves sticking with the Republican principles that provide a counter to progressive Democratic Party policies that they believe are unpopular with voters in the middle of the political spectrum. In 2020 Republican candidates benefited from progressive proposals to “defund the police” and create a Green New Deal, even though most incumbent Texas Democrats don’t support those ideas. On Sunday’s edition of Lone Star Politics, a political show produced by KXAS (NBC5) and The Dallas Morning News, former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, said Republicans could prosper after Trump. “I don’t think it is mutually exclusive to go after, or to get those people that voted for Donald Trump and at the same time get those people that are in the middle of a country that are frustrated with what is going to ultimately be a leftward lurch of this country,” Hurd said.

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Politico - January 22, 2021

Will there be a Trump Presidential Library? Don’t count on it.

For months, as the end of Donald Trump’s term approached, historians and journalists have been playing a speculation game: What will Donald Trump’s presidential library be like? “A shrine to his ego,” predicted a historian in the Washington Post. Others imagine a theme park, or a “full MAGA” exercise in rebranding his presidency. One report said he’s trying to raise an astonishing $2 billion to build it. Here’s another, more likely possibility: There won’t be one. It’s not because he doesn’t read books (presidential libraries aren’t that kind of library), and not because his presidency ended in a shocking insurrection at the U.S. Capitol fanned by Trump himself, resulting in a second impeachment. Other presidents have stepped down in borderline disgrace—Richard Nixon resigned; Herbert Hoover lost in a landslide, blamed for the Great Depression—and still got their libraries.

Trump likely won’t even manage to build a private library, such as the one Nixon finally created for himself. Or the “center” for which Barack Obama has had great difficulty even breaking ground, which will lack a government presence, a research facility, or archives. Presidential libraries are complicated. And if you understand how they work—and how Trump himself works—it’s nearly impossible to imagine him actually pulling it off. The consequences of this failure, for Trump and his supporters, will go beyond just a building: Without a library, a center or some kind of institute to shore up his reputation, his legacy as a president and his place in history are likely to fall even further out of his control. The first and most important reason not to expect a Trump Library is that it’s expensive to build one. The government might pay for lifetime Secret Service protection, but it doesn’t front the money for a library: No federal funds may be used to build or equip a presidential library, and no federal property may be used. To get the ball rolling, former presidents must create a nonprofit to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. While they may do so in unlimited sums, with almost no disclosure, from any source, anywhere in the world, it’s a lot easier to do it while in office. Most presidents with federal libraries began planning—even fundraising—before their terms ended. Franklin D. Roosevelt opened his library about five months into his third term. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan even broke ground before they left office. And Obama, who initially announced he would do no active fundraising while in office, did passively accept millions as early as 2014. It’s that much harder for a one-term president, given the abrupt and often unexpected nature of their early departure from the White House. Needless to say, if Trump—who still hasn’t admitted he lost—has any such effort underway, he hasn’t made it public.

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CNBC - January 25, 2021

Republicans are worried about raising money for 2022 House races as corporations cut donations following riot

Republican officials are increasingly concerned about their ability to raise money for the 2022 midterm congressional elections as corporations distance themselves from GOP lawmakers who challenged the results of the presidential election. Some GOP officials are privately expressing alarm about how they’re going to make up for drops in big money donations in House races, according to people briefed on the matter. These people spoke to CNBC under the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. Several companies have said they would at least temporarily halt donations to Republicans who objected to Joe Biden’s certification as the winner of the presidential race.

Fundraisers for House Republicans said they have been flooded with calls asking where certain GOP representatives are going to find contributions to replace the corporate donations that they may not ever get back, these people added. “I think you can safely say that Republican House incumbents who have relied on business PACs are facing difficult situations,” said a longtime GOP fundraiser who recently helped Trump’s campaign. Republicans are discussing several tactics to rejuvenate their fundraising prospects, including making a strong push with corporate executives themselves, according to one of the people. This could get them around the hurdle of company political action committees ceasing their contributions. CEOs could then give either maximum contributions to campaigns and affiliated committees, or an unlimited amount to House Republican super PACs. Fundraisers are expected to make an extra push for donations from corporate leaders such as Steve Schwarzman, the CEO of Blackstone; Ken Griffin, the founder of investment giant Citadel, and Paul Singer, the president of investment giant Elliot Management. These three executives alone combined to give over $100 million to GOP causes during the previous election cycle.

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Newsclips - January 25, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2021

Texas needs demographic data to get COVID-19 vaccines to all, but spotty reporting hinders that goal

Six weeks into the state’s COVID-19 vaccination effort at least 1.4 million Texans have received a shot. But incomplete records means the state is blind to who in the first two priority groups is being vaccinated and, perhaps more concerning, who isn’t. The spotty data also makes it hard to tell how well the state’s goal to target vulnerable communities for vaccination is working. The information is important to find and address gaps in vaccine coverage, public health experts said. Some people may have difficulty scheduling a vaccine appointment, while others may be hesitant to get the shots.

“You need to understand why are these people not getting vaccinated,” said Diana Cervantes, an epidemiologist at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. Texas earmarked the first shots for two groups of people. They are front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, and then people 65 and older or any adult with a serious health condition. The state requires vaccinators to report demographic information, including age, gender and race, but not which priority group the patient falls into. “There are people that could be either or both 1A and 1B,” said Lara Anton, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, referring to the first two priority groups. “We can’t tell if a 34-year-old was administered the vaccine because they are a health care worker or if they have cancer.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 24, 2021

‘A nightmare from day one’: How a lack of federal vaccine guidance led to confusion in states, cities

Years before COVID-19 emerged as a worldwide threat, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District developed a plan to handle exactly such a catastrophic public health scenario. Metro Health’s “Operational Pandemic Flu Plan” drew lessons from the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009. The 115-page document’s stated goal was to “minimize serious illness, hospitalizations, and death; to preserve critical infrastructure; and to minimize social disruption” in the San Antonio and Bexar County region. The plan was developed after the federal government poured millions of dollars into state and local governments to help them prepare as outbreaks of avian and swine flu viruses erupted across the globe.

Now that the pandemic nightmare has occurred — one triggered not by a new influenza virus, but a new coronavirus — those plans have streamlined some elements of the local response, most notably the rapid creation of four mass vaccination sites. But a shortage of vaccine across the country, as well as lagging distribution, has made it impossible for health providers to enact the city’s plan in full. Public health experts have placed the blame largely on the federal government, which stopped planning the vaccine rollout once shipments arrived in states. “It’s been a nightmare from day one,” said Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger, the city’s coronavirus czar. “People don’t understand, they don’t know whether it’s the federal government or the state government or the local government. And I don’t blame them. I don’t expect them to understand that. They see that government isn’t responding to their needs. “And it’s a really difficult position to be in right now to have zero control over what you’re trying to do, and yet be the boots on the ground who everybody looks to and asks, ‘Why isn’t this better?’”

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Associated Press - January 24, 2021

Increase in COVID-19 deaths slows somewhat in Texas

There has been a decrease in the number of reported new deaths in Texas due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, according to the state health department. There were 407 additional deaths reported Saturday following three consecutive days of more than 1,200 new deaths, according the department. The seven-day rolling average of deaths in Texas has risen during the past two weeks from 260.57 per day to 326.14, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The state ranked ninth in the United States in the number of new cases per capita with 1,012.33 per 100,000 residents, according to the Johns Hopkins data. The Johns Hopkins information also shows the positivity rate in Texas has declined from 24.89% to 16% and the seven-day rolling average of new cases fell from 23,043.57 per day to 18,771.57.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2021

Initial budget proposals from Texas lawmakers exceed spending limit by $7B

In their first attempts at crafting a state budget amid the coronavirus pandemic, legislative leaders have proposed minimal cuts to general revenue spending, postponing possible tough choices on where to rein in spending. But the House and Senate drafts of the budget are more closely aligned than in prior legislative sessions. The proposals, released Thursday, would both spend about $119.7 billion in general revenue over the next two years — roughly $7 billion more than Comptroller Glenn Hegar said lawmakers would be able to allocate. Earlier this month, Hegar estimated that the state would generate $112.5 billion in general revenue over the next two years, a 0.4% decrease from the previous biennium, as the state's economy recovers from pandemic losses.

The proposals are a starting point for lawmakers, who are also responsible for allocating some federal dollars that flow to the state and overseeing dedicated revenue streams that must go toward specific programs or initiatives. The Legislature is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget during each regular legislative session, which are held in odd-numbered years. With this year’s budget drafts coming in over Hegar’s revenue forecast, lawmakers will be forced to cut or delay spending in some areas — or consider dipping into the state’s rainy day fund. In 2019, the House and Senate started the budget-writing process about $3.2 billion apart. During the 2017 session, there was a roughly $8 billion difference between both chamber’s proposals. This year, lawmakers are on the same page in their initial drafts, but still have work to do to address the $7 billion gap between their proposals and Hegar’s spending limit. They also must align the fine print. Even though both proposals spend the same amount of general revenue, specific allocations differ.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2021

Paige Flink, passionate icon of The Family Place, says it’s time to step down

Paige Flink spent the last week calling her board and a legion of supporters to tell them she’s leaving the helm of The Family Place. The popular CEO of Texas’ largest provider of domestic violence services says she’s ready to start a new chapter and is confident that she’s leaving The Family Place in a “rock-solid” position for fresh leadership and continued growth. Donors stepped to the plate in 2020 to make sure The Family Place could continue its mission at a time when the need for a safe haven has never been greater, Flink said.

“Fortunately, the pandemic hit when the stock market was so strong that people were extremely generous,” she said. “They were able to give in a way that they hadn’t in the past because they’d done so well.” There were times when the agency had to put up clients in local hotels due to occupancy restrictions during the pandemic, but The Family Place never closed its doors or stopped taking in victims. “This work is way too important to have to say, ‘Sorry, we have to shut down one of the shelters because we don’t have the money for it,’” Flink said. “We never had to lay off anyone. We were able to give hero bonuses to the front-line staff. “The staff of The Family Place continues to see people face-to-face. They are amazing people who put their lives on the line for these other people. That’s what we’re chartered to do.” Charlotte Jones, executive vice president of the Dallas Cowboys and a longtime friend and donor, says it’s hard to imagine The Family Place without Flink. “Paige is such a fixture and a beacon of hope,” Jones said. “She has been the fighter for so many women who couldn’t use their voices to find safety, find freedom and find themselves.

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Dallas Morning News - January 24, 2021

Dallas County adds 1,174 coronavirus cases as death toll rises over 2,000; Tarrant reports 36 deaths

Dallas County reported 1,174 new coronavirus cases Sunday and hit another grim milestone as 12 more COVID-19 deaths brought the county’s death toll over 2,000. The latest victims included five Dallas residents, all of whom had underlying health problems: a man in his 70s, two men in their 80s, and a man and woman in their 90s. The 90-year-old man lived at a long-term care facility, officials said. Two Mesquite residents were among the victims: a woman in her 50s who died in hospice and a man in his 80s who lived at a long-term care facility and had health problems. Officials also reported the deaths of two Garland men, both of whom had health problems: one in his 60s and one in his 70s who lived at a long-term care facility. The remaining victims were a DeSoto man in his 70s, a Lancaster woman in her 70s, and a Grand Prairie man in his 80s. They each had underlying health problems.

Of the new cases, 1,071 were confirmed and 103 were probable. The newly reported cases bring the county’s total to 246,820, including 218,039 confirmed cases and 28,781 probable cases. The death toll stands at 2,008. Across the state, 11,465 more cases were reported Sunday, including 10,989 new cases and 476 older cases that were recently reported by labs. The state also reported 208 COVID-19 deaths, raising its toll to 34,322. Of the new cases, 9,731 were confirmed and 1,258 were probable. Of the older cases, 445 were confirmed and 31 were probable. The newly reported cases bring the state’s total to 2,240,426, including 1,960,061 confirmed cases and 280,365 probable cases. There are 12,899 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, including 3,594 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. On Saturday, 21.58% of patients in the hospital region covering the Dallas-Fort Worth area were COVID-19 patients — above the 15% threshold the state has used to define high hospitalizations. The seven-day average positivity rate statewide for molecular tests, based on the date of test specimen collection, was 15.35% as of Saturday. For antigen tests, the positivity rate for the same period was 12.86%. A molecular test is considered more accurate and is sometimes also called a PCR test; an antigen test is also called a rapid test. Gov. Greg Abbott has said a positivity rate above 10% is cause for concern. According to the state’s data, 1,459,293 people in Texas have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 254,687 are fully vaccinated.

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Dallas Morning News - January 24, 2021

Essential workers in Texas looking for a raise? Maybe Washington will step up

Many low-paid essential workers, from those in grocery stores to nursing homes, have been lauded for stepping up during the pandemic. But that hasn’t spared them some bad economic hits, including difficulty paying for food and rent. At least some are getting a raise, thanks to increases in the minimum wage. This month, the pay floor is rising in 20 states and 32 cities and counties, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project in New York. NELP, which advocates for policies to create good jobs and protect low-wage workers, said 23 more locales are scheduled for increases later this year, from cost-of-living adjustments to pay hikes from voter-approved ballot initiatives. Alas, Texas is not on the list.

The Lone Star State, which has more minimum-wage workers than anywhere in the U.S., remains among the 21 states using the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. The federal rate hasn’t moved since 2009, the longest period without an increase since the U.S. adopted a minimum hourly wage over 80 years ago. Yet the movement for a $15 minimum, launched in 2012, has been gaining momentum in local jurisdictions. This month, over two dozen U.S. cities and counties reached or surpassed the $15 threshold with more to come, the NELP report said. Perhaps most important for low-paid Texans, President Joe Biden has proposed a $15 federal minimum wage as part of a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan. Eventually, that could benefit over 3.5 million workers in Texas, including many in essential businesses. “Everybody’s all about [protecting] front-line essential workers now, but they need more than just applause,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, director of work quality at NELP. “Two weeks into a pandemic, we had literal breadlines and people getting kicked out of their homes. That’s not a strong middle class.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 24, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Legislation to eliminate rape kit backlog has turned out to be toothless. Austin should do something about it.

The Lavinia Masters Act isn’t working. The much-celebrated legislation that was supposed to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits in Texas has failed to do so, and hundreds of law enforcement agencies have simply ignored it. According to a September 2020 audit by the Texas Department of Public Safety, 3,582 sexual assault kits remain in custody of 136 law enforcement agencies across the state. The Lavinia Masters Act went into effect on September 1, 2019, and mandated that kits must be tested within 90 days of collection. DPS separates kits collected after that date from “old kits” that were in possession before the law took effect. A DPS spokesperson reported that the agency has 243 kits outside that 90-day window, and another 2,283 old kits. Combined with those at various police departments, that means there are more than 6,000 untested kits in the state. That’s far below the peak of about 18,000 when lawmakers started shining a light on this issue 10 years ago, but well short of the goal of zero.

DPS progress has been slow. In the 15 months ending Dec. 2020, the department reduced its backlog by fewer than 1,500 kits. During that time they tested 7,500 kits. Even more troubling, 231 law enforcement agencies are blowing off their duty to report their backlogs. These include police departments in Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, as well as sheriff’s departments in Dallas and Tarrant counties. Victor Senties, a Houston Police Department public information officer, said that a partner agency, the Houston Forensic Science Center, conducts testing on kits collected by Houston Police, and he couldn’t explain why the department ignored multiple requests from DPS to provide a count of kits. A spokesperson for HFSC told us Houston has completely eliminated its backlog of old kits. In fact, 285 law enforcement agencies reported zero kits on hand. State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, who authored the Lavinia Masters Act, expressed frustration at the state of things. She said the law provides no consequences for law enforcement agencies who choose not to comply, and that she intends to find a way to “add teeth” to the legislation this session.

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2021

Dave Lieber: Two guys start a D-FW mask factory but can’t catch a break. Forget made in Texas. China always wins

Anybody know someone who needs 200,000 N95 face masks? I know two guys who can hook you up, like tomorrow. Anyone interested in helping these two guys who in less than a year built a mask factory in Fort Worth, determined to make America less dependent on China for all our protective gear? Meet John K. Bielamowicz and David Baillargeon, owners of 9-month-old United States Mask Co. in northwest Fort Worth. They have a dream built on quaint notions of protecting Americans and strengthening our national security. So noble. So idealistic. So screwed. They put their money and their heart into this. They built the equipment, bought the materials, hired the workers. They hung two large flags, U.S. and Texas, on their factory walls to remind them of their mission. Their N95 mask earned its safety certification from the feds. They even named their mask after the most famous year in Texas history. Meet the 1836 mask. Remember the Alamo.

Off to a good start, but then John and David ran into a force so powerful it threatens to shut their business down before it gets off the ground. China. But it’s not only the Chinese’ world-renowned price cutting that’s giving them fits. China is getting an assist from American buyers who prefer paying less for masks instead of boosting made in America, made in Texas, made in Dallas/Fort Worth. These guys couldn’t even catch a break in their home county. The Tarrant County purchasing department disqualified them from bidding. It’s a little fishy. The two guys say Tarrant asked for specific Chinese models, which ruled them out. County officials say it’s because the local masks weren’t tested by the public health department. But hey, the feds have already given the 1836 the safety seal of approval. Remember the early days of coronavirus when there weren’t enough masks or protective gear, when scammers took advantage, when panic set in? America’s reliance on China for medical products is a huge issue, David says. “It’s why we founded the company.” “We thought there’d be a line of customers out the door. But we’re being blocked at every corner. It’s frustrating.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2021

Dallas ISD takes steps to free up teachers’ time, but trustees, teacher group question the changes

With teachers swamped by ever-increasing responsibilities stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Dallas ISD is adjusting their schedules to try to relieve some of that burden. But the president of a local teachers association says the changes are largely superficial and won’t provide much relief. During a board briefing last week, Dallas administrators walked through a series of changes designed to free up more time for teachers to focus on instruction for students. “I hear from teachers all the time about all of the pressures surrounding COVID, and it’s really kind of devastating,” trustee Joyce Foreman said.

Like most school systems across the country, Dallas is facing significant learning loss among students — particularly in math — caused by disruptions brought on by the coronavirus. Nearly half of all students who participated in assessments in the fall showed that they had lost ground in math over the spring and summer. The highlights of the plan — presented by the district’s chief academic officer, Shannon Trejo, and acting chief of school leadership, former Cedar Hill superintendent Orlando Riddick — included: Providing campuses more autonomy on whether to give mandated bi-weekly assessments; Canceling fall 2021 campus climate surveys given to teachers and staff; Trimming some district-led professional development; Securing a third-party vendor to help provide emergency classroom coverage for COVID-19-related teacher and staff absences; Spending $150,000 to create an “engagement team,” a staff of employees who would call or text virtual students who had not been logging on regularly and do door-to-door visits for chronically absent students.

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2021

Trump’s wall may soon be forgotten to many, but it is not gone

Becky Schuster Jones drove to the land she grew up on, ripe with childhood memories, on this striking South Texas border. She stared at the looming wall stretching across the family farm. Their land is sliced in two by the border wall — an 18- to 30-foot-tall barrier that casts a shadow on the estimated 700 acres that her father, Frank Schuster Sr., passed on to her and brother Frank John. Hundreds of acres are on the southern side.

“Trump rearranged the borderline and that’s the most un-American thing, because we’re essentially ceding hundreds of acres of land,” said Becky. “Trump did something Gen. Santa Anna was unable to do — establish the borderline north of the Rio Grande.” The Schusters are among the families and communities who must live in the shadow of former President Donald Trump’s border wall even though President Joe Biden has stopped construction. Like many others who use historical cemeteries and nature reserves, or who live in small communities along the border, they’re divided by the wall. Now they must find a way forward. Both siblings lean conservative, though Becky has been more outspoken, walking the halls of the Capitol in Washington, “astonished” that Republicans who talk a good game about protecting private property never stood up to Trump, or for border landowners. “My greatest disappointment was held for several legislators who represented Texas,” she said. “Did they not learn in seventh-grade Texas history class that the Rio Grande marked the boundary between Texas and Mexico?”

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Buckle your seat belt and pull up your mask: Federal face-covering mandate will give us safer skies

Face masks are the low-hanging fruit in the fight against COVID-19. That’s why it’s jolting that even as the death toll skyrocketed to hundreds of thousands, the United States had not moved to require the use of face masks in airplanes, buses and trains — those critical and tightly enclosed spaces where social distancing is impossible. So we are relieved that President Joe Biden signed an order on his second day in office mandating that travelers wear masks on interstate public transportation and at airports. Airlines had been longing for such a federal mandate. This isn’t a question of politics. It’s common sense, and we wish the order were not necessary in the first place.

Airlines imposed their own face mask requirements back in May, but unruly passengers have repeatedly defied flight attendants and other airline workers in hostile and sometimes abusive outbursts. A review of more than 150 aviation safety reports by The Washington Post offered a snapshot of the despicable behavior from some passengers. For instance, one traveler called a flight attendant a “Nazi” for trying to enforce an airline mask rule. Another painted her toenails with her mask below her chin despite entreaties to put her mask on. Yet another rule-breaker accused a flight attendant of picking on him because of his tattoos and hurled an expletive: “I am complying, #%$^!” Some passengers think themselves clever, lifting empty plastic cups or munching on popcorn or chocolate throughout their flights to exploit the technicality allowing travelers to pull down masks while they’re drinking or eating. Airlines recognize that most passengers comply with the rules, but it takes only one contagious and uncooperative traveler to potentially infect other passengers or crew members sharing a confined space for long stretches of time.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2021

Biden’s border plans raise hopes and fears in South Texas

President Biden’s quick but cautious moves to undo the more draconian immigration policies of his predecessor spawn both trepidation and expectation in the lower Rio Grande Valley. “I just pray Mr. Biden will be prudent and keep America safe,” said Debbie Schuster, whose family’s modern farm house sits within sight of where ex-President Donald Trump signed what could be a final fragment of his far-from-finished wall. “I am very frightened.” Fifty miles downriver, hundreds of migrant adults and children have huddled for more than a year on a fenced and forlorn Mexican field near a border bridge, awaiting a chance to plead for U.S. asylum.

“Let’s see if he keeps his word,” Luis Calix, 25, a former law student and social worker from the Caribbean coast of Honduras, said of Biden. “This has to be orderly. If there is chaos everything will be ruined.” On his first day in office Wednesday, Biden signed orders pausing construction of Trump’s wall, suspending the deportations of most immigrants and canceling orders that have sent tens of thousands of asylum-seekers back to Mexico to await court hearings. Biden also granted protections for DACA recipients, covering hundreds of thousands of people brought illegally to the U.S. as children. And he proposed to Congress an eight-year path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already living across the country. “My administration is committed to ensuring that the United States has a comprehensive and humane immigration system that operates consistently with our nation’s values,” Biden said as he put the temporary hold on border ramparts.

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2021

League City woman alleges Apple stole emoji designs

A League City woman says Apple’s racially diverse emoji line is “substantially similar” to those in an app she developed seven years ago. Now, she’s suing the tech giant for damages. Katrina Parrott, who is Black, got the idea from her daughter in 2013 and founded Cub Club Investments to launch iDiversicons on the Apple App Store several months later, according to her complaint. Tech leaders in Silicon Valley saw its potential, the suit alleges, but after a back-and-forth between Parrott and Apple executives, Apple decided to create its own emojis rather than work with her.

The copyright infringement suit was filed Sept. 18 in the Waco Division of the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Texas, which has developed expertise in the area of intellectual property, according to Parrott’s attorney, Todd Patterson. Looking to bring the fight to its own turf, Apple has filed for a change of venue, he said, and he’s awaiting the court’s decision. Apple did not respond to requests for comment. Shortly after launching in the app store, Parrott joined the Unicode Consortium, a Silicon Valley nonprofit devoted to software standards, she said in her lawsuit. She said she worked to alert tech leaders to the issue of diversity and inclusion. Apple participated in consortium meetings and became interested in Parrott’s work, the suit alleges. Parrott said she provided Apple a thumb drive containing her emoji creations in May 2014, and that September the two parties began discussing implementation. Parrott said in court papers that she learned the following month that Apple would use its own designers. Once Apple launched its diverse emoji line in April 2015, app sales at Parrott’s company dropped off, the lawsuit states. Parrott’s suit alleges that if unchecked, Apple’s actions could set a precedent that a big tech company could misappropriate the proprietary works of smaller companies rather than work with them directly. Parrott also alleges Apple harms the minority communities the emojis were supposed to support.

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Houston Chronicle - January 24, 2021

Citing Heights Hospital closure, Rep. Jackson Lee calls on Abbott to rescind executive order on COVID-19

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, has asked Gov. Greg Abbott to rescind the executive order he issued in response to COVID-19, saying that the recent closure of the Heights Hospital shows that local officials need more decision-making power to adequately respond to the pandemic. In letters sent Friday to Abbott, Jackson Lee said that Abbott’s March executive order “poses an imminent threat of disaster for all the counties in the state” because it limits the ability of local officials to implement rules and closures. “While some can appreciate your singular interest and intent in ‘opening Texas up for business,’ Executive Order GA-32 is having the precise opposite effect in the part of Houston known as The Heights,” the Houston congresswoman wrote.

In her letter, Jackson Lee urged Abbott to rescind all restrictions on local jurisdictions “that prohibit them from taking the necessary actions to protect their citizens,” or for Abbott to issue another executive order prohibiting the closure of “any community medical facility for a non-medical or public health or public health safety reason.” She sent a similar letter to Jeffrey Zients, who is leading President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team, and asked that he intervene and “prevail upon” Abbott. Last week, the doors of the Heights Hospital, a multi-care facility that has many low-income patients and does COVID-19 testing, were locked, forcing doctors to treat patients in the parking lot. The owners of the hospital said that a third-party management company, hired by a the facility’s creditor, was responsible for the lockout. Last week, the Chronicle reported that 1917 Heights Hospital, a subsidiary of the Houston real estate company AMD Global, defaulted on a $28 million construction loan for the building. AMD purchased the building in 2017. AMD Global CEO Dharmesh Patel said that the loan was due at the end of 2020, and they were in the process of negotiating an extension when its lendor sold the loan note to another company, Arbitra. On Jan. 8, Arbitra filed suit in Harris County demanding that the hospital’s owners pay more than $3 million in accrued interest, and alleged that they have not paid for “crucial management and maintenance expenses.” Patel said last week that his company did not give Arbitra permission to bar tenants from their offices and clinics.

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Houston Chronicle - January 24, 2021

Pandemic stress a strain on college campuses

Ronica Blackmon had her first experience with therapy as a student at Prairie View A&M University more than a decade ago. Feeling anxious and overwhelmed, she decided to give the campus health center a try, seeking therapy once a week. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Texas in 2020, and Blackmon was prohibited from visiting her mother, who was healing from surgery, the pressure became too much. Blackmon, 29, who returned to PVAMU after a break in 2016, upped her sessions with her therapist Bernadine Duncan to twice a week. “She helped me to focus on things I can control,” said Blackmon, adding that Duncan encouraged her to pursue activities that brought her joy and relaxation.

College students across the country are experiencing more feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed. A September survey of more than 2,000 students by Active Minds, a nonprofit that seeks to raise awareness about mental health on college campuses, showed that 75 percent of students reported that their mental health had worsened during the pandemic. Stress, anxiety, disappointment, sadness, isolation and loneliness were cited in the survey. Despite this, some Texas college health professionals say the demand for mental health services on campuses has declined. “Our interpretation of this includes multiple factors, including data on how people respond to natural disasters — hunker down and try to survive, then face the emotional fallout after the danger is over,” said Randal Boldt, who oversees Baylor University’s Counseling Center. “We do know that freshmen may be a little shocked by how different the college experience is from what they had imagined a year ago and are simply trying to survive.” Norman Ngo, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Houston, added that trauma can often cause a delayed response, especially when students are dealing with serious or pressing concerns, such as the health of family members.

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Houston Chronicle - January 24, 2021

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner prays for Texans, Deshaun Watson to reconcile

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is concerned about Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson's dispute with the Texans. There's no resolution between Watson, disgruntled after not giving the input into the hiring process he had been assured he would by chairman and chief operating officer Cal McNair, and the Texans.

Watson has not waived his no-trade clause and has not requested a trade, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly. Turner spoke out on social media Sunday afternoon. "Houston loves Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans," Turner wrote on Twitter. "Houston is a great City that is hungry to back our players and team. As Mayor of a City that is second to none. I pray we move forward together."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 25, 2021

How DFW became a ‘cold chain’ cargo airport, just before the COVID vaccine was needed

The COVID pandemic has helped many Americans understand the importance of the “cold chain” — the ability to move and closely track goods such as vaccines around the world while keeping them stored in precise, often extremely cold temperatures. But what many North Texans may not fully understand is the growing importance of DFW Airport’s role in the movement of time- and temperature-sensitive goods. The movement of the COVID vaccines is just a small part of the story.

Today, large amounts of the COVID vaccines made by both Pfizer and Moderna are likely moving in and out of DFW Airport property as they’re shipped coast to coast by carriers such as FedEx and UPS — although those companies have declined to confirm the precise whereabouts of those vaccine shipments. “FedEx is proud to be delivering COVID-19 vaccines to communities across the United States,” FedEx spokeswoman Davina Cole said in an email. “The safety and security of our team members and these critical shipments is our top priority, so we are unable to confirm details about individual shipments.” Both companies also operate at Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport, which is managed by Hillwood Properties and leases space to numerous companies that specialize in logistics and freight movement. DFW Airport’s efforts to become a more important component of the world’s temperature-controlled shipping industry actually dates back several years before the pandemic. In 2016, the airport’s board of directors agreed to begin placing more of an emphasis on two types of cargo shipping — perishables, and e-commerce packages. Although DFW Airport is known for its enormous volume of passenger flights and is perennially among the top 10 busiest airports in the world, its role in cargo shipments has often been overlooked.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 25, 2021

Texas gun, ammo sales skyrocket. People are shooting ‘faster than they can make it’

Gun sales are up. Again. It tends to happen every election season, especially when a Democrat challenges and wins the presidency, according to shop owners and industry observers. The pandemic and nationwide protests in 2020 fueled people’s willingness to buy guns or stock up on ammunition, experts say. “People are worried for their safety,” said Andi Turner, the legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association.

Calls for defunding the police, the new president and the pandemic are making people rush to gun stores, Turner said. At Intrepid Shooting Sports in Fort Worth, ammo shelves are wiped clean and some gun racks are empty. “Pretty much every election season is like this,” said owner Chris Mayhall, who’s been in the gun industry for about six years. Mayhall said his sales doubled in 2020 compared to 2019, and he has seen a lot of first-time buyers. By August, there were about 5 million new gun owners in 2020, according to a National Shooting Sports Foundation report. The Black Lives Matter protests over the summer prompted many gun sales, he said. “People that live 60 miles away from any kind of population center were buying AR-15s because they were really worried that there was going to be some mob headed down there,” he said. This rise in sales has caused a nationwide shortage, he said. Guns aren’t plentiful, ammo is scarce and manufacturers have told him they have enough orders to fill in the next three years of production.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 23, 2021

Bud Kennedy: Fort Worth-area law officers’ emails show past ties to paranoid Oath Keepers militia

Emails show at least three current or past county constables in the Fort Worth area have ties to the Oath Keepers, the revolution-minded, conspiracy-bent militia that called for “bloody civil war” before a unit took part in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol: ? In 2009, when the Oath Keepers were new but already calling for insurrection, Hood County Constable Chad Jordan of Granbury circulated an email about the group to other agencies, including 20 Fort Worth police officers or Hood County Sheriff’s deputies. Jordan’s comment: “All should join.”

Current Hood County Constable John Shirley of Pecan Plantation, a 12-year national Oath Keepers officer, has attracted local and national news coverage as the group’s chief law enforcement recruiter, showing Hood County’s warped turn toward paranoia and the QAnon fantasy and against civil authority. ? In February 2013, two months after the re-election of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, then-Tarrant County Constable Clint Burgess of Mansfield addressed an Oath Keepers DFW rally in Arlington, according to an email event announcement. Jordan, Shirley and Burgess did not respond to multiple messages. A spokeswoman for Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn confirmed that Burgess works for the sheriff’s office but declined to say in what position. She accepted messages to pass to his supervisor. The emails were obtained under Texas’ open-records law. The host of that Arlington rally, Wade Turner, called it “embarrassing.” “We thought [Oath Keepers] was something for veterans,” said Turner, a Dallas security executive who was then commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post that unwittingly agreed to the rally. A national Oath Keepers official based in Dallas organized the event, he said.

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Texas Public Radio - January 24, 2021

Lawsuits against Alex Jones can continue, says Texas Supreme Court

The Texas Supreme Court denied requests from alt-right, conspiracy theorist podcaster Alex Jones on Friday. Jones tried to get defamation cases against him thrown out. Many of the suits were filed by parents of the children slain at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Jones said on his web-based program and website Infowars that Sandy Hook never happened — that 20 children and six adults were not gunned down during the school day by a mass shooter and that the grieving parents were actors. Jones called the tragedy a “Hoax,” a “False Flag” operation intended to sway public opinion against gun owners.

“They staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming, and that’s why I’m so desperate and freaked out,” said Jones in an April 2013 online rant. Jones would later state he was not the originator of the theory and that he was only commenting on what he found on the internet. In one lawsuit, Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa said the lies spread by Alex Jones led to them being harassed to the point that they had to move. Pozner and Veronique’s son Noah, age 6, was killed at Sandy Hook. In another suit, Scarlett Lewis said Jones orchestrated a campaign of harassment. The Connecticut parents sued in Travis County court for defamation and emotional distress in multiple cases. Infowars is based in Austin. Lawyers in the case didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from TPR. Jones admitted after the 2018 lawsuits that the shooting had occurred.

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Texas Public Radio - January 24, 2021

What does Texas' political landscape look like with Biden in office? A political analyst responds

TPR’s Jerry Clayton spoke with Scott Braddock, political analyst and editor of the Quorum Report, about the new political landscape in Texas since the new administration has taken over. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Jerry Clayton: Now that the dust has settled from the 2020 election, what does the political landscape look like for the Republican Party here in Texas? Scott Braddock: In a lot of ways, it's sort of a return to the good old days for some of these Texas Republicans because you have a Democratic president sworn in just this past week and is already immediately clashing with Texas Republicans on a whole host of issues and issues that are very important to the state, including immigration. You saw that the attorney general of Texas is already threatening to sue the federal government. President Biden moves forward with suspending some deportations and then on the energy issue as well on energy as President Biden move quickly to get rid of the permitting process and to nix the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which has been controversial, going all the way back to the George W. Bush administration.

