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Newsclips - January 19, 2022

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Houston Chronicle - January 18, 2022

AG Ken Paxton blasts Democrats, issues plea for votes during Fulsher-Katy chamber speech

Attorney General Ken Paxton issued harsh words for Democrats and the Biden Administration in a speech before the Fulshear-Katy Chamber of Commerce last week. Paxton, who is currently running for re-election, accused President Joe Biden of undermining the Constitution and alleged that Democrats committed mass voter fraud to oust Donald Trump from office. Paxton has sued the president numerous times over COVID-19 vaccine policies, Paxton said, because Biden undermined the Constitution by issuing them. “The reason I’m suing the Biden Administration is this overreaching constitutional issue, which says the president can’t make law,” Paxton said. “I think that’s your choice- your health situation and what you’re comfortable with.” Vaccine mandates, he stated, will transform the United States into a dictatorship. “We’re no different than Chavez and Venezuela or China, where the government decides for us,” he said.

Paxton also took issue with immigration policy. The Biden Administration, he claimed, has subverted federal law as it pertains to immigration in Texas. “The very first day that Joe Biden came into office, he said, ‘I’m not going to enforce federal law anymore. If you want to come to this country, we won’t deport you,’” Paxton said. “The downside for us is, it’s a violation of federal law.” As a result, Paxton alleged, terrorists and immigrants with diseases are entering the country unimpeded under the cover of night. “The Biden Administration said, ‘We want as many people here as possible… we’re not going to vet them, we’re not gonna see if they’re terrorists, we’re not going to vaccinate them, we’re not going to even test them. We’re just gonna send them all over the country in the middle of the night.’ That’s how they do it.” It’s up to the Attorney General’s Office, Paxton said, to protect the country from Biden’s overreach of power, “We’re having to go back and basically trying to force him to follow federal law to act like the president, not some dictator.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 18, 2022

Rep. Dan Crenshaw shamed on Twitter for shutting down young woman at forum

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw drew criticism on Tuesday after video went viral showing the Houston Republican shutting down a young woman who he accused of twisting his words and questioning his faith at a political event. In video of the exchange, which occurred during a Montgomery County Tea Party event on Monday night, the woman read a quote from a podcast Crenshaw recently appeared on in which he said: “We have societal hero archetypes that we look up to. Jesus is a hero archetype, Superman is a hero archetype. Real characters, too. I could name a thousand, you know: Rosa Parks, Ronald Reagan.” After reciting Crenshaw’s words, the woman said: “I can’t wrap my head around this.”

“Well, I’ll help you: Put a period after Jesus and don’t question my faith,” Crenshaw responded as the crowd erupted in a smattering of boos and cheers. “You guys can ask questions about all of these things and I will answer them,” Crenshaw continued. “But don’t question my faith.” The woman responded that she wasn’t questioning his faith. “This is what you said,” she said. “Nowhere in that quote am I saying Jesus isn’t real,” Crenshaw said. “You’re twisting it that way, which is not very Christ-like. It’s not very Christian.” It’s unclear who the woman in the video is, or whether she was acting in concert with one of Crenshaw’s three primary foes. In redistricting, 340,000 people in Montgomery County were added to Crenshaw’s 2nd Congressional District, including all of The Woodlands.

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Wall Street Journal - January 18, 2022

Oil prices hit seven-year high on rising geopolitical tensions

Crude prices rose to their highest level since the 2014 shale-induced oil crash, a milestone in a rally that is gathering momentum as geopolitical tensions threaten to knock supply. Futures for West Texas Intermediate, the main grade of U.S. crude, added 1.7% to $85.20 a barrel Tuesday morning. If the contracts settle above $84.65 a barrel, it will mark their highest closing level since October 2014, when oil prices were moving in the opposite direction as a gusher of U.S. crude flooded the market. It took the oil market several years to recover from the price decline set in motion by America’s re-emergence as an oil-producing superpower. The rebound from the coronavirus crash of 2020—when U.S. crude futures turned negative as the world struggled to find places to store oil—has been much faster.

Among the factors driving the rally are concerns that tensions in the Middle East and Europe will spill into energy markets by denting supplies from major crude producers, particularly Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Any outages are likely to goose prices in a market where demand is rising and stockpiles have fallen below recent norms, traders and analysts say. Adding to oil’s gains, the wave of infection caused by Omicron hasn’t reduced demand as much as traders thought it might when the variant was identified in late November. In a report published Tuesday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries forecast that the world would consume 100.8 million barrels of oil a day this year, up 4.2 million barrels a day from 2021. The rise has been driven by rising demand for light distillates used in the petrochemical industry. Investors are bidding up shares of energy companies, making the sector the best performer on the S&P 500 so far in 2022. Chevron Corp. has gained 9.9% and Exxon Mobil Corp. 17%.

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Axios - January 18, 2022

Distrust in political, media and business leaders sweeps the globe

Trust in government is collapsing, especially in democracies, according to a new global survey. Why it matters: People also don't think media or business leaders are telling them the truth, and this suspicion of multiple societal institutions is pushing people into smaller, more insular circles of trust. Details: Government leaders and journalists are considered the least trustworthy societal leaders, according to Edelman's new 2022 global "Trust Barometer," a survey of 35,000 respondents across 28 countries. A majority of people globally believe journalists (67%), government leaders (66%) and business executives (63%) are "purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations."

Around the world, people fear the media is becoming more sensational for commercial gain and that government leaders continue to exploit divisions for political gain. Between the lines: People who live in democracies are quickly losing trust in those democracies, while trust in authoritarian regimes — in China, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example — is increasing among the people who live under them. As trust in democratic institutions wanes, there are also growing doubts about capitalism. Developed democracies specifically lack economic optimism, per the survey. A trust gap has also increased between wealthy and low-income populations. What to watch: As people become more skeptical of institutions, they are increasingly leaning into closer circles of trust. Throughout the pandemic, survey respondents say trust in people from other countries and people who live in other states, provinces, or regions has gone down, while trust in neighbors and coworkers has increased.

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State Stories

Fort Worth Report - January 18, 2022

O’Hare-Price matchup likely to set Tarrant County’s political direction

A site paid for by a conservative political action committee poses a single question to visitors: “Who is the real Betsy Price?” Price, a Republican, is seeking to replace outgoing Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. The former Fort Worth mayor is considered a top contender for the county’s top elected position. Tim O’Hare, a former Tarrant County Republican Party chairman, is another top candidate for the job. The site goes through Price’s record as mayor. Its conclusion? “Betsy Price is too liberal for Tarrant County,” the large, white text reads. This ideological purity test is one of the key parts of the campaign to clinch the GOP’s nomination for county judge. That question is one O’Hare wants Republican voters to consider as they head to the ballot box starting Feb. 14. But Price doesn’t see her race against O’Hare — and three lesser known candidates — as that. Instead, she says it’s about filling the looming vacuum of experience that awaits the Tarrant County government next year.

Early voting in the primary elections starts on Monday, Feb. 14. Election Day is Tuesday, March 1. To find more information about polling places and voting by mail, visit Tarrant County’s elections website. Whether O’Hare or Price is right about their intra-party debate will emerge on March 1. The winning argument, though, will almost certainly set the political direction of Tarrant County for the next four years. “Most of the folks who are elected, especially countywide, a Republican is going to end up winning in the fall,” Whitley, a Republican, told the Fort Worth Report. Thomas Marshall, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Arlington, expects the primary will have high turnout because the national climate is more favorable for Republicans and most of the competitive races are on the right. “This race may be watching up until the last few minutes,” Marshall said.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2022

Beto O’Rourke gets $7.2M fundraising haul in 1st 46 days; Greg Abbott touts $18.9M in last 6 months

Democrat Beto O’Rourke raised $7.2 million in the first 46 days of his campaign for governor, more than any previous Democratic gubernatorial hopeful in Texas took in “during the opening days of their race,” O’Rourke’s campaign announced Tuesday. Incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, said he raised $18.9 million in the final six months of last year. The two-term Republican governor had more than $65 million in cash on hand as of Dec. 31, the Abbott campaign said in a release. Previously, O’Rourke said he raised slightly more than $2 million in the first 24 hours after he said publicly in mid-November that he would try to unseat Abbott. That means between Nov. 17 and the end of the year, O’Rourke raised more than $5 million. Abbott, a prolific fundraiser, said in mid-November that he raised nearly $5 million from Sept. 7 to Oct. 19.

On Tuesday, Abbott’s campaign said that during the second half of the year, it took in nearly 159,000 contributions, including from almost 44,000 first-time donors. The outpouring “shows a broad base of support from every demographic,” it said. “With an average contribution of just over $119, this report demonstrates strong support from small-dollar donors,” the Abbott camp said. O’Rourke said his campaign has received more than 115,600 contributions. Donations came from across the state, and 80% of the total haul was from online contributions, the O’Rourke campaign said in a release. “I’m grateful to everyone who helped us raise more than $7.2 million in the first weeks of our campaign,” O’Rourke said in a written statement. “While Abbott is taking million-dollar checks from the CEOs who profited off of the grid collapse, we’re receiving support from people all over Texas who want to ensure that our state finally leads in great jobs, world class schools and the ability to see a doctor.” O’Rourke referred to a Bloomberg report last July about how, during the February 2021 arctic blast and electricity grid failure, natural gas producers in the Permian Basin “began to drastically reduce output days before power companies cut them off,” setting off a wild upward spike in prices.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2022

Colleyville attacker wasn’t on US no-fly list despite Britain’s MI5 terror suspicions: White House

The White House said Tuesday that the British man who held hostages at a Colleyville synagogue entered the United States without trouble because U.S. terrorism databases had no red flag, even though he’d been investigated by Britain’s MI5 security service as a potential terrorist. Hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram, 44, was on MI5?s watch list as a “subject of interest” in 2020 and was investigated that year, the BBC reported. British authorities never shared any suspicions that would have landed him on an American no-fly list, a U.S. official said, probably because the investigation resulted in no finding that he posed an imminent threat. “He was checked against U.S. government databases multiple times prior to entering the country, and the U.S. government did not have any derogatory information about the individual in our systems at the time of entry,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during the daily briefing.

Top federal officials held an hourlong call Tuesday afternoon with religious leaders to discuss security. The session with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, FBI director Chris Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland was not open to press. Akram died Saturday after an 11-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, northeast of Fort Worth. The rabbi and three congregants who were also held hostage managed to escape. Law enforcement then stormed the building and shot and killed Akram, who the FBI has identified as the lone suspect in the incident. Akram arrived in the United States on Dec. 29 on a flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to U.S. authorities. “We’re certainly looking back ... at what occurred to learn every possible lesson we can to prevent attacks like this in the future,” Psaki said. By 2021, MI5 had moved Akram, who had a criminal record in Britain, to its “former subject of interest” list and no longer considered him a threat, according to the BBC. Friends and relatives say he suffered from mental illness and had been getting worse. Some expressed surprise he’d been allowed to travel to the United States, according to British news outlets.

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Texas Monthly - January 18, 2022

Sheriff A.J. Louderback is a Fox News staple. Now he’s running for Congress.

Michael Cloud prides himself on being one of the most pro-Trump members of Congress. Representing a mostly rural district that stretches from Corpus Christi to the outer Houston suburbs—and includes a gangly appendage of land reaching northwest toward Austin—Cloud was one of the 126 Republican U.S. representatives to sign an amicus brief in support of Texas attorney general Ken Paxton’s quixotic lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election. After the January 6 insurrection, during which Capitol Police guarded Cloud as he fled the House chamber, the Texan was one of just 21 representatives to vote against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to those same police officers. In return for his fealty, Cloud, a small-business owner from Victoria who was first elected to Congress in 2018, has received a coveted endorsement from the former president. “Michael is a strong supporter of our America First agenda, and has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump announced in December. But for former Jackson County sheriff A.J. Louderback, Cloud just isn’t Trumpy enough.

Louderback, who retired last month after serving five terms as sheriff of the southeast Texas county, argues that Cloud hasn’t shown sufficient zeal in fighting the Biden administration, particularly on border policy. “We have have been inundated with chaos from the administration, and I just haven’t seen much representation at the local level,” Louderback recently told me. Louderback appears to be the only former Texas sheriff running for Congress other than Troy Nehls, who represents a suburban district southwest of Houston. But he’s one of countless Republican primary challengers across the state and country trying to out-Trump an incumbent—even if that incumbent happens to bear Trump’s endorsement. Louderback is a longtime anti-immigration activist. He founded and serves as president of the hardline Texas Regional Sheriff’s Alliance, a group of eighteen Gulf Coast sheriffs who share resources and lobby the Legislature on their core issues of expanding gun rights and “securing our local borders.” (The group includes no sheriffs from actual border counties.) Louderback has spoken at events organized by the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, both of which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled extremist hate groups. He’s called for arming schoolteachers and administrators (with “the proper training”) to protect students from mass shooters.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2022

Dallas-area home rental costs are through the roof

Dallas-area home rental costs are outpacing the rest of the nation. The cost of renting a single-family home in Dallas was up almost 15% in the latest survey by researchers at CoreLogic. The median Dallas-area rent for a house was almost $1,900. Nationwide single-family home rental rates were 11.5% higher than in November 2020, according to the new report. “Annual rent price growth has continued to double and even triple in the last several months,” CoreLogic analysts say. Dallas area rents for all types of housing have soared in the last year because of severe shortages.

“Improvements in the economy and job market have helped push single-family rent growth to record levels,” Molly Boesel, principal economist at CoreLogic, said in the new report. “However, rapid increases in single-family rents, especially for lower-priced properties, have led to a continued erosion of affordability.” Single-family rentals have become increasingly popular housing options for many urban residents who have been priced out of homeownership. Miami had the highest year-over-year single-family rent increases among the 20 major metro areas CoreLogic surveyed. Phoenix had the second-highest annual rent increase of 19.5%, and Las Vegas home rents were 16.7% higher. Home rents in the Houston area were only 10% higher than they were a year earlier. While single-family rents are moving up, the cost of renting an apartment in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has increased even more. A shortage of apartments and higher construction costs fueled a more than 17% increase in average D-FW apartment rents last year — surpassing the nationwide rise of 14.4%, according to RealPage. Less than 3% of D-FW apartments were vacant at the end of 2021. Because of the demand for single-family rentals, builders in North Texas are planning dozens of new neighborhoods of rental houses in the suburbs.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2022

Fort Worth ISD thinks ‘outside the box’ with effort to recruit teachers from Mexico

Fort Worth ISD is targeting educators in Mexico in its ongoing recruitment efforts to add bilingual teachers to the district. The district is set to host a virtual job fair for teachers in Mexico City Tuesday, Jan. 18 and Wednesday, Jan. 19, it said in a news release Tuesday.

The informational fair will target teachers who are certified or interested in becoming certified in Bilingual Elementary and Secondary Spanish for the upcoming 2022-23 school year, the district said. “We have to think outside the box when it comes to our recruitment efforts,” Fort Worth ISD Chief Talent Officer Raúl Peña said in the release. “If they are motivated and passionate about teaching, we want those prospective teachers residing in Mexico City to know FWISD is hiring.” The job fair will inform participants about the process to become a certified teacher in Texas and offer an overview of the district and the city of Fort Worth. Prospective teachers who currently hold a valid teaching certification in Mexico may qualify for a Texas teacher certification, the news release said. Fort Worth ISD currently offers incoming teachers incentives including a $5,000 bonus and a $4,000 stipend for bilingual elementary teachers, as well as a $2,000 early commitment bonus if hired by April 1.

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Texas Monthly - January 18, 2022

Unlike most other states that safely endured the February 2021 storm, Texas had stubbornly declined to require winterization of its power plants and, just as critically, its natural gas facilities. In large part, that’s because the state’s politicians and the regulators they appoint are often captive to the oil and gas industry, which lavishes them with millions of dollars a year in campaign contributions. During the February freeze, the gas industry failed to deliver critically needed fuel, and while Texans of all stripes suffered, the gas industry scored windfall profits of about $11 billion—creating debts that residents and businesses will pay for at least the next decade. Since last February, the state has appointed new regulators and tweaked some of its statutes. But despite the misery, death, economic disruption, and embarrassment that Texas suffered, little has changed. The state remains susceptible to the threat that another winter storm could inflict blackouts as bad as—or even worse than—last year’s catastrophe. Despite promises from public officials to rectify these problems, we remain largely defenseless and can only hope we aren’t thrashed by another Arctic blast.

Even as forecasters predict a relatively warm winter on average, there is compelling evidence that such extreme weather phenomena are becoming more common. To understand the danger, it’s worth examining how close the Texas grid came last year to a meltdown that could have left much of the state without power for several weeks, or even months. The worst-case scenario ERCOT had gamed out, what it called “extreme winter,” contemplated a record-setting demand of 67.2 gigawatts. Electricity consumption blew past that mark at 7 p.m. on February 14. Meanwhile, electricity supply continued to dwindle as underinsulated power plants went down, one after another. For the grid to function properly, the supply of electricity must always match demand; this equilibrium is reflected in the grid’s frequency, which usually remains steady at 60 hertz. Power plants across the state are tuned in to the frequency, and they automatically increase or decrease generation to maintain equilibrium. The grid is like a giant synchronized machine, its components linked across hundreds of miles, from Midland to Houston, from Amarillo to Brownsville. On this night, as demand drastically outpaced supply, the frequency dropped and the vast machine began churning faster. But eventually it couldn’t compensate on its own.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 18, 2022

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Wanted: A state task force to keep schools safe and open

At every stage of the pandemic, schools have been at the mercy of COVID-19. Each variant, each surge, brings obstacles and confusion. Now, the wave of omicron cases has systems on the brink. Hospitals are again overwhelmed, and many schools are running out of teachers and bus drivers, who are calling in sick. Without enough substitute teachers, hundreds of students have been crammed into auditoriums at some schools. In a Jan. 6 letter, state Sen. José Menéndez called for a special session to “focus on supporting public school and hospital systems as we navigate this next wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

But with omicron making more people sick than ever before, there is no time for a special session, and we think this would open the door for the Legislature to focus on other priorities. Instead, we strongly recommend that state officials launch a task force that can immediately identify and implement solutions. Our thinking is this: There will be more variants, and more chaos. The state needs to create a framework to ensure all school districts have the appropriate resources and policies to respond. The patchwork of school policies isn’t working. While we applaud the few districts, such as San Antonio and Edgewood, that have taken aggressive efforts to mitigate the virus, they are still vulnerable. And the districts that appear to bend toward political considerations are at an elevated risk. State leaders have done schools no favors. The decision to politicize COVID-19 and public health is untenable. Although we disagree with it, we respect last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocking large private employers, as well as public employers, including school districts, from mandating vaccines, testing or masking. Regardless of the ruling, state leaders, especially Gov. Greg Abbott, should be working overtime to ensure schools are safe and functional, not just now but through future variants.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 18, 2022

Amazon just announced a big collaboration with Texas State. Here’s what that means.

Texas State University in San Marcos is partnering up with Amazon, the global trillion-dollar company that has spent the past decade establishing a firm presence in Central Texas. The university said in a news release Friday that it has been selected as an education partner for Amazon’s Career Choice program, which provides Amazon’s hourly employees access to bachelor's degrees. According to the news release, the program will provide Amazon employees with “a variety of education and upskilling opportunities including full college tuition, industry certifications designed to lead to in-demand jobs, and foundational skills such as English language proficiency, high school diplomas, and GEDs.”

"We understand the value of supporting Amazon’s investment in education and skills training," said Gene Bourgeois, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Texas State, in the news release. "This new opportunity aligns with our educational mission and we are pleased to help drive what’s next for Amazon employees." In the U.S., the company is investing $1.2 billion to upskill more than 300,000 employees by 2025 to help move them into higher-paying, in-demand jobs, Amazon said. Amazon and Texas State are the two largest employers in Hays County, according to economic firm Greater San Marcos Partnership. Amazon employs upwards of 5,000 people, while Texas State employed 3,730 people in 2021. Amazon opened its fourth distribution center in San Marcos in November 2021 and has additional plans to expand in the area.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 18, 2022

Dallas shelter recounts synagogue hostage-takers stay

The Colleyville synagogue gunman stayed at OurCalling Resource Center in Dallas on Jan. 2, telling providers that he had been sleeping on the streets. Nothing about his behavior seemed suspicious, the center said Tuesday in a statement. Malik Faisal Akram, 44, of Great Britain, arrived at OurCalling on Dallas’ South Cesar Chavez Boulevard a little after 10 p.m., according to the statement. The shelter had opened its doors because of the cold weather. Akram was dropped off by a heavy set man in a gray hoodie who wore a beanie, said Patrick Palmer, the center’s chief advancement officer. He said it was hard to tell the man’s race and age, but he said said the man spent 15 to 20 minutes in the center with Akram before giving Akram a hug and leaving. Akram left the next day.

Akram was killed Saturday at the end of an 11-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel. Little is known about where he spent his time in the two weeks he was in the United States. “In this case, obviously he didn’t come to our facility to cause trouble that particular night,” Palmer told the Star-Telegram in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “He came to our city to cause trouble and definitely disrupted the hearts and minds of all of our people. And now, learning about this, it feels like a personal space has been violated.” When people arrive at the center seeking shelter, Palmer said they’re normally asked traditional case management questions about their life and circumstances. They’re also given a COVID-19 test. Palmer said Akram’s came back negative. OurCalling doesn’t make people who come to seek shelter go through a metal detector, nor do they check their bags, Palmer said, which is done in an effort to not criminalize them. Palmer said 80% of people experiencing homelessness are usually resistant to that type of treatment, and won’t go into a shelter that takes those measures.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 18, 2022

How to avoid a rejected ballot application in Tarrant County

Nearly 53% of applications submitted to Tarrant County for an absentee ballot have been rejected, most because of missing driver’s license numbers and Social Security Number digits, elections administrator Heider Garcia told county commissioners at their meeting Tuesday. The trouble comes after a state bill that went into effect in December requires applications to include either the applicant’s driver’s license number, last four digits of their Social Security number or a statement that the applicant has neither number. The numbers must match the numbers a person used to register to vote, Garcia said.

Tarrant County residents aren’t the only ones being affected by the new rules. The bill — which opponents say limits access to the polls and disenfranchises minority, disabled and older voters — has resulted in hundreds of rejections across the state. In Travis County a few weeks ago, 50% of voter applications had been rejected, with Harris and Bexar Counties also reporting issues with abnormally high numbers of rejections. The solution to make sure your application isn’t rejected: Put both your drivers’ license and last four digits of your Social Security number when you register to vote or when you apply for a ballot, Garcia advised. He said those who have already registered should update their registration with both numbers. “As long as one of them matches, it’s a go,” Garcia said. Those who have their applications rejected will be sent a letter in the mail along with a new form to try again. The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Feb. 18.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2022

SB 8 abortion law stands as 5th Circuit sends case to Texas Supreme Court, plaintiffs expect delays

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling sending Whole Woman’s Health vs. Jackson, a limited challenge to Texas’ Senate Bill 8, the most restrictive abortion law in the nation, to the Texas Supreme Court was criticized by plaintiffs Tuesday, a move they say will only delay the outcome. The plaintiffs say sending it to the Texas Supreme Court instead of the federal district court will prevent a decision and ultimately delay relief. “The 5th Circuit has once again defied a Supreme Court ruling and delayed a reckoning on SB 8. As a result, Texans will continue to have to travel hundreds of miles to access abortion care, and those without means to do so will be forced to continue their pregnancies,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“There is now no end in sight for this injustice that has been allowed to go on for almost five months,” Northup said. Since Senate Bill 8 was enacted on Sept. 1, abortions have been cut by approximately 50% according to one study done in October. Some women have crossed state lines to obtain abortions after six weeks, as The Dallas Morning News reported some traveling to Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas and Louisiana. The primary case challenging the new law was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 1, and the ruling on Dec. 10 allowed SB 8 to stand while allowing some challenges to continue, but with a limited scope of who could be sued. Monday’s decision sends the case to the Texas Supreme Court to determine whether or not SB 8 would allow state licensing officials to discipline or take away medical licensing from doctors who violate the six-week ban on abortions. Defendants argue that the question requires certification in Texas because it is a question of state law, not federal law.

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National Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2022

How would Microsoft acquisition of Activision Blizzard impact esports? Experts weigh in

Envy Gaming CEO Adam Rymer woke up to the news of Microsoft acquiring game-publishing giant Activision Blizzard the same as the rest of the gaming world. It was a surprise. And esports personalities responded in typical gaming fashion, with jokes, memes and legitimate concerns to joining Team Xbox. It’s a huge deal. The $68.7 billion deal, announced by Microsoft on Tuesday morning, would be the largest acquisition by Microsoft to date, and the news came just days before Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty League has it kickoff event in Arlington. Activision Blizzard also had a tumultuous 2021, with lawsuits, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and a disgruntled workforce furious with unfair labor practices.

The questions are numerous: What does it mean for Microsoft to potentially own Activision Blizzard and games like Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft? And for esports: What about the franchise leagues like the CDL and Overwatch League? Rymer spoke with Envy founder Mike Rufail, Envy president Geoff Moore and OpTic Gaming founder Hector Rodriguez individually Tuesday morning – they had to process it together. “Thankfully we’ve been in business with both parties for a long time. It’s nice to know we have relationships on both sides of the table,” Rymer told The Dallas Morning News. “Nobody has reached out to us yet to sort of have a conversation about it. I’m sure they’ve got plenty of other things to be thinking about at the moment. But overall, in our heads, we see this as likely to be a good thing for everything we’re trying to do.” Former Overwatch League VP Jon Spector had a serious reaction tweet, followed by joke. Call of Duty players, who have spent much of the past month chirping about Vanguard and Warzone having game-breaking bugs and issues, had their say as well.

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Associated Press - January 18, 2022

US faces wave of omicron deaths in coming weeks, models say

The fast-moving omicron variant may cause less severe disease on average, but COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are climbing and modelers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March. The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on Jan. 17 — still below the peak of 3,300 in January 2021. COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents started rising slightly two weeks ago, although still at a rate 10 times less than last year before most residents were vaccinated. Despite signs omicron causes milder disease on average, the unprecedented level of infection spreading through the country, with cases still soaring in many states, means many vulnerable people will become severely sick. If the higher end of projections comes to pass, that would push total U.S. deaths from COVID-19 over 1 million by early spring.

“A lot of people are still going to die because of how transmissible omicron has been,” said University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi. “It unfortunately is going to get worse before it gets better.” Morgues are starting to run out of space in Johnson County, Kansas, said Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the health department. More than 30 residents have died in the county this year, the vast majority of them unvaccinated. But the notion that a generally less severe variant could still take the lives of thousands of people has been difficult for health experts to convey. The math of it — that a small percentage of a very high number of infections can yield a very high number of deaths — is difficult to visualize. “Overall, you’re going to see more sick people even if you as an individual have a lower chance of being sick,” said Katriona Shea of Pennsylvania State University, who co-leads a team that pulls together several pandemic models and shares the combined projections with the White House. The wave of deaths heading for the United States will crest in late January or early February, Shea said. In early February, weekly deaths could equal or exceed the delta peak, and possibly even surpass the previous U.S. peak in deaths last year. Some unknown portion of these deaths are among people infected with the delta variant, but experts say omicron is also claiming lives.

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CNN - January 18, 2022

Former Trump administration officials hold call to strategize against former boss' efforts in 2022 and 2024

Around three dozen former Trump administration officials, disillusioned with their former boss and concerned about his impact on the GOP and the nation, held a conference call last Monday to discuss efforts to fend off his efforts to, in their view, erode the democratic process, several participants told CNN. The only items the group seemed to agree upon in its first meeting, however, were that they're not sure what their way forward should be, and that they are way behind the efforts of former President Donald Trump and his allies to set the stage for 2022, 2024, and beyond. The highest-ranking participant was former White House chief of staff and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, who told CNN that because of a prior commitment he was only able to "monitor" about 10 minutes of the call, which lasted about an hour.

Other participants included former Trump White House communications directors Alyssa Farah Griffin (now a CNN political commentator) and Anthony Scaramucci, former Homeland Security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Pence Olivia Troye, former Department of Homeland Security official Elizabeth Neumann, and former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs, among others. Stephanie Grisham, who first publicly discussed this group a couple of weeks ago on CNN's "New Day," was not on the call because she was sick with Covid-19, though she told CNN she is engaged with the group. None of the names CNN has learned were involved with the call were particularly surprising; from Kelly to Farah to former national security adviser John Bolton, all have spoken publicly in one degree or another about their concerns about Trump's leadership and fitness for the office. But one participant said that what struck many about the call was the sight of "a lot of faces I had not seen speaking publicly about why Trump is dangerous. People who had not previously spoken out who were now willing to speak out and share their perspective." Because the first meeting was held according to Chatham House Rules -- the tradition at the British policy institute under which no attendee can publicly disclose the name of any others -- the names of other participants remain unknown as of now.

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Wall Street Journal - January 18, 2022

Schumer hits trouble after earlier wins in 50-50 Senate

Last month, the Democratic-controlled Senate failed to advance President Biden’s roughly $2 trillion economic plan. This week, the party’s push to overhaul election practices nationwide is set to fizzle out as well. These twin setbacks have cast a harsher spotlight on the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), the lawmaker responsible for navigating President Biden’s agenda through the 50-50 Senate after he delivered a Covid-19 aid bill early last year and a bipartisan infrastructure bill in the summer. With the signature issues for the Democratic Party stalled, neither Mr. Schumer nor other party leaders have outlined a path to legislative wins they might deliver in the short time left before campaign season begins for the midterms, with poll numbers suggesting their slender majorities are in significant jeopardy.

As Mr. Schumer prepares to bring elections legislation and related rules changes to the Senate floor starting Tuesday, he retains broad support in his caucus and from Mr. Biden, according to interviews across the Democratic Party. But some current and former Democratic aides and activists also aired frustration, particularly related to his management over the past several months of centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. “I think that he has been dealt a very, very hard hand to play and has done a decent job in navigating that dynamic, but there have been some big moments where Schumer could have been forced to turn on the screws, he did not,” said Tré Easton, a former aide to Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) who is now deputy director for Battle Born Collective, a progressive advocacy organization. All members of the Senate Democratic caucus support the elections legislation. But it needs 60 votes to advance. Under Mr. Schumer’s plan, once Republicans block it, as they have said they would, Democrats would then seek to change Senate rules to ensure passage with 50 votes and a tiebreaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris.

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Newsclips - January 18, 2022

Lead Stories

KUT - January 18, 2022

Texas says supply chain issues have limited the number of voter registration forms it can give out

The Texas Secretary of State’s office is having more trouble than usual getting enough voter registration cards to groups who help Texans register to vote. Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications, said supply chain issues have made it harder and more expensive to get paper, which means the Secretary of State's office will be giving out fewer voter registration forms to groups ahead of elections this year. “We are limited in what we can supply this year, because of the paper shortage and the cost constraints due to the price of paper and the supply of paper,” he said. Grace Chimene, the president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said it is not unusual for the Secretary of State to not have enough forms to fill all the requests it gets from groups like hers ahead of elections.

This particular shortage, however, is affecting an important part of her group’s work: registering thousands of newly naturalized citizens. Chimene said in previous years, her group, which has chapters across the state, has been able to get enough forms to pass out at naturalization ceremonies. Often, she said, the group partners with the state to give out several thousand forms at each ceremony. “The League in Houston registers about 30,000 new citizens every year through these ceremonies in the past,” Chimene said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a mix of in-person and remote ceremonies. Chimene said her group has either been handing out voter registration materials at in-person events or they’ve been sending out packets they put together ahead of time to those new citizens. Either way, the League and their volunteers often ask for thousands of voter registration forms ahead of these ceremonies. “It’s a really important job that we do and we value it, and I think the new citizens value it also," Chimene said. Taylor said the Secretary of State’s office has been forced to limit each group to 1,000 to 2,000 registration forms per request. He said this shortage is coming at a time when many groups are seeking out new voter registration forms because of a change in Texas’ voter registration laws created under Senate Bill 1, a controversial voting law that went into effect last month.

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Wall Street Journal - January 18, 2022

Texas, Arizona have recovered all the jobs lost when COVID-19 hit

Texas and Arizona have joined two other states in recovering all the jobs they lost at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, leading a trend that is expected to include another dozen states by the middle of this year. The states, which also include Utah and Idaho, have benefited from demographic shifts before and during the pandemic—experiencing outsize payroll growth in retail, warehousing, technology and transportation industries. Companies have moved operations to the states, and workers have moved in as well, sometimes leaving more crowded and expensive urban areas. The states—all Republican controlled—also have had relatively relaxed Covid-19 restrictions during the pandemic, which economists say softened the blow on their economies. “Those four states have experienced persistently strong population growth, which really wasn’t dented by the pandemic,” said Adam Kamins, director of regional economics at Moody’s Analytics. “More and more people keep coming from expensive coastal cities to places like Dallas and Phoenix, which have a relatively lower cost of living and higher quality of life.”

The U.S. as a whole lost more than 22 million jobs in March and April of 2020 and at the end of 2021 still had 3.6 million fewer positions than in February 2020, before the pandemic hit the U.S. economy. As of November—the latest available state-level data—Texas had about 28,000 more jobs than in February. Arizona had nearly 5,000 more, Idaho had 14,500 more, and Utah leads with about 61,000 more. Mr. Kamins expects a third of the states to return to their pre-pandemic levels of employment by the middle of 2022, with California and states in the Northeast lagging behind. He attributes that to a lack of population growth on the East and West coasts. The surge in Covid-19 cases due to the Omicron variant could slow but not stop job growth, economists say. The labor market was tight at the start of the year, with employers struggling to hire amid a shortage of available workers. Omicron has created disruptions across industries—with airlines canceling thousands of flights, people calling in sick to in-person jobs and some schools returning to remote learning—but so far the labor market that drove the most annual job growth ever last year hasn’t cooled.

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Associated Press - January 18, 2022

Abortion clinics challenging Texas Senate Bill 8 restrictions dealt new setback by 5th Circuit

A federal appeals court dealt opponents of Texas’ strict abortion law another defeat Monday by steering the case next to the state’s Republican-majority Supreme Court, raising concerns that the near-total ban on abortions will remain intact for the foreseeable future. The Texas law that bans abortion once cardiac activity is detected — usually around six weeks, before some women know they are pregnant — has been in effect since September. In December, the U.S. Supreme Court kept the law in place and allowed only a narrow challenge against the restrictions to proceed.

Abortion providers wanted their lawsuit sent back to a federal court in Austin that so far has been the only one to block the restrictions — albeit for only a few days. Instead, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision routed the case next to the Texas Supreme Court, which is entirely controlled by nine Republican justices. There is no timetable for when the state supreme court might take up the case. The Supreme Court signaled last month in a separate case out of Mississippi that it would roll back abortion rights, and possibly overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, in a ruling that is expected later this year.

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NPR - January 15, 2022

Trump officials interfered with the 2020 census beyond cutting it short, email shows

Former President Donald Trump's administration alarmed career civil servants at the Census Bureau by not only ending the 2020 national head count early, but also pressuring them to alter plans for protecting people's privacy and producing accurate data, a newly released email shows. Trump's political appointees at the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau, demonstrated an "unusually" high level of "engagement in technical matters, which is unprecedented relative to the previous censuses," according to a September 2020 email that Ron Jarmin — the bureau's deputy director — sent to two other top civil servants. At the time, the administration was faced with the reality that if Trump lost the November election he could also lose a chance to change the census numbers used to redistribute political representation. The window of opportunity was closing for his administration to attempt to radically reshape the futures of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College.

Despite the 14th Amendment's requirement to include the "whole number of persons in each state," Trump wanted to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the census counts used to reallocate each state's share of congressional seats and electoral votes. While the former president's unprecedented push did not reach its ultimate goal, it wreaked havoc at the federal government's largest statistical agency, which was also contending with the coronavirus pandemic upending most of its plans for the once-a-decade tally. The delays stemming from COVID-19 forced the bureau to conclude that it could no longer meet the legal reporting deadline for the first set of results and needed more time. The administration's last-minute decision to cut the counting short sparked public outcries, including a federal lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. But its interference in other areas related to the 2020 census largely flew under most radars. The newly released email — first reported by The New York Times and obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School through an ongoing public records lawsuit — details the wide scope of its attempts to buck the bureau's experts and tamper with the count. According to the document, the agency's career civil servants saw when to end counting as a "policy decision that political leadership should make."

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2022

Donald Trump wades deeper into Texas politics with 20 endorsements in primary races

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed at least 20 candidates across Texas, throwing his political weight behind more primary hopefuls here than in any other state so far. His endorsements have mostly been limited to incumbent GOP politicians in reliably red districts and are split about evenly between federal and state seats. Political experts say his involvement likely won’t make a noticeable difference in the state’s primary elections because Trump tends to back candidates who would likely be successful anyway. Still, the former president’s endorsements in Texas are the most he’s made in any state, with Michigan next at 14, according to a tally kept by Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan politics tracker.

Trump’s intense focus on Texas is likely linked to its political weight, experts say. Though 2022 is a midterm election year, Republicans’ success here will foreshadow the political tides ahead of the next presidential contest in 2024, when Trump might run again. “If the Republican Party doesn’t have Texas, they are in deep, deep trouble for the presidency, because it’s the largest treasure trove of electoral votes,” said Paul Brace, a political science professor at Rice University. “Texas is the keystone to any Republican’s path to the presidency. And so (Trump’s) attention to Texas reflects that. Texas looms large in all Republican calculations for securing the presidency.” Plus, Texas Republicans are overwhelmingly aligned with Trump and have been willing to push his policies at all levels of government. Attorney General Ken Paxton, for example, led an unsuccessful lawsuit in 2020 to overturn presidential election results in several blue states. And in the Legislature, state lawmakers have worked to pass Trump-backed bills that would mandate election audits in the future. Though the the measures did not pass last year, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the secretary of state’s office to conduct an audit of 2020 election results in Texas’ four largest counties.

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Texas Newsroom - January 17, 2022

Texas election officials blame new voting law for rise in rejected mail-in ballot applications

With COVID-19 cases on the rise and the March primary fast approaching, county officials across the state are rejecting a high number of applications submitted by voters who wish to vote by mail instead of going to the polls. The issue centers on new requirements passed by state lawmakers last year during the 87th Texas Legislature and the special sessions that followed. Senate bill 1, by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, ushered in sweeping changes to election procedures, including what information must be included on an application for a mail-in ballot. The law requires that applications include a potential voter’s driver’s license numbers or Social Security information. That information must match the data on the person’s previously-submitted voting record. Critics of the provision say most people don’t remember which number they used when originally registering. In Bexar County, 42 of the 80 ballot applications received Thursday were rejected, Bexar County Elections administrator Jacque Callanen told Texas Public Radio.

