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Newsclips - June 4, 2020

Lead Stories

The Atlantic - June 3, 2020

James Mattis denounces President Trump, describes him as a threat to the Constitution

James Mattis, the esteemed Marine general who resigned as secretary of defense in December 2018 to protest Donald Trump’s Syria policy, has, ever since, kept studiously silent about Trump’s performance as president. But he has now broken his silence, writing an extraordinary broadside in which he denounces the president for dividing the nation, and accuses him of ordering the U.S. military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens. In his j’accuse, Mattis excoriates the president for setting Americans against one another.

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis writes. “The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.” He goes on, “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” Mattis writes. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 3, 2020

New Texas poll shows virtual tie between Trump and Biden, soft support for Cornyn

A new Texas poll shows the state up for grabs in November, with President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in a statistical tie. It also shows Sen. John Cornyn with an anemic 37% job approval rating five months from Election Day, when he’s trying to win a fourth six-year term.

Trump edges Biden 44-43 in the new Quinnipiac University Poll, with voters giving Trump a strong endorsement when asked who would handle the economy better – 54-40 – but a small edge to Biden on who could better handle the coronavirus pandemic that put more than 40 million Americans out of work. “Too tight to tell in Texas. As the country confronts chaos and COVID-19, perhaps one of the most important states of all is a toss-up,” said Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy. Texas hasn’t sided with a Democrat in a presidential race since 1976, when Jimmy Carter won the White House. Trump’s support in Texas seems to have a hard ceiling, with 48% of voters saying they definitely won’t vote for him in the fall, 35% saying they definitely will, and 14% holding it out as a possibility. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 9 percentage points in 2016, and Republicans effectively have no chance to win the White House without carrying Texas. Cornyn’s approval rating suggests some vulnerability for him, too. Texas voters are about evenly split, with 37% saying they approve of the job he’s doing, and 36% saying they disapprove. That’s a far lower approval rating than other top Republicans in Texas, and also a worse ratio.

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Associated Press - June 3, 2020

Murder charge upgraded in Floyd case, 3 other cops charged

Prosecutors are charging a Minneapolis police officer accused of pressing his knee against George Floyd’s neck with second-degree murder, and for the first time will level charges against three other officers at the scene, a newspaper reported Wednesday. Widely seen bystander video showing Floyd’s May 25 death has sparked sometimes violent protests nationwide and around the world. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was fired May 26 and initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers involved were also fired but were not immediately charged.

The Star Tribune reported reported that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison would be upgrading the charge against Chauvin while also charging Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. The newspaper cited multiple law enforcement sources familiar with the case that spoke on condition of anonymity. Earl Gray, who represents Lane, told The Associated Press that the report “is accurate” before ending the call. Widely seen bystander video showing Floyd’s death has sparked sometimes violent protests around the world against police brutality and discrimination. Floyd’s family and protesters have repeatedly called for criminal charges against all four officers as well as more serious charges for Chauvin, who held his knee to Floyd’s neck, despite his protests that he couldn’t breathe, and stayed there even after Floyd stopped moving. Floyd, a black man, was in handcuffs when he died with his face pressed to the street.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 4, 2020

Texas is among the most politically polarized states in U.S., study shows

Texas is among the most politically polarized states in the U.S., and its congressional leaders are more partisan than those of any other populous state in the nation, according to a recent ranking. Several Texas lawmakers rated among the most partisan in the nation, including U.S. Reps. Chip Roy, a Central Texas Republican who rated as the third-most partisan member of Congress, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, whose record in the Senate is less partisan than those of just five other senators since 1993.

Researchers who participated in the study and Texas political experts agree that the skewed ratings reflect a generation of noncompetitive elections in the state — both for Democrats and Republicans. With most legislative districts drawn to be overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican, modern Texas politicians have had to worry only about appeasing voters in primary elections. “Candidates have been electorally rewarded for going off the deep end, and ignoring the policy priorities of moderate general election voters — most voters — for almost 20 years,” said Harold Cook, a Texas political analyst who worked for years as a Democratic consultant. The ratings also speak to how divided the nation is in the era of President Donald Trump, said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist. While he said the Texas delegation has “generally pulled together with a Team Texas approach on major issues” such as hurricane relief, there’s generally “just very, very little incentive to work together.”

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 3, 2020

Statesman seeks court order for TRS to comply with open-records ruling

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas has continued to conceal portions of its $487,000-a-month office lease in the Indeed Tower high-rise under construction in downtown Austin, a year after the American-Statesman first asked for the unredacted document and despite a recent opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office that it must comply. On Wednesday, the Statesman sought a court order compelling the taxpayer-funded state agency to abide by the attorney general’s ruling and release what advocates for open government contend is basic public information.

“One of the fundamental tenets of good government is that the people must be able to see how their money is spent,” Statesman Executive Editor John Bridges said. “Too often in Texas, lawmakers and courts have found ways to weaken our Public Information Act and put the interests of businesses over those of the people. The TRS lease is one of those cases.” Bridges noted that the newspaper has been successful over the past three years in pursuing open-records cases against the city of Austin, the University of Texas and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, “and we look forward to prevailing in this one.” “We all should demand good-faith compliance from our public institutions when it comes to open-records laws,” he said. “If these agencies truly acted in the people’s interests, we would not be forced to go to court to get access to the public’s records.”

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Austin American-Statesman - June 3, 2020

Officer assigned to Texas Capitol tests positive for coronavirus

A member of the security force temporarily assigned to the Texas Capitol has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the State Preservation Board. The agency was informed overnight that a COVID-19 case had been confirmed at the Capitol, which has had extra security during recent protests over police brutality.

“We understand the case involves the DPS/national guard security contingent temporarily assigned to the Capitol,” State Preservation Board spokesman Christopher Currens said in an email. A Texas National Guard spokesman confirmed that a service member who was responding to the protests is now following COVID-19 protocols. When a service member tests positive or has reason to believe they could have been exposed, the individual is quarantined and monitored, according to Texas Military Department press secretary Brandon Jones. “We can confirm that these measures were taken in a recent report involving a Texas Guardsman supporting the civil disturbance mission,” he said in an email.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 3, 2020

Bexar County GOP chair spread conspiracy theory that George Floyd killing may have been staged to hurt Trump

Bexar County Republican Party Chair Cynthia Brehm, who last week suggested that the coronavirus was a Democratic hoax, raised the possibility in a now-deleted Facebook post Wednesday that the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody was staged to damage President Donald Trump with black voters. The content of the post was not original to Brehm and was the subject of a PolitiFact published last Friday, which reported the post had been “flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed,” and that it had been “shared thousands of times and copy-pasted by other users.”

“There is no evidence to back it up,” PolitiFact reported. “We reached out to the original poster for a comment, but we haven’t heard back.” Late Wednesday afternoon, Gilbert Garcia, a columnist with the San Antonio Express-News, tweeted a screenshot he took of Brehm’s post earlier in the day. The post as it appeared on Brehm’s page is prefaced: “Tell me what you think: “Subject: George Floyd — a staged event?” The body of the post reads: “These officers were involved in something, I’m not sure exactly what, but something is just not adding up. “Also this supposed officer is now missing from his home, no where to be found has the smell of MK Ultra activation.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 4, 2020

How we got here: Battles over police reform raged in Austin for years before protests

The demonstrations in Austin decrying police brutality might have caught fire after the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos in Austin, but the fuse was lit years ago. The Austin Police Department has long faced criticism from City Council members and community activists about shooting deaths and use-of-force cases involving minorities, along with accusations of hyperaggressive tactics and racism within the department’s ranks. As the City Council prepares for an emergency hearing to review the Police Department’s treatment of protesters during the recent demonstrations, many hope the recent outcry will be the catalyst for police reforms that have long remained elusive, despite efforts to bring more transparency and accountability to the department.

The hearing had been scheduled for Thursday, but more than 330 citizens signed up to speak on the issue, prompting Mayor Steve Adler to propose delaying the hearing until 9 a.m. Friday. Citizens still would be heard Thursday. “I know that I’m resounding the sentiment of so many of our constituents when I say that the time for talk is absolutely over,” Natasha Harper-Madison, the City Council’s only African American member, said during a Tuesday council work session. Harper-Madison called on her fellow council members to do more to address racism -- and not to ignore what has been happening in the city. She said that when the council discusses meaningful change, all options should be on the table, including accountability, training policies, crowd control tactics, budgets, staffing and how officers are equipped. “And I hope my colleagues can hear me when I say, because I’m saying it alongside them, we hear their collective voice. But I want to add my voice to those collective voices of agony, calling for, demanding justice. And my hope is that my colleagues and I will answer that call,” she said.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 3, 2020

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo says Austin ‘radicals’ responsible for unrest in Houston

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo seemed to blame Austin “radicals” for unrest in Houston during protests against police brutality in a tweet Wednesday. The tweet claims “radicals” attempted to “hijack” a Houston march honoring George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck while Floyd pleaded for air. “Thankfully 99% of H-Town protestors [sic] wanted nothing to do with their antics,” Acevedo, who previously served as police chief in Austin before he departed in 2016, tweeted.

In response to another Twitter user, Acevedo wrote “I love the [sic] Austin. Don’t love people who came here not to protest, but to incite.” Acevedo seemed to make a similar claim in a series of videos posted to Twitter by NBC reporter Mike Hixenbaugh. “I know there’re people here from Austin yelling at me, but I’m here to tell you ‘You ain’t in Austin.’ You are in Houston. You are in H-town,” Acevedo is seen telling the crowd. “Don’t let anybody hijack this movement.” In another video Acevedo said “This isn’t Austin, Texas where they’re diverse as long as they’re east of 35. This is Houston, Texas, and for the people in Austin who want to come here and tear this (expletive) up, you’re in the wrong (expletive) city.”

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Houston Chronicle - June 3, 2020

From glow sticks to PPE: Houston, Harris County turn to offbeat vendors for pandemic supplies

By late March, Harris County Purchasing Agent DeWight Dopslauf was desperate. The novel coronavirus pandemic had reached the Houston area weeks earlier, and the county already had exhausted 75 percent of its supply of personal protective equipment needed for law enforcement officers, health workers and other frontline employees. The health department faced the prospect of closing desperately needed testing centers, which at times had only several hours’ worth of PPE on hand.

Dopslauf could not find new face masks. Some of the country’s largest suppliers, like 3M and Honeywell, were back-ordered for months. A shipment of 125,000 low-quality masks from the state health department, which resembled paper napkins bound with string, were of little use. “The first week and a half I panicked. I was calling everybody and their dog trying to find some,” Dopslauf said. “We placed a whole lot of orders, but nothing was coming in.” Some third-party brokers offered to supply PPE but demanded payment upfront; Dopslauf thought this would put the county at risk of getting scammed. Many of the unsolicited offers in his inbox daily seemed too good to be true. He would have to get creative. How he ultimately succeeded — through a sheriff’s deputy who knew a lapel pin maker who went to first grade with a millionaire Louisiana baby product manufacturer who purchased 250,000 masks from associates in China — illustrates the extraordinary lengths local governments have gone to secure PPE amid the pandemic.

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Houston Chronicle - June 3, 2020

Houston health officials fear George Floyd protest crowds will spur coronavirus surge

Harris County leaders and health experts Tuesday expressed concern that crowds gathered to protest the death of longtime Houstonian George Floyd will undo the area’s social distancing successes and cause a surge in novel coronavirus cases. The officials walked a delicate line, saying residents deserved to have their voices heard, while at the same time urging that protesters wear protective gear and try to maintain some sort of physical distance.

“The concern that public health departments across the country have is as we are in the midst of fighting this pandemic, we now have protests that are occurring where the very messages we’ve been putting out about social distancing, wearing facial coverings and doing all the preventative measures are in contrast to how people are coming together,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Harris County’s health director. “We also recognize the right of individuals to express themselves.” But a number of Texas Medical Center leaders who have led the push for social distancing were quiet about it Tuesday amid what seemed a more important cause.

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Dallas Morning News - June 3, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: President Trump refuses to pull America back from the abyss

Six days after the terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush did something no American president had ever done before. He visited a mosque. Less than a week after 19 terrorists who were Muslim attacked the U.S., Bush stood with leaders of the Islamic Center of Washington. He spoke to a crowd gathered for the occasion. He quoted from the Quran. He said, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”

At a time when people were afraid and enraged, when people were wounded and turning toward harassing Muslim Americans, when this country could have collapsed into warmongering and violence, the president led us to a place of civil peace. He modeled respect, and America followed. In 2016, five days after a peaceful protest against police brutality in downtown Dallas ended with a gunman killing five police officers, President Barack Obama paid us a visit. Along with Bush, Obama spoke at an interfaith memorial service for the officers at the Morton H. Meyerson Center. He quoted the Bible. He called the fallen officers by name and described each one and his family. And then he told Americans that police officers deserve our respect and the black communities that feel targeted deserve our attention. He told us he understands the feeling that the country is coming apart.

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Dallas Morning News - June 3, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott allows bars, offices, factories and gyms to operate at 50% capacity

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday said bars, offices, nonessential manufacturing plants and gyms in Texas could immediately begin operating at 50% capacity. Further relaxing coronavirus restrictions, Abbott said bar patrons will have to be seated, not standing, but can congregate in half the numbers they did before the pandemic. Announcing Phase III of his reopening plan, the governor allowed bars and virtually every other type of business that was restricted in Phase II to running at 25% capacity to jump to half-capacity if they wish, beginning Wednesday.

At restaurants, which since May 22 have been permitted to operate at 50% capacity indoors, Abbott said maximum table sizes immediately may jump to 10 patrons, from six. Starting June 12, restaurants will be permitted to run at 75% capacity, he said. "The people of Texas continue to prove that we can safely and responsibly open our state for business while containing COVID-19 and keeping our state safe,” Abbott said in a news release. For the first time, he let amusement parks plan on reopening, but on a staggered basis: Theme parks in counties that have had more than 1,000 cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 won’t be able to reopen theme parks such as Six Flags and Sea World until June 19 -- and even then, at 50% capacity. Those in counties with fewer than 1,000 cases, though, such as Schlitterbahn, at both its locations, in New Braunfels and Galveston, may open at half-capacity immediately.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 3, 2020

Appeals court overturns record $706M San Antonio jury verdict

A state appeals court Wednesday overturned a record $706 million verdict rendered by a San Antonio jury more than two years ago. The 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio reversed a trial court’s judgment on real estate analytic firm HouseCanary Inc.’s fraud and misappropriation of trade secret claims against Amrock Inc., a Detroit home appraisal company affiliated with Quicken Loans Inc. Amrock formerly was known as Title Source Inc.

The two claims were sent back to a state District Court in San Antonio for a new trial. Max Tribble, a Houston attorney representing HouseCanary, predicted the company will file an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court. “The folks at Amrock are thrilled with the result,” said San Antonio attorney David Prichard, who represents the company. “We were satisfied the Court of Appeals unanimously saw it our way.” The court didn’t deliver a complete victory for Amrock, though. The three-judge panel affirmed the trial court’s judgment that Amrock should receive nothing on its breach of contract claim against HouseCanary. Following a seven-week trial in 2018, a 12-person jury found in favor of HouseCanary. Amrock was ordered to pay $235.4 million in compensatory damages and $470.8 million in punitive damages.

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The Guardian - June 3, 2020

Texas Democrats plan to create a voter registration army – via Zoom

Texas Democrats plan to use Zoom to create an army of voter registration volunteers, a novel approach to work around the state’s severe restrictions on voter registration during the Covid-19 pandemic. The effort comes as voter registration efforts, both in Texas and around the US have effectively stalled just months before the presidential election. Texas makes it extremely difficult to conduct voter registration drives, even outside of the pandemic. The state requires anyone who wants to do so to become a volunteer deputy registrar, a process that requires going to a county-run training.

Only Texas residents who are eligible to vote in the state can get the certification. Texas has 254 counties, but someone can only legally register voters in the county in which they are deputized and their certification expires at the end of every even-numbered year. Some states place no restrictions on voter registration drives at all, while others have more modest ones in place like requiring groups to register with the state before they begin their drive. Civil rights groups have long called the Texas requirement a form of voter suppression. “Texas has some of the strictest voter registration laws in the country,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “In Texas, volunteer deputy registrars can be criminally prosecuted for what most of us would consider administrative errors while they’re registering people.” Working around the state’s barriers, the Texas Democratic party plans to partner with a local election official in Travis county to conduct a mass deputization during its virtual state convention this week. More than 2,000 people have already signed up for the training on Saturday, which will allow the party to get an unprecedented number of people certified at once.

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News Channel 6 - June 3, 2020

Wichita Falls museums hesitant to reopen

Some museums in Wichita Falls have reopened but Kell House and the Museum of North Texas History’s doors remain closed. They fear the Governor’s sanitation guidelines for public places is just not possible to follow for all the historical artifacts they preserve.

“We have a historical house with historical wood in it," said Nadine Mckown, site director for Kell House. "We can’t use Lysol or alcohol to clean this stuff, so I can’t really sanitize anything.” Despite having to shut their doors and cancel some events because of COVID-19 not everything has been bad. The Museum of North Texas History was actually able to use this time to complete renovations that couldn’t have been done during normal business hours. Both museums still have no reopening date set at this time, but they will be keeping everyone updated on their Facebook pages.

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OC Register - June 3, 2020

Cornyn calls on Justice Department to release report on FBI’s handling of Nassar case

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is calling on the Justice Department’s inspector general to release his office’s report on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s handling of its investigation into former U.S. Olympic and USA Gymnastics women’s national team physician Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of young gymnasts. Cornyn in a letter to Michael Horowitz, the inspector general, Tuesday said he is “deeply concerned about evidence of the FBI’s lack of urgency” in investigating allegations against Nassar in 2015 and 2016.

Between August and October 2018, Office of Inspector General investigators and FBI agents from local field offices interviewed Olympic champions Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber, and Maggie Nichols, a 2015 World champion, and their parents about the FBI’s investigation of Nassar, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Southern California News Group. The Justice Department, however, still has not released the OIG report on the FBI’s role in the Nassar scandal a year and a half after the OIG official leading the investigation told parties in the case that the investigators’ report had been forwarded to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section. Two federal prosecutors in the PIS also confirmed they had received the report nearly a year ago, an attorney involved in the case said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 4, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Gov. Abbott, other leaders keep blaming outsiders for protest violence. Don’t buy it

Elected officials all over the country, and of every political stripe, have discovered something astonishing about those making trouble during protests of police brutality: They are always from somewhere else. It started in Minnesota, where the killing of black resident George Floyd by a white officer set off a wave of national anger. Gov. Tim Walz said, implausibly, that 80 percent of looters and rioters were out-of-towners. The mayor of St. Paul went even further, saying all those arrested were from other states. Both claims had to be walked back. Miami officials made similar false statements and had to retreat. And yet, Gov. Greg Abbott waded into this water Tuesday.

“Some of the violence that we’re seeing is not being done by people who reside in Dallas, or even in Texas,” he said in an appearance with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. “Instead, the violence is coming into Texas from across state lines. It’s committed by criminals who are hijacking peaceful protests in order to plunder and in order to loot.” Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw added that there’s evidence organized groups, such as antifa, were working to bring violence into the state. We asked DPS for specifics, and a spokeswoman said that local police departments had reported arrests of people from at least five other states, including as far as New York. The agency did not reply to a follow-up question about what share of overall arrests were of out-of-staters or what evidence McCraw was citing.

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KXAN - June 3, 2020

Gov. Abbott concerned about COVID-19 rise with protests, encourages policing legislation

In an interview on KXAN News at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott added more clarity on the plan to move into Phase Three of the state’s reopening strategy and encouraged Texas lawmakers to start legislation on policing policies immediately. Effective immediately, the state’s third phase for reopening the economy during the coronavirus pandemic is in place, Gov. Abbott announced on Wednesday. The final part of the state’s strategy allows most businesses to operate at 50% capacity, starting Wednesday. On June 12, restaurants may expand their capacity limits to 75%.

Gov. Abbott has passionately spoken against the events that happened with George Floyd in Minneapolis calling Floyd’s death in police custody “horrific.” “My first response is one of anger because what happened to George Floyd is horrific. Should never happen…we need to make sure nothing like this happens in the state of Texas,” Gov. Abbott said. “There is a reason why people are angry and protesting about this. It’s part of the United States of America where people have a First Amendment right to voice their complaints about actions like this. At the same time, we need to make sure the protests remain free from violence, from vandalism because the First Amendment does not authorize someone to throw a brick through a glass window and destroy somebody’s property. That’s exactly why we have law enforcement out to make sure that all protests remain peaceful.”

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The Batallion - June 3, 2020

Joshua Howell: His name is Justin Howell

The news broke in the Texas Tribune at around 7:30 in the evening, or roughly halfway on my trip from Austin back to my apartment in College Station. The headline read: “Austin police critically injured a black man during protests against police violence.” I knew who this unidentified black man was at around 5:45 that morning, though I confess I sometimes have trouble thinking of him as a “man.” His name is Justin Howell. And he is my little brother. As this column has argued before, if you really want to know what happened, there is no substitute for the raw, unedited video. In it, you will see five people carrying Justin’s limp body toward police headquarters, begging the officers to get him medical attention.

As they do, the police fire some 15 rounds (many of which were at the protesters carrying my brother) over the course of about 30 seconds. “What the f---?” one of them yells. Exactly. Because the five people carrying Justin weren’t “begging” to get him medical attention — at least not in the typical sense. According to Chief of Police Brian Manley in a recent press briefing, the protesters “were given direction to bring [Justin] to the officers” after which the demonstrators “were fired upon with less-lethal munitions as they brought [Justin] towards the officers to get him medical help.” Think about that. It’s unclear whether the officers who shot at the protesters were the same ones who gave them the order to approach. But at minimum, it takes a special kind of incompetence to fire at those who are doing as the police tell them. At minimum, it shows a complete inability to be aware of your surroundings and to manage the situation appropriately. There is no better evidence that here in Austin, Texas, the police are entirely out of their depth.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 3, 2020

San Antonio police chief says officers may use tear gas, rubber bullets if protesters start throwing objects at the officers

Mayor Ron Nirenberg wants San Antonio Police Chief William McManus to clearly explain to protesters what provokes officers to use force after a confrontation turned violent in downtown San Antonio on Tuesday night. “Our goal is to protect peaceful demonstrators’ rights to voice their demands for equal treatment of all Americans and their desire for criminal justice reform,” Nirenberg said in a statement. “Their goals are laudable.” A couple of hours later, McManus issued a statement of his own, saying police will take measures to disperse crowds — including tear gas, pepper balls and rubber and wood projectiles — when objects are thrown at officers.

McManus deemed those “less than lethal options” and said the projectiles become necessary because “instigators” often wear gas masks impervious to tear gas. “Typically, police will issue several warnings, but very fluid situations do not always allow for that,” McManus said. Tuesday night, a line of San Antonio police met about 100 protesters at Alamo Plaza. SAPD officials said glass bottles had been thrown at officers; several video recordings show plastic water bottles being thrown at the plaza but no glass. Police fired pepper balls, smoke, wooden and rubber projectiles at the marchers. When a person was injured with a wooden bullet Tuesday night, the mayor was asked on Twitter whether he was OK with that use of force. “No, I'm not,” Nirenberg responded Tuesday night. “I am asking for more information on these projectiles.”

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San Antonio Express-News - June 4, 2020

Elaine Ayala: San Antonio’s stimulus proposal reads like a long overdue anti-poverty plan

San Antonio’s City Council will consider a $191 million stimulus proposal Thursday to help residents recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and make them more resilient. The document before council, “COVID-19 City Response and Community Resiliency & Recovery,” calls for housing assistance, aid to small businesses and training for San Antonians who lost jobs. It will help house more homeless people and expand domestic violence prevention and intervention, among other services for the poorest and hardest hit.

Money will come from the federal CARES Act and the city’s general fund. It reads like an anti-poverty program that took a pandemic to propel into existence. A coalition of progressive groups have called on council to delay the vote until more information is provided and more residents can voice their opinions. A little more than $27 million in the package will bridge San Antonio’s digital divide, a long-festering problem that has made unequal educational opportunities even more unequal. The plan will attempt to close the homework gap by providing broadband access to low-income households by way of private wireless networks.

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Dallas Morning News - June 3, 2020

A Dallas man lost his eye in a protest. Now he wants Police Chief Hall to find those responsible

Brandon Saenz was looking for his friend at a May 30 protest in downtown Dallas when he says he saw a line of police. Then, he said, he was hit with so-called less-lethal ammunition that shattered his left eye. Now Saenz, his family and lawyers are demanding Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall denounce the incident and find the person responsible.

Dallas police have not returned The Dallas Morning News’ requests for comment, but two officers talked to Saenz on Wednesday. According to the department’s internal policies, less-lethal ammunition such as pepper balls and sponge bullets “should never be used to intentionally target the head, neck, face, eyes, or spine, unless deadly force is justified." It’s unknown what Saenz was hit with. “I just want my justice,” Saenz said Wednesday, recounting the incident and flanked by his father and lawyers. Saenz, a black man who turned 26 Wednesday, lost his eye, seven teeth and fractured the left side of his face. Saenz said he was near the Dallas Public Library’s downtown branch across from City Hall where a peaceful demonstration had started around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday when he saw officers and heard a “boom.”

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National Stories

New York Times - June 3, 2020

Steve King, House Republican with a history of racist remarks, loses primary

Representative Steve King of Iowa, the nine-term Republican with a history of racist comments who only recently became a party pariah, lost his bid for renomination early Wednesday, one of the biggest defeats of the 2020 primary season in any state. Mr. King was defeated by Randy Feenstra, a state senator, who had the backing of mainstream state and national Republicans who found Mr. King an embarrassment and, crucially, a threat to a safe Republican seat if he were on the ballot in November. The loss was most likely the final political blow to one of the nation’s most divisive elected officials, whose insults of undocumented immigrants foretold the messaging of President Trump, and whose flirtations with extremism led him far from rural Iowa, to meetings with anti-Muslim crusaders in Europe and an endorsement of a Toronto mayoral candidate with neo-Nazi ties.

In interviews over the years, voters in Iowa’s most conservative region downplayed Mr. King’s incendiary comments. His loss after 18 years in office was mainly because opponents painted him as ineffective after party leaders in Congress stripped him of his committee assignments last year. That move came after comments that Mr. King made in an interview with The New York Times in 2019, in which he asked, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” The remarks caused an uproar. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, told Mr. King to “find another line of work.” Instead, Mr. King clung to his seat, claiming to be the victim of Republican insiders and of the news media. Now Mr. Feenstra, a political and social conservative in a deep-red district in northwest Iowa, is the odds-on favorite to hold the seat against J.D. Scholten, who nearly defeated Mr. King two years ago and ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

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New York Times - June 3, 2020

Ella Jones is elected first black mayor of Ferguson, Mo.

Ella Jones became the first African-American and first woman elected mayor in Ferguson, Mo., on Tuesday, nearly six years after the city erupted in protests after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager, propelling Ferguson into the national spotlight and galvanizing the Black Lives Matter movement. The victory for Ms. Jones, a Ferguson City Council member, came as another night of protests unfolded throughout the country over the killing of George Floyd and persistent police brutality against black Americans. Ms. Jones, 65, and her opponent, Heather Robinett, 49, had both vowed to continue changes enacted after the 2014 shooting of Mr. Brown, including a federal consent decree, a legally binding agreement requiring reforms to a police department.

And both had made clear that they supported peaceful protests after the killing of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis, while condemning the violence that has broken out in several cities. “I’ve got work to do — because when you’re an African-American woman, they require more of you than they require of my counterpart,” Ms. Jones said after her victory, in a video posted online Tuesday night by the journalist Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio. “I know the people in Ferguson are ready to stabilize their community, and we’re going to work together to get it done.” Ms. Jones, who prevailed with 54 percent of the vote, will succeed James Knowles III, who has been the mayor since 2011 and could not run for re-election because of term limits. Ms. Jones lost to Mr. Knowles in the 2017 mayoral election. A resident of Ferguson for more than 40 years, Ms. Jones is also a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

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Associated Press - June 3, 2020

Esper says no military for protests amid troop confusion

Defense Secretary Mark Esper declared on Wednesday he opposes using military troops for law enforcement in containing current street protests, tamping down threats from President Donald Trump, who had warned states he was willing to send soldiers to “dominate” their streets. Less than 48 hours after the president threatened to use the Insurrection Act to contain protests if governors were not able to get a handle on unrest, Esper said the 1807 law should be invoked in the United States “only in the most urgent and dire of situations.” He added, “We are not in one of those situations now.”

Yet Esper abruptly overturned an earlier Pentagon decision to send a couple hundred active-duty soldiers home from the Washington, D.C., region, amid growing tensions with the White House over the military response to the protests. At Trump’s encouragement, Esper had ordered about 1,300 Army personnel to military bases just outside the nation’s capital. Defense officials said some of the troops were beginning to return to their home base Wednesday, but after Esper visited the White House following a press conference, plans changed, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press. The reversal added to confusion over the president’s threat to invoke the Insurrection Act for protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. White House officials had indicated even before Esper’s comments that Trump was backing away from invoking the act, though officials said Trump was upset that Esper’s statement conveyed “weakness.” Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president was still willing to deploy federal troops despite Esper’s comments.

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Associated Press - June 4, 2020

8:46: A number becomes a potent symbol of police brutality

All protest movements have slogans. George Floyd's has a number: 8:46 Eight minutes, 46 seconds is the length of time prosecutors say Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was pinned to the ground under a white Minneapolis police officer's knee before he died last week. In the days since, outraged protesters, allies and sympathetic companies have seized on the detail as a quiet way to honor Floyd at a time of angry and sometimes violent clashes with police.

Even as prosecutors have said little about how they arrived at the precise number, it has fast grown into a potent symbol of the suffering Floyd — and many other black men — have experienced at the hands of police. In Boston and Tacoma, Washington, demonstrators this week lay down on streets staging “die-ins" for precisely 8 minutes, 46 seconds. In Houston, churchgoers held candles and bowed their heads in silence, experiencing the crawl of time. ViacomCBS, owner of MTV and Nickelodeon, stopped its programming earlier this week to air a silent, somber video honoring Floyd for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.

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CNN - June 3, 2020

Gun-toting members of the Boogaloo movement are showing up at protests

Benjamin Ryan Teeter was at his home in Hampstead, N.C., when the call to action came. It was an alert from the heart of the raging protests in Minneapolis, posted on an online forum by a fellow member of the Boogaloo movement, a loosely knit group of heavily armed, anti-government extremists. The "alert" was from a man who had a run-in with the Minneapolis police while on the frontline of the police-brutality protests set off by the death of George Floyd. "He caught mace to the face," said Teeter, and "put out a national notice to our network."

After Teeter -- who goes by Ryan -- said he saw the online posting, he and a handful of other Boogaloo friends in the area mobilized. They grabbed their guns -- mostly assault rifles -- hopped into their vehicles, and made the 18-hour trek to Minneapolis. The Boogaloos are an emerging incarnation of extremism that seems to defy easy categorization. They are yet another confounding factor in the ongoing effort among local, state and federal officials to puzzle out the political sympathies of the agitators showing up to the mostly peaceful George Floyd rallies who have destroyed property, looted businesses, or -- in the case of the Boogaloos who descended on Minneapolis -- walked around the streets with assault rifles. Boogaloo members appear to hold conflicting ideological views with some identifying as anarchists and others rejecting formal titles. Some pockets of the group have espoused white supremacy while others reject it. But they have at least two things in common: an affinity for toting around guns in public and a "boogaloo" rallying cry, which is commonly viewed as code for another US civil war.

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Star Tribune - June 3, 2020

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison upgraded charges against officer who knelt on George Floyd's neck; charges other 3 involved

Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office on Wednesday upgraded charges against the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck and charged the other three officers at the scene with aiding and abetting murder. The decision came just two days after Ellison took over the prosecution from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and followed more than a week of at-times violent protests calling for tougher charges against former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, who had pinned Floyd to the ground and held him there for nearly nine minutes.

Protesters also demanded the arrests of the three other former officers who were present but failed to intervene. At least one of them was in custody late Wednesday afternoon. “We strongly believe these developments are in the interest of justice for Mr. Floyd, his family, this community and our state,” Ellison said. “George Floyd mattered. He was loved, his family was important and his life had value,” Ellison said. “We will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it.” However, he acknowledged, “I don’t believe one successful prosecution can reflect the hurt and loss that people feel.” Chauvin, who was recorded on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he begged for air on Memorial Day, now faces the more serious charge of second-degree murder, in addition to the original charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence.

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NBC News - June 3, 2020

Esper revises account of what he knew about Trump's church photo-op

Revising an earlier account, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he was aware of the Monday night plan to visit a Washington church — where President Donald Trump posed for photos holding a bible — but he didn't know what would happen when they arrived. “I did know that following the president’s remarks on Monday evening that many of us were going to join President Trump and review the damage in Lafayette Park and at St John’s Episcopal Church," Esper said in a Wednesday press briefing. "What I was not aware of was exactly where we were going when I arrived at the church and what the plans were once we got there.” The account amounted to a revision of what he told NBC News Tuesday night. It also diverged from what a Pentagon official said earlier Tuesday.