Clayton: Now that there's basically a 50/50 congressional split in Washington, do you see more congressional Republicans that may be ready to reach across the aisle more than they have in the past? Or is it just going to be more gridlock? Braddock: It seemed that the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, was setting the table for what you're talking about as far as trying to find some common ground between the Republicans and the Democrats. And he has partisan reasons to say this, but I would say it's objectively true that the country didn't ask for or mandate a far left lurch in our government. There was a sound rejection of President Trump in both the Electoral College and the popular vote. However, Republicans did pretty well in their elections as a slimmer majority for Democrats in the U.S. House. There's basically an evenly divided Senate. McConnell was saying, and I would agree with this, that the leadership in Washington needs to find common ground because that's what the American people have set the table for by creating a basically evenly divided government. Clayton: There's a group of Senate Democrats that have filed an ethics complaint against Ted Cruz. And, of course, you've got lots of newspapers, editorials calling for Cruz to resign. What do you think will come of all this? Braddock: Senator Cruz is probably safe in his seat. There's been a lot of speculation about whether he would be forced to resign. I don't see that happening. There's been other speculation about whether the U.S. Senate would vote to expel him, which would take a two thirds vote. I don't think they're going to find 17 Republicans to go along with a vote like that. I can imagine every Democrat voting to pick Senator Cruz out of the U.S. Senate, but the Senate doesn't work that way.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 24, 2021

Austin music icon James White, Broken Spoke's owner, dies at 81

James White, owner of South Austin's legendary Broken Spoke dance hall and a towering figure in Austin's live music scene, has died after a recent illness, his family confirmed Sunday. He was 81. White, who had been suffering from congestive heart failure, died at his South Austin home, according to his daughter, Ginny Peacock. "This is a huge loss to Austin," she said. White founded the Broken Spoke on South Lamar Boulevard in 1964 and spent more than 50 years turning it into one of the city's best-known venues. "He gave us a place to perform the music that we wanted to do in the atmosphere that we wanted — a Texas dance hall," said Ray Benson, who met White in 1973 when White booked his band at the Broken Spoke. "James was one of the most magnanimous and generally nice people — with a capital ‘N’ — in this world."

Peacock said her father, a fifth-generation Texan, wanted the broken Spoke to be "a place like no other, where people could come and listen to country music and have a good time." Other Texas musicians praised White on Sunday. One of his cousins, Monte Warden, said it wasn't until his band the Wagoneers headlined at the Broken Spoke in 1994 that his father finally stopped asking him when he was going to go to college. "Every major country star in the last half-century played at the Broken Spoke," Warden said. Those stars included Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks, Warden said. White was talkative, gregarious and "never knew a stranger," Warden said. "He always wore a cowboy hat, a western shirt, jeans and boots," he said. "He looked like a honky-tonk owner out of central casting. He knew a lot of people's only experience of a honky-tonk in Texas was going to be at the Broken Spoke."

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National Stories

New York Times - January 24, 2021

Fauci on what working for Trump was really like

For almost 40 years, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci has held two jobs. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he has run one of the country’s premier research institutions. But he has also been an adviser to seven presidents, from Ronald Reagan to, now, Joseph R. Biden Jr., called upon whenever a health crisis looms to brief the administration, address the World Health Organization, testify before Congress or meet with the news media. For Dr. Fauci, 80, the past year has stood out like no other. As the coronavirus ravaged the country, Dr. Fauci’s calm counsel and commitment to hard facts endeared him to millions of Americans. But he also became a villain to millions of others. Trump supporters chanted “Fire Fauci,” and the president mused openly about doing so. He was accused of inventing the virus and of being part of a secret cabal with Bill Gates and George Soros to profit from vaccines. His family received death threats. On Jan. 21, appearing in his first press briefing under the Biden administration, Dr. Fauci described the “liberating feeling” of once again being able to “get up here and talk about what you know — what the evidence, what the science is — and know that’s it, let the science speak.”

When did you first realize things were going wrong between you and President Trump? "It coincided very much with the rapid escalation of cases in the northeastern part of the country, particularly the New York metropolitan area. I would try to express the gravity of the situation, and the response of the president was always leaning toward, 'Well, it’s not that bad, right?' And I would say, 'Yes, it is that bad.' It was almost a reflex response, trying to coax you to minimize it. Not saying, 'I want you to minimize it,' but, 'Oh, really, was it that bad?'” And the other thing that made me really concerned was, it was clear that he was getting input from people who were calling him up, I don’t know who, people he knew from business, saying, “Hey, I heard about this drug, isn’t it great?” or, “Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal.” And I would try to, you know, calmly explain that you find out if something works by doing an appropriate clinical trial; you get the information, you give it a peer review. And he’d say, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, this stuff really works.” He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important. It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, “A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.” That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.

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New York Times - January 25, 2021

Rudy Giuliani sued by Dominion Voting Systems over false election claims

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit on Monday against Rudolph W. Giuliani, the lawyer for Donald J. Trump and former mayor of New York City who played a key role in the former president’s monthslong effort to subvert the 2020 election. The 107-page lawsuit, filed in the Federal District Court in Washington, accuses Mr. Giuliani of carrying out “a viral disinformation campaign about Dominion” made up of “demonstrably false” allegations, in part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast. The suit seeks damages of more than $1.3 billion and is based on more than 50 statements Mr. Giuliani made at legislative hearings, on Twitter, on his podcast and in the conservative news media, where he spun a fictitious narrative of a plot by one of the biggest voting machine manufacturers in the country to flip votes to President Biden.

Mr. Giuliani, one of Mr. Trump’s closest advisers and confidants, has faced continuing fallout for his highly visible efforts to reverse the election outcome. This month, the chairman of the New York State Senate’s judiciary committee formally requested that the state court system strip Mr. Giuliani of his law license. Mr. Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Taken together with a lawsuit the company filed this month against Sidney Powell, another lawyer who was allied with Mr. Trump, the suit represents a point-by-point rebuke of one of the more outlandish conspiracy theories surrounding last year’s election. The president’s allies had contended that the voting machine company — which was also used in states during Mr. Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, has been tested by government agencies, and was used in states Mr. Trump carried in 2020 — was somehow involved in a rigged election, partly as a result of ties to a long-deceased Venezuelan dictator. “Dominion was not founded in Venezuela to fix elections for Hugo Cha?vez,” the suit says. “It was founded in 2002 in John Poulos’s basement in Toronto to help blind people vote on paper ballots.” The suit later adds that the headquarters for the company’s United States subsidiary is in Denver. Laying out a timeline of Mr. Giuliani’s comments about Dominion on Twitter, his podcast and Fox News, the company notes that Mr. Giuliani avoided mentioning Dominion in court, where he could have faced legal ramifications for falsehoods. “Notably, not a single one of the three complaints signed and filed by Giuliani and other attorneys for the Trump Campaign in the Pennsylvania action contained any allegations about Dominion,” the lawsuit says.

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Associated Press - January 25, 2021

Mexico’s president says he’s tested positive for COVID-19

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Sunday he has tested positive for COVID-19 and that the symptoms are mild. Mexico’s president, who has been criticized for his handling of his country’s pandemic and for not setting an example of prevention in public, said on his official Twitter account that he is under medical treatment. “I regret to inform you that I am infected with COVID-19,” he tweeted. “The symptoms are mild but I am already under medical treatment. As always, I am optimistic. We will all move forward.” José Luis Alomía Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, said López Obrador had a “light” case of COVID-19 and was “isolating at home.”

Mexico’s president wrote that while he recovered Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero would be taking over for him in his daily news conferences, at which he usually speaks for two hours without breaks each weekday. López Obrador, 67, has rarely been seen wearing a mask and continued to keep up a busy travel schedule taking commercial flights. He has also resisted locking down the economy, noting the devastating effect it would have on so many Mexicans who live day to day, despite that the country has registered nearly 150,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 1.7 million infections. Last week, the country registered its highest levels of infections and deaths to date. Early in the pandemic, asked how he was protecting Mexico, López Obrador removed two religious amulets from his wallet and proudly showed them off. “The protective shield is the ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’” López Obrador said, reading off the inscription on the amulet, “Stop, enemy, for the Heart of Jesus is with me. In November, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, urged Mexico’s leaders be serious about the coronavirus and set examples for its citizens, saying that “Mexico is in bad shape” with the pandemic.

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Associated Press - January 24, 2021

Why Biden's immigration plan may be risky for Democrats

President Joe Biden is confronting the political risk that comes with grand ambition. As one of his first acts, Biden offered a sweeping immigration overhaul last week that would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for the estimated 11 million people who are in the United States illegally. It would also codify provisions wiping out some of President Donald Trump's signature hard-line policies, including trying to end existing, protected legal status for many immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and crackdowns on asylum rules. It's precisely the type of measure that many Latino activists have longed for, particularly after the tough approach of the Trump era. But it must compete with Biden's other marquee legislative goals, including a $1.9 trillion plan to combat the coronavirus, an infrastructure package that promotes green energy initiatives and a “public option” to expand health insurance.

In the best of circumstances, enacting such a broad range of legislation would be difficult. But in a narrowly divided Congress, it could be impossible. And that has Latinos, the nation's fastest growing voting bloc, worried that Biden and congressional leaders could cut deals that weaken the finished product too much — or fail to pass anything at all. “This cannot be a situation where simply a visionary bill — a message bill — gets sent to Congress and nothing happens with it,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which advocates for low-income immigrants. “There’s an expectation that they will deliver and that there is a mandate now for Biden to be unapologetically pro-immigrant and have a political imperative to do so, and the Democrats do as well.” If Latinos ultimately feel betrayed, the political consequences for Democrats could be long-lasting. The 2020 election provided several warning signs that, despite Democratic efforts to build a multiracial coalition, Latino support could be at risk. Biden already was viewed skeptically by some Latino activists for his association with former President Barack Obama, who was called the “deporter in chief” for the record number of immigrants who were removed from the country during his administration. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont defeated Biden in last year's Nevada caucuses and California primary, which served as early barometers of the Latino vote.

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Las Vegas Review-Journal - January 24, 2021

Multiple sources point to new optimism for Las Vegas tourism

There seemed to be more upbeat news about tourism and visitation in the past week than we’ve seen in months. Here are some of the highlights from a glass-half-full week: A research firm completed a report for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority involving a key tourism market, business travelers.

We all know that Southern Nevada’s hotel rooms are most frequently filled with free and independent travelers on Fridays and Saturdays and business travelers on the midweek days. With conventions at a standstill because of COVID-19 restrictions — the maximum number of people gathering is 25 percent of a venue’s fire code capacity or 50, whichever is less — the LVCVA commissioned Reston, Virginia-based Heart+Mind Strategies to determine the likelihood of a rebound in business travel. Heart+Mind determined that 91 percent of respondents miss the face-to-face interaction of in-person conferences and 58 percent are burned out from virtual business meetings and conferences. Of the 510 business travelers surveyed in early January, 77 percent said they would prefer attending conferences, conventions and trade shows in person, and 74 percent believe Las Vegas is best prepared to safely host in-person events in the second half of 2021. Las Vegas is the top destination compared with other competitive markets among business travelers as being best-prepared to safely host in-person events. At the Vegas Chamber’s Preview Las Vegas, two speakers, LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill and Circa owner Derek Stevens gave their assessments Thursday of when we can start seeing a return of visitors. The consensus is that visitors will be more comfortable coming by the second or third quarter of 2021.

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Politico - January 25, 2021

MAGA media looks to turn White House briefing room into a battlefield

Eric Bolling, the conservative host of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s “America This Week,” would travel regularly to Donald Trump’s White House, interviewing the former president seven times and occasionally attending press briefings. Trump’s now gone and Bolling is facing a vastly different professional landscape. The current president is not a friend. His employer dragged its feet in declaring Joe Biden the winner. And Bolling said he’s concerned he could lose his regular credentials and be unable to tape from the White House. And so, he’s taking steps to protect his standing. He recently submitted an application to become a member of the White House Correspondents’ Association, he said in an interview. “I hope to hold this administration as accountable as the media held the Trump administration,” Bolling said.

Trump showered his allies in the conservative media with VIP treatment, rewarding them with interviews and access, plugging their books and programs, and in some cases seeking their counsel on everything from immigration policy to military airstrikes. But they’re on the outside now — and looking to draw blood from the new administration. That presents an early set of challenges for the Biden team, which is trying to learn from the Obama years. Back then, it was Fox News firing most of the spitballs at a newly elected Democratic president — personified best by Glenn Beck and his chalkboard. But now, there are a host of outlets looking to occupy that space, from the mainstream right (Sinclair and the Daily Caller) to the conspiratorial fringe (OAN and Gateway Pundit). And that, even for experienced hands like press secretary Jen Psaki, poses new and awkward conundrums for a White House vowing to restore normal relations with a press that has become anything but normal. White House officials promise a sea change from how the Trump White House interacted with the press. Biden’s team plans to lay out clear criteria for qualifying for a so-called “hard pass” to access the grounds in consultation with the WHCA, officials told POLITICO. If current passholders in the media continue to meet the criteria determined together with the correspondents’ association, they will continue to have hard passes.

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Bloomberg - January 25, 2021

Canada worries about Biden’s ‘Buy American’ after Keystone blow

Canada is uneasy about President Joe Biden’s planned “Buy American” provisions and will press the case against moves that would harm the countries’ $725 billion trade relationship, according to Canada’s top diplomat. Biden is expected to sign an executive order this week urging federal agencies to buy goods and services from U.S. companies. Marc Garneau, Canada’s foreign minister, said he expects the new administration will discuss the measures with Justin Trudeau’s government. “President Biden is aware of it and the Prime Minister made that very clear that we are concerned about Buy American policies, because it actually harms our bilateral trading relationship which is so tightly integrated,” Garneau said in a television interview with CBC News.

The U.S. and Canada exchanged nearly $2 billion a day in goods and services in 2019, making it “the world’s most comprehensive trading relationship,” according to the State Department. Some industries, such as the automotive sector, have highly-connected supply chains that span the border. “Sometimes, some of the products that we sell to the United States already have American components in them. And those are messages that we carried a lot during the Nafta 2 negotiations” with the Trump administration, Garneau added. The minister’s remarks come after Biden dealt Trudeau a blow on inauguration day by revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that would have taken more than 800,000 barrels a day of crude from western Canada to Nebraska.

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The Guardian - January 23, 2021

Joe Biden's inner circle: meet the new president's close-knit team

At the core of the administration Joe Biden is building is a trusted circle of officials, who are bound together by many years of working together in a close-knit team in the Obama administration, by a shared faith, or, in some cases, by a tie with Biden’s late son, Beau. It is the very opposite approach to the one taken by Donald Trump, who assembled a sharp-elbowed “team of rivals” – powerful men from different walks of life, who he had never met but thought looked the part. Biden treasures familiarity and nice-guy collegiality, and warned new appointees on Wednesday that if they don’t treat each other with respect, “I will fire you on the spot.”

Tony Blinken: The nominee for secretary of state has worked alongside Biden for nearly two decades. He was his foreign policy adviser in the Senate and as the vice-president’s national security adviser in the Obama administration. Those who know them talk of a mind-meld between them on foreign policy and more. Just as Biden is the anti-Trump, Blinken is the anti-Pompeo: soft-spoken, low-key and collegiate. At his confirmation hearing, he called for American confidence and humility on the world stage, a contrast to Pompeo’s “swagger”. Unlike his predecessor, Blinken is an instinctive multilateralist, having grown up in France and being bilingual. Jake Sullivan: Sullivan, at 43 the youngest national security adviser in 60 years, is also an entirely known quantity for the president. The former Rhodes Scholar who got his master’s degree in international relations at Oxford, succeeded Blinken as national security adviser to Biden in the Obama administration, and was at his side in that job for 18 months. He is best known for having begun secret talks with Iranian officials that led ultimately to the 2015 nuclear deal, but his broader philosophy, which he has further developed at Yale after leaving the Obama White House, is closely in line with Biden’s: that US strength abroad is built on social cohesion and prosperity in America’s heartland. Lloyd Austin: Biden’s nominee for defence secretary has been described as “the silent general” for his record of avoiding the press, but he is reported to have strong policy opinions behind the Pentagon’s closed doors – and those opinions closely align with Biden’s. He has a strong preference for diplomacy over military force, particularly in the Middle East. He adamantly opposed US backing for the Saudi intervention in Yemen, where US Central Command had cooperated with the Houthis to fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Just as importantly, Austin had known Beau Biden in Iraq 10 years ago, when the general was head of US forces there and the younger Biden was a major in the judge advocate general corps. The two attended Catholic services together, and Catholicism is another important area of common private ground with the new president.

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Newsclips - January 24, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2021

By repealing Trump’s census order on unauthorized immigrants, Biden just gave Texas GOP an extra House seat, or two

Hours after taking office, President Joe Biden handed Texas a huge gift that went mostly unnoticed, overshadowed by more controversial moves on climate, public health and the border wall. He reversed Donald Trump’s policy of excluding unauthorized immigrants from the census count used to carve up the country into congressional districts. Texas has almost 2 million such residents out of nearly 30 million — enough extra people to bring billions in federal largesse over the next decade, and add considerably to its clout in the U.S. House. “Don’t get me wrong, I support President Trump and I appreciate what he was trying to do, but this is good for Texas,” said state Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican who chaired the redistricting committee the last two years. “It probably means the difference between getting one and three new congressional seats.”

Lloyd Potter, Texas’ state demographer, took it a step further. Biden’s new policy isn’t just a gift for Texas. It’s a gift especially for Texas Republicans, since they control the Legislature and Governor’s Mansion and wield the knife that cuts the growing pie. “Whatever party’s in power maximizes the number of seats for the party,” Potter said. Under Trump’s proposal, “we definitely wouldn’t have gotten three. Maybe as few as one. It would certainly have diluted our representation.” With all immigrants included, Texas is almost certain to end up with 39, maybe even 40 seats in the U.S. House starting with the 2022 election. That’s up from the 36 it’s had for the last decade, behind only California. The Census Bureau plans to release the official 2020 population count March 6, somewhat later than usual because of pandemic-related delays. The latest estimate for Texas is about 29.5 million people. The Pew Research Center and others have pegged the number of unauthorized immigrants at around 1.7 million — nearly 6% of the state, a huge swing. It’s not just the raw number of seats Texas stands to gain under Biden’s policy. It’s where. The unauthorized immigrant populations are concentrated in Dallas and Houston, Potter said. So under Trump’s plan, those cities would have lost clout in Congress relative to other regions.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 22, 2021

Texas’ COVID-19 vaccinations efforts among tops in U.S. Is it enough?

Texas has administered 56% of its COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a better percentage than all but 12 states and the District of Columbia. But is that enough as the state warns hospitals can’t handle another surge? “I don’t see Texas as way worse or better than any other state,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine in the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “They’re all doing bad.” Texas should be aiming to vaccinate three-quarters of its estimated nearly 30 million people within six months, Hotez said. Nationwide, he’d like to see upwards of 100 million doses administered each month “to really get our arms around this virus” and help stop its transmission.

“That’s like 3 million Americans a day,” Hotez said. “We’re just not there. We don’t have a system in place, so that’s what I’ve really been pushing hard to get.” Texas is tracking with the U.S. as a whole when looking at the percent of people given at least one shot — 5.1% in Texas and 5.2% nationally, according to an analysis by the New York Times. Providers across the state began administering shots the week of Dec. 14, soon after the Pfizer vaccine was authorized for use. Gov. Greg Abbott has said more doses are expected in the state as more vaccines are authorized. The tracking of vaccines administered got off to a rocky start in part because of technical challenges with the state’s immunization registry, ImmTrac2. Gov. Greg Abbott suggested vaccines were sitting on hospital shelves unused after the state’s numbers showed a gap in the number of vaccines received compared to those administered. The Texas Hospital Association disputed this assertion, pointing to “known challenges with the ImmTrac2 reporting system.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2021

Early state data point to higher vaccination rates among whites than other groups

White Texans make up more than half of all COVID-19 vaccine recipients whose race or ethnicity was reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services, according to new state data. State officials stress that the information provides an incomplete picture, but health care advocates say it raises questions about whether the state's vaccine distribution has been equitable. Even as the coronavirus kills Black and Hispanic Americans at disproportionately higher rates, advocates warn that these same communities could face disparities in access to the vaccine across the country.

The demographic vaccine data, released for the first time last week, show that among vaccine recipients whose race is known, the number of white Texans who have received at least one dose is more than triple the number of Hispanic vaccine recipients and more than seven times higher than Black vaccine recipients. Race or ethnicity isn't known for about 45% of the nearly 1.4 million Texans who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. But of the 756,000 vaccine recipients whose demographic information was recorded, more than 51% of vaccine recipients were white, 16.7% were reported as "other," 15.1% were Hispanic, 9.6% were Asian and 7.3% were Black. Overall, about 41% of Texans are white, 40% are Latino, 13% are Black and 5% are Asian. Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen cautioned against drawing conclusions from the data, especially considering vaccine distribution is still in its early stages. Many providers have just moved beyond vaccinating front-line health care workers to those in the second group of eligible recipients: Texans 65 and older or with underlying health issues. The state wrapped up its sixth week of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout Friday, but it was only the second week of widespread distribution through so-called vaccination hubs.

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Associated Press - January 23, 2021

Schumer: Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8

Opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial for Donald Trump over the Capitol riot will begin the week of Feb. 8, the first time a former president will face such charges after leaving office. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the schedule Friday evening after reaching an agreement with Republicans, who had pushed for a delay to give Trump a chance to organize his legal team and prepare a defense on the sole charge of incitement of insurrection. The February start date also allows the Senate more time to confirm President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominations and consider his proposed $1.9 trillion COVID relief package — top priorities of the new White House agenda that could become stalled during trial proceedings.

“We all want to put this awful chapter in our nation’s history behind us,” Schumer said about the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol siege by a mob of pro-Trump supporters. “But healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability. And that is what this trial will provide.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will send the article of impeachment late Monday, with senators sworn in as jurors Tuesday. But opening arguments will move to February. Trump’s impeachment trial would be the first of a U.S. president no longer in office, an undertaking that his Senate Republican allies argue is pointless, and potentially even unconstitutional. Democrats say they have to hold Trump to account, even as they pursue Biden’s legislative priorities, because of the gravity of what took place — a violent attack on the U.S. Congress aimed at overturning an election. If Trump is convicted, the Senate could vote to bar him from holding office ever again, potentially upending his chances for a political comeback. The urgency for Democrats to hold Trump responsible was complicated by the need to put Biden’s government in place and start quick work on his coronavirus aid package. “The more time we have to get up and running ... the better,” Biden said Friday in brief comments to reporters.

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Washington Post - January 23, 2021

Justice Department, FBI debate not charging some of the Capitol rioters

Federal law enforcement officials are privately debating whether they should decline to charge some of the individuals who stormed the U.S. Capitol this month — a politically loaded proposition but one alert to the practical concern that hundreds of such cases could swamp the local courthouse. The internal discussions are in their early stages, and no decisions have been reached about whether to forgo charging some of those who illegally entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions. Justice Department officials have promised a relentless effort to identify and arrest those who stormed the Capitol that day, but internally there is robust back-and-forth about whether charging them all is the best course of action.

That debate comes at a time when officials are keenly sensitive that the credibility of the Justice Department and the FBI are at stake in such decisions, given the apparent security and intelligence failures that preceded the riot, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss legal deliberations. Federal officials estimate that roughly 800 people surged into the building, though they caution that such numbers are imprecise, and the real figure could be 100 people or more in either direction. Among those roughly 800 people, FBI agents and prosecutors have so far seen a broad mix of behavior — from people dressed for military battle, moving in formation, to wanton vandalism, to simply going with the crowd into the building. Due to the wide variety of behavior, some federal officials have argued internally that those people who are known only to have committed unlawful entry — and were not engaged in violent, threatening or destructive behavior — should not be charged, according to people familiar with the discussions.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2021

Texas groups call for Cruz, Paxton, other House members to resign

More than 70 Texas organizations are calling for the resignations of Sen. Ted Cruz, Attorney General Ken Paxton and the 16 Texas representatives who voted on Jan. 6 against certifying election results that formalized President Joe Biden's win. The grassroots coalition is led by civic engagement group Indivisible TX Lege and includes organizations determined to hold Texas' elected officials accountable for their role in inspiring and encouraging the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump. More than 850 individuals have also signed a letter in support of the effort to expel the Texas officials.

"They have made a mockery of democracy by embracing the fascist rhetoric of a far-right figurehead with a far-right movement behind him," the group's statement reads. "They have suppressed votes while lying about the nature of our election system, sullying our elections while opposing their legally legitimate losses. They have proven themselves entirely unfit for office. They must resign." Paxton gave a speech at the "March to Save America" rally on Jan. 6 in D.C., telling the crowd that "we will not quit fighting." In December, Paxton filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn election results in four states, despite no evidence of voter fraud. Last week, the attorney general declined to sign a joint letter condemning the violent mob, saying he has already made his position clear. Seven Democratic senators are calling for an ethics investigation into Cruz, who raised objections to Arizona's electoral votes in the Senate chamber shortly before pro-Trump rioters stormed the building. The senator repeatedly touted falsehoods of election fraud leading up to the certification vote. Many Houston-area groups are among the coalition, including Black Lives Matter Houston, CAIR Houston, Harris County Young Democrats, FIEL Houston, Say Her Name HTX and Sunrise Houston. Texas House Reps. Ron Reynolds and Vikki Goodwin also signed on as supporters of the call for resignations.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2021

Erica Grieder: Biden’s early moves on immigration bring hope — and relief — to Houston

The inauguration of President Joe Biden has brought a new day in America, and Texans who advocate for immigrant communities are among those waking up refreshed. “I slept so well last night!” said Antonio Arellano, the executive director of JOLT Texas, a Latino progressive organization, on Thursday. “It’s been a really great moment for many of us that have been pushing for something like this for a very long time,” said Nabila Mansoor, the executive director of Emgage Texas, a Muslim American organizing group. She added a note of caution: “We don’t think it’s over, though. We think there’s much more work to be done.”

Hours after being sworn in, Biden signed a slew of executive orders, to the chagrin of some Republicans who feel that the new president’s pursuit of unity is contingent on him coddling them. Most of these executive orders targeted executive actions taken by then-President Donald Trump, with a number addressing Trump’s actions on immigration. Trump, who notoriously launched his bid for the White House with a speech slurring migrants from Mexico and who later called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” often resorted to executive action in pursuit of his restrictionist goals and draconian enforcement policies. And what can be done by the pen can be scribbled over just as easily. To wit: Biden reversed Trump’s Muslim ban, which — in the version that the Supreme Court allowed to stand — restricted travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. He directed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to “review and reset” immigration enforcement priorities, meaning a moratorium on most deportations for the first 100 days of his presidency, at least. He revoked an executive order that would have excluded unauthorized immigrants from being counted in the 2020 Census.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2021

Texas lawmakers set example by getting COVID-19 vaccine

The pin prick in the arm of state Sen. Borris Miles looked painless Saturday as the Houston lawmaker received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in front of news cameras. “Not that bad,” said Miles as he pumped his fist in the air after receiving the Moderna vaccine at a health clinic in the Jensen area, one of Houston’s hardest hit neighborhoods for coronavirus infections. “Not that bad at all.” “Hey man, you didn’t even cry,” joked state Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., who was sitting nearby waiting his turn. But while getting the shot looked easy for the state officials, the hard part is persuading skeptical constituents to follow their footsteps.

Miles and Dutton joined a group of other Black community leaders — state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Alma Allen and Garnet Coleman and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis — to get vaccinated and set an example for people of color who are bearing the brunt of COVID-19. Despite the risks from the disease, surveys show minorities are less likely to get vaccinated because of poor access to health care and a mistrust of the medical establishment that’s deeply rooted in past abuses. About a quarter of the American public are doubtful about the vaccines and 35 percent of Black adults say they “definitely or probably would not” get vaccinated, according to a December survey by Kaiser Family Foundation. “We need to make sure we target vulnerable populations,” said U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, who attended the event but has already received two doses of the vaccine, which is necessary for full immunity. “The first one was so easy,” she said of the shot. The second shot caused her to feel a “slight headache” and some body aches that passed after 48 hours, she said. “It’s easy, and it’s safe and we should do it,” Garcia said. Health officials say the vaccination program is being closely monitored for serious risks, such as anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can occur with any type of vaccine.

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2021

'They want to forget it if they can': One year later, Watson explosion recovery drags on for some

One by one, residents of the Westbranch neighborhood in northwest Houston have sought to rebuild and move back into their homes, picking up the pieces of what for many has been a long recovery after the explosion at Watson Grinding & Manufacturing one year ago Sunday. Leah Blok got back into her Bridgeland Lane home in July, Tracy Stephenson in August. Ronda Dotson moved back in September, and Ann Rawlinson was unpacking her boxes on Stanford Court on Tuesday. Alfonso Santana was looking forward to the day he could return, as well, according to his neighbors. His children were helping restore his home. Santana, 85, replaced the dead grass with a manicured lawn himself. He never made it back. Santana contracted COVID-19 and died just after New Year’s, his neighbors said. “It’s just so unfair,” said Alicia Detamore, who lives across the street.

The Watson explosion rocked this neighborhood last January, a catastrophe that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic by about a month and a half. The result was a harrowing year for hundreds of residents and families, who were forced to navigate a recovery effort for one crisis while enduring another. The blast killed Watson workers Gerardo Castorena Sr., 45, and Frank Flores, 44, along with resident Gilberto Mendoza Cruz, 47. Hundreds of homes in the unusually dense neighborhoods around the business were damaged. Windows were blown out and doors jammed shut. Ceilings caved in and many homes were knocked inches off their foundations. After the initial disaster response faded, the recovery effort effectively was left to insurance companies, splitting the neighborhood between haves and have-nots. Those with responsive insurance policies and speedy adjusters are making progress on repairs or new homes altogether. They have moved back or plan to soon. Those without coverage are left to patch up their homes or take out loans to do the work, while waiting on lawsuits against Watson to wind through courts. Those recoveries likely will be measured in years. “It’s so subjective. It shouldn’t be that way,” said Detamore, who credited her insurance adjuster with helping her return to her home in June, a few months after she and housemate Suzanne Slavinsky watched their roof collapse as contractors tried to repair it. “You shouldn’t have to fight with the company you’re paying. That’s what insurance is for.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 24, 2021

'It's ugly': Verizon 5G data boxes appear without notice on Houston front lawns

Dirk Wijnands and Adeline Pang hadn’t paid much attention to the coming 5G wireless data revolution until its building blocks were installed without warning on the couple’s Montrose-area lawn. In September 2019, work began on the street near their home on Elmen near Westheimer as contractors dug trenches to install fiber optic cable. Shortly afterward, a box resembling an oversized dorm room refrigerator appeared on their lawn, next to a wooden utility pole that had been placed earlier. “Three weeks after the work began, they hung a little tag on our doorknob that said something like, ‘Oh we are doing some work on your lawn,’” Wijnands said. “They’d work on it for two or three days in a row, then I wouldn’t see them for five days, and then they’d be back.”

In the jargon of telecommunications, the box is known as “ground furniture.” The beige metal cabinets, with an electrical meter affixed, supply power and a high-speed fiber connection to a transmitter on Verizon’s wireless data network. They are popping up on lawns all over Houston, and in other cities around the United States, often without notice to homeowners. It is part of the rush to build out the next-generation wireless network called 5G — even if it means ticking off residents. Norman Ewart, a retired lawyer who lives in the Rice Memorial area, said one of the boxes was placed outside his front gate. He complained to Verizon- but the box remains in place. “It hasn’t been turned on yet, it’s just sitting there,” Ewart said. “I want it gone. It’s ugly, and it devalues my property.” 5G is touted as another disruptive technology, and, as Houston residents like Wijnands, Pang and Ewart have found, it’s not coming without disruptions. Telecommunications companies, device manufacturers, lawmakers and industry associations have promised much faster wireless data speeds, less latency or lag and transformation of the 21st century economy on scale of 4G wireless, which enabled mobile apps that created new services from ride-hailing to video streaming. To fulfill 5G’s promise, federal and state governments streamlined regulations for permitting and building telecommunications infrastructure such as towers, the transmitters atop them and the fiber optic cables that feed them data. Cities have less control over these networks, resulting in puzzled and unhappy landowners.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2021

Christi Craddick: Hear me out, President Biden. Don’t write off oil and gas.

As President Joe Biden took office, White House staff changed out photographs in hallways, newly appointed Cabinet members familiarized themselves with briefing materials and new stationery memorializing the arrival of the 46th president of the United States was printed. Change is everywhere in Washington. In stark contrast, Americans across the nation are plagued with the same challenges that they faced before. A global pandemic that has claimed over 402,000 American lives continues to wreak havoc, with no end in sight. In its wreckage, families struggle to make ends meet in an economy that flounders under the weight of international and domestic factors, including political turmoil, foreign price wars and supply chain deficiencies. Unemployment rates have stagnated at a staggering 6.7 percent.

While the name might be confusing, the Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the oil and gas industry in the single largest oil producing state in our nation. Alongside surface mining, pipeline safety and alternative fuels, this agency seeks to responsibly produce our state’s abundant resources for the benefit of all Texans with sensible and practical regulation. As chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, I am proud of the significant economic impact this industry provides to our state and the nation. Producing over 41 percent of the nation’s oil, Texas energy producers leave a massive footprint on our economy. Last year, according to the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the industry paid $13.9 billion in state and local taxes and state royalty payments. Over 400,000 Texans were directly employed by oil and natural gas companies last year, with average incomes that more than double the national average. Indirectly, each oil and natural gas job creates an additional 2.4 jobs in Texas. All in, the oil and natural gas industry was responsible for employing nearly 1 million Texans last year alone. These companies help provide some of the most affordable energy prices to families across the state at 8.6 cents/kWh compared to the national average of 10.54 cents/kWh. Tax revenues and refined products keep our roads paved, teachers employed and hospitals supplied. Texas is not the only state that faces dire consequences. In Pennsylvania, over 60,000 individuals are employed by the oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear production industries.

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2021

DeSoto lawmaker Carl Sherman Sr. tests positive for COVID-19

State Rep. Carl Sherman Sr. D-DeSoto, said Friday that he has tested positive for COVID-19. “Today, I received a positive test result for COVID-19, and though I feel fine, I am adhering to the professional doctors’ guidance and will be under strict self-quarantine,” Sherman said on social media. “It is my prayer that no one other than myself contracted it.” Sherman, a second-term Democrat, said he remained in good spirits and would continue working for his constituents during his quarantine. He asked for prayers for his wife and others who he worried he may have spread the virus to.

“I want to remind you that this disease should not be taken lightly, and it is unpredictable in severity, so please continue to keep your guard up and your loved ones protected,” he said. He reminded the public to wear face coverings, wash hands for 20 seconds, keep social distance and avoid large gatherings. Sherman’s positive test result adds to the list of lawmakers who have contracted the virus. During the Legislature’s opening week earlier this month, two lawmakers forewent the opening ceremony because they were quarantining following a positive test. Last Friday, Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, tested positive after working in the Capitol for three days. His positive test led other lawmakers, including Carrollton Democrat Michelle Beckley, to quarantine after being in his vicinity on the Texas House floor. The test result raised questions about how lawmakers could meet safely in the middle of a pandemic. Lawmakers did not meet this week but are scheduled to return to the Capitol Tuesday.