And roughly half of Travis County’s mail-in ballot applications for the March primary election have been rejected, KUT reported Thursday. Many who spoke out against SB 1 before it passed said the legislation was designed to disenfranchise voters. Now, they say the high number of rejected ballots proves that’s exactly what is happening. “‘It’s making the process not only more difficult to follow along but people are scared to put perhaps their voter information, their driver’s license, their Social Security number, to have it mailed around,” Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria told Houston Public Media. Of the 1,276 mail-in ballot applications received to date by Harris County, Longoria said 208 have been rejected, about 16 %. But in 2018, only 4,979 applications were rejected out of 78,745, about 6 %. “Senate bill 1, as predicted by election officials, is making it harder for voters to apply to vote by mail,” she said. State watchdog groups are also weighing in, and are urging voters to be more proactive this election cycle.

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NBC 5 - January 18, 2022

Most deficiencies found during Texas power plant inspections resolved: ERCOT

Texas' grid operator says most deficiencies found during winter inspections at electric plants and transmission facilities around the state are resolved. During a meeting on Monday, ERCOT, the state's grid operator, released results of winter weather inspections conducted at electric plants across the state. The agency said it has inspected more than 300 facilities in recent months to see if they were prepared for winter. ERCOT said inspectors found 10 potential deficiencies at power generating plants and six at electric transmission facilities and that most of those deficiencies have been resolved.

From new records revealing the causes of the massive February power outages to new interviews revealing potential solutions, NBC 5 Investigates gets to the bottom of the state's power problems in the ongoing streaming series "Powerless," available here. That’s a huge increase from the roughly 80 in-person inspections ERCOT used to conduct annually –prior to last year’s winter storm which knocked out power across the state. Inspectors look for things like wind screening that protects equipment against the cold – and heat tracing lines that warm pipes to prevent freezing. ERCOT said more than 100 electric facilities still have to complete work on winter preparation plans they were required to submit this year. Many of those have been given an extension to complete the work. ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission said they will continue to monitor those facilities and take action against any that do not comply.

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Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2022

Oklahoma lawmaker to introduce copycat bill that mirrors Texas’ restrictive abortion law

As Texas’ restrictive abortion ban remains in effect, leading to Texans having to travel to other states to have access to the procedure, a Republican state lawmaker in Oklahoma plans to push a bill that mirrors the Texas law. Rep. Sean Roberts, who represents a state House district northwest of Tulsa, said his bill would allow any individual in Oklahoma to sue doctors who perform an abortion after conception that is not to save the mother’s life. “Individual citizens are an extremely important part of making sure that we are protecting the lives of the unborn,” Roberts said in a statement on Jan. 7. “This legislation puts principle into action and I am going to fight extremely hard to get it passed during the upcoming session.” Under the Oklahoma bill, plaintiffs would be able to seek up to $10,000 in damages in civil court against abortion providers or anyone who “aids and abets” such an abortion. The threat of such a hefty payout has proved to be an effective deterrent in Texas, where abortion providers across the state have scaled back services and the number of abortions performed has plummeted.

This aspect of the Texas law, its novel enforcement mechanism intended to shield the law from federal court oversight, seemed to inspire the most concern from Supreme Court justices when they heard arguments on the law’s constitutionality Nov. 1. Ultimately, justices left the Texas law in place on Dec. 10 and merely referred the fate of SB 8 and access to abortion in Texas back to lower courts for further consideration. As a result, Texans are traveling long distances to clinics across the country seeking abortions, though especially to neighboring states. The Dallas Morning News reported in December that Planned Parenthood clinics in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas saw 40 Texans the previous fall, but since September there had been more than 800. In his press release, Roberts said that according to Oklahoma State Department of Health 2021 statistics, the number of Texas residents seeking abortions in Oklahoma has increased since SB 8 went into effect. Consequently, Roberts said, this necessitates the passing of a similar law in Oklahoma. “This legislation is critical, and it must be passed this session to stem the tide of Texans seeking abortions in our state,” Roberts said. “No matter what, I will continue to be a voice for the voiceless and a champion for pro-life Oklahomans.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2022

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is 'relentless' flagbearer in House Democrats' social justice push

When U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee first got to Congress in 1995, Democratic leadership sent her straight to the high-profile House Judiciary Committee — a show of confidence in the freshman from a Houston district long represented by fierce civil rights advocates. Among them was Barbara Jordan, the first Black Texan elected to Congress, who rose to national prominence from a seat on the committee. “There were few slots on that committee,” Jackson Lee recalled. “They just saw me, I guess through my profile, through Barbara Jordan’s work — ‘This is the 18th congressional district, and this is where she’s going.’ “I thought it was an honor because they assumed I was going to be the person they needed,” she said.

Nearly three decades later, Jackson Lee has in many ways become just that. The 72-year-old congresswoman, one of the most senior and recognizable members of the Texas delegation, has become a go-to member for House Democrats on a slew of social justice issues, from policing reform to reparations for the descendants of slaves. Long one of the most active members of the House, Jackson Lee has been busy as ever since Democrats took control of the chamber in 2020. “She understands that she inherited the district that was the district of Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland, both of whom were serious civil rights advocates,” said Melanye Price, director of Prairie View A&M University’s Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice. “She has risen to the occasion to become part of the senior leadership, the sort of elder statesman of Congress.” Jackson Lee works as chief deputy to Majority Whip James Clyburn and serves on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, the House Budget Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee. Clyburn called Jackson Lee an “effective and unrelenting lawmaker.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2022

Brian T. Smith: Give me the Texans over the Cowboys

It is better to have failed than not tried. Normally, I subscribe to the above life rule. Man in the arena and all that. But when it comes to the NFL’s cursed team to the north? When we’re discussing the failure, yet again, of Texas’ other professional football franchise? It’s better to be the Texans than the Cowboys. And it’s not even close. Historically? When Super Bowl trophies and appearances are compiled, then matched against each other? An obvious tip of the hat to Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, the old days and long-forgotten history. But in our modern times? In the real world that we live and work in daily? In the contemporary NFL and on social media?

Texans, Texans, Texans. Another professional way of putting it: For as bad as the Texans can be and as often as they frustrate you, at least the Texans aren’t the bleeping Cowboys. I’ll take Cal McNair over Jerry Jones. Seriously. At least McNair defers to the pros that he hires and isn’t afraid to make a change at the top. Jones stuck by Jason Garrett for no reason for 10 boring and painful seasons. When Jones finally found a little urgency and axed Garrett, he replaced a boring head coach with another boring HC in Mike McCarthy. McCarthy should have been fired on Sunday night, after Dallas trailed 16-7 at halftime inside its own stadium, committed 14 total penalties and ended its own season with the most inexplicable end-of-game decision in NFL playoff history.

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2022

Houston-area companies stick to vaccination policies after Supreme Court decision

Local companies say they will maintain their vaccination policies despite last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate for firms with more than 100 employees. The Houston software company Hewlett Packard Enterprises, for example, said vaccinations are still required for employees to enter offices, work at clients’ sites, travel for business, or required for team members to enter work sites, work at third-party sites, and to travel or attend events on business. Those who decline to be vaccinated are required to work from home. More than 90 percent of the company’s workforce is vaccinated, a company spokesperson said. The company has not yet decided whether to require booster shots.

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the vaccination mandate, dealing a blow to one of the administration's key initiatives to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The court’s conservative majority found that imposing the mandate reached beyond the authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency charged with implementing the mandate. The majority argued that the pandemic wasn’t a workplace safety problem, but rather a public health issue. The court let stand the mandate requiring health care workers to be vaccinated. Legal experts and business leaders say the ruling isn’t likely to change much since many employers have already had policies put in place before the mandate went into effect. Bob Harvey, CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, the region’s leading business group, said he doesn’t anticipate employers changing their policies because of the Supreme Court ruling. “I don't think we'll see employers (with mandates) pull back frankly,” he said. “For those who are sitting on the fence they're less likely to move forward with a mandate.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 17, 2022

Texas synagogue hostage-taker likely radicalized in hometown

Malik Faisal Akram was banned from a U.K. Magistrate court three weeks after 9/11. He told a court usher he wished he had been on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. More than 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, Akram, 44, was let inside a Colleyville synagogue under the guise that he needed shelter. He cocked a handgun he bought off the street and held Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three members of Congregation Beth Israel hostage. He demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, the first female terrorism defendant arrested after 9/11. She is incarcerated at a federal prison in Fort Worth. “You get my sister on the phone,” he was heard in a livestream of the synagogue’s Sabbat service, referring to Siddiqui. Her family has said they are not blood relatives. It is common for people who support Siddiqui to refer to her as their sister.

Akram was killed at the end of the standoff after the hostages safely escaped. Police have not said if Akram shot himself or if members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team killed him. He had accepted his death hours before it happened, based on what he could be heard saying on the livestream. “I’m going to die at the end of this, all right? I am going to die, so don’t cry over me,” he said. Subscribers can now comment on a variety of articles. Join the conversation. The FBI is investigating the standoff as an act of terrorism. In the days following, U.S. officials have released little information about Akram and how he got to North Texas. What we do know raises many questions. On Sept. 12, 2001, as first responders covered in gray ash continued their rescue efforts in New York, Akram was once again causing a stir inside the Blackburn magistrates court in Northgate, roughly 30 miles north of Manchester, England. He wasn’t scheduled for court but had been known to cause trouble there, according to a 2001 report from the Lancashire Telegraph. His 9/11 ramblings caused the courts to ban him from returning. This followed a warning letter sent to him in May of that year related to a previous, unknown incident. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram contacted the court and local police for more information on Monday, but a response wasn’t immediately received. Akram told the Lancashire Telegraph in 2001 that he was innocent of the allegation that he had talked about 9/11 in court.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 17, 2022

Colleyville rabbi threw chair at hostage-taker to escape

The rabbi who was among the four people held hostage for more than 11 hours inside a Colleyville synagogue said that he and members of his congregation escaped after he threw a chair at the hostage-taker, according to a Monday interview with CBS Mornings. Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told CBS Mornings that the hostage-taker, later identified as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, knocked on his synagogue door and Cytron-Walker let him in, thinking the man needed shelter. Cytron-Walker made him tea and talked to him. He said some of Akram’s story didn’t add up, and he didn’t reveal his intentions until “plenty of time in.” When the congregation was praying and the rabbi’s back was turned, Cytron-Walker heard a click and later realized it was Akram’s gun.

“It was overwhelming, and we’re still processing,” he said. “It’s been a lot. It’s been completely overwhelming.” Law enforcement officials have credited Cytron-Walker for being calm and collected during the incident. Cytron-Walker told CBS Mornings that being a calm, none-anxious presence is a part of what he does as a rabbi. “We do that in hospital rooms,” he said. “We do that during the most difficult of individual moments. And I did the best I could to do that throughout the standoff.” He also said the congregation has taken courses with the FBI and the Colleyville Police Department to know what to do if there’s a gunman situation, and that experience helped him. During the last hour of the standoff, Cytron-Walker said, Akram wasn’t getting what he wanted from police and was getting frustrated.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 17, 2022

Jerry Jones says Dallas Cowboys are not changing coaches

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones chose his words carefully and purposefully The shock and disappointment over his team’s 23-17 NFC wild card loss to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday before more than 100,000 fans at AT&T Stadium was palpable. He didn’t see this coming, not with the team the Cowboys assembled and not after the season they had. Jones, however, refused to attach any action to his dejection, specifically with regard to any possibility of replacing head coach Mike McCarthy. “I don’t even want to discuss anything like that at this particular time. No discussion about anything,” Jones said. When pressed further about McCarthy having his team “unprepared” for such an important game, considering they fell behind 23-7, as well the Cowboys’ undisciplined play with 14 penalties, Jones stood firm — even as he readily admitted that the Cowboys were outcoached and outplayed.

“I’m not going to discuss coaching, preparation, any of those things. That is not on the table,” Jones said of a coaching change. “The game speaks for itself.” McCarthy said he is unconcerned about his future in Dallas after two disappointing seasons. The Cowboys went 6-10 in his first year after quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a fractured ankle and missed the final 11 games of the 2020 season. McCarthy is coming off a 12-5 regular season, an NFC East title and a No. 3 seed in the conference, but losing a first-round home playoff game will be forever gut-wrenching. “I don’t have any concerns,” McCarthy said of his job status. “I’m proud to be standing here today. I’m proud of my football team.” Jones, however, is anything but proud. And that’s where the two divide. He said he can’t remember when he was this disappointed in a loss. Jones said he thought the Cowboys had finally put together a team that could possibly end the soon-to-be, 27-year gap since they last won a Super Bowl following the 1995 season. “We had about as good a putting-it-together and good fortune with some of the decisions we’ve made,” Jones said. “We had it come together about as good as you could do it, and we had it come together about as healthy as you can be.

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Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2022

Dallas ISD head Michael Hinojosa would buck political norms by challenging Eric Johnson for mayor

Outgoing Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa is poised to test whether incumbent Dallas mayor Eric Johnson can be defeated. In a news conference last week announcing his December departure, Hinojosa didn’t fully address specific questions about challenging Johnson, who will be up for reelection in 2023. But it’s widely known that Hinojosa has had discussions with supporters about ousting Johnson. Johnson is aware of Hinojosa’s deliberations and will be ready, making the 2023 mayoral race a watershed event in Dallas history. “There’s no precedent for what we’re looking at here,” said Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell. “This would be a fascinating political science study.”

Historically, Dallas mayors don’t face serious reelection competition. In 2015 Mike Rawlings faced a light challenge from Dallas lawyer Marcos Ronquillo. Like Rawlings, Tom Leppert and Ron Kirk never faced significant mayoral reelection challenges. The most competitive reelection contest occurred in 2003, when former Mayor pro tem Mary Poss, who served as mayor when Kirk resigned in 2001 to run for U.S. Senate, challenged incumbent Mayor Laura Miller’s bid for reelection. Miller rolled up 50 percent of the vote. When it comes to mayoral elections, the Dallas way has been to wait for an incumbent to finish their limit of two consecutive terms, instead of mounting what could be difficult challenges to entrenched incumbents. That concept has been cemented by the city’s business elite that largely funds mayoral campaigns. A Hinojosa candidacy against Johnson would change the game, particularly since he’s a well-known actor of the Dallas political scene. “You have to assume that there’s some frustration that Hinojosa has with the climate and environment in which he has to operate,” said SMU political scientist and longtime Dallas political observer Cal Jillson. “He’s decided that at age 65, you can keep muddling along in a job that you’ve held off and on for 15 years, or you can try to alter that environment. It looks like he’s looking at that prospect.”

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Associated Press - January 17, 2022

Missing Jason Landry: What Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office hopes release of new evidence will do

More than one year since Texas State student Jason Landry disappeared, the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office is releasing new evidence in the case. And they’re hoping it will catch the attention of the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton. A call log, more than an hour of body camera footage from responding law enforcement, cell phone videos taken by Landry’s father, Kent, and a screen-recorded FaceTime call with Jason are among the items newly released this week. Landry’s abandoned car was found totaled Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 near Luling. Evidence showed the 21-year-old was in a crash near 2365 Salt Flat Road, and investigators believe he may have tried to overcorrect his turn on the gravel road — which led him to spin off the roadway.

An investigation has revealed he was on his way to the Missouri City, Texas area to visit his parents, but the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office says a volunteer firefighter in the area discovered his car and his belongings spread out across the road. The only signs of Landry were his clothes on the road and a backpack with his personal things, along with some marijuana in a prescription bottle. The responding Texas Highway Patrol Trooper can be heard on his body camera footage saying to his mom that he was believed to be under the influence of something when the crash happened. The body camera footage also revealed Texas State University representatives told the trooper that Landry was enrolled just in online classes, though he lived in San Marcos. Since that night, Landry’s parents have held out hope to find their son. KXAN reached out to Landry’s parents for this story but have not heard back. Now that investigators have gained access to most of Landry’s phone and computer data, they’re revealing more about the moments leading up to his disappearance.

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MSNBC - January 17, 2022

Kevin M. Kruse: Texas' ban on critical race theory in schools proves the GOP still doesn't understand MLK's message

(Kevin M. Kruse is ab MSNBC opinion columnist.) Texas this week became the latest state to ban the teaching of critical race theory. The author of the bill, Republican state Rep. Steve Toth, has insisted that the measure was wholly in keeping with the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. “It echoes Dr. King’s wish that we should judge people on the content of their character, not [the color of] their skin,” Toth told a reporter this month. This talking point is apparently the new Republican orthodoxy. At a campaign rally last year, then-President Donald Trump claimed that “critical race theory is a Marxist doctrine that rejects the vision of Martin Luther King Jr.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis likewise asserted that critical race theory was “basically teaching kids to hate our country and to hate each other based on race,” adding: “It puts race as the most important thing. I want content of character to be the most important thing.”

In making such comments, Republican officials reveal that they don’t really understand critical race theory — and don’t really understand Martin Luther King Jr., either. Despite the moral panic from conservative politicians that it was designed with “kids” in mind, critical race theory has largely been limited to law schools and advanced graduate programs. (As many joked on social media, if your “kids” are really being taught critical race theory, you should be proud they’re in law school.) Moreover, far from stressing that race is “the most important thing,” critical race theory challenges the idea that race is a thing at all. It starts with the premise that there is no biological or scientific justification for racial categories and that race was a socially constructed invention — a fiction, but one that has nevertheless been written into our laws and legislation. Those who work on critical race theory are baffled by the seemingly deliberate mischaracterizations of their work. Those who work on critical race theory are baffled by the seemingly deliberate mischaracterizations of their work. Kimberlé Crenshaw, the noted law professor at UCLA and Columbia and a pioneering scholar in the field, dismissed Trump’s and DeSantis’ specific claims as “false and slanderous.”

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KXAN - January 18, 2022

Johnson City ISD cancels classes after ‘high rate’ of staff catch COVID-19

The Johnson City Independent School District hopes classes will resume Wednesday after having to cancel them Monday and Tuesday due to staff being out with COVID-19. In a Sunday letter to parents, Superintendent Richard Kolek said the district “is experiencing a high rate of faculty and staff testing positive for COVID-19.” Because of all the staff absences, he said the district can’t properly cover classes or ensure student safety. During the closure, athletics will continue as normal, the letter said, but updates on practices and games will be sent through the sportsYou app.

“We realize cancelling school can be a burden on you as a parent. However, it is imperative that we work together to ensure the safety of all students and staff,” Kolek said in the letter. Johnson City ISD isn’t the only district dealing with closures and staff shortages. The Lago Vista Independent School District announced Monday it’s closing the middle and high schools to students Tuesday and Wednesday due to staff absences. Staff will still report to campus those days. The district is hoping to resume classes for grades six through 12 Thursday.

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Religion News Service - January 16, 2022

As rabbi was held hostage, his interfaith clergy colleagues gathered to help end the standoff

If there’s a word that comes up repeatedly when friends discuss Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, the rabbi who was taken hostage with three others at his Reform synagogue Saturday (Jan. 15), it’s “kind.” “Kind doesn’t begin to cover it,” said Lindsey Weiss, who attended Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, since she was 11. “He’s the nicest guy.” But it wasn’t kindness alone that may have helped Cytron-Walker defuse a tense 11-hour standoff with a gunman who said he brought explosives to the synagogue. The rabbi, who has led the Reform synagogue of about 125 families since 2006, is also an interfaith champion with deep-rooted friendships not only among Christians but Muslims, too.

Those friendships were evident in the command center set up at Good Shepherd Catholic Community nearby, where a group of rabbis, imams and pastors helped FBI teams negotiate with the hostage-taker. The team included Bob Roberts Jr., pastor of Northwood Church in nearby Keller and co-founder of the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network; Imam Omar Suleiman, president of Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and a columnist at Religion News Service; Azhar Azeez, a former president of the Islamic Society of North America; and Rabbi Andrew Marc Paley of Temple Shalom in Dallas. “There’s probably no one who can handle it better than (Cytron-Walker) because he gets a bigger picture than just his own tribe,” said Roberts, who has known Cytron-Walker for 15 years. “That’s how he lived his life in the public square — committed to his own faith but respectful of other people’s faiths. ” Late Saturday, an FBI SWAT team breached the synagogue, killing the hostage-taker and freeing three of the people inside — a fourth person, an elderly man, had been released around 5 p.m. The suspect was identified as Malik Faisal Akram, a British citizen.

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Click2Houston - January 18, 2022

River Oaks doctor suspended from Houston Methodist over views on COVID-19 vaccines to file lawsuit, attorney says

A Houston Methodist doctor who was thrust into the spotlight in November after her privileges were suspended because of her views on vaccines and early treatment for COVID-19 has plans to file a lawsuit against the hospital system. Doctor Mary Bowden is an ear, nose and throat specialist. She runs her own private practice, BreatheMD, but had recently joined the staff at Houston Methodist. The doctor, who claims she has treated more than 2,000 patients with COVID-19, said she had a great relationship with Methodist until they disagreed with some of her social media posts regarding vaccine mandates and treatments.

“The issues with vaccines and ivermectin really go against patient autonomy and their right to choose their treatment,” Dr. Bowden said. In a previous interview, she told KPRC she feels some people are even being discriminated against because they have not been vaccinated. “I am not intimidated by the bullying,” said Dr. Bowden. “I am just trying to save the lives of my patients.” Dr. Bowden announced that she is not backing down, and held a press conference Monday speaking further about her position. A lawsuit is expected to be filed within 24 hours, according to her attorney, Steve Mitby.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 18, 2022

Greg Jefferson: Don’t call it a commuter college: UTSA’s fancy new honor means big things for San Antonio

Don’t underestimate the significance of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s new status as a Tier One research institution. It just got easier for UTSA to recruit sought-after professors and secure federal grants. The designation will mean more collaboration between the university and corporations, as well as nonprofits. And it’s likely to pique the interest of companies looking to relocate or expand operations to San Antonio. Last month, UTSA announced it had achieved the R1 designation, commonly referred to as Tier One, from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. In plain English, that means the university is conducting a lot of sound, significant research.

UTSA, one of 20 Hispanic-serving universities in the U.S. to reach Tier One, recently reported research expenditures of $140 million for 2021. That’s a 106 percent increase from 2017, when Taylor Eighmy stepped in as president. University researchers are working in the biosciences, biotechnology, energy, artificial intelligence and automation, cybersecurity and cloud computing, among other fields. Last year, UTSA faculty members landed 376 research grants totaling $168 million. The largest was $12.5 million from the National Institutes of Health for brain research. UTSA, which has a student population of nearly 35,000, opened on the North Side in 1969. One of its biggest champions was Gov. John Connally, who started the push for a UT campus in San Antonio in 1963. It served as a classic commuter college; most students didn’t live on campus. In other words, a university for townies. Its pursuit of Tier One status started more than 20 years ago under then-President Ricardo Romo. Its goal set, the university steadily recruited faculty members strong in research, added doctoral programs and increased its number of graduate students. Dr. Bernard Arulanandam, an immunologist, arrived in San Antonio in 2000. His hiring was part of UTSA’s effort to achieve the hallowed R1 status.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2022

World’s biggest Buc-ee’s convenience store will no longer be in Texas

The famous Buc-ee’s in New Braunfels, once lauded as the biggest travel center ever, will lose its title when a new Buc-ee’s in Tennessee opens and becomes the world’s largest convenience store. It appears that everything is not bigger in Texas. For nearly all of its 40-year history, Buc-ee’s gas stations and extraordinarily large convenience stores have been in Texas only. In 2019, the first Buc-ee’s opened outside of the Lone Star State, in Alabama. The company now has six travel centers outside of its home state, with more on the way.

The Buc-ee’s in Sevierville, Tenn., — positioned to be “the first stop on everyone’s Smoky Mountain adventure,” the CEO told a Tennessee TV station — will be the company’s first “Big Store” prototype. It has 120 fuel pumps, a 250-foot car wash and 74,000 square feet of indoor shopping. That’s the size of five Trader Joe’s. Buc-ee’s in New Braunfels has the same number of fuel pumps but has a slightly smaller shopping area than the Tennessee behemoth, at 68,000 square feet. The city posted a teary video to Facebook and TikTok lamenting the news, set to the Taylor Swift lyrics “please don’t be in love with someone else.” The New Braunfels Buc-ee’s will remain the biggest travel center for now, until the Tennessee shop opens at an unknown date in 2022. It’ll be a “big dang deal” for Tennessee, says thesmokies.com. Buc-ee’s operates six travel centers on the outskirts of Dallas-Fort Worth and 35 in the state of Texas. Despite whatever’s happening out east, they’re all still pretty dang big.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2022

Dallas police send criminal case against megachurch pastor Rickie Rush to prosecutors

Four years after a woman’s Facebook post led to a spate of sexual and physical abuse allegations against Dallas megachurch pastor Rickie Rush, police have referred a criminal case to prosecutors, The Dallas Morning News has learned. The case, delivered to the Dallas County district attorney’s office in late October, involves multiple accusers, police said. Officials declined to identify them or specify the allegations against the 61-year-old evangelist and founder of Inspiring Body of Christ Church. For accusers and their advocates, the move marks a key step toward holding Rush accountable amid doubts about whether the probe had been stalled and police were taking it seriously.

Last year, after Dallas police Chief Eddie García was hired, he sought to assure the public his department was serious about the case and urged anyone with information to come forward. Rush’s alleged abuse dates to the mid-1990s. Through his attorneys, Rush has denied all allegations and called them ludicrous. They said Rush’s accusers are trying to use law enforcement to buttress potential lawsuits. No claims have been filed. On Monday, Rush lawyer Michael Heiskell said he had shared with police and the DA’s office results of a polygraph test Rush took last year showing his denials were “truthful with no deception detected.” Polygraphs are not considered reliable and are inadmissible in Texas courts. Those who say Rush abused them were relieved to hear a case is progressing. “This is the best news I’ve heard concerning the pain that was inflicted on us,’’ Renee Phillips, 45, the first to go public, told The News. “Now I understand how imperative it is to speak out. It’s never too late. You never know how your story connects with other silent voices.’’

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2022

Thousands welcome back Houston’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades, service events

Lee Herbert had been to a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade only a handful of times since moving to Houston about 15 years ago, but after last year’s parades went virtual, he was determined not to miss the opportunity again. Herbert and his family were among the thousands of people who came out on a beautiful, albeit chilly, Monday morning to see one of the city’s two MLK Day parades. Standing downtown as dancers in the Black Heritage Society’s Original MLK Day Parade passed by, Herbert, 52, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to honor King’s legacy not only with his family, but with the rest of the city. “After that crazy year we had, you realized you weren’t really living and that you had to start doing the stuff that Houston has to offer, and this is a positive and very powerful parade and I decided we should come out and be a part of the community,” Herbert said.

The 44th Annual Original MLK Day Parade and the 28th MLK Grande Parade in Midtown, though, were just one way for residents to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Elected officials and community groups across the city held service events in King’s honor, using the holiday to turn his words about equality, justice, love and togetherness and turn them into action. “My heart is so warm right now,” District D Councilwoman Carolyn Evans-Shabazz said as she watched about two dozen volunteers at the Sunnyside Community Center take up trash pickers and garbage bags for the day’s “community cleanup.” Her Director of Constituent Services Steven James divided the volunteers into teams and sent them to six “hot spots” around Sunnyside where maintenance crews regularly reported a high volume of litter. “As an African-American woman, it’s important for me set an example and show my children, and my grandchildren, that this is all about us connecting with our communities and being leaders and mentors for those that come after us,” said volunteer Amy Stewart, 52.

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National Stories

Associated Press - January 17, 2022

Ruling raises new questions about remote testimony in court

An overturned conviction in Missouri is raising new questions about video testimony in criminal court cases nationwide, and the ruling could have ripple effects through a justice system increasingly reliant on remote technology as it struggles with a backlog of cases during the coronavirus pandemic. Missouri’s highest court on Tuesday reversed the statutory rape conviction of Rodney Smith in a case from St. Louis, finding that an investigator’s video testimony violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. The investigator appeared remotely in 2019 because he was on paternity leave, testifying that DNA evidence taken from the victim’s clothing matched the defendant’s DNA. The girl had since recanted her accusations, so the conviction and sentence of probation turned on the DNA evidence.

Many state and federal courts halted all criminal trials for months during the pandemic, allowing remote trials only when defendants explicitly agreed to forfeit any rights to in-person confrontation of their accusers. The Missouri ruling differs from many pandemic-era cases because the judge went ahead despite the defendant’s objections. State court systems typically handle millions of cases every year in total, the vast majority of which will not be directly affected by the legal questions raised in the Missouri ruling. The number of trials also plummeted during the pandemic. But even if that decision impacts only several hundred cases, it would mean yet more challenges for an already overburdened judiciary. The decision could eventually make this a test case for the U.S. Supreme Court, said Michael Wolff, a former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and a professor at the St. Louis University School of Law. “This guy was convicted with the use of Zoom technology and could not have been convicted without it,” Wolff said. The nation’s highest court has allowed exemptions for child witness to testify remotely to shield them from a potentially traumatic experience, but “you still don’t get away from the fact that the Constitution says there’s a right to confrontation.”

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Politico - January 17, 2022

Kristi Noem’s on a political rocket ship. But don’t rule out a crash.

One Saturday last fall, around the opening of South Dakota’s pheasant hunting season, a crowd of businesspeople and political benefactors who’d come to meet and hunt with the state’s governor, Kristi Noem, trickled back to the Sheraton for dinner and an auction. The whole weekend had been billed as a business recruiting event for South Dakota, and auction proceeds went to conservation efforts in the state. But the vibe was almost indistinguishable from a typical political fundraiser: an evening, closed to the press, where donors mingled with political staffers, where a governor thanked supporters, and where Tim Laudner, the retired Minnesota Twins catcher and hunting enthusiast, got held up for handshakes at the door — the mix of celebrity and personal access that defines a modern political career. Projected on a screen in a ballroom was an autographed photograph of Noem and Donald Trump, which sold for $12,500. An Indian Motorcycle Super Chief Limited that Noem rode at the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., brought $27,500. There was a print of Noem on horseback; there was a rifle she’d hunted with. And you could also buy time with a politician who is widely considered a credible potential candidate for president or, more likely, vice president in 2024.

A star of the coronavirus pandemic, Noem had become an unexpected Republican sensation in 2020 and into last year, at the height of partisan warring over the pandemic. As she theatrically defied mask and vaccine mandates and cast South Dakota as a “beacon of hope” for the skeptical and recalcitrant, she became a staple on Fox. CNN branded her “the female Trump,” while Trump himself encouraged Noem to primary her state’s “RINO” senior senator, John Thune (an invitation Noem declined). GOP state and county party chairs in early presidential nominating states began inviting Noem to speak at their events, and her stock rose among the Conservative Political Action Conference set. Last summer, she earned a personal takedown in the impeccably parlor-liberal pages of Vanity Fair — a badge of honor for any Republican. Two years from the next presidential election, what does Noem have her sights on, exactly? Normally, you might say she’s testing the waters for president, one of a generation of up-and-coming red state leaders positioning themselves as antidotes to a second Joe Biden term. But in the time of Trump, with a celebrity kingmaker still firmly in charge of the GOP, she’s also running to stay on his radar as a potential asset. In Mar-a-Lago — where, if Trump runs in 2024, Noem’s fate as a running mate or potential Cabinet secretary will be decided — one Trump ally told me that there is a widely held appreciation for Noem’s “star quality.” If Trump runs and decides to select a woman as a running mate, Noem may benefit from critical comments Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador, made about Trump following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol last year.

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Bloomberg - January 18, 2022

Walmart files plans to create cryptocurrency and NFTs

Walmart is preparing to create its own cryptocurrency and collection of non-fungible tokens, filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show, setting the stage for meeting its customers in the emerging metaverse. The retailer sought several new trademarks in December that show it intends to make and sell virtual goods such as electronics, decor, toys, sporting goods and personal-care products. The applications, which were first reported by CNBC, represent a significant step for the retail giant as it studies how to participate in the metaverse, a virtual world that blends aspects of digital technologies. Walmart advertised a position in August to develop a “digital currency strategy and product roadmap” while identifying “crypto-related investment and partnerships,” according to a job posting on the company’s website. The applications were among a flurry the company filed on Dec. 30, including three under “Walmart Connect” — the name of the company’s existing digital advertising venture — for a financial exchange for virtual currency and advertising.

Applications were also filed for “Verse to Store,” “Verse to Curb” and “Verse to Home” for shopping services. It’s also seeking trademarks to apply the Walmart name and “fireworks” logo to heath care services and education in virtual and augmented reality. “Walmart is continuously exploring how emerging technologies may shape future shopping experiences,” the company responded in an emailed statement. “We don’t have anything further to share today, but it’s worth noting we routinely file trademark applications as part of the innovation process.” All of the applications were filed indicating that the company intends to use them but has not yet begun doing so. The trademarks wouldn’t be registered until they are in actual use. Walmart’s cryptocurrency plans were the subject of a high-profile hoax in September, when a fake announcement caused a short-lived surge in Litecoin, a relatively obscure cryptocurrency. According to the faked news release, Walmart would start letting its customers pay with Litecoin. Even so, Walmart has continued to explore capabilities in that realm. In October, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer started a pilot program in which shoppers can buy Bitcoin at Coinstar kiosks in some of its U.S. stores. The test with Coinstar, which is known for the machines that let customers exchange U.S. coins for paper bills or gift cards, includes 200 kiosks in Walmart stores. In early December, Walmart chief financial officer Brett Biggs said at an analyst conference that the company was open to allowing shoppers to pay in cryptocurrency if customers demand it but didn’t see a need to rush out any capabilities.

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Newsweek - January 17, 2022

David Reaboi: Ron DeSantis welcomes you to Florida, America's new Texas

(David Reaboi, a fellow at the Claremont Institute, writes at Late Republic Nonsense. He lives in Miami Beach.) For conservatives all over the world, Texas has long been something of a promised land, boasting decades of government policy hospitable to freedom and the kind of straight-talking, kind people who'd greet you warmly even on a busy street. It's a place well-known for a rugged toughness, an embrace of tradition and a fearless independent streak. Considering also the romantic notions that have attached to that state since films began to romanticize the Wild West over the last century, it's remarkable that Texas' once-nonpareil position in the conservative imagination has been displaced so quickly—and by a place that was long thought of as a blue-leaning swing state. By last week, when Governor Ron DeSantis gave his State of the State Address in Tallahassee, Florida had already eclipsed Texas as the most energetic, forward-looking red state in America, having captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of conservatives who have flocked here—and millions in other states and countries who are watching, often jealously, from afar. (Even from Texas.)

DeSantis' insistence on protecting normal life in Florida through the COVID insanity of the last two years has distinguished him in American politics. Through his own stubborn resistance to what he has called "blind adherence to Faucian declarations," he has made Florida a true beacon of sanity. By now, every Floridian knows how this happened, and most will never forget it. In March 2020, the nation was in the grip of COVID hysteria, and America was locked down. In every state, stores, offices and factories closed as workers and business owners struggled to prove to nameless mandarins that their very livelihoods qualify as "essential." President Donald Trump, while skeptical of Anthony Fauci's edicts, nevertheless cowed to the pressure of the media and allowed his chief medical advisor to promote draconian lockdown policies. Absurdly, gyms and even public beaches and parks boarded up. Violators of local COVID-inspired rules and closures were slapped with massive fines. As crime initially dropped during the lockdowns, municipalities repurposed their police forces as lockdown enforcers—levying massive fines on businesses that dared to open or allow customers to enter without masks. Conservatives were shocked that, even in the liberty-minded Lone Star State, people's lives were being crushed by power-mad politicians. In Dallas, Shelley Luther was issued a large fine and was then jailed merely for keeping her hair salon open. Fearing the backlash from a lockdown-obsessed national and local media, Texas Governor Greg Abbott vacillated, failing to decisively bring the state back to normal.

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Washington Post - January 17, 2022

Karen Tumulty: Biden’s year of hard lessons

The Washington that Joe Biden inhabits as president bears little resemblance to the one he thought he would be presiding over when he took office a year ago — one in which he believed it was still possible to bring people together across the partisan divide. During his presidential campaign and in the weeks before he took office, Biden sounded supremely confident about his potential to be a dealmaker who could navigate the political undercurrents of the Senate where he served for 36 years. “I’m going to say something outrageous: I’m not bad at this,” the president-elect told a small group of columnists, of whom I was one. “Part of this is convincing people what their mutual interest is. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to get anyone from the Proud Boys to some of our really, really strident Republicans,” he said. “I’m not going to get those folks. I don’t have to get those folks, I don’t think. But part of it is making a case — and I think there’s a case that can be made — that demonstrates that … everything from racial equity to environmental progress to plain old jobs can be had in a way that everybody can sign on to.”

If only. Biden’s first year has brought some major achievements: a $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief package; a vaccine rollout that has resulted in nearly 63 percent of the population fully immunized; a modern record for the number of new federal judicial vacancies filled by a first-year president. But of his big successes, only one — the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill he signed in November — made it over the finish line with bipartisan support. Meanwhile, as his presidency approaches its first anniversary on Thursday, it appears to be running out of gas. Biden’s job approval numbers are underwater, averaging in the low 40s. The Democrats’ push for voting rights is headed for defeat on the Senate floor. His ambitious Build Back Better legislation is stymied. As a new variant of the coronavirus is sending record numbers to the hospital, the Supreme Court has struck down his administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for private business. Inflation is running at its highest rate since the 1980s, dampening an otherwise robust economic recovery. That Biden then invited both Sinema and Manchin — another holdout against suspending the filibuster — to meet with him at the White House that evening was seen as yet more evidence of the president’s impotence. Whether all of this will ultimately be viewed as a hinge point of the Biden presidency, or just a pothole in the road, will depend at least in part on factors that are out of his control — among them, the performance of the economy and the course of a tenacious pandemic that has gripped the country for nearly two years. But one thing is clear: The era of bipartisan good feeling and shared interest that Biden once envisioned is not going to happen.