In the NBC News interview, Esper said he was aware of the plan to observe the vandalized bathroom in Lafayette Square and believed they were also going to speak with troops. But Esper didn’t make clear that he knew about the trip to the church. "I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops," Esper said in the exclusive Tuesday night interview. “I didn’t know where I was going,” he added. After the story was published, a Pentagon spokesman said Esper was aware the church, which was damaged by fire the night before, was one of the sites they planned to view. The spokesman reiterated that Esper didn't know the president was going to use it as a photo opportunity. Esper’s remarks about the Monday events have fixed attention on Trump’s widely criticized visit to St. John’s Church. Officers used flash bang grenades to clear out peaceful protesters before Trump and a group of senior administration officials and aides walked across Lafayette Square to the historic church. Speaking Wednesday, Esper did not directly answer a reporter’s question about whether he regretted participating in the presidential photo opportunity. “Look, I do everything I can to try and stay apolitical and try to stay out of situations that may appear political,” Esper said. “Sometimes, I’m successful and sometimes I’m not as successful.”

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Newsclips - June 3, 2020

Lead Stories

Politico - June 2, 2020

Trump slams North Carolina and says he's moving GOP convention elsewhere

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Republicans will seek another state instead of North Carolina to hold its August convention after a prolonged standoff with the state's Democratic governor. "Would have showcased beautiful North Carolina to the World, and brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, and jobs, for the State," Trump tweeted. "Because of" Gov. Roy Cooper, he added, "we are now forced to seek another State to host the 2020 Republican National Convention." The tweet came hours after Cooper rejected the GOP’s plans for a full-fledged convention in Charlotte, telling Republican officials the only way the event would move forward is with proper health protocols in place.

“The people of North Carolina do not know what the status of COVID-19 will be in August, so planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity," Cooper wrote in a letter to the RNC. The letter was a rebuke of the fully attended convention that the RNC and the president had been pushing for despite concerns about spread of the coronavirus. In previous meetings with the Democratic-led state administration, GOP officials made clear the president’s desire for a 50,000-person convention without social distancing or mask-wearing measures and full-capacity hotels, restaurants and bars. Republicans had already begun weighing other locations. Party officials are planning a visit to Nashville later this week. Other possibilities include Las Vegas; Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida; and Georgia. All of the prospective sites have directly expressed interest in hosting the convention, and party officials say it’s likely they will visit several of them in the coming days. Other states also are likely to make a play. Arizona, which has a Republican governor, is among the states voicing interest in recent days, according to two people briefed on the process.

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Houston Chronicle - June 3, 2020

Tens of thousands march on downtown Houston to memorialize George Floyd

The sound of George Floyd’s name reverberated around the downtown streets of the city where he grew up, where tens of thousands of people rallied demanding justice, demanding accountability, demanding change. “Say his name!” “George Floyd!” People of all backgrounds had gathered for the Tuesday rally at Discovery Green organized by Black Lives Matter and rapper Trae Tha Truth. In the beating-down heat, they followed a procession of Floyd’s family and Houston public officials to a gathering in front of City Hall.

Tensions would later flare as police worked to get protesters to leave the area after dark, but, to begin, protesters and police took a knee, a gesture that has become a powerful symbol in the Black Lives Matter movement. It also brought back imagery of how Floyd died. It had been eight days since a video showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck, as Floyd repeatedly pleaded for air. His death inspired protests in cities around the world, including Houston, where residents now came together yet again to make their voices heard. They arrived on horseback and on foot from all reaches of the sprawling city, forming one of the biggest protest crowds here in recent memory; organizers estimated attendance at 60,000. With political support, and leadership from those who knew Floyd, people in his diverse hometown were standing up for one of their own. “We know the world’s watching right now,” Trae tha Truth (whose given name is Frazier Thompson III) told the crowd. “George sparked the change in the world that we need right now.”

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Texas Tribune - June 2, 2020

As coronavirus hits Texas, the state's top health official is spending 30 hours a week on a second job — that pays $600,000

The acting head of Texas’ massive health and human services bureaucracy, who is leading a 36,600 employee agency during a global pandemic, is also working a second job as the well-paid general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority, a quasi-state agency — funded without state tax dollars — that provides water and electricity to more than a million Texans. And despite temporarily heading one of Texas’ largest and most high-profile agencies, acting Executive Commissioner Phil Wilson is not on state payroll. Instead, he continues to earn $636,694 from the river authority, more than double what the previous health commissioner made.

Political scientists say it’s an atypical arrangement at an atypical time — one that let the governor tap an experienced and well-respected person during a crisis without asking Wilson to take a pay cut and leave a plum river authority position. They also raised questions about how sustainable it is to have the state’s top health official holding another management position at the same time. “There are only so many hours in a day, and if somebody's splitting their work product between two employers, something could fall through the cracks,” said University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus. “HHSC is the biggest agency in the state and would seem to require a full-time, dedicated employee to run it. … I'm surprised that either agency is comfortable with this arrangement.” Wilson, a longtime fixture in Texas government circles, has straddled both organizations since March, when coronavirus cases started ticking up in Texas. He is working seven days a week and approximately 50 hours for the health commission, and at least 30 hours for the river authority, said spokespeople for both organizations.

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The Hill - June 3, 2020

Bush administration alums form pro-Biden super PAC

Former officials from the George W. Bush administration have formed a super PAC to support former Vice President Joe Biden’s White House campaign. The super PAC, dubbed 43 Alumni For Biden, referring to the 43rd president, was formed Monday, according to a Tuesday filing with the Federal Election Commission.

Karen Kirksey, a former Treasury Department official from the Bush administration, is listed as the group’s treasurer and custodian of records. The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill regarding who else will be involved in the group or what it intends to do to support Biden. Biden has already all but locked up the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination but is facing what is widely expected to be a grueling general election battle against President Trump.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 2, 2020

‘Makes far more sense than buying up toilet paper’: Gun and doomsday bunker sales spike in Texas

In times of uncertainty, many rush to buy bread, eggs and milk. In Texas, they’re lining up to buy guns and safety bunkers. “The phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Ron Hubbard, owner of Atlas Survival Shelters, which is headquartered an hour east of Dallas in Sulphur Springs. Gun sales rose 80% in May compared to a year ago, according to data released by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a consulting firm that tracks the global small arms and ammunition markets.

It’s been a particularly anxious 2020, with the outbreak of COVID-19 shuttering the economy for months followed by a wave of protests across the U.S. after the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd’s asphyxiation has resurfaced widespread concerns of systemic racism among police. Protests have taken place in Dallas daily since Friday and turned destructive last weekend. Hubbard said people want a plan B if things get worse. “The protests are just another reason in the pile of why people want a bunker this year,” he said. “They want somewhere to hide their family in case of looters.” Hubbard, who has over 250,000 subscribers on YouTube, said the average price of a bunker he sells is $75,000, but they start in the $20,000 to $25,000 range. “Why should only millionaires survive?” he said. Rising S Company, a Murchison-based bunker and bomb shelter manufacturer, made a sale this week to a customer motivated by protest concerns, said general manager Gary Lynch. “They’re scared of war on their own territory,” he said.

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Dallas Morning News - June 2, 2020

Jobless Texans can now receive an additional 13 weeks of unemployment pay

Texans who exhaust their unemployment benefits will receive another 13-week extension, the state’s unemployment agency announced Tuesday. The Texas Workforce Commission said the state had triggered its extended benefits program with the federal government, which will kick in the week ending July 4. The program provides federal reimbursement for 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits. Normally, the state allows people to receive unemployment benefits for 26 weeks. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in late March, which gave people who had exhausted their benefits 13 additional weeks of aid under a program called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

That program kicked in March 29. Those who exhaust the additional 13 weeks provided by that program, will now receive another lifeline from the state through the extended benefits program. That means with the federal help, the number of weeks of unemployment pay provided to unemployed Texans has doubled from 26 to 52 -- a full year. The triggering of the extended benefits program is a recognition that the state’s economy is in trouble. The program, which dates back to 1971, is triggered during periods of high unemployment. Texas has an unemployment rate of 12.8%. Texans on unemployment do not need to reapply for extended benefits. If they remain eligible, recipients should continue to receive benefits in the same amount they are already receiving. Unemployed Texans will also continue receiving the additional $600 weekly benefits the CARES Act provided. But those payments will end July 25.

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Dallas Morning News - June 2, 2020

Texas Gov. Abbott: Horrific George Floyd death must be met with change, peaceful protests

Flanked by the mayors and police chiefs of North Texas’ two largest cities, Gov. Greg Abbott expressed horror at the killing of George Floyd, stressed lawful protests and the beginning of conversations with state and civic leaders to enact change. Abbott on Sunday declared a state he of disaster in all counties across the state over ongoing protests, some of which have turned violent. He said Tuesday that while he wouldn’t request intervention from the United States military, Texas DPS troopers and National Guard are being deployed to help. But he fell short of any specific policy changes beyond ongoing discussions with legislators.

Protests over police brutality and Floyd’s May 25 death erupted during the past week in major cities across the United States. Dallas and Fort Worth both experienced some violence and vandalism during the mostly peaceful protests, which continued Tuesday. “Lets be clear,” said Abbott, anger rising in his voice in the Dallas City Hall chamber, “what happened to George Floyd is a horrific act of police brutality.” Outside Dallas City Hall, several council members stood alongside a large group of demonstrators who criticized city officials for what they considered muted responses to the calls for police accountability. Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano held a sign that said, “silence=violence.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 2, 2020

Cruz and Cornyn stand by Trump on tear gas and church photo-op, as Texas Democrats slam dictator-like tactics

With Democrats slamming President Donald Trump for employing dictatorial tactics against protesters, Texas’ senators defended his push for a military response – and his photo-op at a church near the White House after riot police cleared a path for him with tear gas and rubber bullets. A handful of Texas Republicans in the U.S. House praised Trump’s actions. But most remained mum Tuesday on an uproar that exposed raw divisions on race relations, the president, and the balance between free speech and law and order. “This is a terrorist assault in our country, and rioting cannot be tolerated,” Sen. Ted Cruz said on Fox News. As for the church photo-op, he added, “It was strong and powerful for the president to go there and say, we will not be cowed.”

Texas Democrats seethed at the spectacle of riot police forcing protesters from Lafayette Park so Trump could walk to St. John’s – the “church of presidents” – where he held a Bible aloft in a show of piety and power they found repugnant and cynical. “Dictators throughout history have turned their militaries on protesters,” Dallas Rep. Colin Allred said on Twitter. “The Bible is not a prop,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, another Dallas Democrat, who said she was “shocked” at the tactics used so Trump could visit a church "that he doesn’t attend regularly for a photo op.” She painted him as both a coward and a bully for “hiding in a bunker” and then trying to "deploy the military on American streets against peaceful protesters.” Trump’s Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, stood at Philadelphia’s City Hall and asserted that he is “consumed with his blinding ego” and incapable of heeling divisions.

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Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2020

EPA moves against states' pipeline blockade, earning Cruz, other Texas Republicans' praise

The Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead on a regulatory shift designed to limit the ability of states to block natural gas pipeline projects in the name of climate change. Sparked by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to block a series of pipeline projects runnning through his state, the final rule issued Monday would allow states to halt projects for matters of water contaminati0n, not wider environmental concerns, and force them to make their decisions within a year. The move drew applause from oil and gas proponents, which have long pushed to limit the ability of states to block infrastructure projects.

“For far too long, environmental activists and Green New Deal enthusiasts have sought to abuse the Clean Water Act to indefinitely delay infrastructure projects and limit critical interstate commerce," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a statement. Last year President Donald Trump ordered the EPA to take steps to limit the ability of governors to slow construction of infrastructure projects, drawing widespread opposition from environmental groups. "The Trump administration’s rule guts states' and tribes' authority to safeguard their waters, allowing it to ram through pipelines and other projects that can decimate vital water resources," said Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This is a dangerous mistake. It makes a mockery of this EPA’s claimed respect for ‘cooperative federalism.'"

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Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2020

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta: 'I love the protesting'

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said Tuesday he would encourage his employees with the Rockets and Landry’s to speak out on the issues that have led to protests and unrest throughout the country since the death of George Floyd saying, “I love the protesting.” In an interview on CNBC, Fertitta distinguished between speaking out on international and domestic issues, though earlier in the conversation he had said he said that it was disappointing that the Rockets “got in trouble” for comments early in the season in an apparent reference to general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of protesters in Hong Kong.

"Speaking up on an issue in America and speaking up on an issue somewhere else in the world are two different matters,” Fertitta said. “In America, we have free speech and we can do whatever we want to do and say whatever we want and not be penalized because of it. That’s why we all love this country so much. One hundred percent I believe you should not be a political organization because we have 60,000 employees and 100 million customers and we don’t all agree. “When it comes to an issue like this in America, you should speak out and say what you want. And I encourage all my employees from my basketball team to my restaurants to my hotels and casinos to speak out on this issue and let’s make this country better that we live in and has been great for so many of us." Earlier in the interview, he referenced the fallout from Morey’s tweet when he was speaking in favor of the ongoing protests throughout the country and decrying the “distraction” that has come with looting in many cities.

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Houston Chronicle - June 3, 2020

Joe Biden taps Julián Castro for help on police reforms

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro joined forces with former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday, giving him a wholehearted endorsement and agreeing to help Biden push police reforms in the wake of the killing of former Houston resident George Floyd. After Castro endorsed Biden on Twitter, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president replied to Castro directly asking him for help in crafting policies on the matter. “Julián — I made a promise to George's family that he wouldn't just become another hashtag. We're going to tackle this head-on — and we're going to need your help to do it,” Biden said.

Up until now, Castro has been noticeably absent from the campaign trail for Biden. While other former Democratic contenders for the White House, including Beto O’Rourke and Elizabeth Warren, have done campaign events for Biden, Castro had offered limited expressions of support. Castro was one of the earliest candidates for the White House to roll out a comprehensive plan for police reform. That plan, released in June of last year, called for ending “over-aggressive policing” aimed at minority communities and doing more to hold bad police accountable for their actions. “The system is broken,” Castro said when he released that plan. Floyd, a Houstonian, died in Minnesota police custody last week as an officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, pinning him to the ground for nearly nine minutes.

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Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2020

Prairie View A&M to launch a race and justice center in wake of George Floyd death

Prairie View A&M University is launching a Center for Race and Justice and requiring a mandatory class on the history of race for incoming students in the wake of the tragic death of Houston native George Floyd. Prairie View President Ruth Simmons announced those and other initiatives in a heartfelt letter to the historically black university’s community Monday. The public outrage, riots, marches and uprisings in Houston and in cities around the country in response to Floyd’s death needed a proactive response, she said.

“For too long, we have been content to have others dictate the limits of our ability to act: individuals who call for a different course of action, those who are concerned about controversy, those who advocate ‘staying in our lane,’” Simmons wrote. Floyd, who is originally from Houston and grew up in the Third Ward, died while in Minneapolis police custody last week. Simmons said the university will propose a Center for Race and Justice and “encourage teaching and scholarship that contributes positively to overturning systemic biases that impede the ability of minorities and other groups to be accorded their full rights under the U.S. Constitution.” The center, led by endowed political science professor Melanye Price, must be approved by the Texas A&M University System, its board of regents and the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 2, 2020

Competency finding in case against former Capitol staffer in shooting rampage suspect goes unchallenged

During a hearing Tuesday, no one disputed a doctor’s decision that a former Texas Capitol staffer accused of killing his neighbor and then going on a shooting rampage in 2018 was competent to stand trial. Charles Curry, 31, is charged with murder and aggravated assault. The competency finding will allow prosecutors to continue their case, which has been in limbo since Curry was previously deemed incompetent to stand trial in September. A judge had ordered Curry be sent to a state psychiatric hospital in Vernon, but a spot never became available and he was treated at the Travis County Correctional Complex.

Medication has significantly helped Curry’s competency restoration, said Curry’s attorney, David Gonzalez, citing the doctor’s report. “The doctor has recommended that his medication be increased, and I agree that is the best path for his improved competency,” Gonzalez said Tuesday. “I wish Charles had been able to be treated at Vernon State Hospital where there is a more focused speciality in effective medications to restore people from states of insanity and incompetence. The path at Del Valle has been slower, but we are getting there.” Police say Curry fatally shot his neighbor, 32-year-old Christian Meroney, in July 2018 at the Post South Lamar Apartments. He shot and wounded two more people days later in unconnected incidents. Questions about the role mental health played in the attacks came to light last year through emails that showed Curry had, months before the shootings, displayed a pattern of odd behavior that led to him being banned from the Capitol.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 2, 2020

Protesters gather at Capitol, Austin police HQ for fifth day of demonstrations

Wednesday midnight update: Public demonstrations against police brutality and racial violence continued in Austin on Tuesday for a fifth day. Protesters rallied with signs in front of the Austin Police Department headquarters and the Texas State Capitol throughout the afternoon and evening. Demonstrations sparked last week after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, drawing thousands to the streets across the country. Protesters in Austin have also taken aim at Austin police after an officer fatally shot 42-year-old Michael Ramos in April.

Protesters on Tuesday expressed anger at Austin police. Police Chief Brian Manley on Monday said officers seriously injured two people during the weekend’s protests. Around 9:30 p.m., KVUE reported that protesters at the Police Department headquarters were alerted when a pick up truck drove recklessly close to where protesters were rallying. Richard Ham, who is black and said he had attended protests in Austin since Saturday, said he understands the anger of many people in the African American community though he did not support the violent acts reported over the weekend. “While a lot of people are here due to what happened with George Floyd, I think a lot of people are also just fed up with the combination of a lot of events and the systematic racism and injustice that has been going on for centuries and decades,” he said. “People have protested peacefully, and we’re still going through the same things,” Ham added. “So it gets to a point where, obviously, that is not working.”

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Austin American-Statesman - June 3, 2020

STATESMAN POWER POLL: Mail-in voting expansion receives strong support

Mail-in voting should be expanded, say participants in the latest Statesman Power Poll, which surveys influential Central Texans on local, regional and national issues. Poll respondents also supported a second federal stimulus check but were split on whether they agreed with the reopening of bars in Texas.

The May edition of the Statesman Power Poll surveyed nearly 900 members about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. More than 200 local leaders and community members participated in the latest poll. Our first question asked members whether the federal government should issue a second round of stimulus checks. A majority of respondents, 56.72%, answered “yes.” A little more than a quarter of voters, 26.05%, answered “no,” while 17.23% answered “unsure.” In late March, Congress passed the CARES Act as the coronavirus pandemic began to affect millions of Americans’ ability to work. The act authorized a stimulus fund and distributed one-time-only checks of $1,200 (though income and dependent children affected whether a person received more or less). Since then, lawmakers have weighed whether to issue a second stimulus payment. A similar law, the Heroes Act, passed the U.S. House in mid-May and is under consideration by the Senate. The next question polled members on whether they agree with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to allow bars to reopen at 25% capacity.

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ABC 7 - June 3, 2020

George W. Bush releases rare public statement on George Floyd protests

Former President George W. Bush criticized any effort to squelch protests of George Floyd's death while in Minneapolis police custody. In a statement issued Tuesday by his office in Dallas, the former Republican president said he and wife Laura Bush "are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country."

Bush did not refer specifically toward President Donald Trump, but he called the harassment and threats toward African American protesters "a shocking failure." "It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future. ... Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America - or how it becomes a better place," he said. "It remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country. It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future. This tragedy — in a long series of similar tragedies — raises a long overdue question: How do we end systemic racism in our society? The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving. Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place."

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NBC 5 - June 1, 2020

NBC 5 Responds: Fact check on IRS debit cards

The government issued millions of stimulus payments in April and May, but millions of people are still waiting for their checks to come. Several viewers have reached out to NBC 5 Responds about receiving a suspicious-looking debit card that came in the mail and wonder if it’s a scam. Turns out, the card is legit but may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Chuck Gokoo and his wife Cynthia have been patiently waiting for their stimulus payment.

“When they started the second round, I waited and I waited and nothing happened,” said Gokoo. But when it finally came in the mail, it wasn’t what they expected. “You can imagine my surprise when this showed up and I didn’t know what it was,” said Gokoo. It arrived in a plain envelope from a place called, Money Network Cardholder Services and it contained what appeared to be a credit card. “It’s funny because my name didn’t have my middle initial. Every credit card I’ve ever had has my middle initial and I thought now we’re down to scam mail. Gokoo was convinced the card was fake and almost shredded it. Even our NBC 5 Responds consumer-producer didn’t think it was real. But as it turns out, it’s legit. The IRS tells NBC 5 they issued economic impact payments to four-million people in the form of a prepaid debit card.

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Texas Monthly - June 2, 2020

In Amarillo, a Mexican restaurant named ‘Big Beaners’ provokes controversy

Last Thursday, I logged on to Facebook and saw a post that knocked me in the gut. It was an op-ed about a new Mexican restaurant in Amarillo named Big Beaners; the word “beaner” is a racial slur with a long and ugly history. The restaurant’s red-and-green sign also features a cartoonish kidney-bean mascot, complete with a handlebar mustache, sombrero, and pointy cowboy boots. Together, the name and logo have all the trappings of debasing caricature that has long stereotyped Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and their food—from the term “wetback” to the infamous “sleeping Mexican” image once used by Taco Bell and other restaurants.

The news had already caused a ruckus on Reddit, where some presumably Mexican American users wrote that the name didn’t offend them, while others called it “very racist” and marveled, “This can’t be real.” In the op-ed I’d seen on Facebook, Amarillo radio deejay Danny Wright wrote that he initially assumed the name was a joke. He asked, “Would you accept a store that sold swimsuits called Wetbacks? I think not.” Wright was referring to another demeaning term, one first used in print in 1920 by the New York Times. It was also used in the name for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s mid-fifties mass deportation of Mexicans, Operation Wetback. Over the weekend, as people across the nation protested the death of yet another unarmed black man in police custody, things intensified. A Change.org petition calling for restaurant owner Jesse Quackenbush to change the name and logo popped up; as of this writing, about 6,700 people had signed. Someone also broke windows at the restaurant, according to a Facebook post by Quackenbush, who told Texas Monthly that the restaurant is set to open on June 19.

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D Magazine - June 2, 2020

What should Dallas do with this moment?

We have now seen two straight days of peaceful protesting through the streets of Dallas, so set aside the weekend’s violence as you read this. Set aside the riots and the spectacle. Think instead about those protests. Think about the moment and what it means, all these American cities marching together. Dallas is not a city that moves the way it did in recent days. It didn’t happen with such force for Botham Jean, it didn’t happen for Atatiana Jefferson, and it didn’t happen for Jordan Edwards. You can and should decry the violence and the looting and the rioting, but you cannot deny the message of the hundreds of peaceful protestors who walked through the streets, who walked among the cops, who walked with their hands up and their signs above their heads and raised their voices to express a simple message: stop killing our neighbors. Stop killing black people. For their efforts, they have been met with tear gas and flash bangs and sponge bullets.

There are videos of a 2-year-old being wheeled away in his stroller near Main Street Garden as tear gas encroaches. A woman getting groceries was hit with a pellet of some sort and bled profusely from her forehead. When things like this happen to the innocent, it instigates others. Last night, a group of hundreds marched up the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. They may have been led; many didn’t know what was coming. They found a line of cops in riot gear that fired off smoke bombs and those sponge guns. Dallas has been aligned with those other cities by the police violence, too. We keep hearing the narrative that those who are causing the trouble are out-of-towners. The Dallas Police Department has released a spreadsheet that showed just 16 of the 60 people released on Monday were from the city. But there are many, many more marching. It is difficult to blame this on a few, and it is important to note that many protestors have voiced frustration that their marches have been met with violence from the police department. It is important to control a crowd as it gets violent. But last night, those protestors weren’t even asked to walk back down the bridge before the violence happened.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 2, 2020

H-E-B no longer making masks mandatory for customers

H-E-B will no longer require customers to wear face masks to enter its stores, the grocery chain said Tuesday.

H-E-B encourages customers to wear masks but are no longer mandatory, said H-E-B spokeswoman Julie Bedingfield. Employees and vendors will still wear masks, H-E-B said. "The CDC, State of Texas, and local health officials strongly recommend the use of masks or facial coverings in public spaces. As Texans Helping Texans, we wear masks to keep each other and our families safe. Social distancing, wearing masks, proper hand washing, and sanitization are all things we do to help keep Texas healthy," H-E-B said in a statement.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 2, 2020

Tarrant commissioners grill sheriff on why they weren’t notified about jail problems

When Tarrant County commissioners Roy Brooks and Devan Allen learned that the jail lost state certification for six days last month — or that a woman gave birth alone in her jail cell — it wasn’t because Sheriff Bill Waybourn told them. “We shouldn’t have to read about that in the newspaper,” Brooks told the sheriff on Tuesday afternoon. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram first learned about the jail’s temporary loss of certification on May 27, the day it was reinstated. The certification was revoked on May 21.

Brooks and Allen pressed Waybourn about his lack of communication during the Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday afternoon. “I’m particularly concerned that last week you came before us and shared an update regarding the gentleman who lost his life to COVID and was an inmate … but there was no mention of this lapse of certification or the issues that precipitated it,” Allen said. “Just wasn’t on my agenda at that moment,” Waybourn said, adding that he alerted Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley and County Administrator G.K. Maenius about the revoked certification. “If you’re thinking we were trying to hide it or get away with it, that’s not it,” the sheriff said. Allen asked Waybourn what assurances he could give that there were no other unreported events happening at the jail. But Whitley interrupted, saying that historically, a sheriff wouldn’t call each commissioner after notifying the county judge and administrator about something.

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Laredo Morning Times - June 1, 2020

Laredo orphanage allows government to survey land for future border wall

On May 19, Sacred Heart Children’s Home came to an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security allowing them to survey their 68-acre property in south Laredo to determine the feasibility of building a border wall through it. This decision came off the heals of a viral moment for the 113-year-old orphanage and the congregation of Catholic sisters who run it. Laredo Morning Times published an article last month detailing that the Trump administration had filed a lawsuit against Sacred Heart to condemn their land for these surveys, a story that Newsweek published two weeks ago bringing more national attention to the subject. And Faithful America, a Christian social justice group, then created a petition for the Department of Justice to drop their lawsuit against Sacred Heart. It has been signed by over 18,000 people.

“I think that the sisters were really feeling a lot, a lot of pressure,” Rio Grande International Study Center Executive Director Tricia Cortez told reporters on a press call last week. The orphanage is one of 24 Laredo properties that has been sued by the government for the right of entry, Cortez noted, the largest of which is nearly 1,000 acres owned by the City of Laredo. For some of these property owners, taking the government to court is a delay tactic that pushes back the Trump administration’s schedule to get as much of the wall up as they can before the November election. Their thought being that maybe, if Trump is not re-elected, the government would not follow through on construction in Webb and Zapata counties. The City of Laredo has filed a motion arguing that the construction of a border wall in Webb and Zapata counties is congressionally unauthorized. If their argument proves sound before a judge, it would also be an applicable defense for the rest of the landowners fighting against the wall in the area.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 2, 2020

Emotional about racism, Tarrant County leaders hope ongoing protests prompt change

Reverberations of George Floyd’s death aren’t just being felt on streets across the country amid protests of racism and police brutality. They also are being felt inside Tarrant County government. “This is an interesting time to be alive in America,” said County Commissioner Roy Brooks, who is black. “We have witnessed many things over the past several months.” First, he said, there was the coronavirus pandemic that remains a concern locally and throughout the world and has been “disproportionately felt in communities of color.”

Then came the death of Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for about eight minutes. His death “ripped the scab off of the festering wound of racism that has never been effectively addressed, has never gone away in this country,” Brooks said during Tuesday’s county commissioners meeting. “I feel the pain and the rage of those across the nation and, in fact, around the world, who are united in protest against this action.” He praised protesters and police alike in Fort Worth for ending a protest Monday with all on their knees in prayer. “That was a symbolic moment of grace, a Kumbaya moment, that should be appreciated by all of us and celebrated by all of us,” Brooks said. “But that moment in and of itself, without additional action on the part of government, and on the part of the people that government represents, ... is not going to bring about change.” But maybe it creates an environment where change can occur. That would be a positive result, fellow Commissioner Devan Allen, who also is black, said.

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City Stories

KSAT - June 2, 2020

College student pulled from car by Atlanta police in viral video is from San Antonio

A 20-year-old college student from San Antonio who was dragged from a car by Atlanta police when she and her boyfriend were caught in traffic caused by a protest over the death of George Floyd said she feared the officers would kill them. “I still can’t even process what happened,” Taniyah Pilgrim said at a news conference Monday. “We felt like we were going to die in that car.”

Dramatic body-camera video released by police shows a group of officers shouting orders, smashing the driver’s side window, deploying stun guns and pulling Pilgrim and Messiah Young from the sedan. Throughout, the couple can be heard screaming and asking officers what is happening. Young, 22, of Chicago, is a rising senior at Morehouse, where he’s studying business management. Pilgrim is a psychology major at Spelman College. Both schools are historically black colleges near downtown Atlanta. The two were out getting something to eat Saturday night when they got snarled in traffic along Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, their lawyers said. A friend of theirs, another Morehouse student, was standing in the street talking to them while they were stopped when police began to take him into custody, Young's lawyer Mawuli Davis said.

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Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2020

Turner drops furloughs, reinstates police cadet classes in revised budget plan

Houston will not need to furlough roughly 3,000 city employees nor cancel its police cadet classes in the upcoming budget year, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin announced during a city council budget committee meeting Tuesday. Instead, the city will use federal coronavirus relief funds to help bridge its projected $169 million shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1. “No employee in the (City of Houston) will be furloughed,” Martin said. The administration has updated Mayor Sylvester Turner’s initial budget proposal, eliminating many of the most dire consequences attributed to the revenue gap. The revised budget plan eliminates furloughs and adds back five cadet classes for police, Martin said.

It also adds another fire department cadet class, giving that department four classes. The new proposal also adds $15 million back into the city’s rainy day fund as hurricane season gets underway; Turner’s original spending plan would have exhausted that fund entirely. The changes comes as the city has weighed how it can spend $404 million in federal funds it received through the CARES Act, part of a stimulus package approved by Congress. The administration plans to use roughly $19 million of those funds to cover expenses for redeploying city employees from their normal duties to address the coronavirus pandemic, freeing some budgetary space. It is not clear if the city plans to use additional federal funds to cover the remaining costs of the budget revisions. The initial budget proposal said the furloughs would save the city roughly $7 million. The five police cadet classes cost $13.9 million. Martin said the administration would use city employees for newly-required temperature checks at City Hall and other duties, instead of outsourcing them to private companies.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 3, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: First tear gas, then kneeling: What Fort Worth must do next on police protests

Over the course of two nights, Fort Worth saw the range of possible outcomes in demonstrations against police violence. On Sunday night, officers used tear gas to turn back protesters on the West Seventh Street bridge. Fifty people were arrested, three officers were hurt, and we were lucky it wasn’t worse. On Monday, as the curfew declared by Mayor Betsy Price descended, a downtown crowd lingered and tensions mounted. One black officer, followed by his colleagues, knelt in solidarity with the protesters.

But then, after officers in riot gear approached the crowd, Police Chief Ed Kraus — who ordered the use of tear gas Sunday — and Assistant Chief Julie Swearingin also took a knee and prayed. It’s a remarkable moment in a year that’s been full of plenty already; read the Star-Telegram’s full account and watch our newsroom’s videos to understand how tense the situation was and how extraordinary the outcome. Our city, all major American cities, remain on a knife’s edge. These confrontations could continue for much of the summer. And even if they stop, it will take only another outrage similar to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis to spark more demonstrations. Cynics may suggest that Kraus merely did what he had to do to avoid another outburst. But he gets the benefit of the doubt, as he and other city leaders have kept Fort Worth from the destruction other cities have suffered.

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National Stories

Associated Press - June 2, 2020

CBO projects virus impact could trim GDP by $15.7 trillion

The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the U.S. economy could be $15.7 trillion smaller over the next decade than it otherwise would have been if Congress does not mitigate the economic damage from the coronavirus. The CBO, which had already issued a report forecasting a severe economic impact over the next two years, expanded that forecast to show that the severity of the economic shock could depress growth for far longer.

The new estimate said that over the 2020-2030 period, total GDP output could be $15.7 trillion lower than CBO had been projecting as recently as January. That would equal 5.3% of lost GDP over the coming decade. After adjusting for inflation, CBO said the lost output would total $7.9 trillion, a loss of 3% of inflation-adjusted GDP. CBO called this a “significant markdown” in GDP output as a result of the pandemic. “Business closures and social distancing measures are expected to curtail consumer spending, while the recent drop in energy prices is projected to severely reduce U.S. investment in the energy sector,” CBO Director Philip Swagel said in a letter. “Recent legislation will, in CBO’s assessment, partially mitigate the deterioration in economic conditions,” Swagel said in the letter to Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The two had requested the information as a way to pressure Republicans to follow the lead of the House and pass more economic relief.

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Associated Press - June 2, 2020

Judge gives control of Joe Exotic’s zoo to Carole Baskin

A federal judge in Oklahoma has awarded ownership of the zoo made famous in Netflix’s “Tiger King” docuseries to Joe Exotic’s chief rival. In a ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Scott Palk granted control of the Oklahoma zoo that was previously run by Joseph Maldonado-Passage — also known as Joe Exotic — to Big Cat Rescue Corp.

The Florida group was founded by Carole Baskin, who also featured prominently in the hit Netflix series. Maldonado-Passage is currently serving a 22-year federal prison term for killing five tigers and plotting to have Baskin killed. Baskin previously sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark and copyright infringements and won a $1 million civil judgment against him. Palk’s judgment Monday found that ownership of the zoo was fraudulently transferred to Maldonado-Passage’s mother in an attempt to avoid paying the judgment.