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Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Dollars and nonsense: anti-vaxxers get federal funds

We’ve said it before. The Paycheck Protection Program, while needed to rescue jobs in the midst of this persistent pandemic, missed the mark. It haphazardly sent millions of dollars to businesses and individuals that Congress didn’t have in mind as the intended recipients of the small business relief program. To underscore this point, The Washington Post recently reported that Informed Consent Action Network, an Austin-based nonprofit that focuses on what it calls “the shocking lack of credible vaccine science,” received $166,000 in May 2020. Informed Consent Action Network and four other groups skeptical of vaccine science received more than $850,000 in PPP loans, the paper reported.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the organizations applied and received the loan. The federal government was littering the landscape with $669 billion for business relief for operations with 500 or fewer employees to cover payroll and other necessary business costs without having an effective system to vet recipients. In most instances, groups, individuals and businesses who received money did not break a law; they just took advantage of a program that sacrificed oversight in the interest of getting money quickly to distressed Americans. But that doesn’t make the distribution proper and at times it has been incredibly inconsistent. Groups that question the science behind vaccines received federal dollars to carry out their advocacy — counter to efforts of the federal government and medical experts to develop a coronavirus vaccine and inoculate a nation. The rollout of the coronavirus vaccine has been unnecessarily chaotic, and the confusion between federal, state and local governments must end. Getting the vaccines to the majority of Americans is crucial to our economic, psychological and physical well-being. So it is problematic to learn that federal dollars ended up in the hands of groups whose questioning of vaccines increases public skepticism.

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Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2021

Hundreds line up at southern Dallas pop-up site to register for COVID-19 vaccine

Maria Gonzalez wants to get the COVID-19 vaccine so she can hug people again, but she isn’t comfortable using a computer. So when the 74-year-old heard on TV that she could get help signing up for the vaccine, she didn’t hesitate. Gonzalez was one of hundreds who stood in line at Jerry’s Supermarket on West Jefferson Boulevard where volunteers on five laptops helped people register online for the vaccine. When the sign-up started at 1 p.m. Friday, the line stretched down the block past about a dozen other businesses in North Oak Cliff.

Temporary vaccine registration sites like the one at Jerry’s Supermarket are the latest idea to reach residents who aren’t internet-savvy, lack access to computers or don’t follow traditional city government communication channels. But a clash between Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and several City Council members has led to political infighting over where to place such sites. Friday’s effort was led by city council member Chad West and received backing from Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia, who helped people get registered. Bundled in a hooded purple coat, a black face mask and black gloves, Gonzalez clutched a yellow Post-it note with the number 137 on it. She said she and a neighbor walked to the store around noon. They had tried getting vaccines at Fair Park last Friday when walkups were being allowed, but she said the crowd size made her have second thoughts. Gonzalez came to the pop-up event at Jerry’s Supermarket because she said she felt she should try to get a vaccine before the supply runs out.

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Dallas Morning News - January 24, 2021

96 more COVID-19 deaths reported in Dallas, Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties

Dallas, Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties together almost tallied triple-digit COVID-19 fatalities on Friday, with 96 deaths added to their collective toll. Dallas County reported 2,065 new coronavirus cases Friday, as well as 31 more deaths from COVID-19 — one of the highest single-day tolls of the pandemic. Three of the new cases involved the more-contagious B.1.1.7 variant of the virus, according to the county.

Seventeen of the latest victims were Dallas residents: a man and two women in their 50s, two men and a woman in their 60s, four men and two women in their 70s, a man and two women in their 80s and a man and a woman in their 90s. The man in his 80s and three of the women, in their 70s, 80s and 90s, lived in long-term care facilities. Six victims were Mesquite residents: a man in his 50s, a man in his 70s, two women in their 80s and two men in their 90s. All but the man in his 50s and one of the women in her 80s lived in long-term care facilities. The other victims were four Garland residents, a man in his 60s who lived at a long-term care facility, a woman in her 70s, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 80s who lived at a long-term care facility; three Grand Prairie residents, a woman in her 40s, a woman in her 50s and a man in his 90s; and a University Park woman in her 80s. None of the victims were known not to have health conditions that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, officials said.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 24, 2021

Holocaust commission gets new life; atrocities to be recalled this week in Texas, San Antonio

A recommendation to abolish the state’s 12-year-old Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission has been modified to keep the organization active but under closer scrutiny by the Texas Historical Commission. “Everything is working out now, and we are still in existence,” said Lynne Aronoff, chairwoman of the Holocaust commission. “We believe that we’ll emerge from this important process stronger and improved as a result.” The change comes as educators prepare for Texas Holocaust Remembrance Week, which begins Monday and runs through Friday.

A staff report released in November by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews state agencies every 10 years to determine whether they should stay as is, change or be eliminated, proposed dissolving the Holocaust commission, saying it “has never functioned as intended, cannot show measurable benefit to the state and should be abolished.” But after receiving numerous protests — including from state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who authored the bill that created Remembrance Week — the Sunset Commission replaced that proposal with a recommendation that the Holocaust group be brought under close oversight as an advisory committee of the Texas Historical Commission, with another sunset review set for 2031. The Legislature still must vote on the Sunset Commission’s recommendation and has the ultimate say on which agency would oversee the group. The Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education also have been mentioned as agencies that could handle oversight of the Holocaust commission. Aronoff said she’s hopeful the multiphase sunset review process will strengthen the commission, resulting in better operational guidance and metrics for success.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2021

Unknown donors gave huge boost to campaign seeking to gut San Antonio police union

A group of San Antonio organizers who want to strip the police union of its ability to negotiate a contract with the city raised nearly $300,000 last year — most of it from anonymous sources. Fix SAPD outraised its chief opponent, the San Antonio Police Officers Association, and had more money in its piggy bank at the end of last year, campaign finance reports show. The overwhelming bulk of Fix SAPD’s fundraising haul from August to December — $250,000 in cash donations — came from the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, an arm of the Texas Organizing Project, a progressive grassroots group that specializes in community and election organizing. Because TOP’s education fund is organized as a 501(c)(3) public charity, it doesn’t have to make its donors known to the public.

That makes it nigh impossible to know who so far has bankrolled the Fix SAPD campaign, which coordinated a petition drive to gather enough signatures to get two measures on the May ballot that would effectively neutralize the police officers association. The use of so-called dark money — political donations that can’t be traced to specific donors — has been on the rise within the past decade as politically active nonprofits increasingly adopted the technique of shielding the identity of donors from the public. “When dark money flows into politically active groups, voters are left in the dark about who is trying to influence them,” said Michael Beckel, research director for Issue One, a bipartisan campaign finance reform group. “That’s a large chunk of money from unknown sources flowing into Fix SAPD.” Leaders of Fix SAPD and TOP denied that the $250,000 in contributions fit the colloquial definition of “dark money,” at least in the negative sense typically associated with the term. “There is no dark money, there has been no dark money in Fix SAPD, there will be no dark money in Fix SAPD,” said Ojiyoma Martin, who heads the organization. The TOP-related money came out of the education fund’s general pot of donations it receives year-round to provide financial support for community outreach efforts on issues such as health care access, immigration and housing, TOP executive director Michelle Tremillo said. In other words, the nonprofit wasn’t specifically raising money to back Fix SAPD.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 23, 2021

With Capitol selfie, Richardson man wrote ‘wanted to incriminate myself a little lol’

A Richardson man who in online posts described participating in the riot earlier this month at the U.S. Capitol has been charged in U.S. District Court in connection with the intrusion. Garett Miller, who attached photographs and video of his experience to the posts, was arrested on Wednesday. A detention hearing, to determine whether he will be held in custody or released before the case is resolved, is scheduled on Monday. The U.S. Attorney’ Office for the District of Columbia charged Miller, 34, with four crimes: knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted buildings or grounds without lawful authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, obstructing or impeding any official proceeding and certain acts during civil disorder.

Some people in the crowd forced their way into the Capitol by breaking windows and by assaulting U.S. Capitol police officers. The riot occurred on Jan. 6 during a joint session of Congress convened to certify the Electoral College vote in the 2020 presidential election. Miller posted to Twitter a video from inside the Capitol, according to a Department of Homeland Security special agent’s account in a statement attached to a criminal complaint. The video, posted on Jan. 6 at 6:56 p.m., is 14 seconds long and pans across a crowd that is inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda and waving flags. On Jan. 11, 2021, Miller posted to Facebook a photo of himself with another person inside the Capitol Rotunda, according to the special agent’s account. Miller posted a selfie to his Facebook account in which he is inside the Capitol building. A person commented, “bro you got in?! Nice!” “Just wanted to incriminate myself a little lol,” Miller replied. Surveillance video recording inside the Capitol shows Miller in the Capitol Rotunda at 2:46 p.m., according to the special agent’s account.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 23, 2021

Mac Engel: The Republican congressman who befriended the Democrat Hank Aaron

Shortly after Roger Williams won the election to represent the 25th District of Texas in the U.S. Congress in 2012, he received a congratulatory phone call. It was Hank Aaron. “Roger, you need to know I’m a Democrat,” Aaron told Williams. “Oh I know,” Williams responded. “I know you’re a capitalist, too.” On Friday, Hank Aaron died. He was 86. Not sure what else can be written about Hank Aaron that has not already been said. One part that can’t be stated enough, and is something we have lost as a society, is Aaron’s ability not to hit a home run but his capacity to get along even if we disagree. Here was a lifelong Democrat, who had no problem being friends with a traditional conservative, like Williams.

“I saw him three years ago and he came up to me and asked, ‘Are you still selling cars?’” Williams told me in a phone interview. Of the many amazing feats amassed by Aaron in his baseball career, and life, is that it’s virtually impossible to find a person who has a negative word to say about him. For a man that popular, that is almost as difficult as hitting 755 career home runs. Long before Williams became a successful businessman and member of congress, he was quite the baseball player who also coached at TCU. He was drafted by the Braves in 1971, and played three injury-plagued seasons with the organization before retiring. It was at spring training in ‘72 where a young Williams met the man who was on his way to becoming the greatest home run hitter who has ever played (that includes Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds). “I was 21 and I’m in my first big league camp and I walk into the clubhouse, and it’s empty but in the middle of it is this big table and it’s loaded with baseballs,” Williams said. “I hear these cleats on the concrete ramp, and in walks Hank. “He puts a towel around his neck, sits down, and he just starts signing baseballs. He doesn’t know me from Adam, but I am thinking I’ve got to get his signature.”

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KHOU - January 24, 2021

Sen. John Cornyn discusses Trump impeachment, Biden's immigration policy

Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to deliver articles of impeachment to the U.S. Senate. KHOU asked just re-elected Senator John Cornyn (R), Texas, about impeaching President Donald Trump. We also talked about President Joe Biden’s immigration proposal and the possibility of unifying the country after the insurrection.

This is unprecedented,” Sen. John Cornyn said. “Never before has there been a trial of a person who used to be president but is no longer president. And it just strikes me as a vindictive move, you know, say what you will about the president's role in a speech he gave. He's no longer president. He lost the election. That used to be punishment enough in our politics. I think it was a big mistake to give that speech in front of this large crowd and then to tell them to go to the Capitol, because unfortunately, when mobs get together, the lowest common denominator usually defines that group of people,” Cornyn added. “And that’s what happened here. I think what we need to hear is what really the president intended, because incitement is really about your intention. Are you trying to rally people to violence, which would be the definition of incitement to riot, or are you exercising your free speech rights? We need to hear some more detail about that. And the burden of proof is on the impeachment managers to produce that kind of evidence if they expect to get a conviction.” “Based on what we saw on TV and social media and what we saw in person. I'll reserve judgment until after I hear their case,” Sen. Cornyn said.

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Bloomberg - January 23, 2021

Elon Musk’s next Texas play? Drilling for natural gas, of course

Elon Musk recently moved to Texas, where he launches some of his rockets and is building a battery factory. Now, for good measure, he plans to drill for natural gas in the state. The billionaire’s SpaceX intends to drill wells close to the company’s Boca Chica launchpad, it was revealed during a Friday hearing before the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s energy regulator. Production has yet to start because of a legal dispute between the SpaceX subsidiary Lone Star Mineral Development and another energy company. Tim George, an attorney representing Lone Star, said at the hearing that SpaceX plans to use the methane it extracts from the ground “in connection with their rocket facility operations.”

While it’s unclear what exactly the gas would be used for, SpaceX plans to utilize super-chilled liquid methane and liquid oxygen as fuel for its Raptor engines. The company’s Starship and Super Heavy vehicles are tested at Boca Chica, and orbital launches are planned for the site. George declined to answer further questions and hung up when called for comment. SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Musk said in December he relocated to Texas to focus on SpaceX’s Starship vehicle and Tesla Inc.’s new Gigafactory, which is being built near Austin. On Thursday, the billionaire tweeted that he plans to donate $100 million toward a prize for the best carbon-capture technology. His past comments have suggested that he wants to use the tech to produce synthetic carbon-neutral rocket fuel. Until then, fossil fuels will power SpaceX rockets.

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KUT - January 22, 2021

Austin's homelessness policies are being targeted (again)

Austin's rules governing behavior related to homelessness have been a perennial source of handwringing since the Austin City Council voted to rollback regulations in June 2019. This week saw a fresh wave of criticism over the laws governing where people can camp and rest in public. Gov. Greg Abbott, again, threatened to overrule the city's camping ordinance, and a local GOP-backed group said it, again, had enough petition signatures to undo the ordinances. On top of that, Mayor Steve Adler suggested the city's strategy "is not working," prompting concern and confusion. Opponents argue the ordinances have led to public safety issues in Austin, as encampments have sprung up throughout the city under overpasses and along busy streets. Supporters argue the rollback cuts down on tickets – most of which went unpaid – and arrest warrants, which make it harder for people to secure housing.

In a conversation with KUT on Thursday, Adler softened his stance somewhat, but admitted the city isn't doing an effective job of helping people get housing and that the rules haven't be well enforced. "I'm frustrated too," he said, "and I hear the frustration in the community." Adler conceded the city could do a better job at "managing public spaces" and expressed concern about encampments along roadways. A ban on camping along busy roads had been on the table before the 2019 vote, but was ultimately nixed. Still, he argued the ordinances do prohibit "unsafe" behavior as it relates to camping, which the city defines as camping in any way that is "materially endangering the health or safety of another person or of themselves." "I'm not a public safety expert," Adler said. "But it certainly seems to me that people are camping in close proximity to traffic [and that's] something that could easily be running afoul of the council's mandate that people not camp in unsafe places." The mayor said it's possible council members could revisit the ordinances, but stopped short of suggesting that was in the immediate offing. If the behavior persists, he said, "I think the council needs to consider acting." Despite a possible revision, the ordinances could be heading to voters in May. Save Austin Now, a group led by Travis County GOP Chair Matt Mackowiak, announced this week that it submitted a petition to the city clerk's office to force a referendum on the policies. The group unsuccessfully petitioned to get the issue on the November ballot, falling short of the 20,000 requisite signatures.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2021

In first lawsuit against Biden administration, Texas AG Paxton challenges deportation freeze

Following through on his promise to sue the Biden administration early and often, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked a federal judge to block a new policy that pauses most deportations for the next 100 days. The policy, which went into effect Friday, was announced by acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske as part of a comprehensive review of immigration enforcement, particularly amid the challenges posed by COVID-19. The pause, Pekoske said in a Wednesday memo to immigration officials, will let the agency focus resources on its most pressing needs, in particular at the busy southern border "in the midst of the most serious global public health crisis in a century."

But Paxton said the pause violates federal law and an agreement between Texas and the Homeland Security Department — signed in the closing days of the Trump administration — that requires federal officials to provide 180 days of notice to Texas before immigration enforcement can be changed. The deportation freeze also carries a safety risk, he said. "Our state defends the largest section of the southern border in the nation. Failure to properly enforce the law will directly and immediately endanger our citizens and law enforcement personnel," Paxton said in a statement announcing his first lawsuit against President Joe Biden's policies. Pekoske's memo excluded from the freeze noncitizens who are suspected of terrorism or espionage or are found to pose a security threat. The freeze also doesn't apply to those who voluntarily waive the right to remain in the United States. "Nothing in this memorandum prohibits the apprehension or detention of individuals unlawfully in the United States," he added. Paxton asked U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a nominee of former President Donald Trump who took the bench in Corpus Christi last June, to issue a temporary restraining order that would halt the deportation freeze for 14 days so the legal issues can be discussed more fully.

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BorderReport - January 23, 2021

Census data delay could prompt Texas Legislature into special session for redistricting

The COVID-19 crisis and former President Donald Trump’s efforts to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 Census count will likely delay the release of census data until after the Texas Legislature adjourns, the vice-chair of the Texas Senate Redistricting Committee told Border Report on Friday. Texas State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen who last week was tapped to help lead this committee in charge of redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts based on census population data, said they don’t expect to receive a final Census 2020 report until June. That would be well after the 87th Texas Legislature regular session ends on May 31.

The Texas Legislature, which is only in session only every other year, just convened on Jan. 12 in Austin. Depending upon final census data, Texas could gain as many as three new congressional seats. A delay in census findings also could delay increased federal funding — which is based on population figures — especially to burgeoning border areas of the state, he said. “As far as we know we do not think we’ll get the final census data till early this summer,” Hinojosa said. Initial projections should be received in March, but Hinojosa said it is likely that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would have to call a special legislative session to vote on redrawing district lines. “I anticipate that once we receive the data, that Gov. Abbott with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will pick a date, and off we’ll go to Austin to look at the essential data,” Hinojosa said. “We will have done the majority of work before that based on estimates, and we’ll make some adjustments, but that will not be till this summer. That’s my prediction.”

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El Paso Times - January 23, 2021

David Stout: Welcome back Texas Legislature, let's get to work: Commissioner David Stout

(David C. Stout has served as Commissioner of Precinct 2 since taking office in January of 2015.) As County elected officials across this State, my colleagues and I congratulate you on becoming a member of the 87th Session of the Texas Legislature. During the 86th Session, the Legislature took significant steps to reform the property tax system: changes to the appraisal process, streamlining taxing entities tax rate approval process, and improving transparency in tax rate development. During the 86th Session, you did a heavy legislative lift reforming the appraisal system. During the 87th Session, it’s time to actually cut individual and business property taxes.

County Commissioners Courts implement the property tax system that you authorize. We are your partners and use the processes you created. We stand ready to work with you again, but the priority should be significant property tax cuts for homeowners and small businesses. To this end, the Governor should make the following property tax cut proposals emergency items and the Legislature should pass them without delay: First, give counties more options for property tax relief for residents and businesses. The legislature should authorize counties to have the ability to offer fixed dollar exemptions to residential homesteads, an option for business property tax relief, and revenue options outside of property taxes. Second, the State should use its significant amount of COVID-19 federal funds to offer homeowners and small businesses one-time grants for mortgage or property tax assistance. Just like the rental assistance programs counties across the state have offered, homeowners and small businesses deserve direct relief too.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: East Side council hopeful challenges his former boss

Even with three weeks left in the filing period for City Council races, it’s already clear who this year’s most fascinating candidate will be. Jalen McKee-Rodriguez is a former council aide running against his former boss, East Side Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan. He is a 25-year-old gay Black man who teaches math at Madison High School. He is a self-described military brat who grew up in places as disparate as Honolulu and Kentucky.

During his college days, he proudly served as UTSA’s mascot, Rowdy the Roadrunner. In his very first bid for political office, he already has raised more money than the combined haul of his eight opponents. McKee-Rodriguez is galvanizing young progressives and his backers include H. Drew Galloway, the former executive director of MOVE Texas, former council candidate Michael Montaño and former West Side council staffer (and current community activist) Jennifer Falcon. If armchair politicos hadn’t previously taken notice of McKee-Rodriguez’s insurgent candidacy, his recently released fundraising report surely got their attention. He raised $17,584 in a span of six weeks from 423 donors: 161 of the donors were from San Antonio and many others were old friends from the various places where he grew up. Knocking off a council incumbent is a heavy lift, but when it works — as in Ana Sandoval’s 2017 win over Cris Medina — it’s generally because a grassroots movement of young idealists decided they were fed up with the status quo. In 2019, McKee-Rodriguez worked to get Andrews-Sullivan elected and spent 51/2 months as her communications director. But he says the experience was deeply disheartening.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 22, 2021

A Fort Worth mayoral candidate has endorsements from the Bass family, other big names

A litany of powerful Fort Worth names have lined up behind Mattie Parker in the race for mayor. Parker’s campaign Thursday posted a list of endorsements on her campaign website with a prompt for others to sign on in support of her to replace Mayor Betsy Price, who Parker worked for as the City Council chief of staff. Price will not seek another term. The election is May 1. Among those backing Parker are members of the billionaire Bass family who have shaped much of Fort Worth’s business and philanthropic community: Ramona and Lee Bass, Sasha and Ed Bass and Sid Bass. Dee Kelly Jr., a prominent lawyer who has represented the Bass family, also signed on. He had considered running for Fort Worth mayor himself.

Hillwood president Mike Berry and his wife Marilyn also support Parker. Hillwood is the Ross Perot Jr. company behind Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport and related development. Bill Meadows, chairman of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Board of Directors and a former city councilman, is on the list with former councilman Zim Zimmerman. A few local politicians also made the list, including former Democratic U.S. Rep. Pete Geren, Republican state Rep. Craig Goldman and Fort Worth councilman Dennis Shingleton, who is retiring this year. While those names stick out, Parker said the endorsements also show a growing grassroots campaign, noting that many people on the list are those she has met through school events with her children or in her neighborhood. “Those names are equally as important to me as anyone else,” she said. Parker’s campaign pushed the endorsements out after U.S. Rep. Kay Granger endorsed councilman Brian Byrd in the Fort Worth mayoral race. Parker and Byrd also face opposition from councilwoman Ann Zadeh, Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples and two new names in the city’s political world: Chris Rector and Mike Haynes.

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National Stories

Wall Street Journal - January 23, 2021

Arizona GOP censures Cindy McCain, Doug Ducey, re-Elects Kelli Ward as Chair

The rift between the Arizona Republican Party’s establishment and pro-Trump wing widened as committee members censured Republican Gov. Doug Ducey ; Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain, the party’s presidential nominee in 2008; and former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. Republicans also re-elected Kelli Ward, a key Donald Trump backer, as chairwoman. Endorsed by Mr. Trump, she had traded barbs with Mr. Ducey and other establishment figures and urged passage of the censures. “This election cycle exposed we have too much cronyism in our party from top to bottom,” she said.

Arizona’s Republican divisions are mirrored in other states in the wake of Mr. Trump’s election loss and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Ten House Republican members who voted to impeach Mr. Trump for urging supporters to protest at the Capitol are being targeted for primary challenges. In Kentucky on Saturday, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) fended off a small group of Trump loyalists who oppose his remarks that he is keeping an open mind about convicting Mr. Trump in his Senate trial. The Trump faction backed a resolution calling on Mr. McConnell to condemn the new impeachment of Mr. Trump. But the GOP state chairman, Mac Brown, said the resolution was out of order, and won a 134-49 vote on the matter, said a member of the party’s central committee. “It is our intention to return our focus to bringing civility to the party and continue having larger conversations about how we can attract more voters and grow our party,” the Kentucky GOP said after the vote.

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Wall Street Journal - January 23, 2021

Trump pressed Justice Department to go directly to Supreme Court to overturn election results

In his last weeks in office, former President Donald Trump considered moving to replace the acting attorney general with another official ready to pursue unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, and he pushed the Justice Department to ask the Supreme Court to invalidate President Biden’s victory, people familiar with the matter said. Those efforts failed due to pushback from his own appointees in the Justice Department, who refused to file what they viewed as a legally baseless lawsuit in the Supreme Court. Later, other senior department officials threatened to resign en masse should Mr. Trump fire then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

Senior department officials, including Mr. Rosen, former Attorney General William Barr and former acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall refused to file the Supreme Court case, concluding that there was no basis to challenge the election outcome and that the federal government had no legal interest in whether Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden won the presidency, some of these people said. White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy, Patrick Philbin, also opposed Mr. Trump’s idea, which was promoted by his outside attorneys, these people said. “He wanted us, the United States, to sue one or more of the states directly in the Supreme Court,” a former administration official said. “The pressure got really intense” after a lawsuit Texas filed in the Supreme Court against four states Mr. Biden won was dismissed on Dec. 11, the official said. An outside lawyer working for Mr. Trump drafted a brief the then-president wanted the Justice Department to file, people familiar with the matter said, but officials refused. After his Supreme Court plan got nowhere, Mr. Trump explored another plan—replacing Mr. Rosen as acting attorney general with Jeffrey Clark, a Trump ally in the department who had expressed a willingness to use the department’s power to help the former president continue his unsuccessful legal battles contesting the election results, these people said.

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NBC News - January 24, 2021

United States tops 25 million cases of COVID-19

The United States recorded more than 25 million cases of Covid-19 on Saturday and just under 417,000 deaths, according to the latest NBC News data. This comes days after President Joe Biden signed 10 executive orders aimed at expanding vaccine production, ramping up testing and reopening schools, among other goals. His full 198-page strategy to end the pandemic was boiled down to seven key points. "We didn't get into this mess overnight, and it is going to take months to get it turned around," Biden said. He warned the country is likely to top 500,000 deaths next month. According to NBC News' statistics, the current death toll is 416,925 with 25,012,572 cases.

"But let me be equally clear: We will get through this," Biden continued. "We will defeat this pandemic." Two vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. Both require two shots spaced out weeks apart. As of Jan. 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 3 million people in the United States are receiving both shots of the Covid-19 vaccine. But the vaccine will not be widely available and accessible to the general public at retail pharmacies for some time, said Biden's new CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. During a "Today" show interview Thursday, Walensky said Americans should not expect the vaccine timeline that former President Donald Trump had promised. Former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had said last month on "Today" that the shots would be ready for pharmacies in February. "We are going to, as part of our plan, put the vaccine in pharmacies. Will it be in every pharmacy in this country by that timeline? I don't think so," Walensky said. "I don't think late February, we're going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country." The first case of the coronavirus in the United States was recorded a little more than a year ago when a man in Seattle tested positive on Jan. 21, 2020, after returning from a trip to Wuhan, China.

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New Yorker - January 24, 2021

Why McDonnell dumped Trump

On the afternoon of January 6th, less than an hour before a violent mob supporting President Donald Trump broke into the Capitol, causing mayhem that led to the deaths of five Americans, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, gave the most powerful speech of his life. In a cold disavowal of Trump’s false claims about rampant election fraud, McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, stood behind the Senate dais and stated the obvious: despite two months of increasingly malign lies from Trump, and from many of his supporters in Congress, Joe Biden had won the Presidency. McConnell, in his dead-eyed, laconic manner, listed the damning facts, citing numerous federal judges and state officials who had rejected Trump’s baseless assertions that the election had been “rigged” against him. “The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken,” McConnell said. “If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.” Then, in a final jab, he pointed out that—contrary to Trump’s ludicrous claim that he’d won a second term by a landslide—the election “actually was not unusually close.” Trump had lost by seven million votes in the popular ballot, and 306–232 in the Electoral College.

In the days after the Capitol attack, as horrifying footage emerged of marauders ransacking the building and chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” and “Treason!,” McConnell, through a series of anonymously sourced reports in major news outlets, distanced himself even further from the President. As a prominent Republican strategist noted, “Nothing’s ever happenstance with McConnell”—and so each report was taken as a Delphic signal. On January 12th, the Times published a headline declaring that McConnell was “said to be pleased” about the Democrats’ intention to impeach the President a second time. Unnamed associates revealed to reporters on Capitol Hill that McConnell was no longer speaking to Trump, and might vote to convict him if the impeachment process moved to a Senate trial. On January 13th, ten Republican members of the House of Representatives joined the Democrats in impeaching Trump, for “incitement of insurrection.” Soon afterward, McConnell made clear to his Republican colleagues that he regarded impeachment as a matter of individual conscience, not one of party loyalty. And on January 19th, the day before Biden was sworn in as President, McConnell shocked political circles by denouncing Trump even more directly. Speaking from the Senate floor, he said, with extraordinary bluntness, “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.”

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CNN - January 23, 2021

Larry King, legendary talk show host, dies at 87

Larry King, the longtime CNN host who became an icon through his interviews with countless newsmakers and his sartorial sensibilities, has died. He was 87. King hosted "Larry King Live" on CNN for over 25 years, interviewing presidential candidates, celebrities, athletes, movie stars and everyday people. He retired in 2010 after taping more than 6,000 episodes of the show. A statement was posted on his verified Facebook account announcing his passing. His son, Chance, confirmed King's death Saturday morning.

"With profound sadness, Ora Media announces the death of our co-founder, host and friend Larry King, who passed away this morning at age 87 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles," the statement said. "For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry's many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster." The statement did not give a cause of death. King had been hospitalized with Covid-19 in late December at Cedars-Sinai, a source close to the family said at the time. He battled a number of health problems over the years, suffering several heart attacks. In 1987, he underwent quintuple bypass surgery, inspiring him to establish the Larry King Cardiac Foundation to provide assistance to those without insurance. More recently, King revealed in 2017 that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and successfully underwent surgery to treat it. He also underwent a procedure in 2019 to address angina. King also suffered personal loss last year when two of his adult children died within weeks of each other: Andy King, 65, suffered a heart attack and daughter Chaia King, 52, died after being diagnosed with lung cancer. King is survived by three sons, Larry, Jr., Chance and Cannon, who released a statement following their father's death.

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Associated Press - January 22, 2021

Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of a state lawmaker in Oklahoma. A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season. Rep. Justin Humphrey’s district includes the heavily forested Ouachita Mountains in southeast Oklahoma, where a Bigfoot festival is held each year. He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism.

“Establishing an actual hunting season and issuing licenses for people who want to hunt Bigfoot will just draw more people to our already beautiful part of the state,” Humphrey said in a statement. Humphrey says his bill would only allow trapping and that he also hopes to secure $25,000 to be offered as a bounty. Micah Holmes, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which oversees hunting in Oklahoma, told television station KOCO that the agency uses science-driven research and doesn’t recognize Bigfoot.

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Newsclips - January 22, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2021

Ted Cruz still eyeing 2024 despite blowback for riot, calls Trump impeachment ‘petty’ and ‘vindictive’

Shrugging off resignation demands and withering criticism since the Capitol riot two weeks ago, Sen. Ted Cruz said Wednesday that his detractors should get used to having him around, because “I’m not going anywhere.” The Texas Republican also vowed to oppose the impeachment of now ex-president Donald Trump for inciting insurrection. “It’s unfortunate that Democratic partisans cannot get past their hatred for Donald Trump,” Cruz said as lawmakers gathered for President Joe Biden’s inauguration. “Impeaching and trying a president after he has left office is petty, vindictive, mean spirited, and divisive. Unfortunately it’s par for the course with how the Democrats are approaching this moment.”

The same Jan. 6 riot that prompted House Democrats to impeach Trump cast a pall over Cruz’s presidential ambitions. The Texas Democratic Party has demanded he give up his Senate seat, arguing that no one involved in sedition should hold such an office. Some Democratic members of Congress and outside pressure groups have echoed the demands. Thousands of lawyers and law students have signed petitions demanding Cruz be disbarred. “You won’t be able to wash off the stain of sedition. It, and the deaths you caused and the deep damage to our democracy you made possible, will be on you forever,” Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who nearly unseated Cruz in 2018, responded to a Cruz tweet from the inauguration. Cruz had posted a photo of Biden taking the oath as president, with an ambiguous comment: “May God bless the United States of America.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2021

Texas doctor stole coronavirus vaccine, gave it to his family and friends, authorities say

A Harris County doctor has been fired and faces a criminal charge after authorities say he stole a vial of coronavirus vaccine and gave it to friends and relatives. Hasan Kassim Gokal, 48, faces one misdemeanor count of theft by a public servant. His attorney says Gokal was simply making sure that doses of the vaccine were used rather than allowed to expire. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Thursday that Gokal, who worked for Harris County Public Health, stole a vial containing nine doses on Dec. 29 while working at a county vaccination site in Humble, about 15 miles northeast of Houston.

He later told a colleague, who reported him, Ogg said in a statement. Gokal was fired after an investigation by the health department, and the case was referred to prosecutors. “He abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people who had gone through the lawful process to be there,” Ogg said. “What he did was illegal and he’ll be held accountable under the law.” Ogg said Gokal ignored protocols intended to ensure that the vaccine is given to front-line workers and people at higher risk for COVID-19 complications instead of being wasted, adding that mishandling the vaccine can lead to the county’s government funding being cut. Gokal’s lawyer, Paul Doyle, said in a written statement that his client is a dedicated public servant who is looking forward to his day in court. Gokal “ensured that COVID-19 vaccine dosages that would have otherwise expired went into the arms of people who met the criteria for receiving it,” Doyle said. “Harris County would have preferred Dr. Gokal let the vaccines go to waste and are attempting to disparage this man’s reputation in the process to support this policy.” If convicted, Gokal faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Gokal does not have any disciplinary history with the Texas Medical Board.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Biden suspends federal oil and gas leasing for 60 days

The Biden administration has suspended new leasing for fossil fuel production on federal lands and waters, as well as the issuance of new drilling permits, in what could be a major blow to Texas's oil industry. Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega signed an order Wednesday night, ordering department staff not to "issue any onshore or offshore fossil fuel authorization" for 60 days without clearance from Biden's appointees, who are awaiting confirmation by the Senate. The move to cut off new oil and gas production, as well as coal mining, comes as President Joe Biden promises to move swiftly on climate change and get the United States on the path to net- zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.

Wednesday's order is temporary, presumably to give the Senate time to confirm Biden's nominee for Interior secretary, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M. But Biden, who pledged to halt new drilling within federal lands and waters during the campaign, appears likely to seek to extend the ban over the long-term or make it permanent, which, according to some legal opinions, could require congressional approval. Were he to succeed, oil and gas companies in Houston and across Texas, many of which drill heavily in the Gulf of Mexico and on federal lands in the western United States, would be forced to look elsewhere. While existing oil and gas wells can continue to operate, such a move would put oil companies on federal lands and in the Gulf of Mexico on a ticking clock and eventually reduce U.S. oil production and the investment in new projects that creates jobs. American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers said Thursday that the move risked hundreds of thousands of jobs and would only increase U.S. reliance on oil from foreign nations with lower environmental standards. “For now, it’s temporary, but Biden said during the campaign that he wanted to cease development on federal lands,” he said. “We can only take him at his word.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 21, 2021

Governor Greg Abbott threatens Texas cities again over police funding

Gov. Greg Abbott continued to rail against efforts to cut police funding and called for bail reform that would keep “dangerous criminals” off the streets following a Thursday meeting with representatives of law enforcement groups. “It is shocking that some cities are turning their backs on our law enforcement officers,” Abbott said from a conference table at an Austin DPS office. “In Texas, we do not turn our backs on law enforcement officers.” Abbott in September announced a proposal that would remove annexation powers from cities that cut police funding. Under the proposal as described by Abbott, residents annexed in the past would also be able to vote to undo the move.