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NPR - January 15, 2022

Want to get omicron and just get it over with? Here's why that's a bad idea

Millions of people are testing positive with COVID-19 in the U.S. each week and the FDA warns that most Americans will get the virus at some point. With growing evidence that the omicron variant likely causes milder disease, some people may be thinking: Why not encourage omicron to infect us so we can enjoy life again? That's not a good idea for many reasons, say infectious disease experts and doctors. Don't throw your mask away and do not even think about hosting a 1970s-style chicken pox party, the omicron version. Here's why:

"Even for boosted people, just because you don't end up in the hospital, you can still be pretty miserable for a few days," Dr. Ashish Jha, a physician and Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health said on All Things Considered. "Not sure why you need to seek that out." While omicron seems to provoke milder illness for many people, "the truth is that it's probably somewhere in between what you think of as a common cold or flu and the COVID that we had before," says Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease physician at UChicagoMedicine. "And there are still a lot of risks of getting COVID." And, of course, if you have any risk factors that put you in the vulnerable category, including age, you could still get severely sick. Even if you do get an extremely mild case, you'll miss out on life while isolating. When you're infected with COVID, you can unknowingly spread it to others before you have symptoms. You might expose your family, roommates, co-workers, or random people in the grocery store, says epidemiologist Bill Miller of The Ohio State University. "And while you might have made a conscious decision to allow yourself to be exposed and infected, those people have not made that same choice," he says. And they might have a higher risk level than you.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

Cannabis compounds blocked COVID-19 infection in laboratory study

Two compounds isolated from hemp varieties of Cannabis sativa can block the COVID-19 virus from entering human cells, according to a new study led by Oregon State University researchers. The researchers said the compounds "have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection" by COVID-19, "as a complement to vaccines." The study, published on Monday in the Journal of Natural Products, found that cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA, bind to the spike proteins on the surface of the coronavirus. The virus depends on the spike proteins to gain access to cells, making the proteins a drug target for vaccines and existing antiviral treatments including monoclonal antibodies.

"These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts," lead researcher Richard van Breemen of Oregon State University's Global Hemp Innovation Center, College of Pharmacy, and Linus Pauling Institute said in a university release. "They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans." CBGA and CBDA are the chemical precursors of cannabigerol, or CBG, and cannabidiol, or CBD, which are popular as supplements in food and cosmetics. However, the study found CBD and CBG were much less effective at binding to the coronavirus spike protein. Researchers tested the effectiveness of CBGA and CBDA in the lab using live coronavirus strains, including the alpha and beta variants. They found the compounds succeeded at preventing infection in epithelial cells, which line the lungs, heart, blood vessels, intestines and kidneys.

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Newsclips - January 17, 2022

Lead Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 16, 2022

FBI identifies hostage-taker at Colleyville, Texas synagogue

The FBI on Sunday identified the hostage-taker in the standoff at a Colleyville synagogue as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen. Akram — who could be heard speaking during a livestream that broadcast a portion of the 11-hour standoff — died Saturday night after a hostage rescue team breached the building. The four hostages were unharmed. Authorities said Saturday that Akram was killed in a shooting but did not answer a question about whether he was shot by law enforcement or if the gunshot was self-inflicted. The man claimed to have explosives, according to statements he made on the livestreamed video. Authorities have said he had a gun.

“This was an act of terror,” President Joe Biden said Sunday. Biden said there were apparently no explosives, despite the threats, the Associated Press reported. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was among those held at Congregation Beth Israel, said Sunday in a statement that he and his congregation had participated in security courses from the Colleyville Police Department, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League and Secure Community Network. It is that education that saved their lives, he said. “I encourage all Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools, and others to participate in active-shooter and security courses,” he said. “In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening. Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself.” Video recorded by a WFAA-TV photographer shows the hostages flee from a door, before a man carrying what appears to be a handgun and wearing a backpack briefly steps out of the door and returns inside. Law enforcement yell, “Come out front!” Within seconds, dozens of agents wearing tactical gear scramble around the building. Four gunshots are heard before a loud explosion, followed by more gunshots and agents shouting commands.

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KERA - January 16, 2022

Past incidents targeting Jewish Americans may have saved lives during Colleyville synagogue ordeal

The past few years have been an especially frightening time for many Jewish Americans, even before the hostage situation at Colleyville’s Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday. Preparing for the worst may have helped the hostages stay alive. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, the leader of the synagogue and one of the hostages, said in a statement on Sunday that his congregation has been prepared for this kind of incident. “Over the years, my congregation and I have participated in multiple security courses from the Colleyville Police Department, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, and Secure Community Network,” Cytron-Walker said. “We are alive today because of that education. I encourage all Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools, and others to participate in active-shooter and security courses.”

Four people spent hours trapped inside the Colleyville synagogue, after a gunman entered the synagogue during Shabbat services. The FBI has identified the suspect as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old man from the United Kingdom. An FBI team freed the hostages and Akram died. Authorities have not specified his cause of death. Congregation Beth Israel president Michael Finfer said there was “a one in a million chance” that the gunman picked his small suburban synagogue in Colleyville. “We know that a situation of this magnitude could increase the concern many of us live with on a day-to-day basis due to antisemitism,” Finfer said. “It is important to note that this was a random act of violence.” Still, the hostage situation comes during a time that has many Jewish institutions thinking about their security. Antisemitic incidents have been reported at historically high levels in recent years, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The deadliest antisemitic attack in American history was in 2018, when a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

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Axios - January 17, 2022

Trump dogs "dull" DeSantis ahead of potential 2024 matchup

Donald Trump is trashing Ron DeSantis in private as an ingrate with a "dull personality" and no realistic chance of beating him in a potential 2024 showdown, according to sources who've recently talked to the former president about the Florida governor. Why it matters: The two are among the most popular Republicans in the country, and as the former president eyes another run in 2024, he's irked by DeSantis' popularity and refusal to rule out running against him. DeSantis is a favorite of Republican voters when pollsters remove Trump from the hypothetical 2024 field.

The governor also hasn't been beyond tweaking his fellow Floridian. DeSantis said on the "Ruthless" podcast, recorded Thursday, one of his biggest regrets in office was not speaking out "much louder" in March 2020, when Trump advised the American public to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Behind the scenes: "In the context of the 2024 election, he usually gives DeSantis a pop in the nose in the middle of that type of conversation," said a source who recently spoke to Trump about DeSantis. The source, who shared the private remarks on the condition of anonymity, has heard Trump criticize DeSantis on multiple occasions. The source said Trump makes a point of saying he isn't worried about the Florida governor as a potential 2024 rival. "He says DeSantis has no personal charisma and has a dull personality," the source added. A spokesman for Trump did not comment when presented with this reporting.

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The Hill - January 16, 2022

Romney: I never got a call from White House to discuss voting rights

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) said on Sunday that the Biden administration has not reached out to him to discuss voting rights legislation, as the White House works to pass two key Democrat-backed bills. NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd questioned Romney on attempts to unify the country, noting that there appears to be only a few Republicans willing to work with the Biden administration, with Romney among them. "Well, actually, there are a lot more than a handful that are willing to work with the president. We're willing to work on issues that we care very deeply about," Romney said. "We care about education. We care about health care. We obviously care about infrastructure. There's a lot that we can do together."

"But the idea of saying blow up bipartisanship and just let whosever got the slight majority to do whatever they want, that's not the right way to get things done in America. And it's not the way to unite America," he added. Todd also asked Romney if he would be willing to work with the White House on voting legislation if it were to reach out to him. "Yes. And Chuck, I already am. The group, about 12 senators, Republicans and Democrats, that are working on the Electoral Count Act, we'll continue to work together. Sadly, this election reform bill that the president has been pushing, I never got a call on that from the White House," Romney said. "There was no negotiation, bringing in Republicans and Democrats together to try and come up with something that would meet bipartisan interests," he added. With the Build Back Better Act stalled in the Senate, the Biden administration has shifted its focus onto passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to push back against GOP-backed state laws that critics have argued limit certain groups' abilities to vote. Last week, the House passed a voting rights package that included provisions from the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said the Senate will vote on the package on Tuesday.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2022

‘Grateful to be alive’; Colleyville’s Beth Israel rabbi expresses appreciation hours after rescue

The rabbi held hostage for 11 hours inside a Colleyville synagogue thanked the community Sunday for its support and expressed gratefulness for the peaceful resolution. “I am thankful and filled with appreciation for all of the vigils and prayers and love and support,” Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said in a Facebook post. “I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive.” Cytron-Walker was one of four people held captive Saturday inside Congregation Beth Israel. All four were unharmed after a day-long standoff. The captor, identified Sunday morning as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, is dead. Authorities released few details about what happened inside the synagogue but said Akram was armed.

Cytron-Walker said in a statement that the British man who held them hostage became “increasingly belligerent and threatening” during the standoff. Colleyville police were called to the synagogue in the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Road about 10:40 a.m. when the four people were taken hostage Saturday morning during a Shabbat service, which was being streamed live on Facebook. A man could be heard speaking. At times, he sounded angry and said he was going to die. The first hostage was released about 5 p.m. The other three hostages, including Cytron-Walker, fled around 9:30 p.m., not long after a loud bang and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team breached the building. “My heart immediately dropped into my stomach,” said Alia Salem, a friend of Cytron-Walker’s family. Salem heard about the situation via a news alert and said she immediately broke down, overwhelmed with emotion.

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Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2022

Dr. C. Thomas Caskey, medical center visionary who built genetics program at Baylor College of Medicine, dies at 83

Dr. C. Thomas Caskey, a pioneering Houston researcher who illuminated mysteries in the human genome and built the genetics program at Baylor College of Medicine, died Thursday. He was 83. Caskey became known for his intellectual generosity and bold ideas when he moved to Baylor College of Medicine in 1971 and founded the Institute for Molecular Genetics, now the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics. He left the college in 1994 but returned as a professor in 2011 to continue his work. Caskey had recently suffered a stroke and died with his wife of 62 years, Peggy Pearce Caskey, by his side. His colleagues at Baylor praised his ability to pursue groundbreaking research while encouraging the diverse and skilled batch of scientist he recruited.

“He was one of the strongest and most positive and can-do personalities around,” said Dr. Brendan Lee, chair of the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics. “That was the other aspect he imbued in terms of our department, which is, ‘Think of great ideas and just do it.’ In some ways that was very Texas.” Born in Lancaster, S.C., in 1938, Caskey attended the University of South Carolina and later Duke University Medical School. He started his career as a research associate at the National Institutes of Health, where under Nobel Prize winner Marshall Nirenberg he revealed that the genetic code for amino acids is universal among all species. When he launched the genetics program at Baylor, he expanded research by recruiting scientists from across the globe who studied a broad range of species, including mice and fruit flies. Among his own research accomplishments, Caskey in the 1980s developed a method of identifying human DNA that became a widely accepted standard for forensic analysis worldwide.

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2022

Houston Jewish community faces fear with resolve, increased security after hostage standoff

Rabbis Gideon Estes and Barry Gelman planned a nighttime vigil from Houston, anticipating that they would lead prayers of safety and deliverance for the three people still being held hostage at a Colleyville synagogue Saturday. Those prayers shifted to ones of joy and thanksgiving by the time they and 300 others gathered at 10 p.m. Saturday on Zoom, just after the hostages had left the temple physically unharmed. Then came a new day for Jewish community members in Texas — one of anxiety, sadness and recovery. “We’re resilient and strong, and we will persist,” Estes said. “We have to call out hate when it comes.”

The nation waited in horror Saturday after a man took four hostages, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, during a livestreamed service at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, outside Fort Worth. He released one hostage about 5 p.m. before FBI agents breached the building later in the evening and ended nearly 11 total hours of captivity for the remaining hostages. The hostage-taker, identified Sunday as 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram of the United Kingdom, was killed in a shooting, authorities said. Law enforcement officials did not immediately clarify whether he killed himself or was shot by responders, but witnesses said they heard a loud bang and gunfire before the incident resolved. The horror quickly extended beyond the Dallas-Fort Worth Jewish community, affecting worshippers around the state and country. Debbie Karakowsky, 39, said she felt frightened and hyper-aware about the implications of the hostage situation. “Even though it wasn’t happening in my community, it felt as if it were,” said Karakowsky, of Bellaire.

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2022

Chris Tomlinson: Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight for economic justice continues now more than ever

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that gaining equality before the law was only a first step to ending white supremacy; equity in economic opportunity was more critical and challenging. “The prohibition of barbaric behavior, while beneficial to the victim, does not constitute the attainment of equality or freedom,” he wrote in an essay for The Nation magazine on March 14, 1966. “Someone has been profiting from the low wages of Negroes. Depressed living standards for Negroes are a structural part of the economy. Certain industries are based upon the supply of low-wage, underskilled and immobile nonwhite labor,” he added. The United States has made huge strides since King’s 1968 assassination. But so many of his words still apply today.

“Conflicts are unavoidable because a stage has been reached in which the reality of equality will require extensive adjustments in the way of life of some of the white majority,” he wrote. “There is no discernible will on the part of white leadership to prepare the people for changes on the new level.” Today’s politics are just as defined by ethnicity as they were in 1966, though roles have changed. The Republican Party, which gave us Abraham Lincoln and the fight against racist oppression, today opposes efforts to expand voting and economic programs to end racial inequities. Democrats, meanwhile, remain guilty of prioritizing power over justice. Those representing majority-white populations oppose voting rights protections and tax credits to lift children from poverty. Sens. Joe Manchin and Kristen Sinema provide cover for many neo-Dixiecrats in Congress. Opposition to anti-poverty programs makes little economic sense. We know that when people make more money, they require fewer government services and pay more taxes, lessening the burden on everyone else. Pandemic-relief efforts make the case.

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2022

Tom "Smitty" Smith: Texas must hold officials accountable for the winter freeze come election time

(Tom “Smitty” Smith is executive director of Texas Electric Transportation Resources.) Your Public Utility Commission is trying to fix the electricity market to prevent further blackouts. One of the proposals could reduce competition from new energy resources, lead to higher costs, eliminate needed checks and balances, and increase the potential for future blackouts. That plan would require utilities to contract with generators to be available three years in advance, with strong incentives imposed to encourage contracts with “reliable and dispatchable” plants. Unless a different technology comes along, that means natural gas, coal or nuclear. This preference for traditional generation resources would eliminate some of the competition that has resulted in lower electricity cost. During the freeze this month, about 20% of the natural gas system that fuels some of those so-called reliable and dispatchable generation resources froze again and as a result, 10% of the power plants shut down.

Some of these “reliable” plants have had to shut in heat waves because their cooling water overheated. Building more of this type of power plant is a bad idea at a time when scientists predict worsening winter storms, heat waves, droughts and hurricanes due to our changing climate. Forty years ago, Democratic challenger Mark White beat Republican Gov. Bill Clements because of out-of-control electric bills caused by a series of storms. As a consumer advocate working in the Capitol, I watched a cycle of failed reforms lead to building a series of oversized, over-budget power plants, raising rates and enriching the utilities. Finally, Republican Gov. George W. Bush ran and won on introducing competition to the electricity market. He put the risk of building power plants and market failure on the industry. Instead of energy generation companies each owning and operating a bunch of plants that were idle most of the time, he created a market that allowed utilities to buy and sell excess energy, reducing inefficiency and lowering costs. New plants replaced old, and new types of energy resources (especially wind and now solar) came into the market. Why did this restructured electric market fail last February? The Legislature, Railroad Commission and the PUC failed to require winterization of natural gas supplies and power plants.

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Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2022

Omicron variant piles on new challenges for North Texas day cares

Amid the surge in the omicron variant of coronavirus, North Texas day-care operators say that on top of the challenges that come with simply trying to keep their facilities virus-free are new difficulties of retaining staff and clientele. According to data from the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation from Jan. 11, the number of pediatric COVID-19 cases tripled after children returned to school from the holidays. It also showed a week-over-week increase of 277% among younger unvaccinated children. Day-care centers follow the advice from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services on how to prevent spread and what to do if someone gets sick. They also use the “Guidance for operating early care and education/child care programs” published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). State recommendations include opening windows or doors to improve air circulation, intensifying cleaning practices, changing child drop-off and pick-up protocols, and ensuring that sick children stay home.

Near Bachman Lake, Creative Steps Academy has not reported recent COVID-19 cases among their staff or children. Karen Nichols, owner and director of the day care, said they staff work to keep their guard up and follow prevention measures. Even before the arrival of the omicron variant, children who attended the center would always wear a mask, Nichols said. She added that children older than 2 are already used to wearing masks in the daycare center. Children wear masks in the center, Nichols said, and parents are not allowed beyond the lobby. Before the pandemic, parents could come inside to have breakfast with their children and read them a book before leaving for work. “Our parents are more concerned about the health of the children, and we have not had any pushback with that,” Nichols said about the restricted access. The children are in smaller groups, and the day-care frequently reviews CDC updates to stay updated on following guidelines, Nichols said. The story is different for El Kinder Bilingual Academy in South Dallas and Cradle to Crayons in Irving. One employee is currently out sick with COVID-19 at El Kinder Bilingual Academy. But owner and executive director Irma Martínez said that person contracted the virus while the center was closed for the holidays and hadn’t returned to work.

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Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2022

Dallas Fed stresses diversity, transparency in search for Rob Kaplan’s replacement

The co-chairs of a search committee to find the next Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas chief say they are committed to diversity and transparency in the wake of a stock-trading controversy that’s led to three top-level departures at the nation’s central bank. Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan and Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren left their posts in September after revelations that they actively traded stocks during the pandemic. Last week, Fed vice chair Richard Clarida became the third, when he resigned before his term expired. While the investments were permitted under the Fed’s rules, the stock trades raised concerns about monetary policymakers profiting during a pandemic that continues to vex health officials. Kaplan, 64, retired after it was disclosed he traded $1 million or more in 22 stocks in 2020.

Since then, the Federal Reserve cracked down on the investments its leaders can own. The new rules bar them from purchasing individual stocks, limiting them to diversified investments like mutual funds. Reserve Bank presidents would also have to provide 45 days’ advance notice of any trade, receive approval from ethics officials and publicly disclose financial transactions within 30 days. The Fed said the rules would be incorporated in coming months. In a town hall meeting last week, the co-chairs of the Dallas Fed’s six-member presidential search committee were asked if the new rules would discourage successful business leaders from applying. “There may be some candidates that won’t choose to participate, but they probably were candidates that maybe weren’t interested in public service,” said co-chair Thomas Falk, retired CEO of Irving-based Kimberly-Clark Corp. The job specifications for the Dallas Fed president run nine pages long. While no one can check off every box, Falk said, there are three main qualifications the committee is seeking in candidates. The committee wants a successor who can represent the Dallas district well on monetary policy, run a complex bank and embrace community outreach.

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2022

‘I thought I could change the world.’ Dallas’ Hinojosa talks about his four decades in education

Michael Hinojosa’s office, a corner suite at the top of Dallas ISD’s headquarters, already looks like that of a boss who’s left his job. Tidy. Sterile. “That’s how I have to have it,” Hinojosa said. It’d be easy to excuse the superintendent, at the tail end of his 13th year running DISD, for having filled the room with piles of papers, messy bookshelves or overstuffed banker’s boxes — totems that would point to his four-decade education career. But there’s none of that, and certainly no visible sign that within the week, he’ll announce one of the biggest moves in his professional life: leaving education for… something else. In a way, that fits with Hinojosa’s public persona.

Amid the maelstrom of running an urban school district, Hinojosa keeps up an air of suavity, with an immaculate office, pinstripe suits and a neatly trimmed mustache. A portrait of Hinojosa’s two tenures in DISD shares this duality. He oversaw a now-infamous budget disaster but learned from it, leaving the district on solid financial footing with a tax increase and state-record bond passage on his resume. He inherited experimental — and for some, controversial — efforts from reformer Mike Miles but stayed the course for most of them, iterating and expanding along the way. He left the district once before, with critics crowing then that he was scampering off for new prospects without fulfilling his promises. Now, Dallas’ civic and education leaders — even those he clashed with — are largely praising him for his service.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 17, 2022

One-time resort town Mineral Wells is making a comeback

In its previous life, Market 76067 was a boarding house. When visitors alight the stairs into the market’s second story, they see old advertisements papering the walls. Upstairs, about a dozen bedrooms flank the wide hallway. Each room has a bathroom: Dusty pink, with perfectly preserved mid-century clawfoot tubs and fixtures. The bedrooms are now home to the wares of local artisans, from novelty baby bibs to throws depicting the landmarks of Mineral Wells. Until Randy and Misty Nix opened the artisan emporium in 2018, many in Mineral Wells didn’t know the boarded-up building in the center of town had ever been a boarding house.

“The way they’ve done that is beautiful, because they’ve preserved the history,” said Brazos Market and Bistro co-owner Perri Leavelle. “Growing up here, we never saw any of that, because it was all boarded up and ugly. Now people can go see that and there’s a visual appreciation of the old that kind of just snowballed into ‘We all love history, and we’re now we’re all excited!’” Until about 2018, Leavelle, 42, had only seen her hometown exemplify its unflattering nickname, Miserable Wells, acquired after a period of decay caused by the closure of town’s primary employer, military base Fort Wolters, in 1973. But these days, the town has begun to reclaim its former glory as Dallas-Fort Worth’s spa escape. Ahead of the anticipated reopening of the Baker Hotel in 2024, new restaurants and shops have injected life into the sleepy downtown, and the city’s first master-planned residential development broke ground last year. It’s tempting to frame the story as a quick sprint to flashy victory, but Mineral Wells’ comeback has been decades in the making. The story of Mineral Wells mirrors the downfall of a Rust Belt town. It burned brightly in the early and mid-1900s until a cataclysmic economic event snuffed out its flame. Fort Wolters’ closure in 1973 had the same effect on Mineral Wells as the shuttering of steel mills and auto plants did to cities in the upper Midwest. While Dallas-Fort Worth surged to become the nation’s fourth-largest metro area, Mineral Wells’ population has fallen 20% since 1970, to 14,820. Although it is only an hour west of Fort Worth, Mineral Wells has missed the Metroplex’s sprawling prosperity and growth. One in four live in poverty, and the city’s median household income of $42,000 is $21,000 less than neighboring Weatherford.

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Washington Post - January 12, 2022

Texas man charged with providing performance-enhancing drugs to Olympians

Federal prosecutors charged a Texas man with peddling performance-enhancing drugs to elite athletes in advance of last year’s Tokyo Olympics, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The complaint alleges Eric Lira, a self-proclaimed “kinesiologist and naturopathic” therapist, provided banned substances including human growth hormone and erythropoietin, or EPO, to the athletes. Lira, 41, is the proprietor of Med Sport LLC, an El Paso company. According to a LinkedIn profile, he has operated in Texas and Juárez, Mexico, which borders El Paso. It is not clear whether Lira has a lawyer, and he did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment. The court records suggest among his alleged clients was a Nigerian sprinter who was banned from the Tokyo Games after testing positive for human growth hormone.

Prosecutors said in a news release that Lira was the first person charged under federal anti-doping statutes giving American authorities global reach to indict synthetic cheaters in major sporting events. The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, named after the whistleblower in the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal, was signed into law in 2020. Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which was consulted during the investigation, said in a statement that Lira’s indictment was a “wonderful example of the power of whistleblowers coming forward to trusted anti-doping agencies and law enforcement to ensure the protection of the Olympic Games.” According to the complaint, the investigation began in July, weeks before the start of the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games, when a subject referred to as “Individual-1” found packages of vials of apparent PEDs, including human growth hormone, in an athlete’s Florida home and provided photos of the drugs to the FBI. The packages included Mexican drugs bearing Lira’s return address that apparently had been mailed to an Olympian referred to in the records only as “Athlete-1.” In the days before the Tokyo Games, according to the complaint, that athlete tested positive for human growth hormone.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - January 14, 2022

John Moritz: Democrats win in other red states, but in Texas, they're unable to crack the code

Pop quiz Question 1: What do Louisiana, Kansas, Kentucky and Texas have in common when it comes to politics? Answer: All have gone Republican in every presidential election this century. Question 2: Pull Texas out of the mix, and then what do they have in common? Answer: They are all currently run by Democratic governors. That's something Texas has not been able claim in almost 28 years. In fact, Democrats haven't won any statewide elections in that long, and there have been about 100 of them during that time. By way of illustration, an online site for lottery players puts the odds of someone matching three of the six numbers in a Lotto Texas drawing at about 1 in 75. The payout for hitting three of six is a modest $3. But it still means a Texas Democrat has a better chance of winning at least part of the Lotto jackpot than getting elected statewide.

So why can Democrats win at least sometimes in red states but not in Texas? There's not a one-size-fits-all answer, but there are some clues. And, like the Lotto analogy, evidence suggests that a little luck is often involved. Let's look at Kentucky. It's home to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, arguably the most powerful Republican currently holding elective office. And it's arguably even redder than Texas. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 30 percentage points in 2016 and crushed Joe Biden by 32 points four years later. But between those blowouts, along came Democrat Andy Beshear. In 2019, one of the nation's few odd-year state elections, Beshear challenged Trump-backed Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Beshear had come out for expanded Medicaid for economically distressed families and sided with public school teachers, whom Bevin had targeted as "selfish" and "ignorant."

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Texas Observer - January 16, 2022

The GOP primary for governor is a contest of extremism

At an evangelical mega-church in the Woodlands on January 10, roughly 600 conservatives gathered to vent their frustrations over Governor Greg Abbott at a gubernatorial round table. “Our goal is to force a runoff, which will probably be between Abbott and one of these gentlemen on the stage,” said Fran Rhodes, president of the True Texas Project, a conservative activist group founded 12 years ago as the Tarrant County Tea Party. “There are eight people running, so that’s seven opportunities to vote for not-Abbott.” For the first time in his political career, Abbott is in for a fight. Since he was elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1996 by a margin of 68 points, he has yet to face a serious primary challenge for elected office. Now, with a bevy of hyper-conservative challengers, Abbot is scrambling to cover his right flank. Ensconced in red and blue light, former State Senator Don Huffines, former State GOP Chairman Allen West, and conservative talk show host Chad Prather each tried to one-up each other’s conservative bona fides.

An empty chair with Abbott’s name served as a metaphor for those who allege the governor is inaccessible to his constituents. The crowd, entirely maskless, was packed tightly into the main sanctuary, omicron be damned. True Texas Project CEO Julie McCarty kicked off the evening’s round of questions. While crediting Senate Bill 8—the Texas law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most women even know they are pregnant—for making “progress” on the issue, McCarty lamented that abortion is still legal in the Lone Star State: “Tell us if you support abolishing abortion with no exceptions, and if not, what exceptions do you make and why?” “I’d like to think I’m the most pro-life candidate ever to run for governor,” Huffines said. “I’m pro-life from conception to natural death—no exceptions.” Prather echoed Huffines’ remarks, noting that while he was born in Georgia, he considers himself a Texan because he was conceived in Dallas. “That’s how pro-life I am,” he said. Only West seemed to stake out anything but the most extremist position. “If my daughters were to be criminally violated, I would love to be able to have that discussion with God and with them,” he said. “But I would do what the people have me to do.”

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Associated Press - January 14, 2022

Texas sues Planned Parenthood over $10M in Medicaid payments

Texas wants Planned Parenthood to return more than $10 million in payments for low-income patients under a lawsuit filed Thursday, years after Republican leaders moved to cut off Medicaid dollars to the abortion provider. Planned Parenthood called the lawsuit “another political attack” in Texas, where most abortions have been banned since September under a new law that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to remain in effect. The money Texas is seeking to recoup from Planned Parenthood did not pay for abortion services — which don’t receive public funds — but did cover cancer screenings, birth control access and other health services. Planned Parenthood has previously put the number of low-income patients it served in Texas under the program at 11,000.

Republicans across the U.S. launched efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015 over secretly recorded and heavily edited videos taken by anti-abortion activists. Texas health officials accused Planned Parenthood officials of making misrepresentations to investigators and began the process of removing its clinics from the Medicaid program. Investigations by 13 states into those videos have concluded without criminal charges, and Planned Parenthood officials have denied any wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood spent years in court fighting its removal from the Medicaid program but ultimately lost. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is now arguing to a federal judge in Amarillo that Planned Parenthood was not entitled to keep the more than $10 million it received in reimbursements while fighting the decision. Planned Parenthood served only a fraction of the 4.3 million people enrolled in Medicaid in Texas.

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KXAN - January 16, 2022

Texas launches digital ballot-by-mail tracking system

Voters utilizing ballot-by-mail offerings can now track the status of their ballot online with the launch of a new digital tool. The digital initiative was created through House Bill 1382 during the 87th Texas Legislature. The digital tool lives on the Texas Secretary of State’s website, under the “My Voter Portal” tab. Officials required the launch of the program come in time for the March primary elections.

“I’m excited that the statewide Ballot by Mail tracking tool is now available online through the Secretary of State’s website,” Rep. John Bucy III (D-Austin) said in the release. “We passed H.B. 1382 to increase accessibility, efficiency, and transparency for Texas voters. This is the type of common sense modernization needed in Texas elections.” Those using the tool will fill out their personal information into the online form, including their name, date of birth, driver’s license number or Department of Public Safety I.D., address and the last four digits of their social security number. From there, the tracker will trace and report the current status of a person’s ballot-by-mail application or ballot as it makes its way through the system. To check your latest voter registration status, click on the “Am I Registered?” tab under the “My Voter Portal.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 14, 2022

San Antonio chosen for Aspen Institute program aimed at helping Latino-owned businesses

A new initiative will focus on helping Latino small-business owners on San Antonio’s West Side with accessing resources, advice and technology training. It also will work to preserve neighborhoods and redevelop empty buildings. San Antonio was one of six majority-Latino cities chosen last summer to participate in the Aspen Institute’s City Learning and Action Lab, which aims to bolster Latino businesses in areas where the coronavirus pandemic “exacerbated long-existing inequities,” according to the nonprofit. A steering committee was set up to identify barriers for businesses on the West Side — an area that has struggled with poverty and a lack of investment, where people were discriminated against through redlining — and to develop ideas to assist them.

It is chaired by former Mayor Henry Cisneros and made up of representatives from more than a dozen local organizations, companies and universities, including LiftFund, OCI Group, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. On Friday, they laid out the strategies they came up with: launching an accelerator to help 30 to 50 businesses annually work toward increasing their revenue or profitability 50 percent; providing technology and training to 750 businesses over the next three years; redeveloping vacant property; preserving the neighborhood through mechanisms such as community land trusts or anti-displacement funds; honing outreach efforts; and creating a marketing campaign. “All of that is intended for the ultimate outcome of making sure the businesses and residents that we have on the West Side here today are still with us 10 years from now, are still with us 15 years from now, and that they’re not just surviving but they’re thriving,” said Ramiro Gonzales, president and CEO of Prosper West San Antonio, which is spearheading the initiative.

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Brownsville Herald - January 14, 2022

Democrats talk immigration in U.S. House District 34 primary forum

Five of the seven candidates who have filed to run for the Texas 34th Congressional District Democratic primary participated in an hour-long forum on Jan. 13 organized by the nonprofit group Futuro RGV. The candidates taking part were Laura Cisneros M.D., U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez Jr., Osbert Rodriguez Haro III, Beatriz Reynoso and Diego Zavala. Candidates Filemon Meza and William Thompson declined invitations to participate in the forum, hosted at Venture X in Brownsville. Gonzalez, who has represented Texas District 15 in Congress for three terms, was drawn out of his district as a result of redistricting by state Republicans and has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, who announced last year he would not run for reelection for District 34.

With The (McAllen) Monitor reporter Naxiely Lopez serving as moderator, the forum’s participants fielded questions on challenges facing District 34, U.S. immigration policy, the “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers, and loyalty to party versus constituents’ needs. Questions also included what piece of legislation each candidate would first introduce upon being elected, finding common ground with Republicans, endorsements and the amount of money raised by each campaign, and their support for labor unions. Immigration was obviously a hot-button topic. In response to the moderator’s question asking each candidate how they would help future administrations “get it right” in terms of immigration policy, Gonzalez said he has been providing the Biden administration with a South Texas perspective on the issue, and that current immigration issues are the result of a “bad immigration system” in need of reform. “We need to (grant) immediate citizenship to the Dreamers who are here by no choice of their own, kids who are American in every way except a piece of paper,” he said. “We need to bring them into our mainstream society immediately.”

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2022

Democratic Dallas County DA challenger criticizes Creuzot’s record on police brutality, bail reform

Elizabeth Frizell, the Democrat challenging Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot in March’s primary election, says she is seeking a rematch against Creuzot because the incumbent broke two key campaign promises. Frizell, speaking to The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board Friday, accused Creuzot of failing to address police brutality and to reform the cash bail system in the first three years of his term. Creuzot, who also took part in the virtual interview, said he has prosecuted police officers and is limited in the power his office has to eliminate cash bail. “They were very important to me because I made those promises also and I know they’re important to the community,” Frizell said.

Frizell, who like Creuzot is a former state district judge, narrowly lost the 2018 Democratic primary to him. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican candidate Faith Johnson, who is unopposed in her primary. Frizell said she was concerned about specific cases in which law enforcement officers accused of brutality and public officials accused of corruption were not prosecuted by Creuzot’s office. She cited the cases of Tony Timpa, an unarmed man who died after he was restrained by Dallas officers, facedown in the grass with a knee in his back for 13 minutes, and Kyle Vess, a homeless, unarmed man who was hospitalized after a Dallas-Fire Rescue paramedic kicked and punched him. Creuzot dismissed the misdemeanor deadly conduct charges against the Dallas officers who had been indicted in Timpa’s death, and he said his office “dropped the ball” on investigating the firefighter who kicked Vess before the statute of limitations expired on potential crimes. But Frizell incorrectly claimed that Creuzot had prosecuted “zero” officers. Creuzot pointed to cases including that of Amber Guyger, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing Botham Jean, an unarmed man who was in his own apartment she said she mistook as hers.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 17, 2022

Two people in custody after allegedly bringing gun into Catholic church on city’s West Side

Two people are in custody after a man brought a gun into a service at a Catholic church on Sunday morning, according to the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Right before the end of the 8 a.m. mass at St. Timothy Catholic Church, 1515 Saltillo, a young man, who was “acting strangely,” entered the foyer where an usher and an imaging company representative were standing, according to Father Juan Carlos Tejada. The man made the sign of the cross and then gestured that he had a weapon, according to Tejada. The imaging representative, who was there because the company has partnered with the church to provide health screenings, entered the sanctuary and yelled to the priest and congregation that there was a man with a gun in the foyer.

Parishioners quickly exited the building. The suspect also fled at that time. Before getting into a waiting van, which he had exited moments earlier, the unidentified man showed the weapon and pointed it briefly toward the church, according to the pastor. A short time later, two people were arrested about two blocks from the church, according to the archdiocese. The San Antonio Police Department did not respond to immediate comment on Sunday. Security was present at St. Timothy’s 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. masses. “Gratitude and prayers are offered for the quick-thinking individuals and law enforcement that this situation was resolved in a peaceful manner with no harm,” wrote the Archdiocese of San Antonio on its Facebook page. “The security and safety of our parishioners and church personnel is paramount for the archdiocese.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2022

Michael Grace: The downtown Dallas I-345 connector is a lifeline for many, so handle with care

(Michael Grace, born and raised in Dallas, is certified urban planner, assistant city manager for the City of Ferris and a director with the Texas Lyceum.) When the Interstate 345 connecter was built in downtown Dallas in the 1970s, it cut through the street grid and destroyed important Black neighborhoods. But simply removing this bit of highway, as some have proposed, will not bring those neighborhoods back to life nor magically create equitable and sustainable development. Now, I-345 connects many people in affordable neighborhoods in the southern and eastern part of the area to opportunity in the northern sector. Revitalizing the downtown neighborhoods without disrupting other parts of the region will require a plan that takes into account affordable housing, traffic, alternative transportation, land use, and much more. I-345 is a 1.4-mile auxiliary highway that forms the eastern border of downtown Dallas’ core, connecting Interstate 45, U.S. Highway 75 and Woodall Rodgers Freeway. It separates downtown from Deep Ellum and carries an estimated 180,000 vehicles per day. The Texas Department of Transportation projects that by 2045, the connector will serve 206,000 vehicles per day.

Thus it is an aging but very important regional transportation corridor connecting thousands of residents in eastern and southern Dallas and adjacent suburbs to economic opportunity, job centers and the region’s primary airports to the north. Over the past decade, there has been much debate about whether to demolish, repair or replace this key roadway in an effort to make downtown more friendly to pedestrians and new residents. Various replacement options continue to be vetted. While it is true that the construction of I-345 was poorly conceived, removing this transportation connection, within a competitive, polycentric, still maturing urban region, would have a wide ranging impact that would reverberate across the entire city. Imagine a young family that finds a home in Old East Dallas or Kiest Park, or a family that settles in DeSoto or a new development in Forney, living in affordable luxury with good choices for public schools. So long as the family breadwinners can get to their jobs in Plano or North Dallas in less than an hour, the situation works. However, if that commute is rerouted around the city and become longer with more traffic, then suddenly it’s hard to drop off children, get to work on time, and get back home before the day care center closes.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 16, 2022

Fort Worth ISD board to order District 4 special election

The Fort Worth school district board is set to order a special election Tuesday to fill the seat left vacant by the death of trustee Daphne Brookins in November, according to the agenda for a Jan. 18 special meeting. If approved, the special election would be held on May 7 to decide who will serve the remainder of Brookins’ District 4 term, which expires in 2025.

Brookins, a Texas Wesleyan University graduate, was elected to the district’s board in 2019, filling the seat vacated by T.A. Sims. She was elected to a full term in May 2021. In early November, she died after a brief illness. District 4 includes parts of southeast Fort Worth and includes O. D. Wyatt High School. Board candidates and voters must live within District 4, and candidates must have lived in the district for six months prior to the final filing day, which is on March 7 at 5 p.m. The board will identify election day polling locations, as well as early voting hours and locations at a future meeting, according to the agenda. Under state law, the board could also decide to fill the vacancy by appointing a member.

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National Stories

Associated Press - January 17, 2022

For Oath Keepers and founder, Jan. 6 was weeks in the making

Two days after the election on Nov. 3, 2020, the Oath Keepers were already convinced that victory had been stolen from President Donald Trump and members of the far-right militia group were making plans to march on the U.S. Capitol. “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, wrote fellow members, according to court documents. “Too late for that. Prepare your mind. body. spirit.” Four days later, when The Associated Press and other news outlets declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner, the documents say Rhodes told Oath Keepers to “refuse to accept it and march en-masse on the nation’s Capitol.” The indictment last week of Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, and 10 other members or associates was stunning in part because federal prosecutors, after a year of investigating the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, charged them with seditious conspiracy, a rarely-used Civil War-era statute reserved for only the most serious of political criminals.