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Washington Post - June 2, 2020

Barr personally ordered removal of protesters near White House, leading to use of force against largely peaceful crowd

Attorney General William P. Barr personally ordered law enforcement officials on the ground to clear the streets around Lafayette Square just before President Trump spoke Monday, a Justice Department official said, a directive that prompted a show of aggression against a crowd of largely peaceful protesters, drawing widespread condemnation. Officers from the U.S. Park Police and other agencies used smoke canisters, riot shields, batons and officers on horseback to shove and chase people gathered to protest the death of George Floyd. At one point, a line of police rushed a group of protesters standing on H Street NW, many of whom were standing still with their hands up, forcing them to race away, coughing from smoke. Some were struck by rubber bullets.

Secret Service officers then surrounded the area and created a protective zone for President Trump, who moments later crossed the street and made an appearance outside St. John’s Church. On Tuesday, however, federal officials offered conflicting reasons for the forcible removal of the protesters, seeking to separate the move from Trump’s visit to the church. The White House asserted that the crowd was dispersed to help enforce the city’s 7 p.m. curfew. Meanwhile, two federal law enforcement officials said the decision had been made late Sunday or early Monday to extend the perimeter around Lafayette Square by one block. The plan was to be executed, according to the Justice Department official, the following afternoon. Barr was a part of the decision-making process, said the official, who was not authorized to comment ahead of Barr addressing the matter himself publicly and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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ProPublica - June 2, 2020

This Treasury official is running the bailout. It’s been great for his family.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have become the public faces of the $3 trillion federal coronavirus bailout. Behind the scenes, however, the Treasury’s responsibilities have fallen largely to the 42-year-old deputy secretary, Justin Muzinich. A major beneficiary of that bailout so far: Muzinich & Co., the asset manager founded by his father where Justin served as president before joining the administration. He reported owning a stake worth at least $60 million when he entered government in 2017. Today, Muzinich retains financial ties to the firm through an opaque transaction in which he transferred his shares in the privately held company to his father. Ethics experts say the arrangement is troubling because his father received the shares for no money up front, and it appears possible that Muzinich can simply get his stake back after leaving government.

When lockdowns crippled the economy in March, the Treasury and the Fed launched an unprecedented effort to buy up corporate debt to avert a freeze in lending at the exact moment businesses needed to borrow to keep running. That effort has succeeded, at least temporarily, with credit continuing to flow to companies over the last several weeks. This policy also allowed those who were heavily invested in corporate loans to recoup huge losses. Muzinich & Co. has long specialized in precisely this market, managing approximately $38 billion of clients’ money, including in riskier instruments known as junk, or high-yield, bonds. Since the Fed and the Treasury’s actions in late March, the bond market has roared back. Muzinich & Co. has reversed billions in losses, according to a review of its holdings, with 28 of the 29 funds tracked by the investor research service Morningstar Direct rising in that period. The firm doesn’t publicly detail all of its holdings, so a precise figure can’t be calculated. The Treasury is understaffed, and Muzinich was overseeing two-thirds of the department before the crisis hit. He spent his first year as the Trump administration’s point man on its only major legislative achievement, the landmark $1.9 trillion tax cut that mainly benefited the wealthy and corporations.

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Politico - June 1, 2020

Why politics keeps tanking a bailout idea that works

The last time the American economy tanked and Washington debated how to revive it, White House economists pushed one option that had never been tried in a big way: Send truckloads of federal dollars to the states. When President Barack Obama took office in January 2009 during the throes of the Great Recession, tax revenues were collapsing and state budgets were hemorrhaging. The Obama team was terrified that without a massive infusion of cash from Congress, governors would tip the recession into a full-blown depression by laying off employees and cutting needed services. So the president proposed an unprecedented $200 billion in direct aid to states, a desperate effort to stop the bleeding that amounted to one-fourth of his entire stimulus request. But the politics were dismal.

Republican leaders had already decided to oppose any Obama stimulus. And even Washington Democrats who supported their new leader’s stimulus weren’t excited to help Republican governors balance their budgets. Most politicians enjoy spending money more than they enjoy giving money to other politicians to spend. And since state fiscal relief was a relatively new concept, the Obama team’s belief that it would provide powerful economic stimulus was more hunch-based than evidence-based. Ultimately, the Democratic Congress approved $140 billion in state aid—only two-thirds of Obama’s original ask, but far more than any previous stimulus. And it worked. At least a dozen post-recession studies found state fiscal aid gave a significant boost to the economy—and that more state aid would have produced a stronger recovery. The Obama team’s hunch that helping states would help the nation turned out to be correct. But evidence isn’t everything in Washington. Now that Congress is once again debating stimulus for a crushed economy—and governors are once again confronted with gigantic budget shortfalls—a partisan war is breaking out over state aid. Memories of 2009 have faded, and the politics have scrambled under a Republican presidential administration.

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Tampa Bay Times - June 2, 2020

Will Joe Biden make a former Florida police chief his 2020 running mate?

Val Demings’ rise from Orlando’s first black woman police chief to a congresswoman with a central role in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial landed her on Joe Biden’s vice presidential shortlist. And now, as protests over the death of George Floyd grip the country, those same credentials are propelling Demings further into the national spotlight, with interviews last weekend on “Meet the Press,” frequent cable news hits and a Washington Post op-ed titled “My fellow brothers and sisters in blue, what the hell are you doing?” But for Demings, a Democrat who served as police chief from 2007 to 2011 after joining the Orlando Police Department in 1983, the resume that served her so well in the last four years may turn out to be a mixed bag amid the national outcry against police brutality and a flawed criminal justice system.

“Why do bad things happen? Bad mind, bad heart or bad policy?” Demings wrote. “The painful cries of Eric Garner will be with us forever. Now, George Floyd’s pleas for help will, too. I cannot begin to understand how any officer could ignore the painful pleas we heard from Floyd — or from anyone suffering.” Demings wouldn’t comment on her law enforcement record, and the Biden campaign wouldn’t discuss the vice presidential selection process. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in an interview last month that Demings “is one of a group of close to a dozen really qualified and talented women who are on the list.” Demings’ tenure as Orlando police chief was not without controversy. She was once censured by the police department’s internal affairs department for having her service weapon and ammunition stolen from her unlocked car and a 2015 Orlando Sentinel investigation showed that the Orlando Police Department’s use of force during arrests was more than double the rate of similarly-sized police departments during her time as chief. But two civil rights attorneys who were involved in high-profile police brutality cases that occurred on Demings’ watch said she’s well-suited to be vice president.

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NBC News - June 1, 2020

White nationalist group posing as antifa called for violence on Twitter

A Twitter account claiming to belong to a national “antifa” organization and pushing violent rhetoric related to ongoing protests has been linked to the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, according to a Twitter spokesperson. The spokesperson said the account violated the company's platform manipulation and spam policy, specifically the creation of fake accounts. Twitter suspended the account after a tweet that incited violence. As protests were taking place in multiple states across the U.S. Sunday night, the newly created account, @ANTIFA_US, tweeted, “Tonight’s the night, Comrades,” with a brown raised fist emoji and “Tonight we say 'F--- The City' and we move into the residential areas... the white hoods.... and we take what's ours …”

This isn’t the first time Twitter has taken action against fake accounts engaged in hateful conduct linked to Identity Evropa, according to the spokesperson. The antifa movement — a network of loosely organized radical groups who use direct action to fight the far-right and fascism — has been targeted by President Donald Trump as the force behind some of the violence and property destruction seen at some protests, though little evidence has been provided for such claims. Other misinformation and misleading claims spread across Twitter on Sunday night and into Monday related to the protests. Two hashtags that trended worldwide on Twitter falsely claimed that there was a "cover-up" or a "blackout" of protests in Washington, D.C., overnight. Both appeared to insinuate that protesters have been silenced in some way, perhaps by a secret internet blackout. Twitter says it has removed the trend from its "trending topics" section because of "coordinated attempts to disrupt the public conversation" around the protests.

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CNN - June 2, 2020

Same-sex weddings have boosted economies by $3.8 billion since gay marriage was legalized five years ago this month, a new study says

Same-sex weddings have been a boon for the wedding industry since gay marriage was legalized in 2015 -- and in the years since, it's boosted state and local economies by $3.8 billion, a new study estimates. The same-sex wedding industry also supported at least 45,000 jobs and generated more than $244.1 million in state and local sales tax since June 2015, according to the report from the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy.

More than half of all wedded same-sex couples in the United States got married after the Supreme Court made the landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed same-sex couples the same rights to marry as heterosexual couples. Before it was legalized, 37 states allowed same-sex marriages, but their unions weren't recognized by federal law. Now, the researchers estimate, there are 513,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, and 293,000 of them got married after June 2015. The Williams Institute law professors calculated their totals in unique ways, relying on existing data to piece together the $3.8 billion figure. They didn't include any estimates past March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced engaged couples to cancel ceremonies.

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Newsclips - June 2, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 2, 2020

Dallas protests continue just outside curfew zone, end with mass arrests on bridge

Downtown Dallas was empty of protesters Monday evening, the second night a 7 p.m. curfew was in effect for the city center and surrounding neighborhoods. But before the night had ended, police had conducted mass arrests atop the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, west of downtown. The action came after hundreds of protesters marched on the highway, but Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said he had concerns about the way police had handled the situation. After law enforcement made people leave public areas Sunday and took several dozen demonstrators into custody, most protesters the next evening decamped to the Frank Crowley courthouse just west of downtown — and just outside the curfew’s boundary.

Kasandra Mendoza, a 21-year-old Lewisville woman, walked down Commerce Street with a Kendrick Lamar song blasting from her backpack. “Every day, there’s always something new. It’s either false accusations, it’s killings, it’s shootings — it’s just always something out here,” Mendoza said. “You’ve just got to take a stand.” As she made her way to the courthouse, Mendoza held a sign that said “Latinos for Black Lives Matter.” She said it’s important to make sure all races join the fight against social injustice. “This involves everybody,” she said. “We have to stand up for [black Americans]. ... We have to help protect them.” Along the protesters’ route, Allie Stensrude, 37, Ellis Thomas, 33, and Abby Evans, 37, handed out protein bars and bottles of water. “We’re trying to be allies and do what we could do while still respecting the curfew,” Stensrude said. “We just wanted to be here and support in any way we could.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 1, 2020

Texas’ sales tax haul drops by biggest percentage in a decade, signaling budget crisis

The coronavirus outbreak is creating a budget crisis for Texas of historic proportions, as sales tax collections for the lock-down month of April slumped by the biggest percentage – 13.2 – seen in a decade and smaller sources of revenue such as hotel occupancy and booze taxes racked up their steepest declines on record. On Monday, Comptroller Glenn Hegar released monthly tax-collection data that for the first time captured the fiscal carnage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The picture was grim.

As expected, sales tax, the state’s revenue workhorse, got clobbered. Hegar said the worst loss of sales-tax revenue came in the oil and gas sector, and the separate state taxes on production of oil and natural gas saw revenue declines, respectively, of 75% and 76%. Motor vehicle sales and rental taxes, which together with general sales tax generate nearly two-thirds of all state tax collections, yielded $265 million last month, a decline of 38% from May 2019. Gov. Greg Abbott’s lifting of stay at home orders should lead to a slow recovery by the sectors of the Texas economy most badly battered by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, such as restaurants, recreation services and bricks-and-mortar retailers, Hegar said in a written statement “But operations resuming at reduced capacity will result in continued reductions in employment, income and activity subject to sales tax for months to come,” said Hegar, the state’s chief tax collector and revenue estimator.

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Texas Monthly - May 30, 2020

The Houston years of George Floyd

Meshah Hawkins couldn’t believe that the man in the video—who was facedown on the pavement, his neck pressed under the knee of a Minneapolis cop—was her childhood friend George Floyd. Then she heard his voice. “Please,” the man begged the officer, as well as several others standing nearby. “Please, I can’t breathe.” Hawkins, sitting in her Houston home, was horrified. “When I heard his voice crying out,” she said, “when I heard the pain in his voice, it broke my heart.” She couldn’t bear to watch anymore, and she shut off the video taken on Monday. Floyd, 46, continued saying those words, and police officer Derek Chauvin continued ignoring them, choking Floyd with his knee. After more than four minutes, Floyd went limp. Still Chauvin kept his knee there. When he finally stood up, the officers rolled Floyd onto a stretcher and took him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The next day, the video of Chauvin and Floyd had gone viral, and the four cops present were fired. (Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.) That night, activists protested Floyd’s violent killing throughout the streets of Minneapolis.

Floyd’s death has drawn parallels to the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, who died after a cop put him in a chokehold on a Staten Island sidewalk; his last words were “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that became a call to action for the Black Lives Matter movement. Floyd’s killing, just one of many instances of unarmed black Americans dying at the hands of white police officers, has similarly galvanized protesters. As the week went on, protests spread to almost every major American city, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Oakland, and Brooklyn. On Friday night, protesters demonstrated in Houston, chanting “I can’t breathe,” and confronted police, who fired tear gas, aimed pepper spray, and arrested about a dozen activists. George Perry Floyd was born in October 1974 in North Carolina, but his mother soon moved him and his siblings to Houston, where they lived in the Cuney Homes housing project in the Third Ward. As a young man, he had big dreams: “When I grow up I want to be a Supreme Court Judge,” he wrote in a second-grade essay. His interests turned to basketball, and he played in the local YMCA league as he sprouted to six feet seven inches tall and 250 pounds. Floyd was a gifted athlete, playing basketball as well as football at Jack Yates High School, and he earned the nickname Big Floyd. As a tight end, Floyd made acrobatic catches in the end zone and helped lead his team to the 1992 5A state championship game, where they lost to the number one school, Temple.

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Washington Post - June 2, 2020

Inside the push to tear-gas protesters ahead of a Trump photo op

President Trump began mulling a visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Monday morning, after spending the night devouring cable news coverage of protests across the country, including in front of the White House. The historic church had been damaged by fire, and Trump was eager to show that the nation’s capital — and especially his own downtown swath of it — was under control. There was just one problem: the throngs of protesters, who on Monday had again assembled peacefully in Lafayette Square across from the White House to protest the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.

And so — shortly before the president addressed the nation from the Rose Garden at 6:43 p.m. Monday and roughly a half-hour before the District’s 7 p.m. curfew went into effect — authorities fired flash-bang shells, gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, clearing a path for Trump to visit the church immediately after his remarks. The split screen as Trump began speaking was dark and foreboding — an angry leader proclaiming himself “an ally of all peaceful protesters” alongside smoke-filled mayhem and pandemonium as protesters raced for safety. The evening’s events were the product of a president who favors brute strength and fears looking weak, yet finds himself reeling from a duo of crises — a deadly pandemic that has left more than 100,000 Americans dead and racial unrest that has led to protests and riots across the nation. He has also been consumed by his faltering poll numbers against former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. When Trump had returned safely to the White House less than an hour later, the verdict seemed clear: The president had staged an elaborate photo op, using a Bible awkwardly held aloft as a prop and a historic church that has long welcomed presidents and their families as a backdrop.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 1, 2020

US judge rejects conservative lawyers’ challenge to State Bar of Texas fees

Upholding a state law that requires all lawyers to join and pay dues to the State Bar of Texas, a federal judge has rejected a challenge from conservative attorneys who said they should not be forced to subsidize diversity programs or efforts to help immigrants at the border with Mexico. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin ruled Friday that compelled membership and financial support for the state bar does not violate the lawyers’ rights to free speech or association.

The U.S. Supreme Court has previously determined that states are allowed to form bar associations to regulate lawyers and improve the quality of legal services, Yeakel said. The high court also determined that mandatory membership fees can be used to finance activities related those goals — even activities that are political in nature, Yeakel said. “The question is not whether the challenged activity is ‘political or ideological’ in the abstract, but whether the challenged activity is ‘germane to’ the state interests that justify (efforts) regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services,” he wrote. None of the state bar activities that the conservative lawyers complained about run afoul of the Supreme Court’s guidance, Yeakel said.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 2, 2020

Protests could lead to spike in coronavirus cases, health and local officials warn

Texas could see an increase in COVID-19 cases after a weekend of protests across the state, local officials and public health experts warned Monday. But it will be nearly impossible to know how many new cases of the coronavirus can be linked to protests in the state’s most populous cities. Many of the demonstrations came less than a week after a busy Memorial Day weekend, when multiple parks around Austin closed because of overcrowding, and as many businesses have reopened with the green light from Gov. Greg Abbott.

In protests repeated in other Texas cities, thousands of demonstrators packed Austin streets over the weekend in response to the killings of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, and Michael Ramos, who was fatally shot by an Austin police officer in April while driving away from officers. No gun was found in Ramos’ car. Mayor Steve Adler warned of a possible spike in coronavirus cases because of the protests, saying the demonstrations could present “a super spreader opportunity.” “If people in that demonstration yesterday had the virus, then we have the potential in having an event which we can’t contact trace, that we’re not going to be able to contain,” he said in a Facebook Live interview Sunday with the American-Statesman. Contact tracing seeks to alert those who have come into contact with a person who has tested positive for the coronavirus. A city of Austin spokesperson reiterated the mayor’s comments Monday, warning that the incubation period for the coronavirus is between one and 14 days, meaning state numbers wouldn’t immediately reflect an increase in new cases from the protests.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 1, 2020

‘This is not what we set out to do’: Police chief apologizes for people injured during Austin protests

Brad Ayala, 16, had just finished his shift at an Austin sandwich shop on Saturday when he joined the protests along Interstate 35 calling for an end to police brutality. He ended up in the hospital that night after Austin police hit him in the head with a beanbag round and seriously injured him. “He’s conscious and in a lot of pain because he was shot right in the middle of his forehead,” his sister Valarie Sanchez said. “The bullet stayed inside of his head for five hours. The front of his head is fractured and dented and he had some bleeding.”

Ayala is one of several people — including a 20-year-old man in critical condition — whom Austin police injured with bean bag rounds last weekend, Austin Police Chief Manley said Monday. When asked what he would say to the families of the two young men who suffered the worst injuries, Manley paused, unable to speak for a moment. “My heart is with you,” he said. “I am praying for your child, and I hope that they have a complete and quick recovery.” The injured civilians were the first and the last subject Manley addressed during a Monday news conference about the demonstrations, as thousands packed the streets of Austin for three historic nights to protest police brutality. “That is not what we set out to do as a police department,” Manley said, referring to the injuries. “That was not what we set out to do this weekend.” As the sun rose over Austin on Monday, the evidence of the weekend’s events could be seen in anti-police graffiti scrawled across downtown and East Austin buildings, which employees and community members — including protesters — worked to clean. People also assessed the damage to several looted businesses.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 31, 2020

Abbott declares disaster as politicians take their stands

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for all Texas counties Sunday, “in the midst of violent protests that endanger public safety and threaten property loss and damage.” For Abbott, who has been governing since mid-March mostly on the basis of a disaster declaration for the coronavirus pandemic, this new disaster order came in response to protests across the state, some of which turned violent, protesting the police killing of 46-year-old George Floyd, an unarmed, handcuffed black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police.

“Big picture, I think the George Floyd protests are a response to 400 years of racism and oppression, compounded by an economic crisis, compounded by a health pandemic, compounded by a hateful and divisive president,” said Mike Siegel, an Austin lawyer with a long history of civil rights activism who is in a runoff for the Democratic nomination in the 10th Congressional District. Floyd’s death on May 25 has been followed by mostly peaceful protests coast to coast, which devolved, sporadically but persistently, into looting, violence and flames — including in Austin this weekend. “The senseless killing of George Floyd is an outrageous and painful crime,” tweeted Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, adding that “those responsible should be punished” and that “burning our cities and senselessly destroying property is not the answer. It only puts more lives at risk and undermines the principle of peaceful protest.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 1, 2020

Curbing police violence against black residents must include stopping systemic oppression

We’re familiar with this episode. An unarmed black person is killed by a white police officer, signaling the continued dehumanizing of African Americans and highlighting just how far away society is from ending the systemic problems caused by oppression and racism. The killing is followed by uprisings across the country, including unnecessary violence that distorts the cause of the protests. Then there are promises of better days by various leaders followed by the issue fading from public view — until a law enforcement officer kills another black person.

“It’s aggravating, and that’s far lighter than what I can say without cursing,” said Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. “It continues to not only hurt me, but haunt me.” “I’m sick and tired of the criminalization and the weaponization of black people,” he said. “Our humanity isn’t recognized. We have a policing system that is completely unaccountable to the community it polices.” The latest chapter in police violence against black Americans occurred in Minneapolis, where last week an unarmed, handcuffed black man, George Floyd, died after a police officer placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, despite the man calling for his mother and complaining that he couldn’t breathe. Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Several other police officers on the scene have not been charged.

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Dallas Morning News - June 1, 2020

What obligation do prominent athletes, such as Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, have to speak publicly about social causes?

Over the past week, protesters converged on city streets across the country, including Dallas, to voice their anger about the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white police officer stuck his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis. The protests are a continuing cry against police brutality, especially against people of color. Numerous African-American and white athletes have spoken out against police brutality, either in rallies or on social media. Various sports leagues and franchises have issued statements asking for change in the criminal justice system.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, and some of his prominent teammates, had yet to speak publicly on the issue as of Sunday evening. The Cowboys, as an organization, also had not addressed the issue publicly. As quarterback, Prescott is the face of the Cowboys’ franchise. You know QB1 before you know anyone else on the roster. So when does an athlete in such a prominent position speak out against something so polarizing? Is there an obligation? “If someone has something to say and it’s of substance, of course they should speak out,” said Todd Boyd, a Ph.D. professor for the Study of Race and Pop Culture at USC. “I don’t think someone should speak out just for the sake of speaking out. Supposedly we enjoy free speech in this country, and so if someone sees something in those activities that prompts them to comment on it and what they have to say is substantive and of value, athletes are no different than anybody else in society in that regard.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 1, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Billions for Texas cities have rolled in for COVID-19 relief. But is everyone getting a fair share?

The spirit of sharing apparently doesn’t always apply when federal dollars are on the line. Earlier this year, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act delivered $11.24 billion in aid to Texas, with Dallas County, 11 other large counties and six major cities receiving more than $3.2 billion of the $5.06 billion made available to local governments. Our grade school math tells us that leaves about $1.85 billion for 242 other counties and their cities, which the state is distributing directly on a per capita basis. Unfortunately, the CARES Act didn’t indicate how smaller cities within the largest counties would get their share, so Gov. Greg Abbott offered this advice on sharing: “We encourage cities and counties to work together to address expenses that cross jurisdictional lines.”

Dallas County received $250 million and after initially balking at its slice of the pie, it is sending about 29% of it to 29 of the 30 cities within the county, excluding the city of Dallas which received more than $200 million directly from Washington. Collin County got $50 million and is working with 20 eligible cities in the county on how to spend those dollars. Garland got $13 million from Dallas County, and its council also is in the process of making spending decisions. But, as the saying goes, possession apparently is nine-tenths of the law. Harris County got a hefty $426 million. However, funding to the 33 cities in Harris County, excluding Houston which got $404 million directly, remains in limbo, says Michel Bechtel, president of the Harris County Mayors and Councils Association. He says he isn’t sure what is going on, nor are the city mayors in Harris County. Several mayors in Harris County say they’ve heard through the grapevine that the county commissioners plan to hold on to the dollars to defray the county’s coronavirus expenses.

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Houston Chronicle - June 1, 2020

TSU makes temporary changes to admission requirements amid COVID-19 pandemic

Texas Southern University’s board of regents voted Monday to waive test score requirements for the upcoming academic year for student applicants who are in the top 25 percent of their class and also earn a 3.0 minimum GPA. The board hopes the temporary measure will offer some relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, when some students might have difficulty taking or submitting test scores for college entrance exams like the SAT or ACT, said regent Pamela Medina, who presented the request that was voted on unanimously.

TSU’s typical criteria requires incoming students to have a 2.5 minimum GPA, and a combined SAT score of 820 or higher if taken before March 2016 or a score of 900 if taken after that date, according to the college. Those who take the ACT must earn a composite score of 17. The approved admissions standard of a 3.0 GPA differs from the regents’ agenda proposal, which originally listed 3.5 as the minimum GPA. With TSU’s temporary admissions measures, students who earn a GPA between 2.5 and a 2.99 will be required to submit test scores, but if they don’t have those records because of circumstances presented by the pandemic, the application will be considered pending until those documents are received, Medina said. Students who aren’t able to secure testing can go through an appeals process with admissions officials that the board is slated to develop and likely outline during its next meeting, she said. Students with a GPA under 2.5 will be denied admission.

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Houston Chronicle - June 1, 2020

Houston officials to honor George Floyd with march, rally and offer to escort body

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo ripped his protective mask off in apparent frustration over the death of George Floyd during a drive-in church service, where officials on Sunday announced additional plans to honor the slain Houstonian. Speaking to churchgoers outside Living Word Fellowship Church, his eyes red and voice hoarse, Acevedo warned against those determined to ignite violence during downtown Houston demonstrations, where since Friday more than 400 people have been arrested. He blamed a handful of demonstrators for causing the bulk of property damage and unrest late at night.

“We will not let people come to our city and tear it up,” Acevedo shouted. “To the fools who think that our kindness is weakness: When you try to tear up our city, you’re not going to face the police, you’re going to have to face the people of Houston who will not let the memory of George Floyd be hijacked by anarchists that are doing Satan’s work.” A cacophony of car horns responded to Acevedo’s impassioned speech. He later said his anger stems from Americans who “don’t see a problem” in Floyd’s death. “When you see the cops angry about it, that shows you it’s really bad,” the chief continued at the Acres Homes area-church. In the days to come, Acevedo said the city plans to honor Floyd with a rally and march Tuesday. The police department will also offer Floyd’s family a police escort as his body is returned to Houston, if they so wish, he said. Mayor Sylvester Turner said he spoke with members of Floyd’s family Sunday morning about funeral arrangements but those details had not been finalized.

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Associated Press - June 2, 2020

Death toll grows in national protests

One man was the beloved owner of a Louisville barbecue restaurant who made sure to provide free meals to officers. Another was a man known as “Mr. Indianapolis,” a former star football player. Yet another was a federal officer working security during a protest. They are among the people who have been killed as protests roiled American cities in the week since 46-year-old George Floyd died when a white officer jammed his knee into the back of the black man’s neck. The deaths have at times been overshadowed by the shocking images of chaos engulfing cities across America, from heavy-handed riot police tactics to violence, vandalism and arson. Tens of thousands have marched peacefully in demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

Many of the people killed were African Americans, compounding the tragedy for black families to lose more members of their community amid the unrest. Dozens more have been hurt in various altercations — vehicles plowing into crowds, police officers suffering head injuries and broken bones and protesters ending up in emergency rooms with a variety of injuries from the melees. The death toll and circumstances surrounding the killings are still being sorted out in many cities, but here is what we know about the cases so far: As local police and the National Guard sought to disperse a crowd early Monday, they heard gunshots and returned fire, killing the owner of a barbecue restaurant, David McAtee. The mayor has since terminated the city’s police chief after finding out that officers on the scene did not activate their body cameras. The state police and the U.S. attorney also are investigating. The 53-year-old McAtee was an African American man known for offering free meals to officers who stopped by.

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The Nation - June 1, 2020

Gregg Popovich: ‘The system has to change’

People from across the sports world have spoken out, raised money, and taken part in demonstrations following the police murder of George Floyd. The one voice that we haven’t heard yet has been perhaps President Donald Trump’s most outspoken critic in the wide world of sports, as well as someone who has never shied away from speaking about institutionalized racism or police brutality, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Late last night my phone rang, and it was Coach Pop. He was ready to say something. “The thing that strikes me is that we all see this police violence and racism, and we’ve seen it all before, but nothing changes. That’s why these protests have been so explosive. But without leadership and an understanding of what the problem is, there will never be change. And white Americans have avoided reckoning with this problem forever, because it’s been our privilege to be able to avoid it. That also has to change.”

The question of leadership clearly is weighing heavily on Popovich’s mind. At this critical moment, he is feeling despair over what he sees as a leadership void in the White House. “It’s unbelievable. If Trump had a brain, even if it was 99 percent cynical, he would come out and say something to unify people. But he doesn’t care about bringing people together. Even now. That’s how deranged he is. It’s all about him. It’s all about what benefits him personally. It’s never about the greater good. And that’s all he’s ever been.” Popovich then took a moment to imagine a different kind of leadership. “It’s so clear what needs to be done. We need a president to come out and say simply that ‘black lives matter.’ Just say those three words. But he won’t and he can’t. He can’t because it’s more important to him to mollify the small group of followers who validate his insanity. But it’s more than just Trump. The system has to change. I’ll do whatever I can do to help, because that’s what leaders do. But he can’t do anything to put us on a positive path, because he’s not a leader. “It’s like what Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz used to say when they had the courage to say it: He’s unfit. But they have chosen instead to be invisible and obsequious in the face of this carnage. In the end, what we have is a fool in place of a president, while the person who really runs the country, Senator Mitch McConnell, destroys the United States for generations to come. McConnell has destroyed and degraded our judicial system. He has tried to destroy health care. He’s destroyed the environment. He’s the master and Trump’s the stooge, and what’s funny is that Trump doesn’t even know it. Trump’s always wanted to be part of the in-group, but McConnell is an in-group of one and Trump plays the fool.”

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BuzzFeed - June 1, 2020

Dallas Police asked people to call out protesters. People flooded their app with K-Pop instead.

On Sunday, the Dallas Police Department asked people to send in "video of illegal activity" from the Black Lives Matter protests in the city through the iWatch Dallas app, where people can submit photo, video, or text tips about possible crimes. Instead, it received a flood of pictures and videos of K-pop artists. In response to the tweeted request from Dallas Police, hundreds of K-pop fans replied with photos and videos of their favorite artists. Many people also claimed to have submitted videos of the police harming protesters, as well as fan edits of K-pop artists, to the iWatch Dallas app.

Within hours of the original tweet, the Dallas Police Department followed up with a tweet that the iWatch Dallas app was down temporarily "due to technical difficulties." (K-pop fans confirmed they too were having difficulties submitting to the app.) Hundreds of people subsequently replied to this Dallas PD tweet with memes and videos of K-pop artists. Protests against police brutality have swept through the United States this week, with major demonstrations happening in Minneapolis, New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Dallas. Police have often escalated peaceful protests and lashed out violently. In addition to the streets, protesters have also begun taking action online as well. Dozens of people submitted one-star reviews to the iWatch Dallas listings on both the Google Play Store and iOS App Store. Many people used their reviews to say Black Lives Matter and call for justice for George Floyd.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - June 1, 2020

65 coronavirus cases reported at jail in Fort Stockton

Officials in Pecos County learned about 65 positive coronavirus cases among the offender population at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s N5 Unit located in Fort Stockton, according to an article in the Fort Stockton Pioneer. Pecos County’s numbers jumped from 28 cases to 93 confirmed cases.

The county found out about the cases through the tracking sites and calls from concerned residents. TDCJ reports cases directly to the state, while Pecos County reports its cases to the Health and Human Services regional office in El Paso, according to the article.

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SE Texas Record - June 1, 2020

Texas AG: Public employers must ensure employees consent to a payroll deduction for union dues

Public employers must ensure that employee consent to a payroll deduction for union dues is collected in a way that ensures voluntariness, according to Attorney General Ken Paxton. Earlier this year, the AG’s Office received an opinion request on on the application of the Janus v. AFSCME decision to payroll deduction of public union members. Janus, a 2018 Supreme Court opinion, found that millions of public servants no longer have to pay a government union as a condition of employment. Janus, a 2018 Supreme Court opinion, found that millions of public servants no longer have to pay a government union as a condition of employment.

State Rep. Briscoe Cain, District 128, submitted the request, seeking an opinion on three matters related to payroll deductions being used to support public sector unions, which are: Does Texas and its political subdivisions have an obligation to provide their employees with notice of their First Amendment rights against compelled speech? If there is such an obligation, would certain information be legally sufficient when providing this notice? And how long should a waiver of constitutional rights remain valid before needing to be affirmatively renewed? On May 31, Paxton issued his opinion, finding that, “at minimum, public employers must ensure that employee consent to a payroll deduction for membership fees or dues in a union or employee organization is collected in a way that ensures voluntariness, such as requiring direct provision of authorization from an employee to an employer.”

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2020

‘I wanted to wait till the end of corona:’ Evictions begin, slowly, in Harris County

On her first day back overseeing evictions, Justice of the Peace Jo Ann Delgado presided over a court blocked off by crime scene tape. Her court, Justice of the Peace Court Precinct 2, Place 1, was nearly empty. The only three people in aside from court staff were on either side of the case she had come in to decide: A property manager and her attorney and the tenant who had an eviction filed on him. Delgado purposely scheduled cases 20 minutes apart, but all the others slated for June 1 had been dismissed. “Please bear with us as we proceed in our in-person hearings that have resumed as of today,” she said before asking the plaintiff’s attorney to present his case.

Other justice of the peace court proceedings are still delayed. Delgado had heard a report — incorrect — that jury trials were set to resume in June. They’re not restarting for a month. Where would they even put the jurors? she wondered. There’s no way to do it at a social distance. The tenant up for eviction at 8:20 a.m., Carter Donte Lamar, had not paid his full $775 rent since March — before the Texas Supreme Court put eviction cases on hold. The monthly missed payments added up. By the time he made it to court, he owed $2955 in rent. The lawyer for the complex, in a gray suit and a blue mask, asked for $1,851.21 added on for attorney’s fees. “Before the corona, I ain’t never was late,” said Lamar, who, like the majority of tenants getting evicted, had come to court without a lawyer. He spoke rapidly through his N-95 mask about how he’d tried to get disability and now had unemployment and a stimulus check and could pay up if the apartment would let him.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 1, 2020

Vince Young Steakhouse calls out Adler on Twitter; Austin mayor responds

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order allowing reopened restaurants to increase capacity to 50% took effect Friday. Vince Young Steakhouse tweeted Tuesday that it was “open in the safest way possible.” The downtown Austin restaurant, owned by Laura and Phillip Brown, also used its Twitter feed to air a grievance with Austin Mayor Steve Adler — accompanied by a GIF of cyclist Lance Armstrong making a vulgar gesture. In a series of tweets, which have since been deleted, the restaurant announced they were open and following safety guidelines and accused Adler of trying to “overstep and keep small businesses hurting.”