Abbott and state leaders have also proposed legislation that would freeze property tax revenue in cities that cut police funding. The proposals came after Austin City Council unanimously voted in August to redirect about $150 million from its police department’s budget, with roughly $20 million cut immediately. The governor on Thursday also said he supports bail reform proposals following the death of Texas State Trooper Damon Allen, who was killed in 2017 after a traffic stop in Freestone County. The “Damon Allen Act” was filed last legislative session but did not become law. The man accused of killing Allen was out on bail after an arrest on charges of evading arrest and aggravated assault on a public servant, according to Abbott’s office. “The fact is that Texas has a broken bail system that allows dangerous criminals to go free,” Abbott said. “I’m working with the legislature on strategies to end the revolving door bail system that we have in Texas.” Members of a roundtable, which included Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, discussed ideas like “expanding the criteria” judges consider when setting bail, increasing the qualifications of judges tasked with setting bail and the use of a uniform court management system to make sure judges have the full criminal history of a defendant, Abbott said.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2021

Beaucoup mockery for Ted Cruz’s tweets that Paris climate deal reflects views of French people

Climate activists across the globe and others have pummeled Sen. Ted Cruz online for claiming that President Joe Biden honored the “views of the citizens of Paris” more than those of Americans by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. One viral tweet suggested that, using Cruz’s logic, “rejoining WHO only benefits the citizens of Whoville.” For the record, Dr. Seuss has nothing to do with the World Health Organization, any more than Parisians voted on the 197-nation treaty aimed at countering climate change. “Do you also believe the Geneva Convention was about the views of the citizens of Geneva?” mocked New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who co-authored the Green New Deal and tangles often with Cruz online.

The Geneva Conventions date to 1929 and set international standards for treatment of prisoners of war and noncombatants. The British political activist Femi Oluwole continued the roast. “For future reference, the Treaty of Rome wasn’t about Rome, the Treaty of Versailles wasn’t about Versailles. I could go on…” he said in a tweet. The Treaty of Rome was a major stepping-stone to the founding of the European Union. The Treaty of Versailles ended World War I. “I wonder if Ted Cruz thinks Baked Alaska involves the baking of soil from Juneau,” quipped Walter Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. “I wonder if Ted Cruz thinks the Manhattan Project operated exclusively in New York City.” Despite the names, the frosty dessert was not invented in the 49th state. And the first atomic bomb was designed at Los Alamos, N.M. When then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris accord in 2017, arguing that it punished the U.S. economy and let China off the hook for its massive pollution problems, he declared that “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Advocates fight an ITC permit request, with the Deer Park fire in mind

Patricia Gonzales felt flabbergasted when she saw the newspaper notice about Intercontinental Terminals Co. — a company whose name she wouldn’t forget after a 2019 fire at its Deer Park tank farm sent a plume of dark smoke over the region. ITC was asking Texas’ environmental agency to adjust what pollution it was allowed to release from another tank farm, this one near Gonzales’ home in Pasadena. On the list: carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and particulate matter. The 52-year-old medical phone line operator, who had formed a nonprofit to advocate for her community, alerted an attorney. Gonzales wanted to understand what exactly ITC was proposing. She’d lived around petrochemical plants long enough to lose faith that they would necessarily do the right thing: “We don’t trust these refineries around here to be good stewards,” she said.

Air quality permit requests like the one ITC is seeking are routine — in fact, the executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had already given preliminary approval to this one. But the company’s high profile caught the eye of advocates such as Gonzales and of attorneys, who argue the agency is letting ITC off too easy. TCEQ declined to comment on that criticism. But in emailed responses to questions, the agency said it had reviewed the permit and determined the emissions would harm neither the environment nor public health. An ITC spokesperson in a written statement reiterated similar points. With the 2019 blaze and environmental disaster still on their minds, advocates simply contend state rules should be applied differently. In a public comment period soon to close, they’re making one last stand. When she saw the news ad, Gonzales contacted Colin Cox, then an attorney for Lone Star Legal Aid. Cox learned TCEQ over the last decade had approved three separate permits for ITC to build out the Pasadena facility, which stores chemicals for transport. The company applied in late 2018 to amend its air quality permit to reflect the as-built facility. That was common. What irked Cox was that the three earlier stages of permitting allowed ITC to represent the facility as three entities instead of one, thereby avoiding more stringent emissions regulations.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Texas bikers say cops have unfairly labeled them as gang members

For Jason Medrano, it meant being stopped and grilled at Fort Sam Houston when he tried to enter the San Antonio post to apply for a job. For Patrick Vaden, it resulted in getting arrested in Milam County and charged for unlawfully possessing a gun — even though he had a valid Texas carry permit. The reason, both men learned, was that their names appeared on a list of motorcycle gang members kept in a secretive state database. Police don’t have to inform those added to the list. Once on it, it is nearly impossible to challenge, attorneys and advocates say. Police say TXGANG is a valuable law enforcement tool, allowing them to keep tabs on potentially dangerous citizens and members of criminal organizations. Yet motorcycling advocacy organizations say club riders without any criminal record have been swept up in the effort as well, labeled and punished for being suspicious gang members without good cause. In recent months, several Texas courts have agreed, raising questions about how police use the database.

Bikers say they have been added to the list based on what they’re wearing or tattoos, patches or bumper stickers on their motorcycles. In some cases, they have no idea why or when they were added. An Army veteran boasting two Purple Hearts, a master’s degree and a history of service on several community organization boards, William Apodaca-Fisk said he first heard of TXGANG after several members of his local club discovered police considered them gang members. In 2019, he asked the Department of Public Safety, which maintains TXGANG, if he was in the database. That September, the answer came back: “yes.” Apodaca-Fisk said he had no direct contact with police or criminal record. Even now, after suing, he said he remains on the list. “At the end of day, you’re supposed to be able to face your accuser,” he said. “And there's no ability to do that, or to fight for your name.” Texas motorcyclists say interactions with police have become more fraught since 2015, when a meeting of some 200 bikers at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco devolved into a melee. Nine were killed and 18 wounded. Police arrested or detained 177 people in connection with the fight. But the cases quickly fell apart. Prosecutors ultimately dropped all charges against the bikers.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Houston ISD trustees break deadlock, choose longtime educator Allen as board president

Houston ISD trustees picked longtime educator Pat Allen as the district’s board president Thursday, breaking a stalemate that highlighted divisions on the governing body. One week after board members deadlocked on selecting a president despite 10 rounds of voting, Allen narrowly emerged with the most support Thursday under a ranked-choice system employed by trustees. Allen, who worked in HISD as a teacher and administrator for 35 years, will take over as the district starts a superintendent search, continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and seeks to stave off a state takeover of the board. While trustees cordially navigated the impasse in public, the outcome further illustrated the loose factions complicating efforts to reach consensus. Board members sometimes aligned in three groups of three trustees on the most pressing issues in 2020, though the pacts were hardly iron-clad.

votes for board president Thursday. Ultimately, Allen earned the most second- and third-place votes, securing her victory. Cruz managed only one second-place vote, while Sung garnered four last-place votes. Incumbent Board President Sue Deigaard received the least support among the four candidates. “I’m honored that I was chosen,” said Allen, who retired from HISD in 2015, and won her seat on the board in 2019. “I know it was a difficult choice with us being tied up for so long. I just expect this will be a year for us to make sure we’re transparent, that we try to build trust between board members, we try to build communication and we make sure we’re doing what’s best for students.” As board president, Allen has greater power to set meeting agendas, work with Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan on policy matters and serve as a spokesperson for the board. She will not have additional voting power. Allen said she does not plan to aggressively wield her authority, saying her role “is to be a moderator.” She does not expect to take on significantly more responsibilities during the district’s superintendent search, which remains in the early stages. HISD has been without a permanent leader since March 2018, when then-superintendent Richard Carranza abruptly left to lead New York City public schools and Lathan assumed the interim position.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott calls for another fix to ‘broken bail system’

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott steered clear on Thursday of endorsing bail reforms like those in Harris County aimed at reducing the number of people stuck in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay to get out. During a press conference on criminal justice priorities in Austin, Abbott acknowledged there are people in jail for low-level crimes “simply because they have no money” for bail. But while he says he expects debate on legislation to address that problem, he made it clear that his priority is pushing a separate bail reform plan that would make it harder for people to make bail if they have a history of violence. “The fact is Texas has a broken bail system that allows dangerous criminals to go free,” Abbott said.

Abbott said he’ll push the Texas Legislature to again try to pass legislation that would require judges to take more into account before setting bail. Abbott pointed to the murder of State Trooper Damon Allen on Thanksgiving 2017 in Freestone County. Allen was gunned down by a suspect who was out of jail on a $15,000 bond, despite previous violent run-ins with police. In 2019, a bill named after Allen passed the Texas House but failed to get out of the Texas Senate. Criminal justice reform advocates say they are heartened that Abbott, a former judge, is acknowledging the problem of poor people, despite being presumed innocent, being left behind bars while wealthier suspects go free. “What is pervasive is how the system traps poor people in jail before they have been convicted of any offense,” said Chris Harris, Director of the Criminal Justice Project for Texas Appleseed. Harris said the problem with being left in jail is that it creates more problems for both society and the individual incarcerated. Every extra day in jail, a defendant is not working or helping his or her family. And each day behind bars increases the likelihood that a person will have future run-ins with the criminal justice system, studies have shown. Bail reform has been a big priority for State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. He said after watching legislation die in two consecutive sessions he’s in communication with Abbott’s office and Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht for a new bill. “It’s not easy,” Whitmire said. “But it needs to get done.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Six more former, current HPD officers under investigation in Harding St. probe

Harris County prosecutors have informed six current and former Houston drug cops they are targets of investigation, widening a probe stemming from a deadly narcotics raid nearly two years ago. Current officers Frank Medina, Oscar Pardo, Nadeem Ashraf, Felipe Gallegos and retired officers Griff Maxwell and Cedelle Lovings received the letters, representatives for the men confirmed. All six men are or were members of the Narcotics Division. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg was not available for comment Thursday afternoon.

The widened investigation is the latest development following the January 2019 raid of 7815 Harding St., which led to the deaths of homeowners Dennis Tuttle, 59, and Rhogena Nicholas, 58. Five members of Narcotics Squad 15 were also injured in the raid: Sergeants Thomas Wood and Clemente Reyna, and officers Gerald Goines, Frank Medina and Lovings, who was paralyzed in the operation. In the days after the operation, police announced that Goines, a veteran narcotics officer and the leader of the raid, was under investigation for lying about buying drugs from the Harding Street home. The scandal prompted several other investigations, including a federal civil rights probe, and a massive review by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office of cases that Goines and his colleagues had handled. Goines was later charged with murder, tampering with government records, and violating Nicholas and Tuttle’s civil rights. His partner, Steven Bryant, was charged with tampering with government records. Both men retired from the department. So far, prosecutors have identified more than 150 convictions they believe may need to be overturned. Three defendants have had convictions overturned. Lawyers for relatives of the slain couple have also signaled their intent to sue the officers and the city.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Montgomery County health officials are contradicting their COVID experts, spreading misinformation

At least three elected officials who oversee the Montgomery County Hospital District are contradicting their own experts by spreading misinformation about COVID-19 on Facebook and questioning the effectiveness of face masks and vaccines, according to a review of their social media posts by the Houston Chronicle. As county health officials stress the importance of masks, social distancing and the new COVID-19 vaccines, their messages are competing on social media with rampant falsehoods about the pandemic. Some falsehoods are being spread by the hospital district’s own board members. The board’s chairwoman, Georgette Whatley, said one of her posts sparked complaints from critics who called for her removal from the public health agency.

“They were offended because I am anti-mask,” Whatley wrote last month on Facebook. Her agency operates the county’s ambulance service; offers educational programs; and manages the Montgomery County Public Health District, a separate agency that provides COVID-19 updates to the public. Despite its name, the hospital district no longer owns a hospital. Two other members of the seven-member board have taken to Facebook to vent their frustrations about medical experts, “big pharma,” and the “fake news” media. “More and more evidence is coming forward that we should NOT partake in the COVID vaccine,” board member Bog Bagley wrote in an August 3 Facebook post. Bagley said in December that he wouldn’t be taking the vaccine — the same month the hospital district posted a YouTube video extolling the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. Another board member, Brent Thor, shared a meme on Facebook that spread misleading information about COVID-19’s death rate. In another post, he shared a meme that said: “The ones selling the panic are the same ones selling the vaccine.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Democratic senators call for ethics investigation of Ted Cruz for refusing to certify 2020 election

Seven Democratic senators are calling for the chamber’s ethics panel to investigate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s objection to Arizona’s electoral votes before the Capitol riots, which they say “lend credence to the insurrectionists’ cause and set the stage for future violence.” The Democrats want the ethics panel to decide whether Cruz and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who also objected to electoral votes on Jan. 6, failed to put “loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or government department.” They recommended possible punishments, including censure or expulsion. “By proceeding with their objections to the electors after the violent attack, Senators Cruz and Hawley lent legitimacy to the mob’s cause and made future violence more likely,” the senators wrote in the ethics complaint filed Thursday. “The Senate has the exclusive power to determine whether these actions violated its ethics rules, to investigate further conduct of which we may not be aware that may have violated these rules, and to consider appropriate discipline.”

Cruz, who has voiced no regrets about his objection, has said he was trying to build confidence in the results by setting them aside for 10 days while an “emergency audit” could be conducted. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint. The complaint comes as Democrats continue to push for repercussions for the lawmakers they blame for inciting the insurrection, chiefly former President Donald Trump, who the House impeached last week, making him the first president to be impeached twice. A Senate trial is still pending, though the chances of Trump being convicted appear slim. It is also unlikely that Cruz would be censured or expelled from the Senate, which is now evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. A censure requires a majority vote, meaning every Democrat would have to agree, and expulsion would require two-thirds support. Both are rare. Since 1789, the Senate has censured nine members and expelled 15. The complaint against Cruz and Hawley was signed by U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. The top Democrat on the six-member ethics panel, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, previously called for Cruz and Hawley to resign. Beyond that, it’s unclear what appetite there may be for such an inquiry. The committee’s rules say it “shall promptly conduct a preliminary inquiry” into complaints it receives. The committee can then vote on whether to continue or dismiss the complaint. While several senators have voiced frustration with Cruz, others — including at least one Democrat — have said they believe he was within his rights to object.

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Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2021

Judge orders man who was in D.C. during riots to be held for alleged threats

Using the name ColonelTPere, he wrote on Parler that patriots like him should launch an armed hunt for Democrats and other “traitors” at the Capitol. But Troy Anthony Smocks, a 58-year-old convicted fraudster from Dallas, never served in the military. That, however, hasn’t stopped him from repeatedly posing as an Army officer and federal agent over the past two decades, even donning a full dress uniform with medals he didn’t earn, according to federal court records.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Christine Nowak on Thursday ordered Smock held in custody until his trial in Washington D.C. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted on a charge of knowingly and willfully transmitting threats in interstate commerce. He was arrested last Friday, and prosecutors had filed a motion to keep him behind bars. According to authorities, Smocks traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5, the day before the deadly riot at the Capitol. Kendrick Chumak, an FBI agent, testified at Thursday’s hearing that Smocks told him he attended Donald Trump’s speech and then walked to the Capitol with the crowd and watched the chaos from nearby. “He said he went there at the invitation of the president of the United States,” Chumak said. Smocks, who’s worked as a Dallas Uber driver, said he’d follow the president’s orders even if they were illegal, the agent said. One of his posts on Parler — the Twitter-like social-media site popular with conservatives and others who believe Twitter censors their speech — called Trump the “greatest president the world has ever known.” And Smocks said all citizens have a duty to rise up and defend the nation if the president calls for it, the agent said.

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Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2021

Only one Texas county shows COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rate needed for return to normal

Hesitancy to take a COVID-19 vaccine varies greatly in Texas, and Dallas County residents are more likely than others to decline shots, according to survey data from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. As Dallas County struggles to provide enough doses of vaccine for its residents, it has to overcome an additional barrier in the pursuit of herd immunity and a return to normalcy — the fact that nearly 1 in 3 residents don’t want to be vaccinated. The survey results, which MIT Technology Review calls “extremely worrying,” come from Carnegie Mellon’s COVIDcast. The surveys are conducted by the university’s Delphi Group, which works in collaboration with Facebook and other universities. Delphi Group is regarded as one of the nation’s best flu-forecasting teams.

The level of detail in the data collected by the Delphi team, made up of 72 students, faculty members and volunteers around the world, has never before been available during a public health emergency, according to the group. During the ongoing pandemic, Delphi Group has regularly put questions to Facebook users, including on mask use and social distancing. The question it posed about vaccine acceptance was: “If a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 were offered to you today, would you definitely or probably choose to get vaccinated?” The survey participants are a sample of Facebook users rather than the overall U.S. population, allowing researchers to reach more people than through telephone or mail surveys, according to the organization. Delphi Group’s survey data is then given a statistical weight based on how representative of the U.S. population the surveyed people are, using data available to Facebook. Some of the country’s highest rates of vaccine acceptance can be seen in Northeastern states such as New York and New Hampshire. In Texas, the survey results show the highest levels of acceptance are in counties with the largest populations. Residents of Travis County, home to the state capital, Austin, and the main campus of the University of Texas, were the most accepting of a vaccine, with 85% saying they would definitely or probably get the vaccine if it is offered. It’s the only Texas county that currently reaches the threshold scientists say the public needs to achieve herd immunity, according to the Delphi Group data.

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Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2021

Cornyn calls Trump impeachment trial ‘bad idea,’ warning of precedent for future ex-presidents

Sen. John Cornyn called it a “bad idea” to hold an impeachment trial now that Donald Trump has left office, after sharing an op-ed Thursday from a law professor who defended Trump in his first trial arguing the Senate no longer has jurisdiction over the ex-president. “Key word is `precedent,’ ” the Texas Republican tweeted. “If it happens to former President Trump, that precedent will be applied to future, former Presidents. A bad idea.” Cornyn has expressed skepticism about the wisdom and legality of a post-presidency impeachment trial, but has yet to say how he would vote on the charge that Trump incited insurrection. Until Thursday, he had not said outright that he views such a tribunal as illegitimate. After the Texas Republican tweeted out a Wall St. Journal op-ed from Alan Dershowitz on Thursday morning titled “No, You Can’t Try an Impeached Former President,” an aide emphasized that the senator likes to share what he’s reading and that doesn’t necessarily reflect his own views.

In other words, retweets do not necessarily imply endorsement – though Cornyn has no track record of retweeting views he disagrees with without pointing out the disagreement. “For the victorious Democrats to seek revenge against Donald Trump would set a terrible precedent, distract from President Biden’s agenda, and make it hard to heal the country. Better to move on,” Dershowitz wrote. After quoting that for his Twitter audience, Cornyn chimed in with his own “bad idea” view. On Tuesday, Cornyn questioned the constitutionality of putting a Trump on trial for impeachment after he’d left office, telling reporters at the Capitol: “I think there’s serious questions about it.” Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader – the majority leader until Wednesday afternoon and now the minority leader, with Democrats in control of the 50-50 chamber thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote – condemned Trump for stirring the mob that invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6. “The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor, in remarks seen as giving permission to fellow Republicans to proceed as they see fit on the impeachment. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people” — a comment widely taken as a reference to Sen. Ted Cruz, among others. “I’ve heard people talk about a vote of conscience. I think that’s a good way to put it,” Cornyn said, adding that he hadn’t made up his mind how he would vote. “I’m going to listen to what’s presented.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2021

Arlington Rep. Ron Wright, who’s been battling lung cancer, tests positive for COVID-19

Arlington Rep. Ron Wright on Thursday announced that he’s tested positive for COVID-19, making him the third member of Texas’ congressional delegation to contract the novel coronavirus since the start of the year. “I am experiencing minor symptoms, but overall, I feel okay and will continue working for the people of the 6th District from home this week,” he said in a news release. Wright has been battling lung cancer for several months and was hospitalized in September due to complications with his treatment. The 67-year-old Republican, who was re-elected in November to a second term, had previously announced that he had gone into quarantine Friday after he and several of his staff members had come into contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.

“I encourage everyone to keep following CDC guidelines and want to thank all the medical professionals on the front lines who fight this virus head-on every single day,” he said. The congressman, unlike some other lawmakers, hasn’t yet received the coronavirus vaccine, Wright spokesman Michael Howard said. But Wright had received the OK from his doctors to get the two-shot program and was planning to do so in the near future, Howard said. The two other Texans who recently contracted the coronavirus were Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, and Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands. Both have since recovered.

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2021

Plan to ‘fortify’ Texas Capitol appears on fast track, wins funding in initial state budget

Legislative leaders on Thursday unveiled introductory budgets for the next two years that would include $39.1 million to beef up security at the Texas Capitol with more bomb-sniffing dogs, 74 new hires and additional gear such as video cameras and panic buttons. Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who will be the Senate’s top budget writer for a fourth successive session, described the effort in a press release as “new appropriations to fortify security at the Texas Capitol, including additional troopers and enhanced safety measures.” Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw, in a little-noticed budget request last fall, called the 46-square-block Capitol complex in Austin “a high-value target for a variety of violent actors including anti-government extremists.”

State police developed the plan after asking the U.S. Secret Service for a “comprehensive needs assessment,” he explained. McCraw’s request, made nearly three months before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by white nationalists and other supporters of former President Donald Trump, came after several months of violence and unrest over racial injustice and police brutality in cities such as Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash. Approval by GOP leaders in both chambers of “base budgets,” which were filed Thursday and would grant McCraw every penny he requested, underscores how law and order will be a big theme of this year’s legislative session. The topic includes Gov. Greg Abbott’s frequent calls for strong sanctions against cities that “defund the police.” And both chambers’ introductory budgets would spend almost as much state money as the $800.6 million lawmakers forked over in 2019 for extra patrols at the Texas-Mexico border by state law enforcement officers and additional surveillance equipment. Though the coronavirus pandemic and economic contraction have depressed state tax collections, the starting point budgets in both the House and Senate maintain last session’s state commitment to spend more on public schools and help school districts reduce local property taxes.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 21, 2021

Judges greet arguments against Texas abortion law with skepticism

Lawyers for Texas and abortion providers appeared before a federal appeals court Thursday to argue the fate of a 2017 state law — struck down by a U.S. judge in Austin — that bans the most common type of second-trimester abortion unless doctors first use an extra procedure to ensure fetal demise. However, on a court where Republican-appointed judges hold a 12-5 advantage, the vast majority of skeptical questions and pushback was reserved for the lawyer representing abortion providers who challenged the law as unconstitutional. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will release its opinion on the law known as Senate Bill 8 at a future, unspecified date, but Thursday's oral arguments boded well for supporters of a law that had been struck down twice previously.

First, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled in November 2017, after a five-day trial in his Austin courtroom, that SB 8 improperly required doctors to use risky, unproven and medically unnecessary methods to cause fetal demise before beginning a dilation and evacuation abortion, or D&E, the safest and most common such procedure after the 15th week of pregnancy. Then, last October, a panel of 5th Circuit Court judges upheld Yeakel in a 2-1 ruling that said SB 8 places an impermissible burden by forcing women to "endure a medically unnecessary and invasive additional procedure" against their doctors' advice. The two judges in the majority had been appointed by a Democratic president, and their ruling was soon halted when a majority of judges on the appeals court voted to hear Texas' appeal and decide SB 8's constitutionality with all 17 active judges participating. Molly Duane, a lawyer for the abortion providers, argued Thursday that SB 8 required doctors to inject toxins into the fetus via a 4-inch needle inserted through the abdomen or vagina, carrying higher risks of infection and other health complications for patients.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 21, 2021

Lloyd Doggett calls out Texas State event for omitting his speech condemning Capitol riot

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, is criticizing a Texas State University-led organization for omitting a speech he made condemning the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which was supposed to be included in a virtual Inauguration Day program. Doggett told the American-Statesman that he was asked to provide a pre-recorded speech that was supposed to be shown during an event called the 2021 Bobcat Community Inauguration Program, which was streamed through Zoom on Wednesday and hosted by the 2020 Texas State Elections Task Force.

According to the invitation for the event, which was emailed to students at the university, guest speakers were scheduled to give short speeches to highlight the history and tradition of the inauguration. The event also livestreamed the inauguration ceremony of President Joe Biden. One of the scheduled talks at the event was titled, "Historical perspectives on the inaugural tradition in light of the events that transpired at the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC on January 6, 2021." Dr. Mark Trahan, who teaches social work at the university, also participated in the virtual event. Doggett, who had agreed to a request by event organizers to submit a three to four minute video, said he was unpleasantly surprised when he learned that the task force omitted his speech, which — in addition to discussing previous peaceful transitions of power — condemned the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. "While I was on the actual inaugural platform, I was advised for the first time that Texas State would not permit students to hear my remarks," Doggett said in a written statement. "Though I have no complaints about either Dr. Benn or Dr. Trahan, whose invitation was straightforward and who were not responsible for blocking my remarks, I am most disappointed that my speech was deemed so offensive that students at this event were not permitted to hear it." In his speech, Doggett criticized Republican colleagues who cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and highlighted quotes from former-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 21, 2021

Adler: Austin's repeal of homeless camping ban 'is not working'

Facing the possibility Austin voters could reinstate the city's homeless camping ban in May, Mayor Steve Adler said the city's existing plan of action has failed. In a conversation with the American-Statesman, Adler acknowledged that the 2019 repeal of the city's camping ban "is not working." He suggested City Council members should get together with Austin residents to propose alternative solutions for addressing the city's growing homelessness crisis. "Going back to where we were we know doesn't work – and what we're doing now we also know doesn't work," Adler told the Statesman.

His comments come after the group Save Austin Now said it has submitted 27,000 signed petitions to the city clerk to add language to the ballot for the May 1 election that would reinstate the camping ban. After failing last year to get the 20,000 valid signatures the city requires for a ballot referendum, Save Austin Now said this time it submitted 24,000 signatures that it had validated, plus 3,000 more that it did not attempt to validate. The clerk is expected to review the signatures in the coming weeks. Adler's comments also came shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott again weighed in on Austin's homelessness problem. Reacting to a news story on the possible reinstatement of the camping ban, Abbott posted a tweet Wednesday threatening intervention by the state if Austin did not vote in favor of bringing back the ban. "If Austin doesn't reinstate the ban on homeless camping the state will do it for them," Abbott wrote. "Contrary to what Austin leaders think no one has a right to urinate & defecate wherever they want. Homelessness promoted by Austin has also endangered public safety."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 21, 2021

Freshman congresswoman from Texas urges President Biden to work with Republicans

Rep. Beth Van Duyne on Thursday criticized what she views as President Joe Biden’s lack of consultation with Republicans during his first days in office. On Wednesday, she was among 17 House Republicans who sent a letter to Biden congratulating him on his inauguration and saying they were willing to work with him. Eleven had objected to the Electoral College results earlier this month declaring Biden the president. Van Duyne objected to Pennsylvania’s results, but voted for Arizona’s.

“The first day of Joe Biden’s presidency what we saw him do is basically destroy much of the work that has been successful over the last four years,” she said in an interview with Fox Business on Thursday afternoon, referring to the 17 executive orders Biden has signed since taking office Wednesday. The orders included stopping the construction of former President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico, re-entering the U.S. into the Paris Climate accords, and extending a federal moratorium on evictions due to the pandemic. “He needs to bring Republicans to the table to have these discussions because whoever is advising him right now is doing him no favors and is doing the American people no favor,” Van Duyne said. She was particularly critical of Biden’s action to revoke a presidential permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. “Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives,” Biden’s executive order said. The Keystone XL pipeline project started in 2008 to transport oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast of Texas. It was expected to employ more than 11,000 Americans in 2021 and create more than $1.6 billion in gross wages, according to its website. “Within one signature of the pen $1.6 billion in wages gone. Thousands and thousands of jobs gone at a time in this pandemic when we need them the most,” she said in the interview Thursday. Van Duyne, of Irving, was the only representative from Texas to sign the letter.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 21, 2021

COVID deaths continue climbing in Tarrant, cases surpass 200,000; hospitalizations down

Tarrant County reported 26 coronavirus deaths and 1,789 cases on Thursday. Details on the latest pandemic-related deaths have yet to be released by officials. The county has reported 128 COVID deaths in the past six days. Tarrant County has reported a total of 201,310 COVID-19 cases, including 1,953 deaths and an estimated 146,049 recoveries.

Hospitalized COVID patients decreased by 53 to 1,376. The pandemic high was 1,528 on Jan. 6. COVID-19 hospitalizations account for 27% of the total number of beds in Tarrant County and make up 33% of the 4,152 occupied beds as of Wednesday. The rate was at a pandemic-high 38% on Jan. 10. Confirmed COVID patients make up 23.32% of all available beds in the North Central Texas Trauma Region. This is the rate Gov. Greg Abbott is using to determine whether Texas regions can allow businesses to open to larger capacities or permit bars to reopen. The rate would have to drop below 15% for seven consecutive days for business capacity to be increased. About 81% of Tarrant County’s hospital beds were occupied as of Wednesday, according to county data. There are currently 950 available hospital beds, down 44 from the previous day. The pandemic low of 661 was reported Jan. 4. Adult ICU bed occupancy remained at 96% as of Wednesday. The pandemic high was 99% on Dec. 28.

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Texas Tribune - January 21, 2021

Dan Patrick asks Texas to revise coronavirus vaccine distribution plan as eligible people experience frustration trying to locate a dose

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is asking the state to refine its vaccine rollout program, a move he says will help give Texans a clearer idea as to when they can reasonably expect to receive their injections of the coronavirus vaccine. His request comes as distribution of the vaccine in Texas has been beset with miscommunication and technical issues that have created confusion for patients and providers, even as Texas outpaces other states in administering the vaccine. Texans in phases 1A and 1B of the vaccine rollout — which includes front-line health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, Texans who are 65 years and older and those who are at least 16 with certain chronic medical conditions — are already eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Right now, in many cities and counties when an announcement of available vaccinations is made, website sign-up pages crash and phone calls go unanswered,” Patrick wrote. “Texans need to have a better understanding of the time it will take for everyone to be vaccinated in order to reduce lines, confusion and frustration.” In a Thursday letter to the chair of the state’s Expert Vaccination Allocation Panel, Patrick urged subgroups for Texans in phase 1B — Texans 65 years and older and those who are at least 16 with certain chronic medical conditions — “so that the more than 4 million plus Texans and those with chronic conditions don’t all expect to get their vaccination at the same time – something we know is not possible.” “This would help give people an idea of reasonable expectations and reduce wait times and frustration each week,” Patrick wrote in his letter, which was addressed to Imelda Garcia, chair of the panel.

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Texas Monthly - January 22, 2021

After standing up to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, Congressman Chip Roy faces an uncertain future in the Texas GOP

On January 5, the day before the Capitol riot, Texas congressman Chip Roy spent most of the day working on the remarks he planned to deliver on the House floor. At his office, he talked by phone with constitutional scholars as well as other members, who helped him craft his message denouncing efforts to overturn the results of the election—a campaign led by President Trump and many other Republicans, most notably by Senator Ted Cruz, Roy’s friend, former boss, and ideological soulmate. It would be the most important speech of Roy’s career. By the time the Central Texas Republican finished writing, it was late, and he hadn’t eaten all day. On the way home to his Virginia apartment, he stopped at a sports bar for wings and beer. Roy was disappointed that the joint had stopped serving alcohol, but he was more distressed by a scene unfolding before him with ominous implications. “The place was filled with MAGA Trump supporters. Absolutely filled. Many people that I would have seen as supporters throughout the campaign all last year,” Roy told an audience on Friday at an Austin event organized by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. “I kept hearing people say, ‘Liberals are going to be upset tomorrow when the vice president stops this steal and gives this election back to the president.’”

Roy’s speech the next day, January 6, would be delayed as a crush of Trump supporters, incited by their leader at a rally behind the White House, stormed and ransacked the Capitol in an afternoon of fantastical scenes by turns farcical and deadly. Roy hurried to update his speech to call for the rioters to “go to jail” and to admonish Trump for having “spun up certain Americans to believe something that simply cannot be.” Though many other Republicans condemned the rioters while nonetheless voting to oblige their anti-democratic demands, Roy stood his ground. From the House floor, he argued that Congress was obligated to accept the only slate of electors that each of the states had provided, and that the remedy the president and the great majority of Republican members of the House were seeking was plainly unconstitutional. He urged other Republicans to vote no. “That vote may sign my political death warrant, but so be it,” Roy said on the House floor. “I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and I will not bend its words into contortions for personal political expediency.” Though Roy later voted against impeaching Trump for a second time, he said the president “deserves universal condemnation for what was clearly, in my opinion, impeachable conduct.” Now, two weeks after the events of January 6, it’s worth considering whether Roy’s worries about writing his own political death warrant were a melodramatic flourish or a realistic recognition that even as Donald Trump surrendered the White House on Wednesday, much of the GOP remains deeply in his thrall, unforgiving of those who would seek to break the spell. Indeed, Roy’s troubles are more likely to come from Republicans than Democrats. In 2018 he defeated Democrat Joseph Kopser by 2.6 percentage points in the Twenty-first Congressional District, which runs from San Antonio north to Austin and west to the Nueces River. In 2020, he beat Wendy Davis by a comfortable 6.6 percentage points, But his biggest hurdle was securing the GOP nomination in 2018, emerging from an eighteen-candidate primary field and then narrowly besting businessman Matt McCall in a runoff.

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KXAN - January 21, 2021

Bush 41’s White House photographer shares perspective on inauguration imagery

David Valdez is in an exclusive club. The Alice, Texas, native is one of fewer than a dozen people to ever hold the title of chief presidential photographer. Valdez served under former President George HW Bush while he was Vice President and when he became Commander in Chief. “My job put me in close proximity, seven days a week, 15 hours a day for a decade,” Valdez recalled. His memory of Bush’s inaugural parade is somewhat flipped around.

“They just got to walk down the road. I actually did it walking backwards, taking pictures,” Valdez said with a chuckle. Later that day, the newly-minted President Bush attended a congressional luncheon. “It was kind of fun, because where now the new-President, George Herbert Walker Bush was seated, right behind him on the wall was a painting of George Washington,” Valdez said. “And at one point in the luncheon, he stood up, and I got a photo of the two George’s— the new-President George Bush and George Washington, the first President of the United States.” Valdez tallied up 65,000 rolls of film during his time in the Bush administration. He was around for formal gatherings with world leaders and intimate moments with the Bush family. “At one point, President Bush was being interviewed, and he said that he and Mrs. Bush considered me a part of their family, and I really truly appreciated that sentiment,” Valdez said. “But I never forgot that I was an employee, and never took advantage of the relationship — but everybody knew that I had full unfettered access to everything.”

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D Magazine - January 21, 2021

Dallas political battles further complicate fair vaccine distribution

If you live in Dallas and hope to get the COVID-19 vaccine soon, good luck. Bureaucracy and infighting are in far greater supply. The mayor is at odds with the county judge and members of the City Council over how to register residents for vaccinations. The state of Texas has threatened the County Commissioners Court with pulling the Fair Park mega center’s vaccine supply, which triggered an emergency meeting to kill an order. And members of the City Council allege the mayor is making it harder to get people living in poor neighborhoods signed up for appointments. It has been a mess. It started with the vaccination center at Fair Park. The county wants people to register to get their spot, a message that hasn’t been effectively communicated to underserved neighborhoods in southern parts of the city. So when the registry launched, three weeks ago, residents from more affluent parts of town flooded it. That led county commissioners to pass an order that would prioritize residents vulnerable to the virus in 11 underserved ZIP codes, nine of which are south of Interstate 30 and east of Interstate-45 — which in turn led the state to threaten to pull vaccine allotments.