But the documents also show how quickly Trump’s most fervent and dangerous supporters mobilized to subvert the election results through force and violence, even though there was no widespread election fraud and Trump’s Cabinet and local election officials said the vote had been free and fair. Hundreds of people have been charged in the violent effort to stop the congressional certification of Biden’s victory. Many were animated by Trump’s speech at a rally near the White House, just before the riot, where he said: “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” But for Rhodes and others, there was no need for Trump’s words of encouragement. Action was already planned. When it looked like Trump was going to lose the 2020 presidential election to Biden, the Oath Keepers got to work, prosecutors said. On Nov. 9, 2020, Rhodes instructed his followers during a GoToMeeting call to go to Washington to let Trump know “that the people are behind him,” and he expressed hope that Trump would call up the militia to help stay in power, authorities say.

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2022

There’s plenty at stake for oil prices this week

Tight supply, fears of war, and expectations that the risk from omicron variant is fading may combined to drive oil prices even higher. With turmoil in Libya and Kazakhstan, both major oil producers, crude jumped 6.2 percent to settle Friday at $83.82. Oil gas climbed 11.5 percent since the beginning of the years. Al Salazar, the managing director at energy data firm Enverus, said markets are pricing in fading infections from the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, which appears to have peaked. That bodes well for demand even as both U.S. crude oil production and OPEC supplies are sputtering. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies such as Russia are coordinating supply levels to support prices. The group, dubbed OPEC+, has consistently agreed to put an extra 400,000 barrels of oil per day on the market each month, though some members - such as war-torn Libya - are struggling to keep up.

And despite a steady increase in rig counts, U.S. crude oil production in the Lower 48 states has been hampered by inclement weather, Salazar added. But the bullish outlook could change depending on how China, the second-largest economy behind the United States, deals with the pandemic, Salazar said. Should President Xi Jinping stick with tight social restrictions, which would undermine demand, it would be hard to envision crude oil prices at this level for long. Geopolitics will continue influence oil markets this week. Fears of great power conflict over Russia’s ambitions in Ukraine are bubbling to the surface after talks with the United States and NATO broke down last week. Western powers are concerned about the sovereignty of former Soviet republics, while the Kremlin is wary of NATO expansion. Neither side is backing down. “A breakdown in talks will bring Russian invasion of Ukraine one step closer. Consequent Western sanctions will impact Russian oil exports,” said Tamas Varga, an analyst at London oil broker PVM. “It is bullish, just like Russia’s fiddling with its natural gas exports.”

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The Atlantic - January 16, 2022

David Brooks: The terrifying future of the American Right

(David Brooks is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a columnist for The New York Times. He is the author of The Road to Character and The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.) Rachel bovard is one of the thousands of smart young Americans who flock to Washington each year to make a difference. She’s worked in the House and Senate for Republicans Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, and Mike Lee, was listed among the “Most Influential Women in Washington Under 35” by National Journal, did a stint at the Heritage Foundation, and is now policy director of the Conservative Partnership Institute, whose mission is to train, equip, and unify the conservative movement. She’s bright, cheerful, and funny, and has a side hustle as a sommelier. And, like most young people, she has absorbed the dominant ideas of her peer group. One of the ideas she’s absorbed is that the conservatives who came before her were insufferably naive. They thought liberals and conservatives both want what’s best for America, disagreeing only on how to get there. But that’s not true, she believes. “Woke elites—increasingly the mainstream left of this country—do not want what we want,” she told the National Conservatism Conference, which was held earlier this month in a bland hotel alongside theme parks in Orlando. “What they want is to destroy us,” she said. “Not only will they use every power at their disposal to achieve their goal,” but they’ve already been doing it for years “by dominating every cultural, intellectual, and political institution.”

As she says this, the dozens of young people in her breakout session begin to vibrate in their seats. Ripples of head nodding are visible from where I sit in the back. These are the rising talents of the right—the Heritage Foundation junior staff, the Ivy League grads, the intellectual Catholics and the Orthodox Jews who have been studying Hobbes and de Tocqueville at the various young conservative fellowship programs that stretch along Acela-land. In the hallway before watching Bovard’s speech, I bumped into one of my former Yale students, who is now at McKinsey. Bovard has the place rocking, training her sights on the true enemies, the left-wing elite: a “totalitarian cult of billionaires and bureaucrats, of privilege perpetuated by bullying, empowered by the most sophisticated surveillance and communications technologies in history, and limited only by the scruples of people who arrest rape victims’ fathers, declare math to be white supremacist, finance ethnic cleansing in western China, and who partied, a mile high, on Jeffrey Epstein’s Lolita Express.” The atmosphere is electric. She’s giving the best synopsis of national conservatism I’ve heard at the conference we’re attending—and with flair! Progressives pretend to be the oppressed ones, she tells the crowd, “but in reality, it’s just an old boys’ club, another frat house for entitled rich kids contrived to perpetuate their unearned privilege. It’s Skull and Bones for gender-studies majors!” She finishes to a rousing ovation. People leap to their feet. I have the sinking sensation that the thunderous sound I’m hearing is the future of the Republican Party.

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Financial Times - January 16, 2022

European electric car sales overtake diesel models for the first time

Sales of electric cars in Europe overtook diesel models for the first time in December, according to preliminary estimates, as drivers continue to choose subsidized zero-emissions vehicles over those reliant on fuel that has been tarnished by scandal of Volkswagen’s emissions in 2015. More than a fifth of new cars sold in 18 European markets, including the UK, were powered by batteries, according to data compiled for the Financial Times by independent car analyst Matthias Schmidt, while diesel cars accounted for less 19% of sales. Thanks to generous government subsidies in Germany and elsewhere, as well as strict regulations introduced in 2020 that force European manufacturers to sell more low-emission vehicles, electricity sales have steadily increased.

The trend accelerated in the last quarter of last year as Tesla proved more capable than its competitors of adapting to bottlenecks in semiconductor supply chains by delivering record numbers. of 309,000 electric cars. European carmakers also pushed electric vehicle sales in December to reduce their fleet-wide carbon footprint and avoid fines from Brussels, after prioritizing production of the most profitable models – mostly SUVs. highly polluting – during the supply chain crisis. As a result, 176,000 battery electric vehicles were sold in Western Europe this month – an all-time high – and more than 6% more than the number sold in December 2020. By comparison, almost 160,000 diesels were sold last month. of 2021. Sales of diesel cars have been steadily falling since it was discovered that Volkswagen cheated emissions tests for diesel engines installed in $11 million vehicles. At the time, diesel models accounted for well over half of the vehicles delivered in the 18 European countries surveyed.

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Roll Call - January 16, 2022

Katko is third impeachment-backing Republican to head for exit

The central New York district, which includes Syracuse, has supported Democratic presidential candidates in recent election cycles, but Katko still managed to win reelection. Despite predictions from both parties that Biden would easily win the district in November, Katko won a rematch against former college professor Dana Balter. He defeated Balter by 10 points in 2020 after defeating her by 5 points in 2018. Biden won the district by 9 points.

Katko was the first Republican to publicly announce he would support impeachment after the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. At the time, he said he approached his decision “by reviewing the facts at hand.” “It cannot be ignored that President Trump encouraged this insurrection — both on social media ahead of January 6th, and in his speech that day,” Katko said in a statement the following week, referring to a rally the former chief executive headlined before his supporters, at his behest, headed across town. Katko’s announcement came hours after he appeared at an U.S. Chamber of Commerce event where he described delivering a care package to the family of a Capitol Police officer, a former intern in the congressman’s office who, he said, was “severely assaulted” at the Capitol.

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Washington Post - January 17, 2022

The U.S. government is boycotting the Beijing Olympics over human rights. Coke and Airbnb are still on board.

Late last year, human rights activists stood outside the White House for 57 hours urging the United States to stage a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics. A few weeks later, they got their wish. Convincing the corporate world to follow suit has proved much harder. For two years, campaigners representing the people of Hong Kong, Tibet and China’s Xinjiang region have been pushing U.S. and Western companies to either drop their sponsorships and broadcasts of the Games, which start Feb. 4, or to publicly condemn the repression Chinese authorities have carried out in those regions. But activists say the risk of offending the rulers of the world’s second-biggest economy has caused the companies to stick with their deals and stay mum on China’s human rights abuses, despite a U.S. State Department determination that China is committing genocide against the Uyghur minority.

“All they can think about is the money,” said Zumretay Arkin, program manager at the World Uyghur Congress, an advocacy group. “I feel like everyone now wants to put their heads in the sand and wait for the Games to end.” Over 200 groups worldwide have taken part in the effort, writing letters, organizing petitions and staging protests outside corporate offices to highlight the repression Chinese authorities have carried out against Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hong Kongers. Allianz, the German financial services company, was the only corporation that agreed to meet with activists, Arkin said, hosting a discussion in Munich in October with World Uyghur Congress campaigners and Kelbinur Sidik, a former teacher in the Xinjiang region who spoke about witnessing the conditions inside China’s detention camps for Uyghurs. In an interview with The Washington Post, Sidik, who now lives in the Netherlands, said Chinese authorities in 2017 forced her to give Mandarin lessons at the camps, where she saw detainees wearing shackles and numbered uniforms. They slept on cement floors in cramped cells and were forced to learn patriotic songs about the Chinese Communist Party, she said.

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Newsclips - January 16, 2022

Lead Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 16, 2022

Colleyville: Hostages safe and suspect dead, officials say

The FBI and local police said at a news conference Saturday night that three hostages who were held in a Colleyville synagogue for nearly 11 hours are unharmed and the hostage-taker is dead after a hostage rescue team breached the building. Authorities said the hostage-taker was killed in a shooting but did not answer a question about whether he was shot by law enforcement or if the gunshot was self-inflicted. The man claimed to have explosives, according to statements he made on livestreamed video, but police have not commented on whether any weapons were found. Exclusive video taken by WFAA-TV photographer Josh Stephen shows at least some of the hostages running out of a door at the synagogue just before FBI agents enter the building. The footage, shot just before 9:15 p.m., shows a man who appears to be holding a gun following the hostages as they escape, then almost immediately going back inside.

Officials said the rescued hostages are being interviewed by the FBI and will be reunited with their families as soon as possible. Authorities did not release the name of the hostage-taker or the ages of the hostages, but did confirm they were all adults. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted about 9:30 p.m. that all hostages, including the congregation’s rabbi, were safe and out of the synagogue after a loud bang and gunfire were heard. U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne first told a Star-Telegram reporter in a text that the hostage-taker was dead. Police responded to Congregation Beth Israel, at 6100 Pleasant Run Road, about 10:40 a.m. when a man took four hostages during a livestreamed morning service at the synagogue. The man, who police say they have identified but have not named, released one hostage about 5 p.m. “I am grateful for the safe release of the four hostages and thankful for the skilled and dedicated law enforcement who made their safe release possible,” Van Duyne said on Twitter. A loud bang followed by what sounded like gunfire was heard about 9:12 p.m. Saturday by reporters outside the synagogue. Colleyville police confirmed in a statement on social media the the situation was resolved and all hostages were safe then spoke to the media at 10:15 p.m.

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KVUE - January 16, 2022

ERCOT says staffing shortages have them struggling to meet grid reliability deadlines

Texas' electric grid operators say they need more staff. Without the manpower, leaders with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said they will not meet the grid reliability deadlines. After the deadly February 2021 storm, Winter Storm Uri, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) created a plan to make the electric grid more reliable. ERCOT manages the state’s grid. It's ERCOT's job to carry out the commission’s plan. Thursday, ERCOT leaders said they don’t have enough manpower and the projects face delays. ERCOT warned the state would not have all of the energy reserves the commission wants by next winter. The commissioners told ERCOT to hire a third party for some of the work.

“Hope is not a strategy. Hoping it’s in place by next winter is not the path we’re going to go down. We’re going to make sure we’ve got something in place as intended by the legislation, the governor and this commission," Peter Lake, PUC Chairman, said. ERCOT’s job board showed 65 job openings on Jan. 13. Twenty-five of them are for engineers. Nineteen are information and technology jobs. The rest of the posted jobs included 19 corporate positions, a compliance manager and a system operator.

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Houston Chronicle - January 16, 2022

Cy-Fair ISD trustee no longer employed at California-based Splunk after racist comment about Black teachers

A trustee for Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District who derided cries for more diversity in the district’s teaching staff is no longer employed at Splunk, a software firm based in San-Francisco, the company said on Twitter. Splunk commented below a viral video of former employee Scott Henry’s most-controversial moments during a meeting Monday, saying “diversity, equity, and inclusion are core to Splunk’s values and mission.” “We viewed the employee's conduct as inconsistent with who we are as Splunkers and the individual is no longer employed by our company,” it said in a Tweet Friday.

Splunk declined to comment beyond the statement it shared on Twitter. Henry did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday. At a Monday night board work session, Henry for 11 minutes talked about why the district should not implement any of the suggestions made in an equity audit. He also said administrators who implemented a staff training that discussed “white privilege” should be fired and appeared to equate higher percentages of Black teachers to higher dropout rates. “Cy-Fair has 13 percent Black teachers,” Henry said during the Monday meeting. “Do you know what the statewide average is for Black teachers? Ten percent. I looked it up. Houston ISD, ya’ll use as a shining example, do you know what their average percentage of Black teachers is? Thirty-six percent. You know what that dropout rate is? Four percent. I don’t want to be 4 percent. I don’t want to be HISD.” Henry was elected in November after running to rid the district of so-called “critical race theory” with two other candidates, Natalie Blasingame and Lucas Scanlon. The three, who ousted some longtime board members, were sworn into office Dec. 9. Henry said Thursday he and his family have received death threats since his comment went viral on social media. “I will take that responsibility for not saying the words so eloquently,” he said. “…Any suggestion that I said more Black teachers leads to worse student outcomes is a lie and those spreading it should be ashamed of themselves.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 16, 2022

New Texas elections law, decried as vote suppression, leads to record number of rejected mail ballot applications

County officials in urban areas across the state say they've been forced to reject an unprecedented number of mail ballot applications because they do not adhere to new requirements stipulated by the election bill passed last year by the Legislature's Republican majority. The new law, which Democrats decried as an attempt to suppress the votes of minority groups, requires mail voters to give their driver’s license number or state ID number. In the absence of those, they can provide the last four digits of their Social Security number or indicate they do not have the required IDs. The problem some counties are running into — one that critics of the bill had warned lawmakers about last year — is that the number provided by the voter must match with what the county has on file, typically the one used to register to vote.

And an online portal run by the state, per the new law, to allow voters to check on their applications, has had a bumpy rollout in the Secretary of State’s Office. “We have never had to reject applications for ballot by mail in this number,” said Jacque Callanen, Bexar County elections administrator. “(Voters) expect the next thing they’re going to get from us is the actual ballot to vote on and mail back. Now all the sudden they’re receiving a letter from us that says, “Ehh, we need you to fill out this other information before we can process your ballot’ … That’s frustrating for them; it’s frustrating for us.” As of the latest tally on Wednesday, the county had rejected 325 applications. Callanen said she plans to hire two temporary workers to deal with this issue alone.

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CNBC - January 15, 2022

The Fed is about to see a lot of new faces. What it means for banks, the economy and markets

In what likely will be just a few months’ time, the Federal Reserve will look a lot different: Three new governors, a new vice chairman, a new banking chief and likely a couple new regional presidents. But while the parts of the institution’s upper echelon may change quite a bit, the whole could look pretty much the same. That’s because Fed-watchers think ideologically there probably will be little change, even if Sarah Bloom Raskin, Lisa Cook and Philip Jefferson are confirmed as new members on the Board of Governors. White House sources say President Joe Biden will nominate the trio in the coming days. Of the three, Raskin is thought to be the biggest change agent. She is expected to take a heavier hand in her prospective role as the vice chair for bank supervision, a position until December that had been held by Randal Quarles, who took a lighter touch.

But while Raskin could ramp up the rhetoric on the financial system, there are questions over how much that actually will translate into policy-wise. “She’s a former regulator. She knows this stuff. This is not something she’s going to screw up,” said Christopher Whalen, founder of Whalen Global Advisors and a a former Fed researcher. “The bankers will be surprised that the rhetoric is going to be maybe a little bit more extreme. But the substance? What are they going to do to these guys? It’s not like they take a lot of risks.” Indeed, the level of high-quality capital U.S. banks are holding compared to risk assets has progressed continually higher since the financial crisis of 2008, from 11.4% at the end of 2009 to 15.7% as of the third quarter in 2011, according to Fed data. Still, the banking industry has remained a favorite target of congressional Democrats, led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is thought to have favored Raskin for the supervision role.

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State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 16, 2022

Colleyville synagogue hostage-taker claims his “sister” is Aafia Siddiqui

Aafia Siddiqui may have been an unfamiliar name to many before Saturday, before a man claiming she was his sister took people hostage at a Colleyville synagogue and demanded to speak with her. Siddiqui became the first female terrorism defendant arrested after 9/11, and she was convicted on charges related to the attempted murder and assault of United States officers and employees in Afghanistan in 2008. ABC News quoted a U.S. official as saying the hostage-taker in Colleyville claimed to be Siddiqui’s brother. It’s unclear if the man is biologically related to Siddiqui. People who have taken up her cause have referred to her as their sister. A member of the Pakistani government called for Siddiqui to be released from U.S. custody and returned to Pakistan, according to the Express Tribune, a daily English-language newspaper based in Pakistan.

Siddiqui was transferred to the Federal Medical Center-Carswell prison in Fort Worth for medical reasons in 2008. Carswell is the only federal medical facility for women in the U.S., and incarcerated women across the country who have medical needs are often transferred to the prison. Siddiqui told her attorney she was attacked in her cell on July 30, according to the Dallas-Fort Worth sector of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Another woman reportedly smashed a coffee mug with scalding liquid into Siddiqui’s face. After the attack, Siddiqui was taken out of her cell in a wheelchair and then forced into solitary confinement, said CAIR Executive Director Faizan Syed. Supporters have called for her release for years. In 2016, supporters gathered in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Worth to demand proof that she was still alive and that she be released and returned to Pakistan. In response to questions about Siddiqui’s allegations, the Bureau of Prisons said, “For privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not comment on anecdotal allegations or discuss the conditions of confinement, or health status, for any inmate.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 16, 2022

Authorities credit cooperation following synagogue standoff

Law enforcement authorities credited a team effort between local, state and federal authorities after four people taken hostage in a Colleyville synagogue were rescued Saturday after an 11-hour standoff. “I’d like to think this is a success due to the partnerships that we have with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners. It’s been an incredible operation,” Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller said. “We’ve had at least 200 law enforcement personnel here pretty much all day today. We couldn’t have done it without them. And we thank them. We thank the community as well.” Officials said at a press briefing said Saturday night that the rescued hostages are being interviewed by FBI and will be reunited with their families as soon as possible. Officials did not release the name of the hostage taker or the ages of the hostages, but did confirm everyone was an adult.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno from the Dallas field office said a federal investigation into the hostage taker will be conducted globally, with special focuses on Tel Aviv and London. The gunman, he said, was “singularly focused on one issue” not related to Jewish community. DeSearno said the rescue of the hostages and death of the hostage taker “was a result of a long, long day of hard work by nearly 200 law enforcement officers from across this region.” North Tarrant Regional SWAT team was the first to take control of the scene, handing it off to a FBI hostage rescue team of 60 to 70 people from Washington whose sole mission is to conduct hostage rescues. Communication between FBI negotiators and the hostage taker was nearly constant throughout the day, with some periods of silence. DeSarno said the hostages’ survival throughout the day was almost certainly due to that constant communication. “We do believe that, from engaging with the subject, he was singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community,” DeSarno said. “We will continue to work to find motives and we will continue on that path in terms of the resolution of the incident.”

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Texas Monthly - January 16, 2022

Why Joy Diaz is challenging Beto O’Rourke in the Democratic primary for Governor

In March, Joy Diaz and her 10-year-old son Fausto became ill with COVID-19, each suffering through it in their own rooms in their home in southwest Austin. Joy, a journalist who was 44 and not yet eligible for the vaccine, thought she might die. “And so faced with my own mortality, I decided that if I lived I was going to try to fix the state and that is done in the governor’s office,” Diaz told a campaign town hall over Zoom on Sunday night. Asked in the session why she didn’t aim lower and run for city council or a lesser state office, Diaz said, “I don’t know how much time I have left on this earth, and in that time, I want to make a difference.” After recovering in April, Diaz gave her notice, effective in November, at KUT-FM, Austin’s public radio station, where she had been a reporter and producer off and on since 2005.

She promptly joined the second class of the LBJ Women’s Campaign School at the University of Texas, a nonpartisan, issue-neutral program that trains women who want to run for office or manage campaigns. Whatever hard truths were imparted in the eight-month school, none dissuaded Diaz from pursuing her campaign to win the Democratic nomination for governor. “I’m running with all my might and zero dollars to be the nominee,” she told Texas Monthly in an interview last week. (This week she began working with a fund-raising team.) For that to happen she would have to defeat former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, which doesn’t seem even remotely possible. When O’Rourke announced in mid-November that he was running, many Democrats thought their prayers had been answered: he’s a fund-raising juggernaut who has experience mobilizing Democrats to turn out. Governor Greg Abbott, who formally announced his candidacy for a third term as governor in McAllen on Saturday, is already acting as if O’Rourke is a given to be his challenger, should Abbott survive a primary of his own.

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McAllen Monitor - January 16, 2022

Feds: No new construction as gov’t returns some land to owners

Whatever stretches of border wall are currently under construction in Hidalgo and Starr Counties, they are the last portions of wall that will go up. And any land previously slated for construction that has been thus far untouched will remain so moving forward. That was the message officials had in federal court as District Judge Randy Crane presided over hearings for more than a dozen land condemnation lawsuits Friday morning. “We are getting near the end of most of the actual wall construction parts,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John A. Smith III in response to a question Crane asked as the slew of hearings came to a close.

All that’s left, Smith said, is for the projects currently under construction to wrap up, and for officials to decide where and what type of access gates to install. “The real issue amongst the administration and Border Patrol is the gaps in the wall — are there gonna be gaps in the wall, are there gonna be gates, no gates? … If there will, they’ll be a modified type of gate, not the big moving gate, but more like a ranch gate type of thing,” Smith said. The impromptu announcement comes as the first real policy shift after officials were left confused and directionless in the wake of a January 2021 presidential executive order. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order halting all border wall construction. But the order was temporary, and once it expired, neither government attorneys nor the hundreds of landowners they were suing knew what would happen to the tracts of land that had been earmarked for border wall construction.

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2022

Texans interview Hines Ward, Joe Lombardi

The Texans interviewed two more assistant coaches on Saturday – former Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward and Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. The Texans announced their interviews with Ward and Lombardi, who followed former Miami coach Brian Flores.

Flores worked 15 years with general manager Nick Caserio at New England and was the Texans’ first interview on Friday. He’s considered the leading contender to replace David Culley, who was fired on Thursday after one season. Ward played 14 seasons with the Steelers. He spent two seasons as an offensive assistant with the New York Jets. He was wide receivers coach at Florida Atlantic University last season. Lombardi has 16 years of NFL coaching experience, including last season with the Chargers. He coached under Sean Payton for 12 years at New Orleans, including 10 seasons as the Saints’ quarterback coach.

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2022

How Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones turned a money-losing team into a $10 billion empire

It’s hard to imagine the vast business empire of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones getting its start with a bow-tied young boy greeting shoppers at the entrance of a Little Rock supermarket. Yet he’s fond of retelling how his mom would give him a wink when a known tipper entered his parents’ grocery store, a subtle clue to push the customer’s cart and collect the reward. He considers it one of the valuable lessons learned 70-plus years ago that still apply today, even as he directs a collection of companies bearing names mostly tied to the famed blue star logo of his NFL team or his family name. Those businesses make Jones one of the world’s richest people, with a net worth that billionaire trackers Forbes and Bloomberg estimate to be in the $10 billion range.

Jones’ success in turning a $140 million investment in a money-losing team in 1989 into the most valuable brand in sports also catapulted him out of the oil patch and into a luxury suite in one of the most exclusive clubs in America — the 32 owners of NFL teams that, in many ways, shape the psyche of the cities they represent. Since then, he’s spared little expense in his three-decade quest to build what today is the most valuable sports franchise on the planet. And through real estate, he’s poured billions of dollars back into North Texas with developments that attract other businesses to invest so they can be associated with the Cowboys brand. “Jerry Jones and his businesses generate not only opportunities for area residents and businesses, but also put the North Texas region in the national spotlight in a very positive way,” said Ray Perryman, an economist who has long studied Texas’ growth. Sunday’s playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers in Arlington puts the national spotlight on unfinished business for Jones. It has been 26 years since the Cowboys capped off a season as Super Bowl champs.

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2022

Crowds turn out for North Texas March for Life in Dallas to celebrate state’s new abortion law

Snowflakes trickled down as North Texas March for Life participants undaunted by blustery weather finished their procession Saturday morning in downtown Dallas near where Roe vs. Wade was originally filed a half-century ago. The march, which organizers said drew about 2,900 participants, began after a Mass at the Cathedral Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and led to a rally at the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse, where the Roe lawsuit originated that ultimately legalized abortion in 1973. Organizers said ahead of the event that it was important for their movement to show up in Dallas since it’s where Roe vs. Wade originated. The event was co-sponsored by Catholic Pro-Life Community, Texans for Life Coalition, the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and Diocese of Fort Worth.

Bishop Edward Burns of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas told The Dallas Morning News that Roe may have started in Dallas, but it’s become a national cause. “That case, wow, it started here. It just, unfortunately, permeated the nation. So it really doesn’t matter where we are. We really do have to march for the rights of the unborn and ... to be a voice for them,” he said. Burns pointed out that this year’s march leads up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “We’re commemorating a weekend that really remembers Martin Luther King, who on that march in Washington gave such a glorious speech, indicating that he had a dream. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. And so even with the pro-life movement, we’re not there yet,” Burns said. Many marchers held signs that opposed legal abortion. One sign read: “Without life there is no choice.” There were no counterprotesters for abortion rights present. After arriving at the courthouse, the marchers were met with a worship band. The front of the crowd held American flags and a group of men lifted a marian statue.

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Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2022

More than 400,000 retired Texas teachers receive ‘13th check’

Retired Texas teachers started to receive their so-called “13th checks” on Friday, giving educators up to $2,400 to make up for the lack of cost-of-living increases since 2004. The state Legislature unanimously approved the extra $700 million in funding for more than 400,000 retired educators last year. The one-time checks are equal to their regular annuity payment and capped at $2,400.

The funds will be issued to all teachers who retired before the end of 2020. Most teachers using direct deposit will see the money in their account Friday, but there may be some delay because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, according to Texas AFT, the statewide union for public school employees. “We owe our retired teachers so much for all they have done for Texas children,” said state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, one of the bill’s cosponsors.

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Houston Chronicle - January 15, 2022

Erica Grieder: ShotSpotter hasn’t proved it's effective at fighting crime? So why are Houston leaders spending $3.5M to expand the program?

Houstonians are concerned about violent crime, which is on the rise in this and most other major American cities. The members of our city council are aware of that, and know that they need to act accordingly. That’s one takeaway from the council’s nearly unanimous vote last week to expand the ShotSpotter gunfire detection program in Houston, at a cost of $3.5 million over the next five years. But did city council accomplish anything with this vote, other than sending a rather expensive message? One could be forgiven for wondering, given that city council members themselves seemed less than enthusiastic about the program. “It is one tool in the toolbox requested by Houston police,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner, arguing in favor of ShotSpotter’s expansion. “We need to throw all we have at crime right now,” said Councilmember Abbie Kamin of District C, pointing out that the program could yield data that will helpfully guide future decision-making.

“I'm going to hold my nose and vote in favor of this,” said at-large Councilmember Mike Knox, after expressing qualms about doing so. ShotSpotter has been used in a small area of south Houston as part of a pilot program since 2020. Houston Police credit it with helping them make 54 arrests between December 2020 and September 2021, leading to 60 charges. That’s out of 2,330 alerts that ShotSpotter technicians determined were gunfire and relayed to HPD during this period. Doug Griffith, the president of the Houston Police Officers Union, describes the program as “a good tool” that enables police to arrive at a scene and render aid more quickly than a traditional dispatch call would. “What happens is, when shots are fired — and it’s very accurate, it can detect between gunfire and fireworks, for the most part — the officers would get an alert on their phone within probably 15 to 30 seconds,” he told me. The program got a real workout on New Year’s Eve, Griffith added, when many Houstonians heard the traditional Texas serenade of fireworks and celebratory gunfire as well as non-celebratory gunfire and other forms of cacophony. As an officer on patrol that evening, he saw ShotSpotter’s utility in real time, as his phone kept pinging.

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KXAN - January 16, 2022

Could an omicron peak happen soon? University of Texas researchers think so

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin seem to think an Omicron peak could happen soon. Modelers say some states are already showing evidence of a peak, but it comes as cases spread in Central Texas schools. “Teachers are…teachers are pretty worn thin,” said Benjamin Sterling, President of Education Round Rock. “A lot of us are reaching a breaking point as far as stress levels.” Sterling is speaking for teachers in his close circle. “I’m a parent, but you know I have 156 kids…plus one,” said Sterling. In his middle school classroom, that number is rapidly changing. “Since we started back, since omicron first hit, I’m about 20 odd kids down,” said Sterling. His school is down staff members too. Modelers of the University of Texas say a peak is expected soon, but it’ll likely be three-times higher than previous surges.

“People are often becoming infected not knowing when or how they have been exposed, and we’re seeing it race through classrooms and communities,” said UT COVID modeling consortium director, Lauren Meyers. A snapshot of COVID school risk compared to a year later shows the spread is much more distinct and more people are becoming infected. “At the end of the omicron wave, we are going to have far higher levels of immunity than we’ve ever had during this pandemic,” said Meyers. Meyers believes that will be a game changer. “It may mean the levels of immunity we will have after the omicron, coupled with new and better vaccines are going to make COVID a better disease rather than a catastrophic, global threat,” said Meyers. Meyers says she doesn’t have a crystal ball as to when the peak will actually happen, but researchers are advising health authorities accordingly.

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KXAN - January 16, 2022

From governor to city council: UT program helps 6 Texas women launch campaigns

Elections coming up later this year in Texas will include some first-time candidates who all share one thing in common. Each of these women launched her campaign — seeking everything from the governorship to a seat on Austin City Council — after attending the same, relatively new program. They all went through the LBJ Women’s Campaign School, a months-long bipartisan program housed within the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Altogether, the first two campaign school cohorts included 120 women who enrolled with the ultimate intent to either become a candidate or a campaign manager. Joy Diaz chose the route of running for the highest office in Texas, launching her bid late last year for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination about a month after graduating from this program. “I am here because, in the end, we’re going to make the state better. Texas deserves it,” Diaz said. “I truly believe that change is coming. Positive change is coming, and I want to be a part of that.”

Diaz, a former Texas Public Radio journalist, described learning about the LBJ Women’s Campaign School as just one in a series of “miraculous events” that led her to leave her job and jump into politics. She said she began thinking about a new path after she and her young son survived a COVID-19 infection before they could get the vaccine. “For us, it was one of those things where we couldn’t breathe,” Diaz said. “It taught me that I have to live life with no regrets — and that if the state of Texas needed a champion, and I wanted to be that champion, that I should jump in the ring and say, ‘I think Texans are worth it.'” With those thoughts circulating in her mind, a news release asking for coverage about the application period opening for a new class of the LBJ Women’s Campaign School landed in her reporter inbox seemingly at the right time. “It was serendipitous,” Diaz said about that email. “I think this is a message for me. This is a place where I can grow and develop and find like-minded people, and like-minded people doesn’t mean party affiliation because it’s a bipartisan school. Learning from and cross-pollinating from a variety of mindsets was very enriching.”

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KXAN - January 16, 2022

Texas is evolving on marijuana, so what would it take to change the laws?

During his reelection campaign, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has struck a moderate tone when it comes to marijuana. When asked about cannabis reform during a campaign event last week, Abbott once again laid out the argument that prisons and jails are places “for dangerous criminals who may harm others.” “Small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with,” the governor said. His remarks come as opinions on the matter begin to change across the state. A University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tribune poll last June showed 60% of Texas voters say they support the recreational use of marijuana. Abbott has signaled he is open to the idea of decriminalization. It’s been a different story for Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

“The Lt. Governor has made it pretty explicitly clear that he is not on board for lessening the state’s drug laws around marijuana,” said Joshua Blank with UT Austin’s Texas Politics Project. “But I think like any other public figure, if pressure continues to mount, especially within his own party, there’s no reason he can’t change his mind.” KXAN spoke with Rep. Joe Moody (D) who represents El Paso in Austin. Moody has authored legislation tackling cannabis reform, though his bills have not made it out of Patrick’s senate. Still, Moody remains hopeful. “There’s this entrenched mentality, it used to be this way on both sides of the aisle, that maybe we just want to be tough on crime,” Moody said. “Both parties have started to depart from that philosophy, some quicker than others, but I think we’re getting to a point where we can have a consensus on that.”

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Valley Morning Star - January 14, 2022

Texas Supreme Court dismisses Harlingen map lawsuit

The Texas Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit charging the city’s new single-member district boundaries unconstitutionally moved thousands of District 2 registered voters into District 3, denying their right to vote for commissioner in the May election. On Friday, the court didn’t issue an opinion after dropping the lawsuit filed Monday by former City Commissioners Tudor Uhlhorn and Jay Meade and their wives, requesting justices void the new single-member district boundaries or order commissioners call a special May 7 election for the city’s five districts. In response, Uhlhorn, his wife Hellen, and Meade and his wife Elena, issued a statement standing by their charge of voter suppression while arguing Commissioners Richard Uribe, Frank Puente and Rene Perez proposed their new district map without giving residents time to address their concerns.

“Obviously, we are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision and do not agree with it,” Uhlhorn, Meade and their wives stated. “We suspect the court felt there was just too little time to decide such an important voting rights issue. Perhaps, that is exactly why the three commissioners pushing this unconstitutional plan waited until just a few days before the candidate filing period begins (Jan. 19) to even present their plan. The Census data required for redistricting has been available since last September but the plan supported by Commissioners Uribe, Puente, and Perez was never made publicly available until the day before it was adopted on Jan. 5.” “Although we are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s ‘hands-off’ decision, we believe this effort focused attention on the facts that Commissioners Uribe, Puente and Perez don’t really care whether all Harlingen citizens get to vote and they were just fine with no public input into their secret plan and with no one knowing what they were up to until they thought it was too late to do anything about it. It is not too late for Harlingen citizens to let them know how they feel about what has occurred.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 15, 2022

Texas wants review of Travis County absentee ballot requests rejected under state's new voting law

Texas Secretary of State John Scott called Friday on elections officials in Travis County to “review and re-examine” hundreds of applications for mail-in ballots that were rejected for violating the state’s new election law that creates stricter rules for absentee voting. The law created new identification requirements for Texans looking to cast their ballot through the mail, and elections officials in Travis, Williamson, Hays and Bastrop counties said they have collectively rejected hundreds of applications that fail to meet the new standards. People seeking to vote by mail must now include certain identifying information on their application for a ballot: their driver’s license number, a state ID number or, in some cases, the last four digits of their Social Security number.

County officials then match this number against the individual’s voter registration number. If the number provided in the application doesn’t match the number on file, the application must be rejected. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, seen here at a mail ballot delivery location last November, says the new Texas voting law creates “a very complicated process, and here’s the thing: Voters are left with the problem of trying to figure out what (ID) number they put on their voter registration that we have on file.” “This is truly voter suppression,” Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said. “It’s a very complicated process — and here’s the thing: Voters are left with the problem of trying to figure out what (ID) number they put on their voter registration that we have on file.” In Travis County, about 350 applications — half of those received by the county clerk’s office so far — have been rejected for failing to meet the new requirements. Scott said his agency was "surprised to learn for the first time of the apparent wholesale rejection of mail ballot applications by Travis County" and encouraged officials in Austin to contact his office for assistance implementing the new election law.

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KSAT - January 16, 2022

Bexar County firefighters battle brush fire spanning nearly 500 acres amid windy conditions

Bexar County firefighters fought several fires throughout the area Saturday afternoon due to drought conditions and high winds, including a brush fire that spanned nearly 500 acres. The fire happened on the city’s Southeast Side near Loop 1604 and FM 3432, keeping crews occupied throughout most of the day. Fire officials said due to the dry land, low humidity and high winds, it created the perfect storm for brush fires to start and spread quickly.

No injuries were reported and the flames threatened up to about 50 homes and livestock, according to fire officials. However, there were no damages. Community members also brought out their tractors to aid crews in getting the flames under control. Firefighters said it wasn’t an easy battle and they were more conservative with resources due to the risky weather conditions. Although the winds have since grown weaker, fire officials are reminding residents to still be cautious when burning items, flicking cigarettes or dragging chains while driving as the dry land can still easily ignite.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 16, 2022

Report: Tesla delays Cybertruck, which is to be built in Austin

Tesla appears to be once again delaying production of its Cybertruck — a vehicle that is expected to be built in its soon-to-open Austin-area manufacturing facility. Reuters news service reports that production of the vehicle will now start in the first quarter of 2023. The news service cited an unnamed source familiar with the matter. While Tesla is by far the largest electric vehicle maker in the U.S., electric trucks are expected to be an important piece of accelerating electric vehicle adoption in coming years.

Reuters's report said the delay in Cybertruck production is because the company is changing the vehicle's features and functions as competition in the electric pickup market grows. The reported delay comes as Tesla is nearing the start of production at its $1.1 billion Austin-area manufacturing facility. The Cybertruck is expected to be produced at the southeastern Travis County facility, along with Semi, Model 3 compact sedan and Model Y SUV. Tesla announced in October it was moving its corporate headquarters to Austin, but has yet to make any announcements about the start of production in Central Texas. The facility is expected to play a key role for Tesla, as it will boost capacity for production as the company continues to see demand for its vehicles outpace supply. While Telsa has yet to confirm the Cybertruck delay, it would be far from the first time Tesla pushed back the start of the vehicle since it was first announced in 2019. At the time, Tesla said it would be rolling off production lines in late 2021. In August 2021, the company pushed the expected production date to 2022. Now the company's website gives no production date.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 16, 2022

Gilbert Garcia: New Texas election law already has made a mess of mail voting

If you tried to create the most idiotic law your mind could conjure, it would be hard to match the stupidity of the mail ballot application provision of this state’s new election law. According to Senate Bill 1, a Republican-driven set of voting restrictions signed into law four months ago by Gov. Greg Abbott, it is now a felony for an election official in Texas to send an unsolicited mail ballot application to a voter. Keep in mind that county elections office websites across the state provide a link to the mail ballot application form.