“No switch has been flipped we just must quit fear mongering. Extending stay at home order when the governor has opened businesses up just confuses the public and keeps folks who want to go out confused,” the steakhouse, named after Texas Longhorns football legend Vince Young, wrote. A subsequent tweet saying “When @MayorAdler tries to override @GregAbott_TX and extend stay at home orders and preventing us from being able to provide our staff and families” was accompanied by a seven-second video of Armstrong making the middle finger gesture and mouthing an expletive. The moving image originated from a recent ESPN documentary about Armstrong. Adler had not seen the tweet when the American-Statesman contacted him Tuesday afternoon to discuss crowded bars over the Memorial Day weekend. After being told the contents of the tweet, Adler responded with thoughts about the city’s recommended public safety practices meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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Next City - June 1, 2020

In Austin, ConnectATX makes Covid-19 resources easy to find

Mary Davis had to stop riding the bus a few years ago. The 59-year-old has various health conditions and her doctor said she needed to limit travel, making it hard to get to the food pantry. Then she discovered food delivery service Good Apple last May. Ever since, they’ve been dropping off donated fresh produce and pantry staples at her apartment doorstep weekly, which helps supplement her food stamps. Davis especially loves the pinto beans. “I appreciate everyone who packs those bags,” she says. “I need it.”

Even before COVID-19, one in four households in Austin were having trouble putting nutritious food on the table — especially in low-income communities of color in East Austin, where Davis lives. Cue the pandemic, and it’s only gotten worse. In April, calls about food to the city’s resource referral helpline nearly doubled from the previous year. To increase food access for everyone, the City of Austin designated ConnectATX as the go-to resource during COVID-19. The site offers a vetted list of school meals, food pantries, curbside meals, and food delivery services like Good Apple, as well as social service programs. You might come to ConnectATX because you need groceries, then discover an organization that can help with rent assistance.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 2, 2020

Fort Worth march ends peacefully after curfew when police kneel, pray with protesters

A tense standoff between police and protesters ended peacefully Monday in downtown Fort Worth after the two groups prayed, talked and knelt together. Monday was the fourth night of protests against police brutality in Fort Worth, and hundreds of people lingered as a newly announced curfew began. As a church bell rang at 8 p.m., hundreds remained in front of the Tarrant County courthouse. Leaders of the march left slightly before 8 p.m. and warned others to do the same.

“If you want to go home, go home. But remember Atatiana Jefferson was shot in her home,” one protester said into a megaphone, referring to the death of a black Fort Worth resident shot in her home by a white police officer, who later resigned and is charged with murder. A few minutes past the 8 p.m. curfew, officers on bikes were stationed at a building across the street from protesters, but there had been no movement by police to arrest anyone. At 8:30 — 30 minutes past curfew — police cars began pulling up and the officers on bikes formed a line on Weatherford Street. Many protesters ran but then came back. Hundreds formed a line directly across from the police line, linked arms and chanted, “When you don’t give a damn, we don’t give a damn.”

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Texas Jewish Post - June 1, 2020

Kosher19 helps feed the Dallas front lines

Jewish professionals on the front lines fighting COVID-19 can now have delicious donated kosher meals thanks to Kosher19. “There are many feeding those on the front lines, but many Jewish professionals can’t take part, as generous as the donations may be,” said Dave Weinberg, who co-founded the New York-based nonprofit with Dani Klein and Bethany Mandel. “We created Kosher19 to allow those keeping kosher to also feel and receive that appreciation,” he said. The organization has raised more than $83,500 since Passover and has provided nearly 10,500 meals across the country.

Participating vendors are sending food not only to the one or few who keep kosher, but for the units and teams they work with. Each delivery is accompanied with a gift of kosher food and a note of gratitude, signed with encouragement to “keep doing what you’re doing and stay safe.” Kosher19’s first local donation came from Evan and Susanne Rosenhouse of Dallas, both former Yeshiva University classmates of Weinberg’s. “We wanted to be a part of this grassroots way of helping both our caretakers and our restaurants,” said Suzanne. “I shared it to our sisterhood group and the word spread.” Chaya Adelman, a surgical oncology nurse at Medical City Plano, is married to Yitzy and the mother of three young children: Hila, Sonny and Zach. She’d read of Kosher19 and wrote in for support; her request was answered twice over.

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National Stories

Bloomberg - June 1, 2020

Oil rally fizzles with OPEC-Russia accord hanging in the balance

The historic oil-supply curbs by OPEC, Russia and other nations that helped spur May’s record price rally are hanging in the balance as the cartel and its allies dicker over when to hold their next meeting. Oil futures settled slightly lower in New York on Monday amid mixed signals from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its confederates about the timing of their next discussions. One idea floated is to bring the meeting forward by several days to Thursday to consider prolonging production limits for as long as three months, according to a delegate. Without an extension, the existing caps begin to wind down next month -- a schedule Russia so far prefers to stick to.

Meanwhile, onshore oil exploration in the U.S. shrank for the 11th consecutive week to a level not seen since before the shale revolution kicked off more than a decade ago. Despite well shut-ins across North America, U.S. imports of Saudi crude have surged, swelling supplies held in storage. American stockpiles are “probably heading higher at least in the short term as more imports come in,” said Peter McNally, an analyst at Third Bridge Group Ltd. “The market is oversupplied to begin with. Everyone is looking for more signs of demand firming.” West Texas Intermediate for July delivery settled down 5 cents at $35.44 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent, the international benchmark, rose 48 cents $38.32. An earlier OPEC+ meeting would give the producer group more flexibility to change its current production limits. The group’s preference is to take short-term measures on cuts as the situation is volatile, the delegate said. The coalition -- which includes OPEC’s 13 members plus another 10 exporters -- has achieved 92% compliance, according to data analytics firm Kpler. Iraq and Nigeria have been laggards in meeting their pledged targets. Meanwhile, the U.S. Oil Fund ETF begins its monthly roll of futures contracts on Monday. The fund plans to sell its July holdings and buy more November and January futures over the next 10 trading sessions.

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Reuters - May 28, 2020

US taxpayers' virus relief went to firms that avoided U.S. taxes

Last month Zagg Inc, a Utah-based company that makes mobile device accessories, received more than $9.4 million in cash from a U.S. government program that has provided emergency loans to millions of businesses hit by the coronavirus. The money was part of the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — a linchpin of President Donald Trump’s economic rescue package, meant to save small firms convulsed by the pandemic and help them to keep workers on the payroll. Claimants certified the loans were necessary to support their business and received an average of $115,000 as of May 26, according to the Small Business Administration, which administers the program. Nasdaq-listed Zagg’s loan was more than 80 times that amount.

That wasn’t the only help Zagg had from the government lately. Last year, the company received a $3.3 million tax refund and racked up U.S. tax credits worth $7 million, its public filings show. It made $6 million in profit for 2019, but paid no tax in the United States. Zagg has booked much of its profit through small companies in far-off Ireland and the Cayman Islands, its filings show. The company’s situation is one of several that reveal a previously unreported aspect of the government relief program: The fund is giving millions of dollars in American taxpayer money to a number of firms that have avoided paying U.S. tax, a Reuters examination found. In all, Reuters’ analysis of public data found around 110 publicly traded companies have each received $4 million or more in emergency aid from the program. Of those subject to taxes, 12 of the companies recently used offshore havens to cut their tax bills, the analysis found. All together, these 12 received more than $104 million in loans from U.S. taxpayers. Seven of them paid no U.S. tax at all for the past year.

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WFME Orlando - June 1, 2020

Hurricane season collides with coronavirus, as communities plan for dual emergencies

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season starts today, and federal scientists expect storms to be more frequent and powerful. Two named storms already formed in the Atlantic this spring before the official start of the season. As Florida and other coastal states plan for hurricanes, they are confronting troubling new public safety calculations because of the novel coronavirus. There's now a chance for one disaster to layer upon another. Many lives could be lost: first, from powerful winds, storm surges and flooding, and then through the spread of the coronavirus in cramped public shelters following mass evacuations. Evacuees might pass the virus to friends and relatives who take them in, or get infected themselves in those new surroundings.

"The risks are significant," said David Abramson, a professor at New York University's College of Global Public Health, whose research examines the health consequences of hurricanes. "A lot of hurricane events lead to evacuations and displacements" without much time to build in social distancing safeguards, he said. The hardest problem in planning for a hurricane during a pandemic could be public confusion over whether to evacuate or stay at home, said Craig Fugate, former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Obama. "What I don't want to have is people to say, 'Hey, wait a minute. I'm not going to evacuate. I don't want to get Covid-19, I've been told to stay home,'" said Fugate, who also led the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "That may result in more people staying behind and increasing the risk of loss of life." Others may stay put just because they are among the tens of millions nationally who have lost their jobs and feel they cannot afford to flee to hotels or family inland. As a result, some emergency managers along the Gulf Coast are trying to line up more shelters for the greater number of evacuees they expect, a move certain to stretch local and state budgets already tattered by the economic downturn.

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Washington Post - June 1, 2020

Trump’s warning that ‘vicious dogs’ would attack protesters conjured centuries of racial terror

The white policeman stands in the center of the photograph, the German shepherd’s leash wound loosely around his left hand. With the right, the officer is reaching out to grab the cardigan of the young black protester, drawing him closer to the dog snapping viciously at his waist. The teenager’s eyes are cast down, a living symbol of nonviolence, his knee thrust forward as if to block the attack. Behind him on the street, other African Americans look on with alarm. The Associated Press photo, taken on May 3, 1963, as Eugene “Bull” Connor’s Birmingham, Ala., police force trained water hoses and snarling dogs on peaceful civil rights protesters, startled and shamed white newspaper readers across the country.

“The image of the savage attack struck like lightning in the American mind,” civil rights historian Taylor Branch wrote. Two days later in a White House meeting with liberals, President John F. Kennedy fumed in frustration at the photograph splashed above the fold on the front page of the New York Times and declared civil rights “a national crisis.” The image symbolized the brutality of American racism, so it resonated deeply when President Trump conjured it Saturday to warn crowds protesting the death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck. If protesters had attempted to breach the White House fence Friday, Trump tweeted, “they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least.” The remarks were met with outrage in many quarters, and a scathing reply from D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who said the president had “glorified violence” by recalling some of the worst images in civil rights history.

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Hollywood Reporter - June 1, 2020

"Mark is wrong": Facebook employees go public with criticism of company's policy over Trump post

Several senior Facebook employees publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the company's inaction over President Donald Trump's incendiary posts about the Minneapolis protests against police brutality. Facebook has faced a storm of criticism since last Friday, when it left up a Trump post that contained a threat to use military action against protestors in Minneapolis and also used the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," a line that was used by segregationists in the 1960s. Twitter, by comparison, flagged Trump's tweet for breaking its policies and hid it behind a warning label.

In a post on Friday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained Facebook's decision to leave Trump's post up, writing that although he personally had "a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric," the company's "position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies." This weekend, a number of Facebook employees publicly rebuked Zuckerberg's strategy on the Trump posts. Ryan Freitas, director of product design at Facebook tweeted, “Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind. I apologize if you were waiting for me to have some sort of external opinion. I focused on organizing 50+ likeminded folks into something that looks like internal change.” "I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up. The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard," said Jason Toff, a director of product management at Facebook.

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CNN - June 1, 2020

Trump calls for Supreme Court to reconsider flag burning laws

President Donald Trump said Monday that he'd support laws criminalizing flag burning, saying in a call with governors that it's time for the Supreme Court to take up the issue again as nationwide protests have intensified over the death of George Floyd. Trump's comments follow nearly a week of protests across the country that at times have turned violent over the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who died at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis. During the protests in some cities, people have vandalized buildings and looters have ransacked businesses. In Atlanta, protesters burned an American flag in front of CNN headquarters and photographers have captured images of flag burnings in Los Angeles and Washington state in recent days.

Trump, who as a candidate in 2016 proposed jail time or loss of citizenship for burning the American flag, called the act a "disgrace" on Monday and pledged support for an "anti-flag burning" statute. "We have a different court and I think that it's time that we review that again. Because when I see flags being burned -- they wanted to crawl up flag poles in Washington and try and burn flags but we stopped them," the President told governors, according to audio of the call obtained by CNN. "They're weren't able to do it. They would've done it if we didn't stop them. I think it's time to relook at that issue, hopefully the Supreme Court will accept that." He continued: "If you wanted to try to pass a very powerful flag burning statute again -- anti-flag burning, I hope you'll do it because we'll back you 100% all the way. Okay? I hope some of you do it."

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Associated Press - June 1, 2020

Trump slams governors as ‘weak,’ urges crackdown on protests

President Donald Trump on Monday derided many governors as “weak” and demanded tougher crackdowns on burning and stealing among some demonstrations in the aftermath of another night of violent protests in dozens of American cities. Trump spoke to governors on a video teleconference that also included law enforcement and national security officials, telling the state leaders they “have to get much tougher.”

“Most of you are weak,” Trump said. “You have to arrest people.” The days of protests were triggered by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. The demonstrations turned violent in several cities, with looting and mayhem, and fires ignited in historic park Lafayette Park across from the White House. The president urged the governors to deploy the National Guard, which he credited for helping calm the situation Sunday night in Minneapolis. He demanded that similarly tough measures be taken in cities that also experienced a spasm of violence, including New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. “You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again,” said Trump. “We’re doing it in Washington, D.C. We’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before.”

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Newsclips - June 1, 2020

Lead Stories

New York Times - May 31, 2020

Twitter had been drawing a line for months when Trump crossed it

Jack Dorsey was up late Thursday at his home in San Francisco talking online with his executives when their conversation was interrupted: President Donald Trump had just posted another inflammatory message on Twitter. Tensions between Twitter, where Dorsey is chief executive, and Trump had been running high for days over the president’s aggressive tweets and the company’s decision to begin labeling some of them. In his latest message, Trump weighed in on the clashes between the police and protesters in Minneapolis, saying, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” A group of more than 10 Twitter officials, including lawyers and policymakers, quickly gathered virtually to review Trump’s post and debate over the messaging system Slack and Google Docs whether it pushed people toward violence.

They soon came to a conclusion. And after midnight, Dorsey gave his go-ahead: Twitter would hide Trump’s tweet behind a warning label that said the message violated its policy against glorifying violence. It was the first time Twitter applied that specific warning to any public figure’s tweets. The action has prompted a broad fight over whether and how social media companies should be held responsible for what appears on their sites, and was the culmination of months of debate inside Twitter. For more than a year, the company had been building an infrastructure to limit the impact of objectionable messages from world leaders, creating rules on what would and would not be allowed and designing a plan for when Trump inevitably broke them. But the path to that point was not smooth. Inside Twitter, dealing with Trump’s tweets — which are the equivalent of a presidential megaphone — was a fitful and uneven process. Some executives repeatedly urged Dorsey to take action on the inflammatory posts while others insisted he hold back, staying hands-off as the company had done for years. Outside Twitter, the president’s critics urged the company to shut him down as he pushed the limits with insults and untruths, noting that ordinary users were sometimes suspended for lesser transgressions. But Twitter argued that posts by Trump and other world leaders deserved special leeway because of their news value.

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Wall Street Journal - May 31, 2020

Anger and unrest sweep across US

The worst civil unrest in decades erupted in cities across the U.S. this weekend as anger sparked by the death of a black man in Minneapolis police custody touched off demonstrations nationwide as protesters torched vehicles, smashed windows and defaced buildings. The National Guard said about 5,000 of its personnel were activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C., to aid law enforcement with protecting lives and property, as clashes that began last week spread beyond Minnesota. In at least one city, New York, investigators said outside anarchist groups fueled the unrest. Curfews initiated over the weekend were being extended in several cities.

The Minneapolis clashes began after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died during an arrest after a white police officer kept his knee pressed into his neck during an event that was recorded on video. That came after other recent killings of African-Americans and amid severe economic stress in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, creating a highly combustible mix. Stores along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile were looted, and windows were smashed. Nashville’s City Hall was set on fire. Near Los Angeles, stores along famed Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills were looted and vandalized. In Philadelphia, where police said more than 200 people were arrested in protests Saturday, video posted to social media showed police officers hitting protesters with batons, according to footage verified by Storyful. In Minneapolis, officials said Sunday that they had made strides in curbing lawlessness. The city looked almost militaristic, with major highways closed and a heavy presence of police and the National Guard.

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Houston Chronicle - June 1, 2020

Start of hurricane season adds to concerns of emergency officials dealing with coronavirus crisis

Dealing with multiple disaster threats at the same time is nothing new for Francisco Sanchez. As a 15-year emergency management veteran for Harris County, Sanchez understands the anxiety tugging at local officials wary of preparing for possible hurricanes while also dealing with the everyday reality of the coronavirus pandemic. Sanchez also appreciates the instinct that some emergency management officials have to be as detailed as possible in anticipating all sorts of disaster scenarios when social distancing may still be recommended.

But as counterintuitive as it might seem, details, he said, can be the enemy of the good when it comes to hurricane preparation. “Whether you’ve done one disaster or dozens, you know that no plan fully survives its encounter with reality,” said Sanchez, the deputy coordinator for the Harris County Office of Emergency Management. “Develop concepts of operations that allow you to be flexible and scalable. It will allow you to cover more ground at a time where time is scarce, planning resources are scarce and response resources are scarce.” The 2020 hurricane season, which starts Monday, is poised to be significantly different than prior years given how the coronavirus outbreak has altered everyday life, including basic disaster planning. The stay-at-home orders that were in place prior to May 1 as well as current social distancing guidelines have forced many emergency management officials to scale back and adjust their typical hurricane season outreach.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 1, 2020

Fact check: Gov. Abbott says almost 75 percent of Texas coronavirus fatalities are 65 or over

The claim: “We strongly encourage at-risk populations to try to watch or participate remotely, remembering this very important point, and that is almost 75 percent of the deaths from COVID-19 in the state of Texas are a result of people contracting COVID-19 who are age 65 and older.” — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. Abbott made the statement May 5 as he updated his plan to reopen the Texas economy, while recommending that at-risk populations “remain at home if at all possible” and avoid in-person gatherings, such as a church service, funeral or wedding.

PolitiFact rating: Mostly True. Of confirmed coronavirus deaths, close to 75 percent were people within the age group Abbott provided, but he failed to include the caveat that this statistic leaves out more than half the total deaths that have not yet been investigated. Discussion: Abbott’s spokesman John Wittman said the governor’s claim is based on figures from the Texas Department of State Health Services, which publishes daily numbers on the state’s COVID-19 testing and cases. The data includes a breakdown of coronavirus deaths by age, race and gender but only for those cases where the deaths have been investigated by local and regional health departments. As of May 19, the majority, or 489, were still under investigation. “The demographic data on cases and fatalities come from the case investigation forms submitted by local health departments and our regional offices,” DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen said. The purpose of the investigation is to confirm that the person had COVID-19 but also to collect other details about them and the circumstances around their death, Van Deusen said.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 1, 2020

After hard shutdown, Big Bend slowly reopening

With the coronavirus still lurking almost everywhere, the big family wedding in Ireland and the honeymoon to Italy didn’t stand a chance. So, last week, Grant and Kelly Heatley of Austin headed west for a more modest getaway that included kayaking on the Rio Grande. “The Big Bend is our happy place, so it’s a close second to Italy,” said Kelly, 33, as she waited at the Far Flung Outdoor Center in Study Butte. “We just wanted to get the heck out of Dodge. There is just so much we can take of each other in a 1,400-square-foot home.”

Two months after elected officials in Brewster, Presidio and Jeff Davis counties took the precaution of closing all area hotels and lodgings, effectively snuffing out the area’s lifeblood of tourism, the Big Bend is slowly coming back to life. While state parks are again receiving visitors, the Big Bend National Park, which last year drew close to a half-million people, is still closed. A phased reopening will begin today. Other popular attractions that remain inaccessible include the Museum of the Big Bend in Alpine, the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis and the famous art galleries in Marfa. “I think some people are still scared to visit. We are not on the way to anything. You have to want to come and see us. And if the national park is not open, that’s our main draw,” said Kara Gerbert, of the Brewster County Tourism Council.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 30, 2020

UTSA, feds in talks to launch cybersecurity institute to protect manufacturers

The University of Texas at San Antonio is in talks with the Energy Department to establish a $70 million cybersecurity research institute at the school’s downtown campus, its mission to safeguard manufacturers who rely heavily on automation. The institute would be the latest breakthrough in UTSA’s effort to make its mark in cybersecurity, one of San Antonio’s fastest growing industries. Details remain scant on the agreement to develop the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which university and government officials say will play an important role in modernizing network security for advanced manufacturers in the U.S.

“UTSA has entered into negotiations with (the Energy Department) and will work toward finalizing the cooperative agreement,” university officials said in a statement. “At that time, more information will become available about the institute, its partnerships and the scope of work.” The institute’s aim would be to research and address cybersecurity vulnerabilities within manufacturing supply chains and automated technologies. A key focus also would be ensuring manufacturers are secure as they shift to more energy efficient technology. The institute is slated to be housed in the National Security Collaboration Center on UTSA’s downtown campus. Construction of the NSCC facility is scheduled to finish in 2021, though it’s unclear if the coronavirus pandemic has slowed work on the project.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 29, 2020

Greg Jefferson: S.A. and Austin perfect together? Believe it

Chances are San Antonio and Austin would never hook up on Tinder. And if they did somehow wind up on a dinner date, Austin would spend the night alternately flirting with the server, talking about its super-interesting work and answering text messages. San Antonio would fill the frequent gaps in conversation with details of how former lovers trampled its yearning heart. But it would be a different story if a professional matchmaker took matters in hand — someone with a sharp eye, to whom the potential for love is nice but secondary to a union of complementary interests.

And there are plenty of those between San Antonio and Austin. So many, in fact, that a competent matchmaker would make quick work of it. It starts with population growth. A fresh batch of numbers from the Census Bureau confirms the two cities are rapidly gravitating toward one another, whether or not their policymakers are aware of it. San Antonio was the third-fastest-growing big city in the U.S. between 2010 and 2019, based on raw numbers. It added 221,000 people, bringing its population to 1.5 million. Austin came in at No. 5. It grew by 177,000 in the same period, ending with a population of 979,000. Even more remarkable was the explosive growth in their metro areas, in the smaller cities within San Antonio’s and Austin’s orbits. Based on percentage increase, New Braunfels was the third-fastest-growing city, beefing up its population by a stunning 56.4 percent. Cedar Park, northwest of Austin, was No. 7 on the list, Round Rock No. 13.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 31, 2020

Robert Salcido: Let the rainbow flag fly in court

Courtrooms are filled with symbols designed to send a message to all who enter. The most common is Lady Justice, blindfolded and holding scales, to signify that justice should be blind and balanced. The seal of Texas connects the court proceedings to our history as Texans. In Judge Rosie Speedlin Gonzalez’s courtroom, people would see a rainbow flag standing next to the U.S. and Texas flags. The flag was a gift from our local LGBTQ LULAC Council, Orgullo de San Antonio, of which I’m a founding member and the immediate past president, because of her leadership and visibility as a lesbian.

Gonzalez was asked by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in Texas to remove it and other rainbow decorations from her courtroom after a complaint was filed by defense attorney Flavio Hernandez, who also wanted the judge recused from any cases he handled. The commission stated the flag created the appearance of partisan bias. Such complaints had not been brought up about other Bexar County judges who display symbols of their beliefs and identity in their courts — from Mothers Against Drunk Driving emblems, to Bibles and crosses, to Irish flags, to the “thin blue line” flag that represents support for law enforcement. A family court in the county even had its own rainbow decorations to create an environment that make the children who come in feel safe. Many LGBTQ individuals in this country continue to experience ostracization and abuse from relatives, the justice system and anti-LGBTQ activists, in addition to discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces.

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Houston Chronicle - May 31, 2020

Floyd’s Houston nephew: ‘We don’t hate law enforcement, but something needs to be done’

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee delivered a message of understanding, peace and change Saturday, following a night of angry protests in Houston and around the country over the death of native Houstonian George Floyd. The Houston Democrat said too many Americans fear for their lives because of their skin color and vowed to work to pass legislation to fund training for law enforcement officers to de-escalate situations and overcome biases. “They cannot see a black man. They have to see an American,” she said, standing beside Floyd’s nephew Brandon Williams, Houston rapper Trae tha Truth and other family friends during a press conference at downtown’s Mikey Leland Federal Building. “They cannot see a white, a brown, an Asian and others. They cannot see a Muslim, a Christian, a Jewish person, or Catholic or Protestant. They have to see an American.”

Williams, 29, said his family wanted justice for his 46-year-old uncle, who died in Minneapolis police custody Monday night after a video showed an officer kneeling on his neck and pinning him to the ground while he pleaded for help. “I don’t think it’s hard to tell that that was murder. No person should have to go through that. No family should have to go through that,” he said, at one point steadying himself on the podium. The protests, Williams said, are about change. “I speak to the nation and world when I say people are fed up. They’re hurt, angry, disgusted,” he said. “We don’t hate law enforcement, but something needs to be done. It has to stop. I’m starting to feel like it’s normalized and nothing about that is right.” Jackson Lee thanked those who rallied in an effort to continue to move the country toward a place where all people have human dignity. She urged the protesters to be safe and the police to also take a considered approach to their actions.

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Houston Chronicle - May 29, 2020

Oxy shareholders give Icahn 3 board seats

Carl Icahn won three seats on Occidental Petroleum’s board Friday, giving the billionaire activist investor greater control over the direction of the embattled Houston energy company. Shareholders who gathered virtually for Oxy’s annual meeting elected Icahn Capital Portfolio Manager Nicholas Graziano, Icahn Enterprises General Counsel Andrew Langham and Margarita Paláu-Hernandez, CEO of Hernandez Ventures, to the company’s 11-member board of directors. The three Icahn-backed members were added to the board as a concession to Icahn, who has been vocal in his opposition to Oxy’s high-stakes takeover of rival Anadarko.

Yet Icahn, who also pushed Oxy to bring back former CEO Stephen Chazen to lead the company's board, faces an uphill battle to turn around the company and get a return on his investment. The activist investor is Oxy’s second largest shareholder with 88.6 million shares worth more than $1.1 billion, or about 9.9 percent of the company. “Carl is kind of stuck,” said Ed Hirs, a petroleum economist with the University of Houston. “He's got three of his team in there, but quick frankly, Occidental is in a bind. The value of its assets is much less than the value of its debt. There’s no quick flip on this.” Oxy on Friday faced shareholders for the first time since acquiring Anadarko in August and saddling the company with some $40 billion of debt. The megadeal, which made Oxy the largest player in the Permian Basin of West Texas, was a huge gamble that the world’s leading oil producers would play well together and that oil prices will continue to rise amid the U.S. shale boom. However, both linchpins of the deal suddenly fell apart in March, after Saudi Arabia started a short-lived price war with Russia and the growing coronavirus pandemic shut down economies around the world.

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Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2020

Dr. Dona Kim Murphey: No, Dan Patrick, Texas is not ready for pro sports yet

A few weeks ago, immediately after Texas reported an all-time high of 58 COVID-19 deaths in one day, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared in an Opinion column on these pages that Texans could safely attend professional sporting events. While Patrick’s proposal endeavors to ensure a fair and profitable experience, it does not address how to make spectator sports safe. Encouraging large numbers of people to congregate for entertainment at this critical juncture ignores key tenets of COVID-19 mitigation. In the past couple of weeks, we witnessed an all-time high of 1,801 new daily cases and received the deeply troubling news that Texas has manufactured data showing low prevalence of COVID-19 by conflating a test for the presence of the disease with a test for a history of the disease.

What we have seen unfold over the last month in Texas is recommencement of social and economic activities involving nonessential gatherings. Yet, we have not met the benchmark two-week average decline in new cases to show that reopening public spaces is safe, and our testing strategy and contact tracing resources are still evolving. Safety begins with low and known community prevalence of COVID-19 and a coordinated public health and health care infrastructure for strategic containment. Once we can demonstrate that the risk to our communities from COVID-19 has meaningfully decreased, only then can we talk about reopening large outdoor stadiums at reduced capacity with fans masked and socially distanced. The organizers of these events would need to be able to control entry and egress and how people move during the game. That is, fans would need to stagger use of shared facilities such as restrooms and food stands.

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Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2020

Mitchell Schnurman: How to boost Texas’ economy and humanity? Be more welcoming to LGBTQ residents — and make it a law

The pandemic has brought millions of layoffs and furloughs, and steep, double-digit declines in revenue. And now comes an idea, requiring no federal bailout money, to boost jobs, output and tax revenue: Pass a nondiscrimination law to protect LGBTQ people throughout Texas. The timing of the proposal seems odd, given the COVID-19 crisis. The Legislature also isn’t in session, which means there’s no threat of another bathroom bill anytime soon. But the message from the study rings true, and it’s evergreen: Diversity and inclusion are good for the Texas economy as well as its residents.

On Wednesday, Waco economist Ray Perryman released a study projecting a big potential upside from Texas adopting such a law next spring. It would help attract more technology companies and their workers, who often put a premium on living in welcoming communities. It also would help Texas land more tourism and major events, at least when those things start up again. By 2025, the study estimated, Texas would create an additional 180,000 jobs and $2.1 billion in tax revenue annually, with state and local governments sharing the proceeds. Over 25 years, the gains would multiply significantly, adding a cumulative $1.3 trillion to the state economy. “They’re big numbers, but they’re numbers we can all have some degree of confidence in,” Perryman said in a Zoom conference call with the North Texas Commission and Democratic and Republican members of the Texas House.

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Brownsville Herald - May 31, 2020

Bryan Read: Hess represented the best in Valley sports journalism

Very recently, I received a phone call. The caller wanted to know Roy Hess’ phone number, because there was a question about a Rio Grande Valley high school soccer record and they needed to know the correct one to go with. Roy had the answer. Of course he did. He always did. You see, when you’ve been covering the sport since its inception, when you cover the Valley’s regional and state championship seasons, when you’re named the regional sports writer of the year by the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches three times, you are an authority.

And Roy was THE authority on RGV high school soccer. But it wasn’t just soccer. Across a five-decade career, Roy also handled the Valley boxing beat. He covered football and basketball. Baseball and softball. Volleyball, cross country, track & field, swimming, powerlifting … he did it all. Along the way, he served as sports editor of each of the Valley top three daily newspapers — The Brownsville Herald, Valley Morning Star and The Monitor in McAllen. He expanded The Monitor’s coverage area (can you even imagine a Monitor sports department that restricts itself to McAllen schools today?) and gave countless reporters — a bunch of whom have posted tributes on social media since his death — shots at journalism careers. Even when he wasn’t a sports editor, he remained a veteran resource for young reporters trying to find their footing in the area. He was always willing to lend a helping hand, provide a phone number or offer a word of encouragement.

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Texas Observer - May 27, 2020

Feeding refugees on the Texas border has been tough. Now there’s COVID-19.

Since 2019, a crisis has been unfolding directly across the U.S.-Mexico border from Brownsville. About 2,000 refugees, largely from Central America, have been stranded in a riverside encampment, wholly dependent on humanitarian groups for food and other basic needs. Feeding them before COVID-19 was a daunting task for the aid groups, most of which are based in the United States. The pandemic has made food delivery considerably more complicated.

The refugees had begun assembling in Matamoros, a city of about 550,000, in response to the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a Trump administration policy unveiled in January 2019 that requires asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico until their cases are processed. The encampment first materialized in a plaza near the Gateway International Bridge. Then it moved a few hundred feet up and over a levee and onto a flood-prone stretch of the Rio Bravo (the Mexican name for the Rio Grande). Officials and journalists who have visited the crowded tent city describe it as a humanitarian disaster. Residents bathe and wash their clothes in the polluted river. Many avoid the overflowing portable toilets. Doctors have treated influenza, pneumonia, toxoplasmosis, burns, malnutrition, and scabies.

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Rio Grande Guardian - May 30, 2020

John Cornyn: How to show true Texas spirit

Fellow Texan, this is important. Your fellow neighbors need your help. The coronavirus outbreak has impacted Texans across the state, but I know we can get through this together. One way you can give back is through food banks. Needs have doubled in some areas, but it’s also gotten difficult for a lot of Texans to donate. If you’re able to help your fellow neighbors, or if you and your family need help, visit feedingtexas.org/GET-HELP/ today.

I’ve been focused on making sure Texas food banks have the resources they need, and yesterday I was able to give back by volunteering my time. I joined volunteers at a San Antonio Food Bank distribution site to help those in need. Like other nonprofit organizations throughout Texas, we took precautionary measures while serving our neighbors to ensure all involved stayed safe. On an average week, the San Antonio Food Bank serves 58,000 meals – but since the coronavirus outbreak, that’s doubled to more than 120,000 a week. Fellow Texan, I know we’ll get through this thanks to generous Texans who are coming together to support their neighbors showing the true Texas spirit.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 1, 2020

Fort Worth police use tear gas, flashbangs on crowd of protesters on 7th Street bridge

Fort Worth police used tear gas, smoke and flash bombs to disperse protesters from the 7th Street bridge after a crowd had been in a standoff with officers there for about three hours Sunday night. Officers drove protesters back down West 7th Street and began making arrests around 10:30 p.m. Protesters cleared the area. It wasn’t immediately known how many were arrested. Some protesters threw frozen water bottles and fireworks at officers during the face-off that began when marchers tried to walk from downtown to the West 7th District, police said.