Commissioners were forced to rescind the order Wednesday night. (Those 11 ZIP codes were chosen because they ranked high on the county health department’s vulnerability index or were identified by Parkland as the county’s most inequitably served.) The state allows local governments to prioritize appointments, but they can’t make those decisions without a robust registry. While about 319,000 people have signed up to get the vaccine, county officials say the vast majority of those are from ZIP codes with plenty of pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and hospitals. Fair Park’s center was set up to prioritize residents in a part of town that lacks such infrastructure. About 90 percent of the county’s vaccines are actually going to hospitals and clinics that are largely concentrated north of downtown. Including Fair Park, there are just eight providers that have received vaccine between I-45 and Balch Springs below I-30. In an interview Thursday, County Judge Clay Jenkins said just 27,000 people had registered from those 11 underserved ZIP codes, which are home to about 600,000 residents. “You can prioritize, but you can’t exclude,” Jenkins said. “We can’t be prescriptive in our order, but we can talk about the need for prioritization.” Jenkins noticed this problem last week and started reaching out to churches and community leaders to encourage residents from poorer neighborhoods to go to Fair Park. He began vaccinating walk-ups, which was in contrast to the original plan. The mayor learned about Jenkins’ move and got upset, arguing that it was tantamount to special treatment and a policy change that should have been OKed with the city prior to implementation. He even threatened to pull the city’s public health contract with the county.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 21, 2021

Audit gives no reasons for Hutto's $2.4 million budget shortfall in 2019

An audit requested by the Hutto City Council shows the amount of money spent by the city and its employees in fiscal year 2019 but draws no conclusions about how a $2.4 million shortfall happened in 2019 "The report is just about where the money got spent," said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Snyder. "We could spend more money to figure out what was budgeted." The audit also says a a government entity that Hutto formed to handle money and bonds for the Perfect Game baseball project was not approved by the City Council as required before city officials spent $4.5 million to buy land for it.

"We have not provided an opinion in this report related to any person or party violating applicable laws and regulations," the report said. "The determination as to whether a person or party has violated applicable laws and regulations is not a decision for us; it is decision for a governing body, judge or jury." The final audit report was released publicly Thursday as part of the City Council's agenda for its regular meeting on Thursday night. Snyder said in a phone interview Thursday that he has several questions about expenditures in the report but no answers. He said some of his questions are about purchase cards that employees get from the city. Employees are supposed to use the cards for small, nonrecurring expenses, the audit report said. "We had 104 out of 150 employees who had purchase cards and it looked like everybody used them," Snyder said. "We were averaging $69,833 a month (in fiscal year 2019) on credit card charges," he said. "Why is that?"

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 21, 2021

Can Fort Worth redraw its council districts without breaking apart your neighborhood?

Lorraine Miller, a Fort Worth native and a past interim president of the NAACP, has a word to describe how her hometown has picked City Council districts in the past: elitist. “Decisions were made, and you took whatever they came up with,” she said. “Because you had no input.” Miller, officially, has more say this year and wants to ensure that others do, too. She leads the first of its kind Fort Worth Redistricting Task Force, which will give recommendations to the City Council as it draws districts for 10 City Council seats later this year. The goal for Miller is to listen and to provide the City Council with districts that neighborhood groups and the general public believe are the best for them. Fort Worth’s districts have been criticized for being gerrymandered in a way that does not reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the city.

(Just one City Council member is Hispanic, despite Hispanic people comprising 35% of Fort Worth’s population.) The districts spurred controversy when they were redrawn in 2012. For one thing, the city decided to keep eight council seats (not including the mayor), despite calls to increase to 10 because of Fort Worth’s tremendous growth. Some of the districts also span Loop 820, leading advocates to claim the districts “cracked” communities of color and combined them with neighborhoods that have a more suburban feel and more white residents. “We call it the spokes of the wheel, inside 820 and outside 820,” said Peggy Hendon, the president of the League of Women Voters, Tarrant County. “There was a lot of trying to put a part of downtown Fort Worth into everyone’s district. And that ends up breaking apart neighborhoods.” But despite local opposition the federal government approved the council’s redistricting map in an act known as preclearance. And no litigation prevented the districts from being set. To Miller, racial representation isn’t the only problem when like-minded groups are split. She lives in the Historic Southside and notes they lack good grocery options. In an ideal system, neighborhoods with the same interests group together to push for a district where they’ll be able to elect a council person who can best meet their shared needs, whether it’s a grocery store, better health care options or more parks.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

New cluster of children's leukemia cases found in Houston neighborhood

Another cancer cluster in Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens has been identified by a state investigation in a newly released report, which found that children contracted leukemia at nearly five times the expected rate of the general population. The Department of State Health Services report found the number of cases of leukemia in children was significantly higher in one census tract in particular -- a stretch of land where state environmental records show a toxic plume is located beneath more than 100 homes. Mayor Sylvester Turner, as well as current and former residents of the neighborhood, are asking for accountability from those responsible for the pollution.

“It’s not just the adults being harmed, but our children as well, by this cancer-causing pollution,” said Andre West, who lives in Fifth Ward and is spokesperson of IMPACT, a grassroots community environmental organization. The percentage of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia was greater than previously expected in 21 census tracts in north Houston, according to the report, which examined cases from 2000 to 2016. The findings come a year after the state identified Houston’s first cancer cluster in the same area surrounding the Englewood Rail Yard in Northeast Houston, currently owned by Union Pacific. There were higher rates of adult cancer in the lung, esophagus and throat, according to the state report. The plume of contamination near the rail yard is the result of treating wood rail yard ties with creosote, a preservative that likely causes cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The company said in statement that it “sympathizes with the residents who are dealing with medical issues.”

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National Stories

Politico - January 21, 2021

'We feel incredibly betrayed': Thousands of Guardsmen forced to vacate Capitol

Thousands of National Guardsmen were allowed back into the Capitol Thursday night, hours after U.S. Capitol Police officials ordered them to vacate the facilities, sending them outdoors or to nearby parking garages after two weeks pulling security duty after the deadly riot on Jan. 6. One unit, which had been resting in the Dirksen Senate Office building, was abruptly told to vacate the facility on Thursday, according to one Guardsman. The group was forced to rest in a nearby parking garage without internet reception, with just one electrical outlet, and one bathroom with two stalls for 5,000 troops, the person said. Temperatures in Washington were in the low 40s by nightfall. “Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed,” the Guardsman said. POLITICO obtained photos showing the Guard members packed together in the parking garage, sleeping on the ground.

All National Guard troops were told to vacate the Capitol and nearby congressional buildings on Thursday, and to set up mobile command centers outside or in nearby hotels, another Guardsman confirmed. They were told to take their rest breaks during their 12-hour shifts outside and in parking garages, the person said. Top lawmakers from both parties took to Twitter to decry the decision and call for answers after POLITICO first reported the news Thursday night, with some even offering their offices to be used as rest areas. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “If this is true, it's outrageous. I will get to the bottom of this.” And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) noted that the Capitol complex remains closed to members of the public, “so there’s plenty of room for troops to take a break in them.” By 10 p.m., Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said the situation was “being resolved” and that the Guardsmen would be able to return indoors later in the night. “Just made a number of calls and have been informed Capitol Police have apologized to the Guardsmen and they will be allowed back into the complex tonight,” added Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both of her legs in combat. “I’ll keep checking to make sure they are.” A Guard source confirmed late Thursday night that all troops in the parking garages were ordered to return inside the Capitol. Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, the Guard’s Inauguration Task Force commander, confirmed in a statement to POLITICO a little after midnight that the troops are out of the garage and back into the Capitol building as authorized by the USCP Watch Commander. They will take their breaks near Emancipation Hall going forward.

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Politico - January 20, 2021

Biden Cabinet picks feature record number of women and women of color

Inauguration Day already was historic for women, with Kamala Harris becoming the first woman and person of color to become vice president, and she soon could be joined by a similarly record-breaking Cabinet. Twelve of Biden's nominations for Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions are women, including eight women of color, and if they're all confirmed it would shatter former President Bill Clinton's record of nine women serving concurrently, which happened during his second term. When former President Donald Trump was in office, six women served at the same time, excluding two who served in acting roles, per Rutgers University's Center of American Women and Politics

"Joe Biden made a commitment during his campaign that he would work to be sure that his administration looks like the constituencies it serves," Kelly Dittmar, director of research at CAWP, told ABC News. "I think what we're seeing in his Cabinet is that he's gotten pretty close to making good on that promise. These women will bring diverse lived experiences and perspectives to the work that they do, which is some of the most important policy work for the country," she added. "They're heading agencies that will set the terms and agenda for the next four years." Here are the women nominated to Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions by Biden: Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, has been nominated to serve as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She's a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who worked closely with the Obama administration amid the 2009 recession, has been nominated to head the Department of Energy. Isabel Guzman, director of the Office of the Small Business Advocate in California, has been selected to serve as administrator of the Small Business Administration. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who made history by becoming one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress in 2018, has been nominated to lead the Department of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland would be the first Native person to oversee an agency that played a major role historically in the forced relocation and oppression of Indigenous people.

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CNBC - January 21, 2021

Biden is already facing pressure to scale back his $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan

President Joe Biden’s first Covid-19 package is already facing hurdles in Congress that threaten to force the fledgling administration to curb some of its more progressive aims just one week after the proposal’s debut. Early critiques from Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, two members of the bipartisan group of senators who crafted the framework for December’s stimulus package, challenged the $1.9 trillion plan. Both expressed doubts on Wednesday over the need for another bill, especially one with such a price tag, less than one month after Congress passed the $900 billion measure just before the Christmas break.

While criticisms from the GOP were expected, odds the the bill would pass unedited grew longer after a report quoted Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia disparaging the size of the latest round of proposed stimulus checks. Dissent from either party carries weight for Biden, who entered the White House on Wednesday with a razor-thin majority in Congress. While both the House and Senate are under Democratic control, the upper chamber is split 50-50. Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tiebreaking vote. Hoping to address concerns with the rescue plan, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese is scheduled to meet with a group of bipartisan senators in the coming days, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Deese is expected to advocate for the original plan, but also consider input from members of the GOP who could help pass the measure without the tedious budget reconciliation process that would allow it to get through with only Democratic votes. Deese didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Meanwhile, the Democratic-held House could move to pass components of Biden’s proposal as soon as the first week in February. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday that representatives will work in committees throughout next week “so that we are completely ready to go to the floor” with a bill when the chamber returns next month.

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Washington Post - January 21, 2021

Top Senate Republicans push to delay Trump impeachment trial

Senate Republicans on Thursday pushed to delay the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump for at least three weeks because he is struggling to recruit a legal team and assemble a defense against the accusation that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) floated postponing the start of the trial until mid-February, telling colleagues that Trump deserved more time to prepare his case and file briefs with the Senate. A conviction could bar Trump from public office in the future. The proposal came as a key Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), disclosed that the former president had secured a lead defense counsel for the trial: Butch Bowers, a Columbia, S.C., attorney known for his prominent role in litigating political and election matters for North and South Carolina Republicans.

Graham described Bowers as the “anchor tenant” of a team that would come together in the coming days. He said a short delay is warranted given the rapid-fire process in the House, which impeached Trump one week after the Capitol riot. “A couple of weeks, I think, would be necessary for the president’s people to make their argument most effectively,” he said. “I think it’s fair to the Senate; I think it’s fair to the president.” Trump spokesman Jason Miller confirmed Bowers’s role as a Trump legal adviser Thursday. “Butch is well respected by both Republicans and Democrats and will do an excellent job defending President Trump,” he said. Bowers did not respond to phone calls and emails sent to his law office Thursday. Senate Democrats — who took the majority Wednesday with the swearings-in of three new senators and the inauguration of Vice President Harris — did not respond immediately to McConnell’s proposal. But there are reasons to believe Democrats would be amenable to a delay, given the need for the Senate to process President Biden’s Cabinet nominations.

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Associated Press - January 21, 2021

Judge says Amazon won’t have to restore Parler web service

Amazon won’t be forced to immediately restore web service to Parler after a federal judge ruled Thursday against a plea to reinstate the fast-growing social media app, which is favored by followers of former President Donald Trump. U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle said she wasn’t dismissing Parler’s “substantive underlying claims” against Amazon, but said it had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction forcing it back online. Amazon kicked Parler off its web-hosting service on Jan. 11. In court filings, it said the suspension was a “last resort” to block Parler from harboring violent plans to disrupt the presidential transition.

The Seattle tech giant said Parler had shown an “unwillingness and inability” to remove a slew of dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others. The social media app, a magnet for the far right, sued to get back online, arguing that Amazon had breached its contract and abused its market power. It said Trump was likely on the brink of joining the platform, following a wave of his followers who flocked to the app after Twitter and Facebook expelled Trump after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Parler CEO John Matze asserted in a court filing that Parler’s abrupt shutdown was motivated at least partly by “a desire to deny President Trump a platform on any large social-media service.” Matze said Trump had contemplated joining the network as early as October under a pseudonym. The Trump administration last week declined to comment on whether he had planned to join. Amazon denied its move to pull the plug on Parler had anything to do with political animus. It claimed that Parler had breached its business agreement “by hosting content advocating violence and failing to timely take that content down.”

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Newsclips - January 21, 2021

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 20, 2021

No pardon for Texas Attorney General Kex Paxton in last-minute list

President Donald Trump left office Wednesday without granting a preemptive pardon to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, ending speculation about whether Trump would reward a key ally who is under FBI investigation. Paxton, who devoted considerable effort to protecting and advancing Trump's policies via lawsuits and other means — including a late bid to overturn 2020 election results —was accused of official misconduct, including bribery and misuse of office, by several top aides in late September and early October. That prompted an ongoing FBI investigation and speculation that Trump might reward Paxton as he has other supporters, including pardons granted to former strategist Steve Bannon, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime political adviser Roger Stone.

Paxton, however, has said he did not request a pardon, and his name was not on a list of 73 people pardoned late Tuesday night or one final pardon announced in the closing minutes of Trump's presidency. Because presidential pardons forgive only federal offenses, action by Trump would have had no impact on three state felonies, pending against Paxton since 2015, alleging securities law violations in private business deals. Those criminal cases have been mired in appeals from defense lawyers and prosecutors, and no trial date is set. A pardon also could not block state charges, if any are filed, related to last year's allegations that Paxton misused the power of his office to benefit a friend and political benefactor, Austin businessman Nate Paul. After Trump took office, Paxton changed his approach from filing numerous lawsuits to block or overturn Obama administration actions — a role he is expected to resume under President Joe Biden — to a robust legal defense on Trump's behalf. In the first two years of the Trump administration, Paxton filed 18 lawsuits or legal briefs on behalf of the Republican chief executive, including efforts to suspend travel from Muslim-majority countries and block abortions for teen immigrants in federal custody.

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NBC News - January 20, 2021

Biden sworn in as president, calls on Americans to 'end this uncivil war' of political division

Amid a devastating pandemic and the threat of domestic terrorism, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States shortly before noon on Wednesday, pledging to unite the country and calling on Americans to end the "uncivil war" that has fractured the nation. In a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol that kept with tradition while being unlike any other inauguration in U.S. history, Biden took his oath of office before a small, socially distanced audience in a city that has been locked down because of the dual threats of Covid-19, which has killed over 400,000 people in the U.S., and worries over another attack just two weeks after the deadly riot at the Capitol. In an impassioned address, Biden repeatedly stressed the need for unity, calling it the only "path forward."

"I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days, I know the forces that divide are deep and they are real," he said. "Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we're all created equal and the harsh ugly reality of racism, nativism, fear, demonization." "This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge — and unity is the path forward," he said. "The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don't look like you or worship the way you do, or don't get their news from the same sources you do," the president added a moment later. "We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts — if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we're willing to stand in the other person's shoes," he continued. Biden vowed to move quickly to address the pandemic, the subsequent economic collapse, racial justice and climate change. He also repudiated the mob that had attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and promised he would be president for all Americans, including those who didn't vote for him.

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KXAN - January 21, 2021

Texas conservatives prepare to file lawsuits against Biden administration

Texas lawmakers are already gearing up for a legal fight against the Biden administration. Hours after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a clear message, vowing to push back on federal mandates that he says infringe on Texans’ rights. The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) says it is preparing a number of federal lawsuits, mainly centered around federal overreach. Currently, energy regulations and education curriculum under the Biden administration are the focus of the foundation’s legal team. This comes after President Biden declared his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and revoke the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

TPPF says energy regulations under the Biden administration could impact energy independence as well as thousands of jobs in Texas. “There are a number of tools available to the Biden administration that could threaten Texas’ thriving oil and gas industry,” explained Chuck DeVore, TPPF’s Vice President of National Initiatives. “You have regulations, you have the intent to rejoin the Paris [Climate] Accord, there are a few different tools that may result in the reduction of production from Texas’ thriving oil and gas industry.” DeVore says this is significant because a few years ago the United States became a net exporter of oil and gas, which he believes improves our national security posture. The foundation is also focused on preventing a federal takeover of education curriculum. “What we are very concerned about is this attempt to impose a federal standard on educating our children on the history of America. In the case of Texas, undermining the teaching of Texas History,” DeVore said.

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Washington Post - January 20, 2021

QAnon believers grapple with doubt, spin new theories as Trump era ends

Followers of the extremist ideology QAnon saw their hopes once again dashed Wednesday as President Donald Trump left Washington on the final day of his presidency, without any of the climactic scenes of violence and salvation that the sprawling set of conspiracy theories had preached for years would come. As Trump boarded Air Force One for his last presidential flight to Florida, many QAnon adherents - some of whose believers had this month stormed the Capitol in a siege that left at least two QAnon devotees dead and others in jail - began to wonder whether they'd been duped all along. When one QAnon channel on the chat app Telegram posted a new theory that suggested Biden himself was "part of the plan," a number of followers shifted into open rebellion: "This will never happen." "Just stfu already!" "It's over. It is sadly, sadly over." "What a fraud!"

Late Wednesday, the movement suffered another blow when the "Qresearch" forum on 8kun, QAnon's online home, was wiped clean by a site moderator, who said in a rambling screed that "I am just performing euthanasia to something I once loved very very much." Shortly after, the site's leaders restored the deleted material and demanded the moderator's death. But while some QAnon disciples gave way to doubt, others doubled down on blind belief or strained to see new coded messages in the Inauguration Day's events. Some followers noted that 17 flags - Q being the 17th letter of the alphabet - flew on the stage as Trump delivered a farewell address. "17 flags! come on now this is getting insane," said one post on a QAnon forum devoted to the "Great Awakening," the quasi-biblical name for QAnon's utopian end times. "I don't know how many signs has to be given to us before we 'trust the plan,' " one commenter said. Over thousands of cryptic posts since 2017, Q, QAnon's unidentified online prophet, had promised that Trump was secretly spearheading a spiritual war against an elite cabal of child-eating Satanists who controlled Washington, Hollywood and the world. Believers in these false, rambling theories had counted down the hours waiting for Trump to corral his enemies for military tribunals and mass executions in a show of force they called "the Storm."

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

President Joe Biden is sworn in — and already clashing with Texas Republicans

President Joe Biden on Wednesday took office leading a fractured nation, trumpeting the strength of a democracy tested and calling for Americans to come together, even as his first actions in office sparked tensions with Texas Republicans. “This is a time of testing,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “We face an attack on our democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America’s role in the world — any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways, but the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we’ve had. “To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity,” Biden said.

The Biden administration — with Kamala Harris taking office as the first woman, first Black person and first Asian-American to serve as vice president — began with an inauguration unlike any other. The swearing in was set before a backdrop of 25,000 National Guard troops from across the nation who provided extra security in a locked-down D.C. after a Trump-inspired mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Those in the strictly limited crowd wore masks and sat at arm’s length to limit the spread of COVID-19. For the first time in decades, the outgoing president was not present. In a 21-minute address with numerous references to the Civil War, Biden called for an end to “this uncivil war that pits red versus blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” It was a message cheered by Texas Democrats, who declared Wednesday the end of a “shameful” era and a time to move forward as they pointed to the historic significance of Harris’ swearing in. “Democracy has prevailed,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

Michael Taylor: Thank government for COVID-19 vaccines, not the free market

I’m a markets guy who believes in applying economic principles to situations requiring innovation and the allocation of scarce resources. Which probably explains why I think it’s so important to also point out the hard limits to markets. There are big downsides and limits to thinking like an economist. The COVID-19 vaccine development and rollout is case study for examining what free markets are specifically not useful for. “Health care should be run more like a private business” is one of the more misguided statements that well-meaning people like to make — up there with the equally misguided “Schools should be run more like a private business.”

The miracle of this vaccine development and initial rollout in one year’s time cannot be understated. This is an unprecedented scientific achievement. It should be understood not as a victory of market-based economics but rather the opposite: the extraordinary application of central government planning. Sometimes, in the good old U.S. of A., we forget this point. Last spring, the Trump administration made the correct call to directly fund six pharmaceutical companies to research, test and manufacture vaccines. This initial $10 billion federal government investment — called “Operation Warp Speed” — allocated in March was upped to $18 billion by October. A seventh company, Pfizer, did not receive funds for research, but it did receive a guaranteed order for 100 million doses. By guaranteeing demand for hundreds of millions of doses, the federal government induced drugmakers to essentially ignore market signals such as potential risk, profit and loss. The Operation Warp Speed program understood that some vaccine products might not work and that hundreds of millions of manufactured doses could be wasted. And that was OK.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

Elaine Ayala: Inaugurations are always remarkable, sacred moments that celebrate our bruised democracy

Inaugurations are always remarkable, sacred moments. The bright, shiny pomp and circumstance that Washington puts on celebrates a democratic nation that acknowledges its union is not quite yet perfect. It’s young, fragile, imperfect. That it strives to be perfect, however, has been embedded in ceremonial rituals and in repeating words of wisdom.

At their best, they can help mend political wounds. At least for a day, perhaps only a moment, they make us more hopeful of their promise, more sure that this American experiment can right itself and mend its foundations. It’s a little wobbly now. I’m not sure that the inauguration Wednesday — the pomp, the pop stars, the poetry and a new president — will mend us. But it’s a start. It was also momentous, coming on the heels of a seditious attack. Despite an insurrection in the same building just two weeks ago, the inauguration of a new president and vice president assured us democracy won. One more time.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Sending vaccines to cities one path out of ‘dark winter’

In a sobering and unifying speech, one that captured the gravity of the moment and the possibility in a new administration, President Joe Biden pledged a path forward through the darkness of this winter. “My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us we are going to need each other,” he said 14 minutes into his inaugural speech as 46th president of the United States. “We need all of our strength to persevere through this dark winter. We are entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation. One nation.” And for a moment, following his lead, the nation paused in silent prayer to remember the 400,000 Americans who have died in this pandemic.

The final weeks of 2020 and early weeks of 2021 were overwhelmed by a great unraveling, punctuated by the insurrection of Jan. 6, underscored by the pervasive lie of widespread voter fraud. These weeks were darkened as COVID-19 has raged. The spread of the virus has been heartbreaking and so, too, the slow distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which promise relief from the biggest public health threat in our lifetimes. But the promise of vaccines hinges on vaccinations, and here we have seen failure. The Trump administration had promised that 20 million Americans would receive the first of the two-dose regimen by the end of the year. But as of last week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, little more than 11 million shots had been administered of the more than 30 million doses distributed to the states. This unconscionable failure by the federal government to properly prepare and coordinate distribution of the vaccine is what spurred more than three dozen mayors, including San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, to ask Biden to expedite distribution by sending shipments of the vaccine directly to cities. The new administration, which has put forward a sound COVID-19 plan, should agree to this request. Locally, vaccine appointments have filled up within minutes. Demand far outstrips supply, and city officials have said a lack of communication from the state makes it impossible to plan ahead. It would be helpful for local officials to know how much vaccine is available to distribute and coordinate the inoculations. As Colleen Bridger, interim director of Metro Health, recently told City Council: San Antonio has “no ability to plan ahead.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

San Antonio council candidate for East Side district far ahead in campaign donations, mostly from out of state

As City Council elections start to ramp up, one District 2 candidate has vastly out-raised all his opponents so far, including incumbent Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan. Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, 25, raised almost $17,600 from 423 donors in 31 states during the Sept. 8-Dec. 31 reporting period. Andrews-Sullivan, his former boss, reported just three contributions for a total of $1,040. Other candidates reported less than $2,000 or no money raised at all. McKee-Rodriguez’s report showed 161 San Antonians contributed a total of $7,951. The rest of the James Madison High School math teacher’s contributions came from all four corners of the continental United States plus Hawaii.

McKee-Rodriguez said he’s receiving donations from people he grew up with while moving around the country with his parents who were in the military. Contributions also came from people he met while studying at the University of Texas at San Antonio but who have since moved away, he said. “Young people in San Antonio, we want to get them to stay, but they’re choosing to go other places,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “Those people are choosing to invest in me and invest in the campaign that we’re building to say we want to make District 2 a place for young people who want to choose to stay.” Though he moved around a lot as a kid, he has lived in District 2 for three years, and in Texas for seven years and in District 2 for three years. He went to work for Andrews-Sullivan as her director of communications after she was elected in May 2019 and stayed through December 2019. McKee-Rodriguez also attributes the donations to his social media following, particularly on TikTok.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

New COVID-19 cases plummet, but deaths remain high in Bexar

For the first time this year, new COVID-19 cases in San Antonio have fallen to fewer than 1,000. Officials reported 850 new cases on Wednesday — a precipitous decline from the 2,395 cases recorded on Tuesday. Cases began spiking in November and have risen to record highs in recent days, a surge still apparent in the region’s seven-day average of 1,966 cases.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg warned at the daily briefing that it was far too early to consider the sudden decline in cases a definite trend. “There may be some labs that didn’t report today,” Nirenberg said. “The more important number is the seven-day rolling average.” Rita Espinoza, chief of epidemiology for the city’s Metropolitan Health District, echoed the mayor’s note of caution. “It is just one point, so we really can’t say it’s a trend,” she said. The number of patients hospitalized also fell, albeit more modestly, from 1,507 to 1,466. Of those, 452 were in intensive care and 247 were on ventilators. Overall, there were 174 new admissions to hospitals — a figure that Nirenberg called troubling and “very high.” The relentless pandemic continued to exact a grim toll in Bexar County, killing 18 more residents over the last two weeks. The victims included a man in his 40s; a man in his 50s; a woman in her 70s; and a man in his 80s.

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Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2021

Dallas County reports 3,469 new coronavirus cases, 30 deaths; Tarrant adds 23 deaths

Dallas County reported 3,469 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, as well as 30 more deaths from COVID-19. County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement that Wednesday’s case number was the second-highest one-day total reported so far, behind only the 3,549 new cases on Jan. 12. “While these are concerning numbers, and I hope the number of new cases and deaths decreases very soon, I am thankful we’ve been able to vaccinate almost 15,000 individuals at the Fair Park mega-vaccine clinic since last week, with thousands of more scheduled for today,” Jenkins said. Meanwhile, the state warned that Texans must avoid another surge in cases as deaths continue to rise while hospitals are overburdened. “Hospitals can’t take much more,” the state health department said on Twitter.

The latest Dallas County victims included eight Dallas residents: a man in his 60s, three men in their 70s, two women in their 70s, including one who lived in a long-term care facility, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 90s. All had underlying health problems. Six Garland residents also died: a woman in her 50s, two women in their 60s, two men in their 70s and a woman in her 80s. Four of the six had underlying health problems. Five Mesquite residents — a man in his 50s, a man in his 70s, a man and woman in their 80s and a woman in her 90s — also died. All had underlying health problems, and four lived at long-term care facilities. Three Rowlett residents were among the victims: a man in his 50s, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 70s. All three had been hospitalized; one had underlying health problems. Two Richardson residents also died, both women in their 70s. One lived in a long-term care facility. The remaining victims were a Wilmer man in his 60s, a Glenn Heights woman in her 60s, an Irving man in his 80s, a Farmers Branch man in his 80s, a Cedar Hill woman in her 80s and a Grand Prairie man in his 80s.

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Dallas Morning News - January 20, 2021

Texas warns it will cut COVID vaccine supply after Dallas County limits who can get doses

State health officials are threatening to cut Dallas County’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines if it moves forward with a plan to prioritize residents from 11 of its most vulnerable ZIP codes, according to an email obtained by The Dallas Morning News Wednesday. The letter comes a day after a divided commissioners court directed the health department to focus its efforts at its Fair Park vaccination mega site on the ZIP codes considered most vulnerable to the coronavirus and those with historic health inequities.

“While we ask hub providers to ensure the vaccine reaches the hardest hit areas and populations, solely vaccinating people who live in those areas is not in line with the agreement to be a hub provider,” wrote Imelda Garcia, associate commissioner for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “If Dallas County is unable to meet these expectations, we will be forced to reduce the weekly vaccine allocation to Dallas County Health and Human Services and no longer consider it a hub provider.” The state could limit supply as soon as next week if the county does not change course by Thursday morning, Garcia said. The state’s letter was prompted by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who in his own letter alerted the state to the policy change. Jenkins openly questioned the legality of the commissioners’ decision during their Tuesday meeting. County Commissioner J.J. Koch sponsored the shift after early data showed the vaccines at the county’s Fair Park site were going to residents from mostly white and affluent ZIP codes above Interstate 30. Local policymakers said they hoped that putting the county’s first vaccine hub in southern Dallas would help provide access to more Blacks and Latinos who lack access to the health care system.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 20, 2021

Hood County reports surge in COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths in past week

Hood County has reported 13 coronavirus deaths in the past week. The county has confirmed a total of 5,283 COVID-19 cases, including 85 deaths. There have been 1,451 new cases in January. Health officials report that 41,252 Hood County citizens have been tested and the county is reporting a COVID hospitalization rate of 24.21% as of Monday.

This is the rate Gov. Greg Abbott is using to determine whether Texas regions can allow businesses to open to larger capacities or permit bars to reopen. The rate would have to drop below 15% for seven consecutive days for business capacity to be increased. There are currently 26 COVID hospitalizations in the county. The other active cases have been directed to self-isolate. Granbury ISD is reporting that 12 students and two staff members currently have COVID-19. Tolar ISD has six current cases, including five students.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 20, 2021

Tarrant County adds 102 COVID-19 deaths in 5 days, including 23 on Wednesday

Tarrant County reported 23 coronavirus deaths and 2,074 cases on Wednesday. The county has reported 102 COVID-19 deaths in the past five days while averaging 2,332 new cases.

The latest pandemic-related deaths include a Pantego man in his 50s, a Fort Worth man in his 50s, a Bedford woman in her 50s, an Arlington man and woman in their 50s, an Azle man in his 50s, an Arlington woman in her 60s, a Fort Worth man in his 60s, a Euless woman in her 60s, two Arlington men in their 70s, a North Richland Hills man in his 70s, a Fort Worth man and woman in their 70s, a Mansfield woman in her 70s, a Fort Worth man in his 80s, a Sansom Park woman in her 80s, a Hurst man in his 80s, a Euless man in his 80s, a Saginaw woman older than 90, and a Fort Worth man and two women older than 90. One of the 23 had undetermined underlying health conditions and the others had underlying health conditions, according to officials. Tarrant County has reported a total of 199,521 COVID-19 cases, including 1,927 deaths and an estimated 143,731 recoveries. Tarrant County Public Health and the Arlington Fire Department hub locations report that 47,754 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered as of Tuesday. Hospitalized COVID patients decreased by 45 to 1,429. The pandemic high was 1,528 on Jan. 6. COVID-19 hospitalizations account for 28% of the total number of beds in Tarrant County and make up 35% of the 4,076 occupied beds as of Tuesday. The rate was at a pandemic-high 38% on Jan. 10.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 20, 2021

No limousine departure from Fort Worth prison for Tiger King after Trump fails to pardon

There was no flamboyant stretch limo departure for Joe Exotic. The star of “Tiger King,” the wildly popular Netflix documentary series, was left without a presidential pardon from former President Donald Trump, who left office Wednesday morning. Trump pardoned 74 people and commuted the criminal sentences of 70 others in the last 12 hours of his administration.

Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th U.S. president at around 11 a.m. Wednesday. Joe Exotic’s legal team, led by private investigator Eric Love, said they were so convinced that Trump would issue the pardon that they had a stretch limousine standing by to pick him up at a Fort Worth prison. Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, 57, was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years for violating federal wildlife laws and for his role in a failed murder-for-hire plot against zookeeping rival Carole Baskin. He was convicted in April 2019 and is currently incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center Fort Worth. Maldonado-Passage’s attorneys argued in a pardon petition filed in September that he was “railroaded and betrayed” by others, according to the Associated Press.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Biden inaugural address gives America reason for faith in a better future

America turned its eyes to Washington on Wednesday and saw hope. Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, vowing to unite a fractured country and counting on that unity to confront the challenges faced by our wounded nation. Four years ago, Biden’s predecessor looked out across America and famously saw carnage. In his inaugural address, Biden pointed toward the light — in a speech that was openhearted, plainspoken and direct — even as he acknowledged there were dark days ahead. “The forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new,” he said. “Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal, and the harsh ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.”

The battle is perennial, he continued, and victory never assured, but it is only with “enough of us” coming together, that we can overcome — an aspirational note grounded in pragmatism. Biden will need that clear-eyed resolve to tackle what he labeled the cascading crises of our time. “We face an attack on our democracy and on truth. A raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis. America’s role in the world,” he said. “Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once.” Unity is the only path forward, the president said. Without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. “We must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you, we will not fail,” he said. That union starts by all of us putting down the poisoned chalice of outrage and recognizing that we can disagree without hate. That we are all Americans, regardless of political persuasion. That we share common values, including opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor and truth.

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Houston Chronicle - January 20, 2021

Biden policies could provide short-term boost, long-term challenge to Houston economy

Both the local and national economies are likely to get a short-term boost if President Joe Biden passes his $1.9 trillion package to provide economic relief and bring the coronavirus pandemic under control, but climate and other environmental policies could present a long-term challenge to the region’s energy industry and the growth that it drives. Biden’s plan, unveiled last week, includes money to accelerate vaccine deployment, help state and local governments bridge budget shortfalls, bolster unemployment benefits and provide direct stimulus payments to Americans, among other forms of aid. That would provide immediate relief to workers in Texas — service workers in particular — and further stabilize the housing market, said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“Here in Houston,” Stein said, “it would enable renters to avoid eviction, homeowners to make mortgage payments and encourage developers to continue building rental and owner-occupied housing in anticipation of the pandemic ending,” Stein said. The specifics of Biden’s proposal need to be negotiated with Congress, but Stein said he expects some type of economic relief to pass, putting money into the pockets of people who need it, and get them spending. In addition to the short-term stimulus, the Biden administration also has proposed spending $2 trillion on infrastructure, including $50 billion on road and bridge repairs in the first year of his term. “When you build roads, you hire people,” Stein said, “and you reduce the cost of getting products to consumers.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Kinder Morgan ekes out 2020 profit while eyeing energy transition

Kinder Morgan remained profitable in 2020 as it battled the worst oil downturn in a generation that slashed demand for the crude and natural gas flowing through its network of pipelines and terminals. Nevertheless, the Houston company on Wednesday said it’s preparing for a low-carbon future in which its business would shift to transport and store biofuels and hydrogen instead of fossil fuels. “As the world transitions to a future of lower emissions, our assets are well positioned for the energy transition,” Kinder Morgan Executive Chairman Richard Kinder told analysts in a conference call Wednesday. The company on Wednesday said it made $119 million in 2020, a fraction of the $2.2 billion profit in 2019. Annual revenue declined by 11 percent to $11.7 billion from $13.2 billion in 2019.