The Texas secretary of state’s office also provides the application form on its website. Political candidates and political parties in Texas are perfectly free to boost their cause by sending out unsolicited mail ballot applications to voters. They do it on the regular. Think about it: Your state and county election officials are allowed to make mail ballot applications available on their webpages, enabling you to print out the form, fill it out and send it in. But they can’t mail a physical copy of the form to you unless you ask for it. If you have five people in your household who want to vote by mail, you can print out five copies from the Bexar County Elections Department website and have each of those five people fill out the application.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 14, 2022

'Disturbing' photos of Judson High School students may be circulating on social media, district says

Judson ISD is investigating a number of social media accounts that may be sharing "inappropriate" and "disturbing" content of students at Judson High School. Officials believe the social media accounts may be connected to the school but are unsure if the photos that are being shared are of Judson High students, according to Nicole Taguinod, the school district's chief communications officer. Taguinod said any students found to be responsible will face consequences. The posts are part of an online trend in which students take photos of others without their permission while using the restroom at school and then share them on social media.

Taguinod said the posts have the intention to shame, embarrass or spread rumors about other students. Alexis Solomon, a parent of a Judson High student, shared her concerns with News 4 San Antonio about the Instagram accounts posting the photos. She called the comments under some of the photos "disturbing." Taguinod said the district's police department has determined that some of the photos were taken off campus because the building structure and tiles don't match that of the school, while others may have been taken at the school. Staff will be situated in hallways around restrooms and common areas during passing periods and before and after school to assist with monitoring, according to Taguinod. She said spot checks will also be conducted throughout the day. Taguinod encourages students and others to report the accounts and posts to the social media platforms as "inappropriate content" and to inform campus staff.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 16, 2022

Striking San Antonio Symphony musicians, board at odds on orchestra’s financial health

More than three months into their labor strike, San Antonio Symphony musicians are arguing with management over the orchestra’s bottom line as concerts continue to be canceled. The musicians assert that the symphony is on much stronger footing financially than it has been since 2014, thanks to the federal COVID-19 relief funds it received in 2020 and 2021 through the Payroll Protection Program and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants program, as well as an employee retention tax credit. “It’s certainly better than it has been for quite a while,” said Mary Ellen Goree, chair of the symphony musicians’ negotiating committee. “It’s better than they were projecting earlier on.”

The musicians point to a financial statement for the Symphony Society of San Antonio, the nonprofit board that runs the orchestra, that appears to project a surplus of $1.8 million by the end of the fiscal year. “This $1.8 million surplus was projected at the beginning of December,” said musician Eric Siu, secretary of the negotiating committee. “Since then, at least three more weeks (of concerts) have been canceled. Every week we cancel, they save money.” There also is that tax credit, which amounts to an $877,000 refund. “That’s almost an extra half a million dollars that they didn’t know about when we started negotiations last summer,” Siu said. The musicians believe the Symphony Society now has the money to put the full orchestra back onstage for the remainder of the 2021-22 season. Between the pandemic and the strike, the musicians have not been onstage at full strength since the end of February 2020.

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El Paso Matters - January 14, 2022

Longtime EPISD financial officer leaves for Fort Worth months after being put on leave

El Paso Independent School District’s longtime deputy superintendent of finance and operations has resigned to work for Fort Worth ISD, months after she was put on paid leave. Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria’s departure creates another open top leadership position that new Superintendent Diana Sayavedra must fill, which includes chief of staff and communications director. Fort Worth ISD announced Arrieta-Candelaria’s hire as its new chief financial officer on Jan. 4. The Tarrant County district has about 25,000 more students than EPISD.

Her resignation from EPISD took effect Jan. 7, according to a Dec. 17, 2021, letter she sent then-Interim Superintendent Vince Sheffield. Arrieta-Candelaria has not returned a call for comment. She was placed on paid leave in early May, along with then-Chief Academic Officer Tamekia Brown. At the time, EPISD would not disclose the reason behind this action, calling it a “personnel matter.” District spokesperson Gustavo Reveles did not return an email seeking an updated statement. The two administrators were put on leave days before the Board of Trustees met behind closed doors to review an internal audit into contracts with academic service vendors. The audit found “an appearance of conflict of interest” between former Superintendent Juan Cabrera and two vendors, as well as insufficient or nonexistent documentation for other contracts. Cabrera resigned in November 2020.

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National Stories

New York Times - January 16, 2022

Microsoft warns of destructive cyberattack on Ukrainian computer networks

Microsoft warned on Saturday evening that it had detected a highly destructive form of malware in dozens of government and private computer networks in Ukraine that appeared to be waiting to be triggered by an unknown actor. In a blog post, the company said that on Thursday — around the same time that government agencies in Ukraine found their websites had been defaced — investigators who watch over Microsoft’s global networks detected the code. “These systems span multiple government, nonprofit and information technology organizations, all based in Ukraine,” Microsoft said. The code appears to have been deployed around the time that Russian diplomats, after three days of meetings with the United States and NATO over the massing of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, declared that the talks had essentially hit a dead end.

Ukrainian officials blamed the defacement of their government websites on a group in Belarus, though they said they suspected Russian involvement. But early attribution of attacks is frequently wrong, and it was unclear if the defacement was related to the far more destructive code that Microsoft said it had detected. Microsoft said that it could not yet identify the group behind the intrusion, but that it did not appear to be an attacker that its investigators had seen before. The code, as described by the company’s investigators, is meant to look like ransomware — it freezes up all computer functions and data, and demands a payment in return. But there is no infrastructure to accept money, leading investigators to conclude that the goal is to inflict maximum damage, not raise cash. It is possible that the destructive software has not spread too widely and that Microsoft’s disclosure will make it harder for the attack to metastasize. But it is also possible that the attackers will now launch the malware and try to destroy as many computers and networks as possible.

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New York Times - January 16, 2022

The Justice Dept. alleged Jan. 6 was a seditious conspiracy. Now will it investigate Trump?

The Justice Department’s decision to charge Oath Keepers with seditious conspiracy last week makes clear that prosecutors consider the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol part of an organized assault to prevent the peaceful transfer of presidential power. But so far the department does not appear to be directly investigating the person whose desperate bid to stay in office motivated the mayhem — former president Donald Trump — either for potentially inciting a riot or for what some observers see as a related pressure campaign to overturn the results of the election. The House select committee on Jan. 6 is investigating both matters, separate from the Justice Department, and has aggressively pursued information about Trump and those closest to him.

But FBI agents have not, for example, sought to interview or gather materials from some of Trump’s most loyal lieutenants about their strategy sessions at the Willard hotel on how to overturn the results of the 2020 election, according to participants in those meetings or their representatives. The Trump campaign has not received requests for documents or interviews from the FBI or Justice Department related to Jan. 6 or the effort to overturn the election results, and federal prosecutors have not sought to interview those with knowledge of Trump’s consideration of a plan to install an attorney general more amenable to his unfounded claims of massive voter fraud, according to people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department inspector general is investigating the aborted plan and could ultimately ask prosecutors to consider whether crimes were committed. But some legal analysts say they worry Garland might be moving too cautiously. “The other shoe has yet to drop — that is: When will the Justice Department promptly and exhaustively investigate the part of the coup attempt that I believe came perilously close to ending American constitutional democracy, basically, without a drop of blood?” said Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, a constitutional scholar and outspoken Trump critic.

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New York Times - January 15, 2022

Trump rally underscores G.O.P. tension over how to win in 2022

Former President Donald J. Trump returned on Saturday to Arizona, a cradle of his political movement, to headline a rally in the desert that was a striking testament to how he has elevated fringe beliefs and the politicians who spread them — even as other Republicans openly worry that voters will ultimately punish their party for it. Mr. Trump’s favored candidate for governor, Kari Lake, is a first-time office seeker who has threatened to jail the state’s top elections official. His chosen candidate to replace that elections official, a Democrat, is a state legislator named Mark Finchem, who was with a group of demonstrators outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 as rioters tried to stop the certification of the 2020 election.

And one of his most unflinching defenders in Congress is Representative Paul Gosar, who was censured by his colleagues for posting an animated video online that depicted him killing a Democratic congresswoman and assaulting President Biden. All three spoke at Mr. Trump’s rally in front of thousands of supporters on Saturday in the town of Florence, outside Phoenix. It was the first stadium-style political event he has held so far in this midterm election year in which he will try to deepen his imprint on Republicans running for office at all levels. When Mr. Trump took the stage in the evening, he lavished praise on the slate of election-denier candidates in attendance. And he suggested that perpetuating his grievances about being cheated would be a decisive issue for Republican candidates. “We can’t let them get away with it,” Mr. Trump said. Then, he added, referring to Ms. Lake and her rejection of the 2020 results: “I think it’s one of the reasons she’s doing so well.”

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Washington Post - January 16, 2022

Tsunami waves reach West Coast as National Weather Service urges: ‘Move off the beach’

Tsunami waves rolled ashore Saturday along the West Coast of the United States after the powerful eruption of an undersea volcano near the Tonga islands in the Pacific Ocean, closing beaches, flooding marinas and activating emergency plans from Japan to California. The National Weather Service issued a tsunami advisory for coastal areas of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, a lower threat level than a warning but still signaling a tsunami capable of generating strong currents and dangerous waves. The agency ruled out “widespread inundation” but nonetheless urged caution. “If you are located in this coastal area, move off the beach and out of harbors and marinas,” the Weather Service advised people along the West Coast.

The forceful eruption sparked concern across the Pacific, with the first impacts felt in Tonga, a remote South Pacific archipelago, where videos on social media showed waves slamming into homes. Tsunami warnings and advisories were also in place for the Fiji and American Samoa islands, parts of Australia and New Zealand, Japan and as far away as South America, where Chilean authorities warned people in some areas to leave beaches. In the United States, meteorologists reported registering tsunami waves by midmorning, measuring about 1 to 3 feet and generating minor flooding. Officials in Berkeley, Calif., evacuated more than 100 residents living on boats in the city’s marina, going from vessel to vessel waking people to get them to higher ground. Authorities and fishermen elsewhere tied down boats while urging people to stay away. Nonetheless, some ventured out. First responders in Northern California said two people were hospitalized in stable condition after being swept into the water while fishing. In another incident, a surfer was rescued after waves broke his board, the San Francisco Fire Department said.

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Washington Post - January 16, 2022

After crisis talks with Russia, the threat of war in Ukraine still looms. Here’s why.

Fears of a possible Russian attack on Ukraine have sharpened after no progress was made during talks in Europe seeking to deter Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine and convince Moscow to de-escalate. Russian officials said the security talks this past week failed. One top official bemoaned a “dead end” situation, saying it was pointless to continue after the United States and NATO firmly ruled out Russia’s key demands: that Ukraine, Georgia and other nations — including Sweden and Finland — be forever barred from joining NATO. If Russia invades Ukraine, a nation of more than 43 million that is almost the size of Texas, it would force NATO to face the fact that even a united front cannot stop an autocracy from trashing accepted international rules. Moscow denies plans for an attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin now awaits written responses from Washington and NATO to Russia’s demands for sweeping security guarantees, including his stipulation that NATO withdraw forces from Eastern European and Baltic states. Here’s what to know about the security crisis confronting Europe. The failure of talks means the threat of war has increased, said military analysts, pointing to the recent movements of military logistical units and attack helicopter units that indicate Russia is serious about a possible fight. Russia has insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine — nearly eight years after its forcible annexation of Crimea. Russia’s military on Friday announced a snap check on the readiness of military units in the Far East to move long distances swiftly. “The outlook, in my view, has grown worse,” Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at the Center for Naval Analyses, wrote on Twitter. Russia’s warnings are unmistakable: It is ready to use military force to protect its security interests, including its insistence that “Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO,” to cite Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Monday. He called this “mandatory.”

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CNBC - January 16, 2022

Earnings season is the next big test for the market and value stocks in the week ahead

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., December 2, 2021. The market’s focus in the coming week turns toward fourth-quarter earnings, which are expected to reveal stronger profit growth for economically sensitive stocks compared to technology players. The earnings period could test a theory that value and cyclicals are set to outperform tech stocks. It will also be a time when investors get a firsthand look at how companies are dealing with inflation, which rose 7% on an annualized basis during the final month of 2021, as measured by the consumer price index. “Earnings are expected to come in at 20% growth year-over-year. The companies will probably beat that ... and will come in at 25% to 30%,” said Jonathan Golub, Credit Suisse chief U.S. equity strategist.

“It’s totally skewed with about 20% of the market — the cyclical sectors, energy, materials, industrials, discretionary — together expected to grow 95% to 100%,” he added. “Everyone is expected to do better than tech.” According to Golub’s estimates, the S&P technology sector is expected to increase earnings by just 11%. “Energy, materials, industrials, these old economy companies are expected to deliver much better earnings growth and not only now” but in subsequent quarters, he said. The materials sector is expected to see earnings grow by 62% and industrials by 52%. Energy profits are forecast to be up sharply since they come off negative numbers last year. Consumer discretionary, minus internet retail, is expected to have earnings growth of 33.9%, while financials, which also are deemed cyclical stocks, are expected to see profits up just 2%. “When you have inflation at these levels, there are companies that naturally win and others that don’t. These are the companies that are the biggest beneficiaries of inflation. This is an inflation story,” Golub said. “When you look at where the excitement is in the market, you should not be looking at tech companies. They’re not bad with 10% growth this year. That’s fine, but others are doing much better.”

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CNBC - January 16, 2022

3G networks will disappear this year — and that's bad news for your car. Here's why

The 3G wireless network was once among the world’s hottest innovations. Today, it feels old-fashioned with fifth-generation (5G), and even sixth-generation (6G), networks soon dominating the tech world. In fact, 3G will soon be extinct — and that could mean bad news for your car. Every major mobile carrier plans to shut down its 3G network this year, largely to free up mobile bandwidth for upcoming 5G network rollouts. If your smartphones and tablets were purchased within the past decade, they should have 4G capability, meaning they’ll likely be unaffected. However, your car might be a different story.

As multiple auto blogs have pointed out recently, the 3G shutdown will affect dozens of vehicle models released anytime between 2010 and 2021. Some cars will lose the ability to update your location and traffic data while navigating. Others will become unable to connect with your smartphone, voice assistants or emergency call services. If you’re driving certain models from Honda, Nissan or Volvo, you might need to act before AT&T’s 3G shutdown date in February. Verizon-aligned brands like Toyota and Lexus might have more time: Verizon says its 3G shutdown will happen “no later” than December 31. T-Mobile plans to shut down its Sprint and T-Mobile 3G networks between March and July. Some major auto companies have released information on which of their car models will be affected by the shutdown — and what steps owners can take, if any, to ensure that their cars don’t lose certain connected features once the shutdown occurs. Other carmakers, like Bentley and Stellantis, have acknowledged that some of their cars will be affected, but have declined to specify which models.

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Houston Chronicle - January 16, 2022

H-E-B is among the best grocers in the U.S, study says, second only to Amazon

Texas' beloved hometown grocer, H-E-B, is once again one of the best grocers in the country. An extensive report by retail media, data strategy and analytics services company dunnhumby named the San Antonio-based supermarket chain as the No. 2 top grocer best positioned to win with customers in 2022 and beyond. H-E-B was only beaten by Amazon.

This is the second year in a row that Amazon has claimed the top spot and that H-E-B landed the No. 2 spot. In 2019, H-E-B came in at No. 1. "H-E-B maintained its spot at number two, continuing to display its strategic superiority over the competition by holding its ground on its traditionally strong balance of great price perception and great quality perception, driven by its best-in-class private brand, while also making some of its biggest improvements during covid in digital," according to the report. The ranking was based on a retailer’s retailer preference indexscore, which examines customer perception on the preference drivers and weighs that against how much preference drivers matter in driving financials and emotional bonds with customers.

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Newsclips - January 14, 2022

Lead Stories

Associated Press - January 13, 2022

Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for U.S. businesses

The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job. At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday during a spike in coronavirus cases was a mixed bag for the administration’s efforts to boost the vaccination rate among Americans. The court’s conservative majority concluded that the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

Lifetime Obama appointee on conservative circuit court to step down at age 49

Gregg Costa, an Obama appointee to the conservative 5th Circuit, announced Wednesday he plans to step down from his lifetime appointment, according to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. The vacancy on the circuit court as well as one on the federal trial court created by Clinton-appointee Vanessa Gilmore’s retirement on Jan. 2 mark a rare opportunity for the Biden administration to put — or at least try to put — progressive judges on the bench in Texas. Costa told Texas Lawbook he was leaving to return to being a lawyer again. Costa, who is only 49, informed his judicial colleagues, law clerks and President Joe Biden this week that he plans to leave the bench in early August.

Fellow Texas jurist Carolyn Dineen King, who was appointed to the 5th Circuit by President Jimmy Carter, described her departing colleague as “a superb judge, a five-star lawyer and a wonderful human being.” “He will be a gift to whomever he ultimately decides to go with,” she added. “All of us on this court will miss him.” After law school at University of Texas, Costa clerked for a Washington, D.C. circuit judge and later became a clerk for Chief U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. His big claim to fame as a federal prosecutor in Houston was serving as lead counsel in the trial of convicted Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford in 2012. He was tapped by President Barack Obama, shortly before the Stanford verdict, to serve as a federal trial court judge, occupying a seat vacated by Sen. U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey. The Senate confirmed him the following April. He presided over cases in the Galveston and Victoria courts for two years. Costa was swiftly elevated to the circuit court that hears federal appeals from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The Senate voted 97-0 to confirm him to position formerly held by U.S. Judge Fortunato Benavides in May 2014. Obama said at the time that he picked Costa for the 5th Circuit because he had “displayed exceptional dedication to public service” for his entire career.

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Texas Tribune - January 14, 2022

Hundreds of mail-in ballot applications are being rejected under Texas’ new voting rules

Hundreds of Texans seeking to vote by mail in the upcoming March primary elections are seeing their applications for ballots rejected by local election offices trying to comply with stricter voting rules enacted by Texas Republicans last year. Election officials in some of the state’s largest counties are rejecting an alarming number of mail-in applications because they don’t meet the state’s new identification requirements. Some applications are being rejected because of a mismatch between the new identification requirements and the data the state has on file to verify voters. Under Texas’ new voting law, absentee voters must include their driver’s license number or state ID number or, if they don’t have one, the last four digits of their Social Security number on their applications. If they don’t have those IDs, voters can indicate they have not been issued that identification. Counties must match those numbers against the information in an individual’s voter file to approve them for a mail-in ballot.

In Harris County, 208 applications — roughly 16% of the 1,276 applications received so far — have been rejected based on the new rules. That includes 137 applications on which voters had not filled out the new ID requirements and 71 applications that included an ID number that wasn’t in the voter’s record. In Travis County, officials said they’ve rejected about half of the roughly 700 applications they’ve received so far, with the “vast majority” of rejections based on the new voting law. In Bexar County, officials have rejected 200 applications on which the ID section was not filled out. Another 125 were rejected because the voter had provided their driver’s license number on the application, but that number was not in their voter record. “It’s disturbing that our senior citizens who have relished and embraced voting by mail are now having to jump through some hoops, and it’s upsetting when we have to send a rejection letter [when] we can see they’ve voted with us by mail for years,” said Jacque Callanen, the Bexar County election administrator.

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KHOU - January 14, 2022

Cy-Fair ISD trustee addresses controversial comments amid calls for his resignation

As calls grow louder for Cy-Fair ISD board member Scott Henry to resign over comments about Black teachers and dropout rates, he claimed at tonight's board meeting that his words are being twisted. Henry is being accused of equating the percentage of Black teachers in HISD with that district’s dropout rate. The controversial comments were made after he questioned the need for more Black teachers in Cy-Fair ISD following details of a district-wide equity audit. "The statewide average for black teachers is 10%," Henry said during a work session earlier this week. "HISD, which we’ll use as a shining example, you know what their average number or percentage of Black teachers is? 36%, I looked it up. You know what their dropout rate is? 4%. I don’t want to be at 4%, I don’t want to be HISD.”

At the board meeting, Henry said he's now getting death threats. “I will take responsibility for not saying it more eloquently,” Henry said. “Any suggestion that I said more black teachers leads to worse student outcomes is a lie, and those spreading it should be ashamed of themselves.” During public comments, a teacher said Henry's comments were personal for her. "It was practically said that teachers that look like me are the reasons kids drop out of school, do you even know who I am? Have you set foot in my classroom?" But Henry did have some supporters in the crowd. "Mr. Henry I want to thank you for seeing the audit report for what it truly is, political propaganda." Before the board meeting, community leaders joined the NAACP at a news conference to double down on their call for Henry's resignation.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2022

Hinojosa speaks on why he’s resigning (but not retiring) from Dallas schools

Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa will resign from his role leading the state’s second-largest school district by the end of the school year – and possibly serve in an advisory role until December. He isn’t, however, calling this a retirement. And sources say a mayoral run could be in his future. In an exclusive interview with The Dallas Morning News on Monday, Hinojosa was adamant that his resignation wasn’t the final stop of his career, which spans four decades — all in education. Hinojosa has led DISD for 13 years over two stints, the second-longest tenure of any superintendent in Dallas history. “I tried to retire once, and my wife said our house wasn’t big enough for the two of us,” Hinojosa said. “I’ve got to do something, and I’ve got to do something meaningful. I don’t want to be a vendor. I don’t want to just sell stuff – and I can’t stay home.” But when asked about his future plans, Hinojosa, 65, was noncommittal – apart from his intention not to leave Dallas, where his youngest son, Taylor, lives, as do members of his extended family.

Multiple sources have told The News that for the past several months, Hinojosa has been courted by political operatives as a potential candidate to challenge Mayor Eric Johnson in the upcoming 2023 Dallas elections. Hinojosa is strongly considering a mayoral run, sources said. When asked about his political aspirations, Hinojosa hedged. “I need to focus on Dallas ISD until the next superintendent is named,” he said. After that, “I may consider other options.” On Monday, Hinojosa didn’t offer any specific reason for why he’s stepping down now, apart from his desire for his successor to stay for the foreseeable future. Effective school leadership, he said, comes with stability, pointing to successes of Miami-Dade County Public Schools under the direction of Alberto Carvalho, who served from 2008 until December 2021 before leaving to run Los Angeles Unified School District. A 2018 report by the Los Angeles-based Broad Center found that the average tenure for leaders at the nation’s largest 100 school districts was just over six years. “I don’t think I have another decade in me,” Hinojosa said. “So, now I have the opportunity to go out and leave the district in great shape, and then they can find someone who can do it for the next 10 years.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 13, 2022

Fort Worth superintendent Kent Scribner announces retirement

Fort Worth schools Superintendent Kent Scribner announced Thursday that he plans to retire, marking the end of several tumultuous months in which the district was targeted for low test scores and its racial equity efforts. He intends to serve until a new superintendent is selected. The school board is scheduled to discuss his plans during a closed meeting on Tuesday. In a letter to the school board dated Dec. 16, Scribner said he was making the announcement “to support a smooth and thoughtful transition.” Scribner, 55, joined the 76,000-student district in 2015 after leading the Phoenix Union High School District for about eight years.

In a video message posted on the school district website, Scribner said he was confident in the school district’s future and knew the power of community in the city and district to get things done for children. He said that since 2015, student merit scholarships have increased from $36 million to $158 million. The school district has also gained 12 points in its state accountability rating, he said. Scribner also nodded to decisions voters have made to impact students’ lives, like approving tax ratifications and bond issues. He also mentioned the school district tackling racial equity and having conversations to close gaps and change systems that enforce disparities. He said that this year will mark his 20th year as superintendent, and that his time in Fort Worth has been his career high point. “Fort Worth ISD’s best years are still ahead,” he said. Board of Education President Tobi Jackson said that the board appreciates Scribner’s communication and transparency in sharing his retirement plans.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 13, 2022

What new research says about how many patrol officers the Austin Police Department needs

Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon indicated Tuesday that he likely will ask the City Council to approve funding for dozens of new patrol positions after a new report found the city needs more officers to quickly respond to the most serious emergencies. The study, commissioned by the nonprofit Greater Austin Crime Commission, found that the patrol ranks should increase by at least 108 officers, roughly 14%, to get average response times to the highest priority calls down to no more than six minutes and 30 seconds. Within that window, researchers said, officers are more likely to successfully make an arrest or recover a gun. “This model will be one of several tools to help us achieve the right balance for the department and the community,” Chacon said. “We can’t lose sight of the most important task we have, and that is to keep the community safe.”

The Police Department has funding for 774 patrol officers, but dozens of those positions remain unfilled. The number of officers Austin employs — and the mission those officers perform — has been the source of an ongoing community debate in the 18 months since George Floyd’s murder sparked a nationwide move toward police reform. The department saw historically high numbers of officers resign or retire in 2021, with 17 more set to leave this month. The staffing problems were compounded after the city delayed several planned cadet classes to retool its police academy. At the same time, Austin has seen a substantial increase in gun violence and homicides as an epidemic of violence swept cities across the nation. In November, Austin voters resoundingly rejected a proposition that would have established minimum staffing levels for the Police Department — at least 2.0 officers per 1,000 residents — and set minimum time periods that officers must spend engaging with the community. If voters had passed proposal, the city estimated it would have had to hire 403 to 885 more officers in the next five years.

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Houston Chronicle - January 12, 2022

Houston reports child under 10 died from COVID, the city's youngest virus death

A Houston girl under the age of 10 died of COVID-19 last year, the Houston Health Department confirmed Wednesday. The girl, who health officials said had underlying health conditions, died at a Houston hospital in mid-October. Scientists were unable to determine whether she was infected with the delta variant, which sickened thousands of Texas children. The Houston Health Department did not provide the girl’s age, but said she was the first fatality in a child under the age of 10. “This tragic COVID-19 related death serves as a reminder that?we?must get vaccinated, mask?up, and get tested?to protect?our community?during the?omicron?surge, especially children too young to get vaccinated,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement.

The virus has infected and killed a disproportionate number of people from Black and Latino communities, city data show. Health officials said the young girl was Black. While COVID has killed nearly 4,000 Houston residents since the pandemic began, less than 5 percent of those deaths occurred in people 39 and under. It was unclear Wednesday whether medical examiners had performed an autopsy in the three months since the girl died. “There is no standard length of time for reporting COVID deaths,” Scott Packard, a spokesman for the Houston Health Department, said in an email. “It’s a complex process requiring several investigative steps that may include obtaining lab results, death certificate, locating and interviewing the next of kin, interviewing the patient’s physician, medical records review, and securing other relevant information such as autopsy results if one is conducted.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

Abbott grants $10 million to spaceports in Houston and South Texas -- where Elon Musk develops rockets

Gov. Greg Abbott announced $10 million in grants that would be awarded to spaceports in Houston and South Texas. Thursday's announcement through the Spaceport Trust Fund will give $5 million to the Houston Spaceport Development Corp. and $5 million to the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp. Cameron County is where billionaire Elon Musk is developing and testing SpaceX rockets. Pending federal approval, the company plans to launch its Super Heavy rocket and Starship spacecraft from an unincorporated area outside of Brownsville.

The Houston Spaceport is working to attract a cluster of aerospace companies that can invent, develop and manufacture space technologies. Three companies have announced plans to build campuses at the spaceport: Axiom Space, which is developing a commercial space station and organizing private astronaut trips to the International Space Station; Collins Aerospace, a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies Corp. that will build a manufacturing facility and startup incubator at the Houston Spaceport; and Intuitive Machines, which is developing a lunar lander that can deliver commercial cargo and NASA-provided payloads to the moon. The Houston Spaceport's location in the middle of a major city means it will not be home to vertical rocket launches, but it could one day support spacecraft that take off or land like planes. The Spaceport Trust Fund provides money to help develop infrastructure for Texas spaceports. The 87th Legislature appropriated the $10 million in funds in fiscal year 2022 to support the creation of jobs and attract investments. "For decades, Texas has been a trailblazer in space technology," Abbott said in a news release, "and we are proud to help cultivate more innovation and development in this growing industry in Cameron and Harris County."

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

Her son died after doctors in Waco repeatedly refused him help. Now, she's suing them.

It’s been two years since Stetson Hoskins jumped to his death in front of a semi-truck, and not a day goes by that his mother, Elizabeth Waller, doesn’t think about holding the doctor who ignored his pleas for mental help accountable. She’s reached out to countless lawyers for help; presented them with medical records and police reports; she pleaded for her day in court. No one was willing to help, saying it was too costly to pursue a case.

But this week, she finally got her chance. Nicholas Everett, an attorney from Tyler, filed a case in McLennan County District Court against Dr. Joshua Warren and the hospital that employs him. Everett could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. Ascension Providence did not immediately provide a comment. Over the course of three days in January 2020, Hoskins was shuffled back and forth between Ascension Providence Hospital in Waco and its 64-bed psychiatric facility, DePaul Center. He went there for help with his bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which had gotten so bad he was contemplating suicide. He repeatedly told Dr. Warren and others at the facilities that he was going to kill himself if released — specifically that he was going to jump in front of an 18-wheeler. They repeatedly ignored him.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

She pleaded guilty to corruption in government job, then worked for Harris County for 2 more months

For seven weeks, Rhonda Skillern-Jones was just like any other Harris County Precinct 1 employee, with one dubious distinction: she was the only to have pleaded guilty in a federal public corruption case. Skillern-Jones took a plea deal on Oct. 28, admitting to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the government. Prosecutors said she admitted to accepting payments as a Houston Independent School District trustee from a vendor and then putting a contract for the vendor on the school board’s agenda and voting in favor of it. Skillern-Jones kept working for Precinct 1 as a community aid, however, until Dec. 16, when the Department of Justice announced the guilty pleas of her and four HISD employees involved in the scheme after it unsealed indictments against the district’s Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby and contract vendor Anthony Hutchison.

Democratic Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said he had no knowledge of Skillern-Jones’s involvement until that day. He said he immediately fired her. “The news today came as a shock to us, and we never had any indication of such inexcusable wrongdoing during her time at Precinct 1,” Ellis said in a statement Dec. 16. Skillern-Jones also remained in her seat on the Houston Community College board of trustees until her plea agreement was revealed. She resigned the seat, which she had held for two years, the day after the U.S. Attorney’s office announced her plea agreement. Why Skillern-Jones kept her job working for one local government for nearly two months after admitting to defrauding another remains unclear. Based on her annual salary of $71,837, Skillern-Jones would have earned $9,670 as a member of Ellis’ staff during that period, excluding benefits. Skillern-Jones did not respond to requests for comment.

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Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2022

Dick Raycraft, for decades Harris County’s budget chief and problem solver, dies at 82

Dick Raycraft, the indispensable problem-solver and numbers whiz who served as Harris County’s budget chief for three decades, died Wednesday in Austin. He was 82. Raycraft joined Harris County in 1968 and worked his way up to the powerful position managing the county’s finances for Commissioners Court. He earned a reputation as an innovator who could see the big picture. “He was, essentially, the county manager before there was a county manager,” former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said. “He wasn’t afraid to talk policy, and while we didn’t always agree, he always managed to make what I wanted to do work.”

Raycraft suggested in 1972 that inmates at the county jail be screened for mental illness, which now is standard procedure, after a report revealed deplorable conditions there. He also was instrumental in devising a solution to jail overcrowding and helped develop a regional crime lab. Former Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said Raycraft was one of the kindest men he ever met and a public servant who earned universal respect from public officials. Radack praised the budget officer for his ability, in the pre-internet age, to retrieve documents on demand. “He had stacks and stacks of paper all over his office; desk, table floor,” Radack said. “In seconds he was able to find anything.” The late Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee, who died in 2016, praised Raycraft when he retired 11 years ago for studying how the county spent money, which he said resulted in a fairer distribution of funds between the four precincts.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

Texans fire David Culley after just one season

The Texans have fired coach David Culley after one season. After four days of speculation, Culley became a one-and-done head coach, the first in team history. According to sources familiar with the situation, after the Texans spent four days evaluating the personnel side of the organization, general manager Nick Caserio and senior executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby recommended Culley be fired.

Chairman and CEO Cal McNair signed off on it. Culley, 4-13 this season, including a 2-2 finish, was the fourth head coach in franchise history after Dom Capers, Gary Kubiak and Bill O’Brien. Caserio will conduct a search for the new coach. Don’t be surprised if it’s someone he and Easterby worked with at New England.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

Honeywell bets on UT carbon-capture technology

Honeywell has licensed a solvent developed by University of Texas chemical engineers they say will make it more affordable to capture carbon dioxide from power plants and heavy industry before it reaches the atmosphere. The new solvent will enable companies to use smaller carbon-capture equipment, said Gary Rochelle, a chemical engineering professor at UT Austin who has worked more than 20 years to develop the chemical. That will make it cheaper for companies and facilities to employ carbon capture, and Rochelle said he hopes that will help lead to wider adoption of carbon-capture technology. “It’s robust and resistant to oxidation and degradation,” Rochelle said. “You can use it at higher temperatures and pressures, and it reduces energy consumption by 10 to 20 percent.”

Rochelle and other researchers tested the new solvent at the University of Austin’s small power plant, which produces about 200 kilowatts of power from coal, and at the National Carbon Capture Center in Alabama, which produces 500 kilowatts. Twice that amount, 1 megawatt, is about enough electricity to power about 200 homes on a hot summer day. But if it were deployed at an average-size power plant, which produces about 685 megawatts, the advanced solvent’s carbon-capture technology could siphon about 3.4 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, about the same emissions produced by 735,000 cars each year. It can also be used in a much wider array of industries, said Ben Owens, vice president and general manager at Honeywell Sustainable Technology Solutions. “We’ve gotten a lot of interest from the cement industry and other verticals, like oil, gas and petrochemical,” he said. “Everyone we’re talking to is really evaluating how they can reduce their carbon footprint, so there’s a lot of engagement on this space.”

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Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2022

AG Ken Paxton must turn over Trump rally records or face lawsuit, Travis County DA says

The Travis County district attorney has determined that Attorney General Ken Paxton violated Texas' open records law by not turning over his communications from January 2021, when he appeared at the pro-Trump rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The district attorney gave Paxton four days to remedy the issue or face a lawsuit. The probe was prompted by a complaint filed by top editors at several of the state’s largest newspapers: the Austin American-Statesman, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. In a letter hand delivered to Paxton on Thursday, the district attorney’s head of public integrity said her investigation showed the attorney general’s office broke state law by withholding or failing to retain his own communications that should be subject to public release.

“After a thorough review of the complaint, the (district attorney’s) office has determined that Paxton and (his office) violated Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code,” wrote Jackie Wood, director of the district attorney’s public integrity and complex crimes unit, referring to the open records statute. The district attorney’s office will take Paxton and his agency to court if they do not “cure this violation” within four days, Wood warned. For open-records complaints against state agencies, the law says the Travis County district attorney or the attorney general must handle them. The newspapers filed the complaint with the district attorney. Paxton’s office did not immediately return a phone and email message for comment. José Garza, Travis County's district attorney, is a Democrat. Paxton is a Republican running for re-election this year. He is currently facing the fiercest scrutiny of his decades-long career, with several GOP primary challengers, three state criminal indictments, allegations of an extramarital affair and a pending FBI bribery investigation. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing. Garza’s office declined comment, saying the letter speaks for itself. Jim Hemphill, the immediate past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said Paxton may take issue with the DA’s investigations — or he could voluntarily choose to release this and other records to the public.

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Dallas Morning News - January 12, 2022

D.C. delegate says Ted Cruz’s effort to block district’s student vaccine mandate ‘crosses the line’

Eleanor Holmes Norton has a message for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republicans in Congress seeking to derail vaccine mandates in the District of Columbia: Butt out. Norton, D.C.’s longtime delegate to the U.S. House, said the effort by Cruz “crosses the line” and interferes with local control. In late December, the Council of the District of Columbia passed a measure to require all students in Washington, D.C. — whether in public, private or charter schools — eligible for an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine to get inoculated by March 1. A few weeks later, in an interview with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, Cruz said he plans to introduce a bill in Congress to block the mandate.

“The school board has no right to force you to get your 5-year-old vaccinated,” Cruz said on Jan. 5, mistakenly saying it was the D.C. school board that approved the vaccine mandate. “If you want to vaccinate your kid, vaccinate your kid. But if you don’t want to, who are these petty authoritarians trying to make this decision for you? And sadly, it’s a pattern we’re seeing across the board.” Both Texas and the District of Columbia already require K-12 students to receive a number of vaccinations before they can attend public or private school. Polio, measles, mumps and rubella, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, hepatitis A and B, meningococcus and varicella (chickenpox) can all cause severe illness or death, and their vaccines are all mandated in Texas. Washington, D.C., like the rest of the country, is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. House Delegate Norton, D-District of Columbia and Washington’s sole member of Congress, said Cruz’s record of “spending an inordinate amount of time on D.C. affairs” makes her wonder “where he spends his time when it comes to the state of Texas.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2022

‘Bone dry’: Severe drought persists across North Texas with no rain relief imminent

More than half of the state, and much of North Texas, is experiencing moderate to severe drought, as winter air and the effects from last month’s record-setting heat waves worsen the dry spell. The current drought index, released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor, showed severe drought across Dallas and Tarrant counties. Counties northeast of Dallas — including Rockwall, Hunt, Hopkins, Rains and Franklin — are under extreme drought conditions, the report said. “Things look bone dry for North Texas for at least the next week and possibly much longer,” state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said. About 97% of the state is experiencing at least abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. About 62% of the state is under severe drought conditions and more than one-fifth is experiencing extreme drought. The extreme drought conditions are mostly relegated to the Panhandle.

Drought conditions have lingered in North Texas since October, however, they intensified in early December amid record-setting temperatures. Nielsen-Gammon said high temperatures upwards of 80 degrees last month “didn’t help” to quench drought conditions because the heat evaporated moisture from the soil. That, coupled with minimal rainfall this month, has compounded drought concerns. According to the National Weather Service, North Texas has had 0.08 inches of rain since Jan. 1; Matt Bishop, a meteorologist with the Dallas-Fort Worth office, said the region averages about an inch of precipitation by mid-January. Severe drought hardens soil and impedes plant growth. It also poses an elevated risk of wildfires and stresses on infrastructure, like water reserves, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. “It was wet enough for most of last year that there’s still plenty of water in the reservoirs,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But January through May is usually when they fill up, and with things so dry already, it will take a lot of rain before we start getting decent runoff.”