Hundreds of protesters who marched through downtown Fort Worth beginning about 6:15 Sunday night started to move down West 7th Street about an hour later. That’s when their standoff with police began on a bridge over the Trinity River. Protesters locked arms as they approached a line of officers, some of whom were wearing riot gear and gas masks, blocking the other side of the bridge. Police warned marchers that the protest had become an unlawful assembly and said they could be arrested if they didn’t leave the bridge. The protesters got on their knees and chanted, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

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KXAN - May 27, 2020

$3.6M now available for tablets and webcams in nursing homes, as families struggle to connect

Brenda Blackshear wiped away tears, describing her aunt as kind and loving. Her “auntie” is in a nursing home in Austin, but Blackshear said she hasn’t talked to her in weeks –since family were banned from from visiting senior living facilities in mid-March. “It hurts, and I need to hear her voice,” she said. “I laid in bed for a whole week, not even wanting to get up, because I haven’t heard from my auntie.” She said when she calls, she’s transferred to someone who doesn’t pick up. Sometimes, she’s told her aunt is asleep or busy, and they’ll call her back. Blackshear said she tried to call on Mother’s Day but wasn’t “ever able to get through.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), along with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, have guidelines that urge facilities to provide virtual visitations or phone “visits.” “But there’s no requirement as to how often,” the Texas Long-Term Care Ombudsman Patty Ducayet said. Her office has heard heard several reports of family members frustrated by the lack of access to their loved ones. “Nursing facilities are required to have a resident phone available, but that’s a shared phone and in these days, that’s going to be a real challenge,” she said, expanding on the difficulty of scheduling times for calls and keeping that phone disinfected. She said some residents have personal phones, even smart phones, but many don’t. On Wednesday, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced $3.6 million in funding for facilities to buy tablets, webcams and headphones, so nursing home residents can connect with their families during the pandemic.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2020

‘We’re not playing tonight,’ authorities say as they begin to enforce 7 p.m. curfew in Dallas

Minutes after a curfew for downtown Dallas and surrounding neighborhoods went into effect at 7 p.m. Sunday, law enforcement began emptying the city center of protesters. Officers deployed tear gas as crowds scattered. Others fired pepper balls at a group congregated in a park. Police zip-tied the hands of people lying on the sidewalk as they took them into custody. “We’re not playing tonight,” an officer could be heard saying over a loudspeaker.

City leaders imposed the curfew after protests Friday and Saturday night in and around downtown were punctuated by vandalism and violence. Some demonstrators have said the peaceful events went wrong when police began to use tear gas on the crowds. The curfew begins at 7 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m. “for the next several days,” Police Chief U. Reneé Hall said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. It covers downtown Dallas, the Cedars, Deep Ellum, Uptown and Victory Park. During those hours, people may not travel on public streets or be in public areas, according to emergency regulations signed by City Manager T.C. Broadnax. As Sunday’s curfew approached, about 500 protesters were walking down Commerce Street into Deep Ellum, surrounded by Dallas police vehicles. Officers on loudspeakers warned that anyone who violated the curfew would be arrested.

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Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2020

Dallas police announce 7 p.m. curfew ‘for the next several days’ amid protests

Dallas police Chief U. Reneé Hall has announced a 7 p.m. curfew for parts of the city amid protests decrying police brutality against black Americans. Peaceful protests Friday and Saturday night in and around downtown Dallas have been punctuated by vandalism and violence. Protesters have said the incidents escalated when police began to use tear gas.

The curfew will begin at 7 p.m. and end at 6 a.m. “for the next several days,” Hall said. It will cover downtown Dallas, the Cedars, Deep Ellum, Uptown and Victory Park. So far, police haven’t shared much about how the curfew will work. Sgt. Warren Mitchell, a police spokesman, said after the news conference that there will be exceptions for people who need to get to work. Tristan Hallman, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Johnson, said a copy of what the mayor signed authorizing the curfew would be released “when it’s ready.” Hall said what Dallas had seen over the past two days was “no longer people protesting.” “Our hearts go out to the Floyd family, but this is not what we’re dealing with,” Hall said, referring to George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died Monday when an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

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D Magazine - May 29, 2020

Dallas’ Community Police Oversight Board to resume meeting on June 8

The 2019 overhaul of Dallas’ Community Police Oversight Board was a long time coming. It started slowly, but was picking up steam. The city had just hired a Police Monitor from New Orleans who would handle internal investigations on behalf of the public. We spoke with her in January, if you’d like to meet Tonya McClary. In its last meeting, the board agreed to review the department’s policies of releasing dashboard and bodycam footage. Considering what’s happening in Minneapolis and Louisville as I type, a body like this is an important resource for a nervous public. But the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent disaster declarations temporarily shut it down.

And when standing committees began meeting again, people started raising their eyebrows about why the oversight board wasn’t also. (For more context, the Dallas Morning News’ Cassandra Jaramillo has a very good exploration of the momentum the board was building toward and the frustration from its members and the public that it could not meet.) During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the fact that the board had not met in months attracted plenty of public speakers. The mayor tweeted his desire that it begin again and included it in his recurring email newsletter. And just a little while ago, City Manager T.C. Broadnax sent a memo to the Council and the mayor announcing that the board would begin meeting again on June 8.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 1, 2020

Shelley Potter steps down after 35 years running San Antonio ISD teachers union

In the late 1970s, the San Antonio Independent School District put a young first grade teacher named Shelley Potter in a school with boarded-up windows and no air conditioning. No one knew what they had set in motion. Potter went to her first teachers union meeting to fight for air conditioning across the district. She steps down Monday as president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, the city’s largest public sector union, after more than 35 years in leadership across its various incarnations. “I didn’t set out to be a union leader,” said Potter, 66. “I began to realize the power of collective action and that my union was actually a vehicle through which I could work to make changes to benefit kids.”

Potter shepherded her union through independent formation, a merger and subsequent growth. Her tumultuous tenure has included bumpy relationships with seven SAISD superintendents, varying degrees of success helping get friendly school board members elected, a constant struggle with public education’s biggest challenges — and a romantic subplot. Potter went to St. Mary’s University after graduating from high school in Waco. She began teaching in 1975 at SAISD’s former Johnson Elementary on the West Side. After a year, she moved to nearby J.T. Brackenridge Elementary, where she stayed for 12 years. Brackenridge didn’t have air conditioning when she arrived, and a replacement school was being built so close that classroom windows were boarded up because of the construction. Potter started agitating for fans in the classrooms. When the new air-conditioned building opened, the relief was instantaneous. Potter noticed that her students were no longer sleepy in the afternoons. Then she found out that 75 of the district’s 92 schools didn’t have air conditioning, which propelled her to attend her first meeting of the San Antonio Federation of Teachers, which had 300 members at the time. Tom Cummins, a fellow Brackenridge teacher, was running the meeting. Potter raised her hand and said something had to be done about the sweltering classrooms. Cummins asked her to head up a committee.

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National Stories

Associated Press - June 1, 2020

Court rejects bid to revive cancelled US pipeline program

A federal appeals court on Thursday turned down the Trump administration's request to revive a permit program for new oil and gas pipelines, an outcome that industry representatives said could delay more than 70 projects across the U.S. and cost companies up to $2 billion. The case originated with a challenge by environmentalists to the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from the oil sands region of Canada to the U.S. It's now affecting oil and gas pipeline proposals across the nation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting program allows pipelines to be built across streams and wetlands with minimal review if they meet certain criteria. Environmental groups contend the program, known as Nationwide Permit 12, leaves companies unaccountable for damage done to water bodies during construction.

“This is huge,” said Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Hopefully this gives us a chance to put a pause on these major oil pipelines.” Army Corps spokesman Doug Garman said the agency was not commenting because the matter is still in litigation. Government attorneys, backed by 19 states and numerous industry groups, had argued the cancellation would delay construction of pipelines used to deliver fuel to power plants and other destinations. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana said in a pair of recent rulings in the Keystone case that Army Corps officials had failed to adequately consult with wildlife agencies before reauthorizing the permitting program in 2017. Its continued use could cause serious harm to protected species and critical wildlife habitat, he said.

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Washington Post - May 31, 2020

Recruitment misses and money woes undermine GOP chances of reclaiming House

When Republican Mike Garcia won a Southern California special election in May - reclaiming a district Democrats had flipped 18 months prior - he gave the House GOP its most encouraging piece of political news since President Donald Trump was sworn into office. The good news might end there. While Trump, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and other GOP leaders have heralded Garcia's May 12 win as proof that they can win the House majority this year, many other indicators suggest that it will be exceedingly difficult to unwind Democrats' 17-seat majority come November.

Vulnerable Democratic incumbents have outraised their Republican challengers, national GOP groups have yet to show the ability to make up the fundraising gap, and in several key districts, some of the party's most coveted recruits have opted not to run. Public opinion polls, meanwhile, indicate a Democratic advantage on the congressional ballot in line with what the party enjoyed in 2018, ahead of its sweeping national gains. Nonpartisan forecasters in recent weeks have seen a worsening outlook for House Republicans, saying those structural disadvantages, plus national political obstacles for Republicans, will limit GOP House gains - and potentially allow for further Democratic pickups. "Republicans sincerely believe that 2018 was a high-water mark for Democrats, that it is just not possible that Democrats can improve on their 2018 performance, and I don't know that that's true," said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, who recently declared the California result an "outlier" and predicted that the November election would leave the House "close to the status quo" with no more than five seats changing hands between parties. GOP leaders see the math differently. Garcia's win, they argue, shows that Republicans can be competitive in the suburban battlegrounds where Democrats built their majority two years ago - on top of the 30 Democrat-held districts where Trump won in 2016.

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NPR - June 1, 2020

Restaurant owner whose business burned calls for justice for George Floyd

On the south side of Minneapolis over the weekend, Safia Munye and her family walk up to the door of what was Mama Safia's Kitchen. A volunteer from the neighborhood walks out onto Lake Street. "Is this your business?" she asks. Safia and her daughter Saida Hassan nod silently. "I'm sorry," the woman says. It's the first time they've seen it since fiery protests erupted in cries for racial justice and state troopers in riot gear blocked the road to this street.

The walls are charred black, the kitchen reduced to rubble. Glass and water are swimming in puddles as community members around them work to sweep away the destruction. Safia looks around stunned. Hers is one of hundreds of businesses damaged or destroyed in protests Thursday and Friday night. "Alhamdulillah," she repeats quietly. Praise God. "Everyone is safe." "My heart is broken. My mind is broken," she says. "I know I can't come back from this. But this can be replaced. George's life cannot. George's life was more important. That man that got killed in the most inhumane way. I hope he gets justice." George Floyd is the African American man who died after a white police officer pinned his neck to the ground with his knee last Monday for several minutes. Protests started in Minneapolis early last week and quickly spread across the country. Floyd's pleading words to the officer, "I can't breathe," are now a rallying cry for people protesting the many black people who have died in police custody. Safia, a Somali immigrant, opened the restaurant in December 2018 with her retirement savings.

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Vox - May 31, 2020

99 years ago, one of America’s worst acts of racial violence took place in Tulsa

As protests erupt across the country in reaction to George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, America is also marking the anniversary of one of its worst incidents of racial violence — and one that was covered up for decades. May 31 and June 1 mark the 99th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, when a white mob descended on an affluent black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Greenwood District, which was known as “Black Wall Street,” was decimated in a matter of days. Roughly 1,200 homes were burned, 35 blocks burned, and an estimated 300 black people killed.

The massacre was largely brushed over for decades — records of it disappeared, and it wasn’t often talked about. When it was, it was dubbed the Tulsa race “riot” as a way to muddy the waters of what happened and make it seem that both sides were equally at fault. In the 1990s, Oklahoma put together a commission to try to find out what happened in the 1921 massacre, and in 2001, it released a report on its findings. From its prologue, written by then-state Rep. Don Ross: A mob destroyed 35-square-blocks of the African American Community during the evening of May 31, through the afternoon of June 1, 1921. It was a tragic, infamous moment in Oklahoma and the nation’s history. The worse civil disturbance since the Civil War. In the aftermath of the death and destruction the people of our state suffered from a fatigue of faith — some still search for a statute of limitation on morality, attempting to forget the longevity of the residue of injustice that at best can leave little room for the healing of the heart. Perhaps this report, and subsequent humanitarian recovery events by the governments and the good people of the state will extract us from the guilt and confirm the commandment of a good and just God — leaving the deadly deeds of 1921 buried in the call for redemption, historical correctness, and repair.

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The Atlantic - May 31, 2020

Arnold Schwarzenegger: The America I love needs to do better

I immigrated to America in 1968. I had dreamed about coming here from the moment I saw images of the United States in elementary school. To me, the photos and film of towering skyscrapers, huge bridges, wide freeways, and Hollywood represented a land of limitless opportunity. I decided that this was where I belonged. America was in the middle of a race to the moon, and at the end of 1968, we watched brave astronauts launch into the skies above in the first manned Apollo flight. Their mission seemed to prove that this was truly a country without limits. But in 1968, as a new immigrant, I was shocked to learn that the country I had dreamed about since childhood wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t even close. Protesters took to the streets to raise their voices about the disastrous Vietnam War, about racist policies all over the country, about women’s inequality. A racist lunatic, George Wallace, ran for president on a platform of keeping many Americans down, segregated from the opportunities that brought me here. Two great voices of hope, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, were silenced by evil assassins.

On Saturday, we watched brave astronauts launch into space once again. And once again, our streets are filled with protesters who are fighting a system that limits them. MORE BY ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER Energy Ideas Democrats and Republicans Agree On ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER Coming to America ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER The past few days have brought another brutal reminder that America isn’t perfect. I still believe that we are the greatest country in the world, but we are at our best when we look in the mirror, face our demons, and cast them away to become a little bit better every day. The protesters we see in the streets don’t hate America. They are asking us to be better. They are asking on behalf of our fellow Americans who no longer have a voice: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many others. When I watched the horrible video of Floyd’s death, the first thing that I thought of was the video of Eric Garner losing his life for the crime of selling cigarettes. These weren’t dangerous criminals on the “most wanted” list, but these incidents are not nearly as rare as they should be. It has to stop. It will take all of us standing up. It will take better training for police officers. It will take the majority of police officers, who are good, pushing for change. But it has to stop. This isn’t an attack on police officers. It is a criticism of a broken system. My father was a police officer. I have always rooted for police officers. But you can be a fan of something and still see the wrong within it. And it is clear that something is very wrong.

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Newsclips - May 31, 2020

Lead Stories

Washington Post - May 28, 2020

Gripped by disease, unemployment and outrage at the police, America plunges into crisis

A global pandemic has now killed more than 100,000 Americans and left 40 million unemployed in its wake. Protests — some of them violent — have once again erupted in spots across the country over police killings of black Americans. President Trump, meanwhile, is waging a war against Twitter, attacking his political rivals, criticizing a voting practice he himself uses and suggesting that looters could be shot. America’s persistent political dysfunction and racial inequality were laid bare this week, as the coronavirus death toll hit a tragic new milestone and as the country was served yet another reminder of how black people are killed by law enforcement in disproportionately high numbers. Together, the events present a grim tableau of a nation in crisis — one seared by violence against its citizens, plagued by a deadly disease that remains uncontained and rattled by a devastating blow to its economy.

“The threads of our civic life could start unraveling, because everybody’s living in a tinderbox,” said historian and Rice University professor Douglas Brinkley. Barbara Ransby, a historian at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a longtime political activist, said the toll of the coronavirus outbreak made long-standing racial inequities newly stark. Then, images of police violence made those same disparities visceral. “People are seething about all kinds of things,” said Ransby, the author of “Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century.” “There are major turning points and ruptures in history. .?.?. This is one of these moments, but we’ve not seen how it will fully play out.” In the days after a 46-year-old black man died in the custody of Minneapolis police in an incident caught on video, demonstrators took to the streets. In that city, a police precinct was breached and set ablaze, along with other businesses. In Colorado, shots were fired near the statehouse. At a protest in Louisville, seven people were shot. Authorities announced charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter against the officer in the Minneapolis case Friday — which observers saw as a development that might quell some of the immediate unrest.

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Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2020

Trump plans to end campaign hiatus June 11 in Dallas, with $580k per couple dinner

President Donald Trump has picked Dallas for his first campaign foray since the pandemic began nearly three months ago, rubbing elbows over dinner June 11 with high-dollar donors. The dinner at a private home will have about 25 guests, campaign officials said Friday. The price to attend: $580,600 per couple, which works out to roughly $7 million. That includes two meals and a photo-op with the president, according to the invitation. The president will host a similar event two days later at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., price tag $250,000 per person, according to a GOP official. That works out to just over $6 million.

Dallas businessman Roy Bailey, the national finance co-chairman for the Trump Victory Campaign, said the president’s Texas supporters are excited about his visit. “He wants to be out there and he knows Texas is friendly and full of great supporters,” Bailey said. “We’re all excited about the event.” The campaign held a virtual Texas/Oklahoma fundraiser on Thursday, he said, led by Donald Trump Jr. and featuring former Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Texas Democrats weren’t amused by news of Trump’s impending visit. “Leave it Donald Trump to host a high-dollar fundraiser in Dallas while 2 million Texans are now unemployed and our nation is suffering from complete unrest," said party spokesman Abhi Rahman. "Trump should spend a little less time fundraising and golfing and instead do the job he was elected to do. Texans everywhere are sick of the Trump show. We must have real competent leadership in the White House. America can’t afford four more years of this.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 31, 2020

Ann Killion: Colin Kaepernick and George Floyd: Two knees, two reactions, one issue

Maybe if we had listened to Colin Kaepernick four years ago, we wouldn’t be here. Maybe if we had embraced Kaepernick’s peaceful protest, had taken it seriously, had paid attention to the issue he was trying to address, we could be working toward change instead of witnessing the chaos, anger and violence in our streets. Because this was exactly what Kaepernick was protesting. Not the anthem. Not the flag. Not the military. But unchecked police brutality against people of color in our country. It has been an issue as long as we have been a nation. Horrifying instances of brutality and murder continue to take place, whether or not someone pulls out a phone to record it, as happened in the case of George Floyd. For every one incident that happens to be recorded, think of how many hundreds take place without public exposure.

Kaepernick, the former 49ers’ quarterback, couldn’t change that history, of course. Not alone. But he turned a focus on it, using the enormous platform of the National Football League in the age of social media. Everyone noticed. Back then, in 2016, we - as a nation - had a chance to have a real conversation about systemic brutality. And we whiffed. Kaepernick, who on Friday announced on his Instagram page that his “Know Your Rights Camp” was starting a legal defense fund to pay for lawyers for those arrested during protests in Minneapolis, tried to address the issue without violence. Without broken windows or flaming cars. In the long tradition of nonviolent protest embraced by Martin Luther King Jr. He was vilified for it. He was blackballed. The disturbing irony of Kaepernick being made into a monster for taking a knee during the anthem in protest, in contrast to Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin taking a knee on Floyd’s neck and killing him, is not lost on anyone.

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NorthJersey.com - May 29, 2020

New Jersey Gov. Murphy claps back at Dan Patrick over shutdown: 'Not taking advice from this conspiracy theorist'

Gov. Phil Murphy shot back at Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Twitter Thursday night after Patrick criticized Murphy’s slow reopening of New Jersey’s economy. "Not taking advice from this conspiracy theorist," Murphy said. Murphy is facing increasing pressure at home to let shuttered businesses reopen. Some business owners have threatened to reopen anyway — he said Thursday they are “playing with fire” — and the New Jersey GOP is suing him, alleging his stay-at-home directive is constitutional. The governor argues that his slow reopening plan is the responsible option.

Patrick, a Republican, appeared on Fox News Wednesday to chide the Democratic governors of six states for not allowing all businesses to reopen. "The shutdown six,” he said. “Some of them don't seem to know when to let their people be free.” Texas reported a single-day high of 1,855 new coronavirus cases and 39 deaths on Thursday. Total cases there hit 59,776. New Jersey’s latest count is 157,815 positive cases. Murphy is a top target for Republicans nationwide. He was widely ridiculed by conservatives for saying on Fox News in April that he “wasn't thinking of the Bill of Rights” when he decided to put a halt to much of New Jersey’s economic activity, a comment Patrick referenced during his own appearance Wednesday.

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Texas Tribune - May 29, 2020

GOP voter registration group shutters amid coronavirus challenges

Engage Texas, the massive Republican super PAC focused on voter registration, is shutting down, citing challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. The political action committe began last year with the support of some of the biggest Texas GOP donors and raised $12.7 million while building a staff in the hundreds. Yet the group says that the monthslong pandemic has made clear that "person-to-person contact voter registration is going to be challenging for an indeterminate amount of time." "Leadership has determined that the highest and best use of supporter and donor energies at this point is to phase out person-to-person voter registration, close Engage Texas and encourage our supporters to engage with candidate and party activities ahead of the November election," Engage Texas said in a statement to The Texas Tribune on Friday.

Engage Texas, which had $6 million cash on hand at the end of March, is in the process of redistributing its remaining funds to other GOP groups with similar goals. The reallocations are expected to be detailed on its next quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission, which is due July 15. The shuttering of Engage Texas leaves the Texas GOP's Volunteer Engagement Project as Republicans' chief registration effort this election cycle at the state level. The project is aiming to register 100,000 likely Republicans by Oct. 5, the registration deadline for the November election. Party chairman James Dickey said Thursday that the project has surpassed 85,000 registrations. "Republicans are finally paying major attention again to voter registration," Dickey said during a tele-town hall about the party's 2020 convention. "It's back in our DNA, and we are ceding no turf." Still, the shutdown of Engage Texas is a major blow to one of the lessons that state Republicans took from their setbacks in the 2018 election — that they needed to grow their pool of voters and home in on registration after years of neglect. Engage Texas launched in June 2019 with the goal of signing up hundreds of thousands of new voters, led by a former top staffer at the Republican National Committee, Chris Young. The group's board included several GOP bigwigs, like Houston businessman and tort reform advocate Richard Weekley, while the organization collected six- and seven-figure checks from some of the state's leading Republican donors.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 30, 2020

Cornyn says Floyd killing ‘hard to watch,’ but ‘please take a deep breath’

After protests erupted in several U.S. cities over the death of an African-American man in police custody in Minneapolis, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Friday that “we need everybody to please take a deep breath” and await the results of an investigation. Cornyn spoke after fellow Texas Republicans condemned the death of George Floyd, a native of Houston. Floyd, 46, died in Minneapolis police custody Monday night. He had been arrested by officers investigating a report that someone had used a fake $20 bill to make a purchase at a store. Video showed an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck, pinning him to the ground while he pleaded for help, saying “I can’t breathe.”

“Boy, that was a hard thing to watch,” Cornyn said of the video. “And certainly our prayers go out to his family, and I would say our law enforcement officials have a very difficult job to do sometimes, but there will be a time of accountability if there was a mishandling of that situation. “I do know there have been acts of violence and various demonstrations around the country, including some vandalism here in San Antonio,” Cornyn continued. “That’s just simply unacceptable. We need everybody to please take a deep breath, let the authorities do their investigation and we will hold people who are responsible accountable, but violence is not called for.” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa called Cornyn’s choice of words “flat-out disgusting and downright wrong.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 31, 2020

IDEA Public Schools co-founder getting $900K severance following resignation

IDEA Public Schools co-founder Tom Torkelson will receive $900,000 as part of a separation agreement reached last month, when he resigned as CEO after a two-decade run with the state’s largest charter school operator, according to a copy of the deal obtained Friday. The amount far exceeds the annual salary of Texas’ highest-paid school leaders, who typically earned $300,000 to $450,000. Torkelson’s base salary on his four-year contract with IDEA, which had two-plus years left on it, called for an annual salary of $275,000 and performance bonuses of up to $200,000. IDEA officials said Torkelson also received a similar amount of compensation from IPS Enterprises, a nonprofit offshoot of the charter network, bringing his total annual payment close to the $900,000 settlement amount

IPS Enterprises was formed to assist the charter’s expansion nationally and does not receive taxpayer funds, relying in large part on private donations. In the separation agreement, obtained through a public records request, IDEA leaders and Torkelson said the deal was reached “to avoid a protracted dispute process, to avoid extensive legal expenses and costs including litigation costs that might otherwise be incurred, to preserve needed philanthrophy to IDEA and to resolve any and all disputes with finality.” “With respect to the transition of Tom Torkelson as CEO and Executive Chair of IDEA Public Schools, the IDEA board and Tom worked earnestly to facilitate an orderly transition,” IDEA Board Chairman Al Lopez wrote in a letter to IDEA affiliates.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 31, 2020

Chef’s business record questioned amid concern over USDA contract

As more questions surface about the credentials of a San Antonio events planner who won a $39 million food relief contract from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, similar alarms are sounding about his partner in the venture, local caterer Iverson Brownell. Brownell, who worked as a chef and caterer in Utah and South Carolina before moving to Texas, said on his website and on LinkedIn that he “initiated (the) concept” of a restaurant inside a yurt on a mountaintop in Park City, Utah; that he “co-created” a popular television show on ESPN; and that he “was chosen by the United States Olympic Committee for the USA House to be Head Chef” at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Although Brownell worked on each of these projects, his description of the roles he played is exaggerated, leaders of those ventures say. Brownell was hired as a chef in the yurt by its creators, led a segment on the ESPN show years after it was created and worked as a sous chef at the 2004 Olympics. Brownell filed for personal bankruptcy in 2011 in South Carolina after defaulting on more than $360,000 in debt, court records show. Brownell, 46, responded by email to questions about his résumé by explaining his roles in the projects in more modest terms. He defended his business record and attributed his bankruptcy to “a significant downturn in the economy and our business.” “I did nothing improper in relation to my business,” Brownell wrote, “and all transactions of the business were thoroughly disclosed and fully scrutinized as a result of the closing and bankruptcy filing of the business, the public record of which I stand by.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 29, 2020

Ted Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz wants the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into Twitter, accusing the social media company of violating American sanctions on Iran by providing social media accounts to Iranian leaders. His call comes as conservatives led by President Donald Trump have turned up the heat on Twitter and other social media companies in recent days, accusing the platforms of silencing conservative voices.

Trump on Thursday signed an executive order aimed at limiting legal protections for the companies for content posted on their sites. The order came after Twitter started flagging the president’s tweets about mail-in voting fraud as containing incorrect information. Cruz, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime critic of Twitter, now wants the Justice Department to launch a criminal probe into the company, which the Texas Republican says is violating American sanctions by providing accounts to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif. The company has responded to Cruz’s past demands that it kick the Iranian officials off the platform by saying Twitter is a communication tool and is “broadly exempted” from sanctions. The company also argued that “the public conversation occurring on Twitter is critically important during this unprecedented public health emergency.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 31, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: GOP loved mail-in voting when it saved Bush in 2000

Republicans hate mail-in voting, except when they love it. Back in 2000, it was a centerpiece of the GOP’s Florida campaign effort. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush sent a letter to Republican voters in his state, urging them to vote by mail and stressing the convenience of casting an early vote from home. The Florida Republican Party spent $500,000 producing and mass-mailing Bush’s letter, which included an attached ballot request card. When canvassing boards in seven Florida counties rejected more than 250 undated mail-in ballots that had come from overseas (on the grounds that ballots needed to be dated or postmarked by Election Day), Republicans didn’t thank those boards for saving Florida from voter fraud. They sued to get those undated ballots counted.

Democrats attempted to get 15,000 absentee ballots (which went Republican by a 2-1 margin) thrown out in Seminole County because the county’s election supervisor, a Republican, had allowed GOP volunteers to fill in missing data on thousands of incomplete ballots. The Florida GOP, however, fought to get those shady mail-in ballots counted. All that work ultimately paid off. The governor’s brother, George W. Bush, won the 2000 presidential election over Al Gore on the strength of a 537-vote Florida victory. In Miami-Dade County, which Gore carried by nearly 470,000 votes, Bush nonetheless won the mail-in vote by more than 7,000 votes. That was the whole ballgame for the Bush-Gore race. The 2000 Florida example merely confirms what our political instincts should have told us: that all this recent GOP blather about the inherent fraudulence that comes with massive mail-in voting is pure political self-interest masquerading as election integrity vigilance.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 31, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Let more Texans vote by mail during coronavirus, but don’t be blind to dangers, costs

The ping pong match over whether more Texans can vote by mail has paused, with the Texas Supreme Court rejecting the idea that voters can claim lack of immunity from the novel coronavirus and mail in their ballots. The idea, that is, but not the reality. More on that in a moment. A separate federal case is still in the works. An appeals court has sided with the state against expanding mail voting. But we urge that court or, if necessary, the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and say all Texans can vote by mail this year. After that, the Legislature should take up the issue in 2021.

The need for this was unintentionally made clear Tuesday, when Secretary of State Ruth Hughs issued two pages of guidance for voters that included bringing your own hand sanitizer and implement for marking a ballot. If the threat weren’t real, there would be no need for such exertions. The fight against more mail-in voting, led legally by Attorney General Ken Paxton and rhetorically by President Donald Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, centers on the possibility of fraud and even stolen elections. Advocates on the other side say fraud is exceedingly rare. As usual, the extremes are talking past each other: There’s no evidence of widespread fraud, but it occurs often enough that more precautions and scrutiny are necessary — with some prime examples in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “Ballot harvesting” schemes, in which mail ballots are intercepted or elderly voters get “help” voting the preferred way, are real. But it’s quite a stretch to say that fraud is rampant. And Paxton and his cohort don’t explain why it’s fine for large groups of Texans, including everyone 65 and older, to vote from home.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 30, 2020

For Atatiana Jefferson’s neighbor, break-in at her Fort Worth home is another tragedy

A little more than seven months ago, James Smith requested police check on his neighbor in south Fort Worth because he was concerned her doors were open around 2 a.m. What happened next still torments him: Former Officer Aaron Dean shot Atatiana Jefferson inside of her own home, killing her. Smith, who has been checking up on the home for Jefferson’s family ever since their mother, Yolanda Carr, died in January, noticed the screen door was open when he awoke Friday morning. He approached the home by himself.

The door behind the screen door was locked, so he simply moved it back to the way it should be and proceeded to do his normal inspection of the property. After walking up their driveway into the backyard, he saw screens from one of the windows lying on the ground. There was a discarded vacuum cleaner in the alley behind the home. He called Jefferson’s sisters, the current owners, and sent them photos of the vacuum. They confirmed it had belonged to their mother. When Smith went inside, the house was trashed — piles of boxes and papers covering the floor, food left out in the kitchen, shelves empty and ransacked. “Myself as well as the Carr children are dealing with post-traumatic stress. We’re still dealing with the Minneapolis situation. We’re still dealing with other situations similar to Atatiana’s,” Smith said over the phone Saturday morning. “This was just on top of the trauma that we’re already experiencing.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 30, 2020

Bud Kennedy: Texas Democrats meet this week, but it’s all online: ‘At least the drinks are cheaper’

Texas Democrats needed a really strong convention this week. Instead, they’re getting an online show. Right now, they need to show how they would lead Texas and America, and how they’ve united after 65 percent did not vote for Delaware Democrat Joe Biden.

But with a nation enraged and Minneapolis in the streets, instead Texas Democrats are home on their sofas. Their “virtual” state convention starts Monday, limited due to coronavirus. Sure, thousands of Texans can watch online. But this isn’t exactly Netflix stuff. The biennial party pep rally continues with highlights Friday night and Saturday, including a Senate runoff debate and a Biden video call. “It’s hard to generate political enthusiasm when you’re confined to your house staring only at a lit screen,” said University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus. “At least the drinks are cheaper.”

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Austin American-Statesman - May 31, 2020

Delays, privacy concerns slow efforts to track the virus using digital contact tracing

Nearly three months into the coronavirus crisis in the United States, there’s little progress on a federal -- or even state-level digital -- contact tracing effort to track the spread of the virus. Such technology would utilize the power of smartphones to automatically alert those exposed to COVID-19 when their phones have been in close proximity to the phone of an active carrier.

That delay continues despite work from Austin-area grassroots technology developers as well as two of the world’s largest tech companies, Google and Apple. Apple and Google recently released a jointly developed application programming interface -- essentially, a tool set that programmers can use in helping them create software products and platforms -- that they called Exposure Notification API. Google has a team of employees in Austin working on the project. The API would allow developers in U.S. states and countries across the world to make phone apps for contact tracing purposes and would allow users to opt-in to that software on their phones. But those who specialize in traditional, analog contact tracing and tech developers say the effort by Apple and Google won’t be effective without widespread voluntary adoption.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 30, 2020

Fires set as Austin protests against police violence spread, scatter

At least one downtown Austin shop was looted late Saturday as remnants of earlier crowds protesting police violence set multiple fires and harassed Austin police officers and firefighters. A mob raided the wares of Private Stock Premium Boutique on Sixth Street about 11 p.m. The store carries fashion street clothes, including T-shirts and shoes priced for hundreds of dollars. “Hey y’all, that’s a black-owned business,” someone in the crowd shouted as thieves kicked in doors and windows and ran away with armfuls of merchandise.