During the fourth quarter, Kinder Morgan made $607 million, down slightly from $610 million during the same period a year earlier. Revenue fell 7 percent to $3.1 billion from $3.35 billion a year earlier. Its financial performance proved robust enough that the company said it would increase its fourth-quarter dividend by 5 percent. Although executives said they remain bullish about the future of natural gas as a backup energy supply to intermittent solar and wind power, the pipeline giant said it is preparing for greater use of biofuels and hydrogen paired with carbon capture storage, which executives said are “ripe for expansion.” Biofuels are made from animal and food waste while hydrogen can be produced from fossil fuels. Both can be transported as a gas through pipelines or stored at terminals in liquid form. Pipeline and terminal projects face mounting opposition from environmental activists and political leaders increasingly concerned about climate change. One of President Joe Biden’s first executive orders after his inauguration Wednesday was to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that would have moved crude from Canadian oil sands to U.S. refineries in the Midwest and Texas.

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McAllen Monitor - January 20, 2021

Upheaval at the Capitol for Valley senators

There was a big shakeup in Rio Grande Valley politics at the state Capitol last week. Every two years, the Texas lieutenant governor assigns members of the senate to committees that review bills filed under their jurisdictions. The members are tasked with hearing testimony and making recommendations on which proposed laws to pursue. This year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made some eyebrow-raising changes when it came to the Valley’s representation on those Senate committees. For one, Patrick removed state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. from his role as chairman of the Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, which is now called the Committee on Local Government. Last session, Lucio was one of only two Democratic senators appointed to chair a committee. This year, however, Patrick only appointed one Democrat as chair: Houston’s John Whitmire, the Senate’s longest-serving member, will continue to chair the Committee on Criminal Justice.

“(Lt.) Gov. Patrick made it very clear when he ran for lieutenant governor that he would have fewer (Democratic) chairs,” state Sen. Judith Zaffirini said Tuesday. “He’s not doing anything he didn’t say he was gonna do. Do I wish it was different? Yeah. But he’s the lieutenant governor and he has the authority, he has the power and he’s being true to his word.” Patrick also removed state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa from his role as vice chair of the all-powerful Senate Committee on Finance, which oversees the state’s biennial budget. Both moves appear to have taken the senators by surprise, especially because Hinojosa’s post on the Finance Committee, which he held for over a decade, was instead handed to Lucio. “I was not assigned to the Finance Committee, but on the positive side, my colleague and Valley Sen. Eddie Lucio was assigned and named vice chair,” Hinojosa said Monday. “We work together as a team on the funding priorities that are needed in the Valley.” Lucio said Patrick approached him last year about the change, which was announced via a news release in December.

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KXAN - January 20, 2021

Sen. Cornyn will ‘listen to what’s presented’ during Trump impeachment trial

As Inauguration Day ceremonies roll on and the country’s presidency is transferred from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate looms even after he leaves office. Many lawmakers wonder if impeaching a president after leaving office is constitutional, including Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “I think there’s serious questions about it,” he said.

While many Senate Republicans haven’t publicly said whether they’ll vote to convict Trump of incitement of insurrection, the charge brought forth by the House, Cornyn agreed with others when it was referred to as a “vote of conscience.” “I think that’s a good way to put it,” he said. “I’m going to listen to what’s presented.” Ten House Republicans, none of them Texans, joined Democrats in voting 232-197 to impeach Trump for a second time, a week after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building and interrupted the Electoral College vote count that confirmed Biden as President-elect.

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Texas Public Radio - January 20, 2021

Limited By Texas’ orders, Laredo officials see COVID-19 outpace hospital capacity

As Laredo continues to grapple with saturated hospitals, its health authority was admitted to the emergency room on Tuesday, according to another local doctor. Dr. Maurice Click told Laredo’s city council of Dr. Victor Treviño's ER visit Tuesday night. He did not specify the cause, and Treviño was also absent from the city’s Wednesday COVID-19 briefing. Click read a statement on behalf of Treviño emphasizing that the spread of the virus is “outpacing our ability to create more space.” Laredo’s hospitals had two intensive care unit beds available on Tuesday, according to data from the state reported on Wednesday. It was the first time the state reported Laredo to have any available ICU beds since Thursday, Jan. 14.

The state also reported that more than 48% of Laredo’s hospital capacity was devoted to COVID-19 patients on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the overall hospitalization rate of COVID-19 patients stood above 45%, according to Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Guillermo Heard. But he added that the rate had reached 50% at the Laredo Medical Center and up to 62% at Doctors Hospital, the city’s two major hospitals. “We are at the point that we have to put patients outside of hospital walls in tents,” Heard said. The state provided the tents, which Heard said “do have all the accommodation that is needed” for patients, but he said they are also looking at putting up an alternate care site. “We do believe even with the tents and also one of the hospitals adding ICU beds, that we still have to plan for more possible beds due the vaccinations being disseminated at a slower pace than we want,” he said. Laredo’s latest COVID-19 bind follows efforts to expand hospital capacity and to slow down rising hospitalizations through a new infusion center, where COVID-19 patients with less severe cases are treated with antibodies in hopes of preventing hospitalizations. But officials have been unable to control the spread of the virus under Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders allowing bars and restaurants to remain open. “Any environment where it is allowed for people to remove their mask, especially in indoor settings with people outside their household, is spreading the virus,” Treviño said in his statement. To try to curb the spread, the Laredo City Council voted to ask Abbott in a letter to reduce restaurant occupancy down to 25% and for more vaccines.

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Texas Observer - January 20, 2021

Deaths in ICE custody skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic

Fernando Sabonger Garcia ended up in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on July 7 after being arrested at the Texas border. A Honduran national fleeing dangers at home, he was hoping for safe harbor in the United States. Instead, the 50-year-old ended up at Joe Corley Detention Facility, a privately run immigration detention center in Conroe, Texas. By July, the Houston area was already a COVID-19 hotspot with 50,000 cases and 500 deaths. At Corley, all detainees faced danger of infection inside group quarters that held bunks for as many as 30 men, according to La O. Muñoz, a Cuban physician who was detained there and became a whistleblower after his release. “We almost slept head to head, coughing on top of each other,” Muñoz told the Houston Chronicle. Another man, a Mexican national detained in the same facility but in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, had already died of COVID-19. Soon Sabonger Garcia was transported to a hospital where he died on August 28. Across the United States, deaths in immigration detention centers skyrocketed in 2020 to the highest rate of fatalities reported by ICE officials in more than a dozen years, according to a new report on in-custody deaths of immigrants by researchers at the University of Southern California’s medical school.

Most of the 21 deaths reported in FY 2020 were due to COVID-19. The number of deaths nearly tripled compared to FY 2019, even though the total population of detainees dropped by a third. As a result, the rate of deaths per 100,000 detainees reported last year is the highest level in twelve years, researchers say. A total of seven deaths were reported in ICE facilities in Texas from 2018 to 2020, which tied with Florida for the most in the country. Nationwide, the average age of the deceased was 47, “markedly lower than reported life-expectancy for foreign-born individuals in the United States,” the report says. Despite reports of increasing infections in immigration detention centers in Texas, Sabonger Garcia’s death is still the only one that federal immigration officials here have attributed to COVID-19. Texas-based officials do not count deaths of detainees who died after being released or who were held by other agencies like the man who died in US Marshal’s custody in Joe Corley, the same facility as Sabonger Garcia. Nationwide, most detainees who died of COVID-19 in 2020 were transported to a hospital. But in Arizona, 54-year-old Abel Reyes Clemente, a Mexican national and a diabetic, was placed into isolation after he fell ill with a fever and began gasping for breath. After a full day where nurses recorded abnormally low blood oxygen levels, he died in the detention center, the USC report says. ICE does not reveal whether he was ever given supplemental oxygen or clarify why he was not transported to a hospital, as recommended. Texas immigration detention facilities recorded four deaths in 2020 alone. But ICE officials have acknowledged that COVID-19 contributed to only one of three deaths from “natural causes” in detention centers last year—Sabonger Garcia’s.The fourth death was called a suicide.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 20, 2021

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris sworn in; only handful gather outside Texas Capitol

It was chilly and mostly empty in downtown Austin on Wednesday morning before President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Congress Avenue in the Texas capital was mostly desolate after 10 a.m. The Paramount Theatre's marquee read: "46th and 1st - History is made January 20, 2021." Under overcast skies, temperatures stayed in the 50s for much of the day, according to the National Weather Service. A handful of people stood outside the Texas Capitol, where the grounds were shut down Friday night ahead of the inauguration after the Texas Department of Public Safety uncovered information about possible activity by violent extremists. Additional DPS troopers were deployed to the Capitol.

Law enforcement officials in Washington, D.C., and in Austin increased security measures after Jan. 6, the day that followers of former President Donald Trump rioted and stormed the U.S. Capitol. Austin police were bracing for possible protests, with officers on tactical alert to ensure that any demonstrations in the city remained peaceful, Austin Police Assistant Chief Joe Chacon said Tuesday. During a tactical alert, all the department's officers are uniformed and put on standby to respond to any major event in the city, according to authorities. Police had received information about possible protests in the Austin area, but no organized rallies were widely publicized before Wednesday. The scene outside state capitols throughout the nation Wednesday looked much like it did in Austin: quiet and empty. Reporters in New York, Florida and Kentucky, among others, shared photos of lone protesters outside the statehouses. Standing alone near 11th Street and Congress Avenue in downtown Austin was 69-year-old Irene Carrillo, a registered nurse. Carrillo, in a gray beanie, held a royal blue sign with red hearts on it that read: “Thank God Biden Harris.”

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 20, 2021

New report: Austin police training videos reinforce racial stereotypes, bias

A new report blasts the instructional videos shown at the Austin Police Department training academy, saying they tend to show officers interacting violently with people of color and gently with white people, reinforcing racial stereotypes and biases. In the training videos, 44% of the people shown interacting with police were Black, although Austin's Black population is under 8%, the report also found. The report was compiled by a panel of six community members appointed by the city's equity office to review the training videos. Its release comes on the heels of two other reports that found that Austin's Black cadets are more likely to leave the training academy before graduation and to be injured during training.

Together, the reports complicate Mayor Steve Adler's proposed timeline to reopen the training academy by this spring in order to fill an increasing number of vacancies in the police department. The academy is closed indefinitely after the Austin City Council passed a budget last August that eliminated funding for three scheduled cadet classes. Adler's office did not immediately return a message seeking comment about the new report. The Austin Police Department said it agreed with all of the review panel's recommendations and has already made changes. “APD management worked closely with the community panel and concurred with all their recommendations," the department said Wednesday. "APD made immediate changes where possible and planned for longer term changes." City Council Member Greg Casar said cadet classes should not resume until the curriculum is revised. That could take time; another outside review of the department is ongoing and is not expected to be completed until December. The city is paying $1.3 million for the review to the New York-based firm Kroll Associates.

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National Stories

Fox News - January 20, 2021

Cornyn presses Psaki on coronavirus rules for migrant caravan after transition resists ending travel limits

Sen. John Cornyn on Tuesday pressed incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki on how the Biden administration will handle the migrant caravan headed to the U.S. from Central America after she announced the new president would tighten international travel limits on the pandemic. The exchange came after President Trump in an executive order Monday said that the U.S. would roll back travel restrictions imposed last year for air passengers who recently were in the United Kingdom, Europe and Brazil.

The restrictions would be lifted on Jan. 26, the same date as a new requirement for a negative coronavirus test for air travelers into the United States would go into effect. The reasoning behind the lifting of the earlier restrictions, according to Trump's order, was that the U.S. can expect those jurisdictions to comply with the new requirement for a negative test. But Psaki quickly said that President-elect Biden, rather than loosening travel restrictions for foreign countries, will clamp down. "With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," she said. "On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19." Cornyn responded Tuesday: "Does that include caravans of migrants from Central America?"

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Bloomberg - January 21, 2021

Biden moves swiftly to unwind Trump immigration, health policies

President Joe Biden plans to begin immediately unwinding his predecessor’s policies on immigration, climate and other issues on Wednesday with at least 15 executive actions, including moves to reverse U.S. withdrawals from the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, and stop construction of a border wall. Biden began signing the actions in front of reporters at the White House Wednesday evening, starting with an order requiring face masks on federal property. He said that some of his directives would “help change the course of the Covid crisis” and that his actions on racial equity “are all starting points.” Reporters were escorted out of the Oval Office after Biden signed three of the documents. Text of the orders and other actions was not immediately released.

Biden is also expected to sign orders revoking a permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and ending former President Donald Trump’s travel ban against some predominantly Muslim and African countries. While some of the orders will roll back unilateral measures Trump imposed, others -- including an extension of moratoriums on student loan payments, foreclosures and evictions -- are intended to address the health and economic crisis wrought by the pandemic. “We’re seeing too many Americans that are just barely keeping their heads above water,” incoming National Economic Director Brian Deese told reporters in a call previewing the executive actions. Biden’s aides say he’ll sign more Day One executive actions than any of his predecessors, to be followed by additional regulatory and policy changes over the coming weeks. Those will includes rolling back the so-called “Mexico City policy” restricting federal funding for organizations that provide abortion counseling and revoking the ban on military service by transgender Americans. Biden plans to immediately rejoin the World Health Organization, which Trump exited in May, saying China exerted too much pressure on the agency. He’ll dispatch the government’s foremost infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, to represent the U.S. Thursday at the WHO’s Executive Board meeting.

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Newsweek - January 20, 2021

Mark Davis: As the 46th President takes office, let's discuss the 47th

These are tough days for Republicans. Joe Biden and two new Democratic U.S. senators are beginning their terms, ushering in a period of one-party rule. As is the usual exercise after a tough election cycle, strategies and speculation spring to life in response to such dispiriting events. If the current era has taught us any lesson, it is that predicting things four months—or four days—into the future is a risky proposition, to say nothing of four years. But while speculating about the 2024 presidential race is a fool's errand today, there is value in assessing what questions will arise. To the surprise of no one, those questions center around Donald Trump.

Will he run again? Has that become a ridiculous question as his term whimpers to a riot-torn, ignominious end? If he is not the Republican nominee, will he weigh heavily in the voters' choice as to who is? And will there be appetite for a Trump-like nominee, or will tastes evolve in a different direction? One easy mistake would be to presume that Trump is such damaged goods that his base will seek to distance itself from him immediately and forever. There is already extensive evidence to the contrary, but having a solid core of supporters in hard times does not necessarily mean those supporters will all remain hungry for a MAGA reboot around mid-2023. Other candidates may have tested the water by then, offering the agenda positives of Trump without the behavioral negatives. There may be a sizable bloc seeking a different style of leadership altogether. Much depends on the unifying battles of the Biden years. Republicans will coalesce to fight a common political opponent, especially one emboldened by a House and Senate run by his allies. GOP reputations will rise and fall according to how those plot lines play out. One thing seems certain: Trump will be along for the ride, weighing in constantly, attracting positive and negative attention on every occasion. Does anyone believe a media culture that swore to drive him from office will suddenly ignore him as he returns to the private sector? His opponents have a vested interest in continuing to attack him, hoping to tarnish his 2024 credentials while persuading his voters to seek other options.

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NPR - January 20, 2021

Biden called for unity in his inaugural address. He might find it hard to come by

If you haven't heard, Joe Biden would like to unite America. It was a focus of the Democrat's campaign. It's even the theme of Biden's inauguration — "America United." He made lots of appeals to unity in his inaugural address. "We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward." But even he knows it won't be so easy. "I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days," Biden said. "I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart." The country is as divided as it's ever been, as pessimistic as it's been in three decades and facing health, economic and racial crises. American division did not begin with Donald Trump and won't end with him leaving the White House.

Biden's inauguration as the 46th president was different than any seen before in U.S. history. Four years ago, Trump was arguing over his crowd size compared with Barack Obama's record-setting turnout of supporters on the National Mall. This time, because of the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns, the Mall is shut down — as is much of downtown Washington, D.C. After the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob of pro-Trump supporters, the entire Capitol complex, a place that is generally open to the public, has been locked down. There is now 7-foot high, "non-scalable" steel fencing topped with razor wire surrounding the Capitol. With threats looming, armed troops are stationed every few feet. Some 25,000 troops were in Washington Wednesday to fortify the inauguration. It's like a scene from a war zone in another country. But in fact that's more troops than the U.S. currently has deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and all of Africa combined. Biden tried to show a semblance of normalcy, walking out of the presidential limo to the White House, but it was heavily curtailed. There were some people along the walk, but not the throngs of crowds lining the streets from past inaugurations.

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Associated Press - January 20, 2021

States report vaccine shortages and cancel appointments

The push to inoculate Americans against the coronavirus is hitting a roadblock: A number of states are reporting they are running out of vaccine, and tens of thousands of people who managed to get appointments for a first dose are seeing them canceled. Karen Stachowiak, a first-grade teacher in the Buffalo area, spent almost five hours on the state hot line and website to land an appointment for Wednesday, only to be told it was canceled. The Erie County Health Department said it scratched vaccinations for over 8,000 people in the past few days because of inadequate supply.

“It’s stressful because I was so close. And my other friends that are teachers, they were able to book appointments for last Saturday,” Stachowiak said. “So many people are getting theirs in, and then it’s like, ’Nope, I’ve got to wait.’” The reason for the apparent mismatch between supply and demand in the U.S. was unclear, but last week the Health and Human Services Department suggested that states had unrealistic expectations for how much vaccine was on the way. In any case, new shipments go out every week, and both the government and the drugmakers have said there are large quantities in the pipeline. The shortages are coming as states dramatically ramp up their vaccination drives, at the federal government's direction, to reach people 65 and older, along with certain others. More than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. have been blamed on the virus. President Joe Biden, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, immediately came under pressure to fix things. He has made it clear that his administration will take a stronger hand in attacking the crisis, and he vowed to administer 100 million shots in his first 100 days.

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Wall Street Journal - January 20, 2021

Alan Dershowitz: No, you can’t try an impeached former president

Now that Donald Trump is a private citizen, the Senate should dismiss the article of impeachment against him for lack of jurisdiction. The Constitution is clear: “The president . . . shall be removed from office on impeachment . . . and conviction”—not by the expiration of his term before the impeachment process is complete. It also mandates that “judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal and disqualification“—not or disqualification. When the Constitution was written, several states allowed impeachment of former officials. The Framers could easily have included that provision, but they didn’t. They also explicitly chose to prohibit the British practice of trial by legislature—excepting only impeachment—and “bill of attainder,” any punitive legislative act against a specific person. The courts have held that the punishments prohibited by the Bill of Attainder Clause include disqualification from holding office. Moreover, the Constitution requires the chief justice to preside “when the president of the United States is tried.”

No former official has ever been convicted by the Senate, and only one has been impeached. Secretary of War William W. Belknap was indisputably guilty of numerous impeachable offences, to which he confessed as he resigned his office hours before the House unanimously impeached him in 1876. The Senate voted in favor of a procedural motion affirming its jurisdiction to try Belknap’s impeachment. But two dozen senators who believed he was guilty voted to acquit on jurisdictional grounds. A close vote nearly a century and a half ago doesn’t establish a binding precedent. A more compelling precedent is the House’s decision not to impeach Richard Nixon. After he left office in 1974 to avoid certain impeachment and conviction, there was no movement to continue the process. Beyond the constitution, there are strong policy and historical reasons an incoming administration shouldn’t seek recriminations against its predecessor.

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Newsclips - January 20, 2021

Lead Stories

NBC News - January 19, 2021

COVID relief, economic stimulus, immigration: What to expect in Biden's first 100 days

President-elect Joe Biden's first days in office will be dominated by crisis: the coronavirus pandemic and the economic emergency it caused, as well as the fallout from the deadly Capitol riot as his predecessor faces a Senate impeachment trial. Biden frequently talks about the need to use the first 100 days, which have typically been a honeymoon period for new presidents, to make significant progress on the challenges facing the country, but finding bipartisan cooperation early in his administration may prove elusive. Biden said last week that the country is in a "crisis of deep human suffering in plain sight" when he outlined a $1.9 trillion funding bill that he has asked Congress to pass quickly. The Senate already has a busy schedule. Lawmakers will have to find time to debate a funding bill, confirm Biden's Cabinet nominees and deal with the article of impeachment passed last week in the House. A trial could start as soon as Inauguration Day.

That is not how Biden envisioned his early days in office would go a year ago when he was fighting for the Democratic Party's nomination. Back then, he talked about how the focus of his first 100 days would be on reforming immigration policy, rebuilding alliances overseas and tackling climate change. Biden has pledged to oversee administering 100 million Covid-19 vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, which transition officials say is still a reachable goal even though the Trump administration's promised rollout of the vaccines has been much slower than expected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 11.1 million doses had been given as of Thursday. The Trump administration left distribution to the states, but Biden plans to broaden the federal government's role. Biden's team plans to set up federal sites for mass distribution, along with mobile vaccination centers for people in rural areas. Supplies of the vaccines, the components and the materials will also be an issue, and transition officials have said Biden plans to use the Defense Authorization Act to speed production.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Gov. Abbott excludes Sylvester Turner, Lina Hidalgo from Houston briefing on vaccine rollout

Gov. Greg Abbott met with hospital executives in Houston on Tuesday to discuss the state’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, while appearing to snub city and county officials who are overseeing a bulk of the distribution. The Republican governor said the county, and specifically Houston Methodist Hospital, is leading the state in vaccinations, with more than 250,000 doses administered through the weekend. Dallas County is second for the most shots given, he said. “Houston Methodist has helped Texas become a national model for the vaccination program,” Abbott said, following a closed-door meeting with executives at the hospital.

Texas became the first state last week to surpass 1 million coronavirus vaccinations, and had administered about another 360,000 more as of Tuesday, including 177,000 second doses overall; the vaccines each require two doses. It is among the top ten states for administering the doses it’s received, according to a Bloomberg news tracker. The governor’s remarks come as the state continues to pivot toward large-scale vaccination sites capable of administering thousands of shots each day. This week, 79 such mass hubs are receiving doses from the federal government, up from 28 the week before. Several of those sites are in and around Houston, including one at Minute Maid Park that is run through a partnership with the Houston Health Department and the Astros Foundation. In a tweet over the weekend, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said city and county health officials had not been invited to participate in the governor’s meeting. “Any roundtable conversation in Houston about vaccine distribution in Houston, Harris County region should include diverse representation to ensure there is equitable vaccine distribution to at risk, vulnerable communities,” Turner wrote. Abbott has been repeatedly at odds with Democratic municipal leaders including Turner and County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who have asked for stricter emergency restrictions to slow the spread of the pandemic. The state has recorded more than 32,000 coronavirus deaths since March, and remains in the midst of a massive second surge.

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KUT - January 19, 2021

Austin's top doctor defends decision to offer state legislators COVID-19 vaccines

The city’s interim health authority says he stands by his decision to offer COVID-19 vaccines to state legislators as many others across the state continue searching for doses. “Number 1: We have a unique event which is happening in our jurisdiction, in the City of Austin in Travis County; that is the legislative session,” Dr. Mark Escott said, "which brings individuals from around the state of Texas to one place. [We’re] talking about thousands of people who are going to be in contact for six months. That represents a risk for a superspreading event.” Escott says the other concern is continuity of government and recognizing that essential government services must continue during the pandemic.

“My hope is that the state will provide a specific allocation for that purpose. But as far as the city and county is concerned, we are going to focus some of our resources, a small amount of resources, on that continuity-of-government plan,” he said. That will include elected city and county officials, county and state judges and key staff who qualify as part of the 1B population of adults older than 65 and those with underlying conditions.

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Associated Press - January 20, 2021

Trump pardons ex-strategist Steve Bannon, dozens of others

President Donald Trump pardoned former chief strategist Steve Bannon as part of a flurry of clemency action in the final hours of his White House term that benefited more than 140 people, including rap performers, ex-members of Congress and other allies of him and his family. The last-minute clemency, announced Wednesday morning, follows separate waves of pardons over the past month for Trump associates convicted in the FBI’s Russia investigation as well as for the father of his son-in-law. Taken together, the actions underscore the president’s willingness, all the way through his four years in the White House, to flex his constitutional powers in ways that defy convention and explicitly aid his friends and supporters.

To be sure, the latest list was heavily populated by more conventional candidates whose cases had been championed by criminal justice activists. One man who has spent nearly 24 years in prison on drug and weapons charges but had shown exemplary behavior behind bars had his sentence commuted, as did a former Marine sentenced in 2000 in connection with a cocaine conviction. But the names of prominent Trump allies nonetheless stood out. Besides Bannon, other pardon recipients included Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty last fall in a scheme to lobby the Trump administration to drop an investigation into the looting of a Malaysian wealth fund, and Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 20, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Biden should heed GOP advice on COVID-19 stimulus bill

President Joe Biden should take some advice from Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell on day one of his administration and reconsider his plan to send $1,400 checks to middle and low-income Americans. It could do more harm than good. Besides, a little bipartisan cooperation would be a nice change. Biden rolled out his American Rescue Plan last week and promised a top-up of the $600 checks that Congress approved in December. He would make good on President Donald Trump’s bid to give most Americans $2,000 to spend as they see fit. McConnell scuttled that plan as too generous. The Republican leader did not rule out additional aid to the unemployed, but he wanted a more targeted program that would not inject so much free cash into the economy. He has legitimate reasons to worry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a bifurcated economic crisis, exacerbating income and wealth inequality. Unemployment among the highest-earning Americans is less than 5 percent, while it has reached more than 20 percent for the lowest-earning Americans. While one in five Black and Hispanic families do not have enough food to eat, the booming financial and real estate markets have made well-to-do Americans even wealthier. “You won’t see this pain if your scorecard is how things are going on Wall Street,” Biden correctly observed. But financial markets are where an even greater danger is lurking for the economy and Biden’s presidency. Dozens of analysts, including some of the financial industry’s biggest names, warn that stock trading and real estate investing have created dangerous bubbles. U.S. financial assets are now six times larger than U.S. gross domestic product, Bank of America reported. There is no way corporate America is worth six times the total annual output of American goods and services. The typical stock price-to-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 Index, a broad measure of the U.S. market, is between 10 and 20. Massive buying drove that ratio up to 38 in October, a level only seen twice before, just before the Dot Com Bubble burst in 2002 and the Great Recession in 2008.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Texas Democrats fight to make this year’s Confederate Heroes Day the last

On Monday, the country celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. — an icon of the civil rights movement and a champion for racial equality. On Tuesday, Texans observed Confederate Heroes Day, a state holiday remembering Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders who fought in the Civil War to preserve slavery in the South. A group of Democratic state lawmakers is working to make this year’s Confederate Heroes Day the last.

“There is no reason to celebrate the Confederacy at all,” said state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston, at a Tuesday press conference condemning the holiday. “As the (Confederate) vice president proudly proclaimed, one of the cornerstones of the Confederacy was the enslavement of Black Americans. Its culture was rooted in white supremacy and runs rampant even today.” For nearly half a century, some state workers have taken a paid day off on Jan. 19, Lee’s birthday, to commemorate the holiday. It was created by the state Legislature in 1973 to combine separate days celebrating Lee and Davis. Past efforts to remove the holiday have been resisted by Republicans who strive to preserve the history of the Confederacy in Texas. The GOP controls both chambers of the state Legislature and the governor’s office. This year, Johnson has already introduced legislation in the state House of Representatives to remove the holiday from the calendar, with a companion bill also filed in the Senate. A second House bill, introduced by Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, has the same intent. “As Americans and as Texans, we must search out the remnants of the Confederate culture and strike them from our governance and our celebrations,” Johnson said.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

'This is not a peaceful protest': Two more Texans charged in Capitol riot

Two East Texas men were arrested Monday on federal charges after the FBI said it uncovered evidence that shows the men invading the U.S. Capitol with weapons on Jan. 6 alongside a crowd of violent pro-Trump rioters. Alex Kirk Harkrider, a 32-year-old from Carthage, and Ryan Taylor Nichols, a 30-year-old resident of Longview, posed for a selfie in front of the U.S. Capitol, a sea of fellow rioters clutching Trump flags behind them, with the caption "We're in." Nichols posted that photo and others on Facebook. Acting on tips from two people, FBI agents used the pair's extensive social media posts and other photo and video evidence to outline their participation in the riot.

Harkrider is charged with conspiracy and unlawful entry with a dangerous weapon, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol ground and aiding and abetting, according to a criminal complaint filed Sunday in U.S. District Court. Nichols faces the same charges, plus civil disorder and assault on a federal officer using a deadly or dangerous weapon. Nichols brought a bullhorn and crowbar to the riot, federal officials said, while Harkrider wore a tactical vest under his jacket and carried a baton. The men were at one point standing on a ledge outside a smashed window they believed to be Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office. According to video reviewed by the FBI, Nichols can be heard yelling, "If you have a weapon, you need to get your weapon!” and "This is the second revolution right here folks! This is not a peaceful protest." Dozens of people pushed their way into the Capitol building in that vicinity around the same time, according to the affidavit.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Student sues Rice University, demands refund over online learning during COVID

A Rice University student, unhappy about paying full tuition for an online education during the COVID-19 pandemic, is demanding a refund. Undergraduate student Anna Seballos and her lawyers filed a lawsuit against Rice Jan. 11, stating that the private college touted and promised an “unconventional culture” and college experience, complete with in-person courses and opportunities, but breached its contract by failing to provide those services. The university, however, still charged students full price, the lawsuit says.

“Plaintiff and the members of the Class have all paid for tuition for a first-rate education and on-campus, in-person educational experiences, with all the appurtenant benefits offered by a first-rate university. Instead, students like plaintiff were provided a materially different and insufficient alternative, which constitutes a breach of the contracts entered into by plaintiff with the University,” Seballos’ attorneys wrote. The university does not comment on pending litigation, a Rice spokesman said in an email to the Houston Chronicle. Seballos’ lawyerss did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Listed on the suit as representation are the Edwards Law Group, Leeds Brown Law, and the Sultzer Law Group. The suit is filed on behalf of all students who also paid tuition and/or fees to attend Rice in-person during terms affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Spring 2020. The lawsuit alleges that more than 7,100 students attended Rice during the 2019-2020 academic year. Rice shifted its courses fully online in March at the beginning of the pandemic in the Houston area and offered a mix of in-person, online and hybrid courses in the fall to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But, the lawsuit alleges, the offerings did not compare to in-person courses, experiences and opportunities the university promised or contractually agreed to through various documents and materials provided to students, including the website, marketing and registration materials, acceptance letters, course catalog and listings, bills and invoices, and the student handbook.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Eclectic mix of Texans featured in Biden's inauguration events

A nun from the Rio Grande Valley, a soccer champion from North Texas, a mariachi band from the border, and a psychedelic soul band from Austin are among an eclectic mix of Texans scheduled to be part of President Joe Biden’s inauguration events this week. It starts later today when The Texas Southern University debate team; actress Eva Longoria, a Corpus Christi native; and Mariachi Nuevo Santander from Roma High School in the Rio Grande Valley are all part of virtual programming aimed at honoring diversity in advance of the inauguration on Wednesday.

The Texas Southern University debate team and Georgia political activist Stacey Abrams, who earned a master's degree from the University of Texas, are part of a program called We Are One aimed at celebrating the Black community with an emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Abrams graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta before attending UT in Austin. The program, which starts at 7 p.m., includes Vice President Kamala Harris, who will be the first graduate of an HBCU to ever serve in that office. Harris graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. At 8:30 p.m., The Latino Inaugural 2021 starts up and will include Longoria and a performance from the mariachi group, a past contender on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, where it performed Jon Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Houston police officer charged in connection to Capitol insurrection

The former officer who resigned from the Houston Police Department amid accusations that he entered the U.S. Capitol building with a violent mob has been charged, with federal agents saying in court records that he deleted photos from his phone and lied to investigators. Tam Pham, of Richmond, was charged Tuesday in connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection after federal agents reviewed deleted photos on his phone showing him inside the Capitol building. According to charging papers, federal agents went to Pham’s Fort Bend County home last week and questioned him on his Washington D.C. visit.

The 18-year veteran of HPD said he went to Washington D.C. for business reasons and attended a rally in support of President Donald Trump. He initially denied having entered the Capitol building but a review of Pham’s phone suggested otherwise. A special agent opened an album dedicated to deleted images and found photos of Pham inside the Rotunda. “It’s pretty easy to show he was there,” said Kenneth Magidson, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “The question is what else did he do besides entering the building … That's probably what they're doing with all these cases. These are all questions that have to be answered.” A special agent warned Pham that it was illegal to lie to them and Pham then revealed more about his East Coast trip.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Biden’s immigration plan would give path to citizenship to 1.7 million Texans

Just after being sworn in on Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden plans to propose a major immigration overhaul that would offer a pathway to citizenship to up to 1.7 million Texans who are in the country without legal authorization. The proposal, which Biden is expected to send to Congress on his inauguration day, would create an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., more than 500,000 of whom live in Harris and Bexar counties, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Those who qualify would be granted a green card after five years and could apply for citizenship three years later.

The plan would create a faster track for those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — more than 106,000 Texans as of June — and with temporary protected status, who could apply immediately for a green card. A Biden transition official on Tuesday confirmed the outline of the plan, which was first reported by the Washington Post. The move positions immigration reform as a top priority for the new president, beyond tackling the coronavirus, for which Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief package. Democrats’ slim control of Congress, meanwhile, puts a spotlight on Texas Republicans, especially U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who campaigned last year on his support for the DACA program. Democrats control the House, where a majority could pass Biden’s proposal, but they will need to build support from at least 10 Republican senators for it to get to Biden’s desk. Immigration advocates have cheered the proposal and some experts say they’re more optimistic than they’ve been in years about the prospects of such a comprehensive overhaul. Still, a deal on immigration has eluded Congress for decades and Biden’s proposal was already drawing resistance from the Senate’s most conservative members on Tuesday. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri stopped an effort to fast-track Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, citing the president-elect’s “amnesty plan for 11 million immigrants.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Some Texas school districts don’t want to show Biden’s inauguration live to students

The Trump presidency forced schools to grapple with how to craft history lessons in real time — whether they be about impeachment, insurrection or incitement. In the final moments of the chaotic Trump era, Texas school leaders must decide how they’ll address the beginning of the Biden administration. While some districts’ officials are encouraging teachers to watch with their students as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn in, others are telling them to refrain from showing live footage in class.