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El Paso Times - January 7, 2022

Lon Burnam and Istra Fuhrmann: Nuclear fallout ignores state lines

(Lon Burnam is a former member of the Texas House of Representatives, where he served for 18 years representing District 90. He has been involved for many decades with nuclear weapons and nuclear waste issues. Istra Fuhrmann is a Texas-based advocate and organizer working on nuclear weapons policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.) Early in the morning of July 16, 1945, native El Pasoan Barbara Kent was thrown out of her bunk bed at dance camp. Just 13 years of age, she had traveled to Ruidoso, New Mexico, to learn ballet, unwittingly only a short distance from the site of the first nuclear weapons test. After the explosion awakened her, she says the camp owner came running in to tell the young girls to head outside, where the sky had turned from dark to blindingly bright. Barbara Kent describes playing in pleasantly warm snow improbably falling in July, grabbing it in her hands and rubbing it on her face. Decades later, she realized that this "snow" had been radioactive fallout from the atomic blast. Today, she is the only survivor from the camp – all the other girls passed away from cancers before the age of 30.

El Paso is less than 150 miles from the epicenter of the nuclear bomb detonation known as the Trinity Test. While Kent happened to be in New Mexico that day, she was not the only Texan exposed to dangerous radiation levels. According to U.S. Census data, between 100,000-130,000 people lived in El Paso during the blast. Nuclear fallout from the explosion settled over thousands of square miles and exposed locals to radiation levels 10,000 times higher than what is currently allowed. Unfortunately, many of our state's lawmakers in Congress do not see radiation exposure as a Texas issue. They have not treated the problem with the urgency it is due. It's time to acknowledge this historical wrong and compensate Texans and New Mexicans suffering from life-threatening illnesses due to nuclear weapons activities. Congress has united in compensating nuclear testing survivors in the past. In 1990, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch introduced the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which received strong bipartisan support and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Unless Congress acts, this compensation program is set to expire in July 2022. Making matters worse, Texas and New Mexico "downwinders" – locals exposed to nuclear fallout – have never been eligible.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 13, 2022

Austin American-Statesman to end Saturday print delivery, will offer enhanced e-Editions

Responding to continued and rapid shifts toward digital news consumption, the American-Statesman is announcing a change in print delivery frequency beginning March 26. The Statesman will cease home delivery and single copy retail sales on Saturdays but will continue to provide subscribers with a full digital replica of the newspaper that day, filled with local news, advertising and features, such as comics and puzzles. The new model means subscribers will get newspapers delivered to their home six days a week, with a digital newspaper available every day. “Our commitment to local news remains steadfast,” Statesman Executive Editor Manny García said. “But the platforms on which our community is consuming news continue to evolve. We saw it during the extraordinary growth we had last year in digital subscriptions and expect that growth to continue this year.

“What was once solely a daily newspaper has transformed to include a digital site, mobile app, social media platforms, multimedia and more,” García said. “We produce accountability reports, editorials, visual projects — everything from our dining guides to Longhorn sports across multiple sites. “No doubt, our print newspapers remain a vital and important part of our strategy,” García said. “We are making a change this year in response to subscriber and advertising trends and to meet our growing audience where they want to receive our exclusive journalism.” All print subscribers of the Statesman have full digital access, meaning they can choose to read news updates throughout the day, subscriber-only stories and video and audio features, among other benefits they can enjoy. Subscribers also have 24/7 access to obituaries, legal notices and classifieds on our website. News and sales staffing at the Statesman will not change with the move. However, those staffs will be even better aligned toward digital news delivery.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 13, 2022

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes arrested in Capitol attack

A North Texas man who is known as the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers was arrested Thursday in connection to the breach of the U.S. Capitol last January. A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging 11 people with seditious conspiracy and other charges connected to the Capitol attack seeking to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election defeat of Donald Trump. Oath Keepers leaders Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 56, of Granbury, was arrested Thursday morning in Little Elm, according to a Justice Department news release.

A 63-year-old Arizona man, Edward Vallejo, was arrested Thursday as well. The others named in the indictment are nine previously charged defendants and include one other North Texas man. They are Thomas Caldwell, 67, of Berryville, Virginia; Joseph Hackett, 51, of Sarasota, Florida; Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Florida; Joshua James, 34, of Arab, Alabama; Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon, Florida; Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida; Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Georgia; and Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio. In addition to earlier charges filed against them, they now face additional counts of seditious conspiracy and other offenses, federal authorities said in the release.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 14, 2022

TCU-UNTHSC separation agreement over medical school detailed

Leaders of TCU and the University of North Texas Health Science Center are putting positive spin on the recently announced split over Fort Worth’s allopathic medical school. But the separation agreement between the schools highlights the reality of an institutional divorce. A 14-page separation agreement between TCU and UNTHSC, obtained by the Star-Telegram on Thursday, breaks down the logistics of splitting a medical school in two. The agreement, which went into effect on Jan. 1, addresses everything from student ID cards and library access to insurance coverage and custodial services. The document also hints at the deeper question of why the institutions are parting ways.

The two universities issued a joint announcement of the separation on Wednesday but did not provide any details about what led to the split. Press releases and official comments instead heralded the separation as “the next evolution in the advancement” of the school. But the separation agreement says that HSC and TCU couldn’t agree on how to work toward joint accreditation for the medical school, which is an M.D. program. “Although the Parties have explored various paths towards a joint medical degree program, the Parties have not been able to agree on pursuit of a specific path toward a joint medical degree program,” the agreement reads. HSC spokesperson Laken Rapier said in an email that there “was no one reason that led to the decision to transition” the medical school to TCU. Both TCU and HSC representatives told the Star-Telegram that the decision to part ways had been in the works for several months before its official announcement this week.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 14, 2022

Gilbert Garcia: GOP congressional hopeful proudly participated in Jan. 6 attack

When pro-Donald Trump insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol a year ago in a bid to block the certification of Trump’s election defeat, Alma Arredondo-Lynch proudly stood near the front of that election-denying crowd. She routinely espouses the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump. She blames the Jan. 6 attack on Antifa and Black Lives Matter activists, who she insists were ushered into the Capitol by corrupt police officers. She brags about her refusal to provide names or phone numbers to FBI agents who questioned her for an hour in Hondo about her participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Two years ago, she publicly offered this suggestion as a way to keep Muslims out of the United States: “I’m a rancher, I keep a lot of hogs. I’ll be happy to supply the blood if you want to provide the airplanes. And we can spray a fine mist all over our country. Muslims cannot live where there is pigs’ blood.”

There’s one important thing I forgot to mention about Arredondo-Lynch: She is a Republican candidate for Congress. Arredondo-Lynch, 66, is a Concan-based dentist/rancher challenging freshman incumbent Tony Gonzales in U.S. District 23, a sprawling piece of political terrain that stretches from San Antonio to West Texas. It would be easy to dismiss Arredondo-Lynch as a farcical fringe figure, a campaign perennial engaging in vanity-project politics. It’s true that she is running in her third consecutive campaign cycle for the District 23 nomination and will almost certainly fall short for the third consecutive time. It’s also true that nearly 70 percent of the $125,000 she raised for her 2020 candidacy came from personal loans she made to her own campaign. At the same time, one of the weirder aspects of Arredondo-Lynch’s fitful political career is that no matter how unhinged some of her public utterances sound, they haven’t placed her outside of the Republican mainstream. In 2020, she finished a solid third in a field of nine Republican primary candidates in District 23. Four months after Arredondo-Lynch made her infamous “pigs’ blood” comment, delegates to the 2020 Republican State Convention elected her to the State Republican Executive Committee.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 13, 2022

Northwest ISD cancels all classes after over 1,100 COVID cases

Northwest Independent School District will close all of its campuses beginning Friday after over 1,100 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported among staff and students, officials said. The school district said classes will be canceled until Wednesday, Jan. 19, while all high school extracurricular activities will continue as scheduled. “You need to know that these days are not remote learning days and taking these off will not change our student instructional calendar at the moment. We are using these days as we would during inclement weather cancellations, which are built into our calendar,” Superintendent Ryder Warren wrote in a message to students, parents and staff. “[Extracurricular activities] can’t be rescheduled, and we have adequate staff to continue those activities. All activities involving our middle school and elementary students and staff are canceled beginning Friday.”

Warren said the school district has seen a nearly 900% increase of COVID-19 cases since Christmas break. As of Thursday, nearly 500 staff members were either infected with the virus and experiencing symptoms, or taking care of other family members who tested positive. The district, like many others in North Texas, has struggled to find substitute teachers. “For 17 of our campuses today, our Guest Educator ‘fill rate’ is 50% or less for our classroom teachers who are out,” Warren said. “To all of our stakeholders — I am sorry we are having to do this, but we have to break the cycle of positive tests. We are being informed by many medical experts from our area health departments that the Omicron Variant is providing less severe symptoms for many of us who have tested positive, but the issue is that positive tests still bring the requirement of quarantining, and we cannot assure our schools are being successfully run day to day with so many campus-level staff out.” For Thursday’s in-person instruction, the school district “assigned a large majority of the central office staff to campuses,” the superintendent added.

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Dallas Morning News - January 12, 2022

Dallas police address controversy over $106K Love Field seizure: ‘What got us here was a misstep’

More than a month after authorities seized more than $106,000 from a woman at Dallas Love Field, Dallas police officials spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about the policies that made the seizure possible and the ensuing criticism that erupted in the community. During its monthly meeting, the city’s Community Police Oversight Board lobbed multiple questions related to the seizure at Deputy Chief Thomas Castro and Major Devon Palk, who said they couldn’t discuss specifics on the incident because it’s under federal investigation. However, the commanders acknowledged there were misconceptions that spread after the department lauded the seizure on Facebook in an apparent publicity move. They clarified in detail how and why police conduct civil seizures of money and other property, saying they aren’t taking cash from people for no reason.

“What got us here was a misstep — I think shortsighted,” Palk said. “However, I will always take the opportunity to better explain not just to the board but to the public … so that we can be as transparent as possible.” The discussion was prompted after two Dallas police detectives seized $106,829 in cash from a 25-year-old Chicago woman at the airport Dec. 2. Police did not arrest the woman, who was at the airport during a layover, but suspected her of trafficking narcotics after a police dog, Ballentine, alerted authorities to her luggage. Police were able to conduct the seizure through civil-forfeiture policies, which under Texas law allow law-enforcement officials to take property they believe is part of a crime or could be part of a crime in the future. The policies have long been perceived as controversial because of the broad powers they give officers. Dallas police publicly praised Ballentine on the department’s Facebook page, where they posted a picture of the dog behind dozens of stacks of cash. The post went viral, sparking a torrent of questions and criticism.

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National Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 13, 2022

Medical experts demand Spotify stop COVID-19 misinformation, citing Joe Rogan podcast

More than 250 medical professionals have called on streaming media company Spotify to aggressively police COVID-19 misinformation on its platform, via an open letter specifically calling out the podcast of comedian and Austin resident Joe Rogan. The letter discusses at length a Dec. 31, 2021, episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience" that featured Dr. Robert Malone, a figure known for pushing false anti-vaccine information, according to PolitiFact. "The episode has been criticized for promoting baseless conspiracy theories and the (podcast) has a concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic," the letter reads. The group of doctors claim that Spotify has failed to mitigate other instances of misinformation on its platform.

News of the open letter was first reported Wednesday by Rolling Stone. "The Joe Rogan Experience" is exclusive to Spotify. The episode featuring Malone, which is more than three hours long, is still available to stream as of Wednesday afternoon. The signers of the letter, who describe themselves as "a coalition of scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators spanning a wide range of fields such as microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, and neuroscience," want Spotify to institute and enforce a misinformation policy for its content. The letter goes on to list what the medical experts say are additional instances of COVID-19 falsehoods promoted on the podcast. In a statement last year to tech news outlet the Verge, Spotify said that it prohibits and will remove content that promotes false information about the pandemic. Rogan's Spotify podcast has enormous reach; it is often touted as one of the most popular podcasts in the world, if not the most popular, and is the No. 1 podcast on Spotify's charts. When Spotify announced its exclusive multimillion deal with Rogan in 2020, the company heavily touted the host's influence. According to Rolling Stone, the podcast reaches an estimated 11 million people per episode.

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Politifact - January 13, 2022

Fact-check: Does the omicron variant favor the fully vaccinated?

Internet bloggers: “Data from around the world suggests that omicron favors the fully vaccinated.” PolitiFact's Ruling: False Here's why: An article on a conservative blog uses infection statistics from other countries to back a dubious claim: that people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are more susceptible to the omicron variant of the virus. "Data from around the world suggests that omicron favors the fully vaccinated," says the headline on the Jan. 3 article from Alpha News that was shared on Facebook. The article says that in Canada, 81% of omicron cases are among people who are fully vaccinated; that in Germany, the vaccination rate is 71%, but 95.6% of omicron cases are among people who are fully vaccinated; that "61% of omicron cases in Israel were among those who are triple vaccinated; and that "Iceland is the most boosted nation on earth but also has the fourth highest COVID case rate."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. Infectious-disease experts said the conclusion in the headline is incorrect. While scientists are still studying how effective existing COVID-19 vaccines are against the omicron variant, experts said that being vaccinated does not put people at greater risk. "Omicron does not favor the vaccinated; it favors everyone," said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "The immune evasive properties of the variant allow it to infect fully vaccinated, and even boosted, individuals. This doesn’t mean it favors or targets them, it just means it has the capacity to infect them. Other variants lacked this ability and preyed primarily on the unvaccinated. Omicron can prey on both." Omicron is more resistant than delta to immunity from vaccines or from a prior infection, said Dr. Thomas A. Russo, a professor of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo who treats COVID-19 patients. "That’s why we’re seeing more infections in the vaccinated," Russo said. But there’s "no question" that people who are vaccinated have more protection, Russo said.

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Associated Press - January 13, 2022

Nevada candidate seeks Trump’s favor with Florida TV spot

In a campaign ad, Nevada gubernatorial candidate Michele Fiore steps out of a Ford F-150 with a handgun holstered on her hip and tells viewers she was one of the first elected officials to endorse Donald Trump in the lead-up to the 2016 election. “You better believe I was attacked for it,” Fiore says, affirming her commitment to the former president as a country rock-style guitar riff plays in the background. She hopes Trump is watching. In addition to purchasing ads in Nevada media markets like her competitors, Fiore is investing campaign funds to air her 60-second segment in Palm Beach, Florida, where the former president spends winters at his Mar-a-Lago club.

Her campaign spent $6,270 to broadcast 62 television spots on Fox News in the West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce media market during in the final week of November, Federal Communications Commission filings show. Trump has been splitting his time since leaving office between Florida, his official residence, and his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he spent most of last summer. When Fiore’s ads aired over the Thanksgiving holiday, he and his family were at Mar-a-Lago. Candidates and interest groups have long used targeted cable ads as a way to reach the television-obsessed Trump, often lining up spots in Washington and Florida to catch his attention when he was in the White House or vacationing. Fiore’s move reflects Trump’s enduring post-presidential influence in the Republican Party and underscores how his endorsement is seen as a potential game-changer by Republicans embroiled in primary battles throughout the country.

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KATV - January 14, 2022

Sen. Cotton warns Arkansas officials to guard against Chinese influence at local level

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., sent a letter Wednesday to Arkansas’ statewide elected officials, legislators, and county judges warning them that the Chinese Communist Party may try to influence his work through them.

“It has come to my attention that the Chinese Communist Party may attempt to use state and local officials in Arkansas to influence my work in the Senate. I want to alert you to this risk” the letter states. Cotton, who sits on the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, said the efforts of China to influence U.S. policy at a variety of levels is “pervasive.” He said the FBI opens a new China-related counterintelligence case every 10 hours and that there are 2,000 open investigations into Chinese intelligence operations in U.S. “In its quest to replace the United States as the world’s dominant superpower, the Chinese Communist Party has waged an aggressive campaign of crime, espionage, and treachery,” Cotton said.

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Associated Press - January 13, 2022

Noem to push abortion ban after 6 weeks, conservative vision

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday (Jan. 11) said she would push legislation to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, as she laid out a sharply conservative list of priorities to start the state’s legislative session. During the final State of the State address of her first term, the Republican governor proposed what amounted to a wish list for conservative voters, promising to make it easier for state residents to get a permit to carry concealed firearms and nearly impossible for them to get an abortion. She is also proposing a requirement that schools allot time for prayer, a ban on the teaching of controversial material on race in public schools and ensured exemptions from COVID-19 vaccines for medical or religious reasons. “In South Dakota, we protect freedom, and we will pass it on to our children, and we will not allow freedom to go extinct,” the governor said, as she derided other states for enacting restrictions to prevent and slow COVID-19 infections.

Noem has used her hands-off approach to the pandemic to generate nationwide attention among Republicans. She has positioned herself for a 2024 White House bid, and her speech Tuesday showed a willingness to tap into the country’s most incendiary social issues to stay in the spotlight. “It was a campaign speech,” said Rep. Jamie Smith, the House Democratic leader, adding that it was a “blueprint of how conservative can I be?” The governor’s office did not immediately release details on the bill to ban abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy — often known as a “heartbeat law.” The Supreme Court’s willingness to consider striking down Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision that established the right to an abortion nationwide — has prompted a flurry of bill-writing in statehouses. But medical experts say the heart doesn’t begin to form until the fetus is at least 9 weeks old, and they decry efforts to promote abortion bans by relying on medical inaccuracies. “Today, I am asking all of you to protect the heartbeats of these unborn children,” Noem told the lawmakers assembled in the House chamber. “I am bringing legislation to ban all abortions once a heartbeat can be detected.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

Black mortgage applicants are denied 84% more often, Zillow analysis reveals

According to a Zillow analysis released on Thursday, Black mortgage applicants are increasingly more likely than white borrowers to be denied a mortgage, even as overall denial rates have decreased. The Black homeownership rate, which went up before the pandemic, has begun to fall, in part spurred by the widening mortgage approval rate. Black applicants are denied a mortgage at a rate 84% higher than white applicants, which is an increase from 2019, the last year before the pandemic, when the disparity sat at 74%. In the United States, 19.8% of Black applicants are denied a mortgage, the highest rate among all races, and considerably higher than the 10.7% of white applicants who are denied.

"Homeowners have seen a plethora of housing gains during the pandemic, but the growing disparity between Black and white homeownership rates and home values paints the picture of who those winners actually are," Zillow economist Nicole Bachaud said in a statement. "While credit borrowers overall are stronger now than ever, the gap in credit access is growing along racial lines. Policies and interventions that target the barriers keeping Black Americans from homeownership are keys to achieving housing equity." More than 6% of Black applicants are denied based on credit history, accounting for over one-third (37%) of all Black borrower denials. Limited traditional financial services in Black and other communities of color is a significant factor in credit history. Black communities have a higher number of nontraditional services, such as payday lenders, which contributes to poor credit health, Zillow found. While the Black homeownership rate has risen from the depths it hit following the Great Recession, it remains far below the peak of 49.7% reached in 2004. Black-owned home values continue to lag behind those of other races, and are still worth 16.7% less than homes overall.

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Newsclips - January 13, 2022

Lead Stories

Associated Press - January 13, 2022

Inflation at 40-year high pressures consumers, Fed and Biden

Inflation jumped at its fastest pace in nearly 40 years last month, a 7% spike from a year earlier that is increasing household expenses, eating into wage gains and heaping pressure on President Joe Biden and the Federal Reserve to address what has become the biggest threat to the U.S. economy. Prices rose sharply in 2021 for cars, gas, food and furniture as part of a rapid recovery from the pandemic recession. Vast infusions of government aid and ultra-low interest rates helped spur demand for goods, while vaccinations gave people confidence to dine out and travel. As Americans ramped up spending, supply chains remained squeezed by shortages of workers and raw materials and this magnified price pressures.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that a measure of inflation that excludes volatile food and gas prices jumped 5.5% in December, also the highest in decades. Overall inflation rose 0.5% from November, down from 0.8% the previous month. Price gains could slow further as snags in supply chains ease, but most economists say inflation won’t fall back to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon. “U.S. inflation pressures show no sign of easing,” said James Knightley, chief international economist at the financial services company ING. “It hasn’t been this high since the days of Thatcher and Reagan. We could be close to the peak, but the risk is that inflation stays higher for longer.’’ High inflation isn’t only a problem for the U.S. In the 19 European countries that use the euro currency, inflation rose 5% in December compared with a year earlier, the biggest increase on record. Companies large and small are adapting as best they can. Nicole Pomije, a bakery owner in the Minneapolis area, said she plans to raise prices for cookies because of surging ingredient costs.

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Houston Chronicle - January 12, 2022

Cold weather reignites debate about stability of Texas' gas-powered grid

A week since temperatures dipped below freezing in Houston — and almost a year after the deadly February 2021 blackout — a spat has erupted again over the ability of the state’s natural gas operations to withstand severe cold and keep the power grid running. On one side are environmentalists and other watchdogs who claim that initial data released in the wake of the cold that spread over Texas in the first days of 2022 showed flaws in the state’s natural gas framework. Bloomberg, for example, first reported that 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas had been flared as operators dealt with the cold. That number was later revised to 1 million cubic feet. S&P Global released a report Jan. 3 indicating that natural gas production in the Permian Basin dropped by 20 percent as temperatures there dipped into the teens the day before.

But as more data became known, natural gas proponents said the numbers painted a different picture. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that average natural gas production in the Permian that week fell by 800 million cubic feet per day, a 5 percent decline from the previous week. But the Texas Oil and Gas Association said that analytics company RBN Energy found there may have been a 22 percent decrease at the worst of the recent cold. With the disparate data, natural gas industry proponents claim that environmentalists have overblown the risk of another freeze knocking out much of the natural gas supply, while watchdog groups say the industry has done too little to prepare for another winter storm. “The truth is somewhere in the middle of that, as normally you would expect,” said Charles McConnell, executive director of the University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management and Sustainability and a former U.S. assistant energy secretary.

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Houston Chronicle - January 12, 2022

Cy-Fair ISD trustee's comments on Black teachers spark accusations of racism

A Cypress-Fairbanks ISD school board trustee has come under fire this week for his comments, one of which discounted Black teachers, after a public presentation on the school district's equity and culture audit. Trustee Scott Henry's remarks sparked fury, allegations of racism and calls for his resignation on Wednesday. Henry linked more Black teachers to lower school district performance at the school board's work session on Monday, Jan, 10, citing Houston ISD, which is predominantly Hispanic and has a large Black student and teacher population, as an example. "Cy-Fair has, what, 13 percent Black teachers," Henry said.

"Do you know what the statewide percent is for Black teachers? 10 percent. Houston ISD, which I'll use to shine an example, you know what their average percentage of Black teachers is? 36 percent. I looked that up. You know what their dropout rate is? 4 percent. I don't want to be 4 percent. I don't want to be HISD. I want to be a shining example. I want to be the district standard. I want to be the premium place where people go to be." The comment was made during the reports portion of the agenda after Cy-Fair ISD human resources director, Onica Mayers, presented an oral report with findings from the district's equity and culture audit conducted by Millennium Learning Concepts. Mayers also shared findings from year-long surveys sent to staff and secondary students, interviews and focus groups, and walk-throughs and classroom observations. Millennium recommended that the district form an equity-focused administrative office to provide support to underserved student populations. A video of the entire meeting is available on YouTube.

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Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2022

If Cruz wins sanctions on Nord Stream 2 pipeline, is Russian invasion of Ukraine more likely?

With Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders, a related showdown looms in the Senate over potential sanctions. Sen. Ted Cruz wants economic penalties aimed at blocking Russia’s Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that would bring heating fuel to Germany and cash to Moscow. Last month, he secured a promise of a vote on that bill by Monday, in exchange for allowing the Senate to confirm dozens of stalled diplomatic nominees. “Everyone opposes NS2 but Putin and Biden,” Cruz asserted Wednesday night. “When Nord Stream 2 goes online, the odds of Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine will have increased dramatically,” he said recently. “If it is not in the world’s interest for Russia to invade Ukraine, the way to stop it, the time to stop it, is before the fact.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Congress to support Cruz’s sanctions bill earlier this week, thanking him and Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who cut the sanctions vote-for-diplomats deal, “for agreeing to put to a stop to Russia’s Nord Stream 2.” On Wednesday, Senate Democrats unveiled an alternative, setting invasion of Ukraine as a tripwire rather than tying sanctions to a pipeline that is all but complete. Some warned that Cruz’s approach would hurt relations with Germany at an especially bad time, as NATO tries to stare down Vladimir Putin. “I think it would make the invasion of Ukraine more likely, not less likely,” warned Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “This is an effort by Ted Cruz to try to divide the United States from Europe and embarrass the president. This is not a legitimate means of stopping the pipeline.” Germany had long pushed for Nord Stream 2, despite qualms about the steady infusion of income it would yield for Russia. The 800-mile pipeline goes through the Baltic Sea, avoiding Ukraine, which also strengthens Putin by depriving that country of any income or ability to divert fuel.

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State Stories

KXAN - January 13, 2022

Plea reached for man accused in Travis County Democratic Party attempted arson

Four months after someone tried to set the Travis County Democratic Party headquarters on fire, a plea deal has been reached in the September 2021 case. Court documents show Ryan Faircloth and federal prosecutors agreed to a plea of one count of arson for Faircloth this week. Surveillance video shows someone break a window and then throw in some type of incendiary device at the office at East Sixth and Navasota streets in downtown Austin. According to AFD, Faircloth put a device inside the building’s door, near a stack of papers.

Officials said it was then the fire started to be visible, but the incendiary device did not catch fire, just the papers it was near. Faircloth had no history of arson, officials say. “I think it was one of those things…that this person was not happy with the current political climate, he blamed this office and who they represent for a lot of the issues that he saw as problems with the country,” said AFD Capt. Jeffrey Deane back in September. “For that reason, this was an intentional act, this was the intended target.” At last check the local case was dropped, after the federal indictment. Sentencing is set for March 24.

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Dallas Morning News - January 12, 2022

Dan Branch: How competition for top research university status transformed Texas

Texas is home to the most public Tier One universities in the nation, after the University of Texas at San Antonio’s recent recognition by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Over the last 13 years, our Carnegie Tier Ones have increased from three to 11, the number of undergraduates receiving a first-class education has quadrupled from 81,000 to 316,000, and investment in highest-level research has doubled from $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion. Understanding where we were, where we are now and how we got here is key to realizing our bright future. At the start of 2009, Texas was not prepared to thrive in the knowledge economy. Businesses wanted top universities to fill high-paying jobs and generate marketable ideas, but our supply of skilled workers and innovations was insufficient. Texas had three Tier Ones, the same number as Indiana. North Texas was the nation’s most populous region without a Tier One. And four of our six largest cities lacked a top tier university to serve as a hub of innovation.

To add insult to injury, we trailed our biggest rivals: California had eight public and three private Tier Ones and New York City was powered by eight nearby Tier One research universities. As 2022 begins, our Tier One landscape has improved dramatically. The University of Houston joined UT in Austin, Rice and Texas A&M as a Tier One in 2011, followed by Texas Tech, UT-Dallas, UT-Arlington and University of North Texas in 2016, UT-El Paso in 2019, and Baylor University and UT-San Antonio in 2021. This spring, these universities will teach more than 316,000 undergraduates and conduct more than $2.8 billion in research, four times and two times the 2009 levels, respectively. North Texas is now supported by three Tier Ones, and each of our six major cities has easy access to a Tier One. This transformation has been a team effort in pursuit of a shared goal. In the 2009 Legislative Session, Texas passed House Bill 51 and established the Tier One Competition, which was designed to encourage eight emerging research universities to strive toward relevant, measurable and outcomes-based objectives on the road to Tier One status. House Bill 51 also created two funds, the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP) and National Research University Fund (NRUF), that promised additional resources as institutions reached major milestones on the journey to becoming national research universities.

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Texas Public Radio - January 12, 2022

Texas public officials can no longer promote voting by mail (but we can)

It’s a new year and there are new voter laws in place for Texas elections in 2022. It's now illegal for public officials in Texas to promote voting by mail. So, independent voting rights advocates will likely try to spread the word. Grace Chimene is the president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. "They can put the information on their website — that is not illegal. What they can't do is say, 'Would you like to vote by mail?' They can't offer (it) when they're out registering voters. They can't give people an application to vote by mail," said Chimene.

Texas County elections offices are prohibited from sending applications to vote by mail unless a voter specifically requests one. Political parties are allowed to send out vote-by-mail applications. The deadline to submit a vote-by-mail application in order to vote in the March primaries is Feb. 18. The deadline to register to vote or update your voter registration information is Jan. 31. Republicans have increasingly criticized voting by mail in recent years, following the lead of former President Donald Trump. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quoted an Austin prosecutor who said voting by mail "invites fraud." There is no evidence of mass voter fraud from mail-in ballots.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 12, 2022

Court overturns rebuke against Eckhardt for wearing cat-themed 'pussyhat' as county judge

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which enforces ethical standards for Texas judges, went too far when it rebuked Sarah Eckhardt for actions taken when she was Travis County judge, a special court of review has ruled. The state agency admonished Eckhardt in December 2020, saying she brought "discredit upon the judiciary" by wearing a pink knitted "pussyhat" while leading a Travis County Commissioners Court discussion on reproductive health care and for making a joke about Gov. Greg Abbott's paralysis at a public forum. The problem, however, was that as Travis County judge, Eckhardt was working as the county's top executive officer — a job that has no judicial function.

"She enjoyed the title 'judge' but had none of its duties," the three-judge court of review, convened to weigh Eckhardt's appeal, determined in a ruling issued Tuesday. Ethical rules are meant to preserve the public's trust in fair and unbiased judges, but those rules were not intended to police the actions that Eckhardt took in her political role, the review panel said. In addition to tossing out the public admonition against Eckhardt, the court barred the state agency from taking further action in the matter. Eckhardt, now a Democratic state senator representing Travis and Bastrop counties, called the ruling a victory for the First Amendment. "Free speech, especially political speech, is a right on which our democracy depends. I am proud that we fought on and won this appeal rather than accepting the harassing censure of the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct," she said.

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McAllen Monitor - January 10, 2022

State education board member to Abbott: Provide more pandemic response

State Board of Education Member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday calling for an executive response to the COVID-19 situation in regards to Texas schools. Most notably, Cortez asked the governor to cancel the 2021-22 STAAR test and to deploy state resources — including the Texas National Guard — to address staffing shortages in schools and hospitals created by the coronavirus surge. In his letter, Cortez called for swift action to address the spike in cases, citing positivity rates and tens of thousands of new cases.

He wrote that conditions have caused massive staffing shortages in schools and hospitals in his district, along with a shortage of COVID tests. Local education leaders have described those staffing shortages, and say that demand for COVID-19 tests at local campuses remains high. “Schools need COVID-19 tests to keep students and staff safe and classrooms open, but many in my district have exhausted their supply or are awaiting backorders and report they are unable to obtain additional tests,” he wrote. “The lack of testing combined with staffing shortages has already caused classes to be disrupted or canceled at a time when we cannot afford a return to remote instruction. We must also keep our hospitals staffed in order to continue to provide emergency care and to avoid canceling procedures for those with ongoing medical needs.” In addition to asking for STAAR to be canceled and for the Texas National Guard to be deployed to testing sites and hospitals, Cortez asked for Abbott to provide emergency funding out of the governor’s discretionary CARES Act monies for schools to spend on hiring extra substitutes and support staff; he did not call for a return to virtual learning. Cortez wrote that his “office stands ready to help.” Coincidentally, Abbott was in the Rio Grande Valley on the campaign trail Monday, being endorsed by the National Border Patrol Council. Cortez is making an election bid himself, for the District 37 seat in the state House of Representatives.

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Houston Chronicle - January 12, 2022

Erica Grieder: Death of Robert Durst marks end to a long, bizarre and troubling saga

It’s been more than two decades since real estate heir and suspected serial killer Robert Durst was charged in the 2001 murder of his Galveston neighbor, Morris Black, but Susan Criss remembers the crime — and its aftermath — in vivid detail. Criss presided as judge over the 2003 murder trial, which dealt with a particularly grisly crime: Black was shot to death and then dismembered, his remains dumped in Galveston Bay. “It was somebody who knew what instrument to use for what part of the body,” Criss recalled on Tuesday. “You have muscles, you have bones, you have tendons; apparently, it works better if you have different instruments for different parts.” “It’s not normal,” she continued, reflecting on Durst’s behavior during his 2003 trial in Galveston, and since. “It’s not even what we think of as normal in killers.” That’s an understatement. Durst, who died of natural causes Monday at age 78 following a bout with COVID-19, was a prisoner at the end, having been convicted last year in Los Angeles of the 2000 murder of his longtime friend and spokeswoman, Susan Berman.

She was fatally shot in her home as she prepared to meet with investigators looking into the January 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen. Robert Durst has long been the prime suspect in Kathleen’s disappearance following a fight between the couple at their home in Westchester County, N.Y. She had hired a divorce lawyer and reportedly told those close to her, “If anything happens to me, don’t let Bob get away with it,” The New York Times reported in 2017. Although her body was never found, she was declared dead that year. Some of these details were known to the public, having been reported in the Emmy award-winning 2015 HBO documentary “The Jinx” — a miniseries about Durst’s life, which includes a notable hot-mic moment. “You’re caught!” Durst mutters to himself, while taking a bathroom break, in the final scene of the final episode, after spending hours airing his grievances and protesting his innocence to the presumably startled filmmakers. “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” He had been the one to reach out to the filmmaker, Andrew Jarecki, with an offer to talk. Jarecki had directed 2010’s “All Good Things,” a thriller starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst that was inspired by Durst’s life.

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KXAN - January 12, 2022

Texas has 90 days to plan changes to foster care mental health access

In federal court Tuesday, Texas Judge Janis Graham Jack demanded faster action from the state agencies overseeing Texas’ foster care system for swifter action to address the current crisis. On Monday, a panel of three independent, national experts submitted their findings to the court for weak spots in the state’s foster care system. This came after Texas saw its Children Without Placement (CWOP) doubled from January to September 2021. “They’re in essentially an unlicensed location, either a state office and some places, or hotels or duplexes or motels,” Myko Gedutis with the Texas State Employees Union said Tuesday, explaining the caseworkers in charge of these children are already overworked.

The reports filed ahead of Tuesday’s hearing also found nearly 40% of the state’s caseworkers are already above the agency’s 18-child limit, and that’s before taking on the influx of CWOP. “Shifts from four hours to eight hours overnight, asking folks to basically do direct care of children who need a lot of support a lot of services that they aren’t getting,” Gedutis said. “Workers who have never been trained to, on de-escalation techniques that have been trained on restraints are now responsible for the 24/7 care of children, with many of them have very high needs of therapeutic needs, behavioral needs that are going untreated.” The panel of experts said part of the solution will be establishing more accessible mental health resources to keep kids out of the system to begin with, and to keep them from cycling within the system. “Our kids without placement, about 35% of them are kids who entered foster care because they had an unmet mental health challenge,” Kate Murphy, the senior policy associate for child protection at Texans Care for Children, said Tuesday.

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Dallas Morning News - January 12, 2022

What we know about Dallas schools Superintendent Hinojosa leaving the district

Longtime Dallas schools leader Michael Hinojosa will leave his post, he told fellow superintendents on a phone call earlier this week. Under Hinojosa’s leadership, the district has transformed with new initiatives, school models and turnaround programs focused on reducing the number of students in struggling schools. His departure news leaves many questioning what comes next for Texas’ second largest district. Who will replace Hinojosa? And how will trustees choose a successor? Here’s what we know about his impending announcement and what it means for DISD.

Why is Superintendent Michael Hinojosa leaving the district? At this point, Hinojosa hasn’t publicly said what his next plans are. Political observers have often speculated that the Dallas native would seek public office – perhaps as soon as the upcoming 2023 Dallas mayoral race. How long has he been in charge? Hinojosa has led the district in two multi-year stretches. He was first hired as superintendent in April 2005 and departed DISD in early 2011 to oversee a Georgia school system. Trustees urged him to come back as a temporary leader in 2015 after his successor, Mike Miles, suddenly left. The board then named him the permanent superintendent that September. He has led the district just shy of a collective 13 years.

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KBTX - January 12, 2022

Texas Supreme Court hears arguments in Miles v. Texas Central

The Supreme Court of Texas heard arguments in the case of James Fredrick Miles v. Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure, Inc. and Integrated Texas Logistics, Inc. The case focuses on whether Texas Central Railroad, a private company and developer of a proposed high-speed rail project connecting Dallas and Houston, qualifies under the Texas Constitution’s definition of a rail company. By qualifying as a rail company, they would therefore be eligible to exercise eminent domain authority to build the 240-mile rail line. Leon County Farm Bureau member James Miles sued Texas Central after the company attempted to secure permission in 2015 to survey the 600 acre-tract he owns in Leon County. If Texas Central’s proposed route is constructed, it would bisect Miles’ property with a 100-foot right-of-way.

In court, Miles’ representation, Jeffrey Levinger, argued that Texas Central is not a rail company because it has not taken crucial steps toward operation such as laying track or running cars. “They don’t have tracks. They don’t have trains. They don’t have facilities. Frankly, they don’t have money,” Levinger said. Marie Yeates, who represents the respondents, argued that Texas Central is, in fact, a rail enterprise, because it’s engaging in railroad activities with a reasonable probability the project will eventually result in trains running on tracks. “It’s undisputed this train is going to carry the public between Dallas and Houston,” Yeates said. Before the case made its way to the Supreme Court of Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton argued in a 46-page legal brief why Texas Central and its associated company do not qualify for railroad status in the state of Texas. “The respondents are not operating anything resembling a railroad. That they might possibly do so someday is not enough,” the Paxton said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 13, 2022

TCU and UNTHSC Medical School is now TCU Medical School

Medical school collaborators TCU and University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine are parting ways. It will now be known as TCU Medical School, the school announced Wednesday. Neither the release nor spokespeople for the school provided details as to why the change was made. “As the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine continues to grow and evolve, so do the needs of our region and state,” future UNT Chancellor Michael R. Williams and TCU Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. said in a joint statement. “To that end, the medical school will continue its evolution and success solely as the TCU School of Medicine with TCU as the degree-granting university.”