After the Private Stock break-in, a handful of demonstrators worked to restore a security gate across the storefront. Employees at other Sixth Street businesses worked to board up the windows and doors of their establishments. A crowd demonstrating in front of Austin Police Department headquarters earlier in the evening scattered as officers fired multiple rounds of rubber bullets. Several hours after demonstrations against police violence started in downtown Austin, the crowd of protesters was smaller but still vocal. Some protesters held signs and chanted. Some hurled water bottles at officers, as well as angry words. Officers fired a volley of less lethal rounds about 9:15 p.m.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 29, 2020

Texas conservatives ask court to strike down Abbott’s coronavirus orders

A prominent social conservative and a Republican member of the Texas House have asked the Texas Supreme Court to strike down the law that gave Gov. Greg Abbott broad powers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency petition, filed Friday and joined by five business owners and three Christian pastors, argues that the law granting emergency powers to the governor during declared disasters violates the Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

But even if the law is upheld, the petition argues, Abbott’s executive orders limiting business and personal activities should be overturned because they improperly limit individual rights and are “arbitrary, capricious” and extend too far. “The Governor contends he has the authority to unilaterally close businesses, trample on individual liberties, and limit (the) ability to do business and move about freely,” states the petition, joined by conservative activist Steven Hotze and state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. “Government power cannot be exercised in conflict with the constitution, even in a pandemic,” the petition says. The petition also included state Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, as a plaintiff, but that listing was in error, his office said. The legal fight underscores growing discontent among those on Abbott’s right flank as the Republican governor negotiates a pandemic that medical researchers are still struggling to understand and contain.

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Houston Chronicle - May 30, 2020

Mayor Sylvester Turner: George Floyd’s body returning to Houston

As mass protests continue to rattle cities across the country over the death of George Floyd, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Saturday the remains of the Third Ward native who died in police custody in Minneapolis will be returned to Houston for burial. “This is the same city that George Floyd grew up in, and his body will be returning to this city,” Turner said after a night of explosive protests. “So the focus needs to be on supporting and lifting up his family.” No details on the funeral service were released. Family members and a civil rights firm representing them were not immediately available to comment.

A GoFundMe page set up three days ago by Floyd’s brother has raised more than $4.6 million to pay for funeral, burial, grief counseling, travel and court costs. The money will also support his children and their education. Philonise Floyd, the victim’s brother, wrote that he and other family members “watched in absolute horror as the now infamous and horrifying video began to spread quickly throughout social media.” “What we saw on that tape left us shell shocked; a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling directly on my brother’s neck, obstructing his ability to breathe. As some officers knelt on his neck, other officers participated and watched; no one took any action to save my brother’s life,” he wrote. “Those officers would continue to brutalize my brother until he died.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 30, 2020

Texas National Guard activated in response to George Floyd protests

The Texas National Guard is being activated in response to protests of George Floyd’s death, one day after initially peaceful demonstrations escalated into widespread confrontations with police and led to eight injured officers and 137 arrests. "Texans have every right to exercise their first amendment rights, but violence and looting will not be tolerated." Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement Saturday night.

In addition, HPD Police Chief Art Acevedo said his entire department is ready, with all officers alternating 12 hour shifts. Mayor Sylvester Turner activated the city’s Office of Emergency Management, which ensures employees in various offices are prepared to respond. And Gov. Greg Abbott deployed 1,500 Department of Public Safety officers to four Texas cities, including Houston.Acevedo said many of the provocateurs Friday night were white, unconnected with the demonstrations and possibly from out of town. The department is also monitoring a threat regarding white supremacists planning to come to Houston and “create havoc” on Saturday, according to the chief, though he didn’t offer more details. The mayor said 80 to 85 percent of the people who ventured downtown Friday did so peacefully, and he thanked them and police officers for showing restraint.

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The Daily Sentinel - May 29, 2020

The Daily Sentinel Editorial: The internet disconnect

The coronavirus pandemic has amplified a disconnect in internet equality around the country, no more so than here in Deep East Texas. Working from home and online learning were the norm in most parts of America during the height of the pandemic. What quickly became clear during stay-home orders is that rural Texans are at an extreme disadvantage due to a lack of internet access. A 2019 study by the Deep East Texas Council of Governments found that fiber optic cable needed for broadband internet exists in less than 15 percent of the places it’s needed around the region.

The Pew Research Center found that 1 in 4 Americans lack high-speed internet access, either because of high prices or limited service in rural areas. Education has perhaps been hardest hit by the internet disparity during the pandemic. Schools around the country tried a variety of different solutions which usually ended with students sitting in parking lots to finish homework. The education process has suffered, and in situations like this, it will continue to suffer if nothing is done. The good news is that Austin, Washington and internet service providers are getting an earful from rural Texans who suddenly found themselves locked out of a digital world.

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KUT - May 27, 2020

Texas elections are going to be hard to staff, so voting groups plan to recruit poll workers

Many long-time election workers across Texas have indicated they don’t plan to be poll workers during the pandemic, voting groups say. Cinde Weatherby with the League of Women Voters of Texas said a poll worker shortage could be a huge issue if not addressed now. “The traditional poll worker definitely skews in the older range,” she said. “A number of them have already said that they are just not going to be available. People with extreme vulnerabilities to the virus are probably not going to be working the election.”

In response, voting groups in the state have said they plan to help officials recruit workers ahead of elections, which is not an issue these groups typically work on. Weatherby said the prospect bubbled up during the primary election in early March. Travis County election officials said a handful of polling locations didn’t open on time because poll workers were afraid to go to election sites as the coronavirus began spreading through the community. The League plans on holding a webinar this week with election officials to start learning more about the recruitment process, so it can help out. Weatherby said she hopes younger people – who may not have considered helping at the polls before – ask themselves whether this is something they feel comfortable doing. She said it could really make a difference if new people help out. “The fewer people that we have involved, the less support that we have available,” Weatherby said, “and the less opportunity for people to vote.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 29, 2020

Beto O’Rourke, local Democrats urge Joe Biden to pour resources into Texas to knock out Donald Trump

Democrats have been working from the ground up to turn Texas blue, so if likely presidential nominee Joe Biden invests resources from his campaign to win the state, it would be the cherry on top of the overall Democratic Party effort. “I’m going to continue to make the case to him, not that it would be nice, but that it’s necessary,” said former congressman and former 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. “I know that Biden can win here,” O’Rourke continued. “I don’t know what kind of investment he’s going to make, but regardless of what he does, we’re going to put the state in play. The best way for us to make the case is to show what we in Texas are willing to do for ourselves.”

Biden, the former vice president, has to determine what kind of resources to pour into Texas, a state that’s trending toward Democrats, but has been under Republican control for more than a generation. A vigorous Texas presidential campaign from Biden would help down-ballot Democrats, and turning Texas blue would seal a defeat of President Donald Trump and block Republicans from the White House for the foreseeable future. But winning Texas, long a Republican stronghold, won’t be easy. In 1976 Jimmy Carter beat Republican Gerald Ford to become the last Democrat to win a Texas presidential contest. Texas Democrats haven’t won a statewide race since 1994. But since 2014, when Republican Greg Abbott beat former state Sen. Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points, Democrats have inched closer to breaking through.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - May 29, 2020

Texas' GOP chairman is getting ready in case Trump needs new venue for national convention

Texas Republicans have a simple message to their national party counterparts: If North Carolina is unwilling to give President Donald Trump the ebullient convention he wants to launch his renomination, the Lone Star State will gladly step up. "We would certainly welcome them here," said Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey, adding that it would be a "herculean" but doable task to secure a venue and arrange hotel accommodations for thousands of delegates and hundreds of reporters on such short notice.

The possibility of relocating the Republican National Convention, planned for Aug. 24-27 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, was raised by Trump amid concerns that fears of further spreading coronavirus might mean limitations on the crowd size in the arena. Trump, in a May 25 tweet, called out Gov. Roy Cooper, suggesting the Democrat was seeking to deflate the Republicans' balloon heading into the homestretch of the 2020 presidential campaign. Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina's top health official, sent a letter to convention planners Friday asking them whether safety measures like required face coverings, social distancing and health screenings will required of delegates. With the question of whether the giant event can be pulled off in what is sure to be a battleground state in November, Dickey said officials from the national of Republican Party have reached out to him and Gov. Greg Abbott about stepping up. Texas has been the nation's most reliable Republican large state for decades, but Democrats are hoping to put it in play this cycle.

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Spectrum News - May 29, 2020

Demand for mail-in ballots surges during pandemic

As the legal battle over who can vote by mail in Texas continues, some elections officials say they're seeing a surge in requests for absentee ballots during the pandemic. “Normally absentee ballots are less than 10 percent, sometimes even less than 5 percent, and what we're seeing now, though, is a huge increase in people asking for ballot by mail,” Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said. “We would have thought that one thousand ballots received by mail for a runoff election would have been pretty normal. We have over 17,000 in house right now.”

DeBeauvoir said most are requests from people over the age of 65. In order to qualify for a mail-in ballot, a voter must be 65 or older, disabled, out of the country on Election Day, or in jail but not convicted. But following a Texas Supreme Court ruling this week, confusion has spread over who is actually eligible. That's because while the court decided the pandemic is no reason to expand voting by mail, justices also said election officials don't have to check voter claims of disability. DeBeauvoir says it’s a matter of checking a box and voters don't have to go into detail about what that disability might be.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 29, 2020

Emily Farris: Tarrant sheriff should spend more time fixing jail, less building his national profile

Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn is not one to shy away from publicity. Whether on Fox News, speaking at the White House, or standing before the cameras with conservative commentator Allen West, Waybourn has spent the last three and half years trying to politicize the sheriff’s office and raise his stardom nationally among conservatives. But while the sheriff accepts invitations to appear nationally on outlets such as Fox News, he failed to inform the local public or respond to a Star-Telegram reporter’s request for information about how the jail he runs lost state certification this week by not meeting minimum standards.

As the sheriff was at the hospital after West’s motorcycle wreck in Waco, someone being held in Waybourn’s jail died of coronavirus at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. And while Waybourn stood in front of a White House lectern and demonized immigrants last year, he couldn’t provide basic statistics about inmates in his jail while asking the Tarrant County Commissioners Court to spend taxpayer dollars to renew the county’s voluntary 287(g) immigration program, in which jail deputies perform some federal immigration duties. Sheriffs’ primary tasks are to run jails and conduct law enforcement duties, such as investigating crime and serving warrants. Unlike police chiefs, sheriffs are accountable directly to the voters for the job they do as elected officials. My research on sheriffs with Dr. Mirya Holman of Tulane University shows that they are key local policymakers. As politicians with independent authority, there are few checks on sheriffs by other local leaders, leaving it up to the voters’ to assess their job performance. When a sheriff obscures troubling information about his major duties, he breaks his obligation to the public, leaving the office open to abuses of power.

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Houston Chronicle - May 30, 2020

Erica Grieder: Incoming Harris County Clerk focused on safety, possibilities of 2020 election

Chris Hollins, a Houston attorney who will be sworn in as interim Harris County Clerk on Monday, knows what he’s gotten himself into. That might be the most important qualification, in itself, for his new post. “It is certainly going to be a lot of hard work,” he said Wednesday afternoon, sitting on the patio at Bar 5015 on Almeda Road as storm clouds gathered over the city. “Even before the global pandemic, an election in a place like Harris County is extraordinarily difficult to pull off.” That’s an understatement. Harris County is the third-largest in the country, with nearly 2.4 million registered voters — an electorate larger than that of many states. This year’s elections, thus far, have included some logistical challenges resulting in part from outgoing Clerk Diane Trautman’s shift to countywide voting on Election Day.

The November election will include another major change, due to the end of straight-ticket voting across the state; that’s going to affect the efficiency of voting in Harris County, which routinely has a super-long ballot. Plus, of course, there’s the pandemic. The safety concerns Americans have about voting in person, for the time being, have led to a parallel political debate about mail-in voting, which has yet to be resolved. Democrats, in Texas and elsewhere, are pushing to expand mail-in voting to all voters, at least until the new coronavirus can be contained. Some Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, are arguing that this push is ideologically motivated. They keep insisting — without evidence — that an expansion of mail-in voting would lead to a surge in voter fraud. Indeed, Trump has suggested that a surge in voter fraud is what Democrats want, and his rhetoric has been echoed by state leaders such as Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 31, 2020

Tensions escalate but remain nonviolent after peaceful day of protests in Houston

Bracing for a second day of fierce protests, local and state leaders deployed a heavy presence of law enforcement officers across Houston Saturday and were met with largely peaceful demonstrations — along with occasional clashes — by those angered over the death of former Houston resident George Floyd. By late evening, officials had yet to see a repeat of the chaotic events from Friday night that injured eight police officers, damaged 16 police cruisers and resulted in 137 arrests. The day began with Floyd’s classmates from Yates High School holding a vigil and marching without incident through the Third Ward neighborhood where he grew up, followed several hours later by a second march from Emancipation Park through Midtown to City Hall.

Demonstrators at times butted heads with police who tried to hem them in, though without triggering any violent confrontations. Still, event organizers acknowledged they found it difficult to maintain peace with so many tired and angry at what they viewed as a hostile police and political elite. “Those that have an agenda that can throw progress off, you have to distance yourself,” said Casper Snow, who urged marchers in the afternoon to stop bickering among themselves. “You just can’t keep everyone in the same emotion.” What all marchers agreed was there is a schism between police and minorities. “I’m pissed off like everybody else,” said T. Grant Malone, pastor at St. John Missionary Baptist Church. Some said they are trying to strike a balance between supporting police and demanding reform within law enforcement agencies that they argue are laden with structural racism. “We don’t hate officers. We don't like officers who kill people for no reason,” march organizer Justin Jones said.

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Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2020

Why Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall made the call to use tear gas at George Floyd protests

Dressed in riot gear and holding shields, Dallas Police officers gathered in a defensive line downtown, confronting the latest round of protesters Saturday. For the second day in a row, police in this city deployed a technique not used in recent memory — shooting tear gas into the crowds. The only verbal warning? “Get back,” a few officers yelled Saturday, and then moments later, they pushed up the street, releasing pepper spray and firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The decision quickly drew backlash from protesters, who had held peaceful demonstrations in front of Dallas Police Headquarters on South Lamar Street on Friday and at City Hall on Saturday before marching through downtown. The protests were in response to deadly police force incidents across the country — most recently the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a black man who died while a white officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck. At Dallas City Hall on Saturday, Police Chief U. Reneé Hall defended her decision to use tear gas the night before as a way to try to disperse protesters who she said were vandalizing property.

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National Stories

Associated Press - May 31, 2020

‘Back in the game’: SpaceX ship blasts off with 2 astronauts

A rocket ship built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company thundered away from Earth with two Americans on Saturday, ushering in a new era in commercial space travel and putting the United States back in the business of launching astronauts into orbit from home soil for the first time in nearly a decade. NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode skyward aboard a white-and-black, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off at 3:22 p.m. from the same launch pad used to send Apollo crews to the moon a half-century ago. Minutes later, they slipped safely into orbit.

“Let’s light this candle,” Hurley said just before ignition, borrowing the historic words used by Alan Shepard on America’s first human spaceflight, in 1961. The two men are scheduled to arrive Sunday at the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth, for a stay of up to four months, after which they will come home with a Right Stuff-style splashdown at sea, something the world hasn’t witnessed since the 1970s. The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans, and racial unrest across the U.S. over the case of George Floyd, the handcuffed black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police.

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New York Times - May 31, 2020

Two crises convulse a nation: A pandemic and police violence

They are parallel plagues ravaging America: The coronavirus. And police killings of black men and women. Jimmy Mills’s life has been upended by both. His barbershop in Midtown Minneapolis was one of many small, black-owned businesses that have struggled to survive the pandemic. But Mr. Mills was hopeful because, after two months shut down, he was due to reopen next week. Then early on Friday, the working-class neighborhood where Mr. Mills has cut hair for 12 years went up in flames as chaotic protests over the death of George Floyd and police killings of African-Americans engulfed Minneapolis and cities across the country. “To have corona, and then this — it’s like a gut shot,” Mr. Mills, 56, said.

The upheaval sparked by a video capturing Mr. Floyd’s agonizing last minutes as a white police officer kneels on his neck is pulsing through an America already ragged with anger and anxiety. Emotions are raw over the toll of a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people across the country and cost millions of jobs. Minneapolis residents said outrage and protests in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd were a result of a community being tested repeatedly in recent weeks by both police violence and the virus — and in ways that put America’s deep racial inequalities in stark relief. The outbreak has inflicted disproportionate economic and health tolls on racial minorities and immigrants in Minneapolis and beyond. Black and Latino workers have been more likely to have lost their jobs. Many others are among the low-paid hourly workers who risk their health by going to work at grocery stores, nursing homes, factories, slaughterhouses and other jobs that cannot be done remotely. The black community in Minnesota has also been hit hard by cases of the virus, just as African-Americans across the country are being infected and dying at higher rates.

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Politico - May 31, 2020

McConnell and Pelosi's next battle: How to help the 40 million unemployed

The debate over whether Congress will approve a new round of pandemic aid is over. Now it’s just a question of what’s in the package. After brushing off Democrats’ demands for more relief, Senate Republicans now say the next major coronavirus package is likely to move in the coming weeks. And a key conflict ahead will be over how to help the 40 million Americans out of work. The shift comes as the state of the economy grows worse and more GOP senators call for action. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is already making clear Republicans will not support an extension of the extra unemployment benefits Congress passed in March. GOP lawmakers say the additional aid — which expires at the end of July — provides a disincentive to return to work and some are now proposing alternatives they can rally behind.

Democrats counter that Congress must extend benefits for the millions struggling to pay bills as the U.S. faces its most uncertain economic climate in generations. Regular unemployment insurance, they note, covers just half of workers’ pay on average. In fact, some top Democrats want to go further. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is eyeing a push to automatically tie unemployment benefits to the condition of the economy, according to a Senate aide — a move that has not been previously reported. Supporters of the automatic stabilizer idea, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also publicly endorsed, say it would avoid the political wrangling that could otherwise threaten to hold up much-needed aid. The divide over jobless benefits is likely to surface as one of the biggest flashpoints for McConnell and Pelosi as they lead their parties in talks on the next major aid bill. The outcome will determine not just how much help goes to the roughly 1-in-4 unemployed Americans but how the parties can position themselves in a fierce campaign where Congress and the White House are up for grabs.

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VICE - May 29, 2020

Far-right extremists are hoping to turn the George Floyd protests into a new Civil War

Far-right extremists are showing up, with guns, to the protests against police brutality that have exploded across the country. Others are egging on the violence from behind their computers, urging followers to carry out acts of violence against black protesters with the goal of sparking a “race war.” Their presence makes an uneasy addition to the escalating unrest, which was triggered by the death of George Floyd, a black man who was choked to death by a white Minneapolis police officer earlier this week. But there’s a range of motivations that’s driving far-right interest toward the protests, which are being led by community members and Black Lives Matter, and bolstered by antifascists.

For example, the so-called Boogaloo Bois — a group of armed anti-government extremists made visible by their Hawaiian shirts — have reportedly shown up to some of the protests. The “boogaloo” is code for impending civil war or violent confrontation with law enforcement, and that’s what they’re hoping to get out of the protests. Their main reason for being there is their antipathy toward law enforcement, and so they’re trying to position themselves as allies of Black Lives Matter protesters. They’ve made police brutality one of their central issues, which was explored at length in a Bellingcat article this week. Their approach to police brutality links the victims of the deadly standoff with federal agents at Ruby Ridge in 1992, to the victims of modern police brutality, including Floyd. But unlike the vast majority of protesters, they refuse to acknowledge the fact that police brutality is an issue that disproportionately impacts people of color.

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Bloomberg - May 30, 2020

Joe Nocera: Riots breed chaos, violence and most likely Covid-19

Like so many Americans, I didn’t get much sleep Friday night. All night long, I kept refreshing my Twitter feed, watching and re-watching the videos of the rioting that took place in cities nationwide in reaction to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier in the week. I saw a New York police officer throwing a young protester to the ground, calling her a vile name as he did; a police car going up in flames in Dallas; an assault on the CNN building in Atlanta; a police officer in Louisville, Kentucky, shooting a pepper-spray ball at a camera operator. And on and on.

My feelings watching the riots unfold weren’t much different from most people’s: horror, revulsion and a powerful sadness that this is what it had come to, perhaps inevitably, three and a half years into the presidency of Donald Trump. I recalled watching the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968. I thought about Ferguson, Missouri, and about the way so many police forces across the country seem to operate with impunity. I thought about that appalling tweet the president sent earlier on Friday: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” And I thought about one other thing: Philadelphia in late September 1918. The U.S. had entered World War I the year before, and the city had planned an enormous parade — It would stretch two miles — to raise money for the war effort. The 1918 pandemic, which would eventually kill an estimated 675,000 Americans, was in its early stages, just beginning to jump from military bases, where it began, to the broader population.

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NEPR - May 30, 2020

GOP fears loss of reliable US Senate seat amid fractious Kansas primary

With control of the U.S. Senate up for grabs in November, Republicans may have fights on their hands in states they have long taken for granted: Kansas, for example. The GOP has had a lock on both of the state's Senate seats since the Great Depression. However, as they approach a Monday, June 1, filing deadline, party leaders are not confident that any of the candidates now in the field are a lock to hold onto retiring Sen. Pat Roberts' seat. Democrats hope that a victory in Kansas in November can help deliver them a majority in the U.S. Senate, which, if they win the White House as well, will provide a major boost to the party's legislative priorities.

Those concerns prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to intensify his efforts to convince U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to run. The former GOP congressman from Kansas has rejected those overtures, but rumors of a last-minute entry persist. Referencing the upcoming filing deadline in a recent interview on Fox News, McConnell said, "I guess the suspense won't last much longer." Mike Kuckelman, chair of the Kansas Republican Party, said he has not "heard anything" from Pompeo to indicate that the secretary of state has changed his mind. "I think he's been pretty clear that he's not going to" run, Kuckelman said. Even so, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle's abrupt decision Thursday to drop out of the race signaled that party leaders were working behind the scenes to thin the field in an effort to avoid a bruising primary. In a statement announcing her decision, Wagle said she had spoken with state and national party leaders and did not want to participate in "a primary fight that will divide our party."

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Newsclips - May 29, 2020

Lead Stories

Axios - May 29, 2020

Twitter: Trump's Minnesota tweet violated rules on violence

Twitter said Friday morning that a tweet from President Trump in which he threatened shooting in response to civil unrest in Minneapolis violated the company's rules. The company said it was leaving the tweet up in the public interest. The move exacerbates tensions between Twitter and Trump over the company's authority to label or limit his speech and, conversely, the president's authority to dictate rules for a private company.

"This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence," the company said in text that now accompanies the tweet. "However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible." The decision to label Trump's tweet was made by teams within Twitter and CEO Jack Dorsey was informed of the plan before the tweet was labeled, Twitter told Axios. Earlier in the day, President Trump signed an executive order with an aim of trying to limit legal protections afforded to social media sites, including Twitter.

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Houston Chronicle - May 28, 2020

Texas tells ISDs to follow DeVos guidance boosting relief funding for private schools

Texas Education Agency officials are advising school districts to follow controversial federal guidance on a key section of the coronavirus relief law, which some education advocates believe will result in private schools getting millions of dollars more at the expense of public schools. The guidance, issued in late April by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ administration, delivers added financial support from the $2 trillion CARES Act to private schools across Texas, many of which are expecting to lose students and money as families tighten their budgets during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, some public school leaders believe Devos, a strong supporter of private schools, is misinterpreting the federal coronavirus relief law to their detriment. While the ultimate impact of the guidance on Texas schools is not known, public schools likely stand to lose and private schools stand to gain tens of millions of dollars. In a statement, TEA officials said the agency “plans to follow the guidance” from DeVos’ administration. Education leaders in at least three states — Indiana, Maine and Pennsylvania — have advised their school districts to disregard the guidance or questioned federal officials on their interpretation. “Until, and if, Congress or the federal courts require that the U.S. Department of Education change its present guidance, Texas will follow that guidance, in order to ensure that critically needed federal funds are not jeopardized through noncompliance,” a TEA spokesman said. The dust-up centers on whether private schools’ share of $13 billion in federal relief funds — including $1.3 billion allocated to Texas — should be based on the number of low-income students they enroll or the total number of students they serve.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 28, 2020

Former Capitol staffer accused of Austin shooting rampage deemed competent to stand trial

A former Texas Capitol staffer accused of killing of his neighbor and going on a 2018 shooting rampage in South Austin has been found to be competent to stand trial, according to the Travis County district attorney’s office. The competency finding will allow litigation to resume on Curry’s charges. He was found incompetent to stand trial in September. Although a judge ordered Curry be sent to a state psychiatric hospital in Vernon, a spot never became available, and he was treated at the Travis County Correctional Complex.

Prosecutors and Curry’s attorney are scheduled Tuesday to discuss the competency report. Curry fatally shot his neighbor, 32-year-old Christian Meroney, at the Post South Lamar Apartments, then shot and wounded two more people days later in unconnected incidents, according to affidavits police filed in 2018. He was taken into custody when police found him returning to his apartment. Police searched Curry’s Chevy Tahoe and found two handguns and a rifle — all of them loaded — along with spent cartridge casings. “I’ve been in close contact with the victim’s mother and father,” prosecutor Joe Frederick said Thursday. “They’re eagerly anticipating this case moving forward, as am I.”

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KUT - May 29, 2020

Who has the final say on which Texans qualify to vote by mail: Courts? Politicians? Try voters.

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the absence of immunity to COVID-19 does not qualify a voter to use the disability category to request a mail-in ballot during the coronavirus pandemic. The court also says it will not make election officials investigate – or deny – applications to vote by mail. Confused by the back and forth over mail-in ballots in Texas? OK, let's sort some of that out. Most voters might be thinking ahead to 2020 presidential election this fall. But Texans have another election before then: The March primary runoffs are in July, having been postponed because of the pandemic. And it's that pandemic that has some people worried about going out to vote in public.

The concern has prompted lawsuits in state and federal courts over the possibility of expanding Texas' system for voting by mail. Right now, to qualify for a mail-in ballot, a voter must meet one of four criteria: be 65 years old or older; be in jail (but not convicted); be out of the country; be sick or disabled. That last provision – about being sick or disabled – has been the focus of attention in the courts. Some voters are concerned about the risk of infection by going out to potentially crowded polling places and waiting in long, jammed lines.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 29, 2020

Erica Grieder: Dan Patrick’s scaremongering about vote-by-mail undermines the integrity of our elections

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has good reason to fear an increase in Texas’s traditionally anemic voter turnout rate. The Republican from Houston isn’t on the ballot this year. But in 2018, he squeaked his way to re-election, winning by less than four points after Democrat Mike Collier tapped into the grassroots enthusiasm of Texans who support public education as well as the anti-Donald Trump sentiment that galvanized that year’s electorate. So Patrick’s pooh-poohing of the Democratic-led push to expand voting by mail during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic makes sense, in a way.

And the lieutenant governor wasn’t fooling anybody when on Friday morning he denounced Democrats for their efforts. “Look, when you have an opportunity to steal a vote, the Democrats will take advantage of it,” Patrick said during an interview on Fox News. He went on to scoff at the concerns about safety at the ballot box that he’s heard, he said, from Democrats “and even, sadly, from a few Republicans who don’t understand what’s at stake.” The elderly, he allowed, might have legitimate concerns, but under Texas law, voters 65 or older can request an absentee ballot anyway. “There is NO reason — capital N, capital O — NO reason that anyone under 65 should be able to say I am afraid to go vote,” Patrick continued. The lieutenant governor was speaking at the end of a week of conflicting court rulings on the subject of mail-in voting in Texas. Under state law, a voter who is sick or disabled is eligible to request an absentee ballot. Democrats have argued that a lack of immunity to COVID-19 qualifies and that to ignore such concerns would constitute unconstitutional age discrimination.

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Houston Chronicle - May 28, 2020

Texas Southern University admitted 4,000 students over three years who were not qualified

Texas Southern University admitted thousands of students who did not meet the college’s academic criteria and awarded a total of $2.1 million in scholarships over a three-year period to hundreds of students who were not qualified, according to a recent review. The five-page executive summary of the college’s admissions and enrollment process, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, details consulting firm Berkeley Research Group’s review into the school’s admissions, financial aid and administration practices, and cites higher numbers of students who fall short of academic criteria than previously reported.

The review, ordered by the TSU Board of Regents, revealed that half of the students — or 4,141 of 8,273 — admitted to TSU in the fall semesters of 2017, 2018 and 2019 did not meet TSU’s academic criteria and were admitted “based on a variety of undocumented scenarios.” In addition, more than 900 students who did not meet admissions criteria in the three fall semesters received a total of $2.1 million in scholarships despite not meeting qualifications for the scholarship or financial aid programs. Incoming students must have a 2.5 minimum GPA, and a combined SAT score of 820 or higher if taken before March 2016 or a score of 900 if taken after that date, according to the college. Those who take the ACT must earn a composite score of 17. TSU’s interim President Kenneth Huewitt said in a written statement that the university received the Berkeley report and submitted it to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas State Auditor’s Office, as required.

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Houston Chronicle - May 27, 2020

UH psychologist sheds light on mental health for African Americans

When Rheeda Walker finished writing her book, “The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health,” (New Harbinger Publications, $16.95), she considered not using “mental health” in the title. The words often carry a stigma and can inhibit someone from seeking help altogether, she said. But Walker, a Ph.D. licensed clinical psychologist and a professor and director of the Culture, Risk and Resilience Lab, which she established in 2012, at University of Houston, wanted to be clear about her mission: to address the “mental health crisis” in the African American community.

“We certainly can’t achieve our life’s purpose when we are dealing with mental health challenges,” Walker said. “Black people have so many issues just being black and dealing with society and racism. But many of us think we’re good because we’ve gotten the education, the job, the house. We’re good.” In reality, she said, it’s not the case. Walker started writing the book after learning the alarming statistic that the suicide rate of black children ages 5 to 11 had surpassed the rate of their white peers. Walker, who has studied suicide since she was a doctoral student in the 1990s, said she noticed rising numbers in 2016 and again in 2018. Part of the issue is a cultural disconnect. Walker believes many African Americans have moved away from their African heritage, and that prideful identity can help serve as a cultural buffer to life stressors and anxieties. People with a strong connection to being “black” are less likely to consider suicide than those who do not have a positive sense of their cultural identity, she writes. “I’m inclined to believe that our ancestors had something important that we’re more likely to neglect today — they had each other,” she notes in her book. Walker’s book, which sold out quickly on Amazon, comes at a time when mental health resources are in high demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Houston Chronicle - May 28, 2020

Chevron cutting jobs; Exxon has ‘no layoff plans’

Chevron said Wednesday that it would cut up to 15 percent of its global workforce while its rival, Exxon Mobil, said it had no plans to lay off employees. The contrasting disclosures came as the two U.S. oil majors held annual meetings in which they fought back shareholder proposals for greater accountability and transparency over their role in climate change and won approval of higher compensation for top executives. Both companies, like the entire industry, are contending with a plunge in demand and oil prices from the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Chevron shareholders voted to raise CEO Mike Wirth's 2020 base salary to $1.65 million, up from $1.6 million in 2019. Wirth's total compensation in 2019, including stock options, was more than $33 million. In a statement, Chevron said it was “streamlining our organizational structures to reflect the efficiencies and match projected activity levels. This is a difficult decision, and we do not make it lightly.” Chevron did not detail where the cuts to its approximately 45,000 global employees would occur and aid it could not speculate on the impact to its Houston workforce. Chevron employs about 7,000 in Houston, according to a Houston Chronicle survey. Wire service Reuters first reported Chevron's layoff plans Wednesday.

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Houston Chronicle - May 28, 2020

Cornyn, Cruz at odds over further immigration restrictions

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — two Texas Republicans — are at odds over how far the Trump administration should go as the White House weighs restricting guest worker visas amid the coronavirus outbreak. Cornyn this week joined a group of senators writing to President Donald Trump, urging against additional restrictions, arguing that “guest workers are needed to boost American business, not take American jobs.” But Cruz earlier this month joined a group of conservative senators that is urging suspension of all new guest worker visas for 60 days and calling on the president to halt some categories for at least a year, or “until employment has returned to normal levels.”

The split comes as the Trump administration has severely restricted immigration during the pandemic, asserting that doing so will preserve U.S. jobs as millions of Americans file for unemployment. Trump last month signed an order halting employment-based visas and restricting immigration within families, though the order included exceptions for medical professionals and farmworkers. The White House reportedly now is considering broadening that order. Cornyn and eight other Republican senators are urging Trump to first consider “vulnerable American businesses across all industry sectors, including farming, forestry, packing, hospitality, healthcare, and communications and information technology, all which rely on non-immigrant guest workers to survive.” To hire guest workers, those companies have to prove they can’t find American workers to fill the temporary gigs, the senators wrote. And because the jobs are temporary and seasonal, they wrote, “it is exceedingly difficult to find American workers, even now, who wish to work only on a temporary basis.” Cruz disagrees. A letter he signed with three other senators earlier this month said guest workers “remain a serious threat to the U.S. labor market’s recovery.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 28, 2020

Immigrant accuses ICE contractor of rape at Houston detention facility

An immigrant who was detained at a federal detention facility in Houston said she was raped by guards working for the private company contracted to operate the site, according to a lawsuit filed by her attorneys. The lawsuit accuses CoreCivic Inc., its transportation subsidiary TransCor America and the federal government of failing to properly protect, screen, and monitor inmates and employees at the Houston Processing Center. The lawsuit said that the woman, named as Jane Doe in the document, was sexually assaulted and impregnated on the eve of her scheduled deportation, on June 1, 2018.

According to the lawsuit, CoreCivic guards moved the woman that evening to an isolated cell in the facility occupied by two other female immigrants. Near midnight, the three women were hit in the face until they stopped resisting and raped. A few hours later, the guards ordered the women to change their clothes, removed them from their cell and deported them to Mexico. The court document said that the woman gave birth in early 2019 to a child conceived in the assault. “Three men wearing masks abused them sexually and physically,” said Jose Sanchez, one of the leading attorneys in the case. He added that the women were picked up around 5 a.m. from the detention center and transported to the border at Laredo.