Plano ISD administrators, for example, have decided not to livestream the inauguration ceremony to students, while Keller ISD is allowing parents to excuse their children from watching it. And in Southlake’s Carroll ISD, teachers are asked only to turn on the broadcast if it directly relates to their class subject matter. Julie Thannum, Carroll’s assistant superintendent for board and community relations, said that the principals were told last week that if the inauguration was going to be shown to a class, “it should tie back” to the state’s curriculum standards. “It shouldn’t just be shown live in classrooms where the presidential inauguration doesn’t align with a course syllabus or scope and sequence,” such as in a math or art class, Thannum said. University of North Texas professor Amanda Vickery said it’s important for all students to witness a peaceful transfer of power, especially after pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop Biden’s presidency from moving forward. The ceremony Wednesday also will be the first time a woman of color takes her place as vice president. Vickery said the inauguration is a chance for young girls to see themselves reflected in that powerful post.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Plano Republican in Texas House calls secession bill ‘anti-American’

A bill Fredericksburg Republican Rep. Kyle Biedermann plans to file that would allow Texas to vote on reestablishing itself as an independent nation received pushback from Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who called the bill “anti-American” and a waste of time. In December, Biedermann took to Twitter to announce his plan to introduce the “Texas Independence Referendum Act,” saying, “The federal government is out of control and doesn’t represent the values of Texans. That is why I am committing to file legislation that will allow a referendum to give Texans a vote for the State of Texas to reassert its status as an independent nation. #Texit”

Just over one month later, Biedermann’s bill received social media backlash from Leach, who called it a “ridiculously outrageous waste of time” on Twitter. “It’s a joke and should be treated as such,” Leach’s tweet continued. “Yes, I have concerns for our Nation. But I still believe in the promise of America — and the vast majority of Texans do too!” Biedermann replied to the tweet asking, “so I’m guessing you won’t be co-authoring the Texas Independence bill I’ll be filing tomorrow?” Leach replied once more, saying the bill seems like the “most anti-American” bill he’s seen in his four-plus terms in the Texas House. “It’s a disgrace to the Lone Star State,” Leach’s tweet said. “The very definition of seditious. A true embarrassment. And you should be ashamed of yourself for filing it.” In a comment to The Dallas Morning News, Biedermann questioned the reasoning behind Leach’s comments about a bill that he hasn’t seen yet.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Gov. Abbott blasts vetting national guard members ahead of inauguration as offensive, disrespectful

Gov. Greg Abbott used the words “offensive” and “disrespectful” in a tweet to describe the additional vetting of the 25,000 National Guard members on hand for the inauguration as U.S. defense officials attempt to erase any potential for an insider attack when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in Wednesday. “This is the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard,” Abbott said in his Monday night post. “No one should ever question the loyalty or professionalism of the Texas National Guard. I authorized more than 1,000 to go to DC. I’ll never do it again if they are disrespected like this.” With the inauguration landing just two weeks to the day after the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead, the FBI is working to identify ties to potentially violent groups or extremists by vetting every service member on duty in Washington D.C.

By Tuesday afternoon, The Associated Press reported that 12 U.S. National Guard members were removed from their inauguration duties. Two were removed for making extremist statements via posts or texts regarding Wednesday’s inauguration, according to Pentagon officials. The AP also reported that all 12 members either had ties to right-wing militia groups or posted extremist views online. No specific unit or groups have been reported, but two U.S. Army officials told The AP that there was no threat to President Elect Joe Biden. Sen. Donna Campbell, a Republican from New Braunfels, seconded Abbott’s remarks on Twitter saying, “questioning the loyalty of our service members is certainly a new low.” While Abbott’s comments are garnering praise from some, they are also met with criticism from others who note the contrast between the tweet and his handling of Operation Jade Helm in 2015. Jade Helm 15 was a routinely planned eight-week military training exercise-turned-fiasco that former CIA director Michael Hayden later called an early example of Russian efforts to spread misinformation in the country. Jade Helm 15 was set to begin in Texas and six other states on July 15. Before the training got off the ground, though, conspiracy theories made some Texans worried that it was an exercise to impose martial law in the state. Then, Abbott called on the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercise, a move meant to ease worried Texans. But his actions were interpreted by others as providing a megaphone for the conspiracy theories.

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Dallas Morning News - January 20, 2021

Unifier or foil: Joe Biden ushers in new era for Texas Democrats, Republicans

Texas Democrats and Republicans view Joe Biden’s inauguration as president with optimism and caution. With control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Democrats hope Biden can produce a litany of policies — from bringing the country out of the pandemic, improving access to health care, pushing economic equality and weaning the nation off fossil fuels. “For Texans, if nothing else, when we need it, we will lower the rhetoric and lower the tension,” said Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor and former U.S. trade representative under President Barack Obama. “The most important thing is that you’re going to have a president that is laser-focused on getting control of this pandemic and passing a stimulus bill to get us back to work.”

Biden and Kamala Harris, the Vice President-elect, will be sworn in Wednesday in a heavily fortified U.S. Capitol. Republicans are taking a wait-and-see attitude about Biden, noting that he campaigned as a moderate, but has pressure from the progressive left of his party. They will bristle at proposals that will kill Texas jobs or move politics to the far left. “There’s health care and transportation,” said Dave Carney, the chief political strategist for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “There are a lot of issues that 50 states and the federal government need to work on, regardless of what the Congress is doing. But it’s going to become difficult if they insist on their progressive agenda.” The federal government and Texas have different political realities. Democrats rode a movement against outgoing President Donald Trump to win the White House and the Senate while holding control of the House. But Republicans are in firm control of Texas. It’s a similar dynamic to the start of 2009, when Barack Obama was inaugurated president and Democrats had control of the House and Senate. In Texas, Republicans controlled the Legislature and governor’s office. They used Obama as a foil to increase their majorities. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Democrats lost 13 governorships and 816 state legislative seats during the Obama years, the largest fumble since President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Will Biden stop the public health order that has turned away migrants nearly 400,000 times?

Ana Sorto clutched the gray metal fencing around the migrant camp here at the muddy banks of the Rio Grande. She’s been waiting 17 months to be admitted into the U.S. as an asylum-seeker fleeing gangs. Her small son, Jimmy Alejandro, has spent nearly half his life in the tent camp. Her fresh hope, she says, is a man named Joe Biden. “We’re hopeful President Biden will show us some humanity,” said Sorto as her son, dressed in three pairs of pants on a chilly day, played with a toy. Biden is unveiling a sweeping immigration proposal for Congress. Other policies will be quickly implemented with the stroke of his pen. The promises of the Biden administration are expansive, but there’s little mention of the thorniest of issues:

The biggest challenge for Biden is the lethal COVID-19 pandemic. And President Donald Trump has used the pandemic to implement a sweeping emergency measure that has resulted in nearly 400,000 rapid “expulsions” of immigrants at the border since March. Immigrants cross the border, are held by authorities and then quickly sent south again often within hours. The pandemic has allowed Trump to almost completely choke off immigration, including migration from asylum-seekers. Immigration, civil rights and medical groups are pushing the Biden team to swiftly lift the so-called “Title 42” public health order that has added to the crippling of the asylum process. Lawyers say it end-runs the legal processes of the immigration courts, and a physicians group notes that it cruelly singles out certain immigrants, rather than all travelers. The policy may also have created a huge revolving door: Many immigrants who cross into the U.S. and are quickly sent back across the border feel they have no choice but to try again and again. “It’s so discriminatory and egregious to single out a much smaller group of asylum-seekers, who are not any more risk to US public health than in any other category of people,” said Kathryn Hampton, an asylum specialist with Physicians for Human Rights, who noted the uneven application of the emergency order. The medical group supports lifting the order.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Gian-Claudia Sciara and Andrew Waxman: It’s time for electric vehicles to pay their share for Texas highways

(Gian-Claudia Sciara is an assistant professor of community and regional planning at the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. Andrew Waxman is an assistant professor of economics and public policy at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.) Texas House Bill 427 proposes a constructive adjustment to state transportation funding. Lawmakers would be remiss not to make it. The bill would establish an annual fee, in addition to registration, for electric ($200) and hybrid ($100) vehicles. The fee boosts state transportation revenue somewhat in the near term, but the long-term significance is far greater given the seismic changes underway in how we get around. It takes about $6 billion each year to keep Texas moving. That’s how much the Texas Department of Transportation spends on the most conventional highway projects in the state’s transportation improvement program, and the cost multiplies quickly when nontraditional road projects, operating costs for the department, and metropolitan and rural transit systems are included.

Per-gallon motor fuel taxes paid by road users historically have covered a good chunk of those highway costs. But the state gas tax has been stuck at 20 cents per gallon for 30 years. Gas tax revenue also cannot keep pace with vehicle use and rising highway construction costs. As cars and trucks grow more fuel efficient and electric vehicles become more popular, per-gallon tax collections shrink relative to miles driven on Texas roads. Ideally, legislators would raise the state gas tax to answer these trends. Instead, they won approval to divert state sales tax and oil and natural gas production (severance) tax revenues to supplement road funding. Those taxes are not road user fees, and both support other important public purposes including K-12 education, the rainy day fund, and general fund expenditures such as health and human services. The bill, introduced by state Rep. Ken King of Hemphill, will help to recoup infrastructure costs from hybrid and electric vehicle drivers who currently pay little or no gas taxes. Projected near-term revenues are about $55 million, according to the Legislative Budget Board, but that number will grow with Texas’ electric vehicles usage. In mid-2022, the Ford F-150 — one of Texans’ favorite vehicles — will hit the market in electric form, and Tesla’s Gigafactory could produce cars before year’s end.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 19, 2021

Ken Herman: State panel nixes call to abolish Holocaust and Genocide Commission, revises plan for Texas Racing Commission

have a couple of updates today about the futures of two state agencies that have drawn unfavorable scrutiny during the sunset review process that leads to potential legislative overhauls. For differing reasons, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission staff, which does close scrutiny of agencies up for the periodic sunset review by lawmakers, had recommended major changes at the Texas Racing Commission (TRC) and the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. At TRC, the problems stemmed largely from the problems faced by the state’s struggling pari-mutuel racing industry. Once projected to be a big moneymaker for the state, horse and dog racing have disappointed. In fact, the last greyhound track in Texas closed last year. So the sunset staff recommended folding the now-independent Texas Racing Commission (appointed by the governor) into the Texas Department of Agriculture, where Ag Commish Sid Miller has said he’d be pleased to oversee it.

But at its Jan. 13 meeting, the Sunset Advisory Commission, chaired by Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, opted to, as we say, go in another direction. And that direction is moving the Racing Commission under the aegis of the State Comptroller’s Office. Nothing personal against Miller, Cyrier told me. “Don’t get me wrong. There are people (who) bring up our commissioner,” he said. “But for me, and for what I remind others, especially representing a rural district in rural Texas, I remind people how important our ag department is. And so, that we need to be focused on the department and not the current commissioner.” Back in 2019, the Legislature stripped Miller of his fuel pump regulatory authority, which means he no longer has his name on stickers on every fuel pump in the state (including all those ones at Buc-ee’s, which I’m happy to report, recently announced its empire will again expand this month with a second location in Alabama). “I thought the staff report was right and that the Racing Commission needs some work, needs some help and needs some oversight,” Cyrier said, noting that Comptroller Glenn Hegar, because of the office he holds, has been an ex-officio member of the Racing Commission.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 19, 2021

Austin group says it has enough signatures to get homeless camping ban on May ballot

After failing last year to reinstate the city's homeless camping ban, an Austin group says it has collected the required number of petition signatures to bring the issue before voters in May. Save Austin Now says it turned in more than 27,000 signatures to the city clerk Tuesday, continuing its push to overturn a 2019 Austin City Council vote that repealed the city's public camping ordinance. The signatures still must be validated by the clerk's office to verify that at least 20,000 of them came from registered voters living in the city. Save Austin Now says it validated 24,000 signatures that it turned in and did not attempt to validate another 3,000. It discarded 3,000 others it could not validate.

If approved by the clerk, language that would allow voters to reinstate the camping ban would go on the May 1 ballot. "Residents should be able to walk to a park, or to school, or to their car without being accosted or feeling unsafe," Save Austin Now co-founder Cleo Petricek said in a written statement. "Our city leaders have not listened to the residents. Now residents can have their voice heard. We all want a safe city and we all should demand a safe neighborhood. Restoring the camping ban will save our city.” The city's laws that govern camping by people experiencing homelessness have been a divisive issue that, to this point, has not involved direct input from voters. In repealing the camping ban in June 2019, nine of the city's 11 council members took the position that it was unjust to punish people living on the street on the basis they cannot afford shelter. Getting a citation and a fine for sleeping in public only deepens an individual's financial pain, the council members reasoned. Council Members Alison Alter and Kathie Tovo voted against lifting the camping ban.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 20, 2021

Will U.S. Rep. Kay Granger’s endorsement influence the race for Fort Worth mayor?

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, a former Fort Worth mayor, has dipped into local politics again, endorsing Councilman Brian Byrd on Tuesday for mayor. Granger’s backing of Byrd, a physician and councilman, is the first major endorsement of a candidate in the crowded 2021 race for mayor. Granger, the first woman to hold Fort Worth’s highest office, was mayor from 1991 to 1995 before being elected to Congress. Voters will choose a replacement for Mayor Betsy Price on May 1. “With his years of experience in business, medicine and on the City Council, he is the most qualified and is ready to lead our city,” Granger said in a prepared statement that Byrd’s campaign issued. “He will be a great Mayor and I look forward to working with him.”

Mattie Parker, a longtime Republican, Democrat Deborah Peoples and Councilwoman Ann Zadeh are also running. Chris Rector and Mike Haynes have also filed in the election. Whether the endorsement will boost Byrd’s campaign above the other five candidates currently vying for mayor remains to be seen, said James Riddlesperger, a TCU professor familiar with Tarrant County politics. “The politics of endorsement don’t usually make that much difference,” he said. Granger’s endorsement of Byrd may help him raise funds and support from those who have backed Granger in the past, Riddlesperger said. It may also draw undecided voters to him if they previously voted for Granger. Rick Barnes, chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party, said he wasn’t aware of the endorsement until a reporter called for comment. Barnes said he thought it was too early in the election cycle to support a specific candidate, but the county party may deliver an endorsement after filing ends Feb. 12. While the nonpartisan race for mayor has grown increasingly polarized in recent years, Riddlesperger said the endorsement may have more to do with personal relationships than party politics. Peoples is Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairwoman. “In local politics it’s often the politics of personal relationships,” he said, adding that an endorsement of one candidate may not be a rejection of others.

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Casper Star-Tribune - January 19, 2021

Wyoming GOP chair: Western states 'paying attention' to Texas effort to secede

The chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party on Friday said Western states are “paying attention” to the effort by some in Texas’ far-right to try to secede from the United States. Appearing on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast last week to discuss Rep. Liz Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump, Eathorne made the comment in response to a Bannon question about what conservatives should keep in mind in light of their movement’s recent political losses. “We need to focus on the fundamentals,” Eathorne said on the broadcast, which was recently banned by YouTube for peddling misinformation about the 2020 election. “We are straight talking, focused on the global scene, but we’re also focused at home. Many of these Western states have the ability to be self-reliant, and we’re keeping eyes on Texas too, and their consideration of possible secession. They have a different state constitution than we do as far as wording, but it’s something we’re all paying attention to.”

After a Star-Tribune reporter reached out for comment, Eathorne said the idea has not been a topic discussed by the Wyoming GOP. “Only a brief conversation with the Texas GOP in earlier work with them,” Eathorne wrote in the text. “Won’t come up again unless the grass roots brings it up.” Bannon, who earlier in the program said that the populist, nationalist, conservative movement “is what people want,” pushed back on Eathorne’s statement, saying that as a native of Richmond, Virginia — the heart of the Confederacy — he was completely against any sort of secession. However, Bannon followed that statement by saying he would be open to talking about it further with Eathorne on a future program. A 15-year-old fringe right-wing movement in the Lone Star State called “Texit” suggests it is not illegal for individual states to leave the United States — an occurrence that has not happened since the lead-up to the American Civil War. Suggestions of secession have come up before. A week after the 2012 presidential election, nearly 700,000 Americans from all 50 states signed 69 petitions through the White House’s online petition system calling for the country to consider allowing states to peacefully secede from the United States — an opinion shared by one-quarter of Republican voters at the time, according to one 2012 poll. California once saw a fringe, left-wing movement to secede gain some momentum, and in 2017, Oklahoma state Sen. Joseph Silk introduced a bill seeking to remove the word “inseparable” from the sentence in the state constitution describing Oklahoma as “an inseparable part of the Federal Union.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 19, 2021

San Antonio mayor’s race off to slow start as campaign dollars trickle in amid coronavirus pandemic

The rematch between San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and challenger Greg Brockhouse is off to a slow fundraising start as both sides said they felt awkward asking for campaign contributions while COVID-19 pummeled the region and battered the local economy. Nirenberg raised a relatively paltry $85,000 in the last six months of 2020, campaign finance filings released Friday evening show. At the end of last year, the two-term mayor sat on a war chest of $61,000 — less than a quarter of what he had at the outset of his first match-up with Brockhouse two years ago. At this time in the 2019 election, Nirenberg had brought more than $190,000 into his campaign coffers and had nearly $279,000 on hand.

Brockhouse, meanwhile, had nothing in his campaign accounts at the end of December — no contributions, no spending, no cash left over but a $17,000 loan. The former city councilman — who expects to formally declare his candidacy for mayor by the end of the month — had roughly $15,000 in his piggy bank at the same time in the last mayoral race. Though Nirenberg and Brockhouse seemed not to agree on anything in 2019’s bitter campaign, both men seemed to think actively pursuing campaign dollars last year wouldn’t look good given the pandemic’s economic devastation. “Honestly, we just didn’t feel that it was appropriate to be asking for donations in an aggressive manner during a pandemic,” said Gilberto Ocañas, Nirenberg’s chief political consultant and chairman of his re-election campaign. Ditto for Brockhouse. “Asking people for money in December, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, in the middle of a pandemic is just bad form,” Brockhouse said. But neither side seemed nervous about their finances as they said they’ve slowly ramped up fundraising in January.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 19, 2021

Tarrant County teams with UNT Health Science Center to expand COVID-19 vaccinations

Tarrant County officials agreed Tuesday to work with UNT Health Science Center officials to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination efforts, especially in minority communities. The partnership comes after the county has struggled to vaccinate minority communities. About 4% of Black people and about 5% of Hispanic or Latino people have been vaccinated, according to county data. The UNT Health Science Center plan is to expand vaccination sites through drive-thrus, schools and churches. It will also look for partnerships with health care organizations, clinics and schools, but no specifics were provided.

Officials will target minority communities and want to establish a call center to handle the massive amount of calls the county has received. They will also search for more staff to vaccinate more people. County Judge Glen Whitley said while he likes the plan, he wants drive-thru and mobile sites set up as soon as possible. He fears if this plan is established throughout the next several weeks, the county will be sitting on vaccines that could otherwise be given out.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 19, 2021

Dozens test positive for COVID-19 as virus reaches general population of Travis County jails

Dozens of Travis County jail inmates and employees tested positive for COVID-19 last week, as the virus has been determined to be in the jail's general population, the Travis County sheriff's office said. A total of 39 inmates and 22 county employees have tested positive for the coronavirus in the sheriff's latest update. The sheriff's office reports coronavirus numbers every Monday.

Inmates who tested positive live in Building 12 at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle. The building houses nearly 1,000 inmates, the sheriff's office said. Last year, the sheriff's office began screening inmates entering the jail system for COVID-19. Incoming inmates who tested positive were quarantined away from other residents and the sheriff's office installed plexiglass barriers, employee screening stations and hand sanitizer and other hygiene efforts. "Additional hand sanitizer stations were added in common areas such as hallways. Inmates are also issued PPE and are required to wear masks and practice social distancing when in common areas. (Sheriff's office) medical professionals knew it wasn’t a foolproof method but was as close as the agency could get," the sheriff's office said in a written statement. As of Tuesday, 37 inmates are in quarantine and 1,173 are in isolation. A total of 43 inmates who are confirmed to have COVID-19 are being quarantined, as well. The county's jail population on Tuesday was 1,870.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Owner says financial woes, creditor responsible for Heights Hospital lockout

The owners of Heights Hospital said a third-party management company, hired by a creditor, is behind a lockout that has left doctors caring for patients and performing COVID-19 tests in a parking lot. The lockout appears related to the default on a $28 million construction loan by 1917 Heights Hospital, a subsidiary of AMD Global, a Houston commercial real estate company that bought Heights Hospital in 2017. Dharmesh Patel, chief executive at AMD Global, said Tuesday that his company had not given permission to the creditor, Arbitra Capital Partners of Nevada, to bar its tenants from accessing their offices and clinical spaces. “The owners of 1917 Heights Hospital real estate do not condone that acts of Arbitra, which have caused an interruption of necessary medical services to the community in Houston,” Patel said Tuesday.

Patel said the loan on the building at 1917 Ashland Street was due at the end of 2020. During negotiations to extend the loan and not evict tenants, the lender sold the note to Arbitra, Patel said. Arbitra filed a suit in Harris County court on Jan. 8 in connection to the loan, asking for more than $3 million in accrued interest from Patel and James Robert Day, a former Heights Hospital executive, who had guaranteed the payments, according to court documents. The lawsuit also alleged “that 1917 Heights Hospital has failed to pay crucial management and maintenance expenses for this property, including invoices for utilities, elevator repair and even property insurance — and that as a result insurance has been canceled.” Arbitra then hired a third party, Tidal Management Company, to lock out tenants, Patel said. But the problem is the doctors were not responsible for back rents for office and clinical spaces that Arbitra claims it is owed, Patel said. Arbitra and Tidal Management did not respond to requests for comment.

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National Stories

CNN - January 19, 2021

12 Army National Guard members removed from inauguration duty

Twelve Army National Guard members have been removed from inauguration duty in Washington, DC, as part of the security vetting process initiated, in part, to ensure troops tasked with securing Wednesday's ceremony in the nation's capital do not have ties to extremist groups, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau said Tuesday. Two of the individuals were flagged due to "inappropriate" comments and texts, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told reporters after a defense official told CNN earlier Tuesday that they were removed over possible links to extremists.

The other 10 Guard members were removed for questionable behavior found in the vetting process, Hokanson said, emphasizing that this does not necessarily mean they have ties to extremists, but simply that they were "identified" and removed from service "out of an abundance of caution." "I'm not concerned as a large part of our organization, if you look at 25,000, we've had 12 identified and some of those they are just looking into, it may be unrelated to this, but we want to make sure out of an abundance of caution as I stated earlier that we do the right thing until that gets cleared up," he told reporters. The news comes as there are now approximately 25,000 National Guard troops on the ground in Washington, DC, according to spokesman Major Aaron Thacker. The nation's capital is on edge ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. While much of Washington has been shut down following the deadly riot at the US Capitol on January 6, defense officials have sought to reassure the public that the troops sent to protect the inauguration are being fully vetted.

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Associated Press - January 20, 2021

Trump revokes ethics order barring former aides from lobbying

President Donald Trump, in one of his final acts of office, released current and former members of his administration from the terms of their ethics pledge, which included a five-year ban on lobbying their former agencies. The ethics pledge was outlined in one of Trump’s first executive orders, signed on Jan. 28, 2017, as part of his campaign pledge to “drain the swamp.” It required Trump’s political appointees to agree to the lobbying ban, as well as pledge not to undertake work that would require them to register as a “foreign agent” after leaving government. Trump’s order authorized the attorney general to investigate any breaches of the ethics pledge and to pursue civil suits if necessary.

Trump signed the one-page revocation of the order on Tuesday, and it was released by the White House shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday, hours before his term ends. The new order states: “Employees and former employees subject to the commitments in Executive Order 13770 will not be subject to those commitments after noon January 20, 2021.” President Bill Clinton signed a similar order with weeks left on his final term, allowing former aides to go directly into lobbying after leaving his administration.

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Associated Press - January 19, 2021

Trump wishes new administration luck in farewell video

Trying to repair his tarnished legacy, President Donald Trump trumpeted his administration’s accomplishments and wished his successor luck in a farewell video as he spent his final full day in office preparing to issue a flurry of pardons in a near-deserted White House, surrounded by an extraordinary security presence outside. “This week we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous,” Trump said in the video “farewell address,” released by the White House less than 24 hours before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. “We extend our best wishes. And we also want them to have luck — a very important word.” Trump, who spent months trying to delegitimize Biden’s win with baseless allegations of mass voter fraud, repeatedly refenced the “next administration,” but declined to utter Biden’s name. Many of Trump’s supporters continue to believe the election was stolen from him, even though a long list of judges, Republican state officials and even Trump’s own government have said there is no evidence to support that claim.

Trump was also expected to spend his final hours granting clemency to as many as 100 people, according to two people briefed on the plans. The list of pardons and commutations is expected to include names unfamiliar to the American public — regular people who have spent years languishing in prison — as well as politically connected friends and allies like those he’s pardoned in the past. Trump in his address tried to cast his presidency as a triumph for everyday people as he highlighted what he sees as his top achievements, including efforts to normalize relations in the Middle East, the development of coronavirus vaccinations and the creation of a new Space Force. And he tried to defend the endless controversies that have consumed the last four years as justified. “As President, my top priority, my constant concern, has always been the best interests of American workers and American families,” he said. “I did not seek the easiest course; by far, it was actually the most difficult. I did not seek the path that would get the least criticism. I took on the tough battles, the hardest fights, the most difficult choices because that’s what you elected me to do.”

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The Hill - January 19, 2021

Trump stock performance falls short of Obama, Clinton

President Trump is closing out his time in office with a significant increase in the stock market, but has fallen short of stock gains seen under predecessors former Presidents Obama and Clinton. From Trump's inauguration day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose from 19,827 to 30,930 on Tuesday, a 56 percent increase. That increase is below the 73.2 percent rise the Dow saw in Obama's first term, or the 105.8 percent increase under Clinton's first term.

A similar trend was true for the S&P 500, which gained 67.8 percent under Trump, rising from 2,263 to 3,799. It gained 84.5 percent in Obama's first term, and 79.2 percent in Clinton's first term. The sole exception in the past three decades has been former President George W. Bush, who saw the Dow fall 3.7 percent and the S&P fall 12.5 percent in his first four years in office. The figure will be unwelcome news to Trump, who frequently touted the stock market's performance as a sign of his economic acumen and business-minded policies. The outgoing president still highlighted the market in a farewell address Tuesday. "The stock market set one record after another, with 148 stock market highs during this short period of time, and boosted the retirements and pensions of hardworking citizens all across our nation," he said, adding that 401(k)s reached new highs.

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The Hill - January 19, 2021

Trump's '1776 Report' released on MLK Day receives heavy backlash

The 1776 Report — written by the commission ordered by President Trump in response to The New York Times’s 1619 Project — has received scathing rebukes from historians and civil rights groups since its release on Monday, a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Published in the waning hours of Trump’s presidency, the 45-page report goes after critical race theory, which asserts that racism has always been and continues to be inherently imbued within the institutions of America. “Donald Trump has always attempted to use a fictional version of the past to justify racist policies,” ReNika Moore, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, said in a statement.

“As such, it is only fitting that in the final days of his term as president, and on the day we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr., his administration released a report that pushes a white supremacist version of our nation’s history, justifies slavery as ‘more the rule than the exception throughout human history,’ and compares members of the opposing political party to fascist dictators,” Moore added. Boston University historian Ibram X. Kendi also pushed back on the report, saying in a series of tweets, “This report makes it seems as if … those espousing identity politics today resemble proslavery theorists like John C. Calhoun; that since the civil rights movement, Black people have been given 'privileges' and 'preferential treatment' in nearly every sector of society, which is news to Black people.” The report argues that Americans must “stand up to the petty tyrants in every sphere who demand that we speak only of America’s sins while denying her greatness” while not “ignoring the faults in our past.” “[A]ll Americans must reject false and fashionable ideologies that obscure facts, ignore historical context, and tell America’s story solely as one of oppression and victimhood rather than one of imperfection but also unprecedented achievement toward freedom, happiness, and fairness for all,” it goes on to state.

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ProPublica - January 20, 2021

“Sense of entitlement”: Rioters faced few consequences invading state capitols. No wonder they turned to the U.S. Capitol next.

The gallery in the Idaho House was restricted to limited seating on the first day of a special session in late August. Lawmakers wanted space to socially distance as they considered issues related to the pandemic and the November election. But maskless protesters shoved their way past Idaho State Police troopers and security guards, broke through a glass door and demanded entry. They were confronted by House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican. He decided to let them in and fill the gallery. “You guys are going to police yourselves up there, and you’re going to act like good citizens,” he told the invaders, according to a YouTube video of the incident. “I just thought that, on balance, it would be better to let them go in and defuse it ... rather than risk anyone getting hurt or risk tearing up anything else,” Bedke said of the protesters in an interview last week. He said he talked to cooler heads in the crowd “who saw that it was a situation that had gotten out of control, and I think on some level they were very apologetic.”

That late-summer showdown inside the Statehouse in Boise on Aug. 24 showed supporters of President Donald Trump how they could storm into a seat of government to intimidate lawmakers with few if any repercussions. The state police would say later that they could not have arrested people without escalating the potential for violence and that they were investigating whether crimes were committed. No charges have been filed. The next day, anti-government activist Ammon Bundy and two others were arrested when they refused to leave an auditorium in the Statehouse and another man was arrested when he refused to leave a press area. In a year in which state governments around the country have become flashpoints for conservative anger about the coronavirus lockdown and Trump’s electoral defeat, it was right-wing activists — some of them armed, nearly all of them white — who forced their way into state capitols in Idaho, Michigan and Oregon. Each instance was an opportunity for local and national law enforcement officials to school themselves in ways to prevent angry mobs from threatening the nation’s lawmakers. But it was Trump supporters who did the learning. That it was possible — even easy — to breach the seats of government to intimidate lawmakers. That police would not meet them with the same level of force they deployed against Black Lives Matter protesters. That they could find sympathizers on the inside who might help them. And they learned that criminal charges, as well as efforts to make the buildings more secure, were unlikely to follow their incursions. In the three cases, police made only a handful of arrests.

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Newsclips - January 19, 2021

Lead Stories

Associated Press - January 18, 2021

Texas reports 10,000 new COVID-19 cases, 46 more deaths

Texas reported more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and 46 more deaths from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The number of Texans hospitalized with COVID-19 rose from Sunday to 13,858 Monday. Coronavirus hospitalizations remain near their record high and intensive-care units in several regions are at or near capacity, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The department reported 10,110 more confirmed cases of the virus Monday, as well as 695 probable case. Over the last week, more than 17% of coronavirus tests have come back positive in Texas, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The state has recorded more than 2 million cases of the virus and more than 32,000 fatalities. The actual number of cases is believed to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested and some who get sick don’t show symptoms. More than 1 million Texans have received a dose of a coronavirus vaccine and more than 166,000 are fully vaccinated, according to health officials. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness and be fatal.

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Associated Press - January 18, 2021

Records: Trump allies behind rally that ignited Capitol riot

Members of President Donald Trump’s failed presidential campaign played key roles in orchestrating the Washington rally that spawned a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol, according to an Associated Press review of records, undercutting claims the event was the brainchild of the president’s grassroots supporters. A pro-Trump nonprofit group called Women for America First hosted the “Save America Rally” on Jan. 6 at the Ellipse, an oval-shaped, federally owned patch of land near the White House. But an attachment to the National Park Service public gathering permit granted to the group lists more than half a dozen people in staff positions for the event who just weeks earlier had been paid thousands of dollars by Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Other staff scheduled to be “on site” during the demonstration have close ties to the White House. Since the siege, several of them have scrambled to distance themselves from the rally. The riot at the Capitol, incited by Trump’s comments before and during his speech at the Ellipse, has led to a reckoning unprecedented in American history. The president told the crowd to march to the Capitol and that “you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” A week after the rally, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives, becoming the first U.S. president ever to be impeached twice. But the political and legal fallout may stretch well beyond Trump, who will exit the White House on Wednesday before Democrat Joe Biden takes the oath of office. Trump had refused for nearly two months to accept his loss in the 2020 election to the former vice president. Women for America First, which applied for and received the Park Service permit, did not respond to messages seeking comment about how the event was financed and about the Trump campaign’s involvement. The rally drew tens of thousands of people. In a statement, the president’s reelection campaign said it “did not organize, operate or finance the event.” No campaign staff members were involved in the organization or operation of the rally, according to the statement. It said that if any former employees or independent contractors for the campaign took part, “they did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 17, 2021

Here’s how Joe Biden’s climate plan could affect the oil and gas industry in Texas

President-elect Joe Biden has outlined an ambitious environmental agenda, centered around a goal of “transitioning away” from the fossil fuel industry. His proposals — from adopting tougher methane regulations to incentives for Americans to buy cars that do not run on gasoline — could have an outsized impact in Texas, which produces the most crude oil and natural gas in the country. In some respects, the writing has been on the wall when it comes to the future of environmental policy, and big oil and gas companies were contemplating their role in a net-zero carbon future before Biden’s election. But in Texas, where small, independent operators play a significant role in oil production, Biden’s policies could pack more of a punch.

“To the extent that there will be effects, those effects would be felt primarily by smaller producers,” said Sheila Olmstead, professor of public affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. She served as the senior economist for energy and the environment at the President's Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama. Biden’s stance on environmental issues is a complete reversal from the Trump administration and differs greatly from state policy in place in Texas, where oil and gas regulators are known for close ties to the industry they oversee and have pledged to push back against any new regulations that could burden the state’s producers. Concern from industry leaders has been heightened by the recent economic turmoil spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. The industry has started to bounce back and economists say they are cautiously optimistic about the pace of recovery, but some fear more aggressive regulations from the federal government could dampen those efforts. “It makes it more scary,” said Karr Ingham, consulting petroleum economist for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. “Some of the more politically charged statements out there are that the pandemic has created an opportunity to just continue down the path that we’re on, which is to say a smaller oil and gas business with fewer companies, fewer employees and fewer barrels being produced and so on and so forth. So yeah, it makes it a little more scary.”

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New York Times - January 18, 2021

Once a Trump-basher, Mexico’s leader misses him already

President Trump called Mexican migrants rapists, threatened his neighbor with a trade war, kicked tens of thousands of asylum seekers out of the country, built up the border wall and promised to make Mexico pay for it. Mexico’s president is a big fan. So profound is his appreciation that when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador finally got on the phone for the first time with President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. last month, he made a point of praising the departing president. “I must mention that we do have a very good relationship with the now president of your country, Mr. Donald Trump,” Mr. López Obrador said, according to two people with knowledge of the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. “Regardless of any other considerations, he respects our sovereignty.”

Concerned that Mr. Biden might be more inclined to meddle in Mexican affairs, Mr. López Obrador has spent the last several weeks preemptively poking the incoming administration in the eye. He was among the very last global leaders to congratulate Mr. Biden on his victory, insisting on waiting “until all the legal issues are resolved.” He recently signed a law gutting the ability of U.S. drug agents to act in Mexico. And then, out of nowhere, Mr. López Obrador offered Julian Assange asylum. His government also exonerated a former Mexican defense secretary charged with drug trafficking by American prosecutors, allegations the president said were “fabricated” by investigators who “did not act responsibly.” Behind all those perceived slights is a fear that the Democrats are more likely to intervene to promote labor rights and clean energy, getting in the way of Mr. López Obrador’s ambitious agenda at home, according to two officials in his government who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “It’s like a dog at the park: He’s gnashing his teeth and threatening you and growling in the hope that you won’t come close,” said Shannon O’Neil, a Mexico expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He’s trying to pre-emptively push back against engagement by the incoming Biden administration.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2021

‘Bigger at Home,’ Texas’ Black Tie & Boots inauguration ball goes virtual

Once every four years, Texans in Washington gather for a Texas-sized celebration for the president’s inauguration in a night filled with cowboy hats, quesadillas, teased hair and boots of all styles, but the Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball will look very different this year. In the past, the ball, hosted by the Texas State Society of Washington, has been a staple of the inaugural party season, with thousands of guests from Texas and beyond spending top-dollar to dine on Tex-Mex and hoe-down on the dance floor. Past guests have included President George W. Bush and University of Texas at Austin mascot Bevo.