No jobs will be lost as a result of the announcement, nor will the change affect the school’s accreditation process. It received its provisional accreditation in June 2021. TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine collaboratively launched Fort Worth’s first M.D. program in 2015. The school in October announced it would partner with Texas Health Resources to establish a graduate medical education program at hospitals in Fort Worth, Bedford and Denton. The residency program will not be affected by the announcement. UNTHSC’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine will continue to operate separately. “Both HSC and TCU remain committed to ensuring that students receive the best medical education possible and that the resources of both universities are strategically deployed to improve health care outcomes for the people of North Texas and beyond,” the statement said.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 13, 2022

Texas journalism veteran Evan Smith to step down as Texas Tribune CEO

Texas journalism veteran Evan Smith said Wednesday that he will step down as CEO of the Texas Tribune, the nonprofit news organization that he has run for 13 years. Smith, 55, said he will depart the Tribune by the end of 2022 and will remain as a senior adviser to his replacement through the end of 2023. He said he has no definite plans regarding what he will do after his exit: "It will be good to have the time and bandwidth to think hard about what’s next. What I know for sure is that there will be a next."

"Like so many during the crazy two years of the pandemic, I feel my battery slowly draining — in my favorite film analogy, the boulder is catching up to Indiana Jones — so I’ve encouraged our board to begin the process of identifying my successor," Smith said in a post on the Texas Tribune site. "After months of discussion, they’re ready to rev up a national search with the help of a respected recruiting firm they’ve selected." A native of New York, Smith began his career at Texas Monthly in 1991. He went on to become the magazine's top editor in 2000, and during his tenure the publication won two National Magazine Awards in the general excellence category. Smith left Texas Monthly in 2009 to found the Tribune with Austin venture capitalist John Thornton and journalist and media entrepreneur Ross Ramsey. The goal was to create a nonpartisan news outlet focused on covering policy, politics and social issues. The Tribune operates a free website and shares articles at no charge to other news outlets.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

Does the US government owe property owners downstream of the Addicks and Barker dams after Harvey? Maybe.

Federal appellate judges listened to two attorneys make their cases Wednesday over the question of whether the U.S. government is liable for widespread flooding that occurred downstream of Addicks and Barker reservoirs after Hurricane Harvey hit more than four years ago. On one side, Russell Post, representing the flooded property owners, argued that they should not be responsible for the damage from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to release water from behind the dams as a precautionary — not emergency — measure. “The hurricane did not flood these properties,” Post said. “They flooded because the government opened the flood gates.” On the other side, Brian Toth, representing the federal government, said the properties would have faced worse damage had the massive reservoirs and dams not been built. He noted that the gates were initially closed to protect them and only opened days later in accordance with an operations manual.

“It was the Corps’ operation of the project during the entire storm that is at issue and that should be looked at,” Toth told the panel of three judges. Addicks and Barker reservoirs sit on the west side of Houston and are normally dry; people walk and exercise alongside and behind the u-shaped dams. They were built in the 1940s to address flood concerns but were meant to be part of a larger flood control system that was never completed. The city of Houston continued to develop, and climate change set the stage for stronger hurricanes, with harder rains. Harvey dropped so much water in late August and September 2017 that those reservoirs were put to the test; homeowners who were previously unaware their houses sat in the reservoirs watched them flood, and stormwater flowed around one end of the Addicks dam. Operators opened the gates before the area had time to drain, sending floodwater pouring into Buffalo Bayou toward already rain-soaked neighborhoods. Property owners both upstream of the dam and downstream along the bayou sued in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, arguing their damage was the government’s fault. A judge ruled the Corps was indeed liable for damage to the upstream homes. A trial is tentatively set for March to determine what is owed them.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Did Texas neglect most vulnerable in dispersing Harvey funds? Feds want to know.

Aristotle said a story that ends well, no matter how many setbacks occur along the way, is a comedy. Maybe there is still hope, then, that the tragic tale of how local, state and federal leaders botched the distribution of billions of dollars in Hurricane Harvey federal relief funds can still end with families getting the relief they need. But even if so, it’ll be a comedy of errors — and one with very few laughs. The plot’s latest wrinkle is especially infuriating. The Texas General Land Office and its chief, Commissioner George P. Bush, have failed to explain adequately how the agency’s plan to spend nearly $2 billion on mitigation projects in communities hard hit by Hurricane Harvey has taken into account the needs of the area’s most vulnerable residents. As a result, the money is on hold, again, until the state submits the required analysis. It has until late February to do so. The GLO insists the Biden Administration is picking on it because Texas is a red state.

But where in the 628-page action plan submitted to HUD is the analysis that the feds said they need to move forward? Reporting by this newspaper has shown that the GLO’s plan strongly discriminates against residents in Houston because it uses formulas that disadvantage large urban areas and favor more rural places. That’s how the GLO’s plan ended up including zero dollars in funding for projects in Houston — home to more people and families devastated by Harvey than anywhere else. The $1.2 billion in mitigation funds would instead, the GLO announced, support projects in smaller places throughout the coastal region, including cities such as Hempstead and Cameron that are further inland than Houston. After furious pressure, Bush reconsidered, in part, and announced a separate plan to allocate $750 million to Harris County, which had also initially been denied money — but still continued to snub the city. The plan itself had been delayed by years, thanks to a hostile Trump administration that had dragged its feet at every opportunity in approving rules for how the mitigation funds could be spent. Now, after overcoming all of those headaches, the funds — a total of 1.95 billion — are frozen once more. It’s a stunning setback, and ought to infuriate members of Congress from both parties, including Texas’ GOP senators who helped authorize the Harvey relief funding in the first place.

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Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2022

Funeral for Texas public policy trailblazer and Roe vs. Wade lawyer Sarah Weddington set for Feb. 10

The funeral for Sarah Weddington, a lawyer best known for her role arguing the landmark Roe vs. Wade case before the U.S. Supreme Court has been scheduled at the state cemetery, her family told The Dallas Morning News Wednesday afternoon. The funeral will be at 1 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. The service will be open to the public. Weddington died on Dec. 26 at the age of 76. Weddington is said to be the youngest person to argue before the Supreme Court at the age of 26, and in 1973 Weddington became the first Travis County woman elected to the 150-member Texas House of Representatives. Weddington was also the first woman to take on the role of general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1977.

Weddington agreed to join Linda Coffee on a case representing Jane Roe, Norma McCorvey, a woman seeking to obtain an abortion. Roe vs. Wade, a milestone case decided in 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide, began in Dallas County as a lawsuit against district attorney Henry Wade. Weddington was an author and professor for many years. She gave lectures at Texas Woman’s University from 1981 to 1990 as a professor in the department of government and history. She then returned to the University of Texas, where she taught for almost 30 years. Weddington will be buried “about 50 feet away from” former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who served as an aide to Weddington in the Texas Legislature. In a memorial article about the death of Richards, Weddington wrote in The Texas Observer that she looked forward to having “great late-night conversations, remembering our battles of the past and celebrating the victories that live after us.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 12, 2022

Rural districts across North Texas districts cancel classes due to staffing shortages

Some rural districts across North Texas are canceling classes as the omicron variant’s rapid spread provokes staff and substitute shortages. Schools continue to be disrupted in Texas two years into the pandemic with hundreds of teachers quarantined across the state. Boyd, a district about 30 miles northwest of Fort Worth, canceled classes starting Wednesday, scheduling students to return to schools on Tuesday. Kemp, which is about 45 miles southeast of Dallas, canceled classes on Thursday and Friday because of the “rapid and significant rise in positive COVID cases” in the area, KISD Superintendent James Young wrote in a letter to families. Red Oak, a school district in northern Ellis County, canceled Friday classes because of staff shortages, according to a Facebook post. Although it is being marked as a student holiday, officials are asking staff to work on-campus while refraining from coming into contact with others.

“We are feeling the impact of staff absences on every campus and in every operational function,” the post reads. Rio Vista, a small district in Johnson County, canceled classes Monday and Tuesday after high positivity rates from COVID-19 testing that district held for staff members. Officials were forced to have a “student holiday” because of the lack of substitutes needed to cover those who would be out. Suburban districts such as Mansfield, about 20 miles southeast of Fort Worth, are also experiencing the burdens of staff shortages amid the surge in cases. The district is temporarily closing six elementary schools — including Janet Brockett, Louise Cabaniss, Judy Miller, Martha Reid, Tarver Rendon, and Roberta Tipps — from Thursday through Monday. “Day-to-day operations at those campuses are strained and it is difficult to sustain a productive learning environment while continuing to ensure the health and well being of our students and staff,” wrote MISD spokesman Lari Barager in a statement.

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KERA - January 12, 2022

Cook Children's in Fort Worth sees record-high COVID hospitalizations

Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth reported a record number of patients admitted with COVID-19 on Wednesday. As of Wednesday afternoon, Cook Children’s Health Care System had 69 pediatric patients admitted with COVID. The previous high was set last week, when the hospital had 51 COVID patients. Dr. Bianka Soria-Olmos, a pediatrician at Cook Children's, said high rates of COVID transmission in the region increase the risk for children. “When the positivity in the community is this high, it’s really hard to shield the vulnerable,” Soria-Olmos said. “In my mind, unfortunately, that’s every child, but in the situation we’re at, it's definitely every child that can’t be vaccinated.” Most currently admitted patients are not in intensive care units. Nine were in the hospital’s emergency department as of Wednesday.

Soria-Olmos says the highly contagious omicron variant seems to present differently in children compared to other strains of the coronavirus. “We are seeing more and more kids present with this upper airway inflammation that basically causes them to have difficulties, with inflammation of the upper airway," she said. "It causes a very distinct type of cough. It's a very tight cough that almost sounds like a seal or a barky cough...." Hospital staff are also seeing high rates of infection. Cook Children’s is following new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), allowing staff who test positive to return to work after five days if they are asymptomatic. Officials say 165 employees are currently out with COVID across the hospital system. “We are scrambling every day, truly scrambling to look at where we can identify resources to help supplement staffing,” said Cheryl Petersen, vice president and chief of nursing at Cook Children's. “It's difficult. We want all children

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2022

GOP candidate for Dallas County DA vows to end Creuzot’s policy on misdemeanor thefts if elected

Faith Johnson, the Republican candidate for Dallas County district attorney, vowed Wednesday to roll back one of John Creuzot’s hallmark policies if she is elected in November. Class B misdemeanor thefts of personal items would be prosecuted under a Johnson administration, she said during a news conference to introduce the GOP’s local slate of politicians. “As your chief law-enforcement officer of this county, I want you to be able to count on me,” said Johnson, who was Dallas County’s DA from 2016 to 2018. “I want the shop owners to be able to count on me. I want the large grocery chains to be able to count on me.” Creuzot, who is running for a second term, upset law-enforcement groups and conservative politicians when he announced his office would not prosecute misdemeanor theft of personal items worth less than $750 without evidence the crime was for financial gain. He has said the policy aims to avoid saddling people struggling with poverty with a criminal record.

Last week, Creuzot released a one-page explainer of his policy, which shows that misdemeanor thefts are down for the fourth straight year and Class B misdemeanor thefts specifically are at a six-year low. The number of cases law enforcement filed has steadily decreased from 2,428 in 2017, when Johnson was district attorney, to 1,314 in 2021. Johnson said Wednesday that her moment is now and that the county “is still in need of an exceptional public leader.” She declined to say whether she thought Creuzot had failed as a leader, though. She also declined to comment on his marijuana policy — not prosecuting low-level, first-time offenses — or his record on prosecuting police accused of excessive force until after March’s Democratic primary, in which Creuzot faces former State District Judge Elizabeth Frizell. But asked whether she would reverse Creuzot’s theft policy, Johnson responded: “Absolutely.”

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City Stories

NBC 5 - January 12, 2022

Boyd ISD cancels classes due to spike in COVID-19 cases

Boyd ISD in Wise County is canceling classes through MLK Day due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, the district says. Superintendent Dr. Tamara Vardy said Tuesday a significant increase in cases forced the district's decision and that schools will be closed starting Wednesday through Monday for deep cleaning. "With all due diligence, we are seeing a significant increase in cases across the district. Keeping student and staff members' safety in mind, we have made the difficult decision to close all campuses," Vardy said in a letter sent home to parents. In her letter, Vardy asked parents and students to take steps to mitigate the further spread of the virus.

"Please be aware that COVID-19 cases around our county are increasing and affecting our neighboring school districts and communities. If a student or someone in the same household tests positive for COVID-19, it has the potential to possess devastating consequences on our school," Vardy wrote. The district is not going to transition to virtual instruction. The district said they had extra time built into their calendar so that students will not be required to make up the lost instruction days and that classes will resume on Tuesday. Boyd schools had already planned to be closed for Monday's MLK holiday. Boyd is in Wise County, just south of Decatur.

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Axios - January 13, 2022

Renting is more affordable than owning a home in Austin

It's cheaper to rent than purchase a home in Austin, according to a new report by real estate database company ATTOM. Why it matters: Home prices continue to rise in the city, and the affordability gap is narrowing. Owning a median-priced home is more affordable than the average rent for a three-bedroom property in 58% of the U.S., per ATTOM's analysis. But in nearly 90% of the country, home prices are rising faster than wages, Axios' Jennifer Kingson reports. There's a nationwide divide between cities and suburbs, though: Renting makes more sense in major metropolitan areas, while homeownership wins out in rural areas and suburbs, where property prices are lower.

The intrigue: Central Texas bucks the norm. While renting is cheaper than buying in the Austin metro area — in line with national trends — renting remains more affordable in surrounding suburban counties, the report found. That's the case in Hays, Comal, Guadalupe, Kendall and Burnet counties — a sign of a booming population beyond Austin. One big caveat: Renting may be cheaper, but rising rental prices make it unaffordable to many residents. Austin rents have spiked as much as 25% over the last year as the housing squeeze trickles down. ??The average 875-square-foot unit is going for roughly $1,500 a month. Walter Moreau, executive director of Foundation Communities, said the group expects an average rent increase of about 3% in 2022, and something has to give. "We're very nervous about that because our expenses are going up 11%," Moreau said. "It is time for Facebook, Google, Apple, Tesla — and the others that are bringing tens of thousands of employees here at very high salaries — now is the time for them to make a difference and investment so that we don't end up like the Bay Area." Of note: Comparing renting versus buying is difficult, Moreau added: "It depends on your income and how much of a mortgage you can afford. … On an individual basis, whether it's cheaper to buy or rent, comes down to a lot of personal factors."

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Dallas Morning News - January 12, 2022

Dallas approves more than $3 million in incentives to attract Ford self-driving vehicle facility

On Wednesday, Dallas City Council approved a proposed package of tax incentives and grants totaling more than $3 million for a potential new $160 million Ford Motor Company and Argo AI self driving vehicle facility. The facility would create at least 250 jobs and be located on the western perimeter of Dallas Love Field Airport. Dallas and two cities in California are the finalists for the partnership’s next facility, according to city documents. If Ford Motor Company selects the Dallas site, the company would be eligible to receive more than $3 million in tax breaks over five years, according to city documents. The company would also receive $200,000 in grant money if the jobs it creates meet certain salary thresholds, and another $50,000 for construction costs. In order to receive the tax abatements, the company would have to invest $160 million in property improvements and equipment at the Love Field site by the end of 2027.

Council member Tennell Atkins expressed approval of the incentive package and Ford’s project, but stressed that the city would need to market itself aggressively to win economic investments like these. “We all voted today, they’re probably voting in another city on the same agenda and we’ve got to send a message to [Ford] that we are ready for them to come to Dallas,” Atkins said. Ford has thus far been mum on the details of the work that would be performed at the new facility, telling The Dallas Morning News this week that it is focused on building a profitable autonomous vehicle business. “Scaling this technology is key, driving us to explore a variety of cities in the U.S. to expand our self-driving services. We will share more information about our self-driving business in the future,” a spokeswoman for Ford said previously. Ford, which invested in Argo AI in 2017, has already launched tests of delivery and ride hailing services in Austin and two other cities. The self-driving tech startup was founded by former leaders at Google and Uber. The incentive agreement approved by Dallas city council this week also contained language compelling Ford and its self-driving vehicle partner to develop workforce training initiatives for students at Dallas and Richardson ISD as well as Dallas College.

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Dallas Morning News - January 12, 2022

South Oak Cliff High School football team honored at Dallas City Hall, downtown parade announced

Black and gold were the official colors of Dallas on Wednesday as the South Oak Cliff High School state champion football team was honored at City Hall. A crowd of at least 100 packed the plaza outside the building sitting in chairs on top of a black carpet as coach Jason Todd and several city dignitaries praised the students and encouraged them to keep striving for greatness. The team arrived walking on the carpet led by trumpet and trombone players performing the Rocky theme.

Congratulatory banners with the school’s logo hung nearby, and black and gold balloons bordered giant “S.O.C.” letters on a stage in front of the crowd. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced a parade through the heart of downtown would happen Jan. 22 and that it will be declared “South Oak Cliff Day” in the city. “Thank you for showing Dallas what excellence looks like,” said Johnson, who was later moved to tears during a rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”. Among the lyrics are “I believe the children are our future.” The team will receive custom gold suits from local business Reveal Suits and commemorative medallions from the city marked with the school’s and city’s logo. Todd was presented with a ceremonial street sign that read “South Oak Cliff Bears Way.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 12, 2022

Dallas police look to launch next phase of crime plan as experts note ‘remarkable’ 2021 stats

Violent crime fell in Dallas last year, and criminologists working with police say early data from Chief Eddie García’s violence-reduction plan was a promising sign that the department’s strategies are working. Police are now focused on launching the next phase of the violent-crime plan, with increased attention to crimes at apartment complexes, staffing shortages and the possibility of crime displacement — the movement of crime to locations just outside areas where police have focused enforcement. “We have some successes, but as I always say, we’re not where we want to be,” García told the City Council’s public safety committee Monday.

Dallas’ violent-crime stats in 2021 marked the city as a bright spot bucking a national trend of increasing violence. Homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults all fell in Dallas from their 2020 levels, even as other big cities across the country saw an increase in those crimes. Dallas police tallied 220 murders and non-negligent manslaughters, a 13% drop from the 254 recorded in 2020. The department recorded 7,959 aggravated assaults, down from 8,076 in 2020. And there were 2,481 robberies, a significant decrease from the 3,494 the year before. Dallas Police Chief Eddie García speaks during the 40th Annual Friends of the Dallas Police Awards Banquet on Nov. 15 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Dallas. Top police leaders and criminologists attributed that success to the chief’s violent-crime plan, which was launched May 7 and focuses on short-, medium- and long-term strategies based on the belief that a disproportionate number of crimes occur in certain parts of the city. As part of the crime plan’s early strategies, police heightened resources starting in September in 51 “hot spots” — 330-foot-by-330-foot grids in Dallas where rates of violence are high. There are 101,402 grids citywide. Police had previously chosen 47 grids for May through July — 11 of which carried over into the new 51. García said the selected grids accounted for about 10% of violent crimes in the city.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 12, 2022

Visa program for crime victims faces poor management and fraud risks, government watchdog says

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found that the U visa program, created to protect immigrant crime victims, is “not managed effectively and is susceptible to fraud,” according to a redacted report made public last week . U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services runs the U visa program, which was sharply criticized by the official oversight division. Among them, the report found Citizenship and Immigration Services approved paperwork that had been “forged, unauthorized, altered or suspicious.” The agency also didn’t track the outcomes of fraud referrals, which the inspector general argued could discourage the reporting of fraud.

U visas are a critical tool used by law enforcement in Houston and across the country to encourage immigrants to cooperate with police when they are victims of a serious crime. U visas are used to protect immigrants from being deported in exchange for their cooperation in a crime investigation. In November 2020, Harris County Commissioners Court voted to dedicate $500,000 to help immigrants in Houston secure U visas. And in October 2021, commissioners established best practices to guide local law enforcement on how to certify an immigrant victim of a crime is helpful to an investigation. The report also stated that Immigration Services failed to create agency performance goals that could be quantified and measured, and even found that the agency may not be accurately counting the number of U visas granted. Per federal law established by Congress, the agency can only grant 10,000 visas per fiscal year. The cap has caused a significant backlog of more than 270,000 petitions pending a final adjudication. “A victim petitioning in 2021 will likely wait 10 years or longer to receive a U visa,” the report stated.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2022

In aim to expand power grid, Biden faces pushback from conservation allies

The Cardinal Hickory Creek power line is supposed to deliver electricity 102 miles from wind farms in Iowa to the fast-growing city of Madison, Wis., the leading edge of President Joe Biden’s effort to expand the power grid to move renewable energy generated in rural areas to cities. But the project hit a wall late last year when a federal judge ordered the developer, a conglomerate that includes Wisconsin’s largest power utility, to cease development on sections of the transmission line running through a picturesque section of the Mississippi River valley after a local conservation group argued it would irreparably harm the wilderness. The case is part of a wave of legal actions by conservation groups that is blocking transmission projects from Maine to California and thwarting a decade-long effort to expand and modernize the U.S. grid.

Even as environmentalists push to renewables to fight climate change, they frequently oppose the construction of transmission lines in wilderness areas, which the long-distance projects inevitably tend to cross. “It’s a problem. The challenges these conservation groups are bringing adds significantly to the cost and time of building these projects,” said Emily Fisher, senior vice president of clean energy at the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group. “Any assessment of what we as a country need to do involves a significant build -out of the transmission system over the next decade. I don’t see how we do that given where we are right now.” A recent study by scientists at Princeton University estimated that for the United States to meet its climate goal under the Paris agreement, its power grid would need to grow 60 percent in size by 2030 and potentially triple by 2050. But for years, efforts to do so have been been repeatedly thwarted by a coalition that includes landowners, state officials, competing energy companies and Democratic allies in the environmental community. In 2020, fewer than than 900 miles of transmission lines were built in the United States, a more than 60 percent decline from 2015, according to data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The log jam presents a dilemma for some environmental groups, which have long lobbied the federal government to address climate change by expanding clean energy, which requires new transmission projects.

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CNBC - January 13, 2022

Boris Johnson’s leadership on a knife-edge amid calls for him to resign over lockdown ‘parties’

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership is on a knife-edge as a scandal over “parties” held at Downing Street — and allegedly in various other government departments — during Covid-19 lockdowns in the U.K. has prompted calls for his resignation. Senior Conservative Party officials are calling on Johnson to quit after he admitted on Wednesday that he had attended a garden drinks party at Downing Street, the prime minister’s office and which he lives next door to, during lockdown when the public were barred from seeing more than one person in an outdoor setting that they didn’t live with. Reports of parties while the British public sacrificed their freedoms and social lives, not to mention their time with loved ones, has caused widespread anger. The senior officials are questioning whether Johnson can still command the respect of the party, and the country.

Johnson admitted that he had attended a party billed as a “bring your own booze” gathering in Downing Street’s garden, to which around 100 people were reportedly invited, during lockdown. Addressing a packed House of Commons (the lower House of Parliament), Johnson offered his “heartfelt apologies” to the nation but defended himself, saying he had only attended the party for 25 minutes in order to “thank groups of staff” for their hard work and that he “believed implicitly that this was a work event.” Addressing parliament, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said Johnson’s explanation for his attendance was “so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public” as he called on Johnson “to do the decent thing and resign.” The party attended by Johnson is controversial because it was held on May 20, 2020, when the U.K. was in its first Covid lockdown and people across the country were only allowed to meet one other person from outside their household, among other strict rules. It’s not the first report of a lockdown party held by government officials either.

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NBC News - January 13, 2022

Matt Gaetz's ex-girlfriend testifies to grand jury in sex trafficking probe

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend testified Wednesday before a federal grand jury investigating him for sex crimes, a major development that suggests the Department of Justice may be moving closer to indicting him. The ex-girlfriend, whose name is being withheld by NBC News to respect her privacy, has been in talks for months with prosecutors about an immunity deal. Under a possible deal, she would avoid prosecution for obstruction of justice in return for testifying in the investigation into whether Gaetz in 2017 had sex with a 17-year-old female for money and whether months later he and others violated a federal law prohibiting people from transporting others across state lines to engage in prostitution.

Legal sources familiar with the case say Gaetz is being investigated for three distinct crimes: sex trafficking the 17-year-old; violating the Mann Act, which prohibits taking women across state lines for prostitution; and obstructing justice. Gaetz, R-Fla., has not been charged with a crime and has denied all accusations, saying he never paid for sex and never had sex with a minor when he was an adult. The firebrand conservative has called the federal investigation into him a DOJ “witch hunt.” The attorney for Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend, Tim Jansen, declined comment about the case Wednesday, when he was spotted by an NBC News reporter entering the federal courthouse in Orlando with his client. A Department of Justice spokesman declined comment. Gaetz did not respond to a request for comment. The investigation into Gaetz has lasted for more than a year and began when a former friend and ally of his, former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, was charged with a host of crimes — from falsely smearing a political rival as being a pedophile to cheating taxpayers in a cryptocurrency scheme to sex-trafficking the same 17-year-old in the Gaetz investigation.

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Politico - January 13, 2022

McCarthy rejects Jan. 6 committee request for testimony about talks with Trump

The Jan. 6 select committee has requested House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s testimony about his interactions with Donald Trump as a mob swarmed the Capitol, describing it as crucial to understanding the former president’s state of mind. In a letter to the GOP leader on Wednesday, Chair Bennie Thompson said the panel wants to know about the details of Trump’s phone call with McCarthy on Jan. 6, one the California Republican himself once described as “heated,” in which Trump initially downplayed the notion that his supporters were responsible for breaching the Capitol, according to some accounts. When McCarthy asserted on the call to the outgoing president that it was Trump’s supporters who raided the Capitol, Trump replied: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” This account of the call was shared by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who publicly revealed her conversation with McCarthy ahead of the impeachment proceedings last year. McCarthy has not disputed the account.

In a statement issued later Wednesday, McCarthy said he would not cooperate with the request. “As a representative and the leader of the minority party, it is with neither regret nor satisfaction that I have concluded to not participate with this select committee’s abuse of power that stains this institution today and will harm it going forward," he said. Asked whether the panel would subpoena him to ensure his compliance, Thompson told reporters, “We will consider it.” McCarthy is the third GOP lawmaker the panel has requested to testify. The others, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.), have rejected the committee’s entreaties. Both men were key allies of Trump as he sought to subvert the 2020 election results. Thompson said the select panel is particularly interested in McCarthy’s changing tone around his characterization of Trump’s actions during the riot, adding that members intend to ask him whether Trump or his allies suggested “what you should say publicly during the impeachment trial (if called as a witness), or in any later investigation about your conversations with him on January 6th.”

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Washington Post - January 13, 2022

Schumer sets up final Senate confrontation on voting rights and the filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer prepared Democrats on Wednesday for the final phase of a year-long push to pass voting rights legislation, sketching out legislative maneuvers that could launch debate on a pair of stalled bills and force a confrontation over the Senate’s rules in the coming days. The details of the next steps, laid out in a memo that Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent to colleagues Wednesday afternoon, comes as President Biden has launched his own aggressive push to convince his fellow Democrats to band together and overhaul the filibuster — the long-standing Senate rule requiring a 60-vote supermajority — in order to overcome strict GOP opposition to voting rights bills. Biden made that case publicly in an address he delivered in Atlanta on Tuesday, when he said the Senate “has been rendered a shell of its former self” and compared the present Republican opposition to the blockades mounted against civil rights bills in the Jim Crow era. He is scheduled to visit a Senate Democratic lunch Thursday in order to press his case directly with lawmakers.

In the memo, Schumer announced his intention to use existing rules to jump-start debate on the voting bills by having the House amend an existing, unrelated bill dealing with NASA and sending it back to the Senate as soon as Wednesday night. Starting debate under those circumstances requires only a simple majority of 51 votes — not a 60-vote supermajority. But the maneuver does not affect the 60-vote requirement for ending debate and moving to final passage of the Democratic bills. With at least two Democratic senators signaling that they are not willing to erode that provision, Schumer’s plan would set up a final confrontation when and if a motion to close debate is blocked. At that point, Schumer or another Democrat could move to establish a new, 51-vote precedent, subject to a simple majority vote. Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have both defended the 60-vote margin for protecting minority rights and encouraging bipartisanship even as dozens of their colleagues have switched their own views on the filibuster in recent months. Manchin told reporters on several occasions this week he is willing to change the rules only with bipartisan support, not on party lines. Both Manchin and Sinema, however, have continued to meet with Democratic colleagues who have sought to change their minds. Schumer previously said the Senate would vote on a possible rules change no later than Monday — the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — and a senior Democratic aide said Wednesday that pledge remains in effect.

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Newsclips - January 12, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 11, 2022

Ted Cruz promotes conspiracy theory that blames FBI provocateurs for Jan. 6 riot at Capitol

Still mending fences with right-wing Republicans for calling the Jan. 6 Capitol riot a “terrorist attack,” Sen. Ted Cruz expanded his outreach Tuesday by promoting a conspiracy theory that pins blame for the assault on FBI provocateurs. “A lot of Americans are concerned that the federal government deliberately encouraged illegal and violent conduct on January 6,” Cruz told a top FBI official at a hearing on domestic extremism. “Did federal agents or those in service of federal agents actively encourage violent and criminal conduct on January 6? “Not to my knowledge, sir,” responded Jill Sanborn, executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch. But by then, Cruz had used his platform at the Judiciary Committee hearing to insinuate that a man named Ray Epps – an Arizona rancher and former president of the Arizona Oath Keepers, the largest chapter of a militia group whose members took part in the Capitol attack – had incited violence on orders from unnamed federal officials.

For what purpose, Cruz didn’t explain. At the time, Donald Trump was still president. The mob wanted to keep him in power, which meant somehow trying to prevent Congress from ratifying state-certified electoral tallies. Cruz led a group of 11 senators who tried unsuccessfully to do just that. Speculation about Epps emerged on the message board 4chan in June, based partly on the fact that he was dropped from the FBI’s list of most wanted suspects for Jan. 6 and has not yet faced charges. “No one’s exchange explained why a person videoed urging people to go to the Capitol, a person whose conduct was so suspect the crowd believed he was a fed, would magically disappear from the list of people the FBI was looking at,” Cruz said. No evidence has surfaced that links Epps to the federal government. He did not respond to a message left Tuesday at Rocking R Farms and the Knotty Barn, a wedding and event venue he owns in Queen Creek, Ariz. Cruz’s comments align him with some of the most conspiracy-minded elements of the GOP.

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CNN - January 12, 2022

Top Republicans stand up for Rounds after Trump's attack: He 'told the truth'

Senior Republicans are closing ranks behind Sen. Mike Rounds after he endured a scathing attack from former President Donald Trump for acknowledging the reality that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election. "I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN on Tuesday. "And I agree with him." The back-and-forth is the latest sign that many Republicans -- particularly in the Senate -- are eager to move past the former President's obsession with the 2020 elections and instead focus on more fertile ground: The Biden agenda and their efforts to take back both houses of Congress in 2022.

Yet, Trump continues to hover over the party given his outsize influence with the base, his close hold over House Republicans and his ability to generate attention over his outright falsehoods and conspiracies over the outcome of the 2020 election. That has prompted concerns among senior Republicans that his claims over the election could depress GOP voter turnout in the fall, something that a number of senators blame for costing them the two Georgia Senate seats -- and the majority -- last January. The latest blowup came over the weekend after Rounds said that any voting "irregularities" in 2020 wouldn't have changed the outcome of the race. "The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency," Rounds told ABC News. That fact-based comment prompted a broadside from the former President, who called Rounds a "jerk" and "ineffective" and vowed "never" to endorse Rounds for reelection, though he's not facing voters again until 2026. "Is he crazy or just stupid?" Trump said in a statement. Rounds, who has a low-key and genial demeanor and is well-regarded by his colleagues, stood by his comments -- and said he was "disappointed but not surprised" by Trump's statement. Rounds told CNN on Tuesday that Republicans need to speak the truth to voters about 2020 so they can have trust in the results of free and fair elections in 2022 and beyond.

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Axios - January 12, 2022

Former RRC Commissioner Sitton sues for defamation

A new defamation lawsuit mixes politics with the internet. Driving the news: A former elected oil and gas regulator has filed the lawsuit against a man who published explosive claims that the state official engaged in an extramarital affair. Ryan Sitton lost the 2020 Republican primary in his reelection attempt to remain on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission. The Austin-based state agency regulates the oil, gas and pipeline industries. For the record: The commission has long had nothing to do with railroads. The suit, filed by Sitton in late December in Galveston County, seeks at least $10 million in damages from Joshua Matthew Pierce, who allegedly published the claims under an alias, Matthew Briscoe, on a website called the South Texas Journal.

The claims were published in mid-February 2020 as early voting was set to start. An engineer by training, Sitton clashed with his fellow, arguably more conservative commissioners on some regulatory and personnel matters. But in an upset, Sitton, a well-funded incumbent who held endorsements from key Republicans, lost the primary to Jim Wright, owner of a South Texas oilfield waste services company. Details: The suit says Pierce contended "that Plaintiff attempted to act out 'racial fantasies' with said female, referred to her as a 'slave girl,' and sought to simulate nonconsensual sexual acts on her in the Governor's Mansion that would be 'part of black history.'" "The entirety of the posts is completely false," the lawsuit says. "An image used for one of Defendant's articles depicts a man that bears a slight resemblance to Plaintiff, romantically embracing a woman. ... Defendant described the image as being provided by a Jamaican 'victim' to prove that she had had relations with the Plaintiff," says the suit. "A basic [G]oogle search of the image used in Defendant's false article reveals that the image did not depict the Plaintiff, but was instead a stock image of a married couple living in California that it is used on dozens of websites," the suit says.

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Dallas Morning News - January 11, 2022

Gov. Greg Abbott touts border security efforts amid criticism over Texas National Guard deployment

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vowed Tuesday to secure the state’s border with Mexico amid criticism by his political rivals that his plan to curb illegal crossings is flawed and inadequate. Abbott’s speech to Denton County elected and law enforcement officials was in his capacity as governor, but it crystalized several talking points for his reelection campaign. Along with border security, Abbott stressed the importance of adequately funding law enforcement agencies. Issues related to border security and police funding appeal to the Republican voters he’ll need to win in the March 1 primary, where he faces a challenge from a field of GOP conservatives including former state Sen. Donald Huffines of Dallas and former Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West of Garland. Not more than a rock toss from the Corinth event at CoServ Electric was a Huffines campaign billboard that read “secure the border.”

Abbott says his focus has long been directed at border security. And on Tuesday, he told the Denton County audience that he’s deployed 10,000 members of the Texas National Guard to help secure the border, including arresting criminals, stopping the flow of illegal drugs and curbing human trafficking. He touted his border wall project and legislative funding for security in the region. “We’re setting all-time records on the number of people who are coming across the border. It was approaching, across the entire border region, close to 2 million people who came across the border this past year,” Abbott said. “One reason why we’re able to do these strategies is because the state Legislature appropriated $3 billion for the state to be able to address the border crisis. That’s Texas taxpayer money doing the federal government’s job.” But Abbott’s efforts to secure the border has been met with criticism from his rivals, including Huffines, West and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, a Democratic Party candidate for governor.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 11, 2022

The number of Texans in hospitals for COVID-19 tops 11,000 — nearly 8,000 more since Christmas

Health officials on Tuesday recorded 11,040 people in the hospital for COVID-19 statewide, the highest number since September, when Texas was in the throes of the delta surge. The summer surge, fueled by the delta variant of the coronavirus, peaked at 13,932 patients on Aug. 26, 2021. The pandemic high was in January, when 14,218 Texans were hospitalized.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 329 available staffed ICU beds for adult patients, up from the pandemic low of 270 on Sept. 9, 2021. Although the state only had 142 staffed pediatric ICU beds, that is still more than the pandemic low of 64 beds reported on Aug. 4, 2021. DSHS' 11-county Central Texas trauma service region that includes the Austin metro area has been seeing a shortage in available staffed ICU beds, with 38 adult beds and 9 pediatric beds available. The region hit a pandemic low of zero adult ICU beds on Sept. 5, 2021, and zero pediatric ICU beds on Sept. 4, 2021. Statewide, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported: 46,795 new COVID-19 cases and 110 new deaths. On Nov. 4, state officials began including children ages 5 to 11 in their vaccination reports. As of Tuesday, 72.74% of Texans 5 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine. About 61.66% of Texans 5 and older are fully vaccinated.

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KXAN - January 12, 2022

Beto: ‘You can thank Greg Abbott’ for COVID testing lines

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Texas governor, is once again calling out Gov. Greg Abbott for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of testing in recent weeks. In a tweet on Tuesday, O’Rourke said: “If you’re waiting hours in line for a Covid test you can thank Greg Abbott. 76,000 Texans dead, hospitals overwhelmed, highest positivity rate the state has ever seen, yet he refuses to lead and continues to tie the hands of local officials trying to keep more Texans from dying.”

Texas Department of Health and Human Services reports 75,287 COVID-19 deaths in Texas as of Monday. Throughout the pandemic, Abbott has pushed against masking mandates, has sued the federal government over President Biden’s employer vaccine requirements, and has refused to enact closures to quell COVID-19 spread. The governor has garnered national headlines for a continued ban on mask mandates in Texas schools, especially as cases rose and children remained ineligible for vaccinations. O’Rourke, who narrowly lost the 2018 Texas senatorial race, has never shied away from an Abbott slam. Since O’Rourke’s entry into the race, Abbott has honed in on the former representative’s support for policing reform, which Abbott has labeled as “defunding the police.” O’Rourke has previously expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and for transitioning money toward what he says will be more effective law enforcement initiatives. Abbott has compared O’Rourke’s positions to President Joe Biden’s, saying in November: “Beto O’Rourke has demonstrated he has more in common with President Biden than he does with Texans…. The last thing Texans need is President Biden’s radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O’Rourke. The contrast for the direction of Texas couldn’t be clearer.” The governor has touted Texas’ economy and increased patrols and arrests at the Texas-Mexico border as among his recent achievements. As of Tuesday afternoon, there are 627,742 active cases in the state, according to the Texas COVID-19 dashboard. The highest concentration of infections is in Harris County, followed by Dallas and Bexar counties. There were 41,968 new cases reported Monday and 46,795 new cases on Tuesday.