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Dallas Morning News - May 28, 2020

Federal judge says Texas owes $6.8 million in attorney’s fees for voter ID case

The state of Texas owes nearly $6.8 million in attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the state’s controversial voter identification law, a federal judge said Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi ordered the state to pay a total of nearly $6.8 million to the 13 law firms that represented plaintiffs in the seven-year legal battle which began in 2011. The case, which was at the forefront of the voter ID law battles in the country, touched every level of the federal court system.

It was heard multiple times at the district court and appeals court level and even reached the Supreme Court where the justices rejected an appeal by the state to stay a lower court’s ruling that the law discriminated against African-Americans and Hispanics. Along the way, federal courts found five times that the law discriminated against minorities. Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, found twice that the law was crafted to intentionally discriminate against these groups. In 2018, after seven years of legal fights, a federal judge brought the case to a close after an appeals court ruled that the Texas Legislature had followed its guidance in remedying the parts of the law that were found discriminatory. The state claimed victory in that the law, though revamped, remained intact. But the plaintiffs said the litigation had considerably changed the law and reduced its discriminatory impacts.

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Dallas Morning News - May 28, 2020

On the front lines, Latinos fight the coronavirus, poverty and vulnerability as contagion rages through Texas

Rosa Garcia poured her pinto beans into plastic bags, enough, she hoped, for a pot of protein-rich frijoles for each needy family lined up for free groceries at her Dallas church. The undocumented immigrant lost her housekeeper jobs with the coronavirus-induced collapse of the once-booming Texas economy. A relative has it worse: She lost her husband and son to the raging contagion. Henry Velasco, an El Paso trucker, constantly sterilizes his hands, as well as the steering wheel and gear shifts of his big, black 18-wheeler rig when he hauls everything from canned food to toilet paper between El Paso and Amarillo. The 52-year-old knows he’s more vulnerable to the coronavirus because of his diabetes. And he lacks health insurance.

Latinos are on the coronavirus frontlines, providing for people as workers in food factories to the trucking industry to cleaning businesses. They are also at the front of the line to catch the virus because of where they work, lower incomes and health care problems. Now, Latinos have been losing their jobs at a higher rate than any other demographic group in the nation, with nearly a fifth now unemployed. Nationally, the unemployment rate for whites was 14.2 percent -- nearly 5 percentage points below Latinos. Latinos now make up nearly a fifth of the U.S. population. Many Latinos who still have jobs face a vicious trade-off: Is the paycheck worth sacrificing their health at a crowded workplace? If Latinos get sick, they are unlikely to appear in official medical statistics in Texas: Many lack insurance and don’t seek care. They are more likely to be uninsured than any other group in Texas, the state with the nation’s highest uninsured rate. In Texas, Latinos are nearly three times more likely to be uninsured than a non-Hispanic white. Many low-wage earners make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid. A smaller percentage are undocumented and don't qualify for government assistance. Other immigrants with legal status don't work for employers who offer insurance or elect not to pay premiums because of low wages.

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Dallas Morning News - May 28, 2020

House OKs bill by Austin Rep. Chip Roy to give small businesses flexibility in coronavirus aid program

The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill co-authored by Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, to give small businesses more flexibility in utilizing a popular loan program set up in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Many small businesses, particularly in the restaurant industry, have been clamoring for the tweaks. The legislation would provide small businesses more time – 24 weeks instead of eight weeks – to use Paycheck Protection Program funds in a way that allows the loans to be forgiven. It would also allow firms to use a greater percentage of the money on non-payroll costs.

Roy said the bill, which passed 417-1, was needed to “save these great institutions” that “can’t meet some of these restrictions and deadlines.” “We’ve got to do this to help small businesses,” the freshman lawmaker said on the House floor. The bill’s passage in the Democrat-run chamber holds particular significance, given that Roy’s penchant for rabble-rousing has sometimes earned his colleagues’ ire and that the Republican is expected to face a tough re-election challenge this fall from Democrat Wendy Davis. Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, the bill’s Democratic co-author, hailed Roy for spending “a lot of time in the political foxhole with me from the very beginning of this initiative.” Roy, who was recently ranked as the House’s third most partisan member, said he had “nothing but positive things to say about” Phillips. The Texan said the legislation could serve as a model of working “together to solve the problems of the American people.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 29, 2020

Bexar GOP chair's primary opponents unite behind challenger

Cynthia Brehm’s runoff opponent is a San Antonio real estate appraiser named John Austin. But that’s not who she’s running against. Brehm, the perpetually embattled Bexar County GOP chair, is choosing to wage her campaign against Mayor Ron Nirenberg, County Judge Nelson Wolff and all manner of protective face coverings. That strategy was on display during last Friday’s instant-classic news conference in which Brehm and her army of eight loyalists gathered at City Hall and declared war on COVID-19 political tyranny. Brehm described the global pandemic, which has taken the lives of more than 100,000 Americans, as a political weapon wielded by Democrats against President Donald Trump and lovers of freedom such as herself.

“Why is this happening today?” Brehm said. “I’ll tell you why. All of this has been promulgated by the Democrats to undo all of the good that President Trump has done for our country, and they are worried.” Brehm went beyond suggesting that individuals should have the right to decide if they want to wear protective masks in public settings. “So, take off your masks,” she proclaimed. “Exercise your constitutional rights.” In doing so, Brehm inadvertently urged people to defy guidelines from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has advised Texans to wear masks when they’re unable to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others. Of course, she preferred to direct her fire at Nirenberg and Wolff — two convenient punching bags for local conservatives — even though they had issued orders only three days earlier that aligned with Abbott by saying that they “strongly encouraged” (but didn’t require) the use of masks. So, last Friday’s news conference served no purpose — aside from allowing Brehm to hype her wobbly re-election campaign.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 28, 2020

As debate over mail-in ballots roars on, requests up in Harris, Bexar

As the legal battle roars on over whether to expand voting-by-mail in Texas, the number of requests for mail-in ballots is rising slowly in two of the state’s largest counties. On Wednesday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that lack of immunity to COVID-19 alone does not qualify a voter to vote by mail. But the justices put the onus on the voter to decide whether he or she meets the definition of having a disability based on “aspects of his health and his health history that are physical conditions.”

The ruling came as two cases launched by the Texas Democratic Party in state and federal court that seek to open up mail-in voting continue to wind through the courts. The matter, which is enveloped in a nationwide partisan debate, is poised to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. The legal status of mail-in voting for virus-related reasons has gone back and forth — earlier this month, one court gave the green light only to be overturned by another court less than 24 hours later. Nevertheless, a considerable number of voters have turned in early requests for mail ballots, a Hearst Newspapers analysis shows. In Harris County, the number of accepted mail-in ballot requests has risen from about 2.4 percent of registered voters in 2016, or 51,451 voters, to 3.2 percent of voters, or 76,267 voters, so far this year. Most were annual applications and were not limited to a single election.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 28, 2020

Training for 10,000 unemployed, childcare for 5,000 kids part of San Antonio’s $191 million plan to deal with fallout from coronavirus pandemic

San Antonio officials unveiled a $191 million plan Thursday to keep residents in their homes, expand internet access to the city’s less wired and help small businesses stay afloat in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “They’re teetering on the edge,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said of residents whose livelihoods have been jeopardized by the virus. “They want action. They need relief.” The plan put forth at Thursday’s City Council meeting plugs $80 million into workforce development aimed at getting people who lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic back on their feet.

Of that amount, $70 million would go toward workforce training for about 10,000 people. The other $10 million would pay for 3 months’ of temporary child care assistance for parents training in new jobs or going back to school. That amount would cover about 5,000 children. Another $50.5 million would fund efforts to boost housing security. The plan would pump $25 million into the city’s primary emergency housing assistance program — geared toward helping residents with rent and mortgage payments as well as household costs like fuel, groceries and internet access — bringing the total amount in that fund to $50 million. It also would put aside $9.2 million for expanded housing options for the city’s homeless. The city plans to house up to 500 homeless residents in a hotel to make room at the Haven for Hope shelter for a wave of newly homeless, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 28, 2020

Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke set to speak at Texas Democratic Party’s convention in June

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke will speak at the Texas Democratic Party’s 2020 Convention next month. The party announced the additional speakers Thursday morning, and Biden and O’Rourke are set to address attendees on the convention’s final day on June 6. Former vice president Biden won Texas’ primary in March, pulling ahead of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. O’Rourke, who gained national attention for his 2018 challenge to U.S. Sen Ted Cruz, dropped out of the presidential race in November and endorsed Biden a day before Super Tuesday.

O’Rourke isn’t the only former presidential candidate on the lineup, with Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren and former HUD Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro also set to speak. Other high-profile speakers include U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who was also announced Thursday. Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa and Vice Chair Carla Brailey touted Texas as a battleground state for the 2020 election in a statement Thursday. “Texas is the biggest battleground state in the country. With Joe Biden at the top of the ticket, Texas Democrats will help him win the White House,” Hinojosa and Brailey said. “This is our moment.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 28, 2020

American Airlines to cut 5,000 jobs, mostly in Dallas-Fort Worth, in COVID downsizing

American Airlines plans to cut an estimated 5,000 jobs as part of its effort to become a smaller company in response to COVID-19 — and most of those cuts likely will be in the Fort Worth area. The Fort Worth-based airline informed employees of the plan in a letter Wednesday night. About 30% of jobs in management and support services will be lost. American’s plans do not affect flight crews or mechanics.

However, in the past two months about 4,500 employees — many of them pilots and flight attendants — have taken early retirement and another 34,500 workers have taken voluntary leaves of absence as the airline strives to weather a near-shut down of the air travel industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The airline will first seek management and support employees willing to voluntarily leave, before deciding by July how many remaining workers will be laid off, Elise Eberwein, American vice president of people and communications, said in a letter to employees. “There is no doubt this is going to be a painful time for all, especially for our departing colleagues, who have given American Airlines their all and are leaving through no fault of their own,” Eberwein wrote.

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ABC 13 - May 29, 2020

How you can help get a computer into the hands of a student in need

Communities In Schools is partnering with Comp-U-Dopt to give thousands of students in need a computer to be able to do their school work online. Houston Independent School District told ABC13 if the district supplied a new laptop to every student it would need about 155,000 devices.

Currently, through its Power Up program, the district has distributed 60,000 laptops with thousands more on the way. However, it still leaves 50,000 students without the technology and the district does not have the budget to cover the costs. "This was a big eye opener for all of us," said Superintendent Grenita Lathan. "Not only as it relates to our students but staff members who don't have access to technology and so like I said we had some other priorities but this of course has moved to the top of our list." Matt Garcia-Pratts, Chief Operations Officer for Communities in Schools-Houston, said due to the COVID-19 crisis and schools turning to online learning, the need for access to a computer or high speed internet became an essential school supply overnight.

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Rivard Report - May 28, 2020

As UTSA plans budget cuts, some faculty worry about impact

As coronavirus upends plans and the financial considerations of prospective university students, higher education institutions across the country are preparing for enrollment dips and budget cuts. Leaders at the University of Texas at San Antonio are girding for financial constraints of their own, projecting a 2.5 percent decline in tuition and fee revenues. Coupled with an expected dip in state funding, UTSA anticipates a revenue loss of $37 million, about 10 percent of their overall annual budget.

In the last few months, San Antonio’s largest university started taking steps to address its cloudy financial forecast. In April, the university unexpectedly took 58 percent of unspent funds from department and colleges’ budgets and put them in institutional reserves. The total amount of money collected from this sweep was $18.8 million, just shy of the $19 million deficit the university was projecting at the time. UTSA Chief Financial Officer Veronica Salazar Mendez asked both academic and non-academic departments to prepare for an expected economic downturn by developing plans that would slash significant parts of their budgets.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 28, 2020

Bastrop County coronavirus cases climb 31% in a week

Bastrop County’s local health authority said it’s not yet known if the coronavirus has peaked in the rural county of about 85,000 residents as the number of positive cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, continues climbing. From May 17 through 24, the county’s coronavirus cases grew by 31%, from 132 to 173, according to county data.

“We have had a couple of events in the past months — Mother’s Day and Easter — and it might be speculated that casual gatherings for celebrating those events may be causal,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, the county’s health authority said. From Sunday to Wednesday, the county’s coronavirus cases climbed 8%, from 173 to 187, data shows. As businesses that were closed in mid-March to help stop the spread of the virus begin reopening, Walkes said it’s difficult to determine what impact that’s having on COVID-19 locally. “What we do know is that the number of new cases continues to rise,” she said. Days later, Abbott further lifted restrictions and announced that barbershops and hair, nail and tanning salons could reopen May 8 with “a staggered workforce” and appointment-only systems.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 27, 2020

‘Sorry, no masks allowed:’ Elgin bar resists coronavirus guidance

“No masks allowed.” That’s the new rule an Elgin bar is asking its patrons to follow, defying the COVID-19 guidance set by county, state and federal leaders. This week, a sign was posted outside the Liberty Tree Tavern in downtown Elgin as the bar navigates reopening after the coronavirus pandemic. “Due to our concern for our customers, if they FEEL (not think) that they need to wear a mask, they should stay at home until they FEEL that it’s safe to be in public without one. Sorry, no masks allowed,” the posting read.

The sign then advised that it would adhere to Gov. Greg Abbott’s requirements limiting occupancy of bars to 25% and 6 feet of social distancing between parties. “Sorry for the inconveniences please bear with us thru the ridiculous fearful times,” the sign reads. Elgin, which is Bastrop County’s largest city, has not been spared from the spread of the coronavirus. The city of about 10,000, which straddles the Bastrop-Travis county line, has recorded the most known COVID-19 cases of the county’s three cities — 53 of the county’s 187 cases — and has recorded one of the county’s two coronavirus-related deaths. Bastrop County and municipal leaders have made efforts to keep their messaging consistent on the guidelines people should follow to minimize the virus’ spread. On April 8, Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape issued an order, which is no longer in effect, that required residents to wear face masks in public.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 28, 2020

Austin housing market in good shape to bounce back from downturn, experts say

The Austin-area’s housing market had been on a 10-year roll before the coronavirus pandemic. Several market indicators nosedived as the effects began to be felt in the market in late March and continuing into April. Last month’s numbers from the Austin Board of Realtors saw the volume of both closed sales and pending contracts plunge by double-digits in the Austin area, a five-county region stretching from Georgetown to San Marcos.

In its April report, the board said sales of single family homes, townhomes and condominiums plunged 21.6% in the five-county Central Texas region. Pending sales -- an indicator of future volume -- plummeted 25%. Still, local housing market experts and real estate agents say there are promising signs the market is well positioned to withstand the impacts of the crisis. They point to a pick-up in activity in recent weeks, fueled in part by record low mortgage rates. Another factor is continued demand coupled with low inventory in certain price ranges -- particularly the bottom third of the market where the supply of available homes is extremely low, experts and agents say. “We are very lucky to be in Austin,” said Mark Sprague, a housing industry expert with Independence Title in Austin. “Other markets are not doing as well as we are.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 28, 2020

Dallas Police oversight board denied ability to meet amid pandemic; community calls for it to reconvene

In March, the newly reformed Community Police Oversight Board was on the cusp of initiating its first actions before the coronavirus brought everything to a halt. The board had just hired Tonya McClary as its first Police Monitor to oversee internal affairs investigations and report back to the board. The former attorney previously worked in that role in New Orleans. On March 10, the board’s last meeting, members had voted to review the department’s policy on releasing body and dash camera video of critical incidents.

After its April meeting was canceled following COVID-19 emergency orders, board members were ready to review cases last week. A meeting was even scheduled on the city’s website. But the 15-member board never got together. City Manager T.C. Broadnax denied their request to meet virtually, citing Dallas’ emergency declaration that stopped allowing advisory boards to convene — even virtually. His actions led to tension between community activists and city officials on Wednesday as people demanded that the board be allowed to reconvene. At a Dallas City Council meeting on Wednesday, several speakers demanded that the oversight board be allowed to continue meeting virtually.

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Houston Chronicle - May 28, 2020

Houston Restaurant Weeks founder Cleverley Stone dies of cancer

Houston Restaurant Weeks founder Cleverley Stone has passed away following a battle with cancer, according to a Thursday release. The 68-year-old, affectionately called the “Diva of Dining,” established the annual fundraiser, benefiting the Houston Food Bank, in 2003. Houston Restaurant Weeks has raised more than $16.6 million for the local organization, enabling the distribution of over 44 million meals for food-insecure Houstonians.

Stone was born in New York City, grew up in New Jersey, and attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She began her career as the bridal director and head buyer of fine China dinnerware, crystal and silver at B. Altman and Company, a Manhattan luxury department store. Stone moved to Houston in 1989 for a position at Foley’s department store, where she served as a corporate bridal director. During that time, she wrote a weekly Sunday newspaper column for the Houston Post, eventually becoming the editor of the newspaper's wedding section.

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National Stories

CNN - May 28, 2020

GOP operatives worry Trump will lose both the presidency and Senate majority

A little more than three months ago, as Democrats cast their ballots in the Nevada caucuses, Republicans felt confident about their chances in 2020. The coronavirus seemed a distant, far-off threat. Democrats appeared poised to nominate a self-described socialist for president. The stock market was near a record high. The economy was roaring. President Donald Trump looked well-positioned to win a second term, and perhaps pull enough incumbent Republicans along with him to hold the party's majority in the Senate. Today, that view has drastically changed. "Put it this way, I am very glad my boss isn't on the ballot this cycle," said one high-ranking GOP Senate aide.

Republican strategists are increasingly worried that Trump is headed for defeat in November and that he may drag other Republicans down with him. Seven GOP operatives not directly associated with the President's reelection campaign told CNN that Trump's response to the pandemic and the subsequent economic fallout have significantly damaged his bid for a second term — and that the effects are starting to hurt Republicans more broadly. Some of these operatives asked not to be identified in order to speak more candidly. Several say that public polls showing Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden mirror what they are finding in their own private polls, and that the trend is bleeding into key Senate races. The GOP already had a difficult task of defending 23 Senate seats in 2020. The job of protecting its slim 3-seat majority has only gotten harder as the pandemic has unfolded. States like Arizona and North Carolina, once thought to be home to winnable Senate races now appear in jeopardy.

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CNN - May 28, 2020

The Boston Marathon has been canceled and will be held as a virtual race

The 2020 Boston Marathon has been canceled, and it will become a virtual race for the first time in the event's history. Mayor Marty Walsh made the announcement Thursday at a news conference. The Boston Athletic Association has determined that the traditional one day running of the 124th Boston marathon will not be feasible this year, given the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

"There's no way to hold this usual race format without bringing large numbers of people into close proximity," Walsh said. "This kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on September 14th or anytime this year." The event had previously been postponed from April 20 to September 14. All registered participants will be offered a full refund for their entry fee, and the race will be replaced by a virtual event in which participants can earn their finisher's medal by verifying that they ran 26.2 miles on their own within a six-hour time period.

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Houston Chronicle - May 29, 2020

No CARES Act funding for pediatricians could mean fewer health care options for kids

Sogol and Silen Pahlavan, sisters and pediatricians who run ABC Pediatric Clinic in east Houston, have gone two months without a paycheck. With young patients and their parents worried about contracting COVID-19 and staying home, revenues are drying up. That has made the Pahlavan sisters increasingly anxious about how they’ll pay their 40 employees as they burn through cash reserves and an emergency small business loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. “It’s whatever it takes for us to be able to sustain our business,” Sogol Pahlavan said. “That’s the short-term plan, but I can’t take this for six months.”

Private pediatric practices have been left out of the $50 billion federal program aimed at helping medical providers deal with COVID-19 related financial losses. Congress, as part of an initial $2 trillion stimulus bill, carved out the Provider Relief Fund, but required doctors and hospital systems to accept Medicare, the federal insurance program for people 65 and older. That has effectively cut off small, independent practices such as ABC Pediatric, which accepts patients 15 and under. Without larger physician groups or hospital networks to fall back on, many pediatricians say they are at-risk of shutting down even as money flows to 3,000 doctors, pharmacies, and health care systems, according to federal data. Large hospital systems have received millions in funding from the CARES Act, while smaller practices have received little to none. “We’re the mom-and-pop shops of the community,” Pahlavan said. “We’re trying to compete against a Walmart.”

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The Guardian - May 28, 2020

'Social distancing': how a 1950s phrase came to dominate 2020

As schools prepare to reopen, many wonder how small children are expected to maintain “social distancing”. Some French teachers have been isolating their charges within little plague squares chalked on the playground. But maybe the choice of the phrase “social distancing” in the first place has been counterproductive. If “social distancing” sounds to you more like snubbing or ghosting a friend, you are right.

It was a 1957 collection of work by sociologist Karl Mannheim that first described it as a way to enforce power hierarchies. “The inhibition of free expression can also serve as a means of social distancing,” he wrote. “Thus, the higher ranks can constrain themselves to preserve a certain kind of deportment or dignity.” In doing so, they distance themselves socially from the plebs. It was only in the mid-2000s that “social distancing” was adopted for pandemic measures, but it is potentially alienating: after all, we are not actually advised to distance our social selves, only our bodies. So perhaps we should all adopt the clearer alternative preferred by, among others, the Irish government: “physical distancing”. Physical distancing might lead in some sad cases to social distancing, too, but it’s not the same thing.

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York Daily Record - May 28, 2020

Pennsylvania state lawmaker rips GOP members for silence after testing positive for coronavirus

A Pennsylvania state representative went on a profanity-laced tirade against Republican colleagues who tested positive for COVID-19 and remained silent. Wednesday, state Rep. Brian Sims, a Democrat from Philadelphia, released a near-12-minute Facebook video calling out GOP members who have been pushing to reopen the state and accusing them of undermining the seriousness of the novel coronavirus.

“Every single day of this crisis, this State Government Committee in Pennsylvania has met so that their members could line up one after one after one and explain that it was safe to go back to work,” Sims said in the video. “During that time period, they were testing positive. They were notifying one another. And they didn’t notify us.” This week, coronavirus deaths exceeded 100,000 nationwide and 5,200 in Pennsylvania. In the video, Sims said Democratic leaders became aware of at least one Republican member of the House of Representatives who tested positive for COVID-19 and remained working in the Capitol for at least one week. Sims criticized Rep. Russ Diamond of Lebanon County for self-quarantining for weeks without telling Democratic colleagues. Diamond has been a leading advocate for reopening the state.

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Associated Press - May 28, 2020

National Guard called to respond to Minneapolis violence

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called in the National Guard on Thursday as looting broke out in St. Paul and a wounded Minneapolis braced for more violence after rioting over the death of a handcuffed black man in police custody reduced parts of one neighborhood to a smoking shambles. The Minneapolis unrest ravaged several blocks in the Longfellow neighborhood, with scattered rioting reaching for miles across the city. It was the second consecutive night of violent protests following the death of George Floyd, who gasped for breath during a Monday arrest in which an officer kneeled on his neck for almost eight minutes. In footage recorded by a bystander, Floyd can be heard pleading that he can’t breathe until he slowly stops talking and moving.

Another protest was announced for Thursday evening near county offices in downtown Minneapolis. Some stores in Minneapolis and the suburbs closed early, fearing more strife. The city shut down its light-rail system and planned to stop all bus service out of safety concerns. Around midday Thursday, the violence spread a few miles away to a Target in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, where police said 50 to 60 people rushed the store attempting to loot it. Police and state patrol squad cars later blocked the entrance, but the looting then shifted to shops along nearby University Avenue, one of St. Paul’s main commercial corridors, and other spots in the city. St. Paul spokesman Steve Linders said authorities have been dealing with unrest in roughly 20 different areas throughout the city.

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Vox - May 27, 2020

Tech billionaires are plotting sweeping, secret plans to boost Joe Biden

Joe Biden has a problem. Silicon Valley billionaires think they have a solution. Election Day is less than six months away, and Democrats are scrambling to patch the digital deficits of their presumptive nominee. And behind the scenes, Silicon Valley’s billionaire Democrats are spending tens of millions of dollars on their own sweeping plans to catch up to President Donald Trump’s lead on digital campaigning — plans that are poised to make them some of the country’s most influential people when it comes to shaping the November results.

These billionaires’ arsenals are funding everything from nerdy political science experiments to divisive partisan news sites to rivalrous attempts to overhaul the party’s beleaguered data file. They are pushing their favored, sometimes peculiar, fixes to a political ailment just like they might if on the board of a struggling startup. This is all unfolding as the pandemic forces campaigns to pivot away from door-knocks and packed rallies and toward data mining and influencer marketing — which in many ways play to the strengths of these tech titans, making them even more influential at a time when many in the Democratic Party are uneasy with just how powerful some in tech have become. Their investments matter all the more because of the candidate they inherited. Biden is rushing to hire more aides, create more engaging content, and build better ties with the Silicon Valley donors and talent that evaded him during the primary.

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AFP - May 28, 2020

In the US, camera phones increasingly expose racism

From the death of a black man in Minneapolis to a racist incident in Central Park, camera phones are increasingly being used as a weapon against racism even when justice doesn't always follow. Two videos shot on smartphones spread from social media to mainstream media this week, highlighting how bystanders are now frequently capturing incidents that in the past may have gone unnoticed. It was a member of the public who filmed George Floyd grasping for breath as a white Minneapolis policeman pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for at least five minutes on Monday.

Floyd went still and was later declared dead in hospital. Four police officers were fired from their jobs but remain free and the city has witnessed two nights of angry protests. "If we did not have a video, would the officers have been fired as quickly? Ibram Kendi, director of the American University's anti-racism research center, asked in an interview with Democracy Now! "Would they have believed all of those witnesses who were looking at what was happening and who was the asking officers to stop? In the second incident, a white woman falsely reported Christian Cooper, an avid birdwatcher to police after he requested that she leash her dog in a wooded area of New York's Central Park. "I'm going to tell them there's an African-American man threatening my life," she told Cooper as he filmed her dial 911 in a video that has been viewed over 43 million times on Twitter.

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Newsclips - May 28, 2020

Lead Stories

NPR - May 27, 2020

'We all feel at risk': 100,000 people dead from COVID-19 in the US

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has reached a somber milestone: as of Wednesday afternoon, the highly infectious viral disease has taken more than 100,000 lives nationwide. Soaring from two known coronavirus fatalities in February to more than 58,000 in April, the tally of U.S. deaths — in a country with fewer than 5% of the world's inhabitants — now accounts for nearly one-third of all the known lives lost worldwide to the pandemic. According to a mortality analysis by Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center, about 6% of the nearly 1.7 million people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. have now succumbed to the disease.

Public health experts say the coronavirus has exposed the vulnerability of a wide range of Americans and the shortcomings of a U.S. health care system faced with a deadly pandemic. "What is different about this is, it is affecting all of us in a variety of ways, even if some of us are able to social distance in more effective ways than others," says sociology professor Kathleen Cagney, who directs The University of Chicago's Population Research Center. "But we all feel at risk." Even some who are well acquainted with earlier health scourges in the U.S. were caught off guard by this one. "I think anybody who understands anything about infectious disease recognizes that we were going to sooner or later face something like this," said John Barry, a professor at Tulane University School of Public Health And Tropical Medicine and author of "The Great Influenza: The Story Of The Deadliest Pandemic In History," on NPR's Fresh Air earlier this month. "But, you know, intellectually understanding it is one thing, and having it hit you is something quite different."

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Houston Chronicle - May 27, 2020

Texas hospitals that received bailouts are suing poor patients for failing to pay medical bills

Back in 2017, Cheryl Billings was having a run of bad health, so her trips to Cedar Park Regional Medical Center near Austin have since blurred together. That’s why when she was later served with court papers saying the 108-bed Williamson County hospital was suing her, she had no idea why. The 64-year-old is disabled and lives on about $700 monthly in Supplemental Security Income and other federal assistance. The $5,255 she was told she owed for a hospitalization seemed almost laughable. Almost. “There’s no way I can pay,” she said she told the hospital’s lawyer when she went to court Feb. 27. Billings noticed he seemed to have a tall stack of cases against other patients that day. She said the lawyer replied: “Not my problem.”

Across Texas a growing number of poor, unemployed or unsuspecting patients are being sued for uncollected medical debt in a trend that some see as predatory. The hospitals suing are typically for-profit facilities, often operating in rural or small towns. Between January 2018 and February 2020, more than 1,000 lawsuits were filed by 28 hospitals in 62 Texas counties, according to a sweeping new analysis of hospital financial records and court data by national health care experts. Those lawsuits sought a total of about $17.8 million from their patients, researchers found. The study, “Eroding the Public Trust,” was compiled by researchers from universities including Johns Hopkins, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Columbia University School of Public Health and University of Texas in Austin. Leading the list in Texas hospital lawsuits are facilities affiliated with Community Health Systems, a large, multibillion-dollar, for-profit national health system. This spring, the Tennessee-based company received $245 million in CARES Act federal bailout money to offset losses caused by the pandemic, according to government records. The health system operates 97 hospitals in 17 states, including 11 in Texas, according to the company’s website. Yet, even after the pandemic had spread and hundreds of thousands of Texans became unemployed, CHS hospitals continued to sue patients, the study released Wednesday shows. Since March 13, when Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster, more than 350 new lawsuits were filed against patients, said Sarah Blakemore, a researcher at University of Texas and one of the study’s authors.

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WFAA - May 27, 2020

Dallas City Council rejects formally looking at 8% property tax hike

After 90 minutes of debate on Wednesday night, Dallas City Council overwhelmingly rejected whether to even run the numbers and see what an 8% increase in property taxes would look like. The failed resolution would have formally asked the county to calculate how much revenue Dallas would get from new appraisals if property taxes were raised by 8%.

Eleven council members voted against it. Three supported it. Council Members Tennell Atkins, Adam Bazaldua and Jaime Resendez supported it by arguing that that they wanted it at least to be an option when the formal tax rate is set later this summer. Like every city, Dallas faces a major budget shortfall in this pandemic since sales tax revenues are down. The city currently has a $25 million shortfall. Next fiscal year, the budget shortfall is forecast to be up to $143 million. “Regardless of what you do today, we are going to present a budget that will have some service cuts,” warned Elizabeth Reich, the city’s chief financial officer. “In August, when we present the city manager’s budget, you will see some game changing things happening. That’s going to be necessary no matter what. What I’m not sure is whether it’s going to be palatable for everyone.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 28, 2020

Sam Johnson, Vietnam POW who became longtime Texas congressman, dies at age 89

Retired Congressman Sam Johnson, a conservative stalwart whose service to country spanned seven years as a prisoner of war and a long stint in the House, died Wednesday in Plano of natural causes. He was 89. The Plano Republican packed multiple careers into a life defined by endurance, patriotism and sacrifice. He served 28 years in Congress, from a special election in May 1991 to his retirement in January 2019, after 29 years as an Air Force fighter pilot. He saw combat in two wars — surviving torture and deprivation at the infamous Hanoi Hilton with a mangled hand and other scars — and a bright tenure in politics.

Among his captors, Johnson quickly gained a reputation for stubbornness. Despite extreme pressure, he refused to reveal military secrets or pen “repentance” letters that could be used in North Vietnamese propaganda. His military career earned him enough distinction and accolades for a lifetime. After his release from North Vietnam, he ran the Air Force Fighter Weapons School, the so-called “Top Gun” institute that turns out some of the country’s best fighter pilots. Later, during his tenure in the U.S. House, Johnson’s diehard nature worked to his advantage, and sometimes to his detriment. He served as a deputy whip, counting Republican votes, and sat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where he chaired a subcommittee tasked with oversight of Social Security and pensions.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 27, 2020

Houston engineering tycoon, ex-UT regent James Dannenbaum sentenced for illegal campaign donations

An octogenarian engineering titan who donated to politicians of all stripes was sentenced to two years’ probation Wednesday for funneling illegal campaign contributions to U.S. congressional candidates. Two dozen lawyers, court staff, federal officers and visitors all donned masks in the recently reopened downtown Houston courtroom, but the federal judge presiding did not. He addressed James Denny Dannenbaum, who was seated before him in a wheelchair with longer-than-usual white hair, a mask and latex gloves.

“This is a difficult case,” said Judge Sim Lake, noting the defendant’s fragile health, his lifetime of philanthropy and the fact that he knowingly pushed 32 employees at his engineering firm to make more than $300,000 in illegal donations to 26 campaigns over three years. A prosecutor requested a two-year prison term, with a delay for Dannenbaum — wearing two plastic hospital bracelets on his wrist — to have a postponed heart procedure. A defense lawyer argued the standard sentence was overkill, his client’s interest in border wall projects in the early Trump administration was small potatoes and prosecutors had unfairly “laid the ills of the American political system, the campaign system, at this man’s feet.” The judge opted for a light sentence, departing from sentencing guidelines, and ordering the A-list political contributor to pay a $100,000 fine.

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Houston Chronicle - May 27, 2020

Republican Stan Stanart accidentally announces bid to reclaim Harris County Clerk job

Former Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart will run again for his old job, he confirmed Wednesday, joining two other Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for the November special election. Incumbent clerk Diane Trautman, who defeated Stanart in 2018, announced earlier this month she would resign May 31 because of undisclosed health concerns.

The Democratic and Republican parties must nominate candidates to fill the remaining two years of her term. “I’ve got eight years’ experience, and the name ID necessary to win in November,” Stanart said in a phone call. “I’m calling precinct chairs and doing very well asking for their endorsement.” Stanart’s announcement Wednesday was the result of a mix-up; he said he thought he was talking to a Harris County Republican Party precinct chair when a Houston Chronicle reporter called him. He said he had planned to go public with his candidacy next week. The other announced Republican candidates to date are former Houston city councilman Bert Keller and former Harris County judicial candidate Michelle Fraga.