“I love it because you see everybody from Texas,” former Dallas mayor and U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk said at the ball in 2013. “It’s as bipartisan as we get as a state. It’s all things Texas.” But Black Tie & Boots is going virtual this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it will be any less Texas-sized, said Ryan Thompson, chair of the event. The ball, dubbed “Bigger from Home,” shows you don’t have to be in a ballroom to party like a Texan. “This is still Texans celebrating their heritage, culture and history in Washington, with an event that precedes the inauguration of the next president,” Thompson said. The event kicks off the inaugural season on Tuesday, the night before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday. It is designed to “look and sound and feel like Texas,” and it will feature performers who highlight the best of the Lone Star State.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2021

Gromer Jeffers, Jr.: Here are 3 immediate goals for Joe Biden as he prepares to lead a nation in crisis

When Joe Biden is inaugurated Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States, he’ll face a nation torn by deep political and social divisions, and a coronavirus pandemic that has killed almost 400,000 Americans and hurt the economy. Biden’s challenges are more daunting than those faced by any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had to lead the nation through the Great Depression. Here are three things that Biden must tackle during the early days of his administration.

The last year of Trump’s administration was marred by the emergence of COVID-19. Thanks in part to Operation Warp Speed, there are now vaccines available to help bring the pandemic under control. But the distribution of the vaccines in many states has been troublesome, and more Americans are dying of COVID-19 than at any point of the pandemic. Biden’s first job is to fix problems with the distribution of the vaccine. The sooner Americans are inoculated, the sooner the economic and employment outlook will improve. So much of the current vaccination plan relies on state officials who aren’t qualified to run such a massive program. It would be nice to develop public-private partnerships to speed the process because since private industry is much better at supply chain management and other logistical issues.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

How Dallas Police Chief Eddie García is getting ready for his first day on the job

Before he moves to Texas and takes over as Dallas police chief, Eddie García has another task on his plate: To study. The goal: To be in uniform as soon as possible. García said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News that he’s studying for his Texas Commission of Law Enforcement exam — a mandatory certification in order for him to wear the uniform.

García’s hiring was announced in December after he beat six other finalists, including some internal candidates, for the job. García, who spent nearly five years as police chief in San Jose, Calif., is one of a handful of outside hires in recent history picked to lead the Dallas Police Department. His predecessor, U. Reneé Hall, also came from out of state, moving here from Detroit in 2017. She left the department at the end of December. To wear the uniform and make arrests in Dallas, García has to be certified in Texas. “I know it’s optics. But optics are important,” García said recently. “It is incredibly important for me to be in uniform. ... If you were to ask me, ‘What are my top three things?’ It’s up there.” The only time García has worn suits during his law enforcement career was when he worked in homicide. García came up through the ranks as a narcotics officer, SWAT sergeant, patrol watch lieutenant and captain over the department’s bureau of special investigations. He announced his retirement in August but left on Dec. 12. When the Dallas police chief job became open, the avid Cowboys fan saw a path to his dream job. García, who doesn’t officially begin until Feb. 3, said he’s working because he’s eager. Technically, García is not required to immediately take the TCOLE exam. The commission would allow García to serve as a civilian chief administrator for as long as a year, a spokeswoman said. “I’m a 50-year-old man but I got the energy of a 21-year-old,” said García, who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Union Institute and University.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

As Texas Lottery hits record sales, warnings sound amid economic hardships

Quincy Johnson slid a $10 bill across the counter at Timewise Food Store on Montrose Boulevard in exchange for a shot at winning millions — a chance he described as “one in a trillion.” “But you know, I’m OK with that,” the Austin resident said, filling in the bubbles with sentimental numbers. “I feel like everybody wants to have hope in something.” Months-long growth in Texas Lottery revenue culminated the first week of January when the state’s scratch ticket sales surpassed $133 million. The agency said it was an all-time weekly record that marked a 30% jump from the same time last year. Some of the lottery frenzy in recent days is tied to soaring jackpots for the Mega Millions and Powerball games, which drive up sales across the board, lottery officials said.

But a more concerning factor in lottery popularity exists too, said Les Bernal, director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a national nonprofit advocating against government-sanctioned gambling. “Many citizens gamble on the lottery to change their financial condition — they do it even more so when they’re feeling a sense of desperation,” Bernal said, adding that the state lottery is “exploiting that desperation by their relentless marketing.” In fact, there is a direct connection between a spike in Texas Lottery sales and the arrival of COVID-19 stimulus checks, Bernal said. The January spike in lottery sales mirrors a bump in April when the government distrubuted the first round of relief. Distribution of the second round of $600 stimulus checks — which was expected to be completed Friday — was the result of legislation aimed at helping Americans stay afloat amid record unemployment and crushing financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic prompted stay-at-home orders in mid-March, lottery ticket sales plummeted for three weeks, according to Gary Grief, executive director of Texas Lottery. But the agency’s scratch ticket sales began turning around in April. Nearly all of the 20,000 lottery retailers in the state were deemed essential businesses.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

With Biden in power, it’s a Lone(lier) Star state in Washington

For the past four years, walking into a federal building in the nation’s capital likely meant being greeted by a large, framed photo of a Texan. There was Rex Tillerson, from Wichita Falls, running the State Department after stepping down as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Former governor Rick Perry, now of Round Top, headed the Department of Energy. Brett Giroir, the former CEO of Texas Medical Health Center, led the government’s coronavirus testing regime as assistant secretary of health. While Susan Combs, a West Texas rancher, onetime romance novelist and former Texas comptroller, served as the assistant secretary of the Interior. And so on. But no more. President-elect Joe Biden has not named a single Texan to his cabinet, leaving Texans in the nation’s capital lonelier than they were four years ago.

“It was nice having friends just about everywhere,” said Larry Myers, a Washington lobbyist who grew up in the Texas panhandle, said of the past four years. “When you’re dealing with Texans, it’s easier to connect, chances are you have a mutual friend or mutual interest you can build a bridge around.” Not that the new administration is completely devoid of Texans. Emmy Ruiz, a 37-year-old political consultant from Austin will serve as White House director of political strategy and outreach. And with many mid- and lower-level roles still being filled, lesser known Texans have time to find their way into the administration. “It’s a little early yet, and some Texans may end up in deputy roles,” said a member of Biden’s transition team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about appointments. “But it’s not going to be like it was with Trump’s cabinet.” The spectacle of Texas power was on full display four years ago when the State Society of Texas held its Black Tie and Boots Ball the night before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, a see and be-seen event for any lobbyist or political donor from the Lone Star state - presuming they had the connections to score a ticket to the usually sold-out event. The mood that year was even more jubilant than usual. Not only was a cavalry of Texas Republicans on their way to Washington, but Houston’s own ZZ Top was playing, as cowboy booted-guests mingled around trays of barbecue beef and Tex-Mex. “It was a great, great party,” recounted Thomas Graham, the owner of an Austin public relations firm. “The thing with Trump, he did not come into office with lots of relationships in government. That benefited Texans because those Texans who were involved were influential.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

A Texas hotel group received $68 million in PPP loans. Other businesses waited weeks for $1.

During a brief window in the first round of business aid through the CARES Act, major hotel chains used networks of affiliated companies to draw tens of millions of dollars in low-interest loans, contributing to the quick depletion of the funds. The program’s initial $349 billion ran dry within 13 days, locking out many small businesses from the aid needed to keep workers employed, and the Small Business Administration recalibrated and imposed a $20 million limit on businesses owned by a single corporate entity. For many small businesses, however, the adjustment came too late, leaving them to struggle for weeks before Congress authorized more money for the program.

By the end of April, nearly a month after the Paycheck Protection Program launched, 40 percent of Houston-area small businesses who had applied for the loans had yet to receive them, according to a survey conducted by the Greater Houston Partnership, a business-financed economic development group. And when their loans were finally approved after Congress allocated more funding, some received only paltry sums. In Houston, 193 businesses received less than $800 each to keep employees on the payroll throughout the pandemic. One Jersey Village medical laboratory with 10 employees received $35. A chiropractor in the Lawndale neighborhood received $1. Dallas-based Omni Hotels & Resorts, on the other hand, applied for the low-interest loans through a network of at least 28 companies that either shared the address of Omni’s umbrella company or listed its executives as officers, according to filings with state secretary of state offices. The related companies received some $68 million. To the chiropractor, Dr. Susana Dommar of Amazon Chiropractic Clinic, the stark contrast between her small business’s $1 loan and a major hotel chain’s $68 million was distressing. “By now,” she said, “I’m traumatized by the news of all the people that don’t need or deserve the help (receiving) funds that seem unavailable to me.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 16, 2021

Erica Grieder: Big Tech’s deplatforming binge has conservatives crying foul

On Monday afternoon, Dan Zimmerman, the managing editor of the website The Truth About Guns, logged into Facebook to learn that the page dedicated to his website had been unpublished. The notification informing him of this, he says, also posed an odd question: “Do you agree or disagree?” He clicked the latter option, to disagree with the decision, but that turned out to be an ineffectual form of protest. “No warning or explanation was given and we haven’t been able to publish anything to our timeline there since,” Zimmerman wrote in a post on TTAG’s website Thursday.

He asked readers to sign up for the site’s email list, noting that although its Twitter and Instagram accounts remain active, that could easily change: “The cancellations will apparently continue until all of the objectionable opinions and subject matter have been neutralized.” “We were hoping this was just a crazy mistake and it would resolve itself,” Zimmerman told me Thursday, from a coffeeshop in Austin, where The Truth About Guns is headquartered. “But Facebook is a notoriously opaque entity. It’s virtually impossible to talk to a human.” He said he was genuinely at a loss to explain the unpublishing: “We’ve done literally nothing that we haven’t been doing for ten years. In fact, I would argue that we’ve actually played a lot of things down the middle for the last year, two years, than we did prior. I understand Facebook dumped a lot of accounts that were using the hashtag “stop the steal”; We did not,” Zimmerman continued. “We never got into the presidential election at all, other than discussion of the Biden agenda.” That must be a bit frustrating, I suggested. “Incredibly,” Zimmerman agreed.

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Houston Chronicle - January 18, 2021

Doctors, patients locked out of Heights Hospital

Doctors and patients were locked out of Heights Hospital Monday after the hospital management failed to pay rent, according to a letter posted at the hospital. The letter said the locks had been changed. Doctors said they were given no notice and pulled a cart out into the parking lot with some supplies to treat patients in the parking lot.

In a letter, doctors at the hospital said, “We showed up today to locked doors and the property management group is unresponsive. Unfortunately, we were not aware the hospital management was in jeopardy of eviction.” “This is action is not only callous, it is recklessly endangering the community as we will be unable to notify hundreds of patients who are potentially positive of their COVID test resuts,” the letter said The property manager, Tidal Property Management, declined to comment.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 18, 2021

FBI: Texas man threatened to shoot family if they reported him going in U.S. Capitol

A Wylie man arrested over the weekend for going inside of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 told his family he went there "to protect the country" and threatened to shoot his children if they turned him in, authorities say. Guy Reffitt took his gun with him when they "stormed the Capitol" and recorded some of the events on his Go Pro camera that he was wearing on his helmet, according to a federal criminal complaint. Reffitt was arrested Saturday at his Wylie home and faces federal charges of obstruction of justice and knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. Wylie is about 55 miles northeast of Fort Worth.

The Wylie man, who is a member of "Texas Freedom Force," a militia extremist group, remained in federal custody on Monday. FBI agents tracked down Reffitt through a news video, showing a man outside the U.S. Capitol building using a water bottle to flush out his eyes after apparently being pepper-sprayed. Reffitt is among several people who the FBI have arrested in the past few days in Texas and across the country and accused them of the violent intrusion. One of them, Air Force veteran Larry Brock Jr. of Grapevine, told The New Yorker that President Donald Trump's loss in the presidential election in November was fraudulent, a position that is not supported by evidence. On Jan. 6, a joint session of the United States Congress convened to certify the vote count of the Electoral College declaring President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election. At about 2 p.m. on that day, Trump supporters forced their way through and over barricades and officers of the U.S. Capitol to get inside of the building, according to the affidavit.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 17, 2021

Armed demonstrators gather outside Texas Capitol to show support for gun rights

About 30 people, many armed and wearing camouflage, stood outside the Texas Capitol on Sunday to show support for their right to bear arms. The Capitol in Austin is closed through Wednesday due to “armed protests” planned, the Texas Department of Public Safety said on Friday. The demonstrators said they were not related to the storming of the nation’s Capitol. Three men, each carrying rifles and handguns, said they were not supporters of President Donald Trump or any politician. The men declined to give their real names.

One man said he was showing his support for his constitutional right to carry weapons and said they are fighting against those who want to take those rights away. He compared gun rights to a cake, slices of which are steadily being taken away by the government until it is gone. He did not offer examples of the government taking away gun rights. The Texas Legislature in recent years has passed laws loosening regulations related to guns. The open carry of handguns by licensed gun owners is permitted in the state if the gun is holstered. Openly carrying long guns is also allowed. In 2019, in response to mass shootings the Texas Legislature allowed guns to be carried in churches and places of worship and loosened several other restrictions. A second man, who wore a camouflage full-face mask and a rifle, said the group came armed to showcase its rights and because law enforcement are less likely to “mess with” armed men.

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KUT - January 18, 2021

City Of Austin spends $88K a year on pagers employees hardly use, audit finds

Beepers are largely things of the past – a memo, er page, the City of Austin has not received. Nearly a third of the 1,638 city employees who had pager accounts either didn't know where the pager was or said it wasn't working, according to a new report from Austin’s Office of the City Auditor. “The City has not effectively managed pagers, resulting in unnecessary spending and possibly impacting the City’s ability to communicate in an emergency,” auditors wrote. The city embraced a pager-based communication system in 1999, after deciding it needed a more reliable way to communicate with employees during emergencies; pagers typically are cheap and have long battery lives. But years later, the smartphone arrived, which auditors write “may make pagers obsolete for some users in the City.”

Some, but certainly not all. Currently, eight city departments have more than 100 pager accounts each, including Austin Water, Austin Energy and the police department. The report shows a good number of employees don’t use their pagers – or even physically have one. Nearly one-fifth of those who had a city pager account said they did not possess a pager. Of those who did have one but reported it as not working, the most common reason given for the malfunction was “dead batteries.” “[O]ne employee reported they were ‘told upon hire to take out the battery and place [the pager] in [the] top drawer of [your] desk,'" city auditors wrote. Among those city employees who did have a working pager, 42% received one or no pages a month within a five-month period. Annually, the city spends $14,634 on pager accounts for employees who regularly receive zero pages.

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KUT - January 17, 2021

Voting groups warn Texas lawmakers aren't making it easy for people who want a say in redistricting

Voting groups say redistricting plans the Texas Senate laid out in a resolution passed Wednesday do not reasonably accommodate public input. The resolution says lawmakers "shall give public notice at least 72 hours in advance of a meeting for a regional hearing during the regular session or in the interim between sessions, and 48 hours in advance during a called session." Voting advocates say that is not enough of a heads up. In Texas, redistricting is a process by which state lawmakers draw maps of political boundaries for various elected positions – including their own seats in the Legislature.

Voters and voting groups have routinely sued state lawmakers for drawing maps they argue disenfranchise certain people. During the last round of redistricting in 2011 and 2013, lawmakers were accused of drawing political boundaries that diminished the political power of people of color, in particular. As a result of those court battles, federal judges have urged state lawmakers to do a better job of including the public in the redistricting process. With the state Legislature poised to draw political maps this year, there are concerns lawmakers will not heed that warning. On Wednesday, senators unanimously approved a resolution that sets up basic procedures and a timeline for the redistricting process. Allison Riggs, interim co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said she's seen draft proposals of the timelines for public input and they are “entirely too short” and don't include an explicit enough process for virtual and written input. “It’s shocking,” she said. “It’s the same thing as last cycle – with 24 hours' notice, with 48 hours' notice. … That is not enough time.” In a statement ahead of the vote, a coalition of Texas voting and civil rights groups urged the Senate to “lay out rules and procedures now that will prevent the problems that we saw in 2011 and 2013 from occurring once again."

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San Antonio Express-News - January 18, 2021

San Antonio shatters record for patients hospitalized with COVID-19

The number of Bexar County residents hospitalized with COVID-19 reached a staggering high Monday as a wave of new cases pushed hospital systems to the brink. In a month filled with grim milestones, San Antonio hit another one Monday, with area hospitals caring for 1,520 patients with COVID-19 — 253 more than the record set this summer, when state leaders shut down bars and mandated masks to stave off the virus. Health officials fear the worst is yet to come. A scientific model developed to forecast the coronavirus’ spread predicts that area hospitals could be inundated with as many as 1,900 patients within the next week if the most dire scenario unfolds.

When hospitals run out of beds and staff to care for patients, medical professionals will be forced to ration care. They will be pressed to prioritize those with the best chance of short-term survival so they can save as many people as possible with resources stretched thin. “We’ve got plenty of rooms. It’s a problem with having the staff,” said County Judge Nelson Wolff. More than 1,400 nurses have been hired on a temporary basis to help area hospitals handle the spike, Wolff said. At the start of January, hospitals were caring for 1,100 patients, 328 of whom needed intensive care and 178 relied on ventilators to breathe. Those figures have soared since then: Hospitals on Monday were caring for 437 patients who needed intensive care and 260 relying on ventilators to breathe. Patients with COVID-19 now make up nearly 38 percent of all those hospitalized — more than double the 15-percent threshold that triggers the business occupancy restrictions and bar closures. “That’s really taxing on our hospitals,” Wolff said.

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KHOU - January 18, 2021

Gov. Abbott coming to Houston Tuesday for COVID-19 roundtable discussion

Gov. Greg Abbott plans to discuss policies impacting healthcare in Texas with medical experts Tuesday at Houston Methodist Hospital. He will also give an update on statewide COVID-19 vaccination efforts, according to the governor's office, during a press conference.

He'll be joined by TDEM Chief Nim Kidd, DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. John Zerwas and Houston Methodist President and CEO Dr. Marc Boom. COVID-19 vaccine distribution remains a top priority for Texas as cities, counties and hospitals rush to vaccinate as many healthcare professionals and vulnerable residents as possible. In Houston, more than 14,000 people 65 and older received the Moderna vaccine at a drive-thru megasite at NRG Park. Memorial Hermann reported more than 700 volunteers staffed the clinic, many of them Memorial Hermann employees. On Sunday, Harris County health officials announced its positivity rate reached 20.3%. Also Sunday, the city of Houston reported 1,964 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the city's total to 140,395. There were also 17 newly reported deaths, bringing the city's total to 1,652.

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KHOU - January 18, 2021

What happens if a U.S. senator for Texas resigns?

In the aftermath of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, many have called for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to either resign or be disbarred. While Cruz has not indicated he has any intention of resigning, we took a look at how the resignation process works for Texas senators. In the weeks prior to the deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol, Cruz continued to challenge President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election, citing unproven reports of election fraud. The senator has faced heavy criticism over these objections. In a video excerpt taken just hours before the riot on Jan. 6, Cruz said the idea that some Americans believe the election was "rigged" is a "profound threat to this country" and that voting against the objection was a "statement that voter fraud doesn't matter, isn't real and shouldn't be taken seriously."

While Cruz does not appear to have any intention of resigning, some may still be wondering what happens if he – or any Texas senator – resigns. We looked into the process. What happens after a U.S. senator resigns? If a vacancy occurs due to a senator's death, resignation or expulsion, the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows state legislatures to empower the governor to appoint a replacement to complete the term or to hold office until a special election can take place. Some states, including Texas, require a special election to fill a vacancy. In Texas, the governor can fill a Senate vacancy temporarily by appointment if the vacancy exists or will exist when Congress is in session, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). If the vacancy occurs in an even-numbered year and 62 or more days before the primary election, the vacancy is filled at that year's general election. If the vacancy occurs in an odd-numbered year or fewer than 62 days before the primary – as would be the case if it happened in 2021 – the Texas governor calls a special election that is scheduled for "the first uniform election date falling 36 or more days after it has been ordered."

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Austin American-Statesman - January 15, 2021

'Literally crushed': Emails to Mayor Adler capture Austin's outrage over mid-pandemic Cabo trip

During the pandemic, a teenage girl in Southwest Austin turned to Mayor Steve Adler for guidance on staying safe, logging into Facebook with her parents to watch nightly addresses by the mayor in which he stressed the importance of wearing masks and avoiding crowds Her confidence in Adler was rattled in early December when the American-Statesman reported that the mayor had recently gotten back from vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, according to an email the girl's mother sent to Adler's office.

Adler, as reported first by the Statesman on Dec. 2, traveled to the Mexican beach resort in early November with seven others on a private plane after he hosted a wedding for his daughter with 20 guests at an Austin hotel. Taking a break to attend to official business, Adler recorded a video from his family's timeshare that many took to be hypocritical after learning where he had been at the time. With new COVID-19 cases on the rise in Austin, the mayor stressed the importance of residents staying home. Although Adler did not violate any state or local orders by hosting the wedding or going to Mexico, his behavior did trigger a blistering reaction from Austin residents, many of whom had canceled or postponed their own travel to comply with recommendations from Adler and other government and health leaders. About 300 emails related to the Cabo trip poured into Adler's city email account in the days after news of his trip became public, capturing the indignation of residents who for nine months had been limiting risk-taking behaviors and now said they felt betrayed by the very person who had instructed them to stay home.

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Texas Tribune - January 18, 2021

Texas-based anti-vaccine group received federal bailout funds in May as pandemic raged

Texas-based anti-vaccine organization Informed Consent Action Network was among five anti-vaccine groups that collectively received more than $850,000 in federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, the Washington Post reported Monday. The organization received $166,000 in May 2020, according to founder Del Bigtree. “Vaccine hesitancy” or “vaccine skepticism” poses a significant and ongoing challenge for health authorities trying to overcome mistrust within communities of color, by the anti-vaccine crowd and general uncertainty nationwide. Doctors and scientists say the coronavirus vaccines currently available in the United States are safe and effective.

“At a minimum, it’s a mixed message from the government,” said Timothy Callaghan, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. “Those individuals who are hesitant are going to be looking to various pieces of information to help them make this decision...and if one of the key pieces of information coming out is the government funding anti-vaccine groups, it could send a signal to these individuals that maybe they shouldn't be vaccinating,” he told The Texas Tribune. The Austin-based nonprofit has more than 43,000 followers on Facebook and regularly posts information questioning the safety of the coronavirus vaccines. Bigtree’s online anti-vaccine talk show was penalized by Facebook and YouTube last year for violating misinformation policies and downplaying the severity of the pandemic. Facebook has cracked down on several of the groups that received the PPP loans, a spokesperson for the social network told the Post. Informed Consent Action Network’s page, labeled with a link to Facebook’s Coronavirus Information Center, is not being recommended to users by the company’s algorithms, the Facebook spokesperson told the Post.

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KVUE - January 18, 2021

State senator, political expert, Travis County Republican Party discuss Texas Senate Bill 311

People showing up armed to protests or rallies outside of the Texas State Capitol or around Downtown Austin isn't a new headline these days, as many protests in the last year have had at least some arrive carrying firearms. But a bill introduced by State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt for the 87th Texas legislative session would make it illegal to display a firearm within 500 feet of a public demonstration.

"My main inspiration is that there is a tremendous amount of distrust of government these days and a tremendous amount of distrust of one another. And in that environment, I really want us to get to a place where we, we trust our government and we trust each other so much that we no longer feel a need to bear arms individually," Eckhardt told KVUE Monday. "But until that day, I want to make sure that individuals who bear arms are bearing it purely for defensive reasons and not for offensive reasons to, to threaten others, particularly when others are attempting to, to specifically engage, whether their elected officials or whether they are other protesters." While Eckhardt is hopeful that the bill can progress through the Texas Legislature, some say it's unlikely. KVUE reached out to the group Texas Gun Rights for comment on Senate Bill 311. While they were not available for an interview Monday, Executive Director Chris McNutt said the group opposes the bill. "We oppose SB 311 and any other bill that would further restrict the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans," McNutt said. "That’s why Texas Gun Rights is focused on making Texas the 17th Constitutional Carry state in 2021, removing barriers for law-abiding citizens to carry their lawfully possessed firearms." Travis County Republican Party Communications Director Andy Hogue told KVUE that he doesn't believe the bill would progress in a gun-friendly state like Texas. "It's not a checklist where you can only pick one and do one at a time. Your freedom of speech is constitutionally protected along with your Second Amendment freedoms," he said. "We've done nothing but make progress on gun rights since the concealed carry bill was passed in the '90s. And I don't see that ever changing."

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KXAN - January 17, 2021

Some SXSW fans still fighting for refunds after COVID-19 cancellation

Nathan Vanden Avond’s extensive and colorful vinyl collection fills bookcases. It spans decades. He’s been collecting since he was 12-years-old. “Well, it is alphabetized. That is a question I get all the time,” said Vanden Avond of his 8,000 records. “It is, I would say, it’s a vice. I think it’s a very nice and safe vice.” As he settled in for our Zoom interview, he pointed to a few of his favorites from local bands.

“Bad Mutha Goose is one of the first bands I fell in love with,” he said. “Timbuk 3 was kind of one of the biggest things that came out of Austin back in the day.” Vanden Avond loves discovering new music — especially every year at the South By Southwest festival. “I started attending the second year of SXSW, which was 1988. I turned 18 that year, which means I could get in to see most shows but not all since some venues were 21+,” said Vanden Avond. To celebrate his 50th birthday last year, he purchased a Platinum badge and eventually a wristband for his husband totaling more than $1,300. “I thought that would be a great way to celebrate this milestone and immerse myself in everything SXSW had to offer,” he said in a letter to SXSW.

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KXAS - January 18, 2021

Why are breathing disorders more common in some Dallas neighborhoods? The city hopes to find out

Breathing disorders are higher in some Dallas neighborhoods than others and experts want to know why. Nine new air monitors have been installed in neighborhoods to compare parts of the city with high rates of childhood asthma to other areas with fewer breathing problems and less poverty. “From an equity standpoint, this is probably one of the most important projects we’re doing right now, is to get neighborhood-level data where we know we have public health issues,” said Susan Alvarez with Dallas Environmental Quality and Sustainability.

Roughly six monitors are located across southern Dallas, including ones placed on Jacqueline Drive, Bonnie View Road, and Sunnyvale Street. Experts want to learn if the history of industry in older neighborhoods is a key factor or whether highways surrounding those areas contribute more pollution from vehicles. “We don’t know and that’s part of what we’re looking at here. We want to try to understand. It could be land use. It could be transportation. It could be a lot of things. And so, this is like the first step in trying to understand that bigger picture,” Alvarez said. Existing regional air quality monitoring equipment continues to show that North Texas fails to comply with federal clean air standards for ozone pollution. But those existing monitors leave large gaps and do not provide the neighborhood level data that the new Dallas equipment will offer. The equipment was donated to the city with money from The Nature Conservancy and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Alvarez said a one-year study is planned, but the equipment could continue to be used by the city long after that.

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National Stories

NBC News - January 18, 2021

U.S. surpasses 400,000 Covid deaths nearly one year after nation's first confirmed case

More than 400,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the U.S., according to an NBC News tally early Tuesday, a milestone that seemed unimaginable at the start of the pandemic a year ago. More than 2 million people have been recorded killed by the virus worldwide, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. death toll is the world's worst, even though it makes up less than 5 percent of the world's population. As of early Tuesday, there have been 400,103 U.S. deaths, according to NBC News' count. The U.S. confirmed its first case of the virus in Seattle on Jan. 21, 2020.

Nearly a year later, 24 million people have been infected in the U.S., the highest number of confirmed cases in the world. California on Monday became the first state to reach 3 million cases, and Los Angeles county crossed the 1 million case mark over the weekend, according to an NBC News tally. The number of those killed is much higher than expected at the pandemic's outset. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, warned in April that as many as 240,000 Americans could die of coronavirus even if containment measures were followed "almost perfectly.” President Donald Trump described that estimated toll as "sobering,” and has since been criticized for at first downplaying the threat posed by the virus and then bungling the federal government's response to it. "Trump made a mockery of safe practices like mask wearing, social distancing and washing hands and then didn’t have a plan for the much anticipated vaccine," former U.S. ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, said in a tweet. "Result 400,000 dead."

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NBC News - January 19, 2021

Latinos in the Biden administration shoulder high expectations, urgency to undo Trump policies

Obama White House veterans Julie Chávez Rodriguez and Adrian Saenz are heading back to Pennsylvania Avenue this week with a sense of urgency and a feeling of starting from scratch. President-elect Joe Biden, who is to take the oath of office Wednesday, made Chávez Rodríguez his director of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, while Saenz will be deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement. Chávez Rodríguez, Saenz and other Latinos in the Biden administration will be shouldering some high expectations from a nation on edge after the riot on the U.S. Capitol and President Donald Trump's second impeachment — during a pandemic and the economic fallout that has robbed people of work and paychecks.

"It's not going to be easy. I don't go into any of this with rose-colored glasses," said Chávez Rodríguez, the granddaughter of the civil rights icon and labor leader César Chavez. Her boss is taking over from Trump as federal troops have fortified Washington and the Capitol — amid threats that the violence of Jan. 6 could happen again in the nation's capital or elsewhere across the country. "We have seen real ugliness and the real rage of racism be exposed over the course of the last four years," Chávez Rodríguez said. "I never imagined the kind of agency hate would be given from the highest level of office." Biden's Latino administration officials will be grappling with calls to undo Trump's policies in many areas — from health care and the economy to immigration and the environment — and the pushback from those ready to oppose the measures in a very divided Congress. Biden has nominated several Latinos to key Cabinet positions. If he is confirmed, Alejandro Mayorkas will be the first Latino and immigrant to head the Department of Homeland Security. He is expected to overhaul Trump's hard-line immigration policies and address the fallout of policies like family separations, as well as head the administration's anti-terrorism strategy.

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Axios - January 18, 2021

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election. Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

The letter also orders Lindell to "preserve and retain all documents relating to Dominion and your smear campaign against the company." Lindell also must preserve all communications with any member of the Trump campaign, in addition to communications with Rudy Giuliani, Powell, Jenna Ellis and Lin Wood. Lindell told Axios, "I want Dominion to put up their lawsuit because we have 100% evidence that China and other countries used their machines to steal the election." The big picture: Lindell met with Trump last week and was caught by photographers with notes referencing martial law and Sidney Powell. The CEO has become known for peddling election-overturning conspiracies and last year promoted a fake cure to the coronavirus. What they're saying: Dominion's letter reads... "Despite knowing your implausible attacks against Dominion have no basis in reality, you have participated in the vast and concerted misinformation campaign to slander Dominion ... Litigation regarding these issues is imminent."

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New York Times - January 9, 2021

Pressure grows for states to open vaccines to more groups of people

Just weeks into the country’s coronavirus vaccination effort, states have begun broadening access to the shots faster than planned, amid tremendous public demand and intense criticism about the pace of the rollout. Some public health officials worry that doing so could bring even more chaos to the complex operation and increase the likelihood that some of the highest-risk Americans will be skipped over. But the debate over how soon to expand eligibility is intensifying as deaths from the virus continue to surge, hospitals are overwhelmed with critically ill patients and millions of vaccine doses delivered last month remain in freezers. Governors are under enormous pressure from their constituents — especially older people, who vote in great numbers and face the highest risk of dying from the virus — to get the doses they receive into arms swiftly.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s decision, announced Friday, to release nearly all available doses to the states when he takes office on Jan. 20, rather than holding half to guarantee each recipient gets a booster shot a few weeks after the first, is likely to add to that pressure. Some states, including Florida, Louisiana and Texas, have already expanded who is eligible to get a vaccine now, even though many people in the first priority group recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the nation’s 21 million health care workers and three million residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — have not yet received a shot. On Friday afternoon, New York became the latest state to do so, announcing that it would allow people 75 and over and certain essential workers to start receiving a vaccine on Monday. But reaching a wider swath of the population requires much more money than states have received for the task, many health officials say, and more time to fine-tune systems for moving surplus vaccine around quickly, to increase the number of vaccination sites and people who give the shots, and to establish reliable appointment systems to prevent endless lines and waits.

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NPR - January 18, 2021

Trump's Census Director to quit after trying to rush out 'indefensible' report

The Trump-appointed director of the U.S. Census Bureau is stepping down close to a week after whistleblower complaints about his role in attempting to rush out an incomplete data report about noncitizens became public. In an internal email announcement on Monday, Steven Dillingham said he is retiring from the bureau on Wednesday, more than 11 months before his term expires at the end of this year, according to a Census Bureau employee who spoke to NPR and asked not to be named for fear of retaliation at work.

Dillingham later confirmed his plans, which were first reported by Talking Points Memo, in a blog post on the bureau's website. The bureau's current deputy director and chief operating officer — Ron Jarmin, a career civil servant who served as acting director before Dillingham was appointed — is set to temporarily fill the top post again after Dillingham is out at noon ET on Wednesday, the bureau's chief spokesperson Michael Cook tells NPR. Dillingham's departure clears the entire slate of Trump appointees at the federal government's largest statistical agency as its civil servants continue to toil over 2020 census records and prepare for the release of the first results from last year's national head count, which has been delayed until March 6 at the earliest. All other Trump officials will also have left the bureau by Wednesday, when President-elect Joe Biden is set to be sworn in, Michael Cook, the agency's chief spokesperson, confirmed to NPR last week.

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Politico - January 17, 2021

FBI investigating whether woman stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell it to Russia

The FBI is investigating evidence that a woman who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 stole a laptop or hard drive from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and intended to sell it to Russians. The bizarre claim, which the FBI emphasized remains under investigation, was included in an affidavit describing the criminal case against Riley June Williams, a Pennsylvania woman who was seen in footage of the Jan. 6 insurrection in area of the Capitol near Pelosi's office. And it's not clear if the FBI has been able to apprehend her.

"It appears that WILLIAMS has fled," according to the affidavit, which was signed Sunday and posted publicly after 9 p.m.. "According to local law enforcement officers in Harrisburg, WILLIAMS’ mother stated that WILLIAMS packed a bag and left her home and told her mother she would be gone for a couple of weeks. WILLIAMS did not provide her mother any information about her intended destination." A Pelosi aide was not immediately available for comment. It was not clear if a laptop or hard drive was actually stolen. According to the affidavit, a witness who spoke to authorities claimed to have seen a video of Williams "taking a laptop computer or hard drive from Speaker Pelosi’s office.""[Witness 1] stated that WILLIAMS intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service," the agent noted. "According to [Witness 1], the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and WILLIAMS still has the computer device or destroyed it." "This matter remains under investigation," the agent concludes. For now, Williams is facing charges of entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct for her actions inside the Capitol.

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