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Houston Chronicle - January 11, 2022

Gov. Greg Abbott focuses on police, border security in early campaign stops

With just a few days until vote-by mail begins in Texas primary elections, Gov. Greg Abbott is traveling the state showing off endorsements of his get-tough border policies and his backing from key law enforcement groups. While Abbott is heavily favored to win his primary, he’s leaving nothing to chance as he reminds GOP voters where he stands on two of the biggest issues for Republican voters: border security and backing police. A day after highlighting his support from the National Border Patrol Council in Edinburg, the two-term Republican governor was in San Antonio on Tuesday touting endorsements from a coalition of sheriffs in South Texas. Abbott also rolled out an endorsement from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, which has 27,000 members. On Wednesday he’ll continue that push when he meets with the Houston Police Officers Union at their headquarters.

“Governor Abbott’s commitment to law enforcement issues and to the women and men of law enforcement has allowed us to do our jobs and keep our families and businesses safe,” Marvin Ryals, President of CLEAT, said on Tuesday as he endorsed Abbott onstage. Abbott, a 64-year-old Wichita Falls native, on Tuesday highlighted his public fight against the concept of defunding the police. He said he made it a priority during the legislative session to reduce state funding to any city or county that tries to cut its police budget. Austin has become the poster child for that discussion because of its efforts to move police millions in funding to social service programs to try to counter the root causes of 911 calls. Abbott said he wanted to send a clear message to law enforcement: “They have a governor who has their back.” But while Abbott touts those endorsements, his primary opponents are also touring the state questioning his commitment to those same issues. Former State Sen. Don Huffines was in Houston on Monday saying voters have given Abbott plenty of time to fix issues like the border, yet the problems persist.

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CBS 11 - January 11, 2022

Texas law hinders efforts to crack down on sex trafficking, Dallas police say

Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn says she’ll never forget watching police shut down a sex trafficking operation masquerading as a massage parlor. “There was one room that was no bigger than 10 x 10 and it was just completely filled with mattresses on the floor. And this is where 5 of the women were locked in all day unless they had customers,” she recalled. Officers, she said, met in advance and had a board laying out details of the criminal enterprise, including who was involved, how money was being made, and how people were being moved. “They’ll always tell you that policing is not like what you see on TV, but in this case, it actually was,” she said.

Since 2019, Dallas police have led 22 operations targeting massage businesses they say were fronts for organized crime. The result has been 38 people arrested and 50 victims given resources to help them escape forced prostitution. Mendelsohn said, after seeing the problem first-hand, she began asking about other tactics the city could use to stop trafficking. The city of San Jose, where Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia previously worked, she found, had success with implementing new rules, such as barring sleeping quarters in massage businesses and requiring customers walk through the front door. In Texas, that’s not so easy. “The problem is that Texas has a law that supersedes what cities can do to massage parlors,” said Mendelsohn. The state licenses and regulates massage businesses. During a public safety committee meeting Monday, Jan. 10, Lt Lisette Rivera of the Dallas Police Department Vice Unit, explained the city isn’t allowed to enforce anything stricter than what the state requires.

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Dallas Morning News - January 12, 2022

Judge threatens Texas with fines again, citing foster kids sent to shoddy facilities out of state

A federal judge on Tuesday threatened again to levy monetary sanctions against Texas Child Protective Services leaders and ripped into them for exporting some of the state’s most troubled foster children to shabby group homes in other states. On a recent winter day at one residential treatment center in Michigan, the front door to the facility was missing and there had been no heat for 24 hours despite 28-degree weather, according to a new report to U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack by her monitors in a long-running suit over Texas foster care. In Texas meanwhile, CPS is placing children in substandard group facilities that harm children, from Oak Cliff in Dallas to Von Ormy in Bexar County and from Belton to Houston, the report said.

“Sad, isn’t it?” Jack said. “It broke my heart that Texas is treating its children like this.” During a five-hour virtual hearing, Jack said she may have to slap stiff fines on the Department of Family and Protective Services and hold it in contempt of court — for the third time in recent years. CPS still can’t track the locations of all the children in its care, digitize their records or reduce the workloads of caseworkers who manage foster children’s legal cases and therapies, she said. All of those failings come two years or more after her injunctions on those topics were issued, Jack noted. The state is “blaming” children sleeping in hotels and CPS offices for being “aggressive,” rather than showing them compassion, the judge said. It’s wasting money on $400-a-day placements of subpar quality while not grabbing at pots of federal money, she said. With that money, Texas could do things such as attract high-quality caregivers for the most troubled kids, both at treatment centers and with kinship caregivers trained for that. It also could create mobile mental health crisis intervention teams that could avert some CPS removals of children, Jack said.

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Houston Chronicle - January 11, 2022

Texas Sen. Cornyn leads GOP pushback as Democrats tout federal voting bills

Texas Sen. John Cornyn led the Republicans in resisting Democrats’ efforts to pass new voting rights legislation, going toe to toe with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor Tuesday as both sides gear up for a make-or-break attempt get the bills passed. The clash between the Texas Republican and New York Democrat highlighted the vast differences between the parties as the national debate over changes to voting laws enacted in Texas and other red states comes to a head in the Senate. Schumer has vowed to change Senate rules by Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to pass them. In a speech on the Senate floor, Cornyn defended the work of the Texas Legislature and said the elections bills that Republicans have consistently blocked are “simply about enhancing the political power of the Democratic party.” He accused Democrats of creating a narrative of widespread voter suppression that is “nothing more than a scare tactic to achieve a political outcome.”

“There is simply no concerted effort to attempt to prevent voters of color — or any eligible voters — from casting their ballot,” Cornyn said, “and the Voting Rights Act — one of the most important pieces of legislation in our nation’s history — is alive and well.” The federal voting bills are aimed at undoing new legislation enacted last year in GOP-led states including Texas and requiring them to get approval from the U.S. Justice Department for such election changes in the future — something states with a history of discrimination were required to do under the Voting Rights Act until the Supreme Court ended so-called preclearance in 2013. The push comes as the Biden administration sues Texas over the voting laws and redrawn political maps passed by the GOP-led Legislature in 2021, claiming they are calculated to discriminate against Black and Latino voters and individuals with disabilities. Cornyn spoke in front of a bright red sign with bold letters reading: “94% of voters said voting in 2020 was easy,” based on the results of a Pew survey. “This is a stark contrast to the claimed assault on voting rights we’ve heard so much about,” Cornyn said.

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Houston Chronicle - January 11, 2022

'Dean of Houston land development' who shaped suburban landscapes dies at age 81

If you ever met Larry Johnson, it could be easy to overlook his role in shaping the Houston landscape. A quiet leader with a warm presence, Johnson was perfectly fine working in the background while others took the spotlight. But his humble persona belied an astute businessman and visionary real estate developer who helped define Houston’s suburban communities. Johnson, the founder and CEO of Johnson Development, died Jan. 5. He was 81. Over a nearly 60-year career, Johnson and his company built at least 100 projects on 47,500 acres, according to the Johnson Development website. They laid the groundwork for thousands of Houston homes throughout massive master-planned communities, including Sienna, Woodforest, Cross Creek Ranch, Silverlake, Grand Central Park, Riverstone and Harvest Green.

Johnson Development has 19 residential communities in Houston, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta, representing more than 80,000 residential units, 16.7 million square feet of retail space and 2 million trees preserved or planted. Homes are still being developed in these communities. Johnson was considered an early adopter of the master-planned community approach in Houston, which was gaining traction in the 1970s, thanks to other like-minded developers such as George Mitchell in The Woodlands. The master-planned developments were larger in scale than traditional subdivisions — spanning 1,000 to 7,000 acres or more — and offered homes in a range of prices in different neighborhoods or villages, expansive amenities such as pools, golf courses and trails, and town centers that could include office buildings and shopping centers. “I would say in a lot of ways, most of the large, new master-planned communities are being modeled after what Larry did and what George Mitchell did in The Woodlands,” said Mike Inselmann, the founder of Metrostudy, a market consulting firm for development and homebuilding now known as Zonda. “Almost every large-scale master-planned community in the country has a DNA, if you will, from the things that George Mitchell and Larry Johnson did.”

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Bloomberg - January 11, 2022

Whole Foods claims constitutional right to disallow 'Black Lives Matter' masks

U.S. labor board prosecutors are trying to violate Whole Foods Market’s copyright and constitutional rights by forcing it to let employees wear “Black Lives Matter” masks at work, the Amazon.com Inc. subsidiary claims. In a Dec. 17 filing with the National Labor Relations Board, Whole Foods denied the agency general counsel’s allegations that the company violated federal labor law by banning employees from wearing “Black Lives Matter” insignia and punishing staff around the country who did. The filing is a response to the labor board’s accusation that by prohibiting Black Lives Matter messages at work, the company interfered with employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act to engage “in concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection.”

Whole Foods counters that it’s the one whose rights are being violated. The company’s filing, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, accuses the labor board’s general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, of trying to unconstitutionally “compel” speech by Whole Foods in violation of its First Amendment rights. The upscale grocer also accuses her of “unlawfully infringing upon and/or diluting WFM’s protected trademarks” by trying to mandate that it allow the display of a “political message in conjunction with” its trademarked uniforms and logos. Whole Foods contends that Section 7 of the NLRA, which protects employees’ right to take collective action related to working conditions, doesn’t extend to workers’ BLM messages, which it calls “political and/or social justice speech.” The company’s filing argues that “BLM” and related phrases “are not objectively understood to relate to workplace issues or improving working conditions at WFM’s retail grocery stores” or employment terms and conditions in general. “Employees do not have a protected right under Section 7 of the Act to display the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘BLM’ in the workplace,” the company’s attorneys wrote.

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Houston Chronicle - January 10, 2022

Houston hospitals mandating COVID boosters for employees, amid omicron surge

Three major Houston health institutions will require employees to receive booster shots in the coming weeks, becoming some of the first institutions nationwide to elevate vaccination requirements amid widespread worker shortages caused by the omicron surge. Houston Methodist, Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine announced booster mandates to little fanfare Friday, a marked change from last year’s contentious debate over the legality and efficacy of such policies in health care settings. At Houston Methodist, managers must be boosted against COVID-19 by Jan. 31, with all other employees to follow by March, Methodist President and CEO Marc Boom wrote in an internal letter last week.

“Like I said when we did this the first time, as health care workers we’ve taken a sacred oath to do everything possible to keep our patients safe and healthy — this includes getting a booster now,” Boom wrote. The updated policy comes seven months after the sprawling health system mandated vaccines for its 26,000 employees, setting off a high-profile battle in which some workers staged protests and filed a lawsuit against the hospital, claiming the policy violated their rights. The lawsuit was dismissed in June. That same month, more than 150 Houston Methodist workers resigned or were fired for refusing vaccination. Hospital leaders do not appear to anticipate the same pushback earlier mandates received from a small, vocal minority of workers. “The Baylor community responded very positively to our COVID vaccination requirement last year,” Baylor College of Medicine CEO Paul Klotman said Friday in a letter to employees. “As we weather the surge caused by the omicron variant, we know through emerging and evolving science that boosters are now an important part of being fully vaccinated.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 12, 2022

Chris Tomlinson: Cheating Texas construction companies place $1.9 billion burden on taxpayers

Texas companies pay construction workers so little, almost half of them end up relying on safety-net programs costing taxpayers $1.9 billion a year, according to a new study. Low wages, weak state laws and rare federal law enforcement have turned a solidly blue-collar industry into a poverty trap. Voters should ask why nearly half of full-time, skilled laborers rely on food stamps and Medicaid to care for their children. The data also bolsters the wisdom of granting visas to undocumented workers and only then strictly enforcing immigration laws to boost wages.

“The low wages and exploitative practices in the construction industry, both in Texas and nationally, cause profound hardship for workers and their families. It also costs the public,” the University of California professors wrote. “When employers misclassify their workers or pay them under the table, they are defunding and defrauding government programs, including workers’ compensation, Social Security, and Medicare.” Texas has one of the fastest-growing economies in the U.S. The construction boom in San Antonio, Houston and Austin is the envy of any Rust Belt state. One in 12 Texans work in construction, or about 1.2 million people, the Census Bureau reports. The industry contributes $92.3 billion to Texas’s GDP or about 5 percent. Personal income from construction totaled $87.3 billion in 2019. But that income is unfairly distributed. Compared to laborers in other Texas industries, twice as many construction workers rely on Medicaid, the health program for the poor, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Aid for Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, research by UC Berkeley’s Labor Center found as part of a nationwide study. The most obvious explanation is found in the construction contract bidding process. The lowest bidder typically wins, and managers feel the pressure to squeeze every penny possible out of the workforce. Many bend or skirt rarely-enforced laws to bring in underpaid, undocumented laborers. Stan Marek, CEO of Houston-based Marek construction, has lost many a contract to unscrupulous competitors over the last 50 years, and he’s fought for immigration reform for a decade. He expects construction to expand quickly in 2022, and he’s worried the corruption will only get worse.

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Houston Chronicle - January 11, 2022

Houston ISD to close virtual school for vulnerable students, but continue temporary online instruction for kids with COVID

The Houston Independent School District will close a virtual academy that was offered for students who were too young to be vaccinated and met medical condition criteria due to low enrollment, district officials said Tuesday. The students, believed to be fewer than 600, were younger than 11 and had at least one of eight high-risk medical conditions. The program will end Friday and the students are expected to return to campuses next Wednesday even as the omicron variant continues to surge in Houston. Meanwhile, it appeared the same variant-driven surge of COVID-19 that has shattered records in the city, state and nation has affected numerous HISD students.

The number of students in HISD’s temporary online school, meant for kids affected by COVID-19, stood at 1,326 as of Tuesday. Officials said the number changed regularly as students fulfilled their isolation periods and returned to school, but had increased since the return from winter break. As of Monday, the online school had 859 recorded students. At one point last week, the school had more than 1,500. “The idea is that they are going in specifically because of COVID-related issues and we know that they would only be in it, for the most part, for a couple of weeks,” Superintendent Millard House II said. “It is kind of a rolling cycle. We know we are going to have new kids in it, essentially, every week. Those numbers are up right now.” Students who have exceptional needs still could go through a process to receive specific accommodations, he said. House’s remarks came during a board meeting to administer the oaths of office to newly-elected and re-elected trustees. The two new trustees, Kendall Baker and Bridget Wade, took their spots on the board, a month after unseating incumbents Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca and Anne Sung, respectively.

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Dallas Morning News - January 11, 2022

Retrial date set for Dallas serial-killing suspect Billy Chemirmir

Dallas serial-killing suspect Billy Chemirmir will once again go to trial in the smothering death of an 81-year-old woman. Chemirmir was tried in November on a capital murder charge in Lu Harris’ death, but a judge ordered a mistrial after the jury deadlocked following about 11 hours of deliberations over two days. His retrial is set for April 25, according to court records. Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot has said he was committed to retrying the case. He reiterated his commitment at the time to securing two convictions; grand juries in Collin and Dallas counties indicted Chemirmir on capital murder charges in the deaths of 18 elderly women. Jurors at the November trial weighed Chemirmir’s guilt or innocence only in the death of Harris, who was found dead in her Dallas home in March 2018.

Several families of the victims said they were “devastated” by the mistrial, declared by state District Judge Raquel “Rocky” Jones. In a collective statement at the time, the families said they looked forward to more cases being prosecuted, including in Collin County. Chemirmir has been linked to at least two dozen deaths since 2016, according to police and court records. Police have said he could be among the state’s most prolific serial killers. At the November trial, jurors also heard about attacks on Mary Brooks, 88, and Mary Bartel, 91. Brooks died in January 2018 and Bartel survived an attempted smothering the day before Harris died. Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Glen Fitzmartin sent a note to victims’ families last week informing them of the new trial date, according to KXAS-TV (NBC5). If convicted of capital murder, Chemirmir faces life in prison without parole. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. He remained in Dallas County jail Tuesday on a multimillion-dollar bail. Chemirmir and his counsel have repeatedly denied the charges leveled against him and claimed his innocence. His attorney, Phillip Hayes, did not respond to a request for comment.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 11, 2022

Arlington GOP activist dies after COVID-19 hospitalization

An Arlington Republican known for her work to ban red light cameras died on Monday after being hospitalized for COVID-19 and pneumonia. Kelly Canon was active in Republican politics, including as a vice president of the Arlington Republican Club, and had been vocal in her opposition to vaccine mandates. The club posted about Canon’s death on Facebook, remembering her as a “loyal and beloved friend and Patriot.” “Kelly will be forever in our hearts as a loyal and beloved friend and Patriot,” the post reads. “Gone way too soon. We will keep her family in our prayers.” Canon helped to get red light cameras turned off in Arlington by leading a petition drive to get the issue added to the ballot in 2015. Arlington voters voted to ban the cameras, and Texas lawmakers later banned them statewide.

“She was a very passionate person, and she was very much a go-getter, not just a talker,” said Faith Bussey, who met Canon through the Arlington Tea Party and worked with her to ban red light cameras in Arlington. Canon is also known for sharing private Facebook messages between her and former U.S. Rep. Joe Barton after he sent a nude photo of himself to a different woman. In some of the messages, Barton asked questions that were sexual in nature. He would soon announce his retirement from the North Texas congressional seat. “She was a headstrong activist and a grassroots leader,” said Rick Barnes, president of the Tarrant County Republican Party. “She was just one of those types that when she wanted to get something done, she was going to stand strong on it until it came about.” Mark Hanson, president of the Arlington Republican Club, said the group was “totally stunned” by the news of Canon’s passing. Canon served as the group’s vice president for legislative alerts. Hanson said it’s his understanding Canon was hospitalized but getting better as of late last week, so her death came as a shock.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 11, 2022

Austin area in record-breaking omicron surge, likely to go two more weeks before cases peak

Despite breaking pandemic records for hospitalizations in the past few days, Austin-area health leaders expect at least two more weeks of rising COVID-19 case totals and inpatient counts before the current coronavirus surge reaches its peak. Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, told the American-Statesman on Tuesday that hospitals continue to be overrun with coronavirus patients.The total number of COVID-19 inpatients Tuesday was 553, only 100 away from the Austin area's pandemic record high of 653 inpatients on Aug. 25. The weekly average of new daily hospitalizations, which Austin Public Health uses to determine its risk-based guidelines, is now at a three-day streak of pandemic records.

The average on Sunday was 102.7, beating out the previous record of 93.7 set exactly one year earlier. That streak continued into this week with a record of 108 set Monday and 110 set Tuesday. Statewide, health officials on Tuesday recorded 11,040 people in the hospital for COVID-19, the highest number since September, when Texas was in the throes of a summer surge, fueled by the delta variant of the coronavirus. The peak during that surge was 13,932 patients on Aug. 26, 2021. The pandemic high was in January, when 14,218 Texans were hospitalized. "We have a surge in our hospital systems right now that is putting us in a situation where (critical care) staffing is strained and stressed more than it's been in any other surge," Walkes said. "We need to work together to decrease this by protecting ourselves not only from COVID, but also by making sure you're doing things like wearing your seatbelt so you don't get in a car accident and hurt yourself." Walkes on Tuesday said initial data show that about 30% to 40% of those coming into the hospital for medical conditions like heart attacks or diabetes, or injuries like broken bones from vehicle collisions, are also testing positive for COVID-19. As a result, those patients are having a more difficult recovery while also infecting hospital staff.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 11, 2022

Texas House Democrat Celia Israel announces run for Austin mayor

State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, says she will enter Austin's 2022 mayoral race — a move Israel had signaled in the fall when she announced she is leaving the Texas House and that she had formed a committee to generate support if she chose to run for mayor. Israel made it official Tuesday in an announcement at Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center in East Austin. Her entry into the race could prompt other big names who are contemplating a run to clarify their intentions as Israel begins campaigning to secure financial donations and starts meeting with voters. Israel is the second major candidate to enter the race, following Jennifer Virden, a former Austin City Council candidate who, unlike Israel, is building her base with Republican voters and not Democrats.

Flanked by community leaders, including state Rep. Donna Howard and local NAACP President Nelson Linder, Israel called herself a "fighter" in vowing to address three areas of concern: housing and affordability; public health and public safety; and transportation and mobility. "The building cranes and the help wanted ads are an indicator of a strong economy, but we are becoming an elitist city where only the wealthy can afford to live," she said. "We can't become a city that attracts billionaires but sends the working class out to Buda and Bastrop." Israel, who represents parts of North and Northeast Austin, said in September she would not pursue a fifth term in the Texas House and instead was thinking about running for Austin mayor. Speculation heated up Monday with her campaign teasing to an "announcement on her political future." The bigger giveaway was the filing of a treasurer report with the Austin city clerk's office, which allows Israel to begin fundraising.

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KXAN - January 12, 2022

SXSW requiring vaccination or negative test for credentials

If you plan to attend South By Southwest 2022, you’ll need to either be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or have a recent negative test in order to get/maintain your credentials. The festival and conference, scheduled for March 11-20, will be a hybrid of in-person and virtual events. This year’s in-person events will be the first since 2019. The 2020 festival was canceled completely as COVID-19 broke across the area in early March. The 2021 festival was held 100% virtually.

“Recognizing that the COVID-19 landscape is changing rapidly, our best path is to continue working with both the City of Austin and Austin Public Health on our steps forward,” SXSW wrote in a statement Tuesday. Back in October, Austin health officials announced at least 36 COVID-19 cases were tied to the recently held Austin City Limits Music Festival. For its 2021 festival, ACL required guests to show proof of full vaccination or a negative test for entry. The omicron variant has swept the nation since that time, causing record hospitalizations and new daily case numbers. SXSW says it will have more updates on testing, masking and social distancing soon.

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Courthouse News - January 10, 2022

Ninth Circuit reluctant to revive Twitter’s retaliation suit against Texas

A panel of Ninth Circuit judges on Monday signaled a reluctance to revive Twitter's free speech retaliation suit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, despite claims that the AG's probe into Twitter's censorship practices violates the First Amendment. Twitter sued Paxton this past March, claiming his demand for internal documents on Twitter’s content moderation policies was intended to retaliate against the platform for banning former President Donald Trump following a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In May, a federal judge dismissed Twitter’s lawsuit as unripe because the Republican AG’s subpoena can only be enforced in state court. Senior U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney concluded the social media platform suffered no concrete harm from a toothless subpoena.

On Monday, Twitter attorney Peter Neiman urged a panel of three Trump-appointed circuit judges to reverse that decision, arguing the AG’s investigation seeks to coerce the platform into altering its speech in violation of the First Amendment. “Here the retaliatory threat — the investigation, the [civil investigative demand] — put Twitter under immediate pressure to change the moderation decisions that it makes every day,” Neiman told the panel. U.S. Circuit Judge Ryan Nelson said he couldn’t find in Twitter's lawsuit one example of how the company altered its speech in response to the AG’s supboena. Neiman replied that Twitter doesn’t have to show that it changed its content moderation policies to sue for First Amendment retaliation. “The idea here is that we have to show conduct that is severe enough to chill a person of reasonable firmness,” Neiman said. U.S. Circuit Judge Mark Bennett suggested that allowing Twitter to sue over an unenforced subpoena could open the door for other companies involved in politics to file First Amendment retaliation suits against state AGs to thwart legitimate investigations. “I’m trying to look for a limiting ripeness principle,” Bennett said. “Attorneys general do a lot of information gathering.”

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 11, 2022

Harris County approves $42 million in emergency funds for medical staff during omicron surge

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday held an emergency session to approve hiring temporary medical staff to help Houston-area hospitals manage the latest wave of COVID-19 patients, driven by the omicron variant. The court unanimously signed off on a $40 million agreement between the health department and Angel Staffing, a San Antonio-based employment agency, for emergency medical staffing. Another $1.5 million will go to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council (SETRAC), which helps monitor staffing levels and COVID patient loads at facilities in the 25-county region. The medical staff will go to public and private hospitals in the area, including Ben Taub, Lyndon B. Johnson, Memorial Hermann, Houston Methodist, St. Luke’s, St. Joseph’s, Texas Children’s and HCA.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said hospitals need supplemental staff because existing employees are suffering from burnout or testing positive from the virus, requiring them to quarantine. “A couple of hospitals are reporting 10 percent of staff out because of COVID,” Hidalgo said. “Couple that with 18 percent of ICU beds filled with virus patients, and it’s a perfect storm.” Court members approved a second item to spend $1.8 million for 65,000 rapid antigen COVID tests. Both will be paid for with federal response and recovery funds. “This is, in my opinion, a legitimate use of the federal dollars that have been put into our care to take care of nursing,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. “There’s capacity in our hospitals; they just can’t get nurses.” Hidalgo said the county needed to act urgently, because the available stockpile from which it could purchase tests plummeted by more than 20 percent over the weekend.

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Houston Chronicle - January 11, 2022

Feds terminate UMMC Medicare contract; hospital appeals decision

Federal officials said they terminated the Medicare contract with United Memorial Medical Center after the Houston hospital system failed yet another federal inspection. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the federal health insurance program for the elderly, said it will no longer reimburse United Memorial Medical Center for patients admitted to the hospital system after Tuesday. The loss of the contract would likely deal a crippling financial blow to United Memorial, which serves low-income neighborhoods and depends heavily on the federal reimbursements. Duni Hebron, spokesperson for the hospital, said United Memorial is appealing the decision, and filed for an emergency waiver.

The waiver would allow the hospital to continue to receive Medicare reimbursement for inpatient care because of the pandemic and remain in effect until the appeal was resolved or the COVID-19 public health emergency ended, she said. It’s unclear when the waiver will be processed. In the meantime, the hospital said it will continue to see Medicare patients even though it will not be reimbursed. “As it is,” Hebron said, “we already service 30 percent who don’t have any insurance.” United Memorial Medical Center was on the brink of having its Medicare contract terminated about a month ago after failing four inspections between January and September 2021. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, however, extended the termination deadline into January pending another inspection, which was conducted from Dec. 17-21. The hospital system failed again.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 11, 2022

Westlake school district faces lawsuit from parent over diversity and inclusion initiative

The Eanes school district, its board of trustees and its superintendent are being sued over actions taken during and around two school board meetings in the summer of 2020. That summer, which was marked nationwide by weeks of protests after the murder of George Floyd, also marked the start of the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. Parent Christie Oates, who filed the lawsuit, alleges that the school board violated the state’s open meetings act by discussing the hiring of consultant Mark Gooden in private before voting on the matter publicly. Parents opposed to the initiative have made similar arguments for months, and members of the school board and district staff have said that no secret meetings or decisions took place. Oates, who has been outspoken in her opposition to the diversity initiative, is asking that the school board’s vote to hire Gooden be thrown out as invalid. She also is asking the district to cover the cost of her legal fees.

The Texas Open Meetings Act requires government entities to provide the public access to proceedings and decision-making processes. The lawsuit claims that during the early days of the diversity initiative, the district deprived residents in Eanes of their right to observe how and why decisions were reached. “Decisions were not made in the open and during board meetings. To the contrary, secret deliberations and walking quorums were conducted outside board meetings,” the lawsuit reads. “As a result, parents, students, and other residents of the Eanes ISD were deprived of their opportunity to learn about or participate in their government.” A district spokesperson and members of the school board said they could not comment on ongoing litigation. Oates did not respond to requests for comment. Her lawyer, Andy Taylor, said the purpose of the lawsuit is to hold the district accountable for the alleged violations of the law in Gooden's hiring, which he said has led the district away from it's "long history of academic excellence" and caused distraction and disruption. "The kids and teachers have been the real victims of this violation of the law," he said in a statement. "By holding the school board and Superintendent accountable for their illegal actions we hope to have the contract with Dr. Gooden voided and all curriculum and recommended trainings and content removed from the district."

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Houston Chronicle - January 11, 2022

Houston Health forced to deliver COVID test results by phone after glitch disables website

A Houston Health Department online portal that delivers COVID-19 test results was disabled Tuesday due to a technical glitch. The outage applies to tests conducted at the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, the Hiram Clark Multi-Service Center, the Magnolia Multi-Service Center and the Southwest Multi-Service Center. The four city-run clinics each offer about 250 walk-up COVID testing spots daily on a first-come, first-serve basis. Patients will receive results by phone until the glitch is resolved, health officials said.

It was unclear what caused the outage or how long it would continue. Eight health workers have been reassigned to the city’s COVID call center to provide test results as quickly as possible, Porfirio Villarreal, a health department spokesperson, said Tuesday morning. The blackout was limited to the four city-run clinics, and does not affect results for tests conducted at Curative walk-up testing kiosks or the United Memorial Medical Center testing sites, which include the Butler Stadium, Delmar Stadium and Minute Maid Stadium mega sites. Villarreal did not anticipate significant delays, but said patients who do not receive their results within 72 hours should contact the city’s COVID call center at 832-393-4220. “We have a lot of demand at our testing sites and much shorter lines at our vaccination sites,” Villarreal said. “If people are vaccinated there would be less need to form a line at the testing sites.”

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National Stories

Orlando Sentinel - January 11, 2022

DeSantis calls Florida ‘the freest state,’ attacks federal government in address

Gov. Ron DeSantis called Florida “the freest state in the United States” in his 2022 State of the State address Thursday, making his opposition to COVID restrictions his centerpiece as he opened the 2022 legislative session. He also repeatedly slammed the federal government and bashed Democratic-run states, as he prepares for his reelection campaign this year and potentially a 2024 run for president. “While so many around the country have consigned the people’s rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom’s vanguard,” DeSantis said. “... Florida has stood strong as the rock of freedom. And upon this rock, we must build Florida’s future.”

The session opened at the Florida Capitol without any COVID-19 protocols, the day after the state set another record with more than 125,000 new cases amid the omicron wave. Total COVID hospitalizations were down slightly but still at more than 9,000 statewide. Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 4.8 million Floridians have tested positive for COVID-19, with more than 62,000 reported deaths. Only a few legislators and spectators wore masks. One exception was Nikki Fried, the Democratic agriculture commissioner who is running for governor. In his session-opening speech, his fourth as governor, DeSantis called Florida “the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.” He attacked “the biomedical security state” and “blind adherence to Faucian declarations,” referring to frequent DeSantis target Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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NBC News - January 11, 2022

'We have gone backwards': COVID confusion snarls Biden White House

President Joe Biden is urging schools to stay open, but there’s a widespread Covid testing shortage. He calls it the “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” but that has only confused boosted Americans home sick with the omicron variant. And the administration hasn’t changed its guidance to urge high-filtration masks despite calls from the medical community, while recent isolation guidance has only added to the uncertainty. The White House’s stay-the-course strategy on Covid is increasingly colliding with the realities of a roaring pandemic that is forcing schools and businesses to close. A half dozen former health policy makers, including some members of Biden’s transition team, told NBC News that the Biden administration needs an urgent reset on its Covid strategy or the White House could rapidly lose credibility with the public.

“Biden was elected president, in large part, based on a message of ‘I’m competent, I’m capable, I will tell you the truth and I will get a handle on Covid in a way my predecessor could not and refused to do,’ and that continues to be the No. 1 issue for most people,” said Kathleen Sebelius, who served as Health and Human Services secretary in the Obama administration. While praising the administration for quickly being able to make the vaccines widely available, she said that Americans' “lives are still pretty chaotic and kind of messy and when they thought they were getting out of this they are back in it.” She added, “I do think it's about competence and capability and telling the truth and using all of the tools that are at the president's disposal.” As the omicron variant began to metastasize across the country last month, Biden and his top health officials largely focused on urging people to get vaccinations and boosters, and on prescribing a mask indoors while greenlighting holiday gatherings for those fully vaccinated.

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CNN - January 12, 2022

The highly contagious Omicron variant will 'find just about everybody,' Fauci says, but vaccinated people will still fare better

As the Omicron variant spreads like wildfire across the United States, it's likely just about everybody will be exposed to the strain, but vaccinated people will still fare better, the nation's leading infectious disease expert said Tuesday. "Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody," Dr. Anthony Fauci told J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Those who have been vaccinated ... and boosted would get exposed. Some, maybe a lot of them, will get infected but will very likely, with some exceptions, do reasonably well in the sense of not having hospitalization and death." In contrast, those who are not vaccinated are "going to get the brunt of the severe aspect of this," he added.

Across the United States, at least one in five eligible Americans -- roughly 65 million people-- are not vaccinated against Covid-19. More than 62% of the country has been fully vaccinated, but only 23% are fully vaccinated and boosted, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fauci's comments came in response to a question about whether the pandemic has entered a new phase. That will come when there's enough protection in the community and drugs to easily treat severe Covid-19, he said, adding, "We may be on the threshold of that right now." Also Tuesday, US Food and Drug Administration acting commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said that while most people could catch the virus, the focus now should be on making sure hospitals and essential services function. Woodcock was responding to a question from Sen. Mike Braun about whether it's time for the United States to change its Covid-19 strategy. Her statement was not a new assessment of Covid-19, but rather an attempt to make clear the need to prioritize essential services as the Omicron variant surges.

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New York Times - January 12, 2022

‘We have no option’: Biden calls for changing Senate rules to pass voting rights laws.

President Biden endorsed changing Senate rules to pass new voting rights legislation during a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, warning of a grave threat to American democracy if lawmakers did not act to “protect the heart and soul” of the country. Mr. Biden did not go so far as to call for full-scale elimination of the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to block legislation that fails to garner 60 votes, but said he supported “getting rid of” it in the case of voting rights legislation. Such a change in Senate procedures has only the slimmest of chances of winning the support of all 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats, which is needed to overcome universal Republican opposition. Mr. Biden, a former senator and an institutionalist who had long been leery of whittling away at the filibuster, said such Senate traditions had been “abused.”

“Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self,” Mr. Biden said. During an at-times emotional speech delivered at a consortium of four historically Black colleges and universities, Mr. Biden laid out the principles he wanted to be associated with — providing access to the ballot, fostering racial equality, and keeping “the promise of America alive” — and made it clear that, win or lose, he wanted to be on the right side of history. “I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?” Mr. Biden said. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?” he asked, drawing a sharp line between men who fought for civil rights and others who fought to deny them, comparisons that at moments drew gasps from the crowd. Equating opponents of Senate rule changes to slaveholders and segregationists is a political gamble for Mr. Biden, whose visit to Georgia was designed to invigorate a Democratic-led effort to pass new voting rights laws in the 50-50 Senate in the coming days.

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Wall Street Journal - January 11, 2022

U.S. rebuilt NATO to face down Russia. Putin scrambled those plans.

The U.S. and other NATO members have deployed thousands of troops and invested heavily in weaponry to rebuild the alliance’s front line facing Russia. Moscow has parried that strategy by opening up new fronts just beyond NATO’s reach. Now, as Russian officials visit North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday to address grievances raised by the Kremlin, the 30-country alliance is grappling with how to counter Russia’s increasing assertiveness. Rather than confront NATO head-on, Russian President Vladimir Putin is exerting pressure in other countries including Ukraine, Syria and Libya. He is testing alliance unity with natural-gas deals while probing its democratic defenses with cyberattacks and disinformation, Western officials say. The approach is testing both the alliance’s military might and Western political will. NATO is divided over how to respond. Allies such as Germany and France have long urged caution and negotiations with Moscow.

Germany blocked the sale of sniper rifles to Ukraine via NATO last year, saying only defensive systems should be provided to help Kyiv, an alliance partner that has faced a simmering war against Russian-led separatists in its east since 2014. Hungary, led by a pro-Russian authoritarian, is preventing high-level NATO meetings with Ukraine. Eastern members such as Poland and the Baltic states worry the Biden administration is leaning toward concessions to Mr. Putin in the hope of focusing instead on China. U.S. officials have said they won’t accede to Moscow’s demand that NATO commit to never accepting Ukraine and Georgia as members, but could consider other measures, such as mutual reductions to military exercises. “If we give Putin concessions now, he’ll come back for more,” said a European diplomat at NATO. “Russia is a long-term threat with the political intent to weaken us.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in December that NATO had become “a purely geopolitical project aimed at absorbing territories left ownerless after the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

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Wall Street Journal - January 12, 2022

Douglas E. Schoen and Andrew Stein: Hillary Clinton’s 2024 election comeback

(Mr. Schoen is founder and partner in Schoen Cooperman Research, a polling and consulting firm whose past clients include Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mr. Stein is a former New York City Council president, Manhattan borough president and state assemblyman.) A perfect storm in the Democratic Party is making a once-unfathomable scenario plausible: a political comeback for Hillary Clinton in 2024. Several circumstances—President Biden’s low approval rating, doubts over his capacity to run for re-election at 82, Vice President Kamala Harris’s unpopularity, and the absence of another strong Democrat to lead the ticket in 2024—have created a leadership vacuum in the party, which Mrs. Clinton viably could fill. She is already in an advantageous position to become the 2024 Democratic nominee. She is an experienced national figure who is younger than Mr. Biden and can offer a different approach from the disorganized and unpopular one the party is currently taking.

If Democrats lose control of Congress in 2022, Mrs. Clinton can use the party’s loss as a basis to run for president again, enabling her to claim the title of “change candidate.” Based on her latest public statements, it’s clear that Mrs. Clinton not only recognizes her position as a potential front-runner but also is setting up a process to help her decide whether or not to run for president again. She recently warned of the electoral consequences in the 2022 midterms if the Democratic Party continues to align itself with its progressive wing and urged Democrats to reject far-left positions that isolate key segments of the electorate. In a recent MSNBC interview, Mrs. Clinton called on Democrats to engage in “careful thinking about what wins elections, and not just in deep-blue districts where a Democrat and a liberal Democrat, or so-called progressive Democrat, is going to win.” She also noted that party’s House majority “comes from people who win in much more difficult districts.”

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Education Week - January 10, 2022

What many LGBTQ+ students worry about most during the pandemic

National political fights over transgender youth rights combined with the pandemic have taken a toll on the mental health of many LGBTQ+ teenagers and young adults, a new poll shows. Two thirds of LGBTQ+ teens and young adults say that recent high-profile debates and state legislation on restricting transgender youth participation in school sports, among other related issues, have been hard on their mental health, according to the poll conducted by Morning Consult for the Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth. The impact of these political debates is even more keenly felt among transgender and nonbinary youth, 85 percent of whom say these types of discussions and legislative activity have negatively affected their mental health.

Transgender and nonbinary youth are also more likely to say they have trouble getting mental health care, compared with their cisgender lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer peers. “These results underscore how recent politics and ongoing crises facing the globe can have a real, negative impact on LGBTQ young people, a group consistently found to be at significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety, and attempting suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” said Amit Paley, the CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project, in a statement. The survey asked LGBTQ+ teens and young adults how they felt—angry, nervous, stressed, scared, sad, excited, or happy—about three policies in particular: banning transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams and transgender boys from playing on boys’ teams; prohibitions on doctors prescribing gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth; and policies requiring schools to tell parents if their children are using different names or pronouns at school, or are identifying as LGBTQ+ at school.

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