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Houston Chronicle - May 27, 2020

Texas lawmakers to push LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill next session

Five Democratic and two Republican state legislators announced plans Wednesday to file a bill next legislative session that would bar discrimination against LGBTQ Texans in housing, employment and public spaces. The bill, which has the early support of state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, and Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, would extend protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are 21 states that already have enacted such policies. “Quite frankly, we are already behind the curve on this issue,” Davis said. “Nondiscrimination is not just good for LGBTQ community, but it's good for all Texans.”

Lawmakers rolled out the bill during a virtual news conference where they touted an economic study that found a statewide nondiscrimination policy would generate $738 million in state revenue and $531 million in local government revenue next biennium. It also would add 180,000 new jobs in technology and tourism by 2025, the study found. The benefits, the authors said, largely would come from Texas’ greater ability to attract talent and heightened opportunity for tourism and conventions. “We should want to treat people fairly because it's the right thing to do, whether it has economic effects or not,” said Ray Perryman, a Waco-based economist who led the study. “This shouldn't be the reason to do it, but it is a very important aspect of it in today's society, and there are very significant economic costs associated with discrimination.” The legislation likely will face strong headwinds in the Republican-controlled Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the upper chamber, prominently opposed a similar measure that was rejected by Houston voters in 2015, and later backed the so-called bathroom bill opposed by LGBTQ advocates that would have required people to use facilities matching the gender identity on their birth certificates.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 27, 2020

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith: Clearer skies show why Texas should invest in electric vehicles

Have you noticed how blue the skies were recently? Satellite images of Texas have shown a dramatic reduction in air pollution over the past two months. The Texas Department of Transportation said the stay-at-home orders have reduced vehicle traffic in the major metropolitan areas by 37% to 49%. It seems that COVID-19 stay-at-home orders provided an unexpected experiment revealing just how much pollution we have been living with every day. It also shows how much cleaner our air could be if Texas were to aggressively develop an electrified transportation future.

This is why Congress and the Texas Legislature should begin to develop stimulus bills that invest in tomorrow’s technologies such as electric vehicles, chargers and new batteries to create new jobs. In the early 1980s, the Texas economy and the state budget were in the tank because the price of oil collapsed. In response, state leaders put money into diversifying the state’s economy by investing in microcomputer chips and other high-tech industries. Twenty years later, state investments in Texas’ renewable energy resources helped further diversify our economy and establish the state as No. 1 in the country and sixth in the world in wind energy production. Today we are at another crossroads where state leaders have an opportunity to create another industrial “boom.” Investments in electrified transportation technologies can be an antidote to the impact of cyclic oil and gas industries.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 27, 2020

Texas service sector out of ‘free fall,’ but coronavirus still sapping business

Efforts are underway to thaw the Texas economy from its coronavirus-induced deep freeze, but new economic data for retailers, restaurants and other service-sector businesses in the state indicate the task won’t be easy. The state revenue index, a key measure of the Texas service sector devised by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, came in at negative 28.1 this month, pointing to continued steep contraction despite recent moves to allow businesses to start reopening.

The figure for May represents significant improvement from March and April — when the index registered negative 66.6 and negative 65.3, respectively — but it’s still a steeper decline than any pre-pandemic month on record since collection of the data began in 2007. The Dallas Fed compiles the index through anonymous monthly surveys of business executives in the service sector. Positive numbers indicate expansion, while negative numbers indicate contraction. “I am not convinced that we have really turned the corner on this downturn,” one insurance industry executive who responded to the May survey told the Dallas Fed. “I remain hopeful, and our business is mostly stable, but travel, hospitality and restaurants are going to have a long road to recovery,” the executive said. “And social distancing is killing everybody, including churches and special events.”

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Austin American-Statesman - May 27, 2020

Texas Democrats see virtue in virtual state convention

Robert Vargas III, a member of the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee from San Antonio, was really looking forward to the biennial Democratic State Convention being held next week at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. “The great thing about the Texas Democratic Party convention is that it gives over 10,000 like-minded Democrats an opportunity to come together and have what some might call the biggest pep rally in Texas,” Vargas said.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, and by the time Bexar County told the party in mid-March that a June convention was a no-go, Texas Democrats, who boast the largest Democratic state convention in the nation, were already well on their way to planning the largest virtual convention in American political history. It’s a necessity from which they hope to draw some compensating virtues. “The beauty of a virtual convention is that Texans who wouldn’t normally be able to take time off of work or would be unable to fly down to San Antonio, this gives us the opportunity to expand the convention,” Vargas said. “So, there is a bit of a blessing in the storm.” In creating an event for nearly 12,000 delegates that heads into full public swing from Monday to Saturday of next week, Texas Democrats believe they have created a template for a national party that might have to make some or all of its August nominating convention, now scheduled for Milwaukee, virtual. “We really believe that we are designing something that is going to make our party stronger, make our party more accessible, allowing more people to participate in the convention and learn about who Texas Democrats are, what we’re fighting for and using the technology that we have to pave that way for the future,” said Brittany Switzer, the party’s senior brand director who led the effort with Hannah Roe Beck, the party’s convention director.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 26, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Leave Texas out of Trump convention drama. We don’t need big crowds spreading COVID-19

Texas was pulled into one of President Donald Trump’s Twitter negotiations this weekend, and it spawned a bad idea that needs to be squelched before it gets any traction. Trump is seeking assurance from North Carolina’s governor that his Republican nominating convention will be allowed to gather at full attendance in late August, and he threatened to move it to another state. Vice President Mike Pence soon followed by suggesting Texas as a possible alternative.

Normally, we’d be receptive to any large convention that wants to bring tens of thousands of visitors (and their millions of tourist dollars) to the area. We want the world to know about our hospitality, our great restaurants and entertainment options. We have two world-class venues, AT&T Stadium and the brand new Globe Life Field, either of which would be ideal for a convention where delegates could spread out. But this is not something Texas, or the Dallas-Fort Worth area, needs right now. Not just because of the coronavirus, but let’s start there. Scientists have recently focused on the idea that a key way to stop the virus is to ban “super-spreader” events — essentially, mass gatherings where people are packed inside together. Every delegate, activist and reporter who came to the convention would risk carrying coronavirus back to their hometown. And convention delegations typically include a lot of older people, the kind who have spent years working in party politics, and thus more people vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19. That said, no one knows what the state of the pandemic will be in August. It’s possible that by then, gatherings will seem safer, particularly with a good plan to insist upon social distancing. But even under the best circumstances, some precautions will be necessary. And throwing together a political convention in three months would be a logistical nightmare that no city or region should attempt.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 27, 2020

Former Fort Worth Mayor Hugh Parmer, also state senator and representative, dies at 80

Hugh Parmer, a former Fort Worth mayor and state senator and later a presidential appointee leading worldwide humanitarian efforts, died Wednesday night. He was 80. A longtime Democrat, Parmer represented Fort Worth at City Hall and in both chambers in the Texas Legislature before devoting much of his life to humanitarian needs — and to teaching about them as well. Through the years, he won and lost pivotal political races.

“You know how it goes,” Parmer said in 1996 after losing a race for the U.S. House of Representatives to Republican Kay Granger. “Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.” Parmer grew up in Fort Worth, graduating from Polytechnic High School in 1957, and going on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University and a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. Parmer is survived by his wife, Evelyn Parmer, son Travis Parmer, daughter Elizabeth Parmer, son-in-law James Hinkle, granddaughter Claire Hinkle “and many adopted family members,” his family said. Parmer, a lawyer and political consultant, served at a variety of organizations, including the Peace Corps and the U.S. Department of Commerce. He was described as “the shrewdest, most cunning politician the city has known in decades” in a 1979 D Magazine article.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 28, 2020

How a Fort Worth suburb became the ‘Mecca for conservatives’ that led Texas’ reopening

The weekend Colleyville reopened ahead of Texas, more than a dozen people gathered outside the Latin restaurant Gloria’s under a radiant spring sun, waiting two hours to enjoy margaritas al fresco. A few couples, sitting in the parking lot’s grassy medians, brought lawn chairs. They had come because Colleyville Mayor Richard Newton signed a proclamation allowing on April 24 for people to dine at restaurant patios, gather at churches if they followed social distancing guidelines and book appointments at gyms and salons. The rest of Texas was shut down. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, both Democrats, were even attempting to add further restrictions by requiring residents to wear masks. In Tarrant County, Republican Judge B. Glen Whitley suggested it could be two to four weeks before Tarrant reopened, saying on April 21, “Now is not the time to relax.”

A majority of Texas agreed: A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showed two-thirds of Texans approved of the shutdown of nonessential businesses and three-quarters approved of stay-at-home orders. But Colleyville showed something else. A mixture of visitors and residents at Gloria’s that Saturday said they were out to stimulate the economy or to escape the boredom of their houses. Or, as a middle-aged Springtown woman named Patty Kelley put it, “I feel like we’re proving a point.” Three days later, the Colleyville model won out. Gov. Greg Abbott announced April 28 he would start Phase 1 of reopening Texas on May 1. He also did not challenge Colleyville’s early reopening, even though his executive order said “people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts, or visiting gyms.” (Newton said he coordinated his plan with the Attorney General’s Office.) That Colleyville led the way to reopening was predictable — and popular — for many of its residents, and a sign of an influence that far outweighs its size of 27,000. The suburban city 15 miles northeast of downtown Fort Worth has maintained a strong sense of conservatism and liberty more common among rural towns, making it an outlier among the Metroplex’s rapidly growing and changing suburbs — and a barometer of the Republican base. “When you get Colleyville up on its hind legs, Abbott is going to see that and think primary,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at SMU and author of “Lone Star Tarnished.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 28, 2020

Texas Supreme Court: Lack of immunity to COVID-19 alone not enough to vote by mail

The Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that lack of immunity to COVID-19 alone is not a physical disability that qualifies people to vote by mail. The ruling is a victory for Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has argued that only a physical illness or disability that prevents voters from going to the polls should qualify people to vote by mail. It is a loss for the Texas Democratic Party and voting rights groups who had pushed for expanded mail voting during the coronavirus pandemic and had won temporary victories in lower courts.

The question of expanded mail voting is also being fought in federal courts, where an appeals court is considering whether to stay an order by a district judge that allowed those who lack immunity to COVID-19 to vote by mail. The two cases are playing out at the same time and the legal battle is expected to continue as both sides argue about how to safely conduct the upcoming primary runoffs scheduled for July 14. Early voting in those elections begins June 29. In the majority opinion from the Texas Supreme Court, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, joined by six other justices, acknowledged the intense political debate surrounding voting by mail. “The question before us is not whether voting by mail is better policy or worse, but what the Legislature has enacted. It is purely a question of law,” he wrote. “Our authority and responsibility are to interpret the statutory text and give effect to the Legislature’s intent. We agree with the State that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a “disability” as defined by the Election Code.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 28, 2020

Are Sen. John Cornyn’s attacks against Royce West designed to sink Dallas Democrat or boost MJ Hegar?

An escalating feud between Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic rival Royce West raises questions about the incumbent Republican’s political calculations. With Air Force combat veteran MJ Hegar of Round Rock considered by many analysts as the Democratic frontrunner, why is Cornyn continually attacking West, the longtime state senator from Dallas? The answer could provide clues into Cornyn’s views on the Democratic race for Senate, as well as his preference for a November general election opponent.

It also reveals a fracture in the relationship of West and Cornyn, two longtime Texas leaders who have been fixtures on the Texas political scene. The back and forth could be about bruised feelings, with Cornyn’s campaign objecting to being called racists and West disappointed at the senator’s tactics. “Cornyn’s an old dog playing an old trick,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of the progressive group called Progress Texas. “He’s baiting Democrats to come to Royce’s defense. He’s trying to pick his opponent in the general election and he doesn’t want to run against MJ Hegar.” But longtime Democratic strategist Colin Strother said Cornyn’s arrows at West proves he fears running against the state senator, not Hegar.

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Dallas Morning News - May 27, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott urges Texans to have surgery they need soon, while hospitals not slammed by coronavirus

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday urged Texans to consider having elective surgeries and procedures done this summer. Doing so will allow the state again to shut off non-emergency medical work to free up hospital beds if coronavirus cases spike later in the year, he explained. “We want to make sure that people who have cancer concerns or heart concerns or other different types of concerns, they get fully addressed right now,” he said.

Abbott made the comment at a news briefing at Amarillo City Hall, where he had a lengthy, closed-door meeting with area politicians before proclaiming to TV cameras the Panhandle city has "turned the corner” in trying to contain an outbreak of COVID-19. Speaking of Potter and Randall counties, the governor noted that confirmed new cases of the virus, which soared to 734 on May 16, have fallen dramatically since. On Sunday, there were 12. On Monday, no new confirmed cases in the two counties, each of which includes Amarillo, were reported. During the past 10 days, Abbott held back a four-county area centered on Amarillo from further business reopenings and relaxations that he granted on May 18 to all other regions of the state except for El Paso County.

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Amarillo Globe-News - May 27, 2020

Abbott in Amarillo, hopeful Panhandle ‘turned the corner’ after coronavirus outbreak

With a steady decline of new, positive COVID-19 cases in Potter and Randall Counties since May 17, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott came to Amarillo Wednesday to provide updates and speak to his belief that the community has “turned the corner” in dealing with its recent outbreak. Speaking during a news conference at city hall, Abbott said he believes the city as a whole is prepared to continue the process of reopening, which resumes Friday.

This comes after the city of Amarillo’s public health department reported a decrease of 57 net active cases of COVID-19 in Potter and Randall Counties from Tuesday on Wednesday’s report card. An increase of 18 total cases in the counties brings the total number of COVID-19 cases to 2,921, 2,176 of which are currently active. There have been 14,776 conducted COVID-19 tests reported to the department, 732 of which are currently pending. Abbott said the reason he came to Amarillo Wednesday is to show how surge response teams affect COVID-19 hotspot situations throughout the state, including the one which came to Amarillo earlier in May. The team conducted COVID-19 testing in the Tyson meatpacking plant in Potter County.

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Associated Press - May 27, 2020

DOJ lawyer named new US attorney in Texas after resignation

Attorney General William Barr has named a Department of Justice lawyer to succeed the top federal prosecutor for East Texas, who abruptly announced his resignation this week. Stephen Cox, a deputy associate attorney general in Washington, D.C., will take over as acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas on June 1, according to a Justice Department statement. He will succeed U.S. Attorney Joseph Brown, who said Tuesday that he’d be leaving office at the end of the month without giving a specific explanation for his departure.

Brown, 50, was nominated by President Donald Trump and took office in 2018. His resignation came two months after ProPublica reported that his office clashed with senior Justice Department officials over a potential prosecution of Walmart for its opioid prescription practices. No charges were brought in the case and retail giant has denied that any employee committed a crime. Cox was reportedly among the officials skeptical of the case against Walmart. After the Justice Department told Brown to halt the criminal investigation of the company, Cox said a parallel civil case was also not ready to proceed, according to ProPublica.

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Odessa American - May 27, 2020

Permian Basin Petroleum Association report: Permian Basin contributed $9 billion in revenue

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association released a new report Tuesday showing that the Permian Basin contributed to $9 billion out of $13.4 billion in statewide revenue in 2019. The first-of-its-kind report was developed by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (TTARA) that analyzed the tax revenue generated by oil and gas exploration and production in the Permian Basin. The PBPA report shows that the Permian Basin also accounted for nearly 70 percent of statewide oil and 40 percent gas production across the state.

Among the benefits statewide, the Texas Legislature invested more than a billion dollars into public education without placing that burden on taxpayers. Those funds came entirely from the taxes collected entirely from oil and gas production according to the report. The organization also touted its ability to help lead the state out of the current economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. “This comprehensive report, especially in this current economic crisis, demonstrates how the Permian Basin can lead Texas out of recession like it did just a decade ago,” PBPA President Ben Shepperd said in a statement. “The Texas Miracle, wasn’t a miracle at all. It was fueled by the innovation and investment like what is occurring in the Permian Basin.”

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Fox News - May 27, 2020

Texas Lt. Gov. Patrick bashes Twitter, Dems over mail-in voting: 'If they get it, it's the end of democracy'

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick admonished Democrats for pushing mail-in voting Tuesday, telling "The Ingraham Angle" Tuesday that such measures would be "the end of democracy" if they were ever enacted. Patrick also lashed out at Twitter after the social media giant added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted that “mail boxes will be robbed,” among other things

"Twitter owes the president an apology," Patrick said. "They fact-checked him, Laura, for his opinion. And by the way, his opinion was based on fact, because the Democrats are trying to steal this election. "I just tweeted out that the Democrat plan to have everyone vote by mail is an invitation for fraud and it's a total scam," Patrick told Ingraham. "And tonight, I would like all of your millions of viewers to tweet their own tweet out about how mail-in ballots are a scam by the Democrats." The warning message under Trump's tweets includes a link reading, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” that guides users to a Twitter “moments” page with fact checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.

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Dallas Voice - May 27, 2020

Log Cabin Republicans of Texas announce new officers

The board of Log Cabin Republicans of Texas has announced the election of officers for the 2020-2022 term. The new board members and officers are Chairman Marco A. Roberts, Vice Chairman Michael Cargill, Secretary Alan Goodrich, Treasurer Mike Alberts and board members (listed in order of seniority) Michael Baker, Les Read, Larry Thrash and Lynn Carter.

In an email announcing the new officers and board members, LCR of Texas officials said that “opposition to our values and our mission is not ceasing or resting, and is in fact intensifying its opposition in response to our growing strength and effectiveness,” and that that opposition “comes from opposite extremes of the political spectrum” which have vastly different ideologies but “share a common intolerance and hostility to the freedom of thought and expression of anyone else but their own.” Because of that, and despite uncertainties due to ongoing the COVID-19 epidemic, LCR-Texas “will be active and very much present at the upcoming Texas GOP state convention being held in Houston in July, and into 2021 at the state capitol in Austin.” The email continued, “Whether facing the theocratic extreme right, or the Social Justice Warrior ‘LGBT’, The Log Cabin Republicans of Texas will be strong, will stand tall, and with our allies and friends across the state and within the Republican Party, will fight for the things in which we and all freedom-loving Texans believe: The liberty and equality due under our U.S. and Texas constitutions to every citizen of our great state.”

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - May 27, 2020

Speaker Dennis Bonnen: Reopening economy, voluntarily wearing of masks in public are linked

Republican Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen says the Texans who clamored for a swift reopening of businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic but refuse to wear masks in public are putting both the public's health and the state's fragile economy at risk. "I don't know what message they are sending other than the message of stupidity that they're not going to wear a face covering in public," Bonnen told the USA TODAY Network in an interview. "Well, pick it. Either you want the economy open or you want to be selfish and not wear a face covering when you are out in the public."

The interview Tuesday afternoon came amid state and national news reports that scores of people took to the stores, restaurants and beaches over the Memorial Day weekend without exercising social distancing or using face coverings. The holiday weekend that traditionally launches the summer vacation season coincided with the recent relaxations of state and local rules aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19, the sometimes deadly illness caused by coronavirus. The message by Bonnen, who is not seeking re-election this year, took at aim at some in the conservative movement who see mask wearing as bending to government interference with personal freedom. On Friday, the head of the Bexar County Republican Party called a news conference outside San Antonio City Hall to push back against local guidelines that encourage people to wear masks in public and encourage local businesses to require face coverings for customers. "If we don't want to wear a mask, it's our choice," said Cynthia Brehm, the county GOP chairwoman. "This is America and we shouldn't have to be forced or mandated to wear a mask."

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 27, 2020

Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen tests positive for COVID-19

Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, his office confirmed Wednesday. Rosen is the second local elected official known to have contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Houston City Councilwoman Letitia Plummer tested positive May 11. Rosen was confirmed positive on Saturday, five days after being tested while experiencing a mild fever, spokesman Kevin Quinn said.

The constable informed his command staff of his diagnosis but not the public because it was a personal medical matter, Quinn said. Rosen declined an interview request. “I appreciate everyone being thoughtful and kind with their words of support,” he said in a statement. “In these times, it’s so important to wear a mask, wash your hands frequently and socially distance.” Rosen has been working from home for 10 days, and any employee with whom he interacted before his diagnosis has been tested, Quinn said. Five Precinct 1 employees have tested positive since the outbreak began here in March.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 27, 2020

Tarrant County reports single-day high 11 coronavirus deaths, and 151 new cases

Tarrant County reported a single-day high 11 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday. Of the latest COVID-19 deaths, six were residents of Fort Worth, including a man in his 60s, two women in their 70s, and one man and two women in their 80s.

Other deaths include an Arlington man in his 80s, a Keller woman in her 80s and a Keller man older than 90; a Mansfield man in his 70s and a White Settlement woman in her 90s. All but one had underlying health conditions, according to county officials. Wednesday’s totals include pandemic data reported to the county on Monday and Tuesday. The county had not publicly reported any deaths since Sunday. Tarrant County has confirmed a total of 5,190 COVID-19 cases, including 155 deaths and 2,010 recoveries.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 27, 2020

Audit: Austin police need more time, better data in community policing

Taking a hard look at Austin’s community policing effort, a city audit found that police have little time to engage with people outside of responding to crime and the department needs better methods of tracking such initiatives. In community policing, officers embed themselves in an area to build connections between the community and the department, said Alfred S. Titus Jr., an assistant professor of criminal justice and research at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The main idea that most people consider when they think of community policing is that it allows the community to understand that the police are regular people, they’re not to be feared,” Titus said.

It also helps officers who are not from the neighborhood they’re patrolling to feel less like an outsider, he said. The audit, whose findings were released Wednesday, looked into community policing efforts after the Austin Police Department requested a followup to a 2016 audit, City Auditor Corrie Stokes said. In 2016, Matrix Consulting gave the city 60 recommendations. By August 2019, according to a draft of the latest audit, the department had implemented 40 of them. Three key findings emerged from the latest audit: More time is needed to determine whether the Austin Police Department has been effective since 2016 in improving community policing. How the department gathers and uses community policing data may be limiting how effective its community policing measures are; Officers don’t have a single block of time scheduled for community engagement, and instead, are expected to do community policing in between regular calls. Downtime between calls can sometimes be only five minutes;

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Austin American-Statesman - May 27, 2020

Parents accuse Austin school district of failing to report sex assaults

Four families are suing the Austin school district, alleging that it failed to respond to reports of sexual abuse of students. The civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court said victims were sexually assaulted by either another student or a district staff member during their time in school. The suit accuses the district of failing to refer the reports of abuse to the appropriate authorities, violating rules set in Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination.

“In each case staff never referred the case to the School District’s Title IX Coordinator once staff knew of the allegations even though federal jurisprudence and the District’s own policies and procedures required such as referral,” the court filing read. The suit also says the district “never provided any student any counseling, psychological services or other remedies in a timely manner.” The incidents described in Tuesday’s lawsuit took place between 2014 and 2017, court documents said. Two of the students mentioned in the lawsuit were enrolled in prekindergarten at Boone Elementary School at the time of the reported assaults. The two students reported that they were assaulted by the same staff member. Another plaintiff, who was enrolled in kindergarten at the time of the reported incident, reported being assaulted by a staff member at Bernice Hart Elementary School.

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Houston Chronicle - May 27, 2020

Gabriella Rowe resigns as executive director of Ion tech hub behind Houston 'innovation district'

Gabriella Rowe has resigned as executive director of the Ion, the technology hub that is building out the old Midtown Sears building as an innovation center, and a new interim head is expected to be named next week. An Ion spokesperson said the next phases of the project, which involves developing a 16-acre swath into an "innovation district," will be handled by the Rice Management Co., which is leading the project.

Rowe became executive director of the Ion last year. She had been the chief executive at Station Houston, a startup hub that had worked closely to help develop programming for the Ion. Rowe confirmed to the Chronicle that she had resigned, but said she would remain in Houston. "I am absolutely sticking around but feel compelled to work on that which I believe the city needs most in the times we are in," she said via text message. She added she had left "to pursue other opportunities." The Ion will be the primary tenant at the redesigned Sears building, a 270,000 square-foot renovation of the 1939 department store. It is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2021. Rowe said as recently as last week that the project remains on track.

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National Stories

ProPublica - May 19, 2020

You don't need invasive tech for successful contact tracing. Here’s how it works.

I want you to mentally prepare yourself for a phone call that you could receive sometime over the course of this pandemic: in the next few months or year. Your phone might ring, and when you pick it up, you may hear someone say, “Hi, I’m calling from the health department.” After verifying your identity, the person may say something like, “I’m afraid we have information that you were in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.” The person calling is what’s known as a contact tracer.

As most states begin to lift restrictions on movement and people once more start to eat in restaurants, work in offices and get on public transit, these phone calls will become more frequent. State public health departments are hiring thousands of these workers, and experts are calling for more than 100,000 contact tracers to be deployed across America. I can only imagine how I would feel if I got a call telling me that I had been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient — shocked, a little scared and possibly a bit in denial. But after spending a week talking to contact tracing experts across the country, and taking an online course as well, I think I’d also feel one more thing: empowered. Here’s why. Contact tracing is a public health strategy that has been used successfully to combat infectious disease outbreaks across the globe, from the 1930s, when it helped get rampant syphilis under control in the United States, to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

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Roll Call - May 27, 2020

DOJ memo offered to buy out immigration board members

The Justice Department offered buyouts to pre-Trump administration career members on its influential immigration appeals board as part of an ongoing effort to restructure the immigration court system with new hires who may be likely to render decisions restricting asylum. An internal memo viewed by CQ Roll Call shows that James McHenry, the director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, offered financial incentives to longtime members of the Board of Immigration Appeals to encourage them to retire or resign. The buyouts and “voluntary separation incentive payments” were offered to “individuals whose positions will help us strategically restructure EOIR in order to accommodate skills, technology, and labor markets,” according to the April 17 memo.

EOIR is the Justice Department agency that oversees the Board of Immigration Appeals, a 23-member body that reviews appealed decisions by immigration judges and sets precedent. According to two knowledgeable sources at EOIR who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation, the memo was sent to the nine board members appointed under previous Republican and Democratic administrations, before Trump took office. No one accepted the buyout offers, according to both sources. CQ Roll Call reached out for comment on the memo to McHenry, EOIR and the Justice Department and received a statement Wednesday saying that “the Department does not comment on personnel matters.” “Any insinuation that politicized hiring has become ramped up is inconsistent with the facts,” the statement said. The memo sheds light on an ongoing debate over BIA hiring. Immigration judges, lawyers and former EOIR employees say the Trump administration has used the board to help meet its goal of reducing immigration, while government officials say they have simply streamlined a lengthy hiring process that was always subject to political judgments.

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Gizmodo - May 27, 2020

Trump is officially a bigger privacy supporter than Pelosi and Schiff

Regardless of his motives, knowledge of the subject, or consideration of the national security implications involved, President Trump on Wednesday elevated his position on Americans’ privacy rights above that of the Democratic Party—the most powerful members of which have dedicated several months now to undermining efforts at reform. Although it’s really been something of a mass delusion for a while, the idea that Democrats are somehow better than Republicans on the Fourth Amendment is, as of this week, nothing short of a joke. Whereas Democrats have long complained about the “McConnell roadblock” being the reason they can’t get anything on their agenda accomplished, privacy advocates will now and for the foreseeable future blame Rep. Adam Schiff for ruining all efforts to curb surveillance abuse.

Tweeting in all caps to his 80 million followers, at around 2pm Wednesday, Trump, effectively aligning himself with the progressive wing of the Democratic party, declared that “WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE OF AMERICANS IS WRONG!” (His own Justice Department vehemently disagrees.) And while a tweet means precisely jack-shit in terms of policy or enforcement—and it’s also likely that the FBI has been warrantlessly spying on Americans’ internet activities for over three years now under Trump—his statement still goes further than anything Democratic leadership has uttered in months. At roughly the same time that Trump was shouting about the wrongness-ness of surveilling U.S. citizens without a warrant, House Democrats were in the process of ensuring that the FBI could do just that. The House Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Patrick McGovern (D-Mass.), officially declared a bill to reauthorize several key FBI surveillance powers would not be amended further.

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CNN - May 27, 2020

Historic SpaceX launch postponed due to weather

SpaceX and NASA will have to wait at least a few more days for their historic spaceflight. Launch officials announced at 4:17 p.m. Wednesday that rough weather would prevent a SpaceX rocket and capsule from taking off from a Florida launch pad, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on the first crewed spaceflight to take off from US soil in nearly a decade.

There are additional launch windows this Saturday and Sunday, a NASA spokesperson said. The next attempt will be on Saturday at 3:22 p.m. There was a 50% chance the flight would be "scrubbed," or postponed, due to weather as of Wednesday morning. Rain along the flight path and developing afternoon thunderstorms in the vicinity were the main concerns for the launch, as Florida has faced heavy rain from a tropical disturbance for the last several days. In case any issues were to arise with the rocket after liftoff, SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule has the ability to break away from the rocket and fly the astronauts to safety. But to make sure they'll have a safe splashdown, SpaceX must monitor the weather conditions through a broad swath of the Atlantic Ocean to prepare for any possible abort scenario.

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Reuters - May 27, 2020

Trump threatens social media shutdown over Twitter fact-check label

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to regulate or shut down social media companies for stifling conservative voices, a day after Twitter attached a warning to some of his tweets prompting readers to fact check the president’s claims. Without offering evidence, Trump again accused such platforms of bias, tweeting: “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.” The president, a heavy user of Twitter with more than 80 million followers, added: “Clean up your act, NOW!!!!”

Trump’s threat to shut down platforms like Twitter Inc and Facebook was his strongest yet within a broader conservative backlash against Big Tech. Shares of both companies fell. Twitter for the first time attached fact-check labels on Trump tweets after he made unsubstantiated claims on Tuesday about mail-in voting. In a pair of early morning posts on Wednesday, the Republican president again blasted mail-in ballots. Trump falsely claims that mail-in ballots lead to vote fraud and ineligible voters getting ballots. Twitter and Facebook declined comment on Trump’s tweets. Asked during Twitter’s annual meeting on Wednesday why the company decided to affix the label to Trump’s mail-in ballot tweets, General Counsel Sean Edgett said decisions about handling misinformation are made as a group.

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New York Times - May 27, 2020

When the Mexican Air Force went to war alongside America

In the waning days of May 1945, a squadron of P-47 Thunderbolt pilots roared down on a Japanese military convoy. Above them, American pilots harbored doubts about these greenhorns, new to the liberation of the Philippines and, to boot, Mexicans. In his burly and fast P-47 Thunderbolt, Lt. Reynaldo Perez Gallardo swooped down on the convoy, pouring .50-caliber rounds into the Japanese trucks in a low-level strafing pass. Then, the vehicles bursting into flames, Gallardo pulled his fighter up into the Pacific sky, snapping into a victory roll, exposing himself to enemy fire. Over the radio an American voice crackled: “Look at that crazy Mexican!” Crazy or not, this new bunch of fighter jocks — roughly 30 pilots of the 300-strong 201st Fighter Squadron of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force, nicknamed the Aztec Eagles — was now in the fight to free the Filipino people.

The 201st didn’t have a major effect on the overall outcome of the giant Pacific war 75 years ago. But by the end of the conflict, these men were hailed as valiant and deadly in their machines, beloved for their ferocity by the Filipinos and Americans alike. And their participation alongside the Americans helped improve relations between Mexico and the United States after the war, Gustavo Vázquez-Lozano argues in his 2017 book, “201st Squadron: The History of the Mexican Pilots Who Fought in World War II.” Other than Brazil, which sent troops to fight in Italy, Mexico was the only Latin American nation to actively fight the Axis, namely the Japanese Empire, a decision carefully made by President Manuel Ávila Camacho of Mexico, an old soldier himself. Early on, there was a swirling sympathy for Nazi Germany among Mexican intellectuals. And Ávila Camacho was reluctant to side with the United States, his nation’s perpetual enemy, with its repeated invasions and incursions. After all, Gen. Douglas MacArthur himself participated in the brief U.S. seizure of the port of Veracruz in 1914. But on May 14, 1942, a Mexican oil tanker off the coast of Florida was intercepted by a German submarine, which torpedoed the vessel, spilling 6,000 tons of oil and killing at least 13 of the 35 crew members. A week later, the Germans struck another tanker, killing at least seven Mexican sailors. Enough was enough. On May 28, 1942, Mexicans listened to the radio as “the grave, emotionless voice of Ávila Camacho declared war on the Axis powers,” Vázquez-Lozano writes. “The conflagration was coming to them.”

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CNBC - May 28, 2020

Another 2.1 million file jobless claims, but total unemployed shrinks

First-time claims for unemployment benefits totaled 2.1 million last week, the lowest total since the coronavirus crisis began though indicative that a historically high number of Americans remain separated from their jobs. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for 2.05 million. The total represented a decrease of 323,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised 2.438 million. Continuing claims, or those who have been collecting for at least two weeks, numbered 21.05 million, a clearer picture of how many workers are still sidelined. That number dropped sharply, falling 3.86 million from the previous week.

That decline in continuing claims “suggests that the reopening of states is pushing businesses to rehire some of the people let go when the virus hit,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. However, Shepherdson noted that some of the data, particularly from California, remains noisy and may not be an accurate representation of some states’ situations. The insured unemployment rate, which is a basic calculation of those collecting benefits vs. the total labor force, came down sharply to 14.5% from 17.1% the previous week. “Layoffs continue at a massive scale, according to the latest unemployment insurance report, but it may be that the job market is nearing a turning point,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC. The four-week moving average, which helps smooth out weekly volatility, rose to 22.72 million, an increase of 760,250 from the previous week.

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